Much work to do for new Lib Dem leader

LIBERAL Democrats, still suffering from a hangover after their Dunfermline and Fife West by-election success as they eagerly anticipate a new leader, have been brought up with a jolt by the latest prediction from on-line polling statisticians Electoral Calculus.

LIBERAL Democrats, still suffering from a hangover after their Dunfermline and Fife West by-election success as they eagerly anticipate a new leader, have been brought up with a jolt by the latest prediction from on-line polling statisticians Electoral Calculus.

The organisation takes the average of all opinion polls to indicate the possible outcome of the next General Election. From the latest set of polls, taken before the Dunfermline by-election, it has worked out that if that election was held today, the Lib Dems would lose 47 of their 62 MPs, including Bob Russell in Colchester.

Before Tories start jumping for joy, taking a shed load of seats from the Lib Dems doesn't dent Labour's overall majority because these gains are merely a transfer from one opposition party to another. Electoral Calculus indicates there is little sign that the Tories under David Cameron are making any dent into Labour's vote.

There are many ifs, buts, and maybes to be taken into account with these figures which should come with a serious health warning. The calculations take no account of deaths or new voters - they assume the same turnout by the same people as at the last election.

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There's also no mention of boundary changes, which should be approved by Parliament on June 30 this year. These are expected to create 15 extra Conservative MPs, many of them in north London and two in Essex.

In Colchester's case - which will give the borough three MPs for the first time in its history - the boundary changes will be politically neutral as the loss of Stanway to the new seat of Witham probably removes an equal number of Conservative and Lib Dem voters.

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While such speculation is fun for psephologists, there's a long way to go before another election, due before May 2010 and likely to be in either May or October 2009.

Labour will have a new leader, almost certainly Gordon Brown, whose more socially equitable outlook on life could cost his party scores of seats in the shires of England, especially if there is resentment over any abolition of historic counties in the upcoming review of local government.

What Electoral Calculus does show is how disastrous the past few weeks shenanigans have done to the Liberal Democrat Party. The bad headlines have caused a stampede of voters in southern England from the Lib Dems to David Cameron's Tories and whoever is named next week as their new leader has a massive task to restore their confidence and electability.

SUFFOLK and Essex opponents of a super regional police force can take comfort from an unlikely source - the House of Commons all-party Welsh Affairs Committee of backbench MPs.

In a scathing report*, the Committee accuses the Government of adopting a “one size fits all” approach to the proposed amalgamation of the four Welsh constabularies into one. It criticises Home Office ministers for failing to take into account the country's unique political, geographic and cultural characteristics in its rush to push ahead with the change.

In a report published on Wednesday, the MPs said not enough time had been given for meaningful debate. As a result, they said it was not possible to conclude that an all-Wales strategic force was the best way forward for Wales.

The MPs said the situation had been made worse by the impression that the Home Office believed the amalgamation of the Dyfed-Powys, Gwent, North Wales, and South Wales forces was a done deal. The close co-operation enjoyed between the North Wales and Cheshire constabularies have been overlooked, even though MPs conceded it may not have been practical to combine a force in Wales with one in England.

“The short timetable has had serious implications for the whole process of restructuring the forces in Wales, both in terms of detailed consultation with the police and police authorities, and broader stakeholder and public consultation,” says the report.

The MPs noted that in evidence to the committee, Dyfed-Powys's Chief Constable Terence Grange had said: “I would not describe that as `consultation'” and the Chairman of Gwent Police Authority said he could not disagree with the suggestion that police authorities had been “bounced into an all-Wales police force.”

With Home Secretary Charles Clarke - the MP for Norwich South - due to make a decision on how East of England constabularies should be reconfigured, the only fact we do know is that no change is not an option.

This region was excluded from the first wave of mergers which were announced earlier this month, but although that doesn't mean he has ruled out a six-county super constabulary, it has reduced the odds on the formation of two constabularies - East Anglia covering Norfolk-Suffolk-Cambridgeshire and a Home Counties North for Essex-Hertfordshire-Bedfordshire.

Mr Clarke's deputy, in evidence to the Welsh committee, signalled that greater operational efficiency was not the sole reason for a super constabulary. Considerable savings could be made: “You do not need four headquarters, you do not need four press officers, you do not need four lots of payroll, you do not need four lots of administrative staff.”

*Proposed Restructuring of the Police Forces in Wales, published by the Stationery Office, price £14.50

ANDREW Duff, the |Liberal Democrat Euro MP for the East of England, is an unashamed federalist, who is one Britain's keenest advocates for the controversial European Constitution which was rejected last year by French and Dutch voters.

He has chronicled his experiences of the birth and stunted growth of the document, and he should know - he was a leading member of the European Convention under former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing which drew it up.

In the forward to his fascinating diary The Struggle for Europe's Constitution, Mr Duff doesn't hide his feelings on the future of Europe, which should be centred on the rescue of the Constitution which would make the EU more democratic.

“I have written the book because I would like to live in a united Europe that is a constitutional democracy,” he says. “My views are flavoured by my way of being a federalist by philosophy, a Liberal in politics, a Briton by nationality, and a European by vocation. It continues to be an honour to work with many MEPs from all parties on the constitutional project.”

In probably the most Eurosceptic region of the most Eurosceptic state in the European Union, these are brave words from Mr Duff. His election to the European Parliament in both 1999 and 2004 was by virtue of being the Lib Dems' lead name in the Lib Dems' for the proportional representation voting system used to choose seven MEPs from the six counties of the East of England.

Unabashed at the rejection of his beloved treaty, Mr Duff looks to the future. As he points out, 14 of the 25 member states of the EU have ratified the constitution while only two have vetoed it, France and the.

Netherlands - although the UK almost certainly would have voted it down had the promised referendum actually taken place last year. The European Parliament by 500-137 with 40 abstentions has also endorsed it.

He is one of the advocates of renegotiating the constitution so that it can be put to the people before the end of the decade. The hope of EU insiders is that both the French and Dutch will next time vote `yes.'

But what if every other member state ratifies it and the UK votes `no?' Would our government wield its legal veto under Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union to block the Constitution for the rest of Europe?

Mr Duff thinks not, because Government ministers would be bound to ask themselves whether they have the moral authority or the political credibility to veto the treaty which the rest of Europe wants. If that is the case, the UK will find itself on the road out of full membership towards some uncomfortable form of associate partnership.

For a federalist like Mr Duff, that would be an utter disaster not only for this country and the EU as a whole.

The Struggle for Europe's Constitution is published by the Federal Trust


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