Thursday, September 30, 2010

In which I get into the Torygraph for saying nice things about The Almighty Vince

I knew Twitter would get me into trouble, or the Torygraph, which is probably worse, one day.

Last week after Vince Cable's speech, I got a bit carried away with the moment on Twitter which I assumed would vanish into the ether unremarked, like most of the other 25000+ comments I've made. No, the Torygraph picked it up and recorded it for posterity along with some other examples of Cable adoration.

My friend Allan said on Facebook that this was clearly one of my more intellectually stimulating comments. Well, thanks for that!

Do you know what? Vince does rock and I stand by my heat of the moment tweet!

Ok, Tim Farron and Susan Kramer, why should I vote for you?

I am feeling completely scunnered with this Party Presidential Election. And while I'm at it, much though I love Liberal Youth to bits, I share Michael's unimpressedness that their Executive were so quick to back any candidate, especially at a time when they were signing up new members as the university terms start who were perfectly capable of making up their own minds without direction. Being told what to do by any organisation winds me up immensely, so their move may yet be counterproductive.

Ros Scott is the best president this party has ever had, bar none. She is a brilliant chair of the Federal Executive - and steering it through the Coalition negotiations in relative harmony took calmness, the best interpersonal skills and empathetic leadership.  She threw her heart and soul into supporting campaigning across the country. She's been contactable and she listens to what people have to say. She comes as close as you can get to being irreplaceable.

And then Jennie, the only genuine grassroots candidate for President didn't get on the ballot. She would have really added a realism and a perspective to the election that will now just not be there. It was always going to be a tough challenge to get the required nominations in 2 weeks. Ros Scott spent a year and a half at least touring the country before the 2008 election in which she so comprehensively beat the frontrunner, Lembit Opik. Jennie had two weeks. She has loads to offer this party and I hope that whoever becomes President listens to her.

I'm in a dilemma now, because I genuinely don't know who to vote for. I think I'm just going to enjoy that for a while, and let them fight for my vote. All too often, I determine I'm going to be neutral in these internal party elections, but then I make my mind up quickly and end up throwing myself into a campaign. My track record isn't good, but I'm determined not to this time, for at least two weeks anyway.

Both Tim Farron and Susan Kramer have enormous strengths. I've telephone canvassed in Tim's constituency during local elections and I know that the very mention of his name, even to someone who says they're voting Conservative, brings forth a string of compliments that's almost embarrassing. You have to admire someone who increases his majority from next to nothing to 12,000.

But good people lose, too. Some of the best campaigners in the party lost their seats in May and that's no reflection on them. Sadly, Susan lost out to the eye-wateringly rich Zac Goldsmith in a very tough fight. She's a huge loss as an MP. I still remember her 2000 campaign for London Mayor. Her's was the first high profile political speech Anna ever listened to - as a 3 month old at the Party Conference in Harrogate in 1999. I was instantly impressed with Susan and her pledge to walk along every single High Street in London. I seem to remember yellow Doc Martens as well, but I can't find any evidence to back that up.

Just as an aside, if websites were my only deciding factor, Susan would win my vote hands down. Clicking on Tim's you get a block of text with a massive "endorse me" form. Susan's has video, 3 clear points as to why to back her and all the information you need on the front page.

But it's not down to that. Both of them, fabulous though they are, have issues that worry me greatly.  Put simply, they're so much a part of the London Centric Westminster Bubble that I don't see how either of them can properly represent my views as a member. In addition, as far as Tim is concerned, I don't see how as an MP working 70 hours per week minimum, even he will have the energy to put another 30 in to do the job of President properly. Although if anyone can, I concede that it's him.

Susan may not be an MP any more, but she's only just outside the bubble. Tim is still at its heart. But representing a northern constituency, he has at least a feel for what life up north is like.

I guess who gets my vote will boil down to who answers these four questions to my satisfaction:

If the Party membership is uneasy about action taken by the Government, what will you do?

We all know that the Liberal Democrats are distinctive and independent but how will you work to get that message across to the voters?

What will you do practically to support Scottish Liberal Democrats between now and their elections next year? (and the same could be said for Wales, too)

How will you improve diversity in our representation at UK level?

These are not the only questions, but they're the issues which are weighing heaviest on my mind right at this moment.

And as an added bonus, thanks to a lovely Facebook friend who phoned me and pointed me in their direction, are two 90 second videos in which Tim and Susan set out their stalls, filmed by Alex Folkes and posted here and here on You Tube, and embedded here in no particular order

Anna (11) writes on destruction of the rainforest

Yesterday Anna came out of school clutching a large brown envelope. I knew it couldn't be Parent Council bumph because it was addressed to both Bob and I, and it wasn't report time.

I opened it and found this handwritten note from the Deputy Head of her School:
Anna's talent for writing came to the fore and she produced a very thought provoking letter. Please ask her to read it aloud to you - you will be very proud.
And I did ask her and she did read it out with such passion that I reckon she'll be good for some Conference speeches in the future.

The letter was to an imaginary CEO of a company which was destroying the rain forest.  Even though it was fake, I was impressed that she wasn't intimidated by authority and was quite happy to say exactly what she thought. This is definitely a good quality, even when the person in authority is me.

Anyway, with her permission, and my thanks to you for letting me have a Proud Mummy moment, her letter is below:
My name is Anna and I am a Primary 7 pupil.
I am absolutely appalled to discover that you are planning to cut down another large area of the Amazon Rainforest, purely for profit. Deforestation is a huge problem, not just for the inhabitants of the jungle but for everyone. There are 137 species of animals and birds becoming extinct every day and it is people like YOU who are responsible. Can't you see that there will be severe, unimaginable consequences if people like you aren't stopped? Doesn't global warming mean anything to you? 
Think about it. If everyone like you cuts down such a large area of forest, then there will be no trees left. When trees go, oxygen goes with them. 
Are you aware of the many forest tribes who will be displaced and losing their culture if you go ahead with this? How could you possibly think this is okay? Imagine you are in their shoes, you are kicked out of your home and your culture is stolen. Are you happy? I should think not!
The rainforest is a lovely place, filled with beautiful creatures. You would not even consider harming it if you had every witnessed the beauty of an ocelot.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Labour's Living Wage vs our raising of the tax threshold

In amongst fratricidal leadership trauma and bashing the Coalition Government (which I suppose you'd expect of a Party in opposition - we were hardly complimentary about Labour when they were in power), Labour have been trumpeting this wonderful new policy of a Living Wage. They've decided that they weren't paying public sector workers enough when they were in power and now they're in opposition they should be paid a minimum of £7 per hour.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of the lower paid having more money, but aren't we already doing pretty much everything Labour plans to do? And that's a big Liberal Democrat win, because you wouldn't find the Tories doing that on their own.

It's very dangerous to let me loose with numbers, but roughly this is what I've worked out:

We've already raised the tax threshold by £1000 to start next April. That will give people roughly £20 a week extra.

Raising the minimum wage by £1.07 per hour. That'll give a full time employee around £40 extra a week, but then you have to take about 30% of that off in tax and NI, so they'll have around £28 extra a week.

And wouldn't part time workers, like the dinner lady Ed Miliband was talking about yesterday, be taken out of tax completely under our plans?

George Osborne has stated that the Coalition intends to keep raising the tax threshold as far as possible towards £10,000. Just one more raise would give people cumulatively an extra £40 per week.

The other thing is, as I was reminded by my husband who is pretty close to retirement, that our way helps those on low incomes who don't have a job. And Labour always insisted on having a lower minimum wage for young people so they wouldn't benefit as much. Under our plan, everyone benefits equally.

So both plans would make people better off - but the Liberal Democrats in Government are already responsible for ensuring that people are on the way to being paid a living wage.

Big Brother Miliband returns to back benches

So, David Miliband has taken the long walk from the limelight to the back benches apparently in the hope that his little brother Ed can be left to lead the Labour Party in peace (or into pieces).

I can see that he's already spent three years as the smoking gun in one cabinet, with the tiniest suggestion of rebellion leading to the entire political press pack camping on his doorstep. More of the same on that front, especially given the family angle, would be pretty agonising. We saw what happened when he snapped at Harriet Harman for clapping Ed yesterday. He knows every raised eye row or wry smile would have Nick Robinson in a tizz.

Good luck to him. David's retreat from frontline politics will take some of the heat but I suspect that every time Ed falters, or gets up the nose of one of Labour's factions, there will be speculation about his leadership and whether his big brother could take over if he were forced out.

I suspect David has back benched himself for the duration of this Parliament because any attempt to re-join would be seen as a challenge.

I wonder if things would be the same, and Ed would have quit the Shadow Cabinet, if David had won. I suspect not. He was only the front runner after the ballot closed and he wasn't that well known. I reckon he could have stayed in relative anonymity in David's Shadow Cabinet.

David is now going to spend time with his family, saying that these last few years have been tough for him & his sons. Of course if he'd won, it would have been just as tough for them. I really don't like it when politicians use their kids in that way.

David will now have time to reflect on his actions over the past few years. I suspect he will regret not challenging Gordon Brown, but I doubt he could have snatched victory in May as people were sick of Labour, whoever led them.

He did mention in his statement that he wants to develop the community action programme that had been a major part of his leadership campaign. I just hope he gets rid of the control freaky house party instruction manual.

David's decision, of course, highlights the fairly massive divisions in the Labour Party and emphasises how hard a job Ed will have to keep everybody in the same library, let alone the same page.

His time as leader is not going to be easy. No wonder he looked so miserable when he won.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ed Miliband, mea culpa and the sheep's clothing

Today in Manchester a fresh faced shiny new leader pulled on sheep's clothing, some of the items stolen from the genuine leader of Britan's liberals, round the wolf that is the body of the Labour Party.

To be fair, that speech was well written, and well delivered - and it was a pretty good shot at what Ed Miliband needed to do in it - to dissociate his Labour Party from the divided, authoritarian, at times downright wicked rabble which had been noisily disintegrating in Government these past few years.

What may be a really good thing was his own personal commitment to the Alternative Vote. If he were to lead the Labour Party to vote for the referendum and campaign for AV, we could well be on our way to a fairer voting system. However all he said was that he personally would vote yes. I suspect he knows he doesn't have the authority to insist that Labour campaigns for it because the awkward squad start sniping.

He also stated his commitment to an elected Lords. I had to stifle a laugh when he said:
Yes, we need to finally elect the House of Lords after talking about it for a hundred years.
Labour had 13 years to do so in Government, and now it's left to the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg (for the Tories would never have done it on their own) to implement this vital change. That boat has sailed for the new generation Labour Party.

In many ways, it sounded less like a leader's speech today and more like he was reading out his own charge sheet, a list of the things New Labour had got so terribly wrong, everything from Iraq, to civil liberties (these things listened to in stony faced silence by those members of Labour's cabinet who had brought them about). It had the air of a guilty plea in the hope that he'd get a shorter sentence. The very idea that he thinks that one speech, a few days at one Conference, could wash away the mess of the last 13 years shows Ed really doesn't get it.

But he only apologised for the attempt at 90 days, not for the month detention without charge we have now.

He mentioned his parents' flights from the Nazis and move to this country - but didn't apologise for the appalling way Labour treated asylum seekers. And I'm concerned that he's going to continue narrow anti-narrative on immigration.

He basically tried to position himself as the new Nick Clegg. He even pinched one of Nick's best lines, almost exactly with his example of the disparity in wages between a banker and care worker:
What does it say about the values of our society, what have we become, that a banker can earn in a day what the care worker earns in a year?
If that sounds familiar, it's not a million miles away from this, is it?
"And that's why I don't apologise for proposing that the banker from the City of London pay the same rate of tax on his capital gains as his cleaner does on her wages.
The thing is, the original Nick Clegg is still very much alive and well and enacting Liberal Democrat policies in Government. Miliband's Labour Party will always be playing catch up on that front.

There was actually very little in the speech that I disagree with. If you read the words, it all sounds very grown up and consensual. I mean, who on earth could find fault with this?

Here is our generation's paradox: the biggest ever consumers of goods and services, but a generation that yearns for the things that business cannot provide.
Strong families.
Time with your children.
Green spaces.
Community life
Love and compassion.

Words have to be placed in context, though. David Cameron tried to park his tanks on our lawn and it didn't work then. I think once we get to the substance, and once the novelty of a new leader wears off on a Labour Party that's to a certain extent been let off the leash after 13 years, life may not be quite so motherhood and apple pie.

Ed Miliband knew as well that he had to try to put some distance between himself and the unions, given that it was they who had delivered him his victory. Talking about strikes, he said:

We need to win the public to our cause and what we must avoid at all costs is alienating them and adding to the book of historic union failures.
That is why I have no truck, and you should have no truck, with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes.
The public won't support them. I won't support them. And you shouldn't support them either.

That's Bob Crow told, then.

The tight margin of his victory victory means that Ed Miliband will, like Gordon Brown before him, have to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged blairites. Changing the soul of the Labour Party is a fair old challenge for Mr Miliband, though, and isn't going to happen overnight, if at all. You have to remember that most of the members of the Labour Party voted for the status quo with a few frills, and so did the MPs.

As far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned, it's vital that we  get our distinctive message across. It's deeds, not words, that matter and in coalition we are the ones enacting liberating reforms and working for fairness, doing exactly what we said we'd do. 

The Elephant tries to #Riggtheelection

If you do nothing else today, you have to read the lovely Elephant's reasoning for backing Jennie Rigg for President.

Just for starters, I love his scale of preference:

It OUGHT to be, and yet it's actually really easy to place my "one", "two" and "three", with the very important caveat that even my "three" is a sign of very high endorsement.
(For reference, Mr Ed Millipede should come in somewhere in the five to six billion range on this scale. Possibly even lower if humanity should encounter any space aliens!)
Like me, he wasn't impressed with the speech, then!

There is still time to get your nominations to Cowley Street - but you have to either post them tonight or fax them or take them to Party HQ tomorrow.

It's time to #Riggtheelection! 

The Divine Helen Duffett writes for the Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging

Not only is the multi-talented Helen Duffett  busy doing all she does for Liberal Democrat Voice, although I doubt dressing up as Count Packula in a fright wig is one of her roles, she has also written a chapter of  the forthcoming Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging. 

Her subject was Twitter. "Do Tweets win Seats?" she asked in an opening sentence that was exactly 140 characters long. Very clever.

I even get a mention in it as well, although I didn't in Stephen Tall's State of the Lib Dem Blogosphere,  I'm not bitter though as I was in some very good company - there are plenty other Lib Dem blogs written by women who weren't mentioned either, like Spiderplant, Rachel Olgeirsson, Virtually Naked, Singing my SongSara's Always win when you're singing, Ms Duffett herself and Lib Dem Child.  His article was very good, but could have been better with a bit more acknowledgement of the growing number of Lib Dem female bloggers. 

And while I'm on the subject, my copy of Iain Dale's Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging arrived today. I was muchly dischuffed to see that in 20 pages of the chapter Who's Who in political blogging, only 3 women were mentioned, none of them Liberal Democrats. I wouldn't get ideas above my station and think I should be in there, but what about Helen, Sara and Lynne Featherstone? Honestly! 

But going back to Helen's article, it is excellent and very well researched. She's talked to all sorts of people,journalists, bloggers and MPs and her conclusions are well worth a read.

(Yet another) Study shows breastfeeding prevents baby infections

Another day,another study showing that breastfeeding babies with the milk they were meant to have is better for them.

A study by Greek researchers shows that if babies are exclusively breastfed for 6 months, then they will have fewer infections and if they do pick them up,they're likely to be less severe.

I would theorise that this benefit goes on well beyond the six months - after all, antibodies from the mother continue to find their way into her milk for as long as that milk is being made so it's clear that there will be some protective benefit.

It seems to me very strange that women naturally produce a bug busting, nutritious substance that meets all their baby's needs, yet lack of practical support and cultural obstacles means only 1 in 5 babies are still nursing at 6 months.

This article from the Ecologist outlines the case for much stronger measures to support breastfeeding and restrict the activities of formula companies. Written in 2006, it cites that formula companies spend £20 per newborn on advertising while the NHS spends just 14 pence per baby on promoting breastfeeding.

It' calls for the same sorts of measures that were introduced across Scandinavia in the 70s and which have since achieved much higher breastfeeding rates from the same sort of base as our's;

"We must also stop making compromises. Government health policies such as, say, in the UK and US, which aim for 75 per cent of women to be breastfeeding on hospital discharge, are little more than paying lip service to the importance of breastfeeding.
Most of these women will stop breastfeeding within a few weeks, and such policies benefit no one except the formula manufacturers, who will start making money the moment breastfeeding stops.
To get all mothers breastfeeding, we must be prepared to:

  • Ban all advertising of formula including follow-on milks

  • Ban all free samples of formula, even those given for educational or study purposes

  • Require truthful and prominent health warnings on all tins and cartons of infant formula

  • Put substantial funding into promoting breastfeeding in every community, especially among the socially disadvantaged, with a view to achieving 100-per-cent exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life

  • Fund advertising and education campaigns that target fathers, mother sin-law, schoolchildren, doctors, midwives and the general public

  • Give women who wish to breastfeed in public the necessary encouragement and approval

  • Make provisions for all women who are in employment to take at least six months paid leave after birth, without fear of losing their jobs.

Such strategies have already proven their worth elsewhere. In 1970, breastfeeding rates in Scandinavia were as low as those in Britain. Then, one by one, the Scandinavian countries banned all advertising of artificial formula milk, offered a year’s maternity leave with 80 per cent of pay and, on the mother’s return to work, an hour’s breastfeeding break every day. Today, 98 per cent of Scandinavian women initiate breastfeeding, and 94 per cent are still breastfeeding at one month, 81 per cent at two months, 69 per cent at four months and 42 per cent at six months. These rates, albeit still not optimal, are nevertheless the highest in the world, and the result of a concerted, multifaceted approach to promoting breastfeeding.

What we are doing at the moment is failing women and their babies. Of those who give up breastfeeding within the first six weeks, 90% did so because of  problems rather than because they wanted to. With appropriate support, the overwhelming majority of them could continue. Generations of women feel guilty because for some reason they weren't able to feed their babies themselves when in fact it was the information they were given by the health professionals - for example that babies needed to eat every 4 hours and no more - that led to them not producing enough milk. We've moved on from that now a bit, but we have not made nearly enough progress. It's time to take more radical action.

There is a group on Facebook called "I make milk,what's your superpower?"  It has a point, yet we prefer to allow commercial interests to market almost unfettered a much inferior alternative.

Professor Stewart Forsyth, one of the doctors behind the Dundee infant feeding study concluded that
"Breastfed children from lower socio-economic groups had better outcomes than formula fed children from more affluent families"
Study after study confirms the benefits of breastfeeding and still we don't take the radical action necessary to support it in a meaningful way. That makes me very angry.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Last chance to elect a grassroots President - #Riggtheelection

Ten days ago I wrote about why I was supporting grassroots activist and fabulous blogger Jennie Rigg to be our next President:
 Ok, so she hasn't been in the Party since she was in nappies, but in the years she has been around, she's impressed a lot of people with her intelligence, her plain speaking and her originality. One of the reasons I've always loved her blog is because I think it explains what we're about to ordinary people who have no interest in politics. She has the intellectual rigour of having achieved a law degree combined with real, tough life experience. You only need to read her blog to see that she gets what life is like. She is completely where the Party is at on the subject of things like welfare - have a look at this recent post on benefit "fraud" and tax "evasion" Then go and look back at the way she tailored posts to people during the election, telling them why they, with their concerns, should vote Liberal Democrat.
I think that now more than ever, we need a real voice from the grassroots to be part of a leadership team that works together to ensure our distinctive voice is heard.

Nominations close on Wednesday. Jennie has been collecting signatures from all over the country. If you are a voting rep, or you know one who hasn't signed a nomination form, please download the form from the members' area of the Party website, or e-mail me and I'll send you a copy, sign it and persuade as many eligible people as you can to sign it too and send it to Party HQ at Cowley Street first class tomorrow.

Ed might think he gets it, but Jennie actually does because she's lived it.

Thank you for your help!

Another Daily Mail Fail - and how they could make a difference

I am so behind in my list of things to write about, but I was so angry when I read this article in Friday's Daily Mail. I don't like linking to them, but I actually think it's important that we keep an eye on what they do and challenge their flawed assumptions wherever we can.

Essentially the story is about a family with six children living in a 2 bedroomed Council house. Yes, you read that right. 8 people, 6 of them aged under 7, are crammed into a a tiny house which in no way meets their needs. That's something we should all be angry about. We know that poor housing has a long term, detrimental effect on health. If these children continue to live in these conditions, the chances are that their life expectancy will be significantly less than a child from a more affluent background.  Their whole lives could be blighted by the failure of all parties in local and national government to sort out housing.

I've met many families in similar situations over the last 4 years. It breaks my heart to see the distress it causes.  The Daily Mail could use its position to run a big campaign to have more affordable housing built so that families like this one, and others who are living in private rented accommodation who really struggle to pay their rent. Wouldn't that be great if a national newspaper took this issue on?

But, sadly, the Fail has different priorities. The headline "Jobless Couple demand bigger home for them and their six children (who are named after celebrities)" gives you an idea of their agenda. They chose to criticise the couple for the names they gave their children and for the fact that they are unemployed. Have they any idea of the childcare costs for 4 pre-schoolers? One full time at a nursery will set you back around £500 per month up here and much more down south.  Have they any idea how much their parents would have to earn to be able to feed and clothe their family so that work would make them better off than being on benefits?

The Mail could choose to argue for better housing. Instead it chooses to demonise a family in desperate need. I think it's clear who's in the wrong here.

Dog Poo bins needed on Nellburn Path, Livingston

Friends of our's have recently bought a gorgeous puppy. She is the cutest thing you could ever imagine and she's loved by everyone who comes into contact with her.

Her family are responsible and ensure that they clean up whatever mess this cute bundle of fluff makes when they go out. However, between their house and their children's school, around a 20 minute walk away, there is only one dog poo bin, and that's pretty close to their house.

There used to be two others on that route - one at the railway bridge at the bottom and one at the fork in the path which leads to the Carmondean Centre.

I'm getting in touch with the Council to ask them to replace them as that path is a very popular walk to 3 primary schools and a secondary school and also very popular with dogs and their owners alike.

Lallands Peat Worrier helps close Scottish domestic abuse loophole.

I will freely admit to being rubbish on this issue. I saw that Lallands Peat Worrier had written a blog post entitled Scotland Legalises Domestic Abuse two weeks ago and had it in mind to pick it up myself. Events and health ran away with me a bit and when I saw another post from LPW three days later saying that the Government was taking action and the issue would be quickly resolved, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Essentially what happened was that a man, David Hatcher who had been convicted of breach of peace because of his behaviour towards his wife Lorraine in front of their children, but in their own home, won his appeal on the basis that the offence of breach of the peace needs to have adult witnesses and a public element. As far as I understand it, he doesn't deny that the events took place, merely that the law had no right to convict him for that behaviour.

Until 6th October, when the Government's swift action to remedy this loophole in the law comes into force, we're in a situation in Scotland  where it's effectively legal to abuse your partner so long as you do it in private. If you want to subject them to several hours of aggression, abuse and intimidation, as long as there are no witnesses, you can be the law's guest.  A new offence, of threatening or abusive behaviour, is to be created which will cover situations like the one Lorraine Hatcher found herself in on 7th January this year.

You would think that the mainstream media would have made a huge fuss about the implications of the Hatcher judgement. Well it's finally woken up to what's been going on as LPW wrote yesterday. Well, at least one paper, Scotland on Sunday has. You know, if this was about a loophole in a European law, I bet all the tabloid press would have been up in arms about those evil people in Brussels.

Anyway, it's good to see that LPW got on to it so quickly and built the case for the law to be changed. I'm also glad that other Liberal Democrats were not as tardy as I, with Robert Brown tabling a question in the Scottish Parliament almost immediately on hearing from LPW.

Bob's photo published on Edinburgh Council website

For Bob's birthday in June, I brought him a new fancy camera, which he's been thoroughly delighted with ever since.

He takes it everywhere and is always snapping away. It's as well that I like photos of clouds as much as I do.

One of his photos, of Dewar Place Lane,  has found its way onto the City of Edinburgh Council's website here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ed Miliband's challenge as Labour Leader

We all thought we knew, as the Labour leadership candidates walked into the hall today. Ed looked utterly miserable, David was smiling. It seemed like an open and shut case. Despite all the rumours to the contrary, David had beaten his younger brother.  Now the whole nation knows not to play Poker with those brothers for in fact it was Ed who prevailed.

Ed looked like a man who hadn't quite thought carefully enough about what he should wish for in case he got it. He's a bright man. He knew that he didn't have the backing of the majority of his MPs, or MEPs, or members and that it was the votes of the unions, on the last round, which had delivered victory at the last gasp. For every stage of the count, David led. He was 1.6% ahead before the elimination of Ed Balls, and 1.3% behind once his votes had been redistribute with the unions by far giving him the sliver of his margin of victory.

It is a very weird way of doing things. When the Liberal Democrats choose a leader, we just send a ballot paper to every member and whoever gets over 50% under an alternative vote system wins. I know that my vote as an activist is worth exactly the same as a senior MP's. We don't send extra papers out to members of other organisations who might share some of our values.

Labour's convoluted system leaves its new leader open to accusations that he is compromised, the choice of unions rather than the party's members or elected representatives. The unions will no doubt use that to try to force the new leader's hand. Ed would be wise to remember that the Labour Party and the unions did not save one single job in the 80s - and in fact often made things a lot worse. If Labour starts re-treading these footsteps, they face long term electoral oblivion.

While Ed deserves congratulations on a well fought campaign, I do have some sympathy with his brother David. I don't agree with his politics and I don't agree with the things he did as foreign secretary to perpetuate the complicity in torture by a UK Government, but his head must be mince tonight. He's thrown his heart and soul into his campaign. He's been working on it for five months (and probably before) and was expected to win. But Labour has decided in recent days that it wants to go back to the 80s rather than New Labour with the election of Ed and the selection of Ken Livingstone as London mayoral candidate.

I worry that unenlightened Conservatives will use this result as justification for opposition to the Alternative Vote. That would be wrong. It's the fact that Labour gives the unions so much say in choosing its leader that's the problem, not the AV system.

However I had a look at the figures for Labour constituency party's votes and it may be that Ed is more representative of members in Scotland than he is in England. He was well ahead, or equal in very many CLPs north of the border.

The fact that the result was so close lends itself to years of factionalising and infighting in the Labour Party, the type of which we have seen for as long as I've been alive. If they couldn't keep a lid on internal tensions in Government, their chances in opposition aren't great.

On the plus side, Labour now has a leader who is in favour of both the alternative vote system and equal marriage. These can only be good things.

As an aside, Mark Pack has written about an aspect of this afternoon's BBC coverage that I also found intensely annoying - the interruption of the results with a voiceover from Nick Robinson talking through utter nonsense about what was happening. It's forgivable that Nick Robinson got his prediction wrong in such a tight race, but inexcusable that the facts were not allowed to speak for themselves.

I guess I understand a bit of Ed's misery today. I was once on opposing sides in an internal election with one of my best friends. I hoped my candidate would prevail, but my friend was a much better campaigner than I. The mixed emotions I felt as it became clear that my guy had won were very uncomfortable for me. If I had my time again, I'd still have gone for my guy because he's good, but as the results were announced, I looked over at my friend and saw how completely gutted he was. That was one of the worst moments of my life. Not just my political life, my actual life. To this day we are still friends, and there are no hard feelings over that between us. In fact, he trusted me to run a highly successful campaign for him some months later. It was a political campaign but when you're close to someone, you know your actions, even if they're legitimate, have an effect and you can't just walk away from that. In that respect,the winning milibrother was always bound to have the political equivalent of survivor guilt.

For Ed, that'll sort itself out in time,but the spectre of the unions coming to collect their debt remains, as do the tensions within the Party. No-one's resolved them in my lifetime, so he has his work cut out for him. He also has to decide whether he's going to continue the Labour Party's policy of "just say no" to everything or whether he's going to forge some sort of constructive opposition and engage in meaningful debate. He's damned by the electorate one way and his union paymasters the other.  I wonder if he'll come to regret his wish to be Labour leader.

Half an hour until Miliband leads Labour

I've just watched a man take a fast red car round the streets of Singapore and plonk it on pole position when 25 minutes earlier it had been almost knackered.

Unfortunately Fernando Alonso isn't in the running to lead the Labour Party, and sorting out that organisation's problems will take a bit more than some fast tweaking by a talented team of mechanics.

It looks like whichever Milibrother has won will have had only a small margin over the other. That wouldn't matter if, as between Clegg & Huhne, there wasn't much between them on policy & strategy but Brother Dave offers a return to Blairite New Labour while Brother Ed offers a return to the 80s. If he wins, his union supporters will want their pound of flesh.

The tensions between those two factions, as we've seen for years, may dominate and paralyse Labour in the years to come.

The new leader will have a shadow cabinet of 19, almost a third of whom may be from 3 families: the Milibrothers, Yvette Cooper & Ed Balls & Harriet Harman as deputy leader & potentially her husband Jack Dromey.

It's all quite exciting - this last 24 hours of speculation that Ed has pipped his brother has been much more exciting than the 5 months of the contest.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:On couch

Nicol Stephen to stand down as MSP for Aberdeen South

The 1987 General Election was my second campaign as an activist and the first one I'd been involved in from the start. I split my time between Bob Maclennan's campaign in Caithness and in the target seat of Kincardine and Deeside where the candidate was one Nicol Stephen.  It was a great campaign, presided over by the legendary Sheila Ritchie. Although we made some progress, losing was heartbreaking. It was my first experience of defeat and I don't know if my expectations were too high but I took it quite hard.

I was delighted 4 years later when in midst of a frozen Aberdeenshire Winter, Nicol won the by-election in the same seat. Unfortunately his period in office was only to last 154 days until the 1992 General Election, 

As I watched the 1999 Scottish Parliament results come in from Nottinghamshire, the one that made me happiest was seeing Nicol win Aberdeen South.

When he became leader of the Scottish Party in 2005 after Jim Wallace stood down, I had the chance to work with him closely as I was Vice Convener Campaigns and Candidates at the time. The best time was during the Livingston by-election campaign when Brian Taylor said that the story of the night was how well we had held on to our vote after a vigorous campaign led by candidate Charles Dundas and in the run up to Willie Rennie's spectacular Dunfermline victory. Nicol's biggest strengths are his thirst for the campaign trail and his fantastic manner with people. He was genuinely interested in every single person he spoke to. He would go up  to groups of young people and chat away to them really easily. He totally believed in those campaigns and motivated and inspired others to take part. He was such a help to have around and the advice that he offered was unfailingly good. 

The leadership and commitment he showed played a huge part in the Liberal Democrat success of those years. I certainly could have asked no more of him as leader.

He's now decided not to stand again as MSP for Aberdeen South and will leave Holyrood at the end of this session. He's had a successful career there, being part of the Coalition Governments which introduced fair votes for local government elections, free personal care, ended upfront tuition fees and introduced the smoking ban which I think is one of the best pieces of legislation in my lifetime. 

Nicol's passionate about young people and their demonisation by the tabloids makes him furious. As enterprise minister he was so supportive of the renewable energy industry and set out bold targets for use of renewable energy. 

His successor as leader, Tavish Scott had this to say about Nicol:
“Nicol has made an enormous contribution to both the North East and to Scotland. 
“I've known and worked with Nicol since his seminal Kincardine & Deeside by-election win in 1991and we've shared many exciting political times since. 
“The first Scottish coalition in 1999 was put together by Nicol, after he won the Aberdeen South constituency in the Scottish Parliament. He played a huge role in Ministerial life, ultimately as Scotland's Deputy First Minister. 
“I will miss his presence, strategic approach and sense of humour as a colleague and above all a friend in Holyrood. I wish Caris and the entire Stephen tribe all my best wishes and happiness for their future.”
We'll miss him in Holyrood and I echo Tavish's good wishes for the whole family. We should never forget the sacrifices that partners and children of all politicians make and I'm really grateful to Caris and the kids for all they've done and given up over the years, too. 

It's hard to believe that Nicol has served the party well for nearly 30 years in public office -and he's still only 50. Good luck to him in whatever he does next.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Liberal Democrat Conference celebrates Fife Council's success

I was very proud to see a special session at Federal Conference on Tuesday in which Cllrs Elizabeth Riches and Tim Brett, Deputy Leader and Chair of Health and Social Work respectively were invited to give a presentation on the successes the Liberal Democrats have achieved during the 3 years of their administration on Fife Council.

Elizabeth and Tim outlined a number of initiatives they've undertaken to strengthen the community partnerships across the Kingdom.

Elizabeth talked about the difficulties of coalition, with 2 groups of backbench councillors' agreement to secure but how it's been worth it.

The coalition administration agreed the priorities which they hope will make Fife a top performing council and a great place to live.

Tim outlined the Fife Cares project which organised specific advice and assistance to families with young children and people over 65. As a result there have been less admissions to hospital for both children and older people as a result of accidents. Last week this initiative won a national award.

He then spoke about the Revolution Bus initiative which has made a huge difference to local communities. Vandalism and people throwing things at moving buses led to a loss of business for Stagecoach as people were understandably scared to travel on the buses. Evidence suggested that young people were responsible so the idea of a community bus was developed with young people themselves with the aim of education, interaction and diversion. Young  people themselves named the bus and said how they wanted it equipped.  In the first 4 months, vandalism across Fife was reduced by 55%.

Safe Drive Stay Alive project is aimed at 17/18 year old schoolkids in Fife - this is to raise awareness of the dangers of speeding. Developed in Fife, this has been extended across Scotland. This has had an effect in reducing accidents involving young people across the area.

There has been huge progress in child protection with access to the register being widened to health and education professionals at any time of day or night. This will now be extended to vulnerable adults.

He spoke about the work undertaken by offenders as part of community service - road clearing, litter picking, garden building - giving skills and encouraging work ethic. Re-offending rates dropped from 73% to 42% for those doing community service - evidence that the Governments in Scotland and England have the right idea about the use of shorter sentences and that the Labour Party is talking out of its rear end as usual. That last bit was me, by the way, Tim Brett is way too pleasant and polite to talk like that.

The Wishing Well Initiative gives residents in residential homes the chance to achieve ambitions or to relive an experience in their earlier lives. They have learned to do such things as flying  lessons, sailing and making their own record.

Elizabeth then took over to explain how the administration has turned around Labour's poor record on recycling, making Fife the second best Council in Scotland - an increase from 2% under Labour to 45% now. It's expected that this will increase to 60%. A good example of putting green policies into action.

The Light Fife Green initiative means that there are significant savings in the cost of streetlights by dimming them between midnight and 5am. This has been done while meeting community safety requirements.

Building services used to generate high volumes of waste with little consideration to landfill environment. A Skip the Landfill initiative  has meant that recycling rates have shot up from 3% in 2007 to 95% in 2007.

The methane gas from the landfill sites is captured and turned into electricity for buildings as diverse to homes to leisure centres and excess is sold to the National Grid, bringing in £1 million each year.

The Fife Energy Park at Methil is gearing up to create jobs in the renewable energy sector.

Residents' surveys and people panels show satisfaction with Fife Council is high with levels in the high 80s. For the second year running, the Association for Public Service Excellence has shortlisted Fife for the Council of the year.

The Council's ethos is based on people, partnerships and performance.

To me this is a pretty good record given the guddle they inherited from Labour in 2007. Not least of the messes to sort out was the fact that Labour had sold off the land for a much needed third school in Dunfermline's Eastern Expansion to housing developers building family houses. It took years to sort that mess out and it's awful that some families have no other choice than to have their children at separate primary schools for a couple of years.

I know many of our Fife Councillors very well and have been very impressed with the work they have done and was glad to see it recognised by the Conference.

Live Blogging Nick Clegg's Speech to #LDConf

Well I know that I am renowned for being late to everything, but surely a claim to be live-blogging something 4 days after the event is a bit much?

I was away with the family in Dundee when Nick stood up to make his speech to the Conference on Monday and it's only now that I have the chance to sit down and watch it, so I wanted to record my initial reaction as it happened for my own benefit.

I guess the person googling for Nick's speech in 6 months' time won't care that this version was 4 days late.

I have kept myself pure - deliberately not reading or watching any reports of the event apart from a quick glance at Helen Duffett's blog post entitled Conference needs Claptrap but I didn't delve too deeply when I realised that she was talking in part about his speech.

Anyway, I've got to the bit in the infernally wickedly sky plussed BBC Parliament coverage where they have stopped showing the coverage in the hall because the Party Treasurer is asking the representatives for money. It's a legal requirement apparently. Of all the laws that need scrapping - it's a pity that the Your Freedom website is no longer taking submissions. I mean, you can show fairly graphic sex and violence, daytime tv is full of ads from companies offering "debt-busting loans" but you can't show a political party asking for money from its own members. Utterly bizarre.

Anyway, what follows is now my reaction to the speech as it happens:

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Nick's wife, sits next to Danny Alexander.

Now we get Nick the Election Movie - the reaction to Cleggmania, his words on the steps of Cowley Street to the Take Back Parliament demonstrators, walking into Downing Street, the press Conference in Downing Street, giving labour what for from the Despatch Box, telling them the Coalition did more for lowest paid in 10 weeks than they managed in 13 years, his first PMQs.

And now the Deputy Prime Minister walks on to the sort of music that makes you tingle.

He talks about his first speech as leader in the very hall 2.5 years ago- he said  the chance for change was within our reach. The chance came and we responded with courage and conviction, confounding the cynics who said coalition was impossible.

We created a Govt which will govern well for five years. We are challenging years of convention and tradition and our opponents will yell and scream.

"I am so so proud of the quiet courage and determination which you have shown through these momentous times in British political history. Hold our nerve and we will have changed British politics for good. Hold our nerve and we will have changed Britain for good."

Progress to date:

We've ended the injustice of rich paying less in tax than poor - (well, a bit, anyway says I)

We've guaranteed older people decent increase in pension

Freedom Bill to come in November

ID Cards gone by Christmas

Banking levy from New Year's Day to fill black hole they helped create

April - 800,000 people out of tax altogether

May  - people get chance to choose their voting system

Next Sept - pupil premium

We were the face of change and we're now the agents of change.

Joked that Conference policy battles helped negotiators forge Coalition Agreement

"I still believe that the Iraq War was illegal (to loud applause), the difference is that lawyers now get anxious when I mention it!

"I still believe in committments to developing world and later this week I get to make that happen"

"I still campaign for political reform, the difference is I'm now legislating for it as well."

Joke that he's still trying to convince his kids that going from leader to Deputy PM is not a demotion.

"We will take risks in Government but we will not lose our soul. We will not lose our liberal values" - darned right

Next section matches up four pledges in election to progress made - fairer taxes, fair start to every child, a new, green economy and cleaning up politics.

"This Coalition Agreement isn't the Liberal Democrat manifesto. It's not the Conservative manifesto. I believe in it."

People maybe expected us to wait on the sidelines, to stay in opposition. But door to change we wanted was open - if we had walked away, how could we have asked the voters to take us seriously?" I doubt many in the party would argue with that.

"You don't get to choose your moment. When the opportunity to shape your country comes your way, you get to choose what you do."

The election result gave all parties the mandate to govern differently. The coalition parties have become more than the sum of our parts as often happens in life. We can be braver, fairer and bolder than one party acting alone.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are and always will be parties with different histories and separate futures but for this Parliament we work together. This is the right government for right now.

Now the tough bit - spending cuts:

The only choice to bring back hope and optimism to our nation. We can't see the debts mounting up. The numbers sound alarming but it doesn't feel bad. How did this happen? Over recession 6% of our economy disappeared. We are poorer than we expected to be - all the old predictions are wrong and we can't keep spending money as if nothing had happened.

He used a good example of a family on £26,000 spending £32000 while still with debts of £40,000.

He then picks up on a point I've been making for ages about Labour Councils leaving a total guddle for successors to sort out.

He then asked if you would ask your kids to pay your credit card bill - someone seemed to have yelled out yes but he had a bit of good humoured ad libbing.

We are not dismantling the state - even after all the cuts we will still be spending 41% of our national income, same as in 2006.

Delay would make problems worse - because debts mount up and would prolong the pain.

Government's aim is that by next election, we will have wiped the slate clean for the next generation. We will not repeat the mistakes of 1980s where whole communities were hollowed out.

He knows people are concerned about the effect on the north, Scotland and Wales. We will make the cuts as fairly as possible. It will not be like the 1980s. We will not let capital investment in new buildings fall behind. We have £1bn regional growth fund to help areas worst affected.

I liked his scales hand gesture when he talked about rebalancing the economy.

He understands why public sector workers feel that it's not fair that they have to pay the price for a recession they didn't cause. He agrees and talks about measures to regulate the banks and make they pay more in taxes. We've done more in 5 months than Labour ever did to sort out greed and recklessness of banks.

"They (banks) helped to bring down our economy and it must never happen again".

He talks about benefit fraud and tax evasion in equal terms - stealing from your neighbours. To be honest, I have more sympathy with someone on benefits who can't make ends meet than some rich millionaire who sticks two fingers up to the tax man.

Nick talks about giving power away, decentralising, giving Councils real freedom. He says we'll put local government back in charge of the money it raises and spends.

Councils are to get the power to borrow against extra business rates to pay for additional new developments - the first step to breathing life back into our cities - transforming old heavy industrial sites into something worthwhile.  I guess that one makes sense.

Labour never really understood putting power in local hands - leadership candidates trying to forget but we never will - and then listed all the nasty things they did - locking up more children than anywhere else in W Europe, attacking civil liberties, kow towing to banks, taking us to brink of bankruptcy.

Jokes about Labour memoirs - they've gone from nationalisation to serialisation.

A decent opposition has to provide a decent alternative - until they face up to what they did in Government they will continue to let people down in opposition.

"Imprisoned by timidity, Labour squandered a golden age. We must do more even though they left us with left."

"At times of great difficulty great things must be done"

1690 days until next election - we are not going to waste a single second. Our eyes are on the horizons, not the headlines.

He referred to schools debate - and said it wouldn't be Lib Dem conference if there wasn't a passionate debate.

He said he wanted all schools to be free - except without freedom to select brightest pupils while leaving everyone else.

Benefit reform - Labour's system pays people to live without hope of a better life instead of helping them to build a better life. Work essential to a person's sense of self worth - not sure I agree with that. What about raising the next generation? Some people can't take employment because of illness, or because they are caring for other relatives and saving the State a fortune in the process. Those people are worthwhile too. I don't believe for a moment that Nick thinks they aren't, but that's not what he said.

Nick asks us to imagine what it'll be like in 5 years' time, how we'll have a good record to campaign on.

"Never again will anyone be able to frighten the voters by claiming that coalition government doesn't work." Just imagine how different our country will be.

Britain in 2010 is anxious, but Britain in 2015 will be fair, strong, free and full of hope, a country we can be proud to hand on to our children. That's the goal.

Stick with us and we'll change Britain for good.

Speech ends to rapturous applause.

You have to admire the man. If I didn't know and trust his judgement and his instincts, I would be a lot more worried than I am about the next five years. If he, and the other Liberal Democrats weren't there, I'd be utterly petrified about what would happen to the poor and the vulnerable.

Nick knows fine why people like me are concerned about welfare reform - and he did try to tackle it head on. It's something that every government I've ever known has screwed up dramatically, with awful consequences for people.The bar is not very high.  I totally get that work brings more than financial rewards to people, but there has to be compassion for those who can't work, and those for whom there is no work. There also needs to be an understanding of what life is actually like. For me, this is the scariest area of what we're doing in Government and I suspect that I will always be wanting more.

Nick's speech was a serious one, but it was genuine, heartfelt, passionate and inspiring. These speeches aren't so much for the activists as for the public because to a certain extent, he the Party has reconciled itself and adjusted to the Coalition and is just hoping to goodness it all works out. This is a chance for the public to hear the Liberal Democrat thought process, in full, for the first time after 4 months of Labour carping. I think he did what was required of him as a statesman, as a deputy Prime Minister. He seems to me to be in a job that is absolutely perfect for him and that's made him so much more assured than he used to be.

I like the fact that he didn't try to duck any of the hard stuff, speaking directly to public sector workers who faced losing their jobs.  The thing about Nick is that he does understand, because he takes the time to listen.

His job was to show that the Liberal Democrats were changing things for the better, were making a difference within the Coalition and I think he achieved that and more. It's next year's speech, and the year after's, delivered at the most challenging points of the Coalition's terms that will be the most difficult, and the most important.

So that's the end of my belated live blog. I hope it's clear enough which are Nick's comments and which are my observations.

Supporting the World's Biggest Coffee Morning for MacMillan Cancer Support

I am a huge fan of Macmillan Cancer Support and have been since they helped us during my mother-in-law's final illness. They were there for the whole family and even came out on Christmas Day to get us through one of those horrific times that anyone who has gone through losing someone they love to Cancer will recognise. I honestly don't know how we would have coped without them.

Ever since, they've had my money at every opportunity except one. Their annual World's Biggest Coffee Morning is a big fundraiser,but they used to run it in association Nescafe. Our Toddler Group used to participate, but I used to insist we used a different brand.

One of the few things that I stick rigidly to is the Nestle boycott. I won't knowingly consume anything that company makes because I disagree with the way they market their artificial baby milk in developing countries. They continue to undermine breastfeeding in a way I find unacceptable. Baby Milk Action has all the information you need on this issue here.

I was pleased to see that they aren't associated with Nescafe any more, with Kenco being their new "coffee partner". So, for the first time in a long time,I'm off to support the World's Biggest Coffee Morning at the Livingston Station Wonem's Group event. It starts around now and Ishould be back in time to see first practice for the Singapore Grand Prix.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Caron's Corkers - 23 September

A good mix of Lib Dem Conference, Strictly, motorsport, atheist extremism and US politics for you today:

First up, Conference hero Evan Harris' article at Comment is Free about Nick Clegg, fairness and cuts. I agree with a great deal of what he says - although I still say that the impending cuts will be a great deal fairer than they would have been if the Tories had been governing on their own. I also think that there is a fairly major discord between a liberal mindset and a leftie Labour one. I'd never feel comfortable in the Labour Party purely because I couldn't show that amount of conformity to anyone.

Sarah describes her day out watching David Coulthard race in the DTM series at Brands Hatch - from the comfort of corporate hospitality.

Paul Edie expresses his disappointment at the bad news of the US Senate's failure on LGBT service personnel.

I wondered if I could do Evan Harris twice in one posting  and decided that yes, I could, just this once, given that he's outlined exactly what a secularist approach means in the face of the Pope having a go at aggressive secularists.  I particularly like Evan's comment that if you agree with most of it, you may well be a vicar. On the other hand, Charlotte argues that Richard Dawkins may be responsible for atheists becoming more actively disliked. I don't agree with her, but she makes her point well.

And finally, Pamela Stephenson writes about all the gory details of her first appearance on Strictly. Even if you don't like the show, you'll love the way she writes.

Frustration at FMQs

If I were a newly trained teacher struggling to find work, or I was looking for a new job after being made redundant (as opposed to not looking for a new job after being made redundant), I wouldn't have thought that either Alex Salmond or Iain Gray had the slightest interest in  helping me after their display at First Minister's Questions. Gray seemed more bothered about slagging off Salmond, at one point comparing St Andrew's House under his control to North Korea, and Salmond was more bothered about whinging about powers he doesn't have rather than trying to make the best of those he can.

When we have unemployment increasing by more than 10% and an economy that's heavily dependent on the public sector, we need to have a more detailed, informed debate on how best to improve the situation. There's no point in anyone pretending that there aren't going to be compulsory redundancies in public services - we need to have an honest debate about where these cuts are going to be made, what we can do without, and how we can help those who lose their jobs. That serves them better than macho, sterile mudslinging the likes of which we saw today between Gray and Salmond and at virtually every FMQ in the last 3 years.

Annabel Goldie asked about future university funding in light of the Principal of Glasgow University's comments that he'll run out of cash by 2013 and shouldn't there be some graduate contribution. There is, thankfully, no appetite for upfront tuition fees in Scotland, even from the Tories.  Salmond stated that the SNP would produce a Green Paper but tuition fees would not be part of their solution but didn't give any other specifics, instead going on a bizarre rant slagging off the English system of University funding.

Tavish Scott raised the issue of the Commonwealth Games, stating that he felt it was important, given the Glasgow Games in 2014, that the Scottish team went. Salmond said that he was having close discussions with the Scottish people on the ground and that they would be more in a position to make a decision after an inspection tomorrow.  Tavish then pointed out a number of other key sporting events which meant that several athletes like Andy Murray and Chris Hoy couldn't go to Delhi and suggested that the Scottish Government should be working with international sporting organisations to avoid clashes for the Glasgow Games in  2014. I think that was a sensible question and a very wise suggestion for forward planning. However, I would also have liked to see either one of them raise the issue of child labour which I blogged about earlier today. I think the Scottish Government should at the very least  tell the Commonwealth Games organisers that it's disgusted that child labour is being used on the Games sites.

For a short while after that, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the Holyrood chamber had turned into the editorial office of the Daily Mail. Stewart Maxwell asked the First Minister, using some highly emotive language about prisoners getting the vote, and how disgusted he was that rapists and murderers could get the vote when they should basically be locked up and have the key thrown away.  Well, he didn't say that, but it's what he meant. The First Minister agreed and added that he was none too keen on the idea of paying compensation and went from there into a rant about Holyrood not having the power to run its own elections.

Thankfully Liberal Democrat Glasgow MSP - in fact probably my favourite MSP of the current bunch, Robert Brown - was there to point out that there were some serious legal obligations to consider, not least the European  Court of Human Rights judgement and asked Salmond in a very straightforward way if he would ignore such a judgement in an independent Scotland.

Another Liberal Democrat, Jeremy Purvis, asked the FM to clarify how many public sector workers in Scotland were paid more than him (Salmond). He went on to say that there were 936 and asked for Salmond's help in making that situation more transparent in both publication and approval for such enormous salaries and bonuses.  I want to hear this back again to be sure, but I'm sure Salmond in his reply referred to Jeremy as Jeremy Purv! I almost choked on my tea!

I suppose I should be proud that any sense to be found in today's FMQs was contributed largely by Liberal Democrats (and, to be honest, Annabel) but it was a pretty poor show. I wonder if it's because I've quickly become accustomed to a much more open and listening style of Government at Westminster.

The Liberal Democrat Voice transcription hell Roll of Honour

I am sure everyone would agree that the Liberal Democrat Voice team did a marvellous job of covering Conference. In just 5 days, their small but perfectly formed team popped out 44 posts on their Conference tag alone. It's a phenomenal amount of work when you consider that they were involved in organising 4 Fringe events as well. I keep telling people that it's Liberal Democrat Voice that should be their first port of call when they read a headline in the media that they don't like because that's where the truth tends to be.

In fact, it's the LDV team, as well as the wider blogosphere, that's playing an increasingly important role in getting the Liberal Democrat message out there.

Anyway, on Sunday afternoon, I got an e-mail from co-editor Alex Foster, who had just recorded Nick Clegg's Q & A session and was looking for volunteers to help transcribe it.  I was on a family break in Dundee with only an iPhone, having been banned from taking any other technology with me.  However, I was able to co-ordinate a wonderful band of volunteers who went at least to the fourth level of Hell in their efforts to make sense of a recording that was not of the best quality. It was real blood, sweat toil and tears stuff fand I am very grateful for their efforts.  As is Liberal Democrat Voice who have praised and published their work here.

The Roll of Honour in full, in no particular order, as they say on Strictly is:

Douglas McLellan

The Spiderplant

Stephen Glenn

Nikki Thomson

Katie Sutton

Chris Mills

James Shaddock

I am incredibly grateful to them for their hard work - and it's great that Nick's words will not now fade into obscurity as there is a full record to refer to and  hold him to account for the future.

Lib Dems and Scots in Total Politics Top 50 UK Blogs

I was thrilled to bits to discover the other day that this trashy tome has made it to number 44 in the Total Politics Blog Poll, up 23 places from last year. Thanks to everyone who voted for my random musings and I hope you'll find more of whatever it was that tickled your fancy over the next year.

I am the last of a line of  4 Scots in the Top 50, headed by Tom Harris at number 8. He's said he'll give up his blog if he makes it into the Shadow Cabinet,which would be a shame on the Doctor Who front at least. Then there's Underdogs Bite Upwards at 32 and Jeff's SNP Tactical Voting at 35. Of course, Jeff is now to be found over at Better Nation.  Also in top 100 are the Cute Greek Baby, Stephen, Two Doctors, Malc and Alex Massie,

As far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned, I'm last of a line of 3 in the top 50 after Liberal Democrat Voice at number 27 (up 3 from last year) and Mark Reckons at 34. In the top 100, there's another 6 of us, Mr Lovely Doctor Chocaholic, Liberal England,  Stephen, Jennie  Sara and Craig Murray. That's up from 7 in the top 100  last year which is good but there's room for plenty more.

Child Labour: the real reason not to go to the Commonwealth Games

There is nothing good about the problems surrounding the Commonwealth Games. However, the fact that the athletes' village appears to be a midden is nothing compared to reports that child labour is being used on the site.

It's not as if this is something new,either. Way back in February, the Herald Sun in Australia pointed out that children were being used to build drainage systems. Apparently the parents were paid more if they brought their kids to work, a bonus which brought their daily income from a disgrace to a pittance.

It breaks my heart to think that in other parts of the world, kids my daughter's age and younger, who should be learning and having fun, are put to work in terrible conditions.

To me, it seems that the Commonwealth Games organisers are just as responsible as the Indian Government for not monitoring progress more effectively and ensuring that those working on the Games were being treated properly. I'd be interested in knowing what they knew, when they knew it and what action they took to prevent it.

I think the use of child labour is enough of a reason for athletes not to go to the Games at all.  I don't expect there to be an international boycott for that reason, though. The organisers must be more diligent in making sure these abuses don't happen for future Games, though.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vince Cable rocks! The highlights of a fantastic Conference speech

Well, you weren't really expecting me to slag off the Almighty Vince, were you? Although I would have done if he'd tried to justify cuts in benefits planned by the Government.
Anyway, our favourite economics guru reinforced his position as Official Hero of the Liberal Democrats a few minutes ago with a funny, thoughtful, inclusive speech.

Those lovely people at Lib Dem Voice have put the whole thing up here for you to read at your leisure but I thought I'd give you my thoughts on  his best bits:

He played up to his casting as Karl Marx mark 2 by some of the more hysterical sections of the right wing press by addressing Conference as Comrades with a cheeky glint in his eye.

He started by saying the speech was a report back to Conference about what he'd been doing: upsetting banks, the Telegraph and rich businessmen who avoid paying UK tax. He thinks this is a good thing.

He's stumbled as he came onto the stage, in much the same way as Pamela Stephenson did in the Strictly launch show - and in fact he joked that he had introduced dance classes into the Coalition  - but he kept treading on the Home Secretary's toes (over the ridiculously stupid immigration cap) and he had discovered he had two left feet.

He then said it was exhausting being in bed with the Tories because of the fights over he duvet. He emphasised how important it was for us to keep our distinctive identity, in and out of the Government. "We went though a merger to form this party and will never merge again."

He concluded his remarks later on by saying how vital it was that our Conference, of a party with a democratic structure and clear principles and values, kept the ministers honest. Can you imagine any Minister in your lifetime having that sort of attitude to their Party?

He had a good go at Labour - saying they had plans to cut his department by 20-25% and now oppose every cut, "ranting with synthetic rage", saying that they had no foresight in Government and now even don't have any hindsight.

He also reminded us that it was he and Nick Clegg who talked about savage cuts last year, before the election, before anybody else was. People knew what they'd said because Labour reminded them at every opportunity and still they voted for us. I say that we should remember that every single time Labour accuse us of selling  out.

If he was scathing about Labour, that was nothing to what he had to say about the banks, who he said "did more damage than Bob Crow in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies could imagine"

He talked about the main things he was working on to ensure a sustainable economic recovery:

"Markets are often irrational and rigged so I'm shining a harsh light into the murky operations of the corporate world" to encourage competition which is essential to his "pro market, pro business agenda".

Promising a revolution in post 16 education and training

Fighting within Government for any graduate tax to be earnings related - enshrining our principle of fairness. "Why should nurses and youth workers pay the same as corporate lawyers and investment bankers?!

After sucking up to Conference, he ended on a motivating call to action for Liberal Democrat activists up and down the country:

In a few short months we have showed how we can advance our party’s policies and principles while serving the wider national interest. But we need to sell this message. The Tories will not do that for us. We have to do it ourselves. That means focus leaflets and doorsteps. That means you. We need you. All of you.

It was a very well judged speech combining humour with rebuttal with promises of action.

Shirley Williams supports Liberal Democrat Trident call

Shirley Williams is my political hero. I had real goosebumps when during the Conference debate on the emergency motion on Trident when the chair asked our 79 year old peer to stand by.

When she took to the platform, she started by reminiscing on her own 1981 by-election win for the SDP in Crosby, paying tribute to all those who helped in her campaign.

She then went on to basically annihilate the position of the Tories on insisting that Trident is not subject to the scrutiny of the Strategic Defence Review. She made the point that Trident is essentially a cold war weapon, and last time she looked, she reckoned that the Cold War was over.

Shirley has more knowledge and understanding of US politics than most other people and went on to take apart the idea that not replacing Trident would damage the special relationship with the US. She asked if Liam Fox had noticed that George W Bush had gone, and that a new President, committed to disarmament had taken office. She said it would be ludicrous of us to move in the opposite direction to President Obama, taking on a new system committing us to nuclear weapon power for 40 years, when he's doing what he can to get rid of as many as possible. She argued that a better way forward would be to support him in his endeavours.

Conference supported the motion, pretty overwhelmingly, to ask our Ministers to continue to press for Trident to be included in the Strategic Defence Review.

I would like to see us adopt a policy of getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether but that wasn't on offer today.  Some might say that this motion was a large portion of fudge, rather than the unequivocal rejection of nuclear weapons that others wanted to discuss. There's plenty of time to have that sort of debate, though. We slated Labour in Government  for rushing to replace Trident.

I liked the fact that Julian Huppert, the new MP for Cambridge proposed the motion and mentioned his own opposition to nuclear weapons in principle in the process. There must somewhere be an issue I disagree with him on but I've yet to find it.

The Equal Marriage Debate - the Lib Dems at their best #LDConf

The Liberal Democrats have been on show this week and we have acquitted ourselves well, with thoughtful, genuine, high quality debates on a range of important issues of the day.

So far the highlight for me was the Equal Marriage motion, a subject I feel passionate about. If I'm allowed to marry the person I love, why can't my lesbian and gay friends?

I have to say that the few people speaking against to me hadn't understood the motion. There was never any prospect of any religious organisation being compelled to hold same sex marriage ceremonies, merely giving the right to those (and there are quite a lot) who would be happy to.

During the interventions we had a procession of Quakers all referring to their strong support of equal marriage to the extent, as my old friend from Derby Lucy Care said, that some felt that they should stop performing marriages at all until they were open to everyone.

Another old friend Ed Fordham was characteristically funny and brilliant. He was one of many who slammed Stonewall for their opposition to the motion, saying that even if their figures on pensions were right, the cost was basically £1 for every LGBT person in country and he'd be making that point to Danny Alexander. He joked that his mother's single handed boost to the millinery industry when he did eventually got married would more than wipe that out.

Jenny Barnes explained very movingly the issues affecting transgendered people. How people used to be made to divorce before undergoing treatment but how that block has now moved. You still have to divorce before you can be officially recognised in your new gender. I think that if a couple wants to stay together to maintain their legal union  after going through that process then who on earth is the state to stop them?

One speaker from Camden said that we shouldn't be wasting our energy fighting for equal marriage, outlining situations which we all feel angry about, such as women forced into marriages where they are abused. He basically took the Stonewall line that civil partnerships were enough to be going along with.

For me it was Sara Bedford's speech which she has kindly reproduced in full here which stole the show. She asked us to imagine the outrage if a different form of legal union was on offer for mixed race couples, or for those of different faiths. Dealing with the argument that gay marriage somehow undermines heterosexual marriage, she asked conference to consider whether they would boycott their next local recruitment drive on the basis that more members damages the Liberal Democrats.

My favourite bit was her description of an experience that I have shared with my daughter - the incredulity of a young child at the idea that some people are against letting  people love each other.

I was very proud that Conference voted overwhelmingly in support of equal marriage, including an amendment which allows humanist celebrants to officiate at all marriages in England as they do in Scotland. As we've done on many issues, tuition fees, free personal care, the smoking ban, it was the Scottish Liberal Democrats, courtesy of a motion from the awesome Liberal Youth Scotland with advice from the sidelines from a certain Northern Irish blogger.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stonewall really have lost the plot

I have taken a bit of time away from BBC Parliament and the delights of Liberal Democrat conference to spend Sunday & Monday in another modern seaside city, Dundee.

I came home shattered last night so it wasn't really until this morning that I discovered thanks to a late night blog from Stephen that Stonewall director Ben Summerskill had stated opposition to equal marriage at a DELGA fringe at Conference.

I know many of my friends have been increasingly annoyed with Stonewall in recent times. I was particularly disgusted with their lack of compassion for David Laws earlier this year.

Apparently equal marriage is too expensive & we shouldn't adopt it as feminists disagree with the concept of marriage. Well, as a happily married feminist, I beg to differ.

Sure there are some within the feminist movement who may be opposed to marriage as an idea but since when did that give them them the right to stop other people marrying? Stonewall's position would only be logical if it were campaigning to abolish marriage completely. And even if that were logical, it would still be wrong.

Stonewall's increasingly illiberal approach has already cost it the support if many Lib Dems, including Millennium's Daddy Richard. I expect that will continue as their authoritarian streak pushes its way forward.

I expect that our Conference will follow the lead of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and endorse equal marriage. Nobody has the right to tell me that the love my husband & I have for each other is any different than that of a same sex couple, yet we have a very unequal system of legal recognition of those relationships.

I really wish I were in Liverpool to vote for the motion & to support the right of same sex couples to marry if they wish.

Location:Still in bed

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jennie's campaign steaming ahead at #LD Conf #Riggtheelection

There is only one of the four Party Presidential candidates who wouldn't get a flea in their ear for waking me up with a phone call.

To be fair on Jennie, it was 9:35 and I should have got my backside of bed long before that.

Anyway, it really lovely to talk to her and to hear about how her Presidential campaign is gathering pace in Liverpool, with the first Parliamentarian signing her nomination form today. She's collecting loads of signatures. I think it's great that our Party has the sort of open structure where any member can have a go at running for high office. That sort of openness is hardwired into our constitution and should be encouraged.

Someone asked her some questions about why she felt she was the best person for the job, and she answered them on her blog here. She went into loads of detail, outlining how she would do the job full time and how she could fulfil each of the 3 roles of President: chairing the Federal Executive, representing the grassroots to the leadership and representing the Party to the outside world.

Her answers are detailed and at times she's more honest about her shortcomings than you'd expect from someone running for political office, which is a good thing, I think. Our politicians need to be allowed to be human beings.

In her answers she promises to be contactable, open and transparent. To me she has a good combination of forthright, feisty plain speaking and the soft skills in terms of team building and negotiation that the job requires.

If you're reading this and you're at Conference, and you're a rep - go and talk to Jennie and sign her papers so we can get her on the ballot.


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