Monday, January 25, 2010

Nick Clegg and the Labour Death-Rattle

And now a Tory prepared to heap praise on Nick Clegg. Matthew d'Ancona in yesterday's Torygraph predicts that the Chilcot inquiry will be Labour's death-rattle, in the course of which he refers to Gordon Brown's imminent appearance saying "Gordon, thanks to the nimble political footwork of the ever-more-confident Nick Clegg, is now committed to taking the stand before the general election."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Brendan Barber - in Praise of Nick Clegg?

OOOOOOOOOHHHHH - and another one! The Labour apparatchiks are falling over themselves to praise our man. Could it be the penny is at last beginning to drop? I do hope so. As a great supporter of and believer in, the trade union movement, I am not a Lib Dem by accident. I look forward to the day when my old pals wake up and smell the coffee, "New Labour" has betrayed the movement - at every turn.

So Kevin Maguire is succeeded by none other than TUC general secretary Brendan Barber in heaping praise on Nick Clegg over the Cadbury take over. Now, as I have mentioned before, my only dealings with BB were when we spent a good few hours at Transport House in a roundtable trying to resolve an interunion dispute - this was around 7 years ago - the dispute is still unresolved (!). But one thing that struck me was that he was an incredibly fair man, a good listener and someone who wasn't going to be railroaded by anyone.

Apparently Nick met with him a couple of weeks ago and I have no doubt that will have prepared the ground for Mr B to be so publicly appreciative of his intervention in PMQs yesterday. I hope what he has realised is that he and Nick may not have a meeting of minds on many things, but in him we have a leader with great integrity who will not be guided by the latest focus group or vested interest, be that of union or big business. I hope that he will have realised that Nick is someone who will stand up against unfairness, injustice, oppression and downright greed and dishonesty. I hope he may, perhaps in an unguarded moment. recognise that the interests of those many of his members (myself included) he seeks to represent, may be better served if he hitched his wagon elsewhere.

Kevin Maguire - in Praise of Nick Clegg?

One thing I like about Kevin Maguire is that he has a rare quality of being a Labour hack prepared to give praise where praise is due. Yesterday was one such day - a perceptive blog from yr man - my favourite bits - on Osborne "Shakespeare was still writing tragedies when Invisible Tory George Osborne last had the confidence to hold a press conference" on Nick Clegg "Labour tribalists sounded foolish mocking Nick Clegg's questions about why state-owned RBS is bankrolling Kraft's takeover of Cadbury. Many Labour MPs silently agreed with the Lib Dem leader. If today had been an election TV debate, Clegg would've won the public vote on this one"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hungry and Scared.......

.......the Indy has this story about 9 year old Haitian Wideline - when asked about how she felt, living in squalor in an orphanage, having lost her parents, her only possession the tartan dress on her back - she said - hungry and scared.

One of the frighteningly numbing effects of disaster is that we can lose sight of the human impact - the 70,000 - 200,000 - 1,000.000 lives lost are all nameless, faceless, remote, other. Coming face to face with the countless survivors, like Wideline, reminds of the humanity of all. If we feel powerless in the face of injustice, inequality and poverty in our own land, how much more when we hear of the unbearable tragedy unfolding on the other side of the globe...........

I have never been to Haiti - my connection has only been through Haitians who have emigrated here and friends who have visited - one friend narrowly surviving a gun attack in what was an unbelievably lawless society. A society where even near neighbours like America, have chosen to draw the curtains and turn their heads to avoid having to address the reality of a society in melt down.

If Haiti teaches us anything it surely has to be the awesome truth of the words of John Donne - that no - no man is an island.

Whilst we could do nothing about the earthquake - we could have done something about the poverty, we could have invested in the infra structure of the country that would have mitigated against the worst effects of this disaster. We could have surely done more to support the development of a healthy and effective society. We have a graphic demonstration of what happens when we walk by on the other side.

I have never ever before heard of a similar disaster, be that natural or man made, which has resulted in that unbelievable number of so many orphaned children. Be that Tsunami, Earthquake, Typhoon, Hurricane. These children who will determine whether Haiti rises from the ashes of this tragedy - or slips off our radar again and into a malaise of hopelessness and despair.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shadow Cabinet, FPC and Virgin Trains!

Ooops! Blank post courtesy of Virgin Trains - back in Bromsgrove now so let's hope this works.................

I’m just on my way back from FPC, on the train to Bromsgrove hoping that the train isn’t as late as it was last night, causing me to miss my connection with an hour wait for the next one! Anyway last night I was at Shadow Cabinet where, with Lynne Featherstone being the only woman, I was overwhelmed by the distinct white maleness of the brood. OK, a few women were missing, but it doesn’t take many to result in none.............Let’s hope this Speaker’s Conference really does do something to redress the balance...........but that really wasn’t my point – will return to this favourite theme in the future.

Now I may be accused of many things, but leaking isn’t one of them, so I will resist the temptation to dob Vince in about something quite amusing, or someone else about something not quite so amusing.

Last night and this evening Lynne and I were presenting the Youth Policy Paper – with many radical and fresh ideas, some of which will hopefully become policy, others which will fall victim to the fall out from “savage cuts”.

I turned up yesterday having just read an article in Children and Young People Now about the truly savage cuts that as ever, many youth services across the country are being faced with. In Nottingham it amounts to around £700,000, in Birmingham £1 million and in Oxfordshire they are consulting about a staggering £2.7 million in cuts. This is what truly does my head in. All the parties nationally make commitments about preserving frontline services – BUT – when it comes to the crunch it is the non statutory services that suffer, in particular youth service. I have lived with this for most of my youth service career – year after year of cuts –when we got rid of the Tory government I naively thought things might change. Did they? Did they heck! I used to manage a youth service where once I had paid all the fixed costs (salaries, buildings etc) I had £2,000 a year to spend on work with young people - £2,000 – that equated to about 10p per young person per year!!!

The Youth Policy Working Group has been united in the need to invest more in services for young people. So we have been arguing long and hard for additional youth workers – 10,000 to be precise. There is a reason for this.........a few years ago we had two expert witnesses to our Crime Policy Working Group who both said – what we need is not 10,000 more police on our streets but 10,000 youth workers. One of the arguments our party has for investing in police rather than youth workers is that this is what the people want. They want the police to cut crime. The fact is that young people are not only disproportionately the perpetrators of crime, they are also disproportionately the victims of crime. When I was in Bedford the crime people were most worried about was abduction.....this despite the fact that no one had been abducted for 20 years. There is a notion that more “bobbies on the beat” will help cut crime. But the truth is that a police officer actually comes across a crime once every 8 years!

Anyway, excepting a few notable parliamentary supporters, Lynne, Simon Hughes and Evan Harris – we have failed to convince the parliamentary party, or FPC of our case.

My frustration, whilst I appreciate the need to have some popularist policies, is that they must be evidence based. Also, while it may be true that people are worried about crime, if you look at the results of most citizens’ panels you will see that facilities for young people is also a hugely important issue, often topping the poll!

A few years ago my local authority commissioned a report into youth crime. An academic study was carried out by the local university. The study convincingly demonstrated that in one particular area (an area I managed) of high youth crime, the crime rates went down markedly on the evenings our youth club was open. The report was never formally published because it didn’t say what the politicians wanted it to say – I wonder how many other unread, unpublished reports would say the same thing? Actually, its not rocket science is it? “The Devil makes work for idle hands” hmmmm yes – innit?! If we actually listened to young people for a change we would hear this, again and again, but unfortunately it seems we have lost the ability to think long term or strategically, to recognise that we must invest to save. The real tragedy of this recession is that something that should have been seen as an opportunity will doubtless be squandered – and that squandering will result in yet another generation of young people who have been totally let down by our society. A society that bleats about “feral youth” but then is prepared to allow the environment to exist that reinforces their so called “feral” ways. A society that has not made the connection between effort and reward – that wants everything on a plate and doesn’t see why it should pay for it – a malaise that is being passed on to our children.

OK, I am in rant mode, but I want our party to tell the truth. Tell the truth about what the consequences are if we don’t invest in services now. Tell the truth about how the obscene inequality that exists now has resulted in our children being the unhappiest of all OECD countries, us having the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe, close to 1 million young people unemployed, us locking up more children than almost anyone else and the equally obscene human and financial cost of this.

Despite my rant, and my passionate belief that we really should be investing in our young people’s futures – I do think we have come up with a great policy paper. It will be launched soon and hopefully will get through conference without too much flak (especially since it ain’t gonna cost much!) It is head and shoulders above anything the other parties have come up with and is rooted in our core belief that "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity"

Thursday, January 07, 2010

For love of Sam

Last night I got an unexpected phone call from a young man I worked with a good few years ago - let's call him Sam. During the time I was working with him he turned up at my office with rope marks on his neck - he had tried to hang himself. I took him straight down to A&E and given there was no specialist unit for young people we were sent to the adult psychiatric unit. Last night he reminded me of what happened, an inpatient, an older woman, coming up and asking him for sex. The whole environment was difficult and very disturbing for him. He got some help, but never really enough. He ultimately ended up in prison on a short sentence. Since then he has been in and out of a number of relationships. He has three children by different mothers and another one on the way. He has no job and his criminal record doesn't help. But he is desperate to get himself a job and be able to support his partner and children. He is at heart a lovely lad, who has suffered terrible rejection in his childhood and just needs the right opportunity to get his life back on track.

I have to confess, I came off the phone a little tearful, as ever pondering, how many other Sam's are there out there? Young men who for what ever reason get themselves into trouble and then, even when they want to turn their lives around, find the support really isn't there to help them. One of the saddest things Sam told me was that one of the good things about being in prison was that he actually got some real help with his mental health issues. They got him on to cognitive behavioural therapy and he was able to come off his medication. But since he came out he hadn't had anything like the same support. And yet the rest of his description of his time inside was horrifying. As someone who had suffered bullying in the past, he was easy prey.

Sam told me that what he really wanted to do was to get involved with a project that helped divert other young people from ending up in prison, but he didn't really know where to start.

At the moment there are even more young Sams out there, nearly 1 million unemployed young people, a good proportion who have other challenges, such as having been in the criminal justice system, being homeless, being failed by school, having disabilities, all factors that will make it even more difficult for them to find a job. Young people whose dreams are not very different from the rest of us, to have a job, a family, security, to be happy.

At a time when we are all being told how difficult it is going to be, how "savage cuts" will have to be made in our public services, lets not forget those who are likely to suffer far more than the rest of us. Young people whose lives may not be blighted just for a few years, but for a generation.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Nick Clegg, Michael White.........True Confessions

While atTory party conference I visited the stand and got them to look me up. Their assessment of my blog was that it was excellent, although declaring that the funniest thing about it was the way I swoon over my leader.....for me the funniest thing was that they also described me as the "eminence grise" of conference - yes I had to look up what it meant :-). Well...........I have a confession to make..........its not Nick Clegg I swoon over.......its Michael White. Scary but true! None is his equal. Has any other political commentator his wit or charm? Or dulcet tones? Or classic good looks? Oh yes, if anyone is to make me swoon it has to be Mr W. But I have to confess to having a mixed reaction to his latest missive about our dear leader. On the one hand he is generous in his acknowledgement of the validity of the principles underpinning our manifesto, having listed them he takes issue with our ability to clean up politics but goes on to say - "But overall it's wholesome enough. Fairness matters in healthy societies. Ours is out of balance again and needs a decent tweak. The Lib Dems are sincere in wanting to deliver improvement. It's the politics they may find tricky."

It is his assertion that Clegg is closer to the Tories "because he's a market man, not a social democrat at heart: it's the old Liberal-SDP split, Paddy Ashdown v Charles Kennedy, Menzies Campbell v Simon Hughes, Vincent Cable v Chris Huhne. Clegg's indignant denials are the "narcissism of small difference" that I take issue with. Whilst he acknowledges that he might be wrong and that "it won't matter much. Whatever Clegg's private inclinations (his Sheffield Hallam constituency is one of Britain's richest), his party is culturally anti-Tory at heart and will nip any temptation in the bud as it did when Jeremy Thorpe was tempted to sustain the defeated Ted Heath in office in February 1974." He has hit on a misrepresentation of Nick that feeds into an unjust perception, fed by the right wing media and hence prevalent amongst many of our potential supporters, that he is "Cameronlite". Yes, it may be reasonably fair to suggest he is a market man, and if that was the sum total of all that he is, I certainly would never have supported him. White, like many before him, has confused values and methodology. Nick, wrongly in my view of course, has a belief that the market can help deliver social objectives. But make no mistake, what drives him is not that blind belief in the market that characterises Tory philosophy, but a belief that we can and must have a fairer society. That we can and must redress the balance through fairer taxes and investment in improving the life chances of all our children. That we can and must fulfil the reason d'etre of our party - to build a fair, free and open society, balancing liberty, equality and community, in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

And that, dear Mr W, is light years away from being a mere "market man".