Author Archives: Mark Pack

Mark was the Liberal Democrat Head of Innovations until June 2009 and is now at Blue Rubicon. He also lectures at City University and is co-author of 101 Ways To Win An Election. He blogs at www.markpack.org.uk and is on Twitter as @markpack. He likes chocolate. Lots of it.

Opinion: Need, not a magic number, should determine size of the state

Union flag photo credit: Some rights reserved by ianonlineIronically, one of strongest views expressed about the size of the state in The Orange Book was by Vince Cable, subsequently more usually associated with wanting more state spending during the recession but at the time of The Orange Book wishing to see a cap introduced on the level of state spending.

Jeremy Browne has more recently talked of wanting to reduce the size of the state to around 35-38% of GDP but more significant has been David Laws’s comments which in effect put any push by people such as himself in the party for reducing the size of the state into the deep freeze. He attacked the Conservatives, saying:

“Their desire to shrink the state by continuing to cut spending long after the deficit has been cleared trumped their rhetorical commitment to expanding opportunity for young people. Clearly a political dividing line on fiscal policy matters more to them than the effort to reduce poverty and expand life chances.”

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 39 Comments

Opinion: DRIP under the microscope – should Liberal Democrats support this Bill?

Samsung Galaxy Note 3Unusually for me, I’m starting writing this piece without knowing what conclusion I’ll come to by the end of it. Normally it’s straight forward enough to marshal evidence, decide on view and then write it up (unless the curse of writers’ block strikes of course).

But the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP) takes the usual perils of journalism turning most stories into a simple good versus bad dynamic, throws in the paucity of expert mainstream coverage of many technical issues and adds a dash of juggling different uncertainties.

Certainly if …

photo by:
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 28 Comments

Opinion: Queen’s Speech – the success and failures of coalition in a nutshell

Nutshell 2One part of the Queen’s Speech – or rather one absence from it – neatly encapsulates the Liberal Democrat experience in coalition government, both good and bad. It is the absence from it of an immigration (dislike thereof) bill.

A solo Tory government would have introduced one and – thanks to Labour’s attitudes towards immigration – even a minority Tory government might well have got an anti-immigration bill through Parliament. It’s the Liberal Democrat presence in government which has stopped it.

photo by: steffenz
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 23 Comments

Opinion: Get your voters out electronically

HTC HD7 8It’s not a surprise to say far more people use social media now than when I first learnt political campaigning because Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the whole lot didn’t even exist back then. Nor even did (glory be, you might think) Internet Explorer. Back when a beta version of Netscape was cutting edge, the scope for successful online political campaigning was tiny compared to now, when there are more people on the electoral register who use social media than will vote next week.

But the story of the last few decades isn’t just about the rise of the online world. It’s also about the increasing problems with traditional ways of communicating with voters on the ground. Fewer phone numbers are in the phone book; fewer households have someone in when you call round; and fewer properties have accessible individual letterboxes.

photo by: okalkavan
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 2 Comments

Opinion: Yes, Labour really has given up on winning votes from the Conservatives

Labour Party logoI’m not fully signed up to the mockery for Labour’s recent TV and online films mocking Nick Clegg. Why? Because for all the naff content themselves, the broad message of them has been massively reported in the media, reaching a much wider audience than the films themselves.

I doubt that was a deliberate strategy as you can’t count on calibrating something to be just bad enough to get lots of coverage but not so bad as to sink under it. It’s a handy silver lining, however, especially as it diverted …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 34 Comments

Book Review: Revolt on the Right by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin

Farage ukip - Some rights reserved by Astral MediaOne of the political debates over UKIP is the question of whether it is primarily taking its support from disgruntled Conservatives or not.

Leading the charge for the ‘yes’ camp are several recent large-scale polls (or conglomeration of separate polls) from reputable polling companies. Looking at how people who currently say they’ll vote UKIP behaved in 2010, the pattern seems clear: UKIP’s growth in support predominantly comes from ex-Tories.

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 5 Comments

Jeremy Browne, South Korea and ‘Race Plan’

jeremy browne_Reform_Race_plan_coverIs Jeremy Browne really a secret lover of state intervention and a sceptic of free markets, believing in big state spending, government economic planning and regular intervention in the market? For all of the veneer of free marketeering in his book Race Plan, not to mention his choice of Reform as the publisher, it’s a question that comes to mind because in-between praising specific free market, small state policies, Browne regularly praises the results of governments such as the Chinese and the South Koreans, who are anything but.

It’s his praise of South Korea that is the most intriguing, for China can simply be put to one side as dramatic but its own unique case (though, as Stephen Tall has said, it is still an odd example for Jeremy Browne to trumpet).

South Korea is, as Browne rightly points out, seen by many developing countries as the one to emulate, transforming itself from a poor dictatorship to a wealthy democracy with globally successful industries in less than half of one person’s life time.

Posted in Books and Op-eds | Tagged and | 17 Comments

Liberal Democrats launch innovative – but controversial – online fundraising plan

News reaches me of a potentially very effective but highly controversial fundraising move planned by Liberal Democrat HQ for the general election.

Back when I worked at party HQ, I was involved in trademarking the party’s logo so that the party was in a stronger legal position when dealing with cyber-squatters or producers of fake literature.

Now the party is planning to go one step further, trademarking the party’s name and starting to enforce the trademark, charging royalties for its use.

photo by: by claire
Posted in News | Tagged | 11 Comments

Opinion: the politics of the reshuffle

Lynne featherstone by paul walterNorman BakerThere has been a consistent thread running through Nick Clegg’s most recent government reshuffles: get good campaigners into posts where they can run successful high profile campaigns, implementing liberal policies and winning Liberal Democrat votes.

Put like that, it sounds uncontroversial, but when it has involved the departure of Jeremy Browne from government and swapping out from posts in the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, it has been rather more controversial.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Opinion: David Cameron – the Conservative Party’s answer to Harold Wilson

More and more, David Cameron reminds me of Harold Wilson.

Both became leaders of their party when a sequence of election defeats forced change upon it. Both briefly were the young leader with a new purpose for their political tradition; the white heat of technology in the 20th century, huskies in the 21st.

Both struggled to win over the public, with neither getting an overall majority at their first attempt. Both turned out to be heavily beholden to their party’s traditional, backward-looking wing.

Wilson’s opportunities to be a dominating figure who reshaped society and rejuvenated the economy were wrecked on the Labour …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 18 Comments

Opinion: Lessons from 1979

Leaving through some kindly donated old copies of Liberator from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, there is a distinct sense of déjà vu. Calls to revive Community Politics. Urgent pleas to reinvent liberalism for a modern age. Complaints about how the English Party is run. Provocative comments from Simon McGrath triggering hostile rejoinders. (Although it did amuse me to find that one passionate argument against the party ending up a centre-right pro-capitalism outfit came from one Gavin Grant.)

Some of the issues covered have been lost in the gaps of history. Others are still very …

Posted in Op-eds | 30 Comments

Opinion: Leaderless parties don’t make for good partners in hung Parliaments

Ed-Balls-and-Ed-Miliband-006The recent Twitter-flirtation between Nick Clegg and Ed Balls was in itself not hugely significant, even if it was a welcome burst of public banter taking the place of off-the-record briefings.

Politicians, after all, manage to be polite to each other far more often than Prime Minister’s Questions might suggest, and the ability to behave (occasionally) like a well-mannered, polite adult is part of what makes them politicians who get insulted in the comments on blogs rather than commenters who insult politicians  in the comments on blogs.

However it is symptomatic also …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

Opinion: My Liberal Democrat star of 2013

Ahead of both the 2005 and 2015 general elections there was a key Liberal Democrat Parliamentary by-election win which massively altered the political atmosphere ahead of that general election – motivating activists, persuading media commentators and influencing the public. One was Brent East in 2003, the other Eastleigh in 2013.

The impact of both is all the clearer if you consider what the impact of missing out on the gain in 2003 or slumping to defeat in 2013 would have meant.

Ten years apart, the first showed how the party could gain urban seats off Labour, with some huge Labour majorities actually …

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Opinion: e-voting coming back to life?

The announcement last month by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow of a commission on digital democracy has kicked the debate over e-voting back to life in the UK.

For many years it has been a rather odd debate in the UK because, all too rarely, this is an area where (back when Labour was in power) large sums of money were spent on extensive pilot schemes before, based on the evidence gathered, the idea was dropped. It is how policymaking should work: have an idea, test it and then make a decision based on the evidence.

Yet the

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

Opinion: California Governor’s success is a promising sign for Nick Clegg’s political approach

Jerry Brown, American pioneer of small-donor funded, technologically innovative, grassroots Presidential campaigns (see 1992 and his use of freephone numbers), three times failed Presidential candidate and former Governor of California, has had a remarkably successful last few years – thanks to be re-elected as Governor nearly thirty years after he last left the post.

On a range of progressive issues, such as climate change and immigration reform, Brown has been using his power as the Governor of a state whose economy would be the 12th largest in the world if it were an independent country. Progress on them may be stalled …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Opinion: Secrecy, federal committees and a lack of democracy

meetingNearly all the debates about Liberal Democrat federal committees and democracy hinge on who the electorate for committee elections should be – conference reps or all party members?

However these debates miss a big problem, which is simply that the electorate, whoever it is, knows very little about the performance of incumbents. Democracy isn’t just about the right people having the vote, it’s about them being able to cast their votes in a meaningful way.

If you don’t know what people have done, it is hard to hold them to account.

Currently there …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Opinion: About those low Conference voting figures…

When 444 votes were cast in the 50p top tax rate debate and 413 in the nuclear power vote, some comments were made about these appearing to be low figures compared to past conferences.
However the rush to judgement on them were flawed for three reasons.
First, there were rather more votes cast in the Trident debate (550 – thanks to the get out the vote operation by the party leadership not misfiring that time.)
Second, attendance at federal conferences is always lower in Scotland than when it is in southern England, reflecting the relative travel distances for the bulk of the

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 34 Comments

Opinion: Regulate more lobbying and less campaigning: how to improve The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill

Neither the current rules regulating lobbying nor those controlling so-called ‘third party’ campaigning (i.e. by someone other than candidates or their parties) are extensive enough. Both need improving.

With lobbying, the case for better regulation is easy to make: pick a scandal, any scandal.

With third party campaigning, the loopholes and relaxed existing rules are less obvious because, so far, they have either been largely under-exploited or have been made use of by ‘good guys’ such as Hope Not Hate. Yet the very same generous rules that let Hope Not Hate explicitly campaigning for people not to vote for the BNP could …

Posted in News | Tagged | 5 Comments

Interim Peers Panel reform – missing the main question?

Nestling near the top of the second page of the Federal Executive’s consultation paper about how the party’s new members of the House of Lords are appointed (pdf) is a little three letter word which is central to the issue.

It talks about the party’s current Interim Peers Panel system, whereby conference representatives elect a group of names – of which I was one last time round – and to which are added a group of people by dint of previous offices they have held, such as former MPs.

That little word is “can”, as in this is …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 3 Comments

Opinion: Syria – I know what’s wrong; working out what’s right is rather harder

It is easy to work out what I disagree with on Syria.

The absurd politics of those on the left who have never lifted the smallest placard in protest again Assad’s wide scale murders but break out a garage-full the moment there is a whiff of US involvement in something.

Or those who talk about Syria with reference to Iraq but without references too to countries such as the Ivory Coast or Sierra Leone, where military intervention worked. Or without reference to countries such as the former Yugoslavia where the problem was not that military intervention took place but that it took …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 22 Comments

Opinion: Typing – an important skill that we neither teach nor require

Recently I was sat in a GP’s surgery waiting for him to type out a prescription for me. Until that point I had been nothing but impressed with his patience and knowledge. Then I saw how painfully slowly he attacked the keyboard, poking at it with a few select fingers as if it was too hot to touch, swiftly withdrawing his fingers to safe distance after each quick poke at a key.

The prescription that rolled off the computer was accurate, so what was the problem save for a few extra seconds passed in chit chat whilst he did the fingers …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 35 Comments

Labour’s MP for Tottenham tells residents: ‘wait till September for help’

Some MPs rightly get annoyed when the press and public talk about Parliamentary recess being “holiday” for they continue to work hard in their constituencies during recess.

Labour’s MP for Tottenham David Lammy (aka the man who got away over his expenses thanks to his second home claims coming out before the media got interested in the topic), however, is just the sort of MP who gives those others a bad name.

Here is what he emailed residents on 12th July:

Due to the parliamentary recess, my next advice surgery will be on Friday 13th September.

If you want to see your MP …

Posted in News | Tagged | 17 Comments

Opinion: 20 years of going nowhere, Liberal Democrat gender balance in council elections

Twenty years of progress, followed by twenty years of stalling. That’s the overall picture of Liberal Democrat (and before that Alliance / Liberal Party) progress towards gender equality at local government elections, whether measured in terms of candidates or people elected.

Looking at local elections in England, a mere 20% of the Liberal Party’s candidates were female in 1973 and the figure was even lower, 18%, amongst those elected. By 1991 both figures had risen to 34%. Since then, however, the figures have bounced up and down around a long-term flat trend, with both hitting 30% in the latest figures for …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 18 Comments

Would-be Labour candidate attacks Unite’s “autocratic monopoly” and role in Lewisham and Haringey selections

Last night a would-be Labour Parliamentary candidate, who contested the Hornsey & Wood Green selection, hit out on Twitter at the “autocratic monopoly” produced by Unite’s influence on selections. Mandy Richards singled out selections in Hornsey & Wood Green and Lewisham, arguing that they have not been getting the media attention they deserve and that Unite’s influence is blocking a “progressive Labour agenda”.

Twitter - Mandy4PPC_2015- complaint about Unite

Twitter - Mandy4PPC_2015- Unite autrocratic monopoly

In Hornsey & Wood Green the selection was won by …

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Have you got the new Lib Dem poster?

There’s a good reason why time and again people who produce really successful campaigning literature talk about the importance of having good photos. It’s because communicating a message visually can be extremely effective. Yet when it comes to what the party is achieving in government, the answer used to be produce slabs of text or highly inconsistent leaflets.

That’s why last year I produced an infographic instead (and kudos to the party, and the policy team in particular, for starting to use infographics themselves more widely since, partly inspired by mine).

Now there’s a 2013 version, put into …

Posted in News | Tagged | 3 Comments

Opinion: The best government team you’ve not heard of

Switch_off_internet_in_case_of_political_dissentThe best performing team in government is also one you’ve probably not heard of. It’s the Government Digital Service, who have been revolutionising central government’s use of the internet – providing the sort of excellent and reliable new systems that have countries round the world scrambling to copy them, whilst managing to hit timescales, keep to budgets and avoid bugs in a way that puts most government IT projects to shame. Better services and lower costs – it’s a winning combination that whoever is in power after 2015 will need to …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Opinion: Adonis’s complaint – Ashdown was not mind-numbingly stupid with the memory span of a goldfish

Andrew Adonis’s account of the days after the public voted in a hung Parliament in 2010 have already received a rightful savaging by Andrew Stunell. Given that we already know the Mandelson/Balls preparation for coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats was a quick cup of tea, you might think that not even Andrew Adonis’s account could make Labour’s preparation for a hung Parliament look even more amateurish or non-existent. Yet his 5 Days In May manages that.

His book kicks off with a complaint from Peter Mandelson that his attempt to sound out Paddy Ashdown on a

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 7 Comments

An open letter to Jeremy Browne MP…Part 2: Problems at the Home Office

Dear Jeremy,

In part 1 I explained why the Interception of Communications Commissioner is a failed regulator and one the Home Office should be fixing, yet your civil servants have been reluctant to do so. That should give a pause for thought about the proposals Home Office civil servants keep on pushing to extend the ability of the government to snoop on what we do online.

So too should the way in which the Home Office regularly changes its views of what counts as being in the national interest or vital for the fight against crime, and indeed makes outlandish claims …

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An open letter to Jeremy Browne MP on civil liberties… Part 1: The failed regulator

Dear Jeremy

I doubt that in amongst all the ludicrously large number of issues that pass across the desk of a minister, and a Home Office one no less, you will have noticed a small victory I scored over the Home Office recently.

But I hope you’ll give a pause for thought to the implications of the ruling the Information Commissioner made in my favour over the Home Office (decision notice reference FS50469527).

Partly it’s because of what it says about the never-quite-dead proposals for a huge expansion of monitoring of our online activity. Partly it’s because of what the case reveals …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 3 Comments

Opinion: A radical approach to welfare – forget changing benefits

The word ‘radical’ is to welfare reform what a pot of paint is to a wall full of cracks. The less you really know what to do to fix things, the more you slap it about all over the place in the hope that it will cover up things.

When you peer carefully at the detail of what is said after the roaring demand for radical reforms, you see what usually follows is either an absence of quite what form the radical action should take (‘radical, radical, we must be radical; just please don’t ask me how’) or simply by a …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 19 Comments



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDenis Mollison 27th Aug - 10:03pm
    Yes, the ad is pretty ridiculous, especially on the pound. As to the prominence given to the 120 business leaders, and their letter making some...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 27th Aug - 9:12pm
    As a piece of television, it's not so bad: adequate lighting, camera direction, and professional, though uninspired acting. As political propaganda it fails because it...
  • User AvatarTomas Howard-Jones 27th Aug - 9:05pm
    I agree with Glenn here- the West's policies SHOULD have been for the gradual stabilisation of countries and support for gradual improvements and reforms. Still,...
  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 27th Aug - 8:53pm
    Lol! I seen that title earlier "The woman who made up her mind" and assumed it was a Yes campaign parody, I didn't realise it...
  • User AvatarMelanie Harvey 27th Aug - 8:51pm
    Strange how these historical stories and cases make the media frame when one party or another (mostly the Cons and Labs) has convenient use of...
  • User AvatarRichard Dean 27th Aug - 8:45pm
    In the ad I saw, the woman is having a tea break, talking about how the referendum has taken over her family's lives. She runs...