Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday 31 March 2009

Fisking Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee has written a comment piece for the Guardian today which tries to argue that we should keep things regarding our MPs in perspective. I have tried to address some of her points below:

This isn't even the beginning of the end. After Jacqui Smith, expect a stream of MP expense scandals drip-fed into papers week by week. Rumours abound: is there a mole in the Commons fees office? Is it a Tory? Is someone selling these scoops? One thing is certain: deep-pocketed tabloids are chasing ministers, hiring Benji the Bin Man-type rummagers, bribing officials or just calculating MPs' property profits from expenses.

You are doubtless correct Polly, but the "deep-pocketed tabloids" would have nothing to uncover if the MPs had not been so greedy in the first place.

All parties are in for a roasting. In the autumn every MP's bath plug and lightbulb claim will be published. By bad luck, yesterday saw their pay rise by 2.33% to add to public anger.

Bad luck? They are in control of their own pay rises and have chosen to do this in the middle of a recession. Each individual MP is at liberty to give away their rise to charity or back to the Exchequer. Let's see how many of them do.

If moral instincts fail them, then every political sinew should alert MPs to do nothing they wouldn't want splashed across front pages, whatever the custom and practice of the house. Talk to MPs who don't claim much and they boil over at those claiming more than they need. Jacqui Smith calling her sister's back bedroom her main home looked all wrong, even if, apparently, officials said it was OK. The £10 blue movie fiasco is an embarrassing error, but hardly a high crime. For years no spotlight shone in this dark corner.

The blue movie fiasco will amost certainly destroy Smith's career and will become as emblematic of the sleaze of New Labour as brown envelopes and Neil Hamilton were for the Tories.

Now the system must change - and fast. What's up with the dilatory Committee on Standards in Public Life, refusing to lumber into action until September, not reporting until after the next election? This slo-mo response risks bringing the committee into the same disrepute as the MPs. Public thirst for blood spilled over on Question Time when Eric Pickles was booed and barracked for utterly failing to catch the angry moment. He looked shocked: frankly, they all do. If party leaders were wise, they would rush together to announce new rules, draw a line under the past and try to staunch the anti-politician bile.

I agree with all of this and indeed Nick Clegg has already written to the other two main party leaders suggesting this.

(Read online comments after this for waves of cynical hatred.)

This seems to be a pretty flagrant attempt to smear any criticism of her article before it has even been published (assuming this was not added afterwards but there is no EDIT comment attached to it). I have read some of the comments and they are largely polite but just disgusted with politicians and Polly's attempts at defending them.

But keep all this in perspective. Our politicians are among the cleanest in the world - 16th out of 180 nations and bunched less than two points from the top, according to Transparency International. Below us are the US, Belgium, France and Spain. But from the uproar, MPs stretching expense rules has been made to look like the pork barrel, backhander and bribery scams that plague other countries.

And? So what? We want a clean politics for this country. I don't care whether we are "not as bad" as some other countries. This is a red herring argument.

Let's repeat this: our MPs are rarely corrupt. Our feral press, however, finds growing transparency and freedom of information - brought in by Labour - offers easy meat for cheap stories. These hyped up "scandals" are frivolous compared with serious investigations such as the Guardian's arduous and risky revelations on company tax avoidance. If only more newspapers gave the same space to investigating opaque corporate bad behaviour that they devote to exposés of minor MPs' misdemeanours. Eternal trivia is not eternal vigilance.

Hmm. I agree with the need for us to more vigorously pursue tax avoidance but it is not an either/or situation. We should pursue things like that and also pursue public servants who have structured an "allowances" system to line their own pockets. The total amount of MPs expenses according to the figures released yesterday is over £80 million. This is not trivia.

But here's the wake-up call. MPs have been caught napping by the new wave of puritanism. Others will now come under unaccustomed scrutiny. Let this be a warning to all public officials, quangos, councils, NHS officials, sports authorities or anyone holding even minor power. Something has snapped. If public trust was always low, it has fallen down a crevasse in this financial crisis.

Absolutely. People are furious with our politicians and public officials and they have to respond to this right now. Right now. No kicking it into the long grass with inquries led by the great and the good reporting after the next election. Now.

Historians will see why: people feel a grand conspiracy by a well-paid elite has failed them. They were told this was a golden age, that astronomic pay at the top was yielding rich returns for the nation. They were told their soaring property values came thanks to the brilliance of the governing and banking classes. When your house price rose by £50 a day, why question the very clever, very well-paid people overseeing this great tide of wealth? Polls showed surprisingly little indignation as top pay rocketed. People believed those in power who said the golden geese were delivering the eggs.

I still thought there were problems with the current system as I am sure did many others even when times were good. However Polly is right that now times are tough there will be much more focus on this subject.

But no longer. MPs are getting the first blowback of the new mood. Everyone earning in the top tax bracket had better watch out: the real nature of inequality has been rumbled. Remember, only some 10% of people earn over £40,000. That means 90% earn less. All those with power - leaders, managers, controllers, commentators, decision-makers - inhabit a very small elite paid far above the norm. Median pay is around £23,000, so half the population earns less. Now trade unions no longer have the power to rattle the cage of the powerful, the upper 10% has lost its grip on reality, failing to realise how well off it is. MPs and others feel entitled to more if they compare themselves upwards, with the top 1% earning a monstrous swag. Extreme inequality causes pay dysmorphia - failing to see your pay in proper proportion to everyone else's.

But MPs earn more than 2.5x the median in salary alone (and that's before the tens of thousands of pounds of "allowances" are factored in). Do they really, honestly think they are badly paid?

It is unjust that the public sector - less greedy, less rich, more motivated by civic sense - will feel the blowtorch of this new mood. Beware throwing public-sector leaders into tumbrels. But as an easy target in a downturn, they had better cut back those top rates that have been infected by the private-sector pay virus. Meanwhile, businessmen flying "executive" class for no good reason, eating Michelin stars and conferencing in golf-friendly foreign spas pilfer public-company funds from other people's pensions under far less scrutiny.

No, I am sorry Polly but when times are tough, everybody has to share the burden. The caricature of businessmen eating swans and swimming in caviar is an attempt to distract from this. I am in business myself and we are having to be very careful on expenditure as I am sure most other businesses are. There are pay freezes, pay cuts, short time working, downsizing, suspended pension contributions, you name it going on in the private sector at the moment. the public sector cannot go on expanding whilst the private sector takes all the pain. It goes against natural justice and is economically wrong headed.

Beware of joining the general denigration of MPs. There are few Jonathan Aitken bad hats: you know them by the pricking of your thumbs. Most MPs in every party go into politics to change things for the better. A salary set today at £64,766 is fine, but most (not all) could do better outside.

This last bit is absolute rubbish. £65K per year is a huge salary and many MPs these days, certainly Labour ones are time servers who have never done a job outside politics. Once you factor in the "allowances" we are talking well over £100K. I simply do not believe that most MPs could earn this sort of money outside of politics and it insults our intelligence to suggest they can. Oh, and if they really do think they can, they should resign from the house and do it. There are no shortage of people waiting to replace them.

Few reach cabinet or even junior office. If they do, their powerlessness can still feel mortifying. Years of weekly graft in constituencies yield little personal benefit: most rise and fall with their party's fortunes.

MPs under collective omerta are usually better people in private than they are allowed to be in public. This era of Labour MPs has rebelled more than any other - though rebellion is not always as honourable as suffering under collective decision. We who comment on them do well to remember how plush is our perch, in comparison.

But the collective omerta is entirely their own fault. They control our system of government. If they want to be allowed more individualism, it is in their own hands. I agree it would be better if they were more independent minded but many MPs, certainly in the Labour and Conservative parties are politically cowardly when it comes to speaking their true mind on issues. Look at the conspiracy of silence for example on the failure of the "war on drugs". MPs are very quick to scream "Gaffe!" or "Soft on drugs/crime!" at each other as soon as one of them steps outside the ridiculously narrow bounds they set for themselves. It is their own fault.

Those who abuse, belittle and encourage popular contempt for MPs should consider that we need more good people in politics. Observing the excruciating public humiliation of the home secretary's husband for watching a couple of porn movies, with their children cringing indoors, how many potentially good future politicians decided they would rather not invite the world to root through their private life after all?

It is richly ironic that Jacqui Smith who has done so much to undermine our liberties and to ensure the state can poke their noses into our private business is likely to be undone by someone poking their noses into her private business (although made public due to the claim on taxpayer's money). Good people have nothing to fear from going into politics as long as they keep their side of the street clean and do not engage in the sort of egregious practises we have seen recently.

The MPs are getting exactly what they deserve and they only have themselves to blame.

Derek Draper is damaging the blogosphere

I stopped reading Labourlist seriously a few weeks ago once it had become clear to me that it was largely a conduit for Labour party propaganda. If I wanted to read Labour party press releases and centrally coordinated attacks on opponents I would subscribe to them.

In Labourlist's first few days I posted this on one of their initial threads:


I wish you luck in this endeavour (I am a Lib Dem activist and blogger) however I do have a couple of concerns.

Firstly the list of contributors seems to largely consist of very mainstream party figures. If a blog like this is to be successful, it cannot always parrot the party line. There has to be space to be able to question and constructively criticise your own party's approach. I hope you can find the right balance here.

Secondly, and I don't wish to get too personal but I am fearful that with such a divisively partisan figure as yourself Derek as the driving force behind it, there is a risk that the blog will reflect this too strongly. I saw you on BBC News 24 a while back and I was shocked at how unwilling to even engage in the discussion with your Tory opponent you were. You just kept shouting things at him like "Same old Tories!" and similar and also kept grossly misrepresenting your opponent's position on things. It was exactly the sort of performance that turns people off from watching political "debates" in my opinion. I hope you can curb these instincts and allow proper debate to occur on here. I know you will have problems with Tory trolls but not all Tories are in league with the devil and they often have valid opinions that merit debate. As do we Lib Dems and others from across the political spectrum. If you can engage in this way, the blog is much more likely to be successful.

To his credit, Draper did respond to my post:

mark. there will be more contributors added and many of those will be non-mainstream. we already have ken livingstone and another key left of centre figure is joining us tomorrow. i don't think that bbc 24 appearance was my best and will try and raise my tone (it'll slip occassionally though, i'm sure) - but the tone of this site should always be welcoming to constructive comments like yours...

However since then I have seen no evidence that he has followed through on the general thrust of what he promised. Every media appearance he has made has been as bad as, or worse than his News 24 appearance I referred to. He has been rude, hectoring and unwilling to listen to anything his opponents say as well as deliberately misrepresenting their positions. Also, there are numerous comments in threads on there that I have seen in a brief scan today that imply that censorship has been taking place on the site against people who post negatively about the Labour Party.

And then today Iain Dale has revealed that a very articulate and thought provoking piece written by Labour Party member Shamik Das criticising Jacqui Smith and submitted to them at about 4:00pm yesterday has at the time of me writing this (about 9:45am the next day) still not been published on Labourlist. Dale has (slightly mischievously) published it himself on his own site now.

Either Draper has deliberately censored the publication of an article that is critical of Jacqui Smith in which case Labourlist is not an independent grass roots site, or if he claims he has not got round to publishing yet due to time constraints then he does not have enough time to devote to this enterprise. Things in the blogosphere move fast and it cannot take many hours or even days to get things published if you want to be fresh and relevant. As Dale has shown, someone else will publish it anyway and you will be caught flat-footed. The old rules of the spin machine no longer work in the digital world and Draper would do well to heed this.

I think Labourlist needs someone else less partisan at the helm if it is ever going to be taken seriously as a force in the blogosphere.

UPDATE1: Labourlist has now published Shamik's article. It was posted at about midday today.

UPDATE2: This is now officially my most popular post ever by quite a long way largely due to Iain Dale having included it in his Daley Dozen yesterday. Thanks Iain! Also, Labourlist is still at it - publishing press releases and trying to pass them off as blog posts as I have detailed here.

UPDATE3: I now feel very strongly that Draper needs to resign as editor of LabourList following the "Sleazegate" revelations.

Monday 30 March 2009

I don't care who is leaking this stuff - MPs must change

Guido is spot on with his post today about how the focus of anger of many MPs is on whoever is leaking embarrassing information about MPs expenses to the media.

This is exactly what I thought too when I heard last night that the Labour Party is trying to spin relevations that are coming out as politically motivated and being leaked by a Tory mole.

Frankly, I couldn't give a flying toss who is leaking this information and what their motivations are. I actually shouted at the TV last night (I try and stop myself but sometimes can't help it!) that this is utterly irrelevant. If the information is available in the first place then it is because MPs have been playing the system, even if it is within the rules it is clear that public opinion is massively against them and they have to face this and change their practises.

I was actually thinking about this the other day. When Harriet Harman was being questioned about Shred's pension she said that although his contract may be enforceable by law, it is not enforceable in the "court of public opinion" and hence the government would "step in". I wonder whether she takes a similar view about Jacqui Smith trousering over £100K by claiming that a room in her sister's house is her main residence whilst she has a huge house in Redditch where her husband and children live. It is clear that is also not enforceable in the "court of public opinion. Is she now going to "step in"?

It is a shame nobody asked her this at PMQs last week.

Jacqui Smith is now a liability

Following the weekend revelations about Jacqui Smith's husband and their claim against taxpayers money for him watching two adult films I think her career as a senior politician is finished. It is not so much what has happened in this particular case - it is a relatively minor oversight. The problem is that it comes after a number of other allegations against her regarding her expenses as I have blogged about previously. She has now become the politician most closely associated with seemingly dodgy expense claims.

For the good of her office and her party she should now resign.

Sunday 29 March 2009

Brown has shot himself in the foot - again!

Back in January I posted about how for all Brown's supposed political acumen he seems to have a knack of shooting himself in the foot.

I cited the examples of the government's bullish predictions for the economy recovering from recession half way through 2009 (although announced by Darling he was doubtless a cipher for Brown). This always seemed very unlikely and they will have these predictions thrown back at them time and again in the run up to the next election. I also referred to his constant claims to have abolished "boom and bust" through years of boom until we hit the bust.

My point was that he always seems to favour short term tactical advantage over the opposition to properly thought through strategic positioning. They are also usually hitched to hostages to fortune.

It has happened again in the last few months. He has been banging on for a while now about how there will be global action to tackle the crisis and took every opportunity to rub David Cameron's nose in the "fact" that mainstream world opinion was with him and his fiscal stimulus plans. From my perspective it was never clear to me that world opinion was on board with him and it has become ever clearer in the last couple of weeks that world political opinion is moving against him (e.g. France, Germany and a fair proportion of the political classes within the US although Obama is still vaguely with him).

The G20 which was being puffed as a great event to sort the problems out has been downgraded again and again through his rhetoric to now being something approaching a photo opportunity which is all it will really be but it is too late. His previous attempts to spin the meeting are already on record and it will now inevitably be a damp squib.

I just wonder how many more bullets he will be allowed to fire into his own foot before he gets stretchered off the field of battle.

Has Oborne discovered a Bank of England scandal?

In Peter Oborne's column in the Mail yesterday he reported the following:

At the end of 2006, the Bank of England pension fund made a sudden and very extraordinary decision. It sold all the equities in its portfolio and invested them in index-linked gilts - even though it realised that such a move would increase the annual cost of the pension fund by some £45million.

Looking back, this was a brilliantly farsighted decision because shares have since fallen in value by almost 50 per cent. It seems clear the the Bank of England fund managers understood the nature of the looming economic crisis well before anyone else.

At the time, they said their decision was based on concerns about 'unsustainable' positions in credit markets and the consequences of a possible credit crunch. When I put this story to a Bank press officer yesterday, it was dismissed as 'absolute nonsense'.

This does indeed pose some intriguing questions and I am surprised that there has not been more coverage of this in the MSM and on other blogs.

If there turns out to be any truth in this then I think it will increase the anger of ordinary people who are all sufferring, especially those who have recently retired or are due to very soon but who were not in a position to be able to forsee what was going to happen and thus make the decision to move out of equities in 2006.

Friday 27 March 2009

Iain Dale et al on Eric Pickles

Stephen Tall has posted on LDV about the eerie silence from the right wing blogosphere regarding Eric Pickles' performance on Question Time that I blogged about earlier.

In the comments someone pointed out that Con Home have now commented on it, albeit in a fairly muted way whilst claiming still to be a big fan of Pickles.

Iain Dale however posted in the thread that he "did not want to intrude on private grief". I am not quite sure what he means by this seeing as it was broadcast on the most popular channel in the UK on one of the most popular political programmes, but you can bet your bottom dollar if this had been a senior Labour or LibDem making such a cock-up there would be a very long thread dedicated to it on his blog.

Stephen makes the more serious point however that this is worrying for the likelihood in the future of the right-wing blogosphere holding any future Tory government to account. One of the reasons I think that the right-wing blogs have been so successful in the last few years is that they are not in government and so have much freedom to attack the government and the status quo. The real test will be once their friends are in power, will they still stand up for what they really think or will they pull their punches?

Dismissive comments like Iain's on this subject do not bode well.

Eric Pickles made a fool of himself on Question Time

I watched Question Time last night and whilst Eric Pickles seemed to do OK in the first half, when it came to a question about MPs expenses he made an utter fool of himself.

You can watch it for yourself here. The question is from 38:30 and Pickles contribution starts at about 44:00.

I have transcribed the first part of his answer here:

Dimbleby: Eric Pickles do you have a two house system with an allowance?
Pickles: I do indeed have a two house system and an allowance, but if I could just make a brief contribution...
Dimbleby: How far are you away from Westminster?
Pickles: 37 miles.
Dimbleby: And you need two houses?
Pickles: And let me, if I could just make this brief contribution to "Hang an MP week"! If I could just...
Dimbleby: Take your time, take your time.
Pickles: OK, then let me explain why. And I have actually had experience of commuting that distance when my wife was ill, she's fully recovered now. But, for a month I did it and it was an extremely difficult experience, I'll explain why. Because the House of Commons works on clockwork. You have to be there, if you're on a committee, you have to be there precisely. Particularly for someone like me, I was a number two...
Pickles: Let me explain, let me explain, please just let me explain for a moment. I had to be there, I was number two....
Dimbleby: Like a job in other words?
Pickles: Yes exactly like a job. If you're number two in the opposition, essentially running the committee. So I was, I had to be there at 9:30 to move those amendments. (Points at Ed Davey) - It doesn't matter if a Liberal Democrat isn't there, but it matters if I'm there...
Davey: That's just cheap.
Pickles: But it matters if I'm there, I have to be there so when I was doing it properly, when I was doing this I was leaving home at 5:30 in the morning to guarantee that I was going to be there and I wasn't getting back until about 12 and 1 in the morning. Now you can do that once or twice, you can do that for a while but you've got to understand that the House of Commons runs like clockwork.
Pickles: I have never, ever claimed my full allowance. I have always claimed the amount...
Pickles: Well you can, I mean I publish them, I've always published them on my website. They've always been there for people to see. I have always been accountable and I can tell you I think things are going to come out in a week's time. You'll find I think I have only cleared about 60% of the allowance, it might even be 55% of the allowance. But I am a serious guy who will put in the hours and I will work for those hours, but I can tell you this, it is no fun doing 5:30 in the morning, right the way through sometimes, now some...
Pickles: You can't be sat on train saying to yourself am I going to make it, am I not going to make it and that's why I do it.

I found his contribution deeply unimpressive. He seemed to be genuinely unable to understand that many people other than MPs have jobs that involve long hours and require them to be there at specific times. None of them get extra houses or thousands of pounds a year to pay for their upkeep. You could tell from the audience's responses that he is totally out of touch.

Eric Pickles is often put forward by Tories as an example of a bluff speaking northerner in their ranks and this performance tonight does not bode well for them. It seems their "Man of the People" is actually a creature of the Westminster Village and hopelessly out of touch, on this issue at least.

UPDATE: Stephen Tall of LDV put up a detailed post about this at the same time as I was posting this. Great minds, etc.

Also further blog reaction here, here and in the comments here.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Fawkes vs Draper - but which one is best?

Only one way to find out...


On a more serious note, neither of them covered themselves in glory in that discussion. Draper was his usual hectoring aggressive self (and was even inconsistent at least twice contradicting himself). Staines did not do well either. That is the second time I have seen him being interviewed now (the first time being his infamous Newsnight appearance) and he does not come across well as an interviewee.

There was also too much blogocentric talk referring to people and things that only bloggers and Westminster insiders would understand. I doubt many non-blog involved people will be rushing to find out more about political blogging on the strength of this.

I did like it though when Neil shouted at Draper to "Shut up!". It's about time someone did!

Adam Boulton is bang on the money

Adam Boulton (who is currently in the US to cover the start of the Obama administration) has written an article for the Times today which contrasts the US system of government with our own. His central thesis is that the US system of checks and balances on the executive means that there is a real debate about what should happen regarding the recession and it is not just the president and/or his close team of advisers who get to decide what should happen. He then contrasts this with the situation in the UK where our political masters decide what should be done largely behind closed doors and then present the results as a fait-accompli.

I would actually go further than Boulton here though. It is even worse than that here because what happens as I posted about last week is that the line is decided and then the full weight of the government is used to crush any counter arguments, often using ad hominem attacks on their opponents. You never get the feeling that government is actually listening to what can often be constructive criticism and questioning of approach and emphasis. With UK governments in general and Brown's in particular there is very little scope for shades of grey. Sadly I cannot see this changing unless there is a fundamental restructuring of how government in this country operates.

A few years ago I read a book by the Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland called Bring Home the Revolution: The Case for a British Republic which I found a fascinating read. It also contrasts the US system with the UK one and with particular reference to how democracy over there is devolved. It is literally down to the level of districts voting for their sanitation commissioners and local police chiefs. It is a level of disbursement of political power that we just do not see in this country despite all the talk of localism you often hear from national politicians. I really do think there are things that we could do differently over here and although of course the US system has its problems, I think we could learn a thing or two from how they do things.

Given Brown's obsession with the US it is unfortunate that he seems to have overlooked an aspect of their way of doing things that I feel could genuinely improve politics in this country.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Daniel Hannan shreds Brown

I have just watched Tory MEP Daniel Hannan's shredding of Gordon Brown in the European Parliament which is tearing through the blogosphere at the moment. I have to take my hat off to him - he was clear, concise and most importantly spot on. The best thing is that Brown had to sit there and take it. Hannan's view that the country is broke appears to have been vindicated further by the news today that the latest government bond auction has failed (see here and here).

Hannan is now even being talked of as potentially the next Tory leader.

His speech is here:

Tuesday 24 March 2009

I am in a play in Guildford

If anybody who reads this blog lives in or near Guildford then you might be interested in this. I am in a play at the Electric Theatre in the town centre which starts its run tomorrow night Wednesday 25th and goes through to Saturday 28th starting at 7:45pm. I have 5 parts and so am trying to do 5 different accents!

It is called "After Mrs Rochester" and is an interesting and multi-layered play. It is a biographical piece about the life of the author Jean Rhys who wrote Wide Sargasso Sea the accepted prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. There are excerpts from Jane Eyre counterposed with the scenes from her life. The group I am performing with are called Guildburys and are very good and well established. I did a lot of plays with them a few years ago and have just got back involved recently so I am really looking forward to this. The dress rehearsal is tonight!

The details for booking tickets are here.

Arrested for angling

I have had my attention drawn to this story on the GetReading website which relates to an incident that apparently happened earlier this month in Woodley. Three men claim that anti-terror laws were used to arrest them because they were using laser pens to scare off ducks whilst they were fishing. They were arrested for "endangering aircraft". The police claim that the men were arrested under the Air Navigation Order 2005 although the men dispute this.

Either way, I think that a few things should be borne in mind here:

  • It is not illegal to use laser pens to scare off ducks whilst fishing.
  • It is not illegal to possess a laser pen.
  • According to at least one of the men, the lasers were confiscated and have not been returned. I am sure they would be interested to know on what grounds personal property is being withheld.
  • This sort of thing could not possibly have been what either the terrorism legislation, or the air navigation legislation was intended to be used for.

This reminds me of the case of Walter Wolfgang who was forcibly ejected from the Labour party conference a few years ago through use of anti-terror legislation because he heckled Jack Straw mildly when he was Foreign Secretary. Ministers constantly assure us when questioned about loop holes and potential unintended consequences with phrases like "there is no intention to use the legislation that way" and "that is not what it is for". Yet far too often, once the laws are passed the unintended consequences come to pass and the transient assurances from here today, gone tomorrow ministers are worthless as they are not codified in the laws.

One final point I would make here is that some of the comments on that news story claim that the laser pens are a nuisance to surrrounding houses. If that is the case, then surely the men could have been questioned on those grounds. Public nuisance is something for which there are laws in place to handle. Terrorism laws or air navigation laws should not be used to arrest middle aged fisherman unless there are very good reasons to suspect they really are terrorists or a danger to aircraft. It seems extremely unlikely that was the case here.

Please keep my promises...

I attended the Convention on Modern Liberty a few weeks ago. I haven't really blogged much about it but it was an excellent event, very well attended and with some fascinating panel discussions on various topics relating to liberty. I was disappointed that it did not garner more media coverage (there was some coverage on the BBC news website and short pieces in some of the papers but given the calibre of the event it deserved better).

One of the keynote speeches was delivered by David Davis. He is an excellent public speaker and gave an impassioned oration on liberty or the lack of it in this country and warnings about where we could be headed. He also had very strong words for Jack Straw with which I fully agree. There is an mp3 of his speech available here and a transcript of it here.

The thing that struck me most about his speech however was when he asked for the audiences indulgence whilst he spoke to his own party. Here is the excerpt:

And I ask the non-conservatives in the hall of which I suspect there are a few, to forgive me for a second while I give a message to my own party: please keep my promises. Please abolish the ID cards the first day you get into government. Please reduce 28 days to a more civilised level as soon as you possibly can and please look at every law you pass, every law you pass, and study it so that it gives freedom, privacy, and dignity back to the people even if it is at the price of taking power away from the government from time to time.

Whilst I absolutely applaud Davis for his speech and activity in the area of liberty over a long period I have to reiterate a point I have made before on this blog. Why on earth did he resign? What he is now begging his party to do are things he would have had direct resonsibility for as Home Secretary if he had stayed in his post. Instead of this he is now reduced to pleading with his party from the sidelines.

I was always dubious about his idea of resigning and forcing a by-election as it fell well outside the normal parameters of politicians behaviour. At first I thought that I might have been thinking too much like I was inside the Westminster bubble. However the position Davis is now in I feel vindicates my belief that it was a mistake to give up his position.

If the Conservatives win the next election, we are unlikely to get a Home Secretary with the libertarian credentials of Davis and I think the country will be worse off for it.

Monday 23 March 2009

Lib Dems lead on second homes!

It's great to see that we are taking to lead on the second homes issue. Peter Hoskin has reported this today on the Spectator Coffee House blog.

Sarah Teather has released a statement that says:

"It is completely unacceptable that London MPs living within commuting distance of Westminster are allowed to claim money for a second home. Thousands of Londoners travel to work in Central London every single day, so why on earth shouldn’t their MPs?

The London second homes scandal doesn’t just damage individual MPs, it damages Parliament and our democracy.

It’s time that Parliament cleaned up its act. A full inquiry would be welcome, but unless Labour and Conservative MPs are prepared to vote for change it will continue to be business as usual at Westminster."

I am 100% behind this. It is exactly what we should be doing. As Irfan Ahmed posted a couple of weeks ago, Lib Dem MPs score higher than all the other parties in every catergory when constituents have been surveyed. We are clearly trusted by people and I would argue it is our duty to tackle this sort of behaviour as the two main parties clearly will not.

What I don't want to happen however is for the instances involving Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty to get completely lost in these calls for change. I still feel that they have a moral duty to accept they have strayed well outside the bounds of acceptable conduct, even if what they did is not strictly against the rules as they are currently constituted.

UPDATE: Alix has just posted a good article on this subject on LDV here.

Ken Clarke - loose cannon?

Following Ken Clarke's comments at the weekend about inheritance tax (he said that fulfilling their pledge on reducing the threshold was not one of their main economic goals) Iain Dale has said that it is a minor gaffe, he should just concede so and move on.

That is fair enough as far as it goes but it does demonstrate what I referred to a couple of months ago, that he is not exactly in lock-step with the Cameron leadership.

Dale also says that Clarke was not quite up to speed with the fact that the IHT policy was actually a commitment and not just a pledge. It's not really good enough though for a senior party grandee who has been brought back to the front-bench to add weight and gravitas to not be fully up to speed with policies that he then goes onto national TV to discuss. I have heard in the past that Ken Clarke is considered to be lazy by some of his colleagues. If the Tories are serious about vying for power, they cannot allow any of their front-benchers to have the charge of being lazy sticking to them. I certainly don't think that charge could be applied to any of the Lib Dem front-bench although we of course suffer from not getting as much coverage as the other two main parties (Vince Cable excepted at the moment!).

I originally thought bringing Clarke back was a good move on Cameron's part but now I am not so sure. I suspect it will only take one or two more gaffes like this before he is sidelined.

Sunday 22 March 2009

McNulty's spin makes it worse

The news that has come out today that Tony McNulty has been claiming a second home allowance of around £14,000 per year for occasional use of his parents house 8 miles or so from his own house is another shocking example of how politicians are fleecing the tax payer.

There can be no excuse for this sort of behaviour. McNulty has been at pains to insist that he has not broken any rules. I am sure he is correct but in that case the rules are absolutely rotten.

He has already launched a pre-emptive strike on the criticism he obviously knew he was going to get by firstly explaining that he has stopped claiming the allowance (as of January this year) and secondly that he thinks the rules should be overhauled so that the second home claim can only be made if an MP lives at least 60 miles from Westminster.

Mr McNulty obviously thinks that this is politically very clever attempting to neutralise any attacks on him and trying to show himself on the morally correct side. However in my view this makes it even worse. Either he has just changed his mind in the light of the problems that other senior politicians in similar situations have encountered in which case it calls into question his previous judgement and his statements are just spin or, if he has thought this for a long time then it shows that he knew that what he was doing was morally wrong but he continued to do it for many years anyway.

He is a clever politician but he is being too clever by half here. If he thinks that what he has done is wrong and this Damascene conversion is for real then he should pay back the £60,000 he has claimed for this over the last few years.

Us hard pressed tax payers could do with the money.

Saturday 21 March 2009

What will replace newspapers?

I have read some articles and blog posts in the last few days that have got me thinking about newspapers and their future.

When I was growing up, they were really the only written source of daily information available (apart from the very short entries on teletext). If you wanted to find out what was happening and weren't near a TV, you bought a paper.

The world today is very different. There are a plethora of online sources that I can go to in order to get my information about what is happening in the world. I have an RSS aggregator split into a number of different topics of interest to me (news, political blogs, TV & culture stuff etc.). Inevitably some of these are from newspapers but in actual fact, the majority of these feeds are from non-news sources. I have also recently got into twitter and so now I can see what people I follow are up to any time they feel like telling me along with links to things they have found interesting or amusing as well.

This article by Johann Hari in The Independent this week strikes me as whistling in the wind from someone who is clearly hoping that the former dominance of newspapers will return. He points out that without an active journalism, countries are at risk of slipping into authoritarianism and corruption. I agree with this. However where his argument falls down in my view is that as far as he is concerned, the old media companies and structures should be propped up by government. He has an idea for an 18 birthday present given to each person by the government of a year long subscription to a newspaper.

There is no attempt here to engage with the fundamental reality of the situation. The structures of the press are a solution to a problem that no longer exists. 30 years ago it was very difficult to disseminate information to the mass public. Now it is very easy. Lots of people do it every day from their homes, effectively for free. I am doing it now. OK, perhaps the small number of readers I currently have would not count as a mass readership but the potential is there and there are many bloggers (e.g. Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes, Mike Smithson and Ben Goldacre to name but a few) who have many thousands of readers every day, many of whom would never have been employed by the mainstream media.

So if the old structures are no longer relevant, what will happen? To be honest I do not know. There is an interesting article by Clay Shirky here which goes into much more detail about this problem and he also does not know what the solution is. He thinks that by increment, ideas will be tested and slowly through trial and error a brave new informational world will be reached. I suspect he is correct and we cannot currently know where we will end up. To assume however like Hari does that without the media being structured exactly as it is now will lead to authoritarian and corrupt governments is to assume that the media should be preserved in aspic and nothing different and/or better could ever emerge to take its place. This is nonsense. Hari is younger than me (I am 34) and surely people of his generation should be embracing the opportunities that the digital age brings.

Finally, the latest post on Bad Science today just illustrates the inherent problems with the press as it is currently constituted that Hari is so desperate to protect. It seems that yet again, journalists from many newspapers have twisted the findings of some research into the efficacy of prostate cancer screening. There has been no attempt to deal with the nuances that this area requires (screening can have a negative impact and is not a panacea) and a study that showed screening caused no improvement has been ignored. It appears that the journalists used the same source for their information and have all claimed it cuts deaths by 20%. You can read the full analysis of why this is wrong in via the link above but my point is that the press often gets these things terribly wrong (look at the MMR scandal for example). Why should this crumbling structure be protected from its probable fate?

Perhaps the future will be millions of ordinary people reporting news from their locales and their views on wider issues, with it all being aggregated and the biggest stories floating to the top through some sort of intelligent filtering system. Maybe newspapers can find a way to remain economic online through subscriptions or advertising. As I said, I don't what the future will look like but in all probability it will be so different from anything I or anyone else can think of right now that it is not really worth me speculating. I for one am embracing the changes and hope to be a part of whatever structure eventually takes the place that the press has held unchallenged for so long.

Friday 20 March 2009

Government arrogance

Peter Hoskin's post on Coffee House this morning reminded me about some thoughts I have had regarding the way government is conducted in this country. The main part of his post discusses how Gordon Brown and the Treasury were made aware in 2004 of the shortcomings in financial regulation with respect to Northern Rock but they had not considered it a priority and did nothing about it.

This is an all too familiar tale. Sometimes I feel like I have been living in a parallel universe for the last few years. I remember people like Vince Cable and others warning about the debt fuelled bubble and I also remember the high handed way the concerns were dismissed by Brown and other ministers. What is even more worrying about the latest revelations is that it seems as though a similar attitude was also being shown to the government's own advisers.

Of course, now Brown is trying to claim he was for tighter regulation but could not get international assent for what he wanted. This really does not ring true at all from I what remember seeing and hearing.

The thing is, this sort of high-handed attitude and approach is actively encouraged by our electoral system and system of government. The majority government is elected (with a minority of the votes) and ministers are appointed to their posts. They are all from the same party and once their line is decided, all of them defend to the hilt what they are doing. No dissent is brooked internally and of course all external criticism is defended against with counter attacks if they are deemed necessary. From what I can tell, this often becomes tribal and is almost done reflexively without any real analysis of the content of the criticism. As an aside I have even seen Labour MPs publicly state that they are voting along party lines even though they disagree with a policy. This is all considered fair game by the political classes.

But why does it have to be like this? Whenever the idea of electoral reform and/or coalition government is brought up you get an avalanche of comments from the political classes along the lines of "it leads to weak government". But have any of them taken a serious look at the consequences of our current system? Perhaps if there were more independent voices in the government and consideration had to be given to views outside those postulated for tribal political advantage, the results of policy would actually be better. Just imagine if Vince Cable had been in a powerful position in the cabinet over the last few years. I think most people would agree that we would be in a better position now.

Just remember all of this the next time you see a minister mindlessly dismissing external criticism. This sort of approach does nobody any favours in the end.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Five more years!

The news that Benitez has signed for another five years as manager of Liverpool leaves me with mixed feelings. As a(n armchair) Liverpool fan I think he has been very good for the club and I think another five years of him would be a good thing for us.

However, for a while now I have felt that the whole structure of payments within football is totally wrong and this is an example. Why do managers get to sign for such protracted periods? What often happens in these scenarios is that the manager does not do as well as was hoped, the fans clamour for change and then they are out of the door after a year or two. They still have their contracts honoured though and end up with hundreds of thousands, or millions of pounds for doing nothing because they screwed up.

I am a pretty good software developer, but if a prospective employer was interested in me, there is no way that I could persuade them to sign me on for 5 years! It is the same in most walks of life so why should it be any different for football managers?

There is a similar problem of distortion with player's wages. It is disgraceful that many players now regularly earn tens of thousands of pounds every week. For many players, within a year or two of playing they have earned enough money to be comfortably off for the rest of their lives. Where do we expect the hunger for success to come from when they have earned so much money so early in their career? I am not saying there is no hunger at all, of course there is, but I am sure there would be more if they were earning more sensible amounts and needed to have a successful career behind them before they would be able to reap the material rewards.

An important point to make here as well is that the money to support this distorted structure does not come from thin air. It comes from the fans pockets in the form of gate receipts, season tickets, merchandise, Sky Sports subscriptions etc. I feel that the fans are getting a raw deal when they have to pay so much to support this. And with football, it is not like the fans have a choice like they would in other areas of their life. If they don't like their mobile phone provider, they can switch, if they get tired of Tesco they can start shopping in Sainsbury's instead. But if a fan feels she is paying too much as a Chelsea fan, she cannot just switch to Fulham or West Ham. Well she could but it is extremely unlikely given how football works! I could never support anybody but the reds and I am a casual fan at best.

The current situation is unsustainable. Many clubs are in debt and some go into administration every year. They rarely completely fail because there will always be a fan base to underpin the clubs but the spiralling costs cannot continue indefinitely, especially in the middle of a recession.

The Express should be ashamed of itself

A couple of weeks ago, the Scottish Sunday Express published an article on its front page about the Dunblane massacre survivors. I read the article when I first saw it linked to on one of the blogs I read. Well, to be honest I didn't finish it as I was so disgusted but I did read enough to get the gist of what was being said. They have now taken it down from their website but here is a link to a copy of the front page from that day. The article basically ripped into the young adults (who have just turned 18) for sending rude messages to each other online, drinking and boasting about sexual activity. Yes, all normal things for 18 year olds to do. The journalist concerned (Paula Murray) has befriended the youngsters of Facebook in order to get the material for the article.

I started off just feeling depressed about it. I have recently read Flat Earth News and it links in with so much of what is covered in that book. I know how toothless the PCC is and how newspapers can to a large extent get away with publishing what they like.

However the more I thought about it, the more angry I got. How dare they target these people. The only reason they have gone for them is because of what happened to them when they were children and all they have done is do the things that normal young adults do. Their actions have been taken out of (private) context and twisted around to suit the narrative of a despicable tabloid hack. Tim Ireland from Bloggerheads has done something similar to the journalist concerned here just to demonstrate how easy it is to sully the reputation of someone using her own techniques.

It feels to me like there is an opportunity here for a strong message to be sent to the press. There is widespread revulsion about what the Express has done here. It is not manufactured or got up by the press themselves like sometimes happens with public reactions, it is a genuine swell of opinion bubbling up from the grassroots (blogs, online fora etc.). I would urge anybody who feels strongly about this to blog about it, post about it, e-mail or write to the newspaper and/or the PCC. If we could force them to print a front page apology for this, it would send a clear message to the press that there are limits to what they can do and hopefully it would make them think twice in future before publishing anything as abhorrent as this in future. There is a petition you can sign here.

This article was a pre-meditated hatchet job on a group of normal blameless young adults who are only newsworthy because their classmates were slaughtered by a mad man in front of their eyes when they were 5 years old. I hope the journalist and the editor lose their jobs over this. I really do.

Graham Linehan (co-writer of Father Ted) has written a longer post about this here with some further ideas about what can be done.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Welcome move by Cameron

David Cameron's decision to apologise for the Tories not having done better in spotting what was going wrong in the run up to the current recession is a welcome move. Hopefully it will mean his party can accept what needs to be done (like Vince Cable has been advocating) rather than feel hidebound in any way to the existing system. Sometimes an apology is necessary and it allows political positions to be changed.

It contrasts sharply with Gordon Brown's complete inability to accept any responsibility for what has happened. It is clear to me that public wants the government and Brown in particular to show some contrition and that if he does not (as seems likely) then he has zero chance of recovery.

However, John Prescott's reaction to Cameron's apology on his blog shows the danger inherent if Brown were to offer an apology. Prescott straight away jumps on this and asks Cameron to also apologise for Black Wednesday. Unsurprisingly, my view is that this is a pathetic political ploy to distract attention from the current situation but just to address this briefly:

1) Black Wednesday was almost 17 years ago (virtually a political lifetime ago) and has no relevance to the problems of today.
2) As Prescott well knows, Cameron was in his early - mid twenties during this period and was a junior adviser to Norman Lamont. This is the equivalent of demanding that a branch manager of RBS apologise for the AMB Amro merger decision.
3) If Brown won't apologise for all the decisions he has taken over the last 12 years and that have in some cases directly led to or exacerbated the current crisis, why the hell should Cameron apologise for something like this given points 1 and 2 above?

Anyway, as I feel duty bound to point out I hold no candle for Cameron but I just get very annoyed when I see silly political games being played like this. I get the feeling that people like Prescott are so embedded in this sort of mindset that they cannot even see now ridiculous they look. No wonder people are put off politics.

Some more blog reaction here and here.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Coalition decision

I have heard now a few times from senior sources in the party that if there is a hung parliament then we would discuss the possibility of a coalition with whoever wins the most seats. This seems to be an attempt to say "we will let the electorate decide" and then deal with the strongest party afterwards.

However the problem is that the strongest party may not have had the most votes. As the recession bites, Labour's chances of being the largest party are fading, however let's hypothesise for a moment that the following vote shares and seats occur (derived by using the UK Polling swing calculator here):

The numbers in the boxes on the left are the percentages. Because of our rotten electoral system, in the above example Labour have the largest number of seats (290, 16 more than the Conservatives) even though they only get 33% of the vote against 38% for the Tories. Are we honestly saying that in this scenario, we would prop up an exhausted and discredited Labour government who actually got 5% less of the popular vote than the Tory party?

I think we have missed a trick here. We should have said that in the event of a hung parliament we would talk to the party that got the highest proportion of the popular vote, irrespective of how many seats they got. This should hold true even if it would mean eschewing the possibility of forming a coalition with a working majority. If we want to send a very powerful message about the unfairness of the existing system, then we should do this even if it would mean forming a minority coalition (or working arrangement with the party with the largest vote).

If we were to signal this very strongly in advance, it might actually kick-start a wider debate about the current electoral system. Examples like the above highlight exactly what is wrong with our current system.

Oh, and finally, just for fun (as Peter Snow would say) I put in another scenario which even more blatantly shows how screwed up the system is:

Even with a 12% lead in the popular vote over the two other parties, we are still not the largest party in parliament!

Saturday 7 March 2009

Polly's argument is counter-productive

I have just been reading Polly Toynbee's latest article in The Guardian where she is advocating electoral reform.

I am a passionate supporter of electoral reform. Incidentally when I made this comment to a Tory last week she said "Yes, of course - you're a Lib Dem.". I then explained to her that it was actually the other way round. One of the reasons I joined the Lib Dems in the first place is because of their support for electoral reform. I have been a passionate advocate of this for years and long before I joined the party.

Anyway, Polly's central thesis seems to be a ressurection of her "nose peg" theme from before the last election where she was arguing that Labour is the lesser of the two evils (compared to the Tories). She dismisses the Lib Dems because of the electoral system in this country. She then goes on to advocate electoral reform. However, the problem is that towards the end of the article she is arguing from a very weak position. It could easily be interpreted (or spun) that she is now desperately trying to keep Labour in (or the Tories out) at any cost. Advocating change of the electoral system in the dying days of a deeply unpopular government which would likely have the effect of keeping the Tories out looks extremely cynical. Indeed many of the comments on CiF take this view.

She does make some good suggestions such as advising readers to get involved with Make Votes Count and/or the Electoral Reform Society with which I wholeheartedly concur.

I want electoral reform for the House of Commons. However the argument has to be made on the unfairness of the existing system. It will never gain traction if it is seen to be being argued for on the grounds of narrow partisan advantage.

Thursday 5 March 2009

What's the point of this commission?

I just heard Ed Balls on PM on Radio 4 talking about social workers and bemoaning the fact that the turnover rate is very high and the retention rate is very low. Apparently people go into the profession, stay for a few years and then leave. Balls apparently wants to know why this is an has set up a commission to report on it.

Later in the interview he pointed out that social work is a thankless, dangerous job and whereas fire and police officers may end up on the front cover of the paper for having sone something good or courageous, social worker's good work goes unnoticed and it is only when things go wrong (as they have recently) that they get publicity.

So why doesn't he just get on with addressing these issues seeing as he evidently knows what the commission is going to say. It seems to me that yet again the government has commissioned this report which will tell them the bleeding obvious. What a waste of money.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

PMQs - how much Q&A is there?

Something I have noticed before about PMQs and it was apparent again today is that a fair proportion of the time is spent not asking or answering questions but in paying tributes or other statements of this nature.

Now, I need to tread carefully here as what I am about to say could easily be misinterpreted. I think it is absolutely right that the House of Commons pays tribute to fallen soldiers. I think they do it well and with heartfelt dignity and it is the least our servicemen deserve. However, the tradition that has become apparent recently of announcing the tributes at the start of PMQs and for the two main leaders to respond with their own tributes has the effect of reducing the amount of time available for questions and answers within the allotted 30 minutes. Perhaps the time for the session should be extended to 35 or 40 minutes to allow the tributes to be paid but for it not to impinge on the 30 minutes for questions.

The much more debateable thing that I have noticed is encapsulated in the following exchange from today's PMQs copied from Hansard:

Q5. [260228] Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Last week, we laid the first bricks in the £4 million extension to Rainbows children’s hospice, which is in my constituency but serves the whole east midlands. We still need another £1 million, plus £2.5 million each year to keep the hospice running. When are the Government finally going to act to ensure that children’s hospices do not rely for 95 per cent. of their funding on local residents and fundraisers, and finally get them to the level of adult hospices, for which about 40 per cent. of the funding comes from the public purse?

Ms Harman: I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those in the NHS, both in hospital care and in the community, who help with palliative and end-of-life services, but I would also like to pay a very big tribute to the hospice movement, the voluntary movement that has spearheaded new ways to care for people at the end of their lives. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made that a priority, investing £30 million extra for palliative and end-of-life care and announcing additional support for all hospices and hospice home services for children up to the age of five. There is a great deal of progress under way, and it is very important indeed.

Can you spot what happened here? A very important question was asked about children's hospices and the funding for them which predominantly comes from charitable donations. Harman had a stab at answering the question in the end (a bit disingenuously I thought as I have no idea if the 30 million makes any difference in the context of the question) but the first half was taken up with a load of waffle about "paying tribute" to hospices. Now, again I need to tread carefully here. I am not saying that hospices do not deserve tribute being paid to them. However I see this sort of thing happen so often that I feel like it is sometimes being used as a way of burning up the available time so that there are less questions allowed to be asked. It also helps to divert attention from the original question which deserved a direct answer.

Nobody in the country would disagree with the sentiment Harman expressed and therefore it is not necessary for the answer. It is basically platitudinous waffle to pad out the answer. If the government wants to show its commitment to children's hospices it should answer the question properly and act upon it to ensure the scandalous 95% charity figure comes down substantially.

Gordon Brown is on record as claiming that there is no need for a televised debate between the leaders in the run up to a general election because that's what PMQs is for. However, the questions are often not answered (unless they are a plant from their own side and then it is just a way of scoring political points) and there is a lot of sometimes unnecessary padding.

I know that today PMQs went on beyond 12:30 (I suspect because Mr Speaker recognised that some time had been lost) which is a good thing but that does not often happen and as it is the only time of the week that our representatives get to hold the Prime Minister to account directly, I think more thought should be put into how the structure can be adapted to work as it needs to.

Am I becoming one of them?

Watching The Daily Politics earlier today and their coverage of PMQs where the deputies stood in, I thought that Harriet Harman did quite well and managed to skewer Hague a couple of times with well chosen political points (apparently he has taken £30,000 from RBS for public speaking recently and also used some of his own words about deregulation when he was Tory leader against him). Sure, she was a bit stumbly but no worse than many I have seen at the despatch box and even Hague stumbled over his words a couple of times.

But during the discussion afterwards, most of the public who had contacted the show thought she had done really badly and that Hague had won hands down. The consensus among the pundits was that she had done quite well and certainly done her incipient leadership bid now harm. Andrew Neil questioned if that is the Westminster bubble insiders view and people outside see things very differently.

Does this mean I am now thinking as if I am inside the Westminster bubble!?

Wasting time?

My colleague Oranjepan from Reading List has passed on some information about a consultation regarding recycling for businesses in Central Berkshire. It encompasses Bracknell Forest where I live and also Reading where I run a business from.

I have to say that any movement in this area is welcome but it has taken long enough! We have run one of our offices in Reading for a year and a half and when we first moved in we discussed at length with the office management company about recycling and were told that there were no facilities. At all. Latterly, the management company itself has implemented an informal paper recycling scheme but anything else like plastic bottles, cans etc. are our own issue. It would be easy to just put them in the main waste (which goes to landfill) but I collect up the plastic bottles and take them home every few weeks to put in our domestic recycling system. This of course has been far from satisfactory.

Another point I would like to make is that as a director and manager of a company slap bang in the middle of the affected area, I have not heard anything about this consultation. I only know about it through my Lib Dem contacts as I am an activist. Most people are not however and therefore as the publicity about this seems to have been low to non-existent, I expect they will get very little feedback and people will be unaware of it. They need to publicise this sort of thing much more widely.

Anyway, as we have been waiting so long for something like this, my feedback is to get on with it!

Councillor Glenn Goodall has also posted on this here.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Caroline Spelman gets away with it too...

Following the lack of anything being done about Jacqui Smith's shameful manipulation of the MPs expenses system to her financial advantage, it looks like Caroline Spelman is also getting away with paying someone who appeared to be doing little more than nannying duties for her out of the public purse when this is not allowed by the rules.

Jon Craig on the Sky News blog reports that she has been made to repay £9,600 in "overpayments" but the judgement appears to have been very sympathetic and it looks like she is off the hook politically.

I was at the the Convention of Modern Liberty at the weekend and during one of the sessions, Peter Oborne said that the Westminster system is structured in such a way as it is now effectively the political classes in a conspiracy against ordinary people in this country. When I see the Tories and Labour behaving like this and getting away with it I can't help but wonder if he is right.