Call this a proper debate? oh do grow up

We’re used to pretty poor media coverage of political debates in this country but we’re barely a week into the  EU referendum campaign and  barrels are already being scraped.

‘all the interest, plainly, is in the intellectual and political battle  within the Tory party.’ declared the Sunday Times Leader today, if we needed any clue as to what our diet was going to be from the anti-European press for the next four months.

The Dave vs Boris sideshow may be light entertainment for political geeks and lobby journalists but to misappropriate The Smiths that Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.

Did the rolling news coverage of Boris’s ‘tussle with his conscience’ rather than his tussle with his hair leave anyone watching feeling more and informed about the forthcoming vote?

I’ve seen more serious discussion in the press about an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians than this crucial debate.

This referendum is about the future of our country, not the future of a divided Conservative party as Nick Clegg rightly said in the House of Commons.

If standing on a wet and windy high street in Yeovil on the #StrongerIN campaign stall has taught me anything, it’s that the vast majority of people  would rather contemplate their shoelaces than engage me in conversation about their views on the European Union.

Whilst I spoke to a good number of people who were keen to express their support for our campaign and there was the expected “We’re an island” from a few vocal outers they were all outnumbered by the disinterested, the unaware and the apathetic.

If the media continue with framing the debate as old school chums having a disagreement in the tuck shop then it’s hardly surprising we’re seeing the current levels of apathy,

Apart from a few notable exceptions,  the debate about whether we leave or remain in the European Union has  been dominated by old men which makes research by the LSE that Women are almost twice as likely to answer ‘Don’t Know’ in most EU referendum polls. self-fulfilling.

Hardly a day has gone by without another sexagenarian breaking his temporary silence to lecture younger generations that they know best.

Just picking a choice few from both sides of the media coverage, we have been treated to Nigel Lawson, David Steele, Michael Howard, Alan Johnson and Peter Mandelson giving us the benefit of their wisdom. That’s five men with a combined age of 361 given air time whilst at the same time millions of 16 and 17 year olds who will be affected most by the result are denied a vote in this referendum. The Nigel Lawson’s of this world can rest easy that they won’t be around to face the consequences of their misrepresentation.

With the media having a chance to finally present the British public with properly presented debate, if the last week is anything to go by they’ve blown it.

BBC Question Time is probably no longer a good benchmark for sensible debate as the producers seem more intent on developing conflict rather than reasoned argument 

‘I’m so glad we’re having a proper debate!’ Giles Fraser on Question Time on Thursday without spotting the obvious irony that there was no proper debate being presented.

He was joined by Julian Fellowes the creator of Downtown Abbey, himself an unelected member of the House of Lords and a man who makes a living selling shows about an England that hasn’t existed for over a hundred years, chimed in urging the audience to leave the EU over rules “we’ve never voted for”.

We have a long way to go in this debate. 116 more days to be precise.
Adam Boulton wrote in his Sunday Times column

‘The entire UK is being plunged into a referendum it never really an attempt to sort out a local difficulty among Conservatives.

 Judging by this week’s media coverage it will be up to those of us who are actively engaged in our communities to inject some reality  into this debate and to work to ensure that the voices of those currently excluded are heard and everyone exercises their right to vote in this referendum.

Nick was right this debate is about the future of our country and not the future of the Conservative party.

For the sake of the millions of ordinary people who will have to live with the outcome it’s up for us to effectively make the case for staying in the EU, online and offline, because the right-wing media definitely won’t.  


In politics, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that really matters

What do the choices Tories, Labour and Lib Dems made this week on cuts to tax credits say about them?

Days after the election Nick Clegg gatecrashed an informal meeting of new Lib Dem members and others in a cellar bar in Westminster.

Nick Clegg speaking to new members after 'gatecrashing' the event.

Nick Clegg speaking to new members days after the General Election on May 7 2015.

“Never ever let anyone questions the motives of the Liberal Democrats… we did the right things in government.” It was an important message because power without an underlying motivation is not worth anything.

Things we achieved: the pupil premium; Raising the tax threshold’ Shared parental leave – all things “liberal” Tories are now desperately
trying to claim credit for.

Things we were stopped from doing: changing our broken voting system and reforming the House of Lords – wrecked by Labour purely to create embarrassment for Lib Dems rather than for reasons of principle.

Before the general election Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander were ridiculed by the Tory Press Office for warning that their £8bn worth of cuts to welfare would hit the working poor’s tax credits, yet despite their public denials, that’s exactly what they were planning. What we have seen laid bare is political cowardice and chicanery of the worst kind.

As objections to tax credits from well-respected think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation mounted, self-styled compassionate Tories felt compelled to speak out, almost as though they too were hoodwinked by their own manifesto.

This left opposition parties with a choice – deliver a fatal blow to tax credits by whatever means possible or simply delay the decision to harm children and families.

Even in coalition Lib Dems held a consistent position, savings were necessary to mend the broken economy but measures which pushed to poorest into poverty had to be resisted by all means possible.

Yet, when Jeremy Corbyn’s new way faced its first serious political test, Labour sat on the fence on tax credits and its behaviour was indistinguishable from the abstentions on the welfare bill his supporters viewed as the work of discredited red Tories.

Tim Farron has shown astute judgement in his choices as Lib Dem leader (on the welfare bill and the refugee crisis to name two) but unlike Labour’s position on voting and Lords reform in the last Parliament it is not based on opportunism. They are positions Lib Dems have held consistently when in government and opposition.

Quite simply, Labour are not behaving like a serious opposition party. They have swallowed Tory threats about constitutional conventions and crisis. Even their own leader in the Lords called this ‘parliamentary bullying’.

If Labour can’t stand up to the Tories in Parliament how can they claim to stand up for British people in the country at large? That is not an opposition

Sadly tribal politics prevents Labour from doing the right thing; for too many Labour members tribalism trumps fairness.

As Baroness Northover tweeted at the time:

With Corbyn’s opposition by crowdsourcing replacing opposition by principle, Labour cannot decide what they are for let alone what they are against because it depends each week on his email inbox. They can no longer be trusted to hit the Tories where it hurts – in the division lobbies.

In an uncertain world, people look for leaders and political parties that show consistency and coherence in their positions.

I campaigned for the Lib Dems in the general election. It was clear that on the doorstep in Lib Dem/Tory marginals that voters were satisfied with what the Coalition government was doing.

They were conditioned into thinking voting Tory meant getting fiscal competence, protection of the vulnerable and all the other nice liberal things. It’s not surprising therefore that many of these voters, like the woman on Question Time a few weeks ago, now feel betrayed.

In politics, as in life, integrity shows through in individual actions – it is what you do, not only what you say.

When people ask us on the issue of tax credits, what did your party do – we Lib Dems can be confident our party did the right thing.

Here’s one of my favourite bands Chvrches covering ‘What Do You Mean?’ by Justin Bieber – as a good an instructional on Labour in opposition as I’ve seen: “you wanna go to the left but then you turn right?”