Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Caron's Corkers - 31st March

Who would believe that on the last day of March I'd be waking up to a couple of inches of snow! The poor rabbits! They've been losing their thick Winter coats so we've had to give them lots of extra straw.

Anyway, the blogosphere has been busy and here are some of its best bits:

Oh good, the Liberal Democrats will not support the controversial and draconian Digital Econoomy Bill.

Ultra loyal Labour MP Eric Joyce gets why there are problems and thinks it should fall and be brought back to next Parliament. But will he vote against it?

Yousuf wonders if someone's taking the mickey out of the SNP but the link does appear to be to a genuine broadcast. It is very funny though. It suggests that SNP people get to kiss pretty girls in the street and then go to top of mountains and roar. Then a funny man comes on and talks about Labour and Tory cutting housing - which they're in charge of and they have already cut. Rosie Barnes and your rabbits, all is forgiven, almost.

Daddy Alex and Stephen welcome the return of Tony Blair! Ish.

The lovely elephant, original as ever, quotes Miss Piggy while reviewing the Chancellor's Debate.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Watch out, the Labservatives are about!

What's that old French phrase, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose - basically shorthand for things just stay the same. A bit like the last 65 years in British politics!

Today the Labservatives sprung into action with their election manifesto launch. Soome good points in there, well made.

They have some snazzy posters. My personal favourite is "You might not trust us but at least you know us." You can even follow their leader, Gorvid Camerown, on Twitter.

The only thing that's missing is a campaign song. Will and Helen had better get working on that one:-)

It's nice to know that even in these febrile pre-election times, and people around are losing their heads, that humour abounds amongst Lib Dem campaigners!

Ask the Chancellors: The Morning After

As you know, I was a bit impressed with our boy last night. But don't take my word for the fact that he was good. He didn't have quite so far to go to convince me, but he gets a fair bit of praise from some hard nosed journalists.

Obviously the Torygraph is going to back the Tories but even Benedict Brogan couldn't deny that Vince had done well, or, rather, "defended his saintly mantle". He has the cheek to accuse Vince of exploiting voter cynicism when the Tories' whole broken Britain narrative attempts to deceive and scare.

The Herald never knowingly says anything remotely nice about a Liberal Democrat but they gave Vince 7 stars in total, equal with Alistair Darling and well ahead of Osborne, lagging behind with 5. This is what they had to say about him:


Presentation: Came across as the sage economist. Also aggressive on Tories. Had the best one-liners and clearly won over the audience, receiving most applause. ✸ ✸ ✸ ✸

Star rating: ****

Argument: Was most direct on cuts and on the need to curb bankers’ excesses ✸ ✸ ✸"

They reckoned Osborne needs to "up his game" and Darling lacked clarity on future cuts agenda.

The Guardian is more effusive in its praise of Vince being unequivocal about about his clear victory over the others, citing his "bravura performance" and reminded us of one of his best lines of the evening:

Cable prompted the first laughter and applause of the evening when he said: "George, last week you went round denouncing these government supposed savings as complete fiction – which apparently a lot of them are. You are now using these fictional savings to finance your tax cuts. That is utterly incredible."

The Times Debate Jury was unanimous in its praise of Vince but for some reason isn't letting me link to it at the moment, so you'll have to make your own way over there.

Vince was the Scotsman's clear winner.

And the Independent's. They said:

The cult of Cable lives. The Liberal Democrat went into this debate with the most to lose, but he none-too-gently reminded the audience that he did indeed warn about the impending crisis, the candy floss economy founded on debt and a housing bubble – and they warmly applauded him.

And the clearest sign that Vince done good? Tom Harris, with the air of a man who knows his guy has been gubbed, puts the boot in with typical Labour arrogance. The voters may well wipe the smirk of his face in a few weeks' time. If even Benedict Brogan is rushing down the betting shop to put money on us doing better than expected, then anything could happen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

My 3 little words on the Chancellors

I am confined to the Blackberry so won't be writing any long analysis of the Chancellors' debate on Channel 4 right now. I admit to real nerves before it started. The Almighty Vince, as the only contender with any sort of positive reputation to speak of, had most to lose. I needn't have worried. He was awesome! Don't take my word for it. He got by far the warmest and most sustained applause from the audience.

My ever so quick summary gives just 3 words to describe each contender in ascending order of their place in the food chain of chancellorship..

George Osborne: shallow, sleekit, inexperienced

Alistair Darling: battle-weary, defensive, weak

Vince Cable: honest, credible, consistent

My favourite moment in whole debate was on a question about a potential brain drain. Vince talked about how pin striped Arthur Scargills shouldn't hold the country to ransom, deftly reminding us of how the old parties have always allowed their interest groups to lead them.

George Osborne's sneakiness in saying nothing for months on tax other than espousing cuts in Inheritance Tax for the loaded and then, the day of the debate banging on about reversing NI increase so he could pretend he cared about the poor did him no favours.

I had to stifle a snort of laughter when Osborne went on about how we should be making things. Dear voters, please don't forget how the Tories screwed manufacturing in office.

And there was Alistair Darling, the one with all the power but lacking the backbone to use it. His failure to curb the banks is his legacy. He was shown up by Vince for that. Then he showed he really didn't get the idea of breaking up the banks. It's not about size, Darling! It's all about function, the separation of the "casino banks" protecting the small business lending and household banking.

There were comparatively few fireworks. There were times I'd have liked Vince to take Osborne by the scruff of the neck but sometimes less is more!

No wonder nearly a third of people want Vince as Chancellor. I expect that'll go up after tonight. If you're one of them, you need to vote Lib Dem to make it happen.

Is SNP's new housing scheme any good?

I know it's early in the morning, and I don't want to seem churlish or anything, but it seems at first glance that the SNP's new big idea on affordable housing is a bit like trying to shift 10 tonnes of gravel with a 5 ml medicine spoon. I know they say every little helps, but I would have hoped for something more ambitious.

What they're wanting to do is for Councils to team up with developers to build 1000 houses across Scotland, and then rent them out for 5 -10 years before selling them off.

I see 2 big potential problems with this.

Firstly, isn't it just moving on the problem 5-10 years? I mean, the people who rent the houses are still going to need to be housed in that time and then they'll find that they're sold under them. I come across families who too often end up on the homeless list whose private let is sold from underneath them and they can't find another.

Secondly, 1000? Well, the housing list in Fife alone, only 1 of Scotland's 32 Councils, is around 12,500 and they manage to find homes for around 2,500 every year. It's not even close to being enough, especially when the SNP Government is cutting desperately needed funds for social housing.

This National Housing Trust idea sounds like it has all the potential of the Scottish Futures Trust which so far has achieved very little. I am far from convinced that it will make any appreciable difference to the Scottish Social Housing crisis.

Dan and Dan's Daily Mail Song

I've been itching to see this since yesterday when it started being heavily touted round Twitter by people I like such as the lovely Mister Doctor Chocaholic and fellow Lib Dem Blogger and F1 fan Jeremy Rowe.

It fulfils all its promise as it takes the scaremongering, bigoted ill-informed rubbish printed by the Daily Fail and puts it to song. Absolutely brilliant. Enjoy!

Follow Dan and Dan on Twitter here. I have no idea who they are but I'm looking forward to seeing more of what they produce.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Caron's Corkers - 27th March

If you read nothing else today:

Bridget Fox writes for Lib Dem Voice on our MPs' activities re the Digital Economy Bill since her successful efforts to change our party's direction on this.

Cicero wonders why we're not making more of a fuss about a former KGB Officer owning a British newspaer.

When I saw that Duncan was offering a critique of F1 television coverage, I thought he was going to take the name of the Blessed Brundle in vain. I should have known better - a very well argued piece on how Bernie Ecclestone could do better.

The Honourable Lady Mark muses from the train about how the immediacy of technology causes problems.

Don't forget WWF's Earth Hour tonight - switch your lights off for an hour from 8.30. See the event globally live blogged here.

And don't forget to put your clocks forward tonight.

Labour's not very SMART pledges.

Remember when we went on all those training courses from work (and the Lib Dems for that matter) when we had it drilled into us that our objectives had to be SMART? Woe betide you if you came up with a set of plans that were vague, unrealisic, unachievable, unmeaasurable or not given a target time.

Compare and contrast with what Labour, after 13 years in office, are now offering us as their pledges for the coming election:

Secure the recovery

Raise family living standards

Build a High Tech economy

Protect frontline services

Strengthen fairness in communities

What in the name of the wee man does any of that lot actually mean?

Let's take them in order:

Secure the recovery

Well, you know, you've had a year and a half since the meltdown, when you had to bail out the banks. Your idea of security seems to be giving the banks all our money and continuing to allow them to crap all over us. It makes me so mad every time I see a sports event sponsored by RBS when sustainable small businesses struggle every day to get that bank (and others) to lend them money to keep them going.

Ok, we agree with Labour broadly that the fiscal stimulus was right, and we have to be very careful to make sure that we don't extinguish the very fragile flame of recovery, but Vince Cable's plans are much more detailed and credible than anything Labour has to offer. No wonder almost a third of people want him as Chancellor

Raise family living standards

What does that actually mean? How? And don't people who live on their own, or pensioners, get a look in here?

Also tell that to the number of families who are struggling to repay tax credits wrongly overpaid to them through no fault of their own. Many will be struggling with this for years.

Tell that to the children who are in the poorest homes - that's where one parent is working on a low income, just above the threshold for any help.

Tell that to the 1.8 million people across the UK who are waiting for affordable housing.

Build a High Tech economy

Again you really don't know what they're promising you. I thought it was interesting that nowhere in these pledges is the word "green". Do they not get that investing in renewables and green energy is the way forward?

Protect frontline services

Again this could mean anything. What frontline services? What can people take as a guarantee from this? Does it mean that I'm going to get the drugs I need for my rare condition? Does it mean that my child will get a decent education, no matter where they live? The choice of the word protect is very interesting, too. It doesn't signify any sort of improvement. Compare and contrast with the specific Liberal Democrat plans on education and making sure that this generation of school leavers isn't lost, or let down, like those brought up in Thatcher's Britain.

Strengthen fairness in communities

How? Apparently there's a plan to allow people at public expense to get a civil injunction to tackle anti social behaviour. That sounds like it's almost creating another level of bureaucracy to wade through. Why not just ensure Councils and communities have the resources to sort the problems?

And if you really want to give power back to the people, why not take real, meaningful action to clean up politics, like the Liberal Democrats offer?

Nick Clegg outlined in January our four steps to a fairer Britain:

Fairness is the thread that binds all our policies together as we offer:

Fairer taxes that put money back in your pocket.You will pay no tax on the first £10,000 you earn – cutting most tax bills by £700.

A fair chance for every child. Recruit more teachers and provide more one to one tuition to help struggling pupils.

A fair future: create jobs by making Britain greener. Invest in public transport, a programme of home insulation and new social housing.

A fair deal for you from the politicians. Make politicians accountable and give you the right to sack corrupt MPs.

A lot SMARTer than anything Labour has to offer now.

I thought about looking back at Labour's pledges through the years and then I found Channel 4 had done it already. Note how SMART Labour's pledges were in 1997 and 2001 and how woolly they were in 2005 and now.

I've thought for a long while that Labour have nothing but a record of failure and stoking up fear of the Tories to bring to this campaign and their weak and insipid pledges bear that out.

F1: Humiliation for Hamilton as Red Bulls dominate Albert Park

Well, some things are just worth getting up at 6:30 for. After knackering myself yesterday getting up at the crack of dawn for Practice, I hadn't intended watching Qualifying live, but I woke up naturally just in tme to see 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, my least favourite driver since Jacques Villeneuve, rather unceremoniously fail to make the final qualifying session for this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

I don't know quite what it is about stepping onto Australian soil that turns Hamilton into even more of an idiot than usual. We are supposed to believe that he's grown up since last year when he told barefaced lies to the stewards after the race. Certainly towards the end of last year he was behaving like less of a brat, but then, on Friday night, he decided to show off in his road car, performing the sort of antics that Ferrari's Felipe Massa had been helping an Australian police campaign against earlier in the day. I did pick up a bit of irony in the fact that performing stunts and showing off in a car is known as "hooning" when a certain Mr Hoon has been exposed as showing off about his political prowess to feather his own nest.

Anyway, Lewis says that his brush with the law is "something to learn from". Actually I thought when you passed your driving test, you learnt what was against the law. I mean, those antics wouldn't be looked upon kindly here either.

Hamilton's weekend went from bad to worse when a dismal performance in qualifying meant that he finished in 11th position, failing to make the final 10 minute shoot out. Now, I know that when Rubens Barrichello finished in 11th position last week I was doing cartwheels of celebration, but it's not the same thing. Rubens finished well ahead of his team-mate, for a start, while Hamilton's team-mate, current World Champion Jenson Button, cruised seemingly effortlessly onto the second row of the grid.

My emotions are a bit tangled when I see Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber share the front row after, again, some dazzling qualifying laps. I really, really don't like Red Bull as a team, but I have a lot of time for both drivers. Mark Webber. He has really had to struggle to get a foothold in F1. His twitter name is AussieGrit and it's completely appropriate. Anyway, both drivers flew to the front of the grid. It would be fabulous to see Mark win in front of his home crowd. Red Bull showed us two weeks ago that they can dazzle in qualifying but reliability problems cost Vettel the race and he had to be happy with fourth. He is a very talented driver, but a haircut would do him no harm whatsoever. Do they not have barbers in Melbourne? Stephen came up with another reason, tough - his barnet could be ballast!

Third on the grid is Alonso. He is a very good driver for sure, but he annoys me. He behaved like an idiot at McLaren in 2007 as much as Lewis Hamilton did and he has made me livid yesterday with a typically arrogant interview in which he basically told fans that if they thought F1 was boring then they could always go away and do something else instead.

Jenson's fourth, Massa's fifth, the two Mercedes cars were closely matched in 6th and 7th. Alright then, Schumi was 7th, but only just, then Rubens in 8th, Robert Kubica in 9th and Force India's Adrian Sutil in 10th. What's interesting is that last year there was barely a second and a half covering the entire grid. Today there was almost 2 seconds covering the top 10.

Spare a thought for Virgin F1 though - somebody did the sums wrong and their fuel tank isn't big enough . Now I know I'm first to crticise Jonathan Legard for his ditchwater style of commentary but credit to him for being the first to sniff this story out.

We are used to seeing Melbourne basking in sunlight, but the Antipodean elements seemed to be sticking 2 fingers to Bernie Ecclestone, who'd snubbed Australia by depriving it of its traditional season opener spot. We had one very rainy practice session yesterday and today's qualifying was distinctly chilly and tomorrow's looking a bit unsettled too.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Alonso is going to win again tomorrow as the Ferrari will be faster in the early stages of the race and is likely to be more reliable. I really want Mark Webber to at least make the podium though.

This feels like a proper F1 weekend, though. The place is packed out with fans. While I am not chuffed with Bernie for putting on the Australian race with its resultant sleep deprivation for UK fans on the same weekend as the clocks go forward, the sport is as popular as ever down under. It should be a good race tomorrow. See you then!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Roaring Lyon beats wonky fruit ban

Ever so often, the European Parliament tries to do something completely bonkers. Remember all that nonsense when they tried to ban the sale of vegetables that didn't conform to a certain shape or size? Well, that issue reared its ugly head again this week. Thankfully Scotland's Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon was there to be the voice of common sense and reason.

This means that he can get on with fighting for a fair deal for Scotland on a whole load of issues. One of his priorities is trying to do something about lowering fuel prices in areas of Scotland where having a car is a necessity, not a luxury. You try getting from Stoer to Ullapool, or Tomintoul to Aboyne, or Forsinard to Rogart or from anywhere in the Orkney Islands to anywhere else on a Sunday (or any other day of the week to be honest)and you'll see what I mean. You don't even have to be out in the remote far flung highlands to suffer from poor public transport links. Villages like Crombie and Charlestown in West Fife face being cut off if John Swinney doesn't provide more money to save their only bus service and it will soon be essential to have a car if you live there.

George wants to secure what they call in Brussels a derogation - which is a posh word meaning a regional reduction of fuel duties, to make life easier for people in Scotland's rural communities.

Almost a year ago, the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament put forward a motion calling on the SNP Government to ssecure a fuel duty derogation for Scotland.

So far, apparently, all the Government has done is to draw a pretty picture. By any standards, this just isn't good enough. Alex Salmond is quite happy to shout loudly on the world stage about independence, but drags his feet when it comes to a measure that would really make a difference to our rural communities.

George is campaigning on this issue and wants support to spur the SNP into action. Sign his pstition here.

In which I am not chuffed with technology

Today has not been a very good day. I decided that I'd get up to watch the second F1 practice from Melbourne. I couldn't even contemplate the first session, which started at 1.30 in the morning as I would really have ruined myself for today. Anyway, I got up at 5.30 and felt so vile that I ended up dosing on the sofa for most of the session. It was great to have Antony Davidson back in the 5 live commentary box with Crofty. I really missed him in Bahrain.

Anyway, the morning passed relatively uneventfully. I was working at home and despite a minor tantrum at the inflexibility of a particular governmental organisation, I got a fair bit done.

Then I went to pick Anna up from school. We have one of these Nissan Micras with keyless entry. There's a wee button on the door that you're supposed to press as long as you have the key nearby. It's a great system. When it works.

It was a bit erratic last year and we had the keys re-coded which seemed to fix the problem. This week it's been a bit weird again but on no occasion ever have I failed to get into the car. Until today. There is an emergency keyhole on the passenger door, but it wasn't having any attempt to get the key into it. I ended up spending £7 on a taxi to go up to school and pick her up.

So now I have a car on my drive that I can't get in to. The garage, which is literally 2 minutes' drive away can't do anything to help until Wednesday. I'm hoping that Bob will be able to fix it when he gets home but until then I'm marooned. It's not even that I wanted to get anywhere. I'm just fed up that I can't.

Oh well, I guess I shall just have to lie on the sofa and watch reruns of old Australian grands prix.......

£8 minimum monthly charge for web access to Times

This morning News International uveiled its plans to charge for access to its Times and Sunday Times websites. I hope it's not the beginning of the end of free access to news media online. Under the News International plans, you would either pay £1 a day or £2 for a week's access.

I won't be paying. If I'm going to buy news, I'd prefer to actually have a paper to flick through because it's just a pleasurable experience. Even if I did pay, I wouldn't link to a Times source because I wouldn't expect my readers to pay. That wouldn't stop me commenting on their stories, or highlighting when they, or any other paper, is talking rubbish.

News International has clearly decided that because it doesn't really understand the internet, it's just going to try and restrict and control it. It's not surprising that they've done this and they've gone for the maximum money option to really tie people down.

I will maybe look at one or two pages on any given day from the Times website, whereas if I have the paper I'll read the whole thing. If you subscribe online, they, I presume, hope, that people will look at their pages alone to get their fix of news. There are only so many hours in the day so it's likely that subscribers will only pay to access one site which is to my mind a retrograde step.

I wonder if this will prove an opportunity for bloggers to become more prominent - I mean, you can read our sites for free and a lot of the stuff bloggers produce is as interesting and original a commentary on life as you'd find in a newspaper if not more so. Blogs also cover a much more diverse range of opinion and experience too.

One of the attractive features of the internet is its diversity. I wonder how internet users round the world will take to News International's attempts to control them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Caron's Corkers 25th March

Firstly, Happy Golden Jubilee to the Lib Dems' Blogfather, Lord Bonkers' alter ego Jonathan Calder. I met him at the Bloggers' Unconference in Edinburgh in November and I was completely starstruck. Hope he has a fantastic next decade!

The Lovely Elephant critiques the Budget and shows how the Tories haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in the past.

Scott at Love and Garbage gives us a beautifully written account of the Doctor's presence in his life. Quite brought a tear to my eye, as I'm sure it did to his wife's when he told her to wait when she thought she was going into labour during the first Eccleston/RTD episode.

Brits on Pole uncover Lewis Hamilton's secret life. Maybe. Before you political lot dismiss this as another F1 post, just think about how this sort of thing could be used in the political arena.

Stephen analyses yesterday's Official SNP Twitter feed and surmises that whoever writes it was indulging in some cider before the tax went up.

Saw this one after I'd pressed publish - why on earth did Anne Moffat put herself through the stress of the attempts to deselect her in East Lothian if she was already planning to stand down on the basis of ill health? Andrew has more.

That's all for today folks. Have a good day!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Budget unfair for the poorest

They may say that they want a "future fair for all", which is bizarre anyway given that they've failed to deliver that in the 13 years they've been in power, but again the Labour actions fail to live up to their rhetoric. Labour are going around the country delivering a card that basically tells people to vote Labour or the Tories will be back. That's it. That's all they have to go on after 13 years.

Alistair Darling showed today that for all his words about fairness, he hasn't got a clue about how to actually make it happen.

For a start, the Easter Bunny will be bringing us all a tax rise along with our Easter eggs. He may not have raised the rate of income tax, but he's rather sneakily failed to raise our personal tax allowances. This means that yet again the lowest earners will be getting the biggest proportional tax rises - because prices have gone up, that £6475 is not going to go as far as it did last year. Compare and contrast with the Liberal Democrat plans to help the lowest paid by raising the tax threshold to £10,000, taking millions out of tax and giving the rest of us basic rate taxpayers an extra £700 in our pockets.

If you happen to live in a rural area, you have no choice but to stump up the extra 3p in fuel duty, and phasing it really doesn't help. Liberal Democrat parliamentarians like Danny Alexander have been campaigning on this for years. George Lyon MEP is taking the campaign for fairer fuel prices to a European dimension by highlighting how rural areas in other countries have been given targetted reductions in duty. He's previously described fuel duty as a fixed penalty fine for living in a rural area.

I think the issue that tugs most at my heart strings is that the budget does nothing to increase the availability of affordable housing and I was really pleased that Nick mentioned that in his speech. It just shows that he gets the issues that the poorest are dealing with. He also spoke of how badly people would be affected by the Housing Benefit changes.

Many people think that if you're on benefit you get all your rent paid for you. Not necessarily so. Now, there's a study of rents in the area and by some complex formula each local authority announces every month the maximum it'll pay. If you take the most expensive properties out of this, then obviously the average rent is going to fall, meaning that in places like London and Edinburgh and Aberdeen where rents are really high, some people will find that their housing benefit doesn't cover all their rent and they have to make up the shortfall themselves.

Don't take my word on how rubbish the budget is. The Almighty Vince is the one whose views really matter. This is the man nearly a third of people want to succeed Alistair Darling. Here is his response.

We can't count on Labour to stand up for the poor and vulnerable any more - that mantle now belongs to the Liberal Democrats. Labour scaremongering about the Tories won't change that, but a vote for the Lib Dems will help millions of people.

SNP's online own goal emphasises their irrelevance

I have to thank the SNP for making me laugh this afternoon. This official tweet from them shows how they just don't get it.

If you follow the link, it takes you to this barely literate press release which includes the phrase

"This is an embarrassing blunder for Jim Murphy an epic fail".

As my friend Graeme commented "Perhaps the SNP should learn how to construct sentences before they criticise."

The point of their press release was to claim the Facebook Generation which Jim Murphy had said were represented by Labour, for themselves, which totally misses the point of social networking.

It's so arrogant to claim an entire group of people for yourself. Facebook is made up of millions of people with different beliefs, goals and aspirations. Where the SNP and Labour often go wrong in using social networking is that they fail to realise that the process of communication is meant to be two way. It's not there to tell people what to do, it's there to have a conversation with them.

Compare and contrast to the Liberal Democrat presence on Facebook and Twitter. Instinctively we relish and enjoy the dialogue with people. MPs like Alistair Carmichael, Jo Swinson and Willie Rennie all have meaningful (and also more relaxed) discussions about local, national and international issues with their Facebook and Twitter friends. For thousands of people, this has opened up a whole new way of communicating with their MP. Facebook helps build a rapport which can make it easier for someone to approach the MP to ask for help - and they do, often. If you're going to serve people well, you need to be as accessible and approachable as possible.

It's quite amazing that the SNP is taking up bandwidth talking about this kind of stuff today of all days. I mean, we've just been told that the Easter Bunny's bringing us all a tax hike, people in rural areas particularly have not been helped at all by phasing in another fuel tax rise, not one person has been helped to find affordable housing and those on housing benefit who live in areas where rents are high have been even further shafted by Labour. You would think that the SNP would comment on the Budget, not fight like ferrets in a sack about who owns Facebook.

Before you say anything, I can write about this sort of stuff if I want. I'm in no way officially representing the Lib Dems and if I want to make observations about trashy things, then that's nobody's business but my own.

Today's poor showing from the SNP is yet more evidence of why they are irrelevant at Westminster.

Caron's Corkers

After a long absence, I thought I'd revive my pick of the best of the blogosphere:

Kayleigh outline how you can get a placement working for the Renault F1 team. Pity they are only looking for engineers, not campaigners.

Why Clair is walking the West Highland Way to raise money for the Stillbirth and Neonatal Deaths Society - who, by the way, are brilliant.

Yay! Jennie is selected to stand for Council. And if she says Craig Whittaker is a prize arse, then he is. Maybe not the conventional acceptance speech, but we wouldn't expect or want that from her!

Mark highlights his new project, Lib Dem TV and we get Chris Davies too:-)

Andrew highlights Labour disarray in East Lothian following Anne Moffat's deselection. For my part, I really wasn't impressed with Anne Moffat as an MP, particularly after she likened Alex Salmond to Hitler, but nor do I think that the way she has been treated by the local Labour Party has been in any way civilised. It certainly isn't a seemly way for an organisation to conduct its affairs and has been dragged out for much too long.

Monday, March 22, 2010

That "which celebrity do you hate" meme

I've been double tagged for this one, by both Yousuf, and Spiderplant. The idea is that you name a celebrity you really, really hate. The idea was started by our own Mark after he read an article in the Telegraph by Bryony Gordon, who said:

I have a theory that almost everybody loathes one person in the public eye with such passion that the mere mention of their name is enough to make you combust with rage. This person has to be someone famous, someone you have never met before, someone who can pop up on the television for 30 seconds yet make you feel apoplectic for hours afterwards."

I suspect this is Mark trying to lighten the atmosphere in this rather febrile time leading up to the start of the election campaign, trying to get us all to play nicely together. I'm mildly fed up with him for choosing Patrick Kielty, who barely has to open his mouth before I come out in hives.

As for my choice, well, being essentially a peace loving hippy, I don't really hate anyone. Sappy, I know, but it's true. There are, however a number of possibilities for that person whose existence is a bit like nails down a blackboard for me. I did think about Lewis Hamilton who doesn't have to try too hard to have me spitting feathers. Then I thought about Ashley Cole because I generally have an issue with footballers being completely underworked and overpaid as well as treating the women in their lives like accessories to be discarded and forgotten about at will. Finally I thought about Dr Hilary Jones, the GMTV doctor whose ignorant and inaccurate advice on breastfeeding makes me foam at the mouth.

I think my dislike of all of them is too rationally based, though, so I've had to find someone who really drives me insane for no good reason - and here he is:

Everything about Gary Rhodes screams pretension, and how you can have that when making what is effectively a very simple Risotto is beyond me. Even the exaggerated way he stirs things in the pan makes my eyes water. His recipes are so precise and faffy. I deliberately chose a simple one cos I couldn't inflict any of the ones where he makes little parcels of things with their little bows. Who cares?

The way he sways before the camera in an affected manner,the way he says "just one turn of the pepper milll" before giving it an ostentatious three twists both fill me with bile. Everything about him just as if by magic, enlivens every hackle I possess.

It's a shame, really, because he's someone who brings nothing but pleasure in the form of good food into the world and doesn't need someone like me being churlish about his work.

I am going to tag Stephen, Kayleigh, Mr MacNumpty, Sara and my completely fabulous niece Laura. Now, Yousuf has already broken my heart by choosing Robbie Williams. You should feel free, of course, to choose other people you know I like, but just know you'll make me very sad....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gay couple refused double room in B and B

There's an episode of Doctor Who, I think it was in the story Remembrance of the Daleks, but I'm sure Daddy Alex will correct me if I'm wrong, where 80s girl Ace (one of my favourite assistants ever) turns over a card in the window of the 1963 B and B they're in and almost jumps with horror when she realises that it says "no coloureds".

The idea that it could ever have been legal to refuse anyone a room in a B and B on the basis of their ethnic background would fill most of us with disgust.

It's just as appalling that Huntingdon Lib Dem Council Group leader John Morgan and his partner Michael were refused a double room at a B and B in Berkshire last Friday night. If you run a business, you have to treat your customers equally. The way John and Michael were treated shows why we the laws we have which prevent people being discriminated against in this way are necessary.

Oi, SNP, leave Scotland's saltire alone - it isn't your's!

One thing I really can't stand, as I've said many times before, is when politics, flags and patriotism get mixed up. I don't care who does it, but any party wrapping themselves in a flag and claiming it for themselves just brings me out in hives.

So you can imagine that I started foaming at hte mouth this afternoon when I read this from the SNP's official Twitter feed:

Alex Salmond closes conference - lets get a saltire over the constituencies of Scotland#snpconf#snp

The Scottish saltire is for everybody, for all Scots, regardless of age, religion, gender, political affiliation or anything else. It's one of those national emblems that we can all identify with, and which makes us smile when we see it. Loving Scotland is not the sole preserve of the SNP and it's hideously arrogant of them to imply that it is.

Apart from that, the SNP really have lost their way at their Conference in Aviemore this weekend. Even Jeff knows that Alex Salmond is in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that the Scottish Government can avoid some sort of spending cuts in the years to come. If we have to tighten our belts in our own homes, I don't see why the Scottish Government can't. What's important is that the services needed by those on the lowest incomes are preserved and improved - that's the fairness that voting Liberal Democrat will bring you.

Nicola Sturgeon had to look back to the previous Lib Dem/Labour coalition to find what she called "one of the proudest achievements of the Scotish Parliament" - free personal care. The reason we have that is absolutely nothing to do with the SNP. In fact, Labour on its own would never have implented it either. The reason Scotland is way ahead on this is squarely down to the Liberal Democrats.

She launched her big idea, too - universal health checks for the over 40s. Well, don't we already have these in most surgeries. Certainly mine has people fighting over you to take your blood pressure and check you out. My husband's been hauled in several times for various checks and screenings.

Is that it?

It's unusual to see a Government run so spectacularly out of steam barely 75% of the way through its first term. If that's the best they can come up with for their achievements and future plans, then the sooner they're out of office the better.

In which I know more about something in Sally Bercow's council ward than she does...

This afternoon I was quite amused to see this tweet from aspiring Labour Council candidate Sally Bercow. Sally is standing for the St James Ward for Westminster City Council. I can't quite work out from the tube map exactly how many Circle Line stations there are in the ward, but there are certainly some. It seems strange that she had no idea until today that the Circle Line no longer went round in a Circle.

Now I, living 500 miles away, knew that. Only because on the night of 12th December last year wonderful Lib Dem Voice contributor, blogger and sometime transport geek Helen Duffett went to the party held on the last train to go properly round in a circle and shared the experience with us on Twitter, but still.

It is a bit weird to discover that I know more about an issue affecting voters in Sally Bercow's chosen ward than she does. Especially when there have been problems with the new system, with people complaining of longer waits and fewer trains.

Before you all shout at me and say that the Council doesn't run the tube, I know that. It's Boris' bag, isn't it? Even so, I think if you're very publicly running for office, you kind of need to know the issues affecting the people you hope to represent.

Compare and contrast with Ed Fordham, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn, who is equally not going to be responsible for the tube, but knows how badly people are affected by changes in its services. Just as a postscript, I've known Ed for many years, ever since he lived in Stoke and effectively campaigned against Labour there, winning Council by-elections in dramatic style. He is brilliant - passionate, energetic and he gets things done. Check out this interview with him, if you want to know more. He would be an awesome MP and I hope he wins on Election Day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why does a man who covered up child abuse get to keep his job?

Former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie took a few taxis he shouldn't have charged to the taxpayer which was clearly wrong, and he lost his job.

This woman broke the law, stupidly, but not hugely, and she lost her job.

This man was party to 2 child victims of sex abuse by a colleague in the same organisation being asked to sign an oath of silence about what had happened to them and he thinks he should keep his job. He seems to think that the fact that he was young and folllowing Bishop's Orders is an excuse.

There are some things that can't simply be resolved by a letter saying sorry.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Daily Fail considers criminalising a generation

The Daily Fail's latest poll is as ridiculous as we've come to expect from them. They are asking "Should under-16s be prosecuted for having sex?" It's illustrated with a photograph of a young girl wearing a tracksuit looking detached from her miserable looking baby. That's because, obviously in the Fail's blinkered and misogynist world view, girls are to blame for pretty much all the evils of the world, and getting pregnant specifically.

What exactly is giving youngsters a criminal record for having sex going to achieve? There's evidence, with the falling numbers of teenage pregnancies, that investment in education to ensure that teenagers have life saving contraceptive information is working and that's a process which should continue. Who's going to seek that information out if they think they'll end up in court?

The Daily Fail's attitude shows a similar mindset as the SNP on this one, though. Remember when they tried to introduce such a measure in Scotland?

At the time of writing, 64% of the respondents to the poll are in favour of prosecution. Those of a more socially liberal disposition, you know what to do! I love it when Fail polls don't give them the result they want. Childish, I know, but I think it's important to challenge the ridiculous bile they print.

Mephedrone kills kids - it should be banned, right?

It's always horrible to read of young people suddenly dying for any reason. As the mother of a girl who no doubt will at some point in the next decade go out clubbing with her friends, I read with horror accounts of how perfectly fit and well young people have gone out, taken some substance and died. I can only imagine what their parents are going through and feel so much for them.

The substance under the spotlight at the moment is Mephedrone, something I'd never heard of until yesterday. A "legal high", you don't have to look very far on Google before you find out how to buy some. It's apparently all the rage in the clubs.

The substance was implicated in the deaths of two young men from Scunthorpe as reported in the Guardian as well as that of a 14 year old girl last November.

So, obviously, it should be banned, shouldn't it as the Government advisers are likely to imminently suggest?

Well, maybe not.

Firstly, it's not absolutely certain that the Mephedrone actually caused the deaths. The young men over the weekend had apparently combined it with alcohol and methadone. We know that combining any drugs is something that should only be done with care and we also know that methadone on its own can be lethal. In the case of Gabrielle Price, the 14 year old who died last November, the cause of her death was determined to be Bronchial Pneumonia.

Secondly, is it a good idea to go round banning stuff as a panic reaction without any sound scientific basis? I've dealt with 3 potentially lethal substances already this morning - gas, water and electricity, but I've done it by being careful and minimising their risk. Should we maybe be saying to young people "Look, we don't know about this stuff, we do know that mixing it with any other substance could be dangerous, so if you're going to take it, please be aware of that." After all, banning it isn't exactly going to dry up the supply overnight. Banning it isn't going to make our young people safe or any less likely to be able to get hold of the stuff.

Thirdly, I am far from convinced that banning drugs is actually effective. Does it not just lead to really nasty drug dealer types using violence and intimidation to prey on their victims? If these characters were out of the supply chain, wouldn't that make it a lot easier for people to seek help, rather than be trapped in an appalling spiral of debt, addiction and crime?

Fourthly, why are so many people seeking solace in artificial substances to make them feel good? What is it that's wrong with the quality of the relationships around them and how can that be fixed? How can we make our kids naturally happy so that they don't feel the need for anything else? Should we not be doing more to encourage the feelings of energy and happiness you get from sport? Actually the range of things that need to be done to increase everyone's feeling of wellbeing is so vast - but just cos the mountain's huge doesn't mean we shouldn't try to climb it.

Enough of my rantings, however. Let's give the last word to someone who actually knows about drugs, a lot. Professor David Nutt was the cause of the worst hashtag in Twitter history (#nuttsack) when he was dismissed from his post as a Government adviser for disagreeing with Government policy and saying that Ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol. As someone who's seen the effects of long term alcohol abuse on family members, I can relate to that. Anyway, Professor Nutt is a man who knows what he's talking about and he doesn't think we should be rushing to ban Mephedrone.

If you want to know more about Professor Nutt, Mark Thomson, of the awesome Mark Reckons blog, interviewed him a couple of month ago.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Use the internet? Ask your MP to protect you NOW #DEBill

Another day, another authoritarian measure from our timid Government. In the past few years, we've seen them put the wishes of the US Government over protecting its own citizens (Gary McKinnon especially, then it failed to properly regulate the banking system which threatened us all and brought the global economy to the edge of a very nasty precipice. Then it decided to give the Police powers to lock up anyone they vaguely suspected might be a terrorist for up to 3 months before being forced down to a still grossly excessive 42. Now it's pandering to the record industry on illegal downloading with a measure that is so draconian and could affect every single person who uses the internet.

If someone commits a crime, then there is a legal process to be gone through in which they are tried on the basis of the evidence and if found guilty are punished for their actions. That's fair enough. If, for example, I punched someone, unlikely though that is for a peace loving hippy like me, then I'd deserve some sort of sanction. My husband and daughter wouldn't, though.

This Labour Government thinks so little of its citizens that it's prepared to introduce a measure that will enable my access to the internet, and my daughter's to be cut off if my husband downloads music. Am I supposed to stand over Stephen when he comes to our house and uses our internet to make sure he doesn't slyly download something illegally. Not that I ever think he would. What about all the people with unsecured wireless connections who are blissfully unaware that someone with a netbook at the bus stop outside their house can probably connect to their internet and do what they like?

The immediate threat from this bill is that it's basically going to go through on the nod without proper discussion in the Commons as it's had most of its discussion in the unelected House of Lords. Normally it would have to be debated in the Commons but because of the impending election, there's a process called the wash up in which outstanding legislation is carved up by the whips and passed on a line by line basis.

This Bill threatens too many freedoms and gives ministers way too much power for it to go through on the nod. It should be discussed properly by the House of Commons. If you agree, get in touch with your MP. Here are some helpful suggestions on what to say.

Unsurprisingly, it's the Liberal Democrats who have done most to stand up for freedom
with a splendid emergency motion from Bridget Fox and Julian Huppert, PPCs for Islington South and Finsbury and Cambridge respectively, who showed exactly why they should be MPs.

They will protect the child who uses the internet to do their homework, or the woman for whom it is a lifeline from the violence meted out to her by her partner. People shouldn't be punished for things they have not committed. End of story.

It's time to force Peter Mandelson to put away his scissors. Get to it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Friends' David Schwimmer to marry British Photographer

Twelve years on from his character Ross's fateful marriage to Emily in London, former Friends Star David Schwimmer is to marry a British photographer Zoe Buckman.

The Ross and Emily wedding scene was one of the most iconic from the 10 years of the hit comedy series.

I'm sure he'll get the bride's name right at his own nuptials.

Good luck to the happy couple!

By the way, just in case this passed you by, if, like me, you often want something to make you smile in the evening and switch over to Friends on E4 at 8pm, that joy is soon no longer going to be an option.

UPDATE: It was a bit ironic last night that the episodes of Friends on E4 were the ones at and immediately after Ross and Emily's wedding.

Tom Harris and the Labour /Tory Neverendum

There's been an interesting discussion over on Lib Dem Voice today where Stephen Tall took Tom Harris to task for a post he wrote criticising Nick Clegg in general and what he thinks the Lib Dems would do in a hung parliament in particular. To be honest, I'd be surprised if Tom Harris were to say anything nice about us. That, surely, could only take place in a some sort of surreal parallel universe where daleks were compassionate, caring and kind to animals.

Tom was good enough to join in the debate on Lib Dem Voice and I thought that some of his comments were interesting and showed the totally different mindset between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Look at this one for example:

Well. it’s not up to me, sadly, but my guess is that GB would do the same anyway – form a minority government and then call another election after a short period. And that’s exactly what Cameron would try to do in the same circumstances. The key as to whether Labour or the Tories could form such a government within a hung parliament would be the main opposition party’s calculation as to whether it wanted to force the other party into a coalition that would likely result in electoral reform, or whether they were willing to allow it to govern as a minority for a while.

I'm sorry but that's just rude. Not willing to accept the hand the people deal, he expects that either Labour or Tory, if they didn't have a majority, would just assume that the people had got it wrong and, rather than actually doing what the people wanted, would keep asking them until they gave them an answer. It's a bit like the SNP saying that they would just keep asking the Scottish people if they wanted independence until we came up with the "right" answer to them, the so-called neverendum.

His remarks show an arrogance that we've come to expect from the two old parties - it's almost like they believe in the political party equivalent of the divine right of kings. I don't know about you, but their ideas that they will govern at all costs and without doing what the people ask of them makes me absolutely hopping mad.

Tom attacks Nick Clegg for not being clear about what we would do in the event of a hung Parliament. But, excuse me, look at what Nick said yesterday. You can actually imagine Chandler from Friends saying "Could you get any clearer?"

This weekend we’ve given the answer:
We will give you fairer taxes. We will make sure your child gets the fair start in life they deserve.
We will create a new, fair economy where we are no longer held hostage by the greed of bankers in the City of London. And we will give you a fair, open and transparent politics after the gross betrayal of the expenses scandal. It really is as simple as that. No-one can guarantee what the election result will be. But I can guarantee what we will always fight to deliver.

And if you like what we say. If you share our values. If you want fair taxes, a fair start in life for your child, a fairer economy, and a new, fair politics. Vote for it.

And while Tom thinks that the people's job is to put Labour in office, Nick Clegg shows our fundamentally different view of and trust of the people:

"People often ask me what the Liberal Democrats will do after the General Election. I’m flattered that people think I can predict the future. The newspapers certainly think they can. Some days I read we’re planning a deal with Labour. Some days that we’re planning a deal with the Conservatives. Other days that we’ll refuse to talk to anyone at all. Yet, when all the speculation is said and done, I keep coming back to some simple truths:
I am not the kingmaker.
The 45 million voters of Britain are the kingmakers.
They give the politicians their marching orders, not the other way round.
It’s called democracy – and I kind of like it.

Almost 1 in 4 voters chose the Liberal Democrats at the last election. If that increased to 1 in 3, we could lead the next government. This election is a time for voters to choose, not a time for politicians to play footsie with each other."

Just to remind you, in Lib Dem Voice's new rank your MPs as liberal or authoritarian site, Tom came out as 86% authoritarian. I'm sure that he will be disappointed with that, but I'm confident that if he'd actually been present for the other 2 votes, he'd have scored 100%.

No offence to Tom, after all, his blog is witty and well written, if a bit tribal, and he is one of the few Labour politicians who actually gets Twitter as a means of real, meaningful engagement, but I'd much rather have Nick Clegg at the helm of the HMS United Kingdom than anyone with the arrogance to think they deserved to rule in the way they wanted.

In which I criticise Nick Clegg's speech to Conference

While I've been working this afternoon I've been listening to Nick's speech to Lib Dem Spring Conference in Birmingham. I think it's always best to actually listen to these things, although if you want to read it, you can do so here.

I am going to be critical - but only about the quality of the video. Dark suit and black backdrop do kind of make him look a bit strange.

It really must be a nightmare to wake up on the morning of a keynote speech with a bad throat, but despite that Nick did really well.

It had all the things that it needed to have. A bit of humour - I liked the bit where he said that Gordon Brown had done better with Piers Morgan than he had. Mind you, Piers Morgan isn't one of Nick's best friends and wasn't writing the GQ piece as a hagiography.

I liked it when he compared Labour's future funfair for all slogan to advertisingr a second voyage on the Titanic.

I really liked the bit where he told the country's 45 million voters that, actually, they didn't have to take the crap they have been given over the last 30 years because "that's the way things are".

We'll hear a lot about wasted votes in this election, too and he outlined what he felt a wasted vote was:

I know there are many people who listen to the Liberal Democrats and really like what they hear.
But you worry that your vote would be wasted. You worry that your choice won’t make enough of a difference. So you are thinking of giving your vote to someone else. Some people are thinking of holding their noses and voting for Brown just to keep out the Conservatives. I say to you: don’t do it.

Some people are thinking of holding their noses and voting for Cameron just to get rid of Labour. Don’t do it. You have a once in a generation opportunity for real change.
A wasted vote is one that throws that opportunity away.
A wasted vote is one for a party that is stuck in the past.
A wasted vote is one for a party you don’t believe in.

How do you want to feel when you wake up on May 7th and hear the news? Would you smile at the prospect of five more years of Gordon Brown? Would you be thrilled if a Conservative government was now in charge?

If the answer is no, then don’t give them your vote. If you vote for less… you will get less. If you compromise on them… they will compromise on you. Just good enough – is not good enough any more.

The speech was full of really good practical stuff about how we would make a difference on tax, taking everybody earning less than £10,000 per year out of tax, on children, investing in education to make sure that nobody was disadvantaged by a poor background, on cleaning up politics - he used the C-word to describee the expenses scandal, too, and on building an economy that won't go bust.

All in all, a clear speech, which wasn't just a list of policies, but showed our liberal mindset. What struck me, because I've been around for a long, long time, is that these are consistent with the values we were talking about 30 years ago - fairness and sustainability. You can't say that for Labour and the Tories.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

F1: Boring in Bahrain

So the first race of the season is over. I can't say I'm displeased with a Ferrari 1-2, although I'd have been much happier if the order had been reversed and Felipe Massa had been on the top step of the podium. Mind you, from Intensive Care to second in a grand prix in 7 and a half months is a remarkable achievement.

I feel so sorry for poor Sebastian Vettel. He had led from the start and had done absolutely everything he should have done. Just after a set of mind games by team radio (Ferrari telling Alonso he could catch Vettel but he had to watch out for his engine and Red Bull telling Vettel that Alonso's car was in danger of blowing up), Vettel's engine lost power, causing him to lose 3 places. He eventually limped home in 4th but he deserved to win.

I love Ferrari, but there was something a bit sad in a way about what seemed like the old order being returned today. Last year it was the new kids on the block which stole the show from the start. Today they couldn't quite manage it.

Lewis Hamilton was gifted his place on the podium by events which just added to the feeling of the old hegemony coming back.

The Mercedes cars of Schumacher and Rosberg put in a steady performance, finishing in 5th and 6th. This was ahead of the current world champion Jenson Button, so let's not have too much naysaying about Schumi.

The race itself was actually, in the words of Craig Revel Horwood on Strictly, dull, dull, dull. After a few dramas at the start and the initial round of pitstops, there was a bit of a lull where absolutely sweet fanny adams happened. My husband almost fell asleep despite me reading the finer comments from Twitter, most of which seemed to indicate that drying paint would be much more exciting, to him.

This leads to a bit of a dilemma for the rest of the season. If the cars do what they're supposed to do, once they've changed tyres, we're all going to be bored rigid. Harrassed engineers telling their drivers not to push too hard in case they ruin their tyres or engines is likely to be as enthralling as it gets.

Schumi hit the nail on the head afterwards when he said:

"It's the start and then after it is just sort of go your pace and not do mistakes," Schumacher told the BBC.

"Overtaking is basically impossible, other than if somebody makes a mistake - Lewis had a little one so Nico was able to pass him, but got back past at the pitstop. That's about it.

"That's the action we are going to have with unfortunately this kind of environment of race strategy.

Duncan said on Twitter that this was rich coming from someone who had turned passing in the pits into an art form. Although Schumi could overtake on the road rather brilliantly as his last race in 2006 showed.

Even with a relatively sedate weekend, we saw at least 3 engines trashed - 4 if you count Bruno Senna's which sounded like something you'd cut your hedge with when he ground to a halt. The drivers only have 8 engines each for 19 races, the same number as they had for 17 last year. The last thing they will want is to take a penalty at the tail end of the season which could put them back 5 places on the grid when they're fighting for the championship. This just encourages a conservative style of driving that Jenson Button admitted to on the BBC Red Button forum this afternoon. He said that the new regime was easier cos he wasn't driving flat out all day. Surely part of what makes F1 special is drivers taking their cars to the absolute edge of their capabilities.

I wonder if they will have to consider increasing the number of engines allowed, or making them take more pit stops by ensuring that the tyres can't last for very long. Either that, or just reintroduce re-fuelling.

One brilliant result from the weekend was the way Lotus got both cars to the end of the race - they may not have speed, but they will last. It was good to see team technical director Mike Gascoyne have his own special session on the Red Button forum and to hear from principal Tony Fernandes that he'd been given Colin Chapman's black hat to wear on their first race win.

Another good point is that Rubens Barrichello nabbed the last point on offer with a 10th place finish.

Spare a thought for Karun Chandhok, though. The poor guy only got a handful of laps on track in qualifying yesterday and had to continue his shakedown in the race. Unfortunately a bump at turn 12 threw him off balance and his race was over. His twitter feed shows an attitude that is a credit to him and it's nice to see that he's quite starstruck about the whole thing.

My feelings today are perhaps compounded by the rather charmless Bahrain circuit. We'll see how it goes in a fortnight on the wonderful Melbourne street circuit with lots of fans. I hope by then that Bernie Ecclestone will have reconsidered his ridiculous refusal to allow drivers' personal physios on the grid. This meant that when the Blessed Brundle went to do his gridwalk, there were no drivers bar Alonso for him to talk to. The rest were in their garages with their physios. Now, of course the drivers aren't getting any sort of physio actually on the grid, and it's all a big perk for the physios, but it's a battle that Bernie just shouldn't have picked.

On Mother's Day

I always find it almost unfair that I not only get to be the mummy of a lovely, funny, quirky, confident, individual little girl, but that once a year I get presents for that too. While I really appreciate the chocolates, it's the hand made card above that is so special. And the text message she sent first thing this morning.

I should also say that my husband is also deserving of praise for today. He's about to cook me a luscious steak. I'm so glad that he's been so concerned for my iron levels that he feels the need to feed me fillet steak every so often.

I do feel very lucky that I've been able to experience the wonder of a mummy-daughter relationship. I just hope that it continues to be this special and that the foundations are strong enough to handle whatever they need to handle in the years ahead.

Anna doesn't seem to mind that I'm not the sort of mummy that bakes and cleans and tidies and that at times she pays second fiddle to the Liberal Democrats, or very rich men driving cars round a racing track, or this blog. She does get fed, and her clothes are generally clean, but that's as far as my domesticity goes. We get on well, though - and I think she knows that if she needs me, then everything else will get dropped. I never wanted her to doubt for a moment that she was loved and treasured.

I do think generally that mothers get a raw deal in our culture. We don't value the art of mothering. We don't give mothers confidence that their instincts will get them through. We have a succession of self styled experts like Gina Ford and Jo Frost who undermine women's confidence and instincts. We reduce the gentle art of raising a child to a follow by numbers process and in so doing, we take a lot of the joy out of it. We expect women to be "back to normal" within weeks of giving birth when the physiological truth is that it takes your body about a year to recover from the process.

Because we attach a disproportionate worth to economic output, time spent raising a child to be a confident adult isn't seen as important. However, when things go wrong, who gets it? Mothers do, of course. As far as the likes of the Daily Fail are concerned, all the evils of the world can be be blamed equally on mothers who stay at home on benefits, or mothers who work. Whatever mothers do, it's going to be wrong and we just lump guilt on to them.

We'd actually do a lot better if we actually supported mothers and enabled them to do their job. Starting with providing proper breastfeeding support - one of the reasons I got into that was after reading that of all the mums who gave up in the first 6 weeks, 90% didn't want to. We could realise that supporting a new mum is better done by helping out with practicalities like cooking and washing and not marching in and taking her baby off her and cooing all over it, unless she actually wants a break. Then we could be a bit more flexible about employment, about how we structure our political institutions so that women in general and mothers in particular aren't excluded.

Wouldn't these sorts of things be of much more valuable to mothers than one day a year when they get chocolate, flowers and breakfast in bed?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lib Dem Voice root out authoritarian MPs

If you do nothing else over the next few days, and you weren't actually there, listen to the podcast of the Lib Dem Voice fringe at Conference which you will find here..

It is brilliant. It has drama, it has rebellion and insubordination, it has humour. Daddy Alex's open defiance of Helen will delight as much as it shocks.

The point was to unveil their new website which enables you to determine how authoritarian any MP is based on their votes on a series of crucial votes on such things as control orders, detention without trial, ID cards, the DNA database and freedom of speech.

I found it interesting to compare two MPs elected in by-elections a few months apart, Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie, who got a meagre 3 out of 70 and my own MP, Jim Devine who got 56 out of 90.

I think this is a useful tool in determining which MPs are the most authoritarian if these issues are important to you, but, as Daddy Alex alluded to, these 10 votes are only an indication and there are many other issues which could be considered.

It does, however, come with a huge health warning as far as I am concerned. Iain Duncan Smith, one of the most socially reactionary politicians in the UK, comes out with a low 15 on this scale. This does not in any way mean he's actually a liberal. If you'd included votes on gay rights, such as gay adoption rights, for example, I expect that would bump up the scores of most of the Tories.

There was also a discussion on the Digital Economy Bill which to me is a fundamental issue of freedom and fairness and one in which we should be standing up for ordinary people and their right to access the internet. Mark explains the latest developments and how things will unfold tomorrow. This is the full text of the motion up for discussion. I wish I was in Birmingham to vote for it. Passing it is one of the most important things we can do this weekend. Daddy Alex likened it at the fringe meeting to Margaret Thatcher bringing in house arrest for home taping and suggested that even she might have balked at that.

I think the way that Bridget Fox and Julian Huppert have led the way on this shows that they would be fantastic MPs - and both of them have a very good chance of being in the House of Commons after the electoin. Let's hope they both get there.

Why we're going to get stuffed at Eurovision, and why it doesn't matter

Well, if you're going to get Pete Waterman to write a song, of course it's going to be a poppy seeded cheesefest. Our Eurovision entry, chosen last night, is exactly that. It takes you right back to the days of Rick Astley, Jason Donovan when he had the floppy hair and, basically, in my case, my youth. Those songs are the soundtrack to my late teens and early twenties, the time when I met and married Bob. I know, I could have chosen the path of decent music, but you really should go with what makes you feel good, and if that happens to be trash, well, c'est la vie!

However banal and cheesy those kinds of songs are, you actually can't listen to them and not smile. It just isn't possible. And if you really can't stand it, turn the ound down and look at the singer, the yong and not at all unpleasant looking Josh Dubovie. He was the only one of the 3 finalists who could actually sing the song in tune so it was probably good that the public voted for him.

There isn't a hope in hell of us winning with this song - it's too weak, and unless we pad out the peformance with some serious gimmicks, I doubt it will stand up against some of the other finalists. I expect it'll end up midfield - we'll pull in some points for the smile factor, but that's about it.

This is the guy we've all got to get behind before the final in Oslo in May:

I should probably apologise to Jennie, because this is the type of thing that might make her ill again just as she's starting to get better.

F1: Behold the March of the Pregnant Elephants

The much anticipated Formula One Season kicks off this weekend in Bahrain. The rather melodramatic headline is taken from something former driver and now ace tv commentator Martin Brundle said at the end of last season. This year, there is no in race re-fuelling, which means that drivers will have to get used to a car which is much longer to accommodate a fuel tank which contains around 170kg of fuel - around 3 times as much as last year's. Brundle said that handling a car with that much fuel on board was like trying to manoeuvre a pregnant elephant.

I was pretty ecstatic this time last year and the 2009 season completely exceeded even the high expectations at its opening race. It had everything from on track drama to off track scandal and skulduggery. For me it was one of the best seasons ever. This one has even more to offer for all sorts of reasons.

First, there is the return of the almighty Michael Schumacher, unarguably one of the best if not the best driver of all time. With seven world championships to his name and a reputation for excellence in team building and motivation, he is reunited with Ross Brawn, one of the best F1 strategists of all time.

He will square up to another three former world champions on the grid - Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, now team mates at McLaren and Fernando Alonso, at his old team, the mighty Ferrari.

Along with the old guard, there is the young Pretender, Sebastian Vettel, in a Red Bull which had failed to excite through practice and the Winter testing, but in the last 1 minute and 50 ish seconds of the qualifying session this morning got him onto an unexpected pole position.

I am going to whinge now, because the first race of the season should take place in Australia with lots of fans excitedly watching the race on the streets. Nah. The Crown Prince of Bahrain pays Bernie Ecclestone loadsamoney and secures the season opener at a place where there's hardly any fans.

This is probably a good point to mention that I am now a proper F1 geek. I didn't realise that you could get, for free, here, he live timing screens that the commentators have access to. So, you can know, for example, that Sebastian Vettel is on a flier because you can see his sector times go purple. I love my new toy and I am so happy that I can do this level of geekery without needing to spend £20 on an iPhone application (not to mention actually getting an iPhone).

I want to have a little look at the 2010 grid team by team, driver by driver. The links take you not to teams' and drivers' websites but to their associated Twitter feeds. This is the year when the teams are really starting to get the hang of engagement with fans. Brawn GP, McLaren and Rubens Barrichello in particular twigged that this was a good thing to do last year and it's caught on for 2010.

We could do this in numerical order, but that would mean that I couldn't put my favourite teams first and that would never do.

Let's start, unsurprisingly, with Mercedes GP Petronas. Mercedes may have bought the Brawn Team, but the heart that beats within it is that of plucky Brackley outfit and Ross Brawn remains its team principal. This year they have a bit more financial security and there car has in testing been just a wee bit off the pace of the McLarens and Ferraris. However, their place in the top 4 is assured. They have, however, the best driver ever in Michael Schumacher and the newly entwittered Nico Rosberg.

Now, I got a bit exercised when the normally brilliant BBC F1 team did its best to hand out as much pain as possible to Schumacher. For some reason, they seem to be trying to put the idea about that if Schumacher doesn't win every race, then somehow he's failed, and if he doesn't qualify ahead of his team-mate, then it's a disaster. Now, if he came last in every single race this season, he will still have won more than a third of the races he's ever taken part in. Even in the unlikely event that he doesn't win a single point all season, he'll still have an average of over 5 points per race. That's a good average and deserves respect. I don't expect him to win the world championship, but I know that he'll give everything he has and he'll be worth watching. That genius is still there, but I expect it'll take him a few races to get back up to speed. He wasn't that far from Nico this morning - the half second gap from Q1 was halved by the end of Q3 and they are only two places apart on the grid. That compares favourably to the 4 places between Hamilton and Button, and five between Vettel and Webber. I don't expect that Rosberg will maintain that advantage for long, though, so he should enjoy it while it lasts.

Over at the mighty Ferrari, (yes, even royalty can learn to tweet), I was overjoyed to see Felipe Massa come back and qualify ahead of his new team mate Fernando Alonso. I would have no problem at all if Massa became world champion at the end of this year. He came so close in 2008 and would be a worthy winner. It's not easy to recover from a serious head injury and his bravery and determination to get back in the car after his horrible accident in Hungary last year is incredibly inspiring. Alonso is a talented driver, but he behaved like a brat when he was at McLaren with Lewis Hamilton in 2007. To be fair, neither of them covered themselves in glory, but still, he was shocking.

The Ferrari does seem to be a bit of a diamond of a car this year, so there's every possibility that they could do very well - let's just hope it's with Massa, though.

We'll see whether Lewis Hamilton has mellowed once the season really gets under way. At the moment, there's an air of bromance around the McLaren garage as he and new team mate Jenson Button tell the world how happy they are to be together. At the moment they both have no points to their name, so let's see if it's still so cosy later in the season.

McLaren has been responsible for the first off track controversy of the idea. They've come up with a wee air vent thing that's controlled by the driver from inside the car with his knee that gives them 6 mph more down the straights, presumably to make up for the lack of a magic KERS button. The FIA has cleared it but Renault F1's Bob Bell had a right go at it on Radio 5 Live yesterday. It's one of those ideas I expect designers up and down the pitlane are cursing themselves for not thinking of first. It's a bit like the double diffuser controversy from last year.

I was a bit bemused to see my Twitter feed fill up with abuse to Michael Schumacher who went over to the McLaren car in Parc Ferme after qualification and take a brief, but good look at it. It's not as if it were locked in a cupboard and he'd broken in. It was on public display, for goodness sake. Part of the reason he's so good is because he understands the technical and strategic stuff and it's fantastic from the engineers' point of view to have someone who gives them such complete feedback.

Red Bull had kept its light under a bushel until Vettel grabbed pole in his car, this year called "Luscious Liz" but they've shown that they are competitive. Mark Webber had a rotten day yesterday when he missed loads of practice due to a problem with his car but he can be pleased with his 6th on the grid. David Coulthard is adamant that they can win the title this year, but they're paying him. However, to take what he says entirely with a pinch of salt is probably unwise.

Then we have Williams, a team I hold long term grudges against because of their treatment of DC and Damon Hill. I am trying so hard to learn to love them because my other favourite driver is there. Frank Williams had better be nice to him, that's all I'm saying. Actually Rubens is another driver who really gives to a team and does as much as possible to be helpful to his team mate. He is a very nice man. Even after losing out to Jenson in the World Championship last year, he lent him his private plane so he could stay and party on a while and still make an engagement in the UK on the Tuesday. Nico Hulkenberg, who's excelled in GP2, is very lucky to have Rubens to support and guide him in his first season in F1.

The BBC's man in the pit lane, Ted Kravitz, who knows everything, tips Rubens for a podium tomorrow, the reason being that all the top ten will have to use their skanky tyres from today to start the race while he'll be there, immediately behind them, with a lovely, new, clean pair. It would be fantastic if he could bring Williams their first GP win in 6 years this season. The team not only has a complete change in driver line up this year, it also has a change in engine supplier, now being powered by Cosworth.

I should say that a major part of my heart softening towards Williams is their Twitter Feed from Claire Williams which has been the best of the pre-season testing. If she keeps this up, they'll knock Mercedes off their perch as the undisputed king of the F1 twitterverse.

Renault has done its best to put its scandal ridden 2009 behind it. It's a good bit more sober and serious now that the flamboyant Flavio Briatore has been banished from F1 completely and the car manufacturers now only retain a 25% share of the team. They've done the rookie teamed up with an experienced driver as Russian Vitaly Petrov teams up with competent but recently uninspiring Robert Kubica.

Now onto Force India . This time last year, they could barely get out of Q1 and now we have Adrian Sutil today confidently getting into Q3 and Tonio Liuzzi in Q2. It's all very good stuff. They are certainly pulling themselves from the bottom to the midfield. There's a West Lothian interest here too as Paul Di Resta from Bathgate is their test driver who'll be doing all the Friday practices at future races.

I still haven't forgiven Toro Rosso for the way in which they dispensed with Sebastien Bourdais' services last season. They seem to be on a backward slide this year with Jaime Alguesuari being the only one of the "old team" drivers to go out in Q1. They've had to build their own car this year without inheriting a chassis from Red Bull so I'm not optimistic about the prospects for Jaime and his partner Sebastian Buemi.

And now for the new teams. Sauber is the phoenix risen from the ashes of the BMW Sauber team which exited last year. It's called BMW Sauber Ferrari this year and they've also paired up a virtual rookie, the fearless and talented Kamui Kobayashi who pulled some audacious overtaking moves in his first two races for Toyota last year and Pedro de la Rosa, who's been around forever but hasn't graced the grid since 2006.

Then there's the return of Lotus, with their green and gold livery. It's not the Lotus we all know and love and their car is so, so, so, slow. Luca Badoer could probably beat it. It's been built and designed by Mike Gascoyne. Gascoyne has worked for Eddie Jordan's team, Toyota and Force India in the past. He's managed to sign some decent drivers, though - Jarno Trulli from Toyota and Heikki Kovalainen from McLaren.

Having dabbled his toe with sponsorship of Brawn last year, Richard Branson now has his own team, Virgin F1. This car is interesting because it was developed without a wind tunnel, using computer technology. A kind of cyber car if you like. Cyber, unfortunately, does not mean fast as it's languishing almost at the bottom of the grid. Drivers Lucas Di Grassi and Timo Glock have the job of pushing it to the limit.

Finally, we have the stunningly inappriately named HRT Racing. HRT stands for Hispania Racing Team, not Hormone Replacement Therapy, and you'd think there would be a woman somewhere in the organisation who could point out the error of their ways, but, sadly, not. Their journey to the grid has been somewhat torrid. As of this morning, only Bruno Senna had seen any track time at all. His Korean team-mate Karun Chandhok only managed to get out for a few laps in qualifying - and actually managed to be not that far behind his team mate despite telling the BBC that his seat was too low and his backside was almost dragging along the ground. His attitude has been spot on and he's earned himself a lot of fans this weekend for being so calm and collected in the face of adversity. I hope he sticks around.

This has been a monster of a post. I won't be doing that too often, you can be assured. I think I should have split it into 3 and done it earlier in the week, but this has been a bit of a nightmare run up. If you've got this far, thanks for your perseverance.

The reason I've put so many Twitter feeds on here is that they do really enhance my enjoyment of the racing. I've "met" some really nice people on there. If you want to come and ooin us, here is my F1 Twitter list.


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