Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday 29 March 2010

Ask the Chancellors - my verdict

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Well having watched the whole debate (whilst hosting a live chat on here) I think Vince won it hands down. He was deft, funny and seemed much more human than the other two as well as nailing a number of points. He got lots of warmth and recognition from the audience, so much so that Tim Montgomerie on Con Home is now insinuating that the audience might have been packed with Lib Dems. That's pretty thin stuff. Tim has also scored it a win for Osborne. We must have been watching different debates. Osborne was outclassed by Cable (and also Darling). Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond or William Hague would have done much, much better in my view. by keeping him in post Dave has made a serious error of judgement that he may come to regret.

I was also pleased to see Cable get in lots of references to what I think are some of our strongest policies such as increasing the tax threshold to £10K and some of our other measures like scrapping Trident. As a political obsessive and Lib Dem activist it's easy to forget that lots of people in this country will not even be aware of them but a decent chunk more of them will be after tonight.

Anyway, you would expect me to think Vince won. The interesting thing to see will be what the polls pick up about the performance of the three people vying for the second most important job in British politics.

Chancellor Chat - Tonight at 8pm

Having failed to find anyone else doing one of these I thought I'd host an impromptu Live Chat for the "Ask the Chancellors" debate on Channel 4 tonight at 8 featuring Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable.

We will start just before 8pm below:

Sunday 28 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 28th March 2010

Apologies for the lack of posting in the last few days. Work has been mad busy and is not likely to ease at all for another couple of days at least.

In the meantime here are things that in my small amount of spare time have piqued my interest in the last few days:

  • The Heresiarch thinks Cameron should sack George Osborne. I couldn't agree more.
  • Blunt & Disorderly on Democracy and Power to the People. I don't think that's a reference to any 1970's Robert Lindsay sitcom either.
  • An essay from Sunder Katwala from 2007 examining the practicalities of reforming the electoral system. I don't agree with all his points but it is an interesting read. Well, for an electoral reform obsessive like me anyway!
  • Iain Roberts on Lib Dem Voice examins when people think the "Golden Age" was. A week last Thursday was pretty good for me...

Sunday bonus is an opening monologue from veteran of the UK alternative comedy circuit and now US chat show host Craig Ferguson. This is from 2007 around the time that Britney Spears was going through a rough patch. As a recovering alcoholic, Ferguson can identify only too well with those sort of problems and at the start of this edition he dispenses with the usual jokes and spends 12 minutes discussing his past experiences with a searing honesty. I don't know if this won him any awards but it should have done:

Friday 26 March 2010

Interview with Ed Fordham, Lib Dem PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn

I did an interview with Ed Fordham earlier this week for Lib Dem TV. I have met him a few times now and always find him to be an irrepressible character with bags of energy and constantly fizzing with ideas. I blogged previously about how I watched him completely skewer a former Tory councillor on a live Radio 5 show we were on at conference last year.

I asked him about his earlier days in the party, his campaign, online engagement and how his experiences as a Chess player have helped with his political career.

Thursday 25 March 2010

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 25th March 2010 - #bbcqt

It's that day again and the #bbcqt Live Chat starts here at 10:30pm. And if you're good little boys and girls we might even extend it afterwards again for This Week and what has become known as #brillochat.

The panel are the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne MP, the Conservative shadow minister for communities Baroness Warsi, the Liberal Democrat communities spokesman Julia Goldsworthy MP, the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and businessman Sir Martin Sorrell.

Join us from 10:30pm below:

Other Reckonings - 25th March 2010

  • Dick Puddlecote reports on something that could lead to speed cameras becoming obsolete.
  • Transform Drug Policy Foundation think mephedrone is on the fast track to banned status, probably before the election.
  • Political Betting has some fascinating data showing that only a quarter of people in marginal seats realise that fact. Could that have an impact on the outcome?
  • And good luck to Jennie Rigg who is standing in a council election.

Thursday bonus is this astonishing footage of David Cameron going into meltdown under questioning about his party's attitude to gay issues. He seems to not understand whether it should be a conscience issue and eventually confuses himself to the extent that he asks for the interview to be stopped. I don't really understand why this has not had wider coverage. If he does anything like this in the live leaders debates he is toast.

Remember, this man wants to be Prime Minister in a few weeks time:

Interview with Anna Arrowsmith, Lib Dem PPC for Gravesham

Anna Arrowsmith was recently selected as the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Gravesham in Kent. She was already fairly well known as a leading director and producer of pornographic films for women (under the pseudonym "Anna Span") and hence her selection has caused a fair bit of comment in the media with even a question being asked about her on BBC's Question Time programme last week.

I interviewed Anna over Skype a couple of days ago. I was interested in finding out more about her background, her campaign, why she chose the Lib Dems and what the extent of her political ambitions are.

Warning, there are some descriptions of sexual activity pertaining to one of Anna's previous campaigns part way through the interview.

You can listen to the audio of the interview in the player below or download the mp3 file from here.

Lynne Featherstone MP and Sara Scarlett on House of Comments - Episode 19

The latest "House of Comments" podcast with myself and Stuart Sharpe of the Sharpe's Opinion political blog is now live. The website for the podcasts is here and the Nineteenth episode which we recorded on Tuesday 23rd March is available to download via this page here (raw mp3 file here if you prefer). You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here. Or you can listen to it right now here:

The format is to invite political bloggers on each week to discuss a few of the stories that are making waves in the blogosphere.

This week we were joined by Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and blogger Lynne Featherstone and Sara Scarlett of the Liberal Vision blog.

We discussed the Channel 4 Dispatches MPs for hire sting and its aftermath, Obama's healthcare bill and whether is it a democratic triumph or unconstitutional and the Conservative #CashGordon campaign that found itself the victim of online hijacking this week.

If you are a political blogger and would like to participate in the future, please drop me an e-mail here.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 23rd March 2010

  • Alix Mortimer has a wonderful post today where she outlines her ideal parliament. Consisting of 646 astronauts. She makes it make sense, honestly!
  • Helen Duffett on why the obsession with the leader's wives is missing the point.
  • Byrne Tofferings explains why he is a part of the Conservative party.
  • Andrew Hickey has a review of the latest show from one of my favourite comedians, Richard Herring, "Hitler Moustache". I really must book tickets for that.

Tuesday bonus: Richard Herring's erstwhile partner, the sublime Stewart Lee on Joe Pasquale and plagarism:

Lib Dems and "proportionally earned seats"

I was having a look at data from previous elections recently with a particular focus on the number of seats and percentage of votes gained by the third party in the last few decades.

The first thing that is clear and which I already knew is that in the last three general elections, the Lib Dems have consistently increased their number of seats. The figures are:

1997: 46 (+26)
2001: 52 (+6)
2005: 62 (+10)

The huge leap in 1997 is often put down to our improved targeting campaign techniques championed by Chris Rennard.

There is something else interesting in the figures which I had not realised. I wanted to see what happened when you compare the percentage of seats we had won with the percentage of "proportionally earned seats" we would have got in a proportional system. I was particularly interested to see if and how this had improved over the years and indeed it has.

In fact when you look at the figures since 1970, this is what you get:

This chart shows vote share plotted against seat share:

As you can see there is not much correlation between the two. The vote share bounces around all over the place but the share of seats is clearly trending upwards with a few small interim falls.

This graph shows the "proportionally earned seats" share on its own though:

In every general election since the second one in 1974 (so the last 8, coincidentally every single one since I was born in July 1974) the proportion of seats won with respect to the share of the vote has increased.

The fact is that the third party has consistently got better and better at fighting first past the post elections.

Whenever I have been asked how I think the Lib Dems will do at the next election I have always said that I think our share of the vote will be higher than last time (22%) but that our number of seats may well fall. A number of other Lib Dems have taken me to task on this suggesting that I am not taking into account how difficult it is for our opponents to shift us once we win seats and that I am being too pessimistic. The data above backs up their view.

The history of elections in my entire lifetime would suggest that if the Lib Dem share of the vote goes up then our number of seats will too. If this doesn't happen then it will be bucking a 36 year trend.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that we will not lose seats at the coming election.

This has been cross-posted from Lib Dem Voice.

Monday 22 March 2010

Margaret Moran is a disgrace to the House of Commons

I have just been watching ITV News. If their reports about Labour MP Margaret Moran are accurate then her behaviour is appalling.

She has apparently been on extended sick leave as an MP since May last year (due to stress exacerbated by the expenses scandal) and yet when approached recently by undercover reporters posing as corporate lobbyists she was suddenly available to discuss things with them and claimed she was free and available to help them. Then an hour later another reporter contacted her constituency office posing as a constituent to see if they could speak to her and were told that was not possible as she was on sick leave.

If this is true then she is an utter disgrace to the House of Commons. I have every sympathy with people who are genuinely ill but how can she be as ill as she claims if she is happy to have meetings with corporate lobbyists and put herself at their disposal?

If these reports are accurate then she should resign as an MP immediately.

Why does Daniel Hannan want UKIP to die?

Junius on UKIP has drawn my attention to a recent blog post by Tory MEP and arch Euro-sceptic Daniel Hannan entitled "A response to my UKIP-supporting readers".

In it he suggests that because the only people who are likely to be PM after the general are either Gordon Brown or David Cameron and that UKIP cannot win seats, UKIP supporters should vote Conservative.

He goes on to say:

What I’d ideally like – and what I assume my UKIP readers also aspire to – is a situation where UKIP no longer needs to exist: where it can award itself a medal and retire with honour, job done. Obviously, we’re not at that point yet. But I worry that every activist who deserts the Tories for UKIP is retarding the prospects of a Euro-sceptic Conservative Party without taking his or her energies to an alternative party of government.

On the issue of Europe which appears to be vital to him, Hannan does not agree with his own leadership and instead agrees with UKIP. The only reason as far as I can tell that Hannan has not already defected to them is because he thinks he has more chance of getting what he wants on this by staying in the Conservative Party. The reason for this is because of our first past the post electoral system. It forces people like UKIP supporters into a position where they have to choose either to vote for their principles (and hence effectively waste their vote) or vote for an option that they don't really want to win but is the least worst option.

In the European elections last year, UKIP came second nationally with 16.5% of the vote. That was under an electoral system that is more proportional (although I personally do not like the D'Hondt system used and favour STV for Westminster). It shows that on this issue there is broad support for UKIP.

If we had a more proportional system for Westminster it is reasonable to assume that UKIP's Westminster vote (2.2% in 2005) would go up significantly as one of the main barriers to people voting for them is that one that Hannan mentions, they can't win seats. But it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They do so badly because people think they can't win. If suddenly there was a system that would give them their fair share then suddenly all bets are off.

I suspect that one of the reasons most Tories oppose any sort of electoral reform for Westminster is because they are afraid that it would lock them out of power permanently. They seem to fear that there would be some sort of permanent Lib/Lab coalition. I am sure this would not happen. There is no reason why we could not see a combined Conservative and UKIP administration under a system that gave fair votes.

To be fair to Hannan, he is one of the few Tories I have seen being more receptive to the idea of electoral reform (along with his close political ally Douglas Carswell) but it is situations like this that for me test how strong the principles are.

Instead of arguing for tactical voting against UKIP, he should be shouting as loud as he can that it is the electoral system that is causing this and trying to persuade his colleagues in the Conservative Party of this fact.

Arguing for the death of a political party that he largely agrees with just because the electoral system is unfair to it is not the right way to try and get the change our electoral system needs. It Is in fact an attempt to lock in perpetuity the binary choice that increasing number of people in this country are sick of and UKIP's showing last year confirms.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Interview with Chris Davies Lib Dem MEP

Nick Thornsby did a quick interview with Chris Davies, Lib Dem MEP yesterday and has posted it on Lib Dem TV. You can watch it here.

He asks some good questions. I was especially interested to hear Chris' views on the UK's drugs policies and they seem to strongly chime with my own.

Hopefully Nick will be contributing more interviews and material to the site in future.

What impact will the Internet have on the next general election?

A week or so ago I was on a panel for an event with this title organised by Glasshouse Partnership and the BCS as part of its Savvy Citizens campaign.

The panel also included Elizabeth Sparrow President of the BCS, Jag Singh of Messagespace and former adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Paul Staines author of the Guido Fawkes blog and Labour MP Derek Wyatt. The event was chaired by Michael Cross, a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Guardian.

The event was very enjoyable and was structured such that the first half was spent responding to a number of questions that were sent to the panellists in advance regarding the use of the internet and social media with respect to politics in the past, present and the future. It was then opened up to the floor for questions.

Some brief highlights for me: I was interested to hear Paul's thoughts on how instant polling is starting to be used and its possible effects on election campaigns. Derek explained how he thinks that he is the first MP to have an app. Although he also thought that a regular weekly 7:00pm radio slot for the PM to "talk to the nation" would be a real ratings winner about which I am dubious! Elizabeth was able to provide the BCS view on the subject and thinks that mobile devices will become more and more integral in the future although she suggested that our innovative use of new technology is as important as the technology itself. Jag made some good contributions and was able to provide insight into how the internet and social media has been used to great effect in the US. As an aside, it was fascinating to realise through discussion with him beforehand that had Clinton's campaign to become the Democratic candidate and ultimately President have succeeded then Jag would likely have been a senior staffer in the White House now. You know, like Josh or CJ from off of The West Wing (that's how I imagined it in my mind anyway)!

There is a video of the entire event below:

Saturday 20 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 20th March 2010

  • Charlotte Gore comes out of semi-retirement to give us a glimpse of Gordon Brown's wedding vows.
  • Millennium Dome's Daddy has a letter to Labour.
  • Mr Eugenides has some breaking news about racist sharks in South Africa.
  • Max Chambers writing on CiF says that mandatory testing for drugs in prison is actually exacerbating the problem.

Two bonuses tonight for Saturday:

An article from Science News that explains how virtually nobody understands the significance of statisitical significance.

50 incredibly weird facts about the human body care of The Nurse Nut.

The which celebrity do you really, really hate meme

Bryony Gordon has a standard sleb based opinion piece in The Telegraph today where she sounds off about how much she irrationally hates Hugh Grant despite never having met him. So far so barely worth linking to.

However she makes this statement in the article:

I have a theory that almost everybody loathes one person in the public eye with such passion that the mere mention of their name is enough to make you combust with rage. This person has to be someone famous, someone you have never met before, someone who can pop up on the television for 30 seconds yet make you feel apoplectic for hours afterwards.

She then goes on to explain that she put this proposition to a number of her colleagues and they each quickly came back with someone.

As I thought about it, I realised that this actually does apply to me. In my case I rather irrationally hate Patrick Kielty. I mean come on, look at his smug face! Also, he just strikes me as a nasty piece of work. I recall years ago seeing him having a spat with someone on Fame Academy (I think it was one of the judges, I wasn't really watching it) and he just really reminded me of people I have known in my life like that who are snide and take real pleasure in doing down others. Since then I can barely stand to see him on the TV at all and will actively switch him off even if he is on something else that I really like. (I just pray to Jeebus that Uncle Stephen does not make him a regular guest on QI).

Anyway, I wondered how common this phenomenon is so I thought I would memeify it.

The rules are as above that they must be famous and also that you have never met them. I am going to exclude politicians or people you hate for political reasons too. It has to be just based around their face or demeanour or something else equally shallow and irrational! And you can only pick one so if you have loads it has to be the one you hate the most. However irrational though you must justify your choice and try and persuade the rest of us of the rightness of your cause!

I tag:

Dazmando off of Bracknell Blog

Emma Burnell and Old Holborn on House of Comments Podcast - Episode 18

The latest "House of Comments" podcast with myself and Stuart Sharpe of the Sharpe's Opinion political blog is now live. The website for the podcasts is here and the eighteenth episode which we recorded on Thursday 18th March is available to download via this page here (raw mp3 file here if you prefer). You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here. Or you can listen to it right now here:

The format is to invite political bloggers on each week to discuss a few of the stories that are making waves in the blogosphere.

This week we were joined by Labour activist and newcomer to the blogosphere Emma Burnell who blogs at Scarlet Standard and libertarian Old Holborn.

We discussed Unite/Ashcroft and party funding, the putative BA strike, Nick Hogan the pub landlord who was freed from prison after a fundraising campaign by libertarian bloggers, the legal drug mephedrone and whether Gordon Brown will go on and on. And on.

If you are a political blogger and would like to participate in the future, please drop me an e-mail here.

Friday 19 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 19th March 2010

  • A bit late this one but Alix Mortimer in a post she wrote last month showing why we all wish she would post more often. A brilliant piece analysing the real reasons for young people's political apathy.
  • Roll-up, roll-up! It's the Stuart Sharpe's Opinion Draft Sale. A real snip.
  • Mark Pack reports on a cock-up by a Tory candidate in the Hebrides. Am I the only one who feels a bit sorry for her?
  • Liberal Conspiracy says teenage girls have sex, get over it! Indeed. So do teenage boys.
  • Jonathan Calder has a review of Lib Dem Spring Conference.

Friday bonus is one of my favourite comedy sketches of all time from Peter Serafinowicz's Christmas special in 2008:

A tale of two news reports

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I was watching the BBC South Today local evening news yesterday and during the programme there were two similar news reports that were reported in quite different ways.

Firstly there was the tragic story of a man in his mid-forties from Hove in Sussex who had taken the legal drug mephedrone and had subsequently died of a heart attack. The report started by outlining the circumstances surrounding what had happened. It then moved on to a telephone interview with the brother of the man who had died who insisted that the drug should be made illegal. Next up was a clip from Harriet Harman talking in the Commons about how the government would urgently review the legal status of the drug (no explicit mention of making it illegal but long term observers of this government understand the code only too well). Finally there was a quick interview with a chap from a pressure group. I didn't catch the name of the group but it was clearly a pro-prohibition organisation and the chap forcefully made the point that the drug should be made illegal. There was a brief mention of the case of the two men in Scunthorpe who recently died after taking mephedrone (apparently amongst several other drugs they had taken) and then the report ended.

The second news report was about a lady who has been out horse-riding with a friend of hers on the South Downs when a motorbike had driven a bit close to them, her horse had bolted and thrown her off. Tragically she had landed on her head and has been left paralysed. The focus of the report was on how she is suing the man riding the motorbike for damages. At no point was there any link to any other stories in any other part of the country where people have been injured or killed whilst out horse riding. There was no interview with any relatives of the woman calling for horse riding to be banned. There was no government minister shown urgently promising to review the legal status of horse riding. There was also no person interviewed from a "pro horse riding prohibition" pressure group forcefully making the point that horse riding should be banned.

On the surface, these two stories would seem to involve similar circumstances. Both people involved in them were pursuing a pastime that presumably gave them some pleasure. Both ended in tragic results, one in death, the other in severe and life changing injuries. And yet the way these stories were reported on could not have been more different. One of them was treated like a national emergency with legal sanctions being implicitly seen as the obvious and logical next step to "deal with" the causes of the problem. The other one was seen as a tragic accident with no question that there is anything wrong with the activity itself being pursued.

As Professor David Nutt pointed out last year, horse riding is statistically more dangerous than taking ecstasy and yet the more dangerous activity is perfectly legal and respectable whilst participating in the other can get you put in prison with your life prospects ruined. It feels very much like mephedrone is about to be put into the same category.

As a footnote, I was so annoyed by the coverage of the first story and the blatant bias shown in the reporting (reporting about how some people think a drug should be made illegal is a political position and yet nobody with a non-prohibitionist outlook was interviewed or any sort of opposing view shown) that I put a call into the BBC duty log. I expect the reporter would not have even thought that they were being biased but they were. Lots of people in this country do not think that prohibition has worked or is working and the idea that even more currently legal drugs are likely to be put under control of criminal gangs is a terrible mistake in my view. I am far from alone in thinking this.

In the future, the BBC should balance their reporting on this subject by including the views of for example some of the excellent people at Transform Drugs Policy Foundation or Release. Or how about Professor Nutt himself, the former head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs?

The BBC needs to be much more even handed about reporting politically charged subjects like reform of the drugs laws.

Thursday 18 March 2010

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 18th March 2010 - #bbcqt

It's that day again and the #bbcqt Live Chat starts here at 10:30pm. And if you're very lucky we might even extend it afterwards for This Week and what has become known as #brillochat

The panel on Question Time this week from Wythenshaw includes former foreign secretary (and former Labour Leader) Margaret Beckett, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and the historian and broadcaster David Starkey (or Kevin Sharkey as our regular chat attendee Shanine's mum calls him).

Join us from 10:30pm below:

Other Reckonings - 18th March 2010

  • David Nutt writing on CiF suggests there should be a Class D for drugs like mephedrone.
  • Caron Lindsay also thinks that banning mephedrone is not the right way forward.
  • Tom Harris asks if Twitter is making life more difficult for politicians.
  • Paul Walter thinks that following the latest Ashcroft revelations Willian Hague is a dead man walking. Politically.
Thursday bonus is courtesy of via Stephen Tall.

Is print dead? Stick with this until half way through for a very clever surprise:

Why it matters that Brown misled Chilcot

Gordon Brown admitted yesterday that he had misled the Chilcot enquiry. He had said that defence spending had risen in real terms year on year since Labour came to power in 1997. However it turns out that there were 4 years in which spending actually fell in real terms in 1997/1998, 1999/2000, 2004/2005 (at the height of the Iraq war) and 2006/2007.

I think this sort of thing matters. It matters because Brown is the statistics man. He tries to bludgeon his opponents into submission by firing out stats that supposedly show his government in a positive light all the time. He makes broad sweeping statements about how great he has been as Chancellor and PM which he then backs up with these. It matters because he was not just slightly out in one year, he was way out in several years. It matters because the media reports of how Brown performed at Chilcot were largely very positive and they would not have been if he had told the truth. This makes me suspicious about the motives behind the incorrect figures. I would like to believe it was an honest mistake and yet the stakes are so high in the run up to the election that I am not sure I do believe it.

Above all it matters because we need to be able to believe what our Prime Minister tells us, not always suspect that he is twisting or distorting things in some cases beyond breaking point into downright untruths.

Now you might say that all Prime Ministers and politicians are guilty of spinning and massaging figures to their advantage and to an extent you would be right. It is part of the game of politics but I have never known a politician who is quite so keen to fire stats at us as our current PM. Given that he has built his career and reputation on them, he needs to be sure that he is not telling us figures that are totally incorrect like these in specific political situations that are then "clarified" two weeks later.

We are now entering what could be the most divisive and brutal election campaign of my politically sentient lifetime. The three main parties know there is everything to play for. I would however advise all politicians and especially Mr Brown (and his mini-me Ed Balls who has exactly the same tendencies as his boss) to be very, very careful about how they use statistics.

They need to be very sure of their ground. The electorate will not forgive any more slips like this.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 17th March 2010

Meow meow should be regulated, not banned

Following the tragic deaths of Louis Wainwright and Nicholas Smith in Scunthorpe this weekend it was inevitable that there would be calls for the currently legal drug mephedrone (also known as meow meow) to be banned. Indeed the government has now announced that the legal status of the drug will be examined. Lord Mandelson has been quoted as saying that it will be reviewed "Very speedily, very carefully".

Putting aside the fact that Mandelson's statement is a contradiction in terms (you can either review it carefully, or speedily, not both) the government is at risk of making the same mistake with this drug as it has made with all the other currently illegal ones.

There is no evidence that making drugs illegal makes people less likely to take them. Indeed there is evidence from Portugal who have decriminalised all previously illegal drugs that under a more liberal regime, use can actually fall. What making mephedrone illegal would however do is ensure that any chance the government had of controlling the supply and distribution of the drug which could ensure harms were minimised will go out of the window.

It would also ensure that some children and young adults would end up with criminal records for taking it which would blight their future careers.

There is a good example of some pretty muddled thinking in the BBC News article linked to above which we often find around drug debates in this country. The General Secretary of The National Association of Head Teachers said:

This drug clearly has the same inherent dangers as any Class A drug and I think serious consideration should be given to banning it.

The problem with that is that you then criminalise the people who take it, so we need to think very carefully about what we do, but act with some speed.

Firstly, there is an implicit assumption that "banning" the drug will reduce use and improve the situation. I would like to see the evidence for this. Did that happen with ecstacy for example, another drug that became popular and was made illegal in the recent past? Secondly within two sentences there is a call the ban the drug but a worry about the consequences of criminalising its users.

It is a seductive idea for politicians to "ban" things. However it is not really within their power to do so. They can make them illegal but that will likely have little effect on its supply. It will however look like they are doing something which I think is the desired effect to pacify the Daily Mail brigade.

As I have stated before, I think that all currently illegal drugs should be brought under regulatory control by the government. There is an excellent outline of how this could happen on the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation's website called "Blueprint for Regulation" which cuts through the hyperbole and examines the possible options.

To come back to Lord Mandelson's statement, I agree the government should look very carefully at the status of illegal drugs. They should review the current status of all of them, look at the evidence from across the world dispassionately and examine all options with the aim being harm reduction.

If they were to do this rationally, then I would expect them to conclude that the current "banning" regime has utterly failed and a totally new approach is needed.

Sadly, I fear this will not happen and an opportunity to draw a line in the sand with a new drug which could be regulated and controlled is looking likely to be missed.

Lib Dem TV launches with an interview with Martin Tod

I have started a new site called Lib Dem TV.

On it I intend to put up any interviews or other sorts of footage involving Lib Dem members and candidates that I can generate. I am also happy to post any relevant footage from other Lib Dem activists that might be of interest more widely. If you want to submit anything please e-mail me here.

The first post went live early this morning and is an interview I did with Martin Tod, Lib Dem PPC for Winchester over a Skype video call yesterday. We discussed spring conference, his campaign in Winchester, his use of the internet and other technology to help with this and that favourite topic of mine, electoral reform.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 16th March 2010

  • Jennie Rigg explains why you should vote, and vote Lib Dem.
  • Mark Pack writing on The Wardman Wire explains how Twitter can be used as a local campaigning tool.
  • Anthony Barnett writing on OurKingdom explains how The Lib Dems are behaving like a party in countries that are better governed than our own.
  • Paul Waugh explains how the Speaker has put the backs of some Tory MPs up.
  • Emma Burnell explains how political correctness is actually just an attempt to consign hate speech to the dustbin of history.

And as a Tuesday bonus, here is something I came across today. One of the joys of the internet is how you can find completely unexpected things. Whilst searching for a clip from The Simpsons on YouTube I discovered this hauntingly beautiful song by Katelyn Autry (Affair With Gravity) written about a close friend who committed suicide:

New blog recommendation

My friend Emma has recently started political blogging. I have known her for years and know that she is a very committed and passionate Labour activist. She is also extremely articulate and argues her case with a clarity you don't often see online. I for one am looking forward to reading her future blogposts.

I suggest you bookmark her Scarlet Standard blog right now.

So will Darling cut petrol duty next week?

There are reports this morning that the AA thinks petrol prices could reach an all time high of £1.20 per litre in the next few weeks. As Mike Smithson points out this morning, many people in the marginals are particularly sensitive to fuel prices.

There is a 3 pence rise in fuel duty due to come in on 1st April. The fact that Gordon Brown has pushed the election so late means that these budget chickens are starting to come home to roost. The AA has urged the Chancellor to delay this increase and I expect he will do.

However I wonder if Darling will go further and actually cut fuel duty in next week's budget. He could dress it up as a temporary measure due to the very high price of fuel and the economic situation. I bet if Ed Balls was Chancellor he would do it. Darling seems to be more circumspect though and may well dismiss such an idea as a populist gimmick.

Of course the downside is that it would damage the government's green credentials but they may consider this a price worth paying.

It will be interesting to see what if anything Darling does about this.

Monday 15 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 15th March 2010

  • James Graham writing on the Social Liberal Forum takes Left Foot Forward and The Fabians to task for their report on the Lib Dems' taxation policy.
  • Carl Minns has a tribute to Labour MP Ashok Kumar who sadly died today.
  • Hopi Sen hates pre-election jousting.
  • Max Atkinson on political misquoting.
  • Liberal Conspiracy identify Christopher Chope as the Tory MP who killed the debt relief bill.

Gordon Brown is The Terminator

Good god! Gordon Brown has announced that even if Labour lose the election he will remain party leader. He's like The Terminator towards the end of the original film. Bits falling off him. Half a carcass still dragging himself along unable to quit because his programming won't let him.

He said:

I think I owe it to people to continue and complete the work that we've started of taking this country out of the most difficult global financial recession.

And to be honest, going around the country, I feel there's more to do to improve the health service, more to do to give people better opportunities, more to do for women on maternity pay and equal pay, more to do on the discriminations that still exist.

By contrast I think he owes it to his party and the country to go and go quickly if he loses the election.

Otherwise people will quite rightly be asking what part of "F**k Off" does he not understand?

Mark Pack, Alex Foster and Sara Bedford on House of Comments Podcast - Lib Dem Spring Conference Special #ldconf

The latest "House of Comments" podcast with myself and Stuart Sharpe of the Sharpe's Opinion political blog is now live. The website for the podcasts is here and the special episode that we recorded on Saturday 13th Feb from the Lib Dem spring conference in Birmingham is available to download via this page here (raw mp3 file here if you prefer). You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here. Or you can listen to it right now here:

The format is to invite political bloggers on each week to discuss a few of the stories that are making waves in the blogosphere.

In this special edition we were joined by Mark Pack, Alex Foster and Sara Bedford from the team to discuss how the Lib Dem spring conference has been going and what’s been happening. We talked about the Digital Economy Bill, the defection to the Lib Dems of former Conservative MEP Edward MacMillan-Scott, and Lib Dem Voice's new ‘Liberal Vs Authoritarian’ MP ranking system.

If you are a political blogger and would like to participate in the future, please drop me an e-mail here.

My first speech to Lib Dem Conference #ldconf

Yesterday I made my first speech to Lib Dem Conference. It was on the Digital Economy Bill emergency motion which was being debated in the early slot of 9:15am.

I had decided on Saturday that I would like to speak on it after it had won the vote for which EM to be debated. Freedom of use of the internet is a very important issue to me. At first I was unsure however what I should say about it. I could have stood up there for an hour talking about all the reasons why the motion should pass but of course was I to be picked I was only going to get 3 minutes. Also, the advice in the conference directory is the try and make your point "probably different from everybody else's". I reasoned that there would already be numerous people trying to speak for the bill as a whole and making the broad civil liberties points that many of us in the party instinctively agree with. Lines 36 and 37 of the motion had leapt out at me when I had originally read it:

Reform of copyright legislation to allow fair use and to release from copyright protection works which are no longer available legally or whose authors cannot be identified (orphan works).

This section is particularly welcome by me and other people who very much like watching old TV shows and other things such as old continuity and news etc. I mean the sort of thing that the TV companies cannot make money out of, do not really care about any more, is not released commercially and never will be and yet remains in copyright.

I filled in my speaker's card and handed it in early afternoon. I then heard no more and by the time I got back to my hotel room at around midnight I was unsure whether I should write a speech. To be on the safe side I drafted some words which when I trialled them only lasted for about 90 seconds but at least I had a decent starting point.

When I got to the conference venue at about 8:45 yesterday morning I asked a steward how to find out who was being called and I was informed that I would only get 3 minutes notice as they would tell me to "stand by" when the previous speaker went up. So I then thought I had better finish my speech which I padded by another minute or so and put into some semblance of order. Alex Wilcock had given me some advice that I should make sure I come in under 3 minutes as that would score me some brownie points with the chair so I didn't worry about making it last the full alloted time.

The debate itself was very good with a great opening speech from Bridget Fox who had come back from pounding the pavements of Islington specifically to make it. There were then good contributions from other members. about half way through I then heard "Will Mark Thompson from Bracknell stand by?". My turn came, I went up and delivered my speech. I largely stuck to what I had written only deviating briefly a couple of times. I was a bit nervous, mainly because I was not totally sure that the audience would be 100% receptive to my message given the rather niche nature of the particular issue I was raising. I needn't have worried and got many complimentary comments from people afterwards in person and online. I am not sure the Bob Monkhouse bit came across as I had intended. I was meaning to praise him for having done a great service to archiving but sort of forgot to mention that bit!

I have included a transcript of exactly what I said at the bottom of this post in case you are interested and Alex Foster has an mp3 of the entire debate here.

The most important thing is that the motion passed, almost unanimously (I think there was one vote against). It was good to chat to some of the speakers who had contributed outside just afterwards too.

So I have now lost my conference speaking virginity! Now that I know how it all works I expect I will have no hesitation in popping in a speaker's card in future conferences on issues I feel I have something to say about.

Good morning conference. This motion has lots of good and important stuff in it as you've been hearing and there are a plethora of reasons why you should support it in my view. Here's one more:

I'm probably slightly unusual in that I have a real passion for old television footage; continuity announcements, news, old episodes of long-forgotten and never repeated television shows. Traditionally the only way to watch these was maybe on a third-hand VHS copy or maybe on one that you had taped yourself many years ago or in one of the few museums that are dedicated to this kind of interest.

However with the technology nowadays it's possible for everybody's archives of this nature to be shared with the world. And it might sound like a narrow geeky interest but as far as I am concerned they are snapshots of our history. They form a rich part of our cultural heritage. TV companies don't, and frankly can't make any money out of them any more and yet they are usually still under copyright. The sort of things I am talking about would be covered by lines 36 and 37 of the motion which talks about: "Reforming copyright legislation to allow fair use and release from copyright protection works which are no longer available legally or whose author's can't be identified (orhpan works)".

Instead of enthusiasts worrying that they are breaking the law by sharing this material, instead we could have an army of archivists sharing and preserving this cultural content for future generations.

Bob Monkhouse used to keep a library of video tapes of all sorts of different programmes he had recorded over the years. And indeed television companies used to go to him to recover material that they had been careless enough to lose or wipe. Of course what he was doing was illegal - I don't really think he was aware of that.

Our party has a great tradition of sticking up for minority interests that are doing no harm and this is a real example of such a situation. The law as it stands in this respect serves no good purpose. Lines 36 and 37 would rectify this. And more widely the whole motion is sorely needed to restore confidence in our ability to stand up for people's rights.

I urge you to support it.

Friday 12 March 2010

Bridget Fox, Jonathan Sheppard and David Weber on House of Comments Podcast - Episode 17

The latest "House of Comments" podcast with myself and Stuart Sharpe of the Sharpe's Opinion political blog is now live. The website for the podcasts is here and the seventeenth episode which we recorded on Tuesday 9th Feb is available to download via this page here (raw mp3 file here if you prefer). You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here. Or you can listen to it right now here:

The format is to invite political bloggers on each week to discuss a few of the stories that are making waves in the blogosphere.

This week we were joined by Lib Dem PPC for Islington and South Finsbury Bridget Fox, founder and editor of Tory Radio Jonathan Sheppard and David Weber the editor of the group blog The Daily Soapbox.

We discussed the Digitial Economy Bill and amendments which many Lib Dems including Bridget are seeking to change, hung parliaments and the postal strikes.

If you are a political blogger and would like to participate in the future, please drop me an e-mail here.

Thursday 11 March 2010

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 11th March 2010 - #bbcqt

Sorry, I accidentally overwrote the entry for the 11th here with the details for the 18th! The live chat below is still the one from the 11th though.


Social Media Summit - March 10th 2010 - Event Review - #LewisSMS

I attended an interesting event last night hosted by Lewis PR and which focused on social media and its effect on politics.

The event was hosted by Paul Evans, a blogger and local democracy freelance journalist. The panel were Conservative Shadow Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt MP, former Labour minister Tom Watson MP, Deputy Political Editor of the Evening Standard Paul Waugh who is also a prolific blogger and Dan Burton from

Dan Burton started by giving us a summary of how social media has helped in the US. He gave us an example of the success of a website called which allowed people to propose and vote for policies during the Obama transition which was very successful in a very short space of time getting millions of hits which became well known largely virally. He also explained about the service cloud which was launched 6 months ago and allows companies to keep track of when customers have had problems and have complained about them on social media to ensure they respond. I have seen a few times on Twitter that people have mentioned how e.g. Vodafone have got in touch with them to help resolve a problem they have tweeted about so this sort of thing is clearly being used. He rounded off by suggesting that electoral victory is not assured by the use of social media but defeat is assured without it.

Paul Waugh said that he has been blogging for about 18 months and he now regularly gets tip-offs about stories fed to him by tweeters and bloggers. He loves social media and is pleased that it is starting to blow apart the cosy lobby consensus. He also suggested though that although blogging and tweeting can shed some light on political reporting there are limitations for the general election. He gave the example of the Alan Duncan "we are treated like shit" comments which were recorded and published online and were around for about 3 weeks before they were drawn to the attention of the Evening Standard at which point they splashed it on the front page. After that, David Cameron eventually sacked Duncan from the front bench but Paul's point was that the momentum only got behind the story when the mainstream media got involved. He also suggested that the Guardian crowdsourcing for MPs expenses did not turn up anything interesting in contrast with The Telegraph research which turned up loads of stuff. As an aside though I think that the fact that The Telegraph had the info first and had already spent weeks trawling through it might have something to do with this! Paul rounded off by highlighting how compressed the news cycle is now with stories trending and disappearing within the same day sometimes.

Jeremy Hunt suggested that the expenses scandal has set the tone for how social media will interact with politics. He told an anecdote about how just after the scandal broke he got out of a taxi by the House of Commons and the driver, obviously sussing that he was an MP gave him two receipts. He was pleased to have this as an amusing story and he blogged about it but then one of his constituents got in touch demanding to know why he was getting a taxi rather than the tube! He thinks that social media ultimately makes MPs more accountable. I think this is true to an extent as long as they engage with their readers and followers. Too many MPs at the moment seem to be on transmit. He made the very valid point that lots of people who get in touch with MPs know more about the subject they want to discuss than the MP does. I suspect it was ever thus although the loss of deference probably highlights this more and more nowadays. Jeremy also suggested that although the Conservatives have been ahead in terms of social media, the other parties are now catching up. He does however think that in the election campaign, whilst social media will have some impact, the TV debates will have much more impact. He rounded off by saying that the biggest effect that social media could have would be at the local level rather than nationally. He highlighted the example of Grant Shapps who now has the e-mail addresses of one quarter of the voters in his constituency and how powerful this is.

Tom Watson thinks that social media allows you to "do what you love". He agreed with Jeremy that the TV debates will have more effect than social media. However he thinks that the new technology will draw new people into the political process. He explained how after seeing how his colleague Keith Vaz MP was responding to new computer games, he set up a new campaigning group on Facebook for gamers which quickly got 15,000 people involved. He also suggested that online fundraising could be the way to fund parties in the future with a little bit coming from a lot of people rather than the other way around as it is at the moment. In a quick panel love-in he took some time out to specifically praise Jeremy for how well he has engaged with the new technology and how there will be a whole raft of new MPs from all parties who are tech savvy. He said that social media will help to dilute spin. He rounded off by suggesting that eventually online campaigning will kill off billboard advertising.

After that it was open to questions from the floor. I tackled Paul about his comments regarding stories not gaining traction without MSM backing highlighting the example of the response to the Jan Moir Stephen Gateley story. As far as I can tell that was entirely generated by people online, mainly on Twitter and in the blogs. Although the MSM did eventually pick up on the reaction it was largely an adjunct to what was happening online with Jan Moir trending on Twitter (not in a good way) and 25,000 people complaining to the Press Complaints Commission. Paul agreed that this was an example of the online world leading the way.

A few other points I noted made during the Q&A session:

- Paul said that social media leaves journlalists and politicians with lots of different media streams to wade through every day. He also said that he feels that he has to blog 4 times per day in order to remain credible. This particular point seemed to cause some consternation on the Twitterfall projected on the wall behind the panel with a number of people questioning this.

- Jeremy pointed out that blogging as a front-bencher is a "nightmare" because of collective responsibility because blogging needs to be about authenticity and if all you do it parrot the party line then this is impossible to achieve.

- Tom Watson said that the hardest thing for a minister to do is to cut through all the communication that they recieve and actually take some time to think through a particular issue and what they are doing!

There were some interesting insights into how journalists and politicians are using the new media. I expect there will be lots more of these sort of events as we continue to find the technology growing in its usefulness. Indeed I am attending another one as a member of the panel this morning!

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 10th March 2010

  • Giles Wilkes writing on Liberal Conspiracy thinks that a hung parliament could sort out the public finances.
  • Tabloid Watch highlights some class Express Churnalism.
  • James Graham writes on CiF about the Lib Dems and the Digital Economy Bill.
  • Paul Waugh on a rare admission of defeat from Ed Balls.

Urgent support required for emergency anthrax-contaminated heroin motion

Ewan Hoyle has asked me to urgently cross-post this from his blog. He needs 10 Lib Dem voting reps to support the motion by NOON TODAY! Please help him if you can. I have already pledged my support as a voting rep.

I have a very short amount of time to gather 10 supporting reps for this anthrax-contaminated heroin motion for conference:
Once you have read it, approve of its content and wish to support it as an elected rep, please call me on 07817536149 to give me your backing. It needs to happen before noon I'm afraid. :(
The last minute nature of this is not my fault.

Conference notes with concern:
i) That at least 26 injecting heroin users have contracted anthrax infections from contaminated heroin in the UK since December last year, with 11 of these infections proving fatal.
ii) Research commissioned by the Scottish government suggests that the average problem drug user costs society over £60,000 each year through the costs of crime, criminal justice costs, health service demands and other factors.
Conference further notes
iii) That experience from a growing number of European states and from pilot trials in the UK shows that prescribing heroin to treatment-resistant heroin addicts for supervised consumption in clinics is considerably more effective than methadone in improving patient and societal outcomes.
Conference believes:
a) That Health Protection Agency advice is unlikely to change the behaviour of people addicted to heroin.
b) That current provision of treatment services for heroin addicts is inadequate
c) That provision of alternative pharmaceutical sources of heroin to injecting heroin users could not only protect the users from the risk of anthrax infection, but protect the communities in which they live from the criminality drug addicts are often compelled to engage in to service their addiction.
Conference therefore calls for:
1) The United Kingdom and Scottish authorities to consider taking significant action to safeguard the health of heroin addicts, especially in the regions affected by the unfolding anthrax crisis.
2) The relevant authorities to learn from the experience of our European neighbours in considering the nature of this action, including consideration of the prescription of pharmaceutical heroin for supervised consumption.

Tony McNulty and other errant MPs are in for a shock

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The former Labour minister Tony McNulty was one of the first MPs to get caught up in the expenses scandal when it emerged that he had been claiming expenses on a "second home" that was actually his parents house and which was only 8 miles away from his primary residence. As I blogged when this was first uncovered last year about his initial response to the revelations:

(McNulty) 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 2009) 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.

Now the POWER 2010 campaign has him in their sights as their first "MP Wanted for Crimes Against Democracy". They are planning to plaster his constituency this weekend with posters like this:

They will also be sending campaign literature to thousands of swing voters in his constituency. If I was Mr McNulty this morning, I would be very worried about my already diminishing prospects of retaining my seat in a few weeks.

The campaign will also be targeting other MPs who fiddled their expenses and have been against reform of parliament and they are asking for your nominations.

This is a noteworthy shift of emphasis from POWER 2010. Up until now they have been fairly conventional in their approach, asking the public for their views on how to reform parliament, conducting deliberative sessions to derive a longlist of measures and then getting to people to vote for the top 5 for them to campaign on. This move to start targeting specific MPs however is a real change of gear. It will be interesting to see how this is now received.

I think it is important for the campaign not to leave itself open to criticism of being partisan so they should try and make sure that their next target is not a Labour MP.

Another thing that they should consider about Tony McNulty, is that whilst he is a reasonable target in terms what he has done (and what he has not done), his seat Harrow East is only 56th on the Tory target list. Looking at the recent polls it would be surprising if Mr McNulty did not lose his seat anyway even if he had not been identified and targeted like this.

But if the campaign targeted a few MPs who looking at the polls will likely retain their seats then things could get even more interesting. I am thinking of MPs in pretty safe seats and who have been deeply mired in the expenses scandal. They are the ones who will be expecting to get away with it and be re-elected. If they suddenly find posters like this all around their patch and lots of their constituents receiving literature highlighting their behaviour then suddenly the safety of their seat becomes a lot more shaky.

That would send out a very powerful message to even the most entrenched and intransigent MP that they are not immune from the consequences of their actions.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Other Reckonings - 9th March 2010

  • Angela Harbutt writing on Liberal Vision suggests that Nick Clegg needs to be clearer about what he would do in the event of a hung parliament.
  • Liberal England is happy to see John Kampfner come on board with the Lib Dems but would have liked a little bit more notice. Me too!
  • Strange Thoughts has some normal thoughts about coverage of Esther Rantzen in Luton. And lack of Lib Dem coverage.
  • Longrider asks why, oh why, oh why must the law abiding be punished under the latest Labour proposals which attempt (and I suspect will largely fail) to control dangerous dogs.
  • Peter Henley reports on a shoe based coincidence in a Hampshire Village.

Why is our democracy so broken?

I know I have blogged about this sort of thing before but I still get exasperated when I see comments like this from Peter Hoskin on the Spectator Coffee House blog today:

Cameron & Co. say that they would cut further and faster – but, when it comes to the details of what to cut and when, the similarities between them and Brown's government are striking. Indeed, as I've said before, we're largely taking it on trust that the Tories have a plan sufficient to the scale of the debt problem – even though there are timorous signs that that trust will turn out to be well-placed.

In the meantime, the think-tanks and other non-party political bodies, like the CBI, are doing most of the running when it comes to identifying specific candidates for chop. Perhaps that's all we should expect with an election around the corner. But, for the time being, the debt markets look on nervously.

Why do we have to take it on trust, and why is that all we should expect with an election round the corner? Just think about the logic of this for a minute. The closer we get to the public having their right to decide who should govern us, the less likely the people who want to do that governing are to tell us what they intend to do.

I am not politically naive. I understand the pressures politicians are under and what could happen if they "say too much" especially from their political opponents. But surely something has gone seriously wrong when the result of our adversarial political system is that politicians just cannot or will not go into details about crucial things like where they will focus on for public spending cuts before an election?

What's even worse is that judging by the "that's all we can expect" comment, there are some in the media who seem to accept that that is just the way it is! They should be shouting very loudly that we are not getting the answers.

At this rate, neither the Tories nor Labour will have any mandate to make the necessary cuts if they get into government.

UPDATE 19:05: Peter Hoskin has been in touch with me to point out that he is not condoning the Tories and in fact he has been saying for months that they should be more honest on cuts. His comment about it being "all we can expect" was out of exasperation. I am happy to set the record straight.

Would Robin Cook have switched to the Lib Dems?

The former editor of The New Statesman, John Kampfner has an article in the Guardian today where he explains why he is backing the Lib Dems in the coming general election. He suggests that the party is now "a natural home for left-liberal Cookites" like him.

He goes on to say:

I have long described myself as of the centre-left, a left-liberal whose reference point was the politics of the late Robin Cook. His ideological bearings were sensible redistribution, an ethical foreign policy, constitutional change, investment in public services, and environmental protection. Some of his hopes have been fulfilled. Most of them have not.

I think it is hard to judge whether Robin Cook would have decided to join the Lib Dems. There had been a rapprochement between him and Gordon Brown in his final couple of years and there was the expectation that he would have been given a senior post in Brown's eventual cabinet. Indeed it is arguable that with another political big beast such as Cook alongside him who was also evidently very principled, Brown's government would have been better than it has turned out to be. However if he had not been able to make much of a difference and things had panned out roughly as they have done then I would suggest all bets are off.

If people such as Kampfner who are self described Cookites are backing the Lib Dems then it is not hard to imagine that Cook himself would have been tempted.

Sadly we will never know if it would have been more than just temptation for one of the best Labour parliamentarians of his generation.