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Today’s Guardian carries an article by Charles Arthur entitled ‘Did the Tories and Lib Dems live up to their 2010 tech manifesto pledges?

In usual Guardian preachy style, Arthur offers up a scorecard. At least, he calls it a scorecard but there are no scores on it – merely a commentary. One or two of his observations bear closer scrutiny.

On scrapping ID cards, he offers the following bizarre criticism of the commitment in the Conservative manifesto, failing to even acknowledge that it was also in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto:

‘There were no ID cards to scrap. No national ID register was set up.’

Oh?

It must be an alternate universe where The Guardian reported on 27 May 2010:

‘The 15,000 identity cards already issued are to be cancelled without any refund of the £30 fee to holders within a month of the legislation reaching the statute book.’

Or where The Guardian on 10 Feb 2011 showed images of Damian Green shredding hard drives with the caption ‘Minister helps destroys the national identity register’.

If he could be arsed to read the Annual Report and Accounts of the Identity and Passport Service 2010-2011, he would see that it cost taxpayers rather a lot of money to scrap a scheme that apparently didn’t exist. (Note 2a on page 41 if you are really interested – which incidentally suggests the figure of cards issued wasn’t 15,000, as reported by The Guardian.)

Arthur makes the following disingenuous statement about the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act:

‘The use of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) by councils to spy on people was forestalled to some extent, but the coalition tried to introduce an extensive surveillance act in July 2014 – leaning on RIPA – that outraged privacy campaigners, especially in the light of the Snowden revelations over surveillance by GCHQ and the NSA of internet communications.’

Arthur misrepresents what actually made it to the statute book, using the weaselly form of words ‘tried to introduce’, whilst failing to report any of the safeguards that were secured by the Liberal Democrats and reported in – guess where? – The Guardian on 10 July 2014:

Those measures that could prove crucial in the longer term include:

• The “tip to toe” review of Ripa, the foundation stone of the surveillance state, to be completed by 2016, could prove particularly potent in ensuring that such state snooping in the name of counter-terrorism and serious crime is brought strictly under control. Debate is still going on whether it should be an “expert review” led by David Anderson, the counter-terror law watchdog, or a joint committee of peers and MPs.

It will issue an interim report before the general election on whether there are sufficient privacy safeguards in the post-Snowden age and whether there should be a major shakeup of the oversight regime for the security services.

• The creation of a US-style privacy and civil liberties board to ensure that civil liberties are a foundation stone of counter-terrorism legislation, rather than an afterthought. Bolstered by annual transparency reports from the state agencies, it could be the alarm system that the current oversight regime has failed to provide. It will effectively be a major expansion of the current one-man role of David Anderson.

• The appointment of a senior diplomat to lead discussions with the US government and companies to establish a new international agreement for sharing data across boundaries is also significant. This would smooth the way where US wiretap laws conflict with UK Ripa laws but also could provide a way of expanding the existing mutual legal assistance treaty rather than a “snooper’s charter” that sees British ministers issuing demands that US companies hand over ever more personal data on UK citizens.

This is a major package, albeit rushed, that will shape how we live and work in the digital world. It may just “safeguard the existing position” – these powers have been in use in Britain since 2009 – but it also provides an opportunity to introduce some civil liberties elements that up until now were missing.

Funny how there is no mention of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board by Arthur, perhaps one of the most significant legislative developments as far as surveillance goes. This is the body that The Guardian itself described on 16 October 2014 as one of ‘several embryonic cautiously hopeful signs’ in the wake of the Snowden affair – and was duly legislated for this year. A more constructive use of column inches might have been to challenge the next government to put those provisions into action.

In specific criticism of the Liberal Democrats Arthur claims there was no Freedoms Bill – omitting entirely to visit the Protection of Freedoms Act from 2010-12. If you care to look at the Act and Arthur’s criticisms, you will see that a substantial number are addressed.

Ros Taylor, former editor of guardian.co.uk/law described the Protection of Freedoms Act as a ‘a small but significant piece of legislation’:

‘This assortment of measures was intended to allay fears about DNA retention, CCTV, police and local authority powers and a number of other infringements of individual liberty (including, and very laudably, the right of men convicted of buggery to have their conviction disregarded).’

Where can you find Taylor’s comments? In The Guardian on 10 May 2012.

Arthur also states that ‘Fingerprinting of children continues, but parents can opt out of having their children take part.’ Our manifesto commitment – which he quotes just before – said ‘stop children being fingerprinted at school without their parents’ permission’. I struggle to see how what we did is inconsistent with what we committed to.

I am proud of what my own party, which has civil liberties at its core, achieved during five years of government with less than 60 MPs out of 650. Critics should remember: we were in coalition with a party that isn’t known first and foremost for its whole-hearted embrace of civil liberties, following thirteen years of a Labour government that had no regard for personal freedom and made us one of the most surveilled countries in the western world.

I have no problem when someone wishes to challenge the record of parties in government. I have no problem with someone who wishes to challenge me as a Liberal Democrat on my party’s record.

However, when readers rely on ‘quality’ newspapers to be informed, there is no excuse for such shoddy and misleading journalism in a paper that proudly boasts to the world that it won the Pulitzer prize for journalism in 2014.

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The election was little more than two weeks ago, though, in truth, the astonishing developments of recent days make it feel like half a lifetime has passed.

This weekend is the first since before the start of the campaign that I have had a moment to catch breath and reflect on the incredible and exhausting roller-coaster of emotions that has carried me through the last few weeks. I am still struggling to get my head around a moment in history that has taken the party to which I have devoted most of my adult life from being the second party of opposition, fighting against media expectations of annihilation, through the incredible highs of Nick Clegg’s performances in the television debates, to the shock and dismay as we lost seats, and, finally, after careful and determined negotiations, on an extraordinary journey into government. Not at any moment had I envisaged the highs and lows of the last seventeen days, nor the conflict of emotion, loyalty and reason that has tested me and many, many party members.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I have never been backward in offering up frank criticisms of the Conservative Party. At the risk of offending “socialist” colleagues (I use the term advisedly these days), I have long mischievously regarded the Labour Party as merely a hundred-year anachronism that, hugely significant in its impact on the politics of the twentieth century, is merely the upstart younger brother of a progressive Liberal tradition that has a far longer and richer history as a counter-weight to the political and societal inhibitions of Conservatism. With that as my starting point, the idea of a coalition with the Conservative Party was never something I had entertained, instead attaching my instincts in terms of coalition in a balanced parliament situation to the romantic notion of a realignment of the left and a partnership with a Labour Party looking to rediscover its sense of purpose.

I use the term ‘romantic’ quite deliberately. That sense that Labour were the natural partner of the Liberal Democrats paid scant regard to the illiberal and authoritarian reality of thirteen years of Labour government, but owed more to my admiration for the integrity of leaders such as Paddy Ashdown and Menzies Campbell who sought the prize of a realignment of the left in order to usher in a new era of liberal reforms. That emotional detachment from political reality governed many of my initial reactions to the General Election result and the truly baffling parliamentary arithmetic delivered by a cynical, angry public to the political class.

Despite an illegal war (yes, it was illegal), huge incursions by the state into our private lives, the threat to traditional British rights such as trial by jury, repeated failure to deliver on reform of the Lords and our electoral system (even though these were manifesto promises), the running down of our rural communities and the ruin of our agricultural industry, the bankrupting of the nation’s finances, and complicity in the ruin of confidence in our Parliament, Labour somehow still felt a more appropriate partner for government. However, listing these abject failures, just as I did in the pause for thought that was created by Nick Clegg’s commitment to allow the party with the greatest mandate to seek to form a government first, forced me to recognise that the political instincts of the Labour Party, still nominally progressive, are as far from my own and my understanding of my party’s as are those of the Conservative Party. More importantly, from the point of view of attempting to come to terms with the political and economic reality of 2010, the Labour Party is exhausted and broken, uncertain of what it believes or what sort of party it should become.

By contrast, the Conservative Party revealed a confident capacity to subordinate expectation, objectives and tradition to the practical necessity of negotiating with its erstwhile political opponent – qualities that had clearly escaped the observations of many commentators who saw minority government as its only route to power. If I am being completely honest, they are qualities that had escaped me, also, my ready preference to hide behind (well-founded!) tribal prejudices proving that I did not know the party I had been campaigning against as well as I liked to believe.

The outcome, a Coalition Agreement and a Coalition Government which sees Liberal Democrats at every ministerial level, is a genuinely radical attempt to confront the challenges facing the country and, in its composition, demonstrates a commitment from both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party to making this arrangement work.

Knowing how many of my fellow party members share my instinct, I am proud at the way the Liberal Democrats both locally and nationally have responded to the challenge set by the electorate. That there was such considered acclaim for the agreement at the special conference convened to provide an opportunity for members to discuss the Coalition Agreement does not detract from the hard questions the party asked itself. We fully recognise that a new and tough challenge will be to promote ourselves as a party of government, making clear the very real impact that having Liberal Democrats in government will have on people’s lives.

Of course the proof of the pudding will be in its eating at the end of this Parliament and the extent to which the Coalition has delivered on its clear commitments. However, the ambition is tremendous and a high benchmark that has the potential to reconnect the public with politicians and provide a real opportunity to break open the old ways of doing things. The list on which this Coalition is determined to deliver includes things I never seriously believed I would see in the programme of a single government: fixed term parliaments to end the game-playing of sitting prime ministers; an opportunity for the country to decide on voting reform, jemmying the crowbar of preferential voting into our creaking and unrepresentative electoral system; reform of the House of Lords; an ambitious plan to green our economy; a Freedom Bill to roll back the powers of the state; huge investment in the schooling of the country’s poorest pupils; and the raising of the income tax threshold to help those on the lowest incomes.

Most of all, this Parliament provides a uniquely important opportunity for all those supporters of electoral reform: to demonstrate that pluralist politics can work and that the national interest is served by a strong and distinctly Liberal voice in government.

Despite the colourful, passionate and necessary rhetoric of the election, my own emerging understanding of this unprecedented situation is that coalition cannot be founded on our deeply-held prejudices as politicians, but instead has to be grounded in an objective assessment of how best to serve the national interest in all its iterations, however personally troubling the accompanying journey might be. I believe Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats and David Cameron’s Conservative Party have made just that assessment, setting aside instinctive and fundamental differences to establish a coincidence of interests to best serve a tired, cynical, yet hopeful public.

I wish them – us –  every success.

And I look forward to pressing the case for Liberal Democrat achievements in Government against robust challenges from both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in five years’ time.

You can read the Coalition Agreement, approved by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party 11th May 2010, here:

You can read the Coalition’s Programme for Government, published 20th May 2010, here:

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Below is a pictorial representation of the projected share of the vote, based on the latest You Gov polling data for 2nd May (34% Tories [blue], 28% Labour [red], 29% Lib Dems [yellow], 9% others [green]):

Below is a pictorial representation of the number of seats that these percentages would translate into, using the BBC’s seat projector:

That’s 264 Conservative MPs [blue], 267 Labour MPs [red], 90 Liberal Democrat MPs [yellow] and 29 others [green].

Look carefully at those two charts and those two sets of figures.

That’s right.

More British citizens could vote for the Liberal Democrats than for the Labour Party. More British citizens could decide they would rather see Nick Clegg leading the country than Gordon Brown. Yet, when it comes to the translation of votes into seats, the Labour Party could receive almost three times as many seats – all because of the vagaries of our electoral system.

Can you imagine if this were The X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent?

Would we sit quietly by and accept that we could all cast our votes but the final result could bear no relation to how those votes were cast? Of course not. The switchboards would be jammed. The internet would be crashing. The tabloids would be screaming about fixes and fiddles.

This isn’t The X-Factor. This isn’t Britain’s Got Talent. It’s far more important.

This is the future of our country. Those who are elected will make the laws that determine how we live our lives. Our electoral system fiddles the result.

Isn’t it time we got a little angrier?

Discuss…

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Further to my post earlier today on the dark machinations of the Barclays-Murdoch-Rothermere media establishment, it would appear that the media mischief continues.

The Daily Mail has been caught out by sharp-eyed web-watchers, rigging its online debate  poll against Nick Clegg. It appears that as the Mail’s debate poll was showing a colossal lead for Nick Clegg, someone took the decision to pull it and start over.

Check out this blog post here for a more detailed account. Pay particular attention to the screen shots and remember you can never trust a word you read in the papers of these desperate men…

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“He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—‘The horror! The horror!’”

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

The sudden surge in support for the Liberal Democrats was accompanied, predictably, and properly, by increased scrutiny of the party and its policies.

However, until the television debates, breaking up the self-serving establishment consensus between Labour and the Tories on the one hand, and Fleet Street’s finest on the other, was not regarded as a real likelihood in any election. The balance of probabilities afforded the mainstream media the opportunity to to relax into complacent clichés about the Liberal Democrats, from gentle teasing about beards and sandals to attempts to portray them as out of touch loonies.

Nick Clegg’s clear and robust presentation of the Liberal Democrats’ key proposals has put paid to both those tired canards – and the likes of the Barclays, Murdoch and Rothermere are now in a blind panic for two reasons. Firstly, Cameron, their favoured son, is not walking it, despite the combined might of their media empires and Labour’s dismal record in Government. Secondly, they have woken up to the fact that they have absolutely no handle on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, and the grass roots-led political insurgency that is threatening to take this election out of the clutches of the press and hand it back to the voter. (And if anyone believes that rumours of political interference are exaggerated, remember Murdoch’s explicit admission of political editorial control in his newspapers.)

Their panic became very clear in the headlines of the last forty-eight hours.  The Telegraph screamed sleaze in 9/11 point headlines about donations that were properly accounted for and properly spent, insinuating that Clegg had pocketed the cash. (Amusingly, the subsequent debunking of this particular untruth revealed that Clegg actually paid out more money than he received.) At the same time, the Daily Mail attempted, outrageously, to slur Clegg with Nazi allusions. (The hypocrisy of the Mail is breath-taking – you may remember their “outrage” when they attacked Chris Huhne for  condemning William Hague and the Conservative Party for the Tories’ European associations with right-wing homophobes and climate change-deniers.)

To what extent are we to believe Tory denials of involvement in any conspiracy to smear Nick Clegg?

Not at all, if Nick Robinson is to be believed. He wrote on his blog last night:

“I now learn that political reporters from the Tory-backing papers were called in one by one to discuss how Team Cameron would deal with “Cleggmania” and to be offered Tory HQ’s favourite titbits about the Lib Dems – much of which appears in today’s papers.”

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a brutal analysis of man’s duality and the conflict between the idealistic projection of civilised values and the savage reality of desperate men. If Nick Clegg on a resurgent Liberal tide is the Barclays-Murdoch-Rothermere Establishment’s nightmare vision, then yesterday’s headlines are the result of his media henchmen attempting to fulfil the political equivalent of Kurtz’s scribbled instruction: “Exterminate the brutes!”

Perhaps this is what lay behind the showdown at the offices of The Independent, when Murdoch’s son, James, and News International stooge Rebekah Brooks (formerly Wade), stormed in carrying copies of the Independent and its wrap-around advert proclaiming “Murdoch won’t decide this election – you will.” One experienced journalist described the episode as being “like a scene out of Dodge City”. Very interestingly, the Guardian reports that the Indy showdown was preceded by a meeting between the Murdoch and Rothermere camps.

They should beware.

Those who remember Conrad’s book, or are familiar with its allegorical Vietnam War reinterpretation Apocalypse Now, will know how this story ends: with Kurtz’s isolation precipitating a descent into a destructive madness of self-obsession and self-aggrandisement, rendering him even more irrelevant to the world around him.

Life in the political wilderness and isolation from political civilisation destroying these faux-mythical beasts of the media Establishment?

As Michael Wolff writes of Murdoch’s flailing around: “this is one way for empires to end”.

Let’s hope.

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Robert Maynard Hutchins once opined that “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”

As this General Election began, there was every chance that it would be just another painfully lingering stage in the atrophication of our politics. Even those of us who have been a part of the reforming insurgency for years have felt alienated from our own political processes, disenfranchised by constitutional arrangements which have advantaged a cosy establishment deal for sixty-five years. For decades we have been told by the Labour and Conservative parties what our democratic choice is. It is a political narrative that has been reinforced by a media establishment that, as David Yelland rightly pointed out on Sunday, has become indistinguishable from those two old parties.

The television debates have changed everything.

By giving Nick Clegg the exposure that the Liberal Democrats have sought for years, they have shown that there is a credible third choice. They have revealed, comprehensively, that the Liberal Democrats can survive appropriately intense levels of public scrutiny, outside of the exhausted – and exhausting – monologuing of Brown and Cameron.

However the debates are only half of this extraordinary political story.

The Rage Against The Election Facebook Group is symbolic of the other.

The debates have combined with the democratisation of comment through mediums like Facebook and Twitter to demonstrate exactly why Labour and the Conservatives were right to fear offering choice to voters: people want to make their own minds up.

Voters are sick to the back teeth of smug politicians ignoring their fears and concerns, whilst abusing expenses paid for by the taxpayer.

They are no longer prepared to be told how it has to be.

Labour and Tory politicians, and their media conglomerate friends, have always been very quick to scoff at the idea that people are interested in subjects as dry as reform of the way we vote. Very late in the day, and terrified of the implications of a huge surge in support for a reforming third party, they are now waking up to the fact that, in an era where people expect there to be clarity, logic and fairness in the decision-making process, the electorate are far more sophisticated than they had hoped. Even more terrifying for parties that have thrived on being able to control the political message, they are terrified that people now have the tools to express their anger.

I wonder what that anger will look like if the creaking constitutional arrangements that inform our decrepit voting system fail to reflect their wishes?

Tom Stoppard once wrote “It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting.” He could not be more right and Vernon Bogdanor, writing in today’s Telegraph, shows how comprehensively our electoral system could fail an electorate that is determined to change the way in which politics is done in Britain. The Conservative manifesto proclaims support for the system on the basis that “it gives voters the chance to kick out a government they are fed up with.”

Oh yeah?

As he points out, on current projections, “In some polls, Labour is pushed into third place. But, through the quirks of the electoral system, the party could still win the most seats…”

People are not stupid. More over, as Stoppard identified, it’s the counting that matters.

The fundamental misjudgement that commentators make is to think that people, particularly young people, are disinterested in voting.

They are not.

They are disinterested in a rotten and unrepresentative politics that ignores them.

In fact, young people are some of the most savvy, discerning and committed voters, doing so on a regular basis. Crucially, the vehicle for their engagement, like the debates, is television. And worryingly, for Brown and Cameron at least, they expect the result to reflect how they vote.

Remember the reaction to allegations of vote-rigging on X-Factor and Big Brother?

If Labour get least votes, but end up with most seats, I can’t believe their won’t be fury  at what could only be described as constitutional vote-rigging. Just as importantly, the Tories’ defence of the status quo, that has served them so well in the past, will be demolished by an absurd and outrageous political reality.

Vernon Bogdanor asks “Is first-past-the-post on its last legs?”

Even before May 6th, Rage Against The Election suggests the answer is a damning yes.

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Along with the anger that has been unleashed by the election, as witnessed by the Rage Against the Election Facebook Group, is a huge amount of creativity from artists wanting to express their anger at other parties or their support for the Lib Dems. Here are a few of my favourites:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To see many, many more, take a look at the photos on the Rage Against The Election Facebook Group.

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