Author Archives: Lord William Wallace

Lord William Wallace writes…Britain’s deepening political confusion

Anyone who thinks that they know what British politics will look like in 3 months’ time is a fool.  The opinion polls, it is true, have hardly moved since last year’s general election; most voters, it seems, have been disengaged since then.  But among the parties, things are moving, in a very confused and uncertain fashion.

The Conservative Party is in the most extraordinary position.  Here is a party which had over a million members when I was a Young Liberal, which does not challenge the statement that its individual membership is now around 70,000.  It is sustained by large donors, mostly from the financial sector but with some prominent businessmen, which give the central party the funds to manage campaigns from the centre – as we learned, to our cost, in the last two elections, as centrally-funded mailings poured into LibDem target seats.  And it is politically supported – and pulled to the right – by a number of highly effective think tanks, many of them substantially funded by offshore donors and foreign sympathisers. (The advantage of contributing funds to think tanks which promote right-wing ideas, offshore donors are told, is that they remain anonymous and avoid the checks the Electoral Commission requires on party donations.)  The Legatum Institute is openly funded by a Dubai-based New Zealander; the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and most other Conservative-oriented think tanks do not declare their sources of income.  The right-wing media, above all the Telegraph and the Mail, provide a direct link to older voters, though they do not reach many of the younger generation who read news on line.  These papers combine with think tanks like Civitas to denigrate the BBC as ‘biased’, meaning that it puts out a range of opinions that are beyond Conservative control.  

Posted in News | Tagged | 7 Comments

William Wallace writes: Stopping Brexit isn’t enough – we have to help the left behind

Larry Elliott in the Guardian the other day declared that the Remainers don’t have any answers to the problems of the Left Behind in Britain.  He didn’t bother to claim that the Leavers had any answer either.  Their commitment to deregulation (with abolition of the Working Time Directive one of their first targets) will hit marginal workers in insecure jobs; their hopes of cutting public spending will increase the gap between rich and poor and starve education and health of resources.

But what do those of us who support Remain offer the Left Behind?  Remember that the highest votes for the Leave campaign came in England’s declining industrial towns, and in the county and seaside towns that have also lost out from economic and social transformation.  Middlesborough, Skegness, Canvey Island and Wisbech all returned over 80% of votes to leave.  It was easy for the Leave campaign to encourage them to blame the globalised ‘liberal elite’ for their woes; they have lost out from globalization, and feel patronised and neglected.  Some of their grievances are justified; others are not.  The selling off of social housing and the incursion of private landlords into what were once Council housing estates is not a consequence of European rules or of immigration.  But the loss of the stable employment that their parents and grandparents had IS a consequence of open frontiers and technological change, and successive governments of all parties have failed to invest enough – in education and training, in housing, in infrastructure, in supporting the growth of new local entrepreneurs – to spread the prosperity of the South-East and the metropolitan cities across the rest of the country.

Liberal Democrat peers tackled these issues in a working party over the past year, the report of which is attached here.  We have submitted a resolution for the Spring conference to take the debate within the party further.  Our analysis, and our proposals, cut across several policy areas.  Greater investment in education and training, from pre-school to further education, is central.  Long-term finance for local start-ups, of the sort that the British Business Bank was intended to provide but which also needs nurturing at regional and local level, is essential.  A revival of social housing is urgent.  Most difficult of all, we have to find a way of rebuilding political trust: a revival of local democracy within communities that feel abandoned by all parties and agencies of government, and that see politics as a game conducted by well-off and well-educated people in London.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 33 Comments

Campaigning for higher and fairer taxes?

We need to talk about tax. The IMF’s annual report on the UK economy recommends that taxes should be raised, in order to reduce the deficit further without cutting public investment and services. Philip Hammond, it is reported, would like to do so; but he is opposed by the ideological (and Eurosceptic) right of his own party, and by the influential group of free market think tanks who were cheerleaders for the Brexit campaign.

The Taxpayers Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs have repeatedly argued that it’s impossible to raise more than …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 45 Comments

William Wallace writes….What’s Brexit really all about?

At the consultation meeting the Lords Party held at our Bournemouth conference, the strongest plea that came from round the table discussing Brexit was for more information on what is happening.  We will take that back to the wider parliamentary party and our small and overworked group of researchers, and see what more we can do.  There are some really good papers from Nick Clegg’s advisory group on the party’s web site, which explore the underlying issues; but the politics of the negotiations are moving and changing almost every week, and I guess that campaigners want usable material to respond to that.  So meanwhile, here are some initial suggestions on how best to play the issues in different places.

The most important shift in the Brexit debate over the summer has been from general principle to detail, as negotiations get under way, and as the deadline of March 2019 begins to loom.  Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article was a denial of where we are – sweeping aside the difficult questions about HOW we manage a mutually-advantageous relationship with the EU after we leave, to argue that those who say Britain will suffer if we don’t get an agreement are talking the country down, and that a close external association with the EU will make the UK ‘a vassal state’, in ‘a national humiliation.’  This, we must all repeat vigorously, is Brexit denial, like climate change denial: refusing to admit the detailed evidence that there are problems to resolve.  The detail matters, we must insist against the ideological sceptics: crashing out without a deal will cause chaos in the UK economy, cost jobs, and endanger standards.

Let’s take the issue of border controls. 2.6 million trucks pass through Dover every year, five times as many as when the Single Market started in 1992.  They spend an average of 2 minutes each passing the border.  If this extended to 20 minutes each (the fastest one estimate suggests they could be cleared outside the customs union), the queues would soon stretch along the M20, supermarket shelves would empty (1/3 of our food is imported from the EU) and assembly lines would grind to a halt (Honda’s Swindon plant alone depends on 350 truck-loads of components a day coming through Dover). Revenue and Customs are trying to introduce a new computer system, but that may not have the capacity to cope with the number of transactions required outside the customs union, and in any case may well not be ready by March 2019.  Estimates of additional customs staff needed by then are in the thousands; but recruitment has not yet begun.  And Boris doesn’t think we need a transition arrangement after that date?

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

A pointer towards the future of British Conservatism?

In the middle of an election campaign, Liberal Democrats don’t have time to read books. But keep an eye out for reviews, and extracts, of The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, by Douglas Murray, which was published on May 4th by Bloomsbury. The Sunday Times gave us a full-page extract last weekend, indicating the Murdoch press’s approval of its author and his arguments. His opening sentence states that ‘Europe is committing suicide’: from loss of will, decline of Christian values (he calls it ‘existential civilizational tiredness’), lost commitment to reproduce enough children, and above all …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 23 Comments

Lord (William) Wallace writes…Defining the issues in this election campaign

One lesson of the Richmond Park by-election that we should all take account of in the coming general election is that those who call an election may lose control of the campaign. Zac Goldsmith chose to fight a by-election on the expansion of Heathrow airport. But he lost the election because voters found other issues – above all, Europe – mattered as much to them.

Posted in Op-eds | 12 Comments

Reaching out to the ‘Left Behind’: what policies should we put first?

The pitch which the Leave campaign successfully made to the poorest 10% of UK citizens in last June’s EU Referendum was that their problems of low pay, insecure jobs and waiting lists for affordable housing were all due to competition from immigrants, and would be eased by leaving the EU. The budget, with little on social housing and less on funds for schools or other public services in deprived areas, has made their situation worse, rather than better. Labour has been hesitating about how far to buy into their grievances about immigrants. How should Liberal Democrats respond …

Posted in Conference | 35 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 22nd Feb - 9:16pm
    How true, Jonathan and Judy. The words of the late Dean Acheson come to mind as well.
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 22nd Feb - 8:58pm
    David, thank you for that! Our economists have had a field day, or rather several days, of discussing economic policies over several different threads, and...
  • User AvatarJudy Abel 22nd Feb - 8:12pm
    I spoke to someone yesterday who commented, rather chillingly, that Brexit is 'good' for the UK as it is finally exposing us for who we...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 22nd Feb - 8:08pm
    I'm sure this is all very worthy and erudite, but, in the flight away from Layla's original comment about tuition fees, this thread has become...
  • User AvatarJonathan Reeve 22nd Feb - 7:17pm
    England has chosen an unwise Cold War with the EU when in a weak position, no longer financed by North Sea Oil: that is my...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 22nd Feb - 6:50pm
    According to the OBR £4 billion was cut from the 2010-11 deficit, so to discover what a Liberal Democrat government would have spent we can...