Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hold them to Account

Today seems the launch of holdthemtoaccount a new campaigning site from the Lib Dems to hold those MPs who voted for the Iraq war to account.

This come at the same time as a vote in the Commons on a Conservative motion calling for an inquiry into the war. Hang on, are those the same Tories who trotted meekly into the Aye lobby behind the Government when the Commons were debating going to war?

Everybody knows that the Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq, a war which has cost $6.5 billion and rising, 170 British soldiers' lives and thousands of Iraqi civilians there and as a direct consequence how many more in Afghanistan as a result of our troops being overstretched.

It's not just Labour who need to be held to account on this. This war could not have happened without the complicity of the Tories and the craven support of their front bench. Do visit the website, sign the petition, and if your MP voted for the war, demand they apologise.

There are also useful links to the campaign to give asylum to Iraqi interpreters. The Government seems to think it's ok to use Iraqi citizens and then dump them to be persecuted when we're finished with them. Such an approach is a moral outrage so make sure all your friends know about it and sign the petition.

A Matter of Conscience

The forthcoming vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is generating much more heat than light at the moment. There are some very complex issues up for discussion and at the moment the debate seems to be polarising between the Labour Party and the Catholic Church, with Labour MPs being forced to choose between the two.

Gordon Brown is taking control freakery to a whole new level by not allowing his MPs a free vote on this. Whatever happens now he will be damaged - either by being forced to back down or by losing what is projected to be up to 12 of his ministers.

It's rapidly being characterised as a debate between utilitarian scientists and a luddite religious community which does a huge disservice to the issues.

The debate over human-animal hybrids is a case in point. You would think we were going to be making bizarre pig people when in fact the truth is much less scary. As I understand it, you basically take a cow egg, scoop out everything that was ever cow about it so it becomes a container for a human embryo for the important stem cell research which could lead to cures for diseases which cause major suffering such as Parkinson's and Motor Neurone Disease. It's a lot less Brave New World than you would think.

What we deserve more than anything else is that our politicians vote after considering these complex issues after an informative debate with arguments presented in a rational manner. We need to see them weigh up the consequences of progress and decide for themselves how they are going to vote.

This isn't a straightforward matter of right and wrong and you can't make policy on it because of the conscience issues - no party could or should whip its MPs. Unfortunately, I suspect that all we'll have is scaremongering and talk of yet another blunder by Brown.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

David Cameron, Saviour of Children?

So David Cameron has pledged to protect children from "ruthless marketers and shameless retailers."

So is he going to put his money where his mouth is and pledge to enshrine the WHO code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in UK law?

I bet not. I won't be holding my breath.

Mehdi - it's not over yet

While it's definitely a good thing that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has agreed to look again at gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi's asylum application, the battle is not over yet. Now is the time to build support for Mehdi by ensuring that you and everyone you know signs the petition at

You will be asked to make a donation, but don't worry, you can skip through that part.

Also make sure that you write to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith MP and your local MP to stress your opposition to his deportation.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quit smoking for a good natured baby

I was intrigued by the article in today's Scotsman about a study which showed that women who gave up smoking during pregnancy were more likely to have good natured babies.

I quit a longstanding and heavy smoking habit the minute I saw a positive pregnancy test and I ended up with the world's easiest baby. I hadn't really considered that the two might be connected. Even now, she is generally sunny rather than stormy and a real pleasure to be around.

Unsurprisingly, the study reveals that babies whose mothers continued smoking were more likely to have babies who cried more and who had an irregular routine. I guess this is just the tip of the iceberg and you're quite lucky to have a baby who cries when you are exposing them to a greater risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS and respiratory complaints.

Intolerant? Probably, but justifably so. I have very little sympathy for women who continue to smoke when pregnant or any parent who smokes round their children. If I can give up, anyone can. Kerry Katona has gone on about how her health professionals advised her to keep smoking because it would be less stressful than giving up. I am sure that's her hearing what she wants to hear. I'm sorry, but there's no excuse.

Friday, March 07, 2008

David Laws makes me proud - shock

I have never been excited by David Laws before but I am thrilled to bits that he and Annette Brooke have adopted an anti smacking policy, recognising the rights of the child.

I have always felt very uncomfortable with our previous position that we were happy with "reasonable chastisement". I got this the other day......

"The Liberal Democrats want to see that children have the same rights as adults against any physical assault. We do not believe that physical violence is acceptable against children, and it can often send out the wrong messages. We want to introduce policies to encourage more 'positive parenting' and more support services available to families. We believe that these policies will help to reduce harm and violence against children, as has been the case in other European countries, and in the longer term will lead to a culture in Britain where children's rights and protection are given the priority they deserve.

Annette Brooke MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Children, Schools and Families, supported calls by the UK's four children's commissioners for a ban on the smacking of children in January 2006. She said:

"This is a welcome call by the four commissioners. Smacking a child is not an effective way of changing behaviour and can make matters worse over the long-term.”

The Liberal Democrats were disappointed by the Government’s decision not to bring in a total ban in October 2007 after a review of the law. England’s Children’s commissioner called this decision a ‘betrayal’ saying that by not changing the law “we continue to send out confusing messages to parents about the acceptable use of violence across society.” There needs to be a clear signal that physical punishment is counter-productive and damaging. Children that are hit are more likely to hit others and are more likely to be bullies. If it is wrong to hit an adult, it is wrong to hit a child - children deserve equal protection. "

Now we just have to persuade the Scottish Parliamentary Party to take the same view. I get very cross with the idea that you can't discipline a child unless you hit him or her. My daughter, who has never, ever been smacked, was praised by her teacher for just about everything at her parents' evening the other night.

Shame on the Home Office - Again

You would think by now that I'd have become accustomed to the harsh and brutal decisions made by the Home Office regarding asylum seekers and people seeking to settle in this country. In two years I've seen breastfeeding babies separated from their mothers (which is against Home Office policy), several people deported to almost certain persecution and even when our Embassies make a clear error, it's still the person who wants to live here who suffers.

I'm still shocked and horrified every time I see a new injustice. Now Mehdi Kazemi, a young gay Iranian student has been refused asylum in Britain because, according to the Home Office, he'd be fine going back there as long as he was discreet. Fearing deportation, he fled to the Netherlands, a much more enlightened country where they understand the realities of the situation facing him. Unfortunately, because of some obscure treaty, the Dutch are not allowed to accept him as he is only allowed to apply to one EU country.

At best the Home Office's attitude is discriminatory. At worst, if they deport him, they are as guilty as the Iranian authorities of whatever fate befalls him. We believe in a free and liberal society. Labour, to their credit, have passed some good laws enshrining the rights of gay people. Why, then, on their watch, do they send people back to pretty much certain death? Mehdi doesn't have discretion as an option. His boyfriend gave the authorities his name under torture before his execution.

If you want the Home Office to grant him asylum, or to allow the Dutch to do so, please make your voice heard by writing to the Home Secretary. Simon Hughes is his MP and has written very eloquently in today's Independent about his plight. I agree with Simon that no lesbian or gay man should ever be sent back to Iran.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A storm in a cafetiere?

I think we do best as a Party when we decide what we believe and stick to it.

I agree entirely with Nick Clegg's analysis of the Lisbon Treaty - it's not the same as the EU constitution, it's less radical than Maastricht and we don't need a referendum. I would have felt a lot more comfortable had we either allowed a free vote, as we did on Maastrict, or gone with our professed policy, against the referendum. We would still have lost three good people from our front bench, but it would have all looked more coherent and consistent.

Way back in '93, we had the chance to bring down the Major Government over Maastricht. We didn't, because we believed that the right thing to do was to back that treaty. We took some flack for it at the time, but it was the right thing to do.

Tonight was not our finest hour. Every party has moments they would like people to forget about and this rare tactical error is put into shade by Labour's relentless attacks on civil liberties, personal data losses and illegal wars. The opposition will remind people of tonight at every oppportunity, but we must move on with a radical and positive agenda.

Monday, March 03, 2008

How YOU can help miscarriage of justice victims

I have just come back from the Liberal Democrats' Scottish conference in Aviemore. A good time seemed to be had by all. I had thought that, not being an office bearer any more, I would be able to wander round doing pretty much as I pleased. No such luck - I spent less than an hour listening to debates all weekend as I kept being dragged off to various meetings. I managed to miss both Nick Clegg's and Nicol Stephen's speeches, much to my annoyance.

One meeting I was determined not to miss was the one organised by Willie Rennie MP to highlight the plight of victims of miscarriages of justice. Basically, if you have had your life ruined by being wrongly imprisoned, sometimes for decades, you are worse off once this injustice is recognised than you would be if you had been guilty.

The meeting was addressed by Paddy Hill, one of the freed Birmingham Six, and John McManus who works for the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation. Paddy powerfully told of his experiences and how the system had continued to let him down after the initial euphoria of his release after 17 years in prison.

If you have been in prison for a long time and you are guilty, a lot of effort goes into preparing you for release into the outside world. You get short visits home, or even outside. You are brought up to date with new technology. You are gradually prepared for life beyond the institution which you have known exclusively for many years. This is very sensible. Prisons can be hostile and unpredictable -Paddy Hill told how you could say Good Morning to a fellow inmate one day and be beaten up for daring to speak to him; if you said nothing the next morning, you could take a drubbing for blanking him. The rules of engagement in a prison environment don't transfer to the outside world, and if they are all you have known for years. If you were locked up in the mid 80s, you would be amazed by things we consider basic, satellite tv, laptops, mobile phones. It would be like being released to a totally different planet.

For those wrongly imprisoned, life is very different. You are basically thrown out of the Appeal Court and left to fend for yourself. You can't claim much on benefits cos you haven't paid NI contributions - cos you've been in prison. You aren't given advice on health care and finding employment. Paddy Hill described it as like a diver having the Bends from being taken to the surface too quickly.

It takes ages to sort your compensation out, too. Too add insult to injury, and you really won't believe this, the Government effectively charges you for the time you've spent inside - your compensation is reduced by a malevolent item called "saved living expenses." So, no mattr that your house might have been repossessed and your family might have suffered terribly, financially, physically and emotionally as a result of your wrongful imprisonment, but the Government thinks it's fine to charge you for your bed and board.

If you are outraged by this, please do the following 3 things:

Have a look here and see what the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation wants to achieve and to read some of the dreadful case histories of people. I am very familiar with some of those involved and have been horrified at their treatment by the state. They have been completely failed by local, Scottish and UK Government.

Tell all your friends about what you see and get them involved.

Write to the Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill (scottish.ministers@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or kenny.macaskill.msp@scottish.parliament.uk), who, so far, incredibly, has refused point blank to even meet with MOJO, and ask him to do something to help. For all I have said about the Labour Government in the past, and will do in the future, at least Home Office Minister Maria Eagle did so and actually listened to what they had to say. It's going to take action at all levels of Government to get something done, and why Mr MacAskill has chosen not to get involved is a mystery. Let's try to change his mind by showing we care, so he should.


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