Author Archives: William Hobhouse

Next priority – elect a second Green MP

caroline-lucas-600

I hope it hasn’t been forgotten that the Green Party didn’t stand a candidate in Richmond Park, and expressly backed Sarah Olney. Labour did stand a candidate, but it was widely reported that some Labour members didn’t think they should have.

On the other side of course, neither the Conservatives nor UKIP stood, therefore leaving the centre-right vote clear for Zac Goldsmith. It was an unusual by-election, 95% of the vote went to two people. There may not be another by-election like this in this parliament.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 46 Comments

Don’t stand a candidate

I have wondered many times in the last few years whether Lib Dems really want PR. And the reason for this scepticism is that we keep propping up First Past The Post (FPTP) in the way we campaign and act politically – with disastrous results for our political success, our influence within government and for liberalism across the UK.

The arguments for a change in the electoral system are well known – for every million votes cast for a party at the 2015 general election , the Greens won one seat, UKIP won a quarter of a seat, the Lib Dems won 3, Labour 25, Conservatives 29 and the SNP 39. The figures might change a little from election to election, but the unfairness won’t.

For a generation, Lib Dems have worked to win within FPTP by targeting individual wards or constituencies, and this has been a successful strategy compared to other smaller parties. But it has never achieved democratic parity with Labour or the Conservatives. For example, at our high point of national vote in the general election of 2010, it took 120,000 votes to elect a Lib Dem MP and 35,000 to elect a Conservative. Our leaders accepted the reality of FPTP and we took our place in government based not on our national vote but on our number of MPs. We have all seen the consequences, and they are not pleasant for our party, however optimistic we all like to be.

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Coalition: Yes or no?

Liberal Democrats quite like to be in government. We like to think that we can make a difference. So when the larger parties find themselves without an overall majority, we – as individuals – are courted.

This article deals with two aspects of the decision to go into coalition – political legitimacy and our party’s mandate to govern.

Liberal Democrats do not support the current unequal voting system. Put simply, we want every vote to be valued equally. We want the number of elected representatives to correspond to the number of people who voted for each party. So, if a party overall gets 10% of the vote, we believe that they should have 10% of the representatives.

When this doesn’t happen – which is nearly all of the time – the main question to ask is whether we make our decisions based on the numbers of representatives, or based on our vote share. For example, if we have 10% of the vote but only 2% of the representatives, do we say our mandate reflects our 10% or our 2%?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 21 Comments

The alternatives to coal for electricity generation

For 2014-15, 26.7% of UK electricity was generated from coal, 29.7% from gas, 22.2% from nuclear,19.3% from renewables and 2.1% from other sources. Coal is the most prolific carbon emitter, so the argument goes that we should replace it. The question is with what?

Liberal Democrats, and particularly Scottish ones, are grappling with the question over whether to oppose fracking outright. Leaving aside new forms of energy (and leaving aside carbon capture), the decision on how to replace coal for electricity generation seems quite simple: gas, or nuclear, or renewables; or a combination of the three.

Posted in News | Tagged | 12 Comments

Steel, nuclear and graphene – a new industrial strategy?

It seems a long time since Vince Cable was leading the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. During his tenure, one of his greatest achievements was the Industrial Strategy. In automotive, aerospace, nuclear and renewables, long term partnerships and structures had been set up to ensure that UK manufacturing stayed at the cutting edge of R&D and that we grew the skills and capacity to manufacture the next generation of products.

The visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to the UK has clarified the new government thinking. Taking three industrial issues in turn:

Steel: everyone knows that steel prices go up and down and competitive advantage changes with exchange rates and oversupply. At a time when the automotive industry in the UK is flourishing, the closure of steel mills demonstrates that government sees no link between a UK steel industry and UK automotive. We can, the argument goes, quite happily import steel at the cheapest price at the time and retain our long term success in automotive. The counter argument is that we will not retain our leadership in the industry if the next generation of cars uses steel technology developed in Germany or China – because other things being equal it would be better to assemble the car closer to the supply chain.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

It’s time to change the distinction between voting and non-voting members at Conference

A couple of years ago, when we moved house and constituency, I had the new experience of going to Conference with a second class label hanging around my neck. I did what I could to carefully adjust my pass so that my picture and name was facing out. But these passes have always had a mind of their own and I would walk from Hall to Fringe all too often as someone labelled as ‘Member’ rather than the important or well-connected ‘Voting’ people.

And now we have thousands of new members, some of whom will be looking forward to their first conference. Pretty well all of them will be unable to vote. Nor will a good chunk of the party’s activists who have stood locally in May.
This distinction between voting and non-voting members doesn’t separate the activists from the sleeping members. It seems primarily to protect privilege, to protect the well connected, those with the ear of the constituency officers. It is a privilege in a thoroughly conservative sense.

Posted in Conference and News | Tagged and | 20 Comments

Opinion: A challenge for LDV readers

The BBC has a Hung Parliament Coalition Builder, based on various projections of seats, and different possible outcomes depending on small voting shifts in the handful of marginal seats.

The challenge is to get a coalition without the Lib Dems. It is almost impossible!

There is an assumption this election –the Lib Dems are going to be at the negotiating table on May 8th.

But, given the likely outcome for our party, what if we start from the assumption that we will not be at the negotiating table, and we will go into opposition and oppose any and all Queen’s Speeches? What would our red line(s) be?

I have one red line – PR – and the argument is for good government and a fair democracy:

The Conservatives will get 33% of the vote and nearly half the MPs. Labour will be similar.

The Lib Dems will get about 9% of the vote and anything from 3 – 5% of the MPs depending on how effectively we can work in the next two weeks.

Posted in News | 160 Comments

Opinion: Getting ambitious on renewable energy

The debate on fracking and renewables is warming up. Ed Davey’s LDV article on renewables set the scene, Norman Baker contrasts renewables and fracking, and my article from August – Renewables not Fracking — remains relevant.

There are some Lib Dems who support fracking. In response to that, I set out here a vision for sustainable energy in the UK, a vision that, in the long term, does not include any fossil fuels.

Renewables currently supply about 15% of UK electricity supply. By 2020, Ed Davey’s aspiration is 30%. With a clear political vision, electricity from renewables can grow by 3 – 4% a year and there is no obvious plateau point.

This means 30% electricity from renewables in 2020, 60% electricity from renewables in 2030, 90% in 2040, 120% in 2050, and 150% in 2060.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 37 Comments

Opinion: Generating electricity – why we should push for renewables, not fracking

Green wind farmThis article is about how we generate electricity in the UK, and makes the case for electricity generation to be 100% carbon-neutral, and to be frack-free.

Climate change remains one of the greatest risks of our age. We know that the climate is changing: we can either accept the risks and take what comes, or we can mitigate the risk by using technology to end our dependency on fossil fuels. Liberal Democrats campaign for the latter.

In 2013, figures for the UK and the whole EU for electricity generation are as follows:

energy sources

On these figures, we have some catching up to do. Many would think that given the particular advantages of wind and tides our islands have, we would be doing more than catching up – we would be leading.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 80 Comments

Opinion: Good co-ops, bad co-ops and the funding of the Labour Party

imageWe Lib Dems do not need persuading of the merits of the Co-operative Movement. Founded in Rochdale in the 1840s, it continues to this day to provide an alternative model for business.

However, it cannot be said that there are many takers for this business approach. Apart from a good number of small co-operatives, there are two dominant players. The John Lewis Partnership, which is owned by its employees, and the Co-operative Group, owned by its members.

John Lewis is a success. It is often cited as an example for others. Not so the Co-operative Group which seems to go from one crisis to the next.

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 30 Comments

Opinion: Time to rethink Co-operation

When we moved to Rochdale in 1999, we could hardly fail to take pride that the town was not only the birthplace of Gracie Fields, but of the Co-operative Movement. Moving our banking to the Co-op seemed the right thing to do, and national events a few years ago reaffirmed our commitment to being part of a movement that did things differently.

It is only in the last few years – well before the latest scandal – that I have become disillusioned with the business that purports to have inherited the values and practices of …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 48 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrats must stay firm on deficit reduction

Osborne -  Some rights reserved by altogetherfoolGeorge Osborne will stand up in the House of Commons on Thursday to announce the government’s intentions for public spending for the 2015-16 financial year in circumstances he neither anticipated nor wished for.

As a result of weaker economic growth and a revision to the estimates of the capacity of the British economy, the structural deficit that the coalition had hoped to eliminate by the time of the next election will exist well beyond it, meaning further spending cuts and tax rises.

Liberal Democrats must spell …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 58 Comments

Opinion: Some thoughts on the NHS from a recent patient

I’ve just spent 3 weeks on a trauma ward in a northern hospital after a nasty accident, and coming from an industrial background, here are some thoughts on the NHS and a Lib Dem approach.

First and most importantly, hospitals are large, high tech and high skill businesses. They are continually investing in equipment, and the best hospitals will have motivated doctors, nurses and managers who take ownership of their jobs and are part of the process to continually improve the clinical excellence and effectiveness of the hospital. Hospitals share many of the challenges of excellence with manufacturing businesses.

What are the …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 4 Comments

Opinion: Making MORE in Britain with the Regional Growth Fund

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable at a factory 2 - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsThe Spring Conference will debate the motion on creating a strong manufacturing sector in a strong economy. In Vince Cable, the coalition government has a powerful voice for manufacturing. Significant progress is being made in building a more resilient, diverse and balanced economy. Lib Dems are also becoming confident in charting an interventionist industrial strategy that avoids the twin failures of laissez faire and state support for ailing companies – the two positions characterised by historic Conservative and Labour thinking.

The Conference motion says that government funds made available through the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) has led to the creation and/or safeguarding of over 550,000 jobs

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: Euroscepticism is bad for UK manufacturing

In February 2012, Vince Cable flew to the US to meet with the Chief Executive of General Motors to make the case for why they should continue to invest in the UK for the long term. The BBC reported that the meeting may have played an important role in the company’s decision 3 months later to commit to invest in Ellesmere Port rather than at another of their EU plants.

It is lucky, perhaps, that this investment decision did not come up one year later. Vince would have had a few less cards in his hand. Michael Heseltine put it …

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Making the Industrial Strategy Work, Part 1

As the economy slowly rebuilds, Vince Cable’s Industrial Strategy will play a key role in whether we will manufacture more in Britain. The challenge is to replace imports, export more and to be at the cutting edge of new technologies.

The case for government nurturing and supporting long term manufacturing growth in the UK is a compelling one. The challenge is to make this intervention work. This article is the first of four articles – brought together by the Lib Dem Campaign for Manufacturing – from around the country and from different industrial perspectives to inform this debate.

Government should have a different agenda from business. This needs to be said, because too often business’s agenda is self-serving. Shareholders want more profit and lower corporation tax, big business interests want favourable government legislation and employers want to lower the cost of employment. But nearly all these issues are valid for large numbers of businesses whether successful or struggling, whether exporting or not, whether investing or not.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 6 Comments

Opinion: The Lib Dems should be the party of manufacturing

There are some good economic reasons for the decline of British manufacturing. But decades of government policy are also to blame.

All manufacturers in rich countries face challenges and threats from cheaper labour costs overseas. We can compete successfully with a combination of high levels of productivity and investment, as well as getting the best out of our people.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

Liberal Unionism in 2012

There’s no escaping history in our party, and current debates of nationalism, unionism and secession should prompt Liberal Democrats to delve back into the Gladstonian past.

The Liberal Party split over the Union. Gladstone favoured Home Rule for Ireland, Liberal Unionists didn’t, and ultimately joined the Conservative Party. This cemented the Conservative Party as the party of the Union, and it is a position the Conservative Party still holds.

The purpose of this article is, however, to challenge the Conservative Party’s stranglehold over being British.

The existing Conservative argument goes that a Conservative Britain is a Britainthat stands proud and takes no nonsense …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 26 Comments

Opinion: Putting Liberal thinking into practice on taxation

Liberal thinking on tax is based on the principle both that the state has a duty to protect the poor and vulnerable, and that the state can help bring the best out of each individual.

The practical aim of Liberal Democrat tax policy therefore is to help to lift the less well off towards the average. This is not achieved only by handouts – which would be Labour’s priority – but by having a tax system that encourages work and aspiration for the lower paid.

Liberal Democrats are implementing our manifesto commitment of a £10,000 income tax threshold. This is …

Posted in Op-eds | 3 Comments
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  • User AvatarInnocent Bystander 9th Dec - 9:49am
    @frankie, Keep it coming. I think Churchill defined a fanatic as someone who won't change his mind and won't change the subject. I have no...
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    Peter Hirst: The Liberal Democrats and Greens would both benefit from PR and so would Plaid Cymru. The SNP would not at the moment but...
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    @frankie Your loyalty to the cause is exemplary. However, Brexit is a bit like Trump. No matter what you say or how badly it might...
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Tue 10th Dec 2019