Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spare Bed at Harrogate............

...............women only need apply! Sorry, I do hate to be sexist about this, but I do have to draw the line somewhere. So, being as a pal I thought was coming with me has decided to leave it until Autumn conference - I do have space for anyone, of the female variety, who has left it too late to get a room. I am staying in a very nice little guest house dead opposite the conference centre, so very convenient. It also means I now have space in my car, so anyone needing a lift en route from Bedford let me know, although I may not come back on Sunday. Also I liked Tom Papworth's suggestion of meeting at conference...........fantastic idea.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Newsnight on the Unrecognised Villages of the Negev

Being a complete email/blog junky, marooned as I am in a fabulous hotel in Belfast.....with no internet access, I have had to swallow my pride and filch a laptop from a random guy who unfortunately found himself sat in the hotel bar. So, have caught up on emails one of which from a friend who runs the Regional Council for the Unrecognised Villages in the Negev let me know about this Newsnight feature.

Normal service will resume tomorrow........hope someone has wi-fi at conference or I will seriously be suffering from withdrawal symptoms!


My evening started at an IPPR event where our Nick Clegg delivered an excellent speech on Justice and Liberty. I took a pic and if anyone can remind me how to get it from my camera onto a card I will post it. More about his speech later as I am far too tired to decipher my notes at this time of night and I still have to pack for a jaunt over to Northern Ireland tomorrow..........oh this jetset life!!!

I got back to Bedford in time to catch the end of a meeting about young people's services held at our local Fire Service HQ. I came in as a representative from the Youth Service was speaking. Now, for many years I had to kind of bite my tongue as a Youth Worker/Manager in Bedfordshire. It didn't go down too well that I was a Lib Dem councillor when I had a Tory employer. So who can blame me if I took the opportunity to vent my spleen............? The chair, Cllr Margaret Davey, erstwhile Tory but now leading light in our mayor's Better Bedford Party, took exception. She accused me of being too political for having a pop at the Tories (who frankly decimated the Youth Service) and Labour (who talk the talk but have never ever walked the walk). OK......point taken. If you are a local really should never ever be political. Good job I am on the way out on May 3rd!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Trident......have our MP's been gagged?

Well, by this time next week t'will be all over bar the shouting. But I am still astounded that despite Colin Ross having written to all our parliamentarians regarding their position on Trident, he has had only two sign his petition, MSPs Mike Rumbles (former Army Major) and Mike Pringle and no others come out against replacement. So, for me, it begs the question? Maybe I have missed it, but I haven't heard so much as a pipsqueak from anyone who does not take the Campbell/Harvey line. I am hoping we will hear more on Saturday - but I ain't holding my breath!

Those following the Campbell/Harvey line may well question my loyalty as an FPC member. Let me be clear, my first loyalty is to my fellow citizens, it is my loyalty to them which lead to me being part of a political party in the first place. My second loyalty is to my party, I am a proud member of the party because I am a Liberal Democrat. My third loyalty is to my leader/ship. Leaders come and go, the party, I trust will remain regardless of who has the privilege of leading it. The vote on Saturday as far as I am concerned will not be a test of the leadership, it will be a test of the party and whether as activists we care about maintaining our much cherished tradition of having ultimate responsibility for the policy of the party we all love and all have a stake in. The alternative is to follow the lead of both Labour and Conservative and abdicate that responsibility to the "great and good" in the parliamentary party, (shadow) cabinet, or in Labour's case, Blair and Murdoch.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Families............who'd 'av 'em!

I am just back from my Dad's 78th birthday lunch. Not everyone could make it, but it was very nice, even if we had to wait over an hour for our food! My Dad thought it was hilarious that he had spent most of the day believing it was his 77th birthday, I didn't think that was much of a problem, better 77 than 79! But, it hits home how that thief of time ultimately robs all of us of our health, our faculties et al.

My Dad has always been the cleverest man I know and to see him suffering the effects of ageing is quite painful. He had what the doctors think may have been a mini stroke in the summer and since then he hasn't ever been quite the same. He no longer reads (something he has always done veraciously, I have lost count for example how many times he has read Pepys and all Churchill's works), he has false memories, particularly of the time when he was in hospital in the summer when he is still convinced his food was served up in glass tubes and that his sister was writing to the hospital regularly to let them know what his heartbeat was! But the upside is, that, having been a manic depressive since I can remember, he now seems to be far more outgoing. Today he was talking about taking a trip out to Paddington (where he was born) and visiting all his old haunts, something he would never have done before. We were also discussing student debt and how abhorrent it was that students were having to pay for their education, he looked a little wistful, he was one of those working class lads who in his day made the grade to be able to go to university but whose family couldn't afford to send him.

During the meal the family were discussing my daughter Lara, how she is old beyond her years and everyone seems to look to her to resolve problems. My mum commented on how beautiful she was too. I agree, (of course I'm her mum) recounting the story of when she had visited my office just before Christmas and someone had commented on how lovely she was. I had retorted that no one ever says "she must get it from her mum!" To which my darling mum replied "Well you have other qualities dear." As I said.......families, who'd 'av 'em!

Why Simon Hughes is Right Again! Oh.......and Ming!!!

I was delighted to hear Simon Hughes on Week in Westminster this morning talking about tackling gun and gang culture. I can't tell you everything he said, because of the one thing he said about the importance of detached youth work. OK, so I am a bit of an evangelist for youth work, having spent most of my adult life in the youth service, including many years representing Youth Workers at a national level for Unison. But, for me, the reality is, that good youth work works. Whatever Mr Cameron wants, not all families will stay together and for some, with violent fathers, it is better that they don't. The important thing is that young people continue to have good role models and trusted adults they can relate to.

Last week I heard from a colleague who works for youth charity Fairbridge, that Billy Cox, the young man shot dead last week, had been working with Fairbridge to try and turn his life around. On Friday I went to Elephant and Castle to pick up the Trident T shirts I had ordered from the market stall Fairbridge had been running as part of their "Learn to Earn" programme. I was impressed by the young people running the stall and the youth worker working with them. As the pic shows, these are the people who have to be engaged if we are going to change anything. And youth work is proven to be one of the most successful ways to engage them. It is no good having high powered ministerial or "community leader" level meetings without recognising that those who have the real power and influence on the streets are the very young people our society often marginalises and demonises.

So, delighted to see that Ming has also picked up this issue. Let's put our money where our mouths are now and make a commitment to properly fund this Cinderella service. The benefits will not only be for our young people, but for our society as a whole.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Message from Nick Harvey

I am sure like many of you I just got an email from Nick Harvey about a web forum on Monday, I will be otherwise engaged but sounds like a great opportunity for all of us, which ever side of the fence we come from, even if we are sitting on that fence!

Trident.......Loos Rule and what really happened at FPC

I've decided to come up with my own rule in response to Chatham, whoever he is (and it must have been a he, lets face it!) My rule says, that we are all adults, despite, in my case I have to admit, the odd bit of evidence to the contrary. Also, those of us who are in the party, are, I trust, all Liberal Democrats. Now, how we interpret our Liberal Democraticness, may, it has to be said, on occasions, differ. But, in the midst of any differing, my rule says, lets not lose sight of what unites us, even though we may be in for a bumpy few days debating what divides us.

Alex Wilcock has suggested that those of us who were at FPC give our views about what happened. Well here goes. The first time we had a presentation about Trident and were warned not to speak to the press about it, I think may have been my first meeting. No proposal, just facts, were presented. Fine so far. We were invited to ask questions, but not to express opinions. In between times, Ming came out with what was to be the majority position from the working group. That was the first we knew of it. At the next meeting, at which Ming was not present, concerns were expressed about the process and it was agreed that a paper would come back to a future FPC for discussion (watch this space?!)

It was at the following meeting, when the majority and minority report were presented, that David Grace, as a member of the working group was present. At that meeting, still being a little green around the gills, or should that be behind the ears(??!!)...oh no that's wet........... I have to say I was struck by the pomposity of some contributors to the debate. Describing the majority motion as "responsible" immediately casts aspersions on the "irresponsible" minority motion. What frankly scared me rigid was the idea, expressed by some, that this was the compromise position.........time will tell, but I fear that those taking this view will sadly be proved totally wrong and misguided. For me it was the perching precariously on the fence position.

Following the meeting, one of my fellow FPCers, for whom I have a great deal of time, tried to explain to me the benefits of compromise. As someone who was used to having to negotiate and compromise he felt this was a noble endeavour. Actually, as someone who has negotiated and compromised at a national level on behalf of my trade union, I think I may have a little experience in this field too..........and my view is very clear. There are some things we can compromise on (let's say percentage pay increase this year) and there are some things we cannot compromise on (let's say..........reintroduction of the death penalty). For me and I am sure, many others, Trident is in the "I can't compromise" bracket. Now, my motivation for taking that position may be different from others and for those who take the "lets take a decision not to take a decision" view, they may be equally convinced that what they are doing is the right thing to do. But, they need to understand, for those of us for whom subscribing to a position which trumpets saving the planet whilst hanging on to the very thing that is designed to destroy it, there is no wriggle room whatsoever!

And so to the thorny business of Mr Chatham. As I have said before, no one should ever assume.........I asked the question about FPC precisely because I had never been given any terms of reference which spelt out the terms of engagement, I actually asked a parliamentary member of FPC who also wasn't clear. I know for a fact that David Grace respected the Chatham House Rule regarding the working party because he discussed it with me with regard to one of the senior witnesses. And that makes sense. We cannot ask people to come and speak frankly to working groups without a degree of anonymity. However, FPC is an elected body of our party - accountable to the members who put their trust in us to represent them. As I have made clear, I would not report what individuals had said (unless I had their permission), but without a clear statement to the contrary I can understand why David felt he was at liberty to do so.

So, please, can we move on? To those on FPC who were named I would say, yes, challenge David and or Liberator if you were misquoted, or believed you should not have been quoted at all, but please remember your first accountability is to the members who elected you. Did you really say anything you would be ashamed to say to them, or will not say if you speak in Harrogate? Yes, lets be clear about the terms of reference of FPC, but lets also not forget our alleged liberal principles............or am I being unreasonable?!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Well that's it then..........all over for "Cllr" Jack

I'm just back from my last ever Bedford Borough Council meeting. I'm not part of the furniture like one of my "independent" fellow councillors.........hanging on to get his 60, or is it 70 year award and who in a debate about diversity on our wonderful biannual River Festival commented that we only needed "a little bit" of diversity.......No, I am a spring chicken in comparison only having done 5 years.

It took me back to reminiscing about my first council meeting, the dreadful pic they took of me (sorry, how shallow I am!), that first year when we had 3 elections, a normal one, a referendum to see if we wanted a mayor, and a mayoral one. And now here we are again, once again determined to elect a Lib Dem mayor.

In those days, finding deference of any kind totally abhorrent, I squirmed every time anyone called me Councillor, no, I would say, my name's Linda. It reminded me of the many times in my youth work career where young people, used to calling adults miss or sir, would call me miss and I would be duty bound to correct them. The only exception, I have to confess, was the day I phoned up to speak to the Borough solicitor. I think it was something to do with the demonstrations I had been involved in organising in the run up to the Iraq war (a friend and I had gone out tying black bows to all the lampposts and trees in the town centre, only to have them taken down by the council as they were a safety hazard!) and whether or not constitutionally we could debate the issue at council. Well his secretary answered and was exceptionally rude, no doubt imagining me to be one of the rif raf. When I insisted on speaking to the said man and she asked who I was I had to answer, not Linda, but Councillor Weerasirie. I have never heard such a swift turn around in attitude in my life! No, deference, as far as I am concerned, is a threat to democracy!

So, no more leaving work early, worrying about whether there will have been a "passenger incident" on the Northern Line, or whether I will have got so totally absorbed in some intellectually stimulating article in London Lite that I end up in High Barnet, or whether Midland Mainline will have ground to a halt due to the wrong kind of leaves/snow/wind or maybe passengers from Bedford, whether I am going to disgrace myself again by accidentally getting on the train which doesn't stop until Market Harborough - heaven help us - thus meaning I don't arrive in time to nominate my fellow councillor as chair - no those days are all I have to worry about is getting to FPC on time and ensuring I am fully versed in the vagaries of the Chatham House sorry David, Rule!!!!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Midland Mainline.........Blackberries and Pancakes

Yesterday I got up very early (for me) because I had an early meeting at work and being an unreconstructed Mum, knowing I was unlikely to return home much before midnight, felt I ought to play my part in ensuring my son didn't eat junk food for the second night running...........So, before leaving to catch the 7.53 I prepared a curry sauce which my unreconstructed 18 year old had only to tip the prawns into and cook the rice to have a good healthy dinner.

On the platform I met someone, who, for obvious reasons will sadly remain nameless. He told me a sorry tale - he had inexplicably dropped his Blackberry in the don't ask me what he was doing taking the Blackberry into the loo with him.........but he did, so let that be a lesson to us all. The Blackberry clearly has an inbuilt survival mechanism because as it hit the water it went into vibrating mode, spinning around the "bowl". This meant that my pal couldn't retrieve it for around 10 minutes......clearly his mother was slightly concerned about what on earth was going on up in the bathroom! Apparently when he reported the accident to his workplace, explaining he had "spilt coke" on it, they enquired, "what sort of coke?" said he........

So, back to the curry sauce........and tho I say it myself my curry sauce is to die for....I arrived for the FPC meeting in the hallowed halls of Committee Room 18. You know that moment, that moment just before a meeting is about to start when an unearthly hush descends? Well, that happened just as I was in the middle of taking a call from my darling son telling me that Jez, who shares our house, had chucked the curry sauce away, thinking it was leftovers! WHAT?!!! Its OK, says he, I've ordered........ Much sympathy, but all I could think about was the fact that I could have had another 20 minutes in bed and my son was back on the Doner kebabs!

And so to the pancakes. Having arranged to meet Simon H after FPC he kindly treated me to supper, including pancakes (I didn't realise it was Shrove Tuesday), I convinced myself this was OK as tomorrow it would be Lent and I could return to my intermittent diet. But, quelle surprise! This evening, I arrive home at 10.30 to find my dear son has been cooking........pancakes! How could I resist?

FPC, Chatham House Rules and whether the Parliamentary Party are pulling a fast one on Trident.

Like Alex Wilcock I sat through the debate on Chatham House rules in FPC last night, caused by the naming of members in a recent article in Liberator. As a new kid on the block no one ever made it clear to me that we operated under the rules (which seem to be open to various interpretations anyway) and I only found out when I checked up. Whilst my elders and betters may think it is absolutely obvious that FPC operates in such a way, my personal view is that it is wrong to assume anything you haven't spelt out. As someone who was elected by members to represent them I believe my first responsibility is to them. Having also been subject to the Official Secrets Act I also object to unnecessary secrecy. However, I do see the point of not reporting who said what about what in order to allow members to vent their spleen with impunity.

What was of far more concern to me and others was the use of Cowley Street facilities for Tim Garden and Nick Harvey to send out focus style leaflets to party chairs. When I asked about this I was told it was paid for by the Parliamentary Party. However, their right to access the addresses of party chairs for this purpose has to be questionable. I am pleased that party President Simon Hughes will be investigating. Methinks the supporters of the motion are getting worried about losing. They should be.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Midland Mainline..........and the problem with "public" transport

Friday morning, having really had to drag myself out of bed, I arrived on the platform awaiting the 8.25 to be greeted by my old pal, Tory boy Cllr ......sorry Speaker, Andrew McConnell who persuaded me it was worth paying the outrageous £8 upgrade to travel with him in first have been known to fork out £4.50 on the way home (figuring that if I've had the kind of day where I want a glass of wine, a coffee, sparkly water and two snacks its pretty good value), but now that has risen to £8.......and in the morning........when all you get for your trouble is a coffee, orange juice and a biscuit?! But, my intelligence training got the better of me and I couldn't resist the opportunity to learn more about the Tory mayoral campaign......(!)
Andrew and I also debated the shortcomings of Midland Mainline, free coffee and tea yes, but consistently overcrowded trains at key moments in the day and especially when only half a train turns up. What is most galling it that if you dare to complain and admit you are from Bedford you are likely to get your head well and truly bitten off - after all it’s all our fault. Everyone on Midland Mainline it seems hates that fact that they get (according to them) 70% of their passengers from Bedford. We should consider ourselves extremely fortunate they even bother stopping to pick us up, especially as we have the slow, cold and dirty alternative of First Capital Connect! OK, so there we are, that's a good approach to have to promoting public transport for the sake of the planet! So maybe our experience is a metaphor for what is wrong with the whole privatisation of public services agenda. Choice is only choice when it is a real choice, there are some choices we are unable to make. I could of course choose to travel on Virgin, only problem is I don't want to have to drive to Milton Keynes to do so! I still really fail to see the point of privatising services which you then have to regulate and have little or no democratic control over. Creating false markets just doesn't make economic sense to me............Don't get me wrong. I'm no socialist; in local government we don't make our own paper, that would be foolish. But I worry about the continuing drive to "if it moves - privatise it". Where is the evidence that these false "choices" contribute to anything but the shareholders of the companies allegedly providing the services. I remember when British Gas was sold off my aunt writing in reply to the letter she got asking if she wanted to buy shares, I'm sorry said she, how can I buy something I already own? So rant over, will return to this topic.

On a lighter note our local party held a wine tasting session last night...........learned a lot about "legs" in wines, were they thunderthighs, Pippy Longstocking, or legless? My pals Yas and Jill and Yas's dad Chris, came too. When it came to the red wines Yas would have preferred something "richer and older"....oh, that was the men she was referring to!

Friday, February 16, 2007

We can cut.........gun crime?

There are days when I wonder if I can be more upset or feel more is such a day. The spate of killings in South London, the horror of 15 year olds with their whole lives ahead of them gunned down in their homes beggars belief. I have spent most of my adult life working with young people, I believe in them absolutely and will defend them against the nonsense of ASBOs, the idea that having a hoodie makes you a prospective criminal (as my pal Tom Wylie says - I blame the Franciscans!) and the notion that at 16 they are old enough to defend the country, pay taxes and marry but not old enough to vote - but I will not and cannot defend cold blooded killing.

As a Christian I believe life is a gift of God, a gift sometimes squandered but something of infinite worth which should be protected and respected. Somewhere something has happened to these young people to turn their values on their head. My first emotion when hearing news of the killing yesterday of Billy Cox was that of a mother. That could have been my son. The tragedy is that those who carried out the killing have mothers too, whose lives will also be shattered at losing their sons. What is happening in our society when young people feel they have a right to carry guns and take the lives of other human beings?

I believe in our policies, I believe they can begin to make a difference but there are two elephants in the room we must start to try to address. Firstly, to understand that politics has its limitations. We can try to influence behaviour and in Labour's case, even maybe to control behaviour, but ultimately there are some things we cannot do and certainly cannot claim to do. We need to begin to understand the motivation of those young people who end up entrapped in a world where the reality is that many of them are very scared. Many have grown up without positive role models, possibly within violent homes, they feel they have little control over their lives. Gangs and guns can give them that sense of control, however abhorrent. The only thing politics can do is provide the resources to reduce the risk factors, protect children and to offer alternatives, it can't ensure those alternatives are taken up. One of those alternatives is youth provision. I absolutely believe in the value of youth work. The tragedy is that youth services have been decimated 1997 I, like many others, believed those cuts would end, but they didn't. Yes, the government has put in what is lovingly referred to as "funny money", but there has been very little in terms of sustainable development, youth clubs are still far more likely to close than to open.

We also need to address seriously the lack of resources available for other public services. Now, admittedly there would be a lot of efficiency savings if we weren't pouring so much money into the coffers of private contractors, in particular consultants, however, we have a deficit. We continually try to "make and mend". We are horrified that someone is burgled and the police advice is to "pop in in the morning"........this is not because our police officers are sitting around chatting sipping tea, it is because they have to prioritise, maybe the stabbing on the other side of town needs to take priority. We constantly criticise our social services, but how many departments ever have adequate resources to enable staff to do anything but firefight? And the iceberg which is the current state of our much valued NHS is likely to transmogrify into a timebomb. Even as Lib Dems we trumpet the fact that we have increased council tax by the absolute minimum, we frame our national policies within the current spending limits. Please, will someone get real? We have a choice, crap public services and low taxes, mediocre services and current taxes, or excellent public services, a better quality of life for all............and we may have to pay for it! Other countries, for example Finland, do pay higher taxes, but they get the services to go with them, my particular favourite - youth clubs in every district open 24/7! How I long for a day when our leaders will have the courage to be honest with the British people. If you want it, you will have to pay for it. All we promise is that we will be prudent and honest custodians of your hard earned cash.

And secondly.........maybe we need to take a long hard look at our education system. The metaphor I always use is this. We don't put lime loving plants into acid soil and then blame the plants if they don't thrive, but we are prepared to do that to our children! Yes, for most children school works, but for the few who are failed by the system, it doesn't. I can remember the despair of a mother who was being taken to court because of her daughter's truancy. She was putting her on the bus to school every morning, but she never arrived, she was so traumatised by school she was seriously self harming. In the end she deliberately got herself excluded. Sorry, what are we thinking of submitting some of our children to torture? And others, as I have witnessed, are constantly put down and criticised by the very people who are supposed to unlock their potential. Having trained as a teacher and having the notion of the danger of "self fulfilling prophecy" drummed into me........I sometimes wonder if for some teachers that has become a mantra.

We can't interfere in the lives of families, but we can and should do everything to ensure that child poverty is a thing of the past, that our children are properly protected and that our education system caters for the need of all our children.


I was going to get myself and Colin Ross T Shirts made with the No New Trident logo on for Conference. Today I heard that youth charity Fairbridge has a stall at Elephant and Castle market today and most of next week, making customised T Shirts for £5. I would especially like to support them, so if anyone else wants a T Shirt and can let me have size and colour I will get them for you if you promise to pay me at conference!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Not in Our Name - Trident Debate Hots Up

The Indy has today launched its Anti-Trident campaign Not in Our Name. To those who worry about us passing a unilateralist motion at conference I would say, don't worry, we will be catching the wave which is building and will soon reach a tipping point. Not in Our Name will be the mantra of the majority of British people, let's set the agenda not be moribund by it!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Abbas, Olmert and Rice...........whither the roadmap?

OK, so this is how I spend my Valentine's night........ just got this email, if you support the sentiments please sign the petition and pass on to others:

Dear friends,

It will soon be seven long and devastating years since the top Israeli, Palestinian, and international leaders sat down together to talk peace. But this week that tide could turn - on Monday, President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert will meet briefly with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Jerusalem.
We cannot afford to let Monday's summit lead nowhere. This may be our best chance in years at peace, but only if the players agree to meaningful negotiations. We have to show them the world is watching. Click below to sign our petition calling for full Middle East peace talks -- your message will be delivered to summit leaders and published in leading Israeli and Palestinian newspapers on Monday:
Our ad will include the number of signatures and the number of countries from which they've come. The more signatures there are, the louder our voice will be. Can you sign, tell your friends and family, and help us get to 100,000 signatures from 150 countries by Monday? Our petition will also be delivered to the "Quartet" powers (the UN, US, European Union and Russia) meeting in another MidEast summit next Wednesday:
It's time for the international community to step up on this issue. We can't afford another seven years of bloodshed and war in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict sits at the heart of regional instability, and tensions in the Middle East threaten our security around the world.
All the pieces for a renewed peace process are falling into place. The Palestinians have decided to share power, end internal conflict and restart peace talks; the vast majority of Israelis stand ready to support a viable accord. The international community must help cross the next hurdle by bringing all parties to the table.
Billions of us around the world want this conflict solved. That's just one of the things we have in common. Let's join across cultures and borders to call for real Middle East talks today. Add your voice and tell your friends – together we will make a difference.

Westminster Challenge - Support Nick Clegg and Jenny Willott

The Westminster Challenge is now well underway. Again the Lib Dems are disproportionately represented (2 out of 5 MPs) with Nick Clegg and Jenny Willott (and they always gave the impression of being so sensible!) I have to say I so admire them both, I have no doubt it will be an amazing experience, but enormously demanding, and I am quite sure my tongue would be permanently stuck to the side of the igloo by now!

Both Nick and Jenny are looking for sponsorship so if you haven't already sponsored them please do so and let other supporters know too, lets show that what we lack in numbers we make up for in generosity!

So watch this space for the exclusive Nick has promised me if he gets back alive.....

Valentines............Yellow Roses...........and fanciable MPs

I suppose the problem with Valentine's day without a "significant other" is that it's a bit like Christmas when you've stopped believing in Santa..........All around you are men and women of all shapes, sizes, demeanours, people you would never in your wildest dreams put in the same room as a red rose, protectively carrying their (increasingly) enormous and elaborate bouquets, scurrying purposefully to their darlings. One feels a little like a child, face pressed up against the window, watching the party without an invitation..........oh heavens, shall I go hang myself now?!

But, who am I complain? I did get a Valentine's text from someone who will never be my Valentine, and Martin. Martin is the most wonderful and adorable human being you will ever meet in your life...only one slight problem (for us girlies)....pardon the cliche, but he is gay. Yep, wasn't it ever thus?????????! Anyway, dear Martin made everyone's day, he arrived in the afternoon with a huge bunch of yellow roses which he presented to all us single women who were unlikely to get so much as a dandelion on this day of days. One young woman, who Martin suspected had a partner, tried to get a rose "I thought you had a boyfriend?" says M, "Yes" says A, "Well you can b***er off then!" says M! A goes and looks up the meaning of a yellow rose and informs us all it means jealousy.........but also that's OK then. And of course, now there is only one problem, the presence of a yellow rose on our desks............yeah.....

One person I didn't get a Valentine message from was our esteemed Speaker, Cllr Andrew McConnell. That's Cllr Andrew McConnell, renowned Toryboy and erstwhile dirty stop out! (sorry had to get that in).

So it was comforting to hear that one of our most fanciable MPs Lynne Featherstone also received no Valentines........and I am left wondering if their is something promising in the fact that proportionally we had 20% of the vote even if we only have less than 10% of the MPs and .000001% of the media, punching above our weight here methinks???

Now, having declined an invitation from Yas to go to a luvvy do in Hoxton, I returned home to find that my darling son had cooked...........for his girlfriend. But that was excuse enough to crack open the Moet Martin gave me for Christmas and tuck into the chocolate truffles.

PS: Sorry about the black (not my colour as I discovered on Saturday) but can anyone tell me why I can't change my font colour to brown anymore????!!!!

More on Ming's BME Reception.......reasons to be hopeful?

Yesterday I received a moving email in response to my blog about Ming's BME reception, it was from the person who was referred to in Tony Lindsay's article, the person who had been accused of "having a chip" on his shoulder. Here it is in full:

Hi Linda

Thanks for that!

I woke up this morning thinking of chucking it all in, but after reading your blog I feel a lot more positive. I am encouraged that I am not alone and there are other people of good will who are trying to change things.

Whilst I appreciate all the comments my initial question has triggered 'What is wrong with white men?', I would very much like to take some ownership and respond through your blog and hope you will consider posting my response on your blog site, as I am a little limited in the ITC area.

Firstly, as a committed Liberal Democrat, I believe that we share a common bond, regardless of our backgrounds or circumstances and there are more things that unite us than divide us and therefore working together we have more to achieve than we are likely to lose.

Secondly, I think racism must be seen as stemming from racist ideology, which operates simultaneously at the levels of our subconsciousness and consciousness.
Therefore, to challenge racism and racist thinking require the victims of racism and the racist to, use the metaphor of Tony, engage on a journey. Thirdly, this journey is about discovering about ourselves as much as discovering about each other, because unfortunately through the process of socialisation our preconceptions of each other and of the world in which we live have been distorted or manipulated by the oppressors.

Finally, it is only when we as Liberal Democrats are willing and able to engage on this journey of discovery will we have the moral, political, social and economic knowledge and understanding to address our co-habitation as citizens of this planet.

One love, one aim and one destiny.

Cllr. Desmond Clarke (North Bedfordshire Lib Dem)

Monday, February 12, 2007

In the Pink (or not) with Lembit and Steve Hitchins

I spent the weekend in Peterborough on a training weekend for women on the approved list, courtesy of the GBTF. It was an absolutely brilliant weekend, which I thoroughly enjoyed, only one slight incident marring the event, an incident I intend to return to later. All the women were amazing and it was a great privilege to be there. The highlight of the weekend had to be Lembit's "during dinner speech" combined with public speaking training for us MP wannabees. We were invited to ask questions which he refused to answer unless we did so with the correct degree of projection, animation and variation of tone..............hilarious as you might imagine! I have to say Lembit is certainly one of our great assets and it is absurd to suggest that publicity surrounding his private life has done the party any harm. He is someone ordinary people, who do not live their lives perched on tops of pedestals, can and do relate to. He is very clear he has done nothing wrong and frankly my view is that the party is being rather stuffy about him at the moment. I for one put our improvement in the polls down to our greater exposure thanks to him!

Sunday lunch was not quite so amusing. We were addressed by Steve Hitchins, a gentleman I have not had the opportunity to meet before. Steve spoke to us about the diversity fund and I took the opportunity to question him , of course I was not naive enough to expect him to agree that his appointment sent out the wrong message to BME and women members (ie only a white man is good enough to look after your interests), but I was quite shocked by his reply. He responded that he was the best person for the job, despite that assertion not having been tested in open competition, and that to have appointed a BME or woman candidate would have been merely "tokenism" . I have to say I found that deeply insulting, as I did being addressed as "luv", a clear attempt to put me down in front of others. His attitude also upset other women who were present, two of whom came up to me afterwards, gave me a hug and thanked me for speaking out.

Sadly this experience reinforced many of the concerns I have about tackling inequality in our party. On the weekend we were urged to "Walk the Talk" would be nice to think this principle applied across the board.

On a lighter, but sadder note.........I was devastated to discover, on "having my colours done" that I should not've guessed it......SHOCKING PINK! Was advised to get my hair cut too.......sometimes life is so hard :-(

Polar Bear Mayor

I was amused to read in our local rag Beds on Sunday yesterday that they had picked up on my comment about Mayor Frank Branston being like a polar bear, an endangered species, likely to be extinct after May 3rd! It is particularly amusing since Frank used to be the owner of said rag - which continues to be his loyal supporter.

Anyway, anyone out there who wants to help us elect the next Lib Dem mayor, do come to sunny Bedford when you have time and give us a hand. Having finished second last time we have a real opportunity to win this time!
By the way, the reference to bears comes from my promise to him to have my revenge after he described me as "Cuddly Councillor Jack" in BOS following an interview on ITN News at Autumn conference a couple of years ago!

Ming's BME reception..........."Chips or Pips?".........on diversity cont.

I was pleased to be able to send five local members/potential members to Ming's BME reception a couple of weeks ago, one of the non members,Tony Lindsay, shares his reflections on the evening - thanks Tony!:

What a wonderful time I had at the Houses of Parliament with Menzies and everyone else. The purpose was to encourage members of the BME community to get involved in politics from the grass roots to the great house itself.

It was nice to see so many people there, the audience was split about fifty/fifty, and you would expect them all to be the "converted" but when black people have a point of view, are passionate, argue their point intellectually and are assertive you then start to hear the usual comments of being aggressive, obnoxious or shouting and the favourite one that you hear over and over again " You have a chip on your shoulder" raised it's ugly little head.

A colleague of mine, a black Liberal Democrat councillor from Bedfordshire was talking to one of the "converted" and asked a question, the gentleman he was talking to did not understand the point of the question and did not know the answer, the gentleman got quite frustrated, red faced and then reverted to type and used that famous phrase "You have a chip on your shoulder" my stunned colleague remained calm and stated that he had "pips on his shoulders not chips" and calmly walked away after excusing himself from the gentleman. The gentleman made a quick exit and I did not see him again, although I looked for him because I wanted to know what did he mean exactly? Is this how you react to black people? Why are you here if that is your belief?

As an advocate for racial equality I was stunned to hear those words in the grand surrounding. Is this really the welcome that Menzies had expected for the very members he is trying to promote and encourage? I wonder; I asked the question to Simon from Operation Black Vote - Do they really mean it? Simon responds with that is exactly the very question to ask. The official welcome and the inspirational speakers were great, I actually realised that we were not the only ones on this journey, but afterwards some of the people there looked away from you when you tried to catch their eye, just so that you could start a conversation with them and ask who? where? why? what? and how? and I thought that we all believed in the same cause, perhaps some of them thought that they were better than us mere mortals, but I may be mistaken.

There needs to be an honest approach from the Party itself; ignorance is bliss as long as your not being affected by it! If the party is really interested in the black community reaching its potential the question we must ask and answer is.........

What is wrong with white men? - This is in respect to the fact that most of the decision makers in this country are white men - if they really wanted to change the future, really remove the obstacles and glass ceilings for the black community, really wanted to enable us to reach our real potential, really wanted to accept that we are just as capable as the next person in whatever field we want to specialise in, stop the educational genocide, then they are in the position to do that.

Only from a position of honesty, only from a position of knowledge, only from a position of caring for one another will we banish the immortal words of " You have a chip on your shoulder" when really who was the ignorant fool?

Tony Lindsay

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Loos Muze Exclusive......Bruce Kent on Lib Dems and Trident

"The Lib Dems are seen as a kind of third force in the politics of this country.People look to them for independent action and judgement.The Trident decision calls for moral courage and conviction based on knowledge. It is not a moment for perching uneasily on the fence."

Last week Bruce Kent addressed a packed audience in Bedford on the subject of Trident. Anti Trident local MP Patrick Hall also spoke, and I was invited to outline the Lib Dem position - embarrassing or what?! Anyway, I asked Bruce if he would write something for me addressing our position in particular. That article follows with grateful thanks to Bruce:

The proposal coming from our Labour Government that we should spend spend something like £25 000 000 000 on yet another generation of nuclear weapons is bad news for this country and for the rest of the world. For this country because nuclear weapons give us only the illusion not the reality of security.For Britain to plan for nuclear weapons until at least the middle of this century is an open invitation to other countries to claim also that their security needs the same..It gives a green light to nuclear proliferation with all the risks that that entails. Those risks include the massive dangers of accident or human miscalculation. We do not hear enough about the many times during the last forty years when we have come to the brink of disaster as much by accident as by design. Of course the massive sum of money involved dwarfs all those real social needs which are today starved of funds. Hospital, schools, pension funds and public transport could be vastly improved if such sums were more wisely spent.To renew Trident is also a disaster for the rest of the world. It turns the world away from planning actively for the nuclear abolition negotiations, which the International Court of Justice said in 1996 that we had a legal obligation to pursue and bring to a successful conclusion,.This was to be done' in good faith'. There is nothing of good faith in planning for another generation of nuclear weapons and at the same time failing to start abolition negotiations. A draft treaty is already on the table at the UN. What is lacking is political will.The Lib Dems have a major opportunity if they have the courage to take it. It would be great if they came up with a unanimous NO to yet more nuclear weapons and an equally clear YES to urgent abolition negotiations. Even Henry Kissinger and friends are now on the abolition trail. Yet here in this country, driven by a mixture of nationalism and illusion about genuine security, it is by too many assumed that not having nuclear weapons is a sign of weakness.However I suspect that the Lib Dem management has by this time gone so far down the road of expediency that a collective NO is now perhaps too much to hope for. If given it would bring in disillusioned voters by the bucket full. The next best call would be for a delay on any decision .There is no need to make one now. We are all being forced onto the Blair timetable. A decision on renewal can and should be deferred until 2010, after the next review conference of the nuclear non -proliferation treaty. At least by then we will see if abolition negotiations have made any progress. By that time too there will have been some chance of a genuine debate within this country. So far there has not been one. Lib Dem M.P.s should, if they have not already done so, at once to sign early day motion 579 which calls for delay. Already it is clear that in Scotland those urging another generation of British nuclear weapons are going to suffer seriously in the spring elections for the Edinburgh Parliament.In our forthcoming local elections there will be many who well understand that money spent on these new weapons of mass destruction cannot be spent as well on pressing local needs. 'Make Poverty History ' was the great call of two years ago. Money spent on a new Trident is a denial of all that was then promised.The Lib Dems are in a good position to take an independent line.The claim that another generation of nuclear weapons will act as an insurance policy against distant threats is not a difficult one to rubbish. A nuclear arsenal does nothing to meet the threats that we face now in a very different world.. It simply perpetuates old threats. Today's real threats range from terrorism to global warming.It does nothing to build peace.Real peace cannot be constructed on nuclear terror. The White Paper does not even promise that a new system will be built in this country. Much better that the skills of our ship builders be turned towards nationally funded hospital ships or commercial deep sea drilling platforms. Some money saved by not taking the replacement route must be spent on alternative employment schemes. The Lib Dems are seen as a kind of third force in the politics of this country.People look to them for independent action and judgement.The Trident decision calls for moral courage and conviction based on knowledge. It is not a moment for perching uneasily on the fence.

Bruce Kent
9 2 07

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Trident..........Ming please don't make this a test of your leadership

Like many party members I came home last night to a message from Ming about Harrogate. I was particularly struck by the following extract:

"Conference will be asked to set a new Liberal Democrat policy to reduce significantly Britain's nuclear weapons by 50% - bringing Britain's warheads down to a maximum of 100. If approved these proposals mean that the Liberal Democrats would be pressing for a radical reduction in the size of the British nuclear deterrent so that Britain can take the lead in kick-starting the stalled international disarmament talks.

We are all committed to nuclear disarmament. Working towards global elimination of nuclear weapons is a central principle of our international and defence policies. By cutting Britain's nuclear weapons by 50% and keeping our seat at the table, Britain has the best chance of driving forward the disarmament agenda.
The proposals are not only progressive, they are responsible too. They recognise the delicate situation that the world finds itself in 2007 with regards to proliferation. We must recognise the danger over the next decade of states such as Iran developing nuclear weapons, and the pressure this will place on other powers in their regions to acquire nuclear weapons themselves. Such proliferation could lead in the longer term to one or more such states possibly posing a threat to Britain, its neighbours or allies.

So disarming completely now - just as the security situation looks more potentially alarming than for many years, when we have an effective deterrent with many years life left in it and when the need to take a final decision to replace Trident is some years away - would I believe be the wrong course to take at this time.
In reality, Britain doesn't need to take a final decision on replacing Trident until well into the next decade. Tony Blair has jumped the gun on this because he wants the decision made while he is still Prime Minister. Liberal Democrats should not fall into his trap and be bounced into accepting his flawed logic. Scheduling the final decision for a more realistic date in the next decade would give Britain a number of years to try to create the circumstances in which replacing Trident could prove strategically unnecessary.

If Britain used all its influence to spearhead a renewed drive towards disarmament, and with a better American administration post-George Bush, we could encourage other countries considering nuclear development to sit down and discuss a non-nuclear future. This means keeping Britain's options open for as long as we are able."

Whatever our views on Trident I have to say I do not approve of the way any contentious issue which the leadership is afraid of losing get this sort of treatment, one day and that day may be almost upon us, that approach will come back and bite them in the bottom! The use of the words "responsible" and "progressive" imply that those of us who take a contrary view are by nature irresponsible and unprogressive. Actually what would be very responsible and very progressive would be for Ming to heed the advice in the letter which has been sent to him by the mayor of Hiroshima,Tadatoshi Akiba. Conference should not be subject to the constant emotional blackmail of having their every decision interpreted as support or not for the leader. To do this makes a mockery of the notion that what distinguishes us from the other two main parties is that our members make policy. We are a grown up party well able to debate the issues in a grown up way.......please can we be allowed to get on and do so.

My Night with IDS

About three or so years ago, when Politicos bookshop was closing down, I laid claim to their life size cardboard cut out of Ian Duncan Smith. I secured the deal, despite alleged fierce opposition. I took the said IDS on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf to meet my journalist pal Mick Smith, who I had wound up telling him I had a very interesting contact for him to meet. IDS and I then traversed the DLR, Northern Line and Midland Mainline to Bedford, where he was presented with a Lib Dem rosette or two. Last night, at the Fairbridge Film Awards I met the man himself. Not in the least a cardboard cut out! I confessed what I had done with the Lib Dem rosette and he (such a tease) confessed that he could be persuaded! I have to say I was quite smitten......he has taken his anti poverty work very seriously and I hope it will make a real difference in his party. I may be far from a Tory, but we have to face facts and if we do end up with Cameronville in a couple of years time I hope some of the work IDS has done will have even a cursory influence on his party's policies........or maybe I'm having a senior moment?!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Thanks Simon

Thanks Simon Wilson for reminding us about Mordechai Vanunu. I had the privilege of meeting him whilst staying at St George's in East Jerusalem in October 2005, he is a truly inspirational character, someone who believes his treatment has more to do with his conversion to Christianity than to the information he revealed, most shocking for me was the involvement of our British Secret Service in his entrapment. Whenever I meet people like Mordechai I am in awe. In awe of anyone who is prepared to sacrifice their liberty and even their life, for the future of humanity. Our politics costs us very little and the least we can do for Mordechai is to keep his story in the public eye.

Phew...........will I make it to the end of the week?!

This week is one of those weeks which I know will be amazing, but also one for which my organisational skills will be stretched to the limits. After a hard day at work today , full council budget this evening, tomorrow I am heading off to Brussels with members of the IRC to meet up with some of our MEPs.........actually I'm only going for the chocolate, but don't tell them that! On Wednesday I travel back in the afternoon to attend a Film Festival at IMAX for the young people's charity Fairbridge. Heaven knows what time I will get back to dear old Bedford, but Thursday I am off to Belfast, flying back to Leeds in the evening for a meeting with the DWP in York the following day...........................then on to Peterborough for a training weekend for women candidates, where I have to take an outfit I would wear to a selection interview......well there's a challenge! Will it be the shocking pink boots? I'm only saying all this to make you feel sorry for me/or impressed that I lead such a jetset life! Actually its not usually as manic as this and its partly my fault for thinking I could fit everything in........but there is one blogging for a wee while.........

..........on diversity........ continued.......a view from Fiyaz Mughal

Warning.........I'm on my hobby horse now...........have asked fellow FPCer and former Deputy President and Chair of EMLD Fiyaz Mughal to give his view on where we are on the thorny topic of diversity. Thanks Fiyaz.....:

The Liberal Democrats are at a turning point. The last 6 months have seen a distinct move by the Party to actively promote and collect a Fund for candidates from Black and Minority Ethnic communities, as well as for women candidates. The thinking is to back candidates from these groups who get selected in good and ‘winnable seats.’ The leading member of this ‘Diversity Fund’ is the ex-Cllr and Leader of Islington Council, Steve Hitchens. His task is to work with the Leader’s office and to set up a reference group which will make recommendations on the combination of candidates and seats to the Federal Campaigns Committee. The FCC will make a final decision on the allocation of funds.

There are many in the Party who have questioned the appointment of Steve, however, I will only make judgement on the results that he produces. He certainly has the skills and abilities, though the message is clear. Things cannot continue as they have previously been doing. The ‘laissez faire’ attitude that time will bring forward more and more candidates from these 2 groups simply does not wash anymore. It is a sad indictment of the lack of vision and squandered chances that some members in the Party felt that there was no real urgency in making Parliamentarians more reflective of the communities that they serve. However, things seem to be moving and credit has to be given to Sir Menzies Campbell and to his previous Chief of Staff (Norman Lamb), on pushing forward with schemes that (it is hoped), will help to reduce the barriers to political participation and inclusion for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) candidates. We must not be complacent though! We must not assume that if 1 or 2 BME candidates get elected, that the mission is over. To do so will be a fundamental and fatal mistake for the Party and I am afraid to say that this complacency kicked in when Parmjit Singh Gill was elected in Leicester East. We all know the result at the last General Election; he lost and in doing so there was a scrabble by the Party to put a brave face on matters, when what was needed was a co-ordinated, targeted and adaptable response to the crisis. However, this is in the past and I reserve my judgement on the Diversity Fund until the run up to the next General Election. The Party machinery has begun to kick in and the yellow bird is starting to soar high in the sky. Let’s hope the bird of freedom looks forward to the future; a future where the front benches reflect the diversity of Britain and where one day, Britain can have it’s first Black Prime Minister, whichever Party that may take shape within.

Fiyaz Mughal

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Diversity in the Party? I wish........

I am just back from an excellent media training event in Cambridge run by Vanessa McPake. It was informative, challenging and great fun, however, I couldn't help noticing that I was the only woman. So, here we are again; an event for PPC's dominated by white men. Actually this is not a criticism of the men who attended, rather an observation about an issue we really have to tackle. As a woman I like to blame the men, but I know we women have to take some of the responsibility too. At Autumn conference I was appalled that I was the first woman speaker after 14 men on the Meeting the Challenge debate. Now, maybe we will never achieve true proportionality in the party for a variety of reasons, but the current situation is totally indefensible.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Steve Webb Rules OK!

Just back from a day contemplating the manifesto with my fellow FPCers. Well, managed to get them agree to "No New Trident" as a campaign theme! (No sorry, just teasing, did get three votes but have to confess two of them were mine!)
I have to say how impressive Steve Webb is and how fortunate we are to have him heading up the development of our manifesto. I don't think there is anyone else in our parliamentary team who has the sharpness of intellect combined with awesome organisational, people and listening skills to be able to do such a good job. I feel totally confident that with Steve at the helm we will end up with a manifesto which is clear, focussed and radical enough to engage with the electorate............go Steve!
I very much appreciate the fact that we have employed web technology to enable the membership to be fully involved in the process. The stark fact is that at senior levels, as a party we still lack the diversity necessary to ensure we truly reflect today's Britain. We have a real opportunity to demonstrate what differentiates us from the other two main parties, we must do so.

I am sure, like many of us, I have to deal with the constant doorstep whine..."you are all the same". The fact is we are not all the same. I would like to think that with a Liberal Democrat government, we would not have gone to war in Iraq, our teachers, police officers, nurses et al would not be drowning in a sea of unnecessary paperwork, our children would have more chance of getting education appropriate to their needs; our prisons would not be bursting at the seams and those who did inhabit them would have more chance of breaking out of the cycle of crime through meaningful treatment for mental illness and drug dependency and proper education; our older citizens would have the care they needed without worrying about the cost and our students would not be leaving university burdened with debt; local people would be and feel more involved in having a say in the decisions which affected their lives..............and we would all be able to stand outside the mother of parliaments shouting the odds if we so wished with no fear of being arrested. I could go on, but you get the picture. There is a huge and frankly quite daunting mountain to climb to get our message across to the British people. But we can and we will do it. I hope we will have the courage to do so with panache and aplomb.......(sorry that is such an old fashioned word, but one which my CO used to descibe my behaviour when I was a squaddie!)

Tasteful Loos Muze?

Well, the white was so boring.............apologies for my total shallowness but have had to forgo the pink and opt for the tasteful brown on beige...........not quite Little Shop of Horrors.......but I think it will do...?

Friday, February 02, 2007

………….on politics…………racism in Israeli football……..and Camden

My attempts at a political detox are failing miserably. Last night I went to the launch of the Kick Racism out of Israeli Football campaign. It was held in the plush surroundings of the Clifford Chance offices in Canary Wharf, so easy enough for me to pop in on the way home from work and also devour the delicious, but gnat size “canapés” (you know the sort where you really need to stuff at least half a dozen into your mouth to taste anything, but you are far too ladylike to do so……usually). After watching a disturbing film of Israeli football supporters chanting “Death to the Arabs” and being reminded of what it used to be like on the terraces not so many years ago, the legendary John Barnes spoke passionately and powerfully about both his experiences as a player and the role football can have in building bridges. But he reminded us that just because the kind of racist chanting and banana throwing he had experienced had largely been tackled, it didn’t mean we should give up the fight against the racism which still exists in our society. I am pleased to see this initiative being developed and I hope it will have some impact, but sadly racism is reinforced within the Israeli state by law and that also has to change. I will return to this subject later.

Anyway, I met some interesting people, mainly Jews who assumed I was Jewish…..”but I think we have something else in common? A shared heritage?”……., no my heritage is Irish and Spanish Catholic, Scottish, English and German Protestant……… But it happened several times, so maybe………..who knows.

Then on to the Duck and Goose or somesuch pub in Camden to hook up with Yas who has just returned from a trip to Pakistan for the opening of their National Theatre. I didn't bring up the subject of politics, honest, strangely enough it was that Grundian journalist who will remain nameless who had told Yas all politicians were boring coz all they chatted about was how's that for irony?! It was a late now I'm off for my beauty sleep as back to Camden tomorrow for FPC manifesto day........more later. More later too about tonight's CND meeting in Bedford, when I bravely didn't attempt to defend our current position on Trident..........................

No New Trident

New buttons and banners available here.