Left Out Liberal

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

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Are You Thinking What [I'm] Thinking?

I think most people are wholly unsurprised about the fact that the Dog of War has been unleashed today. Yes, I am talking about John Reid.

Just as expected, and right on cue, Mr Reid went on the offensive on Tory plans to slash and burn, or at least, those plans that were accidently leaked by the now sacked, de-selected and soon to be ex-MP Howard Flight. In one sentence, that man has single-handedly destroyed his entire political career! Just shows how carefully words have to be selected in this game...

None of that was a surprise, of course. Labour are going to drum this one home for the next five weeks, and if you aren't already bored about hearing about this, you certainly will be by the end of this campaign.

Meanwhile, the president of the NUT has also issued another nugget of truth, calling new Education Secretary Ruth Kelly "patronising" and "the wrong person... for the job". It's true, of course. I've already taken plenty of shots at Ms Kelly for her appalling spinelessness when presented with the chance to properly reform the education system, so these comments are great fun to read. It's always nice to see a professional organisation giving "professional" criticism to Cabinet members. They need to be kept on their toes.

Here's to a quiet Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday! If you have them, enjoy!

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Truth Will Out

Surprise surprise, just like last time, a Tory has been exposed for what they really are - they want to cut far more than what they pledge. The press has been abuzz with this story since it first emerged last night, and now the broadcast media has got onto it, it is slowly turning into a one of the Tories first PR disasters of the campaign. I don't think they've been forced on the defensive for anything yet, but this story is the first chance Labour have had to go on a proper offensive.

Of course, anything that helps Labour is not necessarily a good thing. It would be nice if the Lib Dems could capitalise on this by emphasising how Labour's persistent efforts at PFI and PPPs are going to become a massive drain on the Treasury within a decade, or how Labour's target culture is responsible for many of the failings within public services, but instead, people are just going to naturally swing back to Labour.

But anything that helps destroy the image of the Tories is a good thing. People must be reminded that public services are never safe in their hands, and despite their public pledges to continue spending on the NHS and schools, it's pretty clear from today's evidence that there are a lot more sinister machinations going on behind the scenes. They can say what they like about it not being "official policy" but the fact remains there are people deep within the party who hold such views; we can hardly be expected to believe that he's the only Tory in the team who wants to cut back even further.

And all this coming after the most recent polls suggesting the gap is closing on Labour between likely voters from MORI and YouGov. I'm sure the Tories will do a lot of successful damage limitation this weekend, and this may prove to be little more than a storm in a teacup, but you can guarantee that Labour will keep using this event right up to the Election and beyond.

Roll on May 5th!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Trust Tony?

The latest relevations on the Attorney General's flip-flopping between whether the war in Iraq was legal or not are rather interesting. The government is caught on this one, and the opposition has the potential to make a great deal of capital from it.

In an ideal world, they would publish everything. But of course, they cannot. The government pursues the line, and they have their justification for it, that no governments have to release their legal advice as they have legal-professional privilege, or something like that. This is their persistent defence.

It is a weak defence. It allows the debate to rumble on over whether Lord Goldsmith, the AG, was leant upon by Blair to support the war. I have a suspicion that he was, but it is just that - a suspicion. It all seems to be so convenient, the way everything falls into place just in time for the Commons debate on authorising the war. It continues to feed the cynicism of politics, and the continued basic lack of trust people feel in Blair's government.

And this is where the government is stuck. Disclose the advice, and perhaps just the tiniest nugget of information is revealed that confirms us cynics and sceptics were right all along. The proof positive that we cannot trust this government after all is granted.

On the flip side, they can continue to resist disclosure, thus fuelling the suspicions we have still further, while the government looks like it's stumbling with excuses of "convention"... and not giving consistent genuine reasons why they feel it would be a bad idea to disclose it. The circumstances of this event are unique, and so much is slowly eking away into the public domain anyway that this is going to rumble on for much longer. It would probably be better to get this all over and done with. Perhaps they would, but there's a damn pesky election standing in the way!

Either way, it is extremely damaging for the government. I feel that this one still has plenty of mileage. If the Conservatives weren't so stupid as to have supported the war, I feel they would have been in a much stronger position now, and the Lib Dems would be totally out of the picture. There were several sensible Conservatives, such as Douglas Hogg, who could clearly see that this was all going to be a complete disaster who held strong and still continue to pursue accountability of the government on this one, but otherwise, they were hopelessly ineffective, and thus the legacy of Iain Duncan-Smith persists.

But the simple fact is that this will be an issue. Perhaps not because people think of Iraq as very important to their daily lives, but because this along with many other issues, are fine illustrations of why they just cannot trust Tony Blair any more. If the opposition parties make this the key issue, then they just might pull off quite a surprise.

Tony Blair must go. It's as simple as that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Cat's Out The Bag

You can always rely on the BBC's Andrew Marr to get hold of stories before anyone else does. As political editors go, I rate him as one of the best, even if he does go over the top with metaphors from time to time.

In this case, he has apparently learned that the election will be called on the 4th or 5th of April. It's going to push Parliament into overdrive as it desperately tries to get through its bills on serious organised crime and ID cards. I'm sure they'll get the former through, but the latter remains debatable. It's currently gone to Lords Committee, and there it could stay for some time.

But there are a lot of other bills that are going to die, as can be seen on the Parliament website. Clearly none of those matter so much to the government. It's possible even the Gambling Bill could be in trouble, which is a bit of a surprise given how much work has gone into it and the trouble it's caused.

I'm both looking forward to and dreading this campaign. I'll be glad when it finally gets underway so we can see just exactly what the parties are proposing, and how they conduct real election campaigns in the eyes of the media. But I'm dreading it because I suspect it will be one of the most tedious ever, with parties desperate to outbid each other on populist grounds, since there is no such thing as ideology any more.

And it will be crunch time for the Lib Dems. Given the expectations on them that they must make serious inroads, they have no choice but to hit the ground running and produce a top-quality campaign. Anything less will not get them they coverage they need to keep in the running.

But there's still a lot to play for. The rate of polls per day will increase significantly, and we'll finally get to see just how people's minds are changing day by day. From a purely political science point of view, this could be very interesting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Not what we like to see...

Tony Blair is off out courting the "Christian vote" this morning, whatever that is. In a country that is allegedly Christian, but with a significant majority of them non-practicing, there should really be no need to stick a label on a group as "the Christian vote" because it should theoretically be so wide and disparate that it's impossible to get hold of the lot of them.

So we know what this story is actually referring to - the small but devout core of Christians who put their faith central to any decision on public policy, and if the example of the US is anything to go by, also like to thrust their religious views on others.

Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy have recently been making speeches to this group too. So what is going on? Religion and politics do not mix. As I have written about before, we really must stop copying everything America does. This is Britain, and we play politics slightly differently here. No one has ever chose to make religion a key focus for policy or campaign strategy, despite the fact that Church and State are not disestablished, and we should do our utmost to remain that way. The only "religion" in politics should be those attached to ideology.

I'll be very disappointed if we stoke this any more and cause it to become a dangerous cleavage in the country, allowing a small but vocal minority to dictate the direction of discussion, as we have already seen when the issue of abortion was raised. This is totally avoidable, and the politicians should be wary that playing games with religion is not a path to be taken lightly.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Moving On

It's rather difficult to move on when one story dominates the headlines for days. There's nothing worse than a speech for Monday being leaked on Sunday as it gives it far more coverage than what it should have got. Yes, Old Michael Howard is out today to finally give the speech on "travellers" that the world is desperate to hear.

By Wednesday this will be quiet again as Howard moves on to his next set of scapegoats who he can blame for the destruction of British society.

Meanwhile, some news has emerged that is being buried under the mass hysteria of the nation, orchestrated by our friends at the Mail, Express and the Sun.

Yes, it's that old ID cards thing again. Turns out Tony is going to try and slip this one through the Lords this week under all this kerfuffle. How timely then that the London School of Economics comes out with a report that blows the gaffe on this latest Nu Lab piece of garbage. "Too risky" they call it.

It's muted criticism. It doesn't go as far as I would have liked to so it would be more embarrasing for the government, but still, it is nice to see a piece of academic work claiming that all is not well with ID cards. The arguments against are well rehearsed, so I won't go through them here.

All government experiments with national databases tend to fail. They tend to fail with or without private help, so that doesn't seem to be a factor, but at the very least if it's public then it stops the private sector making obscene profits from an utter catastrophe. Our friends at Crapita, classic government contract winner, who run the Criminal Records Bureau, make lots of money from an organisation that doesn't know its arse from its elbow. There are plenty of other examples of failed national databases... Child Support Agency, Inland Revenue Tax Credit systems and the Police National Computer (funny how their name is just a singular) is horrendously incomplete thanks to failure to communicate between police forces.

ID cards will soon join that list, thanks to Tony's majority. The Bill will probably die because of the election, but we must do our best to ensure it doesn't resurface after it.

The best way to do that?

Slash that majority down to size.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Same Old Same Old #2

It's a sign of how shockingly samey the electoral campaign is becoming that for the second day running I'm finding it difficult to find something new to write about. Sure, Michael Howard has stirred up the issue of "travellers" again by once more putting loads of adverts into the Sunday papers, but it's not a genuine policy, and it's little more than a further attempt to grab the headlines so he can set the agenda for the coming week.

If Labour want to do anything this election, their campaign team is really going to have to buck its ideas up. Sure, this is only the "pre-election" but it is certainly laying the groundwork for what we will expect to see in the campaign proper. And it's given Howard the opportunity to close the gap, while Charles Kennedy seems to be completely invisible. Given that it's the Lib Dems who have done the real opposing for the past few years, it's a bit of a travesty now that the Tories are able to capitalise on the work the Lib Dems have been putting in for years. Where have they been for so long?

Talking of elections, the declaration can only be a matter of weeks away now if it really is going to happen on May 5th. Some people expect it to be declared after Charles and Camilla's wedding, which somewhat makes sense. It would be too much of a distraction, even if the British people are mostly fed up with it. That wouldn't stop the tabloid press and the toadying BBC from running round-the-clock coverage of the preparations for the "big day".

Let's hope for a more interesting start to next week...