Monday, January 30, 2012

Jo Swinson MP trains women MPs in Kurdistan, Iraq

Jo Swinson's latest video, here on You Tube, gives an insight into her recent trip to Kurdistan with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy where she helped train female MPs.

It highlights the important work of the Foundation in providing support for legislators and citizens in younger democracies, where laws we take for granted are only just being implemented.

Sheridan gagging order is just wrong

Tommy Sheridan, former MSP and Solidarity party leader returns to Glasgow from prison today to serve the remainder of his 3 year sentence for perjury at home.

For six years, certain low risk prisoners have been eligible to be released from prison on home detention curfew to serve part of their sentences at home. They wear an electronic tag around their ankle and have to stay indoors generally for 12 hours a day.

There are certain basic conditions that an offender has to comply with. These include:

1. The offender must be of good behaviour and keep the peace.

2. The offender must not commit any offence.
3. The offender must not tamper with or intentionally damage the electronic monitoring equipment or device(s) used to monitor compliance with curfew conditions complying with section 12AB of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993( 9), or knowingly allow such equipment or device(s) to be tampered with or intentionally damaged.
4. The offender must allow a representative or employee of [ name of electronic monitoring service provider] access to the address specified in this licence for the purposes of section 12AB(1)(a) of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 to install, check, repair or replace the electronic monitoring equipment or device(s).

So far, so sensible. In addition, the Scottish Parole Board can set further conditions. Keeping away from the victims of the crime would be one we could all agree with, for example, or complying with conditions relating to treatment for addictions. These conditions are all about managing the risk and providing rehabilitation. The restrictions on movement, being confined to one place for half the time is the punishment part. Thinking about it, I reckon that can be much more difficult in some ways than being in prison. Certainly you're out with your family and friends, but you can't just go to that concert with them, or even nip out to the shop if you discover you're out of milk last thing at night. It's not freedom like you and I take for granted.

The Scottish Government has this to say on curfew conditions:

When considering the release on HDC of a prisoner, consideration must be given to:
  • Protecting the public at large
  • Preventing re-offending by the prisoner, and
  • Securing the successful reintegration of the prisoner into the community
All prisoners granted HDC are on licence subject to standard conditions and a curfew condition. Additional conditions may also be included in the licence, such as supervision and support.

The issue I have with Sheridan's conditions are that they include, after a press conference today, a restriction on speaking in public for the six months that he'll be under the home detention curfew. This is a condition that has never been imposed on anyone else before in Scotland. I guess the obvious parallel, although under a different legal system, is with Jeffrey Archer, who was writing ad publishing books while still in prison for a similar offence.

I find it worrying that preventing him from taking part in the debates that will be shaping our country over the next while is seen as legitimate.Don't get me wrong, I have no time for this character at all, but I feel that singling him out in this way is wrong.

Sheridan is not a free man as of today; he is still serving his sentence. However, to impose on him a restriction that has never been imposed on anyone else is additional punishment which is both unnecessary and wrong in principle. If we agree that he's eligible for the partial re-emergence into society that home detention curfew, allows, then surely he must be allowed to take part in discussing the issues of the day.

I was glad to see Willie Rennie taking this up at the weekend. Like me, he doesn't agree with Tommy Sheridan's views, but sees the risks in allowing this sort of condition to be set. He said:

“This order flies in the face of free speech and sets a dangerous precedent.

“Although Mr Sheridan holds views that I do not agree with I do not believe his right to express these views should be curtailed.

“In the run up to May’s local elections and in the early stages of the referendum debate he should be free to take in active role in promoting the things he believes in.

“To bar him participation is counter to our democratic values.”

Although this is a judicial matter, there has to be some sort of check when the Parole Board imposes fundamentally illiberal and unreasonable conditions like this which go way beyond risk management or support. The SNP has a pretty illiberal streak so you can't rely on Kenny MacAskill to notice. This is the guy who dismissed the appalling, repeated failures at Cornton Vale as nowt to do with him as I wrote last year.

I was a bit annoyed that Isabel Fraser didn't ask Nicola Sturgeon about this on the Sunday Politics yesterday. It was as much her responsibility as Stephen Hester's bonus which she was given the opportunity to criticise at length.

As I say, I have no particular desire to listen to Sheridan's firebrand, narcissistic, socialist claptrap, but I don't see why he should be prevented from inflicting it. It's important for our democracy that this condition is lifted.

Welfare Reform Bill: what I said to Lib Dem MPs

This Wednesday, the Government will attempt to overturn the amendments to its Welfare Reform Bill made by the Lords in the House of Commons.

Last week I reported that over 50 former Lib Dem candidates, including several Leadership Programme hopefuls and asked people to write to Liberal Democrat MPs to try to secure their support for the amendments passed by the Lords.

The vote on Wednesday is not the end of the story. If the Commons and Lords can't agree on the final wording of a Bill, it falls. That will only bring about a year's respite, though, as the Government will simply put it through without Lords' consent under the terms of the Parliament Act. The Government will be keen to avoid this, though, as it would delay implementation - and the Treasury's sums are based on the assumption that it will be put into practice from April this year. It would also mean the delay in the good parts of the Bill, like the Universal Credit which removes the poverty trap which prevents people from taking jobs.

Yesterday,  I e-mailed all our MPs. This is what I said to them:

I write as a party member who feels deeply uncomfortable that the Liberal Democrats are being associated with measures in the Welfare Reform Bill which, without justification, will make life much more difficult for many sick, disabled and vulnerable people.
I’m asking you to do what you can to ensure that the measures are changed ahead of the votes in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Ideally, I would like you to vote against them, but I’m enough of a realist to know that that will not happen.  I have enough faith in our parliamentary parties to know that many members in both Commons and Lords will have already secured worthwhile changes on parts of the Welfare Reform Bill, but I still think that there are some elements that are unacceptable.
I spoke at a fringe meeting on this issue, run by RNIB Scotland, at Scottish Conference last Autumn Their incoming chair, Ken Reed, asked us to imagine being blinded in an accident tomorrow. He said it would take a year to get used just to being blind, let alone having to compete in an ever more difficult labour market.  Four years as a Lib Dem MP’s caseworker convinces me that there are many people, with quite serious conditions who are not well enough to work, who have been put into WRAG, despite the Harrington reviews.
I personally know a number of people who have worked for their whole lives, only to fall ill in their 50s. They stand to lose £400 a month which they can’t afford to lose. Had they been on benefits when they fell ill they would still qualify for income related ESA. This does not fit in with the Government’s stated aim that work should always pay.
The income limit for income related ESA is not very high – well below average earnings. Being ill can be costly – for example, if you can’t move around much, you’ll need to keep your house warmer. If you  need regular hospital treatment, transport costs can quickly mount up.
Liberal Democrat conference has made its position on this issue quite clear. Last September a motion was passed overwhelmingly which called on Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose arbitrary time limits for contributory ESA.
I hope that you will agree that the above factors make a compelling case against the proposed time limit. The Lords’ amendment was not perfect and I would prefer an arrangement which would not
I also do not believe that charging for child maintenance services is fair. Absent parents who don’t want to co-operate have no incentive to go to mediation because they know that there will be no consequences for them. 
The reforms to DLA seem to be based on flawed figures, over estimation of both cost and fraud and should be properly reconsidered.
If we need to save money, there are plenty other things the Government funds which could be stopped before taking essential cash from sick and disabled people. Please do what you can to secure realistic change, at a minimum letting the Lords Amendments stand.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Caron Lindsay
Dunfermline local party

Sunday, January 29, 2012

#PAD photos 22-28 January 2012

We went to the second last performance of this year's panto at the King's in Edinburgh. Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and Andy Gray were as funny as ever.

I have been singularly rubbish at taking photos this week so here are some views of the subtle and not so subtle lighting Bob has put into his new DJ haven.

And my favourite drink of the moment is...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: The Iron Lady

For the first time, I took advantage of being at home in the middle of the day and went to the cinema on Wednesday. The film that inspired me to do so was one about possibly the most controversial British politician of my lifetime. Venerated, in quite a scary way, actually, by the right, loathed with a passion by the left.

She let me down, badly. When she uttered those words of St Francis of Assisi about bringing light and harmony and peace that day in May 1979, I as an 11 year old bought it. When she then proceeded to cause more division and encourage the promotion of self at the expense of social responsibility, I felt so disappointed. When she refused to take action against apartheid and other human rights abuses, I was pretty disgusted.

So, it's fair to say that there's no love lost between me and Mags to put it mildly.

I'd read that the film was more about her Dementia than her record as Prime Minister. I also knew that Thatcher is a lot more popular in the USA than she is here. I wasn't looking forward to seeing her portrayed in a sympathetic light but felt strangely compelled to see the film. I fully expected to come out of the cinema raging.

I hadn't, foolishly, taken the talents of Meryl Streep into account, though. I always knew she was versatile. I mean, anyone who can pull off the harrowing Sophie's Choice, the imperious Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, and be a credible Donna in Mamma Mia is undoubtedly a talented actress. And now, in the same film, she plays both an inflexible, unlistening, head of Government, surrounded by men who often reluctantly do her bidding, who thinks nothing of sinking a ship that's sailing away from the theatre of war and an old lady coping with the disorientation of Dementia, living an isolated life, surrounded by women who care for her. In the flashbacks, Streep has that clarity and conviction in her eyes. In the portrayal of the older Thatcher, her eyes have confusion in them. It's incredible.

We see the very young Thatcher (played by Alexandra Roach) patronised by men as she tries to win selection  for a Tory seat. Her background as a grocer's daughter and her gender are clearly holding her back and there's a telling scene where she's sent off with the ladies after a dinner. Every woman in politics has gone through something like this at some point. For most of us it makes encouraging other women a priority. For Thatcher, it seemed to breed resentment to come out much later.

For every scene that induced anger - the Falklands, the refusal to depart from her Monetarist policies, the miners' strike, her intransigence over the poll tax, there was another immediately afterwards which made you laugh at Jim Broadbent's portrayal of Dennis, or marvel at Michael Pennington's brief but pretty much spot on scenes as Michael Foot. Streep invokes sympathy for the older Thatcher, widowed, alone and confused. Without giving too much away, there are a couple of really mawkish scenes but, blow me, was there not a tear in my eye? I really must try and toughen up a little.

Streep's portrayal of the present day Thatcher is based on assumptions and a good script, not actual fact. Even so, it feels intrusive, a bit close to the bone, to be watching something like that while she's still alive. I actually found myself agreeing with David Cameron on that point.

It was an excellent film that evoked strong emotions in me - the old anger stirred within my breast, shall we say, but I also felt sympathy for the strange and disorientating world a Dementia sufferer inhabits. For one person to get across confidence and clarity and confusion and grief within one film and one character was amazing and Streep would be a worthy winner of the Best Actress Oscar.

Leadership programme hopefuls and new MEP among signatories of candidates' plea to Clegg on Welfare Reform

Today's Guardian carries a report that more than 50 Liberal Democrat candidates at the last election have written to Nick Clegg to ask for a rethink on welfare reform.

This shows that many within the Party are unhappy with measures like the withdrawal of contributory Employment and Support Allowance after one year, something I've written about many times.

And this is not just Gareth Epps being awkward, either. Among the signatories to the letter are Greg Judge, Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Shas Sheehan and Layla Moran, four of the  participants in the much vaunted Leadership Programme as well as Daisy Benson, who darned well should be on it. We also have our newest MEP Rebecca Taylor who takes over Diana Wallis' seat after Stewart Arnold decided against succeeding his wife.  Stephen Glenn also told me where to find the actual letter rather than just the Guardian report so thanks to him.

The letter says:

Dear Nick
As you are aware the House of Lords voted in favour of 3 amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, protecting important benefits for sick and disabled people.
The amendments, regarding contributory Employment and Support Allowance (cESA), were:
  • The amount of time a person can receive cESA will be extended to at least 24 months, instead of the Government’s proposed 12 month limit.
  • Cancer patients will be exempted from the time limit.
  • The ‘youth provision’ of the benefit will be protected, meaning that young disabled people who cannot work will still be entitled to cESA without having made National Insurance contributions.
The amendments were passed with significant majorities, but they must still be approved by the House of Commons.
Contributory Employment and Support Allowance is a benefit given to people who have had to stop work due to ill health or disability, but who are well enough to return to work at some point. It is only given to those who have paid sufficient National Insurance Contributions during their working life.
Some disabled people will be able to return to work, but many will need more time and support to do so. The Department for Work and Pensions estimate that 94 per cent of disabled people will take longer than a year to find work. This means that many who remain unemployed after these 12 months will lose all benefit support. That would mean that, by 2015/16, 700,000 people would be affected and 280,000 would lose their entire benefit payment – currently £94.25 per week.
We are deeply concerned that the Minister, Chris Grayling, has already indicated he intends the Welfare Reform Bill to pass without the amendments on cESA when the Bill returns to the commons.
At Federal Conference we passed a motion which said we should not have an arbitrary time limit on cESA. Although the amendment extends the current proposal from one to at least two years, we do not believe we should let the best be the enemy of the good.
We, including many who stood as Liberal Democrat candidates at the last election, some who have been selected on the Lib Dem leadership programme, councillors and selected 2012 London candidates believe you and Lib Dem Parliamentarians should uphold party policy and principle and only support the Welfare Reform Bill with the amendments passed in the House of Lords.

It's clear that this isn't a north south thing either - this letter has the support of candidates from Linlithgow to Poole, from Coastal Suffolk to Wirral West.

I had precious few replies from my e-mails to our Peers, but Shirley Williams told me she had had over 500 e-mails on the subject of the ESA time limit.

This isn't enough, though. A letter from candidates trailed in the media won't make the difference. Our MPs need to hear that we want them to get the Government to pull back from the brink and not to overturn the Lords Amendments.

It's time for Liberal Democrat members to start contacting MPs in much larger numbers. The crucial votes take place next Wednesday. Will you do your bit in trying to persuade our MPs to oppose the measures that our Conference voted so strongly against? In fact, if you have a Lib Dem MP, tell them how strongly you feel about these changes. They will take notice if their inboxes and mailbags are full of correspondence on this issue.

Please contact our MPs yourself and spread the word to ask others to do the same if you feel that these reforms are way too harsh on sick and disabled people.

Holocaust Memorial Day - Jo Swinson's reflections on her visit to Auschwitz

In September 2009, Jo Swinson MP went to Auschwitz as part of an educational trip with Scottish secondary school pupils.

This is her moving video account of her visit. It breaks my heart to think of the brutality that took place. I really don't understand how human beings could send other human beings to their deaths like that. This is a harrowing film that should remind us of where such detachment and cruelty can lead. Watch and work out what you are going to do to fight for human rights across our planet.

I had a letter published in Total Politics

The February issue of Total Politics carries, for the first ever time, a letter from yours truly.

It's all about Scotland and independence and that sort of stuff and was literally put together in five random moments.

In reply to David Torrance’s article on the SNP’s success (TP, January), it would be churlish not to acknowledge the skill with which the SNP crafted their winning campaign last May.
Their messaging and use of technology unpicked a voting system designed to create coalitions. It’s disappointing that they have since returned to negative campaigning, picking fights with judges and Westminster to undermine the union. Having ignored independence in the run up to the election, they now talk of little else. Anyone who questions their approach is accused of talking Scotland down.
They know they can’t guarantee that we would be better off outside the UK so avoid specifics. Voters will demand more than just a slick campaign. Conversely, the pro-UK parties will have to do more to add passion to their case, to connect with the voters. If both sides step up to those challenges, we’ll have the high quality campaign we deserve.
Caron LindsayScottish Lib Dem activist and blogger

Why Liberal Democrat Conference is good for you

In 5 weeks' time, the Scottish and Welsh parties meet for their respective Spring Conferences. The Welsh are going to Cardiff while the Scots head north to the beautiful highland capital of Inverness. As everywhere which meant anything to me as a child is within 20 minutes' walk of the Conference venue, I'm delighted to be going there. Although it seems a long way north, it only costs £10 return on the bus or £22 on the train to get there.
Just one weekend later, Federal Conference takes place, for the first time ever, in Gateshead.
So, why, I wondered allowed on Facebook the other day, do Liberal Democrats like going to Conference? Here are some of the replies I received:
Why I like going - meeting up with old friends, listening to some of the debates & speeches, coming away feeling things are good (which invariably happens!) 
Just a great chance to catch up, hear what is going on, make an input, cross-question the politicians.Gives you a chance to contribute to the democratic process. People are concentrated on Lib Dem ideas, not the agendas of others. Always come away with my mind buzzing with ideas. 
I like meeting other Lib Dems being from Lib Dem Siberia.Talk to politicians, contribute on policy, meeting people I know online in real life. 
Love policy debate - the opportunity to shape what we do. Also, general banter and drinks
I always leave inspired to go do stuff because people are talking about the kind of stuff they're doing locally. Also, I like how social it is - I get to see friends that I don't normally get to see because they live so far away. They're MY main reasons for going but the actual conference is really useful too - fringes and training events are really helpful and I end up taking back loads of ideas and enthusiasm. The policy debates are interesting and it's great to be involved in shaping the party's policies (and the government's policies as well now!) 
Conference is somewhere I can be myself. In every possible way! 
When Paddy was running for the leadership of the newly merged party he had this line about the Liberal Party fitting him like an old overcoat. Going to conference is a bit like getting that overcoat out of the cupboard and putting it back on. 
One of the best bits is finally finding out what someone you'd known for years via their blog actually looks like.
Feel free to add your own answers in the comments. Please don't confess to anything on anybody else's behalf, though, and, specifically, don't spill the beans about what happened that year in Pitlochry.
Vibrant conferences, full of debates and ideas, are just what we need as we head into local election campaigns in Scotland and England as well as the London Assembly elections. I always come home from Conference exhausted, but strangely invigorated. Being with the Lib Dem family really is good for the soul.
Cheap registration ends for Scotland tomorrow and Wales next week. You can register for Cardiff here, Inverness here and Gateshead here.

Not yet persuaded? Then Stuart Bonar's video from last year's Federal Conference in Birmingham gives an excellent insight to the event.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

There are worse things than the Chicken Pox, Michael Moore

12th September 1995.

I woke on what was already going to be an ordeal of a day, headed for the bathroom and as I passed the mirror realised that I spots were appearing all over me, almost multiplying before my eyes.

That's what happens when you let the only member of the family who hasn't had Chicken Pox look after the child who's just come down with it. Around 3 weeks before, we'd been up for the weekend when my beautiful niece Laura, then just two, came out in spots. My sister was starting a college course the next day and nobody else but I could stay home with her.

The reason I remember the date so clearly is that this was the morning of my beloved Granny's funeral. Warned starkly by my mother not to get any spots on my face before the service, I searched for scarves and long sleeved tops to cover up the offending sight.

I felt lousy. And continued to do so for a good fortnight. It actually took about 6 months for me to feel properly well again.Where Laura had about 40 spots on her entire body, I had that many just on my right shoulder. This is a nasty virus that hits adults far worse than children.

And see when the itch started...... I don't know why but I persevered with Calamine Lotion alone. Nowadays you just dose your child with Piriton to get them through, but for some reason I either didn't know or you didn't use it for that.

The whole thing was a deeply unpleasant experience. So, when I heard that Secretary for State for Scotland Michael Moore had come down with it, I was full of sympathy. I know I'm pretty soft hearted anyway, but I really do feel for him because I know what he's going through.

He needs to respect this virus because it is really nasty, so will have to rest. Every hour spent vegging out in front of West Wing DVDs takes a day off the worst of the illness. Ok, so I have no scientific evidence to back that up, but I do know if you do too much, you'll be iller for longer..

But, there are worse things than having Chicken Pox, as a glance at today's Metro will show.Sloppy, lazy, inaccurate journalism at its best.

Knowing Mike as I do, I suspect that the horribleness of the Chicken Pox is for him nothing compared to being called a Tory.

Vince whets our appetite for Nick's tax cuts speech

In the second very encouraging example in 4 days of Them Inside the Westminster Bubble communicating with us lesser mortals a bit better, the Almighty Vince sent an e-mail to party members this morning to give us the heads up about a speech being given by Nick Clegg later today in which he will make the case for quicker tax cuts for low earners.

This is exactly what the Liberal Democrats are for and the e-mail links to a site which gives lots of proper concrete examplesof how much we're helping ordinary people. Remember the Tories' big idea on tax was to cut it for rich, dead people.

It's pretty hard to get out of bed on these horrid, cold, dark, Winter mornings. However, Vince and Nick have made me pretty happy this morning.

I will return to the speech later, but for now, here's Vince's e-mail:

Dear Caron,

As families face more of a squeeze, today Liberal Democrats are arguing for greater tax cuts for hard working people.

Between now and the Budget, Nick and Danny and I will be arguing for faster tax cuts, giving you a reward for hard work. And Nick will be setting out our case in a speech today.

Given the budget constraint we have to raise money for the tax cut elsewhere and have plans to raise an equivalent amount from the wealthiest taxpayers.

At the last election the Liberal Democrats promised to raise the personal allowance for ordinary taxpayers to £10,000. I am proud that the Coalition has committed to doing so over the course of this Parliament.

For millions of ordinary hard working people, that means paying £700 less in income tax each year. Low earners, mostly women will benefit from being lifted out of tax altogether.

But times are tough and quite simply, Liberal Democrats in Government want to help families who are currently being squeezed by moving more quickly.

Whether it’s targeting an extra £7bn from tax evaders and avoiders, taking an extra £2.5bn every year from the banks in a balance sheet tax, or the announcement I made on Monday to curb the excesses of executive pay, this Coalition is taking important steps to deliver a fairer economy.

And we have already made a big difference, click here to see how.

We are building a new economy, one that benefits the whole country, not just bankers in the City of London. Making the tax system fairer is crucial to that. This is a huge task that will make Britain a fairer and more liberal country for generations to come.

Vince Cable MP
Member of Parliament for Twickenham and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

And to the lovely people who are improving the comms - a great big cuddle from me to you. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Love Equally March on Valentine's Day in Edinburgh

So, how are you going to spend Valentine's Day?

How about spending some of it in the company of like minded people marching from Edinburgh University to the Scottish Parliament in support of Equal Marriage?

Starting at Bristo Square at 2:30, the march, organised by the Scottish Youth Parliament, NUS and the Equality Network, will head for Holyrood.

I don't know if I'm going to be able to go. The schools are out, Bob's on holiday and we had a mind to go away for the week, but we'll be there if we change our minds.

There's more information about the event on its Facebook page. Please feel free to share with everybody you know.

The only disappointing thing is that it won't have Colin Firth and Hugh Grant - but surely someone can write a suitable spoof of a Curtis film to help publicise the event on You Tube or something....

Nick could learn from Barack's State of the Union preparation

I spent some time yesterday evening geeking out on the White House website in advance of tonight's State of the Union address. This is the annual prestige occasion when the US President addresses both houses of Congress on where the nation is at, and on his priorities for the coming year.

The coverage on the White House website is something that I think Nick Clegg could learn from in three particular ways:

  • Telling people exactly what's going to happen and when. Videos outlining the traditions behind the State of the Union and the planned coverage and what will happen afterwards;
  • Providing the facility for people to watch enhanced coverage on the web or their phone - with graphics illustrating the President's points as he makes them;
  • An immediate web panel of senior advisers afterwards taking questions via Twitter.
Obama is clearly using the mechanisms of Government to their best advantage there. Clegg's opportunities in this country are yet to be maximised, I think.

However, we can't use Government to publicise the one annual occasion when all eyes are on him - his Autumn Conference speech.

Maybe we should be looking at what lessons we could learn from the great campaigning minds around Obama. I can see some You Tube videos with people anticipating the speech and what could be in it. Not difficult to collect in these days of smartphones shooting HD video.

I don't know if we could do the live web streaming. My guess is not, but we should have video with graphics for people to watch later.

And, finally, a webchat with Farron, Shirley and Paddy immediately afterwards.

The follow up actually continues all week, with Obama doing a hangout on Google Plus on Monday.

What do you think? When Nick has something to really say, we should look at how we can enhance the follow up. Have a closer look at how the Obama team does it. If nothing else, it'll feel a bit like an episode of the West Wing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why are Paddy and other Lib Dem Peers picking this Welfare Reform fight?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

So, Liberal Democrat peers are preparing to stage a second major rebellion on the Welfare Reform Bill. The first, before Christmas, helped to defeat the Government's plans to cut Housing Benefit for those in houses with one spare bedroom.

Paddy told Sky News yesterday that he was intending to vote against the Government's plans to introduce a cap on the amount of benefits a family can receive of £26,000 in a year.  Nick Clegg presented this yesterday as fair on the Andrew Marr programme. He said that it the system had to be seen to be fair to taxpayers, many of whom would find it hard to imagine that someone on benefits was given the same amount as anyone else earning £35,000.

Well, for a start, someone on benefits would have to have a pretty large family and live in a very expensive area to come close to getting the full £26,000 in benefits. What annoys me most about this is that Child Benefit, which the family earning £35,000 don't have to pay tax on, will be taken into account as income for benefit recipients. That to me is pretty regressive.

The tabloid press love to show examples of large families living in expensive houses getting a fortune in Housing Benefit. Well, what if you and your large family rent a house that suits your needs and then you lose your job. Now, you could be out of work for over a year in today's climate, no matter how hard you try. My husband couldn't have tried harder way back in 1994, and it still took him 10 months to find a job at half his previous salary. Bear in mind that if you're on Housing Benefit you don't automatically get all your rent paid. You only get a Local Housing Allowance based on average rents in the area, and you only get the amount for the size of property you are deemed to need up to a maximum of 4 bedrooms. The rates for Local Housing Allowance have already been cut by the Coalition. It used to be based on an average of the lowest 50% of rents and this has been reduced to 30%. We, the taxpayer, are not financing very many palaces, you can be sure of that.

Iain Duncan Smith says nobody will be made homeless by these changes. He is talking utter nonsense. He is not in a position to guarantee that. Is there really sufficient affordable housing for everyone who'll need it? Will market rents come down as the Government wants or will landlords just not bother renting to people on benefits. How often do you see "no DSS" on adverts for rented properties?

So, Paddy is right and our peers have good reasons for opposing this measure. I just find the whole thing a bit inconsistent, though. Why are they making a fuss about this and not on cuts to Employment and Support Allowance. 40 percent of people in the Work Related Activity Group will lose their benefit of £94 a week come April if their partners earn more than £7,748 a year after tax OR work for more than 24 hours a week. Explain to me why a cap at £26,000 is not justified while it's acceptable to take nearly £400 a month off a family on a low income?

I really, really don't get it. Not only have our peers voted in favour of time limiting ESA, against very recent party policy, but they haven't come forward to explain why and that annoys me, to be honest.  At Conference, they should be closely questioned as to why they have made the choices they have. People I like, respect and trust voted in favour of these measures, but I really don't understand why.

The way it's looking the cap will be defeated in the Lords. I'd be surprised with any other outcome. This will no doubt spawn a whole load of scrounger stories in the Daily Fail, written by journalists who have probably never had to live on benefits, or had difficulty finding somewhere affordable to live.

The day Nick Clegg made me cry and other personal tales - over at Ellen's Mental Health Carnival

Ellen, over at In a Bun Dance, is doing something very important today. She is hosting a Mental Health Carnival, where she posts contributions from bloggers who have faced the particular challenges that mental health conditions throw at you.

She's done it because:
Mental illness, of all shades, just doesn't get talked about enough. There's still a stigma, so anything that raises understanding and awareness has to be good. 
Blogging can be hugely therapeutic in matters of mental dis-ease. It really helped me when I was in the grip of depression, therefore, I was delighted to highlight bloggers who talk about their experiences of it. 
And people don't talk about it nearly enough. In fact, many still worry that admitting a vulnerability will have a detrimental effect on their career. In fact, I may well have thought twice about talking about my own issues if I'd had any ambitions for a parliamentary career.

For me, this sort of openness about mental health issues is important in three ways. Firstly, as Ellen says, to break down the barriers, challenge the stigma. Mental illness strikes capable and talented people every day. In great numbers. For every five people you see today, one of them may well be suffering inside.

Secondly, it serves to comfort, reassure, inspire those who are struggling. Believe me, it can be a real battle just to keep yourself alive when you are in the pit of Depression with no obvious way out. If someone reads something that makes them realise that they aren't alone, that there is hope, and there are things that you can try to deal with the symptoms,

Thirdly, it should make us all aware of the need to make sure that there are sufficient resources to give everyone suffering from a mental health condition the support and treatment that they need. My contribution to this event is recycled. When Nick Clegg announced last year that £400 million  was to be spent on giving a million people access to talking therapies, it made me cry because I knew how that would literally save lives. That post was one where the political met the personal as I wrote about my lifelong association with the black dog. Last week, I was delighted to be able to tell Lib Dem Voice readers that half a million people had already benefited and that Nick's work to break down the barriers and stigma around mental health was continuing.

So head on over to Ellen's blog today, read the moving accounts people have written and take from them inspiration, a resolve to try to ensure better services and a better understanding of the reality of many people's lives.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Question: what would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Apologies for the links not being right - I'm doing this on my iPad and I Aven't quite worked out how to do it properly. I'll fix it in the morning when I get ack on the laptop.

Anyway, The Question is a meme set up by Stephen Chapman at The State of the Nation UK . He wants bloggers to answer the same question on the same day. This month it's 'what would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Where do you start with that? I thought about literary success J K Rowling style as a means to getting loads of money to do good with. Jennie had a similar idea, though.

Then I thought about going to Israel to get them to stop treating the Palestinians so appallingly to bring peace to that Region.

But what I actually decided upon was being able to really get it into boys' heads that the images of how women should look that they are bombarded with are complete nonsense, created with the express aim of making money for somebody; that pornography which portrays women as receptacles is dangerous & if they actually listen to their partners, everyone will have more fun; that there is never any excuse for mental or physical violence (of the non consensual variety, anyway). The potential for that to create happier, more fulfilled individuals, who then have more energy & motivation to make the world a better place, is very appealing indeed.

Update: and of course I forgot to come and put the links in. Thanks to Stephen Glenn  for nudging me for my lack of etiquette so apologies all. Anyway, here's Stephen's answer to the Question.

Clegg's e-mail signals start of fight back against Labour

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Better watch out here - there's a sign of some joined up thinking from 'them indoors' in the Westminster Bubble.

Hot on the heels of Nick Clegg's mostly successful interview on Andrew Marr this morning an e-mail appears from him carrying on the themes. I'm glad to see the signs of a more aggressive tone with Labour. We have been putting up with too much of their hypocritical nonsense for too long.

A good sign - but we still need a decent, fast rebuttal system otherwise ales statements about us go unchallenged and become accepted fact by default.

Here it is for you to read:

Dear Caron,

Nearly two years ago, Liberal Democrats chose to do the right thing in the national interest at a time of crisis. We put tribalism aside and the good of the country first.

We didn’t come into politics to make cuts, but with the economy on the verge of collapse we knew we had to take the difficult decisions necessary to get the deficit under control and the country back on track.

And how did the Labour Party react?

They attacked us viciously. They refused to apologise or take responsibility for the mess they created. They opposed every cut and they indulged in cynical scaremongering.

In Sheffield, David Blunkett warned of ‘post-Soviet’ meltdown with people fending for themselves. It was the politics of fear and it was a disgrace.

But now, after nearly two years of opposing every cut, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls say they won’t reverse a single one. Yet they still say they oppose them.


They have gone from being in the wrong place to being all over the place. From denial to disarray.

Many of our excellent councillors lost their seats last May because of the vicious attacks of their Labour opponents. We must not let them get away with it again.

Liberal Democrats approach this May’s elections with a track record of proud, progressive achievements in Government:

Lifting a million of the poorest workers out of tax and cutting taxes, not for the rich but for 23m basic rate taxpayers;
Making the well off pay their share by raising Capital Gains Tax, a new £10bn bank levy and keeping the 50p top rate of tax;
The most generous rise in the state pension for a generation;
A revolution in the way we support the children who need help the most when it matters the most, in the crucial early years and throughout their school lives;
More apprenticeships than Britain has ever had before;
And from this April, the Youth Contract, an ambitious £1bn programme to make sure every 18 to 24-year-old has the opportunity to earn or learn.
Clearing up Labour’s mess is not easy, but right. Let’s take the fight to them as May approaches.

You can see my interview on this morning's Andrew Marr show here.


Nick Clegg MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister

Clegg: "We must be bolder on fairer taxes but we're winning the argument"

Nick Clegg was interviewed by Andrew Marr this morning and, as has become my tradition, I've tweeted my way through it and preserved my commentary for you all to read.

He came across very well in the interview. You see, I first knew him a long time ago, and he talks to Marr in the same genuine and open way as he did with all of us way back then. He's being himself, which is something you don't often see with politicians at his level.

In my view, Marr didn't quiz him hard enough on welfare reform and particularly the cuts in benefits for the sick and disabled. It's not difficult to find evidence that these measures are a bad idea so a bit of laziness on Marr's part there. I'd have been interested to hear how Nick would have answered them.

The only criticism I'd really make about what he said was his use of that awful phrase "hard working families". It's quite a narrow phrase and doesn't take account of those people, who need looking after, who can't work for reasons of illness, caring responsibilities or there being no jobs.

However, Nick was pressed on taxes, fairness, the benefit cap, NHS reforms, bankers' bonuses and passed all those tests with flying colours. The thing about Nick is that he generally has a go at actually answering the question put to him. Often politicians use phrases like "let me be clear" as a deflection technique, but Nick actually means it.

There were three things that I felt were really important in what he said.

First was his clear passion to see greater fairness in the tax system. You can tell he's as fed up as we all are with the fact that bankers are still getting massive bonuses while the rest of us suffer, but he highlighted that this was a result of Labour's "irresponsible capitalism" giving them contractual entitlement to them.He talked about how the Coalition had done what it could to curb them. Asked by Marr on the Mansion Tax, he said that it was in our manifesto and if implemented would generate revenue to take taxes away from the poorest. He said that the Liberal Democrats were winning the argument on these issues.

Secondly, he said that the issue of how to deliver fairness in a time of austerity was a crucial issue for progressive parties everywhere. He pointed out Labour's failures in that regard - they, he said, had completely ducked the issue.

Finally, he was passionate about the Youth Contract, saying how he had pushed through government a far more ambitious plan to tackle youth unemployment than that offered by Labour. He clearly understood the effect of not getting a job, talking about the long term scarring of sitting at home filling in application after application and getting rejected.

The most amazing thing about the whole interview was that Spidey, who has not always been, shall we say, effusive in her praise for Nick, was talking about loving him forever.

Anyway, here are the tweets from the show.

#PAD photos 15-21 January 2012

Anna built this virtually single handedly

Junk mail - the takeaway leaflet arrived inside the gym leaflet

Bob at his new DJ station

I was not impressed with the rather mean topping on this Morrisons pizza

More whirling dervish than puppy - Maya has a new vest

Brian Taylor at the Big Debate - but he made me sad because he wasn't wearing brightly coloured braces. I had some very negative feedback on Facebook about the fact that he's from the BBC and wasn't wearing a tie - but some people need to get a life:-)

Social Liberal Forum meeting in Glasgow

Friday, January 20, 2012

SNP's "take out the trash day" concession

Good news this evening - the SNP have announced that they accept that the Electoral Commission should oversee the independence referendum.

It's a welcome concession from them, made easier by the reasonableness of Michael Moore, who made it clear he would allow the Commission to report to the Scottish Parliament. It's nice to see people behaving like grown ups for a change.

The timing of the SNP's announcement - pretty much after close of business on Friday, put me in mind of that great West Wing episode, "Take out the trash day" where Josh Lyman explains to Donna that Friday is a good day to put out multiple stories that they're not "wild about" because "nobody reads the paper on Saturdays".

You can see the scene here on You Tube.

I'm sure the SNP didn't want to make a great big fanfare of their concession and so slipped it out quietly. By Monday all people will be talking about are the two outstanding issues, now that Westminster has stopped grumping about the date. Still to be decided are the single question referendum condition and the SNP's wish for 16/17 year olds to get the vote.

I want to go into both of these in more depth later, but I'll leave you with Professor Matt Qvortrup's comments in the Times today in which he says that such referendums are "rarely a good idea". My preference has also been for a home rule/devo max outcome, but you have to listen when one of the most renowned authorities on the subject urges caution. If it doesn't appear on the referendum ballot, it can still happen, and fairly quickly, by consensus.

But, enough for now. The SNP have done well to agree to the Electoral Commission supervision and we should welcome it.

Chris Davies is still very angry with Diana Wallis

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Last night, I wrote about North West Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies' strong reaction to Diana Wallis' resignation as MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, just a few days after he supported her bid for the presidency of the European Parliament.

Today, he's launched an astonishing attack on her on his website. Chris has never been one for holding back about stuff but his comments are strong even for him. He says he feels deceived, that "even by low standards of bad losers this marks a new descent.

If Diana's husband, Stewart Arnold, takes her place in February, as he is entitled to do, being second on the list, it's going to be a bit awkward in group meetings, that's all I can say. Chris says if Arnold takes the seat, we will be tainted because it looks like a huge stitch up.

I tend to agree with Paul Walter that you can't really start rewriting rules now. Every other time an MEP has resigned, they've been replaced in the same way, based on the selection results. I wouldn't like to see a situation where a candidate is put off from standing simply because of who their spouse is. That would be unfair. It's up to the members of the Party to decide who their candidates are. Sometimes you wish that could be different, but it is a principle of our party.

Of course, Stewart Arnold does not have to take up the place in which case it would go to third placed Rebecca Taylor. I would probably have preferred that the arguing had taken place behind closed doors.

Here are Chris Davies' comments in full.

“One day Diana Wallis was campaigning to become President of the European Parliament, pledging to fight for more openess and transparency, and on the next she apparently decided that it wasn’t good enough just to serve as an ordinary MEP.
“Even by the low standards of bad losers this marks a new descent.  I deeply regret having been one of those who supported her presidency bid.  As a Vice President in the Parliament she did some good work, but athough I have known her for 13 years I now feel deceived about her true motives.
“Her constituents in Yorkshire and the Humber, and Liberal Democrat party workers in particular, deserve a better explanation of her actions.
“Her husband has been her paid parliamentary assistant since she was elected in 1999.  Five years ago he narrowly secured 2nd place in the selection contest for her seat and this means that he may automatically succeed her.  It could be a case of revolving doors; she leaves, he arrives.
“This may be within the party’s rules but many people will think it doesn’t sound right and some will say that it stinks.  I would agree with them.  This would be a gift to eurosceptics who accuse MEPs of being out of touch and interested only in feathering their own nests, and we will all be tainted as a result.
“Yorkshire and the Humber is represented by two Liberal Democrat MEPs.  The other, Edward McMillan Scott, crossed the floor to us from the Conservatives because he believed that fundamental principles were being betrayed.
“It is good to know that Liberal Democrats in the region have a man of principle to represent them.”
As to what lies beneath Wallis' shock resignation, Darren Ennis over at MHP blog says that her candidacy for President as an independent could have (but hasn't in fact) cost her colleague Sharon Bowles her job as chair of a key Parliamentary Committee. Her position in the group was definitely weakened by her candidacy and perhaps she has just decided she didn't want to deal with it and spat the dummy. It just seems odd that someone should be so full of challenging the established order one day and within a week is sloping off home.

Is there more to it than dummy spitting? Only one person knows, but I think the party is entitled to an explanation.

I don't think either Diana Wallis or Chris Davies have been particularly helpful to the party these last 24 hours.  It wasn't fair of her to just resign without discussing it with colleagues - in fact, it was rude. And would it not have been better for Chris to make his comments about the succession initially in private?

Our MEP group seems to have disintegrated into soap opera. That is not a good thing.

Does Alex Salmond think we're daft? Volume 1

So, I've been wanting details about life in an independent Scotland for a while.

Yesterday, we were treated to Alex Salmond's vision for defence.

Now, this is the same Alex Salmond who trashes Westminster at every single opportunity. He's been particularly critical about the Coalition's defence cuts, particularly as they affected air bases at Kinloss, Lossiemouth and Leuchars.

So, I almost choked on my Earl Grey when I read that he'd said this:
"The configuration of the Army in Scotland, the mobile brigade, which is the outcome of the defence review, looks exactly like the configuration you'd want for a Scottish defence force - so that's one naval base, one aircraft base and a mobile armed brigade."
 This was the same guy who marched to save RAF Lossiemouth, who took himself off to London yto make the case to then Defence Secretary Liam Fox for the retention of two air bases in Scotland. Now he tells us that we only need one.

You have to wonder what would have happened if the SNP had won their overall majority in 2007 and won an independence referendum in Autumn 2009. Actually, that referendum would still be being challenged in the courts because there's no way that Labour would ever have volunteered to give the SNP the power to make it legal. But that's by the by.

So, the newly independent Scotland, led by Alex Salmond, with the Coalition barely being a twinkle in anybody's eye, would have closed two air bases and cut the Armed Forces because that's "exactly the configuration you'd want for a Scottish Defence Force".  Who would have thought it?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chris Davies slams fellow Lib Dem MEP Wallis over her shock resignation

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Two days ago, Yorkshire and the Humber Lib Dem MEP Diana Wallis stood for the Presidency of the Parliament and almost, but for one vote, came second. That was as good as a result as she could have hoped for. Given the way these things are usually stitched up between the two main groups, she was never going to win.

The whole Liberal Democrat party will be shocked to learn of her resignation as an MEP, effective 31st January. This leaves the way clear, as in any other list seat, for the second placed person on the list to take over her seat. That person is Stewart Arnold, her husband, who also works for her. It has not yet been confirmed whether he will take the seat.

A statement on her website said:

"I have been in the European Parliament twelve years and I think that is time enough. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time and it was truly a huge privilege; especially to serve as a Vice President of Parliament for the last five years. However, I think all of us, whatever our professions, need to turn a new page from time to time.
"At the mid-term of parliament many members come and go, so accordingly this moment following upon my unsuccessful bid for the Presidency is a good time to take stock. I undertook that bid for reasons that I deeply believe in but such a course of action is bound to lead to reflection. I want to take a break from politics and to take time and assess what next.
"I have been at the service of the people of Yorkshire and the Humber for twelve and a half years. I will always be grateful for the trust that was placed in me to carry out this role, but now is the time for someone with fresh eyes to take over.
"I remain a committed pro-European Liberal Democrat."

North West Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies was scathing about her decision to go, telling The Parliament website:
 "I am appalled and feel betrayed by her decision. To stand for election for the presidency one day and then resign the following day is quite unbelievable.
"It is an insult to her constituents and a slap in the face for the constituents who supported her in the last European elections.
"There will be some people who will regard this as quite unprincipled."
"I have known her for 13 years but I now think my assessment of her character was wrong."
An unnamed Lib Dem MEP was quoted as saying that her move had all the hallmarks of a stitch up.

Her constituency colleague, human rights champion and newly re-elected Vice President of the Parliament Edward McMillan-Scott was much more generous, paying tribute to her work. Sir Graham Watson and group leader Fiona Hall also were sympathetic.

One person who got it completely wrong, though was a Tory Yorkshire and Humber MEP, Godfrey Bloom, saying:

But trying to shoehorn her husband into her old salary as she resigns really is a working definition of nepotism in my opinion. One Wallis is as bad as another.
"The Lib Dems are always screaming in favour of gender quotas. Diana Wallis has gone all quiet about that now. Jobs for the boys now - you could hardly make this story up."
Gender quotas? Us? He's got that one wrong and he clearly doesn't know that we haven't used zipping since 1999.  If Arnold were to take her place, he would have to face reselection on a one member one vote basis, before the next election in 2014.

No doubt there will be more to follow on this, but I thought I'd let you know what was happening.

Trump's representative brands elected councillor "a disgrace"

Whatever you might think of the controversy over Donald Trump's golf course in Aberdeenshire (and I was and am firmly on the side of its opponents), surely you can't help but be concerned about the appalling behaviour of the tycoon's representatives.

The low point was threatening to make an 85 year old woman pay legal costs and branded her son's home a slum. This week, when plans for a supremely ugly club house were approved by Aberdeenshire Council by some margin, George Sorial, Trump's representative on earth, had the cheek to abuse Cllr Debra Storr, calliing her a "disgrace" and saying she'd be out of a job come May.

Now, whatever party she's in, whether I agree with her or not, Debra Storr has been a friend of mine for a very long time. She's a fundamentally good person who will always act in a principled way to do what she thinks is best for the people she represents. I will not stand by and hear her called names in public by anyone, let alone the arrogant representative of a rich tycoon who doesn't have much respect for the democratic process or community engagement. There can be no doubt that Debra was extremely robust in her criticism of the plans for the clubhouse, as she has been about the entire development. but that doesn't matter. Rich men should not be throwing their weight around like that, end of story.

And now it seems that, after all the disruption caused by Trump and his cohorts, he may be about to walk away from building his promised hotel and holiday homes because of a proposed wind farm in the waters off the coast. Clearly the benefits of renewable energy are lost on him.

All of this could have been avoided. All he had to do 4 years ago after the original rejection was to submit a slightly altered plan and this could all have been resolved easily. Instead, there's been an almighty and ongoing dispute which has left its scars on the local community which may now not get the benefits it was promised.

It may well be acceptable in America to slag off political opponents for all sorts of spurious reasons, like the fact that they speak French, but we shouldn't put up with it here. I am annoyed that the leader of Aberdeenshire Council was prepared to allow one of the councillors in her authority, regardless of who they are or what's gone on in the past, to be publicly abused in this way.

We all end up poorer when rich men think that governments at any level are inconveniences to be bossed around.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Caron plays away.....

.... on Liberal Democrat Voice every Wednesday now.

They haven't quite given me the key of the door, but the boys are putting up rather well with my ditsy ways.

I had a bit of a crisis this morning, though. There I was, mid merengue in my Zumba class, and I just had this terrible panic about the Nick Clegg intiative on mental health I'd set to post while I was out. I was scared that I'd misread the Telegraph article I'd quoted and my boasting about half a million people helped should only have read 50,000. Thankfully that was not the case, but the panic I'd had about having forgotten to tag the article properly was, unfortunately, entirely justified.

I am enjoying my little bit of moonlighting - even when I suddenly remembered, too late, that my break in Liverpool took in a Wednesday when I was supposed to be running the site. Woops. Just as well I had my iPad with me. The article from Michael Moore I published that day was composed in my hotel bedroom while I was listening to streamed Beatles music.

Today's been a fantastic day - great pieces from Graeme, who writes Predictable Paradox, young Mr Potter, Tim Farron, Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore, the Hon Lady Mark and many more. Lots of controversy over internal party democracy and the independence referendum. If you haven't been there already, go and have a look.

I know that I'm just a newbie and getting used to all the buttons, knobs and twiddly bits involved  in driving such an esteemed site, but I know it takes me ages just to put one day together. A very small team used to do this unaided seven days a week. How on earth did they manage? Chocolate can only keep you going for so long.....

It's quite daunting to join such an established team, but I'm loving it. And if you are a party member and want to contribute something to my Wednesdays, just let me know.


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