Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Labour PM delays election, saying “Neither the press nor the Tory party will fix it.”

Sound familiar?

Under the 30-year rule, the National Archives released papers today showing James Callaghan's determination to hang on to power in 1978. The Labour Prime Minister’s decision to delay a General Election (despite a shrinking Tory lead in the polls) was followed by a “winter of discontent” and defeat the following year.

From the Guardian:

As the Downing Street files graphically illustrate it all began to unravel once Callaghan decided to try to remain in power for a fifth and final year even though he lacked an overall Commons majority.

"The papers show that within a few weeks of his decision some of his closest political advisers were already warning that a "winter of discontent" was about to engulf them.

"The note was written by Callaghan on the day he called off the October 1978 election in preparation for a "forward look" discussion by the Cabinet to draw up a programme for the remaining 12 months of the parliament based on the theme "socialism means quality as well as equality". It gives a clear indication of what he felt about his decision to delay the election:

"I've been written off more times than I care to remember:
1 In March 76 – they said an election in the autumn.
2 At Oct '76 conference [they said] I had delivered my first and last speech as PM.
3. In March '77 – prior to the arrangement with the Libs [they said] we should be forced to go to the country then.
4. After the Liberal arrangement they forecast an election in Oct '77.
5. They decided they would fix the election date for Oct '78.
Neither the press nor the Tory party will fix it."

Read the full story here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Oh, Whitehall: you shouldn't have!

Once again, the Government are being far too generous with our data, our tax-funded laptops, memory sticks, hard drives, etc, etc.

Home Office Watch has the story.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

General Election posters: who's hoarding the good ones?

Speculating about a possible General Election in 2009, the Independent on Sunday has asked six leading ad agencies to come up with their poster ideas.
Most of the adverts were for Conservative campaigns – showing that many agencies want to pitch their business at the party tipped to win.

All rather tactical really: ad agencies hoping to win the vote of parties hoping to win people's votes. Still, life's a pitch...

See the full story (with photos) here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Tories have "very little to show" for £1m online spend

The Conservative Party has spent £500,000 on a campaign to launch supporters’ groups on four social networking websites: Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and iVillage. However, research by the Financial Times has found that the iVillage group had only drawn one new member.

Tim Montgomerie, editor of the Conservativehome website said, ”The party has very little to show for more than £1m of expenditure on internet-related projects over the last year. Eye-catching initiatives have always been favoured over using the internet for long-term relationship building.”

As the Financial Times reports:
All the main parties are suffering from declining membership. Mr Cameron appears willing to commit significant amounts of money to the internet to try to reverse, or at least mitigate, that trend. A revamp of the official Tory website earlier this year was reported to have cost a six figure sum.

But a squeeze on the party finances will increase the pressure on the Tory leader to show that future internet initiatives are cost effective. A recession-induced drop in City donations, allied to falling membership, is forcing the party to cut back on spending. More than a dozen jobs are being axed at the party’s headquarters.

“Like many organisations in the current economic climate, we need to look carefully at how we are using our resources,” a Tory official said. “Unfortunately, there is a need to make significant budget cuts."

Read the full story here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Santanomics: or Merry Christmas Professor Waldfogel

The Waldfogel effect

In the 1993 American Economic Review, an economist called Professor Joel Waldfogel attempted to calculate what he called the ‘deadweight of Christmas’. That was the difference between the shop value of a particular gift and what the recipient would have been willing to pay for it. When he asked his students, the 86 who responded valued their year’s Christmas gifts at an average of $313, though they estimated the actual cost to be $438.

In the Duffett household, we've just "celebrated" the happiest, most peaceful Christmas so far.

This was partly thanks to the unseen (but definitely felt and heard) guest known as Norovirus. It's been on a roll here for two full weeks now - some family members are on their second dose of the thing. Therefore no one was in the mood for much eating or exertion. All the same, it was a good, restful day. As I tucked the littlest Duffett into bed last night, he hugged me hard and said, "That was the goodest Christmas in the whole world." Amazing as it had been the simplest of occasions, and nothing like the extravaganza that school usually revs them up to expect.

When my eldest was in the Nursery class, his teacher took me to one side for a concerned chat because I had been up-front with him from the start about Santa being a myth. I didn't want to tell him something was true and then have to tell him later that actually, I'd been lying. So I explained it was a game and played along to an extent.

We usually sit down all together in September or so and decide whether to go on holiday over Christmas or spend it at home. We also talk about the types of gifts we'd like to exchange. Risky for a family with four media- and tech-savvy children but they're really chilled out about "stuff" and often say they're happy with the "stuff" they've got.

Yesterday, the presents were modest and appreciated and it was great fun to open them, at Schuba's request, all crammed into his little bedroom.

I received one single present - a calendar, from someone who cares a lot about time management. It was funny, useful and in no way cluttersome - perfect.

In our family, we avoid birthdays and Christmas being looked upon as "pay day" by emphasising our appreciation of the person, making an extra big fuss of them and going on special trips or putting on events. We make silly tribute videos about the person (sorry, not available on YouTube!) and definitely do lots of giving. It's just that we minimise the material side of things and we actually do spare a thought for Professor Waldfogel!

If people like to celebrate Christmas, of course they should do it however they like. No one can tell you how to spend any of the other Bank Holidays, after all.

An obligation is not a celebration, so do it your way, guilt free.

We've got some deeply cool stuff planned for the rest of the holidays (health permitting) and I'm also braced for the kids costing me a fortune in 2009 - but it won't be because I feel under pressure to give them the best Christmas ever. I'd prefer to have the "goodest" and meet their needs in their own time.

Update 24 December 2009: Professor Waldfogel has a new book out: "Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents For The Holidays" - the ideal stocking filler (just kidding).

Sunday, 21 December 2008

‘Tis the season for predictions...

Total Politics asks “What’s in store for us in 2009?” and in the absence of a crystal ball, offers a few lists:
(if you'd rather it were a surprise, look away now)

The view from the village – politicians and pundits’ predictions, including Chris Huhne’s:
The recession will be deeper and longer than most people think because big booms are always followed by big busts, and the UK housing market was the most overvalued and over-borrowed in the developed world. We will be doubly hit because of our reliance on financial services.

The Political Faces of 2009, with Lynne Featherstone right at the top:
Lynne Featherstone's response to the Baby P tragedy (her constituency forms part of Haringey) propelled her to the frontline of Lib Dem politicians. Her main strength is that she comes over as a normal person, rather than an inhabitant of the Westminster village. She talks 'normal' in a way that few politicians do. She ran Chris Huhne's leadership campaign so is not close to Nick Clegg, but even he must now recognise she deserves a much more prominent frontbench position than Youth and Equality.

And some “not wholly serious predictions about the political year ahead”, with a scurrilous one for September:
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg takes his party conference by storm by telling his party faithful to "go back to your constituencies and prepare to lose seats".

Read the tea leaves in full here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Justice minister agrees to use of pain on children in custody

Justice minister David Hanson has agreed to the continued use of deliberately painful restraint methods in young offenders' institutions, secure children's homes and training centres.

Despite the deaths of two teenage boys from restraint-related injuries and a ruling in July by the Court of Appeal that current restraint rules are unlawful, such methods have been approved for use over the next six months.

An independent review was commissioned after the 2007 inquests into the boys' deaths and was published this week. Adam Rickwood (14) and Gareth Myatt (15) both died in privately-run secure training centres.

The Guardian reports:

Rickwood's mother, Carol Pounder, whose son died in Hassockfield secure training centre in 2004, said: "I am disgusted that force is still being allowed to be used. At home, parents are not allowed to use any kind of force against their children. Why are children in custody treated differently?"

The court of appeal ruled in July that the existing rules on restraint were unlawful and exposed children to the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment. The review by Andrew Williamson and Peter Smallridge (which went to ministers in June but was only published yesterday), concludes that "a degree of pain compliance may be necessary in exceptional circumstances".

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Critical Mass cycle rides: Court of Appeal judgement overturned

From the London Cycling Campaign:

The hundreds of cyclists who ride around central London during the impromptu Critical Mass cycle rides do not have to give advance notice to the police, the Law Lords have ruled.

The rides, which start on the South Bank by the National Theatre on the last Friday of the month, celebrate safe cycling.

The Lords judgement overturns an earlier Court of Appeal ruling that demanded the police should be notified.

The police claimed the event was unlawful as it contravened Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986 whereby the organisers of a 'procession' must notify the police about the date, route and organisers' names and addresses.

However, the Lords deemed the event to have no leader or set route, so is not subject to the Act.

The ruling specifically states that similar rides in other cities would be lawful.

One long-time Critical Mass participant said of the ruling, "This was a very important case for Critical Mass. We hope it'll encourage others to join the monthly rides, and that cyclists in other cities discover the joys of mass cycle rides."

Critical Mass cycle rides take place in more than 400 cities across the globe, and the monthly London event has been taking place since 1994.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Norman Baker: Cabinet “split top to toe” on Heathrow third runway

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Conservatives' indecision on a third runway at Heathrow.

Now the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has revealed the rift within the Government on the issue.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Benn "said that Britain's biggest airport had a 'problem' with air quality even before the construction of the proposed third runway."
Earlier this month Geoff Hoon, the transport secretary, reluctantly postponed the runway decision until the new year after some ministers expressed private doubts.

Critics say the plan to increase aircraft capacity by almost 50% would boost emissions of harmful nitrogen dioxide and “particulates” – soot and dust.

There are claims that the airport’s expansion would also lead to more noise for the millions of families who live under the flight paths.

The official consultation document produced by the Department for Transport has suggested that stringent European Union emissions targets could still be met if the third runway gets the go-ahead.

However, serious doubts have been raised about the document’s conclusions after the Environment Agency issued its own report saying the case had not been proven.

The article goes on to say,
Last night senior figures close to Gordon Brown dismissed Benn’s objections. “Air quality is an issue, but this project will get the go-ahead,” said a senior source.
Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, has recently begun campaigning behind the scenes to persuade ministers to support the project.

Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat transport spokesman said of the news, "These reports lay bare what we've long known. The Cabinet is split top to toe on this issue."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The hashtags and the gladrags

I was at Saturday's Climate Change March in London, along with lots of other Liberal Democrats - a good chance to add our voices to the discussion on climate change.

As Alex Foster would say, we achieved “cross-media, cross-platform hegemony”:

See my video of Nick Clegg on YouTube addressing the rally at Parliament Square, plus MPs Susan Kramer and Jo Swinson with their take on it. (I posted a transcript of Nick's speech over on Lib Dem Voice.)

Also several Lib Dem twitterers in the crowd were giving their own reports on the action, which could be viewed at sites like this one. By adding the hashtag #climatemarch to their tweets, they ensured they could be viewed along with those of others on the same subject. Some of us added great photos via twitpic. A promising use of technology, and one worth developing for future events.

(Pictured above, Susan Kramer MP, me and Jo Swinson MP at the rally, in regulation black coats and pastel scarves...)

Conservative party finances worsening

As Mark blogged here last week, Conservative Party headquarters are having to lay off staff and look more closely at their finances.

Now ConservativeHome reports that the situation is getting worse, with the headline: "Waste, over-spending and poor revenue strategies contribute to CCHQ's deteriorating financial position"

To paraphrase George Osborne (and Fraser Nelson in the News of the World) the Tory leadership did not fix the party's finances during the good economic times and are now facing very difficult decisions as a consequence.

Fraser suggests that overall income is down by 10%, that the number of £50,000 donors may have halved and that David Cameron has personally authorised up to £2m of extra expenditures, none included in the budget for the year.

The credit crunch is obviously not Conservative Party's fault but the effect would have been more limited if there were better financial controls and a more strategic view at CCHQ.

Read the full story here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Nick Clegg's speech at the National Climate Change March, London

Thousands of people, including many Lib Dems, marched in protest yesterday on the National Climate Change March in London.

Nick Clegg addressed the crowd (transcript below) at the rally in Parliament Square, and MPs Susan Kramer and Jo Swinson were also there.

I made a video of some of the day's highlights, such as:

Susan Kramer - "If we're going to have any commitment to climate change then surely the last thing we need are more flights" (00:49:00)

Nick Clegg addressing the rally in Parliament Square (01:14:00)

Jo Swinson on a global approach to tackling climate change (05:34:00)

And er, me, signing off. (06:30:00) Because, hashtags or no, we're all roving reporters now.

And here's a transcript of Nick Clegg's speech:
There are a lot of people, particularly people on low incomes, really really worried about putting food on the table, paying their mortgage this month, paying their heating bills this winter, and most depressingly of all: we have commentators, pundits, politicians lining up, saying that you’re wasting your time. That in a recession we can’t afford the luxury to worry about the planet. That at a time of economic hardship we haven’t got the privilege, we’re self-indulgent to worry about the environment. They are wrong, you are right.

Because it is exactly now, it is exactly at a time of economic crisis, that we have to ask ourselves: How on earth did we create an economy so reliant on the short-termist boom-and-bust speculation of the City, while it let our environment and our planet go to rot? How on earth did we create an economy which is not only socially unjust but environmentally unsustainable? How on earth did we create an economy in which this government, in there [points at Parliament] is spending 37 billion pounds bailing out the bankers who’ve got ourselves into the mess in the first place, and yet they won’t lift a finger to really help us build the green economy of the future?

And that is why I say to you: No to a third runway at Heathrow; no to Kingsnorth; and no to spending twelve and a half billion quid of our money to give us a short-term VAT cut – which we’ll all have to pay for in the future – when every penny of that money should be spent on public transport, on green energy, on sustainable housing for the future.

Let me say one other thing that I think could be done, and it can be done now. It’s something that I’ve pressed Gordon Brown on, in that chamber over there several times and he still refused to act. And it is this: It’s cold, we all know it’s cold, but we have the shocking, the scandalous situation that the big energy companies are charging a pensioner - scrimping and saving, living on her own, to perhaps heat one room in her home (or his!) – is charging her or him more than a multimillionaire who’s heating their five-storey mansion from top to toe. Because we have the outrageous situation that all of us are charged by those companies more for the first bits of energy we use than the last bits of energy we use. How mad is that? It’s bad for the environment, it is unfair, it is unjust, so we, you, must marry the demand for social justice as we come out of this recession, a demand for a fairer economy, a fairer Britain, with your passionate commitment to a greener Britain and a greener world too.

So yes, there are plenty of reasons to be gloomy, but I come to you in a spirit of celebration that you are here in such large numbers, that there are countless demonstrations like this, taking place around the world as well, but also in hope. In the hope that we will learn the lessons of the errors that we have made in the past, and come out of this recession a fairer, a greener nation.

Thank you very much indeed.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Haringey Chief Exec Ita O'Donovan facing "serious questions"

Chief Executive of Haringey Council Ita O'Donovan was previously City Manager at Stoke on Trent Council.

As reported at Lib Dem Voice, Ita O'Donovan left to become Chief Executive at Haringey in the same month that Stoke City Council was found to have "critical weaknesses" in its children's services.

Mark Pack writes:
"Those weaknesses in children’s services were therefore there whilst Ita O’Donovan was in post. It looks to me that there are some serious questions for Ita O’Donovan, especially given the response to warnings made directly to her about problems in Haringey’s care for children"

"Vince the Invincible": the verdict from Politics Home

PHI100, Politics Home's politically-balanced panel of experts and insiders, have once again rated Vince Cable MP as their top politician:

Vince Cable maintains his position at the head of our top politicians league table and hits a new high with the experts and insiders.

The panel clearly think that the Lib Dem's deputy leader and treasury spokesman is continuing to strike the right note in the wake of the crisis budget.

They give him a rating of 8.3, up from 7.8 last month and cementing his position at the top of the table.

We regularly ask the PHI100 to rate the effectiveness of leading politicians where a 1 is totally useless and a 10 is totally effective. The party leaders, whom we rate separately, are not included.

Read the full story at Politics Home.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Nick Clegg: first British politician to promote hashtags?

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has emailed party members today to publicise Saturday’s National Climate Change March in London (email reproduced below).

Hashtag fans like me particularly liked the PS: Nick is encouraging participants to use the hashtag #climatemarch on Twitter and Flickr. As far as I know, Nick Clegg is the first British politician to promote the use of hashtags.

Whilst it’s a powerful thing for thousands of people to join together in one place and show their solidarity for a cause, this is a way for individuals to give their own report on events. Tweets bearing the same hashtag can then be followed in real-time at sites such as this one. Another site, twemes.com aggregates tweets, flickr photos and other links as well.

Hashtagging proved very popular at September’s Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth as Alex Foster and I both blogged. Also during the Labour Conference, Lib Dem blogger James Graham’s tweet was picked up and reported by the BBC (scroll down to 14:46).

So if you're going to Saturday's march, try tagging your tweets and photos with #climatemarch, then we can all see you there!

Nick's email in full:
In these troubled economic times many politicians are all too willing to forget about crucial environmental issues. Our party is standing firm on our principles. In Parliament Square, London on the afternoon of Saturday December 6th I'll be speaking at the National Climate Change March to make it clear that the Liberal Democrats remain the only mainstream party willing to take the tough choices to safeguard our environment.

I want you to join me there.

Liberal Youth along with elected Liberal Democrats from across the country are going to be leading the Liberal Democrat contingent on the march. They are meeting at 11.30am at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.

I know that many Liberal Democrat members are already planning on going to this important event. I hope that you can make it too. We want as many Liberal Democrats on the march as possible in order to demonstrate clear our dedication to the environmental cause.

At Westminster we have been leading the way on strengthening the Government's Climate Change Bill and Energy Bill. On climate change we tabled the successful amendment to increase the target for CO2 cuts by 2050 from 60% to 80%, and helped to ensure that international aviation and shipping emissions are reflected in the targets. We also backed successful amendments to the Energy Bill to bring in a system of 'feed-in tariffs' where individuals and communities will get a guaranteed price for the renewable energy they generate. Without Liberal Democrat pressure in the Commons and the Lords, it is unlikely that any of these changes would have been made.

We must keep up that pressure to ensure that the environment remains right at the top of the political agenda. This march is a chance to do that.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg
Leader, Liberal Democrats

P.S. If you are going on the march and use Facebook or Twitter, please do make use of both to let people know that you'll be going, and then when you are on the march. This sort of viral publicity is all the more important for times like the present where much of the mainstream media's attention has moved away to other issues. Please use the tag #climatemarch on Twitter and Flickr so others can easily follow news about the march.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

David Howarth: ID cards are bad news for Cambridge

From this week, the Home Office has announced, compulsory ID cards will be issued to foreign nationals including students and those granted a visa because they are married to a British Citizen.

Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge David Howarth has pointed out the ID card scheme's implications for the University city:
I am worried about the effect of this move on the economy of Cambridge, which relies on a stream of highly-qualified scientists, engineers and academics from all over the world.

Treating highly-qualified people as potential criminals rather than as welcome guests is not going to put us at the top of their list of places to go to use their talents.

Read the full story at Cambridge News.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Conservatives at odds over Heathrow third runway

Do the Conservatives oppose a third runway at Heathrow, or not?

Iain Dale has this:

There is growing disquiet among Tory MPs, and the Shadow Cabinet, about Theresa Villiers witchhunt against BAA. The Shadow Transport Secretary issued a press release yesterday headlined PROMISES FROM BAA CAN'T BE TRUSTED. The release went on to accuse BAA of breaking all its promises on a third runway.

[Iain quotes from Villiers' press release] "BAA are right to admit that they have lost the trust of Parliamentarians and local communities over the third runway. However today's letter is just the next in a long line of promises which may have been sincere at the time, that were subsequently cast aside by the company. We have seen this all before. What BAA needs to realise is that people do not want a third runway, we do not need a third runway, and under a Conservative Government there will not be a third runway."

All this was said in response to a BAA proposal that a completely independent body should be set up to ensure that it is impossible for promises to be broken. Surely that was something a Shadow Transport Secretary should welcome. One has to ask what kind of message this sends out to private companies who want to act responsibly? "Sorry, we don't trust you so don't bother trying".

So BAA are proposing a watchdog: that's a good thing, right? Not if you check the fine print. As the BBC reports:

Heathrow's owner says it will accept an independent body with the power to limit flights for environmental reasons - if a third runway is approved.

BAA says that if it wins the battle for a third runway and more flights, it will welcome being held to strict noise and pollution controls.

Stable doors, horses bolting, etc, spring to mind. In response to BAA's assurances, Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Secretary Norman Baker has said, "This is a worthless promise, as BAA has to stick to EU emissions limits anyway."

You can read here how Susan Kramer, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, is speaking up against Heathrow expansion plans, on behalf of her constituents.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Damian Green arrest: Gordon Brown "knew nothing"

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told Sky News that he had no prior knowledge of the arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green.

For a Government not noted for minding its own business, it is odd that the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and other ministers were all unaware of the arrest until after it had taken place.

Especially so, since we learn that Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Conservative Leader David Cameron and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin all knew that the arrest was about to happen.

Here's the video from Sky:

The BBC also reports here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Starbucks to use only Fairtrade coffee in Britain

Coffee shop chain Starbucks has announced that its 700 UK and Ireland branches are to sell only Fairtrade coffee by the end of next year.

The firm hopes the switch will stop a decline in sales caused by the economic downturn, while reassuring customers that growers are receiving a fair price for their coffee crops.

From the Telegraph:
The Fairtrade Foundation, which gives certification to growers who were given at least 92p for every pound of their coffee beans, estimated that 100,000 farmers in Africa, Asia and South America will benefit from the decision.

At present, only six per cent of coffee sold by Starbucks qualifies as Fairtrade. The company claims that it will now become the world’s largest buyer of Fairtrade coffee.

The company hopes the move will boost revenues. Earlier this week, it warned that its global sales would be down this year. After years of aggressive expansion in the US, Australia and UK, the company has been closing hundreds of outlets hit by reduced demand.

Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman and chief executive, told The Independent: “We’ve done something that’s far beyond what any coffee company has done before.

"This is a long-term commitment, which will not only benefit our farmers, but will give our customers the assurance that the coffee they’re buying in Starbucks ... is at a price that will allow sustainability for those people who need it most."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Watford Conservatives to usher in new candidate?

The Watford Observer reports that the Watford Conservative Association is moving quickly to replace Ian Oakley, the Tory PPC convicted of 68 criminal offences against his Liberal Democrat opponent Sal Brinton and her colleagues.

Curious, then, that ConservativeHome appear to have no knowledge of the advertisement (it isn't in the most recent list of advertised seats on ConservativeHome), and in fact their last entry for Watford reports Oakley's pleading guilty at St Albans Magistrates Court back in August.

Neither the local Conservative Association nor David Cameron have yet apologised to Watford Liberal Democrats for Oakley's reign of terror whilst he was their PPC.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Vince Cable endorsed by business leaders

Polling consultancy ComRes has been tracking business leaders' perceptions of party leaders and their Treasury spokesmen since October 2007.

Recent figures for business leaders' confidence in the abilities of Darling, Osborne and Cable make for an interesting comparison:

In September, confidence in Alistair Darling was 11%, George Osborne 40% and Vince Cable was 31%.

In October, it was: Darling 25%, Osborne 36% and our Vince 45%.

At a time when business experience among MPs is lacking, and when Liberal Democrat ideas are being filched from all sides, Vince Cable stands out.

ComRes' Chief Exec Andrew Hawkins has even gone so far as to say Vince should be made Liberal Democrat Leader.

You can get the full story in December's issue of Total Politics magazine, published today.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Forecasters say "UK recession has begun"

The BBC reports today that the start of recession in the UK has now been pronounced:

The UK economy has "deteriorated dramatically" in the past three months, and is already in a recession, top forecasters have suggested.
The Ernst & Young Item Club says the UK [economy] will shrink by 1% next year, before recovering in 2010 and growing by 1%.
The Item Club's chief economist, Peter Spencer, told the BBC: "Recession is already baked in the cake."

Read more here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Government department in 'no lost memory sticks' shocker

From silicon.com:

It had to happen sooner or later. While seemingly a week doesn't go past without another government data loss as a result of a mislaid memory stick, one government department has made a shocking revelation: it hasn't lost any for several years.

In a written answer to Parliament, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Goggins revealed that no memory sticks or desktop computers have been lost or stolen from his department between 2001 and 2008.

Figures prior to 2001 are not available, Goggins said in response to a question by Paul Holmes, Lib Dem MP for Chesterfield.

However, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) wasn't exempt from technology going missing.

According to Goggins, five laptops and one hard drive were stolen over the last seven years, while 22 mobiles were lost and six were reported stolen.

Despite the losses, the NIO still shines compared to other government departments.

In response to written questions this week by Holmes, the Department of Transport reported 14 memory sticks, 21 laptops, 10 desktops, one hard drive and 15 mobiles lost or stolen between 2003 and 2008 and the Department for International Development confirmed it had had one memory stick, 39 laptops and 28 mobiles lost or stolen between 2001 and 2008.

You can read the full story here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 17 November 2008

A New Liberal Order

From Time Magazine, Peter Beinart’s take on the Obama Presidency: it is “just the beginning... Shifting attitudes about government will make Democrats the ruling party for a generation”

The death and rebirth of American liberalism both began with flags in Grant Park. On Aug. 28, 1968, 10,000 people gathered there to protest the Democratic Convention taking place a few blocks away, which was about to nominate Lyndon Johnson's Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, thus implicitly ratifying the hated Vietnam War. Chicago mayor Richard Daley had warned the protesters not to disrupt his city and denied them permits to assemble, but they came anyway. All afternoon, the protesters chanted and the police hovered, until about 3:30, when someone climbed a flagpole and began lowering the American flag.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Post Office Card Account: Labour's hypocrisy

On Monday 10th November a Liberal Democrat Opposition Day debate was held in the Commons on a motion on the Post Office Card Account.

The wording of the motion was the same as that used in Early Day Motion (EDM) 2008 from this session. The EDM was signed by 47 Labour MPs. In the vote on the motion, however, most of them voted against. Here are their names:

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Post Office keeps contract to run card account

The Government will allow the Post Office to keep the Post Office Card Account contract until at least 2015.

The contract had previously been put out to tender, risking the loss of 3,000 Post Offices if a private firm won the contract.

To cheers in the House of Commons, Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell announced that the bidding process had been closed, saying, "Now cannot be the time for the government to do anything to put that network at risk."

Mr Purnell stated that private company Paypoint would be compensated for the cost of bidding for the contract, insisting, "It is a good deal for taxpayers. It means a better service for customers but it also means a deal which is right for customers and taxpayers in general."

See BBC News.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Doing the Database Rag

From eclectech, soundtrack by Mushroom: a jolly database ditty about our stalker Government.


Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Peter Mandelson invents the Post Office

The Guardian has news of Labour's further inconsistency in their plans for the Post Office network:

Lord Mandelson is urging the prime minister to save the Post Office network by allowing it to provide government services and financial products, according to a leaked letter seen by the Guardian.

Mandelson suggests that the current economic downturn and "recent events in the financial services" present an opportunity for the Post Office to take on a new range of tasks.

In the letter to Gordon Brown dated October 30 - sent less than a month after he rejoined the government - the business secretary says: "We should examine the prospects for POL [Post Office Ltd] becoming a much more significant player in financial services - offering a wider range of attractive products within easy reach of the whole population, available from an institution they can trust."

Whatever next: Mandelson’s novel suggestion that Post Offices could provide a convenient local point to collect pensions, benefits and send parcels?

Campaign surgery at London Region Conference

Over on Lib Dem Voice, I've been plugging this Saturday's London Region Autumn Conference. The details are all on the Flock Together website.

While regional conferences are always an excellent way to catch up with members from neighbouring areas, I'm particularly keen to tell people about a certain fringe event:

Campaign Surgery is a chance for members of the, shall we say, more modestly sized local parties to discuss the challenges they face. Come along and get advice, swap ideas (and even phone numbers)! It's at 11.45 in Room 2.

And if you're from a big, thriving party, come and share how you do things and inspire the rest of us!

I know that my own campaigning skills have benefited hugely from the way larger London parties such as Haringey, Islington, Camden, and many others, have welcomed me in and shared their experience.

After all, Haringey was believed by some to be a "no-hope" area for the Lib Dems. Now, ten years (and a phenomenal amount of work and determination) later, the Lib Dems are close to taking control of the Council and Lynne Featherstone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.

So if you'd also like to make a success out of humble beginnings, this event is for you:

"Are you trying to win your first council seats or to strengthen a small group on the Council? If so, come along to this two-way surgery session where you can chat informally with some of our Regional team and staff.

Come and let us know about the particular challenges in YOUR target ward. Meet with other campaigners from other parts of London who may be experiencing similar issues so we can win together!"

See you there!

Monday, 10 November 2008

London Lib Dems: Talk to your neighbours!

It's always valuable to meet with campaigners from neighbouring areas, to share ideas (and helpers!)

In a change to the printed guide which has been sent out to London Region Liberal Democrats, this Saturday's Autumn Conference now features a campaigning pick-me-up.

Campaign Surgery, a fringe event at 11.45, is great for development parties. Here's the idea:

Are you trying to win your first council seats or to strengthen a small group on the Council? If so, come along to this two-way surgery session where you can chat informally with some of our Regional team and staff.

Come and let us know about the particular challenges in YOUR target ward. Meet with other campaigners from other parts of London who may be experiencing similar issues so we can win together!

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Ros Scott's Presidential acceptance speech - the movie

From Saturday's Liberal Democrat Presidential Election count at Cowley Street: Ros Scott's acceptance speech.

Special bonus scenes: The announcement of the result, clips of Chandila Fernando and Lembit Öpik and the promise of a new First Kitten. (6:34)

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Lib Dem President Elect sparks new poll!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I was at Cowley Street yesterday, reporting the Presidential Election result for Lib Dem Voice. It took a roomful of volunteers several hours to count the thousands of ballot papers.

While it was clear from early on that Ros Scott's pile was the biggest, even Ros seemed surprised and was definitely moved when she saw just how large her vote had been.

But there was one surprise still to come.

In Ros's acceptance speech, [video here] she thanked her campaign team, paid tribute to Chandila Fernando, Lembit Öpik and Simon Hughes, before addressing her husband, Mark Valladares:

"I started this campaign two years ago as a single woman. Then in the romantic, idealised setting of the Ealing Southall by-election, (it’s very Lib Dem, that, isn’t it?) Mark and I had what I now know to be our first date, and we got married during the campaign. Mark has made this campaign even more of a joy than it would have been, and his support and advice and encouragement has just been invaluable. Mark, I love you very much, and you can have that kitten.”

A sweetly blushing Mark V looked both chuffed and astonished as the room erupted with hoots, laughter and applause.

Obviously we're now faced with another poll, as we'll have to help Mark choose a suitable name for the new kitteh. Thousands more ballot papers will have to be counted, so volunteers (and donations) will all be gratefully received.

Friday, 7 November 2008

David Beckham

...attended Chase Farm Primary School in Chingford. That's where I was yesterday, as the school was being used as a Polling Station for the Valley ward by-election.

My role was to be a 'teller' which means I was there to collect people's polling numbers as they came to cast their vote. This is so they won't be disturbed later by reminders to go and vote.

I've always found telling a pleasant task, especially the truce-like nature of the conversations I've had with tellers from the other parties.

During the quiet patches, after a brief burst of politics and wondering whether voters would soon be queuing round the block as they had in the US this week, talk turned to sport.

David Beckham, the school's chair of governors proudly told me, had been a pupil at the school and continued to be an inspiration to the children at Chase Lane. A signed football shirt donated by Beckham during a visit had pride of place in the school foyer.

Anyway, the queues of voters didn't materialise* (or at least not on my watch!) and one person even said that her daughter might not get a chance to vote as she was going to watch Spurs play that night.

Incidentally, some voters had their own interesting reasons for visiting the polling station yesterday: A power cut in Titley Close made some people think, "Oh well, may as well go out and vote as I can't do much at home." And two elderly ladies sought the warmth of the school when they found their gas heating wasn't working.

So they came to where the power was! I wonder how many people saw the Valley by-election as bringing power to the people?

For me, that's what politics is all about.

Update: 4.30pm November 7 - Just heard that voter turnout was 27.8%.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Home Secretary to be cloned?

Guido Fawkes writes today that Jacqui Smith's fingerprints have been taken away for analysis and potential copying:

Jacqui Smith gave a speech today at midday on ID cards to an audience invited by the Social Market Foundation, at the end of the event the glass she was drinking from during the Q & A was whisked away by a NO2ID sympathiser. This picture was taken this lunchtime - the glass is now undergoing a technical process at an undisclosed location. This will not only identify Big Jacqui's fingerprints, it will allow them to create a plastic foil stamp that will enable anyone to leave her fingerprints behind.

Ok, so cloning a whole Home Secretary may yet be technically some way off. But wouldn't it be handy to have a spare, in case the Home Office loses one?

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Is blogging dying - or simply shrinking?

Paul Boutin thinks blogs are SO four years ago! Writing at Wired he says that the rise of other sites like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook offer quicker and richer ways to express yourself.

He particularly likes Twitter:

"Twitter — which limits each text-only post to 140 characters — is to 2008 what the blogosphere was to 2004. You'll find Scoble, Calacanis, and most of their buddies from the golden age there. They claim it's because Twitter operates even faster than the blogosphere. And Twitter posts can be searched instantly, without waiting for Google to index them. As a writer, though, I'm onto the system's real appeal: brevity."

Listen to Guardian writer and blogger Kate Bevan discussing with Robin Hamman (of computing consultancy Headshift) whether microblogging is overtaking the longer form. (From BBC Radio 4)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Starbucks becoming biggest purchasers of Fair Trade coffee‏

News for caffeine-fuelled campaigners!

From Transfair USA, a non-profit organisation which certifies and promotes fair trade products in the States:

Starbucks, one of the largest buyers of Fair Trade Certified coffee, will double its purchases to 40 million pounds in 2009, making the company the largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified™ coffee in the world.

"This commitment from Starbucks could not have come at a better time for coffee farmers as they face the threat of climate change, higher prices and brace themselves for a global slowdown," said Rob Cameron, ceo of FLO. [Fairtrade Labeling Organizations] "The partnership combines the expertise of Fairtrade in delivering grassroots-based farmer and consumer empowerment in global markets, with Starbucks incentive-based program for improvement of coffee quality and farmer incomes. Together, we believe we can forge a model of trade for sustainable development that the coffee industry has never before seen."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Driving in the rain

We had a really successful Membership Drive in Ilford South today: Six members signed up, with more leads to follow in the coming days.

Thanks to the team for all their hard work - especially as it was raining pretty hard today. Funnily enough, that was good weather for recruiting as it meant we found a lot of people at home.

If you'd like to give your local party numbers a boost, why not set a day to do it? It's a great motivation to have a bunch of people all going for it.

It was also fun to gather afterwards to share our news - and some of Marjorie's delicious home-made pumpkin soup!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Cameron's C-Team

"...if you can find them..." Policies, do you mean?

E-voting FAIL? A scary thought.

This clip from the Simpsons is a timely reminder of the problems still to be ironed out if E-voting is to be trusted.

Curt Wagner blogs at Show Patrol:

Thankfully, the frightfest opens big—as in, Homer not being able to squeeze into a voting booth. He has to use the “double-wide” booth instead, but his problems don’t end there: When he votes for Barack Obama, the machine counts his click as “One vote for McCain.” Homer clicks again and again, and the machine responds “Two votes for McCain,” “Three votes for McCain.” Your vote not being counted correctly? Now that is frightening.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

"People don't have campaign headquarters anymore. They have websites now."

At US website Politics Online, Anthony Man writes on how the internet has changed the way local and national campaigns are run:
“As more and more people spend more and more time online, the Internet is reshaping political campaigns in ways large and small. From the presidency to the lowest-profile local office, the Internet is permeating the way campaigns are organized. It's changing the way candidates raise money and eroding influence of candidates, political parties and the news media.”

In this piece, Man also quotes other commentators on the effect of the internet, most notably in the current Presidential campaign:

"If you're under the age of 30-35 or so, this is how you engage in the political process. You're not going home after work to watch the nightly news. You're not picking up the newspaper in the morning," he said. "You've got your RSS feed, you're talking with your friends on your social networking site [and] you're going on YouTube to watch the debate from the night before."

Quick disclaimer: As with any campaign tool, the internet is just that, and to be used as part of a range of activities. Websites (even, ahem, ones as wonderful as this) won't be superseding such "analog" activities as personal contact, doorknocking and leafletting any time soon. Will they?

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Global Peace and Unity Conference: Pakistan news agency report

From the Associated Press of Pakistan:

LONDON, Oct 27 (APP): Politicians, activists and grass-root leaders joined thousands of British Muslims to celebrate peace, in defiance of divisive smear casters. They gathered Sunday to take part in an annual jamboree to celebrate British Islam and discuss how the community can reach out to wider society in peace and solidarity.

The Global Peace and Unity conference organised by the Islam Channel took place at Excel Centre in East London despite the attempts of smear casters to dissuade leading politicians, activists and community leaders from attending.

The Muslim Council of Britain has written to the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, to express their appreciation for the manner in which he stood up to the smear tactics of the divisive think-tank, the Policy Exchange.

The leader of the Liberal Democrat party wrote to the Policy Exchange ‘think-tank’ criticising its ‘bizarre and underhand behaviour’ in seeking to try and dissuade prominent politicians from attending.

Mr Clegg, along with politicians from across the political spectrum, took part at the event or sent messages of support.

“For years, the Policy Exchange has peddled a McCarthyite agenda that seeks to divide British people and draw suspicion and fear towards British Muslims. Nick Clegg is to be commended for not succumbing to the pressure brought to bear by the Policy Exchange and indeed revealing to the world the underhand manner in which the Policy Exchange operates,” said MCB Secretary-General Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey, was among the politicians who received a special award from the Muslim Council of Britain for principled defence of the Muslim community.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

US political yard signs: raising the stakes

In the US, as in the UK, some people don’t like to reveal who’ll get their vote. But there are suburbs where residents are risking controversy by putting up huge campaign signs in their front gardens.

With days left before US voters go to the polls, many homes in Bay View, Milwaukee are displaying “yard signs” as big as 8ft by 4ft featuring the name of their favoured candidate.

Jim Marsh of South Superior Street has previously been reserved:

“I am pretty quiet about it. I guess it’s speak softly and carry a big sign.”

Similar signs have led to tension further down the same street. WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio reports:

"On one side of the road, there’s another large McCain sign surrounded by households with smaller ones. And on the other side, you have proud Obama supporters like Sarah Berg. She says when she first saw the size of her neighbor’s McCain sign she couldn’t believe it. She wondered whether it violated any laws... Berg planted two standard-size Obama signs in her yard... Now she says it just pains her a bit to look across the street.”

Berg’s next door neighbour Cliff Gribble [also supporting Obama] sums it up:
“This is really exactly what the election is about, the freedom to do exactly what we’re doing. And to me this is kind of the freedoms we have in microcosm, if you will, our side of the street and their side of the street, although like I say it is divided a little, the idea that we can do that in our country is what we’re fighting for. And the very idea that so many people seem to be excited and participating in this election is in my mind very healthy. Even if some of them have the wrong idea.”

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Boris Johnson says get elected to make your voice heard in City Hall

Mayor’s Question Time yesterday at London’s City Hall was interrupted twice, by protesters in five different parts of the public gallery.

They were calling on the Mayor to ensure a living wage for workers on the London Underground, particularly those employed as cleaners. I’d noticed the young woman sitting next to me, fiddling nervously with a piece of paper, but it was only when she stood up and shouted in Boris’s direction that I recognised her as one of the group who’d carried out a similar protest in July.

At first, the Mayor and Assembly Members looked on benignly as one protestor after another stood to speak on behalf of the lowest paid Underground workers. Silken banners were unfurled, as security staff stood awkwardly beside the protestors, seemingly unsure how to end the outbursts.

City Hall staff came out of their offices and stood watching the commotion on the spiral walkway above the chamber. Meanwhile, Question Time was adjourned until order was restored. Mayor Johnson had a brief walk around the floor of the chamber, and even addressed the protesters – he told them that if they wanted to speak in this forum, they would need to get themselves elected.

So how does Boris’s “don’t get mad, get elected” attitude work in practice? Interesting to note that Boris used his voice a lot during the meeting yesterday, though not effectively. Rarely did he give a straight or succinct answer to the Assembly Members’ questions.

Each group on the Assembly has its time strictly allocated, according to the number of Members it has. The Liberal Democrat group are keenly aware of this, having one of the smallest allocations. To save time, questions are referred to by number, as they are printed on the order papers supplied to every participant. Often Johnson spent valuable moments shuffling through his papers in search of information, or even reading the questions out in full – wholly unnecessary and looking like a stalling tactic.

Dee Doocey, (Liberal Democrat policing spokesperson on the Assembly) had asked the Mayor to say where the axe would fall, as a result of £76 million in cost-saving cuts. After a lengthy rehash of the question, followed by the qualifier, “This is coming at an early stage in our budget discussions... we will be having discussions before the final proposals are submitted... if you want my general philosophy... I do not want to see cuts, as you describe them, in front-line services...” Dee Doocey then pressed Johnson for a “categorical assurance that no borough will have to cut police staff posts or police officer posts next year”. The best that Boris could give was a “highly unlikely,” but no guarantee that front-line services would not suffer.

Dee also asked Boris to give his plans for avoiding potential cuts in the numbers of Police Community Support Officers in London. Johnson launched into a long tribute to PCSOs, but was eventually stopped in his tracks by a look from Dee. “You want me to hurry up, don’t you?” he said. “Yup,” replied Dee, “The problem is, I’ve got very little time.” “Ok I’ll just shut up then,” offered Johnson. However, answers were required, so Johnson started to speak much more quickly, for a while at least.

Caroline Pidgeon, London Assembly Transport spokesperson, asked the Mayor whether he is absolutely confident that all the transport infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics will be delivered. Johnson was not aware of several issues raised by Caroline Pidgeon, although he had earlier been at pains to point out that he is Chair of Transport for London. “It sounds to me that you’re really not on top of your transport brief,” she told him after he had struggled to recognise figures and even the name of a potential contractor to deliver a transport and events smartcard for the London Olympics.

So this is how the Mayor uses his (elected) voice at Mayor's Question Time. There were two large groups of university students in the public gallery. Each time one of them so much as shifted in their seat or moved to stand up, the security staff looked nervous, perhaps fearing yet another crop of protesters.

Assembly Members, despite having been elected, are themselves unlikely to get straightforward answers unless Boris Johnson starts preparing adequately and stops using this forum as "Mayor's Question-dodging."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

John Cleese on Sarah Palin.

According to John Cleese, Michael Palin's not the funniest Palin any more.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Boris Johnson on trial after Police Commissioner’s departure

In his first meeting as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority yesterday, Boris Johnson faced criticism for causing Sir Ian Blair’s resignation.

Johnson maintained that he had sought the opinion of “a great many” of the MPA’s members. However, the majority of MPA members said that they had not been consulted about the Mayor’s decision to oust the Commissioner.

Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Dee Doocey voiced her concern at such a precedent:

“If you do not consult the MPA on a matter as important as this, then what happens next time?”

Dave Hill’s London Blog has more.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Change is broken?

Danny Finkelstein of the Times (speaking on the BBC) has just likened Mandelson's third stab at Cabinet to the second marriage of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

The Liberal Democrats recognise that the whole political system needs an overhaul, and that, "Politics is broken."

The Tories say either that there's no such thing as society, or that "society is broken."

Today, Gordon Brown's new cabinet with a retro feel seems to be saying, "Ah, what's the use? Let's retreat... Change is broken."

When the Sun comes out...

Sky News currently reporting that David Yelland, former editor of the Sun newspaper will be appointed "Director of Communications" in the new government.

This comes at the same time that the Politics Home Index "panel of experts and insiders" are forecasting that the Sun will back the Conservatives at the next election.

Any port in a storm...

Cabinet reshuffle: like there's no tomorrow?

Gordon Brown's cabinet reshuffle is underway today, with the unexpected return of some old faces:

The biggest surprise is that Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner since 2004, returns to the cabinet for a third time, this time as Business Secretary. Margaret Beckett is also back, in the new role of "Cabinet Enforcer."

John Hutton will replace Des Browne as Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon replaces Ruth Kelly at Transport.

The reshuffle is being presented as Government readiness to tackle the crises in the economy and the environment. However, as Alex Foster said here yesterday, this could appear to be a rearranging of the deckchairs, in a Government with enough crises of its own.

Will the new cabinet make a difference to the country and to Labour's fortunes? Or is it too late?

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Dee Doocey on Sir Ian Blair's resignation

Sir Ian Blair resigned this afternoon as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, with effect from 1st December.

Dee Doocey, Liberal Democrat London Assembly spokesperson on policing (and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority) said:

The Metropolitan Police Service is crying out for strong leadership, and whoever takes over has a mountain to climb. The lack of leadership at the top of the MPS in recent weeks and months has resulted in the top brass fighting among themselves, rather then getting on with their real jobs of policing London.

The Met must now devote all its efforts on keeping the streets of our capital safe rather than vying for power and fighting each other.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Inspiration for Liberal Democrat women

On 27th September the latest “Inspiration Day” was held in London by the Campaign for Gender Balance. These are friendly and informal events, designed to give female members the opportunity to learn more about becoming more active in the Liberal Democrats.

More than fifty women attended Saturday’s session, which included advice on becoming an MP, a Councillor, or a member of one of the Party’s committees. Training on key skills was given and everyone had a chance to contribute and to ask questions.

Commenting afterwards, Layla from Acton said, “I hope we’ll be able to keep in touch and create a support network for one another as we embark on whatever paths we decide to choose.”

Anjeliki from Chingford, said, “Saturday’s meeting was truly inspiring and extremely rewarding. Meeting such dynamic people was a complete surprise.”

Only a quarter of Liberal Democrat approved candidates are women, and just 1 in 7 Lib Dem MPs. The Campaign for Gender Balance was created to seek out, train, mentor and provide practical support to women candidates.

The next Inspiration Day is for the Yorkshire and Humber region, and takes place in Leeds on 18th October 2008, between 10am and 5.30pm.

If you are interested in attending, please contact the Campaign Organiser, Vicky Booth, on vicky.booth@libdems.org.uk or phone 020 7340 4992.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Nick Clegg: In the family way

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Families come in all shapes and sizes - the Lib Dem bloggers are no exception. On the day of their happy family reunion during party conference, I was among the bunch of blogging Liberal Democrats who interviewed Nick Clegg. And family was very much up for discussion.

Our session began with congratulations on the news that Nick and his wife Miriam are expecting their third child. Nick declared that he is “incredibly happy.”

He continued, “As any prospective parent knows, it’s quite a nerve-wracking process. My main concern is that the pregnancy goes well, the birth goes well: it’s very, very exciting. We’re going to be so utterly exhausted, both of us trying to work and have three young children, but it’ll be wonderful”

Richard (a Daddy himself) pointed out that this was “quite typical of a lot of families nowadays, that both parents are having to work, and the children are the most important thing to them, and they find themselves caught up. Which kind of leads me into my first question: Now that the Labour party have so obviously and painfully surrendered their position, how do we go about convincing people that we are the party that stands up for everyone... the man/woman/family in the street?”

Nick said that “We do that by first identifying what’s harming people, bothering people, holding people back, listen to those concerns, develop the policy that will provide solutions and go out campaigning on them. “ Then he gave us a quick tour of our positions on various subjects such as fuel poverty, education, health and where we can target resources much more effectively towards those people who need it most.

“At a time at which millions of British families are having to tighten their belts, we should be saying that a bloated, centralised Government should have to tighten its belt too.”

On another aspect of family life, we talked about the culture of long working hours, not just in Parliament, but in elections and selection; how attempts are being made to attract more women into candidacy, including those with young children.

I asked Nick, “How can parenthood and politics mix?” and “What can we practically do to encourage more women with children to go for it?”

“We’re still only at the beginning of a culture shift that is necessary. Even I feel as a young father that the political environment as a whole, but frankly if I’m blunt, even our party... they’re just not attuned to the needs of young mothers and fathers. The way meetings are scheduled, the demands on evenings, dinners, weekends... It’s always an afterthought, of, “Oh well, that might be difficult for people with young children. It needs to be right at the core of the way we work.”

“... And I see it with Miriam and myself, it places a huge demand on Miriam, on my kids. It’s not that different to the pressures that many young parents find in working life. But bluntly, we in politics are behind the curve, compared to some of the most enlightened employers in the public and the private sector. I look in envy, when I speak to friends, who work for good public and private sector employers, who help with childcare, provide flexible working, where it’s actually fully integrated into the way they work, and it isn’t with us.”

I asked, “What can we DO?”

Nick: “Well, my hope is that in Westminster, a change of generations, which is now taking place quite rapidly, will lead to a reopening of the debate that went off a bit half-cocked a couple of years ago, about hours. It does come down to time. As any young parent knows, there are lots of commodities that are precious in parenthood. Actually the most precious commodity is time. It is time, time time.

"You don’t have the time to do what you need for your kids, you don’t have time to do what you need for yourself, you don’t have time to do what you need for your work and until Westminster gets to grip with time... If we can’t lead by example, as a political establishment, what kind of hope do we have as a country?

“We need a change in the law. Parental leave is a classic example. So I am being told that I am entitled to no more than two weeks at the beginning of a baby’s life. It’s like....what?!” (Nick has said that he will be taking paternity leave when his next baby is born.)

He described the situation in Greece where they have very progressive parental leave arrangements: parental leave is granted as a block of time, to be divided between parents as they wish. This, said Nick, is exactly what we should be moving towards, ” It’s one of the things, incidentally, that we’ll be debating, in our spring party conference, where we’ll be talking about children and education and childcare, and education from cradle to graduation. I think we need to look at all these things in the round.”

I said that a wider cultural change would definitely be needed, so that mothers are not the only ones expected to be caring for children. (And let's not forget, small children aren’t the only family members who need caring for. You can hardly leave an aging parent or sick partner in a workplace crèche. Or a teenager who’d like your company in the evenings. What is needed is time away from work, during sociable hours: a difficult thing for elected politicians and grassroots campaigners alike.)

Steph Ashley asked Nick for the meaning behind the frequent referral to "families” in the vision and values paper, “Make it Happen.” She hoped that we weren’t “adopting the rhetoric of the other two, paternalistic parties.”

Nick said that he’s aware of the sensitivities surrounding the word, “family” and said that it should be used in a non-exclusive way. I asked whether it had been a dog-whistle to would-be Tory voters but Nick insisted that it was quite the reverse:

“We all live in a web of family relations. Very few people don’t, but... my concept of it is to try and create a language which talks about the kind of relationships that many people have in their lives without trying to impose the moral straitjacket of what a family should look like, as the Conservatives do.”

Richard suggested that we make it clearer: “When we say family, we don’t mean what David Cameron means...a very nuclear, very 1950s vision. The Conservatives do use it as a dog-whistle. We need to reclaim the word.”

It's a big word. It's an old word. It's a buzz word. It's still up for discussion - pregnant (sorry!) with possibilities.

So, family's what you make it? How to facilitate people to make it what they want?

Nick was also interviewed by Steph Ashley, Millennium Dome, Neil Stockley and Alex Wilcock. No one knows how Pink Dog managed to slip in.

Photo by Alex Folkes.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Hashtag taxonomies: the last word in Tweeting?

Wait, come back! It’s me, Helen, and I’m not going to blind you with science – just give you a guide to the craze that swept this year’s Liberal Democrat Conference. Or at least among its Twitter users. By the final day of Conference it had gained national media coverage. Because I slipped it into an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live!

It’s pretty simple: Twitter is a micro-blogging service which lets users send each other text-message-length updates. This can be done by sending an SMS to Twitter, or by logging on to www.twitter.com and posting there. Then your friends can follow them on the website, and in some countries (but no longer in the UK) receive a text containing your latest offering.

These short posts are known as 'tweets' and the overall effect is like being surrounded by birdsong; various voices calling back and forth. Bursts of communication that let others know, 'I’m here.'

Friday, 12 September 2008

Ever thought of standing for Parliament?

The new approvals process for Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates is now up and running in England. (Scotland and Wales will be adopting the process in the near future).

I’m one of the first to have gone through the new scheme, so I thought I’d give the inside track on it – and encourage more people to apply. There are still plenty of vacancies around the country for the role of PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) and YOU may just be the person to fill one of them!

The new process is designed to be as accessible as possible. It assesses competences rather than qualifications, and an epic and illustrious track record in the Party is not necessary. The previous long and probing application form has been replaced with a much shorter one, so that the onus is on the day itself: this way you get to show off in person what you’re good at. It gives a good snapshot of you as a potential candidate.

So what’s all this about “competences”? That’s just another way of saying “skills” – not connections, degrees, high-flying career, etc. Whatever your hinterland, the assessors are looking for evidence of valuable skills. And it’s up to you how you show them.

The competences you’ll need to demonstrate are:

• Communication Skills
• Leadership
• Strategic thinking and judgement
• Representing people
• Resilience
• Values in action

These can be gained in many areas of life. And let’s face it, we need to see a LOT more diversity among our representatives. So if you’re thinking, “I’m not the type to become an MP or candidate,” then think again. Your unique background and talents may be just the things to bring to the, er, Party!

Maybe you’ve been doing voluntary work, bringing up a family, or doing a job not directly related to politics. Your transferrable skills will be recognised. Make sure you can also show sound knowledge of campaigning and Liberal Democrat policy, and you’ll be equipped.

The Assessment Day itself is split into five sections, with a mixture of written and spoken exercises. I found that this gave the day variety and an interesting change of pace. These also test the six competences from a number of angles, so it’s reassuringly thorough. The panel of assessors collates all your results at the end of the day, and you’ll be notified of the outcome a few days later.

(A quick aside for those who are new to the party: you need to have been a member for at least a year before applying for assessment. However, there’s no need to wait before you start getting experience and information. I recommend that you get cracking as soon as you can, in local campaigns, by-elections, etc. Go along to Party events and training as these are further great ways to meet people who can advise you.)

Well since you’ve read this far, you’re obviously interested: Why not find out more?

Come to the official launch of the new Candidates’ Approval Process at Party Conference in Bournemouth:
Sunday 14th September, 1-2pm at Bayview 2, Bournemouth International Centre.

If you’re not at Conference, or if you’re suitably fired-up afterwards, visit the new Liberal Democrat website for more info on becoming an Approved Candidate. The English Candidates’ Office has a friendly team who can explain the competences in more detail, as well as pointing you towards any training or mentoring you may require.

Send off for an application pack soon, and good luck!

* Helen Duffett is a Liberal Democrat campaigner in the London Borough of Redbridge.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Going for Gold

Politics and Olympics - maybe some parallels to be drawn? Years of hard work punctuated at regular (or irregular!) intervals by a huge competition, scrutiny over spending and debates over whether to keep politics out of it altogether!

In keeping with the current Olympic mood, just wanted to share an inspirational sequence from the BBC - Dan Snow calls it "the greatest piece of television ever made". I think it captures the supreme effort and sacrifice required to excel in any field, with mind over matter being the final hurdle:


(Sir Steve Redgrave won gold medals for Britain at five successive Olympic Games from 1984 to 2000)

Friday, 8 August 2008

Lib Dem Presidential Contest: Result

Lib Dem Presidential Result 08

I'm at Cowley Street, at the election count for the next President of the Liberal Democrats.

The count has just been completed and the result is as follows:

Ros Scott: 20,736 votes (72%)
Lembit Opik: 6247 votes (22%)
Chandila Fernando 1799 votes (6%)

Commenting, the new Liberal Democrat Party President, Ros Scott said:
I'm really proud to belong to a Party in which every member has a chance to vote for the person they want to run the internal management of the Party.

This campaign has given Liberal Democrats the opportunity to have a robust dialogue within the Party about the role of the President and how the Party should be run.

Our Party is a genuine grass roots movement, and the job of the President is to ensure that we stay that way - that our members and activists remain at the heart of everything we do.

Many of the problems this country faces today are a result of successive Tory and Labour Governments failing to face up to the need for strengthening international institutions, failing to regulate the financial services sector and over centralising public services.

Only the Liberal Democrats have offered an alternative to this old tired thinking and as we approach the next General Election our Party needs to rise to the challenge of demonstrating that a vote for either the Labour or Conservative Parties simply means more of the same.

I am proud to be able to play my part, alongside Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, in increasing Liberal Democrat representation at all levels of Government in all parts of the country.

Nick Clegg said:
I would like to congratulate Ros Scott on her election.

The role of President in the Liberal Democrats is a vital one for the organisation and management of the party. I know that Ros will do a fantastic job of representing the membership and upholding the wonderful tradition of internal party democracy that sets us so apart from other political parties.

Ros Scott will take up office on 1st January 2009, succeeding Simon Hughes.

A total of 60,357 ballot papers were issued and the turnout was 47.8% (+0.4% on last time). 49 ballots were spoiled.

Further details, including more comment from Nick Clegg, on the party's website.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Liberating lyrics!

Printed song lyrics are rarer than they used to be. Who remembers when they appeared on the inner sleeve of vinyl LPs? With the advent of music downloads, that small pleasure is now history.

New research published by the National Year of Reading campaign suggests that people's appreciation of songs is affected by a lack of accessible lyrics.

According to the survey:

"Despite a staggering 90% of respondents feeling that reading lyrics helped them gain a full appreciation of music, half (50%) felt they were less accessible than just five years ago.
62% of respondents felt that despite the huge variety of websites storing lyrics, they find these sources unreliable and often incorrect.
77% of people feel download sites should be offering definitive and accurate lyrics as part of the download experience."

Reading song lyrics was felt to be an important part of the overall enjoyment of songs, especially when affecting moods and inspiring memories. Love songs were found to be particularly inspiring.

While it is often enlightening to be able to read song lyrics, let's not forget the liberating feeling of belting out your own, made-up words. Especially when you have to substitute your own because the singer is unintelligible.

That's when you get something as wondrous as this:

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Easy on the cash pedal

Galloping price rises - here comes another one!

Hikes in petrol prices over recent months gave rise to a new term, cash pedal: a stark reminder of the link between "flooring it" and the money speeding straight out of your wallet.

Coming next: a cash meter under the stairs? Quite possibly, or better still, out on view in your living room. The new generation of electricity meters (sadly not available for gas) will have an easy-read display, showing exactly how much money you are spending. This will have the same effect as those whizzing numbers on the petrol pump as you watch the cost rack up. Enough to make you turn a few lights off and take the tv off standby, for starters. Add-ons such as the Electrisave have been available for some time, but the Lib Dems are proposing that "smart meters" will eventually replace the old "dumb" meters which simply monitor the amount of energy used. Energywatch produced a report three years ago which showed that smart meters can influence consumers to use less energy, as they clearly demonstrate the cost in an immediate way. So smart meters would have the double advantage of helping customers to budget as well as becoming efficient in their energy consumption.

So the news that British Gas customers are to see their bills rise by over a third has been met with concern by charities and consumer groups. This is the largest ever increase announced by the company, and it comes at a time when Centrica (parent company of British Gas) is announcing profits of £880 million for the first half of this year.) And all this at a time when average household energy bills are topping £1000 per year.

According to the Lib Dem paper, Tackling Fuel Poverty, published on Monday, "Five million often vulnerable people use prepayment tariffs to pay for their electricity and gas. A vulnerable household is defined as including people who are elderly, disabled and chronically sick, or with young children." Prepayment tariffs are much higher, and grossly unfair for the groups who use them.

Timely as ever, Vince Cable writes in today's Independent, insisting that costs should not be passed on to customers. He outlines our plans, which would be delivered "under the watchful eye of the energy regulator." These involve a combination of smart meters, fairer tariffs and improved energy efficiency.

(For practical information on domestic energy efficiency, I can recommend a visit to the Eco House in the London Borough of Camden. It's a retrofitted Victorian house, owned by the Council, which will achieve an 80% reduction in carbon emissions through various technologies. I met Liberal Democrat Councillor Alexis Rowell on Sunday as he showed visitors round the house. He even pulled a removable section out of a wall, to show the depth of the insulation foam!)