Author Archives: Bill le Breton

Opinion: How power can now shift from Whitehall to Westminster


The 2015 Parliament could witness the greatest transfer of power from the Executive (and Whitehall) to the Legislature (and the people’s elected representatives in the House of Commons) in the history of our countries.

Tony Greaves has written here and here seeking to explore how this Parliament might operate.

It takes me back to an afternoon in Winchester in 1986. Hampshire County Council, run by Tories for over 100 years, is about to set its budget. The Tories, until that morning, have the slimmest of majorities, thanks to the Chair’s casting vote, but news swishes through the corridors of County Hall – a Tory has said he will not vote for the Tory Leader of the Council’s budget.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 42 Comments

Opinion: The First Rule of Campaigning

pensionsWe wake today to news that the Government is planning Dutch-style collective pension schemes which the minister of state for pensions,the Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, says are “some of the best in the world”. The proposed legislation will include the previously announced removal of tax rules that have prevented pensioners taking more than a quarter of their savings in a cash lump sum.

OK, there is no need for switch off. This piece is not going to be about pensions.  It is about campaigning and in particular about integrated campaigning. The subject has been chosen purely at random.  It is Monday. What has a Liberal Democrat minister announced today?  Ah! Pensions.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 31 Comments

Opinion: Sustaining the Recovery

A year ago to the day, here on LDV, I called the turn in the UK economy. We had experienced a double dip recession (later confirmed) and everyone was battening down the hatches for an unprecedented triple dip.

I wrote then in praise of Chancellor Osborne who the day before had authorized a briefing of two Financial Times journalists. Under the title Osborne to Hand Carney New Powers, they had written, ‘George Osborne’s Budget, will pave the way for Mark Carney, incoming Bank of England governor, to come to the rescue of the economy as …

Posted in Op-eds | 19 Comments

Opinion: Son of Plan A – why are we supporting?

Economic policy is always a mixture of fiscal, monetary and political policy.

“Nick, George has come up with another of his jolly good wheezes. You remember that Plan A malarkey ..?”

Well, dear reader, you do remember Plan A, don’t you?

Eliminate the deficit by 2015; keep fingers crossed Expansionary Fiscal Contraction (EFC) works; use a 20:80 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts; provide monetary stimulus; flush out the Labour Party, and keep Vince and the ‘SDPers’ in their box.

Well, it put a spanner in the recovery-works and, with no sign of EFC or King’s stimulus working, it was pretty soon shelved …

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Opinion: 2014 – What’s next?

Steve Richards suggests Nick Clegg, as a pluralist in the Blair tradition and as a sincere and patriotic person, will be open to an agreement with either the Tories or Labour if a balanced Parliament results in 2015.

Clegg is a pluralist, a pragmatic, a believer in good management as good politics and as such sincerely believes that Liberal Democrats in Government are beneficial to the county’s future.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 30 Comments

Opinion: Half an hour that changed the future

Yesterday, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced it would reduce or ‘taper’ its level of QE acquisitions from $85 billion a month to $75 billion. In the physical world it was not a touch on the break so much as a slight easing of pressure on the accelerator.

Back in September the FOMC had announced it thought the time for ‘tapering’ was at hand. Long term interest rates (a window on future expectation for growth and inflation) veered up and down as markets tried to gauge the warring claims of the liquidity, income and expectation effects. No clarity: US stock …

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Opinion: “Freedom is a Word I Rarely Use Without Thinking”

A letter originating from the Leader’s Office on Liberal Principles has provoked some much needed discussion on this subject. For example, this opinion piece from Paul Connolly received a warm welcome.

But it seems odd to discuss Liberalism without ever mentioning directly power.

There been a few mentions of that awful concept of ‘empowerment’ which is so deeply ‘illiberal’ and yet seen as a badge to be worn by post 1997 ‘liberals’.

To ‘empower’ is to allocate power. It is in the first instance the acceptance of the taking of power from people and to ‘reallocate it’. It is a fundamentally …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 19 Comments

Opinion: The Bank of England’s Independence – the Law

Political RavishmentAccording to the Independent, Nick Clegg wants to take on the ‘left’ in his Party.

In doing so he accuses the Social Liberal Forum’s amendments to the economics motion as “ending the Bank of England’s independence by ordering it to do more to create jobs” and “tearing up the fiscal mandate.”

Let’s deal with the first accusation. The 1998 Bank of England Act granted the Bank independence to set interest rates. That is instrument independence. However, the remit for the Bank is set by the government and so The Bank does not have goal independence, it takes its goals each Spring from the Government.

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 17 Comments

Syria: A Reply to Stephen Tall

Stephen, as an internationalist you should applaud and accept the outcome of the democratic House of Commons last night. Do not be ashamed. Be proud. Do not be dismayed. Be hopeful.

The biggest destroyer of lives and life chances is anarchy. Anarchists work to bringing the whole house down. That is their objective. The rule of law is anathema to them.

I quoted earlier in the week, Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austrian precipitated the loss of 21 million lives and, if you see the Second World War, the Cold War and the dominance of Stalin as a …

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged | 28 Comments

Opinion: Increasing Spending on British Stuff

The Federal Conference Committee this week selected for debate this autumn a motion on Strengthening the UK Economy ghost written for the leader by his special advisers.

It calls on the Coalition to do seven things. The first six are laudable but the seventh: “(to) monitor closely the progress of the Bank of England against its refocused mandate in order to ensure that monetary policy is focussed on aiding growth” is a missed opportunity.

This is a time when Liberal Democrats could and should express an alternative to the Conservative/Treasury policy referred to above which Osborne announced in the Budget.

The …

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What Japan did while we were sleeping

"2 x inflation in 2 years, 2 x monetary base, 2 x amount bonds purchased" “2 x inflation in 2 years, 2 x monetary base, 2 x amount bonds purchased”The overnight news yesterday from the Bank of Japan spelt out its serious intent to double the monetary base – the type of monetary easing, a l’outrance, that I have been arguing for at LDV, and elsewhere, for a number of years now.

The announcement followed the declaration back in November by the then leader of Japan’s opposition that when elected he …

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No braking at Gambon – a monetary policy guide for petrolheads

If you had to choose a person from the following list, and only this list, to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, would you choose James May, Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Hammond? Tough choice, but go on: indulge me!

The last time I wrote here, I predicted that the Quad had reached a turning point on monetary policy. I did this not on the evidence of Vince Cable’s New Statesman article, but on a report in the Financial Times that Osborne was set to change the regime imposed on the Bank of England.

Well, …

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Opinion: 7th March 2013: The turning point.

You will have woken this morning to news that Vince Cable has launched a Plan C or Plan Cable featuring a ‘Keynesian’ stimulus centred around borrowing (at the current low rates that the Government can borrow) to fund infrastructure projects.  But as usual the media is doing the country a grave disservice.

It is an historic day filled with possibility, but to understand the full pregnancy of the position you will need to go beyond the crude headlines of crude Keynsianism and read Cable’s full article When the Facts Change, Should I Change My Mind.

But you will also …

Posted in News | 26 Comments

Opinion: Bullseye banzai

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d do my own Mid-Term Review and not keep it secret.

Back on the 14th November 2012, I wrote a piece for LDV on how Shinzo Abe, the clear favourite to become Japan’s next PM, was telling the Bank of Japan to deliver 3% growth in the money measure of GDP (NGDP) on pain of having its independence withdrawn. NGDP in Japan had been virtually static for twenty years – a sort of Great Stagnoflation.

How’s Mr Abe doing just eight weeks on? Well, he’s Prime Minister, he’s told the …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 39 Comments

Opinion: Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with ordinary exploited people

The McCanns, the Dowlers, and the Gurkhas threatened with deportation are ordinary people thrown into exceptional situations, their lives tossed from one side to the other not just by fate but, like ‘cargo’, to be exploited for cash and credit by the powerful and the acquisitive.

Liberal Democrats in general and Nick Clegg in particular have always been at their best when standing shoulder to shoulder with ordinary people against a conniving, power-hoarding Establishment, be that Fleet Street, corrupt local officials, or self serving bureaucracies. That was the message that connected him to a huge audience watching the first …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 14 Comments

“Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!”*

Enough is enough. In the face of soaring national debt, the Liberal Democrat leader has this week called for the Central Bank to be made less independent to pave the way for more aggressive and unlimited monetary easing, a dramatic relaxation of the inflation target accompanied by a major public works programme and a supplementary budget.

Great news! The tragedy is that the Liberal Democrat leader in question is not Nick Clegg speaking on the eve of the Autumn Spending statement, but Shinzo Abe, Leader of the Japanese Liberal Democrats, launching his general election campaign which he is tipped to win. And the reaction of those dreaded markets? Positive – rising 4-5% as other world

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Opinion: Will Special Branch be knocking on the Old Lady’s door?

Today three reports have been published into the operations of the Bank of England. None of these pose the killer question: why, when for month after month in 2008 the UK’s Gross Domestic Product in money terms (the NGDP) fell from its stable long term annual growth rate of +5% to -5% a year, did the Monetary Policy Committee stubbornly maintained the Bank’s interest rate at 5%?

This excellent blog by Britmouse details, details the quarterly falls in NGDP and the inertia of the Bank which has the power to set the level of aggregate demand in the economy.

It is …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 10 Comments

Opinion: Mind the gap – a sceptical view of the need for cuts

The UK’s economic position has deteriorated, government revenues are lower and welfare expenditure higher than anticipated, worsening the deficit so that austerity must continue further into this decade. Because of this deterioration a combination of increased taxes or cuts must be identified in the Autumn Spending Statement in December.

That is the orthodox view. It is based on the generally accepted proposition that the structural deficit should be eliminated. This has set off widespread debate as to whether the increased scale of the structural deficit should be eliminated by increased taxes (such as a Mansion Tax) or expenditure reductions and where these should be identified, with the Conservatives placing welfare cuts at the top of their agenda.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 25 Comments

Opinion: An open letter to Ryan Coetzee, Nick Clegg’s new head of strategy

Dear Ryan,

Congratulations on your new job. Welcome to the ‘family’ of UK Liberal Democrat activists and campaigners. You arrive at a critical moment.

But the Liberal Party and its successors have been here before. In the General Election of 1951 we fielded just 100 candidates and only 6 of these were elected.  In the Euro elections of 1989, the Liberal Democrats polled just 6.2%.

Our revivals in each case – in the Seventies and the Nineties – were built on an emerging development of Liberalism and its expression in a style of campaigning that sought to help people take and use power …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 38 Comments

Opinion: New World Economics

Bloomberg flickered on the screen as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, set out his policy before the world’s press:

To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate the Committee agreed today to increase policy accommodation by purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month.

That’s open-ended Quantitative Easing (QE) to you and me; monetary stimulus a l’outrance designed to expand the money base until unemployment drops below 7% or PCE (personal consumption expenditure) core inflation increases above 3%.

In …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

Opinion: Why a referendum on second chamber reform would be good for the party

The Liberal Democrats built their electoral success on the three ‘Cs’: Concentrate, Communicate and Campaign. The campaigning zeal of the Party took us from a handful of councillors and a few MPs dotted around the Celtic fringe in the mid ‘Seventies to a truly national party, with over 3,500 councillors, 60MPs, power and influence in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, power and influence in over 150 councils, from Newcastle to Newquay, Liverpool to Islington.

Campaigning is the life blood of the movement we endeavour to create around the drive to seize and redistribute power. We do this by the simple means of helping people to take and use their power in their communities. Campaigning succeeds by involving people beyond the party in our campaigns. It energies and strengthens communities and nurtures the tolerance that comes from understanding others and identifying the common causes that link us. These common causes centre upon the injustice stemming from subjection to illegitimate power – be that banks that gamble with our money and provide shocking service, supermarkets that drive farmers to ruin and fix prices or bureaucrats who entangle citizens in red tape and restrict people’s opportunities.

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Opinion: It’s time for a change in monetary policy

A few years ago my son got a clock for Christmas. It functions anti-clockwise. One o’clock is on the left of twelve. Five to one is really five past one. Are you with me?

The thing is, you have to change completely the way you read and interpret the data on the clock face.

The Coalition leadership is proud of its management of the economy because it sees the interest rates on gilts historically low and continuing to fall. It reads this as a sign that ‘the markets’ have confidence in its stewardship of UK plc.

But suppose they are reading the clock …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 23 Comments

Opinion: Clutching at straws

I have spent the day clutching at a couple of straws.

Last week in the tractor factory Nick Clegg appeared to confuse the ‘deficit’ with the National Debt when he said, “We have a moral duty to the next generation to wipe the slate clean for them of debt. We have set out a plan – it lasts about six or seven years – to wipe the slate clean to rid people of the deadweight of debt that has been built up over time.”

It sounded like a fail in GCSE Economics. But suppose he wasn’t mistaking the policy to eliminate the structural deficit by 2017 for a moral crusade to wipe the slate clean by removing the deadweight of the National Debt, all £1,300 billion of it.

At the other end of my straw was the realisation that Nick Clegg might have become an extreme Market Monetarist and was revealing his plan to re-establish Nominal GDP back to its trend line, even if that meant buying in the whole of the National Debt in the mother of all quantitative easing exercises.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 34 Comments

Opinion: Austerity and defying the Laws of gravity

“It’s ideology, stupid.” – a subtext to the Queen’s Speech

On Five Live a bond trader says that austerity isn’t working and the government should be more expansionary. In Wake Up to Money a fund manger says that austerity has been overdone and it’s time for countries like Germany and Britain to borrow more.

Yet on Tuesday’s Today programme, David Laws continued to advocate austerity.

It is more and more apparent that ‘economics’ is being used to serve the ideology of a smaller State, damning the idea that the State should have different responsibilities at different times, especially when the private sector is …

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Opinion: Time for women, grey hairs and drastic action

In an email to members, ALDC’s Tim Pickstone wrote, “Winning elections as a Liberal Democrat is never easy … Winning those elections when you’re also in Government is even harder.”

Well Tim, what you say is true, but if we console ourselves with these thoughts we are doomed to become a party which, like the Saxons of Hereward the Wakes’s time, is holed up in a few isolated corners and crevices of the land, where our flag is carried by an MP and a council group, well resourced, skilled and of sufficient mass to evade destruction, but unable to link up …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 79 Comments

Opinion: Brand values

There have been a couple of posts recently on where campaigning ideas should come from and whether those campaigns can be directed centrally, first from Scott Hill and then from Robin McGhee And another, which I refuse to link to because it does not appear to publish comments, mocked us for our backwardness in brand management.

Campaigning and not policy is the life blood of Liberal Democrat politics. A policy however right or valuable is inanimate. A campaign establishes connections and energizes movement. That is perhaps why you cannot chose for Liberal Democrats THE campaign they should be waging in March in 2012 or in any other month for that matter. That was the lesson I learnt when an acting Chief Executive of ALDC in the late 1980s.

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

Opinion: Pick your horse in the grand recovery stakes

Moody’s, the US credit ratings agency, has put the UK on negative outlook, threatening the country’s triple A status. This came the day after three other organizations had also made their views known.

The CBI predicted that the UK would avoid a double-dip recession, the services firm BDO published the results of a survey suggesting turnovers were continuing to fall and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that employers were more likely to lay off staff.

It is now four and a half years since the uncertainty of the credit worthiness of banks and hedge funds that were …

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

Opinion: 29 Days to save the UK

We are lucky it is a leap year. It gives us an extra day to save the country.

Here are two graphs, both from the Financial Times. This one shows the UK’s Nominal Gross Domestic Product. It shows the development of the double dip recession we are facing.

The figures are up to October 2011. The next will be published in February, but expect the trend lines to continue ‘south’.

Then, here’s a chart of a measure of the supply of money in the economy. It is a broad …

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

Opinion: Agreeing with Nick

I agree with Nick. Following the result of the General Election we had to enter a coalition with the Conservatives.

I go further than him, though.

Especially for those who have supported the party for decades, it was the decisive point for which we had long battled.

Every Focus written, every door knocked, every pound raised, every campaign fought led us to that moment, that decision, that responsibility which, thanks to our hard earned votes in the House of Commons, we had been able to seize.

It was always going to be the case that when our moment came …

Posted in Op-eds | 17 Comments

Opinion: How can the community politics approach reform the Coalition?

“All change, all change here!” That was the shout of the bus-conductor as we reached the terminus. If only we had realised what a profound philosopher he was. For he is no more, nor is his role, nor the structure of society he inhabited.

Change and how to cope with it is at the heart of every human decision. The conservative wishes to take a measured step based on hard facts taken from experience. The progressive predicts the shape of the future and confidently proposes a radical leap.

By contrast, the community politician, the ideas behind whose activism we have begun

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Raw 30th Nov - 8:14pm
    Question 1 with a ratio of 67 No to 24 YES is the telling one. That's what will be debated in the H of C....
  • User AvatarTerry 30th Nov - 8:02pm
    Missed this poll, but the most popular answers are broadly in line with my views. It is difficult to see how Tim's five tests have...
  • User AvatarDave Orbison 30th Nov - 7:55pm
    Interesting that it is fairly similar to the Labour Party result. I applaud any attempts to consult with the membership of any party to determine...
  • User AvatarCaron Lindsay 30th Nov - 7:11pm
    I hardly think so - it was actually open for 25 hours, and given that the vote is on Wednesday, we needed to get a...
  • User AvatarShaun Cunningham 30th Nov - 6:58pm
    What I find difficult to accept with Nick"s viewpoint, after the deaths of 131 innocent people in France, it could have easily been London, Bristol...
  • User AvatarBruce Marsland 30th Nov - 6:53pm
    Social Liberal: I would contend that, in the extent of the territory that it covers and in its apparent aim of widening the conflict, ISIS...