Author Archives: Stephen Tall

Stephen has been Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice since 2007. He edited the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He writes a fortnightly column for ConservativeHome and 'The Underdog' column for Total Politics magazine. He also writes at his personal website, 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.

Ming Campbell’s successor selected: Tim Brett to fight North East Fife for Lib Dems in 2015

tim brettFormer Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell announced last October he’d retire as MP for North East Fife at the next general election, after eight elections (five of them successful) and 28 years.

His successor has now been announced: Tim Brett, leader of Fife Council Liberal Democrats and former chief executive of Ninewells Hospital, will contest the seat for the Lib Dems. Here’s what his biography on the Scottish Lib Dem website says about him:

Tim has lived in NE Fife since 1985 and has been a Councillor since 2003. He held

Posted in Selection news | Tagged , , and | 6 Comments

Democratic Audit on the “scandal” of the poor value taxpayers get for the £800m spent on elections in the UK

Ballot paperDemocratic Audit, an independent research organisation based at the London School of Economics, this week published a report, Engaging young voters with enhanced election information. The title may not be the most exciting ever, but the report itself is worth a read. (You can download it here.)

The executive summary from the report’s authors, Patrick Dunleavy and Richard Berry, sets out the current problem as they see it:

Current arrangements in the UK only give very poor, fragmented and old-fashioned feedback to voters about what effect their participation has had, and what election outcomes were.

Posted in What do the academics say? | Tagged , , , and | 15 Comments

In the next month 13 seats will short-list their wannabe Lib Dem MPs

Lib Dems winning hereHere’s the full list of selection contests in the coming month available for Lib Dems on the approved parliamentary candidates’ list, together with the closing date for applications. They include Bath, where Don Foster is standing down after 23 years, a seat which the party will be keen to defend. So far, of the six held Lib Dem seats where MPs are retiring, five have chosen women and one a man from an ethnic community (details here). What will happen in Bath?

The following seats have selections in progress and are currently advertising for candidates:

Posted in Selection news | 4 Comments

My 5 minutes defending Lib Dem honour against Bus Pass Elvis

“We’re interviewing Bus Pass Elvis – the guy who beat the Lib Dems in a council by-election last week – and wondered if you’d be free to come on and talk about whether it means the writing’s on the wall.” That was the enticing invitation from the BBC’s Daily Politics show – how could I refuse? You can see how I got on below.

It was a brief segment, so there were two points I didn’t get to make which I think are important and relevant.

First, what Bus Pass Elvis’s defeat of the Lib Dems in North Clifton ward in Nottingham shows is the extent to which the party’s support has been hit in non-target areas. The party didn’t contest the ward at all in 2011 but when it did in 2007 it attracted 7% of the vote. Seven years on, the Lib Dems got 2%.

Posted in News and YouTube | Tagged , , , , and | 6 Comments

Tony Benn: an appreciation

imageSummer 1993. I’d just finished my GCSEs and so, like any other teenager, spent the next few weeks reading Tony Benn’s diaries from start to finish. They are an immense achievement, as was his life.

They had a pretty major impact on me: I joined the Labour Party aged 16.The effect wore off in time: I left Labour (in 1999), and the Labour Party left Tony Benn.

Posted in News and Obituaries | Tagged and | 19 Comments

17 policies on which the Lib Dems and Labour now agree

Nick Clegg and Ed MilibandIt was a fiery Prime Minister’s Questions this week: with Nick Clegg standing in for David Cameron, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman was joined by her backbenchers in hurling insults at the Lib Dem leader, which he returned with equal force.

It wasn’t edifying or enlightening. And it may not be a good guide to what could happen after May 2015 if the electoral arithmetic leaves Labour and the Lib Dems with little choice but to team up to form a Coalition government.

In fact, if …

Posted in News | Tagged | 23 Comments

New poll: Voters credit low-earner tax-cuts to Lib Dems, Clegg’s ratings spike following Farage debate challenge

Here’s a poll finding that will relieve Lib Dems and worry Tories – according to Ipsos-Mori more voters (45%) credit the Lib Dems with the Coalition’s tax-cuts than credit the Tories (33%):

tax cuts lib dme credit ipsos mori

Posted in News and Polls | Tagged , , and | 31 Comments

Miliband on in/out Europe referendum: I agree with Nick

Ed Miliband has decided, once and for all, what Labour’s position is be on an in/out EU referendum – the same as the Lib Dem policy.

Writing in today’s Financial Times, the Labour leader has said his party’s manifesto will commit to a referendum on whether the UK should be in or out of the EU only if there is a proposed transfer of more powers from London to Brussels.

This is subtly different from the Government’s ‘treaty lock’ agreed within the Coalition Agreement: that promised there should be a referendum on any future treaty that proposed a transfer …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 28 Comments

Nick Clegg’s speech to the Lib Dem spring conference in full

Clegg SpeechNick Clegg is just about to begin his speech to bring to a close the Lib Dems’ Spring Conference in York. You can read the full text below.

The speech is most striking for its aim to reclaim patriotism. “I love Britain” is the refrain of its opening section (much of which reads a lot like the popular Twitter account, @SoVeryBritish – eg, “I love that we insist on queuing when we go abroad, even when the locals don’t.”), with Nick listing the things that make him proud to …

Posted in Conference | Tagged , and | 71 Comments

Danny Alexander’s speech to Lib Dem conference. (AKA: we need to move beyond lists of achievements.)

If you missed it yesterday, you can catch up on Danny Alexander’s speech to the Lib Dem spring conference below. Listening to it, and trying to gauge the reaction of the audience of fellow Lib Dems, a couple of things struck me.

First, Danny has definitely improved as a public speaker. After almost four years in the cabinet as chief secretary to the treasury, he’s much more confident. Perhaps his best line yesterday was when he fended off Tory attempts to steal the credit for the Lib Dems’ tax-cuts for low-earners by saying, “There’s a big difference between doing something because you have to and doing something because you want to. They had to because we wanted to.”

Secondly, that improvement in Danny’s speaking only goes so far. Too much of the speech sounded like read-out versions of the e-mailed lists of Lib Dem achievements party members regularly receive. That’s fine in an email and we all need to have some handy facts to back up our doorstep conversations. But a speech needs also to tell a story, to engage. Can’t say Danny’s did it for me. Am I being too harsh? Well, judge for yourselves below…

Posted in Conference | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Six points I took from Nick Clegg’s Lib Dem conference Q&A

Here are six points that struck me listening to Nick Clegg’s Q&A at the Lib Dem conference today (actually, a few more did, but I haven’t time to cover them all…)

Nick Clegg is more comfortable than his party with positioning the Lib Dems in the centre of British politics

The party’s slogan, ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’, captures Nick Clegg’s message: the Lib Dems can civilise the Tories’ ruthlessness, and we can rein-in Labour’s spending excesses. I’ve written many times before that I think this is the only strategy available to the party given we won’t form the next government on our …

Posted in Conference | Tagged , and | 32 Comments

First two Lib Dem presidential hopefuls declare themselves

Party president Tim Farron’s second (and non-renewable) term of office finishes at the end of this year, after four years in the role. He doubtless expected most of the challenges that come from the Lib Dems being in coalition with the Conservatives. He wouldn’t have expected to have to manage the fall-out from the allegations of sexual impropriety made against Lord Rennard a year ago.

The post of party president is the only Lib Dem role other than that of leader elected through an all-member ballot, and it will take place this autumn. This mandate (along with the requirement to deal …

Posted in News and Party Presidency | Tagged , , and | 8 Comments

What Vince Cable said about teachers – and, more importantly, what he meant

vince cable“Teachers know absolutely nothing about the world of work.” That’s what Vince said if you believe today’s newspaper headlines. And they’re right, he did use those words. But what the newspapers are choosing to ignore is what he meant by them.

Here’s the full quote, from a question-and-answer session about how best to improve the quality of careers advice:

“There has been an argument in Government about how to get the right careers advice in schools and successive governments have frankly messed this up. But the underlying problem is of course that most teachers, particularly in the secondary sector, are graduates. They know how universities work, they know what you have to do to get an A-level, they know about UCAS forms – but they know absolutely nothing about the world of work.”

At that point, Vince’s audience of 600 representatives from the manufacturing industry laughed and clapped. Vince quickly realised how his remarks could have been (mis-)interpreted, commenting “I’ve only one joke today and it was unintentional.” You can heard the exchange below:

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 31 Comments

Lib Dems as ‘The Party of IN’ – Clegg’s pro-European strategy starts to pay off

nick clegg v nigel farageKudos to Nick Clegg and his team, including his director of strategy Ryan Coetzee. The gambit of issuing a personal challenge to Nigel Farage to debate Nick on Europe has been accepted not only by the Ukip leader, but also now by the media. As Caron Lindsay reported here this morning – #NickvNigel – We have a date and #NickvNigel: We have 2 dates – any more for the Tour? – the two leaders will face-off both on TV and on radio within the next …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , , , and | 53 Comments

Julia Goldsworthy re-selected as Lib Dem candidate for Camborne and Redruth, quits as Danny Alexander’s SpAd

julia-goldsworthyCongratulations to Julia Goldsworthy, selected last Friday to fight what is, on paper at any rate, the Lib Dems’ top target in the 2015 general election: Camborne and Redruth. This was the seat which Julia, who had been the party’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury, lost by just 66 votes to the Tories in 2010. Julia, who became special adviser to Danny Alexander at the Treasury shortly after her defeat, has resigned her post to focus on the campaign.

Camborne and Redruth was one of the eight Conservative-held marginal seats …

Posted in News and Selection news | Tagged , and | 6 Comments

BBC: Accused Weymouth councillor joins Lib Dem ‘coalition’

A pretty unbelievable story from Dorset, as reported by the BBC:

A new coalition has been formed by Liberal Democrat councillors to include a member suspended from the party while he faces child sex charges. Weymouth and Portland councillor Ryan Hope was forced to stand down from the party last month after the intervention of its leader Nick Clegg.

The local party set up the Coalition of Liberal Democrats and Allies to protect Mr Hope’s place on council committees. Mr Hope, who is due to stand trial in April, denies all the charges. Under council rules, seats on committees are

Posted in Local government | Tagged , , and | 8 Comments

Farage says Britain’s becoming “unrecognisable”. But the British public says our sense of belonging is increasing.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage was dog-whistling for all he was worth at his party’s spring conference this week:

“In scores of our cities and market towns, this country, in a short space of time, has, frankly, become unrecognisable. Whether it is the impact on local schools and hospitals, whether it is the fact that in many parts of England you don’t hear English spoken any more, this is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.”

His words were eerily reminiscent of William Hague’s insidious “foreign land” speech in 2001. And his party’s slogan …

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , and | 47 Comments

Eastleigh one year on: the by-election which secured Nick Clegg’s leadership

A year ago today, Mike Thornton was declared the new Lib Dem MP for Eastleigh.

Clegg Thornton Eastleigh

I’ve just been re-reading my first reflections on the result, written minutes after Mike’s narrow victory over Ukip was confirmed. As I pointed out then, despite the horrendous circumstances surrounding the by-election – Chris Huhne’s resignation, the allegations against Chris Rennard – Eastleigh was a good seat for the Lib Dems to contest owing to our long-standing, entrenched local strength there.

The other night’s victors, I noted, were Ukip: “There must also now be …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 26 Comments

Four-in-10 voters would never consider voting for the Lib Dems – but it’s not all bad news…

Some interesting poll data from Ipsos-Mori who were asked by British Future to look at attitudes towards voting for the four main political parties. Here’s three points that stood out for the Lib Dems:

  • Four-in-10 voters would never consider voting for the Lib Dems, Conservatives or Ukip. Labour is less unpopular: one-in-three voters would never consider voting Labour.
  • Lib Dem supporter are the most anti-Ukip: 62% say they would never consider voting Ukip. This compares with 43% of Lib Dems saying they would never consider voting Conservative, and 38% saying they would never vote for Labour.
  • The feelings mutual… Ukip supporters
  • Posted in Polls | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

    My favourite Vince Cable quote on Tory immigration policy

    Vince Cable smiling - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsThe good news is that more people chose to come to the UK last year. Net migration to the UK increased to 212,000 in the year to September 2013, up from 154,000 in the previous year. As the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has shown before: if you want increased growth, you should welcome immigration.

    Here’s how Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable put it, according to the BBC:

    Vince Cable welcomed the increase in net migration to the UK, saying

    Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 18 Comments

    FT: “For nearly four years, Britain has been served reasonably well by multi-party government”

    On Tuesday, it was reported that David Cameron wanted to rule out the possibility of a second Lib-Con coalition in the event of another hung parliament. This tit was matched by an equivalent tat from the left, when Unite leader Len Mclusky urged Labour to do the same.

    Today’s Financial Times leader attempts to inject a dose of reality into this anti-coalition arms race:

    All this chest-beating has stirred Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem deputy prime minister, whose party can only govern with others, to denounce “tribal voices”. And he is right to do so. This should not

    Posted in News | Tagged , , , , and | 11 Comments

    Cameron to “rule out second Lib-Con coalition” claims Telegraph. It may be a bluff but that doesn’t mean he won’t be forced to do it.

    Today’s Telegraph splashes on the claim that David Cameron is preparing to rule out the possibility of a second Coalition with the Lib Dems if the Tories are the largest single party but lack a majority:

    The Prime Minister wants to make a commitment in the Conservative Party election manifesto not to sign a second power-sharing deal with a smaller party in the event of a hung parliament next May, it is understood. Instead, a Conservative party that won the most seats but lacked a Commons majority would attempt to rule as a minority government, a course that would almost

    Posted in News | Tagged , , , and | 36 Comments

    Who’s afraid of Scottish independence?

    Saltire - St Andrews Flag - Scotland - Some rights reserved by byronv2The last month has seen the ‘Yes Scotland’ independence campaign take a battering.

    First, Mark Carney raised doubts about Alex Salmond’s plans for a post-independence currency union between Scotland and the remainder of the UK.

    This warning was echoed when, with more naked partisanship, George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls teamed up to state they would each refuse to form such a currency union.

    And then last Sunday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso hammered in

    Posted in Op-eds and Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , and | 33 Comments

    In the next month 29 seats will short-list their wannabe Lib Dem MPs

    Lib Dems winning hereHere’s the full list of selection contests in the coming month available for Lib Dems on the approved parliamentary candidates’ list, together with the closing date for applications. They include five of the seats on the party’s top 50 target list: Newport East, Totnes, Bristol North West, Bristol South, and Chelmsford.

    The following seats have selections in progress and are currently advertising for candidates:

    Posted in Selection news | 3 Comments

    Another Coalition? 1-in-5 of the public likes the idea, but is divided between Lib-Lab and Lib-Con pact

    Nick Clegg sparked a flurry of Coalition speculation this week, with his (relatively) warm words towards Labour on a BBC Radio 4 documentary this week. Everyone’s had their say – but what does the public think? YouGov has polled them to ask…

    The first question asked which option folk would like to see after the next general election…

    yougov coalition feb 2014

    So a Labour majority government is the preference of most (31%), narrowly ahead of a Tory majority government (29%). A coalition government involving the Lib Dems would be favoured by …

    Posted in Polls | Tagged and | 20 Comments

    Clegg v Farage: why Nick needs Nigel

    Some smart stuff from Nick Clegg this morning, issuing a direct challenge to Ukip’s Nigel Farage to debate him on Europe.

    For starters, it seizes the initiative. Nick’s been ambushed often enough on his radio phone-in show, Call Clegg, with the producers lining up disgusted ex-Lib Dem members, and folk like Boris Johnson and Cathy Newman, to spring awkward questions on him. Today he turned the tables. The speed with which emails from the party pinged into my inbox – complete with petition to sign – show this was a planned surprise.

    It’s succeeded in catching Nigel Farage off-guard. The Ukip leader wants to think through the pros and cons. If he agrees to Nick’s challenge, will it weaken his case for appearing in 2015′s televised leaders’ debates? Should he demand a four-way debate – even though he must know that’s a non-starter and it might look like he’s unwilling to take up the gauntlet thrown down by Nick? They’re fair enough questions to want to think through. But in today’s insta-response news climate, Nige’s lack of immediate enthusiasm will dent his carefully cultivated image of un-spun, devil-may-care, shoot-from-the-hip, take-on-all-comers man-of-the-people.

    Posted in News | Tagged , and | 40 Comments

    Après Nick: which Lib Dem MPs are best-placed to become the next Lib Dem leader?

    Today’s Independent has an interesting story speculating on the Lib Dem leadership contest to come if the 2015 election result triggers Nick Clegg’s resignation. It’s one of the features of this parliament – perhaps linked to it being a fixed-term in which we know the dates are all known – that there hasn’t been nearly as much gossip about future leadership bids in any of the three main parties.

    Anyway, the Indy story seeks to make up a little for that absence: Nick Clegg’s rivals for the Lib Dems leadership told to rev up. The premise of the article …

    Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , and | 56 Comments

    How should PMQs be reformed?

    Hansard-SocietyPrime Minister’s Questions, the half-hour weekly pantomime that transfixes Westminster and the SW1 media, got a deserved pasting from the Hansard Society this week which released a report, Tuned in or Turned off? Public attitudes to PMQs.

    The results couldn’t be clearer. PMQs is a significant ‘cue’ or ‘building block’ for the public’s perceptions of Parliament, and it provides a lot of the raw material that feeds their negative assumptions about politicians.

    The public like the ‘theory’ of PMQs but dislike the current practice of it. They recognise that the opportunity

    Posted in News | Tagged , and | 14 Comments

    Official: Lib Dem voters least bothered about penis size

    Kudos to YouGov for coming up with the most outrageously crow-barred poll finding to mark Valentine’s Day – that Lib Dem voters are least likely to think that penis size matters.

    yougov poll - 14 feb 2014

    The findings are not surprising. After all, we’ve always wanted proportional representation. We’ve always been wary of sudden swings to the left or right. And throughout the Coalition, Lib Dems have argued it’s not the size of our parliamentary party that matters, but what we do with our honourable members. We must now gird our …

    Posted in Polls | Tagged | 13 Comments

    Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election: Labour win easily, Ukip beat Tories to 2nd, Lib Dems lose deposit

    Labour comfortably won yesterday’s Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election, caused by the sad death of Paul Goggins just five weeks ago. Here are the results:

      Labour: Mike Kane – 13,261 (55%, +11%)
      UKIP: John Bickley – 4,301 (18%, +15%)
      Conservative: Daniel Critchlow – 3,479 (15%, -11%)
      Liberal Democrat: Mary di Mauro – 1,176 (5%, -17%)
      Green: Nigel Woodcock – 748 (3%, +3%)
      BNP: Eddy O’Sullivan – 708 (3%, -1%)
      Monster Raving Loony: Captain Chaplington-Smythe – 288 (1%)
      Turnout: 23,961, 28%

    It’s clear there were two winners from the election – though the very low-turn-out (barely one-quarter of the registered electorate bothered to vote in what was a foregone conclusion by-election) …

    Posted in News and Parliamentary by-elections | Tagged and | 128 Comments



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    • User AvatarMartin Gentles 19th Apr - 10:50pm
      Certainly RE should be included in a civic minded curriculum. The question isn't religious education, the question religious selection in education. This can inculcate social...
    • User AvatarRadical Liberal 19th Apr - 10:01pm
      'Indeed. So do we really need another one in a position of power and influence?' Don't you believe in balance and a diversity of views?...
    • User AvatarSimon Shaw 19th Apr - 10:01pm
      Just to point out that it is not £3,600 NET, it is £3,600 GROSS. In other words, £2,880 NET. It's available for everyone, including children.
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      Sir Archibald Sinclair in the first clip said, “Freedom is what it (Liberal Party) fights for. Our goal is a new Britain … - well...
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      As far as I know the £3,600 rule is still in effect. I've checked HMRC, but I've made a mistake in the past by assuming...
    • User AvatarStephen Howse 19th Apr - 8:12pm
      Indeed. So do we really need another one in a position of power and influence?