Wednesday, 31 March 2010


The arguments over social care rumble on without resolution - a clear sign that the cosy consensus between Labour and the Conservatives continues with no suggestion that either party is ready to take the decisions necessary for the future of the country.

Labour has a white paper which won't be delivered. The Tories want the market to resolve an intractable problem. Meanwhile people in need of support for their care needs wait for someone to actually do something.

The Lib Dem Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said “After 13 years in power spent ducking social care reform we probably shouldn’t be surprised that Labour has once again hit it into the long grass. A white paper without any commitment to substantial change in the next Parliament is barely worth the paper it is written on. We’re now being offered a series of piecemeal reforms that have not been properly thought through or costed.

“Seeking consensus is the right approach but that will only work if the cross-party commission is free to consider all ways of funding social care, not just Labour’s preferred policy. The commission should report within a year so changes can be implemented straight away.”

The Lib Dems have been criticised for not having a clear policy on this issue but this is wrong. We believe that there needs to be a partnership between individuals and the state so that any social care system is affordable. We also want to talk about it and to come to a resolution which everyone can agree on, rather than seeing millions of people lose out while politicians haggle over details for years. As the quote from Norman Lamb makes clear, Lib Dems are calling for this kind of collaborative approach AND for a decision on how to proceed within a year.

Now I'm not generally a betting man but I'd put a lot of money on the strong probability that if one party or another wins an outright majority on May 6th a decision on social care will not be achieved within this reasonable time frame.

And the Lib Dems are called indecisive!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


The Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg, has called for a cross-party Council of Financial Stability to agree the timetable and scale of deficit reduction. He made the call at the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday 23rd March. Nick said that the sheer size of the UK budget deficit will require politicians to take a different approach to public spending to avoid social unrest.

Nick criticised 'government-as-usual', which he said could not command the legitimacy to make many of the big decisions necessary in coming years. The scale of the changes required is so great that it will require a different way of taking decisions. He said that the standard model of Governments elected with a minority of popular support imposing cuts from Westminster would be a recipe for Greek-style social and industrial strife so he called for new ways to ensure that the long term national interest would be put above short-term interests.

The Liberal Democrats would establish a cross party Council for Financial Stability, with the economic spokespeople of all the major parties invited to join, along with the Governor of the Bank of England and the Head of the Financial Services Authority. The purpose would be to agree the basic timetable and scale of deficit reduction in the years ahead.

The cross-party Council could agree the timetable according to sound economic tests, like those Vince Cable has already set out as a means of judging when to begin the process of fiscal contraction, which are the rate of growth; the level of unemployment; credit conditions; the extent of spare capacity in the economy; and the cost of Government borrowing.

This plan would not prevent political parties from arguing about which changes should be made to taxes and public spending, or which areas of taxation and spending should be immune from any change but it would force politicians to be honest about the scale of the changes required, with a structural deficit estimated at £80bn.

Including the monetary and banking authorities would allow for a more coherent debate about the interaction between monetary and fiscal policy, as well as the role of the financial services sector in underpinning growth.

The full elimination of the structural deficit will almost certainly take more than one parliament so an agreed approach on the overall scale and timetable of fiscal consolidation will provide both the British public and the markets with the assurance that a consistent and responsible approach will not be hijacked by politics in the future.

Regrettably, the Conservatives and Labour continue to hide from the true scale of the problem and both parties instead continue to pretend that 'efficiencies' are the answer to everything.

If you want real change, vote for it.


The Lib Dems have set up a spoof website highlighting the similarities between the two old parties and their cosy relationship for 65 years in government. This is quite a departure for us and I welcome a bit of levity so early on in the election campaign that isn't an attack on any individual personality. There is a link from this website to the Lib Dems' main site and the slogan used there is 'if you want real change, vote for it'.

Naturally, I couldn't agree more but perhaps what strikes me the most is how this slogan works far better than the one we have adopted for the election, which is 'change that works for you: building a fairer Britain'.

Once again, I agree entirely with the sentiments but its not an easy message to put across on the doorstep. By contrast, asking people to vote for real change is. I hope we hear a lot more on this in the next five weeks.


The Conservatives are damned quite unequivocally by Steve Richards in the Independent today. He criticises the party as 'amateurish' and in particular condemns the making of policy on the hoof.

Richards notes: Policies quickly made are becoming Cameron's defining theme. He announced a bank tax the weekend before last to the surprise of the shadow Cabinet. Now he has to work out the details, along with the marriage tax allowance and the rest of the incoherent, contradictory package.

And then goes on: The inconsistency exposes the lack of principle. The Conservatives have changed their economic policies more often than under any opposition leadership I can recall. I do not mean that the policies have evolved in a recognisable direction. That would be constructive change. They have moved from one direction to another.

Richards sets out how various policies have been announced, only to be followed by apparently contradictory policies some months later. It would be unfair to the newspaper to set out the whole argument here but I would recommend it if you are considering giving your support to the Conservatives on May 6th.

In another comment I read today the Conservatives were compared to the Labour Party of 1992, which I would say is a pretty accurate analysis. This is a party up against an unpopular government with an admittedly popular leader (RIP John Smith, a politician of conviction and principle) but one in which most voters simply do not have confidence and which the great majority do not believe has changed.

I'd say they are right in that conclusion.

The greatest criticism I can offer of a possible Conservative government is not that its Cabinet would be dominated by the alumni of a single expensive private school, nor that it has no obvious principles beyond cutting tax and rewarding the better off in our society. It seems to me that the most damning criticism of a possible future Tory government is simply that it would not change anything because it does not have any ideas.

Finally let me apologise for the tone of this post. I want to promote the policies of the Liberal Democrats but it is difficult to avoid criticism of the Conservatives when too many people still see them as a credible alternative government.

They are not.

Monday, 29 March 2010


Plans to move GMT forward by two hours in the summer and one hour in winter will be a boost to many of us as we have longer evenings to enjoy in the warm weather. Winters will be a bit more of a chore in the mornings but once again the evenings will allow more of us to enjoy those valuable rays of sunshine after school and work. The only problem I can see is for parents of small children persuading them that they must go to bed in summer when it is even brighter. I look forward to endless debate with my two children on this very subject.

The only objection which has been raised is over Scotland, where it is darker for longer in winter, affecting farmers and the school run in particular. Now I shudder at any accusation of being practical about this but it is my understanding that Scotland has its own government and its own traditions in many areas. I struggle to understand why Scotland cannot simply have a separate timescale for winter to suit the needs of the people of Scotland, with England, Wales and Northern Ireland allowed to choose a system for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If our government believes in devolution it should allow for such variations between the countries of the UK. After all Russia has around 20 time zones and the USA has about five. Why shouldn't we recognise regional differences and do what's best for everyone?


So this is the big plan of the Conservatives in advance of the General Election. They would block some of the National Insurance rises planned for next year. The plan will apparently benefit 7 out of 10 employees and it will be paid for by cancelling some as yet unnamed projects and by 'efficiencies'. The Labour Party is also declaring that 'efficiencies' will pay for their limited promises to cut the deficit.

Conservative proposals for 'efficiencies' include halting spending on major new IT projects and cancelling some existing ones, negotiating significant cost reductions in the contracts held by government departments with major suppliers, controlling recruitment by closing some back office and support roles when they become empty, cutting back on discretionary spending such as expenses, travel, consultancy and office consumables and reducing public sector property costs by vacating space and cutting the running costs of buildings. All pretty nebulous and all about as likely to achieve the required savings as I am of walking on the moon any time soon.

Is anyone going to be convinced by this rhetoric? I hope not. For the record, the Liberal Democrats have identified £15bn of savings on specific items for the coming year, such as cancelling the needless replacement of Trident, which will be used to start addressing the deficit and cutting income tax for the lowest paid. This is not rhetoric, it is a specific pledge based on a realistic assessment of our financial situation. It contrasts starkly with the Conservative pledge.

Under our proposals, 4 million of the lowest paid people will no longer pay tax, giving them a better chance to help themselves rather than relying on state handouts paid for by National Insurance.

So rather than recycling less money to help the less well off, the Liberal Democrats will simply let them keep their own money. That makes more sense to me than a technical cut in NI.

As for these much vaunted 'efficiencies', we all agree with the principle and the next government, whatever its stripe, must look hard at this area but making spending pledges based on such an uncountable notion is rather like asking people to pay for their weekly supermarket shop with a blank cheque for the shop to fill in as it sees fit. No one would do that so why should we be asked to give our support to a party which cannot tell us what its commitments would cost if elected?

If you want to know exactly where your money will go before you vote on May 6th, vote Lib Dem. If you're happy to sign that blank cheque, try the others.

Thursday, 25 March 2010


The budget has been received with a degree of acclaim by many commentators, primarily because Chancellor Alastair Darling did not mess up. He has been commended for walking a budgetary tightrope just a few weeks before an election without dropping the patient that is the economy and without slipping up to drop his own party in it so close to polling day. These furiously mixed metaphors aside, the problem with the budget was not what it said but what it didn't say.

Everyone is aware that the country is in a difficult situation. The government has borrowed a huge amount of money to avoid a deep depression and this has been successful so far. The Liberal Democrats have supported this approach as the alternative in this period of major financial upheaval would have been turmoil for millions of people across the country. We have also recognised that the deficit must be addressed as soon as possible, starting this year. The Conservatives have called every economic decision wrong for more than two years, going against economic orthodoxy, most countries around the world and even that champion of profligate spending, the IMF. Yet still they continue to claim the moral high ground and to call for immediate cuts to address the huge budget deficit - although they won't say what they would cut.

And there is the problem: neither the Conservatives nor Labour will say how they will address the deficit. This failure to spell out the tough decisions needed now stands in stark contrast to the approach of the Liberal Democrats under our inspired Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable. Six weeks from polling day only the Liberal Democrats have identified £15bn worth of cuts to be made this year and a clear programme for addressing the deficit, including cancelling the unnecessary replacement for Trident (the existing system can simply continue to be deployed).
(see here for more on this)

As Andrew Grice puts it in today's Independent: "With the honourable exception of the Liberal Democrats, the main parties are still being deliberately vague about specific cuts. Labour's hastily-put-together £11bn package of "savings" relied on our old friend efficiency savings. The Tories claim that leaves more than £20bn of cuts to be found by Labour in the full-scale spending review conveniently delayed until after the election."

That's Labour conveniently accounted for but what of the Tories. Well, if you're happy to vote for a political party which makes vague pledges in the face of an unprecedented deficit, you might wish to vote Tory. If you think that the general blandishments of 'jam tomorrow' are sufficient for an economic policy, George Osborne is your man. If you think that every other major economy has been wrong to borrow today to avoid the worst outcome from this period of turmoil, blue is the colour for you.

Alternatively, if you believe that the man who predicted the credit crunch might be the right person to address the fallout and the recovery, you could do worse than consider Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats. If you think that the party which called for bank nationalisation as a necessary tool to avoid social unrest and stabilise our financial sector got it right, try the Liberal Democrats. And if you think it is better to vote for a party which makes it absolutely clear that we face difficult times but which sets out clearly how it plans to address them, think about the Liberal Democrats.

The adventure is over for David Cameron's Conservatives. They have failed to persuade the electorate and they have been found out.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


News that Oxfordshire's economy has experienced low economic growth in the past five years raises a serious question over Tory plans nationally to start cutting the budget deficit immediately if they are elected in May. The Oxfordshire Economic Assessment prepared for the County Council says that the county experienced low economic growth compared to the rest of the South East. The improvement which has occurred was due mainly to growth in public sector, which is now being hit by budget constraints.

Public sector growth is likely to fall further in the future so government action nationally will be essential to sustain the weak recovery. The fragile state of the economy means that drastic cuts proposed by the Conservatives for this year would put jobs at risk in Oxfordshire. Today, unemployment figures for the county showed a welcome fall in the jobless total of 300 in February but there are still over 9,000 people out of work across the county.

The economic recovery is proving slow and uncertain and any drastic curbs on government spending will have a major impact across Britain. The news released today about Oxfordshire's economy and unemployment figures show that our county has far to go to secure a successful future for residents and businesses here. A Tory government would threaten the recovery here.

Liberal Democrats recognise the need to address the deficit, which is why we have put forward £15bn of specific savings for this year to start to address the deficit immediately. This is in stark contrast to the Tories, who have said that they want to make deep cuts now without saying what they would cut.

Monday, 15 March 2010


Liberal Democrats in south east Oxfordshire have backed the protest against County Council cuts to local fire services which could threaten lives across the area. Fire fighters from Abingdon and Didcot will protest against proposed cuts to their service outside County Hall on Tuesday.

The County cabinet will meet on Tuesday 16th March to discuss changes to fire cover in the county which would mean that villages in south Oxfordshire would only have cover from a retained crew at evenings and weekends. This would result in a longer wait for a crew to arrive at emergencies. The proposed cuts will mean that a fire engine may take 4 minutes longer to get to a fire in many parts of south east Oxfordshire, which could be the difference between life and death.

Henley Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesman Andy Crick said: “The Council may say that people across south Oxfordshire will be safe without this full-time fire cover but then the people who built the Titanic said it was unsinkable. Many villages in our area are remote and residents need to know that if the worst happens they will have help as quickly as possible. These proposals from the County Council simply don't stack up and they must be opposed.

“Since they were elected in June 2009, County Tories have slashed budgets with no apparent regard for key services. It seems highly likely that the election result would have been very different if the Tories had revealed the full extent of the planned cuts before June but they chose not to. If this is what Tories in Oxfordshire are capable of it gives a chilling hint at what a Conservative government might do if elected nationally. We must be grateful that that risk is receding.”

Sunday, 14 March 2010


The Liberal Democrats are holding our Spring conference in Birmingham, to widespread critical acclaim. Sadly, family life and an appointment at Oxford United meant that I was unable to get there but I have been encouraged to read and listen to the positive coverage the conference has received.

Unfortunately the tired issue of a hung Parliament has been raised and is being flogged to within an inch of its life by the media. I have for many years been concerned whenever hung Parliaments and coalitions have been raised as this is considered by most media commentators to be the height of our ambition as a party. I'd like to point out the truth from the point of view of this PPC.

I voted for Nick Clegg as party leader precisely because he alone of the two candidates set out his ambitions to win an election, not to come third or even second. I previously supported Paddy Ashdown for the same reason. I am a Liberal Democrat because I want to deliver Liberal Democrat policies, not watered down, tired Labour pledges or whatever the Conservatives stand for in any given week.

The Liberal Democrats remain the only truly democratic party whose members directly elect the leader and president and vote on all our policies at our democratic conference. That is why the membership sometimes annoys the leadership - because that's democracy and we're demonstrably for it. It is therefore a source of great comfort to me that in the event of any coalition talks after an election we have what is known as the 'triple lock' system which would require the leader to get the approval of the Parliamentary party, then the federal committee then the party membership as a whole before he or she is able to agree to a coalition.

I am standing for Henley on a Liberal Democrat ticket, not anybody else's. I will promote Liberal Democrat policies throughout this campaign and then in Parliament if elected. If asked to vote on a formal coalition with the worn out Labour government or with the ephemeral Conservatives I will oppose the idea.

This Lib Dem is 100% committed to being a Liberal Democrat, not anything else.

The good news for me is that what I hear from Nick Clegg tells me that he agrees but that he is being prodded and pushed by the media into giving all sorts of Svengali-like answers to ever more tautological questions. They are fishing and, happily, he is not biting.

I hope you will vote Lib Dem on May 6th because we are a strong, democratic party which has 'called' most of the major issues in politics correctly in the past decade and which will be the only party to go into the campaign with a fully costed programme for economic recovery, deficit reduction, lower taxes for 99% of the population, the abolition of the hated Council Tax, a sensible, deliverable green agenda, and a commitment to democratic renewal.

When the other parties sign up to that I'll support them but it is my guess that on that day the Devil will be wearing thermal underwear.

So, for the record, it is a categorical, unequivocal no to any coalition from me.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


I left my office early at 4pm today as I was on childcare duty. As I attempted to negotiate my way onto the A34 I found the roundabout blocked by a police outrider who was shortly joined by a series of police vehicles escorting five hearses carrying the bodies of the latest five British service personnel serving in Afghanistan. A sixth, empty hearse followed.

The convoy joined the dual carriageway pursued by a large number of cars but the police ensured that none overtook. We passed by some roadworks and a worker there respectfully removed his hard hat.

I have seen this sobering sight once before and both times it shook me. It is one thing to see the news reports or to read about the latest death but it is quite another to see the flag covered coffins pass you by.

Strangely, both occasions were around elections, the last being in June 2009, shortly after the County Council vote. The best aspect of this sad experience is that it has made me stop and think and, I hope, to put the whole election business into perspective.


Today's Independent says the following about one party's clear, costed plans to reduce the budget deficit as quickly as possible:

'It is ironic that financial markets seem jittery over the fiscal consequences of a hung parliament because the Liberal Democrats, who could hold the balance of power in such circumstances, actually have the most detailed deficit reduction plans of all three main parties.

'The party's Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable, has proposed scrapping Trident, a civil service pay freeze, abolishing regional development agencies and reducing tax credits for wealthier families – cuts considerably more extensive than anything Alistair Darling or George Osborne have yet dared to present to the public. The Liberal Democrats have even stepped back from one of their most cherished and popular policies – scrapping university tuition fees – in deference to the bleakness of the fiscal outlook.'

The article goes on to note that the traditional view of the LDs as a party of high spenders is just plain wrong. I cam across this the other day and it some convincing on my part to assure people that we aren't.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Former Labour Party supporter and editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, has published a pamphlet setting out why he has decided to give his support to the Lib Dems at the coming election. He has also set out his views in the Guardian as well.

He says: 'As somebody who has a long involvement with the Labour party, including editing the New Statesman magazine, I have been able to give a frank and honest appraisal of a decade and a half of New Labour. And in it I explain why I can no longer support them, and am instead turning to the Liberal Democrats.

'Alongside one million other voters, I deserted Labour in 2005 in protest at Iraq in favour of the Liberal Democrats, the only party to oppose the war [my emphasis]. My decision to back the Lib Dems in 2010 is based in a more fundamental appraisal of Labour’s record together with a positive assessment of the Liberal Democrats’ platform.'

Kampfner notes that New Labour in office was solely interested in re-election. 'Since 1997, their every working day was based around the task of prolonging their term of office. It filled in the ideological hollow and justified ever-encroaching authoritarianism and a pandering to the right on criminal justice and other areas of social policy.'

He contrasts this approach with the Liberal Democrats' analysis of the failures of the deregulated market and points to the Lib Dems' tax reform plans, which will take four million low paid workers out of tax altogether. The Lib Dem plans 'are the most redistributive of any party'.

Kampfner also commends the Liberal Democrat approach to criminal justice, human rights, foreign and social policy is close to mine.

Kampfner concludes with a point which might refer to other parties as well as New Labour: 'People can only for so long be exhorted to hold their nose, to vote for a party they feel has let them down, simply because the alternative is worse. It is deeply damaging to politics to resort perpetually to the double negative. The Liberal Democrats offer a positive, radical and different vision. That is why they have my support.'

Well, quite.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


More detail on the principles which underly the Liberal Democrat election campaign. In a speech on 11th January, Nick Clegg set out a very clear set of priorities for the party as we enter the election season.

The value that connects everything we want to achieve is fairness. There are four priorities for how the Liberal Democrats will make Britain a fairer place:
1. Fair taxes
2. A fair start for every child
3. Fair, clean and local politics
4. A fair, green economy with jobs that last

The first priority is to introduce fair taxes, with radical proposals for the biggest tax reform in generations. The Liberal Democrats will close loopholes for the richest and introduce a tax on mansions to fund tax cuts of £700 for everyone else.

No-one will pay income tax on the first £10,000 they earn, meaning millions of low earners and pensioners will stop paying taxes altogether, while millions more will get hundreds of pounds back in their pockets. Only we are proposing to make taxes permanently fair, not just planning cuts for the richest in our society.

The next priority is to give every child the fair start they deserve through a huge transformation of our education system that will build the foundations of a fair society. That means cutting class sizes so children get the individual attention they need to thrive. The Liberal Democrats will put an extra £2.5 billion into schools to pay for more teachers, better discipline and catch-up classes so children get the individual attention they all need.

This means an average of £2,500 extra per pupil for the schools teaching the million most deprived children in the country, funded by taking above-average earners out of the tax credit system and cutting wasteful programmes at the Department for Education.

The Liberal Democrats will also phase out tuition fees over the course of six years, so that, after school, everyone who gets the right grades has the opportunity to go to university without fear of debt, no matter what their background.

We are the only party committed to real change of our political system. This means getting big money and corrupt donors out of politics altogether, reducing the number of MPs by 150, giving power over the police and NHS to local communities, changing the voting system to abolish safe seats and giving you the right to sack corrupt MPs. These are changes that would upend our political establishment.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives will ever offer change on this scale. They will defend the status quo to the last. Only the Liberal Democrats offer the chance for a different politics. Another whitewash is unacceptable, we need permanent change to make politics clean, fair and local.

The Liberal Democrats will shift the economy away from the traditional over-reliance on the City of London and on financial services. Our plans will usher in a new era where growth is enabled in every part of Britain in a way that promotes green technology and creates lasting jobs. We will put an end to the casino banking that caused the financial crisis by breaking up the banks and encouraging regional and local ways to bring competition back to the financial sector and make sure businesses can find the money they need to grow. Under our plans, councils will regain control of business rates, reconnecting local enterprise with local politics; Local Enterprise Funds will help people invest in growing businesses in their area and Regional Stock Exchanges will give companies a way to move into public equity without the huge risks and costs of a London listing. The Liberal Democrats will also create a new National Infrastructure Bank to bring in private money to build the transport links, energy grid and public buildings we need for a sustainable, low carbon economy in every part of Britain.

Now we don't claim to have all the answers but we are setting out a clear, costed programme for government, which can't be said of the Conservatives or Labour. They will tinker, we will transform.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


I have just finished watching Question Time on BBC1, during which a number of members of the audience criticised the major parties for their focus on personalities and their lack of policies. May I beg to differ on behalf of the Lib Dems.

Being a Liberal Democrat PPC is an onerous task primarily because as a party we are so stuffed to the gills with policies on every subject that it is a daily task simply to keep up with them.

Not only are we the only party with a very clear idea about what caused the credit crunch, what the consequences of it have been and what we need to do to address these consequences (more later but for the moment Google 'Vince Cable' for more information), we are also the only party to have outlined plans for a 'green road' out of recession, a sensible idea to invest in green tech not because the planet needs us to but to improve Britain's economy and provide more people with long term jobs. We have policies on Europe (we are for it but highly critical of how it is run), policies on education (more money for children, which seems sensible) and lower taxes for everyone (criticise that, if you please).

Given this cornucopia of ideas on just about everything, I had to smile today when I received a message advising me about our policy towards pit ponies. Lib Dems wish to see protection for pit ponies included in the Animal Welfare Act, which they are currently excluded from. This is clearly a sensible, practical policy and one I would not hesitate to support.

However, practically speaking I am not aware that this is a major issue for the residents of Henley constituency. It also represents an additional policy which I - and my 645 colleagues around the country - must commit to memory. I shall have to resist a loud cheer if I am asked about this when meeting residents in South East Oxfordshire as I will be delighted to confirm that the Liberal Democrats - alone among the three main parties - do indeed have a policy on this and everything.

NB: for the avoidance of any doubt may I note that I am not in any way seeking to diminish the importance of the welfare of pit ponies. Rather I am making light of the fact that the Labour and Conservative Parties lack credible polices in a wide range of areas while the Lib Dems are very favourably endowed with proposals in all areas.

All parties are not the same.


News that the John Radcliffe Hospital has cancelled all children’s surgery following four recent deaths is a serious concern to everyone in the area but it must be seen in the context of a properly functioning system.

It is a tragic fact that some patients will not survive visits to hospital and it is always worse when children are involved. News that the JR has decided to investigate these recent deaths confirms to me that our hospital is taking this matter very seriously. As a parent of young children – one of whom entered this world at the JR - I am reassured by the rapid response to this important issue.

It will not remove the pain experienced by the families of these unfortunate children but they will hopefully take comfort from the knowledge that the JR intends to ensure that it learns from these tragic events to safeguard other children.

I would not hesitate to take my children to the JR in any future emergencies and I would trust the staff there to provide the best possible care for them, as they have always done in the past.