Sunday, 30 January 2011

Police Gas Protesters

No, this gassing of protesters wasn't in Egypt, it was in London. Today.

According to both Liberal Conspiracy and the Guardian, the Metropolitan Police used CS gas on peaceful anti corporate tax avoidance protesters outside Boots in Oxford Street.

This is how UK Uncut (who organised the protests) describes it:

Before 15:00 outside Boots on Oxford Street a female activist tried to push a leaflet through the closed door of Boots explaining the details of Boots' tax avoidance to the staff. 
A police officer then arrested the individual for "criminal damage". Around 20 people tried to help the female being arrested and 10 were subsequently pepper sprayed. Three people have been taken to hospital.
 There's also video of the aftermath of the incident:



This is disgusting behaviour from a police force which is meant to defend our right to peaceful protest. Hopefully the Home Secretary will ensure incidents such as this are properly investigated and reign in the Met which currently is acting in a manner little better than that of the Egyptian security forces. I wouldn't expect this to happen or tolerate it under any government which is why I feel so ashamed that it's happening under one in which Lib Dems are meant to have influence. If anyone reading this happens to have the ear of one of our ministers then kindly ask them what the fuck they think they're doing.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Lib Dems up to 15% in the Polls

The latest ICM poll for the Guardian has the Lib Dems on 15%, with Labour on 39% and the Conservatives on 35%. Now, obviously you can't look at polls in isolation as they are always liable to be out by plus or minus two or three percentage points but, having said that, it does form part of an underlying trend on ICM which showed a Lib Dem decline since the election and now shows what looks like the start of a gradual recovery.

In my opinion this recovery was only to be expected as the tuition fees fiasco (quite rightly) damaged our credibility. However, over the coming weeks and months we should see more Lib Dem achievements in government (for example, the counter terrorism review today has rolled back infringements on civil liberties and when the committee on the banking sector reports we should see Lib Dem policy being delivered there as well) which should help us to regain support. Another promising sign is that based on the vote share we've received so far in council elections we've got 25%. Obviously our national level of support isn't going to be anything like that but it does show that we're far from facing a wipe out at the council elections in May.

Of course, one important caveat is that, despite my personal opinion of ICM as the gold standard for polls (they were closest when it came to calling the general election, for example), they do tend to show the highest level of support for the Lib Dems out of all the reputable polling companies. However, even YouGov (which tends to give us the lowest rating) has us back in double figures for two polls in a row.

In short, if you want my opinion on the polls, I think we're seeing the start of a slow Lib Dem recovery and I'm cautiously optimistic about the polls over the next year.

Monday, 24 January 2011

A Vision for a New Britain

Introduction


I am a social liberal. I believe that the best form of government and structure for a society is one which follows a social liberal democratic model. In this essay I shall attempt to describe precisely how I believe the United Kingdom could be transformed into such a society.

But this is not truly an essay, it is a vision, and, like all visions, parts of it will be plausible, parts will be naive and parts of it will be naught but unworkable dreams. I therefore ask you, dear reader (yes, my bum really is that stuffed with tweed) to not judge this essay too hardly but to endeavour to focus more on the spirit of it for that is the view of it which I intend readers to take away from it.

But enough vainglorious descriptions of this essay, let me get down to business.

The New Britain which I envisage is a fair and democratic one. One where the state exists as a safety net and a facilitator of social mobility. It is a scandal that in a supposedly first world country such as ours 60,000 people depend on food parcels. It is appalling that people's futures and educational attainment are still determined by the wealth of the families they are born into and it is disgusting that 4 million children are living in poverty. We can do better than this, we should do better than this and we must do better than this.

The state should exist to safeguard the vulnerable and provide equality of opportunity without being the unresponsive, authoritarian bureaucratic monster which so many Britons experience today. This can be achieved through a proper review of structures to make them more effective and more accountable. Local democracy and decentralisation must play a key role in this - public services must be accountable to the communities which use them and must adapt to their needs rather than to the demands of inflexible central departments.

I envisage a strong, wealthy Britain. One with a green, dynamic, high tech economy. Flexible and able to compete with the likes of Germany on equal footing. One energised and strengthened by universal digital access and flexible working for parents. Right now there are promising new growth sectors in the economy, sectors a mile apart from the parasitical wealth of the city, sectors where Britain could lead the way. Space and green technology, for example, are sectors where we already punch above our weight internationally. But a balanced, dynamic economy such as that can only be possible with proper investment in both infrastructure and research. There are already promising moves under way to achieve this but they need to not only be kept up but accelerated.

I envisage a society where education and healthcare are free to all, where no one is denied access to the care they need and where everyone is entitled to be educated according to their desires and their ability. This does not just include physical health, or academic university degrees, but also mental health, support for the disabled and the elderly to allow them to live a normal and an education system where people aren't forced into university or work as the only options at 18 but where they are free to choose the type of education appropriate to them, whether it be theoretical, academic, technical, vocational or otherwise.

A key part of this New Britain must also be energy security. Over sixty years ago, this country underwent an energy revolution which led to the creation of the National Gird and uniform electricity supply to every home and business. A similar challenge faces us now with the advent of climate change and the approach of peak oil and peak gas. In order to remain energy secure for the future we must embrace renewable energy sources and develop a flexible, smart-grid to maximise the potential of green energy generation. The technology and plans to make Britain energy sufficient for the long term already exist. It remains up to us to have the vision and determination to implement them.

But the fundamental changes that are essential to underpin any meaningful change in this country for the better involve our political system and the media. We must take the big money out of politics, introduce a reformed upper chamber, implement a voting system which truly represents the will of the people without dividing communities and introduce proper media regulations to prevent the bias, churnalism, lies and deceit that are endemic in today's media. Without an unbiased media people do not have access to the facts and without the facts they cannot make informed decisions about the direction they want this country to go in. Above all, political and media reform are the most important changes we need. Without them, all else is naught and without them no other meaningful change can ever happen.

A New Britain of the type which I describe is within our grasp and I hope that in this essay I can sketch out how it can be delivered and perhaps even sell the idea to you - for I fear that this introduction is poor at describing exactly what kind of society I feel we should have. I do not flatter myself that the small audience who read this will be suddenly grasped by the importance of social liberalism, or that they will view me as a new Orwell or Keynes. But I do hope that you, the reader, may at least be convinced by one or two aspects of this essay, and bear them in mind as you form your own opinions.

Monday, 17 January 2011

AAAAARGH!

Aaaaaaaargh! Apparently men and women are going to be allowed to split maternity/paternity leave between them under new proposals by Nick Clegg! The horror! How dare he suggest that men should be allowed the same opportunity to look after their children as mothers are! It's going to destroy the economy!

That, at least, is the gist of the Daily Fail article linked to above. According to them:

Parents will be allowed to divide between them almost all of the existing 12 months of maternity leave.
They may even be able to split the time off into stretches as short as a few weeks.
The proposal has been a key coalition demand for Mr Clegg, who has often spoken of his wish to be a hands-on father to his three children.
He claimed it is ‘madness’ to deny men the chance to stay at home and look after their children while mothers go back to work.
Well, personally, I quite like the idea that if ever I have children I'll be able to spend some of the most formative period of their life with them. But apparently the Fail is against this as it will damage business and because:

His plans, which business leaders last night described as a ‘complete nightmare’, go even further than those championed under Labour by Harriet Harman.

Because obviously Harriet Harman is teh evilz. But what really irritates me about this article is the sneering attitude of the whole piece, for example:
Unlike most families, Mr Clegg’s wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, a lawyer, is the main breadwinner.
As if there's something wrong with that, something wrong with the concept of a mere woman going out to work while her husband stays at home. Really, it's pieces like this that show just how backwards and out of date the Fail is. Quite frankly, I would even find wiping my arse with it vaguely tarnishing to my soul.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Why the cuts to the disabled are wrong

This is a piece written by Sue Marsh which I'm posting here because I completely agree with her sentiments:

I know there are lots of cuts happening all at once and group after group must be lobbying for column inches or news slots.

Students, middle income child benefit recipients, housing benefit claimants frightened they are about to become homeless, nurses, fire fighters, police, local councils – we all want you to take our cause to heart, to tell people what is really happening on our behalf.

But there is a group who might as well not exist. We have no-one but ourselves, yet our voices are probably the weakest in society.

Most of us can’t physically march, some can’t even speak at all and others don’t know what is being done to them. We have no networks of influential contacts, most can’t attend rallies or flash-mobs.

Sick and Disabled people are now facing cuts of up to a third in their incomes. Since George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review last October, there has been a steady drip-drip of almost daily announcements that have stripped away decades of hard-fought dignity in just a few short months.
  • Employment Support Allowance (ESA) will now be time limited to 1 year        (Cost : £4752.80 pa)
  • 2.27 Million of the 2.5 million claiming ESA will now be considered fit for work (91%)
  • Up to 750,000 of the most profoundly disabled who claim DLA will also be found fit and have their benefits stopped (25%)
  • Benefit rates have been frozen (Potential loss of up to 15% of income over 5 yr parliament)
  • Housing benefit caps will make many disabled people homeless
  • Work support schemes are being scrapped at a time when unemployment is already creeping towards 3 million. The “Access to Work” programme will be scrapped, which helped small and medium sized businesses adapt premises, job centres face cuts and a private, American firm (ATOS) have been given an almost total monopoly in forcing us into work, paid commission for each “success”
  • Local councils face cuts so vast (27% over 5 yr parliament) that they have already started to cut vital support services – pulling funding for hospices, axing specialist school provision, closing hospital wards, cutting care packages – the list goes on and on. This article might help to put things into perspective http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2011/01/nowhere-to-turn-for-vulnerable.html.
  • Disability Living Allowance is to be scrapped and replaced, whilst adults needing full time residential care and children in hospital will have the basic right of mobility taken away from them, with the scrapping of mobility payments for these groups.
In exactly one month, DLA is due to be slashed by parliament. By the 14th February, if sickness or disability come for you or your loved ones, (and sadly, the statistics are that one day, in some form, they will) you may find that all those NI payments and tax contributions have been for nothing.

You may find yourself totally dependent on a partner financially, unable to get treatment, care or equipment to make your already unrecognisable life liveable. If you have no partner, you may find yourself in abject poverty, or even homeless as you try to face the un-faceable.

If your soft and perfect new baby turns out to be autistic or dying, you may have to helplessly watch them die. If you think this is dramatic or overly emotional, actually it probably isn’t dramatic enough. I have one month to make you aware of what your future could hold.

Today, we use the only tool we have – the blogosphere.

You can help by posting this and articles like it (see Broken of Britain) on Facebook, websites and Twitter, by calling radio phone-ins and writing to your MP (a template letter will be available at Broken of Britain too) Sign petitions, tell your friends, write to the papers. The hashtag #ombh will be used on Twitter to bring these articles together.

Just help. Please. Before you realise that we were right, but we couldn’t change things in time to save your Mum or your wife or your son.


cross-posted from Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, which has a longer version

Why Cuts are necessary

Look, I'm not going to beat about the bush. The cuts are unfair and they will hit some of the most vulnerable in our society. It's not right that ordinary people are being made to suffer for the greed and incompetence of a few but there's no alternative.

Labour mismanaged the economy, failed to regulate the banks and spent all our budget surplus without heed for tomorrow. To be fair to them, when things went bad, they did do a passable job of stopping us from going into a new Great Depression but that's about it. Labour abandoned their principles and let the banks get away with murder, now we're all saddled with debt as a result. And when I say debt, I mean a bloody enormous debt. We are currently paying £120 million per day just on the interest payments. That's not paying down the debt, that's just keeping us standing still. And the debt is growing. Interest is being accrued on it and the payments we need to make will keep on going up and up.

So that leaves us with two options. One option is what the coalition is doing. Cutting now, cutting deeply, raising some taxes such as VAT and spending a little bit to try and mitigate the worst effects of the cuts and to help kickstart more economic growth. This means that many people are going to suffer a hard few years - people who don't deserve it. I think that some of the cuts are the wrong ones to make and that other things should be cut but, unfortunately, I'm not the chancellor.

The second option is what Labour is advocating. Cut differently, cut later and cut less. Well, that certainly sounds attractive - after all, who wants to see their local library close, or find themselves struggling to find an extra couple of hundred pounds a year? There's no doubt about it, Labour's plan would mean less hardship over the next five years, less pain for the most vulnerable and generally a less uncomfortable time overall - in the short term. In the long term, their lighter cuts would mean that the debt would keep on rising, the interest payments would keep on rising. After 2015 they would still be spending a huge chunk of the budget on trying to stand still with the national debt and would still be trying to find a way to pay it off whilst we all struggled with public services that were gradually losing more and more money to the burden of servicing the debt. This would mean more hardship in the long term. Less money for schools, for hospitals. Forget a raise in the minimum wage or the pension, the government would be spending every spare penny just trying not to go backwards. Taxes would rise, services would be starved of money over time, unemployment would take longer to fall and everyone would suffer for far longer.

Contrast this with the coalition. Yes, we will all suffer over the next four years, yes some of us will suffer more than we should. People in the public sector will lose their jobs, we'll all be trying to find ways to live on less. But, in 2015, the debt will be gone, unemployment will be down, the economy will be growing and the government will have £120 million more a day to spend on schools, hospitals, pensions, more social housing and much more. You and your family will no longer be paying off someone else's debt. You'll have had a tough few years but at least you'll have a secure future, you'll be able to be confident that your grandchildren won't still be paying off the banker's debt and that you yourself won't face an impoverished retirement.

It's not fair that we have to face hardship, it's not fair that public services have to be cut to pay off the debt. But that's the situation we're in thanks to Labour's economic mismanagement. If Gordon Brown had been sensible and listened to the calls of people like Vince Cable to regulate the banks then we wouldn't be in this mess. But he didn't and we are. The only choice we have now is whether to tighten our belts and suffer through the next few years to get rid of the problem or to listen to Labour, behave irresponsibly and suffer for decades to come. I don't find either option particularly palatable but we have no choice. We have Gordon Brown to thank for that.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Holy shit, it's 2011!

Today it suddenly hit me that the year's 2011. I know it sounds stupid but at some point each year it suddenly hits me that, you know, it's actually a new year with a new date and everything. It's kind of like having a birthday, for a few weeks (or months in my case) you keep having to pinch yourself and remind yourself that you're not the same age any more and that you'd better get over that feeling of strangeness when someone asks you your age and you have to say something different to what you've been saying for the previous 12 months.

After all, it's 20-fucking-11! That's not some boring, predictable, run-of-the-mill year from the "Noughties" (god how I hate that term), this is the bloody future! Okay, the Oil Wars haven't broken out yet, and we still don't have a colony on the moon (way to go, NASA), but it's still a futuristic sounding year! My only real regret is that instead of all the stuff we were promised (like automated houses, a friendly AI for every child and the Battle of  Canary Wharf) all we've got is the latest range of tablets which still haven't quite worked out what they're meant to be yet. Oh yes, and Strictly. So the long and the short of this is, wake me up again when we've got laser duels and Nick Clegg's grown a backbone (so, by my estimate, sometime after 3000AD).

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Upcoming Essay

Starting next week, I'm going to be posting a series of articles which will collectively form an essay entitled A Vision for a New Britain. This essay will essentially cover my personal vision (as a social liberal) as to what the United Kingdom of the future should look like. I hope to broadly cover every aspect of what I think our country should look like in the future so, if you don't mind reading my egotistical ramblings on policy, please feel free to tune in and share with your friends.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Motion of No Confidence Postponed

You may remember that a while ago I talked about a motion of no confidence in Nick Clegg as party leader which I had drafted. The deadline for submission of motions for spring conference is today at 1pm. Given the difficulty of finding the requisite ten representatives to sign the motion on such short notice I've decided to wait till autumn conference to submit the motion. In the meantime I will be spending my time at spring conference networking to ensure that I have the requisite support for the motion well in advance of autumn. Thank you to all of you who've shown support for the motion.

Monday, 3 January 2011

An Alternative Higher Education System

I was reading a blog the other day when I stumbled across this brilliant post by Hannah Nicklin. It very neatly summed up the kind of thing I'd like to see our education system become but had been unable to put into words. I suggest you go and read the whole thing but here's an extract:

If you believe uni should be for the most able (one hopes a reasonable assumption), then money should be taken out of the equation all together. Anything else privileges the better off, paying it back afterwards or via tax can sound as reasonable as you like but applying a monetary value to it makes it an issue of value not worth – there is also real ignorance in the assumption that debt means the same to a typical middle-class household (how you own your house, your car, Christmas) as it does to a typical working class one (something you don’t deserve, have access to, or given to you on terms that mean you will never be able to own a house, a car, the kind of debt that in paying for Christmas ruins the rest of the year) . 
So you take personal or parental income out of the equation all together and produce grant-funded university places for the top 20-25% (of those that want them) academic achievers from every school (this neatly avoids problems with ability vs. attainment that comes with private and rural vs inner city schools). 
Then training courses formed as modern apprenticeships are introduced to be worth the same as degrees for things like engineering, management, tech; the kind of course which now emphasise a year-in-industry as the most useful thing in actually getting a job. 
And what is now the FE system turns to technical degrees – cheffing, plumbing, mechanics, hair and beauty, website design, green tech, that kind of thing. 
This would bring us to an introduction of a practical degree (PD), technical degree (TD) and academy degree (AD) all worth the same, but realistically reflecting the different aspects of the contemporary jobs market, andacademic intentions. 
The government subsidises ADs, Businesses subsidise TDs, and a mix of both gives money to PDs. 
Selecting from ability, rather than attainment or ability to pay would hopefully see that this doesn’t become about class or proximity to wealth, but rather about what you are able and want to do. Also, just imagine what this would do to the quality of secondary schools – all those upper middle class parents moving to disadvantaged areas to get their tutored kids into struggling schools – could it bring down the economic segregation of our school system? 
Making all types of study/training of equal worth would mean someone who wanted to be an applied artist would go and get a TD, one who wanted to study art history an AD or someone who wanted to be an interior designer a PD. Or those who wanted to opt out would be able to do that too. This would need to be backed up by a system more like a baccalaureate – a universal  taster secondary education which can allow you to take a much broader range of skills and subjects, and wasn’t towards attainment in grades, but an overall accomplishment built of the areas you find interest or ability, as well as a revision of physical, political and social education.
Well said.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year Irritants

Yes, yes, happy new year, hope you all prosper and all that stuff. However, let us not forget the unpleasant things about this time of year. Things such as:


  • Adverts on at 10pm for furniture sales that closed at 4pm
  • Has-beens and minor celebrities on various programs, seemingly timed to air simultaneously so they can saturate the air waves with inane comments and games based around the events of the year
  • People spamming facebook with New Year's salutations
  • News reporters standing in the cold for hours and hours, telling us how exciting everything is while absolutely nothing happens in the background
  • The overuse of the word "memorable"
  • The washing up from your New Year's meal sitting accusingly in the sink
  • The general feeling at midnight that it really wasn't worth staying up to count down the seconds when you could have been doing something more fun
  • The celebrations and false joy generally being a little bit crap
  • Monday and the return to work looming over you
So, in conclusion, Happy New Year!