Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why are Labour such unprincipled, reckless bastards ?

Not content with wrecking electoral reform and democratising the House of Lords, Labour now plans to reduce the EU budget.    Is Ed Miliband even capable of thinking beyond the next Commons vote ?  Today they plan to vote with Tory rebels to support the aptly named Reckless Amendment to cut the EU budget, not because as a party they want to undermine Britain's position in the EU even further but because they have a chance of defeating the government.   Even Tory eurosceptic Andrea Leadsom can see that the amendment is wrong.  When the inevitable referendum on EU membership comes, Labour may rediscover the virtues of being in the EU but it may be too late.  Labour will have done its bit to feed the widespread scepticism about Europe.    If their opportunistic games help them to get elected again, they may find themselves presiding over Britain's withdrawal from the EU and the disastrous economic consequences, not to mention the political ones - isolation in world affairs or worse, further dependence upon the United States as it too declines.

We already know the perils of coalition with the Tories.  Don't imagine that coalition with these unprincipled bastards would be any easier !

Friday, October 26, 2012

Blofeld and buses

Many (including Rory Bremner) have commented on Henry Blofeld's style of cricket commentary with its frequent references to buses going past the ground.   I have just found out from Wikipedia why he might be so concerned about the proximity of buses to cricket grounds.

"Selected as Eton captain in his final year at school in 1957, Blofeld suffered a serious accident, being hit by a bus while riding a bicycle to the Eton cricket ground - he remained unconscious for 28 days."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Liberal connections to James Bond ?

BBC reporters have watched all 23 Bond films to prepare an interesting audit which shows how many people Bond killed in each film and how many women he kissed (never more than 4 in one film).  I wonder how many connections to the Liberals one could find.   Go on, watch them all again and let me know.  To get things started, Penelope Smallbone (LD member in 2009 and maybe even now and daughter of Richmond stalwart Hester Smallbone) appeared swimming in one film and Cubby Broccolli bought her name for a  character in Octopussy.

The simple joys of Opposition

I have posted before about the European Court of Human Rights' ruling on prisoners' votes and how British media and politicians have consistently misrepresented it.  Today the BBC reports that David Cameron told the house:
 "No one should be under any doubt - prisoners are not getting the vote under this government".   

The same report tells us that the Labour Opposition spokesman on Justice, Sadiq Khan, said: "
The public will be rightly concerned at reports prisoners could get a vote. If true, thousands of those serving sentences for serious and violent crimes such as wounding, assault and domestic violence would be given a say in who runs the country." 

Interestingly, in his speech to the Labour Party Conference  he attacks the Tories as saying:
 "Human Rights are bad because they’re European.
and then replies,:
 "But Winston Churchill and British lawyers wrote the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Britain should be proud".   
It's an interesting defence of the ECHR, because it amounts to saying:
"Don't worry, it's not really foreign, it's British."
I'm also not entirely sure which bits Winston Churchill wrote.

More recently, Sadiq Khan has also tweeted
"As today progressed, growing confusion between AG and PM over whether prisoners will or won’t get to vote shows Gvt is at sixes and sevens".   

So does he and does Labour support the ECHR and accept that we must abide by its rulings or not ?  Perhaps we'll never know.

Friday, October 19, 2012

More answers to Jennie Rigg !

...and here are the answers on FPC.

1. Which of the following activities do you consider the most dangerous and why?
- taking a single ecstasy tablet
- taking an advanced motorcycle riding test
- giving birth
Giving birth.  Around 100 women die every year in the UK whereas between 10-17 people die from taking ecstasy.  Statistically ecstasy may be more dangerous because far fewer people take it than give birth.   As far as I know, no-one has actually died taking the motorcycle test.

2. What four pledges would you put on the front of the next Lib Dem manifesto?
1. To build more affordable and social housing
( with a costed figure of say 400,000 homes a year)
2. To create new jobs in a greener economy (again, a costed figure as large as possible)
3. To reduce borrowing by taxing wealth and by cracking down on tax avoidance.
4. To promote peace through international law and to avoid military adventures.

3. A genie appears and tells you that you can remove one law and make one law; what would you remove from the statute book and what would you add to the statute book?
Remove: Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which outlaws abusive and insulting words or behaviour.  
Add: All childcare to be tax deductible - the biggest contribution there could be to gender equality.

4. What balance should the committee give to the views of the leadership, the parliamentary panels and the membership in setting policy priorities?
FPC should listen to all these but the dialogue should be two-way.  We want to support the parliamentary leadership but not to restrict our policy formulation to topics that fit the Westminster bubble.   The party desperately needs to offer the public an independent message - what we stand for, not just to pose as the brakes on the Tories.   Fighting the next election on the economic competence of the coalition would be disastrous.

5. How would you change the party’s procedures on gathering and analysing evidence when formulating policy?
I have served on policy working groups and watched with increasing dismay the current process where, although staff work very hard, the choice of witnesses is somewhat random.   We need to invite evidence publicly and not be afraid to hear from specialists who disagree with us.   Their contributions can only strengthen our policies.   Loss of the Short money has left the party desperately short of policy staff.   We also need to involve more party members and to use the hidden expertise they possess.   In the East of England I have started a process of identifying where that expertise lies.   I have tried unsuccessfully so far to revive the old Liberal Party practice of a travel pool for working groups, so that the cost of taking part is the same for all whether they live in Kensington or Newcastle or Penzance.
6. Which is more important - freedom from ignorance, poverty or conformity?
I have always emphasised freedom from conformity.   There is no great value in the freedom to be the same as everyone else.  Conformity carries ignorance and poverty in its train, ignorance because alternatives are suppressed and poverty because growth and opportunity require innovation and choice.

7. Are you a member of any (S)AOs or other pressure groups which might give us an insight into your policy priorities?
I am chair of Liberal Democrats for Peace & Security and have campaigned persistently against nuclear weapons.  I am a member of Liberty and Amnesty and a former president of the Young European Federalists.  I have also worked for years with Environmental NGOs and professionally lobbied the European Union on environmental policy and regional policy.

8. Which external bodies would you like to see audit the manifesto to see if our policies are workable?
Honestly, I hadn't thought about it.  Actually auditing after we have written the manifesto is too late.   We should seek external critique of our polices as we develop them not when it's too late.

9. What proposals do you have to improve the process of negotiating policy priorities for a coalition agreement in the event of another hung parliament?
Other countries allow a sensible period of time but the markets and the British media will probably not.  I understand why preparations before elections for negotiations afterwards have to be confidential, but the negotiators should have guidance from FPC and conference as to red lines.  I think it is a mistake to put too much into an initial coalition agreement.  As the likely minority partner we are in a stronger position if the majority partner has to come back to us to negotiate on issues.   Any coalition agreement must also provide for wider negotiation of new policies than the present quad of two MPs each.  In any such discussion, the party outside parliament should also be represented.

10. If elected, how do you plan to engage with the wider party?
I want more members to be involved long before policy gets to federal conference.  The current process of policy formulation is something of a secret garden and indeed a garden made up of plants from within the M25.  As a start in the East of England, we (the Regional Policy Committee) have arranged for regional consultation sessions on defence and on work / life balance, subjects which will be debated at federal conference next Autumn.   I would like FPC to engage with regional committees and for committee members to explain the policy process to local parties, something I would be glad to do myself.

11. Are you standing for any other committees, if so which ones, and if elected to more than one how do you plan to divide your time?
I'm also standing for FPC.   The actual number of meetings for both committees is not too demanding.   If elected to both, I would have to reconsider the amount of time which I currently spend on local and regional party bodies.

Answers to Jennie Rigg

Here's my answers to Jennie's questions on FCC.

Answers to Jennie Rigg’s questions to FCC candidates
1.    What ratio do you think is the ideal balance for keynote speeches, policy debates and Q&A sessions on the main stage at conference?
I think policy debates should have the lion's share of the time, certainly over 50%, probably more, then Q&As and finally keynote speeches.   Ministers can make speeches all year round.  This is our time as party activists.
2.            How do you plan to make conference more inclusive?
This is my main theme.   Going to conference can cost hundreds of pounds and our policies will suffer if those with harder lives can't contribute.  I want Conference Office to help organise block travel bookings and car sharing, to match up local members as hosts with reps who need cheap accommodation and we need to provide alternatives to the ridiculously expensive food available at conference centres and hotels.   Constituencies should consider subsidising their reps.  I support the use of the internet and skype as well but it's important for people to be physically present if possible.
3.            What is your favourite conference venue and why?
Brighton, because of the wide range of accommodation and restaurants from the cheapest to the most luxurious.  I also have happy memories of performing in the Liberal Revue there.   I like Harrogate too but it may be too small now.
4.            What is your opinion on the proposal to make conference one member, one vote?
I hadn't heard the proposal but if it means more members can attend and vote, that would be a good thing.  However, see answer to question 2.  We don't just want the better off members to decide everything.
5.            What would you do to make conference more affordable for the less well-off within our party?
See detailed answer to question 2. This would be my most important objective if elected.
6.            What is your opinion on the proposal to allow non-attending members to participate in conference - remote voting, speeches by skype, etc.?
I'm in favour of using Skype to let people participate, to follow debates and even to speak.   I'm not sure about voting.  There would need to be very secure systems in place.  This could be very important for people unable to travel because of disability, poverty or occupations like teaching.
7.            How much consideration do you think FCC should give to avoiding embarassing our frontbench when it selects motions and amendments for debate?
Almost none.  I successfully proposed an amendment at the Special Conference declaring our right to continue to make policy as an independent party.   The only caveat I would make is that sometimes a Lib Dem minister may be able to achieve amendments to legislation or policy by quieter methods which would be undone by the fog-horn of conference, but that minister would need to convince us that this was so.   Mere embarrassment would not qualify.
8.            What are your views on  whether outside experts should be allowed or encouraged to speak on the main stage?
This should be exceptional.   For example, I would have wanted to hear Hans Blix on Iraqi armaments before the UK went to war.  There is limited time on the conference floor.  Experts can speak at fringe meetings.
9.            Where do you stand on conference security in general and accreditation in particular?
I fully support the airport-style security which make us all safer.  I totally oppose accreditation as an affront to democracy.  No state agency whould have any say in the selection of our representatives at conference.  I drafted, promoted and summed up for the resolution which conference passed last year condemning accreditation and I shall continue to oppose it and seek to end it.
10.               If elected, how do you plan to engage with the wider party?
Even when it does a good job, FCC does seem a little mysterious and its decisions opaque.   I would favour more openness about meetings and their decisions whenever possible.   I would make myself available to talk to local parties about conference organisation.   We used to have a two-stage agenda process which gave members more say over what was debated.   The sausage machine of FPC-appointed working groups producing lengthy reports hasn't always been an improvement and can limit debate rather than encourage it.  I want to explore ways in which members can have more influence on the final agenda.
11.          Are you standing for any other committees, if so which ones, and if elected to more than one, how do you plan to divide your time?
I'm also standing for FPC.   The actual number of meetings for both committees is not too demanding.   If elected to both, I would have to reconsider the amount of time which I currently spend on local and regional party bodies.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vote early and vote often !

No, seriously vote once in each Liberal Democrat internal election and if you value our party's independence and internal democracy, please vote for me for FPC and FCC.   If you want to know more about my views, there's more here: David Grace for FPC and FCC.

Friday, October 12, 2012

EU Nobel Peace Prize but some Liberals carp !

I have spent a lot of time today arguing on-line with fellow Liberal Democrats about the contribution of the European Union to peace.   Some have repeated the false but successful UKIP propaganda that the EU is undemocratic; some have challenged its contribution to peace; some have moaned about the Common Fisheries Policy.

As Romano Prodi pointed out on Radio 4  Europe has enjoyed the longest period of peace since the Roman Empire.   I fear the UK is now heading for an in/out referendum.  The entire British political class, not excluding the Liberal Democrats, will be to blame if the  vote is for out, after decades when they have failed to proclaim the achievements of the European Union or even engage in trying to improve it, preferring instead to carp on about fish and bananas.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

"Reform sir ? Aren't things bad enough as they are ?" Lord Eldon, Lord Chancellor said in the 1820s.  Birkdale Focus reminds us of Paddy's wonderful speech on foreign affairs at a conference fringe, full of poetry and history but sadly no substitute for the lack of foreign policy debate on the floor of conference.   For the full speech see here.

Paddy was somewhat disparaging about the EU, saying rightly that it does not connect with the citizen and then calling vaguely for institutional reform.  As I pointed out in my question to him on the day, he doesn't say how he wants the EU institutions reformed !  This is dangerous.  Usually the Tory eurosceptics call for EU reform but they have always opposed any reform which would improve things.  Small example: everyone moans about the European Parliament working on three sites and the cost of decamping to Strasbourg once a month.  Why does it happen ?  Because the power to decide the question rests with a unanimous vote of the European Council, i.e. there's a national veto involved.   Solution: remove the veto and let the EP decide on its own location.

I don't believe that the answer to UKIP is to say "Reform the institutions".  It's to proclaim what the institutions have achieved.  "Reform the institutions" is a defensive response, conceding half the eurosceptic case.