Monday, 30 December 2013

13 from 13... My most read posts of the year.

It's not been a vintage year for me, from a blogging point of view, but none the less, here's a Top Ten Thirteen of pieces written and read this year, based on Google Analytics' reading stats...

At 13 - and from all the way back in January - an Open Letter to Nick Clegg on Secret Courts.

In February the world was shocked at the murder of Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend and the idea that a superstar athlete could be a possible murderer... No one seemed interested in Reeva Steenkamp herself, or her family.

At numbers 11 and 10, another two pieces from January: first my review of the film of Les Misérables and, more seriously, an unusually personal piece in response to Steve Chalke's considered article on the Church's approach to the equal marriage debate.

In August, I was critical of the party leadership's response (or lack thereof) to the detention of David Miranda: it was a classic case of Too Little, Too Late.

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune, my still unfinished series of a song from each of the NOW! albums, scored a hit in January with number 65: Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars.

At 7; with the publication of the agenda for Lib Dem Conference, many were surprised to see a motion calling for default blocking of online porn... this was my response.

Next up, it's another unfinished series - A Journey Through Texas - which commenced in March with this review of their first album, Southside.

Back to politics and in May, Bristol Lib Dems were smarting after a bruising local election campaign - here was my raw response, although I was keen to accentuate the positive.

In August, I was accused by some of naivety over this piece... you can judge for yourself.

And so we reach the Top Three... Ooooh, the excitement!

In July, I took the party slogan and used it a basis for a couple of Twitter hashtags, which I still use occasionally - do feel free to follow course... 

In second place, the great Radio 4/World Service/Open University programme, More or Less, crunched the numbers on Gay Footballers, calculating the chances on there being none. It turned out the odds were very low. (Of course, since then, Robbie Rogers has come out - and is still playing, with a contract at LA Galaxy.)

But top of my list of pieces written this year: my review of Texas' new album, The Conversation.

So there you have it... my year in 13 posts as determined by you, the reader.


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Sunday Sounds 77 - The New Year's Resolutions Edition...

Today's song came up in conversation with my father the other day but it strikes me that the sentiment of this song should be borne in mind whilst setting New Year's Resolutions, if you are so inclined to do...


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Texas at Bristol's Colston Hall

Tonight I went to see Texas at the Colston Hall in Bristol, on their first proper tour for years.

It was exactly what was required from a band in their position: a mix of songs from the new album, with old favourites from the past. A solid set, without any messing around or gimmicks. 

Of course, there were also omissions; nothing from Mothers Heaven (although it is a lower key album) nor, perhaps more surprisingly, The Red Book - Getaway would have fitted in well, for example. And, of course, there was nothing from Careful What You Wish For... 

The Support Act was Girl Called Johnny, who you can find on You Tube here. A nice touch was their singer, Karen Overton, joining Sharleen for the encore to sing The Conversation on which she has a writing credit.

Anyway, here are my tweets from the night, handily Storified for you:


Sunday, 27 October 2013

Sunday Sounds 76 - The Stormy Weather edition

As I type, the outlying rain heralding the coming of Storm St. Jude is steadily drumming on the windows of my attic room... here, is a musical tribute to The Great Storm of 2013, as Jude is bound to be known in future years*, is Ethel Waters with Stormy Weather from 1933. Enjoy:


*obviously this assumes the Met Office hasn't over-egged the forecast.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Going, Going, Gone

Over the past couple of months, the former PwC offices in Bristol City Centre have been demolished. Or, at least the modern extension to the side and rear of the Georgian-fronted building in the North Eastern corner of Queen Square has gone.

Here are some pictures from various stages in the process: 

I've also found some pictures what is set to replace the demolished building. Whilst I can see what is being attempted (a design that attempts to marry the scale and classic style of the Georgian frontage with the older architecture of King Street which the rear gives onto), I remain to be convinced:

(c) Skanska

(c) Skanska
You can find more information about the development here.


Saturday, 19 October 2013

An e-mail arrives: Hey, dear friend!

A couple of weeks ago, Google rolled out the new GMail to me.

Unlike a lot of people, I rather like it. 

Sure, it'll take a bit of educating whilst I train it to put the e-mails I receive on a regular basis in the appropriate categories. True, it's frustrating that such instructions can only be made on the desktop version rather on the mobile or tablet apps. And I still have no idea what to put in the "Forums" section...

But I like it, and the fact that the "Primary" e-mail box gives me an update when new e-mails have been routed to the other boxes.

But somewhere along the line, something at Google broke and the following mail made it past their (normally reliable) spam filter:
I want to find a friend for serious relationship. You are the man I want to meet.
 It would be good to meet you in person. I am seriously interested in learning more about you. Dating is not just fun for me, I never play games. I hope that you are serious too. I am a lonely woman who wants to find someone who will love and understand me. Let me tell you more about me. I assume that I am a strong woman with goals, morals and ambitions.

 All the best!
A charming offer, and one I'd have been inclined to take up. Except, well, it was directed at me...

I ain't going to be the second choice of anyone!... 


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Dr Who? On a Lib Dem Blog? Whoever heard of such a thing?..

As most of my Lib Dem friends know, I am that rare thing: a Lib Dem who isn't into Doctor Who. Sharing a house with someone who is, though, means you learn a huge amount by osmosis - only to find your knowledge shot down in flames when you try and impress someone... example: Doctor Who is the name of the programme, not the Doctor. Right? I thought so... but apparently in some series the character is actually credited as Doctor Who. Quite by accident, I found I had stumbled into the middle of one of (many) debates between fans within the DW universe. Ho-hum...

Anyway, my housemate has lately been engaged in an exercise to edit some of the longer, classic stories down so that they are in a format more similar to current stories - and reckons this is something the Beeb should do when they run out of classic episodes to release on DVD.

Here are his opening and closing titles to The Five Doctors, which was the 20th Anniversary Special, from 30 years ago:

And, here is the whole, hour long version:

Five Doctors Short Form - Full 1hr Version (Probably Final) from Agent Purple on Vimeo.

You can find more, including details of a 40 minute edit of the The Awakening, on Agent Purple's blog, here.


Monday, 30 September 2013

#RedLines (with apologies to Robin Thicke)

So Theresa May has said that the next Conservative Manifesto will commit to scrapping the Human Rights Act. Here was my reaction to the news:

...and here's an effort at a parody of Blurred Lines:

All You Tories Shut Up
All You Tories Shut Up
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

You want to repeal 
the Human Rights Act.
You want out of E C H R
But you can't have it
We'll not allow it
With us it will not happen
All You Tories Shut Up

OK now we were close, tried to accomadate you
But you're reactionary, maybe it's just your nature
But let us liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
Human Rights define us
Hey, hey, hey
The HRA refines us

And that's why we're gonna take a stand
So if you want it
You really want it
I know you want it
You gotta sign up
We'll not let it past us
It won't get past us
Or you'll get blasted
Gotta have Red Lines
So if you want it
You really want it
I know you want it
You gotta sign up
You're quite a party
Some think you're nasty
So go on and sign up
All You Tories Shut Up

OK now we were close, tried to accomadate you
But you're reactionary, it's your very nature
Just let us liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
Human Rights define us
Hey, hey, hey
The HRA refines us

I did have ideas for further Labour themed verses... perhaps they will see the light of day some other time; for now they need a fair amount of work!


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Desperately Seeking A Spouse

Well, I've finally decided, I'm going to seek a spouse. At the age of 38 & three quarters & a bit, it's time.

But I don't want just any spouse. I want one who doesn't earn more than, say, £9,000 a year. Or, perhaps, one who earns substantially more whilst I stay at home - just as long as they're not a Higher Rate taxpayer (for now)...

Let's go with the latter option.

Perhaps that sounds a bit mercenary?  Hmmm... Apologies if you think it does, but money is, as they say, what makes the world go round.

Anyway, I've decided. You're just got to have to like it or lump it. As are they (whoever/wherever they are).

But I'm not asking them to marry me for nothing. No, that would be selfish. I'm going to make sure they gain out of the enterprise.

You see the average cost of a wedding is said to be around £20,000. And that's OK, I'll settle for average - I'm not the gold-digger you may imagine I am. It's going to have to be bought and paid for upfront, of course - but that's what their Gold Card is for, right?

Once we've got through all that "till death us do part stuff" and if I sacrifice my job and stay at home - or even if I just work for less than £9,000 p.a., the Government is going to give us some money. £200 p.a. to be precise. After 100 years, the wedding will be paid off and it'll be pure profit...

Of course, it's small beer - but I'm sure future Conservative governments will raise the bar and let us transfer more of my allowance to my spouse. They'll hopefully let him earn more too - after all, why should Higher Rate taxpayers note benefit too?

Now - there are those who say that this is unfair. Unfair on single people, cohabitees, other types of family. Bollocks, I say, I'll be providing a vital, unpaid, civic service looking after Spencer, my beloved Chihuahua.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Belated #ldconf reflections

Eagle-eyed readers will have noted that my posts from Lib Dem Conference petered out after day two. There were two reasons for that - general busy-ness, and alcohol/late nights. Following conference, I spent a couple of days at home with my folks and seeing my nephew.

And now I'm home. Enthused, upbeat and ready for a fight.

So, what did I make of it? All in all, I had a great conference, mixing time in the hall with training, some very good fringes and various social events and receptions. I learnt new things and re-visited old issues. And I got a lot of photos of the back of Nick Clegg's head. Here a few random observations from my week.

Nick was fantastically relaxed: I saw him on five occasions, not counting all the times he ended up two rows in front of me in the hall, and every time he seemed to be relaxed and comfortable. Whether it was acting as Paddy's glamorous assistant at the Lib Dem Voice Awards, engaging in banter at the ALDC reception, summating in the Economy debate, conducting a Q&A in a packed auditorium, or in his keynote speech; he was a man at ease in his own skin, and at ease with spending time with his party.

Twitter can be a blessing: I got a tweet towards the end of conference heralding my position (then 4th) in this chart of "influencers leading the conversation at Lib Dem Conference". Very flattering, even if it didn't mean very much in the grander scheme of things.

...and a curse: Whatever the merits of my tweeting, however, any pompousity it may have prompted was pricked by a friend spotting that the BBC had chosen to report a tweet (on this page, at 10.33am)relating how I had skipped a couple of hours of conference to get a bit more kip!

The SECC may not be the best conference venue: Whilst the Clyde Auditorium (or Armadillo) is a lovely hall, with nice comfy seats, the decision to use it (together with a suite of rooms within the old SECC and the Crowne Plazza) rather than the main conference centre led to delegates having to negotiate a bewildering labyrinth of corridors. In addition, the SECC is slightly from local attractions when compared with centres by conferences elsewhere.

There was an obvious (and welcome) Scottish dimension: Being in Scotland must have enabled more Scottish delegates than normal (witness the stage invasion for "Flower of Scotland" at Glee club) and this was reflected on the floor of conference. Next year's referendum cast a long shadow on many of the debates.

...and the Rally was truly Federal: It was good to see Kirsty Williams and Katy Gordon giving the Welsh and Scottish perspectives rather than just the Westminster/England/UK view.

Even the key "leadership v the party" debates weren't acrimonious: This must have really annoyed the press who, undoubtedly, written lots of advance copy on how the party had torn itself apart in the key debates. In the end this hasn't happened - even if not everyone is necessarily happy with the results. Additionally, as far as I can tell only two members (Matthew Oakeshott and Mathew Hulbert*) have publicly called on Clegg to go.

Clegg's speech was a good 'un: At least it was from my perspective, setting out the basis of our election pitch for 2015. As ever with leaders' speeches, there are those who would like to see more substance - and I do hope that follows in the months ahead. For now, though, I think it hugely better than at spring conference and stronger than the previous approach to the "Stronger Economy, Fairer Society" slogan.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals need some serious examination: Our conference lanyards were sponsored by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling - and I had a good conversation with the organisers at their exhibition stand. The concentration of betting shops in, predominantly, impoverished areas (along with pawn brokers and pay-day lenders) is largely down to FOBTs. It is worth noting that conference backed a policy to put betting shops in their own licensing class.


* Mathew Hulbert has now retracted this call: here.

Monday, 16 September 2013

#ldconf Day 2

I've already blogged today regarding the F17 debate and the speech I would have made. This, therefore is a quick round up of the other things I did - as told through an edited version of my tweets and retweets of the day. A full storify of my tweets from the Electoral Reform Society fringe on Lib Dem policy in the event of a European Referendum can be found here.

Before I go any further, though, I was taken to task for not mentioning in yesterday's summary that I had seen and chatted to Steven Lambert, the leader of the Lib Dem group in Aylesbury. I am happy to rectify this gross oversight.

Here, without any more ado, are my tweets of the day:

Sunday, 15 September 2013

F17 - What I would have said to #ldconf

The Lib Dem Conference has just held a debate on a motion that would have seen us have a policy in favour mandatory filtering of pornography unless people opted-out. It was deeply illiberal and impracticable. Fortunately, conference voted for it to be "referenced back" to the Federal Policy Committee.

Here is what I would have said, had my card been picked:

Conference, there can't be many people in this room who would say their sensibilities are reflected on the pages of The Daily Mail. indeed, I imagine it's somewhat the opposite. With the exception of Secret Courts, on which that paper agreed with this conference, where the Mail rushes in, Liberals should fear to tread.

Imagine, therefore, my surprise when I browsed the Conference Agenda and read the motion before us proposing, as it does, that this party's policy should be what the Daily Mail has been campaigning for for years.

Granted, it starts well enough - I have no issue with lines 1-7 - but it's all downhill from there... 

The motion (as printed in the agenda) proceeds to state it is the role of Government "to protect those too young to make an informed choice from potentially damaging experiences.." Call me old fashioned but surely it is parents who have that duty. Call me a dangerous liberal but I believe we should be allowing and empowering parents to bring their children up in the best way they can. Government and Schools do have a role but it is parents who should be taking the lead with support and help where required.

Thankfully these lines have been revised but when I first read it my blood pressure was rising but at this point, I had only made it to the bottom of page 34 of the Agenda... Things got worse as I turned to page 35.

Lines 11-17 fall into the classic trap that accompanies debates on pornography in this country: it's seen as dirty and filthy and consumed by men in dirty macs. To talk openly about pornography is taboo - and to suggest that its use by adults can be constructive is not the done thing. Instead, reference to pornography is shorthand for exploitative material used by the inadequate.

The motion reinforces this negative view with use of words such as "danger" and "problems" and the specific mention of violent and abusive porn, which it characterises as common.

Now, I don't dispute that there is material available that is violent or abusive. I don't dispute that pornography can be demeaning of women - or men, for that matter. I don't dispute that out of context and with no other input, it may indeed alter attitudes to sex and violence, depending on what they've seen.

What I do dispute, though, is the proposed solution. That the shutters should be thrown down on the Internet - blocking porn and inevitably blocking access to sexual health information sites - and sites that would help those getting to grips with their identities as young gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual people. 

According to the motion, 9 out of 10 parents want an opt-in. But have these parents all taken up and used existing parental controls and voluntary filtering systems? I'd suggest it's unlikely - so shouldn't we rather promote these and educate people in their use?

To proceed on the basis of the motion would make it this party's policy to sub-contract parental responsibilities in this area to BT, Sky, Talk Talk and a host of other Internet Service Providers. Much is often made of the rise of the Nanny State in recent decades - this would see us advocate the rise of the Nanny ISP.

But I'd go further - if children are being exposed to pornography (and they always have, even before the advent of the internet) - would it not make more sense for the role of pornography to be part of sex education training. That young people are taught that it can be positive (in and out of relationships) but that it can also be abusive. That its role as fantasy is not necessarily reflectively of what should or can be in a real life context. The motion is silent on this.

We do live in a society where children are becoming more sexualised earlier - but that is not exclusively, or even largely the fault of pornography - and we should not pander to those who would promote such a view whilst running a website that features the side-bar of shame - yes, I'm looking at you, Daily Mail.

So, if we want to debate these issues, we need to debate them properly and look for real, Liberal solutions. Solutions that are practical and which seek to effect change through the empowerment of parents and children. What is proposed is a panacea which simultaneously doesn't solve the stated problem and raises more problems.

Conference, I've not even gone into Civil Liberty arguments nor the Technical arguments - I've merely scratched the top of an iceberg. This motion is deeply illiberal and unworkable, please vote to refer back and failing that, vote down the amendment and the motion.


#ldconf Day 1

So, after staying in the conference bar rather later than intended, I'm hastily typing this before getting ready to head out to the SECC for day 2 of this years Liberal Democrat Conference. Or rather, Conferences.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference - which was being run concurrently with the start of Federal Conference in order to take advantage of so many people already coming to the Glasgow. It was nice to see the State Party at work - and the highlight was a speech from George Lyon MEP.

Most of the rest of my day was spent in various training sessions with the lunchtime CentreForum fringe on Britain in Europe providing food for thought. The resounding message from that was best summarised by Martin Horwood. With respect to any referendum, "We should be the party of 'in'".

Conference rally - themed around our "A Million Jobs" campaign - was compered by the inimitable Alistair Carmichael with contributions from Paddy Ashdown (always good value, even when you've heard much of it before), Katy Gordon (one of our Scottish PPCs), Kirsty Williams (who almost made me feel sorry for Lembit) and, of course, Nick himself. For me the most striking thing was how Rally had embraced both State Parties - a good reminder of our own federal structure and federal vision for the UK.

After rally, I went to the joint CentreForum and Social Liberal Forum fringe on green investment policy - here are my tweets:


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lib Dem Nevis - Some pictures...

As I type, I'm back in my hotel room on the eve of Lib Dem Conference in Glasgow, having spent the day travelling to Fort William to climb Ben Nevis - arriving back around 30 minutes ago.

Four of us took on the challenge of the three and half hour ascent of the highest peak in the United Kingdom with the aim of raising funds for the Disasters Emergency Committee's Syria Appeal. You can donate in support of our efforts here.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from the day...

Meall an t-Suidhe, which the path to Ben Nevis skirts before you ascend the mountain itself...

...and a first view of Nevis itself...

...and a closer view (although we were barely halfway!)...

...not too long after we discovered how changeable mountain weather can be...

...but we could still see this crevice opening into a precipitous drop...

...but we made it!...

...and the weather cleared (a bit)...

...allowing me to get this picture of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe on the way back down. 


Saturday, 7 September 2013

I'm Climbing Ben Nevis for Syria!

A week today, I'll be in Glasgow for the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference.

Prior to that, though, I'll be in Fort William on Friday. Well, I say in Fort William... I mean on Ben Nevis - the peak of which is highlighted in white* in the picture above, taken back in March.

The aim of the climb - dubbed "Lib Dem Nevis" and being undertaken by me and a number of other Lib Dems - was originally two-fold: to raise awareness of the issues surrounding paying interns and to raise funds towards a bursary that would help fund a paid intern for Head Office. The climb's organiser, Glyn Ley, discussed the issue on Lib Dem Voice.

These issues remain important but it has been decided that in the light of the situation in Syria, funds should be directed to the Disasters Emergency Committee's Syria Appeal. With millions of people displaced and Chemical Weapons being deployed, humanitarian aid and support is vitally needed. As a committee of many of the UK's leading charities, the DEC can raise and channel funds to those organisations best placed to help.

A new page has been established to raise funds for this new cause - please visit our Virgin Money Giving page and give what you can.



Saturday, 31 August 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 78

It's been a while - and the character of this blog has changed - but I'm determined to finish my series featuring one track from each NOW! That's What I Call Music! album. 

The premise is that this will normally be the track that, on browsing the contents, I'd be inclined to play first: for novelty value, because it brings back particular memories or because it's a favourite. 

This week I've gone for the comic video genius that sees Peter Kay as Geraldine McQueen as Elaine Paige and Susan Boyle as Barbara Dickson. Filmed for Comic Relief in 2011, this is their take on the original video. Keep watching for the little comic details - and the big "reveal" as to whom the song is about:

And here, as a bonus, is that original video with the real Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige:


Friday, 30 August 2013

Some thoughts on... Syria

I've been mulling over doing a piece on Syria for a few days but intended posting this (or something similar) last night but a combination of being out and being tired put paid to that.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here are a few thoughts. I daresay none of them are terribly original but if nothing else, it will help with my own thought processes on the subject.
Syria is not Iraq...

It's become a cliche to say this - but it's true. But whilst the situation in Syria is not analogous to that in Syria, Iraq is the prism through which this debate must be seen.
Labour have been shameless...
On Wednesday Labour managed to go from reportedly whipping an abstention, to being against an unpublished Government motion, to being hailed as having forced the Government into backing down and publishing a motion which would have required a further debate and vote in the commons once UN inspectors had reported and prior to UK involvement in any action.
Regardless of having obtained this concession, if such it was, Labour still proceeded to oppose the government and propose their own motion. In the end, both motions were, of course, defeated and Cameron - to his credit - has said he will abide by the result of parliamentary rejection of the Government's motion.
Miliband has played politics and won a short-term victory in Westminster, a longer term electoral gain (with former Labour voters disaffected after Iraq) but in the process he has diminished Britain's hand in the UN and in bilateral relations with our allies.
...and Lib Dem rhetoric on Iraq (almost) came home to roost
I wasn't a member of the party at the time of the Iraq war but I was very much opposed to it. For various reasons, though, I have always been uneasy about the use of the term "illegal" to describe it (and, by extension, the description of Blair as a war criminal). One of these it that the people who use the term are rarely schooled in international law but a more important one is that it precludes ever taking action not sanctioned by the UN.
If we had proceeded with Syrian action with the US and France but without (for whatever reasons) a UN resolution this would have been thrown back in our face no matter how deep the humanitarian crisis got or how justifiable the action.
The UN is NOT the be all and end all
Insisting that there should be a UN resolution before Britain is ever committed to military action seems to me to be deeply flawed given the structure of the UN Security Council and the intransigence and vested interests of the Permanent Members, not least China and Russia.
It strikes me that we must retain the discretion to use force outside of UN Security Council resolutions; both in the interests of UK national security and where humanitarian need dictates. I believed that this could have been - ultimately - required in Iraq and I believe it still. The UN should be respected, resolutions should be pursued, diplomatic and other approaches should be exhausted - but the Security Council should not be relied upon as the ultimate authority. 
Conflicted is probably the right place to be...
One word seems to have been most apt to describe the attitude of LibDems I follow across various social media: Conflicted. Torn between witnessing ongoing and escalating atrocities and a reluctance to get involved; after all, Syria is not Libya.
Like many, this is where I was prior to the vote yesterday - and still am. On balance, I'm not in favour of intervention but think that some form of limited action was beginning to become appropriate. Now, though, we will be spectators as the US and France decide what action is appropriate.
...and a knee-jerk anti-action stance is almost as bad as a knee-jerk pro-action stance
I am, by nature, a pacifist - but a blind belief that military action and intervention can never be justified seems so unrealistic and idealistic as to be unthinking. The world is not how we wish it to be, it is as it is: deeply flawed and containing many people doing bad things. Sometimes there will be no moving forward if we just sit on the sidelines.
We need to be pragmatic and realistic when faced with situations such as Syria: hard situations call for hard choices - not easy, idealistic opt-outs.
We can all do something
The politics of this pales into insignificance when you consider the real impact on the lives of millions of Syrians. You can read about the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal and donate here.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Let's Do The Time Warp Again...

On Thursday, I donned Basque, Suspenders and Heels and ventured out to Bristol Hippodrome to see the Rocky Horror Show on it's 40th Anniversary Tour.

Aside from the people behind who talked through much of the second half, it was a fantastic evening. Most of the audience had made an effort with the costumes too: including a lovely older couple dressed as RiffRaff and Magenta from the end of the show when their true identities are revealed...

It had been 10 years since I had seen a full scale production of the show... it won't be so long next time!

Here is The Time Warp filmed in Bristol at the start of this year's tour back in January...

And here's Oliver Thornton as Dr Frank N Furter (A Scientist) with Sweet Transvestite:


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Too Little, Too Late as Clegg comments on Miranda case

Nick Clegg's office has released a statement regarding the recent detention of David Miranda, which you can find on Lib Dem Voice. Whatever, this post was pre-planned and the statement doesn't go anyway near far enough as to cover the point I planned to make. I have changed the title though, so here is the piece as conceived:
It Doesn't Matter
  • It doesn't matter that the Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced by Labour (the clue is in the year).
  • It doesn't matter that Liberal Democrats did not support the bill, opposed it being pushed through parliament at speed and supported a number of amendments to temper its power (Hansard, 15 March 2000).
  • It doesn't matter that use of the power has reduced in recent years (see page 48 of this document).
  • It doesn't matter that the power is already being reformed.
It doesn't matter because, as Mark Pack and Jonathan Calder have pointed out, the high level Lib Dem response has been deafening in its silence. So it doesn't matter that there is outrage amongst the rank and file, when sanctimonious Labour activists start kicking us we have no response.
Nick, Jeremy Browne, and other prominent figures should have been vocal from the start. Even if their statements would have had to be more nuanced than a pure Liberal may have liked, at least we could have had something to hang our response on. As it is, we have nothing.
I'm disinclined to take lessons on Civil Liberties from Labour activists. But if I'm going into the breach, I need to be armed. And that starts at the top. I can't trumpet the Lib Dem position if there is no apparent Lib Dem position.
But, I fear the problem goes wider than this one case.
A Fairer Society means a free society where individuals aren't subject to harassment. It means the rule of law - and a law that is proportionate. It means treating suspected terrorists broadly as we would other criminals.
And if Liberal Democrats in government aren't - and/or aren't being seen to be - fighting for these things, then who the heck will?
It is issues like this that severely test my support for the coalition. After Secret Courts and Racist Vans (to name but two examples where the leadership have let the party down), it appears the leadership still haven't got it: we're LIBERAL Democrats and we should be fighting the ground on Civil Liberties. Even if you think there's limited electoral advantage in taking that territory, you can ill-afford to alienate the people who are out in the field campaigning for Liberal Democrats in local, regional, national and supranational elections.
I hope lessons will be learned for the next such test of our approach to Civil Liberties. I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Why a Large Retail Levy is not right for Bristol

Councillors on the Bristol's Overview and Scrutiny Management Board met yesterday to follow up a motion passed at Full Council in June that called for the council to explore the possibility of seeking the powers for an additional Business Rate Levy on large retail units.

The proposal was rejected by all of the committee bar the Green Councillor, and the report back to full council will be, it seems, a brief affair. No matter, here a few comments by way of history and analysis.

The original motion, which was proposed by Greens, was as follows:
Bristol City Council notes the campaign being run by 'Local Works' entitled 'Save our communities from large supermarkets'.
The campaign specifically asks councils to submit the following proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act:
'That government gives local authorities the power to levy a new local rate of 8.5% on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable value not less than £500,000 and the power to use the revenue collected to improve local economic activity, local services and facilities, social and community wellbeing and environmental protection.'
Council notes that - within Bristol - such a levy could raise up to in the region of £1.6 million pa.
Bristol City Council welcomes this proposal and fully supports it and therefore calls on the Mayor also to support it, and to submit the proposal to government.
Prior to the meeting, however, this had been reworked to obtain cross-party support, so that the motion as passed read:
Bristol City Council notes the campaign being run by ‘Local Works’ entitled ‘Save our communities from large supermarkets’. The campaign specifically asks councils to submit the following proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act:
‘That Government gives local authorities the power to levy a new local rate of 8.5% on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable value not less than £500,000 and the power to use the revenue collected to improve local economic activity, local services and facilities, social and community wellbeing and environmental protection.’
Council notes that within Bristol such a levy could raise up to £1.6 million from the city’s largest supermarkets alone and potentially a much larger figure from ‘all the large retail outlets’ referred to by the campaign (Council notes that supermarkets cannot legally be singled out for the purposes of the levy).
Council believes that the idea of seeking powers for a levy on retail outlets should be explored and requests that the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee delegate this inquiry to the relevant scrutiny commission and report back to Council in September.
Although there was a hope amongst some that any money raised could, potentially, be used to persuade Supermarkets into areas crying out for such provision, some of the problems with the proposal were already obvious: not least that, although being touted as anti-supermarket, the proposal actually targeted all large retailers.

The issues became even clearer on perusal of the report prepared for today's meeting - and the notion of persuing such a policy became nuch less attractive. In particular, the following points jumped out at me:
  1. Despite originally being proposed by the Greens as being anti-Supermarket (and still marketed as such), only 32% of the affected businesses are Supermarkets.
  2. 44% of the businesses are in areas deemed to be in the 10% of most deprived areas in England - should we really be considering increasing costs on these?
  3. Although not broken down in the report, I reckon 20% or so of the affected businesses are in Business Improvement Districts - as such, should these not be treated as anchor tenants whose presence should (in theory) attract rather than repel other retailers?
Given that we had mooted using funds to support Supermarkets moving into those areas in desperate need of them - but this would potentially increase the inbalance highlighted above in terms of numbers of affected businesses in poorer areas. 

Six of the affected properties - all non-supermarket - are in the Broadmead "Business Improvement District" area, which is due for a renewal. Implementing such a plan could jeopardise the continuation of BID status if those businesses were to vote against on the basis of potential additional charges from the Levy.

There is also an "after-the-stable door" element to this: the supermarkets have, by and large, got out of the routine of opening large stores, and moved to the local/metro/central/express/M formats instead. This motion does nothing on that front. And whilst the big companies may suck up any charge that is imposed - in the short term a least - it's not hard to imagine that future decisions on where to locate could be affected on the basis other places outside the city bounds but within the city's sphere of spending would not impose such a charge...

Although it could be possible to look at setting a higher threshold - e.g. charging a levy only those 14 businesses with Rateable Values in excess of £1m (which would make it more Supermarket focused) - and/or implementing a system (if legally possible) of rebates on the levy for businesses in the most deprived communities, I think the committee is right in recommending that this is not proceeded with.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Anthology 43: Invictus

Much as I've enjoyed getting back to regular blogging, I realise that recent posts have been mostly political and I've not been leavening things with other styles of post. I know, also, that some of my readers really appreciate the poetry or music posts - and although they are few in number, architecture related posts are also popular.

So, if you're been waiting on a Poem, or Music, or other such entertainment, thank you for your patience: this one is for you.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

To my shame, I've only recently become acquainted with this recently following me finally seeing the film of the same name. In that, Nelson Mandela - who was inspired by the poem during his time on Robben Island - in turn uses it to inspire Francois Pineaar to lead South Africa to Rugby World Cup Glory... Sadly, it appears that this latter part is poetic licence and a speech by Theodore Roosevelt was Mandela's chosen text instead.