Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vote for a Change

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

There seems to be quite a push for electoral reform across the whole of progressive politics at the moment. It's not something that's new as most of the people involved have been committed to fair votes forever and a day, but the cause has been revitalised as people look for a solution to the mess politics currently finds itself in.

Now a group comprising musicians, journalists and politicians from all parties, from the King of the Twitterverse Stephen Fry to Martin Bell to Brian Eno, have signed up to a campaign for a referendum on PR. It's quite non specific on the system and another good example of non geeky campaigning on this subject, concentrating instead on the main point - giving power back to the people.

Looking through the list of signatories also gives me an excuse to link again to Philip Pullman's brilliant address to the Carnival of Modern Liberty earlier this year for entirely gratuitous reasons, you understand.

The case for electoral reform has never been stronger - even if you look at the current expenses crisis, Lib Dem Blogger of the Moment Mark Reckons has shown a correlation between the safer your seat and the likelihood that you will be involved in questionable expenses claims. A change in the voting system would make MPs much more vulnerable and so is required as a matter of urgency.

If you agree, add your name to the Vote for a Change campaign here.

By the way, I know the image above is blue. On my pc it is yellow and black, but it turns blue when I upload it. I'm not enough of a geek to work out why, but please be assured I'm not turning into a Tory.

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Rawnsley takes apart Cameron's new found reformer's zeal

If you read nothing else today, look at Andrew Rawnsley's analysis of the respective parties' commitment to proper constitutional reform.

Ok, so he says that the Lib Dems are the only party with an authentic commitment to real electoral reform, but, let's face it, that ain't news.

What's good is the way in which he dissects Cameron's phoney, populist and pretty much meaningless proposals and shows them up for the con trick they really are.

My favourite quote in the whole article is:

"As for transparency and accountability, we still do not know whether Michael Ashcroft, the deputy chairman and Tory sugar daddy, is a British resident for tax purposes"

Oh, and he also has a good go at those Labour worthies who've suddenly found that electoral reform makes them go all weak at the knees, pointing out, rightly, that they're in senior enough positions to have done something about it before now.

A lovely start to the day!

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New Formula One Fansite

Some fellow F1 obsessives in the Twitterverse have set up a website which is part blog, part discussion forum where we can indulge in our favourite passion. It's called Diffuse F1 and is shaping up to be quite fun.

You are warmly invited to come over and play if you're an F1 fan, and you can even read the article wot I wrote about how there is still much drama to be had off the track. We may yet see a mass walk-out from the sport....

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weekend Weirdness

A few random thoughts which have hit me over the past 24 hours:

I am having a hard time coping with the idea that someone who was born in the year I got married (1988) is old enough to be Doctor Who's Companion. Good luck to Karen Gillan, though as it seems that, like Irn Bru, she has the potential to be fizzy, ginger and phenomenal. I'm glad to see that Scotland is still represented in the TARDIS and just hope she gets to keep her accent.

Britain's Got Talent last night was very hard to watch. If you didn't see it live, you can't really have escaped reports of a young 10 year old contestant being overwhelmed with nerves on live tv. She was allowed to sing again after Simon Cowell overruled the producers who had said there wasn't time. I watched the show with my almost 10 year old, wondering whether I could have put her through that process and whether there should be a ban on children so young being in that sort of show. Maybe that would be going too far, but I think that there needs to be some sort of review to ensure that vulnerable participants get the support that they need. I'm not sure that Susan Boyle, even, who has been reported as being very stressed this week, has been properly looked after. The support that contestants are offered should be in line with best practice and appropriate to their individual needs. There may even be a case for children recording their items rather than performing them live.

I did one of these random trivia questionnaire thingies on Facebook yesterday and one of the questions was "would you have lunch with George W Bush". My friends had all responded with various degrees of "are you having a laugh?" and I was the only one who said that I would, and he'd get a hell of an earbashing. Does this make me weird?

To find my reaction to the Telegraph's notion that Lib Dems could join his Government, rearrange the following sentence "dead over body my". I mean, really, the sunshine must have gone to their heads. Why would we?

Anyway, I'm now going to lie in the sun and read Julian Clary's autobiography and watch the Cute Baby Bunnies play in their run. A perfect way to spend a Summer morning.

Oh, and as far as Formula 1 is concerned, the drama ain't over yet, you mark my words...

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Friday, May 29, 2009

D Day for Formula One

59 minutes past the 11th hour tonight marks the deadline for entries for next year's Formula One championship. I've written before about the issues which have led to a sensational threat to quit F1 after 60 years from Ferrari.

I don't think anyone seriously expects agreement not to be reached - there have been a series of meetings over the last week between FOTA (the teams) and the FIA ("Mad" Max Mosley and his cronies) which have been lurching spasmodically towards an uneasy compromise.

I think what's surprised me most is that the unity has pretty much held, apart from Williams, between the teams, despite them being quite a broad church. At one end, Ferrari was saying "to hell with budget caps" and at the other Ross Brawn seemed all excited at the idea that reducing costs would increase technical freedom and encourage creativity. The fact that FOTA has acted as one is, I hope, laying down a marker for the future, giving Mosley a clear signal that he can't mess with them.

If anything could make British politics look squeaky clean and democratic at the moment, it's the murky world of Formula One governance. That has to change in the future, for the sake of the sport. There's a bit of me that wants the whole field not to submit their entry tonight and continue the battle for reform, but I think that might be asking a bit much....

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Jo Swinson - Alex Wilcock writes....

I can't imagine there's a single Lib Dem who doesn't hang on to every word Daddy Alex writes. If by some chance you were drunk, or unconscious, or away in Mars for a couple of days, and missed this treat, go and read it now. It's worth it just for the description of James Graham!

And while we're swapping Jo stories on the blogsophere, there's two more things I'd like to bring to your attention:

1 Her capacity for work

I've known Jo for quite a few years now and worked with her closely when she was the target seat candidate for East Dunbartonshire and I was Campaigns Convener in Scotland. The way she built and inspired her campaign team, leading by example, was amazing. She moved back in with her mum and dad, changed her job so she only had to work part time and her routine was, roughly, to spend her days either working or delivering leaflets and her evenings knocking on doors. She set herself completely unreasonable targets and got on with smashing them. My daughter's schoolfriend's grandparents live in the constituency, as do some friends of friends. None of these people are involved in politics in any way, but they said for months before the General Election in 2005 that it was obvious that she was going to win because she was working so hard.

She hasn't slowed down by any manner of means since she was elected - if you read her Twitter updates over a fortnight you'll see what she crams in.

2. Encouraging other women to become candidates

The other big thing I want to say about Jo is the amount of time she spends encouraging and supporting other people to stand for Parliament. She could choose to have the odd day off to put her feet up, but, no, she has done a fair few training days for aspiring women parliamentarians. She puts a huge amount of effort trying to identify and encourage women to stand. She knows that many women won't think about becoming a candidate until someone suggests the idea to them. She's always willing to share her own experience with others and has in Parliament been an active particiant in the Speaker's Conference on Diversity.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summertime - and reforming is easy

I have to say I'm impressed that a group of politicians, particularly in some ways Lib Dem politicians, have come up with a quick, easy and achievable way of carrying out at least some of the reform to clean up politics that is so badly needed. I know how much Lib Dems love to discuss the minutiae of the relative merits of electoral systems and other sorts of geekery, so this clearly and briefly worded programme is even more of an achievement than it looks.

All it takes is a good dollop of political will and a willingness to postpone their Summer holidays and look what could be achieved by the beginning of September:

1. Commitment to accept Kelly expenses reform in full
Come on, that should be a no brainer. They could decide to do that now with the briefest of debate. It's time to take decisions on expenses out of the hands of politicians and give that power to an independent body.

2. Recall power for MPs suspended for misconduct
This gives constituents the power to sack MPs if, and only if, they are found guilty of misdemeanours by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The process of determining guilt is thus carried out by an independent body. Then it would take something like 3 or 3,500 voters in the constituency to trigger a by-election. I'm slightly concerned about this proposal on 2 levels: that the process for implementing this is too quick - does there need to be a right of appeal, and should the threshold be higher? I think that there would also have to be a way of checking that the people signing the petition were who they said they were which would mean that they would probably have to be administered by the local council otherwise the system is open to total abuse.

3. House of Lords reform
Long needed - how ridiculous is that we have a chamber of our parliament which is made up of political appointees? We need to have a system where we can have confidence that the members are there because the people put them there and not because of what they may or may not have done for political parties.

4. Party funding reform
This badly needs cleaning up. It's not right that big business and unions can buy themselves so much political power through massive donations to political parties. Everything must be transparent and the proposals include a cap on donations from individuals per year and, importantly, caps on the amount of money political parties can spend in total over the course of a parliament. That latter cap would be set at £100 million which would cover Council, Scottish, Welsh, Westminster and European elections. There would also be a spending limit per constituency. That would effectively curtail parties sending voters in target seats loads and loads of mailings which don't count against election expenses.

5. Fixed term Parliaments
Another no brainer - why on earth should the PM have the total power when to call an election?

6. Enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+
Ok, STV is better, but AV+ is better than what we'e got, it's the system that was arrived at by an independent commission and it's the best we can get agreement on at the moment. I think the top up list system for electing the Scottish Parliament is pretty much an abomination, but it's still better than First Past the Post. We can campaign for STV at a later date, but I wouldn't turn down the opportunity for electoral reform that could be put to the electorate in a referendum soon and implemented for the next but one election.

7. Changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power
This again is very important - the Committee system is very strong in the Scottish parliament and we want that for Westminster to make sure that the Government listens to MPs and doesn't completely dominate the parliamentary agenda. Backbench MPs would be given more powers too and Parliament should effectively have the final say on the appointment of ministers. These measures give a much needed check on the power of the Executive and increases the power of elected representatives.

There's no way on earth that any of this goes as far as Lib Dems want. There's so much more that needs to be done, but politics, as they say, is the art of the possible - and this lot really is possible if all parties get their backsides in gear and show willing.

What are the chances? We'll wait and see but if Labour and the Tories refuse the opportunity to take action to clean up politics, then they will have to justify themselves to the electorate when they finally do have their say.

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Libertas kicks UKIP with funny You Tube video

Nice to see that all is happy and friendly in Euro-Sceptic Land....

Interesting that the Libertas website has not one single item about the real problems facing the world - not a thing on how Europe needs to work together on financial regulation, jobs, climate change, reducing and preventing crime and bringing its perpetrators to justice.

What we need in Brussels is a team of people who are going to devote time and energy not to kicking lumps out of the EU, but making it better, more transparent and accountable and able to deal with the huge challenges facing all of us.

The Libertas video is a bit of fun, but have a look at this letter Ed Davey wrote to UKIP's leader Nigel Farage challenging him on some interesting facts about UKIP's voting record on things like capping MEPs' salaries and transparency on expenses.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Steamin' at Steamie for Swinson Story

I am currently engulfed in a fury unrivalled in its intensity at the Scotsman's political blog, The Steamie, for its shameless referral to the Telegraph's inaccurate claims that Jo Swinson claimed for make up on her expenses.

This comes on the day that the Guardian, albeit rather grudgingly, corrected their reporting of this complete non-story.

I can't find a way to link directly to the Steamie's article, but it's entitled "David Maddox - Don't Tell the Candidate". I've already left a comment there but don't let that stop you from adding your own thoughts. You can also complain to the Scotsman directly here.

I love the way Jennie,in one of the best and funniest postings I've read in a long time, lambasted the Telegraph. Then CSI Graham not only forensically took the story apart, but gave us some useful things we could do about it.

To add to James' list of all the hard work on behalf of her constituents that Jo is renowned for, she was also named as Scotland's hardest working MP by the Sun of all things - a worthy accolade, but concentrating on her work actually in Parliament. She works as hard again on the ground in her constituency.

I am seriously annoyed at the sexism and innuendo in these recent articles about Jo and it's time these publications mended their ways.

UPDATE: I have just woken up from a long sleep to discover that the inaccurate parts of that story have now been removed, along with all our comments. Thanks for your help in achieving Justice for Jo!

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Ming Campbell turns down huge profit to save taxpayer money

I have to confess that I did do a bit of a tut tut when I first heard that Ming Campbell had had a designer sort out his London flat on expenses. It was only a very small tut tut, because it sounded reasonable that work should be carried out on a flat for the first time in almost 20 years and there was no way that he should be expected to do the work himself. Also, his immediate decision to repay the money claimed for the designer, which was a relatively small sum in the scheme of things, was to his credit.

Now I'm feeling a bit ashamed of myself having read this letter to local Lib Dem members that he's published on his website - particularly this bit.

"This is a one-room studio flat (or bedsit) which I rent including a parking place for just under £800 per month. The rent and my tenancy are protected until 2034. When I give up my tenancy and leave Parliament I will receive no financial benefit.

In 2005 the new Landlords offered me £38,000 to give up the tenancy so that they could put a new tenant in at a full market rent. I refused that offer and decided to remain where I was."

So, Ming could have pocketed almost forty grand and gone and found himself another flat. Had he chosen to do that, it would have been entirely within the rules and it would probably never have come to public knowledge.

Instead, he chose to stay put in a flat for which the rent is ridiculously low to save the taxpayer money. Rather than being £38,0000 up, he's £1,500 down. Over the last 4 years he has saved the taxpayer probably at least another £10,000, possibly more, by staying where he was.

That seems to me to be the act of a man who takes his public service and the use of taxpayers' money very seriously. I'll bet you you won't see this on many news outlets tomorrow in a climate where the media only want to publish the sensational and the outrageous.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Little Bit of Cable and Brawn Love

I haven't paid much attention to Liberal Vision so far, but I think I might start.

First, they come up with a post that compares the way Ross Brawn seized the day to form his new Formula 1 team and come from nowhere to dominate the sport in less than 3 months to the opportunity that awaits the Liberal Democrats to make a huge breakthrough as the force for radical political reform. I'm not over keen on the analogy between my beloved Ferrari and the tired, out of touch, on its knees Labour Government, but I'll let that pass for the moment.

Everyone's going on about UKIP and the BNP being the likely beneficiaries of desire for change. We don't actually have to look very far back in the history books to see where a positive, energetic force for change can win through after a period of thoroughly bad government. Anyone remember that nice Mr Obama who was elected just over 6 months ago? Who'd have thunk it possible just 18 months ago that he'd have won the Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency itself. Capturing the public mood is essential. Cameron is talking the talk, but Clegg, Cable et al walk the walk - and in fact, the path is well worn because we've been on it for a long time.

The old forces have had a blow, but they are only lightly stunned. It's important that we quickly show ourselves to be ready, willing and able to take up the challenge so that we don't miss the opportunity for reform.

Now the clever Liberal Vision people have produced an absolutely brilliant tribute to The Almighty Vince, who is in many ways our Ross Brawn equivalent, showing off his best bits including his quickstep with Alesha Dixon. It will make you go all warm and fuzzy all over.

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Dave the Reformer - Don't make me laugh

The idea that the Tories could deliver the major constitutional reform we need in this country is the funniest thing I've heard in ages.

Cameron's thoughts today - which, remember, aren't actually proposals, just vague commitments from the Tories to "look seriously" at certain issues - are lukewarm and unambitious to say the least.

They're going to look at considering fixed term parliaments - that sounds a fairly tortuous process for what should be a no brainer. Of course the PM shouldn't have the power to decide when to go to the country - fixed term parliaments has been Liberal and Liberal Democrat policy for decades.

Certainly any opening up of the Committee structure in Parliament is welcome, but the devil will be in the detail. Is this a genuine devolution of power or will the Government be able to control them rigidly by using their majority to reduce the effectiveness of their scrutiny.

Then there's publishing the expenses claim of public officials earning more than £150,00 - which, of course, would no include MPs. I'm sure he couldn't be quite that stupid, would he?

And giving local councils the power to re-open things like post offices sounds great, but how does that work? Will they be given money to do so? Doesn't sound like it - they will have the power to raise money to do it. From where? Is this creating a process which sounds good but in practice is completely unworkable.

I don't trust the Tories when they talk about political reform. I haven't seen anything from them that makes me think that they genuinely get the principle of empowering people.

And of course, no mention of PR at all. If he were serious about giving power to the people, that's where he should start.

In contrast, look what Nick Clegg has been saying about reform, and how he challenged Gordon Brown and David Cameron at PMQs last week. It's not like he'd had some damascene conversion, either - all the stuff he says about political reform and freedom of information has been Lib Dem policy for donkeys' years, as have the concepts outlined in the Freedom Bill we would bring in.

So, there you go, Dave, you don't have to spend any time looking at considering evaluating analysing and cogitating, ruminating and digesting as Lloyd Grossman used to say. Just take on board the long-standing proposals of a party which has empowerment and decentralisation in its DNA.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Magical in Monaco - another Brawn Double

It's another milestone for this blog - 600 posts - and how good to mark it by commenting on yet another fantastic result for Brawn in the Monaco Grand Prix. Jenson Button confirmed his stamp on the championship leaderboard by not putting a foot wrong and led virtually all the way apart from a couple of laps after his second stop when he was in a bit of a Ferrari sandwich.

To my mind, the man of the day was Rubens Barrichello, who shot past Raikonnen at the start without coming a cropper himself and held on even when his tyres were completely goosed earlier than expected in the first stint. Sebastian Vettel suffered the same problem and it cost him much more time and track position.

If the penny didn't drop after seeing his 10 year partnership with Schumacher, we now know beyond doubt that Ross Brawn is a total genius, possibly the best strategist and designer the sport has ever known. If any of the Lib Dems read my F1 stuff, imagine The Almighty Vince Cable and James Carville rolled into one and you're some way to getting the imapct this man has on the sport - except Brawn doesn't have the more mercurial elements of Carville's personality.

It was a good afternoon for Ferrari, finishing 3rd and 4th and getting some decent points for a change, overtaking McLaren to get into 4th in the Constructors' Championship.

I'm not quite sure what McLaren thought they were playing at by putting Lewis Hamilton, starting at the back of the grid due to a gearbox change, out on light fuel and a 2 stop strategy which could only have worked if he'd managed to overtake half the field off the start.

Brawn proved they were good for entertainment as well at the end, when Jenson seemed to forget that he was supposed to drive his car back on to the grid. Instead he turned into the pit lane and ended up having to run, yes, run, half a kilometre up the road after 2 hours' intense concentration in a searingly hot F1 car, to the stand to get his presentation.

And just as an aside, someone found this blog by typing Lee McKenzie sexy voice into Google so the BBC's pit lane reporter has some admirers.....

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

General Assembly upholds appointment of Scott Rennie

A quick late night post to let you know that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has voted to uphold the appointment of Scott Rennie as Minister of Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen. I'm really happy for Scott and wish him and David all the best with their move.

I'm also thrilled that Liberal Youth Scotland organised an event in solidarity with Scott at the General Assembly. No doubt Stephen will blog about it soon as I know that he was there. UPDATE: and he did

The BBC news website devoted I think a disproportionate amount of coverage to a few people protesting against Scott without mentioning the 4 times larger group of people who were there to support him.

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Jenson Button messes with my head

Two hours on from the qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, I can finally breathe again. One thing about my health at the moment is that an adrenaline rush quickly sends me crashing down, drained of energy. I shouldn't probably watch things that I'm going to get all in a lather about, but I can't avoid them at the moment.

Anyway, everything about Monaco is marvellous - even if it were pouring with rain and the cars were going round behind the safety car for the entire race it would still be glamorous and sexy. This qualifying session was better than most.

Before the end of Q1, Lewis Hamilton's weekend was seriously mucked up
when he misjudged the approach to Mirabeau and banged into the wall, leaving his rear suspension in bits.

Earlier, Massa had had a wee argument with a barrier on the approach to the swimming pool chicane, but after a bit of TLC from his engineer he was able to go back out.

The big surprise was that for the first time ever, both Force Indias made it into Q2 and the casualties of the first session were Hamilton and both BMWs and Toyotas.

The Brawn boys were 2nd and 5th after Q1, but Jenson's slipped alarmingly in Q2, at one point being 7th with 3 faster cars behind him, facing elimination. Thankfully he managed to pull it back, but that session was topped by Vettel and Rosberg.

In Q3, it seemed to be the Ferrari of Raikonnen, the Williams of Rosberg and the Red Bull of Vettel that were dominant and the lead kept changing between them. Jenson had looked a bit out of sorts and not as smooth as usual for most of the session and then, out of nowhere, he pulled out a blistering lap that was enough for yet another pole position. Rubens Barrichello, who was hoping for a win on his birthday weekend had to settle for 3rd place. It is good to see a Ferrari on the front row of the grid, though, alongside Button. With all that's been going on off the track, there is a bit of me that wants to see them at least get a podium this weekend, just for added poignancy.

The BBC coverage was as good as ever, starting with DC and Jake driving the circuit in a sports car at sunrise and featured Johnny Herbert - I'd forgotten how tiny he was - and Murray Walker. Lee McKenzie had tweeted that Murray had borrowed her headset, presumably for his interview with Jake, EJ and DC, who were all put on a boat because, get this, there wasn't any room for them elsewhere.

The one element of the BBC's coverage I don't really get is Jonathan Legard. I just don't think he adds anything, he never make me laugh like Brundle does and there doesn't seem to be any chemistry between them. The thing that annoys me most, though, is when he (or anybody else for that matter, but it's somehow worse when someone who looks like the Grim Reaper does it)goes on about Jenson being almost a dead cert to win the Championship. How can you say that on Race 6 of 17? It's way too early to call it anyway, but I hate it when commentators tempt fate like that. Murray Walker used to make rash predictions all the time which did nothing but curse the poor driver involved. I never used to want him to say anything about my favourites.

Brilliant banter between Brundle and DC - Brundle did a feature on steering wheels and how they'd changed over the years and said to DC that he'd been around in the days "when you actually had to drive the cars, son."

There was also footage of both Brundle and DC totalling their cars in previous races. I don't remember the Brundle accident, because it was before my time, but it was amazing he survived it.

Anyway, let's hope that there are no such traumas tomorrow and that we see a Brawn and Ferrari podium.

In other news, just so I couldn't feel like everything was going my way, I'm gutted that Inverness Caledonian Thistle are being relegated from the Scottish Premier League - although at least it should reduce the cost of my brother-in-law's season ticket next year.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

F1 - 3 Tales of One Meeting, a Huge Pinch of Salt and a Plug

There seems to be as many contradictory accounts of today's FOTA meeting and subsequent talks with Max Mosley on the crisis facing Formula One as there were particpants at them, but I'll concentrate on just three.

Now, each of these comes with a massive health warning - let's face it the accounts from Ferrari's Luca di Montezemelo, Williams Patrick Head and, in my mind, villain of the moment FIA head Max Mosley could all come under the heading "they would say that, wouldn't they?

Each side has put their spin on things. In the worst show of judgment since Sir Peter Viggers thought a duck island was wholly necessary for him to carry out his parliamentary duties, Max Mosley said that he was "always confident of reaching an agreement." Great thing to say in the face of a potential mass walkout.

Ferrari has most to gain from portraying a united FOTA against the FIA, so of course they took that line.

Williams, who have never seemed that bothered about the budget cap, had a different spin again and broke ranks a little bit with the rest of FOTA.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of all of that - what I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall when all these discussions were taking place. Rita Skeeter, the nasty tabloid journalist in Harry Potter who could turn herself into a beetle didn't have it all bad.

The drama continues, on and off the track tomorrow in Monaco.

As an aside, a new F1 fansite has appeared today run by some nice people I've come across in the F1 Twitterverse. It's definitely worth a look.

UPDATE: Those nice Brawn people, who have out of everybody made the most conciliatory and pragmatic noises, are continuing to do so. I am more inclined to believe them than anyone else, so let's hope they are right.

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What would make the BBC Formula One Coverage perfect

Regular readers will know how much I love the BBC Formula One Coverage. I think with its combination of no ads, bitching, banter and Brundle it is the best sports reporting team ever.

Its website is pretty darned good as well with a regular video blog from Murray Walker, as much background information as you could ever wish for and, at the moment, video highlights of five classic Monaco races, from Stirling Moss winning in a little bug like thing in 1961 to the thrilling event in 1996 when Olivier Panis eventually won after numerous changes of lead.

There's one thing missing though - a Twitter feed. The BBC has numerous Twitter feeds from everything to jazz to football to good food and lots of regional radio and tv stations have them too. There are some vaguely related feeds. Thanks to Duncan for pointing me in the direction of @5liveF1 and @LeeMck but neither were active during and around practice yesterday. In fact, if you wanted to communicate with the commentators (who were fabulous by the way, including one who was held up giving her report because she was "kissing Roger". The subsequent revelation that Roger turned out to be Mark Webber's fitness trainer just added to the sense of jealousy at not being there.), you had to resort to texting. I mean, how old fashioned is that?

So, let's have a Twitter feed where you tell us what's coming up and the Twitterverse sends you its observations and questions. If finding someone to do it is a problem, I'd be happy to volunteer........

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Formula One Future in hands of Ten Men on a Boat

Oh to be a Formula One boss! If I ever have to have a crisis meeting, it's usually in a boring office or a draughty community hall. Today, though, the setting for the Formula One Teams Association could barely be more opulent - Flavio Briatore's yacht moored just off the glittering principality of Monaco. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on that particular wall as they try to find a way to the crisis threatening to ruin F1 for good.

Obviously it would be good if they could all stick together - safety and credibility in numbers and all that. Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull, which has threatened to quit along with its sister Toro Rosso, said yesterday during practice that the situation was a mess, F1 needed Ferrari and he wanted to compete against them next year.

What I think must come out of this is a new way of governing Formula One - Max Mosley's time is up. He clearly no longer commands the confidence of approaching half the teams in the sport. His take it or leave it approach to managing change just won't wash with many of the sports' fans, either. It's time to get more democracy into the way the sport is run and to find some compromise on the budget cap.

News from Monaco is awaited with interest............
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

When the Telegraph goes too far.....the truth about Jo Swinson and make-up

Painful though the last few weeks have been, the Telegraph’s revelations about MPs’ expenses have at least forced politicians to take the action to reform the system that’s been so badly needed for so long.

Unfortunately, the Telegraph has, in some instances, been a bit over zealous. There was Phil Woolas’ shopping bills containing items which were not claimed for – I don’t often have sympathy for him after his unconvincing performance on the Gurkha issue but in this case I think he has a point.

Then came what I still think is a thoroughly unreasonable swipe at Alan Reid’s claims for accommodation within his vast constituency.

Today, they have finally gone too far. It’s all very well taking people to task for moat cleaning bills or duck islands, which are clearly nothing to do with their Parliamentary duties, or for being reimbursed for expenses which don’t exist or for devious use of second homes designations for personal gain. It’s quite another to challenge legitimate expenditure on things which the MP needed to buy solely because they were away from home.

I read the Telegraph’s article on Jo Swinson’s expenses with increasing alarm and anger, wondering why they felt it was important to particularly mention her age and her looks. I’m fairly certain they would not have made such patronising observations about a man.

They have also pointed out that there are receipts which show various cosmetics, but do not provide a shred of evidence that these cosmetics were ever claimed for or paid for out of the public purse. They even admit that one receipt is clearly the second page, but the first page is missing. It’s hardly Jo’s fault that whoever it was who sold the Telegraph the information didn’t include it. There is no case to answer here and I have to wonder why this stuff is even included. All they’ve got is that a young woman buys make up. Big surprise.

The article states that Jo clearly marked which items on other receipts had been claimed for, yet are strangely silent on whether there are such markings next to the cosmetic items. My hunch is that there are not.

When Jo was elected in 2005, she chose to rent a one bedroomed flat in London. I doubt that many people would think it reasonable that she be expected to lug things like a loo roll holder, a chopping board, a sieve and a plastic food box between home in Scotland and London every week so there’s no doubt in my mind that putting these items on expenses was perfectly legitimate. So, where did Jo go to buy these items? Just like you and me she went to ASDA and Tesco. We’re hardly talking about a lavish spending spree either – the total of these items came to a frugal £27.69. She’s also managed to feed herself in London for a tenner a day, a third of what she could have claimed. That’s not bad. When I was the lowliest of the low civil servants, earning a tiny fraction of an MP’s salary, I was allowed £25 per day for food if I was away on a course, and that was over 10 years ago.

Jo has always been one of the most vocal advocates of openness and transparency in the expenses system and her claims to me show someone who has been mindful of the fact that it’s public money they are claiming. I think the Telegraph’s article is disgraceful and they should apologise to her.

The last word in this should go to Jo herself, who has printed this perfectly reasonable explanation on her website, where she has been voluntarily publishing her expenses for some time.

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Lib Dems' Ace Campaigner to leave

There are some who are muttering in corners about the timing of Chris Rennard's announcement that he is stepping down as Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. I am surprised that, given his health issues, it hasn't happened before now. We'd all expected that the General Election would have happened by now and many of us knew that when it came, it would most likely mean that we'd lose Chris at least on a full time basis.

I first met him in 1995 during the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election (where the defeated Labour candidate was one Phil Woolas, the Home Office Minister responsible for the Government's Gurkhas fiasco) but his reputation was already legendary by then. This is the man who was responsible for devising the campaigns which won us, amongst others, the Eastbourne, Eastleigh, Newbury, Christchurch and Romsey by-elections. When Chris Rennard started working full time for the Party in 1982, we had barely a dozen MPs, now we have nearly 100 Parliamentarians across the Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff and European parliaments. Countless local councillors also owe their seats to the techniques he devised and refined over the years.

I don't pretend that he always got it right, or that I always agreed with him on everything, because I didn't, but he's one of the people I have most respect for in the Party. He's a genius - the James Carville of the UK, if you like, and if he believed in a candidate and their team, he would make sure that they had the backing they needed to fight a winning campaign. He could be audacious, seeing opportunities in what to others seemed hopeless cases and was the sort of guy who could turn a 23000 Tory majority into a Lib Dem gain in a few short weeks.

The Party has a lot to thank Chris for and I hope that he will be able to continue giving us the benefit of his wise words in a way which respects his health needs for some time.

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Help save Lib Dem Blogs - and a thank you to Ryan

Ok, so anyone with internet access can have a blog - and that's part of the problem. How on earth do you get people to know you are there? It's all right if you're famous but what about the rest of us mere mortals?

For Liberal Democrat bloggers, getting their blog listed on Lib Dem Blogs which has been ably run by Ryan Cullen for the last few years is the way to get your thoughts out there. The thing is, any member of the party can be listed there if they want. He doesn't exclude you if you write nonsense or don't follow the party line. It's truly equal access for everyone.

The site has become a victim of its own success and needs to find new hosting. This costs money which no one individual should be expected to pay by themselves. I've made a small contribution and, if you are listed on the site, or want to support its work, please can you do the same. Obviously I only mean if you can afford it - but if most people give a little, then it secures the site's future for everyone.

Can I just say a huge thank you to Ryan. He has created, maintained and improved this site and now is going to end up spending his bank holiday weekend getting it up and running on the new server. That's well above and beyond the call of duty and I'm sure that at the next Federal Conference you will be well plied with drink, chocolate or whatever else you want.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ferrari and FIA refusing to blink.........

Up until now, I'd thought that there was no way the FIA, under Max Mosley's or anybody else's leadership, would be so stupid as to allow the iconic Ferrari F1 team to walk away from the sport after almost 60 years.

Ferrari has given us so many thrills over those decades - although they are having their problems this year, with a car that just won't go fast enough along with some very bizarre decisions taken in the garages, it's only 2 years since they won the world championships and only 5 years since the magical partnership of Michael Schumacher's driving with Ross Brawn's design genius won the last of 5 consecutive world titles.

A dispute over new rules and specifically a £40 million budget cap which could allow a 2 tier Formula One structure for next year led to a threat last week by Ferrari not to enter the championship in 2010. Red Bull, Toyota and Renault have also muttered dark threats of pulling out.

As Lady Bracknell would say, losing one team could be considered unfortunate, but losing 40% of your current entrants would be taking carelessness to its extreme.

A meeting between the FIA and the Formula One Teams Association last Friday at least agreed that we wouldn't be subjected to the dogs' breakfast of a 2 tier Formula One, where some teams would accept the budget cap and get greater freedom while the high spenders would have greater technical restrictions. The very idea that competitors could start the same race under different rules makes Philip from the Apprentice's Pants Man seem like a brilliant idea.

Ferrari decided to take the FIA to Court in France, stating that they had not been allowed to use the veto they had been given the last time there was a thought that there might be a rival series set up. Today their legal moves were rejected partly because they hadn't used that veto when they had the chance. Just out of interest, does anyone know why not?

There's been a bit of unseemly bitching from Ferrari today. This very sniffily worded statement appeared on their website a while before the Court judgment was announced. The general gist, complete with implied gesture with the finger, is that they have seen Max's new best friends whom he wants to bring into the playground and, frankly, they are not fit to wipe Ferrari's boots and if he insists on letting them and their motorised skateboards into the paddock they'll go and find some higher quality pals to hang about with. It's quite an extraordinary outburst on a commercial website.

The war of words is not one sided, though - Bernie did call Ferrari idiots the other day in the Times. So far, so juvenile.

So what happens next? Well, conveniently, the entire Formula One world has arrived in Monaco for the best event of the year so hopefully somebody will bang some heads together and sort it before the deadline for applications for entry for next year a week on Friday.

Is there a possibility that Ross Brawn could help broker a solution that keeps everybody on board? He as a long and successful history with Ferrari although they did say that he was supremely arrogant in the court case over diffusers a few weeks ago. After his team's cracking start to the season, the FIA owes him for getting people interested again. He also seems pretty good at the people stuff and although he's more in favour of reducing technical regulation and encouraging creativity, surely he wouldn't want to see a much depleted F1 next year.

A clue about how this might be resolved come in the second statement of the day from Ferrari, and particularly in the words "while continuing the work of the past few months in moving forward methodically and gradually towards reducing costs." That says to me that a reducing budget cap over maybe 5 years might be the way forward.

Sure, that might keep some new teams out next year, but do we really need them at the moment given how exciting and gripping this season is turning out to be? The last few have been exciting too, with the championships being won at the last gasp.

To be honest, it's pretty clear that costs will have to come down anyway. In case nobody's noticed, there's a recession on and no company has a whole load of spare cash to go throwing at anything, least of all on seeing their logo whizzing round at 200 mph. The banks are all completely screwed too. I get annoyed every time I see a Williams with the RBS logo on it. I mean, am I as a taxpayer paying for that? There just isn't going to be the sponsorship there used to be so teams will have to cut their cloth accordingly.

We'll have to wait and see what comes out of the meeting of the Formula One Teams Association on Friday. It will be interesting to see how many of the teams Ferrari can carry with them - whether Red Bull, Renault and Toyota will stick with them. That will be one of the crucial determining factors.

I really don't think F1 would be the same without Ferrari - it would be like cream wtihout the strawberries. Ferrari fans are responsible for a significant part of the huge and lucrative global tv audience. There might well be two Italians racing in F1 (Trulli and Fisichella) but the heart of any self respecting Italian is first and foremost behind the team from Maranello. There is no way that any of the new bunch are going to attract the following that Ferrari has so Max and Bernie might well have lots of new friends that nobody wants to watch. It would be incredibly short sighted of them to let a team that has put billions into Formula One walk away. A few years ago they were willing to offer Ferrari the sun, moon and stars to stay - what's changed?

There does need to be a more representative way of governing the sport, though - no team should effectively have a veto - it just ain't fair and brings the whole thing into disrepute. It surely isn't beyond the wit of man to come up with a better system that doesn't depend on the dictatorial whims of Max and Bernie.

Let's hope that common sense prevails and that Mr Mosley and Co put the self destruct button away. I've been struck tonight by the number of people who've been saying that it'll all blow over who are now starting to worry that something cataclysmically bad is going to happen to the sport. Martin Brundle said in the Sunday Times two weeks ago that he'd never been so worried for his sport and I dared to doubt him, thought he was using a bit of poetic licence to build some drama. Now, I think I'll be watching every corner of Monaco this weekend just in case this is the last time we see it as we know it.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

God, that was painful...............the Speaker's Statement

Well, the Speaker surely has his nails dug into the green leather chair despite the seeming intention of the House to drag him out of it. It's all extremely undignified.

He may have given a profound apology - but clearly it's just words. While acknowledging that he might have a part to play in what was going on, he was determined to take everyone who voted against the proposed reforms on 3 July last year with him.

This isn't just about the John Lewis list - it's about years of obfuscation and concealment and he's been at the heart of it all.

The scenes where he was repeatedly asked about the motion of no confidence in him were embarrassing to watch. It was like watching the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (the monster that thinks if it can't see you, you can't see it) in action. He batted down speaker after speaker - and it wasn't just the Awkward Squad - people who have been around for a zillion years like David Winnick and Patrick Cormack were trying to get him to see sense.

He kept saying that the motion wasn't in the correct form - I bet it is soon.

You would have thought he'd have looked up the procedure for dealing with the matter before he came to the House but he kept asking his officials for help.

He then said that it was up to the Government to decide what went on the order paper. Susan Kramer for the Lib Dems asked for the creation of an Opposition Day debate for it and he virtually ignored her.

David Heath, one of my favourite Lib Dem MPs, came up with the phrase of the afternoon, saying that the House was in a "midden of its own making" and called for the House to adopt in advance the Kelly Report before it was published. A good move.

If the Government refuses to allow debate of this motion of no confidence in the Speaker, then I don't think the public can have confidence in its commitment to clean things up. Somebody needs to get that motion on the order paper now.

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How Michael Martin could get out of this........

Michael Martin would have to be a political Houdini to get out of the trouble he is in.

First it was just rumblings against him. Then it was rumblings plus a newbie trouble making Tory. Then it was rumblings plus a newbie trouble making Tory plus some Lib Dem front benchers.

Now, it's all of those things plus the leader of a major political party and virtually all the newspapers who are saying that he should go.

Some have suggested that Mr Speaker is the victim of snobbery, that the Tory elite can't cope with being told what to do by a former metal worker. For heaven's sake, they did what former Tiller girl Betty Boothroyd told them because she commanded their respect.

The charge sheet against the Speaker is quite simple - he has consistently failed to maintain the integrity of Parliament. He has been an obstacle to reform and transparency in Parliament and his behaviour over the Damian Green incident in failing to protect the rights of MPs fell well below what we expect in a Speaker.

Now, I'm all in favour of people being given a second chance, but only if they realise where they have gone wrong - and I have not seen any tiny indication that he does. His snarling despatch of Kate Hoey and Norman Baker last week was completely unacceptable.

If he were going to get out of this, he would have to eat an awful lot of humble pie. He would have to realise that the biggest problem not the fact that the Telegraph has enough expenses scandal to keep it going until Christmas, but that this would never, ever have happened if he hadn't spent a fortune of taxpayers' money in the Courts defending MP's rights to secrecy. If he'd been a force for openness and transparency, we would not be in the mess we are in now.

If he can recognise that, apologise and suggest some concrete things he's going to do to enact the reform that is necessary, then there might be a tiny chance that he could stay in office. I don't really think he has what it takes to do that, though. The arrogance of some of his friends and advisers, George Foulkes for one, shows that he's surrounding himself with people who are encouraging a fortress mentality. We're not in the middle of some tribal class war here - it's a battle to regain the trust of the British people.

I think the best thing he could do is go so that the spotlight does return to change and not hover on his unseemly, undignified fight to cling to power.

My worry, is, though, that if he goes, some MPs will think they've found their fall guy and we can get back to business as usual. No, what needs to happen goes much deeper than a simple reform of the Commons expenses system. If we are going to give proper power to the people, and rebuild confidence, we need to take this opportunity to build a new contract with them - a new constitution which enshrines their rights. That's what Nick was talking about in this article yesterday.

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Lib Dem Voice lets me write for them...

For those of you who don't regularly read Lib Dem Voice (and why not, cos it's really good), you might like to have a look at an article they let me write for them about the continuing debate in the Church of Scotland over the appointment of Scott Rennie as Minister of Queen's Cross, Aberdeen.

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A Political Geek Abroad

Imagine going away on a much needed holiday - and spending your time taking photos of election posters. How completely sad is that? Surely nobody would do that....

Unless of course, they are Mark Pack, who has decided that the delights of British Columbia include the election posters and he has posted some very useful observations for us all to read.

You may scoff, but I can't. Some of my Scottish colleagues will remember my return from Mallorca in May 2003 just after their elections to the Balearic Parliament. I had a whole wallet of photographs taken of the posters there, how effective they were with their eye catching colours and designs - primary colours and pretty flowers were the ones I liked best. Unfortunately, these weren't the posters of the winners - the right wing Partido Popular got a surprise overall majority after the Socialists had done their best to put tourists off by refusing to let them park anywhere and making them pay an Eco Tax.

The classiest poster I can remember ever seeing was on the then home of the incoming Mayor of Calvia, Carlos Delgado. When I say home, I mean castle which had a whole wall devoted to telling us to vote for him. He won. And the reason I know he won? Yes, I sat up and watched the election results, in Spanish, on the last night of my holiday.

Anyway, I remember how my colleagues' eyes glazed over as I enthusiastically took them through The Election Posters of Mallorca..........

And I have the nerve to complain about living with a health and safety adviser...

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My Political Firsts

Here's my late contribution to the Friday meme from Liberal Democrat Voice. I think it makes me look just a little rebellious and not quite as if I am completely under the control of Dr Pack and Mr Tall and Ms Mortimer et al if I steadfastly refuse to do it on a Friday....

First political memory:

I guess I was kind of aware of Richard Nixon resigning as US President in 1974 - I seem to remember that there was tv on at breakfast time, which was downright revolutionary then.

I have to say, though, for British politics, it was watching General Hospital (the British one, with Mr Parker Brown and Dr Armstrong and Student Nurse Stevens - anyone remember it?) with my Granny and Grandad in their tiny flat in 1976 and seeing it flash up on the screen that James Callaghan was the new Prime Minister.

First time you voted:

1987 General Election, for Bob Maclennan in Caithness and Sutherland.

First party election broadcast you remember watching:

The one that comes to mind for this one, because it absolutely turned my stomach, (no, not Rosie Barnes and the rabbits) was a National Front one - I think it might have been the first one that they ever got. I remember watching it in Wick, so it must have been for either the 1983 election or 1984 Euros and I remember thinking to myself how awful it would be if people like that ever got anywhere near power.

First political poster/advert you remember:

Labour isn't working - the 1979 Tory one. 'Nuff said. They won. We suffered. The end.

First party conference attended:

1986 - Paisley, Scottish SDP where I spoke in the drugs debate and took part in the comedy entertainment in the evening. I think YSD did some sort of sketch that involved poking fun at Charles Kennedy. I went later that year to Harrogate and met Shirley Williams for the first time.

First politician you met:

Bob Maclennan, obviously, but you'd get bored if I wrote about him all the time. The first time I was completely and utterly starstruck by a politician was when Charles Kennedy and Russell Johnston came up with Alan Beith to Caithness during the 1984 General Election campaign. It was quite an inspiration that somebody just 8 years older than me could have been an MP for a year. I was so bowled over that I could barely breathe. I was wheeled out as the token young person to do the vote of thanks at the end of the meeting and got invited for High Tea at Mackay's Hotel in Wick.

If I was startstruck by Charles, I was completely enchanted by Russell, who was very funny and charming and absolutely passionate about Europe.

It also marked the day when I realised that politicians were not all perfect. Now, remember, I was quite a sheltered highland teenager. Not only did Charles smoke that day, but I was actually really shocked to hear him say "Shit" when he dropped some money when making a phone call (no mobile phones then......). So, there you have it, the scoop of the day, Charles Kennedy taught me to swear!

First canvassing experience:

With Helen MacLennan, somewhere near Thurso, in the 1983 election. She was a complete natural at it - so good with people on the doorsteps. It must have been quite a scary time for her. With the idealism of youth, I just didn't see how someone as good as Bob could lose, but he was one of the few MPs who had joined the SDP who did survive. The other thing I remember about that day is that we had these calling cards, "out" leaflets, if you like, and if somebody was out, Helen wrote them a note. I learned then how important these personal touches are.

The first time I remember flying solo on the doorsteps was in 1987 in Kincardine and Deeside when Nicol Stephen was the candidate. I was sent to squeeze the Labour vote out of an estate in Torry, I think it was.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eurovision Hangover

I am suffering this morning. It was extremely ill advised to stay awake to watch the Eurovision Song Contest when I was already feeling tired and I suspect I will be feeling the consequences for a while. It was worth it, though - a show which has tutus, weird green aliens, fire, kinky boots and giant hamster wheels really has to be watched live, and I have to say that sharing the experience on Twitter with many of my friends certainly enhanced my enjoyment of it.

I don't get the attraction of the Norwegian song which won a record breaking victory - I preferred the tacky, cheesy Finnish entry and the gimmicky Greek one. I also thought the Albanian offering, which had a green alien thingy stalking the tutu wearing young singer could have come straight out of an episode of Torchwood. I was waiting for Captain Jack to burst in and flirt with both of them.

Our Jade Ewen had no such gimmicks. She had to make do with Andrew Lloyd Webber accompanying her on the piano. She was clearly nervous, but she looked amazing and sang the song very well. We could not have asked more of her.

There was still evidence of the "block voting" that has tarnished the competition so much that it drove Terry Wogan from his commentary booth, but it didn't seem to be as pernicious as in the past.

Graham Norton was absolutely fantastic in Terry's place, though. "I don't want to poison your minds, but that was pants" he said to the cheesy German entry sung by a chap in skin tight silver trousers, accompanied by Dita Von Teese in the tightest corset you ever saw. Clearly she doesn't have internal organs......

I am still completely off the booze - I have to say I haven't had so long without a drink since I was pregnant so my "hangover" comes purely from tiredness. Heaven help those poor souls who picked Norway in the drinking games, though. I bet they feel really rough today.

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Nick Clegg right on Second Homes Profit

During PMQs last week, Nick challenged Gordon Brown to agree with him that no MP should profit on the sale of a second home that's been funded by the taxpayer. What I think is particularly good is that words matched deeds - he has committed every Lib Dem MP to this course of action, too. He isn't waiting for some Committee to rule that this should be the case, he's stating that case ahead of time.

"A really simple principle is at stake: we are here to serve our constituents, not to make a fast buck on the property market. That is why I have always thought that we should do what they do in Scotland: simply end—stop—any taxpayer-funded mortgages altogether. Until the new rules are in place, we Liberal Democrat Members have committed ourselves to handing back to the taxpayer every pound of any gain made from the sale of second homes funded by the taxpayer. Will the Prime Minister at least make that commitment?

The Prime Minister:
...As for the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal about houses, I know that capital gains tax has to be paid on these second homes. That is the first priority, and the other matters can be dealt with in representations to the committee."

Why wouldn't Gordon Brown give that simple commitment that MPs should not profit from taxpayer funded mortgages? Nor have we heard from David Cameron on the subject.

A clue might be found in Sandra Gidley's reply to a tweet from me asking that question:

"@caronmlindsay - fascinating - you should have been watching Labour faces and listening to Tory comment from behind - they don't like it!
1:32 PM May 13th from web"

I know that by raising this issue that some clever person will point out that Tavish Scott has not been quite as enthusiastic about making such a commitment on behalf of MSPs. In fairness he hasn't said "no", he's said "wait". I actually think he should have said "yes." I don't see why I should pay for an MP or MSP to make a huge personal gain. Nick was great on BBC the morning of PMQs where he said that he always thought of his second home as being on loan to him from the taxpayer and when he no longer needed it any gain should be given to the taxpayer. It's straightforward and fair.

I would add one thing, though. If MPs or MSPs have made alterations to the property which have improved its value, that have been paid for out of their own pockets, then this, in fairness, should be deducted from any gain they pay back.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some Good Things MPs did this week

If you came into contact with virtually any media outlet over the past week, you would be forgiven for coming away with the idea that Members of Parliaments are a bunch of money grabbing, self serving, corrupt, vain fools who never do anything for anybody but themselves.

Yes, the expenses stuff is important and action has to be taken, but Parliament has done some good things this week which will make people's lives better.

Firstly, Jack Straw has bowed to pressure from, among others, the Liberal Democrats, who vigorously opposed his plans to hold certain inquests in secret and quietly ditched the plan. Concern had been expressed that inquests such as that of Jean Charles De Menezes, would be held behind closed doors.

People with autism and those who look after them will be better supported by Councils and Health Services if the Autism Bill becomes law in England and this came a step closer this week as the Government pledged to support it. Cheryl Gillan has had her own problems this week, but her work on and support for this Bill must be recognised. I know that the Liberal Democrat MPs have also been supportive.

Finally, it's good to see that Willie Rennie's Bill to enable driving instructors convicted of sex offences to be suspended from working also progress further with Government support. A constituent of his was sexually assaulted by her driving instructor and shocked to see him working a few days after he was convicted. The regulatory agency had no power to suspend him and the process of removing him from the register took several months to run its course. This is a hugely important measure to protect people.

So, the Government surely is mucking up a lot of big things at the moment, but it has had the common sense to work with MPs from other parties to encourage these much needed reforms.

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George Foulkes and Jo Swinson on MP's Expenses

Today's Herald carries two opposing articles by George Foulkes and our own Jo Swinson on MP's expenses.

Even I, who come at this from the position that most MPs are decent, hardworking people, am sick of being patronised by George Foulkes this week. He just doesn't get how angry the public are about this and the tone of his article implies that we should all just grow up and if we'd paid MPs more, none of this would ever have happened.

On the other hand, Jo completely understands how important it is that MP's use of public money should meet the principles of transparency and not being for any personal gain.

She sees the need for reform and for action against MPs who have deliberately defrauded the system. This isn't some Damascene revelation she's gone through - Jo, like all Liberal Democrats have been calling for reform and openness for years.

She also calls for the Speaker to go as he has been an obstacle for reform.

I was particularly struck by one point that she made:

"It is vital that we do start to rebuild public confidence.Democracy thrives when the public get involved, and will wither if people turn away from it."

There's the challenge to everyone in politics.......

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Ferrari, FIA and Formula One still at loggerheads

Bernie Ecclestone calling Ferrari idiots in today's Times seems to fly in the face of Max Mosley's protestations that the meeting between Formula One and FIA chiefs and the teams which took place at Heathrow yesterday was friendly.

Ferrari have started legal proceedings in France for an injunction against the FIA's imposition of new rules for next season, which led to Ecclestone's outburst.

James Allan has provided us with a much better explanation than I can give of what happens next which raises a couple of issues.

The meeting yesterday apparently agreed that there wouldn't be a two tier F1 next year, with some teams operating under the budget cap with greater technical freedom and others free to continue as at present with greater constraints. To me it seems very weird that you could have two cars starting the same race operating under two different sets of rules. That was a nonsense and it has to go.

However, if that is the case, surely that strengthens Ferrari's hand in their legal case which is based on the FIA has not let them have the contractual veto given to them when the FIA needed to keep them onside in 2005. The FIA's defence is that the two sets of rules allowed Ferrari to operate as it had been. Although that defence is flimsy if it is then seen to be giving competitive advantage to other teams.

I find it just as extraordinary as the 2 tier rules that one team was allowed to have such a term in their contract with the FIA. If the Electoral Commission suddenly decided to give a right of veto over new rules to the Labour Party, I'd go nuts, and rightly so. Why on earth did the other teams let that one slide by?

There surely has to be a better way of managing change and governing the sport than the shenanigans that many fans are looking at in despair. It's time for the willy waving to stop and some proper grown up decisions to be made.

I don't know what the solution is - I expect some compromise can be reached on the budget cap, perhaps starting higher and reducing over, say 5 years. The other issue is how that budget cap should be enforced. I can imagine that teams will not want FIA apparatchiks crawling over their commerically sensitive information. Do they need some arms length body to do it all? Or should there be a system like election expense returns here where they file certain information and it's up to the other teams to challenge if they think the limit has been breached? To make that work, they'd have to be able to keep some info confidential, but the major issue is verifying the amount of money spent and not what it's spent on. There would have to be dire consequences for teams going over the limit or trying to cheat the system, though to make it credible, and there would have to be the threat of completely independent auditing if challenges were raised.

In my opinion it would be an abomination if the FIA stood by and watched half the current teams walk away from the sport. Ok, nobody is ever indispensable, but to sever a 60 year connection with Ferrari would be particularly indefensible. They need to think more of the fans who go to the circuits and the millions who watch on television.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Victory for Jo Swinson and Bishopbriggs Residents on Prison

The Scottish Prison Service has backed down from its plan to name the new prison being built in East Dunbartonshire Bishopbriggs Prison.

The proposal had sparked virtually universal outrage amongst local residents and local Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson was at the forefront of the campaign against this name. She even roped in Scottish Lib Dem Leader Tavish Scott to help.

It's a great result for common sense and it just goes to show that vigorous campaigning by local communities can pay off.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Conversations with Nick Clegg - Part 2

Nick gets passionate about justice, reducing crime and the EU.

Good to see that the European Elephant has been welcomed into the room. We've spent too many European elections when our campaign strategy has been to avoid talking about it as much as possible. We've come out this time quite bullish about how essential it is that we should work together with our neighbours on issues like crime, trade, jobs and climate change. There's no point in trying to tackle international crime or global warming on our own - we need the sort of co-operation with our neighbours that the Tories can't even begin to imagine. We won't get anywhere with their isolationist view.

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Nick Clegg's Performance Rating Soars

Nick Clegg's approval rating is on the brink of overtaking a flatlining David Cameron according to this.

Poor old Gordon Brown, though - we'd better send a diving bell for him as he languishes with an eye-wateringly low rating of -45. This man has such a rollercoaster ride as PM. He was feted on taking office as the decent, honest one after 10 years of the smarmy, insincere Blair. A few months later it all started to fall apart when he bottled the election that never was. He then had a few months of relative popularity as the global economy fell to bits, but now he appears to be in complete freefall. Only Michael Martin seems to be less popular than him at the moment. In some ways it's a shame, because he might be complex and dour, but he's not a bad man. His advisers should hang their heads in shame. If any politican I was working for produced that You Tube performance, I would have told them in no uncertain terms that it wasn't going up, and if that didn't work, all copies of it would have suffered some calamitous "accident".

I always thought that the more people saw of Nick, the more they would like him. He's been getting a lot of coverage lately and has come across as straight talking, credible and likeable. I think people are realising too that he talks sense on the issues of the day and that he keeps to his word. I wonder if the Gurkha who handed Nick back his medal and asked him to give it back realised how hard that Nick would work to achieve justice and fair treatment for the Gurkhas.

He's taken the right line on ID cards, Gaza, surveillance, the Gurkhas and has talked sense on expenses. The Party generally is getting it right on lots of things at the moment and I'm particularly taken with our new tax policy that would take the poorest out of tax altogether and give basic rate taxpayers an average of £700 more in their pockets. It's easily articulated and understood and would make a real difference to people.

I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say during the rest of the Euro Campaign. Watch out for him on Andrew Marr this Sunday.

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Homophobic Bigots to descend on Scotland

This Sunday sees the International Day Against Homophobia and events are planned across the UK to raise awareness of those who are fighting against persecution of the LGBT community across the world and of the problems this can cause.

You wonder what exactly has been achieved in Iraq when you read reports of the brutal torture and murder of gay men.

Just in case you were thinking that we're all cool about gay people these days and nobody is horrible to them in the UK, have a look at this speech Nick Clegg gave to Stonewall last year in which he highlighted the shocking information that:

"Two thirds of young gay people have experienced homophobic bullying at school. And almost one third say that an adult in the school environment is responsible for homophobic incidents."

I am incredibly proud to be in a party where the leader is willing to publicly talk about these issues and urge action to stop such bullying.

My daughter is only in Primary 5 and already she has reported to me that some people at her school don't think being gay is very good and are using homophobic insults - at the age of 9. She instinctively finds that pretty repulsive and has challenged the people who use them.

She's been to as many civil partnerships in her life as she has been to weddings and takes the very pragmatic view that if people love each other they should be left in peace to be together. She's had the experience of having a diverse and liberal community of friends around her all her life and just accepts people as they are. If kids in schools are coming out with homophobic nonsense at 9, then that tells me that something needs to be done when they're much younger to nip those ideas in the bud.

The reason I'm writing about this today is because I have been absolutely sickened by this flier which has been put out by an American pastor who runs a website full of hatred and bigotry called, and I'm not kidding, It makes me wince just typing those words. His followers are the sort of people who demonstrate at the funerals of people who have died of AIDS in the US. How can people put grieving relatives through even more trauma?

You'll see from the flier that this man, who has been banned from the UK, is despatching some of his hate fuelled mates to picket the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland when it discusses Queen's Cross Church's decision to appoint Scott Rennie as Minister because he is openly gay on 23 May. Not only do these people intend to protest in Edinburgh, but they also intend to picket Scott's church in Aberdeen the day after.

I am literally shaken that these thoroughly evil (and, yes, I do mean that) bigots are travelling thousands of miles to persecute my friend, so it's personal for me, but I would hope that good people everywhere would want to make a stand against such a show of bile and pure nastiness. If the Westboro material had the language relating to sexual orientation replaced with words relating to gender or race, they would be done for inciting hatred.

I think one way to deal with those people if they are allowed to stage their protest is to stand peacefully, quietly and with dignity against them to show them that Scotland is a tolerant, diverse and civilised nation.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Tour of Argyll and Bute

I share Andrew's anger at the Telegraph's attacking of Alan Reid's claiming of expenses for his Summer Tour.

Most MPs I know work very hard all year round, not just during the Parliamentary sessions. During the Summer recess in particular they are still fighting their constituents' cases and this can also involve travelling back and fore to London to meet ministers and the like. Don't therefore assume that if an MP has made a claim in the Summer that it automatically invalid. There are legitimate reasons for them to be in town.

Anyway this isn't relevant to Alan's claims, which were for b and b accommodation, not 5 star hotel (although I'd rather stay in a homely highland b and b than any impersonal hotel any day) in his constituency during his Summer Tour. Many MPs spend several weeks in the Summer visiting every tiny corner of their constituencies to listen to people's concerns and meet as many people as possible. Now, I've never been to Argyll and Bute in my life, but I know it's pretty far flung. However, I did have the sense to look up on Google maps to try to appreciate the distances involved before I made a judgement. Don't they have the internet in the Telegraph offices to enable the reporter to do the same?

I tried to provide links for directions from Cardross, where Alan's home is, to both Loch Fyne and Oban, but I can't get them to work. If you go to Google Maps and get directions from Loch Fyne to Cardross, it will tell you that's 154 miles and would take you 4 hours and 38 minutes. The road from Oban to Cardross is nearly 78.7 miles, taking 1 hour 54 minutes. Neither distance is commutable in my opinion, especially late at night on challenging roads after a long day's work. Nor is it acceptable to have to get up again and make the return journey in the morning. Overnight accommodation would definitely be cheaper, and therefore a better option to the taxpayer, than the mileage anyway.

I am glad that Alan did fight the case to be reimbursed for these expenses. Nobody should be out of pocket for reasonable costs of doing their job and the rules did not take into account those few constituencies which cover an enormous geographical area. Having grown up in Caithness and Sutherland, I know the huge area that Bob Maclennan as MP had to travel around - just to get to the outer edge of the constituency was a good 1.5 hour drive from Inverness.

The Telegraph's revelations have generated much outrage in recent days - but on this one, I am happy to send them some back, because they have their criticism of Alan very badly wrong.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some sense on MP's expenses

Common sense from Sarah Teather, as usual.

Elsewhere in Westminster, David Cameron has got all tough. Pity he couldn't have found his decisive streak when his MPs were voting against reform and to conceal their expenses.

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F1 without Ferrari?

I wish these boys would find a better way of solving their problems than the entirely predictable series of threats to quit Formula 1 by 40% of the current competing teams in the face of the imposition of a budget cap of £40 million which, as Edis has pointed out below, would give those who comply with it a more liberal technical regime and more testing.

I guess it's like being asked to fight an election on tuppence ha'penny, but, hey, we Lib Dems have been doing that forever. I think a cap on the amount of money national parties can spend during campaigns would be a good idea, to level the playing field a bit, so why not make Formula One more accessible? Accessible is, of course, a word you use advisedly in this context - anyone seeking to enter a team would have to be very, very rich.

To most of us, that sort of sum would seem more than enough for each team to keep a couple of cars on the road for a few thousand miles and to develop another one for next year, but apparently not, according to Toyota, Red Bull (and consequently Torro Rosso) and, now, the big boys, Ferrari. I'm sure I heard Eddie Jordan, former team owner, say that his team spent £100 million per year, and it's 8 years since he owned it. The new rules seem to offer a choice between spend and test which sounds quite difficult to interpret and implement.

Today, the iconic team, who have been around since Formula 1's inception, said they would not participate in next year's season if this new regime is implemented.

The sport would not be the same without them, no doubt, but it's way too early to contemplate that. I suspect more of the big boys will threaten to leave and then at some point, probably the eleventh hour, a solution will be found.

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What MPs could learn from Ross Brawn.

That nice James Allen has posted his account of the trip home from the Spanish Grand Prix. Apparently, on the Easyjet flight, along with loads of British formula one fans, were members of the F1 team of the moment, Brawn GP, including team owner and technical guru Ross Brawn who was not only there but ended up talking to the fans and having his photo taken with them. F1 in general is not known for being particularly frugal even at the worst of times and its high heed yins are not renowned for their accessibility to the masses.

Certainly Brawn GP aren't that rich at the moment, so they can't afford the charter flights and the sumptuous motorhomes that the established teams show off. I presume that when everyone has a fast car, the only way to show your supremacy is to build a 3 storey portable palace in the paddock like McLaren and Ferrari do.

Brawn need all their spare cash to get the cars on the trackat each race and build a better one for next year, so it makes sense to save as much money as possible on travel. Being technical director of Ferrari and subsequently team principal of Honda and Brawn are hardly minimum wage jobs, though. Brawn could easily have afforded a better class of travel but he chose to rough it with everybody else. He's also made sure that other members of the team get up on the podium at the end of races to accept the awards. From what he said to the best sports reporting team in the whole world ever (Brundle, Humphrey, EJ and DC) after the Bahrain Grand Prix, failure to do so in other teams rankled with him in the past and he's happy to share the rewards.

So, the lessons for MPs? Public money is precious. There never was enough to do everything that needed to be done, even in the good times and there's even less so now. Every penny they claim in expenses is public money that isn't going to be spent on schools or hospitals or desperately needed housing. Of course it's necessary for them to have adequate funds to maintain their offices, pay their staff, be accommodated in London and have their travel to and from their constituencies paid. I don't think anybody would argue about that, not least the people who have gone to their MPs for help and had problems with Government agencies sorted. Often an MP's intervention can get results that the person would never have had a hope of getting on their own. However, they should all have a mind to what is reasonable and fair, based on their needs and not on what they can get out of the system. If they can travel Easyjet - and I accept that they can't always because you can't get flexible tickets and Parliamentary business can be unpredictable - then they should. Whatever accommodation arrangments there are should involve functional flats and not moats and chandeliers.

All MPs, and in fact everyone in politics now more than ever has the responsibility of trying to rebuild public trust with sincerity and engaging in genuine dialogue with people. They need to look at ways at which they could give more power back to people. If your MP has wasted thousands of public money on frivolities, it may be that the size of their majority will insulate them from being kicked out at the election when it comes. What we need is a more proportional voting system where people have more chance of being able to make their feelings about each individual MP felt. The single transferable vote ticks all those boxes and the argument for it has never been stronger, especially now that it has worked so well in the Scottish local elections.

I do think that Michael Martin's position as speaker is untenable. There is a comment being attributed to him that he said "I didn't come into politics not to take what's owed to me." While that can't be proved, he certainly came across like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - it seems that he thinks that if he can't see the chaos, it won't engulf him. What can't be doubted is that he has been a consistent obstacle to openness and reform. If there were a way of dragging him from that Speaker's Chair, I'd be all in favour of doing it.

Apparently the Telegraph will turn its attention to the Lib Dems tomorrow. I will personally be absolutely devastated if any of our's have carried out any of the abuses of the system that others have been guilty of. I think Paul will be too, although I don't quite share his thirst for blood. I do agree that if there is anything that appears to be beyond what is perceived as reasonable, then the MP concerned should pay it back.

I'm going to stick my neck out and say that I doubt there will be quite as many sensational headlines, even proportionally, given that we are a smaller group, but I would be surprised if we emerged entirely unscathed. I do have faith in our lot, who have consistently voted for reform of the system and against Labour and Tory moves to keep expenses secret. In fact it was that nice Jo Swinson who took the campaign to Twitter earlier in the year and whose efforts helped force the Government to back down.

The actual expenses system itself is the easiest thing to fix. Mr Quist told us how to do it the other day. Restoring trust and confidence will be another matter.

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Why Nick Clegg knows what he's talking about on Europe

I first met Nick Clegg 11 years ago when he came to Lib Dem Regional Office in Leicester to be interviewed to be a Lib Dem candidate for the East Midlands. As Region Team Leader at the time I was on the interviewing panel.

I guess it was like some political version of the X Factor, except none of the four of us "judges" behind the table were in any way rich or had the prospect of becoming so. Like Cowell, Walsh et al, we knew a good thing when we saw it, though.

I'm not about to divulge too many secrets of that day, but suffice to say that he completely blew us away. It was very clear to us by the end of the interview that at some point he would lead the party. From the little I knew about his background prior to meeting him, I expected a boring Eurocrat. What I got was someone who spoke with warmth, knowledge and authority about everything we asked him.

Of all the Party leaders, Nick is best placed to talk with authority on matters European. He has a decade of direct experience both as a Member of the European Parliament and, crucially, as someone who was sent to negotiate with the Russians and the Chinese on behalf of the EU. He knows that the EU, representing almost half a billion people, carries a lot of weight when it works together. During his time in the Parliament he consistently argued for reforms which would make the EU more democratic, open and accountable - as well as save it money in stopping the ridiculous Strasbourg sessions.

When he tell us that the Tory ideas to isolate the UK within Europe are dangerous, we can be sure that he knows what he is talking about.

Nick has totally got it right on many issues since he became leader - on Gaza, he spoke out against the Israeli action when others were timid about it, he championed the cause of the Gurkhas to be given equal rights to live here and he's been making the running on MP's expenses. As I pointed out the other day, it's the Lib Dems who have been campaigning for years for greater openness and for major reform of the system.

I think it's clear that the country has liked what it has seen of Nick so far and in the next few weeks, people have the opportunity to get to know him a lot better. That can only be a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

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