Labour need the Liberal Democrats to survive 2015 to make sure we don’t have permanent Tory government

If the Labour Party builds up support in rural areas where the Lib Dems are strong it could lead to a long term Tory government

With 2012 being another important year of elections across the UK, with local elections in England, Wales and Scotland it could be a very difficult year for Liberal Democrats. Although it’s difficult to see that the results in 2012 could be as bad as 2011.

However, possibly because it suits the two-party consensus, the Labour Party needs to be careful not to make their own chances of running the country in 2015 to the detriment of maintaining a pluralist democracy.

Whatever the pros and cons of the Liberal Democrats joining the Coalition government if the party performs very badly in the 2015 General Election it may also make the chances of Labour running the country after that election less likely too.

Because of the nature of the Liberal Democrat advances in the 1990s and 2000s the party has naturally made gains from the Conservatives in rural areas. Only in 2005 and 2010 did the party really make advances against Labour, and only to a fairly modest degree. Consequently if the Liberal Democrats do badly at the next election the main beneficiaries will be the Conservatives – in those rural constituencies. This will only make the chances of Labour winning the election lower (if the net beneficiary of Liberal Democrat losses are the Conservatives) as at the moment the Conservatives only need a dozen or so gains to achieve this result.

I don’t blame the Labour Party for attacking the Liberal Democrats and their recent affiliation with the Conservative Party, but by building up support in areas where it will not directly benefit the Labour Party themselves, such as the South East and South West of England, it will just lead to greater Conservative representation and the chance of a return to the 1980s and almost permanent Conservative government.

Something that I would personally like to avoid.

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Is it time Cornwall started to talk seriously about devolution?

Cornwall has a major chance to decide it's own future - will it take it?

With the prospect of Scottish devolution going at least one extra step towards Home Rule or even outright independence from the UK, Cornwall should decide, like Wales, whether it wants to see greater powers come from Westminster to decide more of its own future.

The Coalition government has evangelised the concept of localism, and although this has primarily focussed around the creation of new locally elected police commissioners and more elected mayors for major cities, Cornwall has a role to play in this new deal for local government.

When Cornwall became a unitary council in 2009 many Cornish people opposed the new council rather preferring the old district/county model, however, I supported the new council as it seemed to fit in much better with the aspiration of Cornwall to have its own Assembly, although the model created had far too many councillors to have this as a credible outcome at the time.

If the Coalition is serious about devolving more powers to local control perhaps Cornwall should begin negotiations with Westminster to see what powers could be devolved, such as transport.

Many studies have shown that both the electorate and Cornish politicians want to see greater powers devolved but the process would seem to have stagnated in recent years. With all Cornwall’s MPs now being supporters of the Coalition and with the Conservatives giving Cornwall special status before the 2010 election, by creating a Shadow Minister for Cornwall (though quite what happened to this in government no one knows) this should the best time to urge both parties to deliver on greater recognition for Cornwall.

The Planning Minister, Greg Clark, has indicated that he would welcome discussions on the subject, so let’s take the opportunity whilst it is there.

Does the prospect of Scottish Independence make electoral reform more likely?

Most electoral reformers were looking the other way when Scotland elected its first majority government in the devolved age and many haven’t taken on board the importance of this shift. We were busy trying to change the electoral system on the same day. But this change could actually be one of the main catalysts for the parties south of the border to revisit the way we do business at Westminster.

The Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Greens and UKIP are committed to electoral reform but the Labour Party, whether before or during the AV referendum, has been almost equally split on the issue. But, with the possibility of the electoral mathematics being different in post-independence Britain could the combination of principle and self-interest move the Labour Party into a position where they see the benefits of electoral reform more clearly.

Although Labour has dominated Scottish politics since the mid-1960s (the last time the party did not win in terms of seats in Scotland was 1955) it has regularly failed to turn this pre-eminence north of the border into government at Westminster. However, with the Conservatives now so weak in Scotland the Labour Party have returned between 40 and 50 seats since the mid-1980s and the Liberal Democrats have also returned about 10 MPs from Scotland. Although the boundary changes at present being discussed makes the mathematics against an overall UK Labour majority worse they slightly improve if Scotland leaves the union but nonetheless this is a slightly marginal impact.

Losing 40 Labour MPs would have delivered a Conservative majority in Parliament in 2010

Do the mathematics of possible Scottish Independence make electoral reform more likely for Westminster

and the results would have looked like: Con 306 (307), Lab 217 (258), LD 46 (57) – with a Parliament of 591 seats – a Conservative overall majority of 21. So the decision Scotland makes on independence is important to England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland, as we would now have a different government if Scotland was independent.

So this major shift away from the Labour Party makes the prospect of Conservative government more of the time more likely. Does this sort of major shift in the nature of the country make it more likely that Labour sees the importance of its future policy on electoral reform? Well maybe, but the question is have our political class quite worked out that there is a genuine chance of Scotland being independent within the next five years? And this is where I believe there is a genuine level of self-denial amongst Westminster, and for that matter Holyrood, politicians. Scotland could well be on the verge of it’s the most significant constitutional change since 1707. With Alec Salmond running a popular, anti-Westminster government in Edinburgh there is a chance, without credible arguments and strong campaigning against independence, for it happen.

With this change will English and Welsh politicians come together to deliver a better way of electing Westminster as well as what Scotland decides for its own future?

I don’t like Thatcher, I’ve never liked Thatcher, I’ve never voted Conservative and I never will – but I think she should have a state funeral…

Margaret Thatcher and the debate over her proposed state funeral

As someone who lived through the Thatcher government and disagreed with virtually everything she did. And for that matter had my school milk taken away from me by Margaret Thatcher when I was just 3 years old I am possibly one of the least likely people to support the idea of her having a state funeral.

What she did to nature of British industry by laying waste to the industrial heartlands of the country and the contempt which she gave those people who were thrown on the scrap-heap as a consequence were arrogant and uncaring. Her consistent jingoistic responses to other governments made her a parody of the great leaders of the past, although to be honest I did support the liberation of the Falkland Islands from the dictator Galtieri.

So you might be surprised to hear me say that I think she ought to have a state funeral, I wouldn’t, for example, support one for any of her successors. I was going to stay silent on the subject and let the discussion around it wash over me, but I have recently received so many requests to join ‘causes’ to oppose her state funeral that I thought I ought to explain why I actually support the absolute opposite. Is Margaret Thatcher deserving of a state funeral?

There are, of course, some rather ephemeral reasons to support it, mainly that she was the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century even, some might argue, that she won the last war of empire, though I haven’t really heard this one. But, the main reason, surely, is that she was the first female Prime Minister of this country. In itself people may not think that her sex is sufficient to make her stand out to justify this high accolade, though let’s ignore the fact that generally the people who get state funerals are unelected and achieve the honour through birth rather than achievement. However, it frankly astounds me that people don’t realise the sheer bias in our political system and culture against the rise of women politicians to the summit of our government. It is, with the benefit of hindsight, possible to think that women politicians do OK now, being approximately a quarter of MPs, there are a sprinkling of cabinet ministers and we’ve had a woman Foreign Secretary and now a female Home Secretary, but these appointments occurred 30 or more years after Margaret Thatcher grasped the leadership of the Conservative  Party, against all the vested interests and misogynistic views of the time. When she became a Member of Parliament in 1959 there were only 25 women MPs, in 1975 when she became Conservative leader there were only 27 and when she became Prime Minister there were only 19. (Stats)

She has been criticised for not promoting women within government, but this hardly a credible attack when you consider there were, in fact, only 8 Conservative women MPs elected in 1979 compared to 331 men!

So her achievement, which we now look back on, was enormous. She was not just fighting the other parties, the establishment and prejudice that she wasn’t up to the job, but she was also unique. Those of us on the left of British politics would, no doubt, prefer that Barbara Castle or Shirley Williams would have become the first woman Prime Minister and that that Prime Minister had shown more feminine qualities in government. Well sorry, we can’t. I never voted for her and partly as a consequence of her my politics were cast long ago in the values of the left.

However, she was the first British female Prime Minister and she was part of the process of our country becoming a more modern nation in accepting the equality of women, and we should respect and possibly even celebrate that.

Is the return of the monocle a sign that the Old Etonian Tories are taking control or the preparations for a Labour anti-Toff campaign?

Tory fashion accessory or a cunning plan from Labour Agents across Britain - The Monocle!

Vision Express has announced that it is to start stocking monocles for the first time following a spate of young male customers requesting to buy them.

This apparently came as quite a shock to the major high street retailer who has never sold them before.

I couldn’t help but think that the boys from the Bullingdon Club and the Old Etonians (the Conservative front bench) might all be dashing out to buy them as part of the season’s must have fashion accessory.

But, then it occurred to me that with the increasingly anti-upper class tone of Gordon Brown at Prime Minister’s Question Time and of Labour campaigning it was probably a raft of Labour agents dashing around to buy a monocle for anti-Tory photos for their election literature to show a division between them and their quadruple barrelled opponents.

Only time will tell!