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.