Sunday 30 September 2012

"Truth" and two "trusts."

During last week I caught a clip of David Cameron addressing the United Nations  and lambasting, without actually naming them, Russia and China for failing to support UN action in Syria.  I thought at the time that these two big beast of the current world stage were unlikely to be taking much notice of what this pipsqueak from a fading great power had to say about them. In much the same way I doubt if the UK's two big beast political parties are too worried about about the detail of what is said and not said at the Liberal Democrat Conference, and the public in general will be even less concerned.    So this is a warning not to take these matters too seriously.

In general Nick Clegg seems to have come over well, recognised by the commentators I read, who are not all necessarily sympathetic, as resilient and likable under fire, though getting more of his fair share of opprobrium.  This should put paid to the pointless and destructive distraction of a leadership challenge.

It was good that the Conference flexed its muscles and defied the government and party managers by voting against the  relaxation of planning laws as a somewhat puny, but potentially environmentally destructive, means of stimulation the economy.

Hugely disappointing, however, was the continued support , in the face of all the evidence as I see it, of the Tory economic policy.  This oxymoronic concept of "expansionary contraction" never did have much credence.  It is based on the theory (for which our economics text books of  more than a decade ago said the evidence was "scanty") that  public investment "crowds out " private investment, and that if we shrink the state the private sector will expand to  fill the gap.   Well, after almost two and a half years of much urging and massive injections of available funds through quantitative easing, it hasn't happened yet. How much more evidence do we want?

Vince Cable in his speech "talked the talk" by admitting that "no amount of push from supply-side reform can possibly succeed without the pull of demand", but incredibly failed to "walk the walk" by declaring his "continued support " for the current "deficit reduction plan" - that is, Plan A.

It was also disappointing to hear Nick Clegg, in his question and answer session, "shroud waving" the case of Greece.  This country is not and never was in a situation comparable to that of Greece.  Our public debt to GDP ratio is half theirs, most of it is held internally and on a long repayment period that averages 14 years.

Clegg's rallying speech at the end also showed that, nice chap as he is, his choice of words was  hugely mistaken and contained nuances that can hardly be described as honest. He said:

Then ask them (your electorates): are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think the Tories will make Britain fairer? Because the truth is, only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted on the economy and relied upon to deliver a fairer society too.

All Liberal Democrats are well advised to avoid the word "trust" for the foreseeable future, because however unfairly, it just reminds people of the broken promise on student fees and that we have now forfeited our reputation as the party that can be trusted. 

The nuance that Labour financial irresponsibility is the cause of our present economic difficulties is unworthy. The cause was and, alas, still is, greed made possible by the deregulated capitalism introduced and so strongly supported by our present partners in government. If it was once expedient to hint otherwis it is no longer. George Osborne was booed at the Paralympics but Gordon Brown was cheered

Sunday 23 September 2012

Trust (this is not just about Nick Clegg)

I was brought up under the influence of the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer, so each Sunday morning  and evening, as a choirboy, I was exhorted to confess my "manifold sins and wickedness" and not to "dissemble nor cloke them."  It's a pity this has gone out of fashion, because there seems to be a good deal of dissembling and cloking going on in modern society, among all sorts and conditions of men and women, and not just in the Liberal Democrats.

Whom can we believe?

Certainly not the police.  Individuals lied in the shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menzses in 2005,and again in the circumstances surrounding the death of Ian  Tomlinson in 2009. In the Hillsborough disaster not only did individuals lie but it is now revealed that there was organised and systematic deceit by senior officials to try to blame  96 football fans for their own deaths and exonerate the police from any responsibility.

Politicians?  David Laws lied about his expenses but is now back in the government.   Either the police or the Tory Chief Whip, Andrew  Mitchell, are lying about week's events outside Downing Street.

The media?  The lies and deceit of the Murdoch press have just been exposed.  We shall soon find out what, if anything,  the Leveson enquiry advises we should do about it, but I suspect that newspapers will still sail as closely as they can to the wind if they feel it will make them more profit. 

The great and the good?  But it was the most senior of all civil servants who publicised, if he did not invent, the phrase "being economical with the truth" to make lying more acceptable.

So dissembling and cloking has become an expected, even accepted, part of life, and poor Nick Clegg is not alone.  And if his apology is rather ridiculous, and I think it is, it is fair to point out that we still await an apology form Tony Blair about the illegal war in Iraq, and from David Cameron for breaking his much publicised poster campaign promise of  "no top-down re-organisation of the NHS" to name two equally serious betrayals.

Our problem is that we Liberal Democrats  made  great play of being more honest than the others: the party that could be relied upon to keep rather than break its promises.  I believed it, so did most activists and, I suspect, the majority of those who voted for us.  That trust has been lost and Clegg's late in the day "apology" is unlikely to retrieve it,or even to be a step along the way.  I am not even sure the apology itself is entirely honest. He's apologised for making the pledge, not breaking it.  And the suggestion that, on looking at the books, it proved to be unaffordable, does not really hold water.  In another letter to this weeks' Liberal Democrat News, former MP  Paul Holmes  points out that he "actively participated in all the Parliamentary Party meetings which argued out all the fully-costed alternatives in details" and "made this fully-costed policy a key plank of the Manifesto."

One particular piece of dissembling which is obviously fraudulent is any suggestion that the "no rise in tuition fees" promise could not be afforded because of the need to reduce the current deficit.  Yet the existing fees system did bring in money up front:  the new one does not. Hence the government has to pay now, thus increasing current expenditure and loading the repayment onto graduates in the future.

We Liberal Democrats were obviously taken for a ride on this one (as on so much else.)  We are in a hole and we should stop digging.  In time the new system will be recognised for what it is, a graduate tax.  It does not create a debt in the normal sense,  but rather the obligation to pay additional tax,  but not  until a reasonable level of earnings is reached, and which will be discontinued after thirty years if earnings are  insufficient. 

Friday 21 September 2012

Strange contrasts.

Whether you shrug your shoulders and just accept the "It's an unfair world", or mutter the cliché that "There's one law for the rich and another for the poor;" there are various items currently in the news which defy rational explanation to the vast majority of us: perhaps not quite the 99%, but close.
    • the Murdoch empire commits the most appalling, not to mention illegal, invasions of privacy and is found to be a "fit and proper person" to hold a broadcasting licence.
    • G4s  fail to fulfil their contract to provide security guards for the Olympics, yet still claim their £57m "management fee, " and look as though they will get it, along with, incredibly,  further government contracts.

    Along with these are the further  "on running" sores, such as

    • bankers and financiers, whose ineptitude and greed caused the financial crisis, remain unpunished,  with their banks unreformed, and continue to award themselves massive bonuses. (According to a letter in this morning's Guardian,  "extra cuts of £14bn are needed to hit the spending target" whilst, "City bonuses totalled £13bn in the year to April." )
    • top rate tax payers have a 5% tax cut whilst those at the bottom of the pile, the unemployed and disabled, have their benefits cut.

    More controversially perhaps, though I cant understand why it should be:
    • a Liberal Democrat MP, yes, a Liberal Democrat, (to paraphrase slightly Neil Kinnock) complains that the government is slow to implement changes which would limit the cost of personal care for the elderly to £35 000 so that their children, grand-children, favourite charities, the Battersea Dogs' Home or whatever  can inherit the rest of their wealth (much of which will come from the unearned appreciation of the value of their houses.) 

    With these glaring anomalies, it is no wonder that the electorate conclude that their politicians are either incapable of altering the "way things are", or don't really care.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Much Ado about GCSEs

When I want to secondary school in 1949 the boys aged 16+ , in what was rather curiously called the Upper Fifth, were still studying  for  their School Certificate.  This was a school leaving certificate and to obtain one pupils had to pass in, I think, at least five subjects, which included English and Mathematics, although I feel the pass mark was only 35% in each subject.  Many boys, possibly the majority, left  school a this stage  to go into business, or train as bankers, solicitors, accountant, architects, or other professions.Those intending to enter higher education remained in the Sixth Form to take the Higher School Certificate.

Whilst I was still in the lower school this system was replaced by the General Certificate of Education, the GCE, usually taken at 16+ (O-level) and  18+, ( A-level). I remember some employers were very sniffy abut the GCE O-level because it was possible to obtain it in only one subject, whereas in their day passes in a least five had to be achieved.  The original pass mark was 40%, but this moved up to 45% the year I took the exam, much to the distress of one of my friends, who obtained 40% in at least one of his subjects.  However, he went on to make a pretty substantial fortune, though I believe he subsequently lost it.

When I started teaching, in one of the now much derided secondary modern schools, which had six streams, the top stream studied for O-levels and and the middle streams  for  a hotchpotch of qualifications, some awarded by the highly respected Royal Society of Arts.  The lower streams just studied.  In the mid 60s the "hotchpotch" was replaced by the Certificate of Secondary Education, or CSE, some versions of  which placed much more emphasis on course work than did the GCE.  There was an overlap in that a top grade in CSE was regarded as equivalent to an O-level

By this time the selection of primary school pupils for grammar of secondary modern schools at the age of 11+ had been abolished in most areas but the division of pupils into those taking GCE and those taking CSE meant hat we were still separating our pupils into sheep and goats.  So the two examinations were sensibly merged in 1985 into the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE.)

As I've pointed out in an earlier post, the continuing need for a nationally organised and validated  examination at16+ when everyone, academic or not, is now required to remain in some form of eduction or training until 18, is highly questionable.  There is certainly no need to rip up the whole system,  denigrate the achievements of pupils over the last decades by questioning the validity of their qualification,  and introduce something entirely new  with the pretentious and inappropriate name of  EBacc when a bit of tinkering  to iron out problems in the existing system is all that is required.

What is appalling is that this country has several dozen internationally respected universities, most with a department of education staffed by professors who know what they're talking about and  researchers who base their opinions on actual evidence, not to mention a a vast army of experienced teachers and examiners. These have hardly been consulted.  Thus the schooling and qualifications of the young for the next twenty years is to be based on a political fix,  not mentioned in the election and certainly not in the coalition agreement,  but cobbled together by an opinionated secretary of state who seems more interested in stamping his name, however ignobly, on posterity, (why else give every school a King James Bible inscribed with a personal message from yourself?) than in the genuine interests of the young.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Keynes on the tele

A splendid programme on BBC2 giving  a very rounded account of Keynes, his life and policies.  A must. About the only disquieting comments are from David Laws.

Watchable for about a week on

Saturday 15 September 2012

Honesty is the Best Policy

Tim Gordon, the CEO of the Liberal Democrats, sends out an Email each week, telling us, among other things, that one of the five points Liberal Democrats should make on the doorstop is that (we are) 
  "Clearing up Labour's economic mess."  This statement is highly misleading, if not downright mendacious.  I have written to Mr Gordon pointing this out, but received no response, and a letter on the topic to the party  newspaper has not been published, or not yet anyway.  So this appears to be a point of view the party hierarchy would rather not acknowledge.

That the "economic mess" is Labour's is only strictly true in the sense that they happened to be in charge when the financial crisis broke.  We need to make it abundantly clear that the "mess" was caused, not by Labour profligacy, but  by greed made possible by the  excessive financial deregulation introduced by the Thatcherite Conservatives..

 True, Labour did little to oppose financial deregulation, but our present partners in government were loudly calling for yet more  and, apart from a few warning shots from Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats as a whole had little to say on the topic.  In fact the publication of the "Orange Book"  marked a significant shift in the direction of the then dominant "markets rule OK" economic fashion.

Thanks to clever PR  "the financial mess that Labour left behind"  had populist support for a while,, but the fact that Gordon Brown was cheered at the Paralympics, whilst George Osborne was booed, indicates that this piece of political misrepresentation is now past its sell-by date. 

It is surely time for Liberal Democrats to be honest (after all, we did promise more honesty in politics) and recognise that the economy was growing and the deficit reducing when Labour left office,as a result of the VAT cut and public investment.  We desperately need to temper our support for Osborne's failing policies and press hard for a serious Keynesian stimulus package now.

Thursday 13 September 2012


On most Wednesdays a friend and I go for a walk, sometimes with the local Ramblers,  sometimes on our own, and usually in the lovely countryside around here. However, yesterday we went independently and, for a change, chose to visit Liverpool for an urban walk which my companion had spotted in an AA publication..

Although I've visited Liverpool before I hadn't realised that it is built on such a massive scale.  It makes Leeds look like a village, and it's no wonder the people who come from there are so proud of it.  Our walk started at the rehabilitated waterfront, past the massive Liver Building and the imposing but now rather tatty-looking Town Hall..  There was remarkably little traffic, whether the result of good organisation or a still faltering local economy I can't say.

Our route took us through the "Beatles" area, most of which is interestingly preserved, though unfortunately half the famous Cavern Club has been pulled down.

The Roman Catholic Cathedral is an inspiring piece of modern architecture, with some interesting side-chapels, one of which contains the tomb of the former Archbishop,  Derek Worlock, who worked so closely with the Anglican bishop David Shepherd to heal sectarian divisions in the community and to promote economic as well as spiritual regeneration.

The walk from the Roman Catholic to the Anglican Cathedral took us to the pub our guide-book recommended for lunch, the Philharmonic.  This is a splendidly preserved late Victorian pub, a massive slab of a building which in its way is as interesting architecturally as the cathedrals.   As well as providing decent food it claims the only Grade 1 listed urinals in England.  Well worth a visit.

Our big disappointment was being unable to enter the Anglican Cathedral.  We were aware that a report on the Hillsborough disaster, in which  96 Liverpool football supporters were crushed to death 23 years ago, was to be published, and indeed that relatives and friends of those killed were to meet in the cathedral to discuss the report, but we did not expect the entire cathedral to be closed all day,  It was, after all, built to outdo all others and is the fifth largest in the world with a seating capacity of over 3 000. I am aware of the key role the present Bishop of Liverpool has played in chairing the enquiry, and can understand the Church's desire to be seen to share the pain of the city and the bereaved, but it does seem rather silly to close down entirely a major tourist attraction, or place of pilgrimage, if preferred, when so many alternatives are available.

Unfortunately the day was also marred by frequent showers, which culminated during the afternoon in heavy rain, so we retreated indoors to  the Museum of Slavery (on which much of Liverpool's prosperity was built.)  This is a moving record of our callous treatment of the different, and a reminder, that, in less obvious ways (international trade rules dictated by the rich, our prosperity built on  the export of arms, indifference to the effects of climate-change) we comfortable still exploit the weak..

Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Olympics and their legacy

I am not and never have been all that interested in sport so haven't taken much notice of the Olympics.  That doesn't mean that I don't admire the skill and dedication of those who have taken part (not just those who have won medals), and especially the way the Paralympians have overcome handicaps far greater than anything most of us have to face.  But I don't find it all that interesting, just as I admire, say,  the dedication of those who collect an classify butterflies, or the courage of those who sky dive, but I don;t want to watch either of them.

Having passed through London on the eve of the games  I can vouch for the friendliness and helpfulness of the volunteers in purple and pink shirts,one of whom went to great lengths to get me to the right platform on a strange station.  It was also pleasant that, for a few weeks, the amount of "good" news in the media far outweighed the amount of bad, though the civil war in Syria, the world food crisis  and the economic recession didn't actually go away.  And I'm please that the nation as a whole seems to have had a great party, though I'm no sure that spending £9bn on it is the most sensible way of dispensing public money at the moment.

The crass failure of private sector G4s to fulfil its contract and the way that the public sector army stepped in to fill the gap so effectively should put an end to the monetarist mantra of "private sector good, public sector bad" but I don't suppose it will.

I am a little disturbed by the way  way the media drooled with such enthusiasm  over the British medal haul in both games.  This seemed to me rather rude for the host nation, and not appropriate to what my boyhood reading of low grade novels (W E Johns and Percy F Westerman) taught me should be the British character: quiet competence, modesty and self deprecation rather than triumphalism.

And I remain rather bemused by the assumption everyone seems to make that we all, and particularly the young, should be bullied into taking part in sport.  Why not music? After all, in the Proms we put on a "world class" music festival every year, not just twice in a lifetime, but no-one, as far as I know, is pouring lottery money into instrumental music teaching and insisting that every child should learn to play the trombone. Quite the reverse in fact. And science?  As a nation we've won more than  our share of Nobel prizes, but we seem to be cutting back rather than expanding our university science departments, not dishing out free chemistry sets for all.

Not that I believe that vast expenditure on the elite in sport is likely to generate a nation of participants.  The "trickle-down effect" doesn't work in economic and I doubt it will have much effect in sports participation either: just bring pleasure to a nation of watchers.

Although one of those whose poor eyesight, lack of hand-eye co-ordination and general slowness and clumsiness meant that I was always last to be picked by the athletic youth chosen as "captain" for one of the teams in my childhood, I cannot claim that compulsory sport and PE made my life a misery, but neither did it provide much enjoyment: just one of those things that had to be endured.  I suppose it may have been  character-building.

 I'd like to think that schools would devoted their energies to providing the means for and encouraging the young to discover creative ways of using their leisure, rather than bullying them into being reluctant participants in sports.

Friday 7 September 2012

Housing Plans Reveal True Tory Character.

Economists recognise that many private activities have "externalities." which can be positive or negative. In the pre-politically correct days when I taught in an all-boys school we used the example of the girl wearing a mini-skirt, who had the private satisfaction gained from the knowledge that she was in fashion,and we had the public benefit of being able to admire her legs, as a positive externality.  Unacceptably sexist today, I know, but they did remember it.

In housing, or any other building for that matter,  an elegantly designed  structure gives private satisfaction to its owner, and the rest of us have the pleasure of enjoying the sight of a well proportioned building from the street.  An ugly carbuncle of an extension (up to 8 meters in length!) badly sited conveys a negative externality to the neighbours and any passers by.  Planners exist, among other things, to ensure that private development activities have at least a neutral impact on the rest of us.  The Pickles proposals to scrap planning requirements, even for a limited period, illustrate the Tory attitude that the "haves" can do as they (we) like and devil take the rest of us.

Secondly, this "do as you like in your own back yard" policy shows that the government at last recognises the need for an investment stimulus to the economy, but is too hidebound by its ideology to finance it through effective public works on the required scale  If the relaxation of planning laws promotes any demand at all to the building industry, it will be  a sad little nibble at the problem rather than the massive bite of public investment which is needed, but which the government lacks the courage to attempt.

Thirdly , the proposal to remove the requirement for a proportion of newly-built houses to be affordable   means that the building industry can concentrate on houses for the haves but neglect the sector in which additional housing is most urgently needed - for those with more limited means.

Finally, the removal of the requirement for affordable housing  encourages the ghettoisation of Britain,with the well off comfortably in their enclaves and the less well-off kept at a safe distance, as  though the errors of the mass one-class housing estates  of the post-war period have never been learned.  I have not yet read it, but I understand that Professor (of geography) Danny Dorling's recently published "So You Think You Know About Britain" amply illustrates the folly of this policy.

Thursday 6 September 2012

You couldn't make it up.

Politicians, particularly from the right, are fond of claiming that this, that or the other aspect of British society is "The best in the world and the envy of the world" when it patently isn't, as our justice system or parliamentary system, to give but two examples, amply demonstrate. 

The one thing that clearly is the best in the world and the envy of the world is the BBC, so what do they do?  Weaken the main organisation to favour a predatory Murdoch, and emasculate the World Service with its world-wide reputation for integrity for which most other international broadcasters, and particularly the Voice of America, would give their right arms.

It would be going too far to claim that our higher education system is the best in the world and the envy of the world, but it is internationally respected, and is one of the few remaining areas in which the UK has what economists call a "comparative advantage" in international trade terms. The fees students pay, and the money they spend while they are here are equivalent in terms of international trade to the foreign currency earning of exports of pharmaceuticals or, alas armaments.  Then, of course, there is the "knock on" effect of the respect and sometimes even affection for the UK felt by former students who often become influential citizens in their own countries - providing , of course, that they have received a stimulating educational experience and been fairly treated while they are here

So what do we do?  Restrict the number of foreign students universities can take, and besmirch our administrative reputation by revoking at the last minute the licence of London Metropolitan University to admit any at all..

Clearly London  Met's procedures need to be sorted out, but surely the process with respect to new students could have been started earlier in the year, rather than a few days before the beginning of term, and the cases of existing students  well into their courses investigated on a case by case basis and only the sham ones sent away.

This ridiculous macho action by he authorities is hugely unfair on hundreds of individuals and damages Britain's reputation  in one of the few remaining areas where we remain internationally competitive.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

"How" should we teach?

Last week's Radio 4 Eduction Debate, still available on their "Listen Again" facility,   discusses how children should be taught.  Flavour of the moment from the "experts"  appears to be cleverly directed self discovery, and classrooms devoted to this aren't classrooms at all, but SOLEs (Self Organised Learning Environments).

 I have very occasionally seen lessons organised (and yes, well done, they are organised, not disorganised) in this way and greatly admire the teachers capable of  managing them.  However, it is not the style that suits all teachers.  Others can inspire by a more teacher-centred approach, generating a  love for their subjects and for learning by their own enthusiasm and erudition.  AJP Taylor's famous TV histroy lectures  were a god example, and there are thousands more in less publicised forums every day.

Our problem today, and perhaps in ather areas as well as eduction, is that our" masers of the universe" determine "best practice" (in education, what and how they were taught) and then impose it on everyone. Hence the National Curriculum, Standard Attainment Tests and "tick-box" examinations, all supervised by OFSTED.  We need the courage to move away from this supervisory aparatus and towards a system in which well-qualified and enthusiastic teachers  are trusted to inspire the young and not so young in whatever manner best suts them.

The programme's resident cognitive scientist, a Guy Claxton,  said:  "If we don;'t find ways of measuring what we value we end up valuing what we measure."  This was  in relation to the assessment of learners , but it applies to teachers as well..  It is very difficult to measure a teacher's capacity to inspire, so we look at the tidiness of his or her register, mark book, lesson preparation and mastery of the latest acronyms.  Education, instead of being exciting,  becomes a deadly routine, designed, as Claxton claimed, to produce obedient 19th century clerks rather than the explorers the 21st century needs.

Tomorrow-night's  programme (Radoi 4 FM only at 20h00, 05/09/12)) discusses "who" should teach.

Monday 3 September 2012

Investment or Consumption?

 Last week Simon Jenkins wrote a  article in which he derided the call for a third runway at Heathrow as "big-willy" politics and called for more consumption rather than investment to stimulate the economy.  Whilst agreeing with Jenkins's view on the third runway (and I should include HS2 as well,  not to mention the renewal of Trident) I believe, having taught the Keynesian multiplier effect ad nausium throughout most of my teaching career, that his preference for consumption over investment is mistaken.  Hence:
Letters to the Editor,
The Guardian.

Dear Sir,

While I sympathise with Simon Jenkins's hint (Big willy politics is the most dangerous politics of all, 29th August) that "An economic stimulus that puts money directly into the pockets of consumers through higher benefits and/or lower taxes," rather than being "possibly immoral," might be a good idea, I cannot agree with his assertion that "consumption,not investment, is today's absolute priority." 

As every A-level student of economics knows, investment induces a Keynesian multiplier effect because it creates incomes without, initially, placing goods or services on the consumer market.  Hence employment is created which generates extra income which creates demand for the products of other producers, which creates additional  employment which generates  extra income which creates extra demand ...not exactly ad infinitum but for quite a while, depending on the amount which leaks out of the economy

A Government "give away"  achieved by putting money directly into the bank accounts of consumers, the so-called "helicopter money", is likely to leak out pretty quickly through expenditure on imported products  and foreign holidays, neither of which will do much to stimulate our own economy.

There is no shortage of worthwhile  "pump priming" projects which will enhance our economic and social well-being in the future. As your letters page on 28th August demonstrates, there is ample opportunity for, and few constraints on, desperately needed investment in housing, and, if Mr Jenkins were to travel on our Northern Rail network he would soon appreciate the need for an upgrade.  To give just one example, the Trans-Pennine Service provided by FirstGroup is often grossly overcrowded even at off- peak times.

Peter Wrigley

Saturday 1 September 2012

Get rid of Clegg? A putsch too far.

Having just given Nick Clegg two cheers (see previous post) I can hardly  join the silly season clamour for ditching him.  I agree that the party's performance in government has been somewhat accident-prone, to put it as kindly as possible.  But the faults are shared ones, for which Clegg has received a disproportionate amount of opprobrium which, as Paddy Ashdown has pointed out , Clegg has borne with "a grace under fire that should make us proud."

I cannot accept, however, Ashdown's modest assertion that "It is the job of our (Liberal Democrat) leader to take us into government.  I (Ashdown) failed : Nick has succeeded."  It is a nonsense to attribute a party's success, or failure, solely or even mainly to the leader.  It is, after all, highly questionable  that we Liberal Democrats achieved much of a success in 2010.  We gained a !% share of the vote (from 22 to 23%)          but our number of seats won  fell from 62 to 57.

Not much of a success. But again the fault must be shared.  Indeed Nick's contribution was outstanding in that, as a result of his performance in the  first leaders' debate, he gained for us, for the first time in in my half century of political campaigning, a decent hearing.  It was not entirely his fault that, when our policies were subject to detailed scrutiny, so many of them fell apart.

Then  many of our embarrassments (student fees, our failure to gain electoral reform or a democratic second chamber) have arisen through the failure of our coalition negotiating team , including such allegedly bright sparks as David Laws and Danny Alexander, to study the small print and spot that an option to abstain from a vote to raise student fees was not sufficient for a party that had so publicly pledged to vote against such a measure, and that Tory promises to introduce measures for electoral and House of Lords reform were  not quite the same as an undertaking to vote for them.  They were, in other words, taken for a ride.  The student fees debacle was compounded by the refusal of the party apparatchiks to allow a debate on the issue in the special conference which approved the coalition.

Yes, I suppose that Clegg went along with these things, but he and we foot soldiers were and are badly let down by his top team and advisers.

One of the ways of avoiding similar problems in the future would be to ditch the convention that, after a defeat in a general election, the PM should walk out of No 10 that very day by the back door, and the new one walk in through the front, or as soon as possible thereafter.  An interim period of, say, 10 days, would save many misunderstandings and give time for proper reflection and analysis of whatever is on the table.  We should press for this for the future.  Negotiations with Labour could be equally tricky and not entirely honest .

Along with the flawed coalition negotiations, what seems to have happened over that hectic weekend is that the Treasury and Bank of England bounced not only Clegg, but also his economic heavyweights, including St Vincent de Cable and Danny Alexander, into believing that  "the markets" demanded both the rapid formation of a new government and a policy of urgent deficit reduction, or we should go the way of Greece.   Both these ideas were nonsense at the time and have proved to be so since.  Thus our sensible, even if a little half hearted, pre-election Keynesian policy of, yes, deficit reduction, but gradually and when growth (which was actually happening at the time)  has  become assured, was abandoned,. Instead we became stuck with Osborne's cuts policy into which we appear still to be locked, in spite of all the accumulating evidence of its failure.

The biggest mistake of all was Clegg's instance that the Liberal Democrats should "own," and indeed publicly support,  all the policies of the coalition, not just the ones of which we approved.  This has lead us into joining in the lie that we must "clear up the mess left by Labour" and his embarrassing hug of Osborne after that first budget which went against all the beliefs and traditions of the party of Keynes and Beveridge.  I believe Clegg has now learned from the latter, but, alas,  clearing up " the mess left by Labour" still appears on the party website - this from the party that promised more honesty in politics.

What is needed in my view is not the distraction a change of leader (as indicated above, the leading alternative, Cable, is as much responsible for the major error on the economy anyone else) but a change of style, in that we publicise the many Liberal advances the coalition has achieved and dissociate ourselves as far as possible from the measures, especially on the economy, which are patently wrong.

And never cease reminding the electorate that the Tories have 306 MPs and we have only 57, so they have the whip hand (both literally and figuratively) and it is very difficult for our modest tail to change the direction of the dog.