Author Archives: William Hobhouse

Next priority – elect a second Green MP

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I hope it hasn’t been forgotten that the Green Party didn’t stand a candidate in Richmond Park, and expressly backed Sarah Olney. Labour did stand a candidate, but it was widely reported that some Labour members didn’t think they should have.

On the other side of course, neither the Conservatives nor UKIP stood, therefore leaving the centre-right vote clear for Zac Goldsmith. It was an unusual by-election, 95% of the vote went to two people. There may not be another by-election like this in this parliament.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 43 Comments

Don’t stand a candidate

I have wondered many times in the last few years whether Lib Dems really want PR. And the reason for this scepticism is that we keep propping up First Past The Post (FPTP) in the way we campaign and act politically – with disastrous results for our political success, our influence within government and for liberalism across the UK.

The arguments for a change in the electoral system are well known – for every million votes cast for a party at the 2015 general election , the Greens won one seat, UKIP won a quarter of a seat, the Lib Dems won 3, Labour 25, Conservatives 29 and the SNP 39. The figures might change a little from election to election, but the unfairness won’t.

For a generation, Lib Dems have worked to win within FPTP by targeting individual wards or constituencies, and this has been a successful strategy compared to other smaller parties. But it has never achieved democratic parity with Labour or the Conservatives. For example, at our high point of national vote in the general election of 2010, it took 120,000 votes to elect a Lib Dem MP and 35,000 to elect a Conservative. Our leaders accepted the reality of FPTP and we took our place in government based not on our national vote but on our number of MPs. We have all seen the consequences, and they are not pleasant for our party, however optimistic we all like to be.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 33 Comments

Coalition: Yes or no?

Liberal Democrats quite like to be in government. We like to think that we can make a difference. So when the larger parties find themselves without an overall majority, we – as individuals – are courted.

This article deals with two aspects of the decision to go into coalition – political legitimacy and our party’s mandate to govern.

Liberal Democrats do not support the current unequal voting system. Put simply, we want every vote to be valued equally. We want the number of elected representatives to correspond to the number of people who voted for each party. So, if a party overall gets 10% of the vote, we believe that they should have 10% of the representatives.

When this doesn’t happen – which is nearly all of the time – the main question to ask is whether we make our decisions based on the numbers of representatives, or based on our vote share. For example, if we have 10% of the vote but only 2% of the representatives, do we say our mandate reflects our 10% or our 2%?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 21 Comments

The alternatives to coal for electricity generation

For 2014-15, 26.7% of UK electricity was generated from coal, 29.7% from gas, 22.2% from nuclear,19.3% from renewables and 2.1% from other sources. Coal is the most prolific carbon emitter, so the argument goes that we should replace it. The question is with what?

Liberal Democrats, and particularly Scottish ones, are grappling with the question over whether to oppose fracking outright. Leaving aside new forms of energy (and leaving aside carbon capture), the decision on how to replace coal for electricity generation seems quite simple: gas, or nuclear, or renewables; or a combination of the three.

Posted in News | Tagged | 12 Comments

Steel, nuclear and graphene – a new industrial strategy?

It seems a long time since Vince Cable was leading the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. During his tenure, one of his greatest achievements was the Industrial Strategy. In automotive, aerospace, nuclear and renewables, long term partnerships and structures had been set up to ensure that UK manufacturing stayed at the cutting edge of R&D and that we grew the skills and capacity to manufacture the next generation of products.

The visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to the UK has clarified the new government thinking. Taking three industrial issues in turn:

Steel: everyone knows that steel prices go up and down and competitive advantage changes with exchange rates and oversupply. At a time when the automotive industry in the UK is flourishing, the closure of steel mills demonstrates that government sees no link between a UK steel industry and UK automotive. We can, the argument goes, quite happily import steel at the cheapest price at the time and retain our long term success in automotive. The counter argument is that we will not retain our leadership in the industry if the next generation of cars uses steel technology developed in Germany or China – because other things being equal it would be better to assemble the car closer to the supply chain.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

It’s time to change the distinction between voting and non-voting members at Conference

A couple of years ago, when we moved house and constituency, I had the new experience of going to Conference with a second class label hanging around my neck. I did what I could to carefully adjust my pass so that my picture and name was facing out. But these passes have always had a mind of their own and I would walk from Hall to Fringe all too often as someone labelled as ‘Member’ rather than the important or well-connected ‘Voting’ people.

And now we have thousands of new members, some of whom will be looking forward to their first conference. Pretty well all of them will be unable to vote. Nor will a good chunk of the party’s activists who have stood locally in May.
This distinction between voting and non-voting members doesn’t separate the activists from the sleeping members. It seems primarily to protect privilege, to protect the well connected, those with the ear of the constituency officers. It is a privilege in a thoroughly conservative sense.

Posted in Conference and News | Tagged and | 20 Comments

Opinion: A challenge for LDV readers

The BBC has a Hung Parliament Coalition Builder, based on various projections of seats, and different possible outcomes depending on small voting shifts in the handful of marginal seats.

The challenge is to get a coalition without the Lib Dems. It is almost impossible!

There is an assumption this election –the Lib Dems are going to be at the negotiating table on May 8th.

But, given the likely outcome for our party, what if we start from the assumption that we will not be at the negotiating table, and we will go into opposition and oppose any and all Queen’s Speeches? What would our red line(s) be?

I have one red line – PR – and the argument is for good government and a fair democracy:

The Conservatives will get 33% of the vote and nearly half the MPs. Labour will be similar.

The Lib Dems will get about 9% of the vote and anything from 3 – 5% of the MPs depending on how effectively we can work in the next two weeks.

Posted in News | 160 Comments
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