Freezing Peaches

I’ve been thinking for a while about the biggest disconnect that seems to come up in what one might loosely term “progressive” circles at the moment — the issue of “free speech”.

On the one side you have the people who argue against “no platforming”, and “silencing”, the people who said “Je Suis Charlie”, the people who are mocked by the other side as overprivileged white men shouting about “muh freeze peach!”
On the other, you have the people who argue in favour of trigger warnings, complain about things being “problematic”, and who are mocked by the other side for being stupid children who want to be wrapped in cotton wool.

Now the interesting thing to my mind is that, with obvious exceptions, these two groups tend to be roughly those forty-five and older, and those twenty-five and younger, with those around my age often being a bit confused and saying “well, I can see points on both sides…”

Obviously, some of this comes down to older people patronising younger people while trying to keep their privilege, and to younger people being angry at the compromises made by the old and with a lack of experience of how the world works. But I don’t think *all* of it does.

I think, rather, that people have come of political age in two very different political worlds, and that that makes a profound difference in the way people think about issues surrounding speech. Giving everyone the benefit of doubt, it looks to me like the two groups are talking past each other because they’re honestly not aware of each other’s experiences.

The first group, you see, came of age politically in the 70s and 80s. This was a time when government repression of speech was one of THE big threats to progressive activism. The Oz trial, when the kind of stupid collage jokes that now happen constantly on geek message boards got several people sent to prison. The Spycatcher affair, one of my earliest political memories, when the British government spent three years trying to stop people *in another country*, not just their own, reading a book. The Gay News “blasphemous libel” trial, which saw a poem being declared illegal. Manchester police constantly raiding Savoy bookshop. The government changing the whole landscape of broadcast TV with the ITV shakeup of 1990, largely because they were angry at a single documentary. Section 28

There are always attempts to infringe freedom of speech, but in the twenty or so years from roughly 1970 to roughly 1990, there was a constant, all-out, assault against the most basic liberties, in which authoritarians who wanted to protect the government from scrutiny used theocrats who wanted to eradicate the very idea of homosexuality as useful idiots. Those people needed to be fought, and one of the most important ways of doing that was to carve out universities, in particular, as areas of absolutist free speech, with an *obligation* to give a platform to, and listen to, the most extreme viewpoints. Only the ultra-authoritarian SWP, on the left, called for “no-platforming” then, and they were largely despised for it. Platforms *needed* to exist, or no-one would ever *hear* alternative views.

Of course the system didn’t work perfectly — far from it. It often entrenched various kinds of privilege, and so on. But when you are fighting for the very right to even mention the existence of homosexuality, for example, you want a system like that. And so many people became, understandably, free speech absolutists, especially around universities. This is also why, for example, Private Eye — a magazine that normally has little or no interest in people’s private sexualities — suddenly starts dropping completely unsubtle hints as soon as superinjunctions come into play. It’s an immune reaction against repression.

Fast forward twenty-five years or so.

Anyone under thirty, now, has never experienced this (I’m thirty-seven, and I only have dim memories of the tail end of it, and that only because I was about the most politically-aware seven-year-old you’d ever meet). The government, in general, doesn’t try to censor much “normal” speech (there are plenty of things that still get censored, of course — the extreme porn laws are a particularly egregious example — but there’s not the ongoing systematic repression that there was). You can say literally anything you think on the Internet. You can get access to any opinion, any images, you want.

And often, anything you *don’t* want. YouTube comments, Twitter harassers, spam email, banner ads… the big information problem in the Internet age isn’t censorship, it’s how to create an effective filter that lets you just see the stuff that you actually care about in the midst of all the other stuff. When you’re dumped into what is, to a first approximation, every single thought that any human being has ever had, without an effective guide, you know, on an instinctual level, that censorship isn’t threatening. On the contrary, you *need* to censor stuff — not for other people, but you need to create filters and barriers, just to get anything done at all.

And a lot of people who didn’t grow up with the Internet (and anyone under thirty or so now has no real memory of a time when the web wasn’t a near-ubiquitous thing — and there are adults now who are nostalgic for getting their first social media accounts when they were still in primary school) don’t really understand how this works. The late Simon Titley, for example, got a lot of flack on the Liberator blog for instituting a “real-name” policy in the comments, because he thought this would keep discussion civil. Anyone who’s spent most of their life online knows that that’s the *last* thing it does.

But anyone who’s spent that much time online also knows that discussions need moderating, or any forum turns into a festering cesspool. Newspaper comments threads are actually surprisingly *mild* in this regard. Try being a woman talking about video games online and see what happens.

So for the younger generation, the problem isn’t that they don’t get to hear alternative views. It’s that they hear them all the time, whether they want to or not, and that they would like some way of getting them to just SHUT THE FUCK UP for a little while, in some situations and at some times. When they ask for safe spaces, and no platform for bigots, and for trigger warnings, what they’re saying is “I spend my life having men who want me dead send me unsolicited videos of themselves ejaculating onto photos of me, because I said a thing about a video game. Can I please have a little bit of not-that? Just for a change?

The free-speech absolutism is an absolutely right and proper response to repression — and we need those people around as an immune system, to warn us if that ever starts happening again. But likewise the trigger-warning, no-platform side is an entirely right and proper response to constant, unending, exposure to toxic ideas.

No doubt in twenty years there will be a whole new set of problems to deal with, and the trigger warning people will be screaming about the kids of today with their insisting (for what are good and adequate reasons at the time) that all conversations have to be in Mandarin and speaking English is racist. I promise I’ll try to understand them, too, like I try to understand both sides of the current row. I suspect I’ll fail, though…

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Corbyn Explained For Foreigners

A couple of people have asked me to talk about Jeremy Corbyn here, to explain his election as Labour leader for people who aren’t in the UK. I’ve so far resisted doing so, because I have a lot of friends who think he’s the Messiah, and a lot who think he’s Satan, and almost all of those people take any disagreement with their stance as being a personal attack (if you’re not one of those people, then I’m not talking about you). But I’m going to try to explain here what’s been going on for those of you who are very confused by references you’ve seen on Twitter and so on.

To get my own biases out of the way first: I am a member of a political party other than Corbyn’s. I think that the Labour Party, of which he is now leader, is a fundamentally corrupt, irredeemable, organisation, but that he himself is a principled man. I don’t share all his principles, but he is closer to me on many issues than the other people who were leadership candidates for his party. I think him being leader of Labour might end up being good for my party in electoral terms, and almost certainly will end up being good for the country’s political culture, in that it will shift the Overton window to the left, which it needs. But fundamentally, he’s the leader of a party I disagree with, and their leadership election is not my fight. That said, now the explanation:

Jeremy Corbyn is the latest example of what Charles Stross has been referring to as the “Scottish political singularity”, although really it’s a British-wide constitutional crisis. Britain’s constitution, its electoral system, and its parties, are all proving increasingly unfit for purpose, and it’s becoming very apparent that centrist triangulation, which had been the principal electoral strategy for the last few decades, is not what a plurality of the voters want,

Any political story you’ve heard from Britain for at least the last decade is a variant on this — people want something other than centre-right authoritarian politics, but we have a system (both an electoral system and the systems in individual parties) which produces that no matter what the voters’ wishes. The rise of UKIP in the polls, the huge gains by the Lib Dems up to 2005, followed by the coalition and the Lib Dems’ huge losses this year, the AV referendum (which we lost, but still got a higher percentage of the vote than any party has in decades…), the Scottish Nationalists getting nearly every seat in Scotland, the recent Scottish independence referendum, and the forthcoming EU referendum, all come down to this. No matter who you vote for, you get a government that supports cuts to the welfare state, tax cuts for businesses, government surveillance of everyone at all times, and so on.

My own party, the Liberal Democrats, is, hopefully, moving away from that consensus again (it always disagreed with it, but the previous leadership tried to compromise with it as much as possible, with disastrous results in the most recent election). But both Labour and the Conservatives have remained firmly committed to it, with only very slight details of emphasis.

The next thing you need to know is that the Prime Minister, in Britain, is not a directly elected position. Rather, it goes to any MP who can get a majority of the House of Commons to support them — usually this will be the leader of the largest party, so at the moment David Cameron is leader of the Conservatives, who have a majority in the Commons, so he is Prime Minister. This is important — we do not directly vote for the head of Government, and actually the only people who have a say over it are MPs.

Different parties handle the choice of the leader in different ways. The Conservatives, I believe, still leave the choice just to their MPs. The Lib Dems and Greens have a democratic vote among their members. Labour have tried various different ways of choosing their leader, but last time the election caused such controversy that they instituted a new system this time. Any member, or registered supporter who paid £3 (about $5), could vote for the leader. However, to stand, the candidate had to get nominated by a significant number of the Labour MPs, to make sure the leader would actually have the support of the party in the Commons too.

Three centre-right bland authoritarians all stood — Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall. These are all people who are absolute standard identikit politicians, and it was widely considered that the contest was really between Cooper and Burnham.

But while Labour is currently a centre-right authoritarian party, it *used* to be a socialist one, and several of its older members joined when it was. These socialist members take it in turns to stand for the leadership, not expecting or even wanting to win, just as an attempt to push their party slightly to the left — these are the equivalents of the candidates who stand for the Presidency just to get in the debates and push their one or two policies.

This time it was the turn of Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has been an MP for thirty-two years, but has never before stood for, or even considered, any other role within Parliamentary politics. He has served his constituents well from the back benches, and spends much of his energy on things like the Stop the War campaign.

His candidacy was seen as a joke by much of the party, especially the Parliamentary party. He didn’t even actually have the support of the MPs who nominated him — many did so while saying they didn’t support him, but “wanted to see a proper debate”. The idea was that Burnham or Cooper, with their smart suits and hairstyles and government experience, would easily defeat a sixty-six-year-old bloke with a grey beard, and in doing so would show that centre-right authoritarianism is still best.

But they hadn’t reckoned with the fact that this time, unlike the others, it would be the choice of the members and supporters, not the MPs, that would decide matters, and that after two massive election losses when led by a centre-right authoritarian the members were quite keen to vote for something that wasn’t that.

MASSIVE numbers of people joined Labour or registered as supporters, making it (at the moment) a truly mass movement for the first time in decades (I suspect that many of them will let their membership lapse, but who knows? At the moment predicting anything is impossible…). Fifty-nine percent of the voters in the leadership election voted for Corbyn.

So what we have now is an interesting, completely unpredictable, situation. Labour now has a leader who has said that Karl Marx had a lot of interesting things to say, thinks it might be appropriate to try Tony Blair as a war criminal, wants to get rid of nuclear weapons and leave NATO, wants to nationalise major industries, chairs the Stop the War Coalition, has expressed support for terrorists who have attacked Britain because they’re fighting colonial oppression, and once signed an early day motion looking forward to the extinction of the human race because of its cruelty to pigeons.*

That leader has the massive, overwhelming support of the party membership and active supporter base, but many political commentators are arguing — maybe correctly, who knows? — that those are the only people who’d support a party led by him, and that the other one or the other one or the other one, with their distinctive policies of all being exactly like each other, would have been more popular. Maybe so — certainly I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the electorate at all.

But he doesn’t have the support of any of the MPs in his party, who mostly supported the war in Iraq, support continued privatisation and marketisation of public services, and in general are in agreement with the right-authoritarian consensus. He can’t even appeal to party unity, because he’s spent the last thirty-plus years sat at the back attacking his own leadership on every issue.

So Labour now has a leader who can’t lead their MPs, and whose MPs don’t want to follow him anyway, but who is massively popular among the people who do the door-knocking, leaflet-delivering, ground activity on which any political party actually depends for its survival. But *many* of those people are people who’ve only recently joined, who have spent time in several other parties (as an example, Cory Doctorow recently talked on BoingBoing about how he may join Labour as a result of Corbyn being elected leader. Doctorow has been in the Lib Dems and the Greens previously.) — those people may not be reliable in the long term.

So, interesting times. There is literally no way to predict anything in British politics any more, except that strange things will continue to happen, because we have a system at the point of catastrophic failure.

Frankly, the whole political singularity is making me ill from stress, and I wish that people of every party would see sense and introduce elections by STV, which would fix about half the problems and mitigate many of the others. But until they do, politics will remain chaotic, in the mathematical sense, and Corbyn’s election as leader is just the latest example of that.

*These things are cherry-picked examples of Mr Corbyn’s more extreme views — some of which I agree with myself — to point out the distance between him and his party. They’re not meant to be taken as me mocking him, for the most part.

How Do I Become An Effective Campaigner?

I used to be an extremely good, effective, political campaigner. Now I’m a liability. I want to change that.

In 2010, during the General Election, I delivered so many leaflets that I amazed even several of the hardier campaigner — for several years, one of our then-councillors would talk about how “we gave him a pile of leaflets and pointed him in the right direction, *AND HE JUST KEPT GOING*!”
Between 2009 and 2012, I gave up every Saturday, first for the No2ID campaign, then for the AV campaign, then to campaign for the re-election of a local councillor.

But this year, on election day, I was given fifty leaflets to deliver and had to sit down three times while delivering them.
I was chosen for my local party’s executive in late 2013, but had to give up after a year because I was doing such a bad job I was holding other people back from getting things done.

The reason for this change is that I’ve had a series of health crises, starting in 2011 and getting progressively worse. At first, I thought they were purely down to work-related stress, but it seems more and more likely that there is also a physical component (being investigated at the moment). I tire so easily that some nights I’m in bed for 7PM (more often, though, I can’t sleep at all til three or four in the morning). I’ve had back problems (currently better than they have been, but it comes and goes) that at times are so bad I can’t stand up long enough to take a shower.

And the mental and physical energy it takes to cope with those things means that I’ve not been good at other stuff. I think I’ve written good stuff in the last three years or so (I think Head of State may be the best thing I’ve ever written, and I like The Adventure Of The Piltdown Prelate a lot too) but I’ve written a lot less of the freewheeling, playful stuff that I love writing — that requires more mental work than I’ve been consistently capable of, and I’ve only been able to do a few things like that per year, rather than a few a week.

In the same way, I simply don’t have the energy for the social events that bind a political party together. Dealing with people is hard for me at the best of times, and the last three years have not been the best. I think I’m doing better overall than I have in several years, but some worrying physical symptoms say that might not last.

For a long time, my way of dealing with this has been to *not* deal, to assume this will be a temporary condition, and the energy I had in, say, 2011 will return Real Soon Now. I still hope it will, but I’ve been letting people down for three years now, and I don’t like it.

So this Parliament, I want to be ruthless about my priorities, in case I’m still this ill in five years’ time. I *HOPE* that I’ll soon be able to give up a full day a week to campaigning, as I used to, but right now I can give *at most* an hour a week, and that’s not certain.

So I want to concentrate on a very small number of things. From a national political perspective my aims are:
At least doubling the Lib Dems’ share of the vote by 2020
Getting STV implemented, no matter who the next government is
Getting basic income or negative income tax made Lib Dem policy

Obviously when I say “my aims” here, I mean “things I hope to happen and to make a small difference towards” — no matter how efficiently I use my time, me doing one hour a week isn’t going to achieve those things.

But given the limitation that I can probably only do one hour a week MAX, probably less, only on weekend afternoons, and that I’m rubbish with people and have limited mobility, what do people think is the most effective way I can campaign for those things? Any suggestions would be *very* gratefully received…

Charging Towards Fascism

About a month ago, I was at a party, and was introduced to a group of people I’d not met before, but who all knew each other, and who had very good reasons for wanting to make a good first impression on me. We’d been chatting for maybe two minutes, and then the following exchange occurred between them.

“Did you see about that migrant dying after hanging on to the bottom of an aeroplane to get here? I felt so sorry for him.”
“You what?!”
“I’m KIDDING! Of course I didn’t feel sorry for him. Serve them right for trying to come over here. I wish a few more of them would die, might stop them coming over.”
“Yeah. I don’t know why they don’t put all the immigrants on a big boat, sail it out into the middle of the ocean, and sink it. It’d get rid of them and replenish the fish stocks.”
“Good idea. I don’t know why they don’t do that.”

Now, the thing that really appalled me — far more even than the sheer lack of human decency involved, far more than the fact that I was stuck talking to people who were advocating the murder of my wife and couldn’t tell them what I think because neurotypical social rules apparently make advocating genocide less of a faux pas than calling an inhuman, monstrous, bigot an inhuman, monstrous, bigot — was that they seemed to think this was an appropriate way to talk to someone they’d only just met and wanted to impress.

These — admittedly stupid, admittedly ill-educated — people seemed to think that calling for the death of every immigrant was as uncontroversial a position as remarking on it being a hot day. Indeed, they considered preferring Man United to Man City considerably more controversial.

Meanwhile, the fact that there are roughly 5000 people in Calais who are desperate to come to this country — so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives to do so, and several are actually dying — is causing so much anger among politicians and the media that we’ve actually had elected politicians calling for us to go to war with France. Because of a “flood” of “cockroach-like hordes” of “migrants” (as we now apparently have to call them, rather than” people”) wanting to come here.

To put that number into perspective, it’s about a quarter of the number of people who were at a Beach Boys gig I was at in 2011. It’s such a small number that it’s not even a rounding error in the population figures. Yet the Conservative Party are currently screaming about how we need to make it harder for these people to get into the country (because apparently people regularly dying is just a sign that it’s still not hard enough), the Labour Party are screaming (with the honourable exception of Diane Abbott) about how the Tories aren’t going far enough, UKIP are calling for war with France, and Tim Farron has talked sensibly but everyone seems more interested in trying to trap him into “admitting” he’s a homophobe (he isn’t) because of his religion than in listening to what he has to say.

Now, I’m not Panglossian enough to say immigration has no downsides — nothing does, and I’m more than happy to have a proper debate on how we balance the right of free movement against the desire for community cohesion and the extra responsibilities immigration causes local government.

But the debate in Britain moved on, a long time ago. Now it’s not about immigration, but about *immigrants*. And it’s vile.

This country is getting more mean-spirited, more xenophobic, more unpleasant every day. I’m terrified we’re heading into actual evil, actual fascism, and accelerating more in that direction every day.

I don’t like it here any more…

What Political Campaigners Can Learn From The Sad & Rabid Puppies

…apart, of course, from “don’t be like them”…
For those who haven’t been following this on my blog, there are

two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.

I think the massive, massive unpopularity of these people may have something to teach us about political campaigning. Obviously this unpopularity is, in part, because they’re truly horrible people who do things like call for the murder of one of my friends because he has a different understanding of the word “mysticism” — the correct response to Phil Sandifer saying something you disagree with (which happens in my experience about once every three blog posts or so, as he’s no stranger to controversial statements) is to tut, maybe roll your eyes, and move on, not to say that it would be right and proper to murder him.

But even aside from them being horrible people, I think their strategy was doomed to unpopularity. The basic argument of the two Puppy slates is (paraphrased but, I think, keeping the sense — I’m trying to steelman them here, presenting the best possible version of their argument):

The Hugo awards are no longer fit for purpose. Too much of the material that gets nominated or wins is material that ignores the traditional strengths of SF in favour of bad attempts at lit-fic. This material is *so* bad that there must be reasons other than its popularity for it to be successful. Therefore, it is the fault of “social justice warriors” (defined here as anyone to the left of, say, Dick Cheney) who, as we all know, are evil. They must be voting for those writers because they’re black or female or gay or otherwise “SJW”. The system is too broken to fight fairly, so to save the Hugos we must have a slate, and all vote the same way. Here are the best examples of the work we should be voting for — go forth and vote for them.

Now, this is in many ways the kind of narrative that has huge success in motivating people — hence the strong motivation of the two hundred or so people in the Puppy camp. It has a golden age in the past in which “people like us” were in charge and everything was good, but then the bad people did a bad thing, because they’re bad, and now everything is *their fault*, but the good people can fix everything. This is a traditional fascist narrative, but you can very easily change it to work for, say, Liberalism (if only that dastardly Labour party hadn’t usurped the true progressive voice…) or the Labour party (if only Thatcher hadn’t bribed those selfish bastards into voting for her…) or really insert your political organisation here.

But the problem is, this is a complex narrative (a rarity for the Puppies… thank you, I’ll be here all week, tip your waitress) made up of several separate controversial links, and unless you buy into *every one* of those links, the Puppy story fails and you’re no longer a Puppy.

Take me, for example. I could easily agree with the statement “Too much of the material that gets nominated or wins is material that ignores the traditional strengths of SF in favour of bad attempts at lit-fic” — I’ve made many similar statements myself over the years (check my previous years’ Hugo posts if you don’t believe me), though I would disagree with the Puppies about what those traditional strengths are. A campaign that was *purely* about promoting “traditional SF” and raising awareness of it to get it onto ballots would be something I would at least look at sympathetically. I’d end up saying “No, not for me, thanks”, because what I want out of SF is closer to Greg Egan than Doc Smith, but I’d have gone away thinking “I hope those nice people do well with their campaign, at least it’d mean something different would be on the ballot.”

But at the point where you try to drag in the US-centric “culture war”, and argue for the right-wing side of it, you lose not only the “SJWs”, but basically anyone in the Western world outside the USA, because even the most barking right-winger in the UK would be considered a leftist by US culture war standards, and the UK is right-wing compared to most of the rest of the West.

Then there’s the claim that the Puppies’ work is the best of what’s out there — on a purely aesthetic ground, that claim is a nonsense, and I get very annoyed at people pushing clearly sub-par work.

So even if the Puppies hadn’t made an actual enemy of me by including among their membership white supremacist homophobes who advocate rape and murder, I would wish them to fail purely because of their promotion of poor work and their culture war agenda.

But then there are other people — right-wing Republicans who like the stories — who are also voting “No Award” above the Puppies because they’re angry that those works got on the ballot thanks to voting slates, which are against the spirit of the awards and break the unspoken agreement among fandom not to do that kind of thing.

I have to say that personally, that bit doesn’t annoy me too much. I mean, it annoys me a bit, because it’s cheating, but if they’d cheated and got a *really great* bunch of stories on there, I’d have had a sneaking admiration for it. I’d not have approved, mind, but I’d not have been that angry.

And this is the point I want to make — the Puppy position, as I summarised it above, has seven different controversial assumptions by my count, all of them taken as obvious statements of faith rather than actually substantiated. *Each of those assumptions is a reason for people to disagree* — and even if 80% of people agree with any one of the assumptions, that would make only 20% of people actually agree with *all* of them. And if you don’t agree with all of them, then the Puppy campaign falls apart (unless of course you don’t care about anything other than “sticking it to the SJWs”).

There’s an important lesson here. The Puppies are targeting the small number of people in the *intersection* of all their beliefs — ideological purists who don’t question any of their assumptions. The anti-Puppy “faction” is simply the union of all people who disagree with even one of their assumptions. And this might point a way forward for campaigning — rather than saying “these are our policy positions, if you agree with them, campaign for them”, allow a much greater disunity of messaging and of campaigning. Give seven *separate and independent* reasons for voting reform, for example, rather than a long chain of steps like “MPs don’t work hard enough, and AV would make MPs work harder, and MPs working harder would be a good thing” like the Yes campaign in 2011 or “Labour are too left wing. The Tories are too right-wing. Moderation is better” like the Lib Dem campaign this year…

Ten Things I Won’t Miss After The Election

1) People assuming that the Lib Dems are now a distaff branch of the Conservative party, rather than a separate party, in exactly the same way they assumed five years ago we were Labour’s reserve squad.

2) Nigel Farage

3) Being personally blamed for policies which I oppose, which my party opposes as a party, which the MP I campaigned for last time voted against, but which were agreed by an executive that includes some members of my party. And having that blame coming from people who support a party which actually supports those policies and wants to make them worse.

4) Thunderclaps on Twitter

5) The horrible uncertainty about which form of horrible government we’ll have next week.

6) Having to contact voters. I’m not good at dealing with other people.

7) Anti-Scottish bigotry in the newspapers (NB I don’t mean here anti-SNP stuff, because I don’t support them either, but anti-Scottish-person)

8) Hearing constantly about how we never talk about immigration while every single UK-wide political party I know of supports further controls on it and the Labour party have erected a gigantic eight-food stone momument with “controls on immigration” carved into it. NB this may, sadly, not end with the election.

9) Constant discussion of who will and won’t do a deal with whom, along with fake outrage from Labour twitterers every time any party says it might have any conditions at all for supporting a Labour government. Let’s at least leave it until there have been some votes, eh?

10) Biting my tongue about things I disagree with on my own side. I’m normally pretty outspoken, but I’ve tried recently to keep my criticisms of the Lib Dems to my private Twitter, because since anyone who wants to can find attacks on the party in every single national newspaper, every comedy show on TV or radio, and all over their Twitter or Facebook, I figure that the party has enough enemies pointing out its problems without the membership giving those enemies ammunition.

But a few things I *would* miss after the election: Tessa Munt, Stephen Gilbert, Andrew George, John Leech… those are a few of the Lib Dem candidates in ultra-marginal seats who’ve done good work, and for the most part done it from the back benches. There are a lot more like them (those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head where every vote will count). Whatever you think of the coalition government’s record, check what parts of it your local Lib Dem candidate actually voted for, and what other things they voted for — you may be surprised.

(Non-politics post tonight, and at least one non-politics post every day this week)

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?”