Sunday: double dose of media

Appearing on Radio 4's The Westminster Hour with Carolyn QuinnI’m doing the paper review with Adam Boulton a bit after 10:00am on Sky in the morning, and then it’s The Westminster Hour on Radio 4 from 10pm in the evening tomorrow (Sunday).

If you miss the radio show you’ll be able to listen again on their website.

If you want to get advanced notice of my media appearances like this one, you can use the media events service at Flock Together. You’ve got three choices:

  1. Using this feed:, or
  2. By email: register at FlockTogether and pick “Media appearances” as one of the categories of events you want to be emailed about. (If you are an existing Flock Together user you can also change your preferences – login and then click “Edit your preferences” in the left-hand menu; you need to tick “Media Appearances” under “Email options”), or
  3. On the web: take a look at the dedicated Flock Together page.

Why Sky is the Liberal Democrats of TV news

I had decided to ask Gordon Brown a question at PMQs today – on listening to the people and learning (post disastrous election results last week) and suggest that if he had the guts he could prove he was listening by dropping the Post Office closure program. (Bad news for us by the way – none of our Post Offices were saved. We will have to get the info on why only a meagre seven in London were saved using FOI and then make hell let loose.)

Anyway – sadly I had to go to a funeral of an old uncle who died yesterday – so missed PMQs. On the radio coming back from the cemetery to parliament, blow me, I heard David Cameron ask exactly my point. That is scary! (For Nick’s questions, see the write-up on Lib Dem Voice.)

Raced to Sky News lunch with Adam Boulton and crew who were lunching Lib Dems to discuss how their news could extend even further into plurality and impartiality through internet and so on. Gorgeous lunch – and always interesting to hear what the other side thinks. Adam seemed to think that Sky News was the Liberal Democrats of news programs – in as much as they are always having to punch above their weight against the terrestrials of BBC and ITN.

I do think – and so did most of us MPs present – that Sky has the best rolling news and breaking news. And although I didn’t see their election coverage (as the stupid row with Virgin robbed me) I gather it was excellent. So unlike the BBC TV coverage that everyone in blogland has been blasting to high heaven for its low grade and tatty approach.

Very enjoyable – and as Julia Goldsworthy pointed out – half Sky’s top ten fanciable MPs were present. So – we ain’t got the power – but we sure got the looks!

How my appearance on Sky went

Crack of dawn it was off to Highgate Village to get ALL the Sunday papers ahead of my first paper review on Sky with Adam Boulton and John Kampfner (New Statesman). I wanted the papers in good time to have a decent look through them. The main story I raised was the appalling tale from The Observer about how the Government is trying to hide the true cost of identity cards.

Now, nice Gordon has been trying to convince us all he’ll be a new broom, all open and transparent – and goodbye to the days of New Labour spin. But put to the test – he’s decided he wants to keep the costs of ID cards secret. Not such a new broom after all!

We also roamed over Gordon’s desire to bring back the argument over detention without charge. Show me evidence, real evidence – and I will vote to protect my countrymen with an extension. But last time it was a lot of hot air and bravado – but not a single shred of solid evidence that 90 days is needed.

John Kampfner rather outshone me on the Russian stories I thought – but then he was Moscow correspondent and has written a book on Yeltsin’s Russia – so he should know more than me!

And then there was Joanna Lumley – confronting a man with a gun in a bar! Living up to her pre-Ab Fab role of Purdy in the Avengers – well nearly – apparently the gun fell on the floor and she kept the man talking until the police arrived. Go Joanna!

Valentines Day

Having received no Valentines (yet!) today, was cheered to receive one from Adam Boulton in the form of his 2007 10 Most Fanciable MPs. Now, when I was a just a young lass and burning my bra – a wolf-whistle from a workman was to be reviled, put down and spat back – let alone appearing in a ‘top totty’ poll. However, age has mellowed me. Now – I am just grateful!

The Pre Budget Report

Pre Budget Report! Sky News had booked me from 11-1.00pm to be on their budget panel. I did it last year – and although it looked like two hours then, in reality my panel was whisked in and out a couple of times for two x five minute slots. So I assumed this would be the same.

However – this time I found I was on the anchor panel which means that throughout the time Adam Boulton comes back to the panel to comment on each bit of the process. My co-panellists were Stephen Byers (ex-Labour minister) and David Ruffley (Tory front bench).

Not being a member of the Treasury Team, I am always slightly apprehensive about covering the Budget and similar areas – but it’s excellent practise and there is no other way of learning. So I am grateful to Sky for the opportunity.

The Pre Budget Report was pretty much like a budget with Gordon Brown playing Santa Claus. When you listen to him (and we watched it live on a monitor) he is magnanimous – he giveth. He will save the British Film industry, back excellence in science, ensure more young people go to university, give money for investment in school buildings and so on and so on.

Blinding us with reports and statistics – Gordon likes big volumes of commissioned research (well who wouldn’t) to back up his arguments. By the end of his speech you would have though the world would be set to rights – albeit there’s still much to be done and a long way to go.

But whilst the impression is Santa Claus, as the day unfolds and the experts do their analysis – the gilt comes off the presentation to reveal the truths underneath.

Adam B asked what we thought of Gordon, Prime Minister in waiting. Stephen Byers said that he never commented on such matters. However, I was not so unforthcoming as I have for years now said on this blog and elsewhere that I think Gordon doesn’t quite have the finishing punch – albeit clunking. When the going has got tough for Tony – where has Gordon been, other than brooding in the background?

And despite his recent charm offensive – he is still comes over as basically a rather serious man with a grumpy look. He will frighten Middle Earth! I suspect when he is PM he will find Prime Minister’s Questions very difficult. He is not, as far as I can tell, quick like Tony in terms of retort and I have hardly ever heard him speak outside of the narrow focus of his treasury portfolio in the ten years he has been at No 11.

So – back to the budget. What Gordon didn’t deal with at all is the risk to the stability of our economy caused by huge personal debt. We in this country are responsible for one third of the debt in western Europe and three quarters of a million people have already defaulted on one or more of their mortgage payments. We are at a peak in terms of house prices which has happened three times before this century – on each occasion a rebalancing has occurred. That would knock 30% of house prices and destabilise the economy.

We are calling for the Bank of England to measure house prices in their targeting of inflation – otherwise we are at risk!

As for Gordon’s environmental measure – some good things but on the biggy (air travel) he chose to tax the traveller rather than the producer. Adding tax to each ticket doesn’t help force airlines not to fly empty planes. Much better if he had taxed plane journeys – as that would encourage efficiency.

Anyway – two and a half hours later I left to rush late to an interview with Russia TV about Mr Litvinenko. The Russians are clearly somewhat sensitive about their possible connection with these goings on – but I don’t think that stating that they will not extradite anyone is particularly helpful. Yesterday the Washington Post phoned for an interview too – a reminder of just how this story has caught people’s emotions and interest.

Securicor and crime

Early email from colleague to let me know that I appear sixth on Adam Boulton of Sky TV’s list of the ten most fanciable MPs. Flattered – I log onto the website and see who the others are in the list. It is a mixed gender list. How Adam reached his conclusions is a mystery. The comment by my photo brings me down to earth pretty swiftly! I just assume Adam has made a mathematical error! (I wished). Better to be talked about than not talked about – I guess!

I go to Millbank to film a package for a two minute intro to the Politics Show to air on Sunday as a pre-cursor to an interview they are doing with Chris Huhne re LibDem leadership. Dirt has been (attempted to be) dished recently with Michael Crick trying to find fault with Chris’s expenses when he was an MEP (report on Newsnight). It’s interesting that the diggers can come up with so little. The man must be a saint. I heard information too that Labour were looking at his expenses during the leadership election to see whether they could pin anything on him. I guess you know you’re doing a good job when your enemies are so desperate to do you down. You go boy! I knew I was getting there in Hornsey & Wood Green by the number of personal attacks on me by opponents.

I meet with Securicor Group 4 at 11.30am. There’s an interesting conundrum. Their proposition, which they are putting to the Minister (Hazel Blears), myself and the Tory police spokesperson. is to reclassify attacks on Securicor vans. The current situation is that if is when you attack a Securicor van carrying cash it is rated as a business crime – and therefore the attention and response of the police is not as high as for a public crime. Their argument is that they perform a public service – carrying cash to ATMs etc so that we, the public, can get our cash out whenever and virtually wherever we want. They are not allowed to be armed (quite rightly). However, covering the pavement between the highly fortified vehicle and the bank is a hazardous task.

In fact, 72% of all attacks on ‘cash in transit’ in Europe occur in Britain. Other countries have a range of defences, from armed guards to police coverage – and useful planning like the back of vehicles being able to dock directly into the building being delivered to. Coverage of more delivery points by CCTV would be good too.

So they presented their case to Hazel Blears – who I understand is sympathetic. I am sympathetic to a point – but would want partnership working as I don’t think police can be diverted to protect every delivery (for what is still a profit-making – and good luck to them – company). It’s an interesting question as to what the right balance is between them making reasonable efforts to look after themselves and them getting extra help from the police. Think about your own home. We think it’s reasonable for people to take some steps to protect their own property (locking doors, having decent locks etc) but also for the police to respond quickly when needed.

So – certainly worth thinking about reclassifying their status in terms of police response – but first need to know what relationship is to other businesses who might feel they too have this requirement, like banks. Very interested in more CCTV coverage of delivery points – as this might act as powerful deterrent. Though that depends on the CCTV working – unlike most of the CCTV coverage in my own high streets of Muswell Hill and Crouch End. I gather resources (or lack of them) mean that only 1 in 5 of the cameras is in operation. Absolutely bloody useless if they are not in operation and not monitored. That’s the challenge there. Anyway – food for thought.

Parliament is winding down today – as we go into recess tomorrow for a week – and I am having a week’s holiday. I know – shock horror!

Tidying up at the GLA

Crack of dawn off to ITN for what turned out to be a grilling by the newscaster. He was very shocked when he asked what people hadn’t liked about the LibDems – and I said I thought since we finally had some exposure in the election of our policies – they liked them all.

I know he wanted me to say one policy or another – but it is true – overall it was just the best prospectus to stand on – very comfortable.

Straight on to Sky with Adam Boulton. This time there is a Tory and a Labour new MP too. In fact, the Labour MP and I keep meeting on these ‘new MP’ programs. This interview is great fun. Of course, given I have spent an inordinate amount of time in TV studios – I know my way round them better than the House of Commons.

Later in day work on Parking Enforcement Report. This is my swan-song project at the GLA. I have spent the last year firstly trying to get the investigation to happen despite great opposition from boroughs particularly sensitive to having their parking policies looked at and who think the London Assembly should keep their nose out.

Then the actual investigation – and now am just working on the final draft report to go out Monday to the committee for comments. Hopefully, we will get the final version shortly and my intention is to see this report launched and agreed at Transport Committee. And then I can leave. This is one loose end I must tie up before cutting the umbilical.