Monday, May 31, 2010

Genesis of the Daleks revisited

Last night I watched most of Genesis of the Daleks with Anna. Her friend from school had lent her the DVD - although we didn't get to see much of the last episode as it was scratched and wouldn't play, much to our disappointment. Anna was so desperate to find out how it all ended that I had to Wikipedia.

I first watched this when it was first broadcast in 1975 when I was 7 and I've seen from various repeats on the infernal wickedness of Sky since how much of the allegory I missed as a child.

It was great to see Anna's reaction to it. She always knew Davros was evil, having seen him in Journey's End, but she discovered through watching this that he was to her especially evil, because he was experimenting on animals.

She loved, absolutely loved, Tom Baker. I think it's the first time we've watched a whole story with him and she was as completely captivated by him as I was as a 7 year old. He has a super combination of authority and sense of fun that just compelled you to like him whether you wanted to or not.

It's no accident that Anna shares a middle name with the lady who played, as far as I am concerned, the best companion ever. I grew up wanting to be Sarah Jane Smith and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I can't quite live up to her, though - rather than being a top notch investigative journalist I've ended up with this blog, and rather than stopping hostile aliens from destroying the universe, I've had to settle for things like ridding Chesterfield and West Fife of the Labour Party. That was immensely satisfying though, can't deny it. It's fantastic that a whole new generation of Doctor Who fans are able to get to know Sarah Jane via the brilliant Sarah Jane Adventures.

Sarah Jane had some good bits in Genesis - organising a rebellion among the Thal's slaves. She also had some very cool purple boots but no idea where she got them from as she certainly wasn't wearing them with her yellow cagoule in the first episode. By the final part, her lovely knitted sweater had been replaced with a cardigan and blouse. We both laughed when she said, with passion, "I will never eat oysters again."

Anna occasionally said that it seemed very old fashioned - especially when Harry was about, but then he sounded like he came straight out of an Enid Blyton novel.

For me the surprise was that something I first watched 35 years ago still stood up. The dialogue was excellent, the plot full of treachery, betrayal, and political shenanigans. I laughed when the Kaleds decided to set up, effectively, a committee to review Davros' work and sympathised with the Doctor's frustration that they just didn't get it. The atrocities on both sides of a bitter and futile war were hard to deal with and the Nazi parallels with the Kaled elite were clear.

You could feel the Doctor's pain at the dilemma of whether to blow up the incubator room with the mutant green jellyfish things that live inside the pepperpot Dalek casing - knowing that the genocide would make him as bad as Davros, knowing that if he left them alone, millions would lose their lives.

It's made me want to watch a lot more of the old stuff again. We have Robot on DVD to watch next........

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I've been on the radio talking about Danny Alexander!

See that Twitter, it gets you into all sorts of trouble.

I noticed just at the end of the F1 Forum on the Red Button that Iain Dale was on LBC talking about David Laws. I can listen to that through the infernal wickedness of Sky Plus so I turned over. He said that he wanted to talk about whether the appointment of Danny Alexander would get the confidence of business.

I decided to phone in and put the points that I'd made in my posting earlier today, namely that although nobody could have anticipated need to replace David Laws, but Danny was obvious choice because:

a) he's a key ally of Nick Clegg
b) he's impressed key Tories during the coalition negotiations
c) he was pivotal in drawing up the final coalition agreement
d) he has experience of managing change within the Lib Dems
e) he drew up manifesto so has experience across all policy areas.

Iain then asked me what personal qualities I thought Danny had. I couldn't just say "he's really nice" so I went with excellent communication skills, ability to listen as well as talk and the ability to ensure that the Government stayed on course to cut the deficit while keeping people together and focused. What I should have added is his decisiveness and analytical skills which I have seen in action when he reviewed the workings of the Scottish Party a few years ago. He was thorough in his gathering of evidence and clear in his recommendations which were pretty much spot on.

I've had some good feedback on Twitter about how I did, which is encouraging. I was quite nervous and possibly spoke too fast - but Iain did say that it was a good call, which he didn't say to Tom Harris later, so maybe I should take heart from that:-).

Danny Alexander: the natural choice to replace David Laws

I know that nobody would ever have anticipated the need to replace David Laws, but there was a huge amount of surprise last night on Twitter even from Liberal Democrats, that Danny Alexander rather than Chris Huhne or Jeremy Browne was chosen to replace him.

To me, Danny was the obvious choice. He is about as close an ally of Nick's as it is possible to be. He was Nick's Chief of Staff, and as such has first hand experience of the management of change within the party. Nick put him in charge of the manifesto, so he has an understanding of what all the various departments of government do. David Laws is such a hard act to follow, but I'm sure Danny has the required skills. He also impressed the Tories, Osbourne, Hague, Letwin and David Cameron throughout the coaltion negotiations and it was he and Letwin who brought the full Coalition Agreement together in just 9 days.

I can now say I was part of the team that approved the Chief Secretary to the Treasury as a Parliamentary candidate.

I was amused by some people, Labour leaderrship contender Ed Balls among them suggesting that the fact that Danny's former employment with Britain in Europe made him a "very curious choice".

Ok,let's inject some realism into this. I can "exclusively reveal" that just cos we have a pro-European in a Cabinet position, that we won't have joined the Euro by Friday, or in fact any Friday in the next 5 years.

Danny, as I've already pointed out, was the co-author of the coalition agreement wich unequivocallly says:

We agree that Britain will not join or prepare to join the Euro in this Parliament.

So, you eurosceptic scaremongers (and that seems to include the Labour Party), you can't really get clearer than that.

Danny's appointment may be a surprise to some, but I think he'll be well suited to the job of Chief Secretary.

David Laws' dignified and honourable resignation

I am still pretty heartbroken at the circumstances surrounding David Laws' resignation from the Cabinet.

It was so sad to watch him make what must have been an excruciatingly painful statement in the full glare of the media and I admire his courage in so doing.

Did he need to resign? Probably not. I don't seen I've ever seen a Minister resign when they have such an outpouring of support and understanding for their position and such a sympathetic press. You think of all the Labour Cabinet ministers who stayed put no matter what, serial flipping and incompetence no barrier to their continuing in office.

The exchange of letters between Laws and Cameron, published on Lib Dem Voice, show the incredible impact he'd made on the Government in just a couple of weeks.

Dear prime minister,

The last 24 hours have been very difficult and distressing for me, and I have been thinking carefully about what action I should take in the interests of the government, my constituents and – most important of all – those whom I love.

I am grateful for the strong support which I have received from my friends, family, and from you, the deputy prime minister and the chancellor.

This support has been incredibly important, but nonetheless, I have decided that it is right to tender my resignation as chief secretary to the Treasury.

I have done so for three reasons.

Firstly, I do not see how I can carry on my crucial work on the Budget and Spending Review while I have to deal with the private and public implications of recent revelations.

At this important time the chancellor needs, in my own view, a chief secretary who is not distracted by personal troubles.

I hardly need say how much I regret having to leave such vital work, which I feel all my life has prepared me for.

Secondly, while my recent problems were caused by my desire to keep my sexuality secret, the public is entitled to expect politicians to act with a sense of responsibility.

I cannot now escape the conclusion that what I have done was in some way wrong, even though I did not gain any financial benefit from keeping my relationship secret in this way.

Finally, and most importantly, I have an overriding responsibility to those I love most, and who I feel I have exposed to scrutiny in this way.

I have pursued a political career because of my sense of public duty, but I have too often put this before the interests of those I love most. It is time to redress the balance.

I want to apologise to my constituents for falling below the standards that they are entitled to expect from me.

The job of being a constituency MP is no less important to me than my Cabinet responsibilities.

I shall ensure that I co-operate fully with the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner in the review that I have requested.

I intend to consider carefully over the period ahead how I can best serve the interests of my Yeovil constituency, which I care so passionately about.

It has been a great honour to serve however briefly in your Government and I will remain its strong supporter.

Yours sincerely,

David Laws

David Cameron's response - with my bold added

“Thank you for your letter tendering your resignation from the government, which I accept with sadness.

The last 24 hours must have been extraordinarily difficult and painful for you.

You are a good and honourable man. I am sure that, throughout, you have been motivated by wanting to protect your privacy rather than anything else.

Your decision to resign from the government demonstrates the importance you attach to your integrity.

In your short lime at the Treasury, you have made a real difference, setting the government on the right path to tackle the deficit which poses such a risk to our economy.

I hope that, in time, you will be able to serve again as I think it is absolutely clear that you have a huge amount to offer our country.

I hope that we see David Laws back in Government at some point in the not too distant future.

Compare and contrast the dignity and humanity of Cameron and Laws with the really quite unpleasant behaviour of Labour tweeters yesterday. They were so swift to apray bile around the place and even crack jokes. Even their MPs were getting in on the act. Ben Bradshaw should feel completely ashamed of himself for this effort:

clegg statement re laws nonsense. why should anyone in Britain today feel ashamed to acknowledge they're gay

as if Labour had created this utopia where everyone was free to be themselves. The truth, as I wrote yesterday, can be very different. If anything good comes from what's happened to David Laws, I hope it's greater awareness that coming out can be hard and greater discussion about what we can do to change attitudes. Lynne Featherstone shows an understanding of these issues which is just another reason why it's a good thing that she's Equalities Minister.

In addition to that we had some pretty cutting comments from Tom Harris and David Cairns. There are times when if you can't say anything pleasant, it's best not to say anything at all and their almost gleeful joking does them no credit.

Happily, there are some who showed empathy and decency. See this from Eric Joyce:

Feeling very sorry for David Laws. The rules effectively required him to 'out' himself. Surely that's not right.

It's a sad day for the Government, the country and for David Laws. We'll all recover, but let's hope that it makes us a better, more undersanding society.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why I support David Laws

David Laws and I are about as far apart in our political thinking as it's possible to get within the Liberal Democrats. The Orange Book, for which he was one of the prime authors, makes me shudder at its very mention as an old fashioned tax and spend liberal.

However I did rather warm to him last year - I never expected to write a blog post in his praise, but when he and Annette Brooke adopted an anti smacking policy stance, they made me proud.

Today it has been reported that he claimed rent on MP's expenses which was paid to a landlord who is also his partner. Neither David's nor his partner's friends or family were aware that they were in a relationship. Liberal Democrat Voice has his full statement on the matter.

Bear in mind that David had been living with his partner for 5 years, unbeknownst to friends and family, when the House of Commons rules changed. What options did he have at that point? He could have:

a) declared the relationship, owned the property they lived in himself, and claimed the full costs of rent/mortgage or whatever, which would have been far in excess of the amount he actually did claim

b) moved out and rented a property on his own, again costing the taxpayer much more than he eventually claimed.

c)claimed nothing for the costs of running his second home which was necessary for his duties as an MP

d) continue to claim rent with his partner as landlord

I find it deeply disturbing that some people are saying that C is a realistic option. What if he wasn't independently wealthy? That would have cut him and his undoubted talents out of public life because of his sexuality, which is just not on. In any event, I don't think that an MP or their partner should have to subsidise their public duties.

Well, he could have gone with Option B, then, and rented his own property while still spending most of his time with his partner. What sort of waste would that have been? And it would have cost the public more?

Option A would have involved outing himself. Maybe that wasn't an option for his partner. I stress I have absolutely no knowledge of David Laws' or his partner's circumstances so what I'm saying is pure conjecture, but could this have led to the break up of their relationship? Would that have been fair?

I understand why he went for D, and I think that there is an argument for justifying that if you interpret the rules in a particular way. I live openly and happily with my husband and our financial and social lives are hardwired together. That clearly wasn't the case for David Laws and his partner. I'm far from convinced that he actually should pay the money back but I respect his decision to do so and to self refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

Sara Bedford has written an absolutely brilliant article, as always saying what I think except better in which she argues that the change in the rules on partners by the House of Commons was by its nature likely to discriminate against people in same sex relationships:

Did David Laws break the letter of the law on MPs expenses? That seems to depend on how a spouse or partner is defined. Did he defraud the taxpayer? I would say not. He claimed the real costs of a second home in London, which he lived in. Did he or James make a profit on the arrangement? No. Should he repay the money? Probably not, but I understand his wish to do so and to offer himself up to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. But the rules do appear to discriminate against those who want to keep their private lives to themselves. And as that is far more likely to affect those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, the rules themselves would appear to be prejudicial on the basis of sexuality.

Sara also makes the point that she thinks the revelations are more to do with Torygraph angst re Capital Gains Tax than anything else:

In the last couple of days, the Telegraph has launched a vigorous campaign to oppose the likely increase in rates of Capital Gains Tax, to align it more closely with income tax. Which party has promoted this policy? The Liberal Democrats. Who is the Liberal Democrat MP at the Treasury? David Laws. Go out and dig for dirt on Laws was the Telegraph’s rallying cry to its hacks – the addition of a little ’secret gay sex’ will have only whetted the enthusiasm of the paper and much of its readership further..

This is only a taster of a fabulous article - if you do nothing else today, read it.

I've been dismayed by the tweets which say that being gay isn't big thing these days. Within the Liberal Democrats, being lesbian, gay or bisexual certainly isn't a barrier. Although people do sacrifice a lot of time and money to the party, though, they also have lives outside it. The people in those lives may not share the same open and accepting attitude. As the mother of an 11 year old, I've been frequently dismayed by conversations with friends who say that they would find it really hard to accept if their child turned out to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. Those sorts of attitudes come from people from all sorts of backgrounds, religious and not.

Deciding whether or not to come out is an intensely personal matter. I know of a fair few people who have kept their sexuality a secret out of respect for parents or other family members. From my perspective as a parent, I would never want my daughter to have to go through that sort of agony. She will never have to choose between anything and having mine and her daddy's love and full acceptance. How hard must it be though, as a child, to overhear a parent say that they couldn't cope if their child turned out to be gay?

There is something especially hurtful about being rejected by the people who gave you life. Even if they are in the wrong and there isn't a relationship worth preserving it is utterly horrible and can cause terrible emotional scars. Imagine if you do actually love and feel loved within your family. Would you take the risk of breaking the bonds which have sustained you throughout your life? Would you be able to deal with the pain? Would you want to cause pain, however unjustified, to perhaps frail or elderly loved ones? Every single family is different and has its own dynamics. Nobody can judge another person's decision to stay quiet.

The major point about the Laws case is that he did not make the decisions he did for personal financial gain - and in fact, he could have claimed much more than he did had he been open about the relationship.

I hope that the Labour trolls and the press don't force a good man out of office. I never ever expected to be saying that I wanted David Laws anywhere near a position where he controlled public spending, but he's proved his worth in that post in the last 2 weeks. I think the country needs him to stay in that role. I think he deserves our human compassion and, hand on heart, I can say that had he been in any other party, I would give him my support. I hope that regular readers will recognise that I do try to be fair to everybody.

Update: my blogroll is full of posts in support of David Laws from Andrew, Mark and Jennie. Tory Alexander Ryland has sent a letter to the Torygraph, signed by lots of lovely people. Also Creative Tory has written in his support.

There is the inevitable Facebook group and if you want to restore your faith in human nature, have a look at the #isupportLaws thread on Twitter.

Friday, May 28, 2010

RIP Gary Coleman

When I was a child, I used to really enjoy watching Diff'rent Strokes. I seem to remember it was on on a Friday tea time and the wee child actor Gary Coleman, who played Arnold, just made the show. He was so bright, so cheerful and charming, had incredibly good comic timing and brilliant facial expressions.

I was really gutted to hear that he died today after suffering a head injury. He's the same age as me.

It's a shame that in real life, he didn't get as many lucky breaks as Arnold.

Here's a clip of him at his best.

Eurovision: my early years - that sounds good to me

I just love the Eurovision Song Contest. Always have. Always will. You can get your whole year's supply of tackiness and camp in just a few hours and I don't understand how it's possible to watch it and not smile. Everthing about it is over the top, from the costumes, to the ever more crazy performances - last year there were giant flaming hamster wheels for goodness' sake, to the key changes, to the annual surprise when Norway votes for Sweden and Cyprus votes for Greece. The blatant Eastern European bloc vote got a bit above itself for a while to the extent that it scunnered long term commentator Terry Wogan, but the new voting system seems to have quelled it slightly. Given that it's in Norway tomorrow, it must have done.

The first year I actually remember watching it was in 1976 when, happily, the UK won with Brotherhood of Man who apparently are still together. If you were in Ibiza this week, you could have caught them performing in hotels there for Thomson. I absolutely loved the song, Save your Kisses for Me and watching it again just seems to sum up the 70s for me - medallions, shirts open to the navel, dodgy moustaches. Not really a good look but that's how it was when I was 8.

The next year the contest was held in London and Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran did Rock Bottom - I loved that one too. It seemed the height of sophistication at the time, but looking back at it now, it's really funny, satirising the economic mess at the time. I love how the conductor even wearing a bowler hat, dressed up like a city banker.

My personal 70s favourite was our 1978 entry, The Bad Old Days by Coco. Bad was the word, because they gave Britain its worst result to date, coming 11th out of 20. The costumes were garish rather than camp and I think that the only reason I have fond memories of it is that it compared well against "We're on the March with Ally's Army", the soundtrack to Scotland's spectacularly failed attempt to win the World Cup. Cheryl Baker, one of the line up for Coco re-appeared in much more slick style in 1981 to win with Bucks Fizz.

In 1979, we were represented by Black Lace whose song, Mary Ann, was nowhere near as "good" as their later hits like Agadoo.

It's hard to say whether 79's effort was better or worse than tthe uber sickly "Love Enough for Two" by Prima Donna. I have a scary feeling I was word perfect on this at the time. Looking at it now, the costumes look as if they belong on toddlers, not grown adult, the choreography is dire and the song, well,it's kind of like eating a pink cupcake with extra frosting and sugar on the top.

Someone clearly took our selection process by the scruff of the neck in 1981. Bucks Fizz had Eurovision veteran Cheryl Baker, who had been in the dreadful Coco 3 years earlier. Their song, Making your Mind up was faster paced,had a double entendre in practically every sentence and had the campest choreography ever. It was brilliant!

I probably should feel ashamed of how much I loved our 1982 entry, One Step Further, by Bardo, but, in my defence, it got to number 2 in the charts so I can't have been alone. I just wanted to be Sally Ann Triplett in her polka dotted blue mini-dress. I might even have fancied the guy in the braces.

I think the trip down Memory Lane should probably end now. I don't know if my husband can stand any more tacky songs resounding round our house. I did just ask him whether I confessed to my love of Eurovision before he married me and he confirmed that I had so he can't complain he wasn't warned.

Tomorrow night we all need to get behind (and I know that some would do that with particular enthusiasm) Josh Dubovie singing a song that you can tell a mile off was written by Pete Waterman. It's Jason Donovan all over again - and I love it.

It's going to be a weird night tomorrow night with no Sweden and no Netherlands - how on earth did that happen? The favourite is from Azerbaijan, called Drip Drop but I wonder if it's actually, with its Beyonce choreography, and all, just a bit too sophisticated for Eurovision. It's very good, though and I won't complain if Safura wins.

F1: Boy with the black earrings

BBC pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz never ceases to amaze me. Not only does he bring us the news about whose hydraulics are playing up, or who has a nice new shiny front wing, this morning he brought us some news about Lewis Hamilton. This driver seems to be going through a mid life crisis in his mid 20s. He managed to rehabilitate himself towards the end of last season, after the disaster of the opening race when he lied to the stewards but he seems to have lost all the ground he gained then. This season has seen him petulant on team radio, showing off on public roads, something which has earned him a date before the beak in Australia and generally being outperformed by his team-mate Jenson Button, who has won two races this year.

Kravitz's Hamilton scoop was not only had Hamilton had both ears pierced (and was now sporting black studs), but he had only had it done last week and wasn't supposed to take the studs out. I love Ted Kravitz for actually finding the sporting regulation that it would contravene if he drove with the earrings in.

"Lewis Hamilton had both ears pierced last week in Los Angeles and when you get them pierced for the first time you have to leave the studs in for three to four weeks to allow the hole to develop. However, that would contravene article 2.2.1 appendix L of the sporting regulations, which states that the wearing of jewellery is prohibited. A few years ago Vitantonio Liuzzi had his eyebrow pierced and he had to have it the ring removed before racing because the medical teams said they didn't like piercings."

It's not the fact he's had it done that bothers me, but that he couldn't wait until the 4 week Summer holiday. Surely he knew that his tight fitting helmet would cause problems for the sharp bits of metal in his ears. Honestly. Jenson Button can behave like a spoilt child at times, but he looks the picture of cool maturity next to his bratty team mate.

There was talk a month of so ago of Mika Hakkinen becoming Lewis' manager. Despite his battles with Schumi for the world championship, I love Hakkinen and it would be great if he were back in the paddock. I don't envy him the task of keeping Lewis under control, but he's the sort of cool person who could probably do it.

Anyway, down to the nitty gritty of practice. Earrings aside, the McLarens topped both sessions, Hamilton in the morning, Button in the afternoon, ahead of the Red Bulls. Both Vettel's and Webber's cars had technical issues this morning so I wonder if they will last the race on Sunday, even if they do they get their now customary pole position. I've forgotten the last time they didn't make the front of the grid. They'll be painting a red bull and a reserved sign on the pole position grid slot soon and just not bother with qualifying.

And finally, how come this race ended up on this weekend. I remember checking when the provisional calendar came out that F1 and Eurovision did not happen on the same weekend but they are - and I don't know if my brain can cope with all the excitement along with Willie Rennie's Thank you Party tomorrow afternoon.

Trump says resident who refuses to sell "lives in a slum"

If you had any doubt about signing up to buy a piece of the land threatened by Donald Trump in his Aberdeenshire development, then think about what he said yesterday about the man whose home his development could destroy.

It made me so mad to see this hugely rich American describe Michael Forbes' home as a slum and to say that he lived like a pig. Michael Forbes loves his home and he has the right not to be forced out of it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jo Swinson decides not to stand for Deputy Leadership

Well, there are more disappointing things than not having an iPad. However much I want one, it's the worst name for a product in the history of time.

Jo Swinson's tweet that she wasn't standing for Deputy Leader made me very sad. She would have been completely awesome. She has a high media profile having done brilliant things with her campaign for excess packaging and the Real Women campaign and she has literally thousands of young followers on Twitter and Facebook. She doesn't have to be deputy leader to go on inspiring and encouraging though. Had it been up to Twitter and the blogosphere I suspect she'd have won the contest by a country mile.

I shall have to console myself with the bottle of Moet et Chandon champagne I won at the school pamper night.

If the deputy leadership contest ends up between Tim Farron and Simon Hughes, my head says Tim, who has huge amounts of dynamism and energy and my heart says Simon, who is where I'm at politically. I kind of feel that my heart is owed.

Help! I'm suffering from severe iPad envy....

I'm not one for material things, normally. Our television is antediluvian, our sofas are second hand. I don't have to have every new and shiny thing that comes along - unless it connects to the internet and is called an iPad. I want one so badly it actually hurts. I know I don't need one and that the walloping dose of iPad envy I have developed is nothing in comparison with most if not all of life's problems but I don't think I have ever hankered after a gadget so much in my life.

If I hadn't bought my iPod Touch a couple of months ago, I doubt I'd want its big brother quite so badly. I don't think I've ever enjoyed browsing the internet so much as I do with Safari on it and the thought of being able to do that on something so much bigger is very appealing indeed.

I was doing ok until last night when half of Twitter seemed to be frenetically checking the delivery services to find out where their precious iPads were. I mean, when did that become fashionable. Why is it interesting to find out that your parcel is in Daventry, or Worcester, or Timbucktoo. Until it's in your arms, it might as well be on Mars.

My Twitter friends show me no mercy. Sarah posted this picture. How shiny can you get? I love the way her iPhone, signed by both Ross Brawn and Rubens Barrichello, is reflected in the picture, by the way.

Kate, who at least is languishing with me as one of the Great iPadless, is trying to work out what an iPad is worth to her. I've worked out it's 12 years' Liberal Democrat subscriptions for me. It just shows how much I love the party that I'm not trading in my membership for some nice shiny kit:-).

Kate did, though, point me in the direction of this review of the iPad which has dented my enthusiasm not one tiny bit. I know the guy has been given one to play with, but his passion for it is very clear and genuine.

My husband, much to my surprise, didn't say no when I told him how much I wanted one. He even made the point that if I had one, I could just give the iPod Touch to Anna instead of buying her her own one which brings the cost to us down. You have no idea how unlike him it is to make that sort of observation.

James Graham injects a note of caution and cynicism to the iPad fuss, but I suspect that secretly he's infected with the same affliction as me.

Unless I take myself to some remote location without internet, there's going to be no escaping the collective cooing of new iPad owners. Tonight I'm going to try and get away from it for a short time - am off to a pamper evening to raise funds for school. I like the idea that having a massage is actually helping my daughter's education.

Digital Economy Act: Get your MP to sign EDM 17

Until a few months ago I'd never heard of Julian Huppert who won Cambridge for the Liberal Democrats in the recent election. He first came to my attention as one of the proposers of the fabulous emergency motion on the Digital Economy Bill passed at Spring Conference.

Julian is continuing his campaign against this noxious legislation in the House of Commons. One of his first acts has been to find his way to the Table Office to put together Early Day Motion 17. For those of you not familiar with EDMs, they're a bit like House of Commons petitions, a way of raising awareness of a particular subject. They don't get debated or anything, but if you write to your MP and ask them to sign an EDM on a particular subject, it means that they have to think about the issues involved. Julian's EDM says as follows:

That this House believes that sections nine to 18 of the Digital Economy Act 2010 should not have been rushed through in the dying days of the last Parliament; further believes that these sections have large repercussions for consumers, civil liberties, freedom of information and access to the internet; and calls on the Government to introduce early legislation to repeal those provisions.

If you don't know who your MP is, you can find out at Write to Them.

Julian made his maiden speech which really lifted my spirits. He skilfully and seamlessly wove liberal principles into an eloquent description of his new constituency and for me was the speech of the day.
It certainly cheered me up after I'd sat through Thomas Docherty, the new MP for Dunfermline and West Fife's speech. I know, it's democracy and everything, but on a personal level, I can't pretend that was a painless experience for me. If you don't know why, read this.

Back to Julian, it's great to have another real proper scientist in there to be a voice for a scientifice, rational and evidence based approach to policy and law making:

As one of the few scientists in this House, I hope to bring my expertise to bear on many of the issues facing us.

I suspect that my own research field will not come up too often. I work-or, rather, I worked-on four-stranded DNA structures called G-quadruplexes. I studied how these structures form within cells, how they control which genes are turned on and off, and how they can be targets for new anti-cancer drugs. I do not think that will come up, but it is an understanding of how science works that I bring to this House.

I can speak on wider issues of science policy, such as the funding process for both applied and blue-skies research, and on the operation of the DNA database. I can also speak on how science should affect the broader reaches of policy: for instance, I can speak about making decisions on low-carbon energy sources, following the ideas of my scientific colleague Professor David MacKay, who is now chief scientific adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

I so wish Evan Harris was in there with him - these two would have been a formidable team but, maybe, in 5 years' time he'll be back.

In which I acquire a plot of land in beautiful Aberdeenshire

As regular readers will know, I've been a long term opponent of Donald Trump's plans for a golf course, hotel and housing development in Aberdeenshire. Suffice to say that I don't feel that he has shown sufficient respect for the democratic process, and he has been very unpleasant to people I care about.

I have to say I felt sick when I discovered yesterday that he planned to call this new development the Great Dunes of Scotland. Given the destruction to the Dunes and wildlife necessitated by this project, those words have a very cynical and taunting edge to them.

I find the idea that compulsory purchase orders could be used to remove local people from their homes to build this resort quite objectionable. Like Stephen, I've added my name to the list of co-owners of a plot of land in the middle of this development which will make the process of compulsorily purchasing the land a great deal more complicated. It's a similar idea to that tried out against the third runway at Heathrow which many signed up to.

If you feel as strongly as I do about this, please sign up to "The Bunker" and encourage others to do so.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Caron's Corkers - Towel Day 2010

Don't know what Towel Day is? It's the day when Douglas Adams fans celebrate his life every year by carrying a Towel around with them. Stephen takes us through the day with a series of Adams and Hitchhiker related posts. I'm only an amateur, but I have a feeling that the times of the posts are not what you'd call a coincidence.

I will love Charlotte Gore forever for making me howl with laughter with this post about a certain Swedish shop we all love. You may want to hazard a guess about what kind of table I have and when it was bought.

The Lovely Mr Doctor Chocaholic says everything I want to to Facebook but can't because I'm in such a rage with them.

Andrew is not chuffed with the cafe at his local ASDA and he knows what he's talking about. For some reason I am reminded of that episode of Friends where Phoebe is dating an environmental health inspector. She eventually broke up with him cos they couldn't have a meal out without him shutting the restaurant down. Seriously, though, I'm impressed that Andrew has taken his complaint to the management and is pursuing it vigorously.

Yousuf is in a joking mood.

Could Liz Kendall's Twitter blunder be a good thing for Parliament?

Oh dear. Sky report that new Leicester West Labour MP Liz Kendall has earned the disapproval of Parliamentary authorities after posting a photo of the House of Lords after the Queen's Speech on Twitter.

There are people who say that iPhones bring nothing but trouble, because it's so easy just to take a picture and tweet without thinking but to be honest I think that Parliament needs to be dragged into the 21st century. I really don't have a problem with somebody posting a photograph on a social network of an event that's being televised. Parliament belongs to us all and if that over excited tweet gets one person interested in what happens in the place, it's a good thing.

I think the likes of Jo Swinson and Tom Harris tweeting from the Chamber is great - it really brings the proceedings to life for me to have their take on what's going on. I suspect that every second MP taking photos of every debate or PMQs even would be a bit distracting, but I hope that the powers that be will not make too much of a fuss about Liz's post. In fact, they could take their heads out of their ceremonial robes and relax the rules so that as many people as possible can get a flavour of what happens in the Palace of Westminster.

As for Liz Kendall, I love the fact that the earlier episode didn't phase her - within a few hours, she was back to compiling her photographic of her first weeks inside the Palace of Westminster.

Lib Dem thread running through the Queen's Speech

I know this sounds po-faced, but somehow all the pomp and majesty of today's State Opening of Parliament doesn't quite seem to fit in with the dawning of the Age of Austerity. Is the ceremony we've just witnessed like a sort of political Shrove Tuesday where we feast on plenty before the lean years start?

I just wonder how much it all cost and although I kind of like some of the quaint traditions, is it really necesary to have lots of Yeomen, for example, searching the Palace of Westminster vaults for Guy Fawkes when kids may not have enough jotters in schools soon. Wouldn't one or two be enough?

Today is unique as well as I don't think we've ever seen a Queen's Speech coincide with Towel Day before.

I was a bit annoyed to see that long-term peace protester Brian Haw had been arrested this morning. I suspect it's more to do with Boris than the Westminster Government, but he's not doing anyone any harm and in the interests of free speech, I don't see why can't just be left alone.

Deputy Prime Miniser Nick Clegg could, in his role as Lord President of the Council, have chosen to get dressed up in robes and funny costume and participate in the ceremonial but I wasn't surprised to see him stay whee his heart is, in the Commons. I also tweeted that I was pleased to see Nick and David Cameron walking the short distance from Downing Street to the Commons rather than being driven. This was picked up by the BBC's live event coverage and can be seen at 11.13 am.

He's not a great one for pomp - I remember hearing him speak at a dinner years ago when he mercilessly took the mickey out of the ceremonial associated with some crisis in the EU. I also remember the horror I felt watching the ceremony associated with the ridiculous impeachment of President Clinton when various Congressional lackeys were shuffling backwards three steps here and bowing there as they took impeachment documents from House to Senate. The saving grace about here is that we don't take all the ceremony quite as seriously and we can laugh at it.

The speech itself had, for the first time, a thread of gold running through it. The BBC has the whole list of bills here. There's something quite satisfying about having watched policy debates at Liberal Democrat conference on things like ID cards, getting rid of the DNA database, the pupil premium, flexible working, power of recall for MPs, fixed term parliaments and House of Lords reform, restoring the earnings link for pensions, justice for Equitable Life policyholders, and then seeing Her Majesty sitting on her throne in front of the entire nation reading out these same policies.

It's also good to see the Calman Commission recommendations are going to come into law. I know that we would have liked Calman to go further but this is what we've got and it looked a few months ago like the Tories were trying to wriggle out of it. I like the idea that we're going to have more dialogue with the Scottish Government before finally drafting the legislation.

The phrase "make the tax and benefits system simpler and fairer" was music to my ears as not only does it encompass making life a lot less complicated and confusing for people who need it to be clear and easily understood, but it also involves our steps to raising the tax threshold to £10,000.

There were a couple of "boo" moments - the announcement of the Tory immigration cap for one. I'm sure that many Liberal Democrats won't shed too many tears if the Government is made to look stupid when it is discovered that the idea is basically unworkable.

The words "welfare reform" have always made me shudder because it always seems to encompass paying less to people in need, whether it's been introduced by Tory or Labour governments. The current Tory plans make me feel uneasy in ways that I'll go into in more detail in future posts, but I hope that Liberal Democrat influence can make them fairer.

The new Parliament will have a busy time getting through these 22 bills in 18 months - and I hope, even though Conservative minister Jeremy Hunt says there will be no repeal of the reviled Digital Economy Act and there was nothing in today's speech about it, that those MPs on all sides, including people like our own Julian Huppert and Labour's Eric Joyce, will be able to get the worst bits neutralised.

The curious case of Nick Clegg and his media interviews

What is this weird feeling I have when I see Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg being interviewed on television? Surely it's got to be some sort of first, a Government Minister looking people in the eye, answering the question put to him, being honest, open and sounding like he knows what he's talking about.

In my lifetime, I've seen a variety of Ministers, ranging from the imperious and uncaring (Thatcher, Peter Lilley), arrogant (Salmond) smooth and slimy (Mandelson), spinning a web of bullshit, if you can have such a thing, perhaps a metaphor that shouldn't be mixed (Blair), unable to communicate in terms that ordinary people could relate to (Brown), being interviewed. I've usually come away with a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration at what they had to say, the hairs on the back of my neck often standing on end.

I've been watching Nick doing the rounds of Andrew Marr and BBC Breakfast over the past few days. He's still very good at explaining things in a way that people can relate to. He doesn't try to hide the enormity of the problems that the Government has to sort out, nor the tough decisions they have to make, but I feel reassured that he's in there with his shovel cleaning up the mess Labour has left behind. I know that when he talks about giving power back to the people he means it. Where Labour think that only they are fit enough to make decisions for people, our core philosophy is that people should have more say in how their services are run and that Labour's one size fits all attitude is a recipe for disaster.

It is a strange, but not unwelcome feeling, this having confidence in what a Government Minister is saying. It's not completely new to me - when Robert Brown was in charge of Scotland's schools and Ross Finnie was in charge of rural affairs, and Jim Wallace in charge of justice, for example, I knew I could believe every word they said.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sehar Shebaz - why is her husband allowed to stay here?

A thought occurred to me about the deportation of Sehar Shabaz and her baby, Wania, which I wrote about on Saturday.

Sehar's husband, whose violence towards her forced her to flee from him last November, is not a UK national. On the UK Borders Agency website, it quite clearly says that:

During your stay it is your responsibility to

obey the law

It doesn't seem fair to me that a man who has been violent to his wife to the extent that the Police have been involved on two occasions should be allowed to stay in this country while the wife who suffered from this abuse and the consequent physical, psychological and emotional damage, should be sent back to Pakistan where they are both at risk of reprisals not just from her husband's family but from her own. It is not the done thing, especially for a woman, to leave a marriage, whatever the circumstances, in that country.

Every time I think of Sehar and Wania needlessly placed in danger by the UK Border Agency, I want to cry and I didn't know her. What on earth must the people who have been supporting her these last months be going through?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Caron's Corkers 23 May

Enjoying the Summer weather? Good! See what a Liberal Democrat Government secures for you:-).

Anyway, spare a thought for Clair, who has completed her West Highland Way charity walk to raise funds for SANDS who helped her friends when their daughter Catriona Rose was stillborn last year. You can sponsor her here.

Dave wants to repeal the Digital Economy Act.

The lovely Mr Doctor Chocaholic has information about Cabinet Committees. He says how it shows that the Lib Dem are pretty much hardwired into Government. I would add to that that it's quite weird (in a good way) to see our lot described as Rt Hon. Then I'd observe that it can't be normal for the Secretary of State for Scotland to be on the National Security Council, which shows how integral Danny Alexander is to this Government. Thirdly, I think 5 Lib Dems on a European Committee of 14 is not a bad result. Fourthly, I would do almost anything up to and maybe including selling my soul to the devil to listen in on a social justice committee to see how Lynne Featherstone, David Laws and Sarah Teather take on Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa May and Eric Pickles. That'll potentially be where our lot make a huge difference.

Paul Johnston on Robert Brown's attempts to halt taser pilot.

James tells Labour to get over themselves and start talking.

And as a wee bonus, enjoy this by the one and only Mr Adams:

Liberal Youth: Don't miss your chance to vote (via Lady Mark)

This is just a Public Service Announcement to help out Liberal Youth RO Mark Valladares.

He is concerned that with the end of term and all, members won't be at the addresses Cowley Street holds for them. If you are affected, he wants you to contact Katy, the Liberal Youth Administrator asap to make sure you get your vital voting papers.

What I was doing 11 years ago today

I saw the film Notting Hill for the first (of very many) times 11 years ago today, also a Sunday.

How do I know this? Well, it was the day before Anna was due (although she didn't arrive for a wee while after that) and, being unable to resist anything Richard Curtis has written, I had to make sure I saw it before the baby was born.

Seriously, if the whole film had been as funny as the first half hour, I swear I would have actually left the cinema with a baby.

I've seen it many times since and it's never lost its appeal for me. Yes, it's trashy and schmaltzy and predictable, but Rhys Ifans portrayal of Hugh Grant's flatmate from hell Spike cuts into that. You can't watch this film and not laugh.

Here's the trailer to remind you of the best bits:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sehar Shabaz: an injustice too far.

How can it be the action of a civilised society to take a woman who has fled domestic violence and send her back to Pakistan with her 8 month old baby where she is at risk from reprisals from both her and her husband's family?

Home Secretary Theresa May is imminently deporting Sehar Shabaz and her 8 month old daughter Wania. Sehar was at the centre of controversy earlier in the week after she and her baby were detained at Dungavel after both Tavish Scott and Alistair Carmichael had said that child detention would stop. It has now been confirmed that the Liberal Democrats have been successful in ending this practice and no children will be detained at Dungavel in the future.

That's all well and good, but I'm not convinced that sending them to Yarls Wood is actually a better solution. I'd have liked to have seen all detention of children suspended while the system was reviewed.

The reason Sehar was being removed is that she came in to the country on a spouse's visa but she left her husband becaus of his violence towards her. She had no right, therefore, to stay in this country. The difficulty is that if she is returned to Pakistan, where women, particularly young women, have no power, her actions in leaving her violent husband are likely to be viewed dimly by both her own and his family. This means that both her and her baby are at risk. What I don't know and I can't find out is that she appears to have been living apart from her husband for 3 years and her baby is 8 months old and so I assume that she's formed another relationship which will be even more frowned upon back in Pakistan. UPDATE: Thanks to @NoetiCat on Twitter for alerting me to this site which gives more information about Sehar's case.

It turns out that she arrived in this country in 2007 on a student visa to marry a Pakistani national living in the UK. She fled her abusive husband in November 2009 and her application for asylum has been turned down by the UK Border Agency's fast track system. The fact that there is new information which was not considered prior to removal is extremely worrying.

I'd like to know more about her circumstances. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I wonder if she actually took up her studies after entering the country on a student visa. Could it be that she had a place on a course and her new husband prevented her from taking it up? Did she study? If not, then the UK Border Agency, whatever the circumstances, would have taken a very dim view of that which may have stood against her in the asylum system. If they ruled that she'd not fulfilled the requirements of her student visa, then her application for asylum would in their eyes have had less credibility. I am not saying that's right, but I suspect that might have been what's happeened.

I think, though, particularly where young children are involved, there needs to be some sort of full welfare assessment and the UK Border Agency needs to take into account evidence based knowledge of the dangers people face in their home countries. We know that honour killings are common in certain countries. That knowledge should be sufficient to prevent deportation in my view at least.

My task for the next few days is to read this report which I suspect will confirm my long held suspicions that there is institutional bias against women in the immigration and asylum system.

I've tried to find out whether Sehar was in fact deported last night. I have learned from experience to assume the worst of the UK Border Agency so with a heavy heart, I'm assuming that she was. This is not the way for a compassionate, civilised society to behave.

I think it is absolutely wrong to return a vulnerable young woman to face attacks with acid or even murder in an environment where she will have no power or little chance of recourse to the law to protect her. The UK Border Agency accepted, way too late in my opinion, that it was wrong to return gay men and lesbians to countries where they will be persecuted and the Coalition Agreement specifically guarantees this. I don't understand why sending women into harm's way should be any different. If you are in any doubt about what could happen, read this Amnesty report on honour killings.

On occasions like this I'm ashamed to be British. It's time the UK Border Agency was forced to learn some compassion. Things aren't going to change overnight, but I wonder why this particular young woman was singled out for deportation at this particular time. It's unnecessary and utterly, utterly wrong.

And also a word about Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats in Government. He alone can't stop every single mistake that the Government is going to make and it's not realistic to expect him to be able to do so. I have faith, though, that if he is made aware of a problem, then he will do what he can to change things. I know that he's not going to win every single battle within the coalition - by its nature that's impossible - but I trust him to argue the case for change as hard as he can. There is much more chance that injustices like what's happened to Sehar will stop under this coalition than by either Labour or the Conservatives governing on their own.

Summer's here........

See, a week into a Liberal Democrat coalition government and what do we have? Brilliant sunshine. Surely this never happened under Labour.

Unfotunately, I can find reason to whinge because I am not going to be spending the day lying in the garden soaking up rays, but will be ensconced in a Scottish Liberal Democrats' Executive. And it's bound to go on for ages because people will want to talk about the election and the aftermath. It will be great to see people though and no doubt we'll end up in the pub at lunchtime.

Not, of course, that I'm in any fit state to be going to the pub. This week was horrible healthwise. Yesterday was by far the best day, the only one all week I'd actually felt human. If I'd had any sense I'd have made the most of that advantage and gone to bed nice and early and woken up all fresh faced for today.

Some hope. One of the nicest parts for me about Summer is sitting out in the garden late at night. I got to do precious little of that last year because even if I felt well enough the weather was rubbish. So, last night I allowed myself to be led astray by my husband - he just wouldn't stop filling up my wine glass - and sat out till very late while he played his weird music and showed off his glitter ball and his new solar powered fairy lights and his funky thing that projects images onto the side of our house that he got for next to nothing in a Maplins sale. Consequently this morning I feel a bit jaded - although am not as hung over as I deserve.

I'm all excited about tonight too - for the first time in 10 years, we have a barbecue. Bob built one at our last house and every year we used to have a big Summer party which was great fun. If I ever get this house tidied up, we might do the same this year. Anyway, Stephen is coming across to road test it and watch Doctor Who and the Dorothies.

So, whatever you're doing today, take some time to enjoy the sunshine. It may not be with us for long.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Caron's Corkers - 21st May

It's been an exciting week in politics and beyond with lots to discuss and speculate about.

First off, Mr MacNumpty looks at Miss Goldie's rearranging of the blue team while Andrew takes a wry look at Peter Mandelson's departure from the Shadow Cabinet.

Jennie posts an angry, moving and powerful reply to Janet Street Porter's ignorant comments about Depression.

Paul Edie looks at progress in services for the homeless and older people he's managed to make in the 3 years he's been in charge at the City of Edinburgh Council.

Mark reckons Thatcher would have tried to make a coalition with the Liberals if she's faced a similar circumstance. Could we really have been spared the pain of the 80s?

If you're standing in the Liberal Youth elections, please don't phone Lady Mark at nearly midnight.

Loulabelle thinks Lembit could end up on Strictly.

And finally, Tom Harris shows how the life of an MP is never dull and requires a huge range of skills as he and his assistant play Starsky and Hutch to make Glasgow South a safer place.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where now for Union Terrace Gardens?

Whatever decision Aberdeen City Council took last night regarding the city square development, roughly half the city would have been angry.

I've not been at all involved in the controversy over the plans to create a new city square which have polarised the city, so I'm wary about writing about something I don't know a huge amount about, but here's how it looks to me.

On one side you have Sir Ian Wood pledging to give £50 million towards a plan to turn the picturesque Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen city centre into what supporters called a "chance to transform our city for the 21st century".

On the other, we have Peacock Visual Arts who already had funding and permission to build a new contemporary arts centre in the Gardens and who say that their future is now in doubt as a result.

I have to say, as a former resident of the city, that I feel that Union Terrace Gardens provided a welcome splash of green and life in a very grey city centre. Instinctively I feel that throwing masses of concrete at a green space in the name of development isn't always desirable unless there's a very good reason. From a brief look at the plans, I can't really see a compelling rationale for the development but I find the way in which the site is put together very dull so maybe an idea which has excited some people I know just hasn't been communicated very well. I don't see what the project will bring in terms of good quality secure long term jobs either. The other point, of course, is money - the whole thing costs £140 million and Sir Ian is only giving around a third of that. That means that another £90 million of presumably public money has to be found, in this climate.

Now that the Council has made its decision, what happens next? Well, I was pleased to see that there was no "na na na na na" stuff from Sir Ian who was very gracious in his remarks last night.

"The polarisation on this very important issue has not been healthy for our city and, now that a positive decision has been taken, every effort must be made to take account of the various concerns expressed and ensure that the project proceeds in a way that will have the optimum impact and benefit for the citizens of Aberdeen.

"Today is not about winners or losers, certainly not in the context of the present parties involved.

"I believe if we make the right decisions over the next few months, all of the parties, including those who might feel they have lost today, will be winners and certainly the citizens of Aberdeen should be the long-term winners."

I guess he is someone from the north east who's doing this because he cares about the city. It appears to me that someone has got to get all the interested parties talking to each other. Surely it can't be beyond the wit of those involved in the plans to find some way of funding Peacock's future and to deal with the concerns of those who are unhappy about the proposal.

As is no doubt clear, I know very little about this, but I'm happy to offer a guest post on this blog to anyone from either side of the argument - and I know good people on both sides of it - to explore positive ways of finding a solution that suits as many people as possible. Any takers?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Proud Mummy alert: Anna's First Public PowerPoint Presentation

I am feeling really rubbish today. I spent the morning in bed and am now languishing on the couch listening to the therapeutic sound of Liberal Democrat Cabinet Ministers being sworn in.

I am incredibly proud of Anna though. At just 10, she and her classmates have all had to give a Presentation on someone who inspires them. She's been working on her's for the past month and put together a PowerPoint presentation on her favourite actor David Tennant.

It's all the more remarkable of her because she's managed this all by herself and met the deadline with no last minute panics and no support from a bad mother who's been more preoccupied with the election and its aftermath. She came home this afternoon and reported that all had gone well.

It's great that the school curriculum gets kids used to doing this sort of thing from an early age. Anna went in today seeing it as just another day, excited about what was to come.

I didn't really get the chance to do anything like that till third or fourth year at High School when I started competing in speechmaking competitions and I was always petrified about speaking in public. I remember someone close to me, shortly before one competition, telling me that they'd thought my previous speech had been rubbish & she could hardly believe I'd come up with something worse. Those of you who know me well will be able to work out who that was. I managed to get through the competition but to this day I don't feel too confident about my speechwriting abilities.

It's fabulous to see Anna and her schoolfriends develop these important presentation and time management skills in such an enjoyable and positive environment. Her PowerPoint presentation looked super on my laptop and must have been awesome on the smart board in her classroom.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Nick Clegg's plan to restore civil liberties - choose an authoritarian law to junk

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who's in charge of political reform in the new coalition government, today outlined the wide ranging reforms he intends to introduce. As a speech it's pretty good and the sort of thing I'll bookmark to make me smile when I'm feeling sad.

True to a programme that involves giving more power over the state to the people, he will be consulting on what laws people want to see gone. I was tempted for a moment to make the headline to this "Join Nick Clegg's big bang approach" but I thought that might be misconstrued by search engines as well as Jennie, who has linked to some interesting sites today..

Here's just a wee bit of what Nick said:

“I have spent my whole political life fighting to open up politics. So let me make one thing very clear: this government is going to be unlike any other.

“This government is going to transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state.

“This government is going to break up concentrations of power and hand power back to people, because that is how we build a society that is fair.

“This government is going to persuade you to put your faith in politics once again.”

“I’m not talking about a few new rules for MPs; not the odd gesture or gimmick to make you feel a bit more involved.

“I’m talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century.

“The biggest shake up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes.

“Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests.

“Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.

“A spirit this government will draw on as we deliver our programme for political reform: a power revolution.

“A fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.”

“So, no, incremental change will not do.

“It is time for a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform.

Oh, and just for these hysterical Labour rabble rousers who have a problem with the plans dissolution of Parliament:

As we legislate to fix parliamentary terms the details will of course need to be worked out...

But we believe that the support of 55% of MPs or more should be required for parliament to opt for an early dissolution.

That is a much lower threshold than the two thirds required in the Scottish Parliament.

But it strikes the right balance for our parliament: maintaining stability, stopping parties from forcing a dissolution to serve their own interests.

Former Labour ministers who were once perfectly happy to ride roughshod over our democracy are now declaring this innovation some sort of outrage are completely missing the point:

This is a new right for Parliament, additional to the existing powers of no confidence.

We're not taking away parliament's right to throw out government; we're taking away government's right to throw out parliament."

Nick emphasised that this wasn't about the government dictating to people but asking their opinion about what laws should go.

The Government has already outlined things like:

ID cards

The ContactPoint database

Properly restricting the DNA database

Giving back the right to peaceful protest

Libel Reform to stop ridiculous abuses designed to stifle free speech.

One thing Nick didn't mention was getting rid of Section 44 searches which gives the Police the right to stop and search anyone in a specific area regardless of whether there are reasonable grounds for suspicion. The European Court of Human Rights ruled against them earlier this year but according to Liberty the law has not been changed yet. That would be top of my list for getting rid of. Also, if there are still any laws out there that try to regulate what consenting adults do in private, shall we say, they should go for no other reason than it's none of the state's business. End of. The Daily Mail will have a field day with that one but so what.

There are my ideas. What would be on your list?

So, freedom may be in the air again after 13 years of authortarian Labour, but we need to help Nick by responding to his consultation when it is set up and do what we can to ensure that the Tories keep their mitts off the Human Rights Act.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New MPs warned they could lose their seats

I've found this guide for new MPs on the UK Parliament website. Given that almost a third of MPs are taking their seats for the first time, then it's quite helpful that the House authorities have produced a 13 page guide to advise them on everything from stationery to where to grab a cup of tea to how to get their computers sorted out to how to conduct themselves in the Chamber. Funnily enough, it doesn't tell them to cat call, insult and behave like 2 year olds. I wonder where they learn that from?

One bit which took my fancy was the section on swearing their oaths of allegiance to the Queen and this section in particular:

"Members who have not taken the oath or affirmation are unable to draw a salary and must not sit in a debate or vote in a division of the House (once the Speaker has been elected) or they will lose their seat."

I am assuming that the settled will of the voters in any constituency won't be overturned if someone forgets to swear in for some reason, but the wording of that suggests that it might be.

The document also goes on to mention in several places that members may not have switched on mobile phones in the Chamber. I wonder if this is after Willie Rennie's faux pas a few years ago when a very knowledgable and authoratative speech about the Armed Forces was brought to an abrupt end when his mobile phone went off. It was actually my friend Elspeth who was calling him to ask him about a very run of the mill office matter which was immortalised in Hansard as follows:

"That is why the Liberal Democrats believe that it is time for us to go. We have reached the conclusion that our troops should—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Olner; that is my mobile phone."

I'm sure he wasn't the first and won't be the last..... We took to e-mailing him after that........

Calling all Liberal Democrat Doctor Who Geeks

I've scheduled this for quite late at night, when I will probably be fast asleep, because most of my most lovely and geeky Liberal Democrat friends will still be up.

In case you haven't noticed, the awesome Jennie has created a group for Lib Dem Doctor Who geeks over on Lib Dem Act.

I have started a discussion called "Doctor Who is a Liberal Democrat. Discuss." This is mainly because I am a bit fed up of turning on Labour broadcasts to find Doctor Who actors appearing in them. Did they learn nothing from the Doctor, as I wrote earlier this year?

UPDATE: I programmed this to publish at 11.15. I'm sure I did. Darned technology.

Bercow re-elected as Speaker as Dorries humiliated by coup failure

Sometimes I wonder if I'm still in a dream, that I had a nap when the polls closed on election day and I haven't woken up yet. There was a feeling of unreality which I switched on the tv to see the Liberal Democrats, for the first time in my lifetime, sitting on the Government benches, on the left as you watch on tv. It is kind of fitting that we have appropriated the banches previously occupied by Labour's Awkward Squad.

It was faintly depressing to see such an overwhelming sea of grey suits on the green benches. You do wonder when we're ever going to get to a situation where less than three quarters of our MPs are white men.

The grey was broken up by a lot of purple though - presumably in honour of the Take Back Parliament. It was good to see Nick Clegg wear the symbol of protest as he sat next to the New Prime Minister.

The first business was the election of the Speaker, accomplished with much doffing of hats from selected members of the House of Lords. Iain Dale said last night that his pal, the awful Nadine Dorries, had hatched a plot to provide Bercow with some competition. Tom Harris said that even if one person had shouted out no when Father of the House Peter Tapsell asked for approval of Bercow as Speaker, then there would be a vote of all of the House. In fact, when Nadine and her small coterie yelled their disapproval, they sounded so insignificant, that Sir Peter decided not to bother with the vote.

I have not forgiven Nadine Dorries for her dreadful tweet the night of the election when she gloated over Dr Evan Harris' defeat. It was ungracious and downright horrible so I was quite pleased to see her completely humiliated today.

Oh, and before I forget - another reason why Harriet Harman should stand for the Labour leadership. In her remarks to new members she told them not to listen to any advice to keep their heads down but to start trailblazing and fighting for their constituents.

The next big Parliamentary Event is the Queen's Speech next Tuesday, a day of pomp and circumstance which will take place the day after the £6bn worth of cuts is announced. If you want to be really geeky, you could watch BBC Parliament from 3 tomorrow to see MPs being sworn in to see if any of them forget there are mikes around the place and say things they shouldn't. I think it was the very funny and much missed Tony Banks who got caught taking the oath with his fingers crossed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"There is no money left" jokes Labour's Byrne as Lib Dem laws promises social justice

I saw via Twitter this morning that there was something going round saying that Liam Byrne, Labour's former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had left a note for his successor saying starkly and simply "Dear Chief Secretary, There is no money left."

Not having seen a news report, I just assumed that this was some internet joke going round. Not for one minute, until I saw the news and saw new Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws actually tell the story himself, did I think that anyone could display such crude callousness.

It all brings to mind the Spitting Image sketch from 1992 where the Tories led by John Major are forced, by dint of getting an overall majority, to return to a trashed number 10 knowing that they have to clear up the mess they made. In this case, though, Labour manage to leave their mess for the new coalition to deal with.

So, not only have Labour walked away from the chance to stay in Government, presumably in the knowledge that this gives them the chance to jump up and down and make a huge fuss about the action needed to clear up the mess they've made, but they're also all having a good laugh about it behind the backs of the British public. It's quite extraordinary that they think it's so funny. We've all resorted to dark humour to keep us going, but to write such a thing down to a successor is just immature and unpleasant.

Every time Labour criticises, they should be reminded of Liam Byrne's words.

I was hoping that the coalition takes on the Liberal Democrat ideas to include Labour in a sort of commmittee on deficit reduction so that all the politicians together could pool ideas and work together. I'm not sure that Labour are capable of approaching that task with the sort of maturity required.

In contrast, David Laws sent out a message to Liberal Democrat members today giving his personal guarantee that the tough decisions he will make will have social justice at their heart. His whole message is reproduced below. The bold is mine.

"Dear Caron,

My Labour predecessor, Liam Byrne, left me a note saying 'Dear Chief Secretary, There's no money left.' He may claim this is joke, but sadly it is all too true.

Labour have left the nation's finances in an utterly ruinous state and we face a colossal task ahead of us. That is why today the Chancellor and I announced the creation of the Office of Budget Responsibility as well as the date for the emergency budget in six weeks time on 22nd June.

It is also why over the next week I will be working to identify £6bn of wasteful government spending that we can save in order to start to pay down the disastrous deficit left to us by Labour.

In addition to this, every new spending commitment and pilot project signed off by Labour ministers since the turn of the year will be individually reviewed in a bid to find additional savings. This is simply due diligence by the new coalition government in relation to some of the irresponsible decisions we have inherited.

I would like to give you my personal guarantee that whilst the decisions ahead will be tough I will always put social justice as their heart. I have, and I will continue to reject any proposals which would damage key services or put at risk those on lower incomes.

This is not merely a coalition of competent accountants. The challenge we face is how to address the deficit while protecting the quality of key services, making this a fairer country and ensuring that those on the lowest incomes are protected as far as possible from the actions that are necessary.

This will not be easy. But there is more chance of it being achieved with Lib Dem presence in HM Treasury than without it.

Best wishes,

David Laws MP
Chief Secretary to the Treasury"

I hope that history records that it was the Liberal Democrats who took on this enormous challenge when Labour walked away.

What I think we will see from Labour is some fairly vicious scaremongering, like they have been in Fife and Edinburgh as Councils now run by Lib Dems in coalition with the SNP try to deal with the financial mess they left. Every time they do that, they should be reminded of Liam Byrne's gloating note.

Excited about Elephants in London

I love Stephen Fry and I have so missed his tweets when he's been away writing his books. This morning he tweeted about elephants being all over London.

This is going to mean that a trip to London for us this Summer, before July 4th is going to be essential. We'll probably have to spend most of the time between now and then down there too, given that my energy reserves aren't going to permit tracking too many of them down at a time.

In 2006, we were completely enraptured by the Edinburgh Cow Parade. If you are my friend on Facebook, there's a photo album there that contains pictures of most of the cows.

The Elephant Parade is there to raise awareness of the demise of the Asian elephant to near extinction. Have a look at this video:

You can follow the campaign on Twitter, Facebook and You Tube

Middle aged men in suits - the story of the election and things to come?

When I first really started to become properly aware of equalities issues as a student in the mid 80s, it never really occurred to me that the same themes, of the lack of women in public life, would be an issue a quarter of a century on.

Sure, things have changed a bit since then, but this election campaign was just one example of how blokey things seem to have become again. It seems like we've gone backwards. The only difference is that when I was growing up the politicians I was used to seeing on TV were old men like Harold Wilson, Denis Healey and Jim Callaghan while today's male politicians who dominate the scene are nearer to my age like Nick Clegg (6 months older), David Miliband (2 years older) and David Cameron (9 months older).

The Guardian has an article today in which several prominent women in the news media give their views about why there were so few women on tv during the election campaign.

I guess we have to remember that this virtually female free climate has been fostered under a Labour government. You might understand why when you read this anecdote from the article from Cathy Newman from Channel 4:

During the election campaign, Lord Mandelson took a string of questions from the political editors (all men) before finally turning to me, with an apology to the men and an explanation that he had to get his gender balance right.

To me, Labour, even with its womens' sections back in the 80s, seemed like one of the most misogynist organisations I'd ever come across and if Caroline Flint is to be believed not much changed. It's astonishingly bad that even after all the mechanisms they've used to make their diversity better, that the candidates for Labour leader will be white and male. Personally I'm disappointed that Harriet Harman isn't going for it and I wonder if that's got to do with the maulings she's had in the media in the past. When she was doing PMQs, there always seemed to be a bit more of a point to the proceedings. Sure, she wasn't above the odd bit of political point scoring but her style was much more open and sensible. The Harman/Hague/Vince sessions were like a rare treat to be savoured in amongst the pointless panto of the Brown/Cameron/Nick half hours of hot air.

In the Guardian article, media professor Jean Seaton tells of her anger at having listened to the Today Programme one day and not having heard one female voice. She goes on to point out that it will be women who bear the brunt of public sector cuts:

Moreover, as a huge proportion of women work in the public sector they will be in the front line of the cuts that are promised and they certainly understand the consequences. So you might have thought the broadcasters and press would have pulled the debate towards the half of the electorate the politicians seemed to have forgotten.

I really don't know what the answer is and how to change things. My own party's gender balance in both Scottish and Westminster parliaments is pretty rubbish. It's not for want of trying, either. 40% of our winnable seats had women candidates in the election just gone but it was heartbreaking to see fantastic women like Sandra Gidley, Bridget Fox, Sal Brinton, Julia Goldsworty, Susan Kramer, Claire Kelley, Karen Gillard, Sarah Carr, Terrye Teverson and Katy Gordon all defeated or not winning despite running amazing campaigns. Dinti Batstone from the Gender Balance Task Force told yesterday's Special Conference that it was easy to be smug about women in Parliament when you had safe seats - but Labour and the Tories with their embarrassment of riches in the safe seats department are not as far ahead of us as they should be. I wouldn't normally suggest that we follow Alex Salmond's example on anything, but I understand that he was proactive in ensuring that he was succeeded at Westminster by an excellent woman, Eilidh Whiteford. John Reid's seat for Labour has been taken by Pamela Nash. Yet when Lib Dem John Barrett stepped down in Edinburgh West, on paper the safest Lib Dem seat in the country, the party had a good opportunity to improve the diversity of its ranks in some way and didn't take it.

I think this is one area where we need to forget about political and media boundaries and work together to change things from the grassroots up. Like we scrutinise the media for lack of Liberal Democrat representation, we need to look out and record examples where things are presented in a way that does not reflect the gender diversity and we need to do more to promote real women. There is, of course, no shortage of reporting of women in the media, but those women are usually celebrities who are getting pasted for being too fat, too thin, having their relationships analysed, their complexions and diets studied in microscopic detail in a way that is profoundly disturbing to me as mother of a 10 year old girl.

There is hope, though. While the faces of the media reporting politics as I was growing up were exclusively male, my daughter has the likes of engaging and authoratative Laura Kuenssberg and Channel 4's Cathy Newman.

I would feel really gloomy if it wasn't for the fact that our Lynne Featherstone is now in charge of Equalities and I can't wait to see what she brings to that job. She will undoubtedly have a challenge, though - until the men with most of the power accept that there is a problem and help to do something about it, the majority of the population will continue to be excluded and marginalised.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

F1: Mark Webber wins thrilling Monaco Grand Prix

There's just something about Monaco. The sheer beauty and romance of the place. The fact that I wouldn't be able to afford so much as a bottle of water there does not diminish the thrill I experience as I watch the cars stream through St Devote, or Casino Square, or tackle the tight Loew's hairpin. You can always guarantee that this race is going to have some drama and/or controversy. Today there was an abundance of both.

Before the race had even started Duncan got really grumpy about Martin Brundle's gridwalk, suggesting it had passed its sellby date. I don't think so - it's comedy gold and you never quite know what he's going to next. Mind you, on a grid that today boasted Michael Douglas and J-Lo, Brundle found us Gerard Butler and the Sugababes. The girls were there as guests of Red Bull so it might have been polite and chosen Mark or Seb as their favourites, but they looked a bit blank when Martin asked them who they wanted to win before stumbling over Jenson and Lewis' name. I love it when Brundle just grabs random people and starts talking to them, or falls out with TV people from other countries. Today he pointed out the Spanish girl who always kicks his legs if he gets in her way.

Back to the race. We managed to avoid carnage at the first corner, and both Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel had fabulous starts. Barrichello managed to pass both Mercedes (although they returned the compliment in the pitstops) and Vettel got past the Renault of Kubica. However, the safety car was out by the end of the lap when Nico Hulkenburg had an awful looking accident in the tunnel, the darkness showing up the sparks making it look even worse. THe team put it down to a failure of the front wing. When something like that happens, your heart just stops until you see the driver move. Thankfully he was fine. Cue a safety car and Alonso, who'd started from the pitlane, cheekily took the opportunity to pit for hard tyres which he hoped (correctly) would last him to the end of the race.

Williams' woes continued when Rubens Barrichello had a spectacular accident near Massenet, which was initially thought to be a puncture but which the team describe as a "failure on the rear of this car". It's a shame because Rubens had been happier on the grid than we'd seen him for a wee while. He's seemed unhappy so far this year because the FW32, frankly, doesn't really compare well with last year's Brawn. It was heartbreaking to see his race end with him throwing his steering wheel in anger right into the racing line, ready for poor Karun Chandhok to run over. He survived, though. I can't think Frank Williams will be very happy, as these things cost a fortune.

A second, short lived, safety car came out shortly after Rubens' accident apparently because there was a broken drain cover near the scene of the accident, but this seemed to come to nothing.

All the while, the lead never changed with Mark Webber staying out in front - the real controversy happening behind him.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso had started from the pit lane after being unable to take part in qualifying after another accident again near Massenet. He worked his way through the field but Lucas Di Grassi deserves a medal for keeping him at bay for a fair few laps. Similarly, Heikki Kovalainen was not just going to blithely give up track position just because a Ferrari was demanding it.

However, technical supremacy gave way and he was able to cut through the field like a knife through butter, ending up in 5th place ahead of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.

They say things come in threes, and so there was a third safety car this afternoon. For someone who was trying to follow the Lib Dems' Special Conference via Twitter as well as the race, keeping up with everything was a bit of a challenge, but I literally jumped out of my seat in horror when I saw what took place at Rascasse a few laps from the end. I'm not sure of the exact circumstances which led to it, but Jarno Trulli pulled a ridiculously stupid move on the Hispania of Karun Chandhok at Rascasse and ended up airborne and almost hitting Karun on the head with the full force of his car. The Lotus ended up on fire yet incredibly, and thankfully, both drivers were fine and within what seemed like seconds, the absolutely lovely Karun was being interviewed on 5 Live (I always feel like I'm being unfaithful to Brundle when I listen to Ant and Crofty on 5 Live, but they are brilliant and today I just couldn't cope with the terminally boring Legard). What was particularly remarkable was that he seemed to bear no ill will at all towards Jarno Trulli and had accepted a simple apology. Maybe once he sees the footage he'll realise how close a call it was.

The safety car which came out as a result of that incident went into the pit lane at the end of the final lap leaving the cars to race to the end. At the restart, Michael Schumacher overtook Fernando Alonso to take 6th place. This move cost him his place, landed him with a 20 second penalty and put him out of the points. Apparently he'd fallen foul of FIA regulation 40.13 which states that

“If the race ends while the safety car is deployed, it will enter the pit lane at the end of the last lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.”

Mercedes have stated their intention to appeal this penalty and I agree with them. Their contention is that the safety car was in because it was no longer needed and the race was proceedng, even for those last few yards, on green flag conditions. Ross Brawn just does not get these things wrong.

Much had already been made over the Monaco weekend of Schumacher's erstwhile rival Damon Hill being on the Stewards' Panel this weekend. I think it was David Coulthard who said on BBC's coverage of quali yesterday that Schumi would get a £10,000 penalty just for turning up. There are 3 stewards and I think that Damon would always be looking at it from the drivers' perspective. I doubt he would be so vindictive as to award a penalty out of revenge 16 years on. He doesn't seem like that sort of person. We simply don't know what he said.

However, I think that the stewards' decision was absolutely wrong and that Schumi's points should be reinstated. Every other driver at the front thought they were racing at that restart and so protected their positions with the exception of Alonso. He has gained an advantage from an unclear situation and that needs to be sorted.

What isn't altered by this is the fact that those pesky Red Bulls now lead the championship. Their celebrations were exuberant, with Mark Webber ending up in the swimming pool on on top of their overly opulent motorhome with the trophy. I don't warm to Red Bull, but I love Mark Webber. He's had a tough road to make it in F1,so I always feel he absolutely deserves the spoils. It seems like he may have forgotten to pack a dj, though..........


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