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Friday, 28 May 2010

Is High Office Pulling Some Lib Dems To The Right, and Why Denis Skinner Has Shown Me Where The Life Boats Are

Regular visitors to my blog will have realised that it has been some time since my last update.

Indeed, many bloggers have been updating almost hourly with their takes on the recent seismic developments following the recent election.

I too must admit to feeling an urge to do exactly the same. Looking at the unexpected way in which the political strata have changed in the last few weeks, there has been much to digest, much to write about, and much to get the heart and pulse racing.

As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I have been watching with quiet anxiety as the party enters into a coalition with the Conservative party. My initial response was to run for the hills, such is my endemic mistrust of the Conservatives, and the ethos of those who make up the membership of the party.

Having said that, I fully accept that it simply would not have worked to try and install a ‘traffic light’ or centre left coalition into Westminster as an alternative.

Firstly, the numbers simply were not there in enough abundance to be stable in the turbulent economic times in which we find ourselves.

Secondly, it would not have been conducive to good government to have to pander to the nationalist parties of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in order to shore up the government on every contentious issue.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Labour lost the election. It would be of the greatest offence to those who decided that they had had enough of Labour for the party to cling belligerently to power.

As a proud and committed trade unionist, it was a bitter pill for me to swallow by not immediately tearing up my membership card, despite the fact that my hand was hovering above my card wallet. However, I was convinced, albeit in the interim by many party activists who adopted the view that it would be best to wait and see what the coalition talks produced, the reasoning being that the Liberal Democrats could seize this opportunity to actively shape government, and to act as a socially just brake, and curb the excesses of the tory party.

Deciding to swallow this bitter pill, and support the party leadership in this decision, I actively refrained from posting blogs whilst I waited to examine the detail of the agreement struck between the two parties. I felt that it would be an adventure in guesswork, hyperbole and disingenuity to do anything else.

Days have since passed, and slightly more detail is beginning to come forth from the coalition government, and I have to be brutally honest in saying that I am getting the distinct feeling of disappointment in the way in which so many vociferous advocates of Liberal Democrat policies have magically switched perspectives and are now preaching the contents of the Conservative manifesto.

Just weeks ago, the Liberal Democrats were hitting the headlines and siding with Labour on the issue of whether or not it was right to instigate £6bn of cuts to the government budgets this year. Both the Lib Dems and Labour were contending that cutting £6bn from budgets straight away would leave us at risk of a double dip recession. Both parties made this argument with great vigour and passion, and they made a compelling case.

Fast forward to the weeks immediately following the election result, and we have many of these hitherto committed Lib Dem voices now claiming that the very measure they were passionately arguing against is the correct thing to do!

At the risk of being cynical, I find it hard not to think that the experience of having one’s bottom on the seat of a ministerial limousine has altered somewhat the feeling of those Liberal Democrats who are showing such breathtakingly loose principles that they could well give the very worst excesses of New Labour a run for their money!

We had an almost total commitment to achieving proportional elections in Westminster, yet in return for propping up a tory administration, all we get is a non-committal referendum on the basic alternative vote and a cloudy half commitment to proportional election to a revitalised upper chamber. On this specific issue, the Lib Dems have changed from wanting a fully elected upper chamber to talking of 'mainly elected' peers.

I for one simply cannot understand how the sprit, ethos and rule of democracy can be used to propel some into a reformed upper chamber but not others.

Complete nonsense.

There are so many issues upon which the Liberal Democrats are so far silent. How, for instance, has the formation of the coalition changed the view of the party leadership on the subject of trade union protection?

Nick Clegg has spoken of unions as ‘vested interests’ and this worries me. It is, and always has been at the centre of my personal politic that the working man and woman should receive fairness and justice in the workplace. That is the guiding principle of trade unionism, and it is also the very example of fairness that would lift the cloud of scepticism that hangs so over Mr Clegg and the party that offered me fresh hope, along with many others.

I truly hope that the party leadership is not confusing the likes of Charlie Whelan and his fellow union power brokers with the hard working and vulnerable trade union members that are keeping this country moving (albeit slowly) toward economic recovery.

The Liberal Democrats are a party that is essentially of the centre left. This was the guiding principle behind me joining the party following me leaving the Labour Party.

If the leading figures of the party are now suddenly allowing the magnetism of high office to pull them to the right, I think that I will not be the only one who experiences a resurgence of that bitter taste that filled my mouth in the days following the election.

Before the election, the Lib Dems promised to vote against any rise in tuition fees, and by doing so attracted alot of student votes. Now they say that they will 'abstain' against any such vote. Abstention may well yield the same result as voting against, but that simply is not the point. This is a point of principle.

After a few encouraging noises at the inception of the coalition, the only noises coming through have been from Lib Dem ministers getting their feet firmly under the table at the expense of their election pledges, and I for one am finding it harder to resist the urge to cut and run.

Sir Menzies Campbell is the only one to have stuck to his principles when he maintained his commitment to vote against the tuition fee rise. Already, people within his own party are comparing him to John Redwood!

I have watched with unease as David Laws sets about swinging his axe at the flesh of the state. Nobody can disagree with the assertion that action needs taking to stabilise the nation’s finances, but the vigour with which he is going about the business of wrenching millions from the various government departments is unsettling. I think that when you are not sure whether it is the thrill of actually holding office that is causing his subtle grin of joy, or the actual stripping of cash from the budgets, it says alot about the mood music currently being played by the artisans of the coalition.

The party say that they will ensure that an agenda of fairness will prevail. I truly hope that they are right, and honest.

Denis Skinner pinned David Laws brilliantly in the commons in a diatribe that was indicative of everything that is great about honest and principled politicians. In fact, if more of Labour’s leadership had shown the same commitment to straight talking and principles that Denis Skinner showed in his political attack on Laws, and less devotion to lip service, political over correctness, and complete indifference to the grass roots, I probably would never have left the party.

If Denis Skinner could give me advice, I am sure that he would tell me to jump ship, and do it now.

Whilst I have, thanks to the display of principled politics by Ming Campbell, no imminent plans to throw myself overboard, Mr Skinner has at least underlined the compulsion I was already feeling to go and seek out the location of the life boats.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Do Me A Favour; Ignore The Sun and the Others, and Read This Blog Before You Cast Your Vote

Well, we are less than 24 hours from the start of polling in one of the closely contested General Elections in history, never mind recent memory.

The three main parties, and indeed the plethora of minor parties and independent candidates have all been busily campaigning and vying for the support of the ultimate kingmakers, the great British electorate.

The massed media have also been busy. They have been busy studying the proposed policies of the main parties, distorting and championing various policies, and distorting and rubbishing policies that they don’t like, or indeed that they feel could damage the chances of their own preferred candidates.

There has been a clear and concerted effort to twist and smear the policies of the Liberal Democrats ever since Nick Clegg invigorated the election campaign with his initial performance in the first leader’s debate. The fear among the establishment has been palpable. They are terrified at the thought of the British electorate actually being able to vote in a way that results in their views, hopes and aspirations actually being represented in parliament.

The current electoral system simply does not represent the hopes and values of the people who vote.

Only a Liberal Democrat influenced parliament can change this.

This is the reason why the usual gutter press snipers, and hysterical right wing news outlets have been hell bent on smearing Nick Clegg, and grossly misrepresenting the policies of the Liberal Democrats.

So before you go and cast your vote tomorrow, and I truly and passionately hope that you will, please take a few minutes to read through this blog, where I have set out a number of misrepresentations, half truths, and downright lies that have been published by the media outlets and newspapers who are determined to prevent you from being fairly and accurately represented in our parliament.

1. The Liberal Democrats are planning to release all prisoners who are sentenced to a jail term of less than 6 months.

This is simply not true.
The party have done extensive work, consulting professionals who work with young and repeat offenders on a daily basis, and as a result of this policy of INCLUDING those who deliver these very demanding and essential public services, the Liberal Democrats advocate a regime of sentencing whereby people who would otherwise have been jailed for 6 months or less are instead sentenced to community and restorative service that have been PROVEN BY EXPERIENCE to yield greater results in terms of positive impact on both wider society and indeed offenders.

These types of sentences are not only more effective, they are far less expensive than the custodial alternative. It is also true to say that many of these jails have ended up being nothing more than crime colleges, and it does not make sense to expose young and impressionable people to such pressures simply to please the headline writers of The Sun etc, when we can turn them around and stop more of them re-offending by making them pay back their debt to society, in the society that they have offended against.

To clarify, there are no plans to release those with short term sentences who have already been imprisoned. This is nothing short of a lie that has been peddled by the Tories, Labour, their press playmates, and their tired and scared party apparatchiks.

2. The Liberal Democrats are planning on granting an amnesty for asylum seekers.

Again, simply not true. The party have identified the fact that there are thousands of people who are living in the UK illegally, and this is the fault of both the Tories, and the current Labour government, who have failed spectacularly to build a working immigration and border control system.

In order to confront and sort out this unmitigated disaster, the Liberal Democrats have said that they would advocate the policy of a ‘one off offer’ whereby people who can PROVE that they have been in the country for at least 10 years, who have learnt English, and who have not committed any criminal offence would be allowed the right to undertake a 2 year probation period that would allow them to work, pay tax and contribute to our society, and to the funding of the public services that they have hitherto been using without paying anything towards.

Any illegal immigrants who are unsuccessful in their application would be removed from the country. It is as simple as that.

What the media don’t want to tell you is that the real amnesty has been going on under Labour and the Tories for years, because of the fact that they have been so incompetent in their running of the immigration system that they have simply turned a blind eye to these people who place massive burdens on our public services. There is a little known convention called the ’14 year rule’ whereby people are not removed if they have been here for 14 years, and this policy has been pursued by both the CURRENT and PREVIOUS governments.

So to clarify, the only person advocating an amnesty is the CONSERVATIVE Mayor of London, Boris Johnson!

The Liberal Democrat proposals are part of a comprehensive approach to the strengthening and overhaul of the services that administer and protect our borders. This proposal encourages illegal immigrants to come forward, rewards those who have learnt the language, not committed criminal offences other than entering the country illegally and who can PROVE this, and provides a chance to arrest and remove those who do not meet the terms of this offer.

We do not know how many of these people there are, nor do we know where they are. This is one way in which we can at least start to sort out the mess that is immigration, and bring an end to the constant insulting of the British people’s intelligence by Conservative and Labour politicians, whose only response to this very important issue has been to shrug their shoulders, wring their hands, and bludgeon detractors with charges of racism for daring to raise it.

The Liberal Democrats are the ONLY party to actively try and come up with robust and workable solutions to actually tackle and address the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the burden on public services caused by those who remain in the United Kingdom without the right to do so.

So PLEASE DO NOT listen to the ramblings and wailings of the right wing press. They WANT the status quo to remain. It is in the interests of their multi millionaire owners to ensure that the same old political parties remain in the position of influence.

They will carry on lying to you if that means that real change is avoided. Do not be taken in by their lies.

3. The Liberal Democrats are planning to get rid of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.

This is an unholy deception. At no point have the Liberal Democrats said that they would dismantle the nuclear defence that we have.

The party’s position is very clear. Both Labour, and the Conservatives are committed to spending millions of pounds of taxpayer money on renewing the existing system which was designed to combat the equivalent deterrents in communist Russia with the Trident project.

The Liberal Democrats say that this is ludicrous.

The party is committed to making sure that the whole Trident project is included within a strategic defence review which will be taking place in the early days of the next parliament. This will involve an in depth analysis of the project, BY THE EXPERTS, in order to ensure that it would best serve the defence of this country, should it go ahead.

For the record, this is a position backed by four of Britain’s most senior Army Generals.

The party are committed to the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent, whilst engaging with other governments around the globe to gradually reduce the international nuclear stocks of warheads in co-operation on the global stage. This is another reason why we need to ensure that we can negotiate and deal with other governments within Europe and elsewhere by adopting an internationalist approach.

So to clarify, the Liberal Democrats do NOT plan to de-commission the nuclear deterrent. They are, unlike the Tories and Labour, committed to ensure that we make the best decisions regarding the future of our defence, where possible diverting resources away from irrelevant and costly defence projects and into the provision of equipment and resources for our brave troops that is fit for purpose.

4. The Liberal Democrats want to force the United Kingdom to enter the Euro.

This is not, and never has been the case.

The party have always been clear in that they do believe that, should the economic conditions be right, Britain would be best served by being part of the single currency.

Nobody in their right mind would say that we have had conditions that are anywhere near those which would be good for joining the Euro.

The Liberal Democrats have no intention of approaching the subject of joining the single currency at any time in the near future.

It would not make any form of financial sense to expose the UK to the pressures and constraints of the euro zone as it stands, and the party recognise this.

So to clarify, a vote for the liberal Democrats will NOT result in automatic entry into the Euro. The party would only advocate membership if it were to be independently verified to be in the country’s best interest to join.

In any case, Britain would NEVER join the Euro under a Liberal Democrat government WITHOUT A REFERENDUM for the British people.

The Liberal Democrats are the ONLY party to promise this.

5.The Liberal Democrats have promised tax cuts that would put the economy at risk

They have not.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to reform the taxation system in order to reflect a greater level of fairness that is still lacking in the tax system after 13 years of a failed Labour government.

The party have calculated that by reforming the tax laws so that nobody in the country pays a single penny of income tax on any earnings up to £10,000, they can give back to hard pressed taxpayers £700 on average, helping to lift the poorest paid workers out of the poverty that currently exists within the lowest earners.

It is nothing short of a travesty that there are bankers in the city are paying less tax on their capital earnings than their cleaners are on their wages.

This country needs real and true tax reform, and the Liberal Democrats are the only party to promise to deliver this.

All of the proposals are fully funded and planned, and will not interfere with our ability to reign in the defecit, other than to improve the ability of Britain’s lowest paid to help stimulate the economy by being able to spend more of their hard earned wage.

So, to clarify, there are no Liberal Democrat tax proposals that are unfunded, unplanned, uninvestigated or ill thought out. These proposals are designed to make the tax system fairer and put £700 back into the pocket of every worker in the UK.

I hope that these examples of mistruth on the part of the other parties and the massed media have shown just how distorted the view of Liberal Democrat policies have been.

So please, do yourself a big favour, and FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF the truth about Liberal Democrat policies, consider them, and if they compare with your vision, and what you want for a fairer, more progressive Britain, use your vote, and Vote Liberal Democrat.