August 1, 2015
by Paul

We need to be careful before jumping on the Lord Sewel bandwagon

Nigel Griffiths. Tim Yeo. Mark Oaten. Paddy Ashdown. Ron Davies. Ian Harvey. David Blunkett. John Prescott. Cecil Parkinson. David Mellor (“toe job to no job” – replace orange bra with alleged Chelsea FC strip). Robin Cook. Harvey Proctor.

All those men were MPs who featured in tabloid sex scandals over the last few decades. None involved expenses abuses or other impropriety that I can recall or find in the archives.

The Lord Sewel episode admittedly involves an alleged breach of drugs laws (legislation which liberals have campaigned to reform) and the use of a publicly supported flat. Continue Reading →

August 1, 2015
by Paul

A great holiday read from the cheeky chappie of politics

alan johnson bookPlease Mister Postman by Alan Johnson is a great book to take on holiday with you, if you haven’t already read it. It’s now available in paperback, published by Corgi Books for a cover price of £8.99, although you can get it for less.

There are two types of memoirs by politicians: boring self-justification and interesting, good reads. Johnson’s writings are firmly in the second category, along there with Alan Clark, Chris Mullin and Paddy Ashdown (“A Fortunate Life”). Very often the early days of a politician are the most interesting – as was the case with John Major’s auto-biography. Continue Reading →

July 24, 2015
by Paul

It’s nice to be back in the cold


Venetians enjoying the Festa del Redentore in the Giudecca channel on July 18th 2015

I’m not one to often demonstrate my love of Britain. But as we arrived back in Blighty last night, hot from eight days in Venice, I was mightily pleased to get home. The reason: the heat and the humidity in Venice were quite over-powering.

We had a fantastic holiday and I am very grateful indeed for it. The art was fantastic, the food and setting were wonderful. We had some great times.

But I was very glad to get back to the cold.

Now, I realise that cold can be a killer. But in general circumstances, when you are cold you can stick on an extra jumper to get warm again.

But when you’re in hot and humid conditions, unless you have access to expensive air conditioning, you just have to sweat it out.

I like hot places as much as the next person. But when it’s combined with 74% humidity and mosquitoes, with nights bathing in your own sweat, eight days can be enough.

The words that keep on echoing in my mind are those of our host, a genuine Comtesse, who explained the heat, humidity and mosquitoes by saying very loudly:

We are in a lagoon!

July 21, 2015
by Paul

Tim Farron speaks against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

From Hansard:

We are very clear: we cannot and will not support the Bill. If it did what it said on the tin, there might be much to commend it, but it does not. The Government pledge a living wage that even they know is not one, they want a welfare state that is anything but good for our country’s welfare, and they use the guise of economic necessity to cover up ideologically driven cuts. Tonight, we will vote against the Bill because we know that the depth and character of the proposals are unfair, unwise and inhuman, and anything but economically necessary.

In truth, the Government do not have to take £12 billion from the poorest families in the country, mostly working families, but are choosing to do so. No amount of political spin will protect the individuals who have to live with the reality, not the words. Calling something a living wage when it is not does not make it a living wage, calling housing affordable when it is not affordable does not make it affordable, and labelling the Bill as progressive does not make it progressive. In the end, the consequences of these actions for Britain will speak louder than the Chancellor’s attempts to change the definition of his words.

The proposals on employment and support allowance—support designed to help people who, through no fault of their own, face more barriers to work than most—will not help into work people with depression, fluctuating conditions, schizophrenia or physical conditions that make more difficult the ordinary tasks that many of us take for granted. In fact, they will act as a ridiculous disincentive. Almost 500,000 people will see their vital support cut by one third once they apply to the new system, meaning that if they are on the existing support, they will lose it as soon as they get a job, even on a short-term contract. It is a disincentive to work and will trap people on welfare, not liberate them.

The Chancellor has chosen to implement a counterproductive policy that demonises people with disabilities and mental health conditions. I am disappointed by Labour’s confusion over the Bill. To give in to the narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the working poor against the temporarily-not-working poor is shameful. Cutting tax credits, tightening the benefit cap and ramping up the right to buy is not just morally wrong but economically wrong; widening inequality is not just against British decency but economically stupid.

Intervention from Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD):
Of course, we accepted some of the changes to welfare in the last Parliament, but this goes too far. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the effect on young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of housing benefit? Why should they be excluded from the same rights that any other citizen in this country has if they have need of the safety net?

Tim Farron:
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In many ways, young people are the biggest victims of the Bill. I think of young people being supported by housing benefit—for example, in the location of a Foyer, such as the wonderful Foyer in Kendal—and who thereby have access to work, training and further development opportunities. Taking housing benefit away from young people is not just morally wrong but utterly counterproductive, because it will prevent them from accessing work and other life opportunities.

We will stand for the thousands of people in work and yet in poverty, and for the millions of people who might not be personally affected but who do not want to see inequality grow in Britain. Instead, we want a direction for the country that combines economic credibility with truly socially progressive policies, which is why we will continue to make the case for using capital investment to build houses and strengthen our economy for the long term, and for a welfare system that understands the needs of people with mental health conditions and helps them back into work, rather than putting them under the kind of pressure that simply makes them worse.

The reduction in the incomes of poor families in work comes at the same time as the Government are giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, cutting corporation tax for the richest firms and refusing to raise a single extra penny in tax from the wealthiest people—for example, through a high-value property levy. We will continue to speak for the millions of people who are young, who suffer from mental health problems, whose parents have no spare rooms or spare income, who do not have parents at all, or who have more than two children. The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working. We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or the Labour party through their silence, unpick our welfare system.

July 21, 2015
by Paul
1 Comment

Jennie Rigg writes possibly the best blog post ever

responding to an anonymous comment…
… which has remained screened and will continue to remain screened for not sticking to my comments policy. I am going to pull out one point from it, however.

Anonymouse says: It just won’t wash to say – or to imply – that you think it’s morally wrong for homosexuals to express their love physically, but that you’re still a liberal because you support their legal rights.

No, no, no.

That’s EXACTLY what liberalism is. Liberalism is legislating for the rights of people to do things that you personally disapprove of, because as long as they aren’t harming anybody else it’s not within your gift to intervene. If you can’t grasp something this basic about Liberalism, then I’m sure everyone else can understand why I’m not unscreening the rest of your comment.

Liberalism isn’t about purity of thought, about everyone being in agreement, about Borg-like adherence to conformity. That’s the antithesis of liberalism. Liberalism is about defending the rights of people to do things you detest, because even though you detest their actions, they are not hurting anyone else.

You go girl! This post puts the “kick” in “kick arse”. (I have bolded the bit where “the Yorkshire gob” (for it is she) hits the nail on the head, and then some). You can read the whole post here.

July 19, 2015
by Paul

Fireworks in Venice last night at the Festa del redentore

These are certainly the most spectacular fireworks I have ever seen. Quite awesome. But the sense of community in celebrating the end of the 1576 plague, the life-affirming nature of the event, the spectacular backdrop, all the boats and all the people – it was all quite mind blowing.

The video below features the finale, which was utterly stunning.

July 18, 2015
by Paul

That salute – more a reflection on Edward VIII than anyone else

imageI bow to Roy Greenslade when he says that The Sun were right to publish apparent home movie footage of the Queen, then aged seven and known as Princess Elizabeth, giving a Nazi salute.

It was 1933. The Nazis had just consolidated power in Germany through the Enabling Act. I notice that her mother, then known as the Duchess of York, and later Queen Elizabeth, is enthusiastically joining in.

Interesting historical stuff. You can see in the screenshot that the Prince of Wales (at the time – later Edward VIII) is putting them up to it for the cameras.

Edward VIII had well-known Nazi sympathies.

This film would appear to tell us little about the Queen, a fair bit about Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s friendship for Edward VIII, and confirms a great deal about Edward VIII.

Not for the first time, I think we can heave a huge sigh of relief that he did not stay on the throne.

July 18, 2015
by Paul

The other reason the London police helicopter tweet was wrong

Day 28 - West Midlands Police Helicopter - Air Ops - Alpha Oscar OneI have a confession to make. I am a bit of an anorak when it comes to police helicopters and tweets, as a search of this blog will show.

For many years, I was infuriated by the presence of police helicopters, whirring incessantly over my town, without knowing what the heck they were up to.

After considerable persistence via the Freedom of Information Act, I managed to secure a year’s worth of information about the reasons police helicopters were hovering over my town of Newbury.

But my main target was to get all NPAS helicopters, particularly the ones which hover over my area, to tweet their missions, giving the reason they are flying each time. Again, after much persistence, including writing to the local press and Police commissioner, our local helicopter started tweeting.

But the purpose of such tweets is to tell the public what they are doing. Occasionally they tweet interesting photos of areas they are flying over, or nice sunsets they have seen – that sort of thing.

So, with all that in mind, I was absolutely horrified by NPAS London tweeting an overhead photo of Michael McIntyre in the street. Aside from the very important data protection issues, this was a grave misuse of a police helicopter Twitter account. They are supposed to giving serious information to the public – not having a bit of a laugh. It is disgraceful.

July 18, 2015
by Paul

Tim gives a very good answer on Channel 4 News

I’ve just watched the clip of Tim Farron on Channel 4 News last night. I think Tim gives a very good response indeed – especially the last bit where he says that being a liberal means that you do not force your views in others.

“Do not judge or you too will be judged” – is central to the Christian faith. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is another. Both these are written by the gospel writers reporting the words of Jesus.

The bit of the bible that Cathy Newman quoted is from the old testament – Leviticus – (in a long list of things God apparently said (unwitnessed) to an old chap called Moses 1400 years before Christ was born) where the “do not lie with a man” is alongside entreaties to not wear garments of mixed cloth, not eat seafood and not cut the hair on the sides of your head.

And, as I never tire of doing, let me quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the matter, from an article in Pink News entitled “God makes me fight for gay rights”:

The former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, has said that he fights for gay rights because “It’s God catching me by my neck.”
Speaking to Charisma News, Archbishop Tutu said: “Anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, there we will find our cause. Sometimes you wish you could keep quiet. It’s the kind of thing you heard the prophet Jeremiah complain of where he says, “You know God, I didn’t want to be a prophet and you made me speak words of condemnation against a people I love deeply. Your word is like a fire burning in my breast.”
“It isn’t that it’s questionable when you speak up for the right of people with different sexual orientation. People took some part of us and used it to discriminate against us. In our case, it was our ethnicity; it’s precisely the same thing for sexual orientation. People are killed because they’re gay. I don’t think, “What do I want to do today? I want to speak up on gay rights.” No. It’s God catching me by my neck.”
Asked what he felt about Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”, Archbishop Tutu said: “He’s taken a selfie! He’s a tremendous breath of fresh air. The things he has done in a short period of time: the fact that he does not live in a huge papal mansion and just dropped by in the dining room where ordinary people have meals. You think of his background, where he didn’t use limousines in South America, that he used public transport. I’ve got to say to you that I’m so, so thrilled that he is there at this crucial moment in the history of our world.”

Jesus spent his life working for the down-trodden and marginalised in society. That is why Desmond Tutu says, in relation to fighting for gay rights:

Anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, there we will find our cause.

From what I have heard from people like Zoe O’Connell, Tim Farron is right there with Desmond Tutu, fighting for gay rights:

Finally, can I remind the media that Tim Farron is a leader of a political party? He is not a priest.

July 17, 2015
by Paul
1 Comment

Interviewers should be asking politicans who say they are Christians why they don’t ask God for wisdom

There’s a transcript of John Humprhys’ interview with Farron (God section) below, thanks to the New Statesman blog where Isabel Hardman has written a very good article, albeit with a dissonant headline.

I’m not quite sure why all this focus about Christianity has been pointed, laser-like, at Tim Farron.

Charles Kennedy was a Roman Catholic, as is Shirley Williams. David Steel, Theresa May and Gordon Brown are all the children of priests and have, by all accounts, remained faithful. Simon Hughes is a massive “God botherer”.

And David Cameron has said that he is “evangelical about his Christian faith”.

And, yet, I can’t remember Today asking any of them if they asked God for wisdom before making a major decision.

What seems to be strange here is that John Humprhys is assuming a norm of Christian behaviour which is that you put “Christian” on your passport and census entries, turn up for hatches, matches and dispatches, and pray only when you are in imminent danger of shuffling off this mortal coil and attending an appointment with Saint Peter at the pearly gates.

He appears to be implying with his questioning that it is really odd for a Christian to pray to God for wisdom in making big decisions. We don’t do that do we? We’re British. We leave all that to foreigners. That’s very odd.

I’m reminded of the question: “if you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

I do not judge anyone. But it is relatively reasonable to expect someone who calls themselves a Christian to occasionally open a Bible, to occasionally pray and go to Church. And yes, one would expect a Christian to ask God for wisdom in making big decisions.

So, if someone is saying they are a Christian, it is automatic that one would expect them to ask God for wisdom with big decisions.

In fact, if a politician calls themselves a Christian and does not pray to God for help with big decisions, then that is really strange. Now that would be real justification for a Humprhys inquest.

Tim Farron and John Humphrys on God – transcript

John Humphrys: So let us talk about your leadership now and your convictions and your beliefs, particularly your religious beliefs. You said that you sought advice from God before you decided whether to put your name forward for the leadership. Would you seek advice from God when it came to making important policy decisions, such as whether to invade Iraq, or whatever it may be?

Tim Farron: Well, this is the shocking revelation that a Christian says his prayers sometimes –

Humphrys: No, no, I’m not, I’m in no way dismissing or denigrating, or whatever, it’s a very very serious question. And let me ask you if I may to put it into a little bit of context, I remember asking Tony Blair about the invasion of Iraq –

Farron: Yeah, and I remember you doing it –

Humphrys: – and he said, I only know what I believe. Now, many people find that a rather chilling thought and what I’m trying to get from you is whether when you have a big decision, you find yourself in a position, you might find yourself in a coalition government sometime, or whatever, when you find yourself in a position, do you say to yourself, do you pray to God to give you the right, the wisdom that you need, and do you take your guidance from your religious conviction? That is a very important point.

Farron: I mean, for what it’s worth, a very, really important thing to seek is just that, it is wisdom. To make the right choice on the basis –

Humphrys: And you turn to God for that?

Farron: – and the Tony Blair equivalent, analogy is an interesting one, because that is where I think he chose to follow to follow some form of belief, whatever it might be, where the evidence pointed in the other direction. And I think what we saw with Tony Blair was not religious conviction, but a kind of, er, being suckered into the awe of being in the orbit of the United States president, and believing some of the faulty evidence that was put before him.

Humphrys: Yes, that was a factor but I’m trying to get to what you believe and how you would exercise that belief as a leader.

Farron: Yep, well I think, as a leader, and in any position, you have to make judgements based on the evidence in front of you –

Humphrys: So you wouldn’t ask God for that?

Farron: Yes, but I don’t ask for him to present the answer to me, because that doesn’t happen.

Humphrys: Well, you asked him about whether you should run for the leadership!

Farron: Well you seek wisdom, and wisdom is the ability to make the best choices on the basis of the evidence in front of you, and for the Iraq War –

Humphrys: It seems a bit of a cop-out, though –

Farron: Well, no it isn’t, because in the end these things are not black and white, people can believe similar things and come to completely different conclusions.

Humphrys: So why did you ask God for guidance on whether you should run for the leadership of your party, then?

Farron: Well, you said earlier on that this was a genuine question and wasn’t meant to be facetious in any way, so my response is still the same which is that it is hardly surprising that someone of faith says prayers, and that is what we do. But I’m also of the view that everybody comes to every situation with a set of value judgements, and mine are liberal, mine are the view that when you go into these sorts of circumstances…