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.