Monday, 6 May 2013
This allowance would pay £3 a week to people who are married, where one partner doesn't go out to work - regardless of whether or not they have dependent children.
Julianne Marriott, Campaign Director of Don’t Judge My Family, persuasively argues that only one in three of the families who would gain from this policy have children, and fewer than one in five have children under five years of age.
The main beneficiaries will be people who are both fortunate enough to (still) be married and rich enough that they can afford for one of them not to work - in other words, the already affluent and comfortable.
Those who pay for it will be those on lower incomes who both have to work to make ends meet; the divorced (whether or not they wished their partner to leave them - I certainly didn't); and the struggling single parents.
As Oscar Wilde said: "What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing". For David Cameron and his cynical Conservatives, the price of marriage is £3 a week, and they have no idea of the value of real families, in all their shapes and sizes.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
I oppose this. It springs from a mindset of 'democracy is an expensive nuisance, so let's penny-pinch on it as much as we can, and let's not expect too much of the voters by asking them to express an opinion twice'.
Different elections attract different electorates, who come out and vote for different reasons. Combining elections muddies that distinction, and results in people being elected - or not - at one tier or the other, or even both, for reasons completely unrelated to their record or their manifesto.
I'd rather see local councillors elected by people interested in their local authorities and casting their votes on that basis - and similarly for the European elections. If the election dates are combined, we run the risk of losing many good councillors, and gaining many poor ones, not on the basis of their local track record but on a national debate about a whole other level of government on which they have no influence at all.
Sunday, 18 November 2012
The proposal for elected Police & Crime Commissioners featured in the Conservative Party manifesto in the run-up to the 2010 General Election. At best, it was nothing more than a Tory tribute act to the Blairite cult of the powerful individual. At worst, it was a crude attempt to politicise policing and pour money from the hugely inflated salaries of those elected into the pockets of their political parties. There was to be no trial run, no pilot scheme, no opportunity for electors to say whether they wanted these highly-paid people given sole power over a major part of the life of their community.
As if all this were not bad enough, it was decided to hold the elections in November. Not only is this not a month in which people are particularly keen to traipse to the polling booth in the dark on their way to or from work. But it's also the time of year when the electoral register is updated, causing massive difficulties for candidates and their volunteers trying to get usable current data in time to inform their campaigning. I understand - and share, really I do - the concern about wanting to make sure elections are distinct (I don't think it's right to hold council elections on the same day as parliamentary elections, for example). But November?
And then to cap it all, the decision was made that it would be too expensive to ensure that voters were actually informed about the candidates and their policies. No candidate would be allowed the facility to distribute literature through the Royal Mail, nor would there be a centrally-produced booklet about all the candidates in any particular area. Instead, there would just be a poorly advertised website; and a telephone number for people to ring if they wanted information. Otherwise, wealthy candidates were able to produce literature if they could rustle up volunteers to deliver it; and candidates of average means had to do without. Many voters were really, really angry about how little information they'd received about the candidates. And frankly, I can understand that.
The Electoral Commission produced a pamphlet about the election. That was delivered by Royal Mail, as I understand it. Mine was wrapped in a stack of other unsolicited bulk mail (otherwise known as 'junk mail') from garden centres, DIY stores, pizza parlours, boiler companies and all the other unwanted paper that pours through our letter boxes daily. I could easily have missed it - and I'm not surprised many other voters did. It's therefore hardly unexpected that turnout was low, spoiled ballot papers were numerous, and the choice of individuals making life-altering decisions about crime and safety in our community has been made by a tiny proportion of the adult population on the basis of little or no information. It's not surprising, but it's nonetheless scandalous. Here in Cambridgeshire, the new Commissioner received the votes of only one in twenty of the voting public - and he wasn't even the first choice of a quarter of those (let alone of his own party).
Will anything change as a result? Unlikely. It's another nail in the coffin of democratic politics in this country. There was only one piece of good news on Thursday: the decision of the voters of Hartlepool to get rid of the position of elected mayor. On a day when the whole of England and Wales was forced to accept the Blairite cult of the powerful individual, one small town in the north decided it had had enough of it. Let's hope the movement spreads.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
1. Biggest ever uplift in the tax threshold to £9,205.
2. 21 million working people getting an extra £220 tax cut.
3. Tycoon Tax raises FIVE times as much from the super-rich.
4. Cutting corporation tax to help British business.
5. Stamp duty increased to 7% for multi-million pound homes.
6. Lib Dem tax cuts have saved average working people £550.
7. 2 million low paid no longer face income tax.
8. New 15% tax on companies buying property over £2m.
9. Child benefit protected for middle-class families.
10. Getting more money from the banks to loan more to British businesses.
Monday, 16 January 2012
But that doesn't mean we have to fling money at it like there's no tomorrow, and Michael Gove's latest suggestion that in the middle of a recession, when people are losing their jobs and public services are shrinking before our eyes, we should all club together to buy one of the richest women in the world a yacht just beggars belief.
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
It's this 'minimum alcohol pricing' thing. I thought as a party the Liberal Democrats had a grown-up, intelligent approach to substance abuse, as evidenced by its forward thinking on, for example, drugs policy. But it appears that every argument put forward in that area - that criminalisation doesn't help break addiction, that driving substances underground merely puts them and their users into the hands of the criminal fraternity, that prohibition doesn't stop use of substances but just makes illegal and dangerous versions of them more commonplace - seems to have been thrown out of the window when it comes to these daft proposals on alcohol pricing.
Has anyone conclusively shown that forcing up the price of alcoholic drink in supermarkets is a good and effective way of curing people of alcohol addiction? Has it been shown that making people pay more for beer, wines and spirits will reduce levels of consumption or make binge drinkers start drinking responsibly? No? I didn't think so. Then what is this government doing making this meaningless gesture?
As a liberal, I start from the basis that adults are grown-ups and should be treated as such; and that the state should butt out of people's private lives unless absolutely necessary. The stupid proposal to force up alcohol prices for no proven benefit, on the spurious grounds that people will then behave as the government wants them to, fails on both counts. It's nanny-statism of the first order, and I want none of it.
I don't like starting a new year in a grumpy mood with my own party, so will the sensible people on the Lib Dem benches - and I know you're there, I've met you! - please start doing something about it? Kthanxbai.
Saturday, 24 December 2011
Now up until yesterday my knowledge of Tim Minchin's work has been close to zero, and I wouldn't stay up past my bedtime to watch Jonathan Ross, but I'm absolutely incensed by ITV's total spinelessness in censoring what is in fact a very clever and very funny song.
The official line from ITV is that
"It's not unusual for there to be changes to the show in the edit, as we shoot more than goes out, and we felt the tone wasn't quite right for the Christmas show."This of course is complete and utter horsefeathers. The presence of a Tim Minchin song in the show was trailed in the TV schedules at least a week in advance, which would make it the last candidate to be cut in the final edit.
The gutlessness of ITV in censoring this song (and therefore denying Tim the chance to promote his DVD which was mentioned at the end of the song) is clearly down to the Achilles heel of all commercial television, fear of loss of advertising revenue. Someone with an eye on the financial bottom line obviously got an attack of the jitters at the thought of the likes of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express whipping up their readership into another moral frenzy and frightening off the advertisers. The association of Jonathan Ross with the story would have been an absolute dream to the red-tops, as they'd be able once again to drag up the whole sorry Jonathan Ross - Russell Brand - Andrew Sachs saga (in which, by the way, Ross behaved like a total prat) over a slow news week and get the juices of the right-wing 'moral majority' nicely basting along with the Christmas turkey.
This scenario is exactly why we need to retain public service broadcasting in Britain. The right-wing vision of an end to the BBC and the total domination of the airwaves by for-profit entertainment businesses would mean that artists like Tim Minchin would be at constant risk of censorship by profit-making broadcasting companies ruled by fear of the impact of populist right-wing newspapers on the advertisers who keep them in business.
I don't see why what I am allowed to watch on my television should be dictated by an accountant at ITV with one eye on the editor of the Daily Mail. Censorship is the enemy of a free society, and so is the tabloid press and the management of the commercial broadcasting businesses who pander to it.
*Not all religious people are narrow-minded and censorious, I know; and I firmly believe every child should be given a strong foundation in school in the basics of all the world's key religions and belief systems. In fact, I suspect the fuss in this instance is being made by people with little personal interest in religion at all. It's all about money, at the end of the day.
Friday, 23 December 2011
I hadn't expected ever to learn to drive, but when my husband left me in the summer I realised I had no choice, living as I do in a village six miles from the nearest town and with the Conservative county council slashing to ribbons even what little public transport we have.
Buying Beattie has left me in debt for the first time in my life. But on the other hand, she means I can get to places I couldn't otherwise reach, and go where I want when I want. I only got her on Monday, and already I've taken her to Cheveley, Lode, Ely and down the M11 to Harlow and Sawbridgeworth. I've manoeuvred her into and out of parking spaces in the seasonal shopper traffic at Waitrose and Tesco, and she's helped me bring my Christmas shopping home.
There's no greater Christmas present than having my liberty. A big thank you to my brilliant driving instructor Tony Lam who has achieved the impossible.
Thursday, 22 December 2011
Nicholas (Nick) Macy joined my group of Liberal Democrat councillors in Harlow in 1999, following his election as councillor for what was then Mark Hall South ward. I'd known him for some years before that, however, and his son Jonathan's description of him at his funeral yesterday as 'unique' hit the nail firmly on the head.
Nick was a learned man; he was a company secretary by profession, but he had read history at Oxford, and one of his favourite 'party tricks' when collecting voters' numbers at the polling station was to read the voter's electoral number and list the historical events that had taken place in that year. He loved learning and finding out new things, and I remember his genuine pleasure when I introduced him to a new word, 'genizeh', which he hadn't previously known. What could be perceived as argumentativeness was just part of his real love for knowledge and desire to test and probe theories and assertions.
Nick was a member of the Liberal Party from the age of 14, and was a liberal to his core. He was deeply loyal to his political colleagues and absolutely committed to the values of his party. He was the first ever non-Labour chair of Harlow District Council, and didn't allow his speech impediment to prevent him from carrying out such a high-profile public role in his local community. And he kept the local party's printing society going, with many hours devoted not just to churning paper through the Risograph but also maintaining and submitting the society's accounts.
But what always impressed me most about Nick was his joy in his role as paterfamilias - husband to Caroline, father to Eleanor (also a councillor for some years) and Jonathan and Philip, and grandfather to Katie and Timothy. He was a real family man, and I know that they will all miss him enormously.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
I understand that the process of drawing up this shortlist is left to a group of male sports journalists and, inexplicably, the editors of a couple of 'lads' mags'. It seems to me that, given the reputation of both genres, someone needs to find a better shortlisting method, and pronto.
Friday, 4 November 2011
To Ely tonight, as I have a ticket for the recording of Radio 4's Any Questions which is being broadcast from the Hayward Theatre at The King's School. It's a pretty unbalanced panel, as sadly all too often from the BBC; right-wingers James Delingpole and Justine Greening versus socialists Richard Horton and Mary Creagh.
The questions are of course topical: the economic situation in Greece, the threatened Unison strikes, the Tobin tax - and the recent report about the difference between the Scottish and English diets. Justine Greening makes one or two reasonably telling points but is hardly a heavy hitter. James Delingpole lives up to everything I expect of him (unfounded nonsense, basically), and Richard Horton makes few friends trying to defend public sector pensions in a room full of people whose provision is nothing like as generous. Mary Creagh flannels on every question, and she gets a hard time from Jonathan Dimbleby who clearly isn't buying her.
It's a fun evening out, but if I were pushed to describe how it has contributed to the sum of human knowledge I'd be hard pressed.
Saturday, 29 October 2011
I've spent today in Ely, collecting signatures on a petition to try to overturn the recent incredibly ill-judged and ill-timed decision by Conservatives on Cambridgeshire County Council to award themselves a 25 per cent pay increase. Pictured* are Cllrs Neil Morrison, Jonathan Chatfield, and Kilian Bourke collecting signatures in Ely market square today - Cllrs Nigel Bell and Jeremy Friend-Smith also joined us, and we collected over 500 signatures in very short order. If you agree that county councillors shouldn't be awarding themselves massive pay increases while cutting jobs and services, you can sign the petition online.
*While taking this picture I cleverly managed to drop my uninsured BlackBerry Storm 2 on the pavement and smash the LCD screen to smithereens - less than four weeks after having renewed my contract with T-Mobile for another two years. An expensive butterfingers moment!
Friday, 14 October 2011
I took advantage of being in Cambridge for two work meetings today to pop into the Senate House, accompanied by Harlow friends and fellow Cambridge graduates David Wright and Peter Mabey, to cast my vote for the Chancellorship of the University of Cambridge.
It's a long time - 1847, in fact - since there was an actively contested election to choose the Chancellor of the University; the winner on that occasion was Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert. This time, following the retirement of Prince Philip earlier this year, there are four candidates: the 'establishment' candidate Baron Sainsbury of Turville; local shopkeeper Abdul Arain; left-wing lawyer Michael Mansfield QC; and actor and national treasure Brian Blessed.
As someone who has taken their MA at the University (by the usual method of staying alive for three years after getting my BA, and paying a small consideration into university coffers), I'm entitled to vote in the election, and if I'm not going to get another chance until I'm 216 years old, I thought I'd better get in there while I could.
The whole event was impressively well organised by the University, from the stock of academic gowns available for us to wear (in line with university rules) while we voted, to the tea and cakes afterwards, and the desks where we could update our contact details, renew our CamCards (money off all sorts of things in Cambridge!), or pick up brochures for alumni holidays, lecture programmes and other delights.
I was very pleased to have the chance to chat with Dr Tilby, Director of Studies for modern languages at my old college (who once kindly sent me down a glass of wine at dinner for reading the Latin grace before the meal); and to bump into Cambridge's energetic MP Julian Huppert on the way out of the Senate House.
Voting takes place today and tomorrow, using the Liberal Democrats' preferred fair voting system (the Single Transferable Vote), and I'll be fascinated to see who wins.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
"Despite the limitations of the analysis, acknowledged by its authors, it does suggest that the retention periods allowed under the 2001 and 2003 acts were unduly long, as were those proposed in the 2010 bill. The present bill, which is broadly similar to the law in Scotland, gets the balance more nearly right. That makes it all the odder that the Home Office was so reluctant to let it see the light of day."Good to see illiberal Labour legislation being rolled back by a Lib Dem-influenced government.
Monday, 26 September 2011
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!It's part of an interchange between Thomas More and his idealistic hothead son-in-law William Roper, at a time when More is in increasing danger because of his refusal to consent to the divorce of Henry VIII from Katharine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn.
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Bystander quotes it in the context of lawyers being attacked for doing their job by defending unpopular clients. But it also occurs to me it's equally applicable to those who believe that we don't need human rights, and would like to sweep away all the legislation that protects us from abuse by governments and others.
As someone else has so rightly said, if you don't believe in human rights, please indicate which of these you want to give up.
Sunday, 15 May 2011
Last night's results are here - and it's clear from this table that under First Past The Post, if each country had had only one vote, and had given that one vote to the country it gave 'douze points' to last night, the winner would have been Bosnia & Herzegovina, who actually came sixth last night. Bosnia & Herzegovina had only 11.6 per cent of countries' first preferences, but under a First Past The Post system that would have been enough to propel them to victory. First Past The Post does love a loser, it seems.
But the more interesting issue is what would happen in successive years. We all know that voting in the Eurovision song contest is about the politics not the music - heaven help us if it's about the music! So presumably in the years that followed Bosnia & Herzegovina's win, a 'stop Bosnia & Herzegovina' movement would build up among other countries, who would begin to coalesce around whichever country was most likely to achieve the support necessary to topple Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Fewer votes (under FPTP countries would have only one vote, remember) would go to other countries as more and more efforts were made to oust Bosnia & Herzegovina. Countries who would have achieved only one or two points in Year 1 would receive the dreaded 'nul points' year after year as votes concentrated around Bosnia & Herzegovina and its nearest opponent.
After four or five years of receiving 'nul points' it's hard not to imagine some of these countries dropping out altogether, to avoid the expense of what was clearly going to be an expensive and predictable annual humiliation. The pool of entrants would become smaller and smaller year on year, until the whole thing was reduced to a ritual and increasingly fierce scrap between half a dozen Balkan states, while viewers across the rest of Europe became totally disengaged and switched off in their droves.
I can't imagine for a minute why that reminds me of the current state of British parliamentary politics - no, I really can't.
(h/t to @stuartbonar)
Saturday, 14 May 2011
In the interim, Laws has been portrayed as a sort of 'king over the water', waiting for the moment when he can return in triumph and set the nation to rights again. He has acquired an almost demi-god status to which, should he ever return to the front bench, it will be impossible to live up (Vince Cable, anyone?).
I will confess that I've never particularly been a paid-up member of the David Laws fan club, although I was impressed by his performance that day last May, and acknowledge that he has a sharp mind. However, I thought he handled the events of a year ago with immense courage and dignity. Punishment of MPs over expenses has been extraordinarily random in its application, with some MPs paying back large amounts of money or even being imprisoned, while others who committed far greater abuses have somehow emerged scot-free. (Incidentally, I largely blame the Daily Telegraph, and its drip-drip-drip serialisation of the expenses story, for this, as it militated against a logical overview of the matter and in favour of an ooh-ah firework display). David Laws has been punished more severely than many who did much worse.
But I believe that the adulation in absentia of David Laws is a dangerous phenomenon, and one into which we who wish him well should not be drawn. The media thrive on movement as opposed to stasis - politics is a game of snakes and ladders to them, and politicians are either on the way up or on the way down. It's that movement that gives them their stories, and while for five minutes they would be quite happy to report the resurrection of Laws from his political ashes, they would be equally content the following day to kick the stool from under his feet and watch him twitch.
I wish David Laws well, and hope that he can soon find a way in which his undoubted talents can be put to use for the benefit of the party and the nation. But he's not Aslan coming to defeat the White Witch and melt the perpetual winter, and ultimately we do him a dangerous disservice if we allow others to suggest he is.
Saturday, 7 May 2011
Across the country, bleary eyed progressives have sat down in front of their computers over the last 24 hours to share their analysis of what went so very wrong with the referendum on moving to a fairer voting system. It's possible, I suppose, that some good may come of the collected outpourings, informing future campaigns on other issues. But for many of us, I suspect it's just cathartic.
When disappointed - and that's a mild word for knowing that I will now never cast a vote in a fair UK election - it's easy to lash out at others. And, my God, isn't there a queue of others to lash out at. The No campaign, of course, for its daily torrent of what Nick Clegg memorably and accurately described as 'ludicrous bilge'. Cameron, for fronting such a duplicitous campaign. Labour, for failing to back something which was in its own manifesto only twelve months ago. Ed Miliband, for appearing to support the Yes campaignwhile sticking the boot into its main supporters and allowing more than half his MPs to run riot on the issue.
But there were fatal flaws in the Yes campaign, and it would be only a partial tale simply to blame the enemies of reform.
The AV referendum asked voters not merely to accept change, but positively to choose it. Yet the Yes campaign appeared to have little interest in explaining why change was needed, what the proposed change was, or what it would achieve. It left all the actual explanation to the Electoral Commission, whose output it could not control, and whose booklet on the referendum was so appallingly badly presented it might as well have been written by the No campaign.
The message the Yes campaign put forward managed to be both simplistic and unclear: that somehow changing the voting system would mean MPs working harder, when there was no obvious connection. The early television advertisements, showing caricatures of troughing MPs being doorstepped by newly empowered voters, were both ghastly and irrelevant. The war the Yes campaign was fighting was last year's battle on MPs' expenses, and there appeared to be no effort to explain why this was affected by writing 1, 2, 3 on your ballot paper instead of putting a cross.
The bevy of middle-class white luvvies lined up to front the campaign didn't help either. I enjoy Richard Wilson in One Foot in the Grave as much as the next man, and Eddie Izzard's stand-up comedy is always fun, but I'm not sure what qualifies them to advise on electoral systems. They embodied all that was wrong with the Yes campaign - the assumption that the rightness of their cause was so self-evident that it didn't need explaining, and that everyone would automatically share their view. There seemed no attempt to understand what was needed to reach out to people who didn't live in Hampstead or follow Stephen Fry on Twitter, or that it was important to do so.
When I was a councillor, I attended a brilliant presentation by Richard Olivier, son of the great Laurence Olivier. It was intended for council chief executives, but I begged, blagged and wriggled my way in to the overcrowded event because I knew it would be worth it (and it was). Olivier uses Shakespeare's plays to train managers, and on this occasion he was using The Tempest to talk about managing change. He said something very memorable to begin with: that when you want people to accept change you need to start with three things - discontent with the present, a vision of the future, and an acceptable first step. The Yes campaign offered none of these things - indeed, it didn't even seem to understand why it should.
The general level of information about what was at stake was woeful. A polling clerk was telling me about how she'd been at a polling station on the day of the referendum, and a couple had come in to vote. She'd handed them their ballot papers, and the wife had looked at the referendum ballot paper and said "What's this?" It was explained that it was about changing the voting system. She asked what this change was to be, and her husband said he wasn't sure, but he thought it was about being allowed to vote on the internet. "Oh," said the wife, "but I like coming to the polling station. Oh, no." Such is the basis on which millions of people have been denied a meaningful say in our democracy for a generation.
I honestly don't know how we move forward from here. A hundred years ago, the suffragettes didn't give up on votes for women; two hundred years ago, Wilberforce didn't give up on abolition of the slave trade. There have always been No campaigns, blocking progress in the interests of those who benefit from the status quo. I suspect it will take a long, long time now. But we can't go on like this, with governments elected by smaller and smaller percentages of the population, with less and less of a mandate, and a political system that alienates more and more people. One day. One day.
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