Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Today's Leicester Mercury reports:
The Ripa was introduced to fight terrorism, but thanks to a series of extension to it introduced by Labour home secretaries we now see it being used against neighbourhood conservation campaigners.
Leicester City Council used controversial snooping laws to monitor the under-siege Bowstring Bridge site, the Mercury can reveal.
The authority said it applied to use a swivel and zoom function on an on-site CCTV camera to gather evidence after a council officer raised concerns over demolition workers' safety.
It was one of at least 22 covert investigations, or monitoring operations authorised by the authority in the past 12 months under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) – introduced in 2000 to oversee councils' use of surveillance.
The council said it used the powers at the Bowstring Bridge, in the city's West End, because of the risk of trespass, criminal damage and public disorder at the site.
It is also hard to believe the council is being honest. I am sure they were worried about delays to the demolition project and the costs that might result. I can even believe that they might have been worried about the danger to people protesting where heavy plant was being used.
But to argue that they needed to use these surveillance powers because of the threat of public disorder stretches credulity too far.
Finally, note from the Mercury report that these powers were resorted to by Adrian Russell, the council's "director of environmental services" - that is a paid official, not an elected councillor.
I am sure Mr Russell is good at his job - no doubt he started in charge of the paper clips at Worksop Rural District and worked his way up. But to have such powers at the call of someone in his position is a democratic outrage.
It seems that a junior football club in Ripon has stopped boys having showers after a game because of child protection concerns. (If you can hear a strange rumbling noise, it is a thousand PE teachers turning in their graves.)
The Yorkshire Post quotes the club's welfare officer as saying:
"What we don't want is someone taking a picture as a joke. Before you know it will be on 300 phones and – God forbid – it could end up in the wrong hands."While the BBC quotes its voluntary recruitment officer, who more accurately reflects our confusion at the bizarre world we find ourselves in:
"It is a shame in one respect, but it is health and safety, child protection. You have got to be on the ball all the time."Our concern for protecting children has reduced us to a state where we are unable to cater for their most basic needs.
And the first step to getting out of this mess must be to admit that a situation where decent people like these feel themselves obliged to make such a ridiculous decision.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In fact, it's a classy new web-based campaign from the Liberal Democrats. The picture above comes from the Labservative website.
And there is a Labservative video too...
Monday, March 29, 2010
Channel 4 kindly asked if I would like to come and blog from the green room at this mildly historic event. So I said yes.
Already I have seen Quentin Letts, Polly Toynbee... and Lord Bragg struggling to get out of the building with his swipe card.
Still, I expect it is Security or Health and Safety or something, and he is a Labour peer. So welcome to the world you made, Melv.
So what are the prospects for tonight's event?
In a strange way, Vince Cable has the most to lose. So high is his reputation, that anything less than a display of extraordinary erudition will leave his fans disappointed.
But I have every faith in him. He is as the ability to appear above the fray whilst putting the boot in nicely. He will be fine.
Conversely, George Osborne has the most to gain. He is 38, yet I still find it natural to make jokes about hoping that someone has made sure he has washed his knees and pulled his socks up. is there more to him than the bright schoolboy? We may see tonight.
[Journalists gossiping next to me: There are stories in circulation about Tony Blair receiving hundreds of pounds worth of gifts and not declaring them.]
And Alistair Darling? He is slowly winning over the press as a great survivor. Given that he is the minister who introduced pension the 75p pension increase back in 2000, you can see their point.
Gordon Brown's announcement, albeit through gritted teeth, that he will continue as Chancellor, should Labour win the election, will have strengthened his hand.
Of course, I could have done this from home watching the TV - which is all I am doing here - but they do give you free coffee.
Polly Toynbee, for it is she, is being asked on TV how far this debate will set the scene for the leaders' debates in the general election proper. I suspect the dynamics will be different here. Nick Clegg may struggle to get into the debate: Vince, I suspect, will have no such problems here.
@channel4news has just tweeted:
EXCLUSIVE: Key themes on #askthechancellors agenda are 1) public finances, spending cuts, tax rises, 2) banks, bonuses & regulation, 3) jobs.Channel 4 News now reporting that no oil has been found off the Falklands.
That's my suggested economic policy buggered.
Someone has just reached Liberal England by searching for "big cats in Ratlinghope". Hello Shropshire!
Channel 4 Ask the Chancellors page.
Here we go!
The set makes it look like a rather dull quiz show.
First George Osborne. Deal with debt. Cut waste. In favour of enterprise and hard-working people.
Vince Cable. We warned about the bubble. There have to be cuts. The banks must lend to good British companies. Hard work, thrift, fewer prima donnas. Tax cuts for lower earners paid for by taxes on rich.
Alistair Darling. We can get through this provided we continue to support people. Get borrowing down to cut deficit, but protect front-line services. Secure jobs in the future.
That more or less confirmed what we already think of them.
What personal qualities do you have that will make you the best Chancellor?
Vince Cable: A lot of experience. I warned about the boom. When the crisis came, I advocated policies that the government, to its credit, did adopt.
Alistair Darling. Tenacity. Had to deal with unimagined problems to ensure the banks could open the doors the next day. My judgement has been right. His sense of fairness drives everything he does in politics.
George Osborne. Shadow Chancellor five five years. Part of a team. His values are support for people who work hard and save hard. it is not my money.
And he keeps his desk tidy.
Why don't you come clean on cuts?
Darling: I will at the next spending review.
Osborne: "We are all in this together." That never caught on, did it? I was the first to call for cuts. We cannot afford benefits to the rich. "This is our national debt." That certainly won't catch on.
Cable: We have set out £15bn of spending cuts, only party to do that. Defence cuts, including Trident. Swathes of bureaucracy overrunning local government. Surveillance state.
Now they are being allowed to debate this between them. Osborne saying we need cuts and everyone agrees with him. Oh no they don't, says Darling. You have been calling for spending cuts, but instead (muffed this a bit) you use the first spare money you find for tax cuts.
Vince gets first applause from the audience for talking about Osborne's "fictional savings".
Osborne getting snotty already. Not coming over well.
Vince now making Darling answer questions like an examiner. Class.
Will cuts be deeper than Thatcher's?
Yes, yes and yes.
Can you guarantee that NHS services will not be harmed by cuts?
Osborne. David Cameron asked me to ensure that we spend more every year.
Darling. We have doubled expenditure on the NHS. We will keep to the standards we have established.
Cable. None of us can give a guarantee like that. If we save money on NHS admin it should first go to neglected areas like mental health. But you cannot ring fence health or you will have massive cuts elsewhere.
Osborne name checks David Cameron again on NHS spending. A sign of his strength or weakness on the subject?
Will you cut pensions?
Darling people must be treated fairly.
Osborne. A cap on big public sector pensions. Audit how much public sector pensions are costing within week.
Cable. It is outrageous that highly paid public sector employees (including MPs) have such large pensions. This needs cross-party agreement.
Nice Darling dig at Osborne over lack of consensus on social care.
Vince calls for cross-party approach to whole crisis. (Can I be Chancellor please?)
Osborne having second go against "death tax". So how will you pay for it, posh boy?
Osborne still doing it. Trying to patronise the Chancellor. Failing.
Will you increase income tax or VAT?
Vince: We will cut income tax for lower earners. About £700 a year for average earner. Fully costed package.
Osborne: There will be some tax rises, but we will stop National Insurance increases.
Darling: No one wants to increase taxes, but... If I promise to cut taxes you will ask how I can afford to do it.
Osborne scores point against Darling, but it is Darling who gets the applause with a smart reply.
Vince says we are going to have a difficult decade. We have to keep society together and be fair. The rich must pay a bit more.
Cable asks Osborne if he supports a tax on banks to pay for public support. A little beside the point.
Can they rule out VAT increase? Darling, no. Cable, no but it would be dodging the question if we did.
Missed a question there, but Osborne using a Blairite "many and few" construction. Had to mentally check himself that he was getting it right.
Cable we are being held to ransom by super-rich. "Pin-striped Scargills." Clap, you buggers.
Darling. People can move around more these days, but there is no sign we are scaring them away.
Is it the Chancellor's job to make us more equal?
Both talk about "fairness".
Osborne: Sort of says yes. Interesting.
Darling defends tax credits to wealthier families. Hard to see how they help the poor.
Vince has a dig on inheritance tax and gets applause.
Question on bankers' bonuses
Vince good reply on splitting investment banking from high street banking.
Darling: Bonuses should be for good performance not taken for granted. But defends big banks. That's socialism for you.
Osborne: Bank tax now, even without international agreement. Attacks head of Barclay's.
Battery getting low
Vince: Banks must lend more to businesses.
Osborne: Bank regulation must change.
Both painting Darling as weak on this.
Question: None of you predicted banking collapse. Why should we trust you now?
Darling talks about future.
Osborne: The Tories did worry about debt.
Cable: Some of did want - and he applauded for it. Every demutalised building society has collapsed. But it was worse - "such greed and incompetence" - than he imagined.
Student scared of future. Will I get a job and be able to buy a house?
Osborne: More student places (eh?) Better help for unemployed. "A work programme." Diverting the rivers of Central Asia to water the Uzbek cotton fields?
Darling: There is some good news - offshore wind technology. If government works in partnership, there will be jobs in future.
Cable: Government cannot create jobs but we can make sure that the banks lend to the companies that do. Some public works on renovating old properties. But some of the cuts we are going to make will affect jobs.
Osborne says much the same thing now.
Darling: We have made the right judgement calls over the past two years. We will work with private sector to create jobs. Trust us.
Cable: Financial discipline, make banks lend. Who do you trust? Labour got us into this mess. Remember the Tories. Dig at rich backers gets applause. We are not beholden to super-rich or unions. We want change - but it has to be a change for better not the worst.
Osborne: There will be a Conservative government or a Labour government. We have the ideas and energy. It is your choice.
And that is it.
No big winners or losers, which meant that it was good for the Lib Dems as Vince's reputation will remain high.
Interesting that it was the left-wing points that got applause. The audience was very carefully politically balanced, so that may be significant.
Just met Chris Huhne: "a clear win for Vince."
Now for the train home...
Much later. Home again in Market Harborough.
Several days later. This became the raw material for a House Points column in Liberal Democrat News.
As I once recorded on this blog, before Darling joined Labour he was a member of the Trotskyite International Marxist Group. And in his early Labour days, he was a hard-left council leader in the mould of Ted Knight or Derek Hatton.
So extreme was he that the Scottish Labour establishment sent George Galloway along to talk some sense into him.
Galloway later remembered those days:
When I first met him 35 years ago Darling was pressing Trotskyite tracts on bewildered railwaymen at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. He was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, whose publication was entitled the Black Dwarf.
Later, in preparation for his current role he became the treasurer of what was always termed the rebel Lothian Regional Council. Faced with swinging government spending cuts which would have decimated the council services or electorally ruinous increases in the rates, Alistair came up with a creative wheeze.
The council, he said, should refuse to set a rate or even agree a budget at all, plunging the local authority into illegality and a vortex of creative accounting leading to bankruptcy.
Surprisingly, this strategy had some celebrated friends. There was "Red Ted" Knight, the leader of Lambeth council, in London, and Red Ken Livingstone newly elected leader of Greater London Council. Red Ally and his friends around the Black Dwarf were for a time a colourful part of the Scottish left ...
The former Scottish trade union leader Bill Speirs and I were dispatched by the Scottish Labour Party to try and talk Alistair Darling down from the ledge of this kamikaze strategy, pointing out that thousands of workers from home helps to headteachers would lose their jobs as a result and that the council leaders - including him - would be sequestrated, bankrupted and possibly incarcerated. How different things might have been.
Anyway, I well remember Red Ally's denunciation of myself as a "reformist", then just about the unkindest cut I could have imagined.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
As it was my birthday last week I think I am allowed to choose another Spencer Davis Group track. This one comes their second album, imaginatively entitled Second Album, which was released in 1966.
If you listen to the original version by Bobby Parker you will realise that the Spencer Davis Group was able to get closer to the American sounds that inspired them than any other British band. This explains at once why their versions of the songs still sound so good and why Steve Winwood quickly tired of this approach and left for the lusher pastures promised by Traffic.
Winwood confirmed this on an interview for American radio a couple of years ago.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Lib Dem TV has a 28-minute video which features Chris Huhne and the delights of Lib Dem conference.
Talking of videos, A Very Public Sociologist has one putting the staff side in the British Airways dispute.
While Stumbling and Mumbling suggests that management may be "a con-trick, promising - but never actually delivering - increased efficiency."
Longrider points us to an article by the excellent Henry Porter: "The last days of this dreadful government are being accompanied by an attack on rights and privacy that seems unprecedented during Labour’s 13-year rule."
The Marrakesh Express is taken by On An Overgrown Path.
While Left and to the Back remembers Clodagh Rodgers: "Failing to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1971 surely can't have helped her career (and she even received death threats from the IRA for representing the UK)."
Harborough Liberal Democrats rented an empty shop in Wigston during the last general election campaign, but it must be many, many decades since the Liberals had premises in Market Harborough.
You can find us in St Mary's Road, half-way between The Square and the railway station.
Welcome also to Arse Online, written by a colleague from work and dealing with the second best team in London.
Note particularly his post arguing that Arsenal will win the Premiership because they have the easiest run in of the three contenders. Speaking as a Chelsea fan, I find it worryingly convincing.
Friday, March 26, 2010
If the Conservative benches are ungovernable now they will be worse after the general election, given the intake of new members. And it is certainly true of the Conservative blogosphere.
The action of Labour members in making John Bercow Speaker leads me to pose Calder's Third Law of Politics. It is:
When politicians do something which they think is very clever, it will eventually turn out to have been very stupid.My first two Laws, developed over many years writing this column are:
- If all parties are united in support of a measure, it will turn out to be a disaster.
- The more power the state takes to itself, the more arbitrarily that power will be exercised.
To the column...
With his gown and boyish smile, John Bercow resembles a progressive young master in an old-fashioned school. And like a lot of masters who want to be popular with their pupils, he has trouble keeping order.
You can trace his problems back to the undistinguished reign of Michael Martin. Often Buggins’ turn will get you through, but when the expenses storm broke over Westminster Martin proved to have none of the qualities needed to restore its standing in the eyes of the public.
Trouble was, there was no way of getting rid him other than public ridicule. And in that process the authority, the mystique, of the Speakership took a battering too.
Then there was the way Bercow got the job. When the election of the new Speaker took place David Cameron was riding high in the polls and many Labour MPs assumed they would soon lose their seats. What better way of getting back at an incoming Conservative House, those Labour MPs reasoned, than landing it with someone it would detest?
And Bercow, though he started out as secretary of the Monday Club's immigration and repatriation committee, had been long been courting Labour backbenchers with an eye to the Speakership. He did it so blatantly that he became widely disliked on his own side.
So we again have a Speaker who is not respected by many MPs, which has done nothing to rebuild the standing of the role.
But the Tory benches’ increasingly open disrespect for Bercow also tells us something important about modern Conservatives. They are simply ungovernable.
Philosophically, their views owe little to what the philosopher John Gray called the “rich network of interlocking interests, social deferences and inherited institutions” that have historically constituted British Conservatism. Instead they offer a bundle of theory and grievances, much of it market nihilist rather than Conservative and originating across the Atlantic.
And personally, unlike their predecessors, this new generation of Conservatives have not been shown their place in the scheme of things by Spartan schools and regimental sergeant majors.
Instead, they have entered adult life with a cast-iron sense of entitlement and a certainty that no one, certainly not the Commons Speaker, can tell them what to do.
I blame progressive schoolmasters – like John Bercow.
Come and find out some fascinating froggy facts, enjoy pond dipping, arts and crafts, and fun and games for all the family as we celebrate the first signs of spring.The Camden site is Camley Street Natural Park, which I once wrote about for the New Statesman website.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
An award-winning children’s writer whose career was ruined when he was jailed for sex attacks on children has been found dead at his home in the Yorkshire Dales.
William Mayne, who was 82, was the author of more than 100 books and was regarded as one of the leading children's authors of the 20th-century.
But his career crashed to a halt in 2004 when he was jailed for two-and-a-half years by a judge at Teesside Crown Court.
He was also placed on the sex offenders’ register and banned from working with children for life after admitting to 11 charges of indecent assault between 1960 and 1975.
If anything, the feeling that someone "must be alright" if he has the relevant piece of paper puts children at risk because it makes other adults less likely to voice their conerns. We cannot contract out our responsibilities as adults to an agency of the state.
Later. An obituary of William Mayne has now appeared in the Guardian.
- Mark Pack has posted the video of David Cameron's Gay Times interview disaster - and a second, equally amusing, one.
- You know those EU regulations against bendy bananas? The ones that only exist in the fevered imaginations of Eurosceptics? The good news is that they were abolished a few years ago. Even better, reports Chris Davies MEP, attempts to revive them have been thwarted.
- The blog run by the mental health charity Mind has news of an agreement between politicians not to use slurs about their opponents’ mental health when campaigning.
- Ideal Government is collecting arguments against fingerprinting children in schools.
- You may have read the Small Boy Stuck Up a Tree controversy in today's papers. Heresy Corner has a typically impressive dissection of it.
- Writing for Sky Sports, David Lloyd is encouraged by England's showing in Bangladesh.
As Dunstable Today reports:
The Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, launched an investigation last year after the MP referred herself to him following the expenses scandal.
But it suspended the inquiry at the end of last year because of the MP's ill health, which has seen her unable to work since her expenses claims were exposed.
But the MP was seen in a Channel 4 documentary on Monday night saying she was able to work immediately for a firm that wanted her to lobby on behalf of its clients.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
So I was pleased to see a guest post on Lib Dem Voice today by Dave Dyke of the England Left Forward network.
What to do about England in the new devolved United Kingdom is a question that will not go away. A Useful Fiction quotes Anthony King’s description of the country under the current settlement as “a huge whale in a small bathtub”, and without the counterbalance that the new parliaments offer in Scotland and Wales, it is England that has suffered most from the demise of local democracy.
The traditional Liberal answer is to call for assemblies to be set up in the English regions, but I do not find this attractive. There are problems on agreeing where the boundaries should be drawn and the inconvenient fact that on the only occasion when plans for an assembly were put to the public (in the North East in 2004), they were voted down decisively.
More than that, the regional system Labour has set up acts like a shadow, unelected variety of local government that makes it easier for Whitehall to force new infrastructure projects through in the force of popular opposition.
Perhaps the real problem is that English regional government appeals to those who do not feel comfortable with Englishness at all. Many on the liberal-left who are indulgent to Celtic nationalism still fear that England is too big and too irredeemably Tory to be allowed a modern constitutional form. They would rather see English identity hobbled by a collection of smaller assemblies.
Dyke writes that he has set up the network for two reasons:
You can read more about England Left Forward on its own website.
The first is to provide a space for those of us on the Left, whether progressives, socialists, social democrats, liberals or greens, to articulate, debate and resolve the various aspects of the English Question; in particular with respect to providing England with a legitimate political voice.
The second is to identify a vision for the various aspects of England and Englishness that is not nationalistic in nature, but draws on the experience and contributions of all who engage in the debate. A vision that also incorporates the values of individual freedom, equality of opportunity, and a fair and just society based on the rule of law. For England is a country; it is not a colour, a race or a religion.
I suspect this will be the first of many such stories and that most of them will involve passengers rather than fellow airport employees.
A Heathrow security guard faces the sack after a woman colleague reported him for using a body scanner to take “naked” pictures of her.
Airport bosses have launched an investigation after John Laker, 25, was alleged to have used the device meant to detect bombs and explosives to look at a fellow employee's breasts.
Jo Margetson, 29, reported the guard as saying “I love those gigantic tits” when she walked through the X-ray machine, and then said he pressed a button to take a revealing photo.
And how do those charged with protecting our liberties react?
Today's Daily Telegraph covered the latest report from the Commons Home Affairs select committee:
The MPs dismissed privacy fears over the use of body scanners and called for newer and improved equipment to be considered.So the MPs who should be holding the government to account are busy calling on it to intrude further into our lives.
The committee said it was disappointed that scanners had not been used on a widespread basis earlier.
In evidence to the committee, transport minister Paul Clark was asked about the delay and said: "It is about making a decision about the proportionality of the measures that you put in place to protect those concerned."
The committee said today: "The institution of 'proportionate' measures, as described by Paul Clark, strikes us as a euphemism for adopting a wholly reactive stance and waiting for terrorists to demonstrate their new capabilities before implementing improved security measures."
Such attempts to single out a particular areas of society for harsher treatment are inherently unattractive. And they don't work either. I fear that, however much we disapprove of it, young people will always contrive to find ways of enjoying themselves.
Still, when the Tories come up with a foolish, populist idea there is a better than even chance that Labour will copy it. And I suspect that this Tory plan was one of the parents of Alistair Darling's huge increase in the tax on cider in today's Budget.
And could it be that the fact that there are so few Labour seats in cider-producing areas encouraged him to go down this road too?
No sense of humour then, our Rory.
Stewart, who apparently quipped that while "neither go away" they would also "never form a government", failed to see the funny side following my call. The event, he grandly assured me, was subject to Chatham House Rules – normally in fairness reserved for rather weightier political matters.
It was also made clear that bridges would be well and truly burnt should I dare relay this most inflammatory of exposés to my scandal-hungry readers.
I would be more outraged at this myself if I had not begun a Guardian article as follows in 2001:
Fierce, bearded and wedded to an impenetrable ideology. Not a description of the Taliban, but the average commentator's view of the Liberal Democrats.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
This category proved so popular that it led us to instigate a new award. As a result, Yeti-related Simile of the Day goes to Anne Treneman of the Times.
- Good news: Craig Murray has joined the Liberal Democrats.
- You will probably have heard that the Tories had a social media catastrophe yesterday in the shape of the collapse of their #cashgordon campaign. Andrew Hickey has the juicy details.
- RandomPottins introduces us to a strange episode in the career of Donald McIntosh Johnson, who was a wartime Independent by-election candidate, stood as a Liberal in the 1945 general election and later became a Conservative MP, until he fell out with them too.
- There was a stunning programme on sudden blindness on Radio 4 this morning. Niles's Blog heard it too and has the link to the BBC website.
- Which Liberal Democrat blogger met a station cat in South Shropshire? I suspect I would be the bookies' favourite, but in fact it was Liberal Bureaucracy in Craven Arms.
- The Croydonian has metamorphosed into Chiswickite, but it has kept up its study of old volumes of Hansard. We are in 1960, when Manchester Moss Side was represented by a Tory opera buff.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Tony Blair has made millions since leaving Downing Street.
Sir Alistair Graham: "The first principle for MPs is selflessness". Ho ho.
The programme approached more than 20 MPs. Ten agreed to meet the "company" -Anderson Perry.
Sir John Butterfill offered company his CV at the start of the meeting.
The programme quotes David Cameron saying lobbying is the next big scandal waiting to happen.
Butterfill: "I can organise a meeting in a minister's office or possibly ... he could come to you."
Said he could arrange a meeting with David Cameron.
Asks for more than £30,000 per year for sitting on the company's board.
Margaret Moran, for it is she. Keen to take paid work from "Anderson Perry".
Boasts of her contacts with special advisers.
Ready to start at once: "I'm free now."
She has not voted in Parliament in May and has not been seeing her constituents because of bad health. The programme was told by her office that she was too ill to see constituents.
So she is a liar.
Stephen Byers coming up. "I'm a bit like a cab for hire."
Since resigning from the cabinet he has developed a high-flying business career.
Already working as a consultant while an MP.
"I do a bit of work for Rio Tinto." Neither that interest nor the one with National Express is registered.
How much would he expect? "Between three and five thousand a day." "Sometimes I can charge more."
Tony Blair's earnings since leaving government have reached an estimated £20m.
Byers says he may be able to get Blair along for a drink.
Ooh look, it's Robert Maclennan.
Since the last election 46 minsters have been approved to work in private sector. Almost half work in areas they used to be responsible for.
Patricia Hewitt works for BT, Boots, Barclays and BUPA.
"I'm interested in taking on another major board position."
Robert Maclennan was against her being allowed to take up certain posts as a former minister. He is on the body that oversees such matters - The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.
How easy is it to arrange meetings with ministers and civil servants? "It is very doable."
- Use a think tank - sponsor a seminar "and for your money you get to sit next to the minister".
- Sponsoring events at a party conference
- Straightforward invitation
- Meet them via your presence in the constituency.
Back to Stephen Byers. The general election is a great time to see civil servants.
Boasts that he helped National Express get out of its East Coast Mainline franchise without high penalties or losing its other franchises. He spoke to Andrew Adonis ("you have to keep this very confidential") on their behalf.
They agreed Adonis would talk tough in public but National Express would get off lightly - i.e. the would not abide by the contract they signed.
Now Tesco. Hilary Benn wanted to chose food labelling. Tesco rang Byers to get it stopped. He rang Peter Mandelson to complain about it. Mandelson got it delayed then amended.
Byers later emailed to say he had not spoken to either Mandelson or Adonis. Tesco and the Department of Transport both also said no such exchanges had taken place.
It seems his defence was that he was lying.
Coming next: Byers on defence.
Looking forward to translating his contacts into a way of making money.
Now Baroness Sally Morgan.
Gets £135,000 for jobs outside politics.
The programme had hired offices where Tony Blair first hired them after leaving No, 10.
Sally Morgan asks £5,000 per day.
She knows lots of senior civil servants because they worked at No. 10 when they were younger.
She can have conversations with people and push the direction of policy travel without lobbying.
Offers to put the company in touch with ministers. "I do anything as long as I am reasonably transparent about it."
She has interested in diabetes treatment but did not declare them when asking a Lords question.
She helped an educational charity win a £50m government contract.
Back to Sir John Butterfill.
"It is quite likely that I will go to the Lords." Perhaps less likely now.
"It gives me another string to my bow, as far as you are concerned."
That got that wrong. Geoff Hoon does not have a constituency home. His seat is in Nottinghamshire and he lives in Derby. Southern journalists do not understand Midland geography.
"I do not want to be seen to leave politics and then go back as some sort of lobbyist."
Still has Ministry of Defence contacts that might prove useful to clients.
He is helping American firms take over European companies.
£3000 a day "seems about right". After parliament is dissolved, "I am yours." Offers to chair the board.
All very depressing. As far as what the MPs doing is unobjectionable, that should be part of the job they are paid to do.
Byers' only defence is that he lied to the TV people. And can't Margaret Moran be prosecuted for something?
Congratulations to President Obama on getting his health insurance measures through Congress.
I have written before about the parallels between these and the reforms of the Liberal government before World War I.
Thanks to Burning Our Money for the picture.
But when I think of Ussher, the Labour MP for Burnley, I think of an article she wrote for the Guardian back in 2005. It appeared in the wake of the defeat of the government's proposal for 90-day detention before charge for terrorist subjects.
And she concluded:
Let's be clear about this: this country is a less safe place because of the actions of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and, yes, a minority of our own side, last Wednesday.
I very much hope that we will never have another terrorist atrocity in Britain. But if we do, and if it happens because the police have not had sufficient time to accumulate enough evidence to charge the perpetrators, then the Tories, the Lib Dems and our own rebels will have blood on their hands.
Tories and Liberals voted to make the country a more dangerous place in order to score a cheap political point over the prime minister. A small minority of our own side - for whatever spurious reason - did the same. So, as I said at the outset, in the horrific event of a crisis that I hope will never happen, it'll be their fault, not mine.If you were looking for an article that laid bare the New Labour approach to politics, this would be it. Forget principle, politics is entirely a matter of news management. The main thing - the only thing - is to avoid bad headlines.
I suppose Ussher's motivation was that if there had been another terrorist atrocity in Britain, people would have dragged themselves from the wreckage with the words "if only we had listened to Kitty Ussher" on their lips.
So let's not not be too hard on Ussher. She is a symptom, not the disease.
First we had the moral panic over child criminals: now we have the new baby.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
- "This is not to be taken as a sign I have returned to blogging," says Charlotte Gore sternly. We shall see. In the mean time, she shares with us "the vows Gordon Brown made to Sarah Macaulay in 2000 at a surprise (and secret) ceremony in North Queensbury".
- Gary Allanach recalls a visit to Chernobyl and worries about the Tories' enthusiasm for nuclear energy.
- Do you have any famous relatives? No Geek is an Island has lots.
- Calum Cashley remembers his SNP colleague Billy Woolfe. In the course of doing so he seems to say that the party owns an island. Can this be true? Should the Liberal Democrats have one too?
- A Very Public Sociologist discusses the rumour that Tristram Hunt is to be parachuted into Stoke Central as "a sop to Peter Mandelson".
- And Undercover Sport has a rugby rumour: Sir Clive Woodward to replace Rob Andrew and overhaul Martin Johnson's coaching team.
Punk rock and Thatcherism both grew out of exasperation with the failure of 1970s Labourism. And in 1978 Paul Weller announced that The Jam would all be voting Conservative at the next election. It seems that this announcement was just reaction against the unreflective socialist politics of those he met in the music business.
Yet a few years later Weller was a leading light of Red Wedge, the movement that was meant to rally ver kids against Thatcher and make them elect Neil Kinnock as prime minister. I do not think Elvis and Mozart combined could have managed that.
The Style Council is not remembered with much fondness. Besides the faintly embarrassing politics, many fans could not forgive Weller for breaking up The Jam - or for this haircut - and Mick Talbot was a bit of a dork.
But hearing this song today, it does not sound at all bad. And Talbot's keyboards sound good, even if the late-period Jam (and this sounds as though it could have come from that source) would have added a stronger brass section.
This video shows the band having a fun time in Warsaw. But I doubt it was the Berlin Wall that any of them had in mind when singing this song. Even mainstream Labour opinion was always remarkably uninterested in human rights abuses in the Soviet bloc.
An enjoyable breakfast – kedgeree, devilled kidneys, eggs and b – quite up to Cook’s usual high standards. She does well to produce it, I later learn, because a leopard has escaped from my private menagerie and invaded her kitchen, with the result that she is forced to beat it off with a ladle from time to time. As she later remarks to me, “Cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this.”
Then to St Asquith’s where the Revd Hughes preaches a sermon on the text: “In 1945 Sir Archibald Sinclair defended Caithness and Sutherland and, lo, he was defeated by 61 votes and beaten even unto third place.” I think there is a lesson there for us all.
Earlier this week
- Monday: Living with Mark Oaten
- Tuesday: Sarah Teather's sense of humour
- Wednesday: Sandra Gidley wrapped in baking foil
- Thursday: A day at my solicitor's
- Friday: Driving around Eastleigh with Chris Huhne
- Saturday: Candidates' photographs
Saturday, March 20, 2010
To see how fair is we will have to watch Dispatches tomorrow.
Twenty senior MPs and peers were offered payments of up to £35,000 a year for helping a fake firm forge lucrative links with the government.
Six of them demanded between £3,000 and £5,000 A DAY to sit on a make-believe advisory board.
And several are said to have exaggerated their influence in the hope of cashing in.
Ex-Transport Secretary Stephen Byers even claimed he was like a “cab for hire” to the tricksters as he boasted about how he still has a direct line to the heart of government.
Others caught up in the sting include ex-Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and former whip Margaret Moran.
One can always tell when a general election is approaching: on Saturdays a long queue of prospective candidates trails past my lodge gates, around St Asquith’s churchyard with its stately yews (and, indeed, stately ewes) and up the long drive to the Bonkers Home for Well-Behaved Orphans.
You see, every candidate needs a fetching family photograph for his election address, but not every candidate has children of his own and, even if he does, then they may not be quite what his agent requires. For this reason the Home has long derived a useful income from making the prettier orphans available to be photographed.
This year, however, I have insisted that Matron tighten up her administration: I was not a little embarrassed at the last election when the same little girl appeared on leaflets in three neighbouring Lancashire marginals and one boy was pictured with both the Conservative and Socialist candidate in a seat in the Welsh Valleys.
Earlier this week
Of course, all good Liberals are against a national curriculum, but what do you want your children to gain from their education? What should your local Swedish-style free school teach?
Thanks to the reader who alerted me to this. As he puts it:
...get beyond Richard Curtis to hear some more interesting opinions.
Friday, March 19, 2010
- News of the day is that Norfolk Blogger is now a member of Broadland District Council. Nich Starling gained the Taverham North ward from the Conservatives in a by-election yesterday. Congratulations.
- Martin's View writes about the Say No to Trident group on Lib Dem Act website.
- There is only one way to travel to Shropshire these days. Liberal Bureaucracy samples the delights of the Wrexham & Shropshire.
- The Bureau of Sabotage mourns the passing of Alex Chilton, whose "gift to the world was a whole set of perfect pop songs that nobody bought at the time, but which have proved strangely enduring and influential today".
- Like this blog before her (hence the photograph), Wartime Housewife visits Foxton Locks.
- While English Buildings finds a wonderful sign in Worcestershire.
I have fond memories of Eastleigh; it was here at the Southern Railway works that I received help in building the prototype of the Bonkers Patent Shuttleworth Press – an invention which was to revolutionise committee room practice in the years before the Second World War. So when the town’s MP, our own Chris Huhne, invited me to tour his constituency I was happy to accept.
As we drive through the Hampshire countryside this morning he is full of the virtues of his Toyata Prius (apparently no polar bears are harmed in its manufacture), but as we near a crossroads he begins to panic: “It’s the brakes, your lordship, they just aren’t...”
At this point I am obliged to lean across and take command of the steering. As I explain after I have brought us to a halt by using a ploughed field with an appreciable slope, it is a peculiarity of the Rutland Highway Code that the landowner has right of way at any junction. Thus I am well used to driving without brakes.
On the train home I read that Ernest Shackleton’s whisky has been retrieved from Antarctica. This brings home to me that we tend to take the comfort of today’s modern living rather for granted. Just imagine what Shackleton must have suffered: forced to have ice in his whisky!
Earlier this week
I have never been one for spring conferences, reasoning that there is too much travel and not enough conference. But this year’s event was a great success and Nick Clegg was reported everywhere.
In the Guardian Michael White said: “The lucky charm that the Lib Dem leader inherited from Charles Kennedy ... is still working for Clegg as the long-awaited Westminster grand prix starts. Team Labour has serious engine trouble, the Tory alternative has blown two tyres in pole position.”
The New Statesman said: “Nick Clegg will be encouraged by the rise in support for the Lib Dems following the party's spring conference ... Many pollsters predict that Clegg's presence at the first televised leaders' debate could lead to a surge in support for the Lib Dems as the election campaign progresses.”
And the Independent was particularly complimentary: “Mr Clegg has kept his head and is showing a new confidence and clarity at just the right time.”
It was a big contrast my own finest political hour. At a spring conference in Scarborough years ago I spent an hour with Paddy Ashdown’s head of office polishing the leader’s speech. My pride was slightly deflated when I learnt there were only two journalists present to hear it.
Another point in favour of this conference is that it brought together the collective wisdom of the party. That is not a concept you will hear celebrated by the national press, but the motion on the Digital Economy Bill passed at Birmingham was much better thought out than the amendment recently piloted by two of our most celebrated peers.
And it also brings the Liberal Democrat family together. There are periodic rumblings from Cowley Street about the stalls run by internal party organisations. They don’t pay enough. They don’t look professional. They are not Serious About Power.
As this line was recently echoed by the semi-official blog Lib Dem Voice, it is worth restating the importance of these organisations. So much of our policy these days is bought in from outside pressure groups that we must be do all we can to foster debate within the party.
If it goes on like this I shall be forced to admit that spring conferences are a good way of doing this.
Born in Peckham in 1955, Whelan would above all be obedient and loyal to Brown's cause. "Able but very lazy," was his headmaster's conclusion after the young Whelan failed one examination. In the hope of solving the problem, his parents sent him to a fee-paying boarding school in Surrey. He secured an unimpressive degree in politics at the City of London Polytechnic.
When he started his first job as a foreign exchange dealer in the City, he spoke in a home counties accent. One year later, employed as a researcher by the AEUW, he spoke like a Cockney.
Tom Bower Gordon Brown (2004)
My understanding is that Whelan's school, Ottershaw School, was in fact a council-run boarding school and not a private, fee-paying one, but it is interesting that we can add him to the long list of present-day comedians and Labour politicians who are just too mockney to be true.
The whole work can now be found on Google Books, which allows me to post this rather vain graphic...
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Manchester Guardian arrives, and what does its front page tell me that Labour’s policy will be at the general election? “A Future Fair for all,” that’s what!
I spend the day at my solicitor’s arranging to sue Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and any other socialist I can lay my hands on. I shall go for Habeas Corpus, Non Compos Mentis and quite possibly a touch of De Heretico Comburendo too.
Earlier this week
The same phenomenon could be seen in the Commons yesterday, where Nick Clegg was mercilessly barracked by both sides. So what did Liberal Democrat MPs do when an SNP member got up to ask a question? Did they listen to him in respectful silence to demonstrate our support for a plural, less partisan style of politics?
Did they bunnies!
As soon as Angus Robertson stood up the Lib Dem benches began a loud murmur of "Sean Connery, Sean Connery" - the point being that Connery is a major benefactor of the SNP but appears to have become something of a tax exile.
It was childish, which is par for the course in the Commons. Worse than that, it suggests we are no better than the other parties when given the chance to be the bullies.
As ever Charles Dickens was there first.
When Oliver Twist is apprenticed to Mr Sowerberry the undertaker he is put under the charge of Noah Claypole:
Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan. No chance-child was he, for he could trace his genealogy all the way back to his parents, who lived hard by; his mother being a washerwoman, and his father a drunken soldier, discharged with a wooden leg, and a diurnal pension of twopence-halfpenny and an unstateable fraction.Yesterday the Liberal Democrat MPs were playing Noah Claypole to the SNP's Oliver Twist.
The shop-boys in the neighbourhood had long been in the habit of branding Noah in the public streets, with the ignominious epithets of "leathers," "charity," and the like; and Noah had borne them without reply.
But, now that fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, at whom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him with interest. This affords charming food for contemplation.
Perhaps it was understandable, but as Dickens goes on to observe:
It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy.
No doubt the Shropshire Star will have all the juicy details tomorrow.
The Court heard that Mr Lucas purchased cheese manufactured and vacuum-packed by a North Wales creamery for general distribution. He then stored it in its packaging for a short time in a cellar in his shop before re-branding it as Bridgnorth Cave-Aged Cheddar.
The cheese was sold with a range of misleading descriptions, such as “18 months old vintage cheddar matured in the ancient caves of Bridgnorth”, and “made exclusively for us in North Shropshire”, which the court heard were likely to deceive consumers.
Mr Lucas was fined £1350 and ordered to pay prosecution costs.
I think I can win against Nick Clegg. Obviously it is going to be a tough fight. But it is one I am sure that if I work hard at, then I am fairly sure I can win.Note to my Southern readers with their caviar sandwiches: Sheffield Hallam is not some Northern waste of whippets and unmarried mothers. It was until 1997 a safe Tory seat and is often reported as having more graduates among its voters than any seat outside South-West London. As it consists of pleasant suburbs and has the Derbyshire hills on its doorstep, you can see why.
Sprits run high at today’s Future Fair – an event I have organised for many years now to interest the young people of Rutland in science and technology.
This time I have arranged a varied programme: Alan Beith gives a talk on Bakelite; the principles of robotics are demonstrated by Sandra Gidley (wrapped from head to foot in silver baking foil for the purpose); and there is a display of chemical reactions by a fellow with wild hair and a white coat from the University of Rutland at Belvoir. (I should like to thank the men of Uppingham Fire Brigade for their prompt response.)
Later this afternoon, as I walk my spaniels and look out on the oil wells on Rutland Water, I can only congratulate myself on my foresight in acting as the patron of this worthwhile event.
Earlier this week
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
- Mark Reckons he has launched a new channel called Lib Dem TV.
- But with all due respect to Mark and to our new campaign song, the Liberal Democrat story of the day (and our photograph) comes from Bridget Fox. She remembers a loved cat who has just died: "Percy would sit on top of the big old TV, often draping one paw elegantly over the screen. He would play with the landline phone cable, change TV channels by wrestling with the remote, and would also regularly climb onto one of our laptops – sometimes with unintended consequences, like the time he managed to reset my screen at right angles."
- Elsewhere in North London, notes Richard Osley, an Ed Fordham billboard has already gone up. Interesting that it carries an endorsement from Vince Cable rather than Nick Clegg.
- Back in the blogosphere, David T of Harry's Place has "received a letter before action from George Galloway’s henchman, Kevin Ovenden, claiming £50,000".
- While Zelo Street is amused that Donal Blaney offers himself as an expert on bullying.
- The latest post on Tony's Musings will be of interest to anyone who has followed recent events on Jersey.
Now the Daily Telegraph, at the bottom of a story about Patrick Moore hanging up his telescope, reports that the project has been abandoned.
To Westminster: whom should I come across but Sarah Teather? She is considering which measure to promote should she secure a favoured place in the next ballot for private members’ bills.
“I am thinking of taking up the problem of people slipping on carelessly discarded banana skins,” she tells me. “I think we should give local authorities a duty to pick them up.” “What, the people?” I ask with (I like to think) a twinkle. “No,” she replies, “not the people but the banana skins.” “What about people who are hit in the face with custard pies?” I return. “Yes, that is a problem too,” she says. “I am planning to call for the introduction of ASCRBOs – Anti-Social Custard-Related Behaviour Orders.”
I am about to say that I know of more than one restaurant that should be served with one of these – not enough custard with one’s pudding, do you see? – when a civil servant bursts out of a hitherto overlooked wardrobe in the room. As he rushes to the door his trousers fall down, revealing a splendid pair of polka-dot boxer shorts. I double up with laughter, but the delightful Sarah says: “Isn’t it terrible that there are people without trousers in Britain in the twenty-first century?”
Earlier this week
- Monday: Living with Mark Oaten
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
- George Kiloh is not a name I have come across before, but Birkdale Focus tells us all about him and the Liberal History Group's fringe meeting on the Young Liberal "Red Guard" of the 1960s.
- Has Obama's presidency reached a turning point? Writing on Huffington Post, Robert Kuttner thinks so: "when the other party is out to destroy you, the search for common ground is a fool's errand."
- Bignews Margate catches Bob Geldof "going off on one" over BBC coverage of allegations that some of the money raised by LiveAid may have gone astray when it reached Africa.
- The best traditions of the Britblog Roundup are maintained by Redemption Blues.
- It is hard to tell, because the article is not well written, but Liberal Conspiracy appears to have come out in favour of the government's scheme for compulsory national identity cards. I am proud to say that I was sceptical of that blog's intentions from the start.
- Unman-Wittering Blog reminds us of the sheer awfulness of the charts in the middle of the 1970s by way of an analysis of Paul Nicholas's "Reggae Like It Used To Be".