Friday, September 30, 2011

Willie Rennie tells the SNP to grow up over Scotland Bill

Last night I finally got around to watching Wednesday afternoon's Politics Scotland show. Yes, I know, I call myself a political blogger and I choose to watch Celebrity Masterchef when it was going out live. Disgraceful!

Anyway, Wednesday's programme contained a gem of an interview with Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and the SNP's Joan McAlpine.

In it, Willie made the very obvious point that the Scottish Parliament is being given a whole load of new powers, the biggest devolution since the Act of Union in 1707. You would think the SNP Government, which wants independence, would be delighted. Instead they are stalling and prevaricating about it. He pointed out that we can't have more responsibility and expect there to be no risk whatsoever. And if the risk of the Scotland Bill is too big, then what on earth is independence?

It seems from what Joan McAlpine was saying that we might end up with the farcical situation where the SNP vote for the transfer of powers because they don't want to be seen to be voting against it, but they'll not agree the timing, the Commencement Orders.

Asked how Michael Moore would resolve the impasse, Willie said that  it was clear that he was prepared to be reasonable and deal with the complicated issues in a spirit of constructive engagement. He then made the very valid point that:
"their idle threats to thwart this bill which, as I say, is the most substantial transfer of power in 300 years actually goes counter to what they claim which is more powers for the Scottish Parliament. I just think they're mucking about with this and they need to be a bit more mature."
If you want to watch the interview, you can do so here.

The SNP need to stop faffing and make a decision to either back the Bill or not. If they choose not to, they make a mockery out of their claim for independence.  With power comes responsibility and uncertainty - although the Bill contains mitigating measures to help Holyrood cope with fluctuations.

The SNP seem to want to have their cake and eat it over this.  They just can't. So they have to make a decision that they, and only they, will be accountable for.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Caron's Corkers 29 September 2011

Every working parent will empathise with Ellen's account of her morning. Gin and laughter seem to be the antidotes.

Nicola Prigg reckons Rory Weal doesn't need EMA now.

The Atlantic tell of a 17 year old Pakistani girl whose family faces constant threats because of their refusal to kill her after she was gang raped. 

Love and Garbage  susses out how a blog licensing scheme would work.

Meemalee writes about her adventures with lipstick and makes some salient points about the cosmetics industry not catering for all women.

In a too rare post, Sara Bedford takes Ed Miliband's tuition fees policy apart.

SNP put words in Mike Dillon's mouth - Rennie

I wrote earlier about how Renfrewshire Councillor Mike Dillon has returned to the Liberal Democrats almost exactly four months after leaving to join the SNP.

It's hardly surprising he came back, given what I found out a wee while ago.

Scottish Leader Willie Rennie, who met with Mike this morning, was asked on his Facebook page if Mike had apologised for calling him a Tory. That quote from Mike was thrown at Willie across the Holyrood Chamber at FMQs today:

On Councillor Dillon, I will quote what he said on 3 July:
“Members and supporters of the LibDems do not understand why their party leadership in Scotland have
become the cheerleaders to Tory policy and Tory beliefs ...   Michael Moore and Willie Rennie sound more Tory than the Tories, and enough is enough.”
Willie Rennie:  I say to the First Minister that Mike Dillon is back with us. [Interruption.]

Willie's reply was very telling:
 No, because he didn't say those words. The SNP made them up when he defected to them. They put words in his mouth which he hadn't agreed to.
 What an appalling way to treat somebody. I always feel when someone joins us that we need to make a really special effort to welcome them. It's a real wrench to leave a political party you've been committed to for a long time. The likelihood is that you'll be leaving friends behind as well. It's a time when you need to be treated with empathy and respect, not used as a weapon without your permission.  It does make you wonder how many of the other quotes from our defectors have been genuine or an invention of some SNP press officer's imagination.

Most of the time I tend to be quite forgiving of ours who have gone the other way, unless they have really been nasty about it. I'm probably too soft in that regard, but, well, that's just me.

Just as an aside, when Lib Dem Councillors have joined other parties, it's attracted a fair bit of press coverage.

Funnily enough, there's not that much on the fact that he's come back.

Plus ca change and all that...........

Volunteering in Uganda - the adventures of Little Grumpy G and others

I have been meaning to post this video for weeks and weeks and am kicking myself for only just getting round to it.

Recently my friend Graeme spent a couple of months in Uganda, volunteering as a teacher. The organisation he went with, Volunteer Uganda, made a video of their experiences which sums up their work and leisure time.

I'll let them all speak for themselves. I did ask Graeme's permission to post this, but I promised I wouldn't comment on his trousers. Don't let that stop you, though........

Being part of something which makes so many children very obviously happy and teaches them vital life skills, including HIV awareness is clearly very rewarding and will benefit those children all their lives. Graeme will be writing about his experiences in more detail at some point when he gets the chance to take a breath - he came back and started a new job within days. I'll let you know when he does.

Alasdair Allan needs lessons in prioritising his to do list.

So, Alasdair Allan, Scottish Schools minister has decided that our kids need lessons in Scottish Studies to make sure they learn about their culture and history.

To be fair, he may have a point. I know my education is some time ago, and things have definitely got better based on my daughter's experience, but we learned about the Picts and the Jacobites in history and very little in between.  We learnt a half decent Dashing White Sergeant and Gay Gordons in PE, but we didn't do much in the way of Scottish literature. I mean, I went to Wick High School and we didn't do one single Neil Gunn book. How crazy is that?

Having said that, it strikes me that the whole point of the Curriculum for Excellence is to give more autonomy for teachers and rather than have a Scottish Studies subject, teachers are free to use all sorts of different resources across the whole range of classes. Also, what would you take out of the timetable in order to fit Scottish Studies in?  Less PE?  Not when we need to get fitter. Less cookery? Not when we learn to eat healthier. The SNP has to answer these questions. Especially when PE can include Scottish dances and sports, cookery traditional Scottish cookery which, contrary to popular belief, goes beyond deep frying Mars Bars.  A wee bit of imagination and giving free rein to teachers and you could do all sorts.

Labour have accused the SNP of trying to "politicise" our kids. I presume that they think that teaching them Scottish culture automatically means that they'll be pro-independence. Frankly, I despair of that sort of talk. How dare he suggest that Scottish culture and history is the preserve of the SNP. It belongs to us all and that sort of talk is vacuous and dangerous.

However, my argument is that there are much more pressing things on Alasdair Allan's desk than inventing new subjects. Yesterday we had Education Scotland  tell us that too many schools were coasting, and that kids from deprived backgrounds could be as much as 18 months behind kids from affluent backgrounds when they start school. Dealing with that should be our most important priority. After all, if kids grow up not able to read properly, they're not going to be able to enjoy the best of our culture and history. The entire focus of the education department should be on closing down that gap and making sure every child can reach their full potential.

Sounds like Mr Allan needs some training in time management and working out what's important.

Rennie welcomes ex SNP councillor back to Lib Dems

Good news this lunchtime for the Renfrewshire Liberal Democrat Council Group. Cllr Mike Dillon, who joined the SNP Group in May has reconsidered and come back to us. Here he is with Willie today.

Mike has clearly seen that the grass is not greener on the SNP side. I am glad that both he and the Council group, led by Cllr Eileen McCartin, have been grown up enough to let bygones be bygones. It takes a lot of character to do that in these circumstances and I'm proud of them both.

Mike Dillon said:

I am delighted to rejoin the Liberal Democrats. “I have been very impressed with Willie Rennie’s leadership of the party since the Scottish election and feel that he is absolutely taking us in the right direction.
 “His opposition to the centralisation instincts of the SNP has never been more important. “I also believe that Paisley will be best served by having as many Liberal Democrats elected to the council as possible in elections next May. We have been doing great things for Paisley and I want to keep doing so.”
 Welcoming him back, Willie Rennie said:
“I’m thrilled to welcome Mike back to the party.
 “Many of the people in Paisley and right across Scotland who voted for the SNP in May can now see that they are taking Scotland in the wrong direction. “By centralising services like the police and fire brigade, the SNP have revealed themselves not as a party for the people but a party obsessed with power. “Mike is one of many people who, after a brief flirtation with the SNP, are returning home to a strong relationship with the Scottish Liberal Democrats.”

This party isn't great at holding grudges, fortunately. Now, I don't expect that  Hugh O'Donnell, our former MSP who resigned just before the election in May, will rejoin the party, but I was really encouraged by his tweet that he had a good chat with Willie Rennie and Jim Hume in Parliament.

 Hugh was, is and always will be a friend of mine. He continues to have many friends inside the party and he is widely respected across Scotland for his work on autism among other things. It makes me feel really happy to see that there is no personal animosity between these three, who are all among my favourite people.

Nick Clegg stands up for human rights in Belarus and warns of divisions in EU

Nick Clegg has a piece in the Independent today in which he outlines the abuses of human rights carried out by the Government of Belarus.

This Summer, after protesting was banned by the Government (which, by the way, shut down social networks in much the way certain people were calling for here during the riots), people took to the streets and applauded as Ruth Collins reported on the Huffington Post. An ingenious idea, which was soon met with a ban on applause.

I like the fact that Nick is using pretty strong language, not the sort you often find in diplomatic circles, and is encouraging the EU to stand up against what's going on on its doorstep.
"If we are learning anything from events across the Arab world... it's this: you cannot deny people their rights and freedoms forever. Not in today's world," he will say. "Not when the forces of youth, technology and economic grievance are colliding to drive change across the globe. Pushing the oppressed and forgotten to find their voice. You cannot rig an election, squash dissent, destroy liberty, run an economy into the ground, without, eventually, paying the price."
Last week at the Guardian debate at Lib Dem Conference, both Vince Cable and Paddy Ashdown talked of the dangers of the current economic crisis leading to wars and nationalism as it did in the 30s. Paddy in particular talked of the importance of strengthening global alliances and governance, not stepping back into our own wee corners.

Nick carries on this theme in his speech today to European leaders in Poland: we look back at the end of the Soviet Union, a moment when all Europeans watched with both awe and unease as old certainties vanished, we are again at a turning point in our history.
Now, as then, Europeans face a choice: drift apart, retreat to our corners, and undo the work of those who came before us; or, amidst the rubble of the current strife, find each other once more - a united European Union, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners in the East; standing together for the sake of our common good.

This is all very sensible stuff. Am I wrong to take pleasure in that it will also make Bill Cash and his mates on the rabidly Eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party froth at the mouth?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A few words on Nick Clegg's Summer schools

But let me say something else: The rioters are not the face of Britain’s young people. The vast majority of our young people are good, decent and doing the best they can. Don’t condemn all of them because of the actions of a few. You know what really struck me? How so many of those who did join in the riots seemed to have nothing to lose. It was about what they could get, here and now. Not what lies in front of them, tomorrow and in the years ahead. As if their own future had little value. Too many of these young people had simply fallen through the cracks. Not just this summer but many summers ago, when they lost touch with their own future. So often the people who have gone off the rails are the ones who were struggling years earlier, not least in making that critical leap from primary to secondary school. So today I am launching a new scheme to help the children who need it most. In the summer before they start secondary school. A two-week summer school helping them to catch up in Maths and English, and getting them ready for the challenges ahead. We know this is a time when too many children lose their way, so this is a £50m investment to help them along the right path. And that is why we have found the money, even now, to invest in education. Protecting the schools budget. A two and a half billion pound Pupil Premium by the end of the parliament. More investment in early years education: 15 hours for all  three and four year-olds. New provision for the poorest two-year-olds. All steps towards a society where nobody is ‘enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity’. Towards a liberal society. These are investments that will take years or even decades to pay off. By the time the two year-olds we help next year come to vote, I’ll be 60. So why are we doing it, when it costs so much and takes so long? Because investing early makes such a huge difference, especially for the poorest children.
So said Nick Clegg in his keynote speech one week ago at Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham. And, to be honest, I felt a little underwhelmed about the Summer school idea. I mean, two weeks, is that all? Surely that's not going to be enough to help.

And then I thought about it some more.

I know how much kids I know have been helped by extra tuition, an hour a week, in addition to their schooling. Those who struggled really came on with a bit of focused support.There's also always been the problem of kids forgetting loads of stuff they've learned over the long Summer - something exacerebated when they are then plunged into an unfamiliar environment. That's a trauma even if they have reasonable transition arrangements in England like the Curriculum for Excellence has been designed to encourage in Scotland.

So, I think this will be £50 million well spent. The children will have the benefit of two weeks' intensive learning just before going up to secondary.

Once a child starts falling behind at high school it can be a challenge to sort that out, so Nick's initiative seems like investment at the right time to do most good. Of course, the longer term challenge is to make sure that kids don't get to the end of primary school without the literacy and numeracy skills that they need. The Pupil Premium, a Liberal Democrat idea which Nick has been championing for as long as I've known him, will tackle that by giving more money for children who need it most. It's a key part of the plan to ensure that nobody is held back by their background.

Calling all bloggers - take part in the Human Rights Challenge!

When I say all bloggers, I mean those of any political party and none who sigh when they see yet another article decrying the Human Rights Act in the right wing press. And, actually, you don't need to be a blogger. If you want to contribute, just e-mail me a piece and I'll put it up.

You may have seen my tweets from the Liberty fringe meeting at Lib Dem Conference in Birmingham last week. This was all about defending the Human Rights Act from the attack of David Cameron's Conservatives.

Julian Huppert made the point that we don't often talk about why these rights are so important. We know why we believe passionately that human beings should be protected from life and liberty threatening state abuse, but we need to talk about it more among friends, to families, colleagues. We need to take on the right wing press and win. That's why I want us all to start blogging regularly about the rights we need to defend. I would love to link to all the posts so that a record can be kept here. You can take part as often as you like.

If you read nothing but the Daily Mail, you would think that the Human Rights Act is all about giving KFC to prisoners protesting on rooftops, or giving hardcore porn to inmates, or protecting the rights of burglars to ransack your home, or stopping us deporting immigrants or criminals. There is occasionally a grain of truth behind these stories, but it has been distorted out of all recognition. It's time to debunk those myths. Human rights do not cause riots.

Why would you not want to give people the right to marry and have a family, to enjoy privacy in their own homes, to have a fair trial, to not be killed by the state? These rights are there to protect every single one of us. If the Tories were ever to get their way, we'd all lose out. There is a stack of information on the Liberty website about the Act and the organisation's Common Values campaign.

I hope Melaina doesn't mind, but I've completely copied her Feminist Friday system so that any posts you do to take up this challenge all appear together. Over time, it'll build up a good information base for those of us who want a fresh perspective on human rights and will also get some positive stuff out there. I'm hoping that this is something we can do regularly, because the scope and range of what we could write is enormous.

I would really like lots of people to take part in this, so anything you can do to publicise this Human Rights Challenge via the usual social networking channels would be appreciated.

Also, if anyone with artistic skills wants to design a logo for this enterprise, let me know.

So, all you need to do know is a post publicising this challenge and saying something about why you love the Human Rights Act and then link it here via the magic linky thing below. You can make a submission any time over the next week.

The last week has seen a 17 year old hanged publicly in Iran, the execution of Troy Davis whose conviction was clearly not safe, by the State of Georgia. Saudi Arabia sends out mixed messages by saying it'll let women vote in 2015, but is happy to sentence them to flogging for driving.  At home, even with the Human Rights Act we've seen the UK Border Agency try to send gay people back to countries where they would be tortured, telling them to be discreet. Don't ever doubt that these protections in law are necessary.

So, readers, do your best and let's show why we need to protect people's human rights.

I've not got much love for Ed's Bargain Basement with the nasties in the dark corners #lab11

So, yesterday afternoon, Ed Miliband gave his first proper speech to the Labour Conference. The first, last year, was written hastily after his unexpected victory, but he's had a bit longer to think about this one. Why, then, was last year's better?

And all he could come up with was a so-called "new bargain". That seems to basically mean that those same large corporations and media organisations (Murdoch, anyone?) that Labour sucked up to for years are to re-designated evil and be made to stop ripping us off.  The former energy secretary mentioned energy companies and their rigged market. That same market he did nothing about in office. It takes some nerve to make a campaign issue out of your own failings, I'll give him that.

His speech was all over the place. He went rather clunkily from talking about the operation on his nose to praising Harriet Harman in a handful of words. The structure was all wrong - he'd start a paragraph as though he were addressing Conference but would switch back and forth between addressing Labour and the British people. It just didn't flow.

And somebody really does need to get Ed in a room and sort out his delivery. So many times, interludes for applause saw him make some really weird smirks. He tripped over words and he looked terrified up there.

I think the striking thing was that he was in front of a grey, lifeless backdrop which replaced the usual red, or purple as they adopted for a while. It reflected the lack of ideas and general vacuousness coming from Labour at the moment. I mean, this is their showcase, and so far the best they've come up with is a plan to reduce tuition fees which will make no difference to most people on ordinary incomes and a bizarre idea from the shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis that could have led to the state regulation of journalists.

Now that Ed has the freedom to choose his Shadow Cabinet, we can but hope that Mr Lewis will be sent to the back benches. What gets me is that these speeches aren't delivered in isolation. Somebody will have had to have seen them in advance. If the draft set no alarm bells ringing, that shows that Labour's authoritarian streak runs deep. They just look stupid now, with Lewis having had to sheepishly almost immediately afterwards.

But back to Ed's speech, and thanks to the Torygraph for printing it in full. By far the nastiest bit was his assertion that:

Take social housing.
When we have a housing shortage, choices have to be made.
Do we treat the person who contributes to their community the same as the person who doesn’t?
My answer is no.
Our first duty should be to help the person who shows responsibility.

Should the answer not be to build more affordable housing?

You have to wonder what sort of character test people would have to pass in order to get a council house. Do we just let nice people have housing or do they have to do good works in their communities as well as being nice?

And what do you do to the family with one troubled child who's causing problems - make the entire family homeless? They have to live somewhere. How is this going to help anyone?

Hearing this sort of ill thought out populist bile coming from the mouth of a Labour leader still makes me feel sick. It's bad enough, but expected in a way, to hear it from a Tory. It's become a bit of a triumph of hope over experience to expect any better from Labour but somehow a corner of my heart still does.

So, if you are struggling with various problems in your life, addiction, illness, a child with behavioural issues, despite Florence and Machine's song playing in the background after the speech, you'll find that Ed and Labour don't have love for you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Labour are finished until they lose their sense of entitlement to people's votes #lab11

Labour MP for Glasgow South Tom Harris took his book promotion tour  Scottish leadership campaign to Good Morning Scotland today.

He may well be talking the talk about how rubbish Labour have been recently, and how they need to change, but the use of a simple word shows that the old mindset is truly alive and well within him.

He talked about how voters had abandoned Labour. That to me is an interesting choice of word because it implies some wrongdoing on the part of the voter. It's almost as if Labour feels aggrieved that those voters deprived them of  the votes that they were entitled to.

When I first got interested in politics, it was clear to me that Labour literally took people for granted. It's the sort of attitude that comes along with a voting system that will give your party an inbuilt majority and is therefore the clearest argument possible for electoral reform.

Let's be clear - no party ever has the right to anyone's vote. Trust has to be earned and renewed by hard work and empathy and engagement. That is why Liberal Democrat elected representatives at all levels tend to work very hard for their communities.

The trouble with the Labour party is that arrogance is hardwired into their DNA. They expect to be in power and when they aren't, they get stroppy and petulant and irrational. They've spent the last 5 months with their heads up their own backsides trying to work out what went wrong - something that's obvious to even the most casual observer.

Taking people for granted is what they do instinctively. Until they un-learn that behaviour, get out of that hubristic mindset that the people owe them something, embrace pluralism and show willing to work with other parties, they are finished. The kicking they got in May has been a long, long time coming. The scales have fallen off the people's eyes and they have seen the party for the brutish, remote, disconnected machine it is.

They will not be so easily taken in by Labour again.

Labour have to realise that they are villain, not victim and they need to change from the inside out. Otherwise, their fortunes will never improve. The jury is out on whether they are capable of what is necessary.

The Liberty Fringe at #ldconf on the Human Rights Act in tweets

There can't be much better nourishment for the liberal soul than being in a room with Julian Huppert, Shami Chakrabarti, Ming Campbell and Evan Harris. A packed fringe meeting at Lib Dem Conference in Birmingham gathered to hear these esteemed speakers along with Tom Brake and Yasmin Alibai-Brown discuss the Human Rights Act.

I hadn't realised that Julian Huppert had once been a Council member of Liberty, but, frankly, it makes sense.

I tweeted my way through the meeting and I've picked up some tweets from some others.

The key message was that the Human Rights Act is vital, despite its constant trashing in the press, and that we as Liberal Democrats will fight tooth and nail to keep it in its present form as an integral part of British law.

One thing I thought was particularly relevant was Ming's comment that the rule of law was much more important than democracy. It makes a lot of sense especially after listening to a former Afghan MP talk a couple of days before about the problems women face in that country because the laws passed by Parliament are simply not enforced on the ground.

I hope the tweets give you something of the flavour of the meeting. And, for the record, I didn't think the red wine was that bad.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Two Eds are really no better than one. #lab11

Ok, so there's a cheap gag at the expense of the Labour Leader and the shadow chancellor, just because they share the same name.

Of course, both of them have been talking a right load of old balls...

This isn't getting any better is it?

On Saturday, after an almost Trappist silence on the policy front from Labour, Ed Miliband announced that they would cap university tuition fees at £6000. This, as has been widely pointed out, will do nothing for those on lower incomes, and will only help those who enter the job market with a starting salary of around £38,000.

In fact, those who end up in lower paying jobs will be better off already under the coalition's arrangement than they were under the scheme Labour introduced.

And maybe we need to remind people that it was Labour who introduced fees after promising that they would not.

And now we have Ed Balls, who has spent the last year telling everyone who will listen that the Coalition is the spawn of the Devil and doing evil things. now says he won't reverse them.

Is there something about watching others clean up the mess you left that makes you cynical and cocky?

He knows perfectly well that if by some miracle Labour had won the last election, he as Chancellor would have had to make pretty much the same cuts - £7 for every £8 - to avoid us having a Greek style meltdown.

And Balls' big idea on the economy? A VAT cut. Because that worked so well when Labour did that in 2008. Let's be clear. People who are worried about whether they'll have a job in 12 months' time aren't going to think "Oh, VAT's gone down, let's have a new kitchen."

And retailers, especially wee corner shops,  wouldn't be too chuffed either, having had to alter their software twice in two years already.


If this is the best we can hope for out of the Labour party after a year in opposition, I really despair. They are coming across as nothing but a bunch of chancers. They made the bulk of the mess - and the foundations for that were laid way before 2008 when they spent too much in the good years. The mark of a good blogger is that you remember what they write - and that's why Nick Thornsby is such a worthy winner of Lib Dem Voice's Blog of the Year. A few weeks ago he gave us this wee diagram which showed that Labour, rather than cut borrowing during the good economic years, just kept on spending, putting nothing by for the rainy day to come. That rainy day turned out to be a bit of a flood of biblical proportions.

This is not untypical of how Labour behave when they get their hands on public money - spend first, ask questions later, leave your successors in such a mess than hopefully you'll be voted back in next time. Their almost criminal irresponsibility in leaving Edinburgh with next to nothing in its reserves when they left office in 2007 led to the incoming Lib Dem led administration having to make some pretty tough decisions. Despite that, though, they are now up for a public service delivery award and have cut homelessness and improved social care, including building new care homes.

It all goes to show what you can achieve in tough times when you have a people centred approach to what you are doing. But Labour have never been good at that. They see people as a homegenous blob to be told what they need and what they're entitled to. It's all about the collective and not about the individual to them.

Labour seem to be manipulating and spinning, and there's literally nothing coming from them with any genuine, emotional, heartfelt substance. All Ed and no heart - they still have a long way to go before they are, or if they become, fit for Government again.

If you're happy for our laws to be made by unelected mostly old, white men....

.....then this post is not for you.

If, on the other hand, you want to choose who's in the  House of Lords, and think it's an anachronistic outrage that we don't already, you may be interested in what I have to say.

Nick Clegg announced proposals earlier this year to elect 80% of the 300 members of a new House of Lords for a single 15 year term with the first elections taking place in 2015.

I don't actually agree with these proposals.

For a start, I want to see the entire House of Lords elected, and I certainly don't want to see places reserved for practitioners of any religion, far less solely the Church of England.

And I think it's a nonsense to elect people and just let them do what they like for 15 years and let them waltz off into the sunset. They have to be able to face the electorate again and be accountable for what they've done.

But at least I have the chance to have my say on this as there's an official consultation on this. And those nice people at Unlock Democracy have a special form for people to fill in if they want to take part. They will collate all the responses and send them off to the Joint Committee of both houses of Parliament who is running it.

I filled in mine this morning and it took me no more than 10 minutes. I also said that a transforming a chamber of unelected old white men to a chamber of elected old white men just wouldn't be enough progress for me and we needed to ensure diversity.

So why bother taking part in the consultation? Well, there are plenty people, including some, regrettably, in our own Party who don't feel bound by our long held policy, who don't want reform to take place. If only three people and a cat respond to the consultation, they can use that as ammunition to say that nobody's really interested, therefore we don't need to do anything.

Unlock Democracy need to have responses in by 5th October. That's a week on Wednesday, so you really need to get on with it this week. Please also take the time to encourage others to do so - does your local party have an e-mail list, for example? Are you a Lib Dem MP or councillor? Send it out to your e-mail list of supporters.

Make sure your voice is heard....

If you know a politician........

.....sit them down, make them a nice cup of tea, confiscate their Blackberry and get them to take an hour and 16 minutes to watch the video below.

It's the drugs policy debate that took place at Liberal Democrat Conference last week - but the principles behind the motion adopted have support across all parties, and this is one issue where we should all work together.

Ewan Hoyle said in his opening speech that Nick Clegg should take this motion and put it on David Cameron's desk and make him take it seriously. The adoption of this motion is the end of a long process within the party, but the beginning of another, to actually get it implemented.

At around 57 minutes, you'll see Dr Ian Magrath. He lost his son Alastair in May, who had been sent to the West Indies to act as a mule. One of the condoms containing drugs had split inside him, causing a fatal overdose. Ian's account is harrowing and he received a rare standing ovation for sharing his story.

So, now it's time to persuade others that our traditional approach to drugs has failed and that by adopting the methods which have been shown to work in places like Portugal, we have more chance of protecting communities and families from the appalling damage caused by drugs. It's time to make policy according to the evidence, not the tabloid press.

Caron at Conference - the tweets. #ldconf

I thought it might be a good idea, before they disappear into the big dustbin that Twitter puts all our tweets in after a while, to record for posterity the story of my first Federal Conference in 12 years. Thanks to the wonderful Storify, you can now see the whole thing from start to finish.

Now, remember that tweets are often hastily composed and may contain (horror) spelling errors, or I may have missed off who said what, or I may have mixed up anatomical metaphors. But I hope you enjoy the rollercoaster ride through a brilliant five days.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Video: Ewan Hoyle's speech proposing drugs policy motion at #ldconf

I have rarely been prouder of my party than I was late last Sunday afternoon when we passed new policy, championed by Glasgow's Ewan Hoyle, calling for the consideration of the Portuguese system whereby people arrested for possession of drugs aren't put through the criminal justice system, but helped with the issues that led them to drugs in the first place, whether that be mental health, poverty, poor housing, or family problems.

I published Ewan's speech in full the other day, but he's now put it on You Tube. Please can you circulate this far and wide - it's so important to win this argument and get this policy implemented. Lives depend on it.

People should not go to jail for unfurling a banner!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Gareth Epps tells how student Edd Bauer has spent the last week in prison for the unfurling of a banner decrying us for being traitors at our Conference in Birmingham last weekend.

Now, unfurling banners doesn't actually hurt anybody. If Mr Bauer had been released on bail and unfurled a banner every day of our Conference, the worst that would have happened is that Conference attendees would have looked up and thought "what a prat".

He has a track record for doing this sort of thing - but he hasn't as far as I know, ever harmed anyone. It was that form that led to him being remanded when his co-accused were freed on bail so long as they kept out of Birmingham City Centre.

So we have a situation where somebody has been locked up for over a week when they actually pose no danger for the community. As well as the obvious implications for civil liberties, it costs a fortune. In Scotland, the annual cost of keeping someone in prison is something around £31000, or around £85 a night. So, nearly a grand of public money has been spent on locking this guy up for no good reason.

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental part of a liberal society and I think we should be looking again at the laws which enabled this guy to be held in custody. What's happened here has been a completely disproportionate use of the law and we need to have a presumption against locking non violent protesters up.

Salmond takes from poor to give to the rich - Rennie

A couple of years ago, research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats at Holyrood showed that the net effect of Alex Salmond's Council Tax Freeze was actually to give more to rich people than to poor people. Then leader Tavish Scott  talked about this in his speech to the Liberal Democrat Conference then:
Research I am publishing today shows that - over four years - the SNP will have spent £950m on a set of distorted priorities and hand-outs that give more to the rich than to the poor. 
Because this is what you find: 
If you have two children and earn £100,000 then you will have gained £802 per year from the SNP. 
But if you have two children and you earn £15,000 then you will have gained just six pounds and seven pence. 
So that“s enough champagne and lobster every night for the rich. 
A fish supper for the poor. 
I've been hoping for a while that our current team at Holyrood would revisit this because I can't imagine things have got any better. And they have, with leader Willie Rennie highlighting today how on one hand the SNP is cutting the social housing budget and on the other giving an almost £3,000  cash boost to the likes of the Duke of Sutherland, Brian Souter and former RBS chief Sir Fred "the shred" Goodwin. You can add stacks of premier league footballers to that list, and lawyers and doctors and some journalists. These people don't need a tax break when people are struggling to find a decent quality house they could afford.

When I worked for Willie as his constituency caseworker, by far the biggest issue people came to us with was housing. They might be desperate for a Council House but forced to pay huge private sector rents on low incomes which means that they sink further into poverty. They might be living in a horrible, damp, cold Council property which is adversely affecting their health.  Their family might have expanded meaning too many children were sharing not enough bedrooms. They may have become terminally ill and unable to cope with the stairs to their flat, leaving them housebound before it was necessary.

For many of those people, there simply wasn't enough housing. In Fife, they were only able to grant the needs of around a sixth of their housing applicants every year even with new homes being built. We're not talking about doling out luxury apartments here - just basic, watertight, warm accommodation which should be every family's right.

By continuing the Council Tax freeze at the expense of helping these people who desperately need housing, Alex Salmond is showing, sickeningly, where his priorities lie. Rennie describes him as a Robin Hood in reverse:

“In the wake of draft budget, it is time that the SNP rethought their 5 year council tax freeze given that the budget for new affordable housing has been slashed.
 “While he rewards the richest people in the largest houses with a tax cut, he has cut the money available for those who need a roof over their heads. “I just do not understand Alex Salmond’s twisted logic. He is the reverse of Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the richest people in Scotland.
 “People will simply not understand, with the economy the way it is, why big spenders like Fred Goodwin, Brian Souter and the Duke of Sutherland need this tax cut. “The SNP Government must go back to the drawing board and come up with a credible budget that protects the most vulnerable in communities across Scotland, not millionaires in their mansions.”

It doesn't seem to me that the SNP is committed enough to doing something about increasing the supply of affordable housing. In contrast, the Liberal Democrats have been backing Shelter's call for bringing more empty houses back into use, as Jim Hume said last month:

“Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that bringing back empty homes into use is absolutely necessary to help quell the growing number of people languishing on waiting lists for houses in Scotland. It is totally unacceptable that people in desperate need of a house cannot get one, but, perversely, there are houses sitting empty up and down the country.
 “The Scottish Government must make tackling this an absolute priority. Ministers needs to provide answers on how they are going to provide sustainable and affordable housing for future generations in Scotland. Bringing back empty houses into use would be a start.”

There is no justification for the SNP giving more to the rich while they take to the poor. The Band H Council Tax band saves almost £3000 over the 9 years of the Council Tax freeze and those millionaires also benefit from free prescriptions and free bus travel if they're over 60 as well. When money's tight, we need to make sure that the poorest are our first priority. Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have made sure the Westminster Coalition has not adopted the Tory policies of an Inheritance Tax cut and marriage tax break. They have made it clear that the 50p tax rate is here to stay, while taking nearly a million low paid people out of tax completely.

I hope John Swinney looks at this again. Unfortunately, with an overall majority, the SNP are sure to get their budget through so we're reliant on them seeing sense. I won't be holding my breath.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nick Clegg has better approval ratings than Ed Miliband, George Osborne and Ed Balls

We've been wanting a bit of good polling news for a while now - and we have it from this month's Guardian/ICM poll. Our poll rating of 14% would be in the ball park of what we would expect in opposition, let alone in Government at this sort of stage in a parliament. In July 2001, ICM had us at exactly the same figure at a time when we weren't in Government grappling with some serious issues. There's obviously a lot more to be done to get us back to where we were in the General Election, but we're in better shape than we were a year ago.

The good news, though, is that Nick Clegg has had the biggest positive change of all the leaders this month and has overtaken Labour leader Ed Miliband. He's still not quite got into the net positives, but he's not far away. He's gained 13 points in the last month.  More people think he's doing a good job than Ed Miliband. In fact, even George Osborne has a higher approval rating than the Labour leader and that will worry him. However, the Labour leader can take comfort from the fact that if we like him not much, we like his shadow chancellor and chief leadership rival Ed Balls even less. As Olly Grender said yesterday, Alistair Darling's memoirs have given  enough ammunition to quell any Balls coup attempt for some time.

I guess what's changed this month is that we've seen Nick Clegg out and about talking sense to counter the Tory nonsense on the riots. He bided his time. He didn't come out and pick a fight with Cameron in the midst of it all, but took a step back and talked about restorative justice and the importance of the Human Rights Act. He's come up with some good ideas, like the Summer school for those kids who need it before high school. 

It's also encouraging to see good results starting to come through in by-elections in places like Gedling and Eton. Even in Scotland, the recent poll in Highland, Perthshire ward showed that we are on the up. We took 12% of the vote, an increase of 4.8% from a poll in the same ward 3 years ago when there was no coalition to reckon with. And this was in the heart of John Swinney's constituency.

Obviously early days, but it shows that we just need to hit the streets and talk to people now, a lot, ahead of the local Council elections next May.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The team that rocks - the yellow bit of Downing Street is about to get a whole load better

After a very upbeat week at Liberal Democrat conference, I am delighted to hear news that two very sensible appointments have been made to augment the Liberal Democrat team within Downing Street.

The first was actually announced about 10 days ago by the Herald - former Herald journalist Christine Jardine is going to be the link between No 10 and the Scotland Office. One can only hope that if David Cameron and George Osborne ever express the wish to say anything about Scotland, she'll be able to lock them in a cupboard until the urge passes.

The second, announced today on her blog, is the appointment of Olly Grender on a temporary basis as Deputy Director of Communications to cover for maternity leave.

Both Olly and Christine are people whose judgement I utterly respect and trust. They are very practical, with their feet firmly in the real world. I don't just expect that they'll make a real improvement to the way the Government operates, I know they will. The analytical and strategic knowledge they bring to their new roles is pretty darned brilliant.

Good luck to both of them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The awkward moment when Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael was .......

......... confronted on The World at One with a recording of the 12 Days of Coalition from the Glee Club.

It is hilarious. It's at around 27 minutes here.

What he neglected to tell Ms Kearney was that he was there. Whether he was there for that song, I can't say, but he was definitely there to lead Oh Flower of Scotland................

And, BBC, get this - if you are really aggrieved about something, you don't sing about it like that.

Farron rocks it at the Glee Club - the photographic evidence #ldconf

The Glee Club is the traditional end of  Liberal Democrat Conference get together. Hundreds of us cram into a room that's way too small and usually hideously hot, drinking lots of beverages for cooling purposes only and singing entirely respectful songs about our triumphs and tribulations over the years. Any similarity to the tv programme Glee is entirely coincidental. I doubt that resident hosts John Bridges, Gareth Epps and Richard Clein have anything in common with pyschopathic cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. Or at least not much.

I haven't been to a Glee Club in 12 years. I was looking forward to it probably more than anything else in the entire week. You kind of wonder if time has made you look at it with rosy coloured spectacles and could it possibly be as good. Yes, frankly, it was.

It started off all sophisticated like - a jazz band, The Superinjunctions, accompanied by John Hemming.
It was wild, many of the jokes were terrible, but it was such a laugh. Singing all these old songs, plus some new ones, really gets the endorphins going.

And then there was the guest appearances. Lembit Opik was owned by Linda Jack on a spoof of Just a Minute. Simon Hughes did a wee turn. So far, so very 12 years ago. But there were the new Glee Club regulars to come. First of all, the Party President Tim Farron doing his own inimitable version of the Ting Tings "That's not my name."

Paddy Ashdown also appeared to tell the same joke he apparently tells this year. I was quite alarmed when he threatened not to tell it at all because the last time I was at the Glee Club he was party leader and I'd never heard it. He said that he would only tell it if we didn't laugh at all at a different joke - which, ironically, I had heard him tell before. I won't repeat either in case it spoils your enjoyment of next year. He was in really good form and stayed around for quite a while after his turn.

Our party has always been very good at taking the mickey out of itself. Three decades ago, when the predecessor parties merged, some funny old Liberal people rewrote the 12 days of Christmas to suggest that the Social Democrats may not have given a great deal to the Liberals. The climactic five gold rings became B***** All, for example. Naturally, this was adapted last year to "The Twelve daysof Coalition". The gift on the first day was "A referendum on AV." Two additions to that line, made up from the floor, "which we lost" and "badly" will, I suspect be added to the "official" script for next year.

And I close with a picture of the Irish mob on stage singing Danny Boy, led by our very own Stephen Glenn.

Tim Farron's speech to Liberal Democrat Conference in full: I stand with you

My train arrived in Birmingham at 15:55 on Sunday afternoon. From then it was a race against time to get to my hotel to dump my bag and then to the Conference centre, through security and into the hall to see Party President Tim Farron's speech. I didn't quite make it for the start, so I've been watching it here on the iPlayer. 
You know that you'll get lots of fizz, froth and frivolity with Farron - but once he's got you laughing and relaxed, he'll come and kick your backside and make you want to work harder. He's good at jokes - but beneath them, there's a depth to what he's saying. I particularly liked the way he empathised with those who'd lost Council or Scottish Parliament seats in a much more compassionate way than we've seen from anyone else. He talked of his own experience of defeat in 2001 and how it took him a while to recover. He understands that you don't just pick yourself up and dust yourself off after that. Even as an MP's member of staff, I found that the process was a bit like a bereavement. The closing down process, saying goodbye to our many regulars was really emotional.

His speech takes us through those dark days and gives us a bit of a toolkit that we can use - the policies we are influencing, the good we are doing in the Government. He talked about our role in combatting the "Tory drivel" after the riots and about how he came into politics, appalled by homelessness and determined to do something about it.

He talked about getting back to the principles and practice of community politics. of a "belligerent determination to make our own luck", of not getting sucked into town hall or Whitehall cosiness and getting back out on the streets. 

He's right that we're not going to start winning again if we just sit at home moping, and no elected person should ever be out of the heart of their community - but for me, that's only half the story. What's happening inside that bubble affects everything any Liberal Democrat does and I think what keeps me hopeful is that Tim is very much in the real world. Part of his role is grabbing onto ankles and dragging them back down to earth.  You can see his fingerprints on some of what's been going on since he took office and the stuff coming out from our ministers is getting better and more constructively combative, fighting our corner harder.

So, enjoy the whole speech - watch it if you can, but you know it's here if you ever need to refer back to anything:

So, well done - you all got past security clearance!
Incidentally I’m very grateful to the police, they’ve now provided me with all the detailed personal information on party members that I need in order to conduct a Stalinist purge.
Basically anyone who actually passed security clearance without sign of being a subversive will be erased.
Its been a busy six months since Sheffield.
And I’m going to start where I should.
At the bottom.
And Mays elections really were the bottom – at least they flipping well better had be!
Ok, we got 16% of the vote and had some real successes around the country, but let’s not fool ourselves.
In much of the country we got slaughtered.
In Scotland, in many of our great cities, in shire districts Liberal Democrats who have served their communities and worked their backsides off for years, got their backsides kicked.
I want to say this to you now, if you lost your seat, I stand with you; I am angry on your behalf; I take the responsibility and I absolutely will not insult you by claiming that this was collateral damage, or an understandable mid term blip.
Frankly, as your President, I owe you an apology.
Politics is full of clich├ęs.
Perhaps the worst, is that bit where you’re on telly having to pretend everything’s gone swimmingly on a bad election night.
I had that job, and I have to confess that I didn’t stick to the script.
I didn’t pretend it was alright really.
Cos it wasn’t.
I saw the stats piling up, the Lib Dem minus figure getting bigger, you know, I knew these were not statistics, these people are my friends.
People who didn’t deserve to lose.
But who lost.
I’m not going to explain them away, shrug and accept their defeat as an inevitable consequence.
Defeat is never inevitable or acceptable.
But sometimes it happens.
I remember 2001 when we should have won Westmorland and Lonsdale and didn’t.
The campaigns department sent us a pager during the campaign – cutting edge!
They included us in the messages they sent to sitting MPs.
After the election, they carried on sending us messages – assuming that we’d got elected.
I went back to work at Lancaster University on the Monday after I lost, and I kept getting messages telling me about photo calls for new MPs, swearing in and making maiden speeches.
It was a sickener.
I was pleased for those who’d won, but I was gutted, depressed, I took the whole thing personally.
I’d worked my socks off for 3 years, I’d done everything I thought I could to win, but I still lost by 3,000.
And I have to confess that after 2001 there were a few months where I thought, why don’t I just jack it in?
Do a 9-5, dig the garden, get a season ticket at the Rovers, you know, torture myself in a different way.
Then I changed my mind.
There were two things that did it if I recall.
First, England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich; which has no political significance whatsoever, it just massively cheered me up!
A few days later my daughter Gracie was born.
If that doesn’t make you take stock, nothing will.
I thought back to what had first politicised me, and if you’ve heard this one before – well, tough!
I was 14 I saw Cathy come home, it completely broke my heart and my reaction was to do something, to join Shelter and then the Liberals.
Because if homelessness, poverty and inequality are wrong, then not doing something to stop them is equally wrong.
I’d joined this party to make a better a world, and now in the maternity ward in Kendal I had this little ginger thing, someone to make the world better for.
I had no flaming right to walk away.
So I got re-selected and spent 4 years doing everything Hilary Stephenson told me to, and a bit more.
Because you can’t change the world if you come second.
That’s why I am here rather than watching Rovers put four past Arsenal, despite only having three shots on goal.
Tell me if I’ve got this wrong, but I think that you want me as President to sell the undiluted Liberal Democrat standpoint.
Not to be an apologist for everything the coalition does.
Committed to the Liberal Democrats in coalition, but more importantly, committed to the Liberal Democrats.
There’s wonderful freedom in this role and I’m determined to use it!
Unlike ministerial platform speeches at conference this year, I don’t have to show mine to Oliver Letwin in advance!
I didn’t have to.
But I sent him a copy anyway just to wind him up.
But there are 18 Liberal Democrats who don’t have the luxuries that I do.
They can’t just sound off if they don’t like government policy or trot through the no lobby on occasions – rare occasions – to demonstrate their disagreement.
They are our ministers.
And while I’m parading my conscience around the TV studios saying the right things, they are busy in their departments doing the right things.
On those very, very rare occasions when Michael Gove says or does something stupid or wrong, Sarah Teather doesn’t come out and slag him off. Instead she fixes it.
Free schools for example!
When the Tories showed hesitancy about committing to true and fair banking reforms, Vince Cable laid on the pressure and forced that commitment.
And when George Osborne flew the kite of cutting income tax for the wealthy, Danny Alexander cut the string, and stopped him.
Incidentally, those 20 economists – nearly all of them top rate tax payers by the way – who called for scrapping the 50p tax rate.
They have many supporters in the Conservative party.
But they are utterly wrong.
Are we all in this together?
Well not if we give tax cuts to the rich!
At a time when 90% of the country is struggling to pay the rent or the mortgage, giving a 10p tax cut to those who need it the least, would not just be economically witless, it would be morally repugnant.
Now of course, all income tax is temporary!
Income tax was introduced as a temporary measure in 1798 during the Napoleonic wars.
So my solemn promise to you is that we will get rid of this temporary measure, as soon as we stopping falling out with the French.
Danny, Vince, Nick and I are absolutely clear – the wealthy will continue to pay the largest share of the cost of our recovery so that we can protect the least well off.
The principle that the rich pay more does not come from a desire to penalise the wealthy, but from a desire to ensure that our recovery must be a fair recovery.
Be absolutely sure of this. Liberal Democrat ministers are the guarantors of fairness in a government that would be an absolute nightmare without them.
And not only this.
Your average Tory minister, bless them, works hard in their department and is rarely seen anywhere near their constituency.
Our ministers are full-on committed constituency MPs as well as being tasked with the small responsibility of running the country.
Their commitment to Liberal Democrat principles and policies is immense and their workrate is phenomenal.
That goes for all our ministers, but goes for Nick in spades.
This summer, Nick hasn’t stopped. His schedule racing around the country meeting members, supporters and one or two former supporters, has been staggering.
Thick skinned, warm hearted, quick witted, occasionally paint-splattered, a Liberal to his fingertips – he leads the Lib Dems, runs the country and runs rings around the Tories.
If you listen to Nadine Dorries, Conservative home and the Daily Mail, then Nick Clegg is leading the government; but when it comes to the NHS, the Bankers and fair taxation, Nick seems to be leading the opposition too!
Ed Miliband, are you still on holiday?
Who is taking the Blairite nonsense out of the NHS bill?
Nick Clegg
Who put the bankers back in their boxes over financial restructuring?
Nick Clegg
Who stood up against reactionary Tory drivel after the riots?
Nick Clegg
We are a radical Liberal Party putting radical liberal politics into action and blocking Tory policies every day.
For how many decades have we dreamed of being able to say that?
I have always been proud to be a Liberal Democrat, I was proud of us when we called it right on Kosovo, when we called it right on Iraq, when we called it right on deregulation of the banks.
But I have never been more proud of my party than I am now.
British public opinion is a bit more mixed.
I mean we’ve endured decades where the public were utterly indifferent to our existence, then for 5 minutes they loved us intensely, followed by a lengthier period where they’ve actively disliked us.
I had a girlfriend like that once.
But no one can say we don’t matter anymore, as Oscar Wilde said there’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about!
Look we had three political options after the 2010 elections: we had to choose between the rather unpleasant, the completely impossible or the utterly appalling; but we only had two economic options between the horrible and the catastrophic.
Now my politics were formed in the 1980s amidst mass unemployment in the north of England.
At times more than half of my class at school were on free school meals, most of us - me included – had parents out of work.
That experience scarred me, and it scarred me all the more because those levels of unemployment in the 80s were avoidable - that government deliberately used unemployment as an economic tool to control spending and the unions.
And we are tackling the deficit today, making horrible decisions to avoid the catastrophic alternative of market meltdown and mass unemployment or, as Ed Balls calls it ‘plan B’.
If the Tories created mass unemployment in the 80s out of wickedness, Labour would create mass unemployment today out of witlessness.
This summer, the silly season got serious didn’t it?
No one saw the riots coming.
With the possible exception of the Kaiser Chiefs.
And I reckon that was just a lucky guess!
The riots were an outrage against peaceful communities, a tragedy for civil society, an affront to our identity and an absolute gift for every knee-jerk reactionary in the country.
Some who shall remain nameless, but for illustrative purposes lets call them David Starkey, saw the fires of discontent and thought it wise to pour petrol on them by invoking racial stereotypes.
Now David Starkey is one of Kendal’s favourite sons, and I know that he is absolutely not a fascist, but I also know that he is absolutely an intelligent person and intelligent enough to know that it is culpably reckless to play into the hands of those who are fascists.
And there’s been a hypocrisy in so much of the media – including from the apparently shameless Murdoch press – focusing their ire on what they call a feral underclass with a contempt for society.
Just an observation here:
The super rich don’t need to go down Ealing high street nicking tellies in order to demonstrate their contempt for society. They demonstrate their contempt by not paying taxes.
And lets be honest, we are sharing power with a bunch of people who think that this is OK!
If you care about communities, then you are an opponent of all those who undermine them.
That includes the looters. That includes those who benefit from our society but who do not pay the taxes that they should, and that includes politicians and newspaper editors who provide them with cover.
Before the summer recess, I spent June and July away from Parliament too after my wife had an operation.
She’s fine by the way, she spent 2 months effectively confined to home, not able to walk or drive so I was granted compassionate leave by the whips – who, lets be honest, didn’t owe me any favours!
So I got to look after the kids out of school hours and be a constituency MP the rest of the time.
Rosie meanwhile read lots of crime thrillers, got hooked on online shopping, but absolutely refused to get sucked into daytime TV.
She claims.
Interestingly enough some tickets arrived through the post the other day for a gentle discussion programme called the Jeremy Kyle show.
I assume its a bit like question time.
The title is ‘my husband forces me to deliver leaflets even when I’m on crutches’.
Which is intriguing.
I learnt a lot during that time away from Parliament: first, being a Mum is hard work; second being my wife is really hard work; and third, politics looks a heck of a lot different when you are not in the Westminster bubble.
You see I spent almost 2 months getting my news the same way everyone else does.
No briefings or nuanced explanations from ministers.
The Lib Dems achievements on the NHS bill, on reigning in the bankers on keeping profiteers out of our state schools - they either don’t get reported, or the Lib Demness of those successes is exquisitely camouflaged.
Think about it, we are the first government party in history that doesn’t have a single newspaper telling our side of the story.
But the fact that our excellent message wasn’t landing in the minds of the public highlighted an obvious danger for all of us who hold elected office.
And this is the moment when I could offend just about all of you, but isn’t it so often the same old story, you’re a brilliant campaigner, you get elected, you get sucked into the council, you go to meetings, you spend lots of time with your very lovely and very bright officers, and you start listening to them intently even though they don’t actually care two hoots if you’re re-elected.
And your diary gets a bit too full to go out knocking on doors, so not only are you now listening to officials but you have stopped listening to normal people and so you forget what they sound like, what angers them, what impresses them, what they elected you to do in the first place so you make daft decisions and you get slaughtered in the local press and then you lose.
That can happen in Whitehall as well as the town hall!
It can be a slippery slope.
So what’s the answer?
I’ll tell you what:
A full blooded return to the principles and the practice of community politics.
And it needs to start now.
In many of the mets, with elections in thirds, the same seats that we lost this year, are up again next year.
There may be a sense of inevitability that if we lost this year, we’re bound to lose next year too.
Well I am absolutely not having that!
This conference must mark a renewal of the theory and practice of community politics – and a belligerent determination to make our own luck.
I don’t underestimate the task ahead, but we have been through far worse and come out smiling on the other side.
The Thorpe scandal, the merger debacle; you know, if our poll rating is currently 13%, I can tell you that that’s about 14 times better than it was in 1989.
You know, I reckon if either of the other parties saw their poll ratings dip into single figures, they would implode and cease to be.
They couldn’t hack it mentally or emotionally, and the vested interests that they serve would abandon them.
Not with us. We’ve got nerves of steel. Survival is what we do.
A bit like cockroaches after a nuclear war, just a bit less smelly, we are made of sterner stuff.
And we are not the vehicle of any vested interest.
We are the vehicle for a radical, green, tolerant, internationalist, progressive form of politics and if we did not exist then there’s hundreds of people here today who’d rush out and invent us!
Going into coalition was absolutely the right thing for the country, but costly for the party.
I’m in no doubt that being in coalition with the Tories has tainted us, our identity is blurred, many who support us are confused. They say: “We thought you were against the Tories, why are you shacked up with them now?”
The picture of the coalition being a marriage is a depressing one isn’t it?
It’s enough to put you off your tea!
If it’s a marriage, well its a good natured one, but I’m afraid its temporary.
We’re staying together for the sake of the kids, or the Special Advisors as we call them.
So look, I don’t want to upset you and its not going to happen for 3 or 4 years but I’m afraid divorce is inevitable.
So, as your president I took the liberty of seeking some legal advice about how we stand in the event of a divorce.
There’s good news and bad news. Good news: we might get half of Ashcroft’s money.
Bad news: we have to have Pickles at the weekends!
Well over the last few months, there’s been a new spikiness and effectiveness about the Liberal Democrats.
We fought against the bankers, we stood up against the witless kneejerk populism of the Tories after the riots, we’ve fought against tax cuts for the rich and we came out fighting on the NHS, and I’ll tell you what, we will continue the fight for our NHS.
And since then, we’ve started winning by-elections, including gaining a seat off Labour for the first time since the general election, our membership has risen, donations have increased and our poll ratings have shot up from absolutely diabolical to just slightly depressing.
Now there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned.
I was sort of thinking of leaving it out but that would be cowardly.
The AV referendum.
That went well didn’t it?
Electoral reform was within our grasp for the first time in our lifetimes, but was it for the last time?
Don’t even think it.
Two things I have got doggedly used to in the 25 years since I joined this party: one is losing, the other is never, ever flaming giving up!
We have a corrupt electoral system, it needs modernising and transforming.
We will democratise the House of Lords and we will bring in proportional representation for the upper house.
PR for parliament.
Unlike the NHS bill, it is in the coalition agreement, I don’t care how many Tories or Lib Dems don’t like it, it is not an optional part of the programme. It’s a red line.
It’s not a sexy doorstep issue, its not going in my focus leaflets, but it is vital if we are to ensure that our democracy emerges from the 19 century.
When we go to the polls in 2015, we must be electing a part of the upper house for the first time ever, by proper PR.
Not a miserable little compromise!
The AV referendum is salutary.
It reminds us what we are up against in general.
A Tory party owned and directed by the impossibly rich, a Labour party which may be led by a progressive but which is owned by the forces of conservatism and a media owned by a handful of powerful individuals with antidemocratic axes that they grind very effectively.
How do we compete against that? Isn't it impossible?
David Penhaligon said “I only got elected because I was too naive to realise it was impossible”.
We must fight every day to ensure that we never become part of the establishment, but we should fight hard to prove that we are worthy of power.
David Penhaligon, Roy Jenkins, Jo Grimond and all the legions of others who brought us from the depths for such a time as this.
They’d have killed to see the day we were in government, and they’d have killed us for complaining about it.
There’s a true story about President Kennedy visiting a NASA warehouse used for storing fuel cylinders for the Apollo programme.
He met the janitor and asked him ‘what do you do?’ the janitor replied, ‘I’m putting a man on the Moon’. That is the spirit.
As Liberal Democrats, we are all in this together whether you are the Deputy Prime Minister or a Focus deliverer, or indeed both.
No one will sell our story if we don’t, no one will believe our message if we don’t, no one will fight our battles if we don’t.
We’ve spent years trying to qualify for the premier league of politics, now we are here – lets waste no time looking into the stands for reactions, let’s look at each other, look to each other, focus on the goal, tackle our opponents and stuff them.
Get on with it!


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