Thursday, June 30, 2011
Unfair and unaffordable
I don't know about you but I haven't noticed any signs of the country coming to a shuddering halt yet. 750,000 public sector workers (though none from my office) have gone on strike and the nation has kept ticking along.
The false argument about public sector pensions is put rather well by this which is going round on Facebook...
"Remember when teachers, nurses, doctors, lollipop ladies and disabled people crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither. Please copy and paste to your status for 24 hours to show your support for the strikes against the government pensions"
It is very dishonest to try and make out that these reforms to public sector pensions are simply a result of the financial crisis. They aren't. There were rumblings of strikes in 2004, 2005 and an actual strike in 2006. Yes, the dire state of the national finances probably has made dealing with public sector pensions more pressing, but the simple fact is that the current arrangements which aren't affordable after the credit crunch weren't affordable before it.
The issue of pensions is about the worst one public sector workers could choose to strike on. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, reported in the Telegraph
"The calculations show that a mid-ranking teacher on £32,000 a year will receive a final salary pension that is the equivalent of having built up a £500,000 pension pot.
This is 20 times higher than the average private sector scheme, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. Private sector workers would have to save more than 20 per cent of their salaries for 40 years – more than £500 a month for a similarly paid person — to amass the same amount in a defined contribution pension"
Such a state of affairs was, just about, sustainable when it could be passed off as the reward for lower wages in the public sector. But the last Labour government richly rewarded its loyal clients in the public sector and, as a comprehensive report by Policy Exchange found
"On an hourly basis, the typical public sector worker is now 30% better paid than the typical worker in the private sector. On top of this, public sector employees have better pensions. The difference is worth an extra 15% of their salary. Over their lifetimes, people in the private sector work 23% more hours (equivalent to 9.2 years of a public sector employee’s working life) – where their public sector counterpart will either be on sick leave, holiday, strike or in retirement"
Union leaders, such Mark Serwotka, have been deriding George Osborne's claim that "we're all in this together". As well they might, another Policy Exchange report found that
"Since the start of the recession, the hourly pay premium for the typical public sector worker has increased. After taking into account differences like age, experience and qualifications, the hourly pay premium for a public sector worker was 8.8% as of December 2010. This almost doubled from 4.3% two years earlier"
The public sector hasn't been in anything at all yet it still expects the recession ravaged private sector to continue paying the same amount to it as before. The trade unions, who at least used to make a good show of supporting things like 'fairness' and 'social justice' are now, quite brazenly, simply trying to protect their privileged status as a labour aristocracy kept going by the galley slaves in the private sector who are worked until they drop to pay for these generous pensions and then thrown overboard.
This is not only unaffordable, it is unfair. That is what today's strike is about.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Tomorrow's strike looks set to cause more hilarity than anything else. I'll be putting any rib ticklers I find here.
The Facebook page of Sean Rillo Raczka, head of the students union at my old uni, Birkbeck, has a couple of gems on it today.
"Solidarity with the Greek people, and victory to their courageous resistance! #Greece"
When he says "courageous resistance" he does, of course, mean the attempt by the well paid Greek public sector workers to get German workers to pay for them to retire at 50.
"Let's strike hard against David Cameron and his scum government #j30"
Mr Rillo Raczka doesn't have a job so it is difficult to see how, exactly, he will be on strike.
Over at Coalition of Resistance we have the following comment...
"Defend the Poor and Vulnerable and to Hell with Company Greed and Profiteering"
This appears to be a close relative of the age old, ever stupid slogan "People before profits". Where does this cretin think the money to "Defend the Poor and Vulnerable" is going to come from if companies don't make profits?
The left still thinks money grows on trees.
The picture at the top of this post comes from the Facebook profile of a prominent student activist. She hasn't got a job so she's half way there.
The graveyard of ambition
I don't write much about myself on here but I thought I'd make a little exception today. After all, it's not every day your former landlord makes the Guardian.
In 2001 - 2002 I rented a house, 133 King Edward Road in Swansea, from Binda Singh. The house had once been home to Richie Edwards and Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers when they were students at Swansea University and they were supposed to have painted the huge American flag out front of the house that made it something of a Swansea landmark.
I remember Binda coming round shortly after I'd moved in with a couple of tins of white emulsion asking me to paint over the flag. It was a few days after 9/11 and Binda was worried that the flag would make his property a target. I doubted that Bin Laden was sat in his cave going "Twin Towers; check, Pentagon; check, 133 King Edward Road, Swansea; check" so I left it. Plus, I couldn't be arsed.
It appears that in the intervening years Binda has become a major figure on the Swansea art scene. Indeed, if the place is anything like it was when I was there, he probably is the Swansea art scene. As befits a man in such a position, a lengthy list of charges have accrued against him.
I cannot comment on the truth of these allegations and I will always have a soft spot for Binda after he hooked our house up with the Lewis vs Tyson fight for free. But I would say this...
One Saturday morning Binda came round to collect the rent. As I handed it over he told me that he had written a script about Dylan Thomas, that it was going to be made into a film, that he wanted me to play Dylan Thomas and that Meryl Streep would be playing my wife.
Do you ever wonder what could have been?
No, me neither.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Girl you know it's true...or maybe it isn't
Toby Young used to be annoying for a living. These days, with Young returned from New York, he proves as adept at annoying people as ever, the lefties hate the free school he has helped set up in west London. As a wise man once said to me, the left loves diversity in everything except thought.
I'm glad to see that Toby Young shares not just my views on free schools but my dislike for the dreadful Johann Hari, a man so consistently wrong and with such vehemence that you can only conclude it's not ignorance but dishonesty.
So I was pleased to see Young trumpeting on his blog today just what a cheeky and unprofessional little blighter Hari is. He's been rumbled passing off collections of quotes from books as interviews with those books' authors.
Hari spoke out to defend himself
"When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing – and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. (I know I write much more clearly than I speak – whenever I read a transcript of what I’ve said, or it always seems less clear and more clotted. I think we’ve all had that sensation in one form or another).
So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech"
I rather liked Elizabeth Flock of the Washington Post's take on that
"Let’s say you once interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. for a story, but he wasn’t all that articulate about his hopes for racial reconciliation. So you decided to just quote his “I have a dream” line in the story and pretend he told it to you. That’s fine, right?"
Johann Hari is the Milli Vanilli of journalism.*
* Note to Hari, this comes from a comment on Toby Young's blog post
Saturday, June 25, 2011
"Every schoolboy knows how William the Conqueror slipped on the beach at Pevensey and defeated Harold at Hastings. Every schoolboy knows, or thinks he does, how Julius Caesar defeated the mighty British chieftan Cassivellaunus and thus subdued the country"
- AH Burne, 1952
How many British schoolboys in 2011 even know who any of the four people mentioned in the above quote were?
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Who is the one person in this photo you shouldn't take economic advice from?
Ed Balls, the disastrous Treasury advisor who was denied his dream job by his old boss and only grudgingly got it from his new boss, is giving his old theme that the coalition's attempts to get runaway borrowing under control are going "too deep and too fast" another airing. Over on Labourlist today he calls for "a more balanced deficit plan" which will, apparently, get borrowing down by borrowing more money.
What Ed doesn't tell you is that, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, the last plan of any detail put forward by Labour for dealing with the deficit called for spending cuts of 10.9% this year as opposed to the 12% the coalition is pushing through.
So it seems the difference between "too deep and too fast" and "a more balanced deficit plan" is 1.1%. With someone like that advising the Treasury for so long is it any wonder we ended up in the Brown stuff? Pun very definitely intended.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
A temple which desperately needs ridding of its money lenders
Last week came the news that inflation, at 4.5%, was outside of the mandated target range for the 17th month in a row and, as Michael Saunders of Citi warned, 80% of the items measured in the CPI are rising by more than 2% year on year reflecting a broadening of inflation.
Despite all this we hear today from Paul Fisher of the Bank of England that apparently it is not rising prices and inflation which are the danger, but falling prices and deflation.
Think about what direction the prices of the fuel and groceries you buy have been moving recently and see if you share Mr Fisher's concern that their prices might fall.
The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England has been a total failure. It's members, their pensions indexed for inflation, don't even live in the real world.
Monday, June 20, 2011
A public sector strike over pensions will neither elicit public sympathy nor especially inconvenience us
The news that the Deep Thought computer would be programmed to unravel the great questions of existence was bad news for the philosophers in Douglas Adams' classic Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty” shouts one, another warning that “You’ll have a national Philosopher’s strike on your hands!” Deep Thought pauses then asks: “And who will that inconvenience?”
You might have felt a little like Deep Thought this week reading the various warnings of mass public action emanating from the public sector unions. “It will not be one day of action”, warned Dave Prentis of Unison, “it will be long-term industrial action throughout our public services to prevent destruction of our pension schemes”
To continue reading click here
Thursday, June 16, 2011
For such a pervasive term, ‘social justice’ is a notoriously tricky concept to quantify. Karl Marx’s notion of social justice was, famously, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. That of the economists of the late nineteenth century was the Marginal Productivity Theory of Distribution. Friedrich Von Hayek claimed to have spent 10 years pondering the matter only to announce that he had “failed”, writing instead that the term was “an empty formula, conventionally used to assert that a particular claim is justified without giving any reason”.
Indeed, there are probably as many opinions on what constitutes social justice as there are individuals capable of holding one. The issue is also confused by the frivolous insertion of the word ‘social’, as though that gives it more weight. It is simply a matter of justice and, personally, I would regard it as unjust for a government or central monetary authority to expropriate the wealth of the poorest members of society via the debasement of their money. Yet, around the world, that is exactly what is happening.
To continue reading click here
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
And the winner is...
There was much tittering last month when Michele Bachmann, the unapologetically conservative Congresswoman from Minnesota, was challenged to a public debate by Amy Myers a 16 year old schoolgirl from New Jersey.
Ms Myers was angered by comments Bachmann had made criticising public education in the United States. "I have found quite a few of your statements regarding The Constitution of the United States, the quality of public school education and general U.S. civics matters to be factually incorrect, inaccurately applied or grossly distorted" she wrote.
No doubt so precocious a child as Ms Myers will have spent today digesting a report in the Wall Street Journal today that concluded, well, that Michele Bachmann was right and she was wrong.
Reporting the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress the Journal said "Only 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were 'proficient' or 'advanced,' unchanged since the test was last administered in 2006" and that "The news was even more dire in high school, where 12% of 12th-graders were proficient", also unchanged since 2006. This covers the teaching of just the sort of "general U.S. civics matters" which Ms Myers sought to defend.
Ms Myers complained that Bachmann's statements "help to serve an injustice to not only the position of Congresswoman, but women everywhere." If she is really looking for opposition to the female cause perhaps she should be looking not at Minnesota but at Pennsylvania whose Senator Arlen Specter recently told Bachmann to "act like a lady" in a live debate. Imagine the fury there would be if John McCain said that to Hillary Clinton and marvel again at the moral mayhem of the left.
The anti Christ looking kind of normal
Sarah Palin eats babies. Sarah Palin slow-roasts poor people. Sarah Palin pretended that her daughter’s child was hers.
OK, only one of the above is common currency but the fact that it is no weirder than the two which aren’t true but are still believed by many on the left shows just what a pitch of hysteria Sarah Palin incites in her opponents: Palin Derangement Syndrome (PDS) as Charles Krauthammer might have diagnosed it.
To continue reading click here
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Is there anybody out there?
In the wake of its defeat at last years election Labour did what modern political parties do and launched a ‘listening exercise’. This week it made its first report and the comrades didn’t like what they heard.
Paul Richards, a self described “a part-time shadow cabinet factotum” whatever that is, reported on Labourlist that British opinion was:
“tough on crime (and to hell with the causes), a preference for money to be spent in the UK’s roads and schools before those of India or Nigeria, a crackdown on benefit cheats and lazy arses who don’t want to work, and a strong desire to see the NHS and school system work properly. Add in a little mild xenophobia towards the continental Europeans and a visceral loathing of MPs and bankers”
To continue reading click here
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Take me seriously
The stinging attack on the coalition by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the stories of the week. Writing in the New Statesman Williams claimed that “no one voted” for various coalition policies ranging from education, getting borrowing under control, the NHS and The Big Society.
This is obvious nonsense. At the last election no party gained enough seats to form a majority government making coalition inevitable, people did vote for it. Indeed, the two coalition parties together got 59% of the vote, a level of support not reached in either of the landslides of 1931 or 1945. It is also rather rich coming from a man who doggedly supports the right for his unelected Bishops to sit in the House of Lords.
It is, however, only to be expected. Since at least the time of Archbishop Ramsey (1961 – 1974), who seemed more interested in the legalisation of homosexuality and the evils of the Vietnam war than the salvation of man’s eternal soul, the Church of England, or its leadership at least, has been less the Conservative party at prayer and more a bunch of social democrats in full cry.
The Church of England finds its anti-Conservative voice at times, like now, when the Labour party is clueless. In 1985, with Labour indulged in another bout of navel gazing, the Church stepped forward to oppose Margaret Thatcher’s government with the publication of ‘Faith in the City’, a dreadfully out dated document even then which criticised her government and harked back to some mythical Keynesian Golden Age. Thatcher, a low church Methodist no more ready to be lectured by high churchmen than high Tories, loudly rubbished it.
Williams is, of course, entitled to his opinion, and the New Statesman is entitled to print it. But who does Williams actually represent? Weekly attendance at Anglican services in the UK has fallen from 1.6 million in 1968 to just over 900,000 last year, less than 1 in 60 of the population, fewer people than tune into Eggheads on BBC2. This is despite the fact that there are supposed to be 25 million Anglicans in Britain. This figure, however, includes everyone who has been baptised Anglican. Many of those people don’t set foot in church again until they marry and then don’t reappear until their death.
Indeed, as head of the established church in England it is Williams’ job to attend to the spiritual wellbeing of the nation. Yet rates of crime and family breakdown and declining religious belief generally suggest he isn’t doing much of a job.
But Williams isn’t solely to blame for the collapse of the Church of England. The truth is that nationalised religion works no better than nationalised anything else. Compared to the United States, for example, Britain is in a state of religious poverty. There, without an established Church to provide the pretence of faith, the religious market is a thriving, often rowdy place, where churches must actively seek members. The members themselves, without the religious kite mark of establishment to guide them, must take a more active interest in the churches. This situation encourages religiosity and all the while culture warriors prowl the boundaries of public life on the lookout for any sign of religious incursion.
It may well be that our comparative secularism is preferable to the occasionally fevered religiosity of American public life. But it is a secularism bought by using the Church of England to supply the minimum of religion; three visits a lifetime. And with the time on its hands other churches have to spend spreading their message the Church involves itself in politics, always from the left wing perspective of more top down government as befits an episcopal institution.
Throw in local factors such as a leadership which seems to spend a fair amount of its time telling you which bits of the Bible you shouldn’t believe in, from the creation story to the immaculate conception, and you have a recipe for irrelevance. It is also, as Williams demonstrated again this week, a recipe for continued left wing political action.
There was nothing original in Rowan Williams attack on the government; he was given the platform he was because he is head of the established church in England. However, it is the very nationalised nature of this institution which means that it cannot fulfil its primary task of promoting spiritual wellbeing and, instead, spends ever more of its time as a left wing campaign group. If this is what the Church wants to be then we should, of course, let it. But we should make it clear that the state will not continue to give its support to such a partisan political body. We should disestablish it.
Friday, June 10, 2011
"When you've got a minute I suppose we should give this running a country lark a go"
The news in today’s Telegraph that Ed Balls was involved in a plot to remove Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 2005 will have come a complete shock to precisely no one. The only awkward thing is that back in 2005, when all this plotting was going on, Balls kept going round telling people, often people with recording devices, that no plotting was going on. It’s certainly a fresh embarrassment for Labour that the guy who wants to be put in charge of the nations finances has been revealed as a barefaced liar.
If anything more can come of the revelation of something we all knew already it is yet more evidence, if it were needed, of just what an epically useless government this country had between 1997 and 2010. As we hosed money at creaking public services, as we sank deeper into debt on the back of seven straight years of borrowing before the recession hit, as we embarked on an experiment in mass immigration totally unparalleled in British history, and as we got embroiled in two protracted wars, our government was busy sizing up each others offices.
The truth is that we didn’t have a government, we had a third rate daytime soap opera. The memoirs and diaries of the key players in this sorry period in British political history; Blair, Mandelson and Campbell, read like they were bashed out by some third rate hack writing for Days of Our Lives. The endless drivelling stream of bitching, tittle tattle and gossip would make Ena Sharples, Hilda Ogden and Dot Cotton look like paragons of tight lipped rectitude. And in Peter Mandelson we even had the greatest resurrection since Bobby Ewing. Twice.
In 2005 Blair, according to his memoir, had “an interesting debate, not quite a contretemps” with Brown over runaway government spending. “My view was that we had reached the limit of spending...Even with the economy still growing I could sense that enough was enough”
A little later, Blair writes, he sought to
“[M]ove beyond the catch-up investment in public services and instead focus on a smaller, more strategic government. This was, in my mind, right in itself but also critical to dealing with the 'big state' and 'tax and spend' arguments that I was sure, in time, would pull apart our coalition in the country, and therefore our ability to win. It went back to the argument, already described, during the 2005 election. Unfortunately, the FSR was fought every inch of the way and was the one element I was unable to put in place prior to departure, it being the one that really did depend on Gordon's departure.”
But nothing was done, the opportunity lost amid Blair’s miniscule attention span and the swirling passions of a government more interested in itself than governing.
Looking back it might all seem seductively fun, big characters doing big things and forget the consequences, like Phil sleeping with Sharon or Jim McDonald breaking up his sons wedding. But unlike the last Labour government we do not live in la la land, where Ed Miliband’s party seem still to be comfortably ensconced, we live in a real world with consequences, such as having to cut back on spending after a colossal binge. We now have to face up to the consequences of the last government and there is nothing fictional about those.
Thursday, June 09, 2011
We might not have a choice
The joke about Harry Truman asking to see a one armed economist so that they couldn’t say “But on the other hand” has lasted because it is true. How true was proved again this weekend when a group of ‘esteemed’ economists wrote a letter attacking George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan. Sure enough, another group of esteemed economists were soon on hand to defend George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan. What’s a Chancellor to do?
If the economy was roaring back to health we wouldn’t be hearing any of this. But it isn’t. While there are bright spots in areas such as employment economic growth as a whole is anaemic to non-existent and forecasts are being regularly downgraded. But it may well be an economic and political mistake to expect any better.
To continue reading click here
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Any advance on four years?
The Telegraph today carries a story with a grimly familiar headline; Rapist released early attacked new victim within weeks
It turns out that on New Year's Day 2006 Fabian Thomas "twice raped and threatened to kill a girl, aged 17, in an alley in Taunton, Somerset". For this horrific crime he was sentenced to, yes, just eight years in a young offenders institution. He served only four. You wonder if his victim got over it as quickly?
Released in December 2010 Thomas lasted just two months before he "attempted to rape a woman, aged 19, in a supermarket car park while brandishing a hunting knife and wearing a balaclava"
Our government does alot of things that it has no business doing. But one of the basic responsibilities of the state, before education, before telling us what to eat, before packing councils with diversity officers, is to keep us safe. The fact that it cant do that and doesn't even appear interested in trying is a failure of politics at the deepest level.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Gimme Gimme Gimme
With Birkbeck, my college, sharing a campus with SOAS I came across quite a few left wingers in my time there. I often wondered how they'd react when uni ended and the dead kipper of reality smacked them round the chops.
One of the noisiest lefties on campus is now finding out. Quite frankly, her Facebook page has been bloody hilarious lately. Last Wednesday saw this outburst
"seriously WTF guardian jobs? why are the only 'graduate jobs' all based in the City and if I want a job for the fucking public sector there is shit all?"
When asked what sort of job she was looking for she replied
"anything that I could do without selling my soul. All my experience is in the SU, NUS Women's Committee, etc, so trade union or other public sector stuff is looking most promising atm. I'd love to work part-time too really so I can spend the other half of the week doing stuff for Counterfire's website.."
Counterfire, I ought to explain in case you are not one of the half a dozen people who is aware of its existence, is a wacky Marxist website run by people who left the SWP after a falling out.
All very revealing. This girl, I'll call her Rosa, wants a job in the public sector which will give her time to pursue her political interestes. Who can blame her? But we've had far too many jobs like that for far too long. The gravy train has hit the buffers. There really is "shit all" out there in terms of stupid, overpaid, underworked, public sector non jobs. And a good thing too.
The real world just won't cease its cold shower of piss on Rosa's dreams of being a taxpayer funded revolutionary. Yesterday saw this
"what the hell?! just looking at jobseekers allowance and the most you can get if you're under 25 is £53.45!!! so if you live in zone 3 which is probably the closest to central you could afford on housing benefit then after £30 a week for a travelcard and £10-15 for food shopping that leaves under £10 to actually have a life with! this government actually makes me sick"
Notice the throaway reference to Housing Benefit, another handout from the taxpayer this poor, oppressed girl has to get by on?
When it was pointed out to Rosa that the point of benefits was to keep you going until you found another job and not to keep you in the manner to which you've become accustomed for as long as you like, she exploded
"Eoghain, that's probably the most sanctimonious thing I've ever heard to be fair. Are you seriously saying it's fair that people looking for jobs that, uh, DON'T EXIST in a recession should be punished by essentially having to be locked in their house because they can't even afford to go to the fucking cinema or take their kids out for a milkshake on the money they have left over, let alone buy a pint? I haven't even started applying for it, I'm just shocked that that's the amount available"
Well, I'd agree with Eoghain, the point of the JSA is not to make sure you can keep paying for cinema tickets, milkshakes and pints and the fact that she is "shocked" by all this and finds it "sanctimonius" suggests that her university education has left her woefully unprepared for the real world.
Rosa wasn't finished
"Okay, Eoghain I'm not presuming to know everything about your situation. But when I was waiting tables I found it stressful, physically exhausting, and massively time-consuming as on an average salary of £5.65 an hour it was difficult just to pay the rent without working til 2 in the morning sometimes. I wonder how much time that would leave me to search extensively for decent jobs, let alone go to the fucking interviews for them. I'm really sick of the idea that poor people aren't allowed to have fun - it smacks of the argument over EMA, where people justified its removal by saying 'shock horror! sometimes kids spend some of the money on booze or fags!' never mind the fact that their richer clasmates are spending £40 a week on ketamine...I don't think it's selfish to say that the state shouldn't punish people for not having a job that literally doesn't exist. And I don't think it's wrong to want to claim JSA whilst looking for work that is suitable to my level of education funnily enough."
Its difficult to know where to start here. I got EMA when I was doing my A levels. Except I had to go to a Pizza Hut and work for it and they called it wages. Its hard work but thats life. You have to do something for your money, Rosa, it is clear, doesn't fancy this and would rather it was handed to her.
As for the idea that "poor people aren't allowed to have fun" I don't know anyone who has suggested that. What has been suggested, quite rightly, is that the taxpayer shouldnt foot the bill for it. What does rich kids taking Ketamine have to do with it? Are poor kids that cant afford K being discriminated against?
Finally Rosa says "I don't think it's wrong to want to claim JSA whilst looking for work that is suitable to my level of education funnily enough". Given that one of her exams was on 'Gender, Sex and Identity in Africa 1800-2000', she might be in for a long wait.
Friday, June 03, 2011
Hands up if you're screwed
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things”
- I Corinthians 13:11
The Liberal Democrats were always a silly party. They were also a rather dishonest one. The disastrous election results of May 5th were punishment for that.
For a little over two decades the Lib Dems told voters around the United Kingdom whatever they wanted to hear. In the Conservative dominated south the Lib Dems told voters they were a less extreme version of the Conservative party. In the Labour dominated north the Lib Dems told voters they were a less extreme version of the Labour party. This put them in just the right position to become the party of protest. When asked what, exactly, they were protesting against, the Lib Dems could reply, like Marlon Brando in ‘The Wild One’, “Whaddya got?”
In opposition both pitches could be true. They could attack the Conservatives for being soft on the deficit while pledging to abolish university tuition fees, a promise even Labour wouldn’t make. The Lib Dems could play this game because, despite lip service to the contrary, they never expected to form a government.
But a political party with no expectation of power attracts a certain type of member. It attracted people who wanted to flirt with the real world by giving their harebrained environmental schemes and impossible promises of lower taxes and higher government spending a trot round the political paddock. None of it was very serious. It was silly.
Once in government only one of these pitches could be delivered; the Lib Dems would have to disappoint either their right leaning or left leaning voters by siding with either Labour or the Conservatives. The glare of government would expose one set of promises as empty.
This is the choice Nick Clegg faced last May. The Lib Dems had campaigned for years about the benefits of coalition government and the hung parliament bought them the opportunity to build one in the real world. Labour’s desire to get as far upwind as possible of the fiscal stink bomb it had let off meant that the only possible partner was the Conservative Party. Clegg could either take the Lib Dems into a governing coalition for the first time in 80 years or he could continue to lead a silly party.
To his credit Clegg chose the former. There would be no more flirting with the real world, instead the Lib Dems would get a full on, Jilly Cooper-esque wedding night ravishing.
They began losing voters almost immediately. The first to go were the people who had voted Lib Dem in order to ensure a Labour government. These were the sort of voters too silly even for the Lib Dems at their silliest.
As the enormity of dealing with a £150 billion deficit in the real world and not just talking about it on the doorstep began to sink in more voters left the Lib Dem fold. The party’s poll ratings halved from over 20% to less than 10%. In by elections the Lib Dem vote either held up with the help of voters on loan from the Conservatives, as in Oldham, or collapsed completely, as in Barnsley.
May 5th was a new low point in this trend. The Lib Dems lost over 800 councillors and control of major cities across the north of England and took a battering in Welsh and Scottish assembly elections. Voters realised that the Lib Dems could only keep one of the two sets of promises they had made and their left leaning voters realised it wasn’t the set of promises made to them. They switched to Labour.
How the Lib Dems react to this is crucial to the survival of the coalition and their survival as a party. The only way those voters lost on May 5th could conceivably come back is if the Lib Dems could convince them they are a little bit like the Labour party which has nothing resembling an economic policy. But how can they do that while staying in a deficit cutting government with the Conservatives?
Back in April Nick Clegg said “I don't even pretend we can occupy the Lib Dem holier-than-thou, hands-entirely-clean-and-entirely-empty-type stance”. He must hope that Lib Dem party members are similarly aware that the party is growing up and that growing pains are, well, painful. Many of their erstwhile voters have fled the party for the cloud cuckoo land offered by Labour but the Lib Dems must continue to put away childish things.