Thursday, February 22, 2007

Not bad for an English bloke

That nice Duncan Borrowman has a pretty good understanding of Scottish politics for an English bloke.

I am gutted that I saw neither him nor Pink Dog at Aviemore. This has to show how big Scottish conference has become.

The big thing about the SNP is how much they would cost. Not only would they insist on a referendum on independence even if it was the expressed will of the Scottish people that they didn't want to be a separate state, but if you added up all the spending pledges they have made over the years, you would have to put 9p on income tax to implement them.

I suspect the Nats are a bit like those toys you always wanted at Christmas which looked shiny and glitzy but when you took them out of their packaging you discovered that they were a bit artificial and couldn't do half the stuff you'd imagined.

It's difficult to respect a leader who makes such pointless personal attacks on people. I can think of many issues to take with New Labour policy, but there's no justification for going on about someone's teeth.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Choose a Bright Future

I haven't got time to post my conference report at the moment, but it was a fantastic weekend. Do scroll down and see the new conference broadcast, posted entirely self indulgently, as I'm in it. It's the second video link down. Enjoy. It looked pretty wicked shown on a huge screen in the Conference auditorium.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fast Response

I sent an e-mail to ITV to complain about a remark Russell Brand made while presenting the Brits. I can just about cope with him going on interminably about his private parts, however unfunny I might find it, but referring to breastfeeding babies as "little perverts" to an audience comprised of a significant number of young people was pretty irresponsible. Yes, I'm a Liberal, and he can say what he likes, and I would never stop him - but I reserve the right to argue with him.

I always believe that if you feel strongly enough about something you should do something about it so I fired off an e-mail to ITV, feeling fairly confident I'd never hear anything again but at least I'd said my piece.

Within 10 minutes I had an obviously standard response, so they'd had a few complaints, but I was impressed that they'd bothered to respond.

Off to Conference

Tomorrow we all converge on Aviemore for Scottish Conference. It should be a fantastic event. I'm looking forward to the consultation session on Trident and to the debates on health and early years education and lots of exciting fringe meetings with everyone from Children First to the Society of Podiatrists.

It's also a great chance to catch up with everyone. I expect there will be quite a buzz with the elections rapidly approaching. Danny Alexander MP or his extremely persuasive staff will no doubt try to thrust a bundle of leaflets to deliver on each of us as we leave.

One prospective candidate for May who had better remain nameless found out from reading this blog that I had been in his constituency and chastised me on our next meeting for failing to deliver any leaflets while I was there. Such single mindedness is to be admired - I think.

I'm particularly pleased to see that we're having a young candidates' session - that there are enough of them to make it worthwhile. Stuart Douglas at just 18 will be taking on Jack IMcConnell in Motherwell and Wishaw. I first met him during the General Election in 2005 when he was so keen to learn and help and listen. He will do us proud. So will Shabnum Mustapha in Glasgow. She has a very calm, clear air of wisdom and authority and is a lovely person. She would make an excellent representative and, I hope, will go far.

I remember being a young, enthusiastic new party member way back in 1983. It's quite scary to think that it's not long until I've been involved for a whole quarter of a century and I'm not yet 40.

I hope that my daughter takes something from my political involvement. I have always told her that the main reason I do it now is to try to make sure the world she grows up in is a good and fair world. Maybe she will stand as a 20 year old in the 2019 Holyrood elections......

She has been exposed to the Liberal Democrats ever since I carried her round as 3 week old and read her all the leadership election manifestos. Her first proper trip out of the house was to stuff a regional mailing. She was my inspiration for the spoonsored labour I did to raise funds for the 1999 European election campaign. I don't think I've ever told her that, though.......

Anyway, I will report back next week once the exhaustion wears off. Conference is quite a frenetic experience.

I should mention that the person who organised an AGM to take place at 9.15 on Sunday morning, so that I have to get out of bed 45 minutes earlier than I should, has a very special place in my heart.

A Valentine's Appreciation

Okay, I won't make this too slushy, I promise, but I do feel that I should publicly express my appreciation for my husband Bob. Even more so given the exotic and delicious chocolates he brought home for me yesterday.

I was a teenager when I met him nearly 20 years ago and he was a divorced man nearly twice my age. He has put up with all sorts over the years, not least playing second fiddle to the Liberal Democrats. All my friends (I was told in no uncertain terms last week that it wasn't, as I'd thought, just my non political friends) feel sorry for him because he spends so much time supporting our family. If he were a woman, he probably wouldn't attract quite so much sympathy, but he does probably deserve it for surviving two decades with me. He once said that one of the things he liked most about being with me was that he didn't know quite what I was going to do next:-)

The best thing about him is that he's a wonderful dad - he's trusted my parenting instincts, he has such a strong relationship with our daughter and she absolutely and utterly adores him.

His support has brought out the best in me and I know that my life would not have been as good without him.

So, thanks for everything...........

Children First?

I was quite impressed to read Steve Webb's take on yesterday's report which stated that British kids, despite living in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, did not fare so well in wellbeing - coming bottom of a study of children in 21 industrialised nations. It was good to see a politician recognise the value of raising confident citizens who can fulfil their potential.

It is an abomination that so many children are still living in poverty. You would think a Labour government would have done something about it, but yet again they are found wanting.

In terms of mental health, it's hardly surprising that we have such a poor record. The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries who have the top four places are renowned for healthy lifestyles, healthy breastfeeding rates and, in the case of the Scandinavian countries, much more severe restrictions on the sale of artificial baby milk. Their maternity leave provision is also much more generous than our's. Anyone who has ever been to Spain, who came fifth, will know how highly children are valued. When we go there, we tend to eat late along with all the Spanish families and it's very telling to see how involved the children are in the conversation and how, without exception, the entire family tucks into the biggest mound of fruit and vegetables, showing that it's not impossible to wean them off the chicken nuggets. Jamie Oliver would be in Heaven.

Here, the prevailing culture seems to be that children are some sort of inconvenience to socialise with when necessary. The rise in the number of "family pubs" with vast soft play areas keeps children out of proper restaurants, where they would be welcome in Spain. I am appalled to hear parents complain about the advent of the school holidays because they will have the kids around all day. I cherish every moment I have with my daughter and dread the Easter holidays only because I will hardly see her due to the election campaign - it will really hurt not to have that time with her. She will be fine, as she'll be home with her Dad, but I will suffer.

The way in which we handle relationship breakdown in this country also leaves a lot to be desired. The whole system is designed to create an adversarial environment, and often the needs of the kids are not treated as a priority. People talk about their rights and not about what is best for the children. My aunt and uncle provide a fantastic example of how to break up properly - they split up completely amicably, found a routine for the kids that worked for everyone and even now, 20+ years on, the whole family has lunch together every Sunday.

I wasn't surprised to see another study show a benefit to breastfeeding. There are so many obvious benefits to establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship. The authors of this study can't suggest whether the benefit is emotional or physiological but my guess is that it's a bit of both.

There is enough evidence now to warrant significant investment in ensuring that mothers are not let down by bad information and inadequate support. Department of Health figures in England show that of all mothers who give up breastfeeding within the first 6 weeks, 90% don't want to. I have been shocked to find, over the years, that health professionals don't know things about breastfeeding management that I would consider basic. Even worse, we actually have to pass legislation to give women the right to feed their babies in public.

Our cultural attitudes to breastfeeding are bizarre. Russell Brand, that great childrearing guru, made a really obnoxious comment about breastfeeding babies being little perverts, not helpful in a programme being watched by so many young people.

Anyway, this campaign gives hope that something is being done to ensure that women are given the information and support they need. Without the support I got, the initial hell would never have been able to turn into the eventual bliss and both my daughter and I would have suffered.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Conrad Carruthers,welcome to the Big Siblings Club

My good friend who lives in Kinross celebrated the birth of her new nephew this weekend. I wish many congratulations to the happy family on their new arrival, Cameron. As an older sibling myself, I also wish to welcome 2 year old Conrad to the Big Siblings Club. I know that he will be an excellent big brother and will lead Cameron into all sorts of mischief in years to come. Today is also his second birthday, so I hope you had a fantastic day, Conrad.

Pink Dog and Dino

Mr Maxfield has sent me down Memory Lane again.

My daughter has become addicted to Pink Dog's blog and reads it faithfully. Today's posting just shows how much of a Dog after My own Heart she is.

Anyway, last year, Anna was worried that Pink Dog was lonely and so provided a companion. I do wish to make clear at this point that neither Dino nor Pink Dog (to my knowledge) have ever dated a Cheeky Girl.

Scotrail's dismal start to the year

It's not just Ayrshire and Glasgow which has been suffering poor performance on the railways since the start of the year. Those of us who had been moderately impressed with First Scotrail's running of the service are thinking again in the face of delays, ill considered re-timetabling and insufficient coaches. Willie Rennie MP has taken this up with them because it simply isn't good enough.

In West Lothian, they have changed the times of the trains so that my husband now can't get home until after 6, when he used to be in nearly half an hour earlier. He says it feels like they are slipping into the old days, with delays and cancellations for no apparent reason and a complacent, nonchalant attitude from staff.

CSA Bonuses - £25 million for what?

I almost choked on my breakfast when I heard that senior staff at the discredited Child Support Agency were being given bonuses totalling £25 million this year. What on earth would they have been given if they'd done their jobs well? A country house and a private jet?

This is an organisation which spectactularly fails in its objectives - it is not efficient in collecting money from those who won't pay, can be unfair on those who can't pay, and there are many families living in poverty as a result of the CSA's poor performance.

What a difference the £25 million would have made to those families.

One Year On

By rights I should have posted this on Friday but I got in way too late, having been at a dinner celebrating the first anniversary of the election of Willie Rennie MP.

Now, much more important than the political significance of the occasion, was the quality of the food, which was absolutely fantastic. I started with pate and oatcakes with plum chutney, which I knew would be a winner from our work Christmas lunch, then I had roast beef, which was gorgeous. Usually when you go to these affairs, the beef is much more overcooked than I would like it to be but this was perfect. I finished off with meringue, cream and lots of fruit. The portions were a decent size (unless you had the melon starter). So, where was this wonderful place? The Wood Mill restaurant in Dunfermline. The owners of that also have Oohla's restaurant, which just happens to be across the road from the office and we almost inevitably end up there if we are working at weekends.

Anyway, it was a fabulous night. Over the last few weeks, I've been enjoying quite a few flashbacks to the campaign - the suboptimal, shall we say, political background, the long hours worked by the campaign team, the joy of outnumbering the opposition anywhere we found them. For a campaigner, it was the ultimate learning experience.

I will never forget the moment when I found out we'd won. I'd really felt for a few days that it was on the cards - you know your message is getting across when you start to hear it back from people on the doorsteps, and you could just feel it in the air. Anyway, after the polls closed, my friend Liz and I had the glamorous job of heading to Tesco to buy bin bags. We decided as well that we would buy ourselves some half decent wine to drink - but forgot that we couldn't as it was after 10pm. Anyway, we did our shopping and then I realised that my car was running on the whiff of an oily rag. My mobile phone rang just as we were pulling in to the petrol station. I know you're not supposed to answer them, but when I saw it was Somebody Who Was Likely to Know Something, I couldn't resist. As that person told me that we had won by around 2000 votes, I shouted out some extremely bad language. Liz thought that it had all gone disastrously wrong, but when she realised the truth, we cheered all the way down the road to HQ.

Party leader Nicol Stephen and Willie Rennie both gave very positive speeches about our prospects in May and particularly our hopes to elect Jim Tolson as MSP for Dunfermline West and Alex Cole Hamilton, Andrew Arbuckle and Peter Barrett as list MSPs for Mid Scotland and Fife. All the signs are good, but the next 81 days will be an exhausting blur.....

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bird Flu

I didn't really need Norfolk Blogger to wind me up about Bird Flu. I have already been petrified at the prospect for a good couple of Winters. If we don't keep it under control and it starts spreading from human to human, we are in trouble as there aren't enough antiviral drugs to go round. With a child and (albeit a very young) 55 year old in this house, I worry.

Today's news about the outbreak in Suffolk is much worse than the death of a lonely swan in picturesque Cellardyke last year. I guess I just have to put my faith in Ross Finnie who was almost univerally praised for his performance during the Foot and Mouth epidemic in 2001.

As an aside, I am a fairly committed carnivore but do try to make sure that what I eat has had as good a life as possible. My daughter, at 7, already refuses completely to eat meat. She loves animals and cannot reconcile herself to the idea of eating them. This causes me no end of grief as I panic over whether she's getting enough protein as she doesn't like many of the more reliable non animal sources, but she's growing, she's healthy and she's pretty much perfectly built so maybe I should just relax.

I wonder if the reports of the conditions in which these birds were kept will help to improve life for them in the future. What struck me was someone saying that they didn't know how the virus could have got in because the birds never went outside - that's 160,000 of them, all cooped up in not very much space. Maybe awareness of their plight will inspire people to be more choosy about what they buy.

Strictly Come Blogging

I am aware that at least one of the regulars here is a fellow Strictly Come Dancing fan - so for a special treat I thought I'd do a bit of a plug for Strictly Come Blogging. The author, Louise, certainly knows her stuff and has provided an entertaining commentary on all things Strictly which, thankfully, continues all year round, just like the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Get Well Soon, Helen

My friend Helen has been in hospital for the last 3.5 weeks but, I'm delighted to say, is finally well enough to go home. There was no earthly point in posting this before because they don't tend to have internet connections on hospital wards, so I just want to say that she's a star, and I hope she is soon back to full strength.

Any suggestions of suitable websites to make her laugh during her recovery will be greatly appreciated.

170 Days to Go

So what will you be doing in 170 days' time?

I will be switching off the phone, sending the family out somewhere, and curling up on the settee with the final Harry Potter.

I will be desperate to read it and desperate not to finish it because then the whole journey will be over.

Being of a fairly cowardly disposition, I will have to finish it in daylight. I came to the climax of the last one lying in bed with all around me asleep at around 2 in the morning and I was absolutely petrified. I know it's not really that scary, but I get upset when Fraulein Maria goes back to the Abbey in the Sound of Music.

For the record, I think Snape is a goodie. But then that's typical Liberal optimism and belief in human (or wizard) nature shining through.

Some people have no stamina

So Iain Dale's (our's not the Tory's) blog seems to have been a bit of a one day wonder. Some people just haven't got the stamina:-)

I do hope I'm wrong because I was quite looking forward to his ruminations on a fairly regular basis - and to the other one getting a bit upset at his thunder being stolen.


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