Friday, 30 September 2011

Social housing should be need not contribution based...

I don't really have time to write a blog today but I'm squeezing one in because I'm angry... George Potter (from The Potter Blog) has it absolutely right when he says:

The initiative he is speaking of is to change the priorities for social housing to give a greater benefit to those who are in or actively looking for work.  The real problem with this is that it creates a perception of the deserving and undeserving poor when in reality there are those who are in desperate need of assistance, those who do need it but can get by without and those whom it would make things much easier.  The changes would skew the system away from those less able and in greatest need for help because they don't "deserve it".

'Red Ed' said in his speech at the Labour party Conference:

I think that Mr Miliband is completely wrong on this count.  I said this in my analysis of his speech:

"We (should) give to the people with the greatest need and not just the people who some bureaucrat thinks are worthy!  ... Yes it should always pay to work, but we should protect the most vulnerable, not just those who've managed to do charity work/keep their lawn tidy!"

The same goes for people who've managed to find a job.  The welfare system wont catch people if one of the holes to fall through is if you answer no to "are you employed?" 

I completely agree with George that this rhetoric is making me angry!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Alcohol vs Cannabis

Professor David Nutt has written another excellent short article looking at the relative harms of alcohol and cannabis use and how the current legislation is illogical.  Unfortunately I'm not going to subscribe to read the full report but his article says all it needs to.

My common point when it comes to these factors is even if you strip away my moral reasons for drugs legalisation the current prohibition is illogical, as it doesn't look at the relative harms to society or the individual, merely keeping alcohol legal because it's currently legal.

"Estimating the true relative harms of alcohol and cannabis is not easy as there are no societies today where the two drugs are equally available. However where neither are legal – as in some Islamic states – alcohol appears to cause more dependence than cannabis, even in Morocco a traditional cannabis growing country."

Yes it is hard to completely compare legal and illegal drugs (that reminds me of the conversation Mr Nutt said he once had with Jacqui Smith as I mentioned before) but that doesn't mean that the comparatives shouldn't be looked at. We all see the damage that alcohol does to our society, I think the most underestimated thing about drugs legalisation would be the positive externality of reduced alcohol intake.  

The only bit of this post I don't like is the start:

"I am often asked the question “if cannabis was as freely available as alcohol how many would use it and would its harms increase?.  Of course the answer is yes to both." 

That answer doesn't appear to answer the question - I think it should have read would usage increase and would harms increase. 

I don't know how you can say harms would definitely increase, given that as stated in his post the Netherlands has one of the lowest cannabis usage rates amongst young people.

Ed Miliband steels speech from Nick Clegg... #Lab11

When I was reading Ed Miliband's speech one section sounded eerily familiar:

"The patient frustrated when they can’t be seen by the person they want.
The victim of crime who just wants their case properly investigated.
You know what it’s like.
You stand in the queue.
You hang on the phone.
You fill in the form.
And then all you get?
Computer says no."

Thankfully The Spectator Blog highlighted what it reminded me of:

"First the great monoliths of centrally-run bureaucracies must be opened up - and run for the sake of the people, the patients, the pupils. These days individuals are powerless in the face of the rules and regulations that run everything. Every sensible request is met with a mindless "Computer Says No".

"Who hasn't got stuck in the nightmarish world of an automatic phone service they laughably call a "helpline"? The lift music. The menus. The mechanical voice that tells you "your call is important to us"."

This speech?  Well this was Nick Clegg's first(?) conference speech as leader of the Lib Dems back in 2008.

What makes this even more extraordinary is that the speech was delivered in the same hall!  I reckon Ed's team are envious of Nick's public speaking and as such thought the best way to improve their man was to try and make him sound more and be more like Nick... can't say I blame them!

Red Ed's #Lab11 Speech...

I haven't seen Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour Party Conference, however I have read it, unfortunately courtesy of the Telegraph's website (link) - which means I don't have to put up with his usual poor delivery.  I have to say, it reads fairly well.  It's not that I agree with him, in fact some points make me pretty annoyed, but I think it reads like a speech that the less informed political viewer would want to hear.  (That's the beauty of being in opposition though, especially just under four years from the next election - you can say whatever you think people want to hear and never have to back it up as the situation will change).

At times it reads a little confusingly though, he is speaking at his party conference, however it seems aimed not at those in the room but those watching on TV.  This is sad if politicians have come to the stage where they are mainly concerned with the overall image rather than the people they are addressing.

Anyway, onto the my much more detailed analysis than I'd intended:

How can Labour regain the people's trust with their economic policy whilst they are in opposition?  I'm assuming they're just hoping make enough people forget about their economic mismanagement.  It is good to hear him apparently promising that they will not increase spending should they get into government by increasing the deficit (which we will still have when the next election comes round) - however I'm not sure how credible this is.   Particularly as they oppose almost every coalition "cut" whilst saying at the same time they wont reverse them.  I am in favour however of just using the sale of the bank shares to pay down the debt.  Although it would be a particularly good political move to 'give something back to the people' it is the wrong economic move - a political handout to curry favour.  Our debt is too large, simply reducing it will also reduce the deficit as the large interest payments will fall.  We are currently paying around £44bn in interest every year - this will keep growing until our debt is reducing!  

He then goes on to talk about a household budget - this is an analogy that is never correct - it doesn't work, however to keep it going Labour seem to imply that if you lose your job the best thing to do is to not reduce your outgoings - I'm not sure that is a wise thing for them to keep suggesting.

"Because the current plan to raise taxes and cut spending more dramatically than any other country is not working."

I can't believe that given the austerity measures in Greece, Ireland, Italy etc. that this is actually the case!  They have an alternative though:

"There is an alternative:
For Britain and other countries to act together to get our economies moving.
Like a VAT cut now to put more money in people’s pockets.
And action to put our young people back to work."

Although I did not agree with the VAT increase changing it again in such a short period of time is ridiculous.  He obviously has no idea at the extra cost this will add to businesses of changing their systems for a third time in such a short period (although I do think it is essential eventually).

Putting young people back in work - sounds great - what's their ideas?  Under Labour they tried to get as many people through University doors as possible, as a result even before the recession we were experiencing high graduate unemployment rate as there were more people competing for pretty much the same amount of jobs.  Many of those graduating were left without the necessary skills to compete and those without a degree were left behind.  He may have missed that this Government is trying to not allow the same things to happen - I believe they have just announced an increase in apprenticeships, an actual policy as opposed to Ed's posturing.

The section about the armed forces was just cheesy, a cheap part to try and lock in more future votes - it made me cringe.  On the other hand:  

"I will never write off whole parts of our country by calling them sick."

This was much more pleasing to read - even if I think it is a bit too late.

He then goes into morality with regards businesses, being incredibly subjective.  He also says one of the most ludicrous sentences I've heard from a major party leader:

"We shouldn't have given Sir Fred Goodwin that knighthood either."

I know what you're thinking, Mr Goodwin was right at the heart of RBS's demise, if it wasn't for the risky business practices adopted by him and his company from 2005 and the rest of his industry we may not have had the complete meltdown of recent years... however Mr Goodwin was knighted in 2004.  This was after revolutionising NatWest's systems and growing RBS into an international powerhouse in the banking world.  It is easy for Mr Miliband to look back with hindsight and say he doesn't deserve a knighthood, however that would have relied on people being able to predict his future business decisions in 2004, Ed is here just playing to the public mood.  What he should have apologised for was Labour not sacking him once the government became the majority shareholder and therefore vastly reducing his pay off - but at the time he did deserve his salary, given the wealth he had created for the investors.  In a free market you can't restrict people's salaries unless you restrict them in a proportionality way - it's not up to the government to be subjective on all firms as that will be impossible.

There was a lot about morality of business which is all ridiculously subjective and potential different tax regimes, as an accountant I can see the possibilities that could bring a lot more business to firms in my profession, I'm sure many up and down the country would be licking their lips at a subjective tax system!  

After this though there was a section that really made me laugh out loud:

"We need investment in energy here in Britain.
But our energy companies have defied the laws of gravity for too long.
Prices go up but they never seem to come down.
I believe our environment and climate change is a crucial issue for our future."

Yes energy is a real issue and it is good that he his highlighting that the failure has been going on a long time, maybe it would be good to highlight the Ministers who've obviously failed to deal with the problem.  Well the position of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change was actually only created in 2008 and to date has only had two people, Chris Huhne, the incumbent who is doing a stellar job on the latter half of that title and in his speech to Lib Dems he is obviously trying to address these issues, and before him it was a certain Ed Miliband.  It takes a big man to admit he failed, really inspires confidence.

He also brings up again his ridiculous tuition fees policy - which I've already pointed out just how stupid and regressive it is.

However there was one thing left that I did like the emphasis:

"...we must end the cosy cartels of the way top pay is set in our economy."

I've said before that although company directors (following good corporate governance procedures) don't set their own pay, they effectively do.  Remuneration at the biggest companies (that follow good corporate governance) is set by a remuneration committee, made up of None Executive Directors - who tend to be Executive Directors of other companies and therefore it is in their interest to push up market levels.  Then however he just goes into coalition bashing mode...

"And yet at the same time they are straining at the leash to cut the 50p tax rate for people earning over £3,000 a week."

Who is it who's stopping this - that's right the Liberal Democrats.

He then goes back into the land of being subjective, this time not with the tax system but with welfare:

Do we treat the person who contributes to their community the same as the person who doesn’t?
My answer is no.

My answer Ed is that we give to the people with the greatest need and not just the people who some bureaucrat thinks are worthy!  I'd expect that sort of drivel from a Tory back bencher but not from a Labour party leader - come to your senses!  Yes it should always pay to work, but we should protect the most vulnerable, not just those who've managed to do charity work/keep their lawn tidy!

Overall the "New Bargain" just sounded like the "New Deal" but they couldn't think of a good name.  

The whole speech is actually completely hypocritical when you consider the new darling of the Labour party and how his family represent everything that Miliband says they are against.  I recommend everyone reads this blog to emphasise just how hypocritical:

Monday, 26 September 2011

Ed finally makes a policy... To help the most successful/well off graduates.

Ed Miliband has announced that Labour's new tuition fees policy (if they are to be believe, after they were the ones who introduced it after promising not to and subsequently raised it after promising not to - I know we can't take the moral high ground here but it is worth bearing in mind) is to cap tuition fees at £6,000.  Why?  

Wow.  He (apparently - I haven't listened to him, I find that very hard to do) also said:

It's great to know the Labour leadership are really looking after the children from the poorest backgrounds and are doing their best to make it easy for them to go to University... that is why they are introducing a policy that would only benefit those whom after they graduate end up earning vastly in excess of the national average - it seems that perhaps Labour are actually the party for those affluent rather than the working class poor,

Don't just take my word for it, there are many sites that analyse this, the best probably being Money Supermarket - play along with their calculator if you don't believe me:

Even with no maintenance loan (and therefore from a wealthy background) the starting salary for a graduate would have to be over £25,000 for them to repay less under Labour's new scheme (yes, that's already above what the majority of the nation earns as a starting salary and coming from a wealthy background).  However taking someone eligible for the maximum maintenance loan (and therefore from the "squeezed middle - as lower income people get more in grants) then they would need a STARTING SALARY of greater than £38,500 to be better off under fees of £6,000 - otherwise the policy is irrelevant to them.

So it's good to see Ed has finally nailed his colours to the mast and come up with a policy, it's just a shame that this policy will benefit those people who leave University and go on to be really successful rather than helping the poorest people as they intend.  In my mind if anything is putting young people off going to University it is the politicking of the argument by making the students (and parents) think that they can't afford it when in fact they will be able to (even if it isn't as nice as free university).  Don't worry though, I would happily place a large wager that this wont be in the Labour Party's manifesto in 2015.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Dipping my toe into local politics...

Today I attended a consultation on the budget by my local Lib Dem party, designed for councillors and members to have their input.  This was the first time I had attended any sort of event by the party, my previous involvement has just been delivering leaflets.  I thought that this would be the best sort of thing for me to start with as my accountancy background might be fairly relevant.

In fact this was the first time the party had run such an event as they only took over the running of the council in May as a minority administration, which means they will need the support of 4 other councillors to have their budget approved (probably the 5 Labour councillors).  I had wanted to write a blog about the good things that the party are planning on doing and maybe mentioning some of the things that regretfully will have to be scaled back, however unfortunately the meeting was confidential - as such I am just going to give an overall flavour into how I found the experience.

Firstly I was very impressed with the knowledge of the councillors present.  You imagine councillors know the problems of their areas and their expertise but all of them there had informed opinions on everything that was discussed.  You could also see just how much they cared about the area and the things that were discussed.  I don't know why that was surprising, after all they spend their lives trying to make the area better for the people who live here, but again it was really impressive.

I was welcomed really warmly by all of them, there was only one other person there who didn't know anyone and they were at the other side of the room, but everyone I spoke to seemed interested in my opinions as well as wanting to know my background etc.  I had worried that I'd feel totally out of place but all of them made sure that wasn't the case (I was fortunate that I arrived at exactly the same time as the person whom I'd emailed about the event).  

I didn't have too much input initially, in our first group discussions I was more of an enabler/encouraging people to elaborate on their points/making statements in agreement as I didn't really have any expertise to add or feel the authority to.  The second discussion however I think I raised a couple of issues that lead to us having more detailed exchange of ideas. 

Overall I learned quite a bit about how the council is currently run, what is being spent (and dare I say some waste at the moment). I don't know if anything I'll have put forward will lead to anything (as I don't know the details behind things) but hopefully my input may lead to a couple of things that might not otherwise have been thought about - I felt that way at least.  It's given me a taster and hopefully I can go along to a lot more events in the future!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Oppression is never right... probably a very naive blog...

I have started blogs on this subject many times, however I'm yet to finish one.  One always seems to be on dangerous ground, likely to offend someone whatever your point of view.

Mohmoud Abbas is today submitting a letter to the UN calling for recognition of a Palestinian state, after which he will address the assembly to present his case.  This will be followed by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking soon after.  The US have already stated that they will use their UN security council veto to block the move (the countries with vetoes are the permanent members, the USA, the UK, France, Russia and China).

Now I will never claim to be the most informed person on this subject, however as far as I'm concerned, the time when the Palestinian people have their own state cannot come soon enough - I don't see how any rational person wouldn't want the Palestinians their own state.  I am very anti-war, it wastes lives and rarely accomplishes anything.  In this case Israel and Palestine need to find a way to live alongside each other to prevent more lives being wasted.  

So should they be pressing this?  Personally, I don't think that submitting a request to the security council is a wise move (irrespective of whether the request itself is reasonable or fair).  The reason I don't think it's wise is because it will fail and given the tension in the area I'd be very surprised if it didn't lead to more trouble and as a result more wasted lives.

A vote on enhanced status however may be just the spark to help their peace processes.  To give them status equal to the Vatican and other similar regions would enhance their standing and wouldn't come up against the US veto.  It may not be ideal but it is feasible.  I am just worrying that the effect of their chosen course of action will have unintended negative consequences.

From a young age it has always confused me when it came onto the news, it was quite clearly favouring the Israelis, yet in my mind the seemed like the bad guys - they always appeared to be the ones holding the cards and imposing their will on people who lived in the same area, it seemed to me like oppression and it just seemed wrong.  Since I've become slightly more informed I've seen little to change my mind, the blockade on the Gaza Strip seems terrible to me and the attack on the Turkish vessel earlier this year (if they really did attack unarmed people) was an outright disgrace.  I know Hamas are(/were) a terrorist organisation and "the west" doesn't want to deal with them, but that is no reason to make the people living in that area suffer.  I don't agree with what Hamas have done in the past, but their actions have always been in defence of their people.  I don't agree with their methods but their reasons to me seem valid.

One thing that I've always wondered is why does no-one think outside of the box.  I know there are many issues that divide the two sets of people, over years people have been displaced and Israel keeps building in the West Bank among many other things however why do they only ever suggest a 2 state solution as the ultimate outcome?  One of the problems always mentioned is Jerusalem, obviously it is holey to both sets of people and both want it in their territories... why don't neither and both have it?  I may be looking at this problem too simply but why isn't there talk of a 3 state solution where Jerusalem is a separate entity (maybe similar to the Vatican City.  I know this would be terribly complex to administer but the people living in that city be independent, with free movement from either country into it and shared rule involving both Muslims and Jews?  I'm probably just naive and believe too much in pluralism and the ability of people to work together for the good of their people.

I've been writing this blog over the course of the day so things will have progressed - I'm nervous but glad to be posting one on this subject at about the fifth attempt.  I hope when I wake up they'll have progressed further in a positive way.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Conference Speeches Pt. 8 Sarah Teather

Another of our excellent female MP's Sarah Teather (well as long as she isn't doing her stand up routine), her full speech can be seen here (until Sunday 25 September) or read here

This was a strange speech however, for the vast majority of it there was nothing disagreeable, nothing bad but it also felt like there was nothing new.  Watching it and reading it I didn't think there was anything to write about!

However then she got onto the pleasing news that the Pupil Premium will be doubled from next year.  It is important that even in these times of thrift we are still able to give all youngsters the same start in life, to do our best to make sure that no child is left behind.  I read someone commenting on a speech over the last couple of days who said, children aren't our future, we are theirs.  This is exactly right, the actions we take now will effect every child, if we put this off then we are condemning more children to a lifetime of under achievement, it's amazing what a difference this can make.  When coupled with the announcement Nick made in his key note speech (about a summer school pre secondary school) I really feel that the Liberal Democrats are making great strides in ensuring that no child falls through the cracks and that the support is there to help them.

I found her section on the riots to be one of the better political responses to them, however it did just ask questions rather than suggest the ways where we can get the more desirable outcomes from those questions.  Hopefully, with Liberal Democrats in Government, come 2015 we'll be able to answer each of them with a more positive response than we currently can.

Conference Speeches Pt. 7 Lynne Featherstone

One of the few I saw live was the excellent Lynne Featherstone.

The video can be watched here (available until Saturday 24th September) and read here.

To be brutally honest she seemed a bit nervous at the very start.  Of course, this was the first speech from an MP of the conference, therefore it was probably right that at the start she was a bit more general than some other ministers were.  

I think the main reason I like her is her passion, I know it is her role but I do really feel that when she started talking about the oppression of women and others she really does care.  I think I am also impressed by people who don't waver from their contact with their audience, especially when she was listing names and places where one could forgive her for forgetting the details.

I think it was also very brave of her to use the F word - Feminist.  Quite wrongly it appears that this word has become almost tainted over recent times, that it no longer stands for what it once did.  However equal rights should never be a bad subject, I am proud that it is a Liberal Democrat from the Government speaking like this.  She is also spot on when she says "now is the time" for women's rights in these countries, they have a taste of fighting for what they want, they need to continue their momentum and we should be supporting that.

I was pleased when she moved on from talking about women - don't get me wrong, that's a major part of her role, but as Equalities Minister it should be a given that she is championing anyone who is being discriminated against.

It was pleasing that the Government will be launching a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same sex couples - that doesn't sound certain that legislation will be forthcoming, but her overall speech implies that it will be.  Lynne is spot on - this is why I became a Liberal Democrat!

Conference Speeches Pt. 6 Michael Moore

I don't tend to comment on Scottish politics as I am not the most informed, I feel like I am not qualified to respond.  I feel like I should take more of an interest however.

The Secretary of State for Scotland is of course Michael Moore.  His whole speech can be watched until Wednesday 28th here, or read here.  I have managed to find some extract from YouTube, basically his attacks on the SNP:

As I've stated, I'm not the most avid follower of Scottish politics so this was my first experience of a Michael Moore speech (well at least this Michael Moore - it was good to see a lack of conspiracy theories!)

I wasn't particularly impressed with the start, the whole England vs Scotland thing seemed a bit staged and well, just not cricket really.  I shall be watching that game, I shall be wanting a result that takes both sides through, however I don't feel he should be bringing up any sort of North/South divide in that area.

He sounded a lot better when talking about the referendum: 

"And in that debate we - this party, this government - will join with others to make the strong and positive case for Scotland's place in the United Kingdom.
Using hard facts, not hysterical language, to argue for a strong Scotland in a modern UK."

He doesn't strike me as the person who can bring the passion he talks about, however he does sound like the perfect person to be stating facts, that air of confidence where you think that they just know what they are talking about.

It's good that he praised Willie Rennie, everything I've heard about him so far, and the little bits I've seen have been impressive.

The words he was saying were really good, the speech read well, but I don't think it was delivered particularly well.  When he was speaking it's not that you weren't believing the words, but it seemed like it didn't really matter if you were listening or not.  Maybe it would have been better if he wasn't looking down so often - the best speakers know what they are saying, their notes are there just as a reminder.  At the same time his voice seemed far too monophonic, in which case no matter what you are saying your audience won't be captivated.

Wasted money, PFI, Labour's legacy?

A couple of news stories have broken recently (one is actually old news but Andrew Lansley has brought it up again - maybe it's the first time he's recognised it).

The first story highlights the waste in the old Labour government. :

Reading the pretty damning coverage it appears that this just shows an inability to project manage, whilst also a willingness to throw money at projects without giving them the proper consideration.

As it happens I can see why people thought it was a good idea, 9 regional control centres could be better placed to handle large scale problems.  However it has turned into a colossal waste of money.  I wonder if you add up all of the amounts that were wasted under the old Government just how much you would reach?

The second story highlights just some of the element of privatisation that was performed in the NHS under Labour and how costly this may have been:

At first glance this is also pretty damning.  It's often been said that the Private Finance Initiatives were a bad idea and now the Department of Health is saying that the long term contracts that have been signed are putting 22 trusts in danger.  The problem appears to be that costs are rising with inflation whilst the income is remaining stationary.  

However, what's clear to me is that actually, the investment that was undertaken then was badly needed.  Potentially it may have not been the most financially sound way of providing it, however our hospitals did need modernising, some still do.  As such I am not going to say Labour were wrong to do this (wow, I rarely defend them) but maybe suggest that there may have been longer term cheaper alternatives - hindsight however is a wonderful thing.  At the end of the day not all trusts involved with PFI's are experiencing difficulties, and I don't actually believe any of them are actually on the verge of financial meltdown.  

That said, one of the passages in the BBC's report is:

"Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the King's Fund think-tank, believes renegotiation of the deals should be tried."

Surely irrespective of whether or not PFI's are currently affordable, if the government/health authority could be getting a better deal for the tax payer then they should try and do so?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Conference Speeches Pt. 5 Chris Huhne

Chris Huhne Part 1:
Part 2:

It was encouraging to hear the list of all of the new "green" areas where jobs are being created but distressing that further nuclear jobs will exist.  I am not the most anti nuclear person ever, however it is not my first preference.  It is good though that he is reiterating that there will be no public subsidy - this is definitely not an industry that we should be championing. 

It was refreshing to hear him mention China's desire for renewable energy.  The press always paint them as a country that is just consuming and being as unclean as we were in our industrial revolution.  Yes they have tons and tons of carbon emissions, but that doesn't mean they aren't also developing cleaner energy sources and aren't also looking to the future.

It was also good to hear how they intend to help those struggling to pay their fuel bills, however it just doesn't sound enough, I think they should be going further.  As someone who firmly believes in the free market this is difficult for me to suggest, but I feel that they should be intervening more.  Energy, like water, is something I feel shouldn't be left to market forces, I don't see the competition as particularly helpful and it should have more legislation to protect the average consumer - not just the very worst off.  Maybe I am just not looking at the proposals enough.

I really liked his pro European comments, there has been too much anti Europe coverage in the media recently with all of their problems, however like it or not we need them.  As such we would be much weaker if we let the EU - I am glad that the Lib Dems wont let this happen.

He was also spot on when he spoke about compromise - people may not understand the fact that the Lib Dems have compromised in Government but pluralism is something that should be championed, not just in words but also in actions.

This is actually the first speech by Chris that I've managed to get all the way through (I don't follow the environmental agenda as closely as I should).  I was pleasantly surprised by it, especially the strong finish.

I will hopefully find more and post more tomorrow - I've only really focused on the main players at the moment (cabinet ministers that I know + party president, hopefully tomorrow I'll listen to Michael Moore and a few of the other, lesser publicised MPs), but now it's getting late!

Conference Speeches Pt. 4 Danny Alexander

Danny obviously isn't that popular, like Tim I can only find him on the BBC's iPlayer (again, only available until Sunday):

The full transcript can be read here.  The transcript misses out the start of his speech regarding his Granddad, which made him seem a bit more human than I sometimes find him, usually when he's facing the media following a bad announcement by George Osbourne.  

For me there was a little too much anti Labour rhetoric.  Yes Labour were culpable, it happened on their watch and Vince had warned them, but there were many other issues involved as well.  Labour have to shoulder some of the blame, however it seemed like all of the blame was being placed on them - which always seems to be the rhetoric that the coalition partners use.  

He talked a good game about what we should want from a liberal economy:

  • A liberal economy shaped by free and open competition,
  • A liberal economy built on long-term investment, not debt and waste.
  • A liberal economy where growth is shared across the country
  • A liberal economy where taxation delivers fairness.

However I don't think the speech was detailed enough in substance.

It was good however that he highlighted the closed elements of the single market, these have been going on for too long so it is important that we work to break down these barriers.

There was a good section where he spoke about tax policies (as an accountant with 2 years tax experience I am still interested in even the finer detail of these), how people are better off now because of them, however it is always deceptive.  Yes they are better off with more cash in their pocket but by increasing the VAT rate to 20% the things people buy cost more.  It is good that we are giving people more money to spend, but we with VAT and inflation whilst most wages are stagnating we need to make sure that they can go further.  

The idea of someone earning minimum wage not paying tax at all however is perfect.  If we are saying to someone that is the minimum you should be paid for your work - however we're going to take a small chunk of it, that sends out completely the wrong message.  I agree that this should be on the front page of our manifesto for 2015.

It was a good speech to a friendly audience, however I don't think it'll have gone down well with any person who thinks we are on the wrong track.

Conference Speeches Pt. 3 Vince Cable

Here's Vince, Part 1:

Part 2:

The full transcript can be read here.

He doesn't exactly have the charisma of Nick or Tim but that doesn't mean we should listen to him any less as when he opens his mouth the words that come out are incredibly sensible.  One thing that really surprised me was the following stat:

"Massive potential instability is caused by UK-based global banks whose combined assets are over 400% of GDP, by far the largest of any major country."

I find this absolutely incredible.  It is no wonder that we were effectively held our country to ransom - they couldn't fail.  

He is spot on when raising the point about the UBS rouge trader as well. Allowing people to act like this even now, years after the Nick Leeson affair all those years ago, cannot happen.  These risks cannot continue!

I'm glad he through in the following sentence:

"Let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with generous rewards for those who build up successful businesses and create wealth and jobs, the real entrepreneurs"

Far too often the talk on taxes is focused almost on punishing the rich as if none of them deserved to get to where they are.  This is simply wrong, in a good capitalist society there has to be rewards available for people who take a chance, stick their neck on the line and try and generate their own wealth and by doing so create jobs and opportunities for others.

I'm also glad he mentioned that they are looking at institutional investors.  This may seem like a small point but for good corporate governance to be effective the institutional investors need to have an input into the companies they own.  Many people may question why we should be concerned for institutional investors, well they are effectively you - pension funds are some of the very biggest institutional investors, which is also why a rocky, unstable stock market is bad for all of us - well at least those of us whom one day aim to draw a private pension.  This could help with his second point, if they had more of a say then there is no way they'd allow it to go on.  Though I don't think this really goes far enough.

Conference Speeches Pt 2 Tim Farron

Unfortunately Tim Farron's speech doesn't seem to appear anywhere other than BBC iPlayer, it's only available  until Sunday 25 September 2011, but here's the link if you missed it:

The full transcript can be found here.

Tim is one of those people who when he talks, when I see him on TV/hear him on the radio, I stop and listen.  He just has that enthusiasm that is so infectious, you can really tell that he is fighting for what he believes and if you were wavering draws you back in to fight along side him.  

He starts his speech in just the right way, firstly bringing up the concerns many people had about the security clearance that was necessary.  This may sounds little to non-members of the party but it has been a really big issue for the party so it was good to see the Party President recognising it.  He follows this quite rightly with the disaster of May.  My local party was one of the few to buck the trend so I haven't felt it as much as others, but the disaster of the elections earlier this year was real and is still raw, it needed to be highlighted.  

It was really great to hear the story about how he was first was politicised and he is spot on:

"Because if homelessness, poverty and inequality are wrong, then not doing something to stop them is equally wrong."

The really key piece of the speech has been highlighted by the excellent Mark Pack over on the Lib Dem Voice:

"But there are 18 Liberal Democrats who don’t have the luxuries that I do.

They can’t just sound off if they don’t like government policy or trot through the no lobby on occasions – rare occasions – to demonstrate their disagreement.

They are our ministers.

And while I’m parading my conscience around the TV studios saying the right things, they are busy in their departments doing the right things.

On those very, very rare occasions when Michael Gove says or does something stupid or wrong, Sarah Teather doesn’t come out and slag him off. Instead she fixes it.

Free schools for example!

When the Tories showed hesitancy about committing to true and fair banking reforms, Vince Cable laid on the pressure and forced that commitment.

And when George Osborne flew the kite of cutting income tax for the wealthy, Danny Alexander cut the string, and stopped him."

Loving the Michael Gove reference, but he is just right.  As I've said before we saw 13 years of infighting by a Labour government, I think we are doing a pretty good job of showing the public that it doesn't have to be like that - too good really.  That is why people like Tim are needed, he needs to continue to sound off, I think he is doing an excellent job of this and hopefully he'll continue to do so.

"Going into coalition was absolutely the right thing for the country, but costly for the party."

I have said this for quite a long time now, the fact is we are in Government for the right reasons, not for the good of the party but the good of the country so even if we get a kicking in the polls, in the ballot box we can still hold our head high.

His comments regarding the divorce from the marriage have been widely reported as breaking up the coalition, however they are just being realistic.  The fact is we will be fighting the next election as separate parties, in order to facilitate this there will need to be a period beforehand where the parties separate, this is not him calling for us to end the coalition as soon as possible, just when is practical!

Many media outlets have been reporting this as a push to be the next leader.  I don't think for one second that this is what is concerning Tim, which is why he would make an excellent candidate when Nick does finally step aside.  

Conference Speeches Pt 1 Nick Clegg

It's conference season, as such anyone who's anyone in a political party wants to be at their respective conference - it seems that almost all of the bloggers and all of the politically related Twitter users I follow have been at the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham.  Unfortunately for me, I've been in work.  This has left me scrabbling around to follow what I can from a distance - which has been remarkably easy thanks to social media.  

I spent large chunks of my weekend following BBC Parliament online, watching the conference live although I missed most of the speeches by the people you really want to hear from - I can't be the only one, so I've scoured the net to see what I can find as reading the text just isn't the same!  I know that they are all available on the BBC's iPlayer, however you have to go out of your way to find the location of each one and they are only available for a week - so where possibly I've found longer lasting clips.  

First up, of course, Nick Clegg with his speech on the opening Saturday:

I am pleased that he took the opportunity to honour Andrew Reeves who sadly passed away this year.  I didn't know him, however I had read his excellent blog a few times and from the reaction it was obvious how much he meant to the Liberal Democrat community.

I think he was pretty right with this speech, it wasn't his key note speech, but he managed to sum up many key points whilst adding plenty of humour.  I wonder how long it will be before the Daily Mail uses those headlines!  The line that stuck out for me that I would emphasis is "We are not here to make things easy, we're here to put things right".   I also like the fact he does bring up the fact we could have bottled it and stood on the sidelines - I always felt that this would have been the easiest and worst thing to do.  I hope that this is a key message in the election campaign for 2015.

His key note speech however was a little more serious (a transcript can be found here), part 1:

Firstly, I'm not sure about the purple tie... He started the speech brilliantly.  I love the fact he threw in the tweet by Alex Cole-Hamilton from May:
If losing was part payment for ending child detention then, as he said: “I accept it, with all my heart."
Then throwing in what I feel should be the key theme: Not doing the easy thing, but doing the right thing. Not easy, but right.  However I'm not sure if for liberal's should only do something if it is "in the national interest" - I think it is much more than that, as often the national interest interferes with what is right.  The national interest may be to protect our markets from overseas competition, it may be to not give international aide, it may be (in an extreme case) to oppress minorities so that their voices can't be heard, but these are neither fair nor liberal.

I think he was spot on with "Labour would have offered too little too late" - maybe this should be more of a response.

The section on tuition fees is what was needed last year, now I fear is too late as the perception is ingrained in the countries psyche.

Part 2:

I am pleased to see that the shared paternity leave was mentioned, I had assumed this had been kicked into the long grass as I hadn't heard it mentioned for a while.  Definitely good news.

Hopefully Ed Miliband will answer his call to reform party funding - I can't see it happening though.

Part 3:

The section on his passion I found rather moving, most Liberal Democrats know how passionate he is about a fair start for every child but I find that it rarely get good media coverage.  It is an impossible dream: 

"Because this will not be a liberal nation until every citizen can thrive and prosper, until birth is no longer destiny, until every child is free to rise."

Just because it impossible though does not mean that we shouldn't try!  If people aren't fighting the good fight then the gap will just get wider.  Someone's circumstances will always influence their future, people born wealthy expect to be successful, but we should not stop trying to break down walls and open up as many options as possible.

I think the two week summer school for 11 year olds between Primary and Secondary school is an absolutely brilliant idea.  It was amazing just how big the gap is even then.  Those two weeks could really change their futures.  

Overall I think he is excellent, the way he memorises his speeches is really impressive and to then speak with such passion.  I think it should have been a good moral boost for Lib Dems - most of the messages in the speech reminded me of just why I am so proud to be a Lib Dem.  The summation afterwards by Andrew Neil is unfortunately why it probably wont make a difference to the wider public, those who wont watch it in full, out of all of the positive things Nick said Andrew/the BBC picked up on the:

  • Lack of an apology for joining the coalition (he was unrepentant - as if he should be).
  • The anti Labour sentiments (the backroom boys - the Ed's).
  • A strong message to the Tories on the human rights act (to be fair this is a positive from the speech but it was said just to create friction points with the Tories).
  • They then glaze over his excellent social mobility section, the riots and then a doubting comment on the two week summer school which they don't even sound as if they were listening to.
Hopefully though, some people will have seen it.

Teaching the Guardian...

Apparently the Lib Dem conference has taught the Guardian ten things over the past few days:

  1. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems are definitely not "going wobbly" on the coalition of course we're not.  If we back out now then the Tories will have no incentive to implement the things our MPs have worked hard to negotiate.  Maybe the Guardian is only just realising that the only people seriously suggesting it were in the media

  2. Morale is actually rather good – for reasons that are not particularly obvious. Now I haven't been there to assess the mood but Caron Lindsay's blog goes some way to suggesting why.

  3. The Lib Dems are now confident that they exercise real influence within the coalition. Well it has been widely reported that 75% of the Lib Dem manifesto is being implemented and people like Tim Montgomerie and Nadine Dorris both think we definitely are.

  4. The Lib Dems are showing that being in coalition doesn't necessarily stop a party asserting its independence.  It would be a fool who would think we wouldn't be independent.  I live in a Tory Lib Dem marginal, they are the enemy, they always will be, just because we're willing to work with them doesn't mean that we agree with them, their policies or their values.

  5. There is no threat to Clegg's leadership.  Again, the only people seriously suggesting this have been in the media, those looking for a story.  Although some are disgruntled, others are dismayed, a large number of  Liberal Democrats still see the qualities and principles that Nick has and his passion for liberalism that will keep him in favour.

  6. But the thought of standing down before 2015 does seem to have crossed Clegg's mind.  I've never met Nick personally, but he strikes me as a realist.  I'm sure that if he thought he wasn't the best person to be leading the party he'd stand down.  It would be an arrogant leader to not even consider the possibility.

  7. If Clegg really does want to get rid of the Lib Dems' "fluffy bunny" tendency, he still hasn't entirely succeeded.  I personally wouldn't want to be part of a party that is just conformist.  The Liberal Democrats look at things differently (based on evidence) and are happy to debate them.  The way Andrew Sparrow writes this it implies that we shouldn't be looking to see if drugs laws are fit for purpose, if the current laws on gay blood donation are right or if the exposure of sexually explicit material in a newspaper is appropriate.  To me these are all issues that a political party should have a policy on and I am pleased with the outcome from these debates.

  8. The Lib Dems aren't getting any closer to Labour.  I don't see why we would, we are our own party with our own ideals.  I hate the media's determination to fit everything onto a left/right axis, as I paid no attention to this plane when I was drawn to the Lib Dems.

  9. If there's another hung parliament, what the Lib Dems do will be determined by the numbers, and not by ideology.  I don't completely by this.  I think the overriding rule would be that any coalition should have a majority, but I'm sure that if one potential coalition had 55% of the parliament and another 51% then we would join the one that was the best fit.  But that is getting ahead of ourselves, I can't see there being a hung parliament in 2015, if there is then one thing that will need to change is the voting system (although that wont happen).

  10. Tim Farron must be favourite to become next Lib Dem leader if the coalition fails.  Pleasing to see someone outside of the party giving him some recognition, he is in my favourite 5 politicians (as is Nick Clegg).  I'm sure he would be a great candidate should the situation arise, whether or not the coalition has failed.  His comment about the coalition ending before the next general election is a perfectly valid one - we wont be fighting it as a Tory Lib Dem association or anything like that so we will have to separate!
I'm glad the Guardian has learnt something, but one thing I think they have missed (although it could be alluded to in the moral) is that the party has great resolve.  Many of the members have been there at much lower points in history and they are prepared to fight on for what we believe.

Mail in the Metro

On Monday the Metro ran the story above.  This lead to the following letter by Andy from Birmingham (presumably not attending the conference) in the Tuesday edition:

"So the Liberal Democrats voted at the party’s annual conference to reform drug laws to make possession of heroin and cocaine legal (Metro, Mon). 
Yes there is a problem with drugs in this country but is decriminalising them going to help?  Making them as easy to buy as milk, bread, alcohol and cigarettes will undermine suppliers but what message does this send to our impressionable children?  And as for Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes, what a joke. 
It’s unsettling to think we helped put these people in charge of our country.  The power has clearly gone to their heads.
What on Earth will they come up with next?  A law to ensure bankers and politicians receive hefty bonuses every year?
Let’s just hope the powers that be come to their senses – and soon."


I particularly liked the way that he jumped from looking at drugs policy to the obviously connected topic of bankers bonus's as if they are similar - just to try and encourage maximum outrage.  I also love the Helen Lovejoy impression of immediately relating it to the children to try and make people even more emotive rather than logical and factual.  I don't know if Andy realises this but if a child would like to get their hands on drugs now, all they need to do is know the right people, exactly the same as if they want cigarettes or alcohol.  I'm also going to guess that he's never been to Amsterdam.  I was there myself less than a month ago and although cannabis was being used openly, I would hardly say it was a joke, in fact it looked pretty serious to me.  The overall impression I got of the cafés were that they appeared to be basically just like pubs, although even late at night there appeared to be no violence or tension around them (though admittedly I only had a two night snap shot and this is not where we were spending our time).

Anyway I couldn't let this letter go unchecked/without a response, it had annoyed me too much, so here was my response (published in today's issue):

"Both the Metro's headline writers and Andy from Birmingham appear to have missed the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation, the former (as called for in the Liberal Democrats conference) will not make drugs as easy to buy as milk, bread or even alcohol and cigarettes.

 "Possession would be prohibited but should cause police officers to issue citations for individuals to appear before panels tasked with determining appropriate education, health or social interventions."

 In other words they wont receive a criminal conviction which could ruin their lives.  I suggest people read the actual motion which aims to look at actual evidence with the overall aim of reducing the harm drugs cause to society and the individual rather than jumping to conclusions.   It may be unusual for a party in Government to look at evidence rather than tabloid reaction but far from letting the power go to their heads the Liberal Democrats are continuing to do that when setting their policy."

Well that was my email anyway, the actual version makes some small changes, mainly for the better but also removing my criticism of the Metro's headline writers.  Hopefully it comes across okay, there's only so much you can write - an essay or the whole blog post I was thinking of writing as criticism would never get printed!

I am pleased that despite the negative press the party will get from this they still went ahead and carried the motion.  It is just one of the many things I've heard over the past few days coming from Birmingham that make me proud to be part of the party.  (I will blog at a later date regarding other conference related things!)