Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Aten't dead.

I have been feeling a bit snowed under with one thing and another, and suffering the corresponding painful low that comes after being so utterly manic at conference. I have a few posts half written and saved as drafts (including the interview with Nick Clegg), will finish them and deliver them to you all when I'm feeling back up to speed. Thanks for your patience...

Friday, 19 September 2008

Return to the Status Quo in St Dogmaels

Well, there's a surprise.

There was a county council by-election yesterday in the St Dogmaels ward, which falls in my county (Pembrokeshire), but not in my constituency. The local party over there have the right idea about long-term campaigning. Where they have a good candidate selected early enough, they have proved that they can win. This was a bit of a different matter as the resignation of our own Liz Campion prompted a very sudden (and technically illegally called) election. There was no chance to do what Liz had done and promote the candidate for over two years before polling day, and no real effort to involve wider support from Welsh Lib Dems who would have been happy to come and help, so I'm not entirely surprised that our candidate Elfyn Rees was pushed into second place.

As Liberal Democrats in West Wales, we have a huge challenge on our hands with local elections in general. The prevailing attitude from the electorate that there is no place for party politics in the council chamber. So they vote for anyone who claims to be 'independent'. Trouble with that is, the 'independents' who run Pembrokeshire County Council are no such thing. They operate as a party group, except with no manifesto or specific mandate, so they can basically pass whatever they like through the chamber. Often whatever provides them with the least work and the most personal benefit. Times ahead are going to be tough for the one councillor in that chamber from our side of the Cleddau. Tony Brinsden has worked hard on the committees he's involved with, and will now lose his say there unless or until another Lib Dem is elected, which may well take until 2012.

Better luck next time, Elfyn. I would have been out yesterday with you, but since every offer of help I made was roundly ignored by a certain insular and arrogant colleague of yours who was co-ordinating the campaign, I finally gave up trying about a week ago.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Bournemouth: Why Even As A Pacifist I'd Like to Congratulate Adrian Sanders.

I'm back from Bournemouth, a little the worse for wear, and five days behind with my messages and the rest of my life. It is all coming back to me so slowly, and I've had so little sleep since last week... perhaps it's best if I just make another cup of tea, start from what I remember best and work from there. Mmm, tea.

So, I suppose the most attention-grabbing thing for non Lib-Dems out of conference news coverage was that fight. Mild-mannered touchy-feely 'limp demics' as my dear rabidly tory cousin calls them, getting in *fights*? Can't be right!

So, what is one of our MPs doing getting so angry with a former head of press? Well, I can't say exactly what the argument was, I'm not Adrian Sanders. But it might help to know, if you didn't already, that Mark Littlewood is considered by most people in the party who mention him to be a swivel-eyed lunatic who is hell-bent on the destruction of the Liberal Democrats. Having been to the fringe event they ran after the one where the controversial document was launched, I can understand that point of view entirely.

Mark Littlewood's Liberal Vision pressure group take the definition of liberalism and stretch it out to some pretty damn extreme conclusions for their own ends.

I have to admit, I grin with recognition at the attitude that "liberalism means allowing everyone to go to hell in their own sweet way". I believe that it is part of the task of any liberal party to attack the nanny state where it interferes with people's lifestyle choices. Bansturbation by the other two parties seems to increase all the time and I can only imagine the climax they're aiming for is some kind of classical dystopia, where any hope of a happy society and any sense of empowerment of people is crushed by illiberal law after illiberal law, and increase after increase in police power, until we all live in enough fear to behave ourselves exactly as our government wants us to. You can hear echoes of this feeling in Nick Clegg's speech (on which more later) - we despair of the pessimism rife in politics these days and instead present the alternative of a trusting, optimistic party that believes that given the choice, most people will do the right thing.

HOWEVER. The dangerous extrapolation of this theory into ultra-small-state lunacy by Liberal Vision, and the way that this faction like to ally themselves with the party as if we are naturally going to agree with their every word is, well, probably enough to make you want to shove someone rather hard over a wall on its own, even before they have personally offended you. On further questioning at their meeting on Tuesday lunchtime, members of the panel said among other things (I précis and paraphrase as it was far too busy to take notes) that we should allow people to drink and drive should they wish (yes, that was Gavin Webb, I don't think we have anyone else that crashingly extreme in their libertarianism around); that we shouldn't balance freedom of choice with the state provision of help to level the playing field for people who were born at a disadvantage, because freedom should engender greater individual responsibility; that while freedom of choice over what to do on your own property naturally meant that people who own houses and other presmises have a wider range of choices, those who don't still have the choice to say, sell their organs as their body is their property so that's ok. Gah!

I picked up a copy of the 'Cameron Effect' report that had allegedly caused all the trouble. It doesn't make pretty reading. In fact, it amounts to forty pages of "ooh, you'd better be scared, the tories are coming", followed up with a rallying cry from Liberal Vision and the Taxpayers' Alliance (more swivel-eyed lunatics then) to the Lib Dems to not stop at tax cuts for those who need them, but give tax cuts to everyone. Yay! No taxes!

*head -> desk*

Here's the thing: we are not announcing a package of tax cuts for those who need them most because we're quaking in our boots about the hollow threat of the tories (or 'Blue Labour' as Clegg aptly named them yesterday). We are merely applying the values we have always had to the conditions we face. Recognising that in the face of massive inflation and/or interest rate increases, a fairer distribution of the tax burden is absolutely crucial to the retention of a reasonable quality of life for anyone earning anything up to a middle income. I'd love to know how people can look at us as we propose a new tax rate of 50p in the pound for anyone earning over £100k and still say we're moving to the right, I really don't get it. We are NOT becoming a right wing party, we don't even WANT to become a right-wing party, and we WILL NOT bow to pressure from people Mark Littlewood and his little uber-libertarian group to become a more right wing party.

For those who weren't at the 'How Liberal Are the Liberal Democrats?' event on Tuesday, you also missed two other things:

First, Lembit won something! He came top of Liberal Vision's dubious list where they ranked all our MPs from most to least Liberal, by some very narrow criteria. I have trouble commending their methodology or the document. It looks like something that was put together in three hours by a sixth-form student, and how anyone can end up with Tom Brake (yes, the MP who used a precious ten minute rule bill to call for a ban on the sale of cannabis seeds, causing a reaction like this among the estimated two million cannabis smokers in the UK - cheers Tom!) as tenth most liberal MP in our party is definitely doing it wrong. Seems to me to be a document that was hastily slapped together in order to give an enticing title and description to a fringe meeting at conference to ensure extremely high attendance. Could that be because they had some ulterior motive for getting lots of conference reps in a room to attempt to pour honey in their ears? Let's think...

Second, a really hilarious attempt at creating drama, and thereby a story and a credible campaign for presidency of the federal party by Chandiler Fernando. Now, much as I think for the sake of democracy and a more engaging contest, I would love to see more than two entrants into this competition, I couldn't bring myself to sign a nomination paper for a) a defected tory who is no less than the director of the organisation I've spent most of this post denigrating; or b) a campaign this ludicrously launched and staged. Imagine if you will the atmosphere in the extremely packed room where the meeting I described above had taken place, some heated questions had been asked, and the clipboard with a sheet asking people to sign up for more information from the hosts was languishing at the back of the room, having picked up about five names in total from the people who had come along mostly to argue with Gavin Webb and see if they could see any bruises on Mark Littlewood. Now imagine an elderly gentleman who had been planted in the crowd standing up and shouting enthusiastically about how we were about to witness the latest entrant into the race to become party president, waving papers in the air like he thought he was Neville Chamberlain. And imagine the exchanged smirks across the room as Fernando stepped up to the front of the room and looked slightly gormless while his plant continued to rant and exhort people to sign his nomination papers. Oh boy. Good luck with that one, Chandiler. I can't see you getting very far.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Dear Betsan Powys, DROP IT. No Love, me.

It's old news by now, as I live in a distant corner of Wales and by the time I got home yesterday I was too tired to do justice to the topic: yesterday, I was in Swansea to lend support as Kirsty Williams AM announced her intention to stand for leadership of the Welsh Lib Dems and of our Assembly group.

BBC Wales' political editor was there, and seemed to relish the opportunity to ask Kirsty if she wasn't a bit worried that she would still be seen by many in the party as the 'Rainbow Wrecker' (her words not mine) after last year's rather messy internal debate on whether or not to enter a rainbow coalition to keep Welsh Labour out of government. For heaven's sake. Of all people, Betsan should be familiar with the hackneyed phrase that 'a week is a long time in politics' - what does that make fourteen months?! And more importantly, why even ask the question if you're not going to report the answer?

For the record, part of what Kirsty said was that many people had been on the other side from her in that debate and supported her now. I voted FOR a rainbow deal. Yet I sat by the podium while Kirsty delivered her address yesterday, and was immensely proud to do so. Why? Because as she said, she is a conviction politician. And as Mark Williams MP said in his summation, she represents the empathy that is sadly often missing from politics these days. Kirsty is a real, powerful voice for people who feel disenfranchised by the spin and the pat messages from the other parties. She is exactly the person I want to get behind, the person I want to represent the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the public imagination.

Just because I have found myself on the opposite side from Kirsty in one debate, on one issue, doesn't mean I don't have huge amounts of respect and admiration for her position. This happens ALL THE TIME in a party like ours - we foster debate, we thrive on it, and we don't 'break friends' for good like playground children when one of our colleagues says something we disagree with. This seems like as good a time as any to point out, too, that being behind Kirsty Williams in this contest (and there had better be a contest!) should not be taken as a tacit admission that I don't -also- have huge amounts of respect and admiration for Jenny Randerson or Eleanor Burnham. Should either or both of them choose to stand in this contest, I will be rooting and campaigning for Kirsty without undermining or smearing them because they are also brilliant women who need to be heard and have their own distinct platforms.

Yes, Betsan, you did hear about "Social justice, decent public services, community empowerment, nothing you couldn't have heard from a politician from any party in Wales". The difference is, Kirsty means it. She is pathologically incapable of saying something she doesn't believe and that is the crucial difference between her and a million other politicians. It means people will recognise how genuine she is and hopefully feel that here is a politician they can trust. It makes her a magnetic presence in cross-party debates as she passionately lays waste to the lies and the bland bull that spews from the mouths of the opposition so often (oh and while we're here I might point out that it was very unfair to pick up what she said about how she first became involved in politics and then say that the tories are not the same heartless party they were under Thatcher - they are EXACTLY that party and while Cameron may look cuddly it's as much of an illusion as a fuzzy cactus, as I have written about before).

Perhaps it's not fair to pick on one hack who made my bile rise, though. It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse. After all, what comparisons can be made? While Kirsty is looking set to take the title of first female leader of any party in Wales, who is there to look to in recent history when talking about female leaders? Yeah. One of the biggest reasons I am excited about the prospect and gunning for Kirsty as leader, is that she is the one who can change the face of female political leadership. Throughout history, there have occasionally been women who have turned their back on the rest of their gender and meekly offered their necks for the choke chain of the patriarchal establishment to get ahead. We've had Thatcher, who was enough of a misogynist that she never once had another woman in her cabinet. We've now got Palin in the states, hired pitbull of the pro-life lobby, barking frenetically for the chance to take away women's reproductive freedom and education. Kirsty is off the leash. She's a real woman, with strength and empathy and conviction I have rarely seen outside my own family. And I want her to win, and I want Ros Scott to simultaneously take the federal party presidency. Then I will feel even more at home in this party than I already do.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Jeremy Kyle to Work With Government

I know what you're thinking. When I first saw this on Chicken Yoghurt I was convinced it was a hoax, too. It's worthy of Newsbiscuit. Sadly, it turns out to be true.

From the Guardian:

    The government is in talks with ITV about spending almost half a million pounds on a television series aimed at getting people off benefits and back to work, fronted by Jeremy Kyle, the controversial talk show host.

    A decision to approve a series presented by Kyle, Britain's chief practitioner of so-called 'car crash television', would raise questions about the government's judgment coming after several recent high-profile court cases that raised criticism of his show's confrontational style.

Raise questions about their judgment? That's a polite way of putting it! Has the Home Affairs Editor at el Grauniad ever actually *seen* the king of pitbulls in action? Judge Alan Berg didn't call the show 'human bear baiting' without due cause, you know. I am ashamed to admit that as an unemployed lemming, early last year, I watched rather a lot of daytime television, and particularly Jeremy Kyle. I found myself repulsed yet unable to look away as he tore into downtrodden, depressed people. I also found myself astonished that every weekday he managed to line up yet another two or three families (in Britain!) who were prepared not only to air their dirty laundry in public but also to take his particularly cruel brand of verbal flagellation and public humiliation for fifteen minutes or so in return for dubious favours such as free-of-charge lie detector tests for their partners and DNA tests on their children.

Yes, I can agree that the chronically unemployed need more help in accessing the assistance to return to the workplace that is available, and more information on benefits. But I cannot believe this has even been mooted as a way to do that, let alone reached the stage of talks with the television company and press reportage.

Back on November 21st 2007, I was watching Prime Minister's Questions and I wrote the following on my personal LiveJournal:

    David Cameron has been watching Jeremy Kyle for tips and hints on how to conduct himself at PMQs!

    "To try to blame the opposition is frankly pathetic! What the people want from their prime minister on a day like today is for him to stand up, broad shouldered, like a big man and take responsibility!"

So when the next election rolls around we now have a choice between Jeremy Kyle in partnership with government, or a Jeremy Kyle imitator in Number Ten. Never has there been a more compelling argument for everyone in the country to vote Liberal Democrat.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Cryptic, me?

I have had quite a day for invitations. This blog may be quite exciting over the next week or so!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Dr, Who? Fandom meets American Politics.

I have noticed over the last year or so the enormous crossover between Liberal Democrats and really hardcore fans of Doctor Who. While I'm more the sort of person who has caught the occasional episode and found it entertaining enough to leave it on and watch it, I still found this Comedy Central voting-decision guide just delicious, which means that certain other Liberal Democrats, including a particularly fluffy one and a particularly Yorksher one, are going to ADORE it if they haven't seen it already. It lists all ten doctors along with which one of the candidates for the presidency of the US (as at May 12th - yes, I'm a little late with this one) would make the best companion for them and why.

Dude, Tweet!

This is beautiful. I have long loved Lib Dem Blogs as a central reference point for scores of Lib Dem member opinions and news, and now we have everyone's tweets to look at, too. Ryan Cullen, you're a genius.

Might be a bit more selective what I'm posting to Twitter from now on, though. I'm not sure how relevant the time I'm going to bed or what I'm having for dinner is to anyone who will be reading that. Good thing I still have my facebook status updates in which to be banal!

Lost Data "Has Not Fallen Into The Wrong Hands"

Title from the headline of this story in the Independent.

Oh, I'm sorry, and there I was worrying about yet another massive loss of personal data. Silly me. I thought 'lost' meant that you couldn't possibly know where something was or who had it. Are this government working with a different definition of the word 'lost' to the rest of us? I couldn't really blame them, I suppose. When I look at the the entry on dictionary.com for 'lost', there are no fewer than twelve definitions. Let's see if any of them could be Jack Straw's, eh?

1. no longer possessed or retained: lost friends.

Now this is something the Labour party should know all about. They have been simply *haemorrhaging* friends since Toady Blair abandoned them, and they do know precisely where to find them: they've run away to join the party ideologically closest to New Labour, haven't they? I don't think this is what Jack means, though. Losing friends in this sense of the word is understandable, and in many cases unrectifiable, but if you find you no longer possess a disc containing the personal data of justice staff and know precisely where it is, you go and get it back. Rather than waiting over a year for the News of the World to break yet another story of your government's incompetence.

2. no longer to be found: lost articles.

See, this is what I think of when I see news stories about data losses of this kind. Memory sticks, blank passports, discs and entire laptops, when they are described as 'lost', generally cannot be found. Which means Jack Straw can't possibly know which hands the data has fallen into and shouldn't be making these kind of pronouncements to the press that suggest otherwise. But let's press on and see if we can figure out what he is talking about.

3. having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.: lost children.

The guy who was driving the van with this particular disc in it would have had to have been in the Guinness Book of Records for longest time lost, if this is the definition we're talking about. The last time the disc was seen was in July 2007.

4. not used to good purpose, as opportunities, time, or labor; wasted: a lost advantage.

Oh, there's every chance the data will be "not used to good purpose". And Labour are definitely "losing the advantage" when it comes to the debate on ID cards, with this record of looking after people's personal data.

5. being something that someone has failed to win: a lost prize.

I hope this isn't the definition of 'lost' they were using to describe the disc, because it's just not on to raffle off 500GB of sensitive data, now is it? Has Jack Straw been playing poker with employees' bank details on the table? The public must know!

6. ending in or attended with defeat: a lost battle.

I'm quite sure this isn't the 'lost' we're looking for in this case, even though Jack Straw and his party will no doubt become extremely well acquainted with this usage the day after the next general election.

7. destroyed or ruined: lost ships.

Getting that sinking feeling, Jack?

8. preoccupied; rapt: He seems lost in thought.

Lost in la-la land more like. I'm still not seeing how 'lost' can equate to 'not in the wrong hands' here...

9. distracted; distraught; desperate; hopeless: the lost look of a man trapped and afraid.

Another nice suggestion for how the Labour government should be feeling right now, but in no way applicable to a disc full of data. We're getting near the end now, do you think we'll find out what he meant?

10. pt. and pp. of lose.

Which kind of covers the same ground as definitions given above. If you lose something, you generally don't know where it is.

11. get lost, Slang.

I wish some people would...

12. lost to,
a. no longer belonging to.
b. no longer possible or open to: The opportunity was lost to him.
c. insensible to: lost to all sense of duty.

And the final definition is akin to my final analysis of the situation: this government *is* lost to all sense of duty, responsibility and shame. In the last year, we have seen so much of people's personal personal data lost by the government or its departments that it's staggering. 25 million child benefit claimants, 3 million learner drivers, 600 thousands applicants to the armed services, and now thousands of justice staff just have to trust in the wishy-washy statements of cabinet members.

It's an insult for ministers to say that they don't think the data has fallen into the wrong hands when they can't possibly know, and it's dangerous to assume that nothing too bad can come of personal data going astray (just ask Jeremy Clarkson).

It's an insult to the public that because of this latest breach, prison officers will need in many cases to be relocated for their own safety, at the taxpayers' expense.

It's an insult that nobody has resigned or been sacked from the cabinet over it, nor are there any plans to stop building the enormous central identity database or shelve the expensive and unnecessary ID card plans. And on that note, I'll leave the final words on this to the Liberal Democrats' Justice Spokesperson, David Howarth: The Government has shown once again that it cannot handle large amounts of data. Why it is persisting with the ID card scheme is beyond comprehension and it should be dropped immediately.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

There is no Hope For Me...

I went to bed over an hour ago. So what was it that caused me to throw on a long hooded cardigan in lieu of the misplaced dressing gown, leave my snoozing fiancé, and hurtle downstairs to my computer?

I am writing a speech. A speech that, given the vagaries of selection of speakers at conference, may never even be heard (though of course the benefit of being a blogger means I may an audience for the words after the fact even if I don't get to speak them). A speech - me! I am terrified of public speaking and have been variously described as "shaking like you were having a fit" and "looking as though you were about to be sick" after the two occasions I have spoken at Welsh conferences.

This is how strongly I feel about the 'Giving Citizens a Voice in Parliament' motion. It matters this much. If you are coming to Bournemouth next week, I would urge you to come to the auditorium at 2.40pm on Saturday. And if you care about me at all, I would urge you to be standing at the bottom of the steps if/when I come off that stage to catch me.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Prejudice or Different Priorities?

Valleys Mam, among others, has commented on yesterday's news that there are now less women in top positions across almost half of all industries in Britain than there were in 2006.

This is universally being seen as a step backwards for women's equality, but I'd like to put a different slant on it.

If women were in more top jobs in 2006, it strikes me that there haven't been any great changes in legislation or culture since then that would lead to a decline in opportunities open to them. Indeed, I feel that my options are as wide and varied as those of a man with my background and skills. Personally though, I don't have any great desire to be top of the tree in the sphere of business or politics, right now, so I'm not really working towards that goal. If anything, I am feeling a lot of pressure and encouragement to go through the process of becoming a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, and the more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the amount of work, time away from home and extra responsibility that would come with being a selected PPC is not what I want right now.

I find myself thinking of a piece by another Welsh blogger, and old acquaintance of mine, Al Iguana, a few weeks ago. He was musing on the subject of why fewer women than men have prominent blogs, and decided that women simply have a less single-minded approach to these things than men do. Women's blogs generally tend to be personal affairs, which cover all topics and events that seem important to them from day to day, and allow them to stay in touch with other friends on the internet. Indeed, my own other blog is just this sort of animal. And it reflects my attitude to life: it isn't all about work, or all about politics, or all about family, or hobbies. It is about finding a balance between all these things I care about that is right for me. I find that I have this holistic view in common with many other women, especially at my age and in my circumstances.

Don't get me wrong here, I am all for gung-ho women who want to take the business world or the military world or the politics world in their teeth and rise to the very top. I also see that prejudices still exist despite decades of work by the women's liberation movement, and with that in mind I am also all for the encouragement and empowerment of those gung-ho women I'm thinking of. But what I'm not sure of is whether equality of opportunity will ever lead to parity of representation for women, because I believe that in general there will always be fewer women with the right kind of single-minded approaches and ambitions than there are men. Equality of opportunity, yes please. But crying out that because fewer women are in top jobs that there's a "reinforced concrete ceiling"? I don't know whether that's helpful.

Now, I'm off to take my daughter to see a friend, and tomorrow will be having lunch with my mum. Got to pack in as much of the rest of my life as possible before it is eaten by Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth for a few days next week!

Light Relief

I have been taking a break from the old political blogs for a few days, as I am having nightmares about Sarah Palin and don't want to hear or see her name. Unfortunately, it's not worked because she is sufficiently interesting news, it seems, to intrude on the psyches of my apolitical friends. I have found myself explaining even offline why a fundamentalist nutbar who believes in the end of days shouldn't be allowed into a position where she might feasibly have her finger on the button in short order; and why women in power, especially those who would like to see the state take away all reproductive choice and education about contraception, are not always the best thing for women at large. It's heavy going, and I don't even live in the country where the outcome will be decided.

So, if you're all as tired as I am, you might crack a smile at The Register's latest competition winners, who have been deciding on a road sign to replace the horribly ageist image (they describe as a "couple of cripples hobbling down to the bingo") we currently use to denote Old People Crossing. I might warn you that some of the entries are equally as ageist, but they do at least inject some humour!