Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Times (March 2006) published my letter on party funding after a Labour scandal & now as thew toxicity of Tories is confirmed it is still relevant

Six years ago I wrote to the Times about party funding. They published my letter. Re-reading it yesterday-thanks to Simon Shaws excellent filing system-I find it is still relevant. Both Labour and Tories have failed to move on reforms. Whether it is cash for honours (as with Labour) or access the issue is the same. Anyway here is my proposal:

Published at 12:00AM, March 18 2006

Sir, The health of the body politic would be improved if political parties got money from a reinvigorated mass membership instead of rich donors.

Some measures would help: standard-rate tax relief on donations up to, say, £5,000; cap election spending; introduce a moderate contribution from the state and, finally, elect the House of Lords.


Birkdale, Lancs

The Tories poll ratings this morning (28/3/12)confirm that the general public still are very suspicious of the Tories and believe that they are on the side of the wealthy. The people who funded the nasty anti AV campaign are now in the spotlight. We have a real chance of gaining the public mood if we go for a bold package of reform. If we go all quiet and do it behind close doors the only winners are the Labour Party. Clegg might find it hard but he has no business easing the pressure on Cameron.

A cap of say £5 000 on all donations within a parliament-with maybe tax relief at the standard rate for individuals should be tied to abolition of the House of Lords. Let us not forget that donation scandals down the generation have often been linked to honours-as indeed was the recent Labour scandal.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Boost to worker ownership in budget led by Norman Lamb-not that it was widely reported

All those of us who believe that worker ownership is an important ingredient in the reform of our busted capitalist system can take a little comfort from the budget announcement that progress is being made. Of course words are easy, but the fact that Norman Lamb is the Minister who is leading the review makes me believe that this could turn out to be a worthwhile initiative.

The Government will conduct an internal review to examine the role of employee ownership in supporting growth and to consider ways in which barriers, including tax barriers, to its wider take-up could be removed. The review will also consider the findings of the work on employee ownership being led by the Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, due to report in summer 2012, and will conclude ahead of Autumn Statement 2012.

The Government will consider the recommendations of the Office of Tax Simplification’s review of tax-advantaged employee share schemes, and will consult on how to take these proposals forward in Finance Bill 2013.

We should not underestimate the obstructive powers of the Treasury or indeed the lukewarm attitude of Labour which  during their 18yrs in government made little progress on this agenda, nevertheless Norman Lamb has shown a commitment to spreading worker ownership which has not been matched at ministerial level.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

On the eighth day, God created allotments

Now we are in Lent and approaching Good Friday when folk on allotments traditionally plat their potatoes my mind has been turning more and more to the need to prepare the plot.

I was pleased to notice that David Boyle has published a short book on the origin and traditions of allotments, as he says:

......I wanted to bring the story alive, from Jesse Collings and ‘Three Acres and a Cow’ to Dig for Victory, and the campaign of direct action that led to the same thing in the First World War – and some very strange byways of twentieth century politics, the long lost radical tradition of Back to the Land, which came so near and yet so far from changing the nation completely

The book is available here:

Big support for Pugh in Southport over Health rebellion

There was overwhelming support for Southport MP John Pugh from local Lib Dems after his 'rebellion' on the Health and Social Care Bill (although it seem odd that he should be branded a rebel given he was championing the position taken by the Party as recently as at their conference last weekend)

The Liverpool Echo reported

Dr Pugh, a fierce critic of the shake-up, said: "This is a risky piece of legislation.

“It's a huge centralised risky piece of legislation and people are concerned.

"What they're concerned about is implementation, what's going to happen over the next year, because this story isn't going to go away – whatever happens with the legislation."

The constituency executive met this week and backed their MP following which the local part chair issued a statement which declared:

'John has shown great courage in sticking up for the near-unanimous opposition to this Bill expressed to us by Southport residents and we are very proud of his efforts'

An important issue here is that this Bill is not part of the Coalition agreement and in its present form is not a piece of legislation that we can support.

Personally I am particularly please that John did not just oppose the bill but spelt out a Liberal alternative bringing together the commissioning of Health and Social Care at a local level carried out by an accountable public body.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Sign up tax petition


As the budget gets ever closer now is the time to sign up to the petition in support of raising the tax threshold to £10 000. This progressive measure would particularly benefit those on low or moderate earnings.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Recycling bid-Birkdale Councillors takes the lead

Councillor backs £250m green fund for SeftonCardboard and plastic collections in Sefton
A BIRKDALE councillor wants to see Sefton bid for a share of a £250m recycling fund.

Earlier this year Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities 
and Local Government, announced the Weekly Collection Support Scheme.

Councillor Simon Shaw, who is cabinet member for environment, hopes 
Sefton lodges a successful bid for the grant so Southport homeowners can
begin recycling cardboard and plastic from their doorsteps.

Cllr Shaw (Lib Dem) said: “I am very aware that there is strong 
public support locally for the idea of the council collecting cardboard 
and plastic. The problem until now has been finding the £1m extra that 
it would cost each year.”

“Last month’s announcement by Eric Pickles of the £250m Fund appears
to be a Godsend. If we are successful with a bid then it would only 
need a modest contribution from Sefton Council’s own budget in order to 
introduce doorstep collections of cardboard and plastic.”
My colleague Simon Shaw has been driving forward our green agenda taking the lead in introducing cardboard and plastic recycling. The Southport Visiter reports this week:

“At my request officers have been preparing a report with a view to 
the Council submitting an initial expression of interest before the 
mid-March deadline. Of course there is no guarantee that we would be 
successful as the Government guidelines put an emphasis on supporting 
the re-introduction of weekly general waste collection."

“ However I understand that very few, if any, councils will be 
putting bids in on that basis, despite misleading national newspaper 
headlines. Accordingly I think there is every chance that Eric Pickles 
will end up widening the coverage of the scheme.”

“I hope local residents will support this plan – after all the 
Government Scheme is all about giving financial support to help councils
deliver what local people want.”

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Viv Bingham- Radical Liberal and Peace campaigner 1932-2012

I learnt last night my friend Viv Bingham had died (1932 - 2012). I've known Viv since around 1974 when he fought his first parliamentary election-although before that he had be active in the party, he joined in 1962. He went on to be the candidate in Hazel Grove in 1979. His next electoral outing was in the same year at first Euro election when he was the candidate for East Cheshire and I was his agent. He served as Liberal Party President in 1981/2 and offered himself as a candidate to Warrington Liberals at the by election in 1981 which Roy Jenkins fought. He went on to fight West Derbyshire against Mathew Parris in 1983 and it always seemed to me that was the election he enjoyed most.

So much for the dry stuff. Viv could be fun. He a Cecilia held some great parties and after Cecilia died Viv did the same in his Harrytown flat- reflecting that with its mullioned windows and space Cecilia would judge it a good place to hold a party.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Back in the early 70's Viv and I were both on the Party's Policy Committee-chaired by John Pardoe and then Richard Wainwright. A few of us who were travelling back north after the meetings (this was in the day when BR still ran a night sleeper service to Liverpool/Manchester) used to go out for a meal often to an Indian Restaurant near Warren Street tube called the Agra which had a particularly fiery lime pickle.

When I was young and broke at Liberal Assemblies Viv often took me out for a meal. We kept up our conference meals almost without a break up to and including the Conference at Birmingham in 2011. I know I was not the only one who benefited from his support and encouragement and it is sad that no more young folk will profit from Viv buying them a good meal and listening to their ideas.

Viv's Presidency was dominated by the slow emergence of the SDP. Roy Jenkins made his Dimbleby Lecture in 1979 and that marked the beginning of the movement in earnest. Many of us-Viv included- were very anxious about some of the folk who were aligning themselves with the break away . It seemed that this may not turn out to be the realisation of our long held dream of a re-alignment of the Left-the vision Grimond proclaimed that brought many of us into the party-but rather a bolt hole for wholly unreconstructed , authoritarian, socially conservative hacks from the Labour right who were 'dockyard nationalists'. Viv was a man of the Left, he might not have shared Cyril's view that the SDP should be strangled at birth but he had very real concerns that its continued life would harm our long term objectives.

Two events from this period stand out in my memory. First is the weekend he and I spent in Herefordshire along with other Liberals meeting some of the players at the heart of the Jenkins project. On our side it was hosted by party chair Roger Pincham and on the Social Democrats side by Clive Lindley in his palatial hillside palladian mansion. Before the meetings Roger had sent round an essay by David Marquand, who had resigned as a Labour MP to take up a post with Jenkins in Europe. Viv mas mightily impressed and I remember he rang me to talk about the Marquand essay and he and I had a meal with the late Chris Wilding
when Viv's enthusiasm for the essay was clear. Sadly we all knew that was not the whole picture, nevertheless it encourage us all to listen with an open mind to the Jenkinsites . I remember that on the Sunday morning Viv was very keen to set aside the agreed agenda to spend sometime discussing foreign and defence policy. This was typical of Viv. He recognised that his tradition of peace and disarmament which was firmly embedded in the Liberal Party may not prove attractive to those coming out of the Labour Party- many of whom had won the spurs in the battles against unilateralism. He meant to establish that in joining up with Liberals that was part of the package.

That meeting was a success and Viv went on to organise a northern get together in Manchester with David Marquand who had been absent from the Herefordshire meeting. As I recall it Viv, Michael Steed and I spent an evening finding common cause with Marquand especially on constitutional issues.

As I have already noted defence was a key issue for Viv. He was a disarmer. He not only believed that Britain should not have an 'independent' nuclear weapon he thought no-one else should. He believed we should be prepared to take risks to bring that about. I think his last platform speech at conference was supporting a David Grace motion on disarmament during which he got sustained applause and carried the delegates. He campaigned with CND-especially against Cruise missiles and involved himself in cross party initiatives on peace. If hope that now that he has died people will not try to remove his radicalism or soften his words. He believed that nuclear weapons should be scrapped and that Britain should lead by example-now.

The other main policy area in which Viv made a big contribution was in Industrial policy. His working life had been spent in -what was then called- Personnel Management. He held senior positions at Crown and later at the Co-operative. He chaired the party's Policy panel. He was an advocate of industrial democracy and co-ownership. He would have relished contributing to the debates this weekend at Gateshead and we shall be poorer for his absence, but he will have been cheered that we are again taking up this policy which he advocated so strongly all his life. During his Presidency some of us arranged a meeting with D66 -the Dutch Social Liberal party -and Viv led a session on Industrial and Economic policy going back to the guilds and tracing movements of worker participation and ownership to the present day. It was the highlight of the meeting.

Viv's family life with Cecilia and his two daughters and latterly grandchildren was central to his life and at that last Conference meal in Birmingham he spoke of little else. He was so proud of his children. He often told the story of having to go and ask Cecilia's father for permission to marry her. I never heard him speak of a time before his marriage to her.As those of us who went to Cecila's funeral know she had a firm christian faith that found its expression in the Cof E and that Viv shared it. He spent his share of time singing in church choirs and of course many of us remember him most vividly leading the sing of We Shall Overcome at the Glee club

And so finally to his other family much of which is meeting at Gatehead this weekend- the Liberal Party. Viv spoke at our rallies and adoption meeting, he did our fundraising appeals and was never too grand or important to turn up at a small event. He helped in every general Election I fought and spoke in Southport and Congleton for me. It was typical of him that he fought the 2005 General Election in Stalybridge. He kept up with friends travelling distances to come to our parties and  family events. He was given a gong, but not the peerage he really wanted.  I hope there was no pettiness around that decision. Viv would stand his ground and although all people counted with him none did so too much.

Viv overcame some health scares and looked to be back in fine form at Birmingham having missed the previous Spring Conference. I shall remember him enjoying making those conference speeches, overturning the platform and going along to the Glee Club determinded to lead the singing. 

Pugh-Liberal Health Plans unfettered by Tories

That John Pugh has been deeply involved in the Health  and Social care debate is not news, but that he chose the week before Conference to publish an 'alternative to Lansley' will surprise some. The paper appeared on John's website last night and can be found in full here

Southport MP John Pugh has presented to Coalition Ministers an alternative to Andrew Lansley's Health Bill. The bill will be debated at this week's Lib Dem Spring Conference and in the Lords.

In a paper drafted by the MP he argues that should the government do a handbrake turn on the controversial bill, the alternative is not leaving the NHS in limbo.
Supporters of the bill argue that with many of the NHS organisations scheduled to be abolished by the Bill have already collapsed and that there is no way back.
John Pugh though proposes that the cluster groups of Primary Care Trusts that now temporarily run the local NHS could be the foundation for democratically controlled and clinically led Health Boards similar to those found in Northern Ireland. Such boards would control health and social care avoiding the expensive and disjointed shunting of elderly patients between the NHS and Social Services.
The MP states that he has received a very positive response to his proposals from clinical leaders and says:
"It is important that we map out a new direction for the NHS that does not repeat the tired old prescription of more competition and the futile effort to treat the country's health service like a market.
There needs to be  other alternatives to the Lansley proposals that are not just Lansley-lite or Blair Mark 2 or stagnation- alternatives that professionals can support. What I propose will not be without its critics but it will involve substantially less bureaucracy and upheaval than the government's current proposals."

Monday, 5 March 2012

100 years since the merger

Birkdale was a separate Parish from Southport up until 100 years ago. On the 1st April 1912 the two merged- Birkdale having previously swallowed up Ainsdale in 1904.

Throughout this period the question of merger was the hot topic in local politics. In 1903 there had been a failed attempt to bring out the union following an Inquiry. The application was turned down.

In “A History of Southport “ by Francis A Bailey nearly two pages, 201 – 202 are devoted to the negotiations & politicking between the two Boroughs leading to amalgamation.  

'The full story of how amalgamation was brought about has been told by Jarratt in his Municipal Recollections.  At the time of his appointment as Town Clerk of Southport (1900), “a state of acrimony had grown up between the two authorities upon almost every matter which they were called upon to discuss as adjoining authorities". 

We all get on very well know days-although I'm not so sure about the relationship between Birkdale and Ainsdale......

Later in the year we may well commemorate this anniversary more fully

Jo Swinson a much better attempt at selling our role on Governemet

Friday, 2 March 2012

Dramatic budget move by Sefton Lib Dems

  • a 1% cut in the council tax
  • cut in councillors allowances
  • boundary commission review of number of councillors and wards 
  • early introduction of plastic a cardboard recycling
  • a balanced budget

In a statement before the Council meeting Lib Dem Leader Tony Robertson said:

 “The Liberal Democrat Group recognises the enormous financial pressures that face local residents. Many have seen their income frozen or their jobs under threat. That’s why we are calling for a cut of £12 in the level of Council Tax, equivalent to a 1% reduction. After years of council tax rises under Labour, this is a move in the right direction.”

“We also feel that councillors must take a lead in cutting our own costs. That is why we are proposing a cut in the level of senior councillor’s allowances. Many residents have asked whether Sefton needs 66 councillors, so we are also calling for the Boundary Commission to start a review into that issue.”

“Cardboard and plastic recycling is something that many people have called for. The problem is that it does cost money. If we are able to tap into part of the recently announced £250 million Government Fund then it only needs a modest contribution from Sefton Council’s own budget to introduce this.”

In addition the Lib Dems want to restore the cut of £27k that Labour made to the Tourism budget to fund the Tourist Information Service.

Many Southport people -including Lib Dems like John Dodd- have campaigned to keep the Fernery and other facilities open at the Botanic Gardens and we are delighted that has been reprieved.

We have worked constructively with other parties to find a way of lessening the impact of charges on sports clubs who use council facilities and are pleased Labour have budged a bit on this issue.

We have listened very carefully to what people have had to say about the budget in the borough and have tried hard to take their views into account. We believe that this is budget for the whole borough. It recognises the difficult circumstances that people find themselves in and tries to meet their needs in the best way available to us.