31 January 2013

Police chiefs need beat experience

I'm relatively relaxed about the bulk of Damian Green's proposals to shake up the recruitment of senior police personnel.  It's clear the service suffers from a lack of external expertise and modern management.  It has very few women in senior positions and even fewer from ethnic minorities.  Its closed shop nature makes it easy for it to act as a law to itself - even trying to fit up senior ministers for political gain.

But the police's strength is that every single serving officer has spent time on the beat, dealing with community crime and misbehaviour.  It's the cornerstone of policing by consent that the police understand the neighbourhoods and people they police.  It's vital, but unglamorous, which is why community policing is increasinlgy squeezed out in the chase for resources, new kit and technology, special units, fast cars and helicopters.

It's a trend that has made the police more remote from the people, made neighbourhoods appear less safe for those who live there and, by way of response the authorities, have encouraged the use of more authoritarian policies such as extensive CCTV and databases.

And encouraging people with no experience on the beat to take over senior management positions will only speed up this process of making the police more remote and putting more barriers between them and those they are supposed to police.

The Home Office has a Lib Dem minister - Jeremy Browne - and in the unlikely event he reads this blog I hope he insists that a significant time on the beat is part of the induction process.  Otherwise comments can be made to the Home Office here.

30 January 2013

Boundary opposition is a strategic mistake for Lib Dems

The defeat of the bill to equalise the electorates of constituencies for the 2015 general election on the back of Lib Dem MPs votes appears to have been supported pretty much across the Lib Dem blogosphere. 

But I'm not so sure.  It appears to be both a strategic and tactical mistake.  It's strategic because equal representation is a long held liberal aim.  In fact it's been an historic goal of the Labour movement - starting almost 175 years ago with the People's Charter of 1838:

The Chartist's six demands-
1. Universal male franchise
2. Secret ballots
3. Electoral districts of equal size
4. No property qualification for MPs
5. Payment for MPs
6. Annual elections for Parliament.

By failing to argue and vote for this historic electoral reform - Liberal Democrat MPs make other incremental constitutional refoms less likely (like reform of party funding) and allowed Labour off the hook for its rank hypocrisy.  Labour, of course, stopped arguing for equal constituencies as soon as it became clear it was not in their electoral interests to do so. 

And that leads to the tactical error - Labour are currently ahead in the polls and it is possible they could win a majority at the next election with something around a third of the vote (hence their support for unequal constituencies).  They might even be significantly outpolled by the Tories and still be the largest party.  Any measure that deprives Labour of 20 odd seats makes a hung parliament more likely and a Labour government less likely - and that is in the electoral interests of the Lib Dem. 

And alllowing the Tories to be seen as the only party interested in reducing the numbers of unpopular and expensive MPs also hands them some powerful ammunition for those wanting to clean up politics.

24 January 2013

Social work death cover up threatens senior Kingston Lib Dem councillors

Kingston council's child protection department has been the subject of various enquiries since serious failings were uncovered by OFSTED last year.  This latest report from the BBC suggests that social work managers engaged in a deliberate cover up following the murder of Charito Cruz in 2011 - despite her circumstances having been repeatedly reported to the council.

So far Cllr Trish Bamford, Lead Member for Children and Young People, has resisted opposition calls for her resignation, as has council leader Derek Osbourne.  But the news of the timing of the former director's departure (plus the obligatory six figure golden handshake) and the fact Lib Dem councillors are asking Kingston taxpayers to fork out even more council tax to 'protect services' will put more pressure on them.

People may be prepared to pay extra to safeguard children and vulnerable people.  But I can't imagine there being much enthusiasm for tax rises if the tax paying public simply see it ending up in the back pockets of incompetent council staff. 

Lib Dem councillors in Kingston will have to do a lot more to prove they have sorted out the mess in social services and explain exactly how the additional money they are asking residents to stump up will make a difference - particularly for those at risk.

22 January 2013

David Rendel to return to Parliament?

Ex Newbury MP, David Rendel, is one of three names on the shortlist for the Lib Dem candidate to take on maverick Tory and Euro-loon Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park in 2015.

He is up against local activists Jane Dodds and Robin Meltzer in what is likely to be a close fought and high profile selection campaign.  The result should be known after the final hustings meeting on 25th February.

21 January 2013

Lib Dem councillors in Kingston back maximum tax rise

News reaches LOWA Towers that the majority Lib Dem council group on Kingston Council is to propose a £30 a year rise in council tax - a few pennies short of the level that would trigger a local referendum on the increase.

Kingston already has the highest council tax in London and with the party seeking to defend its marginal seat in the traditionally Tory Berrylands Ward on the 28th February one can only speculate on the effect of this decision on the ward's hard pressed voters.

18 January 2013

Friday favourite 94

From the OGWT archive, the New York Dolls with Jet Boy.  In 1973 (yes 1973)!

Sledging in Richmond Park

With schools closing early Richmond Park was the place to be this afternoon...

17 January 2013

Is Ally McCoist a closet Lib Dem?

This picture from today's Scotsman - showing a creative use of bar chart technology - suggests he might be:

16 January 2013

Gove visits girls' school and talks about boys toilets

Last Friday Education Secretary, Michael Gove, visited Coombe Girls school in New Malden where he held a Q&A with some of the students.  And a report of this session appears on the school's website.

But the exchange that caught my eye was this one:
What in particular do you look for when you visit schools?

Mr Gove referred us to his list of three things which he looks for whenever he visits a school. One: he prefers to be shown round by the pupils, as they are the most important ones. Two: he wants to see pupils who are engaged and who have a lot to say. Three: he says it's always a good idea to check the boys' toilets, as you can instantly tell from what you see in there how much confidence the students have in the staff!
While I have some sympathy with the view that checking on what goes on behind the scenes is an important part of gauging the quality of an establishment, I can't help wondering whether Michael Gove might have chosen his words a little better?

14 January 2013

The most effective US campaign ad?

The Campaigns and Elections website has trawled the American airwaves for the toughest campaign advertisements of the 2012 elections.  Its has come up with this top nine.

But the most effective has to be this one - dealing with the outrageous comments on rape by (now ex) Republican representive for Missouri's second congressional district, Todd Akin.

13 January 2013

The facts about the Belfast flag vote

The Alliance party has been targeted by unionist thugs over recent weeks for being the catalyst to a decision by Belfast's city council to fly the Union flag only on selected days.  A practice mirrored in the majority of local authorities in other parts of the kingdom.

The Alliance's rebuttal Q&A document makes it quite clear what the facts are and should be compulsory reading before anyone takes to the streets with their molotov cocktail at the ready.

11 January 2013

Friday favourite 93

With the sad news that guitar legend Wilko Johnson is suffering from terminal cancer, I thought it's time for more from his back catalogue...

Russian liberal party questions Gerard Depardieu

The Liberator bog has published a letter from Yabloko - the Russian liberal party (not to be confused with the Russian Liberal Democrats) to Gerard Depardieu challenging him on his decision to move to the republic of Mordovia.  It's the sort of thing that needs a wider circulation.

9 January 2013

Happy 150th London Underground

The world's oldest subway system is 150 today.  And despite it being immensly overcrowded at times (and expensive) it still takes millions of Londoners in and out of the capital every day pretty efficiently.

The Underground's Harry Beck, of course responsible for the iconic and much copied tube map.  This one is of the galaxy with each stop representing 1,000 light years.  More at the excellent London List alternative tube map site

8 January 2013

An unconventional gas...

One of the gems of bureaucratic jargon liberally spread through yesterday's coalition mid term review was this beauty:
We will encourage the exploitation of shale gas by developing a targeted tax regime for the industry and by ensuring that regulation is properly co-ordinated through a new single Office for Unconventional Gas...
Which left me thinking who could head up an office for unconventional gas?  Well only one person really springs to mind...

Rose Garden II - the mid term review

I'm not the only person seemingly underwhelmed by the coalition's mid term review.  Stephen Tall on Lib Dem voice talked about 'wasted opportunities' and Newsnight even illustrated the dearth of new initiatives with the sound of tumbleweed.

My main issue with it (apart from the unnecessary repeat of the Rose Garden double act) is that it takes no regard of the origins of the various policies or what the competing elements of the coalition are seeking to do going forward.  Now I know the document was probably written by some civil servant or policy wonk - but it is in both parties interests to be clear where the fault lines lie and these could have been presented in the document.

This has been the main failing of Clegg, Lib Dem ministers and their advisers over the last two and half years - at no point have they argued what their purpose is in government and what they aim to achieve over its lifetime.

I argued nearly two years ago that the party needed an agenda for government - saying:
What the party has to do is to be clear - in about four simple and populist sentences - about what they are doing and working to achieve in government. And why these things are those that a Tory government would never do.
The mid term review takes us no closer to that and leaves the voter looking in on an essentially Tory government being propped up by compliant Lib Dems.  And that can only be a bad thing for what's left of the party on the ground.

6 January 2013

New links...

My eagle eyed viewer may have noticed I've added a couple of new links - Gareth Epps and the Liberator blog.  Both are well worth a read.

And if you don't subscribe to Liberator I'd encourage you to do so.  You might disagree with some or all of its content - but it is the only independent voice for liberals in the UK and as a result is worth its very reasonable subs.

4 January 2013

Friday favourite 92

BBC radio 2 has run a competition for the nation's favourite number two single.  The results include many songs worthy of the number one slot - particularly given some of the songs that stopped them topping the chart.

Here's one of my favourites Sit down by James - number two in 1991 beaten to the top spot by Chesney Hawke's The one and only.  Here they are a few years later on the ever excellent Jules Holland.

3 January 2013

Return of the Labservatives?

Some may remember a rather amusing advertising campaign in favour of a fictitional political party in the spring of 2010 - the Labservatives:

It was of course the Lib Dems - making the point that whoever won the election nothing really changed.  And the upshot of the inconclusive result in 2010 was a coalition that was supposed to be the embodiment of this new politics - a real change in the way goverment was conducted.

But sadly as Lib Dem ministers have got their feet comfortably under their desks the old politics crept back.  And two statements from senior Lib Dems over the Christmas and New Year break show how indistinguishable Lib Dems in government are now from either Labour or Conservatives.

Jeremy Browne's fatuous call in the Telegraph for the party to grow up in government and his rewriting of the history of the tuition fee pledge was the first.  For Browne's information the tuition fee debacle wasn't a failure of policy making (or costing) it was a failure of delivery by Lib Dem ministers.

The second is Clegg's refusal to meet with his own party members campaigning against secret courts.  It is a long standing liberal principle that justice needs to be seen to be done as well as be done.  The Clegg who pledged not to cooperate with ID cards and the identity database would surely embrace the campaign against secret courts not snub them.


Can we have the real Nick Clegg back please?