30 June 2011

Jonathan Meades on Trump

Yesterday I blogged about Donald Trump's destruction of Balmedie beach in Aberdeenshire. The fantastic Jonathan Meades - one of the UK's unsung liberal heroes - of course got there before me.

His 2009 film series 'Off Kilter' included an evisceration of Trump's plans and the complicity of the local council and Alex Salmond. It also contains one of the best (and rudest) insults against Trump's bizarre hair.

I found it on YouTube's 'Meades Shrine' - thanks to Liberal England and I'd heartily recommend exploring their archive of his wonderful films.

Anyway if you want to see what Meades says about the Trump development without whiling away several evenings on architecture and religion. Watch this (the Trump stuff is around 3mins 15secs):

29 June 2011

You've been trumped

One of the most shameful decisions by a Lib Dem council group was that by those running Aberdeenshire. In 2008 they backed the avaricious American property tycoon (and employer of some of the most creative hairdressers in the world) - Donald Trump - to tear up acres of pristine beach at Balmedie, north of Aberdeen, to create an exclusive golf resort for his millionaire chums.

The decision split the Lib Dem group and allowed the SNP government to slip off the hook when the decision was called in and endorsed by Alex Salmond. However a protest movement called Tripping up Trump have filled the gap left by local Lib Dem complicity.

Tripping up Trump have run an excellent campaign - highlighting the bully boy tactics used by Trump and his threatening of compulsory purchase of elderly residents' homes. The campaign looks like it might just succeed with the announcement last week that Trump's plans were being put on hold.

They have produced an award winning documentary which they plan to screen in New York:

But they need support to do so. So if you want to find out more about the campaign you can do here. And if you want to donate to their fund to screen the film in New York click here.

27 June 2011

And so the defections start #2

The row over Hearts backing Craig Thomson, who has just been placed on the sex offenders register for five years for inappropriate behaviour towards two girls aged 12 and 14 continues.

I blogged that it was time for decent Hearts fans to take back their club, but it's clear that some are even contemplating going one step further and defecting to the green side.

Welcome aboard James.

'Gaddafi's circle getting smaller ...'

So says the Libyan rebel defence minister Jalal al-Dgheli who told the Beeb, "What we're learning from defectors is Gaddafi's inner circle is getting smaller by the day”

And by way of photographic evidence I believe this may show just how small his inner circle has become:

25 June 2011

How to destroy your reputation in one easy lesson...

Heart of Midlothian FC were taken over by Lithuanian based Russian gangster Vladimir Romanov in 2005. Since then he has initiated a campaign to destroy the reputation of one of the UK's oldest football clubs (and the second best team in Edinburgh).

He has employed the old KGB interrogation tactic of building supporters up with the marquee signings of footballers that the club cannot afford then crushing them with the sacking of popular and successful managers. This has been accompanied by public statements of a bizarre nature attacking the Scottish football authorities. Meanwhile he has built up a debt of nearly £40 million for the club.

Hearts reputation was therefore somewhat further tarnished when their under 21 international defender Craig Thomson was found guilty of sending pictures of his naked member to girls aged 12 and 14 on Facebook. In most organisations this would probably be considered a sackable offence, but not at mad Vlad's Hearts. They issued an apology from him, followed by this statement - which appears to claim there is a mafia conspiracy against the club and the girls forced Thomson to do it. If it wasn't so insulting to the victims it might be laughable.

It is clear it is now time for the SFA to take action - Romanov is not a 'fit and proper' person to run a bath - let alone a football club - and he must be removed from his position. Decent Hearts fans - like those of AFC Wimbledon and Swansea should accept the consequences that may mean their club will have to be reformed and start again at a much lower level. But that is surely a better position to be at than to bully victims of crime while defending the dubious behaviour of sex offenders.

24 June 2011

Friday favourite 12 - ukele nutters

This is one of the greatest musical creations ever. Sugarbabes eat your heart out...

23 June 2011

Why sentencing policy is irrelevant

Ken Clarke has taken a lot of stick for his proposals - unceremoniously dumped earlier this week - to offer larger discounts from jail sentences for those offenders who plead guilty.

The proposals were dropped as part of a new 'get tough' package by PM David Cameron which included various tabloid friendly headlines about making prisoners work harder and longer.

But it really doesn't matter because the vast majority of crime in the country goes undetected and the perpetrators unpunished. According to Home Office figures (which unsurprisingly are somewhat difficult to find on their website), in 2009/10 just 28% of all crimes reported in England and Wales were successfully solved by the police.

For violent crimes against the person the police solve 44% of cases, just 24% of rape cases, 16% of house burglary and just 11% of vehicle crime.

So until the police can actually start catching criminals - how the courts sentence them won't matter. Deterrence by punitive sentencing doesn't work when criminals know they have a 60% 70% chance of getting away with it.

This is a huge opportunity for Lib Dems in government to move the debate onto more liberal territory. So it's time for Lynne Featherstone and Tom McNally to start the debate about effective policing and crime prevention, rather than allowing the Tories to rehash stale headlines about jail sentences.

22 June 2011

More evidence of Labour's ethical foreign policy comes to light

Three months of protests over the continued misrule of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad resulting have led to an estimated 1,300 civilian deaths. With the regime showing little sign of bowing to democratic demands more blood is likely to be spilled.

But with blood on his hands one wonders who in the west might be able to broker some sort of deal? Step forward Tony Blair - whose ethical foreign policy was such an inspiration to all those Arab pro-democracy movements he carefully nurtured during his time in office...

Olympic football farce

As if the London Olympics didn't have any more troubles to seek after the ticketing fiasco, they've been caught out lying about a UK football team participating at 2012 as the Beeb reports.

One might be accused of cynicism to suggest that hyping up a non-existent 'historic agreement' might be connected to the fact that 1.7 million tickets for the Olympic football - a tournament of dubious quality and limited interest - go on sale on Friday...

18 June 2011

Friday favourite 11

Returned home from an interesting evening turned on BBC4 to see some great Glastonbury coverage of Pulp from 1995 - the lost part of the Britpop triumverate that helped propel Tony Blair to power in 1997.

Jarvis Cocker was always the most worldly wise song writer and the best showman. And his intro to this song is probably one of the best messages about drugs you could imagine:

15 June 2011

Superinjunction Tory MP revealed...

... and surprise surprise it's super-rich Tory boy Zac Goldsmith - son of forest clearing, asset stripping, super litigious, right wing Euro nutter - Sir Jimmy Goldsmith. Spookily Goldsmith junior shares his late father's predilection for shooting off to the lawyers first and asking questions later.

Anyway Goldsmith told yesterday's Radio 4 PM that he had done it after his and former wife's email accounts had been hacked. He said revealing the contents of the e-mails would have been "very uncomfortable" at a time when he was seeking election to Parliament, because of the revelation of "all kinds of tittle-tattle which I would have been better off without".

Now I have no truck with people's private details being stolen (which is what hacking is), but this does throw up some difficult issues for public officials and those seeking public office. What was the nature of these 'uncomfortable' details? Perhaps details of foreign investments? Or the reasons for his divorce? Gambling and betting arrangements? His non-dom tax affairs?

Now I can see why some of these would be very uncomfortable - particularly for a high profile candidate in a marginal seat. It might simply be family tittle tattle like who's picking the kids up from school on Thursday - but we don't know. And that's the problem of superinjunctions - they throw a blanket of secrecy over everything. And for people seeking public office that's a problem - there is clearly a legitimate public interest in knowing whether your MP is fiddling his or her taxes, has built up gambling debts or is raking in lots of cash from dodgy foreign investments.

It's a question of trust. If elected officials resort to using superinjunctions - how can the public, who elect them, actually know whether it is a legitimate move to protect family privacy or something more sinister to hide the sort of activities that would make the the MP or candidate unsuitable for public office?

13 June 2011

Labour hypocrisy on 10p tax rise revealed

The Telegraph has exposed Labour's hypocrisy when they abolished the starting 10p rate of tax in 2007. At the time Labour denied the move would disproportionately hit the poorest - but the papers show Labour, including Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, knew full well that their move would harm the very poorest and benefit the very rich. But they went ahead anyway. The killer graphic is here:

But this was not an aberration. Under Blair/Brown the gap between rich and poor rose faster than under Thatcher. They declared it was their intention to abolish child poverty, but the pledge (like so many others) crashed and burned.

So I find it strange there are still some misguided souls in the Lib Dems who think the Labour party is in some way 'progressive' or indeed 'radical' and it is the party's duty to work only with Labour in some sort of left alliance of the deluded.

So when Richard Grayson and Linda Jack report back to the Social Liberal Forum next weekend on their talks with Ed Balls and Liam Byrne (among others) I hope they are laughed out of the hall. I'd guess they won't be because the SLF, sadly, has a blind spot to evidence that disproves their rose tinted world view of Labour. Their knee jerk reactionism to all things Conservative prevents them taking the pragmatic and balanced position of pursuing political goals that actually can be delivered by the Lib Dems in government.

By 2015 when no-one will be paying any tax on incomes less than £10,000 it will do more for helping those at the bottom end of the pay scale than anything Labour ever did and it will have been done because the Lib Dems are working with the Conservatves - not Labour.

12 June 2011

Why one of Great Ormond Street Hospital's finest is spinning in her grave

Lynne Featherstone and a number of other Lib Dem bloggers have been highlighting the strange case of world renowned children's hospital Great Ormond Street withholding information from the inquiry into the killing of baby Peter Connelly. They have rightly called for the Chief Executive, Jane Collins, to resign as a result of her involvement in what appears to be a cover up.

Here's where I declare a personal interest in Great Ormond Street hospital. My late great aunt, a fantastic (if somewhat eccentric woman - as all great aunts should be) was one of the most famous doctors to work there. She even had a ward named after her - the Mildred Creak Unit - which to this day deals with young people with mental health problems.

Dr Mildred Creak could even be said to have invented modern child psychiatry. And it's not only the UK her contribution has been recognised. Down under there is the Mildred Creak Centre for the Treatment of Autistic Children in Perth.

Aunt Mildred was one of the first women in the UK to qualify in medicine just after the first world war. She was rejected from 90 posts because of anti-woman doctor prejudice, but eventually found employment through her faith - the Quakers - at a mental hospital in York. Before arriving at Great Ormond Street she won a scholarship to the states and did her war duty in India. She worked at Great Ormond Street from 1946-1963 when she retired. She died in 1993 aged 95 and the Independent did a splendid, if brief, obituary of her then.

Mildred Creak (and her sister - my grandmother) was born and brought up in Cheadle Hulme in the first part of the last century. Their solidly middle class railway engineer father married into the slightly less solid Irish/Scots/Manx McCrossan family, one of whom - their aunt Mary McCrossan became a minor artist.

They were Unitarians, committed Liberals and their mother active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement (though opposed to the excesses of the Pankhursts). They remembered Churchill losing his Withington seat in 1908 on being promoted to Asquith's Cabinet.

Sometime during the first world war the family moved to Surrey and then later to Highgate where they lived next door to a family called Betjeman where the two girls would play with their son John when he wasn't away boarding at Marlborough school.

Anyway family history aside, what is clear is that any children's hospital that refuses to fully comply with an investigation into the death of one of their patients would have received short shrift from such a formidable woman as Mildred Creak. The fact her name is to this day is an integral part of an organisation that is led by someone who refuses to take responsibility for failures on their personal watch diminishes her achievements and tarnishes the reputation of a previously ground breaking hospital. Aunt Mildred (if she hadn't been cremated) would be spinning in her grave.

8 June 2011

Why Moore is wrong on two Scottish referendums

Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has said that for Scotland to secede from the union a second referendum on the details of any independence deal would be needed in addition to a 'consultative' referendum on the principle.

This is apparently because of some constitutional niceties about the powers of Holyrood compared with Westminster. The excellent Lallands Peat Worrier explains more.

This move has been welcomed by the Queen of Scottish bloggers (among others) - Caron Lindsay - who has previously expressed her concerns about a single independence vote.

Now far be it for me to disagree with such esteemed company (and Michael Moore), but this is nonsense. What was surely clear about the Scottish General Election result that delivered an historic SNP majority was that the principle of a referendum on independence is implicit when people cast their votes for the SNP. It was in the SNP's manifesto (as it was the time before) - and last time a referendum was blocked by the mere fact that the 'unionist' parties had the parliamentary numbers to vote down the SNP proposals.

There is no such veto now and the timing and question are entirely down the the SNP. And it won't be a matter of high constitutional principle that will concern Alex Salmond - it will be low politics.

And low politics is what the Lib Dems have been spectactularly bad at - particularly in Scotland where they managed to get themselves painted into the unionist corner by the SNP. The Liberal Democrats have never been a unionist party and have always supporter the right of self determination and home rule. And as such they should welcome SNP proposals, while reserving their right to disagree on the substance.

By saying that a second referendum is needed (no doubt to be followed in quick succession by Labour and Tories) Michael Moore again allows the party to be seen to be on the wrong side of the debate and trying to illiberally block the expression of the will of the Scottish people.

The way back for the party in Scotland can only be by steering a distinct liberal path that recognises the liberal elements in the nationalists (and the easy willingness of both parties voters to interchange their votes at Holyrood/Westminster levels). Aligning the party with the forces of constitutional conservatism was the wrong decision in 2007 and is even more so now.

4 June 2011

Friday favourite 10

Today's tragic news about the death of Andrew Reeves at just 43, has sent shock waves through the party. Many tributes to him have already been written - with Caron Lindsay's here being particularly poignant . My thoughts are with his loved ones and his many friends who knew him better than I did.

3 June 2011

Lib Dem grassroots fight conference police veto

The decision by the Lib Dems conference committee to grant the police sweeping powers to vet representatives has been met with near universal opposition from the party's grassroots.

Conference reps will need to prove their identity through a passport, driving licence or NI number and provide a passport quality photo and these details will be kept by the police indefinitely.

This goes against the principle that the conference is the sovereign body of the party and local parties can send who they want to it.

The reason for this police intrusion is that old canard 'security'. Chair of the conference committee, Andrew Wiseman, tried to justify this by writing on Lib Dem Voice 'The hard fact is that our conference as a whole, and some of our members who attend conference who are ministers, are now more a focus for people who very seriously do not wish our democratic procedures to continue.'

Now I know Nick Clegg isn't particularly popular at the moment, but I find it difficult to believe that a fully paid up member of the party, who had been duly elected by their fellow local members would go to conference to do him harm. At worst I imagine they might send him a strongly worded email or ask a pointed question.

So the question the Federal Conference Committee needs to answer (but so far hasn't) is: What evidence did the police and home office present to them that means there is a credible threat to government ministers from properly elected conference representatives (not exhibitors or journalists or day visitors)?

If you haven't done so - sign the petition here.

1 June 2011

The incompetence of Sepp Blatter...

...for only getting 91.6% of the vote in a one horse race.

Surely corrupt, autocratic rulers of dubious entities should receive at least 100% of the vote in their elections?