Thank Trump or tackle homelessness this Christmas?

I received two Christmas messages from political campaigners yesterday. The first was from a right-wing US website. I have no idea how I ended up on their mailing list. I’ve tried to unsubscribe many times without success. Their endless stream of nonsense is now fed directly into my junk email folder.

The Christmas mailing asked me to thank Donald Trump for fulfilling 150 campaign promises by choosing one of “… six beautiful digital cards you can personalize and send to the president without cost … to counteract the constant attacks on his policies, his character and his dedication to putting America’s interests first.”

The second message came from Vince Cable. In it he asked us to do something to support a local charity tackling homelessness this Christmas. In Derby, the Padley Group have helped people with a range of issues including homelessness, debt and destitution, drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, severe autism and long-term unemployment since 1985. It’s challenging to maintain services when £250,000 in local and central government grants have been removed.

However, they’re trying hard to attract new supporters to their Padley 4000 scheme which you can subscribe to for £2 a month – less than the price of a cup of coffee. They’ve asked their existing supporters to publicise the scheme this Christmas. If you are local to Derby, please think about joining it. There are also opportunities to volunteer if you’d prefer to donate your time.

 

A Happy Christmas and peaceful new year to you all.

The consequences of kicking the can down the road

Kicking the can down the road is sometimes a useful tactic for avoiding short-term political pain, but often results in significant long-term damage. If a politician can kick a particular can far enough away, they may avoid personal damage for poor decisions, laziness and lies. Instead it’s the people in the can that’s being kicked who suffer. I’m fairly certain that’s the strategy of the current government when it comes to finalising the exit process from the European Union. When it proves to be the national disaster everyone with any foresight predicted that it would be, the culprits will be long gone from office. No doubt they’ll manage to scrape the odd book deal or two from the wreckage. As for the rest of us, we need to make whatever contingency plans we can.

The EU exit can appears to have been successfully kicked away for a few more months. However, one that’s been kicked down the road by politicians of all parties for the last decade or so and has largely been forgotten about has been found hiding in the long grass by the National Audit Office (NAO). Their report into the higher education market makes grim reading and not only because of the seemingly unstoppable trend towards the marketisation of HE. Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), remarked that “There is a world of difference between buying a tin of beans and making the right decision about higher education“. Quite.

Far and away the biggest losers from the last decade of funding changes in HE in England have been part-time, mature students. The charts in the NAO report show the scale of the disaster for this group of learners since 2011, but in truth, the damage to this group had already started under the previous Labour government with the withdrawal of funding for equivalent and lower qualifications.

Since 2010/11, the number of part-time students has fallen dramatically, both in real terms and as a proportion of learners:

Figure 4

Part-time enrolments for undergraduate study in England have declined markedly since 2010/11.

… with mature, part-time undergraduates feeling the brunt of these changes, through policies that have created an especially hostile environment for this group.

Figure 14 - Mature students

Mature and part-time undergraduate student entrants in England 2011-2016.

Peter Horrocks, the Open University vice-chancellor tweeted this morning that the fall in part-time mature learners had mostly hit “… the career learners who need new skills”, adding “This is an own goal for government’s aims on productivity and social mobility.”

He’s right, of course. This is a can that the government needs to stop kicking. Proper policy and investment in lifelong learning will be essential if the UK – inside or outside of the EU – is to thrive in future.

Ask the government to re-open the Dubs scheme

In an idle moment this evening I was browsing through the forgotten petitions on the last few pages of the parliamentary site. In among all of the authoritarian, dangerous, nationalist and sundry other nonsense (for example, “Make people pass a politics test before they can vote”, “Ban cyclists from the road and allow them on the pavement” and “Make Northumberland Scottish land”) I came across a remarkably well drafted petition with (at the time of writing) only 28 signatures.

Re-open the DUbs scheme petitionThis petition seems worthwhile signing to me and I hope that it reaches the first page very soon.

The author of the petition is a Tim Farron. I think I may have heard this name somewhere before …

The time has come: What next for (the) Liberal Democrats?

I’m writing these thoughts during the last few hours of the general election, but won’t hit publish until just before the polls close at 10pm. I’m then going to bed, hoping that June 9th will bring at least some crumbs of comfort from a Liberal Democrats perspective. Net gains would be nice!

What has astonished me most about the campaign has been the sheer dreadfulness of Theresa May. I always suspected she was a dud, but everything that’s happened suggests she’s far worse than that. I think her weaknesses must have astonished many Conservatives too. While it was too late to change election addresses and candidate billboards (at least in Mid Derbyshire), it’s been noticeable that the ‘standing with’ and ‘strong and stable’ brands have become ever less prominent as the weeks have gone by. One can only wonder what would have happened if she’d undergone the journalistic scrutiny that the other party leaders have. Regardless of the result, I doubt strongly she’ll still be their party leader at the 2022 election.

Labour have had a good general election campaign. They’ve been helped by the collapse of Theresa May’s credibility and authority. Although they look certain to increase their vote share from last time, I wonder how this will actually translate into seats gained.

There were glimmers of hope at the start of the general election campaign for the Liberal Democrats. Exceeding 100,000 members is no mean achievement. I remember Tim Farron talking about this goal during the leadership hustings in 2015 and I genuinely thought that this wasn’t achievable in the short-term. As with so many of my political predictions, I was wrong. The manifesto is great – human, fair, evidence-based, rational  and costed. As the IFS pointed out, if enacted it would provide the best economic outcome for the poorest 50% of society, and by some margin. I’m really proud to be in the same party as the people who put this together.

However, our air war simply hasn’t worked – for whatever reasons. Vote-share looks as if it will be close to the 8% result in 2015. The otherwise welcome collapse of UKIP may sadly mean some lost seats. I sincerely hope that the ground war in our key seats has worked well this time and that my pessimism is unfounded.

I’ve no idea which pollsters will be proved right or wrong. I’ve been intrigued by the new YouGov model. If the trend back towards two party politics in most of the country has continued as expected, then I suspect models based on uniform national swing (UNS) will be more accurate. If there’s been a massive uptake in tactical voting, with young and non-voters turning out for the first time, then YouGov may be the real winners in this particular battle.

So, to my prediction, written a few hours before the polls closed. I think we’ll see a Conservative majority – probably around the 50-60 seat mark. (This implies that I think UNS models will be better than YouGov’s new one). Sadly, I suspect that this would put my party at the lower end of the YouGov 95% confidence interval of 5ish to 20ish seats. Possibly even below it. I really hope that I’m wrong about this and that I look totally foolish tomorrow morning. Regardless, I’d like to add my thanks to all of our candidates and their teams. You become and stay a Liberal Democrat through conviction, not because of a desire for an easy political life. I appreciate all that you do, especially as I am currently unable to do much myself.

Britain under a Tory or Labour government will be unrecognisable in 2022 as the privations of Brexit really start to bite. People that I love will suffer, so you can perhaps understand, a little, why I’m still incandescent with rage with the Brexiteers and their late converts in May and Corbyn. However, I’m no longer confident that the perpetrators of this national catastrophe will ever be properly punished by the electorate. It will be very simple for authoritarian politicians to try to shift the blame onto external causes. But I’m glad that our party remains on what I believe to be the right side of this argument, regardless of whether it is eventually an electorally successful position.

Somewhere in the attic I have a copy of Paddy Ashdown’s 1989 book “Citizens’ Britain”. If I remember correctly, he paints two opposing pictures of how the UK could be in the early 2000s. One is of an optimistic, open, tolerant and united Britain and the other is of a closed, insular, mean and unequal country. Citadel Britain. Up until June 24th last year, I genuinely thought that Citizens’ Britain would eventually be closer to reality. Now, I’m utterly convinced that we’re in the dystopia of Citadel Britain and see no obvious way out. I told you earlier that my political predictions are usually rubbish.

So now only one question remains for me. What next for those of us who want to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, balancing the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity?

What makes an accomplished negotiator?

There are few empirical studies outside of academia that have looked into what makes an accomplished negotiator. However, in 1978(*), Neil Rackham and John Carlisle of the Huthwaite Group conducted one that went beyond game playing. Their work compared the behaviour of a number of accomplished negotiators with ones rated merely average by their peers. They found that accomplished negotiators:

  • Spent twice as much time asking questions (20% vs 10%), and so presumably more time listening to the other party
  • Talked more about their feelings
  • Spent twice as much time ensuring that a common understanding had been reached
  • Used fewer arguments to support their proposals
  • When responding to a proposal, they made half as many counter-proposals

In addition, average negotiators made six times more statements that annoyed the other party than an accomplished negotiator.

Yesterday afternoon we got another glimpse of Theresa May’s preferred negotiating behaviour. Will giving her even more power on 8th June end well for anyone in the UK?

 

(*) The Rackham & Carlisle study is referenced in Hal Movius’ 2008 paper “The effectiveness of negotiation training”.

Waiting for a hard Brexit

A photograph I took at a Bruges market illustrates the consequences of hoping for the best from a hard Brexit.

Waiting for a hard Brexit

Fortunately, not everyone is offering Hobson’s choice of a strong and stable rotisserie or one that works for the people. There is a way to escape what less brave politicians want you to believe is certain.

Change Britain's Future

Nick Clegg in his speech at the National Liberal Club yesterday clearly spelt out the consequences of a hard Brexit. It will cost us thousands of pounds each that could be far better spent on the NHS, education and ourselves. We may have voted to leave, but it is essential that we have a say on our ultimate destination. Neither the Conservative or Labour parties want us to have that say.

Liberal Democrats clearly do. They’re arguing for a referendum allowing us to choose what the government manages to negotiate or to remain in the EU. That’s a much better option than arguing about which spit of the rotisserie we prefer.

Is Theresa May reading my blog for policy ideas?

… I think we should be told. Someone in the Prime Minister’s constituency is clearly desperate for policy ideas with substance, rather than the ridiculous “strong and stable” guff she’s been spouting so far. While the Conservatives outrageously claim credit for Liberal Democrat achievements in government (for example, raising the personal tax allowance and same-sex marriage) this idea, I’m certain, will never be a Liberal Democrat policy.

Abolish bank holidays policy

Here’s a link to the (tongue firmly in cheek) post this particular search found.

 

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