Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Big Society v Big Government

In the Indy this morning the left-wing columnist Steve Richards identifies the key truth about the ideological under-pinning of the heavily under attack Big Society programme which seems to have escaped most of his allies on the left. When Cameron said “There is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state” it wasn’t a rejection of Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum, it was a restatement of what she said:

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.”

That he set the chattering classes into paroxysms of delight over a Tory leader’s supposed rejection of Thatcherism shows that on the whole, with a few exceptions like Jon Cruddas, most of the left don’t understand right-of-centre thinking because they hold a mental caricature of centre-right and right-wing ideology in their minds, attributing malice to their opponents. The Big Society is about displacing Big Government as the key actor in society, so when the left-wing quangocracy, unions and their media allies complain that charities are losing their taxpayer subsidy and this undercuts the Big Society agenda, they misunderstand completely. A charity that relies in the main part on taxes is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend. Since Edmund Burke conservatives have wanted Little Platoons to take the lead in civil society. If David Miliband’s Movement for Change had actually set about being the change rather than just (as his brother Ed wants) campaigning for Bigger Government, it too would have been one of Burke’s “Little Platoons”. Radical whigs and liberals have always wanted to disperse power away from first the monarch and in modern times from the state. The Big Society agenda is not about the state delivering through para-statal bodies, it is about society delivering for itself. Ask not what your government can do for you, but what you can do for society…

Expect the Prime Minister to very soon deliver a speech reaffirming his Big Society agenda, when you are right, you cannot be too radical. The speech will have a touch of a mea culpa, though it will not be a retreat, it will be a call-to-arms at the start of the Big Society revolution unlike Blair’s late recognition in 2005 that “Every time I’ve ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further.” Expect more squeals from those still advocating Big Government solutions…

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Clegg : I’m No Leftie

Part of the reason for the current vitriol from the Labour Party towards the LibDems is that they took it for granted that the LibDems were a party of the left. As patronising as it was wrong.

On election night Guido was on ITN with Will Straw, off screen when it became clear there would be no overall majority, we argued for most of the night about what might happen. Straw basically thought Guido was bonkers to believe that a Liberal – Conservative Change Coalition was not only desirable, but that it was really possible. Will could not conceive of it happening, the subsequent widespread shock on the left when it did happen perhaps explains why the Labour Party is so scornful of the LibDems.

Guido always suspected the ex-Cambridge University Conservative Association member and son of a merchant banker might not be so keen on making common cause with Ed Balls and Gordon Brown. The polls might not support this view today, but that collective mis-judgement by Labour may cost them their second party status in the end.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is a Formal Liberal-Conservative Electoral Pact Possible?

Nick Boles, the Cameroon insider and wonk turned newly elected MP, has put the cat among the pigeons ahead of the party conferences by advocating in his new book “Which Way is Up a formal electoral pact between the Tories and the LibDems. The tribalists among the pinstripes and the sandalistas will choke on their respective Full English and muesli at the thought.

Others, like Guido, are positively salivating at the thought of driving the Labour Party into third place. Guido will be at the LibDem conference on Sunday speaking at the Liberal Vision fringe meeting, telling the Orange Bookers why it is their destiny to destroy the Labour Party as a party of government.

Now if Guido could only convince the Tories that independence for Scotland and Wales would guarantee a prosperous, low tax, free England for ever more…

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Robinson – “I Must Try Harder”

When the Political Editor of the BBC is writing public memos to himself suggesting that he he “must try harder” because he managed to miss the fact the coalition was coming, things aren’t exactly going well. Just like he missed the leadership coups when his sources’s Blackberries were vibrating right under his nose.

Robinson took a month making a documentary about the coalition negotiations before seeing the light, Guido was outlining the contours of the coming coalition before election day. It became blindingly obvious the Tories were not going to get a majority. Is better-late-than-never-Robinson really the best talent that the BBC’s vast news budget can buy?

The race to take over from Robinson is well under-way, this mea culpa should help those vying for the job.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Markets Like the Change Coalition

Before the election George Osborne and many Tory leaning pundits were claiming that a coalition government would wreak havoc in financial markets.  Guido argued the opposite – that a “Change Coalition” would see gilts rocket upwards – only a government involving the Labour Party would wreak more financial havoc.

The gilt market has seen yields drop a full 50 basis points, in plain english that is the gilt market taking ½% off the ten year interest rate against which many mortgages are set.

This immediate £6 billion reduction in unfunded over-spending is seen in the City as confimation that the LibDems are fully signed up to the savage cuts to come next year.  Britain has now moved out of the P I I G S bracket of nations (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) in danger of sovereign default.* The chart above shows it all clearly, during the days when the City feared a Lib-Lab government the markets declined and once the Lib-Con government was in the bag they rallied.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Change Coalition (Part III)

Now is an historic opportunity to reform politics for the better, to open up politics and government, to roll back an authoritarian state.  If the Tory right is too small minded to allow Cameron to do a deal with Clegg then they are as stupid as they are short-sighted.  This is an historic opportunity to realign politics along a liberal-conservative axis.  It is the chance to destroy the Labour Party as a party of government forever. If the price is real reform of the electoral system then that is a price well worth paying to free us from the economic destruction wrought time and time again, decade after decade, by a statist, big government Labour Party.  Fraser Nelson, the editor of the Spectator, says he will fight Cameron.

Don’t do it my friend, at least see what deal is on the table, this is the chance to achieve Margaret Thatcher’s ultimate ambition of two competing non-socialist parties of government.

See also : Getting Real : The Change Coalition (Part II)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting Real : The Change Coalition (Part II)

A few weeks ago Guido asked a CCHQ insider privy to strategy “What is the negotiating strategy with the LibDems?  Is it true Matthew Hancock is in charge of the strategy?” He laughed “the joke of the negotiation strategy is that there isn’t one. If we lose narrowly we’ll leave it up to Clegg to either support Labour or stand alone.  Go on to fight a second election and hope to win more comfortably.”

What, Guido asked, if the differential is big? “Don’t be f***ing stupid.”

That LibDem negotiation strategy might be a higher priority nowadays. Hancock is the Tory PPC for West Suffolk and formerly George Osborne’s chief-of-staff, Cleggmania means the problem now has the attention of those above his pay grade.  Last Sunday Guido sketched out a potential May 7 scenario, Tim Montgomerie was horrified, the feedback Guido got was more mixed – mostly it was sceptical based on contact with the LibDem grassroots.  Left Foot Forward editor Will Straw mirrored Tim Montgomerie, telling Guido in Dimbley’s green room that it was just not going to happen, the LibDems were “progressives”. Well that is a pretty meaningless term, it has even been borrowed by the Cameroons for their agenda.  The confusion in the ranks of Labour and Tory true believers is based on the experience of contact with Libdem activists, many of whom are way to the left of Blairites.  The parliamentary party is not by and large left wing - it is centrist.

Clegg and the people around him are not of the left, Vince Cable is, but he is the exception.  The Orange bookers and the Cameroons share key liberal ideological tenets – localism, decentralisation, transparency and a preference for market based solutions.  On the need for “savage cuts” in government spending, accelerated deficit reduction and NHS reform the LibDems have been more honest than the Tories.  Most Tories can live with LibDem manifesto commitments on tax (apart from the enterprise killing capital gains hike). They are singing from the same fiscal policy hymn-sheet.

There are real areas of discordance, in particular defence and foreign policy.  Here the LibDems betray their liberal radicalism, Clegg is desperately trying to square grassroots weirdie-beardie antipathy to anything nuclear with being in the government of a UN security council member and nuclear power.  Letting the Tories have primacy on defence and foreign policy and the LibDems have primacy on home affairs, localism and open government is the most likely compromise. It would also broadly reflect the electorate’s wishes.

We have come a long way in the last 7 days, the well connected chronicler of the Cameroons Matthew D’Ancona now says get real it is on the cards, Cameron tells the Observer the door is open and One of the keys is the people who are liberal with a small L, Clegg tells the Sunday Times that “You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10″, Mandelson warns voters that flirtation with Clegg might lead to a Cameroon marriage.  The public  on the other hand always love a big wedding.  The bookies make a hung parliament the strong favourite outcome with a 60% probability and give the Tories only a 37% chance of forming a majority governmentChange is definitely coming and it will probably be in the form of a coalition…

See also : The Change Coalition

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Change Coalition

Imagine it is the afternoon of May 7…

The Tories have received 33% of the popular vote, LibDems 29% and Labour 24%, a strong 6% showing by the BNP concentrated in Labour heartlands has shocked the political system and given the party its first Westminster MP in Stoke, where Labour’s vote split. UKIP’s Nigel Farage has taken Buckingham, after two recounts, by 7 votes.  Ed Balls has lost his Morley and Outwood seat to the Tory hero of election night, Antony Calvert.  The SNP has made strong gains strengthening Alex Salmond’s claims for Scotland to be granted more self determination.

Due to the iniquities of the electoral system Labour is still the largest party in Westminster, just.  Harriet Harman has demanded Gordon Brown resigns and announced her intention to seek the leadership, Miliband hasn’t been seen. Charlie Whelan publicly tweets blame on Mandelson’s electoral strategy and “corrupt Blairites” for Labour’s defeat.  Alastair Campbell is bailed at West London Magistrates’ Court after his live on-screen 3 a.m. drunken assault on Nick Robinson.

After unofficial back-channel communications between Samantha Cameron and her third-cousin at Buckingham Palace all morning, the Queen’s Private Secretary calls the leader of the Conservative Party and asks him to come to the palace.  The Private Secretary then calls Nick Clegg and asks him to come to the palace as well.

In what is the iconic picture of the election, Cameron walks out of his Millbank headquarters along the Thames embankment to 4 Cowley Street where Nick Clegg greets him and together they walk purposefully towards the Mall surrounded by photographers and cameramen as crowds cheer and many ask “which one is which?”

In what were reportedly good natured discussions all morning the terms of a “Change Coalition” had been agreed by 3 pm.  Clegg as expected is Home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, Cable is Chancellor, Osborne takes his old sparring partner’s job at Business. Phil Hammond and David Laws are tasked with cutting spending and reforming taxation at the Treasury.  Lord Adonis remains as the government’s Transport Minister, Frank Field returns to the Department for Work and Pensions, both take the Liberal whip. Chris Huhne, ominously for the coalition, chooses to go to the backbench rather than accept cabinet collective responsibility as Defence Minister.

The most difficult horse-trading over the coalition was of course over Europe and electoral reform. Hague went to the FCO much to the relief of the Tory base and Ed Davey becomes the cabinet’s Minister for Constitutional Reform (Douglas Carswell gets a promotion as his deputy with special responsiblity for localism).   The leaders realised that they could not take their respective parties with them if they compromised on either of these two issues.

The average age of the cabinet is now 44, the centre-piece of the Queen’s speech is to be a Great Repeal Bill, undoing 13 years of authoritarian legislation and strengthening civil liberties, restricting the growth of the surveillance and database society. The Big Society reform programme promises to fundamentally re-balance state and society in favour of a smaller more open government.  Cable promises an emergency budget within 30 days signalling tough action on the deficit.  The gilt market hits a 3 year high and the pound rallies 12% on the close.

Norman Tebbit, who was by her bedside, blogs the sad news that Baroness Thatcher has passed away.  Her last words were “Norman, they buried the Labour Party before me.”

Punters on Politics Smarkets says there is a 56% chance of a hung parliament

Friday, October 9, 2009

Change You Can Believe In?

ready-for-changeReflecting on Cameron’s speech it strikes Guido that it had some good themes, particularly the attack on Big Government; “government got too big, promised too much and pretended that it had all the answers” and the little reported promise of a return to sound money policies.   The emphasis on the family unit as the essential foundation of society, the emphasis on lower taxes for the lower paid and the education reforms which are the most exciting manifesto promise from the Tories, all sound good.

What is a little unconvincing is the idea that in government the Tories will roll back Big Government, policy after policy is statist; the Tories are proposing 17 new quangos, threatening to put up taxes and devoid of privatisation proposals. When the leader of the LibDems is sounding more right-wing on taxes and implementing “savage spending cuts” than the leader of the Tories, you wonder who is really offering real change?

Prime example of the Tory credibility deficit: it was George Osborne who committed the Conservatives to match Labour’s spending plans until 2011, to howls of outrage from many of his supporters – Tim Montgomerie was very vocal that this was a big mistake, John Redwood was diplomatically unimpressed.  Now the Tories decry Gordon Brown’s past overspending and his fiscal recklessness in every speech. Do they think we have forgotten that it was they who supported those very same spending plans?  They were asked repeatedly at the time what would happen if there were no “proceeds of growth” to share and ducked the question.  The Cameroons have bought into the Finkelstein argument – which is entirely political – that it is expensive to be radical, that it is nigh on impossible to dramatically change the course of the ship of state, that  across the board tax cuts are politically and economically too difficult.  So much so that these aspirations are hardly voiced.  If you don’t aim for the stars you won’t even get off the ground in  government, the civil service and vested interests will thwart pragmatists every time.

Except in education policy the rhetoric of change is not matched by commitments to really radical change.  The rhetorical onslaught on Big Government is not matched by a commitment to shrink the proportion of GDP swallowed by the state.  In some parts of Britain, particularly in Scotland and Wales, the state sector is of Soviet proportions to the local economy, with public sector employment dwarfing the productive sector of the economy.  That has to change, Cameron half-quoted Martin Luther King; “When you are right, you cannot be too radical…” – so offer radical change.


Seen Elsewhere

Tristram Should Stop Bashing Independent Schools | Toby Young
Journalists in the Dock | David Banks
Let Them Eat Gay Cake | Laura Perrins
May v Javid | ConHome
Politicians Never Safe From Being Recorded | Stephen Pollard
Superstar Carney | Alex Brummer
Gulf Dividing Labour | Mary Riddell
Labour Reverts to 1980s Anti-Capitalism | Allister Heath
Nothing Dave Can Say Will Stop UKIP | Danny Finkelstein
Hunt Told Off By Former Head | TES
Scrap Tax on Family Flights | ConHome


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Tony Blair threatens Ed:

“If you had a strong political lead that was combining the politics of aspiration with the politics of compassion, I still think that’s where you could get a substantial majority…  If I ever do an interview on [the state of the Labour Party], it will have to be at length…”



Left on Left says:

The lefties are attacking because the panellist is a millionaire and lives in a London home worth upwards of two million. Someone had best tell them he’s called Ed Miliband.


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