Europhobia

I am grateful to my friend Neil for encouraging me to write more often.
My problem at the moment is not lack of things to write about, on the contrary: there is just too much to choose from.
So I’m going to roll my sleeves up and plunge in with our old friend, the EU.
My local MP (and electoral rival) Steve Baker was one of the rebels on the recent EU Referendum vote. This prompted an outpouring of support on the comments pages of our local newspaper. At least two commenters were sufficiently impressed that they pledged to join UKIP! I’m not sure that Steve would have wanted that!
Nick Clegg has recently said that Eurosceptics should be ‘careful what they wish for’ and he is right. Our economy is deeply intertwined with that of our EU neighbours, and it would continue to be so even if we withdrew. As it is, we find ourselves in the ‘outer circle’ of EU members.
The Euro crisis has been a field day for the ‘I told you so’ brigade, and not without justification. However the EU crisis is a direct result of Eurozone members failing to follow their own rules on borrowing, and not as a result of any flaw in the concept.
Before we gloat, we should take a look at the performance of Sterling since the Euro came into being. On Euro day one you would have needed 67p to purchase a Euro. Today it is 87p. That is a fairly serious depreciation when you consider how troubled the Euro is today, because we have performed significantly worse! The question we should be asking our politicians is ‘why has our economy performed so poorly compared to the Eurozone?’
The Referendum that was debated was never a serious contender. Firstly, it offered a third ‘renegotiate’ option which was far to vague to be put to the people in a referendum. You can only hold a referendum with clearly defined options. Where on earth would a win for ‘renegotiate’ have left us? Secondly, you don’t redesign your kitchen while your house is subsiding. No-one should underestimate the doldrums our economy finds itself in. As always, I believe that unemployment is the number one barometer for any economy. Unemployment is a scourge on people’s lives, and it continues to rise. That should be our primary focus. Changing the terms of our engagement with the EU would be a massive gamble – and it’s not one to contemplate at a time like this.
Frankly, I think the majority of the Tory rebels were more concerned with popularity in their constituencies than any wider principle. If they really feel that way, maybe they should defect to UKIP?

Steve Jobs

Like millions of others, I was awakened this morning by the alarm on my iPhone.

I stumble downstairs and fumble with the coffee machine – and as always launch the BBC News app to see what’s going on.

Therefore I like countless others learned of Steve Jobs’ untimely passing on one of the iconic devices that he was responsible for. It seems fitting.

I am a self confessed technology fan. I have always loved the latest gadget. Apple products polarise opinions, but you cannot deny their importance. The iPhone embodies technology for non-geeks.

Like so many of Jobs’  brain children, it is a high tech product. It’s computing power is way above that on the Apollo spacecraft. But somehow, it is so user friendly that you almost instictively know how to use it. It seemlessy integrates itsself into my life so that I cannot remember what is was like not to have my emails, news, weather, map (which knows where I am), text messages – not to mention my entire record collection in my pocket wherever I go.

Other products can do all this. But Steve’s products are so easy to use that they don’t even come with a manual. Perhaps that is what distinguishes a good gadget from a great one.

In recent years, competitors have been reduced to shameless imitation and playing catchup. the shops are full of  iPhone and iPad lookalikes. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

The man may have left us – but his legacy will be all around us for years to come. He had a reputation for being a difficult man to work for. A perfectionist who constantly sent products back to his engineers until he was satisfied. But there is no doubt that his vision for what products could and should be set the standard for others to follow.

The extraordinary talent of Steve Jobs was that he made the connected world more accessible to us all. I think his legacy will be very long.

Six Months On

Well, nearly.

The wisdom of the coalition looks more settled now. I think that this is because Britain continues to retain it’s high credit rating whilst other nations have seen theirs slide. That means that the cost of our national borrowing is still relatively low. The conundrum now is how we stimulate recovery.

It was interesting to hear Labour MPs admitting ‘past mistakes’ at their conference. It seems to me that they made one huge one. Gordon Brown once famously claimed the end of ‘boom and bust.’ In actual fact, he presided over an almighty boom which was inevitably going to be followed by a bust of matching proportions.

Successive goverments of all hues have always made the same, fundamental economic mistake: they never apply the brakes when the economy is booming. The result is that they then have to apply the squeeze when we are already suffering from recession.

Gordon Brown could have told lenders to limit credit, for example, when experts were warning us about huge levels of personal debt. He could have outlawed 125% mortages – since they were clearly an insane business model which led directly to the collapse of lenders like Northern Rock.

As a Liberal Democrat, I have to hope that the long view is that we have been acting responsibly.

Labour still have many questions to answer, and only kneejerk responses to efforts to mop up the mess.

Swept Away by the Red Tide of Protest

So, I have become a statistic. I have spent the last six weeks fighting against strong Tory opponents who have canvassed my ward and fought on local issues. It was all to no avail, as the ward was won by Labour. What is sad is that Labour did not put out any literature about local issues. Instead it was just standard, cynical ‘let’s punish the Lib Dems’ national messages. I am not alone, of course. This has happened to hundreds of decent hard working councillors all over England, and to some extent other parts of the UK.

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining, and we managed to buck the trend by getting three new councillors elected too. In fact we are still the largest opposition party on Wycombe District Council. We achieved this by one councillor, who won by one vote! This certainly goes to prove that every vote counts – a lesson there, I think.

Labour’s gloating must be tempered by their abject failure in Scotland. Surely a referendum on Scottish independence must now seem likely – and Labour will know that a Westminster majority without Scotland would be almost impossible for them.

Unseated Lib Dems must steady their nerve, however. It is quite clear that Labour is little more than a party of protest, at this time. Just as in my local District, nationally Labour has no coherent alternative vision. They are just saying, ‘vote for us because you don’t like the difficult decisions that we left for the government to deal with.’ That simply won’t wash for very long. We at least are doing a responsible job – and by and large we are doing it well under the circumstances.

If there is a lesson, it is that we need to be better at communicating what we have achieved, and continue to achieve. Last week, I met a voter who told me he was voting Labour because of all of the promises we had broken. When I asked him, ‘which ones’ he couldn’t name any! We have certainly implemented many of our manifesto pledges, and this has gone largely unnoticed. It would have been nice to implement all of them, but (a) we didn’t win the election and (b) Labour spent all the money!

So whilst I must accept my defeat with good grace, I certainly don’t feel that Labour deserved the win. But then, that’s politics for you!

Did we start too late?

…or, “please can we have the AV vote in a couple of months time?

I’m starting to believe that the tide is turning again in the AV debate. Earlier this year, it seemed as though ‘Yes’ was slightly ahead – although between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ there was a great sea of ‘Don’t Know.’ Then the Tory big bucks backed No campaign unleashed its attack dogs. Anyone wondering how the No campaign intended to justify the obviously unfair status quo was left in no doubt: by shouting misleading and downright dishonest propaganda so loudly that the undecided would buy it in sufficient numbers to swing the undecideds into the No camp through fear. But the No campaign is like the emperor’s new clothes – a veneer that is easily chipped away by fact. It’s just that it takes time. Anyone out canvassing at the moment will be aware of two things. 1. Most of non political public don’t really know enough real facts to make an informed decision. They DO know what the No campaign say about it though! 2. Most non political people are pretty fair-minded. They would prefer fairness to unfairness in our electoral system. In my experience, you can swing a lot of people just by explaining what AV really is, and why it is fairer – and importantly why it won’t actually lead to more extremists being elected or cost the taxpayer a fortune. Trouble is, most of us also have other elections to fight and a limited time per doorstep.

But I do feel that the longer the AV campaign goes on, the more people will come over to the Yes side. The frailty of the No camp’s arguments means that the don’t stand up to close scrutiny. How the Tories must have cringed as Baroness Warsi was comprehensively taken apart by Adam Boulton. That clip does more in five minutes than a Yes campaign video ever can. I also believe that the sheer nastiness of the No campaign’s vilification of Nick Clegg is beyond the pale. For Cameron to try to distance himself when his party bankrolls it is outrageous. Whatever anyone might criticise Clegg for, he has been a loyal coalition partner and deserves better. Given a few weeks, I think the public would see through the No campaign. It is treating people like fools.

Saddest of all is the limp and pathetic leadership of Ed Milliband. His party supported AV at the last election, and yet half of his MPs are working for the Tories thinly veiled ‘apolitical’ No campaign. If only Labour could wake up and smell the coffee. A strong Labour leader could get his party to support reform. Milliband is neither strong nor a leader. Labour campaigning in the local elections is so lazy, they appear to expect as of right to pick up hundreds of council seats based entirely on people’s disaffection with the Government. Their local literature is the same in every ward, and totally ignores relevant local issues. Labour is a rudderless ship, drifting – and letting the Tories and the Daily Mail set the agenda.