Stubbing out liberty

There are occasions when right and wrong are easy to define: black and white. Smoking is bad, isn’t it? Well yes, it is – and I don’t recommend it to anyone – but we need to be careful. Just because smoking is bad, it doesn’t necessarily follow that smokers are bad. Current figures suggest that around 25% of us still light up regularly – about 15 million British citizens. They are clearly not all bad people! So please, fellow liberals, explain to me why a blanket ban on smoking is so popular in our party? The vast majority of our MPs voted in favour of the ‘total ban’, without even opt-outs for private clubs – and Lib Dem bloggers have been by and large complicit in the vilification of the smoker too.

‘What about passive smoking?’, I hear you say. Fair point: I fully support the view that non-smokers should be protected from passive smoke, and should have the right to spend their lives in smoke-free air. But it is not necessary to have a blanket ban to achieve this (separate areas, air scrubbers etc, etc). It is, however, easier and simpler to write and enforce the legislation for a blanket ban. But just because a law is easy to enforce, it doesn’t automatically make it a good law.

J S Mill bequeathed us this guidance:

The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.

The truth is that 25% of us have just lost a bit more freedom to the authoritarian, nanny state tendency – and the only mainstream liberal political party in this country has been complicit.

Tale of Two Blairs

Watching the final hours of the Blair years yesterday, one could not help but be struck by the two sides of Tony Blair. It was, perhaps, fitting that the last word in the house went to Ian Paisley. For, it would have seemed incredible for much of my life that anyone could persuade Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to work together for the future peace and prosperity of Northern Ireland. But that is what the ‘patient, thorough, thoughtful, diplomatic’ Blair pulled off – and despite my opinions of Blair in so many areas, we should never lose sight of what an incredible achievement that was. It will be, and deserves to be remembered as part of Blair’s legacy.

It makes a bitter, ironic contrast with his handling of the ‘special relationship’ with the US Presidency. Blair was clearly enthralled by George W Bush, a hawkish neo-conservative who should have been politically as far from New Labour as it was possible to be. Thus followed the spectacle of a moderate left of centre British government marching to war on the coat-tails of Bush’s right-wing crusade to change the face of the Middle East. Unable to secure UN mandate, or the backing of our other allies in the EU, he resorted to a tissue of half-truths and deceptions to gain the backing of his parliament. Make no mistake, the history books of the future will have this monumental misjudgment right up there with Suez.

Now Blair is to be an envoy to the Middle East. On the basis of the first example above, one would think – if anyone can get these people talking – he can. But on the basis of the second, one doubts if the Arab world will ever be able to do business with him. I hope I’m wrong.

We are not Labour Lite

So, you’re Gordon Brown, and you’re putting together your first government after winning a tightly fought leadership campaign (OK, so I made the last bit up). You have a pretty decent majority, and plenty of experience to choose from. So what do you do? You pick up the phone to the Lib Dem leader and say ‘can I borrow a couple of your best people?’

Do what? Why on earth would you do that? Well, there are several plausible reasons, but all of them should leave Lib Dems scurrying away post haste:

  1. Gordon Brown has so many enemies in his own party, that he struggles to find enough good people that will work with him.
  2. Gordon Brown feels such enmity towards Blairites that he won’t hire anyone remotely tainted by Blair.
  3. Gordon Brown looks at the lack of talent in his ranks and realises he doesn’t have anyone of the stature of men like Paddy Ashdown, whose shoelaces most New Labour figures are not fit to tie.

But I reckon the real reason is more like this:

Gordon Brown is staring into the abyss. At the next general election, it is going to take a miracle to win another outright majority. The Lib Dems have a real chance of holding a pivotal role – one in which they could hold the balance of power. So, he calculates, now is the time to get into bed with those annoying Lib Dems. He calculates (because GB is always calculating) that if he’s in bed with us, we would be much more likely to join him in a coalition – leaving the Tories out in the cold. He’s also probably calculated that if the Lib Dems appear to be ‘in bed with Labour’, it will be much more easy to portray the choice at the next general election as a two way rather than a three way one – thus depressing our vote. Finally, Gordon’s calculator will have told him that a Lib-Lab alliance at this time would split the Lib Dems, causing us internal upheaval and quite probably resignations.

Not for the first time, Gordon Brown has got his sums wrong. For his plan to work, we would have to be more hungry for power than we are wedded to our principles. This is a grave miscalculation. If being elected is more important than your principles, you certainly don’t join the Liberal Democrats. There is still a lingering public perception that we are some kind of ‘Labour Lite’, and yet our fundamental principles are so very different. We have to communicate those differences to the public at large.

To get into bed with New Labour just as the New Labour project is sinking would be a disaster.

Not the worst logo ever…

…since that accolade can only possibly belong to the Brazilian ‘Instituto de Estudos Orientais’:


(Clue: It’s supposed to be a pagoda and a setting sun!)

But the outpouring of objection to the new Olympic 2012 logo is so great that something is seriously wrong with it. The organisers are closing ranks, claiming that the new logo is going to ‘grow on us’ and ‘evolve’. Privately, they must be bitterly disappointed with the public reaction.

They have to face up to the fact that they got it wrong. A logo that is hated so much that an online petition against it garnered nearly 50,000 signatures in a couple of days (it has now been closed) and which 85% of responders to a BBC online survey rated as ‘wooden spoon’ is clearly failing to deliver.

A logo, by definition must be liked by the majority of people who see it. A logo is an instantly recognisable symbol which we must feel proud of. A logo is one of those things in life where first impressions matter. Our first impression of this logo was almost unanimous disgust.

The organisers of the ‘People’s Games’ must respect the fact that the people hate the logo. If it is the people’s games – listen to the people! A number of people have designed their own logo for the games – and some of them are excellent. Let us vote on the best logo in a competition – and consign this ill-conceived child’s jigsaw to the dustbin.