Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paul Walter mentioned on Radio 1 website for sexy MP post

On Saturday, Paul Walter, who writes the fabulous Liberal Burblings blog, wrote a post criticising the Sexy MP website, with the highly appropriate headline "Stop this stomach churning pernicious nonsense".

Well, he is probably now the coolest Liberal Democrat blogger after his comments were picked up by Radio 1's Newsbeat website.  It's now third most popular read item on the BBC News Front Page.

I'm concerned that the quotes from inside the Westminster Bubble seem to suggest that this is all a great laugh. Actually, I think it's degrading and dehumanising. If you are one of those people laughing at it, you might want to have a look at the post I wrote (which Paul linked to) explaining the harm these things can do.

Once again it's a Liberal Democrat who's going beyond the superficial and actually thinking about the wider issues. Well done, Paul.

#F1 Lewis Hamilton apologises on Twitter. So that's all right then.

Oh, wow. Isn't Twitter marvellous? See when you make a total arse of yourself, all you need to do is get on Twitter 24 hours later and say sorry and all will be well with the world.

I'm not sure that's quite how it works, Lewis Hamilton.

The McLaren F1 driver, who has over the years habitually blamed others and never himself when things go wrong, has lied to stewards to gain a place at the end of a race, who has driven recklessly on track and put others in danger ranted at the stewards after Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix. He was hauled before them at the end of the race for a move on Pastor Maldonado which put the Venezuelan out of the race. This is on top of the drive through penalty for a move on Massa at the hairpin.  He told the BBC's Lee Mackenzie that it was a "fricking joke" that the stewards took such an interest in him after every race and suggested, he says in jest, that it was because he was black.

Last night, he apologised on Twitter, over 4 tweets:

I hope he doesn't think that's it. That he's made amends. I would have had a lot more respect for him if he'd said that he'd picked up the phone to Massa and Maldonado and apologised to them in person. That's what a sincere apology, which acknowledged the effects of the behaviour, would have entailed. I don't know if either Maldonado or Massa follows him on Twitter, but I'd love to see an "Aye, right, Lewis" tweet going back from them.

There's also no mention in Lewis's tweets that he accepts that his comments about the stewards, which include driver Alan McNish, were totally out of order. He should have apologised to them in a manner that takes less than 20 seconds with an iPhone to do.

I never believe in writing anybody off permanently. I don't like Lewis Hamilton, as you might have guessed. We have to remember that not everybody with his talent gets the opportunities he has been given. He's been really lucky and as far as I'm concerned he doesn't show enough appreciation of the chances he's had. However, if he started treating other people with courtesy and respect, and was more ready to take responsibility for his behaviour, then I'd be prepared to reconsider my opinion of him. A few words on Twitter is simply not enough - and the fact that he thinks they are vindicates the low regard I have for him.

Last day of free parking in The Centre, Livingston - help save shop workers from £40 per month charge

Imagine if you were suddenly hit with an extra £40 a month charge that you weren't expecting. How would you cope with that? In this climate, when many haven't had a pay rise and costs are rising seemingly exponentially?

From tomorrow, that's exactly what will happen to shop workers at The Centre in Livingston when parking charges are introduced.

It's hard to argue against charges for the public, to be honest. And I doubt they'll deter people from shopping. If you're going to spend a hundred quid on clothes or spectacles or whatever, the 50p or £1 it'll cost you to park will be a cause for grumbling, but it won't necessarily stop you going there.

Shop workers, however, don't have that choice. Many of them have to use their cars because public transport is not the best around here and Livingston really is a monument to the motor car. They have to come to work every day, and so they could end up being stung for up to £40 a month. The private company which owns The Centre, Land Securities, made profits of over a billion pounds last year. Despite their financial health, they still plan to press ahead with a charge which will cost a full time worker on the minimum wage the equivalent of two weeks' pay over a year.

I don't think it's acceptable to treat staff in this way and I think it should be withdrawn.

If you agree, join the others who have joined the Facebook Group, signed the online petition, and complained to The Centre. We also need help to spread the word on the ground. People don't generally spend their lives online, so tell people you know about this campaign and get them to sign up. That's the most important way you could help. Let's build a case to show Land Securities that they are wrong on this and persuade them to withdraw the charge.

Monday, May 30, 2011

What's more important - Justice or Location? #sp4 #echr

I feel a bit nervous writing about the law when people like LPW and Love and Garbage, who do actually know what they are talking about, do it so much better. However I thought it might be interestingto put  forward the perspective of a non legal person on this business about the UK Supreme Court hearing appeals on Scottish cases which relate to the European Court of Human Rights for the whole of the UK.

Scotland has long been proud of its independent legal system, and nobody is suggesting that we should be subsumed by English law. The issue is how Scots gain access to the ECHR system. What Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill want is for us to have to go all the way to Strasbourg to put our case.

Imagine if you will that I am languishing in jail, convicted of an unspecified crime against literacy or something, and I think my human rights have been breached. So I go along to the Scottish High Court of Justiciary and they tell me to get lost. In very long legal words, but that's what they mean. I still think I have a case, so I decide to pursue it through the European Court of Human Rights.  Now, before 2008, I'd have had to go all the way to Strasbourg. That's a long way away, and the costs would be crippling. Not just the proverbial arm and leg, but most of my internal organs and probably my firstborn too. And cases from 26 other countries also need to fit into the ECHR timetable, so I could go on languishing in jail for years before my case is even heard.

But, since 2008, I have to go, not to Strasbourg, initially, but through the UK Supreme Court in London. That's because it's the UK that's the member state of the EU. This court has judges from all across the UK, and we're back to it costing just the arm and leg and maybe a couple of internal organs. And it's also going to be able to hear my case a lot quicker, so I could be out of jail sooner if I win.

And, it's not as if the UK Supreme Court is going to operate in a different  way than the ECHR in Strasbourg. When the judges rule, they have to use ECHR jurisprudence, not English or Scots law, so it's pretty much the same, except cheaper and quicker, as going to Strasbourg.

I felt very uneasy when I saw Alex Salmond's reaction to the Nat Fraser case the other day. He seemed more bothered by a London based intervention than by the fact that someone in Scotland's human rights hadn't been met. I don't know too much of the ins and outs of the Nat Fraser case, but from what I can gather, his conviction was quashed because the defence was not given access to evidence that the prosecution had. That doesn't seem fair to me.  I don't know enough about how the system works to know whether it was just in this one case that a mistake was made, or whether there is something systemic we need to look at. The last major case that the ECHR (via London) did was to rule in the Cadder case that suspects should have access to legal advice before being interviewed by Police. I was surprised to be honest that they didn't, but what do I know? Clearly I've watched too many episodes of The Bill. I just know, though, that if I were ever interviewed by the Police, I'd incriminate myself through pure nerves, even though I'd be completely innocent. I'd want someone professional there to make sure I was being treated fairly and to advise me.

Anyway, the substance of these two decisions to me seems to be consistent with human rights, and if we're found to be wanting in that department, surely we should sort it out? That's not to attack our legal system, but none of them are perfect. We should always be aspiring to ensure that we are as just and fair as possible. It also seems to me that if the decision was made on ECHR guidelines, then the ECHR if it had been sitting in Strasbourg, would have said exactly the same thing, except in a few more years' time and having cost a lot more money.

When I saw Alex Salmond's comments about this in the wake of the Nat Fraser judgment, my heart sank a bit. The First Minister said:
“Before devolution, the House of Lords had no jurisdiction whatever in matters of Scots criminal law. The increasing involvement of the UK Supreme Court in second-guessing Scotland’s highest criminal court of appeal is totally unsatisfactory.”
To me, that seems that the SNP are letting their prejudice against anything based in London cloud their judgement. They don't seem to have any problem with being in ECHR, so why should it matter to them if ECHR cases are decided in London or Strasbourg. At least the UK Supreme Court has 2 Scottish judges on it. That apparently is not good enough for Kenny MacAskill, though. Those judges are not the right kind of judges was what he pretty much had to say on this morning's Good Morning Scotland. Strewth!

I just find it all incredibly depressing - rather than look at the practicalities of the situation, the SNP, for its own narrow agenda, chooses to pick an unnecessary fight just to try and give it more leverage as it argues for independence.

We're going to have 5 years of this. What should matter is justice, and that Scots can be confident that they are going to get a fair trial, with all their rights complied with. The bottom line is that we have to comply with ECHR. The SNP want an independent Scotland to stay in ECHR. Why on earth are they making all this fuss.

Willie Rennie, the new Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, has slammed the SNP's stance. In an outspoken attack on the SNP plans, he said:

“This is more about anglophobia than Scottish nationalism. The SNP’s logic is totally warped. Removing the role of the UK Supreme Court on which two top Scottish judges sit will push human rights appeals straight to Strasbourg. "While discussion on how we make and execute the law in a fairer and better way should always be an open dialogue, the motives and purposes must be right. "This is not the case here. Instead we have the grandstanding SNP, jumping on any bandwagon that will further their causes for independence. ‘Anywhere but London’ is the mantra that the SNP will continue to cultivate no matter what the negative results and consequences are for Scotland. “These flawed plans will instead see appeals from Scotland going direct to Strasbourg and subsequently being hit with delays, red tape, cost and in the end being heard in the European Court without a single Scottish Judge present. This undermines the whole SNP argument. “The future of the legal system in Scotland must not be based on SNP posturing."
Update: Love and Garbage has read this and I am literally glowing from the fact that a proper lawyer said he enjoyed my post. However, there's one correction he's suggesting. 

One wee correction. While Supreme Court was set up recently the appeal from the High Court of Justiciary was introduced in 1999 with the Scotland Act. At that point appeals were made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, staffed by exactly the same judges that staffed the House of Lords. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom rationalised the two regimes into one. I enjoyed your post. Once my current chaotic workload is up I will try to post something on it. In the meantime it might be worth having a look at the stuff on The Firm's website from mike Dailly and others.

Update 2: Scott mentioned The Firm's website and Mike Dailly in his tweet above. It's here, and there's some good stuff on it. Mike Dailly is the Principal Solicitor of Govan Law Centre, an organisation which helps the poorest people access the law.  He says in his article Justice Lite that only the very wealthy in Scotland can now access the law, something which chimed with me. I particularly liked this quote:
Whereas the SNP administration debate 'independence lite' as a paradigm to divvy up political power from the UK to Scotland, Alex Salmond's 'justice lite' can never work because you cannot divvy up justice. You either have it or you don't. 
Scrapping the UKSC for Scots would put party political politics before the people of Scotland, and ideology before access to justice. 

#F1: Vettel's lucky win in Monaco

So Sebastian Vettel continues to run away with this year's world championship. With 143 points out of a possible 150, 5 race wins out of 6, he looks invincible. Having said that, Jenson Button was in the same position 2 years ago and his title win wasn't decided until the penultimate race of the season. Having said that, the Red Bull will develop more than the Brawn car did in 2009.  We can but hope that others will start to win races soon.  Nowt personal about the lad, you understand, but I'd just like the title race not to be decided by the Summer holidays if at all possible.

He'd never won in Monaco before and his victory yesterday was by no means assured, despite him storming away to a significant early lead. His pit stop on lap 18 was almost farcical in its inefficiency with confusion over which tyres to put on and one of them getting caught in a tyre blanket, losing him a good chunk of time. It would never have done for Mark Webber to have had a more efficient stop so by the time he landed in his box, they didn't even have his tyres ready for him and he was stationery for 15 seconds. From his third on the grid slot, after being passed by Alonso at the start, the pit stop debacle saw the Australian having to fight back from 14th.

Red Bull fluffing it in the pit lane meant that Jenson Button was in front. For a while it looked as if he might be able to pull off a victory.  And he might have done, if his reckless team-mate Lewis Hamilton hadn't decided to pull an overtake on Massa in the tunnel which sent the Brazilian out of the race and necessitated a safety car.  Every time I see that pass it looks more dangerous, with Massa being pushed onto the tyre marbles. He was very lucky that it wasn't a lot worse. Just before that, Jenson had been pulled in for a pit stop in anticipation of a safety car, which never materialised, when a Virgin retired and he wasn't able to get the benefit of the new tyres to set some cracking lap times and sacrificed his place at the front of the race needlessly.

By the time we'd got to lap 60, Vettel was leading Alonso and Button within a second or so of each other. The thing was, Vettel had had his tyres on since lap 18. Because he'd started on the super soft and then switched to soft, he didn't need to stop again. The unknown factor was how long would the Pirelli tyre last? He'd need to complete 60 laps with that set of tyres and it seemed likely that at some point he'd lose grip and potentially lose 2 seconds a lap which would give Alonso and Button the chance to pass him - and Button had the fresher tyres.

9 laps later, just as the leaders were clearing the midfield, near the swimming pool, Jaime Alguesuari and Vitaly Petrov ended up in the barriers after a series of collisions which also saw Lewis Hamilton's rear wing broken, seemingly hanging by a thread. The race was red flagged and there were some scary moments as it was clear that the problem was extricating Petrov from his Renault. He had been complaining of pain in his foot, so once he'd been gingerly extricated he was taken to hospital. Thankfully, all was well and he was out after a few hours.

The resulting red flag and race restart benefitted Petrov's fellow Renault powered driver, Sebastian Vettel, who was able to get rid of his knackered tyres and replace them with a lovely new set of supersofts on the grid. McLaren were even able to replace Hamilton's rear wing. After the restart behind the safety car, the ultimate result was never really in doubt.

Lewis Hamilton featured in most of the day's controversial moments. Having been passed by Michael Schumacher at the hairpin early on, he tried to pull a similar move on Felipe Massa and completely mucked it up. After the restart he tried a similar ill judged attempt to pass Pastor Maldonado at St Devote. Both Williams could have been in the points otherwise. His comments afterwards, that the stewards' interest in him was "a fricking joke" showed that any veneer of civility he's been cultivating this season so far is all for show.

I'm hard pushed to decide on driver of the day. Vettel won by chance, but still he managed to hold off Alonso and Button for many laps on older tyres, so he has to get credit for that. I get so frustrated with Jenson sometimes. He was caught napping a couple of times yesterday, but most particularly at the restart after the red flag. Vettel and Alonso were off into the distance before he realised what was going on. And it's not like he didn't know that the safety car was going to peel off and they'd be free to race. His smooth driving style suits him a lot of the time, but he can be a bit too laid back and slow to react and that definitely holds him back. I'm also tempted by Mark Webber who, as he always does, got his head down and got on with the job and salvaged a 4th place from being as low as 14th. He was clearly disappointed at the end, and, although I think he gets a rough deal at Red Bull, he was measured in his comments at the end of the race. He certainly had a lot more to complain about than Lewis Hamilton. Then there's Alonso, for his storming start and he did harry Vettel quite a lot when he was chasing him. He'd have got past without the safety car, I'm sure.  Out of that lot, I'm going to pick Webber, I think purely because he banged in that fastest lap right at the end.

I've not had time to write much about F1 this year, although I hope that will change now that the elections are out of the way, so I haven't been able to wax lyrical about how fantastic I think DC and Brundle are together in the commentary box. Their passion is so infectious, but they remember that they need to keep it real for the fans and explain things. They have a really good chemistry - not seen since Brundle's days with Murray Walker. At times it's like they're finishing each other's sentences. Their commentary has a feel of a chat down the pub which draws you in. Brundle has stepped very ably into the role of lead commentator and comes out with some brilliantly random lines. During quali it was "I know there are 52 billion chickens in the world, but I'm not sure about that." In the race, while a hapless driver was trying to get his car in gear to leave the pits, he said "there are seven of them in there son, you'll find one".  I'm not entirely sure about the veracity of the 52 billion chickens, though - Wikipedia says 24 billion and I read another source that suggested 45,000 per person, but that doesn't seem right.

DC, apart from a highly irritating inability to pronounce Heidfeld or Vettel correctly, is brilliant and the banter between the pair is easy and funny. During the red flag period yesterday, Brundle told DC that he was supposed to have the regulations at his fingertips and DC replied that the dog had eaten his notes. I could have listened to them all day. It's interesting that they didn't go back to Jake and EJ during that time - they would never have been able to fill that twenty or so minutes in the dull days of Jonathan Legard without recourse to something to waken us all up.

Monaco is the race pretty much any F1 fan would love to go to. And Laura Marieee did it this year. She has some cracking photos of the drivers and the iconic track and she's been keeping an online diary here at Formula 1 Blog.  She was even able to walk through the pitlane. She's truly captured the spirit of the weekend and her excitement is as palpable as my insane jealousy that she made it there. Enjoy her account.

I can't wait for Canada in a couple of weeks' time. I was so glad to see this race back last year. It will, I think, favour the McLarens over the Red Bulls so maybe there will be a chance to rein Vettel in a bit.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#F1 Lewis Hamilton needs to grow up!

I'll write about the thrilling Monaco race and its anti-climactic finish when I have more time, but I have to say that I was horrified by Lewis Hamilton's comments after the race, which you can watch here on the BBC website.

He said that the fact that he had been called to the stewards five times in six races was "an absolute fricking joke." When asked why he thought he was so magnetic to the stewards, he said "maybe it's because I'm black." He said he was joking, but he had literally just spat his dummy out so hard it probably hit some poor person sunbathing on a beach somewhere in Northern Italy, so it didn't sound much like an attempt at humour - and if it was, it was in extremely poor taste.

The thing about Lewis is that whenever he gets involved in bother of some description, he becomes the king of "it wisnae me". It's always someone else's fault.

We mustn't forget that the reason he was hauled before the stewards at the end of the race was because of an incident with Williams driver Pastor Maldonado which put the Brazilian out of the race. Hamilton tried to push past him at St Devote and sent him spinning into the barriers. You would have thought that he would have learned from an earlier incident when he'd tried to get past Felipe Massa at the hairpin for which he received a drive through penalty.  He subsequently pulled a move on Massa in the tunnel which crossed the line between audacious and dangerous.

So, after an afternoon when he'd been in my opinion reckless, all that's happened to him is that he's had 20 seconds added to his time, which won't affect the result.

I think that it's time that the stewards took tough action with persistent offenders. I feel that Hamilton's driving today was so out of order on several occasions that he should have been banned from the next race, or excluded from today's results at the very least.

Let's compare and contrast the attitude of Hamilton with that of Bathgate's Paul Di Resta. The Force India driver gives the impression of enjoying every aspect of his F1 experience, of feeling privileged to be there. He is unfailingly friendly and polite when interviewed, and when he makes a mistake, he holds his hands up, immediately, without any stroppiness. He pulled a bit of a move at the hairpin on Jaime Alguersuari,  similar to Hamilton's attempt to force his way past Massa, and similarly attracted a drive through penalty from the stewards.

In his interview, he totally admitted his mistake. I suspect he'll learn from the experience and allow it to make him a better driver.

F1 is a dangerous sport. The fact that two drivers have been hospitalised this weekend (although, thankfully, Vitaly Petrov will be back out later tonight and Sergio Perez will be out tomorrow) underlines that. There's no place for the sort of recklessness Hamilton showed today, particularly when it endangers other drivers' lives. It would be a lot better for the sport if Hamilton stopped doing the victim thing, quit the spoilt child act and behaved like an adult.

After today, it dawned on me that one training course you wouldn't want to go on would be "Media Relations with Lewis Hamilton and Helmut Marko."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

3 ways you can say no to £40 a month parking charge for Livingston's Centre shop workers

Land Securities, the company which owns The Centre shopping mall in Livingston, is, as I've written about over the last couple of days, about to introduce car parking charges for the first time. I know it's very unusual to find anywhere free parking is the norm these days, but I've lived here 11 years and never had to pay to park my car in a town where, sadly, driving is the norm as public transport is so poor.

Now, I'm absolutely not complaining about having to pay to park myself. Most shoppers don't park every day and the cost to do so as a proportion of your shop isn't that bad. My concern is for Centre's 2500 staff, 70% of whom take their car to work. 

Shop workers are not the highest paid workers in our society. Many of them will be on the minimum wage. Yet Land Securities think it's ok to charge them £40 per month to park. In this climate, when people are really struggling with the rising cost of living, it is simply unacceptable to force such a steep rise in outgoings on low paid staff. Land Securities made a profit of over £1 billion last year. They don't need to profiteer in this way.

There are no real alternatives to parking in the Centre's car park because of the layout of this new town. Buses even to other towns in West Lothian are not as regular as they need to be and the train stations are miles away from The Centre.

If you agree with me that it's unfair to ask staff to pay such a huge proportion of their salary - equivalent to almost a day's wages a month on the minimum wage, or 2 weeks' pay over a year - then there are 3 quick things you can do:
It will literally take you less than 5 minutes to do all 3 things and if there's a big enough show of public support, especially from people in the area who use the Centre, then it might be enough to make Land Securities think again. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Feminist Friday: Princesses, Time Lords, Planets and Ponies

Well, I'd planned an early night and a glass of wine, but Ellen suggested I take part in Transatlantic Blonde's Feminist Friday series. Today we're talking about gender stereotyping our kids, or not, as the case may be.

When I was a little girl, I had zillions of dolls and the only real thing, apart from writing,  I have ever wanted to do was to be a wife and mother. I'm not sure the dolls caused that, though. And I'm quite happy with the wife and mother thing, too. We will never know if things would have turned out any different if I'd had dinosaurs rather than dolls, but by the time Anna was on the way, we were both quite aware of the effects of gender stereotyping and expectation and we were clear that we didn't want her to be constrained by it.

I guess the priority for my husband and I was that our little girl should first and foremost grow up feeling secure in herself and confident in her abilities so that she could feel free to succeed at whatever she wanted to do. I hadn't felt particularly free to express myself as a child and I wanted her to be in an environment where she could always be herself, to expose her to as much of a range of interests and toys as we could and let her gravitate towards what suited her.

We wanted to keep her out of the clutches of the clever marketing people for as long as possible and though she had loads of toys, we tried to keep them as gender neutral as possible in the early days. No screaming, garish pink or anything like that. We also wanted her to grow up with the idea that she made her own destiny and didn't need to wait for a prince, handsome or otherwise, to do it for her.

And so it came to pass that a personality with quite eclectic tastes evolved. She did the Disney thing, big time, with all the princesses and everything. I tried to temper that with subtle exposure to a more feminist approach. During one Edinburgh Festival, for example, we went to see a really good play about another Princess who informed her parents in no uncertain terms that she wasn't going to get married, she was going to go travelling and off she went. And she solved a lot of problems and rescued a lot of people along the way. Well, maybe not so subtle, but it was well done and very funny.

The things I dreaded most were Barbie and My Little Pony. I'd had Sindys, because they had brown hair like me - but they, too, had succumbed to peroxide by the time Anna could have shown an interest in them. My Little Ponies were the most glaikit looking bits of garish glittery nonsense. Utterly loathsome. Well, my girl has always preferred animals to dollies, so our involvement with Barbie was fleeting. In fact, I think we only had one because it came with a carriage and horses. Unfortunately, the ponies were around for longer. She loved them. They made me wince, but I had to embrace them. Imagine my guilt when she told her daddy, at the age of 4, that she wanted to ask for ponies for her birthday, but she thought she'd better not because Mummy didn't like them. Mummy had to tell her that it didn't matter what Mummy thought - if she wanted something so much, she should always feel free to ask for it.

So, yes, we had princesses and ponies, but at the same time, she was obsessed (for she's a bit like her mother, that way, she doesn't really do casual interest, it's all or nothing), with planets and space. On our study wall is a picture she painted at nursery depicting the sun and all the planets, including Sedna, which had a temporary flirtation with that status.

Her pre-school DVD of choice was Walking with Dinosaurs. To this day, she remains fascinated by both space and dinosaurs. She was thrilled when one of her school topics this year was space. They had to invent their own planet. She was having none of this call the planet after some bloke business - hers was Aphrodite.

While the girls at her school have been getting more interested in fashion and make up, she's been catching up on almost 50 years of Doctor Who. She loves the old stuff too, especially if it involves Tom Baker. I am having trouble convincing her of Sylvester McCoy's merits, though. I mean, how can anyone think Silver Nemesis is boring?

She's blossoming into a geek with attitude now - she went to school the other day with her towel, for Towel Day, in celebration of Douglas Adams' work.

I've been quite horrified to see men I thought were sane and rational have a complete hissy fit at the sight of their son in a tutu or wearing cloppy shoes. There was one guy who, actually, turned out to be a complete nightmare, whose son just loved dressing up in feather boas and Princess dresses, the more garish the better.  This sort of thing is ignorant, homophobic nonsense, which could cause untold harm one day.

Our philosophy has always been that of course we're going to inculcate some of our values into our daughter. All parents do, and it's not usually a bad thing. However, we also wanted to give her the space to be herself from the start. Clearly a child can't and shouldn't be expected to take life changing decisions, but their tastes and aptitudes need to be respected.

And I'll miss those ponies when they're gone. Don't ever tell anybody that.

Sexy MP - just a bit of harmless fun?

All my social networking feeds are a-buzz with a new website today. Sexy MP describes itself thus:
In addition to my wanting to create a fun and memorable tool to help the British public get to know their Members of Parliament, I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to hold the first ever parliamentary beauty contest and find out once and for all which MPs and Parties have the most sex-appeal. Although I fully expect this to offend some people, this was never my intention and I hope you will see the funny side. 
Mmmm. Well. It's not just a beauty contest, though, is it? The question you are confronted with is not "Which MP do you think is the prettiest?" when it shows you pictures of 2 MPs, it's "Which MP would you rather have sex with?" In the end of the day, it's pretty degrading.

I felt really uncomfortable being on the site. And it wasn't just because I was offered the choice of Edward Leigh and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

I know it's all supposed to be a big joke but I found it actually turned my stomach. It annoyed me that they couldn't get people's names right. The current "leader" if you like is Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford - but they have her down as Eilidh Whitehead. And Dominic Grieve's name was spelt wrong. And they had John Hemming as John Hemmings. He was fairly  near the bottom, by the way. Yes, I had to look.

 I know why I am so against this site. A few years ago there was another such site which, unfortunately, allowed people to comment on the various candidates on show. Auch, it's all a bit of fun, we thought. And then I came across a young woman, a very talented young woman, who could easily make her career in politics, and politics would be better for it, who had been completely freaked out by what had been said about her by lecherous commenters. She literally felt violated and has never since put herself up for public election again. Bear in mind that people often stand or represent where they live, and may feel unsafe if they read graphic comments about what people might want to do to, rather than with, them.

People who stand for election or who are public representatives should expect to be robustly tested on their views, ideals and policies, but having their sex appeal rated by random people for fun is surely not an essential part of the job.

By all means have a bit of a giggle at this site, if that's your bag, but please remember there's a more sinister side to all of this. I'm just don't feel comfortable with dehumanising people in this way.

Livingston Centre Staff Parking: The Centre's side of the story

You’ll remember yesterday that I wrote about the extra  £40 a month many low paid shop workers in Livingston are being asked to pay for parking from next week. That sum is equivalent to many of them working roughly 7 hours a week for nothing.

I duly complained to the Centre via their website and was a bit surprised to find the Centre Director James Bailey on my phone within hours.

It is only fair that I give him the chance to give his side of the story.

He explained how Land Securities had originally planned to start charging for parking not long after the new Elements part of the Centre opened in 2008. This was delayed because of the recession. 

Charges will now be introduced for both public and staff from next Wednesday, 1st June. There are 250 spaces reserved for staff parking, yet the centre has 2500 staff and 70% of those come to work by car – although, obviously, not all at the same time.  Land Securities had considered the option of giving each store a number of staff car park passes, but felt that it was fairer to put all staff on the same arrangements.

June is scheduled to be a month of analysis to establish exactly how many staff spaces are needed. That will give an indication of how many people need to park.  Once he has that information, Land Securities will review the best way to manage staff parking.

James Bailey acknowledged that travelling to work by car is a necessity and not a luxury for many people in West Lothian, given the patchiness of bus services to rural areas. He wants to see if those who live closer, who don’t need to take their cars, can be persuaded not to do so by encouraging car sharing schemes and cycle facilities. He also said that he had introduced a similar scheme in Milton Keynes which worked well.

I’m glad that he took the time to explain Land Securities perspective, but I’m still not happy with the proposed changes. He made the case that the company had been responsible for massive development in Livingston. I can’t argue with that. When we came here 11 years ago, there was no cinema, hardly any restaurants and comparatively few major retailers. The Centre has now grown to be one of the best retail outlets in Scotland.  It’s a good job well done, but Land Securities haven’t done it out of the goodness of their hearts. They reap a handsome reward from the retailers.  This is not a company on its uppers – it made over a billion pounds in profit in the last financial year, up almost 15% on the previous year. It really doesn’t need to profiteer on the backs of people on the minimum wage.

While I think it’s absolutely fine to look at ways to reduce the number of staff taking their cars to work, I still find it very hard to justify charging them such a large amount, especially in the current climate.

While Mr Bailey was very reasonable, he hasn’t done enough to convince me that the charges are either fair or necessary.  There is an inconsistency in that staff at the neighbouring  McArthur Glen will still get to park for free and it’s not appropriate to compare Livingston with Milton Keynes, where public transport links are much better.

The reality is that in most places, there would be a viable alternative to paying the charge. People would be able to find somewhere else to park or come to work by public transport.  That’s not the case here.
Those of you reading this in England, or even maybe Edinburgh, will be asking what on earth I’m whinging about, as £40 a month will be a comparatively small amount. Remember, though, that until now, all parking in Livingston has been completely free. It’s a huge increase, all of a sudden. An extra £500 annually, equivalent, for someone on the minimum wage having their pay cut by two weeks’ wages, is asking too much.

Land Securities need to think again.

If you are angry about this, tell the Centre, join the Facebook Group and sign the online petition.  And, most importantly, share this post with everyone you know to get them to do the same.

The Forgiven Simon Hughes and Farron's Caron Test

Yes, I was cross with Simon the other day, and I felt I had good reason to be.

The poor man may not have read that post, but he was on the receiving end of a pretty stroppy e-mail from me.

Last night he replied - and I'm not going to publish his reply because that wouldn't be right, but he said more than enough for me to forgive him. When somebody makes a mistake, you want to see them recognise it, and sincerely want to put things right. Suffice to say that if more people behaved like Simon when they made a mistake, the world would be a better place.

I don't expect him to solve the problem with these crass e-mails alone, though. Things have been an awful lot better since the Divine Helen Duffett has been in post as internal communications manager, but still there are things getting through that should never see the light of day. Some of them should actually have "Decree from the Ivory Tower" as their subject line for all the relevance they have in the real world.

Tim Farron was joking about on Twitter yesterday, saying how he tried to avoid being dishonourably mentioned here:

It got me thinking, though, about whether I should issue some guidance- what would pass the Caron Test?

Well, firstly, you don't have to mention Doctor Who or Michael Schumacher or Colin Firth, you'll be pleased to know - although I clearly wouldn't complain about it. There's no obvious tie in with Government policy and these magnificent individuals - although if you can find one, feel free to use liberally.

On a more serious note, I suspect that some of these e-mails will be written in opulent surroundings in the epicentre of the Westminster Bubble. The people who write them are all human beings, but it doesn't always come across that way. There's a strange sort of language that permeates these sorts of institutions, full of weird syntax and jargon, with zero passion. I heard it from my beloved when he went to work for a local authority. He would come out with the strangest sentences which no ordinary person would ever use. I don't really like the phrase "speaking human" but it exists for a reason. So, no institutionalised, lifeless language, please. Fill your remarks with passion and humanity.  If you're telling us about a policy achievement, tell us what it means for the people who will benefit from it in practical terms.

The same principles apply to e-mails as apply to Focus leaflets, although the time to hit the delete button is much shorter than it takes to get from letterbox to bin. Catch us in the first sentence. Make us want to read more.

Give us something we can use, too, to counteract the opposition's arguments. We went through a world of pain on tuition fees and I just wonder if we'd known about how much less someone on £21000 would pay right from the start, then it might have been easier to show why we did what we did. By the time that came out, we were already irrevocably tarnished and the only game in town was the fact that we'd broken the pledge, not that we'd actually made it easier for people who ended up on lower incomes.

Try and include some party news as well. If we've won a by-election, or someone's won an award, or someone we all know and love has died, give them a mention. Thank people for extraordinary efforts. I'm only talking about a couple of lines, but it could make all the difference to the overall tone if people feel our key players are connected to the party. And if there's been bad news, don't just ignore it - try and deal with it in empathy and understanding of how members will have reacted to it. And if you don't have that empathy, you're probably not the right person to be writing the e-mail. Find someone else to do it.

Remember that the reason you are writing the e-mail in the first place is because you are communicating with Liberal Democrats, therefore you have to frame what you say into terms Liberal Democrats will appreciate. Tug on our heartstrings. I've been reading some of Russell Johnston's speeches recently, and he talks about emotion all the time.  Don't just talk about the policies we are implementing, talk about our values in action.

Every e-mail should be people-centred, party focused, passionate, principled and practical. So, there you have the five key elements of the Caron Test, I guess. Can you think of any more?

A word about comments

As you know I love it when people comment here. Some of you, though, get a wee bit anxious if more than five minutes elapses before your comment is published.

At the moment, I'm having trouble posting comments from my phone - it just doesn't seem to be able to find the comment published page for some reason that I can't fathom.

So, I can only publish comments from my laptop. That means that it might take a bit longer if I'm out and about. And now that I'm not ill any nore, I tend to have a bit more of an out and about life.

You should know me well enough by now to know that even if you are being pretty insulting, you'll get published. There are limits - racism, sexism, sectarianism or homophobia or anything similar is a red line, as is making unsubstantiated, potentially libellous claims about people, but there's only really ever one person who's crossed those lines and obviously doesn't get published.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This is why we are in Government

It's been a hell of a month. No doubt about that.

Even now, every time I see this

it still makes me a bit teary that someone can be so gracious and magnanimous even in the face of defeat.

So it was reassuring to see this tweet this afternoon:

We are doing some real good in Government. Good things are happening that wouldn't be if we weren't there.

For me, there's still a long way to go on immigration generally. But we've achieved what the Tories or Labour would never ever have done.

However much our hearts are hurting right now, we can be so proud of Nick and our ministers for ending the scandal of child detention.

Ain't no sunlight from Guido on Chris Huhne's expenses

I wouldn't normally sully your day with a link to the noxious Guido Fawkes blog. After all, this is the guy who cast aspersions and innuendo over William Hague until he was forced to make an unprecedented personal statement last year, which I wrote about at the time. There was no need to cause the Hagues additional pain.

You would think he would have learned from that fiasco not to print anything unless he had evidence as to its veracity. No such luck. He just bulldozes his way in there, accusing people of all sorts, making it all sound as sensationalist as possible, not caring for the worry he causes, or the lives he might affect.

He's now got it in for Chris Huhne. Like the rest of the press, but he's stirring around his election expenses.  And he's been bragging that he's spent a year researching it. Well, I know that some people can take more time than others to master things, and election expenses are quite complex, but it looks like he hasn't actually learned anything much at all. He outlines the allegations made by an organisation caused by the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics. Wow. What a cool name. Sounds like a right bunch of peace loving hippies, they do. However, our Stephen, way back in 2009, did a bit of digging about who they might be and worked out that they were in fact run by one Harry Cole and Paul Staines. Yes, that's right. Guido himself and his sidekick, once known as Tory Bear.

Thankfully, we have somebody in the Liberal Democrats who does understand election expenses. There can't be many people in the country who have a more comprehensive knowledge of the subject than Mark Pack. He is one stickler for detail if ever there was one. And he says that there are perfectly reasonable explanations for everything. So, who are you going to believe, a known stirrer, or an expert?

Guido's fundamental error is not to understand that money a local party spends is on all the elections it's fighting - and if a leaflet has some stuff about council elections and some stuff about parliamentary elections, then the costs of production have to be split between the two campaigns, for example. Also, not every piece of literature that goes out is counted on a local election campaign's expenses - some are produced nationally.

Guido says that there's not been enough calculated for staff time on the Westminster election. Well, staff will still be working on actual Westminster casework which they are allowed to do, or they may have been working for the local or national election campaigns. If he's alleging that not enough time was counted for staff on Chris' campaign, he needs to come up with a bit more evidence. Well, actually, he needs to come up with any evidence.

He also mentions a website and says costs should have been included for that. Well, that site was not just for the election - it's still going strong, so it would be unfair to attribute the costs solely to the election - and it's entirely acceptable to spread them out over a longer period.

Guido's credibility has been on the wane for a while. He was once the Enfant Terrible of the Blogosphere. With stories as flimsy as this, he's kind of just left with the terrible.

Livingston shop workers face huge parking cost

Shop workers, let's face it, don't get paid an awful lot of money. Their already meagre incomes are being stretched far enough at the moment.

Spare a thought for the shop workers in Livingston's shopping centre who have been told that they will have to pay a minimum of £10 a week to park their car, just to go to work, from next Wednesday.

I know that we in Livingston have been spoiled with the huge amount of free parking we've had until now and that car parking charges were always planned for the Centre. In fact, we were expecting them soon after the new development opened in 2008 but they were put off because of the recession. So, Land Securities, the company who owned the car parks were prepared to put off charging for parking to protect the profits of the shops in the centre from a loss of potential footfall. It's a great pity that they are not prepared to protect their low paid staff from having to find an extra £40 a month just to to to work. Bearing in mind that the minimum wage is under £6 an hour, that's equivalent to not paying them for 7 hours a month.

Those of you out there in the real world may well be thinking "welcome to reality, mates", but there are good reasons why this is pretty outrageous.

  • public transport within Livingston is not that great and if you live outside the town, it's just not feasible to use it. If you live in Linlithgow, there's one bus every two hours. If you live in Fauldhouse, the service is scant and can't get you in for work on time on a Sunday, and it takes over an hour to do a journey that can be done in a car in a quarter of that time.
  • I am really uneasy about a private company making profit off the backs of low paid staff in this way. I'd oppose these charges if it was the Council making them - but there would be some level of democratic accountability there. Land Securities are an effective monopoly who don't have to care about such things. However, they can be shamed into a rethink if enough customers vote with their feet.
  • I suspect what may happen is that rather than pay to park in the car parks in The Centre (and, remember, there are no alternatives), they will park in housing estates within walking distance, which is going to create problems for residents in places like Howden, Dedridge and possibly Livingston Village too. I don't blame the staff who might take that decision, but it will cause problems.
  • Staff at the neighbouring Mcarthur Glen designer outlet will continue to be able to park for free in designated spaces so there's an inherent unfairness there.
  • Land Securities say they want to encourage employees to car share - but that's not going to be possible as often people have different lengths of shifts and will be working at all sorts of different times. I'm sure that people already do where possible, but shouldn't be penalised when they can't.
So, what can we do about it?  Well, if you feel as strongly as I do, contact The Centre management. You can write to them herehttp://www.shopthecentre.co.uk/customerservices/contactus/contact.aspx. There's also a Facebook group here and an online petition here.  

If you live in Livingston, you might want to think about voting with your feet and not using the Centre. I won't, while the company which owns them are penalising staff in this way. The other thing to do is to write to the companies who have shops in the centre and explain your concern. We ordinary folk might not have much clout, but the likes of Marks and Spencer and Debenhams do. If they think they will lose custom because we're backing the staff on this, they might be able to put some pressure on Land Securities.

Also, contact elected representatives - your local councillors, Graeme Morrice MP and Angela Constance MSP to see if they will publicly support this campaign. 

I think this is a terrible way to treat low paid staff with the rises in the cost of living. They are already being penalised enough. I don't want to see Land Securities make profit out of them to get them to work. If you agree, don't just fume silently - take action.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Brian Taylor gets it wrong - Willie Rennie was comparatively polite today #sp4

I watched the ministerial appointments debate which took place today in Holyrood. Several things amused me. First was the fact that Iain Gray, now he's going, seems to have found his sense of humour. Mind you, his speech was probably more suited to late night satire than a parliamentary debate, but it made me smile.

Then there was the division bell going off as new Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie got up to speak. He burst out laughing, but managed to get on with it. The Presiding Officer said she was sorry but "it wisnae me."

Willie's speech was measured, but robust. He's clearly keen to make sure that the SNP, now that it's the establishment, doesn't get too big for its boots, that Alex Salmond delivers on his promises to govern like a minority. It would be very tempting for him not to bother with trying to find consensus and be inclusive and to let power corrupt him.

This is what Willie said, from the Official Report. 

I, too, congratulate the ministerial team on its appointment. This is an exciting moment and an exciting time ahead for the new ministers, particularly those entering Government for the first time. I wish them well.
Majority government is a huge responsibility. As the size of the ministerial team increases, so do our expectations of what it can achieve. I am sure that members of the new team will not take that responsibility lightly. They are answerable to the people of Scotland for the promises made during the election. Unlike last time, as a majority Government, the SNP will find that it has nowhere to hide. The SNP will be judged on how it uses its majority—and how it does not. As we have heard this morning, the Opposition parties in this place will work with the SNP on its positive promises to make sure that they are kept.
I hope that ministers will agree to engage with us so that, where possible, we can agree a joint approach on the many areas in which disagreement might be over detail rather than ambition. My fear, however, is that the First Minister will not choose to use his enlarged team  wisely; that instead of the focus on jobs, on growing the economy and on excellence in education and public services there will be a focus on breaking up Britain; and that what we see before us this morning is Alex Salmond’s new independence army.
 However, the First Minister’s loyal foot soldiers have a choice: services over separation; picking up the economy, not picking fights with Westminster; and putting the needs of Scotland before their party-political agenda. During the election, we heard from the Scottish National Party many welcome promises on health, education, justice and more; last week in the First Minister’s speech, we heard not one single mention of them. I hope that his new team will not make the same mistake.

Brian Taylor, who is one of my favourite journalists and who is usually pretty fair, rebuked Willie slightly for being too outspoken and not matching the gentle mood of the occasion which is now a Holyrood tradition.

However, I took a look back to 1999, the first time Parliament had to approve ministers. The Official Report for that is here.  What a total bunfight that was. You don't associate David McLetchie with silly games, but there he was suggesting Jim Wallace and Ross Finnie weren't fit to be ministers because they'd been elected on false pretences. I'd actually forgotten the extent to which the SNP were such a pain in the backside during their years of opposition. I think Government has matured them quite a lot. So, this isn't traditionally quite such a gentle occasion after all.

In that context, Willie's comments today, which were pretty polite anyway, were all sweetness and light.

In which I rant at Simon Hughes.

Dear Simon

I had an e-mail from you tonight.

When I see your name come up in my inbox, I expect that what I'm going to read is going to make me feel all good and comforted. Tim Farron gave us all a kick up the arse on Lib Dem Voice the other day and I thought this was you comforting us. You and him are a pretty good double act. He's the zingy curry, laden with chillies, which invigorates us. You are the mashed potato that makes us feel content.

Yes, I needed Tim's boot on my posterior, but I also needed you to say something to say that you got how I was feeling.  You see, I'm being pretty brave, but I still feel all heartbroken inside after the election. Some of my favourite people in the whole world, the hardest working, devoted, committed public servants you'd ever wish to find, lost their seats. And it wasn't their fault. Some of them were even prepared to accept their defeat if it meant that no child would ever have to spend the night in a detention centre again.

We all still feel a little bit raw. Or maybe even a lot raw.

So why, Simon, why in the name of the word that rhymes with duck, have you sent out an e-mail that starts with the words "It's been a great month for Liberal Democrats"? It doesn't matter what the rest of it says. For many of us the red mist will have descended by the time we scanned the word Democrats.

You are not normally this crass and insensitive, but you have made a mistake with this. I am so disappointed. It's like someone served me a plate of mashed potatoes that was laced with capers and vinegar.

Maybe this was written by somebody who's so far inside the bubble that they need to be reintroduced to the outside world, to mix with the people they are writing to.

Sorry to be so negative, but I had to get that off my chest.

And, although you don't deserve it, I'll publish the rest of it at the bottom of this so people can see the good environmental stuff we've put in place in government.

If you'd started by saying "I know we're all feeling a bit raw at the moment. It's been a tough few weeks, but we'll fight back, we'll get there in the end. We understand." or words to that effect, it would have been a lot better.

Please can you learn from this one. And please can you grab onto the ankles of those who are so far inside that cosy bubble of government that they've forgotten what life is like on earth for those of us who have to pick up the pieces.

Ok, rant over - but don't do anything so crass again.


Oh, and PS, could you please make sure that somebody sends members in Scotland an e-mail which mentions the fact that we have a lovely new leader and how pleased you are that he's there.  Thank you.

 And here is the rest of Simon's e-mail. I can't bring nyself to put in the first line - but I think you'd have got the drift of what it was about.

  • Two weeks ago, Chris Huhne, as Energy and Climate Change Secretary, led for the government when his Department's Energy Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons. This creates the framework for the Green Deal, a comprehensive programme of energy efficiency improvements for housing and office buildings, cutting both energy bills and emissions. Householders and business will be able to see up to £10,000 invested in insulation, at no up-front cost, paying back the investment through the lower energy bills they will enjoy as a result.

  • Last week, Chris Huhne announced the government’s ‘carbon budget’ for the mid-2020s, setting a legal requirement for a 50 per cent reduction (from 1990) by 2025. This creates the certainty businesses need to put in place long-term investments in the expanding low-carbon industries – renewable electricity, electric cars, home insulation. This is the most ambitious legally binding carbon budget set by any government anywhere; and by putting the UK at the forefront of the international debate, we will be able to push the EU and the international community towards further emissions cuts world-wide.

  • And this week, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, revealed details of the Green Investment Bank, the world’s first green development bank. Up and running from April 2012, this will use an initial £3 billion of public money to lever an additional £15 billion in private investment towards the low-carbon opportunities that are opening up – particularly in offshore wind and energy efficiency.

I was this party’s first environment spokesman over twenty years ago. It makes me proud to see what so many of us campaigned for all those years ago being made a reality now we’re in government. This is a key part of what we Liberal Democrats bring to the coalition, and none of this would have happened without us. As Nick said yesterday, ‘the LibDems have long been the greenest of the main three parties - the difference now is that it is not just a green party but a green party of government’.


Simon Hughes MP

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons and President of the Green Liberal Democrats

Update: I hear from Tim Farron via Twitter that this post has made it onto the Guardian's Daily Blog. So, if you've come from there, welcome. Please feel free to browse around. It's not all about politics here - if you like Doctor Who, or Formula One or trashy tv dancing shows, or all manner of random stuff, you'll maybe find something else to amuse you.

Fancy seeing the Queen open Scottish Parliament on 1st July?

On Friday 1st July, there's going to be all sorts of celebration in Edinburgh. The Queen is going to come and open the fourth session of the Holyrood Parliament. There's going to be all sorts of pomp and circumstance - a procession of the Crown of Scotland, Her Maj addressing the newly elected MSPs, a massive public riding through the Old Town of some 1500 people. The riding is an old Scottish tradition as the Scottish Parliament website tells us:

The old Scottish Parliament traditionally opened with a processional ceremony called the ‘Riding of the Parliament’. The first Riding of Parliament to the newly completed Parliament Hall on Edinburgh’s High Street, occurred on 31 August 1639. This Riding was the basis of the ceremony that occurred at the opening of each parliament up until a few years before the Treaty of Union in 1707.
The procession started from the Palace of Holyroodhouse and was led by trumpeters. Next came the burgh and shire commissioners, followed by the nobility. Then the Honours of Scotland were displayed, followed by heralds and puirsuivants from the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Finally came the representative of the monarch, the King’s Commissioner.
These days it's a wee bit more inclusive. We have kids and community groups processing down the Royal Mile. There's celebration and fun.

The Scottish Parliament has 8 pairs of tickets, one for each region, to be given away by random ballot. You can find out all you need to know about how to apply for them here.  I can't apply this time. 1st July is Anna's last day at Primary School, and that only happens once in a lifetime, so I'll be at the school gates fighting back the emotions so as not to embarrass her. But you might want to sit in the public gallery looking down as the Queen addresses the Chamber and the country. So get your application in and good luck.

A #TowelDay exchange

There would have been something very wrong with the Universe if we'd woken up this morning and there had been no post from Stephen in honour of Towel Day. This is the annual commemoration of Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams' work where fans carry a towel around with them for the day.

Anyway, I guess that even if the Rapture had happened on Saturday, Stephen's post would still have appeared. It led to the following exchange between me and my 11 year old:

"I'm off to get a towel to take to school."


(she disappears off up stairs and comes down with a towel which she casually slings over her arm)

"Aren't you going to put that in your schoolbag?"

"I will, later, when I get to school."

"People will think you're a geek, though."

"I am a geek" she said cheerily.

The towel had its photo opportunity.

And so the captivating and hilarious genius of Douglas Adams thrills a new generation.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The "I'm more reactionary than you!" Competition

Or, as it is commonly known, the monthly bunfight that is questions to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Usually, the questions are, shall we say, not of the highest quality and the event is treated as a chance for members to let off steam, to throw indiscriminate insults at Nick Clegg. He is, actually, a human being. Not that you'd think that from some of the claptrap that flies around the place. John Bercow really should do something about it as it's actually embarrassing. I'm not sure Nick would thank him if he did, though.

I cringed with shame as my MP, Graeme Morrice, asked the most pointless question imaginable. This is the Mother of Parliaments where he has the chance to hold the Government to account. People here fear for their jobs, they are being affected by cuts in welfare (many of which I don't support), they may have relatives out in Iraq, or Afghanistan. There are many actual issues which people here worry about. So what was Morrice's question?
Now that the Deputy Prime Minister is even less popular than the Swiss entry in the recent Eurovision contest—at least they got 19 points—what immediate plans does he have to redeem himself in the public eye? Moreover, what principle or value is he not prepared to sell out over in his quest to cling to power?
Barely playground quality that one and given the fact that he stumbled over its delivery, I think Morrice knew it too. He was, however, ably put in his place by Nick Clegg:
Well read and well rehearsed! I will tell the hon. Gentleman one thing that I am not going to flinch from for one minute, and that is to clear up the mess left by Labour. Because of the sheer economic incompetence of the Labour party in government, this country, on the backs of our children and grandchildren, is borrowing £400 million a day. He might think that is okay; I do not.
There was a bizarre succession of questions from the Labour benches about Lords Reform. You never would have thought for a second that any of them had actually fought the election on a policy of an elected Lords. Mind you, they did in 1997 too, so I guess they could have argued that they never expected it to happen.  Anyway, the arguments against ranged from it not being democratic to have single terms (as if the current arrangements are), that because it was in all parties' manifestos to elect the Lords, the voters didn't have a chance to choose someone who didn't advocate that policy, therefore we need a referendum (seriously) or that they didn't understand how election for a 15 year term would improve the legislative process. There were some fairly wombatish comments from the Tory benches, too, but you kind of expect that. The clue is in the nane, Conservative. Nick was clearly incredulous at what he was hearing and eventually said:
I always thought that the Labour party was against bastions of privilege and patronage. I thought that one of the founding principles of the so-called progressive party was that it believed that the British people should be in charge, not politicians in Westminster. Labour Members seem to be turning their backs, yet again, on one of their many long-standing traditions.
It wasn't just the Lords reform that strained the intellects on the opposition benches. Chi Onwurah attacked the Government for wasting money on elected mayors and police commissioners. Remind me, which Labour Government was it that introduced elected Mayors, the Brown on or the Blair one? Honestly!

Chris Bryant always likes to be Nick's nemesis at this event and today was no difference. He had a barbed question about appointments to the Lords to get the reform through:
 The thing we find most bizarre about all this is that it is a priority for the Government at this time. The coalition agreement states that they will continue to appoint peers to the House of Lords
“with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”
There are currently 792 unelected peers, after a year of the fastest level of appointment of new peers in the history of this country. To get to the objective set out in the agreement, the Deputy Prime Minister would have to appoint another 269. Are there another 97 Liberal Democrats to make peers in the House of Lords? Should there not be a moratorium?
Nick's snappy reply had a touch of the juvenile about it - but it's about time Bryant had a taste of his own medicine:
Every time the hon. Gentleman asks a question, I find it more and more baffling why anyone should want to hack his phone and listen to his messages. It is quite extraordinary. The point he has just made illustrates why we need to reform the House of Lords

There were some sensible questions, though, to make the session worth Nick turning up for. Stella Creasy asked about the rule of law, in a clear reference to John Hemming and Nick's answer was a clear rebuke to his own MP, saying that as legislators they can change the law but they have to abide by it.

Jo Swinson asked for and was given reassurance that there would be no watering down of the Equality Act. 

Ming Campbell asked about the West Lothian Question - and wanted, and got an assurance that Wales and Northern Ireland would be covered.

A Tory MP, yes, a Tory, asked about improving access to elected office for disabled people.

Let's hope that next month's session has more of the constructive, information seeking questions and less of the grandstanding and abuse. I won't be holding my breath on that one.

Claudia Winkleman is not doing It Takes Two this year....... #SCD #ITT

Just when I thought May couldn't have any more bad news, I read confirmation on Strictly Come Blogging that the irrepressible Claudia Winkleman will not be presenting the Strictly Come Dancing Companion show, It Takes Two this year.

This is hardly a surprise. I couldn't imagine her giving birth to her third child in August and then doing a 5 nights a week show from mid September. I'm glad she's still going to be doing the results show on a Sunday evening, though.

It's telling that the quote from her in today's Mirror offers a glimmer of hope that she might come back in subsequent years.
“Everyone who watches Strictly knows how much I love the show and enjoy presenting It Takes Two.
“This year I’m dipping out, but can’t wait to watch it from the sofa.”
 Claudia's pretty much irreplaceable and I don't know how the BBC will do it. Names in the frame so far according to Twitter have been Kate Garraway, Kate Thornton and Miranda Hart. I think that it might be fun, if she is only going to be away for a year, to have guest presenters for a week at a time. I'm not sure there's a studio around that could contain Marian Keyes, but she'd be good. So would Pamela Stephenson. Even Widdy. For a few days she could be tolerable and quite fun. Camilla Dallerup or Matt Cutler could also do a stint.

Or, and this is controversial and Billi will kill me but what about giving the show to Anton Du Beke? Then we get to see him 5 days a week and he could still do show dances on a Saturday night.  That might be the best way to carry on the Claudia tradition.  Is there anything not to love about that idea?

There's also always the option of giving Alesha ITT and bringing Arlene back on to the judging panel, but I won't hold my breath on that one.

Let's hope that the producers consider the fans when they decide on Claudia's replacement. ITT is watched mostly by hardcore fans so they need to be sensitive.

Willie Rennie hits London to fight for RAF bases and Green Investment Bank

The media's full of Alex Salmond's meeting with George Osborne, but he wasn't the only Scottish political leader in London yesterday.

Willie Rennie was there to meet Nick Harvey to put the case for keeping the Scottish RAF bases, which are vital to their local communities. He also met Vince Cable to add weight to the campaign for the Green Investment Bank to be located in Edinburgh.

Willie said:

“I am down in London today to meet with UK Liberal Democrat Ministerial colleagues on two specific issues.
“I am continuing the work that Tavish Scott and Michael Moore have started, pressing the case for keeping both RAF bases in Scotland open. The bases are both vital not just for Scotland and the communities they serve but to the safety of the UK.
“I am also here to campaign on bringing the Green Investment bank to Scotland. This will keep Scotland at the forefront of exciting new developments, capitalising on work already started here."
I also heard a rumour that he was in our party HQ in Cowley Street. I'm hoping that, among other things,  he was meeting people and putting the case for better and more relevant bulk e-mails. I note that we got one on the day he was elected leader which made no reference to that fact at all. I will let that one pass, because it did all happen quite quickly. However, I'd like to see something to members from Nick congratulating him.

Monday, May 23, 2011

While we're all outraged at rich people using the law for their own ends......

.....can I suggest that, amidst all the furore over superinjunctions, which has set Twitter alight all weekend, which led to the Sunday Herald identifying the footballer in question yesterday, and which allowed Lib Dem MP John Hemming to propel himself into the limelight yet again by naming Ryan Giggs as the person who sought that particular injunction in the House of Commons, we take time to consider those who desperately need & can't get, access to the law.

At least Hemming's action means that the farcical situation in which nobody could name Giggs is now at an end, because papers are now free to report what was said in Parliament.

The law on these issues is clearly absurd and needs looking at. My default position is that I don't like rich, powerful men using the law to claim their right to privacy while removing it from less powerful, less rich women. There may be mitigating circumstances in some cases, but I always start from that viewpoint. And it would be the same if it was a rich woman etc, but it most often isn't. Let's be clear, I really am not keen on the sort of kiss and tell salaciousness that we find in the Sunday newspapers. I don't really want to know, quite frankly. I generally think that those who kiss and tell are as much manipulated by the newspapers they turn to as by the person they had the relationship with. Nobody comes out of these things well.

The thing about the superinjunction issue in general, is that those who seek them are generally trying to cover up bad behaviour on their part. Perhaps it might have been better if they'd thought of the effect on their family before they behaved in that manner.

Every day, though, rich people and organisations exploit the law, treating customers and vulnerable people badly in the knowledge that they won't be able to afford legal redress. There are lots of wonderful landlords out there, but also those who don't keep their properties in anything like habitable condition.  Vulnerable people are the victims of wrong decisions made by Government agencies. If they are lucky, they will have a driven MP who will not leave a stone unturned in challenging it on their behalf, or some other advocate to help them out, but recourse to the law is not easy if you don't have the money to pay expensive legal fees. And don't even get me started on the complexities of mobile phone contracts and payment protection insurance.

The Government is restricting even further what can be covered under Legal Aid. This is not a good thing. My friend Juliette Frangos explained why in a guest post earlier this year.

Imagine a situation where a woman flees a violent partner. She has children. She has to leave with the clothes she's standing up in and a few bits for the kids that she can put into a small bag.  She leaves everything she has worked for. Now, there is such a thing as an order to get the violent man out of the house so her children's lives aren't disrupted too much. Trouble is, it would cost around half her annual income to do that. This woman is not rich. She has an ordinary job which pays enough to support her and her kids but not much more. There is literally no help with legal fees for her to reclaim her property and her things. That can't be right.  The violent ex partner can pretty much do what he likes. He's under no obligation to sort things out quickly or to let her have any of her or the kids' stuff. There are men in this world who are so twisted that they view their child's toys as their own property and won't hand them over.

These are some of the realities of life for those of us who are not lucky enough to have grossly inflated incomes. There are some truly fortunate individuals, who have all the luck in the world but who seek to trample all over the rights of others because they can. If you have been annoyed at the way these people are using the law to suit themselves, spare a thought for those people who face really difficult circumstances, not of their own making, every day and who can't get access to the law. Maybe we need to put time and effort into working out how they can get justice.


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