Binyam Mohamed

I read the news of our complicity in torture and cover-up – not believing what I was reading. How can we have come to this terrible place? I am so ashamed of our Goverment.

And because we know that this is a Government that misleads us when it suits them – how can we have any confidence in the Foreign Office’s denial of involvement in rendition and torture of terror suspects?

As Ed Davey (LibDem Shadow Foreign Secretary) said:

“With allegations of complicity in torture coming on top of the Iraq Inquiry’s revelations, it is painfully clear that Labour has left Britain’s reputation in tatters.

“If the Government is so sure it has nothing to hide, it should allow a judicial inquiry into torture allegations to go ahead.”

Walking out of Parliament

Just walked out from Commons alongside the other Liberal Democrat MPs. Follows disgraceful blocking by the Parliamentary authorities of our amendment calling for an in/out referendum on Europe.

We’ve bended over backwards to try to deal with every request from them on this issue – and in the end, enough is enough – if you’re debating Europe, you should be able to vote on the central big issues on Europe.

The idea from the Deputy Speaker that we should take this up “through the usual channels” is, well…. let’s just say that’s exactly what we’ve been doing endlessly and in the end the verdict has been, “No, we the powers that be are going to veto your choice on what to put to debate and vote.”

What sort of charade of a Parliament is that?

UPDATE: The party news release from Nick Clegg and Ed Davey is here.

Ming Campbell, Gordon Brown and those five tests

What a hoo hah! Coming back from party conference Harrogate got a message that ‘a senior official of the Liberal Democrats’ had given a briefing to the effect that Ming’s five tests for Gordon Brown were a prelude to consummating a marriage.

Complete bollocks!

The five tests – to respect civil liberties, to make sure that our foreign policy is made in Britain (not Washington), to be really committed to tackling climate change, to devolve real power to people and local communities and to break the poverty trap – are for Gordon’s first few months as Prime Minister. They will be the measure of whether there is any change from the status quo of Blair (for all whose policies, let us remember, Brown acted as the paymaster).

These tests aren’t about what happens after an election. They aren’t a hung Parliament wish list. And they aren’t the start of some public courting. (After all, at least in my book, if you are about to go courting – you normally start saying nice things about the object of your fancy!). And as Ed Davey (Ming’s Chief of Staff) pointed out – any suggestions to the contrary were unauthorised and – more importantly – wrong.

The Lib Dems are still as keen as mustard on PR. PR makes voting fairer. It’s not about what it does or doesn’t do to parties – it’s about what it does to the public – it means that we would have a voting system that fairly reflects the way people vote. The Parliament we end up with should reflect the votes the public cast – and our current system doesn’t do that.

We will be fighting all elections, as always, to get the most Lib Dem votes we can so that we can have the most Lib Dem elected representatives and therefore – the most Lib Dem influence and the most Lib Dem policies that we can! End of story.

Prolonging the agony for the mutts of this world

It On the climate change march with colleagues from Haringeywas the climate change (against!) march yesterday (Saturday) – and off I went with Lib Dem colleagues from Haringey and every part of London. Much hanging around with march organisers marshalling us into position – with other contingents put in their places too. I think it was University College London in front of us – who had a theatrical troupe and loud drums, which livened it up a bit.

For a couple of hours in clear but freezing sunshine we waited for the off. Then indeed we were off – and marching. There is something fantastic about the activity of marching for a cause (and they don’t come more worthwhile than saving the planet). My first ever march was about 30-odd years ago when I marched against ‘Maggie Thatcher, Union Snatcher’ when the then Education Minister wanted to take power away from student unions. I threw flour bags at her effigy. (Street cred or what?).

But there really is something very fulfilling about marching and stating publicly what you are fighting for – what you stand for. As London Spokesperson, I was pleased to see a good turnout – and Chris Huhne (our Environment Spokesperson) was there too – along with Jo Swinson and Ed Davey MPs. As we came into Trafalgar Square the sun was streaming down on us and it was a truly gorgeous day.

In the evening it was Ally Pally fireworks. Funnily enough, having been invited for the last nine or ten years – I have never managed to go as it has always been on the same night as my daughter’s school firework night – and for this sort of thing, it’s children rule OK!

But this year, for the first time, her firework night is next Saturday – so off we went. Sods law, having been on my feet virtually all day for the march – I then had a long hike up to the Pally as there is no other way to access it on firework night. But what a great display it was. Though – every year around this time I just feel so sorry for pets. My dog is petrified by fireworks and every one that goes off sees her running madly around barking with fear. Whilst I accept a couple of weekends around the 5th of November – the fireworks seem to extend for four weeks or so – and not just weekends – prolonging the agony for the mutts of this world.


Campaign day – mind you – now every day is campaign day.

Ed Davey MP came to Haringey this morning to rally the troops. No pressure or anything – but the message that election victories in Haringey will send out – not just in London but to every Labour heartland – will strike fear in their hearts.

Moreover – if we gain overall control in Southwark and Lambeth, hold what we have got – and also make dramatic progress in places like Lewisham, Camden and Brent – then the sky’s the limit in Labour seats next General Election too.

The Tories admit they’re going to do badly this time and they probably won’t even win the next General Election. New leader David Cameron has already told his party that they have a “huge mountain to climb”. But Labour are also playing the old trick of downplaying their hand; so that anything they do win can be claimed as a great triumph. Not if we can help it! In key boroughs and wards across London our activists are pulling out all the stops to make sure that we win those extra votes and extra seats to make the difference.

After we have all been suitably motivated – I go off with a canvassing gang to Noel Park ward. Door knocking yields a friendly feel towards us and a real fed-upness with Labour’s fading dynasty. All to play for. A quick break and then on to canvas in Fortis Green ward. This is held territory – and the going is good. The heavens opened for the last two hours – which seems to happen often when I go out canvassing. It is my personal effort to remove the need for the hose pipe ban!

Simon Hughes

Simon Hughes is indeed in the tabloids today – as being gay or bi-sexual. Now, it is hardly news to anyone I know – but Simon has always protected his right to keep his private life private – and I support him on that. But the attack is because a week ago to three newspapers he denied he was gay. I guess he was cornered and the question was never going to go away – and he just made an error of judgement. The media say he lied. I think he just defended himself badly. So another roller coaster for the party to bear as this latest news works its way through the rounds of the media.

It is the first question Steve Richards asks myself, Ed Davey and Phil WIllis who are having a pre-recorded panel session which will go out Saturday at 11am – the Week in Westminster. This is a panel of the key supporters for the leadership – me for Chris Huhne, Phil Willis for Simon Hughes and Ed Davey for Menzies Campbell. So – whilst none of us would go on any media to discuss Simon – once they’ve got you there anyway, there’s no stopping the question. We all basically defended Simon’s right to privacy and right to be whatever sexual orientation he wanted. Then, thank goodness, we get on to policy areas and have a right good ding dong. Great fun!

I get a call last thing because we (Lib Dems) need to put out a statement on Sir Ian Blair’s attack on the media for being biased towards coverage of white murders. For bizarre reasons he chooses Soham as an example of their bias. I remember the coverage at the time – because first the poor girls were missing and we all went on that journey of anxiety as we moved toward the eventual horrific reality. It would have been the same what ever colour the girls were. It was a huge story and the press were bound to follow that one.

However, Ian Blair is right to highlight the issue of bias in coverage. But when I think back I can remember examples both ways – when two murders occur when sometimes the black murder will be covered and sometimes the white. So methinks we need proper examination of this issue – as it is a very important one. We need to look at the way information about a murder gets to the press. Which stories originate from the police forces themselves. What are their policies in terms of media liaison over murders. Let’s have an analysis of all murders and their coverage over the last few years and see what led to what. I am not happy about statements that are not backed up by factual analysis on this. So I welcome the opening up of this as an area for concern – but let’s get it right and based on factual information.

Get home late – just in time for Question Time and Simon Hughes is on tonight. I don’t know if it’s good or bad to have such a media opportunity at this point when there is a feeding frenzy around him. It did give Simon the chance to put his case – which he did as well as he could under the circumstances.

Update on Lib Dem leadership

Once I heard Charles’s statement on Thursday – as I said yesterday – it became clear to me that I could no longer continue my support for him to remain as leader. The hardest thing is trying to make your own mind up – to get your own thinking straight. For me, as a Charles loyalist, once my gut feelings told me that his position was untenable and that his ‘statement’ made with a gun to his head of exposure was calculated – it all got much easier.

Ed Davey had rung me around 8.45am yesterday morning to ask if I would be willing to be a signatory to the ‘statement’ by MPs and be willing to resign my front bench position unless Charles himself stepped down. I said in principle – yes – but that I would ring back later in the day. However, as soon as I put the phone down I rang Ed back immediately because I had made up my mind, and there was no point in buggering around so told him that he could count me in. At that stage there were not many yet signed up – so there was some angst as the day wore on as to whether there would be enough of us to force the issue. I spoke to Ed several times during the day as the numbers climbed ever upwards.

Of course, the phone did not stop going all yesterday or today with various media hounds after their stories. I decided that I would not go on television or radio to comment before Charles resigns. My hope is that he goes gracefully before Monday. I do not want to see him damage himself or the party further. Charles – according to the media – still believes that the wider party supports him staying and that he would therefore win a leadership contest. That support appears to ebbing away. Certainly following the statement I put on my blog yesterday (and emailed out to local members and helpers) – responses on the position I have taken are running at around 90% in agreement.

This is all very painful and uncomfortable – but I am now quite heartened by the feeling that at last the dynamic (or lack of it) that I have witnessed at Parliament will be banished. I have to say that I have been quite shocked by what I found going on at Parliament. Like the wider membership – at first I had no real idea of what the problem was. But what I found was a pretty dysfunctional Parliamentary Party, held in a limbo because of what is now clear – a lack of strategic direction from the leadership. Underwhelmed as I was by the early briefings to the media which I felt were disloyal – I have come to understand that Charles had been given every opportunity to improve performance and that a refusal to give that direction was compounding the challenges we already have to move ahead for the political life ahead.

And make no mistake – political life will move on very swiftly. Today – there will be announcements I am sure – and tomorrow – and Monday. Then we will see Charles go, hats in the ring and the political landscape shifts again. And if that happens I hope that, relieved of the burdens of leadership, Charles and his family will be able to put their lives back together again. He certainly deserves that after all the good he has done for our party.

Meeting Santa and drawing prizes

I get to welcome Santa at the YMCA 2005 Dance Show held at St Mary’s School. The YMCA does a lot for kids in our area. It’s a shame that Haringey Council doesn’t count them as a partner and help their work – as it is one of the organisations that actually does something about giving youngsters alternatives to misbehaviour. Sadly, Haringey Council does not seem particularly interested in these sort of alternatives. The YMCA also recently set up a nursery for single mums – really fantastic – and organises the annual Fun Run!

Anyway – back to the dance show. An extraordinary number of children took part – aged about 4 -18 I would guess. Lots and lots and lots of short dances ranging from modern to ballet to tap and street dance. Kids on. Kids off. Gorgeous and talented. My kids are too old now to do shows at their school – but I remember crying every year when they used to. There is something so pure and so wonderful about kids performing. And the talent on show – absolutely unbelievable.

The pianist for the first section was introduced – Krystyna Budzynska. I thought that name sounds familiar – well you would wouldn’t you?

So at the end I go on stage to welcome Santa. I hear music, Santa must be coming … and we wait – and wait. The chap who told me what to do suggested that as the music played I should leave the stage – but Santa was still sorting himself out. Eventually he arrived and distributed presents to all the children who took part.

And as I left the stage and passed the piano, I said to the pianist, “Did you go to South Hampstead?” She looked at me and said, “Lynne? Lynne Ryness?” We had been in the same class and hadn’t seen each other for about 35 years! Now that was really lovely.

In the late afternoon I set out for Kingston where I am doing the Liberal Democrats Christmas Prize Draw at a dinner. The Christmas Prize Draw is one of the big fund-raisers for the Lib Dems and is a national one with really fantastic prizes. There are 50 prizes to be drawn for. It takes me two hours to get there. I drive because I know I will be coming home late – and then remember why I hate driving in London! The dinner is very pleasant and Ed Davey – the local Lib Dem MP – comes over at the end of the meal to say he will introduce me and then I will speak.

So I did. And then the hard work began. The tubs holding upwards of 45,000 tickets were deep – and I needed to be sure that I took from every corner of all three containers and at every depth! After the first 30 or so (which happily did seem to cover the length and breadth of Britain) – I decided that Ed should do some work and handed over to him for the last 20. It only took and hour and a quarter coming back. Partly less traffic – but coming back is always quicker than going doncha find?

Canvassing with Ed Davey on Thursday

Early to bed – early to rise! I guess the election adrenalin must have kicked. Having fallen asleep to the first strains of Desperate Housewives (which I had been hoping to watch for a moments respite) I wake up at 3.45am. Lie there ’til 6am then finally decide pointless exercise.

Off canvassing with Ed Davey MP who is our Shadow Deputy Prime Minister. The doorstep feel is remarkably similar seemingly wherever we canvass. LibDems and soft Labour. Rush Ed back to HQ as he has to go off to Islington South and Brent East. Ed’s also been to Dorset and Guildford – the common denominator is that these are all seats where women candidates are challenging. Just showing that Ed takes supporting women candidates to its proper level!

I continue stuffing envelopes (just one of my favourite past times), have lunch with Neil and then rush home to do some Highgate delivery. I find a couple of hours delivery a day helps ease the tension and get rid of some of the adrenalin.

Back home for emails and paperwork. Adrenalin disposal not helped by LibDem press office phoning to see if I would talk to BBC London about LibDem womens’ policies. I agree to BBC interview – but that means have to be up at 6am to brief myself in the morning. Oh well – I’ll be awake anyway…

Rush back to HQ for more stuffing. Rush back home to write out a letter that I want to deliver to people with postal votes who will be voting next weekend. Pass out to Andrew Neil’s dulcet tones.

I am adopted

I am to be adopted – as LibDem candidate for Hornsey & Wood Green in the back room (huge) of the Three Compasses pub – where our HQ is upstairs.

Lord Bill Rodgers (member of the SDP Gang of Four and ex-LibDem Leader in the Lords), Lord Tim Garden (military expert) and Ed Davey, MP are all there to attract a good crowd, tell people how wonderful I am and how hard they need to work for the campaign.

Fantastic turn out – made Neil (my agent) come and take a photo from the front looking back at the audience – ‘cos political parties are always saying it was ‘packed room’ but it really was. So I thought we should have the photographic evidence to back it up!

It was a fantastic night. It is only seven years since we got our first councillor and we’re now poised to have a Lib Dem MP.

It just reminded me of a piece I wrote for a LibDem publication years ago on ‘Why I am a Liberal Democrat’ or something like that. I chose to write about the ‘Power of One’ – that however impossible things seem – that doesn’t have to be the case and that change can be brought about with enough commitment and effort. And as ‘ones’ come together in common cause – mountains do move.