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.

When Goldsmith tried to buy the election...

Stephen Tall on Lib Dem Voice has a lot to answer for. As a result of him posting footage of the 1997 general election coverage I have wasted rather more of my bank holiday weekend than I should have.

As I was involved at a count until 4am I didn't get to see it at the time, so although much of it is familiar there are some bits worth seeing again. Here's where a rather cross David Mellor who had been ungraciously heckled by Goldsmith senior during his acceptance (of defeat) speech - gives the old goat both barrels.

28 August 2011

Is this a Tory-led coalition?

Labour have been keen to emphasise (repeatedly) that the UK is governed by basically a Tory government - propped up by the nefarious Lib Dems. And for much of the last year this has been the accepted case by the so-called liberal media - and with some justification from the closeness with which Clegg was wanting to be seen to be to Cameron.

But this view is changing - partly because of a change in attitude at the top of the party, which has finally realised being Cameron's 'city cousins' is as damaging to the Lib Dem vote as being seen as Labour's 'country cousins'. But only partly. What is finally being picked up in the mainstream media is the anguish coalition policies are causing Tory loyalists.

This is no red-blooded Thatcherite government beloved of the Tory grassroots - it's a mainstream centrist government - much like those in other European countries and much like its predecessor. One can look at Friday's Spectator that complains about Clegg 'painting the world yellow' or ConservativeHome (almost every minute) whose editor Tim Montgomery complained - again on Friday - 'With every passing day the Liberal Democrats are dragging the Coalition further away from the Conservative manifesto'.

One can only hope that this is the start of a more measured analysis and reporting of what is a very rare thing in UK politics (at least in peacetime). And a more rounded, detailed and unemotional reporting of the coalition and politics in general can only be a good thing.

26 August 2011

Friday favourite 21

Have just returned from a wedding in Brighton where this track was played and I thought it deserved repetition.

25 August 2011

Clegg demands release of Hillsborough files

I suspect Nick Clegg is not a regular reader of this blog, but he has, according to the Mirror, come out and demanded full disclosure of all the papers relating to the Hillsborough disaster as I argued last week.

With 100,000+ signatures on the e-petition there is no excuse for the government to further delay the release of these papers.

Edinburgh's tram project goes from crisis to farce

Tory and Labour councillors in Edinburgh today joined forces to take a farcical decisions that will cost the taxpayers of Edinburgh millions of pounds.

Edinburgh's tram project has been beset by trouble since its inception under the previous Labour administration. Like Donald Dewar's Parliament building it is hideously overbudget and beset by contractual difficulties.

The cost of cancelling it is now greater than the cost of part completing it from the city's airport to St Andrew's Square in the heart of the city. Originally it was supposed to go all the way to the port of Leith.

Instead of biting the bullet and agreeing to get the tramline partially built Labour and Tory councillors voted for a nonsense option to cut the line back even further to Haymarket.

So once opened instead of making a profit the tram will require an annual subsidy of £4 million, passengers to and from the airport will have to change onto a bus to get to the main centre and city centre businesses who have put up with months of disruption will get no benefit for the pain they have suffered.

The already laid tram tracks along Princes
Street will be left to rust.

And most ludicrously the contractors who have messed things up may be entitled to walk away with full payment of its costs. The Scotsman has the full report here

It's clear real civic leadership in Edinburgh is coming from the Lib Dems - their coalition partners the SNP irresponsibly sat on their hands. Labour and Tories appear content to snipe on the sidelines and risk huge liabilities on the public purse just to embarrass the Lib Dems. With elections for the council next year one hopes the good burghers of Old Reekie remember who battled to try and prevent the trams from becoming Edinburgh's second 'disgrace'.

The political back story to end all back stories...

And no it's not Zac Goldsmith...

Here's a politician who can be truly said to have an exceptional background - even though I have to declare a personal interest.

24 August 2011

Arab spring turns to autumn

With the end game for Gaddafi being played out on the 24 hour news channels, it is clear that events that started in Tunisia in the spring are coming to a conclusion in Tripoli in (almost) September.

As the Libyan uprising moves towards a victorious end it is a vindication for the new way of doing things and a rejection of the Blair/Bush so called 'liberal intervention'. The overthrow of the tyrant Gaddafi is mainly as a result of the actions of the Libyan people, some external pressure - principally from other Arab states - and in the background, the intelligent use of western military power.

The Libyan insurrection should mark a way forward. Ostentacious displays of western military power are no longer needed to oust unpleasant dictators - whether because of simple austerity or because the pratical application of 'nudge' theories appears to work.

It is almost certain the Libya faces a far better and more secure future than either Afghanistan or Iraq - where the old ways have so far spectacularly failed to deliver the sort of stable, open and peacful countries that were supposed to come about as a result of so-called 'liberal' interventions.

And the other lesson will hopefully be that sucking up to people like Gaddafi is always wrong.

21 August 2011

Nessie takes to the air?

It seems the reason that Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, remains undiscovered is that she may have taken up flying...

Is this the best Liberal election broadcast ever?

With thanks to Stephen Tall and Mark Pack for putting this on Youtube and LibDem Voice.

The simple, newsy style and hard hitting messages - plus what would now be called 'celebrity' endorsements - or vox pops - make this far better than anything I've seen since.

In February 1974 the Liberal party polled just under 20% of the vote across the country - despite fielding candidates in only 80% of seats - almost equivalent to the the 23% scored by the party in 2010. Just 14 Liberal MPs were returned in the hung Parliament.

In praise of Tony Blair...

It's not often I agree with Tony Blair - but his comments on the riots in the Observer (if the Beeb report is accurate) seem spot on.

Blair pointed to a group of people 'outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour'.

'Focus on the specific problem and we can begin on a proper solution'

'Elevate this into a highfalutin wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally and we will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our own reputation abroad, and worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work.'

It's a clear attack on Cameron's reactionary 'Broken Britain' nonsense and also vaguely Scottish in its use of 'highfalutin'.

It's a line I hope the Deputy PM takes up.

19 August 2011

17 August 2011

Clegg should release Hillsborough files

The Cabinet Office is to appeal against the Information Commissioner's decision to release papers under the Freedom of Information act revealing Mrs Thatcher's views about the 1989 tragedy.

Their reasoning is that an independent panel is currently looking at all the papers and will decide what should be released to the public.

As can be seen from the Liverpool Echo report - there is little support for this view - principally because of a lack of trust of the authorities from survivors and supporters.

It's an entirely self defeating move by the Cabinet Office. If the panel agrees with the commissioner it will releases the papers. If it doesn't they will be subject to another FoI request without the grounds for the current appeal.

Clegg - who is in charge of the Cabinet Office - should step in and insist the appeal is dropped. It's not about the technicalities - it is about trust. And thousands of people in Liverpool do not trust the authorities as a result of years of cover ups, delays and backside covering by those in the know.

So Clegg should cut through the red tape and release the files. And by doing so take the first steps in the process of re-building trust with those affected by the tragedy and at the same time highlight to the people of Liverpool the difference having Lib Dems in government can make.

15 August 2011

Cameron's riot 'fightback' made in Chipping Norton not Tottenham

David Cameron's 'fightback' (a somewhat incongruous title for a response to rioting) speech today had all the hallmarks of an out touch county fogey. His speech played to all the old rural Tory prejudices of inner cities and wouldn't have been out of place at a Tory conference in the heyday of the Thatcherites. One can't help feeling when facing issues of crime and disorder Cameron's 'liberal Tory' mask slips and he is able to become the true right winger he otherwise surpresses.

His reactionary (in the true sense of the word) attacks on the Human Rights Act and Health and Safety Legislation as contributing to rioting and a lack of personal responsibility are simply ludicrous, and the proposal to introduce some for of non-military national service has all the hallmarks of kneejerk new Labour nannying.

In contrast Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, was more measured, saying, 'the politician's instinct - reach for new legislation, appoint a new adviser, wheel out your old prejudices - will not meet the public's demand for real answers and deep rooted, lasting solutions...'. However one might comment it smacks of hypocrisy given his party's record in government of doing just that.

The fact that Cameron in particular is floundering on this issue presents a huge opportunity for Lib Dems. As a party they have much more rounded views of the cities than the Tories and (unlike Labour) a longstanding commitment to empowering communities.

Most of the nonsense spouted by Cameron is not in the coalition agreement and therefore means the Lib Dems are under no obligation to agree. Here is an issue that Clegg and deputy leader Simon Hughes can make some real progress and come up with a response that deals with the criminality of the rioting as well as some of the underlying causes. And by doing so showing the party is independent, rational and above all liberal.

Professor Paul Wilkinson

The UK's premier academic authority on terrorism, Paul Wilkinson, died on Friday. The Telegraph has (as usual in these matters) a rather good obituary.

Prof Wilkinson was head of the International Relations and Politics Department at Aberdeen when I was an undergraduate there in the 1980s. His profile was such that he was the first person the media went to when commenting on terrorism issues.

Which led to the student joke of the time - what's the difference between Paul Wilkinson and God? God is everywhere all the time. Paul Wilkinson is everywhere (except Aberdeen) all the time.

13 August 2011

So farewell then Berlin wall

It was 50 years ago today that construction of the Berlin Wall began. In its 28 year history at least 136 people (some estimates reckon more than 1,000) were killed trying to get over it. The fact that they were going from the East to the West gave the lie to its Soviet name - the Anti Fascist Protection Barrier.

Reuters reports the current Mayor of Berlin saying he was 'appalled that some Germans were nostalgic for the Berlin Wall and supported a newly fashionable leftist view that there were legitimate reasons for building it in 1961' - words strangely left out of the BBC report.

If anyone is in any doubt about the sinister and authoritarian nature of the of the Berlin Wall - here is JFK's speech from 1963.

12 August 2011

Friday favourite 19

I believe this is Tammy Wynette's last ever hit. It has also I believe the only reference in pop music to an icecream van. Unless my reader knows better...

11 August 2011

Anti terror laws not to be invoked in Parliament recall

The 'Dolce and Gabbana' riots (which unsurprisingly seem to have been postponed in the north of England due to rain) will not see the police taking anti-terror powers, so I hear.

Thursday's debate in Parliament will simply be a platform for pointless self congratulatory politicians to offer up trite soundbites about how best to deal with the unrest.

One might think that politicians might have better things to do with their time (like spending it with their families) and let the police get on with their job. A job which it now appears they have found some appropriate tactics that catch up with the organised gangs who are driving the looting.

9 August 2011

Lib Dems should vote against using terror powers on Thursday

Parliament is to be recalled in response to the 'Dolce and Gabbana' riots.

The question being asked on the interweb is - is it to enact powers contained in Labour's anti-terrorism legislation?

Stephen Glenn has a good post about what this might entail.

This would be an illiberal overeaction. What this situation needs is good police intelligence to find out where the organisers are targetting in advance and robust police tactics on the street.

Anti-terror powers would appeal to the right wing mob - but have little practical effect other than to curb the liberty of the 99.99% of Londoners who are going about their law abiding business.

Lib Dem MPs should vote against these draconian powers if proposed by the Tories (and no doubt supported by Labour).

8 August 2011

London riots - report from the front line...

I'm off to bed.

As Mark Pack has pointed out via twitter 99.99% of people living in London are not involved in lifting high value items out of shop windows and claiming it's some sort of anti police protest.

7 August 2011

Eric Pickles - time for a reshuffle?

Eric Pickles has been in the spotlight on a number of Lib Dem blogs - including two of my favourites - Liberal England and Eaten by Missionaries for his comments on town centre parking.

Pickles place in the cabinet is somewhat of a mystery. He's not a great communicator as this clip from Question Time at the height of the MPs expenses scandal shows:

His department is also somewhat of a mystery. For a government committed to localism (and it genuinely is - partly because of Lib Dem influence and partly because 13 years of Labour central command and control patently failed) his department is struggling for a role.

Pickles seems stuck in a contradiction - abolishing central command rules on things like town centre car parking, but yet claiming at the same time it will have some magical national effect of meeting the Daily Mail agenda.

The fact is - if you stop controlling things from the centre then local authorities will do different things. And that will include banning cars from town centres, or jacking up car park fees or agreeing out of town developments at the expense of existing town centres. And that is surely the point of localism.

But the question then is - what is the point of the DCLG?

5 August 2011

Friday favourite 18

Braveheart is probably the worst film ever made about Scotland and Trainspotting definitely one of the best.

So here you can enjoy both in just 100 seconds!

4 August 2011

Gibson torture enquiry rethink needed

News that civil liberties groups will boycott Sir Peter Gibson's enquiry into UK citizen's 'war on terror' torture claims and what Labour government officials knew is a blow to the enquiry - and the government's liberal credentials.

The excuse from Malcolm Rifkind that he 'cannot recollect an inquiry that's been proposed to be so open' is entirely irrelevant as previous government's have always allowed the security forces off the hook through excessive secrecy.

While it is the case that certain information regarding security issues would always need to be examined in private, drawing up terms of reference so restrictive that those actually representing the detainees feel they cannot reasonably take part is clearly wrong.

Liberal Democrats in government need to prove they make a difference and are leading a new style of open and deliberative politics. Here is a simple issue for the Deputy PM and colleagues to take a stand and make a liberal and democratic difference.

Lembit morfs into Life of Brian...

I received an email earlier encouraging me to put my number one next to Lembit Opik's name in the ballot for Lib Dem Mayoral candidate. His pitch reads like a surreal version of the 'What have the Romans ever done for us' sketch from Life of Brian.

Apparently Lembit:

- Has brought us peace in Northern Ireland
- Is a match for Ken and Boris in the character stakes (abusing journalists and getting lovers pregnant one assumes)
- Won Newcastle City Council for the Lib Dems
- Is a vote winner among central and east European voters
- Will do a deal with Bob Crowe (yes seriously)
- Will encourage housebuilding by refusing to sell land to developers
- Oppose a ban on something that isn't being banned.

One might say he's not the campaigning messiah - he's a very naughty boy...

2 August 2011

UN appear to have Assad in their sights (at last)

The weekend's massacre in Hama appears to have roused the UN from its blind eye regarding Assad's Syria. But the wheels of diplomacy turn slowly and it will be weeks before any action is taken (if at all).

Perhaps they need to appoint some sort of envoy who could knock heads together?