Author Archives: Paul Reynolds

Opinion: The Scottish independence referendum – a lack of wisdom in the pro-UK camp?

September 14th "Welcome to Scotland"In September 2014, the Scottish public will vote on independence from the rest of the UK. As of mid-April 2014, the opinion polls suggest that the pro-UK camp is ahead, but over the past few weeks the pro-independence camp has been fast catching up. Why?

One reason seems to be the spat between the London-based UK administration and the Scottish National Party (SNP) over the role of Britain’s sterling currency. All three main UK national parties stepped in behind a sudden policy of non-cooperation with an independent Scotland …

photo by: amandabhslater
Posted in News, Op-eds and Scotland | Tagged , , , and | 22 Comments

Opinion: York conference debates tough UK approach to Ukraine crisis

shekhovtsov_ends_468wAt our spring conference in York, there was an emergency ‘Topical Debate’ on the Ukraine crisis.

The debate reflected United Kingdom attitudes to the Ukraine crisis, but there were some far-reaching implications for some of the views expressed. Importantly, the UK was a signatory to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, whereby Ukraine gave up its massive nuclear weapons stockpile in return for full guarantees of its territorial integrity – an agreement now clearly breached by one of its other signatories, the Russian Federation.

Today, the UK has military surveillance aircraft flying along the Polish and Romanian borders with Ukraine, monitoring Russian military activity, and military assets also monitoring Southern Ukraine including Crimea, and its Russian borders. If diplomacy fails, the UK would almost certainly be involved in any military measures that follow.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 25 Comments

Opinion: Shocking complacency in UK banking reform

In British politics there is one area of policy where popular sentiment and dire need strongly coincide. Banking reform.

Opinion surveys seem to suggest that it is Chancellor Osborne’s ‘Achilles Heel’. Indeed, senior ‘expert’ LibDems have expressed concern over the last three years about the pace of reforms. Now Labour has jumped on the bandwagon, and may reap electoral benefits. YouGov polling of a few weeks ago found…

… 67% thought was ineffective. Only 18% were confident that changes to the banking sector over the last few years were enough to stop a repeat of the banking crash. The

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 12 Comments

Opinion: 1914, 1973 and the lessons for an EU exit?

1973The hundredth anniversary of the start of World War One has led to historians tortuously drawing parallels with the global rivalries of today. For Britain, the useful lessons from WW1 lie in European policy – and the rather lame campaign to stay in the EU.

After decades of anti-EU vignettes in UK newspapers, often with scant basis in fact, much of the British public have become emotionally negative towards ‘Europe’. There is receptiveness to the EU being blamed for all manner of problems; from perceived ‘illegal immigration’ to bureaucratic over-regulation.

The anti-EU camp has achieved an astonishing supplementary victory – confining the debate about the negative consequences of EU exit to a few ‘economic technicalities’. Investment curtailed? A million jobs lost? Claim and counter-claim fudge public perceptions on the possible economic downsides of EU exit.

What is surprising is that the in/out debate is conducted as if we were Iceland or Liechtenstein weighing up joining EFTA or the EU. It is also conducted as if it was still 1973 (when the UK joined), there were only 6 members, and we have 14 days to cancel.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 30 Comments

Opinion: Planning a new constitution for the United Kingdom

This is the time of year when there is much political reflection. The Queen’s Christmas message this year was one of Her Majesty’s best. Whilst not everyone listens avidly to our Monarch’s words, the tone and its conciliatory notes encourage sanguine thoughts.

I wish the Queen long life and look forward to a reign that significantly exceeds that of Queen Victoria, or even Louis le Grand.

The effects on the psyche of the United Kingdom of the Queen’s long reign undoubtedly run deep, especially in providing a canopy of permanence and stability. In today’s ephemeral world of celebrity, it is almost certainly fair …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 14 Comments

Opinion: Political deference to today’s orthodoxy is the UK’s economic problem

All three main political parties in the UK today broadly accept the Bank of England’s (BoE’s) programme of buying the paper ‘assets’ of banks with printed money – worthless and valuable alike (quantitative easing – QE). There are few dissenters, but I am one of them.

My dissenting post-2008 remedy was a managed partial default/bankruptcy of the UK’s insolvent banks with a quick operational reboot, on the grounds that it would be cheaper than a printed-money ‘bankers subsidy’. The quantity of intricately interwoven bad assets was unknown, and thus the UK government was subsidising a pig-in-a-poke, I believed.

But hey ho we …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 26 Comments

ALDE Congress passes UK Liberal Democrat motion calling for a halt to drone attacks

On 28th, 29th, and 30th Nov, the Annual Congress of European liberal parties in the European Parliament and beyond, (ALDE) met in London. The ‘pan-European’ liberal manifesto was agreed for the upcoming Euro elections, (no mean feat !), and several other resolutions were passed.

The UK Lib Dems had one motion on the agenda. This was an emergency motion on armed drone attacks, put forward following new on-the-ground data from the UN and others on civilians being killed, and following a European defence meeting which failed to address the illegality of the attacks, instead focusing on the capacity of ‘Europe’ to …

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 16 Comments

Opinion: The Egypt crisis and the role of the UK

For the benefit of Lib Dem members who read LDV I thought it useful to offer up a perspective on the current crisis as a contribution to understanding on the topic – especially important from a Coalition perspective given the UK Foreign Secretary’s recent highly controversial pronouncements.

Historically the military has had a major role in Egyptian society and its age-old pursuit of autonomy & independence – from the centuries of Mamluks to the post-independence military governments, and President Mubarak’s Western-backed thirty-year de facto military rule. The state, whilst strong on ‘security’, is generally incompetent and corrupt, such that it is …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

Opinion: The 2015 manifesto – the need for a certain … clairvoyance

Political parties the world over are often accused of ‘re-fighting the last election’ when they develop their manifestos. This is by way of a plea to all UK LibDems to be mindful of the need to avoid this tendency.

In practical terms this means thinking about the ‘record in government’ we wish hypothetically to be able to put together at the end of 2019, ready for presentation to the electorate in the run up to a 2020 election.

But hold on a minute – that means predicting issues in 2019 and the preceding 4/5 years. Exactly. I will suggest a few.

Constitution
By …

Posted in Op-eds | 18 Comments

Opinion: Welfare reform and poverty

Recently on Lib Dem Voice I wrote a short article arguing for equal reform emphasis between poverty alleviation through welfare, and longer term actual poverty reduction including inter-generational poverty reduction . It seems to me that in times of budget squeeze, the means for reducing the need for welfare  – social safety net – in the first place, are worth re-thinking. (To pre-empt objections I am not arguing against the provision of welfare, or for a reduction in weekly welfare payments, or for exclusionary policies).

The really difficult challenge for policy in reducing poverty and the need for welfare is …

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Welfare Reform – are we missing the Big Picture?

The welfare system is a vital part of any modern democracy. The general UK public want people protected from absolute poverty. We invented it – arising from our liberal reformist abhorrence of concurrent poverty and extreme wealth. Unfortunately it became central to big-state socialists’ social engineering policies. It has become a vast industry, with such complexity that its original aims have been all but lost. Amidst the financial crisis it falls to us, its inventors, to overhaul the sprawling system and propose major post-Coalition reforms..

Current Tory reforms aim to reduce complexity and cut the size of the welfare bill – …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments

Opinion: UK democracy and political parties – as seen from space

EarthHow would non-partisan observers see the condition of UK democracy over the decades as viewed from above the  stratosphere ?

With Labour they might see a political party that replaced the Liberals as the party of reform in the 1930s and after WW2, based on representing the ‘working class’ – then working mostly in industry. They might contrast this with today’s Labour party – now mostly funded and controlled by public sector unions – both a strength and weakness in terms of the progression of democracy. A public sector union is a very peculiar animal. Without the constraints of industrial competition, and with senior ‘two-hatted’ civil servants facing conflicts between the public interest and the interests of their unions, one can understand why the Labour party has certain weaknesses as part of the democratic system. Hence their conflation of the public interest with ever-expanding public employment, usually couched in the language of additional benefits to the public, (and a policy cohabitee with Tory centralization). Therein lies Labour’s key weakness as well as its strength.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: We await the lessons of Iraq while new conflicts loom

It is ten years this week since I agreed to act as lead independent political and governance adviser in Iraq, primarily in the British-controlled Southern Provinces – despite my known anti-war views. It was a harrowing experience, risking the ultimate on a daily basis, appointing directly the first regional government in Basra by way of negotiations with largely hostile tribal, political and religious groups, and then working on other problems.

There has been much reflection in the media in the last few days over the failures of the conflict, its illegality, and lessons for the future, notwithstanding the absence, as yet,  …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Opinion: We shouldn’t be shy about political failure over the economy

Last week was, behind the scenes, an important one for the future of UK economic reforms. Four reports were published which were, one might say, bang on for the new mantra of ‘re-balancing the economy’.

The first was Lord Heseltine’s report on the role and methods of the UK government in ‘achieving’ economic growth. The other three were reviews conducted via the Bank of England in response to criticisms of its handling of the financial crisis – specifically its bailouts, and its evident surprise in 2007 that much of the UK banking system would collapse without such bailouts.

The Heseltine report was …

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Opinion: The importance of party unity over the economy

There has been a rise in factionalism across the Liberal Democrats during their time in the Coalition Government – with the Liberal Left, Social Liberal Forum, Liberal Reform and other groups, all promoting their different perspectives. At Party Conference a left/right divide over economics and fiscal policy was very noticeable.

My thesis is that this divide is a serious one which is widening, not narrowing, and without measures to halt the fragmentation,

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 127 Comments

Opinion: Understanding the housing policy buzz

It has been widely suggested that a government-engineered housebuilding boom may end the recession and bring electoral success to the Tories or LibDems in 2015 (depending on who gets the credit for it). Experts have been scrambling to answer the question of why there is such a shortage of housing, what the obstacles to housebuilding really are.

The Coalition government has so far focused on schemes to help first time buyers and provide housebuilders with finance. These approaches tend to assume that the major obstacle to expanded housebuilding is lack of loan finance due to a banking system still in …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 79 Comments

Opinion: Should we be selling state assets to reduce debt and create jobs?

One of the unexpected by-products of the controversial privatisations of the 1980s was the discovery of shockingly poor real estate management by state bodies – a rare glimpse of a problem only brought to the surface when the need for proper balance sheets arose.

UK government departments and agencies have since been shown to exhibit appalling asset management, as any sweep through Public Accounts Committee (PAC) or National Audit Office (NAO) reports will demonstrate – stories of unused land & buildings, ‘forgotten’ landholdings, leases on punitive terms, opaque sale of land at below market prices. Government departments also own very large …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 6 Comments

Opinion: ‘Economic growth you can believe in’ – towards The British Growth Model.

Economic growth still eludes the Coalition. The development of a convincing analysis and programme for (fiscally sustainable) growth is essential for the second half of the Coalition’s life up to 2015. The Lib Dems must take a lead role in developing it.

Before the economic crisis started in 2007 the signs of ‘systemic financial sector failure’ were all around us. Few spotted them, however. Several simplistic economic tenets have since been jettisoned, as politicians have learned about the economic concept of ‘systemic financial failure’.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: Time to move on from the sterile debate based on misinterpretations of Keynes and Smith

Is Europe, including the UK, destined to drown in a sea of irreconcilable debate over austerity versus growth, whilst the economic answers watch despairing from the shore ?

It may well be so. The election in France of President Hollande, and the success of anti-austerity parties and groups, seems to point that way.

There is no middle ground here. Only a different way of looking at the problem.

To get there however, I first wish to take you back, dear reader, to the mid-1970s when political criticisms of Keynesian demand …

Posted in Op-eds | 11 Comments

Opinion: the undignified spectacle at the G8

Imagine the scene. It’s a dirty whitewashed three-storey government building in the capital city, surrounded by high walls with US helicopters parked around. Inside sit several US generals and two Europeans, in the dusty heat. The war they are there to discuss is secretly assumed to go on for 25 years. They all know they cannot win it despite superior air power and unlimited cash. They had all given it their best shot with use of terrible weapons. Neighbouring countries have been mercilessly bombed, and ushering in governments very unfriendly to the US and the West.

It was time to find …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged | 3 Comments

Opinion: Pupil Premium. Extend the concept?

The Pupil Premium (PP) is great politics. As a way of increasing funding for schools with more pupils from poorer backgrounds, with all the incentives that implies, is has laudable political features. It contrasts us well as ‘pro-poor’ relative to the Conservatives. It is a kind of remedy for the ‘student fees’ debacle. And it is simple – easy to understand and to implement.

It is worth having a closer look at its features and context. Are there any broader lessons for the Lib Dems?

First, what is it? In effect PP is an additional dimension to the way that central government …

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Opinion: A bad election result – what now ?

The Liberal Democrats took another slap round the chops from the electorate on the May 3rd local elections. Yes, there were a few bright spots, especially those ably pointed out by Jeremy Browne MP, but the overall picture was still grim.

Of course it was not unexpected, and neither has the leadership’s response been – hold the course, reiterate what we have achieved and will achieve, compare our policy successes with those of the Conservatives, and emphasise that it was Labour who got us into the financial mess we are in. And so on. All good stuff, and well executed. …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 26 Comments

Opinion: are we participants in ‘elective dictatorship’ ?

A formula. Politicians who are weak, plus ‘Sir Humphreys’ who are strong, equals elective dictatorship.

It was Tony Blair who introduced the idea to the British public of politicians who see themselves primarily as spokespeople for the decisions and interests of officials. With Blair and his New Labour concept, it became more obvious that there was a new class of ‘professional’ career politician – seeing their role primarily as spinning-for-the-state and controlling public opinion.

A little-noticed last phrase in a BBC news item last week may be another symptom of a weakening democratic system of elected politicians – those who used …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

Opinion: subtexts rule! (or, why the subtexts of the budget and new roadbuilding plans are more important than the headlines)

This last week has demonstrated that a sailing ship without a destination will… well… just drift with the wind.

During this last budget week the Tories, under pressure from their backbenchers, reduced the 50% rate of tax for higher earners. Under the principle of Collective Cabinet Responsibility, Lib Dem ministers defended the change, implying that this concession has been granted in return for broader anti-avoidance tax measures for the better off, and the next step in the reduction in the number of lower earners paying income tax. BIS Minister Vince Cable weighed in dutifully with facts and figures showing that the …

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Opinion: No economic growth? Here’s what to do

To summarise the current UK position, ‘demand management’ is out (no money left and anyway it didn’t work), so growth must come from supply-side measures (excluding subsidies or protectionism), and from ‘natural’ private sector growth (born of financial stability and debt reduction).

With the peculiar separation in the UK which has evolved between the ‘real economy’ and the civil service, media & political elites, this has left the political system scratching its head over how to achieve ‘fiscally sustainable quality growth’. The result has been a series of ad-hoc programmes – some designed to substitute for an ailing banking sector (growth funds, loan guarantees), some …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 5 Comments

Opinion: Memo to Jeremy Browne MP

Dear Jeremy,

Thank you very much for your typically robust performance on BBC TV’s Question Time last night. However I wish to counsel you against using the prospect of war with Iran as a vehicle to demonstrate your resolve, and the Party’s new-found ‘establishment’ credentials. Your political future, and maybe even your personal freedom, are at stake here….

In the debate you not only expressed your support for blockade-type unilateral sanctions, that do not have UN support, but also you gave the distinct impression that you were in favour of the UK joining a major war against Iran.

The recent rise …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 11 Comments

Opinion: War with Iran? Where’s the scrutiny

One of the great benefits of democracy over totalitarianism is its ability to criticize openly and scrutinize the major decisions of government. If weight of public and political opinion is against a particular decision, there are inevitably dissenters within the machinery of government. Whilst this doesn’t prevent damaging and foolhardy decisions from being made, it does strengthen the hand of these dissenters within the government hierarchy. This usually has the effect of limiting the damage, and speeding up both the reversal of the decision as well as the learning of lessons.

This was apparent in the case of the Iraq war. …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

Opinion: Cameron – a sorry tale born of inexperience

One of the problems with major European politico-economic events, such as the UK veto on fiscal measures wielded by PM David Cameron last weekend, is that it is hard to unravel what actually happened. As is often the case, we have a German view, a French view, a UK view, and then a European Commission and an European Central Bank view. Each slant is coloured by anonymous briefings and insider leaks.

The UK Conservative Party view, well spun in the Daily Telegraph, is that it is all the fault of the French and, to an extent, the Germans.

The UK line seems …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 10 Comments

Opinion: European Liberal Democrat Parties vote against war with Iran

At the 2011 Annual Congress of the European Liberal Democratic and Reform (ELDR) parties in Palermo last week, a major initiative from the UK Lib Dems was the successful tabling of an emergency resolution on the growing likelihood of war with Iran. Media and intelligence reports have described the ‘planned’ action as a multi-pronged attack on Iran by the United States and Israel, with military support from the United Kingdom and Canada. In Palermo, the UK Lib Dem resolution against the war, and against European involvement, was passed with a large majority. The ELDR resolution also condemned Iran for not …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

Opinion: Subtly different

The Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference this year was subtly different from all others I have attended.

Being part of the Coalition of course meant a larger UK and international press contingent, and a greater diplomatic representation from around the globe. Lib Dem ministers talked of the problems of persuading their Conservative colleagues of the benefits of key Lib Dem policies and approaches, as well as the more general problems of working with the slippery inflexibilities of government administration.

However by far the more significant difference was for me something unseen, almost unconscious. It affected every conversation, every fringe meeting, and …

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarSimon Banks 18th Apr - 8:51am
    Stephen: I agree with your premise about the nature of Liberalism. I disagree with how you apply it to the debate over Jeremy Browne's book....
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 18th Apr - 8:50am
    paul barker 15th Apr '14 - 7:35pm "..The 1st rule of Polling is not to to take much notice of individual Polls, " And The...
  • User AvatarJohn Innes 18th Apr - 8:40am
    @Malc. Totally agree with you - great poster and get Charles Kennedy and Alistair Darling out there more. I really hope that Scotland votes to...
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 18th Apr - 8:34am
    Michael Moore says - "--Currently, our British forces are strategically structured and positioned, not on an arbitrary national level, but on military logic........" Ah yes,...
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 18th Apr - 8:09am
    Thanks for these. Interesting stuff I note that the quality of the 1931 film of Archibald Simon is much better than the 1967 film of...
  • User AvatarRC 18th Apr - 7:51am
    I would echo what George Crozier says. From the door knocking I have done, when you get to speak to them, people I have met...