We are back following some technical difficulties which have kept us from blogging for the past few days. Hopefully these are now all resloved and normal service has resumed
This week’s regular Lib Dem Councillors Advice Surgeries are:
- Friday: 7pm – 8pm @ The Lighthouse Children’s Centre, Beacon School, Davis Road, New Invention
- Saturday: 10am – 11am @ New Invention Library, The Square, Lichfield Rd.
Problems with council bureaucracy? Housing issues with WHG? Ideas on how we can improve where we live? Want answers about the forthcoming Welfare Benefits changes? Why not pop along and share it with the Willenhall North Lib Dem Team?
Over at the New Statesman, Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey has a rather perceptive and interesting piece on the Conservative Party’s implosion over Europe.
Here’s Ed’s take:
The Conservative Party hasn’t won a general election for over two decades and its latest infighting on Europe suggests that this trick may get repeated. Internal divisions on Europe haven’t been the sole cause of the Tories’ poor record. A big reason has been the growth of multiparty politics: Liberal Democrats in government in Westminster; the Scottish National Party in power in Holyrood. And with Ukip moving from a single issue party to a party of right-wing protest, Britain’s multi-party politics looks even more daunting for the Conservatives. How they respond to the strongest UKIP threat ever may well determine the next election. Do they appease Ukip or confront them?
So far, Conservative appeasers are winning. Talk of pacts with Ukip and even more hostility to Europe and migrants is leaving the Prime Minister’s modernisation strategy rather ragged. Yet that strategy was informed by analysis showing that for every vote they gained on the right, they lost one on the centre. The votes they will gain by aping Ukip will almost certainly be in the wrong places, pushing an overall majority further way. For Liberal Democrats, a Conservative rightward shift replacing their past strategy of “love–bombing” seems like a return to business as usual. It also underlines how we, in this coalition, are preventing the right taking control of the government tiller.
What the Conservatives haven’t understood is that Ukip’s new trick has not been to talk more about Europe, but to talk less about Europe. Its recent focus is on immigration and crime. With the economy and jobs top in voters’ minds – and Europe low – the Tories are repeating their 2001 and 2005 mistakes.
And Ed tells us a little about his experiences of reforming the EU constructively from within:
Is there another way? My experience in government suggests there is. Britain’s interests can be served by reforming the EU from within. As a business minister, I became frustrated with the slow pace of economic reform in the EU – despite conclusions from European Councils saying the right things. So I set up a new ginger group, working with fellow EU Ministers who share the British view that the EU needs to boost competitiveness.
This informal like-minded group – the EU Group for Growth – quickly attracted 16 member states. We went on, among other things, to secure the most significant shift in EU regulatory approach for decades: default small-business exemptions from all new EU regulations; a review of the most burdensome regulations for business; and the ability to drop pipeline proposals that could pose excessive costs. You won’t have read about it, but it’s the beginnings of real EU reform.
You can read Ed’s full piece here.
* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.
Andrew Adonis’s account of the days after the public voted in a hung Parliament in 2010 have already receiveda rightful savaging by Andrew Stunell. Given that we already know the Mandelson/Balls preparation for coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats was a quick cup of tea, you might think that not even Andrew Adonis’s account could make Labour’s preparation for a hung Parliament look even more amateurish or non-existent. Yet his 5 Days In May manages that.
His book kicks off with a complaint from Peter Mandelson that his attempt to sound out Paddy Ashdown on a hung Parliament in advance of the election by walking up to him in public on a train and starting to chat resulted in Paddy hot footing it to the toilets rather than in staying to talk.
Imagine Paddy had stayed sat there, chatting away happily. Imagine then the political gossip stories that could so easily and so damagingly have spun off reports of that encounter. If someone walks away from you when you walk up to them in public like that, you shouldn’t blame them, you should thank them for showing some basic common sense.
But even if the train carriage had been completely empty of other people, why would Mandelson have expected a Liberal Democrat to stay and chat meaningfully? After all, remember what happened to Ming Campbell when Gordon Brown tried talking to him about a coalition back in the early days of his government? Someone in Labour leaked the story at time and in a way designed to maximise the damage to the Liberal Democrats.
When you’re own party has such a record of setting out to deliberately sabotage such talks, only someone who expects others to have no more of a memory span than a goldfish would then take umbrage at someone being reluctant to places themselves in an embarrassing situation again.
For Andrew Adonis’s complaints about the Liberal Democrats to start with a moan that Paddy Ashdown showed both basic common sense and the merest hint of a memory shows how weak they are.
Don’t blame the Lib Dems for Labour lack of preparation and unwillingness to deal fairly with other parties, Andrew. If you want a different outcome from a future hung Parliament, you need to get your own party in order.
An apology: I apologise, of course, to goldfish for repeating the myth that they have short memories.
116 Tory MPs last night backed an amendment to the Queen’s Speech and called for an EU referendum bill. Here’s six thoughts from me on what it all means…
This wasn’t about Europe (much): this was about Cameron’s leadership
The Tory outers/Eurosceptics had already won: David Cameron capitulated in January, conceding an in/out referendum he’d tried hard to dodge. But that wasn’t enough for them. So they forced the Tory leader to capitulate again this week, forcing him to rush out a draft Bill legislating for just such a referendum and saying he’d love to pass if it weren’t for those pesky Lib Dems. But that still wasn’t enough to appease the head-banging contingent, so he was forced to re-capitulate by offering a free vote on the not-so-rebel Baron/Bone amendment regretting the failure of the Government’s own Queen’s Speech to call for a referendum right now.
This wasn’t about a European referendum, not really. This was about Tory backbenchers rubbing the Prime Minister’s nose in it, showing him who’s boss. For all that it’s three years since the Coalition was formed, those five days in May still frame most of today’s arguments.
Tory backbenchers remain irritated that David Cameron failed to win the May 2010 election. But more than that (much more) they are irritated that he then chose to form a Coalition with the Lib Dems. The tactically shrewd thing to do, they say — and on this they’re undoubtedly right — would have been to offer a Coalition, then make conditions the Lib Dems couldn’t accept, rule for a few months as a minority government by proposing some populist Tory measures on immigration and welfare which would have been voted down, then call a second election in October 2010, and win an outright majority. The further into this parliament we get the more astounding it is that Mr Cameron didn’t go down this path.
Of course, Mr Cameron would say he was doing the right thing for the nation. Maybe. I suspect a personal desperation to get into Downing Street counted for quite a lot too. Whatever the motivation, though, the effect is the same. Right-wing Tories are blocked from pursuing the agenda they want to — and they don’t like it.
Last year, their frustration bubbled over because of Lords reform (promised in their last three manifestos as well as the Coalition Agreement, but no matter). This year it’s Europe. But ultimately it’s all about David Cameron’s two big failures: not beating Gordon Brown outright and not holding his nerve by pursuing a minority government. Too many Tories just can’t forgive him for those errors, especially now they see Ukip profiting from them.
The Conservative Party is losing its fitness to govern
It was assumed the Lib Dems would be the flaky ones in the Coalition. Far from it. The party dipped its collective hand in the blood when sealing the Coalition Agreement and there has been no attempt since then to go back on the deal. Tensions, yes. Withdrawal, never. The only serious threat to the future of the Coalition has been the result of the Tories failing to keep their side of the bargain (Lords reform), and now with their MPs beating up on their own leader.
The Tory backbenchers are unruly, which makes it difficult for the Tories to rule. Those Tory backbenchers wondering why David Cameron was so desperate to avoid leading a minority government (followed by possible a too-close-for-comfort majority after a hypothetical October 2010 election) need only look in the mirror.
Only David Cameron can win a referendum
This is the other part of the explanation for Tory MPs’ nervousness about the Prime Minister’s intentions. David Cameron has said, quite explicitly, that he wants to re-negotiate the UK’s terms and then lead a ‘Yes to the EU’ campaign. Not surprisingly, Tory ‘outers’ don’t relish that prospect.
And here’s the uncomfortable truth for those of us in the better-off-in camp: Mr Cameron is our best hope. As I’ve pointed out before, logically there is only one way to vote in 2015 if you want to be sure the UK stays in the EU: vote Tory.
The Tories’ EU obsessiveness is drowning out the relatively better economic news
This week’s news agenda has been crowded out by Tory divisions over Europe. The relatively good economic news has, as a result, received barely a hearing. Hardly a mention of recovering consumer confidence in the state of the economy. Easy to ignore the Bank of England’s revised forecast for stronger growth than previously expected. Not even time for any passing, tasteless schadenfreude that Socialist-led France has returned to recession. The Tories were just too, too busy banging on about Europe.
(To be clear: the UK’s economic growth is still likely to be anaemic. That the news is hailed as good says more about how low our expectations now are. However, the plain political fact remains the Government will now claim credit for an economy fumbling its way towards growth.)
The Lib Dem position is consistent and right (doesn’t make it easy to defend)
The Lib Dems have stuck to our guns: an in/out referendum the next time there’s a major treaty. That was the party’s view five years ago when Lisbon was being debated. It was the party’s manifesto commitment in 2010. And it is now Coalition Government policy.
None of which makes it easy to defend, though. The Tories say we should ask the people now: and we’re saying not yet. Tough sell. But when politicians avoid the easy choice (in this case conceding a referendum) it’s actually worth asking why. The answer’s clear: we don’t yet know what shape or form the EU will take once the Eurozone crisis is resolved (which may happen peaceably or messily). Ask the question now and you may end up having to ask it again in three years’ time.
Credit to Ed Miliband: he’s got this big call right (but will he stick to it?)
Ed Miliband could’ve done a John Smith this week: used clever, lawyerly parliamentary tactics to cause maximum mayhem for the Government. He didn’t. Critics will say it’s because Labour’s unsure what its policy should be on a referendum. There’s clearly an element of truth in that. But the bigger truth, I suspect, is that Mr Miliband knows for sure what he wants to avoid: saddling himself with the promise of a referendum which could tie any future Labour government up in knots on an issue they don’t care that much about.
Commit to an in/out referendum now, and if he wins in 2015 the Labour leader will have to invest huge political capital fighting for UK membership of the EU against a hostile right-wing press and a new Tory leader who will, almost certainly, be an ‘outer’. Chances are he’d lose. Ed Miliband can see that unalluring prospect and is desperate to avoid it, rightly. Whether he can withstand the pressure to cave between now and the next election is another matter though.
The first phase of HS2, the planned high speed railway between London, the West Midlands, Manchester and Leeds moved another step forward today (16 May 2013) with the launch of consultations on the project’s draft Environmental statement (ES)and proposed design refinements.
The draft ES sets out HS2 Ltd’s current thinking on plans to integrate the line into the landscape using the very latest design and construction methods, both during building and operation.
The design refinements consultation is an opportunity to comment on the most significant proposed changes to the design of phase one of the scheme between London and Birmingham. The refinements, some of which have been made following representations from individuals and organisations, help make the railway the very best it can be.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:
“HS2 is absolutely vital for this country, providing a huge economic boost which will generate a return on investment that will continue paying back for generations to come. But you cannot build a new railway line without causing some disruption.
“What we can and will do is ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum by using the very latest design and construction methods.
“We are confident that through continued hard work we can ensure that many of the feared effects of HS2 never materialise. We also know that the best design for the scheme can only be reached with the input of local communities, environmental groups and all levels of government.
“Publication of these plans is a crucial next step and will ensure that construction of the first phase can begin within the next four years.”
The draft ES and proposed design refinements are open to full public consultation with responses required by 11 July. Consultation on the draft ES is not a statutory requirement but the government recognises the importance of ensuring widespread engagement on the scheme. Its publication is an important stage in the project as it helps prepare the formal ‘Environmental statement’ that is essential for the Hybrid Bill – effectively the planning application for the project – due to be published later in 2013.
HS2 Ltd is seeking to build on the best practice of constructing and running a high speed network, established both on HS1 and abroad. It is looking to use technology unique to Europe in helping to cut the noise of high speed trains, such as eliminating the gaps between train carriages to cut noise as they travel and boost their aerodynamic efficiency.
Drawing on Japanese expertise, HS2 trains could also be fitted with wheel farings, like on a Citroen DS car, to cut the noise made by the wheels on rails – the biggest source of noise on any electrified railway.
Around 70% of the line’s surface sections between London and the West Midlands will be insulated by cuttings, landscaping and fencing, helping it to harmonise with the landscape.
Earth removed for track laying could be used beside it as noise-absorbing bunds, cutting the amount of earth that has to be transported and therefore reducing the number of tipper truck journeys which create congestion, disruption and pollution.
The most significant proposed design refinements being consulted on for phase one include tunnelling under Ealing and Northolt in north west London, and at Bromford in the West Midlands. Also published for consultation are revised proposals to redevelop and improve Euston Station to accommodate high speed trains for HS2without having to knock down and rebuild the entire station.
The charity Crimestoppers has launched a Charity Fraud Line service to take information about charity fraud.
Charity fraud currently defrauds registered charities in the UK of over £1 billion every year. The Charity Fraud Line is a 24/7 service that helps to protect public donations to various charities from being misused.
Its aim is to take information anonymously from those who have knowledge or well-grounded suspicion that a member of a charity, be it management, staff or volunteers, may be acting dishonestly and committing fraud.
Staff at charities can give information anonymously by calling 08000 232 101 or by visiting www.charityfraudline.co.uk. Since Crimestoppers inception 25 years ago the charity has never broken its promise of anonymity.
Crimestoppers Founder, Lord Ashcroft, KCMG, PC, said: “As a charity itself, Crimestoppers is pleased to be launching this new service and supporting other third sector bodies that are being subject to fraud which has a huge financial impact on the good causes they work hard towards”
For further information visit the Crimestoppers website.
If you are a victim and want to report a fraud call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use their online fraud reporting tool and receive a police crime reference number.
Responding to the National Audit Office report on the benefits of HS2, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Transport Parliamentary Party Committee, Alan Reid said:
“HS2 is a huge leap forward for our rail network and will improve connectivity for generations to come.
“Liberal Democrats support HS2 because it will build a stronger economy and a fairer society, creating 40,000 direct and thousands more indirect jobs, as well as bridge the gap between the north and south. And that’s before you consider the economic benefits to the wider areas serviced by HS2. “In assessing the value of HS2 we must look at all the overall benefits, including for passengers by increasing capacity on existing lines and significantly cutting the travel time, and to the environment by reducing our reliance on domestic flights and transferring millions of journeys from road to rail.”
Commenting on this week’s unemployment figures, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Work and Pensions, Greg Mulholland said:
“While it is disappointing that overall unemployment is up, it is good news that youth unemployment has fallen as that will be encouraging for young people who are looking for work.
“To build a stronger economy in a fairer society, Liberal Democrats have been focusing on giving young people the skills and experience necessary for a successful career.
“That is why Nick Clegg has introduced the £1bn Youth Contract that will ensure young people have the opportunity to earn or learn and Business Secretary Vince Cable has overseen the creation of more than 1m apprenticeships.
“We will continue to work hard to get more people in employment and build a stronger economy.”