Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rare Disease Day 2010 Part 2: Cockayne Syndrome and Amy and Friends

This is the second of a two part posting to mark Rare Disease Day 2010. You can read part 1 here.

Last year I spoke to Jayne Hughes, the wonderful founder of the charity Amy and Friends and wrote this posting on here.

Amy and Friends is a great example of what can happen to further research, understanding and support of a rare condition when there's an organisation trying to bring all of these things together. As Jayne herself says, when Amy was diagnosed, she had nobody to turn to. At least now, the NHS in England will give details of Amy and Friends to the family of anyone who's diagnosed with the condition.

Jayne wants specialists and charities in Scotland to be aware of Amy and Friends and the work they do in organising retreats and supporting families and again that's something that I've asked MSPs to raise awareness about ahead of the event in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday evening.

Watch Nick Clegg on This Morning

On Friday morning, Nick Clegg was interviewed on ITV's This Morning by Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford. He was good - pointing out when challenged on inexperience that we'd called a lot of the current issues of the day correctly, a long time in advance, and showing how the Liberal Democrats have made a difference on issues like the Gurkhas and the Speaker standing down.

You can see the whole thing here.

Rare Disease Day 2010 Part 1 - Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia Type 1 and the Joshua Deeth Foundation

Today is Rare Disease Day, a day to raise awareness of uncommon diseases and to ensure that there is enough knowledge of and support for them within healthcare systems across the world.

This year's event has 4 main messages:

* Rare disease research should rightly be considered an important area of research
* Rare disease research needs to be better funded
* It is important for patients and researchers to work in partnership as people living with rare diseases have experience and knowledge crucial to the research agenda
* Development of treatments and therapies for rare diseases remains insufficient

Late last year I wrote about how my friends Nicola and Stephen had lost their lovely baby son Joshua to a very rare brain disease, Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia Type 1. I told how they had set up The Joshua Deeth Foundation in his memory with the aim of supporting other parents and funding research into the condition.

Since then, they've organised a ceilidh to launch the fundraising effort which will take place in Crieff on May 7th and which sold out in 4 days. Other events are planned over the next few months.

Unfortunately this condition is invariably fatal at present, but in the future, if it's researched, it may be possible to cure, prevent or slow it down.

Nicola and Stephen also want to find some way of supporting other parents whose babies are born with this or similar diseases. That sort of contact, the information you can get from someone who's been through the same circumstances as you have can be invaluable.

It's hard enough when your child is diagnosed with any illness - but when it's one that nobody has heard off, it makes life even more difficult.

There's an event at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, 2nd March to mark Rare Disease Day, which Christine Grahame MSP is hosting. I've contacted some MSPs on Nicola and Stephen's behalf and with their blessing to ask them to see if they make the specialists and charities who will be there aware of Joshua's foundation and Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia Type 1. I hope that that will spark some useful and mutual help for them.

Luciana Berger, Liverpool and a series of political errors

What a happy band of campers the Liverpool Labour Party are - not! Have a look at this spat between a senior councillor and Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle over the selection of Luciana Berger as Labour candidate for the marginal seat of Liverpool Wavertree, where Liberal Democrat Colin Eldridge came a close second in 2005 and has been working tirelessly for local people since.

It might be easy to dismiss Kilfoyle's attack as just another sexist old Labour dinosaur having a go at a young woman - except that it's not so much inexperience that Luciana Berger shows, it's blatant insensitivity and even discourtesy.

The Liverpool Echo set Luciana a test to see if she knew some basic facts about the city, a reasonable expectation for a parliamentary candidate. She barely scraped a pass. It is with great smugness that I can say that not only did I get double Luciana's score (ie 100%), but I also beat Mark and Andrew. This is a special moment I will treasure! I'm not a great football fan but you can't think of Liverpool without its amazing football heritage. Bill Shankly is every bit as much of a Liverpool legend as the Beatles.

If you want to represent somewhere in Parliament, I don't think you have to come from there, or even necessarily live within the constituency boundaries. I do, however, think that you should have some sort of affinity with the place, and you should know a fair bit about it. It's not actually that difficult in these days of Google. Did she even read the Wikipedia page which is a good start and would at least have told her who Bill Shankly was.

Andrew criticises her for following the Sun on Twitter. Now, we all follow people we don't support. I follow Nadine Dorries, for goodness sake, and Christine Hamilton, the Labourlost, sorry, list, blog. The first two at least make the experience of Twitter amusing. I follow all the teams in Formula One, although my heart lies wherever Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn are.

That's all quite reasonable. The Sun, however, has a unique and ignominious history as far as Liverpool is concerned. Even almost 21 years later, feelings run high about its disgraceful coverage of the tragedy. Look at some of the terrible lies it told, as reported by the Guardian some years later. In Luciana Berger's position, I would have thought twice about even a tenuous online association with a publication that was responsible for so much outrage.

So in this febrile atmosphere for Liverpool Labour, and after one selection which was criticised, they now have to go through the process again in Kilfoyle's seat. Yet another reason why the election will not be before 6th May.

In Liverpool Wavertree, the choice will be between a new Labour candidate who seems to care even less than she knows about the area and Colin Eldridge, who has served the area well for years. Colin came close last time round and what's happened in the local Labour party surely can't do his chances any harm.

The poison of using patriotism as a political weapon

Oh, so David Cameron thinks it's his patriotic duty to get rid of Gordon Brown.

That makes me feel really uncomfortable. In fact it makes me shudder.

Far be it from me to ever defend the Labour Party. You'll find evidence of them getting things very wrong on any page of this blog you care to look at. Not ever, though, would I ever suggest that any one of them has a lack of devotion to or love for our country.

It's quite poisonous, and completely disingenuous, to suggest that about political opponents. We've seen that sort of slur in American politics for too long, usually by a Republican Party trying to decimate an opponent's character, as George Bush Senior's nasty campaign in 1992 tried to do to Bill Clinton.

I don't think that defining your opponents as unpatriotic because their ideas are different from your's has any place in British politics.

You wouldn't find anybody but the Conservatives using that sort of language - or would you? Step forward, Jim Murphy, Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, who has used similar language as the SNP. Look at this, from the Commons debate on the recommendations of the Calman Commission last year:

The problem for the hon. Gentleman and the SNP is that he always behaves like a nationalist and never behaves like a patriot. A nationalist puts the SNP first, but a patriot puts Scotland first. That is the difference between my party and his, and why Scotland is increasingly turning its back on the SNP.

This, I should remind you, is the same guy who thinks that if you are religious, then your natural party is Labour.

I don't think it's right to use the word "patriot" to make yourself sound better than your opponent. It's nasty, brutal, irrelevant politics. It says that you have nothing positive to offer.

Come on, people, let's have a robust debate about the issues, but let's not doubt our opponents' motivations.

Bristol Breastfeeding Bus Story may not have been what it seemed

In the interests of fairness, I should report further to this posting from the other day that all may not have been what it seemed.

The Bristol Evening Post is now reporting that the bus's CCTV footage told a different story which exonerated its driver, who apparently didn't even speak to Amy Wootton.

If any good comes from this, it's that any First customer across the UK now knows beyond any sort of doubt that women are welcome to breastfeed their babies on their trains or buses.

Another couple of points, though. Virtually every media outlet has covered this story in the last few days, including Friday's This Morning.

I found some of the comments that came into that discussion a bit strange. Opinion seemed to be split quite evenly on the issue. Two specific points were made by viewers and presenter Ruth Langsford. She mentioned that she was always discreet and used a muslin cloth to cover up when she was breastfeeding. Now, that's fine if your baby's comfortable with that. I don't know about you but I can't stand being in bed with the covers above my head. It's stuffy, claustrophobic and I just can't breathe properly. I certainly wouldn't want to eat my dinner in those conditions, so I wouldn't expect a baby to.

Secondly, somebody mentioned that if the mother knew the baby was going to want to eat at that time of day, then she shouldn't have gone out. Ah, so breastfeeding mothers should stay at home, should they, on the off chance their baby gets hungry? That's pretty repressive for anybody. If you look at your own eating and drinking patterns, your hunger and thirst aren't the same every day. It depends on environmental factors - if you're hot and stuffy, you might want a drink, or what you've been doing, exercising or lying around. It's all very variable. It's the same for babies. Nature provided a form of nourishment which could be given anywhere and everywhere for a reason. Nursing mothers aren't meant to be kept out of sight because we're too prudish to cope with a watching a baby being fed.

It's time that we loosened up a bit - I can't stop you being offended by the sight of a mother breastfeeding, but I can suggest that you avert your eyes if it bothers you that much. That's the simplest solution.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

No Lib Dems on Question Time - Geeks' Special #bbcqt

If you don't want the geekery and just want to complain that for the third week in four, there is no Lib Dem on Question Time, just click here. You might want to call over at Daddy Alex's first cos he'll make you laugh.

I'm sure nobody would ever be geeky enough to go to this page and analyse the 33 episodes of Question Time since 23 April last year it contains to see what nerdy facts they could extract about guests. And if they ever did that, they would never set up an Excel spreadsheeet containing the information. If they had done that, though no way would they ever want to find out that their hours of labour had been wasted because the information was easily available elsewhere. That would make them cry.

Tonight's episode will be the 4th time we've seen Peter Hain in that time. It will be the third time we've had the dubious pleasure of Nigel Farage's dulcet tones. In fact, he was also on last February - the week with all the snow - with Shami and Will Young. Four times in just over a year, for the leader of the swivel eyed fringe? Someone at the Beeb is surely having a laugh. That's not counting the week Kilroy was on and the other UKIP person just before the European elections.

Liberal Democrats were represented on every panel until Bonfire Night. In the 13 episodes including that one since, there has been no Liberal Democrat on 5 of them, including 3 of the last 4.

So, in the run up to the general election, a party which is standing in every mainland seat has been marginalised in favour of extra right wing commentators (Melanie Phillips, twice, I tell you, twice) or UKIP types who are fielding a fraction of the candidates. And we've been dumped in the weeks when the top news has been right up our street - Iraq, expenses, that sort of thing. It's starting to look like someone's got a seriously anti Lib Dem agenda.

Plaid Cymru been on 4 times, but no Liberal Democrat from the Assembly. No Jenny, No Kirsty. Freedom Central has more.

The final interesting fact to draw to your attention is that the Labour and Tory representatives are usually current front bench. In only just over half, 15 of the Liberal Democrats' 28 appearances do we have a current principal shadow cabinet member. Out of those 15, 9 are accounted for by Chris Huhne, Sarah Teather and the Almighty Vince taking 3 stints each. We actually have quite a lot of talent in our party but the range of people who are asked doesn't reflect that.One thing they do have in common is that they all live in or near London. Our Parliamentary party scatters to the 4 winds on a Thursday teatime, but maybe, just once every so often, Alistair, or Jo, or Willie, or Lorely or Steve should have an extra night in the city and do the show. Could it be that we aren't pursuing our place as vigorously as we should? Probably not, but I thought I'd just throw that out there.

Enough with this geekery - I'm off to write my customary Thursday night complaint, this time with real proper stats.

Mum thrown off bus for breastfeeding her baby

Two things strike me from this story, describing the disgraceful incident in which a mother, Amy Wootton, was thrown off the bus, with her six week old baby, in the pouring rain for breastfeeding.

Firstly, why does the vile misogynist of a bus driver still have a job? If he had insulted someone on racial or religious grounds, I expect that would have been defined as gross misconduct and he'd have been sacked on the spot. Intimidating a customer, threatening to call the Police and then turfing her out in the rain is appalling behaviour. A bunch of flowers, a voucher and an apology is not enough unless the company can demonstrate that it will not tolerate this sort of thing.

Secondly, why do we women put up with this sort of nonsense? Now, I really, really don't want to criticise Amy as an individual. She was put in a humiliating position by the driver and I understand why she did as she was asked. Should we not be teaching our girls that they don't have to tolerate this sort of crap?

When Anna was about 4 months old, I was the sole customer in our village tea room and she needed feeding, so I fed her. All anyone could really see was the back of her head. There was much more mammary gland on view in the newspapers which were left out for the customers to read and there would be much more on view on any Mediterranean beach you may care to name. The woman in charge, yes, that's a woman, asked me to stop in case a man came in. I said no, politely, but firmly. Anna wanted to be fed and her needs came first, and in any case, there was nothing on view to take offence at.

As it hapened a group of pensioners came in at this point and I ended up chatting to them. They were perfectly friendly and it didn't seem as if they either noticed or cared what I was doing. When Anna was finished, she charmed them all with smiles and chuckles.

I was livid at the manager woman, though. I waited until the next morning before I wrote a carefully crafted letter of complaint. I think I still have somewhere the reply I received in which they said that they wanted to spare my embarrassment if someone else came in.

It was one of the great achievements of the 2003-2007 Holyrood Parliament that Elaine Smith MSP's Breastfeeding Bill, giving babies the right to be fed anywhere it was legal for them to be. That gives women protection, we need to also find ways to make sure they have the confidence to fight against such appalling treatment.

Does Labour's truculence over Sturgeon show a vengeful trait?

I wrote yesterday about Iain Gray and the Labour Party's truculent refusal to accept Nicola Sturgeon's apology over her letter in support of Abdul Rauf.

I was taken by this post by Mr MacNumpty last night which suggested that Labour may have been motivated by a desire for revenge over what happened to Wendy Alexander.

If so, this would appear to show an unpleasant and spiteful trait. I remember reading reports in the press in 2007 which suggested that Labour were being uncooperative when it came to arranging a pairing arrangement for Angela Constance MSP's maternity leave. When I put my ear to the ground, I heard whispers that this was in retaliation for the SNP playing silly beggars when Labour MSPs wanted similar arrangements in the previous parliaments.

Parliamentarians tend not to take a huge amount of tiime of on maternity leave anyway, and they're never really away from the job, but the flexibility not to have to be in Edinburgh at 5pm in the early days of motherhood is quite important for all sorts of reasons. Why on earth, when we have the technology, we can't arrange remote voting or something is beyond me anyway.

If Parliamentary business managers have ever tried to make life difficult for a pregnant MSP, then that is utterly vile. If a party ever tried to inflict difficulty on an MSP as a payback for things that she had no control over and happened at a time when she was not even in the Parliament, then that is contemptible.

There's a really nasty thread running through a lot of what we see and hear from Labour, whether it be on issues of personality or policy, from Megrahi to Sturgeon at Holyrood, from Darling's forces of Hell to the disgraceful lack of compassion of the Home Office at Westminster.

Then we have the lie that they are trying to force down our throats that this election is between Labour and the Conservatives. In Scotland? Are you having a laugh? Like their excuses about the Glasgow North East by-election, it just doesn't hold water? Scotland knows perfectly well that the Tories are irrelevant. Labour's attempts to peddle that line show contempt for people's intelligence.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I am not a happy bunny, Part 1

Tonight I should be here

watching him in this.

But I can't.

Because of this

I should be grateful though. I am warm. I am about to have lovely food, specifically a rather nice curry, in my tummy. I have a beautiful daughter and my husband is a saint.

And, I'm going to listen to her

on this.

Nicola Sturgeon: dignified and respectful - unlike the Labour Party

I have just watched Nicola Sturgeon's statement to a hushed Holyrood, and I have to say I thought she handled herself extremely well. Even an old cynic of some 25 years' experience in politics like me could believe that her words were genuine and sincere.

We're used to Nicola being abrasive, with a reputation for political pyrotechnics that rivals Alex Salmond's.Today everything about her showed respect. From her words to her body language, she struck exactly the right tone.

The transcript will be available later, obviously, but here's my notes of what she said to keep you going.

She started by saying that being a minister did not in any way absolve an MSP from their duties to their constituents. While there was a duty of privacy, the letter she'd written was effectively now a public document and it was in that context she was making the statement.

She then set out the circumstances of her dealings with Mr Rauf, having first met him in a surgery in July 2008. At no point did he deny his guilt and he also disclosed his previous conviction.

22 days ago, he contacted her office to ask her to write a letter to the Court explaining his health and family circumstances. She felt that because of the personal knowledge of those factors from her meetings with him that it was appropriate for her to do so.

She pointed out that she did not condone the "serious criminal offence" that Mr Rauf had committed and did not suggest that he should not be punished.

She went on to say that her understanding of her duties of an MSP are that when a constituent asks for help it is her duty to make such representations as she is asked to make as long as they are legitimate, legal and appropriate.

She accepts that application of judgment determines what is legitimate,legal and appropriate and the discussion today is on her judgment in this matter.

She has thought long and hard about her actions.

In her view it was entirely appropriate for her to write as an MSP to draw attention to the person’s circunstances. She is not the first Member of Parl to make such a rep.

She has read the letter she wrote many times over and on reflection thinks it could and should have been written differently.

She regrets use of the word mistake and accepts that it could be interpreted as something different than she actually meant.

She should not have asked the court to consider alternatives to custody. That was a request more suited to her former occupation as a solicitor than her current role as MSP. It was also not necessary as a court will consider all of the options.

Then we got to the crux of the matter:

"In short I assisted a constituent in good faith and I got things wrong and I am sorry."

She said that she allowed herself to be influenced by the impact of Mr Rauf's actions on her family. (A natural, fairly human reaction, if you ask me. If empathy becomes a no go area for a politician, then we really are stuffed).

She then went on to give some reflective words about political culture in general, saying that it's not easy to apologise especially in a pre election period does not make it easy

Made me wonder whether a general willingness to allow space for people to reflect on their actions, or actions of others might be a better approach than instant judgment and she acknowledged that she had been guilty of the latter approach in the past.

She is grateful to MSPs in all opposition parties who have gone out of their way to offer her words of kindness - although she was quick to reassure that she wasn't going to drop them in it by naming them.

She loves her role as health secretary and hopes she can continue with permission of Parliament.

She was very clear of her view that it would be wrong to decide what help to give a constituent on the basis of how it would look.

She finished by saying that she would learn from events and not repeat mistakes but will continue to represent her constituents.

So, would her gracious words have dragged the Labour Party up to a decent standard of debate. Nah. I think they realised that she had done enough to keep her job but many of them insisted on sticking the knife in to both her and Alex Salmond. I'll tell you what, I'm so glad Johann Lamont isn't my MSP. It seems that if I went to her I'd have to fill in a disclosure form at the door of her surgery. She seems to only want to represent the blameless. She asked if Nicola had performed background checks. I'm sure her staff have enough to do without turning into private detectives.

In a way Johann Lamont's words seem to sum up Labour's attitude to people. Most people who seek help from elected representatives are good people who tell the truth. Many are really vulnerable and desperately need help. Unless you have a good reason to doubt it, you have to take people's word for what they're telling you.

Iain Gray then asked her to withdraw the letter - which seems a bit daft seeing as she'd just publicly said that she'd change things and that the hearing was over and done with anyway. How can you take something off the public record as if it had never existed? A bit strange.

Compare and contrast the hard edged Labour attitude to the approach taken by Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Robert Brown. While acknowledging what he described as the gracious manner of Nicola's apology, he asked a reasonable question about what she thought her letter would add to the case given that Rauf's solicitor would make the same points. He made clear to the BBC later that he wouldn't have written the letter at all, but he was also clear that he never thought that this was a resigning issue for Nicola Sturgeon.

Even the Tories came out of today with some credit. I know they have previous for allowing themselves to become little more than Salmond's little helpers in this Parliament, but that aside, they asked reasonable questions and conducted themselves in a businesslike manner.

The real villain of today's piece has to be Labour, who, frankly, are growing nastier and more negative by the day. This election campaign is going to be real fun.

Update: other posts on this: Macnumpty at his best and Jeff.

Nick Clegg puts fairness first at PMQs as Speaker jokes about calling helpline

You wouldn't have needed a top of the range crystal ball to have an inkling that PMQs would descend into mudslinging, given Bullygate and Alistair Darling's comments. Would Cameron unleash the forces of hell on the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister was eased into the session with a question on banking that was so obviously planted that I don't know how the MP asking it could have any self respect at all. Maybe he thought Nick Cleggwould go on banking, given The Almighty Vince's statement yesterday and wanted to get a less robust, friendlier question in to stop him.

Brown didn't seem to grasp the connection between this sort of question what Jo Swinson described as a waste of a question later from a Tory, who asked if Tony Blair meant it literally when he described Brown as a clunking fist. Truth is, obvious plants from either side just add to the ignimony this weekly slanging match has earned for itself.

David Cameron lulled us into a brief sense of civility by asking a reasoned question on a public enquiry for Stafford Hospital. Brown replied with an equally and appropriately civil account of the Government's actions, although he ignored the request for a public enquiry.

Then it all changed. Call me Dave started on Alistair Darling's comments yesterday. Ironic, really, for a Tory to go on about rifts between PM and Chancellor at a time of econommic turmoil when Mrs Thatcher got on so well with Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson in similarly turbulent economic times, but we'll let that pass.

I'm not a good enough lip reader to work out what the conversation between Brown and Darling on the Government front bench, but I'd love to know what was said. The body language between them was a lot more positive than it has been in the past. There was a beautiful riposte from Brown to Cameron, that it was the first time the Tories had talked about the economy in a while. I wonder who came up with that line in the Brown Prep session.

You don't often get the Speaker joining in the banter, and certainly not joking about the political raw nerves of the week, but it was actually quite refreshing to have John Bercow suggest that he might call a helpline if the childish behaviour he was witnessing didn't stop. More seriously, he threatened to suspend the sitting and mentioned the bad name the session had. I think he should actually make good on his threat next time.

Typically, Nick Clegg came up with a sensible, relevant question, pulling apart Labour's new slogan, A Future Fair for all. He didn't mention candy floss, as some did, but he did mention that Labour had used this slogan before, in 2003. Not only that, but since then, the gap between rich and poor has doubled as Labour punish the poor with debacles like the 10p tax issue and the rise in NI contributions. Brown stumbled through an answer mentioning tax credits and unemployment, and got a dig in at the Tories, but had no real response to his Government's appalling record. People just above the limit for help are the poorest - and it's the children in these homes, where parents are working but are low paid, who suffer most.

All in all, the session didn't quite live down to expectations, but something needs to be done to ensure that it becomes less of a circus and more of a serious process of holding the Government to account.

Nicola Sturgeon to face MSPs over fraudster letter

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes a statement in Holyrood about the letter she wrote on behalf of (not in support of) convicted benefits fraudster Abdul Rauf. I've already made my feelings clear on this. The dangers of allowing casework to be spun and twisted in the political arena could mean that people with genuine cases and genuine needs might be turned away because their marginal seat parliamentarian is too scared to do anything in case opponents try to gain political capital.

What I want to see from Nicola today is that she's taken on board some of the less hysterical concerns that have been expressed. If it had been me, I'd have written a similar letter, but I wouldn't have described an £80,000 benefit fraud as a mistake and I wouldn't have explicitly asked for a non custodial sentence in the conclusion of the letter. I'd have asked the court to take the points I'd raised into consideration when deciding its sentence instead. These are important points. I don't want to see her cowed, but I do want to see her serious. Alex Salmond may have made some good points in her defence at FMQs the other week, but the effect was lost in amidst all the usual bombastic bile. It's not big and it's not clever.

I guess it's too much to hope that Labour can actually conduct themselves in a dignified manner. They seem to care more about the prospect of a ministerial scalp than the actual facts. I want to hear less of the "is there nobody the SNP wouldn't defend?" type hyperbole and a bit more decorum. I'm not holding my breath.

I don't want to what's happened to Nicola to turn into a series of MSPs being dragged into Parliamentary show trials simply because they've tried to do the best for their constituents. That would completely demean the institution.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Labour slammed on Glasgow North East by-election delay and postal vote shambles

The Electoral Commission has criticised the Labour Government for leaving it almost 5 months to hold the by-election to replace former Speaker Michael Martin, who was forced to resign over the MPs' expenses scandal.

Labour's excuse, that the parliamentary Summer recess got in the way is not even half way to being plausible. For a start, they had several weeks' notice that Michael Martin was going to resign. They could have moved the writ on 22 June and had the by-election in mid July.

It's not as if the recess itself is a barrier to holding a by-election - the Livingston by-election was held in recess in 2005. Ok, there are some funny rules about advertising in the London Gazette, but it's not beyond the wit of anyone to do it.

We all know the real reason Labour delyed the by-election - there had just been the Euro election meltdown where James Purnell, Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint had resigned, the Euro and local elections had been a disaster for Labour and they knew fine that the almost certain loss of one of their safest seats in a by-election would mean the end for Gordon Brown.

The reason this was shameful was because, if you hadn't noticed, there's a recession on. People are losing their jobs. Pressure is put on Government departments like JobCentrePlus and the people who work there with a vastly increased workload. Mistakes are bound to be made. The intervention of an MP can literally make the difference between someone being able to eat that day or not. The people of Glasgow North East didn't have an MP to turn to in order to help them with benefits, CSA, immigration issues for more than a third of a year.

When it's suited them politically (ie when they were trying to stop our campaign gaining momentum in Dunfermline in 2006, they can call an election when the previous MP has barely been buried). Obviously that didn't work!

It's high time for those sorts of electoral timing decisions, and that of the General Election for that matter to be taken out of the hands of those with a direct interest in it - it should be done independently and within an agreed time frame, like it is in the Scottish Parliament.

Lib Dem Shadow Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said:

“By-elections should be called for the convenience of the public, and not for the political advantage of the party holding the seat.

“Reform of this is long overdue. Frankly, however, I doubt we will see any commitment from Labour to act on this. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”

Just as an aside, we shouldn't forget the SNP's incompetence in all of this. Their attempt to move the writ just before the recess might have amounted to a bit more than showboating if they'd tipped off the other opposition parties about what they were going to do, as I wrote at the time.

It's also worth noting that Labour were also criticised for their failure to promptly deliver voters' postal vote applications to the Council in Glasgow. They held on to some of them for a whole MONTH and then handed them in just before the deadline. Political parties are supposed to hand forms in within 2 days. What if a form had been completed incorrectly? People might have been denied a vote if they were, for example, working or away on the day of the election. That's an absolute disgrace.

I'm sure the Liberal Democrats would be only too happy to support the necessary changes to the law to make by-election procedure quicker and more efficient and they could I think be rushed through Parliament before it's dissolved for the General Election. What's the betting that Labour won't bother to do it?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Power 2010 - your last chance to have your say on cleaning up politics

For the last few months, Power 2010 have been consulting the public on the reforms they'd like to see to make politics fairer. They first collected ideas and the voting process is in its final stages and you only have until midnight tonight to vote.

The top 5 ideas will be part of the organisations pledge that they'll want candidates in the to sign up to. The top 5 at the moment are:

A proportional voting system (ie not the Alternative vote, or first past the post)

Scrapping ID cards and rolling back the database state

A fully elected second chamber

English votes for English laws

A written constitution.

One idea I really want to see in there, fixed term parliaments, is currently just outside the top 5, only by 120 or so votes. A written constitution is really important, but I'd say that taking away the Prime Minister's power to call elections on his whim is vital to a healthy democracy.

If you haven't voted already, please head along here and make your views known. You can vote for as many ideas as you like but only once for each idea, if that makes any sense.

Gordon Brown, Bullying and the suicide of a National Charity

I was shocked like everyone else when the National Bullying Helpline revealed that Downing Street staff had called them. I was initially reluctant to believe that a charity would divulge any information that would compromise anybody that it had helped.

Let's face it, if you had called them and you worked in Downing Street, you might be scared rigid today. Maybe even if you work in Downing Street and you hadn't called them you might be similarly apprehensive about what might greet you behind closed doors.

I found it hard that an organisation would put its credibility and its charitable status at risk for political motivation.

I am more worried than reassured by the interview that NBH chief executive Christine Pratt gave to BBC Breakfast a few minutes ago. THe most damning thing was her refusing to answer a question as to whether she had ever discusssed the calls from Downing Street with the Tory MP who phoned her to congratulate her yesterday or any others.

Ms Pratt said she'd gone public because she was concerned that Downing Street had issued a denial rather than express concern at the bullying allegations and vow to investigate. She may have a point there, but she could have made it without revealing that calls had come from Downing Street.

The charity has a duty of confidentiality to everyone who phones. If they had the permission of their clients to reveal in principle what had been going on that might go in some way to mitigate what they'd done - but if that's the case, why didn't they say? I had wondered if it had been one person who had rung them several times who no longer worked there in which case nobody would be compromised but from Christine Pratt's interview on ITN last night, she said that it was 3 or 4 and identified one by gender which just is not cricket.

I had wondered if what had pushed the charity over the edge was Mandelson's interview on Andrew Marr yesterday, reported by Mark yesterday. I have yet to watch this, but I find what Mark's report, which I trust implicitly, very sinister. When someone says that they "took their medicine like a man" to me that signifies the sort of insidious, nasty, macho bullying culture so often found particularly in traditionally male environments from public school to the Army to the Police. It was absolutely rife in the coal industry.

I tend to take the view that the better you treat your employees, the more you'll get out of them when you need to. I certainly don't cope well in an environment where there's lots of shouting and confrontation. Peter Mandelson, this does not make me any less of a worker than you.

In any high pressure situation, there are going to be times when the atmosphere gets febrile and tempers get lost and things are said that shouldn't be. That's not bullying. It's when that sort of behaviour from someone who wields power becomes the norm.

As far as Downing Street is concerned, I don't think it's any secret that Gordon Brown can be dour and demanding and I certainly wasn't surprised to read of several explosions in yesterday's Observer. Childish this may be, but I was so bemused by the fuss and outrage expressed by Labour tweeters using the Twitter hashtag Rawnsleyrot, that I bought the Observer out of devilment. To be fair, when I read the Rawnlsey revelations, I didn't really read a lot that surprised me. It all amounts to a bit of shouting and one incident of grabbing someone by the lapels. If that's true, then it's one incident too many and needs dealing with.

I think, though, there is enough evidence to deduce that it's a pretty unhealthy working environment for everyone in Downing Street. Long hours and late nights are made bearable if you feel bound by a common purpose to the people you are with, if you feel comfortable to express yourself and are given space to get on with your work. It doesn't sound like Gordon Brown's Downing Street is a place like that.

Also there is more hints of the marginalisation of women within the Brown administration with Brown allegedly wearily telling Peter Mandelson that he couldn't say no to Harriet again over an idea she'd come to. I still hold to my belief that for all its women's sections, the Labour Party is one of the most misogynist, sexist organisations in the country, paying lip service to women's concerns rather than having a sincere belief in equality.

The Tories are using all of this as a great opportunity to have a go at Gordon Brown as well, of course, as an excuse not to talk about policy. They have not much in the way of workable ideas so the more they can undermine the PM's character the better. It's not big and it sure ain't clever.

Of course, we can all remember how much help they were to people who suffered bullying and harassment, sexual or otherwise, during the 18 years they were in power. If you can't recall what they did, then you've got it! We can also all remember how respectful and gracious a boss Margaret Thatcher was, always willing to listen to opposing views.

One person who came to my mind when thinking about hissy fits and temper tantrums was James Carville, the political genius who masterminded Bill Clinton's rise, fall and rise again. He wasn't called the Ragin' Cajun for nothing but US politics would have been much the poorer without his influence over the last 20 years. Yes, you can have "creative temperament" coupled with brilliance, but there also needs to be people around to support the people who happen to be in the wrong place at the time of a meltdown. There are plenty indications out there that Downing Street has failed on that.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Carmichael says Voters' reply to Labour will start with F!

Alistair Carmichael MP, the man in charge of the Scottish Lib Dem's General Election campaign, has responded to Labour's new "A Future Fair for All" with characteristic humour. As usual, he hit the nail on the head when he said:

"Labour's latest message to voters is 'A future fair for all'.

"I would anticipate that voters' message to Labour would also begin with an 'f'.

"The problem for Gordon Brown is that he will be judged not just on his intentions but on his record.

"13 years of Labour Government have let down those who need fairness and equality most."

Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Danny Alexander also said:

"In Gordon Brown's Britain, social mobility is going backwards and a banker pays a lower rate of tax than their cleaner. That's not fairness," said Danny Alexander, chief of staff for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

"Gordon Brown is wrong if he thinks that slogans will make people forget Labour's failure."

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Future Fair for All: Take 2

Just in case you missed take 1, telling you how slightly tipsy I was, here it is.

When we heard the slogan, Stephen's mind went to free fall.

Mine, well, I thought fair couldn't possibly mean what we Lib Dems mean by fair.

If it was, well, then people undergoing Cancer treatment wouldn't be told they were fit for work.

People wouldn't be placed under virtual house arrest without being told what they were being accused of.

Children wouldn't be locked up in immigration detention centres.

Struggling families wouldn't be forced to pay back huge amounts of tax credits overpaid by official error.

The poor wouldn't have got poorer and the rich richer and the gap between the two stretched.

I mean, this lot have had 13 years to sort that out.

No, it has to be a fun fair they are talking about. One with stalls, and waltzers, and a helter skelter and a bouncy castle and candy floss and goldfish - and stocks where we can throw custard pies at Gordon Brown or guacamole at Peter Mandelson - and a coconut shy.

The idea is from my head and beautifully brought to life by Stephen.

Thanks also to Labour for choosing a slogan that is just so mickeytakeable - it almost makes "Have you got the guts to vote SDP?" which many of us in SDP Students had to endure in 1986 seem vaguely adequate by comparison.

A Future Fair For All #Labourslogan


Will there be candy floss?

And dodgems?

Is that really the best they can come up with after 13 years of making the poor poorer and the rich richer? You have to laugh.

I have had a very enjoyable evening. I am just a slightly bit tipsy after Mr Glenn and i shared a bottle and a half of Spain's finest red.

I don't know whether he came to see me or because he saw this tweet, but I don't mind.

We have been watching Election 74 since just after 5pm with a little break for the Eastenders live episode and QI.

Anyway, we both had a good laugh at the new Labour election slogan. His mind went immediately to free fall and he did this absolutely fantastically brilliant blog post.

Then he made a picture for me, showing me how to work Paint and stuff so I might be able to have a bit more fun and make life a bit more interesting for my readers. Unfortunately he couldn't send it to me cos his laptop decided it was tired, but he will later, and you'll see it then.

Until then, goodnight from a mellow me.

James Purnell's Departure - a sign Labour think they're going to win?

So, arch Blairite James Purnell is the latest of the 87 or so Labour MPs to decide to quit politics.

Why? Surely in a few short months he'd have had a shot at standing for Labour leader as a defeated Gordon Brown headed back to Fife in disgrace. He could have been the one to have given the kiss of life to the Labour Party as it licked its wounds in opposition.

Or, maybe Labour's tails are starting to come up again. They can see the polls tightening and the Cameron majority evaporating. Maybe they think, and some are starting to fear, Cameron might not get a majority and Labour would somehow be able to continue in Government. Remember that Spitting Image sketch after the 92 election showing Major's cabinet wearily walking back into Downing Street to clear up the mess they left when they trashed the place in anticipation of a Labour victory?

Of course a victorious Gordon Brown would be safe in his Prime Ministerial office for the moment at least. In that case, would Purnell really want to be stuck on the back benches twiddling his thumbs? I can't see Brown surviving a whole Parliament without a bit of inter-necine strife, but even if he was deposed, that leader would face an uphill challenge. Maybe Purnell has decided he just doesn't want to be that man.

It is pretty shameful that Labour MPs are leaving it until this late to decide they want to quit. If Gordon Brown decided he wanted to call an election on 25th March, he'd have a tough job to get candidates in place in time in places like Edinburgh South, West Dunbartonshire, Ashfield and now Stalybridge.

Home Office slammed on treatment of children - AGAIN!

There are many, many things that get me really annoyed about this Government. Its complicity in torture, illegal wars, control orders, the many failures of the benefits system that I could write a book on, the list goes on.

One thing that's always guaranteed to make me absolutely livid is the way in which it treats children in the immigration system. The UK Borders Agency lacks any sort of understanding, compassion, or ability to listen to evidence. In the last few years, I've seen appalling things happen to women and their children. I've seen an instance of a mum of a very young baby (who was a UK citizen) be separated from that breastfeeding infant for several months, which was against policy.

What is particularly iniquitous is the practice of locking up asylum seekers and their children, often to their great distress, in institutions like Dungavel and Yarl's Wood.

The Liberal Democrats have of course spoken out against this practice, with Alistair Carmichael recently commenting on a Royal Medical Colleges report that children held in this way were likely to suffer such intense mental health trauma that they could be driven to self harm and even attempted suicide. He said:

“The report by the coalition of the Royal Medical Colleges did not tell us anything new. Government Ministers appear to be quite comfortable with a policy of visiting the sins of the parent on the child. They are clearly in breach of their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Other countries manage to cope with their immigration and asylum applications without locking up children. If the government had the political will or basic compassion, there is no reason why the UK could not do likewise.”

Thanks to Duncan Stott on Twitter, I became aware of this report of critical judgment of the Government for removing children. The details are awful:

"In one case a 15 year old was detained without warning at her foster carer’s address in a dawn raid. She was handcuffed. Her removal was stopped as she managed to get in touch with her lawyers. In the other case a 16 year old also in the care of social services and placed with a foster carer was also detained in another dawn raid, but this time she was unable to contact her lawyers and was removed. She had disclosed to social services that she had experienced sexual assault previously in Italy and been forced to work as a prostitute, and the Third Country Unit knew this. On return to Italy she was held in a cell then released onto the streets with no accommodation or money.

There was no welfare assessment. The duty to safeguard children recently made binding on UKBA was obviously entirely disregarded."

It horrifies me that we think it's ok just to send children on their own, who may be settled here, to places where they won't be properly looked after. The Government should hang its head in shame.

One person who's done lots to help people fight deportation is SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin. She's currently fighting for the right of Precious and Florence Mhango to stay in this country and is appealing for people to write to the Home Secretary to ask him to use his discretion and let them stay. Read what she has to say here and please help.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Ethics of Journalism in light of the Jan Moir PCC Cop Out

Well you can't really call it a judgment, can you?

The fact that the complaint has not been upheld does not mean the concerns did not need to be addressed, but rather that the Commission did not find that it was right for it to censure the newspaper on the grounds of the Code.

How can the Press Complaints Commission have any credibility at all after publishing a sentence like that? Basically it's saying "ok, you were wrong, but we ain't going to do anything about it."

It's hardly surprising, really, when you see who makes up the Commission - almost half its membership have current close ties to the media industry, so it's hardly what you could call impartial.

Stephen , Andrew and particularly the lovely elephant have done a good job of analysing the actual substance of the judgment but I wanted to take that a stage further and have a look at what exactly a journalist has to do in order to have a complaint against them upheld and what that could mean for the ethics of journalism in the future.

Well, if you print that someone is pregnant and they are, then you get a complaint upheld. If you assert that "healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again" despite evidence to the contrary, then that's fine because it's not as if it could be read as "exhaustive medical fact." Having said that, I think the papers should, out of courtesy, have held off in Dannii Minogue's case and I now have a better understanding of why she chose to officially announce her pregnancy on Twitter.

It's fine to draw outrageous parallels in your article, connecting tragic events that have no relation to or bearing on each other because "the fact that a newspaper had published what might be considered to be an illogical argument (connecting two entirely separate individuals and seeking to draw a general conclusion) in itself did not equate to a breach of the Code." Even if those parallels try to lead the reader into drawing conclusions that are not the truth about a person.

It's not intrusion into private grief unless you actually make a nuisance of yourself at the funeral. A hatchet job for the grieving family to read the day before is perfectly acceptable.

It's not discrimination unless you actually use some pejorative words. So, because Moir didn't use any of the universally known homophobic terms of abuse, her insinuations that being gay is somehow inherently unhealthy and sleazy isn't in any way bigoted or prejudiced. It was the same in the judgement in Iain Dale's case. So if you want to be racist, you don't use the awful N or P words, you just make sure you never print the word asylum seeker without the word bogus next to it. Nobody can get you for that.

Being of a liberal persuasion, I'm all for free speech and expression. I was never comfortable with the no platform policies espoused by the Labour Party, for example. I'd much rather see controversial issues debated - it's a bit of an antidote to prejudice. However, there are limits - when there are attempts to incite hatred against groups of people, well, there are laws against that. There are limits, though, and I think that Jan Moir's article and its subsequent two fingers worth of an apology were well on the wrong side of the line.

It would be much healthier if the press were judged not by its peers, who have a clear financial interest in maintaining the status quo -a bit like bankers, really, but by a much more independent and robust body which was prepared to challenge the cosy, hypocritical and poisonous hegemony of newspaper editors and enforce integrity, quality and ethics onto the profession.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

80% of kids say it's fine for Dad to beat Mum up if she's late making the tea.....

I bet that got your attention! It seems quite unbelievable at the beginning of the 21st century that 8 out 10 kids questioned think that it's justified for a man to beat up a woman if they're late with the tea! I can't imagine what punishment they think is deserved in this house, then, when dinner is regularly late as I finish a blog post, talk on the phone or, horror of horrors, expect my husband to make it himself.

So, if, like mine, your blood pressure is slightly raised, maybe it's time to look at it in a bit more perspective. It is only a tiny sample. Only 89 children across 5 primary schools in Glasgow, in Primary 7 which makes them a year older than my daughter. It is worrying, though, that out of those 89, over 70 thought that there were any circumstances in which domestic violence is justified. It certainly warrants further investigation. These 11 and 12 year olds are going to be forming their own relationships in less than a decade.

But wait. Maybe this can't be dismissed so easily. On the same day as this study was publicised, the Westminster Government launched an advertising campaign aimed at teenagers who were being beaten up or otherwise threatened by their partner.

That too was based on a study - one by the NSPCC this time, which showed that a quarter of teenage girls aged 13-17 had experienced some sort of violence from a boyfriend and, scariest of all, a third had gone further than they wanted sexually under duress.

As the mother of a girl rapidly approaching her teens, you can imagine that I worry a lot about the sort of pressures she's going to come under. Of course I can tell her about the complete oblox teenage boys come out with - they aren't going to die if they don't get satisfacction, it won't drop off and it really doesn't matter if condoms are uncomfortable, they're going to darned well wear one - but I can't protect her from a culture that sexualises young women at far too early an age.

You might remember last year I had a bit of a stress about Channel 4's excellent series The Sex Education Show vs Pornography. My daughter's generation will be the first to encounter boys who have had easy acceess to explicit pornography from an early age. The programme showed how in those images, boys would get imbued with the idea that the woman's role was subjugative, little more than a receptacle, rather than an equal partner in something mutually satisfying. And how do you combat that? It's going to be virtually impossible to stop kids who are way too young accessing that sort of stuff.

Of course this material isn't viewed in a vaccuum - there will be other cultural influences as well. Maybe not all of them will be as unhelpful as the one Sara reported on the other day in which 71% of a much larger sample of women questioned said that women bear some responsibility in some circumstances if they are raped.

These three separate studies together indicate that the world may not be as safe as we would wish it for our daughters. I'm not sure what the answer is. Certainly doing as much as we can to increase their confidence is essential - very difficult when all that's bombarded at them is a slew of magazines demonising some celebrity if she puts on a couple of pounds, or presenting an uttainable body image as Jo Swinson's Real Women campaign shows.

One last thought on the Glasgow study - it went on to show how girls had aspirations that they felt would be curtailed by marriage. One girl was quoted as saying that she wanted to be a doctor or a dancer but would probably end up with a couple of kids working part time in the local shop. Part of what that says to me is that we don't value motherhood enough as a society. One of my friends commented when I posted the link on Facebook that:

Also why are doctors more highly valued than mothers? We will always need children and they will need to be loved and nurtured as they grow.

I have a feeling I'm going to have a few sleepless nights worrying about my daughter over the next couple of decades. As a society, I think that these studies show us that something more needs to be done. After more than a decade of a Labour Government which has attempted to grapple with these issues, we're not making a whole load of progress.

Maybe it's time to seriously try to get a large scale feminist movement going again, maybe one that's a bit more liberal than its predecessor and really try and get it synched into popular culture. Maybe it's time to dust off "The Women's Room" and the like and ensure that our daughters read them. Let's get today's young women talking to the feminist icons of the 70s like Germaine Greer.

If you think the F word is scary, the alternative is far, far worse.

The Tories and Gay Rights - by their deeds shall you know them...

Oh look, Nick Herbert, the Tory Shadow Environment Secretary is telling the Americans that the new fluffy, cuddly Tories are best friends forever with all lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Gone are the days when they introduced the likes of Clause 28. Now they embrace equality in all its forms.

Aye right.

We know their record ain't that good in the dim and distant past. No point in going over that ground again. Let's just look at how much they've changed since David Cameron became leader. The best way to judge people, I find, is not on what they say, but what they do. When they've had a say in the law, for example. How have Cameron's Tory MPs who are standing again in the current election voted on gay rights, then?

One in three, including a third of their front bench spokespeople and 4 members of the Shadow Cabinet, voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in March 2007. That effectively means that a third of the front bench, who would make up a Cameron Government, and 4 members of a Cameron cabinet thinks it's just fine to turn down someone for a job, any job, simply because they're gay. The same number think it's fine not to enshrine protection from harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation into the law.

The Conservative Party opposed The Equality Bill 2008-09. Nineteen members of the Shadow Cabinet voted to block attempts at ensuring genuine equality across the board.

So, there have been two fairly recent opportunities to show the LGBT community how much they have changed and the Tories have been found wanting in every respect.

Given that the next Tory intake is likely to see a rise in the number of socially illiberal MPs, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that there could be a challenge to the gains made over the last decade or so. Sara posted the other day about how this new balance could affect the abortion laws, but hard won freedoms on gay rights could turn on the basis of a few Tory votes.

It's a very scary thought.

Monday, February 15, 2010

More Embarrassment for Tories as young Conservative justifies Tory lies as "PR"

Ok, what I'm about to tell you is hardly in the same league as Tory Bear describing Gordon Brown as looking "like paedo" but then that is pretty grim.

It's almost going back to the days of the Federation of Conservative Students who were a blight on my student days. I remember they had a faction called Students Against Sodomy at Aberdeen University. Eventually FCS became too much of an embarrassment even for Norman Tebbit, who disbanded them.

The thing is that these days those types have blogs from which they can pour out their poisonous bile. I wonder if David Cameron will dissociate himself from the remarks made by Tory Bear and others on Twitter and across the blogosphere.

You can't really regulate the political blogosphere - it won't work and it would be a very stupid party that actually tried to control what its bloggers write, but there are limits to what can be considered acceptable and Tory Bear has, I think, gone over the line. The irony is that Conservative Central Office has issued a diktat to Tory candidates that all social network and blog postings must be vetted first as Andrew reported. You have that level of control freakery for them, but still effectively condone the bile emanating from certain parts of the Tory blogosphere.

Having said that, the Chair of Conservative Future Scotland has managed to embarrass the party on two counts as Callum Leslie from Liberal Youth Scotland outlines here.

Apparently, according to Duncan Stewart, it's fine to bring in people to act as local students for a Cameron press conference because it's just PR, even if call me Dave is using the event to talk about greater openness in politics.

More damningly, he said that he reckoned that no genuine University of East London student would have wanted to hear David Cameron.

As Callum says, it just shows that the Tories have nothing to offer young people while Liberal Youth "offer real hope for the generation". Young people can see how Tavish Scott and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are working for them at Holyrood and Nick Clegg and his colleagues have seen that they are suffering most from the effects of the recession.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Brown Interview showcases a good man, not a good PM

This is basically my first, unfiltered reaction to Gordon Brown's interview with Piers Morgan. What did we learn?

That Piers and Gordon are great buddies. You can tell that - I've never seen the PM so comfortable during an interview. He was nervous, cos he really doesn't like doing that sort of thing, but he managed to laugh and giggle a bit while Piers did the sex and drugs innuendo.

That Gordon Brown is a human being who's gone through some really tough things, including the loss of a child and he's emotionally articulate enough to talk about it despite the obvious pain.

That he loves his wife, incredibly much, and their bond is very strong. Many couples split up after losing a child because they can't cope with the terrible grief. What struck me was his empathy for what Sarah had gone through. You can't learn that from a script - you get the impression he felt it with her. I expect many women particularly will have seen that and liked it.

That his children mean the absolute world to him.

Absolutely not one bit of this was a surprise to me - it's always been totally obvious. I remember when little Jennifer was born commenting to my husband how happy he looked. We were a couple of years into our parenthood at this stage and we totally got how he was totally bowled over by his wee girl.

If the objective of this interview was to get over to the public that Gordon Brown is a human being, a real person with feelings who's just like us, then it worked. Whether that sort of thing was necessary is another thing.

Piers set up a series of straw men, like Gordon's failure to kiss visiting ladies properly, the You Tube debacle and his seeming social discomfiture which he then blew aside himself with each fawning guffaw as the hagiography continued.

Of course, there was no intense probing on policy, on the disparity between Brown and Darling on future spending plans, on the fact that a Government of which he was a senior member was complicit in torture, of Iraq, which he bankrolled (obviously not personally but you know what I mean) and which, of couse, Piers Morgan was opposed to as editor of the Daily Mirror. Not a word about Brown's forthcoming appearance at the Iraq Inquiry.

There was nothing in tonight's interview that showed Gordon Brown as a man of vision, a man of who could lead, a man with people skills, a man with sound judgement. All of these things are vital in a Prime Minister but we didn't see them tonight and nor have we seen them in any sufficient quantity in his time in office. He's presided over a Government whose best hope of clinging to power is to pursue a brutal, cynical "I'm not them" campaign.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that Nick Clegg has all of these qualities in boatloads - we've seen it in the way he's set out his fairness agenda, how he's worked with people on the Gurkhas, how he seems to have tamed the passionate and ubercritical Lib Dem membership and activists as he's made changes in the party for the better.

David Cameron, of course, is just slick, opportunistic and smarmy - and people know it. A mum at my daughter's school said to me that (and this is good Scots vernacular which I trust needs no explanation) Cameron gives her "the boke".

So, we know from tonight that Gordon Brown is a good man, a genuine man. We might even like him. This does not, however, make him a good PM, or his Government anything other than the cynical, tired, overly authoritarian monolith it has become. Nothing excuses their failure to do something radical to help the poor and most vulnerable and Brown has to take the blame for that as its head.

Tory Blogger says Brown looks like " paedo"

I'm sorry you have to see such offensive language on my blog, but I felt I had to draw your attention to a remark made by Tory Blogger Tory Bear who is about as cuddly as a venomous porcupine.

Just after Gordon Brown's interview with Piers Morgan started tonight, he tweeted "Brown looks like paedo."

Whatever you think of Gordon Brown, and I don't think a lot of him as PM, this is just unacceptably vile. You just have to wonder what goes through the mind of someone who can write that.

What worries me is that Tory Bear seems to be pretty much at the heart of the young Conservative glitterati. Imagine that lot anywhere near power. It doesn't bear thinking about.

The Lure of Lentil Gunge - or how the Bob was won

Inspired by Tom Harris, who today described his fruitful (literally) attempts to woo his lovely wife, Carolyn and turned it into a meme, I thought I'd tell you a bit about how Bob and I got together. So, this is the story of how I ran away with a divorced man twice my age....

Bob and I are complete polar opposites in many ways. He's quite quiet and he loves weird things. I guess that figures. Today, part of my Valentine's present to him was (at his request) 4 different versions of the same bit of weird music. It makes him happy, though, so I don't mind.

Anyway, so how on earth did an outdoors loving guy who liked nothing better than heading off to the hills with a rucksack on his back end up with a voraciously political trashy tv and sci-fi fan?

It all began on Sunday 28th June 1987. I had just arrived for my regular Summer job as a youth hostel warden. I was, I should point out, still, just, by a month and three days, a teenager. That night, I booked in this rather tall, unshaven and unkempt hillwalker who looked more than a little grumpy. I resolved to avoid him. Unfortunately the next night, when I went to cook my dinner, he was the only one in the communal kitchen. I cautiously struck up a conversation, just to be friendly, and to my surprise, he didn't snarl. We actually ended up talking for ages. I can't for the life of me remember what about, just that he was wearing a Level 42 T-shirt. I did discover, though, that the day before had been his 36th birthday.

We chatted pretty much all evening, but at that point I didn't really think much of it. I quite liked him, but nothing at that point earth shattering. We spent the next two evenings chatting away, each of us spending much longer in the kitchen than the preparation of our food strictly entailed. I'd say especially longer than the preparation of his food entailed.

He had brought with him a catering pack of Batchelor's dried Chicken Supreme, supplemented on alternate nights with either dried green beans or dried peas. As for the supreme, well, all the big lumps sort of sunk to the bottom so at the beginning of the week, it was more supreme than chicken. By Thursday it was definitely more chicken than supreme. By that time, something was beginning to stir in the fluttering heart department. I knew he had a very long walk planned for that day so I asked him if he'd like to share my meal that night. He accepted. Being on a budget, I prepared my signature lentil stew which, to be honest, was more of a gunge than a stew, but it was tasty, filling and it wasn't dried chicken supreme.

He had only originally booked in for 2 nights, and had planned to head off on the Tuesday morning. He kept hanging around for some reason which I put down to the lovely weather. One of the things about staying in a youth hostel is that you have to do a chore every morning. Because I liked him, I started giving him easy jobs, like emptying the bin in his dorm. By the weekend, he started to demand something more difficult. I thought he was bored. He was actually trying to impress me. Nothing I offered him seemed to suit and then he asked if he could chop some wood. I think my boss got her whole Winter's supply by the end of that Summer.

He decided that he was definitely going to go on the following Monday, 6th July as he had to head up north for a wedding. On the Sunday night he asked me if I wanted to go to one of the many local beauty spots to see the deer as they came off the hill in the evening. So, off we went. Only I could spend 3 Summers in the heart of the Cairngorms and never climb any of them. Rather stupidly I'd worn these shoes which turned out to be very slippery when we started walking along the rocks at the Linn of Quoich. So he had to hold my hand. Just to keep me upright you understand.

Anyway, we ended up going for dinner after that. Over our meal, in an attempt to impress me, he asked me how many highers I had. For those of you south of the border, most people who did them did 5. His face fell when I replied that I had 7 because he wanted me to be thrilled at his 6. As if his degree in mining engineering, a discipline as incomprehensible to me as mandarin Chinese, wasn't enough.

After that came several weeks of almost daily exchange of long letters and very long phone calls. For my 20th birthday, he took me to the U2 concert at Murrayfield. I must have been mad, going off to stay in an unfamiliar city with a man I barely knew, but my instinct said I could trust him.

Within 3 months, I'd moved down there and the rest, as they say, is history.

We are so different but I think it works because we both just let each other be ourselves. He is remarkably tolerant. The presence of a political activist in any family can cause nothing but havoc, but he copes, mostly good humouredly. The irony is that he was once, many moons ago, a Labour activist in West Fife but he left the party during the miners' strike of 1984 and the epicentre of my political universe is now West Fife after Willie Rennie's spectacular Liberal Democrat by-election gain in 2006.

We are not entirely different, though. If the truth be known, it might be better if one of us were more disciplined about tidying up, or making sure we both ate healthily because then we might be thin and have a house that's less of a hovel, but, well, I certainly know beyond doubt I wouldn't swap him for a clear kitchen table and a fridge full of lettuce, or for anything else to be honest.

I'm so glad that I had the presence of mind that Summer to recognise how good Bob was and to grab him and hold on to him.

I am going to tag a couple of people with this Harris inspired meme to describe how they met and wooed their partners - firstly Malc, who's getting married soon, Jennie who will no doubt call me all sorts of names for tagging her, Daddy Alex, Debra and Andrew, Sarah and Kate.

UPDATE: Sarah has posted her story of "How the Ric was wooed"

Happy Valentine's Day

Yes, I know it's all commercialised hype, but it does keep people in jobs, which has to be a good thing, especially at the moment.

I'm having a lovely relaxed day so far. I am a very understanding wife - I didn't mine when my husband put aside my card to open after he'd finished on his Facebook farm. That's nothing compared to the inconvenience and disruption the Liberal Democrats have caused to his life over the last 23 years so I can't really complain.

I certainly have nothing to complain about when I look at the rather beautiful(or, alternatively, rather beautifully wrapped, then unwrapped and cack-handedly re-wrapped so I could take a photo) box of Valvona and Crolla chocolates he bought me along with a lovely card. In return, I've downloaded some weird music for him, bought him a DJ magazine and more chocolate, this time dark, with chilli, dark with ginger and milk with pistachio.

The day so far has also contained some geekery - I'm trying to get to grips with Google Buzz. If you want to follow me, put in the blog's e-mail address, and you should be able to find me.

So far, I'm not convinced it'll do much more than Twitter. I like the ability to thread conversations so you're not darting here, there and everywhere trying to keep up if there's been a time delay, but it's by its nature closed and Twitter seems more accessible to more people.

I'm now off to go to the supermarket to get the wherewithal to make one of my favourite desserts of all time, which I haven't done for ages - Queen of Puddings, following the infallible Delia Smith recipe. See you later!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

F1: Have your say on future of F1

Remember last year we had the great big stooshie between FOTA, the Formula One Teams Association and the FIA then headed by Max Mosley, which almost led to a breakaway series?

At the time, FOTA thanked fans for their support - it was kind of good to have our existence acknowledged. No point in holding our breath waiting for the FIA to take notice of us unless we particularly like cyanosis.

They've now got together with the LG Products and F1 Racing magazine to do a survey for F1 fans to ask us about things important to us. The results will be published in F1 Racing. Now, you have to kiss a lot of frogs (metaphorically) - ie answer a fair few questions you really don't care about, before you get to the interesting stuff, like which races you wanted to keep for example. I wasn't chuffed I could only pick 5 - I went for Britain, Brazil, Australia, Monaco and Spa in the end, but I'd liked to have put Magny Cours, Monza, Germany and Canada on there too. I was also very dischuffed that their list of highlights of 09 season to pick didn't include either of Rubens Barrichello's victories.

Having said that, and given an appropriate health warning about the corporate bull it contains, it's worth completing. You only have until Monday, though, so act quickly by going here if you haven't already.

Winter Olympics - Canada's games off to a muted start

As regular readers will know, I'm a great big jessie where snow is concerned.

You would think, therefore, that I'd be hiding behind the sofa whenever things like the Winter Olympics, or Dancing on Ice come on the television. Not so. I love them and watch them avidly. From Robin Cousins' enchanting skating gold medal in 1980, to Torvill and Dean's dramatic Bolero in 1984, to their return in 1994 to today, I have been hooked. I, who won't set a foot outside the door if there's snow on the ground if I don't have to will quite happily watch the cross country skiing and the skating events to my heart's content.

In the early hours of this morning, this year's games got underway in Vancouver.Up until yesterday, the hosts' biggest headache was whether there would be any snow up in Whistler to run the mens' downhill. The answer to that is no, or at least not until Monday, as it's been postponed.

Sadly, the death in training of 21 year old Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili has meant that the opening ceremony took place in an atmosphere of shock and grief. I expect his brave compatriots will barely remember the spontaneous applause which greeted them as they marched into the stadium behind their black etched flag, their sadness plain to see.

Obviously this has been a terrible start to these Games. I feel so much for Nodar Kumaritashvili's family and friends and for all the organisers and competitors as they deal with the ways in which this tragedy affects them.

Happy Birthday Andrew Reeves

Andrew Reeves moved to Scotland almost 2 years ago to become our Director of Campaigns and Elections. And what a force of nature he is too. I've known lots of people in the Liberal Democrats who work hard, but he takes the biscuit. Before he'd even officially started, he facebook messaged me when he was barely off the train to ask where he could go campaigning the next day. He ended up coming out with us on a blistering hot day in Cowdenbeath. I suspect his annual leave sheet is pristine and untouched because I can't really remember him having a proper holiday since he got here. We do try to persuade him to rest up, but we're banging our heads against a brick wall in that regard.

Anyway, it's his birthday today. Typically, he's spending it campaigning in the Borders. As I understand it, the team is sweeping through the south eastern part of Mike Moore's constituency like a hot knife through butter. They've had loads of people out to help re-elect Mike, which is great to see.

I hope he gets some time to have a bit of a celebration tonight before they get back out tomorrow.

I bet Andrew'll be working on his next birthday as well, given that we'll then be on the countdown to the Holyrood elections........

While we're on birthdays, there's loads around at the moment. Yesterday it was Jeff. Two other friends of mine, Karen and Andrea, are celebrating today as well. When I see birthdays stacking up like this, I tend to look back 9 months to see if there's some sort of special event around that time to, er, explain it. I guess the relaxed May Day bank holiday could be responsible for this particular spate of births:-)

Name the Speaker's Cat

When I was a little girl, we used to play a game called the Minister's Cat, where each person adds an adjective to describe the Minister's Cat and you'd have to remember the whole list. It is a game guaranteed to keep Anna amused for ages.

Today the focus is on the Speaker's Palace at Westminster which tomorrow welcomes a silver tabby to catch the mice that frighten the Speaker's Wife. This is getting more like a nursery rhyme every time I think about it. Sally Bercow has decided to name this poor unsuspecting animal by Twitter Poll. This is not a new way of doing things, although I doubt she'd get away with ignoring the results like Anna did.

I'm assuming they only chose names that they could live with to go on the shortlist, which is: Betty, Hansard, Harriet, Order or Tweetie.

Sally Bercow has tweeted today that

Mr B says he wld rather NOT be saddled with a cat called 'Order'. He is delighted that 'Hansard' has gained ground.

You have to hope she's not really that naive (and I doubt it very much), given that there are a fair number of Tories of the swivel eyed variety sticking like glue to her Twitter feed who are bound to do what they think she doesn't want.

Anyway, if you want to take part, join Twitter and vote here.

Sally Bercow is a very entertaining person to follow. Unlike some, she doesn't seem to mind criticism and interaction and she tends to think up amusing late night games. Last night it was making up names of pubs to go along with political parties. Anyone for a pint at the Pack and Rainger, the Referendum Arms, the Blair and Bush or the Moat and Belltower?

Friday, February 12, 2010

F1: Learning to Love Williams F1 Part 1

Now that one of my favourite drivers of all time, Rubens Barrichello has gone to Williams F1, I'm going to have to at least try to learn to love the team against which I have some deeply held mainly DC and Damon Hill related grudges. I'm not a fan of Frank Williams' attitude towards his drivers - ironically when Rubens had his wee moment in Germany last season, Frank was on the Red Button Forum saying he'd have sacked him.

Anyway, I have to take this project seriously. One of the things I'm planning to do is read Maurice Hamilton's book on the team.

What is helping me is that they have a very chatty and friendly Twitterer, Claire Williams, giving us loads of photos and news from testing in Jerez. It's absolutely brilliant and by far the best of the teams' Twitter coverage.

Nothing will sway me from devotion to this man but thanks to Claire there's reason to be cautiously optimistic on the Williams front.

SNP Tactical Voting hits 30!

No, not the actual blog, given that when Jeff was born, we didn't have the internet. In fact, I don't think we even had video recorders, or home PCs, I seem to remember both coming into our house in around 1982-83. I can't quite remember whether we had a microwave or not.

February 1980 was all about this man for me:

Anyway, happy birthday to Jeff and hope you enjoy your 30s.

Holiday Weekend

The sky is blue, the sun is shining (which means it's baltic, but who cares) and Anna's off school. I am really looking forward to having some fun with her - although unfortunately I feel like hell. It's not been a good week healthwise for me and has been the busiest for a while.

Last Friday I helped out at Anna's school's Valentine's Disco. That's enough to completely exhaust the fit and healthy, but it was fun to see the kids enjoying themselves. On Saturday my lovely friend Elspeth came to see me for coffee and chocolate. Sunday saw us heading to Paisley as it was one of 3 places within driving distance that was still showing Twilight New Moon. Well worth seeing if you haven't already, by the way.

In amongst all this, I've felt utterly horrid - still better than a few months ago, but still yuck. Last night, my throat was really sore and my nose really blocked and today I have a cold. I am not chuffed.

Today, when herself gets out of bed, we are off down town for some girly shopping. I have to pick up my new glasses. Remember the saga of the sorely eye? Well, it meant that I had to have a proper eye test for the first time in a while. My distance vision is fine, but I have to have reading glasses. A down side of the 40s, so I'm told.

Anna came with me to choose my glasses, thankfully, as she has taste and an idea for what suits and I am completely useless in that department.

The other thing we're planning on getting today is a mobile phone sorted out for her. It's not something I've encouraged and in fact she'd never expressed a wish for one until recently. I am slightly cursing her teacher for setting the class a writing assignment arguing that "All Children should have Mobile Phones". They weren't allowed to take the opposite view. It was the same when she had to write on the evils of plastic bags - they all had to oppose. Anyway, having wrestled long and hard with the mobile phone issue, the safety thing won me over in the end. She's never really far enough away from us to need one, but there may be a time when she needs to contact us. We're just going to get a new SIM for an old one of mine. I expect she'll be a bit more like her Daddy than me, though. To me the phone is a vital recreational tool, keeping me in touch with my friends. Bob, on the other hand, hates them and only uses them when he has to. The only people he actually has proper phone conversations with are me and my sister when she forces him.

My lovely sister is coming down on Sunday so we'll spend Monday and Tuesday with her. I can't wait - I haven't seen her since the October holidays.

I'm hoping to have the time and energy to blog a bit too. My head is full of things to write about and will explode if I don't get the ideas out soon. We can't have that - the house is untidy enough as it is........

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nicola Sturgeon - should she resign?

I'm watching a PMQs which has been dominated by the issue of Nicola Sturgeon's letter asking for a non custodial sentence for benefits fraudster Abdul Rauf.

As I understand it, she asked the Court not to jail him because he suffered ill health and had 2 young children. I don't see how this can be seen as condoning the crime in any way. She was not asking for him to get off, but for the Court to take certain circumstances into consideration when deciding how Mr Rauf should be punished.

The crime of which he was convicted was a serious one. It enrages me that somebody could omit to tell the DWP that they had a £200,000 property when applying for Income Support. And that he'd done it before. It makes my blood boil when I think of people who really do have nothing being turned down for Social Fund loans and Community Care grants while people like Rouf basically take money that should go to people genuinely in need.

Should he have been locked up? Maybe. If pregnant mothers can be locked up for not paying their tv licence fees, or pensioners locked up for not paying their Council Tax, then why should Mr Rouf, whose crime was so much worse be any different? By the way, I don't condone locking poor people up for debt, so I don't think either of those women should have been sent to jail.

However, that's not the issue here. What's at the heart of this is to what lengths an elected parliamentarian is obliged to go for their constituents. I tend to take the view that everyone who comes to their MP or MSP or Councillor for help is entitled to as much effort as that person can give them. Everyone is entitled to some degree of advocacy.

Instinctively, I think what Nicola Sturgeon did is just what you'd do. Remember she's trained as a solicitor so she's also had the cab rank principle drilled into her - that everybody, no matter what you think of them personally, is entitled to representation. I also have a huge amount of respect for someone who used their qualifications not to earn vast amounts of money in some swanky legal practice, but at work in the Drumchapel Law Centre, giving people who would otherwise not be able to afford it access to the law.

All my political life, I've heard people on doorsteps tell me how useless their councillor/MSP/MP has been when they've gone to them, and how they haven't lifted a finger to help them and have at times been downright rude in turning them down. Most often the offending representatives have been from the Labour Party, so you can kind of understand where their reputation for neglect and arrogance comes from. If someone was going to err, then I'd probably rather that they erred in their constituents' favour rather than turn them away.

Now, I'd be first in the queue to call for Nicola Sturgeon's resignation if this person was in any way going to be a danger to the public, but there's no evidence of that. I am concerned, though, at how a piece of constituency casework appears to have become a political football. I don't want to see a situation develop where Parliamentarians are scared to take up a controversial case for fear of villification in the press.

On this one, I'm prepared to say that I would probably have done something similar to Nicola Sturgeon if faced with the same scenario. I may have used a slightly different form of wording, but I wouldn't have been that far apart from her.

I don't think she deserves to lose her job on this and I hope that when the pantomime atmosphere at Holyrood calms down a bit, this story will become tomorrow's chip wrappings.


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