Sunday, 28 February 2010


The BBC today reports that David Cameron will declare in front of the Conservative Spring conference that it is his 'patriotic duty' to remove Gordon Brown as the country is 'a complete and utter mess'. This is a fascinating formulation and it will be interesting to see if he goes through with this.

It is fascinating because Mr Cameron has encapsulated in a single phrase the essence of Conservatism, which has in the past often tended towards an arrogant expectation to rule with little or no regard to the wishes or priorities of voters. If he does indeed deliver the trailed speech it will confirm to me that the Conservative Party under David Cameron has not changed one iota from previous incarnations.

The second aspect is a harking back to the 'Broken Britain' formulation of recent years. Now I would not for a second seek to defend the Labour government, which has singularly failed to address many of the ills of our society over 13 long years and which has settled into the political doldrums under Gordon Brown but I object very strongly to the assertion that the country - my country - is a 'complete and utter mess' as Mr Cameron would have us believe. It is not.

There are myriad problems in Britain which require urgent attention, such as the parlous state of the public finances, the complete failure of New Labour over 13 years to address the democratic deficit at the heart of our country, the 'car crash' which faces all local authorities as the hated Council Tax continues to spin out of control, causing them all budget problems and the issue of social care which is precisely the kind of thing we elect politicians to deal with but which the Conservatives in particular have simply walked away from.

The Conservatives' response to these issues is at best ill thought out, at worst dangerous. They would slash spending with an axe, most likely forcing us into a slump; they are content that our political system, with its unelected second chamber, its all-powerful Prime Minister and its crude, unrepreentative electoral system is working just fine; they invented and continue to support the Council Tax, planning a two year freeze to try to address the problem - a sticking plaster for a gaping wound if ever there was one; and they have simply and shamefully walked away from the discussion over social care.

Instead of his planned speech I would like to see David Cameron acknowledge that it is not his patrician 'duty' to become Prime Minister, it is the choice of millions of voters whom he must persuade that he is able to do the job and that he has the appropriate policies, which for many he has failed to do.

I would also like him to acknowledge that we don't live in a terrible, crime ridden country of single mums and drug addicts but that millions of people in this country do have urgent needs which an incoming government must address while accepting that life for many people is reasonable and should be maintained as far as possible. He should accept that there are major problems for an incoming government to address but damning the very people one seeks to help is not a good starting position for any potential leader.

Mr Cameron's prescription for the country is wrong and it appears that voters are recognising that in increasing numbers.

Friday, 26 February 2010


I was asked to provide some personal insight into my political motivation for a website and it seems appropriate to reproduce my answers here. I understand that the thoughts of candidates from around the country will be posted on Yahoo shortly and these were my responses.

1. What was your first political experience?
I joined the Liberal Party in 1987 to help with the General Election that year.

2. Why did you join your party?
I had always had a ‘liberal’ outlook in my politics, although this was quite well hidden beneath the Conservatism I inherited from my parents.

3. What did you do before becoming a PPC?
I have worked for a political group on a local authority as well as for an MP so I have gained a good understanding of local political processes. Prior to that my experience has largely been in local government.

4. What are your biggest interests outside politics?
Village life in Oxfordshire and radio & TV comedy.

5. What's your favourite political song?
The LDs don’t have any good political songs – the Devil has all the best tunes! If asked to choose, the old Labour anthem, The People’s Flag, is stirring, if ridiculous.

6. What's your favourite political movie?
Passport to Pimlico

7. What makes you suited to representing your constituency?
I come from London so I have seen how the ‘Westminster bubble’ stifles debate about everywhere else around Britain. I have lived in Oxfordshire for seven years, during which time I have been a parish councillor, helped set up a community shop and been active in numerous areas of village life.

8. Why do you think you would be a good MP?
Because I believe in all that stuff about helping people and improving our society. I am a busybody who wants to make things better.

9. What are your main policy interests?
Housing, mental health, local government, devolution – power should reside with the people, not in London.

10. If you had the chance to pass one law, what would it be?
Abolish the House of Lords and introduce a regionally-based second chamber made up of elected councillors from around the country, so no need for a second election.

11. Who is your favourite political figure and why?
Current: Vince Cable, for his sparkling three months as LD party leader and for his obvious understanding of what is wrong and what needs to be done to fix it. Chancellor Cable would inspire confidence across the world.
Past: Jean Monnet, because he imagined and achieved a Europe without war

12. Summarise your beliefs in one sentence.
I believe in freedom, fairness and equality of opportunity for everyone and I believe these aims are achievable within a generation.

Monday, 22 February 2010


News that another village shop in Benson has been lost will be a huge blow to residents. Villages rely on their local businesses to keep them vibrant and when shops and pubs close villages can become little more than commuter zones.

Benson is lucky to retain a busy local community using the school, village hall and recreation facilities and the remaining local shops but every loss of a rural amenity is a challenge to communities.

In my village we have worked hard to reopen and maintain our village shop. It has been a huge effort and I am pleased to say that it is now thriving but it remains a daily effort to ensure that we continue to trade and succeed. We have recently seen our last remaining pub close its doors and we are nervously waiting to see if anyone will come forward to reopen it. Once again the village has begun to consider if a community venture might work but this would be a significantly greater effort than a shop.

In 2009 alone, 12,000 rural shops closed across the country.

The Liberal Democrats have a clear, affordable policy to help threatened rural businesses to survive and grow. Highlights include the following:

1. We would make small business rate relief automatic, not discretionary, so that small shops and businesses which pay a far higher proportion of their income in taxes would immediately benefit.

2. We would cut employment taxes, reversing the planned National insurance rise.

3. We would cut red tape, which is a huge burden on small businesses, including introducing 'sunset clauses' into all legislation so that it does not simply continue to be a burden to businesses through government inaction.

4. We would seek to improve access to credit by improving and better regulating the banking system.

5. We would introduce local enterprise funds to assist the start up and success of new businesses.

6. We would introduce regional stock exchanges to match local investors with local businesses.

7. We would require local planning authorities to develop retail development plans to guard against inappropriate supermarket expansion which could threaten local high streets.

8. We would protect and improve the business model of Post Offices, introducing a 'Postbank' to give access to a bank account to everyone, delivering more government services through this national network of local offices and making Post Offices local hubs for missed deliveries which otherwise tend to have to go back to a regional office if they cannot be delivered first time round.

Competition is a benefit to us all, as is local availability of the goods and services we all want to enjoy. I may be wrong but I am not aware of such a detailed portfolio of policy proposals from the other parties to keep Benson and other rural communities thriving and helping them to grow in the future.


Plans by the Conservatives to allow parents or private groups to set up schools in direct competition to local state schools have been questioned by academics and experts who have pointed to indifferent results in many of the schools in Sweden, where the party got its idea from. The issue of choice has also been queried, with a report from the Centre for Economic Performance pointing out that there is already reasonable choice in the British system. It seems that the result of this policy will simply be to dilute funding for schools, making it more difficult for them to improve.

The Liberal Democrat approach is entirely different, focusing on the children at schools rather than institutions. To give every child a fair start, we will spend an extra £2.5bn, targeted at schools taking on children who need more help. This will benefit every child in every school, as it will be possible to use the cash to cut class sizes and provide one-to-one tuition or offer catch-up classes, ensuring every child gets the individual attention they need.

Performance at school is closely linked to children’s background. The poorest children are only half as likely to get 5 good GCSEs as other children. Too often, the poorest children start school already struggling and fall further behind as they grow older. Schools taking disadvantaged children aren’t getting the money they need. The existing methods for distributing deprivation related funding are confusing and inconsistent. Nearly one in three pupils at secondary school receiving free school meals attend relatively affluent secondary schools, including many in Oxfordshire.

Area based targeting misses a large proportion of the poorest pupils – including many in rural areas. There is a huge gap between poor children in different parts of the country: in Kensington and Chelsea, 59% of poor children get 5 good GCSEs, while in some rural areas it is 14%.

We must never forget that even in affluent areas of Britain such as Henley many people struggle on average or low incomes. The government seems always to want to penalise Oxfordshire for being well off but the reality is more complex than any headline figure for earnings or wealth.

Liberal Democrats will pay for this education policy from savings in government, including reforms to tax credits (which will save £1.5bn) and administrative savings in the Department for Education and quangos (which save an additional £1bn).

The choice is therefore investment now in everyone's future or a piecemeal scheme which is likely to allow better off families to opt out of the local state school, paid by the state, thus reducing the size of the pot for everyone else.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


I am always wary of being unnecessarily negative towards our opponents - that is, after all, the job of voters on election day - but the latest scheme announced by the Conservatives to offer people shares in the banks supported - indeed, 'nationalised' - by the government can really only be described as a 'wheeze' which has not been thought through at all. Simple questions apply which I doubt the Conservatives will be able to offer simple answers to.

1. Why should British taxpayers be invited to 'buy' assets they already technically own? Why would a future government not simply plan to sell these banks on the open market when the time is right and use any profit derived from the sale to invest in our country?

2. Why is this policy being announced now when it is obvious to every commentator that there is no chance of the banks being sold any time soon? There is near-universal agreement that these bankls will not be privatised for several years. Given this very strong probability, the latest Conservative statement cannot be thought of as anything but an election promise rather than a sound policy.

3. How is it logical at a time when serious questions are being asked about credit being extended to people who might have difficulty repaying loans to suggest that less well off families could be offered assistance to buy shares in these banks, when shares are always subject to significant variations in value?

We need an effective opposition, one with sound policies which can offer voters a real alternative to the current bankrupt government. Looking askance at this latest announcement from the Conservatives I am delighted to be in a party which offers that real alternative.

Friday, 19 February 2010


Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Winterton and others of his profession who wish to travel first class to keep away from ordinary people should be given the standard class fare as a reasonable expense for the journey and pay any additional cost incurred if they wish to upgrade.

If they are so out of touch with the 'different type of person' they would be forced to come into contact with in standard class, they might simply stand down, as Sir Nicholas plans to do and no longer be forced to come into contact with 'different types of people' ever again.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague has called for an increase in the Royal Navy's presence in the South Atlantic in response to changes in requirements for ships leaving Argentina to go to the Falkland Islands. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the military presence on the islands is entirely adequate and indeed there is a sizeable force in the region, significantly larger than in 1982.

I wonder if the best response to increasing sabre rattling from a country we were at war with less than three decades ago is to increase our military profile and thus the levels of aggression or whether it would be better to try to calm tensions through dialogue. The British military has experienced a lot of action in recent years and we are committed to a significant deployment in Afghanistan for years to come. If the approach of William Hague to this issue is any guide, it seems that the foreign policy of a possible future Conservative government would be based on increasing military tensions around the globe, rather than seeking dialogue and engagement, above all to reduce the risks to British service personnel.

Mr Hague might reflect that the last Falklands War led directly to the overthrow of a dictator in Argentina and the introduction of democracy in that country. This relatively new democracy may be threatened if another conflict were to arise over the Falklands - either 'hot' or 'cold'. My preference would therefore be for the British government to be extremely wary about any unnecessary posturing and instead to seek dialogue with Argentina, while reassuring the citizens of the Falkland Islands that their interests will always be robustly defended in the event of any change to the current situation.

On this evidence, it is difficult to accept that the Conservative Party which voted for the illegal, ill-planned and devastating invasion of Iraq in 2003 has changed very much at all.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


The Tories have published a list of ‘Ten reasons to vote Conservative’ which did not include any reference to the environment or climate change. This is despite David Cameron’s claim that he has ‘sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda’, and his own Shadow Climate Change Secretary Greg Clark’s assertion that Cameron ‘wanted the environment to be a very important part of the proposition we put to the public at the General Election.’ It follows the recent revelation that reducing Britain’s carbon footprint was at the bottom of the list of priorities of most Conservative election candidates

Action on the environment is a far cry from photo opportunities in the Arctic and it seems that any action is unlikely to occur if a Conservative government is elected.

This lack of interest contrasts quite starkly with the approach of the Liberal Democrats, who have called for investment in green technology and better rail routes to help Britain out of recession. We have also proposed investing in shipyards in Britain to enable them to build and service offshore wind turbines.

Whatever your views about global warming it is a given that oil, gas and coal are finite resources and that eventually alternatives will need to be found. The country which invests in new technologies now will stand to benefit in future.

In Norway, investment is being put into bigger and better offshore wind energy. British Airways is investing in fuel derived from waste, which will be on stream by 2014.

If such new thinking is being taken up by private companies it demonstrates the value of these new ideas and their relevance to today's world. Investment in green technology is not just 'greenwash': as these two examples demonstrate, it is sound economic common sense.

It is a shame that one of the main parties in Britain considers the environment and the relaunch of our economy to be of secondary importance.


A survey by the Institute of Directors has shown that nearly 60% of businesses seeking bank finance in 2009/10 were rejected by their bank, and that 20% are financing their businesses to some extent with credit cards.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said: “There is a huge gap between what the banks tell us and the experience of companies on the ground. This evidence confirms that large numbers of small and medium sized businesses are still having difficulty in getting credit on reasonable terms. The nationalised and semi nationalised banks owe their existence to us, the taxpayer and they must make good on their commitments to increase lending at reasonable rates. Instead of paying themselves large bonuses, the money should instead be used to strengthen balance sheets and to provide commercial lending to sound and solvent British companies who have a vital role to play in our economic recovery.”

Vince saw the credit crunch coming, he saw the need to nationalise some banks which were on the verge of collapse to save the British finance system and he also saw through Gordon Brown early on. He's got an impeccable record and he'd make an ideal Chancellor. If the global economy works on confidence, who could possible be better to manage the country's economy?


Absolute nonsense from Labour MP Austin Mitchell here about his recent appearance on the excellent Channel 4 documentary 'Tower Block of Commons'. The programme put 5 MPs into run down housing estates so that they could experience what life was like for thousands of people in this country. Mitchell has complained that he was misled about the documentary and that he is portrayed in a bad light as a result. This is simply rubbish.

All the other MPs were clearly profoundly affected by the experience and they all appear to have come away with a much greater understanding of the difficulties faced by many people every day. All of the MPS - bar one - lived with council tenants. The exception was Austin Mitchell who insisted on having his own flat and taking his wife along. All the MPs shared meals and went out with their hosts - except one. Austin Mitchell went to a friend's house for dinner and dined alone with his wife on other evenings.

Credit to Lib Dem Mark Oaten, Tories Nadine Dorries and Tim Loughton and an honorable mention for Iain Duncan Smith, who had to leave early as his wife had been diagnosed with a serious illness. All of them got involved in the estates and all of them made real efforts to help their hosts and their neighbours during the week they spent with them. By contrast, Austin Mitchell represents the very worst kind of Labour MP, one who appears to have no regard for the people he is supposed to represent.

Monday, 15 February 2010


Comenting on the Conservative Party announcement today that the government had failed people in poorer areas of the country where 54% - rather than the correct figure of 5.4% - of girls under 18 had got pregnant in some areas, Lib Dem spokesman Danny Alexander said:

"The Tories seem to think that half our teenagers are pregnant, our cities are like The Wire and that people will get married for a few extra quid. If they really believe Britain is like this, it's remarkable that Conservative MPs can pluck up the courage to leave their house. They should lower their drawbridges, spend less time tending their moats and duck houses, and join the rest of us in the real world."

It is difficult to understand how a party led by David Cameron, who has worked very hard to portray a positive image of the Conservatives, could nevertheless offer such a negative image of the society it seeks to represent.

By contrast, Liberal Democrats believe that our country has problems but that it is generally a pretty good place to live.


I spent a useful evening knocking on doors this evening, which always makes you stop and think. I picked a bad time as most people seemed to be tucking into their dinner. (I apologised to one man for disturbing his 'tea' and he corrected me, so I shall remember that in future...).

The best thing about meeting voters is that you find out that, whether angry, friendly, interested, or in a hurry people do care about politics and they do have strong views. I've discussed unemployment, education, homeopathy, tax, Council Tax, the Labour government, the Tories and more. It's never dull.

No one mentioned expenses or corruption, which is encouraging because I remain convinced that serious politics is what interests people and most people vote because of strong convictions.

Mind you, I ended the evening freezing cold and dying for the loo so it wasn't all good but I think I'll return for more.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


My first key priority is to get a real feel for what the Lib Dems will be promoting as our key areas at the forthcoming General Election. I have spent years familiarising myself with the policies but they always come into sharper focus at elections, so a degree of revision is required.

Unlike some parties I could mention we have a comprehensive set of policies covering all aspects of our society. The one I always find the most interesting is the policy on the welfare of fairground goldfish (we're for it!). It may seem trivial but it matters to the goldfish. From there we stretch right up to the international sphere, with a proper policy on Europe - not fear, loathing and general suspicion as practised by the Tories and Labour but a genuine desire to make the EU work better based on the conviction that countries working together is far better than the alternative, which we've tried once or twice.

The election campaign will be fought on the basis of our core belief in freedom, which I have always read as being a strong imperative that the government should leave people alone unless it has to get involved in their lives to protect or improve it.

There will be much more on this, hopefully allowing me to build up a good picture of why people should vote Lib Dem, which is, after all, why I'm writing this.


I have been selected as the Parliamentary spokesman for the constituency of Henley in south east Oxfordshire. It's a big responsibility but one I am looking forward to.

I moved to Oxfordshire in 2002 and I have made it my home along with my family. It is a beautiful part of the world with an image as one of the more prosperous parts of the world. However, there is always another side and there are a range of issues affecting residents across this large and largely rural constituency. I would be very interested to hear from anyone with comments about Henley or about the Liberal Democrats.

I hope to provide updates on my beliefs and the policies of the Liberal Democrats on this blog and to give some details about the campaign to elect a Liberal Democrat for Henley, to ensure that our message of freedom for everyone will be stronger in Parliament.