Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Advocate for Access to Education" - An important new role for Simon Hughes

Almost from the moment I became a youth worker there has been a political advocate for young people who has stood head and shoulders above the rest, who has been an inspiration, not only to me but to so many others in the field - that person is Simon Hughes.

So I am absolutely thrilled to hear this evening that he has been appointed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg as "Advocate for Access to Education" with a brief to engage with young people in secondary education about how to deliver the government's objective of increasing educational participation, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Now, of course, I would prefer a simple "Advocate for Young People" but this is a start and will give Simon an opportunity, I trust, to interpret the role as widely as possible. After all, access to education is about more than just dispelling myths or providing information, or extra support through the pupil premium - it is about a whole range of other issues that impact upon a young person's life.

Nick Clegg said "Simon Hughes record championing the concerns of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make him ideally suited to lead this important work to ensure that an increasing number of young people with the talent to succeed at university have the chance to do so - regardless of their starting point in life.

"I know Simon will be tireless in seeking the best ways to communicate the opportunities open to young people, just as he will be a strong advocate for them to government."

On accepting the role, Simon Hughes said "It is a privilege to be asked to take on this role, and I will do so with urgency, enthusiasm and determination.

"Parliament has settled the maximum university fee level in England from 2012 and we now have a critically important task to ensure that every potential student has access to all the facts about the costs, benefits and opportunities of further and higher education.

"I will work with every person of goodwill to ensure that from 2011 we have the best system of educational advice, information and support in place, designed to benefit all potential students and to ensure that disadvantaged young people increasingly gain access to further and higher education."

Clearly, my view hasn't changed - and is still in line with party policy, namely that we should be phasing out tuition fees altogether. We all, as Liberal Democrats - Simon included - must continue to make that case. However, if the PM and Deputy PM are honestly interested in engaging young people and their ideas about what is best for their futures, I sincerely hope that his findings may lead to if not a rethink, at least a modification of what is on offer at the moment. Michael Gove may bleat that it is not the case that higher fees put off young people, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, from applying to University, particularly the top Universities, but as the Sutton Trust research shows - this still is and will continue to be, a very real barrier.

It is also very encouraging that Simon is being asked to make recommendations on the successor to EMA - a hugely important issue if young people are not to face yet another financial barrier to participating in education. So, I wish him all the best in this crucial role - I know there is no one else with the skills, expertise and understanding to be able to ensure young people themselves really do begin to have a say in their futures.

And interesting to note that the Guardian is already interpreting this appointment as another government U turn......

Thursday, December 16, 2010

3 Cheers for Nick.......

......on this one! I am absolutely delighted that at last we have an end to the pernicious practice of locking up asylum seeker children. Children, many of whom will have already suffered terribly in their own countries and now find themselves in a "place of safety" where they are anything but safe. Having been involved with the campaign against arbitrary detention with the awesome Emma Ginn, I am only too aware of the impact keeping anyone locked up at Yarlswood, let alone children, has on their mental health and well being.

So today reminds me of all that is still great about Nick Clegg. I am still cross about a lot of things, but this is an area where I know he will fight and fight hard. As an FPC rep on our Justice Home Affairs and Equalities Parliamentary Policy Committee I have to say that this committee above all reminds me why I am a Liberal Democrat. I believe we have a fantastic opportunity, as witnessed in the tone of the Sentencing Green Paper, to have a big influence here - but in order to do that I believe there is another very big battle Nick has to win - that is the battle to keep Ken Clarke - I urge him to take up the cudgels on this one - on this issue too Nick, be assured, I am right behind you!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Where now on Tuition Fees?

Those of us who were part of the 104 have been having a lively debate over the last couple of weeks. An email we received this morning from Martin Pierce really sums the situation up brilliantly - with his permission I reproduce it -

On the day of the vote some things seem clear to me:

* Nick and Vince and co will win the vote but have lost the argument

* I - and I think voters - understand that manifestos are statements of intent and particularly in a coalition, cannot be enacted in full. However, it's the breaking of the personal pledge that is the more serious - it was unambiguous and was freely and voluntarily entered into. To break it makes you either a knave or a fool

* The argument about the deficit doesn't hold up for anyone who thinks about it for a minute because this system (in fact one of the few good things about it) moves payment from upfront to after graduation. It is a choice that our leaders in government have made

* The repercussions for trust in our party - and its distinctiveness vis a vis the other parties - will i believe be serious and long lasting. We have abandoned the moral high ground we had - and in a street fight with the other two we'll never win. If the Norwich South activists on C4 News last night are representative, Lib Dems on the ground are bewildered and deflated

* What Craig did was brilliant - and brilliantly simple! That 1 out of 6 candidates should feel strongly enough to sign the petition showed how strongly held our position is, but it took someone to bring us together. This group HAS influenced the debate, and crucially, the backbenchers voting today know we're out here in numbers

* Where next? Some of us are old enough to remember the poll tax 20 years ago - it was enacted but had lost so much credibility that it was dead in the water as soon as Thatcher was gone. So the lesson is, keep up the arguments, stick to party policy, don't let them think it's over.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tuition Fees and the Potential Damage to Social Mobility Now - A Mother’s Tale

The tuition fee debate is far from over and one of the consistently loud and clear voices against tuition fees and for our party policy is Susan Gaszczak. Here is her personal view on what tomorrow's vote means for her and her family.

On the eve of the Tuition Fee debate in the House of Commons I start the day with a heavy heart. In my own household the discussion around degrees and aims, goals and dreams of my own children has caused much tension and worry.

My teenagers have not protested, but they have worried and stressed about the impact their goals in life will have on them in future years.

They have lived in recent years through a depression, seen banks collapsed and talked of debt and how dangerous it is. Talk of credit and credit cards – gambling on the stock market and high incomes have featured over the last few years.

Last night I read Nick Clegg's interview where he talked about social mobility and told us he has listened to us his party. Well maybe Nick has to listen again. These proposals will have an impact on social mobility now and here is how.

Teenagers of my children's age will be amongst the first to be landed with a debt of £18k, which they will have to repay when they reach the heady income of £21k, and that excludes the cost of actually living and eating while going to university. It will probably mean they live at home and go to University locally. Hurray I am supposed to say?

As a single mum I currently work part time, to enable me to care for them and bring them up with some stability. Hurray, they will possibly get free tuition and maybe even a bursary.

So, what is my incentive to get a full time job? Currently, I work part time on a self-employed basis for the party; seasoned party members know what that really means. I would love to find that perfect full time job, but the worry of landing my children with huge amounts of debt may stop me. So my income capacity is diminished so that I can give my children the best start in life.

At a party conference in years gone by I spoke of a young man who was affected so badly by the debt he incurred going to university it caused him mental health issues. He, at times, wanted to end his own life. That was the legacy for him of Labour bringing in Tuition Fees.

Now we face yet higher fees, yes, with a better system of repayment but still with the possibility of huge damage to the social mobility of the current generation.

I want my children to fulfil their dreams. I do not want them to worry about debt. The ironic thing is they have grown up in a family committed to public service: their dreams are to work in the public service and give something back, yet whatever way they go to university they will pay more than ever to achieve that goal.

Ministers, Junior Ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries, and our back bench team, I urge you to think hard before you vote for these proposals. Social Mobility will be affected, but not in the way you hope if you are backing these proposals

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Problem with Faustian Pacts............. that they have a habit of coming back to bite you in the bottom! The car crash that is happening before our eyes is exactly what happens when you dispense with integrity for the sake of expediency. And please less of the "putting the country first" - actually - that is why we are Lib Dems isn't it? That is why we have Lib Dem policies surely? If we thought Tory or Labour policies were better for the country we'd adopt them. Please, give me a break........or do I mean brake? Mind you, it's maybe too late for the brake - it's been snowing and we'll only go into a worse skid. let's all abstain why don't we? It's a noble plan for the sake of party unity........if this was just about party unity. But it's not. It's about party credibility. It's about whether we will have a truly liberal alternative at the next election. It's about whether we are true to the fourth pledge of our manifesto - to "clean up politics". No amount of Febreze like spin is going to disguise the stench that is duplicity. And make no mistake, what is going on is truly duplicitous. We know that from the honest reflections of David Laws. The right in our party may not get their way on the conference floor, but they sure as hell have through the coalition! As Steve Richards in the Indy today so perceptively pointed out "An unexpectedly clear picture emerges from Laws's account. They wanted the outcome they got. They willed it. At the top they are now happy with the policies they are pursuing. But in working towards such an outcome they have ended up implementing some major policies that are so far removed from their pre-election pledges that they are heading towards the cliff's edge. They hurtle towards a precipice because of the broader context. Clegg made "trust" the key issue at the last election, especially in the first televised debate. If Clegg and Laws had been less ready to form a coalition with the Conservatives, they might have given some more thought to the deadly consequences for their reputation". A fair deal by cleaning up politics.

The fact is, that the Orange Bookers NEVER wanted our policy on tuition fees, just look at the battle we had to keep it! And so now we see the absurd spectacle of Vince (who deserves better than this) having to hint that he may abstain in order to keep the party together. NO Vince - abstaining should be the ONLY option if you are not going to keep your pledge. After all, a couple of thousand party members voted for you to abstain by backing the Coalition Agreement. And this because the amendments to hold MPs to the pledge to vote against were blocked. What's that about tangled webs and deception?

I am frankly ashamed of what is happening at the moment. OK, I never wanted this, but I would have thought someone may have had the gumption to see this coming. I'm sorry I didn't, but I was so fixated on the fact that I didn't want the Coalition Agreement to start with, I never did the forensic analysis of it that it deserved - I opposed the lot of it, why bother?

Our manifesto was clear and fully costed, don't you remember the recognition of that in the press? No bold uncosted promises, no pipe-dreams - all the figures there in technicolour. I have gone back to Nick's speech at the manifesto launch and I will leave it with you - my emphasis (my comments in brackets).

"A fair deal by cleaning up politics.

We will break up, once and for all, the rotten political system dominated by the two old parties and put power into people’s hands. (yes by rendering impotent the third party!)

You will have the right to sack your MP if they are proved corrupt.
You will have as much influence as everyone else over our government because we will stamp out big donations, clean up lobbying and change the voting system so that every voter’s choice matters.

And you will once again be able to look at our Parliament with pride, not contempt, because we will make sure every MP who avoided capital gains tax or flipped their home for personal gain is brought to book.

These are four steps to a fairer Britain.

They are promises you can trust. (so what part of trust don't I understand?)

Together they will change our country for good.
If we do things differently, for once.
If we learn from the mistakes of the past and try something new…
We can turn anger into hope.
Frustration into ambition.
Recession into opportunity for everyone.
There is one other major innovation in this manifesto.
There isn’t a line or policy in this book that will cost money that we haven’t accounted for with savings elsewhere.
We have scrutinised public spending line by line, and found the savings we need to pay for all of our priorities as Vince explained.

Monday, November 29, 2010

104 PPCs Call for Integrity on Tuition Fees

The following press release went out overnight - all credit to Craig Bichard for all the work he has done on this and to all the ex PPCs who signed. My personal response is here.



'No to tuition higher tuition fees, yes to Liberal Democrat integrity'


A petition, calling on all Liberal Democrat MPs to vote against the proposed rise in tuition fees when this is debated in Parliament before Christmas, has been sent to all the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs.


This petition has been established in opposition to the coalition government's current proposed policy on tuition fees and has been signed by 104 of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates at the 2010 General Election (over 15% of the total Lib Dem candidates).


The petition was conceived and produced by Craig Bichard, with the support of Derek Deedman, the Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Arundel & South Downs at the 2010 General Election. Craig is a 19-year-old student and passionate member of the Arundel & South Downs Liberal Democrats, and it is his ambition to become a Liberal Democrat MP in the future.


Both Craig and Derek feel very strongly that unlike manifesto policies, which are aspirations to be delivered by an overall majority government or used as a basis for a compromise agreement in a coalition situation, the unconditional pledge made by Liberal Democrat Candidates to vote against any rise in tuition fees is a promise which must be kept – and 103 other Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates at the 2010 General Election have expressed their agreement and signed the petition. All agree that this is a red line issue and the provision in the Coalition Agreement for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain is not sufficient.




For more information contact Craig Bichard on telephone: 07730578410 or email:  


Preamble to the petition: -


This petition has been established in opposition to the coalition government's current policy on tuition fees. We feel that better alternatives must be reached as this policy punishes the poorest and lower middle classes disproportionately. Although we have been told that concessions have been made for the poorest this refers to earnings made after graduation, not before and so this means that the poorest will be even more deterred from going to university than they already are as the prospect of even more debt before even getting a job will weigh most heavily on their minds.


This is not an attack on the Coalition Government's policy programme generally; nor is it some kind of "rebellion" and it should certainly not lead to the party splitting. However we feel that this is a pledge that cannot be broken due to the nature in which it was signed and publicised during the 2010 General Election. This separates it from manifesto promises that have had to be sacrificed due to the concessions that coalition government brings.


We are all Liberal Democrats whom want the best for students, our party that we care so much about and, of course the United Kingdom as a whole.


Higher education practically pays for itself through the returns graduates give back to the economy and we must not deter those with the most potential from attending university. A wider debate is needed on the issue of encouraging students to take other routes other than university. However this is a debate for another time; but if we fail to invest in our future now than what kind of future can we be expected to look forward to?


Formal petition signed by 104 Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates: -


During the General Election campaign many of our MP's (and now government ministers) signed a pledge with the National Union of Students that they would vote against any tuition fee rises during the course of the next Parliament. The wording of this pledge clearly indicated that this would be unconditional; regardless of whether the party was in government or in opposition. The party has been very clear for many years about its view on tuition fees and that we feel they should be abolished.

However after the recent publication of the Browne review into university funding it now seems entirely likely that although tuition fees will be capped this will be done to an unacceptable level of somewhere between £9000-£9500 per year with almost all courses costing at least £6000 per year.

Stopping this from happening is vitally important. Not just for the benefit of students but also for the Liberal Democrats. There is one thing that sets the Liberal Democrats apart from other political parties; this is that when we say we will do something during election campaigns we then do it in government. This can be seen in how the income tax threshold will rise to £10,000 by the end of this Parliament, the AV referendum on 5th May 2011, the Pupil Premium and the delay over the replacement of Trident. We have achieved this and much more despite the compromises of being in a coalition.


Nick Clegg emphasised this best of all during the televised leadership debates when he said that the Labour and Conservative Parties have given us "Nothing but broken promises", he also emphasised that "The Liberal Democrats are different". Finally and crucially he announced how he wanted to create a "New politics" and part of this vision was for parties to do in government as they claim they will in opposition.


It is time for us to remind him of these important values. The rise in tuition fees is designed to fill in the £2.9 billion black hole that will be left in the teaching funds for universities after the announcement of cuts of 40% in the spending review. However in the context of reducing the deficit this is a drop in the ocean and these savings could surely be better achieved elsewhere. For example during much of Margaret Thatcher's time as Prime Minister the top rate of tax for the highest earners was 60% and yet today in harder financial times it is 50%. Yet it is students (hardly the richest people in our society) who will be paying for the last generations mistakes. This may be a hard time economically but this is a battle we must win.


We are different and must show that we are; especially now that we are in a position to do so.  Otherwise this party will rightly face many more years back in the political wilderness having been labelled as 'just like the other lot'.   


So are these savings of £2.9 billion worth it? Is this price worth the loss of our party's integrity and our values? If not then we must let the leadership know how we feel and stop these fees from rising while we still can. There must be better options and we must find the right one; or the else the party and the next generation of students will rightly feel let down for the next Parliament and beyond.


We, the undersigned Parliamentary Liberal Democrat Candidates at the 2010 General Election, call on Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and all the Liberal Democrat MPs to vote against any increase in tuition fees, as pledged to the National Union of Students and publicised as such during the 2010 General Election campaign.



Candidate           Constituency


Derek Deedman (Arundel and South Downs)

Godfrey Newman (Horsham)

Simon McDougall (Littlehampton and Bognor)

Martin Lury (Chichester)

5. Bernadette Millam (Brighton Pavilion)

Andrew Falconer (Runnymede and Weybridge)

Paul Elgood (Hove)

James Blanchard (Huddersfield)

Jon Underwood (Tiverton and Honiton)

10. Mark Chapman (Spelthorne)

Andrew Aalders (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich)

Wendy Taylor (Newcastle upon Tyne East)

Nick Perry (Hastings and Rye)

Peter Carroll (Maidstone and the Weald)

15. Alan Bullion (Sevenoaks)

Roger Barlow (Macclesfield)

Richard Baum (Bury North)

Nigel Quinton (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Nigel Bennett (South Suffolk)

20. Chris Nelson (Kettering)

Chris Bramall (Stourbridge)

Sam Boote (Nottingham East)

Adam Carew (East Hampshire)

David Ord (North Tyneside)

25. Adrian Collet (Aldershot)

Gareth Epps (Reading East)

Chris Foote Wood (Middlesbrough)

John Dixon (Cardiff North)

Philip Eades (Poole)

30. Steven Lambert (Aylesbury)

Philip Latham (Stockton North)

Lynne Beaumont (Folkestone and Hythe)

Michael Mullaney (Bosworth)

Brendan D'Cruz (Castle Point)

35. Jamie Matthews (Pudsey)

Helen Flynn (Skipton and Ripon)

Edward Fordham (Hampstead and Kilburn)

Alex Berhanu (Ilford North)

Richard Grayson (Hemel Hempstead)

40. Howard Keal (Thirsk and Malton)

Iarla Kilbane-Dawe (Edmonton)

Paula Keaveney (Garston and Halewood)

Steve Guy (Wycombe)

Rob Hylands (Gosport)

45. Martin Pierce (West Ham)

Tim McKay (Edinburgh South West)

Elizabeth Jewkes (City of Chester)

Daniel Roper (Broadland)

Stephen Glenn (Linlithgow and East Falkirk)

50. Chris Tucker (Slough)

Dave Raval (Hackney South and Shoreditch)

Margaret Rowley (Mid-Worcestershire)

Mike Willis (Loughborough)

Andrew Simpson (Northampton North)

55. Colin Ross (Wolverhampton North East)

Fiona Hornby (Devizes)

Paul Smith (Enfield North)

Tom Snowdon (Amber Valley)                      

Anna Pascoe (South West Devon)

60. Denis Healy (Hull North)

Tony Hill (Maidenhead)

Jane Lock (North Swindon)

Les Jones (Morecambe and Lunesdale)

Paul Brighton (Alyn and Deeside)

65. Ian Robertson (Rutherglen and Hamilton West)   

David Harding-Price (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

David Rendel (Newbury)

John Loughton (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow)

David Hall Matthews (Bradford West)

70. David Smith (Wakefield)

Jerry Evans (Birmingham Hall Green)

Carol Woods (City of Durham)

Denise Hawksworth (Bolsover)

Mark Blackburn (Westminster North)

75. Jonathan Bramall (Dudley South)

Jane Brophy (Altrincham and Sale West)       

Peter Reisdorf (Wirral West)

Jill Wareham (Isle of Wight)

Jane Kulka (Reigate)

80. Paul Dixon (Sunderland Central)

Susan Gaszczak (Rayleigh and Wickford)

Sally FitzHarris (Kingswood)

Simon Partridge (Great Yarmouth)

David Rundle (Banbury)

85. Mike Collins (The Cotswolds)

Margaret Phelps (Witham)

Stephen Martin (North Warwickshire)

Graham Oakes (Exeter)

Nigel Jones (Newcastle under Lyme)

90. Trevor Carbin (South West Wiltshire)

Farooq Qureshi (Leyton and Wanstead)

John McClintock (Chatham and Aylesford)

Nigel Rock (Kinelworth and Southam)

Christian Vassie (York Central)

95. Linda Jack (Mid Bedfordshire)

Kevin Ward (Glasgow East)

James Monaghan (Morley and Outwood)

David Goodall (Southampton Itchen)

Joe Naitta (Derbyshire Dales)

100. Robin Lawrence (Wolverhampton South West)

Lucy Care (Derby North)

Richard Nixon (Brigg and Goole)

Sally McIntosh (Mid Derbyshire)

Alan Beddow (Warwick and Leamington)




Forget Revolting Students - it's Revolting MPs we need!

The next couple of weeks, when this period of the Liberal Democrat history is documented, could turn out to be pivotal for the future of our party. For Lib Dems there are few issues as totemic as our tuition fees policy - as recognised by Stephen Williams, who came up against the immovable object that is Federal Conference. But Stephen, like others, despite their misgivings, signed the pledge. I have to say I fully appreciated the difficult job he had trying to revise our policy and had a certain amount of sympathy - with limited resources is it right to cut, for example, Youth Services, to abolish student fees? However, as a party, despite the internal disputes, and opposition from some at a senior level, we were able to fully cost and fund our policy to abolish fees within six years.

Now, we are not in power, we cannot deliver on fee abolition - do the maths - we need a few more than 57 votes to get our policy through! However, on the commitment to vote AGAINST fee increases EVERY LAST ONE of our MPs CAN. In my view it is crass and disingenuous to suggest the coalition supersedes the PERSONAL promise they made. A promise frankly is a moral obligation, as such it is an issue of conscience and MPs should be allowed to vote with their consciences on this as they would on any other moral issue.

Getting back to the wretched Coalition Agreement. I have made no secret of my opposition to it, but others DID try to amend the section on fees but their amendments were apparently blocked. I am very fearful that in signing that agreement we now find our leaders have signed their own death warrant. Some may have seen my pink fluffy handcuffs at special conference as a bit of a joke - sadly they are proving to be all too prophetic. We not only find ourselves locked into a relationship that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable, we find our moral compass has been knocked completely off course and our integrity seems to be the price we have to pay to avoid being further humiliated. And as a party, if we lose our integrity, we surely lose our soul.

I know Simon Hughes is working his butt off to try and get agreement within the parliamentary party for collective abstention. But I think he would be far better employed bringing out his white steed, polishing up his spurs, and leading the charge to maintain at least a modicum of our party's integrity by voting against this absurd increase,. And this isn't just about the policy, it's also about our party. It's about whether or not we are prepared to sacrifice the birthright of the whole party for the mess of pottage that is a veneer of power. For me in policy terms there are far more important issues that will damage the life chances of all our children and young people - but if we get this wrong I fear we can forget being a force in British politics for a generation. And ultimately that is bad for democracy and bad for society, after all, if we didn't believe liberal democracy was what was best for our country, why would we be in this party?

Sadly I do not have a Lib Dem MP, but to those of you who do, to those of you on whose shoulders they stand to elected, to those of you who week in week out deliver the leaflets, knock on the doors, do the is the time for you to use every ounce of your energy to persuade him or her to recognise it is not just their integrity at stake it is yours and mine as well.

Nick Clegg may or may not have joked about being toast in a year, the danger is its not just him that will be toast, it will be the lot of us, and I for one never chose to jump into the toaster with him!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A MUST READ Speech from Simon Hughes

For me - and I would say this wouldn't I - one of the most disturbing aspects of the current cuts is the impact on Youth Services. Even at the height of the Thatcher regime we never faced the Armageddon we now seem to be facing. Today I spoke to an old union colleague who said we are looking at melt down, the decimation of a service that so many of our most vulnerable young people rely on. If it were just about old pals of mine losing their jobs, that would be one thing, but it is the wider impact on the young people they work with in particular, and communities in general, I worry about. I have much more to say about this, but in the mean time I was thoroughly heartened by this speech by Simon Hughes this week in Parliament.

"I am ashamed to admit that I have been involved in the youth service for nearly 40 years, since I was a teenager, particularly in detached youth work, which is, for me, one of the most important areas of youth work in urban Britain and many other places, too. I want to say a few words and join other hon. Members in pleading for the Government to ensure that they understand the importance of Government and local authority support for the youth service.

I have always believed that there ought to be a statutory youth service. That is my party's policy, it is still my belief, and I hope that before long that can be the position. It has always been a Cinderella service, although it is the bit of support for young people that is needed to complement parental and family support, and school and educational support. Other role models who are not authority figures can often be far more influential in ensuring that young people have the development, security and safety they need.

I welcome the Education Committee's inquiry. The Government are looking forward to introducing comprehensive proposals in the new year. I welcome that. The Minister has often been well received since taking on his job. I thank him for that. I am keen for him to be bold and ambitious, both in his Department and across Government, because this is not only the responsibility of the Department for Education.

The national citizen service is a good idea, but as colleagues have said it is a time-limited, specific activity for some people at some time. It will grow slowly. The reality of the youth service is that it can be found by and is accessible to everybody in every community. That is the difference. The youth service is there now. We have to ensure that we do not lose any of its validity or accessibility.

May I make a special plea to ensure that the funding for people to be qualified and trained as youth workers is increased, not decreased? Some of the best, most talented people, who may not have a great academic background, come through the youth service as volunteers, then realise that it is their vocation. They have just the sort of skills that are needed. Often, they are women or people from black and minority ethnic communities. They are really good role models who have been where the youngsters are now. They understand the score, because they have been in the front line and have come through. We need to ensure that they are given the educational support to go on and do practice-based qualifications.

I have said that my engagement has mainly been with detached youth work, but that is not to underestimate club-based or specialist youth work. The benefit that the hon. Member for Bolton West mentioned in being out on the street, engaging with youngsters where they are, not expecting them to come to where the service is, is fundamentally important. If people are to gain the confidence of young people, they do not say, "Come and do it my way"; they say, "We're going to come alongside you and understand what you want."

We know that local government will have a hard time, as will central Government, because the settlement is difficult. But local government does not have to find all its savings by cutting grants to the voluntary sector and does not have to cut equally across the board. I plead with every council, no matter who runs it, to make sure that they do not think that the implication of a severe spending cut means cutting the voluntary sector rather than reducing the in-house services. Often, the latter needs to be done, because money for the voluntary sector can multiply in terms of its benefits in the community.

I am keen to ensure that evening and weekend work is supported. One of the problems with a lot of traditional youth services is that they were there-fantastically-on Monday to Thursday evenings, but not on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. That is exactly when young people need places to go to.

A good example of a youth service was a place I went to in south Wales a few years ago. The kids wanted somewhere to hang around safely. They were given support locally in the valleys and they were able to build a shelter. It was a very simple shelter, but they built it and it was their place. It was a sort of glorified bus shelter, but it meant they had somewhere they could go, supported by individuals. Often, simple things that cost small amounts of money can transform people's self worth and allow them to have a place they can call their own and build on.

Lastly, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) pointed out that there are often many unused buildings. In difficult financial circumstances there is an imperative for organisations to work together complementarily, to ensure that facilities are shared and that people do not just do their own thing. That is often a danger in the statutory youth sector if there are schools that do not stay open after school hours or youth clubs that open only in the evenings. Local authorities need to lead on that, and my plea is for the Minister to say to every council, "You lead with the voluntary and faith groups. Do the work on the ground."

The Minister must also ensure that we have funding for youth workers whom we need to do their job, and that we do not lose them; we need them now more than ever. We must not lose key services, which are often the glue that keeps communities together as well as keeping young people and their communities safe."

So if you share Simon's concerns, please sign the For Youth's Sake pledge.....that's if you haven't gone off the idea of signing pledges at the moment!!!



Monday, October 04, 2010

On Dorries, Harris, Cushion and Japanese Prisoners of War........

I have to confess I laughed out loud when I read what my erstwhile opponent Nadine "I'm 5ft 3 and need every inch of my Louboutin heels to look my male colleagues in the eye. If high heels were banned in Westminster, no one would be able to find me" Dorries, had said about me, apparently I am "behaving like a Japanese prisoner of war who doesn't realise the conflict is over" - well thanks first to Caron Lindsay for springing to my defence and secondly to Gareth Epps who sent me a nice message suggesting I should wear the comment as a badge of honour.

I suppose what I find hugely amusing and characteristically ironic in Ms Dorries' comment, is that it was made virtually in the same breath as her assertion that she would "rather die than enter into a pact with the Lib Dems!" truce there then missus! And I have to say on this occasion we are in total agreement - that makes two of us who would rather die than enter into a pact with each other, although my prediction is that in her case this will not be necessary as I doubt very much she will be the Tory candidate in Mid Beds at the next election.

What I also find odd, given the contest is over, is that she still takes such an interest in me. The only way she could have known of my concerns about the coalition is either through following my blog or Twitter.....

There is no doubt that Palinesque Ms D hates Lib Dems more than she hates Labour - unsurprising given her patently illiberal and uncaring attitude, the opinion of one person who contacted me during the election campaign sums it up nicely "she has a hanging brick where her heart should be". I can't imagine her signing up to our belief in a "fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and where no one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity".

Her attitude towards our own Evan Harris demonstrates this clearly, her glee when he lost his seat, referring to him as "Dr Death" and painting him as our party's answer to Lucifer. Actually, I may not agree with Evan Harris on some things, nor he me, but he is one of the most intelligent, gracious, thoughtful and impressive human beings I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Of course he takes a different view from those of us who have a belief in God he doesn't share, but that has never deflected him from working with all of us for our shared objectives of making this world a better place to live in, frankly if you asked me to choose between Evan and Nadine about who most closely reflects the compassion and humanity of Christ, there would be no contest! And yet she is the one who claims to be a "Christian"!!! I tell you what Nadine, give me a man whose whole motivation is care and compassion for his fellow men and women any day over someone whose whole motivation seems to be to look after herself and her children and let the rest of the world go hang. Who holds high office purely because, as Nick Clegg has accurately pointed out, you could put up a donkey with a red or blue rosette in some constituencies and they would get elected. Who gets "confused" about whether she produced an annual report or not and in a "confused" state publishes a leaflet on her blog that apparently cost nearly £10,000 to produce, but contains not a word about the work for her constituents but just a couple of pictures of foetuses and a report on what she had been doing on the anti-abortion campaign. Come off it Nadine, surely you couldn't have been so confused that you thought that tatty leaflet would have a) cost such a ridiculous amount of money or b) was something you would have put through every door in Mid Beds???

And then there is her attitude to those on benefits who commit the heinous crime of Tweeting. Her incoherent argument was that it was OK for those who were genuinely disabled - but then seemed to relish the opportunity to have a pop at one of her constituents, without knowing anything about her true circumstances. "Ms Humphrey Cushion" is a friend of mine; I met her at the infamous Flitwick hustings, where she, along with other Mid Beds constituents, challenged me about what I stood for as a candidate. Since then I have got to know her and I have to say, that while we have different political persuasions, on so many issues we totally agree, she is a caring, kind and humane person. And yes, shock horror; I have met her in the pub! But, because of that, I have seen firsthand just how much pain she is permanently in - having to sit holding her neck because of the pain. And let's not forget, that until she became too ill to continue, she did one of the most important and badly rewarded jobs as a carer - a job that no doubt exacerbated her condition and one she couldn't possibly continue to do at the moment.

The logical conclusion from Dorries' argument is that if you are living on benefits you have no right to a social life. Now in my day job we train those working with young people to help them manage their money more effectively. One of the exercises we do is "essential/non essential". Participants are asked to discuss and agree whether a range of things are essential or not, one of them being going down the pub. This usually evokes lively debate, but the conclusion is often, yes it is essential. For those who are on benefits or living with disabilities, the isolation can be soul destroying and can have a hugely damaging impact on their confidence and self esteem. Not to even be allowed to socialise because you are living on benefits is scandalous, especially coming from a woman who thinks spending 100 times as much on one pair of shoes as someone living on benefits may spend on the occasional night out! And while "National Insurance" may not be hypothecated, the clue is in the name - something most of us, including Ms Cushion, are willing pay to "insure" against a time when we may be unable to work.

Anyway Nadine, unlike you, I am happy to offer you the right of reply and to put the record straight here on my blog, where I do have comments enabled. And in the meantime, please don't you go worrying about those less fortunate than yourself now will you? You go off and buy yourself a nice little pair of Louboutins at our expense so you can make sure they can see you in Westminster.



Friday, September 17, 2010

Nick Clegg......Convincing me about the Coalition

This morning, along with my fellow bloggers I wended my way along to Nick Clegg's new office (formerly occupied by Peter Mandelson). Given I was on my way to Liverpool I was accompanied by my case, causing Nick to quip that he thought I was opposed to the coalition, so why was I moving in? Hmmm, well, in my student days our preferred mode of protest was occupationJ. The quips about my love for the coalition continued throughout, can't think why - but time was short and far too short for us all to ask all the questions we had brimming over in our minds. Before the interview, as we all strategically positioned our iphones, Helen Duffett asked if Nick minded, his reply, of course not - it's just this one (gesturing towards mine) I may pour my coffee over. Well start as you mean to go on! But I don't know what he actually did, having recorded the whole thing, I have somehow deleted all except 7 minutes of it! So, as I am waiting to get a copy from Helen I will just give some initial thoughts.

Longsuffering readers will remember that I was one of Nick's most vociferous supporters in the blogosphere and for a very good reason. While I very much appreciated his liberal attitude, especially with regards to young people and the justice system, I clearly had differences with him on many other issues. But I supported him because I appreciated his honesty and compassion and I knew he was a pragmatist. So long as the party as a whole reflected our social liberal values, Nick would go along with it. And he has, time and again he may have lost the argument on FPC, but what I have admired him for is that he has then got behind the policy he may not have been totally sold on. I suppose what I admit I had not thought enough about, was what might happened if we ended up in coalition and those same characteristics were demonstrated in bed with the Tories.

So, unsurprisingly Nick was upbeat and chipper. He is comfortable in his skin. His ability to compromise and take a pragmatic approach to partnership with the Tories leaves him unruffled, though I guess what none of us really knows is just how much of that compromise he is actually quite happy with. He is determined to do politics differently, to demonstrate that coalition government can work. It would have been very easy to have left his sumptuous office feeling reassured, optimistic, passionate about the task ahead, however difficult. He made a point of saying that bubbly optimistic people like him and me saw the glass half full not half empty (oops another dig about my anxieties about the coalition!), he believes that the approach the coalition are taking will make a difference to that issue he cares so passionately about, social mobility. When he touched on housing in this context I had the opportunity to challenge him about the coalition's attitude to housing and housing benefit. He seemed genuinely not to know the full story on this and gave me a glimmer of hope that this is something he may be willing to take up. Although he repeated the Cameron mantra that it was all because the bill had mushroomed and was unaffordable, I took the opportunity to remind him that was down to Thatcher. Frankly it is a nonsense that private landlords can buy ex council houses and then the council ends up paying 4 times as much in housing benefit for them as they would have had they stayed in council ownership!

So, did he persuade me to support the coalition? You'll have to wait until I get some notes from Helen and write part two to find out J



Monday, August 23, 2010

Retro....grade? – Reflections on whether I was right to back Clegg

Inspired by the retro reflections of the inimitable Paul Walter and this excellent article by Gaby Hinsliff – I decided to trawl through some of my numerous blogs supporting Nick Clegg's candidacy three years ago. Longsuffering readers will remember that I was unstinting in my support for Nick, despite much criticism from those who thought it was misplaced. The past few months have caused me to consider this question in a way I didn't feel I needed to back in 2007.

When it became clear that there would be an election for a new leader I remember having a conversation with Nick to say that if Steve Webb stood I would of course back him. In the event Steve chose not to and Nick let me know that he had Steve's support. My reasoning for supporting him was simple – I didn't trust Chris Huhne's "left" credentials, but I did trust Nick's liberal ones. While I didn't agree with him on quite a few issues, having worked with him on our crime policy I knew him to be a true liberal and someone who cared deeply about the life chances of those who were all to often ignored. I trusted him and I liked the way he was prepared to listen even when he vehemently disagreed with you. When I sent him an angry email about us not fielding a candidate against David Davies he took the trouble to call to explain his decision. While he jokingly referred to me as a "little lefty", I felt that we were agreed on outcomes if not process – and for that reason vociferously supported his campaign, to the extent that I was thanked by his campaign manager at his victory party, who rather kindly said he thought my blog could have made the difference in the narrow margin of his victory! So my support for Nick, despite our differences has been unquestionable and unwavering.

So what now? Those heady days of the leaders' debates seem long gone – rather as those hot days of July seem a million miles away as I sit here on a very damp and cool Exmoor. The man who I believed could truly inspire both our party and the country seems a shadow of his former self. He seems to be backing things that are anathema to me, can I possibly continue to support the man? It is a tough one. To be honest I feel rather as one does when a friend ends up in a relationship that you know is wrong for them. It may not be physically abusive, but it is emotionally abusive. The friend seems to stop being able to be themselves – they dress as their partner desires, they speak as he or she desires, they have less and less contact with their old pals. You know that old pal you know and love is in their somewhere, but their unequal relationship with their new partner is stifling their true identity. Now I understand all the chat about us being the "junior partner" but frankly no unequal partnership can work, regardless of the size of the partners! While I accept that our government ministers in general and our Deputy PM in particular have collective responsibility, this surely doesn't mean they are obliged to appear to sacrifice their integrity? I am extremely disappointed that what is coming across is that we are more than happy to go along with the Tories. There is no explanation or restatement of Lib Dem policy – no rationale for the compromises that were made in our name. It is this, I believe, more than anything, that has lead to our drop in the polls.

So, can I still support Nick? Despite my support for him I have always felt able to challenge him (hence the quote on the top of my blog!) and one of the things I admire about him is he is not someone to fall out with folk just because they have a different opinion. So the answer is yes personally, yes politically on some things, but no on some significant others. Yes, personally, I still admire him and believe he can, if he wants to, turn things around. I still rate him as an exceptional, compassionate and committed human being. I still think given the options, (Simon Hughes having also ruled himself out) he was the best person to lead our party. Yes, politically, I do believe he will play a significant role in making this a far more liberal country, and yes, I think he can play an equally significant role in improving social mobility . No, politically, I don't like the way he seems so comfortable in bed with the Tories and adopting their mantra. No, I can't go along with his rationale for supporting such savage and damaging cuts. No, I can't support the way he seems to have accepted being muzzled - how ironic that the man who was such a vociferous critic of the bombardment of Gaza last year was almost silent about the flotilla, leaving it to Mr Cameron to describe Gaza as a prison camp.

So, to return to Gaby Hinsliff's analysis. I agree Nick is a fox, though in some ways he may be more of a hedgehog at the moment! I trust he will rediscover his foxyness, stand up to his new partner and demonstrate what those of us who know and admire him recognise, that he does have what it takes to make this not only a more liberal country, but a fairer and more equal one too.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

100 Daze...............

..........or.............100 Nights of the Long Knives and Runcible Spoons......?


Hard to believe it is 100 days since that Tuesday evening in May when, for me, we as Lib Dems did the unthinkable. I had spent most of the previous few days intermittently chatting to a pal on FE who had consistently reassured me that there was no way we were going to do a deal with the Tories. And of course when Nick appeared to have achieved a coup in getting Gordon Brown to resign, I naively thought that the deal with Labour was done and dusted.

I was under this misapprehension until early on Tuesday morning. As the Labour dinosaurs (John Reid, Blunkett, Prescott et al) were wheeled out on the Today programme – and then throughout the day, it became clearer that a "rainbow coalition" was a non starter. My head said, well, if we have to have the Tories, at least we may be able to mitigate against their worst heart said something quite different.

Early evening I was in Davey's in Canary Wharf with ex Lib Dem MP David Bellotti after a meeting at work. It was then that the news was coming in of Brown leaving Downing Street and Cameron trotting off to the palace. I certainly wasn't prepared for my emotional reaction. As pals from work were piling in and I was introducing them to David, the tears were pricking the back of my eyes. Fellow Lib Dem Lee saw what was happening and gave me a knowing hug. As I travelled back to Luton I confess I was fighting back the tears. Around 1.30 in the morning my pal from FE called to explain their decision to me. I was gutted – I guess I finally got to sleep around 3.30. Work the next day was a haze. Everyone could see what a state I was in. I watched the Clegg and Cameron nuptials in the rose garden as in a dream......was this really happening? Would I wake up and discover it was an all too realistic nightmare?

100 days later the dust has more or less settled, we have a "coalition agreement", we have a "deputy Prime Minister", we have a few Cabinet ministers, we are "Making a Difference". Er.........right. Since I was stuck on a poxy little freezing cold train for nearly 4 hours today without a plug for my failing laptop, or a cup of tea!!!! I had chance to reread both the Coalition Agreement and our manifesto. Frankly, as Ms Warsi let slip, that "Coalition Agreement" is the Tory manifesto augmented with a little "Lib Dem thinking". Not only that, but I have scoured that wretched agreement to see what it says about cutting housing benefit.....??? What is says about Academy schools.....(a little yes, but not what has ended up in the legislation), about the very real cuts to front line services that are already happening. Actually, what is says is "We will make modest cuts of £6billion to non front-line services" (my emphasis) why are we looking already at 30% - 50% cuts to services to young people? Vital front line drugs and alcohol services already gone? Youth Services and Connexions as we speak issuing redundancy notices?

Simon Hughes is right to be raising concerns. The Tory numbskulls who are laying into him at the moment should surely cause those of us who actually subscribe to the values enshrined in the preamble to our constitution, namely that "no one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity" to be a little unsettled. We have found ourselves in bed with a bunch of people, most of whom frankly don't give a shit about those who haven't had their advantages. Believe me, I have spent most of my life working with them, I know. So, with apologies to those of my fellow Lib Dems who are making a brave show of trying to defend the indefensible, it's time our party woke up and smelt the coffee. Frankly, if we don't, we may be spared the pain of waking up altogether and find ourselves 6 foot under.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

OK......So Now I Love Theresa May.....?

Working from home today I had the sadly rare opportunity to listen to WATO and the wonderful Martha Kearney over lunch. Imagine my delight (being in the middle of emailing our own Tom McNally about our Youth Justice policy) when I heard dear old Theresa May chatting about abolishing ASBO's - Lib Dem policy.......well almost! I wondered if Lynne Featherstone had been working her magic? Having worked with Lynne on our youth policy I do know we are totally on the same page about youth issues and her tenacity and inscrutability in seeking to ensure we are a far more liberal society, is for me one of the few bright sparks in this gloomy coalition.

I have to be honest, this was one of the issues where, given previous experience in our region, I thought we may have had a bit of a spat at conference, but hey, who will oppose it now when even the Tories get it?!

However, I am not holding my breath for too long. Already there are murmurings about what this may mean on the ground for the police - short sharp shocks? Clips round the ear? Summary justice? We will have to watch carefully - "reviews" can be little more than dipping of toes in water, retreating like lightening when the Daily Mail sharks start to bite!

So, for those of you who think this was one of Labour's flagship policies and I am a bleeding heart liberal - soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime..........this is WHY I am so vehemently opposed to this policy.

ASBO's, anyone know of anywhere else, anywhere in the world where they exist? - this is a British phenomenon - and one we should be ashamed of. It flies in the face of one of the most fundamental British values that we like to refer to as an example of our legislative superiority - INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY! We are criminalising a generation of young people without due process and then wondering why our prisons are full. And creating something that is more often than not breached, or else seen as a badge of honour. I am sorry, but this is one of the barmiest most damaging pieces of New Labour Stalinist legislation they ever thought of (and there were a lot!) if anyone doesn't understand why I am not a Labour member, this is the embodiment of the bits of New Labour (along with marketization) that I cannot stomach.

So, we will watch and wait. I hope Ms May will deliver (remind me to tell you the tale of her, Trevor Phillips and yours truly - but not here!), and I hope too, that she will recognise what our Youth Justice policy recognises that this is not just about repealing idiotic legislation, it is also about ensuring our young people have somewhere to go, something positive to do, investing in our youth services (currently under demolition) especially detached youth workers (a cause Simon Hughes has always championed), supporting inter-generational community projects, giving our young people something to believe in, hope for and aspire to. Only then can any of us have any right to talk about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime...............

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Simon Hughes calls for Campaign to Scrap Trident

"Expensive, dangerous and useless" the words of a senior military witnesss to describe Trident when giving evidence to the working group a few years ago. One of the things that persuaded my good pal Jo Hayes to vote against the fudge that became party policy and for the minority report. As a "risky radical" party, all too often we fall at the final hurdle of the Daily Mail filter when deciding policy, this was one such time.

So imagine how thrilled I was last night at the AGM of Liberal International British Group (and if you are not a member why not?) to hear newly elected President, Simon Hughes call for LI to reassert our party policy to scrap Trident. He made it clear that the coalition agreement gave us as a party licence to argue for scrapping – so that's surely what we have to do. With over 70% of the population against renewal and a massive budget deficit, it is incredulous that all but those who stand to gain financially or politically by carrying on supporting this nonsense, should continue to prop up a dead duck.

I have to confess that I did make the case for removing the words "like for like" (remember this was LIBG so they don't have to support party policy word for word) but was met with short shrift – Simon having two objections, one that it was not 3 words but 1 (hyphenated apparently!) the second that our policy was not unilateralist. He did concede however that whilst my arguments were usually incredibly persuasive and cogent (well something like that ;-)) on this occasion they were........hmmmm – less so (surely not I hear you murmur).

Someone else who took a view diametrically opposed to mine made the point that the argument would be easier to make if it was clearly not a unilateralist one. I have to say, that makes a lot of sense if your objection to Trident is the cost and the uselessness of the system, however, since my objection is a moral one while I will support this campaign it will have to be from a unilateralists position. Never the less, I of course applaud Simon and trust this will be a campaign we can all get behind.

Update - "Liberal Democrats fought the election as a party committed to multilateral nuclear disarmament. Above all at this time of spending cuts and financial austerity, the like for like replacement of Trident is illogical and unaffordable. Rather than continuing Trident as before, Britain's public finances should be spent on other areas of our national defence and priority public services" quote from Simon Hughes today. GO SIMON!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Coalition Budget – Real Life Consequences

I am sure, like many of you, I got involved in politics in order to do my best to be a voice for those who had no voice, to challenge injustice, discrimination and oppression. I guess I can trace it back to speaking up on behalf a black friend when I was 5 and I didn't understand much about racism then, but understood a little about bullying. Since then that trait in me, among other things, has lead me to being threatened with a charge of mutiny in the army, become President of my SU, Unison Branch Secretary and chair of their national Youth and Community Workers Forum, a local councillor and parliamentary candidate.

So whenever I read the kind of comments that have been left on my recent blogs about the coalition budget, that sense of indignation is reignited in me and I would challenge anyone not to be moved by these stories.

Firstly there was this comment from Big Doug,

My wife has Schizophrenia, some days she's good, other days bad. Quite often its a case of not letting her illness manifest itself to such an extent she feels compelled to leave the house on some task or other. In the past she has gone missing and the police have taken her to hospital after being found miles away in a confused and distressed state. She has a fortnightly injection to keep her stable. She is shortly to have her DLA claim looked at again. I make no political point about this, I'm sure it would have happened under Labour. But I do wonder what will happen if she is assessed on one of her good days, and how many other people in a similar position will suffer as a result. I haven't told her about the medical test she has coming up as this will lead to stress ,anxiety and heaven knows what else. I have no real interest in politics, when you are at the bottom politicians rarely do more than pay you lip service, sometimes they'll kick you around like a tin can. To be honest my life is crap, limited and each day is as likley to bring horror as it is to bring a smile. And to cap it all my wife, and I as her carer, are now a burden on the system, scroungers no less. Well bring on the pain we all have to bear, down here no one hears us anyway. Sorry for the semi rant. At least you sound as if you realise there are real people out there somewhere.

then this one from Dan

Linda, I have become a follower of your blog recently, and I can't understand why people in Mid-Bedfordshire decided to vote for their MP on the back of her being a Tory, instead of voting for somebody who had their head screwed on. No offence to Nadine Dorries, of course. I personally think she did well on Tower Block of Commons, and she seems like a nice woman. But you make some really valid points and as a 21 year old care-leaver under the London Borough of Camden, all my friends who lived in care under my local authority (apart from two, who were girls and had babies) got dumped into hostels full of crackhead and were denied our right to a council flat. I've lived in over 20 placements in the care system and then to be put into hostals is like repeating the whole process all over again to the point where my education got affected and where as I once was labeled "gifted and talented," I was now labeled as "challenging behaviour." I left school with 2 poor gcse's, and 5 years later, not much has changed. Having a stable home is absolutly essential to ones upbringing. Unfortunatly, I don't know when I'm going to have a stable home, and as I'm currently unemployed, I don't know how I'm going to surive the 10% housing benefit cut as my hostal rent is pretty steep as it is. But I don't want to move out as it's my only hope if I wan't to eventually get a council flat. With no family around for support, things are only going to get harder... the tories have NO idea! I'm going back to college to do a 1 year access course in social work so hopefully I can go university next year. I am going to have to find a part time day job and a part time night job asap to make ends meet! Anyway, Linda, you write an excellent blog. Keep it up, I'll definatly continue to follow you :)


And finally this from the Queen of late night tweeting ;-) and one of my fellow Narnians, Humphrey Cushion

Thanks for writing this Linda, I blogged on this too:

As I said in that post, I failed to qualify for ESA recently although I can only stand or sit for a few minutes at a time without pain and any movement of my neck increases the damage.. what sort of a job that qualifies me for I dont know..

These benefits should be Health Service generated, the specialists and GPs know their patients best. Currently, the Medical Examiners meets the claimants for 15 minutes and sees no health records at all. Hardly able to make an informed decision are they?

I defy anyone not to be moved by these stories, regardless of political persuasion. So, if anyone can't understand my opposition to the regressive, vindictive, short sighted Tory budget (please don't tell me this is the kind of budget we would have come up with on our own!!!) – you clearly don't get it. And please don't bleat on about this being necessary because the alternatives would be worse. In order to become part of the coalition our party was sold a pup. Hmmm, George Osborne or Vince Cable – who would I trust to have more economic nous? Cut now, cut later??? This is ideaologically driven and no mistake and unless our party grandees wake up to this fact I fear we are condemned to the footnote of history, but far worse than that, many of our fellow citizens are condemned to poverty, misery, hopelessness and in some cases, death.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Leaving the Party? PLEASE, DON'T DO IT!!!

The news yesterday that Liverpool Lib Dem leader, Warren Bradley had spoken out about coalition cuts and his fear that the party would be wiped out, sent a shudder through my spine. His description of feeling physically sick when he heard about the cuts to the BSF budget reflects the way I have felt since that fateful day in May. More worrying for me was the news that many of his Lib Dem councillors were considering leaving the party - my huge plea to them is don't do it!!!!

Now, more than ever before, those of us who love this party, who have chosen it over others because it most reflects our values, surely must now stay and fight - the alternative is the wipeout Warren warns of. And then what? A return to less choice, to the "big boy" bullies who think they have the right to rule, be they on the left or right (although ironically we were always seen as to the left of Labour - hey those were the days!) and a far more disaffected electorate, particularly those who already feel marginalised and ignored.

OK, I know we have a wing of the party that is far more economically liberal and has a lot in common with the Tories, but at our heart we are a progressive party, we rightly champion our belief that "noone should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity" and yet right now we are joining forces with those who will further impoverish those already struggling to survive financially. What is sticking in many folks gullet is, I believe, what looks like a lack of integrity on behalf of the party. Vince looks uncomfortable and squirms - he doesn't display the body language of someone who is saying what he truly believes. The wonderful Michael Moore, someone who I have always rated, looks similarly uncomfortable on Question Time trying to justify the unjustifiable. To hear our MPs defending what are Tory not Lib Dem values is excruciating. No wonder people are wondering what we stand for now!

A few short weeks ago, when Nick Clegg (rightly) was wowing the crowds, it seemed we really were going to break the mould of British politics, the vision of the "Gang of Four" all those years ago. Now we are left with what by any standards is the rump of an idea for electoral reform - of course I will join the campaign for AV, it's better than what we have, but frankly the whole point of it diminishes somewhat if the consequence of us getting it is the return to two party politics! And as someone pointed out recently, for those of us who really don't have a second choice it is totally meaningless.

As someone who has always been prepared to challenge when I think something is wrong I realise I will continue to upset some folk. I am truly sorry. It would be far better for my blood pressure if I could genuinely applaud what our party has signed up to, if I could find it in my heart to be happy about our role in government. Unfortunately, given the prospect of up to 40% cuts, over a million extra on the dole, the condemning in particular of so many of our young people to unemployment, poverty and misery, the prospect of families becoming homeless because of housing benefit cuts, forgive me if I don't sound too enamoured at the moment.The rationale that our presence in the coalition would somehow mitigate against the worst excesses of the Tories kinda rings hollow now, would they have been looking for 60% cuts without us then?

However, it is precisely because I care about the future of our party that I can't keep silent. If you saw your dearest friends, rushing like lemmings to the edge of the cliff - would you just stand by and let them get on with it?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Coalition Budget – “It’s not Fair!” part 2

OK, we've dealt with housing benefit, now what about the rest? I have absolutely no problem with trying to get people off benefit, I have absolutely no problem with bringing to book those who are abusing the system, what I have a problem with is the catch all approach. So for those who are genuinely unable to work because of a disability or an illness (did anyone hear that poor desperate man with terminal lung cancer on the phone to Gordon Brown on 5 Live during the campaign, who kept getting forced to go for assessments?) to include them in our attempts to catch the rogues is totally unfair and unproductive. It's a bit like expecting us all to cough up for the tax dodgers, don't see quite the effort going into calling them to account.

The idea that there is enough slack in the system to cut benefits because after all, "we're all in this together" is a total nonsense. What this budget will cost me is a reasonable meal out once a month, what this budget will cost those on benefits will be choosing between eating and keeping warm. Apologies to those of you who have heard this story before, but I will never forget my meeting with the Children's Commissioner in Northern Ireland last year, when we had had that exceptionally cold spell in February. She told the story of a young 17 year old who had come out of the care system and was living on her own. She had gone to her social worker to beg that instead of having £20 a week in food vouchers she could just have £10 in vouchers and the other £10 in cash – because she said "I'd rather be hungry than cold". This was a young woman who had not had the best start in life but was doing her best to try and get a job and make a future for herself despite everything being against her (and let's not forget care leavers are far more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population).

And the moves on DLA are also distressing. Bad enough that you are suffering a disability or debilitating illness, now we will make you jump through all sorts of hoops, even though it will cost us more to do this than we will save! The fact is that for some illnesses (like ME) folk have good and bad days. For those with serious mental illness, they may have long periods of being well, punctuated by crises when they just can't work. Far better to find ways of supporting employment for these people when they are well surely? My sister is one such case. At the moment she is as well as she has been for several years – she is happily volunteering in the church coffee shop and is so appreciated they want to employ her to run it. This would be great and would help so much with her recovery, but we and she know she couldn't take the stress of actually being in charge. But if the church were able to have some back up support, to be adaptable enough to have contingency plans for the days/weeks when she may not be able to work, then this would be a real possibility. And of course, as we all know, work can be a real boost to someone's mental health and sense of well-being and self esteem. If we are serious about enabling people to work, then we have to be serious and far more creative in our thinking about how to support them. Sadly it seems this is not part of the package.

My one tiny spark of hope in all this is that having Steve Webb in DWP will perhaps help ultimately in securing a more humane approach to benefits in general and that having other ministers and MPs like our own brave Lynne Featherstone, who are also anxious about these proposals, may ultimately lead to some sensible amendments. It's a tiny spark, but maybe one that together, we can fan into a flame?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Coalition Budget - "It's not FAIR!" Part ONE

During the many and lengthy debates about the manifesto on FPC I found myself disagreeing with the notion that the theme should be fairness alone. Not because I don't believe in fairness, but because the concept only has any meaning when more clearly defined. After all, can you imagine any party campaigning on a platform of unfairness? The reality is that what I may regard as fair is more than likely to be totally at odds with what a right wing head banging Tory regards as fair. So, I unsuccessfully argued that we should be talking about fairness, freedom and equality - interesting that one of those was picked up in the Coalition Agreement!

Fairness is hardwired into our thinking, from early childhood we meet every parental decision we don't agree with bleating "it's not fair", "It's not fair that I should have to share my sweets - you gave them to ME", "How come (older sister) can go to bed at 9 and I have to go to bed at 8? It's not fair!" No wonder it is such a popular concept for politicians. Everyone wants things to be fair, from their perspective. Therefore the banker with his 6 figure salary, supplemented by a 6 figure bonus, may well think fairness is not having to shell out so much in tax to keep the feckless poor on benefits - Georgie boy will be a hero not a villain to him.

So, I have to confess that from my perspective I find the coalition budget anything but fair. And I say that as someone who personally, will be nowhere near as badly hit as others, so this view is not based on self interest.

To start with I want to consider the proposed cuts to housing benefit. This for me is probably the most insidious of all the proposals. There is nothing as fundamental as the need for a home, in particular a stable, safe and secure home. To me one of the most disastrous policies of Thatcher was the right to buy, based not on a belief that people should have the right to own their own home, but rather that homeowners were more likely to vote Tory. Far better to have sponsored shared ownership or affordable home building, rather than to sow the seeds of the situation we now have. Not only did this policy reduce the housing stock, it also stopped councils spending the receipts on building new homes - and thus we find ourselves in 2010 with a horrendous housing shortage.

So, the coalition government were bleating about the horrendous cost of housing benefit - too right - but the irony is that this ill judged, ideologically driven Tory policy was what lead to these ridiculous costs! Local councils, selling off stock to private landlords who then charge 3 or 4 times more rent which then has to be met through housing benefit! This is the real reason housing benefit costs have soared. Not only that, but those who would have had the security of renting from the council or a housing association, now find themselves subject to the vagaries of private landlords, who despite the legislation, always have the upper hand. Security is a thing of the past. As someone who has privately rented for the last 6 years I have moved 7 times, twice having had an eviction notice because the landlord wanted to sell, or do something different with the property. I now have a year's tenancy, but no guarantee that this won't mean having to move again if the landlord changes his mind about renting at the end of that year. And its not just the monetary cost (deposits, removal vans etc) it is also the emotional cost of moving.

I recently attended a Barnardos seminar where they were stressing the importance for the development of children of a safe, secure and adequate home and yet so many have anything but. This is one of the reasons I cannot see the pupil premium in isolation. Great that we will be able to implement that policy through the coalition, but frankly meaningless if we are going to throw many of the children we seek to help out of their homes. What good additional resources in your school if you don't have a decent secure home?

So, of all the dreadful measures in this budget, this for me is the worst. To threaten someone's home, particularly those with children, is to undermine one of the most fundamental human needs. At first I was incensed at the decision to cut housing benefit by 10% if someone had been out of work for a year, particularly in the current climate when we are anticipating over a million additional folk in the dole queue, but now I am even more incensed by the decision to cap rents at the 30 percentile rather than 50. In many areas this will mean the poorest in our society having to find outrageous amounts of money to make up the shortfall. I would find it difficult to find an extra £3,000 a year to spend on rent, how much more difficult for those living for example in Bedford where this is the estimated cost for them? And where are all these low rent properties they will be expected to live in? Ah yes, what we used to call social housing - a rapidly diminishing resource.

I understand there will be an opportunity in the autumn for this legislation to be amended, I trust that those MPs who call themselves Liberal Democrats will be prepared to put the needs of those most vulnerable in our society before the need to protect their career - after all, I thought that was why most of them got involved in politics in the first place?