Daily archives: May 16, 2010

Thoughts From the Lib Dem Conference

The atmosphere of the conference was fascinating – most definitely not triumphalist, but sober and determined. There was a general view that we are heading for a period of unpopularity, but that we are doing the right thing in constructing a government.

Having paid attention to about 70% of the speeches, I am still of the view there was no earthly reason to have the deliberations in secret.

There was a general air of surprise at just how much the negotiating team had gained in policy commitment from the Tories, but combined with a strong undertow of distrust of many of the Tory figures in the government. Successive Lib Dem ministers promised they would make the Tories stick to their commitments.

I an increasingly of the view that in the negotiations the Lib Dems, being natural policy wonks, were concentrated on getting policies on paper, whereas the Tories were pragmatically unconcerned about what was on paper, but rather determined to get their people with their hands on all the main levers of power. There is a danger that Lib Dem ministers will be disconnected gears.

The conference passed a whole series of amendments reaffirming the Lib Dem commitment to policies including eventual abolition of tuition fees – and no increases – and PR. All the biggest cheers came for attacks on New Labour’s appalling civil liberties record. Simon Hughes made the best speech of the day.

The coaliton agreement was passed overhelmingly – I would estimate by about 1,000 to about 30. I voted for it, and was much comforted in that by the fact that old friends like Tony Greaves, Richard Moore, Alistair Carmichael and David Grace did so too.

Meeting old friends was the best bit of the day. It was great to talk with Richard Moore again – he was a key influence on the teenage Craig Murray, and his passion for human rights and democracy in the developing world has not been dimmed by his 79 years. He made a rousing speech, which included the observation that any “rainbow coalition” would have been in hock to the bigots of the DUP.

I spent a most enjoyable half hour sitting at the back of the hall with Alistair Carmichael, making silly jokes and giggling as though we were students again. It was hard to remember he is now the government deputy chief whip – and I think he relished the chance to forget it for a few minutes.

As always with party conferences, it was what you learnt in the bar that was by far the most interesting.

The negotiations woth the Tories on reform of the House of Lords are worrying. The Tories are insisting on “grandfather rights” – those now in the House of Lords, or a large percentage of them, will remain members until they die. Including those new Lords about to be appointed by the parties. They also propose that elected members of the House of Lords should serve a twelve year term. I’ll say that again, a twelve year term. Worryingly the Lib Dem negotiators seem inclined to go along with that ludicrous proposal.

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That 55% Rule

Last night several senior Lib Dems tried to explain to me this strange proposal about 55% of the Commons being needed to bring down the government. I think the argument went that it only needed 50% plus 1 to bring down the government, but would need 55% to dissolve parliament. Or it may have been the oher way round.

I can see that dissolving parliament and bringing down a government are clean different things. Fixed term parliaments was a chartist demand – indeed they wanted annual ones. But the current abiity of a Prime Minister to call a general election when it best suits them plainly hands an unfair political advantage to the executive. So I have always supported fixed term parliaments of four or five years. But then even 100% of MPs, let alone 55%, should not be able to change the term and call an election when they feel like it. The term should be fixed and the MPs should have to get on with it – as in most democracies.

As for bringing down a government, plainly by definition a government which loses a confidence or supply vote, being opposed by 50% plus one members of the House of Commons, does not enjoy the confidence of the House and should fall. If you have a fixed term parliament you then need a different governrnent drawn from the same House.

Of course, we have a sovereign parliament. If a parliament votes for a 55% threshold, there is no means of enforcement. A future parliamentary vote, even if carried by precisely 50% plus one, to abolish the 55% threshold, would abolish the 55% threshold.

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Cyber Attack

Yet more cyber attack problems. Here is a look inside my comments editing page.

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Mmmm – when I click on the link I get the page with full functionality. I do hope that’s only me!

I had already deleted hundreds of these nonsense comments this morning. The interesting thing about them is that they do not give any message, do not attempt to sell anything and do not contain any links to other sites. Their sole purpose is to overload and crash the site.

They are of course running on an automated programme, but the quetion is, was this blog targeted for a denial of service attack, or is this simply a nihilistic attempt to crash anything at random across the web?

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