The Dissenter's Voice

The ocassional comments, opinions, rambling and rants of a liberal dissenter in New Labour's Britain

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The future's bright, the future's Orange

The reaction to Nick Clegg's speech on public services has been fascinating. His speech has been widely welcomed in the media and much more importantly the party as an authentically liberal answer to the question of choice in public services.

Only a few years ago a speech by a LibDem leader advocating a massive increase in the role of the private & voluntary sectors in the provision of public services it would have caused outrage across much of the party. Over the last 20 years the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors have allowed themselves to be characterised as the last protectors of the old Butskellite consensus, reactionary defenders of the status quo in public services. But oh how times change, when Liberalfuture was launched as a pro-market ginger group in the party in 2001, it was attacked as a Tory trojan horse, while the publication of the Orange Book in 2004 created an avalanche of opposition. Now those much maligned views are fast becoming the mainstream of party thinking.

Clegg's speech was firmly in the vein of both Liberalfuture & the Orange Book. It's not that he has adopted wholesale the policies they advocated, it is that he has explicitly accepted their analysis, that the Liberal Democrats must rediscover their anti-statist roots, and reclaim the small government, individualist liberal tradition which is now the undercurrent of political debate.

This is the speech that I wish Nick Clegg had made during the leadership election, but better late than never. Clegg has clearly learnt his lesson, in the brief month since becoming leader he has invited the head of the country's leading management college to review the party's structures & operations, he has cheekily pinch Maggie Thatcher's old campaign adviser to oversee a shakeup of communications and now he is challenging the party to drop is soggy thinking on policy and return to our liberal roots.

This is the Nick Clegg I voted for: bold, radical & liberal - now at long last we can start to draft a manifesto which is as well.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Fasten your seat belts its going to be a bumpy ride...

With only a few hours to the New Hampshire primary vote it's looking a little grim for Hillary, however, it would be foolish indeed to write her off.

There seems little doubt that Barack Obama's Iowa momentum will give him the win on Tuesday, and indeed we can expect him to win South Carolina as well. However, you shouldn't be too surprised if the gap in New Hampshire might in the end turnout to be somewhat closer than some people are expecting. A closer than expected second place, followed by a potential win in Nevada next week and then another in Florida at the end of the month would set Hillary up well for MegaTuesday on February 5th, when over 20 states hold their primaries.

The latest CNN poll shows Obama leading Clinton by 9% in New Hampshire, while Fox News has her only 6% behind. The wall to wall Obamania in the news in the last 2 days has set Barack a very high hurdle - anything short of a landslide could (if spun right by Clinton's team) look like a stumble. Clinton could end up doing what her hubby Bill did back in 1992 and be seen as 'winning' the primary by outperforming artifically low expectations.

Don't be surprised if reports of her death turn out to have been greatly exaggerated.

A similar process looks to be happening on the Republican side. Mitt Romney is trailing in the polls, battling a resurgent John McCain - however there are signs that the GOP race is now tightening, with Romney's shameless negative campaigning paying off. Romney is trying to portray McCain as a Washington insider, despite his record as a maverick, appealing to Republicans on an anti-immigration ticket while reassuring independents that he himself as a former business man, rescuer of the Salt Lake Olympics and former Mass Governor, is the real agent of change.

I'm going to stick my head out & predict that Romney will spring a real surprise and win the New Hampshire primary tomorrow, which will throw the Republican race into total disarray. In Michigan next week any of McCain, Romney or Huckabee could win, while Guiliani is still waiting in the wings leading in Florida. There's a real chance that all 4 leading contenders could come out of MegaTuesday with enough momentum to carry to stay in the race.

We could end up seeing the first brokered or hung nominating convention since the war. If that's the case then anything could happen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Now Clegg has to lead

First things first, congratulations are due to Chris Huhne. It’s not usual to congratulate the loser of a contest, particularly when you voted for the winner but Chris ran an effective, focused and dynamic campaign. The narrowness of the loss was a testament to the verve with which he fought and he will have a well deserved seat at the top table.

But what about the winner? Certainly Nick Clegg should be congratulated on his victory, however he cannot honestly be congratulated on his campaign. He fought a awkward, cautious campaign which at times appeared so frightened of being labelled rightwing that he failed to articulate a clear, compelling message about himself or the party.

None the less, as any by-election candidate knows a narrow win is still a win and Nick is now leader. That means though that Nick now has to lead. I don’t believe that the Nick Clegg we saw during the leadership election is the Nick Clegg we have just chosen as Leader. Nick is bright, charismatic, and astute – he understands the challenges the party faces, the size of the job in both organisational & policy terms. He must now though learn the lessons of his campaign – when he was timid and unclear he lost ground, when he was bold and challenging he set the agenda. If Nick is to fulfil his and our potential then he has to be true to his instincts, he must now leave the caution behind. He cannot lead forever looking over his shoulder, his victory gives him a mandate and he must use it to push through an outward looking agenda of change.

Chris would have been a good leader, if he allows himself to be himself then Nick has the opportunity to be a great one.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The wizard of Oz

Australia: Only place in the world I like seeing Labour beating Liberals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Choice

I wrote a couple of days ago that the way someone fights a leadership campaign will tell you lot about what sort of leader they would be.

Today´s Politics Show has told us a great deal. The ballots go out in a few days. Party members now have a clear choice, they can vote for a negative, inward looking left leaning campaign or they can vote for a positive one that seeks to win new converts to our cause by updating our enduring liberal values for the 21st century.

For me the choice is clearer now than ever before. It´s Nick Clegg