Wednesday, 15 December 2010


To Tories like the intellectually limited Nadine Dorries who are worried about a 'non-aggression pact' between their party and the Lib Dems at the next election, or concerned about the prospect of a longer-term period of co-operation, let me reassure you: I - and thousands of Lib Dems like me - have absolutely no intention of reducing our aggressive dislike of you and your ilk and opposing you in almost every arena possible, or of toning down our desire to increase fairness and democracy in our country.

I pledge that I will always oppose the Tories wherever I find them, which does not mean not working with you where it is necessary or beneficial for the country or a local area but it does mean that Hell will be sending out the gritters before I seek anything closer than we currently have. The coalition is working, let's be thankful but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Then, in 2015, as agreed, we'll go for your jugular and no doubt you'll do the same.

If not, I'll be looking for a new party. Calm down, Ed, it will never be the Labour Party. It would need to be a party which fought for civil liberties, for better education, for fairer local services and the abolition of the hated and utterly unfair Council Tax, which opposed illegal wars, which promoted democracy and fairness at all levels of society. That list kind of summarises where the Lib Dems still are and neither of the other two parties even come close to those ambitions.

So there's the conclusion: if you're a Tory I'll always dislike you but I'll work with you; if you're Labour, you've got a long way to go to redress the shameful errors of the past 13 years before I'll even talk to you; if you're a Lib Dem I'd suggest you keep the faith and see how things turn out. These are difficult times but, by Jiminy, the alternatives are not appealing at all.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Ed Miliband said today of the student fees debate: "Before the election, they promised families and young people that they would oppose any increase in tuition fees"

That's true Ed, but then before the 1997 election Labour said there would be a vote on a fairer electoral system. They won that election and failed to do this.

Before the 1997 election Labour said they would abolish the House of Lords. They won that election and failed to do this.

After the 1997 election John Prescott pledged to reduce road transport dramatically and he failed utterly and miserably. His only achievement was his magic trick of turning his minsterial car into a bus, perhaps to encourage greener transport...

Before the 2001 election Labour said they would not introduce tuition fees, then they did.

It wasn't a concrete pledge but I doubt a single Labour voter supported that party in 2001 in the hope that they would drag this country into a disastrous, oil-fuelled war of revenge the consequences of which will continue to reverberate for decades to come.

Before the 2010 election Labour supported a referendum on a fairer voting system, now they oppose this because it doesn't favour them.

Before the 2010 election, Labour Chancellor Alastair Darling pledged to address the deficit through swingeing cuts equivalent in severity to what the coalition has implemented. Now Labour politicians decry any suggestion of this.

Do you really want to talk about broken pledges? If you do, we've got 13 years to consider. Labour broke countless pledges over that time but perhaps the biggest crime of all is how little they did when they had the power to do so much.

Before 1994 Labour had some principles. I didn't like them but at least they were there to be seen.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Ay yi yi! The Prime Minister - he of the expensive private and Oxford education - was defending student fee changes today and he said of them: "We want more people to go to university, not less".

Its 'fewer', Dave. It's 'fewer'.

If Dave is planning to take us all to Hell in a handcart, you'd think he could at least condemn us grammatically correctly as we slide to our collective doom. No doubt these days Hell is spelt with a 'Haitch'...which, if you think about it, would be entirely appropriate.


I have struggled with the student fees issue more than any other but its important to be able to decide so here goes.

I fought the election having agreed the pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees: the LDs didn't win the election, we came third. I work for a university, albeit not in a teaching area. I had a free education - but no support grant and the first year of loans to deal with. I did a Masters which was paid for by my parents - thanks Dad. I have never quite lifted myself from the debt ridden state that university put me in, despite nearly 20 years of work so I know about paying for an education, I know about debt and I know about hardship.

I have been faced with a barrage of information about the proposed cuts to university funding and over the inequities of the proposals. Under the current system of fees which Labour introduced - let's call them 'Labour fees' for short - you are saddled with upfront debts as soon as you start university. You can apply for grants and other support but for most people its pay upfront or get a job. If you're part-time you pay your Labour fees upfront and in full, so that's the low-paid stuffed good and proper by the supposed 'people's party'.

The new system being proposed by the coalition will mean much higher fees. This will cover much more of the cost of the courses at universities, putting their finances onto a fairer footing. The crucial difference is that these higher fees will only need to be paid back once people leave university and once they are earning over £21,000 - thanks to the LDs - a figure very close to the average income in this country and one which can reasonably be called a 'living wage'. (If anyone wants to argue about low pay, I've got a lifetime of experience on that front so bring it on...)

Education is a right and it should be free. In the 1950s when a few tens of thousands of people went to university this was a wonderful dream and one anyone could support. Why shouldn't rich people be educated at the expense of the rest of us? In the modern world hundreds of thousands of people go to university, which is a major achievement and a widening of opportunity - but its expensive and the money has to be found somehow. For sure the majority of people going to university will earn higher than average salaries but many will not. Is it reasonable for that stalwart of the tabloids, a single mum bringing up her kids with part-time work, to support them? It is surely far better to ask people to pay for their choice in higher education when they have finished it and when they have a job which is paying them enough to allow them to do so reasonably.

Remember that the country is broke, there is no money for most services, Labour has layered on PFI debt across the land and spent any money left over on grandiose schemes before the election. Carrying on regardless is not an option and if you think otherwise, pop across to Dublin for the weekend - they could do with the cash.

For me the Damascene moment in all this is thinking about what universities are and how they have changed out of all recognition from those halcyon days of Kingsley Amis and jolly japes in the quad. I work for a modern one and I went to a polytechnic - by choice because I knew I would get a better education there. Both institutions have embraced modern learning, including part-time and vocationally focused learning alongside traditional academic subjects. Education has to map on to the economy, not at the expense of more academic pursuits but complementary to them. Two year Degrees have been touted, to cries of horror from traditionalists. Why? Surely the bottom line in all this is choice and if someone wants to do a two year Degree so that they can start to work, why shouldn't they be able to. Higher education must evolve, just like every other sector. Shall we mention ivory towers here or do you get the picture?

My prediction is that we will have roughly the same number of universities in 10 years, with some less well performing ones having closed or merged. Some will have to face up to the fact that they were never viable. The vast majority of universities which remain will have more students, including more from poorer backgrounds. They will have more minority students - the story today of 21 Oxford colleges having no black students at all is frankly disgusting and shows starkly how appalling the 'old' sector is generally - and more part-time students. Most will be more vocationally focused and all will offer a range of course models. People whose blood is boiling at this point might reflect on the runaway success of the utterly flexible Open University since its creation with the aim of making university accessible.

And yes, students will pay for their education. Never forget that Labour introduced fees in the first place, all we are seeking to do is to make the system fairer, which this policy does. The alternative is upfront Labour fees, students saddled with debts from day one of their courses, less well off people put off education altogether and more of the same. So after much deliberation, I'll say it once, I'll say it loud, the proposals on student fees are the right thing to do here and now.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


The wonderful thing about the Tories is that their true character is just beneath the surface and it only needs a scratch to expose it. Thus the comments of the Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council in response to students daring to step into his fiefdom in central Oxford - a public building owned by Council taxpayers to which students, as citizens, are entitled to enter, although not to disrupt - are entirely within the bounds of this negative, fearful, backward-looking party.

Describing them as badly dressed and 'ugly', the good Tory later decried them on the radio, saying of the demonstration: 'this is a dangerous infection in our country which needs to be stamped on'. And that's Conservatism. The cuddly Cameronites dropping their 't's and hugging huskies are a thin veneer over the old-fashioned, reactionary forces which pervade our councils and constituencies across the country. The 'our' in that sentence is important because we need to challenge the execrable Tory idea that we should be humble subjects to which services are provided. No. We pay their allowances so we should have far more of a say over what is done to us. That's something LDs are working hard to achieve in the coalition and I am sure it puts the willies up many people who might be affected.

For the benefit of clarity, of course I don't support the students in disrupting the work of the County Council and I don't support any illegal activity. However, I do recognise the right of people to demonstrate peacefully and I accept that that some young people involved in this demonstration may have been carried along by the usual rent-a-mob wasters who spoil all such protests by their idiotic actions in the name of some '-ism' or other, before they slope off to mummy on the weekend with their washing. That doesn't mean that the majority of the demonstration was an illegal anarchist attempt to take over Oxfordshire or that the majority of the people involved are necessarily 'ugly' or 'badly dressed'. (When you break these comments down they sound increasingly absurd.)

I wish David Cameron well and I applaud his efforts to modernise his party but I fear that his hard work to drag them into the 20th century (one century at a time, folks) will ultimately fail at the first sign of trouble as the 'old' Tories will drag him down under the weight of their own hubris. The leader of Oxfordshire County Council cried 'god help us' as these students are the future of our country. Well we should all thank god that some people are increasingly rooted in the past and pray that they will eventually become an irrelevance.

If you don't like free speech, councillor, leave the country. Please.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


The end of our road was repaired yesterday. This is a good thing, is it not? Well, not exactly.

The road is two miles long and connects my village with the outside world. It is the main road which is gritted - or not if you go back to last January - and, for our humble community, it is important. The problem is that the county council has deemed it sensible to repair the damage from the last freeze in the middle of a new freeze.

This is despite their pronouncements in January that it would be madness to repair roads in freezing conditions because the ice gets in below the repair and breaks it once more. This is also, note, ten months since the road sustained damage.

Now I shouldn't complain. Here in Tory Oxfordshire we should be grateful that the council repairs our roads, shouldn't we? After all, the county council has very little money - so little that it must close libraries - or at lest threaten their communities with closure to encourage the peasants to run them independently. The county is also likely to threaten our schools with myriad cuts, all once more aimed at sharing the pain a little.

Quite so, quite so, which is why I welcome the cut to councillors' allowances, to the leaders' allowance and, of course, to the Chief Executive's rather generous pay settlement. I assume these will be announced any time soon, along with the withdrawal of the free food and wine for councillors which accompanies their meetings. We must all share the pain.

So I shall go off to Witney today to purchase a cap which I can doff as the largesse of the council is spread beyond us poor people and I shall keep it in the cupboard ready to brandish in a suitably 'umble manner when they come to repair the newly damaged road next winter.

I am just thankful the electronic road signs remain in place to keep us informed about the slow drift of Oxford towards Moscow.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


Woah! Really getting scary now. The shiny, expensive electronic road sign on the A40 this morning told me that it would be 20 minutes to the Oxford Park and Ride, up from 11 last week.

Forget the Koreas. Forget William and Kate. Oxford is moving east!

Thank God the county council invested in these expensive white elephants. Otherwise I would never have known this.

Monday, 22 November 2010


A report on the BBC website noted that the leader of Oxfordshire County Council - his picture rather appropriately resembling a painting by Munch - has said that the government's plans for Councils to publish all their expenditure will cost money. I read on, interested, then discovered that there was actually no story here. I discovered simply that Conservatives at Oxfordshire's County Hall simply revert to type when pushed and insist that the patrician approach to politics is always best, i.e. people don't need to know too much, they should be cared for, patted on the head and given a job at the local mill.

Rather nicely, the government disagrees and has established a principle that providing people with information about where their money is spent is, er, democratic. The Tory leader in Oxfordshire said dramatically on the BBC yesterday that they spend £1bn a year - which is precisely the point. That £1bn is partly my money and I want to see it being spent wisely. Oxfordshire does quite well in terms of sound finances so I would suggest to the good Tory that he has nothing to fear from providing this information.

There will be an additional cost to the Council and there will be a cohort of tedious people with nothing better to do than quibble over tiny details - I used to work for a Council and we knew ours by name - but that's democracy. Messy, troublesome, difficult, annoying, energising, illuminating, pluralising, liberating democracy. Surely the Tories in Oxfordshire support democracy.

By the way, this morning I learned that it would take me 14 minutes to get to the Oxford Park and Ride, up from 11 minutes last week. I learnt this thanks to the invaluable electronic signs on the A40. Worth every penny, I say, although it is strangely troubling that Oxford, like a city in a Philip Reeve novel, appears to be moving further away every day.

Friday, 19 November 2010


Thank heavens for the Oxfordshire County Council electronic road signs, which prove ever more invaluable by the day. Today I discovered that it would take me 12 minutes to get to the Park and Ride, whereas yesterday it was 11 minutes.

I must say I was mightily relieved to have this information to hand as it greatly aided my journey. Who needs staff at County Hall to provide social care and education when there's up-to-the-minute hardware like this? Well done the Tories!


Another non-story doing the rounds this morning: Lord Young puts his foot in his mouth.

Well, hold my coat, I'm going to faint. An oafish, Thatcherite Tory tells us how lucky we all should be to be poor, now buck up and don't slack. He was tactless in the 1980s and it seems little has changed.

Where's the real news? Is there any royal news? It seems we've heard nothing from them for ages. How's that nice young lad doing with his girlfriend, for example? Wilberforce, wasn't it? Wilton? Something like that.

UPDATE: Crikey, I never knew my blog was so powerful. Will Dave become a follower? Only time will tell.

Tomorrow I shall address the Israel/Palestine issue to see if we can get that resolved here. Stay tuned.

Monday, 15 November 2010


I do like a good headline and I think this particular art form has reached its apogee on the BBC news website with this gem among gems:

James Blunt 'stopped World War Three'

I will be amazed if this can ever be beaten but I look forward to future attempts.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Its fascinating to see the ideas from Ian Duncan-Smith about welfare reforms. Generally they're a good idea and its amazing that the shiny new Labour Party of Ed Miliband can't even rouse itself to oppose the changes, having failed so utterly to reform benefits for 13 years, instead presiding over a burgeoning bill throughout that period.

It really is remarkable to consider what Labour didn't do in 13 years: they didn't abolish the hated Council Tax and replace it with fair local taxation; they didn't reform benefits, instead hobbling us with the ridiculously bureaucratic tax credits system; they failed to raise pensions by anything like a reasonable amount; they did nothing to make education affordable, instead introducing and then raising student fees; they didn't change our democracy by abolishing the unelected House of Lords and introducing fair votes, as they promised in 1997, 2001 and 2005; they failed to address our desperate transport system, keeping the Tory joke that is rail and bus privatisation; oh, and they singularly failed to regulate banks, dropping us into the clarts up to our eyeballs in 2008.

But I digress. There can't be many people who disagree with the notion that the benefits system should be based on the presumption that most people can work and should be helped to do so. I had a period of unemployment last year and I found the Jobcentre experience rather helpful. I was demoralised and very worried during that period and having a two weekly appointment at the Jobcentre to keep me on my toes helped me to retain a clear focus. Luckily I found work but it must be difficult for many people who have not yet done so. These welfare reforms will hopefully create a more positive approach to the very difficult task of finding work.

However, I struggle with the need for a 'three strikes and out' system, threatening people with no benefits for three years if they turn down three offers of paid or community work. Sanctions are necessary if people refuse employment but why three years? What are people going to do if they find themselves in this situation, with no right of appeal? It would surely be far more sensible to have a rolling system of stopping benefits for a limited, increasing period of perhaps up to 26 weeks to encourage [and lets be honest, coerce] people to work without the threat of a whole three years without any income whatsoever. I'm not defending someone who won't work but what happens to their family? What happens to their children if they have any? Who will pick up the costs of people losing homes and children potentially ending up in far worse situations. I fear that this specific aspect of Duncan-Smith's intelligent thinking is a rather 'old-Tory' sledgehammer to crack what is admittedly a considerable nut.

Forgive me for waving the party flag but St Paddy of Ashdown in the 1990s espoused the idea of cutting benefits progressively for people who refused to work, without removing them entirely - and Paddy was never a soft touch.

I like benefits reform, I support it but it must be sensible, deliverable and it must face up to the difficult fact that there will always be some people who won't play ball. Minimising their number and the consequences for society must be borne in mind. I look forward to Lib Dems in Parliament pointing this out.

For the moment, two cheers for Duncan-Smith, an intelligent man who suffers from being such a Tory stereotype that his work in this area is often overlooked.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Given that we own 83% of RBS, can the government not simply sack the Chairman when he starts bleating about paying full UK tax on his absurdly huge bonuses and threatening to move to Shanghai?

He won't, most of his overpaid colleagues won't and most of the banks won't move out of London, which remains one of the most attractive trading environments in the world.

So George, Vince, whichever of you packed the big stick, wield it, why don't you, and hear the joyous cries of approval ringing across the UK.


Well, here's courting unpopularity. David Cameron has done well in China by raising the issue of political development and human rights.

Why is this likely to be unpopular? Because, for anyone under 30 his failure to stand in Tianenmen Square and decry the Chinese government with flags and whistles is a vicious betrayal of all those people in China who suffer from repression, torture and murder at the hands of the state.

If you take a longer view, it is important that a British Prime Minister has said these things in China and that he has made it clear to Chinese students that there are alternatives to one party rule. Those students and their peers in China will change China: it is not for us to do so or to lecture them on precisely how they should. It is good for us to present options and raise issues, even if potentially affects our trading relationship.

China will be a democracy one day and China will be one of the most important - and dangerous - countries in the world, even more so that it is now (not dangerous, you understand - I'm not a 'Reds under the beds' kind of person, I believe in peaceful change). We can't challenge China, we have to engage and our Prime Minister is doing so.

So well done, Dave - and well done the millions of people around the world who protest against human rights abuses in China and the continued occupation of Tibet. Both approaches are valid and both should continue together.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


The tuition fees issue is a tough one for the Lib Dems and its not easy to decide what to do for best.

I agreed to the pledge on opposing any increases in tuition fees during this Parliament as a candidate, a position I still fundamentally agree with. I remain convinced that tuition fees are unfair and that education should be free, although it is clear that this cannot be afforded without some way of paying for it. I liked the manifesto commitment to abolish fees over 6 years and I campaigned for this actively in Oxford East. If I support the government's policy I go against this.

However, I consider myself a pragmatist and when the Lib Dems can actually get stuff done in government like stopping the pointless and redundant Trident renewal for another five years (and hopefully forever in due course), cutting taxes for the lowest paid and introducing the pupil premium for the poorest schoolchildren, I have to pause for thought.

That's the dilemma. We made a clear commitment and breaking it is clearly wrong but then again we made a whole series of commitments on a whole range of projects and having the chance to do something about them for the first time in 90 years has to count for something.

Who'd be a politician?

If I was in Parliament now (images of people running for the hills) I would want to be given a very good reason why the Lib Dems should go against this very clear election pledge. There is, after all, nothing in the coalition agreement which commits Lib Dems to supporting a rise. Are Lib Dem MPs obliged to vote for policies which do not appear in that document?

I know I'm only one blog among thousands and one former candidate among hundreds but if this post adds to the general feeling of profound concern which appears to be spreading through the Lib Dem ranks, it will have been useful.

As for any complaints for New/Old Labour about the issue, we must never forget which champions of the working people - whose MPs almost universally benefited from a free education themselves - introduced tuition fees in the first place.


Here in Oxfordshire where the Tory county council is threatening cuts of around 1,000 staff with no real detail yet, our shiny electronic road signs continue to provide fantastic value for money.

This morning opn the A40 I was advised that the evenings are getting darker and that I should consequently give more space to cyclists.

Absolutely. I am a cyclist and I agree entirely with this thought. However, I'm still not sure it is worth the huge expense of rigging up and maintaining these ludicrous signs which only provide information which could not be done with posters about six times a year.

I know when the fair is in Oxford. I know I need to 'think bike'. I know I need to keep my distance. I'm not an idiot, honest.

Still, hang the expense, spend money on gewgaws and sack the staff, that seems to be the Tory way in Oxfordshire. The good news is that the traffic remains very sedate in the county because, 10 months after the freezing weather the roads remain in an appalling state. Safety first.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


Channel 4 has just screened a fascinating documentary on how wrong the green movement has been over the past 40 years, with its Manichaean approach to the environment. The documentary discussed heresies such as as the idea that nuclear power might act as a 'stopgap' to reduce carbon emissions from coal powered energy while cleaner technology is developed. It also raised the thorny issue of organisations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace stopping GM foods from feeding starving people for ideological reasons. That's a 'bad' by any measure.

Now, I have tended towards the green side of the debate for many years and I do my bit to live a green-ish lifestyle, so this documentary was a bit of a shocker for me. However, what impressed me was the analytical approach to this range of issues. This may mark the start of a sensible debate.

Frankly the green movement has gone too far into the realms of zealotry and that turns off a lot of people who drive to work, who fly on holiday and who like fast food, for example. As one of the last contributors said, organisations like Starbucks and McDonalds have a far greater chance of greening the world than a bunch of middle class lobbyists.

Let me reiterate that I consider myself a green - I cycle, I buy 100% green electricity, I recyle everything I can etc etc - and I want the greening of the world to be achieved practically, not at the expense of the lifestyle we all enjoy. I hope this programme starts a process of making greenery more practical and more responsive to the real world, not the imagined world of rich people like George Monbiot, who make a living out of trying to scare us, instead of addressing the real world with real, achievable ideas. To bring Starbucks back into the discussion, wake up and smell the coffee.

Mind you, I still think nuclear is a terrible idea!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


So Rambling Jim Naughtie has been flown over to the USA, the evening schedules have been cleared to host a results programme and Britain waits anxiously for the US mid-term election results. Fetch my slippers and the Bourbon, Mabel-Sue, for it's going to be a long night.

Or more probably it isn't for almost all of us, with the exception of the few hundred people in Westminster and White City who think this is a crucial night for global democracy, as well as the few hundred American ex-pats living here who might actually care about their home country. Is the massive expense of covering this story with anything more than a single news team and the BBC's generally capable Washington correspondent worthwhile? Is it a good use of my increasingly stretched licence fee, which can be used to make wonderful, innovative comedies like Him and Her or wildlife glories like the whole Attenborough oeuvre?

Granted, getting Naughtie out of the country is clearly a Good. Keeping him out would be even better but regrettably he will doubtless be back by the end of the week to badger, interrupt, argue with and refuse to listen to a series of politicians and possibly get the chance to be a pseud over some opera or arts story to show us how learned he isn't. However, this apart, what is the point? Why should we care any more than we might about the Indian elections, or those in Russia, both of which could have as significant an impact on the future global situation as the USA?

Yes, I know it is quite important. I understand that the USA is still key to the global economy and I realise that these elections could change much in that country but that's not my point. My point is to ask how many people in the UK are actually bothered and how many of them will stay up to watch the results?

The outcome of all this reflection is simply to conclude that the people who care are those at the BBC with the means to mobilise the formidable and very costly news machine. If only I had their power, I might suggest that they significantly ramped up their regional coverage, for example, so that my news always came from Oxford, rather than Southampton as it so often does. I might be able to push for more than one new story about Oxfordshire per day, when there must be a bit more going on around the county.

Sadly I am powerless against the ingrained obsession with all things American among the upper echelons of the Westminster and White City villages. So tune out tonight for the mid-term election results. Read a book, do a crossword, deflea the cat, go to bed, make love, enjoy the opportunity and forget this hubristic irrelevance which you will be able to read about extensively tomorrow morning after a good night's sleep and having avoided wasting hours out of your lives.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Hmmm, I'm not one for conspiracy theories but...mid-term elections in the USA...embattled American President...terror alert...lots of grand pronouncements about the threat we face.

And this is the world Tony Blair delivered us into: fear, bomb threats, dubious alerts in bizarre language that says nothing to no one ('MI6 has said there is a 'very real' threat of a terrorist incident' - as opposed to?!) and a perfect opportunity to ratchet up international tension when the mood arises.

Saturday, 30 October 2010


So Harriet Harman lacks judgement. So she is limited in intelligence. So she has stooped to insulting someone in the most stupid terms. Where's the story? Harriet Harman was always over-promoted and now her career is over she is lashing out.

Where's the story?

Friday, 29 October 2010


I took a great interest in the Bosnian war of 1992-1995. I had just finished a Degree in International Relations so my attention to matters global was perhaps as focused as it ever has been. Seeing Europeans once more killing, raping and torturing each other for a few scraps of earth was pretty shocking and the attitude of our government and the EU was even more surprising as they simply stood back and tutted. The Bosnian war and wider Balkan debacles were horrific and remain so.

So, for Boris Johnson to compare the atrocities which took place there with proposed cuts to Housing Benefit payments is laughable, absurd, quite frankly stupid.

I have never bought into the myth that Boris is super-intelligent yet hiding this behind his buffoonish exterior. No, he's just well-educated but lacking in any common sense whatsoever. His attempts to generate controversy are idiotic, none more so than this latest bit of nonsense.

Johnson is not a brilliant politician. He was MP for Henley - not the most difficult seat for Conservatives to win nationally - and he became Mayor of London at a time when the Tories' stock was rising nationally and the bleating nasal whine of Ken Livingstone had started to grate with enough people to make him less popular. London now faces the acute shame of an unkempt, stammering public school oaf representing that fine city before the world in 2012. If only he could be cleansed from London in some way before then. Until that blessed release, we can only hope he shuts up about grown up issues like the massive and growing benefit bill.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Another article from earlier in the week in the Indescribablyboring discusses the crisis among brewers who are struggling to sell beer and who are seeing pubs closed up and down the country.

I'm a big fan of English beer. I believe it to be a wholesome and good thing which is only abused by a minority and which could do much to address a range of social ills in ways I could go on for at great length - but not now and not here. The problem with the brewing industry appears to me to be two-fold, with a third reason tacked on for a full picture.

1. Pubcos have destroyed the local pub by charging prohibitive rents to tenants and forcing them to purchase overpriced rubbish from them, rather than seeking the long term success of pubs as an investment. That much is known and discussed generally and sadly nothing has been done to stop this ridiculous destruction of a major business and social sector in our country.

2. Pubcos can't have all the blame. The simple, bald truth is that beer is overpriced in many pubs. In my area a pint for £3 is cheap. Any less and it feels like Christmas. Businesses will claim that they have to charge this to make ends meet but they have forgotten an alternative, successful business plan. Sensibly priced products often sell in greater quantities and encourage people to return. I go to the pub once a month (pity me!) for an evening out. I enjoy several pints and have a good time. I go once a month because it costs too much to go more often. If I could buy a pint for, say, £2.50, I would probably think nothing of going to the pub more often. Its pure psychology: if I can have a night out for a tenner I will feel good. Any more and I will consider it expensive.

For those pub owners who decry me, please tell me why I can get a pint in Liverpool for £2 or in Newcastle for £2.40? Sure, these cities are cheaper than the Cotswolds but not that much cheaper.

Beer is not a premium product, despite the recent efforts of some brewers who have started marketing some of their products as drinks to go with food. Beer is a simple pleasure and should be sold and priced as such.

3. The final reason which emerges from point (2) above is that beer is too strong. Most people drive everywhere and most drive to the pub. I like a pint but I live in the middle of nowhere. If I am to be encouraged to go to a pub I want a pint - a nice one, mind, not 0% Eurofizz. Also, weaker beer tends to be cheaper AND it encourages a degree more sobriety.

If you think it can't be done and you live in the south east (and some blessed parts farther afield) try a pint of Fullers Chiswick Bitter. It's great, weaker than the usual pint and usually a bit cheaper - though sadly not always as cheap as it could or should be.

Let me finish by being absolutely clear: I am not encouraging heavy drinking or debauchery as the Tory Daily Mail crowd would have it but I would like to see pubs stay open and thrive. I do stuff in my village and having a local pub to meet in for various events strengthens a community. We lost our pub in January but people are working hard to get it reopened because everyone recognises how important it is to have a good local.

At the moment dozens of pubs close every week so it is as clear as the nose on your visage that the existing model is wrong. Its not quite a crisis on a par with the credit crunch or global warming but it is important to communities - urban and rural - across the country.

Of course now I really fancy a pint...


With apologies for the lack of any recent streams of vaguely Lib Dem consciousness, here is an interesting article in the Independent which focuses on NIMBY power which challenges wind farms across the country, drastically reducing the number of new turbines going up.

I am a strong supporter of wind farms, indeed I live in a very windy village and I would love a blooming great turbine on a nearby ridge which is currently home to a series of radio aerials - thus not exactly a beauty spot. However, I am sure that if any such plans were proposed (there are sadly none in the pipeline, despite my gentle enquiries to the industrial unit which sits there) a vocal minority would oppose them and our spineless council and the less than radical MP (one D. Cameron esq.) would doubtless cave in to pressure and oppose any such proposals. The sadness is that a lot of people support wind farms but they are invariably a private concern and therefore they seldom provide an opportunity for positive campaigning.

Back to those radio aerials in the heart of Oxfordshire, because they have a very interesting history. The small village I live in was home to one of the very first transatlantic radio antennas established by an Italian immigrant named Marconi. Not sure what became of him but it is interesting to reflect on what would have happened to the incredible and generally beneficial progress made in radio, TV, mobile phone and satellite communications over the past 100 years if a bunch of NIMBYs had told Mr Marconi that he couldn't put his masts in Oxfordshire as it would depress local property prices.

This country - every country - depends on progress and every inch of our country has changed throughout our history, most radically in the past 300 years. That includes Oxfordshire - the vast Morris plant, East Oxford, Didcot Power Station, the town of Carterton and RAF Brize Norton being clear examples of this which bear a mention. I wish we could be reminded of the fact that we don't live in a museum more often. Museums are for relics.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


What an absurd comment from the Director General of the CBI, who said of Vince's criticism of corporate behaviour that he looked forward to hearing Vince's proposals for an alternative to capitalism.

Well, listen up, Mr Lambert, (he always reads my blog, natch...) because capitalism has always been moderated by a healthy dose of common sense ever since companies started riding roughshod over the interests of individuals and communities. Indeed, that is the mark of a civilised society developed over centuries and while few of us would question the value of free markets, equally few of us outside a Mercedes or a hideous mock-Georgian pile in Surrey would demur from the obvious notion that some degree of moderation is needed in any system.

Capitalism is great but so is civilisation and a fair society, equality, international law and the right to privacy - so viciously attacked in this country almost daily by the champions of capitalism in the press. It rather puts you in mind of the old saw about democracy - that it is the worst system of government, apart from all the others.

Grow up and get a sense of historical perspective. Robert Peston has.

Friday, 17 September 2010


I hope you will read this appeal for support for a Lib Dem council candidate and his agent who were the victims of an unpleasant libel claim by a Tory opponent which they eventually won but which cost them dearly.

They were left out of pocket to the tune of many thousands despite winning the case and being awarded full costs. It seems that in the arcane world of English law, 'full costs' does not mean what it says. The two Lib Dems were even helped by a Conservative lawyer who recognised the action as a serious attack on democracy.

Henley Constituency members Robin Peirce and his agent, David Cooper, were sued unsuccessfully in the High Court for malicious falsehood and breaches of the Data Protection Act by a candidate who lost his seat to Robin. The complaint made was over a number of statements in an election leaflet in 2007. All the grounds for the action were comprehensively rejected by the Judge and Robin & David were awarded full costs.

The 'full costs' in question can be subjected to many challenges about what is “necessary” and usually successful defendants only get around 70% of their costs back. Robin and David received 76% of the funds they had to find to defend themselves, despite having run a cut-price defence with help from many people, including some Conservatives affronted by the injustice of the case. David and Robin eventually ended up out of pocket to the tune of around £26,000

If they had lost, it would have had profound implications for the way the local party could campaign in future but despite this, they had no financial help from the National Party, although they did get some helpful legal advice and contacts which greatly helped them to win.

Robin and David are guilty of being committed Lib Dems who fought an election on local issues and won. They found themselves hauled before a court and they are now having to pay for the privilege of being proven right.

This is where you come in, dear reader. If you can help towards these huge personal costs it would be a tremendous help to our hard-working party members and it would reassure other activists, candidates and councillors around the country that they would get the support of their colleagues in the event of such an unpleasant occurrence in their local campaigns.

If you can help, you can be reassured that all money donated is controlled by two independent and respected residents, Karen Woolley and Frances Cork, and it will be used solely for paying the costs of this case.

If you would like to donate, you can send me a message at to find out more or send a cheque, payable to “Woodcote Libel Defence Fund”, to the local party chairman, Philip Allison, at Baltic House, 9 Thameside, HENLEY-ON-THAMES RG9 1BQ.

If you have read this far, thank you. If you can help Robin and David, even greater thanks. If you donate through my blog, please let me know and I will add your name to a 'roll of honour' at the top of this website.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Simon Hughes is a Lib Dem party stalwart and 'Treasure'. He won one of the most contentious by-elections of the modern period, one in which no party covered itself in glory, despite what the preening Labour Party might wish to declare. He has worked Southwark and Bermondsey - a difficult seat with many local issues just a few of which would tax politicians of lesser mettle - for decades now. He remains an important conscience for the party and a persuasive force for what might in less enlightened times have been referred to as the 'left'. Great guy.

The trouble is that he says things like the Lib Dems need a veto in the coalition government and that we could work with Labour. Well, yes, sort of but actually no, Simon.

Don't get me wrong, I am very uncomfortable with the coalition and I still dislike the Tories with a majority of my being (99% of my soul) but I accept that Nick Clegg has delivered us real power and influence for the first time in decades and that a large dollop of the Lib Dem agenda is actually being delivered in government which, if you are sensible about your politics, you will accept is worth paying the price of adopting a fixed grin for when faced with Michael Gove across a table or sitting with Michael Howard in Parliament. (No, Michael, I'm not thinking what you're thinking but I'll bite my tongue for now.)

To ask for a veto in a coalition is to ask for the self-destruct button to be put in the middle of the table during disarmament talks. Some blithering idiot will eventually leap up and press it in the name of 'common sense', the interests of their party or some overweening principle. The simple fact is that in the coalition - in any coalition - everyone knows they can take this course but you don't want to encourage them to do so. You need compromise, you need general agreement, you need to hold your proverbial noses. Holding out the prospect of a 'veto' does not encourage the necessary collegiate thinking. The Lib Dems do not need a veto, we simply need to engage fully with the coalition - as we have done so far - and make sure our voice is heard loud and clear - as we have done.

Now, just like a good Lib Dem, let me immediately defend Simon Hughes by stating that he does not appear to have ever used the term 'veto' but this is how it is being reported in the meejah so this is the charge which must be answered, rightly or wrongly.

On the second point, Simon has commented that a coalition deal with Labour may be possible in the future. Er, just hold on, Simon. The Labour Party has driven this country into the ground in recent years [dissenters please note: PFI, Iraq, outlandish spending pledges in 2010, Tony Blair and our devastated international reputation] and it is now embarked upon an extended period of what will inevitably be vicious infighting as memoirs come out and their leadership race chunters on. Add to that the fact that if the thoroughly duplicitous Ed Balls wins that leadership battle through some mysterious alchemy (a stitch up) I doubt that many Lib Dems would consider any kind of accommodation. I have choked on a deal with the Tories but accepted it as the right thing to do. I would have to seriously consider reaching for the party card and scissors if a deal with Balls were proposed.

There is no doubt that we could make a deal in the future with a much reformed Labour Party which had an entirely new leadership and a much revised set of policies but at the moment that is very far from happening so our Deputy Leader might best consider avoiding comment on it at the moment. Labour has far to go and I don't want my party tarnished by any association with them while they are on this difficult and potentially destructive journey.

What I have always sought from the Lib Dem upper echelons is a clear, unequivocal desire to win elections, not just to carp from the sidelines or seek accommodations with others. Nick and the team are doing great things in Parliament - and getting no thanks for doing so at the moment. In 2015 I'd like to be a candidate again and I'd like to fight for power, not just with Labour or the Tories but on our own terms.

And there is the trouble with Simon in a nutshell, because he did just that the other day when he said that we would fight every seat without making any accommodation with the Tories. Well bingo, I couldn't agree more! The two thirds of voters in Henley who didn't vote for their Tory MP this year need a choice and I want to give them that choice in 2015. Shout, Simon, for all of us but choose your target better.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


Thanks to Oxfordshire County Council cuts we now no longer have any speed cameras in the county and, according to their own statistics and national news coverage, a lot more cars are speeding as a result. The Tory County Council will of course blame the government for these cuts but this was a local decision.

Blaming central government might be a good retort if it wasn't for the fact that, for example, we still have an array of utterly pointless electronic road signs - all emblazoned with the county council badge - which were installed last year to give me such vital information as 'Think! Bike' and that if going to Oxford I should use the Park and Ride. Couldn't both these entirely valid messages have been displayed via the medium of a poster or even a sturdy metal sign, since both remain important whatever the day? These signs are a gimmick and to remove them would be to admit an error in installing them in the first place. Step forward, hubris.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of politically expedient buck-passing over cuts and some of this will be valid but shouldn't the county council have considered more obvious and sensible savings to the roads budgets before endangering road users.

Speaking of the Park and Ride, I use it a few times a year yet I subsidise its more regular use by others as the County Council decided, in an election year, that the car parks should be free to use. I wonder if some savings could be found here by charging the people who use this service. I only ask...

The buck stops at County Hall and any politician worth their salt would look again at the decision to shut down the speed cameras, which is demonstrably - by their own evidence - an error with significant risks.

Should they insist that all is fine and dandy with their road safety policy, I wonder if they might respond to the outcry from residents over the appalling state of our roads following the freeze of last winter - not helped by the abject failure of the county council to grit more than about 10% of roads. Surely roads without huge holes in them are safer?

Until common sense breaks out at County Hall, roads such as the busy A44 in Woodstock will witness the return of Wacky Races through this popular tourist destination while pedestrians flee as more cars, lorries and buses race through, particularly down a rather steep hill which has a well used zebra crossing at the bottom.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


According to the newspapers the LDs' poll rating is slipping as more people say they do not know what we stand for any more. Well, if you've been an activist for a few years you'll know that this is a standard refrain and its not really anything to worry about.

Well, we're part of a government which is making bigger cuts to the public sector that any since the 1930s. We're in bed with our one time mortal enemies (some of us are still keeping a revolver under the pillow...) and we seem to be jettisoning our principles. Its therefore hardly surprising that we're not exactly racing in the polls.

There is no question that the coalition has been a shock for our traditional supporters - including me - but there is also no doubt that by signing up to this agreement the Lib Dems are actually achieving stuff, like a referendum on voting reform, which we have been going on about for decades. We have a commitment to fixed term parliaments, a promised reform of party funding, a commitment to reduce the number of MPs in Parliament and a long delayed - by Labour - reform of the House of Lords. We campaigned on all these issues at the election and they are now being introduced. Tell me, where's the beef?

We have got the tax threshold raised, as we promised at the election. We have a commitment to restore the link between pensions and earnings, which the Labour Party failed to do for 13 years. We have a commitment to greater freedoms for teachers and health workers to do their jobs, fair compensation for Equitable Life pensioners.

We have Vince Cable as Business Secretary, Chris Huhne as Energy Secretary, Norman Baker responsible for Transport. People who know what they are doing - LD people - are in the right jobs. We must give them time to effect real change.

The 'but' is that they are part of a coalition, which requires compromise. I don't suppose that Chris Huhne ever imagined that he would be declaring his support for nuclear power in Parliament but he is a pragmatist and he knows that if he wants to deliver LD changes to our energy policy he must compromise. That's the real world of politics which we must get used to.

The key for us is that in five years' time, assuming that the date for the next election is honoured, we will be able to enter an election telling voters that Lib Dems have been in government, we have demonstrated our ability to work with other parties, we have demonstrated that we can actually get things done and that for the first time in almost a century a Lib Dem vote can be clearly, unequivocally demonstrated to be anything but a wasted vote.

Courage, mes braves. Its a long road, a rocky one but the destination might just be worth it.

Monday, 9 August 2010


Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, has announced that new, privately owned nuclear power stations will be up and running by 2018 and that they will receive no government subsidy. This, I assume, is the same Chris Huhne who bemoaned the abject situation in his new department when he took over in May this year. At the time, he complained bitterly about the fact that almost all of his budget for the foreseeable future would need to be spent on nuclear decommissioning, giving him virtually nothing to spend on renewables, which of course have the advantage of being, well, renewable.

What will change with new, private nuclear power stations? Will energy companies who seek to build these new stations be required to pay into a fund to cover future decommissioning costs? I think I can answer that with a resounding 'no' because as soon as any such costs - even taken at today's prices, which will doubtless rocket in future decades - are taken into account the cost of new nuclear power capacity would become hopelessly uneconomic. The clear, obvious outcome of new nuclear power generation to even the most short-sighted of politicians, which Chris Huhne certainly is not, will be huge, unknown costs for a future government when whichever private company decides to build these facilities either ceases to exist or simply walks away, leaving taxpayers with the bill for the mess.

Don't kid us - or yourself - Chris: there will be a taxpayer subsidy for new nuclear power capacity, just not immediately - and when it does arise the cost will be vast.

For the record, I'm not a woolly lefty who is against nuclear power for the sake of it. I simply believe that it is a failed technology. Nuclear power creates by-products which are among the most dangerous we know about and which cannot be made safe for hundreds of thousands of years. How many governments, countries or even civilisations do you know of which have lasted for 500,000 years. There weren't even human beings on the planet 500,000 years ago so who on earth can tell us with any confidence that this problem can be dealt with.

And yes, I am aware that we rely on nuclear power at the moment for a sizeable proportion of our energy usage. Well, we used to burn witches and bait bears but then we decided that we should move on.

We will end up paying and we will be saddled with an intractable problem. That's just not good business or good government. Why can't money be invested in renewables, cleaner existing technology and nuclear fusion, which has the potential to work and to be safe, instead of wasted on what are certain to be financial black holes in the future? Anyone who says it can't be done, consider the difference between a Ford Capri, using technology from 40 years ago, and a low emission, smaller engine, higher torque modern diesel car, of which there is a range to choose from. Similarly, remember a world without the internet? That was less than 20 years ago. I read just this week of a new invention, a bottle with an ultra-violet light powered by a wind up mechanism which can sterilise water in 90 seconds. Brilliant, simple and with the potential to revolutionise the way millions of people live.

I know he reads my blog (!) so here's a plea to Chris Huhne: remember you're a Lib Dem first and climb out of the box, where the thinking is easier. We have innovated our way out of problems before and the impetus can be given by government to do it again, not just to latch onto old technology for a short term fix with a very long term cost. Isn't that the role of a dynamic ministry?

However, if you choose to go down the path of backing nuclear fission, make sure the companies who build these new stations pay upfront into a discrete, invested fund to deal with the consequences of their actions for generations to come - and make the cost realistic, such as 10% of the current annual cost to the taxpayer of decommissioning existing nuclear power stations. Don't do as British governments have done for decades and simply fail to deal with this problem now before it arises. Plan now for all our futures.

Finally, a note: no new nuclear power station has been built for decades. One is being built in Finland which is about 4 years behind schedule and 50% over budget. The model doesn't work, countless safety issues have been found with the design and it is still under construction. I wonder if the Secretary of State would care to comment on this.

Friday, 6 August 2010


Okay its only small beer alongside the VAT rises and changes to the NHS but the announcement today by Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, that local authorities will from the end of this month be able to sell green electricity to the National Grid is sensible and should act as an incentive to councils to start investing in local energy. The Independent mentions coastal councils investing in wind power (where is the long-promised wave power...?) as one example but simply given the number of publicly owned roofs across the country it is clear that the potential for development in this area is immense.

Remember that a great deal of the impetus for water supplies, street lighting, roads, public transport and public parks in the 19th century came from new local authorities and in large part made the country we live in. I am biased because I used to work for a Lib Dem council which actually did stuff but which is now faced with swingeing cuts as the result of Council Tax, central diktat and interference, but it seems to me that by imposing central targets and ludicrous taxation rules on local authorities central government has for years tied the hands of what are potential innovators and wealth creators across the country.

My current job involves working with authorities which are trying very hard to deliver good services with declining budgets and at the same time innovating to improve those services. Many councils are doing their best, so it is heartening to see the government easing up on one of many pointless restrictions. Who knows, maybe local government will once be just that - government which is local.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Hmm, having endorsed the coalition in my last post, I have subsequently read in Private Eye that our own Nick Harvey has rejected calls for an enquiry into the suspicious deaths of four young soldiers at Deepcut Barracks, which have been called suicides but which have raised questions ever since they occurred.

The Lib Dems have a proud record of raising issues like this. Indeed, our joker-in-chief, Lembit Opik, regularly asked Prime Ministers about this issue. Now a Lib Dem Minister says there should be no enquiry.

Has a little corner of our credibility just crumbled and fallen to the floor?

Friday, 16 July 2010


I have a huge problem with the coalition government. My problem is that, notwithstanding some of the measures in the budget, like the dodging of a meaningful capital gains tax increase, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with much of what is being done. This is a difficult position to be in when I want to maintain my independence and critical faculties.

When a British government owns up to the fact that prison doesn't work you have to cheer. It is easy for the nay-sayers to climb onto their tired bandwagon and mention the need to incarcerate rapists and murderers while ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in prison are there for petty crimes - unpleasant for the victims and annoying for society but not necessarily meriting imprisonment at huge cost, both financially and in terms of their lives and the lives of relatives and children. Alternatives can be considered for some people - not everyone - and it is quite shocking to have heard this honest assessment from a Conservative government minister. When Michael Howard opposes it, you know in your heart it must be the right thing to do.

As a reminder of how much of a shift this is for the Tories, the ridiculous Ann Widdecombe was on the radio this morning arguing the very point that restorative justice, which has had demonstrable, measurable results in Scotland and Northern Ireland, will not work in every situation. Well, what a stunning revelation that is and what a pleasure it is to remember that Widdecombe is no longer an MP.

When a Liberal Democrat minister, the exalted Vince Cable, announces a policy for a graduate tax to head off calls from a tiny number of rich universities who want to manage entrance to their hallowed halls through a crude financial mechanism of higher fees, instead favouring a system which will ensure that people from all backgrounds can study if they are up to it, you have to cheer. The fact that this proposal was welcomed by the notoriously left-wing NUS offers a pause for reflection about whether this is the right way to go but fundamentally this is a Liberal Democrat proposing to ensure that people can have a decent, affordable education. Cable has also been honest enough to accept that not everyone will be able to go to university and that some universities might close. Labour screech like banshees on the sidelines but they cannot avoid the simple truth that Cable is being honest, acknowledging that this is not where the LDs wanted to be but we live in the real world of coalition compromise. How deliciously refreshing.

When another Tory minister proposed abolishing tiers of NHS bureaucracy and putting control of the NHS into the hands of the people who work in it, I almost fell off my chair. This policy is entirely validated when the likes of the execrable Ed Balls and the ineffectual Harriet Harman rail against it. The policy announced of GP commissioning is radical, it will have problems - let's be honest, it might not work - but it is at least an attempt to address the rising costs and bloated bureaucracy of the NHS while trying to maintain standards and, to repeat, giving more control over the service to the people who work in it. I fought the election on that principle and it is wonderful to see it being applied. This particular path will not enjoy a smooth progress but it is at least a step in the right direction, in the humble opinion of this blogger.

Finally, it is delightful to see Nick Clegg speaking passionately about liberal principles and how he wants to see the country change fundamentally and become more liberal in the hoped for five years of the coalition. That's been one of my key problems with our party for years: we don't shout from the rooftops about how we want to change society. What is nice about this government is that we are, here and now. What's not to like?

Well, George Osborne, obviously but him aside things do seem to be going very nicely. That said, a moment's reflection reassures you that even having Osborne in Number 11 Downing Street is 'A Good Thing'. The Tories have tried desperately to deflect blame for the budget on to the Lib Dems but in the end Chancellor Osborne has stood out from the crowd as the sallow, inexperienced man at the heart of the really bad decisions which Lib Dems have gone along with as payment for some of the things we want, like the raised tax threshold.

So here's to the good times - while they last. We have Tories displaying principles most of them were unaware they had, Lib Dems in government doing stuff, rather than talking about it and Labour in total disarray with no prospect of a revival any time soon, given their choice of leadership candidates.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


Here's a fascinating example of how the coalition's much touted 'big society' could look. It is a membership scheme in Southwark which encourages volunteering and allows older people to link up with neighbours and get help with a whole range of tasks. The scheme is predicted to break even in its third year, which is not something you can say of many public services.

A key aspect of this model is that it encourages participation by anyone interested and it removes the need for people with needs to jump through hoops to qualify for help, thus perhaps encouraging them to exaggerate any conditions which cause them to need care or support. The article also quotes Sir William Beveridge's concerns that the welfare state would stifle volunteering and innovation.

Perhaps the crucial point of the article is its acknowledgement that the approach of the Labour government was almost entirely top-down. People are children to be handed sweets produced in the state sweet factory and no alternatives are needed. I wonder what the Labour leadership candidates would say to that. No doubt much but in the end nothing. Labour - and British politics - desperately need a leader of imagination but the current candidates are so singularly lacking that it would be hard to imagine five less worthy people.

Anyway, I have mangled the article and I would recommend you read it if you are interested in society, cuts or the welfare state. This is the first pointer I have seen to a slightly more optimistic reading of where we currently are. We don't have to be passive victims in this supposed crisis, we can make things happen.

Whoops, apologies for the 'Obama-esque' call to arms there. I will ensure I am more English in my posts in future (i.e. not linking them up, not finishing them, not showing any flair, underachieving generally - oh, how it still hurts...).

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


It was very reassuring as a former candidate to hear clear Lib Dem manifesto commitments being announced in today's budget speech along with the necessary pain of higher taxes. If you remain dubious about the coalition (I do!) you may reassure yourself as follows:

1. From next year pensions will be linked to earnings, reversing a Tory decision from the 1980s which Labour avoided addressing for 13 years. That's a clear Lib Dem manifesto commitment. Our manifesto said we would increase pensions by the same rate as earnings, prices or 2.5%, whichever was bigger in any given year and that's exactly what Osborne said today.

2. From April 2011 the income tax threshold will be raised by £1000 to £7475, taking 880,000 people out of tax altogether. It's not quite the £10,000 we wanted but it is a huge step towards this goal and I am certain it would not have been introduced if there had not been Lib Dems around the Cabinet table.

3. Tax rises for public sector workers will be frozen but those on incomes below £21,000 will see increases of £250 a year. Our manifesto committed us to increases for lower paid public sector workers of around £400 so once again we have got pretty much what we asked for.

4. Capital Gains Tax will be increased to 28% from midnight. That's a surprisingly bold move from this Tory Chancellor but a very welcome one and another LD commitment delivered in large part. Tory right-wingers must be spitting blood.

5. From January 2011 a banking transactions levy will be introduced ahead of a much talked about global agreement over such a plan. That's another Lib Dem manifesto commitment which I doubt a majority Tory government would have introduced on its own.

6. A White Paper will be introduced in the autumn to propose changes to assist regional development, endorsing our manifesto commitments to focus on regional stock markets and local investment. By being in coalition, we have a great chance of getting these proposals adopted.

Like most people I remain deeply sceptical about the coalition but such announcements in a budget reassure me and I hope they reassure you. Lib Dems are delivering in government.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Worried about the global economic crisis? Concerned for the Euro? Doubtful about European markets for British goods? Don't be! The French government has announced plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

The good news is that we can expect the French to accept these necessary measures and to eschew the demonstrations and violence which have so damaged Greece in the name of defending the rights of Greek trombonists. I am sure that the moderate French unions will accept these plans with a workmanlike common sense. It will doubtless be a reassurance to the thousands of British visitors to France who will have to work until they are 67 to know that French people have accepted some of the pain which is spreading across Europe.

Can I finally say that anyone posting a comment suggesting that the French are in Europe for what they can get out of it and noting that half the EU budget goes on the Common Agricultural Policy - and half of that goes to poverty-stricken French farmers - will find their posts rejected as scurrilous slanders on our neighbours across the English Channel.

Monday, 14 June 2010


Here's a note of controversy for the World Cup. Despite having changed my website to reflect the national hysteria surrounding our bunch of overpaid hospital cases I can't get away from the thought that our national flag, colours and Patron Saint were all introduced by the Normans as they sought to change the traditions of this country root and branch.

Now that's not necessarily a bad thing and only a fool would declare that our country is timeless and that our traditions go back into the mists of time. They don't: somewhere along the line of our turbulent and often bloody history someone will have decided to have London as the capital, wear tartan, adopt the Indian rose as our national flower or impose Turkish knight St George as our patron saint.

That's the trouble with St George: his reputation is at best dodgy as he was apparently a bit of a murdering thug, he is the patron saint of half a dozen other countries, he never even visited England and, I have discovered just recently, he is actually the patron saint of England and Wales. That last bit's fine by me but the Welsh already have a patron saint of their own so why can't we?

Before St George was grafted onto the national psyche we had Edmund, a pukka (Indian word...) English (born in Germany) martyr murdered by the Vikings in Suffolk. Between Edmund and George we had Edward the Confessor, King of England, sponsor of the original Westminster Abbey and - unfortunately - promoter of one Guillaume the Bastard as a future ruler of our sceptr'd isle and the man who ushered in 200 years of brutal oppression of the rank and file of England - that's me and possibly you, in modern terms.

None of them is ideal but at least the 'Two Teds' actually spent some time here and one performed that fabulous trick of the truly iconic in getting himself killed in dramatic circumstances. If Athena had existed back in the 10th century there'd have been a poster of Edmund on the wall of every youth, sitting astride a horse looking troubled...

The key problem with either Edmund or Edward is that neither had a proper flag or standard so we haven't quite got the colours. I've seen one which is blue and yellow which would be quite nice. Just think, England football shirts could be sold by Ikea in future. I bet they'd be cheaper than the overpriced ones we have today. We could return to the ancient tradition of painting ourselves blue before going into contests. The tabloids could be full of terrible puns around the word 'woad' ('End of the Woad for Fabio', 'Woadful display from Green', etc, etc ad nauseaum).

I don't suppose it will catch on but it might be worth reflecting on precisely why we do what we do, if only so we don't take any of it too seriously. Anyway, roll on Friday and Algeria and Cry God for England, Wayne and St Edmund!

Friday, 11 June 2010


The Prime Minister has said he wants us all to 'revere and support' British forces for the work they do in Afghanistan. This is an interesting phrase and it is highly dangerous as only language, that most terrible of weapons, can be.

There are very few of us who do not strongly respect and support the work of British forces abroad. I couldn't do what they do and I can't imagine the stress it puts on them and their families so they deserve the highest respect and regard. However, we should not 'revere' an army.

One of the most striking moments in my life came when I was driving through London with a Syrian friend in the late 1980s. Coming along the Embankment in the other direction was a small, light tank on which sat a group of squaddies. My friend instantly froze and asked if there had been a coup. I laughed and reassured him that of course there hadn't been as I was absolutely certain that such things just don't happen in Britain. However, his fear was real and I stopped myself from ridiculing his question. He was scared and he understood the danger of such events because his country had seen the terror that they bring in his recent history.

Our armed forces are among the best in the world - in the words of a famous lager they probably are the best - but they should not be revered. Reverence puts them above and outside of society. They are one of the best and most reliable organs of our state because they are fully part of the state, not separate. We should support our troops wholeheartedly but revere only whatever gods we choose to worship.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


I'm very keen to see the response from the Deputy Prime Minister to the reprehensible decision by the UN Security Council today to ratchet up sanctions against Iran because it has scurrilously and shamelessly continued to negotiate over its plans to enrich uranium with no evidence whatsoever of any hostile intentions so far.

This is same Iran which recently offered a region wide deal to oversee checks on nuclear technology - an offer which caused some unease in other capitals nearby as other countries not too far away to the west have singularly failed to engage with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

This is the same Iran which is at the negotiating table - or at least it was until today - and which has not launched any aggressive actions against its neighbours for quite some decades now (Iraq started the first Gulf War in 1980).

This is the same Iran which had offered to send its uranium to Turkey to be enriched, thus addressing one of the main issues of the latest round of sabre-rattling by the USA and Israel.

There are uncomfortable echoes of 2003 in all this for, lest we forget, the USA used the UN to try to win some legitimacy for its long planned invasion back then. I wonder what the UN's Middle East envoy and the man who shamed our country, T. Blair esq. will say about all this. What can a man seen across the Middle East as one of the main architects of the devastation of Iraq possibly do to encourage peace and dialogue when he is hated by almost everyone there?

If the British government joins in any military action against Iran I'll be a willing participant in any protests and if the Liberal Democrats do not come out foursquare against any such actions we might just find ourselves without a party. I don't envy Nick Clegg his dilemma over such issues but I do expect him to hold fast to the fundamental principles which drive our party, one of which is internationalism.

For the record, I have no illusions about Iran. It is a poor democracy which has quite abysmal human rights and its president is clearly deranged but it is not a threat to the region. It has an educated population and recent years have demonstrated the vibrancy of its brave opposition. The people of Iran are not our enemy and they don't have to be in future.

The era of gunboat diplomacy is past, or at least it should be.


The coalition's latest policy announcement to give councils more powers to stop developers from using gardens as 'brownfield' sites to build housing is a good one. The idea that gardens are somehow 'brownfield' was a Labour initiative to encourage more house building - a Good Thing - but once again New Labour had the right principles but the wrong ideas.

LD policy was all for giving more control over planning decisions to local councils so this is yet another victory for LD principles. However, the acid test of the move to remove imposed housing targets will be whether in five years' time new housing development has continued or stopped. My guess is that there will be numerous areas in the south east where we will see an almost complete halt in development as a result of such changes but other authorities should provide innovative leads on future plans. I would be willing to bet that those authorities will in the main be yellow in hue given the proud record of many LD authorities in pushing through new, high quality housing. Nay sayers might look at the Vale of White Horse in Oxfordshire and South Shropshire for two clear examples of such LD councils which have delivered hundreds of new affordable houses in recent years in the teeth of government indifference.

But oh dear, this morning on the Today programme, the architect of the 'brownfield' plan, John Prescott, went up against Tory millionaire Parliamentary seat buyer and [apparently former] non-dom Zac Goldsmith. Lest anyone think that LDs have gone soft in coalition can I express my total contempt for this example of David Cameron's new Conservative Party. I have always had a certain regard for John Prescott as you get what you pay for with him: overbearing, semi-literate, boorish but somehow normal in the weird world that is modern politics. As for Goldsmith, one syllable of that plummy voice is enough to have me reaching for the off switch but I held myself back. Alas, he did little to engage with rambling John Prescott and spoke rather antiseptically about various studies and statistics. This wasn't debate, it was a garden party.

My personal hatred of such Tory place people aside, my main concern with the changes announced to housing policy are that they are once again tinkering around the edges of what is a crucial element of our modern society: the need for high quality, affordable housing in places where people want to live and work. The planning system remains heavily weighted in favour of developers and people with the money to negotiate a way through it. I hope this new government will commit to looking at housing root and branch and provide the framework and incentives for local authorities to innovate and to give us the housing we need and deserve - not just lifeless estates with lines of Lego boxes on the edge of towns which encourage car use above all.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see innovative new building styles after 200 years of the same old model? Wouldn't it be wonderful to see affordable housing built by popular local demand? Am I holding my breath?

What's the betting that in five years' time we will prety much be where we are now...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


The papers are full of talk of cuts, be they 'progressive' or 'radical' but somehow I'm not convinced by the rhetoric.

There is no doubt that we are in a bind. There is no question that severe savings are going to be needed. There is also no question that the commentators are more excited than they ought to be by the amazing return of 'politics', that poor relation to celebrity in the modern world but an old friend that many of us welcome back with warm affection. However, my problem is that we have heard all this before.

Pick a Prime Minister - (almost) any Prime Minister - and I would put a significant bet on the fact that they have said when arriving in office that things are going to be tough. If they had any sense they will then have done all the really lousy stuff when they first arrived before rolling in the pork barrel as the next election looms.

The exception to this is of course Tony Blair who benefited from a strong economy in 1997 thanks in large part to Ken Clarke, everyone's favourite Tory. This was fortunate because his chancellor for ten years turns out to have been economically illiterate and to have done much to contribute to the depth of our current malaise by not thinking ahead, even if he didn't directly cause it.

'We have abolished boom and bust' shall surely be Gordon Brown's epitaph as much as 'Iraq' will be Blair's.

So here's the deal: yes there will be cuts; yes, they will be painful but I am not persuaded that things are as bad as they are being made out. I am of the view that we have been here before and that a lot of this is plain, old fashioned spin on the part of the shiny new coalition. Will all the cuts be necessary? Time for a pregnant pause.

If the coalition lasts for two years we should start to hit the upswing in time for the next election. New spending will begin, Dave's grin will return, the Tories will start to pull the duvet back onto their side and all bets will be off. As for the Lib Dems, I wouldn't want to be Nickers for all the vuvuzelas in Soccer City when the disengagement comes.

Monday, 7 June 2010


In a charming example of 'foot in mouth' syndrome, the BBC reported this afternoon that a new society of Daily Mail readers has been set up calling itself the 'Queen's English Society' and seeking to ape the woeful Academie Francaise in preserving our beautiful language in aspic so that it too can wither like the language of Moliere, rather than continuously evolving to become the force for unity that it has in the modern world - and in the process spreading its metaphorical wings to leave our shores for sunnier climes.

Rather than waving it off proudly like a successful child, the 'Chairman' of this new society of luddites - a woman who insisted on this arcane title - blathered on about how it is a rich language which must be defended - rather missing the point about how it became so beautiful. She then came out with the beautiful comment that she could think of 'a myriad of examples' of something or other.

Oh dear. As any fule kno, we don't use 'of' after 'myriad'. It seems our language is safe from interfering no hopers for a few more years. Chinglish here we come!


As the World Cup approaches and the flags come out across England, we face the niggling annoyance of a whole section of Britain actively demonstrating their antipathy towards us through their senseless opposition to our football team. This happens at every sporting event so it is no surprise and such sporting hostility can be a source of fun. The difference with regard to Scotland and England is that the cause of this antipathy is ancient history.

This overt hostility to England is simply out of date and ignores a range of straightforward truths which suggest a somewhat skewed relationship in favour of Scotland, rather than supporting the myth of the English somehow being responsible for the various ills which many people beyond Berwick are convinced afflict their country.

In a conversation today a Scottish acquaintance was asked if anything special would be happening today on what is the anniversary of the birth of Robert the Bruce? Their response was a jokey but still fervent hope that the border would be closed. That kind of comment just annoys me. Why should a Scot living in England with absolutely no demonstrable disadvantages to their position and in the light of many advantages have such hostility to my country? This is tantamount to casual racism.

Given the fact that Britain has had a Scottish dominated government for 13 years, that Scotland has more powers and democracy than England, that Scottish MPs get to tell the English how to live and that in return the English are expected to pay far over the odds for Scotland, and given the fact that Scotland's banks were rescued by primarily English taxpayers, this seems somewhat churlish and ignorant of quite how well Scotland does from the union.

The surprise for me is that we in England don't particularly care about any of this and we generally rub along quite happily with the situation without treating these various issues as problems. I suspect that that must really annoy the Scots.

I remain 100% committed to a binding referendum on Scottish independence but my one condition would be that it should be a nationwide referendum, from Penzance to Peebles. I remain convinced that our Scottish neighbours would be quite uncomfortably surprised at the outcome of such a referendum but they would almost certainly get what they wished for which, as anyone who knows the old saw will realise, may not be the best outcome for Scotland.

For the record, I am also fully supportive of the union and I believe it to be a good thing for all of us. England benefits from this union as much as the other participants but any such union requires active and positive participation from all its members. The long-standing Liberal Democrat policy of a federal Britain remains an ideal aspiration for our country which could reduce much of this resentment and even up the huge political imbalance which is currently skewed in favour of Scotland.

Here's my challenge then: if you are Scottish and reading this blog, feel free to post a message of support for the England team in South Africa. If you feel you are unable to, can I suggest that you reflect on whether that is a mature response to our ongoing, positive relationship which the union embodies in the 21st century.

However, if you do, my thanks and my very best wishes. And here's to a 'Great Britain' football team for 2012.

Friday, 4 June 2010


I would like to offer my congratulations and best wishes to Oxfordshire's newest Liberal Democrat councillor, John Griffin, who was elected to South Oxfordshire District Council last night. John is the chair of Crowmarsh Parish Council and he was a district councillor between 1995 and 2003 so he's active, able and experienced and he will doubtless be an asset to the local party.

To anyone concerned about coalition with the Conservatives or unhappy that your vote in the General Election did not count in Oxfordshire, I hope this result reassures you that Liberal Democrats are out there 52 weeks of the year working hard to secure your support and that we are willing partners to the Conservatives nationally but we remain completely independent and will be constructive and active critics of administrations locally.

Your vote always counts because it is a clear signal that there is an alternative.

Well done John and best wishes for your time on the Council.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


Life is full of blessings and curses.

Recently, my somewhat superannuated car had a fault which I needed to get sorted out at work. I didn't have roadside breakdown cover so I had to sign up there and then, resulting in a considerable premium being charged by the RAC. However the man who turned up was cheerful and resolved the problem quickly and got me on my way so it was money reasonably well spent. He also advised me what the problem was and said I would need to get it sorted at my local garage. This I duly did and drove the car to work yesterday satisfied of a problem resolved.

But alas! After work my brand new starter motor decided to burn itself out rather dramatically, making me one of those cursing fools standing at the side of the road as my car smoked alarmingly. Luckily I was deep in the Oxfordshire countryside rather than next to a motorway so at least my surroundings were nice.

And here's where the blessing comes in. Another very helpful RAC recovery man came to sort out my problem and to get me home - or at least to my local garage - which meant that I went from being in deficit to the breakdown firm to being in profit. One more breakdown this year and I will be winning hands down.

The other blessing was that as I had to return my car to the garage I was able to get my beloved bike out of the shed to cycle to Witney for the bus to work. It is difficult to overstate the delight I feel when I ride my bike, which I bought new all of 18 years ago and which still inspires me as few things do. Today is a glorious day so my ride was made even better, despite my apparent lack of fitness and the fact that I live in one of the highest places in the county, which means hills. Gently rolling down some of these hills as all manner of wildlife tries to fly into my throat, run in front of me, dive bomb me or otherwise kill me is one of those 'God is in his heaven' moments in life and today was no exception. Cycling really does get your blood pumping in the nicest way.

The final blessing was that, once in Witney, I bought a bus! Or at least I think I did since the fare was so unbelievably astronomical that I must have. I chose the bus over the train as I thought the train fare was too high but then I discovered that the bus fare was even more. I will write to the bus company (rhymes with 'beige poach') to discuss delivery of my bus and henceforth all my travel woes will be at an end. I will be able to hurtle around the Oxfordshire countryside threatening my fellow cyclists with impunity while my car does its best to support local business in Oxfordshire by breaking down with a regularity unknown outside of a Swiss clockmaker's emporium.

So you see, life is good even when it appears to have done something unpleasant in your coffee cup. There is probably a moral I could link to the coalition but I don't think I can manage that level of cheesiness. This is a 100% apolitical post.

Still, I wonder what Nick would have done...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


How many people in the new coalition does it take to change a lightbulb?

Three: One to make the change, one from the other party to shadow them and one Daily Telegraph journalist to write an expose about the Liberal Democrat


There is a fascinating article in the Guardian concerning the true cost of nuclear power stations. The new Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, has announced that the country faces an unavoidable cost for cleaning up old nuclear waste and decommissioning facilities of around £4bn over coming years. This is equivalent to one-sixth of the overall planned cuts to reduce the budget deficit and completely puts the lie to the notion that nuclear power is affordable or practical.

Huhne has pointed out that the huge cost to his department of this necessary cleanup means that in effect it will be able to do nothing else, least of all invest in sustainable new technologies for energy generation.

The outcome of this horrendous expense is likely to be the final death knell for any plans for new nuclear power stations, which the coalition has agreed can only go ahead if they are built with no public subsidy and clear plans for their full costs over their whole lifetime. It is simply not possible for any private company to provide such guarantees, even the French government-subsidised EDF, which is the main outfit proposing this at the moment.

Finally, may I respond in advance to any scientists who tell me nuclear is the only option for our energy future. It isn't: it is an expensive white elephant which produces as much carbon as a conventional power station over its lifetime and the product of these facilities is some of the most dangerous materials the world has ever seen, materials which will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years - long after EDF, Britain and France have ceased to exist. What happens then? The argument over nuclear fission has been had and comprehensively lost. The first nuclear power stations were only built because the figures were massaged to significantly understate the risks.

Anyone with an interest in developing nuclear technology needs to devote themselves to fusion. After all, a billion stars can't be wrong, can they? They might also address the shameful question of where wave power is? If ever there was an obvious source of energy for this, er, island, it is wave power.

So thank you nuclear industry for hobbling all our futures.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


If armed Somalis stopped and boarded a vessel in international waters, they would be considered pirates. If the people on board that vessel sought to defend themselves with any weapons they could lay their hands on they would be considered heroes. If the Somalis killed 10 people on board that vessel that would be considered a vile act of murder. If they then took the people on that ship to Somalia they would be considered to be hostages.

Somalis are involved regularly in acts of piracy in international waters and their country is considered a lawless, rogue state.

Isn't international diplomacy a curious thing...

Saturday, 29 May 2010


Here's a strange thought thrown up by my last blog. I doubt it is novel in the musings about the coalition but it has intrigued me. David Lloyd George, the last LD Prime Minister, was elected in 1918 on the back of his success in bringing the First World War to an end at the head of a coalition government. In the process the Liberals divided among themselves, resulting in his needing the support of Conservatives to govern. Ultimately the Liberals fell apart, allowing the new Labour Party to emerge as the main opposition to the Tories.

In 2010 we have a Conservative Prime Minister who has failed to win an election and who has instead called upon the support of the Liberal Democrats, to the evident dislike of many within his own party. His party appears to have lost its clear purpose in the process of seeking re-election and in many ways he is making common purpose more with Liberal Democrats than with Conservatives.

It may not be a ground-breaking notion but it is interesting.


It is difficult to be anything other than disturbed by the enforced resignation of David Laws due to the revelations of the Daily Telegraph, a strong supporter of the Conservatives since time began and a truculent critic of the new coalition.

There is no question that Laws messed up and if it had been a Labour or Tory MP who had been exposed in this situation many Lib Dems would have joined the chorus baying for their blood but in the light of the antipathy being expressed towards the new coalition by numerous Tory leaning correspondents it raises questions.

It is of course a tremendous shame both personally and for the Lib Dems as David Laws has tremendous ability and he suited the role of Chief Secretary as few others could.

If we want to know how long this coalition will last we perhaps need to consider a couple of fundamental issues, such as whether the Torygraph and its ilk are planning more such revelations and who will be drafted in to fill the fifth LD place. Charles Kennedy for Scotland, anyone?

Of course it may strengthen the resolve of the members of the government and change the relationship between senior members and the more unpleasant elements of the Tory press.

Perhaps the fundamental question which will define the success or failure of the coalition is how much authority David Cameron has within his own party.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Fascinating to hear an interview with Tory Cabinet Minister Philip Hammond this morning on the Today programme. He spoke cautiously as you would expect a newly installed government to do but one comment made me stop and think. When asked about the spending review and the cuts to come across government Hammond replied that he didn't know what David Laws had in mind. Not George Osborne, you understand, but Lib Dem David Laws.

Now this either means that David Laws has been given unimagined powers to control public finances to relieve Osborne of tasks which might be too much for him or it may mean that the Tories are already putting as much blame on to their supposed LD colleagues as they can, perhaps with an eye on a future election.

I shall listen very carefully to future interviews with Tory ministers

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Because Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail is spluttering with indignation and railing against it on BBC1's Question Time. That is endorsement enough for me.


When I was young I had a good friend with whom I would argue endlessly about politics. We were known at school for this and it became a bit of a spectator sport. At the time I lived in a Tory household with the Daily Hate delivered every day and Margaret Thatcher bestriding the stage so I was not surprisingly a Tory. My friend was Labour and we would go at it like cage fighters day in, day out, to our great enjoyment and the general amusement of our friends.

I grew up and moved into the light, becoming a Liberal in 1987 and then joining the Lib Dems in 1990, after a very brief period in, ahem, another party which used a rose as its symbol. My friend continued to be Labour and still is but our conversations about politics dwindled as we were simply less polarised.

Then came Tony 'I'll say anything' Blair who ushered in the New Labour project and all those mad old socialists who used to enliven TV and radio debates as they bemoaned the plight of the working classes from their Hampstead piles seemed to fade away. They had got a Labour government but not quite the one they had hoped for, yet still most of them kept mum as they kept a grudging faith and hoped against all hope that a glimmer of that old socialist zeal would emerge like a chink of light from within the deceptive TARDIS that was the New Labour project.

Then came Gordon Brown, kind of an old Labour lag but one intimately tied up with the New Labour project so he had to try to carry on with all the blather of his predecessor, pleasing neither himself, his party or his country. On May 6th the verdict was delivered and no one won but Gordon definitely lost. After a few days Gordon's pain was relieved and he was allowed to slope off to his roots to rediscover his mojo or whatever he had left behind when he signed his deal with the devil way back in 1994.

And that's where the story brightens, for out of the blue my old friend sent me an e-mail deriding the Lib Dems for the coalition and asserting amusingly that I had always been a Tory. I of course responded in kind and it was if the years had fallen away. We damned each other, we condemned our respective parties and we attacked the other one for his views. It was as refreshing as a cold shower.

For that, dear reader, is perhaps one of the most surprising outcomes of this enthralling political drama. Old Labour is back with a vengeance, like a slightly racy uncle who is a bit old fashioned in his views but who nevertheless enlivens any family gathering. I for one welcome it with open arms, so here's to debate based on principles and real differences, which the new Tories have not quite managed to offer. Here's to Old Labour. Welcome back!