Left Out Liberal

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

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Paxman vs Howard

In the concluding part of this three part series, Jeremy Paxman attempted to go medieval on Howard's arse this time. Paxman has been feigning indignation and looking rather smarmy all week, but Howard, like Blair, did not take the bait. On reflection, it seems that only Kennedy got shook up by Paxman's predictable bouts of foot-stomping.

Howard pulled off a pretty measured performance. The policies are a disgrace, but that doesn't mean he didn't dress them up appropriately. Out came the brand new Immigration pledge - an old classic in the 2001 campaign that ended up just a little too garish for the public. So Immigration 2005 got its umpteenth relaunch, as Howard flounced and pirouetted to the delight of the cameras - this time in bold, authoritative black. Paxman entered the dance floor with the full intention of tripping up this delightful dancer Howard with a carefully placed foot round the ankles as Howard pranced into full flow.

It was not to be. Howard played the issue carefully, but once more took up a considerable part of the interview in doing so. He got into a little bit of trouble on the age old question of how many immigrants would be the limit, but he brushed it aside with the usual "We're not in government" response. He run through the same old lines that he's said on many other occasions on other programmes, so we have heard it all before. If Paxman did achieve anything in this interview, it was to tie up the Tory leader with immigration for another 10 minutes chunk of his election campaign, thus keeping it on the front pages, and continuing with the theme that they are obsessed about it.

Of course, it won't help that this morning the CBI director Digby Jones has attacked the Tories plans for an economic migrant limit. He is right. This is not how Milton Friedman style Conservatives would run the party. I know a few who are desperate to have their party of economic freedom back.

Other parts of the interview were less exciting. The opening assault on Howard's credibility was worthy of being asked, and the usual admissions of the failure of the ERM were turned into positive aspects by Howard telling everyone how much it proves the Euro is destined to failure. It's clever, but again one we've heard before. I'd rather the discussion was on their current policies - not just for me to laugh at, but so that the electorate had a chance of hearing at least some analysis of what the Tories have planned for Britain. Apart from a reasonably interesting section on tax, where Howard proclaimed his Love for subsidising the private sector out of government finances, and the discussion on immigration, Paxman didn't go any further to look at their other policies.

Howard made a big play of their £4bn tax cut; a pittance in comparison with total budget finances. If they want to claim they are the party of lower taxation, I can't help but feel that they are going about it in a very odd way. They can argue the economy is struggling, but the plans for the initial budget are hardly revolutionary. Other Conservative parties in the past have made simple pledges on the rates of income tax, and not a whole plethora of issues designed to make the money spread as widely as possible. Their miniscule tax cuts they propose are not really worthy of the attention they are receiving.

Overall, it's a representation of the fact that most people probably aren't going to make up their mind on issues. It's going to be yet another development in the history of the more personality driven campaign. It's all about leadership, style and authoritativeness. Who do you trust?

On that score, Michael Howard may have won a few votes last night. And by God will he need them.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Immigration: The Truth Hurts

Last night's Question Time was probably the most interesting I've seen in a long time, even though that's not saying anything given that the standard of this programme is normally appallingly low. Robin Cook's outbreak of loyalty to the party was expected, but it still annoyed the hell out of me.

It was encouraging to see a lot of positive focus on the asylum and immigration issues given, however. Shirley Williams for the Lib Dems and the Green MEP on last night both talked very positively and sometimes very movingly on particular cases they had come across.

This is the problem with the immigration debate. To coin a phrase that the Tories have made in vogue at the moment, none of what I'm about to say on this issue is rocket science, and most people will have heard it before. But I feel that it's getting lost in the mass of the same speeches being made day in day out by the same old politicians.

We need immigration. Unfortunately, and I'm not quite sure where this has come from, but the average man on the street is quite keen to tell you how immigrants and asylum seekers come over here and "take our jobs" and "our benefits". Such responses are wrong on so many levels, and I am very curious to know from where these ideas were planted in the first place. No politicians ever say it: to do so would mean certain failure. So who has fed this one?

Why is it wrong? Simple:

Immigrants: i.e. economic migrants cannot claim any benefits whatsoever. Before they are allowed to move here, they have to prove that they already have a job waiting for them, or they have a skill the country is desperate for. Alternatively, they must show that they have many thousands of pounds in resources to tide them over until they can find one. The system will not support them.

Economic migrants do take jobs. But the jobs they take are either very high on the job ladder, or at the bottom. The economy needs doctors, nurses, teachers, directors, etc. But these aren't the jobs your Average Joe in the street would be able to fulfil. No harm done. In fact, these economic migrants pay taxes and get little in return. They boost the Treasury coffers to a large extent. An extremely big plus for the country.

But at the other end of the scale is the menial jobs they fill. British people can endlessly moan about them "taking our jobs" - but how many British people you know are now beginning to turn their noses up at jobs because they are beneath them? Someone has to clean toilets. Someone has to staff the bars that we prop up all day. Someone has to listen to you bark your order at the McDonalds Drive-Thru. It's small wonder we have to take immigrants in. There are plenty of jobs available for British people to take. If we filled them all, then there likely wouldn't be any economic migration for such lower-end jobs. So perhaps the "flood" of immigrants is actually your Average Joe's fault in the first place.

Asylum seekers: genuine asylum seekers cannot work. They do not have National Insurance numbers, and are not allowed to apply for them. Employers could only take them on with cash-in-hand - i.e. illegally. Worse is the fact that such asylum seekers will often be exploited ruthlessly, working for under the minimum wage and with no statutory employment protection. And why do some of them get so desperate that they want to work illegally? Why, could it have anything to do with the fact that a single adult receives just £37.77 a week, plus accomodation?

Illegal immigrants: those who are smuggled into the UK. Since they are not on any systems, they also cannot work legitimately and so work for unscrupulous employers in the same way as asylum seekers. Next time you quaff down an oyster, don't forget to say thanks to the illegal immigrant getting paid £1/hour for picking the finest Morecambe has to offer. They're desperate to get here... and willing to pay thousands of pounds in the process, and sometimes even risking their lives. And what do they gain out of it? They eke out a miserable existence under the threat of constant exploitation from their employers. There is something desperately wrong with the system if it is driving people to such measures, and it certainly isn't because the system is too "weak".

Let's face it. Like America, this country is beginning to run on immigrant labour. Instead of moaning, we should either be doing the jobs ourselves - which we don't seem to want to do any more - or in fact thank the hard work and enormous economic benefit put into this country by immigrants.

We need to acknowledge that. Only then can we have a real debate that understands exactly what the implications of toying with this issue are.

The politicians are playing with fire.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Paxman vs Blair

Continuing on the analysis of Paxman's "Big Interviews", it was Tony Blair's turn in the hot seat last night. But in this case, the only warmth on the seat may have been left over from Charles Kennedy's trembling rectum as Paxman delivered pounding blows to it on Monday.

Paxman had a go at Blair. It was remarkable that the first 10 minutes of the interview were taken up by Iraq. I'm pleased Paxman chose to do that, as the electorate perhaps do need a small reminder of all the lies and spin that took us to war, but Blair pulled off all the usual stops that we've heard before, meaning the whole conversation turned into little more than an exercise in futility. But it was remarkable because it has now been two years since the war, and only now is Tony Blair being put in a position to answer these questions. If anyone else asks him, you normally get accused of being a Saddam-loyalist. This time, at least we got to see him doing a small wriggle about the exaggeration of intelligence.

But what Blair did demonstrate in this interview was exactly what Charles Kennedy didn't. Within seconds of the grilling starting, Paxman asked whether Blair felt people had lost trust in him. Blair acknowledged there was a problem, but he immediately redirected the question to discuss the strengths of Labour's policies and the economic success they have brought since 1997. He didn't allow Paxman to bog him down over broken promises in both manifestoes. He pushed relentlessly all the way through for the New Labour line: opportunity and prosperity for all; forward not back.

This grand vision is what the Lib Dems lack. New Labour at least tell us where we're heading. It doesn't matter what happens along the way. I'm sure in 2009/2010, we'll be being told by Labour that "just one more win" is needed to further safeguard and secure New Labour policies so they go on "for ever". But that's what we were told in 2001 and have been told this time.

No one really knows what the big theme of the Lib Dems is. They are starting to click onto this with this "fairer society" thing. But with it only being a recent innovation, I feel it's probably too late to make the electorate remember it.

Paxman then spent a short while on tax - nothing new there but the usual evasion of the imminent rise in NI contributions - but then proceeded with what he probably thought to be a harsh attack on Blair's immigration policy, but in fact turned to be rather a tedious affair. We can't expect politicians to have all numbers at their fingertips, and Blair had a reasonable excuse for not knowing exactly how many failed asylum seekers are still in the country. In any case, the civil service does not have exact fingers for every single issue. Some things require research, and maybe a little more of that damned bureaucracy that apparently is such a disaster to the nation will be created to generate such new figures.

Blair had his excuse and rode it out. Paxman tried to score points, but Blair deftly dodged the issue by talking about the benefits of economic migration and our obligation to take asylum seekers. No votes lost there, since no mainstream party is against economic migration. Once again, nothing of any interest added to the debate.

It was a very narrow discussion. It's probably the nature of half hour interviews, but we still didn't get a chance to discuss education - which is still shockingly absent from this campaign. The NHS barely got a mention, but Blair alluded to both on occasion. You wouldn't think that these two issues still rank on the public's agenda as the most important. But no! Immigration is far more important!

Paxman vs Howard might be interesting on Friday.

No. Who am I kidding...

Vote Keys, Get Brown

[Apologies for another lengthy post. But I hope you enjoy it...]

The media and the blogosphere alike seem to have reached a point in this campaign where things appear to be unravelling for all. Despite the Tories initial poll figures showing them moving in the right direction, suddenly Labour appear to have opened up a gap once more. In some cases, leads of 9-10%, which if produced on election day would be a travesty - allowing another Blair landslide and letting him claim the nation has given his disgusting Iraq invasion their ringing endorsement.

The Tories meanwhile spent yesterday defending the allegation that they are obsessed with immigration. I watched Michael Howard's despicable performance on the Ask the Leader programme on Monday night and it once more reminded me exactly why I don't want them to win. This is seriously harming their prospects. We all know what happened in 2001 and it's going to happen again. While people may like what they're saying, it is not going down well in the key marginals, and it certainly is not going to be the deciding factor in many people's votes. Moreover, the constant banging on about it just reinforces their image as the "nasty party".

So the rest of us worried about Tony getting another huge majority, while wanting to see the Conservatives isolated again, and at the same time wishing the Lib Dems could make a serious breakthrough are left pondering what to do now.

It seems to me there is just one solution left. It's a simple goal, but its achivement is largely improbable. It involves using the delights of the First Past the Post electoral system against those who seem to enjoy revelling in its disproportionality.

Vote Keys, Get Brown

In Tony's Sedgefield constituency, there is an unfortunate mass of opposition lined up against him, ensuring the anti-Blair vote gets split many ways and giving him another romping "majority". (Of course, the word "majority" is misleading in our system. It should actually be "plurality". Majority means more than 50%. The real majority in this seat is 15 percentage points.)

And that's what's wrong. Sure this is safe Labour territory, but there are so many opposition candidates that they are removing any chance of an election night shock. The cruel irony is that by all standing against him, they are actually ensuring that he romps home with another glorious majority.

Reg Keys is standing against Tony Blair in Sedgefield. Already he has a higher media profile than all the other independents, thanks to the media attention given to his heart-rending story over his son in Iraq, the endorsement of Martin Bell and the defection from Blair's constituency campaign of a senior member of his staff. He is standing on one issue - to hold Blair accountable for the disaster of our involvement in Iraq.

This is a chance. It is a difficult one, and probably a long shot at first glance, but when you consider this issue further, there could well be a window of opportunity opening.

The Tories and Lib Dems in this seat have no chance at all. Blair achieved 65% of the vote at the last election. The Tory candidate got 21% and the Lib Dem 9%. Blair's "majority" is large, but that's only because the word "majority" is not used correctly. A majority means to get more than 50%. Blair's actual majority in this constituency in some 15 percentage points.

It makes sense for both parties to stand aside and endorse Reg Keys' campaign. It also makes sense for all the other independents to do so. After all, this has happened before. A precedent was set when Labour and Lib Dem candidates stood aside on the issue of a worm who liked a little stuffed brown envelope action. This time, there is only the small matter of some 18,000 to 100,000 deaths directly attributable to this government's involvement in the Iraq campaign.

A direct face-off between Tony Blair and Reg Keys would enliven this campaign. Turnout in this constituency was 62% at the last election, and the media interest that would be generated from such a contest would likely ensure that would rise. Sure, some of it would be voters coming out to defend Blair, but more would be looking to take the opportunity of being able to cast a vote that's worth something. In safe seats of any colour, voters are less inclined to turn out. After all, what difference does it make?

Labour voters upset with the war should vote for Reg Keys anyway - there are plenty of good reasons for doing so. People who don't vote normally may be encouraged to by the campaign and the realisation that they could be the architects of another Portillo moment. But the appeal is wider:

Labour voters: by voting Keys and toppling Blair, the rise of Gordon Brown to the party leadership would be unstoppable. Labour will win the election anyway, and a swift coronation would be the outcome. A safe and easy way to get rid of Blair now and bring about a Brown premiership, which is much more popular with Labour voters. Success!

Conservative voters: The Conservatives have long wished for the arrival of someone new to challenge. They believe Brown is vulnerable on many issues, and he may struggle in moulding a new Cabinet in the first weeks, given them precious time to assault his style. It will also probably bring back the return of clear divisions between the parties, allowing them to present themselves once more as a genuine alternative. Voters will be able to see the difference, and will hopefully be more engaged.

Lib Dems voters: The demise of Blair will be celebrated for the ousting of an excessively authoritarian leader. This will then give them the opportunity to appeal for the key issues to be re-evaluated, and giving them the chance to put forward the liberal alternative for the debate on the issues that would likely follow the rise of Brown. They have no chance in this seat anyway, and by standing aside they could help ensure Blair's removal and punishment for his actions in Iraq.

Looking from a numbers point of view, this doesn't seem so impossible.

Blair achieved 65% of the vote last time. There is a 35% non-Labour vote. So some persuasion of Labour voters would be required in this hypothetical situation. Not impossible, given the fact that the campaign could imply the mantra of this post. They couldn't be explicit, but the fact that voting Keys could give them Brown as Prime Minister could well be a significant pull factor. They would also be encouraged to change based on the chance of punishing Blair for the Iraq war too.

Allowing for a non-Labour vote of 30%, and before considering the effects of turnout, it comes out as 1 in 3 Labour voters must be encouraged to change their mind. This is not impossible if all resources are concentrated behind one candidate. This figure also gets easier as the likely rise in turnout through the media spectacle this would create would benefit Keys and not Blair.

There is a real opportunity here; a chance to make Blair personally accountable. We have this flawed electoral system, so we might as well use it. Even if Blair only wins by a small margin, the fact will remain that he will be forced to fight for his political career. He will be distracted and have to spend time in Sedgefield canvassing - possibly for the first time ever. This will take a lot of energy out of the Labour campaign.

This is a chance. It's a slim one at the moment, but if people could unite and force Blair to listen, he could find he ends up with more than a fight on his hands. Blair cannot go on forever. He is not expecting to lose his seat. He is taking Sedgefield voters for granted. We can bring his premiership to a close much sooner than anyone anticipated.

A little surprise on election night could be just what this campaign and this country needs.

Vote Reg Keys for Sedgefield!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Thoughts on the new Pope

I try to avoid religious issues; I'm a lapsed Catholic and think of myself as non-religious now. When Pope John Paul II died, however, I did mark his passing with a note of respect. There are numerous harsh criticisms of him out there which I mostly agree with. But there are 1.1 billion Catholics out there - most of them probably not practicing - but nevertheless it's still an important issue for them. For the rest of us is the curiosity of a new Pope.

Because like it or not, the Pope has a lot of influence and authority. It saddened me to see that for the last five years Pope John Paul II was completely immobile. I can't help but feel that people found it easier to ignore him now he was no longer the jetsetting Pope he used to be. He was strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, and it's a distinct possibility that if he was more vocal and able to attract more media attention by being mobile, he could have caused great embarassment to George Bush.

So in that respect, I'm glad the Catholic Church has a new leader who can travel the world once more. I think we should wait and see as to where his faith takes him on the issues of orthodoxy, but his background means we shouldn't expect much reform.

Yet - there is one thing that the Church can do. Even though the Pope lives in luxury, and the Church sits on assets of billions of pounds, it can promote and further the cause of social justice. If that's just one thing the new Pope can continue to encourage, then that will be a great step. From my point of view it's a shame that in some cases we need religion to encourage people to strive for social justice, but the end almost justifies the means in this case.

We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan. There are still good people out there, but I feel that the culture of excessive individualism is taking over the world. We should all be allowed to make up our own minds, preferably free of the influence of religion. But if that individualism turns into us closing ourselves off from our own communities, and becoming excessively suspicious of that single mid-aged man over the road because he "looks a bit funny", then we turn into a very paranoid bunch of people.

The Church has some noble goals that we can all agree on, religious or not. I can only hope that Benedict XVI will work on them for the good of everyone. Let's wait and see what happens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Paxman vs Kennedy

Justin over at Chicken Yoghurt is right to describe this spectacle last night as: "practically useless as a means of extracting information useful to the electorate and more an exercise in trying to make Kennedy look like a dickhead."

I stuck it out for the whole thirty minutes. Kennedy tried hard and put up a valiant effort against what I thought to be an extraordinarily attacking interview from Jeremy Paxman. It's just another reflection of the fact that the journalists like to be centre stage with their criticism, being the ones to score the points just because they've made the candidates wriggle rather than getting them to fully describe and analyse their own policies.

Paxman decided to follow up Kennedy's inability to have figures to hand for his local income tax policy that he demonstrated at the manifesto launch. Of course, it was ridiculous that Paxman expected Charles Kennedy to be prepared for any example thrown at him, and the nurse and fireman earning over £40,000 living in Cardiff Central was hardly (a) an example that Kennedy could have expected, and (b) probably extremely unlikely given the situation in Cardiff Central. He's not a calculator. He doesn't have the average council tax for a band D property in every council at his fingertips. But Paxman huffed and sneered when it became apparent that Kennedy had the audacity not to have a mastery of such numbers.

As predicted, also, Sir Ian Blair's comments on Sunday that I criticised were used in a neutral way to attack Charles Kennedy's principled opposition to ID cards. It's appaling that a partisan opinion has been dressed up as the neutral and thus clearly factually correct statement from a respected and authoritative academic. This is only the beginning, and Tony Blair will doubtless use the criticism against Charles Kennedy in future.

One of the disappointments of the debate was the fact that it generated more heat than light. Paxman decided to ask Charles Kennedy about Lib Dem party conference resolutions that are "officially" party policy under the party's constitution, but are not presented in the manifesto. Once Kennedy told Paxman that they are not in the manifesto and so are not going to be implemented in this Parliament if they win, the issue should have been stopped. Instead, Paxman went off on a discussion about giving the vote to prisoners and allowing 16 year olds to visit sex shops... neither of which the Lib Dems are offering this election.

But therein lies another problem, and it's the same one I was discussing yesterday that Paxman touched on at the end of the interview. He asked if Kennedy had the "killer instinct". Kennedy said he had, yet the interview had demonstrated in part the problem that he faces.

The interview did not discuss Lib Dem key policies. 50% tax on incomes over £100,000 was not mentioned. Student tuition fees were hardly mentioned. Free care for the elderly was not mentioned. Citizens pensions were ignored. Jeremy Paxman should have discussed all of these as part of giving the Lib Dems a chance to discuss their key issues, but when it became clear that Paxman was more interested in discussing giving prisoners the vote, the penny should have dropped in Kennedy's head that Paxman had no interest in discussing the Lib Dems real policies. All he was out to do was to prove the stereotype that the Lib Dems are a little weird and detached from reality.

From that point on, Kennedy should have took the interview by the horns and redirected it to the key issues that are certain vote-winners and are achieving consistently high approval in opinion polls, particularly the 50% income tax. It's a strategy that Blair had to use all the time in the run up to 1997. Instead, Kennedy just kept saying, "And that's an issue I hope we'll come back to." Paxman saw what he was doing and didn't let Kennedy back in. In a way he was proving to Charles just how easy it is for the media to set the agenda.

Charles needs to learn this lesson, and learn it fast. The election time is fast running out, and his best media opportunities in the next two weeks must be seized upon every time. He's got to keep hitting on the same policies again and again until we can all recite them off the top of our head. We can't afford to let people keep thinking, "I don't know what the Lib Dems stand for" when they have the best and most clearly recogniseable policies, distinguishable from both the other parties, for some decades.

This golden opportunity cannot be missed.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Trouble with Charlie

I pity the Lib Dems. I really do. Even though they get more coverage during an election campaign thanks to the Representation of the People Act, they still don't have the ability to set the agenda.

This morning, at 7:30am, the Lib Dems unveiled their strategy for tackling crime. I was checking the news at the time and noticed that it was the top story. At last, given the fuss with Sir Ian Blair's intervention yesterday, it seemed the Lib Dems had actually chosen to stay topical by responding in kind with their own crime-fighting strategy.

Little more than an hour later, the story has now been severely relegated down the BBC News website, trumped by Michael Howard and Tony Blair's new scuffle on health. We'd hardly heard anything about health plans yet this election, apart from Howard's lying leaflets about MRSA.

I'm glad the debate is moving on from tax and the economy, but it just goes to demonstrate how much difficulty the Lib Dems have in setting the agenda. Thinking they'd be topical, they decided to go on crime this morning. Yet, Labour and the Conservatives don't even feel the need to respond... they just go off in their own direction. So even though Charles Kennedy was probably leading on the right thing this morning, now it looks like he's all on his own again trying to campaign on issues that just aren't making the headlines.

This is very difficult for the Lib Dems. Not to mention the struggles with the electoral system, which Tim Hicks has further reflected on based on my post here about the mountain they have to climb, the Lib Dems also give the impression of being unable to control the news agenda - a vital task for any party.

So what's the solution? And more to the point, can this be blamed on any particular problem?

Matthew Parris wrote an article in the Times on Saturday, explaining what he thinks the problem is. He begins with an analysis of the current situation:
"In 19 days the Liberal Democrat leader and his party will have within their grasp an opportunity that may not return for another generation — which may never return. This is their time. This is their moment. This is the election upon which historians may pronounce that in the year 2005 a desperate Conservative Party threw all it had into one last-ditch attempt to renew its grip on British politics — and failed.

Now, Charlie — when a governing party and its leader have run out of ideas and lost our affection and when a principal Opposition has only fear to trade on — is the hour of your enemies’ greatest weakness. Now is the hour when a rising third party must strike. Now or maybe never."
He's right. This is a glorious opportunity for the Lib Dems. He goes on to explain why:
"We Tories are scared of you. We’re scared of the yawning gap between what the voters think of our ideas — they’re interested — and what they think of us — they’re not.

We’re scared of your belief in personal and economic freedom. We have some claim to have fought these corners... But now we’re all in a tangle with our other strong suit: authority. We have a leader whose affection for identity cards is strong, whose one-time support for what gained notoriety as “Section 28” is well documented; whose commitment to civil liberties is compromised; and whose opposition to the state is crippled by his party’s evident terror of shouting from the rooftops that the state does too much and costs too much.

We’re scared of your clean record of standing up for Britain against George W. Bush... We half-think the Iraq war was a blunder — and we’re half-afraid of sounding soft on terrorists. We know our own supporters, present and potential, are angrier about Iraq, angrier about Mr Blair’s deceit, than we have been. Your stand has worried us."
When you look at it this way, it is hard to see why the Lib Dems aren't taking away more votes from the Conservatives. They simply must. They are holding a lot of ground that traditional, dare I say it, One Nation Conservatives used to hold with great pride and defend with zeal.

Matthew Parris goes on to suggest that this could be Charles Kennedy's fault. I'm not sure I totally agree, but I do think he needs to be a little more aggressive. He holds all of the aces. Many of his policies are superb vote-winners. People are aware of a lot of what they propose. They have almost been sold to the electorate.

But he hasn't gone the final step. He hasn't gone far enough to convince people that he is able to lead. We may like him. He may be the only politician to have favourable ratings right now. But lots of us still think of him as little more than a sound guardian of our protest vote. We don't see him as a serious contender. We don't see a charismatic leader rising to lead his party to victory.

Some of this is down to money. Matthew Parris harshly criticises the strategy of the Lib Dems of extreme targetting of certain constituencies. Unfortunately, it is the only way they can advance. They don't have the money to go for a national campaign of demonstrating their credibility and coherency. They lack the discipline to carry this through.

But we aren't seeing enough passion from Charles. We aren't seeing a genuine anger at the way this country has been led. I fear it may be too late for him to change tack; it couldn't possibly look more opportunistic and out-of-character if he decided now to viciously pursue Blair on his record. We have all got used to the Chat Show Charlie persona that he seems to have been happy to cultivate.

The Lib Dems should be making a serious breakthrough this election. We know the system is loaded against them, but if they could equal the share of the vote that the Conservatives get, regardless of MPs won, I will see this as the minimum threshold for the success the Lib Dems should achieve.

Anything less and I fear that Charles Kennedy's time may be up.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Blurring The Lines

This morning my best friend Sir Ian Blair has returned once more to give everyone something new to make them sleep uneasily in their beds every night.

Yes. Him. The government's favourite police chief and loyal sheep. Every week or so he likes to pop his head above the parapet and let everyone know he supports this government, he loves ID cards, he wants more power for the police and he wants more anti-terror legislation. But then again, what police officer doesn't want to be feared and "respected" by the loyal Citizens? It's hardly surprising he wants more power.

What's more worrying is the fact that he has not long took up this post and yet he is becoming a regular media commentator and mouthpiece for the government. It is inevitable that next time someone tries to tell Blair why ID cards won't work, he will tell everyone that the Chief of the Met wants ID cards, and who is better qualified than a Police Chief to tell us what we do or don't need.

Therein lies the problem. Sir Ian Blair has become a political figure. Remember the separation of powers? The good old principle that one arm of the state is not supposed to be able to ride roughshod over the others? Sure, we don't have an official separation of powers in this country, and in some cases it's hard to tell the difference between the legislature and the executive, but the principle is there and there are ways of exercising it.

The police force are a sub-branch of the Executive. The Home Office is an Executive department. The police force are an Executive agency - they are the agents of the Home Office and execute the laws in place.

Therefore, what follows is simple. The Police chief is not a legislator. He has no powers to legislate. Thus, for the chief of the Met to get involved in promoting and arguing laws - and there is no doubt Tony Blair will use his public statements to back up his case - there is a breach of the separation of powers. The police are there to execute the law. They are intended to be independent of government; if they start making the law up as they go along, then it almost seals the deal of the police state Charles Clarke and Blunkett seem to want to push us towards.

This is becoming a problem in our political culture at the moment. We've already seen how Labour's obsession with spin has blurred the lines between the civil service and party officials. The politicisation of the senior civil service is often talked about. Then we already have the declining legislature in the face of the mighty Executive. And now this: the police telling us what laws we should and shouldn't have.

Just another uncomfortable development of authoritarian governments.