Posts Tagged Nick Clegg

Catchup – too busy to blog!

Once again, I’ve been too busy of late to blog. So here’s a quick catchup on what I’ve been up to over the last few weeks:

- attended the service of blessing for the re-opening of St Mary Islington’s crypt with former Archbishop George Carey
– welcomed party President Ros Scott to our Pizza & Politics evening
– spent a morning visiting businesses, from pharmacies to Fish Central, in Finsbury
– speaking to black community churches at the WOSEM ‘Prayer for Islington’ event
– raising poor breast cancer screening and referral rates with Islington NHS
– continued to campaign for justice for Equitable Life investors
– wearing pink to support breast cancer charities
– lobbied for MPs to back the 10:10 targets for government (Emily Thornberry didn’t)
– attending the Friends of Barnard Park AGM
– meeting Essex Road traders, jointly campaigning against Labour hikes in business rates
– meeting Nick Clegg to discuss London issues
– meeting council leader Terry Stacy to discuss local services
– meeting leaders of Islington’s Somali community
– attending Remembrance ceremonies
– various interviews and meetings with City University students
– dealt with casework from housing to hunting
– knocking on doors across the constituency
– speaking at Islington Lib Dem AGM

plus a long weekend in Amsterdam (that’s it for holidays til after the election!)

Now I’m off to give the opening speech at London Region Lib Dem conference, which meets today at City University, followed this evening by a Q&A on climate change at All Saints church, Caledonian Road, after their showing of the ‘Age of Stupid’.

Busy busy, but I love it!

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Honouring the HAC

Yesterday I went to a Council meeting with a difference, to see the Honourable Artillery Company receive the Freedom of the Borough of Islington.

The HAC is often summed up as the TA branch for the City of London, but that is not really a full or fair description. The HAC is a much more ancient organisation than the TA, having been founded by Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. And while it has many City workers in its ranks, the Company’s HQ – the castle-like barracks on City Road – is in Islington, adjacent to Bunhill Fields (and just opposite the former home of my grandad, next to Wesley’s Chapel).

The HAC members turned out in uniform. And what uniforms! Not just the contemporary camouflage and dress uniforms, but red and white Tudor pikemen’s outfits and the fancy plumes and braids of the C19th light cavalrymen.

The HAC have a long history and rich traditions, but are also keen to serve the local community today. This ranges from providing a base for the emergency mortuary after the 7/7 bombings to neighbourhood open days.

What’s more, there are HAC members on active service in Afghanistan right now, and they have had their losses, including Trooper Jack Sadler. The award was in part the borough’s tribute to all servicemen and women; it was good to see many members of the local Islington Veterans’ Association at the ceremony.

Afterwards I talked to Major General Simon Lalor, head of the UK’s Reserves and Cadets, who was one of the distinguished guests. He was enthusing about the idea of getting a cadet branch of the HAC going for local young people. Whether they go on into the army or not is up to them; but it would provide structured, energetic activities, build self-esteem and teach new skills. I think it’s an excellent idea, and I’ve pledged my support for the scheme. Now we just need to knock some government heads together…..

Speakers at the event praised the Lib Dem Council’s new initiative to give returning forces extra points towards council housing. Liberal Democrats marched against the war in Iraq. We’re critical of the strategy in Afghanistan. But that does not stop us wanting decent treatment for our troops on the ground.

I recently signed up to support the Royal British Legion’s manifesto. And I’m also backing Nick Clegg’s campaign for fair pay for our troops. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, we should support our forces in the field properly or else not send them in the first place. Sending inadequate numbers of inadequately-equipped troops is worst of all worlds.

You can sign up to back Nick’s campaign here.

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After conference

We’re back from Bournemouth, and all the long reports I’d intended to write will have to wait, possibly for ever.

This was just such a busy conference for me that I was too busy doing to document it. But here is some of what I got up to as part of Islington’s delegation.

IMG_0075On Sunday, I moved the Islington amendment in the globalisation debate, pointing out the crucial role of Europe in providing us with stability in a changing world. The difference between Iceland and Ireland isn’t one letter but two: E and U.

Also on Sunday, I was part of the panel at the End Fuel Poverty Fringe, speaking on how important this issue was to my constituents. The Lib Dem proposals would tackle fuel poverty, unemployment and climate change through a programme of home insulation: but Labour killed off the Bill. Shame on them.

I had meetings with many groups including the National Deaf Children’s Society, who are doing some important work on improving acoustics in schools, Breast Cancer Care, and the British Lung Foundation who are supportive of my campaigns on air quality. I spoke at a lively fringe meeting organised by the Lib Dem Friends of Turkey on Turkey’s future in the EU.

Housing is always a big issue in Islington, and I fitted in a breakfast meeting with Hyde Housing as well as a briefing with Shelter (appropriately enough we were ‘evicted’ from one room when our meeting ran on).

I also took the chance to raise some very local issues. At the candidates’ reception, I buttonholed a senior Tesco exec about their lorries parking at Islington Green – and later in the week raised it with the Freight Transport Association as well. And I quizzed Network Rail bosses about the vexed issue of access to Kings Cross station.

Most debates at conference are foregone conclusions – for example, we all love the NHS – but sometimes there are really distinct positions within the party, which makes for an exciting session. On Saturday we debated air brushing in ads (my PPC buddy Katy Gordon made a fantastic speech) and later in the week it was the turn of energy policy to go to the vote. I spoke in the debate against the pro-nuclear power amendment, and was pleased that I helped win the day for investment in truly renewable energy.

There were many impressive and some contentious speeches. Sarah Ludford proposed Islington’s amendment in the torture debate, reporting on her work exposing illegal rendition flights. Vince Cable controversially refloated his mansion tax idea (not yet party policy, and may never be). I signed up to support campaigns on a whole range of issues, from the Royal British Legion to Vote Cruelty Free.

And I was lucky to be one of the key seat PPCs (presumed future MPs) to be chosen to sit on the platform behind Nick for the leader’s speech.

I say lucky. First there was the briefing on do’s and don’ts. No eating, drinking, yawning – or live blogging. Then the clothes advice. Must not clash with backdrop or each other. Cue panic jacket and blouse buying by anxious female candidates with what’s left in their conference budget…. never say LibDems don’t have practical policies to stimulate the local economy. Then there was the hour-long wait backstage in cold and darkness, before emerging into blazing light on stage. Then we took our seats and were plunged back into near total darkness while Nick spoke. Is this a metaphor for life as an MP?

As ever, the conference reported by the media (anxious divisions over policy) and that experienced by delegates (sunny in every sense) were quite different. Although the new media like Tweetminster were happy to get their reports direct from the twitterer’s mouth.

We had great fun, but in a greatly serious cause. This is our last major party conference before the General Election. As Nick told us,

“Labour is lost. They haven’t the ideas, energy or vision to start again. If you voted for them in the past, you have a choice. You can give away your vote to a fringe party. You can stay at home in despair. Or you can join with the Liberal Democrats and make the difference.

“If you supported Labour in 1997 because you wanted fairness. You wanted young people to flourish. You wanted political reform. You wanted the environment protected. Or you simply believed in a better future. Turn to the Liberal Democrats. We carry the torch of progress now.”

Now back to the campaign trail!

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Clegg in the ring

Times ABC visit 2
It was a great pleasure to welcome Nick Clegg to Islington again last week. He joined me on a visit to the Times ABC (Amateur Boxing Club) to meet David Ryan and other leading club members, and also discuss youth provision with George Kinsella.

The Times ABC does fantastic work, and it’s supported by many organisations, including our Lib Dem Council. Council leader Terry Stacy was part of the visit too, and reminisced about his time sparring at the Repton Boys Club as a youth.

The club was heaving with young people training: the club has a proper gym and its work is as much about fitness, training, confidence and discipline as it is about fighting. I understand people’s concerns about the long-term physical damage that professional boxing can do. But amateur boxing has good safeguards and I believe the work of clubs like Times keeps far more young people safe than it puts at any risk. So I’m right behind the club’s ambitions to extend their building and help even more young people.

Nick was speaking out against the criminialisation of a generation of young people under Labour. Over a million children have been convicted of a criminal offence since 1997 and another million have been cautioned. It’s not just a waste of young lives and opportunity: it’s a waste of public money too. As Nick points out, the Government spends eleven times more locking up our young people than it does on backing projects to stop them getting involved in crime in the first place.

The number of visits Nick Clegg has made to Islington as party leader is nearing double figures, and there’s more to come. It’s great to have him in our corner for the fight ahead.

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What price paradise?

One corner of Paradise is looking distinctly less heavenly at present.

The innovative green wall on the Children’s Centre at Islington’s Paradise Park is now brown, although I for one hope that it is not dead, only sleeping. Certainly the wide coverage of the wall’s woes – in comment if not greenery – should shame the designers into sorting it out.

One of the critics of the wall is Tim Newark (currently representing the Tax Payers’ Alliance) who damned it as experimenting with public money. As Mark Pack argues, opposing public sector innovation per se is a difficult position for the TPA to sustain, given their whole approach to public spending is itself innovative.

I do sometimes feel that the Tax Payers’ Alliance are the spiritual heirs to the Islington Public Libraries Rejection Association who delayed the introduction of public libraries to our borough by 50 years with arguments such as “Personally I have a strong objection to have even a penny rate taken out of my pocket by force in order to provide Mary Jane with novels, or her friends with newspapers.”

Of course it’s right to scrutinise public expenditure, especially at this time of recession. The excellent mySociety team have a site sharing Freedom of Information requests, and recently highlighted this gem, about Royal Mail expenditure on rubber bands. So the next time you see red rubber bands scattered on the street, do pick them up and re-use them; after all, you’ve helped pay for them. But is the baseline peddled by the Tax Payers’ Alliance in their regular media appearances (hattip to MarkReckons) that almost any public expenditure is bad, generating any light along with the heat?

If you value public services, rather than simply cost them, then surely it’s best to propose savings from a basis of knowledge. The public sector has rightly been criticised for spending a fortune on bringing in consultants for endless reviews and reorganisations – an expensive trend that started under Mrs Thatcher and has flourished even more under new Labour – when frontline staff can often spot the best ways to cut waste. So I think Nick Clegg’s ‘In the know’ initiative, free consultancy from real experts, is a brilliant idea. Although possibly one too dangerously experimental for the Tax Payers’ Alliance to stomach.

To be fair to Tim Newark, even he says the green wall was a “wonderful” idea. And whether the Paradise wall survives or not, the idea of green walls is still flourishing in Islington.

Sophie Talbot and the Kings Cross Community Projects trust have been promoting a new greenwall on Wharfdale Road for two years now. They are seeking private sponsorship; so even the TPA should be happy. You can support the project with a donation here.

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Channel 4 tonight

The Political Slot at 7.55pm: “Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg visits Islington to examine green solutions for unemployment”.

I’ll be out door-knocking but will record it.

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MPs allowances: the system is broke and we need to fix it

More rows about MPs allowances.

Today’s Metro picks up on the case of Geoff Hoon, who managed to claim an allowance for his (not-in-the-constituency) ‘constituency’ home, while living free in London as a Minister, and renting out his other London home. Proof that at least one member of the Government can manage public money… though sadly not for the public’s benefit.

Meanwhile, Claire Ward, the Labour MP for Watford, is another who finds the daily commute (16 minutes from Euston) too much to bear. And Tory MP Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell, 45 minutes from Victoria) not only claims for a second home allowance but also clocks up high travel expenses (over £10k in 2007-08).

To quote Nick Clegg, “It is clearly barmy for ministers to indulge in a form of double counting that enables them to enjoy two homes at the taxpayers’ expense. To say this is within the rules will only serve to convince the public that the rules are broken and need to be fixed as soon as possible.”

Islington escapes all this as we’re an inner London borough, so no second home allowances. However, other MP expenses such as postage and foreign travel should still be open to scrutiny.

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Harrogate day 3: from faith to hope

I’m back home, feet up, and reflecting on Nick Clegg’s speech.

A typical leader’s speech slags off the other parties, makes a few jokes, ticks some policy boxes, and ends with some feelgood promises and election-ready tub-thumping. Nothing wrong with that. But this was something different.

No jokes. This a brave move. In a leader’s speech, jokes aren’t so much the icing on the cake as the sugar on the pill – they keep the audience entertained as well as thoughtful, and they give the journalists an easy hook for their story. No jokes means we all have to work harder. This may have been Sunday morning, but it wasn’t easy. Nick was embodying the message: serious responses for serious times.

No easy answers. Nick did outline our policy highlights: but he made it clear that things will get worse before they get better. We have tough times ahead and we need to be clear-sighted and tough-minded to get through them. He challenged us to see the recession as a challenge and a chance to rebuild, like rebuilding London after the Great Fire.

No short-termism. Politicians are normally short-term – not our fault, the electoral cycle gives its rhythm to public policy – but Nick was thinking long-term. This is partly the impact of his paternity leave: he’s looking on the world as the place his precious children will live their lives, not some policy-testing ground.

No policy boxes. Politicians are great at putting policies in boxes so we can tick them. Again, not entirely our fault, it’s the way government departments, council services, the media, parcel things up. But Nick made connections: between the Government’s attitude to borrowing and the failure to tackle climate change, between a partisan electoral system and a failed economic regime.

No unrealistic promises. Getting out of Westminster, on his visits and his paternity leave, has kept Nick grounded: “the people I’ve met don’t want handouts. They don’t imagine government is the answer to all of their problems. They just need a break.They just want someone to take a little of the weight off their shoulders. It’s the difference between a burden you can carry with your head held high and one that brings you to your knees. It’s the difference the Liberal Democrats will make.”

No partisanship. Nick rightly attacked the other parties on their records and their policy errors. But he spent remarkably little time talking about them at all. Instead he looked beyond party and national divides, calling on people to work together in Britain, and in Europe.

A year ago, I wrote about how Nick evoked faith.

Today, it was hope: “We are the only party that will put money into people’s pockets with fair tax cuts. The only party to offer universal childcare and smaller classes in our primary schools. The only party that will use Gordon Brown’s wasted billions to create thousands of jobs today by investing in homes, hospitals, schools and public transport to build the green economy of tomorrow. The only party that will rebuild the jobs, homes and hopes this recession has destroyed. So don’t believe the doubters, the nay-sayers, the professional cynics. This time it can be different.”

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Repossessions at 12-year high

Depressing news for home-owners today, as repossessions hit a twelve-year high.

Twelve years ago, we’d recently moved to Barnsbury from Highbury, bit nervous about the size of the mortgage, but confident that the only way was up. It’s very different for new homeowners today. Can’t keep up the payments, and ‘Homes under the Hammer’ meets Hammer horror, as your home is repossessed and auctioned off.

Thankfully Islington seems to be escaping the worst of it – so far. The London areas worst hit at present seem to be buy-to-let hotspots, like Lewisham, Thamesmead and Surrey Quays.

I spoke to Holloway-based auctioneers Drivers & Norris on Friday. They are seeing repossessions at the rate of 4-5 a year, whereas at the height of the last recession, it was more like 4-5 a month. But they warn things could get worse in the coming year. At least one house they previously sold as a repossession has since been repossessed again.

Meanwhile Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg points out that the Government’s much-hyped Homeowner Mortage Support Scheme has not helped a single household so far.

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£31M a day – what would you spend it on?

Gordon Brown’s temporary VAT cut is costing us all £31M a day.

For the same money you could buy 31 MRI scanners a day for the NHS. Or 31 new children’s centres.

At £31M a day, that’s nearly £1.3 an hour. Enough for a new adult education centre every hour of a 24 hour day.

Or, as Nick Clegg argues, you could use the total £12.5bn spent on the VAT cut to create 95,000 jobs nationwide.

The VAT cut is a drop in the ocean when retailers are already slashing prices to get the punters in. The Federation of Small Businesses says it’s had no impact at all. This money could have been spent so much better.

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