Ed vs Jo at the East Midlands hustings – a score draw

Last night I braved the stormy weather to attend the Liberal Democrats leadership hustings in Nottingham. I started the evening without a strong preference for either candidate and came away in the same frame of mind. It’s an unoriginal thought in Lib Dem circles, but I believe that either candidate will lead the party well. Even so, Ed and Jo impressed me during the event. So my judgement is that the evening was a high scoring draw, even if (to mix sporting metaphors) many of the questions asked were gentle lobs.

Ed vs Jo hustings leaflets

The hustings was more upbeat than the one in 2015 I’d attended. This was undoubtedly due to the much higher attendance and recent electoral successes. It seems like we’re no longer fighting for mere survival, but trying to figure out how to grow sustainably. The presence of Steve Bray also added some welcome colour to an otherwise nondescript university venue.

Ed’s strongest when he highlights the importance of simple, repeated messaging as a way of reaching the electorate. He argues that we need to keep forming policies based on evidence and our principles, even if they seem unpopular. Ed cites the examples of the “Stop Brexit” messaging of recent months and party history, including our opposition to the Iraq war and arguing in the 90s/00s for a penny on income tax to support education.

He’s rightly proud of his green credentials, making the excellent point that environmental policies need to be sold on their benefits rather than a “hair shirt” approach. I’d love to see the party develop the “your house as a power station” concept more, regardless of who wins this contest.

Ed’s most passionate while making his final statement, noting we really could be choosing a future prime minister. He doesn’t tell us to go back to our constituencies and prepare for government, but he’s not far off. “Stop Brexit, heal the country. Let’s win”.

Jo is at her best when she states that rebuilding trust with the electorate and communicating are the same. She says that authenticity is important and making emotional connections with policy is essential. Winning is not solely about having rational policies and catchy slogans. Actions are important too. She says that others (including MPs, hopefully!) are definitely looking at how we treat new people joining the party, like Chuka Umunna.

Jo puts the biggest smile of the evening on my face when she talks about the importance of lifelong learning (without actually using the phrase). She sees reskilling as being one way of ensuring de-industrialised areas aren’t left behind economically, as happened in the past. I get the impression that the future of work and spreading opportunity outside London and the South East is something she’s put considerable thought into. I’d love to see more detail on this in due course. She’s passionate when condemning the lack of attention given to this topic by the current government.

Her closing message is that she will be a leader who can cut through by working across generations, across the country and across party lines.

Ed and Jo in thouhtful mood as questions are taken from the audience
Jo and Ed in thoughtful mood as questions are taken from the audience.

There were no questions asked about electoral reform, and neither candidate introduced it into their answers. This was slightly disappointing, as I suspect electoral fairness will soon become a hotter topic than ever before. If we cede Liberal and Social Democratic leadership in this area the public will not forgive us. Fair votes are essential to a properly functioning democratic society.

As I said at the start, I remain undecided as to how I’m going to vote. I’ve signed up for the online hustings tomorrow evening, so maybe that will help me to decide. It feels like a really important decision and it’s one that I don’t intend to duck.

Is it too early to write off Change UK?

It has been a humbling couple of weeks for Change UK. No seats won in the Euro elections after allegedly boasting that they were going to replace the Liberal Democrats. With Westminster polls now showing them at 1%, it may be tempting to write them off. That’s probably premature, but they have a huge mountain to climb to establish relevance.

However, with Conservative and Liberal Democrat leadership elections underway and the Nigel Farage party hogging the headlines, there’s a chance for Change UK to use this time out of the media spotlight to regroup. They may wish to borrow a copy of SDP – The first five years to help them. The first five years was published in 1986 and is optimistic in tone, predating the agonies of the 1988 merger with the Liberals. Reading it again, there would seem to be a couple of things Change UK can fix – and one they can’t.

SDP - The First Five Years

One thing Change UK can’t fix (at least, not quickly) is putting together a broad-based policy platform that their current MPs can agree to. Probably the best article in The first five years book is by Bill Rodgers. In it, he traces the roots of the SDP back to Gaitskell’s loss in the October 1959 general election. Right from the outset the SDP had a clear political philosophy underpinning the party and the policies it developed. It was fairly obvious what kind of party the SDP was going to be from day one.

Outside of opposing Brexit, it’s difficult to understand what Change UK is trying to achieve. But as Nigel Farage demonstrates, being politically opaque doesn’t seem to matter too much at the moment. Provided, that is, you can motivate a reasonable portion of the electorate to vote for you. Unfortunately for Change UK, the Liberal Democrats (and The Green Party) have been far better at motivating voters in recent weeks.

More positively, the first thing Change UK could learn from the launch of the SDP is to actively court other political parties. From The first five years: “After the launch of the new party the overriding political imperative … was to come to some sort of accord with the Liberals”. The SDP was formally launched as a political party on March 26th 1981. By June 16th a joint statement of principles had been agreed with the Liberals. A Fresh Start for Britain addressed topics including proportional representation, incomes policy, the EEC and multilateral disarmament. In October, Bill Pitt became the first parliamentary candidate to win a seat on a Liberal/SDP Alliance ticket.

Should the Liberal Democrats be open to forming some kind of electoral pact with Change UK? Before the Euro elections I would have said definitely yes. Now – I’m not so sure. I’d currently support an arrangement not to stand candidates against their MPs in a general election, but nothing beyond that. Unlike the SDP, Change UK has been too slow to court and too aggressive towards its potential friends. That could change of course and I hope that it will do. But some serious bridge-building and fence-mending is required on all sides. However, some of their MPs and supporters are clearly Liberals and/or Social Democrats. I’d welcome them in a heartbeat to our party.

The importance of being capable of fighting local elections is a second lesson Change UK should learn from the SDP. At the local elections in 1982 the SDP fielded 2,300 candidates. While only around a hundred of these were elected, their average vote share was 27%. It helped to establish the SDP outside of the Westminster bubble. Adopting Liberal savvy in running local campaigns brought success for the Alliance, and enabled the SDP to attract and retain members during the seven years it existed. If Change UK is to establish itself outside of Westminster, then I’d expect to see it fighting many council by-elections sooner rather than later.

One other joy of re-reading The first five years are the stories included from party activists. This story comes from a certain Christopher Huhne, then the SDP’s PPC for Oxford West and Abingdon.

What are the SDP's policies poster - GE 1983

Silly and sensible is the new left and right in British politics

I’m sure there’s going to be loads of erudite analysis pieces written about the results of the European Parliament elections. This isn’t one of them. However, listening to the results come in last night, I was reminded of the Monty Python Election Night Special sketch. Here’s part of it.

Palin: And this one is from Harpenden Southeast. A very interesting constituency this. In addition to the official Silly candidate there is an unofficial Very Silly candidate, in the slab of concrete, and he could well split the Silly vote here at Harpenden Southeast.

Jones: Mrs Elsie Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Cleese: Silly

Jones: 26,317 (applause). Jeanette Walker…

Cleese: Sensible

Jones: 26,318…

Cleese: Very close!

Jones: Malcolm Peter Brian Telescope Adrian Blackpool Rock Stoatgobbler John Raw Vegetable Brrroooo Norman Michael (rings bell) (blows whistle) Edward (sounds car horn) (does train impersonation) (sounds buzzer) Thomas Moo… (sings) ‘We’ll keep a welcome in the…’ (fires gun) William (makes silly noise) ‘Raindrops keep falling on my’ (weird noise) ‘Don’t sleep in the subway’ (cuckoo cuckoo) Naaoooo… Smith.

Cleese: Very Silly

Jones: …two.

Cleese: Well there you have it, a Sensible gain at Harpenden with the Silly vote being split.

The new left and right in British politics appears to be silly and sensible parties. Insanity is represented by UKIP and Nigel Farage Ltd. Sanity is obviously represented by the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and a small party whose name I’ve forgotten.

I trust that this analysis provides a convincing explanation of why the Conservative and Labour parties fared so badly. You simply can’t put together an appealing political platform while claiming to be sensible and silly at the same time. The electorate clearly respects obviously sane and insane politicians. But politicians who claim to be both at the same time? That’s just mad.

East Midlands Lib Dem, Conservative and Labour leaflets from the 2019 EU elections
Labour and Conservatives – simply not sensible or silly enough for the electorate. Liberal Democrats – very sensible.

In other news, I’m fervently hoping that my 100% wrong Old Timmy’s Almanac prediction record is maintained this afternoon at Wembley.

Come on you Rams!

Update 5.23pm. Rats. But there’s always 2019/20 …

Say Bollocks to Cancer and Bollocks to Brexit

Join me, my family and friends and say Bollocks to Cancer.

Also please use your vote tomorrow to say Bollocks to Brexit.

Vote Liberal Democrat to say Bollocks to Brexit

The two requests are connected. The development of novel cancer therapies relies on close European and international co-operation. The vacuum left by a mad no-deal Brexit that Farage, half the Tory cabinet and their elitist chums want will kill the sick.

So vote for a genuinely pro-remain party. I recommend supporting the Liberal Democrats as they have the best chance of frustrating the Brexiters, but whatever. Just vote. Defeat the unpatriotic nationalist elites. And tell your family, friends and neighbours to do the same.

This is no time for our great country to become the twenty-first century equivalent of the GDR, isolated and poorer in an increasingly dangerous world.

When Brexit nonsense hits manufacturing reality

A Brexit manufacturing timeline.

May 2016

Professor Patrick Minford, of Economists for Brexit, says of manufacturing:

Over time, if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us.

Transitional arrangements should be made, lasting around 10 years, to help industries such as car manufacturing adjust.

June 2016

Mid-Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham, writing in the Derby Telegraph, explains why she wants to leave the EU:

At the weekend I made up my mind that Britain will be better off leaving the European Union. It is a decision that I have not arrived at easily, having been genuinely undecided since the referendum was announced.

Our manufacturing sector ranks number eight worldwide. The language we speak, English, is the international business language. Our judicial system is consistently rated as one of the least corrupt anywhere and our contract law is regarded across the world as the best for business. We have a long history of innovation, especially here in Derbyshire from even before the industrial revolution.

… Britain has a proud history and we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the chances and opportunities we have had. I think this is possible outside of the EU and we should be confident that Britain can once again can stand by itself.

(This article has been removed since it was published, but fortunately I kept a copy).

March 2019

Johan van Zyl, head of Toyota’s European operations, speaking at the Geneva Motor Show to the BBC:

Mr van Zyl said it was vital that there was frictionless trade with the European Union.

He said Toyota would overcome any short-term problems at its Burnaston car plant near Derby, such as logistics, caused by leaving without a deal. But preparation for no-deal has been costly, he said, and in the long-term things could be “very difficult”.

Could work at Burnaston dry up after the current production cycle comes to an end? “The long-term effect could be that if it [Brexit] is very negative, that outcome is possible.”

Constantly improving competitiveness is vital, he said, adding: “But if the hurdles are becoming so high that you cannot achieve it then of course you can’t avoid it [hitting investment].”

Many people probably remember Minford’s comment about exiting the EU “mostly eliminating manufacturing”. It’s easier to forget that he was also arguing for a 10 year transition period prior to the referendum. One presumes he must be horrified by the negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit with no transition period. If so, he seems to be keeping very quiet about it.

As for my MP, Pauline Latham, she clearly forgot about a key reason why UK manufacturing was performing so well in 2016. The frictionless trade provided by the EU single market and customs union and required by Toyota to make sense of their investment here. Had that fact not slipped her mind, I’m sure she wouldn’t have advised her constituents to vote to leave. Surely? It wouldn’t have been rational, given the difficulty she found in making her decision.

We may be at the eleventh hour and 58th minute before Brexit, but if Latham is a genuine champion of manufacturing in Derby, she needs to take Minford’s advice. Rather than the no-deal desired by her ERG colleagues, she must vote for an extension to Article 50. That way, her government may stand an outside chance of obtaining Minford’s 10 year transition period.

Alternatively, she could recognise that she was poorly advised in June 2016 by the Brexiter elite. It would be the mark of a principled politician to acknowledge that, after all, EU membership provides the best chance of giving our children and grandchildren the opportunities we’ve enjoyed since 1973. Voting to revoke Article 50 would be a start to repairing the damage of the last two years.

The chickens are coming home to roost. Waiting for a disastrous Brexit.
The chickens are coming home to roost. Waiting for a disastrous Brexit.

Brexit stockpiling: I’ve got carrots and olives and I swear there’s no guns

Last week I was approached by Chris Doidge from BBC Radio Derby. He asked me if I wanted to be interviewed about my no-deal Brexit stockpiling plans. I agreed and we talked last Thursday. Unsurprisingly, the news surrounding the disastrous A52 redevelopment project meant that it wasn’t broadcast until yesterday morning. It’s available on BBC Sounds for around the next four weeks if you’d like to listen to what I said (1 hour 15 minutes in).

Faint praise for the interview included these gems from my daughters:

Listened expecting to cringe throughout but you don’t sound like you’ve totally lost touch with reality so congratulations.

So it’s a no to the underground bunker then?

The BBC later reported that Michael Gove had been warned – yet again – about the appalling consequences of a no-deal Brexit on food supplies. Then there’s also this – taken from the 31st January blog post of Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson. I’m sure that no-one, whether they voted leave or remain, voted for food riots.

Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson on the misery of planning for a no-deal Brexit
Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson on the misery of planning for a no-deal Brexit and his concern over possible food riots.

I’d therefore argue that evidence from the experts suggests I continue to have a far more lucid grip on reality than that the Tory leader of Derbyshire County Council.

With Theresa May having disgracefully kicked the “meaningful” vote can down the road for at least a couple of weeks this afternoon, I’m going to continue stockpiling for the moment.

 

(*) Thank you to Jessica for providing the headline for this blog article – a very neat precis of what I said …

The Death of Grass: Brexit preppers

I’m annoyed (*) to report that I’ve now felt driven to start my own no deal Brexit stockpile. I don’t trust the government, nor at least two-thirds of Derby’s MPs (one Conservative, one Labour, both appalling), to act in our best interests. I hope that this post looks silly – really silly – very soon, but I’m too uncomfortable to do nothing before March 29th. Most people who answered my poll a couple of weeks ago – on Twitter and on Facebook – were thinking about stockpiling as well. There seems to be an increasing number of Brexit preppers around.

I’ve decided not to take my stockpiling to the extremes that some preppers have. I’m not stockpiling camping gas and bottled water for example. If the lights go out, the gas goes off and water supplies fail, then there’ll be rather more to worry about. It would take “Death of Grass” style preparations to properly address such a possibility. My brother isn’t a Yorkshire farmer with a stockade and machine gun, so I’m already at a disadvantage over the characters in John Christopher’s novel.

Back cover of "The death of grass" by John Christopher
This 1956 book obviously wasn’t written about Brexit, but … “The fearful national policies and immediate personal dangers which confront them are horrifying in their impact”

Instead, I’m targeting non-perishable and long shelf life goods, and aiming for 4-6 week’s supply by the time Brexit day arrives. I realise that I’m fortunate to be able to do this and others won’t be. If I’d been having my stem cell transplant around this time it wouldn’t have been possible.

My list currently has the following items on it. They’re mostly things I’d buy anyway (with a couple of exceptions), so I guess I could justify it as forward buying, but it’s not. I’d usually want to outsource stock rotation to the experts in the supermarket …

Non-perishables

  • Toilet paper, washing machine tablets, dishwasher tablets, razor blades, soap, other detergents and cleaners, deodorant, toothpaste, over the counter medicines

Tinned food

  • Fish: Tuna, crab (not a fish, obviously), sardines, salmon, mackerel, pilchards
  • Meat: Cured chicken (I’m hoping that this tastes better than it sounds), tinned meat and tinned pies
  • Vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, sweetcorn, peas, chopped tomatoes, red kidney beans (UK grown fresh vegetables are in short supply in April and May)
  • Fruit: Grapefruit segments, pineapple, apple, berries
  • Convenience: Baked beans, spaghetti hoops, soup

Jars and bottles

  • Olives, salmon, crab and beef paste, mustard, oils, ketchup, Worcester sauce, vinegar, anchovies, pickled beetroot, honey, passata

Dried food

  • Pasta, rice, porridge oats, sugar, tea, coffee, gravy granules, stock cubes, milk powder, cornflakes, weetabix, nuts

Garden seeds

  • Salad leaves, runner beans, broad beans, tomatoes etc.

Liquid sustenance

  • Long-life orange juice, diet cola, beer, wine

While a calamitous no deal Brexit remains a possibility I shall keep on adding to my stocks. Once it’s clear that particular threat has gone away (and I hope that it does), then I will donate any surplus I have to a local food bank.

If you still think this is all a little extreme, even confident Tory Brexiter MPs seem to be stockpiling in the name of “preparedness”. I guess the snowdrifts must be really something to behold in Berwick if they last throughout the summer.

(*) “Annoyed” is typical British understatement, but I try to keep the language on here to PG levels.