Saturday, May 26, 2007


An Unwelcome Tribute (or: How Stupid is Margaret Hodge?)

Most politicians would be delighted to see a comment piece in the morning paper telling them that they had the right policy ideas.

This morning, Margaret Hodge must have choked on her cornflakes, because the person telling her "I agree with her" and she was saying "what we were saying five years ago" was none other than the leader of the BNP.

Let this be a lesson - pandering to extremists, however well-intentioned, will always play into their hands. Mrs Hodge's suggestion that "British people" should be given priority over "migrants" for Council housing was always straying on the wrong side of acceptability.

Just compare that with the measured argument of so-called "Red Ken" (who is starting to sounds more like a liberal with each passing year).

Hodge, of course, has form on this. In the wake of the BNP's gains in East London in 2006 (which saw them become the second largest party in her own constituency) she was roundly criticised for talking them up before the election. During the campaign, she had said that 80% of white families were "tempted" by the BNP, a quote they exploited ruthlessly - indeed, the BNP's Richard Barnbrook made a point of thanking her for her "beautiful gift".

She could be forgiven for feeling slightly foolish for being outwitted twice by a party famous for bad publicity and public naïvety.

As the saying goes, fool me once...

Friday, May 25, 2007


FOI debacle: holding Stephen Hammond MP to account

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceReaders of Lib Dem Voice and Lib Dem Blogs will doubtless already be aware of the scandalous Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill - otherwise known as the David MacLean Secrecy Bill to Stop Publication of MPs Expenses!

If any readers are unsure of the background, have a read through Lib Dem Voice since April 20 (or check out the campaign's Facebook group).

I have written an open letter to Conservative MP Stephen Hammond following these absurd comments on his website:
"Interestingly, given the noise they are making about the Bill, it is noteworthy that not a single Liberal Democrat opposed the Bill at Second Reading. In fact, they actually supported it at Committee Stage! In reality, even at Third Reading only nine of their 63 MPs voted against it, despite many more being in the House to vote on the Closure motions! Isn’t it interesting that for all their sanctimonious words, their actions fail them? I am sure, like me, you are not surprised - as this is exactly what is to be expected of Liberal Democrats."
These are little more than weasel words designed to damp down the outrage surrounding the Tory position on this Bill - and at the same time impugn the reputation of the Lib Dems, who have been gaining a lot of credit for theirs.

My response (posted on his website) is as follows:
Dear Mr. Hammond,

I am utterly outraged by your attempt below to misrepresent the position of the Liberal Democrats on the issue of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill.

Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed this Bill, both in Parliament and in their national campaigns - to the extent of setting up a national online petition.

You may notice that no members of the House whatsoever opposed the Second Reading of the Bill. There was no debate, and no division. At that point it was a little-known Private Members Bill among many others.

It was Liberal Democrat Members who first brought this scandalous Bill to public attention, including Norman Baker MP, Simon Hughes MP and Nick Harvey MP (whom you incorrectly accuse of supporting the Bill at Committee stage).

Mr. Harvey himself has said on the topic of this Bill: -

'I gave interviews on radio/TV, before most folks here even woke up to the issue, opposing the bill and making clear my objections. Anyone who says otherwise is misleading people.

'I do think Maclean identified a couple of valid concerns – MP correspondence when not covered by Data Protection, and potentially excessive intrusions regarding expenses.

'But his bill takes a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and we can’t have an FOI Act which excludes the national legislature.

'When I spoke at the committee, Mark D’Arcy of BBC radio – who sat in - immediately booked an interview with me, because I was the only one present “who spoke against it” (his words).'

Since this Bill was brought to their attention, Liberal Democrats have made concerted efforts to block it, especially Mr. Hughes and Mr. Baker who successfully talked out a previous attempt to progress it to a Third Reading in April.

No Liberal Democrat Member has, to my knowledge, supported this Bill at any stage of the legislative process. Any failure to intervene at an earlier stage is lamentable, but that owes more to the absurd system of debating Private Members Bills on a Friday when Members should rightly be engaged in Constituency work.

By contrast, the Labour and Conservative members who allowed this Bill to proceed to the Lords have suffered a clear failure of conscience.

May I remind you: This Bill was authored by David MacLean, a Conservative MP. It was voted for by a number of Conservative front benchers. And it would not have proceeded to the Lords without being sponsored by Lord Trefgarne - a Conservative Peer.

Your attempts to pour scorn on the Liberal Democrats will not salve the conscience of the Conservative Party, nor will it allow you the right to use sanctimonious words of your own!

Yours sincerely,

Joe Taylor
If you, too, think that this Bill is a national outrage, you can do two things:
  1. Sign the Lib Dem petition at
  2. Write to a random Lord at

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Liveblogging that Dispatches bin programme

Because we all know that bins are IN (if you're in local government)

21.03 - Lots of pictures of rats so far. Nice and sensationalist then.

21.06 - Oxford eh? Will be looking out for shots of our councillors running from TV crews...

21.10 - It's Jean Fooks! Not running from Channel 4, giving a nice interview pointing out how much the policy has increased recycling..

21.11 - Here comes the SCIENCE BIT!

21.12 - Does anyone know the name for an instrument that measures smells? No matter - I'll be calling it the Smellometer...

21.13 - I had to get Sheffield City Council's rat catcher in once. Nice chap - showed me where the runs were - and gave me his mobile number to call if I started to "smell any dead ones"...

21.18 - At least they have glass recycling bins in Oxford - in Sheffield they have to get stacked up in the back of the Smart Car and taken to Waitrose car park near the office (oh, how posh)

21.20 - Ad break. Does anyone else get up extra early on a Sunday morning so that no shoppers will see how many bottles of wine you've had that week?

21.22 - I have a feeling that the bin bacteria test is going to throw up some horrifying results even after one week. Has anyone seen "How Clean Is Your House"?

21.24 - I can't say I can see the concept of the Bin Police taking off around here.

21.25 - That said, our bin men do have "no-no" slips for anyone who's left their bin lid slightly open.

21.28 - Slap an ASBO on them Jim! To be honest, I find the enforcement side of this business pretty distateful. I much prefer a system driven by financial incentives - let's see how the Belgians do it...

21.30 - See, "pay as you throw" works for me. I'm not falling for any of that Daily Mail "spy in the bin" nonsense...

21.33 - Why identify Jean Fooks in Oxford as a Lib Dem but not John Garner in Tamworth as a Conservative?

21.36 - In a recycled paper mill now. I hope they mention whether they recycle plastic window envelopes - I've yet to get a straight answer on this!

21.42 - There seem to be a lot of adverts for kitchen and garden stuff in these breaks. Obviously not all politicians watching this then.

21.44 - Students, as a rule, don't know how to use a bin. I know this from when I used to be one...

21.46 - Looking at the bit on excess packaging reminds me of the "good pile - bad pile" segment from "You Are What You Eat" (continuing our theme of referring to shows where busybody Scottish women reform the lifestyles of bad people)

21.48 - Cutting down on packaging if you're a supermarket shopper is a difficult one. Only this week my Katie was telling me about her trials and tribulations when trying to buy loose mushrooms. Apparently the checkout assistant didn't take kindly to assorted fungi dancing joyfully down the conveyor belt.

21.50 - This debate seems to be veering between "it's a market problem with a market solution" to "just ban everything" - I tend to err on the side of the former...

21.53 - ...although I do like the idea of the biodegradable carrier bags!

21.55 - They seem to be standing in front of these two piles of rubbish and struggling to draw any sensible conclusions whatsoever.

21.57 - Apparently two-week-old rubbish emits solvents. Perhaps this explains the phenomenon of the Barnsley bin sniffers?

21.59 - I have a feeling that the thought of breathing in 60,000 fungal spores every time you open your bin will lead to people wearing surgical masks to do so...

22.00 - And it's over.

Not sure what we learned from that really - but I'm as certain as ever that any attempts to change the ways bins are collected will result in wide-scale moaning. Any local authorities that want to change things will have to be prepared for that.

I know the narrative was pushing the Belgian system, but having witnessed Continental recycling standards I'm not surprised. We could learn a lot from them.


Who said the Manchester dance scene was dead?

Hat-tip: Shambla via B3ta.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Those crazy Filipinos!

This story - about an election in the Philippines decided by the toss of a coin - is currently featured on the front page of BBC news.

One has to wonder why - it's not like we do things too differently here! Seasoned campaigners will know well that in this country tied elections have long been decided by tossing coins, drawing lots and all manner of other random events.

In fact, only last year control of St. Albans District Council was decided by a "pick the longest pencil" contest!

Still, don't they do things funny over there?

Saturday, May 05, 2007


The squeeze is on

A cursory look at this week's local election results nationally have led me to believe the following:
As I am keen to stress, this is based more on gut feeling than a formal analysis. It would make a very interesting project for someone with more time than I to see if this hypothesis stands up to scrutiny.

Nevertheless, I feel I am starting to get a picture emerging - that of tactical voting against the incumbent Government based on a "kick 'em out" mentality. In places like Sheffield, "vote Lib Dem to beat Labour" has been a very potent message - even in Conservative-held Council seats. Presumably in other authorities, the Tories have benefitted from the self-same phenomenon.

In 1997, we benefitted enormously from this sort of voting - and there is surely an opportunity of equal magnitude available this time. We must take care though to defend what we have in terms of Parliamentary seats against a sadly inevitable Tory revival.

There are two important - and seemingly contradictory - lessons to learn from this:
My other - again, untested - hypothesis is that we have done significantly better in the 20% of Parliamentary seats that are important for the next general election than the remaining 80% of the country. But that remains to be seen.

Whether I'm right or wrong though, let's not forget the most important habit of all - winning! Why are you sitting here reading this rubbish? Get out there and recruit members, motivate your candidates, plan literature schedules, and sow next year's crop of Lib Dem stakeboards. We have elections to win!


It's 39, stupid!

Some of you may have guessed from the lack of recent blogging that I have been pounding the pavements in the run up to this week's elections.

It couldn't have been more worth it.

You may know that last May, Sheffield once again bucked the trend of national Labour decline by holding all of their 44 seats. We, however, had lost our Central ward seat to the Greens and had been reduced to 35 Councillors - our lowest total since 1996. (We were to be reduced temporarily to 34 a few months prior to the election by the sad death of Cllr. Andrew White.)

I had also gone through the emotional wringer of sitting through a double recount, near-punch up and eventual 49-vote defeat for our hardworking and superb candidate Denise Reaney in Gleadless Valley.

Sitting in our party-cum-wake over a mournful pint, I decided that whatever happened, I wasn't going to feel like this next year.

Luckily, I quickly made friends with our defeated candidate for Hillsborough, Steve Ayris - a man I've since found to be not only politically astute but affable, thoughtful and extremely hardworking.

Now I'm a relatively recent recruit to the activist fold - having literally walked in to Nick Clegg's campaign office off the street in 2005 - so I was particularly surprised when I ended up as Steve's campaign manager and agent!

I will write about the campaign in more detail later, but suffice it to say that after a year's hard work and late nights - both from us and a small army of Councillors, old friends, new friends, family, co-workers, sympathetic locals and fiancees (thankyou Katie), we did it!

We were certainly helped by a catastrophic Labour blunder - a decision to close a popular and successful local school - but make no mistake, overturning a 215-vote defeat to a 491-vote victory in one election is no mean feat.

I also have to give a lot of credit to a Hillsborough population who refused to lie down and take it. In the end, they turned up to the polling station in droves to give Labour a good kicking, giving us the fourth-highest turnout in the city in the process.

Labour's faces at the count were ashen - not so much the defeated candidate (who was gracious in defeat, and had seen it coming a mile off), but the remaining two Councillors who may have seen the writing on the wall!

The eventual fall of two other Labour seats - and their subsequent loss of the Council - was the icing in the cake for me.

This year, my pint after the count tasted a lot sweeter. It may have something to do with being able to toast:

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