Saturday, 29 January 2011

Take a rummage in the Shadow Cabinet

A pro-Labour friend of mine has set up a new blog, The Shadow Cabinet. I've seen his written stuff before and its good, so hopefully his blog will follow suit. Give it a look.

Blanket Opposition to Cooperation is Against the Best Traditions of the Conservative Party

In recent weeks, the prospect of the coalition parties operating some form of electoral pact at the next election has spurred considerable debate. Amongst the most vociferous response from Conservative ranks has been stark refusal to contemplate any form of cooperation or electoral arrangement whatsoever. Some have even prophesied that such an arrangement would herald the end of the party outright. Such an argument fails to take into account the long history of cooperation between the liberal and conservative traditions in British politics.

To briefly address the talk of mergers – a formal merger of the full Liberal Democrat party with our own would be highly uncomfortable and is also highly unlikely. However history provides plenty of examples of Liberal-Conservative cross-pollination. In the Twentieth Century, the Conservative Party has absorbed the Liberal right on no less than two occasions: Joseph Chamberlain’s Liberal Unionists in 1912 and the National Liberal Party in 1968. Suffice to say, our party survived. Beyond that, cooperating with other parties of various stripes has been the Conservative modus operandi for the majority of the party’s existence. Even as far as the Sixties the Conservative parliamentary group consisted of people elected as National Liberals, Liberal Nationals and Unionists (both Ulster and Scottish) alongside their Conservative fellows.

As the pre-eminent party of the Right in British politics, the Conservative and Unionist Party remains a very broad church. What left-of-centre tendencies possessed by the Liberal orange bookers can scarcely be anathema to a party that contains Phillip Blonde’s Red Tories, and their economic liberalism fits very well into the party mainstream. Surely if Clegg, Laws and Alexander were operating as Conservatives, nobody would bat an eyelid.

That said, what then forms the basis for serious objection if the Conservatives were to stand aside in seats where such people were vulnerable? Is it a matter of labels? If so that is hardly consistent with Conservative policy elsewhere: as Owen Polley recently wrote, the Conservative Party currently appears to have reconciled itself with the Ulster Unionist Party acting as its ‘franchise’ in Northern Ireland. More importantly, commentators on ConHome and elsewhere have called for the Scottish Conservatives to be made an independent, allied party. This party would only have any real hope of success if it was seen to move leftward on certain issues, in which case the Conservative ally north of the border would scarcely be more alien than the right-leaning Liberal Democrat ministers with whom the party is sharing government – and one can quite well envisage Alexander fitting into such a party.

There may also be concrete advantages to offering non-compete arrangements to certain embattled Liberal Democrat ministers, both in governmental and party-political terms. Governmentally speaking, if senior Liberal Democrats felt secure in their position at the next election it would grant them more leeway to resist their own backbenchers, lessening the extent to which the coalition might be dragged leftwards by their influence. Such an offer might also induce senior Liberal Democrats to stick with the coalition even if their backbenchers walked out, which would strip a social-democratic Liberal Democrat revolt against the coalition of any recognisable figures who have gained stature through their time in government.

A full-fledged merger of the two coalition parties is unlikely. Conservatives should be careful not to allow the spectre of that prospect to lead them to reject making sensible compromises with our coalition partners.

Left to Right: Joseph Chamberlain, Sir John Simon, Nick Clegg, David Laws and Danny Alexander


Thursday, 27 January 2011

Dilettante in Dublin: Wednesday

Getting up at 5.30 am is never an enjoyable experience. Nor is a Ryanair flight. But despite these impediments I nevertheless reached Dublin in good humour and in time to have a look around. Its interesting how compact it seems to b: walking from the rather grim surrounds of the Dublin International Youth Hostel to Parnell (formerly Great Britain) street takes less than five minutes.

Although a bit late for a serious wander (that comes tomorrow) I did get to check out Parnell Street, and once it got dark I went to finally see The King's Speech - it is superfluous to say that it is a truly excellent film. On my way back, I was bemused to see a blackshirt-clad paramilitary gazing out at me from behind dark glasses on a series of posters. Closer inspection revealed that these were posters for the Independent Republican Youth Movement (Fianna Éireann, IIRC). So first cultural difference encountered: the British far-right hasn't been able to wear uniform since the 1930s.

Today I'll be crossing the river, checking out Temple Bar and Trinity College's open day.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Off to Ireland!

I'm catching an early flight out to Dublin today, to spend a couple of days scouting out the city and attending the Trinity College open day. I doubt anything particularly newsworthy will happen, but if Fine Gael and Labour mount a coup d'etat I'll be your man on the ground.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

New Look Logo

Although I'm sticking with the belt and flowers for my profile picture, I've designed a new logo to coincide with the launch of the Facebook page.
I think it better expresses a modern, pro-Union Conservative party.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Open Email to Owen Paterson MP

Cross-posted on Unionist Lite and Open Unionism.

Dear Mr. Paterson,

We are writing to you concerning the position of the Conservative Party vis-à-vis its activity in Northern Ireland. As Conservative and Unionist bloggers we have been firm supporters of Mr. Cameron’s policy of political engagement in the province, and we hope to be able to continue to facilitate in our small way the efforts of the party there. In recent weeks there has been some confusion about the future of the party in Northern Ireland, and if you were able to clarify that position for us, we would then be able to pass it to our readership.

Kind Regards,

Dilettante, O'Neill

Read O'Neill's accompanying article on Open Unionism. We had been hoping that this informal email would provide us with solid information on the Conservative position that we could use in writing a longer open letter to the involved parties, but no response has been forthcoming.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Buzz: Culture, Identity and Party Affiliation

Alright, I admit the title reads like a rather banal academic thesis, but bear with me. I've recently subscribed this blog to a website called SeededBuzz, which is in short a way to connect with other bloggers via advertising articles and inviting responses and guest posts. Thus any article with 'Buzz' in the title is me responding to an article somebody else has posted on the website.

The post I'm buzzing today is this one from Modern Sophist. I'd encourage you to read the whole thing, but a précis would be that it describes how Americans can celebrate their heritage without it defining them, and then argues that this would be a good way to treat political identity too. Although the former point is certainly of interest to a unionist blog (and I might come back to it) its the second point that caught my attention. Would treating political identity in the manner they describe actually work? I can't speak properly for America as I have little experience of the political culture, but I can try to apply it to Britain.

The first obvious problem is that, for all some may bewail first past the post, our party system is not quite as monolithically bipolar as America's. Nonetheless, the big parties in this country are still dominant and (especially on the right) incredibly broad churches. I have met an awful lot of people - especially at university - who use labels as crutches, to forestall debate or avoid facing uncomfortable facts. This is especially the case with people who perceive themselves to be 'on the left'. Over the course of the debate they might express right wing opinions on a wide variety of areas, but they recoil the moment the words 'right wing' are attached to what they're saying. Similarly, several of my friends are 'Conservatives' like me without us actually agreeing on any significant policy areas at all. The sheer breadth of the Conservative Party means that social and economic liberals like me can share the party label with Red Tories, an at best misleading state of affairs that means that my using the word 'Conservative' to describe my political beliefs could be construed as essentially meaningless.

So political labels are sometimes misleading and often used to prop up the intellectually lazy and the purely tribal. But is a political genealogy a viable solution? Let's try and imagine what I might describe if asked the first political question in the article: where do I come from?

"Well, my father is a lifelong Liberal, my mother varies but tends to Labour. My grandmother on my father's side is a Conservative, my paternal grandfather was a youthful communist and a mature Liberal. On my mother's side my grandmother was an Irish monarchist and my grandfather a Republican."

Those of you who know my politics might be able to discern their roots in there somewhere, but it would be misleading to suggest that all the above are 'influences'. Unlike genes, they aren't an indelible part of who I am. Imagining that our fictitious interrogator was still interested, they ask the second question: what do I believe?

"I'm an anti-nationalist conviction unionist and pro-European. I believe in both economic and social liberalism, free trade and a small state, but I also support national service. I oppose the government subsidising arts but like strong defence spending and tend to support foreign interventionism. I also support..."

And so it goes on. A couple of problems present themselves. First, how much of that is actually explained by my 'political genealogy'? Worse, does the genealogy risk throwing up red herrings? For example, it might be perfectly natural to infer that I have inherited my liberalism from my father and grandfather, but that largely isn't the case, as I grew up as a left-of-centre LibDem. I arrived at my rather eclectic mix of beliefs largely under my own steam, and a list of my familial influences is unlikely to be helpful.

Furthermore, does that mix of beliefs actually render my identification with (and membership of) the Conservative Party inaccurate? Not at all. All of the beliefs above listed manifest themselves in sections of the Conservative Party to a greater or a lesser extent. Certainly they correspond well enough to make it the most accurate pick out of the three main parties, perhaps out of any party existing in the UK today. A more accurate label of self-identification might be Liberal Unionist, but identifying with a party that hasn't existed for nearly a century comes off as a little strange. I might as well call myself a Whig. The Conservative label lets somebody know roughly what page I'm on, and they can probe further from there.

I deeply sympathise with the aims expressed in the article, of stopping party identification being used as a mask for political instinct. There is little more frustrating than trying to debate with somebody whose political position amounts to nothing more than a fashionable 'hatred' of Margaret Thatcher, or who holds political views contrary to some of their own separately stated principles because those are the views they were raised in. But such people are unlikely to engage in constructive and rational debate no matter how you phrase the question or probe their beliefs, and may not even have formed views distinct from their party affiliation at all. In the above example, that person's views stem from the fact that they are Labour; their Labour membership does not stem from their views.

Yet the most obvious problem is that even if you strip away party labels, you're unlikely to actually forgo the use of labels entirely. For example, above I give the beginning of what would be quite a long list of views on a wide variety of subjects. The only way to shorten that list to something conversationally acceptable would be to use labels again, and for the politically tribal each side provides a political shorthand of its own. Our above Labour member might say they're 'progressive', or that they believe in a 'compassionate society', whereas a right-winger might say they believe in 'national pride' or 'traditional values'. These words don't tell me much more than 'Labour' or 'UKIP' would have, and if I'm dealing with somebody who isn't keen on talking through their beliefs I'm not likely to get much further.

For all their flaws, party labels are a good way of giving somebody the lie of your political land without quoting them a personal essay or letting politics come to dominate the conversation, and (in the UK at least) can function as a broad-strokes indicator of belief without being overly prescriptive. So if you ask me my political beliefs at a party, I'm a Conservative.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Liberal Democrat Collapse: Who Benefits?

In this week's Spectator, Nick Cohen (of whom I am a great fan) has written Liberal England Dies Again, arguing that power and the rise of a new economic crisis that has revived old left-right divisions is leading to a collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote. Several Labour friends of mine are celebrating this fact, which confused me. Surely the Liberal Democrats, if they are a party of the 'progressive left', can reach seats that Labour could not? Given the number of southern seats the Liberal Democrats hold, wouldn't a collapse benefit the Conservatives?

Below, I have compiled a list of all the seats the Liberal Democrats won in the 2010 election, along with the majority and the party presently in second place. If the chasing parties are within 2000-3000 votes, I have included them both listed in vote order. Out of a total of 57 Liberal Democrat seats, there is a Conservative advantage in 35, a Labour advantage in 12, a Plaid Cymru advantage in 1 and a multi-party advantage in 9. So Labour supporters revelling in the suffering of the Liberal Democrats should have some pause for thought. Seats marked with an asterisk are Scottish, with the relevant possible impact on Conservative prospects.

Solihull – Maj. 175 - Conservative

Mid Dorset and North Poole – Maj. 269 – Conservative

Norwich South – Maj. 310 – Labour/Conservative

Bradford East – Maj. 365 – Labour/Conservative

Wells – Maj. 800 – Conservative

St Austell & Newquay – Maj. 1312 – Conservative

Brent Central – Maj. 1345 – Labour

Sutton and Cheam – Maj. 1606 – Conservative

St Ives – Maj. 1719 – Conservative

Somerton and Frome – Maj. 1817 – Conservative

Burnley – Maj. 1818 – Labour

Manchester Withington – Maj. 1894 – Labour

East Dunbartonshire* – Maj. 2184 – Labour

Chippenham – Maj. 2470 – Conservative

Berwick-upon-Tweed – Maj. 2690 – Conservative

North Cornwall – Maj. 2981 – Conservative

Birmingham Yardley – Maj. 3002 – Labour

Cheadle – Maj. 3270 – Conservative

Argyll and Bute* – Maj. 3431 – Conservative/Labour/SNP

Eastbourne – Maj. 3435 – Conservative

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine* – Maj. 3684 – Conservative

Brecon and Radnorshire – Maj. 3747 – Conservative

Edinburgh West* – Maj. 3803 – Labour/Conservative

Eastleigh – Maj. 3864 – Conservative

Taunton Dean – Maj. 3993 – Conservative

Torbay – Maj. 4078 – Conservative

Cheltenham – Maj. 4290 – Conservative

Cardiff Central – Maj. 4576 – Labour

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross* – Maj. 4826 – Labour

Portsmouth South – Maj. 5200 – Conservative

Redcar – Maj. 5214 – Labour

Carshalton and Wallington – Maj. 5260 – Conservative

North Southwark and Bermondsey – Maj. 5406 – Labour

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk* – Maj. 5675 – Conservative

North Devon – Maj. 5821 – Conservative

Southport – Maj. 6024 – Conservative

Hazel Grove – Maj. 6371 – Conservative

Gordon – Maj. 6748 – Labour

Cambridge – Maj. 6792 – Conservative/Labour

Colchester – Maj. 6928 – Conservative

Thornbury & Yate – Maj. 7116 – Conservative

Kingston and Surbiton – Maj. 7560 - Conservative

Lewes – Maj. 7647 – Conservative

Hornsey and Wood Green – Maj. 7875 – Labour

Ceredigion – Maj. 8324 – Plaid Cymru

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey* – Maj. 8765 – Labour/SNP/Conservative

North East Fife* – Maj. 9048 – Conservative

Leeds North West – Maj. 9103 – Conservative/Labour

Orkney and Shetland* – Maj. 9928 – Labour/SNP/Conservative

Bristol West – Maj. 11,336 – Labour

North Norfolk – Maj. 11,626 – Conservative

Bath – Maj. 11,883 – Conservative

Twickenham – Maj. 12,140 – Conservative

Westmorland and Lonsdale – Maj. 12,264 Conservative

Yeovil – Maj. 13,036 – Conservative

Ross, Skye and Lochaber* – Maj. 13,070 – Labour/SNP/Conservative

Sheffield Hallam – Maj. 15,284 - Conservative

Friday, 14 January 2011

What are the Liberal Democrats actually for?

I'm deeply sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats. My father is one, I was raised as one and many of my friends are members of the party. As a social and economic liberal, certain analyses might suggest that the Liberal Democrats are my natural political home. So it is not out of hostility that I pose the question in the title. Rather, my mulling over the OE&S by-election result led me to realise that the Liberal Democrats don't appear to have a genuine third position as party, and that the aims of each wing might be better served by merging with the majority party of that wing.

To address the first point. In discussions with others and in my own quite extensive writing about the nature of the Liberal Democrats, one thing that is almost taken as read is that the Liberal Democrats are really a party of two distinct halves: the right-leaning economic Liberals and the left-leaning Social Democrats. Even if the labels don't draw exact parallels with the two predecessor parties, they remain relatively accurate. One complaint from a Liberal Democrat councillor rather sums this up: "We are a party of largely social liberals being led by largely economic liberals" - or Orange Bookers. The idea that Clegg represents a different wing of his party to the bulk of its membership has interesting implications for coalition politics that I have discussed elsewhere. But the existence of this cleavage raises the question of why the Liberal Democrats need to exist as a third party at all.

The original Liberal Party had pretty clear reasons for continuing to exist after being supplanted by Labour in the earlier Twentieth Century. It bore with it the great name and great figures of a once great party. It continued to enjoy political patronage from the Bonham-Carters and the rest of the wealthy Liberal aristocracy. After the war and at least up to (if not including) the Jo Grimond era, the party also espoused a genuine political third position: liberalism, distinct as it was then from the cosy post-war corporatist consensus of the two main parties. Although small, it continued to doggedly fight on representing the ideology it represented. However, as the Twentieth Century advanced several misfortunes befell it.

The first of these was Margaret Thatcher. Although Heath had made an early and rather ill-fated start to bring the Conservatives out of the patrician Macmillan style, it was Margaret Thatcher who pulled it off. With her economic liberalism and aggressive pitch to aspirational voters of the lower and middle classes, she moved the already monolithic Conservative Party onto traditional Liberal territory with great success. Aided greatly by luck and her not-inconsiderable political skill she embedded economic liberalism into the Conservative marrow, and the small Liberals were in no position to seriously challenge her. Compounding this misfortune was the emergence of the Social Democratic Party. When debating their withdrawal from an increasingly hard-left Labour Party, some of the SDP defectors considered whether or not to cross straight to the Liberals. The reason they didn't was quite simple: "We weren't liberals." However, sheer electoral necessity soon led to the SDP forming a close working arrangement with the Liberals, further weakening the right-leaning economic liberals who had already seen much of their territory occupied by Thatcherism. That wing did not go away, however.

After the parties eventually merged, this left a party that was largely cobbled together out of political necessity, with no unified and distinct vision for the country's future. Additionally, the party began to attract and to chase protest votes, providing a further impediment to the production of a Liberal Democrat 'ideology'. Not only was this problematic for the party, but it raises the spectre that each wing of the Liberal Democrats might be served better by the party's dissolution.

After all, if you take away cheerleading for electoral reform (a position at least in part the product of the Liberal Democrats being the third party) and the pursuit of protest votes, how has the existence of the Liberal Democrats helped each of their disparate wings? For the social democrats, they originally left Labour because it was far too hard-left. In a post-New Labour environment there seems reason not to return to the Labour fold. After all, if Labour still has a hard left, authoritarian streak it must be in no small part because centre-left liberals are attracted to the Liberal Democrats, who when not in coalition (most of the time) contribute nothing to government. If the social democrats rejoined Labour and started attracting others like them to the party they could soften its authoritarian edge, widen its appeal and make it more electable.

The liberal right faces the same conundrum. The Conservative Party already contains social and economic liberals (myself included), and economic liberalism is certainly at the heart of the modern Conservative Party. The support of the like of Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, David Laws et al has been instrumental in allowing David Cameron to outmanoeuvre his own hard right wing. Many of them would be comfortably at home on the liberal wing of the Conservative Party, but when they're not in coalition (again, most of the time) both their talents and their balancing influence are wasted in futile third-party opposition.

With the exception perhaps of PR, I can't see much benefit for either the social democrats or the liberals in banding together in a schizophrenic third-party project instead of exerting a softening and balancing influence on the internal compositions of the two main parties.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

New Look

OK, so I finally followed O'Neill in using Bloggers design tools. Aside from slight annoyances like being unable to centre my title, I'm quite pleased with the result.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Viral Video: Clegg at Conference

I don't normally post this sort of thing on here, but this is far and away the best Clegg ripping video I've seen yet.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Would a Liberal Democrat victory in Oldham push the Coalition further left?

In his Telegraph blog, Lord Tebbit briefly covers the upcoming Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election. Although his discussion is not (and is not intended to be) an in-depth analysis of that election or its ramifications, he does make the interesting assertion that he thinks that a Liberal Democrat victory would push the coalition further to the left. Having given it some thought, I have drawn the opposite conclusion.

From what I can tell, the chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion drawn by Lord Tebbit is thus. Arithmetically speaking, adding a northern Liberal Democrat to the parliamentary coalition dilutes by a small factor the Conservative presence and tilts the balance of power towards the Liberal Democrats to some degree.

But beyond that, I can't see what else supports such a conclusion. Moreover there are several factors that lead one to the opposite conclusion altogether. First, there is the issue over how left-wing northern Liberal Democrats actually are. Although I can't find the article now, I read recently someone advising Labour not to treat LD voters as a homogeneous bloc, and that northern LDs were 'tough as nails' on certain issues such as crime and welfare fraud. So the very left-wingedness of Mr Watkins might be overstated.

More serious is the fact that a Liberal Democrat defeat is more likely to make or require the Conservative leadership to cede more ground to an increasingly panicked Liberal Democrat left. A powerful triumvirate of factors make this such a potent election for the Liberal Democrats: they were within a whisker of taking OE&S at the last election; the Labour candidate ran such a dirty campaign that he's led to the first court overturning of an election result in nearly a century; and by-elections have been the Liberal Democrat strong suit since Orpington in 1962. If they weren't in government, this election would probably be as close as they get to a sure thing outside of Orkney and Shetland.

So if they lose, the psychological consequences could be severe. It will cause further panic amongst the Liberal Democrat left who Nick Clegg apparently already considers "electorally dead". Be that as it may, in the current parliament they still have the ability to cause severe problems for the Coalition. If they become serial rebels or even defectors, the coalition is doubly hit: not only is its majority and credibility reduced, but every loss from one extreme weakens the opposite extreme at the expense of the centre and the leadership. Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and other right-wing Liberal Democrats will come under increasing pressure from their activists, councillors and left-wing MPs to make trouble for the coalition or leave altogether. Like it or not the country currently needs the stable government only the Coalition can offer and so for the country's sake the Conservative leadership would have to offer yet more carrots and inducements to the yellow left.

In short, a Liberal Democrat victory would make the Liberal Democrat left feel that the present balance was more palatable than it might otherwise seem, and a defeat would invigorate their resistance. Despite my pro-Coalition stance, this blogger is still a Conservative and so this realisation poses some problems for me. On the one hand, like any Conservative I want Kashif Ali to win in Oldham - I'm hopefully going to help out myself sometime next week. However, as a Conservative I also want to see minimal ground ceded to the social democrats within the LDs to keep the coalition going. Its a tough call to make.

Conservative Spring Forum

The Conservative Spring Forum is in Cardiff this year, during the Welsh Party Conference. I'm considering getting a ticket, especially given that I sadly missed the Welsh Conservatives during the conference. If so, I'll provide my usual conference services as roving pro-Union reporter, and hopefully get a face to face chat with Nick Bourne, to follow up on my letter.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Alas, Ed Miliband

During the Labour leadership contest, I was in the unusual position of being a Conservative who had the opportunity both to put a question to a leadership candidate and to influence the vote (courtesy of a relative's utter disinterest in their union vote - I advised Andy Burnham followed by David Miliband). I also know a fair number of Labour activists socially. Therefore I expected it to be interesting watching Ed Miliband attempt to establish himself at the helm of the recently rousted Labour Party and try to chart a new course for it.

Sadly, I was wrong. In the opinions of the Guardian, Daily Mail and ConservativeHome Mili-E's symbolic hundred days as leader have been a bland disappointment. The Mail go so far as to consider Miliband as Labour's IDS, which must surely be one of the most terrifying comparisons imaginable for a struggling party leader facing a potentially long stretch in opposition. The New Statesman is - as one might expect - more even handed in its approach, adopting for its article a format that requires it to find a merit to balance every blemish.

My personal opinion of Miliband is coloured somewhat by the event I attended at the University of Manchester for his leadership campaign. Ed had been in touch with the Students Union at Manchester before, including an interview with the student paper with pull quote "I'm in favour of people shouting at me in Parliament Square". Fantastic, I thought. A party leader who might be up for some real questions. And lo and behold, when the leadership campaign came around the event 'In Conversation with Ed Miliband' came to Manchester Student Union. Myself and many other students - of many political colourings - were looking forward to the event.

But it was not to be. Shockingly, the sentinels at the door - at the behest of Ed Miliband's minders - made their best efforts to prevent any students from other parties getting in, in direct contravention of Student Union policy. I myself was the only Conservative who was allowed to pass thanks to being friends with the Labour Students organising the event, alongside one very discrete Lib Dem who happened to work for the Student Paper. Not even getting into the room and finding a seat saved him from further harassment, as a particularly infamous minder and ex-Manchester student still tried to get him out, to no avail.

The question and answer session itself was disappointing: Ed was dependably populist in front of a filtered, deeply pro-Labour audience. Thankfully, the Chair was local MP Tony Lloyd rather than a student politician and I got selected to ask a question. My question was on Labour and Northern Ireland - essentially whether or not he agreed with both Andy Burnham* and David Miliband* that the time had come for Labour to consider organising in the province. Apparently a genuinely unexpected question, Ed Miliband dodged it, making a lot of smoke out of 'not wanting to upset the peace process' (a phrase he used about five times) to cover the retreat.

I was disappointed, not just by his lack of unionist commitment, inability to think on his feet or populist tendencies but more by the shocking way in which his team had sought to strictly and covertly control who was allowed into a supposedly open forum. And he continues to disappoint now that he's won. His New Year message still smacks of the same pure opposition, with few hints of alternative policy.

He displays the same lack of flair and inability to think on his feet. He shows the same tendencies towards populist oppositionalism without investing much time or thought on the new policy direction his party desperately needs. His election at the hands of a handful of trade unionists, against the wishes of party members and MPs, continues to undermine him. Most importantly, he continues to fail to reach out or appeal to voters outside the Labour faithful. Reaching beyond a party base is a skill, and if you're not born with it it needs to be learned. It doesn't look like his coterie of minders offered him any opportunity to do that on the road to office, and its telling now.

*Andy Burnham's original article in the Newsletter and David Miliband's short video to Northern Ireland members could not be located for reference.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Liberal Conservative Merger in the MSM

Given the relative frequency with which I cover the ongoing relationship and potential futures of the Liberal Democrat party and their coalition partners, I won't launch into yet another analysis piece. This is just to let you know that this sort of discussion has, after a delay of some months, finally graced the pages of the mainstream press - specifically, the Daily Telegraph. And it has got the paleo-conservative elements of the Conservatives spooked enough to elicit this piece from Roger Helmer MEP over at ConHome.

Update: And yet more.