Bit of a rush this evening so no time for the details of whose on etc. but the chat will start at 10:30pm as usual here tonight.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Egged on by both Will Straw and Jonathan Sheppard and following on from the post I did this morning listing the 20 Lib Dems on Twitter with the most followers, here is a slightly different methodology.
Iain Dale did a list of the top 20 Labour and Conservative Twitterers this morning. I thought we Lib Dems deserved our own list for comparison. I went through the list of Twitter accounts listed on the "Tweets" page of the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator and pulled out the top 20 (in terms of followers).
So it is official, the economy just squeaked out of recession in the final quarter of 2009 growing by 0.1% according to the official figures released today. Of course that is good news although the UK is the last country in the G20 to do so.
Monday, 25 January 2010
David Cameron has been talking about "Broken Britain" for a long time now. He frequently raises the issue and did so again recently regarding the horrific Edlington torture case.
Sunday, 24 January 2010
I have noticed on a number of blogs today (including Iain Dale and Dizzy) that there is discussion that the TV debates might be in jeopardy because of the demands of Brown and Cameron about the make-up of the audience. Brown apparently wants the audience weighted by number of Commons seats (ridiculous given that Labour only got 36% of the vote but 55% of the seats) and Cameron apparently wants them weighted by current opinion polls.
I have blogged in the past about how the BBC can sometimes be its own worst enemy and I have seen some further evidence of this recently.
One of the main arguments that opponents of electoral reform to a proportional system use is that some forms of PR create two classes of MP. Now firstly, this is not true for Single Transferable Vote with multi-member constituencies, the system that the Lib Dems and most electoral reformers favour. However it is true for systems like Alternative Vote Plus or Additional Member System. Those systems have a "top-up element" to allow proportionality but that does generally mean that some MPs have constituencies and others don't. In other words some MPs have constituents to answer to and others from the list only have their party to answer to.
Friday 11th May (2001)Much speculation about which members of the New Labour elite will be parachuted into the safe seats vacated by MPs retiring at the last moment. Ed Balls and David Miliband are among the names being mentioned. Not for them the cutting of teeth in hopeless seats or the long, wearying slog around the selection circuit. A few high-level phone calls, a quiet word in the right ears and ... Bob's your uncle ... a safe seat for life. And who knows, within two or three years a foot on the ministerial ladder, first steps on the inevitable rise to the Cabinet.
Friday, 22 January 2010
This week's Pod Delusion podcast is now out (embedded below). There are some goodies on it this week including a discussion with comedy and skeptic godfather Robin Ince. Also, if you want to hear me attempt to do an impression of John Cleese in a homeopathic medicine version of the classic Python "Dead Parrot Sketch" written by Crispian Jago (who also plays the Michael Palin role) then make sure you listen to the third piece...
Thursday, 21 January 2010
The panel will include the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne MP, the Conservative shadow secretary of state for communities and local government Caroline Spelman MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on housing Sarah Teather MP, the broadcaster Richard Madeley and the historian Andrew Roberts.
Join us from 10:30pm below:
As we start to move towards the election campaign in earnest, I can't help but feel that there are two of the Conservative Party's major policies that will become albatrosses around David Cameron's neck.
The first one is the pledge in increase the inheritance tax threshold to £1m. The Conservatives generally think that IHT is an unfair tax and have sometimes characterised it as "a tax on the dead" as well as claiming that it means tax is effectively paid multiple times on earnings. There are others who think that it is fair to tax the estates of the deceased (over a reasonable minimum threshold of around £325,000) as the people paying the tax are the heirs who have often not done anything to earn that money/windfall anyway.
I happen to come more down on the side of agreeing that IHT is a reasonable way to raise tax revenue (although I do think there are still too many occasions when people have to sell their homes to pay it which needs to be addressed). But regardless of what I think, the Conservative proposal to raise the threshold to £1m is far too easy to characterise as a tax cut for the rich. The reason it is so easy to do this is because that is effectively what it is. There are really not that many people in this country who will inherit anything like that amount of money. So at a time when the entire country has to tighten its collective belt, Cameron is proposing a substantial tax benefit to what will amount to a few thousand of the richest heirs in the UK.
Even if you agree that the IHT threshold should be increased, is now (or the next few years) really the time to do it? The Conservatives are weak on this point and their opponents will rightly keep challenging them on it. I expect it will come up during the televised debates and Cameron is at real risk of looking hopelessly out of touch as he tries to defend it.
The second albatross is their plan to "recognise marriage in the tax system". Aside from the fact that different Conservative spokesmen seem to be interpreting it in slightly different ways (e.g. Iain Duncan Smith suggesting it would apply to families with children aged 3 or under) there is a major problem with the principle. Why should people who choose not to get married (or are not through no fault of their own) be penalised by the tax system. As Nick Clegg said during his Andrew Marr interview at the weekend, where would it leave the woman with three young kids whose philandering husband leaves her and marries someone else? She would be left penalised whilst he gets the tax benefit.
When Polly Toynbee raised a similar point with David Cameron at a recent press conference he suggested that the details had not been worked out yet. I am afraid I fail to see how this "detail" could be "worked out". It is surely an intended effect of the policy. There will be manifest unfairnesses and countless hypothetical examples of these that can be thrown at the Conservatives over the next few months.
In the case of both of these policies it is probably too late for the Tories to row back from them. It is too close to the election for that so they are stuck with them.
The question is just how heavy will these albatrosses become?
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Sunday, 17 January 2010
In 1997, one of the things that underlined how much Tony Blair had changed his party from the one that had lost in 1979 (and been out of power for 18 years) was how few members of his shadow cabinet had been members of that previous administration.
- Margaret Beckett: She had held a number of junior positions under Wilson and Callaghan.
- Michael Meacher: He also held a couple of junior positions in the 1974-1979 administration.
- Gavin Strang: Ditto.
- Ann Taylor who was an assistant whip from 1977-1979 under Callaghan.
- William Hague
- Liam Fox
- Sir George Young (he was also a minister for a short time under Margaret Thatcher)
- Cheryl Gillan
- Francis Maude (he was actually out of parliament after 1992 but was a minister under Major until then)
- Andrew Mitchell
- Kenneth Clarke (he was a minister all the way through from 1979 - 1997)
- David Willetts
- Lord Strathclyde
- Patrick McLoughlin
Posted by Mark Thompson at 12:03
Saturday, 16 January 2010
This week's Pod Delusion podcast is now out (embedded below) and is up to its usual very high standard. I did the final item on how ITV could improve its future by looking to its past (expanding on one of the themes I wrote about in this post).
The Big Freeze (4:15) by Martin Robbins
Google Owns Our Souls (9:23) by Liz Lutgendorff
NHS IT Systems (15:16) by Simon Howard
Douglas Adams (20:26) by Misty
Dan Brown and Tony Robinson (23:10) by Billy Abbott
ITV and the Regions (26:42) by Mark Thompson
Friday, 15 January 2010
- He was asked a question about the "third sector" (i.e. voluntary sector). During his answer he suggested that it should really be referred to as the "first sector" as they often historically got there first e.g. setting up schools and things like Barnardos etc. There were a disproportionate number of people in the room from the voluntary sector and this received a number of approving comments.
- He was given a hard time on the Iraq war by one questioner who wanted to know if he regretted having voted for it. He refused to say that he regretted it and at one point used the formulation: "Am I glad that Saddam has gone? - Yes!". That wasn't the question that was asked and is a classic Blair way of responding to a question by asking another related but different question that he is more comfortable answering.
Thursday, 14 January 2010
It's being broadcast from Finchley which is Thatcher's old stomping ground.
Join us from 10:30pm below:
Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti this week where the government fears 100,000 could be dead I have been e-mailed the details of the following appeal:
SOS Children Appealing for funds for Haiti Emergency
Although we, as a well established charity in Haiti since 1982 have not managed more than brief contact with our offices and field workers in Haiti, it is clear that there will be a massive need for emergency relief work after the earthquake yesterday. Therefore we have decided to appeal for funds to help the people of Haiti.
After the massive earthquake in Haiti yesterday evening, brief communication has been possible with the national director, Celigny Darius. He informs us that all staff at the national office in Port-au-Prince are uninjured but the national office has been partially destroyed and we have not been able to move from the office. Unfortunately, since all communication lines are down and all roads are blocked, there has been no possibility of communicating with any of the SOS Children's Villages or other programmes as yet. There are severe damages to some of the team's own homes and some of them have not been able to contact their families. The epicentre of the quake was just 10 kilometres from the capital Port-au-Prince, where the national office, one village and one SOS Social Centre are located.
An Emergency Programme is being developed and immediate support will be coordinated from SOS Dominican Republic where we still have working facilities.
Our track record in emergency relief speaks for itself. We have staff and infrastructure on the ground and we will be one of the first to offer assistance. In all likelihood, as with the Asian Tsunami and with the Kashmir Earthquake and so many other places, as we are already registered to care for lone children, in the short term we will probably be entrusted by the government to run emergency shelters for children who have been orphaned or separated from their family (in Kashmir we ended up as temporary guardian for all unaccompanied children). We expect to be involved in trauma care and family tracing. We are in Haiti long term and we will probably (as is usually the case) end up providing the long term home for children who have been orphaned by the disaster. This is a well established pattern.
In all events we undertake to spend 100% of all funds generated by this appeal helping in Haiti, with absolutely no deductions for UK costs such as administration or fundraising.
If you would like to contribute to this appeal please donate here and enter "Haiti" into the instruction box. We will keep you informed of news and of what we achieve with your funds.
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
Steve Richards had an interesting opinion piece in The Independent yesterday where he asserted that Gordon Brown is now less powerful than when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Here's an excerpt:
As a mighty Chancellor, Brown had a big say in who got what job and who did not. If he disapproved of a ministerial appointment he made sure that his or her space for manoeuvre was limited. When Blair elevated the likes of Mandelson and Alan Milburn in cabinet reshuffles Brown despaired. As one of his close allies told me, "Tony's reshuffles were highly charged affairs as far as Gordon was concerned". In particular he needed to lie down in a darkened room when Blair promoted Mandelson to be President of the Board of Trade in 1998. Even so, once Brown had recovered from the shock he was so powerful as Chancellor he made sure Mandelson had no space to put the case for the euro or to say very much on the economy.With an almost comical symmetry, as Prime Minister he was so weak he buttressed his precarious perch by giving Mandelson a more wide-ranging and powerful portfolio than Blair would ever have dared to offer his friend. During an earlier crisis Brown also discussed with Milburn the possibility of a return. Since becoming Prime Minister his powers are so diminished that his enemies have flourished more than they did when he was Chancellor. In contrast, even before last Wednesday Brown was not powerful enough to make Ed Balls Chancellor, although he is the figure whose judgement he rates above all others.As Prime Minister he finally acquired formal powers of patronage. Yet he was able to hand out more jobs to his allies when he was Chancellor and he had no formal powers at all.
He (Brown) will never enjoy the immense power he wielded at the Treasury when he yearned, every minute of each day, to make the move to No 10.
Posted by Mark Thompson at 16:36
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
The Reading University Lib Dems have invited Professor David Nutt, the former head of the government's Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (see previous posts) to speak at an event on Monday 25th January.
Professor David Nutt is one of the most highly respected, yet controversial figures in drugs research and is the former Chairman of the government advisory body on drugs policy, the ACMD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs).In this role he was seen to be outspokenly critical of the classification of some drugs, publishing several papers in noted medical journals on the correlations between Dependence/Self Harm; risk assessments between taking some drugs and other activities (f.e. horse riding and taking ecstacy); and speaking out on these and similar topics in public lectures.He has been a vocal critic of the move to reclassify Cannabis from Class C to Class B based upon the evidence of the harm it can cause.After being dismissed by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, he has setup his own independent drugs advisory board The Independent Council on Drugs Harms.This will be one of his first public appearances since establishing this board.The discussion will be chaired by Mark Thompson, campaigner within the Liberal Democrats for Drugs Policy Reform group.All are welcome, time will be allotted for questions at the end of the talk.
Greg Stone has resigned as Lib Dem PPC for Newcastle East as a result of the fallout following some lewd comments he made during one of Guido's PMQs live chats a year or so ago. Amongst other comments were a reference to whether Hazel Blears was on Botox and asking whether she had had a stroke and describing a Labour MP as a "sour-faced bitch"
Sunday, 10 January 2010
For a while now I have been thinking about applying to go onto BBC's Mastermind. I usually do OK in my armchair at the general knowledge rounds but the sticking point has been picking a suitable specialist subject. Or, as the application form makes clear, the four subjects. It looks like you have to declare enough subjects to take you all the way through to the final!
- UK politics 1997 - 2007. I lived through Tony Blair's reign and pretty obsessively followed the politics programmes and comment pieces. Also, I have read numerous biographies from the period recently and intend to read more over the next few months.
- UK politics 1990 - 1997. I did also live through John Major's period as PM and was politically sentient throughout although I am doubtless going to be a bit rustier on this due to the passage of time. It might give me an excuse to re-read some of the political biographies of the time though...
- Punk rock 1976 - 1979. Now this is before my time but in my late teens I got very interested in the music and social history behind punk. I have read numerous books including the definitive and excellent "England's Dreaming" by Jon Savage. I think with a bit of revision I could be very strong on this.
- The TV show "Red Dwarf". I used to be obsessed with this show when I was a kid and am certain I could answer pretty much anything on the first 5 series. I am less sure about the last 3 series and the recent specials though but it wouldn't take much to gen up on those.
- The TV show "Friends". I have now watched every episode of this several times so I should be pretty good.
- The TV show "The Simpsons". I am an expert on about the first 12 seasons. After that I would be more patchy but I am sure a bit of intensive catching up would sort that out.
The youths approached the kitchen window, before attempting to break into her garden shed, prompting Miss Klass to wave a kitchen knife to scare them away.Miss Klass, 31, who was alone in her house in Potters Bar, Herts, with her two-year-old daughter, Ava, called the police. When they arrived at her house they informed her that she should not have used a knife to scare off the youths because carrying an "offensive weapon" – even in her own home – was illegal.Jonathan Shalit, Miss Klass's agent, said that had been "shaken and utterly terrified" by the incident and was stepping up security at the house she shares with her fiancé, Graham Quinn, who was away on business at the time.He said: "Myleene was aghast when she was told that the law did not allow her to defend herself in her own home. All she did was scream loudly and wave the knife to try and frighten them off."She is not looking to be a vigilante, and has the utmost respect for the law, but when the police explained to her that even if you're at home alone and you have an intruder, you are not allowed to protect yourself, she was bemused."Her questions going forward are: what are my rights, and what are you actually allowed to do to defend yourself in your own house?"
We have had to move the URL for the "House of Comments" podcast to houseofcomments.com. If you want to know the details of why this has happened, Stu has a detailed explanation on his blog. Because of the way iTunes works, your old subscription will now not update any more so you will need to resubscribe. You can do this very easily via this link. Apologies for any inconvenience.
Saturday, 9 January 2010
Friday, 8 January 2010
Paul Waugh has a very interesting piece just published on his blog reminding us that when Labour is in opposition, the Shadow Cabinet is elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party.