Sunday, 28 February 2010

Tories Falter In The Polls

This weekend should have been about preparing to take power for the Tories. Or so political commentators would have had us believe for much of last year. Yet as the General Election looms, support for the Tories is faltering as the electorate take a really good look at the parties in the run up to a vote in the next few months. It seems that they don't like what they see in the Tories. Or at least have discovered that there is actually not much to see at all. Even this close to an election, they talk about 'themes', but have remarkably few policies to back these up. The Liberal Democrats have laid out a series of clear policies already, on the NHS, Education, Crime and the Police, Tax, the Economy and the Environment. We are proud of what we stand for, and want a fairer Britain for all, not just the privileged few. We also won't just stand by whilst Labour erodes our freedom. The radical, bold party in this election is the Lib Dems. If you want change, that's the place to put your X in the polling booth.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Cable On The Growth Figures

Vince Cable has given his verdict on the revised growth figures for the economy:
"With the Government stimulus largely coming to an end last December it is highly likely growth will continue to be weak for some time," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor.
Responding to the news that the UK economy grew by 0.3% in the final three months of last year, faster than had been previously estimated, Vince Cable said:“While it is welcome news that the economy has grown by more than had been previously estimated, the British economy is still weak. “This news underlines again the folly of rushing into rapid cuts which could push the economy back into recession and inflict further structural damage on the UK, making it harder to sustain our credit rating and creating an even larger budget deficit. “Decisions about the speed and timing of tackling the deficit should be based on the state of the economy, not political dogma. “If the public and markets are to have confidence in the political parties, Labour and the Tories must follow the Liberal Democrat lead and demonstrate a credible plan for when and how the deficit will be tackled and where the cuts will come from.”

Friday, 26 February 2010

Dubious MI5

Lord Neuberger, the judge looking at the case of Quantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, said today that MI5 has a dubious record over his treatment whilst in US custody. Claims about his treatment include being deprived of sleep, threatened, shackled and having his genitals cut. The judge ruled that MI5 knew about at least some of this whilst he was held, and did nothing. Gordon Brown has given his full support to MI5 tonight. Yet despite the protestations of ministers and the MI5 chief, they appear to be complicit in the torture of a suspect. The treatment this man recieved was dreadful. There is simply no way to justify it. He was not starring in an episode of '24'. This is his life, and he was held without trial for nearly seven years, shipped from Pakistan to Morocco then to Afganistan. Finally he made it to Guantanamo Bay. This sorry episode simply drags us down to the level of our foes. Defending freedom 'by any means necessary' denies that very freedom. Labour have been stealing our freedom a piece at a time for years. Add this to the list. We need to be alert to the threats to our country, and we need to give the security services the tools to keep us safe. Condoning torture is not part of the deal.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Save Our School (But Not Our Planet)

I attended the meeting of Spelthorne Borough Council tonight, in large part because residents from both ends of the borough were there to have their voices heard. People opposing the ill judged London Irish proposed development asked a series of excellent questions about planning policy, and gave councillors plenty to think about. Then campaigners working to save Shortwood School had their 3 minutes to tell the borough councillors why the school is so important to the community. The speech was excellent, and I thought it was a shame that a bit more time wasn't given when the 3 minutes was up. The campaign will now need to gear up for another public meeting on the 4th March, and then on to the county council. Then we had the budget setting for 2010, and a round of deep cuts from the Tory administration. After years of failing to manage a budget deficit (ring any bells?) they now have to remove staff from areas like planning, where they already perform poorly. In response to one of our Group Leaders comments about not signing up to the 10:10 campaign, where organisations including councils can pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 10% this year, we had the usual response from a Tory. Lib Dems had tabled a motion last year to join the campaign, only for the Tories to block it. Well, with one of their number once again trotting out the "there is no proof the climate change exists" it's no surprise. If that councillor ever bothered to look beyond the end of his nose at the wealth of scientific proof that exists, and thinks for one solitary second about the wider world, he would know the threat we face. But once again we see the true face of the Tories on the environment.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Why Did No One Speak Out?

The tales of misery that have been told to the inquiry into Mid Staffs NHS Trust beggar belief. Patients have been humiliated, uncared for, left hungry and in enormous pain. This is one of the worst scandals to hit the NHS in its history. Yet, why did no one speak out. How did inspectors miss what was going on? I certainly can't understand why consultants, who would have seen exactly how things were, just carried on doing their rounds and then left to carry on their private work without once raising the alarm. Their must be a public inquiry to give the families the whole truth. For the Health Secretary to deny one would be another scandal.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Forces Of Hell

Alistair Darling said today that after talking about the worst recession in 60 years in the autumn of 2008, he faced the 'forces of hell'. He was referring to Labour devils as well as Tory ones, as parts of his own party turned against him. Politics is a tough old game, especially when it's your own side gunning for you. Mr Darling had a rare moment of candour, and paid for it with sniping and backstabbing, savaged by what are often called 'insiders'. By the very name, you can tell these are people who lurk in the shadows, without the stomach to deal with the public. Sadly, such 'insiders' often have influence beyond their talents. Such was the case this time, with Damien McBride ousted soon after. I hope that incidents like this diminish the role of the 'insider' and decisions at the highest level are made once more by those elected to take them.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Lib Dems On Health

Today Norman Lamb and Nick Clegg launched our manifesto pledge for health.
Our first priority will be protecting frontline care in tough financial times in areas such as cancer care, mental health treatment, maternity services and dementia treatment by cutting waste and bureaucracy. We will also give patients more control over their treatment, by radically cutting central spending at the Department of Health and electing Health Boards to make key decisions about local services. And under the Liberal Democrats if patients do not get treated on time by the NHS we will pay for them to be treated privately.
We are also showing our commitment to carers in England. We believe that people who selflessly provide care to their loved ones deserve a break. If you are in employment you are entitled to paid holidays but for a huge number of carers that simply isn’t an option. We believe that respite care is a lifeline - not just for carers but for whole families. That’s why we will provide a week’s break from caring every year to the 1 million unpaid carers who provide more than 50hrs care each week.
Getting healthcare right is hugely important to all of us. Only our party has the values and principles that can deliver the NHS our country deserves.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Blast From The Past

I have had a friend request on Facebook today from Neil, who was my old group leader when I became a councillor seven years ago. Neil was one of the two people who interviewed me as a council candidate after I called the party to offer my services. With great insight (!) Neil was enthusiastic about my application, and 4 months later I had been elected in a ward in which I was supposed to be the token opposition. From that day he, like a few others, took me under his wing and taught me a great deal about local politics. He showed me how to really get things done, particularly dealing with local councils, and showed me how to get through the beauraucratic maze. I went on to chair the councils scrutiny committee, and I ended up on the shadow executive that helped to create a brand new unitary authority (when Borough and County councils are joined together). Having the ability and experience to tackle these huge jobs was in good part down to Neil and his support. It is good to hear Neil and Amy have retired to Norfolk, and hopefully they have a bit more time now to relax and enjoy it! I owe Neil a great deal, so hopefully I can catch up with him after the election.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

So Much Development

I spent most of this morning checking out the state of play on current and future development in Spelthorne. The new Benwell building is an imposing piece of over development. I can see why it has upset so many residents. I went down to London Irish and Hazelwood too, which as I have been saying since September on this blog, is far too much development for the areas proposed. Even with the changes, there are too many units and ar ethe carrots on offer realistic? I suspect not. Too much open space will be lost to these plans. I also spent time at the Charlton waste site, which is the proposed home of a new Eco Park. The technology of this is sound, but is this the right site? British Airways are looking to do something similar to produce bio fuels for their city of London airport fleet. Have Surrey discussed the option of sharing the facility they plan to build in Kent? If not why not? Anyway, to see the constant pressure that development puts on Spelthorne is painful, but with the Tory Borough Council allowing so many of these things through, it is set to continue.

A Night In Playbox

I was at a meeting tonight of the campaign to save Shortwood Infants School and Playbox playgroup. Tonight there were parliamentary candidates, county and borough councillors as well as parents, support staff and governors. This is a testament to how quickly the campaign has been mobilised and how hard the campaigners are working. Lots of ideas were exchanged, as well as a plan for the next 4 years for the school to grow it's numbers and build stability for the future. There are still questions for the council to answer as I said before, but key is to keep engaging the local community and keep up the pressure. The publicity has started really well, but the story needs to stay fresh for the media to keep running on it. I think that the ideas we shared tonight will help move things forward. I have a commitment from our county councillors to carry on providing information that can be useful to the campaign, and I hope to help with campaigning experience too, although frankly this group of people are doing a fantastic job already!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Why Won't They Join In?

First, the Tories refuse to join in the conference today which was designed to try again to find some common ground on care for the elderly. Now, they have refused to even look at the plans being drawn up for a high speed rail link up the spine of the UK. The thing is, they are forever moaning about not knowing what is going on in Whitehall. Yet, now they have the chance to be involved at the early stages of two major issues, but won't. With an election coming up all the parties will be cautious about how they interact with each other, particularly with the possibility of a hung parliament. But this really is ridiculous. They claim that the health issue has become a party political football, but they made it that way by bailing out of informal talks with the health secretary and our Norman Lamb. Now they say much the same about the railways. As our transport spokesman said today "This peculiar decision of the Tories coupled with Osborne's spending cuts strongly suggest that the Tories are trying to kick high-speed rail into the long grass. The Tories can't be trusted with our railways." If they are trying to cut a pledge they have made for genuine economic reasons why not just say so?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Shortwood - There Are Questions To Answer

The consultation on the proposed closure of Shortwood Infant School continues. The document produced by the County Council to inform the debate on the schools future seems a very flimsy article, when you consider it effectively puts the case for closure. What it does do is repeatedly suggest that the school's educational performance may get worse in the future. At the public meeting, council officers repeatedly said they were not criticising the education provided. But the consultation says things like "we are concerned about the quality of education that may be provided in future to the children at the school". There are other parts of the document that cast the same aspersions. So not attacking the education today, but innuendo about the performance tomorrow. This is crude and unneccesary. There are a number of other questions that I will be suggesting are put to the council too. Current capacity, birth rates, transport, new building and Government policy all seem to add weight to the argument to keep the school open. But all these subjects need questioning in detail to get to the facts, not just a 3 page proposal from the County Council.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

First Time Voters

The BBC is holding a special Question Time on the 3rd March for first time voters. Hosted by Dermot O'Leary, it will be on BBC, and will give the audience a chance to grill politicians about the forthcoming election. Anyone who is a first time voter can apply here: . It is being recorded in London, so hopefully some local people will apply and get to fire a searching question to the panel!

Monday, 15 February 2010

5 Years

Today we were told that it may take 5 years to get our money back from the bailout of the banks. UKFI, who look after our interests in the banks on behalf of the Government, play their cards close to their chest (i.e. tattooed on), and then come out with that figure. This organisation needs to be opened up to proper scrutiny, as they are managing billions of pounds of our investment. They have offered to talk to MP's about what they do twice a year. As a concession. This is absurd. UKFI shoud be fully answerable to taxpayers, and MP's should have access to what they are up to. To offer ana occasional update as if it was up to them how they conduct themselves inspires no confidence at all. Vince Cable warned today that it may take a decade to realise our investment, as has been seen elsewhere in the past. So we need honest, clear answers from UKFI, and a proper say in what they, and our banks are doing with our money.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A Quarter Of A Billion

That's the amount of money spent last year on publicity by the Government. Clearly there is a need for significant spending on this area to ensure people know about and get good access to services they need. However, for the spending to rise by 40% last year in the midst of a financial crisis is bad management and bad judgment. Money can be saved by the Treasury if advertising is done correctly, but so much extra spending right now is surely folly.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Time For Action From Eurostar

Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder has been closely following the inquiry following the Eurostar fiasco at Christmas. After the final report was published yesterday she said:
"We need a promise of fair treatment for all Christmas passengers and safe travel for all future passengers."
"That means implementing all of the Review's recommendations, putting in place the safety, technical and staff training measures required and guaranteeing that the costs of compensation and new safety measures will not be passed on to consumers through higher prices."
"The independent review has done a fine job, but their plans must be put into practice."

Hopefully now fundamental changes will be made and local people can go back to using Eurostar with confidence.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Facts And Figures

I have been at a meeting with my County Council colleagues tonight discussing the threat of Shortwood Infant School's closure . We are pulling together as much information as we can to pass on to the campaigners there. There are so many factors that need to be included in this consultation that seem to be missing from the council's document, so it's vital to get as much info into the public domain as possible to inform the debate. We'll be working on this some more over the weekend.

Caring For Our Elderly

It is dispiriting to see the spat between Labour and the Tories over long term care for the elderly. All parties know that this is a massive issue for our country, and is in crisis now, let alone the projections of requirements for the future. Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem Health Spokesman, is still trying to get all 3 parties speaking again, as they had been until last week. I've known Norman for 4 years, and he is a man of enormous integrity and has a passion for his role. I know this subject is really important to him, like better provision for mental health care is too. I hope he can pull the other two parties back to the table. I'm at a disability event with him next month, so perhaps I can extract more detail on what's been going on. Watch this space....

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Shortwood Infant School

Surrey County Council have announced potential plans to close Shortwood School. There were two public meetings at the school today, and I went along to the second one this evening. I don't think I have seen many more passionate defences of a community facility than I heard from local people tonight. Whilst the school has low numbers of pupils, it was clear that parents think the school is fantastic, as do the ex pupils, ex teachers and other local residents who had their say. The overwhelming feeling is that they have not had the support, publicity or understanding of the County Council, and that many people only heard about the school by word of mouth. Many also feel that long standing rumours of closure have put people off making the school their 1st preference. Talking afterwards to the acting head, and other campaigners, it was clear that they will defend the school and fight closure all the way. The community love this school and value it dearly. Councils have a tough job balancing needs and budgets, but their own figures show, to my mind, that short term desire to close the school will cause real problems in the near future, over and above the hardship some parents will face now if the school closes. After tonight they have my wholehearted support.

Monday, 8 February 2010


Whatever happens now with the legal proceedings against 3 Labour MP's and a Tory peer, I sincerely hope that Parliamentary privilege is not allowed as a defence. This was enacted in 1689 to allow MP's to say what they wish in the 2 houses without fear of being sued. It is to help get at the truth when the powerful could use their wealth and status to stop dissent and scrutiny. It is not for evading criminal proceedings when a crime is suspected. I hope sense prevails one way or another.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Tories To Centralise Powers

The Tories have made much of their localism agenda. I have said before on this blog that they are paying lip service to it, and have no real idea of what localism means, as they have an inbuilt desire to wield power rather than share it. Once again they have shown this is exactly what they are about. The Government passed a disgraceful bill last year to centralise decision making around large planning applications, for example Heathrow Runway Three, and cut local councils and local people out of the loop as much as possible. The Lib Dems were horrified at this, and opposed the move. The Tories are now going to do the same with school planning applications. Far from passing power to local people, they are grabbing it back to Westminster, just as they always do. These crucial decisions should be taken at a local level, not in Whitehall. We have seen how regional planning has misunderstood local needs and issues, like the recent south east plan, which was dreadful. Central Government is even more remote for this type of issue, and will doubtless get many decisions wrong. But the Tories are once again mouthing the words of one song whilst singing another behind closed doors. You can't trust them on planning - just look at Spelthorne!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Bankers Petition

We had a really good morning on Staines High Street with our new bankers petition. We are calling on the Chancellor to put a 10% levy on bank profits, break up banks to separate the casino (risk taking) operations from the high street banks, and close tax loop holes for the very rich. We asked local shoppers whether they would support the petition, and the response was excellent. What we found this morning was that people were all set to rush to M&S, but mention the banks and they stopped to talk. This is clearly an issue that won't go away, and the anger is still there. Vince Cable has led this debate from the beginning, and again today people were full of praise for him. We may well do this again before I send the petition off to Alistair Darling. One little aside: we chatted to a long time Labour campaigner who said they were supposed to be campainging this morning in the same place, but he was the only one there. Even their candidate had not shown up! It really is a 2 horse race in Spelthorne!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Policing Plans

Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne launched our manifesto plans for policing today. We have pledged to put 3000 more police on the beat by scrapping the ID Cards scheme and using the money to put more officers on the beat. It would have been 10000 if Labour had not already wasted so much money setting up the now laughable "voluntary" ID Card Scheme! Amazingly, 18 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have seen a reduction of police numbers since 2005. Two thirds of them are run by the Conservatives, and a third by Labour. Whilst both of them try to out tough each other on crime, the reality is they have both failed to support our police force. In Surrey, no local Tory MP bothered to vote on the capping of the police budget. Lib Dem MP's in South West London like Vince Cable did, and voted not to cap the authority. Actions speak louder than words, however tough the rhetoric!


The Government have produced a green paper in Parliament setting the scene for a defence review after the next election. Britain faces some big decisions about what our role is on the world stage in the future, and how we see our role of the armed forces in particular. The review looks like it will look at all aspects of our defence capability with one exception. Trident has been ringfenced, and there will be no review of our nuclear capability, despite the enormous amount of money that will be spent replacing Trident. If the Government is serious about reviewing our defence capability, it must look at the viability of funding the UK's nuclear deterrent. With tens of billions of pounds at stake, no serious review would be complete without an honest assessment of its viability.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Back on the Campaign Trail

Now that Evie has settled at home (my lovely daughter!), I am back in full swing on the campaign trail. Quite a lot has been happening since I battled through the snow to get to the hospital. Tony Blair has suggested we invade Iran. Gordon Brown has suggested changing the voting system. David Cameron has talked about big cuts/some cuts/ only a few cuts (delete as applicable depending on poll out that day). Nick Clegg has put forward more details of our plans to give every child a fair chance at a good education. Plenty for me to blog on by the weekend then!