Thursday, December 27, 2012

Scientists abandon search for life in Chard


British scientists have abandoned the search for life in Chard.   They believed that four miles under the surface there was a great pool of life but attempts to drill down to it have failed.   Despite vigorous attempts to pump hot Portugese blood into the town, the lifeless permafrost has remained unmelted.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where to be when the world ends ? Glastonbury

Just after 12.11, the actual moment of the winter solstice, my son and I found ourselves on top of Glastonbury Tor with a group of happy, excited people.   We hadn't set out to be there.   We were in the town and saw huge crowds gathering on the Tor, so walked up to find out what was happening.   One of the things I love about Glastonbury is the variety of brightly coloured, floaty clothes (Tolkien would call it raiment) warn by a variety of brightly coloured, floaty people.   As we ascended we realised what was happening - of course, the Winter Solstice.   There was music, there were drums, there was chanting, there was dancing, there was  a log fire in a portable hearth.   And the sun shone over the flooded Somerset levels.  Not a bad place to be at the end of the world, as my son noted.  Forgive my poor phone videos which give some idea.
video
video
I chatted to a cheerful looking, bearded cove who had smiled at me (everyone was smiling at everyone else up there).   We agreed that people didn't seem too worried by the prospect of imminent doom.   His face was awfully familiar and I hoped that at some point he would tell me where we had met  (like Sir Thomas Beecham when he couldn't remember Queen Mary).  Eventually I asked.  It was Michael Maloney, an actor whose work I really like.   Fortunately I didn't recall until later that we had both performed scripts by the late Mark Tavener, founder of the Liberal Revue and author of High Table Lower Orders in which Maloney played the Dean.   Otherwise I would have embarassed my son by telling Michael about it.   I did compliment him on In the bleak midwinter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The alternative Second Amendment


It's a mystery to me why James Madison did not draft instead:
"A well fed militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and eat chocolate eggs with toys in shall not be infringed."

Incidentally Wikipedia has an excellent discussion of the Second Amendment.



Sarah Montague - shut up and listen !


I used to be a fan of Sarah Montague of Radio 4's Today programme  but she has become unbearable, interrupting every bloody sentence before the interviewee has finished it !  

Monday, December 17, 2012

This time, let the deeds follow the words


Twelve years ago I heard a visiting American school choir give a concert in a church in Venice.   They were very good.  That choir came from Newtown, Connecticut.   I imagine some of those teenagers may now be parents with children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I hope their children survived but we know that twenty did not.

There is little that we can do about this.  We can show our shared grief as these children in Karachi did.


We can join a Facebook page of condolences.  There are many. Here's one.  After the Columbine shootings I wrote to Bill Clinton, whose presidency was looking pretty ragged by then.   Do something on gun control, I suggested, and your term of office will not have been wasted.  Yesterday, President Obama spoke in Newtown.  He said, "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end and to end them we must change".   I wish him success.   This time let the deeds follow the words.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sister Wendy Beckett: a good life ?


Listening to Wendy Beckett's Desert Island Discs, I wondered to myself if this was a good life.  It wasn't, indeed isn't, a bad life.   As she said herself, she has led a very sheltered life with little opportunity for sin. Most of us, even without religious faith, would admire the lives of nuns who nurse and work in the community.   We might have mixed views about those who teach, given what they teach.   The problem is - can we admire a life of contemplation ?   I do admire a life of scholarship even if it seems useless to others.  I think of George Boole whose work on algebraic logic seemed of little importance at the time but became the basis of all computer science.  (Actually, checking him up, I see he didn't live a life of pure scholarship at all, but you know what I mean.)  

I'm not getting at nuns in particular.  I have to question the life of the political activist.   Of course many campaign for social improvements and some get elected and carry them out, but a lot of us spend a lot of time getting our opinions on every subject straightened out and I was recently confronted by the following poster online:
Here endeth the thought for the day.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

"Today" is a bad start to any day

I hold no brief for George Osborne and think his economic policy wrong, but if I were him I think I would have walked out of the Today studio this morning.  Evan Davis repeatedly asked questions and then stopped Osborne from answering them.  Finally he blamed Osborne for taking too long.   This was all followed by Nick Robinson telling me that I didn't understand the difference between the deficit and the debt.  The arrogance of these journalists is egregious.  They think they understand everything better than politicians or the public.  The Today format, particularly the post-8 am interview, never allows enough time for serious discussion, preferring short-term heat to long-term light.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Israel - Not the kind of allies I want

Netanyahu ignores the world with his crazed plan for new settlements.  Now wait for the attack on Iran, which the USA will deny it knew was going to happen.   If we're not very lucky, this bastard will drag us all into a new war in the Middle East.

Labour for Democracy ? What !

According to The Independent, there's a new group in the Labour Party preparing to build bridges with the Liberal Democrats.   Excuse me, is the same Labour Party that blocked electoral reform and stopped the reform of the House of Lords ?  Labour for Democracy ?  I wish !

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Guardian now blames the Liberal Democrats for arguing too much with the Tories !



Damian Carrington writes in the Guardian that arguments over energy in government are unsettling the markets and the banks and the resulting uncertainty will put the costs up for consumers.

Would Mr Carrington prefer it if the Liberal Democrats didn't argue with the Tories ?   That of course would calm the markets and all the financiers would be happy bunnies.   The Guardian usually attacks the Lib Dems for not arguing enough with the Tories, so this makes a change !  Democracy has produced a coalition and there is a price for democracy, which I for one am happy to pay.

Cambridge Revisited (1): Cambridge Union


Walking around Venice in early 2011, I decided to move back to Cambridge.  Finally in the summer of 2012 I did it. From time to time, I'll be posting about what I found here  

After a hard day's work at home in June, I received a message from the Cambridge Union: Presidential Debate tonight: "This house would disband the Liberal Democrats".  Well, I wasn't having that.   I turned up and sat on the committee bench where I had last sat in 1973.   (Prize if you can spot me)

The polite young people ignored the strange old bugger who had wondered in.  They were busy holding hustings for various posts which either didn't exist when I was a student or, if they did, were not elected posts.   This went on for over an hour.  You can have too much democracy, you know.  What struck me was that none of the candidates gave the slightest clue of their politics.  They all talked about their experience and their plans for the Union.  One candidate was in China and appeared by Skype.  In 1973 runners with cleft sticks would have been the technology.

Finally, the actual presidential debate.  The first thing which anyone from my generation cannot fail to notice is the number of women in the chamber, a big change from the early '70s when there were only 3 women's colleges and no co-education.  The debate veered between two themes - the nature of the Liberal Democrats and the record of the coalition government.  The outgoing president attacked the latter and his supporter David Davies cleverly attacked the former - for not being Liberal enough.  Ed Davey unsurprisingly chose to defend the coalition record.  Lembit Opik said...well, who can ever remember what Lembit says, but it was a bravura performance and probably won the debate for us, defeating the outgoing president's motion.  Of course, it might have been my own short contribution in the floor debate when I read out the preamble inscribed on every party membership card:

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."

No other party will save you from conformity.  

I really welcome two changes from the old days.   We used to have all the guest speakers first, then the floor debate during which most of the audience drifted off to the bar.   Now they have the floor debate before the final guest speaker. The committee used to entertain the guests in the Chief Clerk's room.   Now they are taken to the bar where everyone can meet them.  I have yet to sample some of the more contemporary innovations, such as the Union's classes in how to mix cocktails.  We didn't have that in the '70s.  I wonder if they did in the '20s and '30s.  Probably not.  You'd hire a chap to do that for you.

Tell it not in Gath


Craig Murray comments on the distorted western media coverage of conflict in Palestine and Israel:

"There is no mention on the BBC – there has never been any mention on the BBC, or anywhere in the Western mainstream media – that for at least 4,000 years Ashkelon was an Arab town, until in 1948 the entire, Arab population of 12,000 was driven out by armed force, many being massacred."

It seems that Israeli propaganda follows the advice in the bible, 2 Samuel 1:20

Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph."







Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shame on the Anglican laity !

As a devout atheist, I share the sorrow of my Anglican friends at this ridiculous decision and  as a devout Liberal, I believe it's time to look at disestablishment again.   If the CofE wants exemption from equality legislation, then it should join the other churches without the privilege of being the state's church.

The media keep reporting that the synod had voted against women bishops.   This is a simplification to say the least.   The church has a very odd constitution, requiring a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses, which voted today on the question of women bishops as follows:

Bishops: For 44, Against 3, Abstentions 2
Clergy: For 148, Against 45, Abstentions 0
Laity: For 132, Against 74, Abstentions 0

In other word a blocking minority of 74.   If only 4 members of the laity had voted the other way, the measure would have been passed.   If the combined backwoodsmen (and sadly women) of the laity have any regard for the hobbled majority, they should return tomorrow, vote again (which can be done with certain permissions) and eight of them should abstain, producing 132 for and 66 against, which provides 2/3 of those present and voting exactly, as required by Article 8 (1C) of the Constitution of the General Synod.

If you think think this is odd, have a look at how the membership of the synod is chosen.   The University of Cambridge elects one of the clergymen.   Don't ask me how that the university chooses that person.  I didn't have a vote.

Here endeth the lesson.

Friday, November 16, 2012

To Europe House last night for the launch of Surrey University's Centre for Research on the European Matrix (CRonEM) where my old friend Richard Corbett (now designated the 4th most influential Brit in the EU) and Sir Stephen Wall debated "Is the European Union past its sell-by date ?".

Richard emphasised a point he has also been making on the Today programme, that the UK should engage in the debate about the content of the EU budget not just the level.   Has any British paper or radio or TV programme reported that the European Commission's proposal involves cutting the CAP budget by 20% in real terms over 5 years and switching funds into activities that would benefit our economy like the research budget ?  

Incidentally, EurActiv's list of top Brits in the EU has a Liberal Democrat at no.1 and three others in the top 20.   You can check whether you guessed right here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind

Oh Israel !    Do you wish for peace ?  Oh Hamas, do you ?   It seems that both sides are engaged in using war to win power on their own sides.   Hamas leaders are fighting amongst themselves to replace their executed leader.   Israel's leaders are gearing up for an election.   The lives of Palestinians and Israelis  are not important to these people.   Why did Israel imagine that killing one man would make things better ?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

EU Budget: a few facts

I know it's inconvenient to let the facts get in the way of an argument but the European Movement has published a few, which I set out below.   I spared myself the ordeal of watching the assembled Europhobes in the Commons foaming at the mouth yesterday but I say to all of them - Tory and Labour alike - (and men and women alike, in case I am accused of sexism): "Calm down dear !"


European Movement UK calls for a better debate on the benefits of the EU budget
 
As the Westminster debate on the EU budget delivered a defeat for the PM and a display of political brinkmanship from the opposition that might prove a double edged sword, the European Movement has put together some facts and figures that have been mostly missing from discussions around the EU budget.
 
The budget of the European Union is an instrument that can help member states achieve economies of scale and reduce spending at home, on areas where better results can be achieved by spending at the EU level. It is an instrument of stability, with a 7 year long perspective and a long-term focus that often is not available to national budgets.
 
Instead of self-defeating arguments on how to reduce a budget that represents just a bit over 1% of public expenditure, the debate should be focused on how to make the most of EU spending to deliver added value and more benefits for citizens across the EU in general and in Britain in particular.
 
Everything you wanted to know about the EU budget but were afraid to ask.
 
The proposed EU budget for 2014-2020 is just 1.05% of EU GDP, whereas Member States’ budgets account for 44% of GDP on average.
 
Member State budgets are also increasing: In 2012, 24 national budgets out of 27 are due to increase according to the latest estimates.
 
More than 94% of EU budget goes back to EU citizens, overwhelmingly more than is the case for national budgets.
48% of new EU budget will go to measures promoting growth.
 
Only 6% will be allocated to administrative expenditure. Administrative reform, which already started a few years ago, has already saved EU taxpayers €3 billion, and it is expected to generate another €5 billion in savings by 2020.
 
Spending at the EU level can help Member States achieve economies of scale and reduce spending at the national level. €50 billion will be spend to fund transport, energy, and ICT priority infrastructures of pan-European interest, through the Connecting Europe Facility.
 
In 1985 70% of the EU budget was spent on agriculture. In 2011, direct aid to farmers and market-related expenditure were just 30% of the EU budget.
 
CAP reform has moved support away from production and towards income-support for farmers and projects to stimulate economic activity in rural areas.
 
The average EU farmer receives less than half of what the average US farmer receives in public support.
 
Estimates for 2009 are that the number employed was 5.6 million higher as a result of EU spending through cohesion policy in 2000-2006.
 
GDP in the EU-25 has been 0.7% higher in 2009 due to EU cohesion policy investments during 2000-2006. This is estimated to rise to 4% by 2020.
Growth in poorer regions and Member States thanks to EU spending leads to purchase of goods and services from another, richer region or member state. EU spending can increase demand at one part of the EU, creating more jobs at another.
 
EU Cohesion funding helped to revitalize Merseyside, and continues to invest in the Liverpool City Region. £300 million are spend to improve electronic interconnectivity between the UK and Ireland. Satellites for the EU funded Galileo project are built in Britain, creating high-paid jobs.
 
The UK received the second largest share of Research and Development funding, €2,282m, equal to 14.4% of the total EU spending on R&D.
 
According to the Court of Auditors, 95% of payments at EU level are correct. Out of the 5% error rate only 0.2% represents fraud. When EU funds are judged to be spend inappropriately, they are clawed back and returned to the EU budget.
 
The EU budget has never run a deficit.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why are Labour such unprincipled, reckless bastards ?

Not content with wrecking electoral reform and democratising the House of Lords, Labour now plans to reduce the EU budget.    Is Ed Miliband even capable of thinking beyond the next Commons vote ?  Today they plan to vote with Tory rebels to support the aptly named Reckless Amendment to cut the EU budget, not because as a party they want to undermine Britain's position in the EU even further but because they have a chance of defeating the government.   Even Tory eurosceptic Andrea Leadsom can see that the amendment is wrong.  When the inevitable referendum on EU membership comes, Labour may rediscover the virtues of being in the EU but it may be too late.  Labour will have done its bit to feed the widespread scepticism about Europe.    If their opportunistic games help them to get elected again, they may find themselves presiding over Britain's withdrawal from the EU and the disastrous economic consequences, not to mention the political ones - isolation in world affairs or worse, further dependence upon the United States as it too declines.

We already know the perils of coalition with the Tories.  Don't imagine that coalition with these unprincipled bastards would be any easier !

Friday, October 26, 2012

Blofeld and buses

Many (including Rory Bremner) have commented on Henry Blofeld's style of cricket commentary with its frequent references to buses going past the ground.   I have just found out from Wikipedia why he might be so concerned about the proximity of buses to cricket grounds.

"Selected as Eton captain in his final year at school in 1957, Blofeld suffered a serious accident, being hit by a bus while riding a bicycle to the Eton cricket ground - he remained unconscious for 28 days."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Liberal connections to James Bond ?


BBC reporters have watched all 23 Bond films to prepare an interesting audit which shows how many people Bond killed in each film and how many women he kissed (never more than 4 in one film).  I wonder how many connections to the Liberals one could find.   Go on, watch them all again and let me know.  To get things started, Penelope Smallbone (LD member in 2009 and maybe even now and daughter of Richmond stalwart Hester Smallbone) appeared swimming in one film and Cubby Broccolli bought her name for a  character in Octopussy.

The simple joys of Opposition


I have posted before about the European Court of Human Rights' ruling on prisoners' votes and how British media and politicians have consistently misrepresented it.  Today the BBC reports that David Cameron told the house:
 "No one should be under any doubt - prisoners are not getting the vote under this government".   

The same report tells us that the Labour Opposition spokesman on Justice, Sadiq Khan, said: "
The public will be rightly concerned at reports prisoners could get a vote. If true, thousands of those serving sentences for serious and violent crimes such as wounding, assault and domestic violence would be given a say in who runs the country." 

Interestingly, in his speech to the Labour Party Conference  he attacks the Tories as saying:
 "Human Rights are bad because they’re European.
and then replies,:
 "But Winston Churchill and British lawyers wrote the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Britain should be proud".   
It's an interesting defence of the ECHR, because it amounts to saying:
"Don't worry, it's not really foreign, it's British."
I'm also not entirely sure which bits Winston Churchill wrote.

More recently, Sadiq Khan has also tweeted
"As today progressed, growing confusion between AG and PM over whether prisoners will or won’t get to vote shows Gvt is at sixes and sevens".   

So does he and does Labour support the ECHR and accept that we must abide by its rulings or not ?  Perhaps we'll never know.





Friday, October 19, 2012

More answers to Jennie Rigg !

...and here are the answers on FPC.

1. Which of the following activities do you consider the most dangerous and why?
- taking a single ecstasy tablet
- taking an advanced motorcycle riding test
- giving birth
Giving birth.  Around 100 women die every year in the UK whereas between 10-17 people die from taking ecstasy.  Statistically ecstasy may be more dangerous because far fewer people take it than give birth.   As far as I know, no-one has actually died taking the motorcycle test.

2. What four pledges would you put on the front of the next Lib Dem manifesto?
1. To build more affordable and social housing
( with a costed figure of say 400,000 homes a year)
2. To create new jobs in a greener economy (again, a costed figure as large as possible)
3. To reduce borrowing by taxing wealth and by cracking down on tax avoidance.
4. To promote peace through international law and to avoid military adventures.

3. A genie appears and tells you that you can remove one law and make one law; what would you remove from the statute book and what would you add to the statute book?
Remove: Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which outlaws abusive and insulting words or behaviour.  
Add: All childcare to be tax deductible - the biggest contribution there could be to gender equality.

4. What balance should the committee give to the views of the leadership, the parliamentary panels and the membership in setting policy priorities?
FPC should listen to all these but the dialogue should be two-way.  We want to support the parliamentary leadership but not to restrict our policy formulation to topics that fit the Westminster bubble.   The party desperately needs to offer the public an independent message - what we stand for, not just to pose as the brakes on the Tories.   Fighting the next election on the economic competence of the coalition would be disastrous.

5. How would you change the party’s procedures on gathering and analysing evidence when formulating policy?
I have served on policy working groups and watched with increasing dismay the current process where, although staff work very hard, the choice of witnesses is somewhat random.   We need to invite evidence publicly and not be afraid to hear from specialists who disagree with us.   Their contributions can only strengthen our policies.   Loss of the Short money has left the party desperately short of policy staff.   We also need to involve more party members and to use the hidden expertise they possess.   In the East of England I have started a process of identifying where that expertise lies.   I have tried unsuccessfully so far to revive the old Liberal Party practice of a travel pool for working groups, so that the cost of taking part is the same for all whether they live in Kensington or Newcastle or Penzance.
  
6. Which is more important - freedom from ignorance, poverty or conformity?
I have always emphasised freedom from conformity.   There is no great value in the freedom to be the same as everyone else.  Conformity carries ignorance and poverty in its train, ignorance because alternatives are suppressed and poverty because growth and opportunity require innovation and choice.

7. Are you a member of any (S)AOs or other pressure groups which might give us an insight into your policy priorities?
I am chair of Liberal Democrats for Peace & Security and have campaigned persistently against nuclear weapons.  I am a member of Liberty and Amnesty and a former president of the Young European Federalists.  I have also worked for years with Environmental NGOs and professionally lobbied the European Union on environmental policy and regional policy.

8. Which external bodies would you like to see audit the manifesto to see if our policies are workable?
Honestly, I hadn't thought about it.  Actually auditing after we have written the manifesto is too late.   We should seek external critique of our polices as we develop them not when it's too late.

9. What proposals do you have to improve the process of negotiating policy priorities for a coalition agreement in the event of another hung parliament?
Other countries allow a sensible period of time but the markets and the British media will probably not.  I understand why preparations before elections for negotiations afterwards have to be confidential, but the negotiators should have guidance from FPC and conference as to red lines.  I think it is a mistake to put too much into an initial coalition agreement.  As the likely minority partner we are in a stronger position if the majority partner has to come back to us to negotiate on issues.   Any coalition agreement must also provide for wider negotiation of new policies than the present quad of two MPs each.  In any such discussion, the party outside parliament should also be represented.

10. If elected, how do you plan to engage with the wider party?
I want more members to be involved long before policy gets to federal conference.  The current process of policy formulation is something of a secret garden and indeed a garden made up of plants from within the M25.  As a start in the East of England, we (the Regional Policy Committee) have arranged for regional consultation sessions on defence and on work / life balance, subjects which will be debated at federal conference next Autumn.   I would like FPC to engage with regional committees and for committee members to explain the policy process to local parties, something I would be glad to do myself.

11. Are you standing for any other committees, if so which ones, and if elected to more than one how do you plan to divide your time?
I'm also standing for FPC.   The actual number of meetings for both committees is not too demanding.   If elected to both, I would have to reconsider the amount of time which I currently spend on local and regional party bodies.


Answers to Jennie Rigg

Here's my answers to Jennie's questions on FCC.

Answers to Jennie Rigg’s questions to FCC candidates
1.    What ratio do you think is the ideal balance for keynote speeches, policy debates and Q&A sessions on the main stage at conference?
I think policy debates should have the lion's share of the time, certainly over 50%, probably more, then Q&As and finally keynote speeches.   Ministers can make speeches all year round.  This is our time as party activists.
2.            How do you plan to make conference more inclusive?
This is my main theme.   Going to conference can cost hundreds of pounds and our policies will suffer if those with harder lives can't contribute.  I want Conference Office to help organise block travel bookings and car sharing, to match up local members as hosts with reps who need cheap accommodation and we need to provide alternatives to the ridiculously expensive food available at conference centres and hotels.   Constituencies should consider subsidising their reps.  I support the use of the internet and skype as well but it's important for people to be physically present if possible.
3.            What is your favourite conference venue and why?
Brighton, because of the wide range of accommodation and restaurants from the cheapest to the most luxurious.  I also have happy memories of performing in the Liberal Revue there.   I like Harrogate too but it may be too small now.
4.            What is your opinion on the proposal to make conference one member, one vote?
I hadn't heard the proposal but if it means more members can attend and vote, that would be a good thing.  However, see answer to question 2.  We don't just want the better off members to decide everything.
5.            What would you do to make conference more affordable for the less well-off within our party?
See detailed answer to question 2. This would be my most important objective if elected.
6.            What is your opinion on the proposal to allow non-attending members to participate in conference - remote voting, speeches by skype, etc.?
I'm in favour of using Skype to let people participate, to follow debates and even to speak.   I'm not sure about voting.  There would need to be very secure systems in place.  This could be very important for people unable to travel because of disability, poverty or occupations like teaching.
7.            How much consideration do you think FCC should give to avoiding embarassing our frontbench when it selects motions and amendments for debate?
Almost none.  I successfully proposed an amendment at the Special Conference declaring our right to continue to make policy as an independent party.   The only caveat I would make is that sometimes a Lib Dem minister may be able to achieve amendments to legislation or policy by quieter methods which would be undone by the fog-horn of conference, but that minister would need to convince us that this was so.   Mere embarrassment would not qualify.
8.            What are your views on  whether outside experts should be allowed or encouraged to speak on the main stage?
This should be exceptional.   For example, I would have wanted to hear Hans Blix on Iraqi armaments before the UK went to war.  There is limited time on the conference floor.  Experts can speak at fringe meetings.
9.            Where do you stand on conference security in general and accreditation in particular?
I fully support the airport-style security which make us all safer.  I totally oppose accreditation as an affront to democracy.  No state agency whould have any say in the selection of our representatives at conference.  I drafted, promoted and summed up for the resolution which conference passed last year condemning accreditation and I shall continue to oppose it and seek to end it.
10.               If elected, how do you plan to engage with the wider party?
Even when it does a good job, FCC does seem a little mysterious and its decisions opaque.   I would favour more openness about meetings and their decisions whenever possible.   I would make myself available to talk to local parties about conference organisation.   We used to have a two-stage agenda process which gave members more say over what was debated.   The sausage machine of FPC-appointed working groups producing lengthy reports hasn't always been an improvement and can limit debate rather than encourage it.  I want to explore ways in which members can have more influence on the final agenda.
11.          Are you standing for any other committees, if so which ones, and if elected to more than one, how do you plan to divide your time?
I'm also standing for FPC.   The actual number of meetings for both committees is not too demanding.   If elected to both, I would have to reconsider the amount of time which I currently spend on local and regional party bodies.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vote early and vote often !

No, seriously vote once in each Liberal Democrat internal election and if you value our party's independence and internal democracy, please vote for me for FPC and FCC.   If you want to know more about my views, there's more here: David Grace for FPC and FCC.

Friday, October 12, 2012

EU Nobel Peace Prize but some Liberals carp !

I have spent a lot of time today arguing on-line with fellow Liberal Democrats about the contribution of the European Union to peace.   Some have repeated the false but successful UKIP propaganda that the EU is undemocratic; some have challenged its contribution to peace; some have moaned about the Common Fisheries Policy.

As Romano Prodi pointed out on Radio 4  Europe has enjoyed the longest period of peace since the Roman Empire.   I fear the UK is now heading for an in/out referendum.  The entire British political class, not excluding the Liberal Democrats, will be to blame if the  vote is for out, after decades when they have failed to proclaim the achievements of the European Union or even engage in trying to improve it, preferring instead to carp on about fish and bananas.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

"Reform sir ? Aren't things bad enough as they are ?"


...as Lord Eldon, Lord Chancellor said in the 1820s.  Birkdale Focus reminds us of Paddy's wonderful speech on foreign affairs at a conference fringe, full of poetry and history but sadly no substitute for the lack of foreign policy debate on the floor of conference.   For the full speech see here.

Paddy was somewhat disparaging about the EU, saying rightly that it does not connect with the citizen and then calling vaguely for institutional reform.  As I pointed out in my question to him on the day, he doesn't say how he wants the EU institutions reformed !  This is dangerous.  Usually the Tory eurosceptics call for EU reform but they have always opposed any reform which would improve things.  Small example: everyone moans about the European Parliament working on three sites and the cost of decamping to Strasbourg once a month.  Why does it happen ?  Because the power to decide the question rests with a unanimous vote of the European Council, i.e. there's a national veto involved.   Solution: remove the veto and let the EP decide on its own location.

I don't believe that the answer to UKIP is to say "Reform the institutions".  It's to proclaim what the institutions have achieved.  "Reform the institutions" is a defensive response, conceding half the eurosceptic case.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Independent gets it wrong too !

The Independent leads a report on conference with the price of Miriam Clegg's dress, followed by "Come back Lembit, the party needs you    What the conference has missed is Lembit Opik, the ex-MP".  No, no,no - or as King Lear Lear put it: "Never, never, never, never, never".

The piece continues with " Ian Wrigglesworth... held the stage immediately before Clegg".  Well, he was on the stage and he did better than Sarah Teather, but "held" it ?  I don't think so.

The writer finishes by praising Charles Kennedy.   He was right about one thing - Charlie wasn't there.  Years ago when Kennedy was a new MP, I met a man on the Isle of Skye who praised their previous MP, Russell Johnston, for ten minutes without stopping.  Finally I said, "And now you have a new MP" and he thought for a moment before replying gently, "Aye, Mr Kennedy has his good points as well."  So they tell me.

"We're not very popular at the moment"

Just watched Cameron on Letterman.   This is the moment when he responded to the question, "How are you doing ?"   Many people have commented on his failure to translate the words Magna Carta, which is bizarre given his Eton education and, anyway, why couldn't he guess ?   Boris, of course, would have known.   Cameron did, however, work in one of my favourite historical facts, that the British sailed up the Potomac in 1814 and burnt down the White House.    I also noticed his mistake about the royal family.  He said that the Queen's visit to Ireland this year was the first by a member of her family since Irish independence.   Has he forgotten Lord Moutbatten ?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The media write their stories in the bar in London before they travel to the seaside.


I think it was 1979 when Michael White wrote in the Guardian that Margate pier was the ideal image for the Liberal Party.   Our conference in Margate had been interrupted by occasional explosions as the demolition experts tried to destroy the pier.   It was, said Michael, "a Victorian structure that refused to go away".  I wondered if any journalists this year would be tempted to compare the party to Brighton's West Pier, cut off in the middle of a hostile storm, but none of them did, although Allegra Stratton's Newsnight piece extended the weather metaphor and included a shot of the pier.

Journalists searched Brighton in vain for despair and rebellion.   Instead they found what you will always find at a Liberal Democrat Conference - debate and decision (not to mention drinks and dinner).   Today Andrew Sparrow told us in the Guardian that the Lib Dem Conference had taught us 10 things.

"1. Nick Clegg is trying to forge the Liberal Democrats into a new party"
We are down to our core vote and  there are no fair-weather friends any more. That doesn't make us "a new party", it makes us the party we always have been without the temporary penumbra that politicians waste so much time seeking to attract.

"2. The Lib Dems seem more committed than ever to the coalition"
"As committed as ever"  maybe.   I detect no more or less enthusiasm.   We have the same distaste and doubts about the Tories.   We will be happier if our leaders express it more often.   Andrews cites the so-called rejection of an economic "Plan B".   Sadly Ed Randall's amendment to the growth motion was poorly worded and worse presented in debate.   I believe our Conference Committee selected that amendment because it could be easily defeated and they chose not to select Prateek Buch's much better amendment.    Andrews concludes " the Lib Dems face an existential threat, and if the coalition fails, the party is doomed too".   This is nonsense and perhaps wishful thinking by the Guardian, given their Toynbee-esque prejudices.   Failure of the coalition's economic policy will be bad for both parties in the coalition but fatal for neither.   The sooner we start exploring the economic alternatives (and I don't mean the Balls that the Labour Party talks) the better the party will recover.

"3. The Lib Dems are seeking to reassert their identity"
He's right.  Some of us have been doing that from the beginning of the coalition (two beds not one) but like the rest of the Guardian stable , he doesn't know what our identity is.  He writes, " ...many Lib Dems ...think the party would be mad to give up on leftish voters who are attracted by the party's social democratic instincts." (my emphasis).   As I explained to Jackie Ashley last year, we don't have "social democratic instincts";  we have social liberal instincts, which are quite different and date back to the writings of Green and Hobhouse in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

"4. Clegg intends to fight the general election"
Well spotted, Andrews, who obviously has a MA in the Bleeding Obvious.    He even raises the old chestnut of Nick Clegg going to Brussels in 2014.   This was never a runner (do chestnuts run ?).   Why on earth would the Tories send Clegg to Brussels ?   Do they want someone British committed to the development of the EU sitting in the European Commission ?   Do they want to make a vacancy for Vince or Tim Farron to lead the Lib Dems ?   I don't think so.

"5. There will be no imminent leadership challenge"
Yet Andrews thinks there might be in 2014 or before.   Do this journalists ever think things through ?   For a challenge, there must be a challenger.   If, surprisingly, the economy picks up and things look better, Nick Clegg will be safer.   If, as looks likely, there is no recovery and the deficit looks as bad as ever, Nick Clegg is even safer.  Why ? If you had plans to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, why would you want to take over just before a really bad election when all you have to do is wait until after it and let Nick take all the blame ?

"6. Vince Cable is the party's undisputed leader-in-waiting"
I do not share the reported adoration of St Vince.   He is not a team player.   His economic judgement is not as reliable as believed.   His presentation and political management of the tuition fees (as opposed to his masterly negotiation behind the scenes) was catastrophic.   I think his ascendancy to the leadership is unlikely and possibly unwanted by him.  Andrews for some reason not explained, believes Tim Farron's star to be falling.  I have seen no evidence of that.

"7. Election manifestos are going to look different in the future because they will clearly differentiate between non-negotiable promises and negotiable ones"
Possibly although I doubt it, but the problem last time was not the manifesto but the pledge.  Nobody reads manifestos.

"8. Coalition is making government more open"
Yes, but sadly not enough.   We don't really have a new politics.   Labour's visceral hatred of the Liberal Democrats exceeds their dislike of the Tories and effectively, especially in parliament, we still have two sides and old-fashioned adversarial politics.   The culture of disagreeing about everything has yet to be replaced by a culture of seeking agreement which will outlast a single parliamentary term.

"9. The Lib Dems are still overwhelmingly white and male"
He is, of course, judging by the House of Commons, not the party membership.   I don't deny that there is more to be done but it's not a Lib Dem problem, it's a problem with politics across the board.   Conference this year seemed to me to have more young people, certainly more women and in my estimation, more representatives from ethnic minorities than in previous years.

"10. But it's a great party to join if you want to speak at a party conference"
Finally he gets something right.  In his own words:
This week has confirmed that the Lib Dems are still the only main party in British politics genuinely comfortable about letting the members debate policy. Labour and the Tories use their conferences to showcase their leaders and rising stars. If you want to go to party conference, get involved in debates and speak on more than one occasion, I'm afraid you haven't got much option. You'll have to join the Lib Dems.