Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Trouble with Gay Men is...............

..............they are gay!

Earlier this week I was out for a celebratory lunch with my work pal Martin. Because we both travel a fair bit with our work we haven't had a good catch up for weeks. We swapped notes about what we had been up to. Martin told me how, last Friday, knowing his partner had had a hard week, he had........run him a bath...... poured him a glass of champagne and placed it by the said bath...............filled it (the bath not the champagne!) with flowers and had strewn flower heads from the front door to the bathroom.

Now, maybe I am becoming cynical in my old age, but I can count the number of straight men I know who would do such a thing.....on one......no, no hands! Now I have no wish to offend all you adorable straight men out there, but do tell my I am wrong and you all make equally romantic gestures to your partners on a regular basis! So, let's have a competition, let me know the most romantic thing you have ever done and I'll get Colin Ross to do a poll for the best.................who said I only chat about politcs???!

And if I get the zero replies I anticipate........I think it's about time I got Martin to organise some master classes............

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Blogosphere Cookie Monster, Politics and Slavery.


Last night, after a hard day's work, I applied myself dutifully to updating the scintillating details of my weekend adventures..............after hours slaving over a hot keyboard, what happened??? Someone in cyberspace ate my post. Yes honestly. So, now here ich bin, trying again.


Saturday consisted of a morning wasted on the phone trying to sort out arrangements for my impending house move, though I redeemed myself with an afternoon delivering in the biting cold and driving rain (noble or what) and an evening spent at Yasmin's palatial pile with a selection of her journo/writer friends, one of whom had previously complained about politicians being boring since all they chatted about was politics.............thus I found myself in the taxi repeating to myself the mantra "don't talk about politics", "don't talk about politics" "don't talk about politics". The irony was that it wasn't me wot started it, honest! Soon the whole assembly was at me, fiery darts flying, Simon and the Bermondsey by election (you have to be of a certain age to still be banging on about that), Lib Dems in particular and politicians in general..............I felt like the naughty schoolgirl (well metaphorically of course I was never naughty at school), it wasn't me miss!

Sunday comprised of getting up very late (listen, I am a granny two late nights on the trot is impossible!), doing my dutiful bit of delivery and then off to my niece's 6th birthday party in Lilley village hall (Lilley is a pretty village just across the border from Luton in Hertfordshire). This made it easy for me to get down to Luton Town Hall for their commemoration of the abolition of slavery held in the council chamber.





It was a wonderful event. Highlights for me being the presentation by my friend and fellow Lib Dem, Pauline Stepney, on the history of slavery in Bedfordshire, and the rendition of Oh Freedom by the Luton Gospel Community Choir. What will stick in my mind is Pauline speaking about her maiden name, Duncan. A name acquired by her not so distant ancestor by his slave master, a name which has denied her access to her own heritage.


What drove the abolitionist movement forward was their imagination and their appeal to the grassroots. Josiah Wedgwood created a seal for the movement – a kneeling slave in chains, surrounded by the legend, “Am I not a man and a brother?” It rapidly appeared on coat buttons, hatpins, and women’s jewellery, and was probably the first logo ever specifically designed for a political movement.


I know there is dispute about Wilberforce and his role in all this, but, the letter sent to him by John Wesley,eight days before he died, still ranks for me as one of the most inspiring letters I have ever read:










Dear Sir:


Unless the divine power has raised you us to be as Athanasius contra mundum (against the world) I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be fore you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a "law" in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?

That he who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of, dear sir,

Your affectionate servant,
John Wesley

What beggars belief is that we live in a world where slavery not only still exists, but is accepted and colluded with by the western world. As someone once said, "History repeats itself, it has to, no one ever listens".

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nick Clegg's Leadership Plans

This evening I popped into Westminster on my way home. I had arranged a meeting, for myself and fellow party protaganist Paul Reynolds, with Nick Clegg before catching up with ex Bedfordian Dan Rogerson. Whilst waiting for Paul to arrive I bumped into "blushing" Greg Simpson............

So, Paul and I had an interesting meeting bending Nick's ear about a host of issues, then I had a quick conflab with my local MP Patrick Hall about an event he is jointly sponsoring with Alistair Burt and Simon Hughes for Elijah Trust in June, followed by a pleasant while on the terrace (felt like summer is on its way) with Dan, who was duty whip tonight. We reminisced about the youth club he used to have in his patch when a Bedford councillor, where I sometimes worked and remembered turning up to work one evening to find a fight going on outside about an alleged stolen mobile phone, a twelve year old with a replica gun and the next door children's playground hut ablaze...........what to deal with first........those were the days.

But.........the question you're all dying to hear the answer to. Well.............when we were just finishing with Nick he said he was surprised that I hadn't asked him about the piece he was supposed to be doing for my blog about his Artic Challenge. That's OK says I, don't worry about it, you can do something about your leadership plans instead..............I can't possibly repeat what he told me to do, far too rude for such a ladylike blog!!!!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Great timing by Simon Hughes!

Yesterday was manifesto launch day for our mayoral candidate Christine McHugh, so we were delighted to have Simon Hughes come and support us. He had a packed schedule, having had to attend a funeral in his constituency before taking the train to Luton and then on to the centre of the universe, Bedford! I was on detail to collect him from Luton - this was a subject of some hilarity in my local party it has to be said (may have something to do with a reputation for er........occasionally being a tad late?) But I was able to confound them all, almost. I collected Simon from Chaul End Community Centre (pic is him with Cllrs Clive Mead and Michael Dolling and users of the centre) and used my extensive skills in finding alternative routes to Bedford to get us there........let's say, within the time envelope.........
It was great to have Simon launch Christine's campaign with his customary zing. She is up against "Better Bedford" Mayor Frank Branston. A man who made his fortune by founding Beds on Sunday, an empire which now extends to Luton Hertfordshire and even Milton Keynes. However, having beaten the Tories and Labour into third and fourth place last time, Christine is well placed to become our second woman Lib Dem mayor.
Following this Simon was speaking at local Harpur Trust Bedford School, one of its former pupils being our own Paddy Ashdown. The audience also included a few pupils from one of our local upper schools. The questions were intelligent but less challenging than I had expected. A lot of interest being expressed in our party's view on PR and potential future coalitions. This was followed by dinner, which being as I was acting as Simon's chauffeur (and earbender as you might imagine) I was graciously invited too. I got chatting to the teacher sat next to me, only to discover that her partner was a member of the same team as me at the FSA - small world eh? We then shot up for a flying visit to Yasmin's palatial home (apparently used for the filming of the original Bleak House) which she has taken over in the absence of her parents. Yas is toying with the idea of becoming a party member, something her family are keen on as they think it may calm her down...........hmmmm..........we'll see!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Anti-war T Shirts Illegal

Interesting - this advertisment on After Downing Street (see on the left hand side). How long in Blair's Britain before anti-war T Shirts get banned?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Would a vote against Trident have undermined FPC?

I have been pondering this question all day, since it was raised last night at FPC. It was pointed out that it could have been damaging for FPC, having heard all the evidence, coming up with a motion and putting it to conference to have it fall.

Discussing the issue with a friend this evening I posed the question, would a vote against Trident have undermined the authority of FPC? No, said she, it would have underlined the authority of conference. I liked that. We so often laud the fact that we are the only party who still trust our members to make policy. Dissent is the lifeblood of democracy so we should welcome, rather than try to avoid, it. To rely on arguments about competence, or lack of it, to make decisions is rather like the argument going on about trial by jury at the moment.

FPC is a representative body of our party. We should, on the whole, be in touch and in step, with the members we seek to represent. However, democratic executives of all kinds tend to default to more establishment positions, which can bring them into conflict with their members. If this was happening all the time then yes, it would seriously undermine the FPC, however if it never happens and the expectation became that it should never happen, it begins to undermine our alleged sovereign body, conference.

Maybe because I tend to have an irritatingly challenging nature I find it healthy when the establishment doesn't automatically get its own way, so as for FPC, keep us on our toes, that's what I say!

Or have I got it completely wrong?

New Blogger - Jo Hayes

I was delighted to get a message from my pal, fellow FPCer and Trident protagonist Jo Hayes, with a link to her brand new blog. She has been toying with the idea for a while, so glad to see she has made a start!

As for last night's FPC, there are a few things I want to say, but having been up from 5.30am yesterday until 2pm this morning I may drop off before I manage anything, especially as I want to catch up with all the excellent posts on the budget. Have to say I have been giggling away at Alex Wilcock's chastisement of Theo Butt Philip, but will it work Alex, will it work???!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Is this a wind up? Er..............no

In the public interest I have decided to post an email that is being sent to British experts, offering them senior posts in Iraq. I have found a specific example. Believe it if you can......The job offer email is worded like some kind of irritating advertising of the 'Congratulations ! Good news ! You have won a free laptop' type. A bad taste joke? No, it's a serious job offer from a big US consulting firm close to the Republican Party. It was sent to a friend of mine - who for obvious reasons will remain nameless. And it was sent to a British academic. What's more, it was preceded by a bizarre telephone interview. My friend told me that a junior office worker from the big US firm telephoned him at home one evening and went through a long and bureaucratic questionnaire on the phone, asking lots of questions about his CV and previous work. They explained that they were looking to recruit a senior reconstruction specialist (and as my friend pointed out - fearless genius & suicidal idiot as well !) to run a US reconstruction programme, 'post-surge', in one of Iraq's big provinces. They explained that the assumption behind the new recruitment drive was that the US 'troop surge' will be highly successful. They weren't clear which province but said vaguely it could be one of many. Following this telephone interview no discussions or negotiations, took place, and no detailed description was made of what the work entailed.

[The email doesn't even mention Iraq, even though all of the verbal questions were about Iraq, operations in-theatre, and my friend's 'war experience']. All the changes in typefaces and emboldened text are as sent to him - and are unedited. And remember, this concerns a project where someone will be in charge of the future reconstruction of Iraq, and there is a significant risk of death or injury.Given this background the letter is even more 'jaw-dropping'. See for yourself, below !



Dear Mr xxxxxxx,


Thanks for taking time out of your day to read my email. Great news! The field office has recommended that we move forward with you bringing you onboard. First, I need to know your availability to begin this position in the Middle East ? We would like for you to start on as soon as possible. In the meantime, there are pre-employment forms that must be completed and return back to me within 72 hours. You can to fax them back to me; if that is easier for you. My fax number and email address are below. Therefore, I am attaching the following documents:

RTI application…Disclosure form…USAID Bio Data Form…Personal information form…Badge Application


In addition, I will need a copy of your passport and salary documentation that backs up the salary you put down on the USAID Bio Data form. Your salary documentation can be your pay stub, employment contract, W-2/tax form, or a formal letter from your employer that clearly states base pay. I realize I am requesting a lot from you, however, they are necessary. I really appreciate you taking the time to fill out these forms and sending them to me, as soon as possible.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Congratulations!

Best regards

etc.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Start 'em young, that's what I say!


Peace and Prosperity for Northern Ireland?

In little over a week we will know whether or not Northern Ireland will have been able to take the next step in the peace process with, let's hope, a stable and secure assembly. One of my great joys in visiting Belfast these days is the clear evidence of the peace dividend. The regeneration of the city, the vibrancy and feeling of security, even the soaring house prices are an indication of the very real change.

Last week I was on Donegal Pass and able to snap this poster of Anna Lo (see Colin Ross's piece about her election) yet another indication of how things have changed in Northern Ireland. So, another important step on an often impossibly difficult road. Much done, much still to do, I am sure we wish Anna and all assembly members, charged with making this work for the sake of all their children, very best wishes for a productive and successful assembly.

Politics...........who's boverred?

Well, I am just back from St Patrick's Day celebrations in Bedford. As ever it was a brilliant night, spent with pals from our local rag. The band "Life of Riley" are awesome. What is it about Irish music which liberates the soul? OK, so maybe it has a bit to do with my heritage, Irish, Scottish, a dollop of English, a little Spanish seasoning and a smidgen of German. I know, a bit of a mongrel.................but there is always something which draws me to my Gaelic heritage.

So tonight was great. Dancing, singing, walking home barefoot. I must confess, I haven't done that since my student days 30 years ago, how scary is that? I must admit it hit me hard..............that sensation as you cross from smooth unoffensive paving, to gritty tarmac road, and that realisation that you are more than twice as old as you were when you last did it! So, I go into philosophical mode. Why oh why am I bothered about politics? Life is scarily short, I could be climbing mountains (er........maybe) cruising the world, entering glamorous granny competitions, going to WI meetings..............OK, maybe not. But, the truth is, I have a great life, I have and still have, amazing opportunities, opportunities that have been denied so many. Denied often because of political decisions. So, as a Lib Dem I believe that the decisions we would have made in power would have been different. Globally different, nationally different and locally different. So, I could just take a "s*d the lot of you" perspective and go retire in Donegal...........or I can go on doing what I can, however little, to try and make a difference. Politics........am I boverred? Yes, I think I am.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Trident.......In the Interests of the Country...........

Well, marooned as I am in Belfast's fair city, was sadly unable to join the demo at Westminster today. But, was intrigued at the Tory position of "We are putting our country's interests first".............two questions. Number one, the implication that anyone who takes a different view isn't........so whose interests pray, are they allegedly putting first? Not BAe systems that's for sure. Number two..........this is said with such high handed conviction. I can draw only one conclusion, subtext from Mr Cameron and the Cameroonies......normally we don't put the country's interests first. Actually Mr C, we had worked that one out. Some of us remember the Thatcher years when frankly the last on your party's list of interests was "the country". Big business, yes, the Media Mughals, yes, your children (even if they do get lost in the desert and end up embroiled in all sorts of unsavoury dealings) yes, your future opportunities to make a mint on speaking tours in the US, yes - oh dear this is sounding more and more like Mr B!

So, let's get this clear shall we. If those claiming that they were voting in the interests of the country had ever, even once, shown a vestige of concern for this nation before, maybe, just maybe, we would have had policy decisions which demonstrated that. Instead, a very similar alliance to the one which dragged us into the illegal immoral and unjust war with Iraq and all the danger that has subsequently plunged this country into, today hooked arms again to support what frankly is also an unjust, immoral and potentially illegal position - no change there then. Whilst the likes of Des Browne bleat on about needing to defend ourselves without once recognising the irony...........its OK for us and the other 8 or so Nuclear States to have these weapons because we are so vulnerable, but for you other 134 (or how ever many countries it is left) tough ****

Am I little ****** off? Could say so.

Des Browne - "I can't explain exactly why we need a deterrent"

Well.........that says it all really doesn't it? Des Browne, flustering and blustering away on the Today programme this morning...............but of course he justified that by saying "we live in a changing and very dangerous world and we cannot guarantee what will be the situation in the future". Well that's OK then. As I have said before, it's like a man building a dam in a time of drought, for fear of flooding, when the forest fires have already started. But, it was ever thus...........

Monday, March 12, 2007

Trident Rebellion?

Greetings from Glasgow. I am wondering if Blair, for all his Scottish heritage, has even an inkling of the degree of anger about Trident in this country. Today the Scotsman - headline "The Trident Rebellion" has six pages devoted to the subject. But then...........Faslane is a good way from London. As is Plymouth. So if it all goes belly up and there is an accident (because of course we would never use the damn things) its only Scotland and the South West get it.

I do feel angry, angry that Blair will get his wicked way, angry that we as a party couldn't have had more courage on this issue, angry that the smug Tories will fall in behind Mr "do I look like I would know what integrity was if it came and bit me in the bottom" Cameron...........to do what is "right for the country". Now I am in grave danger of degenerating into a rant (unusual I know)........so will shut up.....especially as I have to be up at some unearthly hour in the morning.

On a lighter note I went delivering for Katy Gordon this evening. As she was driving me to our destination she said "I did say it was tenements didn't I?" Er.......no Katy, you didn't................but that's OK. Good exercise eh??!! Who needs bums and tums at some expensive gym when you can get the same result...........

Well, whilst I was impressed with the Art Deco tiling and grandeur of the tenements, I was not quite so impressed with the four stories. I'm a granny for heaven's sake, my mountaineering days are long gone! I have to confess that there were times, as I neared the summit of the 35th or 36th tenement, when I was reminded of that feeling, in the snow and the gale, a few hundred feet from the summit of Helvellyn, when you think, that's it, I can't carry on. Why oh why didn't someone warn me, I could have booked a St Bernard! But, for sure, I will never ever again complain about the long drives in Putnoe...........

So, all I have to worry about now is where I will sleep tomorrow night......and more importantly whether whereveritis has Internet access.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Religion and Politics........a mix made in heaven?

I have found myself wrestling with this particular nettle (sorry I do love mixing my metaphors!) following the news that the Catholic Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine has made his decision to vote against Labour public.

On Friday I snapped a Scottish Episcopalians say "No Trident Replacement" banner in Edinburgh - as you may imagine I shouted a silent YES in support. I was reminded of a quote I used to have on my office wall from one of my political/religious heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu - " I am puzzled which Bible people are reading when they suggest religion and politics don't mix".

















Whether or not we agree with Bishop Devine (what a cool name for a bishop!), Archbishop Tutu or the Episcopalian Church, or whether they agree with each other, the idea that you can keep religion and politics completely separate is a nonsense. Whilst I support the disestablishment of the Church of England I can't support the notion that if you have a religious belief, particularly if you express that through taking on a leadership role, you are automatically disqualified from expressing a political opinion. Yes, we may not agree with everything that every bishop, imam or rabbi utters, we may worry about the influence they have on their "complient" flocks, however, I would argue that the influence of Rupert Murdoch is far stronger and far more disturbing.


What I find worrying is when religion or quasi religion disestablishes itself from normal and/or political life, think of Waco and Jonestown and Iraq, even Northern Ireland. If faith means anything it must surely mean engagement with the society in which it operates and the structures by which that society operates.


Yesterday I joined friends from our local CND, campaigning against Trident, beside a bust of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, another churchman, without whose "political" action the world in general and South Africa in particular, would have been the poorer. One of my friends commented on how great it was that even in death he could continue to be involved in campaigning!


















So, now off to pack for another trip to glorious Glasgow tomorrow. This time staying at a hotel which not only has free internet access (be warned) but also a free bar! What a good job I resisted that temptation to give up wine for lent...........







Is the BBC a threat to democracy?

So, the big squeeze is on, the news this morning is full of Tory plans to tax air travel and frequent fliers. Their potential policies (still lots of time to row back) are being lauded this morning - being promoted as the "greenest" party, without so much as a passing glance at our Green Tax Switch policy. Therein lies the rub. The BBC is one of the worst offenders, falling into this two party trap at virtually every opportunity. Last week I tuned in to one of my favourite, must listen, programmes The Westminster Hour, expecting for a change to hear more about Lib Dems. Well, we had just returned from Spring Conference. But no, a cursory reference in a question to Lynne Featherstone, but other than that, the customary zilch......or close to zilch. Now, part of it is our fault, we don't always promote our policies with the (however vacuous) Cameron zing, but part of it also lies with an attitude close to disinterest, given that the assumption is that our policies won't see the light of day anyway. And so, the BBC (and I single them out because they are supposed to be the public service broadcasters) locks us into the familiar but totally moribund tramlines of the two party system.

There are many reasons for the disaffection from politics, not least that people think they don't have a real choice "you are all the same".......if we all had a penny for the times we have heard that one. Actually, we are not all the same. The country would be quite different under a Lib Dem administration, if we didn't believe that why would we be bothering with a thrd party? The problem with choice is that it only has currency if you a) know what your choices are b) they are real choices and c) you have the resources to exercise that choice.

So, let's see more balanced reporting all year, not just at election time, and let's see more creativity in the way we launch and present our policies.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Coalition, Charles Kennedy, Scottish Lib Dems and the Terrorist Threat from 75ml of Shampoo..........

I have spent the past two days in glorious Edinburgh. ........sadly without internet access.The place is buzzing with chat about the elections and I was interested to talk to a Labour supporter on Thursday night who put the lack of student fees and free care for the elderly firmly down to us, which got me pontificating again about the idea of coalition. Heresy maybe......but we have had a week of speculation! I think it would be madness for us to even hint that we may be prepared to do a deal with Brown, but even if coalition isn't a starter next time, if we ever get anything like PR we will have to grasp this particular thorny nettle (or should that be stinging nettle??!) The other topic of conversation was Charles Kennedy. I lose track of the number of people who still bemoan his passing.........not only friends and family, people on the train, London taxi drivers, anyone frankly who discovers I am a Lib Dem. And so it was this week.

Yesterday I had some free time in between meetings so I decided it was better for my health, and bank balance, if I offered my services to the Scottish Lib Dems. As my taxi driver dropped me off he told me that there was a life size inflatable Trident doing the rounds in the city........so of course I arrived my mind full yet again of thoughts of Trident. I started chatting about this when someone, maybe concerned about where this conversation was headed, said.........by the way Ming's wife is next door. OK, I wasn't going to say anything about Ming, but it reminded me of the almost universal opposition to Trident in Scotland, have they all had to be whispering their opposition for fear of upsetting Elspeth? So I spent some time helping out on Siobhan Mather's (our prospective candidate for Edinburgh Central) campaign before heading off to my meeting across the road with Young Scot.

And then off to Edinburgh Airport............switch off now if you don't want to hear my ramblings from last night while I was waiting for my yet again delayed plane to take off....................................

These new ' security' measures are doing my head in. Ok.....so I have always been a bit of a closet conspiracy theorist but honestly!!!! Whenever the British people are in danger of becoming complacent about the terrorist threat...no worries....just introduce a new security measure to put the wind up them......remember
'light tanks' at Heathrow??? Now its liquids and boots and for good measure jackets. I joined the long queue at Edinbugh this evening expecting the worst......a young man running up and down the queue handing out regulation size plastic bags. Do you have any liquids in your baggage? Would you dare? (Actually I did dare once, just to see what happened and had to suffer the humiliation of being swabbed for explosives!) And ' you are only allowed one item of hand baggage madam' 'yes I know......broken record syndrome kicks in......I will put my handbag into my case when I get to security' I don't add 'and take it straight out on the other side' I ask you! I follow this routine all the time...........so what was the point of that? Equally I get wound up about this 100ml rule......in a 100 ml bottle......I love winding them up with bottles that don't say how much is in them......what a palaver while they try to decide how big the bottle is.....and then there is the less than half full 150ml bottle.....sorry madam, can't take that thru......u see 75ml of liquid plus 75ml of air.....is potentially very dangerous.......to anyone out there who is offended by my flippancy, I'm sorry.....but honestly!!!! When all this nonsense started you may recall it was no liquids and no electronic equipment. Clearly that vast army of city commuters put their collective feet down........expect us to spend 55 minutes in the air without our laptops.....on yr bike Mr Blair! And you may be willing to go back to dental powder.....but please.....we need our Colgate to give us that ring of confidence. So it all changed............

So, here I am in the queue, relieved to see no one is taking their shoes off, phew, a bit of a drama with me silly boots. I take my coat off and reminisce about the time I was asked to take my suit jacket off too. No I hissed, too embarrassed to admit that I had nothing on underneath......well, there are limits. But wasn't it just Jack's law......I arrive and get asked to take my boots off (but no one else is taking off their shoes - no its random - but its always me!)- then, my suit jacket - er sorry, say I, but I can't my zip on my dress has bust and currently the fact is being hidden my my jacket......to do so would be frankly indecent! I steal myself to be arrested and carted off for interrogation, ah yes will say the ex Stazi interrogator......that's a new one, broken zip.....I don't think so. But the charming young security guard saves my blushes and makes an exception so now here I am waiting for EZ whatever to call me. Everything is running late. Delayed 45 mins......on a Friday night when all I want to do is get home and crawl into my bed.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Have we been lied to about Basra?

This BBC article suggests we have.

A final word on Trident......did we shoot ourselves in the foot?

Its no secret that like almost half our delegates, I was deeply disappointed about the outcome of the Trident debate which leaves us with a policy position my conscience could not possibly allow me to defend. So I was interested in this comment I received in an email from a pal, a fellow member, who took a very different view from me on the issue:

"It looks like you would have been unhappy with the Trident Debate outcome. It was a clever compromise however. But I still think 'delay a decision' is bad politics and doesn't help us electorally. The press were full of stories over 'strong leadership', but in reality what we got was a rather grubby deal focused mainly on overcoming dissent in the party."

And therein for me lies the rub. The current position was a fudge when it was proposed and is still a fudge now it has been passed. And from the original debate at FPC it is clear that the proposers believed it was a compromise position which would overcome dissent. That sadly displays a lack of understanding of members and the motivation for those of us who take a different view. We may have lost this particular battle but we will continue to work for what we believe is right. The idea that our dissidence will be overcome by a policy that we find indefensible is naive. But, we are where we are, so I will shut up about it..........for now!

Monday, March 05, 2007

More Conference Reflections

The Trident fringe organised by PCA on Friday evening was excellent, even if Brendan Carlin (who chaired) hadn't noticed he had been ignoring calling the women to ask questions, until I pointed it out to him! After that, it has to be said, he called a lot more women. Sometimes I feel like a broken record on this one. My experience at fringes is always the same when the meeting is chaired by a man. On average one woman called to every 10 men. At the Meeting the Challenge event last year there were 14 white male speakers, no women and the only BME speaker was at the joint Muslim Christian Forum meeting. Someone also pointed out to me that whilst amendment two fell in the Trident debate, there were far more women voting for it than men. So, very interesting when we are thinking about policies which appeal to women....eh? Given the whipping that clearly went on in this debate (have you ever seen so many parliamentarians in a debate before?) it begs the question, if we were as representative as a party as we say we think we should be..........namely at least 32 women MPs, then perhaps the whipping would have been less successful.........(?)

When I was the first woman to speak in the Meeting the Challenge debate at autumn conference, after 14 men (I know, I was counting again!) I had to ask delegates if they noticed anything different about me. Afterwards someone admitted that until I said anything he hadn't noticed.

So I was encouraged to attend the EMLD fringe on Saturday where Simon Woolley from Operation Black Vote gave us a bit of a roasting. Clearly those there were committed to seeing our party develop in diversity, but the message must get out further than just the committed few. Norman Lamb and Simon Hughes, two real champions for the cause, both attended and spoke encouragingly about their commitment and desire to see change. Despite my concerns about the administration of the Diversity Fund, I hope that will go some way to increasing diversity in our parliamentary party. However, we must also recognise the work that needs to be done at grass roots level. As well as a fund to support parliamentary candidates what about a fund to support BME and women members to be able to attend conferences?

Sorry, slightly sidelined there. Another highlights for me was the Q&A with Nick Clegg and the debate on crime, disappointingly none of the working group members got called to speak but I did get a mention in Graham Tope's speech, which I hope was evidence that I am not always critical of the party (a sin I have apparently been charged with!).




Got home on Sunday evening to one of those circular texts from my artist pal Chila Burman it said "A true friend is like a good bra, hard to find, lifts u up, gives u support and is always close to yr heart..." aaah..... very appropriate since one of Chila's most celebrated works is a collage of bras called "Hello Girls"- a feminist response to the famous Wonderbra advert "Hello Boys"........see, I do talk about things other than politics!




I kept forgetting my camera but here are a couple of pix from Saturday evening.
As you can tell I have had the day off and posting on my blog is the perfect distraction from all that filing, tidying and general catching up I should be doing...........ah well...........I did make babaganoush, couscous and chicken satay too......oh, and caught up with the Archers!















Vince Cable on the Scandal of Bailiff Powers to Break and Enter

So delighted to hear our Vince on PM this afternoon challenging the nonsensical idea to increase the powers of bailiffs to break and enter. Yet another indication of this government's contempt for the poor they affect to support. Debt is scary enough for those in debt, getting threatening letters and phone calls from so called reputable debt collection agencies is worse, so this idea beggars belief. What price any sense of personal space or civil liberties in Blair's Britain?

Those Ming Speeches.... Did he do enough?

I enjoyed reading Alex Wilcock's analysis of Ming's speech. As we all know it's not what you say it's the way that you say it. So some of my own reflections on both his Trident and end of conference speeches.

On Trident: I was impressed by Ming's delivery, powerful, passionate and yes, as he said, leading from the front. I was less impressed with the content which as we know matters so much less anyway (isn't it 7%?!) in terms of swinging an argument. I would have preferred he dealt with the very real criticisms of his policy. Anyone can say "I'm not sitting on the fence" or "I'm not sitting on my hands" but I could say that whilst firmly glued to the wretched fence with my hands tucked neatly underneath my bottom!!!!! Where, Ming, was your evidence? Also, as I would have pointed out in my speech had I had the opportunity to make it (me bitter??? nah!) the idea that giving up our weapons denies us a seat at the NPT table is a nonsense. The speech for me also contained the only real sour point of the debate, a jibe at Jenny Tonge over Israel. She apparently wasn't fussed, but for me it was something else that left a nasty taste in my mouth.

On end of conference: At autumn conference, for what it is worth, I gave Ming 9 out of 10 for content and 2 out of 10 for performance. This time I was more impressed it has to be said. Content wasn't quite so good as in Brighton a tad repetitive - 7 and performance closer to 6. So relieved he has ditched the shaky hands, the portrayal of him as a 50's Olympic athlete and the need to be surrounded by beautiful young women. His delivery was not as good as on Trident, but it was clear and reminded me of what I see as his genuine concern to tackle poverty and inequality in this country and also reminded me about what it is that unites us as Lib Dems as opposed to what divides us. Unfortunately the speech did not end on a very strong note and the applause seemed more polite than rapturous. So what about content?

Let's deal with the bits I was concerned about. Firstly, on the environment. If we are to have any integrity as a party it seems to me we have to have integrity in our policies. To, on the one hand, rightly, point to the fact that we are head and shoulders above the other main parties on protecting the environment is all well and good. However, having just argued for a policy which gives us an option to keep the floating nuclear reactor Trident, to me, seems a tad disingenuous. Can you imagine how critical we would be of the Green Party if they had such a policy? It would totally undermine any credentials they may have.

Secondly, the commitment both to tackle poverty and inequality at the same time as cutting taxes. This is fairyland. Yes, there is no doubt there is a lot of wastage caused by current government obsession with targets and consultants, but where is the analysis of how much could be saved and do we really think we can tackle these huge problems without proper funding? Well, I guess saving £76 billion on Trident may have made a little contribution...........But we need to get real with the electorate. You can't have your cake and eat it. If you want real change you have to invest in the services and infrastructure that will enable change. The news this morning for example, of the cost of implementing Single Status, is yet again going to threaten some of the services to our most vulnerable citizens, so how will we realistically deliver on this without investment? I was particularly concerned with a comment made to me last night, that we sounded more like Tories.

So what did I like?!!! I thought the 5 tests for Gordon was an inspired idea, though like Alex Wilcock, I don't think him meeting them makes him a liberal! At the same time as challenging GB it also highlighted what makes us different from Labour. Of course, being clear and steadfast on Iraq and Iran was another strength of the speech.

I would have liked to have had a bit more addressing the party. What more are we going to do for example to ensure we really reflect Britain? And on a personal level I would like to see Ming making more of a connection with his activists. OK, so he is bound to be very busy at conference, but the odd appearance in the bar would do a lot to make him look more approachable and less patrician.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Post Conference Blues...........

Well, back to reality this evening. Made it back in time for the Archers (sad but true......should Tom and Brenda move in together, vote now) and in time to make Shepherdess's pie for my son. (Friends will know I am a totally pathetic and guilt ridden mum, feeling so convinced that my 18 year old will die of hunger or stuff himself full of Doner Kebabs without me that I always over compensate)........

But, as ever, it was great to meet up with old and new pals. I was delighted to meet Duncan but totally devastated, being as I am a poor wi-fi less Luddite, that I missed the message about bloggers drinks. Well, will have to have everything planned by next week for Brighton then! What was slightly scary was the number of people who told me they read my blog...........so it isn't just my sister and MI5 then???? Clearly I need to be a little more circumspect in my musings........especially if Greg is reading, or I will find myself permanently in the naughty corner :-(

Totally shattered as I am sure everyone is, so will return to my highlights of conference tomorrow............when I may be eating humble pie.........more about that..................tomorrow :-)

Trident......Conspiracy Theory Continues.............

............only teasing! Though like Colin Ross, I was disappointed not to get called. In fact I will no longer be able to boast that I have not been to a conference where I have not spoken at least three times....this time it was precisely zero. I am wondering if I am now on the naughty list, or if being on FPC is regarded as being establishment (?!) or were the movers of the motion so convinced that I would deliver such a catastrophic nuclear blow........they ate my card before it reached the table???! Whatever......unlike Colin, I can't say this is what I would have said since I tend to go by bullet points, a risky strategy maybe, but since its not what you say its the way that you say it?!

However, so that my notes don't go to waste, just for what its worth, this is sort of what I would have said:

Conference (pregnant pause, turn back to the delegates revealing the words on my T shirt of retired general - Useless, Expensive, Dangerous).........no that's not a description of me......(helpless laughter, or maybe embarrassed clearing of throats like the time I mentioned men's willies in a speech).....that's the description of Trident by a retired general..........

"The nuclear arms race has no military purpose wars cannot be fought with nuclear weapons. Their existence only adds to our perils"

Who said that? (another well timed pregnant pause.......) Lord Mountbatten in 1979.(have to take into account that not all delegates are as old as me, most maybe, but not all)

Conference, the argument against replacing Trident is not a pacifist one..........I am not a pacifist. 35 years ago almost to the day I took the Queen's shilling (little aside.....I know, you could sign up at 5 in those days......quickly move on as no-one gets the joke - but you look nearly as old as Ming - I hear them thinking!).....prepared to give my life if necessary in defence of my country. At that time our forces were fit for purpose. No tales of melting boots, soldiers dying for lack of body armour, weapons that could not be fired. But in those "cold war" days, when there were real fears about nuclear attacks, whilst there were hijackings, the notion of widespread terrorism was not even on the radar.

Very different it has to be said, from the threats we face today. Sadly rather like the man who builds a dam in a time of drought to protect him from the flood; when he is actually far more likely to be engulfed by the flames of the forest fires.........we are virtually ignoring the real enemy.

This is a time as no other. It is a time when we should be investing in our conventional forces and ensuring they are properly equipped. It is a time we should be investing in our intelligence and security services to anticipate the real dangers. It is a time when we should be recognising the real roots of conflict and investing in tackling poverty and injustice around the world. It is a time when at home, we should be investing in the education of our children, the health care of our sick and the pensions of our elderly. Conference, it is a time when we should be leading by example not retreating to old imperialistic notions of our importance in the world

Instead, today we are being urged to "keep the door open" on this white elephant.

And if we pass this motion, frankly there is a serious anomaly in our position. How can we have a policy against nuclear power but for nuclear weapons?

And no one has even touched on the danger of accidents. Last night I was chatting to one of our activists who used to work in the nuclear industry. She was explaining to me that the real danger associated with Trident was refuelling. She told me "It's like having a floating nuclear reactor in the middle of Plymouth"........well that's alright then, only Plymouth will be obliterated! I'm in Bedford, so I'm alright Jack!!! (pun............get it?!)

One of the arguments proposed by the movers of this motion is that keeping our options open will ensure we still have a seat at the table. Actually, we will still have a seat at the table regardless of whether we have Trident or not. The real question is why do we think we have any moral authority in the world anymore, particularly with the so called "rogue states" when we were so willing to jump into bed with George Bush on his little mission to destroy Iraq?

Conference, the main motion leaves us looking indecisive.......it's not a fence we're sitting on it's more like the Berlin Wall!

Today, with amendment two we have an opportunity to show real leadership. Friends, the tide is turning, almost half our fellow citizens agree we don't need Trident, lets catch that tide rather than drown in the undertow.

I want to leave you with one more quote from an American General Omar Bradley:

"The world has achieved brilliance without vision, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear powers and ethical infants."


OK......if you still disagree with me fine, but please don't tell me coz I am still suffering from PCS.......Post Conference Stress...........one day I can reassure myself, I will be on the winning side!!!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bloggers Bash

OK............since no one has come up with a suggestion, can I suggest that anyone who wants to hook up heads for the bar at 10pm on Sat eve? I will be the one roaming the tables trying to find someone with wi-fi.................oh and possibly with a No Replacement Trident T shirr.

Guns or Roses................

I got a bit of a ticking off earlier from my pal, star of stage and Guardian, Colin Ross for using the word "battle" to describe the Trident debate on Saturday. Sorry Col, my problem is that at heart I am an old soldier! So, I have to confess to always relishing a "fight", precisely because if my beliefs and values mean anything they are worth fighting for.

Now, as a Liberal Democrat I have some experience of losing (!) and as a bit of a "lefty" in the party I have had the same experience at conference too it has to be said...........However, whatever the outcome on Saturday morning in Harrogate, whether we encounter rose strewn paths or blood on the carpet, we have an opportunity to showcase the fact that we are the only one of the three main parties who actually trusts our membership to make policy. This isn't just important for us, it is important for democracy in this country. An increasingly centralised state, with party leaders increasingly controlling policy development undermines the very people - volunteers - who enabled them to attain their positions in the first place. If party activists are disaffected, what hope the general population?

So, my hope is that we will have a lively and robust debate, conducted in an adult and responsible way, that people will feel able to vote according to what they believe and that ultimately we will be all the stronger for it. There has been a lot of anger generated already, the latest being around the apparent attempt to whip PPC's (have you ever heard the like?!), I trust that anger will not spill over into the conference chamber, if it does we will all be the losers.......so expriest, if I start shouting the odds you have my permission to shoot me (metaphorically of course!)