Jeb Bush – John Major Come Again!

Voters in New Hampshire today are making their choice as to whom shall take all the media attention, at least until the South Carolina Primary on the 20th. Yup, big stakes at play. So far it looks like Trump is going to win, but all the attention is on which Republican candidate can take second place. Will Rubio sustain his Iowa momentum?

Well this wee blog is calling for one candidate to hold in there: Jeb Bush. Yes, by simply being mild-mannered and a bit pathetic, Jeb Bush has claimed our pity vote in much the same way that that nice grey bloke, John Major managed to. So hang in there, Jeb! Don’t let those appalling poll ratings deter you! This election needs a quiet, compromising, bland, middling figure and you’re just the guy to do it!

Please clap.

Two Down

So long Rand! So long Rick! Barely had the podcast been recorded when it was rendered out of date. Both Rand Paul and Rick Santorum have bowed out of the race for the White House, allowing their meagre support to flow to other more likely candidates. As a parting shot at Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, Rick Santorum heaped praise on Marco Rubio (our podcasts predicted next president). No such indication from Rand as to where he’d like his voters to swing, but perhaps that’s because there really isn’t anyone else in the race quite like him…

First Ade then Paul – Podcast News

It’s been slowly boiling away and now the first serving of our new podcast is available. Each week Paul Hayes and myself will bring you gossip and scaremongering from the world of politics and tech.

First Ade then Paul – Satire for Solipsists

Episode #001 Snitch in the Machine: Our daring heroes boldly discuss the Psychoactive Substances Bill & security flaws in the Internet of Things

The Case for Keeping Clegg (Even in Opposition)

Unless something dramatic happens between now and election day it appears as if we are in for a hung parliament. Unlike the previous one, there will be no obvious match between the parties; a right-of-centre coalition of the type we have enjoyed/endured (delete as applicable) will be difficult to achieve given the culling of Lib Dem seats. What is more likely is either a grand coalition of the left, or a minority Labour government lurching from vote to vote on the goodwill of SNP, Plaid, Green and Lib Dem votes.

Whichever way the election goes, leaders that are not deemed winners are for the chop. The Tories are sharpening their knives ready to take out Cameron, a dethroning they have been dreaming of for years. They held back from realising this desire due to the delusion that he could easily defeat Miliband and Cameron’s failure to do so has made Miliband’s position stronger than it was a month or so ago. However, a last minute swing to the Conservatives could set back the recent good-will Miliband’s garnered within his party, and if the Tories managed to form a government he too would be finished. Even the smaller party leaders such as Farage and Bennett face potential peril. Both have enjoyed an almost perfect scenario for minor parties to have any hope of breaking through in the First-Past-The-Post system. If they fail to capitalise, questions will be asked as to how they were allowed to blow it.

But the most likely to fall is the most hated man in British politics Nick Clegg. Since going into coalition with their arch-enemy, the party’s ratings have plummeted. Estimates range between the Lib-Dems returning 20 and 30 seats (down from 56) though Lib Dems usually face an election day slump as voters flee back to the safety of the two main parties, in which case they may sink lower than that. With as few as 25 MPs the party won’t have enough to negotiate a coalition with the Conservatives, nor an exclusive one with Labour. Instead they will be merely one of many small parties doing vote by vote deals.

With a reduced presence, a hammering in the polls, and a left leaning parliament, it makes sense for Clegg to go, right? Consistently he’s shown to be a drag on the Lib Dem ticket, with candidates leaving him off their election material. It would only be right for him to step down and leave the party in the hands of someone like Vince Cable or Tim Farron, both hailing from the Social-Democratic wing of the party and better placed to negotiate with Labour.

I put the alternative to you, however: this approach would be a mistake. Whilst ditching Clegg would give the Lib Dems quick east boost in the opinion polls, a long term strategy might be worth considering:

If Miliband makes it into Number 10, Cameron is bound to resign his party’s leadership. Similarly, other familiar faces of the current campaign may also vanish; if Farage fails to win his seat, he may well resign leadership and hand over the reins to Douglas Carswell; if the Greens fail to take anything other than Brighton Pavilion they might turn back to the eminently more media-savvy Caroline Lucas.

These fresh faces (in terms of leadership – not actual freshness) would be in for a bumpy parliament. Whether successful or not, a grand informal coalition of the left would soon turn bitter as each side struggles for influence. The public are unlikely to support it for long.

Which brings us back to the question of Nick Clegg’s fate. In such a tumultuous parliament a party leader well-known to the public and experienced in government will be of the upmost importance. With Cameron gone, Clegg would represent and speak up for the previous government. Right now this suggestion would be the last thing the party membership would like, but after a year or so of failed votes and indecisive leadership the memory of the Liberal-Conservative coalition might well be a vote winner. Clegg reminding the public of economic growth and stability might well work, whereas Tim Farron, known only to political junkies, won’t even get the air-time.

Eventually Clegg will need to go, but to dump him unceremoniously in the wake of a bad election result would be for the party to run to the left and turn its back on what it has managed to achieve in government. Like it or not, the Lib Dems have become a centrist party, not a party of the hard-left. It can keep Clegg and remain the sensible voice of the centre or they can go into a full-blown rout. I fear to do the latter would mean that when the public grow tired of Labour’s minority they wouldn’t have the Lib Dems to turn to for stable pragmatic government; instead they will identify them with haphazard left-wing bartering, or worse, something not worth considering at all.

Soft on Crime, Drugs and Thugs

You can tell when one of the main two political parties are in full electioneering mode, for the very worst instincts come to the fore. In the Conservatives this is all too obvious; warnings of chaos and imminent apocalypse dominate the airwaves. It is all rather reminiscent of their “Hung Parliament Party” election broadcast of 2010, an advert that warned voters that should they back Nick Clegg the result would wreck the economy and paralyse government. The message now is much the same, though the success of the lib-con coalition (in terms of delivering a stable working government) means that they can’t simply air the same ad twice, forcing them instead to play up the threat of the various coalitions that might form around Labour.

But these tactics are generally what you’d expect from the Conservative Party. Labour, on the other hand, is rather more split upon its darker impulses. Under Tony Blair’s leadership, with braying support from the likes of David Blunkett, the party embraced an authoritarian approach to law and order. In many ways this was successful; it kept the Tories at bay by heading off any attempts to flank them from the right, and was a quick and easy way to drum up an easy vote or two. However, in the long run it deeply worried those in the party who were concerned about civil rights, driving many out of the arms of Labour for good.

It has been many years since Tony Blair left the scene, but this authoritarian streak has yet to leave the Labour Party. In recent leaflets Labour has been resorting to the old tactic of painting the Liberal Democrats as a party soft on crime for their policy on treating drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one. Never mind just how backward and out-of-step with current thinking their criticisms are, it seems that this stance is a default one; a well of authoritarian scare-mongering that the Labour party cannot help but sup.

As shared by @MSmithsonPB

But whereas this tactic might have worked back in 1997, today it is likely to have the opposite effect. Liberalisation of drug laws used to be a policy only embraced by the hard-core of the Liberal Democrat party. Now it is conventional wisdom. Those soft lib dem voters are more likely to be sent back into the arms of the liberals by such scare-mongering than any other outcome Labour is hoping for.

It all reminds me of when I was living in the Windsor constituency in 2005. As you’d imagine, it’s a safe seat for the Conservatives, but still Adam Afriyie came knocking on my door, seeking my vote. Rather glad for the opportunity, I presented him with a Conservative leaflet that slammed the Lib Dems (their likely opponent) for their aim to legalise drugs. As it happened I’d been researching for a documentary about drug prohibition at the time and knew Lib Dem policy well; in fact I had written to them complaining that their policy didn’t go as far as legalisation.

“This is simply not true,” I told him, pointing to the outlandish claims. “Here you say that the Lib Dems would legalise Cannabis. That is not their policy.”

“But it is,” Afriyie persisted, “And if I can prove to you that the Liberal Democrats would legalise drugs, would that secure your vote for the Conservatives?”

Adam Afriyie, so caught up in his… well… conservative mentality, never once thought that his claims might backfire on him. It is this same lack of imagination undermining the Labour Party as it struggles to define itself. It seems to hark for the old days when it could safely rely on its liberal-left roots whilst presenting itself as authoritarian-right to grab swing voters.

Those days are long gone, the internet has put a stop to such tactics. The question is, will the Labour Party wake up to this fact in time to save itself?

Where Have All The Moderates Gone?

Being moderate isn’t sexy. When you join an old friend for a drink, your heart doesn’t leap at the suggestion that you do so in moderation, no matter how sensible the notion may be for your knackered old liver. Films about moderates barely exist; we’d rather watch a man crying “freedom” whilst having his guts sliced out, than a diplomat negotiating a mutually beneficial treaty. Moderation has never been popular, and approaching the UK General Election 2015 we are about to see it wiped clean from the face of our political scene. It is ironic that the common perception of politics is as a homogenised battle for the centre ground. Quite the opposite, the centre has been abandoned, a no-mans land for none but those crazed and doomed liberals, shell-shocked and wandering the scorched earth wondering what the hell just happened.

Given the hopelessly outdated first-past-the-post system, the results of the oncoming election are difficult to predict. The distribution of the electorate weighs the system heavily in favour of the two main parties, but their failure to generate any good-will beyond their base, combined with growing disaffection, means that the Labour and Conservative parties have drawn in the wagons and are waging a defensive campaign. This is no longer an election either side can win; they can only lose. Factor in the rise of nationalist parties such as UKIP and the SNP and you’ve got the makings of yet another hung parliament.

Which might make you think that we’re in for another coalition, another fudge in the centre – a backroom deal cooked up by those rotters in Westminster. But as we approach the general election and the parties begin to position themselves for such an eventuality, the likelihood of a coalition becomes increasingly unlikely. The Labour party has ruled out a coalition with the SNP. The SNP has ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives. The Greens have ruled out a coalition with anyone. Ironically, the only party to talk openly about the benefits of joining a coalition are the Lib Dems, the one party for whom a formal union will be utterly untenable. Nick Clegg could only enter into another pact retaining the same degree of influence as before – a deal that neither the Tories nor Labour are likely to accept given the reduced Lib Dem numbers from the upcoming slaughter.

Most of the smaller parties, having spent five years condemning the concept of compromise, now face the prospect of governance, but to do so they must first reconcile this with their previous rhetoric. The result is lots of talk about “confidence and supply”, an utterly unsustainable position that would fall apart at the very first unpopular but necessary vote (of which the next five years is certain to be packed).

Which begs the question, what right do any of them have to rule out a coalition in the first place? An election campaign is effectively an extended job interview, and you don’t conduct yourself in an interview by listing off everyone you’d out-right refuse to work with. If you can’t grow up and find a way of working with those you oppose, then you have no right to claim you’re a supporter of democracy. Democracy, by its very nature, is about finding a way of getting all the peoples of a nation to work together rather than grind each other into dust.

But as I said, being a moderate isn’t sexy. It’s a lot easier to grab votes by saying “we will never work with those scumbags,” than “there is always a compromise to be found.” Perhaps that is why the Lib Dems continue to plummet in the polls. In a recent interview, Nick Clegg described himself as being anti-establishment and anti-populist, which is a pretty accurate description of where the Lib Dems are at this present time. They exist in an uncomfortable netherworld between the entitled comfort of governance and the demagoguery of opposition. If we are tested by another hung-parliament, it’s possible that we may look back on 2010-2015 as a golden era, a time before the storm when a party was willing to work with another despite facing electoral oblivion. Can you think of another party that would have put up with such hostility for the benefit of a stable economy? If the fortunes were reversed, and it were the Conservatives whose poll rating had dropped to single digits early on and showed no sign of recovery, would they have stuck out the full five years? Would Labour? The SNP? Right now Nick Clegg is the most hated man in British politics, but once we’ve seen the chaos that politicians are lining up to promise, we might well wish for his return (not that he’ll be in a position to do so – the moment the Lib Dems are out of government, the left leaning grass-roots will have his head).

However much you despise your opponents, you can’t erase them. This is why revolutions end in bloodshed, whilst it is compromise that produces real reform. We can spend the next five years bickering like children afraid to go near each other lest we catch the lurgey, or we can reach out like grown-ups and find a way of moving forward. But to do so we need to shake off the petulant mentality of Braveheart fantasy. It belongs in the movies, not in the ballot. And perhaps it’s best to vote for the person who suggests taking it a bit easy. The liver can only handle so much.

Divided We Surely Fall

There are only two sides to the EU debate: those that believe that the EU is beyond saving and want out, and those that believe that the EU is worth saving and want in. For the sake of simplicity we’ll call these camps anti-EU and pro-EU. All three of the major parties in British politics are pro-EU in that they all agree that the EU needs reform, but is a good thing for Britain. Sure they bicker about individual items of legislation, and for political convenience it is in their favour to appear more or less in favour of the EU depending upon what slice of the electorate they’re canvassing, but in terms of the grand EU debate, they are all on the same side. Only Farage sits on the other.

So it seems strange that the political establishment can’t win this in a slam dunk. Surely the combined weight of the conservative party, the labour party, and the liberal democrats should be enough to explain to the electorate precisely why an imperfect EU is better than a non-existent one. The Nick Clegg v Nigel Farage debate was a perfect opportunity for the pro-Eu camp to unify, and yet the opposite happened. Today David Cameron appeared on television calling Nick Clegg an extremist, the Labour party have been distancing themselves as far as possible from the subject lest negative fallout stains their trousers, and even the Green party – a party whose objectives are solely dependent upon the EU and global cooperation – couldn’t resist the opportunity to resort to petty politics and opportunism. If our political parties cannot unite when presented with such a basic proposition, is it any wonder that demagogues like Farage triumph?

We see this time and again with the liberal left. The AV referendum was lost because rather than unite to improve an outdated electoral system, the Labour party used it as an opportunity to steal votes from the Lib Dems. I’ll say this for the conservatives, they know how to pull together for the bigger picture, the left simply cannot get past its own factional squabbling.

Take this party political broadcast by the Green party in response to the debate. The Greens have an almost identical outlook on Europe as the Lib Dems, but to gain political advantage they paint them as the very non-existent caricature dreamt up by the daily mail: a sycophantic slave to faceless EU bureaucrats. Pro-EU camps should be arguing that this stereotype doesn’t exist, that it is a paranoid fantasy, but the Greens have cynically promoted it, betraying their own cause. It is yet another sad sign of the continued decline of a once promising party.

Cooperating is a virtue in politics, but Britain is yet to break out of its juvenile mentality and realise this. If we don’t soon change, Farage, may well win by default.

More Referenda, More Nonsense

We don’t do referenda very well in the UK. I’m not sure if they’ve been successful in other parts of the world, but the last one we held descended into an avalanche of BS that froze the debate beneath so many lies that the truth couldn’t be found. When placed in the hands of the public, the truth lost out.

So now we, and by ‘we’ I actually mean ‘they’, the Scots, have a chance to vote on another constitutional matter: whether or not to embrace independence and leave the United Kingdom. It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so how is the debate shaping up?

Not very well, is the answer. Frustratingly, neither side seem to be arguing about the issue itself: independence. Instead it has devolved into a tit-for-tat argument as to whether or not Scots would be better off outside the union or not, when in fact they should be discussing the philosophical core of the question. It is very much like when the AV Referendum descended into talk of “Will this be good or bad for Nick Clegg?” or “Will this let in the BNP?” when in fact these are all transient issues, inconsequential when picking a piece of constitution that could last hundreds of years. If Scotland becomes independent every Scot could become broke, or they might each become over-night millionaires, and yet it wouldn’t matter. They are choosing the future of their country, to reject or accept the motion based upon the state of their wallets over the next few years, or even decades, is incredibly short sighted.

The cynic in me feels that the Yes campaign would like to avoid this philosophical core of the debate, because it appeals to a nationalism rooted in a bygone era. Yes the Scots have had to put up with atrocious acts by the English hundreds of years ago, but seeing as how the current population of Scotland are not hundreds of years old, to resent the English for acts committed by those who are dead against those who are also dead isn’t very logical. A more reasonable objection to unionism would be to call for a republican state free from monarchist rule, but the yes campaign have already stated that they’d like to keep the monarchy, significantly diluting their argument.

Despite my Grant ancestry, I consider myself English because, well, I was born and raised in the south, but like my northern brothers and sisters, I cannot stand conservatism. Tory policies offend me to my very core, but dissatisfaction with the policies of successive Westminster governments cannot be used to justify seceding from the union, because this is an ever repeating argument. If Scotland leaves the UK because they don’t like the policies of the nation as a whole, then what’s to stop the Isle of Skye leaving Scotland when the successive Scottish elections doesn’t go their way? And so on, and so on. Dissatisfaction with a democracy isn’t a reason for independence, it is a reason for devolution. Unfortunately the Yes camp seem to be focusing all their attention on pointing out how shit the conservatives and labour governments have been. That might be true, but that’s democracy folks.

Now, to those who believe passionately in a Yes vote, I hope you don’t think me unfair. If you want to argue that you feel no kinship with the other nations of our union, then that is a completely legitimate argument, and I wish you the best of luck making it, but so far that is the only argument that stands up and I don’t think it’ll find a majority.

As should be clear by now, I hope that Scotland votes No to Independence. But once that No vote is secured, we should completely overhaul the way our democracy functions into a federal system where Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments have full control over their state-wide policies, leaving issues such as foreign policy to a core executive government.

Something does need to change, and Scots need more autonomy, but a bitter divorce is not the way to go.

Liberal Democrat Wishlist

As the slow news summer rumbles along, the broadcasters turn towards political posturing, preparing for an autumn conference season which will see the political parties position themselves for the run up to the next general election. This will be a new experience for us Brits. In the USA they are well used to electioneering gearing up pretty much as soon as one election draws to a close, and because they have fixed terms they know just when to start buying up ad space and hitting the streets. Well, now we have fixed terms too, and whereas before our politicians would have sat on their cash in a darkened room paranoid the Prime Minister would either call a snap election or delay it as long as humanly possible, now they know when. It’s May 2015 folks. Bring it on.
So looking forward to the Liberal Democrat conference (for those of you non-Brits, the Lib Dems are our centre party – Labour is the party of the left… or at least is supposed to be) here is my wish list of policies & attitudes I would like to see expressed.

A courageous infrastructure plan based on technology of the future rather than standard procedure of the past

HS2, whilst bringing us up to date with pretty much the rest of the developed world, is rather lacking in ambition. The Lib Dems also run the risk of beating the same green drum that’s been kicking around since the eighties, without realising that there is a brand-spanking new green fiddle that is well worth a play. Rather than trying to reduce petrol consumption (which will happen anyway due to rising prices) they should be proposing investment / subsidies for driverless cars. Driverless cars will change our economy and change the way we live our lives and we should be at the cutting edge rather than playing catch up.

An economic message that is Stage 2 rather than Plan B

The Liberal Democrats went into coalition with the Tories. They supported a centre-right economic model. These are the facts and the Lib Dems have to live with them. There will be a strong urge within the party to distance themselves as far as possible from Osborne and whilst that desire is justified, it is not good politics. We already have one party howling in anguish at every announcement Osborne makes, we don’t need a second. The Liberal Democrats need to present to the electorate their own narrative of where to take the Coalition’s economic model, embracing the strengths whilst putting a unique centrist spin on its future. No matter how much people naively complain about all three parties converging on the same political space, in truth there is a vast gulf in the middle that a canny centrist party could exploit. It is better to talk about tax cuts for the poor than tax rises for the rich. They just need to quell the left to do it.

Take a lead from Uruguay and change the world

To hell with the Daily Mail. The Lib Dems need to come out in favour of legalising cannabis now. In ten years’ time it will be legal across the world and every party except UKIP will have accepted it. The Lib Dems need to take the lead and exploit this rare opportunity now, before the moment passes. Legalised cannabis means greater revenue in cash-strapped times, reduced burden on the justice department in an era of cuts and a healthier more educated public. It is a unique selling point that will differentiate the Lib Dems from the Tories and Labour. True, there will be voters who will never vote for a party who contemplates legalisation, but they would never vote Lib Dem anyway. But there will be plenty of swing voters and first time voters will be drawn be the prospect. I repeat: the time is now!

Embark on an aggressive fight back against authoritarian politics

Even under the coalition we have seen too many big-state solutions to social problems, from national security and terrorism to copyright infringement and pornography. It is time the Liberal Democrats distanced themselves from the Labour Party and Conservatives by pledging to repeal intrusive surveillance by the state and implementing safeguards against further such legislation in the future. Freedom is a notion that seems to be forgotten in modern British politics and it is time someone brought it back.