Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Vince Cable plays a blinder..........

Go Vince:-)

The Stalin to Mr Bean line must be one of the quotes of the year.

I have a great deal of time for Vince Cable - another fully paid up member of the human race. He came to the Livingston By-Election, worked like an absolute Trojan for 2 days and was modest, helpful and very friendly.

Note to new leader - please make sure that Vince continues to have a high public profile.

What's in a Name?

Quite a lot apparently, if you are in the Sudan. A teddy bear innocently named Muhammed has cost British teacher Gillian Gibbons her freedom and potentially could mean an extremely severe corporal punishment and further incarceration.

The worst thing she is guilty of is naivety. I don't believe for one second that she actually meant any disrespect to Islam, the Prophet Muhammed or anyone else. She repeated a simple activity that is loved in classes here all the time. It seems clear that the children she taught in the Sudan liked her too - and the little boy whose name was given to the teddy in question has spoken up on her behalf.

Personally, in that environment, I would have erred on the side of caution and gone for another name, but not everybody has that sort of awareness of a political situation. In fairness, none of her colleagues at the school seem to have warned her that there might be a problem and the chances are that they knew about it.

I do believe its politics, not religion or the law that is keeping Gillian behind bars and I actually wonder whether it would be better for David Miliband to butt out and find someone else who can intercede on Gillian's behalf and make the Sudanese authorities see sense.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fran and Molly Lyon - your chance to help

I have to admit that I initially thought that John Hemming was exaggerating when he talked about babies being removed from their mothers at birth for no good reason and being put up for adoption.

Now, the more I hear about the inhumane treatment doled out to women by various Government agencies (see the Janipher Maseko story below, I am very glad that victims of such injustices have him as a champion.

Yesterday's story about Fran Lyon in the Mail on Sunday made me angry. She has had to flee the country because social services have, against much expert advice, threatened to remove her baby within 10 minutes of birth because of a concern voiced by a doctor who has never met her, that she will harm the baby. This goes back to an episode of mental illness some time ago from which she has fully recovered and has since gone on to study for a neuroscience degree.

Although Fran has never harmed anyone in her life, she is being denied the chance to bond with her baby. She has said that she is happy to go a mother and baby unit where she can be fully supervised to satisfy the concerns of the social services, but they have refused permission for this.

Removing any child from their mother is an extremely serious matter. This step does seem particularly drastic. It's almost that an episode of mental illness is being allowed to stigmatise this young girl for life.

Every liberal instinct demands that she is given a chance to prove herself as able to care for her baby, for Baby Molly to be allowed to have her mother's milk. I was appalled to read in the story that social services were concerened she'd take poison to transmit to the baby via her milk. A far fetched concern which is easily countered should not deny the baby the immunnological, long term health benefits of her mother's milk. The hormones associated with breastfeeding also encourage bonding between mother and baby so it would actually be beneficial.

Please make people aware of this terrible injustice and put pressure on the authorities to reverse their decision and allow Fran and the unborn Molly to stay together.

You can sign a petition and if you are on Facebook, join the group Asking for a Chance - Fran and Molly Lyon.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Government fails to protect parents and babies

I was disappointed to see that the Government has failed to take the opportunity to tighten up the rules on the advertisement of artificial baby milk. In particular, I am concerned that advertising of follow-on formula, for babies over 6 months has not been subjected to the same regulations as that for younger babies.

These follow-on formulas started appearing a few years ago, not because there was any great number of poorly anaemic babies around, but simply as a wheeze by formula manufacturers to get round the law. What annoys me most about it is that the advertising and promotion of this stuff erroneously undermines mothers' confidence in the ability of their own milk to satisfy their babies' nutritional needs. They are told that their babies need supplementation with iron as the stores they have at birth are running out and breastmilk is low in iron. True, there is a lower level of iron in breastmilk, but it is much more efficiently absorbed by the baby. In fact, only 4% of the iron in these follow-on formulas is similarly absorbed by the baby and it can actually undermine the efficiency of some of the proteins in breastmilk which protect against infections in the gut.

Another worrying feature is the Government's failure to force companies to warn consumers that formula is not sterile and give a few simple guidelines as to its safe use.

If you walk down any formula aisle in any supermarket, you will find a whole load of ways in which the Infant Feeding Regulations are being broken. The main thing is the similar branding of formulas for babies under 6 months and their follow on counterparts. It is often unclear which product is being marketed.

Recently Jordan was pictured in OK magazine feeding her weeks' old daughter a pre-packed bottle of formula where the logo of the manufacturer was clearly visible. The entirety of the opposite page was taken up with an advert for the follow-on counterpart of this particular brand.

Many people complained to the Advertisiing Standards Authority who were powerless to act even in the face of such a blatant flouting of the law.

This isn't a breastfeeding v bottlefeeding debate, it's about protecting the rights of parents to receive independent information free from commercial pressure. Clearly this Labour Government considers the large corporations who manufacture infant formula as more important than the people who elect them.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Help, I don't know who to vote for.........

I'm back to that floating voter panic again - I have no idea who is going to get my vote tonight.

This is not about the Liberal Democrat leadership, where my unreserved support goes to Nick Clegg, but for Strictly Come Dancing tonight.

In my view the person who should be leaving is John Barnes. Nothing personal, but his ballroom isn't going to get any better and there isn't much in the way of Latin dances to come for him. His samba wasn't that great and I think that, entertaining though he has been, now is the time for him to go.

The difficulty is how best to secure this result. If he ends up in the bottom 2, he will probably go, as long as he isn't up against Kenny.

Conversely, if you believe what you see in the forums, Kelly and Brendan aren't so popular with the public. After their low score tonight (and what on earth were the wardrobe people thinking - Kelly looked like she had two over-ripe melons stuffed down her top, an easily avoidable transgression)they must be in danger of being in the bottom 2. Unfortunately, if they end up there, I suspect the judges will put them through. That is reason enough to vote for them to save us losing someone more deserving.

However, there is a compelling reason to vote for all of the others:

Gethin and Camilla - what a wonderful quickstep tonight. They are mid table so are in danger of being in the bottom two. If they are there with Kelly and Brendan, they could go and this would be a travesty.

Matt and Flavia - until tonight I didn't get him at all. I was mad that the judges saved him over Penny Lancaster Stewart. However, their Salsa was great, although I didn't think it merited Arlene's use of the almighty Ramprakash word. They deserve to stay in, but are probably safe.

Alesha and Matt - wow, that girl has it all in dancing ability, perfect partner and personality. They deserve to be top of the leader board but could suffer for being the obvious favourite of the judges. While they undoubtedly deserve a vote and that's where my heart would be - they probably don't need it.

Kenny and Ola - for their much improved performance and those spectacular lifts alone, they deserve to stay in. If they end up in the dance off, they're out, no matter who they're up against, in the same way that Kate and Anton were last week. They should not go out on the basis of tonight's performance. I hope the Scots will turn out for them tonight.

Letitia and Darren - I am slowly warming to Letitia. She has made a colossal improvement since the start of the season and I would be sad to see her go just when she is starting to gain in confidence. There was a great disparity between the judges' comments, which were all very favourable, and the red button commentary by Philip Jackson and Anton Du Beke which was extAnremely critical of their performance.

I suspect the smartest thing is to keep Kelly and Brendan and Kenny and Ola out of the bottom two.

I wonder if, for once, I'll be able to keep off the forums until the results show to stop myself finding out, but realistically I doubt it. It's fabulous having Strictly seven nights a week, but 24 hours is way too long to wait to find out who has gone.

A Word of Advice for Paul Holmes

Is it just me or could our own Paul Holmes be mistaken for Gordon Brown in the picture at the top of page 3 of this week's Lib Dem News?

Paul is one of my favourite people not just in the Party but in the world. We may occasionally disagree about things and are in fact on different sides of the current leadership contest. That doesn't matter, though - he and his family have always been the most supportive friends and he has a brilliant and wicked sense of humour. He's a leftie like me and I can usually trust his instincts on policy.

I think it is very important, though, that he never allows himself to be photographed from that angle ever again;-)

Janipher Maseko - Update

Regular readers may remember that I wrote about a young Ugandan girl, Janipher Maseko, who had been separated from her breastfeeding baby and one year old daughter and threatened with removal to Uganda without her children.

Mercifully she was eventually allowed to stay in the country pending the outcome of her application to be allowed to stay on human rights grounds.

Today she tells her story in the Guardian here

The way in which Janipher has been treated makes me so angry and ashamed to be British. Unfortunately, women in her situation are still being treated in the same inhumane way, despite assurances given to our Lord Avebury by Liam Byrne, the Home Office Minister.

These sorts of things show why exactly we need a strong Liberal force in British politics, to fight for women like Janipher.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You know the leadership campaign is getting too much when............

You are telephone canvassing for your chosen candidate. Your husband comes home from work. You don't even look up at him and keep going through your list of calls. An hour later you look up and jump because he's had his hair cut very short and he realises that he's been in the house for all that time, in the same room for much of it and you haven't even glanced at him.

At least he had the good grace to laugh about it. Does this make me the worst wife in the world ever?

Our Iain Dale is hot hot hot

By that I mean solely that my pal Iain Dale has suddenly had a lot of visitors to his blog recently and was wondering what on earth was going on.

I suspected that there might be some confusion with the other Iain Dale, but apparently not. Iain got a name check from the one and only Guido Fawkes yesterday.

Iain, I hope that you won't forget your old pals now you are moving in such illustrious circles.

Why do I bother?

Why do I bother carefully shredding everything that comes into this house with my name and address on it, or all my supermarket receipts, or anything that might give succour to an aspiring identity fraudster? What is the point when the Government goes and loses every bit of personal information I've ever entrusted to it?

If they don't know what's happened to the disc containing 25 million records, I don't understand how they can be so sure that the information has not fallen into the wrong hands.

Why was the transport of such sensitive data being done, firstly outside the confines of the Data Protection Act, at such a junior level?

How on earth did they manage to lose something which was being couriered, and what were they thinking sending another copy in the post, even if that were the one which did arrive? Why was the data not properly encrypted?

This Government has now shown itself to be incapable of transporting a computer disc which, by rights it shouldn't have been transporting anyway, from one end of the country to another.

Don't forget that these are the people who are wanting to put together an identity database which will contain even more sensitive and personal information. They clearly cannot be trusted to look after such confidential data properly.

I worked for several years in a Government Department under a draconian management culture where you were basically treated like children. That sort of controlling environment demotivates and exhausts. At the same time, HMRC is being made to cut something like a quarter of its workforce in the interests of efficiency. So, fewer demoralised employees are being forced to do more work for little financial reward or job satisfaction. Is it any wonder such mistakes are made?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Way Forward

Now that we've all had a chance to sleep on the unfortunate events of yesterday, I would like to suggest a way forward to move on.

First, Chris and Nick need to have a conversation. I don't want to know the gory details, but I want to see some sort of statement that the issues are resolved between them and that Nick has withdrawn his complaint. I want to see some recognition on Chris' part that the release of the document and his behaviour on the Politics Show. I don't want to see grovelling, just a bit of grown up responsibility taking.

End of story.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What a Calamity!

I've been around for long enough to know that sometimes during election campaigns mistakes are made. Some of them are quite funny - does anyone remember Mary Matalin's Bimbo Eruptions during the '92 US Presidential Election Campaign? Priceless! I know that there are people working on both Clegg and Huhne campaigns who probably haven't slept properly in weeks. When you are working at that sort of intensity, sometimes judgement goes a bit wonky and things go a bit wrong.

Very early on in the campaign, the Clegg people sent an e-mail round purporting to be to supporters. Unfortunately, it included a whole stack of people like me who had not signed up and, more seriously, party employees who are contractually obliged to stay impartial. Very shortly thereafter, Richard Allan sent an e-mail out taking personal responsibility for the mistake and sincerely apologising. That, in my view, is the way to deal with errors.

I'd have put the Calamity Clegg Affair down to campaign fatigue and let it go. I had previously not brought up the attack on Nick Clegg put up on Chris' website and subsequently withdrawn after complaints out of respect for whichever tired staffer was responsible.

However, I have just watched the Politics Show in full and was, frankly, appalled by Chris Huhne's belligerent and unpleasant behaviour. Having denied all knowledge, he then went to go on about three specific issues which were in the paper, all of which were very red and shaped like herring.

Firstly, Trident. Nick could not have been clearer about his position on Trident, where Chris has failed to clarify exactly what a minimum deterrent is.

Secondly, health services. Nick said clearly as day last week on Question Time that he wanted a health service that was free at the point of use. He has said it on many occasions during the campaign. He could not have been clearer on it and that position would be the one he would be elected leader on.

Thirdly, school vouchers. Nick has been quite clear that this is not what he is about. I remember him saying that at the Edinburgh Hustings last week.

If I had been Chris today, I would have apologised that the document was circulated and said that he accepted that the issues it raised had been resolved by subsequent assurances from Nick. Instead, he got out his spade and started digging. In doing so, he showed the Party up, not off.

To add insult to injury, his team have now put the most insincere apology I have ever seen on his website and said, roughly, we're sorry we called the document by an inadvisable title, but hang on a bit till we see if we can get permission to publish it anyway. I personally would like to see it because I don't think Nick has anything to fear from it, but the Huhne Campaign is not showing the right attitude.

On the other hand, Nick, although shocked, was able to eventually bring the discussion back to the issues which actually matter in this campaign. I thought he behaved in a mature and dignified manner under immense pressure.

The Huhne campaign have clearly taken this step because they know fine they are behind. Jeremy Hargreaves has ably summed up why Nick has the momentum.

Nick and Chris will have to find a way to get through this for the Party's sake. I know Nick to be a fair man who will not hold a grudge if presented with a willing attitude to work together for the good of the Party.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ten Trot Factions..........

Anyone who can remember how funny it is watching leftie factions fight with each other can take some amusement from the fortunes of this alleged political party

Clearly not a lot of Respect around.

In Praise of Facebook

There is no doubt at all that Facebook represents a way to waste a great deal of time as I have discovered to my cost. However, there are some great benefits too. I now keep in touch with my cousins in Ireland and Canada on a much more regular basis than I would without it. It's good to be able to see that "David is not an insect but a human being" or that Honor has just sent me some little e-gift to cheer me up.

A few months back I wasted (is it truly a waste if it makes you laugh so much?) a good hour having an argument with two friends about whether sticky back plastic and sellotape are the same thing. Any fool knows that they are completely different, but one friend could not and still does not accept this point. My sister then got in on the act and agreed with my friend. As they both live in the same place, they have now met up and get on very well. In fact, he came for dinner the last time we were up there.

Recently, a random message from one of my friends on Facebook who I didn't know very well, has led to a really good dialogue - we have discovered quite a bit in common. I did know her before, but only vaguely. Some of my very good friends are very close to her and now we seem to be making friends ourselves.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share that with you while waiting for the washing machine to finish its cycle - the sound of spinning in the background would not help the telephone canvassing.

Talk of the Town gets better

I've had a sneak peak at this piece of literature mentioned in today's Guardian. In fact if there are any typos in it, they are probably my fault as it was being produced the week after I declared my support for Nick and I was asked to proof-read it. Somebody in the Clegg Campaign clearly remembers my fixation with spelling and punctuation:-)

Many Liberal Democrats will be familiar with the magazines we have produced at various elections in the last few years. This is taking that idea to a new level. It lays out his key principles in a series of short articles and shows how deeply personal his commitment is to liberal values.

I would highly recommend it and if you want to have a look, you can do so here

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nick wins Question Time despite truly awful Tie

Memo to the Clegg Campaign - can somebody please ensure that the hideous pink tie that Nick wore on Question Time last night suffers an unfortunate accident. I will confess to having tights that colour in the 80s, and just about got away with it because of my dark hair - but Nick's tie simply clashed with everything. It would actually have suited Chris Huhne better.

I think Nick came across better - Chris was a bit ponderous and remote as he often is in a question and answer situation, where Nick came across as a real human being. Nick combined astute analysis of the international situation, particularly as regards Russia with an ability to explain in a few words what it means for real people and what we should do about it, emphasising the importance of the EU.

Chris didn't need to do any of the "third Tory Party" stuff because David Dimbleby did it for him - and Nick was particularly good at deflecting that criticism.

In the main, though, both candidates said they agreed with each other in response to virtually every question. There are some significant differences in policy, but not much. This is why the way in which they communicate their ideas is so important - I believe that only Nick has the passion and appeal to do so in a way which will reach out to people who have not voted for us before.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Leadership Roadshow comes to Edinburgh

The Scottish Leadership hustings were held yesterday in the home of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the same room which housed the first 4 years' business of the Scottish Parliament. In such illustrious surroundings Nick and Chris treated us to an extremely high quality hour and a half.

I am unavowedly and unashamedly backing Nick and, if anything, his performance yesterday made me wonder why on earth I'd put myself through nearly 3 weeks of tortured angst. I should have gone with what I have always known about him from those early days in the East Midlands and backed him from the start. In the last week or so, all of my concerns about his stance on public services and social justice have been proved to be completely unfounded.

I think with him as leader we would soar as a Party. I think he understands the problems we are currently facing in this country, not just in an abstract way, but exactly how they affect real people. One of the key principles in my life is that you have to meet people where they are, and Nick used exactly that phrase. He clearly has the ability to do that, to reach out and bring people to us who have never voted Liberal Democrat before. We made modest progress between 97 and the beginning of last year and have taken a bit of a nosedive ever since.

Not only can he connect, but he can suggest innovative solutions - I like the idea that my child tax credit which, let's face it, is nice to find in my bank account every month but I don't really need, goes to pay for better education for the most deprived kids. I like the fact that he is prepared to risk prison to protect our civil liberties with his pledge on ID cards and I like his commitment to give more power to the people.

He talked, passionately and without notes, about how people feel powerless and are treated badly by both public and private sector organisations. He wants to make them feel that they can have an influence on issues like the priorities for their health services, their treatment by local and national authorities, on the sort of place they want their town to be. He spoke about how, when coming back from a long period working abroad, that every High Street looked the same. He wants to put the balance of power in favour of local communities rather than large multi-national corporations.

He talked about how the lives of many people are paralysed by fear of going out, for example. He was passionate about how the Labour and Tory approach, of pandering to these fears while not doing anything to make thing better, was anathema to him. He talked about the effectiveness of restorative justice and of his intense opposition to the demonisation of young people.

He had some good ideas about balancing growth and environmental sustainability. He was able to use his experience and extensive knowledge of trade negotiations (a subject on which he said he could bore for Britain, but mercifully spared us) to suggest a liberalisation of trade for environmentally sustainable products, and using international pressure to ensure that the whole world played its part in halting the effects of climate change.

Nick is not a politician who wants to isolate himself in the Westminster Bubble. He wants to get out there and meet people, to inspire, motivate and improve the standing of the Party so that we can actually have influence on people's lives in Government or even out of it. If his anti ID cards protest takes off, and we are able to get rid of these wasteful, ineffective and intrusive things, so much the better.

Chris was, I thought, much improved on last year. I felt that his speech had many more real life examples than last year when it had a few too many statistics and not enough soul. We clearly have two able competitors here. I'm not sure why he keeps feeling the need to say "we don't need another Tory Party" though. It's so blindingly obvious and there is no chance of our Party being corrupted in that way. We are and will remain distinctive and progressive.

I wasn't convinced by his view on Trident. There is actually no difference between Chris and Nick as far as I am concerned. A slight nuance here, a small variation there, ultimately it doesn't add up to what I want, which is for Britain to rid itself of these deeply immoral weapons.

When you think that Gordon Brown (and Scottish Labour leader Leader Wendy Alexander
for that matter) were elected unopposed, and the best that the Tories could come up with against Cameron was David Davis, we should actually be grateful that we have two people of such calibre contesting our leadership. Not only that but the Parliamentary Party has a wealth of talent within it - Julia Goldsworthy, Paul Holmes, Danny Alexander, Willie Rennie (who would be included even if he wasn't paying my wages). We will come out of this contest in better shape than we entered, it, that one thing is for sure.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Feet firmly on the Ground

I have decided not to be a floating voter any more. The various events and policy pronouncements of the past week have made me feel that the Party has the best future with Nick Clegg as leader.

I don't expect to agree with everything he says on policy, and will contribute to the debates through the Party's proper channels at the appropriate time.

I've gone for Nick because:

He has the personal skills to really connect with people. I saw the way he got the East Midlands on his side in 1998 during his selection contest. It was going to be a bit of a longshot for a Brussels based outsider to end up on top of the list, but he blew the Selection Committee away at his interview and worked so hard to meet people, listen to them and persuade them to support him. I am confident htat he will do the same on a larger scale with the country.

He has the authority and exprience to lead Nick can speak with authority and credibility on many issues. If anyone can bring people round to our position on Europe, he can. His record as Home Affairs spokesman has been excellent - a pragmatic approach on immigration and vehement and constructive opposition to ID cards.

Now why is a peace loving hippie like me not supporting the anti-Trident candidate? If you look at the small print, Chris's bomb might not be as big and flashy as Nick's, but it's a bomb nonetheless. Neither of these candidates are up for unilateral nuclear disarmament so the issue is neutral between them.

I've also been impressed by how Nick has handled Scotland. He's come, he's listened to the Scottish Party and activists. He has been prepared to understand how politics is different up here and hear ideas on where the Party needs to go.

Much as I respect Chris, the People's Veto idea, which I fear could paralyse Parliament rather than enliven it, and the English votes for English issues statement made me realise I could not support him.

With Nick, what you see is what you get. I know I'm going to disagree with him on some points in the future, but I believe he has all the qualities to take the Party forward.


Related Posts with Thumbnails