Paxman scares Brown and Cameron – but not our Nick Clegg!

Just read the Guardian piece on how both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have failed to respond to a Newsnight invitation to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. The deadline was today apparently.

Nick Clegg accepted straight off!

So – two of the three men who would be Prime Minister are obviously cowardy cowardy custards! Guess that leaves only one option then!

LGTB community see through Grayling and Cameron

Grayling’s real thoughts, as exposed by the Observer (where Grayling says that B&B owners shouldn’t have to admit gay couples if against their Christian belief if the B&B is in their own home) and David Cameron’s stuttering inability to answer on gay issues during an interview with Gay Times has seen Conservative poll ratings fall amongst the gay community in response to a Pink News survey.

I should hope so too!

Making the right noises for political purposes is not enough – and the Conservatives have been exposed as still having a very long way to go to transform their real position into a genuinely liberal one. This debacle has demonstrated the reality behind the warm words.

Vote for change – don't make me laugh!

Only on Sunday David, trust me, Cameron was telling his Party conference that it was his patriotic duty to save the country from a Labour Government and that the new Tory slogan was ‘Vote for Change’.

Two days later – his ‘patriotism’  has been  blown out of the water as it clearly doesn’t extend very far – so long as the Tory coffers are filling. And as for ‘change’ – protecting Tory friends in the City or elsewhere has long been stock in trade for the Tories.

In fact – if the City is jittery – it’s not a hung parliament that is the scary story – it’s the sudden realisation that the Tories might not win and the expected continuation of the good life for the bankers and the stockbrokers which suddenly looked a bit iffy when the two point diminishing lead in the polls scared them silly.

So – forced into coming clean – Ascroft – Tory donor extraordinaire – is a non dom. He hasn’t paid his full whack of tax in Britain on his massive fortune stored in a distant land – and with his tax savings has literally been buying seats for the Tories.

Why am I not surprised? Well – because every time the Tory leadership was asked about Lord Ashcroft’s status they wriggled and squirmed and evaded a definitive answer. So we knew that they knew that Ashcroft was not as presented – hence the endless questions over the last decade as to his real status – but they would not admit it.

I am just astonished that this has been left to run for so long and that Cameron protected Ashcroft for so long. What on earth does that say about Cameron and his honesty? Quite a lot I think.

So it begins………..

Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s off to an election we go – and can’t you just tell from the first salvos from Labour against Cameron and Tories against Brown that it’s going to be an edifying few months.

No doubt we LibDems will be above such things – judging from Nick’s pronouncement this morning (continuing a theme from Conference) that we are different to the other two parties. We are. We definitely are. So – let’s hope we remain different. The last thing this country needs is the same bankrupt politics that has held sway for so long. New hope with each new Government – only to find out within a few years that they fall from grace and were just the same in the end as the one before.

Would we be as good as I believe we would be in Government?

Cameron on (or off) Europe?

I just watched Cameron on Andy Marr. It’s just the same old same old. First thing he said was that he (and the Tories) were going to be straight talking. (Bit of a cheek as that is one of our three top lines). But worse – he then proceeded to be anything but straight over the Tory position on Europe and the referendum.

If the Lisbon Treaty gets ratified by the remaining countries before the next General Election – what will the Conservatives then do? Perfectly fair question – but one that he doesn’t want to answer. Cameron simply failed – each time Marr asked him – to give a straight answer.

Straight talking? Didn’t come over that way – snake oil salesman as ever.

And yes – the LibDem position is still that we would offer the country a yes/no vote to being in or out of the EU. None of this messing around with the Lisbon Treaty – and go straight to the heart of the euro-sceptics arguments. Defeat them once and for all – and then perhaps they will understand that our future is tied up with Europe – like it or hate it.

Afghanistan – end game?

Here’s my latest column from the Ham & High, which appeared earlier this month:

I remember when we first went into Afghanistan. There were dire warnings that no invading force ever succeeded – beaten back by landscape, tribal warriors, drug barons or harsh, unbearable winters. But of course we had to go there – there to the heart of the world’s crucible of evil where Osama Bin Laden was meant to be hiding.

The West was angry and hurt, scarred by 9/11 and its author cloaked in mystery – a millionaire, billionaire who forswore all worldly goods and who seemed in control of a network of devotees ready to die at his command. Terrorist Al-Qaeda members all over the world seemed able to activate anywhere, anytime – a mixture of amateur and superb sophistry and deadly as hell. So – we had to go and fight to rid ourselves of the scourge of terror.

But, did we learn the lessons of history? Did we heed the awful stories of death and loss from previous sorties into this harsh, unforgiving terrain? Of course not.

And now we have been there for seven years and have lost 187 soldiers. They stare at us from the front of our newspapers. Every Prime Minister’s Questions the three leaders give condolences for someone else’s brother, son or father. We pay genuine tribute to the bravery of our fallen soldiers – week after week. And as we stare at the unbelievably young faces, boys of 18, who die for Queen and country, only now there is the widespread asking of why and where and how.

It is as if the country has suddenly woken up from a reverie as, instead of one or two deaths per week, the dying now coming in threes and fours and fives and sixes. And, now we all know a lot more about this mysterious country where the men appear to have the wisdom of centuries in the wrinkled faces with eyes that stare out knowing how it works – whilst we Brits try and win their trust.

We are winning we are told. There is Operation Panther’s Claw – but I feel absurd using the language of games and comics to describe this latest push to rid the Helmund province of Taliban prior to the presidential elections.

So up spoke Nick Clegg and put a great big fat question mark over what we are doing there. Not that we shouldn’t be there. But we should be clear about why, what we can achieve and how we exit. And whilst we are there we cannot expose our young men to death because we don’t give them proper transport in helicopters.

We felt proud of ourselves – that we went boldly bringing freedom from the evil of the Taliban – especially for women from their feudal, misogynist rule. But, as with Iraq, the Government’s stated purpose in Afghanistan has been a moveable feast – from searching for Osama, to ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban, to curbing the poppy industry and drug trade, to bringing democracy and to freeing women from their hideous destiny with no education and no rights. The reasons keep moving, weaving and wafting – indefinable.

Nick Clegg opened the floodgates as he broke the cosy consensus around our sortie in Afghanistan. David Cameron suddenly piped up as did many other groups as we railed against the deaths of those young men staring out of our newspapers.
In the end the solution will lie not with making war, but with making peace – with restoring enough of a stable government across enough of the country that the future fate of Afghanistan can rest in the hands of those Afghanis who do not see the future as one of perpetual war with their neighbours.

Political reform: what to make of Cameron?

Having just read David Cameron’s recipe to restore public faith in politicians I note his glaring omissions. He omits what I regard as a fundamental gravy train that MPs have supped from for far too long. When I got to Parliament in 2005 I was outraged to find that MPs could use public money from the taxpayer for their mortgage and – given the booming house market until recent times – could then sell their property for huge profits and pocket them. That has been a scandal. I have bleated on about this ever since. Nick Clegg has taken up this issue too. The argument is very simple – that no one should be able to make a profit out of public money. Of course – David Cameron himself is profiting from this nice little earner. So – that’s the first black mark.

He also says nothing of the House of Lords – the bastion of privilege and non-accountability or democratic mandate. Failing to even wish to tackle this antiquated anomaly shows again that DC is a conservative who has been forced to flagg up ‘reform’ – but without the heart and commitment of a genuine reformer.

I was pleased to read the small paragraph on bringing the advantages of internet to Parliament. I have banged on about this for some time – and again I don’t think Cameron gets to the heart of what really matters. For example (not in Cameron’s recipe) from the first publication of a Bill – the changes and amendments all come on separate bits of papers.

I remember after leading on my first Bill in Parliament for the Liberal Democrats I went to the Labour Whips office to persuade them to use tracking changes so that we could see the Bill and its alterations all in the same place. You know track changes – the sort of thing the rest of the world has been using for years and years and years. But not Parliament. Instead – something changes, and you get given a block of replacement text without changes marked up. They seem incapable of breaking out of their straight jacket of history and moving to modern online information.

This just demonstrates the inability to move on the tiniest of changes that might help produce better legislation – and also open it up to public comment, scrutiny and feedback without having to be a lawyer to understand the bloody stuff. Make it easy for everyone to see what’s being changed – and I’ve no doubt people will start using that data, lobbying MPs more effectively and even spot things MPs have missed. After all – it’s not exactly news to say that some legislation gets through Parliament with mistakes in the wording. But open up the data – and then there’s the chance for other people to spot the mistakes, highlight them before they become law – and we all benefit.

There is stuff that Cameron’s said which I agree with – as you would expect given that many of the ‘ideas’ he puts forward in today’s Guardian are long-standing Liberal Democrat policies! Fixed-term parliaments, reducing of the power of the executive, cutting the number of MPs, devolving power to councils and empowering individuals. Transparency and accountability – definitely. Shame Cameron has had to be dragged kicking and screaming on these. But – to be fair – at least he is going out there.

DC, however, does not want to change the electoral system – a system that conserves the old ways at its very heart. No surprise there. We need an electoral system that gives real power to the voter to choose – and strips away the comfort of being in a safe seat that leads so many MPs astray, forgetting what they are really there for. (See this excellent analysis of the pattern between how safe an MP’s seat is and whether or not they’ve abused the expense rules.)

At present we have a government that does not represent the people – elected to total power by something like 36% only of voters – and garnered by electoral and financial effort being funneled into swing seats in marginals, largely ignoring voters elsewhere.

If we want politicians and politics to truly change – it isn’t enough to simply change a few rules in the heat of the media spotlight, but we need to change the rules by which MPs get into power – and can get kicked out again.

But at least, this catastrophic and seismic explosion into the body politic – has made even the Conservative leader – and even if for the wrong reasons – say some of the right things. Some – but not enough.

Gordon Brown, mind you, is woefully absent from this debate altogether, off the pace and not addressing the issues that need addressing. Totally explains why Blair managed to out dance him on the leadership in the first place.

What is clear is that this is a moment in time when the political establishment is in crisis. And that establishment has kept at bay the real changes that our needed in our country to make our democracy decent, effective, transparent and accountable. Power to the people is what is needed. Clearly power that rests in politicians hands will not deliver the new politics that we so desperately need.

Simon Mayo

Hazel Blears must have known what she was writing in that article. ‘Lamentable’ and ‘You Tube if you want to’ are hardly accidental insults.

At PMQs, David Cameron went for Gordon – sensing a weakened and beleaguered Prime Minister – somehow he managed to mess it up and come over like a bully-boy – unpleasant and over-political. Every one of his six supplementries was attacking Brown. So whilst Brown was wooden and unable to make quips – he didn’t suffer the way he ought to have given his fragile state and the week from hell just passed. He was desperately trying to be a serious man for serious times – coming back at Cameron for not asking a single question on policy or the economy. Underwhelming on both sides I thought.

Actually – the duel was deeply depressing. Red / blue, blue / red – same old same old. About time we had a different way of doing politics! Yes – us.

The only really decent questions (apart from Nick Clegg – obviously) was about the Gurkhas and the complete failure of Brown to understand the mood of the nation and somehow believe that rattling immigration bars (no doubt guided by focus group) would somehow trump the hearts and minds of British people. our souls are built on fair play! But Gordon doesn’t get it.

So – we ranged over this in Simon Mayo – and ID cards (waste of money and won’t work), swine flu (briefly thank goodness) and the Gurkhas again – and the demise of Gordon. Doom and Dust!

It’s a great program – and I note that Simon ‘I’m being made to tweet’ Mayo (last time I was on re twittering) now finds it irresistible!

David and Samantha Cameron’s tragic loss

David and Samantha Cameron’s tragic loss of their son Ivan broke on the phone-in shows as I was coming into work this morning. On LBC the radio show host asked people to call in who had experienced the loss of a child – and the calls and the death of Ivan had me in tears. This loss is unimaginable and tragic – and all I want to say publicly is how sorry I am for their loss and wish them the strength to endure. We are, in the end, human beings first and politicians second.

Baby P at PMQs

There was an unedifying spat at Prime Minister’s Questions today between David Cameron and Gordon Brown, which seemed to turn the tragedy of Baby P into a political football. It was just awful to watch.

I didn’t think I’d get the chance to ask a question myself – but just before the end of PMQs, the Speaker called me. I made that point that when Leader of the Opposition on Haringey Council during the Climbie affair I was given all sorts of assurances about how lessons had been learnt, never again etc.

So – whilst the national review Gordon Brown talked about is welcome, it isn’t all that we need. We need an independent public inquiry into what went wrong in Haringey – and for those responsible to to be held responsible.

My goodness – if the Controller of Radio 2 resigns over the tasteless Brand / Ross prank phone call – then surely there will be people held accountable for the tragedy of Baby P?