Author Archives: David Allen

Buy the Brexit Pig – in a poke!


It’s the chance of a lifetime!  Roll up, in your millions!  Come and buy our beautiful Brexit Pig – in a poke!

When Brexit wins, June 24th will be a Golden Dawn*!  Our Prime Minister, Whoever that might be, will soon show Angela Merkel who’s boss!

  • What’s that you say? We’re going to let Cameron stay on?  But that will be disastrous, he’ll drag his feet, it’ll all go pear-shaped!  Surely we need to tell the nation that it’ll be Our Man?
  • What’s that you say? That there’d be chaos, Boris slugging it out with Gove, the Opposition parties threatening to bring down the government?  It’s a nightmare!  What can we tell the public?  I know!  Let’s tell them nothing!  Let’s dodge the question, say nothing at all about who will lead us out of Europe, and hope they don’t notice the problem.  Keep that pig firmly in its poke!

Anyway, our Prime Minister Whoever will know exactly how to deal with Europe.  It certainly won’t be like Norway!

  • What’s that you say? That Cameron is bound to go for the Norway approach, which comes closest to no-change?  Keep quiet about that.  We haven’t told the public who Prime Minister Whoever will be, remember!  Keep that pig firmly in its poke!
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 17 Comments

Why the polls really got it wrong

The statisticians appointed by the British Polling Council have spoken.  The cause of the 2015 opinion poll disaster was – wait for it – statistical sampling error.  Pollsters chose the wrong mix of people.  Never mind that they had previously blamed bad statistics for their 1992 disaster, and thought they had then sorted out how to do the maths.

Meanwhile, professionals and pundits agreed that asking which party had the best leader was, consistently, a more reliable guide to who would win.  Thus, if they’d just relied on the finding that Cameron led Miliband in 2015, they’d have called it right.

Hang on, though!  If the problem was really a faulty, Labour-biased sample, then why should that sample be any less biased when asked “Who’s the best leader?”  If you have a biased sample, changing the question you ask them cannot possibly get rid of the bias!

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 48 Comments

An Ideology for the Liberal Democrats?

agenda2020aThe new Agenda 2020 consultation on Liberal Democrat Philosophy appears on a special page of the Libdems website which provides the consultation paper and a box for members to submit comments. However, these would then seem to disappear without trace, so that only the privileged will see what anyone else has said. Not a very liberal start. LDV provides a better forum for open discussion, so – here’s my shot.

The consultation paper says:

All political philosophies are based on a view of human nature. … We believe in the essential goodness and improvability of humankind.

Deep breath. Well, OK, I do believe that humans are capable of doing good as well as evil, and that much of the time they don’t really do either. But – surely this is far too unworldly, too trusting, too out-of-touch with life’s harsher realities?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 34 Comments

Refugees – Europe’s failure to plan by consensus


To state the obvious, Europe is failing to tackle its long term refugee “crisis”.  Less obviously, I would argue that it is primarily a failure of analysis and planning, and above all, failure to seek consensus.

Ironically, Cameron gets closest to a coherent plan.  He plans a token effort, just enough to defuse criticism and satisfy shallow consciences.  Then he can retreat into military fantasy, and dream of the Pax Britannica he will impose in Syria, just as we did in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq (!)

Merkel’s plan, if more appealing, contains a gaping hole.  Germany blithely invites half a million refugees a year.  But when they come, Germany demands that other nations should also take a share.  Eastern Europe angrily refuses to play ball.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Opinion: The Conservative campaign – some concerns


It is an opportune time to take issue with some of the key planks of the Conservative campaign.

Mr Crosby, who likes simple messages, has primarily put forward just two.  The first is that the Tories have a long term economic plan.  The second is a clever cartoon presenting Miliband as a puppet in Salmond’s pocket.

It might perhaps be argued that George W Bush, who repeated endlessly that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al-Qaida, was the original inspiration for the “Long Term Economic Plan” campaign.  Surveys showed that a majority of Americans came to believe a story known to be entirely false.  Constant repetition of the untruth helped Bush justify the invasion of Iraq.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

Opinion: Stop state sponsorship of sweat shops

BBC News reports:

Outlining proposed restrictions on tax credits and child benefits, Mr Cameron said a migrant in work with two children was getting £700 a month on average in support from the state, twice the amount paid in Germany and three times as much as in France.

Let’s forget about migrants for a moment. Britain’s “generous” in-work benefits are payable to all. Should we be proud of our “generosity”?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 28 Comments

Opinion: Devo-Instant – a recipe for disaster

Union FlagWe are now into headless chicken mode. With a week to “save the Union”, we are contemplating fundamental constitutional reform at breakneck speed, driven by a timetable drafted on the back of a fag packet by Gordon Brown. Decades of unresolved debate about conflicting options will now be sorted out in months.

We all know about the Dangerous Dogs Act, “emergency” legislation which turned out unworkable. This time we’re not just talking about dangerous dogs. We are talking about the dangers of a botched constitutional settlement and national disintegration.

For politicians who don’t understand, this is not just about abstract ideas like regional government or an English Parliament. It is about organisation. It is about making sure there is one authority for each necessary task, not three or zero. It is about the jobs of those who skivvy for you politicians and do these tasks. It cannot be set up in a fortnight.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 25 Comments

Opinion: The Rawnsley Challenge

White Rabbit Super Yacht visits MelbourneAndrew Rawnsley, in the Observer, describes the rumoured Westminster paedophile scandal and asks the question: “Whom do you trust? Comes an answer that is as popular as it is succinct: trust no one.”

Rawnsley wearily summarises why we have lost trust in bankers, doctors, intelligence services, police, bishops, supermarkets, media and celebrities – and above all, politicians of all sides, from Blair onwards.  Then he gets more original.  He identifies judge-led enquiry as a means of establishing who we can trust – and then shows how that option was kyboshed.  When Hutton exonerated Blair (and when Blair recommended the Hutton process to his friend Rebekah Brooks), judge-led enquiry was discredited. Government, as often, has been slow to recognise the problem – as evidenced by the recent proposal that the sister of a previous Attorney-General should lead a historic child abuse enquiry.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments

Opinion: The Immigration Trap

For liberal fundamentalists, open-door immigration policy exerts a fatal attraction.  Right-wing economic liberals advocate the freedom to recruit cheap labour on the global market and make British business more profitable and competitive.  Traditional centre-left liberals advocate anti-racism and individual freedom to migrate.  Thus, immigration is one of those special issues which can be claimed to bring Left and Right together, and thereby supersede these “outdated” political concepts with an all-conquering philosophy of Liberalism.

Joe Public will have none of this.  Joe believes it is bonkers to import shiploads of foreign labour while millions of natives

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 76 Comments

Gideon Keynes – The Memoirs

I got all my best lines from comedians and opponents.  It began on Oleg’s yacht, when I bet the Prince of Darkness a grand he couldn’t invent me a policy more blatantly bogus than “Neo-Classical Endogenous Growth Theory”.  After a few vodkas, Peter came up trumps.  “Expansionary Fiscal Contraction!” he spluttered, between giggles.  I cunningly insisted on sole rights to the phrase, and paid up.

Next – gulp – we won.  We were in The Thick of It – you remember, that comedy Tony wrote under an Italian pseudonym, which he kept secret until his trial at The Hague in 2022.  …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 21 Comments

Opinion: Against Liberal fundamentalism

Centre Forum recently chose the “Naked Rambler” as “Liberal Hero of the Week”. The Naked Rambler is a man who fights for his freedom to walk naked in public wherever he chooses.  Lib Dem Voice also carried an article robustly asserting that liberals should oppose interference with that freedom.

Many fundamentalist liberals wrote in to applaud.  More moderate respondents pointed out that young children might well be upset or even traumatised, while their parents could reasonably fear that a naked stranger might be a paedophile.

Steve Way explained that the police offered the Naked Rambler three options – change direction …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 65 Comments

Opinion: What if?

The Coalition has hurt us.  We can surely agree that now.  It has left us no clear public image, other than supporting the EU and electoral change, in our own favour.  Breaking up Coalition will be so very hard to do, whether now or later.  If we leave it until 2014-15, we will have no time to establish a credible separate identity.  Clegg, if still leading, will defend the Coalition’s record.  It is only a small step on from there to promoting Tory-led Coalition out to 2020.

“Centrist” (i.e. pro-Tory) Lib Dem loyalists usually dismiss strategic

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 28 Comments

Opinion: Against liberalism

Statue of David Lloyd George - Some rights reserved  by GabludlowI am a liberal. I believe in standing up for people and communities against over-powerful vested interests – in business, the State, the media, or the unions. However, I also believe that liberalism alone is an inadequate political philosophy, and an insufficient foundation for this Party.

The problem centres on our determination to play down the significance of Left and Right. We sneer that the concepts are simplistic. We seek to defuse or ignore left-right conflict. The inconvenient truth we deny is that Left and Right do matter, often enough to split our party.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 62 Comments

Opinion: Awesome?

We went to the Tate Modern recently. We saw early twentieth century art which explored ambiguous, disturbing images and dreams. Female sculptors depicted fantastical women as drinking vessels, or as Diabolo players entwined by their own diabolical game. The horror of war was a subject for art and contemplation, not just another brief film of routine carnage on the nightly news.

The mood was shattered by the eight-year-old whose T-shirt was loudly emblazoned with a twenty-first century slogan, “AWESOME!” It took me a while to work out just why this felt so incongruous. Being in an art gallery, I had time. Bear with me, please. The

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Opinion: Kill the Euro before it kills Europe

The Euro was meant to secure the peace in Europe. Instead, it is the cause of conflict. Those who seek European harmony should now recognise that the Euro stands in the way. We need to understand why this is. Here is my take.

Most economic areas have a successful centre and struggling periphery. Think of London versus Northumbria in Britain, Germany versus Greece in Europe. How do winning and losing regions establish competitive equilibrium?

Within a sovereign nation, political pressures ensure large resource transfers from rich to poor regions. Taxes raised in the prosperous centre

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 67 Comments

Opinion: Why are we waiting?

We have played the waiting game before. It didn’t work in the 1980s, and it won’t work now.

In the 1983 Election, the Alliance reached a high water mark with a 26% vote. But there was discord. The Liberals, who won most seats, felt they should take the lead. The SDP, with their heavyweight experience, saw things differently. Problems grew when Owen took over, refused to collaborate properly, and set out to undermine theAlliancefrom within. A stalemate developed, and a waiting game began.

The Alliance announced to a stunned public that two-headed leadership was the new future. Their slogan “Not Left, Not …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 65 Comments

Opinion: The Euro chain gang

Woody Allen once made a film about a prison chain gang, shackled together at the legs to work in the fields, who decide to make a run for it.  At first the going is easy and the gang make good progress.  Then hard times strike.  Somebody raises the alarm and gives chase.  A panicking gang member (let’s call him Prisoner Farage) yells “Split up!”  In seconds, they are all flat on their faces.

EU finance is generally considered complex and difficult to understand.  Fundamentally, it isn’t.  Quite simply, in the globalised economic race between sovereign

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

Opinion: The Tories are downgrading democracy (and the Lib Dems are letting them do it!)

On electoral reform and the Coalition, the Lib Dem narrative goes something like this: “Nick Clegg presented an inspiring, comprehensive reform agenda to make voting fairer. Then Cameron came along and cherry-picked it. He rejected some of our ideas, but accepted others, including fixed-term parliaments, Lords reform (in principle), and, er, the AV referendum. Taking our usual view that half a loaf is better than no bread, we signed up. What’s wrong with that?”

What’s wrong, I suggest, is that we didn’t stop to think about Cameron’s own agenda, and what the Tories actually aim to achieve from their “reforms”.

Posted in Op-eds | 26 Comments

Opinion: Frankensteinomics

Why are Western politicians failing to tackle the debt crisis? Partly, because they do not know why things got this way. So they do not really know what to do. We need better understanding.

At the risk of sounding like an airport paperback I offer – Frankensteinomics! The global economy, I contend, is like Frankenstein’s monster – bloated, dysfunctional, and kept alive only by repeated jolts of artificial stimulation.

The mad scientist who first showed how to apply the electrodes was Maynard Keynes. Using State spending to jolt the economy out of depression …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 22 Comments

Opinion: tuition fees – our moment of truth

Sometimes political life is just one controversy after another. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, a special issue takes centre stage and becomes totemic – a key decision which sets the course for a whole period of government. So it was for Blair’s Iraq. So it is now for Clegg’s tuition fees.

William Cullerne Bown has described our dilemma well. The options are to trash the Coalition or to trash the Liberal Democrat brand. There is no third way. It is far too late to rethink whether we should have signed the NUS pledge, …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 93 Comments

Opinion: a real Student Premium – the smart solution to the fees conundrum?

If we want to change Coalition policy, we have to understand why Tories are so keen on high variable fees. It isn’t about the deficit.  As usual, that is a smokescreen.  It’s about the Tory philosophy of creating a marketplace in education. It is very important to the Tories that they should saddle the student with debt, hung around his or her individual neck. A graduate tax, which feels less threatening, is not good enough for just that reason.  If it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working.
The market achieves two key Tory goals.  It forces weak universities to improve …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 16 Comments

Opinion: unnatural constituency boundaries – the hidden menace

The big electoral reform next year – or so everyone thinks – will be the referendum on AV. Alongside it, there will be a boring technical change to equalise constituency sizes and get rid of the present bias towards Labour. Most people assume that we won’t need to worry much about the constituency size changes.

Massive mistake! The change from natural to unnatural constituency boundaries, and rigidly fixed constituency sizes, will have profound and far-reaching ill effects. It will largely destroy the effective link between a local constituency and its individual MP. It could also threaten …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 50 Comments

Opinion: Losing in the Class War

There’s a class war going on.  So the Tories tell us.  They treat it with distaste.  But they rather seem to revel in doing so.

It’s all about one man, David Cameron.  So the Tories tell us.  It’s all about the disgraceful proposal from Labour that we should vote against Dave simply because he went to Eton.

Pause for breath.

Labour, let’s face it, make a pretty implausible bunch of class warriors these days.  As Blair put it, they are all middle class now.  Recently, the Tory press pilloried Harriet Harman as a class warrior when she dared to point out that Labour …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 47 Comments

Opinion: A Local Philosophy for the Lib Dems

The message from Paul Holmes MP at Regional Conference was clear. If, perchance, some of us felt that the national Lib Dems were not presenting a very strong narrative these days, then it would be up to us locals to make up for them. We needed to demonstrate a distinctive appeal at local level.

Well, in the course of gaining a 19% swing* from the Tories at a Rushcliffe by-election last month, I think we did just that.

We had all piled in to a small rural ward and put out five leaflets. So we did expect to make progress. However, if our Focuses had simply reported local news, I suspect it wouldn’t have been a 19% swing. Our crucial extra, I believe, was to explain a clear local philosophy and put it into practice. This helped people understand what we are about and why it was worth voting for us.

First, let me say what we didn’t do. We didn’t argue that devolving every decision down to parish level was the answer to life, the universe and everything. We didn’t go in for overblown sixties rhetoric about community politics and how “Focus” was more revolutionary than the Kalashnikov. But equally, we didn’t just limit our vision to street-level drudgery and getting pavements fixed.

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Opinion: Losing at the Bridge Table

Losing at the Bridge Table

Politics is like tournament bridge. It’s not the quality of the cards you are dealt that matters. It’s how well you play the hand.

Cameron was dealt a rotten hand over expenses. His party is a bunch of upper class rotters milking the public purse. Cameron turned this to his own advantage. He summoned the rotters to his study and gave them all a good caning. He also effectively saw off the reform agenda in a cloud of grandiloquent promises. These amounted to a cast-iron commitment to think hard about …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 14 Comments

Opinion: The Clegg Enigma

Little do we know of the leaders we elect. “We don’t do God” said Alastair Campbell, in his most successful big lie ever. Thus it was that Britain voted for that cheerful scamp from the Ugly Rumours, who didn’t believe in anything much except doing “what works”. What we actually got was a religious fanatic, with a messianic self-belief which led him crusading into the morass of Iraq.

These reflections came to mind recently, when Lib Dem Voice readers recently suggested my comments on Nick Clegg must be due to personal conflict. I can only say that I don’t know Clegg well enough. Our paths did cross when he lived in my constituency, Rushcliffe, as East Midlands MEP 1999-2004. But I never saw that much of him, and can’t remember any clashes.

Others clearly knew him better. What was striking was the loyalty he inspired in close colleagues. He always seemed to take a nice line in self-deprecating humour, in almost deliberately struggling to put his sentences together, and in blurting out candid truths rather than trying to flannel an interviewer. It was an act that was easy to like. Whether it would always command respect was perhaps a different question. Very often, enough intelligence and sincerity shone through to ensure that it did.

Of course, Clegg was often away in Brussels, leaving his columns in the Guardian to tell us what our MEP was doing. Those columns revealed a questioning, independent mind, and a mixture of enthusiasm and irritation with the arcane processes of the European Parliament which he had to master. As time went on, there was less enthusiasm for the EU’s potential to do good, and more irritation at its rigidity and bureaucracy. A notable result was Clegg’s strong contribution to The Orange Book. This helpfully moved us away from starry-eyed Euro-idealism toward a more pragmatic, even sceptical, pro-European position. In hindsight, perhaps this was how a committed anti-statist was born.

Then Clegg changed horses for a Westminster seat, and the flurry of ideas died down. There was a somewhat self-effacing campaign in 2006 as a kind of John the Baptist to Ming Campbell. There were hints of flirtation with right-wing ideas, but little in print to lend substance to such rumours. Then Campbell resigned. The Press, who began by portraying Clegg versus Huhne as a clash of the clones, found to their surprise that there might be real differences.

Chris Huhne argued that:

(Clegg) has given journalists the impression that he is in favour of school vouchers. …. We do not know where he stands on the NHS because, in an interview with the Scotsman, he says will not rule out the question of continental health insurance models, and then he says he is happy with party policy. We cannot have uncertainty.”

The Press generally dismissed all this as the last gasp of a loser. Clegg smiled and joked his way to narrow victory.

Over a year on, we still have massive uncertainty. Clegg promised to “end state intervention in schools”, but without making clear what that means. He told us that the “people’s health service” means top-up payments. And he has spoken repeatedly in favour of “big permanent tax cuts”. While everyone else knows that taxes must soon rise, Clegg has perversely kept up this dog-whistle. It surely implies “big permanent cuts in state spending”. But what cuts, and to what ends?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 68 Comments

Opinion: A Tax-Cut-And-Spend Policy?

Stephen Tall recently asked us here on Lib Dem Voice to consider whether Nick Clegg’s call for “big, permanent and fair” tax cuts, combined with £12.5 billion of green public investment would “strike a chord, appear flawed, or be ignored”.

Well, people might just find a flaw in our argument that tax cutting should be top priority, but so should increased public spending. It looks two-faced. It suggests we can’t agree amongst ourselves. Facing enormous government debts, our policy seems to be to increase them in all directions – by taxing less, and by …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 88 Comments

Opinion: The Economy Game

Running the national economy is like driving in a motor race. Except that you are four inches tall. You don’t know where you are and you don’t have a map. There are lots of pedals, but you don’t know what they are supposed to do. When you press them, they sometimes make the car lurch around unpredictably, sometimes just blow out air or wipe the windows. The other drivers don’t agree on the rules. Some of them seem to be playing Grand Theft Auto.

Oh, and by the way, a couple of other guys are fighting you for a share of the controls. And just one more thing – You are on the stage, with an audience of sixty million! Fortunately, perhaps, most of them can’t be bothered to watch.

So what sort of game is this? Can we look at it objectively, as a game theorist would do, and work out how best to play it?

Well, first of all, playing it straight is obviously a mug’s game. The chances of genuinely sorting out the economy by making the right move, at the right time, for the right reasons, look pretty slim. How often has anyone really done that, and made it up onto the victor’s podium? Not since Roosevelt…

Playing to the gallery looks a much smarter idea. There are loads of simple crowd-pleasing manoeuvres you can try. Like revving wildly and making a big noise; or deflating your opponent’s tyres; or, purloining the winning post and erecting it alongside your car….!

Now kiddies, let’s watch as today’s racing politicos put these clever ideas into practice. When Brown says “I am applying Keynesian economics to create a fiscal stimulus”, he knows it sounds more prime-ministerial than “Gosh, we’re skint, can anyone lend me a quid?” When Brown calls for “globally coordinated economic policies”, it sounds better than saying “I am standing in deep doo-doo. Please join me so that I won’t look so conspicuous!”

While Brown struggles to scrub himself clean, Osborne dishes more dirt. “I fear a run on the pound” can be translated as “I hope Gordon’s going to trip up, especially when I stick my foot out.” Whereas “We cannot promise tax cuts in the current economic climate” means “We’re going to sit on the fence, and blame Gordon for putting us there!”

To be serious though, Labour do have a viable strategy to garner good publicity out of economic mayhem. Equally, the Tories realise that it is crucial for them to scupper it. The Achilles heel, for both of these strategies, is that they are so strongly partisan. So, our opportunity is to be the people who tell it like it is, who say things which the independent commentators won’t rubbish, and who gain public trust and respect. That is what Vince does so well.

Crucially, Labour and the Tories also understand the vital need to look deeply serious, to pretend to a depth of expertise they do not have, and to seem to empathise with a worried public. How do we rate?

Well, our tax cuts for the less well off are certainly popular. So is getting tough with rich bankers. But we fall short, I suggest, on three counts.

Posted in Op-eds | 17 Comments

Opinion: Time for a New Start

The key policy declared at the Lib Dems’ Bournemouth conference last month was not the famous ‘Tax Cuts’. It was that the State should shrink. In the run-up to conference, argument raged as to how big the tax cuts might be, and who should receive them. Only one decision appeared to be cast in stone: State spending should shrink, by a hefty £20 billion.

This stance was bolstered by bold new policy declarations on education and health. Our ‘free schools’ policy would put large sums of public money into support for privately-run schools. Meanwhile, the National Health Service should be reformed to require ordinary NHS patients to pay for some of the most expensive drug treatments – or else go without. This last step outflanked the Tories’ Andrew Lansley, whose perceptive comment was, “If the NHS could simply exclude treatments and expect patients to pay up, the values of the NHS could be progressively undermined.”

Today, these policies lie in ruins. Not – or at least not yet – because Lib Dem members across the country have woken up, recognised a betrayal of the Party’s long-held principles, and rebelled en masse. Instead, events have taken charge.

We have seen a massive growth in State power – as the only effective means of preventing financial meltdown. Bemused neo-con Bushites, so long accustomed to treating government as the humble servant of global business enterprise, found themselves forced to let government take control. In the UK, Treasury civil servants became the new masters of the financial universe. Tony Blair, who so fretted that Brown might spoil his precious legacy, had probably not actually feared the return of Clause Four socialism. But that is effectively what has happened.

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | 82 Comments

Not quite “making it happen”

The siren voices told us that the way to find fame and fortune was to announce a dramatic policy shift.  Either to the left or to the right, according to taste.  Well, we’ve tried that now.  The broadsheets gave us inside pages.  TV News gave us a mention.  The commentators politely pointed out that big tax cuts might not be terribly practical in hard times.  And that, more or less, was that.

We can compare and contrast “Making It Happen” with a much more effective piece of instant publicity, our plan to target 50 Labour seats.  That was a story which …

Posted in News | Tagged | 63 Comments

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