.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, May 30, 2005


It's that tax again

I had assumed that the Liberal Democrats' internal dispute about the rights and wrongs of local income tax had been settled, at least for now.

Then last Friday I received an e-mail from the

ALDC in conjunction with the Lib Dem group on the LGA has produced an online questionnaire on Local Income Tax. The main purpose of this survey is to find out from the campaigners, councillors and candidates who were involved in elections on 5th May, to what degree the issue of LIT impacted on your campaign.

This survey, which takes the form of an online questionnaire is very user-friendly. It takes no more than 5 minutes (really!) and the data is then fed back to the website from where the LGA and ALDC can analyse the results.
Assuming enough people reply, the party should acquire some interesting data on what issues were actually raised by voters and how various policies played, instead of rumour and myth. But there is a risk that such data could be used to formulate a purely populist strategy unless someone has the wit to place this knowledge at the service of Liberalism.

The party's main handicap is that it lacks a clear and compelling narrative in which to locate its policies. If it had a more explicit moral core and a coherent philosophy, it would be easier for voters to grasp what the party stands for. So long as the Liberal Democrats fail to do this, their policies will look like beads without string.


Good moaning

The French have voted against ratification of the European Constitution, by a margin in line with the final opinion poll predictions ("non" 55%, "oui" 45%, turnout 70%). This vote is evidence of a fundamental problem, not so much with the EU but more with politics in general.

The consequences of the French vote will be profound although the immediate effects will be less dramatic than many commentators are predicting. The day-to-day administration of the EU can continue indefinitely under the present rules. It is not yet clear whether the forthcoming EU summit on 16-17 June will decide formally to abandon the constitution, but such an outcome is likely sooner or later, since the French will not re-run their referendum, and the constitution must be ratified by all 25 EU member states before it can take effect.

The Dutch referendum on Wednesday is also likely to produce a "no" vote, so do not be surprised if the EU's leaders decide to cut their losses at the summit rather than plough on regardless. Instead of setting up another coconut shy in the form of a new draft constitution, it is more likely that the EU's leaders (following an ostentatious "period of reflection") will opt for some form of piecemeal reform with more limited ambitions, which focuses on streamlining the EU's decision-making procedures.

The one person who must be most pleased with this outcome is Tony Blair, who will almost certainly not now have to stage a referendum in the UK.

The reasons for the French revolt are complex, varied and numerous (see the
list in an article in Saturday's Guardian). Unlike in the UK, however, support for the "non" option was not a proxy for opposition to EU membership.

This vote was not really about the constitution at all. One suspects the referendum vote would have been lost no matter what the constitution actually said. The fact that French opponents of the constitution see it as "Anglo Saxon" and "neo-liberal" while British opponents see it as "continental" and "socialist" shows that the constitution became a symbol for something else entirely. Indeed, within France itself, the "non" campaign attracted the support of both a "social" left and a nationalist right, two groups with opposing motives.

Assuming one broadly accepts the EU, the actual content of the constitution is mostly uncontroversial, though long-winded. It does not propose as drastic a change to the EU as the Single European Act of 1987 (supported, incidentally, by Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher) or the Maastricht Treaty of 1994 (supported, incidentally, by Conservative prime minister John Major).

best analysis written so far comes from historian Theodore Zeldin in Sunday's Observer. It boils down to the fact that people feel insecure. Despite achieving unprecedented material well-being, we live in a more impersonal world with an uncertain future. Politicians and political institutions are losing popular respect. Given an opportunity to punish the political elites, people will seize it.

The biggest mistake we could make now is to assume that the popular backlash against the European Constitution is purely to do with the EU. It is instead symptomatic of a deeper and wider popular alienation from politics, which can be seen throughout Europe at all levels of government.

Monday's right-wing press will present a smug face. But the problems of popular insecurity and alienation are just as great with Britain's system of government as they are with the EU's.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


The biggest ID fraud of all

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but introducing ID cards will save £1.3 billion.

Laugh? I nearly had my iris scanned.

Since no-one has been convinced by any of the government's other arguments, New Labour's latest wheeze is to claim that the cost of ID cards will be offset by the prevention of identity theft, currently running at £1.3 billion a year. Nice try, but it is a fraudulent claim.

article in The Register comprehensively demolishes the government's argument - using figures available on the Home Office's website. It turns out that the only saving ID cards might make would be £35 million-worth of benefit fraud.

The government will not reveal the cost of introducing ID cards, claiming this information is "commercially sensitive". However, it says that the scheme will cost £584 million a year to run. And its estimate of the cost to each citizen of purchasing a combined passport and ID card has now risen to £93.

The government also claims it has "listened" to criticisms, yet the new ID card bill is virtually identical to the one that fell at the end of the last parliament. New Labour is ploughing on regardless because it has invested a lot of prestige in its ID card scheme. Its exploitation of fears about identity theft is both desperate and thoroughly dishonest.

The BBC reported that,

Shami Chakrabarti, from civil rights group Liberty, urged MPs to reject what she said was a "rehashed bill that is more about political machismo than rational policy".
Which about sums it up.


May the farce be with you

I have never understood the obsession with Star Wars and find the hype surrounding the latest 'prequel' thoroughly tedious. Perhaps it is the knowledge that something so blatantly commercial is fooling large numbers of fans into believing that it is somehow counter-cultural.

If you share my cynicism, you will find your position vindicated in
this story:

Two Star Wars fans are in a critical condition in hospital after apparently trying to make light sabres by filling fluorescent light tubes with petrol.

A man, aged 20, and a girl of 17 are believed to have been filming a mock duel when they poured fuel into two glass tubes and lit it.

The pair were rushed to hospital after one of the devices exploded in woodland at Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.
A high placing in this year's Darwin Awards must surely beckon.


Only a policy

It has been obvious for almost a year that the nascent ideological dispute within the Liberal Democrats would finally burst out as soon as the general election campaign was over.

What is odd is that this dispute should manifest itself in an
argument about local income tax (see my earlier postings on 23 May, 24 May and 26 May).

The election was scarcely over before the right-wing ginger group Liberal Future began spinning to the media that the election result was "disappointing" because the Liberal Democrats were "too left wing". The policy cited in evidence of this claim was local income tax, but it turned out to be a poor choice of battlefield.

Judging by the media coverage this week, it would appear that the party's right-wing has lost this particular argument. Instead, it has provoked the party's leadership (following a period of wobbling) into rallying around this policy, so much so that local income tax cannot now be abandoned without a serious loss of face.

The Lib Dem MPs who openly criticised local income tax were foolish to make this policy the target of their attacks. However, the party's left would be equally foolish to turn local income tax into some sort of totem.

It is values, not policies, that are of enduring importance, otherwise we would still be arguing about the party line on the Corn Laws and the Relief of Mafeking. Local income tax is only a policy - let's keep it in perspective.


24-hour bollocks

I am a fan of the BBC but not an uncritical one. So I was horrified to read in Wednesday's Guardian a report that the venerable BBC World Service is to be turned into a "24-hour rolling news service".

I cannot claim to be a regular listener but do occasionally hear it in the middle of the night, when the Radio 4 frequency broadcasts the World Service. I find the surreal mix of programmes curiously reassuring and very British.

The event that prompted the Guardian article is the BBC's decision to axe the popular soap opera
Westway with effect from October. Since this drama is produced on the cheap, it is difficult to see how any consequent savings are to benefit the listener.

The first question one must ask is, does the world really need another 24-hour rolling news service? I would argue that it doesn't need any in the first place. The output of these stations is mostly fatuous, since there is rarely enough real news to go round. Hence the tendency of these stations to fill their surplus air time with idle speculation or coverage of assorted PR stunts. (See my earlier postings regarding coverage of the
tsunami and the Pope's death).

An important part of the BBC's function is to supply programmes that are distinctive, not to leap aboard every passing cultural bandwagon. The Guardian report asks,

... when did this daft idea that the BBC has to win at everything take hold? It is demeaning to watch something once so chaotically diverse try to squeeze itself into a shape defined by others.

Surely we give money to the BBC so it doesn't have to enter the same frantic and sweaty games as everybody else, and so it can balloon off in new and interesting directions. The purpose of the BBC, I always assumed, was to nurture the wildest plants in our society and to tidy, with a gentle but sure hand, the most hidden corners in our room. Both functions were served by Westway. Why is it letting it go?
The BBC's existing mediocre 24-hour TV news service BBC News 24 should have taught the BBC's management that quantity is no substitute for quality. I would rather the BBC focused on producing the occasional insightful current affairs programme instead of the relentless superficiality of 'rolling news'.

The BBC's behaviour also illustrates a wider malaise in society. The BBC's management is infected by the same disease that is endemic in both private and public sector managements. As the Guardian's report states,

What is going on at the BBC? Is it anything more substantial than a bit of new-management macho Thatcherite posturing, tricked out by some rightwing commentators into a coherent policy?
Ostentatious displays of being 'tough' do not amount to good management or leadership. In this instance, such random acts of toughness are intended to impress the government in order to win renewal of the BBC's charter. The government could end this nonsense now by telling the BBC management that it is not impressed.


No mistake

Since most of us are not privy to the arguments going on within the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, we must rely on the briefing and counter-briefing going on in the media to guess what is happening.

The latest episode in the local income tax saga occurred on Wednesday morning, when Charles Kennedy was interviewed on Radio 4's
Today programme (you can listen to this six-minute interview again here).

For the record, Kennedy was not "disappointed" with the election result and the party's tax policies were not a "mistake". He added, "we will be continuing to argue for a local income tax policy" and later, "we will be sticking with local income tax".

If you are not getting rid of your tax policies, what is the point of reviewing them? Kennedy has a smart answer. The purpose of the forthcoming policy review is to "update" tax policy rather than jettison existing policy (which, by the way, was never in any doubt, in case earlier denunciations by some of Kennedy's colleagues had created a different impression).

So that's settled, then.

PS: Press reports of the Kennedy interview appeared on BBC News Online and in the Guardian and Scotsman, amongst others.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Gypsies, tramps and thieves

If you ever wondered why Roma people still flee to Britain, despite the popular prejudice against 'gypsies' and the vitriolic hate campaigns in the tabloids, the answer can be found in a report in Sunday's Observer.

Communist Czechoslovakia routinely sterilised Roma to curb the birth rate of 'undesirables', but this was thought to have ceased soon after the 1989 Velvet Revolution that brought reformers to power.

Human rights groups have begun to unearth alarming reports that doctors and social workers are still pressuring gypsies to be sterilised, often while they were addled by anaesthetic or the pain of childbirth, or by assuring them that the procedure could be reversed or that they were being fitted with an intra-uterine contraceptive.
The subsequent sentences in this report are, however, a severe test of one's Liberal sympathies.

Gypsy society values large families, and infertility is shameful for both women and men. Most victims of forced sterilisation say their partners soon left them for other women.
Even so, it is shameful that a practice redolent of Nazi eugenics continues in an EU member country.

Another test of your Liberal sympathies. Would you be prepared to defend the right of Roma people to live their own lives if the people in your local community set out on a bile-fuelled witch-hunt? Or would you decide that discretion is the better part of valour?


Quote of the Day

"America can always be counted upon to do the right thing in the end, having first exhausted the available alternatives." - Winston Churchill.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005



Following Simon Hughes's criticism of his party's local income tax policy on Sunday, some of his fellow Lib Dem MPs have begun to fight back.

In a
story headed Flagship Tax Policy Must Stay, Say Top Lib Dems, the Scotsman reports that the Liberal Democrats will not abandon this policy after all.

Senior Liberal Democrats today insisted it was "inconceivable" their flagship tax policy could be ditched.

... they pointed to Mr Kennedy’s recent support for the policy. He said last week the party should not "back off it for one moment".

Local government spokeswoman Sarah Teather told the Press Association: "It is inconceivable we would drop the policy. It was one of our most popular policies in the election and it is a central tenet of our localisation agenda.

"It is very well thought through. The Government has got no answer to the problems of council tax. It is extremely unlikely it will be dropped. I will be fighting for it."

Her comments were underlined by her predecessor Ed Davey, the architect of the policy.

Mr Davey, now the Lib Dems’ education spokesman, said it was a hugely popular policy.

"I think it is a superb policy, as does our leader," he said.

"All the polling evidence shows it is very popular. All the polls in the election campaign showed people thought we had the best policy.

"I don’t want to pre-judge our tax commission. However, my guess is that this is going to be very much retained. This is a very strong policy. All the evidence from our MPs and candidates is that it was extremely popular. It has been in every single one of our manifestos since 1983, it was supported by a Royal Commission and has been passed by successive conferences with an overwhelming majority."
You should banish from your thoughts any notion that Simon Hughes ever doubted the policy of local income tax.

Ms Teather said: "Simon has been one of the biggest champions of local income tax."
Got that?

Monday, May 23, 2005


Ritual sacrifice

From this BBC report comes the depressing news that Simon Hughes has joined the chorus that is blaming the policy of local income tax for the Liberal Democrats' "disappointing result" in this month's general election. This is such a stupid thing to say.

Let's leave aside whether you happen to think this particular policy was good, bad or indifferent. Elections and voting behaviour are complex things. If you want to make sense of the Liberal Democrat performance rather than score cheap points, then you need a calm, reasoned and sophisticated analysis. Hughes's simplistic explanation, on the other hand, is based on a flawed analysis and will encourage a misguided response.

The loss of the highly-marginal Guildford seat, in particular, is being blamed on local income tax. Those Liberal Democrats who argue this have failed to explain how the Lib Dem majority was increased in the equally affluent Twickenham, how the Tories were defeated in the equally affluent Solihull, or how the Liberal Democrats achieved a nationwide swing of 1% away from the Tories.

The party's overall performance was predicted pretty accurately by both the opinion pollsters and the betting markets, long before anyone in the Liberal Democrats thought that the party's flagship policy of local income tax was a liability. This suggests that other factors were at work. Might the real problem have been the unfounded optimism of MPs such as Hughes, who went on the record to predict 27 gains?

For a policy that some MPs now claim is flawed, local income tax was embraced with remarkable enthusiasm before the election campaign. The leadership and the MPs not only endorsed this policy but chose it as one of the "10 Good Reasons To Vote Liberal Democrat". They also made it the centrepiece of the party's major
Axe the Tax campaign in the run-up to the election. None of the MPs were complaining then.

The policy of local income tax was not a flash in the pan but was adopted long before the general election. It remains splashed all over the party's
official website. It would not have been inserted in the manifesto even as a minor footnote without the full agreement of the party leader and the parliamentary party. I am aware of no dissenting voices until after polling day.

What was clearly wrong was the party's failure to rehearse and defend the policy adequately. The leader didn't understand it properly and famously
forgot the details at one of his election press conferences. Had he been able to explain it as competently as his colleagues Vince Cable or Ed Davey, it is doubtful anyone would be panicking now.

Besides unfounded optimism about the election result, the other real problem is that the Liberal Democrats in general and the Lib Dem MPs in particular have not adjusted to a situation in which their policies are subjected to serious scrutiny and attack. This change ought to be recognised as a sign that the party has joined the big league, not treated as a cue to dump any policy simply because the party's opponents criticised it. But it does mean that the party needs to operate an effective rebuttal operation, something it failed adequately to do this time.

You do not need to be a political genius to realise that proposing to replace a flat tax with progressive taxation will create winners and losers. You do not need to be a soothsayer to anticipate that such a policy requires careful handling.

Unfortunately, most people prefer simple explanations and simple solutions. What is most likely to happen is that the party will unceremoniously dump local income tax and pillory Ed Davey, the architect of this policy. The ritual sacrifice having been made, the party will resume business as usual.

PS: The Simon Hughes story also appeared in Monday's press, including the Guardian and Scotsman.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


My number one?

I have no sympathy for anyone who complains about the UK's lowly placing once again in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Greece - the bookies' favourite - was the eventual victor of last night's contest. In the unlikely event that you're the only person in Europe who has not yet heard the winning song, My Number One, the video is

The early stages of the voting appeared wide open, with the outcome uncertain until the votes of more than 30 of the 39 countries were known. As the votes came in, however, the familiar pattern soon emerged, with the Nordic, Baltic and Balkan countries all voting en bloc for their neighbours (detailed scores available on the official Eurovision website).

At the end of the contest, commentator Terry Wogan suffered a rare sense of humour failure and complained indignantly that the bottom four countries - Spain (21st place), UK (22nd), France (23rd) and Germany (24th and bookies' favourite to come last) - are precisely the four large West European countries that pay for the contest.

The voting is obviously a farce, and the public broadcast organisations in the four big countries must be wondering why they bothered. Indeed, the one big West European country not included in this list of shame, Italy, is missing only because it has for some years refused to take part in Eurovision.

But the voting system is not entirely to blame. It has to be said that the songs entered by the four big countries were all poor, even by the standards of Eurovision. I get the impression that these countries have given up trying. In Eurovision, one must try even if one wants to do badly - like Moldova.

As I noted in a
posting last Thursday, Eurovision is an easy stick with which to beat Europe. Monday's editions of the British tabloids will no doubt be full of xenophobic stories spun off the back of Saturday night's results.

However, the British have to make up their minds about Eurovision. You can't expect to win the contest if you treat it as a joke, by fielding a succession of piss-poor unknowns and then inviting Terry Wogan to send the whole thing up.

Given that the British have more pop and rock talent than the rest of Europe combined, the UK could quite easily walk away with first prize every year if it put its mind to it. One must ask instead why no reputable British pop act would nowadays touch Eurovision with a bargepole.

If we accept that Eurovision is a joke and decide to enjoy it as an irony-fest, righteous indignation is a wholly inappropriate response to the outcome. The fact that the UK performs consistently badly should not be any cause for concern. We should instead be happy to see assorted small Baltic and Balkan countries win the contest - after all, it still matters to them.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Oldham? Labour held 'em...

If you subscribe to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme's weekly e-newsletter, you will have read this election analysis (issued 10th May), written by political reporter Iain Watson:

I over-estimated the Lib Dems' number of seats, though not by much. I thought they would get 65, not 62. But again I didn't expect a major breakthrough. Why? Well, I was going to say far be it for me to tell the party strategists how to do their job... but since many of them have spent the campaign telling broadcasters precisely how to do ours, here goes.

The Lib Dems were keen to get a 'Portillo moment' by decapitating (their language, not mine) a prominent Conservative and indeed they succeeded in dispatching the shadow education spokesman Tim Collins in Westmorland and Lonsdale. But while they poured resources into Folkestone and Hythe, the sitting MP Michael Howard, increased his vote. They failed similarly to oust Oliver Letwin, Theresa May and David Davis.

Many of the seats the Lib Dems had to take to make significant gains were from the Conservatives, but while voters were still far from keen to see a Tory government, they were far more keen to give Tony Blair, not Michael Howard, 'a bloody nose'.

If people were still electing Conservative MPs in seats where the Lib Dems were second in the darkest days of William Hague's leadership in 2001 then what possible incentive was there to protest against a Labour government now by switching to the Lib Dems? Yet with a bit of an extra push in some Labour held seats, the Lib Dems, as a receptacle for protest votes, could have increased their tally.

They were fewer than 500 votes away from victory in the seat vacated by Chris Smith, Islington South, and taking it would have provided them with a significant symbol of their strength against a weakened New Labour brand.

And Charles Kennedy didn't visit the Lab/LD marginal that was eleventh on his target list, Oldham East and Saddleworth. The local candidate told me his leader was too busy visiting less winnable sets. And guess what? Labour held on.
[You can listen here to Iain Watson's report from Oldham East, originally broadcast on Today on 3rd May.]

No comment.


What the hell is on your mind?

There is a very good article in Spiked (4 May) by Frank Furedi on the extent to which the political classes are out of touch with public opinion. Furedi begins by examining the Tory election slogan.

From a sociological point of view, the Conservative Party's slogan - 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?' - is the most interesting political statement of the British General Election campaign.

... A lot of interaction consists of gestures, hints, intimations and bluffing, especially when we want to establish points of contact and share experiences as much as tell it like it is. Being vague sometimes assists the dynamic of interpersonal relations. However, when this kind of communication is applied to public life, it represents a cry for help. So when the Tories ask 'are you thinking what we're thinking?', what they really want to know is: 'What the hell is on your mind?' The question is posed in a way that suggests the Tories possess a privileged insight into the minds of the British public, but scratch away the thin layer of smugness and all that is left is a group of dazed politicians, genuinely unsure about what they are thinking, never mind us.
Not that the Tories' opponents were any better.

The fact that opponents of the Tories were worried that a wink-and-nod campaign might make a big impact on the public suggests the entire British political class is out of touch. None of the main political parties feels confident that they know what the electorate thinks. A wink and a nod only works when everyone involved has a sense of shared meaning; gestures are effective only as part of a repertoire of taken-for-granted public signals. Only when the meaning of such rituals is understood by all can a casual gesture elicit the same response as a clear and obvious statement.
The lesson we must all take away is the need to establish real political engagement.

Political parties spend millions on deliberative polls, opinion polls and surveys to try to find out what the public thinks. But such effort does little to enhance the oligarchy's understanding of what's in people's minds. Opinion polls provide raw data that can provide some insights but not knowledge about what people are really thinking. That understanding can only come about through systematic interaction with the public. It is political engagement and genuine dialogue, not formal consultation or other artificial deliberations, that put politicians and public figures in touch with the electorate.
Gladstone defined Liberalism as "trust in the people", so we Liberals ought to be better at this sort of thing. Judging by the hysterical claims made last week, however, the Liberal Democrats' present leadership doesn't even trust its party's own members.


Lost in translation

Over on the MKNE blog, Edis Bevan has introduced a wonderful device - a Babel Fish translation engine, which enables you to translate instantly his entire blog into several different languages.

Once you are in the
French version of his blog, clicking on the links takes you to the French versions of other Liberal Democrat blogs. This opens up a fascinating parallel universe.

It turns out that my francophone alter ego runs a blog called
Le Dissident Libéral, where one can read his perspectives on Charles Kennedy (chef des démocrates libéraux).

He supplies links to other blogs intéressants libéraux. There is one written by a member of l'Assemblée du Pays de Galles,
Noir AM De Peter. Monsieur Jonathan Calder offers L'Angleterre Libérale (with a useful link to the Diary du Seigneur Bonkers - "satire libérale de Rutland"), and there is a blog from that distinguished peer and military man, Jardin de Tim. One may also click on Aucun geek n'est une île, not forgetting that well-known magazine le libérateur.

I am less sure about their German counterparts, such as
Peter Schwarzes Morgens or my doppelgänger Der Liberale Abweichler, although I am told that the magazine in Befreier is worth a read.

Friday, May 20, 2005


This week, I shall be mostly discussing philosophy

Last week, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy gave the distinct impression that he believed his party's biggest handicap during the general election was its own policy.

According to
today's Guardian, however, it would appear he has changed his mind.

The Liberal Democrats failed to establish a coherent philosophy during the election and must develop an overall narrative to make further progress, Charles Kennedy admitted yesterday.
And it turns out that party policy wasn't so bad after all.

"Whilst we had good and quite popular policies, like opposition to top-up fees and the war, there was perhaps a need for a more unified theme. We have got to find and fashion a narrative," the Liberal Democrat leader told the Guardian.
It gets better.

"Two things influence the fortunes of the party. One, credibility - do people think we can win? When they do, they vote for us. Two, demonstrating that you have got a sustained philosophical basis," he said.
If Kennedy is sincere - and if he doesn't change his mind again next week - this statement has profound implications. Until now, the Liberal Democrats have deliberately avoided serious discussion of their philosophy, for three reasons.

First, following the merger between the Liberals and SDP in 1988, the new party's leadership was anxious to avoid the deal coming unstuck. They feared that any fundamental debate might cause the merger to unravel. Debate was heavily managed or stifled completely, to preserve a veneer of unity.

Second, the belief in community politics degenerated into a tactical and mechanical view of campaigning. The party developed an anti-intellectual culture, in which a premium was placed on a puritanical work ethic, and debate and thought were stigmatised as dilettantism.

Third, from 1974 until the collapse of the Blair-Ashdown 'project', a succession of Liberal and Liberal Democrat leaders (particularly David Steel) saw deals, pacts and coalitions as ends in themselves. They saw values and policies as embarrassing obstacles. Only recently has this obsession with relations with other parties come to an end.

The restoration of the Liberal Democrats' self-confidence and ability to think for themselves is long overdue. I hate to say "I told you so" but some of us were arguing for greater philosophical clarity years ago - see my articles in Liberator 272 (January 2001),
Liberator 277 (October 2001), Liberator 295 (May 2004) and Liberator 296 (June 2004).

A leader in the Observer last year (13 June 2004) expressed the party's duty precisely:

We need the three principal parties to be clear what they stand for and to fight for coherent positions with integrity. Being all things to all men disaffects core support and benefits the fringe.
Establishing this coherence and clarity is necessary but difficult. It is no use trying to stitch up this debate at the centre. It would be relatively easy for a small parliamentary clique to win some sort of quick fix but this would be a pyrrhic victory. Kennedy has to carry the party with him - and that means involving the membership in the debate, not by-passing them.

The second difficulty is resolving the unfinished business of the merger. There are now four competing strands of thought in the Liberal Democrats: left libertarians (or 'social liberals'); unreconstructed social democrats; laissez-faire 'economic liberals'; and a hard right with a thing about being 'tough'.

The third difficulty is climbing down off the fence. The pervading air of timidity in the party is based on a fear of upsetting anyone. If the party is to start making bold philosophical statements, this will inevitably offend some groups of people. It ought to be obvious that, the more you attract some groups, the more you will repel others, yet this is a nettle many Liberals are reluctant to grasp.

The fourth difficulty is persuading the party to raise its sights above the pavement and start painting on a bigger canvas. In any party with pretensions to government, localism is simply not good enough.

If there is to be a real philosophical debate within the party, I hope it does not get bogged down in a sterile argument about the relative merits of the public and private sectors. The real philosophical divide for Liberals is between liberty and oppression, between libertarian and authoritarian values, between enlightenment and bigotry.

Liberals lost out in the USA because they didn't recognise the rising importance of moral values until it was too late. Liberals in Britain cannot afford to make the same mistake.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Nul points

British TV news is taking an increasing interest in the forthcoming French referendum on the EU constitution.

What few people in Britain realise is that most of Europe has another vote on its mind. Yes, tonight was the semi-final of the
Eurovision Song Contest, an elimination round in which the British have no interest (other than morbid curiosity) because the UK song has pre-qualified for Saturday's final.

Back in March, I
posted on this contest and the baleful influence it has on British perceptions of Europe. British Euroscepticism was reinforced this week with the news that a team of mathematicians at Oxford University has produced a detailed analysis showing that Eurovision's voting is biased - a statement of the bleedin' obvious that did not require months of cluster analysis.

It is just as well that only the little-watched BBC3 has covered tonight's events in Kiev. There are now 39 countries in the contest (there would have been 40 but the Lebanon pulled out). To cope with this situation, for the first time this year there is a semi-final in which 25 of the 39 countries countries compete for ten places in Saturday's final.

Because the BBC (along with the state broadcasters of the other big West European countries) helps to underwrite the huge cost of the contest, the UK entry gets one of the 14 automatic places in the final, no matter how dreadful it is (and it is). Other countries that did well last time also pre-qualify.

I was able to watch Belgian TV coverage of tonight's semi-final, so had to make do without Terry Wogan. The Belgian song did not win a place in the final - it was the turn of the French-speakers to supply the Belgian entry, so tonight the Flemish half of Belgium will be celebrating their country's failure.

Unlike in the final (where the voting takes up half the show - the best half), the voting system in the semi-final was opaque and the results took only a couple of minutes to reveal. Ten envelopes were opened and the winning countries announced, with little clue as to how the decision was arrived at or what marks each country received.

In Eurovision, musical criticism is beside the point (but fun nonetheless). What is noticeable is that an increasing proportion of the countries is resorting to skimpily-clad glamorous women to perform the songs. The logical conclusion of this process will be an all-nude song contest. It wouldn't have happened in Cliff Richard's day.

The two most bizarre entries to succeed in tonight's semi-finals are undoubtedly
Moldova and Norway. Moldova is fielding a strange band offering a naff variety of folk-rock performed in badly knitted costumes, featuring someone's grandma banging a large drum. Norway, meanwhile, has produced its answer to the Darkness, complete with a lead singer in spandex and hairy chest, the first time anyone has attempted heavy metal in Eurovision.

Eurovision is rubbish, which is why you'll be watching BBC1 this Saturday at 8pm. If you are not resident in Europe, there is no escape, since the BBC is kindly providing a
live webcast.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Plus ça change…

On this day in 1964, teenage Mods and Rockers were involved in a series of violent clashes in various south coast seaside resorts. What ever happened to the traditional British Whit weekend punch-up?

never-ending moral panic about teenagers always assumes that juvenile delinquency and rebellious fashion are new phenomena. Most people prefer fondly to recall an imaginary golden age. They forget that pretty much the same fears were being expressed in 1964 about Mods and Rockers as are now being expressed about hoodies - except that, in 1964, there were no calls to ban parkas or leather jackets.

The teenage Mods and Rockers who ran riot 41 years ago must now be in their late 50s. They are probably among those who now flock to Bluewater, relieved that they can shop without danger of seeing any rebellious-looking youths.


Don't panic!

I have been reflecting on the recent panic in the Liberal Democrat leadership following the general election. Isn't it odd that some Liberal Democrats think it is surprising - and a sign of failure - that their policies have been subjected to scrutiny or attack by their opponents?

Being attacked should be seen as a sign of success. It means the Lib Dems are now being taken seriously. It is not a cue to abandon policy, but it does mean that defences must be prepared better next time.

As Oscar Wilde once said, "If there is one thing worse than being talked about, it is not being talked about."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


The plot thickens

The reasons for Charles Kennedy's decision to trash systematically the reputation of his party's conference (see yesterday's posting) are becoming clearer.

Guardian reports,

The Lib Dem leader has appointed pro-market "Orange Book" MPs as key spokespeople, in time for the major policy overhaul he announced last week.
Today's Independent adds,

Charles Kennedy shifted his Liberal Democrat Party to the right by promoting young Turks who espouse the politics of free-market liberalism.
This Liberal Democrat reshuffle is more of symbolic importance than anything else. Taken at face value, it does rather have a ring of "And tonight Matthew, I'm going to be a shadow cabinet minister" about it.

But if party policy is in future to be made by a cabal of MPs rather than the democratic institutions of the party, it helps to have 'sound' people in position.

The symbolism of portfolio allocations was evident in the transfer of Ed Davey from the ODPM portfolio to education. On paper, it looks like a promotion or at least nothing worse than a sideways move. But someone has been spinning to the press that Davey's transfer is some sort of punishment for masterminding the policy on local income tax.

Local income tax could not have become a major plank in the Liberal Democrat manifesto without the enthusiastic endorsement of the party leader and a majority of the MPs. And it wasn't Davey's fault that Kennedy famously forgot the details of this policy. So who could have any motive for scapegoating Davey? A rival to succeed Kennedy as party leader, perhaps? Who could that be, I wonder?

Meanwhile, those Liberal Democrat MPs from the social liberal wing of the party, who believed Kennedy could be trusted as a 'neutral' figure in the party's internal battles, have quite obviously been taken for a ride. Hadn't they noticed the extent to which their party is being run by the SDP?

It would be a mistake to assume the Liberal Democrats' right-wingers are a unified group. There remains a distinction between MPs such as Vincent Cable and David Laws, who have an essentially economic agenda, and the Mark Oaten/Liberal Future clique, who seem more concerned with espousing authoritarianism.

These divisions are evident in the briefing and counter-briefing that must have gone on to produce the
leader in today's Times, which attacks Charles Kennedy's close ally, Lord Razzall, while talking up Mark Oaten as a future leader. Incidentally, the Times's notion that Oaten is "capable of making a case to the membership" is comical.

Despite their personal rivalries, the strategy of the party's right-wingers is now clear. They could never hope to get their whole policy agenda through a party conference, certainly not in one sitting. And the centralisation of power they want would require changes to the party constitution, which can be made only by the party conference.

The conference has proved generally supine during the Liberal Democrats' 17-year history. On the rare occasions it has rebelled (such as the proposal to elect nominees for life peerages), the party leader has shown that he can simply ignore it. Nevertheless, it is the one remaining obstacle to the right's goals. It is therefore imperative for them to break what little power the conference has.

If you're a member of the Liberal Democrats, maybe you're happy with the thought of becoming a foot soldier in someone else's army, with no rights and no say. Perhaps you're content for all the key decisions to be made by a small clique of MPs, while you get on with delivering their leaflets.

If not, then you should realise that this September's party conference will probably be the last chance party members have to fight back and retain any vestige of control over their party. There's just one snag - you will have to spend a week in Blackpool.

Holding the conference in Blackpool, a grim venue that most party members would rather avoid, looks like a stroke of political genius. The Liberal Democrat right-wingers are not that clever. For them, it is just a stroke of good luck.


Travel directions

For those of you who are not too sure.

  1. Start at your local railway station.
  2. Catch train to London Heathrow Airport.
  3. Catch flight from London Heathrow to Dallas Fort Worth Airport.
  4. Hire car at Dallas Fort Worth Airport.
  5. Start going toward the 'Airport Exit' on 'International Parkway South' - follow for 0.2 miles.
  6. Turn left onto the highway toward 'Terminal East Parking' - follow for 0.3 miles.
  7. Turn left onto 'International Parkway North' toward 'North Airport Exit' - follow for 2.9 miles.
  8. Take the 'Highway 114 west' exit toward 'Fort Worth' - follow for 29.2 miles.
  9. Then continue on 'US 287 north' - follow for 91.1 miles.
  10. 'US 287 north' becomes 'Interstate-44 east' - follow for 0.7 miles.
  11. Take left fork onto 'US-287 north' toward 'Vernon' - follow for 104.0 miles.
  12. 'US 287 north' becomes 'Avenue F (US-287)' - follow for 2.8 miles.
  13. Continue to follow 'US 287 north' - follow for 104.9 miles.
  14. Take left ramp onto 'Interstate 40 west' toward 'Dumas' - follow for 7.8 miles.
  15. Take 'Exit 70' onto 'US 60 east' toward 'Dumas' - follow for 0.5 miles.
  16. Take the 'Buchanan Street' exit toward 'Dumas/Pampa' - follow for 1.7 miles.
  17. Turn right onto 'Old Route 66 (Interstate 40)' - follow for 0.1 miles.

  18. Keep going.

  19. Arrive at the centre of 'Amarillo, Texas'.
Now that's the way to f***ing Amarillo!!!

So can everyone stop singing it now?

Monday, May 16, 2005


A Big Lie

Shortly after polling day, Charles Kennedy announced (also here) that he would be organising a 'policy review', a root-and-branch re-assessment of Liberal Democrat policy to knock it into shape for the new parliament. (This review was originally announced in January).

Unfortunately, Kennedy also saw fit to travesty his party's conference by claiming that the party's 'embarrassing' policies (i.e. the ones the party's opponents used against it in the election campaign) were the products of ambushes on the conference floor by small groups of activists.

In his
statement issued on 9 May, Kennedy said,

"We must consider whether it should be possible to commit the party to specific and controversial policies on the basis of a brief, desultory debate in a largely empty hall."
The Guardian (10 May) reported,

"... the review will also allow the party to ditch embarrassing policies introduced by grassroots activists."
In a Glasgow Herald story (10 May), headlined Kennedy pledges to curb party radicals in power bid, it was reported that,

Charles Kennedy promised to turn the Liberal Democrats into a party ready for power as he sought to shut down its "loony" element.

In a speech to new MPs yesterday , the LibDem leader said he would introduce moves to stop radical factions from embarrassing the party with proposals such as giving prisoners the vote, legalising cannabis and relaxing the laws on hard-core pornography.
The Financial Times (9 May) stated that,

Charles Kennedy has called for a complete rethink of Liberal Democrat tax plans and policies as well as a change to the rules to stop activists saddling the party with controversial proposals.
And ePolitix.com (11 May) informed us that,

Kennedy also wants to stop the party conference passing embarrassing fringe motions, which in the past have included rights for goldfish and cannabis decriminalisation.
Are you starting to notice a pattern?

The facts are somewhat different. Let's examine where all these 'embarrassing policies' actually came from.

So, virtually all these so-called 'embarrassing policies', for which the Liberal Democrats were attacked by their opponents, came from policy papers, drafted by working groups appointed by the FPC, and subsequently approved by the FPC. And all this happened apparently without the chair of the FPC (Charles Kennedy) noticing.

If Kennedy now thinks that party policy is a liability, he has only himself to blame. And if the party had operated a rapid rebuttal unit, some of these issues might have been dealt with during the election campaign, instead of being used as the source of recriminations now.

The conference delegates, the 'grassroots activists' and the 'radical factions' would appear to be blameless. Indeed, the conference has never once voted down a policy paper since the Liberal Democrats were founded in 1988 - it is effectively little more than a rubber stamp for the decisions of working groups and the FPC.

Attacks by the leadership on the conference are nothing new. Some of us are old enough to recall the Liberal Assembly in Eastbourne in 1986. Following a defeat for the leadership on a defence motion, the then Chief Whip David Alton infamously lied to the press about "people walking in off the street to vote". Though untrue, it did lasting damage to the party's reputation and is still quoted as fact by the media to this day.

Will Kennedy's quip about "desultory" debates in an "empty" hall likewise come to haunt the party?

Meanwhile, the question remains as to why Kennedy has launched this unfounded attack. Why tell lies and blame the conference when none of the 'embarrassing policies' originated on the conference floor? There can be only one logical explanation for this shabby and dishonest spinning: a desire to soften up opinion in preparation for an attack on the conference's already limited powers.

This theory is confirmed by a report in the
Scotsman (10 May):

He [Kennedy] also signalled that the party conference would be stripped of some of its powers to enforce policy on the parliamentary party - a rule which has left Lib Dem MPs having to defend awkward policies such as "votes for prisoners".
Fact: the conference has never had the power to mandate MPs. The manifesto is drafted by the FPC (Chair: Charles Kennedy), not the conference.

You can take the man out of the SDP but you can't take the SDP out of the man. The SDP was founded by a group of people scarred by the internal battles of the Labour Party in the 1970s and early 1980s. Their governing principle was paranoia about their own membership. It appears that, almost twenty years on, Kennedy cannot shake off these habits.

Elements on the right-wing of the Liberal Democrats have made little secret of their desire to abolish the conference entirely. Is this where we're heading?

Whatever the true motives, it is safe to say that Charles Kennedy is a liar. He is making claims about party policy that he must know are untrue, and which can be proved to be untrue. He owes his party - and in particular, the innocent conference representatives - an apology.

PS: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." - Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda under Adolf Hitler.

Friday, May 13, 2005


A triumph for unreason

For years, many feminists have been arguing that a fault with politics is that it is too rational and should be more emotional. They associate rationality and logic with masculinity and wish to relocate political discourse in a world of "feelings".

Well, now they've got their way. The
BBC and the Guardian both report today that Britain is in the grip of a mumps epidemic. This epidemic is a direct consequence of an emotional campaign.

In my
posting on 4th November, I remarked on the risk of an epidemic due to the irrational campaign against the MMR vaccine. Numerous studies have shown that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism or other risks. That has not stopped the anti-MMR pressure group continuing to make unfounded claims and scaring parents into not immunising their children.

This epidemic was predictable and entirely preventable. The fact that it has occurred shows that politicians and other opinion leaders are nowadays all too ready to cave in to sentimental and irrational pressure.

Although many political issues arouse intense feelings, the solution is never to 'emote' about them. Political solutions - which usually boil down to decisions about the allocation of scarce resources - should be based on cool, moral and rational judgements.

In this age of emotional incontinence, however, there are many people who would rather we based our decision-making on "getting in touch with our feelings". They have created a moral climate in which feelings can trump facts. I hope they're satisfied.


Big Brother in Leicestershire

A good test of one's Liberal instincts is whether one can see the threat behind something that, on the face of it, appears well-meaning.

In today's
E-Government Bulletin, I spotted this story:

Leicestershire Pupils use Fingerprints to Pay for Lunch.

Parents of children at a Leicestershire secondary school will be able to track what food their children are choosing for lunch as a side-benefit of a cashless meal payment system using pupil fingerprint scanning.

Pupils will place their fingertips on a digital pad in the lunch hall which, once registered, links to the pupil's name, address and class. One year-group of children aged between 11 and 14 will be chosen to participate in the trial, which will last four weeks prior to the Summer holidays.

Pupils can top up their account with cash via machines installed in the school or parents can send cheques to the school. Parents will also be able to request itemised food bills and will also be able to apply limitations on their child's account on what they spend on food at breakfast, break or lunch.

"Children will no longer have to carry money around," said Alistair Keates, school manager at Humphrey Perkins School in Loughborough, Leicestershire. "It puts more power in the parents' hands - they'll know children are spending money at school and not at the shops," he said. "And the children are really excited about it."

According to Keates, the fingerprinting system, developed by local firm Cyclone Industries (http://www.cycloneindustries.co.uk/), will also remove any stigma attached to children who receive subsidised school dinners, by making that process invisible.

Other uses of the system are planned for the future. "Once in place, the system could be used for registration and the library," Keates said.
"And the children are really excited about it" ???

Let's hope there are enough grown-ups in Leicestershire sufficiently aware not to share this unwarranted excitement.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Your name in lights

Well, not quite.

But if you'd like to write an article for the post-election edition of
Liberator, now's your chance.

There's a lot for Liberal Democrats to comment on. Was the party's performance good enough? What went right or wrong? What must the party do next? Can Lib Dem bloggers write more than six lines of prose?

The one type of article we don't need is the parochial, blow-by-blow "what we did in our patch" piece, which is a bore to anyone who wasn't there. If you can paint on a broader canvass than Acacia Avenue, your contributions are more than welcome.

The deadline is tight - we need your copy as soon as possible this week, and by noon this Friday at the very latest. For anyone unfamiliar with Liberator, the style guide is
here (which explains our preferred format and length). E-mail your copy (preferably as a Word file) to: collective@liberator.org.uk

Most Liberal Democrat MPs, MEPs and peers, not to mention various party officers and leading councillors, read Liberator (whatever denials or denunciations they may issue in public). This is your chance to tell them what you think.

Get writing!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


The end of a tradition?

There have been few posts here since the weekend, because I've moved down to Teignbridge for the duration, to work on the local election campaign. Work-wise, I've sampled a bit of everything - from strategic advice to making the tea - and this feels a strange election in all sorts of ways, as you will probably have noticed.

The Tory campaign in this Lib Dem marginal is, like in the rest of the country, going on mostly "under the radar". In place of a weak local organisation, the Tories are relying on various sorts of centrally-organised phone and mail techniques.

Unless you live in one of the Tories' target seats and fit one of their target demographic profiles, you will not be directly aware of what the Tories are doing. Will this strategy succeed? We'll know on Thursday night.

If it does succeed, it may bring a speedy end to the traditional local party organisation (already relying in all parties on increasingly older people). Why go to the bother of traditional canvassing, leafleting, knocking-up and the like, when you can pay a professional marketing company to do everything for you from one national base?

If the Tory campaign fails or makes insufficient headway, it may do us all a favour, by encouraging the parties to reject imported political cultures and instead think about how they can revitalise their local organisation and membership - and retain a human face.


Betting update #5 - Lib Dem gains and losses

It's eve of poll and much of the election betting will have been done today (which probably explains why the Political Betting site crashed earlier today!). Party insiders will have a good idea of how voting is going, through intelligence gathered from the verification of postal ballots.

The betting markets for individual marginal seats are traditionally dominated by punters with inside knowledge, so by now the odds should be a good guide to the final outcome (or, if they're wrong, a good guide to where you can still make money). Where are the punters currently predicting gains or losses?

betting portal on the Political Betting website enables you to compare odds for each of the individual constituencies where a betting market has opened up. (If you do bet online, please go through the links on the Political Betting site – doing so earns a commission that helps pay for the running of that very useful site).

The betting market on individual constituencies comes with several health warnings - please refer to my earlier round-up last Wednesday. Data on the Liberal Democrats' target seats is here. There isn't a betting market for all the marginal and target constituencies (no market, for example, for Aberdeen South, Dunbartonshire East or Totnes).

Here's how the Liberal Democrats will fare according to the punters. Constituencies where there has been a change in the predicted outcome since my previous round-up (last Sunday) are marked with an asterisk (*). Constituencies where a new betting market has opened since Sunday are marked with a cross (+).

Vulnerable (and not so vulnerable) Lib Dem-held seats:

Brecon and Radnor - Lib Dem hold
Brent East - Lib Dem hold
Cheadle - Lib Dem hold
Chesterfield - Lib Dem hold
Colchester – Lib Dem hold
Cornwall North - Lib Dem hold
Dorset Mid and North Poole – Lib Dem hold
Eastleigh - Lib Dem hold
Guildford - Lib Dem hold
Hereford - Lib Dem hold
Leicester South - Labour gain from Lib Dem
Ludlow – Lib Dem hold
Newbury – Lib Dem hold
Norfolk North - Lib Dem hold
Richmond Park - Lib Dem hold
Romsey – Lib Dem hold
Somerton and Frome – Lib Dem hold
Southwark North and Bermondsey - Lib Dem hold
Teignbridge - Lib Dem hold
Torridge and West Devon - Lib Dem hold
Weston-super-Mare - Lib Dem hold
Yeovil - Lib Dem hold
Lib Dem target seats:

Birmingham Yardley - Lib Dem gain from Labour
Bournemouth East - Tory hold
* Bristol West - Labour hold
* Cambridge - Labour hold
Cardiff Central - Lib Dem gain from Labour
Colne Valley – Labour hold (Lib Dems third)
Dorset North - Tory hold
Dorset West - Lib Dem gain from Tory
Eastbourne – Lib Dem gain from Tory
* Edinburgh South – Lib Dem gain from Labour
Falmouth and Cambourne – Labour hold (Lib Dems not quoted)
Folkestone and Hythe – Tory hold
Haltemprice and Howden - Tory hold
Harborough - Tory hold
Hornsey and Wood Green – Labour hold
Inverness NB&S - Lib Dem gain from Labour [on new boundaries]
Isle of Wight - Tory hold
Islington North - Labour hold
Islington South - Labour hold
+ Leeds North West - Labour hold
Maidenhead - Tory hold
New Forest East – Tory hold
* Oldham East and Saddleworth - Labour hold
Orpington - Lib Dem gain from Tory
Surrey South West - Tory hold
Taunton - Tory hold
Watford - Labour hold
Wells - Tory hold
Westbury - Tory hold
Westmoreland and Lonsdale - Tory hold
Wiltshire North – Tory hold
The odds have moved in the Lib Dems' favour in Edinburgh South. But the odds have moved against the Lib Dems in Bristol West, Cambridge and Oldham East. The trend over the past week has been for the betting to support the incumbent of whichever party, and to predict fewer seats changing hands in any direction.

Overall, if this were the situation on polling day, and assuming there are no other constituencies in which the Lib Dems gain or lose seats, the party would be looking at losing none of the seats it won in 2001, gaining 3 seats from the Tories, and gaining 5 seats from Labour (counting the two by-election wins, Brent East and Leicester South, as potential gains rather than holds or losses).

On a baseline of 51 seats won in 2001 (adjusted down from the 52 seats actually won in 2001 because of the Scottish boundary changes, and ignoring the two subsequent by-election gains), the punters are predicting a net change in Lib Dem seats of +8, which would give the party 59 seats.

This 'bottom-up' form of betting is producing a less optimistic result than the 'top-down' betting, which is suggesting closer to 70 seats.

Sunday, May 01, 2005


Betting update #4 - Lib Dem gains and losses

As we get closer to polling day, more money is being placed in the betting markets for individual marginal seats and, given that many of the bets are being placed by punters with inside knowledge, the odds are becoming an increasingly good guide to the final outcome. Where are the punters currently predicting gains or losses?

betting portal on the Political Betting website enables you to compare odds for each of the individual constituencies where a betting market has opened up. (If you do bet online, please go through the links on the Political Betting site – doing so earns a commission that helps pay for the running of that very useful site).

The betting market on individual constituencies comes with several health warnings - please refer to my previous round-up last Wednesday. Data on the Liberal Democrats' target seats is here. There isn't yet a betting market for all the marginal and target constituencies (still no market yet for Aberdeen South, Dunbartonshire East or Totnes); it's possible new markets may open before polling day, though unlikely at this late stage.

Here's how the Liberal Democrats will fare according to the punters. Constituencies where there has been a change since last Wednesday in the predicted outcome are marked with an asterisk (*). Constituencies where a new betting market has opened since Wednesday are marked with a cross (+).

Vulnerable (and not so vulnerable) Lib Dem-held seats:

Brecon and Radnor - Lib Dem hold
Brent East - Lib Dem hold
Cheadle - Lib Dem hold
+ Chesterfield - Lib Dem hold
Colchester – Lib Dem hold
+ Cornwall North - Lib Dem hold
Dorset Mid and North Poole – Lib Dem hold
Eastleigh - Lib Dem hold
Guildford - Lib Dem hold
Hereford - Lib Dem hold
Leicester South - Labour gain from Lib Dem
Ludlow – Lib Dem hold
Newbury – Lib Dem hold
Norfolk North - Lib Dem hold
Richmond Park - Lib Dem hold
Romsey – Lib Dem hold
Somerton and Frome – Lib Dem hold
Southwark North and Bermondsey - Lib Dem hold
Teignbridge - Lib Dem hold
Torridge and West Devon - Lib Dem hold
Weston-super-Mare - Lib Dem hold
Yeovil - Lib Dem hold
Lib Dem target seats:

Birmingham Yardley - Lib Dem gain from Labour
+ Bournemouth East - Tory hold
* Bristol West - Lib Dem gain from Labour
Cambridge - Lib Dem gain from Labour
Cardiff Central - Lib Dem gain from Labour
* Colne Valley – Labour hold (3-way marginal)
Dorset North - Tory hold
* Dorset West - Lib Dem gain from Tory
Eastbourne – Lib Dem gain from Tory
Edinburgh South – Labour hold
Falmouth and Cambourne – Labour hold (Lib Dems not quoted)
Folkestone and Hythe – Tory hold
Haltemprice and Howden - Tory hold
* Harborough - Tory hold
Hornsey and Wood Green – Labour hold
Inverness NB&S - Lib Dem gain from Labour [on new boundaries]
Isle of Wight - Tory hold
Islington North - Labour hold
Islington South - Labour hold
Maidenhead - Tory hold
New Forest East – Tory hold
* Oldham East and Saddleworth - neck and neck between Lib Dems and Labour
Orpington - Lib Dem gain from Tory
Surrey South West - Tory hold
* Taunton - Tory hold
+ Watford - Labour hold
+ Wells - Tory hold
* Westbury - Tory hold
Westmoreland and Lonsdale - Tory hold
Wiltshire North – Tory hold
The odds have moved in the Lib Dems' favour in Bristol West, Dorset West and Oldham East. But the odds have moved against the Lib Dems in Colne Valley, Harborough, Taunton and Westbury. Generally, the odds suggest that the Tories are increasingly likely to hold most of their marginal seats, and that most Lib Dem gains will be from Labour.

So, what are the scores on the doors?

Overall, if this were the situation on polling day, and assuming there are no other constituencies in which the Lib Dems gain or lose seats, the party would be looking at losing none of the seats it won in 2001, gaining three seats from the Tories, and gaining between six and seven seats from Labour (counting the two by-election wins, Brent East and Leicester South, as potential gains rather than holds or losses).

On a baseline of 51 seats won in 2001 (adjusted down from the 52 seats actually won in 2001 because of the Scottish boundary changes, and ignoring the two subsequent by-election gains), the punters are predicting a net change in Lib Dem seats of between +9 and +10, which would give the party between 60 and 61 seats.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?