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Why a Con-Lib coalition might be good for the Left

by DonaldS     May 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Some thoughts on why a deal between the Libdems and Conservatives has to be done, despite the obvious risks:

1. Clegg has no choice but to talk with Cameron. “The coalition of the defeated” is a powerful framing narrative, which would be bad enough on its own. But Brown is also widely hated in England, and installing a Labour PM who isn’t Brown couldn’t be sold to an electorate pre-primed with that “unelected PM” line. (And 23% isn’t a mandate for Clegg to head any Lib-Lab coalition.)

Worse: a Clegg/Labour alliance would be 100% reliant on 9 nationalists and plagued by an extreme version of the West Lothian Question. It would fall and Labour and the LibDems would be annihilated at the subsequent election. It’s a non-starter.

2. However, lefties, anti-Tories and “progressives” who voted tactically to keep the Conservatives out needn’t feel betrayed. We succeeded; this is about as well as the strategy could have gone given the state of the parties’ popularities a year ago.

All those hard-right Tories trying to scupper the Cameron/Clegg deal right now would have been calling the shots in government if we hadn’t voted tactically. They can be neutralized to some extent: dare them to bring a deal down.

3. Those shouting from the sidelines about betrayal need to ask themselves: how did we get here? The answer is that Labour got us here. There’s no appetite in this country for a Tory government, clearly; the vote was an anti-Labour/anti-Brown plebiscite. New Labour betrayed the “progressive cause”, and Clegg is left in the unenviable position of salvaging what he can from the wreck. Almost anything he can secure this weekend is more than we could have expected 6 months ago.

4. It pains me to write this, but Clegg has little mandate for brinksmanship on electoral reform. He polled 23%, Cameron got 36%; and the numbers for England are even worse. A parliamentary commission is a dead-end, obviously, but what if he could kick the Tories’ gerrymandering “reforms” into touch and secure fixed parliamentary terms plus a binding, BC-style Citizen’s Assembly for the Commons and Lords reform based on PR?

Again, that’s more than we could have expected 6 month ago, and might be possible *– especially if backed up by popular calls for major change. Of course, the real culprits on Commons reform are Labour. They held power for 13 years and showed no interest until it became their last lifeline.

5. Like it or not, the British pubic is going to form its opinion about coalitions based on what happens now. For the long-term prize, it’s better that Clegg succeeds in building more than a Minority Government deal with Cameron. Such an unstable deal would put him permanently in the position of being able to bring Cameron down, and then taking the blame from the Tories’ media friends.

Alternatively, it would leave Cameron with the power to time a dissolution to suit him. Clegg should agree a stable governing coalition with a fixed lifetime (of, say, 3 years) and a pre-determined program that, among other things, secures tax cuts for the poor rather than the rich, increases education spending on disadvantaged children, and scraps ID cards, alongside political reform and stymying the Tory hard-right’s culture war.

The alternate scenario could be much worse – anyone fancy a quick election with many more seats within Conservative reach, Ashcroft’s cash, and a Labour Party at civil war, for example?

Major political reform, and the end of FPTP, is going to be a long game. Dealing with the Tories can be the first act, and Clegg and his party should play their role. It might not work, Cameron might not even want it to work, but right now there’s no other show in town.

Preference voting is the way out of this expenses mess

by DonaldS     May 26, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Far be it from a serial ballot spoiler to dish out advice on voting, but that’s what’s coming. For all would-be reformers out there, PR has never been an easy sell. But once the dust has settled on the Telegraph’s thrilling mini-series, that could change. Because here’s a slogan that might just catch the mood: PR gives you the power to remove your MP without voting for another party.
continue reading… »

The BBC and Lonely Planet: it will never happen again

by DonaldS     April 9, 2009 at 10:08 am

So, the waiting‘s over. The Select Committee Report on BBC Commercial Operations was published on Tuesday. And the verdict is clear: the kind of acquisition that the BBC purchase of Lonely Planet represents should never happen again (pdf, p. 10, para. 22):

There is clearly a balancing act between allowing Worldwide to expand and potentially generate greater returns for the BBC, and limiting its operations in order to ensure it upholds the BBC’s reputation and does not unfairly distort the market… We recommend that the commercial criteria and fair trading guidelines should be returned to the pre-2007 position, whereby all commercial activity must have a clear link with core BBC programming. continue reading… »

Tech politics: libertarians and the Library

by DonaldS     February 19, 2009 at 11:49 am

A year ago, I wrote a piece here about the great art of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, and how we owe its existence to the Dead Hand of the (Tuscan) State. But where should we look for actions of slightly more modern government working to enrich our lives? Certainly not in the unending flow of nutty, illiberal laws; nor in the insidious creep of compliance culture (subject of a memorable Stephen Fry podcast). So, here’s an idea: look to the British Library.

More specifically, their Turning the Pages project, 10 years in the developing, that put our national library in the very first rank of learning innovation worldwide. (See the video.) The project’s achievement has been to digitize 15 (so far) of the Library’s most valuable manuscripts, and deliver them inside an interactive online environment that re-creates the experience of handling them in the raw.
continue reading… »

Why is the BBC flexing media muscle in the travel market?

by DonaldS     January 29, 2009 at 9:19 am

Last November I wrote a piece outlining the worrying implications of the BBC’s acquisition of Lonely Planet for the Corporation’s non-commercial UK neutrality. I’m not the only travel journalist with these sorts of doubts. The BBC Royal Charter and Agreement, remember, is very clear on how the Beeb can and cannot interact with the UK media market:

The Agreement requires all commercial activities undertaken by the BBC to comply with four criteria. …

4. comply with BBC fair trading guidelines and in particular avoid distorting the market.

Of course, that begs a whole series of questions, but this much is plain: BBC Worldwide activities that distort a domestic market in which the corporation is a player are forbidden. This, essentially, was the basis for the decision to disallow BBC investment in ultra-local video last year. It’s the reason that the BBC’s acquisition (through BBC Worldwide) of Lonely Planet should be reversed at the first opportunity. continue reading… »

A little local difficulty

by DonaldS     December 22, 2008 at 4:20 pm

While doing some reading around with my travel journalism hat on last week, I allowed myself a muted chuckle at respected travel-tech blogger Alex Bainbridge asking:

[I]f we know that when we post something we risk causing brand damage, should we self censor and only post positive things?

It’s the kind of question they might chew over while they’re brandstorming for Derek Draper’s new BlogDominanceUnit. Of course, Alex “fully rejects” posting only good news. But party flacks aside, it’s also the kind of question no political blogger would even bother asking, isn’t it? Perhaps not. continue reading… »

Not defending the BBC, not this time anyway

by DonaldS     November 14, 2008 at 2:04 pm

It’s a commonplace on this site that one should “defend” the BBC from unceasing, unsubtle and rather tiresome attacks from trenchant right-wingers. Very little written about the organization by either the Daily Mail, or any of its apers on the Web, has any merit. That’s true. The Beeb is worth defending: there’s something enriching about our ad-free broadcaster. Something that serves the public, that stands above the commercial white noise of modern television. Of course, the organization isn’t entirely non-commercial: BBC Worldwide makes decent profits that, at least nominally, feed back into UK public service broadcasting. So far, so uncontroversial. However, BBC Worldwide’s 2007 acquisition of travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet did raise objections, continue reading… »

Transport and environmental policy: pathetic and doomed whoever wins the next election

by DonaldS     September 30, 2008 at 3:06 pm

It costs me about £25–30 in petrol to drive the 55 miles from my home in Hackney to Brighton, and the same 55 back again. First Capital Connect is asking north of £90 for a return ticket for our family this weekend, starting from London Bridge. So if there’s a traffic jam on the northbound M23 this Sunday evening (inevitable), you can blame me.

If I lived in Florence, a family return trip of similar length to Livorno (birthplace of the PCI, home of the cacciucco) comes to about €33. From Brussels, a weekend rail trip to Bruges, 90km away, would cost us just over €49. A slightly longer journey in France, from Lyon to Chambery and back, comes to €59. continue reading… »

Forza, Viola

by DonaldS     May 16, 2008 at 12:46 pm

The notion that sport and politics should never mix is a curious, and also deeply political, one. Sport, after all, is just the waging of international politics by other means. Ask the East Germans.

Rarely has the mix been quite as fruity as this weekend’s end to the Italian football season continue reading… »

Drugs policy: Brown fiddles while…

by DonaldS     May 7, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Not long after I moved to Hackney, I witnessed an armed robbery. From a range of about three feet, the fact that the robber was a crackhead was as obvious as the hammer and kitchen knife he was waving about.

A few years later, my partner and baby daughter were abducted outside my house. continue reading… »


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