Saturday, 30 June 2012


The Lib Dems are generally pilloried for our approach to Europe.  We like it, we support it, we promote it. That much is understood and generally misrepresented by all and sundry.  I, for example, am a passionate European but I think the European Union as it is constituted is a disaster.
As for the Tories, they are a running joke on Europe, with successive Tory leaders hurled onto the rack of right-wing Euroscepticism which infests their party. That much is also understood and generally enjoyed by all and sundry outside of the Tory Party.

Their latest leader has proven himself singularly inept on Europe, starting with his foolish decision to leave the right-wing grouping, the European People's Party, which would have gained him allies across the continent. He did this for short-term gain, to win his party's leadership. He won the leadership of his party but he lost the support of many potential allies in Europe.

He has failed miserably to do anything positive in this current crisis. He goes to meetings, he annoys people, he makes sub-Churchillian statements about the importance of the latest press statement...and all the time economies tumble and people suffer.

However, we shouldn't blame Dave for his failings on Europe. There hasn't been a single British Prime Minister who has 'got' Europe, not even Ted Heath, who was at least a committed European but so much so that it made him craven as he begged for membership.

The problem with this - and the reason for this rant - is that we are once again missing a huge opportunity.  Since 1945, European countries have sought involvement and leadership from Britain and since 1945 Britain has failed.  We have pretended that we are separate (look at a map: we aren't), or better (look at GDP figures for Germany and France: we aren't), or just not like them (look at 5,000 years of history: complete twaddle). 

Now we're in a new period of desperate crisis, with European countries riven between the Germans, who are being asked to bail out less cautious countries and who are quite reasonably asking what is in it for them, and a host of others who want growth, investment, development, an end to austerity and chocolate for breakfast but who can't say who pays for this (see 'Germany', above).

A British Prime Minister with a vision, a stated commitment to the idea of European countries working together and a sense of the fundamental importance of the European market to the British economy would be jetting around the capitals of Europe, offering support, advice and brokerage and providing a British vision for Europe based on enterprise and co-operation - but without surrendering Britain to a federal Europe, whatever the rabid right wing loons might have us think.  That Prime Minister would develop relationships and would secure a place for our country at the heart of negotiations to lift Europe from its current gloom - and through this process lift Britain's economy from the doldrums.

Sadly that Prime Minister is as real as Paddington Bear.  What we have is Dave the Eurosceptic, Dave the populist, Dave the conciliator, Dave the prisoner of the Tory right wing, Dave the man with the vision to see as far as 2015 but no further.

The latest 'debate' is over a referendum on Britain's membership of Europe.  Fine with the Lib Dems: we're the only party which has called for this to be held.  However, this is not a policy, merely an argument. We would be confident in such an argument since we would reckon on the support of British business, which would like to secure the 50% of our trade which is done with Europe, together with the 3m people who rely on Europe for their jobs. Bring it on.  Unfortunately, this is not a long-term policy for Britain or for Europe.

Labour will demand a referendum. Dave will too, in order to head Boris off in his bid for the Tory leadership (and possibly Prime Ministership, may God have mercy on us!) but neither of the old parties has a policy on Europe. We do.  We know it's good for us and good for Europe for a strong, robust British membership which gives us the strength and the allies to take on the parsimonious Germans and the spendthrift French, Italians, Spanish and Greeks and hopefully bring them closer together.

In the Independent today, Vince Cable was interviewed discussing the decision of John Smith in the late 1970s to encourage Japanese investment in Britain - at the time a risky and unpopular strategy.  He had a vision and it worked.  Sadly we never had a Prime Minister Smith.  Instead we got a warmongering pygmy. There is about as much light from Labour on Europe as there is from the deepest recesses of the Tory right-wing.

Until we get someone in Number 10 who is grown up about Europe we are all doomed: Britain to a position of irrelevance and Europe to perennial arguments between Germany and the rest.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Saturday, 5 May 2012


My thoughts on the thorny issue of the leadership are fairly simple.  I still think Nick's doing okay and should continue to be supported.  Before they come for me, here's why.

Nick should still be leader of the Lib Dems in 2015 and the increasing calls for him to resign just miss the point entirely.  Seriously, if Lembit says something you've got to be reassured if you disagree.  The phrase 'lost the plot' just doesn't do his present state of mind justice.  However, others with greater control of their faculties have said this, so it needs to be considered.

Nick should be supported because he gets it.  The Tories are working with us but it is rather like sharing a pit with a python.  You might help each other to get out but never take your eyes off it.  They will attack us as soon as they think the time is right and it seems to me that Nick recognises this.  He appears to know that this is a long game and he is playing it cool.

Come 2015, those vipers (I know, different snake) will strike and we need to react and hit them back hard.  If we can show that we tamed them for 5 years and did the good stuff like cutting taxes we might just do well.  If.

What could a Tim Farron or Simon Hughes bring to the party beyond further antagonising the Tory right.  Great guys both but not right for the job at the moment.  And any calls for the Blessed Vince to step up to the plate are likely to fall on deaf ears as Vince is clearly unhappy in the coalition and he just doesn't seem to want the leader's job.

All those calling for Nick's head need to answer two simple questions: who would replace him and where would they take us?

I've been on the doorsteps in the past few weeks and I've had the arguments.  The strange thing was that most people were willing to listen. They may not agree but I got a good impression that we can still connect.  We won two seats here and we held and achieved good results in many areas around the south.  That is small comfort for other areas but it shows that our arguments still work.

We should not ditch the pilot before we are sure he's the problem and that there is a replacement pilot eating peanuts in business class.  At the moment I'm not sure there is.

Debrief - or at least the start of it...

Well, even the shouting is over so a moment of reflection is probably called for.  In West Oxfordshire we did okay.  We won the ultra blue seat of Woodstock and we held Charlbury and Finstock, increasing the majority to one which can reasonably be described as 'thumping'. Elsewhere in the district the Labour Party did well, gaining 3 seats.  It's always good to see the Tories get a kicking but I still hold to the 'plague on both their houses' line.

The Greens also stood across the area, did b*gger all but took votes which could be ours - the only party which actually does stuff to address environmental concerns rather than just recycling our Guardians in a really concerned manner.  If you want to really stuff the environment, vote Green.  That way you guarantee the Tories get elected.

Politics is a drug which those of us who are hooked cannot shake off so I enjoyed the campaign, from the endless trudging up drives to deliver another bit of paper to the argument with the man putting his daughter to bed at 9.45pm as I begged him to vote.  Needless to say, he didn't.  Maybe these people frighten their children once a year by telling them to go to sleep or the nasty Lib Dem Knocker Upper will get them.

Every year I do this stuff and every year I end with the thought that we must do something better to get, retain and increase our vote.  Looking at mighty places like Eastleigh and Portsmouth, it is clearly possible and we perhaps need to be a little less prim in Oxfordshire and really go for the jugular.  After all, there is little in life which is certain but the prospect of a wounded and spiteful David Cameron standing on a very unpopular ticket in 2015 hereabouts is a good bet.

Labour will have donned white robes and fake wings by then so I suppose our job is to damn Dave for everything he has failed to do - like sacking his culture secretary, promoting just one or two people who didn't go to school with him to the Cabinet, and anything on Lords reform - while simultaneously reminding people about 'New' Labour and its record on sleaze, warmongering and leaping headfirst into bed with Australian media barons.  Fingers crossed Ed the Supply Leader will still be in charge of Labour in 2015.

 As for our leader, well more on that next.

Rather oddly, I am reassured by the election results.  They proved that we are taking on the Tories.  They also confirm that we are the challengers to Labour.  Yes, the fightback will be hard but this is grown up, national politics and the transition is going to hurt but we might just find in a few years that we are in a significantly better position as far as Westminster politics is concerned, at which point the pain of the current period could seem worthwhile.

With apologies to anyone who fought and lost yesterday.  I share your pain and I am not making light of it.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


In addition to the party priorities set out below, I have my own interests.

I would like to see more investment in cycling provision locally, which would mean more than painting a few white lines onto roads.  Cycling is a fun activity which can keep us healthy.  It is easy to do and can be enjoyed by almost everyone.  It also reduces the number of cars on our busy roads, which benefits us all.  

However, most people see cycling as dangerous and would never dream of getting on a bike.  Local authorities can do a lot to encourage people through simple activities such as requiring proper cycle lanes to be included in any new roads.  With all the planned development around Witney in particular, this could be a once in a generation opportunity to build a lasting legacy which can benefit everyone.

We also need to invest in affordable housing which is well designed, which does not swamp existing communities and which comes with the services that people need to live well in our district.  I worked for the Vale of White Horse District Council for 7 years, during which time the then Lib Dem administration prioritised high quality affordable housing and delivered more than 1500 homes in town centres and sustainable communities.  West Oxfordshire has a good record for affordable housing but we need to keep the pace of building up to make sure that our communities remain strong and vibrant. Leafield's shop and school are good examples of how new housing can benefit villages.  More people living in Leafield has meant that both are thriving.

The district council is small and has limited budgets but those budgets must be spent wisely, building strong communities now and leaving a lasting legacy for the future. 


Every authority needs an active opposition and the Lib Dems have a good record in West Oxfordshire. In March, Lib Dem councillors stood up for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau when the Tories tried to slash the budget. It was Lib Dems who convinced the Tories that they should look at opening a recycling facility at Greystones to replace Dean Pit. The Liberal Democrats want a better future for everyone in our area, which includes:
  • Enough affordable houses so that the next generation can afford to rent or buy a home locally
  • Roads and pavements maintained properly
  • Higher building standards, to reduce fuel costs and CO2 emissions
  • Better recycling for businesses.  What;'s the point of us all recycling at home when busioness throw away tons of rubbish each day because there is no choice for them?
  • Zero-landfill targets. This will be tough to achieve but there is nothing wrong with having targets to aim for
  • Planning policy that supports local food production, encouraging jobs and sustainability 
Liberal Democrats work hard all year round and our record of activity is clear across the country. Lib Dem councillors offer loal advocacy and tough opposition in Ofordshire and I want to support that proud record here.


I am standing for election in West Oxfordshire for the village I have lived in for 10 years. I am a passionate Liberal Democrat, an active local citizen and a keen advocate of local democracy, not to mention a father of two children who go to the local school.

I have stood for election in various places but this is the first opportunity I have had to represent my own village, together with the surrounding villages of Hailey, Minster Lovell and Ramsden. Previously I worked for a local authority so I was unable to stand in any elections. However, I have kept myself busy since moving to Oxfordshire. I joined the community shop committee five days after arriving in Leafield and I remain an active member. Our community shop opened in January 2003 with working capital of about £700. After more than our fair share of trials and tribulations we remain in business with great staff, an ever growing range of stock and we are looking forward with great pride to our tenth birthday next year. Our shop now includes the Post Office, which closed but which we successfully revived. I volunteer in the shop regularly.

I have also served as parish councillor and parish clerk in the village, during which time I worked towards getting us more affordable housing and new play equipment. Latterly I was a member of the church PCC and an active member of the church.

That's a brief biography to provide a flavour of your candidate. I shall discuss my interests and priorities in the next post.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


Lord help me, quoting Simon Carr twice in two days. What is to become of me? Nevertheless, the Independent's somewhat fuzzy commentator reports on PMQs with Nick Clegg yesterday and notes the following:

'The most revealing exchange suggested that Labour may be losing the argument on the Health Bill. Clegg gave her three bite-sized facts to chew on: 1) Labour was wanting to spend less on the NHS than the Coalition. 2) Sweetheart deals with the private sector were now illegal. 3) There was a new statutory duty to reduce health inequalities.'

Absolutely, Simon. Labour is utterly exposed on the NHS Bill for all these reasons and more, including the simple fact that they did more than any other government to bring private enterprise into the NHS, normally at the expense of existing services. Sadly no one has yet gone in with the proverbial stiletto to finish them off. Add to that the fact that Lib Dem histrionics on this Bill are neither helping the coalition nor the party and you've got a clear field currently being left for Labour which we should own as the party which has played with a straight bat on this throughout.

Carr ends by speculating that the coalition may be more solid than people think and may persist after 2015. That's a big claim to make on the back of a single PMQs and it will strike terror into the hearts of both Tories and Lib Dems. For Lib Dems with a knowledge of our history, memories of the post-1918 coalition governments may cause them to shudder a little [Google it if you want to know more: if I attempt a summary here I will be hauled up for getting the building in which a deal was struck or the pen used wrong].

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Simon Carr in the Independent is a bit too frothy for my liking but his commentary on the NHS debate yesterday contains one telling paragraph:

'Labour was castigated, though probably not chastised. Oh, the things they did in government. The practice-based commissioning. The private treatment centres. The £67 billion of private money debt. The £12bn private IT system. And the franchising out of a hospital that Lansley is being vilified for. "The only secret Tory plan they find is a Labour plan," he yelled. For all the fury, maybe there is a secret consensus underneath it all.'

I know this is just a light-hearted dig at politicians in general but it nicely encapsulates the double standards of the Labour Party, which introduced GP commissioning and greater competition into the NHS, often at the expense of existing NHS providers. I wonder what Andy Burnham would say to this. You get the feeling he would cheerfully blame the Tories for the Iraq War if he was asked to.

Saturday, 10 March 2012


There is an excellent article from Tim Farron in the Grauniad in which he defends our record in government and calls on Lib Dems to have a bit more pride in our achievements. The fact that we are delivering on lowering tax for the lowest paid, putting more money into schools and - something which has been forgotten - 'kicking the decision on Trident into the long grass' is mentioned by Farron. He also mentions the little fact of the disastrous war in Iraq which any Labour politician in government at the time must wear like an albatross around their neck.

The bit that matters most is the attack on Labour's Andy Burnham for his dishonest attacks on the NHS Bill on the basis that he opposes 'NHS privatisation'. Putting aside the fact that the bill is not privatisation, Tim Farron comments on Labour's 2006 NHS Act which, er, introduced private competition and, as Farron points out, led directly to the privatisation of two practices in his constituency. As I've said before, shame on Labour for this attack.

Andrew Grice in the Independent says today that we are still in the game, which is nice given that he has been one of many seeking to dismiss us in the past. He also reports a lovely moment: following an attack on the Lib Dems by rabid Tory Nadine Dorries, someone at LD HQ sent her flowers to thank her for helping differentiate us from them.

If you're in two minds about the Lib Dems or if you have simply decided to follow the headlines and damn us for being in government, can I urge you to pause and reflect on articles like this one. As Tim Farron says, we have achieved more in the last 2 years than we did in the last 60. Your taxes are lower thanks to us; the replacement of an obsolete nuclear weapon with another obsolete nuclear weapon is less likely; proposals for reforms to the NHS to save everyone money and improve care have been decontaminated by us; the poorest schoolchildren have got more funding from government to help them to succeed; the Tories have been reined in by a muscular approach to coalition from the LDs.

And we haven't invaded any Middle Eastern countries for oil.

I will always dislike the Tories but the coalition was and remains the right choice and I respect our MPs for their forbearance in the face of horrible pressure.

Monday, 27 February 2012


The arguments over the health bill continue to rumble on and the consequence of the debate is that any light shed on the substance of the proposals has been lost in the heat of political discord. I am but a humble pundit and my conclusions can be oversimplified thus:

1. Labour is being about as dishonest about this Bill as it is possible to be. There is not one single, solitary measure in the proposals which was not being introduced during the last Labour government. Any Labour politicians who says otherwise is lying. Bare-faced, Pinocchio-nosed lying. Competition, GP commissioning, private companies providing care - with huge government subsidies and few targets, fragmentation of the service - all were introduced, or extended, under Labour. The difference with the current proposals is that they offer a coherent approach to the piecemeal New Labour 'let's try this and see what the focus groups say' approach. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but it has the aim of improving the service for the long-term. Labour tinkered and threw money at the NHS, keeping it chugging along while the costs rose and rose; the coalition government is trying to redesign it to work for another 60 years as we all get older and need more and more interventions to keep us chugging along. You can't blame Labour for trying to derail the proposals but their dishonesty is breathtaking.

2. The Lib Dems support the spirit of these changes and we should have the courage to support the letter of them as well. Our Peers are acting on solid principles but if they continue to insist on major changes the Bill will be blunted beyond any practical use and we will look like we twist with the wind on health. That is Labour's role. I don't suppose anyone loves the proposals unreservedly but they are coherent and they are government policy. We should support them - not without reservation but without the impression of panic every time another Royal College (who knew there were so many?!) comes out against the changes.

3. No one likes change. If someone came along to your company and told you that a shadow office would be set up to compete with you for work, you'd probably be fed up as well but that's the modern world of public sector service provision. I experienced it in the 1990s in the local authority I worked for and it stank and completely demoralised the staff. It happened twice, which did nothing to the general mood. However, by the time I left the organisation was incalculably leaner and fitter, proving that the nasty medicine worked there - not without tears but it did work. Because of my personal experience of this process I am not completely for the proposals and I sympathise with the poor people who will have to introduce them. However, I recognise that something has to change in the NHS.

4. The Tories did promise no major changes to the NHS and they broke that promise. We didn't. Let them fight that battle, not us.

The analogy that comes to my mind is an old VW camper van. Everyone loves them and there are lots of old ones on the road which have been patched up and repaired to within an inch of their rivets but there will come a time when the trusty old wagon will not be economically repairable any more. The choice then becomes to pay over the odds or to try something new.

I have always used the NHS and I always will. I believe completely in public sector provision and I am 100% convinced that the NHS will remain free at the point of use and that the service I receive will be just as good, if not better, once the proposed changes are introduced. I wish Lib Dem peers with the power to ruin us at Westminster would recognise this.

If the proposals fail, the government fails and the Lib Dems are done for. So here's a mad idea for the day. Why not suggest that a Lib Dem minister takes over from Lansley in delivering this policy. The poor 'volunteer' would have to be dragged to the Department of Health by several teams of wild horses but they could then set about explaining the changes, which Andrew Lansley has not done. I don't think he has done anything wrong: his only crime has been to stick to his principles, which any sensible politician knows never works. A Lib Dem Secretary of State for Health would be able to present a fresh approach and demonstrate that the Lib Dems can deliver tough changes. They wouldn't become wildly popular but the legacy for our party could be immense. I wouldn't dream of suggesting who that lucky volunteer might be but we have the people to do this and do it well.

The Tories would be delighted because they would perceive the pressure moving away from them but a good Lib Dem Secretary of State could damn them robustly for the manner in which the proposals were introduced, while still playing with a straight bat on getting the sensible changes implemented.

Friday, 10 February 2012


There was a delicious moment on the Today programme last week when Evan Davies was discussing the recent UN Security Council meeting with a US State Department representative. They were considering the Russian and Chinese veto of a resolution on the Syrian government's actions against its civilians and Davies asked if the USA would ever consider using its veto in support of a Middle Eastern ally against all other countries. The State Department spokesman failed to answer the question and Davies put it again several times, eventually giving up. It was highly amusing and very illuminating.

It demonstrated rather eloquently that the Middle East region is fraught with difficulties and any attempt to intervene there will end in tears. Libya is in Africa and it is sufficiently remote from the flashpoints of the region to have made the UK and French action containable and manageable, with positive outcomes. By contrast, both Syria and Iran are closely linked to factions within Lebanon and Palestine. Part of Syria has also been occupied by Israel since 1967, creating a potentially explosive flashpoint there in the event of a major conflict within Syria. It's very easy for the Melanie Phillips' of the world to demand action but I am reassured that so far governments have kept their response to words and condemnation, not actions.

Instead of condemning Russia and China for, er, doing what the USA has done countless times for Israel, let's pray for realpolitik to rear its hideous, ugly head and for the many countries potentially involved in the region to work together to find a solution. The Syrian government action against civilians in Homs is reprehensible and requires a response but rabid commentators the world over must accept that the days of gunboat diplomacy are over. It just won't work.

The other factor with Syria is the complex mix of groups living in that country. The Assads may be seen as reprehensible but they have protected minority Christian groups for decades, one of the few countris in the region where this has happened. Robert Fisk has reported stories of masacres of minorities in Homs so, like Bosnia-Herzegovina before, this is not a clear-cut 'goodies v. baddies' issue.

The solution for Syria is going to be infinitely more complex and requires international cooperation. Similarly, Iran is not intrinsically evil, just in the hands of a few fanatics. Intelligent diplomacy could reap huge rewards in Iran. Israeli warplanes will not.

The Arab League appears to have woken up and the role of next door Turkey remains intriguing. Europe and the USA need to pause and reflect on the consequences of any actions, something which the UK and USA singularly failed to do when planning to invade Iraq. Once upon a time diplomats used to think decades ahead to what a country or region would look like then. Now, the news and political agendas make that kind of long term strategic thinking impossible.

They may not be democratic regimes but perhaps the input of Russia and China in this instance could contribute to a more long term vision for the whole of the Middle East, an areas whose citizens have rather ably shown over the past year that, given the right support, they can do it for themselves.

It's ugly and not what the 'democrats' of America want to hear but we should give one cheer for realpolitik

Thursday, 9 February 2012


Two magnificent headlines from the BBC website over the past 24 hours the peculiar - 'Sexual geography: Why is Hebden Bridge the lesbian capital of the UK' - and the almost perfect: 'Third failure in naked Atlantic pedalo crossing’.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


So an independent Scotland would not have got itself into the current financial mess caused by the Labour government kowtowing to bankers for 13 years, right?

Er, no, as this admission by Pandora Salmond makes clear.

Independent Scotland: richer, happier, wiser? Not with this bunch in charge it wouldn't be.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


This is the first example of the kind of article I have been dreading, the hymn to Englishness and all that encompasses. This one comes from a 'life-long Labour supporter' - as if that makes it okay - and it is printed in the Independent, not normally the home of extreme views.

Now don't get me wrong, I agree with pretty much everything this writer says about England and its proud traditions, creativity and strong identity, including the lively range of modern influences he cites. I am a proud Englishman and I celebrate this country every day in all its myriad variety but this article contains a few grains which will germinate and grow into pernicious weeds if allowed to continue.

First, the author gets in a few clear digs about Scotland: about how he is 'angry' that English students must pay fees at universities there, a mention of the incidence of 'sectarianism' which can sometimes be found in Scotland.

Second, the writer yearns to be proud of his country and how he longs to celebrate it with an anthem, an English equivalent of Burns Night, how we should have Jerusalem as the national anthem. Oh dear, this is the last recourse of the scoundrel writ large.

Again, I agree with the sentiments and I, too, object to many aspects of our relationship with Scotland such as the unfair constitutional settlement and the continued influence of Scottish MPs over my life but this is the start of a national challenge from England to the challenge laid down in Edinburgh by Pandora Salmond and the SNP.

I've said it before and I'll be hoarse by the time this debacle draws to a conclusion: the point about Englishness is that we have all these advantages but we don't need to trot them out every five minutes. The very essence of Englishness is a sense of quiet confidence in who we are. I don't need a flag introduced by the Normans to make me English. A beautiful piece of music like Jerusalem moves me but it is not necessary to make me English. For Heaven's sake, any country whose citizens can remain proud of its identity and existence even when our football team performs so lamentably at every international tournament has got to be described as being at ease with itself.

Pandora Salmond dreams of two countries living side by side in peace with a shared country and monarch with only a healthy rivalry between us. To use an English phrase from my home, London, he's having a laugh. When the trouble begins - be that at a football match, in a manufactured argument over Berwick, or with an attack on an innocent individual in one or other country we must all be absolutely crystal clear about where the blame lies: at the doors of the SNP and the home of Pandora Salmond. To make that stick we need to avoid playing his silly game.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


Coming into work yesterday morning I was gnashing my teeth at 'commentator' Neal Ascherson who called for the English to discover their nationalism and sense of identity. Oh dear, Neal, that's just what we don't need.

England is a settled country which is at ease with itself. It is big, diverse and, over many centuries, it has absorbed different cultures into its social make up, generally successfully, whatever some critics might say. The last thing we need is a homogeneous sense of identity. We need a shared pride in all the good things in England, not to mention a shared sense of anger at the things which do not work for us. Like devolution.

What we absolutely, categorically do not need is a sense of nationalism. Nationalism is divisive, aggressive and negative. It is a hatred of the 'other' and a statement of identity in response to the perception of a threat from that nebulous 'other'. [Philosophy lovers: this is Ernest Gellner's version of nationalism, which I subscribe to. Argue if you will but that would be tedious.]

What England needs - and has in buckets full in my experience - is patriotism, a sense of pride in itself and, crucially, a sense if its place in the union and the wider world. We have an infuriating football team, some of the world's finest athletes, THE world city - London - a landscape of sumptuous diversity, from the wealds of Kent to the mountains of the Lake District, history to gasp at, seaside to revel in, the best theatre in the get the picture.

And of course we have the Olympics, which we won against the French. I say that because it matters. We have a rivalry with the French which extends to most levels - just look at the Prime Minister's disastrous recent foray into Europe. Our rivalry is intense and it can sometimes be personal, as it was at the European summit but to this humble blogger [that is an oxymoron, isn't it...] it is entirely acceptable and productive. We compete with the French but we also work closely with them and share much, such as energy and military intelligence, tactics and materiel. Over recent years I have visited France for family holidays and had a wonderful time. The French are almost all warm and welcoming to visitors and there is much to love about their country but that doesn't mean we can't both enjoy a productive rivalry. Both sides enjoy it and it is creative.

Identity does not need narrow SNP nationalism and the bizarre notion that standing alone on a smaller piece of rock is somehow going to enhance one’s nation. It simply needs the self-confident recognition of what the country and its people are. That doesn't take governments or borders, it just takes people. Scotland seems to do fine on its self-identity without the need for the impoverishment of its own government. If I were Scottish - and yes, like most people at the moment I can claim some heritage in that direction - I would be asking Pandora Salmond just what he hopes to achieve from his petty flag-waving apart from that.

We will all be diminished if the union breaks up but if it does I expect England to get along just fine without the pettiness of nationalism. We don't need it - and neither does Scotland. The union works. Let’s hope that nationalists like Pandora Salmond and Neal Ascherson eventually give up and scurry off to shout at passers-by, leaving the rest of us alone to get along with life and a celebration of who we are, not a hatred of others.

Monday, 16 January 2012


Some brief examples of how the Lib Dems are achieving stuff in government:

Nick Clegg wants to see more employee ownership of businesses to make them fairer and to encourage workers to commit to them. It's an obvious call which only a Tory could object to so Nick will have a job on his hands getting it past George Osborne. I love the comment from Labour's Chuka Umunna that this represents Nick Clegg following Labour's lead. That might have been relevant if Labour had done anything to encourage employee ownership over those 13 wasted years.

Lib Dems are also seeking a commitment for a 'mansion tax', first mooted by Vince Cable and damned by everyone else but, like the prophet he is, now being embraced by more and more people. It won't be in the budget but Osborne has apparently acquiesced to a review. Only a madman would bet against Vince getting his way eventually.

Lib Dems are seeking to get the government to introduce a land value tax, a system which is infinitely fairer than the hated Tory Council Tax as it reflects the provision of local services far more. Liberals have been calling for this fairer tax since the Ark so it would be nice to see it make progress. Unfortunately that would mean the Tories admitting that the Council Tax is a disaster which penalises those on low incomes the most and Labour admitting that they did stuff all to change Council Tax over 13 wasted years in office.

Finally, the debate on Scottish independence is still looking for a champion on the unionist side. In Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy we have two excellent candidates with a national profile few other politicians have. Some have suggested Gordon Brown - seriously! - while truculent Alastair Darling is also in the frame. The counterpoint to Pandora Salmond needs to be someone who is confident, competent and able to speak to voters in Scotland and Charles Kennedy has all those abilities.

That pretty much encapsulates why the Lib Dems are essential for politics in this country. We are the only party which says and does stuff which is important and which hasn't just floated up from the musings of a focus group or interest group of rich donors.

We opposed the introduction of student fees, which both Labour and the Tories supported. If a Tory government had been elected the chances are that the cap on fees would have been completely removed. We performed an embarrassing u-turn on the issue but in the process we have engineered the introduction of a graduate tax, the least worst option. One day that will be recognised. Hopefully that day will come before 2015...

The truth about our success is out there. Regrettably it is hidden by a European crisis and the slow demise of Labour's latest leader. Without an opposition, Britain needs the Lib Dems more than ever.

Saturday, 14 January 2012


The poll to be published in the Telegraph today encapsulates this Englishman's attitude to the Scottish referendum. Making grand assumptions from the poll and using my own opinions as a reasonable guide (this is my blog, after all), the poll seems to show first that English people are generally - and genuinely - relaxed about the whole issue of Scottish nationalism as it is simply not relevant to England day to day. English people also believe that Scotland would be worse off if independent.

Perhaps most crucially in terms of the future arguments with the nationalists, English people would vote for Scottish independence if given the choice.

What all this tells me is that English people like and support the union and are against a break up but it seems to me that there is also very strong opposition to the slow ebb of powers to Scotland which will occur as the nationalists seek more and more baubies in return for staying in the union. To hideously misquote someone famous, if they be so like to go, let them do so and be quick about it. However, if they wish to stay, great but let's make sure we all get fair shares of power, responsibility and control over our respective countries within the union - and let's all get on with day to day life and leave the petty squabbles behind.

And there's still no word on Berwick-upon-Tweed from anyone...

Friday, 13 January 2012


There is a great piece in the Independent from Steve Richards about referendums and how they tend to reflect not the issue at hand but the politics surrounding them. If Scots get the vote in 2014 they will vote based on recent headlines and arguments, not over the perception of hundreds of years of manufactured grievance, regardless of what people will say.

My anger is increasing by the hour as the debate continues as, even someone with the political antennae of Steve Richards is ignoring the grey thing with a long nose standing behind the antagonists - what happens to England. England is uniquely disadvantaged in the UK already as the only entity with no separate representation, as well as the continued injustice of Scottish MPs in particular having power over England while English MPs have no reciprocal powers in many areas.

I have never been enthusiastic about an English parliament as England is pretty big and, frankly, the common ground between Carlisle and Dover is limited in many areas. Unfortunately the Scottish nationalists are thrusting a stick into the nest and it can only be a matter of time before there is a reaction.

And that's the crux of my problem with Scottish nationalism: not the desire of Scots to bake shortbread under their own flag but the fact that the corrosion of nationalism does not stop at Berwick upon Tweed (and that one's gonna be a mare to resolve...), it will spread far and wide, not only destroying Scotland's economy but also affecting ours. And that's why we need political equality and a say on this ticking bomb before it is too late.

Well done Pandora Salmond. Well done.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


One from the 'it's not all bad' folder, an article from the Independent which points out that if one takes out the public sector the British economy is set to grow and that it already has beyond 2007 levels. 'New' Labour pumped money into the public sector so a degree of retrenchment here is not really surprising.

The article also points out that the UK - assuming the self-destructive Scottish Nationalists don't get their way - will slump from being the fifth largest economy in the world this year to, er, the sixth largest in 2050. Well, hoard the bottled water and cans, Mabel, we're going under...

Things are grim at the moment and only a fool would deny that but a simple nod to somewhere like Haiti with its terrible post-earthquake problems or Greece with its economic crisis should be enough to encourage us all to count our still considerable blessings.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Dear Mr Cameron

In the light of efforts by opportunistic politicians in Scotland to break up the highly successful union between England and Scotland which has existed for over 300 years - benefiting both countries - as well as the continuation of the appalling constitutional settlement which has been foisted onto England by Labour since devolution, I would like to know when your government plans to enact legislation to ensure that all residents of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are given the chance to vote on the potential break up of the United Kingdom in advance of any such non-binding vote for Scottish voters alone. As this country is a union of nations it is only right that all citizens from Penzance to Belfast should be given the chance to have a say.

Such a UK-wide vote would ensure that the majority population of the UK can express a clear opinion - no doubt in favour of our country - and that British people are not held to ransom for years to come with increasing demands for powers for Scotland with no corresponding increase in powers for England or English regions in particular. The slow cancer of such calls on the body politic of a country can be clearly seen in the disruptive politics of Canada and Quebec over many decades or, closer to home, in Spain, which has for decades had to juggle the demands of various nationalist parties to the detriment of Spain as a whole.

A referendum on the question of Scottish independence from the UK would also be an opportunity for English voters to have a say on the continuing injustice of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland being able to govern themselves in many areas and of Scottish MPs in particular being able to vote on legislation affecting England and Wales while English and Welsh MPs do not have corresponding rights over numerous areas of Scottish administration.

I trust that, in advance of the referendum, British voters will be given clear information on the headline terms of any settlement arising from Scottish independence, including details of the payment the Scottish Government will make to secure control of the two banks in Scotland which the UK as a whole bailed out during the recent financial crisis and a percentage figure for the amount of UK debt the newly independent Scotland will be required to take on - reflecting the population of Scotland in relation to the UK as a whole.

I hope that British voters will also be reassured that, in the event of Scottish independence, the British government will make a cast-iron commitment that it will at no time in the future agree to any financial support for Scotland - the original catalyst for union in 1707, instead referring the newly independent country to the EU and the IMF as befits an independent state.

Please reassure me that any attempted power grab by the Scottish government in return for not seeking independence will only be agreed to after the establishment of an English Parliament with equivalent powers and a cast-iron commitment - enshrined in law - that Scottish MPs will be barred from involvement in any decisions which do not affect Scotland.

Finally, please use your good offices to encourage the FA and the Scottish FA to reinstate the oldest international football game of them all, England v. Scotland, to remind Mr Salmond and his petty nationalist ilk that the best way to resolve conflict remains on the football field over 90 entertaining minutes.

Your party is formally the Conservative and Unionist Party. Please act with urgency to ensure that this name remains relevant in future.

Yours sincerely
Andy Crick
Englishman and proud citizen of the UK, a successful, peaceful country largely at ease with itself - for now

(And this diatribe, dear reader, is why Alex Salmond is a fool as he seeks to rename himself Pandora and prise open the locked, sealed, vaulted box marked 'Nationalism: DO NOT OPEN'. And I'm a moderate Englishman. Wait until others really take hold of this debate)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


There's a 'debate' going on today over immigration and the effect on jobs for young people in Britain. I use the inverted commas because one side of the debate is being led by Migration Watch, a right wing group which is viscerally opposed to any immigration.

On the other side is a proper report based on, er, research, from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) which demonstrates that the rise in the number of immigrants from eastern European - measured by NI Number registrations in local areas - did not correlate with levels of youth unemployment at all. In fact, the report demonstrates, youth unemployment has risen massively since 2008, while at the same time the number of eastern European migrants has fallen.

Immigration is is a huge issue which I have come across rather too often on the doorsteps in recent years and it is reassuring to see that my response to such queries from residents was broadly on the money, namely that immigration benefits our country and does not disadvantage young people here.

The issue of youth unemployment is far bigger than a few Estonians arriving at Heathrow. It reflects disaffectation, education issues and the wider recession. I am reassured that the changes to education the Lib Dems are powering through the coalition, such as the pupil premium and wider choices at 16, are moving us in the right direction.

After all, isn't the answer to provide people with a decent start in life and choices when they need it, especially at 16 and 18? It's so blindingly simple you wonder why no one has thought of it before...

[Note for anti-fees readers. Yep, so am I but if you had a Tory-only government now you would probably have unlimited fees and a real two-tier system in higher education. With the Lib Dems in government we now have a graduate tax in all but name, the fairest possible option and one which does not rely on the low paid and pensioners to pay for Degrees. We still want a free education but Labour opened Pandora's Box with the introduction of fees and we've done our best to make it fair. If a Labour government had been re-elected in 2010, do you seriously believe they would not have raised fees? Think again.]