Caron’s Sunday Selection: Must-read articles from the Sunday papers

Selection of British newspapersHere’s my pick of today’s Sunday papers. Please add your own favourite stories in the comments.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley asks if Nick Clegg can survive another meltdown at the polls and puts the answer squarely at Liberal Democrat MPs and whether they think they can survive next year. The article acknowledges that Nick comes across as “thoughtful, engaged and reasonable” but that nothing so far tried has lifted our position in the opinion polls. Rawnsley doesn’t really go into the fact that to ditch your leader, you have to have an alternative in mind who would be better. While he mentions incumbency, he’s maybe not appreciated the effect of Paddy Ashdown cracking the whip in making sure that our MPs are doing more than ever before in terms of getting out there and talking to people. He also doesn’t emphasise that the European elections are not and never have been our strong point in the electoral cycle. Clegg’s strategy was brave and full of risks but if he hadn’t tried it, I can’t see that we would have been in a better position.

In the Sunday People, of all places, Nigel Nelson says we have our finger on the electoral pulse round his way:

I live in what should be a Labour area where ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone reigned as our MP for years.
But it was won by Lib Dem Sarah Teather in 2003 and has been hers ever since as she dug in like a First World War tommy.
You’d think that at these local ­elections big stuff like health, ­education or benefit cuts would top the political agenda.
Not for Lib Dems in my patch.
They reckon street parking is the No1 issue and promise to make it easier and to freeze charges.
Trivial? Just a bit. A vote winner? You bet your life.
The Lib Dems know exactly how to jump-start the voters and drive them into the polling booths.

Also in the Observer, the reported feuding between Nick Clegg and Michael Gove over free schools continues. While I’m naturally predisposed to want to see resources evenly spread within local authority run schools, i.e. agreeing with Nick, I don’t think this name calling in the press actually helps. Kids wouldn’t be allowed to behave in such a way in the classroom and special advisers should grow up a bit and talk about the issues. If Clegg thinks that resources are being diverted to free schools, he needs to come up with  rational arguments about the practical effects of such a policy. Calling Gove’s approach “lunacy” might be accurate but is counter-productive.  Somebody needs to start talking about the kids, not like them.

The Independent has a hard-to-read story about mental health patients in East Anglia having to be sent as far away as Manchester for treatment. We know that Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health minister is constantly battling with the NHS authorities to ensure that mental health care is properly funded. He certainly doesn’t prevaricate on the issue. He knows it’s a problem and it looks like he’s been trying to bash heads together to get it sorted:

Mr Lamb acknowledged that mental health services in Norfolk are “not good enough” and has met hospital regulators and the trust. He reacted furiously to NHS England’s decision earlier this year to reduce mental health funding disproportionately, which he says flies in the face of government commitments to give equal priority to physical and mental health services. He says he has taken up his concerns with local trust commissioners and told by them they had since received a funding boost.

There’s an embarrassing story in the Independent which outlines that female diplomats are being paid less than their male counterparts. That, of course, is easily rectified, but I guess that stories like this are a consequence of actually asking the questions in the first place. It’s good that Liberal Democrats have been in favour of these equality and diversity reports and monitoring. The challenge is making sure that the problems identified are sorted.

The same issue is covered in the Sunday Times, with a report (£) of a patient having to sleep in the lounge. What was even worse was that another was kept at a Police station. Norman’s words to that paper were stronger:

“I want an obsessive focus on this crisis beds issue,” he said.
“The idea that we would tolerate someone with a stroke or a broken leg being shipped off 200 miles is unimaginable, so why do we tolerate it in mental health? I am determined that we hold the system to account.”

Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism project talks about the reaction to the decision by River Island to withdraw a product called a n”no nag gag” which men were supposed to use on any female who happened to ask them to do something more than once. For me, it’s extraordinary that that product ever found its way to the shop floor at all. Hundreds of people must have seen that within River Island. Why did they not think about how this would look?

God forbid we have the audacity to “make a fuss” about something unless there is universal consensus that it is a “serious” enough issue, particularly in the opinion of those largely unaffected by gender inequality. It’s a curious non-argument that is thrown at feminist campaigners time and again – how dare you speak out about this issue, when it doesn’t affect me and so I don’t think it’s a problem? How dare you complain about this inequality when I can point a finger to a different kind of inequality women faced decades ago, which, thanks to previous feminist campaigners, no longer impacts on women today? And how dare you protest about this, when something else is also going on – as if we are not all quite capable of caring about and taking action against several different issues all at the same time.

There’s food for thought in there for some readers of this site who seem to have a bit of a problem with women trying to do something to redress the imbalance of gender representation in the party.

What’s your pick of the papers?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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28 Comments

  • Quite agree with your penultimate paragraph Caron. I haven’t quite got over the grouchiness of the comments garnered by the recent pleasant, upbeat (and one would have thought uncontroversial) article from the Islington candidate who dared to mention solidarity amongst female Lib Dem activists!

    As for Rawnsley’s Lib Dem meltdown. I appreciate it’s only anecdotal evidence but for what it’s worth I was astounded how good the “feel” was on the doorstep in Southwark yesterday (admittedly out and about with my ridiculously popular Mum!).

  • Caron – Your question regarding Rawnsley’s Observer article, about needing someone who is better, if we are to ditch a leader, which seems to echo our contributor RC’s frequent question “Who else is there?”. I am sure many will echo the thought that our Parliamentary Party should have thought much more carefully about that question in 2005 / 6 when Charles Kennedy wa ditched. Whatever Charles’s real or perceived failings as a Parliamentary leader, it cannot be denied that he was able to motivate the voting public in a way that the subsequent two leaders have not (Nick Clegg’s outbreak of Cleggmania was a brief passing exception to that statement, and I believe owed more to the novel TV debate format than anything else).

    IMO, Rawnsley’s article does not show clearly enough that it was Clegg (ad others on the right of the Party) that we needed to “move away from protest to power” is the main problem, and id what has brought us to this low ebb. Almost no-one in the Party objected to the idea of coalition, or more broadly working with other parties, but we had to retain more of our existing thinking within a programme of government. To be quite frank, we didn’t have the voting power after 2010 to achieve such a position in formal coalition. Had the discussions fallen apart because we could not give the electorate sufficient of what they voted Lib DEm for, we should have withdrawn and told the electorate why.

    None of this is to say that Kennedy should make a new pitch for the leadership – that could be madness, but there are people who could do it, and I believe be much more successful. To do it, however, Parliamentarians must be more patient, like the rest of us have over the years. Rawnsley hints at this in his article.

  • Charles Rothwell 11th May '14 - 12:05pm

    Many thanks for the overview, Caron. Fantastic piece of work.

    Re. the lead article by Rawnsley and Tim13’s reply, looking backwards (aka ’20/20 hindsight’!), I really do not think there was the slightest alternative option to going into coalition with the Tories in 2010 as Brown did a spectacular job of slamming the New Labour vehicle into the wall (and getting such a disastrous election result) that there really was no alternative to this and retaining any shred of credibility as a serious national political party. Talking of credibility, however, I agree with Tim13, however, having made such clear, unequivocal and inflexible promises over tuition fees, they should have formed “a red line”, then Clegg should have been prepared to withdraw and new elections would have been held. This may well have resulted in a Tory government with a slight majority (although who knows?) but it would have retained the party’s credibility AND especially among those groups which the party precisely canNOT afford to lose; young, well educated, entrepreneurial, open-minded etc (and who have now turned in large numbers (although I doubt if really with much enthusiasm) to Labour – but for how long?)

    As regards the party leadership, after the drubbing which 22 May is likely to bring (although hopefully not on the scale some commentators foresee), surely there will be no alternative to having this debated in depth at the Autumn Conference?

  • Clegg is dragging the Lib Dems down whether you like it or not. There is no opportunity for him to be a ‘come back kid’…….. the Tories stitch him up time and again, week after week. The Lib Dem party as a whole has made a 100% mess in coalition starting the Student fees issue. This and many other issues should & could have been handled better… ‘its not what you do, its the way that you do it’. Own goal after own goal……. Laws, Huhne…… I thought & expected better of the Lib Dems. Historical stuff like Smith & Thorpe just adds to the present misery.
    The good news message (s) have been eclipsed ……….Pensions, stable Govt, economic recovery, increase in Apprenticeships, raising the tax refresh hold etc etc ………. at best over looked by the public as Lib Dem achievements……. at worst …the Tories claiming it was them!!!!!
    The Lib Dems in Government appear to be totally out of their depth, Tory lap dogs, just propping up a Tory Govt ……. that seems to be the publics (and medias) perception. The Lib Dems need to make their own luck, Clegg to his credit tried it against Farage…….. but seems to have damaged his image even more. Sorry Nick, for the sake of the Lib Dems (and the Country as it needs a good number a Lib Dem MPs to hold the balance of power next year), step down after the summer.
    I’d rather the Lib Dems went down fighting on a clear Liberal platform with a new Leader (with less baggage), then with Nick who is clear a laiability . I (a former member/activist ) and many others may even rejoin the fight.The question is who?

  • PS – I have long stated (since 2011) like Tim13 that Charles Kennedy could be the best option……even as a caretaker Leader…..he voted against the Tuition fees (I think???), is still well liked and known by the Public, has the experience……. Is he up to the job ??????

  • Greenfield you are 100% right !

  • paul barker 11th May '14 - 1:57pm

    I agree with the last paragraph too. Can I reccomend Dan Hodges last 4 peices in the Telegraph, ideally read in order as he gets crosser about his Party having nothing to say.

  • Paul Barker @

    You obviously don’t know that Hodges left the Labour party member in August last year and no longer supports Labour.
    He has said he is going to vote Lib Dem this May. What more can one expect from an arch-Blairite ?

  • Dan Hodges last 4 peices in the Telegraph, ideally read in order as he gets crosser about his Party

    Dan Hodges is not aligned with Labour – he stropped off months ago & in fact has pledged to vote LD this month – mind, as far as pledges go, we all know the value they have, or not.

  • Rawnsley doesn’t seem to be looking more than one step ahead. Not only does there have to be replacement, but one whose seat is safe. Furthermore, if the replacement is a contrast to Clegg, or even if he or she is not, what happens if the 2015 election goes badly? Another resignation? Even the possibility of a Lib Dem Leader losing his/her seat? The ‘Clegg must go’ faction would then look rather dumb and the necessary debate to re-establish and re-focus the direction of the Party would be damagingly compromised.

    Reasons for continuing the coalition are greater than those for pulling it down. Lib Dems need to show that a coalition can work. It is more in the interest of opponents to show that coalitions do not work. The other issue is how the electorate respond to coalitions: even though coalition can be shown to work and to be able to manage successfully under difficult economic circumstances, it may still be that coalition is disliked more than it is liked.

  • Chris Manners 11th May '14 - 2:40pm

    ” We know that Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health minister is constantly battling with the NHS authorities to ensure that mental health care is properly funded.”

    So perhaps he ought not to have voted for the system that leaves the minister powerless? Or at least not set himself up as a personal mental health champion when he can’t do anything about it?

  • Bill le Breton 11th May '14 - 3:11pm

    Reading Rawnsley is always a laugh and today particularly so.

    He is a bear of little brain who established his early reputation on the back of someone else’s brilliance . He takes positions with little real thought and is not then interested in further thought or inquiry on the issue. It is amazing that a so-called political journalist with so much experience continued for nearly four years , as this piece makes clear, to believe it possible for a political leader who has lost the trust of the electorate to eventually find some kind of ‘key’ that restores that trust. The piece also illustrates that over that time he also failed to appreciate the impact that the Leader’s reputation for not sticking to his word would have on all those who spoke or campaigned for the Party.

    Of course they identify closely with Clegg. He is ‘one of them’. That is why such types find it so perplexing that Clegg’s ability is not recognized. Even in this piece Rawnsley still feels the need to list Clegg’s ‘worthy attempts’ at fixing the problem and is only now just about coming to the realization that the game might be up.

    But then Rawnsley is not alone in this failure to understand the primacy of trust in political life. Matthew Paris writes very interestingly in the Saturday Times about the institutionalisation of the political lie. But there is a huge difference between obfuscation in an interview and going back on one’s word or going back on the impression that you have created.

    I wrote something for an MP in the 1992 campaign. He wasn’t quite happy with a fact and spent a considerable amount of time checking it out and thinking about it. He made it very clear that just one slip, in one leaflet could destroy the trust that he had built up over 20 years (at that time) of campaigning at local and national levels. He wasn’t going to pass that responsibility to another person. If it went out in his name, it was his reputation for probity that was on the line. That made a huge impact on me. It was a great lesson for any campaigner.

    But in 2010, Clegg hadn’t had the experience of that MP nor did he realize its importance. He had not worked a ward of 12,000 electors for a number of years before winning. Had not retained that ward and helped others get elected to it and to the neighbouring wards. Had not fought a national by-election and four further elections. Nor had anyone that he chose to advise and surround him.

    It is not too late to improve the Party’s position before May 2015. It will be difficult. But there are a lot of people out there who want to believe in the Liberal Democrats and in their ability to succeed. We just have to remove the person who was seen to have ruined out reputation for probity.

  • Chris Manners 11th May '14 - 3:32pm

    Be fair, Rawnsley was good on a Week In Politics 20 years ago.

    Actually, you might be right. He was probably living on the back of Vincent Hanna then.

  • Bill le Breton 11th May '14 - 3:41pm

    Chris, perceptive, but it was a woman.

  • Chris Manners 11th May '14 - 3:48pm

    Liked your story about 1992, btw.

    Better times in that respect. Just wish Labour had checked Jennifer’s Ear. I suppose we got overrun by what Tony Greaves calls those “very clever people” before you did. Though you’ve sadly caught us up on that score.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th May '14 - 3:55pm

    I found this article by Norman Lamb in the Observer to be very moving and a spur for action:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/11/alzheimers-society-dementia-loneliness-elderly-help-understanding

    Secondly, when it comes to the paragraph about men getting grouchy over women improving the gender balance. It is not that I get grouchy about, it is putting gender above all other inequalities and telling poor disabled men they’ve got to step aside for rich women. There is no way that a good looking middle or upper class woman is more oppressed than say a disabled working class man, which even though the article didn’t touch on this, the fear of radical feminism that seems to want to stamp over other inequalities is what drives the grouchy responses. We are not aliens, there seems a genuine element of unfairness on both sides. There is a lot of negative prejudice about men and we want to tackle prejudice against us too.

    Regards

  • Eddie Sammon 11th May '14 - 4:09pm

    “Stamp over” is too strong of a term, but people are worried about how ideas such as All Women Shortlists, which seem very unfair to class and other oppressions, have become nearly mainstream ideas. There is genuine anxiety over current attitudes to men and I would love to hear more about women who feel similar anxieties. The problem is I feel things such as “Everyday Sexism” builds anti-male prejudice. It needs to be more male friendly. I can’t choose what I feel anxious about. If I had a twitter account that criticised women all day I am sure people would feel anxious about that too, even if it is focusing on sexism. Some of the things it criticises seems quite petty and it builds paranoia that we can’t say or do anything without being sexist. I have been called sexist for trying to calm an angry girl down because apparently saying “calm down” is sexist. I’ve also been called sexist for saying “girls, girls”. It can become hard to even speak to some young radical feminists, even though I am friends with some!

  • Ruth Bright 11th May '14 - 4:39pm

    Eddie – as the ninth child of a bricklayer I do not think gender discrimination is the only form of discrimination.
    No-one, though, has ever shouted abuse at me in the street for being the daughter of a manual worker. I have however been abused publicly for being female.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th May '14 - 5:13pm

    Hi Ruth, I agree and I know street harassment is an issue. There definitely seems to be a big desire to change things so I am sure things will improve.

  • I don’t see how calling any woman over the age of 17 a “girl” could be anything but patronising and condescending — unless it was deliberately insulting.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th May '14 - 5:24pm

    David-1, of course I wasn’t meant to be deliberately insulting, I call my male friends “boys” regularly. Agree with it or not, but it’s a sad sight of tackling oppression if men and women want to have an argument about whether saying “girl” to an adult is oppressive. It makes a laughing stock of people really suffering. Of all things I said you chose to pick up on that.

  • daft ha'p'orth 11th May '14 - 5:49pm

    @Eddie Sammon
    The ‘Calm down, dear’ episode got enough publicity in the press for us all to be aware that ‘calm down’ might not come across as intended — it can (but doesn’t always) imply that the individual’s reaction is not proportionate or appropriate and that they should not be feeling what they are feeling. The expression ‘calm down’ has a place, but it helps to be quite sure that the individual understands that you view their reaction as quite understandable and proportionate before you use this phrase, so that you avoid that negative implication.

    If people have clearly expressed a preference that a certain expression is not used to them, then whatever one might personally think about that, it is generally best to avoid using it. ‘Girls’ comes into that category. As a general rule if the person to whom you are speaking is not under eighteen then they are in fact neither a girl nor a boy, so this expression comes under the general heading of a pet name/diminutive. If you know an individual well enough to know that he/she accepts the use of a given expression then all well and good. If not and they become offended, that was a mistake, oops, apologise sincerely, don’t do it again and you can stay friends.

    I do think it’s sad to argue about whether saying anything to an adult is oppressive. If it annoys that person then it annoys them, now you know, now you can both move on. Call it their mental quirk if you don’t agree with their interpretation; just don’t say it to them again!

  • Daft haporth Thanks for your perceptive comment. Some people “accept” in your words the use of certain words or phrases, others don’t. As a speaker, you have to recognise the types of words / phrases that might upset people, and until you know the person or people well enough to know where they stand, be careful. Beyond that, it often depends on context whether a word or phrase is patronising or not, whether it is being used as a collective or at an individual (it can often be more patronising applied to an individual).

    An example I was involved in recently, at Town Council. In a small working group we were looking through the Town Clerk’s (who is male and middle aged) regular staffing report. Most of the other staff are female, and he is apt to refer to them as “the girls”, which verbally people do not immediately have a problem with (what will be going on in someone’s mind, of course, may be different!) However, on this occasion, in a report, and referring to the professional / administrative work being done by the staff, he referred to “the girls”. This seemed dreadfully patronising, and a put-down, and I said so, so it was changed. So when you are doing work, you want that work taken seriously, whoever you are, and phrases that demean you as an individual, whether an overt or barely concealed reference to gender, race, position in the organisation or any other discriminatory reference should absolutely not be used.

    Banter is fine when friendly, but it very easily gets subsumed in targeted hostility – this is, of course, totally unacceptable also. In terms of the words “girls” and “boys”, my experience up to now is that if you use them in a group sense about predominantly social situations, most people are entirely happy with them. There probably are exceptions, but people generally see it as a friendly way of including everyone in the group. Maturer people often like the comparison with the younger group members! (no ageism here!)

  • Paul in Twickenham 11th May '14 - 8:00pm

    Re the Rawnsley headline: I invoke Betteridge’s Law.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th May '14 - 8:05pm

    Hi Helen, I largely agree. I hope to expand more on this at some point in the future.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th May '14 - 8:28pm

    Hi daft ha’p’orth, I agree with you also, we’ll try to have a longer discussion about this at a more appropriate time and place. 🙂

  • Rather disingenuous of Mr Nelson, street parking is an issue that Brent Council can do something about, benefit policy by and large isn’t.

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