Saturday, May 31, 2008

Christopher Biggins selected to fight Henley for the Tories

Has anyone else noticed the remarkable resemblance between the erstwhile bespectacled Christopher Biggins and the newly selected Conservative candidate for Henley, John Howell?
Are they, by chance, related?
I think we should be told.

Paul Weller lays into Cameron

In The Sun no less:

PAUL WELLER has hit out at Conservative leader DAVID CAMERON for saying he liked his old band THE JAM.
The Modfather turned 50 last week but is clearly not mellowing at all.
He raged: “What was that about? Was he not listening to the lyrics? Is he thick?
“He probably thinks Eton Rifles is a song about him and his mates at school.”

More stunning beauty in Henley constituency

... A couple of photos of the beautiful Thames taken while delivering today in Henley constituency. I think it was my 'highest property priced' delivery ever - about £1/4 billion worth of property delivered to, I would reckon. The houses I delivered to included Pete Townshend's former Thameside residence where Quadrophenia was recorded.
Please come and enjoy these wonderful surroundings and help Stephen Kearney's campaign. Contact details etc are here. We're now on our fourth delivery with another newspaper this weekend, while the Tories are only just starting with their first, rather rushed, leaflet.

John Howell selected as Conservative Henley candidate

Oxfordshire County Councillor John Howell has been selected as the Conservative Henley by-election candidate. Details are here.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Expelling someone from the party - a very big step

I received this anonymous comment below my recent post on Councillor Gavin Webb and his suspension from the party:

As you say, only one side is presented on the site. There are some parts that gives a clue as to what the other side of the case could be - like "It has also been said by some inside and outside of the Party that someone in elected office should be more 'careful' about what they say. Should that elected person be forced to hold back on his true opinions?"

Reading between the lines that does not sound like a team player but like someone who thinks all disagreements with fellow party councillors should be played out in full in public.

As I previously said, I am not endorsing the "Save the Stoke One" campaign because I know that there are always two sides to every story and I have great faith in the processes of the party on these matters. However, I do sympathise with Cllr Webb in respect to his espousal of radical "libertarian" policies.

I have no idea whether the intimation of the commenter above is true. However, I would just point out that expelling someone from the party is a very big step.

There are other steps, short of that, which can be considered. For example, bringing someone to book locally by inviting them to explain their actions to the Executive. I presume that avenue has already been exhausted or discounted here.

In a hypothetical situation it is potentially possible to review someone's approval to be a Liberal Democrat candidate or councillor. It is possible to be a member of the party but not be an approved candidate/councillor. There are thousands of people in that situation - me included at the moment. But membership is a separate issue and revocation has to be backed with pretty convincing evidence. It is intriguing that, so far, apart from the odd whisper, nothing too substantial has become apparent in the case of Cllr Webb.

It is also possible for a member to be moved from their geographically local party and be a member of a non-geographic party. I seem to remember, from my days as a membership secretary, that there is a small but distinguish band of people, for example, who come directly under the wing of Cowley Street. Or a member can be moved to the list of another local party in another part of the country.

If expulsion is proceeded with in this case, some people will have some explaining to do.

Henley Tory Europhobes try to stop "Europhile" candidate selection

It seems a pro-EU versus anti-EU battle is at the heart of the Henley Tories' by-election candidate selection this evening. Cllr Ann Ducker has been touted as the likely choice in the press and Tory members think they are being bounced into selecting Cllr Ducker by the "pro-Europe faction".

The beauty of Henley constituency

Goring-on-Thames has to be one of the most beautiful villages in the country. I was lucky enough to be dispatched there yesterday with a large bundle of tabloids under my arm. I took these photos (above) as I walked, without going off my delivery route - I hasten to add. They show how lovely the surroundings there are.
I was seized by an obsession with the striking architecture of the village hall, and, in particular, its clock tower. The results of my obsession are the photos below. The hall design certainly beats those corrugated pre-fab halls that villages stuck up in the mid-20th century - mind you Goring was no doubt lucky enough to have a bit more dosh than your average village.

Tories wetting themselves

24 points ahead and wet dreams about Winchester.

It'll all end in tears. The bubble will burst. You mark my words.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Henley: Ready when you are Dave

I'm off for the third time to Henley Constituency today - it's a very sunny day so it should be great. Please help if you can - BBC South Today had a very positive piece for us last night featuring particularly the "READY WHEN YOU ARE DAVE" sign in our Thame HQ. There is an excellent campaign web site here. To save on travelling, leaflets can now be picked up from three locations in the south (e.g Goring) and north-west of the constituency, as well as from Thame - just phone the HQ to arrange this.

Labour's finances - the mire rises

Oh dear me. Five weeks to find £7.45 million. I would have thought that tapping up someone rich for that sort of scale of spoondoolicks would be difficult given the current state of unpopularity of Gordon Brown and Labour. How's Sainsbury's doing these days?

Senior officials in the Labour party, including Gordon Brown, could become personally liable for millions of pounds in debt unless new donors can be found within weeks, the Guardian has learned.

The party has five weeks to find £7.45m to pay off loans to banks and wealthy donors recruited by Lord Levy, Tony Blair's former chief fundraiser, or become insolvent. A further £6.2m will have to be repaid by Christmas - making £13.65m in all. The sum amounts to two-thirds of the party's annual income from donations.

The figures are a conservative estimate as they do not include interest that will also have to be paid. A Labour source said that although the total debt was listed as £17.8m on the Electoral Commission website, the true level, with interest, was nearer to £24m.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cameron strong-arms local Henley Conservative party over candidate selection

BBC South Today (Peter Henley reporting from.....Thame - chicken!) have reported this evening that the Liberal Democrats in Henley have made a flying start with our by-election campaign. Here's the video report.

The report also says that David Cameron has strong-armed the local constituency over the way they choose their candidate. Mark Pack explains:

The background is that the local party had a timetable it wanted to follow for selecting their candidate, including the use of an open primary. Conservative Central Office tried to talk them out of both, sending John Maples to tell them what to do. According to a well-placed eye-witness John Maples’s pleas were rebuffed and David Cameron then had to meet personally with the local party to get it to fall into line.

On BBC Radio Oxford this morning the local party chair, John Walsh, confirmed that the local party had been “firmly told” what to do.

The Conservative selection is now taking place on Friday night.

Bob Shaw's blog

I am sad to say that Bob Shaw's fifth blog incarnation is no more. Bob has been kind enough to leave this comment:

Paul, thank you for the link. However, I fear you may have wasted your time. Upon advisement, I have decided it is probably best if I cancel my blog with immediate effect. Unlike the many previous occasions before, this time I shall not be re-inventing myself and returning anytime soon. It simply isn't in my best interest to do so. However, you may, or may not, be pleased to hear that I shall, on occasion, return to add the occasional comment to those with whom I disagree. All the best Bob

Thanks for the update Bob and best wishes to you.

"Save the Stoke One" campaign site

There is now a Save the Stoke One campaign site with regard to Councillor Gavin Webb.

I hesitate to endorse this campaign without knowing the full facts around the case. However, I have read Gavin's statement and from that, admittedly restricted view, I do not believe he has done anything which should lead to him to be expelled from the party for either:

"A. Material disagreement, evidenced by conduct, with the fundamental values and objectives of the Party;" or "B. Conduct which has brought, or is likely to bring, the Party into disrepute. "

Gavin has listed the policies which, he says, he has espoused which have led to his suspension as follows (my enumeration):

1. All drugs should be legalised to make it safer for all concerned and to use the tax raised from the sale of drugs for rehabilitation services;

2. Prostitution should be legalised to make it safer for all concerned;

3 The crime of drink driving should be scrapped and replaced with dangerous driving. This will also encompass driving whilst tired, and driving whilst under the influence of drugs (prescription and otherwise);

4 Education should be taken out of the hands of government and completely privatised so that consumers - the parents - receive the education they wish for their children;

5 People should have the right to carry handguns to defend themselves from the aggression of others;

6 The UK's borders should be completely open to all immigrants - subject to criminal and health checks - who want to come and work in this country, whilst at the same time stopping all welfare and public services to immigrants until they've worked in the UK for so many years.

Welcome to the Liberal Democrat conference! These are all views which I have heard expressed at Liberal Democrat conferences or discussions over the years.

Some of them are party policy anyway and the remainder are certainly within the normal gambit of opinions held by many thousands of party members. The thinking behind all of them is certainly in tune with what I regard to be the spirit of the party. They are all rational policies with an attractive flavour of radicalism about them. From what I read from Bill Bryson, these views would be considered normal in leafy, backwoodsy New Hampshire, USA.

So, on the face of it, it would seem that Gavin's worst "crime" is to express views in public which are often expressed at Liberal Democrat conferences. Naughty. Naughty. We mustn't frighten the horses must we?

So, with the reservation that there are always two sides to every story and I haven't heard the other side yet, I wish Gavin well. The site says that the suspension is currently referred to the Regional Executive.

By the way, I understand that one of the key players in this episode has been something called the "Compliance Unit" at Cowley Street. If this is indeed the real name of this "unit", for pity's sake, change it! "Compliance" is not liberal at all! Most of us are in the Liberal Democrats precisely because we do not wish to "comply".

We are, not for nothing, known as the "awkward squad" after all.

"Save the Stoke One" campaign site

There is now a "Save the Stoke One" campaign site with regard to Councillor Gavin Webb.

In praise of Alasdair's LibDem Blog

I have recently updated my LibDem blogroll with folks like James Schneider and Jo Anglezarke , while also keeping up with the ever-changing chameleon which is Bob Shaw.

I have also very proudly added Alasdair's LibDem Blog. Alasdair rightly claims to be one of the youngest bloggers on at the age of 15. He's got a wonderful collection of photos on his masthead and writes remarkably intelligently and passionately. I previously mentioned him when I handed over the crown for 'most frenetic LibDem blogger' to him.

Please let me know if I have missed out your blog from my blogroll. I am not very scientific about these things.

A beaut from Mr Clegg

In the Telegraph today, Nick Clegg says that Tory policy makes as much sense as a Turner prize entry and that the Tories are "elevating policy evasion to an art form":

Cameron cries crocodile tears for the poor families affected by the doubling of the 10p tax rate, but his one and only tax policy is to cut inheritance tax for the richest six per cent of people. He has supported calls for "food security" - code for protectionism - but also lectured the World Trade Organisation on the importance of free trade. He tells us to "go green", but won't commit to specific policies to help us. He has preached about personal privacy, but wants to abolish Data Protection laws. Like Labour, he promises to decentralise, but steers clear of explaining how or when.Tory policy makes about as much sense as a Turner prize entry.

Currently, this incoherence is the Tory party's greatest strength: they can't be pinned to anything people don't like. But it's no serious programme for government. It offers nothing to people concerned about knife crime, or worried about higher fuel bills. The public has been promised the moon on a stick by Mr Cameron. Soon they will start to ask how he'll get it for them - and a gleaming smile won't be enough.

Politics is about choices between competing ideas, not just agreeing with everyone. It's because we understand this that the Liberal Democrats speak in detail about how we would deliver a more liberal Britain. We are the only party committed to cutting taxes for low and middle income families at the next election. We're committed to fair pensions for women, and the immediate restoration of the earnings link - while the other parties just talk about doing something for pensioners, possibly, some day.

Thank you, Vince Cable!

Vince Cable was on Today at about 7.45am this morning and beautifully answered the question: "What is Vince Cable for?". An economist who used to work for Shell. Just the man to help explain the fuel crisis.

And he did. All those panicky headlines about the end of oil, burning tyres in France, protesting lorry drivers etc have created a state of confusion in my head. But good old Vince shone some light onto it all.

It is wrong to think of it as one single "fuel crisis" because it is a combination of different things, he said

Take fisherpeople, for example. Vince said that he spoke to fisherpeople in Shetland recently and they explained that when their fuel costs go up, they can't pass it on in their prices. That is a long term issue which is do with a problem with the structure of their market.

Then take lorry drivers. The problem for hauliers in the UK is not just rising diesel prices but the competition they are facing from non-UK lorries in the UK. In fact, a very articulate haulier lady explained this on PM last night. I slightly lost the plot in listening to her explanation, but it seemed to be something to do with axles and non-UK lorries being able to have larger fuel tanks which make them more competitive than UK lorries.

Vince also reassured us that the market would, in the long term, correct itself and we should hopefully see a lowering of fuel prices and hopefully adjustments such as fuel economy and alternative energy sources coming on stream.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Boris' first really stupid act

Thanks to Nich Starling for highlighting that Boris has cancelled a deal which gave cheap fuel for transport for London's poorest people. It was a deal with Venezula in return for which London provided advice on energy efficiency to Venezula.

Deals like this have also been done by the cities of Boston and New York, and the state of Massachusetts.

If it's good enough for Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York - why isn't good enough for Boris?

By still committing to provide the cheap travel provided by this deal, without the use of the cheap fuel, Johnson is creating a large hole in his budget which he will have to fill from taxes or cuts elsewhere. And precisely why? It is the same spite or dogma which caused the Tories to crow about cancelling copies of the Morning Star for City Hall.

Ken Livingstone commented:

"It shows that he is more interested in pursuing his right-wing ideological agenda than improving the living standards of the most deprived people in the capital.
"The fact that the first significant action by Johnson's Tory regime is against the poorest people in the capital is highly significant as is the cowardly way he has made the announcement on bank holiday Sunday without any consultation with the organisations representing the thousands of carers, single parents and others affected."
Mr Livingstone added: "The suggestion that Johnson is motivated by any concern about the people of Venezuela is just a lie shown by the fact that he is withdrawing all technical support and advice provided by London under this agreement."

Paddy likes eating fruit bat and has eaten After Eight mints with the paper still on

...all part of some fascinating revelations on Food and politicians in this week's Observer Food monthly.

Nick Clegg is in there too, talking about his love of Mediterranean food. Also featured are Clare Short, Theresa May and David Blunkett.

But it is Paddy who provides the most interesting culiniary information:

'I was sent off to fight in a little war in Borneo in the Sixties. I had to learn about how to survive in the jungle, which meant eating all sorts of strange things. You couldn't use your weapons, because you had to keep very quiet - that's what jungle warfare's about - so we used to set traps and eat monkeys and fruit bats. We made fires and roasted them.'

What does monkey taste like, I ask innocently. A mischievous twinkle from beneath the bushy Ashdown eyebrows. 'A bit like cat. Or so I'm told.' And the fruit bats? 'They looked disgusting but were delicious. The flesh doesn't taste like anything else I've tasted. Except squirrel, perhaps.' Another Borneo delicacy was 'a giant puffy grub with a reddish head' called a kulat. 'You fry them up until they pop, and then make a soup out of them. That's very good.'

Food got a little better after that - life as a diplomat in Switzerland and, much more recently, as the UN's High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, saw to that; even the infamous 'rubber-chicken circuit' imposed on politicians proved relatively harmless in comparison to what went before.

Though there are pitfalls, even outside the jungle: after a dinner for some important Chinese diplomats at their home in Geneva in the mid-1970s, his wife Jane made the mistake of offering After Eight mints. Unfortunately, their guests assumed that the chocolates were wrapped in rice paper. 'And they picked up their After Eights in the paper, ate the lot and declared them to be delicious. What was even worse was that we had to do the same.'

Willie Whitelaw rises from the dead

...reincarnated in the form of Chris Grayling calling for Boot Camps for unemployed youngsters. He didn't actually say they need a "short sharp shock" but as good as:

Jobless youths will face employment "boot camps" after just three months on the dole under new Tory benefit proposals, the party said. It's wonderful - real White Van Man stuff:

Jobless youths will face employment "boot camps" after just three months on the dole under new Tory benefit proposals, the party said.
And any under-21s failing to get a job within a year will be forced to carry out 12 months of community work in a bid to end a "street corner benefit culture".
The moves are part of benefit plans being unveiled this week by shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling who said Government proposals were too lax.
"In Britain today, where jobs a plenty have been created, there is no excuse whatsoever for a young, able-bodied person to be outside the labour force.
"But we all know that on a typical working day you can see young people hanging around in town centres in almost every part of this country," he said.
One young man he met in Manchester wanted to find a job after being in trouble but "no-one was taking him by the scruff of the neck and steering him in the right direction", said Mr Grayling.
"So he was hanging around on benefits. This has to stop."

Willie Whitelaw first called for all this in 1979. You would have thought that after 18 years of Tory government followed by another 11 years government, that this would be in place by now.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Abroad they think a lot of him

The Labour cabinet have been having a minor nervous breakdown since the Crewe and Nantwich by-election result. As Iain Dale pointed out, Cabinet ministers chickened out of appearing on the Election night programme and Any Questions on Radio Four.

They finally managed to get their act together for Sunday AM, and Alan Johnson, bless him, put up a sterling performance.

To bolster up the great Johnster, Labour made it a "sons of the toil" double act with Presco!

John Prescott. Ah yes, I remember him. Again, a sterling defence of Brown, as long as you write out his words, cut them up into individual bits of paper, put them in a tombola machine, spin it round, let the words come out and see how they fall to understand what they say in English.

But as they were having their cosy ending sofa chat with Ann Leslie (I notice that Prescott and Johnson were sitting quite close but allowed half a mile of distance between them and Ann Leslie) and the credits were just about to roll, Presco come up with up with his coup de grace. His shattering argument. His unarguable reason why Brown should continue:

Abroad they think a lot of him

Oh well that's all right then. We'll all go along with what the French and the Germans think. I'm sure the C2s will be only too pleased to do that, Presco.

Isn't the "abroad they think a lot of him/her" argument what they said about Mrs Thatcher just before she was given the old heave-ho ? And about Churchill in 1945 just before he lost by a landslide?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Henley: Great countryside, weather, pubs - all you need for a great weekend jaunt!

Yes, South Oxfordshire is beckoning! Let's not leave it too late like with Bromley. It's wonderful weather, Henley constituency has some of the most picturesque countryside and towns/villages in the UK. And don't forget the wonderful pubs - many of them Brakspear pubs which are excellent (beer now brewed in Witney). Don't waste the Bank Holiday weekend without a visit to support our campaign there! The HQ in Thame was opened today by Simon Hughes. It is an excellent, spacious HQ with an enthusiastic and experienced team. The HQ is at HQ is at 9 Bertie Road, Thame Business Park (off Wenman Road), Thame OX9 3XA and there are full details here.
The campaign web site includes a Members' Area (see top left of home page) which allows registration to pick up delivery bundles from the south of the constituency, and to share lifts, or find a lift, plus information on local hotels and pubs etc and the weather, plus details of the constituency situation.

I was out in Thame today helping to deliver the tabloid (front page pictured above).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Off to Thame/Henley...

Just off to Henley (or in actual fact Thame) for the second time this week...

James Graham: 'LibDem crumbs of comfort' from Crewe and Nantwich

James Graham has written (obviously burning the 2am oil) on the Crewe and Nantwich result over at the Guardian's Comment is Free. What a star Mr Graham is! He's even gamely replied to some of the commenters.

James particularly gets the blood jolting through the veins of this old Liberal with this passage, which echoes something Nick Clegg emphasised at the recent bloggers' interview:

One other crumb of comfort: it is becoming evident that the old adage that the Liberals' fortunes are inextricably linked to Labour's is no longer the case. In the longer term, that is very good news for us. At worst, we are unlikely to ever go back to our pre-1997 level of parliamentary representation and are on track for Nick Clegg's target of doubling our MPs within two general elections. Once that happens the arithmetic is such that we will have genuine multi-party politics in this country, a phenomenon that Canada has recently gone through.

James must have drunk a particularly potent form of Horlicks as he toiled overnight. He is particularly perspicacious and, indeed, perspicuous on the subject of Labour:

If they spent the next couple of years redistributing wealth, entrenching a proper Bill of Rights and introducing a range of democratic and party funding reforms, they would leave a legacy that Cameron would struggle to unpick.

What's the alternative? Two years of the Flunking Cyst's dithering, convinced that if he just made a little change here, or a little shift in emphasis there, the public will suddenly embrace him with open arms? Why would anyone genuinely interested in progress, rather than merely the trappings of power, want that?

Mark Thatcher Supporters' Blog

Mark Thatcher (no relation to the son of Lady Thatcher) has been a very energetic and affable Chair of Newbury branch Liberal Democrats for several years. He has also been a stalwart campaigner and deliverer for the LibDems in West Berkshire, contributing particularly energetically to our great victories in Thatcham Town Council by-elections over the last few months.

Mark moved with his family to Newbury a few years ago, having previously been very active with the Liberal Democrats in Islington, including being Chair of Islington LibDems and a council candidate in 2002.

Mark has just had a serious operation and is recovering in hospital. If anyone knows Mark, you may be interested to know that an excellent blog has been set up called "Mark Thatcher Supporters - supporting Mark and his family in their time of need". Mark has been blogging from his hospital bed on this site, and it is an excellent place to leave supportive messages for him and his family.

Updated: Crewe and Nantwich - No Nutcrackers but plenty of pickle

Well done to the Crewe and Nantwich team for avoiding the "London Nutcracker" - the sort of two party squeeze we saw in London on May 1st. - and achieving a 7.1% swing from Labour which points towards wins for the LibDems off Labour in a general election.

I am very grateful to Darrell on Moments of Clarity for passing on this hilarity from Eric "Branston" Pickles:

in order to get Liberal Democrat policies people were realising they had to vote Conservative

Interesting. The one tax policy Cameron has is to give a tax cut to millionaires. And last week we saw Tory MPs trooping through the lobbies to vote, en masse, consistently for socially regressive policies. It is flattering that Branston thinks people want our policies, but it takes a very warped mind to imagine that the Conservatives will deliver them.

Talking of Nutcrackers. Gordon Brown is 56.

Update: Chris Rennard has written to supporters saying:

Our campaign was a magnificent effort, with a superb candidate in Elizabeth and only a very short campaign in which to put our case.
We can be very proud of Elizabeth, our campaign and the inspiration provided by Nick Clegg
In previous by-elections where we've been main challengers, the party in third place has frequently been badly squeezed, even losing its deposit on occasions. But although we started in third this time, our vote was robust. Indeed, had we begun as main challengers, I believe we would have won.
In any event, the vote was very much an anti-Labour Government vote, and in particular a vote against the 10p tax fiasco.
The swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats is a clear pointer to significant Parliamentary gains at the next general election.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In praise of Bob Shaw

Bob Shaw has deleted his latest blogging incarnation, which was "Hasta la victoria siempre" and now his name on LibDemblogs is linked to "Fine words butter no parsnips". Excellent title, Bob.

But then again so was "The Cowley Street Bedouin", "Willow Man" and "House of Cards" (and any others I have missed).

Bob writes a frank, engaging and good humoured blog, although I don't always, indeed often, agree with his views. I look forward to his continued outpourings which, hopefully, will settle down in one place with a consistent day.

Hillary as Obama's VP running mate: 'A hell of an idea'

Taegan Goodard's Political Insider site pulls together some of the pundits' views on the prospects of Hillary Clinton as Vice Presidential running mate of Barack Obama.

I like this one from former adviser to Bill Clinton, Dick Morris, writing in The Hill, which beautifully sums up the scenario:

It would be an act of terminal insanity for Barack Obama to name Hillary Clinton as his vice presidential candidate. It would not help him get elected, it would drag all the Clinton controversies into the general election, and having her down the hall in the West Wing would be a recipe for disaster, dissension and civil war. Other than that, it's a hell of an idea!

Remarkable praise for Ted Kennedy

I once read a book about Edward Kennedy by a former assistant of his, Richard E Burke. It was a fascinating read (although disputed as unfactual by Kennedy himself). One thing that came out of it very strongly, is that, because his two brothers were shot, Edward Kennedy had a very acute sense of his mortality and a determination to enjoy every minute of his life.

The news about his malignant brain tumour is very sad. It has brought forward some remarkably high tributes to the man, some of which are collated on Political Wire:

"I think you can argue that I would not be sitting here as a presidential candidate had it not been for some of the battles that Ted Kennedy has fought. I stand on his shoulders."-- Sen. Barack Obama, quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

"On numerous occasions, I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate... because he remains the single most effective member... if you want to get results."-- Sen. John McCain, quoted by the Washington Post.

"Senator Kennedy enjoys great respect and admiration on this side of the aisle. He is indeed one of the most important figures to ever serve in this body in our history."-- Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), quoted by the New York Times.

"He is the only senator who could bring tears to my eyes when I was presiding and he rose to speak on the floor of the Senate. There is something in the tone of the voice and the undisguised passion."-- Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), quoted by The Politico.

"I'm having a hard time remembering a day in my 34 years here that I felt this badly."-- Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), quoted by the Los Angeles Times.

Labour minority to lead Reading Borough Council

After days of negotiation, the Reading Evening Post today reports that the Labour minority is to form the administration at Reading Borough Council, supported by the Tories.

So the commenter or commenters on my earlier post, who speculated that the LibDems in Reading had done a deal to support a Tory or Labour administration was/were sphericals.

The Reading Evening Post reports:

The council...elected its lead cabinet members and committee and panel chairs.... The new smaller cabinet is all Labour members.
The chairs of committees and panels are now – because of the new make-up of the council – shared between the three main parties with the scrutiny panels having both chair and vice-chair shared between Tories and Lib Dems. Chair of the standards committee is John Hicks who is not a councillor.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boris unaware that he has delegated planning

The new Mayor of London Boris Johnson appeared today not to know who is making critically important decisions on his behalf. When asked if it was appropriate that he should delegate strategic planning decisions to an 'unelected, unaccountable' adviser, Mayor Johnson insisted he had not.Yet since he was appointed two weeks ago, Ian Clements - one of Boris Johnson's deputy mayors - has been writing to London Assembly Members saying "the Mayor has delegated his planning decisions to me". - 24 dash

There is a very entertaining write-up of Boris' first assembly question time at the Times web site:

Questioned over a proposal for a new bridge, Mr Johnson said that he was not convinced by it and looked to the Greens for their views on how to get people moving across the Thames River.
“Do you envisage a kind of catapult?” he asked.
He was handed a bicycle helmet by a Labour member and asked if he knew what it was – a reference to his recent failure to observe the rules of the road.
Mr Johnson said he was a “punctilious obeyer” of traffic lights, and would wear a helmet in future: “I am motivated by a desire to be as anonymous as possible”.
On the question of tall buildings, Mr Johnson noted that beauty was often in the eye of the beholder. He said that some of his Assembly peers may want to “blow up the House of Commons”, though he conceded that it was probably not for aesthetic reasons.
Announcing that he would re-phase some traffic lights throughout the capital, he said he was appalled that pedestrians were “forced to sprint at a rate of 1.2 metres per second to get across the road”.
At times he had colleagues scrambling for their dictionaries, telling them he would submit to their “catechism”. Asked about whether his priorities lay in improving conditions for drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians, he could “meditate at length” over that kind of “utilitarian calculus”, although he would not do it today.
Then, questioned at length about the validity of a series of appointments that he has made since his election, Mr Johnson resorted to speaking in Latin. “Speak English,” shouted his opponents.
Criticised for appointing a series of deputy mayors, Mr Johnson said: “I think the more deputy mayors, the merrier. I think they are a wonderful bunch. I haven’t created new posts. I might have sprayed a few titles around.”
He clashed with other members on several occasions and was told by Jenny Jones, for the Greens that “you can’t waffle”.

Challenging feudalism from the comfort of Europe's largest modern castle

I see that the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Telegraph and many other media outlets, are having their day in the High Court to challenge the new constitutional arrangements for Sark (in the Channel Islands) on the good old Liberal basis that "they don't go far enough". (See earlier post)
Good for them.
But I have a chuckle every time I hear about this Sark saga.
The Barclay brothers are challenging the feudal rights of Sark's hereditary Seigneur from the comfort of the largest recently built castle in Europe! There is a delicious irony about that.
Finding information about the Barclay brothers and their little island of Brecqhou (just off the coast of Sark) is like searching for hen's teeth. However, with a little searching on Google, it is a amazing what one can find. This blog gives links to lots of interesting stuff about them.
There are few photographs existing in the public domain of the Barclays. One of them receiving their knighthoods is here on BBC Online. Another of them, also from the BBC, laughing with Andrew Neill is here. It may be perverse of me, but after their High Court challenge, I'd love to see a photo of the Brothers holding their fists in the air and shouting "Power to the People" (a la 'Wolfie' in "Citizen Smith").

Not quite "Bigoted question of the week" - but close to it

It is remarkable to witness the kaleidoscopic range of views expressed in the House of Commons. In yesterday's debate on IVF with respect to female couples and solos, I was rather shocked by a jarring intervention by Iris Robinson MP. Bear in mind that this intervention was delivered in something of a shout and accompanied by a very angry expression on the face of the Hon. member for Strangford (DUP):

I note that the Minister places great importance on the quality of parenting. Can she envisage, down the road, a child going to primary school and being collected by two
females or two males, and the bullying and abuse to which those children will be exposed; or going into their parents’ bedroom, as is natural for a child to do, and finding two women or two men making love?

Quite how men got into a debate on female access to IVF is beyond me. The amendment under discussion proposed the consideration of the presence of a "father or male role model" when female couples or solos applied for IVF treatment. So presumably Mrs Robinson was proposing that the "male role model" would stand guard at the bedroom door at the appropriate moment to prevent a child precipitating coitus interruptus. By the way, this hardly ever happens in the real world - I mean children interrupting parents looking for Uganda. The worst that normally happens is that they see a rapidly deflating balloon-effect in the duvet.

As for school pick-ups. Again, it very rarely happens that both parents pick up a child together. It's usually one or the other. Trust me - I have stood in those school playgrounds. But is Mrs Robinson proposing that this "male role model" would accompany one or both of the female parents to school to keep up some sort of pretence?

By-elections in Winchester and Henley at same time ?!

I doubt it, but Conservative Home says:

A rumour for you: There is gossip in the Westminster village that Mark Oaten may be about to quit his Winchester seat for a job in the USA. It's unconfirmed but a by-election in Hampshire would be very useful for our defence of Henley if the LibDems are forced to fight on two fronts.
The LibDems are already mass surveying Henley. Boris is reportedly keen to quit the seat early and attempted to force the issue on some reluctant party high-ups by writing a farewell letter to his constituents via the Henley Standard.

Whatever his job prospects, I very much doubt that Mark Oaten would dump a by-election on us at a time which could be made to coincide with one at Henley. However, whatever happens I am sure our Mr Tod and his team are ready.

Anne Atkins and the art of bovine scatology

I can't make out how old Anne Atkins is. She complains (Radio 4's Thought for the day this morning) about testing at schools, saying how lovely and unpressurised it was in her day, but surely they had the 11-plus when she was at school, did they not? Most schools also had termly exams (certainly at the secondary level) or gradings. The pressure my child has been under for her Year 6 SATS has been nothing compared to the pressure I was under when taking the 11-plus - after all, my entire future depended on it! I would have gone to a grammar school if I passed and a secondary modern if I didn't.

Ms Atkins also waxed lyrically on sport:

Sport is no longer for fun and a spot of healthy fresh air and exercise. We now only see it as valid if somebody wins something - at somebody else's expense.

It so nice that life can be summed up with such a blithe generalisation isn't it? Daily Mail commentators normally go with the opposite conclusion - that schools are afraid to have winners these days. In fact, at a schools sports day yesterday I saw healthy competition but also plenty of praise for all the children taking part and, in particular, enormous encouragement and applause for the efforts of physically disabled children taking part.

Patrick Cormack flips his lid over fellow Tory MP, Ed Vaizey

I couldn't help but be surprised (and indeed entertained) by this monstering of Ed Vaizey (Conservative) by Sir Patrick Cormack (Conservative) in the House of Commons yesterday evening:

Sir Patrick Cormack: ...We are talking about families—the Government have even elevated the word “families” into the title of one of the Departments of State. If we are intent on promoting the concept of the family, why do we run away from the importance of the role of the father?

Mr. Vaizey: Given the logic of my hon. Friend’s case, if a mother and a father had treatment, the mother became pregnant and the father then left the mother, should the mother then be made to terminate the pregnancy?

Sir Patrick Cormack: That is a most fatuous intervention. I have never heard such a ridiculous intervention from a so-called intelligent man. Of course not, and the hon. Gentleman almost abuses himself by asking the question. It is a ridiculous question to ask.

"So-called intelligent man" eh? Strong stuff about someone in your own party...

Text of Evan Harris' speech on female couples/solos IVF/"need for a father"

I have reproduced below Evan Harris' speech on the Female couples and solo female IVF/"need for a father" amendment in the Commons last night- because I think it is brilliant:

The Liberal Democrats have a party policy against unjustified discrimination, such as the inclusion of a provision in the Bill for the need for a father. I hope to show that the proposal is discriminatory and unjustified. This is a free vote issue for the Liberal Democrats as well, however. Everyone has a personal view on the matter, and I am sure that there will be many splits within parties. I am reminded that, when Woody Allen was asked for his personal view on lesbian parents, he said that he did not understand how children survived with even one mother, let alone two. Unusually, I think that he was wrong, because the evidence is clear that children in such families do very well. I am pleased to see the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) smiling at that.
I agree with the Minister that the removal of the need for a father provision from the Bill had nothing to do with attacking fathers or fatherhood, which is a ridiculous allegation, or with not wanting to tackle the problem of broken homes. I certainly recognise that problem and the consequences that it has for children, but the legislation is not about broken homes—in fact, it is about precisely the opposite. It is about a couple or an individual seeking to create a family and a home, and taking a serious decision to undergo treatment, which is not a decision to be undergone lightly. Many children are brought into the world in an unplanned moment, but the provision deals with people who are making a specific decision to create a family. It is astonishing that it should be seen as some kind of an attack on families.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) very effectively pointed out that the need for a father provision has not brought a single extra father into a family, or retained a man in a family— [ Interruption. ] I thought that my mentioning her might make her stay in the Chamber; obviously not. Perhaps she has another Division to attend.
I just do not understand why anyone believes that young men who act irresponsibly and abandon their partners and families are suddenly going to read the statute on IVF treatment—these men are usually fertile—and decide to mend their ways. I have to say that I cannot see that happening.
Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this is not about bringing more fathers into families, but about state recognition of the importance of fatherhood within families? If this provision goes through unamended, we will send out the message that it does not matter whether there is a father, while at the same time Government policy says that it does.
Dr. Harris: I have always taken the view that statute should not be used simply to send out a message, as there are other ways of sending out messages. Politicians with skill—the hon. Gentleman is one of them—can find other ways.
5.45 pm
The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green provided us with statistics about broken families. He then tried to argue—I think rightly—that he did not intend his amendment to affect lesbian families or those of solo parents. However, in an intervention on the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), the
20 May 2008 : Column 199hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) corrected that, stating that the amendment would affect not only lesbian families, but those of solo parents as well.
Geraldine Smith: The intention behind the amendment is to ensure that the welfare of the child, rather than the desires of adults, is paramount.
Dr. Harris: I will come on to the welfare of the child in a few moments, which is probably the easiest way to deal with the hon. Lady’s intervention.
We must remember the origin of the provision. In 1990, when this provision was put into the Bill, one of our Houses had voted by a majority of just one not to ban unmarried couples from accessing regulated IVF therapy. The sort of thinking going on at that time by some hon. Members here and, indeed, in the other place, was entirely different from that of today. It would be unthinkable for us to pass legislation to prevent unmarried couples from accessing IVF.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) should, I think, concede that his amendment has no advantages over that proposed by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, and it has many disadvantages. One disadvantage was pointed out in a penetrating intervention by the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), who argued that if the provision had any effect, it would be a bad one, and that if it did not have an effect, it would be pointless.
A doctor who would like to see male role models has been cited—this issue will crop up again in the debate on the next group of amendments. If medical opinion is to be cited, however, it is sensible to look at consensus medical opinion rather than picking out one particular doctor—I can pick out one doctor very easily, and that person might have two opinions. We should look at what the British Medical Association thinks. It represents doctors, so—as far as these things go—it is a relatively democratic policy-making body. Another body is the British Fertility Society, which represents all the doctors working in that area. It wants shot of the need for a father provision, because it would tempt doctors to discriminate, which they do not want to do. It thinks that such a provision would be anachronistic, and it would be appalled if the House allowed colleagues to discriminate.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman has said that those organisations want shot of the advisory provisions, but have not the Government stumbled into an even worse case, as their proposals now ask doctors to interpret in a way that they did not have to under the father’s clause? Now they have to interpret what the definition of supporting parenting really means for them.
Dr. Harris: Doctors will have to do that, which is why the HFEA produces a code of practice. It is easy to set out the code in a non-discriminatory, light-touch way. I believe that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green is sincere in proposing his amendment. I do not doubt the sincerity of the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness either, but it struck me that there are political aspects behind the amendment. I do not think that his heart is really into the idea of a male role model or asking a gynaecologist, of all people, to decide who a male role model should be.
20 May 2008 : Column 200
We need to recognise that there is a problem with any sort of test. Fertile individuals are not required to pass a parenting test by the state before becoming pregnant, so why should the infertile? Many people, including the BMA, would argue that even the Government’s wording goes too far in creating a hurdle for the infertile to cross, which the fertile do not have to. Many or almost all of the unsatisfactory families, if I may put it that way, come from the fertile part of the population, not from infertile people seeking infertility treatment.
Mr. Cash: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech with interest. Can he explain why the part of the Bill entitled “Parenthood in cases involving assisted reproduction” contains an entire section on the meaning of “father” and on “fatherhood conditions”? Is he suggesting, as I suspect that the Minister is, that those words should be replaced by the words “supportive parenting”? That would not work, would it?
Dr. Harris: I am afraid that I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I do not know which part of the Bill he is referring to. I therefore do not want to be drawn into a discussion, but hopefully the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to pursue the matter further.
There are really only two questions to be asked. The first is whether the discrimination—or the measure—is justified. The research is clear and is summarised by the British Medical Association, which says that there is no evidence that children do badly in families of that kind. According to the BMA,
“Social research on children born to these families has given similar findings to those children born to solo mothers. Their emotional and psychological development is comparable to children born of donor insemination to two heterosexual parents. In fact, the second female parent often has greater parent-child interaction than do the fathers in the heterosexual couples.”
The reference for that quotation is one of those cited by the Minister—I know that the same briefing has been sent to all Members. Murray and Golombok made the results of their research very clear. They also looked into the question of solo mothers, and recognised the difference between different types of mothers on their own. Widows are different from young women who have been abandoned by the fathers of their children and who are living in poverty. Solo parents are often well-resourced, given that they often have to obtain private treatment. They often have established careers, and do not have partners. They are entirely different from families of the kind that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green has examined in great detail during his trawls around the country.
Dr. Tony Wright: One thing troubles me. The hon. Gentleman has constantly referred to the question of treatment. The word “treatment” usually suggests the existence of an illness. What I am not clear about is whether the absence of a child constitutes an illness in the case of single-sex couples.
Dr. Harris: There is a philosophical discussion to be had about what is the nature of illness and of treatment. I see that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group of infertility, is present. I know that she has had long
20 May 2008 : Column 201arguments with primary care trusts about whether they should provide such treatment. It is not easy to decide that matter now, but it should be noted that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which considers those issues and considers priorities relating to fertility and non-fertility, recognises that infertility is a condition that requires treatment. I think it reasonable to say that donor insemination for lesbian couples should be allowed, particularly because it is cheaper than in vitro fertilisation. In fact, I think that the situation would be legally questionable if it were not. I hope that I have addressed the hon. Gentleman’s point, even if I have not satisfied him.
I want briefly to deal with the evidence given to the Joint Committee by Professor Golombok. I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key), but I do not think that one of the many quotations that he read out was exactly the right quotation. In the evidence session of 27 June, Professor Golombok said
“these greater difficulties for children in one-parent homes are very much associated with the circumstances of being in a one-parent family rather than just whether or not there is a father present. For example, a drop in income, lack of social support for the family, a disrupted relationship with the father with whom they had often spent many years and separation from that father, and moving into stepfamilies. There are all kinds of factors involved so although children in one-parent families overall do seem to be disadvantaged, it is very important to look at why.”
If a child has a father and that father goes, it is a different scenario from being brought up without a father in the direct household. I think Professor Golombok makes that clear, and the same applies to lesbian couples.
The second question concerns discrimination. I was surprised by what the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said about the Human Rights Act, because I think that it showed a failure to understand what the Act is about. It does not just provide a remedy. It is not just about saying “You will suffer. Okay, suffer, and then in a few years’ time when you have gone through the courts—if you have the resources and the wherewithal—you will have a remedy.” The Human Rights Act, which he prayed in aid, along with human rights law—it was unusual for him to do so, but he did so when it suited him—is about ensuring that there is a framework for legislation and the behaviour of the state that does not intrude into private matters in breach of individual liberties.
I should have thought that Conservative Members would recognise the importance of restraining the state and its unreasonable intervention in private matters. That is why Ted Webb was right to say that there was a legal obligation for the Government—I urged this on the Government—to ensure that their laws are as compliant as possible. In the absence of justification for intervention, the law is simply not compliant.
Let me now give three examples of discrimination, because that has been requested.
Mr. Burrowes: Would the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about discrimination not be satisfied by clause 53, “Interpretation of references to father etc.”, which refers to the father and the woman who is the other parent? In cases in which a woman is
20 May 2008 : Column 202
“in civil partnership at time of treatment”
or treatment is
“provided to woman who agrees that second woman to be present”,
references to the father of the child who is a parent
“by virtue of that section”
could also be read as a reference to the woman, who would be classified as the “other parent”. In terms of the legal definition, there would not be the discrimination that concerns the hon. Gentleman. That is the point that the Joint Committee made in its recommendations.
Dr. Harris: I believe that that is about birth certificates, and bringing provisions into line. The Minister has indicated that I am right, which is an achievement for me nowadays. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who chaired the Committee. He recognised the difficulty of teasing the issues apart.
Mr. Vaizey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr. Harris: I will give way once more.
Mr. Vaizey: I merely want to confirm that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was referring to the definition section concerning birth certificates, legitimacy and nationality, which has nothing to do with parenthood.
Dr. Harris: I thank the hon. Gentleman.
I was going to give three brief examples relating to discrimination, but I shall now confine myself to two. In an e-mail, Natalie Gamble, a fertility lawyer dealing with discrimination cases, has stated:
“to say that no lesbian couples are denied treatment as a result of the need for a father provision is simply untrue. I have had five clients in the past year who have got in touch for advice after being denied access to treatment. In one case at a private clinic a couple were told that the waiting list for donor sperm was very long and they could not even be put on it because they were a same sex couple. In another case a primary care trust eligibility criteria for NHS funding stated explicitly that, due to the duty to consider the need for a father, lesbian couples were not eligible for funding even if they were infertile.”
That may or may not be the Birmingham case, but I can tell my hon. Friend the. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming)—although he is no longer present—that the “frequently asked question” that he read out applied to private funders. The NHS eligibility criterion was discriminatory, which it should not have been because that is unlawful.
Many clinics, including Bourn Hall—cited by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) as being in his constituency—used to refuse lesbian couples, until they realised that they need the money. However, they no longer need the money, as lesbian couples are forced to pay because they cannot obtain NHS treatment.
Another example from the same lawyer is an account by a client, whom I cannot name for obvious reasons but who says “He”—I think that refers to the clinician—
“got out his criteria list, underlined the word ‘heterosexual’ and ringed the word ‘stable’ in the sentence ‘Needs to have been in a
20 May 2008 : Column 203stable heterosexual relationship of at least 2 years’. Later he also referred to the sentence at the bottom of the list of criteria which said ‘Welfare of the child issues’, saying ‘It could also be seen as a welfare of the child issue’.”
Those are just two examples, but they explain why the Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued this statement:
“The central issue here is not fatherhood; it is fairness. The current legalised discrimination in the provision of IVF services is something that we should be ashamed of as a country. We agree with the Government that parliament should not let another day go by in which single women and lesbian couples are denied access to fertility treatment on exactly the same basis as everyone else.”
Even if they receive that treatment, they should receive it on the same basis as everyone else.
The quotation continues:
“The Commission understands the importance of male role models for children, but believes that this is, in principle and in practice, a matter for the parents themselves, and not an issue for legislation. We shouldn’t be the sort of authoritarian society”
—Trevor Phillips is saying this—
“ in which an 80 per cent. male House of Commons presumes to instruct women on how and with whom they bring children into the world.”
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr. Harris: I am keen to finish my speech, because others wish to speak.
I have spoken to clinicians about what the Bill will mean, and I want to reinforce a point made by the Minister. Fortunately, the code of practice currently enables the need for a father provision to be dealt with in a relatively moderate way, but if we voted for a requirement for clinics to observe a need for a father provision, they would have to apply the test to every single group of people in order not to discriminate. John Parsons at King’s College hospital has said that in eight years he and his colleagues have conducted 8,000 treatment cycles with 6,000 patients. Going through a detailed role model test with 6,000 patients would be a huge burden.
6 pm
I ask those Members who support either of the amendments in question why they want to introduce a measure that could be unfair, and at best would be ineffective and bureaucratic. That is not the right thing to do. The Committee should support the Bill as it stands.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Evan Harris does well in Lesbian couple IVF debate

I sometimes worry about myself. For about an hour, I've been watching the House of Commons debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and the amendment on "the need for...a father or male role model" in cases of lesbian couples applying for IVF treatment. It's quite absorbing.

The health minister Dawn Primarollo, though spirited, managed to put all her thoughts through a "minister-speak" mangle.

Evan Harris is producing a remarkably articulate and penetrating case against the amendment. Quite rightly he highlighted the fact that the amendment does not say how the presence of a "father or male role model" would actually be judged. Would there need to be any man dragged along to an interview "for the sake of it", or a letter signed by a man....any man?

Evan also said that it would be strange to ask a gynaecologist, of all people, to judge on fathers and male role models. That tickled me.

Several dinosaurs on the Tory benches have asked for the amendment to send out a message on the importance of fathers. As Evan Harris said, using statute to send out a message is not normally sensible, especially given the many other opportunities to do so.

Geraldine Smith, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale has just been tied up in knots by John Bercow.

It seems to me that the amendment is really nothing to do with IVF procedures. It is more to do with making a general point on the need for a father.

It really is gravely insulting to say that there should be a "third" sort of pseudo-parent in a family which already has two caring parents. It is downright daft.

Sir Patrick Cormack is now exploding.

LATEST: Clegg 'unambiguously' denies Telegraph story regarding "hung parliament" support for the Tories

UPDATE, 20/5/08: Nick Clegg comprehensively denied that there was any truth at all in the Telegraph story at the Policy Exchange tax launch this lunchtime. Commenting on a thread on LibDem Voice, Andy Mayer wrote: "I’ve just come from Nick’s tax launch speech at Policy Exchange where he addressed a question about this with the entirely unambiguous response that there was no truth at all in the Telegraph story."

Original posting 19/5/08: A very reliable and informed source tells me that this morning's hung parliament/Clegg/Tories Telegraph story was a planted piece of mischief making by the Tories rather than anything originating from Clegg & co. I note that the article contains no direct quotes and is mostly written on the basis of "The Daily Telegraph understands that...".

Clegg to outline tax policy shift

This is interesting. It seems almost the same as David Cameron's big fuss about tax yesterday, but I am sure it will distinctly liberal. BBC Online reports:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is expected to mark a party policy shift by signalling his intention to cut tax for low and middle income families.
In a speech in London, it is thought he will explain plans to crack down on tax avoidance and reform capital gains and pension tax relief.
The party leader is set to say he would tighten loopholes that enable people to conduct this practice.
Mr Clegg has accused the government of acting unpredictably on tax issues.
He is expected to say he will tighten loopholes that enable individuals and firms to do businesses in the UK but keep their wealth in off-shore trusts.
And the Lib Dem leader is set to say he would limit relief on pensions for higher rate taxpayers.
BBC Political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg said: "Reducing revenue has not traditionally been top of the list for Liberal Democrats.
"These plans are another clear sign that, in a harsher economic climate, the debate on tax is shifting."

Clegg outlines democratic reform needs

In the Independent Nick Clegg draws together his views on reform of the democratic system. In an engaging article which starts with how he was rapped for breaking parliamnetary rules recently for holding up a Gurkhas medal, he concludes:

...Parliament itself must be transformed. A fully elected House of Lords, of course. A cut in the number of MPs by a third. Powers for MPs to vet and, with sufficient cross-party majorities, sack ministers and senior officials. All legislation to include sunset clauses so that unnecessary laws do not persist. Fiscal and spending scrutiny should be massively increased. The Government's bloated £200m advertising budget, some of which is used shamelessly for propaganda purposes, should be cut for a start. We should have a three-day debate on the spending programme following the comprehensive spending review, with provision for amendment to proposals. Parliamentary committees should be given real powers to hold the executive to account, including the right to subpoena witnesses.

It's radical stuff.

Why every household needs a man

There is, of course, an imminent debate about whether same-sex female couples should have a man 'about the house' before they have IVF treatment.

Despite my previous post on this, I have now changed my mind and, based on my years of experience as the sole male in a household with two females, I am solidly of the view that every household needs a man.

Here are the reasons a man is needed:

1. Opening particularly stubborn pickle jars (although you can get gadgets or indeed a rubber band to do this nowadays).

2. Mending a fuse once every blue moon (although it's a myth that this is difficult. All you need is a firm chair or stepladder, a torch and a decently fitting screwdriver).

3. Always 'being right' in discussions on the identity of voiceover artists ("It is certainly NOT Ian McShane").

4. Helping little one in particularly rarefied areas of maths homework.

5. Mending the computer.

6. Cheering up the household with an effusive display of ear and nose hair, and occasional "EVACUATE ALL PERSONNEL" immitations of a stink bomb.

7. Clearing spiders from the stair/bath. "There's a HUGE SPIDER on the stair". "I'll do it - oh it's only a tiddler - incy,wincy spider...."

In fact all these tasks can be done with a decent handbook, textbook, gadget or a copy of "Stage". The one exception is number 7.

So, the reason that same-sex female couples who want IVF treatment need a man is to protect them from spiders!

Where would the ego of men be without arachnophobia?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Giant killing over, Obama shows true statesmanship

The Observer now carries a little supplement of articles from the New York Times. Last weekend I manage to read it, which I consider quite an achievement.

The supplement this week carried an essay from Mark Leibovich on the lessons which Obama has learnt in the long battle against Clinton.

Leibovich argues that Clinton has turned Obama into a "giant killer", made him angry (that's good, apparently), spurred him to address his potential working class deficit, get the Rev Wright fight behind him and helped to prepare him as a "better prepared and better defined candidate , and no doubt a stronger one than he would have been without his rival".

Also in the Observer, a report said that the Republicans are fearing Obama after the by-election shock in Mississippi. The article quotes Professor Cary Covington, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, as saying:

If Obama can convince the American people he can protect them, then he cannot lose. But it is a tough job. And if he can't convince them, then I don't think he can win.

Right on cue, McCain is today attacking Obama for a "reckless" foreign policy because he (Obama) has, in McCain's view, downplayed the Iran threat. Let's remember that McCain once publicly sang "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann". Obama had said:

Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union...They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us, and yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we're going to wipe you off the planet...We should use that position of strength that we have to be bold enough to go ahead and listen. We might not compromise on any issue, but at least we should find out are there areas of potential common interest, and we can reduce some of the tensions that have caused us so many problems around the world.

McCain said Obama's willingness to sit down with the Iranian president demonstrates Obama's lack of understanding of international relations.

Au contraire. McCain is showing that he would, in high probability, do a Bush on Iran. He certainly would not entertain the "jaw jaw" with the USA's enemies which Churchill once advocated on a visit to the White House. And while we're on quotes from statesmen of the past, how about the African saying oft repeated by Teddy Roosevelt?:

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

...It seems Obama has distilled great wisdom into his foreign policy pronouncements.

Boris - nice work if you can get it

Boris Johnson will cotinue getting around £250,000 for writing his Daily Telegraph column, in addition to his Mayor's salary of £137,579.

But he'll be writing his column in his spare time at the weekends. So that's all right then.

Plus in the Henley Standard, Boris pledges to work "up until the last day" as MP for Henley.

He's so in demand!

Bizarre timing of Boris' call for London Mayor term limits

There is a strong case for term limits, but it seems very strange for Boris Johnson, newly elected Mayor of London, to be advocating it for his own position at this time.

He says a two term limit would prevent "cronyism" taking root. But surely it is up to the voters to decide if they want to limit a person's terms. Indeed, they have just done it to Ken Livingstone - which makes the timing of Boris' call completely bizarre!

It looks like he is trying to knock out a rival when he comes up for election in four years time.

UPDATED: Telegraph story regarding "hung parliament" support for the Tories

UPDATE #2, 20/5/08: Nick Clegg comprehensively denied that there was any truth at all in the Telegraph story at the Policy Exchange tax launch this lunchtime. Commenting on a thread on LibDem Voice, Andy Mayer wrote: "I’ve just come from Nick’s tax launch speech at Policy Exchange where he addressed a question about this with the entirely unambiguous response that there was no truth at all in the Telegraph story."

UPDATE #1, 19/5/08: As I mention in this later post, A very reliable and informed source tells me that the parliament/Clegg/Tories Telegraph story referred to below was a planted piece of mischief making by the Tories rather than anything originating from Clegg & co. I note that the article contains no direct quotes and is mostly written on the basis of "The Daily Telegraph understands that...".

This is a very interesting story in the Telegraph. My response to all this, on reading the article, is, this far out from a general election: "Fair enough". However, I cannot see this arrangement lasting very long simply because we currently know very little of Cameron's actual policies. His first Queen's speech under a hung parliament situation would probably be "motherhood and apple pie". But, sooner or later, the leopard of the Tory party will revert to its spots. And I see little point in shoring up a government which is "treading water" and not addressing the radical changes needed in this country. In essence, the only satisfactory outcome for a "hung parliament" would be another general election after a reasonable time period.

Having said all that, Nick's statement is ground-breaking, brave and, I suspect, necessary. I am not sure at this stage whether it will cause more or less questions and controversy than our previous position. I hope it will neutralise the question which always comes up for LibDem leaders as we approach a general election. But knowing the media, I doubt it. I can see Humpty Humphrys and Paxo coming up with all sorts of niggly detailed questions about hypothetical situations which are potentially thrown up by Nick's stance.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, will support David Cameron if the Conservatives are the largest party in a hung Parliament.

In consultations with senior members of the party, he said he was prepared to take the necessary steps that would enable the Tories to form a minority administration.

Mr Clegg ruled out taking a Cabinet seat in a Conservative government in return for his support and instead would provide Mr Cameron with "supply and confidence" – meaning he would promise to back a Conservative Budget and would side with the Tories in any votes of confidence.

As a result, Mr Cameron would be free to accept the post of Prime Minister from the Queen on the day after the next geneIn return, the Liberal Democrats would reserve the right to vet Mr Cameron's first Queen's Speech – the publication of his legislative programme for his first year in office.

Mr Clegg would have an effective veto over the Tories' domestic policy proposals as he could withdraw the support of his MPs and order them to vote with the Labour opposition on measures with which he disagreed.

Before now, it had been thought likely that Mr Clegg would wait until after an election to embark on negotiations with both of the main parties in the event of a hung Parliament.

But The Daily Telegraph understands that he has decided that the public would not forgive him if he propped up a Labour administration that they had voted to throw out.

He is uninterested in taking up a Cabinet seat led by either of the other parties, as he believes it would fetter his ability to criticise an administration.

Instead, he wants the power to veto legislation, which, he hopes, would raise the Liberal Democrats' profile enough to allow them to become the second largest party at a future general election. ral election, even if he failed to win an outright majority.

Gordon Brown's You Tube page

Gordon Brown, or at least his employees, is/are proving much more wired-up that Tony Blair. I remember being asked by my boss to find Tony Blair's email address and the best I could find was the address for his constituency office in Sedgefield which was only meant to be used for his constituency matters.

Gordon Brown has a prominently displayed email form and also, now, his own You Tube page. You can submit your questions via video, and the top voted ones will receive a reply from the PM himself. The deadline is 21st June.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nick Clegg does it again

Nick Clegg appeared in the Guardian's Weekend Q&A feature alongside a frank photograph (if there is such a thing - the web site photo is different from the one in the hard copy magazine). The answers are, once again, refreshingly breezy and frank - something we are getting used to from Nick (although there is nothing in the 30 lovers league).

His super-power would be breathing under water. Fascinating. The Man from Atlantis. The sea is his favourite smell.

He doesn't like his stomach, regrets that he hasn't kept fit and he thinks he would end up being played by Rodney from Fools and Horses in a film of his life (although he would have preferred the sadly unavailable Henry Fonda).

He reckons he over-uses the words "robust" and "the point is..."

The poor fellow once got a summer job where he ended up sorting files in the windowless basement of a bank all summer.

No wonder he took revenge on those cacti!