29 November 2010

The Conservatives are Content With AV

Let's remember the events that led to the choice of a referendum on AV:

- Coalition negotiations opened between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

- The Lib Dems have longed for a change to a fairer PR voting system and were hesitant about doing a deal without a commitment to electoral reform.

- To try and secure cooperation with the Lib Dems, the Tories offered a referendum on AV.

- While it was not what the Lib Dems really wanted (AV is not PR), it was enough to win them round and enter the Coalition.

This is telling - given that it was the Conservatives who picked AV instead of a PR system, they have shown that they would be content with AV. If the Tories were against all electoral reform, they would have given a referendum on PR to guarantee the backing of the Lib Dems.

AV is not the ideal system for the Tories, and nor is it ideal for the Lib Dems. The No2AV campaign are arguing that AV is the system that nobody really wants, which is accurate. But AV is a system that people from both sides are more content with.

Similar splits of feeling exist across other parties. Labour has a faction who want to keep the existing system, and a faction who favour PR. They promised a referendum on AV in their manifesto as they recognised it as a compromise between these two factions. UKIP are similarly split.

So bear this in mind when you cast your ballot: do you want to give one faction exactly what they want, whilst giving the opposite faction exactly what they don't, or do you want to give both factions something that both sides are content with?

23 November 2010

Tens of Thousands

Theresa May just confirmed at the despatch box that the Coalition's policy was to reduce net migration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.

This was not in the Coalition Agreement. The agreement accepts that the government will "reduce the number of non-EU immigrants". But it was never agreed that the reduction would need to be as drastic as the Tories campaigned for during the election.

This matters because this target will shape multiple pieces of forthcoming legislation. The immigration cap today would not need to be so economically damaging, the cuts to student numbers would not need to be as harmful to our colleges and universities, and the restrictions to family visas (also not mentioned in the Agreement) would not need to be as brutal to those it will hurt.

Hansard shows Theresa May had previously set out this target as government policy in a statement on the 28th June.

Lib Dem Ministers must not let their Conservative colleagues stray from the specific terms set out in the Agreement. There are enough concessions in there already; don't give them any more.

12 November 2010

Help Rank the Secretaries

I have a few ideas for blogposts that look at how high up the political pecking order certain politicians have got. But I need to come up with a robust description of the order of importance in the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet structure currently used in our democracy. I could rank these myself, but any contentious conclusions I come to would be dismissed due to potential partiality of the ranking.

So I kindly request a few minutes of your time to rank the Secretarial roles in the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet in the order you think best describes how important or prominent each position is. Don't think about it too much. Feel free to some positions as equally important, and if you feel there is any difference between the rankings of the government secretaries and their shadows let me know. Once a good number of replies have come in, I'll combine the rankings to come up with an overall pecking order. If you think this method of coming up with a ranking is flawed, again let me know (and ideally suggest a better method).

Below are the current secretarial positions, presented in alphabetical order. Please copy and paste the list into the comments box and place a number next to each, with 1 being the highest and 20 the lowest. I've switched comments to moderation so that your rankings aren't biased by those which have gone before. Many thanks in advance.

Business, Innovation and Skills
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Communities and Local Government
Culture, Media and Sport
Energy and Climate Change
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
International Development
Northern Ireland
Prime Minister
Work and Pension

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

We Owe Lib Dem Voters an Apology

Let's face it. The Lib Dems have really screwed up on tuition fees. It's possibly our most public screw up ever. Our candidates made high profile personal pledges that they should have foreseen not being able to keep. The party is now in the position where breaking these pledges is the best option, for the following reasons:

1. The Browne Report's proposals are unexpectedly fair. They are progressive (which we didn't expect before the review was published), they are workable (unlike a graduate tax, as Labour are soon to realise) and they will improve the quality of teaching (unlike free tuition) and will deliver improved access for students from poor backgrounds.* Indeed the policy beats the Lib Dem manifesto pledge on all of these tests. When a better policy comes along, we should back it, even if it costs us popularity - otherwise we're doing the wrong thing simply out of self interest.

2. Further to the above point, if we keep up the pretence that our original policy was fairer, we will be fuelling the misconception that University is inaccessible to the poor. This misconception must be tackled, because if potential students incorrectly perceive they can't afford to go, they won't, and social mobility will be entrenched. It is our duty to promote at every opportunity how the Coalition's policy will improve access to Higher Education. If you back the wrong policy, you inadvertently back everything you've stood against.

3. Even if you disagree with the analysis above, we realistically can't stop tuition fees from going up. To do so would mean all our Ministers voting against the government, thus ending the Coalition, and bringing on a Tory minority government or a general election. We can't let a single issue jeopardise the 91 other Lib Dem policies that can be achieved as part of the Coalition.

Backing the Coalition's policy is the right thing to do, but means breaking a promise, and when you break a promise, you apologise. It will hurt, it may cost us support, but it's right.

* I encourage you to read Ewan Hoyle's excellent blogpost for more on this.