Sunday, August 31, 2008
Who did I nominate..........(?) hmmmm, that's to be winkled out of me over a J2O at conference (!), but suffice to say I went through the list and picked out those I enjoy reading but aren't the usual suspects, given that my top of the listers will have already been nominated by others.
I think it is great that we have seen a veritable explosion of new bloggers over this year, Alasdair, Irfan, Steph, Helen to name but four. I hope this trend continues, sorry to sound like a broken record, but I hope this time next year we will reflect our diversity more accurately.
In the mean time.........more sloppy kisses to one and all!
Friday, August 29, 2008
And........sloppy kisses to all those of you who voted for me.........without prompting too! I might lobby and canvass hard to be elected to this and that (er.....European Parliament, FPC et al) but I have a blockage about my blog, probably because it is more personal.
Anyway, a tad late, I also finally get round to saying which of my posts I am most proud of. Actually these are the ones which have been recommended by others. If a post ends up in the golden dozen by virtue of the number of clicks (or the outrageousness of its title!) that is cool, but I am always so much prouder when one of my blogging heroes recommends something I have penned.
So - most proud must have been when sparring partner extraordinaire Alex Wilcock described my post on the Lisbon Treaty vote as "the most sensible I've read on the issue" ......... Alex, describing me as sensible, what an accolade! And I still chuckle to myself about Alex's fury when I did this post about gender and the by elections and then went off to Belfast!
The one and only Burbler has been kind enough to describe this post on multiculturalism as a "blinder" - thanks Paul!
And the awesome Stephen Tall has kindly nominated some of my blogs in the "ones you may have missed" from time to time.
If I may be permitted my own indulgence, I quite liked this one on locking up our children, it is one of the things I feel most passionately about.
And thanks to you all for giving me a nice warm glow yesterday, having had a difficult few weeks it was much appreciated!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
There are flaws in the current process that I would like to see something done about. For example, I don't like the fact that parliamentary spokespeople can effectively block any motion/amendment they don't like. I believe we should have a system where the membership has a say in the policies they want to debate. This could either happen by sending out all competent motions to local parties to prioritise, or by reserving the last day of conference to debate motions prioritised by conference reps (rather as we do with emergency motions). Of course this would give some in the party the heeby jeebies - heavens we might have to debate a really controversial issue.........but I believe it would engender more involvement in the policy making process. As someone who has never had a motion accepted by FCC, I know how demoralising and demotivating it is. In fact the only motion I have ever had debated was one submitted for emergency where the activists prioritised it. Of course FCC may counter by accusing me of writing crappy motions (!)
So, let's see what happens with my various amendments......
What I am pleased about is that an apparent drift towards less policy making and more chatting a la Labour/Tory, seems to be off the cards. At the moment we seem to have it about right.
So, of course I am looking forward to a lively and interesting conference. Will it be possible to amend the motion on Making it Happen? Will we support the status quo in Afghanistan? Will Nick Clegg send us off with fire in our bellies and a song in our hearts???!
The FREE GAZA and LIBERTY will leave Gaza for Cyprus on Thursday morning at 9:00 am. Several Palestinian students who have been denied exit visas by Israel will travel to Cyprus on the boats. One Palestinian professor will finally be able to go back to teaching in Europe and one young Palestinian woman will finally be reunited with her husband. Several of the Free Gaza international human rights workers will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring.
By freely traveling to Gaza, on Saturday, August 23rd, in two small wooden boats, the Free Gaza Movement forced the Israeli government to issue a fundamental policy change regarding their military and economic blockade of Gaza. Until now, Israel has wanted absolute control of Gaza with no responsibility. Israel has managed to maintain this situation, in spite of international law, because its policies have never been challenged.
When the FREE GAZA and LIBERTY approached the waters of Gaza, the Israeli government had to decide whether it wanted to publicly acknowledge that Israel remains an occupying power in Gaza, in which case Israel would be responsible under international law for its actions, including war crimes. In the face of intense, public scrutiny, Israel instead chose to acknowledge the inherent right of Palestinians to freely engage with the world. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs publicly announced that humanitarian and human rights missions to Gaza will no longer be stopped or threatened by Israel. With the end of the Israeli siege of Gaza, Palestinians are free to exercise their rights without fear of being stopped or killed by the Israeli military.
Since the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement will not be entering Israeli territorial waters, and since they will request an inspection from the Gaza Port Authority, they expect no interference on the part of the Israeli authorities when they leave Gaza. By Israel’s own admission, it has no authority to inspect the boats or the passengers when they leave Gaza.
With the collapse of the Israeli blockade, the Free Gaza Movement will quickly return to Gaza with another delegation, and invites the United Nations, Arab League and international community to organize similar human rights and humanitarian efforts. The Free Gaza Movement will continue to work to ensure the free passage between Gaza and the outside world will remain safe and open.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Spending a few peaceful days in the wonderful Swaledale but just picked up this news from Gaza
GAZA (23 August 2008) - Two small boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, successfully landed in Gaza early this evening, breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The boats were crewed by a determined group of international human rights workers from the Free Gaza Movement. They had spent two years organizing the effort, raising money by giving small presentations at churches, mosques, synagogues, and in the homes of family, friends, and supporters.
They left Cyprus on Thursday morning, sailing over 350 kilometers through choppy seas. They made the journey despite threats that the Israeli government would use force to stop them. They continued sailing although they lost almost all communications and navigation systems due to outside jamming by some unknown party. They arrived in Gaza to the cheers and joyful tears of hundreds of Palestinians who came out to the beaches to welcome them.
Two small boats, 42 determined human rights workers, one simple message: “The world has not forgotten the people of this land. Today, we are all from Gaza .”
Tonight, the cheering will be heard as far away as Tel Aviv and Washington D.C.
“We recognize that we’re two, humble boats, but what we’ve accomplished is to show that average people from around the world can mobilize to create change. We do not have to stay silent in the face of injustice. Reaching Gaza today, there is such a sense of hope, and hope is what mobilizes people everywhere.”
“We’re the first ones in 41 years to enter Gaza freely - but we won’t be the last. We welcome the world to join us and see what we’re seeing.”
--Paul Larudee, Ph.D.
“What we’ve done shows that people can do what governments should have done. If people stand up against injustice, we can truly be the conscience of the world.”
--Jeff Halper, Ph.D.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Well, listening to him I have to say, even though there wasn't much to disagree with, motherhood and apple pie and all that, I still couldn't help finding myself squirming at that underlying Etonesque arrogance that has always been the trade mark of so many Tories. So I was interested to read this article by Steve Richards in the Indy, comparing the tactics of New Tories with those of New Labour in the 90's. "Mr Blair made intoxicating speeches in the mid-1990s that seemed to develop an argument when he was actually avoiding one. Mr Osborne follows a similar path."
And later Richards argues -
"Like some of his other senior colleagues, Mr Osborne has read the New Labour manuals assiduously and probably knows off by heart the speeches delivered by Blair and Brown en route to their 1997 landslide. They declared that the new divide in the mid-1990s was not between high and low taxation, but fair and unfair taxation. It sounded like a moment of definitive change. But what did they mean by fair and unfair tax? What did they regard as levels that were too high? An apparently defining argument hid a thousand more important debates.
Mr Blair opened the door to Mr Osborne in other ways too. Towards the end of his leadership, he argued Labour had become too obsessed about the means in politics rather than the ends. But it is the means that are the cause of the divide between parties. Mrs Thatcher argued that her policies produced fairer outcomes compared with Labour. The arguments were over the means. No party claims that it wants an unfair society. In suggesting that the means are unimportant Mr Blair gave the Conservatives the freedom to argue that their approach is progressive because they seek fair outcomes. Every politician in Britain seeks fairer outcomes.
One of the reasons why Mr Osborne's speech is politically clever also relates to Mr Blair. The ultra-Blairites will agree with every word, the vaguely defined means as well as the ends that no one would disagree about. Out of genuine conviction as much as pragmatism, the heirs to Blair, Cameron and Osborne, cause mayhem in the Labour Party. Whether revisiting the politics of the mid-1990s is a successful route to power is another matter."
Absolutely! This is why I am uncomfortable, of course outcomes are important, but they are dependent on the means and getting the means wrong because of an underlying flawed premise, will result not only in failure but also in the kind of unfairness we have seen in both Tory and Labour Britain.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Shortly after conference last year we were thrown headlong into the drama of a leadership election. At the time I nailed my colours, somewhat firmly, to the Clegg mast. So, am I regretting my decision?
At autumn conference three years ago I was interviewed by ITN about Charles Kennedy (the chat at the time, you may recall, was about whether he was a leader or a chair). At the time I expressed the view that he was doing a great job, but that at the time of the next election we may need someone with different skills. Maybe Charles was the Moses who had lead us to the edge of the promised land, but in the run up to a General Election we may need a Joshua to lead us in! (apologies to those who don't know their Bibles, you'll just have to go look it up!)
Do I still think Nick Clegg is Joshua to Charles Kennedy's Moses? Well, I have had my differences, over taxes, over Trident, over marketization, over...........????? And therein lies my point. I do disagree with Nick on some issues, issues upon which I will no doubt have a bit of a barney with him and others at conference...IF I AM ALLOWED TO SPEAK!!! But on so many issues I absolutely agree with him and will continue to support him. Be that education, crime, mental health, most foreign policy, civil liberties, human rights, localism, diversity. The list is endless.
OK, so I agree with him on loads, I agree with lots of people on loads, but does it mean I think he has cut the mustard as leader? He has received a fair bit of stick from friend and foe alike, most notably the honourable Mr Huhne. He has occasionally dropped himself in it (tho this obsession with how many women he has or hasn't slept with and not just in the gutter press, leaves me cold, sorry, if there aren't more important issues for people to worry about frankly get a life!)
So, my view thus far? Well, you don't plant a sapling and then blame it when it starts to sway a little in the wind. Any new leader needs time to bed in. In Nick's case he has strong enough roots to withstand the buffeting...........and given time will become the mighty oak we are all looking for! He has enormous energy and resilience. He has the fleetness of foot and ability to spot and exploit opportunities that I have been crying out for. Nick has substance where Cameron is all smoke and mirrors. If you will forgive my mixing my metaphors, Nick is the house built on the rock, Cameron is building on sand.
Today he has hit the headlines twice on two different issues. Anyone remember when that has happened before? Firstly he threw down the environmental gauntlet on renewable energy, great coverage, great messages. Secondly he has been the only political leader (anywhere in the world as far as I know) to tell the truth about the Olympics and China. This evening on The World Tonight he showed his metal and did what a leader is expected to do...........speak on behalf of those he leads, I don't know about you, but he certainly spoke for me. He demonstrated that he is not a fairweather politico, he spoke with passion, intelligence and a depth which is almost absent elsewhere. He accused political leaders of being naive, making a mistake, gambling on the idea that this was a way of advancing human rights. He rightly in my view, reflected that this may in fact have the reverse effect. He worried that once the games are over the regime may in fact take the opportunity to act with brutality in Tibet and elsewhere. And of course, given his background, he speaks with some knowledge and authority about China. He rightly challenged the naive notion that the Olympics have nothing to do with politics and feared that Gordon Brown would be swept up with the euphoria of our medal success and would abdicate his responsibility to take the opportunity to speak out against Chinese human rights abuses.
So, in the foothills of conference season I am reminded of comments from my streetwise daughter. Last year she attended her first hustings in Cambridge, her comment at the time "I felt like Chris was talking to the audience and Nick was talking to me". Then, coming out of Nick's conference speech in Liverpool, her total belief that if only everyone, especially her friends, could hear Nick's speech, they would be bound to vote for us.
In conclusion. I don't and never will agree with Nick on everything. I will attract his and others ire for speaking my mind, sorry, I am too long in the tooth to become a default sycophant...........but, he is our jewel in the crown, he can and will be the "Joshua" we need. Watch this space!!!
Monday, August 18, 2008
As someone who occasionally "shouts the odds" about all sorts of things, this is something I feel I have not shouted about enough. There are excellent campaigning organisations out there such as Mind, Young Minds, The Mental Health Foundation and others. But their campaigns so often fall on deaf ears. It takes a tragedy for the media to even make a passing reference to mental health care so what hope to put this issue any higher up the political agenda? The irony is that the cost of continuing to relegate mental health to the bottom of the political agenda is a cost to us all. A financial cost (for example 90% of prisoners have mental health problems) but more importantly a human cost.
At the moment I am not really in a good state to think through what we could be doing (ask my work colleagues whether I have listened to a word they said today!), but I am serious about doing something, however small, to change things. First step is a Facebook Group, second step may be a little more radical.......ideas on a postcard (or an email) please.......
This caught my ear because I had been having an interesting conversation with a youth worker from Manchester earlier in the week. He was telling me that the police were being withdrawn from preventative work with young people in his patch because they weren't meeting their arrest targets with crime falling. Is this arse-backwards or what? It is a bit like the nonsensical targets for ASBOs - surely high numbers of ASBOs being issued is a sign of failure not success? This young man also told me about a really disturbing incident. Three young women were walking home and were stopped by the police and told to split up since there were three of them. One walked home on her own through a park and was raped.
What worries me about this obsession with targets and measures such as dispersal orders and exclusion zones is that they are all too often blunt and inflexible instruments that at best have little impact and at worst actually do harm. All the time the media and consequently politicians, are driven by perception rather than reality we will be showered with these window dressing, playing to the gallery, initiatives. Try putting "anti-social behaviour" into Google..........and see where else in the English speaking world it is such an obsession!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Sarah (as I explained last year) has a history of mental health problems. A few weeks ago it appears her medication was changed, but with no monitoring. On Tuesday she had reached her wits end. She left a suicide note and went over to visit my parents. When she left she drove to a country lane and tried to take her life by attaching a hose pipe to her exhaust. Thankfully someone, the person who knocked on my mum's door, found her, and went for help. But in the mean time she believed she should gouge her eyes out. She is now in hospital, hopefully being stabilised. We are hopeful, but will have to wait to see if she has lost the sight in one of her eyes.
As you might imagine we have been devastated. However sick Sarah has been in the past she has never ever tried to hurt herself before, this is a frightening twist in her condition. Yet again we have come up against a system that seems to regard mental health care as a Cinderella service. Her medication was changed without informing anyone in the family and without any monitoring. Had she succeeded in taking her life, or even taking someone else's in that condition, no doubt there would have been much wringing of hands and platitudes and enquiries. The fact is, it seems the systems just aren't there either to protect patients or to protect the public.
She is now thankfully in a very nice and secure unit near the family. But, her greatest fear is to return to the unit I described last year. We have promised her she will not be sent back to that hell hole. Frankly I would sacrifice my political career by chaining myself to the railings or doing whatever else was necessary to stop that happening. Because of her injuries this is not on the cards for a couple of weeks, but yet again, patient choice does not extend to mental health services.
Mental health issues touch us all in some way or other. Most of us will have family or close friends who have suffered. Whilst we may have moved on in terms of our attitudes to disability, the same cannot be said with relation to mental health. At the Labour Party conference last year I collared Ivan Lewis (the minister responsible) about this. He agreed with me, particularly about my concerns about mixed wards in psychiatric units, but there wasn't anything he could do. So, what can we do? I am proud that this is an issue our party is prepared to speak out about. In a few weeks time when my sister hopefully will be home, there will still be thousands of our fellow citizens, already tormented and distressed because of their condition, whose condition will be exacerbated by a system that regards them as second or third class citizens. Sadly there are few votes in campaigning on mental health issues, but my, perhaps old fashioned view is, a society should be judged by how it treats those who are most vulnerable. Right now I don't think we are doing that well.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
To quote from his mum "Jon lived life fully with enormous courage and determination right up to the end. On July 20 he went up Snowdon on the train and picnicked at the top with his aunt and cousin. A few days earlier he was sea fishing and caught sea bass. Over the period of his illness, he snowboarded in the French Alps four times, visited Morocco twice and southern Spain (in May this year). He had a special day fishing in Shropshire with TV’s Matt Hayes courtesy the Willow Foundation and made numerous visits to Sarah, his sister in Bournemouth. I cannot imagine life without him. He was my beautiful son and the pain of his loss is unbearable to contemplate though I am so glad all his earthly suffering is over. He is at peace, but life here goes on………."
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Since penning this piece my pal Martin alerted me to this article by Polly Toynbee which says what I was trying to far more eloquently!
"Focus groups with the super-rich, most of them in the top 0.1% of earners, commissioned for a book I have co-written with David Walker, threw up more questions than answers. How did these people succeed in setting their own terms with government? They were ignorant about the society they live in and indifferent to any but their own kind, and it is now plain that their own financial incentives encouraged wild risk-taking in banks and funds. Alan Sugar-style brutishness rules the roost, though most of these yahoos are not entrepreneurs at all, but market followers who receive their bonuses irrespective of whether results are good or bad.
Adept at frightening the Treasury, they fight even modest attempts at curbing tax avoidance or taxing non-doms, and the Treasury often retreats. Questions will be asked about who ruled Britain in this decade, just as in the worst days of over-mighty trade unions."
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
So fisticuffs with Mr Graham seemed a lot less important. Which got me thinking about how easily we lose sight of the important things in life - so many of which motivated us all to get involved in politics in the first place. We find ourselves entangled in the detail when the big picture is what is important. We fiddle fart about arguing about the means when surely it is the outcome we should be focusing upon? We judge others for not doing things as we believe they should rather than seeking common cause to end the injustices and inequalities we all abhor.
Well, this is where I am right now...............but I have no doubt I will return to kick ass tomorrow!