Sunday, March 30, 2008

Southall Black Sisters and the unmasking of the real Tory Party

My pal Yasmin Whittaker Khan has an important article in today's Mail on Sunday about Tory Ealing's decision to cut funding for Southall Black Sisters. The article speaks for itself, but it certainly raised for me the specter of the reality of a possible future Tory Government and its presumed priorities. The warm and cuddly sheep's clothing that David Cameron is trying to wrap himself in is doing a reasonable job of hiding the wolf that is the reality of his party's values and priorities. Whilst the plaintiff cry of Neil Kinnock in 1983 anticipating a further Tory term - I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill and I warn you not to grow old, may equally be an epitaph for New Labour, were there a future Tory Government perhaps we should add - I warn you not to be black - I warn you not to be an asylum seeker - I warn you not to be disabled.........and if the experience of some of my friends is anything to go by, I warn you not to be gay.

True equality is never about "anyone can come here" it is about an honest recognition of the impact of discrimination and an appreciation that whilst we may all be equal, we are all also different, with vastly differing needs. To try to pretend anything else is a bit like pretending all disabled people use wheelchairs and all you need is a ramp and you have met your obligations under the DDA.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Brian Paddick on Any Qs

Brian Paddick has officially launched his campaign and has also done a stirling job on Any Questions today. He is particularly convincing when talking about dealing with some of the most disturbing elements of youth crime. But Brian, please stop saying you are not a politician. By virtue of your current role you are. Very few are born politicians (OK, maybe William Hague) some even do proper jobs before sliding into their safe seats..........but all, when they take on the mantle, take on the role.

Is Terrorism diverting us from addressing other threats to our society?

Terrorism is and will be for many years to come, a valid concern for our law makers. But I have heard a story this evening of someone who endured (and thankfully survived) a terrible and terrifying attack, someone who had foolishly got involved with a drug dealer.

This has really made me question whether we have got things arse-backwards when it comes to identifying the real threats to our society. The impact of terrorism is enormous. As a commuter I know only too well the shock waves that reverberated from 7/7, intensified by 21/7. No one travelling on public transport in London around that time can have failed to consider whether the same thing may happen again. The fear that terrorism breeds is precisely because it is so random. Despite the minuscule chances of any of us being caught up in a terrorist attack, the perception is that we are all at risk.

But that very fear of an unknown risk clouds our collective judgement when it comes to the known risks in all our communities. Probably because such risks largely impact upon a small sector of our community, we tend to ignore them. Yet, as we are seeing on a weekly basis, the scourge of the drugs trade and its link with the gang, gun and knife culture, is destroying lives every day of the week. Deaths from drug abuse, unless the victim is very young or very famous, go by largely unreported. Deaths of predominantly young black men from guns and knives attract attention and the resulting moral panic, yet very little changes. Is this because it rarely if ever really touches us?

We are blessed (or cursed) with a government that elevates perception above reality. It is demonstrated in so many of their policies and blind faith in focus groups. Maybe the electorate are more concerned about terrorism than drugs, but the threat from the drugs industry/culture surely is far more of a threat? Whether that is in the destroyed lives, or the clear link between drugs and crime, stealing to score, dealing, violence.......the sum total of the problem costs us all dear. Yet where is the investment? In rehab, for those in and outside of the criminal justice system? In prevention, providing real and sustained diversionary activities for young people? In pursuance and prosecution of those who are destroying so many of our children's futures?

Would that we had even a fraction of the sums set aside for fighting illegal wars, renewing useless and dangerous nuclear weapons, propping up irresponsible really say enough is enough and begin to tackle this problem. But, alas, whilst the "perception" is that this is somebody else's problem, more of our children will become hopelessly enslaved, or worse, have their lives destroyed or lost completely.

Shout out for new bloggers?

I am always pleased to see new women entering the blogosphere and happened upon Helen Duffett's new blog this afternoon. But it is also really good to see others (for example Paul Walter's mini me Alasdair Wood - heavens how can you manage 86 posts in one month and no leadership election?!) dipping their toes in the water, well in Alasdair's case jumping in at the deep end!

The only problem is keeping up with all the newcomers, so I wondered Stephen Tall et al, whether it would be possible to have a little shout out for all the new bloggers at the end of the Golden Dozen each week?

Just a thought.

Oh and by the way as I have already been told he was unrecognisable.........the blurry pic was a guy called Trev, good pal of Ken, dancing with me so he didn't have to dance with a certain Tory shadow famous for her shoes!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Our own Presidential Race - Ros or Lembit?

Autumn conference will be abuzz with yet another Lib Dem contest. This time the race to find a new President of the party when Simon Hughes stands down. Ros Scott has been the quickest of the mark, but Lembit Opek has also made clear his intention to stand. This, I have to confess, gives me a big problem. I had always intended to support Lembit, but that was before I knew Ros was standing, or even knew a lot about her. Since then what has most impressed me about her was the inspiration she was to my daughter when she spoke at a Gender Balance day in Cambridge a couple of months ago. If she can inspire one young woman like that she can inspire many and we need inspirational leadership in our party. Of course, I also have the added dilemma, as a woman who bangs on about representation at almost every opportunity, it would be great to see a woman as President.

Then there is Lembit! He is another inspirational character and incredibly supportive of greater equality and diversity in our party. There is no doubt that as President of the party he would attract publicity, although of course it may on occasions be a bit of a roller coaster ride!

Maybe it's time to start promoting job shares?

So, I have a dilemma about who I should support, a dilemma deepened by my concern that neither particularly have a reputation for being from the radical wing of the party. Regardless of my vociferous support for Nick Clegg, it has always been tempered (as he well knows) by a fear that we drift into orange waters. If we are to build this great party we need to increase the membership and if we are to do that we need a distinctive voice and a distinctive story. Nick brings this.........until the point when we start sounding like the other two Tory parties. There are many of us who are nervous about the elevation of the notion of choice above quality and an apparent love in with the private sector and a blind faith in their ability to deliver where pubic services can't - perfectly illustrated by David Laws' approach to education.

We have a natural connection with so many unaffiliated or disaffected political activists in the country. We need a President who can reach out to these people and show them they have a home with us. Those who care about preserving our liberal traditions, who support a more liberal approach to criminal justice, who care about ending child poverty, who care about creating a future for all our children that is sustainable and peaceful, who would prefer to spend the money from Trident on these objectives. But who worry about our perceived Tory tendencies. Democracy is not just undermined by unfair voting systems, it is also undermined by the power of unelected bodies, be they quangos, the media, or the boards of private companies.

So, given my dilemma, I have been taking soundings over the last few days........and on the basis that I could attract at least .001% of the vote, am considering standing myself, not because I could win of course, (I know, Paul Walter et al.......who is she?!) but because I want to ensure the debate includes the full spectrum of views from within the party as well as maybe spice things up a wee bit? To get a commitment from the front runners to be radical, to make diversity in the party their number one issue, to be prepared to be brave and bold. And dare I say it, a serious examination of discipline (or lack of it) in the party. I got into a little debate the other day with someone who shall remain nameless. This person did not want to stand for an office because they did not want to be bothered with a fight they knew they couldn't win, my response was "It's never stopped me!" And frankly democracy at whatever level is completely meaningless if it doesn't include a choice, otherwise why would most of us ever stand anywhere?!

Anyway, I have six months to pontificate.......and listen to my detractors and supporters this space!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jack Dromey.....Government Stooge?

Jack Dromey, husband of Harriet, treasurer (I know nothing) of the Labour Party, Deputy General Secretary of Unite..........champion of the masses, scourge of Gordon't think so!

I was interested to hear this evening that he is being touted as a potential chair of the planned Government's Agency Worker's Commission. Hmmmmm the body opposed by the Trade Union movement for the very simple reason, why do you need a commission into something that is blatantly wrong? It's a bit like having a commission to decide whether we should approve child labour, or slavery. The implication being that it might be alright to discriminate in the workplace. And, one wonders, how much will this Commission cost to tell us what the government want us to hear?

I trust this rumour is just that, a rumour, but, I'm not holding my breath!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Patricia Hewitt - a nice little earner

At a time when the credibility and the integrity of politicians is under enormous scrutiny in relation to feathering their own nests, I personally abhor anyone of any party who behaves in a way which further undermines that credibility and integrity. So the news this morning that Patricia Hewitt has taken on a role as a non exec director of BT, pocketing herself an additional £60,000 in the process wound me up a tad. It is not just the cosy relationship between senior politicians and big business and the suspicion that they may be feathering their future nest by being "helpful" as ministers, it is also the notion that the role of an MP is one that can be combined with another job, particularly one in a major private company.

So, I wonder what Patricia will stop doing that she is doing now in order to make herself available to BT? I wonder how available she will be to her constituents? I wonder when, if she has to choose between the interests of BT and her constituents where her loyalties will lie? I note that her website has a section "Working Hard for You" I trust that will soon have an entry explaining how her paid position for BT is working hard for her constituents. If she has time to spare I would suggest she would be better employed joining the board of a local charity and offering her experience and expertise to them.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In Defence of Faith

That rascal Millenium has been having a bit of an Easter rant, which prompted me to throw my tenpenneth in. There are many of faith and none who wind us all up endlessly. However, I just received a truly moving missive from someone I regard as a real spiritual mentor.

Elias (Abuna) Chacour is Archbishop of the Melkite Church in Israel. He is a man who is a refugee in his own country. As a dispossessed Palestinian he took the view that he had a choice, to become a terrorist, to become passive.......or to try to find a middle way. I have never in my life heard anyone speak so eloquently about the situation in Israel Palestine. He is a man, who throughout his house has one recurring biblical text "thou shalt not kill". This belief he has instilled in the children in his multi faith multi ethnic school in Galilee. The most moving story I heard from him about this was of when he was in Jerusalem for the inquest into the brutal killing of one of his pupils Asil Asleh during the last Intafada. (Asil, one of the brightest pupils in the school, was watching a protest, wearing his "Seeds of Peace" T Shirt, from behind an olive tree when he was shot in the neck). He was in the court and saw one of his ex pupils, a young man from the Druze community, shackled and handcuffed. He asked why he was there, the young man replied that he had refused to serve in the army and so had been imprisoned, he said "Abuna (Arabic for Father), I remembered what you said, that we should not kill".

Elias has been in poor health and is dealing with a difficult situation as an advocate for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. He does not have the luxury to worry about "straining the gnats" as do some of our fellow Christians in this country. He worries about what he can do to advance the cause of peace. Most moving for me in his Easter message were his words "For a very long time I have given up worrying about how long I shall live. Rather I am worried about what do I live for." Whether we are of faith or of none, I trust that this is a sentiment that would strike a chord with all of us.


Is it time to "Sex up" the blog?

I have had a very weird kind of day. Not one for public consumption, but pals are welcome to call me for the lowdown! So now I am recovering by trying my hand at updating me blog. Many have complained about it, not least the esteemed Paul Walter. So being as I have a night in and am not much of a TV addict I am trying to be clever and add "widgets"......but not quite sure what I am doing...........Duncan...........HELP!!!!I am also considering changing the template. All assistance gratefully received, but be warned if it all goes pearshaped.

You've got to Hand it to him........the Tories in Turmoil

On Tuesday evening I was sat in Portcullis having a quick cuppa with Bedford MP Patrick Hall to lobby him on behalf of a local charity, when I received a phone call from Toryboy Cllr Peter Hand to ask if I had seen the Beds on Sunday website. I hadn't, but he informed me that he had decided to stand against his group leader on the County Council, Madeline Russell, which was now big news in Bedford! I had no sooner put the phone down than it rang again. This time it was my other Toryboy, Cllr Andrew McConnell - had I seen the Beds on Sunday website. No...........but clearly there was great excitement in the anti-establishment Tory ranks! There is clearly disquiet about Madeline's decision to go on wasting local tax payers money pursuing a judicial review with regard to the unitary decision. Sure, if Beds CC was a high performing authority there may be an argument, but they have sadly failed the people of Bedfordshire miserably for years.

I have to confess, I did not personally have that good a relationship with Madeline when I worked for Beds CC. It may have had something to do with the fact that she tried to get me disciplined twice. Firstly for writing a critical letter to the Beds on Sunday, clearly stating I was doing so as a Lib Dem councillor. All my previous letters (written as Branch Secretary of Unison) she had ignored, but as soon as I wrote as a councillor the knives were out. Secondly was when she demanded to see my line-manager and the Director of Education at 7.30am because of an email I had sent regarding the Stop the War campaign. This included advice to school students on school protests against the war and was sent to a colleague who then sent it on to a pupil in a local school. The allegation was that I was inciting students to walk out, despite the fact that the email had not been sent to a single young person. Of course the fact that my daughter then lead her school out later that week didn't really help! So I have to say I saw her as someone who was a tad vindictive and submerged in the same sort of ideological dogma as her predecessors, a mantra of private good, public bad that really did so much damage.

Anyway, if I had a vote, I know who I would be voting for, good on you Peter, never any harm in stirrin' the pot!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Conference............................Highlights and Lowlights

OK, two weeks late, what do they say about old news being only fit for chip paper? Well, I'll take a risk and say my piece for what it may or may not be worth.

It was the first conference I have attended with my children (and grandchild - heavens I didn't think I'd have to wait that long!) - but it was worth the wait as both came back really enthused and wanting to book for autumn. But it has to be said, I did miss the freedom of coming and going as I pleased - and missed some debates in the process. However, highlights were:

  • Nick's speech - an excellent, inspiring and confident performance. He reminded me of why I supported him, I may not always agree with him on his methodology but I absolutely agree with his objectives. Just a little niggle about tax which I have already said a bit about, but otherwise a performance that left my children reflecting that if everyone had the opportunity to hear that speech they would have to vote for him.
  • The debate on Gaza. This was a difficult issue where there are well known differences of opinion within the party. There was a slight revision, but I was totally supportive of calling for a review of the EU Israel Association Agreement. Ed Davey was not and spoke against. But, conference clearly supported the move and the motion was passed intact. Given Ed had pledged to be guided by party policy on Middle East issues I did corner him afterwards to ensure he did so in this case as well. He pointed out that having lost his amendment he had then supported the main motion - so I look forward to him taking up this important issue.
  • Health - I did have a card in and have to confess to torturing my children by forcing them to sit through the whole thing in the expectation that their mum may be called............but she wasn't. But amended it looks like a good motion we can move forward on.
  • Gender Balance Bloggers Award - this was just too exciting, having never been nominated for anything in my life - the taking part was nail - biting. I have to say, I have actually only won one contest in my life. That was the sack race when I was 12. Oh, unless you count political contests of course! There was a great atmosphere and I have to say that I absolutely agree with judges in awarding the prize to Alix. She is a fabulous writer who writes with humour, intelligence and finesse, comprende......I just SHOUT! But it was great fun and I enjoyed being interviewed by Ros Scott, though it highlighted for me my dilemma in deciding who to back in the Presidential race.
  • Simon Hughes singing in the Glee Club...........awesome!
  • Lembit (just for being Lembit!)
  • Ed Fordham for his incredible sense of humour, when he is elected he will be SUCH an asset to our parliamentary party.......making politics real, popping pomposity and capturing the imagination of the electorate............are we ready for him? Oh yes!!!!

So, low lights?

  • The distance between the conference hotel and conference centre, this was particularly difficult for my daughter given that the creche was at the hotel.
  • Not enough time, catching people so briefly, especially my dear pal Colin Ross, who I spoke to for at least..........5 minutes!
  • The cost of accommodation, way over the top. In Harrogate I normally pay £30 a night. OK, I had extras with my family but I ended up paying £350. We cannot begin to think about being an inclusive party if the only members who can afford to attend are those who can afford those kind of prices.
  • Getting totally lost in the middle of Liverpool when my TomTom went completely loopy!

So, a great time was had by all I trust.

Now off out with pal Yas, who always seems to forget I am a granny and not quite up to partying all night.........the scary thing is that son Ravi is out in town too, I am sure he wouldn't appreciate bumping into mummy!

Looz Snooze

Oh dear another manic week and no chance to put my 10penneth or even 100penneth in on all that is going on. Someone has asked if I have fallen asleep, no just been charging round the country, yesterday turning up in Stoke for an event that had happened the day before!

Suffice to say, it is all stored on the memory chip in my brain........

Monday, March 17, 2008

Have I left it toooo late to start chatting about Spring Conference?!

When £24,000,000 just ain't enough

There are days when the divide between rich and poor are highlighted rather as in the biblical story of Lazarus (a poor beggar) and the rich man (who ignored him). Today is one such day. Heather Mills, bleating about only getting £24 million in her divorce settlement, clearly distraught at how she will manage. What planet does she inhabit? I am sorry, but frankly if the most important thing in her life is her finances I feel really sorry for her. There are many many single mothers in this country who would consider themselves lucky if they had 1% of that kind of money to support their children. Heather dear, get a life, grow up and perhaps redeem yourself somewhat by giving maybe 1% of what you have been awarded to a charity like Gingerbread/One Parent Families. Or would that leave you a bit short?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Protestors............a threat to the state?

Yesterday, with pals Sharon, Jim, Kerry and Jane, I joined the thousands in Trafalgar Square for the Stop the War march. We were reflecting that we didn't think we would still be here 5 years later, reminiscing about our local protests at the time the war started and our planned protest in the Commons that didn't quite go to plan and ended with Sharon being arrested. What really wound us up was being filmed by the police. We got a right cock and bull story from the officer we quizzed. He insisted they were filming the people behind us, who were there to cause trouble. First of all he said the reason they filmed was to put people off causing trouble. Then he said it was because later on, very late when we had all gone home, these naughty souls would be out with masks on and they needed the videos to be able to identify them by their clothes. He also said that he wouldn't get home much before 2am since these troublemakers would be running him ragged. After we had left him we wondered why we didn't ask why he didn't just arrest these people when they started causing trouble?

On the way home, around 6.30 we detoured past Parliament Square, just to see where these troublemakers sign of them or the police! We chatted to Brian Haw, who confirmed our view that what we had been told was a load of nonsense. He told us of when he was assaulted by the police earlier this year, pushing his video camera into his face as he filmed a demo he wasn't involved in. But apparently, we can ask to have copies of the films we are on. We think the best thing is for everyone who has ever been at any demo that has been filmed by the FIT teams should write in and ask for a copy of the film.

Friday, March 14, 2008

We are happy for you to fight our wars, but don't expect us to look after you when you get home.

I received an email today bemoaning the fact that the "useless excuses politicians" were doing so little for wounded servicemen and women. So please show them that some politicians and political activists do care about the scandalous way our forces personnel continue to be treated and sign the petition - details below.

Denzil Connick, secretary of the South Atlantic Medal Association, has organised a petition to the prime minister for better care for wounded soldiers. The link is here. Denzil, was seriously wounded while serving with The Third Battalion of The Parachute Regiment in the Falklands and is still being treated for his injuries. He is due to go into hospital in the next week or two for yet another major operation. Many of the youngsters serving today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan - along with those already wounded - will, like Denzil, face years of pain and treatment. This is your chance to do something to try to help them and it will only take a couple of minutes of your time. One of Denzil's sons has already served in Iraq twice and is on yet another tour of duty in Afghanistan. His other son is a submariner. Denzil has asked for this message to be passed to as many people as possible and urges you to sign - and to get others to sign as well. So please sign and then pass on the link to those you feel should know.

When your feet don't touch the ground!

Well, it has been that kind of a week for me, the frustration that it came after a fascinating Spring Conference with me as you may imagine having quite a lot to say, not least about Gaza, Nick's speech and David Law's question time.

It was the first time my children (Ravi 19 and Lara 21) and grandchild (Sumaiyah 1) had attended conference. Lara had her appetite whetted after she attended the Nick/Chris hustings in Cambridge last year, followed by a Gender Balance inspiration day.........which clearly did what it said on the tin! She managed to persuade her brother to come too and both thoroughly enjoyed themselves, the highlight for both of them being Nick's speech. Although, it has to be said, Lara thought he should have slagged off the other parties a little less!

So, having got home Sunday evening I then headed off to Edinburgh the following day. I did write a couple of posts on my Blackberry, but sadly someone assassinated it on Tuesday died a terrible death, taking my posts with it! So, when I eventually get home I may get round to shouting the odds about a few this space!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Twisted Knickers, Nick Clegg and the Blogosphere

For a change, some may say, I have been doing a bit of reflecting today. I happen to believe abstention yesterday was a mistake, so I have pontificated on the alternatives. Unpalatable as it may be, I would have had to support the Tory amendment, for reasons I have elaborated on elsewhere. So. Let's look at the position Nick found himself in. Mr Ming had already done the deal with Mr Gordo. He had done a public about turn, but come up with the in/out wheeze. What was Nick to do? Pour scorn on the memory of the great Ming by reverting back to our previous policy?

Let's face it, Nick had four alternatives.
*1 - vote for
*2 - vote against
*3 - abstain
*4 - allow a free vote

Option *1 - vote for. My preferred option. But, not everyone in the parliamentary party's preferred option. Many of them argue that the Lisbon Treaty is not the same as the Constitution, so there would have been a rebellion.
Option *2 - vote against. Can't understand why anyone would vote against, however...........not everyone in the parliamentary party's preferred option. Many of them argue that the Lisbon Treaty is the same as the Constitution, so there would have been a rebellion.
Option *3 - abstain. Open to lots of criticisms of sitting on the fence. However, not everyone in the parliamentary party's preferred option, many of them argue that the Lisbon Treaty is the same as the there would have been a rebellion.
Option *4 - free vote. Hey............this is where it gets really interesting! This, given all of the above, seemed to me the most sensible option. However, consequence? A potential 3 way split!

There is no doubt Nick was in a catch 22 whatever he did. So did he choose the least worst option? Maybe we will never know. The fact is that we are where we are. My personal opinion is that how ever Europhiliac we are as a party, our party is about far far more than Europe. There are urgent issues facing our country which will be there regardless of Lisbon or Maastricht or any other blinkin treaty!!!!! I for one believe Nick has been highlighting some enormously important issues, whether they be Mental Health, the Criminal Justice System, ID cards, Social Mobility or Education. All of which will continue to be issues whether or not we sign the Lisbon Treaty.

So, my advice to Nick is...........hold your nerve, don't be deflected, focus on your goals. When you are breaking new ground you are bound to hit a few bumps in the road - the test of your leadership will be whether you allow them to deflect you, or whether you get right back on track.

And, my advice to some of my fellow blogonistas is............get over it.

The Bedfordshire is dead, long live the Bedford!

Just received the great news that Bedford is to be a new unitary authority. For the people of Bedford, who have been sold short by a Tory County Council who think it is OK to pour their resources disproportionately into their heartlands and have sold Bedford short for many years, this is welcome news indeed. John Healey also announced two new authorities in Cheshire. The analysis is that this reorganisation will result in savings of £18million, one wonders why the County is still wasting tax payers money and pursuing judicial review, but why break the habit of a life time?

During my time as Branch Secretary I had to deal with so much fall out from botched privatisations and blinkered dogmatism. There was the privatisation of the school meals service "saving" £1million. Yes, the service cost £1million less because the amount spent on school meals was slashed by over a third! The County also then ended up with a £4million bill for cutting terms and conditions prior to the eventual privatisation. So where was the saving? Who benefited? Not the children, they had even less nutrition, not the workers, they had their terms and conditions cut, not the people of Bedfordshire, they had a net loss...........aaaah was the private company and their shareholders!

Then there was the company that took over payroll. They were really good, we had members coming in who had been paid 10 times what they were due and 10% of what they were due! I remember an occasion when I was sat in the public gallery watching a full council meeting. We had chatted to one of the Labour councillors at lunch who then asked the leader of the council how the "Partnership Programme" was going, he puffed out his chest and did a resume of what a success it was. "That's funny" said our councillor friend, "I was just talking to the union and....." . I have never seen that leader so red in the face, there was scurrying and whispering behind the chair and the head of HR was dispatched up into the gallery to give me a ticking off. "Cllr X says...if you ever embarrass the leader of the council like that again you will lose your facilities agreement." My reply "You go back and tell Cllr X if he wants to see me do embarrassment he has seen nothing yet....I have enough material to keep the local paper happy for weeks to come!"

Oh, and then there was the piece de resistance, HBS - "Strategic Partnership", a £267million contract that went belly up after four years. We tried to tell them, honest. We produced a report in 2000 - Bedfordshire, Failing Best Value - which was then followed by another in 2005 (after I had left) Strategic Partnership in Crisis. How much did that debacle end up costing the long suffering people of Bedfordshire?

Having got an email via Luton Campaigners, I then had a call from my erstwhile fellow councillor, Toryboy Andrew McConnell. He is celebrating by booking a holiday over election week, given that there will now be no elections here in May. I had a very pleasant evening with Andrew on Sunday (always good to catch up on the goss) and he was telling me how hard he was working to hang onto his seat, being as it will inevitably fall to us next time (my analysis not his - but given we took one of his ward seats last year the writing is on the wall!).

I am sorry for the many lovely people that I know from County Hall and I trust that Unison will work hard to ensure they get TUPEd over successfully, but I am not sorry at the demise of an authority that has caused so many people such misery because of the extreme right wing, blinkered, ideology of some of the leading Tory councillors.

Jacqui Smith.......the political equivalent of a Dalek

I don't know why the news this morning that Jacqui Smith is banging on with ID Card plans, with the same old sterile arguments, made me think of a Dalek. OK she isn't exactly telling us all that she will exterminate, but she is using the same repetitive technique "we will have ID Cards, we will have ID Cards". It appears it doesn't matter what the evidence against ID Cards, she continues the mantra. So I was amused when I was looking for a nice pic of a Dalek and I found this Ad:

EXTERMINATE ALL INTRUDERS- Dalek Sec is ready to protect your bedroom. A full size re-inforced cardboard cut out of Dalek Sec - ready for action ! * Please note a one off £5.00 surcharge will be charged to your payment card due to the additional postage

A metaphor for the ID Card?!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Well Done David Heath and Tim Farron

It could have all been so different........a free vote? The outcome would have been the same. But, frankly it has been a bit of a cockup, however, a cockup that Nick Clegg can and will ride out. Primarily because none of us have all our eggs in the European basket and he has much to say about issues that impact upon our society far more than Europe. And secondly because this has demonstrated the maturity of our party. Both David Heath and Tim Farron did us proud this evening. This was a single issue on which they felt their loyalty to their constituents and their consciences came before their loyalty to their leader. They both made it abundantly clear that their resignations were on the basis of that one issue and that in every other respect they supported Nick. Can it be said of many other high profile resignations in the other parties (with the possible exception of Robin Cook), that they went with equal dignity and decorum? Bitterness and bile may be a fairer assessment.

So, regardless of what the press may want to read into the shenanigins of today, there is no "split" in the party. There is a divergence of views,on a single issue, this is quite different.

Of course, I still think this demonstrates the folly of stepping away from party policy and making it up on the hoof. Be sure, it will come back and bite you in the bottom!

Healthcare not Warfare

I have decided to start posting a few more of the missives I get from across the pond. This is the latest from PDA (Progressive Democrats of America). We may moan about our health service, but:

For several years now, the news media have identified healthcare and the war in Iraq as key issues in American politics. But very little of the reporting or the punditry goes beneath the buzz-word surfaces to the human realities that span from local hospitals to a faraway war. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,” Martin Luther King Jr. said 40 years ago, “is approaching spiritual death.” Today, nearly one in six Americans has no health insurance, and tens of millions of others are woefully under-insured--while the war in Iraq continues to further skew the U.S. government’s budget priorities.By launching the national “Healthcare Not Warfare” campaign , Progressive Democrats of America is moving ahead with a grassroots opportunity to turn from warfare to healthcare for all. While growing ever since it came into existence four years ago, PDA has been working with--and, more often, pushing--Democrats in Congress to end the occupation of Iraq. And, integral to its progressive program, PDA has been mobilizing support behind H.R. 676, the bill to create a universal single payer system to guarantee healthcare for all.

While the news media and all too many politicians simply treat “war” and “healthcare” as isolated issues, PDA is organizing for a fundamental shift in policies and priorities. Four decades after Dr. King decried “the madness of militarism,” we see how that madness continues to have wide-ranging and devastating effects, whether in our own communities or in Iraq. Recognizing and spotlighting the profound differences between “the leadership” and forthright leadership for peace and social justice, PDA has become a dogged presence on Capitol Hill and--most importantly--in congressional districts around the country. The impacts of PDA activism continue to grow with the organization.Of course we’re up against massive concentrations of economic power. Total U.S. military spending is now in the vicinity of $2 billion per day. And, likewise, the medical business in the United States is a rapacious corporate force.Rose Ann DeMoro, the executive director of the California Nurses Association / National Nurses Organizing Committee, recently pointed out: “As premiums have ballooned by 87 percent in the past decade, insurance-industry profits have climbed from $20.8 billion in 2002 to $57.5 billion in 2006. During that same period, health-care interests spent $2.2 billion on federal lobbying, more than did any other sector...”In the midst of a political system with economic powerhouses largely dictating public policy, our only hope involves persistent organizing for humanistic priorities. PDA’s launch of the “Healthcare Not Warfare” campaign goes to the heart of our current predicament and our goals for the future--a society and a world that nurture human life and social justice.Click here to learn more about the “Healthcare Not Warfare” campaign, and don’t forget to sign the petition!

Nick Clegg...........a dollop of dissent is good for you!

Nothing wrong with a bit of dissent, that's what I think - the political equivalent of having your ears syringed!

So, whilst I think the party was misguided in the opposition to a referendum on Lisbon (which I have already banged on about at great length), I for one am not getting my knickers in a twist over the front bench resignations. Nick and some of his frontbenchers didn't agree, get over it. He will look the stronger for having stuck to his guns, they will look the stronger for having stuck to theirs. There was always an element of playing to the gallery in all of this. Everyone just has to hold their nerve and get back to business as usual. As it turns out, even if the whole of our parliamentary party had voted in favour of a referendum it would still have been lost. So, I personally think we missed a trick, but then who am I? The really serious issue now is ensuring Mr Blair doesn't end up as European President!

Nick Clegg on Dissent on Europe on Today

Nick Clegg has just been interviewed on Today, you can listen again here. In response to an interview with Sandra Gidley, who will be voting in favour of a referendum because that is what her constituents expect, Nick said "Not a single Lib Dem MP committed to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, it was on the Constitution" his view was that since the Constitution gathered together all pre existing treaties if it was rejected there would be nothing to cling to. The Lisbon Treaty however is just a series of amendments and the referendum would not deal with the fundamentals of the Constitution. Yes, Nick. However, the fact is that despite the Constitution having been rejected, there is everything to cling to, we still have all the original treaties, they never fell when the Constitution fell, did they? So given they are all still in place it is a fact that the Lisbon Treaty, if accepted, will have 95% of the original intention of the Constitution. Regardless of my own view on Europe, the fact is, as I have said before, I think we are being disingenuous with our current argument against a referendum on Lisbon.

It seems to me that we are tying ourselves in knots. There is talk this morning that there may be a "question and a half" amendment today which would have an add on for an in/out question. This would be a good compromise, I trust, if it emerges, our parliamentary party will see it as such.

Looz Muze..........the truth will out!

Ever wondered why I got involved in Politics? What my best and worst blogging experiences have been? Who my political heroes may be? Well, fellow blogger Paul Burgin has just interviewed me for his 20 Questions series here. You may be surprised, shocked, delighted........or terribly disappointed!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

In it to win it!

Last Monday I met with the "In it to win it" group of Euro candidates, initiated by Catherine Bearder and Kay Barnard. Left to right are Dinti Batstone(London) Ed Maxfield(East Midlands) Kay Barnard(South West) me, Phil Benyon (West Midlands) and Catherine Bearder (South East) - Chris Foote-Wood from North East also attended.

I have to say it was one of the most inspirational meetings I have been in in a long time. We are all not only "In it to win it" we are also all 100% up for making the next Euro Elections our best results ever! We all believe we have a unique opportunity to really move forward and take Lib Dem ground. We are known as the pro Europe party, so let's stop doing the Fawlty Toweresque - "don't mention Europe" routine and nail our colours firmly to the mast. We also need to recognise that if we take ground in the European elections it gives us a broader base for taking future Westminster seats.

So, we will work together to encourage the party to take the Euro elections as seriously as they do the Westminster elections. It feels as if our campaigns department is not a whole party campaigns operation, but a target seat campaign department. This leaves the method of PR elections adrift from planning strategy and our feeling was that the party should put in the resources to support PR elections which in turn will benefit the party.

We are all keen that the forthcoming Euro campaign is positive and bold. Emphasising the benefits we have all accrued from Europe but also being prepared to be a critical friend and campaign hard on the issues of concern.

We are all "In it to Win it" ..............are you?

Gaza.........time to nail our colours to the mast

Bob Shaw has helpfully posted the Emergency Motion being submitted to conference on Gaza. It is an excellent motion and I trust it will engender an important debate. I am particularly pleased to see the reference to the European Association Agreement, an issue I raised with Ed Davey last week. Given his commitment to be guided by party policy I trust this motion will be resoundingly supported. I am only sorry that given it is an emergency motion it will have very little time for debate. If you are going to conference I hope you will take the time to attend the emergency debate and support this motion. Please don't wait for there to be the Holocaust forecast by Israeli Deputy Defence Minister, Matan Vilnai last week.

Gaza - the innocent victims of war
A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting at Portcullis about Gaza and I have been remiss in not writing it up. There were a number of extremely moving speeches, foremost amongst them Manuel Hassassian, a man who doesn't pull his punches. He talked about the Palestinian people's continuing belief in peace - stating that the end of the occupation was the aim of their struggle - and the creation of an economically viable entity. He said "Our hopes are entangled with pessimism" the story is of more incursions, (including in the West Bank) and the building of more illegal settlements. There were appalling stories of killing, the total isolation of Gaza and what in Manuel's view, amounted to ethnic cleansing.

He talked about what was happening on the ground and the Annapolis Conference. But, as he rightly observed the sticking points are Jerusalem and the Right of Return. I was at a UN conference in Brussels last year where Danny Rubenstein (Haaretz) talked about the issue of the Right of Return being a red line for the Jewish state. They could not and would not agree, since that would spell the end of the Jewish state. (Incidentally he got a lot of criticism for having referred to the Israeli state as apartheid). Similarly, Palestinians do not want a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital.

Manuel stressed that there must be an end to the occupation. He acknowledged the $7.4 billion pledges which the donor countries thought would promote economic development. But how would it ever be possible to develop the economy with 600 checkpoints when children can't reach school, or Jerusalem, or their villages, and with the total isolation of Gaza? He said that Israel is consistent, both Fatah and Hamas politicians are imprisoned. He regarded this as a systematic approach because they don't want democracy for Palestine.

He complained about the collective punishment that Israel, who never left Gaza, is imposing on the Gazans, they are effectively imprisoned. They are trying to put themselves on an equal footing, but just can't resist the superior power of Israel. He felt that any notion of the Israeli action being self-defence, was just hypocricy. Also that the European community could do more instead of bolstering the occupation.

Despite everything Manuel is still committed to a two state solution - with contiguity for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders - that was the compromise. Instead the current process was resulting in a confiscation of 50% of the West Bank and the isolation of East Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Other speakers, such as Richard Burden MP reflected on the impact on ordinary Gazans of the current situation. The sanctions against them were indiscriminate and counter productive. The siege is resulting in a lack of power supply of 8 hours a day at least. And Gaza are dependent on Israel for power, of course they would be less dependent if their power station hadn't been bombed. The powercuts in hospitals were particularly devastating and the current situation couldn't go on. There should be a recognition of the root of the problem - it's the occupation stupid! Gaza is a prison without a roof. There is also the issue of water and the control of water. The occupation is about control. Control of water, power, access to goods. The people of Gaza want to know they have solidarity and support outside. Richard reiterated the view that until the occupation is ended there will be no progress. The current Israeli solution is not a solution at all.

Dr Daud Abdullah from the Muslim Council of Britain mentioned the natural gas in the waters of Gaza which they are unable to exploit. He wondered, if it were Israel under siege - how would the West react? He spoke movingly about the impact of the denial of medicine and food in Gaza, of candlelit wards with babies dying in incubators for lack of power, and reflected that Palestinians were being killed on a 55 to 1 ratio. There are daily tragedies where people can't get through checkpoints, like the 67 year old woman who could not get through for vital treatment. There was real concern that plans were already in place for an all out invasion of Gaza he urged that we shouldn't give legitimacy to further bloodletting we needed to give hope. In order for there to be true reconciliation there had to be a just settlement.

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein from ICAHD spoke about the fact that there was not a viable Palestinian state, the Israeli government were employing the practice of divide and rule. She reminded us that Britain bears some of the reponsibility and we should assume some leadership. Angela, an Israeli citizen said you don't let your friends drive drunk, Israel must be pressured to allow freedom of movement. IDF cannot be allowed to continue as they are and the EU Trade Association Agreement should be suspended. She described what was happening as apartheid and believed that sanctions must be threatened. Funding for Israel should be stopped or they will obliterate Gaza. She believed Israel was creating the ghetto that they feared. Hamas ceasefire offers had been rejected. She said that Israel had no respect for international law and were guilty of serious war crimes. She called for the British Government to have some moral courage and expressed her feeling that there was a crisis of leadership with no one to speak into the situation.

This was a couple of weeks ago and clearly things have moved on. The feared major invasion could be days away. What is happening in Gaza is a tragedy for Palestinian people, but is equally a tragedy for the people of Israel. There can be no progress on peace whilst the Israeli state continues to behave as a special case, relying on it's protector the US government to condone and turn a blind eye to its flouting of international law, the Geneva Convention and human rights. Like Angela, I long for the emergence of leadership, wherever it may come from and for a leader who has the metal to stand up to bullies, whoever they are. As a party we can begin to show some of that leadership, I trust we will.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Never Argue with a Woman!

I am sure like everyone. I get a lot of jokey emails from pals, but this one really appealed to me!

One morning, the husband returns the boat to their lakeside cottage after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap.Although not familiar with the lake, his wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance, anchors, puts her feet up, and begins to read her book. The peace and solitude are magnificent. Along comes a Fish and Game Warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside the woman and says, "Good morning, Ma'am. What are you doing?" "Reading a book," she replies, (thinking, "Isn't that obvious?"). "You're in a Restricted Fishing Area," he informs her. "I'm sorry, officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading." "Yes, but I see you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment . I'll have to take you in and write you up." "If you do that, I'll have to charge you with sexual assault," says the woman. "But I haven't even touched you," says the Game Warden. "That's true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment." "Have a nice day ma'am," and he left.

2 out of 3 support party position on in/out referendum

You can read all about it here. I am very happy about this and maybe I should eat my previous words on this subject? I am going to have a think about that and come back to you!

Up on the Roof with Ed Davey?

Last week, along with my fellow bloggers, I had the great treat of interviewing Ed Davey. Gavin, Milly, Meral and James and James have already blogged about it, but afraid I am late as ever, but not as late as Jonny it seems, so that makes me feel better!

Ed is such an asset to our party, although I have to admit I haven’t always thought that (!) coming as I do from a different wing of the party. But it has to be said he has been growing on me for some time, particularly as I have seen him in action in FPC and his actions last week in leading the walk out of the commons, has sent him into the upper echelons of my political heroes. I tried to get a badge for him with “My Hero” on, but unable to find one I had to settle for “I’m hot”……..which I trust he will wear at conference! I have to say that when I heard that there were protestors on the roof of the Commons, my first thought was ‘must be our Ed revolting again, Go Ed!’ sadly it wasn’t Ed, however I am sure we will see him there in due course!

So, although I have seen quite a lot of Ed over the last couple of years, what struck me about our interview was his huge energy and commitment to his new job. Foreign Affairs must surely be one of the most daunting tasks, you will be expected to have an in depth knowledge on what is going on in the world from the obvious to the obscure. Ed recognises he has a lot to learn, what he clearly brings that is fresh to the role is his incredible campaigning ability, this was evident in our interview.

My fellow bloggers have given a fantastic summary of what he said, so I am going to focus and comment on a couple of issues close to my heart.

Ed spoke very movingly about his values and the huge dilemma of judging whether peace or justice is more important. His conclusion, that there is often more justice from peace, struck a chord. His reflection that as a nation we had undermined our ability to argue due to having engaged in an illegal war was a powerful one.

I particularly wanted to get a feeling for Ed’s position on Israel/Palestine. His response was balanced and reflective. I had asked him about Nick’s challenge that as a party we needed to take more risks, and wondered what risks he thought we should be taking in the Middle East. He was calling for divestment in Sudan, would he do the same with regards to Israel? His view was that we must be even handed and not risk making the problem worse in a number of disputes. He talked about upholding Human Rights, so I felt I had to challenge him about the appalling human rights record of Israel, not just in relation to the Palestinian communities within the West Bank and Gaza, but also in relation to the treatment of the 20% Palestinian Israeli citizens. I wondered if we should support the UN call for the suspending the EU Association Agreement which puts a clear responsibility on Israel to uphold Human Rights. Ed said he would be guided by the policy passed at autumn conference, a policy that had the support of both Friends of Palestine and Friends of Israel. So was I happy with his response? I understood it, but I was disappointed. I think it is the approach which sees the Israel Palestine conflict as rather like naughty boys fighting who just need their heads banging together to get them to stop, that has held up the peace process. It is not that sort of problem and I say this as someone who for most of my life was a strong supporter of Israel, it was only after visiting the country that my own quite Zionist views were challenged. I have two metaphors which I believe sum up the situation. When people talk about compromise I would say, if you come into my home, take over, push me into the back bedroom and allow me only limited access to the kitchen and bathroom, is a compromise to allow me a little more access to the kitchen and bathroom and give me another bedroom? I don’t think so. And when people talk about the need for reconciliation (which I absolutely believe in and think can happen on a personal level to a limited degree) I would argue, if you are sitting on my head – I may need you to get off my head before I can be reconciled to you. If in the process of sitting on my head you blacked my eye and broke my nose, I may think I need an apology before I can be reconciled to you. And if in the process of me trying to get you to stop sitting on my head I kicked you where it hurts, I may also need to apologise to you too before we could be reconciled. The State of Israel has a right to exist, whatever the rights and wrongs of 1948, we are where we are and we have to live with the consequences. But the occupation is illegal, plain and simple! We don’t do Israel any favours by colluding and supporting the occupation because we are supporting injustice. We don’t do the Palestinian people any favours by supporting Hamas attacks on civilian targets. So, I would like us to take a much stronger line on this. If we allow Israel to get away with violations of human rights, international law and to breach the Geneva Convention, we have absolutely no moral authority to complain about any other nation doing the same.

Thanks to the questions of my fellow bloggers I felt we began to get a real feel for the measure of the man and what he will bring to his new role. He takes a particular interest in Sri Lanka (of interest to me as my children are half Sri Lankan) and clearly has wrestled with the issue of trying to bring peace to that troubled island. Another beautiful place, torn apart by conflict, another legacy, as my ex husband would see it, of the British ability to screw up! But he recognised the lessons that we have learnt from the Northern Ireland peace process and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.

I was interested in the position he is taking in nuclear disarmament. Of course I do not agree with our current party policy on Trident (still trying to get it brought up again) but Ed is convinced that there is now more political will on this issue, particularly coming from the US in the likes of Henry Kissinger and George Shultz in an article published in the Wall Street Journal “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”. This was also taken up my Barack Obama later last year. And of course Ed is also spearheading our campaign on Ballistic Missile Defence, something I expect him to do extremely effectively.