Mr Clegg, fairness and honesty

In the three debates Mr Clegg made much of the need for fairness. I agree.

In British General Elections fairness is at the heart of the rules and the aproach of the main broadcasters. That is why all MPs lose their jobs at the start of the Election proper, why no former MP is allowed to go around claiming to be an MP, and why all seeking election become candidates. Correctly ex MPs are banned from using Parliamentary facilities, from adopting the logo or using Commons notepaper, as that would give an unfair advantage over the other candidates.

Mr Clegg must know this, yet throughout the 3 debates he referred to himself as an MP, talked of his MP’s salary and behaved as if the rule did not exist.

Broadcasters have a rule that they must refer to all the candidates in an election if interviewing one or more of the candidates, and must seek to provide balanced coverage. Anyone of us invited on to put our party’s national case on national media knows that we should not mention our own campaign by naming our own constituency or referring to its special issues, as that would be seeking advantage not open to the other people seeking election in the same place. Yet Mr Clegg regularly referred to his home area of Sheffield.

Mr Brown and Mr Cameron did not refer to themselves as MPs and did not mention the names of the seats they are contesting.

Some may think this a minor quibble or a mere detail. I think it shows a cavalier approach to the fairness that is central to our elections.

Mr Clegg also spoke much of honesty. Yet he repeatedly referred to a tax cut he wished to offer us all, without fairly pointing out that all of this tax cut had to be recouped by tax increases, and without spelling out how all this money would be raised. He claimed the Lib Dems had set out detailed and costed plans to cut the deficit, yet the IFS study stated that around three quarters of the deficit reduction needed was not covered in the Lib Dem package.

If you wish to claim truth and fairness as uniquely your own, you need to live the brand.

Promoted by Christine Hill on behalf of John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

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31 Comments

  1. Posted April 30, 2010 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    And most dishonestly, he denied his love for the euro as it is now inconvenient. Reminded me of St Peter denying he knew Jesus “before the cock crowed”. But of course there the similarities between “St” Nick and St Peter end.

  2. Posted April 30, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I watched the whole thing. Nick Clegg came over as a shyster.
    Dear old Gordon! He looked fit for the knacker's yard!
    And David Cameron looked, and acted, like a PM in waiting.
    I can't wait!

    PS The Polls very much agree with this.

  3. Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Fair is a 4 letter word. To be fair to NC he probably hasn't got the same margin of safety in his constituency as DC and GB. He could win the leadership debates and more seats for his party and at the same time lose his constituency. He is in a sense fighting a general election and a bye election at the same time.

    In my opinion, the Lib Dem's are a politician's party. They attract opportunists from entire spectrum of British politics. Some of their policies appeal to the left and some to the right, but their only real policy is to be different to the other two. They are made up of career politician's who see their chance to be a big fish in a small pond. They know they can wield a disproportionate amount of power in what Alex Salmond laughingly calls a "balanced" parliament. So their policy is to change the electoral system in order to ensure that we are virtually guaranteed balanced parliaments.

  4. Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    John, that’s a cheap quibble on a technicality. If we are to talk about truth, taking the expenses scandal; regardless how blameless "you" were; you and all the others let it persist until found out.

    With regards to the deficit reduction, perhaps all parties need to tell the truth. Picking holes in the opposition is less effective than showing your own credibility on the subject and demostrating leadership qualities.

    Reply: No-one can reasonably say I have been shy about the deficit or the measures needed to correct it.

  5. Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Clegg came completely unstuck. He was dishonest on his own policies on the Euro, immigration and tax. Its a pity there arn't another 2 or 3 debates. If there were Clegg would drop to 3rd even below Brown as the public got fed up with his repetition and obfuscation.

  6. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Mr Clegg is one of those independently-minded spirits who think the rules do not apply to them. If he is, it does not bode well for any involvement he may have in government.

    All parties have promised fairness. It's the bafflegab de nos jours. Mr Blair's favourite waffle-word was "caring". He even hired himself an archbishop called Carey to ram the point home. May we now look forward to an Archbishop Fairy?

  7. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Clegg is a socialist in a brown cardigan!

  8. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I wonder how many of the population were/are aware of your points on protocol.

    Thought Cameron did OK last night, and certainly came across better than the other Two.

    Brown looked desperate, Clegg looked like he was lost at times.

    I must say was amazed at how all candidates lacked the ability to really get to grips, and take each other to task on the economy and make a clear case for their own argument and Policies given that they were aware of the topic of debate for many weeks.

    Perhaps we are spoiled on this site John, with your clear and concise views, which are easily understood. Or perhaps none of the three really understand how the economy and our Taxation and Benefits system works, which is perhaps why we have got in this god awful mess in the first place, and why we should be concerned for the future, no matter who wins.

  9. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    David Cameron did well last night, opening up on some good right wing policies that had hitherto been unclear and staying off the more left of centre subjects such as climate change, all female shortlists and tax breaks for families etc.

    He will in time see that right wing policies alone will appeal to the electorate and he does not need to grub around in pink politics in order to woo the middle ground.

    Thirteen years of Labour had little to do with policies and a lot to do with the Blair personality and that should not be forgotten.

    Nevertheless it must be clear now that losing this election will be the best result for the Conservatives.

    A Lib/Lab stitch-up leaves nothing at all to fear and will pave the way for a resounding win in a couple of years time.

  10. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I missed last night's episode of Foggy; Compo and Clegg; no great loss by the sounds of it. Clegg breaking the rules, can be put down to inexperience me thinks. This is very frightening for Lib Dems you know. They have never been this close to the edge with their gossamer wings. They never expected they might have to use them.

    BTW. For Redwoodians that asked elsewhere. The best explanation of factor cost GDP and government spending ratios is at the IEA see:-
    http://www.iea.org.uk/record.jsp?type=book&ID

  11. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Agreed. Their tax plans are far from thought through. I am also less than keen on all his talking about all politicians getting together to decide what to do as a group, like this is a good thing! "Why don't we just work together for once" he keeps saying. Yes, great, that's exactly what we want, for all the politicians to have a jolly good time together dividing up jobs and policy as they see fit and giving the voter absolutely no power. Is this really the new start,a consensus politics where manifestos mean nothing, the political class all works together in its own interests. Mixed in with their wish for continual coalition government in which the Lib Dems of course have power, I just can't accept that this is good for democracy or the country. It only breeds corruption and an increase in the power of the political class in my view.

  12. Posted April 30, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    The attention on LibDem policies between the first and third leaders debate put more pressure on Nick Clegg last night. David Cameron did well to highlight the LibDem policy of an amnesty for illegal immigrants and the implications of this. However Gordon Brown scored with his attack on Tory IHT proposals. I think overall, David Cameron came out on top.

  13. Posted April 30, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Nick Clegg also pushed David Cameron on the fact that his "cap" on immigration was of no effect because "80% are from European Union countries – yes or no?" (He repeated this 3 times!). This was either 'disengenious' of him or he had been wrongly briefed. Immigration from EU countries only make up 40%.

    • Posted May 1, 2010 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      You're right: actually, it has always been less than 40% according to the ONS LTIM official migration statistics (and that applies whether you look at gross immigration or net). It's a pity Cameron hadn't taken time to prepare himself for the EU migration rebuttal. You could imagine how Clegg would have looked if Cameron had turned around and said "Actually Nick, the answer is no: it's less than half the level you claim according to the ONS." That would probably have given Brown pause for thought in trying to take Cameron on with tractor statitistics too.

      Shamefully, the BBC seem to have allowed Clegg to "re-interpret" what he meant by excluding everyone except those with jobs to go to for their Reality Check programme. It isn't what he said at the time of the debate at all, which was unequivocal: "Can you now tell me, am I right or wrong that 80% of people who come here come from the European Union?"

      No Mr. Clegg. You are wrong. Moreover, if we add in illegal migrants by definition they come from outside the EU, since EU citizens have had freedom of movement.

  14. Posted April 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of status I presume a lot of ex-MPs are technically unemployed (whether signed on or not).

  15. Posted April 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I am not a man of faith but my wife is 🙂

  16. Posted April 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Can somebody please tell me what 'fairness' is? Unless I am much mistaken, fairness is not some objective concept, universally defined and accepted by all. So when politicians talk about 'fairness,' I am inclined to believe that the politicians are talking horse manure

  17. Posted April 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    JR writes: "Some may think this a minor quibble or a mere detail. I think it shows a cavalier approach to the fairness that is central to our elections."

    Miniscule when compared to the possibility that this time next week the UK may have a government elected with just a 35% share of the vote.

    In last night's televised debate, David Cameron said a Conservative government would never join the euro. Under the current 'fair' electoral system, however, there is nothing to stop him abandoning that position in a year's time (see "cast-iron" guarantees over a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty). By contrast, under PR, it is submitted that UKIP would poll around their European Election support level and thus gain Parliamentary seats ensuring any about turn on the euro could be sanctioned by UKIP withdrawing their support in the House of Commons. Surely this mechanism is more likely to check any attempt by a governments to abandon key parts of the mandate upon which they were elected.

  18. Posted April 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Clegg and his colleagues will have just been following the advice given in the national strategy guide entitled 'Effective Opposition', published by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors. This handbook recommends "be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly". It advises candidates "Don't be afraid to exaggerate" and it also says "you can secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour and similarly in a Tory area secure Labour votes by being anti-Tory." Nothing really new to those of us who have experienced their duplicity over the decades.

    • Posted May 1, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Spot on Brian. I noticed Clegg referring to himself as an MP in the first debate and thought it was just a slip – but he did it throughout. Lib Dems have no qualms at all about bending the rules in elections. They do indeed act shamelessly. The idea of Lib Dems being fair and honest is a joke. Clegg made a big play in the first debate about MPs who had made a capital gain on homes they had bought and sold while in receipt of a public allowance for housing costs. (Did no Lib Dem MEP or MP do that?)

  19. Posted April 30, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    This election looks like it may well highlight the unfairness of our current electoral system. The Conservative party will have the opportunity to show that it understands fairness by how it tackles electoral reform. At the moment, it does not look good as the plan seems to be to change the constituency boundaries in favour of Conservatives and against Labour, whilst doing nothing to redress the far more unfair quota of LibDem and smaller party representatives.

    I think David Cameron would be underestimating the British public if he thinks they will not notice the duplicity. The 'Big Society' idea is purported to be putting power into the hands of the people. If David Cameron is not willing to trust the people by allowing them to elect who they want, how can we take him seriously about relinquishing power to the people?

    • Posted May 1, 2010 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      The current constituency boundaries work unfairly to Labour's advantage – particularly because of small electorates for "heartland" constituencies. The Boundary Commission is supposed to be a neutral body that does not confer advantage on any party, although some might argue that party representations from Labour to the Commission when the major re-drawing happened in the 1990s tended towards gerrymandering – in part because they were not counterbalanced by effective submissions from others. Any changes in boundaries should in fairness militate against Labour.

      This election looks as though it may result in Labour becoming the third largest party by votes, with the LibDems overtaking them. They should analyse the results and put their case for boundaries. More balanced voter populations across constituencies has to be a big improvement on the current position. LibDems should now be thinking of being the real, dominant official opposition, or government in their own right – not staying as a fringe protest vote party.

      One of the interesting features of the LibDems at present is that they cover a broad church from the socialist Cable wing through to the more moderate Clegg wing. That is a positive sign for a party that seeks to be taken seriously – a narrow agenda has a narrow appeal. An inherent contradiction is that were they to secure PR, the party would actually split into factions, and never be in a position to make its mark on the country. Look at what PR delivered in the Euro elections, where LibDems came fourth. Split, the resulting parties might get fewer votes than BNP and the Greens each.

    • Posted May 1, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      First past the post and fair constituency boundaries will do fine. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

      The present constituency boundaries are biased against the Conservatives for two reasons. First, declining populations in Labour strongholds. Second, the numerous requests made to the Boundaries Commission by the then Labour opposition while John Major was – as in so many things – asleep at the wheel.

      • Posted May 2, 2010 at 2:03 am | Permalink

        Remember that it was the LibDems who were under-represented in the 2005 electorate, not the Conservatives. Fiddling with constituency boundaries cannot fix this.

        If you want an electoral system to appoint members who effectively refelect the view of the electorate, the current system is clearly badly broken already.

        Since it is broke, let's fix it.

  20. Posted April 30, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    FROM: Ian Pennell

    30th April 2010

    Dear Sir John Redwood

    I would just like to express my heartfelt relief that our Leader, Sir David Cameron did well in the final All-Important TV Debate on trhe Economy. He produced a strong and robust argument for the Conservative case. When you see him, I would like you, Sir to pass on my Congratulations to him!

    All that remains now is for us to re-double our efforts in the last days of campaigning, all Conservative Candidates must be careful of what they say between now and Election Day. One gaffe can be disastrous, as Gordon Brown himself has now discovered!

    Best Regards for the rest of the Campaign

    Ian Pennell

  21. Posted April 30, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I see that Mervyn King has similar feelings to those that I have expressed on these pages. That the next party in power will be banished for generations owing to the savagery of the cuts which are needed.

    Brown has largely succeeded in his mission. His instinctive hatred of Britain and its people is clear and will further manifest in chaos and destruction which will last for decades… and all the blame will tipped over the heads of the incoming Tories because of the economic and social timebombs he has been laying.

    So. You may as well be the nasty party on all manner of subjects if you get in. That would be the best thing for Britain right now. Not being the nasty party would be the worst thing.

    And give us our referendum on the EU.

    Whether you like what we think is not the issue. We deserve our say.

  22. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Staggered that Paxman let Brown say that the points system restricts immigration from outside of Europe, this is complete nonsense, the most obvious example being intra company transfer visas which are TOTALLY OUTSIDE THE POINTS SYSTEM and allowing unrestricted influxes of workers (and their families) from outside of Europe

    Anybody can come in, simply follow the following strategy

    1) Set-up an international company (you can buy one off the shelf for buttons)
    2) Hire the folk you want to bring in at the home location
    3) Bring them into the UK on intra company transfer visas
    4) Get them extensions to the visa
    5) Apply for indefinite leave to remain

    (Lots of people are -ed) currently being moved into the UK using this method, outside the points system, its not very complicated,……… All these folk brought in and subcontracted into our large companies for less than Brits can afford to work for. And once they gain indefinite leave to remain they drop salaries because there is oversupply of workers. No British grads are being hired in IT or Telco as Indian grads with a years experience (not very skilled really) are preferred, and this means in a very short time there will be no middle or senior ranking Brits available so it is self fulfilling that we will have to import Indian nationals.

    So the talking tough from Brown is nonsense

    Paxman should have said this

  23. Posted May 1, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I'd just like him to be honest on his Europe, Euro and immigration policies. That would sink him.

    We can do it for him. How about "Vote LibDem and be like Greece."?

  24. Posted May 2, 2010 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    You raise some interesting points Mark. If you look at the figures for the 2005 General Election you can see how much it favoured Labour, but also that the system did not greatly uder-represent the Conservatives on that occasion.

    Vote share: Labour 37%, Conservative 33%, LibDem 22%
    Seats won: Labour 55% Conservative 31%, LibDem 10%

    There are three main reasons: (i) general movement of population from urban to more rural areas; (ii) lower turnout in Labour constituencies; (iii) the fact that Labour voters are concentrated in specific areas (as are Conservative voters).

    (iii) has by far the greatest effect.

    If you test any of the online tools for judging how many seats parties would be expected to win according to vote share you will see that the Conservatives do not need to increase vote share by much in order to get a disproportionate share of the MPs with the current system even without changing constituency boundaries.

    I believe the Boundary Commission are only concerned with equalising the number of electors in a constituency. We would not expect them to be trying to gather together similar groups of political supporters, but rather trying to recognise existing community boundaries. If you are honest, you must see that the main losers in 2005 were the LibDems and not the Conservatives and that the Boundary Commission are not able to set constituency boundaries which gather together LibDem supporters to correct this.

    You may be right that PR would not favour the LibDems, but is this really relevant? A good system will reflect the preferences of the electorate accurately. Anybody standing as a candidate to be an MP is pitching to represent his or her whole constituency. If I hear a candidate using an argument about what electoral system is good for their own party rather than how well it reflects the wishes of the electorate, I lose trust in that candidate, whichever party they are standing for.

    David Cameron argues that we should keep the FPTP system because it enables us to vote out the government. He is wrong in thinking so. It is quite conceivable that Labour could end up with the most seats without while having the fewest votes of the three big parties. A PR system would not allow any such thing so Cameron's argument misfires completely. He further argues that there is more accountability with the current system. Again, he is wide of the mark as in "heartland" communities as you put it a sitting MP will always get elected so cannot effectively be held accountable, but there are some PR systems which would do this. With the current FPTP system the de facto selection process for two thirds of MPs is not the election but the selection of the candidate. Needless to say this is only open to a select group of party members, not the electorate as a whole. Cameron is also disingenuous when he suggests that PR removes the constituency link. He is well aware that there are many PR electoral systems which preserve the constituency link.

    If Cameron pushes forward the electoral changes he is currently arguing for, i.e., in party interests rather than the country's interest, I think people will recognise it and it could be the start of him losing the trust of the electorate. And as we have seen with Tony Blair's loss of trust over misleading us over the Iraq War, it is not something you can expect to win back easily.

    I think he should admit that the current system is broken and work with the LibDems to fix it. He will have to do a lot of unpopular things if he becomes PM and will be accused of being unfair with many of the choices he makes. Allowing a referendum for a good PR system would be both fair and popular.

    • Posted May 3, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      I think you are being insufficiently ambitious for your own party. It has the opportunity over the next 2-3 years to replace Labour as the dominant party to the left of centre. A FPTP system tends to encourage the formation of major "broad church" parties, where minority views can actually get a representation. Such parties are in effect already coalitions. Would a narrow Tory party have found a place for anti-foxhunting Ann Widdecombe alongside squires from the shires? A PR system tends to result in fragmentation of parties, and often excludes representation for minority views under a minimum quota system. It can all too easily result in a minority having undue influence. Would you really want to see the BNP hold the balance of power in Parliament?

      We are going to need clear government to face the difficulties of the next few years. It may be that things become so bad that we see an echo of the national government of 1931. What we can least afford is the bickering, procrastination and horse trading that comes with PR. We do not have that luxury. LibDems should be working on becoming a responsible and mainstream party, not trying to preside over the death of our nation.

      • Posted May 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        You misunderstand me. Firstly, I am not a member of any political party and do not seek a fair voting system in order to benefit any political party. I think you also misunderstand the Liberal Democratic party. They are not trying to replace Labour. If people wanted to do that they would do better to just join the labour party and try to change it from within. LibDems are trying to appeal to a broader spectrum of people and this is their downfall with the current system as their vote is spread too evenly.

        I frequently hear the "bickering" argument and it is beginning to annoy me. I will explain why. When a government has a strong majority, there are always internal factions who try to gain ascendancy. Remember back to the days when the Conservatives were split along Europhile and Eurosceptic lines. Bickering behind closed doors was a way of life within the party at the time. And did the electors choose to elect a europhile or a eurosceptic? Typically not. What are my current Conservative candidates views on Europe? I have no clue because he is careful not to reveal them and if I want to vote Conservative I have no say whether my candidate is a europhile or not anyway.

        It would be far better to have a system which enabled you to indicate your preference even between members of the same party. It would be in the parties interests to put up candidates which reflect both views and let the electorate decide. The best types of fair voting systems allow the electors to do just that. As it happens, the favoured LibDem system (STV in multimember constituencies) is just such a system.

        I find it really depressing that most candidates shy away from expressing their own personal views on anything which isn't the party line. They even try to avoid talking about certain issues altogether. Europe is an issue which is carefully being avoided by all the major parties in this election.

        Another commonly used argument is that parties such as the BNP could hold the balance of power in a fair voting system. Let us suppose that the Conservatives had 45% of the vote and they could gain a majority by joining forces with the BNP who have 6% of the vote. Clearly there would be other parties who could also provide the additional 6%. It would be the Conservative party's choice who they talk to to try to form a majority and why would they choose the BNP? We would expect better of them.

        You also have to consider the type of MP you get when you have safe seats. An MP who is able to take his constituents for granted. My MP has not even responded to my email about his views on electoral reform. He probably judged that I wouldn't vote for him anyway so why bother.

        Ask not what an electoral system can do for your party. Ask what it can do for the country.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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