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.