What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

March 27, 2008

Dave, you're fired

It's a delight to welcome back The Apprentice into my living room each week. Such a shame that David Cameron looky likey, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, should be first man overboard. Still, I bet Dave would know you can't get lobster for £4.90 a throw.

March 13, 2008

Ed Balls-up: crisis, what crisis?

Back in June 2007, when Ed Balls was appointed secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families, I did suggest he might come a cropper some day:
I’ll be interested to see how long it is before Balls’ tone-deaf touch lands the Government in hot water.
That day came on Wednesday, with his heckling of David Cameron’s budget response, when it is alleged he shouted “So what?” when the Tory leader argued this country’s tax burden has never been higher.

Such tone-deafness would be enormously embarrassing for Labour. Indeed, PoliticalBetting.com’s Mike Smithson today argued it might lose the party the next election.

But fortunately for Mr Balls, anarcho-blogger Guido Fawkes has proven himself to be Mr Balls' true friend, coming to his rescue by uploading to YouTube the House of Commons exchange.

Watch carefully – and impartially – and it can clearly be seen that M Balls does not bawl out, “So what?”. In fact what he says is just as is recorded in Hansard:
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): ..As this country enters troubled times, it could hardly be worse prepared. We have the highest tax burden in our history.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): So weak!
Mr. Cameron: “So what?” says the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. I know he wants to be Chancellor so badly it hurts. I have to tell him that another Budget like the one we have just heard and he will not have to wait very long.”
But the damage is done for Mr Balls – and personally I’m with Lynne Featherstone: serves him right for indulging in such boorish behaviour in the first place.

Rather like Jim Callaghan – who famously never said, “Crisis? What crisis?” (it was The Sun’s paraphrasing) – or Peter Mandelson – who never mistook mushy peas for guacamole – or Gordon Brown – who never said he liked waking up to the Arctic Monkeys - I suspect “So what?” is a legendary remark which will stick to Mr Balls like dirt to a shoe.

March 10, 2008

Proof political journalists don’t understand opinion polls, No. 94

Much scratching of heads tonight among some hacks confused by the latest Populus poll in The Times showing “the Tory poll lead shrinking fast”. Here’s Sky News’s Jon Craig:
Voting intentions, according to Populus, are now Conservatives 37 per cent (down three), Labour 34 (up three) and the Liberal Democrats 19 (up two, despite last week's Lisbon Treaty vote shambles). That's right, the same Populus poll on February 3 was Conservatives 40, Labour 31 and Lib Dems 17, a very different story. That was one of the bigger Tory leads in opinion polls this year.
Except it’s not necessarily “a very different story”. As any fule kno – or at least as any foolish hack should know – opinion polls are accurate only to within a margin of error, commonly +/-3%. Which means that it’s perfectly possible, and certainly statistically possible, there has been no change whatsoever in voting intentions in the last month.

But let’s allow for the possibility that there has been a significant change within the month... to what does Mr Craig ascribe this tightening of the political maths?
[Gordon Brown] has hired new staff in No 10 to beef up the Downing Street operation, he is performing better against David Cameron in Prime Minister's Questions and he appeared more relaxed when he spoke at Labour's spring conference in Birmingham 10 days ago.
Gordon’s backroom reshuffle, moderately better PMQs, and a conference speech. Apparently, according to Sky News, that’s what it takes to shrink a Tory poll lead. It says much (too much) about the claustrophobically introverted microcosm that political journos inhabit that any of these might seriously be put forward as reasons for the Tory downturn.

March 08, 2008

Sclerosis of the Liverpool

What’s in a word? A lot, it seems, if the current debate on Nick Clegg’s use of the word ‘Sclerotic’ is anything to go by. Myself, I think the British public can handle learning a new word if they don’t know it already.

Perhaps I can refer those who are dubious to The West Wing, and a discussion about whether the word ‘torpor’ could be deployed in a political speech:

“It's not our job to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It's our job to raise it. If you're going to be the ‘Education President,’ it'd be nice not to hide that you have an education.”

Quite so.

March 07, 2008

Delayed blogging of Question Time Extra

Okay, so this blog stutters carries on by popular(ish) demand. Many thanks for the appreciative comments left, and the handful of emails I've received. Really, I'm blushing.

For those who somehow contrived to miss my stellar appearance on BBC News 24's peak-time blockbuster hit, Question Time Extra, you can relive my 25 minutes of glory via the wonders of the web here. Rarely have I watched the whole of the main Question Time show with such dedicated concentration as last night, especially knowing that I was about to appear live on air to try and make sense of the Lib Dems' position this week on Europe. I gave it my best shot.

Actually the whole thing was made much easier by (i) Shirley Williams' barnstorming appearance to defend the Lib Dems' pro-European stance. When she wants to be she's an absolute star. And (ii) sharing the panel with ConservativeHome.com's Tim Montgomerie - I doubt there's a single issue we agree on, yet he's wonderfully polite and good company. (Tim - my mum thought you were excellent as well, by the way.)

March 01, 2008

A Liberal Goes A Long Way - R.I.P.?

Been a bit quiet around here lately, hasn’t it? Four and a half months, to be precise since my last posting. I could make lots of excuses... I changed jobs at the start of the year... I’m house hunting... I have enough on my plate as a councillor... etc.

But actually the real reason is both more practical and philosophical than that.

First, the practical bit. Acting as commissioning editor of Liberal Democrat Voice is a darn sight more time-consuming than I thought it would be, or, I suspect, than it looks. The theory is great. As LDV has, I guess, by some little way the largest readership among the Lib Dem blogs – over 20,000 unique visitors a month, and growing – you might imagine we’d get a steady stream of submissions from activists and MPs alike.

But it doesn’t quite work like that. What tends to happen is that we get a spurt of articles, which sometimes end up buried on top of each other, and then fallow periods, when no-one writes a sausage. Moreover – as any Editor knows – it’s one thing to commission pieces; quite another to receive them back by the deadline. The ratio of articles requested to articles published is probably something like 7:1.

Let’s turn to the philosophical bit. When I first took over at Lib Dem Voice from Rob Fenwick, back last summer, it felt a bit like I was house-sitting: it was a nice place to stay, but it didn’t seem right to make any changes, or put my own personal stamp on it. So I happily kept up both this blog, and LDV, in tandem: this place for my personal political reflections, and LDV for the more tribal party political stuff. In truth, I felt both sites suffered from my split affections.

In that sense, the leadership contest gave me the excuse I was looking for to rest this blog and focus 100% on Lib Dem Voice – which is what I’ve done since October. I’m pleased with what LDV has achieved during that time, in particular that we successfully covered the leadership contest in a neutral but not bland way, and that readership has grown even since the result was announced (I thought there would be a sharp dip). This is thanks, I should emphasise, to the whole ‘Collective’ which runs LDV, and, of course, to the many contributors to it.

But which do I enjoy more? That’s a different, and difficult, question. Lib Dem Voice has a bigger reach, within and beyond the party, than this blog would ever achieve. It’s also fun to be in e-mail correspondence with various folk, inside and outside the Lib Dems, and to invite them to submit articles on a wider variety of topics.

Those are the upsides. The downsides are that it’s not ‘mine’ – I feel more of a responsibility to the Lib Dem Voice readership than I ever did for those readers who turned up here. This is my blog, my gaff, my rules: if you don’t like it, don’t read it. You can’t have that mindset when you’re a member of a team website which is the unofficially official/independent party members’ website. Also, I write less than I used to, and with a narrower remit. This blog covered all sorts of topics – political, social, cultural - most days of the week. The content I generate for LDV is pretty much exclusively political, and usually to do with the Lib Dems. Sometimes I find that frustratingly constrained.

The question remains... what should I do with this blog? Do I officially admit defeat and shut it down? Or do I write very occasional pieces for it to keep up some pretence that it remains a ‘live’ blog?

Well, you’re my readers (if I have any left) – what do you reckon?