Bill for ID cards goes up by another £52 million

What would you rather spend an extra £52 million on: a huge IT project to keep tabs on innocent people or things such as more police to catch criminals? I think you can guess my answer! Today’s Guardian has the story about the bill for Labour’s ID cards scheme going up and up – and this on the button quote from my colleague, Chris Huhne:

The problem is not the ease with which we can give up sensitive personal data, but the ease with which the Home Office loses it. Costs are already spiralling out of control without a single card being issued.

If you haven’t yet, do go and sign the Liberal Democrat petition against ID cards at

What do you see when three kids in hoodies walk towards you?

Three kids wearing hoodies walking down the street towards you. What do you see? Three people about to mug you? Just another three people passing on the pavement? Or three kids whose birthdays you know? And who do they see in you? A suspicious stranger who doesn’t like them? Or a neighbour they say hello to?

It’s in that range of different actions and reactions that sits so many of the issues around youth crime and fear of youth crime – why it takes place, what its impact is and how to tackle it. It’s about how to tackle the evil-minded, how to reduce irrational fear – and also – and crucially – about how to build happy, cohesive communities where people are free to do there own thing – but also get along with, rather than fear, their neighbours.

So I am grateful to the Local Government Association for bringing us together to discuss this important topic and for inviting me to open this debate.

As an MP that represents an inner London constituency where our youth crime has become a national headline issue with stabbings and gang violence on the door step – answering the question of what we can do to tackle youth criminality is of great concern to me and my constituents.

And as our party’s Youth & Equalities spokesperson, I have been vocal is pressing our pro-youth agenda as opposed to the anti-youth agenda that dominates the news and the rhetoric of Labour and the Tories.

My third role and one that is perhaps less public is my continued and personal interest in home affairs issues. It’s really the area in which I cut my teeth as an MP, and I’m now a co-opted member of our the Home Affairs team in Parliament. I was pleased recently to endorse Chris Huhne’s new policy proposal on youth justice and crime.

The paper was called: “A life away from crime – a new approach to youth justice” – which I think goes someway in answering the question the LGA have set: is the balance right between prevention and enforcement?

The simple answer is no. Better enforcement simply will never be enough in itself.

We know this from some of the crime fighting successes – most notably cutting car thefts by making cars harder to steal, and not just trying to catch and punish car thieves. It’s been a similar issue with mobile phone thefts – yes, high profile policing has its role, but making a stolen phone unusable has a much bigger impact.

We also know this from a simple thought process: imagine a massively successful drive to better enforcement, with five times as many crimes resulting in a court punishment than at the moment. That’d be a pretty impressive leap forward wouldn’t it? But only around 1 in 100 crimes is punished in court at the moment. So we’d be multiplying up hugely the number of court cases and – even with any changes in sentencing rules – the number of people going to jail. And yet – both our courts and prison services are already hugely overloaded and frequently at breaking point. And in the end? We’d only have upped that figure from 1 in 100 to 5 in 100.

This isn’t just theoretical – we’ve seen a massive 86% rise in the number of 15 – 17 years in custody, and yet youth criminality remains the weeping sore of public policy. Because as the courts and jail services crack under the numbers, rehabilitation suffers, reoffending rates go up and crime doesn’t fall.

If you want to cut crime, we need to stop people committing it not just be punishing but also by preventing. That’s why I – and my party – are so keen to drastically increase spending on youth service provision. We have plenty of ideas of how increased spending would be spent. But sadly we seem alone in the national parties in advocating a coherent set policy that would see a significant redistribution of resources in favour of spending money on youth services to prevent crime in the first place.

The logic of this seems indisputable and the finances alone are pretty sound – preventing crime saves on money further through the judicial and criminal systems. In any question of how public resources should be allocated – prevention is always better than cure – if for no other reason than that it is cheaper. There are many five star hotels that are cheaper than a night at young offenders’ institution.

Our Home Affairs paper sets out clearly how we would charge local councils to draw up Youth Community Plans for more youth activity. But more radical than that, we would want to pass real spending powers to youth councils and the Youth Parliament.

Let’s be honest – what does a group of crusty councillors and politicians like myself know about providing service that will really capture the imagination of young people and instill the idea that there are alternatives to crime? A dilapidated youth centre, with ping pong and servicing Kia-Ora and a few stale biscuits is not going to cut the mustard with any self respecting teenager.

Another part of prevention is getting knives and guns off the streets. I have little doubt that this can be achieved by intelligence-led policing. Whilst not a new policy, the Liberal Democrat position of 10,000 more police officers instead of ID cards is relevant to our discussion. These officers, with youth dedicated PCSOs and neighbourhood teams, would be better placed to identify young people carrying offensive weapons.

And then there is rehabilitation, where local authorities have a pivotal role to play in rehabilitation. Whilst some young offenders do require incarceration where public safety as risk, prisons for young people just don’t work. Whilst they might create a few months respite for the communities plagued by antisocial behaviour, just think of how more anti-social those people are with the skills they have learnt on the inside.

Punishing someone for a crime in the past, but setting them up to offend many more times in the future is just short-sighted – vindictive rather than effective.

Liberal Democrats in Islington led the way with successful Acceptable Behaviour Contracts, which have slowed superseded ASBOs. The point is to work with the young person in addressing the causing of the problem and to set realistic targets – looking not just to remedying the past but also to stopping more crimes being committed in the future.

Anyway, I have spoken enough. I am keen to hear about successful ideas from the floor of how your local authorities have been addressing this issue.

But just to conclude. There is no silver bullet. It is a situation that is exacerbated by gimmicks and political attempts to steal the headlines by out toughing each other.

But that is just part of the story. I think at the heart of liberalism is the genuine belief of personal freedom – and one of those freedoms is to be young. If we continue to demonise our youth, neglect public service provision and treat young criminals as outcasts is it little wonder they will turn their backs on us and ignore the rules we set.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008

Olympics and the right to protest

Back in November I wrote about the importance of allowing protests around the Olympics:

Glad to see that Chris Huhne has made it quite clear in a news release that when the show comes to town in the form of the Olympics, the right to peaceful protest must be upheld:

The Olympics are a chance to put our values in the global showcase which is why the organisers should plan for and allow the right of peaceful protest, which is such an important part of our political tradition. It will not be on display at the Beijing Olympics.

Diversity and freedom of expression is what has always made our society strong, and we should not be afraid to show it.

And I suspect given the number of countries competing whose human rights record may not be quite what we would wish – there will be quite a number of protesters wishing to protest. A good thing too. As a country – we should be proud that peaceful protest is one of our guarantees of freedom of expression.

So – it was good to read that Nick Clegg’s taking this line too:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has accused British Olympic chiefs of a “real abdication of our moral responsibility” over moves to restrict athletes from speaking out about China’s human rights record.

A new clause in the contract Olympians must sign before competing in Beijing this year forbids them from making political comments about the host country.

Clegg told BBC1’s Politics Show: “It’s extremely disappointing. It’s part of a pattern of us kow-towing to the Chinese communist authorities.

“We have to be very clear with the Chinese: They now play a significant role in the world economy and international affairs.

“That brings certain domestic responsibilities with it and I think for us to sort of gag ourselves is a real abdication of our moral responsibility to push for human rights wherever they are being abused.”

Referring to the prime minister’s recent visit to China, Clegg said: “Unlike Tony Blair and certainly unlike President Sarkozy from France, Chancellor Merkel from Germany and even President Bush from the United States, he said nothing publicly on China’s appalling human rights record.”

Nick Clegg wins leadership contest

Not my week! First Leon, then Matt and now Nick! Seriously though – well done to Nick. Commiserations to my brave candidate Chris – who fought a phenomenal campaign. And before I turn to Nick, let me first give credit to Chris for his superb campaigning. When the going got tough – as it did – Chris did not lose his cool or hit out in the way so many do. The measure of this man is his hunger, his energy, his temperament and his determination. At the start I said Chris has the cojones. Not half he has!

However, he lost and Nick won – and the quality of Chris’s campaign means that Nick’s victory over that reflects well on Nick. I suspect that Nick found winning much harder than he expected at the start of the campaign – but if he has come out of the campaign a tougher and more seasoned campaigner (and I know I did each time I ran in party selections for rather less high profile posts) – then that is all to the good for the party and our future.

Nick’s direction, verve, energy and messages are what will now be key to driving the party forward to success. This contest has been about our future – and the point of wanting the crown is not just to wear it – but what Nick does with it. He has got to deliver on the promises he made – to be anti-establishment and to deliver principled radicalism and to challenge the cosy consensus of the stagnant, old-fashioned, two-party politics further and faster.

Those are shared aims across both leadership campaigns – so I have no doubt that the whole party will be wishing Nick luck, and working hard to help him deliver those aims.

Today begins a new era for Liberal Democracy. This is a break with the past and a mandate to change the way politics is done. We are at a critical point in our trajectory in British politics. We need more seats to deliver more Liberal Democrat policies with a bigger and louder voice!

Of course, the real problem is that in the next election we will be focused on by the media probably solely on who we will get into bed with if there is a hung Parliament. I say ignore all that crap and fight to win. If the maths delivers such a verdict – then we should respect that outcome and deal with it when it arise, always doing that which will see the maximum number of our policies and beliefs enacted.

But we should also remember (and remind the media!) that a hung Parliament would raise questions for both Brown and Cameron on how they would act: so each time a journalist asks about a hung Parliament, we should perhaps politely promise to give them an answer – after they have run their stories about Brown and Cameron’s answers first!

Meanwhile, we must raise our membership; make sure that we will have a more diverse representation in the elected positions at every level of office; champion the key issues of fairness and greenness; and stand up for and fight for freedom against an over-weaning, authoritarian centralist proposition of New Labour and expose the vacuous poverty of Cameron and his Conservatives.

All of this is underpinned by our belief in a liberal society: tolerant people living in peace freely; caring about those who cannot take care of themselves; looking after our planet and the future; being honourable in our international responsibilities and eschewing the corrosive seduction of the ‘it’s business – that’s how the world works’ school.

So – congratulations to Nick, commiserations to Chris – and now let’s work together to win more power for that which we all believe in!

Leadership campaign: what are members saying?

Did some phoning of members yesterday to see how the voting was going in the Liberal Democrat leadership campaign . Still around half hadn’t voted; I expect there to be a flurry of voting as we near the deadline (next Saturday).

The late voters were pretty much all going for Huhne and a couple of early voters for Clegg saying that they now thought they had made a mistake. So – still going in the right direction. As Chair of Chris’s campaign – to sum up I would say I am cautiously optimistic!

And here’s a quick plug for some reasons to vote for Chris:

  • Telegraph interview, including their verdict on Chris: “increasingly the favourite among the grassroots”
  • Chris’s three point plan to stave off recession – taking the political fight to Brown, which is just what we need!
  • Chris’s views on how to raise the party’s profile: watch here

PS If you are a party member and haven’t yet received your ballot paper – email ASAP.

Treble dose of good news about Liberal Democrat MPs

Interesting poll by Iain Dale on his website of how his readers think MPs of all parties have been performing in the last month. 1,256 blog watchers voted and they rated the performance of a selection of MPs over the last month.

Both our Liberal Democrat leadership candidates are in the top quarter, Chris at 10 and Nick at 21! Not bad for a Conservative originated contest on a website with a heavily Conservative readership!

However, both might like to look at the methodology of the occupier of the No. 1 spot for guidance when our new leader is declared and take a leaf out of the Cable book of stealing the limelight – for it is indeed Vince Cable who comes out as the top rated MP over the last month. Well done all three.

A disaster a day keeps Labour in dismay

Minced by Vince! Poor old Gordon Brown in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday – from ‘Stalin to Mr Bean’ is a perfect description of the PM’s journey thus far. As one who thinks PMQs is just playtime for little boys – I have to say that ‘soundbite’ did make me smile (to my chagrin). The Labour Party woes know no end. A disaster a day keeps Labour in dismay. The faces of the Labour troops on the benches told it all. They must be devastated by such goings on. Vince and Chris Huhne have now asked the police to investigate.

Also yesterday, attended the Parliamentary launch of the report that came out of our trip to South Africa to look at business and how it is dealing with the AIDS and HIV pandemic. It is an excellent report from Business Action for Africa – so congrats to them and to SAB Miller, Anglo American and Meurk who were the key three companies involved in our trip.

The recommendations are about how to make partnerships work – as it is clear that the South African governemnt, NGOs, donors and business all need to work together to really create a proper delivery of health services to the nation.

It’s just the beginning – but it is an excellent report. John Hutton (Secretary of State) was there as we want him to use Government influence to push this agenda – and hopefully he will be a strong advocate for this – using business as a full partner.

Interestingly, and unbeknown to us, John has a brother living in Capetown and is fully au fait with all the issues around AIDS there – so undertood the issues from his own personal experience.

The man who told the truth about Robert Maxwell whilst other journalists were cowed into silence

One of the possible perils of political blogging is that you leave a trail of words behind you – on the public record – even as events and your own views may have moved on. So it was with a little trepidation that I went back to check what I wrote about the previous Liberal Democrat leadership election.

However, reading why I said back then that Chris Huhne was the right choice, I think the words are still just as relevant this time round:

Imagine the scene. It’s a few weeks before the next general election.

Gordon Brown – now Prime Minister – is reeling off another of his lists of economic statistics. He is about to launch New Labour’s general election campaign centred – as they have all been – on their economic record.

Who as Liberal Democrat leader could match him economic fact for economic fact in the debate in Parliament? Who will persuade leading journalists during the subsequent forensic media cross-examination as regards those key pocket-book issues?

For me, the clear answer is Chris Huhne.

Chris’s record as an economist, successful businessman and senior economics journalist give him the skills and expertise to do just that.

Of course credibility is not the only thing. Important to me too are the beliefs behind Chris’s economic credibility. A strong belief in the environment – to be protected and restored by taxing the activities that damage it while using the revenues to provide alternatives such as better public transport. A commitment to social justice, most importantly by taking the poorest out of income tax all together.

Chris has the right priorities for our party, and decades of experience campaigning for them.

But Chris also showed his strength of character long before entering politics. One of his first assignments as a journalist was reporting undercover from India during Mrs Ghandi’s crisis.

Chris stood up to Robert Maxwell – continuing to report his wrongdoings despite having four libel writs outstanding. This shows a certain bravery and principle that was sorely missing from many journalists who took the easy option and turned a blind eye to Maxwell’s crimes.

Now that’s the mix of principles and toughness we need in our next leader. Yes, Nick would make a great leader – but I think Chris’s record shows he would be even better. As The Times reported of him yesterday:

He would not fall for any of our [journalist] tricks because he knows them all, and more: interviewing Mr Huhne is like circling an intense, watchful cat that seems perfectly friendly but is probably quite dangerous.

When you look at the mess Labour is making of our running our country and public services – and the way in which Cameron’s Conservatives are so often aping Labour’s policies – it’s that sort of tough fighter we need to break the cosy Labour-Conservative consensus.

'Labour is conspicuous by its conservatism'

Stirring words from Chris Huhne in today’s Guardian:

… On climate change too, Labour is conspicuous by its conservatism. Carbon emissions are up, green taxes down. Climate change research has been cut. Firms have been let off reporting their environmental impact. Road freight tolling was vetoed. Flood defences were cut last year. The climate change bill sets a target lower than the science demands. None of this will meet the greatest challenge of our times …

For the country’s sake, the Liberal Democrats need to get back a sense of anti-establishment insurgency. With Labour and the Tories scrabbling over the same ground, we must set out a programme of radical change that can give back hope and trust to the millions excluded from the political system. Without trust in the process, progressive politics is dead. Only the Liberal Democrats have the vision to revive a movement of conscience and reform.

The full piece is here.