Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas in Warwick

I’ve had a mixed Christmas so far. It started well, meeting up for long overdue drinks with Neil and Kelly who moved back to Warwick a few months back. I spent Christmas day with Sarah and her delightful children. Boxing Day I took Sarah and my two teenage sons to visit my sister Ruth and her family in Worcestershire. I then went down with the flu, which has left me with a nasty cough, so I spent most of the 27th on the sofa with a duvet watching endless Christmas TV repeats.

Yesterday I had a huge office cull, sorted out a years worth of papers and loaded the shredder with a bin liner full of papers. No data security scandal for me this year.

Sarah has come to stay for a couple of days. In exchange for cooking breakfast she offered to vacuum the house and has got totally carried away and is now rearranging my entire house, throwing away years of accumulated debris. She has washed shelves that have not been cleaned since, well since I got involved in Politics. Not that I am sexist you understand, in a spirit of equality I even bought her a tool kit for Christmas so she could take full advantage of the new Ikea that has just opened in Coventry. It’s only been open a couple of weeks and she has already been there three times.

I find this time of year a cleansing experience, clear the decks from the previous year, plan for the new, ready to start on a whole new set of challenges, adventures and goals for 2008.
I wish all my friends, family and people in my hometowns of Warwick & Leamington a fantastic new year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Nick Clegg

Today Nick Clegg was elected as the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats. This was a close run contest and a tough choice at times. I supported Nick for the leadership as I felt he has what it takes to really engage with people who may currently be disillusioned with politics.

I have heard Nick speak on many occasions and I believe he has what it takes to excite people in politics, he certainly excites me. People are switched off by politics becoming more remote, more controlled by Westminster and they feel powerless. Labour and the Conservatives have little new to offer and there is no longer any choice between them. Less and less people are voting and quite frankly I don’t blame them.

With Nick Clegg the Liberal Democrats will give people an alternative, we will make liberalism connect with people in Warwick & Leamington who share our values, but do not yet vote for us. Under Nick’s leadership we will campaign to give people more say in the decisions that affect us all.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Another Warwick Post Office Faces Closure

Another careless data leak has caused embarrassment for Post Office officials as it reveals secret plans to close yet more Post Offices in Warwickshire including West Street in Warwick.
The post office website intended to show Post Offices planned for closure in the East Midlands where consultation is underway, yet the map also shows other areas of the midlands including Warwick. I managed to get hold of a copy of the map and have published part of it on our Local Lib-Dem Website.

This Post Office is at the heart of a thriving community and is yet another nail in the coffin for local retailers in this unique part of the town. Lib-Dem proposals would enable Post Offices to invest in new business that would meet the needs of the people they serve. The government have already closed 11 post offices in the area over the past eight years rather than take long term strategic decisions which will secure the future of these vital services.

Our Post Office network could be the heart of local communities, providing a whole range of services as they do in other countries. Instead the Government has shown no imagination and has allowed the whole network to become unprofitable and derelict.

If you would like to protest against the closure of our post offices, I have a petition running on our Local Lib-Dem website and I plan to do more on this next year and as the consultation process kicks in for our area. At least the bungled map has given us some time to prepare to fight this closure.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Warwickshire Schoolchildren’s data goes Missing

It looks as though our national government is not the only one who has been loosing data. Warwickshire County Council has lost personal information about 175 schoolchildren, some from Leamington.

It is simply unacceptable that the personal details of Warwickshire children have gone missing. This must be a real concern to the parents & children affected.

In my work as an IT Project Manager, I deal with many clients that handle sensitive data. Through good practice and common sense such incidents should never happen. My Mother, who worked for the civil service in the 1960's told me that they would hand deliver sensitive information tied up with pink string and sealing wax. Industry practice recommends registered mail as a minimum.

Recent cases of data going missing, including details of our children not only demonstrates sloppy working practice, it shows contempt for the value of our personal information.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

1.6 million UK children 'homeless'

I watched a program last night about homeless Children. There were 250,000 homeless children in March this year. Some of the families featured were victims of nothing more than a failure of the authorities to talk to each other and sort out the paperwork.

Regardless of the circumstances this is an issue that has devastating effects on the families. Schoolwork is affected. Children are scared of what will happened to them. The threat of going into care hanging over their heads.

Little things we do not realise about this problem. How do families eat in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. Some families are living on a diet of pot noodles, while another lived by heating tins of beans on the radiator.

The program highlighted to me just how flimsy the processes in place to address this problem are.

Some of these families were working, although on a minimum wage. There is something seriously wrong if working families are denied the opportunity for decent homes for their families.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pink String and Sealing Wax

I got an email from my Mom this morning, a concept I am still getting to grips with. In it she recalls how data was sent from Government departments when she was in the civil service.

"Seriously, what idiots sent these discs off. When I worked in government departments important post was put in stiff manilla envelopes, then the proverbial 'pink string and sealing wax' was applied. Yes, literally, pink strong tape and the knot sealed with hot sealing wax. It was then taken by taxi by a member of staff across London and signed for at the other end. Accomplished very quickly - No Mess."

It got me thinking, this is not so much an issue of technology, its more contempt for the value of the information being transferred.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More Labour Party Funding Shocks.

There is another storm at the moment about donations to the Labour party.

The Labour general secretary Peter Watt, has resigned after it was revealed that a businessman made donations of over £600,000 to the party via three other people.

The Labour official said that he had known about the arrangement and that he had no idea that there was anything wrong with this.

I cannot believe that the Labour official did not know this was against the rules. Electoral Law is basic stuff for anyone active in Politics. The Labour party must have the same type of training available that we have in the Liberal Democrats.

The law governing donations is there to make sure that everybody can see who has been donating money to political parties. This helps to make sure that this is not in return for favours later on.

This is as fundamental as learning that you should not go through a red light when you are taking driving lessons.

Perhaps what Peter Watt really meant is that he did not think he would get caught.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A calamitous week for the British Public

Its been a calamitous week for the British Public.

We have each put £900 pounds of our taxes into Northern Rock something in the region of £20-30 Billion and it looks as though we may not get our money back. Yesterday it was revealed that the Government had lost a CD containing the personal details of 25 Million People.
Perhaps only Nick Clegg can save us from this calamity.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Packmores Trees & Community Base

I popped into the Packmores area residents meeting this evening. The main discussion were the tree's in some of the nearby roads. Listening to the residents and looking at the trees and pavements its easy to see the cause of the problem.

If you look at the trees its clear they used to be cropped to about half their current height. Some years ago funding was cut and this stopped. The trees have grown and this has caused problems with leaves clogging gutters, blocking light into homes and the roots have grown bringing up the pavements.

People in this road feel that the council has neglected them. Years of cost cutting has resulted in additional costs elsewhere in pavement repairs and unblocking gutterings and drains.

The most exciting news from the meeting were the plans for a new community base in the area, which will include space for surgeries, small training sessions, mums and toddler group, and a workers base in the old sheds area under Sussex court. This will provide a real focus for the area and I will post more about this as plans develop.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Phil Bennion gets to #2 on European List.

I had some great news yesterday. The results of the Selection for the West Midlands European List were counted.

Now that the selection is over I can be more public in my support for Phil Bennion. I supported Phil as his campaign manager during this contest because I believe that Phil has the Experience, Expertise and Vision to make an excellent MEP, representing the West Midlands in the European Parliament.

I have worked with Phil over the past 12 months and accompanied him on a visit to the European Parliament for briefings with some of our current MEP's in June. Phil plays a leading role in our European Party and is well respected in Brussels and in the West Midlands.

So I was especially pleased that Phil was selected into the number 2 position on our list, which gives him a really good chance of success in the European Elections in 2009.
There has been a lot of debate in recent months about the future of the European Union. Phil's vision for Europe is clear. Europe must step up to the issues that affect us in the 21st Century.

· Addressing Climate Change
· Facing the challenge of Globalisation
· Combating Terrorism and Organised Crime
· Securing Liberalised Trade

As the candidate already working at the heart of European Politics, Phil is best placed to stand up for our Liberal values within the European Union, make the case for Europe campaigning in our region and fight for the reform that is needed if Europe is to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
I wish all our candidates the best in the campaign for 2009.
Photo:- Alan Beddow with Phil Bennion at the Launch of Leamington SPAce earlier this summer.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tea to the people

I have been working out of a large office near Winchester for a couple of months now. This particular office has negotiated a catering contract with a national organisation. They operate the canteen, vending machines and small retail outlets around the site. As we are situated in the middle of nowhere, with no nearby retail alternatives the catering company is effectively operating a cartel.

Although the building I work in has a rest area, it seems none of us can be trusted with a kettle. It is not as if the people working on this site lack the necessary intellect and motor skills to be able to operate such complex equipment. Many here have engineering & computer science degrees. Some of the leading inventions in IT have come out of this place, including the very first hard drive.

So for our own safety kettles are prohibited. The conspiracy theorists amongst the workers (and there are many) suspect this is a plot to maximise the market for the catering cartel and some have suggested their employer may be taking a cut.

Someone working here full time could easily spend over £1000 a year on tea and coffee alone and whilst I am only here a few days a week for about 6 months I do have some sympathy.

Imagine my admiration for the resoluteness of the workforce when I went into the rest area the other week and saw that someone had set up an ‘illicit independent tea enclave’ Someone had gone out and purchased two microwave kettles (we do have microwaves) a box of tea, milk & sugar and had put up a sign declaring an independent ‘Tea Coop’ and inviting people to make donations of needed commodities.

So now we are free from the oppression of the catering cartel (Junta) and can make our own tea and coffee, the only risk we face is from superheated water, which is what happens if we leave it in the microwave too long. The provisional peoples government of the ‘Independent Tea Enclave’ have issued a public safety directive (printed out a web page highlighting the risks and pinned it to the wall) and so all will be well until the military police (health and safety) find out and the microwave ovens are declared enemies of the state (unsafe) and taken from us.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Do we want more Supermarkets?

Yesterday the Competition Commission called for a revamp of the planning system to allow more supermarkets to open in some areas of the UK.

The Commission seemed to be more concerned with allowing more competition between the major supermarkets and less concerned with the impact this would have on independent retailers and our town centres.

I am concerned that this will add weight to the proposed change to the 'Supermarket Needs Test' that would give local authorities less power to assess whether a supermarket is needed in a community.

As I said in an earlier blog we have a diverse selection of independent shops in Warwick & Leamington and a balance of supermarkets on the whole, where they are needed. I am concerned that if this is unfettered we could end up with our towns ringed with supermarkets, trade sucked out of the town centres and the District Council powerless to do anything about it.

This is part of the drift of power away from our local council towards Westminster which risks making British towns soul-less clones of each other.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

First Leadership Hustings

I attended the first of the leadership hustings in Rugby yesterday. This was a chance for both candidates to outline their vision for the party. It was also an opportunity for members across the West Midlands to question each candidate on a range of issues from policy, party organisation and their vision for the future of the party.

This is going to be a tough choice for all members and we are fortunate in that we have two very talented candidates.

Chris Huhne has led the parties green agenda, which has stood out from amongst the other parties and received much acclaim from environmental groups. These are not pie in the sky policies, you instinctively know they are realistic and will make a significant contribution.

Nick Clegg as Shadow Home Affairs secretary has challenged Labour’s appalling record on the erosion of our civil liberties and highlighted a catalogue of government failures from our prisons through to immigration.

On policy there are few differences between them, each instinctively Liberal. Both spoke about the need to break the mould in British Politics, to bring politics closer to people, to make it more relevant. This has always been our strength and one I passionately subscribe to.

People in Warwick & Leamington tell me they are fed up with feeling that politicians do not listen to them; they feel as though their vote does not make any difference.
This will be an interesting contest and I am confidant that whichever leader we choose will excite the British public and provide a much-needed voice for those who are frustrated with the current brand image style of the other two parties.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nick Clegg

I have read a lot about Nick and Chris over the past few days and believe this is going to be an interesting contest.

I am amused that already the media is trying to dig up the dirt, Chris it seems wrote an article in a student mag in the early 70's discussing drugs and may (or may not) have experimented. Nick on the other hand, as a student burned down a greenhouse full of cacti, the article did not mention whether or not they were hallucinogenic.

Well its probably best to get this all out of the way early on.

A more sinister edge though is the hints by some corners of the media suggesting that Nick Clegg will try to shift our party away from its core values, undermine its structures and is a Tory at heart.

What crap. The truth is that the Tories fear Nick Clegg more than the next flip flop statement from their own leader. If it is put about that Nick is a closet Tory who aims to change the party it is an attempt to create fear in the Lib Dem membership. This is how Nick will be attacked. If Nick does become leader, this will become a theme I fear in months to come as much needed changes are made. If any of us are in doubt about Cl egg's Liberal Credentials, he writes in The Yorkshire Post, "Under my leadership, I want the Liberal Democrats to become a gathering point for everyone who wants a different type of politics in Britain. A politics that begins by giving power to individuals, their families and their communities. A politics which places its faith in people, not systems – in communities not bureaucracies."

We will have to see through these attacks and be bold as Nick says in reinventing the way our party reaches out to people, works internally and gets our message over.

Although I have tried to be objective and not make my mind up until I have heard both speak at the hustings, I am finding that not only am I swaying more and more in favour of Nick, I am excited by it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ming's Resignation

Events this afternoon have moved very quickly and at 6:30 Sir Ming Campbell resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Ming's legacy is that he has made the internal operations of the party more professional. I have personally seen much of this and am sure it will put us on a strong footing long into the future.

For the moment though there will be a leadership election which is a good opportunity to showcase our excellent policies. We have strong talent in the party and I look forward to seeing who will throw their hat into the ring.

In Praise of Local Tradesmen

A few weeks ago a bit fell of my TV aerial and so eventually I got around to doing something about it and upgrade to a new digital aerial at the same time.

I call a national installation company who give me what I consider to be a reasonable quote and I book them for this morning.

The installer turned up at about 10am and tells me that the work will cost more than twice what I had been quoted on the phone. He tries to blind me with science, which is never a good idea with me as I have an engineering background. My bullshit detector was going into overdrive.

So I politely decline his offer and then phone a local installer who turns up at about mid-day.

Allen the TV aerial man tells me he installed the whole development where I live when it was built about 15 years ago. He has years of experience on where the best and worst reception areas are in the town and the best transmitters to use to get the best signal. He replaced my Aerial and aligned it to Sutton Coldfield so I now get more channels than I did before, he also gave me some free advice as to how to set up my TV and my various bits and pieces up to get the best signal.

As I was paying him the reasonable amount we had originally agreed, I told him about my experience with the national company. He told me that was a common trick and that an old lady had been charged five times what I had paid to do similar work.

It is so easy for people to get ripped off on technical work like this, especially if you are seen as elderly or can be blinded by science. It is worth using well established local tradesmen as they know the area and it keeps local enterprise alive.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Return to Punch and Judy Politics.

This afternoons Prime Ministers Question Time saw the spectacle of David Cameron making far too much political capital out of Gordon Browns decision not to call a General Election. This would not be quite so distasteful had the Tories genuinely wanted one.

The depths of Cameron playing 'Judy' in a return to the Punch politics he promised to avoid came when he accused Brown of being Phoney and stealing all the Conservative policies.

The term, Pot, Kettle and Ethnic Minority springs to mind. In the village of Westminster this is of course all good sport. On the Radio Sets and TV screens across Britain it does little to raise Cameron's profile out of his old Eton common room.

Then again Tories seem to like this style of politics. From reports I have heard, heckling and tearing people apart in committee rooms may be creeping into our own council, following a new intake of Conservative councillors in Warwick.

Of course many of yesterdays announcements were in fact Lib Dem ideas,

  • Charging aviation tax on planes, not passengers (passed by Liberal Democrat conference in 2004)
  • Taxing non-domiciles (passed by Liberal Democrat conference in 2007)
  • Increasing the inheritance tax threshold (passed by Liberal Democrat conference in 2007)

I suppose this is where recently Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy has something in common. Lib Dem Policies are voted for by members at the Lib Dem conference whilst at the same time Tory Policies are voted for by Lib Dem members at the Lib Dem Conference. I was there and voted for these three myself.

I guess if Cameron shouts about it loud enough people may really think they were Conservative policies all along.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Grand Old Duke of York

I stumbled across this, made me laugh anyway, well worth a watch.

Personally this whole thing has been a total waste of time, I personally know of many politicians who have poured masses of energy into a possible election when they could have been spending time on real issues in their constituencies.

I became convinced over the past few days that this whole set up has been staged to flush out the aces of the other two parties.

A good argument for fixed term parliaments. While we are at it, lets get a fair voting system. Its time to modernise this antiquated system we have and lets have the modern, effective democracy Britain deserves.

Carding Mill Valley, Shropshire

I took a well deserved break from Politics today and went hill walking with Sarah and some friends to Carding Mill Valley in Shropshire. This is a stunning part of the country and a particular favourite of mine. You can walk along an old glacier valley up to a waterfall which we climbed before walking along the top of a ridge back to the car. The whole walk took us about two hours and is a great way to spend an autumn afternoon.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

No General Election

I have just heard on the radio that there will be no election this autumn. I had worked out a great plan with my team and was ready to go. On the positive side we can tinker with the plan and carry on with some other work I have been wanting to get involved in.

Top of my agenda at the moment is the Phlebotomy service in Warwick & Leamington which has been reduced in many areas causing a real problem for residents. I will write about this in a few days.

The other key issue is crime in Leamington which is on the rise and we all, as a community need to tackle this urgently.

I believe Gordon Brown has been very clever, flushing out the strong cards in the other parties hands. Personally I think this has made a mockery of the whole democratic process and I would favour fixed terms, then we all know where we stand.

Surgeries & Euro Delivery

Its been a busy day, I managed to get round all of our regular surgeries today, this is a great opportunity for people to meet their local councillors and talk about issues affecting them.

We hold surgeries at the following times.

Crown Way Shops 1st & 3rd Saturday each month 10:00 to 11:00
Landsdown Street 1st Saturday each month at 11:15 to 12:15
Rugby Road 1st Saturday each month at 11:30 to 12:30

I then went round Leamington delivering leaflets on behalf of one of our European Candidates. Our selection rules (the so called neutering of the candidates) probably forbid my telling you who I am supporting so I wont.

This is also a great opportunity for me to meet as many of our members that I can and I always find this a really positive experience.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Leamington SPAce

Yesterday afternoon I attended the launch of Leamington SPAce a new organisation to campaign against the growing threat of developers building on our green open spaces.

In recent years we have seen fine old buildings and back gardens torn down to make way for high density flats. Now our Cricket ground and allotments are under threat.

Now clearly there is a housing problem across our region, yet I feel we need to look at other ways of addressing this than simply packing more homes into our towns. If we do not protect our green spaces then towns such as Leamington and Warwick will loose their character. I am seeing some appaling developments in our towns. We cannot continue to rush into developments we will regret in 20 yeras time.

This is a non-political organisation, however it was supported by Lib-Dem's from Leamington Spa and I was able to arrange for Phil Bennion to attend. Phil is pulling together the Lib-Dem response to the Regional Spatial Strategy which will determine how future decisions on development might be made in the future.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sudden rush of Tories condemning Tory proposals to close Warwick fire station.

In an earlier blog entry a couple of weeks ago, I pointed out the irony of Conservatives scaremongering about claims to close Warwick hospital whilst planning to close our fire station.
Well, while I have been away at the conference in Brighton it seems the mail bags at our local newspaper has been packed with Tories condemning the decisions of the Tory run County Council. Conservative County Councillors have then responded by trying to blame the government and then accusing everyone (their own colleagues included I presume) of getting all political about the issue.
The only sensible suggestion I have seen in the paper comes from Mr Webb in his letter to the Courier. He suggests that if we are to make savings then why not site the fire station near Leek Wooton, close to the major roads with easy access to the three towns of Warwick, Leamington and Kenilworth.
I would be in favour of this scheme if it were found to be cost effective and deliver the same level of service to the area it serves. I am against a full merger with Hereford and Worcester that would effectively make a region that would stretch from Northamptonshire to the Welsh Border. We need a local fire service accountable to local people and delivered by local people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BBC Breakfast

An early start this morning with a breakfast hosted by BBC World to inform us about their work and the launch of their Arabic service. This was a very informative event and I was able to appreciate just how the BBC's impartiality is valued and the impact this has across the world, often where this is not available from other stations.

Diversity of Fringe Events - Spearmint Rhino

Heading home from the Champagne Taste Test fringe last night I was handed a flyer from a very pleasant young girl inviting me to Spearmint Rhino. I have to say the conference committee have excelled themselves in the range of fringe events this year.

I suspect the Campaign for Gender Balance are behind promoting an organisation that provides employment for so many young women.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Is it only Monday !

After over-dosing on training this morning I headed back to the Holiday Inn where Phil Bennion was hosting a fringe event on 'The Future of Europe' MEP's, Andrew Duff and Graham Watson were joined by Sir Colin Budd. Key questions from the floor was the question of whether we should have a referendum on the Reform Treaty.
I then headed off to the main hall to see Ming's question time, very well done I thought. I am now taking some time out of having to be places and have hidden myself away in a corner of a hotel lounge somewhere and am catching up with email, the newspapers over a coffee.

Sunday at the Conference

A beautiful sunny day on the first day of the conference. I started with a consultation on Housing. This is a real issue in Warwick & Leamington, yet like most parts of the country our housing issue is a lack of affordable housing and its knock on effects, other parts of the country have different problems which is why I believe local councils should have more power to decide the solutions rather than have them dictated from Westminster. I am also our West Midlands spokesperson for housing so this is an issue close to my heart.

This was our opportunity to comment on the development of our housing policy and the brand new paper written by Andrew Stunell MP. When I get a chance to read it I will comment here in more depth. So many of us were able to discuss specific and very different issues from our parts of the country and I was able to explain the housing challenges in our towns and the example of our Cricket Pitch in Leamington.

Chris Huhne joined us later and explained how we can include the Green agenda into our housing policy. Chris has some fantastic ideas on the environment and if we are heading for Zero Carbon by 2050, then we need to build these ideas into our housing policy.

Over lunch I attended a session looking at electronic voting. I explained some of our experiences at the count in Leamington in May.

Following some training in the afternoon I attended the evening Rally on Freedom & Human Rights. A series of excellent speakers showed how vital it is to stand up for these abroad and to defend them at home.

A couple of fringe events and then back to where I am staying as I have a busy day tomorrow.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Off to the Brighton Conference.

Well I have a few jobs to do and pack before I head down to the annual Lib-Dem works outing to the sea side. I shall try to get you all a picture of Ming in a knotted handkerchief later in the week and will be on the look out for Lynn Featherstone in a 'kiss me quick hat'.

To avoid a repetition of events at last years jaunt, I have pledged not to gate crash the party run by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and not to be then led by a group of student interns to a night club on the front and force fed tequila. Though I do have a 'meeting' in the bar tonight with the rest of the West Midlands Regional Exec and I probably wont be sticking to the mineral water.

It will be a busy week though. I was impressed with the training schedule again this year. I thought I would do less training over the years, yet this year there are several new and essential courses I have pencilled in.

In recent conferences I adopted a fringe event strategy based on those that do the best food. It may seem a bit mercenary, but you must understand that my first conference I attended fringe events that seemed interesting. I tried to pack so much in and simply forgot to eat, come mid afternoon I was getting quite light headed. So a few hearty fringe buffets and a Breakfast ran by the BBC world service should see me right though with enough energy to clap at the end of Ming's Speech.

If I find a broadband connection I can hijack I will try to update you as the week progresses.

I have a mortgage with Northern Rock

I have been watching the problems in the financial world with more interest over the past couple of days because I have a mortgage with Northern Rock.

The BBC has a good summary of the situation for concerned customers.

I started wondering last night what would happen to my house if the bank did go under. (Highly Unlikely)

Will they have to sell my house to pay off their debts?
Or if the bank stops trading, would I never have to pay my mortgage again.

Well there is mixed news for people with Northern Rock mortgages. It seems our homes would not be repossessed but we would have to carry on paying our mortgages. Our mortgages are probably the strongest assets the bank has.

More disturbing is that the worlds banks are in this mess. A lack of regulation in the US and sharp practice, selling mortgages to America's vulnerable poor, that will never be paid back, has created a mess here in the UK.

A shed load of cash has gone missing and someone is going to have to pay for this.
I am pretty sure that no one is going to be rounding up those ultimately responsible.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Support for the Reform Treaty.

West Midlands Lib-Dem Phil Bennion, one of seven members of the Coalition for the Reform Treaty is calling for the EU to agree to the changes outlined in the draft Reform treaty.

In a letter published in the Guardian and covered in the Independent, the coalition argue that the changes to the treaty are necessary as the EU has enlarged in recent years.

A copy of the letter is included below.

We believe it would be fitting in the EU's 50th anniversary year for the Union to agree the changes outlined in the draft Reform Treaty. These proposals have been precipitated by an increase in EU membership from 15 in 2004 to 27 members today. These enlargements have been very successful, bringing in ten former communist countries of eastern Europe to the EU fold. Any large business or other organization which almost doubled its membership in such a short space of time would have to alter its rules and modus operandi. There is no doubt that if the EU didn't address the impact of new members on its institutions, it would be severely criticised.
The draft Reform Treaty, agreed at the European Council in June, is in Britain's interests as well as the European Union's because it will lead to more efficient, effective and democratic decision-making. Ratification of the Treaty by all 27 EU Member States will help the Union to focus on the issues that really matter including a deeper Single Market and climate change. It is this agenda, rather than excessive debate about institutional reform, that should occupy the EU's energies in the years ahead.

Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe)
Brendan Donnelly (Chairman, Federal Union)
Peter Luff (Chairman, European Movement)
Dr Olaf Cramme (Associate Director, Policy Network)
Mary Creagh MP (Chair, Labour Movement for Europe)
Phil Bennion (Chair, Liberal Democrat European Group)
Alex Bigham (Head of Communications, Foreign Policy Centre)
(signed as members of the Coalition for the Reform Treaty)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shock Doctrine - Nation Building the 'US of A' way!

This is worth a read, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein.

Naomi draws a parallel between the process of torture and the events in Iraq at the beginning of 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. From the 'showing of the instruments' months of media coverage of how the US air power would attack Baghdad, the silencing and blinding of the nation through the destruction of the telephone exchanges and media stations and then the unfettered looting of the nations infrastructure, treasures and culture.

The final stage in the process, following the dehumanising is the reprogramming, in some ways more inhumane, more sinister. Naomi again draws the parallel with torture, in the weeks before release, victims in Guantanamo are send to a place where they watch DVDs and eat junk food.

In Iraq, the sudden unfettered free market attempts to reprogramme the population with cheap consumer goods. One employee of an American company taking advantage of the new frontier exclaimed, "One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out 30 Iraqi stores; a Wal-Mart could take over the country."

Most disturbing is that the American idea of exporting democracy has nothing to do with good governance, its about replacing a culture that goes back to the earliest civilisation with one that has been around for a few decades.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Will Tory cost cutting put our Fire Service at Risk?

The review of the Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Service commissioned by Warwickshire County Council was discussed on Thursday by the ruling Conservative group and proposals are expected to be put forward to the council later in the year.

There are various options put forward in the report including merging or collaborating with fire services in a neighbouring county, consolidation of existing fire stations or a mixture of all three.

It is clear from the report that the motive is to save money and this is likely to result in less fire engines, less firemen and less stations. I will be watching this closely along with my colleagues who sit on the county council.

What I find ironic is that the same week local Tories were lambasted in the news for scaremongering (again) over the future of Warwick Hospital, they are considering closing the fire station.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Council Needs to show more imagination with Warwick Parking Problems.

I attended a public meeting at Coten End school in Warwick last night, to discuss some of the residents parking issues in the Guy Street, Cherry Street area.

Now the problem is that with the introduction of the new parking scheme there are simply not enough parking spaces for all the people living in these streets.

People living in the area disagree and last night put forward some imaginative ideas that would help address the problem, real community politics stuff, people reaching agreement amongst themselves as to how they want their streets to work.

Unfortunately the council showed less imagination and residents were met with a whole host of reasons why things could not be done, which seemed to be more down to cost and bureaucracy than anything else.

Here are two of the suggestions made at the meeting.
Residents are strongly in favour of reducing the pavement on north side of Guys Cliffe Terrace where there are no houses and is little used. This could allow the introduction of echelon parking, going a long way to resolving the problem by creating a lot of spaces and making more use of the road. An Architect who lives in the area had used his knowledge to propose a scheme that could be viable . The response that this would cost money and that there was no budget did not go down well with people who had paid for permits to park their cars.

Another resident and key campaigner on this issue, proposed a scheme in Guy St that would allow parking on both sides of the road. She drew on examples in other parts of the town where similar sizes of parking spaces and road widths had recently been drawn and that this could be put in practice in Guy Street. Again this was rejected on the basis that latest guidelines require wider spaces and that the narrower spaces in other parts of the town had been laid out in earlier times. Probably during the time when the Feudal System operated from the castle when the lord of the manor could park where the hell he liked by royal charter.

I found it a frustrating meeting, you could feel the frustration on behalf of residents who really wanted to solve this, many had put a lot of work and research into the problem and it appeared they were not being listened to.

Statements that Residents had brought this problem on themselves by owning cars (in a society that almost requires it whether we like it or not) or by living there in the first place (when even young doctors cannot afford to live in the street, let alone anywhere with a drive) met with restrained anger.

I fear the council will go back and tinker with their plan and maybe squeeze a few more spaces out.

What it needs is a bit of imagination and some of the residents’ council tax money (they all have jobs and probably pay a significant amount collectively) spending on a decent scheme as that proposed in Guys Cliffe Terrace that will go a long way towards solving this problem.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Tories Cry Wolf over Warwick Hospital Again.

Well it looks like the Tories are crying wolf again over Warwick Hospital. Having been caught out last December making claims that were simply not true. They have included Warwick in their recent list of hospital’s that may be at risk. (The same list the prompted an apology and then a retraction in Kings Lynn)

Of course the Hospital is one of the most important assets our community has and if I felt it was under threat I would be out there with the Tories campaigning to preserve it along with most of the town.

I visited the Hospital last month with our shadow health secretary Norman Lamb and met hospital bosses for a full and frank conversation. A&E and Maternity in Warwick are not under threat and there has been investment in new services at the site especially in Cancer care.

In fact I cannot believe the Tories have made the same mistake twice. This highlights that they are all about spin and chasing headlines rather than tackling real issues. I though spin went out of fashion in British politics when Blair stepped down.

Story in The Courier this week.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Britain has no hope of meeting revewable targets Blair signed up to in the spring.

"Government officials have secretly briefed ministers that Britain has no hope of getting remotely near the new European Union renewable energy target that Tony Blair signed up to in the spring - and have suggested that they find ways of wriggling out of it". Stated the Guardian this morning.
An internal briefing paper for ministers, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper, reveals that officials think the best the UK could hope for is 9% of energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar or hydro by 2020.

It says the UK "has achieved little so far on renewables" and that getting to 9%, from the current level of about 2%, would be "challenging". Revealed the Guardian.

Britain could make its renewable target and provide skilled jobs at the same time.

This is dissapointing. Its not as if the UK has a shortage of Wind, Tide and Hydroelectric opportunities.

The demand for Renewable Energy Technology is growing as opinion and regulation demand more and more energy is produced in this way.

Our closest trading partners, Europe and the US representing the biggest markets for this technology.

With some imagination and government investment Britain could be a world leader in this technology and meet our targets signed upto by Mr Blair earlier this year.

Fantastic Response to Parking Survey

I have had a fantastic response to my Parking Survey that has been going out in parts of Warwick.
Apart from the Guy Street, Cherry Street area where residents have done a lot of excellent work to get things changed, there are problems in the Packmores area and also along Watham Road.
All these hotspots are in the same residents parking zone although the problems are slightly different.
I shall wait until the last of the survey responses comes in and will write a report to the District & County Council outlining the problems you have told me about.
If you did not receive a survey and do have problems in Warwick or Leamington you can download a copy here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Greening Britain's Housing

Whilst channel hopping tonight a Gardeners World Special captured my imagination. The program was dealing with how developments such as the Greenwich Millennium Village and BedZed and others around Europe are looking at how green spaces can be included in high density housing projects to increase the quality of life in the property and also its commercial value.

There are many benefits to the environment, the community, crime rate, property prices, the list goes on. Imaginative ideas such as placing the car parks underground and covering it with a communal garden & quality safe play areas.

Contrast this with some of the high density developments I have seen just in Warwick over the past few weeks. (Right) Unaffordable, cramped single occupancy housing surrounded by grey acres of car parking.
If we are to build the new homes we need for the future, then lets use a bit of imagination and create something really stunning, fit for the 21st Century rather than repeat the mistakes of the past.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Useful information on Street Parking.

The issue of parking in some streets in Warwick is a real issue as I explained in my previous post. I met with some residents yesterday for a photo shoot for the local paper and this morning a few of us were interviewed on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire.

I have found some links to documents that residents might find helpful as they contain the guidelines that are used in planning street layouts. What has impressed me is how communities in Warwick are not just complaining to the council, they have been out measuring the roads and trying to come up with solutions that suit their own areas.

These documents may help anyone with similar problems to understand the guidelines that the council may be using and that way they are armed with the information and will not be blinded by science.

The link below is the Manual for Streets a joint publication produced by the 'Department for Transport' and 'Communities and Local Government'. Chapter 7 and 8 are the most interesting dealing with street geometry.

The following link is for a document from the institute of civil engineers and contains much the same information as the above only without pictures.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Parking Confusion in Warwick & Leamington

Changes to the way in which parking is managed in Warwick & Leamington start today and already there is confusion.
Some residents have not yet received their permits and many of the on street parking ticket machines do not appear to be operating yet. Recently painted double yellow lines were obliterated last week when roads in Warwick were resurfaced. Why they did not wait until afterwards to paint the lines is anybodys guess.
I have spoken to some of our Lib-Dem councillors who have told me that the parking wardens will be taking a soft approach early on as people get used to the scheme. I will be having a walk around later to see what impacts the new scheme is having and talking to some residents.
There will be a review of the scheme in a few weeks and it is hoped that problems can be sorted out then.

Email Me - If you are having problems in your street, this will help me understand any problems this is causing and I can pass these onto any review.
Download our Parking Survey and return this to me.
More information can be found on the Warwickshire County Website including maps of residents parking zones and road markings.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

London Transport

I've been spending a few days working in London proof-reading & editing some technical documents for a software development bid we are working on. Its not the most exciting work but a good little stop gap until my next project starts.

It gave me the chance to catch up with Shaun in the evening, a friend I worked with about 7 years ago when we were working with Pfizer. Shaun is now at the University of London and is on his summer break doing some temporary work for Transport for London promoting the Oyster Card.

Oyster is fantastic, I have one and it gives me discounted travel on buses and tubes, capped at the cost of a day ticket if I use it a lot. Shaun told me that the buses are capped at £3 so if you make 3 journeys, you can travel around for the rest of the day on the buses for no extra cost.

Public transport in London is getting better all the time and I rarely bring a car into the city as it becomes a liability. Some of my work colleagues are a bit snobbish about public transport and prefer to use taxi's, but I love it its usually so easy and fast.

London have some ambitious projects planned to continue to improve the infrastructure. I would like to see a ring of Park & Ride around the M25 to make it even more convenient. It has to be stick and carrot, you need to give people a viable alternative to using their cars before they will make the switch. In may towns and cities this simply does not exist.

A good integrated transport system is an asset to any city and does contribute to the strength of its economy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

High Rising - Single out on Monday.

Some friends have a band, High Rising who are releasing their first single on Monday. Its worth checking out to add credibility to your MP3 player and help an up and coming band.

High Rising are stalwarts of the Warwick Music Scene, what you did not know Warwick had a music scene! Probably the most vibrant since the Beatles did their last gig at the Cavern and headed down to London. High Rising are more ground breaking than the Sex Pistols, crazier lifestyle than The Stones (Anthony once rode his bike into the canal), bigger than Arctic Monkeys, Louder than Metallica.... you get the picture.

Seriously, check out the myspace, listen to the songs and if you like what you hear follow the link to download the single, I would recommend the B side She's not worthy'. All for the bargain price of 79p!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nigel Rock selected as PPC for Kenilworth & Southam

Nigel Rock was selected last night as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for neighbouring Kenilworth & Southam. Nigel is an experienced councillor on Stratford District. I shared a platform with Nigel some months ago for a question time event and I am confidant will be a real asset to the party in Kenilworth.

As many of the issues we face in this part of Warwickshire affect both constituencies and our District Council covers part of Nigel's constituency I look forward to working with Nigel over the coming months.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Great Western Festival 2007 - Saturday July 28th.

This posting is an unashamed plug for a great event in aid of a great cause at the Great Western Inn, Coventry Road, Warwick.

The GW Fest is an all day music festival featuring a wide range of some of the best acts from this area. I was incredibly impressed last year with the standard of organisation and quality of the acts. Last year the festival raised over £4000 for Myton Hospice a local charity that relies on fundraising and voluntary donation to continue its fantastic work.If you do come along, come over and say hello, I will be somewhere near the sound desk making the recordings for the 'official bootleg'.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ealing Southall - You really could not make it up !

This has got to be the most interesting by-Election in recent memory. We have had mass defections of local councillors, Tory MP's getting caught posting spurious messages on websites and a Conservative candiate that joined the party some minutes before being delcared as the candidate.

It transpires only days before Tony Lit's road to Jerusalem conversion to the Conservatives he was photographed at a Labour (!) fundraiser where it is alleged he donated £4,800 to the party. As far as we can tell he was not offered a Labour Peerage.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Parking Spaces halved in Warwick Parking shakeup.

Yesterday morning I went to have a look at the new road marking in Guy Street in Warwick. This is in preparation for the new Decriminalised Parking that will come into force next month.

Now the streets in this area, Guy Street, Cherry Street and Broad Street are popular residential streets of Victorian terraced houses. Each house is about the width of the length of a car. So it does not take a genius to work out that if each household has one car, there will be only just be enough spaces for all the cars.

Local residents have told me that plans were for double yellow lines to be painted along one side, and that is what I found when I arrived. This halves the parking spaces for these roads with no realistic alternative as to where people can park.

Now the roads here are narrow, yet for as long as I have lived in the area residents have managed quite well by parking on both sides, part on the pavement (that appears to be allowed in other local streets where marked) and still have space for service and emergency vehicles.

One proposal residents would like considered is to make each of the roads one way and for careful marking of parking bays on each side of the road part on the pavement to allow enough room for pushchairs. It will be tight of course, yet residents would be happy with this.

This was discussed at the Warwick Area Committee on Tuesday night and I hope that changes can be made before it is too late.

There is one glimmer of hope if changes cannot be made before it comes into force. There will be a review of the impact following the start of the changes and there may be an opportunity to rethink the parking in these roads then.

Of course in the short term this will not help residents who will simply have no where to park.

If you are affected by these changes in these streets or anywhere else in Warwick & Leamington please email me.

Details of the changes can be found on the Warwickshire County Website.

Lib-Dem Shadow Health Secretary Praises Warwick Hospital Turnaround.

Alan Beddow (second from right) and Norman Lamb MP (Right) talking to staff at Warwick Hospital.

I visited Warwick Hospital on Tuesday with Norman Lamb MP who is the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary. We had the opportunity to talk to Chief Executive, Glen Burley and Trust Chairman Graham Murrell to discuss the recent challenges the hospital has faced following its record £13.8M debt last year and the hospitals plans for the future.

Now there was a media storm some months ago along with some wild statements made by some of my political opponents which I can only describe as scaremongering.

Of course the hospital has faced serious challenges many created by the constant reorganisations and changes in government policy. There has been cost cutting and the hospital should never have been put in the position it has been.

I know from talking to people who work in the hospital that they have faced a very stressful time. I have the utmost respect for our local health professionals and it is largely due to them that the hospital has managed to turn this situation around.

So I was encouraged by our meeting with the hospital bosses on Tuesday, the debt has not gone away, rather has been refinanced which does spread the problem a little and the finances of the hospital are in a far better state.

More encouraging are the exciting plans in place that will secure the hospitals future on the Lakin Road site. Warwick Hospital plans to develop an ambulatory cancer unit, which will make treatments more convenient for patients in the area. The new centre is set to become the first in the country to receive the Macmillan Charter Mark for Cancer care. The hospital also plans to provide a new paediatrics unit on the site.

Norman Lamb agreed that the hospital has had a difficult year managing its debt and coping with constant government reorganisations. He agreed that the hospital must be commended for turning around the financial situation. Norman recognised that this required some tough decisions and it has been a difficult time for its staff. He was especially interested in some of the new plans for the hospital and agreed that the future now looked more secure and will deliver quality services to patients from the Hospital.

There are still issues with healthcare locally and I will be spending some time over the coming months talking to people across Warwick & Leamington to understand the full range of their concerns.

The hot issue at the moment is that many doctors’ surgeries are no longer taking blood samples and some patients now have to travel to the hospital for this service.

On the whole though the picture is encouraging and I am happy to report that Warwick Hospital is not going to close, A&E will remain as will Maternity and a full range of services.

If you have concerns about healthcare or the hospital please email me

Mail Me about this issue.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sedgefield Labour Shame.

I have just been watching YouTube footage from the Launch of the Lib-Dem by-election campaign in Sedgefield. The footage shows a disgraceful attempt by a mob of Labour activists to disrupt the event. [See Report from the Northern Echo]

I cannot see how this helps the Labour campaign at all, there were Labour councillors in the mob who should know better and show a bit of respect rather than to be part of such a disgraceful display. They were behaving more like football hooligans than serious politicians. It is this sort of thing that switches people off from politics.

I am happy to say that my experiences in Warwick & Leamington are very different and on the whole limited to attacking each other only on policy and of course a little friendly rivalry.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Taking Liberties

I got home from the by-election in time to meet some friends from our local party at Warwick Arts Centre to see Taking Liberties. This film takes a humourous look at the serious subject of the erosion of our civil liberties and freedoms under Blair's Government.

Two things struck me about this film.

Firstly how many of our rights and freedoms have been taken from us, its all to easy to forget in the constant stream of media. These freedoms have been fought for since Magna Carta (did she die in vain) almost 800 years ago and are vital to the health of our democracy, yet in just 10 years of New Labour many of these foundation stones have been removed.

The second thing that struck me about this film was that the hero's of today's Britain are the ordinary people who have stood up and been counted, people who have found imaginative and intrinsically British ways of peaceful protest. I have massive respect for these men, women, young people & fearless old ladies who have risked much to stand up for our rights. In some ways I feel encouraged, it is people like this that has made Britain Great!

The Freedoms that are essential to a civilised democracy covered in the film include:

  • Right to protest
  • Right to Free speech
  • Right to Privacy
  • No Detention without Trial
  • No Extradition without evidence
  • No Torture

I hope Gordon Brown will repair the damage done to our freedom & democracy by doing the following.

  1. Restore our right to protest outside Parliament, he might not like what they are saying but should rejoice that we live in a country where they can say it.
  2. Clear the names of those who have been falsely accused of crimes, found innocent and yet are still being treated like terrorists.
  3. Scrap the one sided extradition treaty with the US that allows us, any of us to be sent to America to face trial without a scrap of evidence being seen.
  4. Stop turning a blind eye to extraordinary rendition flights being refueled in British airports and thereby being complicit in torture.

That's just for starters.

I shall climb off my soap box now, but do go and see this film!

Campaigning in Ealing Southall.

On Wednesday I headed down the M40 to lend a hand in the Ealing and Southall by-election. Every time a by-election is called recently I cant stop remembering 'the only gay in the village' Dafid's line in Little Britain. "Its not just a by-election, us gays and straights can stand as well you know!"
Heartened by this and the news that the wheels had come off the Tory campaign so early in the contest, (having selected a candidate who had joined the party milliseconds before, thus alienating many of the local activists.) and ignoring my sat-nav as it tried to funnel me onto the M4 (yea right!) I trundled down to Southall.
My earliest memory of Southall was in the 70's aged about 7 sitting in the back of my parents car. I remember passing a large park that was packed full of Indians with turbans. Coming from a small village in Worcestershire where the nearest thing we got to an ethnic mix was my friend at school who had been on holiday to Spain that summer, I was fascinated by the colourful sight.
Southall had not changed much and I passed rows of interesting looking shops many with piles of fresh fruit and veg lining the pavement. A Tory radio car passed, I have not seen one of these for years. It announced a simple message, Vote Conservative for Family Values, Vote Conservative for Lower Crime. How they were going to achieve this was unclear.
My sat-nav, having recovered from my ignoring its instructions earlier had caught up and led me to the campaign HQ on a small industrial estate near the station. Like all Lib-Dem by-elections it all seemed incredibly well organised. I teamed up with three people from Simon Hughes office and armed with a huge pile of newspapers and a map we headed out to deliver.
We dodged the rain throughout the afternoon and managed to deliver seven rounds. The problem with delivering newspapers is that your hands get covered in print.
I really think we can win in Ealing and Southall, we have an excellent candidate in Nigel Bakhai and hope to help out again before the end of the campaign.
Oh, this Blog is worth a read Ealing Southall Watch.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ridgeway School Rebuild Madness.

I attended a Governors meeting last night at Ridgeway School which caters for children with special needs from across the area. The hot topic on tonight's agenda was the rebuild of the school. Ridgeway is currently housed in old buildings that are considered 'not fit for purpose'.

The plan was that Ridgeway would move to the old Round Oak buildings in Lillington while the school was being rebuilt around it. Recently though we have learned of a decision to rebuild the school while it is open.

Have they gone totally mad!

The school is on a small site and most of the school would need to relocate to temporary classrooms while the building is demolished and rebuilt in stages. I can think of so many reasons not to do this, here are my top 3. (Politicians can only think upto 3. Look out for this when listening to them on TV and you will see what I mean.)

  1. It will cost far more, temporary classrooms will have to be built with toilet facilities, access ramps, etc. Estimates suggest the build will take 60% longer, which of course means more labour costs.
  2. There will be significant disruption, half the site will be closed off to the builders, half the school will be knocked down and rebuilt and then we assume the other half, so there will be a lot of moving around. Many of these children do not cope well with disruption and need a good routine.
  3. Health & Safety. Some children have complex health issues. There will be dust and noise from the build. A classroom was shut this week due to asbestos. Some of the children are severely disabled.

It is unthinkable that children, many with a range of disabilities some of them severe, should attend school on a building site. I have discussed this with some of my colleagues on the County Council and the matter being raised at the Warwick Area Committee on July 10th. Members of the public can attend the meeting that will be held at 6:00pm at Shire Hall.

I am hoping that common sense will prevail.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Leamington Peace Festival

I had a great time strolling round the Leamington Peace Festival this afternoon. This is a fantastic event often hot and sunny each year and today we were very lucky with the weather. I was able to mix two different worlds, Music & Politics.

When I arrived Souler Rhythm were playing on the main stage. I did sound engineering with this band some years ago and we had some great times travelling around the country, doing gig’s in very different places. It was good to catch up with some of them briefly afterwards backstage.

I then did a tour of some of the stalls and was struck by how many campaigns we are involved with in Warwick & Leamington. We seem to have a great sense of political conscience here and play leading roles in so many issues. So it was good to talk to some of these grass roots campaigners and learn a little about the issues they are working on.

The message of the Peace Festival really is that we can make a difference by standing up and being counted, whether by signing petitions or getting involved in campaign groups. It may seem that we individually have a very small voice, yet lots of small voices make one huge one and that really does make a difference.

I then met up with some friends at the main stage to see Satin Dolls, they are playing at the ‘GW Fest’ at my local, the Great Western in Warwick on the 28th July to raise money for Myton Hospice.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Freedom of Information - We have won!

Great news, I have just heard that your lobbying of Lib-Dem peers has paid off. Despite reports a few weeks ago that Conservative peer Lord Trefgarne would take on the bill, no member of the House of Lords has come forward to sponsor it, effectively killing the bill off.

We mustn't be complacent: the Labour Government has shown little commitment to its own Freedom of Information Act and ministers are still muttering about watering it down. The Liberal Democrats will continue to support the principle of open government, and we will be monitoring for any future attempts to weaken the law - including any moves to resurrect David Maclean's bill.

Why I believe Freedom of Information is important.

There has been an exchange of letters in the Courier over the past few weeks between our Labour MP, James Plaskitt, me. I don’t usually like 'letters page debates' though in this case I feel the issue is important, let me explain why.

The freedom of information act means that we have the right to ask for information about how our government is running our country. Now the government is there to take decisions and spend our taxes on our behalf to provide the services we need. It is important to remember that our government is there to serve us.

So the fact that we can hold our government to account is a very important part of democracy. I believe that this should include our MP's who we elect to represent us in our government.

Some people think that the vote to make MP's except from the Freedom of Information Act is all about MP's being able to hide how much they spend on expenses. I believe the issue is wider than that. I believe it is about accountability of Government including the role our elected MP's play in it.

Now of course there needs to be safeguards in this, to stop personal information being disclosed. I believe that there are already enough safeguards in place to protect this.

This question was raised to Baroness Ashton at the Ministry of Justice last week. The minister was asked whether the government propose to amend either the Freedom Of Information Act or the Data Protection Act to provide greater protection for information supplied by MPs to public authorities and replied that, ‘there are provisions within the Acts to protect such information where appropriate’ and that ‘the Government has not been notified of any improper disclosure of personal or confidential information communicated to public authorities by MPs’. (Lords Hansard 4 Jun 2007: Column WA157 & 158)

Even if the Information Commissioner had evidence of improper disclosure of correspondence, surely a better course of action would be to tighten up the provisions in Sections 40 and 41 rather than to significantly weaken the Act by exempting the elected representatives of that government?

That is why I am campaigning to make sure the Freedom of Information Act stays as it is.

The second reading in the Lords will be later this month and Lib Dem peers have promised to do all they can to stop this Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill becoming law. People are very concerned about how this weakens the accountability of our government.

You can help by following this link and write to members of the house of lords to ask them to vote against the change to the Freedom of Information Act.

More information can be found in these websites.

Campaign for Freedom of Information. - Lots of useful information.
Richard Allan's Blog.
Open Secrets Blog.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Visit to European Parliament and NATO

Wednesday and Thursday this week I visited the European Parliament and NATO as part of a delegation from the Liberal Democrat European Group. I had the chance to chat to many of our MEP's including Liz Lynne from Stratford who is the MEP for the West Midlands.

This was an extremely valuable couple of days, which informed me about a lot of the issues we face right across the European region and the leading role Britain plays.

On Wednesday we met a number of our MEPs and were able to have some very open and frank discussions with them. Key discussions include;

Andrew Duff who outlined the political backdrop across member states to the renegotiation of the European Constitution. Andrew was speaking in the debate on the constitution later that afternoon and he invited us to sit in the diplomatic gallery and listen to some of the debate.

Bill Newton Dunn discussed the scale and scope of international organised crime. This issue alone outlines how Europe is a vital part of addressing many of the issues we now face in the 21st Century. If we did not have an EU we would have to create one. One thing is sure, the international criminal gangs are working in an integrated way and our national and international governments need to be doing the same in order to keep up. Bill outlined some frightening facts related to Electronic crime, laptops are now stolen for personal data rather than hardware. Child Porn, The serious issue of Illegal Immigration, People Trafficking with 1/3 of Africans coming to Canary lsles drowning at sea. Bill also outlined the frustrations faced with getting member governmental organisations to work together, often it is the EU that get blamed in the media when it seems to me that one of the challenges Europe faces is that the National Governments of member states not taking them seriously. If they did Europe could achieve so much more.

Diana Wallis - A Vice President of the European Parliament opened up a lively debate on Single Seat issue, or the move of the parliament to Strasbourg each month, Diana also explained how MEP's have always had the sort of transparency our Westminster MP's are trying to avoid with the amendment to the Freedom of Information act.

Thursday we visited NATO where a member of the NATO staff briefed us on how NATO’s role has evolved to meet the changing political challenges over recent decades. NATO 1 was a response to the cold war, which then evolved into NATO 2 in the early 1990’s expanding and embracing former enemies, including Russia who is now a partner. NATO 3 is now responding to a post 9/11 world.

We had a fascinating briefing from a member of the Royal Marines, who explained the challenges faced in Afghanistan. He told us that morale of our forces over there is high, not least because public opinion at home is more in favour of that war than our actions in Iraq. There are massive challenges ahead in Afghanistan. Regardless of the morality of the war in Afghanistan, I am convinced that not only is Britain playing a key role, we are also leading the thinking and in my opinion are adopting a sensible approach to many of the sensitive issues, an approach that might not be adopted if it were left to some of our other leading partners.

A representative from the Home Office and the MOD also briefed us. I asked how Russia’s response to American stationing of their missile defense system in Poland and the Czech republic, in threatening to target European Cities fitted with their role as a partner of NATO. I sensed the question was being evaded and phrased the question again and they admitted that the Russian response was ‘not helpful’.

The past few days have been of immense value in helping us understand the reality of many of the situations we face and how important our role within Europe is to the UK and why we should not dismiss it as being a political sideshow that has little relevance to the security and prosperity of our country.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Leamington to be Concreted Over.

Well that's how it seems after reading the stories hitting the news over the past few weeks.

First we heard that a developer (George Wimpy) had been in discussion with the Cricket Club in Arlington Road and also the Tennis Club in Guys Cliffe Avenue with a proposal to build on their grounds.

Then we heard how the Binswood allotments could be under threat from development from the very same developer.

I attended the public meeting held at the Cricket Club a couple of weeks ago and heard both sides of the story. I can see that the offer being made to the club is very attractive, yet I share the concerns of many residents that we simply cannot carry on building inside the town, using up the open spaces that add to the quality of the town. As we build more houses we add pressure to the already overcrowded roads inside the town.

Of course there is also a desperate shortage of houses in this area, especially affordable, so this is a difficult balance to get right.

For anyone wishing to object to applications should they be made to build on these lands, the first port of call will be the Town Council and then the District. I will post on here if any of these plans get to the application stage so you get plenty of time to make your views known.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Freedom of Information - Except for our MP's - James Plaskitt Agrees.

Warwick & Leamington MP, James Plaskitt joined Labour and Conservative front benches in the Commons to vote for a special exemption for MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. This brings Parliament into disrepute.

How can we have one law for everyone, except for those responsible for making our laws.
Let me know what you think... Email me at