Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Politics of Fear

Yesterdays sacking of the Governments drugs advisor, Prof David Nutt, brings into sharp focus the tension politicians face when making policy and setting the agenda. Prof Nutt stated this week (and has done so previously), that cannabis and ecstacy are no more dangerous than cigarettes and alcohol. He said this based on the facts at his disposal as a scientist. However, with successive Governments having made a virtue out of being tough on drugs and talking up the dangers of their use, his candid assessment was very unwelcome, particularly as he was their chief advisor on the subject.
So, here is a classic example of a Government asking for specialist advice, but when that advice undermines current policy, they change the advisor rather than the policy. In recent times we have seen this in education, the armed forces and the police, but here we have an issue which all Governments pin some of their moral standpoint on, and knowing full well that they would be open to attack if they were seen to be 'soft on drugs'. So it is in their vote winning best interests to stick with their dogma rather than open an informed debate on a delicate and emotive subject. Politicians of all viewpoints know how this feels. Faced with the choice between the facts and arguments as you know them, versus the strongly held beliefs of the electorate, which should they choose? The temptation is to always play the way of the electorate; after all, they elected you right? You promised to listen didn't you? Well here you are, listening! The problem is, politicians can, and should, be the standard bearers for change and new ideas. This takes a lot more courage, and certainly a great deal of judgement. If communities really do want the status quo, then you should help to defend that. If they want a different kind of change, you should help to create it. But you owe it as community leader to at least let people have the facts and make up their own minds before being on hand to assist in the solution people want. An example of this recently was Peter Carroll, a Lib Dem councillor in Kent, who started a campaign for rights for Ghurka veterans. Joanna Lumley did a wonderful job at the sharp end, elegantly breaking Government ministers, but Peter campaigned for years on this issue, and for a long time for no reward personally or politically. He just felt so strongly about the issue he refused to give up. This is remarkably rare in Governments as a collective, as they seem to suffer a mass neurosis about stepping out of line (although as the Government gets tired and old, the neurosis seems to drive them to step out of line on a daily basis!). It usually starts with one person, either a campaigner or politician, fighting through all the obstacles for something they hold dear, and win over public opinion, only for the Governement to catch on at the last and make it their own. We need people like that now more than ever.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Kelly Report

If what we hear is true, I am delighted that Sir Christopher Kelly, the man tasked with overhauling the MP's expenses system, has said that claims for mortgage payments for second homes shoud be banned. This is something that is clearly way beyond the public interest and should never have been sanctioned by the fees office in the first place. I'm also glad that there is going to be a wider zone outsidde London where second homes allowance cannot be claimed. This will include Spelthorne if reports are accurate. I have been critical in the past of David Wilshire claiming this allowance, and have publicly stated that I would not claim it myself. So to see the boundaries moved to a more sensible distance is welcome. Lib Dem MP's who were able to claim and were close to Spelthorne, like Vince Cable in Twickenham, have not previously claimed. Now those who felt they were entitled to extra cannot get at the extra cash. Good.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Generals

I was really pleased to see the various Generals come out against the BNP's exploitation of our armed forces and military symbolism yesterday, along with former servicemen like Andy McNab and Simon Weston. The BNP have previously rejected calls by Vera Lynn to stop selling a CD with 'We'll meet again' on it to bolster their party funds. This time, leader Nick Griffin drew parallels between the Generals sending troops to Afganistan and the Nuremburg trials in 1946. What is most striking about Griffin is that each time he opens his mouth, something even more absurd than his last utterance comes out. Despite his best, feeble, attempts, his party are still the poisonous, despicable gaggle of racists they have always been. I will be amazed if his appearance tomorrow night on Question Time will do anything other than show him up for the hateful bigot he really is.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Experience Culture

I was delighted to help out at the Experience Culture charity auction in Guildford on Saturday night. I was the auctioneer, filling in for the original host who was poorly. Having never conducted an auction before I was a little nervous, but it went brilliantly. The charity helps volunteers go to a village in Uganda to help the local community, and now are developing links with an Indian village too. They have also provided mosquito nets, HIV/AIDS testing, and materials for building. On the night they raised (at last count) £4500, every penny of which will go to the communities themselves. Lottie and Sarah, who run the charity, did an amazing job organising it all, with a live band, magician wandering around the throng, another singer, stalls selling local produce from the 2 countries, a silent auction and a raffle, as well as the main auction itself. It's also fair to say that I had a cracking time, and apologise for all the grief I gave the guys from the Royal Tank Regiment (and a Kings Hussar), who turned up in full dress uniform and spent a LOT of money! Can' wait for next year!

New Mayor in Bedford

The people of Bedford have elected Dave Hodgson as the new Lib Dem Mayor. Dave is a great guy, who will do Bedford Borough proud. It was great to get up there and campaign for his election. The Tories thought this was going to be the precursor to beatingthe sitting Labour MP at the General Election. How wrong they were. Having selected their candidate in their experimental 'open primary' selection system, it appears that this caused divisions in the Tory ranks, amid claims of interference from Tory Central Office. Is this what will happen to the Tory localism agenda come the next election? Time will prove that it's only the Lib Dems that truly listen to local people and believe in passing power down to local communities.

David Wilshire Resigns

As this story broke on Wednesday evening, the phone and email went into overdrive. The allegations made against Mr Wilshire by the Telegraph were out of the blue and quite extraordinary. As it became clear on Thursday that this really was serious for him, the press requests started. It is difficult when these things are allegations, but with them being potentially damaging, it seemed inevitable that he had to resign, as I told Radio Surrey on Friday morning. He is duly standing down at the next election, although some might ask why he should hang on for his golden handshake at the end of his term. Dr Ian Gibson didn't do so in Norwich North, and went straight away. What surprises me so much, however, are comments attributed to Mr Wilshire about being on a salary that was "dangerously close to the minimum wage" (as quoted in several newspapers over the weekend). Mr Wilshire had already shown a lack of contrition when other expenses claims were questioned earlier in the year. It is clear that he and his colleagues locally still maintain the Tory arrogance that they have a divine right to be elected. That is quite simply outrageous. The electors of Spelthorne are entitled to ask what their elected representatives do for them. The last of Mr Wilshire's infrequent contributions to Parliament before his announcement he was standing down at the next election was to sponsor a Bill that would have removed the minimum wage. How ironic.

Catching Up

It has been an incredibly hectic week, for some obvious reasons, so I will be putting up a few posts today to catch up on the events of the last seven days.......

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mayor of Bedford

There is a by election in Bedford at the moment to directly elect the mayor, following the death of the Independent Frank Branston. We have a superb candidate in Dave Hodgson, and I went out campaigning there last night. The local Lib Dems, like so many local parties, have been active for many years in the community helping local people, and this is paying dividends in the level of support Dave is getting. My feeling is we have a real chance of electing the second Lib Dem mayor in England, the other being Dorothy Thornhill in Watford. She was re-elected in 2006 having done a terrific job there, and has shown what a Lib Dem mayor can achieve for people. If the people of Bedford choose Dave, they too will get a passionate advocate for their area.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A Fantastic Result!

I have returned from my holiday, which coincided with the climax of the by election. What timing! Anyway, the team put together a a fantastic result, with a 15% swing to the Lib Dems. Missing out by just 72 votes was a real pity for our great candidate Richard Dunn, but we have shown we can win in Laleham and Shepperton Green, and I'm sure it will be a really close contest in 2011. Labour came a poor 5th, with less than 5% of the vote, and their support has collapsed outside of Stanwell. We really are the challengers to the Tories in the General Election.