'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Monday, 28 February 2011

A level playing field?

Today's blog has been echoed by the Leader of the Labour party, which is particularly astute of Ed Miliband as I’d only written the first line before he gave his speech this morning about the growing inequality in British Society over the last 30 years, under successive Tory and Labour governments.

My thoughts were inspired by this article in The Guardian by Gary Younge, where he expertly analyses the current State standoff in Wisconsin as symptomatic of a hidden class war in US society. I urge you to read it for yourself, but they key point he makes is

“Inequality of income and wealth has been more readily accepted in the US because equality of opportunity has long been assumed”

and also

“The idea of a class system where only a handful can ever be truly wealthy intrudes awkwardly on a culture rooted in notions of self-advancement, personal reinvention and rugged individualism, even if it is closer to reality. Old habits die hard. The weekend protests were organised under the banner "Save the American Dream".

Now obviously the sort of ‘deal’ where you accept profound inequality in life as long as everyone gets the chance to succeed, is anathema to me. And as Gary Younge points out, that deal doesn’t work in the US anyway – people are harbouring some terrible illusions. But it did get me thinking about inequality over here. Because I’m equally unhappy about a society where your chances in life are pre determined by the status of your birth, and the opportunities you will be presented with as a result. This has been brilliantly exposed in Andrew Neil’s recent documentary ‘Posh and Posher’ whereby basically, if you’re part of the establishment, you’re going to do OK – and if you’re not – it’s going to take 2 or 3 generations to get upwardly mobile.

Which is why – a little to my own surprise – I’m beginning to favour positive discrimination.

I like the fact that Simon Hughes is thinking about positively discriminating against Universities who don’t give more chances to state educated children.

I like the fact that a while ago one of the London medical schools was considering making entry easier for children from lower achieving schools on the basis that an ‘A’ at some schools must be considerably harder to achieve than an ‘A’ at Eton – and thus may be worth considerably more.

I’ll be looking out for further examples of this – I’d welcome feedback if anyone has any good ones.

I want to live in a society where we don’t accept huge inequalities either as a price worth paying, nor as a predetermined fact of life. But one where we ensure we level the playing field, so we can all succeed together.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Has this bloke put his finger on what is the real problem with the Big Society?

I blogged the other day about how I wanted to like the idea of the Big Society but that there were some fundamental things stopping me doing so - the main one being that no one can really explain what it is

But now I've read this rather good article from Mark Ravenhill which makes me think that maybe the real problem with The Big Society is it's implied endorsement of what seems to me to be frequently idealogical action, by claiming any act of charity as implied support for a cut in that particular sector, or even cuts in any and every sector. And while everyone, even Labour, accepts that many cuts have to be made, no one agrees with every particular cut or action.

Do voluntary work in a hospital - you must support cuts to the NHS

Volunteer to clean graffiti off walls where you live - you must support cuts to local street cleaning

Go and read to children in schools - you're suddenly advocating cuts to the primary schools budget.

Of course, none of those actions actually imply support for those particular cuts; but wouldn't it be dreadful if people stopped doing them in case anyone should think they basically support the cuts being made. And maybe it's that nagging doubt which makes me uneasy about the concept of 'The Big Society' per se.


Here's an excellent example of how doing one thing doesn't necessarily mean that you endorse an organisations entire philosophy per se. The brilliant Johann Hari actually tweeted an endorsement of an article in The Daily Mail. Now that's something no one could have seen coming.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Ed Miliband: whoops, your briefs are showing.

He's doing it again.

That Ed Miliband.

He's got a strategy: get the Lib Dems.

He's got a creative expression of that strategy: I don't agree with Nick

And it seems it's a strategy he's sticking with, according to this in The Guardian

That seems to me to be putting party communications strategy above a constitutional change he's meant to be in favour of.

Not very statesmanlike

Not a great strategy

and wouldn't he be better off attacking the 'No to AV' campaign for things like this disgraceful advertising campaign or these distortions of the facts rather than attacking his own side of the fence on the AV campaign.

Then he might make a contribution to getting AV approved. Instead of attacking his own side.

You can put me in a box when I'm dead. Until then will you just leave it.

You Gov published a poll the other week about where the public see the political parties on the left right spectrum. They had us bang slap in the middle. Which (interestingly) You Gov interpreted as being in the worst possible place, as left leaning voters put us right of centre, and vice versa, so we end up in a kind of averaged out no man's land.

(As an aside I'm not sure if they are right about this. I wonder if in fact people have for some time seen us as left leaning, we go into coalition with the Tories so they presume we've 'gone' right, and what really happens is no one has a clue where we sit so they stick us in the middle. But that isn't what this post is about so I digress...)

Anyway, we tend to indulge ourselves with plenty of introspective navel gazing about where we sit on the left right spectrum. The average comments feed on Lib Dem Voice is always descending into a 'Progressives vs. Orange bookers' fist fight, and jolly good fun it tends to be as well.

But actually, we do ourselves a disservice. Because we play into the hands of the two (currently) bigger parties, by playing on their own territory and the rules by which they judge themselves. Our instincts should be to judge an issue, not by whether something is from the left or right, but whether it promotes the principles of liberty, of equality and community. That doesn't mean turning our face away from an idea because it comes from left or right, conservative or socialist. We just need to decide if it fits with our own values.

I'll be judged against my own criteria and values, thank you very much. Not the one the other political parties think we should be judged on. Let yourself be judged by others standards and measurements...and you end up out of government for a gazillion years.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Nick Clegg bashing by the Press is getting ludicrous now.

I blogged the other day about the loss of jobs in the hospitals at St. Georges, Tooting and Kingston, wondering if this was the Tory's 'tuition fees' moment?

After all - David Cameron personally pledged not to do this.

And the lead on all the NHS reforms is a Tory, Andrew Lansley.

So this is going to be hung around their necks, isn't it...isn't it?

Guess which photo the Guardian ran to accompany the follow up story

This one.

Underneath they ran the words 'Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, talks to nurses in the maternity unit at Kingston Hospital. Last week, the hospital cut 500 jobs'.

Now, I have railed against the perils of 'too much' collective rsponsibility before. But now it seems collective responsibility - when its Nick Clegg - is being thrust upon us.

And today - it gets worse: Nick made a throwaway joke while away on a break about forgetting he was in charge. And what happens? Metro goes to town on it with this

"Nick Clegg 'forgot' he was in charge while David Cameron was away

Nick Clegg has admitted ‘forgetting’ he was running the country while David Cameron visited the Middle East this week."

As if that is any way credible. The only real joke here is the story.

However it does go to underline that the press is basically just now out to get Nick. In recent weeks he's put forward the Freedom Bill, led legislation on mental health, won the battle to get the AV referendum bill through...but Metro refers to the ridiculous story that he is 'putting his feet up (a story beautifully demolished by Olly Grender the other week).

While many in the party still struggle over the tuition fees issue - I'm one of them - if we are to make progress on all the great things we are doing, we have to win the trust back. Not just from people, but also, clearly, from the press. If we can make them love Nick again, we'll know we're on track.


Good piece from Charlotte at Virtually Naked on Peter Hain actually - unbelievably - giving a response on the Metro story. Dignifying this sort of reporting really should be beneath him

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Oh. Maybe they are listening!

the latest ICM Polling data (lots of detail if you click here)has us at 18%, our best polling since ..well it seems like forever.

Thanks to @robblackie for pointing this out via Twitter

I like this but is anyone listening?

This video appeared on Channel 4's political slot last night and I rather like it. It shows us to be human, warm, caring and it talks about both our values and how we are applying those values to the real world.

And some of the things we are doing are extraordinary. Like taking a million people out of income tax altogether, restoring the earnings link to the state pension and introducing the Pupil Premium.

In fact, it's rather as I hoped being in government would be.

Its also exactly the tactic I hoped would be adopted - wrapping ourselves and owning Lib Dem inspired policies, getting people to recognise our influence in the coalition. For too long in power we have been seen as just a silent partner, a conduit to a Conservative government, rather than a set of independent free thinkers. Now we seem to be asserting our own positioning. Hooray.

But, but, but...

There is a still a big giant elephant in the room. It's called Tuition Fees. Every media reference I hear about the Lib Dems seems to highlight this, and question whether we can be trusted on anything. Indeed, I'd now go further - our need to recapture trust in people's minds is imperative if we are to move forward electorally. I fear most non partisan viewers of the film may have sat in front of the TV with their fingers in the air yelling 'I don't believe you'.

Reasserting our own position on issues is half the battle; winning back trust is the other half.

I'd start by reminding people what Lib Dem policy on tuition fees actually is - it's to phase them out. No one wants to charge students triple their current fees - even the most ardent supporters of the policy accepts that it is driven by economic circumstance, not ideology. We need to continue to plan how we will eventually remove them and communicate this to people.

Secondly we need to make much more of the Simon Hughes role on making university intake fairer. This seems to me the best way in which we can show we are genuine when we say we are dedicated to sorting out this issue.

Thirdly, we need to grasp the fundamentals of this issue. While I don't entirely go along with Julian Astle's view that economic factors make up just 1% of the reason why pupils from disadvanteged homes don't go to University (he rather thinks the Simon Hughes role is poking the wrong end of the issue), his excellent blog makes clear the importance of other factors in preventing people getting into University - and what needs to be done to correct this. Communicating this and getting policy in place to correct this are vital. Partly for the Lib Dems own sake. But more importantly, for the country as a whole.

Monday, 21 February 2011

New Blog for Bouazizi4time

The campaign to get Muhammad Al Bouazizi named as Time Magazine's 'Person of the Year' for 2011 is gathering pace - people from all over the world including the US, Canada, Australia, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, South Korea, Germany, France... and of course Tunisia have accessed the site, and the petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/bouazizi4time/ is gathering names and 'likes' regularly.

Therefore I have built a blog specifically for the campaign at www.bouazizi4time.blogspot.com where I will update news, developments and general progress. You can access one click means of reaching Richard Stengal, the Managing Editor of Time Magazine from this site and I would encourage everyone to get in touch with him, to sign the petition - and of course I would value all help, advice and support.

Friday, 18 February 2011

This is the Conservative's 'Tuition Fee' Moment

Remember the above poster. Of course you do.

It was the embodiment of the absolute, unshakeable promise that David Cameron made with the British people. We're going to cut the deficit as hard as we can - but the one thing we won't touch is the NHS and in particular its front line services. which means doctors and nurses jobs are safe.

What's the word I'm grasping for to describe this phenomenon. Oh yes, I know. Its a PLEDGE.

So the news that two London hospitals are cutting jobs across the board, including doctors and nurses seems to be an absolute betrayal of what seemed an unshakable promise to the staff of the NHS and the people who use it - i.e. everyone.

(Interest declared - one of these hospitals is my local hospital, and my wife works at the other).

Just as the tuition fees debate was laid firmly (and fairly) at the door of the Lib Dems - our pledge was broken, plus one of 'our' minsters negotiated the deal - so will this betrayal be laid not at the door of the coalition, but at the door of the Conservatives. It is their minister responsible for the reforms, they have ownership of the NHS policy in the minds of the public, plus it is a great big airbrushed photo of their leader who made the promise in the first place.

If they are truly going to cut front line staff, they deserve to get hammered for it. And I won't be willing to take 'collective responsibility' on that one I'm afraid.

Meanwhile, here's a few reminders of the fun everyone had with that poster.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Apparently, we're in charge

Great article from Paul Waugh at Politics Home, pointing out the Lib Dem influence on the U Turns. Makes you glow with pride

Sorry shouldn't be the hardest word.

Another day, another government U turn, this time on Forests. Andrew Sparrow has a list of them to date which you can see here. And he hasn't even included the decision to get a Downing Street cat, having said they wouldn't.

And the general tenor of media comment is that they add up to reflect a government in turmoil.

I really don't agree.

Of course, it would be better if policy was fully thought through before it was announced, only a fool would say otherwise.

But looking at the U-turns, I'm generally far more in approval of the revised policy than the original one.

And having spent so long complaining that no one listened when Labour was last in power, I can hardly now complain that the government does listen.

But mostly - isn't this just grown up government in action? Isn't coalition about constant give, take and negotiation. Wouldn't it be crazy if the decisions taken in 4 days of post election, sleep deprived negotiations were set in concrete for the next 5 years.

A government that actually listens.


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Collective Responsibility

A bit of a cheat today everyone as I'm a tad pushed; here's my piece from LDV on Friday. You can see the original with comments here. But you're here now so may as well read this one....

In my recent piece on LDV entitled “there are better adjectives for the Labour Party than ‘progressive’”, a fairly gentle poke at the rebranding of the opposition, two themes emerged from those with opposing views. They can be summed up as ‘Why don’t you lot ever disagree with the Tories’ and ‘get your own house in order first’.
Well you know, I think they have a point.
Even as a strong supporter of the coalition, I’d long disagreed with the ‘not a cigarette paper between us‘ approach to government. We get tarred with policy we don’t agree with, get no credit for Lib Dem inspired legislation, and fail to build up any base for ‘what we believe, and what we did to make it happen’ amongst the electorate ahead of the next general election. Yes we need to be seen as strong partners in government, not warring factions, but this doesn’t mean total acquiescence from both sides to absolutely everything.
And now I think things are changing for the better. Lib Dem voices are cropping up everywhere asking pertinent questions about government policy.
Before Christmas there was talk of a general loosening in the ‘we stand as one on everything’ platform. Last week Malcolm Bruce, in his role as chair of the International Development Committee, was excellent in taking the department to task for spending development money on the Pope’s visit to the UK. Simon Hughes has obviously been taking a long hard look at the abolition of EMA. Sarah Teather campaigns to keep libraries open (even if she was misquoted when calling on her constituents to empty the shelves of books). Tim Farron marches through Grizedale Forest (with MP’s from all sides). Today The Guardian quotes a ComRes poll showing a majority of Lib Dem MP’s oppose many of the NHS reforms. All small signs that blanket approval of everything proposed is not going to happen, and there are many more as well.
Of course, most (not all) of these noises are made by back benchers. I’d like to see something of a relaxing of the principal of collective responsibility to allow members of the government to say more of what they think. In the era of new, grown up politics, when we can have a whole PMQ’s without it turning into a shouting match, shouldn’t we trust our politicians to all openly debate and disagree? Coalition politics is new to us all, and we need to get used to the idea that we can be in government and still have the odd falling out.
And by doing this we build credibility in our beliefs, are in a better position to take ownership of policies inspired by Liberal Democrat philosophy and we begin to reshape our own position in the eyes of the electorate.
(Since originally writing this piece of course we’ve seen Lord Oakeshott speaking his mind and leaving the front bench ‘by mutual consent’. While we can debate the ins and outs of should he have gone or not, the very fact that he was willing to say what he thought is another sign of our increasing willingness to let people know where we stand).

Monday, 14 February 2011

Help Me Persuade Time Magazine to make a Tunisian fruit seller called Muhammad Al Bouazizi their 'Person of the Year 2011'

Time Magazine gives the title 'Person of the Year' to the individual who 'for better or for worse...has done the most to influence the events of the year'.

They are clear that the title should not in itself be a prize, but an acknowledgement of influence on world events. Recent winners include Mark Zuckerberg, Ben Bernanke and Barack Obama.

I think - and I know its only February - but in 2011 that title should be given to a Tunisian street vendor called Muhammad Al Bouazizi. It would be a fitting tribute to one man who has clearly already influenced the world in ways he could never have imagined.

For those who don't know, and you can read much fuller accounts here and here, (and from Time Magazine itself here), Mr Bouazizi was a fruit seller in a small provincial town called Sidi Bouzid. Following a confrontation with a local government inspector on Dec 17, and several attempts at getting anyone in authority to listen to his complaints, Mr Bouazizi set fire to himself in protest at his treatment and the treatment of millions like him, in front of the gates of the Governors office.

He died on Jan 4th from his injuries. In the intervening time, rioting, sparked by Mr Bouazizi's act, had started in cities across the country. Before he died he was visited in hospital by President Zine el-Abidine Ben, and 10 days after his death, the President fled the country.

As we now know, this is nowhere near the end of it. A second dictatorship has now fallen in Egypt (the world watches to see how the military will make handle the transition to, hopefully, full democracy). Meantime, protest movements gather pace in Algeria, in Yemen, in Syria, and across the Middle East. And it is still only 2 months since Mr Bouazizi's act started all this.

Of course, he could not have known where his protest could lead. But that is not the point. One man's selfless act has changed the Middle East more in 2 months than decades of diplomacy have managed. And I think his influence and memory must be marked.

I am sending the following note to the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, Richard Stengal. If you feel you would like to send a similar note, please feel free to copy the note and forward it to Time by clicking here Also please sign the on line petition by clicking here

Dear Mr Stengal

While it is only February, before he is forgotten, I would like to nominate Tunisian market trader Muhammad Al Bouazizi as your Person of the Year for 2011.

Your criteria is 'the person who has done most to influence events of the year'. Here we stand only in February and already we see his selfless protest leading to the collapse of two dictatorships, and popular uprisings across the Middle East as the people demand democracy and influence over their own destiny. It is hard to imagine any individual who could do more in the coming months to change the course of an entire region, if not the global political map itself.

It would be all too easy to forget, as events unfold on a daily basis, that all this started thanks to the actions of a single man, selling fruit on a street, in a small provinicial Tunisian town.

The 'Time' award is of course not a prize; but it should be a marker for the world to acknowledge the acts of others. And Mr Bouazizi, in a single act, has done more than Presidents, Prime Minsters, Diplomats and opinion leaders have achieved in 30 years in the Middle East.

Please, over coming months, don't forget him, and make him your Person of the Year

Yours sincerely

Richard Morris

I must stop going on about this stuff

But one of my posts has now been named in the Lib Dem Voice 'Golden Dozen'. Thanks to everyone who's reading the blog - stats are heading north at a rate of knots. You can see the LDV Golden Dozen here . Big posting later today on AVFHC.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Lib Dem Voice

My article on the branding of the Labour Party has made the top 5 most read on Lib Dem Voice http://www.libdemvoice.org thanks to everyone who read it (even those who disagreed with it!)

New piece on LDV

I have a new piece on Lib Dem Voice called 'Coalition needs a new approach to collective responsibility'. Do have a look

Why we do this stuff

I spend a lot of time thinking about and commenting on national issues. About what goes on in macro economics. About Westminster policy and how it fits with Lib Dem philosophy. About opinion polls and how they'll affect the national party.

But that's not what it's all about, is it?

Last night was the Ham, Petersham and Richmond Riverside Liberal Democrat's monthly ward meeting. And as ever, I sit there and admire the huge amount of work and the passion which our councillors and the other officers of the ward apply to what they do. They devote huge amounts of time working to make where we live a safer, more fulfilling and and more rewarding place with a humour and dedication that is second
to none. They have amazing local knowledge, and familiarity with the people of Ham. And they do it all with a firm grip on what as Lib Dems we believe in and why we think community really matters.

Last night we discussed (amongst lots of other things) day care for the elderly, buses, local library provision, the local low carbon initiative and the local housing partnership. All things that make a real difference round here.

Making the lives of the people we live around safer, better, easier. That's what we do this stuff for. The politicians of Ham and Petersham know that. We all need to keep it top of mind too.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Lib Dems speaking their minds

Oh the perils of blogging. On Tuesday I submitted a piece for Lib Dem Voice on how important it was that Lib Dems made clear where they stood on various government issues and how great it would be if Ministers were a little more free to speak their mind.

They liked it and it's due to be published this weekend...

And then yesterday, we see Lord Oakeshott resign/get sacked/leave by mutual consent - for speaking his mind on the banking deal.

Now, while there's no arguing that his criticism was fairly strident ('If this is robust action on bank bonuses, my name's Bob Diamond') and after attacking a deal in which his own department was the key negotiator, he probably did have to leave.

But how refreshing it was to hear a politician speak his mind, and happily resign to do so, rather than keeping quiet and, in that time honoured phrase' try and repair the damage from the inside.

And if a Minister wants to raise an issue with government policy outside his or her portfolio, shouldn't they be able to do so? isn't that what we pay them for - telling us what they think is right?

Meantime, I see Lib Dem councillors are now uniting against the cuts in local government spending.

My article on LDV is getting more out of date by the hour...

Addendum: Lots of gossip on the blogs and Twitter that Oakeshott was saying publicly what Vince Cable is thinking privately. Could it be true?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Big Society Part 2

Bit of a cheat as a blog post this, but this blog post at Total Politics neatly sums everyone's problems with the concept of 'The Big Society', as per my blog yesterday....

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Big Society

It's funny, this 'Big Society 'idea.

I really want to like it. Local people coming together for the common good, determining their own actions, making where they live better/safer/more caring. And it seems entirely consistent with our principles of taking power and authority away from the centre and into the hands of the people it directly affects at a local level. What's not to like?

And what's more people across the political divide seem to agree. In the past week I've heard people as diverse as Clare Short, Camilla Batmangelidh and Danny Kruger all extol the principles (but most certainly not the execution) of the idea, and now Chris Rennard is to chair the Acevo 'Big Society' Commission. So across the political divide there is a feeling that this could all generally a good thing.

So what's the problem?

Well, last night's Newsnight (see from about 14.00 in) got some way to the nub of the problem - no one can really explain what exactly the idea is, how to synthesise it, how to explain it, how to promote it - and until you get to grips with that, you've no chance of engaging, exciting and enthusing the public not only to support the idea but to actively get stuck in.

And more than that: while one side of government is extolling the virtues of The Big Society, the cuts at local government make it impossible for local people to do the very thing the government is telling them they should be doing. Which is why people like Dame Elisabeth Hoodless and Frank Field are questioning the wisdom of the whole venture. (And for a very good look at what the cuts can mean in reality, see this brilliant taking apart of Hammersmith and Fulham council by Johann Hari, from around election time last year).

Explain it properly. Fund it. And the Big Society will have a chance.Leave it hanging, and take the money away, and it has no chance

PS This won't help...

Monday, 7 February 2011

Is it just Revenge?

I think the forthcoming AV referendum is - together with the Freedom Bill and the Pupil Premium - likely to be the centrepiece of this governments legislative programme, and I'm proud that they all stem from Lib Dem inspired policies.

But of the three, the one with the most fundamental effect on the long term future of the country is likely to be the chance to change our voting system from FPTP to AV, because of its constitutional ramifications and the way it will change the balance of government - and hopefully the way we are governed - going forward. It's not as good as full PR - but it's better than where we are.

So its terrific that we get supporters from all parties backing the YES campaign , and I'm delighted that Ed Miliband is backing the YES campign - even if I'm not his greatest fan (click the link to see my latest article on Lib Dem Voice and the kicking I'm getting from the Labour Party supporters who read it...)

Which is why it's a bit disappointing to read yesterday that Ed Miliband won't share a platform supporting AV with Nick Clegg. He claims it's because Nick is too toxic an individual with potential Labour backers of AV. But I don't believe him.

I think it's revenge because Nick refused to countenance forming a coalition with Labour post the General Election, with Gordon Brown at the helm - and Ed Miliband was of course, an avowed Brownite.

We all know Ed is neither a fan of the Lib Dems, nor a fan of Nick and recent reports of a thaw in relations seem very wide of the mark.

But isn't the YES referendum too big an issue to be dealing with petty revenge? Come on Ed, get on that stage!

Friday, 4 February 2011

When collective responsibility goes a tad too far...


Poor Damian Green appeared to have been done up like a kipper (to use the current in vogue statement) last night on Question Time when he had to defend the governments position on Forests - a process he quite clearly didn't believe in and found - well, indefensible...

The principle of collective responsibility is of course a sound one - but really... Does every government minster, from the cabinet down to the most humble PPS really have to pretend they support every aspect of an entire governments policy? Especially one where they have had no say what-so-ever in its formulation?

Suppose we had a brilliant cabinet minister, universally acclaimed as the best person for their role, an acknowledged expert in their field - who has an issue with some other minor part of government policy. Are we really meant to lose their skills just in order to present a united front?

Amusingly the wikipedia link explaining the principles of CR suggests readers might like to read up about Democratic Centralsim, which it describes as a' similar Leninist policy'. I rest my case.

Surely ministers can be allowed to exercise a bit of common sense here? After all - we want our MP's to be talented free thinkers. Don't we?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Ed Miliband and Progressive Labour = he's still out to get us

A few months ago I wrote a piece for Lib Dem Voice arguing that anyone interpreting Ed Milibands overtures to the party and its members as an encouraging sign of future prospective coalition possibilities was way off the mark. He's out to get us. The New Statesman was good enough to highlight my piece as one of its 'blogs of the day' (oh, the glamour).

Guess what everyone - he's still at it.

There was his pre Christmas speech inviting us to write his party's policies for him (thanks, but I think I'll pass).

Then there's his January to the Fabian Society where he claims Lib Dems see the Labour Party as a vehicle for hope (no, we don't).

He's been quoted in an interview in the Indie where he hints that multiple Lib Dem politicians are toying with the idea of leaving and joining the Labour party. (we shall see, no movement as yet).

And today two more bits of news: the Compass Group is balloting members to see if they will allow non members of the Labour Party to join ( yes, they are thinking of us); and Kevin Maguire reports that the Labour Party is considering re christening itself as The Progressive Labour Party.

We should prepare for plenty more of this stuff; and make sure the world and his wife knows that we are already a progressive party, with policies to match our principles. We musn't let Ed steal either the progressive high ground (and its built in electoral majority), nor our members. Or, for that matter, our souls.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Defamation: we need to protect the individual more

Sali Hughes ( @salihughes on Twitter), a journalist at The Guardian, posted a link to the story of Juliet Shaw ( @jules_shaw )who took on the Daily Mail - and won. While Juliet's tale (naturally) only gives one side of the story, it all rings oh-so-true and is a great example of the lengths one individual has to go to - and the risks they have to take - in order to set records straight.

We need to do something about this. People shouldn't have to risk everything in order to protect their repuation and put lies right. It's plain wrong. I hope the coming Freedom Bill makes this possible.

Nick Clegg has promised to revise our defamation laws through the Bill to protect the individual. Here's a quote...

"Almost exactly a year ago I made that case in a speech to the Royal Society. I argued that English libel laws are having a chilling effect on scientific debate and investigative journalism.

Of course, individual citizens must be able to protect their reputations from false and damaging claims; and we can't allow companies to be the victim of damaging, untrue and malicious statements.

But, equally, we want public-spirited academics and journalists to be fearless in publishing legitimate research. Not least when it relates to medical care or public safety."

While skipping over the irony, given the Daily Mail story, that Nick cites protecting the journalist against defamation claims, we mustn't forget that media companies are big businesses too - and we also need to make it easier for the individual to protect themselves against defamation and made up nonsense.

I hope that's included in the legislation. Might be worth writing to your MP (or Nick!) to make that point.

And kudos to Sali Hughes for raising the profile of this as well.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Protecting the Right to Protest

Andrew Clark, the Business Editor of The Observer, had a very unpleasant experience this week when he was frogmarched off a train, handcuffed, and held by the police for three hours - at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His 'offence' was to take pictures of the police arresting potential anti capitalist protestors in his carriage. You can read a full account here None of this seems fair or right. Not to Andrew Clark, nor indeed to the protestors - who weren't actually protesting at the time (they were going home...)

Now that we Lib Dems are in power, you would hope that the rights of protestors at least here at home will quickly be put right. After all it features in the coalition agreement, and the Queens Speech noted a bill would be introduced 'allowing members of the public to protest peacefully without fear of being criminalised.'

I worry however that things are not moving fast enough.

We have introduced the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill which gives more rights to protest in and around Parliament Square. Good. But it also legislates to clear the area outside Parliament Square of protestors like Brian Haw; hard to imagine a more principled and heartfelt protest than Mr Haws campaign and we should be enhancing his rights, not reducing them.

Meantime, we see CS gas or pepper spray alledgedly used on peaceful protests by UKuncut, and of course it appears the environmental movement is apparently riddled with undercover police officers - some of them dressed as clowns...

In his Jan speech, Nick Clegg trailed the coming Freedom Bill, due to be laid before parliament this month, and again mentioned the importance of strengthening our rights to protest. I applaud this. I hope the rights of citizens to peacefully protest without fear of recrimination - or even being spied on by a clown - are restored and enhanced