Observer says vote Liberal Democrat

From today’s Observer leading article:

Nick Clegg is the most instinctively European leader at Westminster. That is currently a lonely position, but the Lib Dems have a decent record of taking minority stands that are later vindicated. On the environment, on civil liberties and on the mounting debt bubble, the Lib Dems were quietly but consistently ahead of the Westminster curve.

Likewise on transparency. In 2007, they opposed the Conservative move, tacitly encouraged by Labour, to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act. The Lib Dems alone took a party line for openness.

That is worth recalling as Mr Cameron and Mr Brown engage in an unseemly scramble for reformist credentials. Also to the Lib Dems’ credit is their long-standing support for proportional representation. Of course, electoral reform is patently in the interests of a third party seeking to disrupt a duopoly, but that doesn’t make it a bad policy.

The case for the current system generally coalesces around the idea that, whatever its faults, it is a trusted old friend of stable government. But in the wake of the expenses scandal, arguments that amount to defence of the status quo ring especially hollow. And it is the expenses scandal that will decide how most Britons vote on Thursday.

While MPs from all parties are tainted, the parties themselves are not equally guilty. A credible record of support for transparency and for constitutional reform reflects well on Nick Clegg’s team.

This Thursday’s vote is being held in a uniquely febrile climate. It should be about Europe; it will be about the expenses scandal. On both counts, it is a moment to reward the principled consistency of the Liberal Democrats.

As they say in the trade, I would like to associate myself with the views of the previous speaker.

Questions about Cameron’s mortgage

Of course, he hasn’t broken any rules.

He took out the £350,000 mortgage – close to the maximum amount that can be claimed for – to buy a large house in Oxfordshire in August 2001, two months after winning his Witney seat in the General Election. By nominating it as his second home, he was able to claim for the mortgage interest payments under the now-infamous Commons’ Additional Costs Allowance (ACA).
Just four months after securing the £350,000 mortgage, Mr Cameron paid off the £75,000 loan on his London home, taken out only six years earlier.
There is no suggestion that he broke any rules. But mortgage experts say that if he had kept the loan on his London home and borrowed £75,000 less on the Oxfordshire property, taxpayers could have been saved more than £22,000 between 2002 and 2007.

The truth behind Cameron’s call for non-political female candidates

Linda Duberley is a perfect example of a non-political, independent-minded woman with great career experience outside of politics. She’s been through a great deal of screening to become a Tory ‘B list’ candidate but has been unable to get a seat to represent as a candidate – despite working very hard on the ground. Then she saw Cameron last week calling for more non-political, independent-minded women to be Tory candidates. She threw her mug of tea at the television. Here is her story.

Stuff your "wait and see", Pa Broon!

A long interview with the PM on Sunday AM. He’s looking and sounding more and more like Pa Broon in Private Eye’s “The Broons“.

At the start he did seem honest and genuine about expenses. But then, when it got onto constitutional reform the old tribal shutters came down.

When Andrew Marr talked about constitutional reforms, Pa Broon had two main deflectory tactics:

1. Yes, we need to have a debate about that.

2. We’ll have a constitutional renewal bill in the autumn.

But hang on. You’ve had twelve years to democratise the House of Lords and have a referendum voting reform, both of which had ample cover in your first 1997 manifesto! No wonder Andrew Marr joked about “kicking it into the long grass”, at that stage.

And this constitutional renewal bill seems to have the most over-blown title in the history of mankind. From what he says it is about public servants’ expenses. So, it is a Housekeeping Bill. A constitutional tinkering bill at best.

And then he said that there would be a constitutional convention. At that stage my heart stopped for a nano-second. The leopard has changed its spots! Except he hadn’t. It will be a convention of ministers, he says! For goodness sake! And when pressed by Marr and Helena Kennedy (how timely was her appearance on the sofa?!) for a citizens’ convention or at least one with cross party and cross society involvement like the Scottish one in the nineties, he said “wait and see”.

Well, stuff you Pa Broon! We’ve had twelve years of waiting and seeing precious little!

Gratuitous self-gratification

Well, why not?

Dear Andrew Rawnsley:

…If you want to maximise the chances of securing serious constitutional reform, then the party to vote for is the Lib Dems.

…David Cameron is timid when it comes to reform in Britain. He sees the objection to privileging whoever is prime minister with the ability to try to fix the race by calling an election at any time of his or her choosing. He says he will “seriously consider” introducing the fixed-term parliament. Yes, I am sure he would think about that for all of a sub-nanosecond after he had stepped into Number 10.

…One promise that I do believe from the Tories is that they will implement a sweeping redistribution of constituency boundaries to make more equal the number of voters in each seat. This will not make each vote equal in value. It will have the effect of inflating the number of Tory MPs and culling the ranks of their opponents. After a decade in which the system has been tilted against the Conservatives, they are going to make jolly sure that in future the bias is in their favour.

…The Tory seducer hopes to weaken the knees of liberal Britain with the romance of a “massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power”. What he’s most ambitious to achieve is a massive redistribution of power from Gordon Brown to David Cameron.

Conservative heavyweights lay into Cameron’s EU group move

I am delighted that David Cameron is getting some real stick about his decision to leave the EPP and side with a load of nutters. The inclusion of three former Conservative EU/EC/EEC commissioners, Lords Patten, Tugendhat and Brittan, is particularly significant.

A group of Tory grandees and former ­senior diplomats will tomorrow launch a devastating attack on David Cameron‘s flagship Eurosceptic policies, warning that they pose a threat to British influence in the European Union.
On the eve of the European elections, the Tory leader stands accused of adopting a “rigid commitment to impotence” after he pledged to withdraw from the main centre-right grouping in the European parliament.
Cameron, who will appear alongside highly conservative EU allies in Warsaw tomorrow, goes into the European elections next Thursday on the most hardline ­Eurosceptic ticket of any mainstream political leader since Britain entered the EEC in 1973.

Peer admits fiddling expenses

A fascinating admission from Lord Clarke of Hampstead:

A LABOUR peer and former chairman of the party has admitted that he “fiddled” his expenses to make up for not being paid a salary. He had even claimed for overnight stays in London when, in fact, he drove home.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead, who has apologised for his “terrible error”, is the first member of the House of Lords to concede that peers knowingly abuse their allowances to boost their income.
He said that he had claimed up to £18,000 a year for overnight subsistence when he had often stayed with friends for free in the capital or had even returned to his home in St Albans, about an hour from London.
While accepting personal responsibility, Clarke implied that the practice was common, saying: “I was given the impression – more than that – I was given a very clear steer that this was a way of getting remuneration in the absence of salary.”

..And there are further insights into the murky world of the Lords in the same article.