Sir John Major certainly knows about parliamentary mayhem

If I was doing one of these word association games, the first word that comes into my mind when I think of Sir John Major is “b******ds”. This Guardian report from 1993 reminds us of the frustration he felt as a Prime Minister who was frequently embroiled in parliamentary mayhem, not knowing whether he was going to be able to win crucial Commons votes. Except it wasn’t nationalists, pesky or otherwise, who caused him the problems. It was his own party.

Mr Major: “Just think it through from my perspective. You are the prime minister, with a majority of 18, a party that is still harking back to a golden age that never was, and is now invented (clearly a reference to the time of Mrs Thatcher’s leadership). You have three rightwing members of the Cabinet who actually resign. What happens in the parliamentary party?”

Mr Brunson observes that Tory MPs would create a lot of fuss, but that Mr Major is prime minister. He could easily find three new cabinet members.

Mr Major then bares his soul. “I could bring in other people. But where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble.

“We don’t want another three more of the bastards out there. What’s Lyndon Johnson’s maxim?…”

Major’s words might be aimed at scaring Middle England into voting Tory while annoying Scottish voters into voting SNP to give the Conservatives more chance of winning that increasing elusive parliamentary majority, but what it actually does is remind us how dangerous the right wing of the Conservative Party, especially if combined with UKIP and the likes of the DUP, could be. A tiny Tory majority would give the likes of Nadine Dorries and Peter Bone the run of the place, a point well made by Nick Clegg last week with the launch of the Blukip site. Frankly, the Blu on its own is bad enough. The Kip would only be the sour on top of the bitter.

I am way more worried about any sort of right wing majority than I am about any parliamentary shenanigans the SNP could instigate. Last week, Michael Fallon made a disgraceful personal attack on Ed Miliband suggesting he’d betray the country by making a deal with the SNP over Trident. That isn’t even credible. This is how the Trident vote would go. The SNP would amend a bill, any bill, with a proposal to end our nuclear deterrent. Most of the Conservative Party, most of the Labour Party and most of the Liberal Democrats (regrettably) would oppose it. The amendment falls, he SNP can say it did what it said it would do and blame Westminster for being evil and then we move on to the next thing.

While we’re at it, let’s have a look at the economic armageddon that some people are predicting should the SNP get its hands on the tillers of the Good Ship Britannia. If you look at their manifesto, it’s hardly Militant Tendency. It’s not even Slightly Fierce Tendency. It’s a few more years of increasing debt with some moderately higher taxes for the rich. If that qualifies as hard left in this day and age, we really are in trouble. I mean, they are so progressive, they plan to retain Winter Fuel Allowance even for the richest pensioners. It annoys me that we qualify for this payment even though my husband is still working and we really don’t need it.

There are however, three very good reasons why the SNP don’t deserve any sort of decisive influence on the Westminster Government and these are why it’s really important to return Liberal Democrats:

Their own record in government

Every Scottish Liberal Democrat politician put in front of a camera will tell you that the SNP have taken their eye off the ball to pursue independence. They are absolutely right. The health service is not what it was with waiting times, including for Cancer, increasing and very poor mental health provision which has not had the benefit of Norman Lamb’s wise and evidence based approach. In fact, respective manifesto commitments shows that the SNP would spend less than a third of the Liberal Democrat total on mental health, £100 million to £350 million. The SNP’s cynical NHSNP branding in their manifesto is deeply annoying given their performance.

They’ve also cut social housing with 11,000 fewer social houses than they inherited. They have slashed college places, denying 130,000 Scottish youngsters the opportunity to further their education. It’s not good – and all documented here over at #SNPFail.

It’s more the SNP’s failure to embrace the opportunities government offers them to transform people’s lives that really annoys me. Being in government is a massive privilege and a huge responsibility. You can’t just spend your entire time in office complaining that you don’t have the power to do things because…evil Westminster. Compare and contrast that “can’t” mentality with the “can do” approach of the previous Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition which introduced free personal care, kept university education free (down to the Liberal Democrats, that one) and swept away Labour’s fiefdoms by introducing the Single Transferable Vote for local government. When that coalition wanted to do things and realised that they were constrained by the terms of the Scotland Act, they talked to the UK Government and got it sorted.

I simply don’t think that the SNP have been bold enough in government, even when they have an inbuilt majority, to tackle the real problems Scotland faces. They haven’t made good use of the powers they already have.

Civil liberties

The SNP say they wouldn’t support a Snoopers’ Charter, but:

instead, we need a proportionate response to extremism. That is why we will support targeted, and properly overseen, measures to identify suspected extremists and, if necessary, examine their online activity and communications.

What does that actually mean and what safeguards would they offer? Compare and contrast with the Liberal Democrats’ Digital Bill of Rights.

The SNP has stopped and searched more children in Scotland than in London or Manchester. They have allowed a centralised police force to put armed police on the streets of the Highlands against the wishes of the community. It’s only the intervention of the Liberal Democrats that have seen these disgraceful practices highlighted and stopped.

The SNP sees no problem with a massive ID database that is more powerful than that Labour was developing.

You cannot trust these people on civil liberties and you need Liberal Democrats in there to protect our freedoms.

It’s all about independence

Everything that the SNP does is guided by one question – what will bring us closer to independence. Surely it’s better to govern in the interests of the whole country. That’s what the Liberal Democrats have done these last few years. When there was no money left, we put our values into practice by directing it to things like giving extra money to disadvantaged kids in school, to improving mental health services, to cutting taxes for those on low and middle incomes to help them through a very tough economic situation. You just need to look at the nonsense that’s in the Tory manifesto to see what would be on the statute book by now. No Human Rights Act, our EU position risked, our young people deprived of benefits and the public sector pared back in cuts that make what we’ve seen in the last few years look like a walk in the park.


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

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  • matt (Bristol) 21st Apr '15 - 2:31pm

    The wave of Tory hate directed at the SNP is – as Nicola Sturgeon rightly says – an attack on the democratic legitimacy of elected politicians.

    However, there desperately needs be a moderate, rational, but clear and targetted critique of the SNP, their claims and their effect on British politics that is neither scaremongering, nor ecstatic, monopic ratpure. Nicola Sturgeon is not the mesiah, she is a very naughty girl who is going to deliberately try to stick a spoke in the wheel of the political process for her own advantage, but still, that puts her in a very long tradition of parliamentary mischief makers including several Conservatives and many past PMs (off the tope of my head, Randolph Churchill and Arthur Balfour spring to mind).

    I still hope against hope that if Labour have the most seats, it is possible for a Lab-Lib pact to be formed. But if Labour backed by the SNP is indeed the only viable outcome, I hope whoever leads the party, our opposition to said government is not in the same language as used by the Tories. We need to keep Cameron and his successors’ at arms’ length, and repudiate the idea that could take root that 2010 was a defining moment in British politics that forever bound us to the Right. We stand in the centre of British politics, but to do so effectively we also need to stand outside the establishment.

  • Julian Gibb 21st Apr '15 - 5:02pm

    Westminster requires no assistance from the SNP to flounder and fail. The system is far from democratic in the Commons with FPTP. The Lords being totally unelected should offend every thinking person.
    Will PC be treated in the same way as the SNP? Will we reject UKIP because we don’t like their views.
    No Party after 2015 will represent the whole UK. The LibDems will have a few fortress seats. This secures MPs but harly reflects national support. (with a rather large gap until you hit the Orkneys/Shetland castle..

    The hate being directed at the SNP is coming from ALL the Westminster Parties. Christine Jardine in Gordon uses language that makes Ian Davidson of Labour seem moderate. (don’t stop her yet it’s helping a lot)

    The SNP is a political party standing in democratic elections. They have high quality candidates and will work for the UK until such time as they can convince a majority of Scots to vote for Independence.

    Self determination is the choice of the people not political parties or bloggers. Why do I have to remind LibDems of that fact?

  • Julian Gibb
    The Unionism evident in this election is, as I think you have acknowledged elsewhere, is not one shared by many Liberal Democrats.

    Some people in Orkney and Shetland do not regard themselves as being in Scotland. We may be in a position in a couple of weeks when there are no Liberal Democrat Party MPs from Scotland in the Westminster Parliament .
    At that point the logical ally for England’s Liberal Democrat MPs will be the SNP.
    We work with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland where there is no Liberal Democrat presence, I am sure a similar arrangement could be agreed with Scotland’s Party.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Apr '15 - 6:40pm

    Loved the Bluekip video on Facebook popping up about John Major knowing all about the dangers of a Conservative Party beholden to its right wing.

    Troll the Tories. 😀

  • @John Tilley. You believe a socialist/authoritarian/nationalist party are our “natural allies”???

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Apr '15 - 6:58pm

    Great stuff from Paddy here. Made me laugh “Mr Farage’s fifth column in the Conservative Party”.

  • John Minard 21st Apr '15 - 7:17pm

    It’s a shame though that we aren’t able to talk up the benefits of coalition vis-a-vis the the SNP’s declared aim, and the Tories declared scare, of them exerting maximum influence from the opposition benches in a possible C&S arrangement for roughly the same number of MPs, predicted. Do we wish we had taken a different approach? Why the silence on that comparison?

  • @Colin. No one, least of all me, claims the Conservatives are our natural allies. Yet @John claims the SNP are “our” (his; definitely not mine) natural allies.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Apr '15 - 8:41pm

    Colin, I’ll give you secret courts and legal aid – although we’ve managed to get a government review of the effects of the latter and are committed to finding a way not to have the former.

    But the other things barely scratch the surface of Theresa May’s counter-terrorism to-do list which you can see outlined in full in the Tory manifesto. She wants to ban non violent extremism. Who defines that? That could be any CND campaigner or Occupy protestor.

  • Malcolm Todd 21st Apr '15 - 9:07pm

    John Tilley doesn’t say the SNP are Lib Dems’ “natural” allies, he says they may become “the logical ally”, which is a very different thing. (I’m not sure I agree with his logic, but the distinction is still important.)

  • @Malcolm ok I agree with your logic but not @John’s!

  • “She wants to ban non violent extremism. Who defines that? That could be any CND campaigner or Occupy protestor.”

    It’s supposed to be groups that forment hate and who could argue about that. Except there is already hate crime legislation. Whoever decides, it won’t be the European Court of Human Rights as they also plan to abolish the Human Rights Act. I presume that in the event of Con-Dem II we won’t be supporting that in exchange for a rerun of the STV referendum. Plus point, there will not be a majority for either idea.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd Apr '15 - 12:24am

    No, Jedi, actually, it’s not. If someone says something hateful against a particular group of people on grounds of race or sexuality or gender, then they should be punished for it.

  • Alex Sabine 22nd Apr '15 - 2:16am

    I would set the bar higher, at incitement to violence. We should be wary of eroding free speech through a kind of statutory salami-slicing; indeed we may have already gone too far in this direction. People say hateful things on social media all the time but I don’t think we should be in the business of prosecuting them unless they cross the line into direct threats or intimidation.

    I’m also sceptical of the idea that there should be a distinction between certain grounds on which the authorities deem it permissible to say hateful things and other grounds on which it is illegal to do so. To take a topical cause celebre, I find Katie Hopkins pretty objectionable and her comments on refugees odious; they certainly qualify as hateful in my book. The fact that they weren’t necessarily hateful based on the innate characteristics of race, sexuality or gender doesn’t make them any less objectionable.

    If it is the grounds on which the hateful remarks are made that is the litmus test, then what about remarks that are more extreme in their hate towards someone but on ‘approved’ grounds (say their profession or religion or what football team they support) rather than milder but still hateful remarks on proscribed grounds? I agree that hating someone based on factors they can’t control is more irrational than hating someone based on choices they make, but as far as the person on the receiving end is concerned it may be the vehemence of the comments that is more disturbing rather than the grounds on which they are made. Not always, but in some cases it will be. This is why the law is a blunt instrument to police offensive comments.

    Nor do I think saying something hateful to “a particular group of people” is worse than saying something hateful to an individual. Group rights do not, or should not, trump individual rights or equality before the law.

  • @ Matt (Bristol)
    Calling Nicola Sturgeon ‘a very naughty girl’ is an extremely sexist comment. Do you call Salmond a very naughty boy?

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Apr '15 - 8:55am

    parliamentary mischief makers: Rees-Mogg? Taking immense pleasure in filibustering a private members bill.

    Our local council has a 3 minute limit on speeches from the floor, LD conference similarly routinely limits speaking time. It’s perfectly feasible to put over a reasonably complex argument in a few minutes with a planned speech, so why does Parliament allow that kind of behaviour? Government by those with the biggest bladders?

  • Caron

    “If someone says something hateful against a particular group of people on grounds of race or sexuality or gender, then they should be punished for it.”


  • Anne

    Did you miss the reference? The origiOnal quote is ” very naughty boy”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd Apr '15 - 9:40am

    Psi – you actually have to ask? There should be no tolerance of hate speech and incitement to others to hate a particular group of people. It needs to be challenged at every occasion and there will be some circumstances where those issuing threats or inciting others to make life difficult for a particular group of people need to face justice.

  • @Anne “[Would] you call Salmond a very naughty boy?”

    Yes I would!

  • matt (Bristol) 22nd Apr '15 - 9:48am

    Anne, I would call definitely Alec Salmond that if he was still leading the party, and I would call him that if he is elected and becomes leader of the Westminster SNP group. In fact, one reason I call Sturgeon that (apart from the facetious Monty Python, life of Brian reference – is to point out that there is no significant change from Salmond’s mischief-making tactics with Sturgoen’s supposedly more ‘statemanlike approach.

    But I want to say agin clearly, that if the SNP can get elected under this system, they have a right to be there, and to violently denigrate Labour for even the vaguest hint of going into coalition or confidence-and-supply with them if that would create a viable government – as if Ed Miliband was considering sacrificing his mother to get power – is a bit silly and completely ignorante of political history and the sort of deals that have been done in the past.

    To suggest that might not be the best idea as the SNP are likely to prove a slippery partner, and that Labour should consider other ideas if another viable partner presents itself, however, is entirely reasonable.

    And another thing — if the SNP can get 70% to 80% of the seats in Scotland, say, on 40%ishof the vote (I’m guessing here, not predicting), once again that proves the deficiency of the one-member, no-top-up, no-proportionality-in-any-way, total-FPTP system that we have.

    My hope is, if the SNP don’t get undue influence and drag their feet as they try to retain and reinforce their primacy in Scotland, a minority Labour government wounded by SNP success might start to move again on electoral reform (maybe a form of parallel voting retaining an element of FPTP might be reasonable U-turn to get out of the AV cul-de-sac Labour and the Tories both took us down from 1997 to 2010?) finally, as they belatedly realise what it’s like to be on the receiving end of this unfair system.

  • matt (Bristol) 22nd Apr '15 - 10:01am

    Anne, I still think Sturgeon is mischief-making and I don’t think ‘naught’y is an unreasonable word to use for that — but she is not in my view as much of a hypocrite a John Major is, with his faux-appeal to a centre-ground reasonable consensus that his successor in leadership is going to ignore and destroy. She has integrity, and she is honest about what she wants. I just don’t want her to have too much influence, as I know she doesn’t want what I want.

    My frustration was not expressed at Sturgeon but at a strain of left-liberal thinking in England which is going around saying ‘oh, I wish we could vote SNP here’ as if they were a more together version of the Greens. The SNP are not the Scottish-based electoral wing of the Guardian newspaper.

  • @matt(Bristol) “My frustration was not expressed at Sturgeon but at a strain of left-liberal thinking in England which is going around saying ‘oh, I wish we could vote SNP here’ as if they were a more together version of the Greens. The SNP are not the Scottish-based electoral wing of the Guardian newspaper.”

    That has to be post of the day!

  • matt (Bristol) 22nd Apr '15 - 10:32am

    YES, Jenny Barnes, YES. I detest Jacob Rees-Smug.

  • Caron

    “you actually have to ask?”

    Yes not enough people have done, if we intend to use the threat of force (which is what the power of the state is) to restrict free speech we better have a very good reason to do so.

    You say:

    “There should be no tolerance of hate speech and incitement to others to hate a particular group of people. It needs to be challenged at every occasion”

    Which I would agree with buit that is not all you are advocating sate action to sensure:

    “they should be punished for it”

    This legislation comes from the last Labour government playing cat and mouse with the likes of Anjem Choudary. Yet all it has achieved is people who have certain views they can’t discuss things they are concerned about.

    There was basically a silencing of people who were concerned about immigration. How did that work out? Is everyone in the country in love with the idea of immigration?

    I want ideas to be challenged, but you don’t get that by constructing laws that silence them. If you want to win the argument you need all the views out, in full, not the edited versions. Only when people are able to express all views can you really tackle them. The alternative is the childish strawman approach so specialised in by Tony Blair and several commenters on here, combined with a whisper of views below the radar which are never clear enough to be directly engaged with.

    Silencing unpleasant views doesn’t make them go away though it makes a few people feel like “something has been done.”

  • For clarity when I say:

    “several commenters on here”

    I am thinking of LDV in total not this thread in particular.

  • Caron,

    To add, the legislative response to hate speech is the lazy response, and like the lazy approach to getting fit it will fail. You can’t train for a marathon by taking a few supplements and going to a couple of 1 hour exercise classes a week. You need to put in the long hard slog of miles and miles of training enduring the unpleasantness of the wind, rain and snow.

    Living in a free country is the same if you assume you can legislate problems away, you won’t ever be free. You have to take on the ideas you don’t like and take responsibility for changing opinions. If all you do is demand the state take action you may feel more comfortable, hearing fewer ideas you don’t like for a while but when they resurge you will be unprepared; and dealing with them will be much harder.

  • jedibeeftrix 22nd Apr '15 - 12:21pm


    To add to the points of Psi and Alex above it should be pointed out we have already had triumphalist articles here on ldv celebrating how the lib-dems talked down Tory proposals to restrict free speech, noting: that it was appropriate to keep restrictions limited to preventing incitement to violence, as going further to incitement to ‘x’ hatred would have a chilling effect on open debate.

    Rightly so.

    Because it is a subjective nonsense.

  • jedibeeftrix 22nd Apr '15 - 2:31pm

    The articles on ldv to which I refer discussed Tory proposals on combatting extremism in universities.

  • Calling men, boys, women and girls ‘naughty’ perhaps fits in with the prevailing scandals, it was always used as an excuse to smack. There is one glaring example of this by one MP smacking a young boy, and that was just the start of the abuse. . There are many other desciptive words to use, this one is just trying to demean people. There are many other words to use.

  • Anne

    It is a Life of Brian Quote, most people get these obvious pop culture references and don’t see attemps at sexism or attempts to comment on corporal punishment.

    It is a common reference when people want to make a “they are not the Mesia” type commnet when there is too much hype about someone.

    I think you are reading too much in to it.

  • matt (Bristol) 22nd Apr '15 - 3:52pm

    Anne, that is a different point to the one you made when you called me sexist. Now you are saying that my paraphrasing a well-known comedy film is justifying child abuse. I see why people might find ‘naughty’ demeaning, but it is a word in fairly common usage, and it was a quote. Have you followed my link above? Do you recognise it was a quote?

    I do try to consider my language when posting or discussing politics, and I have called out and reported others for demeaning behvaviour and language on this sight. I am aware that Nicola Sturgeon comes in for a variety of crticism, much of it unfair, and some abuse. I do not think I was engaging in the latter, and I don’t think most people would think I was either.

    I think you would like me to hate Nicola Sturgeon because she is a woman, and I think you would like me to approve of Cyril Smith, the allegations about the past behaviour of whom you seem to be obliquely and somewhat gratuitously referring to (either that or you would like others to think I hold these positions). This feels like me to be yet another rather depressing attempt to throw mud at the party I am a member of.

    I’m sorry to disappoint you but I don’t hold either of these positions.

    Feel free to stay and engage in the debate and I won’t hold it against you and in fact you may find me defending you if you wind up other, but please engage with the debate, don’t just slander.

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