Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Isn't it lovely to be appreciated?

Look what I got in the post this morning...

Not only did that make it feel that all of my efforts in February had been noticed, but the growing number of photographs of them popping up all over the place brought back happy memories of how the party really bonded and worked together to get Mike Thornton into Westminster. I didn't even go to Eastleigh. All I did was at the end of a phone in the warm. Nothing compared to those fabulous people who worked pretty much 24/7 for weeks. If we get a badge, they should get a vat of beer.

Thanks to whoever it was in LDHQ who thought to do this. It was a lovely surprise, and came out just at the right time.

But enough of this soft-heartedness. These phone calls to voters across the country aren't going to make themselves.

The party has put the same spirit into the local elections as it did into Eastleigh, working hard to get our brilliant local councillors re-elected.

Liberal Youth's Gold Guard initiative has seen them campaign all over the country. Just see how they are making a difference.

Just two more days of slog, people. Keep at it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Banning smoking in cars where children are present: what do you think?

North of the Border, the war on smoking continues. Today, larger shops are no longer allowed to display cigarettes. Now, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP and health spokesperson Jim Hume is introducing a Member's Bill in the Scottish Parliament which will ban smoking in cars where children are present. His proposal will be put out to public consultation from 28th May. Talking about his plan over the weekend, he said:
The tobacco display ban is another welcome step in changing Scotland’s relationship with smoking which began with the ban in smoking in public places. But more can be done in our journey towards a healthier Scotland.
Passive smoking is entirely avoidable a
nd a private vehicle is one of the few places a child can still be legally exposed to tobacco smoke. That is why I am seeking a change in the law to safeguard the rights of children in Scotland and to give them a better start in life. My consultation to ban smoking tobacco in vehicles while children are present will be launched on the 28th May.
I stand alongside the British Heart Foundation, British Lung Foundation, Children in Scotland and ASH Scotland, amongst many others, in seeking a change to the law and hope that people and organisations from across Scotland can take part in this important consultation.
It doesn’t seem fair that any child should have to be trapped in a car which is filled with smoke. When you consider the real implications this can have for a child’s immediate and future health, it is clear we need to do what we can to protect children and give them the best start in life.
I have written several times about this issue over the year. In 2011, when Labour came up with this proposal, I said:
I think that the smoking ban introduced in 2006 by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition is one of the best pieces of legislation ever, because it strikes the right balance between freedom to smoke, and freedom to breathe air free from the poisons in cigarette smoke.   That covers public space, though. What about private space?  If we ban smoking in cars, surely there’s an argument to ban it in houses? And alcohol is harmful too – we know about the effects of growing up with parents who abuse alcohol. Do we ban drinking in a house where there are under 18s? What about obesity? Do we give the state the right to go through people’s food cupboards and fine per chocolate bar or crisp packet because obesity is such a problem and is going to cost us a fortune in the future?  If the issue is with the proven risks of cigarette smoke in a very confined space, you don’t get much more confined than a womb. Do we ban smoking in pregnancy? Even if we thought that was a good idea, which I don’t, how on earth do you enforce that?
My view hasn't changed since then and in fact I spoke to someone last week who said that a conviction of this nature might well end up with parents being automatically investigated by social services which might stretch already insufficient resources even further.

Having said all of that, I have a great deal of sympathy with the arguments in favour of such a measure and I do think that smoking around children at all is horribly inconsiderate and takes unacceptable risks with their future health. This is one of those issues where you can make a liberal argument from either perspective.

It is undoubtedly a good thing that this is being debated. At least some of the risks and dangers of the practice will be discussed openly and may encourage people to change their behaviour.  I wondered what LDV readers thought of the idea. Let us know in the comments below.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Spend an extra hour campaigning to thank Nick for killing Snoopers' Charter

Before I even start, I know there are many Liberal Democrats up and down the country for whom giving an extra hour to the campaign would mean having to re-write the laws of time and physics and nature. But then, you are not likely to have time to read this post if you're in that situation. This is aimed at those of you who maybe don't have elections or aren't directly involved in a campaign.

I'm a great believer in showing appreciation when someone has done something good, even if you think it's something they should have done anyway. It's polite and everyone likes being thanked for stuff. We can sometimes be pretty quick to take someone down when they do wrong, but not quite so fast to give credit when they do right.

After the secret courts fiasco, I had fully expected to have to spend the Summer fighting a new and equally pernicious Communications Data Bill. That was never on the cards as I understand Nick never had any intention of letting it go ahead. I don't think this was entirely due to the fact that he knew the membership would freak out completely if he did. I think he actually had learned his lesson from the outcry last April when the problems were pointed out to him.

This is a very good example of the party working together to deliver the right result. The fact that people like Julian Huppert and Dr Jenny Woods were able to get in there right at the start, before it had gone too far, helped. The role of that infamous and fractious phone call between the great and the good and some humble bloggers can't be underestimated, either. Essentially, everyone listened, learned and kept talking. This is a good thing and lessons must be learned for the future before any legislation is agreed to. I've been saying for a long time that there has to be more attention paid to consulting the party before we agree to legislation. The Queen's Speech in two weeks' time will be an indication of whether that's been done for this year.

But, back to the point. Nick has done well and has earned our thanks. We need to make him feel some sort of tangible reward. So, what I'm asking is that those people who have time to read this spend an extra hour delivering leaflets, phone banking or otherwise helping the local election campaign, over what they were already planning to do in order to show our appreciation. If you have no elections where you live, you can make phone calls easily by signing into Connect and spend time speaking to some voters. It couldn't be simpler.

We could make thousands of calls in that extra hour if we put or minds to it. How will you spend your extra hour?

Oh, and by the way, Richard Morris has it right - The Divine Helen Duffett deserves credit for organising the bloggers' call in the first place. If you want to show your gratitude to her, cake should do it. Where's Sara Bedford when you need her?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Two wee grumbles about tonight's Liberal Democrat Party Election Broadcast

Here is tonight's Party Election Broadcast from the Liberal Democrats. It has lots of very good stuff in it, asking real people what they will do with the tax cut secured by them by the party. We've seen the Tories trying desperately to take credit for it because they know it's popular, but it wasn't in their manifesto. It was on the front page of ours. Our clear top priority, delivered.

The Broadcast is a delight for anyone playing "stronger economy in a fairer society" bingo - and Nick also emphasises the third part, which is really for me what liberal democracy is all about, "enabling people to get on in life." The revolution Nick's championed in parental leave and the extension of talking therapies for people suffering from mental health problems are fantastic examples of that alongside the tax cut. Here it is for you to judge for yourselves:

So, that's the good stuff. What, then, have I found to whinge about?

Where was Lizzie Jewkes?

Today, an email came out from Lizzie Jewkes in which she highlighted her role in getting the tax cut idea into the manifesto (although, as Stephen Tall pointed out, it's an idea that's been around for a while). Lizzie said:
Just a few years ago, in 2009, I attended our conference in Bournemouth as an ordinary party member & proposed that nobody should pay tax on the first £10,000 they earn.
If you told me at the time that just a few years later the Lib Dems, in government, would have made this tax cut a reality for millions of working people, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Of course, we all know that it’s now happening - a huge £700 tax cut for millions of people - but most of the public don't.
It’s our job to tell them, and we need your help. Tonight, our latest party political broadcast is launching, and it’s all about the difference our tax cut is making to ordinary working people.
Might have been nice to have her actually in the broadcast, don't you think?

Where were the Councillors?

Now, I get that we only have two and a half minutes to get our story across, and you can't bombard the public with too much information. And we do have to get this Liberal Democrat tax cut and the stronger economy, fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life thing out there at every opportunity. Our local councillors did get a mention. 
While Liberal Democrats in national government are cutting your taxes, Liberal Democrats in local councils are fighting for you in your community, working to create jobs and to protect vital services. Whether in Westminster or County Hall, Liberal Democrats are building  stronger economy in a fairer society enabling everyone to get on in life. On May 2nd, vote Liberal Democrat.
Last year, Willie Rennie, for the Scottish local elections, did a broadcast that featured three of our fantastic councillors and the difference they made to people's lives by their work to improve housing, schools and other vital local services. It would have been nice to see some actual councillors in tonight's broadcast. I know that there are many such fabulous individuals in the country but I'm going to single one out, mainly cos I have a stack of calls to make for him tonight. He's Chris White from St Albans. Chris represents the Clarence division and has done so for 20 years. He started his blog 4 years ago and you can see it's just jam packed with good, local information about the area and about the work he's done, whether it's campaigning to protect youth clubs or making sure local residents don't end up with tar rather than paving slabs on their pavements.

There's also details of the party's top "six to fix" priorities for the County Council:

  • Investing budget surpluses into improved highway maintenance and repair,
  • better bus services and cross-county connections
  • reducing traffic speeds in residential areas
  • more crossing patrols and safety on the way to school
  • cutting waste and spin at County Hall
  • allowing local flexibility over street lighting, so it can be switched back on in areas that need it
“Hertfordshire County Council Liberal Democrats called for a Council Tax freeze this year, and investment of surpluses into frontline issues that affect local people such as highways services, more flexible late night street lighting, bus services and school crossing patrols.  Neither the Conservatives or Labour wanted to invest in these services.
“Liberal Democrats believe in listening to Local people and shaping their policies around what real people want.
“That is why the Liberal Democrats in Government have managed to get the basic taxable allowance raised to £10,000, this is a measure that helps hardworking people in a tough economic environment, and that is also why Lib Dems in Government are delivering more apprenticeships than ever before and have delivered the ‘pupil premium’ to provide additional support to disadvantaged pupils in our schools.
”It is because we are listening to local people and believe in fairness that we are seeking to deliver pension changes with the basic state pension increased to £144 in today’s money from 2017.
“That is why the Liberal Democrat Manifesto for Hertfordshire focuses on delivering the services local residents have told us they need most, while cutting waste and spin at County Hall.”
Right across the country from Northumberland to Somerset to Cornwall, there are Liberal Democrat councillors like Chris up for election. These people make their communities a better place to live. It's good that they got a mention, but we need to see the sort of work they do, too. Ok, so maybe you can't highlight individuals in an election period, so you do stuff beforehand in broadcasts earlier in the year, or highlight some examples of really good work done by these fantastic people. 

Better Together make me laugh

I found out something I didn't know about my husband last week. He reads emails from Better Together. I honestly didn't expect that. I tend to read all the political geekery and tell him what's happening. He tends not to do too much politicking, but he's really up for campaigning to ensure that Scotland stays as part of the UK. He hasn't been this exercised about an issue since we spent 2003 going to various marches against the Iraq war.

I discovered his Better Together habit when I returned to the car with some shopping, There he was, chortling away. The reason? An amusing typo.

The word "surgeons" in the email had been mistyped as "sturgeons."

Quite why the Deputy First Minister might have been on the author's mind as they typed this missive, I'm not sure.

Yes, it's amusing, but in terms of mistakes it's nothing compared to suggesting that after independence Scotland would just continue as a member of NATO and the EU and then being proved wrong. Or one week saying that there was considerable uncertainty in oil revenues and the next that we were bound to have an oil boom. And it's certainly not as cynical as targetting women voters with promises of childcare help - which they could give now, by the way, but only after independence.

Easter holidays: Black Isle bliss in a Boathouse - and a beautiful baby, too

So, I said to the Liberal Democrat Voice team just before I headed off for a week in the Highlands mostly sans internet signal "Don't let anyone do anything interesting while I'm away." That worked out well.

A wee bit of insight into how normal people live, though. When I found out about Margaret Thatcher's demise I was in the car en route to my sister's for some baby snuggling. On arrival, I told my niece. In my own house, I'd have switched onto the News Channel and kept that on in the background all day. They were watching the Simpsons Movie. And they kept doing so. When it ended (a blessed relief, let me tell you), I asked if we could see some news. After just ten minutes, they got bored and put something else on. I always new that my political geekery was weird, so this wasn't a revelation

We stayed in the Boat House on the Rosehaugh Estate near Avoch. I've loved the Black Isle with a passion all my life. Rosemarkie beach is one of my favourite places on earth and my Great Aunt Vera and Great Uncle Sandy lived in Fortrose for over 20 years. 

The Boathouse itself is beautiful. It's very well equipped and decorated inside. I wasn't so keen on the evil spiral staircase, but I loved the view from the bedroom -  even though I wasn't quite to wake up to this on the first morning:

It wasn't a particular surprise that it could snow on the Black Isle in April. It did last year, just a few weeks before my sister's wedding. At least this time the power didn't go off, although we did scurry off to Inverness to buy a couple of torches just in case as there were none in the house.

The Boat House has a lovely terrace and I'd envisaged spending lots of time out there reading, but although the weather improved, the temperature only really got higher than Baltic on the last day.

Here is the house itself:

When it was originally built over 100 years ago, it sat on the middle of the lake, not at the end of it and was only half the size. The Estate restored it and added the extra wing which contains the kitchen and one of the bedrooms in 2006.

There are lots of walks round about. Just down the road is a very pretty waterfall.

The lovely people in the photo are my lovely brother-in-law, niece and sister. I'm on the nice safe path with the baby.

I'm not good at anything that isn't a nice path - but fortunately my husband and daughter are much braver than me.

One disappointment was that we totally mistimed our visit to Chanonry Point, arriving at high tide, so we had no chance of seeing the dolphins.

We enjoyed exploring the Estate. I just wish we could have been there in its heyday. It's so sad to think that all that's left of this magnificent house is its terraces.And the wine cellar.

We found these cute pixie houses, too.

The real highlight of the holiday was meeting my younger nephew Baby Ethan for the first time. I spent lots of time snuggling him and looking at him in utter awe and amazement. He's such a perfect wee thing. Not that I'm biased or anything. And he clearly adores his Auntie Caron. All my nieces and nephew are perfect, of course. And they all adore their Auntie Caron too.

I hate being away from the wee one, though - I saw how much he changed just over the course of a week and he'll be all grown up before we know it.

It was a lovely week away - and I coped better than I thought I would with the social media and internet deprivation.

Now I'm back and my to-do list is very long and scary. I'm sure there aren't enough hours in the day for it.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Mike Moore welcomes tax cuts for 2.2 million Scots

Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore has welcomed further tax cuts for Scottish workers coming into force today. If you're playing "stronger economy and fairer society" bingo, he's got that in there too.

He said:
This Coalition Government has brought fairness back into the tax system. We want people to keep more of their hard earned money and that's why on 6 April, people in Scotland will receive a £600 tax cut.
I'm delighted that the Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge reaches so many people: 2.2 million Scots will benefit from the tax cut with 186,000 lifted out of paying tax altogether. 
We are building a stronger Scottish economy and a fairer Scottish society and what better way to do that than to give Scottish workers more of their money back to spend in the economy.

Danny Alexander rejects George Osborne's comments on the Philpott case

I told you the other night that Sarah Teather had condemned George Osborne's comments connecting the Philpott case to the welfare system. Some people made comments along the lines that it was only a backbencher, and no Liberal Democrat minister had said such a thing. Well, yesterday, Danny Alexander did. The BBC has the story. Danny said:
George Osborne is clearly right that there needs to be a full debate about the future of our welfare system but the Philpott case is an individual tragedy. Children have died in that case and the vile individuals who were guilty of these murders have rightly been punished by the courts but that's where I think that we should let that case lie. I wouldn't want to connect that to the much wider need to reform our welfare system.  The principle of the welfare system needs to be that people should always be better off in work than they are on benefits. That's what's motivating the big changes that we as a Coalition Government are making to the welfare system this week...
In a week where I have repeatedly called for senior Liberal Democrats to speak out when Tory ministers say things that make Liberal Democrats wince, I am happy to give credit where it's due.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Sarah Teather blasts Osborne's "irresponsible" comments

George Osborne has said some crass things in his time, but his comments today that there should be a debate on whether "the state should subsidise lifestyles like that" were awful, giving a whiff of credibility to the demonising headlines in the Daily Mail.

My Liberal Democrat Voice co-editor Stephen Tall sensibly said earlier:

"The welfare state was no more to blame for their deaths than capitalism would be to blame if they’d done it to claim on insurance. The motive was greed; the result a tragedy."

I think, though, that there was more than greed to it. The Judge's sentencing report is disturbing to read and makes clear that Philpott's desire to exact revenge on his former girlfriend Lisa Willis was a factor. He had a lifelong history of controlling and abusive behaviour towards women. This was about power and control as well.

You wonder, though, what Osborne wants to happen. Does he want benefit claimants to go through some sort of character/lifestyle test before they get any money? And what does that mean for their children if they are found wanting? Are they supposed to suffer for their parents' actions, or for the prejudices of a DWP employee?

I was very keen that a Liberal Democrat should take Osborne to task for his comments. Our silence would imply that we agreed with this nonsense. Sarah Teather has not disappointed. She said:

"I am shocked and appalled that George Osborne has stooped so low as to make a crude political point out of the tragic deaths of six young children. It's one thing for a tabloid newspaper to make unsophisticated, clumsy political arguments, quite another for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to join in.

"It is deeply irresponsible for such a senior politician to seek to capitalise on public anger about this case, and in doing so demonise anybody who receives any kind of welfare support. Mr Philpott should be held fully accountable for his awful actions and it is reprehensible to seek to explain it away by blaming the welfare system which Osborne has been so happy to wage war on.
"On Tuesday, when answering a question about living on £53 a week, Osborne said that it's not sensible to reduce the debate to an argument about one individual's set of circumstances. It makes you wonder what has changed in 48 hours."

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

"Just listen. You could change a life" See Me Scotland launches new campaign to encourage conversation on mental health

Two guys on a golf course. But they aren't talking about football or beer. It quickly becomes clear that one has been an absolute lifeline to the other, helping him through a period of mental ill health, encouraging him out and being a friend.

That's the ad from See Me Scotland which starts a new campaign to encourage us to ask people how they are feeling and listen to what they have to say about their mental health. A couple of weeks ago, during a debate on mental health at Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference, Lin Macmillan described two occasions in her life when she had been off sick from work. The first was very isolating, nobody came to visit and nobody really knew. The second, the house was filled with flowers and the phone never stopped ringing. One time she had Cancer, the other Depression. Want to take a wild guess which was which?

See Me Scotland's two month campaign, which you can read more about here, includes advertising on buses as well as the tv and radio ads. You might like to take some time to go their audio page and listen to some of the interviews they have done with people.

I'll be following the campaign and you can do so too on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Keep the faith: Liberal Democrats are doing good things in Government, not that you'd know it from today's headlines

Liberal Democrats have taken a pounding across the Labour supporting media over the past few days. Article after soundbite condemns the welfare reforms which come into effect from now. It's been a clever, co-ordinated onslaught which seems aimed at demoralising Liberal Democrat members and activists rather than opposing the changes themselves. After all, I haven't heard Ed Miliband promise to repeal any of them. And we have to remember that it was the Labour Government who introduced Local Housing Allowance - the Bedroom Tax of the private sector.

Where have the Liberal Democrat MPs and key figures been?

That Labour would use today to have a go at us was obvious, yet there seems to have been little attempt from the leadership to support grassroots activists and members who are out on the streets today, campaigning in the local elections. It's not going to stop people campaigning but it's fair to say that it makes people a bit more apprehensive. Where are our key cheerleaders like Tim Farron and Paddy Ashdown? Surely these popular figures should have been out there in the media making the case for what we are achieving in Government. Danny Alexander's piece in the Sun, reported on here over the weekend, and Steve Webb's Guardian video are crafted for the public, not the sensibilities of Liberal Democrat members, many of whom feel deeply uncomfortable with the measures. Where are the people talking about how we have held the Tories back from doing even worse. Remember if they'd had their way, Child Benefits would have been stopped after two children and under 25s would have lost their Housing Benefit. We need to make sure that we put out messages which resonate with our members and the people who voted for us in 2010.

The relative silence of our leaders and often indifference to members' feelings is not helpful and contributes to the disconnect I talked about the other day in my Letter to the Leader. Those on the ground need both ammunition and moral support, which means that the leadership needs to be more sensitive to concerns.

A number of councillors have also told me that they feel that information on the welfare changes came too late to be of any use to them - they had already faced an onslaught in their Council chambers.
We can't just lie down and wait for these co-ordinated media attacks to pass - we need to be out there asserting ourselves. Nobody else is going to do it for us. We should have had a series of press releases, interviews and tweets lined up in advance, especially as this is just a month ahead of a critical election.

There is good news to tell

There are many good things happening only because of our involvement in this Government. We have a lot to be proud of and we mustn't lose sight of them in the darker days. Here are just a few:
  • the ending of child detention for immigration purposes;
  • shared parental leave, revolutionising the workplace and giving parents real choice;
  • extending talking therapies for mental health and including mental health in NHS mandate;
  • giving the biggest cash rise ever in the State Pension reforming the system to benefit many women;
  • the greatest transfer of powers to Scotland in 350 years, leading the way in building a consensus on further devolution and Mike Moore's careful work on the referendum process;
  • giving extra money to disadvantaged children through the £2.5 billion pupil premium;
  • expanding nursery education for the 2 year olds who need it most;
  • the Green Investment Bank and support for renewables;
  • investment in rural broadband;
  • Nick Clegg's £1 bn Youth Contract which is helping to get young people into work or training;
  • meeting our front page manifesto pledge of raising the tax threshold to £10,000.
There are more here.

All across the party, stalwart activists and councillors are getting on with it, doing what they always do, steadfast, conscientious community politics. Their job is harder because in many cases they've lost helpers and members. While there have been great steps forward in the quality of internal communications in recent years, and organisational changes at Liberal Democrat HQ have been implemented well, today shines a light on the gaps that remain.

The April Fool round-up

There were some very clever April Fool jokes out there in the blogosphere yesterday. Here are some of the best.

Very cleverly crafted piece from Liberator: "Clegg to abandon electoral reform?"

Does this from Ian Smart mean we can now describe him as a cybernat?

He may be too late. Lallands Peat Worrier reports on the demise of the Scottish Independence and For A' That podcasts because "nothing good can ever come from separation." Find out why independence is like putting cheese and bacon into a meringue.

Stephen Tall has an exclusive about Nick Clegg's proposed changes to the Liberal Democrat constitution.

Scot Goes Pop on how a 2011 Liberal Democrat broadcast is one of the top five of the last 40 years.

Liberal Democrat Voice suggests a secret pact between the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

And in the rest of the media

I couldn't wait to show my daughter this from the New Statesman, particularly as she was so outraged by the Easter Bunny doing her easter egg treasure hunt in Comic Sans.

The Guardian Goggles? Not very good, to be honest. Like the Guardian itself, a lot of the time.

The Daily Fail has an amusing piece suggesting that someone in 1938 had a prototype mobile phone.

ITV has a prototype Royal Pram designed by BMW.

And a special mention for the Lotus F1 team's World Simulator Championships.

I'd say the Blogosphere wins hands down for combining cleverly crafted posts with a frisson of plausibility.

Sadly, the Bedroom Tax and the bourach that is the single Scottish Police force are real and don't just stop at 12 noon.

The Liberal Democrat Voice team as you've never seen them before

There's a silly meme going round Facebook by which you can work out your Easter Bunny name.

The Liberal Democrat Voice team are as follows:

Sparkle Snuggle Bunny

Sparkle Sugar Kiss

Thumper Marshmallow

Loco Doodles

Lily Happy Feet

Lily Cotton Tail

Smartie Sugar Drop

Nibbles Sugar Drop

Daffodil Sprinkles

Smartie Bunny Hop

Candy Blow Pop.

Fancy hazarding a guess at who is who?


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