Saturday, 29 May 2010


Here's a strange thought thrown up by my last blog. I doubt it is novel in the musings about the coalition but it has intrigued me. David Lloyd George, the last LD Prime Minister, was elected in 1918 on the back of his success in bringing the First World War to an end at the head of a coalition government. In the process the Liberals divided among themselves, resulting in his needing the support of Conservatives to govern. Ultimately the Liberals fell apart, allowing the new Labour Party to emerge as the main opposition to the Tories.

In 2010 we have a Conservative Prime Minister who has failed to win an election and who has instead called upon the support of the Liberal Democrats, to the evident dislike of many within his own party. His party appears to have lost its clear purpose in the process of seeking re-election and in many ways he is making common purpose more with Liberal Democrats than with Conservatives.

It may not be a ground-breaking notion but it is interesting.


It is difficult to be anything other than disturbed by the enforced resignation of David Laws due to the revelations of the Daily Telegraph, a strong supporter of the Conservatives since time began and a truculent critic of the new coalition.

There is no question that Laws messed up and if it had been a Labour or Tory MP who had been exposed in this situation many Lib Dems would have joined the chorus baying for their blood but in the light of the antipathy being expressed towards the new coalition by numerous Tory leaning correspondents it raises questions.

It is of course a tremendous shame both personally and for the Lib Dems as David Laws has tremendous ability and he suited the role of Chief Secretary as few others could.

If we want to know how long this coalition will last we perhaps need to consider a couple of fundamental issues, such as whether the Torygraph and its ilk are planning more such revelations and who will be drafted in to fill the fifth LD place. Charles Kennedy for Scotland, anyone?

Of course it may strengthen the resolve of the members of the government and change the relationship between senior members and the more unpleasant elements of the Tory press.

Perhaps the fundamental question which will define the success or failure of the coalition is how much authority David Cameron has within his own party.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Fascinating to hear an interview with Tory Cabinet Minister Philip Hammond this morning on the Today programme. He spoke cautiously as you would expect a newly installed government to do but one comment made me stop and think. When asked about the spending review and the cuts to come across government Hammond replied that he didn't know what David Laws had in mind. Not George Osborne, you understand, but Lib Dem David Laws.

Now this either means that David Laws has been given unimagined powers to control public finances to relieve Osborne of tasks which might be too much for him or it may mean that the Tories are already putting as much blame on to their supposed LD colleagues as they can, perhaps with an eye on a future election.

I shall listen very carefully to future interviews with Tory ministers

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Because Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail is spluttering with indignation and railing against it on BBC1's Question Time. That is endorsement enough for me.


When I was young I had a good friend with whom I would argue endlessly about politics. We were known at school for this and it became a bit of a spectator sport. At the time I lived in a Tory household with the Daily Hate delivered every day and Margaret Thatcher bestriding the stage so I was not surprisingly a Tory. My friend was Labour and we would go at it like cage fighters day in, day out, to our great enjoyment and the general amusement of our friends.

I grew up and moved into the light, becoming a Liberal in 1987 and then joining the Lib Dems in 1990, after a very brief period in, ahem, another party which used a rose as its symbol. My friend continued to be Labour and still is but our conversations about politics dwindled as we were simply less polarised.

Then came Tony 'I'll say anything' Blair who ushered in the New Labour project and all those mad old socialists who used to enliven TV and radio debates as they bemoaned the plight of the working classes from their Hampstead piles seemed to fade away. They had got a Labour government but not quite the one they had hoped for, yet still most of them kept mum as they kept a grudging faith and hoped against all hope that a glimmer of that old socialist zeal would emerge like a chink of light from within the deceptive TARDIS that was the New Labour project.

Then came Gordon Brown, kind of an old Labour lag but one intimately tied up with the New Labour project so he had to try to carry on with all the blather of his predecessor, pleasing neither himself, his party or his country. On May 6th the verdict was delivered and no one won but Gordon definitely lost. After a few days Gordon's pain was relieved and he was allowed to slope off to his roots to rediscover his mojo or whatever he had left behind when he signed his deal with the devil way back in 1994.

And that's where the story brightens, for out of the blue my old friend sent me an e-mail deriding the Lib Dems for the coalition and asserting amusingly that I had always been a Tory. I of course responded in kind and it was if the years had fallen away. We damned each other, we condemned our respective parties and we attacked the other one for his views. It was as refreshing as a cold shower.

For that, dear reader, is perhaps one of the most surprising outcomes of this enthralling political drama. Old Labour is back with a vengeance, like a slightly racy uncle who is a bit old fashioned in his views but who nevertheless enlivens any family gathering. I for one welcome it with open arms, so here's to debate based on principles and real differences, which the new Tories have not quite managed to offer. Here's to Old Labour. Welcome back!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


If you supported me in the General Election and you are feeling uneasy with the news that the Liberal Democrats are considering whether to enter into a formal coalition with the Conservatives, may I reassure you that your vote in Henley was important and not wasted.

Firstly, your support contributed to the overall number of votes for Liberal Democrats across Britain being recorded as nearly 6.8m. That figure compares to 8.6m for Labour and 10.7m for the Conservatives. The next highest vote tally was 168,000 for the Democratic Unionists. Your support means that the Liberal Democrats have been taken more seriously this time than they have for decades.

Secondly, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrat negotiating team have been involved in detailed talks with the Conservatives to ensure that they can deliver Liberal Democrat policies in government. That is no mean achievement for a party which has been in opposition since the 1920s. In the coming months and years, I hope we will see Liberal Democrat priorities coming about, not just being talked about.

Thirdly, your vote ensured that the Liberal Democrat remain the only challengers to the Conservatives in Henley. You can rest assured that Henley Liberal Democrats will continue to work for your support and to deliver Liberal Democrat success in south east Oxfordshire. We will still challenge the Conservatives locally and we will argue for Liberal Democrat principles and values at every level of government but we will respect the co-operation which I hope will be established nationally to provide an effective government.

Please be assured that the Liberal Democrats will fight every step of the way for our beliefs and values and we will seek to earn and retain your support throughout this fascinating and potentially challenging period in British politics. And at the next election we will robustly challenge all the other parties, outlining Liberal Democrat policies and fighting for your support to ensure that we can continue to work towards our fundamental goal of a fairer, more equal society.


I was asked to do an 'op ed' piece for the local newspaper on whether we need voting reform in 250 words. Well, 250 words is never going to cover what could be a PhD. thesis but this is what I submitted.

The simple answer is yes. 

The newly formed coalition government of Britain is an anomaly because it can claim the support of more than 50% of British voters.  Such an outcome does not normally happen under our electoral system.

In 2005 the Labour government took office with 37% of the votes cast, which is a pretty normal result for Britain.  What that meant in practice was that for the past five years the views of 63% of the population who voted were ignored as Labour ruled alone.  If you also remember that only 61% of people voted in 2005 that means that the Labour government had the support of fewer than a third of voters overall. Two thirds of British voters were simply not listened to.

Locally, the system means that in most constituencies, like Henley, the winner can be elected with just a third of votes, so that the views of two thirds of voters are ignored.

Such a result just isn't fair.  Our system should deliver a Parliament which reflects the range of views in our country.  If we had a fairer electoral system the numbers of MPs in the House of Commons would better match the votes cast for each party.  That would mean that we would have more Green MPs, some UKIP MPs - and yes, some BNP MPs.  A proportional system might deliver some unpleasant results like this but they could be addressed in the design of a new system.

A fairer voting system may lead to more power sharing but it is democratic. As the new Conservative Prime Minister has demonstrated, politicians adapt to new realities remarkably quickly. This year we have a majority government. Under a fairer voting system we could have a majority government every time.


The mood music now seems to be hardening in favour of the Tories.

I have just googled 'abyss' as I wanted one to stare into but sadly Google let me down. I will just have to imagine one instead.


John Reid is against it. David Blunkett is against it. Ian Dale is against it. Even 'Lib Dem' Mark Littlewood is against it. [For the 8.55 argument on the Today programme, Mark Littlewood was asked to speak for the Lib Dems. His Labour foil, Sunder Katwala, asked why and pointed out that he could understand why Littlewood was in favour of a Tory/LD coalition since he runs 'a Thatcherite Think Tank'. Well, quite.]

These are all compelling reasons to think that a coalition between the LDs and Labour could work and could deliver a significant amount which a LD/Tory coalition would be unlikely to do. As ever, Paddy Ashdown shone for us on Radio 4 and explained why a Labour/LD coalition could work, despite the needless blatherings of Naughtie and the attempted intrigues of Nick Robinson. Essentially, Paddy's point was that the nationalists and other smaller parties would never vote with a Tory opposition and they would support PR or AV so a LD/Labour government could work. Also, could a Tory opposition which has made much of its desire to cut the deficit - with little evidence of how they would do this - vote against a budget which addressed this, even if they bleated that it 'didn't go far enough'?

I found a Tory election leaflet from Henley last night. In it my opponent railed against a coalition with the Lib Dems, incredibly using the Lib Dems' position on the Lisbon Treaty as the reason for his opposition to any such deal. There seemed to be no irony intended and perhaps the lack of space on the leaflet was the reason he did not set out how David Cameron had performed a startling reverse ferret on this very issue, promising a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as a 'cast-iron guarantee' and then deciding that a referendum would not be necessary. From this I conclude that he is against a coalition. How many of his colleagues are as well?

Who'd be Nick Clegg...?

Sunday, 9 May 2010


You know, listening to another Tory MP on the BBC dismissively calling us 'the Liberals', then demanding that Nick Clegg acts in the national interest rather than narrow party political interest (perish the thought that Dave and his limited ranks might be doing this themselves) and then making the ugly point that the 'Liberals' can't afford to fight another election, I'm not exactly confident that Nick, for all his abilities, can make a deal with these [word deleted while discussions continue] - at least not one which Lib Dems could ever support.

The mask is slipping surprisingly quickly from the Tory face.

From a position of polite silence while my leader does his damnedest to cut a civilised deal, my position is hardening and its all thanks to the Conservatives, so I must thank them for giving me such increasing clarity as the hours tick by.

Saturday, 8 May 2010


There is an interesting article in the Independent today from Steve Richards, one of those commentators worth reading as he doesn't have an agenda of his own to pursue. He is convinced that an alliance with the Conservatives would not deliver electoral reform but would result in an early election which could see us fall back further. He favours an alliance with Labour to bring in voting reform as he says another hung parliament is highly unlikely.

Looking at the BBC website the arithmetic is interesting. Labour and the Lib Dems would have 315 votes together. If the Green and Alliance MPs were persuaded to come on board, the arithmetic is quite encouraging. The Conservatives and their likely allies, the DUP, could muster 314 votes to this 317. Once again, if we assume that the nationalist parties would be sympathetic to a change in the voting system which would be likely to deliver them increased support in future, and we remember that the 5 Sinn Fein MPs do not sit in Parliament.the chances of voting reform in this Parliament are quite good. Compare this with the Conservative offer of a commission...

Steve Richards points out how unpalatable it would be to prop up the Labour government but he thinks this is a once in a generation opportunity to change things. He has a point.

Fascinating times but also potentially desperate ones for the future of our party. Nick's up to it but I don't envy him the task.


Nick Clegg has just spoken to a demonstration in central London on the subject of electoral reform. He received a rapturous reception and he clearly has the support of thousands of people who want the voting system to change.

Can David Cameron resist this kind of pressure in the name of a minority of voters who elected his candidates in a minority of seats, which has meant that he has failed in his ambition to become Prime Minister?

It feels like history going on out there and it seems the Liberal Democrats are at the heart of this quite remarkable movement.

Are we in dreamland?

Friday, 7 May 2010


It's rather like a viper sidling up to you but the offer of co-operation from the Conservatives must be considered. The specific point I would like to see responded to robustly is on the proposed 'commission of enquiry' into electoral reform.

The plain answer should be reference to the last commission set up to look at this by another slippery customer in 1997, which reported back to propose a perfectly reasonable system called AV+, which would work with the existing constituency system and which would have a significant element of proportionality. It would be nice to see this as a deal breaker because this humble blogger thinks that if we go into any deal without getting a signature in blood on this issue it isn't going to happen.


The results are almost all in and the commentators busy commentating themselves to a standstill but to me there is a clear conclusion from the election. David Cameron failed to persuade people to support a Conservative government.

Now he will spin and declare that he was the winner and he will make grandiloquent statements about his right to rule but nothing will get away from the fact that he lost a 10 point poll lead, he failed convincingly to unseat an unpopular Prime Minister and his party and he failed to offer a sound programme for government. It is inherent in its very name that a Conservative government can never represent change.

Whatever we take from this enthralling election and whatever follows in coming days and weeks, we must never lose sight of this simple fact: Cameron failed in his primary task, which was to win an election for the Tories.

My prediction for the Conservatives is that they will bluster and scheme to get another election as soon as possible and the risk is that their scheming will damage our country. My question for them is whether people will want another election or whether they will simply want politicians to roll up their sleeves and talk to each other, which is after all what they are paid to do.

As for the Lib Dems, there is no question that this is a pretty bad result. It would be churlish to apportion blame because we have had a successful model which has delivered sensational results for years. My only immediate comment would be to question whether this very successful model has moved sufficiently with the times. Is 'death by leaflets' going to work into the future? I'd suggest that a conversation is needed about strategy and one which involves as wide a group as possible.

As for Nick Clegg's horrendous balancing act, which can be likened to a man on a tightrope above a nest of crocodiles, he's called this right and I have complete confidence in his ability to see us through this disappointing period. He has got us into the heart of the game and he's the right person to keep us there. Keep up the good work, Nick.

In Henley we actually did okay. We got more votes on the back of a very limited campaign and I would like to than each of the 13,466 people who voted for me. I am honoured by their support and I hope that they will stay with us in future Council and Parliamentary elections. I am confident for the future in Henley and I hope we can move forward over coming years. It was a good outcome for everyone concerned.

Finally, the fact that so many people across the country could not vote is an outrage and a scandal and a humiliating image of our country. I would like the new government to insist on a clear statement from each of the returning officers concerned about this disgrace and it would seem fair to me for the Electoral Commission to consider a second election in any seat affected where the majority for the winner was not sufficient to give a clear outcome when these lost votes are taken into account. As to the argument from local authority Chief Executives that our electoral system is 'Victorian', well it worked in 2005 and it worked in 2001 and it worked in 1997 and (continue until you get bored).

Sarah Teather was recently on TV after her marathon count and she perhaps made the best point of the whole night. Now is the time for everyone to get some sleep. Clear heads make better decisions.

With that, it's good night from a very tired candidate

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


This is the first time I have stood for election and I have enjoyed it immensely. From buying too many cakes at Chalgrove's May Day fete to the hustings at Dorchester Abbey it has been a whirlwind of meetings, discussions with residents, radio interviews and school debates.

Plaudits must go to the students of the Henley College, who managed to stump me with two questions which I had to answer after the meeting. My thanks should also go to my Labour, Green and UKIP opponents for engaging fully with the election and giving residents a chance to grill us and learn more about what we all stand for. It is unfortunate that some parties have chosen to limit their exposure and I leave it to you to decide why that might be.

I must also thank the numerous people who have joined the Liberal Democrats, or volunteered to help with delivering leaflets or simply offered their endorsement for our policies and pledged their support on polling day. There are few nicer moments than having people come up to you in the street to tell you that they have voted for or are going to vote for you.

This election has got people talking and interested in politics, which is good for our democracy. I haven't had an easy ride from everyone but I have been engaged and argued with about the policies of the Liberal Democrats.

The best outcome of this election generally will be a large turnout which can help to upset the status quo. My experience over the past few weeks is that there is a strong appetite for change in this constituency and I hope that residents will not be scared off by threats from tabloid newspapers, banks or old parties. We can all wake up on Friday morning with a once in a generation opportunity for real change or we can stick with the same old politics.

Thank you for your support and I hope we can achieve real change for Henley constituency on May 6th