Tag Archives: a fresh start for britain

Leadership v. Activists – a personal reflection on Bournemouth ’09 #ldconf

I’m not, by any means, a party conference veteran – Bournemouth ’09 was in fact only my fourth. But it has been distinctive for one thing in particular: it’s been the first year when the media coverage of conference has genuinely reflected what folk (at least those I’ve met) have been talking about at conference.

In previous years, we have been continually told that Lib Dem delegates were chattering about the fate of our leaders – when actually we were quite contentedly chewing the fat of meaty policy issues. This year, there has, as ever at a Lib Dem conference, been plenty of meaty policy debate, but there’s also been more than a little discussion, and not a little grumbling, about the style of the party leadership, both Nick and Vince. And it seems to me – as I blogged here yesterday – that these grumblings are fair.

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Opinion: It’s about everything but freedom

Bournemouth 2009’s big dust-up hurtles towards us on Tuesday morning – the debate on A Fresh Start For Britain: Choosing a Different, Better Future. And, as is ever the case when a paper taking the whole of our policy and priorities in the round comes up for debate, rather than taking in the big picture, everyone’s focused on just one relatively tiny issue that barely appears in it: last year, tax cuts; this year, tuition fees.

Just to confuse matters, when people address A Fresh Start For Britain, there are actually three separate publications they might mean – the motion printed in the Conference Agenda, the pdf / website which was launched in July with the key commitments, and the, er, other bits stuffed in at the back of the policy paper which no-one outside of the Conference hall will ever see. The most important bit is the version published on the website, because that’s the bit that’s the actual cast-iron policy for the General Election Manifesto: everything from page 10 onwards in the full paper comes with the caveat that it may be dumped in the run-up to the General Election (and so, implicitly, why bother?). This positions the Liberal Democrats as making the tough choices up front about public spending that the other parties are petrified of admitting out loud. The reason why people are furious about tuition fees is, of course, because that’s in the back end, and it’s the bit of the back end that Nick’s been drawing attention to in interviews, to prove we’re serious about tackling the economic black hole by saying we can’t afford something we really like as well as cutting back Labour projects we never liked in the first place. But there’s a lot of other stuff there that you should argue about cutting or not, too.

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Opinion: The high social price of A Fresh Start‘s ‘prudent’ decisions

The party’s pre-election manifesto – A Fresh Start for Britain – is based around strong themes and ones that have the potential to give Liberal Democrats the distinctive profile we need in 2010. The outline democracy, green economy and fair taxation agenda is something that will be welcomed across the party.

However the impression is being given that many of the spending commitments debated, and scrutinized within the party over a period of years are being indefinitely effectively set aside as ‘aspirational’. The language that has been reported in the media about key commitments, like widening access to university by abolishing tuition fees and expanding social housing, is also derogatory. If we appear to be dismissive of our own policies, how much easier will it be for our opponents to attack them as irresponsible?

There are two points at issue here for the party. If we present the pre-manifesto as a minimalist platform we will be misrepresenting what are actually a redistributive and radical set of proposals. The size of the green tax switch is greater than ever before.

Equally, the green economy investments contained in the document are also more ambitious than we have previously indicating. So why should we use ‘sound bites’ about the document that downplay policies that would help give us a real cutting edge at the election. At best we risk giving out mixed messages in key constituencies.

The wider question is whether relegating policies on fees and housing in the name of ‘austerity’ will actually help economic and social recovery in the medium term. So whilst we highlight the need to overcome inherited disadvantage through the pupil premium, are we going to put on ice our commitment to shut out people from working class communities from university by keeping tuition fees in place.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 19 Comments

Opinion: A Fresh Start is the most vacuous suicide note in history

A Fresh Start for Britain is the most vacuous suicide note in history with its testosterone laden rallying cries of:

cuts will be necessary to deliver any priorities”
“any new spending will be paid for by a specific cut made elsewhere”
“This means we will not increase public spending overall”

and

We will only include policies in our programme for government once we are certain the necessary resources are available.”

Our leadership is drunk on a cocktail of self flagellation (the hair shirted economics of the balanced budget) and political marketing. Both intoxicating ingredients are as much a product of the Westminster micro-climate as the abuse of allowances.

It was this macho economics which had the leadership advocating tax cuts at Bournemouth while those in the world outside Westminster were experiencing the first blasts of an economic blizzard. The leadership appears to have climbed back onto the Keynesian bandwagon but with little conviction or credibility which is why A Fresh Start schizophrenically advocates (frequently in the same paragraph) large scale public works, cuts in public borrowing, safeguarding employment and being uncertain about ‘what Britain can afford’.

The slump continues. Borrowing is not a problem. Borrowing and other means of creating money by governments is still necessary at this time to counter the destruction of money that occurs when other sectors save more than they borrow and when the velocity of money falls. Demand remains the problem. Expansionary monetary and fiscal policy remain the answer.

But we are assured it is alright because these ‘hard choices made by Liberal Democrats will be firmly guided by our values’ – using market speak these are defined, confined and trivialised as: Fairer, Greener, Safer, Stronger .

But are your values summed up by these sanitised slogans?

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Danny Alexander MP writes… “We have a different, radical message about the change our country needs”

Yesterday Nick launched ‘A Fresh Start for Britain’ – a document which outlines the values upon which our manifesto for the next General Election will be based. You may have seen some of the media coverage; I hope you have also visited Nick’s new site on it – www.freshstart.nickclegg.com.

This document is the first part of a two-part paper which we will be taking to Autumn conference. It promotes a vision that was agreed by both the Federal Policy Committee and the parliamentary party; which shows how our party would do things differently from Labour and Tories. The second explains in more detail our existing policy portfolio.

The next election is our opportunity to show the British people we have a different, radical message about the change our country needs. The two old parties don’t really want to change a political system that keeps them in power or challenge the bankers who got the economy into such a terrible mess.

‘A Fresh Start for Britain’ explains how our values – the basis upon which we will reach our choices on what should be in our manifesto – are fundamentally different from those of the Conservative and Labour parties. In the unprecedented economic situation that the country faces, only the Liberal Democrats are clear that the choices we make will be driven by a clear set of values and principles.

This policy paper does not prejudge what those choices might be, but it does emphasise the uncertain and difficult economic context against which these choices will be made and the real constraints that will place on our own manifesto when it is drawn up next year. It makes clear that we will treat the British people like grown ups; we will be honest about the tough choices ahead – both for the country and for ourselves.

This policy paper, which is going to conference in the place of a more traditional pre-manifesto, highlights three key priorities – a sustainable economy, a fair society, clean politics – that will drive the choices that we will make when we come to draw up our manifesto. Each of these is illustrated by two policy examples that form a key part of our current narrative.

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Also tagged , and | 9 Comments

A Fresh Start for Britain website goes live

To chime with Nick Clegg’s launch today of the pre-manifesto ‘A Fresh Start for Britain’ document, there is a smart, fresh website: www.freshstart.nickclegg.com.

For those who prefer just text, the document is reproduced in its entirity, below:

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Clegg’s Fresh Start for Britain: education, ‘green jobs’, political reform

There’s an in-depth interview with Nick Clegg in today’s Independent trailing the launch later today of ‘A Fresh Start for Britain’, a document outlining the principles on which the Lib Dems will build our general election manifesto.

Here’s how the article starts:

Nick Clegg will today jettison many of the Liberal Democrats’ long-standing policy pledges in an attempt to convince voters they would make the deep spending cuts needed to fill the hole in the public finances.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Clegg revealed that many of the promises cherished by his party will be downgraded from official policy to “aspirations” since there would be no money to fund them. They are expected to include flagship pledges to scrap university tuition fees, provide free personal care for the elderly, and bring in a higher basic state pension.

The Liberal Democrat leader will ask his party’s conference in September to make firm commitments in just three areas at the general election: a boost for education, the creation of “green jobs”, and constitutional reform.

Here are Nick’s quotes from the interview:

The circumstances are utterly different from anything in the last 15 years. Our shopping list of commitments will be far, far, far, far, far shorter. We will have to ask ourselves some immensely difficult questions about what we as a party can afford. A lot of cherished Lib Dem policies will have to go on the back burner. They will remain our aspirations. They will remain our policies. But we are not going to kid the British people into thinking we could deliver the full list of commitments we have put to them at the last three or four elections.

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