Author Archives: Nick Thornsby

Would PR spell the end of the Liberal Democrats?

It is one of the biggest yet most under-appreciated ironies of British politics that the policy that unites the Liberal Democrat party membership in its most fervent rapture — the introduction of proportional voting to Westminster elections — is also, probably, the thing most likely, if implemented, to lead to the end of the party is we know it.

That is not to say that PR would necessarily lead to the break up of the party, but it is undeniable that majoritarian electoral systems force together the relatively broad coalitions that are the pre-requisite to winning elections.

The way in which individuals …

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Liberalism’s comeback, feat. Mill, Smith, Gladstone and Clegg (on drums)

For those Voice readers who, as a result of an unfortunate oversight, do not subscribe to The Economist, here’s a heads-up that you may wish to pick up this week’s edition, which features this cover:

For those not inclined to pick up a souvenir copy, you can read the excellent Jeremy Cliffe’s report here, and the accompanying leader here.

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Laws vetoes plan to turn teachers into part-time border agents

Education Minister David LawsFrom yesterday’s Guardian:

A proposal to require schools to check on the immigration status of their pupils has been shelved after the Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws decided the idea would be bureaucratic and difficult to implement.

In a sign of the Lib Dems’ determination to assert themselves in the coalition, Laws told the education secretary Michael Gove the proposal was a “non-flyer”.

According to Whitehall emails leaked to the Guardian in March, Laws asked officials earlier this year to carry out a “cost-benefit analysis” of carrying out checks

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“Cameron may be the more natural communicator, but it was Clegg who sounded more like a statesman”

Writing in today’s Guardian, Martin Kettle has a good piece looking at the defence of the coalition made by the prime minister and deputy prime minister yesterday.

Clegg’s speech, in particular, impressed – for two reasons:

First, it was a firm defence of the coalition government against its enemies on the Tory benches. In fact it was a much firmer defence of the coalition than Cameron, stylishly ducking and weaving in his radio interview, would now dare to make. Cameron may be the more natural communicator, but it was Clegg who sounded more like a statesman.

Second, and even more interestingly, it was a

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LibLink: Ed Davey – Eurosceptic Tories are damaging the national interest – and their chances of winning the next election

Over at the New Statesman, Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey has a rather perceptive and interesting piece on the Conservative Party’s implosion over Europe.

Here’s Ed’s take:

The Conservative Party hasn’t won a general election for over two decades and its latest infighting on Europe suggests that this trick may get repeated. Internal divisions on Europe haven’t been the sole cause of the Tories’ poor record. A big reason has been the growth of multiparty politics: Liberal Democrats in government in Westminster; the Scottish National Party in power in Holyrood. And with Ukip moving from a single issue party to a

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LibLink: Richard Marbrow – Ukip is essentially a ‘party of the south east’ despite gains

Writing for Public Service Europe, Lib Dem campaigner Richard Marbrow has an interesting piece on the distinctly geographical ‘success’ of Ukip.

Here’s an excerpt:

For those of us who ply our politics in the north or the west of the United Kingdom, the inability of the British press to understand the existence of parts of the country more than an hour from London is a source of never ending frustration. The game changer of UKIP gains in the county council elections is a phenomenon largely contained in the South and East of England. Their breakthrough did not even extend into the South

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Can a global trade deal be rescued?

Container ShipCongratulations to Roberto Azevedo, who, it has just been announced, will take over from Pascal Lamy as the head of the World Trade Organisation later this year. Azevedo, a Brazilian diplomat, beat off Herminio Blanco, a former Mexican finance minister who had the backing of many developed countries.

The most obvious and pressing task facing Azevedo is to rescue the so-called Doha Round of world trade talks, which stalled in 2008 and have made little progress since.

In the absence of global progress, a number of bilateral trade talks have sprung up, most recently …

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The three things I’ll be looking for in today’s results

The extent to which county council election results tell us about the state of politics in the country is without doubt significantly overstated. Only a fraction of the population voted yesterday, and in places that are not representative of the country as a whole.

But the results can tell us some things, and here is what I am looking out for.

1 – How do votes translate into council seats won?

As all Liberal Democrats know, winning votes is little fun at all unless it also means winning seats, and those two things are far from the same in a first-past-the-post electoral system. …

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Labour’s VAT cut: bad economics and disingenuous politics

In the run-up to today’s county council elections, Ed Miliband has been taking to a wooden pallet in towns and villages around the UK, telling anybody who would listen about Labour’s plan to rescue the British economy by temporarily reversing the 2.5 percentage point increase in the rate of VAT.

Desperate, though, to avoid admitting this would involve a significant increase in borrowing, he’s been telling us that this would actually be a free tax cut because the economic growth that resulted from it would increase revenues by more than the upfront cost.

That unlikely-sounding claim was given short shrift by …

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Some recommended reading from the BBC’s Defence Correspondent

Joint-Strike-Fighter-006Those of us interested in politics and current affairs generally have particularly policy areas to which we pay closer attention and therefore develop greater knowledge of.

One of the vitally important areas of government policy which I don’t know enough about is defence. I read the Strategic Defence and Security Review when it was published, but its aim is not to act as a primer for the uninitiated, and it doesn’t do so.

Wishing to gain some knowledge (not least because the Lib Dems will shortly be voting on our future defence policies), therefore, …

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Senior politician defends amnesty for illegal immigrants

Heard on Radio 4′s PM earlier

BBC Reporter: But why should millions of illegal immigrants be given an amnesty to stay here?

Senior politician: Why should millions of illegal immigrants have to continue to live and work in the shadows?

Posted in Op-eds | 14 Comments

Blair misses the point on the pre-crisis deficit

Tony BlairWriting in this month’s centenary issue of the New Statesman, former prime minister Tony Blair writes:

Labour should be very robust in knocking down the notion that it “created” the crisis. In 2007/2008 the cyclically adjusted current Budget balance was under 1 per cent of GDP. Public debt was significantly below 1997. Over the whole 13 years, the debt-to-GDP ratio was better than the Conservative record from 1979-97. Of course there is a case for saying a tightening around 2005 would have been more prudent. But the effect of this

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Congratulations to Jeremy and Rachel

Jeremy BrowneI’m sure readers would like to join the Voice team in sending our congratulations to Lib Dem MP, home office minister and regular LDV contributor Jeremy Browne and his partner Rachel Binks on the birth of their baby, Molly (not least because it’s an opportunity to use that photo).

However, while mother, baby and indeed father are all now fine, Jeremy and Rachel went through an experience that no new parents would wish to. This Is West Country reports:

Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne and his partner Rachel Binks

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Cyprus bailout plan: good idea, badly implemented?

Cyprus’s parliament couldn’t have been much clearer in its rejection of the plan, negotiated between eurozone members, to bail out the country’s failing banks. As a result, Cyprus is now turning from Brussels to Moscow for a lifeboat, and it looks like a deal might be done. Russia is demonstrating once again that is never backward in coming forward to build (or buy) new strategic alliances.

Yet outside the markets pages of the Financial Times, the merits of the original plan seem to have been little-discussed, with the assumption being that the plan was a universally bad one. But actually the idea …

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Party groups respond to the Budget

As one might expect, groups within the Lib Dems are united in welcoming George Osborne’s announcement that the coalition will deliver the Lib Dem policy of a £10,000 income tax personal allowance next year, earlier than previously expected. Both the Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Reform also agree that the chancellor needs to be more ambitious when it comes to stimulating economic growth, though the groups diverge somewhat on how to do so.

First up, here’s the SLF’s response:

The Budget contains some welcome measures, especially on childcare costs and raising the personal tax allowance to £10,000 next year. The

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An open letter to the BBC about tonight’s Lib-Dem-free Question Time

Here’s an email I sent to the BBC’s acting Director of News, Fran Unsworth, last night. Hat-tip to Richard Morris for highlighting the issue.

Dear Fran,

On the front of the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto were four priorities. The first of these was a pledge to deliver “fairer taxes” by raising the threshold at which people begin to pay income tax to £10,000.

In his Budget speech this week, the chancellor stood up in the House of Commons and announced that next year the coalition will deliver this policy in full. It would not be an understatement to say, therefore, that this …

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The boom years were the dream. This is reality

Pieces of writing can do lots of things: challenge, comfort, exasperate, inform, entertain. Occasionally, though, one reads a piece that, in prose far more clear, lucid and fluent than one’s jumbled thoughts, nonetheless perfectly describes those thoughts.

I’ve long been a fan of The Economist’s David Rennie, and have praised him here on the Voice before. Last summer he took over the paper’s Lexington column (in tragic circumstances), but before that he was for two years British political editor and author of the weekly Bagehot column.

In May last year he wrote one of those columns I describe …

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Dr Liam Fox’s economic prescription: kill or cure?

Economic jihad. That’s how Vince Cable described Dr Liam Fox’s speech to the IEA this morning. Dr Fox’s speech is worth reading, though, precisely for the parts of it that have not been covered in the wider media. For it sets out a clear – albeit deeply conservative – approach to how to reform our economy for the long-term. But while the proposed destination is well-articulated, the route is far from certain.

Let’s start with the positive. I agree, broadly, with Fox’s analysis of the causes of our current economic state. While I wouldn’t exactly phrase it thus, there is …

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Steve Webb’s speech to conference

Steve Webb, Lib Dem minister for pensions, delivered his speech to conference earlier today. The text of his speech is below.

As some of you know, I used to teach at Bath University. And I enjoyed nothing more than setting my students tough questions to get them thinking.

So when I was planning what I would say today, I thought – why not set all of you a tricky exam question instead. You may have thought that you had come to Brighton for a good time. But not while I’m on the platform!

And my exam question is this: “How do …

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Nick Clegg’s speech to conference: what I’ll be looking out for

nick cleggHuhne, Pryce, Rennard, Eastleigh. A mass of events converge this weekend as Brighton once again becomes centre of the Lib Dem universe for a weekend.

These topics will inevitably dominate conversations in the conference bar. But when Nick Clegg stands up on Sunday lunchtime to make his speech he has to look beyond the short-term events that have dominated Liberal Democrat discourse for the last few weeks and months.

It’s often said of a speeches that they are “one of the most important X has made in the course of his leadership”. …

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Vicky Pryce found guilty

The BBC reports:

The former wife of ex-cabinet minister Chris Huhne has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice by taking speeding points on his behalf.

Vicky Pryce, 60, was convicted at Southwark Crown Court of committing the offence over a speeding incident on the M11 in Essex in 2003.

She had denied the charge, saying Huhne had forced her to take the points.

Pryce has been bailed pending a sentencing hearing.

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Lib Dems should lead the European push for a US trade deal

President Obama’s public statement in favour of a US-EU trade agreement should be welcomed by all liberals. Free trade is a cause with a long and proud liberal history, and such a deal has the potential to increase prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.

There will be some countries in the EU less keen on such a deal than others: our French neighbours being the most obvious example. Many countries in the EU have a vested interest in not creating a truly free market within the EU, never mind across the pond. Agriculture has long been a major impediment …

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Notice: Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats’ AGM going ahead with new venue

The following recently dropped into the Voice’s inbox, and may be of interest to readers:

The Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats are going ahead with their Annual General Meeting this Saturday (16th February) but have changed the venue to the party HQ at 8-10 Great George Street, Westminster, SW1P 3AE. The AGM will start at 11.15am sharp!

Afterwards members are encouraged to join us on a minibus to campaign in the Eastleigh byelection.

We postponed the EMLD / Social Liberal Forum conference on race equality – which was due to take place this Saturday – in order to prioritise Eastleigh.

For more information check the

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LibLink: David Laws – Incentive for UK schools to promote talent

Writing in today’s Financial Times, Lib Dem schools minister David Laws has the following to say about the Government’s announcements on reforms to the systems of examination:

We need all schools to teach all children well in all subjects. For that reason, we propose judging schools by the progress their pupils make in eight subjects. Two of those subjects will be English and maths; a further three will be any combination of sciences, history, geography and languages. The remaining three are open – they could be further sciences or languages, subjects such as art or music,

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Putting the party’s message in a distinctively liberal context – Part 3: a fairer society

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKThis is the third of three posts looking at the party’s messaging. The introductory post was published here, and yesterday’s on the economic part of the message is here ; this last and final post concentrates on the second part of the message: social justice.

The second part of the party’s message is “building a fairer society”. Fairness was, of course, the theme of the party’s 2010 manifesto, linking the four key policy platforms on which we fought the election (fairer taxes, a fair start for every child, fairer politics and a fairer, more balanced economy).

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Putting the party’s message in a distinctively liberal context – Part 2: the economy

This is the second of three posts looking at the party’s messaging. The first was published here yesterday; the last and final post will appear tomorrow.

The first half of our message emphasises economic competence: bringing back (as David Laws once put it) Gladstonian Liberalism to the Treasury and setting us up to be competitive in a fast-changing, globalised economy.

So far, much of the focus has been on our willingness to take “tough decisions”. Here, for example, is David Laws speaking to the Independent recently: “in the past people have known we stood for a fairer society but have …

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Baroness Kramer: Focus on small businesses to get the economy moving

Susan Kramer - Some rights reserved by David SpenderI have previously highlighted some of Baroness (Susan) Kramer’s excellent House of Lords speeches on the economy here on Lib Dem Voice. There follows, courtesy of Lords Hansard, an extract from another speech she gave on Tuesday to the House in a debate on economic growth, urging the government to focus on small and medium size businesses, by whom the vast majority of people are employed:

I would like to add something slightly different to this debate, because as a doer and deliverer I am going to ask him if he might

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Putting the party’s message in a distinctively liberal context – Part 1

In my New Year review of the party’s position, I emphasised the need to get the basics right; political competence before all else. I touched on the party’s messaging only perfunctorily, because my view was (and to an extent still is) that there are more pressing concerns than the message itself (we can have the best message in the world, but if we are failing when it comes to the basics of political strategy and tactics it is next to useless). Here’s is what I did say, in my concluding remarks:

There’s already been talk over the Christmas break of

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Nick Clegg’s son’s schooling is none of your business

Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Nick Clegg was asked once again which secondary school he would send his eldest child too. He quite rightly dismissed the question as a personal one – he and Miriam have strived to keep their children out of the public eye, so why should they change that now?

As I tweeted at the time:

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Cameron fails to practise what he preaches over Europe

David Cameron - Some rights reserved by The Prime Minister's OfficeThere will be lots of fascinating analysis of the prime minister’s speech on Europe. However, this response from the deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, Katinka Barysch, over at Comment is Free caught my eye (emphasis added):

Germany, France and other EU countries have indicated that they want to accommodate Cameron to help Britain to stay in the union. What they simply cannot do is to allow Britain a pick-and-choose membership in response to the

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