Author Archives: Joe Otten

Liblink: David Laws – the ‘poor’ quality of education policy

In the Guardian today, Peter Wilby speaks to ex Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws about his life and careers so far and his work at the new Education Policy Institute.

Like the IFS, Laws’s institute will, he tells me, be “data-driven, influencing debate by the quality of its analysis and its quantitative skills”. The quality of education policymaking is poor, Laws argues, and the institute wants to make it better.

Was policymaking poor when he was schools minister? “Yes. A lot of decision-making is not based on evidence but on hunch. I had little coming to me from civil

Posted in LibLink | 45 Comments

Rumours of talks with the Conservatives put to bed

The Times is reporting discussions between Conservative and Liberal Democrat chiefs of staff.

Before we get all breathless about ‘deals’ being struck it is worth noting that Times is no suggesting that so much as

The Conservatives confirmed that they had spoken about working together on areas on which they agree. The two parties have a number of shared priorities, such as mental health …

And the Press …

Posted in News | 25 Comments

LibLink: Nick Clegg – a deal can be done on freedom of movement

Writing in the Financial Times, Nick Clegg shows how, as on many other issues, British politicians are wrongly blaming the EU for the consequences of decisions taken in Britain affecting immigration from EU member states.

Crucially, there is far more latitude for member states to apply restrictions to freedom of movement than is commonly appreciated. The Belgian authorities aggressively deport EU citizens who do not work and cannot support themselves. Under EU law, the UK authorities could do the same for EU citizens who have failed to find work after six months. Access to Spanish healthcare requires registering with

Posted in LibLink | Tagged | 29 Comments

It could have been the economy, stupid

One of the strangest things about this last election was how little the economy featured. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was unseen. The Conservatives didn’t bother to cost their manifesto. Nobody wanted to talk about the Brexit black hole – not even the Liberal Democrats much, I mean couldn’t we have promised to fund £60bn of spending by not leaving the EU? It would have made the point.

Why? Theresa May and her advisers never really understood the economy, only that it was something that the Conservatives generally get the credit for being sounder on with the larger part of the electorate, and that if you say nothing, you have more freedom of action after you have won your big majority.

Posted in Op-eds | 11 Comments

On deals and no deals

Tim Farron was challenged this morning on the radio whether the decision by the local party to stand down in Brighton Pavilion respresented some sort of deal. It isn’t, and nor should it be.

For all my long standing political differences with the Greens, I, like Tim, am relaxed about this decision. We weren’t going to win in Brighton Pavilion, and it is only fair that the Greens have a voice in parliament. Their politics are really quite bad in some ways but it is better they have a voice than are silenced. And tactically, I’d rather see a remainer …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments

Taking on the Conservative message on ‘strength’

There’s an insightful piece by Tony Blair in the Guardian yesterday on how Theresa May has framed this election in terms of the Brexit negotiations. While aimed at Labour readers, we have the same need understand what it is we are facing.

Blair observes that

Essentially, the Tories … have hit on a way of getting votes by presenting the election as about “strengthening the prime minister’s hand in the Brexit negotiation”, ie, they have turned a partisan Tory vote into an act of national interest.

Of course, all parties run for election on the basis that a government formed by them is in the national interest. But in this Brexit context, the Tories have hit on what seems a plausible objective claim that they actually need a big majority to represent the country adequately in what is without question a really tough negotiation.

This argument has real cut-through. This is why ignoring the Brexit issue or trying to play it down as one issue out of many just won’t work.

Posted in Op-eds | 43 Comments

My take on the decision to go to the country

My thoughts so far:

1. The timing is reasonably good before Brexit negotiations start in earnest. We are likely to lose a few weeks, and Article 50 day would have been a better choice on this count.

2. The PM is going on about the strength of her position, and how important this is in negotiations. There’s a certain amount of bluster here. A successful election reinforces her position in the House of Commons – it does nothing to induce EU governments to give us what we want.

3. The Tories are complaining about opposition existing and opposing. This must mean the SNP …

Posted in Op-eds | 34 Comments

++++++Breaking: Theresa May announces General Election on June 8th

Theresa May’s announcement has just finished. There will be a vote in the House of Commons tomorrow – a two thirds majority is required to call a General Election. Labour have said they would back this, but they could perhaps thwart the timetable if they wished.

May’s theme seemed to be that the opposition parties and the Lords were getting in her way and weakened her ability to do the job, and to negotiate in Europe. Quite how a majority in the Commmons is not good enough, reflects more I think on her leadership. And, frankly, if this opposition is too …

Posted in News | 123 Comments

Policy consultation deadline approaches

The Party conference may be over, but whether you got there or not, there is still a chance to make an input into policy. There are four policy consultation papers inviting your comments with a deadline of this Friday. These are each likely to come to a future conference as a full policy paper. Given that it is pretty hard for ordinary members to change much if anything in a policy paper from the floor of conference, this may be your best chance to influence policy. The papers can be found here.

I could have tried to offer neutral summaries …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | 2 Comments

Nick Clegg struggles to be polite about the government’s self-deluded piffle

Nick Clegg, blistering in the Standard, warns that the government is condemned to break its Brexit promises.

Recalling promises of a stronger trading position, the continuation of the benefits of membership, no hard border with Ireland (never mind Scotland), less red tape, taking back control – never mind the £350 million; Nick warns of an impending reckoning.

Posted in LibLink | Tagged , and | 27 Comments

Article 50 is not the only or the best way to leave

Now that the invocation of Article 50 is imminent, I thought I would reflect on how we managed, as a country, to gain such momentum for such a bad way of leaving the EU.

Firstly, it should be understood that before Article 50 was agreed, it was not impossible to leave the EU. Greenland did so, by agreement, and without that agreement being subject to an arbitrary one-sided deadline. The point of agreeing Article 50 was not to make it possible to leave, but to make it harder. Article 50, like Trident, is not meant to be used; that is not …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 18 Comments

Liblink: Greg Mulholland MP on business rates for pubs and restaurants

Greg Mulholland writes in Politics Home on how pubs up and down the country are being unfairly hit by business rate revaluation.

Pubs are, of course, businesses and need to pay their share of tax. Yet when research for the British Beer and Pub Association shows that pubs are paying 2.8% of the entire business rate bill, whilst only generating 0.5% of business turnover, the plain unfairness of the current system towards pubs is laid bare. The revaluation will further this disadvantage, with pubs and restaurants receiving a 15% and 23% increase in rateable value respectively, being the only sector

Posted in LibLink | 2 Comments

Dead parrot squawking

Ed Lucas in the Times has noticed the Liberal Democrat fightback. The whole piece is behind a register-for-two-articles-a-week-wall, but here is a flavour.

Yet look again. The parrot is far from dead. It is squawking back to life, thanks to the Brexit vote, Labour’s meltdown and sellers’ remorse after the general election. Membership has rocketed, to more than 82,000, the highest in 20 years. The party is now out-fundraising Labour. As well as the parliamentary by-election victory in Richmond Park, Lib Dems have been scoring a stunning run of local successes, snatching council seats in such seemingly unpromising places as

Posted in LibLink | 8 Comments

Labour fail to back Single Market

A cross party amendment to keep Britain in the Single Market was lost yesterday by 299 votes to 136 after Labour Lords who voted were mostly against, and Conservatives turned out in greater numbers.

Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords Dick Newby commented.

By far the best option for our economy is to stay in the Single Market. Unfortunately Theresa May’s Government is hell bent on dragging us towards a hard Brexit.

Whatever deal May comes back with is quite simply not going to be as good as remaining in the Single Market. That is why we voted to ask her to think

Posted in News | 33 Comments

Liberal Democrat spring conference agenda published

The agenda for the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York 17-19th March is now available here.

We already knew the topics to be covered from Zoe O’Connell’s report three weeks ago, but this is the first chance for most members of the party to see the full texts to be debated and consider proposing amendments.

Here’s my rapid summary of some key points (and I have decoded some of the titles):

F4 Sex work Decriminalise sex work as the best way to reduce harm from it and to …

Posted in Conference | 11 Comments

Tim Farron writes to Jeremy Corbyn: will you clarify your position on Article 50

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has written to Jeremy Corbyn to call on him to clear up ‘once and for all’ his party’s position on Article 50.

Posted in News | 20 Comments

+++Supreme Court rules against government on Article 50

In the last few minutes the supreme court has ruled that the government cannot trigger Article 50 using perogative powers but must hold a vote in Parliament. The reasoning seems to be that triggering Article 50 would cut off a dynamic source of UK law, would be a change to the UK constitutional arrangements, and this can only be done by an act of Parliament.

The court also ruled that there was no obligation on the government to consult devolved administrations.

There is a summary of the judgement on the supreme court website here.

Posted in News | 23 Comments

Iconic coalition era building demolished

Do you remember the days when many an urgent TV news interview on the state of the nation was conducted in a plumbers’ yard? The yard contained the constituency office of Nick Clegg MP, and before him Richard Allan MP. Nick moved out around a year ago to a nearby alternative, and this morning on the school run I saw …

To be honest, even when standing it wasn’t much prettier than this. But the office was unpretentiously a place of ordinary decent hard work, at the heart of the community, next door to a church and a primary school. And it has years of memories for Sheffield Liberal Democrats.

Posted in News | 3 Comments

UK Ambassador to the EU resigns

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s ambassador to the European Union has resigned. Highly experienced and diligent, Rogers was expected to play a key role in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

Nick Clegg has commented

The resignation of somebody as experienced as Sir Ivan Rogers is a body blow to the Government’s Brexit plans.

I worked for Ivan Rogers in the EU twenty years ago – then he worked for me and the rest of the Coalition Government several years later.

Throughout all that time Ivan was always punctiliously objective and rigorous in all he did and all the advice he provided.

If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in Government, it counts as a spectacular own goal.

The Government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit.

Posted in News | 50 Comments

Michael Wilkinson appointed head of digital content

Telegraph political correspondent and web editor Michael Wilkinson has been appointed as head of digital content at the Liberal Democrats.

Posted in News | 18 Comments

Aleppo must be a wake up call

Amid the humanitarian catastrophe that has been the siege and fall of Aleppo, both supporters and opponents of earlier calls for military action by the West against Assad have been claiming vindication by events. Perhaps some are relieved that the TV pictures of bloodied children in rubble can be attributed to Russian bombs rather than Western ones.

And perhaps we are guilty – as the EU is supposedly guilty of welcoming closer ties with Ukraine – of seeing a potential for good in the Arab Spring. Torment nobody with the promise of freedom and democracy unless you can deliver it, at gunpoint if necessary? Don’t start a civil war you can’t win, however bad your government?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 29 Comments

Jedi is not a religion: official

A ruling from the Charity Commission yesterday, has determined that Jediism, the worship of the mythology of Star Wars, is not a religion. This marks the release of the latest Star Wars film, episode 3.5, Rogue One, which in deference to the Charity Commission’s ruling does not feature (spoilers?) a single proper Jedi Knight, though there is a blind kind-of-Jedi monk, with whom is the force, and who seems to do as much damage with a stick as a proper Jedi does with a light sabre.

I’ll confess I was ignorant that the Charities Commission’s powers and competence extended to determining the validity or frivolity of theological doctrines, and I now look forward to many more theological disputes being settled by the same good people.

Posted in Op-eds | 16 Comments

The other Brexit negotiations plan

There is an ongoing heated debate over how much if anything of her intentions Theresa May will reveal before triggering Article 50. Does she want to stay in the single market? Does she want UK citizens to have any rights (short of complete freedom?) to travel and work in the EU? Does she want to maintain the reciprocal arrangement on health care? Does she want all the policing co-operation to continue (we think so)? Does she want us to stay in the scientific research programmes? Etc. Etc.

This is all in our interests: does a sovereign nation that has taken back control have the right to enter agreements that are in its interests? Yes it does. That’s how we got in to the EU.

Presumably we want out of the Common Fisheries Policy, but some sort of agreement on fisheries will be desirable, to prevent overfishing. (Yes, I know that’s what the CFP is.) And do we want to expropriate the fishing quotas that have been sold by British fishermen to Spaniards? I wouldn’t think so – that’s not how the UK behaves – but in that case, what respite is there for British fishermen?

Posted in Op-eds | 36 Comments

Reaction to Fidel Castro’s legacy

The death of Cuban revolutionary, dictator and hard left cause celebre, Fidel Castro has reopened a debate on his legacy.

Tim Farron released the following statement

There is no doubt that Fidel Castro was a vastly significant 20th century leader, but even as we respectfully acknowledge this on his passing, we must not overlook the appalling human rights abuses including brutal summary executions for which he was responsible

As expected Jeremy Corbyn was among the more fulsome in praise, to objections from progressives:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 46 Comments

The Rustlings Road Tree Massacre

A knock on the door in the middle of the night. “Move your car or it will be towed”. Three peaceful protestors, including two public spirited women in their 70s, arrested for the crime of “suspicion of preventing lawful work“.

Is this an anti-terror operation? Is this happening in Putin’s Russia? No. It is a Labour council seeking to cut down eight trees on the highway, that residents have been campaigning to save for the last two years. Six of the eight trees could be saved according to the council’s own Independent Tree Panel – whose advice …

Posted in News | 16 Comments

It’s not about inequality

I recall after the financial crisis of 2008 everybody with an unconventional opinion on banking and monetary policy felt confirmed that this showed they had been right all along. Whether they believed in more regulation of banks or less, or in the superficially plausible but ultimately wrong-headed notion of banning bank lending altogether and making up the money supply by having the government print a lot extra – they felt proven right by events.

We are in danger of doing the same with Donald Trump’s victory. Last week Helen Flynn argued that it was about inequality. Thus the solution …

Posted in Op-eds | 37 Comments

More United consult members on endorsing Sarah Olney

More the post-referendum cross-party campaign for an open tolerant and inclusive Britain, is consulting its members on whether to endorse Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election.

This comes at a crucial moment as postal votes are landing and there is a concerted effort to speak to postal voters. If you can’t get to Richmond Park, just log into Connect and you will find a Virtual Phone Bank ready for you.


This decision by More United is a critical test of its core concept, of a willingness to endorse candidates from any one of a number of different parties, should they subscribe to the values. If it doesn’t endorse Sarah in Richmond Park, how can it ever deliver? The letter to members is as follows:

Posted in News | 25 Comments

Alistair Carmichael on Article 50

Alistair Carmichael was on the Daily Politics today, quizzed by Jo Coburn over the party’s position on the Article 50 debate, the Single Market/soft Brexit and a referendum on the final deal.

The segment starts at 21 minutes below, and Alistair is on from 24 minutes.


It was put to him that making the A50 vote conditional on single market membership and a “second” referendum was seeking to thwart the will of the people:

It is impossible for everybody who voted to leave for a whole range of reasons to get what

Posted in News | 38 Comments

What do you want from Parliament’s Article 50 debate?

With the issue of whether Article 50 needs parliamentary approval currently before the courts, there is some discussion of what Parliament ought to do with the process if it gets the chance.

While clearly there is no majority for simply blocking article 50, it is quite reasonable for MPs to put constructive amendments to the proposal, respectful of the mandate from June, and to vote against if those amendments are not accepted – as one would with any other bill before Parliament.

One amendment should be to give the people a vote on the final deal, so that we can choose, once …

Posted in Op-eds | 33 Comments

Fighting fun politicians in the age of entertainment news

Yes, this is another “how do we fight back against the politics UKIP/Brexit/Trump” type of article, though I hope a different one to the rest.

I read two articles yesterday, both illuminating, but doubly so when read together. This on the BBC explains a cultural difference between the UK and Germany that may be hobbling diplomatic understanding. British are liable to say “oh no I couldn’t possibly” to mean yes, to which Germans will consider the matter settled at no. Swashbuckling overpromising bluster is far more tolerated in British political culture than in German, which values consistency much more highly and is to our ears extremely dull.

The other was this at the Washington Post expressing bemusement at the “corrupt Clinton” narrative that exists, when “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling.” A list of Trump’s corrupt activities is given. Each has been reported and then we move on. Journalists shrug. The Florida attorney general takes a donation from Trump and drops an investigation into his “university”. Hillary, meanwhile is investigated to within an inch of her life, and even when nothing is found, the investigation is used to support a narrative of guilt.

Posted in Op-eds | 34 Comments

Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJenny Barnes 8th Jul - 11:00am
    The care sector problems stem from the privatisation agenda that has been followed for the last 40 years. Like the NHS, markets in this area...
  • User AvatarRuth Bright 8th Jul - 10:59am
    The author says she became a teacher in 1971 so her experience of being a working-class student at sea (which many of us could identify...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 8th Jul - 10:50am
    @ Joe, You asked me about the left's opinion of a UBI and this is what I'd say it will be when everyone has had...
  • User AvatarRussell Simpson 8th Jul - 10:38am
    Can we please stop referring to Johnson as Boris? He's not my mate.
  • User AvatarJoseph Bourke 8th Jul - 10:29am
    Michael BG, this is the RSA's report on the case for a basic income "The current welfare system creates a poverty trap"One thing we...
  • User AvatarInnocent Bystander 8th Jul - 10:23am
    I'm with Glen. If the lockdown had any effect there should have been a step change one incubation period after 28 March. No sign at...