Thursday, 31 July 2008

Tax Credits

I'm happy today, because just as I was getting to that scary part of the month where the direct debits all go out at once, I have received an extra payment from the Tax Credits people because they underpaid me last year.

That makes me one of the lucky ones. In previous years, along with many other people, I have been asked to repay hundreds of pounds that they had overpaid me, when I could ill afford to do so. I have always rung the helpline immediately to report any changes in circumstances or income expectations, no matter how slight. I have never once had them tell me after an annual review that everything was correct and my payments would continue at the same rate. Never. And it's not only the end of year bill that the unlucky ones face - it's situations like the one I had in February of 2005 - where I was told that whoops, they had already paid me what I was entitled to for that year and I couldn't have any more payments until April - bang went a regular weekly payment that was built into all my hard budgeting. As I recall I got through that time only by borrowing heavily from family and friends, which is demeaning to say the least.

The fact is, like me, most people who receive tax credits don't have the luxury of easily absorbing changes, sometimes several of them in a year, in their income. I keep a constant eye on my bank account, and budget ruthlessly to ensure I can pay my bills and have food on the table. I get by a lot better than I did during the period when both my partner and I were unemployed, but I still have little enough coming in that I get apoplectic at times with people who think that 'broke' means 'running out of discretionary income' rather than 'can't pay the bills this month and am in a blind panic'. And I meet rather more of the former kind of people even in the Liberal Democrats than the latter, which is depressing - I know this goes to the heart of that tiresome old debate about whether one can represent people from different backgrounds, but I reckon it must be VERY hard for elected representatives who have never struggled with money to consider what reforms and policies will mean for those who have to copper up to find bus fare to work. Still, our party are better at that than the other two - they are the ones who have been raving for years about how badly tax credits fail as a support mechanism, as well as leading to massive wastage of public money through fraud and civil service incompetence.

My PPC once told me that negative income tax for the less well off was a policy that the Liberal Party played with decades ago, then abandoned because it was painfully obvious that because any kind of benefit needs to be weekly or monthly paid to work effectively for its intended purpose, and income tax is calculated annually, it WOULDN'T EVER WORK. So why on Earth did New Labour not come to this realisation before implementing their "revolutionary" plans? And more to the point, when year after year the system proves itself to be unmanageable and harmful to the very people it is supposed to help, why have they stuck with it instead of ceding defeat and scrapping it?

Knickers!

The news is full of them! From the anonymous Canadian who bought Queen Victoria's old pants at auction yesterday (cor, a FIFTY inch waist? she weren't raised on salad, were she?), to the fact that Australia's Prime Minister is descended from a knicker thief. Brilliant.

I love silly season.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Good News for Alzheimer's Sufferers, but Why the Wait?

From the BBC, the news that a drug has been developed which halts or slows the decline of Alzheimer's disease. I'm disappointed to note that larger trials won't start until at least next year, and the drug isn't expected to be ready for the market before 2012.

Four years is a long time to anyone with Alzheimer's disease, or to any member of their family who is close to them. In four years, my own grandmother's dementia changed her from her sparkling, witty self into a sweet but confused old lady who didn't really know who I was. On the way, she had horrible moments of realisation of just how much she had lost and was losing. For my mum, who cared for her around working full time and knew exactly what was coming with her background in home care and social services, it was devastating. So, with other families going through this all the time, why when a drug is found are we happy to put up with four years' wait before it will do those families any good? This isn't, you will note, a drug that reverses the effects of dementia, just one that rescues patients from further decline. So for many people who are beginning to suffer now, the market version of this drug will sadly come too late.

I understand that drugs need to be properly trialled before they can be prescribed or sold to the general public, in the interests of safety, but FOUR YEARS? Not even starting the next trial until next year? I have to say that if a scientist had discovered a chemical which halted the progress of cancer in a similar way, I'm pretty sure it would be available faster than this.

The truth is that Alzheimer's is not a "sexy" cause. Cancer kills young, attractive people as well as affecting elderly people. Diseases that are primarily associated with old age are under funded for research across the board compared with ones that affect young people. Worse than that, I've heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that older people are treated differently and less sympathetically in hospital. What is this about? Is there some kind of voice in people's heads that says "they're old and they're going to die anyway"? How repellent.

This sort of casual second-class treatment is something that has reduced immeasurably for women over the last half century, and for ethnic minorities, too, perhaps to a lesser extent. But it seems that elderly people continue to be patronised, pushed around and put on a back burner. Every human being is just that: a human being, with no more or less rights than any other human being. And I believe one of those is the right to expect that should a cure be found to a disease you suffer from, it will be developed as fast as possible into a marketable solution and dispensed to you as a patient.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Jonnie and Steve

Something is amiss in the world of Lib Dem women on the Internet. They would appear to, well, not be women at all. The rambunctious and irrepressible Ms Rigg just found out from this funky little webtool that from her online behaviour, she is 82% male. I tried it, naturally, and came out as 83% male. So now, for your entertainment, Jonnie and Steve will swap blogging functions as well as changing genders before your very eyes, as The One and Only Gob From Yorksher brings you a serious and AMAZING post about gender balance, restricted shortlists and the like and I bring you LINKSPAM! YAY!

Speaking of funky little webtools (which we were a second ago - keep paying attention!), last night I watched live on a little map as thunderstorms rolled up Britain, skirting round Pembrokeshire carefully as they did so, here. In return for that fabulous link sent to me via MSN, I gave my friend Meltie one of my old favourites, a bit of the British Geological Society's site that shows the records of all the most recent earth tremors around the British Isles. There's rarely anything very large on there, which is not surprising given that we're quite far from any major seismic hotspots here in our mellow little corner of Europe, but you do get a few eyebrow raisers from time to time. I just wonder after reading an article on man-made disasters in New Scientist today how many are caused by people.


Oh and I am so sorely tempted to use idiopathic hypersomnia as an excuse the next time I come in from work and crash out on the settee, or sleep through my alarm four times, or don't blog for a while, I really am. But I'm afraid actually I'm just a bit lazy.


Looking at all the links I've just chosen to share here.... it's really not that surprising that a perusal of my browsing history looks a bit male, is it? Hmm.

ETA: One more link before bed, I think. I am concerned, when writing in here, with making sure my language and sentence structure aren't too complex. I've just used my black blet in google-fu to find this very cool gadget that tests the readability of any web page. Apparently Dib Lemming has a Gunning-Fog index score of 10.89 (where the number represents the amount of years of schooling one would need to understand the text). Must try harder, I think. Still, I'm not the least accessible writer of a Lib Dem blog, surely... anyone do worse?

Please Shut Her UP!

Anne Widdecombe is currently screeching about the 'wanton and wicked destruction of children' on BBC Parliament. The less civilised part of my nature wants to smack her in the mouth. I'm watching a repeat of the debate about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which Sky has unhelpfully listed as "The Abortion Debate". I'm extremely grateful that a majority of MPs voted to keep the current upper time limit of 24 weeks, and extremely angry that anyone who isn't a pregnant woman in trouble should think they have ANY right to tell one what to do. I'm also quite frightened that should the Tories manage an overall mojority at the next General Election, this emotive topic will rear its head once again at Westminster, and go the other way.

I went to see Anne Widdecombe in 2003, when she did a little "audience with" sort of tour. She's a wacky character and I used to just smirk about her eccentric daffy ways. But you know, these people can actually be dangerous because they catch you off guard. You think it's good to have characters in politics, give parliament a bit of colour, and in some cases (one on our own front benches springs to mind) it's true. But in others, the eccentricity is less appealing when away from the fluffy media appearances and inside the chamber, it morphs into something rabid. I realise there's a lot of heated to-and-fro in the Commons, and especially on an issue like this one, but there should be no place for this kind of scurrilous tabloid raving.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

We Can Talk About Precious Things...

Some days more than others, I wish Morrissey had a blog. I can't help but wonder what he makes of the news that David Cardboard Cut-out Cameron, of all people, took Obama for a walk somewhere quiet and dry, and surrounded by press, and gave him a copy of The Queen Is Dead as a gift yesterday. I've said it before, albeit not on this blog, but does Cameron not realise the sickening irony of a tory leader being a Smiths fan? Are love, law and poverty the things that kill Call-me-Dave? How can he possibly identify with anything Moz has ever sung? I really don't think it's aimed at old Etonian sons of stockbrokers. Give me strength!

Oh it's probably old hat to anyone who has ever listened to a Liberal Democrat, but I am seething with frustration at the vicissitudes of the two-party system. Even though a poll of key marginals puts Labour in third place behind the Liberal Democrats today, opinion polls are generally not reflected in election outcomes in my experience and it is hard to see how the Lib Dems can shake the image that is handed to them. My uncle has come to visit this weekend, and one of the first questions he had for me was "but.. aren't the Liberal Democrats the guy with the nice ideas who will never have to try to put them into practice because he'll never be in power? I've voted for them twice and it was a wasted vote!" We've all heard that before, am I right? And we can cry for electoral reform and our beloved Single Transferable Vote all we like, but when the First Past the Post system gets Labour and the Conservatives what they want (overall majorities with 40% or less of the vote), they're not going to change it.

I'm squirming every time David Cameron does his "look, I'm down with the progressives" bit to the media, because with Labour floundering he is securing victory for himself within the next couple of years. While I have serious issues with Labour's "nanny state" attitude, I have to grudgingly admit they are better for Britain than the Conservatives would be. If you read the piece I linked to in a recent post about feminist issues, you will know that with the Conservatives in power, we would likely see a reduction of the time limit for abortions within the next parliament, and we certainly would never have seen civil partnerships and an equal age of consent for homosexuals under the tories. The best I can hope for is a hung parliament, where the subtle politics of consensus comes into play. Of course that brings whole new frustrations about all Liberal Democrats suddenly being asked who they're making 'deals' with, but such is life, and I understand and can explain to anyone who asks me that when politicians of different colours are made to find common ground in their ambitions and a coalition works properly, the resulting legislation tends to be a lot less draconian or extreme, and that is better for everyone in the long run.

Friday, 25 July 2008

More Reasons to be Cheerful

Via the wonderful Jo Christie-Smith comes this piece in the Guardian about how far women's rights, and expectations of equal treatment, are under threat in the UK today. It's titled "Now, the backlash" so I find it interesting that the title of the web page in my browser reads "Kira Cochrane on the apparent backlash against feminism". Want to distance yourself from her sentiment any more, Guardian? I know, I'm a barrel of laughs tonight, aren't I? Forgive me, I've spent much of today up to my elbows in triangle sandwiches, balloons and strange children, I'm a bit over-wrought.

It's not all doom though, is it? I mean, I feel for Jo because she read it under slightly different circumstances to me: the interior ramifications of what the article said* weren't half as hard to take with the thought of Jo's blog post (read beforehand) like a firm and comforting hand on my shoulder: This is why I am a feminist and why I am going to keep going, even when it feels like we are wading through treacle. Thanks, Jo.

*and there weren't the epiphanies there could have been- I would have been perfectly capable of writing that piece before I read it

I just had a sense of humour failure :(

The Kevin Bishop Show: it's a new comedy sketch show in the slot between Big Brother shows on Channel Four on Fridays. I.. I really can't handle it.

I was already on the verge of tears when he did "Sophie's Choice, the Musical" as a skit. When he followed it up with "The Guantanamo Bay Playset", it placed me into quite a real state of emotional distress.

Is ANYONE finding that funny? I'm terrified someone will say yes, it will make me question humanity so deeply.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

If the British are the Only Nation on Earth to Use the Word 'Glass' as a Verb, Why Would We Assume That Knives Are the Problem?!

On Lib Dem voice at the moment, there's a post about Chris Huhne's take on the latest target of tabloid hysteria - evil knife crime. He has asked some questions in Parliament, and looked into the statistics around prosecutions for the sale of knives to minors, shifting the emphasis and the blame for the "crisis" onto shopkeepers rather than the young knife-carriers themselves.

You might think party members would be clapping their hands about the Home Affairs Spokesman's timely findings: after all, it has attracted some media coverage, and that is unfortunately all too rare for our parliamentarians (take Jo Swinson's stand against VAT on sun cream in Prime Minister's Questions last week - only picked up by The Guardian and then only in its roundup of everything that was covered in Parliament). However, the overall tone of the comments is one of disappointment.

I can't speak for everyone involved in that comment thread, but I don't want to see punitive measures against people carrying knives (many of whom would be innocent people with no intention of harming someone), OR against shopkeepers who may have sold cutlery or a father's day swiss army knife to a kid only to be reported to the authorities by some petty type with a vendetta. Knives are NOT the problem, the deep unhappiness of the kids who are killing each other with them is. Even in the unlikely scenario that we remove all access to any kind of blade from anyone under the age of 25, making them eat with plastic sporks, they would still find ways to kill each other if that is their desire. You only need to know about Maslow's heirarchy of needs to understand that if a person doesn't have love and support, or recognition and respect elsewhere, then they may well look to fulfil those needs within a gang or by notoriety, and no amount of paternalistic legislation is going to change that. Forgive me for being a bleeding heart Liberal, but I do believe I'm a member of the party where that is most indulged.

So what can we do? My own suggestion is for less use of blunt tools such as automatic sentences, and more concentration on the following: better detection rates for crime, which would tie in with a more visible police or community safety officer presence in problem areas (which from the plethora of reports and studies available online, seem to make a far better deterrent than the hazy remembrance that there's a sentence should you get caught); and better education, advice and services for young people - I'm not sure what the figures are in the rest of the UK, but in a keynote speech made by Welsh Assembly Member Peter Black at the conference of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services a couple of weeks ago, he pointed out that young people spend an equivalent of only nine minutes of every waking hour in school, but only £56 per head is spent on what they are doing for the remaining 51 minutes.. that's just not good enough. Does anyone else have any bright ideas?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

*sniff*

If you are a parent, there are always going to be moments when your children move you to tears. Hopefully they won't be tears of frustration, but rather more like mine:

Today my daughter (who will be five on Friday) has come to me and said she needed to ask me something. I've rarely seen such a serious expression on her face so I quietly asked her what was the matter, expecting maybe some concern about a troublesome member of her class who has been invited to her birthday party. She blew me away.

"Mum, do you know, Mrs Nicholas told me in assembly that people in Burma have had a flood, and their houses have all gone away. You need to help them. We could go and build their houses for them again. We sent food from the school, but maybe we could give them some money as well. I want you to help them, please. They haven't got any money or anywhere to live."

It's terrifying and heartening all at the same time that she believes in me this much, that she is sure I can fix the world when to me it's patently obvious I can't. But I can do what I can. I've told her when she's big enough we can go together and help people who need it wherever we can. I've also told her how proud I am of her for caring.

Can anyone tell me which of the disaster relief efforts is best to donate what little I've got to, please? I've promised her.

Whither our Liberties, Whither our Freedom Bill?

When considering how much power ought to be afforded to the police, it's worth remembering that 'the police' is not one big faceless organisation, it's a sample of people who wanted to be police officers. People with prejudices and flaws as varied if not more so than any sample of the population at large. The more legislation is introduced to tighten security, the less rights we have as completely innocent citizens at the hands of the police (and often the evils the laws are introduced to deal with in the first place are at best not remotely dealt with by the legislation and at worst imaginary to start with).

I say this today because the news brings me a saddening example to highlight my point. A woman who has a mixed race, autistic son was separated from him as they crossed the English Channel to come home from France, then detained and questioned for two hours under anti-terrorism legislation powers, because the policewoman who stopped her was convinced she must be child trafficking (after all, white women couldn't possibly have brown-skinned children with them for a legitimate reason).

It's not just this one anecdote about heavy-handedness, though it is a convenient example of the problem. In my view New Labour have had more to do with creating a 'climate of fear' than any terrorist organisation. Backed up to the hilt by the tories (of course), they have spent eleven years systematically eroding our liberty and increasing the powers of the (flawed, prejudiced) police officers to do what they like with anyone they don't like the look of. The really depressing thing is, I'm not saying anything new - members of my party have been campaigning for years against measures like extended periods of detention without trial, the removal of the right to silence under arrest, the banning of peaceful protests within a mile of parliament... I could go on and on. And what is more it always seems their efforts, our efforts, are to no avail.

With all this in mind, I remembered Nick Clegg's campaign for a 'Freedom Bill' designed to repeal unnecessary and illiberal legislation, back in late 2006 when he was but a lowly home affairs spokesman. I am in fact still a member of the facebook group that was started to raise awareness of it. Whatever happened to that? Any amount of google searching is turning up no news. Am I to assume it was dismissed out of hand by the purple majority and sank without a ripple? I hope not. At the time I joined the party it was something I could point to and say "this is why I'm here".

Monday, 21 July 2008

Politicians are off the hook, it's all the musicians' fault!

Fantastic piece in the Indie yesterday on the phenomenon of watered-down indie soundalike bands, which ends with this gem of a quote: "If we end up with 20 years of Tory government, it'll be The Pigeon Detectives' fault." Maybe they have a point - music reaches people, particularly young people, in a way any amount of stuffy discussion never will. And if the bands aren't making the kids angry about the things that matter, will the kids come around to realising there are important things to be angry about another way, or just become more and more apathetic?

I can't help but notice that broadly speaking the Lib Dems I've met have music taste that falls into two categories (with the exception of that lovely MP Jo Swinson who can't be said to have music taste at all judging from her facebook page but I have to let her off because other than that she's like a Scottish Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way!): the classical music for old-school libertarian types, and the alt/indie for the adorable leftie idealist types. Me? I'll listen to *almost* anything (though I do like to think I display a modicum of taste and I wouldn't touch Scouting For Girls with someone *else's* bargepole), with Tchiakovsky cheek by jowl in my CD collection with The Smiths. Take from that what you will about my ideology!

This post brought to you whilst listening to The Crystal Lake by Grandaddy, The Masochism Tango by Tom Lehrer, Forsaken by VNV Nation, and Poor Little Rich Boy by Regina Spektor, in case you were curious...

Now in Syndicated Flavour!

Yes, for anyone who is reading this and knows me better as stephmog, some genius young lib dem lass with a penchant for crazy hairdye, a quirky superbright five year old daughter, and a lovely other half with long hair, who isn't me, has created a feed so I can appear on your LiveJournal friend-page once again. Go here, add feed, never miss a post by oh-yeah-stephmog-made-that-other-blog-before-she-left-livejournal again!

Thanks to that genius, who is one of my new favourite people in the whole world.

And happy birthday to my mum, who obviously always has been one of my favourite people in the whole world.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Iain WHO, dear?

You know, I'm fairly new to all this blogging business so maybe I am missing something, but you know that Iain Dale? I really don't understand what it is that is so very special about him for people to keep quoting him like his views actually matter. I'm not sure what's worse really, the fact that his opinions are considered so valuable that he is given newspaper space and actual television airtime to espouse them like some kind of 21st Century politics guru, or the fact that every other Lib Dem blog I come across has a mention of him somewhere therein!

Do you really care if some high profile tory is going to start saying the Lib Dems are trying to out-tory the tories and can't be trusted? We know better and importantly, thanks to the fact we have ace campaign teams in those marginal seats Iain mentions in his piece, we will succeed in having the majority of the electorate know better as well.

I mean, come on. This is the guy who on Wednesday posted a weak 'humour' piece entitled "you know you are a political chav when.." and on Thursday he argued that we should all stop using the word toff because it reveals "deep and revealing level of class hatred"! Clearly no sense of irony.


My comment there in response to yet another post relating to Iain Dale's comments on the Make It Happen document launched by Nick Clegg on Thursday. Sorry, Andy, wasn't arguing with your whole post there, just getting grumpy about the ubiquitous Dale!

You know, I think one of the hardest conditions I've put on myself in writing here is my aim to have this blog clear and easy to understand for the majority of people who may come across it (you know, like my aged relatives, or other people called Stephanie Ashley doing a vanity search - I'm not expecting to be a must-read writer with a cult following here). I don't want to name names that I know full well I would have had to look up before I joined the party and assume that anyone who is reading will automatically know who I am talking about. I don't want to alienate anyone who isn't a political anorak, but it's proving to be so tough!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Class Traitor.

My mum's been away for a few days. She saw Hazel Blears (who for those of you who don't know rose through the ranks of the Labour Party in Salford in the 1980s and 90s as an angry young working class woman, only to turn into some kind of semi-mechanised spin redistribution outlet for them once she got into a cosy job as a Government Minister) in Kendals (which for those of you who don't know is a posh department store in the centre of Manchester, where you won't generally find too many angry working class girls from Salford)! It's certainly worthy of comment and loaded with meaning.

[*Carrie Bradshaw moment*] It makes me wonder... does being in office necessarily change people? When the higher a politician reaches in their career, the more removed from ordinary people they become, both by income bracket and in terms of how little time they have to listen to average members of the electorate any more... must their entire characters, aims and ideals morph into something equally removed from what they were when they started out?[*end Carrie Bradshaw moment*] Or is it just a grotesque metaphor for New Labour as a whole, second rate tory clones that they are?

I'm not very old. I don't remember a Labour government before 1997. But I do just about remember being able to distinguish the three main parties as very different from one another, even as a child. There were the braying, pompous people in blue who quite literally looked down their noses at the benches opposite them as they shouted about how nobody but them could run an economy or a country; opposite there were the tantrummy, sneery people in red who shouted about needing better services and opportunities for people and how the people in blue don't care about anyone; and over here were a sizable handful of those nice people in yellow who occasionally asked a sensible question, and who I properly fell in love with when I noticed in 1997 (when I was yet too young to vote) that they had costed every one of their main manifesto promises in a really transparent way. Cor, how sensible and refreshing they were, eh? I wonder what my daughter makes of watching Prime Minister's Questions now. I strongly suspect that she sees an amorphous mass of bluey purple smug people of the type who swan round posh department stores on the weekends (and get their laptops nicked by hoodies when they leave them in stupid places with sensitive information on them that shouldn't be and that sort of thing) up the top half of the house, and then down on this bottom right hand corner are a few dozen nice people in yellow who occasionally ask a sensible question, only for the amorphous bluey-purple blob to open one of its mouths and come out with some polished statement that is vaguely related to the subject but in no way answers the question. How frustrating.

Oh no!

So now smoking in a pub is such an image disaster for a politician it constitutes a reason to resign?

I'm never going to make it...

Photobucket

Oh no, I forgot - that's me two years ago, before the ban came in. Phew, that's alright then!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Total Jerks with Jerky Knees

I can't be the only one. Surely everyone must listen to or read the news these days and think "WHAT? You're going to do WHAT?" on a regular basis.

It seems that the two main parties decide policies these days by saying "ooh, there's a lot of headlines on this issue" and half-baking an idea before having one of their front benchers open their big gobs to the media and see what happens. Hot on the heels of Labour's "wheeling knife-weilders through casualty" debacle earlier this week (and I'd like to point out that the Tories' ideas on the matter were equally bloody off-the-cuff and ill-thought-through in my opinion), I can't help wondering whose mouth the Labour Party was planning to open to spout their new workfare proposals through.

If making people work for benefits was an answer to the problem of 'scroungers' then it would work in the United States, and it doesn't! Read this for a clue what will happen if the American system comes here, it's an eye-opener. Is this just a case of Labour trying desperately to win back all those people the opinion polls tell us have switched sides to support the Conservatives by, well, completely lifting their "help people into jobs and cut benefits for those who won’t work" spiel? Fine, whatever. I'm just hoping that the longer this pantomime goes on, the more people will realise that the tories haven't changed one iota despite any amount of desperate image engineering, that Labour threw any plans for real social justice out of the window in the late nineties and have spent the last twelve years or so becoming a weird plastic replica of the tories, and that if they want to vote for someone who won't defecate on the working classes from a great height next time they go to the polls, they need to vote Liberal Democrat.

Unison and Unite have certainly united a lot of people in one respect:

I have spoken to a lot of people who have been affected by the public sector workers' strike this week. People who are working class, sympathetic, and would normally support anyone's right to strike if their working conditions or pay were bad enough. They're pretty much all 'united' in fury. They're furious, and not with the bosses who the unions want them to be furious with, but with the people who took part in the strike themselves.

As far as I can see they have only succeeded in creating a common view of council employees as greedy and short-sighted, which is a dreadful shame.

Why greedy? Council workers have 'only' received a pay rise of 2.45%, which is less than the galloping inflation rate. Poor dears. If they're wondering why the rest of us are having a hard time finding sympathy for them they ought to try working in the private sector, where many people haven't seen a pay rise in two years, some have even seen cuts in their pay or working hours, and on top of that don't get sick pay and many of the other benefits afforded to the strikers.

Why short-sighted? Because not only does their action affect the lives of the rest of the working population, who have had to keep hold of their stinking rubbish this week and find alternative childcare in many cases, far more than the opinions of their bosses; but if they succeed in securing a bigger pay rise, it's only going to have a negative impact on the entire community including themselves in the long run. The pay rise they have received is lower than the rate of inflation because the rise in the amount of money given to the councils by the Welsh Assembly Government was similarly low for the financial year. To raise the money for a bigger pay rise, there would have to be sweeping cuts in services or a rise in council tax, which would hurt everyone.

I just wonder how many of the union members who were out on strike this week have gone through the onerous process of filling in forms ensuring that part of their union subs don't go toward funding the Labour party... it's highly ironic that most of them are probably funding the very party whose administration is at the root of the problem.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Ticky boxes, on the Internet

I would like to urge any party members who may be reading, and didn't take part in Liverpool this Spring, to go along and contribute to this survey being conducted by Ros Scott. For those too lazy to go and read why she wants your answers, she has this to say:

I’ve always believed that our members and activists are the ones who define what this party is about...I’m primarily interested in getting a snapshot of some of the internal Party issues occupying you right now. For example, what should come first: electing MPs or Councillors? How can we win more votes: canvassing or media coverage?

I'm sure we all want to feel our opinions are being heard, so the least we can do is give them when asked!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

C-words

No, I'm not swearing about the driving examiner who went on strike today without calling the people (including me) who had booked a test before doing so, though I must admit the urge is with me! These are clean c-words which have been bouncing around in my head for the last few days..

First of all, I must say, my conscience is bothering me. This blog doesn't have a huge readership, but I know there are some people who like to read it to keep tabs on Pembroke Liberal Democrat activity, or even on me. I suppose I ought to let you know the result of the local elections -- better two months late than never, I hope (and there will be more on why I haven't updated sooner, later). The bad news is that we didn't win a council seat in Pembroke despite our high hopes. The good news is that there are now three Liberal Democrats on Pembrokeshire County Council: Tony Brinsden held Amroth, and Liz Campion and Bob Kilminster won seats in St Dogmaels and Dinas Cross respectively due to sheer determination and hard work.

Liz and Bob have proved something that I have to grudgingly admit I already knew: that to win as a Liberal Democrat takes commitment, and consistency. There are very few places across the UK where there is a natural Lib Dem vote in the same way as there might be a natural Labour or Conservative one (hence the old grumble that in some places you could put a red - or a blue - rosette on a donkey and it would still win an election). The seats where we do well all have one thing in common: the party activists are VERY active. Our new councillors won through because they were working hard for local people and keeping in touch with them with a monthly newsletter/leaflet for three full years before election time came around. This is my aim for Pembroke, now. I don't think the working hard is an issue. All of our local party members care about their community deeply and many of them already spend huge quantities of time and effort in a great variety of (mainly voluntary) capacities. It's unbelievable how busy Gareth Jones always is in his role as mayor, but we're all doing our bits. For my own part, since the election I have been a steward at three events at the Pembroke Festival, helped a couple of people out who needed help getting in touch with bureaucrats about problems, poured coffee at the second annual Pembrokeshire Potato Festival to raise funds for a local playgroup - the list goes on. And we don't do these things for political gain, but all the same I think we're possibly a little too bashful about letting people know how much we do and how much more we want to do. It's the age-old Great British affliction I suppose: one doesn't boast. The thing is, keeping in touch is crucial. How can we expect people to take our word for it when we come around in the three months before an election and tell them we would make wonderful elected representatives, unless we have demonstrated to them how they can trust us to deliver what they need all year round? And in West Wales I think it's particularly important for a candidate to personally know a good percentage of the electorate and to have met almost all of them. I'm sure it's often said about politicians: we need to get out more! As membership secretary I am at least in a position to get in touch with the local membership and bring them together regularly. I'm hoping to be a catalyst for much-needed change.

The reasons I've been missing from the 'blogosphere' of late are manifold, but conveniently, two of the main ones are also c-words. First of all, like many young women I have certain commitments and balancing them with political life even at this comparatively low level is excruciatingly difficult, and costs me dearly when I get it wrong. I have a daughter who is nearly five (I have been writing invitations to all her friends for her birthday Dinosaur Disco this very evening), a fiancé who is a very supportive, calm and stoical sort of chap but like anyone does still have limits on his patience, two cats, a house to run, a secretarial job to hold down and many friends and family members I like to spend time with. I'm still trying to work out just how much I can do in terms of lib demming before I start hurting people by neglecting my other responsilities. It's tough. My other issue is one of confidence. To the casual observer I seem strident and articulate and generally a very confident sort of person, but that has taken years to perfect. To illustrate my problem I'll share this with you: I mentioned earlier in the post that I had a driving test booked for today. I have had well over a hundred hours of tuition over the past three years and this was the first test I had booked -- I have a morbid fear of failure and of getting things wrong. Every time I write in here I am painfully aware that it will be available for any passing member of the public to read, and that leads me to spend more time than is reasonable checking and re-checking what I have written, before eventually posting something I am less than satisfied with. It's something I need to get over if I'm to go as far as I want to in life. It's also something I need to work very hard on if while I'm working on curing it, I want to conceal it from my party colleagues: I was at a training event last Sunday, presided over by a fabulous young man of my acquaintance who was the architect of the party's change of fortunes in Merthyr Tydfil at the last election. At our break for lunch he snatched the opportunity to ask me what my problem with confidence was all about. "Is it really that obvious?" I asked. "Well," he said "at spring conference I saw you deliver one of the best speeches of the entire weekend, which demonstrated an understanding of the issues that affect your region beyond that of many of our members, and then you came off the stage and sat down looking like you were about to have some kind of fit -- yes, it's obvious." Maybe it's time I started seeing myself as others see me. I have a feeling I would relax and enjoy life a lot more if I could get the hang of that.