Posts Tagged Vince Cable

Equitable Life debate today

Liberal Democrat MPs will be using part of their Opposition Day today to debate the Government paying compensation to Equitable Life policyholders.

The Opposition Day motion is based on an Early Day Motion (EDM 1423) tabled by Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats, which so far has the signatures of 335 MPs from all parties, including more than 250 Labour and Conservative MPs.

The EDM reads:

That this House notes the Parliamentary Ombudsman has taken the unusual step of using powers under the 1967 Act to present Parliament with a further and final report on Equitable Life; also notes that the Public Administration Select Committee’s second report on Equitable Life, Justice denied? concluded that the Government response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report was inadequate as a remedy for injustice; recognises the vital role the Ombudsman plays in public life; reaffirms the duty of Parliament to support the office of the Ombudsman; believes the Government should accept the recommendations of the Ombudsman on compensating policyholders who have suffered loss; welcomes the formation of the All-Party Group on Justice for Equitable Life Policyholders; and notes with regret its necessary formation and the fact that over 30,000 people have already died waiting for a just resolution to this saga.

While Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn has signed the EDM, Islington South & Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry has so far failed to do so.

While only MPs can sign the EDM, we can all show support by signing the national petition on the same subject.

Unlike Ms Thornberry, I fully support the case of Equitable Life policyholders for compensation. This injustice should have been righted long since.

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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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London Region Lib Dem conference

I didn’t get to our regional conference yesterday as I had another busy day in Islington.

I hared off early for a breakfast time photo op at Highbury Corner about road safety: Boris wants to reduce the time we have to cross main roads, and we’re not happy about it. Lots of support from passers by! And a chance to talk to the folk already starting to queue at the Post Office.

Back to work, then out again for a lunchtime photo op about bus fumes with residents in Holloway. After work I dropped by the Town Hall to join the huge numbers of people saying farewell to Islington’s popular head of social services, Paul Curran, who is retiring. Then off for canvassing in Barnsbury – very positive response – ending up with a campaign team meeting. Phew!

Anyway, thanks to the joys of Twitter, by reading the #londonld hashtag, I can catch up on the highlights I missed.

Party President Ros Scott told members there was now nothing to choose between the Labour and Conservative parties.

Then Vince Cable spoke about how the Lib Dems were the only party to warn of the impending economic crisis, getting “something very big, very right”. He told the banks to start lending and stop abusive payments. And he argued that Labour could implode after selling their soul to the bankers. The financial crisis “merits a wartime mobilisation of resources” but the Government isn’t spending money allocated to social housing. He concluded that the Lib Dems are gaining real traction & other parties’ support is weakening.

All of which is pretty much what voters in Barnsbury were telling me!

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Harrogate day 2: keeping the faith

Saturday was the day for the schools debate and the controversial topic of faith schools. The daily announcements showed 3 different amendments on faith schools. I put in a card to speak – so had everyone else.

But that was for the afternoon. First I went to hear Simon Hughes on the fight for fairer fuel bills. Then according to my reminders, it was Lorely Burt launching the small business survey on level 4 of the conference centre. Except in my text, she’s Lordly Bust. And level 4 turned out to be on the ground floor. Strange are the ways of conference.

Then it was over to the Holiday Inn with our Euro candidates, to meet up with Vince Cable. Anyone who says Lib Dems don’t do religion should see the queue for Vince.

Then back to the main hall for another cult figure, Howard Dean. Ed Davey reminded us of Howard’s early opposition on Iraq, and his breakthrough use of the internet in campaigning. Every speaker seems to reference Obama this conference, but Howard is entitled. He made the point that Obama deliberately reached out to groups like evangelical Christians on issues of common interest: poverty, climate change, Darfur. And that nothing beats repeated face-to-face contact.

In search of the same, I trotted across town to make it to the candidates’ meeting with Governor Dean (venue turned out to be called the William and Victoria. And there was me asking for the William and Mary). Governor Dean developed his theme of no no-go areas: and he urged us to fill the void left by a failing Labour party, as we filled our void with some lunch.

Back to the hall for Chancellor Vince. And then it was the schools debate. Our schools policy proposes radical action – freeing schools from Whitehall control, cutting class sizes, extra money for the poorest with the pupil premium – which will transform schools and reactivate social mobility. So far so good. But how do we handle faith schools? Often our conference debates are interesting but rarely a genuine conflict. This time there was a real decision to make.

The motion proposed requiring faith schools to phase out any selection by faith within five years. That wasn’t enough for the secularists who wanted no faith schools but too much for others who found it offensive to their Lib Dem faith of localism. Why would we pass a policy that decentralises all education decision making except admissions policy for some schools? And then imposes a single option that local communities might not want. Would a faith school with no members of that faith community within its walls in either staff or pupils be more than a soulless logo? As Jonathan Davies argued, I do not want to impose my faith on you, but do not impose your secularism on me.

We had many Islington voices in the debate. James Kempton proposed the policy, with Farhana Hoque in support (she pointed out that as a Muslim girl in a Catholic school, she had ended up an atheist: so much for the brainwashing power of faith schools). Arnie Gibbons spoke for the secularists, Meral Ece for those who value the faith element in schools. After a nail-biting counted vote – literally too close to call – the amendment allowing councils to decide was passed. I’m happy with that: the real enemy of equity in our schools not faith, but class.

Social mobility has gone into reverse under Labour. And I’m proud that our party is doing something to change that.

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NCVO celebrates its 90th with Vince

Islington-based charity the National Council for Voluntary Organisations is 90 years old.

And they’re celebrating in style by having Vince Cable to speak at their annual conference on Wednesday 18 February.

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Equitable Life: keeping the pressure on Labour to deliver

I’ve blogged before about the Equitable Life scandal.

And I’ve heard first-hand the experiences of some of my constituents who lost out. So I’m glad that my Lib Dem colleagues in Parliament are continuing to fight for justice for Equitable Life investors.

My colleague Jo Swinson MP addressed Westminster Hall on the issue last November. She told MPs: “No more delays, no more dodging the issue. The time has come for the Government to face up to its responsibilities to Equitable Life policyholders.” We’re still waiting.

Since then, Jo has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 215), which calls on the Government “to give a public response without delay to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s recommendations and set out a timetable for action.”

At the time of writing, our local Labour MP Emily Thornberry has not signed the EDM.

Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable has also been on the case. Last week, he called on the Government to instigate a fast-track compensation scheme for Equitable Life investors.

Perhaps the MPs like Emily Thornberry who are not backing Lib Dem calls for compensation think the money can be better spent elsewhere. If so, they are missing the point. This isn’t an anti-poverty measure. It’s about justice.

Unlike some of the city speculators who have been bailed out, Equitable Life investors were doing the right thing: saving in a respectable, Government-regulated, scheme.

Having bailed out so many banks, the Government must not treat Equitable Life victims any less favourably.
There is a real risk that Labour will try to use the financial crisis as an excuse to renege on their obligations to Equitable Life investors. We must not let that happen.

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Many a true word…

On the Andrew Marr Show just now, David Cameron to Peter Mandelson: “We should have Vince Cable back, he actually knows what he’s talking about”.

Admittedly they were talking about ballroom dancing. But they’re right.

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Guardian blog 21 November

My latest Guardian blog – on recession, RBS and responsibility – is now online.

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Time for fairer taxes

No-one likes paying tax.

I remember the taxi driver who told me he agreed with the Lib Dems on abolishing council tax. “And we’d replace it with a low local income tax,” I added enthusiastically. The cabbie disagreed. “No, no, love, just abolish it, you shouldn’t replace it at all.”

I’m not against tax. I’m one of those who believes that redistributive taxation – funding public services through taxing income and wealth – is the membership fee for a civilised society. But even so, if I’m honest, I don’t enjoy paying a penny more tax than I have to.

And unfair taxes risk losing the support of the general public for essential taxation, especially when everyone is feeling the pinch. We’ve all heard the cases of lowpaid workers paying a higher rate of tax than the company directors whose offices they clean. So the least politicians can do is make sure that the taxes we do pay are fair.

With that in mind, this week Lib Dem shadow chancellor Vince Cable proposed a motion calling for an immediate and substantial cut in income tax to benefit low and middle-income taxpayers, paid for by closing the multi-billion tax loopholes which benefit the very wealthy individuals who profited disproportionately from the economic boom.

That’s exactly the sort of policy that would benefit local people who are lower income taxpayers facing high living costs in Islington. So why did Islington’s Labour MPs vote against it?

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Northern Rock latest

So the Government is, after all, to bring Northern Rock into temporary public ownership. The Chancellor admits that the other alternatives just don’t offer the best value to the taxpayer, while nationalisation will keep Northern Bank’s customers’ money safe.

It’s tempting for oppositions to criticise the Government of the day whatever they do. On Northern Rock, there’s been plenty to criticise. This time the Treasury has made the right decision. Which is why it’s the option Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats have been advocating throughout.

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