Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Lib Dems - The Real Alternative?

Charles Kennedy today is to unveil his party's slogan for the forthcoming General Election - "The Real Alternative". It is a reasonable comment to make, but unless they can start making headway in the polls over the next few weeks - getting consistently above 20%, they are always going to look less than that.

Charles Kennedy consistently comes out as being the party leader most people would trust. You could argue that that's because he doesn't get enough exposure, but that will be put to the test once the election is called and the equal access to the media becomes enforceable by statute.

As I have said in the past, the Lib Dems probably are the "best" alternative for disenfranchised, ex-Labour, social democratic and liberal voters like me. But we cannot afford to vote Lib Dem if that would risk a Conservative candidate taking the seat. So they are the best of the bunch. But are they a "real" alternative?

I don't think so. There is no chance they're going to get above 100 seats, and 80 maximum is probably more realistic. Most evidence shows the more people who vote Lib Dem, the more Tories get in through the back door. That's a problem of the electoral system, and it shows that they can never be a real alternative, unless 50% or more of the population is prepared to vote for them. So voters must think strategically, and take into account the most likely person to topple a Tory. They are still a dangerous party, and their organisation is much more widespread and resourceful than the Lib Dems. They can create headlines with ease, as we have seen in the past few weeks over immigration. The Lib Dems do not have that power.

If a party cannot get credibility with the media, then it is always going to struggle to get people to listen as they can't find the message in the first place. They must professionalise themselves... bring in strong and charismatic speakers to the front bench, who can hold their own in three-way debates, and ensure that they get their opinions across. People still have the stereotype that the Lib Dem speaker can be safely ignored as they always have "crazy ideas" for this country. But that is what people thought of Labour when Michael Foot was the leader.

Things can change. The Lib Dems can become a real alternative if Labour and the Tories continue to converge towards the centre ground. They will be able to act as a party that presents a real difference. It requires time, and the right balance of spokespeople. But it will have to be a target for the General Election beyond this one.

In the meantime, a few extra seats won't hurt anyone.

Friday, March 04, 2005

There's Always One

In any kind of bureaucratic system, you are always going to be able to find the extreme and rare examples of failure, or even glowing success. It's the way it works unfortunately. There will always be people who suffer extreme bad luck.

It's never fun, however, when a politician decides to "take up the case" of one of them and try to blast the other party with it.

I'm talking, of course, of the case of Margaret Dixon - the women who has had her operation cancelled seven times. Or is it three? Yes, it is three.

So the lying has already been exposed. Parties don't have a good track record when it comes to highlighting individual cases and trying to portray them as the general picture because it's never true. I'm quite sure that Labour could find someone who managed to get their hip replaced in just a couple of weeks from initial diagnosis, and no one would believe that that was the general picture. That would be a "fluke"!

So why is it when we find an example of the very worst case we all go crazy with anger that the NHS is failing every single patient?

It's just another example of a right-wing media shitstorm that does nothing to help the morale of the thousands of doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners, and admin staff who do wonders in the NHS day in, day out.

We would all do well to remember that.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Failing Opposition

I'm not quite sure why the Tories decided last night that they would support the Government's "anti-terror" legislation after all.

David Davis said:
"It is simply wrong under British law, British tradition, British freedom and British justice,"
But apparently, according to him, just because a bill is wrong it shouldn't stop it from getting onto the statute book!

Pathetic. Nothing more than electioneering since Charles Clarke had ramped up the rhetoric by telling the nation to effectively blame the Tories if there is a terrorist attack.

This is the worst "opposition" party this country has ever seen. They are badly organised, totally incoherent and have no backbone whatsoever. They are beginning to be worse than Labour on selling out their own principles. I would love to see the Tories delivered a killer blow in the next election, and the Lib Dems step to the plate as the real opposition.

Because something certainly needs to change in British politics. And soon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Temper Temper...

After a heated exchange at Prime Minister's Questions today, the media has been buzzing with whether the arguments between the PM and Michael Howard were particularly effective, especially as Tone seemed to get a little flustered. He certainly will not like the way the media have been painting him this evening. Unless this is all a clever double bluff.

See, that's the problem with Tony. Now we're all used to him, and the "trust me, I'm Tony" mantra has worn thin, we are all deeply cynical about anything he says. It's just one of the many reasons why it would be better for all concerned if he just left the party and made way for someone more sensible. But I have a feeling he has Thatcher's record in sight. Somebody Stop Him!

On the issue of the NHS, I think it is still very shaky ground for the Tories. There's no doubt in my mind that the service has improved, but certainly not in proportion to the money that has gone in. And all the bollocks about Foundation Hospitals has been a complete diversion. Soon Labour plan to give everyone the choice of hospital to go to. Sounds good, of course. But why not just have a good local hospital? Why should people have to travel far to get seen to in a nicer hospital? And who is more likely to take up these offers in the first place? Why, the people who can already afford to, of course!

Labour have been stealing Tory polices for eight years now. I don't trust either of them over the NHS. Labour are too caught up in setting targets and funding all the wrong hospitals. Surely it's the worst hospitals that need the cash the most desperately to appoint better managers and improve standards? It's pretty simple really.

But no one party will offer a realistic, but with a big vision, view of the NHS at the election. Not even the Lib Dems, who I have become fans of lately... at least at the national level.

To sum up today politically: nothing new. As our friend William Hague once said:
"It's all spin, and no delivery."

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Scare Tactics

The government has been on a relentless pursuit of scaring the nation into submission for the past few weeks now. Today we are told that a flu pandemic could be imminent and that we must begin preparing. Sure. That makes sense, although we should be well prepared by now as it's been so long since the last one.

Of course, for the past few days we have also been hearing so much about the threat of terrorism to the nation. Charles Clarke and his new chum, the new chief of the Met, Sir Ian Blair has been trying to scare the nation shitless for some time now over the "forthcoming" General Election.

Add to that the fact that we're constantly being told from all sides that violent crime is "out of control", and especially that gun crime, or even a "gun culture" is going to be the death of many. And woe betide you if you even so much as sneeze on a burglar entering your house!

Then those damn rebellious youth are, surprise surprise... "out of control" too. They're mugging old ladies, joyriding, binge drinking, sexually infecting and drug taking more than ever. Watch out, the next time you see a youth on the street, you could end up with chlamydia, find your wallet removed and get AIDS from a violent assault with a syringe.

Then the media frenzy over paedophiles. No one lets their children out to play any more... after all, who knows who lives next door! Better to keep kids locked up night and day so they never learn anything about real life or socialise with their own kind.

When you add all this up, you wonder why we haven't all already given up and resigned ourselves to living the rest of our lives in an air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. Yet every day, people are apparently taking their lives into their own hands by stepping out their front doors and doing the things they've been doing for decades.

We really need to calm down. Sure there are problems. But let's stop this ridiculous knee-jerk reaction to everything. Life is not as simple as just stringing up all criminals and whipping kids into submission. That solves nothing. We need to gain a sense of perspective, and a sense of rationality. It's becoming quite desperate now.

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Honourable Members

At least there are some sensible Labour MPs who realise that the governments plans for "control orders" are a travesty. The proceedings in the Commons yesterday were a farce and they show just how much contempt the government has for Parliamentary scrutiny. The whole thing has been badly managed, and with a bit of luck the Lords will either chuck it out, or make some serious and important amendments to it. No one doubts there is a threat, but our response must be proportional to it.

But to bring the majority down to 14 on a three-line whip is yet another example of a government that is seriously going to have trouble controlling its rebellious backbenchers if the majority falls below 100. What's more, most of the current Blairite lobby fodder are those currently placed in the marginal seats.

It might be best not to underestimate the enormous impact this election could have, even if Labour do get in with a comfortable majority.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

U-turns on house arrest?

Charles Clarke appears to be considering relenting on some of the major issues that are causing the widespread opposition to his plans for detaining suspected terrorists.

This is a good thing, and it's a sign of what united and strong opposition can do to a dictatorial government, even one with a huge majority. Yet, this is what oppositions are supposed to regularly and consistently. If only we'd had one of those for the past eight years.

That's why a considerable cut of Tony Blair's majority would be a reasonable result in this election.

But if Charles Clarke thinks he can fool people into believing he was always planning on listening, and this is not just a reaction to the fact that the plans were doomed to be killed in the House of Lords then he really must think we're all stupid.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke's parliamentary private secretary, Stephen McCabe, said Mr Clarke had been "seeking consensus from the outset" and was "continuing to listen to people".
Classic. An absolute classic.

You wouldn't have guessed an election was round the corner...

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly unveils yet another crackdown on school truancy.

The simple fact of school truancy is that kids skip classes for a reason. They don't due it out of pure maliciousness. It's either something like: (i) they see the lesson as irrelevant, (ii) the teaching is very poor, (iii) they are having problems at home, or even (iv) the parents have took them on holiday.

It's not an easy issue to tackle. But it sure makes for good headlines in the right-wing press when you start talking about your latest crackdown on those sinful, wicked and naughty schoolchildren who have No Respect For Authority! Bring back the birch, etc. etc.

The children in question have already been, to use the carrot and stick approach, "sticked" out of school by one of the above factors. It doesn't help anyone, and it doesn't solve the problem in the long run by trying to whip the children into submission and sending them back to school. They have to be encouraged. An adult needs to sit down and have a sensible discussion with the child in question, work out the factors involved, explain the importance of school for achieving the child's goal, and motivate them back into the mainstream. Truancy disappears if children make the decision of their own accord to go to school because they know that by doing so they are going to ultimately improve their life in the future.

Of course, this can also be linked back with the missed opportunity for reforms in the 14-19 education system that Ruth Kelly shyed away from earlier this week. Giving children more opportunities to study a wider range of things would allow them to pick what they feel is the best area for them, especially when it comes to vocational qualifications.

But unfortunately, approaches like this take more money, more effort, more time, and political backbone. Something which is in very short supply at election time.