Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Completely Surprising News

Yet another expert independent report proves that drugs prohibition is a complete waste of police time. Independent reports on Pope’s denominational leanings and ursine arboreal defecatory locations to follow.

In other news, even a Government-selected panel has recommended that innocent people shouldn’t be treated as criminals by having intimate body samples held by the police (or distributed on free CDs with the Hate Mail on Sunday thanks to the latest Home Office clerical error).

The Labour Government responds to the Citizens’ Inquiry: ‘We know where you live’.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Forthcoming Excitement From the FPC

Interested in student funding? A big change in taxation policy? The backbone of our next Manifesto? Or just a bit of gossip? Well, the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee met last week to make final – and not so final – decisions on some of the principal policies coming soon to Conference debates. Some of it’s readable, too. Now, as you try to prevent your overpriced, underdone hot dog slithering into your lap while you settle in front of this year’s Summer blockbuster, you won’t be seeing a thrilling, explosive trailer for our thrilling, explosive new policies up for debate in September. Hmm…

Starring Nick Clegg, Sal Brinton AND Danny Alexander
WITH Linda Jack AS ‘Linda Jack’
Directed by Greg Simpson and Christian Moon…

I’m drifting. But wouldn’t you be more likely to read all the policy papers coming to you next month if they were trailed at the cinema rather than arriving in a great lump? In the absence of a spectacular cinematic experience, then, this teaser from last week’s FPC will have to do.

Due to a hospital appointment running very late (though, for once, I was on time), I missed the first half of the early-starting meeting, so I wasn’t there for what was by all accounts a full and frank (with pickaxes) discussion of the Further and Higher Education Paper – or, more accurately, a storm over the future of student funding. The question was whether to commit several billion to scrap tuition fees (as we’ve argued since the Labour Government broke their manifesto promise and brought them in), or to commit several billion to other forms of student support instead. Coming in – through a much more organised but circuitous new Parliamentary security check – right at the beginning of the following discussion, I was eager to find what the FPC had decided in my absence, and passed a note to a Person With a Clue next to me. Was it tuition fees, student maintenance or options to Conference? None of those, he wrote. The argument had so failed to reach any common ground that the paper had been sent away for more work, so the debate would be delayed until Spring Conference next year. But you can’t say we don’t do things in detail.

The big debate to which I contributed, though, was the second main draft of what your almost unbearably exciting preliminary agenda calls the “Vision and Values Paper” but which I know by a marginally more exciting name, one that I’m not allowed to disclose until we try to get it in the papers. It fills the gap that would in previous years have held a ‘Pre-Manifesto’, but it’s a rather different beast to those: there are no lists of bullet points, for example, and you can actually read it from cover to cover and feel that it had something to say rather than regurgitating pre-digested morsels of everything we’d said before – though if you want all that, of course, you can always look up our Pocket Guide to Liberal Democrat Policies.

The important thing about the “Vision and Values Paper”, then is that it’s probably the most readable thing the FPC has ever produced. And it’s only about a dozen pages long, with bigger pictures and much less print. So if you see only one movie read only one policy paper this Summer, make it this. It is, actually, worth it.

To finish by whetting your appetite, in the style of movie trailers giving you flashes of some of the exciting bits without giving away the end of the story, what did the FPC row about over it? Well, at our all-day meeting a couple of months ago where we saw the first draft, the green section was completely rewritten and things got heated over Europe – just for a change, and, I have to confess, I was at my most inflammatory – as well as over optimism versus putting the boot in, families, the stocks, and apostrophes. Over the much-changed version last week, it was localism, whether the voting system was terribly exciting and, most of all, the economy. Not only did one FPC member claim that
“There’s been nothing interesting from us on economics since Keynes died in 1946”
(“You have been on the Committee a long time,” came a heckle back)
but I spotted a hugely significant change to our tax policy that had crept in since the last draft, and that set off a debate of its own. To find out what, turn to the page on the economy and look for, ooh, about paragraph four out of seven. What? You thought I’d tell you the end of the story? No spoilers here, but it does tell a story.

Is this that elusive Liberal Democrat ‘narrative’ at last? Read it and decide.

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Friday, July 04, 2008


MPs’ Luxuries: Labour Can’t Get Enough; Lib Dems Against; Tories Split

News reports of last night’s self-pampering vote by greedy MPs offer a choice of two messages: either ‘they’re all at it’ or ‘the Tories and Liberal Democrats condemned Labour’. But the truth is that not all MPs – and not all parties – have their snouts in the trough. The truth is that of 176 MPs so out of touch with the economic woes of the real world that they voted themselves £23,000 a year for home furnishings, 146 were Labour. But none were Lib Dems. Zero. Despite desperate Tory spin, it was Conservative MPs who tipped the ‘trough’ vote. If the couple of dozen Tories who voted for luxury goods to prop their households up against a recession had voted the other way, MPs’ expenses would now be less shaming to Parliament’s all-time-low reputation.

It’s not as if the system of proposed reforms were draconian. I’d have gone much further. But at least it was a start to say that expenses should require receipts, like every other workplace – rejected – that there should be external audits of expenses – rejected – and that, while obviously MPs from outside London need a second home, they shouldn’t be able to spend a colossal £23,000 a year on the finest furnishings that John Lewis can provide (or that IKEA can provide, and pocket the difference without having to show receipts) – rejected.

At least most MPs voted against an above-inflation pay increase when almost every other state-funded employee is getting a real-terms pay cut, but if they think that’ll restore the dignity of Parliament, they’re crazed.

Labour Out of Touch

Self-serving, self-pitying Labour MPs have, predictably, tried to justify their self-indulgence through class warfare. Because only a multi-millionaire could do without the essentials of life like £23,000 a year on home furnishings. No, wait! It seems multi-millionaires can’t do without that £23,000 a year ‘pittance’ after all. Among the 33 Labour ministers who voted to line their pockets and living rooms last night was Shaun Woodward, who would surely be down to his last couple of mansions without state subsidy. Hilariously, millionaire Labour MP Barbara Follett is recorded as having voted both for and against, which is either a mistake by Hansard or evidence that she’s still making every bit as much sense as when I stood against her in 1997. The fact is, no-one needs £23,000 a year for home furnishings, and Labour MPs who claim they need that much taxpayers’ money – free of tax, incidentally, taking their total pay package to the equivalent of £100,000 in tax-paying money – to make ends meet as some sort of stand for ‘working-class values’ are spitting in the faces of their constituents, most of whom will earn less than £23,000 a year all told and have little patience with Labour greed.

It’s difficult to avoid the cynical conclusion that Labour MPs have decided they’re going to lose their seats at the next election and are getting as much cash in as they can before they become unemployed in Gordon Brown’s mounting recession.

Tories Split (Again)

And what of the Tories? To his credit, this is one of those rare occasions when Mr Cameron’s progressive rhetoric was matched by his voting record: he voted the right way, and told his Shadow Cabinet to follow him. Also to his credit, this time they did – most Tories actually voted the same way as Mr Cameron on a divisive issue, which is very rare indeed. But, though the Tories’ spin doctors are very effective and have managed to get an anti-Labour message into several papers on the back of this vote, the fact remains that glancing at the list of who voted which way finds yet another Tory split as a couple of dozen Tory MPs followed their greedy Tory instincts and pocketed as much cash as they could lay their hands on.

Liberal Democrats Do the Right Thing – Mostly

That leaves the Liberal Democrats. I’m proud to say that not one single Liberal Democrat MP voted for this catastrophic signal of MPs’ disdain for real life or their crappy reputation. On the down side, only 32 Liberal Democrats voted against. I’d have liked the other half of the Parliamentary Party to turn up, myself, but while too many Lib Dems were absent, at least every single one who was present said things had to change, leaving – as ever – Labour and Tory MPs to gang up together to keep the status quo.

Still, it’s time for every Focus leaflet in 176 constituencies up and down the land to hammer their greedy Labour and Tory MP for indulging in taxpayer-paid luxuries without scrutiny – oh, I’m sorry, they voted to scrutinise themselves every four years – while those of us outside the Palace of Westminster are staring at Gordon Brown’s imminent recession.

Now, I accept that MPs should be paid well, and receive help with second homes for those outside central London – it was impossible for anyone who wasn’t rich to do the job a century ago. And of course they should have well-funded offices to help them hold the government to account at Westminster and act for their constituents back home. Tabloid hacks attacking office expenses as if they’re personal perks are a disgrace who don’t want democracy to function – though Labour MPs with huge majorities who are too complacent to listen to their constituents and who only get off their backsides when the government tells them to vote like sheep are hardly a great advertisement for hard work and effective scrutiny. Despite that, most MPs work hard and need the resources for staff to help them do it. And it’s our democracy that suffers when stupid, greedy, out of touch Labour and Tory MPs vote for personal goodies and allow heavy-expense-account journalists to conflate the two completely different sorts of expenses and claim the moral high ground.

Update: Well done to Nick Clegg – although he wasn’t at last night’s vote, it evidently wasn’t because he didn’t agree with the changes. In fact, he’s announced this afternoon that the Liberal Democrats will unilaterally introduce those measures defeated last night for our own MPs that it’s practically possible for us to enforce: the Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet will publish expenses quarterly (note – that means four times a year, rather than MPs from other parties’ internal whitewash every four years); an independently chaired Audit Board will oversee the Party; and Lib Dem Chief Whip Paul Burstow will be meeting with the Institute of Chartered Accountants to set up a series of spot checks on Lib Dem MPs’ expenses. Hurrah for some MPs acting like 21st Century professionals rather than 19th Century rotten boroughs (and hurrah for accountants)!

In related news, Lib Dem MPs Lynne Featherstone and Adrian Sanders explain why they didn’t vote, and Lib Dem Voice reveals how utterly out of touch with his constituents and, indeed, reality loadsamoney Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle is.

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