Saturday, September 27, 2008

Before I go...........some good news for a change...updated

Whoops! Posted this before I finished.......

I haven't had much time to blog, look forward to a belated conference round up sometime this millennium........but having now returned from Labour Party Conference and a couple of days in Belfast a quick personal update.

On Wednesday I went with my mum to my sister's case conference. Before the meeting she was worrying about staying in the unit, she hated it, she found it frightening. But as we sat there nearly everyone in the room came up to tell us how special she was, how she looked after everyone, especially moving was hearing from a woman who never had any visitors. This is my lovely sister, who worries about not being clever enough, but puts us all in the shade with her loving, caring nature. Who is a constant reminder to me of what really matters.

So, we went into the case conference and Sarah asked if she could come home for dinner with us. She was told that she could come home on leave, with a view to being discharged next week. As you can imagine we were all in tears! This has been a difficult, exhausting few weeks for all of us, but hell on earth for Sarah.

I wanted to thank all those of you who have been so supportive to me through this. I have made contact with new friends and my resolve to make this a key campaigning issue has been strengthened. Thanks to those of you who have joined the Facebook group "Winning the Battle of the Mind" - I will be keeping in touch through this.

At conference I was pleased to be able to sum up on Norman Lamb's excellent motion, though I have to confess it was the most difficult speech I have ever made and I certainly had to fight back the tears on a couple of occasions. I know there are lots of campaigning groups out there, but I believe there is scope to try and establish a cross party activists campaigning group, for us all to campaign to ensure all our parties develop more enlightened and fair mental health policies. That has been made a good deal easier now in the Lib Dems!

Now off for a week on the beach, my first "proper" (as I see it!) holiday for 7 years with the adorable Martin (who has been kindly lent to me by Jimmy) and son Ravi and girlfriend. I am trying not to get too excited as I have to maintain my composure this morning for a speech at the Essex Lib Dem conference...........then off to recharge the batteries for what promises to be an exciting and action packed few months in the lead up to the European elections - watch this space!!!!

Friday, September 26, 2008


In this country, there can be few worse affronts to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, than the practice of imprisoning innocent children. Yet that is what is happening, here and now, just a few miles from where I sit, in Yarlswood Detention Centre.

The New Statesman has some powerful articles and a petition, which I hope you will join me in signing, calling on the Home Secretary to honour our commitments, to quote: "The government’s stated policy has been to detain children “only when absolutely necessary and for the shortest possible time”. In reality, however, children are often held for long periods in centres with inadequate healthcare and education. Many have been deeply traumatised by their experiences. This situation is unacceptable in a country which claims to adhere to high standards of human rights.
Our clear message is that the UK’s policy of incarcerating innocent minors must stop. Immigration detention centres are no place for children."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Congress Must Demand Bush and Cheney Resign

I subscribe to the Democrats' activist email and today received the following -

George Bush wants taxpayers to pay $700 billion to bail out Wall Street for its reckless investments in mortgage-backed securities. That's on top of $800 billion for other recent bailouts, including A.I.G., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Bear Stearns.

The current financial disaster is the direct result of the Bush-Cheney Administration's 8-year policy of deregulation, corruption, and greed.
The Bush-Cheney Administration cannot be trusted to solve the massive problems they created. Before Congress gives the Bush Administration one dime of taxpayer money for financial bailouts, Congress must demand the immediate resignation of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Henry Paulson and the appointment of Speaker Nancy Pelosi as President until our next President is sworn in on January 20, 2009.

Now wouldn't that be a grand idea?!

Off to Manchester for the pre wake wake.......

Last year I attended the Labour Party Conference for the first time. Gordy was riding high, a few good weeks, the party was visibly energised. This year??? I am getting ready to take the train this afternoon and find out. There is a part of me that thinks, yes, the Iraqi chickens are coming home to roost.........

.....but, I can't deny that I have a feeling of a rising sense of panic contemplating the reality of another Tory government, above all it's the smugness I can't abide, even displayed by Andrew Mitchell (someone I actually have some respect for) yesterday on Any Questions. Suggesting the Lib Dems were stealing Tory clothes on tax..........and CLIMATE CHANGE! There is front and front and this takes the biscuit, it wouldn't be so bad if you could actually find any policy on the Tory website, or any reference to the work of Zac Goldsmith et al........hmmmm. As Simon Hughes so rightly observed, Cameron is not a salesman he is a a new meaning to the concept of the King's new clothes. He has listened and learned well from Tony Blair, where is the integrity, where is the sense of any serious attempt to develop meaningful policies? As I observed at conference, he is rather like the guy beautifully kitted out in riding boots, jodhpurs, hunting jacket, hardhat and of course, being a Tory, crop - telling Gordon Brown (on a horse that is too big for him and is bolting, whilst the world watches wondering if he will fall off of his own accord or be bucked off), what he is doing wrong, having never ridden in his life and having no intention to get on the horse until he has to. No doubt then (after the election) we will all discover just how bad a rider he is, but of course then it will be far too late.

So, as I head off to Manchester I find myself in a huge dilemma. I can't abide what Labour has done to this country, to our standing in the world, and to Iraq, but I worry that the Tories will make it worse. I can remember the sense of real elation in 1997, it felt like being let out of a prison. Now the prospect is moving from what has become the new prison back to the redecorated old one.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Nick Clegg wins the battle, but will he win the war? (or is it the other way round?!)

Today I have had the great privilege of being a judge in the Children and Young People's Services Awards. It was inspirational, and although I am sworn to secrecy about who we shortlisted, suffice to say that we read of many many wonderful projects going on up and down the country to improve the life chances of children and young people. But, I also met a fellow Lib Dem, someone who unprompted told me she was planning to leave the party in the light of what she perceived as our drift to the right. She was proud to be part of the party that was prepared to raise taxes for the rich to invest in excellent public services. She was happy with the 1p for education and 50p rate. She was at a loss to understand what was happening with our apparent about turn. I hope I persuaded her to stay..........but I left worrying about how many other members up and down the country are, as we speak, wondering about renewing their membership.

I fear this position on tax may only be a hairline fracture in Make it Happen, but it is a fault line that runs all the way through it and has the potential to develop into a chasm. A chasm between us and the electorate (we lose our credibility when we can't cost promises) and a chasm within the party. The amendment very clearly sought to be a uniting amendment. To get the whole party behind what is an excellent document. The deliberate misrepresentation of that amendment and the decision not to accept it for what it was, left nearly half of us feeling ignored and disaffected. Make it Happen is the lynch pin for our party, it is the Standard around which we should be massing, if ANY motion should have been passed unanimously in Bournemouth - this was it!!!! As well as clearly being very upset at the lack of diversity in the debate, at times I wondered if I had been teleported two weeks hence and I was sitting in the Tory conference! Frankly, if you closed your eyes you could have been forgiven on many occasions for thinking you were listening to Tories. It chilled me to my bones.............

I am at a complete loss to understand why Nick Clegg made it such a leadership issue, wheeling out the "big hitters" Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Simon Hughes. Clearly there wasn't quite the nervousness there was over Trident as Nick didn't need to make a surprise intervention himself. Yes, Nick won, he would have either breathed a sigh of relief or jumped for joy, I know not which.............but at what cost?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Women and BME members - should be seen and not heard in the Lib Dems?

Thanks to Jo Christie Smith for highlighting the issue from conference that had me most apoplectic. No, not the way the amendment to Make it Happen was misrepresented and thrown out (more about that later) tho that came a close second, it was the TOTAL misrepresentation of the diversity of the party in the debate. I am excluding the interventions since people self select, however, interesting that in self selection there were 3 BME members speaking and 2 women. I understand that 11 women and 56 men put in cards, ethnicity is not recorded but I know of at least 1 BME member who put in a card and was not called. Apparently in order to "balance the debate" we ended up with 26.79% of the men who put in cards and 9.09% of the women speaking. This would be laughable if it weren't so serious. The main underlying issue allegedly being argued over in the debate was how best to support those on low incomes. Now, earlier that day I had heard how twice as many young women as young men are living in poverty - and I would hazard a guess this is true across the adult age spectrum. If you are from a BME community, or are disabled, you are also far more likely to be living in poverty. So, I think we have established that this is an issue that disproportionately impacts on women, BME communities and those who are disabled. let's yet again get a bunch of white middle class men deciding the best way forward!!!!

After the debate I was chatting to two white male friends who had the grace to admit that until I mentioned it, they hadn't noticed the lack of women or BME members........the exact same thing happened when I made the same complaint in the Meeting the Challenge debate (incidentally with the same chair, who clearly hasn't remembered). Then along came another apoplectic female PPC who shall remain nameless, who had put her card in 7th and still hadn't been called.

In the evening I was chatting to another BME female PPC, who said she hadn't put a card in because she didn't expect to be called - exactly - that's what happens, we get into the why bother? syndrome. What is the point of spending hours writing a speech knowing that your chances of being called in an important debate appear to diminish in direct relation to your gender and ethnicity? So whilst of course as women we perhaps need to be bolder in putting our cards in, the system, skewed as it is, has to take the bulk of the responsibility.

For those who missed what I said during FE questions (since the BBC mysteriously lost the sound!) my point was that there was no point publishing stats about diversity when one of our most public forums, namely the televising of the most controversial debate at conference, reinforces an image of a white male middle class party, something pointed out to me by a non Lib Dem female friend who had been watching at home. Simon Hughes in his speech earlier in the day had rightly been bemoaning the fact that we still only have 1 in 6 women MPs, but if our first priority in important high profile debates is to have the "big hitters" namely parliamentarians, who are yes, predominantly male and almost entirely white, getting the first bite of the tiny cherry, WE WILL NEVER EVER CHANGE ANYTHING!!!!! If we always do what we have always done, we'll always get what we always got. Now, credit to Simon, who in my view has done far more than anyone in our party to improve our diversity, but there is only one of him, the responsibility falls to us all. And credit to Nick Clegg, who I know takes the issue very seriously which he has demonstrated by appointing Meral Ece and Fiyaz Mughal as special advisers. But, this has to be a root and branch approach. It is insulting and disrespectful in the extreme to Nick and Simon to allow such a travesty of all we say we believe in and stand for, to take place.

A couple of years ago when walking into the conference hall before the leader's speech with Fiyaz, we were asked to go and sit near the front. This was apparently to be in the eye of the camera, to demonstrate our diversity as a party. Now, frankly, of course we need to be SEEN to be diverse, but please, are we to be treated like Victorian children, wheeled out in our pretty clothes, perpetually SEEN and when it counts never HEARD?

Simon is asking Duncan Brack as chair of FCC to produce a report of explanation to FE, I welcome this. I trust (and will be writing to Simon as chair of FE to ask) that this will result in REAL and meaningful change. If this ever happens again in an important debate I give due warning that I will mount my own one woman demonstration from the floor - as Laurence Boyce would say, don't forget I used to be in the army!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dragon's Den

Are you off to conference? Then put this in your diary -

Monday, September 15, 2008
1:00pm - 2:00pm
Marriot Highcliff, Dorchester 1

The Electoral Reform Society with Lib Dem Voice ask -

What’s your one big idea to improve democracy in this country?

Submit your idea to . Then go to the Electoral Reform Society stand at conference in Bournemouth over Saturday and Sunday, and vote* to select the top five ideas submitted.The top five win the opportunity to pitch their idea, Dragons’ Den style, to the Electoral Reform Society’s expert panel at our fringe event on Monday lunchtime.
The panellists will be:
• Julia Goldsworthy MP
• Richard Reeves, chair of Demos
• Ken Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society
• Stephen Tall of Lib Dem Voice

Plus, the top five will get a signed copy of Richard Reeves’ new biography of John Stuart Mill.

This opportunity to shine is open to any Liberal Democrat party member attending conference.

Give your proposal a title of not more than eight words, and summarise it in fewer than 30. You can provide more detail if you with, but we won’t be able to fit it on the ballot paper to select the ideas that get pitched to the panel.

Think the unthinkable, be bold, be positive, and give us your one big idea!

I have taken the above from Facebook, so not sure closing date, but I am sure if you head over to their stall at conference you will find out - thinking caps on then!!

A French perspective on Sarah Palin

This article, received via Living Stones, offers another interesting perspective on the US Elections in general and Sarah Palin in particular.

By Eric Margolis PARIS --

Trying to explain American politics to my French friends and Paris media is not easy. They are still struggling to understand how Barack Obama popped out of nowhere to run for the world's most powerful office. Now the French are even more stunned and confused by Sen. John McCain's surprise vice-presidential choice of Gov.

Sarah Palin of Wasilla, Alaska, a hamlet just a snowball's throw from the North Pole. Frenchmen, being French, think she has nice legs. But no one here can understand why Republicans picked a lady whose primary experience was being mayor of a one-husky town and making moose stew. "Mon dieu," one Parisian told me. "Those crazy Republicans must have the wish of death." No, no I explained. The party is being born again. Palin's emergence simply confirms the final dumbing down and ruralization of the Republican Party, and its metamorphosis into a right wing politico-religious movement. The pistol-packing Sarah Palin is the party's new housewife saint, a cross between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.

Two factors led McCain to his dramatic decision. First, 53% of American voters are women. The choice of Palin clearly was an attempt to grab disgruntled Democratic female voters who are still fuming that their heroine, Hillary Clinton, was a woman scorned. But McCain's clumsy ploy may insult more Democratic female voters than it will attract. Palin, save for being a woman, is against almost everything Hillary Clinton supports.

Far more important, McCain chose Palin as his running mate because she is an in-your-face, born-again, evangelical Christian. Some 44-50% of Republican voters now call themselves evangelical Christians. Concentrated in America's deep heartland and southern Bible Belt, these ultra conservative, fundamentalist white Protestants provided the Bush administration's core support in a nation where 63% believe every word in the Bible is true.

Evangelical TV ayatollahs have become major political figures on America's right. Many evangelicals believe in the absolute literal nature of the Scriptures, biblical prophecy, the Messiah's imminent return, and mankind's destruction. They oppose evolution and ecology. Evangelism has become the Republican Party's official religion, and Mrs. Palin its new high priestess. The evangelist's view of foreign policy is simple. Either wicked France, Russia or the UN is the anti-Christ (take your pick). Muslims are evil and a menace. Israel is the paramount foreign policy issue. Support for Israel must be absolute and unlimited. All Palestinians must be expelled from the biblical Holy Land, the world's Jews gathered therein, and converted. Then the Messiah will return, Armageddon will come and Earth will be consumed by fire and brimstone. Only born-again Christians will survive and be teleported up to heaven. The rest of us will roast.

Evangelicals were very unhappy with the choice of McCain, an East Coast Republican they viewed as theologically untrustworthy, and far too liberal when it came to social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Without a heavy turnout by evangelical voters, McCain would not have a chance of winning. That's why his original favourite for VP, the smarmy Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, was dumped in favour of kill-a-polar-bear for Jesus Mrs. Palin.

The brainy Republican political analyst Kevin Phillips, who forged Ronald Reagan's first electoral victory, makes a very important point in his must-read book, American Theocracy. We've all heard of hockey or soccer moms, but Phillips identified an even more important voting group backing the Bush administration: "National security moms." These middle class mothers in the outer suburbs and rural areas were petrified by the Bush administration's campaign over terrorism and scared into believing their little Johnny's in remotest Alabama and Kansas were about to become targets of al-Qaida. So they voted in droves for Bush and Cheney, who promised to wage war on "evil."

McCain vows to continue this crusade that appeals to fear and ignorance, now led into battle by the new wilderness saint, Sarah Palin, M-16 in one hand, Bible in the other.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jack on the March..................................

As a regular Stop the War marcher, anyone spotting me on the Operation Banner march past yesterday may have been a bit puzzled. But as I have always made clear, I may be against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I believe absolutely that we should support and honour our forces who have no choice in where they serve.
For anyone who served in Northern Ireland yesterday was a day overdue. A day to draw a line under 38 years of suffering and bloodshed. The hopes and prayers of all of us that this really does mark an end of 'the troubles" Along with pal Jill I was lucky enough to get tickets and to be part of an historic event. It was the first time I had been to a service in St Pauls and it was truly a fitting setting, I especially appreciated the guard of honour they laid on for me (as you can see in the pic!). Before the service began I had been looking out for Nick Clegg, but could only spot David Cameron. I did toy with the idea of going and asking him to give Nick a message, but then spotted him so was able to give him my own's OK - I didn't mention the T word, so there was no need to bring in the Royal Marines to separate us!
The service was extremely moving, I can't imagine how painful it must have been for those who were there who had lost loved ones over what was the longest ever deployment of British Forces. Let's hope Afghanistan doesn't break that record. After the service there was to be a march of veterans to the Guildhall (odd to think of myself as a veteran!)I had hmmmmmd and aaaaahed about whether to march. Did I really want to make a fool of myself?! When serving I can remember being told off for not being able to tell my right from my left leg and on one occasion when marching in to get my pay, the officer bellowed "March in, don't mince!" and sent me off to come in again, so marching isn't really my strong point..........Anyway, why not break with convention, how many others have ever marched in shocking pink boots? The retired Para behind me asked incredulously if I was intending to march. Yes say I, in those? says he....I joined the ranks quite near the front and unfortunately behind someone very tall. Now had we had time to organise properly - in height order, I would have been in my rightful place - in the middle at the front. That way you are close to folk of a similar height. But sadly not yesterday, I was behind someone a foot taller, as you can see from the pic. I did my best, but the combination of stilettos and being 'vertically challenged' ensured I had to break step every so often and do a little run to catch up - hopefully not caught on camera! Then to a delicious spread at the Guildhall with more than enough champagne! Yet again I heard a tale of what I regard as a failure of duty of care of injured soldiers. A unit in Essex is raising funds for a young man who lost his leg in Afghanistan so he can have a bionic leg as the country doesn't make up for the fact that we have sent him off to risk his life, by ensuring he gets the best.

I had to leave early for another meeting (more later) but I have to say, knowing the tickets for this event were well oversubscribed I felt very privileged to have been able to take part.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

President Palin.....what if?

An interesting take from Frank Shaeffer.

Following the death of President John McCain from cancer (March 13, 2010) Vice President Sarah Palin was sworn in as President. The following is a partial record of her first cabinet meeting that has been reconstructed from files that survived World War III.

Secretary of State Dr. James Dobson: Madame President could you outline your priorities and approach to our Middle Eastern and Israel policy?

President Palin: Sure Jim, here's a few points that all us ordinary Americans from small towns know in our hearts are important. Please open your Bibles and follow along.

1. Attempts by Jewish groups to destroy the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the Temple have my support.
2. Any attempt to rebuild the Temple will very likely ignite an apocalyptic war with Muslim terrorists worldwide and bring back our Lord and Savior.
3. The case for rebuilding the Temple is based on the biblical belief that only through the reintroduction of the sacrificial system can Jewish people atone for their sins.Secretary of Defense, Pastor Hagee: Madame President could you outline the priorities you'd like to have the Pentagon pursue?

President Palin: Sure Mr. Secretary. I have asked the Department of Defense to review the following biblical passages: 2 Samuel 7:1-17; John 4:21-24; Hebrews 9-10; Ephesians 2:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 21:9-27.
After this meeting I am asking all members of the cabinet and all our fine generals to review the following questions for further military planning study:
1. What role did the Temple fulfill under the Old Covenant?
2. How will the future Temple in Jerusalem undermine the militant Muslims we have to fight and win against?
3. What does the Bible say about the Rapture?
4. I want all our intelligence assets pulled off whatever they're doing now to draw up a list of likely locations for the return of Jesus Christ so we'll be ready.
Read the Signs of the Times gentlemen! Armageddon and 'I'm a gettin' out o' here' is on the way!

Secretary of Homeland Security, Reverend Franklin Graham: Madame President, How should we defend the homeland in the light of Christ's return?

President Palin: Don't worry Franklin, Jesus is on our side! So just be watchful. Be faithful. I want you all to note what this hockey mom has had laid on her heart this morning. Follow along, please!
1. The Left Behind books have created a great opportunity for the Lord to work.
2. The End Times world view must shape US foreign policy in the Middle East destabilizing the so-called peace process and all that East Coast global warming crap too.
3. Armageddon is a biblical reference to an apocalyptic nuclear holocaust AND the cosmic battle between good and evil! The United States of America will win that battle gentlemen!

Secretary of Education Sean Hannity: Madame President any word for our non-union school teachers?

President Palin: Yes, Sean. Instead of science and all that global warming crap I want every American student to make a personal study of Christian Zionism which was first revealed by God to the British associated with JN Darby and Edward Irving in the 1830s. See? It's history too, as in HIS--that's Jesus!--STORY! This was brought to the United States by God where it became enshrined by the Lord in Dispensational Bible colleges and, for example, the Schofield Bible in 1909. These truths faded in England, but were anointed by God in the USA...

All members of the Cabinet: USA! USA! USA! USA! US...

President Palin: Enough! That's it Gentleman! You have your priorities now! Go forth! O, one last thing: The official position of the United States Government is henceforth the traditional premillennial dispensational eschatology believing the ingathering of the Jews to Palestine to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. All international policy, economic and military planning is to reflect this truth, did I say "this truth"? No gentlemen! Correction: THE TRUTH!

Frank Schaeffer is the author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. Frank wishes to thank Stephen Sizer for letting him use some material in this blog from the book Zion's Christian Soldiers

Nick Clegg - 150% RIGHT!!!!

I have to confess that I have not been best pleased with Nick's public musings on tax. I knew this was something we were unlikely to ever agree on, although I hadn't expected it to be elevated to such a defining issue for those of us who regard tax as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. So credit IN SPADES where it is due. Today Nick has announced the appointment of two new advisers, Fiyaz Mughal and Meral Ece. Both are well known in the party, both London councillors, Meral was a candidate in the GLA elections and Fiyaz stood as our candidate for London mayor. Both have contributed enormously to the party over the years and each has their own particular expertise that will be invaluable to Nick and the wider party. Nick has clearly put his money where his mouth is, diversity in the party as far as I am concerned is one of our MOST pressing issues. Fiyaz and Meral are well placed to ensure we actually begin to make progress. Here is the press release in full: Nick Clegg announces new BME advisors Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg today announced the appointment of two personal advisers on black and minority ethnic issues. These appointments are part of Nick Clegg’s commitment to build even greater links with the UK’s minority communities. The new team will engage with minority groups on a variety of issues, and will report their concerns directly to Nick Clegg, as well as to other senior party figures. The two new advisors are: · Cllr Meral Ece, who has been appointed the Leader’s Adviser on Community Cohesion (Ethnic Minority Communities and Minority Rights) · Cllr Fiyaz Mughal, who has become the Leader’s Adviser for Interfaith Work and Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism Commenting, Nick Clegg said: “I am proud of the links that already exist between the Liberal Democrats and minority groups across Britain. However, I am very conscious that we have to do more to engage with minority communities and this team will help us do that. “For over a decade, Labour’s clumsy and heavy-handed approach to issues such as immigration, detention without trial and income inequality has alienated minority communities. “Meanwhile, it seems clear that David Cameron’s Tories are still set on blaming struggling families for their problems rather then helping them. “I know from travelling around the country that there are so many members of minority ethnic communities who share Liberal Democrat values, and I’m delighted to have such a talented group focusing on the crucial issues which affect them.” Liberal Democrat Leader’s Adviser for Community Cohesion, Meral Ece, said: “Nick Clegg is committed to making the Liberal Democrats far more representative of the communities we serve. “I am very proud of and committed to supporting those efforts, using my experience of working for many years with ethnic minorities in the inner cities. “The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have the vision to take community cohesion seriously, by taking the lead on engaging with minority communities.” Leader’s Adviser for Interfaith Work and Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism, Fiyaz Mughal added: “The Liberal Democrats have a vision of community safety and tackling extremism and radicalism which does not isolate certain faith communities, but actively tries to engage with them. “Labelling or isolating communities merely exacerbates feelings of alienation that can feed radicalisation. I am proud of the vision and leadership that Nick and his front-bench team have shown on these issues.” FIYAZ MUGHAL Fiyaz Mughal was part of the Working Groups that made up the Extremism Task Force which was convened by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, after the 7/7 bombings. He is an accredited national Peer Mentor with IDeA on preventing violent extremism. An Oxford City Councillor in 2002-2004, Fiyaz is now a Councillor in the London Borough of Haringey and was also the Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats from 2002-2006. He was also appointed as one of a number of Deputy Presidents for the Liberal Democrats in 2006 and was one of the party’s Prospective London Mayoral candidates in 2007. Fiyaz founded Faith Matters ( in 2004 and works on interfaith, conflict resolution and Preventing Violent Extremism programmes within faith communities in the UK and internationally. MERAL ECE Born in London, Meral Ece is second generation Turkish/Turkish Cypriot. A community activist and a much respected and high profile figure in the Turkish speaking communities in the UK, Meral was one of the first women from her community to be elected as a local councillor. She served 8 years as a councillor in Hackney, and has been a councillor in Islington since 2002, where she was Cabinet Member for Health & Social Care between 2002 and 2006, and is currently the Chair of the council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Meral is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, and is a member of the Liberal Democrats Federal Executive Committee. She currently works as a consultant working with charities and local government. In May 2008, Meral was appointed by Minister for Equalities, Harriet Harman MP to the Government's Taskforce for increasing the number of ethnic minority women councillors across the UK.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

If you don't read or listen to anything else this week........

Being a Radio 4-o-phile I listened to this Point of View from Katharine Whitehorn this morning. It is excellent and one of the best critiques of the deification of the market I have ever heard. Should be required listening, but if you don't want to listen -

"Heard the one about how many economists it takes to change a lightbulb? The belief that the market would take care of it has been shaken, says Katharine Whitehorn. I was brought up by a classical father who believed, with Socrates, that "where the wind of the argument leads there we must follow without fear".So it's not surprising I dislike fundamentalists: that's to say, anyone who says "That's it, it is known; shut up and don't argue." But the kind of rooted conviction I hate isn't confined to religions. I'm not keen, for example, on Richard Dawkins' atheist assertions, much as I admire him; he doesn't know, any more than anyone else does.

And there's a more everyday kind that's been around for at least 25 years that seems to go almost unchallenged, and that's the conviction that the market will take care of everything. At least, it wasn't much challenged till this summer; but now a seemingly unlikely combination of two economics editors, Larry Elliott of the Guardian and Dan Atkinson of the Mail on Sunday, apparently feel the same. Their book The God That Failed is subtitled "How blind faith in markets has cost us our future".

Do you remember the light bulb jokes? "How many New Yorkers does it take to change a light bulb? Two - one to call the electrician and one to mix the martinis" or "How many therapists? Only one but the light bulb has to really want to change." I recently found another in an old notebook: "How many economists does it take to change a light bulb? None; the market will take care of it." The only trouble is, it won't.It's not just the markets as such, though that make me grind my teeth; market forces may be fine when they apply only to the markets. It's the conviction that commercial principles are always the most efficient; that anything done for private profit and in competition must always be better and more effective than anything done for any other fudsy old reason such as the common good.

Sometimes I feel as if I'd spent the first half of my life being told, without any obvious evidence, that anything run publicly, by government or the council or whatever, had to be better than anything run commercially; and the second half being told, equally without any evidence, that anything run for private profit must be better - and evidence of the fallacy of this pious belief piles up all the time.This summer we've had, for example, the complete failure of the outsourced firm that was marking the exams of our schoolchildren.

The latest Home Office loss was achieved by a private company that misplaced a memory stick.And in the past there was the now widely mocked Internal Market at the BBC, and the privatisation of the railways, which even those who believe in the principle think was done the wrong way. The Potters Bar crash had Nina Bawden blaming Tony Blair for the way he allowed the railways to operate - it was a private firm that had failed to repair the track properly.It's said that part of the trouble is that the public sector people who commission the private companies aren't good at writing tight contracts and checking at every stage that the company has come up to scratch. This may well be true - I suspect that it's probably because of their blind faith in private companies that they take too much on trust.

Someone, years ago under Margaret Thatcher, thought it would be a very good idea to farm out the cleaning of hospitals to private companies. Before that, the cleaners may not have been particularly well paid, but they belonged to the hospital, had pride in what they did, and were the hospital's grapevine.When I wrote How to Survive in Hospital in the early 1970s, I said: "It is well known that most patients get all their information from that splendid woman with three teeth who sweeps under the bed in the mornings; it comes as a shock to realise she isn't actually a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons."Under the bed? When I visited a friend in hospital a while back, I happened to drop a book. Retrieving it from under the bed, I also found, to the delight of its owner, a slipper that had been lost for more than a week. The company in charge may make decent money, but the cleaners aren't well paid and often have no sense of belonging. No wonder they're not that keen to be clean.

Yet we're more and more faced with the idea that competition and the inclusion of private involvement will be the saving of the health service. One article of this faith is the substitution of many GP practices by polyclinics. Polyclinics can provide things like X-rays and blood tests without troubling a hospital, and their supporters hope they'll give more patients easier access to a doctor.The opposition, which includes the BMA (who got over a million signatures from patients in support of their stance), worry that continuity of care will suffer badly. The doctors will be on three-year contracts, and even over the three years there'll be no guarantee of seeing the same one.A stranger with a screen and a list of your ailments and drugs is not best placed to deal with the vast amount of non-specific illness, which usually needs, especially for the elderly, a continuing understanding of the patient and her problems.My local campaigning group is worried, too, about the reputation of the insurance company primed to run the clinics. Even if they were pure as the driven snow, they would still have to find profit enough to cover their directors and administrators and shareholders. Hardly a bargain for Primary Care Trusts that commission them.Political correctness has long been condemned, often unfairly, for the absurdity of always saying person rather than man or woman, for trying to be polite to minorities, or for refusing to call anyone top of the class for fear someone else weeps for being bottom.But this isn't the real political correctness - what's really been the only politically correct thing to say under Mrs Thatcher, and under Tony Blair, is to assume that competition is better than co-operation, that it's the only useful spur to action. Since too many people don't believe in God these days, they can still have the spiritual comfort of believing in The Market instead.

Jane Jacobs, an American whose books such as The Economy of Cities influenced - via the mind of Keith Joseph - much the most humane side of Thatcherism, wrote one about ethics called Systems of Survival.She thought there were two distinct streams. The commercial stream, which valued honesty in fair play and fair pay, but was not concerned with social effects; and the other stream, which went with running communities, looking after people and their commitments and casualties, governing a country and so on.She thought you got into big trouble if you tried to mix the two. She cited a scheme for getting cops to catch more crooks by paying them extra for every crook caught. No marks for guessing what happened. They certainly caught more people - but omitted the little detail of making sure they were actually criminals.

Judges were once paid by results, in the sense of getting money from the winning side - well, making sure the winning side was the one that had paid up. Even my idol, the essayist and philosopher Francis Bacon was supposed to have taken bribes. It took centuries to get the judges to stop.We are heading, it seems, for bad times such as we had in the 1970s. Then the main trouble was that the unions could disrupt anything and everything at will, and flabby management seemed unable to do anything about it.

But we still had the best broadcasting in the world, a health service which had only suffered two exasperating reforms, an education system widely respected and an efficient civil service not subject either to the stodginess or the questionable integrity of civil services elsewhere.I have always thought history will find it odd that, in those circumstances, Britain decided to copy the practices of commerce, and model all its institutions on the thing it did worst.

Bringing in market forces and competition was deemed to be the cure for everything, just as laudanum was prescribed for any ailment in the early 19th Century. A lot of women - the sisters and wives of the Lake poets, for example - were sick much of the time from the effects of heroin, because that was what laudanum consisted of. And when they were ill they were given more laudanum.For the healing properties of laudanum substitute "the saving magic of the market" - and let's stop believing in it so blindly."

Nick Clegg on Westminster Hour

Nick on the wonderful Westminster Hour explaining the inexplicable and accusing those who don't get it of "splitting hairs". Well at the risk of splitting hairs, my reading then is that £20 billion is first for reallocation and second for tax cuts. Please can we have some more meat on the Bones (excuse the pun!) - if we are going to have a bun fight over this I would really like to know where exactly it is we are aiming our buns.

Despite my differences with him on this issue I have to confess that Nick came across very well and if I was a little righty as opposed to a little lefty (something he has accused me of being before!) I would probably be dancing on the ceiling..........

He has promised to protect and enhance spending on education and other frontline services. He argued health was more complicated given our commitment to decentralise.

So, I await with mounting interest the debate next week.

To quote Nick Clegg - Hold your Horses!

There has been a rather tetchy debate going on over at LDV, so I thought I would put me 10penneth in. In The Sunday Telegraph today they tell us that Mr Clegg has announced that he will cut £20 billion from public spending, which will be ploughed into tax cuts for middle earners. "We are now in a process of identifying what I believe will be the most radical package of tax- cutting measures for people on middle incomes," Now, as others have pointed out, I don't remember Nick having this as one of his objectives in the leadership campaign. Also he is going a lot further than what is promised in Make it Happen. I have no problem with Nick showing his leadership, but I do believe if he is going to pick a fight with a large cohort of the party now is not the time to do it.

As I have said before, I backed Nick because in terms of nearly all his objectives I am totally on the same page. But that doesn't mean I think his methodology is right. Of course no one can be against tax cuts in principle, but please please let's not make the means to an end an end in itself. What is it we want to achieve, what is our number one objective? If it is just "cutting taxes" then why bother with any public services at all? If it is about redistributing the tax burden in order to address the inequity that sees the poorest paying the highest proportion of tax, that is a noble aim. But that isn't what he is saying.

I would argue that if we did a proper cost benefit analysis of all public expenditure we could make long term gains that could be ploughed back into reducing inequality. Of course there are savings to be made, the vast sums spent on consultants, PFI, privatising public services, Trident. But I don't see these highlighted in Nick's proposals. Are we seriously suggesting that there is not a need for greater investment in neglected services? That we honestly think all our public services are adequately funded?

So, to quote Nick back to himself, my plea to him is "hold your horses!"

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Why we do what we do - don't we?

I have to confess to feeling a bit low over the past few weeks, probably spending so much time visiting a psychiatric unit may ironically have something to do with it! If these places depress me, what on earth impact do they have on those being treated there?

So, yesterday I had a powerful reminder of why I guess we all do what we do. I got off the train at Bedford and met a woman I hadn't seen for at least a couple of years. She was evidently really pleased to see me and told me how she had never forgotten what I did for her when I represented her (as Unison Branch Secretary). She said she had been in real turmoil but after her first meeting with me she felt so positive about the situation, one which we went on to resolve. It reminded me of all the other people I had had the privilege to represent during my term of office, both individually and collectively. Usually on low wages, treated unfairly and or exploited. The worst case was a private care home where the women (who the owner referred to as the "village idiots") were paid below the minimum wage, where a 17 year old was left on her own to care for all the residents overnight, where one woman got an extra 20p an hour to go and do the shopping in her own time, where the fire escape was locked with no key and where one of the women called me in tears one morning to say that when she had called in with gastroenteritis the owner had told her she had to come in or lose her job. When she said that would be putting the residents at risk she was told - we'll just have to take that risk!

So meeting this woman yesterday certainly cheered me up and made me more determined to carry on the fight and seek to be a voice for those who are so often marginalised, exploited or just plain ignored, for whatever reason. It reminded me that whilst a lot of the time we may feel our heads are frequently coming into contact with brick walls.......there are occasions when the bumps and bruises are all worth it!!!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Faith Beyond Despair

Next week a new book by Elias Chacour will be launched. The book is "Faith Beyond Despair" and I am feeling a little bit proud because the cover of the book ( have to look carefully at the bottom!) includes a picture of pupils at Mar Elias School that I took! Well, this is a great honour for me, basking in a wee bit of reflected glory..........

So, a book well worth reading. Elias's first book Blood Brothers I do think should be required reading for anyone, regardless of their political position, if they want to understand the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Red Arrows - Too "British"?

I received an email yesterday asking me to sign an e petition about an apparent decision to dump the Red Arrows for the 2012 Olympics.

Anyway I visited the site to sign the petition and note that the government has added a disclaimer thus "The e-petition asking the Prime Minister to "to Allow the Red Arrows to Fly at the 2012 Olympics" is ongoing. This is a response in advance of the closing date from the Government - This allegation is not true. The Government has not banned the Red Arrows from the London 2012 Olympic Games. The organising committee of London 2012 will decide what to include in the Opening Ceremony and other celebrations - but with almost five years to go, decisions are yet to be made on what these will look like.And of course the Red Arrows played a memorable role in the celebrations for 2012, when they flew over Trafalgar Square to mark London winning the Games."

Interesting to know where this idea came from, but I have signed anyway since if this idea has been muted the organising committee may well decide to exclude them. An example of what the good burghers of the Sun may see as "political correctness gone mad"? Well, guaranteed to cause a storm anyway. I am the first one to object to racist/sexist/homophobic jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes, however, I can't abide the oversensitivity that "bans Christmas" etc. This, if true, seems to fall into that category. The Red Arrows are part of our heritage, if the great and the good are in a tizz about whether they may offend some, my feeling is GETALIFE! Their sensibilities are at best ill judged and at worst praternalistic (no, that is not a misspelling!)