Posts Tagged politics

Useful insights…

An email arrives from Olly Kendall at Insight Public Affairs:

“As David Cameron and Ed Miliband prepare for their first clash tomorrow at midday, our briefing ‘30 facts for 30 minutes’ is a light-hearted look at that great British institution – Prime Ministers Questions – detailing 30 facts about the weekly political joust that you might not have known.”

My favourite of which is that Tony Blair wore the same pair of shoes to every PMQs, seeing more changes of opponent than footwear.

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Facing the future – your chance to shape party policy

Liberal Democrats are generally proud of our democratic policy-making process, and the quality of its content – if sometimes also bemused by its sheer quantity.

Policy documents tend to have imposing but vague titles, inviting a bit of a guessing game as to their real subject, like “The Power to be Different” (local government), or a recent favourite “Are we being served?” (consumer policy).

One where the title definitely fits is “Facing the Future”, one of two policy groups on which I currently serve. The party usually has a general policy review after each General Election. This time we have the additional challenge of the coalition, making developing a distinctive policy programme for the next election more important than ever.

Our remit is not so much to come up with answers as to define the questions that our next round of policy papers should address. I’ve been particularly keen to include questions on responding to climate change, and on the social impact of new technology. Comments welcome by email, by 31st October.

And my other policy working group? It’s the one on information technology and intellectual property, set up in response to the emergency motion I proposed at the Spring 2010 conference, and ably chaired by Cambridge MP (and motion seconder) Julian Huppert. Contributions to the policy debate are welcome by email .
Comments should reach Julian as soon as possible, and no later than 31st October 2010. Fancy names not needed!

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Signing the pledge

Signing the pledge used to refer to going teetotal (not something I’m about to do, although I respect those who have). But there are now pledges a gogo for us all to sign up to.

Today is the last day to vote in the Power2010 ballot on which reform pledges you most want the next government to fulfil. As I’ve blogged before, these include lots of excellent ideas, including fairer votes, fixed term parliaments, ending ID cards, and the right to recall corrupt MPs.

Another pledge vote is for the top House Proud pledge, promoted by Inside Housing. I’ve already signed up to their petition pledging to make housing a priority in the next Parliament.

Housing is a vital issue in communities like Islington South & Finsbury. Islington Council is building new council homes which is great but we also need work to make existing homes greener, and action to bring the thousands of empty homes into use.

But what should the top policy be? There are three candidates for the pledge: to continue the investment in decent homes; to retrofit existing homes to make them greener; or to put residents ahead of the bottom line. I’ve gone for option B, green retrofitting. Why? Well, option C is nice but vague, and option A, the decent homes programme, is retrospective anyway.

Option B, a programme to make existing homes greener, would fight climate change, provide sustainable local jobs and give people warmer homes with lower fuel bills. It’s a brilliant idea. Just a pity it’s one the Labour government vetoed when the LibDem-backed Fuel Poverty Bill came to the vote last year….

Last week I had a really good meeting with UNICEF-UK. They happen to be based in this constituency, and are well worth a visit if only for the great gift shop at reception, all in aid of their excellent work promoting children’s rights around the world.

UNICEF are promoting three pledges for parliamentary candidates:

1. UK Child Poverty: Around 4 million UK children are denied a childhood free from poverty. Living in poverty has a profound impact on children’s health, education and well-being.
I agree to take urgent action in Parliament to end child poverty in the UK by 2020.
2. International Development: Millions of children living in low-income countries are denied their rights. They lack access to healthcare, education, fair treatment and ultimately a childhood.
I agree to champion the rights of children in low income countries and highlight the urgent need to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
3. Child Rights: Most people do not know about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means children are often denied their right to be heard and have their views taken into account.
I agree to listen to young people in my prospective constituency and provide them with opportunities to make their voice heard on decisions which affect them.
I’m very pleased to have signed up to all three.

It is a disgrace that the Labour government has failed to hit its own child poverty reduction goals. Liberal Democrats are committed to tackling child poverty at home, through policies such as the pupil premium, and globally through effective international aid and development. It is my aim to work with existing programmes such as ‘Listen Up!’ in Islington to give my younger constituents their chance to air their views.

I also support votes at 16 (another of the Power2010 ideas) to give more young people a real say in the democratic process. It’s daft that at 16 you can pay taxes, and join the armed forces, even get married, yet not have a vote.

There’s no age restriction on the Power2010 and Inside Housing pledges, so get voting!

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One good thing, perhaps the only good thing, about the MPs’ expenses scandal is that it has pushed constitutional reform issues up the agenda.

Charter ’88, now part of Unlock Democracy, has been plugging away on this agenda for over 21 years. Now there is an upsurge of other organisations on similar lines from 38 Degrees to Power2010. With all these numbers in their titles, perhaps we should group them as Democracy2.0

Power2010 has been promoting its ballot on various reform pledges; many of them, from fairer votes to the right to recall your MP, will be familiar to Liberal Democrat supporters. Another Power2010 pledge I’m backing is to scrap ID cards. NO2ID activists will be joining forces with Power2010 at their first London activists’ meeting. It’s next Tuesday 16th February, 6-8pm at ULU on Malet Street, WC1E 7HY.

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QT and BNP

Tonight we had a good campaign session in Holloway; all sorts of people, from pensioners to young professionals are switching to the Lib Dems.

One woman, an NHS midwife, told us how hard life was, working long hours and coming home to high bills, with Government action like abolishing the 10p tax rate just making things worse. She won’t be voting Labour again.

Then there was the BNP voter. One of my colleagues (like the midwife, British born of Asian parents) got an earful. Just the one BNP voter, but one too many for our liking. I’m proud of my diverse campaign team, and it’s unacceptable when they get abuse, not for their policies, ideas or allegiance, but for who they are.

Most people don’t vote BNP. And most of those who do are doing it as a protest rather than a deliberate choice. Like a youth I canvassed during the Euro elections; “I probably won’t vote. Or I might vote BNP. Yeah, BNP. Or Green.”

The BNP is an evil organisation, led by nasty people, who exploit anxiety to grow prejudice. They sell fear in place of hope, despair in place of faith, hate in place of love. They are illiberal, unChristian and unBritish. Their core ideas are racism based on lies. And the best way to defeat them is to expose them.

I hope that tonight’s Question Time did just that. Certainly Nick Griffin got a deservedly rough ride, caught out by his own words, uniting the other parties against him. The protesters outside the BBC, however passionate their anti-fascism, are wrong. We cannot defeat the evil BNP by shouting them down or banning them; those are the tactics fascists themselves use. We defeat them by winning the argument, by showing the truth about the BNP, by building support from all communities for mainstream parties, by defending human rights, and by working to help British residents of all backgrounds feel socially and economically secure.

We live on a small planet where more of the world speaks the same language, uses the same technology, where we can travel round the world in a weekend; I live in a country whose people practically invented the idea of travelling the world for experience or gain, and where our best loved institutions from the NHS to Premier League football would collapse without migrant labour.

In Islington we are celebrating Black History Month – and encouraging people to register to vote.

Nick Griffin gets a platform because people elected him. As one commenter, Pete from Hertford, says on the BBC’s discussion board, “I sincerely hope that everyone who has turned up to protest outside TV Centre actually voted in the last European Election. If not, they’re just as complicit in handing the BNP a mandate”.

So tomorrow we’ll be out on the campaign trail again.

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Political prats of the week…

… are Harriet Harman and David Amess, according to Jack Bremer of the First Post.

To quite him in full: “Two contestants for political prat of the week. Labour’s Harriet Harman is alleged to have driven into a parked car while on her mobile, and then taken off, saying: “I’m Harriet Harman – You know where you can get hold of me.” Tory MP David Amess told a Virgin airline check-in staff that his bags had been packed by Osama Bin Laden. Once at Dulles airport, he threw up at the Immigration desk. It was travel sickness, he insisted, not booze.”

Of course this is all before the Conservative Conference gets underway 🙂

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Eve of conference

Tomorrow I’ll be travelling to join thousands of Lib Dems from across the country in Bournemouth for our party conference.

Last night, Islington Lib Dems previewed the conference debates at our latest Pizza & Politics evening.

The Liberal Democrat party conference is unusual among the 3 main parties in that we do actually set party policy; it’s not just a rally for the faithful. That means ordinary members can shape the policy of the party; and it also means that occasionally we have a row. Or if not a row exactly, a genuine debate.

On most issues, unsurprisingly, Lib Dems tend to agree with each other, even on issues that are divisive between the parties (and within other parties). We’re generally against ID cards, against Heathrow expansion, and pro Europe, to pick three examples. So what’s there to debate?

Well, the media will no doubt try to talk up a potential row over the Fresh Start paper. In fact, it’s a clear and in my view unconcentious statement of Lib Dem priorities for the General Election manifesto. (The most dodgy aspect is the Somerfield-type colour scheme. And don’t they have a ‘fresh’ slogan too?)

The agenda has lots of heavyweight debates, on globalisation, climate change, civil liberties – big issues, but no big rows.

So last night we teased out three smaller issues where we might have a bit of a barney in Bournemouth.

The first is whether the Advertising Standards Authority should have rules requiring that airbrushed images are identified as such: and whether such images should be banned in publications aimed at young people. The former is not a problem – it’s recently become the rule for those mascara ads that showcase false eyelashes – but the latter caused a real debate. Yes, young people’s self-image is fragile: but is it right to censor pictures in response? And is this really the biggest issue we face? We remain divided on that one.

The second is whether employers should adopt the practice of blanking out the names of job applicants to weed out sexist and racist judgements. Generally we saw no harm in that, although there was some scepticism as to whether it would do much good. Attending a a girls’ school or being on the committee of your local mosque could also be a bit of a giveaway.

Both these proposals are part of a package of ideas in the Real Women policy paper.

Then there are Mosquitos, the machines that generate a highpitched sound causing distress, and possibly damage, to younger eardrums. Should they be banned? Although Islington Council has tried it once – and decided against it in future – I think using Mosquitos is a terrible idea. And I’m not alone.

My own home has been under siege from groups of youths in the past, and we’ve often had the neighbourhood police on speed-dial, so I don’t deny there’s an issue; but I just don’t think indiscriminate torture techniques are the answer.

Other communities have found that shining pink light or playing Mozart is just as effective, and a considerably more humane way to discourage young people from hanging around. Not that hanging around in a public place is necessarily a problem in itself – as long as they are not a nuisance to others.

I think it’s another symptom of the current obsession with the idea that technology can solve essentially human problems. It’s not things that help people, or change people; it’s other people. It’s not mosquitos we need but bluebottles.

What mosquitos and air-brushing have in common, of course, is that they are at the crunch point where protection and freedom conflict. They also show some of the very mixed messages that our society sends young people. We’ll protect your eyes while assaulting your ears. Should be an interesting conference….

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