'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Here's an unpopular point of view. Chris Huhne was right to take the severance cash on offer.

Like apparently everyone else, when I first heard Chris Huhne had taken the £17000 severance pay after stepping down from the cabinet, I thought this seemed quite wrong.

But on reflection - I think he was right to take the money. Here's why.

Firstly, Chris is innocent. Certainly in the eyes of the law. and more to the point - in his own eyes. He has consistently said that he is innocent of the charges laid against him from the word go and is sticking with that position.

In these circumstances, if he has indeed been wrongly accused, then why shouldn't he claim the money? If he is subsequently found to be guilty, that's quite a different matter, and I think he should pay the money back pronto. But as things stand, if he truly is an innocent man, wrongly accused, who can blame him for taking the money every other cabinet minister forced to resign takes?

Secondly, the argument has been put forward that he should get nothing if found guilty, and his job back if found innocent. This would effectively mean he has been suspended from the cabinet. But how can that be fair? He isn't being paid as a cabinet minister anymore - normally employees in these circumstances are suspended on full pay. No one made that offer to Chris. So again he should take the severance. Similarly, how can he possibly be given his old job if he is found innocent? Ed Davey has been given it - and surely no one is suggesting he, nor any other member of the cabinet, should be fired to make room for Chris if the courts find in his favour?

A third argument runs that Chris wasn't made redundant, he resigned of his own volition, so how can he be eligible for any payment. But I think its generally the received wisdom that Chris didn't want to resign - he wanted to continue until the courts had their say, and others made the decision that he had to resign for him - or be sacked. In these circumstances, being forced to resign to save the blushes of the government is a very different matter from resigning from a normal job.

Finally, I have seen it said that Chris is a millionaire and in these austere times it's wrong for anyone that rich to take the cash? Really? So what now - employment rights extend to everyone bar anyone who has a certain level of wealth. Are we proposing means testing employment rights now? Surely no Liberal can give that view any credence?

If Chris is found guilty he has a moral responsibility to return the cash. But as things stand today - I can see only reasons why he was quite right to take it.

You know, I'm beginning to wonder if Nick Clegg actually reads my blog at all...

No sooner had the New Statesman posted my suggestion to Nick that he took advantage of the open goal yawning in front of him by doing the kindest thing, killing the Health and Social Care Bill, and positioning himself as the man who saved the NHS, than he did the complete opposite.

He sent that letter from himself and Shirley Williams to his Peers and MPs.

And I think that letter was a mistake.

Firstly, I'm not sure it says good things about Nick's leadership that in order to get the Parliamentary Party he leads on side, he has to get Shirley to co sign his letters. With all due respect to Baroness Williams, it's a bit like taking your mum to the playground fight behind the bike sheds. If he can't even write to his own MPs and Peers with any certainty that they will heed his words - then we've got a problem.

Secondly, lets say the changes he proposes do the trick and convince the Lib Dems in Parliament to pass the Bill. What's the net effect? Well, in the eyes of most of the public, the Bill is damaged goods and very bad for the NHS. So rather than being the man who saved the NHS - Nick could end up being labelled as the man who killed it.

And thirdly, as this rather good piece in the Telegraph makes clear - even if these (in the words of No. 10) non significant clarifications and reassurances are delivered - are we any happier with the Bill?

Nick. It's not too late. Take the advice of the man who came up with the idea at the heart of the Lansley reforms in the first place - and who now wants it dropped.

Kill the Bill

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Leveson: It's just turned bizarre...

Come on Nick. Seize the Day

Here's my piece in The New Statesman yesterday. Do pop over to the NS to see the multifarious (and, for once, often supportive) comments. Obviously the Clegg/Williams letter moved things on after this - more of that later.

Ed Miliband nearly got it right twice last week.
First he said the NHS Bill was going to be the Tories' new Poll Tax. Then he said the same bill could become another tuition fees debacle for the Lib Dems.
You can almost feel him groping for the right political analogy. He knows it's there, just eluding his grasp. So let me help him out.
Ed, you need to jam those thoughts together. The NHS Bill is going to be the Tories' tuition fees fiasco.
We know a bit about how this works in the Lib Dems. You make some promises. You associate yourself personally with those pledges. You even start running advertising assuring everyone that everything is safe in your hands. And then, when you're in power, you do the complete opposite. And the electorate crucify you for it.
Admittedly this has taken a little longer to pin on the Tories. I wrote a year ago, when reforms were first introduced, that this would happen and have been bemused ever since that folk haven't been more livid that the promise of "no top down reorganisations of the NHS'" appears to have been a bit of a fib. Especially when the likes of Andrew Mitchell go on the BBC and assert (as he did yesterday) that Andrew Lansley had been planning this for 5 years in opposition. (Given how things are panning out, I use planning in the loosest of terms).
I guess when, generally speaking, the country has such a low expectation of a Conservative politician keeping a promise, it takes longer for the anger to really sink in than it did for us Lib Dems, for whom people really did have higher hopes.
Which brings me to the little matter of redemption.
A couple of weeks ago it looked like Cameron was going to seize the day, drop the NHS bill, fire Lansley, and paint himself as the man who saved the NHS. There was an open goal there. For some reason he didn't take it. Who knows - maybe he really does believe in the reforms. Wouldn't that be a turn up?
Anyway, Cameron welded himself firmly to the Bill. Which means there is a vacancy going for a political leader willing to grasp the nettle, kill the bill and save the NHS. Ed Miliband would love to take it. But he of course, has no power. No, it needs someone who could actually stop the Bill, negotiate some sensible compromises with the Tories and Labour - everyone agrees some changes would be a good thing - and go some way to restoring the faith of a nation in their political acumen. And their principles.
Hey, Nick. Carpe Diem.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Fellows of the RCP are livid about the Health Bill. I make that every Royal College who's voted now against.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) held an EGM for Fellows today on the NHS Bill. The RCP President has come under heavy criticism from his own members for attending last weeks health summit. 

Here's the text he has sent to members today following the EGM. It's quite something...

Today’s Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of the fellows finished just over an hour ago, and I wanted to ensure that you are informed of the outcome as soon as possible.

The EGM was called by 20 fellows to discuss the Health and Social Care Bill and a motion that the RCP should survey all fellows and members with their specific views as to whether to accept or reject the plans as laid out in the Health and Social Care Bill. The meeting was attended by 189 fellows and I would like to thank all of them for expressing their opinions in what was a passionate and constructive debate.

The motion that the RCP should survey all fellows and members was carried, with 80% votes for, 16% votes against, and 4% abstentions. 

We shall now ensure that the survey is carried out as soon as is possible, and aim to have the outcome of the survey ready for a meeting of Council. We will do all we can to make sure that the survey is completed before the final deliberations in the House of Lords prior to the final debate in the House of Commons.

At the meeting, the vast majority of those who spoke voiced serious concerns about the Bill and its consequences for the NHS and patient care.  Another four-part motion calling for the Bill to be withdrawn, was voted on as a non-binding motion to be sent to Council for consideration. The full details and results of this motion can be found on the RCP website.

Since the publication of the white paper in July 2010, I have asked you to keep me and the RCP informed of your views, suggestions and concerns. The feeling of many at the meeting was that the RCP has been successful in positively amending aspects of the Bill, and this success was largely based on direct feedback from members and fellows. Again, I encourage you to share your opinions on the reforms and to provide the RCP with examples of what is happening day-to-day on the frontline, in addition to completing the forthcoming survey. As ever, you can reply to me directly, you can air your views on the RCP online forum, or you can attend one of the many RCP regional events. The more we hear from members and fellows, the stronger our message will be.
 You will receive details of the survey within the next few days and I encourage you to complete it in full. I shall of course be keeping you abreast of developments.

Kind regards,

Sir Richard Thompson

President of the Royal College of Physicians

Now: would you like to see the full results of the votes. Brace yourself...

Full details of motions

Tabled motion

1. Decide the motion that the RCP should survey all fellows and members of the RCP with their specific views as to whether to accept or reject the plans as laid out in the NHS Bill.
(Total votes cast: 186)
  • Yes - 80%
  • No - 16%
  • Abstain - 4%

Indicative, non-binding vote

2. That this meeting:  
(a) considers that the Health and Social Care Bill, if passed, will damage the NHS and the health of the public in England;
(Total votes cast: 172)
  • Yes - 89%
  • No - 8%
  • Abstain - 3%
(b) calls upon the Royal College of Physicians to call publicly for complete withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill;
(Total votes cast: 179)
  • Yes - 79%
  • No - 18%
  • Abstain - 2%
(c) calls upon the Royal College of Physicians to seek an alliance with the RCGP, RCR, BMA, RCN, RCM and other willing Royal Colleges and NHS stakeholder organisations to call collectively for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill;
(Total votes cast: 182)
  • Yes - 81%
  • No - 19%
  • Abstain - 0%
(d) calls upon the Royal College of Physicians to hold a joint press conference with the BMA and other willing Royal Colleges and NHS stakeholder organisations, to make a joint public statement calling for the Bill to be withdrawn.
(Total votes cast: 182)
  • Yes - 69%
  • No - 29%
  • Abstain - 2%
I'd say that was about as clear as you can get. 

Nick. Kill the Bill

I am indebted to Andrew  ( @andrew2186)who has pointed out that 3 Royal Colleges are still to express a preference.

 RCo Surgeons has EGM on 8 March, RC Obst + Gyn has EGM on 9 March and RCo Anaesthetists aren't planning one at all

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Toby Young. Laurie Penny. Melanie Philips. & me.

No. It's not the worst line up ever conceived on Question Time.

It's four of the 226 people who have entered the 2012 Orwell Prize for Blogging.

Important I should add that the sole criteria for getting on this list is the ability to throw all modesty aside and enter yourself. No wonder I'm on it!

However, the entry list is a good summary of many (though not all) the interesting political blogs out there right now. Including a fine selection from the Lib Dem blogging fraternity like George Potter, Caron Lindsay, Nicola Prigg, Alex Marsh, Andrew Page, David Allen Green and LibDemChild. Apologies to all I've omitted.

There are also lots of other brilliant blogs on there from the whole politial spectrum - so its worth a pleasant hour to get a good view of the whole political blogosphere.

Have fun!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

New Lib Dem PBB - on air tomorrow.

Tim Farron's just sent this around.

And isn't it great that the members get to see this stuff first. Hats off @helenduffett!!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Don't let the Tories take the credit for killing the NHS Bill

I have no issue with the piece Tim Montgomerie has written on Conservative Home this morning about the NHS bill. It's a well balanced and fair report on the history of the bill, the pressures that have played out to change it, and the excellent arguments for dropping it now.

However, I am perturbed by a more general theme that seems to be emerging. That it is the Tories who are going to kill the bill. That is the Tory's who are then going to run through some sensible and reasonable changes. And David Cameron will have saved the NHS.

You can see it already in the 'seeding' of the mentions of 3 key cabinet ministers who have set themselves against the bill. And look at the main headline on The Guardian right now...

So let's not forget that it was the Lib Dem grass roots who set the pace on getting this bill changed. That it was a barnstoming speech by Shirley Williams that set the tone for the debate (see her hand written speech notes here).  That it was the Social Liberal Forum that led much of that debate. And that it is Lib Dem Grass Roots who are keeping the pressure firmly on.

Of course, it's not all just us. every professional medical body seems to have turned their face against the changes as well. But one things for certain. It is the Tories who have led this charge and and it is they who are culpable for this whole mess.

Let's not let them take the credit for saving the NHS.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Ed Davey's first message to the grass roots

Fair play to Ed, he's been in the cabinet for less than a week and already he's written to everybody. And here's what he had to say...

Dear Richard,
Some things in politics are symbolic. For dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists like the Liberal Democrats, solar power is one of these things – indisputably clean, green and cutting edge technology. The sort of thing Liberal Democrats in a government that aims to be the greenest ever should be unequivocally behind.

Our commitment to the environment was why I joined the party in the first place. That’s why I want solar power to be as widely available as possible.

As it stands, the Feed in Tariffs scheme that helps people to install solar panels in their homes or businesses reaches too few people. By lowering the tariff we can extend it to more people – making clean, green, renewable energy available to the many, not the few.

That’s why I am announcing a consultation to look at exactly how we reform the tariff to make sure as many people as possible take advantage of it.

I want more solar panels installed and more carbon emissions saved than under the old scheme.

I want the returns you get from solar power to be predictable, sustainable and attractive.

And I want to give a real boost to micro-combined heat and power, which allows people produce clean, green electricity in their homes.

I am proud of the big, ambitious green measures the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government have undertaken:
  • The Green Deal which will lead an energy efficiency revolution in our homes
  • The Green Investment Bank to kickstart green businesses and green jobs
  • The most ambitious climate change targets a country has ever set
  • And real progress at Cancun to get international agreement on climate change
I don’t believe that fighting climate change and rebuilding our economy are mutually exclusive. I believe green jobs are the key to our recovery.

And I don’t believe going green means hitting people in the pocket. Energy efficiency, our reforms of the energy market and giving consumers more information will help bring down bills.

I am determined that this will be the greenest government ever. I’m up for that challenge and I’m sure all Liberal Democrats feel the same.

A longer version of this message is available at Liberal Democrat Voice.


Ed Davey MP
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

You remember how smug I was when the Iowa GOP result changed. Let me tell you about Florida...

Just as with Iowa, where everyone moved on after the caucus and forgot that they hadn't actually counted the votes yet, everyone has moved on to the latest polls, and forgotten that Florida is not yet a done deal.

While no one is disputing the result, the 'winner takes all' allocation of convention delegates does seem to be open to appeal as it directly contravenes GOP rules. So the share of votes in Florida could change quite fundamentally.

After last nights amazing results for Santorum, if Florida changes - and this will be decided fairly quickly -then the race is not only wide open, its a three way race again.

Here's the current state of the candidates, pre any change to Florida.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Don't go to my talk. It's been cancelled

Yes. Heart breaking I know. But UCL have had a room crisis and had to postpone my talk tonight until some later date.

How will you fill your evening...

The Lib Dems family feud on welfare

From me in the New Statesman yesterday. Do have a gander, comment, or see what others have been saying over on the New Statesman site. 
An awful lot of the Lib Dem grassroots spent last week feeling the pain of the betrayed spouse. And it's nothing to do with Chris Huhne
Two weeks ago it was all chocolates and flowers from those on high with the promise of the raising of tax thresholds, and all the arguments and flirtations with other party's policies seemed like another life. We wandered around starry eyed...
...until last Wednesday, when we walked into the smack of firm government, as our MPs - with some very notable exceptions - undid all the good work of so many members of the House of Lords on the Welfare Reform Bill. And it's left a lot of members of the party feeling bruised, bloodied and ignored.
They're not taking it lying down. And it's not just the usual suspects - right across the party, folk are asking our Parliamentarians just what were you thinking?
And what's really riled the troops this time - over and above the fact that they fundamentally disagree with lots of the Bill - is that, particularly where Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is concerned, it flies in the face of party policy. A policy agreed not in some far distant conference in the long years of opposition, but last September, in Birmingham. And when they get answers - and it's to their credit that our MP's do front up - they don't like them much.
In other parties, policy is generally decided by a small elite. For example, in the Tories, it's pretty much one man, one vote, that man currently being called David. There are plenty in Labour who wish they could say exactly the same.
In the Lib Dems, it's meant to be different. In all those long years of opposition, the final decision on policy has rested with the members through conference. Which apparently worked fine then, but less well now we're in government - because our MPs appear to find themselves conflicted.
Should they represent the views of the party, their own opinion , or the will of the people -like it or not, the welfare reforms are hugely popular with the electorate at large. And to be fair, it's a conundrum Lib Dem backbenchers struggle with over and over again. Every single backbencher in the parliamentary party has rebelled against the government at least once since May 2010, bar one (step forward David Laws).
Nevertheless, there are a lot of disgruntled Lib Dem activists sitting at home right now seething about the WRB. And questioning the way we agree - and execute - policy as a party. There's going to be a right old barney about it, and we'll do well to keep much of it behind closed doors. But I hope we do.
Letting family feuds spiral into the public domain seldom ends well for anyone involved, does it....

Monday, 6 February 2012

The State of the Party. The Future of the Liberal Democrats. And the Coalition.


That really is the topic I've been asked to speak to tomorrow at UCL (Main building, Gower Street, Roberts 106, 7 pm.) to their Economics and Finance Society

Do come along. If only to shout 'rubbish' and are you mad?

Here's a link to the details.

Someone better tell Nick and Tim....

What links Daniel Radcliffe and too many of our MP's?

I saw this Tweet earlier, following the Daniel Radcliffe interview in the Independent...

....and it struck me that when voting in the Welfare Reform Bill, too many of our MPs appeared to do the complete opposite.

Which is a shame.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Caption Competition - Results

And the winner is...George Potter

"Oh my god, I think he's trying to grow a mohican."

George, DM me an address via @richardmorrisuk and I'll send you some sort of prize. I have no idea what. :-)

And by the way - brilliant blogging this week George too.

Thanks for all the entries

Friday, 3 February 2012

I've been blahing on , via the Telly box....

So, I was sitting in the BBC News Channel Millbank,  ahem, 'Studio' (broom cabinet) this morning as the Huhne news broke. As you can see, I was filling while everyone waited for Nick, Olly et al to walk from a door and get in a car.

I was asked my views on what the Lib Dem Grassroots were thinking. So here's what I said you were thinking (I am paraphrasing). Do feel free to yell if it's not true, as I'll be doing the same with 5 Live tomorrow morning...

Q.  Are we sad to see Chris go?

A. Yes. He's a talented Minister, doing an effective job, and he will be a loss to the country. He was also one of our best Ministers at keeping the Tories in check, so he's a loss for the party as well. So he will be missed

Q. He had to go though, didn't he?

A. Innocent til proven guilty  - so  the party at large feel very uncomfortable about this resignation. Politically and practically he probably had to resign  - but that doesn't make it alright per se.

However, unfair though it would be, if there was no prosecution, the 'no smoke without fire' calls would have gone on endlessly. This way Chris gets to completely clear his name - or not. So at least the issue is resolved.

Q. Ed Davey - any good?

Yes. He will be an excellent addition to the cabinet. (I went on a bit at this point, I'll save you the details).

Q. Will the Tories be glad to see Huhne go?


I should have played the 'how about a not-white-middle-class-man card' in the cabinet but it eluded me. I will do so tomorrow....

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Michael Gove is sending out the Kings James bible. Mark Pack has just gone for 'Good News'

Mark Pack has made a brilliantly brave commitment to upload a piece of Lib Dem Good News every single day. This is where you can find it . Hats off I say and do take a daily gander. It makes you feel better about all sorts of things...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

If tuition fees work, but keep us out of government for 80 years, is that a price worth paying?

Here’s what I’m pondering.

The application figures for Universities are out and you can make the tuition fee ‘effect’ argument either way.

You can say that applications are down overall 8 %, nearly 9% in England. In contrast, in Scotland where there are no tuition fees, applications are down just 1.7%. Applications from mature students are down even more – and of course, students applying for an ‘equivalent’ degree to one they already own have to pay up front under the new regime. So the trebling of tuition fees has clearly put people off.

Or you can make the opposite argument. You can say that comparing applications to the last 2 years is a false premise because they were record years, and when you compare applications to a more normal year, like 2009, applications overall are actually up. What’s more, applications from students in the poorest 20% of household income are pretty flat, while applications in the highest 20% are down far more.  So actually the new regime is not only keeping poor students applying, but is actually promoting social mobility. Great work from Stephen Tall on this.

So let’s ask ourselves, a different question. Let’s presume for a moment that the new tuition fees regime has had a positive effect rather than a negative effect.

If that were to be the case, does that justify the shredding of our reputation and our current standing in the polls, in order to promote social mobility. If the price of devising a better scheme than existed before, which allows a better mix of society to benefit from tertiary education,  is to be labeled as liars who can’t be trusted– then is that a price worth paying?

The top line, off the cuff answer is probably yes.

But then think about it.

Supposing we never get the credit for those reforms, suffering only the reputation hit, saying one thing to get elected and another as soon as we’re in power.

Supposing we get hit in the elections. That Lib Dem councilors lose their posts all over the country, and we see Tory costs cutters or incompetent Labour spendthrifts making people’s lives worse, not better.

Supposing we lose badly in Europe and see the Eurosceptic right take our seats in Brussels

Supposing we get hammered at the next general election – hit so badly that we don’t form another coalition but instead find ourselves once again on the margins of politics for a generation. No more Lib Dem policies in government for another 80 years.

All because we agreed to treble tuition fees instead of devising a graduate tax.

I'm not saying that it will happen. But if there was a general election tomorrow - well, that could well happen.

Is that then, a price worth paying?

It’s a bit of a thought. Isn’t it?