Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Problem with Faustian Pacts.............

...........is 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.

So.......now 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: craigbichard@live.co.uk  


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 fundraising............now 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!!!