Author Archives: Rob Blackie

National targets are essential to tackle the housing crisis

Do we face a housing crisis in Britain? It might not seem like it if you bought your house 20 years ago, but for everybody renting, or trying to buy, it’s out of control.

Consider these astonishing facts.

Britain spends more on housing benefits than any other rich country.

New houses in Britain are smaller than every other western European country. Dutch people, who live in one of the world’s most densely populated countries, live in houses 21% bigger than Brits.

Britain’s homes are cold and damp and expensive to heat too. Recent studies show that we have among the worst insulated in Europe too.

And while London looks like the richest part of Britain, it has the second highest poverty rate when you account for housing costs. Even if you are on the typical London full time salary of £33,000, you will, on average, spend more than half of your post tax income on rent. 

All of these reflect decades where we haven’t built enough homes.

Since 1990 Britain’s population has increased by 10 million people. Our housebuilding hasn’t kept up. We have so little spare capacity that Britain has fewer empty homes than Finland.

New evidence shows that all housebuilding, even for the richest people, brings down prices for everybody, as it sets off a chain of moves through sequentially cheaper housing. For instance in Auckland, New Zealand, when they allowed more housebuilding, rents fell 25% relative to Wellington, where this didn’t happen.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 24 Comments

If we want to cut violent crime, we need to cut stop and search

Yesterday Suella Bravermen wrote to police forces across England and Wales to encourage them to use stop and search powers more. She says that this will help tackle violent crime.

In fact, it will waste police time on trivialities instead of catching dangerous criminals.

Stop and search isn’t well focussed on finding criminals. Only just over one in ten stops leads to an arrest. In fact a 2019 study found that ‘Overall, our analysis of ten years’ worth of London-wide data suggests that although stop and search had a weak association with some forms of crime, this effect was at the outer margins of statistical and social significance.’ In fact, Braverman’s policy of increasing stop and search had no effect on violent crime trends.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 14 Comments

How do we stop the war in Ukraine?

Last February I had an idea, which was to try to beat Vladimir Putin’s censorship machine. 

Early in the invasion of Ukraine, it became clear that Vladimir Putin is very scared that the Russian people will find out the truth about the war. So he’s censored for news very heavily. 

As well as arresting protestors, he brought in website censorship. So if you go to a news website in Russia, you would find that your internet service provider blocks it. 

I’ve fought dictatorships my whole life, from being a teenage Amnesty member, to getting arrested by Zimbabwean police and helping English students in China to evade the great firewall. And I’ve spent the last 15 years working with charity campaigners and marketers to find new ways to get messages through to people.

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

Liberal Democrats should campaign to fix Brexit

What should Lib Dems do now?

Should we just be campaign to rejoin the EU? Or something else?

I suggest that we fix Brexit first.

Last year people voted Conservative because they thought Brexit was a distraction from Britain’s real problems. Over 70% of the public thought this. Most people who voted Remain thought this. They thought that the only way to get Brexit out of the way, was to push it through.

Of course this isn’t true. Brexit isn’t over. And we’ll be stuck with the problems it creates for decades.

But if we campaign to rejoin straight away, it will be counter-productive. People won’t see the problems caused by Brexit, because most of them won’t be obvious until the transition period ends.

And, just as everybody sighs in relief that Brexit is over, we’ll look like obsessives wanting to restart the argument. A bit like John Redwood in the 1990s.

The British people have given the government a chance to get Brexit right.

Lib Dems should therefore work to fix Brexit. Fixing Brexit means accepting it’s happening. For now.

That means minimising the damage. Damage done to the economy. And damage done to our friends and neighbours.

Today there are three things we can campaign on.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 42 Comments

Opinion: Five quick thoughts on what we do next

Firstly we all need to take a few days off. Losing so many of our MPs is incredibly painful – when we know how they were champions of liberalism, as well as great local representatives. It’s easy for us to post-rationalise our problems to fit our existing prejudices, but smarter to take a short break.

Secondly we shouldn’t assume that everything winners do is good, and everything losers do is stupid. There are doubtless many things we did wrong, but not everything we did was wrong. Equally while we may have been hit hard by the other parties, we shouldn’t assume that aping them is the right solution.

Thirdly we should recognise that our problems fighting Labour, the Tories and the SNP may be very different. It is unlikely that there is one message or campaign technique that will allow us to be successful against all of these opponents.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 72 Comments

Opinion: How to interrogate a terrorist using diabetic biscuits

Is it more effective to force people to do things, or to charm them?

The surprising answer that’s tucked into the US Senate’s recent investigation into terrorist interrogation, is that, even with hardened Al-Qaeda terrorists, charm is usually more effective.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: Keep the Bank of England Independent

Conference on Monday will debate an amendment from the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) to the Economy Motion which calls the government to “monitor closely the progress of the Bank of England, ensuring it has a refocused mandate that allows monetary policy to aid growth, reduce the unemployment rate to below 6% creating at least a million jobs, and to address weak income growth, targeting a higher level of national/median income.”

Who could possibly disagree with that? Well, me for a start. In practice this is reducing the independence of the Bank of England.

Liberal Democrats have long argued that the Bank of …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged and | 11 Comments

Opinion: How can we build a liberal movement?

Like a lot of Liberal Democrat friends, I was inspired by Barack Obama’s determination to build a long term movement for change across America. And for a couple of years I’ve been trying to copy his volunteer led approach to political organising, with some success.*

One element that is crucial to motivating volunteers is to have superb candidates, who are themselves heroes to their communities. This, of course, is a large element of good traditional community campaigning.

So I was delighted to see that in Peckham we are using our candidate’s amazing life story as the main motivator of volunteers on …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 10 Comments

Opinion: Can we campaign on Lords reform?

Let’s face it, Lords reform doesn’t come up on the doorsteps often, however important it is.

But there is one group of people in Britain who Lib Dem Voice readers know, who care deeply about Lords reform. Campaigners for AV, who most of us have spent the last 6 months working with, are overwhelmingly in favour of Lords reform.

So today we can all use Lords reform as a great campaigning opportunity. Simply create a local petition (like this one)  to make sure that your local MP votes for and campaigns for a 100% elected Lords.

Then send this petition to …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 13 Comments

Opinion: How are councils making savings?

Getting a picture on what’s happening across the country on council spending is difficult. We all hear stories, whether it’s the a plan to close a library or a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend who works in Brighton, who told me that the council had avoided almost all frontline cuts to services through efficiency savings.

Last week some surprising figures have appeared in an overlooked survey by the Financial Times. They show that at least half of the spending cuts that councils are making will have no impact at all on frontline services.

The Financial

Posted in Local government | 14 Comments

Opinion: We were prudent in opposition – time for Labour to follow our lead

Labour have refused to provide any detailed alternative to the Coalition’s tax and spending plans. They have also implied that during their recent period in government that nobody challenged their irresponsible tax and spending plans. This is simply a lie. Not only did the IFS explain their irresponsibility as far back as 2003 , but so did the Liberal Democrats.

There’s an easy way to test how responsible we were while we were in opposition. Every year since 1992 the Liberal Democrats have produced an Alternative Budget setting out our alternative to the government’s tax and spending plans, as well …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 23 Comments

Opinion: It’s time for a no-fly zone

In 1984 a young aeronautical engineer called Al-Sadek Hamed Al-Shuwehdy,an opponent of Muammar Gaddafi, was hanged in a basketball stadium in Benghazi. As he hung from the rope dying, he was grabbed round his legs and dragged down until he stopped moving by a brutal young woman called Huda Ben Amer. Ben Amer was appointed Mayor of Benghazi, and went on to terrorise the people Benghazi for the decades since. She escaped the Benghazi uprising, and is waiting to return if the Libyan army retake control in the next few days.

Al-Sadek’s story matters, not just because of …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 27 Comments

Opinion: Sharing maternity leave – our most popular policy since the coalition was formed?

Yesterday Nick Clegg has announced that couples will be able to share maternity leave. This is a rare example of a policy which is principled, popular and incredibly talkable.

Parents and grandparents, that is most of the population who are over 35 years old, have extremely strong views on childcare and maternity leave. After all it has a huge impact on us, our careers and our relationships with our families.

This is a superb policy for several reasons.

Firstly, it recognises that modern fathers want to spend more time with their children, and are constrained by an incredibly outdated legal framework that implicitly …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 38 Comments

Opinion: Let’s enjoy being in government

I joined the party in 1991. Like most readers I didn’t join the party out of a mad lust for power or a desire to do well in the opinion polls. I just wanted to make the world a fairer and freer placer. And I quickly learnt that it is very difficult to win elections as a Lib Dem.

But I’m surprised at how little credit we are giving ourselves for our achievements in government. Even the Observer, in the midst of a mainly negative editorial on the Lib Dems yesterday, admits that in six months we have achieved:

raising the

Posted in News | 48 Comments

Fancy a new deliverer?

All of us who spend time running local campaigns face a common constraint. We don’t have enough supporters who deliver leaflets for us.

Well I’m pleased to say that I have a quick, simple, free solution that will get you one or two new deliverers today.

    1. Gather together any email address that you have for people in the relevant ward, assuming that you think they’ll be happy to hear from you. Even the odd email from surveys, casework, members, supporters and indeed supporters of other parties will do. Spend 15 minutes doing this and you should have at least 50 email

Posted in News | 6 Comments

E-campaigning mentors needed

Do you need advice on e-campaigning? Or do you have experiences that you’d like to share on e-campaigning?

If so look no further.

The hearts & minds group of the Technology Advisory Board are setting up a mentoring scheme to match people who want to give advice on e-campaigning to people who need advice on how to campaign better.

We already have a number of experienced local campaigners ready – just click here to see more on the forum, follow the instructions there and they’ll get back to you.

Rob Blackie is a former Lib Dem Director of

Posted in Online politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

What can the party do to encourage better e-campaigning?

In early March 2009 renowned Lambeth bakers De Lieto applied for planning permission for a new bakery. Lambeth Council astoundingly decided that the local residents would be distressed by the smell.

In stepped local Lib Dem councillors Rob Banks and Andrew Sawdon. There followed a rapid online and offline campaign to get residents to sign a petition in favour of the bakery, with over 100 petitions through De Lieto’s front door in less than 24 hours. A combination of leaflets, emails, Rob and Andrew’s superb blog and the council rapidly u-turned. More on this story can be found here.

This simple …

Posted in Lib Dem TV and Online politics | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Why the Leadership Academy shouldn’t just train the leaders

I joined the party in 1991. But I only really got involved at grassroots level after I started working in the party in 2000. And like many other enthusiastic people who start helping at local level I rapidly found myself as chair of my local party.

And like many other people in my position I had strengths and weaknesses. I was pretty good at raising money, and we shortly had a RISO and a lot of cash in the bank. But I didn’t have much of a plan for how we were going to turn supporters into members and activists without …

Posted in News | 13 Comments

Needed: Spanish practices

The announcement earlier this year of a Spanish Cabinet that is majority women should cause everyone involved in British politics to stop and wonder why we’re doing so badly.

We know that the under-representation of women in politics is a bad thing – and that this applies to the Liberal Democrats as much as anyone else, even if we do have a good heritage of standing up on issues of inequality.

But how many more women do we really need to stand for us if we’re going to get a more equal party?

It turns out that the answer is at least 100 …

Posted in Op-eds | 29 Comments

Opinion: Calling time on Labour for their nasty campaigning

I occasionally get very angry when Labour’s sympathisers in the media talk about Labour’s liberalising of Britain.

Quite apart from the fact that it will soon be illegal to go to the shops without an ID card in your pocket, the Labour party is deeply illiberal in its campaigns. I’m sure many of you will have experienced campaigning at local level that demonises asylum seekers, gays or gypsies. We should be more willing to attack Labour for their disgusting campaigns – and make an issue of the character of the people who run them.

Anyone who has read The Political Brain (a study of the neuroscience of politics – the best political book of this year in my opinion) will remember that smears work because they are semi-conscious. Drew Western, the book’s author, makes the point that if you want to beat a smear (assuming it’s worth mentioning) then you have to take it head on and make an issue of the person doing the smear.

We successfully did this in the Cheadle by election when the Conservatives used some outrageous smears against our candidate, now MP, Mark Hunter. We should do it more.

I challenged a Labour activist friend on this recently, and he said that while this might have happened in the past he was sure it didn’t happen these days. Well here are some examples from the last couple of years:

Posted in Op-eds | 49 Comments

Book review: how to make people remember what you say

A friend of a friend was on a business trip to London. He meets a beautiful lady in the hotel bar, and the next thing he knows he wakes up in a bath of ice, with his kidneys missing.

We’ve all heard a version of that story. Made to Stick investigates why people remember some ideas regardless of whether they are true.

All of us who have been involved with the Liberal Democrats know the frustration of meeting members of the public who don’t know Lib Dem policies that we’ve been banging on about for years. Or we’ve met voters confused by smear campaigns against us by other parties. For this reason everyone in the Liberal Democrats needs to read Made to Stick.

Made to Stick outlines six things that made an idea memorable.

Posted in Books | Tagged | 5 Comments

Recent Comments

  • tom arms
    @ Ian Sanderson: Normally I would agree with your assessment, but in the case of Robert Fico, in the first elections after 1991 he was elected to parliament as ...
  • Alex Macfie
    Mary Fulton: The suspect is described as a “lone wolf” who does not appear to have any coherent (never mind "liberal") politics, so we can't yet draw any co...
  • Mary Fulton
    It is ironic that whoever attacked Fico for his illiberal views has just demonstrated that sometimes those who claim to be liberal and tolerant are, in practice...
  • Andy Chandler
    Good piece. This is why I find what Macron is doing is quite interesting in that we need to redefine Europes political identity and purpose. Centrist, libera...
  • Andy Chandler
    @Adam Not too sure what you mean by "invented snobbery". I just want to give everyone my background. I come from a working class background. My dad is a social...