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.

Lib Dems publish latest accounts: £439k surplus and membership up to 43,451

Libby - Some rights reserved by David SpenderThe latest set of accounts for the Lib Dems have been published – I’ve uploaded it at the foot of this post. (You can compare it with last year’s here.) Here are 5 points that struck me I read through the document.

1) Party bounces back from deficit to surplus

Last year, the Lib Dems recorded a deficit of £410k (described then as a “disappointing result”). This year (ie, the year ending 31 Dec 2013), the party has recorded a healthy overall surplus of £439k, with £7.3m of income and £6.9m of expenditure.

photo by: NCVO
Posted in News and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , and | 30 Comments

The 21 areas where the Lib Dems and Labour agree

Miliband-CleggIt’s a few months since I first published my list of 17 policies on which the Lib Dems and Labour now agree. These ranged from including tax-cuts for low-earners, the introduction of a mansion tax, a major council house-building programme, cuts to universal benefits for wealthy pensioners, and an elected House of Lords.

One I highlighted was the likely scrapping of the Bedroom Tax, noting then: “Officially the Lib Dems are committed to an immediate review of the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ (or ‘spare room subsidy’ as no-one calls it), …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 31 Comments

Ed Miliband’s speech: tricky message, poor timing

Ed MilibandI’ve quite a lot of time for Ed Miliband. Politics needs intelligent, thoughtful folk with their hearts in the right place.

I respect, for example, that he held out last year against the superficially attractive urge to call for an in/out EU referendum advocated by more opportunistic Labour colleagues who relished the idea of stirring Tory discontent with Cameron. Miliband, rightly, decided to put national interest ahead of narrow party interest.

But there are evident troubles with his leadership, crystallised by his speech yesterday in which he acknowledged his own image problems: “I am not trying to win a photo-op contest in the next 10 months. And I wouldn’t win it if I tried.”

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 19 Comments

Ukip may well win a seat in May 2015. But the least likely person to get elected is Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage, Leader, UK Independence Party (UKIP)This week saw the latest in Lord Ashcroft’s polls of the marginal battleground seats that will decide the result of the next general election. This crop focused on 14 marginal Conservative-held seats where Labour are in second place.

The overall news was half-encouraging for Labour. As it stands, Ed Miliband’s party is poised to win 11 of these 14 seats next May. The average swing from Tory to Labour of 4.5% would be enough to win 53 Tory seats, which, as as Ashcroft notes, “combined with the 17 seats my recent polling suggested they could gain from the Lib Dems, would be enough for a small overall majority”.

Of course, this poll is a snapshot, not a prediction (as Ashcroft repeatedly stresses). A similar exercise conducted by Ashcroft for PoliticsHome in 2009 pointed to a Tory majority of 70 seats and we all know how that turned out a few months later. Usually the governing party picks up support as the election nears, while the opposition party loses support. We’ll see how that historical pattern bears out in Coalition conditions and as voting becomes yet more fragmented between five national parties, as well as the nationalists in Scotland and Wales.

But the most newsworthy finding from Ashcroft’s poll was that Ukip would win two Conservative-held seats, Thanet South and Thurrock.

Posted in News and Polls | Tagged , , , and | 21 Comments

Good news: Voters places themselves and the Lib Dems in the centre. Bad news: that doesn’t mean they’re liberals

“There’s no future for the Lib Dems as a party of the centre,” goes the cry from radicals on both wings of our party. So I was interested to see this polling data from YouGov (hat-tip Adam Corlett) looking at where voters place themselves on the left-right axis and where they place the parties and their leaders. And yes, I know we don’t buy into the idea of a binary left-right axis, but it can’t be entirely dismissed.

As YouGov explains, “tracking data compiled over as many as 12 years gives a clear sense of how the main parties and their leaders have been perceived as shifting on a left-right scale. The two charts below shows mean scores based on 100 being “very right-wing” and -100 being “very left-wing”.” I’ve super-imposed onto YouGov’s graphics where, on average, voters currently place themselves:

voters left right spectrum you gov 2014

Three quick points:

Posted in Op-eds and Polls | Tagged , , , and | 59 Comments

David Ward: “if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes”

A year ago David Ward, Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, had the party whip temporarily withdrawn after he accused “the Jews” of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel”. Though he apologised for blanket-labelling he said he would “continue to make criticisms of actions in Palestine in the strongest possible terms” and has tonight lived up to his word on his Twitter feed:

david ward tweets

Posted in News | Tagged , , , and | 75 Comments

The Lib Dems’ ‘bedroom tax’ U-turn: new poll on what the voters think about it

Spare Bedroom Photo by Flack JackThe Lib Dems announced a few days ago the party’s 2015 manifesto would propose reform of the ‘bedroom tax’ / ‘spare room subsidy’, which would means no tenant would have any of their housing benefit withdrawn unless they had turned down an offer of a smaller property.

It was a long overdue climbdown – as I wrote in April 2013: “The principle of the ‘bedroom tax’, then — to try and maximise the availability of social housing and reduce the chronic waiting lists — is

photo by:
Posted in News and Polls | Tagged , , and | 15 Comments

My pick of 15 top books to read this summer

reading summer - photo by hans van der bergThe newspapers are awash with summer best-reads at the moment, as well-known writers pick the books to relax with by the pool. You know the kind of thing: “It’s at this time of year I typically embark on re-reading Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, translating it into Russian (which I’m learning to relax as I prepare for my Grade 8 piano exam) from our rustic cottage in Tuscany.” Or, alternatively: “Here’s a book written by my mate.”

Always eager to copy a …

photo by:
Posted in Books | Tagged | 4 Comments

ICM poll: Tories edge ahead of Labour, while Ukip collapse to 4th behind Lib Dems

Amidst all the reshuffle excitement, I didn’t get chance to report the latest ICM poll – regarded by pundits as the ‘gold standard’ – for The Guardian, published on Tuesday. It shows the Tories a nose ahead of Labour, 34% to 33%, with Ukip slumping to fourth place (9%) behind the Lib Dems on 12%.

icm poll - july 2014

The collapse of the Ukip vote is the most dramatic story in the poll – Nigel Farage’s party topped the nationwide Euro-elections just a few weeks ago. However, the pattern is a …

Posted in Polls | Tagged and | 19 Comments

Michael Gove: The Case for the Defence. And also the Case for the Prosecution.

Michael GoveUnlike most Lib Dems, I am not a Gove-hater. But nor do I share the adulation those one on the Right bestow upon him. The man we must now call the former Education secretary was more complex than his critics allowed and more flawed than his fans admitted.

No-one should doubt Michael Gove’s passion for schools reform, nor his sincerity. For him it is much more than political: it is also personal. Two men have shaped much of the education agenda in the last 15 years: Gove and Labour’s Andrew Adonis, …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 21 Comments

Reshuffle: One Nation Toryism has gone to meet its maker

David Cameron - Some rights reserved by The Prime Minister's OfficeDavid Cameron’s extensive reshuffle of the Tory ministerial ranks will continue today. Last night we learned of the casualties; today will be dedicated to the winners. But there’s no doubt at all about the biggest casualty: moderate, One Nation Toryism.

Ken Clarke, famously dubbed the sixth Lib Dem cabinet member, has gone. Too sensible to be left in charge of the Justice ministry he was exiled to the Cabinet’s fringes in 2012; now he has been retired completely. William Hague – transformed …

Posted in News | Tagged | 30 Comments

UPDATED: Sarah Yong stands down as Lib Dem candidate for marginal seat of Somerton and Frome

20140201-202125.jpg Sarah YongIt’s six months since Sarah Yong was selected as the Lib Dem candidate for Somerton and Frome, held by David Heath since 1997. Today she’s announced her decision to stand down. Here’s the letter she’s sent to her local paper, announcing the news:

Dear Editor,

I just wanted to let you know that it is with great regret that I’ve decided to stand down from my role as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Somerton and Frome. I have made this decision for personal reasons and as a result of changes in

Posted in News and Selection news | Tagged , , and | 13 Comments

Laws: “99% of schools now have a plan in place to deliver universal free school meals in September”

school mealsI’ll be honest. If I had the choice over where to direct £500 million a year of taxpayers’ money, universal free school meals for infants would not be top of my priority list.

That said, the sheer desperation of right-wing newspapers like the Daily Mail for the policy to fail just to spite Nick Clegg strikes me as pretty mean-spirited. It’s a policy which is highly popular with headteachers, and will be with parents too. Perhaps more surprisingly, it’s possibly the only Lib Dem policy ever to attract the support of …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 7 Comments

A longer read for the weekend… Edward Lucas on the threat posed to peace by Russia and what the West should do about it

edward lucasEdward Lucas worked for Paddy Ashdown, has helped at by-elections, and was active in the National League of Young Liberals (NLYL) and the Union of Liberal Students (ULS). He’s better known, though, for being a senior editor at The Economist and an expert on energy, cyber-security, espionage, Russian foreign and security policy and the politics and economics of Eastern Europe. In 2008 he wrote The New Cold War, a prescient account of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In 2011 he wrote Deception, an investigative account of east-west espionage. And earlier …

Posted in Europe / International, News and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 64 Comments

Dear Daily Telegraph, Enough already. It’s actually okay for MPs to claim 11p for a ruler.

The_Daily_TelegraphSo the Telegraph is back to its old tricks on expenses. Five years ago, the paper uncovered some serious abuses by MPs at the taxpayers’ expense – along the way, the paper was also (as I wrote at the time) “guilty of flaky fact-checking, unfair distortions and disgraceful smears”.

Yesterday the paper attempted, rather desperately, to re-live past glories by running the story, ‘MPs’ expenses: Ken Clarke bills taxpayer for 11p ruler’. It wasn’t just Ken who attracted the Telegraph’s ire though: ‘Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was found to …

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , and | 22 Comments

The security bill: why I think dirty hands are better than empty hands

Hands on ! Photo by craig Sunter Cjs*64Today saw the surprise springing of emergency new surveillance legislation, announced by David Cameron and Nick Clegg and agreed with Ed Miliband. The Lib Dems have been quick to assert this isn’t the Snoopers’ Charter Revisited – torpedoed by Clegg after a Lib Dem grassroots’ revolt in April 2012 – but any attempt by the government to legislate in these areas gets liberal hackles up.

I’ve not had chance to read and absorb the details yet, though I’m reassured by the clear …

photo by:
Posted in News and Op-eds | 20 Comments

What links Jeremy Hunt and Peter Lilley? (Tip: If you’re not sure who they are, that’s the clue.)

Who’s the most famous cabinet minister? And who’s the least famous? That’s what YouGov set out to find out by inviting its representative sample of the public to type in the name, unprompted, of the post-holder of six senior cabinet positions. Here’s what they found…

identifiable cabinet ministers - yougov

So Iain Duncan Smith (36% correctly naming him as Work and Pensions secretary) and Jeremy Hunt (28% as health secretary) are the least famous cabinet members. Though, to be honest – like John Rentoul and with due respect to Mike Smithson …

Posted in Polls | Tagged , , , , , and | 4 Comments

Are the Greens to the Lib Dems what Ukip is to the Tories?

image“As Ukip is to the Tories, so can the Green party be to the Lib Dems.” That’s a sentence I wrote here, almost seven years ago, on 3rd November, 2007.

In The Times, Sam Coates has looked at how the quiet rise of the Greens in recent months – the party polled just ahead of the Lib Dems in May’s European elections – might hurt the Lib Dems at the May 2015 general election.

An analysis of the European election results shows the Green vote strengthening and consolidating in the

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , and | 97 Comments

Ashcroft battlegrounds poll: Lib Dems set to lose four marginal seats to Labour

lib lab Labour Liberal Democrat logoThe second of Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft’s polls of Lib Dem marginal seats was published this week, focusing on four of our battlegrounds with Labour: Norwich South (held by Simon Wright), Bradford East (David Ward), Brent Central (Sarah Teather standing down, Ibrahim Taguri selected), and Manchester Withington (John Leech). Also included was Brighton Pavilion, which Caroline Lucas won for the Greens from Labour in 2010.

Posted in News and Polls | Tagged , , , , , , , , , and | 41 Comments

Why 40% is the magic number in the Scottish referendum

Brazil v Scotland 22For some reason, 40% is a figure which has long exerted political significance.

That devolution for Scotland wasn’t introduced in 1979 wasn’t because a majority of those who voted didn’t want it: by 52% to 48% the Scottish voted in favour of establishing a Scottish parliament. However, a Labour MP, George Cunningham, introduced an amendment to the Scotland Act (1978) specifying a minimum turnout threshold of 40% of the electorate. The actual turnout of 33% meant Scottish devolution had to wait a further two decades.

I was reminded of …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 41 Comments

5 things Nick Clegg could do next

Nick Clegg Q&A 8My last piece of advice to Nick Clegg was to stand down as Lib Dem leader. He didn’t, and it’s pretty clear now that Nick will lead us into the next general election.

Two problems remain, though, and we need to find ways of addressing them. First, morale in the party has dipped since the May elections. Secondly, support for the party has also dipped in the polls. Yes, Lib Dem MPs benefit from the incumbency effect but that only stretches so far – we also need to start winning the air war, or at the very least avoid being ignored. As it stands, what Nick says just isn’t getting a listening. However unfair, it’s a reality we need to deal with.

Here are five suggestions from me for ways in which Nick Clegg could help restore party morale and maybe get himself a hearing from the media and public…

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , , , , , and | 52 Comments

How you can take part in LibDemVoice’s exclusive party member surveys

libdemvoiceLibDemVoice’s surveys of party members signed-up to our discussion forum have been running for close to four years now. (I posted yesterday the final set of figures from our most recent poll.)

Our surveys are a way of testing members’ views on a variety of hot topics. And as they’ve been running throughout the first four years of the Coalition they’re also an interesting record of changing views on how the Coalition is regarded within the party.

If you would like to take part in the LibDemVoice surveys, there are simply two …

Posted in LDV Members poll | 3 Comments

Organ donation: 68% support opt-out system, 71% oppose payments to donors

lib dem conf votingLib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

68% support opt-out system for organ donation

Currently England has an opt-in organ donation system, meaning that people’s organs can only be used for transplants after their death if the person has consented (which they do through the NHS organ donation register). Wales is switching to

Posted in LDV Members poll | 2 Comments

Term-time holidays and smoking in cars – what Lib Dem members think should be allowed

lib dem conf votingLib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

48% say schools should not allow parents to take their children out of school during term time

Do you think schools should or should not allow parents to take their children out of school during term time for the purpose of taking family holidays?

    44% – Should

Posted in LDV Members poll | 26 Comments

Ladbrokes: “Five seats the Lib Dems might GAIN in 2015″

Libby - Some rghts reserved by David SpenderYes, you read the headline right. Ladbrokes’ The Political Bookie blog this week featured five seats where, based on the betting, they reckon the Lib Dems might confound expectations…

1. Montgomeryshire. Conservative majority 1,184
“Some are expecting a turnaround with a new candidate.” Her name is Jane Dodds, selected a year ago.

2. Watford. Conservative majority 1,425
“In Lord Ashcroft’s constituency specific polling, they were just 5 points behind the Tories.” It is also the top Lib Dem target from the Tories not yet to …

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , and | 46 Comments

For-profit schools: some evidence of why I’m far from convinced

student_ipad_school - 175Labour’s shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, this week called on Michael Gove to rule out profit-making schools, arguing “Beyond 2015, whether it admits it or not, the Conservative Party intends to introduce the profit motive into English education”.

The Tories have sidestepped the issue and instead invited Labour to turn its fire on the Lib Dems: they claim that Nick Clegg’s advisers Julian Astle and Richard Reeves were behind-the-scenes cheerleaders for profit-making schools. The mercurial Dominic Cummings, Gove’s former special adviser, has made the same allegation. This may very …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , , , , and | 26 Comments

Poll of school leaders and governors: Don’t like Coalition’s education policies – BUT do like Lib Dem Pupil Premium and infant free school meals

05192014 - AD - Hartford 87A couple of findings worth highlighting from a major survey of more than 2,000 school leaders and governors, commissioned by The Key, and carried out by polling firm Ipsos Mori.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to discover that the Coalition’s performance on education is viewed unfavourably: three-quarters of school leaders (75%) are dissatisfied with almost half (46%) saying they are very dissatisfied. However, drill down a level and it’s clear there are some policies which are popular – two of three most …

Posted in News and Polls | Tagged , , , and | 13 Comments

To OBR or not to OBR? That’s the manifesto audit question

libdemmanifesto 2010 wordleEd Balls wants it. Danny Alexander seems pretty keen on it, too. What is ‘it’? Asking the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to audit the manifestos of political parties.

On the face of it, that’s a good idea. Transparency’s a good thing and surely the public deserve to know as much as possible before we cast our once-in-five-years ballot which decides the next government? The case in favour is persuasively put by Giles Wilkes, until recently a special adviser to Vince Cable who has seen the …

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

The Orange Book, 10 years on: 5 thoughts on its legacy

Orange_BookToday saw what its co-editor Paul Marshall called the belated launch party for The Orange Book – such was the controversy surrounding its publication 10 years ago that the original event was cancelled. I was only able to attend one of the sessions (on public service reform) so here are five more general observations on its legacy…

1) The Orange Book remains much misunderstood, sometimes deliberately by those who enjoy internal warring, more often by those who’ve not read it (whisper it, some sections are pretty turgid) but know its reputation and assume it’s a right-wing, Thatcherite manual for destroying this country’s social contract. As Paul Marshall re-affirmed today, the aim of The Orange Book was to show how socially liberal aims could best be achieved through economically liberal means, recognising that in the real world both markets and governments fail. Two of its leading contributors are currently the most popular Lib Dem ministers in government: Vince Cable and Steve Webb. That said, it was (for both Marshall and David Laws at any rate) also a very deliberate statement of intent in 2004 that the Lib Dems needed to do more than simply out-Labour Labour by proposing new money and extra staff in every area of public service and argue that was liberalism (which is largely what the party’s 2005 manifesto did).

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , and | 35 Comments

Phone hacking trial: Coulson found guilty, Cameron apologises

andy-coulsonThe long-awaited trial of David Cameron’s former director of communications, Andy Coulson, concluded today, with the jury finding him guilty of a charge of conspiracy to intercept voicemails as part of the phone-hacking scandal. All Coulson’s co-defendants, including former Sun and News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, were all found not guilty of various conspiracy charges.

It’s just over 7 years since Cameron appointed Coulson as the Conservatives’ communications director – we noted in May 2007 his connection to what became known as the phone hacking scandal but which back …

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , and | 9 Comments



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  • User Avatarpeter tyzack 1st Sep - 12:05pm
    going back to 'the Sunday Papers', did anyone see an article about Clegg and Davey on a Trade Delegation to India..? I thought not, it...
  • User Avatarnvelope2003 1st Sep - 11:57am
    Yes the sensible thing for the Conservatives, in view of their poor showing in the Daily Mail opinion poll for Clacton, would be to refrain...
  • User AvatarBill le Breton 1st Sep - 11:54am
    Great Liberal - best of comrades.
  • User AvatarNigel Cheeseman 1st Sep - 11:44am
    I often wonder why the greens have under- delivered electorally. It is undoubtedly the case that they will suffer the same sort of antipathy as...
  • User AvatarPeter Chegwyn 1st Sep - 11:39am
    Very sad news. A friend and colleague to many of us over many years, Simon's wit and wisdom really will be missed.
  • User AvatarIan Eiloart 1st Sep - 11:22am
    The threshold for NI is not an annual threshold. It's calculated weekly, which results in unfairness for people who don't earn all year round: they...