Friday, 6 May 2011

Some thoughts on the LibDems election results

Most of the results are in for the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the English Councils. The results are, to put it mildly, disappointing for the Liberal Democrats.

I wish to make three observations.

1) The LibDems did much worse in Scotland than in Wales. The figures for the elections to the devolved assemblies since 1999 are as follows:

While the LibDem vote in Wales was down about 30% on 2007, in Scotland it was down over 50%. There are probably various reasons for this difference, but I have a hunch as to what the main one was. While the SNP had a very good election in Scotland, Plaid Cymru had a poor one in Wales. In other words, disaffected LibDem voters in Wales looked at the alternatives, and while some did go to other parties, principally Labour, none of the alternatives looked particularly attractive, so the LibDem vote held up reasonably well. In Scotland, by contrast, the SNP looked very attractive, and so disaffected LibDem voters deserted to the SNP in droves, but few, it seems, went to Labour. The SNP have managed to make themselves very attractive across Scotland in a way that Plaid Cymru have never succeeded in doing in Wales.

2. The basic electoral problem the LibDems have is that they are part of a coalition government, and the unhappy electoral consequences of this seem to have come as a bit of a shock to many LibDems.

The Telegraph had a headline that read "Local election results: Lib Dems doing worse than 1980s." Actually, the 1980s were fairly reasonable times for the LibDems and their predecessors in the SDP / Liberal Alliance. Even if they didn't do particularly well in local government elections, in the general elections of 1983 and 1987, they did better than they have done in any elections since, and better than the Liberals did in the four elections of the 1970s. The Telegraph headline, in other words, is misleading in that it gives the impression that the 1980s were bad times for the LibDems.

The truth is, as those with long memories may recall, that the most awful time for the Liberal Party's electoral fortunes in the past 40 years was the Lib-Lab pact between March 1977 and March 1978. In a succession of by-elections, the party had dreadful results, and these were universally attributed to the fact that the Liberal Party was involved in an association with the Labour government, and was punished for its association with that government. The benefits of ending the pact were shown when the Liberals won a spectacular victory in the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election in March 1979.

One hesitates to say that history is repeating itself, but what is happening to the LibDems at the moment is remarkably similar to the events of 1977-78. There is another similarity. Those were years of economic austerity - the government had been forced to go to the IMF for a loan in 1976.

The LibDems should not be at all surprised at the collapse in their share of the vote in the last 12 months. They should have seen it coming.

(I might add that the evidence suggests that for the LibDems to be part of coalition administrations in local councils or devolved assemblies in Cardiff or Edinburgh does not seem to have the same negative electoral consequences.)

3. I find Nick Clegg's blaming memories of the horror of the 1980s for the poor performance of the LibDems rather strange. He has been quoted as saying ''For many families in those parts of the country especially, there are also some very strong memories of what life was like under Thatcherism in the 1980s and somehow a fear that that is what we are returning to.''

This sounds like nonsense to me. I don't think it has anything to do with memories of what life was like under Thatcherism in the 1980s. It strikes me as much more likely that many LibDem voters just couldn't stand the thought of supporting a Tory prime minister, and many of those who were able to accept that, just couldn't cope with the concept of cuts in government spending.

But even more basically, I remember what life was like under Thatcherism in the 1980s. After the fairly tough opening years, it was actually better than life under Labour in the late 1970s. Is Mr. Clegg (who was born in 1967) really too young to appreciate that?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Osama bin Laden, the Archbishop, and Magna Carta

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has recently said that he was uncomfortable about the way that Osama bin Laden was killed.

According to the Daily Telegraph, when asked at a press conference whether he thought the US had been right to kill bin Laden, he initially declined to respond, but later replied: "I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances."

I must confess that while my concerns are not exactly the same as the Archbishop's, my belief in due process ["Due process holds the government subservient to the law of the land protecting individual persons from the state. When a government harms a person without following the exact course of the law it constitutes a due process violation which offends against the rule of law." (Wikipedia)] does make me somewhat uncomfortable with the whole business.

According to clause 29 of the Magna Carta, which is, I understand, one of three clauses still in force in English law,
"NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right."

OK - I know that Osama bin Laden was not an English Freeman, and that it is generally accepted that he had committed mass murder of hundreds of innocent people, and that what he got was exactly what he gave to others, and was what he deserved, and that it could be said that this happened in the course of fighting a war, and that he was, apparently, resisting arrest.

That last fact, of course, is the key. He was resisting arrest. Had he surrendered, he would have been taken alive. Hence, the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, said:"Let me make something very clear, the operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful. . . . If he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate."

Does the fact that he was resisting arrest mean that it was appropriate to kill him? Not, in an of itself, it doesn't. Not in the United Kingdom, nor in the USA. Shooting him dead could only be justified if it was done in self-defence, i.e. if he was a threat to the life of one of the Navy Seals. Resisting arrest does not justify shooting dead a suspect, even if he is a mass murderer.

However, as the Archbishop pointed out, he was unarmed.

Which is why I too, am uncomfortable. I am realise that the US Attorney General knows much more about the law than I do, but it does seem to me that very little effort was made to follow due process.