Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fallen idols

A kind friend has given me a subscription to the London Review of Books. The first edition to arrive by post includes a review by Jackson Lears of new biographies of Barak Obama's parents. The article (which is free on-line) has finally persuaded me that Kaps Komireddi may be right in at least some of his criticisms of Obama. Lears asserts that Obama has "retreated into politics as usual" and scorns his "deference to established power". He rightly identifies the defences of Obama to which his apologists including myself have resorted: "the regimented hostility of his opponents fuelled by racially charged resentment..." and that "...he really believes in the banalities of bipartisanship."

Lears' description echoes some of my thoughts about Nick Clegg. Both Clegg and Obama have multicultural backgrounds, both fervently seek to work across party lines, both attempt to maintain family life in the midst of the social demands of the nomenclatura, both have met with overwhelming hostility and both have disappointed their followers. I doubt neither the courage nor sincerity of either man but their fundamental decency seems ill adapted to the maelstrom of power and their cool rationality to the operation of its slippery levers.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Damned hackers !

Off the air over Christmas and returned to find someone had changed my password for me. Have now recovered control and will reply to any outstanding comments.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

That's another fine mess you've got us into !

A lot of nonsense has been promulgated by Tory eurosceptics and even by Liberal Democrat apologists for the mess our coalition government has landed us all in. They have tried several arguments which don't work. As usual, the mantra - "Blame the French!" plays well with the public. Let's look at them in turn.

1. The government was protecting the City of London, the financial sector.
This is true but only if they were protecting them from proper scrutiny and regulation. See response by Edward McMillan-Scott, former Conservative and now Liberal Democrat MEP. Here's a flavour: "Cameron said the sticking point was the interests of the London financial sector, which has ripped off British taxpayers and stripped savers of their assets. What sharp City practices was Cameron trying to shield from the proper scrutiny which financial services in Frankfurt or Paris were prepared to yield to? Paying lip service to Europe's single market - which is of such value to the rest of the real British economy - while making bumps in the level playing field is simply ridiculous."

2. The government was proposing reasonable measures to preserve the Single Market !
Preposterous ! The UK put forward a a whole draft protocol to the Council legal service the day before the meeting, detailing various subjects in the field of financial affairs where they wished decision-taking to switch from Qualified Majority Voting to unanimity (some in areas that have been QMV from the beginning, and some that have been QMV since the 1986 Single European Act negotiated by Thatcher). This does not fit any definition of "perfectly reasonable" as claimed by Nick Clegg, Graham Watson and Sarah Ludford. Nor does it amount to protecting the single market since the purpose of a veto would be to block single market measures leaving each member-state to decide for itself. In any case, whatever the merits of the UK proposals, you simply cannot expect 26 other countries to bow down and accept such a document at less than 24 hours notice. Summits are usually preceded by months of negotiations. Cameron refused to negotiate about the document with the consequences we all know now.

3. Sarkozy was being unreasonable
This suggests traditional francophobia but actually the real situation is "Fog in channel- continent cut off". It wasn't a French veto. It was 26 countries disagreeing with Britain ! Do people imagine that 25 Prime Ministers always dance to Sarkozy's tune ?

4. This will make it easier to regulate the banks.
This little gem is attributed to Vince Cable and has even been parroted by some of the bankers themselves. Anyone smell a rat here ? No actual argument has been put forward and I cannot imagine how it could be true. Successful financial regulation has been resisted (by this government amongst others) on the grounds that it won't work in one country alone. To claim that European disunity will make it easier would seem illogical, Captain.

Nothing in the coalition agreement required Liberal Democrats to abandon our principles so dramatically. Nick Clegg is now trying to row back following reaction within the party. He should have got it right first time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The good news and the bad news

I must put this ghastly day to bed, so here's joke from a local free magazine.
The Pope summons three world leaders for an urgent conference, Barak Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron. He informs them that he has received a message from God who asked him to pass it on to them: the world will end in three weeks. It is their job to take the news home.

Obama announces to the White House Press Corps, "There's some good news and some bad news. The good news is we don't have to worry about the Republican Congress any more. The bad news is the world is going to end." (He probably said it with more rhetoric but I'm too tired to write a pastiche).

Sarkozy summons the press to the Elysee and mounts a dais so they can see him, "There's some good news and some bad news. The good news is we don't have to worry about the Euro any more. The bad news is the world is going to end." (OK, he said it in French, but je suis un peu fatigue).

Cameron tells his private office "There's good news, bad news and more good news. First, the good news is God thinks I'm a world leader. The bad news is the world is going to end. The other good news is I'll get Nick to announce it."

Friday, December 09, 2011

Never glad confident morning again.

I joined the Liberals in 1974 for the party's views on the three Es: Economy, Environment and Europe. Now we are in government, we have abandoned our traditional economic ideas, most notably what Keynes taught the world. We have weakened our commitment to the welfare state bequeathed us by another great Liberal, Beveridge. We have compromised our environmental policies, particularly on nuclear power. Now we have condoned the nationalist myopia of Cameron and his party and isolated Britain in Europe. Of course I recognise how little 57 MPs can achieve but for all the good we might have done in government, I am now forced to the view of those friends and colleagues who argued that we should have negotiated a supply and confidence agreement and refused Cameron's faustian pact. We should have taken a long spoon to the coalition negotiations. Instead we took David Laws' knife, now held in Danny Alexander's trembling hand.

I regret my vote for the coalition agreement and I repeat in full Browning's poem from which I quoted at the time.

The Lost Leader
Just for a handful of silver he left us,
  Just for a ribbon[4] to stick in his coat—
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
  Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
  So much was theirs who so little allowed:
How all our copper had gone for his service!
  Rags—were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
  Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
  Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
  Burns, Shelley, were with us,—they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,
  He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!
We shall march prospering,—not thro’ his presence;
  Songs may inspirit us,—not from his lyre;
Deeds will be done,—while he boasts his quiescence,
  Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire:
Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
  One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more devils’-triumph[5] and sorrow for angels,
  One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!
  There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain,
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
  Never glad confident morning again!
Best fight on well, for we taught him—strike gallantly,
  Menace our heart ere we master his own;[6]
Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,
  Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pegasus Bridge and the battle for Europe

For the good of my blood pressure I have missed most of Question Time and instead watched Yesterday's account of the battle for Normandy, in which hundreds of thousands died over three months. Early in the programme we saw soldiers passing a sign to Ouistreham. I was reminded of my trip to Pegasus Bridge in June 2004, the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day. I hired a bicycle in Ouistreham and as I cycled up the canal path to Benouville I watched a commemorative parachute jump. There's a film of it here. All the hotels were full and I had taken a tent with me. Breakfasting on the campsite the next morning I met one of the paras. Out of the blue he asked me, "Are you in favour of European integration ?". "Yes", I told him, "I don't believe that the men who died here sixty years ago died so Europeans could spend the future the way we spent the past, killing each other in wars every few years.". He agreed wholeheartedly.

The European Union was founded by people who had seen years of murderous destruction. I am sickened when I hear eurosceptics bleating about the cost of the European Union, which is nothing compared with the cost of warfare even if you ignore the human cost. I am exasperated when I hear eurosceptics parroting the words "sovereignty" and "repatriation of powers" and condemning the EU as undemocratic. What does sovereignty mean in the face of global financial markets and global environmental crisis ? What is undemocratic about an elected European Parliament and a Council of national ministers responsible to national parliaments ? Do they imagine that Wall Street and its British counterparts are democratic or even accountable to anyone but themselves ?

Some days it's REALLY better to stay in bed (with a book, of course)

Some days it's better to stay in bed

Worst Wednesday for years. It began with the publication of the National Centre for Social Research's survey of British Social Attitudes revealing what a stupid, selfish nation we have become.

Item: Only 30% believe that taxes should be increased to fund higher spending on health, education and social benefits, compared with 61% in 2002. Gee thanks, New Labour. You really changed minds on that one.
Selfish and stupid.

Item: Only 26% would be willing to pay "much higher prices" to protect the environment (43% a decade ago). 37% think many claims about environmental threats are exaggerated.
Stupid but convenient.

Item: 55% believe that benefits for the unemployed are too high (37% in 2000). I think we can safely assume that none of the 55% are unemployed.

Item: 74% believe that inequality is too large (82% in 2000, since when inequality has got much worse) but only 34% believe the government should redistribute more. So what do they want to do about it ? Leave it to Santa Claus ? Perhaps they think it's just the way things are, summed up in the lazy phrase "Life IS unfair" as if there was nothing to be done.

That's how the day started. BBC2 ended the day with the film "Inside Job" which detailed the selfishness and greed of the American financial sector, its stranglehold on government and academia and the consequences for everyone else. This was an indictment of the USA but so much of it applies to the UK as well. By the end of the film, I felt like becoming a communist. I'm not, I'm a tweed-wearing Liberal, but we Liberals have to show that markets can serve society and not destroy it.

In case we could draw a small crumb of comfort from the fact that we live in a free society where such a film can be made, Newsnight gave us the BBC's now traditional biased and inaccurate reporting of the European Union. Between Paxman's sneering (incidentally Van Rompuy isn't that hard to pronounce if you try, Jeremy) and Nadine Dorries' stupidity and ignorance, it was hard to keep my blood pressure down and the dog came to comfort me when I shouted at them.

Some days we should just pull up the covers and stay in bed with a good book.

Some have greatness thrust upon them...

I hear there's a red squirrel Christmas card going around. This cat would be more appropriate.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

O little town of Bethlehem

"As we approach the anniversary of the birth of Christ, does the hon. Gentleman agree that today Joseph and Mary would not be able to get to Bethlehem because of the walls, the shepherds would be ethnically cleansed and the three kings would not be allowed into Palestine?" asked Bob Russell in the Commons on Monday

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Give us a sign , O Lord (no.2)

Better than all politicians put together

Jonathan Swift wrote "Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind than the whole race of politicians put together.". I was just watching one of my West Wing DVDs when they mentioned Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize winner whose semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties led to doubling yields in Pakistan and India between 1965 and 1970. Swift's words came to mind. I just found out that Matthew Parris had the same thought.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Israeli justice for Palestinian children

The Australian reports on the treatment of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers and Israeli courts. This is a far cry from any system of justice we recognise. John Lyons, the reporter, was allowed to attend the court with an official Israeli guide but not allowed to photograph the Palestinian children walking in handcuffs and shackles.

An Australian lawyer, Gerard Horton, who defends Palestinian children, describes how arrests happen. "Once bound and blindfolded, the child will be led to a waiting military vehicle and in about one-third of cases will be thrown on the metal floor for transfer to an interrogation centre. Sometimes the children are kept on the floor face down with the soldiers putting their boots on the back of their necks, and the children are handcuffed, sometimes with plastic handcuffs which cut into their wrists. Many children arrive at the interrogation centres bruised and battered, sleep-deprived and scared."

Lyons details the differences between the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian children. "In Israel the maximum period of detention without charge is 40 days - for Palestinian children it is 188 days. In Israel the maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours - for Palestinian children it is 90 days. About 83 per cent of Palestinian children before military courts are sent to prison, while 6.5 per cent of Israeli children before regular courts go to prison."

Many Israeli groups are protesting about the treatment of these children, including soldiers who now regret the way the behaved, but the arrests and punishments continue. Justice and occupation do not go together.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Give us a sign , O Lord (no.1)

A sign of the times.

Apologies to Neil Sherlock but it's still a lot of guff

Like the press, I have mixed up two different stories. As Nick Clegg might put it, "Has the party retained external brand advisors ? Yes. Have I appointed Neil Sherlock as head of [something or other - press reports differ] ? Yes. Are these two events linked ? Er, don't know." That last bit's me. Always easier to answer your own questions than someone else's except when you don't know the answer.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Expensive and empty puff-balls

The Mail on Sunday story based on leaked documents claims that Liberal Democrats are spending large amounts hiring Neil Sherlock (and others ?) to re-brand the party. The graphic above was to illustrate that the party should copy Oxfam. The only thing in common between the two diagrams is the shape. The rather vacuous messages in the balls labelled Vision, Roots and Behaviour convey nothing essential about Liberalism and indeed nothing which would distinguish Liberal Democrats from other parties. I am not up to date with Marketing Management-speak (thank goodness) but perhaps these overpaid gurus will understand when I say NO USP !

Apparently the aim is to position the party as "centre-left". In so far as this phrase has any meaning, it is unhelpful. Voters who do not consider themselves "centre-left" will vote against us, while those who accept this empty nomenclature will vote Labour !

Can we please have a little Liberalism, expressed clearly and without shame or apology ?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Welsh Snuggery on the rocks

Remember the Rev Snuggs who cut down a tree for spurious health and safety reasons. Well, bach, he has a cousin in Gwynedd, isn't it ? Tywyn beach now has this sign saying "Don't climb on the rocks". It says it in Welsh too so no minorities will be offended (perhaps English is the minority language there ?). Reminds me of a sign I know in Cornwall which says "Warning. Cliff Edge" and another at Craven Arms, Shropshire "Warning, River". If councils are going to go around warning us of geographical features all over the place, they'll be very busy and soon run out of council tax receipts and have to close down schools and libraries, so no-one will learn to read their bloody stupid signs ! Self defeating, isn't boyo ? Yachi da !

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The church of the wholly undecided

For some time now I have proclaimed myself as an atheist but I prefer Les Barker's term "Agnostic Fundamentalist". Have a listen to his Shipping Forecast and then The Church of the Wholly Undecided. If you don't laugh even once, you're obviously deeply depressed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Peace amidst chaos

Despite being a devout atheist, I find this image of Christians linking hands to protect Muslims praying in Tahrir profoundly hopeful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Neologism No.25: Berlusconi

"Berlusconi", rare past tense form of Berluscere (cf. Burlesque) = to be absurd, thus "I have been absurd".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Neologism no.24 : A Merkel

A "Merkel" is when you pretend to give up something in negotiation in return for what you want and thereby (a) get something for nothing and (b) save your opposite number's face.

Thus, Angela Merkel pretends that the UK can repatriate some powers (stupid idea anyway) in return for which Cameron agrees that EU can have tighter fiscal policy.

See also the "reverse Merkel" in which A pretends to accept something (which A was going to accept anyway but pretended to oppose)in return for B accepting something which they were really going to oppose.

Thus (domestic example) the first time I went food shopping with a new partner I pretended that we shouldn't spend money on pasta (or whatever) but gave way when she withdrew her opposition to my chocolate biscuits, which I had anticipated.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Neologism no. 23 "To blatter"

The verb "to blatter" from the French "blatter" (rhymes with paté) means to say whatever is necessary to keep your job, even if you said the opposite yesterday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More students, fewer jobs

Today's shocking figures show over a million unemployed young people, that's 1 in 5. The two graphs above show how a spike in the birth rate 20 years ago has combined with a recession and rising unemployment to produce increased demand for university places despite the impact of tuition fees and the burden of paying back loans. A BIS research paper on the impact of university finance on participation rates, published in September 2010, concluded that a £1,000 upfront increase in tuition fees reduces participation in HE by 4.4% whereas a £1,000 increase in loans increases participation by 3.2%. The effects would not be evenly spread across socio-economic groups. In 1960 5% of the young population went to university. By 2001 it was 35% and today it's 42%. The research cannot of course predict the effect of the newest tuition fees on participation but if it continues to grow, the debt problem will not just be a personal one for students. An economy in which so many people start their working lives with nearly £30,000 debt (actually more taking into account maintenance) will be severely unbalanced. The savings ratio will fall. Of course if many of those people can't find jobs, then the debt will remain part of the government's problem instead.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oh dear, I can't pay the school fees !

I came across this poster outside the Ritz on Saturday. I thought it was a demonstration which hit the nail on the head but it turned out to be a band filming a video.

Mark Steel, on the other hand, sums it all up beautifully in the Independent.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Peace in Hampstead (for nearly 2 minutes)

Sunday morning found me walking across Hampstead Heath as 11 o'clock approached. I sat on a log for the two minutes' silence, which was nearly perfect in the silvan sunshine but for the distant wail of a police siren. Long gone are the days when the traffic stopped and even the trains paused on their journeys.

Peace in Glastonbury and Wells

Thursday was a sunny, misty November day and I climbed Glastonbury Tor and attended the Wells Constituency Dinner (in Highbridge, NOT on the Tor). I always meet interesting people on the Tor and at the dinner. On the Tor there was a group with a peace banner planning a demonstration for the next day, the 11th of the 11th of the 11th. I wished them luck. Peace is the fundamental value of federalism. At dinner, Paddy did not use the "F" word but spoke of the need for countries to work together in Europe and characterised the independence chimera of the eurosceptics as "the perfect sovereignty of corks bobbing around in the wake of an ocean liner".

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On measuring

Jo Swinson recently reported on a briefing by God (Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary) on measuring wellbeing. I retorted by quoting from David Boyle's book "The Tyranny of Numbers": "You can't make the pig bigger by weighing it more often". Jo pointed out that it might be useful to weigh the pig at least once. Thinking about this in the shower (measurement not Jo) I recalled the great Liberal promise that "None shall be enslaved by ... conformity". At my 50th birthday party (sadly a while ago now) at the National Liberal Club, I proclaimed that for Liberals the importance of freedom was the freedom to be different. "Look at you", I said to the company, "You're all different". "Ahem, I'm not" responded Liberal England.

My point is incommensurability, not a word you can utter in a soundbite or put in a focus but fundamental to liberalism. How can you measure one person's well-being against another's ? How can we choose between policies with different objectives and benefits ? How to decide between actions ? In 1789 Jeremy Bentham attempted it in his felicific calculus in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Recognising that his two great masters of mankind - pleasure and pain - do not actually explain all human behaviour, he redefines them at length until they become pseudonyms for good and evil and we are back to irreducible ethical concepts. The more complex the calculus becomes, the less convincing it is.

I fear that modern attempts to calculate well-being may deteriorate into governance by Top Trumps. It is widely accepted that natural science developed by measurement, replacing vague notions of force by measurable quantities. Social scientists from Bentham onwards have longed to emulate such precision. It cannot be done. Not for us the illusion of scientific socialism as promoted by Marx and Engels and parroted by Tony Benn and his ilk. People have motives which are not only different but incommensurable as well. The myth of the objectively correct policy shatters on this hard fact. We, humans, politicians, Liberals especially, are condemned to choose.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Golden Age of canals

Just watching "The Golden Age of Canals" on BBC 4. Apparently it's a series which has been on since May but fortunately it's all available on the BBC website here. Tonight we heard of rows between Tom Rolt and Robert Aikman, founders of the Inland Waterways Association. We also heard about the great festival and rally at Market Harborough in 1950 (not, I expect, news to Liberal England).

Amazing resemblance No. 325

Has anyone noticed the amazing resemblance between Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael and Rab C Nesbitt alias Gregor Fisher. I wonder if perhaps they are related.

On being ineffable

Just read Julian Baggini's interesting piece in the Guardian on religion and ineffability. I particularly liked:

"Too often I find that faith is mysterious only selectively. Believers constantly attribute all sorts of qualities to their gods and have a list of doctrines as long as your arm. It is only when the questions get tough that, suddenly, their God disappears in a puff of mystery. Ineffability becomes a kind of invisibility cloak, only worn when there is a need to get out of a bit of philosophical bother."

Thursday, November 03, 2011

When did you last see your father ?

Shame on David Norgrove and the Family Justice Review which has rejected the right of children to a meaningful relationship with BOTH parents.

As Ken Sanderson, chief executive of Families Need Fathers said, the review's failure to recommend shared parenting legislation or a statement on the importance of both parents in law represents "an abdication of their responsibilities to children and their families". "The core failing of the current family justice system is that the rights of children to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are not adequately supported or enforced".

The review sets out the key principle of private family law that both parents have a responsibility to ensure their child has the emotional, financial and practical support to thrive (para 4.5) but fails to address how a non-resident parent can fulfil his or her responsibility if they have little or no contact with the child. The review declares (para 4.20) that “...courts start from the principle that contact with both parents will be in the interests of the child, unless there are very good reasons to the contrary” and quotes an assertion that the courts “… make great efforts to secure this; and in most cases they are successful. Nor are the amounts of contact that non-resident parents end up with negligible...”. I suppose this depends upon whether you think once a fortnight is negligible or not.

Children’s rights NOT parents’
The panel also make the empty claim that “...we of course believe strongly that most children benefit from a relationship with both parents post separation.” but much of the language in the report reveals that the panel saw shared parenting as a parental right NOT as a right for the child. For example, David Norgoves’ own foreword recognises the distress of parents who do not see their children but does not even mention the distress felt by the children who don’t see one parent. The panel think (para 4.27) that legislation might risk creating an impression of a parental ‘right’ to a particular amount of time with a child. This is a gross misconception of the nature of a legal presumption, one not shared by the promoters of shared parenting.

Who did they listen to ?
The panel has disregarded support for a shared parenting presumption from the Law Society and the British Association of Social Workers. They have ignored 49% of respondents who supported legislation to recognise more formally the importance of children having a meaningful relationship with both parents, as against 18% who opposed it. They have preferred the advice of one judge, one Australian academic and Gingerbread.

Why the change of heart ?
They have stepped back from recommendations on shared parenting in their own interim report. They say, “The law cannot state a presumption of any kind without incurring unacceptable risk of damage to children.” This bizarre conclusion rests mainly upon the evidence of Associate Professor Helen Rhoades of the Melbourne Law School, whose submission is set out in full (Annex G) unlike other contributors'. I do not find her arguments persuasive, particularly as the one legal case she cites was overturned on appeal.

The abuse argument
Both the panel and their favoured academic suggest that a presumption of shared parenting would expose children to abuse from a non-resident parent. Leaving aside the statistic that more abuse occurs with resident parents, the presumption would not and could not override the courts’ duty to protect children. This argument is not worthy of the panel.

Leaflets and encouragement ? You cannot be serious
So what did the panel call for instead of a presumption of shared parenting ? “Parental education and information”. They suggest that parents should be given a leaflet when they register a birth and should be encouraged to have a parenting agreement when separating. They have clearly never listened as I have to crying fathers who have been denied contact with their children for years on end. Their best hope that “Progress depends on a general social expectation of the full involvement of both parents in the lives of their children before separation, not on changes in the law” displays astonishing naivety. Non-resident parents do not see their children because resident parents don’t want them to and the law offers no effective remedy. Do they really believe that leaflets and encouragement and changes in social expectation will provide that remedy ? As some might say, “They’re having a laugh” but it’s not funny, is it ?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Words you seldom hear...

"Today Nigel Ashton is the inheritor of that tradition which was founded on Methodism and temperance."

I'm sure Nigel won't mind me quoting Iain Brodie-Browne's comment in his tribute to Southport's David Bentliff.

I don't know about the Methodism but everything else is true and tells us how the world changes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Plan A: get out of that, George !

Here's the image I have been looking for to illustrate the deficit reduction policy which inhibits growth and therefore reduces the revenue from taxation and makes the deficit harder to reduce. These men were installing bollards to stop vehicles going on the pavement. How are they going to get out now ?

Go away and read Keynes, the lot of you !

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Please yourselves - I'm here all week (1)

The Liberal Democrats Conference Committee has an unfortunate habit of timing debates I am due to speak in for 9.00 am usually on a Sunday morning. A few years ago we were debating what is now called Ballistic Missile Defence (unless the military-industrial complex has come up with a new bit of camouflage / acronym / euphemism). It used to be called Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) or more commonly just "Star Wars". In my speech I outlined the cost, the fact that it didn't work and the threat the idea posed to disarmament negotiations. I concluded, "Very expensive, ineffective and hostile. So what's the answer ? It isn't rocket science, is it ?". I thought this was rather good but from the small squad of comatose conference addicts who had crawled into the chamber came not a titter, let alone a chuckle. I did notice however a small smile creep across the countenance of Tom McNally. Thanks. It's nice to be appreciated.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

She's right - it's mad.

Lottery winner Angela Dawes said she and her husband woke up as ordinary people in the morning and now have over £100 million, adding, "It's mad". She's right. Millions of people bet money on the lottery every week (not the Daweses - they tried only three times) with astronomical odds against winning. Ask the same people to vote for a government that wants them to pay one penny more in tax to be spent according to a democratic collective decision and they vote against it. So people would rather part with a pound or more every week with an infinitesimal chance of personal benefit knowing that the biggest beneficiary (apart from the shareholders in Camelot) will profit not from hard work or talent but sheer blind luck. Mad indeed. The lottery is an investment in stupidity and a tax on hope.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Never mind the quality, feel the width

Liberal Democrats are constantly reminded by their leaders of the concessions made by the Tories in coalition, most recently at conference. The Tory website Conservative Home also harps on about it. A more considerate assessment can be found in UCL's report "One Year On"

The problem is that the width of Liberal Democrat policy gains is not matched by the quality whereas the party's losses in policy terms are gaping holes. It's as if you bought trousers with a generous waistline but no material behind leaving a bare backside to be kicked. The voters might ignore the fine work on the lapels and collar if the pockets were empty with a big hole in the bottom.

As Nick Clegg noted at conference, "Probably the most important lesson I have learned is this: No matter how hard you work on the details of a policy, it's no good if the perception is wrong. ". The Clinton mantra "It's the economy stupid" is still true. No amount of blaming Labour for the mess, however justified, will save our bacon in 2015 if too many people are out of work.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tails lash at Tory Conference.

Claws were out at the Tory Conference as Teresa May and Ken Clarke clashed over the Home Secretary's claim that courts applying the ECHR's Article 8 on family life allowed an illegal immigrant to stay in the UK because he had a cat. May has now admitted that this was not true. The judge was ruling on the veracity of the man's relationship with his partner, which was partly evidenced by the joint purchase of a cat.

The Guardian report says "May's speech was not shown to Clarke. In common with conference speeches by all cabinet minsters, it was cleared with the "quad" committee of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Danny Alexander.". Come on Nick and Danny ! Wake up and smell the Tories. Don't leave the defence of the ECHR to Ken Clarke alone.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reasons for buying an iPad (or not)

If you don't yet own an iPad (like all the journalists at LibDem Conference did), Dan and Dan explain one of the reasons you might like to buy one (or not). (You have to scroll down to "iPad Head".)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amazing Resemblance No.324

Has anyone noticed the amazing resemblance between Ed Miliband and Ginger, the escapist chicken in Chicken Run ? I wonder if perhaps they are related or move in the same closed circles.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not despairing, not deluded but deliberate

As usual I have been to a different party conference from the one the media floated through or above. The Guardian led the pack who expected Liberal Democrats to be downhearted and when we weren't decided that instead we must be deluded. Setting aside the joy of meeting old friends, the curious pleasures of debating and voting, we had other reasons for not despairing. There is the Tim Farron joke that we could cope with being out of power for a generation as predicted by the governor of the Bank of England, because we are used to being out of power for three generations. There is the comfort of Harold Wilson's observation that "A week is a long time in politics" and there is the gut wisdom of Harry Truman's "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

At the Guardian lunch, Paddy Ashdown chose a metaphor from military history. He recalled the Duke of Wellington saying to his troops when the French found their range, "Hard pounding gentlemen." Actually I don't think the Labour opposition has found our range yet, just scored a few lucky hits on our exposed left flank. I did ask Paddy, "Where's Blucher, where are the Prussians ?". He suggested that the voters would be the Prussians. I believe this can only come true if we establish clear gold water (not, please, aquamarine). As I repeatedly suggested at conference, the next election will turn upon how many voters have jobs. Myriad Liberal Democrat policies will weigh as nothing if unemployment is high. We need to propose a programme for jobs like Obama. We too may be blocked by conservatives but people will know what we stand for.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trim and spin and flimflan and aaaarggghhh!

According to today's Guardian, a leaked No.10 memo outlines government plans to appeal to women. It cites " urgent need to up our game on communications about what we're doing". Well, they could start by learning to write in English and continue by basing policy on principle and evidence instead of trim and spin. Why do politicians always think the problem is communications instead of the damn stupid policies ?

(Fans of Ed Reardon's Week will note that the 12-year-olds run No.10 as well.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Smoke and mirrors and plain nonsense

Simon McGrath has published an article on Liberal Democrat Voice defending the Liberal Democrats' Federal Conference Committee's handling of accreditation. It contains many false assumptions and muddles and some language that is downright misleading. I have commented at length on LDV but I summarise here.

1. Simon says that the party not the police take the decision to exclude representatives, but he also says that if the party ignores the police advice then we would have no insurance and hence no conference, so it's not advice, is it ? It's a police veto.

2. "When Simon says that the party decides to exclude representatives, he means the mystical group of three - the Chairman of FCC,the President and the Chief Executive. This is an unelected committee unknown to our party constitution which gives no-one such a power.

3. Simon maintains that the real choice was between accepting police advice on accreditation or having no conference, although he goes on to say (in the same paragraph)that we might not need this procedure at a different venue. Find that venue, I say. This is not a true dilemna.

4.Simon is remarkably better informed than the rest of us about the fact that there has " ...only been one person flagged up by the police and the group of 3 has decided that he should not be admitted. This is someone who joined the Party in July 2011 and about whom the police have raised ‘serious concerns’ – very specific details of which were given to Wiseman etc". As he's not on any of the relevant committees, how does he know this ? Who's been briefing him ? More to the point, how is it that the rest of us don't know this ? An unelected group of 3 purport to exclude someone from the conference without any constitutional power to do so and in an unaccountable way. None of us know who the person is nor what the grounds were. We don't know if the person concerned was told of the "serious concerns" and had the chance to challenge them. This in a party that has fought against arbitrary power and against control orders in particular. Nor has the procedure for challenging a police "recommendation" be publicised. Nor, it appears, is there any appeal against the self-appointed group of 3. We would not tolerate such proceedings in government. Why the hell should we accept them in our own party ?

5. Simon objects to my motion because of "the idea that the police should be pressured to change their advice on security on political grounds." This is very misleading language. I am not suggesting that politicians should interfere with the police (we can leave that to the daft Tory idea of elected Police Commissioners which many Lib Dem MPs have just been whipped to vote for). I am suggesting on the contrary that the police should not interfere with the democratic process of a political party choosing its own representatives.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Recognise Palestine now

In a few days time the United Nations will decide whether to recognise Palestine. Listening last night to Richard Perle, Washington's "Prince of Darkness", on Question Time, I heard him lie many times. In particular he denied that Israel was in breach of any UN Security Council Resolutions. A member of the audience immediately cited UNSCR 242 as I shouted it at the television. There are others. David Miliband called for leadership to solve the Israel/Palestine issue. Clearly he has little faith in the expensive mission of Tony Blair on behalf of the Quartet which we are all paying for.

My disgust at Perle and other apologists for the USA's and the UK's failure to face up to the problem has led me to contribute to Avaaz's campaign for recognition of Palestine. If you agree, you can too by going here: Time for Palestine.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Swedish stag party ?

Clearly temperance has not reached all parts of Swedish society, as this story of a moose on the juice demonstrates.

All captions and puns gratefully received.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

It's completely bonkers !

Excellent article on accreditation by Jonathan Calder in the Guardian's Comment is Free. Most of the comments that follow the article are by people with very short memories who think the Liberal Democrats are finished. Have a little perspective guys. Read some history. People have been saying we finished since the 1920s. They were wrong and it's still wrong now. However, I was amused by this comment which refers to instructions for permissible photos:

"A neutral expression, with your mouth closed, eyes open and clearly visible...

Isn't this actually a partial quote from the Coalition agreement? I believe it continues...

... bent over, with hands firmly grasping ankles."

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Striking a balance - duh ?

I have heard the hackneyed phrase about striking a balance between security and liberty before - from Tony Blair, from John Reid, from David Blunkett, always in the name of some new restriction on fundamental freedoms which we as Liberals have opposed over the years. I do not take my stand against police accreditation on the inevitable inefficiency of this process. I would oppose it if it was executed with finesse and subtlety and grace. Search us, scan us, check our luggage by all means but never admit the possibility that the state in any of its myriad guises can decide who shall attend a party conference.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Done badly or done well, accreditation is wrong !

Much recent discussion about accreditation has been about the inefficient operation of the process. I wouldn’t care if the process was the smoothest I had ever experienced. It is simply wrong that an organ of the state has any say in who attends a political party’s conference. No Liberal should have any difficulty understanding this principle. It is also wrong if the party's Federal Conference Committee (FCC) or any other committee, office-holder or panjandrum can decide who attends. Does anyone really think that a party committee should be able to interfere with a local party’s choice of representative ? Even if you do think that, it’s not what our party constitution provides. I am bitterly disappointed that members of FCC either didn’t know this or didn’t care.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

John Arlott on the H-bomb and co-ownership

Thanks to Stephen Tall for drawing my attention to some old Liberal (not Liberal Democrat as YouTube says)Party Political Broadcasts. I particularly like Frank Byers and John Arlott answering questions from a businessman and a housewife in 1955. Unscripted, polite political dialogue unknown to us today. 56 years later we are still waiting for the spread of co-ownership and profit-sharing (except for bankers of course).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

May 2011: "A perfect storm" for Liberals

Today's Telegraph reports on the internal inquiry into the May local elections by the Liberal Democrat's Campaigns and Communications Committee. The committee says the party faced a perfect storm and identifies these factors:
* public anger over university tuition fees and NHS reforms;
* failure by Lib Dem activists to praise the Coalition Government during discussions with voters on doorsteps;
* reluctance by supporters of the two main parties to vote tactically for the Lib Dems in seats where their own party had no chance;
* high turnout among Tory and Labour voters because of the referendum;

The sad thing about this report is not that it is a statement of what Basil Faulty called "The bleeding obvious" but that it was bleeding obvious before it happened. So many of us warned that the handling of tuition fees would be toxic, whatever the merits of the policy itself. So many of us warned that the referendum should NOT be on the same day as the elections.

To paraphrase the Earl of Strafford, "Put not your trust in leaders". They don't always know best and nor do the inexperienced wunderkinder who surround them in their offices.