Friday, 30 November 2007

Nick Clegg's lecturing - when and where?

No one has contradicted the information I was given that Nick Clegg’s degree was a lower second (see my posting on 26 Nov). If that was the case, then here’s a puzzle. His constituency website states: “Nick stood down from the European Parliament in 2004 and lectured part time at Sheffield and Cambridge Universities.” That seems to mean that in 2004-5 Nick had part-time lecturing jobs at both of those prestigious universities. I find that surprising, if he only had a lower second, in view of the intense competition for academic jobs. However that may be, the Royal Society of Arts’ website, advertising a lecture given by him, states – presumably based on a briefing from his office - that he has been “a part-time lecturer at Sheffield University and a guest lecturer at Cambridge”, which is different. And the Independent, reporting the Clegg leadership campaign launch on 19 October 2007, stated that Clegg was a part-time lecturer at Sheffield University in 1996-99 but with no mention of lecturing there in 2004-5, nor any mention of lecturing at Cambridge at all. Spotting inconsistencies is a habit I've acquired from the day job. So: when was he a part-time lecturer at Sheffield University? Was he a part-time lecturer at Cambridge University or a guest lecturer, and when? How did part-time lecturing differ from guest lecturing? Can someone clarify the facts please?

Monday, 26 November 2007

I receive leaflets

The three leaflets I have had from the Clegg campaign devote a lot of space to listing his backers, who are his main asset. This listing resembles a medieval procedure (called compurgation) whereby a defendant would get a dozen freemen to swear he was a good bloke, as distinct from dealing with whether the allegation was in fact true. They are largely the same group as only 19 months ago backed Ming Campbell, none more vehemently than Clegg himself (see e.g. Guardian 20 Jan 06). By last month their support had melted away.

The other feature of Clegg’s leaflets that struck me as a bit of a waste of space was his denunciation of the Japanese WW2 prisoner of war camps. Surely this is motherhood and apple pie stuff. Who – in any party – would disagree?

In one of the leaflets Lord Ashdown was quoted praising Nick Clegg’s intellect. He may be right, but this claim makes me wonder whether it is true that, as I have been told, Clegg’s university degree was a lower second - which after such an excellent school education seems a bit disappointing - and if so, what is the explanation. Exams aren’t everything, but they are something, and I would like to know. (Brown, Cameron and Huhne all have firsts.)

An intense, watchful cat

I enjoyed this comment in Saturday's Times piece on Huhne: “He would not fall for any of our tricks because he knows them all, and more: interviewing Mr Huhne is like circling an intense, watchful cat that seems perfectly friendly but is probably quite dangerous.” I liked the fact that the writers had - correctly, I believe - detected a quality that, very relevantly for this contest, would mean that Brown and Cameron wouldn't dare take their eyes off him in case they got a mauling.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Audit reveals Government business incompetence

The business incompetence of the Ministry of Defence and the Labour Government is put in the spotlight by a National Audit Office report on the 2003 privatisation of the defence technology business QinetiQ.
Initially there were seven bids for QinetiQ valuing the business at between £450 million and £600 million. The private equity firm Carlyle purchased a 37.5% stake for £42 million. That valued QinetiQ at only £374 million. That was in 2003. The value of the stake rose to £372 million.
How did this happen? The NAO press release states: “Carlyle were appointed as the preferred bidder in September 2003 despite price sensitive issues still being outstanding. This turned a competitive process into one of negotiation.” To rephrase that, once the other would-be buyers were ruled out, there was only one person left in the saleroom – a situation any self-respecting business person would exploit, and Carlyle did. The situation was made even more favourable to Carlyle by Treasury pressure for the sale to go ahead. Carlyle bargained the price down following negotiations concerning QinetiQ’s pension fund deficit and the Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA). The NAO states, “the commercial value of the LTPA was not fully understood”. The mind boggles.
(By the way, why was a UK defence technology business sold to a US firm?)
The report also reveals that the MoD made up to 20 per cent of the equity available to management and employees in an incentive scheme, but did not seek specialist advice on the scheme. Apparently the top ten managers (former civil servants) negotiated the incentive scheme with Carlyle while it was still bidding for the business. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me, but with no one on the Government's side properly safeguarding the taxpayers' interests, the managers seem to have run rings around the MoD, as they acquired shares worth £107 million by the time of flotation in 2006, from their initial investment of a paltry £540,000. That is over £200 for every £1 they invested. Chairman Sir John Chisholm got shares worth £26 million and Chief Executive Graham Love shares worth £21 million.
This Government will eventually sink by the weight of its own incompetence.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

This time, get it right

I do not hold Nick Clegg responsible as head of Ming Campbell’s leadership campaign in 2006 for the false, and damaging, claim made by telephone canvassers that none of Chris Huhne’s former colleagues in the European Parliament were supporting the 2006 Huhne leadership bid. (In fact, three Lib Dem MEPs were supporting Huhne.) Equally, I do not hold Huhne responsible for the “Calamity Clegg” tag used in a briefing document sent out by someone in his team.
So let’s back to what’s important, which is this: the Tories must crush the Lib Dem vote if they are to regain power. In order to do that, they must destroy the Lib Dem leader. And they will do their darnedest to. They thought, rightly or wrongly, that they could do that while Ming Campbell remained leader; they even regarded his leadership as a Tory asset. The Tories are a ruthless power machine.
Therefore, we now need a leader who avoids pitfalls, is steady under fire, is, in a word, tough.
Which of the contenders fulfils that need? In TV interviews and hustings during the last few weeks, time after time, Huhne has remained cool under fire, while Clegg has not. This is no nine days’ wonder. I have observed Huhne from the sidelines for many years. He is always well briefed, always clear, always focused. He doesn’t make mistakes. He can be charming and persuasive, but can be lethal in debate.
Clegg is intelligent, charming and able. But he is not yet tough, or not tough enough. He is only 40 and he has not faced adversity. He is not ready to be leader.
Huhne is the heir. He knows the Lib Dems through and through and is the right man to lead us at this time. He should have won in 2006. I was right then, and I’m sure I am right now. Mark my words.

Friday, 16 November 2007

European Parliament adopts climate change goals

I welcome the announcement that the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) MEPs are fully behind ambitious goals adopted by the European Parliament in yesterday’s resolution on the EU strategy for the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference. The EU has a vital role here that overshadows all grumbles about the drawbacks of membership. And I am relieved, but not surprised, that na├»ve economic liberal opposition to any market intervention, even to correct market failures in respect of environmental damage, has lost the argument.
ALDE coordinator on the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on Climate Change Lena Ek (Centerpartiet, Sweden) commented that the situation was “critical” and that “Ambitious goals are absolutely necessary.” She also stressed the importance of forests and the need for sustainable forest management.
ALDE-member Vittorio Prodi (Margherita, Italy), TCCC Vice-Chair, said that we would have to decrease our CO2 output drastically and in order to do that: “we may have to consider more radical suggestions that allocate a number of carbon emission rights per individual. A system like "One person, one emission right" may be necessary in the near future."

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Clegg on school vouchers - the evidence

Did Nick Clegg endorse school vouchers or didn't he? Well, the evidence that he did is rather strong. Not only Rachel Sylvester in the Telegraph on 29 October but also self-confessed Clegg fan Jasper Gerard, writing up an “exclusive interview” in the Observer on 21 October, state that he did.
Gerard writes, quoting Clegg: "'I want a sense of empowerment on a daily basis for people accessing health care and good education.' Well that's clear. But he differs from free marketeer Tories in that 'having lived in Europe and had children born in hospitals in Europe, they have a far greater sense of equity in health and education. It is not like a supermarket but the patient, pupil or parent has entitlements which the provider of services has to meet.' So according to his 'pupil premium', parents would be given a voucher to spend in their preferred school; but while a flaw in such schemes is often that the savvy middle class pack the best schools, Clegg would increase the value of the voucher for the needy - making the poorer child a more attractive proposition to good schools.”"
So there we have it. Unless Jasper Gerard and Rachel Sylvester were both wrong. which seems improbable, Nick Clegg expressed approval of school vouchers for parents. But the Lib Dem "pupil premium" concept is extra money that goes to schools for each pupil they take from a deprived background.
It seems pretty clear that Nick Clegg (1) did endorse school vouchers for parents and (2) either did not understand or did not like the "pupil premium" idea which is not Clegg's idea but that of the Federal Policy Committee's policy working party chaired by Baroness Barker. And a brilliant idea it was.
I find all this rather discouraging.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

If Cameron is Clegg lite...?

The comment that “Cameron is Clegg lite” troubles me a lot, especially because Nick Clegg said it himself.
Lite is a low-calorie, slimmer, weaker, more dilute, more basic, version of the original. The converse of lite is heavy, full strength, even “classic”. If Cameron is “Clegg lite”, what is the full-strength version?
With Nick Clegg, if you turn the sound off, you see someone who looks like Cameron, without a doubt. The similarities of age and physical characteristics between the two men are not something Nick Clegg can do anything about; but I wish he would give the way he dresses and his hairstyle a makeover, to make himself more distinct from Cameron. It would be a miscalculation to think that being easily mistaken for Cameron was an electoral asset. After all, Sir Winston Churchill deliberately cultivated an unmistakeable appearance; being short and bald didn’t matter at all.
More importantly than appearance, if you close your eyes, what do you hear? In January 2006 Matthew D’Ancona wrote in the Telegraph, apparently quoting from Nick Clegg: “He does not think that "clobbering middle England is the solution to our problems either economically or politically"”. D’Ancona added: “In an interview last September - long before Mr Cameron had said he would never endorse an insurance-based health service - Mr Clegg was warning that "it would be really, really daft to rule out any model from Europe or elsewhere" and that "breaking up the NHS is exactly what you do need to do"”. The implication that Clegg talked like Cameron was clear.
The Telegraph perceives Nick Clegg as like Cameron. In May 2007 the Telegraph comments page said that Clegg was: “a free marketeer with a commitment to localism. The Left-wing activists distrust him, but that perhaps is no bad thing.”
Last month, again in the Telegraph, Simon Heffer wrote: “Mr Clegg is felt to be more of a "Tory" than Mr Huhne. This is not just because he once worked for Leon Brittan, but because his belief in traditional liberal values of the sort adopted by Margaret Thatcher in her economic programme is thought to be rather strong.”
In January 2006 Nick Clegg told the Daily Telegraph that “slightly callow packaging and re-packaging” had been “the hallmark of David Cameron's leadership of the Conservatives” and that Cameron had been engaged in “rather hollow, presentational manoeuvres”. Absolutely; but if Clegg wins the leadership election, I hope his own style of leadership will not just be a heavier-gauge version of that.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Court will hear challenge to halting of BAE fraud inquiry

Three cheers for Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Irwin, who have given two pressure groups - Corner House Research and the Campaign Against the Arms Trade - permission to seek a judicial review of whether the Serious Fraud Office's decision to stop its inquiry into the BAE Al-Yamamah arms deal was lawful. The decision to be reviewed was taken last year when the Government made the SFO drop its investigation into the huge deal to provide military aircraft and equipment to Saudi Arabia in 1985. Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, said that the investigation was threatening the UK's national security. I understand it is not denied that huge sums of money were paid by the MOD to a member of the Saudi royal family in relation to the deal.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Sands, Huhne and Trident

In an article on the Guardian website on 5th November Philippe Sands states: “…the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Harrogate rejected a ballot effort calling for the abandonment of Trident. Instead, the conference narrowly voted in favour of a resolution calling for a delay on the Trident decision.” Oddly enough, in that debate in March (as well as in literature distributed beforehand), the Lib Dem leadership strenuously insisted that the amendment to the main motion (the “ballot effort”) did not call for the abandonment of Trident but for its retention until it rusted to bits. I thought at the time that this was not what the amendment, fairly and properly construed, meant, but the accusation that the amendment was “flawed” and “badly drafted” seems by repetition to have become the current wisdom. Who is right: Sands or the leadership?
Sands goes on, in his article, to claim that the “minimum deterrent” that leadership contender Chris Huhne favours as one of two alternative options after the 2010 talks under the 1968 Treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (“NPT”) – the other option being no renewed system of nuclear weapons if there is a genuine improvement in the international environment - “raises serious problems with the NPT”. Huhne said that he did not intend to replace Trident, but if it were imperative to do so other delivery options would be considered with a smaller nuclear warhead than the UK’s current warheads. According to Sands, Huhne “appears to have adopted a policy in support of enhanced targeting that would bring the United Kingdom into conflict with its obligations under the NPT”.
The main problem I have with Sands’ criticism is that the NPT is not and has never been concerned with delivery systems (missiles and so forth): it is concerned with what they deliver – the nuclear warheads (the bombs). Hence the UK would not be a breach of the NPT if it acquired new delivery systems. Whether their targeting was better or worse than that of the present missiles would not be within the scope of the NPT.
Sands also writes: “Developing a new range of smaller nuclear weapons…would enhance the UK's nuclear deterrent, rather than diminish it” by tending to increase the prospects for the use of UK nuclear weapons, by establishing a tactical capability where none previously existed. He argues that this would be contrary to the “commitment to pursue a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies, as agreed by the parties to the NPT in 2000.” Thus according to him a proposal – such as Huhne’s – to replace the UK's existing numerous and enormously powerful nuclear warheads with a minimum number of less powerful ones would be a breach of the NPT. Leaving aside what the “commitment” in 2000 was and what effect it has, the conclusion seems startling, so is there a flaw in the argument? I think so. Sands slips in a tacit assumption that the Huhne proposal involved a shift in security policy towards greater willingness to use such weapons. But that is plainly not the case: certainly the Huhne manifesto says nothing of the sort.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

From bad to worse in Pakistan

President Musharraf has declared a state of emergency and fired the chief justice and other senior judges. Commentators say he has done so to prevent the Supreme Court from delivering a ruling that as a military officer he was ineligible to stand in the recent presidential election. Why is Pakistan such a mess, yet neighbouring India manages to keep its democracy together despite a population of over a billion?

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Congratulations to Claire Kelley

We Lib Dems have been rightly criticised for not selecting more women for winnable seats. But today for a change some good news - I am delighted to learn that the membership of Lib Dem-held Harrogate and Knaresborough have selected Claire Kelley to contest the parliamentary seat when Phil Willis stands down. Hearty congratulations, Claire.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Chris Huhne's Trident Policy Stands Up

The Trident system has three parts: the missiles, which are American-owned, the 192 warheads, which are British-made and owned, and four British Vanguard-class submarines that carry and fire the missiles. Chris Huhne, if I understand him rightly, thinks there is no convincing case for replacing the Trident system with a system of equal capacity. So the preparatory work now being carried out on a new generation of submarines can be cancelled.
As I understand his views, Chris Huhne does not advocate scrapping Trident now because he is not a unilateralist. However, Trident has a finite life, and he thinks a replacement system of equivalent scale and performance to Trident is unnecessary in relation to the threat, its expense is unjustifiable and it would mean technical dependence on the United States which should be avoided. He thinks that we should decide in 2010 after the next round of disarmament talks between either having no renewed system, or having a minimum deterrent.
I gather it has been suggested that a minimum deterrent would be nearly as expensive as replacing Trident and would have to be land-based but from information I acquired as a member of the Trident Working Group I do not believe these criticisms are sustainable. In the event of failure of the 2010 disarmament talks, even if the UK’s current nuclear weapon stockpile were dismantled the UK could assemble small fission weapons quickly using plutonium from the stockpile of about 70 tonnes at Sellafield, much of which comes from reprocessing fuel from the Magnox reactors in operation since the 1950s. The UK would continue to operate nuclear powered submarines whether or not Trident was replaced so it would only need to purchase a delivery missile from the US or France or alternatively use aircraft.