Sunday, April 27, 2008

If Cameron is the answer, what was the question?

David Cameron was interviewed by Andrew Marr this morning, demonstrating, if demonstration was necessary, why there are so many soft Tories. I confess to being surprised, if you looked at the polls you would expect to be encountering hard Tories at every other door. The opposite is the case, in fact I have spoken to many who are saying - well, I normally vote Tory, but I'm not so sure this time. Cameron, despite the polls, is certainly not setting middle Britain alight. His crocodile tears for the poor are not sending those on poverty pay rushing into his arms. This morning he again demonstrated why. No policies (except it seems tax cuts for the rich) - the only definite policy position he articulated was sorting out MP's allowances. All smoke, mirrors, motherhood and apple pie. On Grangemouth "We would be saying to management and union you need to sit down and talk together" - great idea Dave, how come no one else thought of that!

The King's New Clothes analogy is perhaps over used, but in this case it is perfect. Davey brought out that old chestnut "waste" cutting that would save the money for an ultimate cut in borrowing and taxes. Could he identify even one area where savings could be made? No, he is setting up a commission or some such animal to look into it. No mention of ID cards, quangos, paperwork, management consultants, pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan, Trident?

I used to think Blair's great gift was packaging - shiny bright eye catching - conning you into thinking there was actually anything of worth in the package, but Cameron is surpassing even him. At least in the early days New Labour were driven by some sort of ideology and set of "new" values. Regardless of my disdain for Blair, and disagreement with much of that ideology and value base, you could see where he was going. You could understand a little of what drove him, even if you didn't agree with it. But Cameron, what are his values? You used to know where you stood with the Tories, but now, what do they believe? What political values do they espouse? What is the ideology driving their alleged policy development? They now seem to be trying to wrap themselves in the sheep's clothing of being progressive..........really?!

So, despite probing by Andrew Marr, I am still none the wiser as to what a Tory government would look like, how it would make its sums add up and I am frankly sick to death of the feeble excuse that they can't tell us yet. Up and down the country, opposition groups on local councils manage to come up with alternative budgets at budget time. I fail to understand how the Tories will ever come up with any concrete policies if they are unable to cost them. As Andrew Marr pointed out this morning, they are talking about spending commitments (more prisons etc) but still cannot say where the money would come from. As someone who has sat on FPC for the past couple of years I am only too acutely aware of the power of our treasury team when it comes to costing our policies!

So, the people of this country are in a catch 22 situation. Fed up with Labour, no real confidence in the Tories and with a voting system that means even if they do like our policies they are often more concerned about stopping someone else, or regard a vote for us as wasted. Little choice and virtually no power......and politicians wonder why there is so much disaffection amongst the electorate?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lembit, Humph, Paddick, Cameron and the Toryboys

It has been a pretty manic week so a lot of mus/zings rolled into one. I have already forgotten what happened on Monday and Tuesday (except for falling over trying to find the entrance to the Marriot at West India Quay on Monday must have been the flat shoes, my feet just aren't used to them!), but Wednesday I had the great pleasure of being a panellist on the Bedford Schools Question Time. Great fun though I am still pondering whether being regarded as motherly is a good or a bad thing? Quite a barney with Toryboy Richard Fuller, though one of his supporters thought he went too far in attacking me. I bovvered?! Actually, I get on with him very well, outside of such events he is always charming and clearly understands the way to my heart is as simple as offering to carry my suitcase (!)

Thursday's highlight (apart of course for my divisional away day) was a promises auction in Bedford with the one and only Lembit. Actually, shouldn't that be the highlight of the week/month/year/century?????? Lembit managed to extract over £2,000 from the good burghers of Bedford (among us our own local celebrity Mike Smithson from Political Betting), also persuading one unsuspecting soul to part with £160 for me to cook them a meal (OK, I did have to promise to dance on the table as well to get the price up!). But somehow I also managed to part with a similar amount of money.........

Friday evening I met up with pal Charlotte. En route I read an interesting interview with Brian Paddick, Lib Dem Mayoral Candidate. I was horrified to learn that one of his headline policies is to privatise the running of the tube...........since when has that been Lib Dem policy? Is anyone advising him? Are mayoral candidates exempt from the normal allegiance to Lib Dem policy? Has something slipped under the radar and we missed it? But, however dreadful London Transport can be, what masquerades as our national rail service has to be worse. First Capital Connect, run by a certain Elaine Holt, presumably having ousted Thameslink promising the earth, is terrible. The trains are sometimes too hot, but usually too cold. Dirty, crowded, squashed and uncomfortable. On Friday I arrived in time for the 00.03 train.......but the board showed 00.38, no notice of a cancellation. I checked the timetable, no change. So, up I trotted to the concourse to find out what was happening. A helpful station manager informed me the 00.03 was running.........why wasn't it on the board? Apparently because the board is run from Germany.......hmmmm, so they clearly don't necessarily know what is going on in London. I then had to scoot down to catch it. Please, when will we wake up and smell the coffee....the old mantra public bad, private good, that has dominated public policy for a generation had lead to far worse, not far better, services. I arrived home to the sad news of the death of Humphrey Lyttelton. I am a Radio 4 geek and Humph, as chair of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, is one of my all time heroes. OK, he was a good age, but for so many of us he has been such a fixture in our lives - he will be sadly missed.

And on to Cameron..........hmmm. I have been out in Essex today, where I have met the odd Tory, but more disturbingly the odd Tory who, if they had a choice, would vote BNP. Cameron is on a roll, but it wasn't that long ago (last summer?) when he was almost on his last legs. In my humble opinion, his rapid elevation has little to do with his ability and far more to do with Brown's inability. He has laid out his stall with such breadth that it is impossible to know exactly what he does stand for. In preparation for my Question Time this week I paid a little visit to the Tory's website looking for policies............ah yes, Tory policies, what do they look like, would they know if one jumped up and bit them in the bottom? What does it say for our beleaguered electorate that they think the Tories would make a better hash of the NHS and schools, with NO ACTUAL POLICIES?! Sorry, I jest, they do have 3 GREEN papers. Now last time I looked - Green meant for consultation? Absolutely nothing on the environment (Zac G eat your heart out) despite the high profile "taskforce". And, tax, now there's a thought, nothing about how or whether any sums add up. No wonder they were at a loss to be able to answer the question about how they would find the money to reintroduce the 10p rate for the poor they now, astonishingly, find so deserving!

So, all will be revealed in the early hours of Friday morning. My prediction? Labour - dire dire dire, local little hurrahs but generally on the slide. Tory - teeny weeny gains, mainly down to disillusion with Labour and local difficulties on the part of their opponents, but net losses to us. Lib Dems - local losses (partly due to our legendary lack of discipline, but also due to an innate faith in the efficacy of change) but in some areas, significant gains.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

For England and St George

Earlier this week I received a phone call from Toryboy Andrew McConnell inviting me to a St George's Day bash. He prefaced his remarks with "I know you're not patriotic but..........." ...........he of course got his ear bitten off! Those of us who challenge our country about injustice, intolerance, corruption, the erosion of our civil liberties, do so because we love our country, not because we don't! Yes, I am out on the streets demonstrating against the illegal immoral unjust war in Iraq, but I have also spent most of my working life in the service of this country - as a soldier, a teacher, a youth worker and now working on a programme designed to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of our young people. I applaud absolutely Billy Bragg for the work he is doing in reclaiming from the ultra right our flag and our identity.

So today I was amused to be sharing a platform (at a local school question time) with a UKIP PPC, wearing his loud Union Jack tie and red rose, complaining about immigration with no recognition that he was celebrating a saint who was from the Middle East - and someone who presumably today, UKIP would not allow in the country! I asked the audience to put their hands up if they would not have been there without immigration. At least 75% of them did so.

So there we have it, for me the celebration of our heritage is also about our history of welcoming immigration, celebrating diversity and a cultural heritage that can show the world how creative we are in embracing difference. Those on the far right who try to wrap themselves in the flag do so with little or no appreciation of who we are, where we come from, or what we stand for.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I was beginning to feel sorry for Gordon Brown..........but now he has really cooked his goose!

Today I have found myself feeling a little sorry for Gordo. Maybe he was promoted to his level of incompetence, but he meant well, didn't he? Yes, we have an economic crisis, but that has more to do with the US (and not a little to do with the trillions they are spending on their illegal war) doesn't it?

But...............I just heard what he said about Bush being a great world leader. PLEASE.......PASS THE SICK BAG!!!!! I am sorry, be polite, be diplomatic, be respectful if you must, but do not give that monster any credit for greatness or leadership. Last night (and I will write more about this over the weekend when I have longer) I was at a reception at Lambeth Palace where I was moved to tears by hearing the Arch Deacon of the Orthodox Church of Syria speaking about the enormous pressure his church is under due to caring for the many refugees from Iraq. He asked humbly and poignantly if anyone knew where they could get money from to help, they were a poor church, with poor people who were struggling to help the refugees. Refugees who were in their predicament because of the Bush support for the Project for a New American Century (however quiet they may have gone these days - no postings since 2006). Whatever else that man is he is not a great world leader and to describe him as such diminishes Brown absolutely. Has he learned nothing from the fate of his predecessor? Does he still condone our support for that disastrous war? Has he totally lost his reason?

The knives are out for a man who has waited so long for his ultimate prize, a prize which it seems is now turning rancid before his eyes. So Mr Brown, you are Prime Minister.......the clue is in the name, your role is to serve and the best service you can do your country now is to quit.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gordon, gonna have a pop at Bush too?

Gordon Brown - in the US to cuddle up to George Bush. The George Bush who, according to this ABC report, thinks waterboarding is OK. Hmmmm, Mugabe, Bush..............much to choose?

Shout out for Peter Black!

I am just home from a very interesting evening at Lambeth Palace (more later) and happened upon this piece about Peter Black's proposed Private Members Measure, to quote "He could have a good chance with his Private Members Measure, which would oblige local authorities to meet the demand amongst young people for leisure and education-based facilities".

Well done Peter! I wish you the very best of luck. I was one of those people in 1997 who naively believed a Labour government would make a difference to young people's lives. All I saw was a government presiding over the further decimation of the youth service and youth facilities. There is a mountain to climb but I am proud that a Lib Dem is prepared to make this a priority for Wales. Would that we had the same commitment in the rest of the UK.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tories and Labour in bed on condoning the public interest you understand!

It's that time of year, when for me and I am sure for you, the one comment that will completely get me off my 30 secs on the doorstep "Voter Identification" mission is - "You're all the same". Hmmm, there have been times when my fellow canvassers have had to send out a search party when I am met with this comment. "We're all the same, do you think I'd be out here, in the pouring rain, feeling like death warmed up when I could be indoors, in the warm, watching telly if I THOUGHT WE WERE ALL THE SAME!!!!!!!" (Sorry I am even worse if I meet a woman who is brave enough to tell me she isn't voting........(!))

So, the news that the Tories are backing the government's plans to give the Attorney General powers to halt inquiries "in the national interest" demonstrates perfectly for me why we are clearly not all the same.

Last year on the Today programme Alan Johnson was interviewed about Britishness. He flustered a little when invited by James Naughty to articulate what he meant by Britishness. In the end he came up with three values, Freedom of Speech, Tolerance and the Rule of Law. My response at the time was:

  • Freedom of Speech - Maya Evans

  • Tolerance - wearing the niqab

  • Rule of Law - BAe systems

The response to the ruling on BAe systems by Labour and the Tories demonstrates perfectly where the clear blue water lies for us. We are it seems, on a slippery slope. Where is our moral authority (even in the eyes of the United States) to even begin to talk about international law when we think we are a special case? This approach emerges from the same stable that seeks 42 days detention, restrictions on the right to protest, ID cards and ultimately will undermine all the values that underpin our "way of life" that Tony Blair has apparently done so much to seek to preserve! When the SFO decided to drop the case they issued a press release. Amongst other things it said "It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest".

I just had another look at who signed EDM 595 (initiated by Labour's Roger Berry). 55 Lib Dems, 52 Labour........but only 6 Tories. So whilst any legislation is likely to attract a reasonable Labour rebellion, the good old Tories will ensure Brown gets his way.

Maybe I am old fashioned, but I thought the rule of law was pretty fundamental and a principle that sat outside any other consideration. The potential consequences of replacing this principle with one that puts the "wider public interest" first is indeed serious. We are sending a message to the rest of the world that we can't be trusted. We are giving those in "Banana Republics" the perfect excuse to excuse their behaviour. As a post colonial nation we set ourselves up as bastions and defenders of how the rest of the world should live. Our values are the values that all civilized nations should espouse. Hmmmmmm, so as well as intolerance and restrictions on freedom of speech those values now include ignoring the rule of law when it suits?

Nick Clegg has been extremely effective in challenging this view. For me it highlights more than ever how the debate has to be about values. If we fail to understand and seek to communicate our values and beliefs and how they differ from the values and beliefs that drive both Labour and Tory policy, we will have missed a trick. But more importantly, I think we will be exposing this nation to greater, not less, risk.

Inhuman Treatment at Jerusalem/Bethlehem Checkpoints

I have just seen a copy of this letter, sent a couple of days ago by church leaders in Jerusalem to Major General Mishlev. Whatever the arguments for and against the wall, the settlements, the right to return, surely this continuing tolerance of the disgraceful treatment at checkpoints (treatment I have, like many others, witnessed) is totally counter productive in the quest for peace. Or maybe that is the intention?

April 10, 2008

Major General Yosef Mishlev
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories
Civil administration – Judea& Samaria
Beit El
Fax: 02 –9977055

Subject: Inhuman treatment at Bethlehem / Jerusalem Check point

Dear Major General Mishlev

We, the Heads of Churches and Christian Communities in Jerusalem write to you today to draw your attention to the worsening treatment by the security personnel at the Bethlehem / Jerusalem Checkpoint.

From our own experience and with testimonies from our faithful, Church staff, and observers, we write to inform you that the recent developments at the Checkpoint are becoming unbearable and unjustifiable by all means. The way men are forced to be lead as sheep, the arrogance of the different new security personnel and their inhumane and disrespectful treatment to the people passing daily be they some Heads of Churches, clergy, or individuals are beyond description. The long queues cannot be interpreted otherwise than intended collective punishment; systematic procedures aimed at dehumanizing ordinary people and cutting off Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Despite the window of hope opened at Annapolis and the following steps and initiatives to ease the life of the Palestinians mainly on freedom of movement, we can only see more hardship and disgrace for all parties concerned. We acknowledge the need for Israel to secure its citizens but we know too that the way Palestinians are treated at Checkpoints will never be the way to achieve security and Peace. We are alarmed by the increasing number of incidents by security personnel, especially the newly appointed; treating everybody at the Checkpoint in disrespectful ways unfit for human beings. Bishops have been shouted at, children have been petrified, and women humiliated. A young man was beaten in front of many people last Saturday. On the same day a young mother had her ID confiscated giving her no chance to complain, and the list goes on…

We urge you and whoever is responsible at these premises to investigate and hopefully correct these very serious deteriorations and maltreatment at this Checkpoint and others wherever they are. Our intentions are Peace driven based on reconciliation; we are concerned for the well being of all parties but this unjustifiable and inhumane treatment must be stopped immediately. As Community leaders we find these harassments demoralizing and the loss of dignity, especially on the doors of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, totally unacceptable.

We implore urgent action please and look forward to your response.

On a more positive side we would wish to inform you of the deep appreciation felt by our faithful and Community members at the extended period given for permits at recent feasts. Ever hopeful that this will continue!

With all good wishes and thanks

Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem
Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, R.C. Latin
Patriarch Torkom I Manoogian, Armenian Orthodox
Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian-Orthodox
Archbishop Abouna Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite
Bishop Suhail Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Mounib Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian-Catholic
Archimandrite Joseph Saghbini, Greek Catholic
Fr. Rafael Minassian, Armenian Catholic

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Less than 30? Never!

I have resisted the temptation to comment on that GQ interview, but since it seems it will not die and continues to crop up somewhere or other every day, I have decided to give in and put in me 10penneth!

Fellow conference delegates may recall a speech I made at Spring Conference a couple of years ago, following the last but one leadership election and the media frenzy about Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes' private lives. Amongst other things I berated the media for "caring more about what men do with their willies than what they do with their weapons of mass destruction". And I guess my response to the Nick Clegg story falls in there somewhere. It has always amused me that so many men seem to be totally fixated with their appendage/s and what they do or don't do with them, so I guess it stands to reason that not only has the male dominated media worked itself back into a lather over this story in a sexist boys mag, but that it seems to have been something the male bloggers have also disproportionately taken an interest in.

So, my thoughts about the story go something like this. Firstly, it would have been far better for Nick not to have said anything of course, but he did and, being an open kind of human being I have no doubt there will be other occasions he will say stuff he wishes he hadn't. But, when you are breaking new ground you will inevitably hit bumps, the only way to avoid them frankly is to stand still. This was a bump and I trust that what people will remember if they remember anything, will be an impression of someone who is disarmingly honest.

Secondly, I got to thinking about the variety of responses and how they may have differed had he said something different. For example, said that no, he had had no other sexual partners before his wife. Would there have been equal outrage, ridicule? And then had he said 1,2,3......what exactly would have been the optimum number, enough to be seen to be a "normal" young man and not so many as to be seen as a sorry he's a boy isn't he, a "bit of a lad". And of course, he could have refused to answer the question, then no doubt invited much speculation and more intrusive digging into his past.

Thirdly I got to thinking about the wider issue of our general attitude as a society to sex. As a young teacher teaching sex education as part of PHSE it always struck me just how much our young people were being taught about the mechanics of sex and their sexual health and how little about the emotional aspects. How many times after lessons young people would ask to speak to me privately about their feelings. Young women often feeling pressured into having sex, or feeling they had to be seen to have a boyfriend, the idea that you could not be a whole person unless you had "the other half". But did we teach negotiation skills, or anything about emotional literacy?

It seems to me that in an instant gratification society we have created a climate of passive consumerism that extends to our attitudes to sex. So, rather like an itch, if it itches scratch it! Now I am not trying to be judgemental, (I could not have spent most of my life working with young people if I was!) but I do think choice is no choice at all if it isn't informed. It the only messages our young people get about sex are in the pages of GQ et al, or in films/soaps that portray all of the pleasure and none of the pain or potential consequences (emotional as well as physical) it is no wonder that we are seeing the explosion in STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Yes, they know how babies are made, yes they know how to put a condom on a banana, yes they know how HIV is contracted...........but knowledge and skills do not of themselves, as we can see (and probably all know to our cost), necessarily influence behaviour.

Heavens this is getting to a rant (!) but, what do I know, particularly as my 21 year old daughter quite rightly tells me, at my great age sex is of course no longer of any interest!

Oh....and "Less than 30? Never!" that's the response I get when I try to lie about my age :-)

Tony Blair's Palestine by Chris Patten

I have just received this extremely thoughtful piece written by former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten :-

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has many positive attributes, including great charm. He will need all his skills to address the bewildering range of global tasks that he has taken on since being shoehorned out of office by his dour successor, Gordon Brown.

His initial daytime job, after running Britain, was to bring peace to the Middle East by helping establish the governing institutions of a Palestinian state.Since then, Blair has become an adviser to banks (which need all the advice they can get these days), is touring the world to promote a sensible policy on global warming and climate change, has created a foundation to help bridge the divide between different faiths, and will lecture on religion at Yale. All that is left is to restore the fortunes of England's national football and cricket teams. Perhaps he could fit that in on weekends.

But Blair has just made a useful comment on Palestine and Israel, which deserves to be taken seriously. Throughout the long years of this bloody tragedy, we have tried to inch our way to a settlement through confidence-building measures or, in the case of the long dead "road map," through pushing both parties to take parallel steps toward an agreement. Some observers, not least hard-headed Israeli peace campaigners, have suggested a different approach.You will never succeed, they say, if you try to bob and weave your way slowly toward an end game. Instead, you should jump straight into a final deal. And, since you won't get the two sides to agree to it, you'll have to impose it from the outside.But that ambitious outcome is easier described than achieved. While Israeli public opinion has usually appeared to run well ahead of its political leaders in the approach to peace, it is difficult to see how one could act over their heads. They need to be pushed and shoved into a successful negotiation. What would it mean to go straight to Palestinian statehood?

Presumably, Blair is not proposing to the Palestinians the creation of a state before an agreement is reached on final borders. There cannot be a Palestinian state without dealing with West Bank settlements. If you don't believe me, just visit the West Bank and see, for example, how the proposed suburban Israeli development of East Jerusalem stabs through the heart of Palestinian territory toward the Dead Sea. How can you have a viable state carved up by fences, military roads, and barbed wire?

Any Palestinian state should be within the 1967 borders (as adjusted through negotiation). Peace activists on both sides solved that in the Geneva initiative. Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak came close to doing so at Camp David almost eight years ago.

Moreover, a Palestinian state would not only comprise the West Bank and Gaza, but presumably would also have to accommodate the principal political parties in each area. Attempts to destroy Hamas — whether politically or physically — have not worked and cannot work. The Americans and Europeans committed a major error in conspiring to destroy the Fatah-Hamas national unity government, which was created largely thanks to the diplomacy of Saudi Arabia and other Arab League countries.

I hope that Blair is saying that to his American friends. His greatest achievement was the peace deal in Northern Ireland. That historic triumph depended on bringing in Sinn Fein politicians — leaders of the Irish Republican movement who in many cases could not be distinguished from the IRA, which bombed, shot, and maimed civilians in pursuit of its political goals.

Why should what worked in Northern Ireland — indeed, what was pressed on Britain by the United States — be unthinkable in the Middle East? Are we in the West guilty of double standards yet again?

I abhor any and every terrorist act, by Hamas or anyone else. I have had friends killed by terrorists. But since when were sentiment and moral denunciation sufficient ingredients of a policy? And when did a disproportionate military response to terrorism ever work?

The third challenge in establishing a Palestinian state is to create the institutions of statehood: Hospitals, ports, airports, roads, courts, police stations, tax offices, and government archives. When I was a European commissioner, we provided funds from European taxpayers to pay for these things. Then we saw them systematically trashed by Israel's response to the second Intifada.How did destroying driving licenses in Palestine preserve Israeli security? How was it preserved by digging up runways, uprooting olive trees, and fouling wells?A Palestinian state will need to be built from the bottom up. And what is built should not be destroyed.

I want to see — and I'm sure Blair does, too — a peaceful Palestinian state next door to a secure Israel in a region united in prosperity and stability.Maybe Blair has hit on how this can be achieved. But he should dwell upon the implications of such an approach between board meetings, lectures, and photo calls

(This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Abolishing the 10p tax rate - so we will review our tax policy now will we?

I am very pleased to see Vince Cable is making a fuss about the impact on the low paid of removal of the 10p tax rate and drawing attention in particular to the effect on service personnel. However, I am also a little cross. Myself and others (who will remain nameless because of the Chatham House Rule) raised this when we were discussing our own tax policy at FPC last year, but were told in no uncertain terms that the tax envelope we were considering did not include restoring the 10p rate. After all we were going to cut the basic rate by 4p weren't we? However, no proper analysis had been done of the impact this cut and replacement with local income tax, would have on the low paid.

So, my argument now, as it was then, is that we really should be radical about our tax policy. It is a nonsense and also highly discriminatory that we take tax off people who are on the minimum wage, giving it back to some in housing benefit, others in tax credits,(how much does that cost to administer - money that could be going straight into the pockets of the low paid) and leaving many single people, particularly those living in high cost areas, almost destitute. I trust that this belated concern about the abolishing of the 10p rate will lead to some serious rethinking.....but I am not holding my breath!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tea without Mr Balls

Well, apparently he is on holiday. So it was tea in his rather beautiful office without him, sadly.

The last time I was at the DCSF or DfES as it was in those days, was for a meeting with then Minister, Ivan Lewis. On that occasion (with my Unison hat on) I was kicked under the table by my national officer because apparently one is not supposed to interrupt a minister when s/he is speaking, I thought that only applied to the Queen? It clearly didn't apply vice versa since he wasn't kicked under the table by his adviser when he interrupted me!

Although I always remember speaking to his adviser at the end of the meeting. I had met her previously at an event in Warwick and must have made a bit of an impression. She said her heart was in her mouth when she saw me as she was convinced I would have questions for Ivan that he couldn't answer and he would ask her and she wouldn't be able to answer them either! But of course, I was, as ever, impeccably behaved. Actually I have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot for Ivan, he was always well regarded as a friend of the Youth Service and young people, although I guess Gordon Brown doesn't have much of a soft spot for him at the moment!

Meral Ece..........onwards and upwards!

Last night I had a wonderful time at the Harbour restaurant in Upper Street at Meral Ece's fundraising dinner. The atmosphere was fantastic, the company awesome and the food delicious........and all in a splendid cause too!

As often happens, whilst chatting with someone (who shall remain nameless) about a topic (that will remain a secret) concern was expressed that what was said may end up on my! And to think this nameless character restricted themselves to one glass of wine for fear of spilling too many beans.....shame! However tempting, there are private conversations which will remain private and personal conversations that will of course remain personal. My lips are sealed.....

Anyway, inspirational speeches from Bridget Fox, Simon Hughes and Meral herself left me with a certain sense of frustration. Frustration that we are engaged in an election in London where, as was picked up in the Times yesterday we should be doing well, for a variety of reasons, not least that "London is, furthermore, a city in which the right sort of liberal values - individual liberty, tolerance and internationalism - should have a real market", but are we having the impact we should have? The politics of fear - i.e. we are scared stiff of another Ken term, but also scared stiff of letting Boris (whoops is that a £5 fine?!) loose - apparently drives voting intentions. In theory, the voting system should be to our advantage. All those people on the doorstep (you know, you've met them) who say they would vote for us if they thought we had a chance of winning, well, in London on May 1st they could be putting that to the test, voting for us first with the fail safe of being able to vote for their least worst option second. Brian Paddick has a huge task despite the fact that he is standing against two such scary candidates. I hope he will grasp the nettle and take some risks and with greater exposure, begin to win more of the electorate round. But, however he does in this contest it is important to remember there are other contests taking place. So, despite my frustration, I also left with a great sense of expectation that Meral has a real chance to win her seat on May 1st, she certainly deserves to and the people of London North East deserve someone of her calibre and commitment to be their new, loud and extremely effective, voice on the GLA!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Demonstrations or Celebrations?

I couldn't believe my ears, the police officer being interviewed by John Humphries on Today this morning, explaining that the reason the Tibetan protest was cordoned off was because it was a "demonstration" whereas the Chinese, a couple of hundred yards up the road were a "celebration" so didn't need to be treated as a demonstration. In the old days, what they were holding may well have been referred to as a "counter-demonstration" - in fact, walking past the "celebration" the hatred and anger that was being manifest by the group did not appear to be that celebratory!

Anyway STWC et al, here is a solution, stop organising demonstrations.....organise celebrations instead!

On another point, I managed to find Lynne Featherstone, but there was no clear rallying point for Lib Dems. On various demos I occasionally bump into fellow members, but we really could do with a nice big colourful banner, couldn't we? Is there one somewhere that we just don't know about? Isn't it something worth investing in, I for one would certainly be prepared to help sponsor the cost.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Lib Dem 3% drop in ICM Nick Clegg to blame?

Mike Smithson on Political Betting, speculates this morning about whether our drop of 3% in the latest ICM poll - CON 43%(+1): LAB 32%(+3): LD 18%(-3) - is as a result of Nick Clegg's candidness last week. Frankly I wouldn't have thought so. I am surprised that we seem to have lost the 3% to Labour when they have hardly had a good week. More likely to be a blip methinks.........and having a daughter who used to work for ICM I know a little more than most about the kind of blips that may occur!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Absolutely Mustn't Miss - Evan Harris......cont

Edis rightly pointed out to me that my nocturnal posting (I was so excited I couldn't sleep!) about Evan's outstanding performance on Any Questions, was no use to anyone who is deaf (though transcripts will be available on the site at some point in the next week). So he asked for some bullet points about what he had said.
  • Removing the 10p rate of tax – Evan said that this was a disgraceful move, something the chancellor had tried to hide. He admonished those Labour MPs who had taken over a year to realise the consequence of this move, namely, doubling the tax rate for the poorest. He criticised our obsession with lower taxes, an obsession which focused purely on cutting the rate of income tax, without considering the unfair council tax, which we were committed to scrapping. He reflected that this was the opposite of what he thought Labour stood for. We want fairer taxes not more taxes, whilst both Labour and Tories are more interested in cutting Inheritance Tax which benefits only the top 5%.
  • Reclassifying cannabis - He thought this was crazy, he had heard many government ministers arguing that they must ensure policies were based on evidence, having asked for advice, then would follow it. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had demonstrated quite clearly that there was no basis on which to reclassify back into class b,this would be counter productive, when the evidence is that when it was reclassified use fell. There was no basis for the criminalisation of 30% or more of young people in order to "send out a signal", what matters is what works to protect the health of people. (Go Evan Harris!) He further referred to the fact that there was much lower use in Holland where cannabis had been decriminalised.
    Tory Cheryl Gillan supported Gordon Brown and argued that ACPO supports a return to class B, Evan's retort was brilliant - The police want 42 days detention, fortunately the police don’t run the country, politicians run the country!
  • Should Gordon Brown accept the Olympic Torch - Evan's position was that just because we are part of the chain didn't mean we shouldn’t make a point, the Chinese reneged on their pledge on the development of society, including democracy and human rights. On that basis Gordon Brown should dissociate himself and as Nick Clegg as argued, shouldn’t go. He pointed out that fortunately Gordon Brown was not representing the country as an athlete otherwise he would still be on the starting block when the others had finished the race!
  • Zimbabwe - not optimistic that this will end well, Mugabe would not call for a run off unless he thought he was going to win, it was already evident that there was interference in the process therefore Mugabe will not give up.

But, unfortunately my review, whilst reflecting what Evan said, cannot do justice to the way he came across and was received by the audience. We are truly fortunate that we have so many first class performers on our frontbench, who, when given the opportunity to champion our policies do such a great job.

Absolutely Mustn't Miss - Evan Harris

Listen here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sorry Norman.......I just couldn't resist!

I am a big fan of Norman Lamb. We had a slight difference of opinion over the post office motion a couple of years ago, but since he ultimately won the point and I am just naturally magnanimous (!) since then we have got along just fine. He passed me a couple of months ago at Portcullis and I shouted after him that I would be speaking on the same platform as him at a conference in Norwich, his response "On the same side?" .........of course!

So, despite our slight difference of opinion on issues to do with public services, we do communicate. But this week was slightly different. I received an inexplicable email from Norman, swiftly followed by another one apologising, it wasn't meant for me it was meant for his PA. I replied to say that was fine, but he better be careful because one day he may send me something he didn't want me to see! Then, the very next day, another email to me. I immediately emailed him back to let him know, part of his response was ".....I am petrified that I will appear on your blog!" Up until that point the idea hadn't occurred to me.............:-)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How many 53 year olds do you know who have just given birth?

I am at home feeling sorry for myself as I have a bit of a chest infection. Being as I am feeling so sorry for myself I am just not up to the 20 minute walk to the doctors, so for the first time, I decided to try NHS direct. Yet another agency collecting and collating data on anyone who dares to cross their path, it was nearly as bad as ringing the passport office! But, I duly obliged, gave number rank name and date of birth. Then they asked if I had given birth in the last 4 weeks..........! Could I be pregnant?.......hmmmmm.......NO..... I am er......past all that sort of thing and even if I wasn't I don't think immaculate conceptions happen much these days!

So it got me wondering, what do they define as "child-bearing age"? Do they ask 63 year old women, or 73 year old women the same questions?