31 December 2011

Living on words review of the year

It's Hogmanay, so it's time to look back on 2011. So in the tradition of all good topical TV and radio programmes (and cos it's cheap and requires little creative input), here's my review of 2011.

In January I had lunch with Cicero and we discussed Estonia's flat tax and what it might mean if introduced in the UK. The post recieved more comments than any other during the year.

In February some misguided Lib Dems decided to work with Labour - here was my response

In March I suggested an alternative to Lembit Opik as Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor - only to be rebuffed two weeks later.

April saw the death of one of the country's finest footballers of the 40s and 50s - Eddie Turnbull - remembered here and also by the BBC on the oxymoronic Sports Personality of the Year.

There was a glimmer of hope for British liberalism in May - despite the Lib Dem rout at the local elections and the catastrophic failure of the AV campaign. In Brockworth, Glos, the cheese rollers went ahead with their annual festival despite the attentions of the local constabulary.

In June it was no surprise that the MP who had issued a superinjunction was litigious chip off the old block - Zac Goldsmith.

July saw reactionary blogger, Guido Fawkes, lose what little credibility as a serious political player evaporate as he promoted a pro-hanging petition.

In August Edinburgh's tram project was on, then it was off and then it was on again.

September saw the party conference season and my advice to Nick Clegg was, needless to say, not taken up.

In October the Libyan uprising reached its grisly conclusion, despite some high profile support for the ex-dictator.

As the campaign for the Coombe Vale by-election hotted up in November, this blog wondered whether Zac Goldsmith would make good his promises to the Electoral Commission to reuse items he'd failed to declare the full cost for at the general election.

In December Ed Miliband received a verbal dagger, that would have made him wonder who his friends were.

Happy New Year and see you all again in 2012.

30 December 2011

Friday favourite 39

Well as it's nearly new year - I suppose there was only one choice. Here's a young (and somewhat podgy) Bono and U2 at a distinctly unfestive live performance in California from May 1983.

28 December 2011

The theory and practice of community politics revisited

David Cameron's 'Big Society' is an oft used phrase, but its meaning and policy effects remain vague - wrapped up with localism and a rolling back of the central state. Last December Nick Clegg even suggested it was the same as community politics.

Clegg is wrong about community politics - and I suspect his understanding of it is purely through its status within party circles - much like the vague understanding that Keynes or Beveridge were liberals. If he did know any of its detail he wouldn't have compared community politics to the Big Society and would have heeded its Hitchhiker's Guide like warning that 'Community Politics is not a technique for the winning of Loca1 government elections'

It prompted me to revisit the 1980 booklet 'The Theory and Practice of Community Politics' by Greaves (the other one) and Lishman. It stands up remarkably well with one of the key sections stating:

It involves working simultaneously within and outside the established political system. The fusion of the two approaches creates a strategy distinctively, new and different when allied to the ideas of community politics.

We work through the established political structures not to win and exercise power but to remodel that structure itself; to create a new generation of political institutions corresponding to the reality of the pattern of communities that exist within society; to break down the centralised power structure of our society so that no single person or group possesses disproportionate power and all people and groups share the responsibility for controlling their own affairs.

To subvert and destroy the political establishment in such a radical way requires a powerful political movement based outside the political system. We work outside the political system, not to create confrontation or to foment revolution. It is indeed a more radical process than revolution.

The aim, by promoting joint community action directly in society, is to create the very structures of community organisation which we wish to see emerge as the new political structure. We mobilise people to take control of their own affairs, to take power and to use it.

I'd say that sounds like a relevant strategy for rebuilding the party in and outside of the coalition today.

23 December 2011

Friday favourite 38

It's Christmas, so to get you into the spirit of all things yule, here's Tom Lehrer with A Christmas Carol from 1959:

22 December 2011

Remembering David Penhaligon

Twenty five years ago today David Penhaligon was killed on his way to visit Truro postmen before they set off to deliver the Christmas mail.

His untimely death robbed the party of one of its great communicators and almost certainly a future leader. David's great skill was to to be able to argue often complex points in a down to earth way while engaging the viewer or listener with his lyrical Cornish tones. And as a result he was often underestimated by opponents and media alike.

Finding footage of him is remarkably difficult - but here is a clip from the ITN archive of his declaration in October 1974 - his was the only Liberal gain of that election.

21 December 2011

Solar subsidy ruling rap for Huhne

The DECC should have known better when it announced a halving of the subsidy for domestic solar panels, while still consulting on the change.

It's a pretty basic rule of public consultation (as well as common sense), not to pre-empt its the outcome by implementing a decision while still asking for the public's views. The Judicial Review could only have one possible outcome as a result of the actions of the department.

In a way this result is reflective of the way Chris Huhne operates - take the big decisions, drive through a clear media line - even if it means hectoring your opponents, stay on message until people get bored. But Chris has a vein of arrogance and hubris running through him and someone with a subtler attitude and more finely tuned ear would have clearly seen the foolishnes of going ahead with the change to the subsidy so quickly.

19 December 2011

So farewell then Kim Jong Il...

The murderous socialist psychopath that was Kim Jong Il has died and there won't be many (real) tears shed for the man responsible for the death of millions while amassing several fortunes on the back of famine and oppression.

So by way of celebration and in hope his son is less evil here is Kim Jong Il as portrayed in the wonderful Team America.

Kim Jung Il was reportedly a fan of western movies - I wonder if he ever saw it?

By contrast Cicero has a moving tribute to Vaclav Havel - who deserves remembering for all the right reasons. I heartily recommend it.

18 December 2011

Northern whippet airport escape story of the day...

The report on the beeb says the following:

"The racing pedigree dog stole away during a walk and slipped past a manned access point into a cargo area.

Gary Brown, the airport's duty manager, told the Manchester Evening News: "It took some time to catch it."

One would have hoped so.

16 December 2011

13,500 Olympic troops - not needed

Two pieces of related news reach L.o.w.a towers. One - that the public purse is to stump up another £270 million to feed the insatiable apetite of the security industry (and its private 'consultants') and - two - more than 13,000 military personnel and equipment are to be deployed to 'protect the Olympics' at unknown cost.

The idea that people will be safer with a load of squaddies in Trafalgar Square or a naval launch in the River Lea is the sort of vain Bush/Blairite willy waving power show that promotes the country at its worst not its best. It is good intelligence, information and undercover operations that deal with the sort of terrorism directed at the west by non-state players. But that's neither glamourous or headline grabbing.

If Lib Dem ministers had any say on this decision (and I suspect they did not) I'd have hoped they would have pointed out two things. One - in times of austerity the country should not be stumping a single further penny for the Olympics when the IOC - one of the richest (and corrupt) organisations in the world - could easily pay for any security measures or ceremonies they see fit. And - two - a western liberal democracy does not routinely deploy armed troops on its streets regardless of what foreign jamboree is taking place on its shores at any time.

Has the Apprentice's Nick Hewer ended Ed Mili's career?

In a quip on tonight's 'Have I Got News For You', the Apprentice's Nick Hewer claimed he'd met Ed Miliband. He described him as, 'Tall, arrogant, weak handshake'.

When a British institution describes you thus, it can only be a matter of time...

Friday favourite 37

This was always a favourite on Thursday night cheap drink nights in the Neil Lounge at Aberdeen University Students' Union when I was an undergraduate. And it has aged well (unlike my good self).

Tories hold Coombe Vale with increased majority

In an election they really should have lost, the Tories have held both their seats in Coombe Vale with much increased majorities.

Con 1340 & 1308
Lib Dem 908 & 778
Lab 526 & 502
Green 122 & 108
CPA 94 & 76

This breaks a 24 year duck for Kingston Conservatives who have failed to win any by-election in Kingston Borough since 1987. Hopefully it will shake the complacency of the local Lib Dems - particularly among the now long in the tooth council group whose presence on the doorstep in this and previous elections has apparently been somewhat intermittent.

15 December 2011

Coombe Vale voters go to the polls

It's polling day in the other London by-election that will get no media coverage regardless of the result. With the media trained on Feltham and Heston - a seat Labour won comfortably in one of their worst years, with a scandal ridden candidate - the only question can be the scale of their majority.

Coombe Vale should be far more interesting, a by-election caused by the resignation of an absentee Tory councillor who was working in the states while claiming thousands in local taxpayers' money and the swift resignation of his colleague a few days later. A double vacancy in a marginal ward in a marginal constituency.

It was an opportunity - apparently so far unfulfilled - for MP Zac Goldsmith to make good his implied commitment to the Electoral Commission about reuse of general election campaign material that his agent claimed could be used for other elections.

All in all about as interesting set of circumstances you could imagine. So good luck to Lib Dem candidates Kamala Kugan and Rupert Nichol. The result should be known this side of midnight, given the expected low turnout.

12 December 2011

Putin gained just 10% support from UK Russian exiles

The fall out from last week's (note the apostrophe Nick) fixed elections in Russia continues with the announcement that another oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov, is to challenge Putin for President next March.

But in trying to find out more about him I stumbled across this article that gives a breakdown of votes cast in the Duma election from Russian exiles. In it is revealed that Yabloko - the Russian Liberals - received 41% from UK based voters with Putin's discredited United Russia receiving just 10.6%.

Good show I say.

Clegg's isolation bad for the coalition

One too often wonders if there is any strategy guiding Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem leadership. Today ought to have provided an opportunity for Clegg and the Lib Dems to show that the coalition is simply a business relationship and the two parties involved are not joined at the hip.

Backing Cameron's actions on the Friday was bad enough and appearing to say the complete opposite over the weekend - while nuanced - was always going to be presented as a flip flop. And the tabloid press were always going to jump at the chance - see today's Sun for example.

Clegg should have sat next to Cameron - laughed off the inevitable jibes that would have headed his way - and in the unlikely event he was allowed to make an intervention used the opportunity to explain why he disagreed with the PM and the Euro-loony tunes behind him. But also made it clear that disagreement was healthy and the in the nature of a coalition between two different parties. Instead he comes across as weak, two faced and out of the inner circle of decision making. Which I suppose is where the Tory press want him.

9 December 2011

Friday favourite 36

Thanks to Caron Lindsay I came across this wonderful video. Here are The Sensational Alex Salmond Gastric Band with a topical ditty about the recent Scottish storm - which is now known colloquially as 'Hurrican Bawbag'.

And if anyone doesn't know what a 'bawbag' is - they can always find out (if they dare) here.

Forth Bridge finally painted...

...but what do we do now for the metaphor?

Hibs training session succumbs to Scottish storm

At one point this afternoon this clip was the second most watched video on the Beeb website. The unanswered question is has the player trying to catch up with the ball stopped running yet?

8 December 2011

Conservative eurosceptics should be careful what they wish for

Conservative eurosceptics are arguing that any new Euro treaty that leads to a closer economic union for the Eurozone should be vetoed by the British PM if it doesn't include unspecified protection for the City of London. Or if there is no veto it should be subject to a referendum - with the clear assumption that the UK electorate would reject any treaty.

Boris Johnson, who should know better, told the Beeb, the UK should oppose any change which created a "very dominant economic government" across Europe.

"If Britain was asked to sign up to such a thing within the 27 (all the members of the EU), it would be right to veto it and if we felt unable to veto it, I certainly think that it should be put to a referendum,"

In common parlance this is called cutting off your nose to spite your face. Vetoing a Eurozone bailout would be an act of extreme foolishness. The economic consequences for the UK and, yes, the City of London of a Eurozone collapse would be devastating.

With the European economies - whether they use the Euro or not - tetering on the brink those that are opposed to all things European would appear to prefer economic meltdown than to agree a sensible package of emergency measures which may help to alleviate the current crisis. Failure to agree a deal not only brings down the Eurozone it also destroys the large chunk of the UK economy that does its business with the zone.

6 December 2011

When Socrates scored for Greece...

With the death of Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Sousa Vieira de Oliveira - better known as just Socrates - the football world has lost one of the finest footballers of the last 30 years and the captain of the fine Brazil team that everyone thought would win the 1982 world cup but didn't.

I don't know whether Socrates was a fan of Monty Python - but as Liberal England reports he wasn't averse to turning out for teams at the less serious end of the game.

And here is the Python sketch where the Greek philosophers take on the Germans and win 1-0 and guess who scores?

Benn v McLennan

Just finished watching a superb documentary on ITV about the Nigel Benn v Gerald McLennan world title fight in February 1995.

It was a brutal fight that left both boxers in hospital and McLennan fighting for his life with permanently disabling brain damage. The focus wasn't just on the fight, but on the rivalry and consequences for both boxers' lives. Benn and the McLennan family carried on the feud for 12 years before Benn (now a born again Christian) organised a fundraiser for McLennan - raising £200,000 for the bills for his contining care.

It's just a shame that ITV couldn't make space for it on ITV player in among the soaps, celebrities and Jeremy Kyle - but this article from a few years ago from the Observer Sports Monthly gives a comprehensive account of the characters and consequences of that brutal night.

2 December 2011

1 December 2011

Coombe Vale Conservatives - an apology...

In a post I wrote last month I published a figure that an absent Conservative councillor in Coombe Vale ward in Kingston had claimed in expenses while working in the USA and not attending any meetings.

Sadly, I appear to have been misinformed about the amount claimed and feel duty bound to publish the correct figure, as confirmed by the council.

Former Conservative councillor Robert-John Tasker claimed £4,440.04 from the public purse between July and October 2011 - not the £2,500 I orginally claimed.

30 November 2011

One year on...

I first posted on this blog one year ago today. It was in the middle of the storm over tuition fees and I was bombastic enough to think giving advice to Vince Cable was a good idea.

The post had just nine page views - mainly my own trying to work out formatting and other things.

Well since then I've written a further 267 posts (including this one) and the blog has had more than 26,000 page views - and I'm pretty sure they can't all be my own.

29 November 2011

Time for a parents' strike?

With most schools closed tomorrow many millions of parents will not be able to go to work. While an extra day at home with the little darlings will be welcomed by many, those with jobs without the long term security of the public sector or the guaranteed publicly subsidised pensions (whether gold plated or not), or those self employed will be the big losers with another productive day wiped out by the selfish actions of the public sector unions.

The unions argue that their members are paying the price for bailing out the banks - which is simply untrue. Around half the deficit was caused by propping up the banks - the other the other half (the structural deficit) was spent by Brown, Balls and co on things like NHS computers that didn’t work, management consultants, ID cards, providing handouts to their client voters condemning them to dependency and the poverty trap and helping to crowd out entrepreneurialism.

So given the huge public sector spending splurge of the previous government - unfunded by current taxation - retrenchment was always going to be painful for the public sector - just as the crash of 2008-10 was very painful for the private sector.

The leadership of the public sector unions serve their members badly by calling these selfish, politically motivated strikes. As a result they will make things worse rather than better for their members in the long term.

The good will of parents (and no doubt other hit by these strikes) is running out - if teachers persist in disrupting children's education - parents who provide a huge financial and other commitment to the smooth running of most schools may start to feel less inclined to support teachers in their jobs.

At my childrens' schools parents are happy to volunteer in class rooms, talk to children about their experiences help with school trips and generally make life easier for pupils and teachers alike. The Parent School Association raises thousands of pounds each year for things like playground equipment, sports equipment, classroom pets and equipment, visits to school by authors, artists and musicians etc. Yes it provides a more interesting and diverse curriculum for the kids - it also makes the job of teaching them more rewarding.

So if this latest round of industrial foolishness causes fewer parents to participate in their schools (even if it is just to make up the pay lost through taking leave to cover the strike) teachers will lose out too.

So it's time for the trots at the top of the teaching unions to accept the inevitable, stop their undergraduate posturing and agree a deal that protects their members as best they can in harsh economic conditions and encourages a more benign view of the profession from parents (well from this one at least).

Glum councillors website is back

The Glum councillors website which features Britain's councillors and campaigners pointing at things and looking down hearted has recently started posting new material after going a bit quiet over the summer.

However one can't help noticing just how scruffy the councillors are in the more recent postings - surely the UK's elected representatives should take a bit of pride in being glum?

25 November 2011

Friday favourite 34

Returning to Old Reekie's finest punk band - the Rezillos. Here they are performing on the Peter Cook inspired Revolver ITV show from 1978. According to Wikipedia only 8 shows were ever made and the show was first moved to a graveyard slot and then dropped because of its then controversial focus on punk. Enjoy.

Fenton makes Hollywood blockbuster...

The internet sensation that is badly behaved labrador Fenton/Benton has spawned a number of spin-offs. This one is one of the best...

24 November 2011

Worst football team ends 20 year losing streak...

American Samoa have finally won a game of football - defeating Tonga 2-1. The Beeb has the report.

American Samoa hold the record for the biggest ever international defeat 31-0 to the not exactly great (in football terms) Australia. That's only 5 short of the most one sided match in history 36-0 Arbroath v Bon-Accord - an Aberdeen cricket team in the Scottish cup of 1885. On the same day another Aberdeen team went down 35-0 to Dundee Harp - in probably the worst day for Aberdeen football.

22 November 2011

Will Coombe Vale see Zac's jackets and scooters reappear?

Coombe Vale is the first electoral contest in the Richmond Park constituency since the general election when Zac Goldsmith narrowly defeated Lib Dem Susan Kramer.

Goldsmith immediately got into to trouble over his election expenses, with an official Electoral Commission investigation concluding:

"...we consider that the way in which some election costs were apportioned between Mr Goldsmith's Parliamentary campaign and the concurrent local government election campaign was not consistent with the Commission's guidance or good practice. Had the costs been apportioned in a way more consistent with our guidance, Mr Goldsmith would have exceeded the spending limit..."

The Commission estimated that Goldsmith overspent by nearly £1,000 in the so called 'short campaign' - the period from the dissolution of Parliament to polling day. However as they they felt it was due to incompetence rather than intent and it wasn't suffciently serious they somewhat bizarrely did not refer his case to the police for prosecution.

In their investigation the Commission somewhat controversially excluded two high profile campaign accessories - a large number of bright blue jackets emblazoned with 'I back Zac' and four electric delivery scooters. Their rationale was that these had been purchased by the Conservative association, with the jackets having removable stickers and the scooters being hired by the campaign on a daily basis. The report can be found here.

Zac's jackets and scooters on display outside his then HQ. Photo by Kingston Guardian.

So, given Richmond Park Conservative Association has invested several thousand pounds in these jackets and scooters, one can assume they will play a prominent part in the Coombe Vale by-election. We'll see...

21 November 2011

Charting the rise and fall of Nick Clegg...

An interesting academic take on recent history of Nick Clegg has been published by the LSE.

However I disagree with their fundamental point that Clegg appears to some sort of a victim of events outwith his control and a focus on personalities rather than policy. Clegg's fall (which has brought the Lib Dems down with him) are almost entirely of his own making and failure to communicate Liberal values and Lib Dem priorities in the first six to nine months of the coalition.

The widely held view that Clegg is some sort of lapdog to Cameron is entirely down to the strategy of 'owning the coalition' in the interest of economic stability in the early months of the coalition and the failure to communicate any sort of position over student support. That ground hasn't been made up - in fact the party's position has slipped - since a more argumentative position has been adopted by the party. The public rightly view this as a contrived reaction to the near wipeout the party faced at the polls last May.

But Clegg can turn his ratings (and therefore the party's) around. Earlier this year I carried out some focus group market research for the party in the north of England. The participants were clear that almost all the good will shown to Clegg in the 2010 election had now gone. He wasn’t seen to add anything distinctive to an essentially Conservative government.

But what these voters needed from Clegg and the party was a few clear messages about what the Lib Dems have and will achieve in government – along the lines of the £10,000 tax threshold. They would rather see Liberal Democrat ministers talking about what they are trying to achieve in government rather than justifying essentially Conservative spending cuts.

18 November 2011

Friday favourite 33

Tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of the release in the UK of the Rutles seminal 'Tragical History Tour' album - even though it had been released in the US nine years earlier. It marked the start of the band's decline, following the departure of their long time manager and confidant Leggy Mountbatten who had tragically accepted a teaching post in Australia. It was rightly panned by the critics and the official Rutles site describes the concept as 'not the stongest idea for a Rutles film, four Oxford History Professors on a walking tour of English Tea Shops'.

Just over two years later irreconcilable differences saw the band who had inspired both the Beatles and the Stones split for good.

But here they are at their pomp at the Che Stadium in New York in 1965:

Assad faces end game

With Syria facing increasing isolation from its Arab neighbours, as well as the international community and now increasing opposition domestically - President Bashar al-Assad's days are surely numbered. The only question being how much of a bloodbath is he prepared to unleash on his own people in delaying the inevitable?

Like Gaddafi - Assad has benefitted for too long from tacit and explicit support from democratic leaders and their advisers whose belief in 'strongmen' to hold the middle East together has been proved an abject failure in terms of delivering more democracy, freedom or peace.

17 November 2011

Hearts face end game

Scottish Premier League football club Hearts face a fight for their existence as owner Vladimir Romanov vows to put the club - along with two other East European teams - up for sale. With the club mired in more than £30 million debt and the players failing to be paid on time for the second month in a row it is clear major cash flow problems exist in the Romanov empire.

The prospects of a quick sale look remote and with Romanov desperate to maximuise whatever return he can on his investment Hearts fans ought to be very concerned for the very existence of their club. The only asset the club can point to is the ground - which even in these economically difficult times is still worth several million and its sale would allow Romanov to cut his losses.

But the most bizarre thing about the announcement is Romanov's statement that he wishes to leave football and go into the theatre. And it's all at the start of the pantomime season...

15 November 2011

Wentworth Court residents should welcome Phylis Dixie plaque

The beeb reports that residents of Wentworth Court, St Mark's Hill, Surbiton are objecting to English Heritage's plan to award the building a blue plaque. The reason? Because it is in recognition of the woman who introduced striptease to the UK - Phylis Dixie - who lived there in the 1930s.

Now I have some local knowledge of St Mark's Hill and it is famous for being the road that gets you to Surbiton Station quickly. Now Surbiton Station is not without its architectural merits:

Wentworth Court however is not:

But that is not the issue. Dixie deserves a blue plaque - she is as iconic in the history of British smut as Sid James or Barbara Windsor. Both of whom - no doubt - residents of Wentworth Court would badger their local MP, Edward Davey, to recognise.

The sad fact is that Phylis Dixie's career post the second world war slumped and she died in penuary aged just 50 from cancer. But she did get to star in one movie - opposite Herbert Lom - this rather good blog tells more.

12 November 2011

The crassness of Clegg's nursery launch

Tonight's London Evening Standard reports what should be unalloyed good news that toddlers from poor backgrounds will be guaranteed a nursery place. And it's thanks to the Lib Dems that it is happening at all.

So why ruin it with this utterly crass statement 'that free education for toddlers from the most disadvantaged homes will now be a right and not a privilege.'

It's student union posturing at its worst (and wrong - toddlers are not educated - they play) - and if this is a result of the sort of outputs of Clegg's strengthened team of seven new tax payer funded advisors, then he (and us) are wasting our money.

11 November 2011

Friday favourite 32

It's the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year...

Are Coombe Vale Conservatives treating voters?

A suspiciously shiny website promoting the virtues of the Conservatives in the Coombe Vale area has come to my attention. From what I can gather it was launched on Wednesday. The news section for example has no news of the reasons for the resignations of two thirds of the councillors for the ward, but you can adopt a tree instead - if it makes you feel better.

Most interestingly the local Conservatives - according to their twitter feed - appear to be bribing voters with coffee and cake - known in the archaic jargon of elections as 'treating'. Treating is an offence under the Representation of the People Act 1983 which carries a punishment of six months’ imprisonment, or a £5,000 fine or both.

Is this a record for the fastest ever commiting of an election offence?

8 November 2011

The curious case of the Coombe Vale by-election...

Last week Coombe Vale Ward in Kingston Borough had three Conservative councillors. Then one was exposed by the local paper - the wonderfully named Surrey Comet - for working full time in the USA and not attending any council meetings since 14th July. Yet Cllr Tasker still found time to claim £2,500 allowances from the taxpayer.

But instead of taking action - the Tories backed errant councillor Tasker explaining 'he had been carrying out constituency work while he was away, via email and telephone.' That was 8am on Friday 28th October.

By 5.11pm on Tuesday 1st November the paper reported he'd resigned.

Their report said a Conservative spokesman refused to confirm the resignation of Counc Tasker, but the councillor’s photograph and contact details have now been removed from the council website.

Well that seemed to be that then - a botched resignation for a politician whose position had become untenable.

However that wasn't that and on Monday afternoon a second Conservative councillor - James Whyte - in the same ward mysteriously resigned.

There will now be a double by-election for their replacements on 15th December. That is assuming there are no more resignations in the next few days. And one can only sympathise with Coombe Vale voters who may just wonder what exactly is going on behind the scenes in Kingston Conservatives that have lead to this bizarre turn of events.

7 November 2011

38 Degrees in vote rigging scandal?

This post and comments from George Potter's blog claims the people behind 38 degrees are manipulating their web voting system to get the results they want.

I'm not surprised if this is true - any organisation set up on the basis of populism - from whatever strand of the political spectrum - is always going to face the dilemma of what happens when you're out populist by others.

In issues like these I'm always reminded of Gaitskell's put down of Nye Bevin - 'Nye that's not a policy it's an emotional spasm'.

4 November 2011

Friday favourite 31

I was going to post something about bonfire night, but couldn't find anything on YouTube that didn't involve the overrated Katy Perry. So in memory of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the House of Commons 306 years ago tomorrow - here's Talking Heads with Burning Down the House...

Where now for the Scottish Tories?

The news that David Cameron's candidate has won the Leadership of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party could prove a watershed for the party and Scottish politics.

For the best part of a quarter of century the Tories have been considered toxic in Scotland - and part of the Lib Dems current struggle north of the border is simply our association with them in coalition at Westminster - a body increasingly marginal to the lives of most Scots.

Over the years the Tories have tried almost everything to re-establish themselves - more right wing policies, less right wing policies, blank sheets of paper and open policy making, supporting Alex Salmond and the SNP, opposing Alex Salmond and the SNP and none of it has worked.

Ruth Davidson represents more of this same headless chickenry - running around hoping that they randomly stumble across a game changer. Murdo Fraser at least recognised that a strategic rethink was required - even if he didn't communicate how a new Scottish right of centre party that took the Westminster Tory whip would (and could) be considered any different from the current arrangement.

But from what I hear his defeat has left those who want to try a radically different strategy disillusioned and with little hope of ever winning the argument in the confines of the current Scottish Tory straightjacket.

Cicero - who I had a pleasant, albeit brief lunch with earlier this week, in an interesting post, reckons this could be the end of the once great Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Whatever the outcome - politics north of the border is set to get even more interesting.

Now Lithuanian claims for bail out at G20 in Cannes

News just in from Hibs.net that Hearts owner - Lithuanian national Vladimir Romanov has been spotted asking for a handout at Cannes. Yesterday Hearts were forced to pay half a million tax (on the threat of being wound up by the Revenue), told their highest paid players to look for new jobs and still failed to pay the first team. Ukio Bank (also owned by Romanov) was marked down by the markets as a result of its Greek exposure.

3 November 2011

Did Dave Prentis really admit this?

The Evening Standard this afternoon carried a quote in its print edition from UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, that 'we had worked hard to get our members to vote yes to strike action'. But sadly I cannot find it online.

Assuming I remembered it correctly this is a revealing admission. It shows the current trade union leadership is not interested in properly representing their members - instead they want to pursue a political vendetta against the government. Prentis and his well paid (and well pensioned) cronies among trade union leaders are very keen to repeat the mantra of 'ideologically driven' cuts. But it is clear there's only one side in this dispute being ideological - and that is the trade unions.

The sad thing is that ordinary trade union members are being appallingly badly served by their leaders ideological and political posturing.

1 November 2011

Economically illiterate, politically naive and fundamentally irrresponsible...

...that's my view of the 10 Liberal Democrats who put their name to a Guardian letter supporting the frankly bonkers Compass think tank's 'plan B'.

The plan is crazy - calling for a UK tobin tax on banking transactions. It also calls for rises in benefits to help those on 'low and middle incomes' and additional quantitative easing (presumably on top of that just announced by the Bank of England). And finally for an end to all public spending cuts and job losses. And the report is unspecific about how much this would cost - but presumably it would be a lot more than the additional tax revenues (if any) so created.

Liberals shouldn't be arguing for a welfare state so bloated it encompasses those on middle incomes - nor for a tax that without coordinated international action is guaranteed to send the finance sector offshore.

And as for the idea that the public sector has contracted over the past year - today's growth figures reveal the government and other services sector grew by 0.5% in Q3 of 2011. Full details can be found here. In fact over the next four years government spending is set to rise by £40bn.

And by going public in the way they have the 10 Lib Dems have allowed themselves to become Labour's patsies and have given the media the opportunity to embarrass the party and create division where none exist. Some of the 10 ought to know better whereas Linda Jack and Richard Grayson have form.

The irony is that the 10 are some of those who have argued for a looser 'supply and confidence' arrangement instead of full blown coalition with the Conservatives. Under these circumstances the party would have been expected to support a Tory only budget - rather than one with strong Lib Dem strands running through it.

30 October 2011

When Labour argued for constituency equalisation

ITN have recently released a load of news broadcasts on their website - including political and election coverage. Here is Michael Foot's Labour arguing for the equalisation of constituency electorates in the 1983 review.

This of course was completely principled and had nothing to do with party advantage at the time, just as their arguing of the complete opposite is now.

28 October 2011

Friday favourite 30

Returning to Scotland this week and another Edinburgh band - Finitribe. I'm not a huge fan of this style of music - but I was at school with Philip Pinsky - the one in this video who does most of the running.

I think they were most famous for writing the theme tune for the ITV chart show in the early 90s.

This video is graced on YouTube by the classic comment 'I always thought these guys were from Belgium but it turns out they were Scottish. Oh well, same difference.'

Is the Lib Dem Federal Exec police commissioner decision constitutional?

The decision by the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive - the top decision making body in the party - to actively discourage Lib Dem candidates for police commissioner next year is insane.

The apparent reason is that the party doesn't wish policing to become a political football. The same of course could be argued about schools, hospitals, the army, navy and airforce or most of local government. So why aren't they arguing that local Lib Dem parties back ‘appropriate independents’ to run these services?

The decision has rightly met with opposition from the more sensible parts of the party - including Lord Bonkers and Eaten by Missionaries. The latter of course has masterminded more election victories in difficult circumstances for posts that the party is sceptical about than most in the party - and probably the entire FE put together.

The FE is also the guarantor of the Party's constitution - which I suspect they forgot in taking their decision. Article 1 is clear:

The objectives of the Party shall be:
(a) to be the successor to the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (“the Former Parties”);
(b) to seek to achieve the objects set forth in the Preamble to this Constitution; and
(c) in order to achieve such objects, to secure the election of Liberal Democrats as Members of Parliament, UK Members of the European Parliament and members of local and other elected public authorities.

So how do they square this nonsensical decision with their own constitution that they are there to protect?

24 October 2011

Time for Lib Dems to stop playing into the SNP's hands

There's an old saying in American politics - run against things that are unpopular. And it's a lesson the Lib Dems need to learn urgently in Scotland.

As the SNP leave their annual conference to campaign for Scottish independence in a referendum at a time of their choosing and with questions of their own making - the odds are stacked in their favour.

In Alex Salmond the SNP have the most popular politician north of the border - by several furlongs. His administration governs with a sensitive and populist ear to Scots vaguely corporatist, leftist and self pitying desires. And he has the ability to turn any attack on the SNP into an attack on the Scottish nation itself.

So attacking the Salmond government seems to be about as likely to succeed as attacking the first Blair government. So why then are nine out of ten news items on the Scottish party's website attacks on this popular administration? All it does is reinforce the SNP's message that it is them against the unionist parties.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have never been a unionist party - they have always supported the self determination of the Scottish people and if that means separation so be it. It is crass stupidity to be caught on the wrong side of the independence debate when there is no benefit from it and it is not where the party has historically been.

This analysis from the wonderful named (and astute) Scottish BBC political correspondent - Glen Campbell - shows that Lib Dem ministers are actively colluding with George Osborne - one of the least attractive Tories from a Scottish perspective - to examine whether to force the SNP's hand through pre-empting Salmond's referendum. This would be a foolish move - both for the Liberal Democrats and for defenders of the union who would simply bolster Salmond and the SNP by doing so.

21 October 2011

Friday favourite 29

Two seminal UK groups announced they were reforming this week. Steps and Stone Roses. One dominated the single charts for years, had two platinum number one albums (along with a greatest hits compilation) and have seen numerous spin off bands copying their style.

The other is the Stone Roses...

Is Derren Brown campaigning for the release of Sirhan Sirhan?

I've just finished watching the first of Derren Brown's new series - 'the experiments'. In it (without trying to spoil it for anyone who didn't catch it) he used hypnosis to try to see whether people could be trained to assassinate someone without knowing it. This was the defence used by Sirhan Sirhan - who is still behind bars for Bobby Kennedy's assassination and who has lost 14 parole appeals.

You can find more about it on Derren Brown's blog...

19 October 2011

Pickles booed at local authority recycling conference

I've just returned from a work conference about waste management, rubbish and recycling. Delegates came from across local government - professional recycling officers, politicians of all parties and some of the most well known contractors in the field.

Pickles obviously wasn't there - but his image was - and it was roundly booed. His £250 million bribe to have chicken tikka massallas thrown out on a weekly basis also received short shrift. The conference was told latest research shows that 80% of those whose rubbish is taken away every fortnight don't want to return to a weekly collection, because they like the priority such arrangments give to recycling.

Given Pickles is the local government minister one has to speculate how much longer he can continue given his lack of support from local councils and councillors?

17 October 2011

Hillsborough victory for fans (and open government)

The news that all the Hillsborough papers - possibly as many as 300,000 - are to be released to the families is a victory for football fans - particularly those who support Liverpool. Their 22 year wait for the facts about the tragedy has gone on far too long.

It's a campaign that has won wide polical support from all sides - including from Nick Clegg back in August as this blog reported.

Without taking away from the long campaign of the families and the 140,000 people who signed the e-petition one wonders if a majority government - rather than the more collegiate and open style of the coalition - would have been so easy to convince that releasing the files was the right thing to do?

15 October 2011

Lady Ga Ga's gaga gagging order

My reader may not be familiar with Moshi Monsters - but if you have young children you will be. Moshi Monsters is an internet phenonenom where kids can adopt pet monsters, play games and generally indulge in the sort of scatalogical silliness that more straight laced adults disapprove of. So it isn;t really surprising it has gained 50 million members in just three years.

It's cast of characters includes Lady Goo Goo, Dr Strangeglove, Coolio (an ice cream cone obviously) and you can shop in Horrods or play the Iscream game - you get the picture. The idea that anyone would take it seriously is frankly bizarre.

So it is somewhat surprising that Lady Ga Ga - who shot to fame wearing a dress made of bacon (how very Moshi Monsters) - has successfully launched an injunction against the monsters and had Lady Goo Goo's 'Moshi Dance' banned.

This is a total abuse of her fame and fortune and entirely counterproductive. Kids are not stupid - they understand the pun and mine were certainly drawn to Lady Ga Ga as a result. Once kids know who is responsible for reducing their enjoyment I'm sure they will be less enthused by Lady Ga Ga. Today's eight year olds are tomorrow's record buyers (or downloaders).

Anyway, just in case you haven't caught Lady Goo Goo and her Moshi Dance here it is (before it is taken down):

14 October 2011

Friday favourite 28

Hank Williams is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. His songs are almost universally known about ten years after he wrote them - covered by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jonny Cash and the Carpenters.

But he died in the back of a car on the way to a gig on New Year's Day 1953 of alcohol posining. He was 29.

Here is some YouTube footage of him on the Grand Ole' Oprey (probably in the 1940s) which deserves a wider viewing.

13 October 2011

Former Kingston councillor to become MEP

Right wing Tory MEP Roger Helmer has announced he is quitting the Conservative Party and the European Parliament at the end of the year.

Liberal England
reports that his place on the list will be taken up by one Rupert Matthews - an eccentric writer and self styled expert on alien abductions.

This Rupert Matthews is the same Rupert Matthews who was a councillor in Surbiton and managed to lose his seat twice in eight years to the Liberal Democrats.

Matthews was one of the young(ish) very right wing Tories who took over the Conservatives in Kingston and Surbiton in the early 1990s. Their extreme views and ousting of the moderate old guard meant that a 15,000 Conservative majority at the 1992 election was overturned by Edward Davey in 1997 by just 56 votes - despite the seat not being targeted by the Liberal Democrats centrally. Instead of learning the lesson Matthews and his cronies persisted in picking even more right wing candidates - resulting in Davey's massacre of former Tory MP David Shaw by 15,000 votes in 2001 and Kevin Davis by nearly 10,000 votes in 2005.

In the interim they split the local Conservatives in two - resulting in Matthews's ward colleagues resigning the party and the two factions ending up in the courts over plans to sell off their Surbiton HQ and club.

Matthews is a worthy successor to Helmer and shows that the old unacceptable face of the Tory party is alive and well - but worrying about imaginary aliens rather than European ones.

Incidently Matthews prodigy Kevin Davis - who lost to Ed Davey in 2005 - went on to be soundly beaten by David Laws in 2010.

10 October 2011

The unspeakable pursuing the untenable

Dr Liam Fox's future as a front line politican hangs by a very thin thread after the initial findings of the investigation into the access he granted Adam Werrity.

It is clear that Fox broke the ministerial code and his apology doesn't make his behaviour and lack of judgement go away.

Anyone watching Newsnight (sadly not yet available on iplayer) and seeing the usually sure footed Nick Boles sinking as he tried to defend the line, must realise that Fox's time is up.

Tomorrow's newspapers also make grim reading.

If Cameron and Clegg want to run a government that tries to restore standards in public life then they need to act decisively in this matter. The longer Fox stays the worse it will be for his and the government's reputation.

8 October 2011

In praise of Fox News and Ron Paul

YouTube have launched a politics channel to cover the 2012 US presidential elections. It uses the standard Youtube ratings system of views and likes and dislikes to see who are the most popular candidates.

So far this ad has a grand total of 6 views, but deserves a much wider showing for both the integrity of Ron Paul, the honesty in which Fox News covers the issue and the embarrassment factor for President Obama.

Edit 9/10 - I've just found this link which can be embedded:

7 October 2011

Friday favourite 27

This is clearly the best cover version ever. For many years I actually thought Jagger and Richards wrote this specifically for her (as they did for the ironically named Marianne Faithful)

Thoughts on another by-election in a Royal Borough...

Norland voters in the other London Royal Borough voted to return another Conservative councillor today. I went along to help for a few hours and had a great time. The junior London Royal Borough is incredibly posh and I met my first housekeeper on the doorstep.

The Tories won - but with a massively reduced share of the vote.

Kensington and Chelsea used to be simple - it had 42 Conservative councillors and 13 Labour councillors. For ever.

They even taught Labour Sunderland how to count the votes so fast. Their returning officer counted the votes for the non Tory parties and then subtracted these from the total vote to get the Tory majority.

And that's how Sunderland still does it.

The problem is that it is the wrong way to count votes - accuracy is far more important than speed.

6 October 2011

And in other news....

As an occasional cricket fan I was saddened to hear of the death at just 52 of Graham Dilley.

Dilley was integral in that amazing summer comeback by England in 1981 against the Aussies and as is usual on these occasions the Telegraph's obituary does the honours.

Jonathan Calder reckons the next Ashes series was his finest hour.

5 October 2011

Why Tim Farron was wrong and the Tories were right

So then that's the end of the conference season for another year.

And for this observer the most striking thing (apart from the irrelevence of Labour) was the contrast between the views expressed about the respective coalition partners at the Conservative and Lib Dem conferences.

The Lib Dem conference - led by party president Tim Farron - indulged in a multiplicity of often cheap attacks on their Conservative partners. In contrast this week's Conservative conference attacks on the Lib Dems were limited (and mainly on the fringe) and Conservative spokespeople dealt with the Lib Dems in a professional and respectful manner.

For this observer watching on the TV, the Conservatives came across the much better for it.

Earlier this year I carried out some market research for the Lib Dems. And people's views on the coalition were clear. They understood its necessity and liked the idea of political parties working together in difficult times in the public interest. Their concerns about the Lib Dems role in government were about practical achievements - not the rhetoric. The problem was defining distinctly liberal things that Clegg and the party could call their own.

Sadly, multifarious attacks on the Tories at party conference, talking about 'muscular liberalism', or standing up for 'alarm clock Britain' are all worthless (and often counter productive) if the party cannot annunciate a clear agenda for government and evidence its influence in public policy outcomes.

That is the challenge for the Lib Dems - not more easy laughs at their coalition partners expense.

4 October 2011

Amanda Knox freed

The news that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have won their appeal and will go free is a partial victory for justice.

Partial because the family of Meredith Kercher are still seeking justice and resolution for her loss. Hopefully the outcome means the Italian authorities will now properly investigate her murder.

A feature of the orginal trial and the appeal was the lurid denigration of Amanda Knox. And with her freedom you would expect it to end and a fairer picture of the young woman to emerge. But not from the Daily Mail who appear to think she is still guilty as Liberal England reports...

3 October 2011

Where the School Food Trust can stick their lunchbox...

An organisation called the School Food Trust has issued a report critising the content of the average school lunch box and by association the average parents who fill them.

Instead of sandwiches and a bag of crisps they suggest parents should include such delicacies as:

- Butternut squash soup with wholegrain bread
- Cous cous with roasted vegetables and chickpeas
- Wholegrain pasta salad with tomatoes, green beans and sweetcorn in green pesto sauce
- Low-fat cream cheese on wholegrain cracker with grapes

Now apart from the logistical problems of trying to get a six year old to safely transport soup to school, one wonders if those at the Schools Food Trust have actually tried to feed said child cous cous, chickpeas or wholegrain crackers?

This sort of out of touch nannying simply raises the hackles of hard pressed parents and turns the attention to the people and the organisation that can come up with this nonsense.

And being a publicly funded body they conveniently provide their statement of accounts on line.

And in it we find in 2010/11 the Schools Food Trust received more than £11.5 million from the public purse. Its Chief Executive, Judy Haragon, was paid £95,000 with a pension worth £143,000 - £35,000 more than 2010. In total its senior staff were paid a cool quarter of a million and they still found a £15,000 bung to retain the services of a celebrity chef.

Given the state of the public finances, cutting needless spending is a prerequisite. And it seems to me the Schools Food Trust is a pretty good place to start.

30 September 2011

Friday favourite 26

Today's is another from OGWT. The Cult 'She sells sanctuary' from 1985. It was around this time I saw them live at the Capitol in Aberdeen. They messed this track up badly.

It's time to recycle Eric Pickles

I was going to comment on today's announcement from the local government department of a quarter of a billion pound bribe to local authorities to reintroduce weekly bin collections - but Eaten by Missionaries got there first.

But soon the real debate will surely move on to the role and purpose of the local government department itself. If councils are going to have autonomy to decide on the form and level of local services - why do they still have a man in Whitehall telling them that he knows best?

Abolition of the DCLG would free up local government from pointless interference and save a vast amount of cash in these austere times. Enough for a few chicken tikka masalas I'd imagine...

28 September 2011

Only Labour could say cutting tax for the low paid is regressive

Labour are determined to have a monopoly on progressive politics. That can be the only conclusion to be drawn from a frankly bizarre report by the IPPR (reported on Lib Dem Voice) that implies that raising the threshold when low paid workers start paying income tax is regressive. It appears to be based on the assumption that any further rises in the threshold don't benefit those already benefiting from the zero tax rate who by definition are the poorest of the working poor.

This is ludicrous sophistry of the highest order and the sort of rationale that led to Gordon Brown adding layer upon layer of complexity into the tax and benfits system in the name of being 'progressive'. The result is that now the highest effective rates of tax aren't paid by those at the top, but those at the very bottom, because of the steep tapers in the withdrawal of tax credits/benefits.

The IPPR are Labour's favourite think tank. And it's not hard to see why. This report's author was Kayte Lawton who is a regular contributor to Labour List, secretary of the Barnsbury ward Labour Party and the organiser of Islington South and Finsbury Labour Party’s policy forum.

Frankly, it's time Liberals abandoned the word 'progressive' and leave it to Labour and their friends on the left who can carry on in a futile exercise of trying to prove that only they are keepers of the faith. Meanwhile Lib Dems in government can get on with the job of making life better for people at the bottom of the heap and undo the 13 years of useless policy making - no doubt advised by the IPPR - that saw the gap between the richest and the poorest rise to record levels.

Hibs finally win at home

After a seven month wait Hibs finally win a league game at Easter Road 3-2 v St Johnstone. The match stats provided by the BBC make interesting reading - and it's not the fact that Hibs appear to have been comprehensively outplayed. It's because despite scoring three times, the stats say Hibs had just two shots on target...

27 September 2011

The fundamental flaw in Labour's message

Labour have been keen to repeat across the board at their conference that a complete recasting of British society and economy is needed and that the current government is simply defending this broken status quo.

Now if was leading a party that had overseen this 'broken status quo' for 13 out of the last 14 years and if I had been a been a cabinet member just 506 days ago who had been part of that 'broken status quo' I might just wonder how culpable I was personally for this 'broken status quo'.

It's this almost complete lack of self awareness that is the most striking thing about Labour this week. If Labour are going to widen the terms of the debate about wider societal and economic failings then a narrow apology on their failure to regulate the banks just won't do.

I suspect the message that the public will hear is Mili minor talking about radical change and his party booing Tony Blair and come to the obvious conclusion that he and his party are tacking to the anti market left.

26 September 2011

Amazon in infinite monkey Shakespeare stunt

A fantastic report features on the Beeb website tonight that a series of virtual monkeys have almost completed the works of Shakespeare at nine characters a time.

It's clearly a very good piece of publicity for Amazon - whose computers are hosting the event and the programmer concerned. But the best thing about the report is the fact that the Beeb shares with us the fact that 'Practical experiments show monkeys have poor keyboard skills'.

Balls in fantasy land

Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, is doing the rounds of Labour conference apologising for getting some things wrong on the economy while they were in power. He has also launched a vacuous and wrong slogan 'Building schools and hospitals did not create the deficit', by way of non-apology over the government's structural deficit.

Except that it did - and saddled the UK tax payer with expensive 'off book' PFI deals that transfer money out of public services and into the bottom lines of private construction companies for years to come. Estimates suggest that the tax payer will end up paying 10 times the value of the capital assets involved.

So when Balls asks people to take him and his party seriously on the economy I hope people remeber just how much of their money he wasted needlessly on PFI - among other failures such as IT.

And thanks to the BBC Politics Show archive you can still view the wonderful attack on Balls as 'a 27 year old researcher' by Michael Heseltine at the Tory conference in 1994.

Danny Alexander take note...

23 September 2011

Friday favourite 25

With BBC4 showing re-runs of the seminal Old Grey Whistle Test this evening I'd thought I'd dig out a very young David Byrne and Talking heads from the YouTube archive:

21 September 2011

BMA and NSPCC wrong over cage fight boy

The beeb reports that both the BMA and NSPCC have criticised the organisers of a childrens' cage fight in the Greenlands Labour Club in Preston.

The fight involved no punching or kicking and was licensed by the relevant authorities.

Now far be it from me to say, but if the bout had involved karate, judo or some other middle class pursuit and was held at Preston Grammar School would it even have registered with either of these organisations?

20 September 2011


Maverick Tory MP Peter Bone who has been doing the rounds of Lib Dem conference.

Former England manager, now managing Leicester City, Sven Goran Erickson

What Nick Clegg should say in his leader's speech

Fellow liberals. I'd like to start with an apology.

To all those hard working Lib Dem councillors who lost their seats in May and the campaigners who didn't win - I apologise for letting you down.

For all those campaigners for political reform - from all parties and none - who lost out in the AV referendum - I apologise for letting you down.

And most importantly to the millions of people who voted for our party last year in the hope of something different and better - I apologise for letting you down.

It is clear that many people up and down the country feel let down by us and in particular me. And in today's personality obsessed age it's right that as leader of the party I should be the focus for that discontent.

And I hold my hand up as I have been responsible for getting things wrong.

I have been too close to David Cameron.

I have enjoyed being in government a little too much - particularly as cuts begin to bite and the British people fear for their livelihoods and wellbeing.

And I haven't communicated the party's successes well enough to break the impression that this is a Tory government in everything but name.

And as a result the people spoke - and they comprehensively rejected our party in May. Let's not kid ourselves that this was simply a mid term election that will simply wind back automatically as we approach 2015.

It was a clear message from the people to get our act together in government and to prove we are delivering a distinctively Liberal Democrat agenda in that government.

At our last conference in Liverpool we started that process by outlining our opposition to many of the Conservatives' market obsessed proposals for the NHS.

This week we have carried on with radical proposals for dealing with the harm drugs do to our community, tackling the obscenity of Murdoch phone hacking and how we are breaking the link between a poor upbringing and poor exam results.

And most importantly Vince Cable outlined how Liberal Democrats are recasting our economy - with a focus on apprenticeships, investment in our infrastructure and how we will make sure the banks will never bring the economy down again through their incompetence and greed.

But I want to make be clear - to you here in the hall, to Liberal Democrats watching at home and to the country at large that I expect myself and the party to be judged in 2015 on our deeds - not fine words in conference halls.

Building the new politics - ending the red, blue, blue, red, blue duopoly that has brought the country to its knees - was always going to take time and I haven't forgotten the hope and sense of anticipation of something new that was so apparent in that spring of last year.

It is that hope that we can govern in a new way - putting aside the old tribal tit for tat politics - that is the glue behind the coalition. Two competing parties, with different outlooks and traditions, working together in an adult way for the good of the people. That's what we are trying to do in difficult times.

So I am making five clear commitments today for Liberal Democrats in government - our agenda if you will.

One, by 2015 a higher proportion of people from poorer backgrounds will get the opportunity to go to a good school and go on to a good university than under Labour in 2010.

Two, by 2015 our NHS will be more responsive to local people's needs with less central bureaucratic interference allowing doctors and nurses to carry out their calling, free at the point of use for the patient.

Three, by 2015 prisons will be a place only for those who are clear threat to society and communities that suffer from persistent low level crime and disorder will get pay back from the perpetrators who will put right what and who they wronged.

Four, by 2015 Britain's reputation in the world and our ability to influence our allies and deter our enemies is restored and the memory of Bush, Blair and illegal adventures in Iraq is replaced by a truly ethical foreign policy.

Five, by 2015, if the economy is growing strongly again and the government can start giving something back - it will be hard pressed families on low and middle incomes that get a break - not the Tories rich friends in the city or offshore.

I ask every Liberal Democrat in this hall to campaign with me and our ministerial team to make this agenda happen.

And for those watching and listening in the country outside this hall all I ask is for you to look and listen and judge us in 2015 on what we achieved in government that made Britain a better place.

Failed English fire centralisation offers stark warning to Nats

The Public Accounts Committee's findings that Labour wasted at least £469 million trying to centralise England's fire service control, is a stark warning to the SNP government in Edinburgh.

According to the beeb report the plan was 'flawed from the outset', 'a comprehensive failure' and failed to achieve any of its objectives.

It is in the very nature of these vanity centralisation projects - which are always justified on the grounds of greater efficiency - that they end in abject failure. This is because it is the nature of centralisation to drive out local accountability and reduce competition to a handful of big oligopolistic suppliers.

So when the bill for the SNP's fire and police centralisation lands on Scottish taxpayers doormats - and cuts are made to schools, hospitals (and yes the police and fire services) to pay for it - the SNP government will have no excuses. They were warned.

19 September 2011

Failing to face the future

I've just watched the debate at Lib Dem conference on the 'Facing the future' policy paper and am deeply uninspired. In a conference of grassroot rebellions, the one that mattered - overturning the timid 'Facing the future' document - was passed with ease (helped by an excellent summation from the underutilised Norman Lamb).

There is an iron law of British politics - everything connected to David Owen is inevitably overblown hype that ends in failure. So borrowing the name from the said Dr's book was probably a mistake, but more indicative of the contents than the authors might have wanted.

17 September 2011

Liberal Democrats have become deeply conservative about public services

Not my words, but those of David Boyle and Simon Titley who have co-authored an alternative policy paper called 'Really facing the future' which has been published through the offices of Liberator magazine. It's certainly an analysis I agree with and have blogged previously about in context of the Lib Dems' response to the current NHS reforms.

I don't agree with all of it - but it poses some significant questions for Liberal Democrats (and indeed all politicians) - this one is particularly apposite:
Because there is another problem here, which lies behind the policy vacuum. It is that the whole concept of political parties is beginning to unravel as membership and commitment shrinks. A sizeable proportion of the population is actively opposed to the whole idea of politics.
It deserves a wide circulation and I hope the party leadership and policy making bureaucracy take it seriously.

Friday favourite 24

Some interesting connections this week. Here are Bombay Bicycle Club at this year's Glastonbury with Shuffle - a strangely folksy evocation of the Rezillos 'Destination Venus' (which was my first Friday Favourite).

Bombay Bicycle Club feature Jamie McColl on guitar - Jamie is the late Kirsty McColl's son. Kirsty singing 'Days' featured in a post back in December last year about cover versions that are better than the originals.

I also wonder whether Bombay Bicycle Club are named after the Edinburgh Indian resaurant chain of the same name.

15 September 2011

Polls open in Surbiton by-election

At around midnight tonight we'll know who's won in the increasingly bitter fight for Surbiton Hill ward.

Unlike the anoraks at Vote 2007, this anorak won't be predicting the outcome. But all I will say is that the slump in the party's popularity from last year means anything other than a comfortable Conservative victory should be considered a respectable result for John Ayles and the team.

Miliband's posturing over pensions protest

Ed Miliband was right to tell trade union bosses that it was wrong to strike while negotiations were ongoing about how best to keep the public sector's very priviledged pension rights. The heckling from malingering trots showed nothing more than how out of touch they are and how they are so wedded to entrenching their own personal priviledges at the expense of low paid workers in the private sector.

But it is clearly a piece of political positioning by Mili minor who wants to distance himself from what will be deeply unpopular strikes. The heckling will have delighted his spin doctors as further evidence that he is not in the pockets of the union dinosaurs. However the reality is that Miliband won't really be credible on this issue until he and his party stop taking the union bosses millions.

One other interesting point of note was that the TUC has now become so small that it can hold its congress in its own offices in Westminster - rather than the in the delights of the traditional venues such as the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. But I guess the mainly middle class delegates prefer the catering and watering holes of SW1 to Yates Wine Lodge and Harry Ramsden's.

12 September 2011

Zac loses out in Boundary review

Zac Goldsmith's continued career as an MP looks in doubt as a result of draft proposals issued by the Boundary Commission. They suggest linking his Richmond Park seat with Vince Cable's Twickenham seat.

In 2010 Vince Cable had a majority of 12,140 and Zac Goldsmith 4,091.

Tories in Surbiton by-election turn to M'Learned friends

The Conservative candidate in the Surbiton Hill by-election has issued a legal summons to his Lib Dem opponent accusing him of misleading the electorate about his and his party's position on a new primary school.

The argument centres over whether Kilby has supported Lib Dem plans for a new school (now being built) on the disused Surbiton Hospital site.

The Surrey Comet carries the full report. In a carefully worded letter Kilby claims he has, 'consistently been in favour of the provision'. However he failed to mention where he has consistently said this provision should be.

The Surrey Comet also quotes Kilby in March 2010 (before he was booted out by Surbiton Hill voters) as saying, said: 'I think he (the Tory Education spokesperson) would be right to bring forward plans for the first executive to move forward with the King Charles Centre.' A move that would have delayed the opening of the school by three years.

In the words of the new Saturday night BBC1 light entertainment show - Epic Fail!

11 September 2011

Thoughts on a by election in Surbiton

This Thursday the voters of Surbiton Hill ward in Kingston Borough will vote to elect a new councillor. And it is shaping up to be an interesting contest.

It's probably the richest ward in Ed Davey's constituency and the Southborough area provides some of the moxt luxurious addresses in south west London. But it also contains a sizable chunk of a former Labour ward - Tolworth West - which was keenly fought between Lib Dems and Labour until it was abolished in 2002. The Tolworth roads are not poor - they contain solid Victorian and Edwardian villas and terraces like much of London and are populated by solid middle class intellegensia of mainly well heeled public sector professionals.

So in a way it's a microcosm of the challenges facing the Lib Dems at the moment. Can the party continue to appeal to an intelligent, urban, vaguely leftist, electorate who fear public sector cuts? Will the fact the party is in government with the Conservatives make it easier to attract vaguely rightist voters who have previously rejected the party because of its perceived (previous) closeness with Labour?

On the ground the Conservative campaign has been hampered by their candidate choice. The selection was basically between two former councillors - who lost out to the Lib Dems in 2010. This has allowed the Lib Dems to emphasise the good reasons for rejecting the Tories last year still apply, while causing the Conservatives to flip flop on the major issue of the campaign - the redevelopment of Surbiton Hospital.

Labour have run an agressive, but foolish campaign. They have tried to make it a binary choice between the 'coalition' and themselves - and are encouraging voters to send a message to the government about the 'cuts'. Their problem is that they are starting from 10%, so if enough voters switch to Labour to send the government a message it will mean that when David Cameron looks at the by-election results on Friday morning he'll see 'Conservative gain'. And I'm not sure that that's the message the Labour party wants to send.

The Lib Dems have picked an extraordinarily good candidate in John Ayles. He's the only party candidate who lives in the ward, he runs and education charity and his wife is the local GP. He is a pillar of the local community and has campaigned for more than 20 years on behalf of local people.

I don't want to predict the result, but given the outgoing Lib Dem councillor had a majority of just over 100, it will be close again. Labour ought to come third, but a very active and high profile campaign by the Christian Party in the Tolworth patch may mean they are under pressure for even that. My fear is that John Ayles will be let down by a lack of help from Lib Dem activists - particularly in the last few days. This is when close elections are won and lost and if every Lib Dem councillor and activist in South West London (and North Surrey) could commit to two evenings (or afternoons) in the next week I'd be much more confident of a Lib Dem win.

10 September 2011

The unbearable likelihood of Crouch at Stoke...

...the question is why did it take so long? They were always made for each other.

Friday favourite 23

Here's Seasick Steve on Jules Holland with Led Zepp's John Paul Jones on base.

7 September 2011

Single Scots police force moves closer

One of the consequences of an SNP majority at Holyrood was they would persist with plans to create a single police force north of the border. And indeed it (and the parallel creation of single fire brigade) is one of 16 bills outlined by Alex Salmond in an otherwise pretty uninspiring Scots legislative programme.

This blog's view is that it will prove to be an expensive, bureaucratic and ultimately damaging change. But now they have a majority, the SNP will have no excuses when Scots voters find out just how foolish this idea is.

Loopy Lorna's closure mystery

The beeb reports that Edinburgh's (if not the UK's) finest tearoom has closed suddenly in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Loopy Lorna's was always a highight of our visits to Edinburgh.

4 September 2011

Labour's Libya links revealed

If today's Mail on Sunday is to be believed, documents found by the new regime in Tripoli make for extremely embarrassing reading for Labour.

It seems Mr Blair embraced more than just Colonel Gaddafi.

The ultimate gay kissing watershed barchart

With thanks to Stephen Glenn's blog I am delighted to report a YouGov survey shows Lib Dem supporters really don't care care who snogs who on the tellybox.

However Conservatives seem rather more keen on girl on girl action than a bit of man love, whereas the less said about Labour supporters' social attitudes the better...

3 September 2011

Lembit loses it in defeat

London Lib Dems have sent Lembit Opik a clear message. In coming last in the selection for the unenviable job of Lib Dem Mayoral candidate - on top of his humilation in the party's Presidential election - it is clear that ordinary Lib Dem members do not want him to represent them at any level.

And it's not difficult to see why: a constant stream of mid life crises played out in their full tacky technicolour in disreputable rags have made Lembit a minor celebrity but shredded his reputation as a serious political player.

And at the end of the day being an MP or Mayoral candidate (or indeed President of the Liberal Democrats) is a serious political job and one that Lembit's antics have now made him quite unsuited for.

His article in the Evening Standard on Friday shows quite how deluded he has become.

He is quoted as saying, "Ever since I was first enticed into entering the fray as a potential candidate, I've experienced a remarkable degree of antagonism and aggression from certain Lib Dems.

Most of it has occurred in the strange and self-styled environment of the 'blogosphere' - a parallel universe where some people who've never been elected to public office feel qualified to pronounce on those who have.

When one meets these people for real, their courage on the internet seems to desert them, replaced by excuses and a quick exit at the first opportunity."

As one of the 'self styled bloggers' who have been highly critical of his vanity candidature I wear his latest ramblings as a badge of pride. It's not bloggers, journalists or other commentators' fault that Lembit is seen as a joke - it's his fault - and the sooner he realises that the better.

PS - And the conceit of his quote comparing himself to the struggle of Nelson Mandela is just jaw-droppingly wrong.

Friday favourite 22

In celebration of the decision by the elders of Old Reekie to progress with the tram system, here's the (almost) official video:

PS - I have to say I hadn't ever realised how Soviet the National Gallery can look...

2 September 2011

Overblown hyperbole of the day 2

In the big news story today about salt in bread an organisation called 'Consensus Action on Salt and Health' - conveniently contrived/shortened to Cash were quoted in almost all media.

Their campaign director Katharine Jenner said: "Most people wouldn't realise that bread contains so much salt, as it doesn't taste salty. It is scandalous that there is no labelling on fresh bread. Without it, how are we supposed to know where salt is hidden and cut our intake to less than 6g a day?"

No it's not scandalous, it's at most inconvenient.

Some Edinburgh councillors see sense on trams

A u-turn today by Labour and SNP councillors in Edinburgh sees the city's tram project given the go ahead to the city centre.

Only Tory councillors continued with their posturing - despite being unable to explain who would foot the £160 million bill to tear up the existing contract - their preferred view.

Report here.

Delivering a sensible solution to the trams debacle - inherited from the previous administration - is a huge achievement for the Lib Dem led council. The outcry from Edinburgh people over last week's decision to cut the line short shows how badly the other parties got it wrong. Hopefully this will be reflected in how the Lib Dems are perceived when voters in Scotland's capital elect a new council next May.

30 August 2011

Edinburgh's trams back on track?

It looks like the SNP govenment has put Labour, Conservative and SNP councillors in Scotland's capital on the political naughty step for playing silly buggers with the tram project.

As I wrote last week, all three groups had ganged up on the Lib Dems (who are the senior adminstration partner) and voted to turn the tram project into a farce that would cost the city's taxpayers millions.

Now the beeb reports the government has said it will provide no more cash until councillors can agree a sensible route for the tram. A special council meeting has been called for Friday.

Expect Tory, Labour and SNP councillors to turn up with their tails between their legs.

Government shouldn't listen to bankers on regulation

Apparently, bank shares have risen following criticism from bankers that they might have to face some more regulation. The BBC reports, the chief Executive of the British Bankers' Association, Angela Knight, saying, "This means allowing the banks to finance the recovery first, pay back the taxpayer next, and only then turn to further regulatory change."

Well they would say that. In other news apparently the British Bears' Association has called on the government not to prevent them defecating in woodland areas and the Bishop of Rome has asked to be allowed to carry on attending mass.

My problem with the government proposals is that not that they regulate the banks too much, but too little. Vince Cable needs to get his way so that the investment arms are hived off from the retail side and any bank 'too big to fail' is deemed too big to exist.

Angela Knight is a former Conservative MP.

Lib Dem blog of the year

Apparently there's some sort of competition for Lib Dem blogs. Lib Dem Voice has the details.