Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday 12 September 2011

Osborne cocaine allegations highlight political hypocrisy on drugs

Guido has details today of a story about how someone who knew George Osborne when he was in his early twenties is claiming that she saw him take cocaine on multiple occasions.

Osborne has had these allegations made to him before and has always strenuously denied them. It is possible that this latest round of allegations will come to nothing too. It is not clear if there is a smoking gun.

But if it turned out to be true would Osborne have to resign?

If it was up to me he would definitely have to. Not because I think taking cocaine as a 22 year old is such a terrible thing, I don't and I know many young people take all sorts of illegal drugs and go on to have completely normal lives. The only person he was likely to harm is himself and if he was willing to take the risk, it should have been up to him.

But Osborne is one of the most senior members of a government that supports punitive measures against people who take cocaine. In fact it is possible for someone caught in possession of a small amount of a "Class A" drug such as cocaine to be sentenced to 7 years in prison. The same sentence you can get for armed robbery.

So if it turned out that he had taken cocaine, by the terms of the drugs policies that he himself supports he has committed an offence equivalent to this. That's why he should have to resign. Because he himself insists that anyone caught doing what he is alleged to have done can have that sentence imposed on them.

Of course we already know that people like Louise Mensch have admitted drug use in the past and Nick Clegg and even David Cameron himself have refused to deny similar allegations. Cameron insisted that he is entitled to a "private life before politics".

The fact that Osborne could survive something like this, and that numerous of his colleagues have survived too demonstrates the truth of the matter. That despite the "tough on drugs" rhetoric, politicians actually understand that drawing a parallel between a crime like armed robbery and ingesting a powder that affects nobody but yourself is ludicrous.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself whether Mensch, Clegg, Cameron or Osborne could still continue as MPs if there was a strong suspicion that any of them had been involved in an armed robbery.

Of course not. Robbery is a real crime.

Monday 5 September 2011

Howard Jacobson should read more blogs before attacking them all

Booker Prize winner and Independent columnist Howard Jacobson has taken it upon himself to make some comments about blogs:

“When I wander off from the newspaper and into the world of blogs I’m a bit chilled.

What you read is extreme ignorance and pure poison. It is a poisonous, poisonous medium. You can’t believe how malicious, how ignorant, how stupid… and you do wonder if they don’t have anything better to do than attack people who have written articles. And you do wonder whatever happened to the idea of the critic; of the reviewer… people who have given their lives to honing the art of what they do.”

This is a ridiculous tirade. To assume all bloggers are one homogenous mass is a fundamental error. To follow this through imagine if I was to apply to same reasoning to his own profession of newspaper columnists.

I often have problems with the writings of Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens, Richard Littlejohn, Liz Jones, Jan Moir and others. Perhaps not every single column they have written, sometimes each of them will have interesting points to make but I am very sure I could quickly pick out several from each of them that I could characterise as poisonous, ignorant, malicious and stupid. And then I could use this as a stick with which to beat all columnists with and dismiss them all.

But that would be to dismiss the writings of people like Matthew Parris, Matthew D'Ancona, Danny Finkelstein, Steve Richards, Mary Ann Sieghart, Julian Glover and countless others whom I respect and admire and who usually produce thought provoking columns of a very high standard. So of course I would never do something as crass as this.

For Mr Jacobson to make a statement like this suggests that he has not read many blogs at all which for an intellectual such as him who doubtless considers himself very widely read is odd. I mentioned this on Twitter and sometime contributor to Dale & Co Louis Barfe sagely suggested that it is probably because he has only ever read blogs that people have pointed him towards that are being negative about his writing. Hence he would be getting a very distorted view of what is out there.

If Mr Jacobson gets pointed towards this article, in an attempt to balance his experiences, can I suggest that he tries the following blogs:

People's Republic of Mortimer (wonderful writing on politics and lots of other subjects from Lib Dem Alix Mortimer)
Scarlet Standard (relatively new blog from a long term committed Labour activist who is thought provoking and highly politically aware)
Ellee Seymour (Ellee has been active in Conservative politics and works in PR - she usually has an interesting take on stories of the day)

I would argue that all three of these bloggers on their best days are up there with the best of the columnists I cited above and there are countless others out there too political and non-political. The idea that it is only people who are being paid to write their opinions and analysis that are worth reading is I am sorry to say ill-informed elitist nonsense.

And I am sorry if that is construed as a poisonous comment!

This post was first published on Dale & Co.

Saturday 3 September 2011

This Lib Dem conference vetting farce cannot happen again #ldconf

Cast your mind back to October 2007. A fresh faced recently elected MP is running for the leadership of his party. One of the most eye-catching and in some ways audacious comments that the MP made was on ID cards which he was clearly completely opposed to:

“If the legislation is passed I will lead a grassroots campaign of civil disobedience to thwart the identity cards programme … I, and I expect thousands of people like me, will simply refuse ever to register.”

The MP was Nick Clegg and as we know not long afterwards he was elected leader of the Lib Dems. And now he is Deputy Prime Minister leading a party of 57 MPs as part of a coalition government.

The party's federal conference in Birmingham is due to start in a couple of weeks time. And in a new twist, delegates registering to attend have to submit themselves to a police check.

The noises from the top of the party are very much in the vein of "that is the price we have to pay for being a governing party". I have read that without such checks the party would not have been able to get insurance for the venue. I have also read various comments of the ilk that because we have cabinet and junior government ministers wandering around conference we need to have more stringent security than we had previously.

Regarding the insurance comments I am afraid I am going to call BS on that one. I cannot believe that it is not possible to find insurance that will cover such an event without intrusive police checks on every single attendee.

Regarding the comments about ministers being in attendance, I know for a fact that at other events such as Nick Clegg visiting Newbury recently there were no such checks needed. You only needed to bring your party membership number. So why on earth is police vetting required for federal conference all of a sudden?

There is something deeply unsettling about the party that I joined over 3 years ago precisely because it stood for such strong liberal values such as being completely against ID cards acquiescing so easily to police vetting checks for its members and democratically elected conference representatives.

I really do not see why they are necessary. As Caron rightly points out there is already airport style security and scanners at the entrances to the conference venue. Surely that should be sufficient to ensure protection?

I have heard stories of people having their clearance rejected for various reasons. In some cases it is clear, in others not so much. Gareth Epps for example, a 3 time PPC and former councillor from Reading appears to have been rejected because of a problem with his photograph. I really wonder what danger Gareth will be deemed to pose if his picture is slightly indistinct. I guess the problem lies in the possibility that someone who is not Gareth but looks like him attempts to gain access to the conference. But even if that bizarre scenario was to occur, like I say there is ample security at the venue to prevent weapons etc. from getting in.

Perhaps even more fundamentally, should it be up to the police to decide who does or does not get to attend the main conference of a democratic party? Not to mention the fact that some people (e.g. transgendered) may not wish to submit themselves to a clunky process that may reveal information about themselves that they wished to keep private.

But aside from the principled objections I have there is a practical objection to the way this whole thing has been administered. Lots of Lib Dems have been commenting and tweeting that they have still not had the clearance they need to attend. With two weeks to go this is completely unacceptable. Hotel rooms get booked up in conference season and prices for booking at the last minute can be twice as much (or more) as if you are to book longer in advance. Train tickets are much cheaper in advance too and can be prohibitively expensive so close to the date of travel. I expect there will be people who wanted to attend and will ultimately be cleared to do so but will not be able to because of cost considerations. Not to mention those who take a chance, pay for the train ticket or the non-refundable hotel room only to find they cannot attend after all and have completely wasted their money. And bosses are sometimes not sympathetic towards people who book time off and then need to change their plans at the last minute etc. etc. etc.

None of this is liberal or democratic. I cannot believe that the Nick Clegg of 2007 would have been happy with any of this and I very much hope he is not happy now.

The upper echelons of the party need to reflect long and hard on the problems their attempts to adhere to more stringent security have caused. There are lots of activists who are pretty disgusted with it frankly, myself included.

There is a motion proposed by Stephen Gilbert MP at 9am on the Sunday morning of conference which will hopefully go some way towards redressing this woeful situation for the future. If you are attending conference I urge you to attend and make your voice heard and to vote for it if you have voting rights.

I can only hope that good sense eventually prevails and this sort of farce never happens again.