Saturday, September 30, 2006

More Government irony

This week they outlawed Age Discrimination.

Whilst announcing more Age Discrimination.

Go figure.

What did you do in the war Daddy?

The number of Lib Dem Local Parties taking part in the Green Tax Switch Action Week is growing fast.

If your Local Party hasn't joined in yet please get them to do so.

Then when your children ask you 'What did you do to try and stop Climate Change Daddy?' you'll have a convincing answer.

Porcupine Tree

My ears are still ringing from attending an excellent gig by prog rockers Porcupine Tree at the Astoria last night.

The first half of the set was new material which they plan to record as part of their new album at the end of the year, the second half being better known material - mostly from the two most recent albums.

Porcupine Tree are one of a batch of bands producing a modern take on prog rock and remind me a lot of classic bands like Pink Floyd as well as being influenced by more recent bands such as Marillion and Dream Theater.

If you like Floyd or prog rock visit the site and listen to the clips from their most recent album Deadwing.

The biography of the band also makes interesting reading.

The keyboard player in the band is Richard Barbieri who was one of the founders of the art pop group Japan.

Cameron fails the substance test

Britain's leading anti-Cameron daily gleefully reports that Labour have caught back up in the latest YouGov poll.

More worryingly for the Tory leader are some of the detailed findings of the poll which show that his lack of substance is starting to show. 60% agree with the statement 'David Cameron talks a good line but it is hard to know whether there is any substance behind the words'.

I'm not surprised by this, as, having met David a few times myself, I thought it would become obvious to people at some point that, while he is a genuinly nice bloke, there isn't much political depth there at all.

What I am surprised by is just how quickly the general public have twigged him.

And that is a real problem for the Tories.

Their stratgey is clearly to change the public perception of them, soften the image, make them appear united, modern, non-extreme.

However if they instead start to look shallow, all spin no substance etc. they will fail to re-estabish the trust they are seeking.

Whether or not this poll will be repeated, or their own conference gives them a bounce back, is yet to be seen. but to an extent it is irrelevant. What matters is the view that the general public have of Cameron. And that means he is now in trouble.

Daily Mail v Kerrang!

Britain's biggest selling music magazine - KERRANG! - has joined the noble fight against the force oif darkness that is The Daily Mail.

The cause of this battle was a ridiculous article in the Mail recently which warned parents of 'the cult of EMO'.

Emo - for those of you that don't already know - is a genre of heavy rock/metal music which emphasises 'emotional' content in its lyrics.

My main criticism of it is that, like many musical trends, there is often more style than substance.

But the Mail's take on it far more sinister. Sarah Sands, the author, suggests that EMO encourages self-harm reporting (without any evidence):

Emos exchange competitive messages on their teenage websites about the scars on their wrists and how best to display them. Girls' secondary schools have for some time been concerned about the increase in self harm.

Even more amusingly she quotes lyrices for the song EMO kid to justify her argument.

Isn't it obvious, even to a Mail journalist, that this is a spoof?

This whole thing reminds me of those ridiculous lawsuits that were brought against Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest in the US which claimed that listening to their records had cause kids to kill themselves. (OK - so Ozzy isn't the greatest singer in the worls - but he's not THAT bad!!)

Anyway KERRANG! dedicated a whole article to its readers' responses to the Mail this week and the letters and emails featured made a lot more sense than anything you'd read in the Mail. In particualr they focussed on the serious issue of self-harm and how the bands they like are a positive influence on their lives.

If anyone is still wondering what 'EMO' is take a look at the video for the excellent new single from My Chemical Romance The Black Parade.

You will either like it, or you'll hate it, but we can probably all agree that it's not part of a great gobla conspiracy to destroy teenage life!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

extremist bullies

In an article in the Independent titled:

"We won't bow to extremist bullies, says Reid"

John Reid is quoted as saying:

"We will go wherever we please, we will discuss what we like and we will never be brow beaten by bullies. That's what it means to be British."

And I bet he doesn't see the irony.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Last Lost

Tonight sees the final two episdoes of the second series of the excellent Lost.

I've followed this series from the beginning, and due being able to watch the following episdoe on E4 have only missed one or two episodes.

(The life of a Campaigns Officers generally makes it hard to follow a weekly series)

I love the general Prisoner like spookiness and the various plot twists and developments.

I think tonights episodes are going to be good, and we will probably find out a lot about the 'others'. But I bet there will be an almighty cliffhanger to lead into series 3!

Muppets bullied here

Little did I realise when I added the Top Five Links box - see below right - that it would have such amusement value!

Queen Top 50

As a tribute to Freddie Mercury, who would have been 60 this month, those nice people at Classic Rock Magazine have asked a batch of rock starts to nominate their favourite Queen tracks.

The 50 are not listed in order, but form an excellent cross section of the bands output - a total of 14 studio albums between 1973 and 1995.

The mid seventies - when the band were breaking through - provide the largest number of tracks. The classic Night At The Opera album contributes 8 of the 50, with Sheer Heart Attack providing 6 and News of the World 5. Jazz and The Game which followed 4 each. The Works, which was the foundation for the second flourish of their career in the eighties provided 4 tracks and Kind of Magic 3. There last proper album, the underrated Innuendo also provides 3.

The duffers (in terms of this list at least) are Made In Heaven, which was put together and realeased after the mercurial one's death. Hot Space, their much derided 'disco' period album, and The Miracle, which is one I rarely listen to myself.

What struck me about the comments is just how many major rock stars were into Queen. From aging rockers like Rob Halford of Judas Priest (whose iPod only contains his own work and Queen's entire catalogue), Maiden's Bruce Dicinson who crys when he hears Who Wants To Live Forever, and dave Hill of Slade, through prog rockers like Chris Squire of Yes, Geoff tate of Queensryche and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, through to young metalheads like Matt Heafy of Trivium, Zacky Vengeance of Avenged Sevenfold and Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth, it seems everyone loves the band.

Most of my favourites are there. My top 50 would also include Spread Your Wings from News of the World and Sail Away Sweet Sister from The Game.

Disney overdose

I'm at home today because little Emma is unwell.

She woke us up in the middle of last night with a temperature and spent the rest of the night wriggling around in our bed.

With the help of a few doses of Nurofen for Children (Stawberry Flavour) she is enjoying a subdued day on the sofa.

I have now seen enough Disney videos to last me a month!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chucking NHS cash down the drain

I gave a brief mention earlier to this morning's Times story about private treatment centres and their effect on our cash-strapped NHS.

For me this issue demonstrates just how dogmatic the Blair/Brown Government can be.

If you think back to the 1997 election campaign you will remember that Labour were elected because there was 'only 24 hours to save the NHS'. This was based on Labour's stark warning that the Tories intended to privatise the NHS.

Nine years later and that same Labour Party is forcing Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to sign up to contracts with private firms to deliver operations. If any PCT dares disagree the local members will be bullied into either agreeing or will be forced out.

There is, however, a small snag.

Within the NHS PCTs pay a fee for each operation that is done to the NHS hospital that does it. Therefore if the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford performs 100 cataract operations for South Oxfordshire PCT the PCT pays for 100 cataract operations.

However these Private Treatment Centre contracts work on a different basis. The PCT has to pay an agreed fee to the private company regardless of how many operations are actually done.

On average these private centres are running at 59% of their targets. That means that if a private company performs 59 cataract operations for South Oxon PCT the PCT still has to pay the cost of 100 operations.

The result is that money which could have been used to pay for 41 further operations is simply handed over to a private company.

This is what Labour politicians describe as 'modernisation' or 'reform' or whatever buzzwords are in this week.

It is what I call a barmy way to run a public service.

Gosh there are a lot of you

Last week, following a brief chat with Lib Dem Blogger of the Year, Oxford City Council Finance Champion and pin up Cllr Stephen Tall, I installed a clever widget from those nice people at StatCounter I am now finding out how many people visit this blog.

Having thought that my blog was only really read by a few Lib Dem mates, a couple of friends from Uni days and some slightly bemused members of my close family I have been very surprised at the number of visitors this blog gets.

The vast majority come through the excellent Lib Dem Blogs site and the rest through a variety of interesting searches (a number of whom must end up very disappointed when they get here!) A fair proportion seem to come back too.

Anyway, thank you for visiting. I hope you find my ramblings at least vaguely interesting. Do feel free to comment - I don't get enough of those - and most of the ones I do get seem to come from various furry animals.

And they accuse us ...

And these muppets claim our sums don't add up!

Read the article and click on the link top right to see a news report.

And don't forget to hold your local Labour MP to account for it!

OK, so now I KNOW they're not reading them carefully!

On the positive side, I can't complain that they're not swift ...

*From:* "Terry Deere"
*To:* <neilfawcett>

Neil Fawcett

The website does cover your case - there is an exemption allowing achild over 3 to use a rear seat adult belt where having two other childseats means there is not room for a third.

ABfor Terry Deere
Dept for Transport
Road User Safety Branch 2
zone 2/11
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street

... and my response ...

Dear AB for Terry Deere,

This is getting frustrating.

As I have said, the problem is not that there is not enough room for a third booster seat, it is that if we put two booster seats in there is then not enough room for the third child, with or without a booster seat.

Please can you advise me what to do in these circumstances.

Thank you.

Neil Fawcett.

I suspect they're not reading it very carefully

A further development in the child car safety saga.

An email has arrived from the mysterious 'TJN for Terry Deere':

*From:* "Terry Deere" <>
*To:* <neilfawcett>

Neil Fawcett

Thanks for this.

Our FAQs explain that there is an exception thatapplies for a child aged 3 years above travelling in the back who mayuse an adult seat belt (ie no need to use a child seat/booster) when twooccupied child seats/boosters prevent the use of a third.

For when the car is not full, there is nothing to prevent a child up to135 cms in height travelling in the front seat (save one using arear-facing baby seat against an active air-bag) provided it uses thecorrect child seat/booster.

But please consult the car handbook (eachcar will differ) regarding children and air-bags (if fitted). We strongly recommend that you follow that advice - air-bags are powerfuland deserve respect.

TJN for Terry Deere
Dept for Transport
Road User Safety Branch 2
zone 2/11
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street

Which, as those of you following the saga will know, fails to answer the original question.

I have replied thus:

Dear TJN for Terry Deere,

Yes. I read that.

The situation I am trying to get across is that if we put two booster seats into the back of the car then there isn't enough room for the third child, or my wife, to fit in the back seat.

I would like your advice about what to do in OUR situation, not the various situations on your website, none of which apply.

Neil Fawcett.

Meanwhile the children remain in imminent danger.

(Well, other than for the fact that I haven't taken them anywhere in the car yet.)

When is a commercial loan not a commercial loan?

Page 4o of the Labour Party NEC's Annual Report includes this little gem in the Treasurer's Report:

A further commercial loan of £2.0 million was received from Richard Caring in March 2006 on terms similar to those already disclosed, bringing the entire amount of the supporter loans from £11.95 million to £13.95 million (excluding accrued interest). In two cases it has been indicated that the loans are to be repaid when the term comes to an end, and we have made budgetary provision for this repayment. Also, others have already agreed to reschedule their loans to future periods. At all times this position is kept under review to ensure we meet our financial and budgetary targets.

This seems to be a very interesting definition of a 'commercial' loan.

Page 45 sets out that the Labour Party had a deficit of £14,500,000 in 2005, basically funded by the above loans.

The figures also suggest that their ongoing income is barely enough to pay for their ongoing income, let alone have anything left to pay the loans off. If they really are 'commercial' loans then they presumably face an interest bill of around a million too.

It is quite difficult to see how a Party with this level of debts can survive without significantly reducing its running costs.

hat tip: Iain Dale

Robbing the NHS to pay Paul

More evidence that the Blair/Brown government is throwing money down the drain while other parts of the NHS make massive cuts.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Whiter than white

Remember the 1997 General Election? One of the key planks of the Labour campaign was their attacks on Tory sleaze.

Well wads of cash in brown envelopes seems small beer now compared to Labour's loans scandal.

Setting aside the possible link to peerages, it is now clear that the Labour Party, or, to be fair, a small group of individuals in senior positions in the Labour Party, had a deliberate strategy of arranging soft loans in order to get round the transparancy imposed by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPEERA) that they themselves had introduced in response to Tory sleaze.

Reading the articles in todays Independent here and here - based on evidence from a senior Labour Party source - it is clear that Labour could not have afforded most of the campaign they ran in 2005.

That means that Labour MPs in marginal seats such as Andrew Smith MP in Oxford East, Emily Thornberry MP in Islington South & Finsbury, Claire Ward MP in Watford and even Charles Clarke MP in Norwich South may well have lost their seats, had it not been for the cash raised from secret loans.

They certainly would not have had the billboards, mailshots and newspaper ads that were used to squeeze the lib Dem vote in the last week of the campaign to back up their local efforts.

I hope that Lib Dem campaigners in these and other marginal seats will be pointing this out over the coming months.

Labour got in by attacking the Tories for being sleazy. But now we know that they are not only a bunch of sleazebags themselves, but a hypocritcal bunch of sleazebags at that.

Tooth Fairy latest

Those of you who had a sleepless night worrying about whether the Tooth Fairy would turn up can rest easy tonight.

I was woken at some ungodly hour this morning by Jimmy proudly clutching a nice shiny one pound coin.

Thank You Tooth Fairy, wherever you are ;-)

Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of crooks

They really are in the s**t now.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Calling the tooth fairy

My son Jimmy, 8, found a long lost tooth two days ago and, being a fast-thinking young thing, put it straight under his pillow.

Sadly, in an uncharacteristic fit of shabbiness, the Tooth Fairy has not turned up.

Jimmy has therefore asked me to put a post on here so that if the Tooth Fairy reads my blog she will see this and come and replace his tooth with a shiny one pound coin.

So before he went to bed I promised him I would put up a post asking the Tooth fairy to pop round.

Now that he's told me about the tooth I feel sure she will turn up tonight ;-)

Now featuring videos

OK - so I'm not quite at the vidcasting stage just yet.

But I have managed to add a clever bit of code from Martin Tod's site which means that you can watch and listen to people far more interesting than me while reading my blog.

You can find the code here.

You can watch Lib Dem Blogger of the Year and Oxford City Finance Chief Cllr Stephen Tall's latest video here.

They even let him out into the community this time!

What a load of Balls

So Gordon Brown thinks the solution to to the problems in the NHS might be ... more reorganisation!

According to Brown fanboy Ed Balls this is because:

"The track record so far has been about devolution in important areas of policy - on monetary policy, on financial services policy, on local government and regional policy too," he told the BBC.

Well call me old fashioned but I prefer to judge people on the basis of what they have actually done, rather than what they say they might do in the future.

The Brown/Blair Government could have devolved power in the NHS at any point in the last 9 and a half years. They could have done this within the current structure, or any one of the many structures that have existed during that 9 and a half years.

They could have done this at national level, by letting the existing national bodies get on with the job, or they could have genuinly develoved power to the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) when they set them up.

Instead what we have seen is Government dictac at every stage and at every level.

In this area we have seen PCTs forced to sign contracts with private companies that have resulted in NHS money being poured down the drain. When some of the few genuinly independent minded local members of PCT boards try and take decisions that they believe are in the best interests of their communiities they are bullied into making the right decision or hounded out.

Does this strike you as being the work of someone with 'track record so far has been about devolution in important areas of policy'? Thought not.

In local government it means that local authorities are encouraged to draw up mission statements, Local Area Plans etc. But if they include things that the Government (or more usually the civil servant inhabiting their regional office) doesn't like they are told to change them.

The sad thing is that I think many Labour Ministers honestly believe that they have devolved power.

What a load of Balls.

V for Very Good Indeed

I didn't get to see V for Vendetta when it was in the cinemas but read a few reviews that made it sound like the kind of film i would like.

Seeing it while shopping for dinner yesterday I picked it up on DVD yesterday and we watched it last night.

It is absolutely excellent.

Based on a brilliant graphic novel by the mighty Alan Moore illustrated by David Lloyd and brought to the screen by the people that did The Matrix, the film combines action thriller with politics set in a 1984 like future UK. As the synopsis says:

Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain, V For Vendetta tells the story of a mild-mannered young woman named Evey (NATALIE PORTMAN) who is rescued from a life-and-death situation by a masked man (HUGO WEAVING) known only as “V.” Incomparably charismatic and ferociously skilled in the art of combat and deception, V ignites a revolution when he urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and oppression. As Evey uncovers the truth about V’s mysterious background, she also discovers the truth about herself – and emerges as his unlikely ally in the culmination of his plan to bring freedom and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty and corruption.

There are several parts of the film that could easily be taken as a warning against Blairism, if in an exagerated form.

The look of the whole thing is amazing. It reminded me of the darkness of the first Batman movie (also based on a graphic novel) with touches of Frank Miller's Sin City thrown in. There are also occasional Matrix like effects.

The plot steadily unravels as the film goes on, leading to a quite spectacular finale when the lead characters have to decide which side they are on.

If you haven't seen it, and you like a bit of politics mixed with a bit of action, watch it today!

The Emporer Has No Clothes

Therer's little I like more than seeing people point out that The Emporer Has No Clothes.

Congratulations then to Harriet Yeo for doing nothing more than pointing out the truth to Mr Blair.

It is difficult to bring up children, particularly teenagers, and wise politicians will bear this in mind before pronouncing on the subject.

Labour Minister John Hutton was also mouthing off recently about single parents.

The gist of his comments were that, on average, children living with two parents are lijkely to do better than those brought up by one. In particular they are a lot less likely to live in relative poverty.

Well durr...

Does we really need a politician to tell us that households with two adults in them are likely to have a higher income, on average, than those with one?

Or that single parents might find it harder to hold down a full time job than two parent households?

Seems pretty obvious to me that that would be the case.

What Hutton then went on to say was that there is not actually that much the Government can do about it.

Which makes me question why there is any value in raising the issue in the first place.

Surely it wasn't because he was chasing headlines in the right wing press like this?

Battles in Time

Son Jimmy, 8, has been suffering with a rather nasty insect bite which got infected.

As a result he has been on anti-biotics all week and I had to take him to the doctors yesterday to have it lanced. (Imagine his disapointment when this didn't involve a man on a horse charging at him!).

I was therefore obliged to buy him a copy of the first edition on the latest Doctor Who merchandise - Battle in Time - for being such a brave little soldier.

This is a series of trading cards which arrive each fortnight with a magazine. (Trading cards are a bit like Top Trumps but there are more of them and they run at a level of sophistication that only 8-12 years olds will ever understand.) The magazine also included an excellent poster with daleks on it and a list of all the cards so that you can tick them off when you get them.

The next two issues come with a Tardis shaped box to keep them in and if you opt for the 4-issues-at-a-time subscripiton offer you get a whole pile of freebies as well.

Doctor Who merchandising was never this exciting when I was 8!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Guildford Tories' Smear Campaign

Tim Ireland's other site is dedicated to holding the Tory MP for Guildford, Anne Milton, to account.

He has also been busy documenting a particularly nasty smear campaign orchestrated by two prominent Guildford Tories against a Lib Dem activist in the town.

I won't dignify the smears by going into the detail myself but suffice to say it is pretty horrible stuff.

In brief the two Tories concerned set up some bogus websites, put up some smears against the Lib Dem concerned, and then added comments pretending to be him.

You can read all about the detail - and Tim Ireland's efforts to hold the Tories concerned to account here.

Unfortunately I can't find any trace of either Anne Milton MP or Guildford Conservatives taking any action over this appalling activity. In fact Dennis Paul appears to still be a Conservative Candidate.

Very amusing vid

A link to the new vid from Tim Ireland has just appeared, just over there on the right, below the Lib Dem Blogs box.

Gets the point over nicely I think.

If you would like to see some even harder hitting vids go to Tim's Backing Blair site and click on the links down the right hand column. I find them very amusing but effective at the same time. (Not for the faint hearted.)

Is the Green Tax Switch campaign taking off?

Looking at the Green Tax Switch campaign website there are clear signs that the campaign is starting to take off.

Two weeks ago only a handful of Local Parties had set up their action days.

Now, as word of mouth and conference have spread the word, there is almost a mapful. (Press the green action week button on the riught and it takes you to Martin Tod's very clever flocktogether website).

You can also download a rather nifty campaign pack produced by those nice people in the Campaigns Department and a PDF of good advice on how to run a successful street stall.

If your Local Party hasn't sorted out your local action day yet - then step to it!

Labour hold on in Oxford

Labour held on to their seat in Lye Valley ward in Oxford last night. If the feedback I heard is correct then this was in large part down to the Labour candidate being very popular in his local patch and his track record in the community.

Congratulations Bob!

I managed to miss an article on Antonia's Blog about a leaflet we put out during the last by-election in Oxford which was in Hinksey Park Ward in July. (I was off on my hols by the time Antonia posted it.)

Now she is entitled to her view and clearly felt very strongly that it is wrong for a party to raise national or international issues during a local by-election campaign. (Not that it ever stopped Labour when it was winning them votes!)

What I do find surprising is that she thinks that this leaflet is worthy of such criticism while the substantive issues - Blair's mishandling or Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Middle East in general - barely rates a mention.

I can remember a time when Labour activists attacked the Lib Dems because we only ever fought on local issues and didn't have anything clear to say on national issues.

I always used to take great delight when various Tory County Councillors waved my leaflets around in the Council chamber before going on to lose Oxford West & Abingdon in 1997. I am delighted to see Antonia joining in and hope it bodes equally well for our success in Oxford East next time.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Get thee to Oxford

Unlike a certain Mr Coats (*shock horror!) I was out delivering Good Mornings in Oxford this morning.

If you are in the vicinity at any point before 10pm this evening do drop in.

The Committee Room is here.

32 Marsh Lane, Cowley, Oxford OX4 2HH. Tel 01865 716756.

*PS - don't worry Jock - it happens to us all!

Unhelpful answer on car seats

Regular readers (of whom , according to my new fangled stat counter there seem to be about a dozen) will remember that I emailed the Department for Transport asking for some advice on how to fit myself, the missus and three children into a car once car seats have to be fitted.

Anyway - this reply arrived from a Terry Deere at the DfT while I was at conference:


Thank you for your enquiry. Please see Q 11 of our FAQs at the link below whhich may help you.


Were it not for the fact that it was reading those very same FAQs that prompted me to send the email in the first place it might have been helpful.

So I have now sent this:


Dear Terry Deere,

I had already read through the FAQs on the website and no it doesn't help me.
We have a normal car.

If two child booster seats are put in the back seat there is not enough room for the third child to sit comfortably with or without a booster seat.

If I put the third child in the front seat then there is not enough room for my wife in the back seat.

Please advise what I should do in these circumstances.

Thank you,

Neil Fawcett.


Meanwhile my children remain in imminent danger!

I will report back on any further developments.

Fairer, greener and ... stronger

Media reports of the final day of party conference, and comment on Ming's speech in particular, suggest an element of surprise that:

a The mood at conference is bouyant
b There has been no popular 'bring back Charles' uprising
c The leadership are doing quite well actually

I guess this reflects the underestimation of the Lib Dems that meant they were taken aback at our ability to win in Dunfermline and come so close in Bromley.

Apart from reconfirming to me why I joined the Liberals nearly 20 years ago - a belief that our society needed to be fairer and greener - it has also confirmed my belief that the Lib Dems are a pretty robust bunch. It takes a bit more than a few months without a leader and the odd personal scandal or two to stop Focus leaflets going out, doors being knocked on and councils being improved.

It also confirms that Lib Dem conference goers, like much of the public, are a lot more interested in substance than spin. That's why there was such a positive reaction to the Green Tax Switch Rally and to the speeches by Nick Clegg and my former boss Chris Huhne.

But it doesn't stop at the end of conference. Lib Dem activists will now be going back to their constituencies to deliver Green Tax Switch Focuses, set up campaign stalls and events, and spread the message that in an era of Tory and Labour spin there is one party with real policies that deal with real issues.

Tall the Tart

There's no stopping Lib Dem Blogger of the Year and Oxford City Council Finance boss Stephen Tall.

After a week of media coverage I'm now listening to him on the World at One, giving us his response to Ming's speech.

Not only that but he was on first before Party President Simon Hughes!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Behind the scenes at Brighton

Being one of the party's backroom folk I am spending most of my time at Brighton round the corner at the so-called 'Quality' Hotel.

Most of my week is spent running training sessions (I was the lucky one this year and have been lead training on the exciting topic of 'Basic Election Law'!) and having meetings with colleagues and teams from various constituencies.

I am always struck by how different the mood at our conferences is from the reports in the mainstream media.

Generally people are very positive. Our campaign teams in the ever growing number of key seats are bouyant, attending lots of training and getting the election planning underway.

There is a lot of enthusiasm fo the Green Tax Switch campaign with hundreds of Local Parties already planning their local campaigns. The rally on Sunday was well attended.

Nick Clegg's speech yesterday proposing a Great Repeal Act went down very well and I have just heard the very positive response to Chris Huhne this morning.

I am sure that Charles will get a very warm response to his speech and, no, it won't mean anything for Ming's leadership, just a party saying thank you to our most recent, well-liked leader.

The biggest debate is clearly going to be on the 50p income tax amendment which is being put forward by my long-standing colleague Evan Harris. It's not my place to state a view either way on the proposal but what I will say is that the important thing is the package overall which gives the Lib Dems a positive and distinctive platform to campaign from.

Well done Stephen

I was delighted to attend the first ever Lib Dem Bloggers Reception on Sunday and to see Stephen Tall win the first Lib Dem Blog of the Year contest.

Stephen happens to be sitting next to me blogging away (or perhaps doing hard sums on behalf of the City Council) as I write this.

I am very glad I nominated him and his victory is well-deserved.

It was nice to meet so many other LD bloggers at the reception and to hear the very interesting contributions from Lynne, Mark, Alex and Rob.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Freedom of Speech is ebbing away

For some reason my newsagent decided to deliver a copy of The Sunday Telegraph to me last Sunday instead of the usual Independent on Sunday. (I used to get The Observer but switched after they backed the invasion of Iraq - but that's another story.)

It took me a few seconds to decide that my newsagent probably had better things to do than listen to my complaints, so, happy in the knowledge that one of my Tory neighbours was having to stomach the IoS, I decided to read the thing anyway.

The story that grabbed my attention was this one.

Now this guy is an idiot. His views are loopy, he should get a life and stop pretending that if there was a God he would have any time at all for small minded losers like him.

But the important point is that the guy has a right to be an idiot and to put forward his idiotic views if he wants to. He has the right to hand his stupid leaflets to people like me who disagree with him and to listen to the tirade that would be directed in his direction if he did.

Yet he was arrested!

As far as I am aware there is no suggestion that he was behaving aggressively, forcing his silly leaflet on people, or being in any way abusive.

But on the grounds that one or two people were offended by his views he has been arrested, charged and dragged into a courtroom.

This is a frightening state of affairs.

Now I chose this particular case not because I agree in any way with this loony, but because I think those arguing for freedom of speech make their case stronger by defending the rights of those they strongly disagree with.

There are also a number of other recent incidents which also demonstrate the frightening state of affairs we are in where I have more sympathy with those affected:

Families of war dead not allowed to protest at the Labour Party Conference.

Man not allowed to take Craig Murray's memoir of his incident-strewn stint as British ambassador to Uzbekistan on a flight.

Woman prosecuted for reading the names of those killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph. (Kind of misses the point about what the Cenotaph is as well!)

And, of course, there's good old Walter - surely a serious threat if ever there was one.

One common thread running through all of these examples is that each of them points to a Government that believes so fully that it is absolutely right about absolutely everything that the rest of us need to be protected from viewpoints that point another way.

A second common thread is that this approach is ultimately self-destructive.

It simply helps to increase the intensity of feeling against this Government, pushes freedom up the agenda of both main opposition parties, and will contribute to this Government being remembered, and deservedly so, as a failure.

New entry at number one

Congratulations to Lib Dem Voice for topping Iain Dale's list of the 100 top ten Lib Dem blogs.

As the discussions that have already started show there is huge potential for the site to become a real gathering point for Lib Dem debate.

The opportunity to have an accessible online private forum is also long overdue.

Along with Lib Dem Blogs Aggregated we've got a pretty good web prescence to build from.

A Liberal Dose is 64 in the list, which, given my infrequent blogging, I'll take as a compliment!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How do you fit five elephants in a Mini?*

Have just read the new regulations about children in cars and they prompted me to send this email.

I will report back if/when I get a reply.


Dear Department for Transport,

In my family there are two adults and three children, all over the age of three.

It is already a bit of a squash in our (fairly normal) family saloon.

If we install booster seats as per my reading of your new regulations we won’t all be able to fit.

Can you advise on the best cause of action please?


Neil Fawcett.


* I'm not suggesting that members of my family are overweight BTW - it was just the first headline that came into my head

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mercury still shines brightly

As far as I'm concerned Freddie Mercury (or Sir Frederick of Mercury as Smash Hits used to call him) is the greatest rock star of all time.

Not necessarily the best singer, or the best writer, but definitely the best combination of singing, showmanship and generally 'have a good time, all the time' (as Spinal Tap would say) ever to have graced the planet.

Had he lived it would have been his 60th birthday today.

If you would like to join the stars in celebrating Freddie's life you can do so by sponsoring a star in one of two virtual constellations here. All money raised goes to the Mercury Phoenix Trust which helps fund the fight against AIDS worldwide.

And if you're really keen you can also visit the house he grew up in in Zanzibar which, when I visited it a few years ago at least, is a rather nice Goan restaurant called 'Camlurs'.

Best avoid the local Muslim politicians though.