Political Journalists Really Don’t Know What They’re Talking About

When it comes to the Lib Dems, political journalists are utterly clueless, and this means that a lot of people have severe misunderstandings about the likely result of the election if there’s a hung parliament.

I *keep* seeing two subjects coming up, over and again, in these discussions. These are “a Tory/Lib Dem/UKIP/DUP block” and “Nick Clegg would prefer a deal with the Tories than with Labour”.

The first is impossible. The second doesn’t matter. And both for the same reason.

What political journalists on all sides simply don’t get about the Lib Dems is that no matter how much the leadership push the “centrism” message, the party is fundamentally different from Labour, UKIP, or the Tories, the right-authoritarian parties journalists are used to talking about. In those parties, the leader makes the decisions and that’s the end of the matter. The leader can be deposed, but otherwise what he says goes.

In this respect, the Lib Dems are hugely different. Party policy is decided by the party, democratically, and if there’s a deal with another party *that* has to be decided democratically, too.

If there’s a situation after the election where the Lib Dems may be able to make a deal with one or more other parties, there’s a process in place, it’s not just the leader’s whim. That process is as follows:

The party will talk with the largest other party first, but *will* talk with any other party that can reasonably make an offer.
There is a five-person negotiating team who will go into any discussions and try to hammer out an agreement.
That agreement will be put to the party’s MPs, who would have to agree with it.
It will then be put to the Federal Executive, the party’s elected ruling body, who would also have to agree with it.
And then it will be put to a special party conference, who would have to support it by a two-thirds majority. (And it was said at Spring Conference this year that this would apply even to a supply and confidence agreement, not just to coalitions).

Yes, Nick Clegg’s view (if he’s still the leader, which would depend on him being re-elected in Sheffield Hallam, the election going well enough that he doesn’t feel obliged to stand down, and other such matters that are for the electorate to decide) will certainly be listened to by the party — but so would the views of, for example, Andrew George, the long-time MP for St Ives, who’s ruled out a coalition with the Tories. So would the views of Tim Farron, the party’s former president who’s widely tipped as the next leader, who says he’d prefer supply and confidence to a coalition. And so would the views of party members throughout the country.

It may well be the case that Nick Clegg might have a preference for working with the Tories over working with Labour. It may also be that he’d actually prefer to work with Labour — he’s not said one way or the other. That preference, whether it exists or not, doesn’t really matter. What matters is what the other parties offer, and how much the Lib Dem party members trust them to deliver it. Last time, the coalition agreement contained a large number of things that were very important to Lib Dem members, but which the Tories later reneged on.

My feeling of the mood of the party, which may well be wrong, is that the membership as a whole don’t want another coalition — with either party — unless there’s an absolutely *spectacular* offer, and that between the Tories’ current position and their behaviour this Parliament, it’s very unlikely they’ll make one, or that we’d believe them if they did.

I think the party as a whole are most likely to go for supply and confidence rather than a coalition, and more likely to support a Labour minority government than a Conservative one, all else being equal.

One thing that will *never* happen, though, is an agreement involving the DUP or UKIP. The Lib Dems are a broad church, but what unites the entire party is liberalism on social issues — the rule of law, free movement, internationalism, human rights. These are anathema to extreme authoritarian parties like UKIP or the DUP, in a way they aren’t to at least the moderate end of the Tories or Labour, and there is simply no point at which those parties and the Lib Dems overlap in views (that’s even ignoring the fact that neither of those parties will get enough members to make a difference in forming a stable coalition).

An agreement involving the SNP is more likely, though still difficult. The SNP are nationalists, which causes natural suspicion in the Lib Dems, and there’s a lot of bad feeling between the two parties in Scotland in the wake of the referendum which might make a deal impossible on a pure personality level on both sides. Unlike UKIP or the DUP, though, there is a reasonable amount of policy overlap, including on several Lib Dem priorities, so it’s not completely impossible. I’d put the chances fairly low, though.

So if you read anything talking about a deal with UKIP or the DUP, you know the journalist is either clueless (and therefore not to be trusted on anything else in the article either…) or deliberately misrepresenting the facts. And if you read anything about Nick Clegg’s opinions, just think “that’s interesting. I wonder what the opinions of the other 45,454 Lib Dem members are?”

Why Vote: It Encourages Them

I’m seeing a lot of people at the moment saying that they’re not planning on voting this year, because their vote will make little difference. And I can certainly see the point they’re making.

We have a crappy electoral system, one which leads inevitably to governments either solely formed by, or completely dominated by, two huge parties whose views are almost identical to each other and who are pursuing an agenda that is frankly vile.

In those circumstances, it’s easier to not bother to vote, and to channel one’s political energies into non-Parliamentary campaigning.

And, indeed, non-Parliamentary campaigning is vital, and *is* probably more important than the electoral system in actually getting things changed, given the current sorry state of Parliamentary politics. And this is why I give time or money to Amnesty, the Open Rights Group, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and other such campaigning organisations. Those groups are all pushing at the Overton Window, and that can only be a good thing.

But at the same time, if you want to change something about the way the world works, yes, you should push the Overton window in your direction as much as possible, but at the same time, once your issue becomes within the realms of political possibility, there will be a party standing in your area who will find it easier to modify their positions towards the ones you want. If your big issue is, for example, lowering the tax rate on rich people to 20%, the Tories would be more likely to go for that than the other parties. If you want to ban cars because they’re too polluting, the Greens will be most likely to go for it. Re-nationalise the energy providers? Labour. Land Value Tax? Lib Dems. Deport all immigrants? UKIP. And so on.

So in your constituency, there is undoubtedly a party standing which, while you don’t agree with them, will be more likely to take on the positions you want as soon as it becomes political expedient than any of the other parties will. So while voting will not make much of a difference, *as part of a broader range of activities* ranging from signing petitions to giving money to campaigning groups to joining parties and influencing them from the inside it may make a difference.

Now, I’m very fortunate in that where I live I don’t have to compromise my vote. Our local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, Dave Page, is someone with whom I agree on about 90% of the issues we’ve discussed, who’s as active and effective a campaigner as you can imagine, and who I trust enough that he has a spare key to my house. I’m not quite as sure about this Andrew Hickey bloke the Lib Dems are standing for council in my ward, mind, but even if he’s useless he can’t actually be *worse* than the current lot…

So I don’t have to compromise at all — I can go into the polling station and know that I’ll be voting for people who will do the right thing as I see it — and so it’s easy for me to go on about how everyone should vote. I won’t be standing in judgment over anyone who doesn’t — as I’ve said above, I can understand people’s reasons. But I do think that given the opportunity to give politics a tiny nudge in the right direction, whichever direction you think that is (and I hope it’s a liberal and democratic one), you might as well take it.

Highlights of the Lib Dem Manifesto

I’ve had a look through the Lib Dem manifesto today, because of course I have. It’s long — something like three times as long as the larger parties’ — and full of detail (as someone — I’m afraid I can’t remember who — pointed out on Twitter, only the Lib Dems and the Greens have much in the way of detail in their manifestos, and this may be to do with the fact that they’re the only large parties whose policies are developed by the membership, so they *have* a lot of policy).

Most of the manifesto is, frankly, dull as ditchwater. A lot of it’s the same managerialist platitudes you’ll get in any manifesto, just with additional costings. EVERY party says they’ll protect the environment, cut crime, protect the NHS, and stroke puppies. So I’ve gone through and found the stuff that seems like it’s worth commenting on — mostly positively, but occasionally negatively. The stuff that seems distinctively liberal, or disappointingly not, not the rest. I’m also only looking here at stuff I have a clue about.

Liberal Democrats remain committed to introducing
Land Value Tax (LVT), which would replace Business Rates in
the longer term and could enable the reduction or abolition of
other taxes.

LVT is one of those ideas that Lib Dems seem to love, and that no-one else ever talks about. When I first heard about it, I thought “that makes so much sense, there *must* be a catch!”, but no-one’s ever pointed one out to me (which is not to say there isn’t one).

a new legally binding target to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050

Possibly too little too late, but *something* like this needs to be done…

As a major global economy, we must promote open markets and
free trade, both within the European Union and beyond. Only as
a full member of a reformed European Union can we be certain
Britain’s businesses will have access to markets in Europe and
beyond.
Liberal Democrats believe we should welcome talented people
from abroad, encourage visitors and tourists who contribute
enormously to our economic growth, and give sanctuary to refugees
fleeing persecution. Immigration procedures must be robust and fair,
and the UK must remain open to visitors who boost our economy,
and migrant workers who play a vital role in business and public
services.

A bit of a difference from mugs saying “controls on immigration”…

Protect the independence of the BBC while ensuring the Licence Fee does not rise faster than inflation, maintain Channel
4 in public ownership and protect the funding and editorial independence of Welsh language broadcasters

Sounds good, although it’s basically “we’ll leave this alone”.

Raise the Personal Allowance to at least £12,500, cutting your taxes by around £400 more

Nice idea in theory, not a priority I’m particularly keen on in the current economic climate.

Legislate to make the ‘triple lock’ permanent, guaranteeing decent pensions rises each year

Not keen on this either — the triple lock as a temporary measure is, and has been, a good thing. But making it permanent is to guarantee that an ever-increasing proportion of spending will go to pensions, regardless of need. I accept that I’m in a minority on this one though.

Extend free childcare to all two-year olds, and to the children of working families from the end of paid parental leave.

Expand Shared Parental Leave with a ‘use it or lose it’ month for fathers, and introduce a right to paid leave for carers

Both entirely good ideas.

Complete the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), so people are always better off in work.

In principle, UC is a very good idea. In practice, the implementation has been a complete balls-up so far. If the reforms that are talked about make it work better, then it might be a good thing. We’ll see.

Reductions in benefits may not always be the best
way to improve claimants’ compliance: those with chaotic lives
might be more successful in finding a job if they were directed to
targeted support with their problems. We will ensure there are no
league tables or targets for sanctions issued by Jobcentres and
introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning so people are only sanctioned if
they deliberately and repeatedly break the rules.

Nowhere near what I’d like, but a definite massive improvement on the current system.

Liberal Democrats will protect young people’s entitlements to the welfare safety net, while getting them the help they need to get their first job.

In other words, “bollocks to this idea of stopping benefits for under-25s that both Labour and the Tories have”

Introduce a 1% cap on the uprating of working-age benefits until the budget is balanced in 2017/18, after which they will rise with
inflation once again. Disability and parental leave benefits will be
exempt from this temporary cap.

I really, *really* don’t like the below-inflation benefits rise thing, when we’re promising to increase pensions at above inflation. On the other hand, there’s a definite term limit on this. Not something I support, but could be worse.

Withdraw eligibility for the Winter Fuel Payment and free
TV Licence from pensioners who pay tax at the higher rate
(40%). We will retain the free bus pass for all pensioners.

Sounds good to me. I’m right on the 40% tax rate border, and I manage to support two people, pay a mortgage, spend quite a lot of money on leisure pursuits, and put a reasonable amount away in savings every month. Anyone with more income than me (and who will be unlikely to still be making mortgage payments) doesn’t need free stuff paid for by people who are on average worse-off than them. (The bus pass is worth keeping because it encourages public transport use, which is a good thing in itself).

Ensure swift implementation of the new rules requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of the different pay levels of men and women in their organisation. We will build on this platform and, by 2020, extend transparency requirements to include publishing the number of people paid less than the Living Wage and the ratio between top and median pay. We will also consult on
requirements for companies to conduct and publish a full equality pay review, and to consult staff on executive pay.

Ask the Low Pay Commission to look at ways of raising the National Minimum Wage, without damaging employment opportunities. We will improve enforcement action and clamp down on abuses by employers seeking to avoid paying the minimum wage by reviewing practices such as unpaid internships.

Establish an independent review to consult on how to set a fair Living Wage across all sectors. We will pay this Living Wage in all central government departments and their agencies from April 2016, and encourage other public sector employers to do likewise.

Improve the enforcement of employment rights, reviewing Employment Tribunal fees to ensure they are not a barrier. We will ensure employers cannot avoid giving their staff rights or paying the minimum wage by wrongly classifying them as workers or self-employed.

All very good stuff.

Conduct a review of the Work Capability Assessment and
Personal Independence Payment assessments to ensure they are fair, accurate and timely and evaluate the merits of a public sector provider.

Simplify and streamline back-to-work support for people with
disabilities, mental or physical health problems. We will aim for
the goal of one assessment and one budget for disabled and sick
people to give them more choice and control.

This is stuff that desperately needs doing.

Reform the policy to remove the spare room subsidy. Existing
social tenants will not be subject to any housing benefit
reduction until they have been offered reasonable alternative
accommodation. We will ensure tenants who need an extra bedroom for genuine medical reasons are entitled to one in any assessment of their Housing Benefit needs, and those whose homes are substantially adapted do not have their Housing Benefit reduced.

In other words, “we’re not going to *say* we’re scrapping the ‘Bedroom Tax’, we’re just going to make sure it doesn’t actually apply to anyone”.

To ensure all children learn about a wide range of religious and nonreligious world views, religious education will be included in the core curriculum; however we will give schools the freedom to set policy on whether to hold acts of collective worship, while ensuring any such acts are strictly optional.

Getting rid of the statutory requirement for worship in schools is a *big* deal, and a great thing.

We are the only party with a credible plan to deliver the extra £8 billion NHS leaders know our health service in England needs by 2020, with the appropriate boost to funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too

Labour will only promise about a third of this. The Tories until last week were the same, and then suddenly said they’d put in the extra eight billion too, but without saying where they’d get it from.

That is why we will increase mental health spending in England’s NHS by £500m a year by 2016/17 – half of which we delivered in this year’s Budget – and provide the cash for similar investments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Desperately needed. There’s a lot of good wonkish mental health stuff in there.

Liberal Democrats are committed to repealing any parts of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which make NHS services vulnerable to forced privatisation through international agreements on free markets in goods and services. We will end the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in health, making it clear that the needs of patients, fairness and access always come ahead of competition, and that good local NHS services do not have to be put out to tender. After determined negotiations, we now have a clear guarantee from the EU that member states’ rights to provide public services directly and not open them up to competition are explicitly enshrined in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and we will ensure this remains the case for TTIP and any future trade agreements.

Clearly good.

Restrict the marketing of junk food to children, including restricting TV advertising before the 9pm watershed

Harumph.

Lots of environment stuff which sounds very nice but which I have no basis to evaluate the effectiveness of

Yay the environment. I sound dismissive, but this is actually probably the most important stuff in the manifesto in the very long term. I just have no reasonable way to evaluate any of it, other than “that sounds good”.

we have set an ambitious target of increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year.

DESPERATELY needed.

Enable Local Authorities to…levy up to 200% Council Tax on second homes where they judge this to be appropriate.

Sounds fair to me.

Challenge gender stereotyping and early sexualisation, working with schools to promote positive body image and widespread understanding of sexual consent law, and break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of particular academic subjects

Nice.

Give legal rights and obligations to cohabiting couples in the event of relationship breakdown or one partner dying without a will.

Permit humanist weddings and opposite sex civil partnerships, and liberalise the rules about the location, timing and content of wedding ceremonies.

Support schools to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, and to establish a tolerant and inclusive environment for all their pupils. We will remove schools’ exemption from the bar on harassment in these areas while protecting the right to teach about religious doctrine.

Promote international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnerships as part of a comprehensive International LGBT Rights Strategy that supports the cause of decriminalising homosexuality in other countries.

Seek to pardon all those with historic convictions for consensual homosexual activity between adults.

Enhance the experience of all football fans by making homophobic chanting a criminal offence, like racist chanting.

Ask the Advisory Committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs periodically to review rules around men who have sex with men donating blood to consider what restrictions remain necessary

All good stuff, apart from the football chant one, which I’m in two minds about, because I don’t like laws against speech but I also don’t like tens of thousands of people chanting homophobic hate speech. The rest is all great, thanks to the good work of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

(There’s a lot of stuff about racial and religious discrimination, but I’m not qualified to see if those policies are as good, as it’s not an area I know much about.)

Formally recognise British Sign Language as an official language of the United Kingdom.

About time.

Prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion in the provision of public services.

Move to ‘name blank’ recruitment wherever possible in the public sector.

Introduce statutory public interest defences for exceptional cases where journalists may need to break the law (such as RIPA, the 2010 Bribery Act, and the 1998 Computer Misuse Act) to expose
corruption or other criminal acts.

Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation.

Some much needed protection for journalists here.

To promote the independence of the media from political influence we will remove Ministers from any role in appointments to the BBC Trust or the Board of Ofcom.
To guarantee press freedom, we will pass a British ‘First Amendment’ law, to require the authorities and the courts to have regard to the importance of a free media in a democratic society.

Both obvious Good Things.

And a list of things from the freedoms and digital rights sections, without my comment because they’re obviously good (though they don’t go as far as I would — but then pretty much *no-one* would go as far as me):

Establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law.

Back a full judicial enquiry into complicity in torture if the current investigation by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee investigation fails to get to truth.

End indefinite detention for immigration purposes.

Introduce restrictions on the indefinite use of police bail.

Require judicial authorisation for the use of undercover police officers to infiltrate alleged criminal groups.

Identify practical alternatives to the use of closed material procedures within the justice system, including the provisions of the 2013 Justice and Security Act, with the aim of restoring the principle of open justice.

Tighten the regulation of CCTV, with more powers for the Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

Extend the rules governing storage of DNA and fingerprints by public authorities to include all biometric data – like facial images.

Protect free speech by ensuring insulting words, jokes, and non-intentional acts, are not treated as criminal, and that social media communications are not treated more harshly than other media.

Prevent heavy-handed policing of demonstrations by tightly regulating the use of ‘kettling’.

Ban high-frequency Mosquito devices which discriminate against young people.

Strengthen safeguards to prevent pre-emptive arrests and misuse of pre-charge bail conditions to restrict civil liberties and stifle peaceful protest.

End the Ministerial veto on release of information under the Freedom of Information Act

Enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to control their own personal data, and that everyone should be able to view, correct, and (where appropriate and proportionate) delete their personal data, wherever it is held.

Forbid any public body from collecting, storing or processing personal data without statutory authority, and require any such legislation to be regularly reviewed.

Give increased powers and resources for the Information Commissioner and introduce custodial sentences for egregious breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Ensure privacy is protected to the same extent in telecoms and online as in the offline world. Public authorities should only invade an individual’s privacy where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or where it is otherwise necessary and proportionate to do so in the public interest, and with appropriate oversight by the courts.

Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online

The stuff on violence against women and sexual violence looks very good, especially:

Ensure teachers, social workers, police officers and health workers in areas where there is high prevalence of female genital mutilation or forced marriage are trained to help those at risk.

Require the teaching of sexual consent in schools as part of age-appropriate sex and relationships education.

These are hugely important areas, and currently not dealt with at all well.

We believe that a large prison population is a sign of failure to rehabilitate, not a sign of success. So our aim is to significantly reduce the prison population by using more effective alternative punishments and correcting offending behaviour.

It’s that our manifesto has sensible things like this — things that anyone who thinks for half a second would say are reasonable, but that go against the knee-jerk authoritarianism that’s been the norm in politics for as long as I’ve been paying attention to it — that convince me I’m in the right party.

Reform prisons so they become places of work, rehabilitation and learning, with offenders receiving an education and skills assessment within one week, starting a relevant course and programme of support within one month and able to complete courses on release

Yeah. Sensible, non-knee-jerk, policy.

Carry out an immediate review of civil Legal Aid, judicial review and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary, to ensure Legal Aid is available to all those who need it, that those of modest means can bring applications for judicial review of allegedly unlawful government action and that court and tribunal fees will not put justice beyond the reach of those who seek it. This will mean reversing any recent rises in up-front court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead spreading the fee burden more fairly.

Translated “I can’t believe we let that idiot Grayling into Justice. We’d better undo the damage as quickly as possible”

Adopt the approach used in Portugal where those arrested for possession of drugs for personal use are diverted into treatment, education or civil penalties that do not attract a criminal record.

As a first step towards reforming the system, legislate to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use, diverting resources towards tackling organised drug crime instead.

Enable doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal use.

Put the Department of Health rather than the Home Office in charge of drug policy

The drugs policy doesn’t go nearly as far as I’d like, but again it’s such a relief to see it being talked about in ways that have anything at all to do with reality…

Introduce votes at age 16 for elections and referendums across the UK, and make it easier to register to vote in schools and
colleges.

Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate, starting from the proposals in the 2012 Bill.

Reform our voting systems for elections to local government and Westminster to ensure more proportional representation. We will introduce the Single Transferable Vote for local government elections in England and for electing MPs across the UK. We will reduce the number of MPs but only as part of the introduction of a reformed, fair, voting system

And this is the single biggest reason why I’m a Lib Dem. We NEED proper electoral reform. I was worried that while this remained policy, it would quietly be dropped from the manifesto, but it’s still there. Councils are mentioned before Parliament, presumably because they’ll be more likely to be delivered in a coalition, but we’re trying for both.

Building on the Wright Committee recommendations of 2009, and experiences of Coalition, we will conduct a full review of Parliamentary procedures, which should formally recognise individual political parties not just Government and Opposition

This is something that is VERY necessary if multi-party governments are to become the norm.

We will deliver Home Rule for Scotland by implementing the
Smith Commission proposals in full in the first session of the next
Parliament. We will continue to make the case for powers currently
held at Westminster and Holyrood to be transferred directly to local
government where appropriate.

Proper devolution and Home Rule good. There’s lots of specifics about Welsh Home Rule as well, with a lot more powers granted to the Welsh Assembly, but I don’t know what most of them are. Same for Northern Ireland.

In some areas of England there is an even greater appetite for powers, but not every part of the country wants to move at the same speed and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. We will therefore introduce Devolution on Demand, enabling even greater devolution of powers from Westminster to Councils or groups of Councils working together – for example to a Cornish Assembly

Proper devolution and Home Rule good.

Some of the wording under “Working for Peace and Security” appears to take a Blairite “liberal interventionist” stance, as many Labour supporters have spent much of the day saying on Twitter. I’m not especially happy with that, but I still think that overall the policies in that section (things like reducing the number of nuclear weapons) are more good than bad.

On TTIP:

We will only support an agreement that upholds EU standards of consumer, employee and environmental protection, and allows us to determine how NHS services are provided.

I should certainly hope so!

(Most of the foreign policy stuff I’m not competent to comment on, like the environmental stuff; and like that, it’s probably more important than much of the rest).

Overall, much of the manifesto is sensible managerialism with which few people could disagree. There are also a couple of bits — but only a couple of bits — with which I very strongly disagree. But even though this is a manifesto designed to appeal to moderates who prize competence, rather than to radicals like myself, there’s plenty of good, strong, Liberalism in there.

Now we just have to get some good, strong, Liberal MPs elected to put as much of it as possible into practice.

Anti-Fascist Podcasting

I was invited on a podcast last night by Jack Graham, the blogger who does Shabogan Graffiti, the Marxist Doctor Who blog.

The subject was the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates, the neofascist scum who’ve taken over the Hugos, and whose droppings I keep having to clean up from my comments section (as they can’t read, none of them have noticed the post saying that their comments won’t be approved, and given the way they write, I don’t even have to read more than the first sentence or two, or sometimes just their name, before deleting the rest unread, but there are a LOT of them at the moment).

Here’s the podcast (description Jack’s). It was recorded between midnight and 2AM last night, after a long and stressful day, and I’ve not listened to it since and don’t remember much of what I said, so please don’t take anything I say as being the final word on anything. I undoubtedly made mistakes both factual and logical, and unlike with a blog post there’s no way to rewrite it if I did. Just think of it as a chat between friends in a bar, rather than an attempt at something definitive.

(Also, it being me, Jack, and Phil talking, there are rather long sections on the analogy between postmodernism and poststructuralism and how it relates to modernism and structuralism, I remember that, and Holly says I woke her up shouting “the Futurians were Trotskyists!” so there’s something about that, too. It’s a wide-ranging discussion).

All of which said, there’s one thing I remember for certain, which is that the conclusion from all three of us was “fuck Fascism”. As the first and last word on the subject, that’s pretty reasonable.

A Marxist, a postmodernist and liberal walk into a bar… and form a united front. Join Jack Graham, Phil Sandifer and the superb Andrew Hickey for an unexpected emergency Shabcast on the subject of the recent fascist incursion on the Hugo Awards nominations.

Debate Predictions

Everyone will talk about how Cameron/Miliband just edged it.
Two days later, Miliband/Cameron’s party will be up by less than the margin of error, and this will be called a “debate bounce”
Every single party will come up with a “viral” hashtag that’s based on something their leader said, like #hellyeahiwantastrongereconomynigel. No-one who isn’t a paid activist will use it.
The average person will come away with a slightly less negative view of the politician they had the most negative view of, because “he seems quite nice really”.
The average party member will come away with their view of the politician they had the most negative view of reinforced.
75% of the audience will wonder who Plaid Cymru are and if they’re there by mistake.
No-one will learn anything.
No difference will be made to the election result.
I won’t watch.

My prediction for the election

I’m going to do a proper blog post later, if I’m well enough (been busy today and it’s taken it out of me), but I thought I’d set out my best guesses as to what the final result of the election will be.
I think in terms of MPs, we’re going to have something like 280 Labour, 270 Tory, 38 SNP, 35 Lib Dems, and no other party having any significant numbers (the Northern Irish parties will be roughly the same, Plaid will get four, UKIP will if they’re *very* lucky get three but will most likely get one, the Greens will probably hold their one MP). The other parties will mostly be interesting in terms of how they affect the results in marginals — will more Labour-leaning than Lib Dem-leaning people defect to the Greens, for example, giving the Lib Dems an advantage in otherwise difficult Labour-facing seats?

I also suspect that the Tories will get *slightly* more votes than Labour, but fewer seats, and that UKIP will get a *LOT* more votes than the Lib Dems (though not as many more as the polls show at the moment — UKIP’s support is very soft and they’ve got lousy get-out-the-vote compared to other parties) but basically no seats. The SNP will come sixth in votes and third in seats. Basically, the result will be a mess.

If I’m right, or anything close to it, there will need to be a three-party agreement in order to form a government. The SNP have already ruled out working with the Tories, but not with Labour. Labour have ruled out coalition with the SNP, and vice versa, but neither have ruled out confidence and supply. The Lib Dems haven’t ruled out working with either Labour or the Tories, but *many* of the front-benchers have been hinting very strongly that they think Labour would be easier to work with, and Ed Miliband recently refused to repeat his old rule that he won’t go into coalition with the Lib Dems while Clegg is the leader.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are very unlikely to be happy with confidence and supply if the party can keep a fairly reasonable number of MPs. They’ll want full coalition.

So my guess is that if the result looks *anything* like what I expect, the only viable option will be a Labour/Lib Dem coalition with SNP confidence and supply. The stupid result will reopen the debate about electoral reform, and even Labour, who will have benefited from it, will notice that they’ve been nearly completely wiped out in their former strongholds in Scotland. So I *very* strongly suspect we’ll get electoral reform *at least* at the council level. Labour may well be persuadable that STV would be better than d’Hondt for Euro elections, too…

I suspect that with a result like that Nick Clegg would have to step down, but not until coalition negotiations had been completed and enough of a decent interval had passed that it didn’t look like he was being forced out by Labour — possibly waiting until party conference in September. If we *don’t* get a coalition, he’s pretty much definitely gone long before then.

I must admit, though, that a Lab/Lib coalition is my preferred outcome out of the possible ones (though I’d wish for a MUCH larger number of Lib Dem MPs than we’re likely to get, and if it relied on a third party for support I’d prefer the Greens or the Pirates to the SNP, though I don’t find the SNP as viscerally revolting as some of my Scottish friends do), so while I think I’m being sensible here, there may be an element of wishful thinking. But I don’t think so. I think something like this is the most probable result, though “most probable” when predicting a chaotic system through several inferential steps is still not hugely likely in absolute terms.

On the other hand, those results *could* go another way. There’s been an uncomfortable amount of kite-flying about a Labour/Tory coalition recently, and other than UKIP being in government I can’t imagine anything worse for the country.

What do you think?

The Single Biggest Reason I’m Still A Lib Dem

I’ve never had any doubt that this election I will be campaigning for, and voting for, the Liberal Democrats, the same party I’ve voted for in every election since 1997 (except I think for a single council election about fifteen years ago, where I wrongly thought that the Green had a better chance of beating Labour in my ward).

But I’m very lucky, in that the candidate in the seat where I live, Dave Page, is someone I could never *not* vote for. He’s not only a very good friend of mine, but he’s an extremely principled liberal, the hardest working activist I know, the most *effective* activist I know, and someone who’s both intelligent and a genuinely nice person. When your choice is between someone like that on the one hand and Gerald Kaufman, a useless, venal, time-server who doesn’t even have a constituency office but did try to claim nearly £9000 in expenses for a TV, and successfully claimed £1800 for a rug, there’s no choice at all. Dave gets my vote.

Similarly, the constituency where I’ll be doing most of my campaigning, Manchester Withington (next door to mine), has John Leech as its MP. John is an absolutely exemplary MP who does a *huge* amount of constituency work, and is also one of the most rebellious MPs in the country (20th out of 650, and fourth most rebellious of the 57 Lib Dem MPs), regularly voting for the liberal thing rather than voting with the government when the two disagree.

So in my case, I can happily vote for, and campaign for, my local Lib Dem MPs with a clear conscience, knowing that I’m actually voting and campaigning for people who will be supporting liberal principles. The same goes for those in the constituencies of many other Lib Dem MPs and candidates — if you vote for, say, Adrian Sanders, Julian Huppert, or Tim Farron, you know you’re going to get a good representative who will do good work in Parliament.

However, some Liberals, or leftish people who’ve voted Lib Dem in the past, aren’t so lucky. Their local MP has been in government, and has made compromises as a result of that, compromises which the voter is uncomfortable with. We could argue all day about to what extent those compromises are justified, and everyone has different red lines. Personally I have a lot of sympathy for Tim Farron’s position, when he recently said:

“I’ll tell you the thing I am most proud of, most proud of, that nearly nobody knows about, is that there are nearly 3,000 children of asylum seekers who are not under lock and key now because of what Nick Clegg did with his popularity.

“I hear Nick Clegg being attacked regularly; if you want to know the integrity of somebody, it’s that he spends his political capital, gets nothing for it and makes people’s lives better. That’s a man with integrity.

And in general, I think the Lib Dems have done a lot of good, underreported, things like that. But we do all have red lines, things we simply cannot tolerate, and I don’t think there’s a single Lib Dem member who hasn’t been so annoyed by something this government has done that they haven’t thought “Is this worth it? Is this really what I got into politics for? To support this?” at least once (those who follow me on my non-public Twitter will have seen exactly how often this happens to me…)

But even if you’re one of those people who think that the compromises the party has made in power have been too great, there’s one very important reason to vote Lib Dem again.

This election, more than any other, shows that our electoral system, and our political system more generally, has become unfit for purpose. As the Daily Mash put it, A vote for the SNP ‘is a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories is a vote for UKIP’. The so-called “first past the post” system (a misnomer if ever there was one, given that there’s no post — “biggest loser” would be a more accurate term) made some kind of sense when there were two ideologically opposite, distinct, large parties to choose from. If you’re trying to choose between a party that wants to nationalise pretty much everything, raise the top rate of income tax to 95%, and scrap nuclear weapons, and one which wants to privatise pretty much everything, bring back the death penalty, and criminalise strikes, and there are no other parties contesting the area, then the biggest loser system makes sense.

But when your choice is between two right-authoritarian managerialist parties debating head-of-a-pin distinctions like “we will stop anyone under 25 from claiming benefits, and make them take a job” versus “we will have a compulsory jobs guarantee, and anyone under twenty-five who doesn’t take the compulsory job will lose their benefits”, while at the same time there are another five parties who might affect the final government, with policy platforms ranging from “free money for everyone and save the whales” to “we hate the foreigns”, the biggest loser system is laughably unsuitable.

We have a system now that is only democratic in the loosest possible sense. What government we get this election will have almost nothing to do with what people vote for, and still less with what they actually want. When you add in things like the unelected Lords, and the Bishops who still sit in Parliament, the system’s barely fit for the nineteenth century, still less the twenty-first.

The Lib Dems are the *only* party that will actually do anything to fix this problem. When the chance came to change the voting system, even though the option available (AV) was one that would disadvantage the Lib Dems (the Lib Dems would do better under a proportional system than they do now, but AV isn’t proportional), the Lib Dems voted and campaigned for it. The Labour Party — who had a referendum on changing the voting system in their manifestos in 1997, 2001, 2005, and 2010, but just never quite got round to it — voted against having the referendum at all, and then the majority of them campaigned with the Tories against the change. The Greens’ one MP voted against having the referendum as well.

When the Lib Dems got a cross-party committee to come to a consensus for how to reform the Lords and make it democratic, Labour, a party that had Lords reform in its manifesto every election but somehow never quite got round to it, voted with the Tory backbenchers to stop the bill having Parliamentary time, blocking reform. The Greens’ one MP voted against even setting up the committee to look into it.

Quite simply, politics is broken. There is no space in the current political system for the voices we need to hear — whether from socialists, or environmentalists, or libertarians, or nationalists, or Burkean conservatives, or anyone else outside the tiny Westminster consensus. To my mind, the issues surrounding this — whether to do with the actual electoral system, or with the increasing restrictions being placed on freedom of speech, are the most important facing us at the moment. We can’t get anything else right in politics until we have a system that *allows* us to get things right, and right now we don’t have that.

I broadly agree with the Lib Dems’ policies, and I think most of the Lib Dems’ elected representatives are at least basically OK, but even if I disagreed with the party on almost everything else, I think the fact that they’re the only party that actually want to fix our broken system would be reason enough by itself to vote for them.

I have no idea what will happen in May — my *guess* is that the Lib Dems will get about 35 seats and Labour will be the single largest party, but beyond that I haven’t a clue — but whatever happens, it won’t be what *anyone* wants or has voted for. I’m hoping that whatever mess of a government we end up with in two months, in five years, if nothing else, I won’t have to write this same blog post again. And the only way to make that even slightly likely is to vote Lib Dem.