Monday, 31 May 2010

Danny Alexander issues a statement on his Capital Gains Tax affairs

Danny Alexander has made a statement, following an article in the Telegraph on Sunday night, which reported that he had avoided paying Capital Gains Tax on a south London property in 2007:

"My wife and I bought our property in Elspeth Road in 1999, we sold it and moved to the current property in June 2007.

Until the spring of 2006 this was the only property we owned. I had rented a place in Aviemore until then, we subsequently bought a place there and moved into it.

I have always listed London as my second home on the basis set out in the parliamentary rules as I spent more time in Scotland than I did in London.

I sold the Elspeth Road flat in 2007 and moved to another flat but was advised that CGT was not payable because of the operation of final period relief, which exempts homes from CGT for 36 months after they stop being the main home. I paid all the taxes required but CGT was not payable on the disposal of my Elspeth Road flat.

I have already publicly declared that I will pay Capital Gains Tax if the time comes for me to sell my second home."

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

Friday, 28 May 2010

Lib Dem landslide in Kendal Town Council elections

Liberal Democrats are celebrating after they won all 28 seats in Today’s deferred Kendal Town Council Elections – gaining three seats from Labour, re-gaining one from the Greens and one from an Independent.

Liberal Democrats gained Strickland, Fell and Romney from Labour and won in Underley from the Independents. The Lib Dems also re-gained Far Cross ward from the Green Party.

Tim Farron, Lib Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale said:
Four years ago we didn't even have a majority on Kendal Town Council, now we have a clean sweep.

Paul Trollope, our agent, and the whole team deserve huge credit. No victory is ever an accident, but the design, wit and energy behind this success have been immense.

Full ward-by-ward breakdown of results available here.

These elections were delayed because parish level elections cannot be held on the first Thursday in May if there are General and local elections on the same day, as Mark blogged previously.

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

Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins issues a legal challenge over Oldham election result

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Oldham East and Saddleworth in the 2010 General Election has challenged the result.

Elwyn Watkins has submitted a petition for a hearing of an election court, alleging a breach of the Representation of the People Act (1983).

Simon Hughes stands for Deputy Leader as "the life and soul of our party"

Simon Hughes, MP for Southwark and Old Bermondsey has announced his intention to stand for the position of Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

From his campaign flyer:

Labour have made it clear they want to rewrite history, ignoring the reality of their time in office. They claim to be the only home for progressive voters. I will not let them get away with it.

My experience representing an inner city constituency tells a different story: of too many broken promises and too many people failing to reach their potential. I am convinced that progressive liberal policy and values provide the best solution.

I will champion our democratically agreed policy and elected representatives at all levels. I will ensure that Liberal Democrat ministers, of whom we are all proud, never forget they are our representatives in government.

I have built my profile as a spokesman for the party in the national media for 30 years. I am determined to make sure that our distinctive Liberal Democrat voice is heard loud and clear.

The necessities of coalition government must never mean that we are muffled or crowded out.

I will make sure all Liberal Democrat parliamentarians, assembly members, councillors, activists and members have maximum influence over this government. I will make sure that every Liberal Democrat MP will have the chance to influence our ministers, and feel able to speak out on all issues of concern to them.

Before anything else, I am a Liberal Democrat activist.

Not only have I fought and won elections against Labour in inner London, but I have travelled all over Britain at many general elections, by-elections and local elections, motivating activists, raising money and making sure our voice is heard right across the country.

We will continue to fight and win elections against the Conservatives, Labour, nationalists and others. Crucial to this, we
must remain just as effective as community champions now that our party is in government. Knocking on doors, helping local
residents and changing our communities for the better are at the core of everything we do.

I will never forget that.

Former Deputy Leader Vince Cable is backing Simon:

Simon has given the most phenomenal service to the party over his 27 years as an MP. He represents the best traditions of the Liberal Democrats, both as a parliamentary campaigner and community activist.

He is the person best placed to follow me as Deputy Leader, and to uphold the values of our party.

The support of 5 MPs is required for a valid nomination. Simon says he already has pledges of support from 25 Liberal Democrat MPs. In this election, an overall majority requires the votes of 29 MPs.

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

Thirsk and Malton delayed election: Lib Dem Howard Keal takes second place

The result of the Thirsk and Malton delayed election has just been announced:

Anne McIntosh has been elected as the Conservative MP for the new constituency, having previously represented Vale of York.

The votes cast were as follows:

Conservatives: 20,167 (+1%)
Liberal Democrats (Howard Keal) 8,886 (+4.5%)
Labour: 5,169 (-9.9%)
UKIP: 2,502 (3.5%)
Liberal 1,418

From the notional figures, this result shows a 2.6% swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems, and a swing of 11.6% from Labour, with the Liberal Democrats moving from third place to second.

Mike Beckett, Chair of Thirsk and Malton Liberal Democrats said:

This result is an endorsement of the coalition, and the sensible stance the Liberal Democrats have taken.
The hard work of our local candidate, Howard Keal, has resulted in a 2.6% swing away from the Tories. It's another catastrophic result for Labour, and shows that they are still being punished.

Liberal Democrat Party President, Ros Scott said:

Howard Keal and his team ran an energetic and spirited campaign for the Liberal Democrats, achieving the biggest vote increase of the night.

The result is yet another damning indictment of Labour’s record.

Despite all its arrogance following the coalition, Labour has been beaten into third and proven to be way off the mark when it comes to public opinion.

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

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Liberal Democrat policies in the Queen's Speech

It was satisfying (and still a little surreal) to see so many Liberal Democrat policies make it into today's Queen's Speech, including the party’s major priorities: fair taxes, a fair start for children, a green and sustainable economy, and a comprehensive clean up of politics.

  • Making the tax and benefits system fairer and simpler, including a significant increase in the personal allowance and an ambition to increase it to £10,000

  • Restoring the earnings link to pensions

  • Greater freedoms for teachers over the curriculum

  • Measures to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses

  • Support for low carbon energy production

  • Financial services regulation to learn the lessons of the financial crisis

  • Fixed term parliaments of five years

  • A referendum on the Alternative Vote

  • The right to sack MPs guilty of serious misconduct

  • Reform of party funding

  • Moving towards a wholly or partly elected House of Lords, elected by proportional representation

  • A Bill to restore freedoms and civil liberties, through the abolition of Identity Cards and repeal of unnecessary laws

  • Giving greater powers to councils and giving neighbourhoods and communities more control over planning and housing decisions

  • Ending child detention

  • Fair compensation for Equitable Life victims

  • Enabling the creation of a national high speed rail network

  • The modernisation of the Royal Mail

  • Flexible working and promotion of equal pay

  • Strengthening the voices of patients and the role of doctors in the NHS

  • A commission on long-term reform of social care

  • Cutting Quangos and government bureaucracy

  • Implementing the recommendations of the Calman Commission

  • A referendum on further powers for the Welsh Assembly

  • The Queen's Speech transcript, the full list of Bills and other items from the Queen's Speech is available at the Number 10 website.

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

    Thursday, 20 May 2010

    Poor planning and restrictive laws prevented 1,200 from voting on 6 May

    The Electoral Commission has published its interim report into problems at polling stations on 6 May, when queues left voters unable to cast their votes before the 10pm deadline.

    At least 1,200 people were still queuing at 27 polling stations in 16 constituencies at 10pm.

    There were scenes of confusion as polling station queues and ballot paper shortages led to problems and protests in several cities. These included students in Sheffield trying to stop ballot boxes being removed, lock-ins in Birmingham, lock-outs in Newcastle and a sit-in in Hackney.

    Following the polling day problems Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission announced a review, saying,
    There is a real need to look at our Victorian system and modernise it fit for a 21st-century democracy.

    The Electoral Commission consulted Returning Officers, and appealed to voters to report any difficulties they had experienced on polling day.

    Today's report explains the roles, responsibilities and laws connected with providing and manging polling stations, the scale and nature of problems on 6 May and makes recommendations for change:

    Wednesday, 19 May 2010

    Nick Clegg to continue with Town Hall meetings

    He's Deputy Prime Minister now, but it's good to see that Nick Clegg plans to continue his practice of holding meetings where members of the public can come and ask him questions directly.

    Nick's starting off with a public meeting in his constituency of Sheffield Hallam. From

    He is inviting local people to come and put their questions and opinions to him in an hour long any questions event.

    This event is free to attend but entry is only by registration for a free e-ticket. These are limited to two tickets per application.

    When: Friday 21 May 2010, 18.30-19.30pm

    (Doors open at 17.50 with last admission at 18.25)

    Where: King Edward VII School Upper Site, Glossop Road, Sheffield, S10 2PW (map)

    IMPORTANT: Due to security requirements you must bring photographic ID & your email confirmation ticket with you.

    (Still Nicky from the block? I think so - even if the block does now include Chevening ;-) )

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

    A power revolution: Nick Clegg's "New Politics" speech in full

    Revolutionary Nick Clegg graffiti

    Today Nick Clegg made a speech setting out the Government's plans for political reform, at the City & Islington College Centre for Business, Arts and Technology.

    As Iain wrote this morning, the media are viewing Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats as revolutionaries, and drawing parallels with the Reform Act 1832.

    Nick's speech expands on three more R's: repealing infringements on freedom, reforming politics and redistributing power.

    Here it is in full:

    I have spent my whole political life fighting to open up politics. So let me make one thing very clear: This government is going to be unlike any other. This government is going to transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state. This government is going to break up concentrations of power and hand power back to people, because that is how we build a society that is fair. This government is going to persuade you to put your faith in politics once again.

    I’m not talking about a few new rules for MPs. Not the odd gesture or gimmick to make you feel a bit more involved. I’m talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great reforms of the 19th Century. The biggest shake up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes. Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests. Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few. A spirit this government will draw on as we deliver our programme for political reform: a power revolution. A fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.

    Today I want to talk about how we’ll get there. Three major steps, that will begin immediately:

    One: we will repeal all of the intrusive and unnecessary laws that inhibit your freedom.

    Two: we will reform our politics so it is open, transparent, decent.

    Three: we will radically redistribute power away from the centre, into your communities, your homes, your hands.

    Big, sweeping change. Not incremental, not bit by bit. Our democracy has suffered at the hands of encroaching centralisation and secrecy for decades. Take citizens’ rights: eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws that increase surveillance, quash dissent, limit freedom. Take executive authority: consistently increased by successive administrations to the point that we now have a neutered parliament and government that enjoys almost untrammelled control – over precisely the people who are meant to keep it in check. Take the welfare state: one of modern society’s greatest liberators – but now so utterly different to that envisaged by Beveridge, because it has been distorted by the sheer degree of centralised control and micromanagement.

    Britain was once the cradle of modern democracy. We are now, on some measures, the most centralised country in Europe, bar Malta.

    So, no, incremental change will not do. It is time for a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform. And that’s what this government will deliver.

    I’m a liberal. My starting point has always been optimism about people. The view that most people, most of the time, will make the right decisions for themselves and their families. That you know better than I do about how to run your life, your community, the services you use.

    So this government is going to trust people.

    We know that, when people see a real opportunity to shape the world they live in, they take it. Just think of the election we’ve just been through. Thousands of young people rushing to register to vote before they missed the deadline. When people have power they use it.

    And when they are denied it, there is anger and disappointment. We saw it two weeks ago when across the country hundreds of people were turned away from polling stations on election night. I am eagerly awaiting the findings of the Electoral Commission’s review into that fiasco; not least as an MP representing a Sheffield constituency where it happened...
    We must make sure this never happens again. You must be confident that, come polling day, your voice will be heard. And – more than that – that the chance to be heard doesn’t just come round around once every five years. You should be able to use your voice, exercise your power, every single day. Under this government’s plans, you will.

    Repeal infringements on freedom:

    So, three steps to new politics. First, sweeping legislation to restore the hard won liberties that have been taken, one by one, from the British people.
    This government will end the culture of spying on it’s citizens. It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop.
    So there will be no ID card scheme. No national identity register, a halt to second generation biometric passports. We won’t hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so. CCTV will be properly regulated, as will the DNA database, with restrictions on the storage of innocent people’s DNA.
    And Britain must not be a country where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question. There will be no ContactPoint children’s database. Schools will not take children’s fingerprints without even asking their parent’s consent.

    This will be a government that is proud when British citizens stand up against illegitimate advances of the state. That values debate, that is unafraid of dissent. That’s why we’ll remove limits on the rights to peaceful protest. It’s why we’ll review libel laws so that we can better protect freedom of speech.
    And as we tear through the statute book, we’ll do something no government ever has:
    We will ask you which laws you think should go. Because thousands of criminal offences were created under the previous government; yet taking people’s freedom away didn’t make our streets safer. Obsessive lawmaking simply makes criminals out of ordinary people. So, we’ll get rid of the unnecessary laws, and once they’re gone, they won’t come back. Because we will introduce a mechanism to block pointless new criminal offences.
    And, we will, of course introduce safeguards to prevent the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation, including a review of existing powers and legislation. There have been too many cases of individuals being denied their rights, and whole communities being placed under suspicion. This government will do better by British justice. Respecting great, British freedoms; which is why we’ll also defend trial by jury.

    Reform politics:

    Second, reform of our politics. Reform to reduce the power of political elites, and to drag Westminster into the 21st century.

    Starting with the House of Lords. Did you know we’ve been talking about reforming the House of Lords for over a hundred and fifty years? It’s one of the areas where all the parties agree. The time for talk is over. This government will replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber, where members are elected by a proportional voting system. There will be a committee charged specifically with making this happen; but make no mistake: our committee will not be another government talking shop. This will be a dedicated group devoted to kick-starting real reform.
    The same haste will be applied to fixed-term parliaments. It’s just wrong that governments can play politics with something as important as a general election; cynically picking the date to maximise their own advantage. So this government has already set the date we think the next election should be: May 7th 2015 - no matter who is where in the polls.
    That is unless parliament votes to dissolve itself first. As we legislate to fix parliamentary terms the details will of course need to be worked out; but we believe that the support of 55% of MPs or more should be required for parliament to opt for an early dissolution. That is a much lower threshold than the two thirds required in the Scottish Parliament. But it strikes the right balance for our parliament: maintaining stability, stopping parties from forcing a dissolution to serve their own interests. Now this last week, former Labour Ministers who were once happy to ride roughshod over our democracy but are now declaring this innovation some sort of outrage are completely missing the point: This is a new right for Parliament, additional to the existing unchanged powers of no confidence. We’re not taking away parliament’s right to throw out government; we’re taking away government’s right to throw out parliament.

    Parliament’s power will also be strengthened as we bring forward the proposals of the Wright Committee, published in November. Starting with provisions to give MPs much more control over Common’s business.
    And, in addition to strengthening parliament, we will of course make sure we’ve cleaned it up. Which is why I have already commissioned work on introducing the power of recall. If you’re MP is corrupt, you will be able to sack them. You will need the support of 10% of people living in the constituency, and your MP will have had to have been found guilty of serious wrongdoing. But it happens in Switzerland, in Canada, in 18 US states, and it’s going to happen here.
    We will regulate lobbying in parliament. It’s wrong to present all lobbying as sleazy. Much of it serves a hugely important democratic function, allowing different organisations and interests to make representations to politicians. But it is a process which must be completely transparent. But let’s get real: this is a £2bn industry, where, according to some estimates there are MPs who are approached by lobbyists a hundred times every week, and that activity needs to be regulated properly. Which we’ll do, for example, by introducing a statutory register of lobbyists.

    More broadly, as long as money plays such a big part in our politics, we are never going to end the tyranny of vested interests. That’s why David Cameron and I are determined to reform party funding.
    All of the parties, all of the parties, have had their problems, and governments have been stopping and starting on this issue for years. But so long as big money continues to hollow out our democracy, everybody loses. So we will pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to deal with this once and for all.

    And, in our big clean up, we’ll act to tackle electoral fraud too, speeding up the implementation of individual voter registration.
    And no programme to reform our political system is complete without reform of our voting system. This government will be putting to you, in a referendum, the choice to introduce a new voting system, called the Alternative Vote. Under that system far more MPs will have to secure support from at least half the people who vote in their constituency, and, hand in hand with that change, there will be new constituency boundaries, reducing the number of MPs overall and creating constituencies that are more equal in size.
    David Cameron and I are very relaxed about the fact we may be arguing different cases in that referendum. But my position is clear: the current voting system, First Past the Post, is a major block to lasting political change. According to some estimates, it ensures that over half the seats in the Commons are “safe”, giving hundreds of MPs jobs for life, meaning that millions of people see their votes go to waste.

    Is it any surprise that, with a system like that, we end up with politicians who are seen to be out of touch with the people they serve? New politics needs fairer votes. This referendum will be our opportunity to start to make that happen.

    Redistribution of power:

    The third, and final step, is the redistribution of power away from the centre. It’s something the Prime Minister spoke about yesterday, and it is something we both strongly believe in. All politicians say they want to give people more control over their lives. This government is going to make it happen.

    In fact, if there is one area, where the differences between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are almost impossible to spot, it’s here. We don’t, unlike Labour, believe that change in our society must always be forced from the centre. Unlike the previous Labour government, we’re reluctant to relinquish control.

    So rest assured, you will get more control over the hospitals you use; the schools you send your children too; the homes that are built in your community. In our legislative programme we will be setting out plans to strip away government’s unelected, inefficient quangos; plans to loosen the centralised grip of the Whitehall bureaucracy; plans to disperse power downwards to you instead.
    And we are serious about giving councils much more power too over the money they use, so they depend less on the whims of Whitehall, and can deliver the services and support their communities need. We know that devolution of power is meaningless without money.

    Our plans to disperse power also include strengthening devolution to other parts of Britain: Working with Holyrood to implement the recommendations of the Calman Commission; working with the Welsh Assembly on introducing a referendum on the transfer of further powers to Wales; supporting the continued success of the devolved government in Northern Ireland. And, of course, asking what we can do about the difficult issues surrounding the old West Lothian Question.

    So, the repeal of illiberal laws, the reform of politics, and the redistribution of power. Our very own Great Reform Act.
    Not everyone will like it. Not every MP, not the vested interests that want government to stay closed, opaque, easily captured. But this new government, this new kind of government, creates an enormous opportunity for those of us who have spent our lives fighting for political reform. This is a moment to step back and look at every bit of damage that has been done to our democracy, before we launch into the most radical programme of reform, empowerment, enfranchisement in over a century.

    A programme so important to me personally that I will take full responsibility for seeing it through. And as I do, I will be open, I will be ambitious, and I will listen. I’ll still be holding my town hall meetings that I’ve been holding for the last two years around the country, where you can come and ask me whatever you like. The next one is actually in Sheffield on Friday. As I lead the transformation of our political system, I want you to tell me how you want your politics to be. Power will be yours.

    That is new politics.

    Thank you very much for listening to me.

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

    Lib Dem Special Conference: the statistics

    Here are the facts and figures from Sunday's Special Conference:

    • Time taken to organise: 4 days - compared to the year that a Lib Dem conference usually takes. Even the Liberal-SDP merger conference of 1988 was arranged with 4 months' notice.

    • Total number of delegates: 1650 (of whom 250 registered on the day). This was larger than any Lib Dem Spring Conference.

    • It featured the longest debate at a Liberal Democrat conference (3.5 hours)

    • Number of speakers cards submitted: 172

    • Number of speeches made: 38

    • Number of intervention cards submitted: 110

    • Number of interventions taken: 30

    • Number of amendments: 9 (all passed)

    • Speeches against the motion as a whole: 6 (from a total of 13 cards put in to speak against; so speeches against were over-represented)

    • Number of journalists: 0 (Stephen has already blogged about this)

    • Number of tweets with the #LDConf hashtag: Tweetminster estimates there were just under 10,000 tweets with this hashtag, which trended in the UK during the conference.

    Thanks - and congratulations - to the Federal Conference Committee for organising this historic and extraordinary day, and to party President Ros Scott for chairing the event.

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

    Tuesday, 18 May 2010

    By-election in Redbridge after councillor disqualified

    From the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian:

    "A by-election is due to be called in Chadwell ward after it emerged that Labour councillor Mark Gittens - who took the seat from the Lib Dems on May 7 with 1,949 votes - is a teacher at Wanstead High School, a council employee, and therefore not allowed to stand for office in Redbridge.

    Mr Gittens, a science teacher at the school in Redbridge Lane West, said: "I was completely transparent about myself during the campaign which can be seen from the leaflets that were handed out.

    "No-one would dispute that I fought the seat fairly. Obviously mistakes were made. People make mistakes, but these things happen in life." "

    The Chadwell by-election is a chance for the Liberal Democrats to win back a seat they lost just eleven days ago, and a test of Labour's durability after the recent local elections.

    Coalition talks are already taking place between the Tories and Lib Dems in Redbridge.

    From Dave Hill's London Blog

    "The borough election results saw big swings to Labour in terms of total seats and councils controlled along with consolidations in both Labour and Tory strongholds. But two boroughs were left with no overall control. In one of these, Redbridge, the leaders of the 30 Conservatives and seven remaining Liberal Democrats have been "locked in talks" about forming a coalition to trump the 26 Labour councillors. Is a Cleggeron new dawn breaking in Ilford?"

    Fake "Miliband for Leader" website slams Gordon Brown

    Last week David Miliband announced his intention to stand for the Labour leadership, and there are already websites promoting and discussing potential contenders.

    However, one of them is not what it seems: [click on image to enlarge it]

    David Miliband fake website screenshot

    It looks exactly like David Miliband's personal website,, right down to the photo slideshow, and work has clearly gone into making it come out well in Google search results (known as Search Engine Optimisation).

    If you Google "Miliband for Leader" the seventh result on the first page is

    The giveaways are the typo in the copy ("re-elcted") but more important (and potentially damaging) is the text on the right which criticises Gordon Brown:
    I will be looking to run as Leader of the Labour party once Gordon has finally accepted that he has lost the Election and can no longer cling onto power. He will go down as the only British Prime Minster to have ruled for 13 years having never been elected by the people. I will stand as the candidate for change in New New Labour.

    Compare it with David Miliband's real website:
    Screenshot of David Miliband's personal website

    ...and the holding page for his campaign website, "New site to be launched next week."
    Holding page for David Milband's campaign website

    Not a spoof, but a convincing copy. What can be done about such websites, and will we be seeing more of them in politics?

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

    Monday, 17 May 2010

    LibLink: Mark Pack - Lib Dems revel in a share of power

    At Comment is Free, Mark Pack shares his impressions of the Liberal Democrat Special (not-so-secret) Conference held yesterday in Birmingham.

    In an atmosphere I described yesterday as "more wedding than wake" more than a thousand party members met to debate the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition agreement.

    Mark captures the mood of a party who now have their hands on the levers of power:

    Travelling by train to the Liberal Democrat conference yesterday, I did what I usually do on my way to party conferences – read through the agenda and background policy information.

    Except this time there was one key difference. I wasn't reading a list of worthy exhortations from which, if the Liberal Democrats were really lucky, a couple of policies might be lifted by another party a few years in the future. Instead, I was reading an agreed programme for government which is being put into force.

    Moreover, despite it being an agreed programme with the Conservative party, large chunks of it were straight out of the Liberal Democrat manifesto. Even on issues where the parties firmly disagree, the agreement in practice does not change much. Yes, the Liberal Democrats in principle like the euro and the Conservatives do not. But in practice almost no one in the party thinks the economic circumstances for joining the euro have any chance of being right in the next five years, so in practice saying no the euro for the next few years requires no alteration of policy.

    That is why the people I met at Birmingham, just like those I had talked to in the preceding week, were overwhelmingly pleased with the coalition government's policy agreement. Compared with the usual habit of reading a new government's plans and disagreeing with most of them, this is an agreement where – thanks to the party's decision to take part in a coalition – the overwhelming majority are ones the party supports.

    Read the full piece here.

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

    Unveiled: a new bus for London

    The Mayor of London today unveiled the design for the new "Bus for London." (Doesn't quite have the same ring as "Routemaster" but no doubt Londoners will come up with their own nickname.)

    Curvy, glassy and airy, this shiny bauble of a bus has echoes of other modern London icons: City Hall, the Gherkin, the pods on the London Eye.

    The buses are expected to enter service from early 2012.

    Passenger capacity will be comparable to double decker buses currently in service:

    Total: 87 (22 seats on the lower deck and 40 on the upper deck. There will also be space for up to 25 standees on the lower deck.)

    Here's the virtual tour:

    Video also available on Youtube.

    From the GLA Press Office:

    "The bus will use the latest green technology. It will be 15 per cent more fuel efficient than existing hybrid buses, and 40 per cent more efficient than conventional diesel double decks and much quieter on the streets.

    The pioneering design makes use of lightweight materials, with glass highlighting key features and producing a light and airy feel inside the bus. An impressive glass ‘swoop’ at the rear and offside pick out the two staircases and provide a dramatic visual effect. An asymmetric design for the front-end completes the futuristic look.

    The open platform is a defining feature, shared with the Routemaster of old, and allows the reinstatement of a hop-on, hop-off service. Three doors and two staircases will aid speedier and smoother boarding.

    Video also available on Youtube.

    Saturday, 15 May 2010

    Dan and Dan in coalition

    Hooray! Dan and Dan (of Daily Mail Song fame) have announced their new coalition agreement:

    Video also available on YouTube.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    Dee Doocey elected chair of London Assembly

    From a news release by the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group:

    The London Assembly has today elected Dee Doocey AM as its new Chair for 2010/11. Jennette Arnold AM has been re-elected as Deputy Chair. At their Annual Meeting Assembly Members also re-established a number of committees to examine the Mayor of London’s policies and investigate issues of importance to London.

    Chair of the London Assembly Dee Doocey AM said:

    “I am honoured that my colleagues have chosen me to lead the Assembly for the year ahead. I will do my utmost to justify their confidence in handing me this additional opportunity to serve Londoners. I am also proud to be the first Irish person to Chair the London Assembly.

    At this changing time in our national political landscape it is more important than ever that London has a strong voice and powerful advocates to make the case for funding vital projects like Crossrail. The London Assembly is determined to ensure that the sound arguments for investing in the capital’s future, and the benefits that will also bring to the rest of the country, do not go unheard.

    In the months ahead the Assembly will continue to monitor the refinement of the Mayor’s strategies and measure what impact they do or do not have on the quality of life in London. We will also continue to challenge the London 2012 team to deliver not just an excellent Games but also the long term benefits the capital was promised in the bid.”

    You can also listen to Dee's acceptance speech via Audioboo, courtesy of Mayorwatch:


    Congratulations Dee.

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

    Wednesday, 12 May 2010

    Where's the coalition of the sexes?

    With most of the key cabinet posts now announced, and other positions coming at a trickle, the new government so far looks overwhelmingly male.

    The exceptions so far are Theresa May (Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality) and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (Conservative Party Chairman). Reports of a role for Caroline Flint are unconfirmed.

    There's been no word yet about any of the talented female Liberal Democrat MPs being offered a role in the new government. However, I can't help noticing a correlation with the Lib Dem (all male) negotiating team, with all but Andrew Stunell getting cabinet posts.

    I dislike tokenism - the best person should have the job. But I'd be surprised if all the male Conservative MPs were better qualified for cabinet posts than all the female MPs, whether Conservative or Liberal Democrat.

    The Liberal Democrats now have a smaller pool of women MPs to draw from - we had a net loss of two women MPs. The loss of Susan Kramer is keenly felt, but we still have seven excellent women to choose from.

    After all the media focus on the leaders' wives during the election campaign it would be especially fitting to see elected women making a real difference in government.

    As Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said today:

    It's as though feminism never happened. It seems the default response of politics in political crisis is to revert to type – a men-only zone. This is not only bad for women, it's bad for everyone as we all lose out and our democracy is just plain flawed without women's vital contribution.

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

    Monday, 10 May 2010

    Hung Parliament in 3 minutes

    Quick and brilliant guide from Alex Day. Coming up (let us hope): the Triple Lock, Confidence & Supply and the Offside Rule.

    Video also available on YouTube.