Sunday, May 31, 2009

Observer says vote Liberal Democrat

From today's Observer leading article:

Nick Clegg is the most instinctively European leader at Westminster. That is currently a lonely position, but the Lib Dems have a decent record of taking minority stands that are later vindicated. On the environment, on civil liberties and on the mounting debt bubble, the Lib Dems were quietly but consistently ahead of the Westminster curve.

Likewise on transparency. In 2007, they opposed the Conservative move, tacitly encouraged by Labour, to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act. The Lib Dems alone took a party line for openness.

That is worth recalling as Mr Cameron and Mr Brown engage in an unseemly scramble for reformist credentials. Also to the Lib Dems' credit is their long-standing support for proportional representation. Of course, electoral reform is patently in the interests of a third party seeking to disrupt a duopoly, but that doesn't make it a bad policy.

The case for the current system generally coalesces around the idea that, whatever its faults, it is a trusted old friend of stable government. But in the wake of the expenses scandal, arguments that amount to defence of the status quo ring especially hollow. And it is the expenses scandal that will decide how most Britons vote on Thursday.

While MPs from all parties are tainted, the parties themselves are not equally guilty. A credible record of support for transparency and for constitutional reform reflects well on Nick Clegg's team.

This Thursday's vote is being held in a uniquely febrile climate. It should be about Europe; it will be about the expenses scandal. On both counts, it is a moment to reward the principled consistency of the Liberal Democrats.

As they say in the trade, I would like to associate myself with the views of the previous speaker.

Questions about Cameron's mortgage

Of course, he hasn't broken any rules.

He took out the £350,000 mortgage – close to the maximum amount that can be claimed for – to buy a large house in Oxfordshire in August 2001, two months after winning his Witney seat in the General Election. By nominating it as his second home, he was able to claim for the mortgage interest payments under the now-infamous Commons’ Additional Costs Allowance (ACA).
Just four months after securing the £350,000 mortgage, Mr Cameron paid off the £75,000 loan on his London home, taken out only six years earlier.
There is no suggestion that he broke any rules. But mortgage experts say that if he had kept the loan on his London home and borrowed £75,000 less on the Oxfordshire property, taxpayers could have been saved more than £22,000 between 2002 and 2007.

The truth behind Cameron's call for non-political female candidates

Linda Duberley is a perfect example of a non-political, independent-minded woman with great career experience outside of politics. She's been through a great deal of screening to become a Tory 'B list' candidate but has been unable to get a seat to represent as a candidate - despite working very hard on the ground. Then she saw Cameron last week calling for more non-political, independent-minded women to be Tory candidates. She threw her mug of tea at the television. Here is her story.

Stuff your "wait and see", Pa Broon!

A long interview with the PM on Sunday AM. He's looking and sounding more and more like Pa Broon in Private Eye's "The Broons".

At the start he did seem honest and genuine about expenses. But then, when it got onto constitutional reform the old tribal shutters came down.

When Andrew Marr talked about constitutional reforms, Pa Broon had two main deflectory tactics:

1. Yes, we need to have a debate about that.

2. We'll have a constitutional renewal bill in the autumn.

But hang on. You've had twelve years to democratise the House of Lords and have a referendum voting reform, both of which had ample cover in your first 1997 manifesto! No wonder Andrew Marr joked about "kicking it into the long grass", at that stage.

And this constitutional renewal bill seems to have the most over-blown title in the history of mankind. From what he says it is about public servants' expenses. So, it is a Housekeeping Bill. A constitutional tinkering bill at best.

And then he said that there would be a constitutional convention. At that stage my heart stopped for a nano-second. The leopard has changed its spots! Except he hadn't. It will be a convention of ministers, he says! For goodness sake! And when pressed by Marr and Helena Kennedy (how timely was her appearance on the sofa?!) for a citizens' convention or at least one with cross party and cross society involvement like the Scottish one in the nineties, he said "wait and see".

Well, stuff you Pa Broon! We've had twelve years of waiting and seeing precious little!

Gratuitous self-gratification

Well, why not?

Dear Andrew Rawnsley:

...If you want to maximise the chances of securing serious constitutional reform, then the party to vote for is the Lib Dems.

...David Cameron is timid when it comes to reform in Britain. He sees the objection to privileging whoever is prime minister with the ability to try to fix the race by calling an election at any time of his or her choosing. He says he will "seriously consider" introducing the fixed-term parliament. Yes, I am sure he would think about that for all of a sub-nanosecond after he had stepped into Number 10.

...One promise that I do believe from the Tories is that they will implement a sweeping redistribution of constituency boundaries to make more equal the number of voters in each seat. This will not make each vote equal in value. It will have the effect of inflating the number of Tory MPs and culling the ranks of their opponents. After a decade in which the system has been tilted against the Conservatives, they are going to make jolly sure that in future the bias is in their favour.

...The Tory seducer hopes to weaken the knees of liberal Britain with the romance of a "massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power". What he's most ambitious to achieve is a massive redistribution of power from Gordon Brown to David Cameron.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Conservative heavyweights lay into Cameron's EU group move

I am delighted that David Cameron is getting some real stick about his decision to leave the EPP and side with a load of nutters. The inclusion of three former Conservative EU/EC/EEC commissioners, Lords Patten, Tugendhat and Brittan, is particularly significant.

A group of Tory grandees and former ­senior diplomats will tomorrow launch a devastating attack on David Cameron's flagship Eurosceptic policies, warning that they pose a threat to British influence in the European Union.
On the eve of the European elections, the Tory leader stands accused of adopting a "rigid commitment to impotence" after he pledged to withdraw from the main centre-right grouping in the European parliament.
Cameron, who will appear alongside highly conservative EU allies in Warsaw tomorrow, goes into the European elections next Thursday on the most hardline ­Eurosceptic ticket of any mainstream political leader since Britain entered the EEC in 1973.

Peer admits fiddling expenses

A fascinating admission from Lord Clarke of Hampstead:

A LABOUR peer and former chairman of the party has admitted that he “fiddled” his expenses to make up for not being paid a salary. He had even claimed for overnight stays in London when, in fact, he drove home.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead, who has apologised for his “terrible error”, is the first member of the House of Lords to concede that peers knowingly abuse their allowances to boost their income.
He said that he had claimed up to £18,000 a year for overnight subsistence when he had often stayed with friends for free in the capital or had even returned to his home in St Albans, about an hour from London.
While accepting personal responsibility, Clarke implied that the practice was common, saying: “I was given the impression – more than that – I was given a very clear steer that this was a way of getting remuneration in the absence of salary.”

..And there are further insights into the murky world of the Lords in the same article.

Majority back full raft of reforms

Interesting numbers from the Populus poll, bearing in mind Nick Clegg's 100 day plan:

As well as the voting intention Populus also asked about various Parliamentary reforms. 74% said they supported fixed-term Parliaments, 73% more free votes, 66% that the number of MPs should be reduced, 56% that MPs should not have second jobs and 51% supported a fully elected House of Lords. 56% said they supported proportional representation.

LibDems on 25, Labour on 22!!!! - ICM - Whoooooo-hoooooo!

I don't normally do polls because they are usually depressing for the LibDems but....whooooo-hoooooooooooooo! I think I can make an exception here. This particular ICM poll is obviously extremely reliable.

Those numbers are for Westminster. The Europe poll numbers are interesting with the LibDems on 20 and UKIP on 10 - quite different from yesterday's Populus poll.

Britain's got talent 2009 winners - Diversity

The winner was: Diversity, which is very pleasing. They really are a great dance act. Their set tonight was fantastic.

Second was: Susan Boyle (she was very gracious, and thank goodness she wasn't beaten by another singer)

Third was: Julian Smith

We voted for Stavros Flatley, Diversity and Julian Smith.

Susan Boyle really socked it to them again. I think it was right to do the same song as she did for her debut in the heats. It really is a stonker.

Julian Smith, in a way, deserves it more than the others in that he seems to have a particular talent which will last. His tune tonight, Somewhere, sounded a little too "middle of the road". A bit musakish.

Stavros Flatley are exceptionally good. Their act per se is not particularly clever or brilliantly choreographed or comedic. But as a duo they just have great spirit. No wonder Freddy Flintoff was first in the queue to book him!

Diversity were exceptional tonight and in many ways are great standard bearers for modern Britain. A great act to show the Queen.

The website for the show is here.

Joyous canvassing incidents

I have to force myself to type the word "meme". I can't stand the things. I have resisted many of them but the latest one from Stephen Tall enticed me.

Most joyous canvassing memory:

Canvassing in the 1993 Newbury by-election in Kintbury, I sent a colleague off to canvass a house where he had to walk past their front room to get to the front door. Anyway, he came back rather more quickly than expected. I asked him "What were they?". Shaking his head a little, he said respectfully and wistfully: "They were making love in the front room, so I didn't have the heart to knock on their door and disturb them."

Most canvassing joyous tale 2 :

Trevor Brown, an extinct Newbury councillor who is remarkably easy-going and mild-mannered, canvassed a self-confessed Tory who had a real go at him, shouting at him for several minutes about the "bloody liberals". Dear Trevor patiently took all this head on, raised his eyebrows, nodded politely and ummed and ahhed. After a few minutes the fellow exhausted his rantings and there was a pause. At that, Trevor said very mildly: "Well fuck off then", turned smartly on his heels and walked briskly off back down the path, leaving a somewhat frustrated Tory ex-ranter.

Expensesgate: Liberal Democrats dwarfed by Labour and Conservative claims

I've gone through the Telegraph's summary of the MPs from the three main parties mentioned in their various dispatches on expenses over the last few weeks. In terms of the £ amount of the allegations, mentioned in the summaries, Labour are way out in front with the Conservatives just behind and the Liberal Democrats trailing way behind.

The average amount of the allegations for Labour MPs is £21,824.

The average amount of the allegations for Conservative MPs is £15,784.

The average amount of the allegations for Liberal Democrats MPs is £4,632.

It is a rather rough and ready exercise but gives us a feel for the sort of numbers which are being bandied about, split by party. I have only included figures mentioned in the Telegraph's summary. These included amounts claimed but not paid, and monthly amounts mentioned for mortgage payments. In some cases figures were not mentioned in the summary. I have ommitted MPs who were obviously being praised by the Telegraph. I have also avoided "judgments of Solomon" - so I have left in Alan Beith's amount, even though he seems to have explained it very well and I have left in Geoff Hoon's huge amount even though I am sure it could be deconstructed. I have made a judgment call on Jo Swinson because I know she didn't actually claim for the amounts the Telegraph imply she claimed - and please let me know if there is anyone else who comes under that banner.

I would also say that the Telegraph seem to have done a heck of a lot more work on Labour MPs than they have done on MPs from other parties. But that it is just a feeling I got from rattling through all the names.

Gordon Brown considers LibDem-Lab deal

Well, he can go and boil his head unless he cancels the Summer recess and implements Nick Clegg's full 100 day plan.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Vatican news: Process starts to make Daniel Hannan an official Saint

The Pope is moving to make Daniel Hannan MEP an official, kosher Saint. A spokesman for the Vatican said: "After his performance on Question Time last night, it is perfectly clear that Daniel Hannan has all the makings of a Saint. We will start the process at once to canonise him. We've had reports of "miracles" all over Britain last night. People watching Question Time had remarkable experiences - often needing to run from the room to the nearest plumbing outlet. Some people had worts appearing all over their bodies. It really is quite incredible. Daniel Hannan really does put the 'S' in 'sanctimonious' "

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another one bites the dust!

Now Christopher Fraser MP for South West Norfolk is standing down. He of the trees.

Cameron doesn't know how many houses he has

From The Times, an exchange with David Cameron: many properties do you own? “I own a house in North Kensington which you’ve been to and my house in the constituency in Oxfordshire and that is, as far as I know, all I have.”
A house in Cornwall? “No, that is, Samantha used to have a timeshare in South Devon but she doesn’t any more.” And there isn’t a fourth? “I don’t think so – not that I can think of.” Please don’t say, “Not that I can think of.” “You might be… Samantha owns a field in Scunthorpe but she doesn’t own a house…”
The rest of the interview was punctuated with Cameron’s nagging anxiety about how this exchange was going to make him sound: “I was wondering how that will come across as a soundbite”; “‘Not that I can think of’ makes me sound… I am really worried about that…”; “I am still thinking about this house thing”; and his parting shot was: “Do not make me sound like a prat for not knowing how many houses I’ve got.”

Yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuusssssssssssss. You don't really need any help, David.

Moran and Kirkbride bow to the inevitable

Both Julie Kirkbride and Margaret Moran are to stand down at the next election.

Just before she announced her own political termination, Kirkbride said that attacks on her might deter other women to stand for parliament. This is a baffling argument. So she is saying that women need to have their parliamentary professional life entwined via "double dipping" second home expenses with their husband, a £50,000 expenses paid extension for their brother and employment for their sister, is she?

Nick Clegg's 100 day campaign - website & petition

Nick Clegg's 100 day plan now has its own website called Take power back. You can sign his petition there. I'm excited as an excited thing!

That '100 days to save democracy' plan in full

Here's Nick Clegg's plan in full:

Changing Politics For Good
A 100 Day Action Plan to save Britain’s Democracy

Britain’s democracy is at a turning point. Not in living memory has confidence in politicians, trust in the system, or faith in the government’s capacity to change things been as low as it is today. The expenses scandal has exposed a culture of arrogance and secrecy that has long been at the heart of our democracy.

Now the true extent of the rot in the system is clear to people, there is huge and growing public demand for change. This has become a once in a generation chance to reform politics completely, putting power back into the hands of the people, where it belongs. The need for constitutional renewal is now recognised across the political spectrum.

Many of the proposals put forward, however, are full of caveats and caution, proposing committees to consider change rather than change itself. This approach would be a disaster, delaying in the face of an emergency and allowing the opportunity for change to seep away. Reform must be swift and decisive, and must address all the key issues of accountability and transparency because unless all the dead wood is cut out, the rot will continue.

This paper sets out an action plan to save Britain’s democracy. Almost all the reforms needed can be achieved in the next 100 days, and we should not let the process go on longer than this. This is possible because most of the necessary legislation is already before Parliament – it is just currently being blocked by establishment figures. The remaining legislation can be drawn up quickly – there have been Private Members’ Bills promoted by the Liberal Democrats and others in the past that can be recycled – and pushed through.

Of course, those who have a vested interest in the status quo will argue that things can’t be done this quickly, secretly hoping that momentum will, indeed, dissipate. They are mistaken: the changes needed have been long discussed, and many even agreed in principle. There can be no more excuses or stalling. Those who seek to delay are barriers to reform: they want to ride out the storm with warm words without letting any change actually happen.

The upcoming 11 week summer recess would hand them a victory – potentially destroying the momentum for change. Therefore, Parliament should not break for the summer recess until the following steps are agreed and passed into law:

Commitment to accept Kelly expenses reform in full
Recall power for MPs suspended for misconduct
House of Lords reform
Party funding reform
Fixed term Parliaments
Enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+
Changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power

Together, over the next 100 days, we could achieve nothing less than the total reinvention of British politics, underpinned by the fundamental principles of accountability, transparency and probity. These months would become a great moment in British political history, rather than a shabby footnote to a shameful month of revelations.

100 Day Action Plan
DAY 1: A resolution of both Houses to accept Sir Christopher Kelly’s expenses review
WEEK 1: Clerks to draw up Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
WEEK 2: Government to table Hayden Phillips amendments to Political Parties and Elections Bill currently before the House of Lords
WEEK 3: Parliament to pass Lord Tyler’s Constitutional Renewal Bill currently before the House of Lords
WEEK 4: New Speaker to convene Party talks to agree changes to Commons procedure. Changes to be agreed by Day 100; implemented for the new Parliamentary Term.
WEEKS 4-5: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+
WEEK 6-7: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for an elected Senate
WEEKS 8-9: Parliament to pass Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
WEEK 10: Commissioner to report on all MPs to Parliament; votes to be held on suspension
WEEK 11+: Petitions to begin in relevant constituencies if voters choose
DAY 100: Referendum to be held on new proportional election system

Detailed proposals

1. Commitment to accept Kelly expenses reform in full
The expenses scandal is at the heart of the collapse in public trust in politicians, and must be the first thing to be cleared up. By accepting Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations “blind” – before we see them – MPs would demonstrate a clear commitment to act in the public interest rather than their own. Parliament cannot legally bind its own hands, but MPs who agreed to the Kelly review now would find it difficult to go back on their word come the autumn. We should therefore pass a resolution in both Houses of Parliament to abide by Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations in full, without seeking to amend or challenge them.

DAY 1: A resolution of both Houses to accept Sir Christopher Kelly’s expenses review

2. Recall power for MPs suspended for misconduct

People are rightly furious that there is nothing they can do to get rid of their MP even if they have committed the most egregious fraud on their expenses claims. We should create a power of recall so if an MP is recommended for suspension by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, 5% of constituents can petition to remove that MP from office, prompting a by-election. All of those against whom serious allegations have been made - claiming mortgage payments without having a mortgage, “flipped” their home for personal profit or avoided Capital Gains Tax - should be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

WEEK 1: Clerks to draw up Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
All MPs who have claimed mortgage payments without having a mortgage, “flipped” their home or avoided Capital Gains Tax to be referred for investigation to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
WEEKS 8-9: Parliament to pass Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
WEEK 10: Commissioner to report on all MPs to Parliament; votes to be held on suspension
WEEK 11+: Petitions to begin in relevant constituencies if voters choose

3. House of Lords reform

Agreement has already been reached - MPs have voted decisively for direct elections of all peers, and agreement largely reached about the powers of the upper chamber. This must now be implemented.

The new House should be called the Senate to detach it permanently from the peerage. Elections should be on a different basis from the Commons but the need to choose a mechanism should not be an excuse for delay. The Power Commission’s recommendation that Senators be elected for three Parliamentary terms, with a third of the House elected at each General Election, should be adopted because it was decided by an independent, non-partisan and consultative process. Senators should represent a larger area than MPs: for simplicity, our suggested model is that this should be the top-up areas used in an AV+ voting system (see 6. below). A third of current peers could then be expelled at each of the next three elections, volunteers first, followed by those chosen at random but according to party balance.

WEEK 6-7: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for an elected Senate

4. Party funding reform

The relationship between money and politics is rotten and is hollowing out our whole political system. We need to remove the influence of big money from politics for good. While the Liberal Democrats want to go much further than proposed by the Hayden Phillips process, in the interests of swift action, we are willing to support the Hayden Phillips recommendations. The Conservatives pulled out of the negotiations but should either return to them or see the proposals pushed through regardless, with the addition of vital restrictions on spending in individual constituencies; on donors using dummy companies registered in Britain to channel money to political parties; and on donations from individuals who are either not resident or not domiciled in Britain for tax purposes.

Hayden Phillips’ proposals, in brief, are: donations from a single individual or organisation in any given year should be capped at £50,000. Spending by political parties (including national, regional and local branches) should be capped at £100m across the electoral cycle. Trade union affiliations to the Labour Party should continue only to the extent that individual members give genuine annual consent to their subscriptions being used in that way and should otherwise be treated in the same way as other donations.

WEEK 2: Government to table Hayden Phillips amendments to Political Parties and Elections Bill currently before the House of Lords

5. Fixed term Parliaments

It is completely wrong for the government to be able to give themselves an electoral advantage by choosing the date of the election to suit them. Fixed term Parliaments are the norm across the democratic world and should be introduced in the UK. Now is not the time for consideration, but action. Paul Tyler’s Constitutional Renewal Bill, currently before the House of Lords, would limit all further sessions of Parliament to four years, fixing the dates of all future general elections after 2010. The bill will also enact government manifesto and ministerial commitments on Freedom of Information, the power of the Attorney General, civil service reform, parliamentary scrutiny of international treaties, and public protest rights, which should also be agreed as part of this reform programme.

WEEK 3+: Parliament to pass Constitutional Renewal Bill currently before the House of Lords

6. Enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+

There is growing consensus that a new electoral system is needed in the UK. The Liberal Democrats believe the best system would be multi-member constituencies elected by Single Transferable Vote, but it is unlikely that agreement could be reached on such a system in the timescale necessary.

Roy Jenkins’ review of electoral systems in 1997 recommended the Alternative Vote + system; Labour committed in their 1997 manifesto to a referendum on this; and there are an increasing number of people, including cabinet members, supporting the move now. We therefore recommend that the Jenkins AV+ recommendation be put to the country immediately at the end of this 100 Day Reform Programme. It must not be put to the country by the government, but by Parliament as a whole; and must not be put on the day of the General Election, where the unpopularity of the government could damage the referendum.

If passed, the new electoral system should be introduced for the election subsequent to 2010, with the Electoral Commission charged with drawing up the new larger constituencies and top-up areas (for additional members and Senators) in time. The aim should be to reduce the total number of MPs by 150 and Peers by 300.

WEEKS 4-5: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+
DAY 100: Referendum to be held on new proportional election system

7. Changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power

The election of a new Speaker on 22 June offers an opportunity for radical reform of the way debate and scrutiny is organised for the House of Commons. We recognise that changes within the House of Commons are only part of political reform: they alone will not renew democracy and must not be used as a smokescreen for leaving other issues untouched. However, the new Speaker will have a mandate for reform and should use that unprecedented influence to drive forward change immediately upon his/her election, with new rules in place for the new Parliamentary term that begins in October. This should address:

Legislation: the Parliamentary timetable should be controlled by Parliament, not the government, as it is currently too easy for Ministers use the timetable to evade scrutiny of contentious or complicated legislation. Arrangements for post-legislative scrutiny should also be considered, along with greater use of “sunset clauses” to stop obsolete laws from causing problems.
Spending: Parliament needs time to scrutinise the government’s spending programme, with the ability to amend proposals.
Public appointments: Ministerial and high level public sector appointments should be subject to confirmation hearings in Parliament. Parliament should be able to vote Ministers and politically-appointed quango heads out of office with a super-majority of two-thirds.
Backbench initiatives: Early Day Motions with substantial support must be given time for debate and votes and Private Members’ Bills given additional time, too. It should no longer be possible for ministers to ‘talk out’ private members’ bills.

WEEK 4: New Speaker to convene Party talks to agree changes to Commons procedure. Changes to be agreed by Day 100; implemented for the new Parliamentary Term

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Clegg's breathtaking 100 day plan to reinvent British politics

This will induce the nearest thing LibDem nerds get to a simultaneous orgasm over politics.

In tomorrow's Guardian, Nick Clegg proposes a breathtaking 100 day plan to reform British politics. He says that MPs should not go on holiday until their wholesale reinvention of the whole system. His article is entitled "Bar the gates. No summer holiday before the overhaul".

This is great stuff! Nick Clegg knocks Cameron's timid muttering about 'nip and tuck' reforms into a cocked hat. Brilliantly, he describes Cameron's statement thus: "Open source software, new select committee chairs and legislative text messages will not rescue British democracy," he wrote. "They are designed to provide verbal cover for maintaining the status quo."

The whole constitutional reform bag of nuts (or most of it, at least) is in Nick's plan, although controversially, he includes Lord Jenkin's AV+ as the subject of a referendum on "PR" - sharp intake of breath from blogging community!

Nick can certainly be commended for following the motto "carpe diem" in choosing this moment to give Britain the full gamma blast of the constitutional reform menu. He demonstrates the instincts of a radical reformer: "Let's stop all this self-congratulatory hype about the mother of parliaments and get on with improving it."

Together, over the next 100 days, we could achieve nothing less than the total reinvention of British politics. These months could become a great moment in British political history, rather than a shabby footnote to a shameful month of scandal. Let us seize, not squander, the opportunity for change.

It's as likely to happen in 100 days as hell freezing over, but at least it puts down a marker and shows up Cameron's statement this week as the meaningless nonsense it is.

In the first two weeks parliament would agree to accept the recommendations of the review into MPs' expenses and allowances by the standards watchdog, draw up a bill to allow for the recall of errant MPs, and impose a £50,000 cap on individual donations to political parties in any year.
The Clegg plan would then introduce major constitutional reforms:
• By week three legislation would be passed to introduce fixed parliamentary terms of four years from 2010, denying the prime minister the right to name the date of general elections.
• By week four the new Commons Speaker would convene all-party talks to introduce a series of changes to parliamentary procedure that would be agreed by day 100. These include handing MPs the right to decide the parliamentary timetable, ­giving MPs a greater chance to scrutinise government spending and subject ministers to confirmation hearings.
• By weeks four to five parliament would pass legislation to allow a referendum to be held on electoral reform – the alternative vote plus system proposed by the late Lord Jenkins – that would be held on day 100.
• By weeks six to seven parliament would pass legislation to replace the House of Lords with a wholly elected senate.

Nostalgic trivia answer

I ought to relieve anyone who is in suspense over my nostalgic trivia question the other day. The connection between The Third Man film and the novel A Frenchman's Creek is that the novel's author Daphne Du Maurier and the film's director Carol Reed had an affair in their twenties. And in case you are wondering, Carol Reed was definitely a man (and, coincidentally, the uncle of Oliver Reed).

"Up yours" message?

Newbury railway station is festooned with red "Home of Vodafone" signs and Vodafone advertising hoardings.

This morning I noticed this posterboard (below) just outside the station. I haven't got a clue what it is about. Well, I understand the individual words but I am not quite sure what I am supposed to do about it. I am not aware of any Siemens Nokia Network products I can buy as a consumer. Perhaps I should be. You need, I suspect, to be a communications industry insider to understand it. Is there some sort of subliminal message contained within it?

Another public execution on the horizon...

You have to hand it to those Tory bosses. They certainly have a sense of humour in a masochistic sort of way. After sending Andrew MacKay to his political death at the hands of the baying mob at a public meeting in Bracknell, they have now told Julie Kirbride to hold a similar meeting. Well, that's their story anyway. Other reports say that "Julie must go" campaigners have invited her to address a public meeting.

Meanwhile, David Cameron deserves some sort of award for "Smokescreen of the century" as he goes round talking about "radical reform" and criticising Ministers' accountants arrangements, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from the revelations about his own MPs, which continue day after day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is it possible to suspend my membership of the human race for ten years?

I just cannot stand the thought of ten years of that complete pillock David Cameron. All you need to know about him is that he was a public relations guru for one of the worst, most soulless television stations in the history of British broadcasting.

David Cameron set out plans to radically reform the British political system in a speech at the Open University.
He said the current political crisis highlighted the need for "sweeping reform" and stressed that "a bit of technocratic tinkering here, a bit of constitutional consultation there" would not be sufficient.

Oh go and stick your head down a toilet, Cameron.

A massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power.

Round spherical objects! David Cameron wouldn't recognise a redistribution power if someone redirected the national grid down his left nostril.

So measure number one?

David Cameron will "seriously consider" fixed term parliaments. Oh FFS. In other words he will "seriously consider" it to get into power and find one hundred and one reasons not to implement it once in power, due to it being one of the most powerful and intoxicating powers a Prime Minister has. Anything less than a commitment to fixed term parliaments now is worse than worthless. It's an insult to the intelligence of the electorate.

"More elected mayors". Round spherical objects. That actually coalesces power in one person, it doesn't distribute it.

"More local control over schools". Ah yes, the old Tory policy.

"He pledged to cut the number of MPs" Which distributes precisely which powers to the public? Come on! Divulge yourself! (The answer is actually zip - de nada). It'll save money, probably save time, but let's not kid ourselves that it puts power into the hands of the public any less or more.

"We're going to empower local councils by cutting right back on all the interference and instructions from central government - the rules and restrictions, the targets and inspections."
Ah! The leopard changes its spots. Disregard the Tory track record 1979-1997.

Bill by bill. Clause by clause. Line by line.
Every piece of legislation would be put under intense scrutiny.
Is it legally sound? Will it be effective? Is it worth the cost?

Well that all goes on at the moment but then unfortunately Labour have such a fantastic majority based on such a paltry percentage of the vote that the bill goes through regardless. Of course, this couldn't possibly be an argument for a fairer voting system could it Camster? Perish the thought!

Proportional representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites.

What utter cobblers! It means that peoples' vote actually means something! Original eh?

And since the advent of the Human Rights Act, judges are increasingly making our laws.

I am sorry. I can't take any more of this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Video: Andrew MacKay's Ceauşescu moment

From Get Bracknell, here's a video of Andrew MacKay's public meeting in Bracknell on Friday. It's marvellous to see democracy in action but this is not for the squeamish. What amazes me is that, after this monstering, Andrew MacKay had the brass neck to go out and tell the media that three-quarters of the meeting was with him.

Certainly the front three rows (which look as though they may well have been "packed" with the faithful) seem to just sit there, mostly with their arms folded, and don't clap the negative points (They do seem to clap the man who said "You've got balls to be here tonight" - which seems to be a bit of back-handed compliment). But the rest of the hall seems to hopping mad.

This reminds me a bit of Nicolae Ceauşescu's last public speech from his palace balcony. He carried gamely on while the crowd were angrily shouting at him. After a while, an aide speaks to him from behind the windows and eventually he is almost physically withdrawn from the balcony. The next thing the crowd see is a helicopter (carrying Ceauşescu) precipitously leaving from behind the palace.

Nostalgic trivia question

Judging by speed of reading them, of three auto-biographies I have been reading recently the ranking has been:

1. Paddy Ashdown A Fortunate Life

2. Michael Parkinson Parky: My Autobiography (rather egotistical (but then again I suppose most auto-biographies are egotistical by definition) but a good read nonetheless)

3. Barack Obama Dreams from my father (the latter is currently on hold two-thirds of the way through).

Currently I am reading an interesting biography which has spurred this mini-quiz:

What is connection between the film of Graham Greene's The Third Man (which starred Orson Welles) and the novel A Frenchman's Creek?


Answer here.

PR: Groins dampen

Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, advocates a referendum on proportional representation in the Times. Like an increasing number of people, he says it should take place on the same day as the next General Election. There is plenty in this article to dampen the groin of many a LibDem activist (that's a Costigan Quist expression). He even calls the proposal of the Jenkins Commission "an elegant solution".

A little piece of the jigsaw

Those struggling to put together the jigsaw of events in the Liberal Democrats, during the last week, could do worse than look here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Journalists not declaring their interests

Pot/Kettle department. The Feral Beast column in the Independent on Sunday has run a couple of pieces highlighting Westminster lobby journalists who have failed to fully declare their interests, as they are required to do. Apparently, passes may be withdrawn....

Last week:

Much talk of MPs failing to declare their interests – but do parliamentary journalists?
In the latest Register of Journalists' Interests, Fraser Nelson declares himself as a commentator for The Spectator, forgetting his lucrative News of the World column; Andrew Neil, calls himself publisher of The Business, even though it no longer exists, and omits to mention his many other jobs; Andrew Gimson doesn't say he is Boris Johnson's biographer; Robin Oakley and Melissa Kite fail to declare their columns for The Spectator;...All are breaking parliamentary rules. Can't they get their house in order?

And this week:

After my revelation that several lobby journalists have failed to declare extra incomes on the register of parliamentary interests, the Commons registrar tells me the offence could lead to the withdrawal of their passes. None of those named and shamed last week, including Andrew Neil, Robin Oakley, Melissa Kite and Andrew Gimson, has yet corrected their entries, nor has any yet been punished.

David Cameron's sham public meeting on expenses

For once I like an article by Peter Hitchens. In the Mail on Sunday today he tells the story of David Cameron's public meeting in Witney. It was held at noon on Friday - hardly at time when most people can manage to get along. It was very scantily advertised and most of the questions seemed to be asked by loyal Tory activists. Hitchens concludes:

If Mr Cameron really wants to find out what the people of West Oxfordshire think about him, his mortgage and his chimney, I suggest he hires a bigger hall, advertises the event both to local people and the national media, and holds it when normal men and women won't be at work.

Mail on Sunday statement: "substantial damages" paid to Tom Watson over Iain Dale article

Reading a free copy (I would never buy it) of today's Mail on Sunday at Newbury's excellent Victoria Park cafe, I noticed this prominent statement on Page 3:

Tom Watson MP

The Mail on Sunday has apologised in the High Court to Civil Service Minister Tom Watson over an article by Iain Dale on April 12 which incorrectly said he received copies of emails from Downing Street adviser Damian McBride and encouraged him in talk of smearing Opposition politicians.
We accepted he had no knowledge of the proposed ‘Red Rag’ website nor of the emails he regarded as completely inappropriate.
We have agreed to pay Mr Watson substantial damages and costs.

Iain's 'Mea Culpa' is here.

A good day to be a brass band player

Here's a picture of an idyllic scene in Newbury's Victoria Park today. Ramsbury Silver Band entertain lots of people spread out on the grass. It's a far cry from last Sunday (below) when poor old Basinsgtoke Silver Band braved the elements to entertain a few souls huddled under umbrellas. The English weather eh?!

Conservative radio host is waterboarded - You Tube

We've heard a lot about "waterboarding". Well, Conservative radio host Eric "Mancow" Muller allowed himself to be waterboarded to see what it is like, to silence critics of the practice. He lasted a few seconds before asking for it to stop. He said it was like drowning and is "torture". So, no silencing of critics, then. See the exercise and his reaction here on You Tube:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Freedom for Dorries

I'd just like to say that I am disgusted by the Telegraph's actions in getting Nadine Dorries' blog taken down. It's an own goal, as now everyone is interested about what she said about the dear Barclay brothers.

I say all this with the proviso that I think the Telegraph owners may have done Dorries a favour by taking down her blog, given some of the comments she's made recently.

But that's just a flippant aside. Basically, taking down blogs without a court order (which is what Google demand before taking anything down) is unacceptable.

Half of all MPs will be swept away at next election - Times

There's an interesting piece in the Times tomorrow. As the suggestion of a regular commenter, I ran a poll a week or so ago asking how many MPs would be left in the House of Commons after the next election. The top choice was 300-400 with 31%, followed by 200-300 with 22%.

The Times says that 325 MPs will be "swept away" at the next election either by standing down prior to it, deselection or simply ejection by the voters.

As many as 30 will be forced to resign directly because of the expenses scandal, while whips expect more than 200 to quit because they are unable to cope with continued public anger. Up to 90 MPs will be voted out in the election.

Research conducted by The Sunday Times and Professor Colin Rallings, director of the elections centre at Plymouth University, suggests that about 170 Labour MPs will not defend their seats while 55 Conservatives are also expected to retire.

Dozens more MPs from all parties are likely to lose their seats as voters kick out incumbents, accused of profiting from their allowances.

Rallings said: “If, as the current polls suggest, the Conservatives were to win the general election with an overall majority of 80 seats, it is likely that fully half of MPs in the new House of Commons will be new, a product both of incumbents being defeated and MPs retiring. It would be without parallel since 1945.”

...The Liberal Democrats expect about five departures...

Malcolm Bruce in the Telegraph.....and?

Malcolm Bruce's expenses/allowances are covered by the Telegraph tomorrow. I've read through the piece. His wife, who works for him, uses part of their home as an office and that is claimed for. He's done nothing wrong. I'm not sure where the Telegraph are going with a lot of this stuff.

A side note to the Telegraph "Keeping it in the family" special: One of the provisions passed through the Commons a couple of weeks ago was for MPs' employees to be employed by the Commons authorities instead of the MPs themselves. This should have come in ages ago, but ho-hum.

Andrew MacKay bites the dust - now what about Kirkbride?

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. He deserves full marks for chutzpah in trying to brave it out. But finally Cameron has switched off his life support machine. What about Julie Kirkbride now then? If Andrew MacKay needs to stand down for declaring a second home when his wife was also claiming one, then surely she should stand down for exactly the same offence, shouldn't she?
Or to put it another way: MacKay and Kirkbride claimed £280,000 together to pay for two second homes. That's £140,000 too much. So each of them are co-responsible for that, surely. So, you could say, each of them has taken the taxpayer for a ride for £70,000 each, could you not? That's quite a lot of duck islands.

Tory MP Andrew MacKay has announced he will stand down at the next general election after discussing his position with Conservative leader David Cameron.
The Bracknell MP denied that the heavy barracking he received from constituents at a public meeting on Friday night had anything to do with the decision.
He said that he did not want to be a "distraction" for the
Tories going into the next election.
"I understand why people are angry," he said. "I hope my decision to step down goes some way to showing my constituents how sorry I am about my own situation."
Mr MacKay was forced to resign as Mr Cameron's Parliamentary aide earlier this month after it emerged he had been claiming second homes expenses on a property his wife, fellow Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, declared as her main home. The taxpayer had effectively been subsidising both of their properties.
He sought to quell uproar among his constituents on Friday night, only to be jeered and shouted down. Television footage showed him being angrily challenged outside the meeting afterwards.
His decision to quit as an MP came after Mr Cameron telephoned him.
"Following a conversation with
David Cameron this morning (Saturday) I have decided to step down as candidate for Bracknell at the next general election," Mr MacKay said.
"I believe I could be a distraction at a time when he is working to get elected as prime minister with the good working majority necessary to take the tough decisions to turn this country around. I would never forgive myself if my candidature distracted voters from the key issues and particularly David's rousing call for change.
"It has been both a privilege and huge fun to represent the people of Bracknell for 26 years."

Another embarrassing question for Andrew MacKay

Exciting scenes in Bracknell last night. Mr Wiggy Andrew MacKay appeared on BBC News 24 after his public meeting. He told BBC South's political correspondent, Peter Henley, that three-quarters of the hall applauded positive points about him (MacKay) and that only one quarter of the hall applauded negative points about him. At that point in the interview (see below), a gentleman interupted to accuse Mr MacKay of "misrepresenting" the mood of the meeting.

Indeed, Peter Henley said that Mr MacKay was heckled throughout, mainly with shouts of "Resign" and "Give it back". The Independent have an excellent report of the meeting here.

One interesting point about this issue emerged, rather bizarrely, on Have I got News for you last night. They played a clip from 2007 when Julie Kirkbride, Andrew MacKay's wife, was confronted by an interviewer on BBC Hereford and Worcester. The interviewer stated that she and her husband claimed two second home allowances and then said "I would have thought the old phrase 'two can live as cheaply as one' would apply here - but obviously it doesn't". At that Kirkbride promptly slammed the phone down.

But the interesting thing about that is this. Andrew MacKay said that he only realised that his and his wife's arrangement was "unreasonable" last week when he went before the Tories' own scrutiny panel. He said he therefore resigned as Cameron's aide the day after. But it is clear from the clip on HIGNFY that the arrangement was very much in the open three years ago. So why did it take Andrew MacKay so long to realise that it was "unreasonable"? It's certainly not the case, as he seems to infer, that this arrangement was pointed out to him last week and suddenly he realised it was wrong. It was, at least, pointed out to his wife by a local radio station two years ago.

Calm down dear

Some people have been saying that David Cameron has been seen to punish his MPs where needed.

So why have Bill Wiggin and Andrew MacKay still not said they will stand down at the next election while, for seemingly much lesser offences, three MPs are standing down?

Answer: the three standing down are old farts who are surplus to Cameron’s requirements.

Cameron has made an MP stand down for a duck house, but for claiming £140,000 for a non-existent second home, that MP - Andrew MacKay - is still battling on.

Similarly, nothing has happened to Julie Kirkbride. But as far as I can see she did exactly the same thing as her husband. But she's not standing down. The advantage of being a relatively shiny face in a party of many dinosaurs, perhaps?

One of the reasons I believe in the Liberal Democrat party is that after giving everyone a chance to have a good old whinge, due process is followed and both sides of the story are listened to.

Last week, I called for Chris Rennard to explain his situation adequately, or pay the money back, or resign. He’s done the latter, albeit with potential disingenuity by the party in dealing with the media and with a probable lack of transparency.

I am happy to trust the party to have the independent auditor to look at the Lords allowances and expenses, and to refer any wrong-doing to the appropriate commissioner.

What else could happen at the moment? He’s resigned. The only thing that could be done is that the whip is taken away from him in the Lords but I don’t think that would be appropriate until the whole thing is looked at properly.

The atmosphere at the moment , in general, is that of a hanging court (it’s even called the wrong thing. People and the media are talking about “expenses” but in virtually every case they are actually talking about “allowances”). I tend to agree with Archbishop Williams that the humiliation of MPs should stop. We've all (including me - yes) had our fun with the stocks. It's time for those stocks to be put away and proper process to be followed.

I did not join this party for any party member to summarily go through a hanging court. We’ve only heard one side of the story from a Murdoch paper. OK, so more should have come from Chris Rennard. But, time is a key factor here. Time should be allowed for due process and I respect that Ros Scott, the Federal Executive and Nick Clegg are going to follow due process, quite correctly.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Who'd be a brass band player in the rain?

Last Sunday we braved the persistent rain and went for a walk in Victoria park, Newbury. Rather perversely we decided, sitting under umbrellas, to listen to a few tunes from Basingstoke Silver Band, who had the misfortune to be the band scheduled for the day. You have to hand it to them - the on. We enjoyed it.

On You Tube: Anthony Steen's priceless rant

There are some real gems in here:

"Do you know what it's all about? - Jealousy."

"I've got a very very large house."

"I don't know what all the fuss is about."

"This government completely mucked up the system...introduced the Freedom of Information Act"

"What right has the public to interfere with my private life? None."

...all delivered in a wonderfully magisterial Tory accent.

Yanks have great fun with our expenses scandal

The hilarious Daily Show with Jon Stewart take on the expenses scandal.

Poor old Douglas Hogg and his moat get a fearsome shellacking.

And you know what? By golly, by gosh I think they have finally hit upon a decent name for the scandal. Scamalot.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A moment for wholesale reform

The BBC's Brian Wheeler has a lengthy article here, arguing that a moment has arrived where wholesale reform of British politics is up for grabs:

Anyone watching MPs debate emergency reforms to their expenses system will not have detected a whiff of revolution in the air.
It felt like business as usual in the Commons chamber - the same exaggerated courtesy between "honourable members", the same self-congratulatory jokes.
There was little sense that the ground was shifting beneath the MPs as they spoke.
Yet that is what a growing body of opinion believes could be happening - that we are witnessing the dying spasms of a centuries old and peculiarly British way of doing democracy.
Indeed, so shaken has the political establishment been by the expenses scandal that they are suddenly contemplating all kinds of ideas they had previously rejected as unwise, unworkable or hopelessly idealistic.
These include (but are not limited to):
• Proportional representation - Ending what critics see as the inherently unfair "first-past-the-post" system of electing MPs
• Fixed term parliaments - Ending the advantage to the ruling party of choosing the polling date
• A written constitution - Setting out voters' rights and limiting the power of government
• A fully elected second chamber - Ending the power of patronage and expelling the few remaining hereditary peers
• Curbing the power of the whips - Freeing MPs to to vote with their conscience more often rather than following the party line
• Fixed terms for MPs - So they do not become too cosy and complacent in their roles
• Boosting the power of select committees - Electing the chairmen rather than having them chosen by the whips and handing them greater investigatory powers

Good Lord. It's like waking up in the middle of a Liberal Democrat conference.

Delusion of the week

"Widders sniffs the air" we are told on Iain Dale's Diary. To his credit, Iain dismisses the idea of Ann Widdecombe as an interim Speaker as a "mistake".

The Press Association is reporting that Ann Widdecombe is seriously considering standing as an interim Speaker until the next election. While she has not yet made a formal declaration, she is clearly up for it, but says she will wait until she has ascertained whether she would have any support on the Labour benches. I first suggested her for the position of Speaker several years ago and if the situation were different I'd unreservedly support her for the job. But love her as I do, I can't help but think that an interim Speaker would be a mistake. The public want reform of the system now, and aren't prepared to wait until the next Parliament. Any interim Speaker, whether it is Ann or someone else, would not be in a position to implement a meaningful reform programme.Or maybe that's the wrong judgment. Maybe a figure like Ann Widdecombe, who commands huge public recognition and popularity is just the sort of figure to knock a few heads together and be seen to be doing so.

..................................................I see. "She will wait until she has ascertained whether she would have any support on the Labour benches"............................I see. Dennis Skinner. Martin Salter. That sort of person. Likely to support Ann Widdecombe for Speaker, do you think?.......................................................Next!

Now the Telegraph really is scraping the barrel...

"Jo Swinson, the youngest MP in the House of Commons, included receipts for eyeliner, a "tooth flosser" and 29p dusters with her parliamentary" claims a sub-headline in the Telegraph.

"Included receipts". Yes, but we went through all this with Phil Woolas, didn't we? Receipts "included" don't necessarily mean that all the items on the receipt were claimed (although it got a bit surreal with Woolas).

Struggling through the Telegraph story, the only thing which even the paper itself is claiming, and this is denied, is that Jo Swinson claimed for a hairdryer and an eletric toothbrush for which she was reimbursed (perhaps wrongly).

There is one classic passage:

Contacted by the Telegraph, Miss Swinson said she had not claimed for the eyeliner, suggesting that it featured on a receipt that included other items for which she did seek repayment. No items other than cosmetics appeared on the receipt in question — it seemed to be the second of two pages, the first of which is missing. other items were on the first page which is missing then. Humpfffff.

So why is the Telegraph bothering with this article? It's not so that they have the opportunity to list a load of small items, most if not all they don't even seem to be saying were claimed, and, dare I say it, print a photograph of the MP in question - is it?

Thank you, Chris

Early in 1993 I had a visitation by Chris Rennard to my home. I was the Chairman of the local LibDem party and our MP for Newbury, Judith Chaplin, had sadly died recently. Discussions were held in my lounge. Then, at one point, Chris, myself and the Vice-Chair crammed ourselves into my study to pore over a document on my computer. At the time, my very small study was dominated by a huge roll-top desk (which was my pride and joy). This left a small space of about 4 feet by 6 feet for three chairs and the three of us, all big lads, shall we say. It was quite comical as we sat there, cheek by jowl.

I soon realised I was completely out of my depth, in terms of the impending excitement of the by-election campaign, and stood down as chair the next day, which was a Sunday. Two days later my son died, so it turned out to be just as well that I had stood down. With the trauma of the grief, it was actually quite nice to be involved in the campaign from the sidelines. It was an amazing campaign and it was quite awesome to witness at first-hand the superb organisational and campaigning skills of Chris Rennard - all the more interesting because it was all on our "home patch".

Chris had a laser-like ability to spot weaknesses in the opposition and exploit them mercilessly. For example, the Tory candidate came from Somerset. Needless to say, the word "Somerset" occurred in our leaflets only slightly less frequently than "the" and "a". The poor unfortunate Tory candidate, just after being selected, flushed with success, was interviewed by the press. 'What is your connection to Newbury?' - they asked him. "Oh, I've visited it occasionally while passing through on business" he said. Big mistake. Chris ensured that this sentence was printed thousands of times in our leaflets. But it was perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont's statement, made at the Tory HQ in Cheap Street, Newbury during the campaign, which received the biggest stick in our campaign. 'Je ne regrette rien', was his reply to the question 'Chancellor, which do you regret most, seeing green shoots or singing in the bath?'. I think there was even a little cartoon of Norman Lamont with a loofah, scrubbing under his arms in the bath as he sang, on our leaflets.....or is my memory playing tricks on me?

It's no exaggeration to say that many LibDem councillors and MPs owe their election directly to Chris. His whole suite of tricks and techniques are enshrined within the party.

But that misses the point. Most of all, Chris inspires Liberal Democrats. Just to know that he is occasionally sitting upstairs in the by-election HQ, without actually seeing him, is enough to send me and hundreds of other LibDem activists scurrying out to deliver masses of leaflets - all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Chris is regarded with awe and adoration, approaching love by me and many other activists. He is the nearest thing there is to an embodiment of the Liberal Democrats in human form. He is the Liberal Democrat party more than anyone else.

And we should not forget Chris' impish sense of humour and fun, inter-twined with his passion for politics.

Of course, he has been a superb Chief Executive in his smart suits. But I prefer to think of him in his shirt sleeves, surrounded by piles of freshly printed leaflets, in front of the computer with other activists, chuckling away at his latest devilish wheeze to skewer the opposition.

It is a sad day for the Liberal Democrats. But, no doubt, we will continue to see Chris and Ann involved in our party. Doubtless. But for the moment I want to say, simply: Thank you, Chris.

Freedom for prats!

For my sins, I regularly watch (and read the sub-titles of) the London BBC TV news at very close quarters. That's while I am doing my stint on the treadmill at lunch time.

Today I was treated to Boris Johnson being very dictatorial to the London Assembly in respect to MLA (Member of the London Assembly) Barmcake of the BNP.

Barmcake (aka Richard Barnbrook) was invited to the regular Queen's Garden Party as an assembly member. He's entitled to one guest. Anyone in their right minds who has a partner as beautiful as his partner, ballerina Simone Clarke, would take her - right? Wrong. Very perversely indeed, Barmcake is choosing to spend the afternoon with his party leader, Nick Griffin.

Boris says this is making a "political stunt" of the garden party. I say the more you call it a stunt, Boris, the more it will become one.

The BNP is a legal political party. Barmcake is an elected assembly member. He has the right to bring which ever guest he chooses to a garden party.

Let Barmcake and Griffin get on with it, say I. If they are so desperate for publicity that they do this - good luck to them.

I have always thought that the more the BNP are subject to the glare of the spotlight, the more ludicrous they appear. If people see the preening, twitching Griffin at the Garden Party they will see what a complete prat he is. Result. They will also see what a complete prat Barmcake is wanting to take his party leader to a party instead of his ballerina partner.

No doubt a lot of time is going to spent speculating as to whether Griffin would meet the Queen at this event. Don't be so daft. Most people see her from a distance of 300 yards at these events, enough to bow and scrape at her distant figure, and the Royal Family have 1000 years of experience at avoiding people they don't want to meet.

The spiteful, childish mind of Gordon Brown

Consider this. Two Cabinet Ministers (A and B) didn't claim capital gains tax on their home sales. Gordon Brown says that's fine. "Not a problem" - were his exact words. And, indeed, Newsnight have obtained a guidance leaflet for ministers which says you can designate whichever home you feel like as your main homes - regardless of which one you designate under the MPs' ACA/Second homes allowance system.

So far so good.

But another Cabinet Minister (C) did exactly the same thing as A and B. C had to pay back the capital gains tax and apologise. Minister C's behaviour was described by the Prime Minister as "completely unacceptable".

So why the double standards by the Prime Minister?

Well, let's slot in the names, shall we? A and B are James Purnell and Geoff Hoon. C is Hazel Blears, Chimpmunk of this parish.

As far as I can make out, there is absolutely no difference in what Purnell, Hoon and Blears did, but the PM says the behaviour of Hoon and Purnell is "not a problem" while Blears' behaviour he calls "completely unacceptable".


So is this prejudice against Chipmunks? Or, perish the thought, a very perverse way of punishing Blears for speaking out ("You Tube if you want to") against Brown? Inside Brown, there is a very spiteful and childish mind. It's one thing getting revenge, but quite another doing it by varying standards dependent on who the subject is.

Lord Rennard to stand down as LibDem Chief Executive at end of summer

Statement to members here:

First, I'd like to thank all members for everything that you are doing to help our candidates in the European and local elections (if you have local elections in your area). I am sure that they appreciate your support at a difficult time in politics. If you are standing yourself, then obviously I wish you the best of luck!
My reason for writing is that I have decided to make the current election campaigns my last as Chief Executive. I discussed this with Nick some time ago and I have given notice to the Party President that I will stand down as Chief Executive at the end of the Summer.
I want to be able to work more flexibly in future whilst of course continuing to help our party advance. I believe that I will be better able to do so without the administrative burdens of being Chief Executive and running the party's day to day organisation.
For family and health reasons, I have needed to change the way in which I work. My wife Ann has supported me enormously in all my work. But since she retired a few years ago after more than 35 years teaching, we wanted to have something of a more normal life outside the Westminster bubble.
This has become more important to me as I have struggled to maintain good diabetic control with the rigours of a very demanding lifestyle. This has proved to be increasingly difficult whilst carrying out the role of Chief Executive at HQ and around the country.
I decided that this Summer would be the best time for me and for the party to make a change. I am letting the party know this now, so that it can take the necessary steps to appoint a new Chief Executive in the Autumn.
My major work as Chief Executive in recent years has been to help create new structures for the party organisation and help to recruit an extremely strong professional team to work for it. The role of Chief Executive has therefore changed significantly since I undertook this role six years ago.
By the Summer, we will have had crucial local and European elections and I believe that we will do well in them. I am also confident that Nick Clegg will prove to be the most successful Leader that we have ever had. I am immensely proud of the roles that I have played so far in securing the steady advance of the Liberal Democrat cause. Our values and beliefs have never been more important than they are today. I will, of course, continue to support the General Election campaign, but not as chair.
Finally, I would just like to thank all members personally for all the support that I have had whilst working for the party and I look forward to continuing to work with you in future.
With all best wishes,
Yours sincerely
PS I thought about letting you know this after the current round of elections, but having taken the decision and informed the Leader and President, I wanted you to hear directly from me and to fully understand why I have been trying to make lifestyle changes and will make an even more significant one later this year.
Nick Clegg has issued the following statement:
Commenting on the decision by Chris Rennard to stand down as Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg said:
"It is impossible to exaggerate Chris' immense contribution to the Liberal Democrats over the years. Without Chris' unique skills as one of the country's most astute and effective political campaigners, I doubt that the party would now have the largest number of MPs in decades.
"More recently, his work as Chief Executive of the party has been invaluable in steering the party through some turbulent times and significantly professionalising the organisational aspects of the party.
"I am especially grateful to him for the invaluable support he gave to me when I first became party Leader. At all times, he has been utterly loyal, hard working and dedicated to the wider good of the Party.
"He will be sorely missed as Chief Executive by the many people in the party for whom he has been a huge inspiration for years.
"Whilst I understand Chris' reasons for moving on as Chief Executive, I am equally looking forward to drawing on his immense wisdom and insight into politics in the years ahead."

David Cameron - straining credibility

On GMTV today David Cameron said Bill Wiggin had made an "honest mistake" in claiming £11,000 for mortgage payments for a house he owned.

Cameron is stretching the English language to breaking point. Firstly, it should be "honest mistakes", as Wiggin allegedly signed 23 declarations which were wrong. Secondly, I don't know how you can credibly say you made a mistake when you have just bought a house. It really does beggar belief that you would actually fork out £480,000 cash to pay for a house, then, allegedly forgetting you had done so, start allegedly claiming for non-existent mortgage payments "soon afterwards":

In April 2004 the couple, who have three young children, bought a property near Ledbury, Herefordshire, for £480,000 where the MP has bred prize-winning cattle and chickens.
Soon afterwards, Mr Wiggin changed the address on which he claimed additional costs allowance from his west London home to the new property, and the mortgage interest claim increased that month from £453.91 to £568.81.
However, he did not submit any bank statements in support. He and his wife had in fact bought the property outright and there was no mortgage.

Cameron's defence really strains credibility. And, by the way, Wiggin allegedly claimed for other items, such as cleaning and utilities, on this house he owned. And we're asked to believe that this was an "honest mistake".

How can you say it is a simple "mistake" to allegedly forget that you own a house outright and don't pay a mortgage on it? OK, I am happy to accept it was a "mistake", but if normal citizens make such "mistakes" they have to face very serious consequences indeed.

LibDem blogs

LibDem blogs is the cental pillar of the Lib Dem blogosphere. Its communual nature is emblematic of the LibDems. Everybody gets a fair whack and new blogs get the prominence they wouldn't otherwise achieve. Yes, I suppose I could create a Google reader list to track the blogs I want to view, but I would miss the new ones and interesting posts which pop up unexpectedly from some quarters.

Ryan Cullen has created an excellent, under-stated tool which sets the LibDem blogosphere apart from the other parties' efforts. Unfortunately, his platform has been struggling for a while so a new one is needed - which will cost a few pennies.

About 60% of the traffic to this site comes from LibDem Blogs or from the LibDem blogs potted list on LibDem Voice.

If you are a regular user of LibDem Blogs, please give generously to help get this vital tool up and running again.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hurrah! - Backing for publicly owned MPs' accommodation

After posting twice about this, I'm very relieved to, at last, find some backing for publicly owned MPs' accommodation. A clear majority of the PoliticsHome panel have backed the proposal:

The solution to MPs' need for two homes if their constituency is outside London lies in adopting a model similar to the Swedish system, where a publicly owned and maintained house or flat is provided if necessary.

That's the view of of the PHI100, the UK's leading survey of political expert and inside opinion. A sixty eight per cent majority of the panel - which includes MPs and peers, senior journalists, party strategists and policy experts - call for a Swedish style system. That opinion is shared by the majority of both right- (eighty one percent) and left-leaning panellists (sixty seven percent). Most Liberal Democrat panellists (forty three percent) also take this stance.

Clear majorities of media panellists, strategists, and thought leaders back the Swedish system - but parliamentarians are split down the middle.

One objection I'd like to knock on the head is this: One LibDem MP is quoted as saying that there's no suitable building (except 'Wormwood Scrubs'). Der. It doesn't have to be one building! It can be a mix of accommodation spread over a relatively large area.

Apology to Lord Rennard

At entirely my own initiative, I have revised an earlier post I made about Lord Rennard, as I do not feel, on reflection, that I sufficiently gave him the benefit of the doubt. I apologise to Lord Rennard for my initial over-reaction.

Andrew Lansley snubbed by Romsey Conservative activists - BBC

On BBC1's South Today, political correspondent Peter Henley tonight revealed evidence (in the form of leaked emails which he verified by talking to the authors) that some Romsey Conservatives snubbed a visit by front bencher Andrew Lansley today, because of the expense allegations against him. One activist wrote that he hoped the visit would be "incognito" and another said that there should be no canvassing involved.