THE REVOLVING ORANGE
Free Schools - a Scottish perspective
Jonathan Calder has blogged
that liberals shouldn't be concerned about Free Schools making profits so much as about ensuring that they're open to all. As usual, I completely agree with him. The fundamental idea behind Free Schools is liberal. Genuine parental choice and control over the school they send their children to is something that every Lib Dem should be fighting to achieve.
In Scotland we have probably the most uniform education system in Western Europe. In terms of attainment Scottish schools have been stagnating over the past decade in comparison with their counterparts South of the border. I'd love to see some of the Coalition's ideas imported to my area. Watching my fellow party members at the Liverpool conference last year vote to condemn the free schools policy was utterly bemusing. How can you have freedom without choice? If the ability to make profits would attract innovative new providers to the market and improve the choices available to people on lower incomes then why shouldn't we do that too?
The last thing that the Liberal Democrats should be is a party run by and for middle class public sector professionals. The needs of the public sector are not the needs of the people who currently rely on the public sector. In terms of our attitude to public services, particularly in Scotland, it's time that the Lib Dems had a long hard think.
Labels: Free Schools, Public Sector, Scotland
News International aren't the problem
They're not. Well, not entirely. The amount of market share that News International enjoyed and the power that resulted from that was and is deeply unhealthy. Forcing the sale of some of NI's newspapers seems like a no-brainer. However, the fact remains that politicians have compounded this problem over recent decades by chasing positive newspaper headlines instead of promoting their own principled agendas.
The dysfunctional relationship between the two dominant political parties and the media derives from the political side rather than the media side. If politicians were willing to stand up and promote unpopular policies because they believed they were right then the likes of the Sun would have far less incentive to try and derail them. It's the utterly craven attitude of people like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that cemented the dominant role of the media in setting government policy.
I find it hard to blame the Tories more than Labour for the Murdochs' influence over our public life. I expect right wingers to use a populist press to thwart progress. The left, by contrast, should be concerned with leading opinion rather than following. During the general election Nick Clegg faltered slightly under a sustained assault from the right wing papers over (perfectly sensible) Lib Dem immigration and justice policies. The fact is that Labour wouldn't even float these ideas.
During the whole phone hacking scandal, all Ed Miliband has done is jump on another bandwagon. There's no sign whatsoever that he or his party are willing to provide the leadership on policy that would justify their continued existence.
Labels: Ed Miliband, Labour, News International
Seeing the Liberal Democrats poll 2.2% of the vote in a town that elected the first Liberal Provost in Scotland and has had continual Council representation from my party for nearly 50 years is something that I find a little hard to take. My grandfather was born and grew up in Greenock and could remember when the area was represented by a Liberal MP. Having been a Communist at one stage and having witnessed Labour's rise to power as a young man, he was surprised when I told him that the Council had been run by Lib Dems in recent years
The press referred to Inverclyde as a Labour stronghold throughout the campaign and in some respects were right to do so. The seat has been Labour-held for 76 years and in 2010 they polled well over half of the votes cast. This obscures the fact that Inverclyde Council was Liberal Democrat-run until 2007 and on a couple of occasions in the '70s and '80s the Liberals came very close to taking the seat at Westminster. It's not an Ayrshire Central or a West Dunbartonshire where until recently Labour had ruled unchallenged for decades.
If this by-election had been held at any point from 1970 up until about 5 or 6 years ago the Lib Dems would have been the main challengers to Labour and would have more than likely been able to take the seat. Yesterday our vote collapsed towards the SNP and we ended up in fourth place. Given that this is what happened across Scotland less than two months ago, I doubt if anyone was even particularly surprised.
I think Sophie Bridger was a good candidate. More could have been made of popular local Lib Dems like Ross Finnie and Alan Blair and I think we focussed too much fire on the SNP, but all in all I don't think that the campaign was the issue either. The problem is that most people who vote Lib Dem (or SNP) in Scotland are more anti-Labour voters than pro-anything voters. The SNP have neutralised their negatives by putting independence on the back-burner and governing competently and entirely unremarkably for 4 years. The Lib Dems have acquired new negatives by entering government at a time of necessary fiscal retrenchment. As a result the Scottish non-Labour vote has switched en masse.
I suspect the more power-hungry Nationalists will be rueing the fact that they are committed to holding a referendum on Independence in this term of office. If the Liberal leadership at Westminster are successful in communicating a long term strategy that follows from our current policies and the economy continues to pick up then by 2015 things could look very different. The SNP vote is just as soft as ours and a sudden switch back to the Liberal Democrats is perfectly possible.
Labels: By-election, Inverclyde, Liberal Democrats
I have changed the title of my blog to "The Revolving Orange". The basis for this is that "Orange Revolution" sounded a little right on whereas the new title has more of a 24 hour news feel about it. It also has an unintended radical protestant feel which is enhanced by the complete lack of colour to the site now that my home-made banner with a picture of an orange has been removed. On the whole, though, I think it's an improvement and intend to stick with it.
To Hell with modernity!
Julian Astle has written a rather depressed sounding article on Comment is Free
arguing that the Liberal Democrats are not the best place for an "ambitious" liberal politician. To my mind, his whole thesis reveals a surprising lack of ambition. The modernising wings of Labour and the Conservatives are simply that - modernisers. They are groups of people who are trying to catch their parties up with where society is today. By contrast, the Liberal Democrats, like the Liberal Party before them, should always be the party of the future.
If Nick Clegg is to justify the place of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition then he must set what they're doing in government in the context of a long term vision for society. Until the game plan is made clear to the party and the public the grumbles about having ditched principles for power will continue. As long as our post-coalition plans are sufficiently radical, the Tories will oppose them and the pressure on the party will ease.
The Liberal Moment
is a good starting point. The likes of Julian Astle should be helping to push these ideas forward rather than whinging to Guardian readers about short term difficulties.