October 29, 2014
by Paul

Much ado about Botswana

The three chiefs and justice Gaberone by BoHeMIo
It’s been happening for many years. Decades. The Lib Dems, and the Liberal party before it, are part of Liberal International. Ideas and help are shared, by invitation, with fellow liberal parties around the world.

Recently some liberals went to help our sister party, BMD, in the Botswanan elections.

So far, so earnest.

Liberal Democrat Voice often carries articles about liberals helping overseas as part of Liberal International.

Normally such articles excite very little interest. Such an article appeared about Botswana and it all went smoothly.

…Until someone suggested (and I’m blithely paraphrasing so please do read the full enchilada here) that such help was a type of harking back to colonialism.

Oh dear. Liberal International is organised regionally and there is no template of policies pushed on other countries. All help given is strictly by invite, in this case by the Africa Liberal Network.

And then someone (not, I believe, a Lib Dem party member) threw in a bit of a hand grenade. A racist remark. This was made at 11pm and was taken down at 8am after a complaint. Please mark and inwardly digest that sentence. The racist remark was taken off the internet after only a handful of people had seen it overnight. The early hours of the morning are not exactly peak hours for people reading relatively old posts about Liberal International shenanighans.

A couple of people had, by that time, replied to the remark with impassioned reasoning. Bearing that in mind, a proposal to reinstate the remark, with the replies and with a clear statement condemning the remark, was made and accepted by interested people in Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats.

So the remark was reinstated with replies and editorial condemnation.

Then someone who I greatly respect resigned from the party.

It’s all a bit bizarre. A bit like the annual Fuchsia show turning into World War Three.

I currently don’t know what to make of it all, but time, as usual, will put everything into perspective.

We must respect differing perspectives but, if appropriate, we must also challenge them without rancour or dismissiveness.

Photo of the Justice statue in Gaborone, Botswana by BoHemIo

October 27, 2014
by Paul

In praise of the Care Act 2014 and AgeUK

old care photo
I’m at that certain age. You spend your whole life not even thinking about pensions, or paying for Universities or nursing homes. And then you get to the age when you think about little else. I am there.

We’ve been through that very confusing shock when a 100% able-bodied and independent relative becomes, overnight, 100% dependent on care. Wading through the bewildering and worrying facts and figures about going into care homes, and facing the sudden possibility of needing Lasting Power of Attornies, a house clearance/sale and £1000 bills per week is utterly petrifying.

Thank God for AgeUK, who have been able to put our minds at rest and help us through the thicket of complexities. Their advisors know all the details and are marvellous at calming nervous minds.

In amongst all the complexities I discovered the Care Act 2014.

There is a strange rule (not universal) in politics. The stuff that really matters is hardly noticed and nobody thanks the politicians who do it. That is the fate of the Care Act 2014. At last, it introduces a cap at which the state takes over the payment of care. At last it will mean that children will not be faced with cashing all their parents’ assets to pay a seemingly endless bill for care. I suspect that most people that will benefit from this Act do not realise that it’s been passed at the moment. By the time they are affected by it, I suspect they will take it for granted. But it is an extraordinary act of parliament which will really improve lives (from April 2016).

October 20, 2014
by Paul

Sorry about Linda, but delighted to support @daisy4change

I am personally very sad that Linda Jack did not get the required number of nomination signatures in time to stand as President of the Liberal Democrats. Linda would have been a fantastic keeper of the Liberal Democrat flame.

I am now supporting Daisy Cooper to be party President. It is quite clear to me that she is the best candidate of the three nominees. She is the real “new broom” which we need. I am particularly impressed with her reflections on internal democracy for the party. But, most of all, she has the sort of young, dynamic personality which we need to lead the party forward.

October 17, 2014
by Paul

Location of Newbury Question Time and tragic accident which led to three of the panellists being late

Some people have searched for the location of Question Time in Newbury last night. It was at St Bartholomew’s school.

There was a tragic, fatal accident at the Ufton Nervet railway crossing last night. This delayed three of the Question Time guests (Sir Menzies Campbell, Jeremy Hunt and Angela Eagle) for more than an hour. One report said the delay was at least 103 minutes long. Passengers were eventually taken off the train at Newbury Racecourse station. There was a report that the three delayed panelists didn’t get to the set until 9.30pm, leaving it very tight to record an hour-long programme for broadcast at 10.45pm. The panel was completed by Isabel Oakeshott and Rev Giles Fraser.

October 15, 2014
by Paul

RIP Sheila Tracy, the first woman to read the news on BBC Radio Four

Listening to ickle Jamie Cullen on Radio Two last night, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Sheila Tracy, bless her.

Sheila Tracy was a large feature in my early years, as she introduced “Spotlight South West” and was a general announcer and newsreader on BBC South West from Cornwall. I think she was there at around the same time as Hugh Scully, Joe Pengelly and Sue Lawley, while Ken MacLeod, Angela Rippon, Stuart Hitchison, Del Cooper, Clive Gunnell et al were on the “other side” on Westward.

She was a very good broadcaster.

She went on to become a major jazz and big band music presenter on BBC Radio Two, which is why our Jamie was paying tribute to her.

Oh, and I should mention that Sheila Tracy was a Cornish maid from Mullion (shown in the photo above). She went to Truro Girls’School.

October 15, 2014
by Paul

Question Time from Newbury

Tomorrow night, Question Time will be coming from Newbury. Charlie Kennedy will be on the panel. So that should be excellent value.

I won’t be in the audience. But it wasn’t for the want of trying. I filled in their web site form. One question asked “Have you ever been on Question Time before?” By “on” I assumed they meant had I actually been on the telly – that is, asking a question on the show, on the actual gogglebox. Well, I haven’t. But I sat in the audience for the 2004 edition from the Newbury Corn Exchange.

I was phoned by someone from Front Row this morning, asking me for details with a view to being in the audience. But it turned out that “on Question Time” means “in the audience for Question Time”. So it appears that being in the audience for Question Time is a once-in-a-lifetime unique experience. It’s a bit like seeing a double rainbow or, as I did last week, having a fox sit tamely near you.

Oh well. Ho hum. I will just have to console myself with the fact that I saw Janet Street-Porter on Question Time when I saw it in Newbury. Now there’s a woman, the cut of whose jib I like. A very intelligent lady. But she was balanced on the panel by Julian Fellowes, who writes Downton Abbey. On the basis that I can’t find anything good to say about him (except that he was absolutely excellent as “Kilwillie” in “Monarch of the Glen”) I won’t saying anything about him at all.

Update 17th October: This edition of Question Time was staged at St Bartholomew’s school in Newbury. There was a tragic accident at the Ufton Nervet railway crossing last night. This delayed three of the Question Time guests (Sir Menzies Campbell, Jeremy Hunt and Angela Eagle) for more than an hour. One report said the delay was at least 103 minutes long. Passengers were eventually taken off the train at Newbury Racecourse station. There was a report that the three delayed panelists didn’t get to the set until 9.30pm, leaving very tight to record a programme for broadcast at 10.45pm. The panel was completed by Isabel Oakeshott and Rev Giles Fraser.

October 15, 2014
by Paul

Jeremy Browne to stand down. “Pointless Celebrities” are already on the line….

4683247908_64ebc5b752_Jeremy-BrowneI wish Jeremy Browne well as he prepares for the next phase in his life. As I have stated before, there is much I admire in his thinking. He has very strong liberal/Liberal roots. He certainly is an original thinker, and has been an excellent MP for Taunton Deane.

I don’t normally explain my attempted witticisms, but for the avoidance of doubt, there is no bitterness or sarcasm intended in the title to this post. It is simply a reference to the Times headline of 24th April 2014 which said: “Lib Dems ‘are pointless'”, which was based on their interview with Jeremy. It was said, rightly, that Jeremy Browne didn’t actually say the Lib Dems are pointless. This was paraphrasing by the Times headline writer. However, I really felt let down by the way Jeremy courted such headlines in the run-up to the May elections. I said the following at the time in response to Jeremy’s article on LibDemVoice:

I see from your biography that you studied politics at University. You were editor of your university’s newspaper and President of the Students’ Union. You worked for not one, but two public relations firms. You were Director of Press and Broadcasting for our party under not one, but two leaders. You have been an MP for nine years. You were a minister in two government departments over three years.

With all that experience of hardball politics, did you not have the remotest suspicion that by talking to The Times in the way that you did that they would convert your words into something like “Lib Dems are pointless”? Or were you taken totally by surprise by their treatment of your interview?

However, bygones are bygones. Jeremy has been a great member of our party for decades. I was very pleased to see him recently at our Glee, and I hope that he will continue to brighten up our party for many years to come.

October 12, 2014
by Paul

My question to Nick Clegg at the Glasgow conference

GLasgow clegg q&aOK. I’ll admit it. I try to do something at conference every year which I can then show to my friends on BBC Parliament. My octogenarian parents in Cornwall are usually tickled pink to see me, even if no one else is.

This year, I seized upon the opportunity of the Nick Clegg Q&A. I missed the deadline for the question submissions, but a couple of questions were being taken for each subject from the floor. So I just had to think of a question on the relevant topics. The first topic was energy/climate change and I had a question ready and put my hand up. But Nick didn’t look to my side of the hall.

Fortunately, the next topic was the press, a subject on which I have done a bit of homework. So this time I stood up and put my hand right up, so Nick spotted me and I asked my question:

I’m a total fan of the Leveson report. I’ve even read some of it. I applaud you for putting steel into the government’s determination to pass through the Royal Charter. But we are left with the situation where the press are forming their own body (outside of the Royal Charter). I think a couple of odd gazettes have signed up for the Royal Charter but it is unlikely that a press complaints body will be formed under it. So one has to ask the question: What the heck is the point of the Royal Charter? Is it a lame duck?

In his answer, Nick said, no, it isn’t a lame duck. He explained what Leveson proposed, calling it “small l liberal” and roundly rejecting claims that the proposals amount to state control of the press. At the end he said that “we should just let the Royal Charter run” and “allow the system of incentives to do their work”.

Actually, the process of asking the question and listening to the answer has caused a penny to drop in my mind, based on Nick’s thinking. Even if no one signs up for the Royal Charter system, it is still doing its job. That is because it is already, no doubt, causing editors to pause for thought before abusing their freedom. They know that if they do abuse their freedom and lose a subsequent court case, they will receive large damages because of not being in a body recognised by the Royal Charter.

October 5, 2014
by Paul

Glasgow diary day 3 – Clegg ignites


The main highlights of the day were:

The Rally. Nick Clegg was on fire. He made a really great speech. I don’t think I have seen him so animated. Mind you, with the general election coming up, he is at the stage of “s**t or bust” – as is the party.

Finding the Liberal Democrat Voice “office”. It is behind the scenes. You go through a curtain, past some printers, through some double doors, left through some more double doors and then take the first door on the right. In the end I had to get the Chief Conference Steward to help me find it. If he can’t find it, no one can. It was great to meet up with the LDV team, or at least those who have made the trip to Glasgow.

I attended the debate on Reducing (global) poverty and discrimination.

I’m rather relieved that I missed the debate on OMOV (One member one vote). It sounds like it was something of a shambles.

I’m enjoying doing a few stints on the Liberal History stand in the exhibition. I’ve got to meet some lovely LibDems and it is always enjoyable to test them on the characters depicted on our posters. Asquith usually stumps them.

I went round the exhibition hall, focussing on the Microsoft and Google stands. Google were particularly impressive. A gent sat me down in a sofa and showed me their “Chromecast” system and his Smartwatch.

I attended my first meeting as a member of Liberal Democrat Women. Yes, really. It turned out to be a fascinating and refreshing discussion on childcare. The consensus was that parents should at least have the option to raise their kids at home.

I seem to be joining lots of party organisations these days. As well as joining Liberal Democrat Women, I have joined Liberal Democrat Christian forum, Liberal Democrat LGBT+ and the Social Liberal Forum.

The Liberal Democrat Voice awards were an absolute hoot. I think I set a new record for taking the longest time to open an envelope at an awards ceremony!

There followed the Liberal Democrat Disco which was a terrific example of fund-raising brilliance by Cambridge Liberal Democrats. Indeed, one might call it a fundraising “coup”.

October 4, 2014
by Paul
1 Comment

The conference starts rolling…

imageHere’s a pic of the Crown Plaza lobby/bar/reception/restaurant/landing/general area at 11:18hrs. It’s buzzing with Liberal Democracy and people asking what the wifi password is.

Sadly, my several years tradition of chancing by Erlend Watson first at conference was broken this week. The first person I talked to was, instead, a friend from Portsmouth. And the first Liberal Democrats I saw were a very notable couple from Cambridge at breakfast on Friday morning.

I have seen @caronmlindsay but she hasn’t see me yet, so I am keeping a low profile, ;-)

October 4, 2014
by Paul

Friday Glasgow diary – the whistlestop tour

imageI started the day with a brisk 5k run along the Kelvin river and Dumbarton road. There were plenty of joggers and dog walkers in the park, including one of the latter with a Bichon Frise like our dog, Charlie.

After getting over the shock of seeing a couple of dedicated LibDem anoraks at breakfast (I thought I was the only one who arrived early?), I was whisked off the airport and then Erskine. A day of most convivial “F2Fs” (“face to faces”) with work colleagues ensued.

In the afternoon I was treated to my annual whistlestop tour of Glasgow. This started with a visit to an extraordinarily well-stuffed antiques/bric-a-brac shop off Byres road. Then we had a most enjoyable lunch at the nearby Curlers’ Rest, accompanied by two pints of Ruby Mild which I was, outrageously, forced to drink.

On the recommendation of my old school friend, my Glaswegian friend/whistlestop tour guide, found us the Glasgow University cloisters and associated environs, which were an utter architectural delight! There should be a photo of said academic pile above these burblings, if the usual daily conference juggling of wires, recharging, wifi and devices works…..

By golly, by gosh, I have landed myself what I think is called “a gig”. On Monday night, I will break out of the conference forcefield to go to an excellent Glasgow eaterie which, by odd coincidence, I passed by today. There, one of our most venerable and appreciated soulmate organisations will host a discussion on eradicating poverty. I am on the panel representing the Liberal Democrat Voice collective. Wish me luck!

October 3, 2014
by Paul

Glasgow diary – Day One


Well, I’m off on the big journey, all pre-booked, months in advance, by She Who Must Be Obeyed.

A normal person in the street would probably think that travelling all the way up to Glasgow, for the second year running, for a week of political discussions, would be a bit of a pain.

But I am really looking forward to it. I love Glasgow and I’m looking forward to exploring it for the nth time. I also really enjoy the train journey up. As I write, I am eagerly preparing to enjoy the view over Morecambe Bay, which is a delight.


I arrived at the bustling Central Station at around 4pm. There were five soldiers at an Army recruiting post in the middle of the concourse. After dealing with my email, I walked up to all of them and said: “Thank you for all you do”. I think one of them didn’t think I was a bit odd, the rest did. “Thank you for all you do” is what an old friend of mine, Trevor Brown, used to say to everyone. It made everyone feel good about themselves. I know it is, perhaps, unBritish to thank soldiers for what they do. But sometimes I think we have to be a bit unBritish. These guys deserve our thanks.

This evening I was very fortunate enough to meet up with a very old friend from my old school, Graham. He is a very rare breed. He is a naturalised Glaswegian, I would say, after 30 years in the city. But he is still undeniably a Devonian, indeed, a North Moltonian. We witnessed some fantastic Scottish music jamming in the Ben Nevis pub in Argyll Street, followed by some delicious tapas.

And so to bed!

October 2, 2014
by Paul

Why do trains in children’s books still go “chuff chuff”?

The question has been asked. I asked a similar question when I attended a play group with my (then) four year old daughter in Newbury. We were twenty yards away from Vodafone’s headquarters and many of the kids had parents who worked for the great mobile phone company. But we all sang the song which includes the line “mummy called the doctor”. And, blow me down, what mime did we do? We only pretended to use one of those ancient phones where you hold the stand/voice piece in one hand and the ear piece in the other.

See also: why are the newspapers still referred to as “Fleet Street”? I remember visiting Fleet Street in the 1960s when all the papers were there. It was a very exhilarating place. Now only the “Catholic Herald” * is based there.

*Well it was when I last looked but appears to have moved. The Press Gazette is based just around the corner from Fleet Street.

September 26, 2014
by Paul

I am an oil tanker, Dickie Arbiter is on fire in the Gulf

Dickie Arbiter is a very nice man. He is currently publicising his auto-biography. This includes his time as Royal Press secretary. But I will always remember him as one of the two main newsreaders on Independent Radio News in the 70s and 80s. While a student, I used to mimic his machine-gun delivery of the words “Independent Radio News at nine, this is Dickie Arbiter”. One day he mixed up his words and started the news with the classic statement above. Happy days!