Welcome to my day: 5 February 2024

February already, eh? And, with a May General Election seemingly less likely – would you really go to the country twenty points behind in the polls? – and the Government apparently focussed on nothing more than sabotaging an incoming Labour administration, it’s going to be a long Spring and Summer of misdirection and guesswork. For example, the Lords February recess, which is usually just over a week, has been shortened to a long weekend. Does that suggest an attempt to clear the legislative “decks” in anticipation of a May election, or does it simply reflect the fact that Peers are doing their job of scrutiny in a way that the Conservatives hadn’t calculated? At least my timeline is full of campaigning Liberal Democrats, which is always reassuring.

Rwanda, and Labour’s quest not to be controversial

A Bill which breaks international law, is opposed by the legal profession, human rights activists and which wasn’t in the 2019 Conservative manifesto? If ever there was a justification to vote a Bill down at Second Reading, this was it, yet Labour Whips in the Lords instructed their benches to stay away. And, whilst eight Labour peers did break ranks to support the Liberal Democrat motion to vote down the Bill, it was left to sixty-seven Liberal Democrat peers to provide the overwhelming bulk of the opposition. And yes, it will doubtless be claimed by Labour that they will seek to amend the Bill at later stages but how do you amend a Bill whose fundamental premise is illegal under international law?

Parish and Town Councils – the Seventh Cavalry for discretionary services?

My eye was caught be the news that two Somerset Town Councils – Taunton and Yeovil – are seeking very substantial increases in their precepts in order to salvage discretionary services axed by the county’s Unitary authority, 174% in the case of Taunton (from £107 for a band D property to £299), 90% in the case of Yeovil (up £130). Parish and Town Councils are not capped in terms of precept increases and, if they meet the criteria for holding the Power of General Competence, there’s nothing theoretically stopping them from taking on a whole range of non-statutory services.

I chair a “micro-parish” which has the Power of General Competence, but I don’t think that I’ll be expanding our work to take on youth services, community transport or arts and culture provision. But what does this mean for residents of smaller communities going forward? And will Government be willing to allow precept increases on this scales given their perpetual interference with local government finances?

Is anyone ever going to make a decision to restore the Palace of Westminster?

It is expected that the Restoration and Renewal Client Board, made up of members of the House of Commons Commission, the House of Lords Commission and a collection of key staff and independent members, will publish the Strategic Case for Restoration and Renewal soon – this was foretold in an announcement following the Client Board’s meeting on 14 November. The problem is that it’s going to cost a lot of money, and no elected politician is going to want to vote for that in the run-up to a General Election given all the other calls upon public funds. But the building is a death trap/falling down, every independent report published has suggested that vacating the building whilst the work is done will be quicker and cheaper, and Lindsay Hoyle and (previously) Jacob Rees-Mogg are opposed to any such strategy.

And finally, some music…

There was a time when I used to include a musical offering. It’s been a while, and I am reminded that last year was the 450th anniversary of the death of William Byrd, so here’s a little something appropriate for Liberal Democrat Voice’s house bureaucrat. I hope that you enjoy it…

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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24 Comments

  • Peter Martin 5th Feb '24 - 12:04pm

    Rishi Sunak probably hasn’t decided on the election date yet. He’ll be wanting to see how Labour perform in Rochdale against George Galloway.

    If Labour loses, or even wins narrowly , which is quite possible, he could decide to go for an earlier election than expected to make best use of the voter backlash against Starmer on the Palestine issue.

    The next election isn’t quite as much of a foregone conclusion as is generally supposed. Jeremy Corbyn is yet to show declare his intentions in Islington North. Most expect him to stand as an independent but there will possibly be just enough time to start a new party with enough candidates to seriously dent the Labour majority.

  • nigel hunter 5th Feb '24 - 1:09pm

    Hoyle and Mogg.It sounds like they will be happy for Westminster to fall around their ears.Cave men refusing reality.Renove the place and make into a tourist haunt.Move out whilst building a MODERN Parliament near UKs centre.Yes,infrastructure will be needed but we NEED new structure.Let us be dragged ,kicking and screaming into THIS century.

  • > Move out whilst building a MODERN Parliament near UKs centre.
    There is a large piece of land at Euston, now surplus to requirements….

  • @ Roland You suggest, “building a MODERN Parliament near (the) UKs centre. There is a large piece of land at Euston”……

    Sorry, Roland, but you’ve illustrated something which is far too prevalent (a Home Counties/London-centric view of the World) amongst those running what passes for the modern UK…… and which, unfortunately, is also common amongst those currently running and leading the modern Lib Dems party. If you get past York once every two years you start to suffer from vertigo.

    Look at the map, Roland. “Building a MODERN Parliament near UKs centre” means just off the M9 near the Kelpies statues in Falkirk.

  • Peter Martin 5th Feb '24 - 8:59pm

    @ David

    The UKs centre is somewhere in Morecambe Bay.

    Not the best place to try to build anything.

    Lancaster is pretty close and would be a good choice!

  • Peter Martin 5th Feb '24 - 9:19pm

    What’s the Millenium Dome being used for these days?

    There’s be enough room in there for 650 MPs 😁

  • Peter Davies 6th Feb '24 - 6:36am

    Somewhere near the centre of UK population would be a more sensible criterion. It’s somewhere between Birmingham and Leicester. There aren’t any major towns there but I rather like the sound of Barton In The Beans

  • Alex Macfie 6th Feb '24 - 8:17am

    @Peter Martin: The Millenium Dome is now the O2 Centre, and is used as a concert venue.
    George Galloway might pull off a by-election victory in Rochdale, and could even hold the seat at the subsequent GE (although unlikely, as GG seems to be a one-hit wonder wherever he stands and wins, as people then start to see through him), but I doubt that could be repeated in multiple constituencies. And while Starmer may have angered some voters over Palestine, at General Elections voters tend to focus on bread and butter issues.
    I also don’t think any Corbynite challenge will amount to much. Militant threatened to take out many Labour MPs in 1992, but in the end it amounted to nothing. Corbyn might win Islington North as an Independent or new party leader (or possibly let someone else in through the middle, maybe Green or Lib Dem), but without a big party machine behind them the Corbynistas would otherwise fail. The same is true of GG, who has only ever *held* a seat when was an official Labour candidate.

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Feb '24 - 9:34am

    Nottingham or Stoke on Trent would work.

  • Peter Martin 6th Feb '24 - 9:45am

    @ Alex,

    The mainstream view in 2017 was that Labour would naturally implode under a left wing leadership due to lack of popular support. That wasn’t quite what happened! LabourList says Labour Party membership has fallen by some 180,000 since then. I would estimate that around 250,000 on the socialist left have departed while 70,000 or so Starmer supporters have joined.

    This means that some quarter of a former million party activists are now effectively homeless and are looking for a lead. This could well be an huge underestimate if the turn out for demonstrations on Palestine is any indication.

    Even so, the numbers are far greater than anything we saw in the early 90s with Militant. Then we hadn’t effectively expelled a former party leader. The situation isn’t at all comparable. The MSM doesn’t seem to have appreciated the extent of the trouble that Starmer could be in and could well be making the same mistake they made in 2017.

    We’ll soon find out!

  • My only immediate thought on the coming Rochdale by-election is to express regret at the death of the late Tony Lloyd MP. A good, decent and brave man who was one of the better people in modern politics.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Feb '24 - 1:25pm

    @Peter Martin: But Corbyn’s Labour *did* implode in 2019, with its worst election result since 1935. The 2017 result was mainly due to the bad Tory campaign, while the increase in the Labour vote was mainly differential turnout, and mostly in seats that were safe Labour anyway. Even so, the backing of the Labour party machine meant Labour still won 202 seats, while the various centrist newcomers got nowhere. Don’t underestimate the power of the big party machines. If Corbyn does form a new party, it won’t have such a machine. He might win his own seat on personal votes, but other candidates are unlikely to have any serious impact. As it happens, I don’t think Labour is likely to win as big as current polls suggest, but this is mainly because Starmer is not Tony Blair (if anything he’s more John Major).

    People who turn out on protest marches are not typical of the population as a whole, as those of us (myself included) who went on pro-EU marches know well enough. The far left generally make a lot of noise but this does not mean they are an effective electoral force (unless they happen to have a big party machine behind them).

  • Mick Taylor 6th Feb '24 - 1:46pm

    I doubt that George Galloway can win in Rochdale. I am sure that any candidate for that seat will ensure that his dreadful record and subsequent defeat as a Respect MP in nearby Bradford will be prominent and that the largish Muslim population in Rochdale will be warned about him by their fellow religionists from Yorkshire.
    You can only pull a trick once or twice before someone gets wise to it. Mr Galloway has pulled it twice and has been found out.

  • Peter Martin 6th Feb '24 - 1:52pm

    @ Alfie,

    The 2019 result wasn’t “the worst since 1935”. You’re not the only one to get this wrong. Surprising as Wikipedia is now only a few clicks on a keyboard away! I suspect someone get it wrong to start with and the claim get just gets repeated.

    To save you looking it up: Labour, under Tony Blair, only polled 35.2% in 2005 against 38% then.

    Nevertheless it wasn’t good at 32.1%. A drop from 40% in 2017.

    We can discuss why this was but Starmer has to take his share of the responsibility. The decision to go for a second referendum, which he pushed for, resulted in more losses in the North than gains in the South. There were far more “Stokes” than “Putneys” essentially.

    Those of a more cynical frame of mind consider that this was a deliberate strategy on the part of Starmer to lose the election and so get rid of Corbyn.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Feb '24 - 6:29pm

    @Peter Martin: Please get my name right (I’ve known people call me “Alfie” before, I’ve no idea why, as Aleksandr the Meerkat would say, “doesn’t even sound same”).
    2019 was Labour’s worst result since 1935 in terms of seats won, which is what matters. In 2005 Labour won an overall majority of seats. 1935 was a landlide victory for the (Tory-led) National Government, with (independent) Labour winning only 152 seats. I do not understand this idea that Corbyn won a “moral victory” in 2017. “Moral victories” count for nothing. I’m not prepared to engage over bizarre conspiracy theories about Starmer and the 2019 GE. We can argue until the cows come home about whether Labour’s failure in the Red Wall was due to Corbyn or Brexit. I think it was mostly due to Corbyn, who was not popular there, even though he is actually a Brexiteer (just for different reasons from most Red Wall voters).

  • Alex Macfie 6th Feb '24 - 6:30pm

    @Mick Taylor: I hope you are right about Ghastly George.

  • Peter Martin 6th Feb '24 - 6:46pm

    @ Alex,

    Sorry about misnaming you. I hadn’t noticed. Maybe it was the autocorrector? And for others too?

    I thought LibDems were aware of the iniquities of the electoral system and wouldn’t need it to be pointed out that Blair won in 2005 with an even smaller vote share than Attlee in 1935! Supposedly Labour’s worst result.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Feb '24 - 7:12pm

    @Peter Martin: Don’t worry, apology accepted. Yes of course we are aware of the iniquities of the electoral system, but it’s the system whether we like it or not and we have to play by its rules. And this means that 2005 is a much better result than 1935 for labour, even with a lower share of the vote, because it got a (reduced) overall majority of seats in 2005, putting it in government, but was in opposition in 1935.
    Similarly, 1983 produced a landslide victory for Thatcher’s Conservatives, so it is considered a much better result than 1979 even on a slightly reduced share of the vote. 1997 is considered a successful election for the Lib Dems, despite the reduced vote share, because we more than doubled our seats. 2019 is considered a failure despite the increased share of the vote over 2017, because it translated into a net loss of 1 seat, with our leader losing her seat. 2010 was also a disappointment for a similar reason (but the leader didn’t lose his seat, which is a shame because almost anyone else would have handled the coalition negotiations much better).

  • Mick Taylor 6th Feb '24 - 8:19pm

    Alex. Gorgeous George (not really a good moniker at his age) will base his campaign entirely on attacking Israel. He has form for that and he tells lies too. He will hope that the Muslim population of Rochdale will support him. Unlike Bradford, there are insufficient Muslim voters for him to win the seat on their votes alone. It is up to Labour, Lib Dems and others to point out very clearly what a charlatan he is. Our Muslim Peers and Labour’s should already be in touch with the mosque(s) in Rochdale to tell them how he betrayed the voters in Bradford and was almost a totally absent MP and didn’t stand up for what he said he would. GG cares for nothing except GG and it’s past time he was called out.

  • Peter Martin 7th Feb '24 - 1:04pm

    @ Mick Taylor,

    I can understand why you don’t like GG. Unlike JC he’s not a particularly good constituency MP. I personally don’t like his abrasive style.

    However we shouldn’t underestimate him by assuming that everyone is going to agree. He must have something going for him. He’s managed to do what no-one else has in recent times, and actually win Parliamentary elections without the backing of a major political party.

    If he does win the seat the fault will be entirely Starmers for dragging the Labour Party much too far to the right and purging, or silencing, the Labour left.

  • Martin Gray 11th Feb '24 - 9:38am

    Galloway was right on Iraq , Afghanistan , and Libya – one of the few along with Corbyn..
    A powerful orator no doubt , & to win 2 parliamentary by-elections is some achievement under fptp…
    @Mick Taylor …His one man demolition of the US senate committee as regards the oil for food program was a sight to behold – if it was a boxing match it would of been stopped halfway to avoid further punishment to those X2 US senators…Highly recommend viewing on YouTube..

  • Peter Davies 11th Feb '24 - 9:58am

    Like a stuck clock, he is occasionally right and when he is, he can sometimes seem unusually prescient. His supporters tend not to notice the majority of occasions when he is uniquely wrong.

  • Peter Martin 11th Feb '24 - 11:46am

    “I doubt that George Galloway can win in Rochdale.” Mick Taylor on this blog.

    “The Betfair Exchange odds indicate that neither [including GG] has any chance and the Liberal Democrats are Labour’s nearest rivals in the market.”

    I often wonder why mainstream commentators seem oblivious of what goes on outside London and the SE of England. If they have good hearing they might want try putting their ears a little closer to the ground.

    Those who actually take a more dispassionate view about political chances and probabilities by actually backing up their opinions monetarily don’t agree with these assessments at all. The latest odds are 2-1 for a Galloway win.

    This is not to forecast he will win but that he does have around a 33% chance of doing so. So, he certainly can win. My information is that many, if not most, Labour Party members in the constituency are going to vote for him. I’d say 33% is an underestimate.

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