Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

sarah-olney-for-rp-600-300x157

In what will be rightly reported as a massive rejection of Brexit by the voters, we predict that Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney will deliver the Lib Dems’ first by-election win in 10 years, beating a famously anti-European candidate, and not in recount territory either.

This will quite rightly be seen as the latest green shoots in a Lib Dem revival, a disastrous result for Labour (who should never have run a candidate here but did so out of sheer mulish stubbornness), a disastrous result for UKIP who very volubly backed the dilletante right winger Zac Goldsmith, and will support many Parliamentarians’ calls for a second referendum to be held on the terms of any “Brexit” before it is approved.

48We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the pound firm overnight. And we look forward breathlessly to all the excuses from Farage, Johnson, May, Rees-Mogg and the rest of the Brexit rabble, who, of course, will blithly deny it has anything to do with Brexit at all.

We estimate a Lib Dem majority of between two and four thousand, a massive swing in itself.

If Brexit never happens, its demise will be tracked back to this day.

 

RESULT:

Sarah Olney (LD) 20,510 (49.68%, +30.41%)

Zac Goldsmith (Independent former Tory) 18,638 (45.15%)

Christian Wolmar (Lab) 1,515 (3.67%, -8.68%)

Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 184 (0.45%)

Fiona Syms (Ind) 173 (0.42%)

Dominic Stockford (CPA) 164 (0.40%)

Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir (Love) 67 (0.16%)

David Powell (ND) 32 (0.08%)

LD maj 1,872 (4.53%)

Electorate 77,243; Turnout 41,283 (53.45%, -23.01%)

Well we got one right, fractionally under-estimating the Lib Dem majority with overturned a previous Conservative Party 20,000 majority for Goldsmith, breaking our string of ducks recently.

Sarah Olney’s victory speech was gracious and historic. After the shock Conservative victory in 2015 and collapse of the Lib Dems, the lie-riddled farce of the Brexit advisory referendum, the weak-kneed response by the Conservative Party, and the ludicrous election of Donald Trump, it makes cheering reading. And as for all those who have gleefully predicted the demise of the “liberal elite”, this is what a fightback looks like … We know you’ll just rush to your keyboards to agree.

Here is an extract.

A year and a half ago I was not involved in politics, I was not a member of a political party, I had never been involved in a political campaign, I had never thought about being a politician. But I knew I was a liberal. I believed in openness, tolerance, compassion, working with our neigbours around the world.

When I saw what happened at the general election last year I felt I had ot get involved.

I think a lot of people in this community had the same feeling after the referendum. Richmond Park is full of people like me who felt something was going wrong, that the politics of anger and division were on the rise, that the liberal tolerant values we took for granted were under threat. We perceived the Ukip vision of Britain in the ascendancy, intolerant, backward-looking, divisive, just as we see it in America and across Europe.

Well, today we have said no. We will defend the Britain we love. We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain we believe in. The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit, we do not want to be pulled out of the single market and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.

 

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Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in a Montreal Metro station Wednesday and took part in a random act of kindness when a person with a disability was having difficulties because of a broken down escalator.

trudeau

 

Like everything he has done so far, very classy. Note, this is not a semi-official “photo op”. The snap was taken by a passer by and posted on Twitter.

Americans are apparently so impressed with Trudeau’s leadership of his country that many are begging him to come South and run for President. Apart from that being a legal impossibility, we strongly suspect he’d have more sense.

And Liberals in the UK, still smarting from electoral near-destruction, view him as something akin to a Messiah. Especially as he took his party from third to winning a majority in one leap. A move is afoot to get him to address their autumn conference in Brighton later in the year.

Good looking, charismatic, humble, compassionate, well-educated. Little wonder women in particular find his allure almost irresistible. This is the man, remember, who almost single-handedly re-set the public debate about countries taking in Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict, and just last week spontaneously explained quantum computing to a smart-arse journalist.

His father was a remarkable man. It looks like the son is even more so.

 

bomba-nuclear1

In what has been hailed as the new Leader of the British Liberal Democrats “facing down” the activists in his party, the LibDems just rejected a motion calling for Trident to be scrapped.

This is what happened.

We show below the original motion in normal text with the original line numbers, and lines through the text which was deleted by conference. In italics we show the text inserted by virtue of conference voting for Amendment 1:

Motion begins:

1 Conference notes that the go-ahead for building Successor submarines
2 for the Trident system is scheduled to be decided upon in 2016.
3 Conference believes that British possession of nuclear weapons is
4 inappropriate and unhelpful to today’s needs.

5 Conference rejects the projected spending of £100billion on the system
6 over its lifetime, believing the money could be better spent.

In line with our existing policy as set out in policy paper 112, Defending the Future – UK Defence in the 21st century (2013), and our recent General Election Manifesto, conference resolves to oppose like-for-like replacement of the Trident system as proposed by the Conservative government.

Conference believes that the ‘Maingate’ decision to proceed with Trident replacement is such a fundamental question affecting the UK’s national interest that it should be subject to a binding vote in Parliament and not simply a government decision; and calls on Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians to vote against any such proposal should it come before Parliament. Conference further calls on the Federal Policy Committee to:

1. Commission a Policy Working Group to develop policy on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, if any, following a full consultation within the party.

2. Include within the remit of the working group consideration of:
a) A full assessment of potential strategic threats to the UK.
b) Prospects for the promotion of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and the UK’s potential role in these efforts.
c) The implications of a non-nuclear defence posture for the UK on conventional defence capabilities and the UK’s place in the world, including its contribution to the security of Europe through NATO.
d) The scope for and implications of a scaled-down nuclear deterrent.
e) Independent costings of options.
3. Bring a policy paper back for debate at Conference within 18 months, including if necessary options for conference to decide.

7 Conference therefore calls for the plans to renew the Trident system to
8 be scrapped, and for the earliest decommissioning of the existing Trident
9 forces.

So what (by a narrow margin) has the Lib Dem conference just actually decided?

"Helpful and Appropriate"

“Helpful and Appropriate” is rather in the eye of the beholder, one feels.

Well, if one looks at the lines deleted by the “wrecking” amendment, one can now see that Conference decided by default that Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons IS appropriate and helpful to today’s needs.

Yes, to be sure, the amendment opposes “like for like” replacement of Trident, but this was essentially just whitewash. What the amendment specifically allows for is Trident’s replacement by another nuclear weapons system.

The clear implication in the terms for the future enquiry that is now proposed (which will, of course, be utterly irrelevant to the real world as it will take place AFTER the British Government makes it’s decision, a point that can not have escaped the understanding of those drafting the amendment) is that the UK’s place in the world will be somehow diminished by it not possessing nuclear weapons, and that its contribution to the security of Europe would be similarly diminished. in other words, in the event of external aggression to the continent of Europe, the party believes it would be a sensible option to drop nuclear weapons on Europe’s borders.

Which leaves the party – now led by an evangelical Christian who says he would never launch the weapons if he had the choice – in the curious position for a supposedly radical party of supporting the idea of Britain independently attacking someone (presumably Russia) with weapons of mass destruction that would slaughter umpteen millions of innocent children, men and women civilians.

The Liberal Democrats (of which the author of this article is a member, and has been a member, with a few stutters, over 40 years) is a party that has become largely irrelevant to the mainstream political process through a disastrous collapse of its support that shows little imminent signs of turning around, and which is generally full of nice, somewhat wooly-minded middle class people who largely think they sit in the middle ground of politics, full of rational discussion and mutual respect and eschewing the nasty tribalism of the left and right.

Nevertheless, despite it’s historical weaknesses, and it’s current electoral nadir, the party has always played – and it would be good to think will continue to play – a useful national and international role as an incubator of good ideas, as provokers of attention to issues that other parties largely ignore, and of a group of people who are less hidebound by “that’s the way it’s always been done” than most. In the past, when it’s level of elected support was about where it is now, the Party nevertheless “punched above its weight” in this regard. The party also keeps alive an affection for ideals of political plurality, free speech, and individual liberty, both economic and social.

trident_2469358bBut given the chance to dramatically play that role now by arguing that Britain should lead the stalled world disarmament process, what they have just done, in reality – because of the inexorable timetable for the Trident replacement decision – is actually to fall in lock-step behind a radical right-wing Conservative Government that would never consider Britain giving up nuclear weapons in a pink fit.

As a result, they will now inevitably be outflanked on one of the most vital decisions facing the country in the coming little while by the new left-wing leadership of the Labour Party, and by the surging Scottish Nationalists, and will inevitably be seen by the public to be dithering over a crucial moral and strategic issue when the Government inevitably acts.

The membership should be under no misapprehension: the Liberal Democrats just missed a huge opportunity to provide their party with the distinctiveness that they need if they are ever to reclaim any real degree of power at local, European and Westminster levels, and an equally significant opportunity to provide moral leadership to the multilateral disarmament efforts that the world has largely abandoned in recent years, which they would have achieved by stating “we do not need these bombs, we reject their use, we cannot afford them, and we will seek other ways to relate to the world around us”.

New Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron

New Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron

Responsibility for those missed opportunities lies directly with the new Leader of the party, Tim Farron, and those with their hands on the levers of power inside the party who advised him to make this matter a “test” of his leadership, and then made that argument directly to members in a variety of ways.

In truth, Farron arguing that he wanted a “full debate” before a decision is taken is a complete furphy, a fig leaf to cover the moral cowardice of the amendment. Or, as one Lib Dem speaker in the debate, Reece Edmends put it, “If you support nuclear weapons, if you want one, two, three or four subs, have the intellectual honesty to say so.”

The speakers in favour of the amendment largely did not state their preference for keeping nuclear weapons clearly. One complete piece of intellectual dishonesty was an argument that the Ukraine had just given up nuclear weapons and been invaded (albeit in a very limited way) by Russia. So what exactly were those speakers arguing? That Ukraine should have attacked Russia with nuclear weapons? To have done so would not only have been ludicrously disproportionate, but would have invited an immediate and overwhelming response from Russia that would have obliterated Ukraine from the map. Which neatly encapsulates, of course, the complete pointlessness of spending 8% of your GDP on nuclear weapons, as Britain does. You can’t actually use them. Ever. Even in a real fighting war.

There were also dark warnings about Russian expansionism, despite the fact that as we have shown with historic detail, the Russian action in Crimea was proportionate, discrete and nuanced.

We have a lot of time for Farron, but we are disappointed and worried by his actions in this case. Shock and dismay at his position is already evident on the activist wing of the party, and he will need to somehow heal the breach he has now opened with those who were his most fervent supporters for the Leadership.

What he and others clearly thought was if the party committed itself to disarmament of Britain’s independent nuclear weaponry they would be castigated as “irresponsible” or “too left wing”. Now they will be castigated as mere ditherers. Had they allowed the original motion to stand they would have been able to make the case for the scrapping of Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile between now and when the decision will be made, putting useful light and space between them and David Cameron’s increasingly nationalistic and unpleasant Government.

Such moral determination might just have ameliorated the Government’s intentions somewhat, although the idea that it would turn around their view in toto is probably fanciful and this writer would not argue that case. In reality, what the Lib Dems think or do at the moment doesn’t currently matter much more than a reasonably small hill of beans. But any decision to replace Trident made in 2016 will still be in its early stages of implementation by the time of the next General Election in 2020. That would have given the Lib Dems, along with others, four years and innumerable opportunities to win the national debate, and possibly the next election.

But they squibbed it, and the party – chock full of new respectful members – let them.

UK election results

The second question is easier to answer than the first. No, we were not. We predicted no overall majority with the Conservatives as the largest party, and they actually won an overall majority. So we have broken our winning run since 1979. Boo-hoo.

But we were almost right. We said that UKIP would win almost no seats, which was right. We said the Greens would only win one, ditto. We predicted the SNP would have a stellar night but not win Orkney and Shetland – correct. And we predicted that the Lib Dems would face a near wipeout, as we have been predicting like Mystic Meg for more than three years now. Correct. Indeed, their result was even worse than we had feared – while party grandees were blathering on about 20-30 seats or even 30-40 we were certain they would win under 20 – and their failure to keep their own seats was key to the whole election result, because if they had won 10 more of the seats they lost in swathes to the Tories throughout the West and South of the country they would probably now be in Government again. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

You will find below the results of the Lord Ashcroft poll taken AFTER people had voted, asking them how, but more importantly, why. People have no reason to fudge or obscure their actions and reasons after they have taken place, so this type of poll is usually infinitely more accurate than pre-election polls.

Microsoft Word - LORD ASHCROFT POLLS - Post-vote poll summary.do

Microsoft Word - LORD ASHCROFT POLLS - Post-vote poll summary.do

Consistently one of the more accurate pollsters, Ashcroft himself would be the first to admit that he didn’t see a Tory majority coming either. Indeed, no one did. (This fact makes us feel slightly less aggrieved with ourselves.) But his post poll explains what happened with great perception. So before the myth making begins, this is what really happened last Thursday:

  • Fully 31% of the electorate decided who to vote for in the last week, with more than one in ten as they entered the poling booth. This shows that, certainly as far as Labour and the Tories were concerned, there was all to play for right up to the end.
  • Lib Dem votes from 2010 went flying everywhere – some to Tories, some to Labour, some to the Greens, and many to UKIP. The Lib Dem vote is thus revealed as very “soft”, ie not “ironed on”. Desertions from the party to major parties went almost equally to the Tories and Labour.
  • The slide of votes from the Lib Dems to UKIP simply reflects the obvious fact that a third party is a natural home for voters who are disaffected with the status quo, and this time round these “protest” voters found a newer and more dynamic home within UKIP. This effect can also be discerned with “swinging voters”.
  • The collapse in trust for the Lib Dems is highlighted by the fact that their “trusted their motives and values” measurement is the lowest of all the parties, with nearly a third of the electorate rejecting the party on this basis. The fact that their candidates were respected locally merely makes the loss of so many sitting MPs even more galling for the party. In simple terms, one factor outweighed the other in how people made their decision.
  • A large number of UKIP voters slid back to the Tories as their minds focused on a likely general election result and who they wanted as PM.
  • Question seven reveals that, as always, bread and butter issues dominated what mattered to people, the highest being Improving the NHS, Getting the economy growing and creating jobs, and Controlling Immigration (which is incorrectly, in our view, conflated with the previous issue in many peoples’ minds), and then a bunch of others.Interestingly, though, when the issue is switched from the “whole country” to “me and my family”, Immigration disappears off the top 3 list to be replaced by Tackling the cost of living crisis. Or in other words, many people have been doing it tough, and they blame that (erroneously, in our view, but consistently) on Immigration.
  • Then again, fully 88% bought Cameron’s view that they were either feeling an economic recovery or believed they would. Thus Milliband and Labour continually bleating about the effects of austerity measures was aiming at the wrong target. Indeed, a very large number of Conservative voters believe austerity measures should be continued (84%) although 54% of the population as a whole believe it has either gone on long enough, or should never have been employed.
  • Partly as a result of this, David Cameron was much preferred by voters as PM, Ed Milliband scored very poorly at 37%. In modern elections the “Presidential” element has become increasingly important.
    Like him or loathe him, Cameron had a good war.

    Like him or loathe him, Cameron had a good war.

    This factor in boosting the Conservative’s overall result cannot be under-estimated. Only 39% of Labour voters preferred Milliband as PM, less than 20% of Lib Dem voters thought Clegg would make a better PM. And staggeringly, only 26% of Labour voters thought Milliband’s senior advisers would make a good government – goodbye Ed Balls, nice to have known you.

    For these reasons we pick the following factors as the crucial, game-changing stats in last Thursday’s cataclysmic event.

  • The collapse in trust for the Lib Dems.
  • The failure of leadership to appeal to the public for both – crucially – the Labour Party, and also the Lib Dems.
  • A very creditable performance by David Cameron, in comparison, and especially in the last week. We saw one very combative performance he gave in a public gathering a few days before the election and thought “Wow, he’s got the bit between his teeth”. Maybe Central Office polling was giving him good news. He now has some political capital of his own he can burn if needs be, although a week, as Harold Wilson once remarked, is a long time in politics, and he would be wise to spend that capital in small increments on things that really matter to him.
  • A feeling that things aren’t quite as bad as they’ve been painted – a certain latent, if sceptical, optimism in the electorate.

Last but not least, of course, there is always the near impossibility for UKIP (or any minor party) to beat the antiquated FPTP electoral system. For the Lib Dems, in particular, the patient accumulation of respect and thus better prospects, assembled over a generation of community campaigning, has been almost totally washed away.

Whilst Labour will be distressed at having done, in reality, quite poorly, of all the parties the Lib Dems’ is perhaps the most bitter bill to swallow.

Interestingly, though, since election night, over 4,000 new members have joined the party, in an act of defiance and hope that is really quite impressive – to this writer, at least.

LGIt is too early to write their political obituary, although it would be equally foolish not to acknowledge that as a force, British Liberalism, that great and honourable political philosophy of Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George, Jo Grimond, David Steel and others, is currently looking pretty sickly on life support.

What do the Lib Dems do now? Here’s a refined Liberal message. It’s a starting point.

“We exist to protect those without power.

We exist to give them a voice.

We exist to ensure that Government serves them, not the other way round.

We do not hunt for some mythical place called the centre ground, we search for a place where there is justice, and compassion, and where the great talents of the people are liberated for the greater good of the community.

We do not seek to rule our people, we seek to give them the tools, the knowledge and the support so that they may rule themselves.”

Post it on your Facebook page, re-blog it, have it adopted by your local party, write to what’s left of the Parliamentary party to get them fired up and agreeing … The future starts today.

The 2010 result - next Thursday will be wildly different.

The 2010 result – next Thursday will be wildly different.

Dear Reader, we have often claimed a 100% record for our election predictions around the world since around 1979. Of course, the fact that we haven’t managed to parlay these into a cushy job standing around in an ill-fitting suit on TV on election night is another matter altogether. Still, it’s a fun game: half political nous, half consumer insight, and half instinct.

Thus friends who have been following our prognostications for half a lifetime or more have been urging us to put up or shut up. Mostly, we suspect, shut up.

But this election in the UK is proving notoriously difficult to call accurately.

For those of you who aren’t following it with the same obsessive pleasure as your indefatigable correspondent, we will lay out the basic issues.

A majority government after next Thursday?

Will either Labour or the Conservatives get an overall majority of seats?

This is the easy one. No. The reasons are many and varied, but the essentials are that no one party is particularly popular in a country that is ravaged by political division and has endured tough times in recent years.

Normally, tough times would usher in the Opposition, on the basis that Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.

But there is the rather odd situation this time where none of the major party leaders are genuinely popular, and the electorate is also keenly aware of the fact that no major party seems to have a very clear idea of what to do to combat the general economic malaise affecting a Europe stricken with structural debt and over-spending, matched to low levels of productivity and innovation.

Labour would have won the election in the good old bad old days, but the seemingly unstoppable rise and rise of the populist, quasi-socialist Scottish National Party (and to a lesser extent their Welsh equivalent) will rob them of the seats in the major urban areas of of the Celtic states that they historically thought they “owned”.

The Lib Dems, although they have done a little better in the last week thanks to a creeping decline in the UKIP vote as the anti-immigration party come under greater scrutiny and a good performance from party leader Nick Clegg in a TV debate, will not win enough seats to make another straight Tory/Lib Dem Coalition a possibility.

So who will be the next Prime Minister?

That’s probably a rather easier one. If one adds the likely SNP wins to the likely Labour wins, then it will be Ed Milliband of Labour. Except that he has gone out of his way to insist (without any credibility) that he will not even consider an agreement where the SNP guarantee supply, let alone a full-blown coalition, so there is still some uncertainty. If Labour wins the popular vote (say by 35-34%) in the old days that would have seen them within a seat or two of a majority given the current standing of the Lib Dems and UKIP. The rise of the SNP is a new political reality that Westminster has to grapple with.

As we cannot predict with any certainty what politicians will do behind closed doors – who would have bet on the Lib Dems backing the pro-austerity Euro-sceptic Tories last time rather than their more amenable centre-left Labour colleagues? – we cannot predict what will happen after Thursday. But we suspect the outcome may be as follows, or something like it:

As the leader of the largest party, and the sitting PM, the Queen will invite David Cameron to try and form a majority Government – which may need to be tested on the floor of the Commons – but he will fail to pass a vote of confidence. The Lib Dems won’t have enough seats to get him over the line, even with the support of the protestants from Northern Ireland and a couple of UKIP MPs, and anyway they will abstain because of the current Tory insistence on an “in out” referendum on the EU.

The Queen will then invite Ed Milliband to do the same, and his motion WILL pass, but without a formal agreement with the SNP, putting him in power as a genuine minority Government – a situation almost unknown in British governmental history. Why will it pass? Simply because the SNP will calculate that they have more chance of negotiating successfully and informally with Labour, with whom they share many policy objectives, than they would with the Conservatives, who are anathema to them and their supporters. In effect – and this may be Milliband’s current calculation – they are pretty much caught in the cleft stick of their own anti-Tory rhetoric.

This process could take a long time, and will be the subject of fevered discussion in the media and the country. If you thought post-2010 was chaotic, it’ll be nothing compared to this.

So why not just call the election now? Isn’t that what you’re doing?

Well, sort of. Except when we make predictions we like them to be as accurate as possible, and there’s one factor that prevents a rush to final judgement.

The last weekend

One of the things most misunderstood by political pundits and commentators that have never actually been politically active themselves is the effect of the “ground game”, as the Americans call it. The Obama ground game – making sure one’s own supporters get out and vote in sufficient numbers, and getting waverers back into the fold – was the main reason he won re-election in 2012, for example, and it went to pot in the 2014 mid-terms, which is why the Republicans did so much better then.

(That’s a deep simplification, and other factors were at play in both elections, but it’s essentially a very true and much-ignored fact.)

Yes, the all-important ground game: that’s the effect on the electorate of the work done by political parties in each constituency. These can produce utterly skewed results, seat by seat. Taken over the country as a whole, they can affect the result significantly.

We won’t know the effect of the last weekend’s campaigning until polls are taken on Sunday night (by telephone) in key marginals, hopefully picking up any last minute impacts.

Similarly, whilst it might be hard for those of us obsessed with such matters to believe it, politics isn’t the most important factor in many people’s lives. So many people make their mind up in the last few days of an election, including, in the UK, whether to vote or not at all. We would normally suggest a low turnout for this poll, given the unpopularity of the main parties, but two other factors suggest it will be an average or even slightly higher turnout. One: other options now exist for disenchanted voters to express a protest vote, such as UKIP, the Greens and the Nationalists. Two: everyone understands the election is close, and therefore people feel their individual vote may carry more weight than usual. Those people are not yet reflected in polls – unless they are “Don’t Knows” – and in a tight election working out what they might do is central to understanding what will happen.

Sanders

For those of you who may never have lived in a marginal seat, here’s a brilliant example of what’s known as a “Last minute squeeze leaflet” employed by sitting Lib Dem MP in Torbay, Devon, Adrian Sanders. Normally, one would expect Sanders to be in trouble in this seat, which was a Tory fiefdom for decades, despite the fact that he is a hard-working local MP who is well-respected. But this leaflet makes it clear to all those who intend voting that only the Lib Dems or the Tories have a realistic chance of winning. Voters like being on the winning side – messages like this, if conveyed successfully, produce so-called “tactical voting” (aka I want the MP I least dislike) – which can boost the result for one of the main contenders or another.

Of course, the Tories can employ the same tactic against intending UKIP voters – and will, in this seat and others. Both Tory and Labour candidates will ruthlessly “squeeze” Lib Dem candidates and others in seats where they are going head to head.

How well each party makes this argument, seat by seat, will have a profound effect on the result. Pollsters will be seeking to track that effect from Sunday night onwards, which is why we will reserve our final prediction for a day or so.

We will note these general trends, which we expect to show up more clearly in polls over the next few days.

  • The number of “Don’t Knows” is falling, and this will increase as next Thursday approaches. Opinion polls that combine face-to-face interviewing with telephone interviewing, and which include constituency-specific data in their polling, will be more accurate, and are the ones to follow.
  • UKIP’s vote has peaked and is in decline. They have had, essentially, a poor campaign. Will probably only win two seats in England.
  • The SNP will probably not win all the seats in Scotland, as people have so breathlessly been reporting, but they will win a great many. The Lib Dems will retain Orkney and Shetland and maybe one more seat.
  • Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats is now marginally less likely to lose his seat of Sheffield Hallam than he was a couple of weeks back. The Lib Dem vote is trending up again, inch by laborious inch, and we expect it to end up on or near 9-10% nationally. Predicting their result nationally is fiendishly difficult because there are some seats – Eastleigh is a good example – where their ground game and local Government presence makes it almost impossible for them to lose, whereas on notional national swings they could. We have said all along they will end up with 20 seats or less – which will be a disaster for them – but we concede that other wise heads predict 20-to-30. We think we’re nearer right than wrong.
  • The Greens will only hold one seat after the election, the one they hold now in Brighton.

More news as it comes to hand. We will make our fearless prediction on Monday or Tuesday. Maybe.

Interestingly, The Independent newspaper’s poll of polls where they consult the heads of the ten largest polling organisations is headlined “A Tory lead but a Labour Government” and includes this very apposite comment from one of the pollsters, Michelle Harrison of TNS:

This election represents what happens when a country is not confident about its economic future, unsure of its place in the world, and fed up with the state of its politics.

The political stalemate at the centre, and the fragmentation of the traditional party system, has left us with a set of polls incapable of telling what will ultimately happen, when there are so many potential scenarios. What we can feel confident about though is that Thursday will be a seismic night for politics in Scotland. When the votes are counted, we expect the Tories to be the largest party, but that Labour should still have the greatest chance of forming a government. But how do we measure the advantage for the Conservatives of already being in No 10 in the days after the general election? The real drama will start on Friday.

We agree. Meanwhile, if you think you know better, put your assumptions into this rather excellent Election Predictor, one of many around. Here’s another good one. Hours of innocent fun for all the family …

Incidentally, putting an average of the most recent polls into predictors today (using different figures for Scotland of course) gives this result which would mean our predictions over the last year about most of the result have been well-nigh spot on. Long way to go yet though:

National Prediction: Conservative short 46 of majority

Party 2010 Votes 2010 Seats Pred Votes Gains Losses Pred Seats
CON 37.0% 307 33.5% 18 45 280
LAB 29.7% 258 31.5% 53 33 278
LIB 23.6% 57 10.0% 0 40 17
UKIP 3.2% 0 13.8% 2 0 2
Green 1.0% 1 5.1% 0 0 1
SNP 1.7% 6 4.1% 45 0 51
PlaidC 0.6% 3 0.6% 0 0 3
Minor 3.4% 0 1.4% 0 0 0
N.Ire 18 0 0 18
Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

 

Bad news for Tony Abbott and the Coalition continues today with the publishing of another poll that shows just how dramatically the Liberal and National parties have slumped since 2013’s election.

The latest poll shows the Abbott government is now a full 10 points below its election-winning vote. This is way beyond mere “out of honeymoon” blues.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian on Tuesday, puts Labor ahead of the coalition 55-45 per cent in the two-party preferred vote, a further depressing drop of two points for the coalition since the previous poll two weeks ago.

Primary support for the coalition is also down two points to 35 per cent, from 37 per cent, while Labor is up one point to 37 per cent – two points ahead of the coalition. This result would have seemed impossible in the dark days when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were engaged in their death struggle. It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott goes down in history as the only man capable of breathing new life into the Labor corpse which seemed crucified, dead, buried, with multiple stakes through it’s heart and then cremated such a short while ago. That they are even competitive again so soon is startling.

It’s not all good news for Labor. Outflanked on the left, the Greens have also gained three points in the primary vote – up to 13 per cent.

Voter dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott has reached the highest level since he became prime minister, 62 per cent, and is his worst personal result since November 2012, The Australian reports. With his approval rating at 31 per cent, Mr Abbott’s net approval of minus 31 points is the worst for a prime minister since Julia Gillard scored minus 34 points just days before she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in June last year, when she was widely considered to be leading the Labor Party to certain disaster. It will not have escaped Liberal and National backbenchers that Abbott now appears to be doing the same.

 

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

 

Whether Abbott’s vast slump into extreme unpopularity will prove enough of a motive for the hard heads in the Liberal Party to replace him with the much more moderate Malcolm Turnbull remains to be seen. We have always been of the view, even before the last election, that Turnbull would be Prime Minister before Christmas 2014. Abbott is both simply too relentlessly self-satisfied and negative to play the role of Prime Minister, a job which requires the ability to reach across the aisle to independents and natural Labor supporters to build a centrists’ coalition.

Abbot is not a conservative. He is not a “one nation” Tory. He is a radical right winger – a born-again Thatcherite, his idol in his youth. As such, he was never going to sit well in power with the essentially small-C conservative Australian public. We are seeing the hubris of Nick Minchin and others on the hard right coming home to roost. They wanted their boy – they got him up by one vote – and now he is proving to be manifestly un-re-electable. A great opposition leader doth not a great prime minister necessarily make. They might have won less big had Turnbull remained at the helm (they might have won bigger, too), but they would have won more enduringly.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has also regained a 10-point lead as better Prime Minister that he took after the budget – on 44 per cent, with Mr Abbott on 34 per cent. We do not believe he is yet “popular” – he has neither the common working man’s touch of a Bob Hawke or the swaggering certainty of a Paul Keating. But he has hardly put a foot wrong yet, revealing that he has both a good “ear” and a smart brain. His meek persona also contrasts nicely with Abbott’s arrogance.

It is well-known that Shorten wishes to keep his powder somewhat dry, and not to “knee-jerk” to every mistake or missed step from the Coalition. Thus former federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan played Shorten’s stalking horse yesterday when said Liberal-National Party backbenchers were too gutless to speak out against the “savage cuts” in the budget, which he sees as reflected in the Newspoll. “If they had any decency, they’d be standing up in the party room and holding the LNP to the promises they made to the people of Australia at the last election but they’re not because they’re gutless,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “There’s no spine in the LNP backbench either at the state level or the federal level. They sit back and meekly accept the savage cuts … which are going to hurt the peace of mind and welfare of families right across Australia.” You can expect to hear a lot more of that as each and every Budget action wends its way trhough the legislative process.

To be fair, Swan was probably speaking from the heart, too. As a Labor backbencher during the early 1990s, Mr Swan led a revolt against the Keating government’s unpopular post-election budget that increased taxes.

Anyhow, the next few months will be interesting indeed. From being one of the most successful Opposition leaders the Liberals have produced in a long time, Abbott may well go down as their most unsuccessful Prime Minister. A recalcitrant Senate filled with newly hopeful Labor and Green representatives is now replaced with one with even greater complexity. At first blush, the new Senate looks like a more amenable one for Abbott. But appearances can be deceiving. Clive Palmer, for example, knows full well that supine agreement with the Government – any Government – would render his populist message irrelevant. There’s no point being “anti” the establishment and then joining it, as the Australian Democrats discovered over the GST, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Free Democrats in Germany can attest more recently.

We can therefore expect regular little eruptions of rebellion from Palmer and his mates, and watching his eye for publicity and gesture politics one can expect those rebellions to be on core issues, such as the politically smart agreement to scrap the unpopular carbon tax and return the dividend to ordinary voters as a reduction in household costs. And if they aren’t core issues, he will trumpet them as such, anyway. And every time he lays a glove on the Government, Abbott will not only look dumb, but weak. A terrible combination.

The essential problem that Abbott faces is that by manufacturing a financial crisis out of a structural deficit (which is not, after all, the same thing) he has critically reduced his room for manoeuvre. As a result, he is now stuck with slogging round the country telling everyone, basically, bad news, for at least the next 18 months.

He might even have pulled that off if his presentation, and that of his very lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey, had been less simultaneously preachily self-congratulatory and ham-fisted. But apart from his suddenly incoherent and uncertain delivery (has any senior politician anywhere in the world ever said “Er” so often?) he has also wedged himself by a serious of actions that were never going to get through the Senate, and which were guaranteed to appear mean and un-necessary.

The most obvious example is the GP co-payment, which looks and smacks like nothing more than soak the poor, and should never have been advanced in a month of Sundays. But once advanced, it was not “sold”, beyond a repeated mantra that this was somehow “for the good of the country”. Scores of worried little old ladies and the chronically ill duly queued up on talk-back radio stations of all political inclinations to tearfully ask what would become of them now they couldn’t afford to go to see their doctor. The message that the co-payment was theoretically designed to be capped at a maximum of $70 a year completely failed to cut through. Once again, the central Liberal Party message-meisters and their political puppets have been shown to be far less competent and aware than they are often painted.

Denis Napthine. If he's not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

Denis Napthine. If he’s not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

(A similar problem assails the Victorian Liberal and National Parties, where two years of good financial management and the resulting announcement of the biggest-ever infrastructure spending program in the State’s history – in any State’s history, actually – is being completely overwhelmed by the unpopularity of the Abbott Government. Liberal and National Party publicists seem at a loss to know how to punch their message through. (There’s a clue in this paragraph by the way, boys.) Meanwhile Denis Napthine despairs in his eyrie and Daniel Andrews hugs himself with glee, saying very little, cheerfully waiting to fall into office. But that’s another story.)

Those surrounding Abbott need to understand this: it’s one thing to drag down an unpopular Prime Minister in whom trust has been lost. It’s quite another to sell a swingeing austerity package that very few people think is needed in the first place.

They – and he – need to lift their game very fast, or yibbidah yibbidah, that’s all folks.

 

 

Heaven

It is a matter of public record, Dear Reader, that I do not deal well with bereavement, or even, for that matter, with simple uncertainty.

Apparently I was alone with my dead father for a couple of hours after he collapsed with a heart attack when I was just two years old. I am told by people who should know that such experiences can leave traumatic psychological scars that therapy can help us understand, but not necessarily “cure”.

Such is life. In many other ways my time thus far has been rich and varied, and I am not going to rail against the less wonderful moments. Into each life a little rain will fall. It was ever thus, and my ledger has far more weight in the pluses column than the minuses, for which I give thanks.

But it is, nevertheless, the very nature of human existence that we are cursed as well as blessed by self-awareness. The remnant of my childhood sadness is that I seem acutely aware of the possibility of death, not just for me, but for those around me that I care about, and I am more anxious than I need to be as a result.

Yet such fear is surely not erroneous. Media Vita In Morte Sumus: in the midst of life we are in death, as the famous quotation that plays its part of the Latin funeral rite solemnly reminds us. Awareness of death is rational. It happens.

What matters for our peace of mind is how we deal with its ever-present imminence.

It was my birthday yesterday: nowadays, an event that feeds inexorably into my deepening contemplation that less of my life is ahead of me than is behind me, and that how I live and what I achieve with my life, and what I leave behind me as a legacy, is now a matter of some pressing concern.

Simon

Simon

I flicked open my emails expecting to enjoy the usual (and very welcome) crop of messages from the worldwide diaspora of friends and family who always so kindly send me a brief note on the day.

Instead, I saw a torrent of emails informing me that one of my oldest and dearest friends, Simon Titley, had been rushed to hospital having collapsed at a family lunch, that he has a massive and inoperable brain tumour, and not long to live. Worse, that he is currently suffering, with the dreadful combination of poor communication abilities and obvious fear at what is happening to him.

Simon was and for a while still is one of those individuals who enter our lives and fill it with things we wish we could say about ourselves.

He was hilariously funny. His humour ran the entire gamut of the things we call “funny”. As a consummately political animal his grasp of satire was complete and un-yieldingly courageous. He understood that to be effective satire must combine genuine wit with social insight, and time and again his wry, askance view of the universe infused his writing with piercingly accurate observations that changed the lives of others, in line with his fiercely held beliefs, all the while making them laugh uproariously.

“Words? He could almost make them talk”, as Roger McGough once memorably remarked about someone.

The same presence of mind infused his dialectical invective, so often seen in the pages of Liberator magazine, the radical street-sheet of which he was a collective owner and editor, which enlivened and informed the politics of the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Liberal tradition especially, for 40 years. Of this, more in a moment.

He was also a consummate master of silly, scatalogical humour, searching it out in the byways and alleys of human existence and gleefully circulating it to his friends. With roguish good nature he thoroughly enjoyed “bottom jokes”, well aware of how ludicrously sensitive the British are to anything remotely to do with bodily excrescence or functions. He reveled in the laughter and embarrassment he unearthed, knowing full well that every silly gag was just one more brick in the wall of sniffy fussiness removed. Indeed, I still have a small plastic toilet of sweets he mailed me from one of his peripatetic travels around the Continent he loved so much, chortling no doubt as he popped it in the envelope, now many years ago. It will remain unopened.

Simon and co-conspirators Mark Smulian and Peter Johnson man the Liberator stall at a Party Assembly - for a generation it was a hotbed of ideas, humour and occasional insurrection. Simon is on the left.

Simon and co-conspirators Mark Smulian and Peter Johnson man the Liberator stall at a Party Assembly – for a generation it was a hotbed of gossip, ideas, humour and occasional insurrection. Simon is on the left.

In his serious writings, in Liberator and many other outlets, he was nothing more nor less than the most cerebral yet coherent and intensely relevant commentator that the Liberal side of politics has produced in my lifetime. A PR professional of some reputation, he could have devoted his life to simply piling up gold, yet he could never drag himself away from the pressing need to inform the body politic long enough to end up a mere careerist.

His was, above all, the polemic of personal responsibility, and he was as hard on himself as anyone. Where he saw cant and obfuscation instead of candour he exposed it consistently and ruthlessly. He continually advanced new and exciting ideas on how to construct a society where all were participants, where opportunity was available to all, and where the deadening hand of conservatism was lifted off the levers of power when it was serving no remaining purpose. He fought for innovation both within the party he loved and without, but always, especially, within it, infused with the passion of the ironed-on supporter, the pick and stick determination that is born of the deepest convictions.  One only has to pop the words “Simon Titley Lib Dem” into your preferred search engine to gain an insight into the breadth and depth of his influence.

With Simon gone, as another of my closest friends remarked yesterday, we shall simply have to learn to think for ourselves. I genuinely fear we will struggle to reach both his levels of perspicacity and expository skill, and the world will be a poorer and less hopeful place as a result. That he leaves us at a time when his beloved party is in an unprecedented state of internal flux and focus on its future direction is a bitterly cruel irony.

Yesterday, as I say, was my birthday. I am somewhat sidelined at the moment, as my daughter has galloping glandular fever, and we are yet to ascertain whether my wife and I are also going down with the annoyingly infectious and ubiquitous Epstein-Barr virus, or whether we are immune. The next seat to mine at the office has an expectant very-soon-to-be-father in it, and I am not taking any risk of spreading the bug there, so discretion is the better part of valour and I am working at home this week.

Thus, as I wasn’t chained to my desk, my family prevailed upon me to take a short drive to the nearby Yarra Valley for a couple of hours to both celebrate my birthday and lift my spirits. Which is how we came to be sat in a newly-opened chocolate factory, enjoying the delights of their highly inventive production line, and gazing over the patchwork of green, lilac and grey fields and trees fortified by an excellent coffee, observing the whirling clouds of sulphur-crested cockatoos perfectly reflected in the glass-still dams and lakes.

blackAs I sat there, I reflected on the side of Simon that was always the most accessible and, ultimately, memorable. His was a life that was lived joyously and with celebratory appreciation of all things gastronomic. Just up the road, he and I had enjoyed a memorable lunch at the De Bortoli winery some fifteen years previously (I realised the passage of time with some shock) and with a quiet smile I recalled how he had marveled at both the inventiveness of their menu and the unique, luscious quality of their “sticky” dessert wine, the “Black Noble”.

Unique. Like their fan.

Unique. Like their fan.

A true connoisseur of not just wine but beer and food – especially his much-beloved Lincolnshire sausages, about whose pork and sage recipe he could wax lyrical, and for which he typically launched a campaign for EU recognition of their special and unique status – and as many will attest a massive fry-up organised by Simon after a night on the tiles was an experience never forgotten – the Black Noble was unlike anything he had experienced to date in his rich and full life.

When the botrytised Semillon grapes are being harvested for the famous De Bortoli legend “Noble One”, a discrete parcel of fruit at about 20-22 baume is selected to produce the dessert wine’s intense and ripe botrytis flavours. Very little fermentation occurs before fortification with a neutral grape spirit, which is added to inhibit any further fermentation. Black Noble is then clarified, a touch of brandy added for further complexity before being transferred into used Noble One barriques. The winery suggest enjoying its astounding toffee, raisins and mandarin-peel complexity with Christmas pudding or sticky date pudding, or poured over vanilla ice cream.  Never slaves to convention, we sat on the balcony and toasted each other over a sideplate laden with a fine local blue cheese, and just gazed over the vineyards. Afterwards, he pressed the winemaker at the cellar door for more and more detail, before buying as many bottles as he could fit in the trunk of my car. “How are you going to get all those back to England?” I asked, concerned. “Oh, we’ll find a way,” he smiled.

“We’ll find a way” seemed such a Simon-like thing to say that I didn’t give it any more thought. When he left, he took a bottle or two with him, and left the rest secreted in our spare room for later discovery.

To understand the measure of the man, know that he once drove the length of France to pick up the right ingredients for a Christmas lunch he was cooking for my family, and various friends. In a world where a hundred celebrity chefs had not yet made cooking roast potatoes in duck fat a commonplace thing, he insisted it was the only possible medium in which to burnish the unusual species in which he had especially invested because of their world-beating crispness when par-boiled then roasted. And not just any duck fat. This particular duck fat.

Witness, also, as he whisks my ailing mother away into Paris for the longest of long lunches so our little troupe can enjoy a trip to Euro-Disney, creating a lifetime of memories for a tiny daughter who remembers to this day the frozen waterfall of the Disney castle. It was minus 4 degrees. Simon knew that my mother attending would have, of necessity, have led to our visit being curtailed, so he stepped into the breach. Over breakfast: “There’s this little place I know off the Champs Elysee, Betty,” he grinned. “Fancy a trip?”

My mother loved Simon and not just because he shared her adoration of chilled chardonnay and langoustines. He was “an old style gentleman”, she said. Yes. Yes, he was, indeed.

In a kinder universe, Simon would have been some Georgian grandee, dispensing largesse to the peasants with the same enthusiasm with which he consumed it. Or an avuncular and reforming Minister of the Crown, leaving yet a deeper mark on the lives of many.

As it is, he was what he was, and we are bereft. Our friend and brother is on a journey we can’t take with him, and we are suddenly all – again – more alone than we ever realised we could be. And yes, the pain will dull, given time, to be sure, but it is currently very intense. And it will never quite go away: there will always be a space. A gap. A hole. That only Simon can fill, that only Simon could fill, indeed, because the space in our lives he created was huge and unexpected and unparalleled and bright and blinding and warm and funny and above all ineffably kind and meaningful.

And sometimes, without warning, we will sense that gap, and weep silently inside ourselves.

Despite professing faith, and meaning it, I am never quite entirely sure whether we are reunited with those we lose along the way. I hope so. I would like to meet my Dad.

And I would like to share another thick, luscious pint of real ale with Simon, or an anis in a little bar somewhere in some heavenly Brussels.

They do that in Heaven, right? Please tell me they do. I do hope so.

Further reading:

http://liberator-magazine.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/simon-titley-living-obituary.html

 

UPDATE

An operation to remove at least some of Simon’s brain tumour took place a few days after this blog was written offering him some respite, and the opportunity to say his goodbyes to those who loved him, and some time to come to terms with his predicament.

Simon Titley died peacefully on August 31st 2014, mourned by innumerable friends and his family, to all of whom we send our heartfelt condolences.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg may face a challenge.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg may face a challenge.

Most of the coverage of last night’s Newark by-election will focus on the failure of UKIP to win the seat from the Conservatives and what that says, or doesn’t say, about the fortunes of the newly successful right-wing party.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink political desk we happen to believe that the UKIP protest vote has peaked and will now steadily decline, mostly to the advantage of the Labour Party which is gradually regaining credibility, but we could be wrong, and if a week is a long time in politics then the more than a year before the next General Election is a positive aeon.

UKIP will certainly be trying to paint the by-election result as a great success, although they should pause and consider that on the basis of recent local election results this was a seat they “won” two weeks ago, and also that the low (just over 50% turnout) betokens both a weariness in the community and points to a lack of election-fighting capacity in the new party.

The Liberal Democrats too have seen a dramatic change in their political fortunes, although much less favourable than UKIP.

They won a fifth of all votes in the Newark seat four years ago but on Thursday their support was all but wiped out, with their candidate coming sixth behind both an independent and the Green Party, and losing their deposit in the process. For a party which is notable for being the by-election experts of the British political scene, with huge by-election fighting capacity in the past, the result could hardly have been more depressing.

It is the latest in a run of bad results for the beleaguered party and will do nothing to bolster support for its leader, Nick Clegg, who in an appalling display of political cowardice failed to make even a single appearance in Newark during the short campaign.

Granted, this may not be a Lib Dem target seat – and when it comes to the general election they will focus effort where they have already got support on the ground – but the fact they were not even in this race shows just how much work they have to do nationally. A nascent movement to remove the leader (who currently shows no signs of resigning) continues to gather pace in this most polite and middle-class party where such nastiness would generally be avoided. But the run of terrible results for the Lib Dems may tip some who would otherwise be horrified at a leadership spill into the activist “something must be done” camp.

If for not other reason that another 1,000+ LD Councillors are up for re-election next May, and as things stands currently the vast majority of them will be ex-Councillors in short order.

And for the record, we have been in favour of Mr Clegg either upping his game dramatically or moving aside for more than two years now. The fact that so many now agree with us brings us no joy. It would be heartily better if the running sore of his incompetent leadership was lanced immediately.

Lib Dem members who feel a change of Leader is inevitable can voice their opinion at libdems4change.org.

It’s an important day today (well, tomorrow, over there, as we post this from Melbourne), for UK voters.

The furore over the rise and rise of the extraordinarily right wing and virulently anti-EU UK Independence Party – and its charismatic but somewhat questionable leader Nigel Farage – has kept us both mildly horrified, fascinated and occasionally amused.

As you know, Dear Reader, we like to be helpful, so we supply this very helpful chart from Huffpost UK to all those uncertain whether they should place their “X” against UKIP in the Euro and Local elections. Very funny, and thank you to them.

 

Image

 

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we are the “pick and stick” types. We are on record (for nearly forty years now) as supporting the most pro-European party, the Liberal Democrats, and we have often written pro-EU columns (and then ducked and run for cover as the brickbats inevitably come flying from an electorate thoroughly sick of some of the nonsense that admittedly goes on in Brussels). We are, frankly, old enough to remember – if not the war itself – then the ripple effects of the war, and we profoundly believe in the “European project” as a matter of principle.

UK voting

Nick Clegg, this is going to be ugly.

But we are also on record as being of the opinion that the Lib Dems are heading for an absolute shellacking under the woeful current party leadership and especially that of Nick Clegg, the Leader himself.

We strongly suspect the party we love and believe in (still) will go close to being wiped out in some areas, perhaps many areas – and we bitterly regret what will be the unwarranted loss of many hard-working Lib Dem Councillors who have done nothing wrong and much right in faithfully representing their local wards – and that they will also endure a thoroughly humiliating performance in the EU elections.

So although results will be patchy, and the leadership will talk up all Lib Dem successes for all they are worth – and although we are fervently not hoping for a bad result for the LDs, just expecting it – we are sure we will be proven right.

And we expect a leadership spill with Nick Clegg “tapped on the shoulder” soon after, too. You heard it here first.

Incidentally, one serious word of advice to all intending UKIP voters.

Remember, any decision to leave the EU cannot be taken in Brussels, it must be taken in Westminster. So voting UKIP in the EU elections will achieve, er, precisely nothing, if you are in the “get out at all costs” brigade.

Except, of course, to give a bloody nose to the major parties. Which, as many have pointed out, is probably precisely what you are intending to do. And probably why, precisely, you will return to voting Labour and Conservative at the next General Election, and to a lesser extent Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru and Scots Nats, despite all the “gosh wow look what happens if we extrapolate that vote to a Westminster election” coverage that UKIPs successes will lead to tomorrow.

And you heard that here first, too.

"You have sat there too long for any good you may do. For God's sake, go!"

“You have sat there too long for any good you may do. For God’s sake, go!”

The following comments were posted on Facebook by Peter Chegwyn, not only one of the most astute men I know, but also one of the Liberal Party’s (and then the Liberal Democrats’) most highly credentialled campaign organisers and managers.

So… a lost deposit in Manchester Wythenshawe, vote down from 22.3% to under 5%, BNP & Greens beaten by just 400 votes, Lib. Dem. vote just 1/3 of the Tory vote and 1/4 of the UKIP vote, all this in a seat where we polled better than the national average in both 2005 & 2010 and, in normal circumstances, could have expected to finish a respectable 2nd this time.

No doubt we’ll hear the usual from the leadership… ‘This is a seat we were never going to win’ (true), ‘We wouldn’t expect to poll well here’ (untrue), ‘We’ll do better in seats we hold’ etc. etc. etc.

How long before people wake up and smell the coffee?

Will it take a hammering in the European & local elections in May or even then will people still stick their heads in the sand as 2015 fast approaches?

Note, the Lib Dems lost their deposit having previously held more than a fifth of the vote in the seat. Their vote collapsed by more than 17%. Repeat that result across all the LD’s current seats. Go on, I dare you.

I endorse entirely what Peter says, and I extrapolate it to its logical conclusion.

Whether we like it or not, politics in the modern media era is increasingly “presidential” in style.

The Lib Dems leader, Nick Clegg, is now electoral poison. He is way past his use by date. If the LD’s persist with him, they will be slaughtered at not only the upcoming local Council and European elections (losing some very fine people in the process through no fault of theirs, which does no one any good, specifically the good people they represent) but at the next General Election they will be reduced to an irrelevant rump of seats – back to the dark days of the 1950s-1970s.

And his credibility is not going to be helped by breaking stories like this.

Anyhow, apparently, a request by 75 constituency parties for a leadership spill can trigger an election. Moves are afoot amongst seasoned party campaigners to test that possibility.

But it would be much better, faster and cleaner if those who believe in the future of the party – we are not entirely convinced Clegg does, which is why he may be less concerned than many others – were to “tap him on the shoulder”. “Come on chum, nice try.  Sword on the table in the ante-room. There’s a good fellow. Fall on it.”

Your correspondent, Dear Reader, is clear.

Clegg. Must. Go. Now.

Period.

Tony Benn

Those who think being “business friendly” (or “Conservative Lite” as I like to call it) is the way forward for the UK Liberal Democrats should keep a close eye on the German Federal Election this weekend.

The Lib-Dems’ long-term European ally the Free Democrats may be effectively wiped out at the election by failing to meet the 5% hurdle to enter Parliament and remain in the governing Coalition.

Essentially the FDP’s support has either drifted to the majority party with whom it has been in Coalition on and off for a generation (the CDU under Angela Merkel) or it has wandered off to a variety of other options on both left and right, according to whichever way members of the party’s somewhat amorphous supporter base lean.

The same fate applied to the Australian Democrats a while back, when they got too close to the then Conservative government and passed a regressive tax package, although leadership wrangling played just as much of a role in their demise.

Back to the future: the day Tony Benn predicted the Lib-Dem’s current crisis to me.

I well remember chatting for some time to Tony Benn at a Liberal Party conference at Harrogate deep in the last millennium, at which he was addressing a fringe meeting.

Opinions on Benn differ – I considered and still consider him a national treasure, and I read his famous diaries voraciously – in a discursive conversation that especially covered his views on the essential non-independence of elected Governments, which his Wikipedia entry summaries as follows:

By the end of the 1970s, Benn had migrated to the left wing of the Labour Party. He attributed this political shift to his experience as a Cabinet Minister in the 1964–1970 Labour Government.

Four lessons

Benn quoted four lessons:

1) how “the Civil Service can frustrate the policies and decisions of popularly elected governments”;

2) the centralised nature of the Labour Party allowing to the Leader to run “the Party almost as if it were his personal kingdom”;

3) “the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government”; and

4) the power of the media, which “like the power of the medieveal Church, ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of the view of those who enjoy economic privilege.

As regards the power of industrialists and bankers, Benn remarked:

“Compared to this, the pressure brought to bear in industrial disputes by the unions is minuscule. This power was revealed even more clearly in 1976 when the IMF secured cuts in our public expenditure.

These [four] lessons led me to the conclusion that the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. If the British people were ever to ask themselves what power they truly enjoyed under our political system they would be amazed to discover how little it is, and some new Chartist agitation might be born and might quickly gather momentum.”

That was essentially Benn’s thesis as we talked. He shared a few examples which it would be inappropriate for me to repeat here, as it was a private conversation. I was left profoundly convinced that – even though I disagreed with much of his prescriptions to solve these obvious problems – his analysis of the hidden state-behind-the-state that influenced the public behaviour of governments was totally accurate.

I genuinely don’t think it was his obvious charisma and passion that led me to conclude he was correct, although Benn is undoubtedly a very attractive and convincing individual, especially for a young Parliamentary candidate in his twenties. It was more that the stories he told me simply “rang true”.

As I nursed a pint and Benn enjoyed his perennial mug of strong tea and a pipe – he has been both a lifelong teetotaller and longtime pipe smoker – the conversation moved onto the manner in which essentially left wing parties may nevertheless sometimes be required to enact unpopular social policies, specifically cutting public expenditure as the wider macro-economic situation demanded.

I have never forgotten these words

And Benn said something to me that I have never forgotten, and which I later heard him repeat on various occasions on TV in the coming years, especially as Labour sunk deeper and deeper into the Blairite fog.

I am paraphrasing, but it ran thus:

“We are not the bastards” he said, somewhat whimsically. “The public know we are not the bastards. When we try and act like bastards, we do a poor job of it, and the public know our heart is not really in it. If they want the bastards, they’ll vote for the real ones – the Tories. If we try and pretend to be Tories, they’ll simply kick us out and go get the real thing.”

This weekend, the FDP will pay the ultimate price for deserting their community-focused, small business friendly, “small is beautiful”, environmentally aware, co-operative roots. They will be decimated, and may well end up a footnote to history.

Nice Clegg

The Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg and the right-leaning cabal he has gathered around him – or the Lib Dems led by someone else – should listen and learn, or they will face the same fate – and frankly, what’s more, they will deserve to.

“They don’t want us to pretend to be the bastards.

If they want the bastards, they’ll vote for them.”

Liberal Democrats: you have been warned. Don’t say you weren’t.

UPDATE

"What's the similarity between Becks and the FDP? They've both got 4.9%."  Oh, those crazy whacky Germans.

“What’s the similarity between Becks and the FDP? They’ve both got 4.9%.” Oh, those crazy whacky Germans, eh? How cruel to say they don’t have a sense of humour.

Well, our direst forecasts have proven correct. As has Benn’s essential thesis. Some 2.2 million FDP voters switched directly from the FDP to Merkel’s ruling CDU to deliver her one of the biggest election victories since the war.

(An interesting aside: If she stays in power for the next four years, as she has said she intends to, she will pass Margaret Thatcher’s record as the longest serving female leader in modern European electoral history.)

The FDP’s vote collapsed to 4.9%, tantalisingly close to the 5% they needed to ensure survival, and denying it seats in the lower house of the Bundestag, effectively making them and the country’s Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler (ironic, huh? Vice Chancellor … Deputy Prime Minister … geddit?) utterly irrelevant to Germany moving forward.

And by the by, denying Merkel a natural coalition partner despite her electoral triumph; she will now have to laboriously try and stitch together either a “Grand Coalition” with her natural rivals the SDP, or cobble together an arrangement with the Greens.

Both options look problematical. Ironically, Merkel now has both unparalleled authority in her country, and a real chance that she may struggle to govern effectively, which given Germany’s key role in re-shaping the Eurozone is hardly good news both for Europeans and the rest of the world who are hoping that the economies Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal et al are going to continue to avoid collapsing entirely, which would plunge the world back into a credit crisis.

Vince Cable - a burr under Clegg's saddle, but wisely so.

Vince Cable – a burr under Clegg’s saddle, but wisely so.

After four years of bickering and failure to deliver on its tax-cutting pledges German voters overwhelmingly bled to the “real bastards” (exactly as explained above) and for those who couldn’t make that switch there were a variety of more left-wing options to try. What they didn’t do was stay with a party that didn’t seem to know why it exists.

We maintain the Lib Dems need to work much harder on effectively differentiating themselves from their larger Coalition partner or face the same fate.

Buying the Tories’ free market schtick holus bolus is most certainly not the way to do that.

Senior economic spokesman Vince Cable is often criticised by those on the right of the party for his often mournful warnings that the Tories talk at least as much crap as they do good sense about reducing deficits and applying austerity measures to cure the country of its bloated welfare culture.

As Cable has appositely pointed out, Jeremiah might have been a miserable old curmurdgeon, but his famously depressing prophesies were correct.

Er ...

Er …

Meanwhile, Merkel’s continuing onward march gives us an excuse to tell again our very favourite completely politically incorrect joke.

So Angela Merkel turns up in her stretched Mercedes at the border with Greece.

An Immigration Officer wanders over to the car. “Name?”

“Angela Merkel,” says the Chancellor as she passes over her passport.

“Occupation?” asks the officer, as he flips through the pages.

“No, ” smiles Merkel sweetly, “just a holiday this time.”

FOOTNOTE: We were saddened to see that the seemingly indomitable Tony Benn was admitted to hospital this week after feeling unwell. Let us hope he recovers fully and our thoughts are with him and his family. Agree with him or not, his contribution to modern political debate in the UK and beyond has been colossal. We are also reminded of his famous quip in 2001 that he was retiring as an MP “to concentrate on politics”. Maybe Nick Clegg should view the Deputy Prime ministership with similar askance humour sometime soon.