LibDem Politics

The Top 50 Most Influential Liberal Democrats 2017

15 Sep 2017 at 21:00

Each year I convene three panels to compile lists of the Top 50 Liberal Democrats, the Top 100 People on the Left and the Top 100 People on the Right. Each list is published to coincide with the three party conferences. This is the tenth year I’ve been doing this and despite two referendums and two general elections in the past three years the pace of change is, if anything, increasing – perhaps not surprising, given the stresses of Brexit and a hung parliament.

The Liberal Democrats have demonstrated the frenetic nature of politics today probably more than the two other parties, with no less than a third of the names on the list not featuring on last year’s. Out goes Tim Farron and his team after a deeply disappointing election campaign, fatally undermined by Farron’s failure to deal with the gay sex question, together with Labour’s ability to portray itself as simultaneously pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit. Still, at least the departing leader has an increase in seats, together with a surge in membership to a record level, to his credit.

And Farron remains popular with the grassroots, so he stays (just) in the top ten of our list. But the biggest movements are of course amongst the new leadership team: naturally Vince Cable shoots straight to number 1, closely followed by the party’s first woman Deputy Leader, Jo Swinson, at number 2. Others who were lined up to work on his leadership campaign (had there been an election) have climbed up or appeared for the first time: Tom Brake (now the only Commons survivor of the 1997 intake), Lib Dem peer Dee Doocey, advisers Chris Bones and David Howarth, veteran activists Duncan Brack and Mark Pack. Straight in at number 11 goes by-election victor Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park for only six months, and Cable’s new chief of staff, despite not even being a party member three years ago. Such are the opportunities available in a small party …

The other main group of new entrants, or re-entrants, are of course the party’s new MPs, some returning after their 2015 defeats. Watch out in particular for Layla Moran, new MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, the party’s first-ever female BAME MP and, judging by the number of conference fringe meetings she’s addressing, already a conference darling. The main Liberal Democrat speakers on Europe and Brexit – Tom Brake, Sarah Ludford, Catherine Bearder, and, now out of Parliament, Nick Clegg – also show perform well. And straight in at number 5 – the highest new entrant – is former MP Nick Harvey, now filling the (probably thankless) task of party chief executive.

The Lib Dems still, however, lack stars recognisable in the outside world; most of the names here will be familiar only to party activists. But Cable has had a good start in terms of media appearances (and he’s published a novel), and the return of some coalition ministerial talent should help. If the new leadership is canny enough to navigate the shoals and torrents of Brexit, and exploit the divisions all too evident in Labour and Tory ranks, the party still has a future.

1. (+15) Sir Vince Cable
MP for Twickenham, Leader
Vince Cable won the leadership unchallenged but journalists will continue to speculate how long he will last. Will he give up the leadership mid Parliament? My guess is, don’t bet on it. He will define the LibDems as a pro European party but success will depend on whether he can rebuild the LibDems’ dwindling local government base.

2. (+27) Jo Swinson
MP for East Dunbartonshire, Deputy Leader
The leader in waiting, Jo Swinson has had a quiet time since taking over the deputy leadership in July. A feisty campaigner, she will be no doubt touring the country but she ought to build a very prominent media profile. The LibDems have been a very male dominated party and it’s her task to counter that perception.

3. (-1) Nick Clegg
Former Leader
He may have lost his seat but Nick Clegg is still very popular within his own party, and is one of the party’s most recognisable faces. He is concentrating on fighting Brexit and his new book, out next month, will give him an even higher profile on the issue.

4. (-1) Sal Brinton
Sal Brinton has been a very unifying figure at a difficult time for the LibDems. An inveterate gossip, she makes it her business to know what’s going on in the party and to calm people down in times of crisis. She identified the ‘Farron problem’ before most others.

5. (REENTRY) Sir Nick Harvey
Interim Chief Executive, LibDems
Having failed to win back his North Devon seat at the election, few expected Nick Harvey to return to the political fray. However, the party needed a new face to run it day to day and as a well-known and respected figure he will carry much more weight than maybe some of his more non-political predecessors have done.

6. (+6) Tom Brake
MP for Carshalton & Wallington, Exiting the European Union Spokesman
Omnipresent on the media, Brake is one of the party’s most reliable, if not most exciting, performers. Even though he has only a dozen MPs to herd, being LibDem Chief Whip is never an easy job. Popular with the party’s press officers because he’s willing to go on any media outlet on a difficult wicket at the drop of a hat.

7. (-) Kirsty Williams
Former Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
She stood down from the leadership in Wales after losing all the LibDem seats in the Welsh Assembly apart from her own. She is now, however, the only LibDem in a position of power, having accepted a place in the Welsh Executive Cabinet – hence her high position in this list.

8. (-2) Willie Rennie
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Avoiding wipeout in last year’s Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 counted as success in LibDem terms. Much of this was due to Rennie’s unexpectedly good performances in the TV debates. He built on this and in the June general election the LibDems gained three seats north of the border.

9. (-1) Lord Newby
Lib Dem Leader in the House of Lords
Given the LibDems’ strength in the House of Lords and likely impact on the passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, Newby will have a crucial role to play. He also coordinated the party’s 2017 manifesto. A calm, urbane man, Newby is an underrated media performer. Expect to see a lot more of him.

10. (-9) Tim Farron
MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale, Former Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Tim Farron will remain an important voice in the Liberal Democrats. His party never completely took him to their hearts, especially in Westminster, where he was the subject of several whispering campaigns. In 2015 the party needed a rabble rouser to take over and they got one. Maybe if he’d had the full five years he could have made more of an impact.

11. (NEW) Sarah Olney
Chief of Staff to Vince Cable
Having lost her Richmond Park seat after only six months in Parliament, Sarah Olney might have disappeared from view, but in early September she was recruited to run Vince Cable’s office. Having no long background in the party, it’ll be interesting to see how she handles all of the conflicting demands on a leader’s office.

12. (-8) Norman Lamb
MP for Norfolk North, Chair of the Commons Science & Technology Committee
Norman Lamb fully expected to lose his seat in June but didn’t. He then had to decide whether to challenge for the leadership. He didn’t. Still a widely respected voice, especially on health issues, he is now chair of the Science & Technology Committee. Also possibly the most Eurosceptic LibDem in Parliament. Not a high bar to cross, it has to be said.

13. (-4) Alastair Carmichael
Former Scottish Secretary, MP for Orkney & Shetland
Formerly very close to Tim Farron, it will be interesting to see what niche Carmichael carves out for himself in this parliament. He has bounced back from his encounter with the Standards & Privileges Committee and remains a popular figure in the party.

14. (REENTRY) Ed Davey
LibDem MP for Kingston & Surbiton, Home Affairs Spokesman
It had been widely thought that Ed Davey would stand against Vince Cable for the party leadership but in the end he decided to put his family first. If Cable flounders, expect Davey to lead the opposition to him. In the interim, he will be seen as a wise owl figure, but crucial in the struggle to re-establish the Liberal Democrats as a viable parliamentary party.

15. (NEW) Layla Moran
LibDem MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, Education Spokesperson
The party’s first-ever female BAME MP, and appropriately for the Liberal Democrats someone who went to school in Brussels, Layla Moran has already been tipped as a future Liberal Democrat leader. This isn’t quite the kiss of death which it is in other parties, and with her deep interest in science and education she is likely to be a major figure in the party’s future – provided she can hold on to her seat.

16. (+2) Phil Reilly
Director of Communications for the Liberal Democrats
All round nice guy, Reilly has made the transition from being one of Nick Clegg’s Press team to taking on the whole comms role for the party. He has really grown into the role and commands respect from all those who encounter him. Devout West Ham fan.

17. (+3) Shaun Roberts
Director of Campaigns & Elections
Having returned to Liberal Democrat employment after a spell working for Which? just before the Brexit referendum, Shaun has barely had chance to catch breath in his role. He’s overseen the return of the party to successful Parliamentary by-election ways – first winning a fierce internal debate over taking Witney seriously (securing a huge swing as a result) and then the dramatic victory in Richmond Park. The more modest general election result, however, means the jury is still out on whether his attempts to modernise the party’s campaigning will turn out to be successful.

18. (+3) Duncan Brack
Vice Chair Lib Dem Policy Committee
The more important or difficult a policy document is in the Liberal Democrats, the sooner the call goes in to Duncan Brack, former policy director for the party and now Vice Chair of the party’s Federal Policy Committee. A bearded environmentalist, Duncan hasn’t been spotted wearing sandals but is otherwise the perfect example of a committed, expert political activist who makes the party’s wheels run smoothly behind the scenes.

19. (+3) Mark Pack
Editor, LibDem Newswire
The activists’ activist. Former Campaigns Officer in party HQ, indefatigable trainer and author of several guides to campaigning, what Mark Pack doesn’t know about campaigning isn’t worth knowing. Editor of the most widely-read Lib Dem newsletter/blog, he is aiming to use his massive profile within the party and his place on the ruling Federal Board to push for a more consistent party strategy, including building a core vote: a tough challenge.

20. (-9) Caroline Pidgeon AM
Lib Dem leader on the GLA
Bright, funny, sassy, intelligent, she fought an excellent campaign for London mayor in 2016 even if she didn’t get the result she deserved. She now concentrates her fire on Sadiq Khan as a leading light on the Greater London Assembly.

21. (-6) Mike German
Party Treasurer & DWP Spokesman in the House of Lords

22. (+12) Catherine Bearder
Member of the European Parliament

23. (NEW) Baroness Doocey
LibDem Peer and adviser to Vince Cable

24. (+24) Baroness Ludford
LibDem Peer, former MEP

25. (NEW) Chris Bones
Adviser to Vince Cable

26. (-9) Paddy Ashdown
LibDem Peer, former Lib Dem leader

27. (-3) Caron Lindsay
Co-editor of LibDem Voice

28. (-15) Baroness Susan Kramer
Lib Dem Peer & Economics Spokesperson

29. (-3) James Gurling
Chair, Campaigns and Communications Committee

30. (+5) James McGrory
Co-Director, Open Britain, former Press Secretary to Nick Clegg

31. (-21) Lynne Featherstone
Lib Dem Peer & Spokesperson on Energy & Climate Change

32. (-18) Baroness Parminter
LibDem Deputy Leader, House of Lords

33. Lord Stoneham
LibDem Chief Whip, House of Lords

34. (+4) Tim Pickstone
Chief Executive, Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors

35. (-12) David Laws
Former LibDem Schools Minister

36. (REENTRY) Polly Mackenzie
LibDem Commentator, former spad to Nick Clegg

37. (NEW) Joe Zammit-Lucia
LibDem donor, helped to set up Radix think tank

38. Christine Jardine
LibDem MP for Edinburgh West

39. (+8) Maajid Nawaz
Director of the Quilliam Foundation, former LibDem PPC

40. (NEW) Lord Paddick
LibDem Home Affairs Spokesman in the Lords

41. (NEW) Andrew Wiseman
Chair, Federal Conference Committee

42. (NEW) Jim Williams
Originator of Your Liberal Britain policy discussion initiative

43. (NEW) Alex Cole-Hamilton
Member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Western

44. (NEW) Bess Mayhew
Chief Executive, More United

45. (NEW) Stephen Lloyd
LibDem MP for Eastbourne

46. (NEW) Wera Hobhouse
LibDem MP for Bath

47. (-15) Rumi Verjee
LibDem donor

48. (NEW) Jamie Stone
MP (and former MSP) for Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross.

49. (REENTRY) David Howarth
Former MP for Cambridge and member of the Electoral Commission.

50. (-13) Menzies Campbell
Former leader of the LibDems, LibDem peer

COMING NEXT: The Top 100 Most Influential People on the Left


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ConHome Diary: Missing the LibDem Conference, Overseas Aid & Why Justice for Grenfell

15 Sep 2017 at 13:56

Sometimes you look at the way government works – or doesn’t – and you scratch your head in bewilderment. It has been revealed that any money we provided to Caribbean Islands to help them rebuild after Hurricane Irma cannot come out of the International Development budget, it has to come out of the Treasury’s contingency fund. It is because it cannot be classed as Overseas Aid because the British Virgin Islands, Barbuda and Anguilla are British Overseas Territories. There’s that word again – ‘Overseas’. This is one of those occasions where Cabinet Ministers need to get a grip of civil servants and the government machine. And if Cabinet Ministers can’t then the Prime Minister should. The Department for International Development has enough trouble spending its budget each year on projects which are worthwhile. Come the end of the financial year they’re still literally throwing money at projects like the Ethiopian Spice Girls in order to meet the 0.7% of GDP commitment. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of the fact that we are what Andrew Mitchell calls an ‘International Aid Superpower’, but this department’s operation have still not been brought under control. And frankly, given her well known views on the subject if Priti Patel can’t do it, no one can.
Yesterday Sir Martin Moore-Bick opened the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster. I am afraid it is quite clear that there is nothing he can say or conclude which will satisfy the political activists who purport to speak for the Grenfell survivors and residents. Anything short of saying it was all the wicked Tories’ fault will be portrayed as a whitewash. And the gullible media will no doubt fall for it. Yes, there were undoubtedly huge failures on the part of the Tenant Management Organisation (on which the new Labour MP for Kensington sat for several years) and there were also failures by Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council, especially in the immediate aftermath of the fire. There seems to have been little accountability for major decisions and little notice taken of warnings which were given in advance on various blogs.

When the Blair government insisted on housing associations being formed to take the housing stock out of direct local authority control in 2003, I remember thinking this was an odd way to run things. I remember it because I was a candidate in North Norfolk at the time and the same thing happened there. I am not saying that this decision brought about the disaster at Grenfell, but these housing organisations in some areas became a law unto themselves, with direct democratic accountability disappearing.

Social housing has been a low political priority for decades. I’m not just talking about the lack of new council houses being built, I am talking about the maintenance of existing housing stock. For decades Labour councils all over the country, have regarded voters in social housing as a client state – people who wouldn’t consider voting for anyone else. Year after year, they’d vote in Labour councils who lamentably failed to make council estates fit and proper places to live in. Not all Labour councils, but especially those in big cities. Take Glasgow, for example. Iain Duncan Smith wasn’t alone in being appalled by what he found on the Easterhouse Estate all those years ago. But the same thing was happening in Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, London and Liverpool. To govern is to choose and Labour councils chose to ignore run down estates in favour of other projects.

Some Conservative councils were no better either. Even during the Blair/Brown years when money was literally chucked at Labour councils, they did little to improve their housing stock. Shame on them all. Why should we be surprised that people who live in these areas have become totally disillusioned, not only with politics but society in general. There are too many people who live in conditions the rest of us would find appalling and unacceptable. We should not therefore be surprised when some of them fall into ways and live lifestyles the rest of us can never relate to or understand.

My point is this. Whatever failings there were in Kensington, Grenfell was not one of these estates. The fire cannot just – if at all – be blamed on long term failings of wider housing policy, in my opinion. It can, however, be blamed on decisions made locally by people who were either uninformed or should have known better. It happened because of failings in the building design and the materials used. Surely that much is clear. From the way this terrible disaster has been described by some people, it’s as if the Prime Minister herself had lit the match. Politicians are to blame for many failings in housing policy over the years, but surely we have to hope that Sir Martin Moore-Bick ignores the siren voices who just seek to blame local and national politicians. The blame for this terrible event lies in many places, but surely primarily on failings in design and materials are the most obvious immediate causes. Hopefully, we will soon know for definite.
I’m going to make a confession. I miss going to the LibDem conference. Call me a masochist, but I always enjoyed going. However, for the last three years I’ve missed out, if that’s the right phrase. I miss the beards. I miss the sandals. I miss the intensity on the faces of people who really felt their debates mattered. I miss the little exhibition stands for all the different LibDem pressure groups who were usually completely barking mad, but vehemently believed in their cause. I miss the white haired old lady on a motability scooter who would scoot around the conference centre running down anyone in her path, daring people not to get out of her way. I miss the LibDem delegates, who, when I was running the conference bookshop, would think nothing of asking for a discount on a 50p postcard. Actually, I don’t miss them at all. But the LibDem conference is the only one of the three conference which actually decides party policy. The event actually matters. You can’t say that for either of the other two. Which to be honest, may be for the best.



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ConHome Diary: Can Jacob Rees-Mogg Ever Become Speaker?

9 Sep 2017 at 18:47

Arms sales are worth about £8 billion every year to the Uk economy. All arms exports have to be licensed through the BEIS Department and have to be signed off by the Secretary of State. Arms exports are a controversial subject and understandably so. Opposition politicians take delight in criticising the government for exporting arms to various countries with dodgy human rights records. In 2016 58% of our defence exports went to the Middle East. Between 2010 and 2015 our arms sales to Saudi Arabia amounted to £3.523 bn. [source: House of Commons Library]. They grew year on year from £550m in 2010 to £808m in 2015.

This week Vince Cable waded into the debate, something which he might come to regret. He said that if he were in government he would have stopped arms sales to Saudi Arabia a long time ago. He was, and didn’t. He was Business Secretary between 2010 and 2015. At best Vince is virtue signalling, at worst he is, to quote Zac Goldsmith, being “slippery”. I’ll leave you to judge which.
There was a lot of chatter about a reshuffle last week, although it seems to have died down now. We in the Westminster bubble love nothing better than a bit of reshuffle speculation. It fills column inches and hours of fun on the 24 hour news channels. It seems it’s now not going to happen, so the prospect of Jacob Rees Mogg joining the government must wait a little longer. I’m intrigued by Jacob. He’s one of my favourite interviewees, partly because he always has something interesting to say and can also be very funny. I’ve always thought his ambitions lay in acquiring the rights to sit in the Speaker’s chair rather than join the government but I wonder if his mind has been turned a little by the Moggmentum phenomenon. On Wednesday, however, something went very wrong. Jacob went on Good Morning Britain with Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan and said he was against abortion in any circumstances (including rape and incest) and was also against gay marriage. Personally, I applaud any politician who gives their honest views, and he is of course entitled to them. I disagree with both, as you’d expect, but at least he was honest, rather than do what Tim Farron did and equivocate (and even lie). The real question is this: can someone with such conservative views ever take on a leading government role? He is the Ann Widdecombe de nos jours. Ann’s abortive leadership bid in 2001 failed, ostensibly because her parliamentary colleagues couldn’t stomach her social conservatism. She was hugely popular among Tory members, and had she reached the last two in the contest she may have won. Sixteen years on, the Tory Parliamentary Party has changed a lot and I’d say it’s become massively more socially liberal.

I’m sorry to say that these remarks also put the Speaker’s Chair further from Jacob’s reach. I’m sorry because I think he’d be a brilliant Speaker. But Labour MPs will come under a lot of pressure not to support someone with such conservatives views. Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle will be smiling to himself thinking, another opponent bites the dust…
There’s a lot of cant – yes cant – being talked about the so-called Henry VIIi clauses in the Great Repeal Bill. Isn’t the purpose of this Bill to repeal a single giant Henry VIII clause? Peter Lilley, who knows a lot about these things, has written an article pointing out “for 44 years the European Communities Act 1972 which implemented our membership of the European Community has meant EU legislation has become binding on UK citizens with no power for Parliament to amend or reject it. Once a law was agreed in Brussels, even if every single British MP voted against it, it still became law. The Repeal Bill will end that.”
Peter is offering a bottle of champagne to the first person reporting a BBC interviewer challenging a Euro-enthusiast about why they are concerned about Henry VIII clauses in this Bill but are happy with the father of all Henry VIII clauses in the Act it repeals?
I suspect he deserves to be drinking the champagne himself.

Only eight days until the LibDem conference starts. Contain your collective excitement please.
It is a mystery to me as to why Nadhim Zahawi has never been made a minister. He’s an excellent media performer and keeps coming up with interesting and sometimes radical policy ideas. This week he is suggesting that as part of a wider policy to attract back the youth vote, under 25s should be given an income tax break, where they pay a rate of 15% or even 10%. On the face of it, something serious to consider. However, I’m told the LibDems had this idea before the 2015 election, as they needed to do something to make up for their embarrassing volte face on tuition fees. However, when they polled and focus grouped the policy, it bombed among all age groups including young people. They felt it was fundamentally unfair to older generations. So the LibDems dropped the policy.


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ConHome Diary: "I'm Going Nowhere" Says May & Michael Heseltine's Delusions

1 Sep 2017 at 13:43

So Theresa May has announced she intends to fight the next election. Cue a legion of the usual suspects appearing on radio and TV questioning the likelihood of that actually happening. It was an audacious announcement for the PM to make, as she knew what the reaction might be. And given her wording to ITV News it looked to me as if it was pre-planned, rather than a spontaneous answer to a question. It is a measure of the way she has recovered her position that she felt confident enough to do this. That’s partly because there is no obvious challenger to her – no one who people could rally behind. And frankly, I don’t see that changing for a very long time. The time to challenge her was in the immediate aftermath of the election result, yet no one had the cojones to do it. And they still don’t. There will now be some inevitable speculation about whether the Prime Minister will have the courage to conduct the reshuffle she daren’t do just after the election. I wouldn’t bet against it. It would result in her creating a few more enemies on the backbenches, but she’s never particularly worried about that. She seems to be saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. Nicky Morgan has helpfully appeared on the BBC saying she won’t fight the next election, and Grant Shapps, even more helpfully, gave us the benefit of his views on the Today Programme. Of course, the “senior Tory MPs” have been at it too, giving anonymous quotes (aren’t they courageous) to journalists like this one to Sky’s Lewis Goodall: “My concern is that she actually believes what she is saying. She is delusional.” They just can’t help themselves. At least Morgan and Shapps have the balls to go on the record.
Well the Brexit talks are going incredibly well aren’t they? The attitude of Barnier and Juncker stinks. Their patronising condescension just reinforces all the reasons I voted to leave the EU. If ever I had any doubts about my decision (and I didn’t) the way they talk down to us as if were some recalcitrant child has allayed them. I’d love David Davis to look Barnier in the eye at one of their press conferences and call him out on it. It would be quite a moment.

I’ve been most amused by this new so-called Tory equivalent of Momentum, which is called Activate. Judging from some of the Whatsapp conversations reported on Guido Fawkes it’s populated by a group of spotty youths, who probably spend too much time in their bedrooms indulging in semi-permanent onanistic activities. In any case, Activate sounds more like a dermatological face cream. How very appropriate.
It’s sad to see Michael Heseltine on the decline. Yesterday on Sky News he was asked about the fact that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created since the Brexit vote. He replied that they had been created through credit and debt. Er, excuse me? Tell that to Aston Martin, Nissan, Toyota, Siemens etc. They have created jobs because of their confidence in Britain and the British economy. It’s strange that Michael Heseltine can’t bring himself to acknowledge that fact.

Next week my panel meets to compile this year’s Top 100 Most Influential People on the Right. If you have any suggestions for new entries or high climbers, please do leave them in the comments and we’ll consider your ideas.
There are many things I regret about the way we consume our news and politics at the moment, but the most important is that most people now seem to consume news through the prism of journalists, commentators or news programmes whose editorial line they generally agree with. I suppose it’s always been to an extent, but the phenomenon is becoming worse. Lefties read the Guardian, righties read the Telegraph. In the US righties was Fox, lefties watch CNN. And you can extrapolate this to all forms of media. I’ve seen this this week on twitter with people saying they won’t listen to my show this week because Nigel Farage is presenting it. Ridiculous. Know thine enemy, would be my advice. If you refuse to listen to or read the people you disagree with, how can you possibly be informed enough to know how to argue against them. One of the biggest compliments I can receive is for someone to contact me saying: “I disagree with you on almost everything, but…” They’ve actually taken the time to listen and then to work out how and why they disagree. That’s public discourse at its best. I much prefer to have a phone-in where most of the callers disagree. It makes for an interesting conversation rather than the kind of echo chamber you get on some shows. Some presenters take great delight in ridiculing people they disagree with. Nigel Farage has a different approach. He charms them. And it makes for good radio. I’m back on the air on Monday after my break in Norfolk.



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UK Politics

Britain Will Have to Pay an EU Exit Bill, But It's Up to the EU to Explain How It Should Be Calculated

27 Aug 2017 at 14:15

Tomorrow morning David Davis will be heading to Brussels for what ought to be a very telling week of negotiations with Michel Barnier and his team. Both sides have been very vocal in the last few days and if their pre-briefings are anything to go by it could be a very awkward week indeed.

One of the sticking points is the insistence from Barnier that Britain must outline what it is prepared to pay with regard to the ‘divorce’ or ‘exit’ bill. Britain has so far refused to engage with this and has restricted any comments to the fact that we recognise we will meet any commitments that we have entered into, but not pay a penny more. So far, all we have heard from the EU is that the bill could be as much as 80-100 billion euros, a figure which is so ludicrous as to be beyond a joke. What we have so far not heard is any rational way of calculating this bill. It was said by the EU some time ago that both sides must agree a formula for how the bill will be calculated, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

The reason the EU is so prickly on this issue is that it will have a big black hole in its budget after Brexit. As the second biggest contributor to the EU budget, Britain’s financial munificence will be sorely missed. Barnier has been given a remit for screwing every last penny out of Britain and you can see why. There is also no recognition that Britain owns any assets as part of its EU membership or will be owed anything in return. They take the view that we’ve decided to leave, so hard luck. Britain may have contributed to fixed EU-owned assets, but that doesn’t give Britain any ownership rights over them. The fact that we have £9 billion tied up in the EU Central Bank seems not to concern them either. If this is seen as a divorce, in any divorce you divide up the assets accordingly. Not in the EU, it seems. Others don’t see it as a divorce, as divorces can involve maintenance payments. They see it as the EU equivalent of leaving a club, or maybe a gym. After you leave a club you don’t pay anything for other people to continue to use the club’s facilities after you leave.

If you look at it from a business point of view, the EU stance just doesn’t make sense. Not only are they not even willing to present an invoice, they’re asking us to explain how THEIR invoice should be calculated. It’s mad.

And we all know that if we did actually accede to their demand and tell them how much we think we should pay, they would laugh and demand double.

David Davis must surely take the view that if he EU believes we owe them any money, then it is up to the EU to tell us how much that is, not the other way around. Once they’ve told us, and explained how they have calculated it, then the proper negotiations on our exit bill can begin. That seems to me to be an entirely resonable stance on Britain’s part. Remainers, of course, will take the view that it’s up to us to follow the EU line. They always do. You’ll remember the ludicrous article in the Financial Times where they took great joy in calculating that our Brexit bill would be well in excess of £100 billion and we must jolly well pay it.

There is a view that from a legal point of view, we owe nothing. We leave on Marc 29 2019, and on that date our financial commitments end. That’s certainly the view of a House of Lords European Union Select Committee. In their report published in March they said…

“Although there are competing interpretations, we conclude that if agreement is not reached, all EU law—including provisions concerning ongoing financial contributions and machinery for adjudication—will cease to apply, and the UK would be subject to no enforceable obligation to make any financial contribution at all.”

However, they rightly warn…

“If the Government wishes to include future market access on favourable terms as part of the discussions on the withdrawal agreement, it is likely to prove impossible to do so without also reaching agreement on the issue of the budget.”

But let’s be clear, contrary to what Ros Altmann asserted in an interview with me on Friday, at no point have either Theresa May or David Davis said we don’t owe anything. Indeed, the Prime Minister has been very clear that we will meet our liabilities. So has Boris Johnson, the Foreig Secretary, although you may be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Back in July he was reported to have told the EU to ‘go whistle’ on a Brexit Bill. What he actually said was rather different. He was asked by Tory MP Philip Hollobone if he agreed with him that the EU could go whistle if they demanded a penny piece more than the £209 billion we have paid into the EU so far. Boris said that given some of th "extortionate " figures that had been bandied around by the EU so far, yes he did agree. He did not say we wouldn’t pay anything, as Ros Almann was asserting. He might have been wiser just to repeat the government line, simply that we will meet our commitments, but there you go. Here’s the evidence.

But it is incumbent on the EU to explain what our liabilities actually are. It remains a source of mystery as to why they have become unwilling to do that. Perhaps this quote from Iain Duncan Smith might shed some light on the fact that they seem frightened to do so.

""We have put into the place half a trillion pounds over the past 40 years which has never come back. That’s invested in all sorts of stuff there. We have intellectual property rights, physical investment in buildings, money in the European investment bank. We own a chunk of the EU, we don’t owe them any money. They are petrified that in two years time we will pull out and they will lose the second highest donor to the Budget.We should sweep that to one side and say honestly, these back of the envelope calculations do nobody any good.”

His view is that we owe nothing at all. I think that’s a stretch, but it’s certainly not all one way traffic.

British Assets

There is apparently a group of civil servants in Brexit Department who are drawing up a list of British owned assets in the EU – or EU assets that Britain can claim to have financed. This could include a proportion of EU property – embassies and official buildings.

The independent Brussels think tank Bruegal has calculated that the EU has around 152 billion Euros worth of assets.

It’s a moot point as to how one would calculate Britain’s share of these assets, but it is surely difficult to argue that that shouldn’t be any part of the formula used to calculate our eventual liability. Bruegl calculate that our share would be 20 billion euros. It’s worth reading Bruegel’s complete paper on how they come to this conclusion HERE

British Liabilities

The biggest fly in the ointment surrounds monies agreed in the EU budget but yet to be paid by member states, including Britain. According to a calculation by the FT’s Alex Barker in a paper for the Centre for European Reform, by 2018 there will be around 241 billion euros left to be paid. Half of this it to achieve “cohesion”, and 20% each for research and agriculture. Britain’s share of this expenditure is 29-36 billion euros according to Barker. Eastern European states are the ones who will benefit from the munificence and have drawn up plans accordingly. If Britain doesn’t pay anything, it will be left up to the other net-contributor countries to foot the bill – Germany, France, Ireland and the Netherlands.

The vexed subject of pensions is another area of controversy. EU employees and member states do not contibute to a normal pension scheme. Pension payments to ex Commission employees or MEPs do not come out of some giant pension fund, they come out of that year’s EU budget. The average annual pension for an ex Eurocrat is about £60,000. The total EU pension liability is 67 billion euros. Could Britain be expected to pay a proportion of this, and if so, how would it be calculated? Or could Britain argue that it’s a liability that falls when we leave and the fact that British citizens will benefit from EU pensions is irrelevant as the moment they join the Commission they are supposed to renounce individual country loyalties? Given that only about 4% of EU staff are/have been British, the annual liability is around £80 million, a figure which will fall year on year.

Sean Ryan from RTE summed up the range of liability calculations in Alex Barker’s paper as follows…

“A key point of contention is what is the British share of the EU budget – is it calculated from Gross National Income (GNI) in which case Britain has to pay up 15% of the overall EU bill. Or is it calculated (as the British would prefer) from an average of actual contributions after the rebate – in which case it is 12.1%. Barker then works through three different scenarios for how much Britain could end up having to pay in an exit charge. A maximalist position would see the UK having to pay up all contingent liabilities upfront, and get no rebate money after 2018. If the UK share of the bils is set at 12% they would have to pay €57.4 billion. At 15% share, the cost to the UK would be €72.8 billion. Excluding contingent liabilities and rebate would see the figures drop to €48 billion and €61 billion, depending on the percentage share used. While factoring in maximum receipts for the UK would see the bill drop again to €24.5 billlion and €33.4 billion.

And this is where the real negotiating has to start. As Whelan says later in his article these things will be decided by politics rather than law. The EU can’t risk Britain walking away and paying nothing, and Britain realises it will have to pay something in order to get a trade deal. So when David Davis says that we have to move on to talking about trade, alongside the exit bill, you can see the logic. The question is: will the EU play ball? And I rather think they won’t. Not yet, anyhow.



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Video: Iain interviews Boris Johnson in 2007

18 Doughty Street - Boris Johnson's first interview after he was selected as Tory candidate for London mayor.

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ConHome Diary: Chris Rennard's Memoirs, Giving a Former Gang Member a Chance & Nigel Farage becomes Me

25 Aug 2017 at 13:50

This week I signed up a two volume memoir by former LibDem campaigning guru, Chris (Lord) Rennard. What this man doesn’t know about the arts (and also dark arts) of constituency campaigning can be written on a postage stamp. He, more than anyone, was behind the LibDem rise to popularity in the 1990s and 2000s. He learned his art on the streets of Liverpool in the 70s and 80s and his reputation achieved almost mythical proportions. Both Labour and the Conservatives were in awe of his mastery. The many LibDem by-election successes were down to his ability to pitch the LibDem campaign in a manner which totally obliterated the other two parties. These by-election wins gave the image of momentum and success, far beyond the reality. It was he who invented the famous LibDem bar-graphs, which whatever the reality of the situation was persuaded the local electorate it was a ‘two horse race’. This volume takes his life story up to 2006, when Ming Campbell took over the party leadership, and will be published in March 2018. A second volume will be published a year later. Back in 2003 when I was thinking of applying to be Tory candidate in north Norfolk he advised me against it on the basis that Norman Lamb would get a majority of 10,000. I thought I knew better. I didn’t. He was right. How different my life might have turned out, had I listened to him.
This week the government published more of its Brexit strategy papers. Some contain more detail than others, but the reaction by Remainers and the Remain supporting media has been all too typical, dismissive and laughable. Take their reaction to Wednesday’s paper on the European Court of Justice. Even though it is quite clear that ECJ jurisdiction will end when we leave, Remainers like Labour MP Chris Leslie alleged there had been a total climbdown which would make Brexiteers foam at the mouth. What was this climbdown? Well, the government were proposing a panel of arbitration to resolve disputes between us and the EU over trade, citizens rights and other areas too. The panel would be made up of one British judge, one European judge and an independently appointed judge. This is exactly the same way the EU-Canada and EU-South Korea trade agreement dispute procedures work. Having a judge on an arbitration panel does not give the ECJ jurisdiction, it gives them a panel member. A perfectly sensible arrangement. Sadly for Chris Leslie, the likes of Bill Cash and Theresa Villiers have both endorsed the suggestion. If the EU doesn’t we really will know what their agenda is in these negotiations.

On Thursday on my LBC show we spent an hour talking about gangs. It’s a subject I can’t say I am an expert on, but we took some fascinating calls from boys and men who had been in gangs but left. One, Peter in Streatham, rendered me speechless at times. He was 17 and first joined a gang at the age of 11. At the age of 13 he was stabbed. He felt he had no alternative but to join a gang “to provide for my family”. At 17 he had turned his life around and when I asked him what his ambition was he said “I want to be a businessman”. He currently works in Nando’s. He was articulate, eloquent, determined and had an edge about him. To be honest, I nearly offered him a job there and then. People like him, who have been on the edge of society, deserve their chance in life. I immediately had several listeners email me to offer him a job, a business opportunity or to mentor him. And good on them. I hope something comes out of this and that is set on a positive part in life.
Next week I’m off for a week and Nigel Farage will be presenting my show. No doubt there will be gasps of horror from anyone left of Bill Cash, but I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how he adapts to presenting a fast-paced, news-based show. Whatever one’s politics I think Nigel has become a very adept broadcaster. He engages his audience, is polite to people who ring up to disagree with him and is quite a charmer. He can also do the ‘radio bits’ very well, which many people find difficult. What I mean by this is knowing how to move from one subject to another seamlessly, knowing how to introduce the news and travel. It sounds simple, but many untrained presenters can be quite awkward at this. He’s also shown he can handle breaking news, which is possibly the most challenging part of the job. Last week I was covering the Barcelona terror attack and then had to switch to covering the death of Sir Bruce Forsyth – and then back again. So if you want to see how Nigel rises to the challenge he’ll be presenting my show from 4-7pm from Tuesday to Friday on LBC.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Joyce in Erith... And Cries

In a discussion about infant deaths, Joyce in Erith's story makes Iain weep.

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ConHome Diary: Why Theresa May Was Right to Play the Ball, Not the Man

19 Aug 2017 at 12:09

Sarah Champion is one of the more impressive Labour MPs. She is that rarest of people, a Labour front bencher who can actually string a sentence together and conduct a coherent interview without experiencing a car crash. On Wednesday evening she resigned from the front bench (for the third time I think) over an article she wrote last Friday in The Sun. She is the MP for Rotherham who took over when Denis MacShane resigned his seat back in 2012. Her offence? Well, apart from having the temerity to write for The Sun, she dared to confront the fact that most of the men who make up these gangs who target vulnerable white teenagers for sex are from the British Pakistani community. 97% of the girls who are groomed and raped are white. She dared to confront and inconvenient truth. She emphatically was not saying that all child abusers have an Asian background, but those who form these gangs do. Trying to work out why this is does not mean we should ignore an inconvenient truth. Sarah Champion opened her Sun article with these words: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls. There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?” And for that, she’s been drummed out of the Brownies and forced to resign.
Labour candidate Amina Lone, who is a muslim told Newsnight: “I grew up in a Muslim community where these attitudes were common. “White girls are easy” “Nobody cares about them” “They are just slags” “They parents don’t look after them properly” etc were/are still said today. I hear it regularly. Sarah Champion was talking about a particular type of grooming which is carried by men because of their cultural/religious practices. Obvs not all men. She is not a racist but a brave woman speaking out about a politically awkward issue. Labour, bury your heads as much as you like in the black & white purist world you push. The chickens will come home to roost.”
However, not everyone goes along with that. Owen Jones told me on LBC he considers that paragraph to be racist. And there, Ladies and Gentlemen, you have a prime example of what is wrong with our politics today.
This week we marked the 70th anniversary of the partition of India. I don’t know about you, but it made me realise how little I knew about the event and how it came about. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh live with the consequences of partition today, so why don’t we know more about it? India is going to play a massive role in the world in the next twenty years. Perhaps our media might like to give it the same level of coverage it gives to China.

Why is that on A Level results day TV news reporters only ever seem to interview very good looking girls or show pictures of them jumping up in the air when they open their envelopes? Do boys not count any longer in this weird old world we live in nowadays?
Last week I wrote the majority of the column about Donal Trump and Kim Jong Un. Seeing as though Kim Jong Un has blinked, let’s concentrate on Trump this week. His reaction to the events in Charlottesville demonstrate why it’s impossible for him ever to unite his country. He called some Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan “very fine people”. In an angry press conference he undid all the fine words he had uttered from an autocue the previous day. He seemed unabl to differentiate between fascists and anti-fascists. On the first day back from her holidays Theresa May rightly condemned this attitude although she was careful to play the ball, not the man. It is right she should speak out, but people have to understand the Realpolitik of the situation. America remains our closest ally and a country with whom we need a free trade agreement. It’s right for the prime Minister to make clear her position, as she’s done, but gratuitous personal insults will help no one. There are, of course, further calls for his State Visit to be cancelled. Wouldn’t it be better for it to go ahead and for people to make their views clear while he is here? The way things are going, I’d be tempted to man the barricades myself, and I count myself as a down the line Americaphile.

Those who follow political debates on Twitter will have no doubt noticed that James Chapman’s Twitter account was deleted early on Thursday morning. When the truth comes out about what has happened, there ought to be a day of reckoning for some very irresponsible journalists (and others). And that’s all I’m saying on the subject.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr talks about his new book A HISTORY OF THE WORLD

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Old Blogpost: What if a Footballer Came Out as Gay?

10 Aug 2017 at 16:50


He hadn’t told anyone. Not even his agent. It was going to be done on his own terms. Adam Ranger hadn’t told his mother what he was about to do, and he especially hadn’t told his gossipy sister. They would all find out like the rest of the country. Had he told any one of them, he knew they would come out with all sorts of reasons why he shouldn’t go ahead with what he knew would affect him for the rest of his life. You see, Adam Ranger, star England central defender, was about to announce to the world he was gay.

He knew the risks. He was prepared for the media storm that would no doubt engulf him. People who do something ‘first’ always become renowned. Adam was prepared for that – what he didn’t want to become was ‘notorious. He calculated that if he did it, others would follow suit. And follow suit quickly. He knew that in every dressing room up and down the land there were men like him. Indeed, he knew of one Premier League team where four of the starting eleven were gay. It wasn’t as if anyone was particularly secret any longer. Looks were exchanged. People just knew, but rarely said anything.

Adam had thought long and hard about how to do it. Press conference? No. Too uncontrollable. Newspaper exclusive. No. The other newspapers which hadn’t had the story would be angry and seek to trash him. TV or radio? Maybe, but would he get the time to say what he wanted to say? Would he be able to control the editing? Probably not. No, Adam decided to do a Tom Daley and record his own Youtube video.

After training one day, he went down to PC World and bought a video camera and tripod. “Alright, Adam?” said the sales assistant. “Got the girls coming round, have we? He joshed, with a deliberate wink. “Yeah, something like that,” smiled Adam. “If only you knew, mate,” he thought to himself.

He went home, set up the camera, sat down and looked straight into the lens. “I’m Adam Ranger. I play for England. And I’ve got something I want to tell you…”

Four weeks later…

It had been a momentous month. The praise, the almost entirely positive reaction from his own teammates who had lined up after training and done a collective moonie while pissing themselves laughing. The phone calls from players from other clubs, his England teammates had been a mixture of hilarious, emotional and highly charged. Tears were shed.
Three other international players followed Adam’s lead in the week after he came out to the world. A dozen lower league players did too. And all to an ever increasing shrug of the shoulders.

In his first game after the video release on Youtube Adam ran out at Upton Park, a difficult place for an opposition player at the best of times, to a standing ovation from most of the crowd. He hadn’t bargained for that and for a moment lost his composure. As the applause died down a chant started from the Bobby Moore Stand of “Does your boyfriend know you’re here?” Adam laughed, grabbed the hand of one of his teammates and bowed. The applause restarted.
Yes, there were problems. He knew there would be. His agent was furious with him. “You’ve jeopardised all your commercial contracts by doing this,” he fumed. Adam suspected the very opposite would be true. And he was right. The offers flooded in. “We want you to be the face of our company,” said the chief exec of a major clothing brand. And there was more. Lots more.

Back in the room…

And that’s how I’d like to think things would be if a professional footballer took that great leap. OK, I might be writing with rose tinted spectacles, but I genuinely think it would be a lot more like this scenario than it was for Justin Fashanu 25 years ago. I have no idea how many professional footballers read Attitude Magazine. Probably more than you think. But if there’s only one, think about the trail you would blaze. Think about what kind of example you would set, not just to your fellow footballers but everyone else. Be proud of who and what you are. And tell the world.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Is Made to Cry by Sue in Twickenham

During a discussion about living with an alcoholic, Iain is moved to tears by a caller. The call lasted more than 20 minutes - very unusual in talk radio.

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 57: The Iain Dale LBC Mash Up

4 Aug 2017 at 09:48

Created by @LeRadioGuy



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LBC 97.3 Book Club: Iain talks to Tia Sharp's Grandmother (Part 2)

Part two of an interview with Christine Bicknell and Tia's stepdad David Niles

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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 56: LBC's Achieves Record Audience Figures

3 Aug 2017 at 11:04

If you don’t work in the Radio industry then you won’t ever have felt that slight empty feeling in your stomach that we all feel four times a year, when the audience listening figures are announced. Inevitably, there are downs as well as ups, and when they’re down it’s almost a matter of feeling ashamed, especially if all your colleagues’ figures have shown a rise. That’s only happened once in my seven years on LBC, and I didn’t enjoy it. Rajar is a very curious way of measuring audience. We all know it can be very erratic, yet it’s all we have to go by. One lesson I have learned is that if you have a dramatic rise, it’s probably a blip, just as a dramatic fall is too. What you have to do is look at the trend over a period of time.

The figures out today are truly outstanding for everyone at LBC. For the first time we have broken through the 2 million listener mark. Our previous record was 1.8 million. This really is a landmark for the station and is the culmination of some very hard work by a lot of people. When we went national in February 2014 I think our highest London audience had been around 1.2 million, but the average was around one million. Since then we have doubled the audience.

Nick Ferrari at Breakfast goes from strength to strength, with a national reach of 1.12 million, a massive increase on this time last year. The breakfast show sets the scene for the rest of the day and if your breakfast show isn’t performing it’s likely that will filter down the schedule. Ferrari really is at the top of his game and long may he remain so.

James O’Brien is also performing extremely well, pulling in an audience of more than 900k nationally. He really has demonstrated that if you have a big reach on social media, those watchers/readers will turn into listeners. Shelagh Fogarty has record figures and Nigel Farage has nearly half a million listeners, which is a huge achiement in that 7pm timeslot, especially as his show is only an hour long.

In my own show’s case, when I took over Drive in March 2013 the show had a London audience of around 320,000. The latest figures show a record London audience of 622,000 and a national audience of 815,000. It’s the first time I have ever pulled in more listeners in London than James O’Brien, but he is still ahead on the national measure. Not that I am being competitive! Perish the thought…

So trebles all round. Well, yes, but we do have to remember that we came into our own in this quarter at least in part because Theresa May called an election. We rose to the challenge and further cemented our reputation in the world of politics and current affairs, but in the current quarter we won’t have had that advantage. So yes, we should celebrate our achiement but recognise that there may be a few bumps in the Rajar road before a 2 million audience happens every quarter without fail.



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Video: Iain speaks to the BBC College of Journalism about his media work

BBC College of Journalism, 10 May 2011

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