Tuesday, 13 December 2011


Here's a good article from Andrew Stunell MP which shows how Lib Dems are actually doing stuff in government instead of picking petty fights with other countries. This article sets out how the Lib Dems are reducing the chronic problem of empty dwellings across the country after 13 years of Labour failure.

Monday, 12 December 2011


I'm pretty much decided on the whole Europe-Tories-Cock-Up-Debacle but there is a very interesting article from the BBC's Gavin Hewitt about the possibilities for the UK if it does disengage from the EU. It's a very good piece which offers a different perspective from the current arguments.

Crucially, this piece is about the possibilities for the UK of leading the agenda by offering a positive alternative to the French-dominated European 'vision' which is fundamentally anti-democratic.


[I have taken to writing a blog some hours before posting it so that I can review the language. This is a good discipline particularly when referring to our charming coalition 'partners'. You might say there's no 'f' in coalition...]

Ouch. The Independent today discusses whether the Lib Dems should stay in the coalition with the Tories or whether we should accept that we have nothing in common with their self-destructive approach to the world and pull out now, probably precipitating a new General Election. The answer is simple. We have to stick it out, however hard we must hold our noses.

We went into the coalition with the Tories because it was in the national interest. People attack Nick Clegg for changing his tune but he said this before, during and after the General Election campaign. He was absolutely, unequivocally clear that we would work with whichever party won the most votes. Thankfully, in this case it was the Tories for, let no one forget, Labour in 2010 was entirely washed up, with one of the most unpopular leaders ever, a Chancellor promising cuts pretty much along the lines of what we have now and absolutely no idea about what to do next. They were lost and they still are, as Ed Miliband demonstrated on Sunday when the best response he could come up with in response to the European debacle was to declare that he agreed with Nick. And this man has ambitions to be Prime Minister. Seriously.

By contrast, the Tories offered us a good deal. We have lost out in some areas like student fees and the referendum - call it political naivety - but in others we are doing well, such as cutting taxes for the lowest paid, investing in education for disadvantaged schoolchildren and wrestling with the nightmare of our energy policy. We are doing good Lib Dem stuff in government and that will all stop if we walk away. We are also working hard to deliver the stability which is so clearly lacking in much of Europe and which remains the touchstone of this government's success. It's hard, it is hurting but if it succeeds we will all benefit, even union leaders on £120,000 a year who seek to derail all these plans. [Note: the fiery anachronistic leader of UNISON gets this princely sum each year. I wonder how many of his poorly paid members know that...]

On a more inward-looking tack, if the Lib Dems do leave the coalition and an election is called, it's unlikely to be wine and roses for us. We have good arguments and a principled stance but Joe and Josephine Public haven't been sold on that yet. We need time to get the message across that we are holding the Tories in check and delivering on our promises. I don't know many people who dislike the Tories as much as I do and that is because I have seen close at hand how they operate. This government needs principles and clarity of purpose to survive and that isn't going to come from them. Lib Dems need to fight them all the way but do it from the inside.

So plaudits to Nick for what has become one of the best assaults of recent years on arrogance and ignorance in government and the abject failure of British diplomacy in Europe, for which David Cameron is 100% responsible. Forget the nuanced arguments of various pundits about why he did it - he failed to negotiate wisely for our interests in an international forum, he failed to engage with partners and he was comprehensively outflanked by the French - the French, goddamit!

I agree with Nick and I wish him well in what is going to be a Hell of a week for us and for our disastrously isolated country.

Friday, 9 December 2011


I struggle with Europe. I am a passionate European and I see only benefits in the European project. I have always supported Britain’s membership of the EU but that enthusiasm is tempered by my complete disdain for the EU as it is: a garbled, ill-thought out ‘camel’ of an institution with absurdities such as the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fish Abolition Policy and the farce of the European Parliament moving lock, stock and barrel from its headquarters in Brussels to Strasbourg once a month at a cost of millions of Euros to satisfy French egos.

Europe is a mess - a great idea but a terrible entity. It needs a counterweight to the French and their self-aggrandizing President. Angela Merkel is a star but her default setting, sadly, is to compromise, not to tell Sarko what's what. It needs a country like ours which, for all our myriad faults, is still relatively uncorrupt and which has been outward-facing for a good few centuries now. Sadly, we have mucked up our relationship with Europe for 70 years and it might just be the case that we can't 'do' Europe.

If you look back at the history of European integration it is obvious to even the most in-bred Tory that Britain has squandered what could have been a key role. When countries began talking about ‘Europe’ in London during the Second World War they were very keen for Britain to join. Britain was at the time important due to its wartime role. Reflect on that, Dave...Crucially, Britain was seen as an essential bulwark against French ambitions to use the European project to create a ‘greater France’.

Sadly, the Tory government of the time (1957) could not see the bigger picture and decided to let the foreign Johnnies get on with it while we declined politely on the sidelines. Thus France got its way from day one and all the current problems of Europe to this day emerged: the CAP, the abject lack of democracy, the corrupt Commission system, the deals behind closed doors. How much better could Europe – and Britain – have been if we had been mixing it from the start, insisting on representative and effective institutions and a free trade area which could have brought countries together while not diminishing states and their democratic checks to the detriment of the people who live in them?

When Britain realised its mistake the government had to go cap in hand to the French, who drove a hard bargain and finally let Britain join in 1973 – just as the global economy sank into one of its perennial crises. Since then we have been in a state of confusion over Europe, not sure whether to be committed or sceptical.

Well Dave has made the decision for us, now. By walking out of one of the most crucial meetings in European history he has taken Britain’s influence with him for a generation. And he let the French win again, which just smarts. We have the Olympics, they have the future of Europe. Well played, Dave.He may be defended by Eurosceptics but the crux of this whole story is that a better politician would not have let himself be put in this position.

Having now comprehensively lost all credibility in Europe, perhaps this is the time for everyone here to reflect. Frankly, we just don’t get it. Perhaps we should admit that Britain cannot be part of the EU, not because it is not in our interests – it is, and the moment we leave, London goes down the tubes as global finance moves to Frankfurt and Shanghai – but because we haven’t escaped the curse of empire, the notion that we are somehow different and better than others. We are not, we are Europeans and we have been ever since people first arrived here many thousands of years ago from Europe and continued to trade and work with their neighbours ever since.

Maybe Europe is better off without us. Maybe the spirit of closed door deals and compromise is what is needed. Maybe the new powers of Poland and Germany can stand up to France better than we have. For the first time in my life I find myself strangely sympathetic to the imbecilic voices calling for us to leave the EU. I don't agree with them but it may just be that we have shot our collective bolt and now is the time to call it a day.

As for Nick, my God he's a cool one. I can imagine what he's been saying to Dave behind the scenes but his sang froid before the cameras is a sight to behold. I'd have preferred him to have called Dave every version of fool in the English language but he is playing the long game and he deserves credit for that.

Monday, 24 October 2011


What a huge number of issues the planned Tory revolt throws up today. First it demonstrates that there is only a sticking plaster over the deep division within their party over Europe - and remember, dear reader, which party signed us up to Europe, signed us up to the Single European Act and signed us up to the Maastricht Treaty and, of course, which party has NEVER offered voters a say in a referendum on any aspect of our relationship with Europe. Aha, it was the Tories (harmonica riff here if you're a fan of Manfred Mann).

Second, it shows how foolish the Tories still are, offering their leader no support when he is arguing with other European leaders over the whole future of the continental system. If ever there was a time for closing ranks, this is it but Tories like Bill Cash and John Redwood, egged on by a new crop of petty grandstanders, cannot see beyond this issue. Third, it highlights the irrelevance of Labour as they are just as split over Europe as the Tories. Just look at the disarray on both sides over the Lisbon Treaty. Fourth, it shows that Parliament matters - a categorically good thing.

Perhaps most importantly for this utterly biased blog, it demonstrates that, whether you like the Lib Dems' views on Europe we are the only party which is consistent, clear and honest about our support for the union and for co-operation between European countries. It is, however, a disappointment that our leadership decided to 'whip' our MPs today.

Rising above the petty politics of today's debate and vote is a much larger issue, one which is considered in a very 'black and white' way. Almost all the commentaries raise the spectre of possible two- or three-speed Europes, with an inner core of Eurozone countries, an outer group of less economically committed countries and a periphery of sceptics, one of which would inevitably be Britain, since British governments have shown unfailing stupidity over Europe ever since the 1940s when the smaller countries urged us to join to counterbalance France and provide a more practical, less corrupt model for the continent than les Grenouilles managed to introduce. The notion of a multi-speed system is seen as A Bad Thing by almost everyone and a road to ruin for Britain and for Europe. Why? What evidence is there that flexibility leads to failure?

Putting aside the record of 70 years of crass stupidity and failure to lead when leadership was needed by Britain, what is wrong with a multi-speed Europe? Why should some countries not share a currency while others don't? Why shouldn't some countries retain their currencies until such time - if such time arrives - that they decide that their interests lie within a currency union? I favour membership of the EU but not on any terms so why not look at working with others to develop differently. Isn't that the gift Britain can bring to Europe? Not the narrow-minded 'in or out' argument but a more nuanced one about shared interests. Forcing countries together, as the French favour, causes discord, dissonance and a lack of buy-in by citizens of European countries. Isn't that old devil, democracy, meant to be about winning popular support for progress and competing ideas fighting for acceptance?

That's the trouble with the European debate in Britain: it isn't a debate, it's a shouting match. We're either in or out, we either have to love Europe or hate it. Can't we be mature and accept the pluses of European membership while decrying and seeking to improve on the problems, like the CAP and the farce of the Strasbourg Parliament?

Coo, with all this favouring debate, dialogue and flexibility, I'll never get anywhere in politics, will I?

Thursday, 20 October 2011


The debate on Europe palls a bit when contrasted with the momentous news that the Libyan dictator has been captured and may even have spluttered his last on this earth but it is still important for this country.

It's difficult as a Lib Dem to hide one's glee at the abject stupidity of Tories for reviving this particular corpse, not a failed dictator but a pointless, childish argument which never fails to put the Tories at each others' throats. Keep fighting, chaps and let's hope the political casualty rate in this spat is high.

While they bicker between themselves, it would be nice if we could have a clear, unequivocal statement from the Lib Dem leadership that:
1. we are 100% pro European
2. we are also highly critical of the mess that Europe is and want it reformed root and branch
3. we are the only party - yes, the only one - which supported a referendum on European membership at the last election
4. Lib Dem MPs will be given the freedom to vote as they choose in next week's debate

We're sitting pretty on this issue as the only party with a clear view and a commitment to giving voters a proper choice on membership and this is a golden opportunity to show people why we're different. I hope Nickers makes some political capital out of it rather than just being Mr Nice Guy. They stuffed you earlier this year, Nick. It's payback time now.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Well, phew. I have just heard on the radio that, fresh from stopping all dangerous driving and near misses with cyclists across the county and having reduced road deaths in Oxfordshire to zero, Thames Valley Police are going to be clamping down on cyclists in Oxford without lights.

At least the police have their priorities right.

I tend to go out with more lights than a well-stocked Christmas tree, as well as a jacket visible from nearby planets it is so bright so I have no sympathy with these miscreants. Of course, I go to such lengths to avoid finding myself crushed beneath a car which thinks if it accelerates it can just get round me before the oncoming vehicle gets to us. My glowing presence may also help to reduce the incidences of car drivers finding it easier to skim past my handlebar rather than obeying those troublesome rules about giving cyclists at least a car's width when overtaking.

But it's the cyclists who are at fault! Oh yes. Good old Thames Valley Police and well done on getting your priorities right, lads and lasses.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


I've become a zealot for cycling as I have discovered that it convenient, enjoyable and manageable by even the unfittest of people, i.e. me. What continues to amaze me is the apartheid which exists on our roads which forces cyclists to brave potholes, idiots and zero provision to participate in a healthy activity which could benefit everyone - yes, everyone, from car drivers with more space to pollute to future generations with a healthier population relying on less of their tax money.

I recently undertook a fundraising cycle ride, aiming to get from my part of Oxfordshire to Stoke-on-Trent for the recent - and ever excellent - beer festival there. As I cycle around 20 miles a few times a week to and from work I thought it would be a reasonable scaling up and if I gave myself enough time it would be possible to do in a day.

The journey itself was fantastic and filled with fabulous pleasures like the countryside of Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, the overwhelming friendliness of Birmingham and its environs and the boyish delight of a Vulcan bomber flying so low over me that I waved to the pilot. I got as far as Walsall, where time and my tired legs forced me to jump on a train for the last part of the journey, which allowed me to contrast the delights of cycling with the misery of an overcrowded Virgin Train - which I managed to board with my bike even though I was told I could not reserve one of the four places for bikes, putting the trip into doubt even though I had paid. Idiocy. The only pleasure on the train ride was the shared experience of others as we all protested in the English way, by sighing and raising our eyes to Heaven.

The ride gave me ample time to ponder the vagaries of cycle provision and to compare what is available around the country. For much of my journey I was able to enjoy country lanes, with few cars beyond the occasional oaf in an overlarge car offended by my presence. However, these country lanes tend to meander and thus to take longer. I was running behind schedule at one point so I turned onto the A3400 below Henley in Arden. For about twenty minutes I covered far more ground than I could have by more circuitous routes and the first realisation struck me: that cars have to go by 'route one' yet bikes are expected to go round the houses. I was fortunate that the road in question was quite lightly used and the journey wasn't too bad and, in consequence, I made up some time.

I then tried a canal path outside Stratford on Avon and this started well, with a good, flat path which was lovely. Then, about five miles outside Stratford, this 'national cycle route' (seriously) became a thin muddy strip next to the canal, good only for mountain bikes. Imagine if the M6 became a muddy track just beyond Coventry.

When I reached Birmingham I was in for a shock. I'm a former London cyclist so I'm comfortable in city traffic but apparently Birmingham hates bikes. Now Brummies, I rediscovered, tend to be extremely friendly and generally I was left alone on my bike by all but the occasional dunderhead. The problems I had were the traffic - fair play, it was approaching rush hour and there was an accident - and the complete lack of any cycle paths. I spent much of my time in Birmingham either walking to get around solid traffic or haring along dual carriageways, which were the only option available to me - not an enjoyable experience.

What I did discover was that the area does seem to have a lot of wide pavements and pedestrians and cycles do seem to share them quite happily but as a commuter route, for those times when you want to motor a bit, this would not do and would be dangerous for walkers.

I came across a new development below Birmingham with shiny new houses, shiny street furniture, a nwly manufactured village centre and lots of roundabouts in strange shaps with brick roads to slow cars down - and, of course, to make cycling that bit more uncomfortable. Not a hint of a cycle path anywhere.

I started to tire around Smethwick and decided to get a train a little further on but even this far outside Birmingham the only choices of roads for me were busy ones, including one major roundabout with roadworks with zero provision for pedestrians or cycles. That one was fun...

Cycling remains a wonderful pleasure for me and I would do the journey again - when I can feel my thighs again - but I would have to make different plans, such as steeling myself for main roads and hassle from cars, vans and lorries or I would need to give myself a couple of days to meander down lanes an along canal paths, which would be nice but not when you need to get somewhere.

It's almost laughable that the provision for cycling across the country is so woeful. What would be wrong with a few main routes to connect the main cities and towns? Sustrans is doing its best and I love to look at the pretty blue signs next to throbbing roads before I turn off to a more sensible route but seriously, is this the answer?

It would not be rocket science to start the process of adding cycle routes to new roads now or, to use some of the billions which are going to be paid to some lousy contractor to botch the HS2 over decades and charge the taxpayer many billions more than it should have cost, to install a path next to this new route.

The qustion forming in my mind is, what would the Lib Dems do and what plans has the coalition got to encourage cycling and make it a real, practical option for most people. Would any government dare, for example, to close some roads to make it safe for people to ride? Would any government promise to invest what would be a relatively small amount when compared to cost of the rescue of the banking system or the questionable cost of HS2, which will at least double by the time it is completed?

It wouldn't take much to change things and the benefits could be huge. It could also mean that I get to the beer festival in Stoke earlier. And that's got to be a reason to do it, surely.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


Fresh from this vital decision over our bins, David Cameron might usefully be asked a few interesting questions about a long discussed plan to build a new road in Witney which would devastate a local flood plain and park and which would brilliantly divert traffic from one bottleneck to another within the town, shifting a problem down the road rather than resolving it.

I had a rare day off work on Friday and I drove into Witney. The good weather had caused a bit of a glut of cars as everyone bought stuff for the weekend. On this particular day - at 12pm on a Friday - the roundabout onto which the new 'Cogges Link Road' would deposit hundreds of cars every hour was absolutely solid with traffic, as were most of the roads around the town. Despite the unseasonably good weather, this was a fairly average occurrence and, not surprisingly, around rush hours this road is even more congested.

David Cameron has previously declared his full support for the proposed new bottleneck - it made the front page of the local paper, the Witney Gazette. If his government is going to be 'the greenest ever' and if he is serious about both addressing pollution and the interests of his local residents, perhaps this is the time for a sharp turn about while there is still time. If the diggers are sent in to concrete over the Windrush and surrounding land our Prime Minister might find more local difficulties to range against the financial storm developing across the world.

Someone might remind the Prime Minister of the old truth that all politics is local.


So the Tories' latest gimmick for their conference is Eric Pickles's wheeze to bribe councils to re-introduce weekly bin collections. In fairness, this does honour one of their pre-election pledges but in practice it's as daft as John Redwood after a litre of scrumpy.

Here in Tory West Oxfordshire, we have had fortnightly collections for about a year now and its all going fine. Our waste is collected every two weeks, our green waste the other week and our food waste every week and all is fine. In my village we have no overflowing bins, there is no evidence of fly-tipping and I have seen no signs of open rebellion on the streets of Witney on Chipping Norton. What is happening is that recycling is going through the roof and I for one am thinking a lot harder about what I throw away, perhaps using up that food in the fridge which is on the way out instead of simply chucking it out without a thought. I suspect others are doing similar.

As I cycle around the area I have seen no evidence of any problems anywhere. I don't get to every village hereabouts but I would guess that my neighbours are comfortable with the new scheme, including one D. Cameron esq. Now, he is different because I understand he now spends a lot of time in London but the challenge for him and for the normally sensible Eric Pickles is to say whether Mr Pickles is right or whether the local Tory Council is right. A clue might be gleaned from the response of the Tory Council leader wheeled out on the Today programme last week to dismiss the Pickles Bribe as nonsense.

So here's a challenge for the Prime Minister. Who is wrong on this issue: West Oxfordshire Tories or Eric Pickles? If he can't answer this one, god help him when it comes to the Palestine vote.

Monday, 26 September 2011


Following on from David Miliband's little brother promising to cap tuition fees if he becomes Prime Minister, a friend sent me an interesting reminder about old 'New' Labour and their previous promises on this thorny issue, lest we forget how trustworthy the PFI-loving, banker-worshipping warmongers were:

1997 election manifesto: 'we will not introduce tuition fees'. The new government introduced them within 6 months. 'Things can only get better...' Tories supported fees, the Lib Dems opposed them.

2001 election manifesto: 'we will not introduce top up fees and will introduce legislation to rule them out'. The re-elected Labour government waited a little while on this before introducing top up fees in 2004. Tories supported top up fees, the Lib Dems opposed them.

2011: David Milliband's little brother announces that a future Labour government ('New, Improved Labour' perhaps?) would cap fees at £6,000. This is widely reported as news in the country's media, to the astonishment of the 27 people in the country with longer memories than last year.

2025: having been through several leaders, including the disastrous 'Balls-up' years, a Labour government struggles into power having ditched its remaining principles, headed by a public school lawyer who drops his 't's and pretends to like football. The new leader says 'sorry, we meant to say we won't increase fees by any more than £6000 so now there will be a graduate tax paid for over your lifetime'.

And yes, I know we didn't cover ourselves in glory on this one but we still believe in a free education and with any luck we'll get the chance to address this in due course. That said, the jury must still be out on the notion that cleaners should pay for graduates.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


This is possibly the most amazing use of technology of the year: a virtually free way of providing light into the poorest housing using plastic bottles filled with water. Genius simply doesn't do it justice.

Sadly, I cannot add links at the moment for reasons unknown to me but here's a pastable link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14967535

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Tory Philip Hammond has said the railways are a rich man's transport. That much we all know. Then Labour says it is the fault of the government. I sometimes wonder if its just me who's left sane and the world has gone mad...

Let's be clear: the Tories bear the ultimate blame for the fiasco that is the privatisation of trains and the resultant chaos which has ensued, but Labour politicians have got some nerve blaming this government.

What were they doing for 13 years? Where was the plan for bringing the trains back under some kind of central control, slashing subsidies to private companies? Where was the improvement in services which such a plan could have delivered? Where was the rationalisation of fares to make them affordable for non-Tory ministers?

Seriously, if Labour is blaming the government for the trains disaster they are clearly demonstrating that they have light years to travel before they can seek re-election.

Do not, for a moment, think that I support the government on this, by the way. Privatised trains are a joke and always will be and unless any government 'fesses up to that obvious truth they are all culpable. I hope you're reading this, Norman...


(The headline is meant to be 'wait a moment' but it barely works...)

Now here's an interesting story which might not receive the coverage it deserves [I have tried to insert a link but it appears to not want to play today so check out the Independent for more on this]. It seems that Turkey is promoting itself as the leader of the Arab world.

Turkey is of course the home of the former Ottoman Empire and has managed to reinvent itself as a moderate, democratic state - not without much difficulty but still with considerable success. The fact that Turkey is not in the EU has been a source of disappointment to many but it may turn out to have been a good decision all along if this country can develop its role in the region. Turkey is an obvious choice as regional leader and the country's potential new role puts the lie to the idiocies of people like the 'Middle East Peace Envoy' - may his apples rot on the tree - who insist that we must fear Islam and the millions of terrorists it is supposed to produce.

This possible new approach of leadership and active support is not to ignore Turkey's less than perfect human rights record or the continued but ever more muted rumblings from the military. Turkey is no paragon but the country is ideally suited for this role in terms of its location, its proximity to Europe, its history and its previously strong relationship with Israel.

Comes the hour, comes the country which has been through all this aggravation and could be just what is needed to guide Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria to stability, peace and democracy.

I am having one of my dreams again, the futile ones which rely on common sense rather than realpolitik. In my dream, the USA will butt out and leave Turkey to gently develop this role, recognising that it could transform the region and usher in a period of democratic change across a number of states the like of which we have never seen. In my dream European countries - most notably Germany but also Britain and France - fully support Turkey and accept the country's leadership role, offering financial support as required and rewarding Turkey with greater economic engagement in Europe, benefiting both sides. In my dream Israel will recognise that its position is untenable as long as it seeks to challenge and confront its neighbours and that the only long term future for the country is through active, positive engagement now, which includes an end to illegal colony building as well as an acceptance that Turkey has for years been a solid ally of Israel and it can now be the conduit for this rapprochement between Israel and other countries.

It is an amazing thought that we might look forward to a democratic, economically engaged Middle East region within a relatively short period of time - a region which has transformed itself, rather than being changed from without by clever politicians with little understanding of the complexities involved.

Some dream, huh?

Saturday, 10 September 2011


It is quite remarkable that a single utterance from the 'Middle East Peace Envoy' is enough to double my blood pressure. His latest pronouncements on the region are little short of laughable - or at least they would be if they weren't so dangerous.

Blair said today that it was 'deeply naive' to believe the response of the 'West' to the 9/11 attacks had radicalised muslim extremists. Is he lying, mad or just stupid?

If you pound a country - Iraq - into submission because of a tissue of lies about weapons of mass destruction, if you continue to resist a just settlement between Israel and Palestine - favouring one side over the other, if you support dictators across the region in the name of stability and if you continue a desperate war against all things Islamic on the back of the actions of a few hundred madmen who are as representative of Islam as loon Midwest American Christian fundamentalists are of Christianity, what is going to happen other than resistance - resistance from the madmen as well as resistance from muslims who are frankly fed up at the lies and repression and who just want to live their lives without being branded by people like Blair as extremists or a threat to the 'West'.

The revolution in Egypt had nothing to do with the bearded weirdos of al Qaeda, nor did the revolutions in Tunisia or Libya. The struggle against the regime in Syria is also completely free of religion. It is being led by people who just want freedom, not a theocracy. Why doesn't Blair acknowledge this and celebrate the coming of freedom to these countries? Why doesn't he accept his terrible role in the wars, fear, hate and increasing denial of our civil liberties which have scarred the last decade in Britain?

Blair is an embarrassment to this country and our government should seek his removal from his laughable position as 'peace' envoy. He makes me ashamed to be British.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


It's starting to get a whole lot more encouraging in London - or more precisely, Tottenham. Having endured around 14 months of Hell at the hands of the grubby media, this could be the moment Nick Clegg begins his rehabilitation as he steps into the limelight and confirms his role as the Minister for Doing the Right Thing.

His support for Vince and their joint call for banking reform to happen now, not when Dave and George's chums in the City want it, is what we fought the last election for and what the prophetic Vince has been demanding for an embarrassing (for the other parties) number of years. Nick's firm backing for Vince is what we want to hear and he needs to square up to Dave and make sure the Tory leader doesn't weasel out of this. Any compromise on this fundamental issue should be met by loud Lib Dem condemnation. Banking reform is solid gold, not blue...

His return to Tottenham yesterday to reaffirm the government's commitment to helping the area after the looting is also good, a clear sign that the Lib Dems don't just move on to the next story. Nick's visit appears to have been welcomed by people in Tottenham and even by the local Labour MP.

Nick has done more for his reputation in this one day than in the past 14 months of coalition government. I called yesterday's brief comment 'reasons to be cheerful' and for one of the few times since we went into coalition with the Tories, I am smiling. As I've said before, I don't envy our Lib Dem MPs their job of working with the Tories but I do admire them for it.

Lots of people - usually on the left- have bleated about the Lib Dems in coalition, some asking what the Lib Dems are for and praying for some kind of revival of their fortunes as we decline. Well, it has been a difficult time for us but the answer to that existential question is here. This is what the Lib Dems are for: doing stuff, delivering on our promises, keeping the Tories in check, reforming the banks, sorting out the mess left by Labour.

In three years' time we can go to voters and show them that we have actually done stuff in government. I'm no expert but I reckon people will quite like that.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


The Independent headline today is 'Osborne and Cable at war over bank reform'. Why does this make me smile broadly before I have read a single word of the article?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


With the inexorable rise in fuel bills, I'd like to record a minor victory against one of the chief culprits, British Gas. I received a message yesterday telling me that my latest bill was ready, showing me in credit by a small amount. I was also advised that my monthly Direct Debit would increase by a whopping £14 a month, or £168 a year.

I immediately looked out my 'Disgusted of Oxfordshire' hat, set it at a suitably aggressive angle and typed a truculent message to the huge profit-making multinational to point out that I was in credit and that this hike was outlandish. They replied to advise me that my Direct Debit would now only increase by a considerable £8 a month.

I leapt off my seat like a scalded cat and put on my most officious trousers and replied to them with alacrity that this would not do as I was in credit to them, i.e. they owed me money. At such time as I actually owed them any money they had my permission to increase my Direct Debit. Until then, forget it - or some such formalese. The reply I received confirmed that my Direct Debit would remain unchanged and it would in future simply be laughable rather than stupendously absurd.

I am therefore able to advise that it does pay to make a fuss with large companies whose billing is dictated by computers, with no recourse to the 'Common Sense Czar' that all such companies - and the government - should be required to employ to point out occasions when they are just being daft.

I will now help myself to a celebratory biscuit and cuppa.

Monday, 22 August 2011


The BBC has a report today from the LSE which demonstrates the benefits of cycling to the whole economy in terms of jobs created, manufacturing, taxes paid and perhaps most crucially in the health benefits cycling brings.

I have started cycling to work regularly, though not every day and it remains a bit of a trial at some parts as most motor vehicles retain the view that they own the road. If this is you, have a look at this report and consider that more cycles means fewer cars, so more space for you. More bikes also means less pollution, a healthier population - so lower costs for the NHS and care for older people, fewer road accidents - a possible reduction in the startling statistic of two children on average killed on our roads every single day - and, an esoteric one here, more fun on journeys, from the trip to the local shop for a pint of milk to the commute to work.

And if you thing cycling is not for you, trust me, I'm no Sir Chris Hoy, yet I am currently doing 20 miles most days in relative comfort and with a smile on my face. The beauty of cycling is that it genuinely benefits everyone, including motorists. The problem is that millions of car, van and lorry users refuse to acknowledge this simple truth.

How about a bit of government money for cycling? How about the odd properly built and laid out cycle lane, rather than a wavy white line next to an A road which helpfully points cyclists through every hole and manhole in the road? How about pressure on rail companies to provide proper cycling provision on local routes, rather than treating cyclists as a problem? How about a significant part of the driving test devoted to cycling and the rights of cyclists. How about everyone taking a driving test being required to do an hour's cycle around a local town or city? And how about one of those natty ad campaigns which seek to make cycling normal and acceptable for everyone.

Sheesh, what an idealist...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Proving that I am not just a moaning minnie when it comes to our Beloved Leader, the speech today was good. He said a lot of good stuff, including damning Ed Milispoons for his desperate gambit in calling for an inquiry of judges to harrumph for a year before publishing a 900 page report which no one will read. Instead the government proposal involves people affected by the rioting, which sounds like a great plan.

He also made clear than those convicted will be made to repair damage in the communities they attacked and that prisoners will be 'met at the prison gate' by people to support them into work. This is all good stuff, squarely in the Lib Dem ball park of actually doing something for once instead of simply locking people away for a few months, only to let them out to re-offend.

Contrast this approach with calls for the army or boot camps (Boris came out with that one) or water cannon. And of course there's the old saw about 'prison working', an interesting comment in the light of the revelation that fully 60% of the people being prosecuted over the violence were previous offenders. Oh yes, prison works a treat...

Prison doesn't work but restorative justice might. Getting people to clear up the mess they made, to repay debts to those they stole from and to speak to their victims is a lot more useful than putting someone in a cell for 23 hours a day to do nothing.

So well done Nickers and let's hope we hear more of the same from the Lib Dems in government.

Monday, 15 August 2011


And so the riots cease and the politics begins. The two old tribes climb cheerfully into their respective trenches and pick up their armouries, one side calling for stronger families and communities, the other blaming society and the example of others, including bankers and the same politicians. There's no need to distinguish between them - it's business as usual and, frankly, it doesn't matter.

Dave wants to rebuild our broken society, Ed wants an enquiry - a favourite 'New' Labour tactic to spend a few tens of millions, kick a subject into the long grass and avoid any hint at a serious consideration of the issue. Don't believe me? Consider Iraq and the Labour enquiries on that gaping wound in their collective principles and the record of the Labour governments from 2001-2010. What, precisely, did they achieve, when the chief culprit remains unchallenged, unpunished and - stretching absurdity to its limit - touring the Middle East as a 'peace' envoy?!

Today we got a hint - just a hint - of what the Lib Dems could do to enliven this debate. The doughty Simon Hughes joined the fray to warn against the usual kneejerk policies that, once again, 'New' Labour loved so much. Someone dropped a crisp packet? Ban crisp packets.

Nick Clegg will speak tomorrow and he has a choice. He can either be a good Deputy Prime Minister and bemoan the problems we saw last week, condemn the rioters, compliment the police and call for 'unity', 'rebuilding', a 'greater sense of purpose' [I'm putting anything down because it would all be froth that no one will listen to]. Or he can choose to speak as a Liberal Democrat leader and an independent member of a coalition government, not just a supporter of the government.

He can decry the knee-jerk calls for repression which members of both the old parties came out with over the past week, which the police did not want and which would not have worked. He can acknowledge that the police did a good job and that instead of criticising them, politicians might show a bit more understanding and even contrition. He can damn the looters as criminals and he can recognise - as Lib Dems have done for years - that there are deep-seated problems, none of which excuse the violence and crime but all of which must be addressed to help to avoid a repeat of the trouble. He can raise the battered flag of liberty and give us all something to cheer about: the kind of independence of thought and voice that the Lib Dems have been known for for years and which membership of a coalition does NOT stop him declaring loudly and without apology.

We are better than them and our leader should state that loud and clear and damn the consequences. That is what being the leader of an independent party means and that, I would humbly submit, is what our members and supporters want and expect.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


The Independent has a story today quoting senior police officers in criticising the Tories for seeking to take credit for the police response to the looting of recent days. One senior officer is reported to have described Dave as 'idiotic' and the report states that he had to be 'talked down' from putting the army onto the streets. Thank God for that.

The report also considers the role of the new adviser to Dave, Bill Bratton, formerly of Los Angeles in the USA, where he is credited with achieving much in the wake of riots there. This seems to be another role for the 'Common Sense Czar', my fantasy government adviser who is given the role of sitting down with Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister and considering all their ideas from the perspective of the world outside a few narrow streets in Westminster. In this case, the Czar would doubtless point out to Dave and to Mr Bratton that London is not LA and that whatever the problems in London, they are dwarfed by the violence and racial tension in the USA, a country which proudly allows its citizens and police to bear arms and which is thus the scene of hundreds of shootings daily.

The Tories always set great store beside their commitment to law and order and they have failed miserably in recent days. A rift with police must be like drinking hemlock to the average Tory.

This of course does not acquit the Lib Dems of responsibility and I have made clear my deep disappointment at the lack of any senior Lib Dems decrying the Tory approach to unrest. My wait continues and the longer it does the more we seem to be in agreement with the Tories on this matter, which I trust we are not. I just wish this was being demonstrated loudly and publicly.

That does not mean that Nickers needs to walk out of the Cabinet or slag off Dave but there is surely no harm in him as the leader of his own political party setting out our view on the looting and our disdain for the violent tactics which other politicians have advocated, against the wishes of the police and anyone who doesn't read the Sun. What's the point of being a Lib Dem if you can't speak out at a time like this.

Friday, 12 August 2011


Dear Nick, sorry I missed you during the debate in Parliament yesterday. I waited for a long time and looked out for your distinctive input, supporting the police, identifying those responsible as criminals and calling for tough punishments but also decrying ludicrous calls for baton rounds and water cannon as unnecessary, unwanted by the police, useless for recent events and potentially inflammatory. I tapped my fingers while I waited for your dismissal of calls for the army to patrol our streets. I listened out for your dismissal of calls for a curfew as nonsense in 21st century peacetime Britain.

I hung around to hear your expression of reservations about new laws, something 'New' Labour used to do as a knee-jerk reaction to any problems and something that in the good old days Liberal Democrats used to ridicule as bad law making. I waited to hear you set out very clearly that the police have enough powers and they have the ability to do their job without the interference of politicians. I craned my ear to the radio to listen to your recognition that politicians have a strategic role in supporting, advising and criticising the police where necessary and setting out the policy framework in which they operate but NOT getting involved in day to day decision making, as the Tories claim to be doing.

Thinking about your current role, I thought you might not be able to do this so I listened out for a deputy, like the ever-prescient Vince, to make the point, or even the reliably left field Charlie Kennedy but sadly they must have been stuck with you wherever you were holed up.

I waited a long time, Nick. I'm still waiting but I can't wait forever. Give me a call and tell me where on earth you are or I might be forced to carry on without you.

By the way, you may not remember me but I was a LD candidate for Henley in 2010. I stood firm to the party line. I spent a lot of my own money on the campaign. I made promises on tuition fees which I subsequently had to apologise for breaking. I did a lot to support a fellow candidate in what turned out to be an unsuccessful campaign. Put simply, I did my bit and I fought for Liberal Democrat values. I still do. I know you did too and I applaud your efforts on behalf of us all but this is the time when the Lib Dems stand apart as the sole voice of reason as the two old parties veer further to the right.

Where were you?

Thursday, 11 August 2011


Question Time on the BBC was a good one this time around, with a heavyweight panel offering some good comments and some very lively and informative audience participation. Even John Prescott managed to make sense and Brian Paddick rocked, as a policeman who has worked in some tough parts of London and who can speak with authority on such matters. It is frustrating that all debate on the criminal looting will not be this interesting or useful.

As it ended I was reminded of the recent comments from countries including Libya, Iran, Russia and China on the looting, condemning the British system and government and calling for wholesale change.

Well, let's analyse that in microcosm. Which of the above countries would bring together five lively and informed commentators from different political perspectives to debate recent traumatic events in their countries? For that matter, which of the above countries has a viable and active opposition which, for all its myriad faults (Eds Milispoons and Balls for starters), I would defend to the death as an essential element of our democracy? Which of the above countries would allow such free debate - much of it quite rightly critical of the government - among its citizenry on mainstream television?

The past week has shown that England has problems a-plenty and that we are by no means perfect but seriously folks, Iran a paragon of free speech? A country where the police force democracy protesters to drink excrement? Libya a standard bearer for human rights, where citizens who disagree with the lunatic General clinging on to power are tortured or killed, along with their families. Russia, struggling to enter the 21st century and good luck to them but seriously, give up the lectures to us on freedom, tovarisch. China, an emerging global power which is so strong and successful that it allows no dissent from the rantings of a 200 year old German and a murdering dictator.

We have much to think about in Britain after recent events but this Englishman would not trade troubled but free, democratic and relatively prosperous Britain with any one of the above countries for all the tea in, well, China.


I think the phrase is OMG and for once it is appropriate. Reading the comments made by Tory and Labour MPs in the Parliamentary debate on the criminal looting, you would think that we were at war. Loony Nadine Dorries wants water cannon now, not in 24 hours, David Davies (a different one, apparently) wants the use of baton rounds, Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs blame the economy for criminals. It is a shocking day when Diane Abbott is the voice of reason, cautioning against the use of the army.

Where is the LD voice of reason? Where are London MPs Sarah Teather and Simon Hughes when you need them? Where is Nickers proudly standing up to distance himself from the Prime Minister's mindless sabre-rattling. The time is now, Nick. This is not what we are.



Here come Labour, chuntering on about policing cuts in the absence of any acceptance of responsibility for the recent criminal activities - some of whose participants were born and grew up under a Labour government. Same old Labour: trite responses to a hugely complex issue. Well, here's a response to Labour.

The country has just been through one of the worst recessions ever. We are poorer than we were in 2008 and the economy is flatlining. Despite the Labour spin, any party which had emerged from the election in 2010 in control would have had to make swingeing cuts along the lines of those which have been made. If you doubt this, just google 'Alastair Darling and cuts', to see what the bushy-eyebrowed 'Laurel' was saying before the election as the then Prime Minister, 'Hardy' Brown tried desperately to stop him. The cuts have been made across the board and have included every public service, including the police. That it not pleasant or easy but it is fair. People demanding that planned cuts in policing budgets are stopped to avoid a repeat of the recent problems in future are being too simplistic. Their response is understandable but it ignores a number of facts.

Firstly, recent events were unprecedented and could not have been planned for even with double the number of police. Police numbers in themselves are not the problem; the issue of recent days appears to have been the response by the police and the attitude of the communities involved, which in many cases has been to criticise the police for failing to hold back huge mobs without recognising all our involvement in building and maintaining a civilised society.

Secondly, the police service has shown a quite impressive ability to respond in force to the problem after the initial shock, suggesting not that police numbers are the problem but that police intelligence was at fault.

Thirdly, what kind of message does it send to the criminals involved in the recent looting and destruction that we have to abandon essential economic plans to rescue the country - that's all of us with bank accounts, mortgages, loans, savings, shares, investments - to stop a few hundred people from being animals? Isn't this the cliched 'holding the country to ransom' which so many politicians would normally decry?

The answer to the recent problems is not a crude numbers game. Flooding England with police will not stop crime but it will diminish all our civil liberties. The problem is far wider and deeper and it touches on everyone. The police are not the controlling, oppressive force found in other countries - thank God - they are part of society and for that we all share a burden.

Wake up Miliband and Harman and recognise that 13 years of oppressive and intrusive government did not solve deep-seated problems in our country. When you do that, feel free to consider solutions other than more uniforms. Until then, go home and read a book or de-flea the cat.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


There was a key quote on the BBC website from someone in Liverpool pointing out that around 200 people have caused disturbances in a city of 480,000. He was keen to ensure that the reputation of Liverpool does not suffer as a result of the latest crimes. As an occasional visitor to Liverpool, I agree. Its a great place which happens to have its share of problems, as does everywhere else. This comment by a proud Liverpudlian is well made and it illustrates that the current lunacy is not the breakdown of society, just crime pure and simple.

The fact that such a small number of people can cause such disruption should not come as a surprise, despite the increasingly rabid media frenzy which is surrounding it (BBC News 24 cannot help but be excited at actually having some news to report for once). We live in a complex society with only the thinnest veneer of civilisation over the top of an ever-present potential for chaos, as all the desperate calls for soldiers and water cannons illustrates. As long as we stick to the simple truth that this is criminal activity and nothing more, we can start to look beyond what is at first shocking to see that most people are safe and going about their lives, while a very small number - mostly business people trying to improve their lives and those of colleagues and employees - experience terrible loss which will hopefully be addressed as soon as possible.

I am surprised at how little there has been from the serious commentators beyond the tired 'bring in the army/water cannon/baton rounds'. Calls for the police to use water cannon continue with absolutely no reference to the utility of this resource or the desire of the police to use it. The police in England do not have water cannons and their spokesman has said they do not want to use them even if they could get them. Dave has now jumped on to this bandwagon with his 'dog whistle' speech, claiming that we could have water cannons within 24 hours. That's it, Dave, lose the plot, why don't you...

What has been instructive has been listening to Radio 5 Live over the past couple of days and hearing a range of comments, surprisingly few of which have been of the 'hang 'em and flog 'em' variety. Lots of people have sought to blame the current criminal activity on the coalition government, completely ignoring the culture of instant gratification, corruption and consumerism which preceded 2010 in the guise of 'new' Labour (How ironic the moniker 'new' seems these days...). With Ed Miliband desperately trying to sound tough (difficult with that voice), Ken Livingstone blaming bus fares for crime, Diane Abbott calling for a curfew and Alastair Campbell blaming the current unrest on the removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, we may have to wait some time for a coherent Labour response. Perhaps the hilarious Ed Balls will think up a line of attack - he usually does, in the absence of anyone else to do so - but I'm not holding my breath. Until Labour issue a mea culpa for their failings in the previous 13 years they really aren't on particularly solid ground.

[If your question is 'what failings', well, spending more than the government earned in every one of the 13 years of Labour government; throwing money at the NHS with little demonstrable improvement in productivity but a massive hike in the bill we all pay; persuading more people to go to university despite the fact that graduate jobs are not numerous enough to satisfy demand and that this push demeans those who choose not to go to university; paying people to go to college, rather than motivating them with a sense of wanting to achieve; climbing up the fundament of media moguls in the interests of re-election rather than challenging the sleaze and obsession with celebrity they produced as an attack on a civilised society; failing (like every government since the 1960s) to change the education system; ignoring the needs of local authorities to be able to raise taxes fairly and spend them on local priorities, instead introducing a raft of needless targets...I'll stop there, without mentioning the illegal war, the destruction and loss of reputation it caused and the abject failure to plan financially for the future during a period of relative economic prosperity. The essential point is that Labour hasn't got a leg to stand on...Or a credible leader, for that matter.]

But I digress...Many people on the radio and other media have pointed to the need for better parenting and greater power for teachers in schools. One's mind immediately drifts to Sure Start centres, a Labour initiative admittedly which attempted to address deeper social ills among a small number of families. It's nice to recall that no Sure Start centres have been closed down by Lib Dem authorities. The trouble is that there is no evidence that they actually work. The principle is good and is one only a Tory could disagree with but some idea about what they do is needed.

Maybe this is where the idea of localism and the 'big society' (I know, I'm chuckling too...) come into their own. Perhaps we can just ignore the latter one and focus on localism, which could be the answer. Local powers to intervene in families and schools, coupled with local budgets for authorities from taxes raised locally (there's a scary thought for Whitehall) could offer solutions and, crucially, if a number of competing local systems were introduced we could see what works and what doesn't. Get all the parties to sign up to a ten year plan to invest in this way (although finding who is in charge at Labour HQ to agree to anything will be a challenge) and to agree to leave the trials alone for that period, followed by an all-party review, might shine some light on the problems which have arisen.

People moan about politicians but now is the time for politicians to listen, consider and act - in short, to do their job. Will they do this on Thursday? No. They will argue, score points, try to out-tough each other and leave having shed little light on the issue at hand. Or at least the two old parties will. Listen to the debate and you will hear Lib Dems discussing the problem, not the politics.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


It's depressingly familiar to hear the cries of many for troops to be used to patrol the troubled streets of London this morning as the criminal looting subsides long enough for the thieves to have their Coco Pops. The oh-so-reasonable voice of Tory Patrick Mercer called for this in a measured way and his call was echoed by a military officer with experience of Iraq, who said that 'fire' should be fought with 'fire'. I can respect the views of the soldier but he is not a policeman and he has no experience of policing this country which, as is often repeated - but never too often - is by consent, not force.

The police have been challenged and stretched to breaking point and they will be blamed completely erroneously for the violence and crime which has occurred. The unpleasant commentator Darcus Howe did just this on the radio this morning, citing the killing of a young man on Saturday as the reason looters destroyed Debenhams in Clapham Junction and a jeweller's in Birmingham. This is, of course, utter rubbish as anyone with an ounce of intelligence realises. A man was killed and a riot ensued in protest at that event but the subsequent chaos has nothing - not one jot - to do with that tragic event, which must be dealt with by the normal inquiry and resultant action. The later chaos is not linked and the death in Tottenham is an excuse.

Despite all the terrible events which have occurred and the destruction which has been wrought we cannot go down the route of soldiers patrolling the streets or curfews. It just isn't British. We rely on the police to sort out problems and to deal with trouble and then we moan at them when they are outnumbered 100-1. What about heaping praise on to them for standing their ground across the city, putting themselves in harm's way and trying to sort things out?

The problem is at once smaller and greater than is being said. It is smaller because these events are at heart just crime and those responsible need to be rounded up, tried and hopefully banged up for a few years. It is greater because there is a shared responsibility among us all (i) to support the police instead of carping about them when they turn out not to be miracle workers or Robocops (ii) to recognise that they are part of any society, not separate from it, and to act towards - and with - them accordingly.

If vocal Tories and right-wingers get their way, we surrender any notion that we are better than the numerous countries we seek to influence and change, like Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. What would the lunatic Gaddafi make of British troops patrolling British streets? How would the fanatical weirdos of al Qaeda react to such images? Also, what a devastating, catastrophic impact such images would have on the London Olympics.

Despite all the restrictions on our liberty imposed by the Labour government in the name of 'security' (well, this is still a political blog...), to be British is still to be free and to avoid the need for armed soldiers patrolling our towns and cities. The police will restore order, politicians will argue, businesses will be restored, though regrettably some will not be able to and the country we should all love for that freedom will return to normal. These events are horrible but they are not reason to abandon freedom.

It's hard to be a liberal in such circumstances but I know it is still the right choice.

Monday, 8 August 2011


What to say about the London riots..? I know: what a nasty, despicable oaf Ken Livingstone is. He is currently touring the BBC telling all and sundry that the cuts are responsible for the violence in London and that the riots reflect 'anger'. He has just said that the reason people are breaking into shops and stealing TVs is because fares are too high. Words fail me...or at least non-Anglo Saxon words.

I am proud to say that I have always hated Livingstone, a disreputable, no-mark nothing and his latest statements reinforce this view of him with knobs on. The violence in London is criminal looting, nothing else. Sure, there are all sorts of problems in our cities and across the country. In my small village some people struggle with joblessness and poverty but they aren't breaking the windows of our local shop to steal the cheese.

The limitations of this blog stop me from saying what I really think of idiotic Livingstone and his ilk but I would love to come across this failed politician to tell him to his face what I think of his excusing crime. If he stands for election in future I hope the majority of Londoners who aren't involved in this insanity let him know what they think of him.

With apologies for the tenor of this blog but I was born and grew up in London and my old home is in turmoil. I should also note that this is in no way an endorsement of the current ludicrous London Mayor.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


I had a chance to catch up with the news that matters - the Oxford Times - and I read about the problems of the elections in the Vale of White Horse and in South Oxfordshire. The Returning Officer has been less than clear in his acceptance of his responsibility, which is unfortunate.

As a candidate who lost by 92 votes I don't want to be a sore loser but I do want to ensure that in future every one who wants to is able to vote. The Lib Dems lost the election and that would probably have happened anyway -especially given some of the desperate tactics of the Tories - but some of the results would almost certainly have been different. In my case this is clearly unlikely as there were two others ahead of me.

We have to have confidence in our electoral system and most people in the Vale won't after what happened in May. Let's hope that responsibility is acknowledged soon and that changes are made.

Friday, 22 July 2011


Good old Japanese. Here's a pointer to the next stage of energy generation, reducing the need for grids and huge power stations and looking forward to a time when - once again - energy can be created, stored and used within a home or business. To coin a tired old old phrase, it isn't rocket science, just common sense to do everything locally.

I'm reading more and more about climate change and the looming problems but also about the thousands of people researching solutions, such as this. The future's not bleak.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


If it seems odd that this opinionated fool has not commented on the NewsCorp story, its not because I'm not interested. The issue is that it is moving too fast to comment sensibly.

Perhaps the best thing to suggest is that this is the moment when everything changes in the print media, with the Guardian on its uppers, the Independent going free and possibly providing a new model and the Times being dragged deeper into the NewsCorp sewer where it has existed for the past 30 years.

With so many electronic sources now available to read these papers, this is probably the end of the print media as we know it, which will be a shame but it will also be a huge benefit in terms of paper use, carbon use as the various bits of tree are driven around the country and hopefully in our exposure to information as we potentially have the choice of not one but thousands of information sources.

I'll miss my paper - currently the brilliant 'i' from the Independent stable - but the world turns and its a fool (or a Tory. Whoops, same thing...) why tries to fight against it.

Back to NewsCorp, it is difficult to form a sensible opinion with a grin this size on one's face. When the mighty fall, the crash can be heard across continents and this one's shaken the earth.

And one other thing: how is Vince right every time?!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Here's an interesting quandary for proponents of dressing in daft outfits and chasing small furry animals across the countryside in packs in the interests of 'sport' and 'control' of the pest that foxes undoubtedly are: the government is planning to shoot itself in the foot once more with a cull of badgers in the interests of controlling bovine TB in cattle, a plan which is contentious in the extreme and one which I cannot claim any expertise on.

However, always one to venture an opinion, if the government is advocating shooting badgers to control them, why can't the same be done to control foxes, instead of the farce of the 'Jeremy', to take the Culture Secretary's name in vain?

Historical note: foxes are not native to Britain. They were introduced for hunting.

Monday, 11 July 2011


For anyone who believes (i) that markets know best and (ii) that nuclear power is the best option for a carbon free future, check out this article on the BBC News website which explains how an imperfect design for nuclear power generation has been favoured over potentially better and safer designs because of government pressure and a monopoly situation within that particular industry.

I cannot begin to go into details on this as my technical knowledge is at the level of a cave man when it comes to nuclear power so I recommend you read the article in which someone with the ability to explain the many possibilities for nuclear power generation is able to better enlighten you.

I'm negative towards nuclear power as it is so flawed but this article opens up the prospect that there are much better solutions within that particular area which should be considered. However, while a few large players dominate the deeply troubled nuclear market we will be left with a divide between the pro and anti lobbies. I remain anti but this article is highly intriguing.

Friday, 8 July 2011


What a pointless wretch Ed Miliband is. Faced with the biggest scandal to hit the media in this country since, well, the last one (David Kelly, Diana, yadayadayada), this is a golden opportunity for the leader of the opposition to actually get some coverage, yet his best throw of the dice has been to call for Dave to apologise for hiring Andy Coulson.

Now, I won't defend Dave and clearly his decision to hire an ex News of the World hack was a poor one but seriously, is this the best our opposition can do? Is there nothing to be said about the Murdoch empire? Or the hateful Rebekah Brooks? Or the pretty lamentable record of the News of the World for years, which can just be discerned through the crocodile tears over its closure?

The country needs robust opposition and that opposition needs intelligent leadership which is both critical and forward looking. And we have Eds Miliband and Balls - one showing ineptitude worthy of the John Major government, the other possibly the most cynical and unlikeable politician of his generation, tarnished by his association with last disastrous government.

Thank God Nickers has again come out against the Tories and their visceral hatred of Europe today. We may be in the government but we're still a better opposition than Labour.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


On the Today programme this morning I heard a sound that chilled the blood in my body. Boris Johnson, bumbling Mayor of London and supposed secret mastermind of Tory futures, was the latest 'rent-a-quote' lined up to lambast the News of the World and its deceitful leadership. During his self-righteous pronouncements Johnson used the trick beloved of public school educated leadership hopefuls in both the Tories and Labour - he dropped a few 't's at the end of words.

This practice, made famous by working class socialist Tony Blair, has been tried by David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Dave and countless other 'hopefuls' and it seems that Johnson is the latest in a short and undistinguished line of the desperate posh.

Its time to stock up on water, pasta, torches and candles. If BoJo becomes Tory leader - and potentially PM - we may as well all give up.

Monday, 4 July 2011


The publication of the report by economist Andrew Dilnot on social care which proposes a cap on contributions by older people is very welcome in bringing to the fore a huge issue which is ignored by most of us, quite reasonably because it doesn't affect us but which will be something we will all have to face in the future.

Doubtless Ed Milispoons will say the government is not going far enough and Ed Balls will say that this is what Labour planned all along. Tories will say we can't afford this. Lib Dems will hopefully welcome the report and say its a good starting point for discussions. The hope is that this does not become a political issue.

And I paused there to hoot with laughter and wipe away the tears running down my face...

We're generally getting older, we are mostly healthier for longer and the costs of social care have ballooned in the past two decades. The answer seems obvious to me

The pension age of 65 for men was set at a time when most men died well before this age. The social security system devised by the brilliant William Beveridge was meant to be supported by contributions from all of us. We've all just got to face up to working longer and expect the politicians to devise a system which can support us all in the future - a system which doesn't rely on private equity or offshore banks or PFI deals but a sensible, sustainable system which ignores the chaotic sophistry of private finance and relies on the common sense of, say, mutual principles or building societies, none of which failed during the financial crash.

If those politicians can't or won't, they should perhaps step aside and allow others to do it. And I'm not thinking about the hopeless Milispoons or the failed Balls. I rather like the idea of a committee of experts, perhaps elected for, say, 15 years to what we could call a 'second chamber' where they can set aside political ambition to allow them to do some thinking for a change and hopefully come up with a few answers to huge problems like social care.

I really don't live in the real world, do I?

Thursday, 30 June 2011


This morning's Today programme was instructive, with Francis Maude, normally a reliable Tory operator, up against Mark Serwotka, unelected leader of the PCS, the main union behind today's strike action. Pretty simple for Maude to be the voice of reason, you might think. But no.

Serwotka's straightforward questions about the government's alleged refusal to discuss key issues with the unions were simply not answered by Maude, who blathered and made a series of counter-claims which highlighted how difficult his position was. Maude was outflanked comprehensively by the union leader, supported by an increasingly exasperated Evan Davies.

I have never had any time for Mark Serwotka since his approach to his job is a throwback to the bad old days of unions squaring up to the government but credit to him, he destroyed Francis Maude. What a shame he can't bring these skills to the negotiating table to avoid an unwinnable strike which will simply harden government resolve. On this issue the unions have a good case. It is just a shame their leaders consistently let them down.

NB: I am a public sector pension holder.


Its always nice to learn that the Tories are the same old lags they always were, even if we're all supposed to be pally with them. Switching channels last night, I happened on Newsnight, which I try to avoid as the presenter is a pompous oaf lacking the wit to spot a news story even if it were 12 feet tall and painted purple, with 'this is a serious news story' tattooed on its forehead.

But I digress...The reassuring sight was a Tory backbencher - name of no consequence - arguing with an eloquent Dutch MP about the merits of the European Union. Yes, Dave, it hasn't gone away for your party, regardless of how much whitewash you splash over the issue. Faced with the absurdly reasonable approach of the Dutch MP, pointing out the many areas where combined action at a European level, such as investing in green technology and setting up a single office for the EU countries in Benghazi as opposed to 27 (sic.) separate missions, benefits us all and saves us money, the Tory simply blathered about how these things should not be done at a European level.

This is a shame as there is a serious discussion needed about the ludicrous French-inspired European model, the waste within that bureaucracy, the shocking scandal of unchecked expenses for MEPs, the disaster of the monthly trudge to Strasbourg to soothe French egos [the capital of Europe is Brussels, now get over it, mes amis] and the crime that is the copper-bottomed pensions for former Eurocrats like Lord Kinnock of Gravytrain.

The problem is that Blimpish Tories fail utterly to engage with these real problems, with their ostrich-like denial that there is anything good about Europe. There is: co-operation, a blissful lack of war since 1945, the promotion of democracy across the globe, the opportunity to be heard in international forums as a group of 28 countries and to make big decisions in the world over issues like supporting Arab democracies, which is good for everyone. Europe is a 'good' in principle but a failure in practice. The British government should be working to change it and make it successful, something bleating Tories will never do.

Good on Nickers and the LD MPs for their continued support of the coalition. We are playing with a straight bat but, my word, how glad I am that I don't have to cosy up to that lot.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


On the subject of public transport - a bugbear of mine as I try to reduce my car use but realise that the numbers simply don't add up even with petrol at an all time high price - we had a bit of a mishap today as we returned from a lovely day out to Kew Gardens.

Simply put, the issue was that our first train from Richmond to Reading was delayed by 16 minutes and our connecting train from Reading was due to leave 14 minutes after we were meant to arrive at Reading. So that's 14-16, which equals -2. Not good for catching the train.

What annoyed us was that we piled off the train - two adults, two small, tired children - and hurtled to the next door platform to try to catch our connection and we watched with dismay as the doors locked and it slowly moved away.

Now you could say that this is just one of those things and stuff happens. The problem is that the two trains are operated by different companies and they just didn't speak to each other, allowing the second train to hang on for 30 seconds. The very helpful station supervisor at Reading explained that his station is busy, it's a bottleneck and they can't afford delays and that's fine but I can't help thinking that if they were the same company - called, say, British Rail - someone, somewhere could have picked up the radio and called ahead to ask for a little help.

Youy may say I'm a dreamer but I grew up at Clapham Junction and I used to get the train everywhere and when there were problems we often came across something quite remarkable - flexibility - normally bad-tempered but still offered on the basis that the people involved were providing a 'service'. These concepts are obviously mind-boggling in this modern age of 'companies', service standards and all sorts of gobbledegook which not only doesn't work but costs us more to boot - both in taxes and fares.

It is so blindingly obvious to even the biggest Tory that the privatised rail system is a ludicrous, expensive joke that it beggars belief that no one, not even the estimable Norman Baker, will even mention the idea of providing a service first and foremost and then worrying about shareholders.

I must be fair and finish on a positive note: the supervisor at Reading called ahead to Oxford to arrange a cab, put us on the next train and we ended our journey being driven home by a very nice taxi driver who even lent my son his PSP - not something I'd do...So plaudits and thanks to the very nice people from First Great Western who went that extra mile but endless frustration that the Tories' private rail system is just abject, stupid nonsense.


Good news in Oxford, where the Conservative County Council has agreed a deal with the bus companies in the city for shared ticketing. Great. Something the Lib Dems have called for for a while now.

The problem I have is that this agreement comes about 17 years after a Conservative government decided that buses should be 'deregulated', allowing any old crook or wide boy with an old transit to run a bus service, charge what they want and generally deliver a worse service than we had before.

So a reasonably good, reasonably affordable local was withdrawn by the Tories, a worse service was delivered and now the Tories are taking credit for bringing that original service back in all but name - and for a much higher price for passengers than we previously had.

Isn't progress marvellous?

Thursday, 23 June 2011


How many coalition ministers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Three. One to decide to change the bulb, one to launch the consultation and one to announce the u-turn.


Labour opposes reform of the House of Lords, saying it wants a fully elected Chamber.

Seriously? This is the Labour Party which promised House of Lords reform in its manifesto of 1997, its manifesto of 2001 and its manifesto of 2005. And look at how those promises were honoured.



Yay, the government has announced 8 new sites for nuclear power stations, all to be built without subsidies, apparently.

What astonished me recently was discovering how basic the principles behind nuclear power are. Coal and gas power stations heat water to make steam to turn turbines to generate electricity. Nuclear power stations, er, heat water to make steam to turn turbines to generate electricity. So much for new technology.

Given that no new nuclear power station has been completed in decades due to myriad problems and that no new nuclear power station has been built - or is being built - without subsidies and that the minor issue of the growing waste stockpile which no one can do anything with for 500,000 years and that work to develop nuclear fusion - a sustainable source of power - is proceeding apace - oh, and given that a nuclear power station in Japan nearly melted down with disastrous consequences, forcing the government of Japan to set out an exclusion zone stretching tens of kilometres from the stricken nuclear plant, what on earth are Lib Dems doing promoting this outdated, inefficient and no less carbon-costly source of power - once you factor in build costs, massive decommissioning and waste storage costs, which can't simply be ignored?

As gas prices rocket and petrol becomes dearer than platinum, we surely need the government to focus minds on future technology now, rather than an expensive stopgap based on 70 year old principles - and we surely need Lib Dems to be stating this case clearly and unequivocally, lest senseless Tories have their hands clasped too tightly over their ears to hear the truth.

Would you rather have Chris Huhne parroting failed Labour government policy or standing up firmly for Lib Dem principles of investment and innovation for the long term future, regardless of the cost to coalition unity? Tough choice, huh?

Monday, 23 May 2011


The BBC2 documentary 'All watched over by loving grace' chilled the blood with its description of the clear link between a 1940s philosophy of individualism and US economic policy in the 1990s and 2000s, as directed by Alan Greenspan.

I'm not one for conspiracy theories but the writer's description of this link, as well as the connection between the Asian economic boom and bust in the 1990s and the 2008 bust in the 'West' was quite surprising. I'll reserve judgement as I plough through the rather weighty book I am reading on the great Keynes and I want to revisit Vince's masterly description of the 2008 crisis but the programme was certainly food for thought.

This is why the BBC is pre-eminent in the world, without equal. I wonder if such a programme would have been produced by, say, a satellite broadcaster reliant on consumerism.

Food for the brain.


Dave's a nice bloke, really he is but he's not a miracle worker and that's what it would take to change the image of the Tories. Here's another example of what the real Tories are like, from just down the road from Dave's constituency in Abingdon.

Little more needs to be said. The picture of the new Mayor of Abingdon tells its own story, as do his graceless comments. I understand that the comments below this article had to be removed from the Abingdon Herald's website. Why could that be...?

You can't trust the Tories and their commitment to common sense, tradition and democracy is clearly only skin deep. Extrapolate that out to the national level and you begin to get an understanding of how the coalition works.

Good luck, Nick: this is what you are dealing with.

UPDATE: it seems the website has relented in the face of possible visits from young children and has removed the photo of the new Mayor of Abingdon.

Saturday, 21 May 2011


This is getting uncomfortable: I find myself once again agreeing with Benjamin Netanyanu, Israel's Ian Paisley. Mr Netanyahu has said that a 'peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality'. Yes, Mr Netanyahu, it will.

So perhaps a tiny state surrounded by at best truculent, at worst hostile countries, supported by the USA to the tune of billions of dollars a year and with equivalent areas of someone else's land under occupation by Israeli troops and heavily armed and zealous 'settlers', to use the term preferred over 'occupiers' holding the high ground might consider its long term situation illusional.

Israel needs a 'Jewish Spring' of youth like in so many of the Arab neighbours it likes to dismiss as undemocratic, with younger, less dogmatic people who can see the future and can spot an opportunity for a real lasting peace with countries like Egypt, which has started along what will be a rocky path towards genuine freedom and which could probably do without the aggravation of continued Palestinian oppression on its doorstep to give Egyptian hardliners and (the minority of) religious nutters in Egypt that we in the 'West' are so scared of something to latch on to as they oppose democracy.

But sadly, we can expect old timers like the brilliant Israeli government storyteller, Mark Regev, not to mention Mr Netanyahu, to explain how Israel is striving for peace with its oppression, its denial of human, economic and water rights to Palestinians, its continued colonisation of Palestine etc etc ad nauseaum for decades to come. Barack Obama will face AIPAC this weekend and he will backtrack in the face of the most efficient lobbying machine in the world. And we will be back to square one.

Come on Israelis: wake up and smell the coffee. If you try hard enough, it smells of peace - real peace, not armed, oppressive peace. The ludicrous Yasser Arafat talked of a 'peace of the brave'. What about a 'peace of the sensible democrats' instead?

Friday, 20 May 2011


With apologies for the move away from political navel gazing, I find myself in the curious position of agreeing with arch schemer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over the speech by US President Obama. Mr Netanyahu has said that the 1967 ceasefire borders between Israel and Palestinian territories then controlled by Egypt and Jordan are indefensible and that a peace agreement made on this basis is unworkable.

Well, if he thinks this, he must come up with a viable alternative which recognises all the grievances of the Palestinians, such as the status of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the issue of illegal settlements across the West Bank and the intolerable treatment by Israel of over 1m people in Gaza.

He won't because it is not possible for an Israeli Politician to address these issues under current circumstances. Israel feels embattled and under threat and the policy of the Israeli government for decades to hit them before they hit us has patently failed.

There is a solution, which will be achieved at some time in the future, although it is almost certain that it will be many years - and thousands of lives wasted - down the line. In 1947 a plan was proposed by the new - and still idealistic - United Nations for a single state shared between Arabs and Jews, with Jerusalem as an 'international' city, with a shared country and demilitarisation. Most Israelis would howl in horror at the suggestion that this could work as it would mean the end of a state built on a religion - itself an ugly concept in a plural world. (I can think of only Pakistan as another state based on faith - and look how successful that has been)

What it could mean is a unique opportunity to get the fulsome support of the Arab regimes which are undergoing their own massive upheavals, the opportunity for Israelis to enjoy peace for the first time ever, the complete neutering of Hezbollah in Lebanon if it does not have a cause to fight for and the gratitude of millions of people around the world as a major cause for the artificial divide between the invented camps of 'The West' and 'Islam' is removed.

That's my problem: I'm a dreamer. Perhaps my grandchildren will be able to travel in peace around the eastern Mediterranean to view the sites: the old crusader castles, the great mosques, the eternal city of Jerusalem, the absurd wall which divided people for no reason.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011


There is a sense of marching slowly towards the enemy with rifles at our waists with the proposals for House of Lords reform but it is a long held belief so fingers crossed that this one gets past the Luddites and Tories. I just hope that Nick now walks around with 'you can't trust the Tories' written on the back of his hand...

Those who defend the idea of sleazy patronage as a means for making laws in our country always point to the expertise in the House of Lords, which is true. However, there is little to be said against the idea of an elected second Chamber beyond the last refuge of a scoundrel - 'tradition'.

Hmm. Perhaps we should revive bear-baiting as that's traditional. What about ducking witches in village ponds? That's traditional, too.

Perhaps the answer could be a classic British fudge: keep the House of Lords as a consultative Chamber, with a formal role in legislation of a complex or technical variety or legislation which is referred to it but replace its role as the second Chamber with a democratically elected one - elected proportionally, of course.

That way we keep the 'expertise', we give a nod to 'tradition' and we get a slightly updated political system. Then all we will need to do is move everyone out of the museum in Westminster...

Too much too soon?

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Having lost the election in North Hinksey and Wytham I do now have the advantage of being able to speak freely about the results which have come in in the Vale and across the country. It's been a torrid few days and the most obvious conclusion to be drawn is that you simply can't trust the Tories.

I was deeply depressed when we went into coalition with them last year but I considered the various comments and plans over the following days and concluded that it was probably the best thing for the Lib Dems to do to demonstrate that we are a serious party and not a party of protest. That remains valid. We were also being offered nothing from Labour beyond supporting more of the same. It cannot be repeated enough that Labour was planning cuts of almost exactly the same severity had they won the election so we would have been damned for shoring up a failed government if we had sided with them.

So to the coalition and the first year has been interesting. I genuinely support the approach of localism, which seeks to give more powers to local areas, including local health providers. That doesn't mean a complete endorsement of the NHS plans, for example but I did see much to support in the idea of letting people who do health actually deliver it, rather than the cult of the manager which was introduced under the Tories and enthusiastically promoted by 'New' Labour, resulting in 6 managers for every nurse by the time Labour lost.

I even grew to trust David Cameron after many years of deep suspicion. His managerial rather than directorial approach was refreshing after the chaos of John Major and the control freakery of Blair and Brown. He seemed to be a conciliator rather than a leader, which I like. Sadly, his despicable performance in the AV referendum has alienated me completely so that if he comes to my local pub again (which he did a few weeks ago to celebrate its reopening) I might need to leave to avoid a difficult conversation with Special Branch. [Since we no longer live in a free country, for any obsessive security bods out there, I mean I'd like to give him a piece of my mind, nothing more].

As for Nick, well, I can't deny that I'm angry with him. He seems to have bought the coalition hook, line and sinker and, fatally for a politician, he seems to have put away his political antennae for the duration, failing to read the deep malaise across the country with the Lib Dems and our reputation. That doesn't mean I am aligning myself with the bleaters calling for him to resign - I hate that kind of defeatist talk - but I want him to come out with sleeves rolled up and gloves off. I want Cameron and his ilk to squirm because Lib Dems are taking them head on about fairness, health reforms, banking reforms - and how about going back to student fees?

How blissful to hear the voice of Vince once more ringing out in condemnation of the Tories. Let's never forget that Vince roared into leadership for three months and stunned the political world with his activities in that brief time. Chris Huhne is also taking the fight to the enemy - let's no longer mince words - and God bless him for doing so. I will always be a loyalist but Nick needs to up his game significantly.

Let's project forward to the approaching anniversary of the coalition. Apparently Cameron and Clegg plan a joint speech session. Well, Nick, why don't you go off on your own and give me a speech to stiffen my sinews, not one to make Tory hearts glad? Speak to your heartlands, all us mugs with aching feet and ink-stained fingers after this campaign.

And as for calls from Tories like Bernard Jenkin for Lib Dems to move closer to the Tories, wake up and smell the coffee. There is more chance of Blue winning Eurovision than of Lib Dem rank and file members treating your lot with anything other than contempt after this election.

I appear to have moved from grief to anger. I want to see my party do so as well (Go, Vince and Chris!). Rally round the flag, friends -the Gold one, not the one stained with blue. I also want no red in the Lib Dem colours - but that's an argument for another time.

Friday, 6 May 2011


We had a mixed day in North Hinksey and Wytham, with Debby Hallett elected for the Lib Dems, along with a Tory. I was unsuccessful and I must be philosophical about that.

I've had a great experience working in the ward and I've enjoyed meeting many voters. My thanks go to everyone who supported me and Debby and I wish Debby every success on the Vale.

Sadly the Lib Dems lost the Vale to the Tories after 16 years of running the council very well. If the experience of the Tory county council is anything to go by, residents in and around Botley will need to face up to higher Council Tax, less contact with their new Tory councillor and a renewed threat to the library. Let's see if Tory pledges over the library survive the machinations at County Hall as they seek savings to stem the huge holes in their budget.

I hope Debby and the other Lib Dems can work to soften the impact of Tory inaction in Botley and to continue to support you during the next four years.

Thanks to everyone who voted for me and Debby. Your support was tremendous and I am sorry it was not sufficient to keep the Vale in good hands.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


It is a long established tradition in Oxfordshire - and I assume, more widely - that the Tories will put out a nasty leaflet in the last few days of a campaign. These leaflets, if held in the threatened Botley Library, would be filed under 'fiction' since they always play fast and loose with the truth. Indeed, that seems to be the approach of the Tories to the elections this year, as the 'No to AV' campaign demonstrates. Be assured that there is no coalition here in Oxfordshire.

In North Hinksey, we have a humdinger of a leaflet which bears little relation to the real world, much in tune with Tory pronouncements generally. Let's make a few points about the 'story' so far.

1. I understand that the Tories pledge to safeguard the library. Does this mean they disagree with Tories in Oxford who threaten to close it? Why don't they talk about the County Council cuts which have threatened the library in the first place, I wonder. If you want to secure the library, the Lib Dems are the only party which can issue a cast iron pledge to oppose Tory library cuts.

2. The Tories pledge to 'safeguard the Green Belt'. Great. The Lib Dems have done this for years and we even introduced a Local Plan which absolutely, categorically said that the Green Belt would not be built on - and we have stuck to it. Tories like to forget that (i) their leader at the time merrily discussed building all over the Green Belt (ii) the Tories did not support this planning document which specifically, unequivocally protected the Green Belt around Oxford.

Are you getting a theme? Perhaps I might suggest one of 'we'll say anything to get your vote'...

3. I have been attacked for living beyond Witney. Not quite but I do live near Witney, about 15 miles from North Hinksey. I work in Botley, which is why I want to be your councillor. Working in Botley for Oxford Brookes University means that I have a specific interest in the area which others might not. I probably spend more time in the area - walking the roads, using the shops, visiting the library - than many people like me in North Hinksey who commute to other places to work. Should they be denied a vote since they don't eat, sleep and live every moment here? Lib Dems don't like personal attacks so I will not mention the two Tory candidates in Farmoor and Cumnor who hail from Faringdon and one of whom is standing because their relative, the Tory leader, clearly press-ganged them into it in the absence of anyone else...but as I said, we don't do personal attacks so please forget that last point.

4. The Tories say the Lib Dems plan to build on the site of the baptist church, to knock down Seacourt Hall and to demolish the library. Now this is either wrong or it is a lie. The Vale is considering plans for the future of Botley - with the Baptist Church, among other landowners - but there are no firm, agreed plans to do anything. Let me repeat this: there are no such plans so an intelligent person might conclude that the Tories are lying to you in their leaflet. As an intelligent voter I leave it to you to decide.

5. The Tories want to review the Vale's housing plans. Oh dear, this is one area where we will always disagree with NIMBY Tories. The Lib Dems have built thousands of affordable homes in very high quality developments in Abingdon and Grove in particular, creating mixed communities to improve our district. The Lib Dems realise that people must live somewhere and cannot simply be parcelled off to other, poorer areas, so for 16 years we have worked on town centre developments which improve the viability of local businesses, cut the need to travel and provide new amenities like schools, play equipment and new, much needed roads in areas like Wantage and Grove. The Tories have opposed almost all such plans and they continue to do so. If you have children or if you are a young adult starting out in work, or if you are older and wish to move into a smaller property and stay in Oxfordshire, you might wish to ask if we can cope with the existing number of dwellings we have in the Vale or if more development might just occasionally be a good thing for everyone. And let me reiterate the clear, unequivocal pledge that the Lib Dems are the only local party which has been 100% committed to safeguarding the Oxford Green Belt in its entirety for over 16 years, against Tory opposition.

6. Tories pledged to freeze Council Tax. Well, fabulous. This will help residents in Oxfordshire who are already stung by one of the highest County Council Taxes in England - imposed by those same Tories. By contrast, the Vale levies one of the lowest District Council Tax charges in England. And, Lib Dems have campaigned for years to abolish this hated tax which penalises people on low and average salaries and favours the richest in the country. The Tories show their true colours in supporting the Council Tax, which hurts the poorest the most. Contrast that with Lib Dems in government cutting incomer tax for the lowest paid, allowing them to help themselves.

I hope you will read the Tory leaflet and I hope you will recognise the true colours of the Tories. I hope you will then endorse the good work the Lib Dems have done for 16 years in North Hinksey and Wytham and support me and Debby Hallett to tell you the truth, to keep you informed and to work for you all year round, not for narrow political advantage but for everyone in North Hinksey and Wytham.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting us.