Author Archives: Stephen Tall

Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall. He writes a fortnightly column for ConservativeHome and 'The Underdog' column for Total Politics magazine. He edited the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead, and is a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum. He was awarded the inaugural Lib Dem ‘Blogger of the Year’ prize in 2006, was a councillor for eight years in Oxford, including a year as Deputy Lord Mayor, and appears frequently in the media in person, in print and online. Stephen combines his political interests with his professional life as Development Director for the Education Endowment Foundation, though writes here in a personal capacity.

LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 16

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LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 14

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Stephen Tall’s diary: liberal jottings on the week’s big events

Honest doubt

I wrote on Syria last week that I was “mystified by those who’ve already made their minds up with cast-iron certainty on either side”. That’s still the case despite, and probably because of, the eruption of passions leading up to and beyond Wednesday’s vote. The UK is, after all, already involved in military action against Isis in Iraq. Sure, extending those airstrikes to Syria represents an intensification and, like any bombing campaign, requires serious consideration. But that is a question not of basic morality (if it were there should have been an equally strenuous efforts to cease attacks in Iraq) but of likely effectiveness.

And that, of course, is the known unknown of this week’s debate. None of us truthfully knows what will be the consequences of extending the campaign to Syria; just as we don’t know what might have happened if MPs had voted against action. There is no possibility of a controlled experiment which allows us to pose the counterfactual. All we are left with is our own opinion: which of the options facing us is most likely to result in fewest deaths? Ultimately, it’s as utilitarian a decision as that.

Which is why I get fed up with simplistic shroud-wavers shouting “blood on your hands” at those who support intervention. Innocent people are dying every day in this conflict, and further deaths are plotted daily by Isis, so delaying further this supposed “rush to war” will also directly lead to fresh casualties. See, we can all indulge this moral blackmail arms-race — but it gets us nowhere. Decisions like these are shades-of-grey. I respect opinions on both sides of the divide on Syria, but most especially those honest enough to recognise they may be wrong.

The worm’s turned

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LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 13

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Stephen Tall’s Diary: liberal jottings on the week’s big events

Spending Revue Reviewed

‘You make your own luck,’ goes the saying. In which case, and only in this respect, George Osborne truly has started a “march of the makers” because he’s one hell of a lucky Chancellor. Had the independent Office for Budget Responsibility not lavished on him a £27 billion fiscal (and notional) windfall, this week’s Autumn Statement would have been far more wintry. As it was, he was able to play out the role of Santa, albeit a very Tory version: snatching away fewer of the kids’ presents in order to re-gift them to their grandparents. For this was a spending review which confirmed this Government stands shoulder-to-shoulder with pensioners (who vote, in droves) while shrugging its shoulders at the plight of the younger, working poor (who often don’t vote, and if they do probably vote Labour anyway).

Yes, the tax credit cuts were jettisoned for now — take a bow all those who’ve campaigned against them because it took concerted action to persuade the House of Lords and a few Tory MPs with a social conscience to stand up to this government — but, really, they’ve just been deferred. Once universal credit has been implemented (assuming that Godot-like day ever arises) the Resolution Foundation calculates eligible working families with children will be £1,300 a year worse off (even taking into account the so-called ‘national living wage’ and planned increases in the tax-threshold). Which might sound bad, but that average actually conceals far worse news for some. For instance, a single mum working part-time on the minimum wage will receive £2,800 a year less by 2020 under the Tories’ plans, while a working couple on the minimum wage with three kids will lose out to the tune of £3,060. Meanwhile the pensions ‘triple lock’ (of which Lib Dems have often boasted) will guarantee that pensioner benefits grow to more than half of all welfare spending.

Gone are the days when the Lib Dems could require a distributional analysis to ensure the pain of cuts was shared around to ensure that, as far as possible, Britain was all in it together. It’s George’s Show now. It’s just a shame some of his luck won’t rub off on those “hard-working families” he’s soon going to clobber.

Rational actors

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Stephen Tall’s Diary: liberal jottings on the week’s big events

Labour pains

“Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns.” So said every liberal’s fantasy US president, Jed Bartlett – surely someone in Team Corbyn is a West Wing fan? Clearly not, or they might have advised the Labour leader not to think-out-loud in TV interviews this past week, especially when the thoughts which frothed forth were so, well, thoughtless. Of course it would have been “far better” if Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”) had been tried in a court of law. It’s just that the absence of an extradition treaty with Isis makes that a bit of a challenge (unless Jezza’s up for a bit of cheeky rendition). And of course no-one is “happy” with the idea of a shoot-to-kill policy being operated by the UK police or security services — but, then, that isn’t the actual policy.

What the last week has revealed is that Corbyn is incapable of moving beyond the glib agitprop sloganeering of hard-left oppositionalism. That’s probably not surprising after 32 years as a backbencher never having (or wanting) to take responsibility for a tough decision. But it remains disastrous for the Labour party, which needs a plausible prime minister as its leader, and disastrous for the country, which needs a plausible alternative government. I’ll confess a sliver of me is enjoying the schadenfreude of watching Labour self-immolate as a result of the self-indulgent stupidity of its membership in handing the leadership to someone painfully obviously unfit for the office. But the responsible part of me knows that, for all our sakes, Labour needs to get real again, and quickly.

Time for Tim

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Liberal jottings: Stephen Tall’s weekly notebook

Status Quo’s winning record

Painful though it might be for liberals to admit the fact, Britain is a fundamentally conservative country. Opposition is more often expressed with a tut or a sceptically-arched eyebrow than a revolution. And then things generally revert to how they were before. Which is why, though I’m more careful these days about predicting what will happen next in British politics, I remain sure ‘remain’ will win the EU referendum.

A few years ago, after our AV knock-back, I looked back at the history of referendums in this country (starting with the first ever UK plebiscite, the 1973 Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum). Doing so, I formulated what I’m going to call Tall’s Law in the hope it catches on (though Tall’s Rule of Thumb would be more accurate): “the public will vote for the status quo when asked in a referendum except when the change proposed in a referendum is backed by a coalition of most/all the major parties”. Come the EU referendum, we will see the Conservatives and Labour (to one degree or another) as well as the Lib Dems united in favour of Britain’s continuing EU membership. Sure, take nothing for granted — but a defeat for ‘remain’ would be an unprecedented occurrence. And precedent is a very British custom, for better and worse.

Burnham down

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  • User AvatarCarl Gardner 29th Apr - 4:52pm
    You mention the grand coalition. There have been quite a few grand coalition governments in Austria: so much so that a voter frustrated with the...
  • User Avatarpetermartin2001 29th Apr - 4:39pm
    The problem with this argument is that the EU have taken at least 20 years too long to come out with anything like this. By...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 29th Apr - 4:16pm
    I suppose Nick Thornsby refers to the civility of Nick Clegg saying "Thank you, David" every time David Cameron plunged another knife into the back...
  • User AvatarAntony Hook 29th Apr - 4:10pm
    Conservative and Green MEPs voted against this. It's not thanks to the EU but thanks to Liberals specifically.
  • User Avatarmalc 29th Apr - 4:06pm
    All good stuff if the money is there, but like Eddie Sammon says she hasn't made it clear how it will be funded.
  • User AvatarStephen Hesketh 29th Apr - 3:56pm
    Allan Brame 29th Apr '16 - 7:13am Allan, you are of course right. My annoyance that Mr Laws and others have never admitted the mistakes...