Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MPs expenses

I'll start by saying that I think it is quite reasonable for MPs who represent constituencies away from London to be able to claim sufficient allowances to enable them to stay in reasonable accomodation in London during the week.

There are issues with how they do that, but some allowance for it is reasonable.

But the idea that an MP representing Brent, a few stops up the Jubilee Line from Westminster, can claim for a second home while also owning a family home in Stratford, beggars belief.

And as my old mate Hywel Morgan has found out, the comparison between different MPs who all represent constituencies near each other in my old stamping ground of North London makes very interesting reading.

One of the issues here is that if they are using the allowance to pay off a mortgage the taxpayer is effectively buying a second home for them which they will be able to either rent out or sell off.

Whether or not this is technically within the rules, it certainly isn't right.

[Declaring my interest: I work for an MP outside London for 25% of my working week]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's Mark v. Mike (and they've both got a point)

It's psephological handbags at dawn over at Lib Dem Voice where one of my friends, Mark Pack, has taken another, PoliticalBetting's Mike Smithson, to task ove his criticism of David Laws.

Mike's general point is that too many pundits compare current polls with those in the mid-nineties without taking account of the changes in methodology that have happened since then.

He is quite right in this. Many of the polls in the run up to the '97 election gave Labour a massive lead, way ahead of the actual result. Several pollsters changes their methodolgy as a result.

However in his criticism of David Laws he overeggs the pudding a little.

He said: "It also does the Lib Dems no good to be undermining, in however a roundabout way, ICM polls. This is the firm that yesterday had Clegg’s party on 20% compared with just 14% that a MORI poll taken at the same time recorded. It’s all down to the methodology and the former has the track record with LD shares. "

The table in his own article shows that ICM got it right one month before the '97 election (the main parties were each within 1% of ICM's figures) with a Labour lead over the Tories of 14%.

The most recent ICM poll has the Tories' lead over Labour at 12%, and looking back at recent polls and those in the run up to '97 it is clear that the Tories' leads now tend to be lower than Labour leads were in the run up to '97.

This chimes with the general mood that I am picking up.

In the run up to '97 there was a strong national mood that it was time for the Tories to go. The only question was when and by how much. they were hated, and there was a genuine enthusiasm for Blair. (In fact I remember wondering what it was I was missing about Blair, so taken in were so many people I knew).

Now it is a bit different. I do think there is a general mood that Labour should go, but it is not as visceral as it was in '96/'97. And as far as I can tell there is nothing like the positive vibe about Cameron that there was about Blair, possibly because there is a suspiscion that he is not that different from him.

I still think there is a lot to play for, particularly for us.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Harrogate gets my vote

I'm very fond of Harrogate.

My first conference was there - the last full Liberal Assembly in September 1987 that agreed to go ahead with merger.

It is a lovely town, it is in Yorkshire and the Conference Centre is ideal for our Spring Conference.

Overall I found the experince slightly odd, as it is the first conference for sixteen years that I have attended as an ordinary representative rather than having a packed diary of training and meetings. This did mean I had plenty of time to simply sit around and chat to folk.

Children & Education

And it was good conference. The policy theme was children and education, a theme that unites the party on all but some detail.

We agreed a coherent set of policies that will lead to investment at every level with a clear focus on providing better opportunities to those who start with the least life chances.

Importantly we also reaffirmed our clear opposition to Tuition Fees without a murmur of dissent and with several emphatic speechedin favour of the policy. Even better we have widened the policy to include part-time students and adult returners to FE.

Governor Dean

The highlight of the conference for me was watching Governor Howard Dean speak to an enthusiastic welcome and then to discuss his campaign strategy at a smaller meeting.

Having followed Governor Dean's campaign for the nomination last time, and his work as Chair of DNC, I was really excited to see him in the flesh and delighted to be able to ask him a question in the later meeting.

There are a lot of lessons we can learn from him (although we have to understand that not everything that worked for him and then Obama will necessarily transfer straight across)

The key points for me were:

  • The internet is only a tool, it won't do any good if you haven't got something to say
  • It is important to invest in a basic organisation across the board, but to still target extra resources into winnable races once you have identified them
  • The internet community is a community and we have engage with it and treat it with respect
  • We need to ask everyone to vote for us and to discuss issues with them based on where there is common ground, even if they are not traditional supporters or likely to support us initially
  • There are thousands of good ideas out there amongt our supporters and we have to be willing to take some risks in order to allow the good ideas to surface

Happy Birthday Oadby & Wigston and Vale of White Horse

The Lib Dem LGA group organised a 'Birthday Party' to celebrate our 18 years control of Oadby & Wigston and our 14 years control of the Vale.

I was delighted to attend this event as I had helped a lot during the 1991 campaign in Oadby, specifically organising the student campaign in the Leicester Uni Halls of Residence in Oadby and writing and prnting leaflets) and ran the campaign in the Vale in 1995.

My old friend and now Lib Dem LGA chief staffer Ed Fordham was organising the vent and I was as chuffed as cheese when he asked me if I would say a few words about my memories of the two campaigns.

It was also lovely to catch up with the Oadby & Wigston crowd that I hadn't seen for years.

Well done Reading

My good friends in Reading Lib Dems picked up a prize for top growth in membership. This is well deserved by Gareth Epps and his team and it is particularly good to see that the student branch there is doing so well too.

There were a lot of young people and students at the conference and it is good to see that there seems to be something of a growth in the number of active student branches. Our decision on Tuition Fees can only help that growth continue.

It was also good to hear that Liberal Youth are planning to reinitiate Activate weekends (the first of which was run by Hywel Morgan and myself too many years ago to remember and featured the excellent Jo Swinson as one of its participants) and an Executive Training weekend.

And finally ...

I got a sense that there is a renewed confidence in the party.

This is partly due to Vince's credibility, partly due to Nick steadily finding his feet, partly because we went with our instincts on education and fees, and partly because, whatever the polls say, we have more people fighting stronger campaigns in more places than ever before.

Keep at it folks!

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Scottish Executive should think carefully

One of the most consistent principles that has marked out the Liberal Democrats is our belief in natural justice.

That means treating people fairly, defending the rights of the individual against those who hold institutional power, basing judgements on all the evidence and allowing people who have had accusations made against them to know what those accusations are and what the evidence against them is.

It is for that reason that I have become increasingly concerned about the Scottish Party's approach to the problems in Aberdeenshire.

For a very useful background to the history of the situation see Bernard Salmon's blog here.

Several other bloggers have also commented and I would like to associate myself with their views here, here and here.

For an insight into the thinking of the Scottish Executive when they discussed the proposal to suspend the three see ruaraidhdobson's blog here. If I had any doubts about the situation his account of the meeting - particularly his comments about the original planning decision - confirmed my view that the Scottish Executive have got this badly wrong.

By deciding to suspend three party members who are quite clearly on one side of a very complex situation, whilst refusing to investigate complaints made by those members, the Scottish Executive have acted inconsistently.

By deciding to look at the recent behaviour of the three, but not properly investigate all the issues that led to that recent behaviour, they are acting unjustly.

If they have any sense of justice at all the Scottish Executive will put the expulsion process on hold and instigate a full investigation into the history of events that have led to the current situation.

Once that has been done the Scottish Executive should then look at the various options which may include disciplinary action against one or more members, recomendations about how the Aberdeenshire group should be run and a mediation and/or reconciliation process.

If the Scottish Executive continue on their current course they not only risk losing four of the most experienced and committed campaigners in the party, but also diverting many other active Lib Dems into an ongoing campaign to win justice.

I hope the members of the Scottish executive will think again.