Friday, December 29, 2006

Kennedy.....Campbell, Hughes, Huhne..........wither 2006?

So, as the old year draws to a close - and what a year it was for us - who knows what the new one will bring..............another new leader?????? Or is that blasphemy?! I have to confess that the assassination of Charles still sticks in my gullet a bit, even as someone who was strongly of the view that we would need a new leader by the time of the next general election, but not then and not in that manner. There has been a fair bit of analysis on our performance this year on my beloved radio 4 (no not on the Archers) and it has to be said we are not coming out of it that well, even though Lembit, in his inimitable style seems to have done his bit to ensure we end the year in the headlines! It may be the conspiracy theorist gene in me, but how come Labour and Tory party chairs were interviewed for the World at One reviews but for us it was Vince Cable? Is it that our party President was unavailable……..or is it that he may have given a wee bit too honest an appraisal of our leader’s performance?

I have to admit that at the time of the election I shared the view that we didn't want to fall into the Blair/Cameron trap, going for packaging as opposed to substance. However, even though I hate to say it, packaging does have a role to play. It is what first attracts us to the product. Blair is like that old, rather insubstantial breakfast cereal which was so new season in 1997 (a la Crunchy Nut Cornflakes?) the packaging was bright and inviting in its day, but its day has now gone. Cameron is more the bright shiny hologram covered new packaging...........possibly more cocoa pops, tastes nice to start with, but you soon feel hungry again. And our Ming..........Quaker Porridge Oats? Much better for you, but the packaging needs a bit of attention. Not to compete with Cameron, certainly not, but to attract attention to the substance which is within.

I sincerely hope that this year Ming will find his feet and make the impact that is so necessary in what inevitably will continue to be portrayed as a two horse race. As a party it is imperative that we capture the imagination, that we are ahead of the game, that we anticipate the agenda, and that we offer radical alternative solutions.

So…………this year will be very interesting. The little matter of Trident…..a new Labour leader………..the possibility of a snap election……oh, and will orange be the new black?!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Two Cheers for Ming

Now......don't die of shock that I have posted two days on the trot...more a sign of a boring social life than commitment to the cause! But, it has to be said I have been inspired by our Ming today......I had been invited to his IPPR speech wearing another hat and he reminded me of why I was happy to give him second preference after Simon Hughes. He does have a genuine concern for tackling poverty and his promise to commit the party to ending child poverty by 2020 is to be welcomed. Poverty is a root cause for so many of society's ills and getting to grips with it has to be top of our agenda. His attention to the serious problem of a lack of social and affordable housing is also something to be applauded. I have always argued that whilst others talk about education education education, to imagine that children can realistically learn anything if they are living in squalid, crowded or temporary homes is to totally miss the point. So two cheers for Ming. What I was less happy about was the fact that their is still a lot of work to be done on the policies being put forward, and that he referred to a "marriage of social and economic liberalism" what's that all about??? I am sure it will end in divorce!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Civic Services.....Hypocritical Prime Ministers.....WMDs and Mad Hatters

Yesterday was our Bedford Christmas Civic Service.........organised by one of my Tory pals (yes I do have them!) current Speaker, Andrew McConnell. In his honour I broke with my tradition of refusing to be seen in something that looks like a washed out old dressing gown (why don't they do them in petite, so sizeist!) and a tricorn hat (so Dick Turpin.....). As we were "processing" into the church another pal, ex councillor Chris Whitehead came along and shocked me by revealing he read my blog..........heavens that's three of you now then!

It was a lovely service, reminding me of why I am so passionate about politics. Not only were we reminded of the reason for Christ's birth - to bring peace and justice - but singing the second verse of the national anthem (and I say this as a bit of a republican) which goes on about the Queen defending our laws, just made me think of how low we have sunk as a nation under Blair's leadership. For a man who declares his Christian faith I frankly wonder if we are reading the same bible?! "Blessed are the peacemakers...." yes that'll be killing off a few hundred thousand Iraqis and renewing our own weapons of mass destruction then.
Last week this government's cavalier attitude to truth and justice and utter contempt for the rule of law was yet again exposed. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when my boss was sacked for bullying. The local authority I worked for was so worried about her taking the case to employment tribunal they bought her off with early what message does that give? If you are over 50 and want early retirement......just go bully a few people! Similarly the BAE case just sends a clear message, don't worry about bribery and corruption if you are powerful enough, we'll drop the case in the middle and you'll have nothing to worry about. And now Blair has been questioned how long will it be before the police are bullied into dropping the cash for honours case? And all this only a few days after Blair's trumpeting of "British" values which all those wishing to come here should espouse. And now he's under the delusion that he is the right person to go and resolve the Israel Palestine situation........heaven help us! Sometimes I fear I am in an Alice in Wonderland world..........its just in my Alice in Wonderland world there seem to be far too many Mad Hatters!

Monday, December 04, 2006


Am I missing something here? Praise for our policy........a policy which has neither been ratified by the FPC nor, more importantly federal conference. I'm sorry, but I was of the belief that one of the things which distinguished us from the two tory parties was the fact that we were still a member lead organisation? Have I missed some important development? I am a Lib Dem because I am a Lib Dem.......I am proud of that, I am proud that I belong to a party which has solid values and is not in anybody's pocket. So why do I get the feeling I am being bounced into a policy? A policy which is at odds with my own beliefs (even as an ex servicewoman) and a policy which does not have the demonstrable support of my party. Clearly the party is aware that this issue is a hot potato with our membership, something that needs careful handling, so why throw petrol on the flames and ignite a conflict? We may not all agree, but we have a tried and tested procedure, one which gives us all an opportunity to express our opinions..........lets stick to that, shall we? Or am I being unreasonable???

Friday, December 01, 2006

Trident - Oh dear, has the fence just jumped up and bitten me in the bottom?

I just got my email from Ming telling me that

"It would be unwise at this time for Britain to abandon its nuclear weapons altogether. But a deterrent of approximately half the current size, and extending the life of the current submarine system, would be sufficient to provide for Britain’s ultimate security until we have more certainty about proliferation..."

Please tell me I am being a little naive here, but.......are we for 'em or agin 'em? Whilst I of course applaud the move towards disarmament outlined in this draft, why only half? If we believe nuclear weapons are wrong how can we support keeping the half we say we want to keep? If we believe they are right, why not keep the lot?

As I am such an incompetent blogger and don't know how to get a slick link up here, I have copied an article from my pal Mick Smith's blog (23.11.07 - Sunday Times) which in the light of our draft policy makes interesting reading:

The Travesty of a Trident Debate

The cabinet had its first sight of the White Paper produced to justify continuing with a submarine-based nuclear deterrent on Thursday ahead of its official unveiling in Parliament in all probability next week. Tony Blair has promised MPs a full debate on the issue sometime early next year and reportedly told last week’s cabinet meeting that he wants to launch the debate very quickly "because a decision needs to be made". It’s a good quote that isn’t it? You can actually hear him saying it, with that little bit of irritation that we just don't get it in his voice. The truth is that a decision doesn’t need to be made now at all. But whether it does or not is irrelevant, because the key decisions have already been made. So MPs from whatever side of the house can go whistle, what they say will not change a thing. Is this what passes for democracy under President Blair? I’m afraid it is and the sooner we get rid of it the better.

There are three parts to the Trident system, the 58 missiles themselves, American-owned and loaned to us each time we use them at exorbitant cost; the 192 warheads, which are at least British-made and owned; and the four British Vanguard-class submarines that fire the missile. According to the spin, it is the last part of the equation, the submarines, which make it essential to decide now.
The Prime Minister and his supporters say the procurement process is so slow and cumbersome that it is imperative that we order new submarines now. It is total codswallop. You, I and every gatepost across Britain know that the key issues here are that a) Blair sold his soul to the neo-cons and part of the deal was that Britain continued to have a nuclear deterrent, and b) he sees it as part of his legacy to leave Britain with a powerful nuclear deterrent – evidence that the old nuke-hating Labour is no more.
As for the submarines, well if you start from the prime minister’s position that we do need a nuclear deterrent – many won’t but let’s humour Blair for the moment and he did after all get voted in on that basis – the submarines are a relatively easy decision. He is right at least that a submarine-based system remains by far the best option simply because it is much more difficult for a potential target to take pre-emptive action. He hasn’t of course expressed this preference because the issue is “still to be debated”. But we and the gateposts know the decision has already been made.
The Submarines
We currently have four Vanguard nuclear missile submarines. We in fact need only three. They are due to go out of service between 2017 and 2024. The British submarine building yard at Barrow has plenty of work on its plate building the Astute-class attack submarine, at present the MoD is committed to three Astute-class submarines and negotiating heavily on the remaining four of what will be a seven-boat fleet.
The seven Astutes will take Barrow up to around 2017 before it can get down to actually building whatever replacement nuclear missile submarine we want to use to fire the missile. So the life of the Vanguards will need to be extended slightly but that is not a major issue. Once Barrow has finished building the seven Astutes, it will be able to fit in building the three new nuclear missile submarines before starting all over again on a new attack submarine to replace the Astute. That will give the Royal Navy a total of just ten submarines and building them will keep the British submarine industry ticking over nicely ad infinitum, doing no harm to the Labour cause in Cumbria of course.
The Missiles
If you take the view that we do need a deterrent, and many see that as essential for no other reason than that the French have one - yes the debate does get as silly as that - then the missiles are even less of a no-brainer than the submarines. The Trident D5 missiles were due to go out of service in 2019 but the Americans, who own the things anyway, are extending the life of their missiles so we can just earn some more browny points in Washington by piggy-backing on that project. This is ideal because Blair can say we haven’t changed a thing, we are continuing with Trident, so nothing we are doing contravenes the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Er, up to a point. But only because we haven’t come to the key issue yet.
The Warheads
The British warheads are critical to the debate. They’re the one issue where MPs – and come to that the rest of us - might just be able to have an input. I’m frankly not putting any money on it but it is the faintest of possibilities, which is more than can be said for the submarines and the missiles.
The British warhead is based on the US W76 warhead, which is known to have problems, with at least one failing to detonate properly. The reason is that it is a sophisticated two-stage warhead designed to hit specific targets like particular Soviet cities and that meant using lots of clever materials that get much less clever as time goes on. They deteriorate with age and we can’t test them to make sure they are still working because of the nuclear test ban.
The response in America has been the development of the reliable replacement warhead. This is a weapon that ignores the clever bits of the old Cold War warheads that deteriorate quickly and – based on the results of previous nuclear tests going right back to the 1940s – uses the old well-proven reliable components that never deteriorate, the bits we know will work. We don’t need sophisticated bombs that will do clever things, we just need bombs that will go bang when we want them to.Des Browne, defence secretary, has denied that we’re interested in the reliable replacement warhead. But senior defence officials let the cat out of the bag earlier this year by pointing out that we were further ahead in research into the new type of warhead than the Americans, who have been conducting an 18-month programme to design one.
That programme began in May 2005, shortly after Blair was re-elected on a mandate to continue with the nuclear deterrent, and is due to have finished this month, shortly before the British White Paper is published. Is the timing coincidental? I doubt it. The government has poured around £3.5bn into a top secret programme at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment to help Britain’s nuclear scientists either redesign the current warhead or design a new one.
The problem with the reliable replacement warhead is that, even if you take the current warhead apart and rebuild it using the reliable bits, it is a new warhead, and a new warhead will breach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We are in a Catch-22 situation. We can’t be sure our old warhead will work without testing it and breaching the nuclear test ban and we can’t replace it with something reliable without breaching the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The warhead is the weak link. It is the one point at which Blair’s determination to spend around £14bn on a weapon we don’t actually need might falter. That’s where his opponents need to focus their fire. It’s the only place they have a chance of stopping him.