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.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


I've have just had the pleasure of being able to appear on BBC Berkshire to dismiss allegations by desperate Tories accusing the Lib Dems in Henley of distributing 'Conservative Yes to AV' leaflets. The claim has no foundation in truth and ignores the fact that there is indeed a Conservative 'Yes' campaign which is probably responsible - check Google for more about this. Unfortunately, the Conservatives can brook no internal dissent so they accuse their opponents instead. Weak.

The claim was based on the fact that a LD leaflet was delivered on the same day as a Conservative 'yes' leaflet. Well, as I mentioned below, I received a Tory leaflet at exactly the same time - and in the same distinctive manner - as a 'No to AV' leaflet. Does that mean the Tories are running the No campaign? David Cameron says no. Do Henley Tories think their leader is mistaken or even possibly lying? If they don't, they must withdraw this accusation against Henley LDs and apologise.

The 'No to AV' campaign shows itself more and more to be a desperate attempt by vested interests to cling on to an unfair system and this latest attempt to spread untruths is more of the same. If you think politics is fine in our country, vote no. If you think it needs radical overhaul, perhaps you should vote yes.

NB: the Tory MP for Henley was elected by 33% of voters in the constituency. I wonder why he supports First Past the Post.


The BBC once again has led in the coverage of the AV debate with a great page outlining 5 reasons for and against AV. The page can be found here.

The best comment is the most obvious: if you're happy with business as usual at Westminster, vote No. If you want to change politics for the better, vote Yes.