Author Archives: Iain Roberts

Opinion: Cameron’s porn ban – what does it mean?

 "PC Baan" internet cafe in Seoul, Korea - Some rights reserved by HachimakiDavid Cameron is out to make the world a safer place by tackling what he sees as the problems caused by pornography. We don’t really know the details of the policy yet, but with Cameron doing the rounds on TV and radio today we’ve got a reasonable idea of what he’s got in mind.

Block pornography by default
Web filtering software is very common – most schools and businesses have it installed. It does a passable job of blocking access to undesirable sites whilst allowing others. Inevitably, some sites that you don’t want to block get caught up, but by and large the filters work OK.

Cameron’s concern is that they aren’t being extensively used by parents of younger children, and the suspicion (probably rightly) is that in many cases it’s because parents aren’t tech savvy enough to know they exist or how to implement them.

So this main headline item – that ISPs all implement filtering software for all customers, and that it be turned on by default (with someone in the household having to make a positive decision to turn it off) – is a “nudge” policy.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 45 Comments

Opinion: Does the School Food Plan really ban packed lunches?

school mealsIf you’re an independent person involved in writing a report for Government, I offer some advice. Take a holiday for the week after the report’s published. Somewhere remote. Ideally without internet.

How else to avoid your blood-pressure shooting through the roof as the media – both social and traditional – ignore 99% of your work and misrepresent the rest?

For the latest example, look no further than the School Food Plan, a 149 page practical guide to improving the health and attainment of young people by improving their diet in …

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , and | 10 Comments

Is liberalism wrong – and how would we know?

A couple of hours on Twitter is more than enough to see the acolytes of political philosophy A assuring the world that everyone who believes in political philosophy B is stupid, immoral or more than likely both. The favour is typically returned in kind.

And yet anyone who’s acquainted with that slightly curious place known as the “real world” knows there are many highly intelligent, moral and clear-thinking people in pretty much every camp. Anyone who thinks Burke, Mill or even Marx had nothing worthwhile to say is a fool.

Who’s actually right? Are our political philosophies just religions in which we must

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 22 Comments

Opinion: Debate on Page 3 is missing the real issue

An American wife has claimed a divorce on grounds of cruelty because her husband ate too much garlic.

– So starts the main story on page 3 of the first edition of The Sun back in 1964, with not a nipple in sight.

By 1970, the now-Murdoch-owned paper was featuring racier matter and the topless “page 3 girl” was born. The Sun, which had been ailing, saw its circulation grow. On a typical day, The Sun is now read by over four million men and three million

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 18 Comments

Opinion: What would Labour do?

“What would Jesus do?” ran the famous ‘90s slogan, often with little agreement on the answer. But that question seems positively trivial alongside the far more problematic “What would Labour do?”

As the Coalition is finding to its cost, Labour is often very effective at attacking Government plans but rather less forthcoming on what its alternative might be. And I imagine it must be a little galling for Government ministers when Labour decides to attack policies that they trumpeted in their own 2010 manifesto.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 32 Comments

Opinion: the problem of Welfare Reform

Ed Miliband has stirred up some New Year’s controversy, not least amongst his own supporters, with the news that Labour is to speak out more strongly against the perils of so-called “benefit scroungers”. Labour are no doubt concerned at consistent polling evidence suggesting that opposition to benefit cuts are out of step with the views of the public.

In reality, there’s little difference between the positions of the different parties, nor much change in the position of any individual party over the last couple of decades.

Across the mainstream political spectrum, few disagree that handing out state benefits too freely causes …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 44 Comments

Searching for the cause of the riots is asking the wrong question

When events like last week’s riots and looting occur, we assume that something that was previously working must now be badly broken. What has changed in the last few years that has brought the rioters and looters onto the streets?

Government cuts? MPs expenses? Greedy bankers? Broken society?


Or perhaps there’s less need to panic and more need to take a measured view.

Might it be that this sort of trouble – relatively common in societies – is similar to earthquakes? Tiny earthquakes and tremors occur across the world most of the time and we barely notice. …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 65 Comments

How do we build the Lib Dems’ core vote?

Can the problems the Liberal Democrats are currently experiencing be put down not to the Coalition but, in the long view, to a failure of the party to promote a strong, distinctive liberal philosophy and agenda to the public?

That’s the argument put forward by Simon Titley in the latest Liberator magazine and I have to confess that he says a great deal that I agree with.

He’s right say that the party has a smaller core vote than the other two big parties (ours is around 10%, Labour and the Conservatives around 25%, Simon suggests – and I’m sure those …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 74 Comments

Thank you EARS, but the VAN is coming

Back in March, Mark Pack reported on a momentous move in the Lib Dems: from the EARS election software to Voter Activation Network, or VAN, which is used by Democrats in the US and the Canadian Liberal Party, amongst others.

EARS has done sterling service for the party over the years. I first used the DOS version of the software in the mid-nineties, when it had already been around for a few years. Younger readers may not have encountered the joys of the paper “Shuttleworths” that were used before EARS: sheet after sheet of knock-up lists, laboriously …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 54 Comments

A challenge to Community Politics

Community Politics is an ideology beloved of many Liberal Democrats, even if not all are quite sure what it is. As Mark Pack points out, “Community Politics” is distinctively Lib Dem, and Mark contrasts it to Labour “localism” and the Conservative “Big Society”.

But is it right?

No ideology is completely correct – all have faults where they fail to capture certain facets and nuances of our complex human behaviour. Few are complete nonsense either – most ideologies have elements that capture something important, and it’s a foolish person indeed who dismisses any ideology completely.

Some are better than others, …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

Economy shrinks by 0.5%

Initial economic figures for the UK surprised economists with the news that the economy shrank by 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2010, and would have been “flattish” without the impact December’s bad weather.  This follows four quarters of growth and will raise concerns over whether the figures mark a short term blip or a worrying longer trend.

As the BBC reports, a surprise 3.3% contraction in the construction industry has worried analysts, whilst the strongest growth came from manufacturing.

Posted in News | Tagged | 67 Comments

Graduate jobs up nine percent

Coalition ministers will be glad to see that predictions last year of a continuing fall in graduate jobs seems to have been wide of the mark, with the latest survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters showing an 8.9% increase in graduate jobs, with a forecast of further improvement in 2011.

Average new graduate salaries remain rooted at £25,000  and there’s clearly some way to go before the graduate jobs market fully recovers (though £25 is a figure the typical parliamentary researcher can only gaze at longingly).

As the job prospects for graduates improve, Lib Dem ministers will be keen to …

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 16 Comments

Labour’s plan to scrap the EMA

For all of the noise Labour’s making about the EMA, you might not realise that it was their idea to scrap it. Before he was an ex shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson was Secretary of State for Education and in April 2007 he made it clear that Labour was planning to scrap the EMA.

An incentive scheme that rewards 16- to 18-year-olds for staying in education post-16 will be abolished when the leaving age is increased to 18.

The Secretary of State for Education said last week that education maintenance allowances (EMAs) would no longer be necessary when the age is

Posted in News | 71 Comments

Crime down again…and still we’re unclear why

Crime was down again in the year to September 2010.

Recorded crime shows falls across the board, with the exception of sexual offences which are up slightly.   As ever, changes in recorded crime can be affected by changes in definitions, by the way the police do the recording or by the willingness of victims to come forward, but there are no major shift in any of those which would lead us to think it isn’t a real change.  (In some previous years there have been quite significant changes, some of which have made crime look higher than it really was).


Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 7 Comments

Of committees, camels and bibles

A camel is a horse designed by committee goes the old maxim that ranks firm leadership by one strong individual as superior to a group working to reach a common agreement.

I know which animal I’d rather have in the desert, but is the saying true?

The four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible suggests the truth might be a little more complex. The King James, which spawned many turns of phrase we still use today such as “salt of the earth ” and “skin of the teeth” came about as a result of a political compromise and …

Posted in News | 8 Comments

The Lib Dems need to complete their economic story

All parties strive to have a narrative that makes sense to the voters and gets across the key messages the party wants the voters to hear.

The Lib Dems have a narrative – a story – about the economy, but it’s not being heard by enough of the people the party needs to win back. One reason is that the story has a beginning and a middle but lacks a proper ending.

The three main parties all have their economic stories for voters.

The beginning of each is a tale of financial woe. In Labour’s version (at least until …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 69 Comments

Why I support the Coalition: in praise of compromise

I support the Coalition. Or, more precisely, I want to see Lib Dem policies and principles actually changing people’s lives, not just piling up forever more in some dusty old cupboard of policy papers and manifestos past, and right now the Coalition is without a doubt the only game in town when it comes to achieving that.

But what about all those horrible compromises we’re having to make? What about the compromise on tuition fees and many other areas? What about the 35% of the Lib Dem manifesto that’s not in the Coalition Agreement? How can we …

Posted in Op-eds | 58 Comments

LibLink: the full shambles of the ID card trial in Greater Manchester

The Manchester Evening News has been investigating Labour’s ID Card trial in Greater Manchester last November. Only 13,200 signed up from a population of over two million.

The MEN reveals how:

* Senior Whitehall officials were urged to email friends and relatives encouraging them to buy cards because of fears about the level of demand
* UK and overseas border guards refused to recognise the cards – with one traveller chased through an Italian airport after trying to use one as ID
* The Home Office discovered the cards could stop some credit

Posted in LibLink | Tagged | 8 Comments

“More information please!” – a genuinely tough problem

When something isn’t as we think it should be, there’s an almost irresistable temptation to grab what looks like an easy solution and complain bitterly that those responsible are too stupid to do it.

Generally speaking (and there are exceptions) people aren’t stupid, and especially when a problem crops up time and again in different organisations, it’s worth asking the question of whether it’s perhaps a little more complicated than that.

Let’s take a look at one of today’s big stories – the plight of travellers trapped at Heathrow Airport, sleeping on the floor like, we’re told, some sort of refugee camp …

Posted in Op-eds | 10 Comments

On the receiving end of a tuition fees protest

I recently spent the day at the office of a Lib Dem MP, who’s been targetted for a protest about the proposed increase in tuition fees. As a veteran of quite a few protests myself, especially back in my student days, it’s interesting and quite fun to be on the receiving end.

My personal view on the Lib Dem tuition fees position is one I’ve previously written about.  With hindsight, the pledge was clearly a mistake and our MPs shouldn’t have made it.  However, we are where we are and MPs have to consider not just the pledge but actually …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 26 Comments

False claims of betrayal do the NUS no credit

Have the Liberal Democrats betrayed students? The NUS certainly say so, and plenty of people agree.

They’re wrong.

The Liberal Democrats have made a u-turn on tuition fees – they haven’t denied it. As I argued a few days ago, the Lib Dems have no claim to be morally superior to any other party. We didn’t want to go back on commitments and promises but, like Labour and the Conservatives, we have done.

But is that u-turn a betrayal of students?

Or, to put it another way, is the result of that u-turn that students get a worse deal than they’d …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 93 Comments

A morally superior party? I don’t think so

I confess that I cringe a little inside when I hear politicians from one party claiming that their’s is somehow more honest, more decent and better at keeping their promises than another.

Lib Dem politicians have certainly fallen into the trap from time to time, but they’re not alone: every party has its moments (with many Labour people being particularly convinced of their moral superiority at the moment, if some of the comments on this site are anything to go by).

It’s easy to see how people genuinely come to believe it’s true. As I noted a few days ago, we’ve …

Posted in Op-eds | 12 Comments

Forced to work without pay…Labour got there first, says FT

The FT Blog is reporting that Labour beat the Coalition to yet another policy – this time it’s the IDS plan to make four weeks’ unpaid work part of the scheme to get the long-term unemployed back into the job market.

As Jim Pickard at the FT reports:

In case you thought the IDS scheme was familiar – forcing people to do 4 week’s labour for their benefits – that is because it already exists. Since last October anyone out of work and claiming jobseekers’ allowance for over a year (in most parts of the country) has to

Posted in News | 174 Comments

Which party’s supporters most favour partnership with the French?

If you had to guess which political party’s supporters were most in favour of sharing our aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons testing with the French, which would you go for?

According to a YouGov poll a few days ago, those who say they’ll vote for the traditionally internationalist and pro-European Lib Dems are clearly in favour (58-36) but – what’s this?

Even more in favour are Conservative voters, by nearly two to one (it’s 61-34 with 5% don’t knows).

I wrote a few days ago that whether we approve of a policy has far more than we’d like to admit to …

Posted in News and Polls | 6 Comments

Allowing Woolas’ behaviour is not “vital to our democracy”

Phil Woolas has vowed to fight on to keep his parliamentary seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth, following the ruling on Friday that voids his General Election victory and bans him from standing as an MP for three years.

He no right of appeal against the judges’ decision, but wants to take it to judicial review, though on what grounds isn’t clear.

Mr Woolas would like us to think that the judgement is not only wrong but fundamentally damaging to political discourse – that it will allow politicians to get away with all sorts whilst their opponents cower, unwilling to risk …

Posted in Election law and Op-eds | Tagged and | 20 Comments

Is yours a party of principles or scoundrels?

Party A is in politics to gain power so they can put their policies and principles into action.  Without power, what they can achieve is limited so they – sensibly – are willing to compromise and indulge in some give-and-take.

Some policies are dropped or changed because to not do so would see less of the programme getting through over all.   Deals have to be done, compromises made, unexpected situations dealt with – this is the real world, after all.

The party pushes through some policies it doesn’t really believe are in the the best interests of the country – because they’re …

Posted in Op-eds | 40 Comments

The same policy can be good or evil – depends who thought of it

In May 2010, the Labour Party pledged to cap Housing Benefit. In their manifesto , they argued that the State shouldn’t be subsidising people to live in private rented properties that “ordinary working families” couldn’t afford.

Over 600 Labour parliamentary candidates happily stood on the pledge, not a whisper of opposition to the idea was heard from their ranks.

Fast forward to October 2010, five months later, and the Coalition Government come up with the same plan.

Not only was the Coalition scheme denounced by Labour in the strongest terms, with talk of “social cleansing” echoing the horrific Kosovan experiences, …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 70 Comments

Labour’s manifesto pledge to cap Housing Benefit

Those listening to Labour’s outrage about the so-called “social cleansing” they believe would result in capping Housing Benefit to four hundred pounds a week might get he impression that Labour opposes the policy.

Odd, then, that it appears in the Labour Party manifesto for the 2010 General Election :

Our goal is to make responsibility the cornerstone of our welfare state. Housing Benefit will be reformed to ensure that we do not subsidise people to live in the private sector on rents that other ordinary working families could not afford. And we will continue to crack down on those who try

Posted in News | Tagged and | 74 Comments

Liblink: Liberal Vision grills Kramer and Farron

Liberal Vision have published interviews conducted with each of the candidates for the Liberal Democrat presidency: Susan Kramer and Tim Farron.

Read the Farron interview here and the Kramer interview here.

As a taster:

Liberal Vision: In one sentence why should people who read our blog back your campaign?

Susan Kramer: Overwhelmingly it’s to be the voice for the grass roots of the party, creating that two-way connection between the grass roots and the leadership, and keeping us unified. We shouldn’t let other pull us apart

Tim Farron: Because they want the Liberal Democrats to win, and because

Posted in LibLink and Party Presidency | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Chris Huhne puts £60 million into offshore wind turbine manufacture

An email from Chris Huhne:

Today we are taking a key step on the road to a more prosperous, fairer and greener Britain. We’ve announced support for wind turbine manufacture at Britain’s ports – opening the way to a major expansion of the country’s offshore wind industry.

The last week has been tough. None of us came into government to make cuts. Throughout the spending review, as Liberal Democrats and as a Government, we’ve had to make some difficult decisions. We believe they are necessary to stabilise Britain’s economy and eliminate the massive deficit in the public finances.

As Liberal Democrats in Government

Posted in News | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Recent Comments

  • User AvatarSarah Noble 22nd Dec - 1:02am
    This is the thing: people are just looking at David's tiny majority, and the fact it's Bradford, and assuming we've lost already. We still hold...
  • User AvatarChris Manners 22nd Dec - 12:44am
    That was a by-election. A win over Labour by only 365 votes in Bradford East last time looks too small.
  • User AvatarSarah Noble 22nd Dec - 12:00am
    Stuart: We're probably going to hold Bradford East, despite the Westminster bubble consensus, simply because David is massively popular in his own constituency and Labour...
  • User AvatarChris_sh 21st Dec - 11:33pm
    @David-1 Really, why do you think it is untrue?
  • User Avatarstuart moran 21st Dec - 11:30pm
    Sesenco Because the are up against the Tories as their main opposition and, for all the faults of the Coalition and the complete contempt shown...
  • User AvatarJulian Tisi 21st Dec - 10:43pm
    Good article - and yes this is the perfect opportunity to take the Tories to task at the lowest risk of looking "soft" on immigration.