Month: December 2006

A landmark for the New Year

I’ve just checked the stats for my website and I have now reached 3,000 views since I started up the site in July 2006, with the best day being 168 when I wrote about Doug Haw.

OK, so it is not startling compared to some political websites but it is actually still quite flattering. I can’t be doing too bad a job and coming 21st in Iain Dale’s list of Lib Dem blogs was also encouraging. So one resolution for 2007 is to keep it up, post more regularly, to post on a bigger mixture of topics and to improve the quality of the writing. But also to not get too carried away with the idea that what I am writing is actually important.

Should these defections matter?

Iain Dale has highlighted a number of recent defections from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives, mentioning that no Lib Dems have since commented on it. Well in my case, I read it first on Iain Dale’s website, although I notice that a few people have now responded but not so much on the defections but on how we should respond as a party. From my point of view it is simple – we don’t want to promote bad news. Instead though I do want to look at why people defect. Forget the reasons the people give publicly, there seems to be four main reasons:

  • Policy principles: they think that their views are now better represented by another party (the more honourable one, but also the reason that virtually ever defector gives).
  • Ambition: they can move their career forward more by joining another party instead.
  • Anger: they are pissed off with their own party for one reason or another and so they decide that to give them a bloody nose they will defect even if it is to a party that they also hate.
  • Madness: they are just unhinged.

So should Lib Dems be bothered about these latest defections? To some extent, they shouldn’t as there are always defections back and forwards between parties. Even at the darkest hours of a party there are always some people who will swim against the tide and go and join a party that in the polls is a lot less popular than their own. But in this case, that argument doesn’t apply. We are at a time when the Conservatives are doing well in the polls, David Cameron gets high poll ratings and the impression is that the Liberal Democrats are doing less well.

I don’t happen to believe these polls tell the real story as I think that we might simply be switching back to a time when the Lib Dems always dip dramatically between elections but it doesn’t give an indication of how the party will do at the general election. My prediction is that Ming will still be leader at the end of 2007 unless Gordon Brown calls a snap general election before then. Anything could happen after an election depending on the outcome.

It is very rare for defectors to be high profile and so I would usually dismiss a low profile defection as meaningless. But in this latest set of defectors, all of the people defecting are recent parliamentary candidates. Interestingly none of them say that the Lib Dems have moved away from what they believe, it is simply that they think the Conservatives are better. That should be reassuring as it does not suggest a big disagreement with the party’s political stance. What I think they do reflect though is a concern with the image of the party at the moment. I do not share this concern as I think the party has actually moved on a long way in terms of its campaigning recently, and with the party having now appointed a new Director of Campaigns and Elections it will be interesting to see if anything else changes. What I think the party is not achieving so much is presenting this well on a national basis. The Lib Dems however rely far more on their local image than their national one to achieve electoral success. That is why I do not worry about the poll ratings.

I do not know any of these defectors, but I do know of Richard Porter and John Barstow. I had never had a positive opinion of the latter, but the former is far more significant. Particularly because of his high profile role with helping to write the party’s LGBT manifesto and within the party in Southwark. To go back to my reasons for defections, I don’t see that his defection could necessarily be thwarted ambition as he had been selected for Camberwell & Peckham, which is a decent long-term prospect by Lib Dem standards, and I had not noticed that he was unhinged. Which leaves me with the other two – one positive and one negative – and it is difficult to decide between the two without knowing more about him.

With Liberal Democrats though I believe there is an additional factor with defections, which is a bit of a combination of all four reasons I gave before, and this factor is almost exclusive to the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats have achieved a lot of success through it’s community politics. That is actually listening to local residents and campaigning on issues that really matter to them and trying to get action for the local area. It is this campaigning that has pushed the party forward and led them to great success in some parts of the country. But the side effect of this type of campaigning is that you end up building up a coalition of the disaffected. That is great when you are trying to win power, but when the party actually then has power and put things in to practice, the coalition can start to fall apart. It may not be that the party is doing a bad job in power, but when you make some of the unpopular decisions that are inevitable in power, you lose those people who were never really Lib Dems but just didn’t like whichever party was in power. I have never seen an analysis of the number of defections between parties and whether there are any trends, but if there is an increase in defections from the Lib Dems, the biggest reason could simply be down to its increasing success leading to the party taking more stances on issues that don’t play well with those who were never Lib Dems anyway.

IAIN DALE: Three more Lib Dem candidates join the Conservatives

Still it could have been worse..

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Forget the fog. At least, unlike in Sweden, we haven’t just lost a stretch of one of our main motorways due to a landslide caused by the weather. 28 motorists lost their cars when the collapse happened, but no one was killed.

This picture shows the state of the E6 – Sweden’s main west-coast motorway that connects Oslo to Gothenburg. If you are driving between the two places you now face a huge detour inland. They have also lost a part of the railway line that connects Gothenburg with one of the main coastal towns.

THE LOCAL: Dozens caught up in road collapse

THE LOCAL: Experts warn of further road collapse

The trials of being in politics

There is a very good article by Steve Richards in today’s Independent about the thankless task that is party politics. It is never the done thing for politicians to say that the media or the public are unfair on politicians, after all they would say that wouldn’t they. But it is true.

I have been told countless times that “well of course all politicians are corrupt”. When I ask the question, “so do you think I am corrupt then?” the answer usually comes “of course not Anders, I know that you’re not. It’s the others who are.” It’s a bit like the comment from racists who who say that they don’t like Asians, except for that Mr Khan next door because he’s a nice man.

But what is starting to happen now is exactly what Steve Richards says, and that the media – including the so called independent BBC – is reinforcing that stereotype. Just the other day there was a BBC reporter standing in Downing Street or on College Green saying something like how Iraq is a disaster and how no one trusts Blair anymore. I happen to agree with that analysis, but surely that is an opinion and not a statement of fact. This happens countless times, where the BBC also seems to assume that no politician could ever tell the truth. They do – I know plenty of them and I know that most of them are genuine and honest people.

Something that I am spotting increasingly regularly is the view that either we should be electing “experts” only. For example, making business people run the economies of big cities or builders being in charge of how homes are designed. The other alternative is for everyone to be an independent. It might sound like getting the right people for the job, i.e. apolitical and with real expertise, but do people really think it would make their views taken in to account anymore. Instead it would be another set of people who believe they know all of the answers more than anyone else as they are either using purely their own opinions rather than that of a party or because they are some sort of expert in the field. Political parties do at least have to balance a conviction with what is practical, rather than always being sure they are right no matter what. Which is where his 24 comparison comes in handy. In 24, it is exciting because of the way he is confronted with dilemmas, neither of which are the best answer. He is a hero for that. I look forward to the day when politicians achieve hero status for the same dilemma. I won’t be holding my breath.

THE INDEPENDENT: The BBC’s coverage is symptomatic of an anti-politics movement that serves no one

Currently reading…

014100934901_ss500_sclzzzzzzz_v59233807_.jpgMessiah by Boris Starling was read very quickly and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers. I already had an idea of who might be behind the murders and why before I reached the end, but it didn’t spoilt what was a gripping and enjoyable read.

I have now moved on to “The Fire Baby” by “Jim Kelly” – another thriller, this time set in the Fens. This is an author whose books I have never read before and so I have no real idea of what to expect. But it has had good (on the whole) reviews from people writing on Amazon, with the only criticism being that the landscape in which it is set is too bleak. Fine, as bleak is a thread that seems to have run through my recent posts on here anyway.

AMAZON UK: Messiah by Boris Startling

AMAZON UK: The Fire Baby by Jim Kelly

“They” might be Lib Dem MP of the year

Iain Dale is running a poll to find the Lib Dem MP of the year. Whilst I feel a certain loyalty to Nick Clegg and feel I should vote for him as my (sort of) employer and local MP, the one I would want to vote for is Charles Kennedy, for two reasons:

  • His resignation at the start of 2006 has changed the party’s year completely. We all probably knew what 2006 would bring under Charles. After all, we’d had five years of him already. But his going moved us in to the unknown. The change of leadership has brought a bit more energy within the party in terms of its policy making and campaigns. This may, or may not, be as a result of Ming’s leadership. But what I really mean is that this great upheaval has meant that members seem to be debating the general future and electoral success of the party more readily. Not in a secretive, plotting kind of way. But in a more uncertain “who knows what the future may hold?” kind of way. And no one really knows the answer to that question.
  • Charles’ poor performance in his farewell speech at the party’s autumn conference cemented Ming as leader within the party and to the media. The arguments about whether the MPs should have got a rid of Charles and whether Ming was a suitable replacement were finished.

There are strong arguments for a number of other MPs getting the title. But in my view, Charles has had the biggest impact on the party this year.

IAIN DALE