Thursday, January 31, 2008

Derek Conway, Simon Hughes, silk sheets and criminal damage.........

There has been a fair bit of commentary on the Conway affair, go Duncan Borrowman! It seems clear, as the BBC have observed, that this will open a can of worms, or maybe Pandora's Box......

The house has just debated the issue. George Young, chair of the Standards Committee opened the debate by explaining the unanimous decision of his committee. He commented on the belief in some quarters that perhaps they had not been hard enough, but reflected that "reputational consequences can be fatal". The conclusion of the committee was that Freddie had done some work for his father, but there was no independent evidence of this resulting in any output (hmmm, I am sure Freddie is in good company with a number of his father's fellow MPs!). So the unanimous recommendation was that he should re-emburse the house appropriately and be suspended for10 days. They had taken the view that it was not appropriate to refer the matter to the police, that the issue of the employment of family members was a debate for another day, as were steps to address the reputational damage inflicted by this case.

I was, as you may expect, particularly impressed with Simon Hughes' contribution to the debate. Some practical suggestions re MPs receipting their expenditure, spot checks and in particular calling for employment legislation to apply to parliamentary posts. It beggars belief that the mother of our legislation sits outside of said legislation when it applies to itself, not just in this respect.

There are clearly some dodgy practices going on in the hallowed halls, not just in the office of Mr Conway, I was interested to hear from a colleague who used to deal with MPs' expenses of the case of Alan Clarke's need for silk sheets to be included as a legitimate expense (hmmmm, let's not go there!) and of the unnamed MP whose son was charged with criminal damage. Strangely paying his fine was also regarded as a legitimate expense.

Let us hope this sorry tale leads to more transparency and accountability in the hallowed halls......and best of all, it may also lead to the election of our very own DB MP!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Gaza:Lift the Blockade" The Relief Convoy on its way

I have just received this moving report about the relief convoy yesterday:

"The initiative for the large action that took place today (26.1.08) started when the well-know psychiatrist, Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj, the human-rights activist from Gaza, met in the Gush Shalom office with a small group of Israeli peace activists, in order to tell them about the desperate situation in the strip. It was decided on the spot to organize in Israel a relief convoy for the Gaza Strip people, and to fight by all political and juridical means for the right to get it in. It was agreed that two parallel protest rallies would be held simultaneously on the two sides of the wall.
26 Israeli peace groups joined the initiative, under the single slogan: "Gaza: Lift the siege!" Many activists from different organizations worked day and night. Gush Shalom prepared a special poster and started a fund-raising campaign among its sympathizers. Hundreds of cheques came pouring in from Israel and a dozen other countries, enabling the Gush to carry alone the full costs of the supplies. Many added words of thanks for the opportunity given them to express their opinion this way and join the struggle.
Warm thanks to all of them!
In consultation with Dr. al-Sarraj it was decided to buy not only five tons of essential foodstuffs - flour, sugar, rice, oil, salt, beans and lentils - but also water distillers. "The water in the Gaza Strip is undrinkable," al-Sarraj reported, "therefore there is an urgent need for distillers."
The weather forecasts promised rain and thunderstorms all over the country. In spite of this, old and young peace activists came to the starting points in six towns. As requested by the organizers, hundreds of families came in their private cars. Together with the people who came by bus, their number reached about two thousand.
"In the night we were woken up by strong thunderbolts. It started to rain cats and dogs, and we were very worried: who is going to get up early on Shabbat morning in such stormy weather in order to participate in an open-air protest rally and carry sacks of food?" recounted one of the organizers.
Ya'akov Manor had the idea to ask the demonstrators to bring private relief parcels and to add personal letters "from family to family". The response was beyond all expectations. Families brought not only food and mineral water, but also blankets, warm clothing and many other useful articles, even electrical stoves. The parcels were fastened to the tops of the cars or put in the baggage holds of the buses. They added up to two tons.
When the demonstrators assembled in the towns - Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Nazareth and others - a slight rain was falling. But all who hoped for a brightening up were soon disappointed: during the drive to the Erez border crossing, a very heavy rain started to pour down, making it almost impossible to see the road, and slowed down the huge convoy towards the Gaza strip extremely difficult.
About half of the protesters were Jewish, the other half Arab. The rally was conducted the same way: Side by side with the Jewish speakers - Uri Avnery, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Professor Jeff Halper and former minister Shulamit Aloni (who was ill and sent a written speech, read by Teddy Katz), speeches were made by advocate Fatmeh al-Ijou, and MKs Izzam Mahul and Jamal Zahalke.
At the height of the rally, the moderator, Huloud al-Badawi, called Dr. Sarraj by cellular phone. He was participating at the parallel rally in Gaza and his words were conveyed by loudspeaker. They amounted to a stirring call to the Israeli peace camp to support the Palestinians in their struggle against the blockade.
A sensation was caused by a young woman from Sderot, Shir Shusdig, who called out: "For seven years I am suffering from the Qassams in Kibbutz Zikim and Sderot. I know that the people on the other side are also suffering very much. That's why I am here!"
Jeff Halper mentioned that demonstrations of solidarity with the people of Gaza were taking place in dozens of cities around the world. Advocate al-Ijou pointed out that the Attorney General had asserted in a Supreme Court hearing that the blockade on Gaza was similar to the boycott against the former apartheid regime in South Africa. "This is absurd when it comes from a government which is building apartheid roads all over the West Bank!"
Miraculously, the rain stopped just before the rally, and started again a few minutes after it was finished.
Since the Israeli army has not allowed the relief supplies into the Gaza strip, they were stored in a neighboring kibbutz. If the military will not permit their transfer to Gaza in the next two days, we shall apply to the High Court of Justice and start a legal fight until we succeed.
Uri Avnery's speech at the rally:
Three days ago, a wall fell here“ Just as the Berlin Wall fell, Just as the apartheid wall will fall, And just as all walls and fences in this country will come down.
But the inhuman blockade That has been imposed on a million and a half human beings in Gaza by our government by our army, In our name “ This siege is continuing in its full cruelty. We, Israelis from various political camps, have come to bring basic supplies and to say to the Israeli public and to the whole world: We will not participate in crime! We are ashamed of the blockade!"
Our hearts are with our Palestinian brothers Who are at this moment demonstrating with us on the other side of the fence “ Don't lose faith that one day we will meet together in this place without fences, without walls, without violence, without fighting, the sons of two peoples living next to each other in peace, in friendship, in partnership.
Our hearts are with our brothers, the residents of Sderot“ The threat of Qassams must stop! It won't stop by a policy of an eye for an eye, or a hundred eyes for one eye, Or a thousand eyes for one eye, because that only leaves us all blind. It will end when we speak to the other side “ Yes, yes, even with Hamas! And we'll together create a total and mutual ceasefire without Qassams, without murderous incursions, without mortars, without extrajudicial assassinations, without blockade, without starvation.
This is our call, this is our demand: Set up an immediate ceasefire! Open the crossings immediately! Make peace with all parts of the Palestinian people! MAKE PEACE!"

Video (in Hebrew only) here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gaza.........Where will you be tomorrow?

There are times when I find it almost impossible to listen to the news from Gaza. This has been one such week - I find myself feeling so impotent, so easily distracted by other cares, so weak and powerless. I want to shout and scream and jump on the next plane to Ben Gurion - but what would that achieve? So, tomorrow, those of us who give a xxxx
can at least join others in Whitehall to make our views and our voices heard.

Anyone who can make it - 4pm opposite Downing Street. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

OK.......What was that about a referendum?

Yes, I admit it, I have been too busy/too lazy, to blog over the last few days. So, having just returned from my highlight of the year - Burns Supper in Edinburgh with Young Scot, fellow blogger Alex Cole-Hamilton and our own MSP Robert Brown on my table - I thought I should maybe have a wee comment on the referendum debate.

I am not a policywonka (honest! ask them.........they will agree.......) I do not inhabit the Westminster bubble. But, it has to be said, I am at a complete loss to understand our U turn on the referendum. maybe a treaty doesn't equal a constitution........quite. But, somehow, somewhere, in the black hole which is Westminster, those who have crossed the events horizon have lost all contact with the reality of this nation's relationship with Europe. Bleating on about a referendum about whether we should be in or out, just doesn't cut the mustard. We said we would have a referendum on the constitution..........we a have a "treaty" a rose that by any other name would be a .................yes, you guessed it, constitution! Whether I personally agree with the idea of spending oodles of tax payers money on a referendum is frankly beside the point. We said we would do it. We are falling in with the Brown smoke and mirrors. We look foolish and worse, dishonest.

I can't and won't defend our position - it was never debated at conference - none of us has had a say, but worse we have been prepared to tease the electorate by giving them the false impression that they would have a say. Maybe there is a good argument for such a U-turn. Maybe, but if so, I certainly haven't yet heard it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nick Clegg - "Fire starter comes of age"

A good interview in my "trade" mag, Children and Young People Now. I particularly like Nick's commitment to address the "Cinderella Service" status of youth work and mental health professions.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is Clegg already turning our fortunes round?

A very interesting and encouraging piece from Mike Smithson on Political Betting.

Nick Clegg - Spoiling for a fight?

One of the problems of taking a day off to prepare food for Yas's party that the temptation is to be distracted. Today's temptation arrived courtesy of James Graham. His suggestion that Nick Clegg is spoiling for a fight with the activists, deserves some closer analysis.

Let me be clear, I may have been one of Nick's more vocal supporters, but that doesn't mean that a) I will keep my mouth shut if I think he is picking a fight b) Keep my mouth shut if I disagree with any of his policy positions. So, as you can imagine, I was somewhat exercised by James' piece. But I am at a loss to find evidence for James' assertions. Firstly that "Nick Clegg had a chance to spell out his vision for public service reform during his leadership election campaign; he bottled it." James, did you miss his speech to the SMF? I quote:

"What does this shift – from a top-down to a bottom up approach – mean in education?
It means offering parents more options – ending the state’s near monopoly in the provision of free education and allowing new providers to enter the system and new schools to open.

But for this to happen, two conditions must be in place. The first is that all schools be brought under local democratic oversight. The second – that there should be no further moves towards selection.

And as we liberalise the supply side, so we will have to transform the role of Local Education Authorities – getting them focused on meeting, rather than managing, demand; and on extending, rather than resisting, diversity.

Can’t get the schooling you need round the corner? No problem, your LEA will help you find a good school somewhere else.

Can’t reach that school? Don’t worry, your LEA will provide transport to get you there.
Can’t get a place in a good school anywhere within traveling distance? Fine. Your LEA will help you start up a new school or encourage others to do so."

Now, firstly, he makes it clear he wants local democratic control. Secondly he wants parents to have more of a say and thirdly he wants more diversity. On the first point I am with him, On the second and third I want to know a lot more about what parental control and that "diversity" looks like, I have a feeling it may be an area of conflict for me personally. If he wants to push that point and have the debate in the party that would be a good thing. I think choice is often a case of King's New Clothes. For someone to get their first choice means someone else doesn't. Actually my contention is that people are far more interested in accessibility and quality than choice. There is also an important community dimension, do I really want to bus my child miles across a city to get to a "good" school, or worse, away from my closest school which is "good" to a "poor" school because there was no space left. Lets be really radical and risky and say we are aiming for every school to be a good school!

On the "spinning" about bloody minded activists, I can't see that this is more than an attempt by a journalist to "sex-up" the story. We know only too well that the only tale in town is when there is conflict. A couple of the reasons I was happy to back Nick, despite knowing I would probably end up on the opposite side of some of the public service debates, were his honesty and ability to listen. Everything I know about him flies in the face of the image of a man who is deliberately picking a fight. James, you may prove me wrong, but at the moment I am relying on the evidence to hand, not the lazy journalism of a hack!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why Clegg will wipe the floor with Brown and Cameron

Today was going to be a big day whether we liked it or not. The temptation for Nick may have been to try and go for the killer comment, the knock out blow, the hilarious put down. Instead he played it straight down the line. I have to confess to being a tad nervous for him, but even if he was nervous it didn't show. He has grown immeasurably in stature in the few short weeks, punctuated by Christmas, since he was elected. Those of us who met with him on the day he was elected saw that.

So, having the blessing of perpetual (silent) Sky News to watch while we wait for the lifts at work, I had to content myself with watching PMQs and attempting to lipread. But, before I got to hear Nick's questions, I got to see his body language. It was clear that he was in control but not "stiff", confident but not cocky, brimming with enthusiasm and energy, underpinned with the concern and compassion that clearly informs his politics.

As Nick himself has acknowledged, to expect him to be able to adopt PMQs and make it his own every week when the cards are stacked against the third party, is unrealistic. What is realistic is to expect him to go into the PMQ ring, fully prepared, anticipating the elephant traps, but acknowledging the limitations of what is a sorry excuse for an effective holding to account of the executive. Today he demonstrated that he has the potential to wipe the floor with Brown and Cameron. He can puncture Cameron's shallow vacuousness and expose Brown's bumbling ineptitude. His is a star on the rise, in the midst of burnt out meteorites and empty black holes! Who was it who said "Things can only get better"?!

Monday, January 07, 2008

An Awesome New Addition to the LibDem Blogosphere

Not only did I drop my mobile down the loo and "mislay" my Blackberry, my Internet connection also went down (start the year as you mean to go on eh?). So I have just picked up a message from Neil Stockley to alert me to his new blog.

Here is a man who will banish us all to the shade..........I am not worthy! Neil produced an exceptional paper for FPC on the Lib Dem narrative. As some long suffering readers will know this is something I am really interested in, we talk about it all the time, but we still haven't quite bottomed it out. Neil's new blog highlights just how a powerful narrative really connects with the electorate, as in the US at the moment. A must read!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Nick Clegg's first big test this week

Well, Nick Clegg will spend his 41st birthday on Monday preparing for his first big test. The timely intervention of Christmas has given him a little respite and opportunity to recharge his batteries. No doubt he has been working out his formidable intellect, practising his jokes, limbering up for the anticipated challenges. Many will be watching closely, will he glide through this close examination with the kind of ease I demonstrated on the ice skating ring last night? Will he demonstrate his prowess as a giant among men and women? Will he stamp his authority with indelible ink in such a way that witnesses will leave in awe and amazement that we have elected such a leader? Will his name become a byword for a Colossus among politicians? So, only 3 days to go and we will know. Yes 3 was FPC I was thinking about!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Rail Services - Who still thinks privatisation was such a great idea?

Having just read Lib Dem PCU table of fare rises I note that Bedford remains one of the most expensive places to commute from at 35p per mile. Basildon is the cheapest at 19p per mile. Is it time to move to Basildon I wonder? Alternatively I could move over to Sandy (where I spent many happy years working) where the cost is just 24p per mile. Just a thought. I don't bother buying a season ticket as I am not in work all the time, but I am guessing my weekly fare tomorrow will be over £100. So much for encouraging the use of public transport. Hate to start on an economic liberal v social liberal debate so early in the year, but it seems to me totally absurd that we have created a false market which costs us as consumers more, pours millions into the coffers of the likes of Richard Branson, offers us little or no choice and certainly no voice in influencing services. A bit like the nonsense of the idea of choice in education, choice in public transport appears to owe more to your ability to choose where you live.

Rant over. But this is something I hope we will have the courage to tackle with our transport policy, go Norman Baker!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Nick Clegg on Today

Good to wake up to the dulcet tones of Mr Clegg on Today this morning, starting as he means to go on and speaking with wisdom and authority about the situation in Kenya and Pakistan.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Looz Muze and the Number Crunching Mystery!

I have just had the shock of my life reading LibDemBlogs Number Crunching (2007) to discover I made it to number 7 of the most popular blogs, hard on the heels (well maybe soft on the heels) of ubiqutous bloggers Paul Walter and Nich Starling and sadly the only woman in the top 10. However, with the emergence of the likes of Alix, Jo and Charlotte to name but three, I expect this to be very different next year.

Finding myself as the seventh most popular Lib Dem blogger is even more of a shock given my sloppy and inconsistent approach to blogging...........I am not sure how I should take it, especially given some of the anonymous comments left on my blog, some people clearly only read it as a form of self flagellation!

Anyway, Granny intends to make the most of the moment.............whilst listening to the wonderful Vaughan Williams on Classic FM (thoroughly recommended) and eagerly anticipating a dollop of pure escapism with Sense and Sensibility later this evening.