Author Archives: Ed Maxfield

Sure Start and the big picture: bidding farewell to Children’s Centres in Norfolk

Norfolk County Council passed its budget earlier in the month. Nothing remarkable about that – councils up and down the land have been doing the same. In Norfolk, though, it marked the final act in an intense debate about how the Council supports new families and gives children a fair start in life. It’s a debate that has exposed some of the rawest edges of today’s politics.

Sure Start was a noble idea from the first Blair government: Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto described it as one of the Labour government’s greatest achievements. It aimed to deliver support to children from disadvantaged families by breaking down the barriers they face when accessing services. Children’s Centres were at the heart of the ‘offer’. A network of one-stop shops where families could find a range of support. Support that would ensure children were well looked after, their health needs met and they were equipped to learn and develop as they headed towards their school years. Changes to the funding regime introduced by the Coalition saw funding for Children’s Centres cut by almost £1 billion across that government’s term. The argument in favour of that change was that Children’s Centres are an inefficient way of supporting families that are most in need and that it makes more sense to have a flexible provision that can be better targeted and so deliver good outcomes and better value for money.

In the end, Norfolk County Council voted to close 38 of its 53 Children’s Centres and to halve the budget for the services that had been delivered through them. Time will tell whether I was right in warning that the £1 million cut in funding for front line service delivery is storing up trouble for the future – I sincerely hope I am wrong. What I learned from the months of debate, though, went well beyond the question of how best to deliver early help for families.

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Opinion: The Liberal Democrats and the County Council elections – a whole new chapter?

A wise man said to me today: “are you going to write a new chapter for the book after you came third in your election?” The chapters in 101 Ways to Win an Election are each the same length as an LDV article so I thought, “why not!?”

The first and most obvious point to make is to never stop learning. Each campaign has the potential to teach you something new. The trick is to learn the right lessons, which generally will come from listening carefully to what the voters are telling you about your campaign.

In this

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

Zen and the art of the crunching rugby tackle

Why on earth would a political website carry a review of a book about amateur rugby?

Well, in pitching my review of ‘My Life as a Hooker’ to the editors I make two points. The first is that the author – Steven Gauge – is a seasoned Liberal Democrat campaigner. The second is that the book itself contains lessons that reach far beyond the gates of Warlingham Rugby Club car park. I doubt the book will ever replace Milton’s Areopagitica as the enduring symbol of Liberal values. But its underlying philosophy of self-help, communal activity, tolerance, respect and beer …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 5 Comments

Opinion: Will Hutton and his killer fact – the questions that need an answer

We are all experts when we blog. So, let me break with convention and start by admitting I am no economist. What’s more, I really hope I am wrong.

If you read the discussion in the Observer on the future of the economy you might have been struck, like me, by what seemed to be a killer point from Will Hutton. Challenging the notion that government borrowing is unsustainable he pointed out that when he was a child in the 1950s the level of borrowing was even higher as a proportion of national income than it is now. Doesn’t that …

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Opinion: Reassessing New Labour

It is worth buying Reassessing New Labour just to read James Purnell’s short preface. New Labour’s would-be philosopher king pretty much disappeared from view after Labour chose the wrong Miliband as leader. Purnell’s piece highlights perfectly the challenge Labour faces in coming to terms with its 2010 election defeat. It is brilliantly lucid in assessing why Labour lost. It is extremely limited in its analysis of how to recover. In particular it completely ignores the 500lb gorilla in the corner – the economy. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Diamond and Kenny’s book brings together a range of contributions …

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Opinion: Constitutional reform? Time to look at it another way

I have read a great deal of liberal-left angst about the AV referendum in the last few days.

Everyone concludes that the Yes campaign was poorly led. Beyond that you pays your money and you takes your pick as to what the key factor was in the massive defeat. You might share the view that insider networks undermined the campaign (although to me this mainly seems to be about saying the wrong sort of insider networks were in control, an argument that factions on the left have relied upon since Trotsky). You might even indulge the conspiracy fantasists and …

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Opinion: Must the Alternative Vote benefit the Liberal Democrats?

John Curtice is a God among psephologists. He is not a man to be criticised lightly. But he left me muttering into my cornflakes when I heard him suggest on the Today Programme that we could be sure AV delivers a benefit to the Lib Dems in terms of seats won.

Now, the national media – even Radio 4’s august news flagship – is not happy dealing in nuance but there are at least three reasons why it is dangerous to make assumptions about future elections fought under AV on the basis of past elections fought on FPTP.

First is whether the …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 10 Comments

Yes to AV, car sales and the political brain

If the Yes campaign for the referendum was a car what kind of car would it be? I have a hunch it might be a 2000 vintage Skoda: making steady but unspectacular progress, hampered by an image problem and at risk from more aggressive and agile competitors. Of course in the early 2000s, the Volkswagen group transformed the fortunes of the sturdy Slovak auto with an imaginative re-brand. Does the Yes campaign need to re-think the way it gets its message across? Here are three reasons why I think it might have to:

‘But it’s not red, it’s fast!’

I chew my …

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Opinion: campaign spending – did the Lib Dems get it right?

You can, famously, prove anything with statistics. But the figures for General Election expenditure, released by the Electoral Commission in December, raise some interesting questions for Lib Dem campaign managers.

It was an extraordinary election in many ways. The TV debates, Cleggmania,the economic crisis and the MPs expenses scandal. All of this perhaps made it a particularly difficult election for the party to manage. Marshalling scarce resources in an unpredictable environment is a tough challenge.

The Lib Dems were always going to be out-gunned on the national stage but did we allow ourselves to be out-gunned and out-manoeuvred …

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Opinion: putting Liberalism into statute

For the last week or so the Lib Dems have had the look of a rabbit that has got too close to a juggernaut. The urge to stamp a warning and return to safer and more familiar surroundings is understandable.

But while an arcane discussion of the relative merits of J S Mill and T H Green is a reasonable occupation for a History Professor it has no relevance to voters. They are more concerned about the impact on their lives of decisions by Liberal Democrat ministers.

And the impact is extensive because this is shaping up to be the most radical government for thirty years. The Government has set an astonishing pace for reform of public services. In the first six months these have included health, education, policing, the Royal Mail and local government. And they are reforms that are shot through with liberal principles.

Not convinced? Here are extracts from the documents launching each of those reforms:

Ministerial Foreword to the Police and Social Responsibility Bill

This Government’s vision is for a free, fair and responsible society. At the heart of that vision is a radical shift in power and control away from government back to people and communities. Nowhere is that more true than in our plans for policing reform. Reform is critical. Increasing Government interference in recent years has changed the focus of the police. They have become responsive to government targets and bureaucracy rather than to people. They have become disconnected from the public they serve.

Posted in Op-eds | 21 Comments

Opinion: Community politics has had its day – time to move on

Move along please, nothing to see here. Just a body of ideas that died a natural death some time in the 1990s.

I have just read Gordon Lishman’s Federal Executive paper on future party strategy. It is encouragingly clear and geared towards future action and it contains a number of interesting proposals. But is it undermined by its insistence on tying future party strategy to the ideology of community politics?

Questioning the relevance of community politics in a Lib Dem forum feels a bit like trying to sell Richard Dawkins in a seminary but there are a number of reasons …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged | 27 Comments

Opinion: A moment of transformation?

My family are a difficult bunch to please. This weekend my mother threatened to give up on the Lib Dems if Nick Clegg kept Gordon Brown in power and my sister threatened to move to Greece if he did a deal with the Tories.

Me? I’ve been fighting the Tories all my adult life, but I’ve been working to get Lib Dems into government all that time too. I am immensely proud and excited that Nick Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister (pinch me!) But I also understand the anguish and pain felt by many in the party. After fifty years …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 55 Comments

Opinion: Talk of PR makes me all of a dither

Talk of PR makes me all of a dither. It’s the political scientist in me. I can see the pros and cons of every system and I can see that whatever system is in place it is not a panacea for the nation’s ills (nor the cause of them all either).

Alternative Vote, though, would seem to be a completely redundant change. Because in effect that is the system we already have.

AV gives you lots of safe seats where the winning party gets more than 50% of the vote. So does first past …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 16 Comments

It’s a liberal party, Jim, but not as we know it

Civic Platform’s convincing win in Poland’s General Election on Sunday is welcome news for liberals. A vote spread of 40% for the liberal centre; 30% for the conservative right and 12% for the social democratic left is the stuff of dreams from a British liberal perspective.

But strategists looking to emulate the success of Donald Tusk’s party here in the UK should beware of easy comparisons.

Civic Platform (PO) is pro-European and broadly liberal on civil liberties issues. But its economic recipe is made of Thatcherite ingredients that would be far too strong for British Liberal Democrat stomachs. Or …

Posted in News | 33 Comments

Opinion: Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!

Menzies Campbell with Charles Kennedy behind himWell, here’s a thing. I didn’t think I would be rushing into print to defend Ming Campbell’s leadership of the Lib Dems.

Last year I voted enthusiastically (although fairly quietly as I was employed by the party at the time) for Chris Huhne. I didn’t think it was wise for the party to opt for a sexagenarian leader just when we had connected so effectively with young voters over issues like Iraq and tuition fees. I feared that he would …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 20 Comments
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