Friday, 30 July 2010

More on Trident

Lib Dem Voice carries a press release from Ming Campbell on Trident. (and for those who saw BBC2's 5 days I wonder if Ming has a pet-and does he look like it?):

'If fierce cuts are to be made in Britain’s conventional forces, surely we have to consider whether replacing Trident can be justified'

I don't really care if the Tories come round to our way of thinking on the grounds of cost, or because of a more sensible recognition of our strategic needs or for moral reason. Labour failed to make the right decision on any grounds. Mind you wait for the howl from the Tory backbenches.

Two elections in the same year

A while back the BBC parliament channel devoted an evening to the night the government fell in 1979 on which we reported at the time. Well they are at it again, this time looking at the two elections of  1910 (details here). Readers will recall that Southport Lib Dems held a big dinner to mark that election and the candidacy of Baron de Forest last year

Birkdale Allotment anniversary?

I was talking with a fellow plot holder at the Birkdale Irrigation Allotment site and our conversation turned to when the site was established. More that ten years ago I spent a happy few hours reading the back minutes of the old Birkdale Urban District Council and the Southport Guardian to track down that information. As is the way with my filing system I cannot find my notes now but I recall the outlines. (Health warning my memory is not as good as it once was and I think the temporary Library has the minute books in storage)

The 1906 Liberal Government was determined to bring in legislation to improve the provision of allotments and small holdings. This was a key plank of several elections  especially the first County Council election that were held in the late 1880s. Indeed a previous Tory government fell as a result of loosing a vote on Allotments (there was some speculation just how much Gladstone knew about Allotments or the amendment).

Anyway back to Birkdale, after the 1907 Allotment legislation:

The Smallholding and Allotment Act 1907
Imposed responsibilities on parish, urban district and borough councils to provide allotments and further legislation in 1908 consolidated previous acts and resolved various anomalies.

In Birkdale the agitation for a site began. Reading the minutes it was clear that the Council were none to interested but eventually a site was established on Shaftesbury Avenue but it was only a temporary one. Supposedly the council was seeking a site but not with any great enthusiasm. They had not reckoned on one Ebenezer Baxendale. He petitioned the council and kept reminding them of their new legal responsibilities and would not take NO for an answer. This was batted back and forward for sometime until the council finally bowed to inevitable and found a site which was let from the owners of Scarisbrick Hall. In those days it was all Lancashire so the fact that it lay outside of the parish boundary was probably unimportant. Today the site is in West Lancs .
What became of Ebenezer? Well there is a Baxendale on the War Memorial at St John's church would died in the 1st World War. I have the memory that this was Ebenezer's son who had emigrated to Canada. The church has done research into all those whose name appear on the memorial and there is a folder in the church so I can check up on that detail.

All this leads me to think we are close to the 100 anniversary of the site.

Council Communications

It is not a secret that there has been a lot of dissatisfaction about the communication strategy of Sefton Council. Mark Bigley the Conservative Councillor for Ainsdale (until the recent elections) made a series of suggestions for improvement. Others of us have be frustrated at the failure of the council to exploit the possibilities of social media-by which I include things as basic as the website! We were still getting pleas to put out a full delivery Council Newspaper. Somethings went a head-before my time expensive video equipment was bought and films made which few people knew about and even fewer watched! Well when I asked for information no one seemed able to come up with any information.

Anyway as part of a political strategy to get things up to date we managed to get communications to report to one cabinet member -me. This is not the place to detail the trials and tribulations of getting policy in this area reviewed. There have recently been a series of departures from the council as part of the 'slimming down process'  and next Wednesday I am getting the first report from the new regime. For the first time I think that we might be getting somewhere! You can access the reports here.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Trident replacement is looking less likely today.........................

Following on from Roy Connell's contribution over the renewal of Trident I am grateful for Lord Bonkers retweeting this article from Greenpeace.(I'm slowly getting a handle on the twittering malarkey):

Trident replacement is looking less likely today after Chancellor George Osborne told media that the Treasury weren’t willing to stump up for the project out of central funds.

Speaking in New Delhi, where he is accompanying David Cameron on his visit to India, Mr Osborne told the Bloomberg newswire: "All budgets have pressure. I don't think there's anything particularly unique about the Ministry of Defence. I have made it very clear that Trident renewal costs must be taken as part of the defence budget."

The Treasury tried to play the comments down, saying that policy hadn’t changed and this wasn’t news. But they did confirm to us that the Ministry of Defence is now expected to pay for any Trident replacement.

some are more equal than others.................

Early this year I was blogging about the Chartist campaign. At the time I couldn't bring to mind what the sixth point of the charter was. I am grateful to Stephen Glen for refreshing my memory. You may recall that in the 1830's a major push for expanding the franchise was under way and a charter of six point was drawn up, so acknowledgments Stephen they were:

  • A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
  • The secret ballot. - To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  • No property qualification for members of Parliament - thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
  • Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.
  • Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones. 
  • Annual parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.       
What brought this to mind yesterday? Well Jack Straw of course. He shares the view with Bootle Councillor Bobby Brennan that Labour seats should be smaller. Stephen spells it out in more detail.

The Chartists are enjoying something of a revival of interest. The Trade Unionist Bill Morris has just done a radio 4 programme on one of their leaders William Cuffay which is on iplayer for 6 more days.

Tess Gerritsen at Southport Flower Show

I must admit that despite my mild addiction to crime novels-I'm reading the Susan Hill 'The Vows of Silence'-I have not come across Tess Grittitsen until last night.During a presentation on the Southport Flower Show I learned that they were developing a mini 'bloomin book festival' and that one of the stars is Ms Gerritsen. I checked out her website and sure enough she is in the UK for a Book Tour in August-altho Southport is not -as yet- mentioned in her itinerary. Well I can confirm she will be at the Flower Show:

Sunday 22nd August
2.00pm Tess Gerritsen   Internationally acclaimed best selling author
The Killing Place
The newest heart-stopping thriller from Tess Gerritsen incorporates a seamless plot with tremendous action. The Killing Place takes the ongoing characters Dr Maura Isles and homicide detective Jane Rizzoli into a mysterious village to discover a dark secret.
We’re very proud at the Bloomin’ Good Books Festival to welcome such a high calibre and famous author to our inaugural festival.

Anyway speaking of the largest independent flower show it is on 19th-22nd August and is brilliant. It has attracted as many as 85 000 visitors to the town and makes a major contribution to our economy. It is good to hear they are developing new initiatives and partnership in the town. In particular a joint venture with local restaurateurs sound interesting. 
BBC televsion has given wall to wall exposure to the Tatton Flower show-equivalent to a mega advertising budget if they'd paid for it. I hope that we get similar treatment!
One improvement we would all like to see is for Northern Rail to get its act together. Last year folk were being prevented from getting on the train from Wigan and Burscough and stops to Southport because the carriages were full. The same thing happened with the Air Show. This year there is a rail / ticket deal with Northern. Let us hope that they have the capacity to deliver what they are advertising. 

150th birthday

On August 2nd  1860 the first leisure pier in Great Britain was opened in Southport. Late in the C20th it was restored and today is the second longest pier in Britain. On Monday August 2nd at 12 noon there will be an appropriate and modest celebration. All are welcome.
Congratulations to all involved in the pier restoration and management today.
Mike Swift raised this at last nights Area Committee and I was very happy to add our congratulations. I waited with baited breath for his supplementary question but he had genuinely come to draw to out attention the piers 150th birthday. Inevitably others could not resist the temptation of a passing bandwagon (as Sir Ron Watson has pointed out) and started asking questions about increasing the opening hours.
Mike Booth was soon on his feet-he is the cabinet member for tourism- and told us that the pier has opened later in the past and that it can do so again. The decision is in the hands of the businesses who can have access to the keys.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Split the Bill

Ok David Grace wrote up this thought quicker than I did, but it occurred to me that if the 'reason' Labour are giving for voting against the AV Bill is that it is tethered to the reduction of the size of the House of Commons why not split the Bill. The right wing Tories can vote against AV if Labour support it and the reduction of the size  of the Commons has a Lib/Dem  Con majority. Who is the Government chief whip?

Another think tank lands a hit on Trident

Roy Connell has alerted me to a report from  Royal United Services Institute written by Professor Malcolm Chalmers which is summarised on the BBC website:

'The so-called continuous-at-sea-deterrence (CASD) has been the basis of Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent since the first Polaris submarines - the predecessor of Trident - were deployed in 1968.
But the RUSI paper, written by Professor Malcolm Chalmers - a former adviser to Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett when they were foreign secretaries - suggests CASD is no longer necessary following the end of the Cold War and abandoning it could produce "significant financial savings".
"There is now a stark gap between the assumptions on which planning for the UK's conventional and nuclear forces, respectively, are based," the paper said.
Liam FoxDr Fox has said a decision about the fourth submarine would be made in 2014/2015
Dropping CASD would enable the government to delay ordering a replacement fleet of missile-carrying submarines, putting back the point where it would have to start paying out up to £1.5bn a year in construction costs, it argued.'
Mind you cancelling the whole programme would save billions more and help with wider disarmament.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A good example in a difficult world

Firstly we ought to acknowledge the break through that Birmingham City Council has made in publishing in full the Serious Incident Report following the death of  seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq. 

We struggled to get the Leader of the Council to see the full document after a child death in Sefton and still the access to that document is heavily restricted. You can read the story here.

Pugh in call for parents ballot

Southport's MP John Pugh moved an amendment to the Academies Bill to allow parents to trigger a ballot if a school governing body is divided over moving to Academy status. You can hear the debate from the Radio 4 Yesterday in Parliament. This an an interesting development for Lib Dem backbenchers in challenging the Government and presenting a distinctive Liberal view.
You can see the full debate in Hansard. John is a former teacher at local Comprehensive Schools as well as at Merchant Taylor's Crosby.

Monday, 26 July 2010

D66 explain coalition collapse

The Social Liberal Party of the Netherlands D66 explain the coalition collapse. Clearly many of the tensions we are seeing in the UK were present. There are lessons to learn about policy and social liberals in Britain would clearly benefit from speaking to D66. The balance between cutting expenditure and tax increases looms large in this debate.

BSF over optimistic, creating expectations that could not be met and what about those PFIs

With Building Schools for the Future a key area for political scrapping I thought it worth reproducing this item from the Public Accounts Committee on which there was a Labour majority:

'The Department for Children, Schools and Families' Building Schools for the Future

Programme (BSF) plans to renew every secondary school in the country, by rebuilding half

of them, structurally remodelling 35%, refurbishing 15% and providing Information

Communication Technology to all. Its aim is to use capital investment in new buildings as

a catalyst to improve educational outcomes. The Department estimates that the

programme will cost £52-£55 billion over its lifetime.

The Department was over-optimistic in its original planning assumptions for BSF, creating

expectations for the speed of delivery that could not be met. Of the 200 schools originally

planned to be completed by December 2008, only 42 had been by that date. Although the

Department had hoped to deliver the programme over 10-15 years, it now expects it to

take 18 years, with the last school completed in 2023.

Local authorities are responsible for the local delivery of BSF. They plan, procure and

manage the BSF school buildings. In 2004, the Department established Partnerships for

Schools to manage the national delivery of the programme. It also invited Partnerships UK,

a joint venture between the Treasury, Scottish Ministers and private companies with an

interest in public-private partnerships, to provide advice and help manage Partnerships for


The Department and Partnerships for Schools encourage local authorities to procure their

schools through a Local Education Partnership. These are 10-year partnerships to procure

a flow of projects, structured as joint ventures between the local authority, a consortium of

private companies that build, finance and maintain schools, and Building Schools for the

Future Investments (a joint venture between the Department and Partnerships UK).

It is too early to conclude whether BSF will achieve its educational objectives. To date,

over-optimism has meant the programme could not live up to expectations. Establishing

Partnerships for Schools to manage the programme centrally has helped local authorities to

deliver more effectively, but while Local Education Partnerships have potential advantages,

their value for money is yet to be proven. And it will be very challenging to deliver all

schools by 2023.

On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,1 the Committee took

evidence from the Department for Children, Schools and Families about the cost and

progress of the programme, the use of Local Education Partnerships, the efficiency and

effectiveness of the central programme management and the effect of the recession on the


The Sun says it so it must be ....

TOP civil servants think Deputy PM Nick Clegg would make a better Premier than David Cameron. So says the Sun

Home is where the heart is ....

I should say that I have heard some positive things about the new MP for Sefton Central despite his closeness to Unite (which reminds me we must look at their election expenses).  His attempt to blame the cutting of the Switch Island road on this government was a little gauche as it was clearly a decision of the Labour government-but we are use to the unreality about spending that the Labour Party has developed in opposition. Nevertheless I was surprised to read how active he has been in Kent following Ed Milliband about (there goes that Unite connection again) :

'Medway was the focus of Mr Miliband’s visit where, accompanied by members of the local Labour team and former councillor Bill Esterson, now MP for Sefton Central, he helped canvass for the Medway Council by-election on August 12 for Labour candidate John Jones.'

VAT and Labour's embarrassment

Labour and the VAT rise. Given the head of steam that some of the Labour Councillors on Sefton worked up over the VAT rise it is helpful that Alister Darling has now clarified the position. Peter Black has the story. In retrospect one or two of them turn in a masterly comic performance.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

E.J.C. Young b Kneedy

Yesterday saw me at Old Trafford to see Lancashire play the Unicorns in a 40 over match. The Unicorns are a side made up of cricketers not under contract to a county. They play in this competition along with Scotland and the Netherlands. I guess the idea is that it is a place where young cricketers can be seen alongside some older pros. Well Lancs won easily -by nine wickets. As to young cricketers taking the opportunity to impress two took the eye. Firstly the young Zimbabwean medium pace bowler Glen Querl who took the only wicket for the Unicorns and did a good job of restricting the run rate.The other Unicorn to impress was a Lancashire lad from Oldham who now plays Minor Counties cricket for Norfolk Christopher Brown. His off spin bowling was the most economical of the innings.
photo by me!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

One Pot Pledge®

One Pot Pledge®
I was down at the allotment this morning to finish lifting the garlic and I got into conversation with a new plot holder. Like many of the people who have taken up allotments in the past few years she was neither old or a man or grumpy. She has been persuading her friends to take up up the 'One pot pledge' being run by the organic gardening charity HDRA.

I would suggest rocket would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

D66 coalition talks fail

The 'purple coalition' talks failed today in Holland on the issue of deficit reduction. Maybe we should be talking to our Dutch friends.

Netherlands worldwide radio reports:

'Talks about the formation of a so-called ‘Purple-plus’ cabinet for the Netherlands – a coalition of the free-market Liberal VVD party, Labour Party, D66 and Green Left – fell part on Tuesday in their third week. Informateurs Uri Rosenthal (VVD) and Jacques Wallage (PvdA) have wound up the discussions and are preparing their final report. (Informateurs are politicians who investigate proposed governing coalitions on behalf of Queen Beatrix. They will report to her on Wednesday.)
It was referred to as 'Purple-plus' since it would have combined the ‘blue’ of the VVD with the ‘red’ of the Labour Party, 'plus 'the two smaller parties.
After the announcement of the talks’ collapse, the party leaders offered an explanation for their failure. Mark Rutte (VVD), Job Cohen (Labour Party), Alexander Pechtold (D66) and Femke Halsema (Green Left) said the discussions foundered on the topic of finance. The parties could not agree on the size of budget cuts for the coming years.
There were also big disagreements about mortgage interest deductions and the kilometre-tax (whereby drivers would be taxed on every kilometre they travelled).

too glib to say Community Politics is the same as the Big Society?

Mary Whitehouse, Hyacinth Bucket and Pierre Poujade would all have welcomed the big society launch yesterday and most of all Eric Pickles banal championing of it. I am not sure that the glib assertion that the Big Society is just Community Politics by another name or even less convincingly that it is just Liberalism can be sustained.

There are obvious concerns about how universally these ideas can be applied. Coming home from work late last night I stopped of at the ‘take away’ to get some food. I was served by a woman I recognised from her day job. She is not alone in having to hold down two jobs in order to balance the family budget. It is not my experience that the working poor are idle but- rather like their US counterparts –they work incredibly long hours. I observe anecdotally that that is particularly true of women. I therefore really doubt that they can spare the time to join Cameron’s new model army of volunteers and does that mean if they can’t spare the time to run the local library it shuts?

I sincerely doubt that the Tory women who relish the idea have much understanding of social disadvantage. I remember long and difficult debates on Cheshire County Council when such women railed against childcare initiatives because there was no need for them. They hadn’t used them, but rather they had clubbed together with their friends when they wanted a day out and could not comprehend that others may lack the resources to do so. I see no strategy to address that problem.

Social disadvantage is one anxiety concerning this ‘big idea’. A second is the misunderstanding of Voluntary Action. Personally I have always preferred Beveridge’s definition. Folk are often fond of calling Bveridge in aide when they want to promote some vast national state run welfare provision. It is true that in his youth he did come under the influence of the Webbs with their propensity to champion bureaucratic state solutions, but listen to Beveridge in 1948 when he is a Liberal :

‘I take as the characteristic of Voluntary Action independence from public control. …’voluntary was normally used to denote ‘unpaid’. A ‘voluntary worker’ was someone who gave unpaid service to a good cause………In recent years there has been a significant shift of meaning here. Nowadays many of the most active voluntary organisations are staffed entirely by highly trained and fairly well paid professional workers, The distinctively ‘voluntary’ characteristic of such bodies is the product , not of the kind of workers they employ, but of their mode of birth and method of government. A voluntary organisation properly speaking is an organisation which, whether its workers paid or unpaid, is initiated and governed by its own members without external control.

We have all become so used to New Labour’s ruthless desire to dominate every nook and cranny of civic life that it sounds almost daring and forbidden to suggest that independent and self directed organisations should operate. Surely they should sign up to an Area Agreement to govern their actions. Listen again to another Liberal Jo Grimond writing in a pamphlet published by the YLs in 1973:

‘The salient feature of British politics is not the conflict of class and class pr Tory and Liberal and Labour , though these conflicts exist, it is the conflict between the government and the governed. Part of the success of the Liberal Party is not only due to its adoption by many as a means of protest. It is that it is associated with the governed. This is, or should be, the root of community politics.’

Of course there are some things in the big society that everyone would endorse. Some of us would like to see a more decentralised welfare society grow up which was not dependent on such a heavy hand of central government but one in which to quote Grimond again is ‘mobile, elective, participating and personal,….in which argument and dissent are appreciated and which welcomes eccentricity, abhors conformity and the lowest common denominator. None of which reminds me of many the Tories I have met in the last 40 years.

There is so much missing from this vision. How come we can no longer talk about the decentralisation and democratisation of work? For generations Liberals constantly argued for the common ownership of industry. Richard Wainwright used to regularly urged Liberal Assemblies to adopt policies in which ‘labour hired capital’. We are now stuck with one dominant model of the firm. If we want to democratise our society this would be a good place to start.

We have made the case that England is one of the most centralised states in the Western world.  I am not convinced that these small scale operations will be able to stand up to the power of that state. Local government can’t. The line between Whitehall and the village post office is so long. In Cameron new state there is no countervailing power no check or balance on the actions of the state.  Just because Prescot-a politician that reminds me so much of Pickle in that he was failure in government but lauded in opposition-screwed up devolution in England does mean that it wasn’t a good idea. I have always struggled with the idea that academies or direct grant schools were ‘freed from local government ‘ but are now in chains to central government to whom they have no chance of standing up.

There is a Liberal dimension to this debate, it emphasises redistribution of resources. We have become too mealy mouthed about economic inequalities in our society. Just because the last Labour government failed to tackle the problem doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.

Beveridge back in ’48 imagined a welfare society where control and power was decentralised and folks lives were enhanced by the independent exercise of that power. It is worth reading those early chapters of Voluntary Action the vision it conjures up would certainly have given Mrs Whitehouse no comfort. As Grimond said when commenting on such notions: democracy has often been used by people who do not believe in democracy at all. Further populism, admirable in many ways, can spill over into fascim’

Maybe it's the shape of the missiles..................

Well thanks to Liberal England for drawing attention to Ming's comments this morning:

"Maybe it's the shape of the missiles but every time Trident is mentioned there is an outbreak of priapism on the Tory backbenchers. There is a real risk that the whole strategic defence review will be skewed because of the obsession with Trident. It makes no sense whatsoever to exclude Trident, the strategic deterrent, from a proper strategic review."

and to Linda Jack's report from the Liberal International  (LI) meeting last night where Simon Hughes spoke:

So imagine how thrilled I was last night at the AGM of Liberal International British Group (and if you are not a member why not?) to hear newly elected President, Simon Hughes call for LI to reassert our party policy to scrap Trident. He made it clear that the coalition agreement gave us as a party licence to argue for scrapping – so that's surely what we have to do. With over 70% of the population against renewal and a massive budget deficit, it is incredulous that all but those who stand to gain financially or politically by carrying on supporting this nonsense, should continue to prop up a dead duck. 

On any other morning these contributions would have been enough cheer us on our way with increased hope that this important issue was now properly 'in play'. Sadly news from the Disgruntled Radical would appear to dash those hopes. He reports:

As we know, the government has excluded Trident from the Strategic Defence Review. Now the Liberal Democrats' Conference Committee has excluded a motion on Trident challenging that decision. Surprisingly perhaps, Ming Campbell has challenged the government's decision*. Ming is emerging as the strongest independent Liberal voice in parliament. Liberal Democrat voters and members have to be mature about the coalition in which we are the minority and understand that the leadership cannot deliver everything we want. In return the leadership has to understand that we can go on saying what we want even it's embarrassing for the government. 

I am sure that it is not lost on party members that there are other ways of ensuring that their voice is heard than having a formal motion on the conference floor...

Sunday, 18 July 2010


I  have been persuaded that it is worth experimenting with twitter. So if you are that way inclined you can follow on onebsquared.

Before beginning I had a look around at what others were saying. Leaving aside the obscene and crude it is amazing what meaning you can pack into so short a message-well in truth the obscene and crude manage that as well.
I was interested that on 14 July Jo Swinson thought it worth sharing that a :new term coined for Labour MPs "deficit deniers". We have been using that term on this blog for some while. In fact I first used it about Gordon Brown at the time Darling and Mandy were trying to get him to say the word 'cuts' and it was certainly being used frequently in the council chamber a couple of weeks ago. It is nice to be in front of the fashions-altho I seriously doubt we were the first to coin the phrase.

Ainsdale Thank you party

Alison and Haydn did us proud at the Ainsdale thank you party yesterday. I arrived at 3pm and left in the early evening and still people were still arriving. The food was excellent-a cut above what we are used to on such occasions. There was also a barrel of the Southport Brewery's award winning ale 'Golden Sands' complete with hand pump!
Rumour has it that the burgers were from Brough's a sign of quality and coalition compliant.
I was particularly pleased to see so many people from Ainsdale including Roy and Beth Connell.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Hand all that junk in at the door.............

As readers know I have been keeping an eye on the coalition negotiations going on in the Netherlands. It does appear that the 'purple' coalition favoured by our friends in D66 is now a serious runner. This would bring together VVD the (market) liberals who are the biggest party with Labour, D66 the (social) liberals and the left Greens. The various parties do seem to have kept their conversations private but there is an feeling of momentum about events.

I was interested in the 'off stage' advice of the former Labour leader Ms Ter Horst:

She.... reveals herself to be anything but a fan of new media at cabinet meetings. “A new PM should ban twitter, text messages and internet – insist that all that junk be handed in at the door.”

She sound like my own MP-speaking of whom locals may not have realised that John is asking for advice-altho I would send it via twitter given he and Ms Horst  appear to have similar views on the role of new media. John is heading up the LibDem backbench health committee and has written in Lib Dem Voice:

John Pugh MP asks for Lib Dem members’ feedback on health issues

As part of the empowerment (sorry about the cliche!) of ordinary members it might be useful if you let us in the Westminster village know how you react to unfolding coalition policy.
I’m tasked as Co-Chair for the Backbench Health Committee to ensure that distinctive Lib Dem policy on health goes into the Coalition Government equation.
So I have decided to seek party members’ views on the much-reported Health White Paper – especially from those who have a bit of hands on experience of the NHS.
Please post here or alterantively e-mail me at
The issues are not insignificant, with the perennial issues of cost, efficiency and accountability being thrown into the melting pot by another proposed NHS restructuring. All feedback gratefully received.
With most spending/commissioning power of the NHS scheduled to be handed to consortia of GPs, Primary Care Trusts face oblivion. It would be good to know how ordinary party members feel – specifically:
  • Is the NHS ready for another structural upheaval/reform?
  • How will GPs cope with their new role?
  • And are we going to get a local NHS which is more accountable to the citizen and tax payer?
  • Will the NHS work better for the patient without PCTs and Regional Health Authorities?
  • Can we make progress without these changes ?
Well a number of thoughts do occur -given I appear to be part of your target audience some of which have already been made-there are over 50 comments contributed to John's posting already.

Firstly it should be said such an initiative is welcome especially if it looks at where we go from here so that we have a robust and credible policy of our own for the next election. I do wonder a tad about the questions which some may think are a little leading and reveal maybe certain assumptions which may not be universally held.

John proposed in the last parliament a short term fix to the problem of the democratic deficit which so undermines the legitimacy of PCTs- namely that they should have their budgets signed off by the local authority. I note the White paper goes further and as the has pointed out by the BBC's Nick Robinson-and LDV has picked it up:

The proposals for a re-organisation of the NHS included a fundamental and little-noticed change from those contained in either the Conservative manifesto or the coalition agreement. The government now plan to give councils a major new strategic health role, examining the purchasing decisions of GPs and fitting them together with their plans for public health and social care. For the Lib Dems, this represents an important injection of democracy into the new health market. For the Tories, it allows them to propose the abolition of primary care trusts altogether instead of, as originally discussed, having to hold elections to them.

One of the real problems that New Labour had with Health was their capitulation to special interest in the Health service. This is most fully illustrated with their botched new contracts with GP's  so it is important that our policy is driven more by those who use the services as opposed to pandering to the 'producer interest'. There are only so many GP's who can emigrate to Canada . So I'm with the person who commented : I hope “those who have a bit of hands on experience of the NHS” includes patients as well as professionals.

I have always been a keen advocate of individual health budgets and that will inevitably mean breaking down some of the vested interest groups as patients choose other providers for their care and treatment. There are still far too many barriers in the way which prevent users getting the service -not least of all is the tariff paid to in house providers. A little more of a level playing field is needed so the system acts in the patients interest. I recall a pamphlet by Prof Nick Bosanquet  produced back in the 1980 for the SDP which graphically illustrated the distortions that occur.

Friday, 16 July 2010

local decisions about local schools...............

We are still trying to get a handle on the costs of the BSF programme in Sefton. It must go down as one of the most costly and bizarre procurement process by any government. As Jonathan Calder has pointed out:

Private Eye has long been a convincing critic of this programme. Its current issue says that Gove's department
has finally acknowledged what the Eye has been saying for several years: that BSF is far too complicated and costly for its own good.
Deals signed under the programme since 2005, along with other PFI schools, already cost the education budget more than £700m a year (enough to run 70 large secondary schools), and that's without the tens of millions in fees charged by consultants.
The Eye goes on to say that this "£700m annual millstone" will mean that thousands of schools will forgo crucial maintenance while the few to have benefited from BSF "enjoy their shiny overpriced facilities".

In a sane world decisions about new schools would be taken by city and county councils. That it is now a matter for central government is a symptom of the vast overcentralisation of Britain.

BSF also serves as a symbol for Gordon Brown's love of overcomplicated and apparently ingenious (but actually rather stupid) methods of financing public works.

Add into this Labour's tendency to value buildings over human values (step forward Polly Toynbee) and it is no wonder that BSF has produced such a toxic brew.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

D66 blogger

Back a bit I was mentioning the success of D66 in the Dutch elections. For many of us they are one of our most obvious partners in Europe. They are avowedly a social liberal party and stand separately in elections from their partners in ELDR the conservative(market) liberals the VVD. Thanks to the Google translation tool I was looking at their website and there are clearly things we could learn from each other on policy development-maybe that is something the Social Liberal Forum could take up.  I was taken with their D66 House bloggers one of whom, Rose Marie is a Councillor in a tourist town and has experience in common with many of us and although I think they have much to teach us about policy development I think that it is possible that we might have useful things to say to them about campaigning....

At present there is no Dutch Government and negociations are still going. Some of this report from the Netherlands Worldwide Radio may sound familiar:

The four political parties currently involved in negotiating a new coalition government for the Netherlands have agreed to observe a 'no comment' policy towards the media for the duration of their talks. The leading party, conservative liberal VVD, is involved in tough negotiations with centre-left Labour, D66 and Green Left. The four party leaders say that leaking information to the media could hamper progress.

VVD leader Mark Rutte, head of the biggest party in the Lower House since the 9 June elections when it polled 31 percent of the vote, is under pressure from within his party. Opinion polls show that most of the VVD electorate want their party in a centre-right coalition, rather than in a government with the left - as would be the outcome of the current exploratory talks. Yet the royally appointed coalition negotiators, Senator Uri Rosenthal and Professor Jacques Wallage, say this four-party centre-left coalition will enjoy a comfortable 81-seat majority in the 150-member house and should therefore be tried.

Negotiations on Tuesday are focusing on austerity measures needed to bring a liitle more balance into the ailing national budget. Opinions differ widely, with the VVD favouring immediate, stringent cuts and the left pleading for a more phased long-term approach.

red faces in Bootle Labour party..?

Ho, ho. ho I spent last Thursday being rounding abused by the Bootle Labour Party about the economic policy of the government. In particular Ian Maher worked himself up into a right lather about the VAT rise. At the time I thought this was a little fool hardy as my recollection was that Chancellor Darling had point blank refused to rule out a VAT rise (in the highly unlikely event of a Labour win).

Now thanks to Peter Mandelson we know the depth of the Labour hypocracy. Sadly the full article is behind the Times paywall but the Guardian has most of it here. I think it is now time we heard from James Purnell who had the gumption to call for Brown to go. But the essential thing that Mandelson reveals is that Darling wanted VAT to rise. It rather chops off at the knees the Ian Maher line of attack.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Greater openess in the digital age

I mentioned the other day how I thought that webcasting Sefton Council meeting would improve the accountability and transparency. A view shared by my colleague David Tattersall. I note that other councils are already on with this............

more on The Liberal Democrat Journey

I see that I'm not the only person to have read Richard Grayson's pamphlet for COMPASS. Liberal England and Liberal Dem Voice have both since commented. I am grateful to Lord Bonkers amanuensis for drawing my attention to David Boyle's review which is not dis-similar to my own in so much as it agrees with the conclusion but does not fully accept the analysis:

I completely agreed with Richard about the future direction of the social liberal wing of the party – “arguing for a new political economy that puts issues of power in the workplace and the ownership of assets back onto the political agenda as the old Liberal Party once did.”

That is absolutely bang on. So why didn’t I quite buy the narrative he presented: a slightly sinister drift to the right going back to the Orange Book and accelerating with the Clegg leadership? That isn’t what happened.

I am not saying that there is no threat to Liberal values in the coalition with the Conservatives. Of course there is, but we knew that when we agreed to it. But Richard seems to me to misread the symbolic issues, especially when he claims that “the Orange Book tendency has whittled away at broadly centre-left policies on, for example, public spending, income-tax rates and the role of local government in education”.

The Liberal Democrat Journey to a Lib-Con Coalition - Richard Grayson

Trident motion

News from the 'disgruntled radical' that I am not alone in wanting Conference to debate the Trident programme.  I reproduce below the motion that the conference committee is looking at and as a conference rep I would wish to see debated:

Nuclear Weapons and the Financial Crisis

Conference notes that:

i) Britain is currently in the worst financial crisis since the end of the Second
World War

ii) Britain’s capacity for independent military action is limited increasingly by financial constraint. The Strategic Defence and Security Review Green Paper (February 2010) called for Britain to act more in concert with our partners rather than attempting to bear the cost of fully-independent Armed Services.

iii) neither our coalition partners nor Labour, while they were in government, have indicated any willingness to include Trident in the Strategic Defence Review. 

iv) in the last two military conflicts in which Britain acted unilaterally - Sierra Leone and the Falkland Islands - nuclear arms were irrelevant.

Conference further notes that:

a) under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty all signatory states undertake to pursue negotiations, in good faith, on effective measures relating both to the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament at an early date and to negotiate a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

b) the cost of the proposed Vanguard submarine replacement contracts and lifetime running costs are in the order of £100 billion

c) the cost of replacing the current nuclear warheads will be a further £8 billion

d) any major military actions in the future are certain to take place as part of an international coalition for which purpose British nuclear weapons would be irrelevant

e) In a speech in May 2010 Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, cast doubt on the future of the Ohio-class submarine and with it the Trident missile system

Conference welcomes this year’s agreement to reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by Russia and the US and notes the bilateral agreement reached by the two Presidents. Conference also notes, however, that the weapons which are to be removed are due to be retired from service anyway.

Conference therefore calls for:

1. Trident to be included in the Strategic and Security Defence Review

2. Confirmation of current policy to cancel any planned 'like-for-like replacement' of the Trident system

3. A freeze on any further procurement by Britain of all types of nuclear weapon

4. The retirement of the current Vanguard fleet at the earliest possible opportunity. 

These steps will save in excess of £108 billion during the planned lifetime of the Trident submarine replacement systems and the early withdrawal of the Vanguard fleet will save a further £2 billion per annum up to the year 2025.

Conference recognises that, under the terms of the Coalition Agreement, this policy cannot be implemented fully at this time but full implementation will be pursued once the party is in a position to do this.