Stop blogging, start talking...

Blogs have taken on a number of roles in recent years, but opinion is divided on the importance of t

With so much mainstream media attention at the Lib Dem conference focused on Ming’s leadership, you would be forgiven for thinking there was not a word spoken on policy. This prompted Richard Huzzey to write: “It’s a sad indictment of the media that a week-long conference discussing the pressing issues of the day hinges on whether a man says ‘there’s no vacancy’ or ‘I probably would’.”

But a trawl through the blogosphere reveals a fascinating insight into the day-to-day activity of a party political conference.

If political commentators were seeking a barometer for the popularity of likely leadership candidates, Stephen Tall may have come up with an alternative to YouGov: “Mugs with Steve [Webb]’s face on them are the top sellers at this year’s conference.”

In a Q&A session between Ming and Sandi Toksvig, many wondered why the photos turned out so bad. Jonathon Calder has a suggestion: “The stools had been carefully adjusted and positioned to show Ming to best advantage. Unfortunately, though, when the two of them went out on to the stage they sat the wrong way round.”

The sole topic of conversation among attendees was not – as the mainstream media implied – Ming’s future, as Alex Foster states: “Talk in the conference bar reveals that some delegates have been rather disappointed with the quality of their hotels.”

As a testament to how highly-regarded the blog has become in politics, the Lib Dems’ annual blog awards was a key event of the conference. James Graham's Quaequam blog won the award for best blogger and best blog post for the repost to Simon Jenkins’s question of what the Lib Dems were for.

Jonny Wright’s Hug a Hoodie won best new blog, Mary Reid scooped best blog by an elected representative and best designed blog, while Liberal Mafia won best humourous blog. As best blog for an elected representative nominee Peter Black writes in our conference blog section, Liberal Mafia was unable to attend, though he sent a horse head in his stead.

But not all Lib Dem bloggers are as enthusiastic about the benefits of blogging. While pontificating about how to solve the infighting the blogosphere creates in political parties, Paul Walter wrote: “A vast amount of keypad bashing in the world is completely pointless. If only some people would actually just talk to each other, then endless millions of words written wouldn’t be necessary.” So there.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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The three avoidable mistakes that Theresa May has made in the Brexit negotiations

She ignored the official Leave campaign, and many Remainers, in pursuing Brexit in the way she has.

We shouldn’t have triggered Article 50 at all before agreeing an exit deal

When John Kerr, the British diplomat who drafted Article 50 wrote it, he believed it would only be used by “a dictatorial regime” that, having had its right to vote on EU decisions suspended “would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out”.

The process was designed to maximise the leverage of the remaining members of the bloc and disadvantage the departing state. At one stage, it was envisaged that any country not ratifying the Lisbon Treaty would be expelled under the process – Article 50 is not intended to get “the best Brexit deal” or anything like it.

Contrary to Theresa May’s expectation that she would be able to talk to individual member states, Article 50 is designed to ensure that agreement is reached “de vous, chez vous, mais sans vous” – “about you, in your own home, but without you”, as I wrote before the referendum result.

There is absolutely no reason for a departing nation to use Article 50 before agreement has largely been reached. A full member of the European Union obviously has more leverage than one that is two years away from falling out without a deal. There is no reason to trigger Article 50 until you’re good and ready, and the United Kingdom’s negotiating team is clearly very far from either being “good” or “ready”.

As Dominic Cummings, formerly of Vote Leave, said during the campaign: “No one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what the process was going to yield…that would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger.”

If we were going to trigger Article 50, we shouldn’t have triggered it when we did

As I wrote before Theresa May triggered Article 50 in March, 2017 is very probably the worst year you could pick to start leaving the European Union. Elections across member states meant the bloc was in a state of flux, and those elections were always going to eat into the time. 

May has got lucky in that the French elections didn’t result in a tricky “co-habitation” between a president of one party and a legislature dominated by another, as Emmanuel Macron won the presidency and a majority for his new party, République en Marche.

It also looks likely that Angela Merkel will clearly win the German elections, meaning that there won’t be a prolonged absence of the German government after the vote in September.

But if the British government was determined to put the gun in its own mouth and pull the trigger, it should have waited until after the German elections to do so.

The government should have made a unilateral offer on the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom right away

The rights of the three million people from the European Union in the United Kingdom were a political sweet spot for Britain. We don’t have the ability to enforce a cut-off date until we leave the European Union, it wouldn’t be right to uproot three million people who have made their lives here, there is no political will to do so – more than 80 per cent of the public and a majority of MPs of all parties want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens – and as a result there is no plausible leverage to be had by suggesting we wouldn’t protect their rights.

If May had, the day she became PM, made a unilateral guarantee and brought forward legislation guaranteeing these rights, it would have bought Britain considerable goodwill – as opposed to the exercise of fictional leverage.

Although Britain’s refusal to accept the EU’s proposal on mutually shared rights has worried many EU citizens, the reality is that, because British public opinion – and the mood among MPs – is so sharply in favour of their right to remain, no one buys that the government won’t do it. So it doesn’t buy any leverage – while an early guarantee in July of last year would have bought Britain credit.

But at least the government hasn’t behaved foolishly about money

Despite the pressure on wages caused by the fall in the value of the pound and the slowdown in growth, the United Kingdom is still a large and growing economy that is perfectly well-placed to buy the access it needs to the single market, provided that it doesn’t throw its toys out of the pram over paying for its pre-agreed liabilities, and continuing to pay for the parts of EU membership Britain wants to retain, such as cross-border policing activity and research.

So there’s that at least.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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