Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chris Huhne Rocks!

Just teasing! Here is evidence, if evidence were needed that I have no hard feelings for Chris Huhne...........and why would I for someone who is also a member of the "now we are 52" club????

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nick Harvey, Niagra............and why I'm a fan of Simon Hughes

I have just returned from a pre budget group meeting.............OK and a quick trip to the pub (also frequented by our Labour cousins - so took the opportunity for an indepth debate on Trident, unitary authorities and quangos) find I have a couple of comments on my blog.........weh hey.....!

The first was from the adorable Nick Harvey explaining why he didn't want a joint meeting on Trident at conference........but I am at a loss to understand why he has posted this on my post about I missing some deep political message here???! Anyway, if you want to know why you can go have a look.

The second was from "anonymous". Now I am always totally intrigued by "anonymous" he ...........or she...........but it must be a he coz we girlies don't really care who knows what we think about anything, and we don't have time to be on line 24/7 as anonymous clearly is.........leaves a delightful observation about my "Being 52"..........and my admitting I am known as "The Late Linda Jack"..........asking if this is why I am a Simon Hughes fan. He, or (unlikely) absolutely right! So maybe now is an appropriate time to reflect on why some of us tend to be not in the least bit early ( on Sunday...being told by my all knowing family to arrive at a different time to everyone else, thus maximising the chances of arriving on time). The reason is two fold. Number one. We hate wasting time so we are always totally optimistic about how long it takes to get anywhere. What is the point of arriving half an hour early and twiddling your thumbs when you could be doing something useful and world altering?????! Number two. We love people, (well most of them) and we want to give them time, we don't like them to feel we are looking at our watches every 2 seconds, that they are important to us...........Number three (OK so maths is not our strong point) we are always totally over optimistic about how much we can fit in and so hate letting people down we find it almost impossible to say NO. And while we are on the subject of Simon Hughes, I have had a few comments bemoaning his disorganisation. Now......I am disorganised, I have always been disorganised, I wrote the book on disorganisation.........Simon is NOT disorganised! Disorganisation is an artform achieved by the very few.............if you don't believe me you are invited to visit my humble abode. If I have one mission in life it is to demonstrate that on the Richter Scale of Disorganisation..........I make Simon look like a 0.1. And anyway where is the evidence? Its like a mantra that everyone repeats without any evidence whatsoever, oh, Simon is disorganised, like, oh Tony Blair is honest, if we say it loudly and often enough maybe people will believe us?

Rant over. So Mr/s anonymous...............are you going to reveal yourself???

Being 52

Many Happy Returns to Peter Black! And thanks for making me feel more ancient! I am pondering now whether there is any significance in the number 52 - having recently reached that mini milestone? I know 50 was supposed to be pretty significant........and have to admit my 50th birthday party is running a tad late, tho I have promised everyone it will happen.....I know I am known in Beds BC circles as "the late Linda Jack" but now it is so late there isn't the same pressure so long as it happens sometime in the next 8 years. Plus, as I made clear at a Lembit Opik training event, when I had to speak for 2 minutes on why I was late - if I was on time everyone else would think they were late and panic.....and we wouldn't want that would we???

Monday, January 29, 2007

A message to anti-arms trade MPs - how to phase out UK industry's arms-trade-dependence

Another timely piece from Paul Reynolds in the light of the BAe debacle:-

The benefits to the UK of these large defence contracts need to be assessed in as neutral a way as possible - neither to prove the pro or anti argument. A proper assessment of ALL the costs and benefits is needed if the government's public interest argument is to be considered (including subsidy, hidden and otherwise, costs of civil service staff, and opportunity costs in the medium-term monopolisation of limited UK engineering expertise). It is not enough just to rely on treaty obligations in objecting, since the general public and the political community will always be equivocal if the 'UK jobs' argument is used as a policy trump card. As long as the government claims it has the legal power to abandon prosecutions on public interest grounds, it is useful to understand the extent of the public interest involved. I suspect however that the private benefits are positive but the public benefits marginally negative.

It is good to be FOR something as well as AGAINST something. The defence industry is the most (perhaps the only, alongside oil sectors) concrete industrial policy pursued by HMG. There is large government apparatus involved in this, ranging from the old DESO to UK military attaches and staff in countries where there are no defence policy interests, and 'planning' departments in the MoD, DTI and the FCO. Almost certainly there are significant resources deployed in the intelligence services and there are an unknown number of semi-formal defence procurement officers in khaki, too. By comparison, the quality of HMG's effort (and quality of people) in effectively helping develop other UK sectors is very poor indeed. Subsidies are out, of course, but the sophistication of UK non-subsidy support for important old & new sectors pales into insignificance when compared to that of Japan, S Korea, Germany and both Federal and state-level activities in the USA. In addition, the effort put in to preventing unfair subsidies from our competitors (especially in the EU) in all sorts of sectors is very limp indeed.

The other issue I think is important is the attachment that the UK has to subsidised military production for its domestic armed forces. In practice it is much cheaper and more contractually astute to buy arms and military kit from other countries - and let the citizens of the exporting countries pour subsidies into their own bottomless pit. In addition, if there are problems and delays in the goods being delivered, you can act like a proper customer and demand compensation or rectification with vigour.

You cannot act in the same way if the supplier is a 'favoured' national champion (and this in effect a monopoly supplier) in receipt of subsidies, and given the contract to protect jobs in Lower Broughton-on-the-Water or some other Labour constituency. Just ask the UK armed forces. They are the ones who get killed because the bloomon' latest widget is 5 years behind schedule and the old widgets are decrepit ! This is an important point, since many of the in-government arguments for arms export support relate to the need to help mantain a domestic arms industry in support of UK armed forces capability.

The UK has the highest % of GDP represented by arms production of any large economy. A combination of objectively challenging the economic public interest argument, plus making criticisms of the UK industrial policy effort, helps win the argument hands down. We can always win on the moral argument of objecting to the UK contributing to the killing of others. The general public don't usually buy the 'if we don't sell them, somebody else will' argument. The reality of the UK government-driven arms industry is a far cry from the rhetoric.

Professor Paul E M Reynolds

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Here's one for my pals - into doting granny mode!

Just to prove I do have a life which goes beyond sister in law just sent me this lovely pic of my daughter Lara and granddaughter Sumaiyah (who is named after the first Muslim martyr.....lets hope she follows after her in name only!) I have been struggling with sorting out pix in picasa etc and have reached the limits of my understanding....

Sumaiyah means little arrow, so I hope she will grow up to be just that, fighting for what is right. Her mother, who I have yet to persuade to join the Lib Dems, but whose partner attended Ming's reception last week, sets a good example. Leading her whole school out in protest at the Iraq war - and then speaking at the anti-war People's Assembly in Westminster Central Hall. So.....I have high hopes! Oh.......and by the way........I have drawn the line at being called Granny. I will be Archi - the Sinhalese for grandmother and a lot more ambiguous for those who do not speak Sinhalese!

Niagra in 1911 - before global warming set in.........

A pal sent me these stunning photos - will we ever see the like again?

What is Nick Harvey worried about?

I hear from David Grace that those of us interested in the Trident issue were likely to have great fun getting to the 3 simultaneous fringe meetings booked for 8 pm on the Friday of conference. The 3 are: Centre Forum : a presentation (in support of the current party line - well the one declared by Ming, supported by the FPC but still awaiting ratification by conference - coz allegedly in our party our members make policy) by Tim Garden and Nick Harvey; PCA: an open discussion with all viewpoints and some good speakers including Bruce Kent and the Bishop of Bath & Wells; and Liberal Democrats for Peace & Security, a discussion but with a distinct bias against the party line. Apparently PCA and David Grace tried to negotiate with Centre Forum either to have one big fringe or for the PCA discussion to be at 8 followed by Centre Forum Liberal Democrats for Peace & Security at 9.30. Centre couldn’t decide because they needed to ask Nick Harvey and they couldn’t get hold of him because... he was on a Trident submarine ! On Friday, on Nick’s advice, they refused to budge and insisted on having their own meeting at 8. PCA are going ahead which means the Liberal Democrats for Peace and Security meeting will now not take place until afterwards. This is now likely to be a rally and caucus to prepare for the debate the following day. The PCA meeting and the Centre Forum meeting are actually in neighbouring rooms with a partition that can be removed to make one meeting, but they won’t do it. So what exactly is Nick Harvey worried about???? Could it be that if delegates hear all the arguments they may not back the party line? Surely not.

Oh oh.........looks like a preemptive strike before the battle has even commenced! So much for trying to reach a consensus.......

Saturday, January 27, 2007

No New Trident - Support the Amendment

No New Trident has the full text of the draft motion on Trident for Spring Conference.

I reproduce below the proposed amendment. If you would like to support it please leave a message on the No New Trident site.

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, Harrogate, 2nd-4th March 2007
Proposal for amendment to motion on Future of Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent

Insert in paragraph (v), after “... expertise and materials” at end:

“but believes that the UK’s best defence against such threats lies in strong alliances with other democratic states;”

Insert in paragraph (vi), after “... cease these programmes” at end:

“but notes that neither state poses a direct military threat to the UK;”

Insert in paragraph (vii), after “... neighbours and allies” at end:

“but also recognises that by replacing Trident the Uk could well encourage other states to see nuclear weapons as essential to their own security and status, thus increasing the danger of proliferation;”

Delete paragaph (viii) and all after “Conference therefore” and substitute:

“Conference further notes that:

1. the transfer of nuclear weapons design and components between the USA and UK would breach Article 1 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;

2. the UK’s dependence on US co-operation to maintain the Trident system has influenced UK governments to identify too closely with US policy and interests to the detriment of our position in Europe and beyond;

3. the money required for replacing Trident would be better spent on strengthening and equipping our conventional forces which serve the true defence needs of the UK.

Conference therefore resolves that the UK should not procure a successor nuclear weapons system to the current Trident system.”

Does Ming owe his position to the man jailed yesterday - should it have been Simon?

Does Ming owe his position to the man jailed yesterday? An interesting article from Political Betting. As someone who is and was and always will be deeply disappointed that Simon Hughes didn't win, this confirms what many suspected. But I have to console myself with some of the funny memories from working on his campaign. Like the woman in Lembit's constituency who seemed rather confused when I asked her who she was voting for.........when it became tortuous I asked her "Are you a Lib Dem?" "No dear" said she, "I'm a Baptist!"

Friday, January 26, 2007

New Look Muze..........reluctantly

Having left a comment about the Political Betting piece "Is Iraq going to swing many votes next time?" today, including a link to Paul Reynold's article, I got the following advice.............

Linda Jack @ 40 — it would be a damn sight easier to read if each line were not centred, and if the text were not pink on blue. This study found fuschia-on-blue to be the least readable combination:
Printing has been around for a while now. Look at a few books and you will find black-on-white remains a popular combination. People won’t buy unreadable books and they won’t read pain-inducing blogs.

Ooooh 'eck! So I have had to dispense with the glorious fuschia and replace with the boring it really more readable??! I must confess writing my blog in white on white is proving a challenge, but I can't be responsible for causing my poor longsuffering readers pain......sorry no one mentioned it before! I have to express my deep admiration for anyone who takes the trouble to research what is the least readable combination of colours and have a certain inverted pride in myself that I managed to find them by accident!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Iraq - an enlightening and well informed view from Professor Paul Reynolds

Given Ming's statement about troop withdrawal yesterday I asked fellow Lib Dem Paul Reynolds if, given his expertise on the issue (having been a political adviser to the coalition forces in Iraq), he would do a piece for my blog. I find his analysis well informed, insightful and enlightening. Thanks Paul!

Southern Iraq - Troop Withdrawal. What comes after ?

The new Liberal Democrat ‘public policy’ on Iraq is a significant political step. There has been some bleating on this policy from the British Conservatives and one can expect possibly heated criticism from Britain’s Pro-Bush Labour Government leadership. The Liberal Democrats have switched to an apparently more concrete position of calling for full and timetabled UK troop withdrawal, to be undertaken during the period May 2007 to October 2007, although they have not given detailed reasons for the specificity of this timetable.

Official UK policy is for a limited withdrawal during 2007, anyway. This policy has emerged in somewhat more specific and emphatic terms in Washington DC, than it has in London’s political and media community. Congressional debates and public discussion have consistently referred to a UK reduction of at least 2000 troops during 2007, and the British in Washington have not, it seems, objected. The 2000 figure can now fairly be taken as official UK policy. (Many expert commentators believe that the 2000 troop withdrawal figure is a compromise reached between Downing Street and UK armed forces chiefs). This UK withdrawal has been used by Democrats in Congress to draw contrast with, and criticise, the current planned US troop increase by 21,000 troops, now allegedly under implementation.

Internationally, it has been assumed that this more precise anti-war Liberal Democrat policy in the UK has been formalised following public statements from senior British military figures, and some widely rumoured private comments from UK military sources. UK armed forces’ preferences for a faster and fuller withdrawal have been an open secret for months now – some say much longer. In UK military circles this has not been regarded as anything like a mutiny, and one can now reasonably expect official UK policy to ‘evolve’ quickly towards something akin to ‘almost complete’ withdrawal during 2007. Given the customary pattern of advice and advisers around Liberal Democrat party leader Sir Menzies Campbell, it is inconceivable that the party would go public in the British Parliament with such a policy without first ensuring that significant senior parts of the UK military were at least ‘not objecting’.

Notwithstanding that fact, it is nevertheless a bold political step by the UK’s third largest political party. A marker has been put down, and the position of the Liberal Democrats will be strengthened as official UK policy eventually swings behind it in all but name. Developments in the UK over the next couple of months will be watched very closely indeed by anti-war US Democrats and Republicans, and the various emerging White House factions.

A UK policy of full or near-full withdrawal of course is incomplete. Indeed it might not even be the most notable feature of a potential new UK Iraq policy adopted by UK Liberal Democrats, the UK Labour Government, or the main opposition UK Conservatives. It must be accompanied by policies concerned with post-withdrawal relations with Iraqi authorities, the mechanisms for influence and cooperation (eg security training, protection for oil installations, intelligence support, diplomatic activity in respect of Southern Iraq’s neighbour), changed relationships with Iran, Syria and the Saudis - and so on.

The nature of these associated policies and the options for these, depend almost wholly on assumptions about the consequences of the ‘total withdrawal’ policy, and on the consequences of the withdrawal itself.

This is worth considering more generally. Both sides of the ‘what happens after we withdraw’ argument are probably wrong. At one end of the argument are those that say civil war and mass killing or ethnic genocide will result. At the other end are those who claim that withdrawal will spur Iraqis to ‘sort out their own problems and take responsibility’. Both are based on wrong assumptions.

Southern Iraq is run by three militias. They are ‘needled’ by the remnants of the Ba’athist security apparatus, and disrupted by incoming financing from unofficial Saudi governmental sources and elsewhere. These three militias gained their power during 2003 and 2004, and were spawned by the need for the general public to be protected street-by-street from criminals, lawless tribal groups, and vengeful Ba’athist forces.

This was hardly surprising. Poor citizen protection from ‘Coalition Forces’ and appalling absence of funds in provincial and municipal governments, assured this ! The Mahdi Army and the Fudullah in particular focused on protecting the very poor and providing some social services. In Southern Iraq the very poor are the majority of the population, and ironically they were not particularly religious or even always ethnically Arab. By the time the major effort was underway to form the police and the army, any able-bodied man (and some women) were already engaged with the militias. The ‘new police’ policy was quickly abandoned and reduced to a less ambitious policy of ‘renaming and re-uniforming’ the existing militias. So today it is hard to say who is acting as a militia member and who as a member of the police or army. In most cases it is the former – but the wearing of uniforms is not much of a guide as to which is which !

The idea of a bloodbath after withdrawal is just absurd. First, there is already a bloodbath. The hundreds of bodies reportedly found each week, murdered, are almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg. Second, the bloodbath argument assumes that the British and Americans in the South are currently engaged in preventing a bloodbath – and being successful. This is laughable. Not only does this imply much more influence & control than they have, it implies that preventing a bloodbath is one of their aims. It is not.

The argument that withdrawal will force the Iraqis to ‘properly take care of their own affairs’ is also somewhat risible. Coalition troops and officials have never stood in their way. The institutions have been in place, although the money has not, in practice. But the timeframe within with ‘normal’ institutions and power structures can establish themselves has long passed. The militias will not give up their power, and indeed the Coalition forces and officials have not provided ANY meaningful incentives for them to do so – political, social, financial or otherwise. What will change however is the intensification of the battle for control of Southern oil resources – but Coalition forces plan to remain to protect oil installations. !

What of the arguments about Iranian influence ? There are many inaccuracies peddled from the USA about Iranian involvement. The dominant issue is not Iranian influence over Southern Iraq, but Southern Iraqi influence over South Western Iran. It should be remembered that across the border from Iraq, Iranians are Arabs not Persians. This was a major issue in the Iran-Iraq war. The war deepened suspicion and dislike between Iraqi Arabs and Iranian Persians. A well funded oil-rich Southern Iraq however is likely to increase its influence in SW Iran, even to the extent that the fragmentation of Iran is envisaged by many. A new Southern Iraqi and South Western Iranian sate is not so far-fetched, should Iraq break up into 3 countries.

There is thus probably only one set of policies that can constructively accompany withdrawal from Southern Iraq. First, it will be necessary to support the unity of the Iraqi nation-state. This can ONLY be done through a negotiated significant decentralisation of power to the three regions and to the provinces (governorates) – a new constitutional settlement. Second, the economic aspects of this decentralisation need to be agreed. This is a better option than trying to agree ‘a more equitable distribution of central oil income’. Third, the control-freakery of the US officials in Baghdad needs to be stepped back from, to allow much faster economic and infrastructural development in the South. Fourth, closer economic integration with Southwestern Iran and with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is well overdue – especially in electricity, transport, water systems and telecoms. Iran’s fears (somewhat covert) over an ‘independent’ Southern Iraq, and the economic boom that will follow, are incentives enough to ensure reasonable cooperation. None of this is easy but it is better than the current death rate. It is better than (in effect) forcing political groups to over-use Islam as a path to power and influence – a trend which is unpopular in Southern Iraq.

No-one can undo the horrors of this terrible, illegal war. But it might also be remembered that Basra as the capital of Southern Iraq, is a multi-ethnic, surprisingly secular city of great history and character. It possesses districts of extraordinary beauty including a Venice-like canal district with ornate bridges and intricate Ottoman, Arab and Persian architecture. An astute post-withdrawal strategy needs to envisage a lively tourist trade, as an ultimate measure of success.

Prof Paul E M Reynolds

Jan 24 2007

Labour and Tories talking thru their backsides about Iraq

I'm sorry if anyone is offended by my bluntness but there are days when I absolutely despair at the total ineffectiveness of our parliamentary democracy, when I totally understand the disconnection and disaffection of the British electorate. Today was such a day. I had been invited to the APPG on debt and personal finance "New Year Reception" with my work hat on. I have to say I was a tad put out by the fact that the hooks on which to hang your coat outside "dining room A" were high enough to make a rather "petite" woman like me speculate that this was one of the many indications within the great palace of Westminster that women (and small men for that matter) were not welcome. But this paled into insignificance when I made a slight detour on my way home to listen to the dying embers of the Iraq debate. I pride myself that I have managed to make at least part of every debate about Iraq since 18 March 2003.
I was reminded of that infamous day this evening, having being relegated to the strangers gallery. I asked one of the men in white tights why I couldn't sit in the front, he explained that was the "special" area and I clearly wasn't special enough! So I asked why I couldn't go into the side gallery (where there is no glass barrier), no - you could only go there if you were personally known by your MP. Ooh oh wither democracy?! (actually I am personally known by my MP and that is why I can't get a seat in the unprotected gallery) I recalled that day, almost four years ago now, when myself and a pal nearly pre-empted the Father's for Justice purple paint incident which has lead to us being hemmed in behind a glass barrier. Feeling totally powerless to challenge what was a totally unjust, illegal and immoral war, we had tried to come up with some sort of demonstration, I had been advised that trying to abseil into the chamber was probably a little risky, so Yas and I had decided to protest with red powder paint. This we had ingeniously secreted in our bras (both being rather well endowed in that department - no one noticed!) We had a prime position, front row of the gallery. Around 8pm our plans were scuppered. One of our party, exercised by the speech of John McDonnell leapt to her feet and shouted into the gallery. At which point she was manhandled out. As four security guards surrounded us on the benches Yas whispered in my ear "Sorry Linda, I'm chickening out, I don't want to get arrested I've got 15 unpaid parking tickets!" .............well, that was it and I must admit, being strategically positioned over the Lib Dem benches I had worried about our red paint landing up on Simon Hughes' bald patch............. but, humour aside, my abiding memory of that evening was the sight of Blair and Straw patting each other on the back and laughing having won the vote. Fine, you may believe what you are doing is right, but at least have some dignity about the enormity of your decision and the reality that not only are you condemning many thousands of Iraqis to death, but also your own forces.
So, this evening, nearly four years on, was almost as painful to watch and listen to too. Hypocritical Tories (most of whom lets not forget totally supported this war) banging on about how irresponsible Ming was in setting a date, but still arguing we should withdraw without setting a date............what's that all about? Despicable Labour ministers, trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle and convince us that actually things were so much better for the Iraqi people now. As a mother I am not sure I would share that perspective had my son or daughter been blown up by a suicide bomber, raped and murdered by an American soldier or killed by an American bomb. We are in a total mess, sooner or later we will be chased out of Iraq and any idea that our continued presence is contributing to achieving the peace is Alice in Wonderland. Lets get real shall we? We may have ruled an empire once, but no longer and trying to hang on to the imperialist coat tails of the US is ill judged and amoral. But maybe I am being unreasonable?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

At last!!!..........Ming calls for troops out by Christmas

I can't tell you how delighted I was to hear that Ming was at last calling for troops out of Iraq.........phew, that was a long haul, but better late than never! At spring conference two years ago I moved an amendment to the Iraq motion which would have meant our party policy was troop withdrawal. I was vilified, not least by Tim Garden (OK so it was a bit David and Goliath - I never quite made it to Air Chief Marshall level in my short military career - mainly coz me and the army didn't quite see eye to eye!) But, I think I counted at least 5 hands at the time voting with me.........
For me the serious point is why now and not then? What exactly has changed? How much more bloodshed and heartache could have been avoided? I know there are those who say we shouldn't withdraw and leave the Iraqi's in a potential bloodbath, but it seems to me we are part of the problem not part of the solution. We can't undo the tragedy of this unjust, immoral and illegal war, but perhaps we can contribute to the debate in a way that hastens the day our troops will come home and perhaps remove one of the irritants to those who object to the occupation and sadly see their only way of doing so as being through violence.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Together we can cut crime............Ming Zingin'

This week looks like being yet another when I can hardly avoid chatting about politics. It started this morning with the press launch of our Crime Policy, continued this evening with a meeting with Lynne Featherstone to discuss the Middle East and will continue unabated all week - watch this space!!!
Unfortunately the launch clashed with the news coming out of Northern Ireland about Special Branch collusion, however, it was well attended and Ming spoke well. As is his want, when he is on familiar ground (in this case the law) he speaks with real authority and gravitas. My location in Canary Wharf meant that I was able to nip over to listen, which, having been involved in the working group I appreciated.
The press, as has been reflected in this BBC article, homed in on our approach to life meaning life; picked up what they saw as some dodgy figures and couldn't resist having a pop about our six parliamentary candidate defections (is it six now?) to the Tories. My view is "WHO ARE THEY????" its all very well jumping ship, but frankly to jump onto what is a cross between the Titanic and the Marie Celeste beggars belief! So we will wait to see what the overall verdict on our policy is...........although I am trying to figure out exactly what the role of conference is in all this - after all it is a policy paper for debate at Spring Conference, a policy paper I have been more than happy to put my name to, but, this yet again raises the question of how far we are drifting towards the Labour/Tory approach to policy making.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Jade, Shilpa............holding up a mirror?

I tend to watch Big Brother by accident, rarely, or towards the end of any series when something or someone grabs my attention. So, how could I resist this evening? And its OK, I'm quite used to popping into the odd soap....irritating the life out of my children asking endless questions since I have missed the last 3 coming in without knowing exactly what is happening is quite usual! Tonight was no exception. I could be criticised for coming in cold, or with the morsels I have devoured over the past week in the likes of the Indy, Metro and London Lite.......but I knew enough to know this was a story which had burst out of the usual confines of Hello and the Sun to inhabit the front page splash stories of the Indy and even the Telegraph!

And thus, in the interaction between two young women we have a window on our less than perfect world. But for me the story is one of hope. However despicable the bullying and racist comments of Jade, the outcry in even our most right wing press is for me an indication of how far we have come. Being judged by the colour of your skin being regarded as unacceptable, this doesn't mean it won't continue to happen, but it will hopefully be seen in the same category as drink driving et al. I say this as someone who has not experienced racism directly. Sexism yes, sizeism yes (being told by someone I was representing in a Unison case - when I saw the size of you my heart sank......) but I have for example had to deal with my five year old mixed race daughter coming home and asking - mummy, what's a Paki? So let us hope at least some good will come out of this. That we will all be challenged about our attitudes, that we will all learn a little about the universal values of tolerance, forgiveness and our common humanity.............or am I becoming just too fond of wearing my rose-coloured specs???

Ruth Turner.........Tony Blair......and cash for honours...

The arrest of Ruth Turner this morning at 6.30 (6.30 - what's that all about?) throws us back into the shenanigins of the cash for honours affair. Vince Cable today rightly drew a parallel with the dying sleazy days of the Major government, but it leaves me pondering, what on earth will ever finish off this discredited Prime Minister? Rather like a wasp that you think has been well and truly swatted, he just seems to start wriggling again and get up and fly off as if nothing has happened! Maybe I'm just a tad miffed - what an inspired idea - I should have just got myself a £1 million bank loan, loaned it to the Labour Party at the same interest I was paying, and Bob's your uncle or Betty's your aunt - a Lib Dem seat in the Lords by default, why didn't I think of it???? And it wouldn't have cost a penny!!!

But for me the serious point has to be - this is not just damaging to the Labour Party, it damages us all. It demeans and discredits what should be seen as a noble endeavour............OK so I am one of the rose tinted specs brigade, but I do still think there is something honourable and worth fighting for in a democratic process which encourages people to ask what they can do for their country rather than what their country can do for them. And so, rather like a corrupt police officer, a corrupt politician is beyond reproach.

During the last local elections I knocked on the door of a family we had down as a P. The guy virtually screamed at me, no, I can't be bothered, you're all the xxxx same. Being the world's most useless canvasser/knockerupper - this was a red or blue rag to an orange bull. What do you mean we are all the same? I retorted, If we were all the same what on earth would I be doing in the Lib Dems - I'd have a far better chance of getting elected in one of the main parties! I went on, as I am want to do, in the same spirit, until the guy surrendered and invited me in to meet his partner.......(I have to confess my local party had sent a search party out for me by this stage).........OK so maybe half an hour to harvest two votes (I checked and they did vote) would be seen as a waste of valuable knocking up time, but the conversation I had with them is a conversation we as a party need to have with this country. NO WE ARE NOT THE SAME - perhaps we could start with Trident?!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Trident.....Colin Ross and the Ming Petition

I am glad to see that Colin Ross's petition about Trident is gathering pace.
I have already gone on ad nauseam about the issue, suffice to say I fear that appearing to sit on the fence will be the worst of all worlds for our party.This is clearly going to be a hugely important debate at conference. Lets get chatting about it now!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Trident........will there be consensus at conference?

I had this post ready to go last Friday but as a new kid on the FPC block I wasn't entirely clear what I am and am not allowed to say about the meeting, so to avoid being sent to the naughty corner I waited to get some advice. Although I have to say, I had thought I had been elected as a representative, which to my understanding means my accountability is to party members. Anyway, I am a bit clearer now so here it is.

What a day yesterday was.......starting with a trip to Holywood (that's Holywood Northern Ireland) stuck at the airport because of the wrong sort of wind at Heathrow and finishing with the FPC and Trident......
The majority view of the Trident working party, as expressed by Ming as potential party policy, is now to be the position debated at conference. Before going to the meeting I received an email from a pal expressing the view that what was vitally important was that as a party we found a consensus. I agree, but unfortunately the nuclear issue is not an easy one to compromise on. If you have deeply held beliefs, for example that murder is wrong, its difficult to see how you could reach a compromise or consensus position with someone who thinks it is right. And for me, even if I were able to consider a compromise, the compromise on offer is frankly wet. To make a decision not to make a decision, to argue that nuclear weapons are wrong and should never be used and then say but we'll keep half of them doesn't for me hold water as a coherent argument and plays into the hands of those who accuse us of sitting on the fence. The majority motion was sold as a motion which would enable conference to reach a consensus and was the "responsible" response. For me this was code for branding the minority report/motion as "irresponsible", although there was a lot of appreciation that it was soundly and intelligently argued. The debate was good natured and thoughtful, but the outcome was certainly for me a foregone conclusion. With our party leader having already stated our likely position it was unlikely that the minority report, however well argued, would win the day. So now we can have a debate in the pages of LDN, on the blogs and ultimately in Harrogate. What I hope will not happen is that the leadership will use emotional blackmail to bounce conference into a decision. It is vitally important for the credibility of the party and more importantly for the future of the planet, that we have an open and honest debate. And in my view, if we do decide not to decide we are failing the electorate who will be denied a real choice. Whilst around 25% in polls are against replacing Trident it was interesting to note on Any Questions last week that well over half the audience were against replacement, the tide is turning, lets catch it or face the consequences of being drowned in the undertow.For those of you who share my view please sign Colin Ross's petition to Ming.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Are Lib Dems joining Labour to vote for John McDonnell?

I broke my new "don't talk about politics" rule again last night - have to confess. Meeting up with an old trade union pal, who is also a member of the local Labour party, I guess it would have been a recipe for sitting there in silence had I stuck to my guns! Anyway, it is always interesting to hear about what is happening in the local Labour camp and last night was no exception. What really caught my ear was to learn that an ex local Lib Dem supporter had now joined Labour in order to vote for John McDonnell in the forthcoming leadership contest. It appears anti-war campaigners are being encouraged to join for that sole purpose. I wonder if anyone else has heard anything similar?

I have to say I was very impressed with John McDonnell's speech in the Iraq debate in March 2003 - I remember it well as my pal Sharon was carried out of the public gallery for shouting down into the chamber "I absolutely agree with everything that gentleman has said, the British people don't believe your lies..........." at which point she was carried out and arrested, and I was threatened with the same if I didn't stop clapping so loudly! But my concern now is as it was then, if the anti-war Labour MPs had had the courage to resign the whip they may well have had far more impact. And if we do end up embroiled in an Iranian adventure - what will they do then? I'm all for staying and fighting for the party you love, but surely there has to come a time when you can no longer morally continue........or am I missing something?

A good excuse to suspend the leadership selection in the Labour Party???

See the Arab Times. Makes interesting reading........

Sunday, January 14, 2007

So will we have Chris Huhne as our next leader?

Having attended the North Beds annual dinner last night I am sorry to say Chris Huhne did not win me over. He spoke well and was certainly more engaging than when participating in the hustings...........but...........well..........he just doesn't do it for me. Like others I was interested in the debate about our future leader taking place on Mike Smithson's political betting yesterday. Mike seems to have been pretty impressed, no doubt his views will emerge in due course. And there seem to be a lot of fellow members who are "bigging him up" at the moment. Frankly anyone who sees themselves as a credible leadership contender next time round needs to be putting in the graft now for if and when there is another leadership contest. His speech could not be faulted, although his optimism about where we are at the moment for me was misplaced. If we are to really make progress as a party we have to begin to deal with the realities of being the impala squeezed between two elephants, especially when the two elephants make it very hard for the impala to be seen. But.......the reality is, we may be small (but beautiful!) but we can run a hell of a lot faster than the elephant and our horns are not to be messed with!!! And his speech was very careful to focus on the issues he could be pretty damn sure the audience, whoever they were, would agree with -environment, civil liberties etc. No mention of Orange Book economics, Trident or tax for example. Sadly we were also denied the chance to question him as he was running off to catch a train. One of my fellow diners, who shall remain nameless, took the opportunity to lambast him over the disgraceful way Charles had been treated, a fact which still sticks in the gullet of many members and the public more generally.

So, an enjoyable evening with good company, but totally put paid to any idea I may have had about not talking about politics! I then got persuaded to go and meet friends at the only night club in Bedford where I feel young! Shouting above the strains of "Put your hands up for Detroit.........." I couldn't stop the conversation turning to politics, with two pals who are totally uninterested, but were still talking about their disappointment that Charles went as he was someone they felt able to relate to.

Today I had a lovely lunch with my children in Ireland (that's Ireland, Bedfordshire!) but having told my daughter the story of being chided by Yas about talking about politics too much, I then inadvertently without realising it strayed into the topic again, she pulled me up by saying, Mum you're doing it again, Yas was right! So I guess talking politics is like any bad habit, you don't know you're doing it!

And I must pass on my many many thanks to Duncan Borrowman who is the first person who has been able to explain to me in language I understand how to do all the fancy bits and add links to my blog. I'm just about to go and take a look at his brother's extreme sports this space!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What on earth do you talk about if you can't talk about

.....just back from a night out with my pal Yasmin. Yas is a playwright so lots of her pals are luvvies, plus - or including - a few journalists. During a very pleasant meal at St John's in Archway, and having caught up with her exciting lovelife, I was in the middle of a detailed explanation of why we couldn't look at reforming the benefits system without considering whether the levels of benefit were adequate......when I noticed she was grinning broadly. No, it wasn't at something that was happening behind was me! She explained that whilst listening to my fascinating exposition she had been reminded of something one of her journo pals had said last night. Namely that politicians were so boring since all they could talk about was......politics. I had one of those dreadful moments of self enlightenment - my heart sank...but but I talk about other things...don't I? Yas challenged me on the football - what did I know about football - well I know about Luton Town.....recently? Er......more Luton Town in the 70's I had to confess. I spent the rest of the evening frantically trying to think about the other things I could talk about. The financial sector? Yes but it would be hard to discuss the high levels of personal debt and financial exclusion without running into the nonsensical contradictory policies of the Labour government. The army? Yes but that would inevitably lead on to at least a cursory consideration of government policy on Iraq, the role of the MOD and.........Trident? What about my accidents, they were always good for a Linda, we don't want people to get the mistaken impression you are accident prone do we???

I found myself on the train home thinking about this, I do have other interests don't I? I don't view everything through some primose or nasturtium tinted political prism do I? But then I caught myself mentally bemoaning the fact that the train was cold and cramped and took far too long to get back to Bedford and that any notion of choice was totally facile because not only did I not have a choice of trains I didn't have a choice about having to pay a wacking £95 a week for the privilege of practising being a sardine for three hours a day! Oh and wasn't deregulation of the buses the biggest mistake ever?

Then the phone rang - it was my Toryboy pal Andrew McConnell. He was on a later train than me, he had only reached Mill Hill whilst I had made it all the way to Flitwick. He was the dirty stop out! Did we talk about, well his first question was, what are you doing at the weekend - out delivering leaflets? His second comment was to complain about me having signed a "yellow peril" - call in notice, over his appointment to a committee...........

Still, no worries, tomorrow night I am out for dinner, so that will give me plenty of interesting things to talk about. Oh, did I not mention, its our annual dinner, with none other than the incredible Mr Huhne speaking...........and on Sunday I will look into the possibility of taking up an extreme sport.....any suggestions???

Monday, January 08, 2007

Chris Huhne...............the one with hair!

Now.........anyone who has read my musings on Mr Huhne will know I am not exactly in the fan category. I remember, when canvassing on behalf of Simon Hughes, one woman calling to her husband "There's a woman here asking who you voted for"............I heard the reply "Oh I don't know dear.....the one with hair!" So, the one with hair is coming to Bedford on Saturday and I have been asked if I would like one ticket or two? Well, at the last count there was only one of unless there is a Chris Huhne fan out there desperate to boost the finances of the North Beds coffers............I will go on my own, and make the most of the opportunity, watch this space!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Mr Dale with his knickers in a twist.......again!

I was interested to hear of Iain Dale getting his knickers in a twist over the work our party is doing to ensure our parliamentary candidates are representative of the electorate they seek to serve. I have to agree, in an ideal world there would be no need to try to redress the balance, but the reality is that for years, in all parties, prejudice had often triumphed over selecting the "best" candidate. It is not that long ago (and may still be the case) that the Tories were asking their female married candidates, what their husbands would do if they were elected, poor menfolk, unable to manage without the little woman. The truth is, even with the most rigorous equal opps procedures, subconcious judgements are made. We tend to have a mental image of what "the good manager" "the chief exec" the "MP" and even the "Beefeater" should look like..........and that tends to be male, middle aged, white and wearing a sharp suit (except for the Beefeater of course!). We all know of highly qualified BME and women candidates whose cases fill the schedules of Employment Tribunals up and down the country, who have been passed over by people who are far less qualified, so to suggest that selection panels - which are not subject to employment law automatically pick the "best" candidate, is palpably stuff and nonsense!

Before I reverted to my maiden name my surname was Weerasirie - a fact that my local party were willing to accept may lose me votes. I can remember one man I canvassed, on being told that my then husband was Sri Lankan asking, well what's he doing here then? Sadly we don't have to scratch that deeply to find such attitudes within our society, and heavens, even in our parties.

What we see is what we expect and invariably what we get. My daughter as a small child started ballet lessons, I asked if she would like to be a ballet dancer, to which she replied "but brown people can't be ballet dancers" - as a white woman I hadn't noticed, but as a mixed race child, she had never seen a black dancer (she later asked - on John Major succeeding Maggie Thatcher - "but can a man be Prime Minister? - we are all still pondering that one!*).

So lets get real shall we? Perhaps as a white, middle class, privileged male, Mr Dale is perfectly happy with the status quo, but if not, I wonder what measures he would adopt to improve the situation? He appears to be equally unhappy with A Lists in his party but he nonetheless trumpets the fact his party have 38% women candidates. Can't have it both ways Iain dear!

As a footnote I would have to say my belief is that one of the most effective ways to begin to change not only the profile of our politicians, but also to engage more of the disengaged electorate would surely be proportional representation........but that would no doubt be a step too far for Mr Dale........

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Do the BBC want Nick Clegg for leader?

For the second time this week I have heard a BBC presenter mentioning Nick Clegg as our potential new leader. There is no doubt he is more of a match for Cameron, but I do tend to agree with others that to dive into another leadership election at this point would smack of panic. Far better then for Ming to let our stars twinkle a little more, to demonstrate that we have the talent within our party to be able to take on all comers. As for the adorable Nick, I do rate him as a true liberal, but maybe a tad too liberal when it comes to economic liberalism! He is proving to be a very effective shadow to Mr "There's no such thing as Civil Liberties" Reid, but if and when we do have the next leadership election it must certainly not be a one horse race.......and wouldn't it good to have a woman candidate too?

Anyway, back to work tomorrow so that will put paid to my musings for a while!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Could we really be reduced to 6 seats?

Given my extended Christmas leave I am amusing myself by catching up with Mike Smithson's Political Betting site and Martin Baxter's Electoral Calculus suggesting that we could be reduced to six seats at the next election. Whilst I think that is highly unlikely, our continued poor showing in the polls should give us all pause for thought. All the more reason for ensuring our policies are fresh, alternative and about starting with Trident???

Monday, January 01, 2007

Iain Dale.............who he?

Iain Dale........ah, now that name rings a bell.......wasn't he the Tory boy who got thoroughly trounced in the general by our Norman? Mmmm methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. I have to say I was rather amused on Saturday's the Week in Westminster to hear him boldly stating that we Lib Dems didn't know what our policies were (that's fine m'dear, but if you are going to make such a sweeping statement do at least attempt to provide some evidence) and then almost in the same breath admitting that the Tories didn't have any policies at all! And now he is apparently rubbing his hands with glee at three defections. Actually, so am I. If these three who(?)bodies are really Tories at heart, frankly we are better off without them. Anyone else feel the need to jump the fence? At this time of year pruning is quite healthy. This isn't to say I don't share some of the concerns about where we are going, but actually I do think our party is bigger than any one person and worth fighting for. Having been regularly approached by my two own pet Tory boys to defect, my response is always the same. Number one, it may be fun for five minutes but I couldn't see me lasting more than that before being chucked out; number two, imagine not having a party newspaper in which to debate and challenge; number three, imagine being part of a party where you have no say in party policy and are basically cannon fodder, and number four..........I'm old enough to remember the misery of Tory rule the last time. Leopards rarely change their spots, even if their smiles have been whitened.