Monday, December 31, 2012

So, how did I do with my 2012 predictions?

Oh dear. It's time to dust off the predictions I made for 2012 and see how well my crystal ball was functioning this time last year. So, how did I do?

1. The SNP will wimp out on full equal marriage, allowing it in civil ceremonies but not for religious.

I don't think I have ever been so glad to be wrong in my whole life. Well done, Nicola Sturgeon, for powering on through and ensuring that those religious organisations, and humanists, who want to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies will be able to do so. 

2. Obama will win the presidential election against Romney, but it'll be a close run thing and our hearts will be in our mouths for most of the time between Labor Day and 6th November.

I'm claiming this one. Anyone who was looking at the polls in the swing states would have felt more confident, but the first debate in early October made the Republicans think they could win after all. There were some scary moments.

3. A Liberal Democrat Cabinet seat will change hands, and will not be a resignation on principle.

Another one in the bag after Chris Huhne's resignation in February. It was Huhne, sadly, that I was thinking of when I made that one.

4. Jo Swinson will become a minister.

And so she did in the September reshuffle

5. The coalition will last the year, but there will be more public differences of opinion between ministers particularly over immigration and human rights.

Another one down. Although I suppose I should take half a mark off for it being Lords reform, taxation and welfare reform that were the main lines of attack on the Tories.

6. The Eurozone will limp on, narrowly avoiding catastrophe on a weekly basis, but with real hardship for people as many economies, including ours, go into recession.

I wish I'd been wrong on this one. I suppose this year could have been worse for the Eurozone, but it's not where we want to be at all and I feel for all those people in Greece and Spain who simply can't get jobs.

7. The Government will not win the vote on time limiting Employment and Support Allowance in the House of Lords and will have to rethink the policy. 

Well, they didn't win the vote, so I guess that's half a mark, but sadly they didn't rethink the policy. They just used some bit of Parliamentary jiggery-pokery to make it a finance measure that they didn't need Lords support to implement. 

8. A date for the referendum on independence will be set.

Kinda. We know the season if not the date. There was a suggestion that it could be on Saturday 14 October 2014. 

9. British sportswomen will outperform British men in the Olympics, which will have plenty of rows and the odd cock up attached to them.

I think I may have underestimated the triumphant brilliance of the Games and how they won over a previously cynical nation. We let the Jubilee soften us up and then threw ourselves into support for Team GB. And our women did brilliantly. Lizzie Armitstead, Jade Jones, Nicola Adams, Jess Ennis, Katherine Grainger, Sarah Storey, Victoria Pendleton were great to get to know along with Mo Farah, Brad, Cav, Andy Murray, Greg Rutherford, Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Ben Ainslie.

10. Labour will not make up any ground in the polls and Ed Miliband's position will be at best under threat by the end of the year.

Sadly, this one didn't come true, despite Labour's hypocrisy, mixed messages and appalling behaviour over Lords reform. They gain by not being the Government.

11. The 2012 F1 World Championship will be decided on the last race between Vettel, Button and Webber. Raikonnen and Schumacher will both win races and challenge for podium positions during the year.

Almost. Kimi won a race, the championship was decided on the last race between Vettel and Alonso, though - and Schumi got on the podium. 

12. Steven Moffat will relent and give Karen, Rory and River a happy ending.

Well, it was happier than I expected, and River survived. I was worried she wouldn't. 

So, not bad, really. Only one that didn't come true and the rest were there or thereabouts. Let's see what the crystal ball says for 2013.

"On Message, In Volume, Over Time" - horrible phrasing, but a step in the right direction

So, tell me, why would a random floating voter put their cross next to the name of a Liberal Democrat next time they go to the polls? I can think of a few reasons:

  • they like the candidate, who may have helped them personally, or someone they know;
  • they like what we are doing locally;
  • they like what we are doing in the coalition;
  • they like what our state parties are doing - both Willie Rennie and Kirsty Williams have had a very good 2012 in Scotland and Wales.
On the way to the polling station, they will have had a barrage of messages, in written and verbal and video form, from parties who are much better resourced than we are, telling them that the Liberal Democrats are treacherous spawn of Satan. Much of that material is inaccurate and, actually, irresponsible scaremongering. 

While I certainly don't think we're going to come out of this experience in Government with a clean bill of health, I do think we need to shout about the good things we have done with a reasonably united voice. We also have to tell people why we've done them, what it is about our core philosophy that make us act in a certain way. That narrative has been so lacking in recent years.

Over the past couple of years, the party has been trying to develop that narrative. They started, last year, with "more compassionate than the Conservatives, more economically competent than Labour" which was ok as far as it went, but told you nothing about what we were about. That has now been through a few more rewrites and we now have this:
The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.
This is followed by a list of achievements, plus a list of where we want to go in the future.How do I know this? Because I read it on Liberator's blog.  They printed the entire script, plus the covering memo from Party HQ and, of course, being Liberator, have slated it entirely.

They do make some good points. One of the top ways to make the red mist descend on any Liberal Democrat activist is to use phrases like "electoral market" and "stakeholder".  We tend to bristle at that sort of jargon so I'd say that the top New Year Resolution for the Communications Department in LDHQ is to start talking about people, what people who are prepared to consider voting for us are telling us they want to hear from us. They need to learn the language of the Lib Dem activist. Our local councillors, by and large, are very practical, hands-on people who have a very good understanding of the problems people are facing in their wards. Talking to them in marketing speak is not going to get them onside, even if we do have to take  some lessons from clever marketers in how to get our message across.

I bet you you could name a dozen advertising slogans from your childhood without even thinking about it. How many can you name from today? I hardly ever watch ads these days because I have better things to do with my life. When I was growing up, you had no choice but to sit through them. There were no video recorders then. Today people have so much more capacity to turn off from what you want to tell them that it's more important than ever to start where they are and not where you might necessarily want them to be.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that people are bothered about jobs, the economy and the cost of living. So a core message, repeated consistently, has to be centred round these issues. For the 2010 election, we were far too late getting our core message together. The Fairer Tax, Better start for every child, cleaning up politics and investing in green economy stuff didn't come out until January 2010. Given the need to swim up through a fairly difficult current, it makes sense that we're starting early.

I've never believed that you can sell politics like cat food or confectionery. True political engagement has to involve dialogue with people. Catchy slogans and jingles might help shift mashed potato or cigars, but you have to make a lot more effort to win votes. You do need  a consistent message as a way in, though. I've seen a lot of press releases coming out from our elected representatives over the years and I'd say that some, if not most, were pretty dire. Few, especially from parliamentarians, took the opportunity to tie in an action with a link to Liberal Democrat values. Now, it's more important than ever that we take every single opportunity to highlight what we're about.

I hope that nobody in LDHQ expects all our representatives to repeat the script parrot fashion. Liberator are right when they say:
this sort of wooden language is precisely the thing that turns people off because it makes politicians sound rehearsed, false and insincere. It sounds scripted because it is scripted. Indeed, scripting isn’t a solution – it’s part of the problem because it makes politicians sound more like Daleks than human beings.
HQ is knee deep in lessons from the Obama campaign at the moment. One of the key things is that the campaign encouraged their activists to get out there and tell their personal story as to why they were supporting Obama. It could be that their mother had had her live saved by Obamacare. They key is that it was something very personal to them, something that the people they are talking to could directly relate to. But these personal stories were heavily linked to key campaign messages - they had to be, else what was the point?

As far as our script is concerned, it might have been better to say something like: These are the ideas we need as a party to get across in the coming year. We have evidence that suggests that the more people hear these things, the more likely they are to vote for us. That will help you in your Council elections this year as much as it will in the General Election. We know you're clever people, so we don't expect you to repeat this like an automaton, but please find your own way of talking about these things, both on the doorsteps and in your leaflets.If you have any questions or suggestions, let us know."

HQ need to build a feeling of being part of our team, not behave as if they're giving a bunch of naughty schoolchildren a dose of castor oil, be more collaborative, not prescriptive. From the activists' side, we need to realise that we pay people to be experts in political communication for a reason. They will have something useful to tell us and, so long as they speak to us in respectful terms, then we should pay attention to them. They want to see Liberal Democrats elected as much as we do. Their jobs and livelihoods depend on it as much as those of MPs and councillors. We are all on the same side, here.

For all the issues I have with various parts of the Government's actions, I can see the logic behind the script that's been developed. My only criticism would be that it's missing the key "get on in life" elements. Putting serious money into ensuring that people get effective treatment for mental health issues is liberating for them and gives them their lives back. That has to be worth shouting from the rooftops, surely. Also treating parents like adults and allowing them to decide who takes what leave when a child is born fits into that category. Those will be elements that really, properly connect with people emotionally and we need to make sure we talk about them a lot.

I personally find the lack of talking about freedom quite difficult. Civil liberties, human rights, that's why I joined the party and it's a huge part of liberal and liberal democrat DNA. It's also quite important to be talking about tolerance and diversity and freedom as both Labour and the Tories really don't value these things anything like enough. When both of them scapegoat people, we need to be there standing against their intolerant and unpleasant language.

In terms of the positioning as regards the other parties, we're probably about right with the Tories. We don't need to say much more than they protect the rich and vested interests. I think we should have put more of our welfare reform gains in, though. Housing benefit would have been removed from the under 25s if they'd had their way, for example. On the other hand, while I agree that I wouldn't trust Labour to do my weekly shop, limiting their failure just to the economy when they took us into an illegal war and passed a whole load of authoritarian rubbish is missing an opportunity.

In terms of our future plans, I have a big problem with:
Reform the welfare system to get people off benefits and into work.
That needs a "while looking after those who are not able to do so" in there.

We could spend all day picking holes in what's been put out, and everyone will have their own perspective on it. Might it not be a better use of our time, though, to work out what we can use and how we can get these core messages out in a way that's authentic to us. I feel perfectly comfortable talking about delivering the biggest ever rise in the state pension and making the tax system fairer, about giving more money to disadvantaged kids at school, about how Nick Clegg's £1bn youth contract is getting young people into work. That doesn't mean to say I'm going to stop talking about my opposition to secret courts, or my concerns about the Work Capability Assessment, but I'm willing to give our good people in Government a fair go.

I think that there are things that our leaders, our communications people and our activists can all do in order to work together more effectively in 2013. The next year will be a success to me if by the end of it, there's a bit more mutual co-operation and understanding. It's no accident that four of the most popular people in the party, Alistair Carmichael, \Kirsty Williams, Tim Farron and Paddy Ashdown are spearheading the drive to motivate activists in the coming year. Campaigns Department and ALDC are working much more effectively together. These are good and positive signs. We need to add in some fine tuning in the way those in the Bubble speak to those of us on the ground. That way lies the success we all want.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2012 top 12

It's that time of year for retrospectives, so I thought I'd share with you my 12 most read blog posts of 2012. There's a bit on welfare reform, quite a lot on Scottish politics and issues to do with the referendum, and a couple of posts on the portrayal of women in the media. In reverse order:

12, So, what was Jo Swinson doing in Private Eye? Talking about airbrushing and body image as she had another success with the Advertising Standards people over airbrushing.

11. Are you fit to work? I was annoyed the other day when somebody said to me that I never wrote anything against welfare reform. There are two posts in the top twelve on the subject and there have been many more over the course of the year.

10. The Sun's Page 3 has seriously outstayed its welcome.  Our attitudes to women's breasts are totally mucked up when you can be almost slung out of a cafe for breastfeeding, yet the same establishment has the Sun on offer for its customers to read.

9.  Pass the smelling salts - F1 rumour mill is scaring me. And it all came to pass, too. My least favourite driver ever takes my hero's job at one of my favourite teams. The only good thing about it is that Eddie Jordan was proved right.

8. SCVO's Alison Elliott proves Willie Rennie's point My take on a public spat between Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie and the SCVO, whose chief exec was, in my view, a bit too familiar with an SNP Special Adviser.

7.  What should the Spartacus Report mean for the Welfare Reform Bill? A report showed flaws in the Government's thinking on disability benefits. What should have happened was for the whole thing to be reconsidered. Sadly, that didn't happen. That doesn't mean those of us who want to see sick and disabled people treated fairly give up.

6.  Nikki Thomson: 30 December 1967 - 28 June 2012 A post I never wanted to write about a friend gone too soon. Today would have been her 45th birthday. Miss you, Nikki.

5.   How very dare you, Joan McAlpine? Come the day after the Referendum, the job of living together in peace and harmony will be much easier if the pro-independence side can quit the "if you don't agree with us you're anti-Scottish" nonsense, and the pro UK side leaves out the Patriot vs Nationalist nonsense.

4.   "People think Guantanamo is closed" Reflections on an Amnesty demo to mark the 10th anniversary of the notorious US prison camp.

3.  So Yes Scotland's failure is my fault. Well, the nationalists never take the blame for anything...

2.  Alex Salmond booed, twice, but why don't we hear so much about it? Our First Minister got the Osborne treatment both at the Paralympic parade in Glasgow and the Tattoo - but unlike Osborne's booing, the press weren't that interested.

1.  Yes Scotland must be desperate. So, there I am, minding my own business one lunchtime, and then I find out via Twitter that my photo is on the front page of the Yes Scotland website. The cheeky monkeys!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Vigil for woman raped in Delhi outside Indian High Commission in London tonight at 5:30 pm

If I didn't live 400 miles away, I'd be with Maelo Manning outside the Indian High Commission at 5:30 this evening. She's holding a vigil for the woman who was gang raped on a bus in Delhi a week ago and who, sadly, died from her injuries earlier today.

Maelo writes movingly here why she's doing this:
The reason I am doing this is first and foremost to remember a poor young woman who spent a Saturday evening watching a movie with a friend, caught a bus home and then was gang raped on the bus. She died in the last few hours. As far as I know her identity has not been released. I don't know her name. But I don't need to know her name because the violence she suffered is a severe and evil violation of every woman's right to personal security. Rape has become so common place all over the world. Small girls and boys and grown men and women are raped everyday. This needs to stop. RAPE CANNOT BE NORMALISED.
Please join me if you can and bring candles and a belief in women's rights.
If you can get to India House in Aldwych to support Maelo, please do so.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, everyone!

So, I've been up for two hours getting intimate with the poultry and phase one of Operation Christmas Dinner has been successfully completed. Anna and Bob are still in bed, so I have resorted to playing Christmas music (currently Last Christmas by Wham) loudly in the hope that it will get them down here.

I love that special, quiet time in the kitchen on Christmas morning. I always think of my lovely Grandma Marion Lindsay as I make her stuffing. She was fabulous - funny, extrovert and one of the best influences on my life. Her stuffing is very simple - sausagemeat, onion and 5 teaspoons of Colman's English Mustard. I know I could, maybe should, have expanded my repertoire over the years, but a Christmas Dinner without Grandma's stuffing would be unthinkable. It's actually delicious and moist and not as overwhelming as it sounds.

The giblet stock is bubbling on the hob, the bread sauce milk infusing and the turkey has been placed in the oven following Delia's instructions to the letter. I'm feeling mellow and smiley, but needing some company. If the music doesn't work, I might try poking them with a stick when I finish this cup of tea.

Santa has been, the reindeer have eaten the food that Anna's prepared for them, so all we need is some people for the present opening, chilling out, dining and, of course, Doctor Who and Strictly watching.

If, by the way, you missed the Outnumbered Christmas special last night, make sure you catch it on iPlayer at some point. It's pure genius. Full of comedy awkwardness, if not enough Karen. We were all in hysterics by the end of it.

Whatever you are doing today, I wish you peace, health and happiness.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Scottish Liberal Democrats mourn John Morrison

This is one of those blog posts you never, ever want to write. Reporting the news of the death of a colleague is horrible. This is the post I published on Liberal Democrat Voice yesterday. The only thing to add is that BBC News now report that a 25 year old man has been arrested in connection with an assault on John.

Scottish Liberal Democrats were shocked to learn of the sudden death of former East Dunbartonshire Council Leader John Morrison at the age of just 50. The Sunday Herald reports that John was found unconscious as the result of an assault in a Glasgow Street early on Saturday morning and died later in hospital.

John was affectionately known as Hobbit throughout the Scottish party. He had acquired that nickname while at Glasgow University and bore it with his customary good humour. He'd been a leading light in the university debating society as well as Young Social Democrats. He went on to lead East Dunbartonshire Council from 2003-2007. As a senior Councillor, he also represented the party on the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. In recent years ASLDC had benefitted from his wisdom and experience as he'd served as Vice-Convener. Outside politics, he headed the Legal Department of Glasgow City Council. He leaves his partner, David and daughter, Kirsty.

While he was Council Leader, Jo Swinson was elected as MP for the area. She paid this tribute to him:
This is shocking news and my heart goes out to John's partner, family and friends. John was a skilful debater and effective leader of East Dunbartonshire Council. He dedicated decades of his life to public service, both in elected politics and at Glasgow City Council. This is a tragic loss.
Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Scottish Deputy Leader Alistair Carmichael's close friendship of John's dated from their university days. He said:
John Morrison's sudden and tragic death has shocked all those who knew him. For me he was not just a political colleague but a close friend whom I had first met when we were both students at Glasgow University. My sadness today is lifted only by many happy memories I shall always have of the fun times we shared.  I am sure that this will be true of John's many friends today. My thoughts are with his partner David, his daughter Kirsty and the rest of his family.
I didn't know John terribly well, but whenever I did come across him, he always had something interesting and challenging to say and he always made me laugh. I most recently saw him in the Summer when he and I put the world and the party to rights  on a short train journey.

He will be very sorely missed by many people in East Dunbartonshire and across Scotland.The thoughts of all at Liberal Democrat Voice are with his partner, family and friends. Please feel free to share memories of John in the comments thread.

UPDATE: Charles Kennedy, another Glasgow University Liberal Democrat alumnus, has also paid tribute to John, saying:
This shockingly sad news sees the sudden passing of a great character and a memorable personality within the party.
I first became friends with John at Glasgow University and was pleased when he succeeded me there as chairman of the Social Democrats in university union debating.
He went on to make his mark both in the law and local government. It was a great pity that he was never able to deploy his talents at Holyrood.
Our thoughts go out to his family at this time of such acute distress.

Nick Clegg's Christmas message: Enjoy Christmas with the people you love

That actually brought a tear to my eye. I know I'm as soft as anything, but it was a very human message with absolutely no politics whatsoever.

I know there are many people who aren't looking forward to Christmas for whatever reason, especially those who have lost someone they love. I'm thinking of them, too.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Letter from the Leader: Lib Dems protected young people and larger families from Tories' welfare cuts

Nick Clegg's Letter from the Leader sensibly flags up the speech he made this week to mark his five years as leader, giving people the chance to watch it on video.

He emphasises the role the Liberal Democrats played in moderating the Conservatives' planned cuts to welfare. Some of us may well not be happy with the reality of a sub-inflation rise in benefits, but there is some credit due for holding back a much worse onslaught.

Anyway, here it is in full. The last sentence is interesting - basically he says have a good Christmas and don't talk too much about politics. I suspect that's because he knows, as I wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice the other day, that Paddy is going to have our noses to the grindstone after the holidays.

Dear Caron,

This week it is five years since I was elected leader of our party. It feels at once like it was yesterday and a lifetime ago!

The announcement of the result and my acceptance speech all passed in something of a blur. The memory that really sticks in my mind is of the next day, when I visited a school in Simon Hughes' constituency.

I remember one of the students asked me what I'd do if I became Prime Minister - "theoretically of course" he added, hurriedly. And he was right: I've only got as far as Deputy. But we have as a party absolutely defied the expectations that were set for us five years ago.

They said we would be wiped out at the election. They said we couldn't be trusted with the economy. They said we were a fringe party only interested in fringe issues.

We've proven none of that is true. We've proven we can govern, and govern well, even at a time of upheaval and crisis for Britain. We've proven we're committed to delivering a stronger economy and a fairer society enabling everyone to get on in life.

But most of all we've proven that Liberal Democrats can anchor a government in the centre ground, moderating the forces of tribalism that you would expect to dominate politics at a time like this.

I believe Britain needs that moderating force more than ever. That's the argument I made in a speech this week to mark my anniversary and set our course for the rest of this Parliament.

I won't try and repeat the whole speech in this letter. You can read it here or watch the video.

But there's one example I used that I want to repeat - because I think it shows exactly what I mean by "anchoring" the Government in the centre ground. It's an example of how the very fact of coalition means positive compromise - it means reasonable ideas go ahead and extreme ones fall by the wayside.

This autumn the coalition decided to go further to reform benefits to help support people back into work and reduce the costs of the welfare state. That's the right thing to do.

The Conservatives suggested we cut an extra £10bn from welfare, take away child benefit from families with more than two children and take away housing benefit from everyone under the age of 25.

But when our two parties sat down to agree a plan, instead the coalition stuck to the centre ground. We agreed to increase benefits by 1% a year, in line with public sector pay rises - not freeze them - delivering savings of just about a third of the proposed £10bn. And we rejected completely the more extreme reforms that had been put on the table, protecting young people and larger families from cuts.

So if you're asked what Liberal Democrats are doing in Government - tell this story. Welfare reform is important to reduce the deficit and help get people into work. But if you want reasonable welfare reform, not indiscriminate welfare cuts, we're the party you want on your side.

But that's enough from me. Enjoy Christmas and don't spend too much time talking about politics!

Best Wishes,


Nick Clegg 

Call this a Scottish breakfast, John Lewis? What are you thinking?

So, it's the first day in post apocalyptic Britain. We all seem to have survived the end of the world, so we can now look forward to a bright future, where we're all nice to each other, live in peace and harmony, make sure everyone on the planet has enough to eat and somewhere decent to live? We're going to take better care of the world around us? Sure we are.

But first, a little rant. Because this is important, obviously.

My friend Andrew Brown, known to you as @oneexwidow on Twitter, and author of The Widow's World is, as I write, tucking into what is laughingly described as a Scottish Breakfast, at John Lewis in Edinburgh. I say laughingly, because, look at this...

How can you possibly have a Scottish Breakfast with no tattie scone? It's a scandal! An outrage!

For those of you not from Scotland, the tattie scone is, in my opinion, one of our finest examples of Scottish fayre. A warm potato flatbread, a little bit salty, to soak up the egg yolk and give you an early morning carby hit is unmissable. And John Lewis is cheating its customers by offering a boring old hash brown.

A couple of miles away, in the Grosvenor Hilton at the West End, another friend of mine was simultaneously sitting down to a breakfast which did include a tattie scone. If one of the biggest US based multi-national hotel chains in the world can adapt its menus to cater for Scottish tastes, so can one of our iconic Princes Street stores.

Andrew has kindly allowed me to share his photograph of the offending breakfast with you all and has said that he will be sending a strongly worded letter of complaint. How serious he is,  I can't be sure.. I added that I wanted to see it debated in Parliament, but the last word goes to our lovely elephant's Daddy Richard who suggests a debate at Liberal Democrat conference, complete with tasting samples. Given that said Conference is happening in Glasgow in September next year, I'm sure that can be arranged....

But, seriously, John Lewis, sort your lives out. Give us some tattie scones. Please.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflections on Starfury's Midnight Doctor Who convention

I've just about recovered now from the fabulous weekend Anna and I spent in Birmingham at the Starfury Midnight Doctor Who convention. The first 24 hours involved prize pooches and daleks with handbags, as I wrote the other day.

My convention going experience ranges from the hyper-official (the Official Doctor Who convention in March and Star Trek: Generations at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995) and the cosy and intimate - an event called Cult TV which took over a holiday camp in Norfolk in the 90s. That, actually, was where I found myself on several occasions chatting to the lovely Lis Sladen when we were both outside having a cigarette. Midnight was much bigger and more formal than Cult TV but not as regimented as the official events.

I really need to thank Blogtor Who because if he hadn't posted a few months back that David Tennant and Billie Piper were going, I doubt we'd have even considered attending. David Tennant is Anna's Doctor in the same way as Tom Baker is mine, though. The one you grow up watching is always special. There was no way we could turn down the chance to see one of his rare appearances, or miss Billie's first.

So, let me give you a little flavour of the weekend. I will do some additional posts with more notes on the main guests' talks later.

If I knew when I'd booked what I know now, I would have made sure that we stayed the Sunday night as well. I had assumed that David \and Billie's talk would be over by late afternoon but it wasn't scheduled to even start until 5 - and everything had run late the whole weekend. They managed to get it back on track, but I was worried for our flight at 8:30. We also missed a party on the Sunday night, so if there is a next time, we'll be staying right through.

The Guests

Apart from David and Billie, the headline guests were Torchwood duo Gareth David Lloyd, whose character Ianto was killed by a vengeful alien sneeze in 2009, and Eve Myles, who plays Gwen Cooper, the only character with any common sense in that show. Gwen, actually, is one of my favourite female sci-fi characters. She's feisty, brave, passionate, stubborn, funny and generally the sort of girl you'd want to go out for a few beers with. Anjili Mohindra, who played Rani in The Sarah Jane Adventures was appearing at her first UK convention. Script Editor Gary Russell, Sontaran actor Dan Starkey, Slitheen actress Annette Badlands, Dalek operator Barnaby Edwards,  and writers Phil Ford, Tony Lee and Jim Swallow completed the line-up.

All the guests worked really hard. Poor Billie Piper was full of the cold, but it was hard to see where she had a break all day. She and David Tennant spent the first 3 hours having photos taken with virtually the entire convention, then 4 hours signing autographs for the same people and then had to go out and sparkle during their talk. The others' workload included at least one panel, plus photos plus about 6 hours of signing. The Saturday autograph session was supposed to finish at around 6:30 but it was 7:20 before we got out.

I will be eternally grateful to Eve Myles for being lovely to Anna. She said some really complimentary stuff to her, the sort of stuff I tell her all the time, but I'm only her mother so I don't really count. Anna really likes Eve, and when you're 13, when someone you really admire takes the time, unbidden, to pay you an enthusiastic compliment, that means a lot. I visibly saw my girl grow about 4 inches on the spot. It was the end of a very long day for Eve, and I really appreciated her effort. Her autograph queue was about a mile long because she was chatting to everybody and she partied happily long after I went to bed.

Anjili Mohindra was also fantastic - very friendly and she was handing out Skittles to people.The sweets, not actual skittles, you understand. I was really sad that I didn't get to see her solo panel on the Sunday because I was queueing for photographs as we had to leave immediately after Tennant and Piper. I think it would have been better to have had her solo talk on the Saturday. She had a panel that day with Gary Russell and Phil Ford but, to be honest, it turned into what Jennie would call a sausagefest. Any young woman who has ever been to a meeting on anything will tell you about middle aged blokes talking to each other and pretending she isn't there, talking over her, ignoring her and then regurgitating what she's said a while later, passing it off as their own idea and that sort of thing. And the thing is, I bet you Gary and Phil didn't even realise they were doing most of that. Had I been moderating that session I would have made sure Anjili was brought in a bit more and given her own space. Credit to her for butting in and trying to take it back herself on occasion, but she shouldn't have had to and it was intensely irritating to watch.

And while we're on the subject of writers and females, I was less than impressed when somebody asked Tony Lee about whether he'd like a female doctor. He said that, yes, he'd welcome it and she wouldn't have to be a "young dolly bird", she could be like an elder statesman figure. Because, clearly, those are the only two types of women there are. I despair.

Eve and Gareth probably shouldn't be let out in public. Both of their panels were hilarious, irreverent and highly entertaining. We certainly got our money's worth out of them.

David and Billie were great, too. I liked particularly her honesty about being slightly overwhelmed by the fandom thing. Rose Tyler was a job to her, it didn't come with the baggage we fans give to the Doctor Who world and she didn't try to pretend any different. She did it in a lovely way, not disrespectful at all. She finds it very strange that "every conversation" she ever has "is dominated by" the two years she spent playing Rose. Tennant's obvious attributes are enhanced by the fact that he was the sort of colleague you would love to have around when there's idiocy going on. I could not believe the things that they were asked by a couple of people. Bearing in mind that this is the first time Billie had ever faced the fans in this way, to have someone ask if she and David would like to sleep with each other is beyond the pale. I really felt for her, but David diffused that one with humour, asking if the questions had been set up by John Barrowman. He also brushed off another stupid question which went something like "If Rose had been a call girl (Billie played the lead role in Secret Diary of a Call Girl), would the Doctor have tried to rescue her from her wicked ways." Tennant said that the Doctor wouldn't make moral judgements about people's personal lives.

The Parties

I love a good dance to really cheesy music - and I got it. The evening discos went on until 2 am and were really good. The very same dalek who was pictured with the handbag was apparently doing the Macarena on Saturday night. The music was great and I learned loads of convention dances that I didn't know before. I have done the Slosh to the Doctor Who theme tune. My life is complete.

For the future, though, I think it would be good to have a sort of fringe, like you do at party conference. At Cult TV, way back in the mists of time, we used to have this thing called After Dark where a group would gather and talk about geeky stuff to a reasonably set topic. I think there's scope for that sort of thing at a Starfury event. I'm sure fans to lead these things could easily be found. Some of the guests came along, too. Kevin Davies was a regular, for example.

The organisation

Dealing with the number of people they had to deal with on Saturday was one thing - and that was no insignificant task.On Sunday, when everybody wanted to meet David and Billie, it was something else. The convention staff were all brilliant, especially the people on the photo sales desk who had to distribute all the photos to people, no mean feat, especially when they were arriving in dribs and drabs.

The one point which I felt let them down was the closure of the queue to get electronic copies of the photos at 3:30 on Sunday with no possibility of getting any more. Now, there was a good reason for that - I really wanted the photo staff to get to see Billie and David's talk and that was the only way that was going to happen. However, I think there should have been another way of acquiring the photos electronically, even after the event. 

The autograph queues were a little strange - at previous conventions I've been at, there's been a single queue and you just go from guest to guest. For this one, you had to queue for one, then the next. There presumably was a reason for that, but I'm not sure I can see how it helped. By the way, I clearly hadn't thought through what we were going to get signed. You could take one personal item and one paid item to David and Billie. We didn't have any personal items - and then it suddenly dawned on me that I could get him to sign this:

Credit for that idea has to go to Sarah Green, who several years ago got Ross Brawn, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello to sign hers.

I have to make special mention of the very scary hall steward, who ruled the hall with a rod of iron, making sure people weren't recording any of the proceedings. I was using my phone and iPad, but, as requested, it was always on flight mode and I was using it to take notes. He told me off at one point but when I showed him the little plane in the corner he was happy. And when he was outside the hall, he wasn't scary at all. You generally need someone like that at big events, who will take no nonsense in their domain.

Sadly, nonsense there was because footage has apparently appeared of some of the talks on the internet.It will never be anything like as good as being there, but people will see it who didn't pay to go and that is unacceptable to the organisers. There's been a bit of a stooshie online about it, with the organisers sounding like they regret allowing any phone use in the hall at all. I think that there has to be a balance here.In this day and age, you can't expect people not to take their phones - and in some instances they are people's cameras and the only way they could get footage of the event. If  someone is determined to record something and put it up on the internet, having phones on flight mode isn't going to stop that. It only means you can't put it up from the hall. I don't know how many people we're talking about here, but hte vast majority of  people behaved like adults and deserve to be treated like adults. Surely the simplest thing would be to have, like in the cinema, a "if we see your red light, or catch you recording anything, you will be ejected from the convention, barred from future events and made to delete the material. Then the majority of rule abiding attendees can be left in peace to use their phones as they need. And is there really any problem with tweeting through an event? One person was tweeting in the Midnight hashtag during David and Billie's speech. They're easily identifiable and they were allowed to do it. So, there is already an inconsistency there.


It was held in the Hilton Metropole Hotel near Birmingham airport which is right next to the NEC and a really good venue for a 1000 people plus event. It would be even better if they moderated their exorbitant bar prices a little. £8.10 for a large glass of wine really is taking the mickey, although it kept me sober all weekend. In the lounge, I discovered on Sunday that if you ordered a coffee from the bar, it cost significantly less than if you ordered it from Costa Coffee. Eating turned out to be less expensive than I'd feared. They did a buffet for £10 a head which was pretty reasonable value, but it could have done with being on for an hour longer given that it had finished by the time we got out of the autograph sessions on Saturday night. However, judicious choices from the menu in the bar, with the 20% discount for attendees, worked out cheaper. The room was ok, but it was either too hot or too cold - there didn't seem to be a way of getting the temperature to stabilise. And the pillows were too soft and the mattress too hard for my liking.

The staff were generally pretty friendly and helpful, although the concierge people were really snippy on the Sunday. Yes, they had 500 bags to deal with, but if they're a regular conference centre, they should expect that.

It was also really good that they came and picked us up from Birmingham International station in their courtesy bus. Getting back wasn't so reliable, though. The bus we were booked on left early and I just jumped in a taxi rather than risk losing my flight.

We absolutely loved the weekend. It's slightly concerning that Anna is now viewing the fact that they are running conventions next year around both her birthday and Christmas. She made a friend her age who is into all the things she's into, all the same animes and programmes, and it was quite good for her to realise that there are, actually, at least 1000 people in the world who are quite like her. I think we'll wait and see if there is going to be another official one around the 50th anniversary and then decide what to do, but we'd certainly go back to another Starfury event. I'll even volunteer to proofread their schedule for them. Seriously, it has to merit a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the most errors to space ratio ever...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nick Clegg finally calls out Tories on welfare reform

It's five years tomorrow since Nick Clegg was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats. I worked very hard on his leadership campaign, phoning like mad to persuade people I knew to vote for him. Some might even forgive me one day. Seriously, though, while I don't agree with everything Nick has done as leader,and I do think he has made some mistakes, I think the party made the right choice. I don't think anyone could have done a better job of getting to grips with Government. I do, however, think that he could have done a good bit better in taking the party with him. A leader's job is to challenge and, well, lead, but they have to do it mostly by inspiration and connection with those who are being led. That, I think, is a work in progress and the key challenge for the next year. On the other hand, members and activists need to try a bit more to walk a mile in the shoes of our ministers. A bit more give and take on both sides would really make this party a better place. See, idealism doesn't have to be dogmatic...

Nick needs members and activists out there on the streets delivering bums on seats way before 2015. They need a concrete message that they believe in to deliver, and that message needs to resonate with the public. His speech today at the Royal Commonwealth Society seeks to set out the Liberal Democrat stall as a party that promotes a stronger economy and a fairer society. The speech is published here on

So, first thoughts.

This centre ground thing. He seems to have given up trying to explain what liberalism and liberal values are and is looking at it in the terms that are more widely used  to describe the way politics works. That both irks and seems sensible. Whether all in the party will accept that the Liberal Democrats' natural home is the centre is a moot point. And of course, the term centre can be pretty meaningless. Clegg seems to be using it to mean that we're the reasonable, sensible party,  not venal, egregious, xenophobic and heartless like the Tories, not living in an amnesiac cloud cuckoo land like Labour.

We’re not centre ground tourists. The centre ground is our home. While the tribalists in other parties desert the centre ground under pressure, the Liberal Democrats have done the reverse. Under pressure, we’ve moved towards the centre.
Governing from the centre ground means applying pragmatic liberalism to the policy challenges of our time. But pragmatic liberalism is not the same as dogmatic liberalism. And that is what distinguishes Liberal Democrats in opposition from Liberal Democrats in Government. The greatest strength of our party is our idealism. But in our strength lies our weakness – because sometimes idealism can turn into dogma, or at least an unwillingness to engage fully with the day-to-day experiences and perspectives of the British people we seek to serve. 

There does seem to be a bit of a contradiction between saying the centre ground is our home and that we've moved there. The last point, though, about seeing, understanding and reacting to where people are coming from is important. That's not to say that you pander to what the Daily Mail thinks, but you have to meet people where they are with an issue, not where you want them to be or think they should be. The Fail has been telling people that benefit claimants are all lazy scroungers for so long that people believe it. Unravelling that will take time and sensitivity and laying the evidence to the contrary before them in a way that they can accept and understand.

On the Liberal Democrats' future he has this to say:
If we are to become a more permanent fixture of government, then it will be, at least at first, as a partner in coalitions. That means embracing the realities of coalition government, and becoming better and better at negotiating successfully on behalf of those in Britain who expect us to stand up for them. It means accepting compromise. It means putting up with people who object that we haven’t got everything they wanted, and who can’t see the value in getting much, much more than we ever could in opposition. Because that is the alternative – a retreat to the comfort and relative irrelevance of opposition. But – and let me make this very clear – choosing opposition over government is not a values-free choice. It is a dereliction of duty. Because if our values and principles matter to us, we should want to see them deployed for the good of the British people. It’s not about us, after all. It’s about the people we serve.
He talks here about how delivering some of our programme is better than delivering none at all. I do get a bit annoyed with this tack, sometimes. It feels like Liberal Democrat members are being told that unless you agree with everything ministers do, you're some sort of irresponsible hippy, only happy playing with daisy chains instead of putting your nose to the grindstone in the real world. Everyone who has ever been in a relationship, a family, or had a job or had to do anything at all, from organise the church cleaning rota to running the village playgroup to being head of a multi-national corporation will understand that you don't get everything your own way all the time. Everyone understands compromise because we all do it every day. When we argue with the leadership, it's because we think there is a better balance, or better compromise that they could, maybe should have brought. Did I just mention secret courts there? A bit of listening and making the best use of the expertise in the party would not go amiss.

I don't remember opposition being particularly comfortable, to be honest. It was bloody frustrating and I have no great wish to go back there. I want is to be in government, able to make a real difference. As far as I am concerned, this government is still a net gain. I know Blair and Thatcher didn't exactly raise the bar terribly high, but it's still, despite everything, the best government I have known. Sometimes I have to say that through gritted teeth, but it's still true.I still believe that, by now, we would now be looking at a Tory Government with a big enough majority to do massive damage if we hadn't gone into Government.

Clegg talked about how in opposition it would have been easy to decry the "less pleasant consequences" of austerity. That's why he and Vince were going on about the need for savage cuts, in 2009, from, er, opposition, then. Our party has always been obsessed with costing every last budget line in our manifestos.

Being a liberal in a world with so many illiberal forces at work is never comfortable. Nor should it be. We have to be ever vigilant and tackle abuse of power wherever it comes from.

Talking about responsibility

It's fair to say that you don't often hear Liberal Democrats talking much about responsibility.I think that's partly because it's a word that's been abused by both Tories and Labour to imply some sort of personal failing in being unemployed for a long period of time when, actually, it was the design and structure of the benefit system that was a powerful disincentive not to work. Why take a low paid job if it meant that your kids would no longer get free school meals or you'd have to pay for prescriptions or would have to find your own Council Tax. The poorest people are not those on benefits, but those who struggle on low wage jobs, just above the threshold for tax credits and related benefits. Those are the people who gain most from the raising of the tax threshold.

So rather than try and stir up resentment and scapegoat people, as Osborne did in the Autumn Statement, Clegg looks at the barriers to work, like not being able to find childcare, or decent help to recover from illness, and talks about overcoming them. This will be why he's put so much into providing talking therapies for half a million more people to give them their lives back.

I think the way he talks about responsibility needs a little more work. It's like a stew that's not been cooked for long enough - a bit tough and indigestible. You know that, given another few hours in the slow cooker, it'll come out tender and delicious, but it's not there yet. Why is it only those who are on benefits who have to show this concept of "responsibility"? Surely we all have some sort of duty towards society, to improving our community. And to equate responsibility with "working hard" is diminishing what a person's relationship with the state and the world around them should be. Surely there's more to it than paying taxes? Surely we want to encourage a much more active, participatory relationship with government and community?

I felt uncomfortable with his justifications for the sub inflation rise in benefits. He said that there was "absolute moral equivalence" between working in a job and looking for a job and used this to justify earnings rising at the same rate as benefits. That would be fine if benefit gave you enough to feed and clothe you and heat your house and pay your bills. Actually it isn't. Cutting from people who have nothing is proportionately much worse than cutting the pay for those who may not be rich but can afford the essentials of life and a bit more.A sub inflation pay rise is a matter for concern, and justifiable reason to be annoyed, but it isn't a disaster.

I didn't like the way he justified the benefits cap, either. Nor his justification of the assessment process for sickness and disability benefits. It's simply not credible and does not have the confidence of the people claiming benefit or the health professionals treating them. The Work Capability Assessment is far from fit for purpose.

Where Nick was right was to say that you can't just write off someone because they are ill.  

Never mind that the state can’t afford it. We should not delude ourselves that it is an act of compassion to tell someone that because of ill health they should spend the rest of their lives dependent on benefits. It belittles their potential and ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is time for politicians and the benefits system to recognise that people with health conditions have just as much potential as everyone else if only they are given the help they need to get on.

Te problem is that the support has become too much of an arbitrary tick box exercise and it actually needs to be a holistic and realistic assessment of the person's needs and abilities - and the availability of jobs in the area that suit  their needs.And if they can't work, then they shouldn't be made to feel like a burden on society. This should be a process which liberates those who haven't had the support they need. It should never be about making sick people feel guilty, or a burden. My worry is that the Work Programme which Nick so clearly championed, is focusing on the quick wins - those who would probably find work on their own. Private Eye had a story on that in its most recent edition.

However, he did do what I've been wanting him to do for a very long time - call out the Tories for their attitude to benefits and welfare:

Of course, there are some on the right who believe that no-one could possibly be out of work unless they’re a scrounger. If you can’t find a job you must be lazy. If you say you’re too sick to work you’re probably pretending. The siren voices of the Tory right who peddle this myth could have pulled a majority Conservative government in the direction of draconian welfare cuts.
Just look at what happened this autumn. The Conservatives suggested we cut an extra £10bn from welfare. And ideas were put forward to penalise families with more than two children by taking away child benefit and to penalise young people who want to move away from home in search of a job by denying them housing benefit. But when the political hothouse of the conference season was over and our two parties sat down to agree a plan, the Coalition stuck to the centre ground.

When he first mentioned future welfare reform, I gasped a bit. We've had quite enough of that, surely. However, where the Tories just want to cut and Labour are trying to take the moral high ground when one of their first acts in office in 1997 was to cut benefits for lone parents, Nick's principles were worth listening to:

·         Continue to hold down costs in a way that is fair to welfare claimants and to the other taxpayers who support them.
·         Incentivise work by supporting childcare more effectively, extending conditionality for claimants and increasing access to education and training.
·         Encourage those with health conditions to undergo treatment that will help them to get better.
·         Support fairness by making clear that money should not be paid to those who do not need it – looking again at universal benefits paid to the wealthiest pensioners.
Could this be the end of free bus travel and Winter Fuel Allowance for wealthy pensioners? I have been banging on about this one for ages. I find it ludicrous that we, because my husband is over 60, qualify for Winter Fuel Allowance at the same time as I've just stopped claiming Child Benefit because he's a higher rate taxpayer. We seriously don't need it. 
It is a risk for Nick to say this because those pensioners have been known to vote for us in the past but it's absolutely right that he should. Those lines in bold could well be a key battleground in 2015. Let's just hope that enough of them think the same way that we do.
Nick focused on welfare reform in this speech, but there are so many policies we have which would fit his vision of governing from the centre ground, being pragmatic and realistic. Sometimes I feel that the Special Adviser team could save themselves a lot of bother by just going and looking in the filing cabinet of Lib Dem policy. They don't need to spend so much time making new stuff up when there's real quality ideas on things like housing and health care and crime that could be used - and then you have the added advantage that the party owns the idea too and will be suitably motivated to campaign for it.
Similarly, when things come up that aren't covered by policy or the Coalition Agreement, there are plenty people in the party to ask for advice first, not just tell them what's happening via webinar, useful though those are. 
To sum up, although there were a couple of moments that made me want to cry, Nick's speech was generally a good attempt to reach out to people, to try to explain where we come from in a way that they can relate to. It takes people's  concerns about welfare and gently invites them to think differently, without demonising anyone. By talking in this way, he's opening channels to those people whose radar we really need to get back on to. He is trying to move them towards us without pandering to misinformed prejudices. What he says is grounded in practicality and relevance. It's getting there. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prize pooches and daleks with handbags - #Midnight so far

It's not much over 24 hours since we arrived in Birmingham for the Midnight Convention. Barely six of them have been spent sleeping.

Essentially, conventions are like Lib Dem conference for Doctor Who fans. A meeting of all manner of creative, intelligent, funny people who share a passion for not just a tv programme but an underlying philosophy of tolerance and freedom.

There is a lot of chatting to people you've never met before. Sitting around in bars discussing and debating.

It's more than a little surreal that the Who fs dim is sharing this quite grand hotel with prize dogs who are competing at a show at the adjacent NEC. Preened and perfect pooches, from papillons to bearded collies are everywhere  to be seen, many wearing little bootees to keep clean.  The top miniature schnauzer of the year is on our floor and I've just met some little dogs from Norway in the lift.

The opening ceremony last night saw many of the guests come on stage & basically say 'See you around. Have a fab weekend." Not Eve Myles. Oh no. She somersaulted on to the stage, struck a combative pose to the Santa hat-wearing Dalek and said "Come at me, bro'.

In a completely unrelated development the Dalek was later seen in the hotel lobby carrying a handbag. I will upload the evidence later.

Today has been about queuing. Lots of queuing. Every bit of it worthwhile. The look of joy on Anna's face when she had her photo taken with Gareth David Lloyd made the not inconsiderable expense of this weekend worth it. Both he and Eve Myles were lovely & friendly. Their later hilarious and irreverent panel was great fun. They probably shouldn't be let out in public but never mind. I will tell you when I get back all about the on-set pranks and why Eve wants to turn Gwen into a cake eating, wine drinking black belt.

Today's queuing will be nothing in comparison to the mayhem of tomorrow when Tennant and Piper appear on the scene. It's Billie's first ever convention. I hope she loves the madness.

Tonight is another party and fancy dress competition. There are some fantastic costumes around, from the Dalek/human hybrid to the many incarnations of the TARDIS to various doctors and companions. There's a very creepy looking silent on the loose, too.

It is really the best fun ever.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I haven't forgotten you...

I can't believe I've not blogged since Monday! And now I'm on another train, this time headed for the Midnight Doctor Who convention in Birmingham.

Anna is well excited at the prospect of getting her photo taken with David Tennant and Billie Piper on Sunday.

There has been so much I have wanted to blog about this week but haven't had time. The equal marriage legislation has been unveiled both north and south of the Border. I am a bit irked by the total exemption for the Churches of England & Wales. Should they ever decide to drag themselves into the 21st century, there will have to be even more legislation to enable it. All the faffing about pandering to religious organisations gets us exactly nowhere. They have a cast iron guarantee that they won't be forced to perform same sex marriages, practically written in Ministers' blood, but still insist on continuing their vocal opposition as if only their freedom mattered.

While I think about it, I can live with our MPs not being whipped. I guess if they were that opposed, even the Wrath of Carmichael, mighty though that is, wouldn't stop them voting how they choose and at least this way it makes it easier for our lot to amend the legislation by, for example, allowing trans people to have their marriages reinstated.

It has seemed over the past few weeks that everyone's wanted a piece of me. I have been monumentally busy. I will get back to blogging properly very soon. Although next week is the week before Christmas and I have not done much in the way of Christmas shopping or preparation.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ad Lib: there are mistakes here, but it's a good effort

I've been reading the Party's Ad Lib magazine, the successor to Lib Dem News. Generally, I liked it. I do have some fairly major quibbles, but for a debut issue, looking for new subscribers, I thought it was a good effort. For all Liberator wants  political analysis, that's not what Ad Lib is for. It's not going to be pulling the Party to bits and espousing all manner of conspiracy theories and if it tried, Liberator would be the first to complain that it wasn't doing it properly and was trying to throw us off the scent of the real conspiracies. Ad Lib is there to give insight into how the Party works and what's going on behind the scenes.

Some folk had expected the magazine to be A4 sized. That was never going to happen purely because of postal costs. A4 would be classed as large. What we do have is a glossy, A5 40 page production which, handily, fits in my handbag.

In terms of content, you are never going to top Shirley Williams. Ok, then, you might, with Paddy, but I am sure he will be using the pages of future editions to motivate us for the election campaigns ahead. The interview with Shirley saddens me only because the events of which she speaks took place nearly 32 years ago, which makes me very old. My 13 year old self was very excited by the launch of the SDP and their rolling conferences and interviews on trains seemed innovative and not just a way to save money. Shirley talks about the trauma in the Labour Party at that  time. I think there is just about enough historical context  there given that many people won't remember the events.

The interview with Nick Clegg has a clear agenda - to show how the Liberal Democrats are making the difference in Government. There's a handy little box showing you the ideas he's implemented and silly Tory ideas he has blocked. What annoys me about the feature is that in the 8 photos surrounding the article, none show any engagement with women and few have any women in them at all. The front cover of Ad Lib has two blokes in suits as its main photo. This is not the modern, vibrant image we want to project as a party.

I agree with Jennie's analysis of the content, too. Men tend to get to write about things like the EU Budget, the Obama campaign and to interview the important people. Women. on the other hand, get to write about Page 3 and women prisoners. Oh, and we get to do softer features like the very welcome profile of Nick Clegg's new special adviser. Shabnum Mustapha. The exception was Helen Duffett's interview with Julian Astle.I found the insight into the speechwriting process brilliant.I feel it suffered from being constrained by space. It would have been good to have had a bit about the actual content of the speech, to remind people. I would like to see what ended up on the cutting room floor. I'd quite happily publish Caron's Cut.

Going back to the Page 3 debate, I was annoyed that this was appallingly misrepresented as a campaign for a ban on the outdated and misogynist feature. The No More Page 3 campaign is about putting pressure on the Sun's editor to withdraw it voluntarily, a point that was not made at all. Using the word "ban" in any publication aimed at liberals is going to put people's backs up from the start. And please can we have "yes" and "no" in answer to the question and not "on the one hand" and "on the other" which sounds way too sappy.

I loved the report from the Obama campaign and the insight into the Dutch elections, too.

There has been some criticism of the recipe. All I'll say is this. Katy Riddle, in 10 years time, will probably have her own culinary empire. Her Feelgood Cookbook blog is jam packed full of enticing photographs, many of healthy food made to look like the opulent height of luxury and comfort. Ok, so the ham and coca cola is not every so healthy, but an army marches on its stomach and I could do with some ideas that are healthy and quick to prepare in future editions. Too many of us spend elections eating rubbish when we need to be fuelling ourselves properly. Anyway, in the future, when Katy's smiling face is beaming at us from the cookery shelves in bookshops, we'll remember fondly of the time she wrote for us. Of course, it is to be hoped that she'll be donating a good portion of her millions to the party....

In terms of layout, the size does mean that the font is not as large as some of our members might need, and the contrast could be greater, too. I wonder if it will be available for e-readers in the future.

I will definitely be subscribing to Ad Lib. I kept up my subscription to Lib Dem News right to the end even though I felt that it told me nothing I didn't already know. Ad Lib has the space for much more diverse content. The balance on style if not gender was just about right. I felt when I got to the end that I'd enjoyed it. There had been a little bit of humour and recreation as well as serious politics. I want to see more local Government, though. In fact, I want to see practical examples, from people affected, of lives being improved through the implementation of Lib Dem policies at local and national level.

A warning to Liberal Democrats though. Do be careful what you say on Twitter. Because you might end up on Page 37 without your knowledge. Ryan Coetzee, Nick Clegg's new head of strategy, was apparently blissfully unaware of his starring role until I told him last night on Twitter.

The team didn't have a long time to pull Ad Lib together but still managed to do an amazing job. Thanks to them.

And one more thing. I need a bird. It just doesn't feel right without   our Liberal Democrat logo on the front cover...

Nick Clegg stands up for cleaner disciplined for asking for living wage

I am very proud of Nick Clegg for taking the time to write to the company who employ Valdemar Ventura. He's the man who cleaned the Deputy PM's office until he was moved and disciplined by his employer for campaigning in the most respectful terms possible to be paid the living wage.

When the company found out what he'd done, they moved him to a job where he doesn't get the same overtime and hours and loses around £400 a month.

The Observer reports that Nick took time to write to the cleaning company to ask for him to be reinstated to the Cabinet Office.

Nick wrote:
I would like to put on the record that Mr Ventura always did a great job in our office and I was always impressed by the way he worked. I understand he has been disciplined as a result of his campaign to be paid the living wage and as a consequence no longer has his position cleaning in the Cabinet Office. This is disappointing. I firmly believe people should not be punished for campaigning for better pay...
... creative and peaceful campaigns are part of Britain's proud history of freedom of speech. And as such I certainly do not regard Mr Ventura's behaviour in leaving me a letter explaining why he was campaigning for a living wage to be inappropriate behaviour.
 Much as I would like to think that EDTE, the employer involved, could just lose the contract for treating their employees badly, I know that public procurement is a lot more complex than that. It would be good though, if employee welfare was written in to the contract so that there were incentives for companies to treat their employees well and penalties if they failed.

I am proud of Nick, though, for fighting his cleaner's corner. He's always been one to notice and appreciate everyone's work and treat everybody with the same courtesy and respect.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Stand with Alliance against mindless thuggery and threats

There were a few things that made me cry yesterday. Seeing the way Bangor Councillor Christine Bower jumped when the glass fell out of her window, clearly fearful of another attack by so-called loyalists on their home was one of them. It breaks my heart to see a young couple, whose first motivation is to serve their community, intimidated in this way.

They are not the only Alliance politicians to face violent repercussions over the decision by Belfast City Council to fly the Union Flag only on a designated number of days every year.The non-sectarian Alliance councillors had helped broker a compromise and are paying a heavy price. MLA Stewart Dickson's offices in Carrickfergus were subject to an arson attack, another Councillor, Laura McNamee, had to leave her home because of threats as did East Belfast MP Naomi Long.

Now, I'd bet yo anything that the very same people who carry out this mindless intimidation, these thugs, aren't particularly in favour of something I feel really strongly about. It would never occur to me to do anything other than use my words, reasonable words, to discuss the issue with them. I'd never go to their houses, never threaten them or the people they love, never do them any harm, even if they blocked it. And in fact, reading Stephen Glenn's blog, few politicians in Northern Ireland are prepared to stand up for the LGBT community. I was horrified that one DUP politician refused to speak to him because he was wearing a rainbow badge.

It pains me to hear these people described as loyalists. They clearly don't share the liberal, tolerant values of the UK and its people so what the hell they think they're being loyal to I have no idea.

Alliance Party members have responded to the attacks on them with great courage and dignity. Activist Stephen Donnan penned this for the Belfast Evening Telegraph:
I understand and I encourage protest, that is how democracy works, as long as it is peaceful. Intimidating our Councillors into leaving their homes, burning down the offices of our MLAs and Ministers and sending sectarian abuse over Twitter to our supporters is not 'engaging in the debate', it's mob mentality.
This is not a protest, this is criminality and barbarism. You just lost the argument.
The whole article is full of shock and raw emotion as well as a clear statement that they're not going to give up doing the valuable work they are doing.

I think it's important for those of us who believe in freedom and democracy to stand with the Alliance Party, which is the sister party of the Liberal Democrats. I have therefore made a donation to help them with their work and I hope that you will too by clicking here.

I'll leave you with the words of my friend Donna Dwyer on Facebook. I posted Stephen's article there and this was her response:
  I spent my holiday in ireland this year. Ok it was the south but we drove through the north. I remember the pound changing into tje euro and the miles turning into km.
But at no time did the people change. I couldnt tell you from sight who was Irish, Scottish etc let alone catholic or protestant. They were all the most welcoming lovely people .I am fortunate to be blissfuly unable to understand what and why this is still going on. So as a scottish catholic i can only hope and pray that all of ireland finds the peace it so desrves ... This is such a beautiful land full of fantastic people its such ashame that its spoilt by idiot thugs and evils. Having diffrent beliefs dosnt meenn we cant live in respect, love and peace. I get that what I've said is a tad simplistic but it doesn't make it less true .



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