42 days, David Davis and Nick Clegg

I am truly sick of the Westminster Village sneering attitude to David Davis. Quite frankly – I don’t care if David Davis is doing this for truth, justice and liberty or because he was never going to get Home Secretary, is a loner, egomaniac or because he hates David Cameron – all doing the rounds as explanations.

What I do care about is the issue – and if his actions help secure the same outcome that I want, then good for him – and I don’t see why I should have to pretend that I don’t really agree with him – or have to pretend that him helping to achieve what I want too isn’t a good thing – just because we are in different parties or disagree about 1,001 other issues.

Why does the issue of 42 days detention without trial matter so much? Quite simply – because locking an innocent person up for a month and a half is an awful, ghastly thing to do. Imagine it happening to yourself. How it can wreck jobs, pull apart relationship and leave a deep and abiding sense of anger and hostility.

And we know that when the police and other authorities think they know that someone is guilty – they ain’t always right. That’s why people get acquitted. Even with the best will in the world, mistakes are made. And we know too – the best will often is missing. We’ve seen in the fight against Irish terrorism how some police were so convinced they knew who was guilty that evidence was forged – to frame people for crimes they didn’t commit. We know we can’t just assume that all involved in security matters follow the rules and do their job properly – look at the repeated incidents of secret documents being lost!

So locking anyone up for any protracted period of time without a trial should only be a matter of very last resort. That’s not the situation we’re in. The government has left a whole host of other approaches untouched – such as changing the rules on what can happen pre and post charge. Or indeed taking the obvious step to deal with the extra complexities of terrorism investigations these days (involving many computers and many countries and so on) – that of giving extra resources to the police and security services.

If the problem is investigations taking too long – put more resources in I say. Double win if that’s done – not only are you able to keep to the current timescales – but if you’re investigating an outrage or would-be outrage, the quicker you do it the more chance there is of stopping other outrages too through what you discover in the investigation. Let’s not forget, Labour managed to whip up some extra billions just before a by-election polling day to attempt to deal with the political fallout from their 10p tax policies. So do we really think they’ve exhausted every avenue to fund quicker investigations into terrorism?

Go back to imaging your life. If you’ve got a diary for the next month or two take a look at it. And then imagine being locked up for 42days without being told why you’re being held. And think of the impact it would have on you. And then remember how very many of the people held at the moment end up being released without charge or being acquitted in court.

That’s why this issue cuts to the very core of the point of having elections and Parliament in the first place. If MPs aren’t there to protect people from the almost inevitable demands for greater and greater powers over them from all parts of the state, what is the point of much of what we do?

That’s why I agree with David Davis on the issue, and why I have a sneaking admiration for the insight or bravery or zaniness or call it whatever you will that he showed in forcing the 42 days issue to stay at the centre of political debate by forcing a by-election.

I don’t envy Nick Clegg and others having to make the quick judgement about how to react to his resignation. I think Nick and they got it right – there really are some issues which are more important the inter-party disagreements. And events so far have shown his judgement to be much surer than that of many of the critics.

No, Davis’s resignation on the issue didn’t hand Cameron a media bonanza – just look at all the coverage of splits in the Conservatives.

No, it wasn’t a pointless resignation – just look at the way those in the Conservative Party who wanted to back down over 42 days have instead themselves been backed into a corner.

No – it wasn’t a one-day wonder – just look at the continuing attention being given to the issue.

And above all – yes, it has been possible for David Davis to keep this attention on the civil liberties grounds on which we agree with him. (Imagine if there were a Liberal Democrat candidate against him – by necessity they would be having to campaign on a whole range of other issues in order to give people a reason to vote for them rather than for Davis – and that would have taken the attention away from that very civil liberties issue).

On each of these points, Nick and other’s judgement so far has been proved right – and events are offering us the opportunity to make a major step forward in the fight for our civil liberties. Real protection for our civil liberties doesn’t just come from electing Liberal Democrats – it comes from moving the terms of debate for all political parties. Civil liberties are part of the very Liberal Democrat DNA and to me helping make that happen matters far more than the usual instinct of”must fight every election, must fight every election, must fight every election.”

David Davis, three days on

So the nasty Tory party is back in full force turning its briefings in vituperative fashion on (or rather – against) David Davis. Much of the Conservative Party’s establishment seems to wish to infer that he is mad or sad or bad.

I think he is none of these things and take it on face value – he really does feel passionately about this issue and felt something dramatic was required. The issue of detention without charge is of such high import in terms of the fundamental values we hold dear in this land that it is worth taking a stand on. I hold no brief for David Davis. I don’t agree with him on almost anything else – but on this (like Nick Clegg) I do.

David Davis

Well, well! Quite a turn of events with him resigning to fight a by-election on the 42 days issues. It was clear in Parliament how strongly he feels on the issue.

Good to see Nick Clegg and the party saying that we won’t stand a candidate, so that the by-election is a clear verdict on Labour’s authoritarianism. There are some issues – and some principles – which are far more important than passing electoral advantage. Much though I think many Lib Dems would have liked the idea of fighting a by-election against David Davis, this way we get a clear contest on a key issue of principle.

As for the talk about Davis’s resignation being in part precipitated by splits in the Conservatives, well – easy to speculate, but will be interesting to see how this plays out, and regardless if the outcome is that he forces the Conservatives to stick with their opposition to 42 days (rather than, say, backing down in the Lords) then all the better.

John Prescott at PMQs

Early morning out filming for Sunday’s Politics Show. They will have David Davis in the studio – and the bit they wanted me for was to ruminate on any potential threat from the Tories now they hug hoodies. Not sure that Davis is all love and sunshine; however – you’ll have to wait for the program if you’re interested.

I then watched John Prescott in horror. I don’t know him really, as our political paths haven’t really crossed and he has only stepped into take the PM’s role at Prime Minister’s Questions a couple of times since I became an MP – but it seemed cruel sport.

I don’t rate PMQs as an exemplar way to conduct politics anyway. It is a blood sport and as such is quite compelling but actually pretty nasty stuff. However, just as with hunting, when the prey doesn’t even have a chance it is sheer cruelty. Whilst T Blair can take care of himself – Prescott clearly can’t. I don’t suppose they will let him go before the Blair Switch project is complete – but it would be kinder to leave him with a last vestige of pride.

Gordon Brown's speech

So – today was Gordon’s big day. For a man renowned for obsession with detail and preparing speeches for ages – I thought it was surprisingly bad. Overall – ok, but in the circumstances – Gordon didn’t rise to the occasion. He has sometimes in the past – “we are best when we are Labour” was one of the few speeches of the New Labour era that really seemed to strike a chord and stick in the memory – but not this time. Today it was dour and brooding Gordon.

For me, as a London MP, he’ll always struggle to overcome his obsession with privatising our Tube, pouring away millions and millions in fees for lawyers, accountants, consultants etc etc drawing up hugely complicated contracts rather than putting the money straight into improving the service. Prudent, not!

As front-runner perhaps he just wanted to play safe in the leadership election, though as David Davis showed with the Tory contents front-runners don’t always stay at the front…

Learning how Parliament works

I’d asked one of the Commons Committee Clerks to come and brief me on the rules for Standing Committee as I will be leading for the Lib Dems on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill which goes into committee next Thursday.

The protocols of what you say, in what order you speak, when you stand, when you table amendments, at what point you can argue what and so on is much of a mystery to me at the moment as I’ve not yet done such a bill. So I have invited an expert to walk me through the procedure – which he does.

Lots to learn and lots of pitfalls for me to descend into! He then takes me and Mette (my Parliamentary Researcher) over to the Bills Office to introduce me so that I can ‘introduce’ Mette. This is a formal procedure without which they will not accept amendments from Mette (as opposed to me personally going over there). Doncha just love those quaint customs! Actually – this one probably has a point – i.e. no one can masquerade as me or Mette to put down amendments to the bill. Can’t imagine there would be a queue of fraudsters – but best to err on the safe side.

Then I have a meeting with a woman who has come at my request to brief me further on mental health issues. She, herself, suffers from schizophrenia. She obviously knows both from being a campaigner in this area as well as a user of the services all about where to go and how to get help. Invaluable.

Followed by a meeting with the Beer and Pub Association who want to discuss the Violent Crime Reduction Bill with me. Half of the bill is about how to deal with alcohol disorder – both by banning individuals from areas and also making areas with lots of disorder ‘Alcohol Disorder Zones’. This is a real legislative mess and so broadly drawn as to leave almost every decision up to the Home Secretary. Controlling or what? I agree with much of their lobbying – but not all.

Then off to my surgery in Hornsey Vale Community centre where – as always – I am constantly amazed by the range of problems that present. Finish at 7pm and go to my constituency office to sign things.

Get home about 9pm to watch the news on the Tory beauty parade – a misnomer if ever there was one. As my daughter said to me – if you had to sleep with one of them who would you choose?

Seriously though – I think David Davis must have given a sweetener to party organisers to put Cameron and Clarke on the same day. Both gave a good show – but Cameron made Clark look old and Clark made Cameron look wet behind the ears. Never-the-less DD has a bit of a show to put on when he speaks – or else.

Crime figures

Up early to be at Sky News crack of dawn to speak for the Lib Dems as the latest crime figures are published today.

There are two sets: the British Crime Survey which is a massive survey of people and how many crimes they have experienced. These figures show overall crime is reducing – including violent crime, which is down by 11%.

The other set of figures published is from the police, and shows the numbers of crimes recorded by them. As these are absolute figures rather than a survey they might seem more accurate – but they are very dependent on the rules for recording crime and a change in the rules can make a big change in the numbers even if reality hasn’t changed. One example – when the police got much better at taking rape seriously there were big increases in the figures for rape – because they were recording and investigating more – not because there was a big leap in rape.

The recorded crime figures also record crime dropping – but violent crime up 6%. So it is obvious to me that the story will be the difference between these two figures.

As indeed it is!

It strikes me that as 48% of violent crime is alcohol related that the Government might just pause for thought about relaxing the licensing laws and introducing 24 hour drinking just at this moment in time.

The problem with the Government’s Violent Crime Reduction Bill is it does the ‘tough on crime’ bit of the equation – but doesn’t have any measures to address the seemingly British malaise where young people drink themselves to oblivion on a Friday and Saturday night.

Whilst I am personally in favour of changing licensing hours so all the pubs don’t empty out at the same time – the timing of Labour’s licensing plans really isn’t smart.

Spend much of the morning yoyo-ing between the Commons and doing media interviews. Then back to the Commons to gen up on what’s in the papers ready to go back to Millbank to the Beeb for the Daily Politics show with Andrew Neil.

My only encounter thus far with him was during the General Election of 2001 when Sky did a late night program on ‘rising stars’ on which I went with a Labour and Conservative equivalent. At that time I was a distant third hoping to rise to second in the election. I remember Neill saying something derogatory about the Lib Dems – like well you’re only a Lib Dem so who cares what you say. And I remember giving as good as I got! He loved it.

The other thing I remember about that night was outside of the studio I spoke to a psephologist who was pontificating on the election and is likely swings and directions. He asked me what I was hoping for – and I said ‘obviously to win – but a good second would be an achievement in itself’. He said he would eat his hat if I even got into second place. I swept magnificently into second place – but sadly couldn’t remember this guy’s name to recontact him with a view to watching said spectacle of hat-eating ceremony!

Anyway – today we will be discussing Muslim communities and retired people abroad getting winter fuel allowances. Neill starts by having a go (as it is the last day of the Parliamentary term) about the so-called long holidays MPs have.

Bollocks to that – I have only had a couple of days off since going back after Christmas, I do a seven-day week, and weekdays are usually 10 to 18 hour days. So pooh to you Andrew Neill. He is unmoved – and obviously thinks all MPs do nothing. He says he will come and check on me in the constituency and I say just fine!

I think the only way political pundits will be happy is if we have no holidays, reduce our pay, cut our staff and office allowances and expenses and I hear that Marks and Sparks do a good line in hair shirts!

David Davis joins us for a section of the show and for reasons that remain a complete mystery to me spends the entire time of his interview refusing to admit that he is going to stand for the leadership of the Tory Party. Completely bonkers.

Rush back to Commons for lunch with someone who wants to discuss the future of the Liberal Democrat party with me! My researcher appears to tell me that 4 bombs have gone off – or more accurately 4 detonators have gone off which appear to have failed to detonate the bombs themselves – thank God. Much evidence will therefore be available to the police and security forces.

Thursday in London

I have big boxes to bring back from Parliament – so for the first time – drive in. I give my daughter (Jenna) a lift to Bedford Square where she is studying. We leave at 9.00am. Shortly after begin reports on the radio about a major incident at a tube station – a power surge is being mooted as the cause. Other reports of other incidents at other stations are now being reported. I am trying to imagine why a power surge would be surging to this effect – given the amount of safety devices which must exist to stop surges surging.

Jenna and I think it is a terrorist attack despite what is being said on the radio. I hear Christian Woolmar (rail and tube pundit) verbalising on the radio the exact thoughts running through my brain. All the hallmarks of a terrorist attack. The National Grid is not reporting any signs of electrical surges in London. Cut outs cut in when there is a power surge. Christian hypothesizes that this is a terrorist attack.

We have always believed that the tube would be a key target. We have always known that G8 would be a ‘high alert’ status day/period. Add it all up together with the new report of an eyewitness who says he has just seen the top blown off of a bus in Woburn Place – and any last doubts have fled.

So what to do? I decide to continue onto Westminster, dropping Jenna at Bedford Square and instructing her not to leave the college until she hears from me again – under no circumstances. I try telephoning my other daughter who is still asleep at home – but the networks are down. I drive on as herds of people are exiting tube stations as the whole system shuts down. I see a bus driver receiving a call – stopping the bus – and emptying out the passengers.

The roads are pretty empty. Buses now are mostly empty and the pavements are thronging with people. Outside shops with TVs are small congregations of people trying to find out what is going on.

As this is the first time I had brought the car in – I am not sure of the procedure as I drive in the gates of the Palace of Westminster. First you stop at a barrier where two security guards check the car for bombs very thoroughly. Embarrassed by not knowing how to open my bonnet when required to do so. Turns out there’s a little handle on floor of car by right foot.

On to various other security bits and pieces and then down into a huge car park – which I didn’t even know existed.

Rush up to office to try to use landlines to contact younger daughter and put TV on to see what is happening. I get through to my new caseworker who is still working in my house as constituency office not ready yet – and ask him to go wake Cady and tell her there has been a major terrorist attack on London and that I will phone on the house line in 5 minutes – which I do. I forbid her to go on the bus – and say if she wants to go into school for the last day of term (which it is – so all fun and no work – thus the keenness!) she will have to walk or get a lift. She begs me to come home as is worried that Westminster is key target. I tell her not to worry.

TV now reporting it as terrorist attack on London although number and timing of different incidents not clear. Pager goes off to tell me that the Home Secretary will come to the chamber at 12.15pm to make a statement. Impossible to get on with any real work.

The emergency plans appear to have swept faultlessly into operation – with all emergency services and transport staff doing an incredible job which I have no doubt saved lives and kept what actually was an eerie calm in the City.

I go into the chamber about 15 minutes before the statement – and it is business questions to the Leader of the House. As we reach the appointed hour – it is clear that Charles Clarke is not yet ready and we get whispers to keep questions going. I think of one and start standing up to get called – just an obliging person willing to help. However after about another 15 minutes where many of the questions are clearly becoming pretty unfocused – Mr Speaker decides to suspend the House until 12.50pm – so we all leave.

When I come back into the chamber it fills suddenly and the Speaker takes his seat. Charles Clarke comes to the Despatch Box and makes a truly statesmanlike announcement sticking only to facts. He gives our sympathy to the relatives of those who have died and support to those injured along with friends and family. No politics at all.

David Davis and Ming Campbell make equally strong speeches praising the emergency services and condemning speculation. The House pulls together in the way it does best in times of crisis.

I had had to cancel a radio interview that morning – but the Beeb reschedules for 2.30pm and I walk over to Millbank to the BBC studios. It is strange outside on the streets. The sun is shining and there are, albeit in hugely reduced numbers, tourists still around the Palace – but the roads are virtually empty.

I am being interviewed by Mark Darcy for the Friday “Today in Parliament” program about my on-line campaigning. I really enjoy the interview as it is so removed from everything else going on around me. Except that in another studio, Brian Paddick from the Met Police is fronting media interviews on the attack.

Back to Parliament and start to think about getting home. I ring eldest daughter to say will pick up at 4pm and to be outside her building. I give a colleague a lift too and as I leave the Westminster Village the roads are still strangely empty – and there is not a bus to be seen. But the pavements are absolutely thronging with people setting off early for the long march home. It’s a different world out there today.

Parliament debates identity cards

Busy day as, after the committee stage on incitement to religious hatred, it’s the Second Reading debate on ID cards in the Chamber.

I am soooooooooo against ID cards – and desperate to get called to speak in the debate. The debate starts at 3.30pm and will conclude with a vote at 10pm. I know that I will have to sit in the Chamber for all that time – to have even a flying chance of catching Mr Speaker’s eye to get called. But it will be worth it.

Charles Clarke moves the proposed legislation – defending the indefensible. David Davis (Tory Shadow Home Secretary) then gets a go – and delivers a good speech. Unlike most of the Tories who only so recently in the election were for the introduction of ID cards – Davies was always against them. As power shifts from Michael Howard to the wannabe leaders – the wind has blown Tories into opposition. Latecomers – but nevertheless – finally on the side of the angels.

Then there are another couple of speeches before the Speaker comes to Mark Oaten – the Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary. He gives a great speech – and then the debate moves on to back benchers who are limited to 10 minute speeches.

As the day wears on into night – I bob up and down as each speaker finishes hoping to be called. Hour after hour passes. The debate in itself is fascinating – and many, indeed most, of the speeches from all sides of the House (including Labour) are against ID cards. Ironically – the outcome will depend on Labour rebels – and whilst the words are strong, I doubt whether the votes will follow in adequate numbers to defeat the Government at this stage.

Without rehearsing the whole argument – the bill falls on so many counts, one is spoilt for choice as to what to oppose. (There’s plenty of good background on the arguments at www.no2id.net).

For me – the key is civil liberties. This proposed legislation flies in the face of everything I believe in. I was born free and thought I was innocent until proven guilty. I have the right – inalienable right in my view – to walk out of my front door without the need to prove anything to anyone so long as I cause no harm. I do not need the Government’s permission in the form of an ID card – a license to do this – let alone a license that will cost between one and three hundred pounds, is technologically unsound and will lead to a database of information about me that no one – not state nor anyone – has a right to know! I will be treated like a criminal. I will be fingerprinted and information on me stored on a national database – information that no one needs to know or has a right to know.

OK – you get my tone on this!

So there I am, bobbing up and down, as hour after hour passes. I hold the front bench for the Home Affairs team – whilst Mark and Alistair (my Lib Dem numbers 1 and 2 on the team – I am number 3) go to eat. As the clock approaches 8.30pm – I am becoming despondent about my chances of being called – as more people are still rising than there is time to call them. Suddenly Mr Deputy Speaker (the Speakers change throughout the session) announces that because so many people still want to speak – the speeches will now be cut to 5 minutes for the next hour. At 9.20pm – finally – I get called.

I make my key points: civil liberties, the problems with righting wrong information giving history of IT problems and the discrimination that will follow as ID cards become compulsory (which they will – as sure as eggs is eggs) towards members of ethnic communities who from my experience with police stop and search will be stopped and asked to produce the card in the end.

I cite what has happened with DNA and how now innocent people’s DNA is being kept on a database and how much more black DNA is being stored than white DNA in London.

Then we are into the winding up speeches. The Labour man – Tony McNulty – chooses to attack me from the Despatch Box as he closes, calling me irresponsible and wrong. So I must be doing something right!

Then the Speaker calls for Ayes – and there is a roar of ‘ayes’ from the Labour benches. Then the Speaker calls for the Noes – and there is a roar of ‘no’ from the Lib Dems and the Tories. It’s all very tribal and traditional, but we have the shouting match before the Speaker calls out ‘Division’ – and the bells start ringing as we pour into the lobbies to vote in person. Sadly – not enough Labour rebels rebel – and the second reading is passed. The Bill now passes into its Committee Stage.

Amazing to have had a voice and a vote (however tiny) in opposing something I believe will destroy our way of life and begin the journey to a police state. And – many, many local residents have contacted me to say they care passionately too. The weight of opinion in my postbag is very clear.