Gordon Brown breaks his word

Oh dear. It really isn’t new Gordon at all is it? Off jets the PM to Iraq (handily clashing with Conservative conference, trying to steal some of the media coverage from them) and announces 1,000 troops are to come home – but 500 of them were coming home already. And – what happened to GB’s promise to make announcements first to Parliament?

Double-counting numbers and putting spin first. It’s the same old Gordon!

Debating Iraq

So – another chance to debate and beg for an Iraq inquiry – and another chance for the Labour Government to say no! And that is what happened. Although it has to be said it was game, set and match to the opposition parties (united now the Tories have realised how wrong they were to vote for the war) who really made mincemeat of Beckett. The Government had not a single good argument. Sadly, that didn’t stop them winning the vote. For goodness sake – even the US has had an inquiry!

Before that we were subjected to King Tony in the last days of his reign coming forth to the House of Commons, returned from the glorious G8 Summit where agreements to talks were the successes of the day.

Not to be too harsh (oh why not?) whilst it is good that the G8 agreed to a UN-sponsored process on climate change – actually there already is one in the form of Kyoto protocol which involves all of the key developing countries. And while the protocol’s first commitment period comes to an end in 2012 – the protocol itself doesn’t.

If Bush is serious about wanting to involve the US in climate talks all he needs to do is ratify Kyoto – and Bob’s your uncle. Then he can join the next commitment period talks – no probs!

That having been said – it’s at least a start to raising these issues amongst those who count – agreements etc must follow – otherwise it’s all hot air.

Ed Vaizey's dress sense

Just got back from the Westminster Hour. Ed Vaizey (Conservative MP), now clearly desperate to put me off my stride on our weekly Sunday tryst, has taken to wearing strange outfits. Tonight’s little number was a bright yellow phosphorescent jacket and shorts. That boy will try anything! So if I seemed distracted … perhaps next time I should bring a camera!

First up was the Opposition Day motion on an Iraq enquiry coming up this week in Parliament. The Scot Nats had a debate asking for an enquiry not that long ago – and whilst we Lib Dems voted for an inquiry – the Government (just) won the vote.

This time however, the interesting issue for me is the timing. With Gordon about to ascend the throne – if I was he and trying to put a bit of distance between myself and TB – I might very well in my first hundred days announce an Iraq inquiry. So let’s spoil it for Gordy and vote for one before he gets the chance to spin his involvement in taking us to war.

In fact, listening to a package before I went on tonight, several of the would be deputy leaders of the Labour party were – at one of their hustings in Oxford that the Westminster Hour’s Carolyn Quinn had been to – wringing their hands in grief over how misled they had been over the war (even though most were in the cabinet) and how wrong the intelligence must have been. Spare me the tears. We, the Lib Dems, were the only party asking the hard questions and we were reviled in the House for our stance. Those Labour MPs can’t get away with saying “we were misled”. The truth is – they not only failed to answer the right questions, they reviled those who did ask questions.

And those Tories are being very cheeky (if not somewhat opportunistic) having a debate for an Iraq inquiry as they were very much cheerleaders for the war (though boy David has flipped and flopped back and forth on the issue – saying he was for it, then saying he agreed with the Lib Dems, then changing his mind again, and now – I presume! – will be voting for an inquiry).

Anyway – we also had a chat about my colleague Tom Brake’s 10 minute rule bill on Freedom of Information – coming up on Tuesday. It really extends the original powers to request material under the Freedom of Information Act so that when the Government tries shenanigans to avoid giving up information the ultimate decision will be in the hands of the Information Tribunal or Commissioner – and not in the hands of ministers.

Interestingly, the Bill would also bring private contractors who work for public bodies into the realm of FoI. Quite right! Now virtually everything is outsourced – the companies to whom previously public sector contracts are now awarded should be subject to proper scrutiny and come under the FoI banner.

Speaking on the Iraq war

With Tony Benn at protest against Iraq warDid the first session of the Stop the War Coalition’s Peoples’ Assembly marking four years since the day we visited the illegal war on Iraq.

Many speakers in first session and chaired by Tony Benn. We are all on the same side here today.

My speech was really about how we need to build, or rather help Iraqis rebuild, the infrastructure of Iraq. And of course, to mention, that Tony Blair’s war to save Iraq from Saddam has precipitated a humanitarian disaster.

The Iraq debate

The afternoon’s debate was ‘Iraq and the wider Middle East’. Blair didn’t lead on this and wasn’t even in Parliament for the debate. He should have been there and should have spoken. The first debate in government time for four years – and a Prime Minister who was only too keen to come to the Chamber when he wanted to persuade us into war (it worked on the Tories, but not on the Liberal Democrats) suddenly doesn’t have time to debate after all.

Ming was genuinely awewome. I haven’t seen him give such a bravura speech since I came to Parliament. It is his strong suit – so it was so impressive. This was acknowledged by all sides.

The Liberal Democrats put forward a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Yes – withdrawal with outline dates. Our premise is that without a deadline (based on what might be realised and pragmatic) there will never be a ‘right’ moment and now we have undoubtedly become part of the problem not the solution. We are making things worse now – not better.

Well – this proposal certainly upset the Tories (who voted for the war but are now saying they were duped by Tony; I guess they won’t be running their next election campaign based on a “you can trust our judgement” platform!). How can you name a date they asked. Supposing things aren’t quiet when you get to the date? We think sometimes you have to make things happen. Lib Dems voted against the war – but once there – we felt we had to support the troops etc. But once the democratic(ish) elections were held, then there had to be a plan to withdraw. Now is the right time to set a progam of withdrawal in place – and that’s what we set out today, and what Ming explained in his latest online broadcast:

Is Howard Dean having second thoughts on Iraq?

Howard Why is the anti-war Howard Dean now backing George W Bush's greatest fans on Iraq?Dean (former would-be Democrat candidate for US president) has rather surprised me this week – for the news came out that he will be helping the Labour party here in the UK.

But for most people he’s know for two things: (a) being against the Iraq war, and (b) crashing to dramatic defeat. (a) isn’t exactly the Labour party, and (b) isn’t exactly what the Labour party wants I’m sure!

So – what’s going on? Dean seemed to me to make great play of sticking to his principles on Iraq and speaking up against the war – yet now he wants to help Tony Blair’s party, the great international cheerleader for George W Bush?

All very rum…

Iraq, ethical companies and post offices

PMQs – same old, same old. Bear pit behaviour – no score draw between Blair and Cameron – but Ming was really on form. It was on Iraq – and of course this is home territory for Ming and where he is at his best. Still – despite the barrage of suggestions that our military presence might be part of the problem rather than the solution – Blair is only conceding that ‘of course they want to bring the troops home as early as possible – but not until the job is done’. When is ‘done’?

The debate today is the second day of Modernising Company Law Bill and I sat in to listen to the part that I have had most correspondence from local constituents on – that is the section about regulation and audit for companies with regard to their ethical behaviour in purchase, behaviour and sales.

The Labour Government dropped some rules in this regard a little while back – and the amendments today are to try and introduce a wider remit for what is now called Business Review – a requirement to report on a variety of ethical behaviour issues.

The amendments widened that remit to include reporting and revealing things like the supply chain – for who a company buys from is just as important in terms of how ethical or not that company is as its own direct behaviour.

Sadly, the so-called Labour rebels withdrew their amendment on this before the vote. Our amendment was on bringing a formal audit to the Business Review – alone in the lobbies with the moral high ground as usual – we lost the vote. The debate continues.

Big lobby on Parliament today by the sub post office masters with the largest petition ever presented – something like four million. Not surprised – as per my entry on Monday it was down to the Lib Dems to bring a debate on the Post Office to the floor of the House of Commons as the Government won’t even give it debating time – let alone save the sub-post offices that remain after decimation under both Labour and Tory governments.

Muslims and extremism

Got an email from a very disgruntled constituent complaining about the Islam Expo being allowed on ‘our’ patch (at Alexandra Palace) and opening roughly at the same time as anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. I answered saying the timing could be viewed that way – but in reality that the Muslims had born the brunt of the reactions to 7/7. And indeed the Islam Expo is reaching out across communities and extending understanding in my view. That is to be welcomed.

Our foreign policy, waging an illegal war, has caused some Muslims to become radicalised and a few to commit these hideous and unjustifiable acts. Tony Blair says Muslims have to do more. My own view is that we all have to do more. The only concern I would personally voice through my own experience is that I have encountered one Muslim man in a leadership position, who when speaking to me or publicly condemns suicide bombings but who amongst certain other groupings espouses tacit approval. That is not acceptable and I think is about individuals power bases.

[UPDATE: have found out more about this person’s views, and it looks like I was mistaken – so I won’t be pursuing this further.]

Anyway – to my point – there was an interesting – and largely positive – poll in The Sun (!) about Muslims, extremism and terrorism. It’s an internet poll – so we need to be aware of that and polling the Muslim community accurately can be very difficult in terms of who a poll reaches and what selectivity that binds into the results. So we shouldn’t get too het up about the details, but overall picture is, as I say, interesting.

Further details are on Anthony Wells’s excellent site, but here’s what I make of them.

Yes, a small minority of Muslims think our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq justify attacks on British civilians. But it’s only slightly more (10% rather than 7%) than the figure in the non-Muslim population. In other words – there isn’t a great swathe of the Muslim population that believes in attacks on civilians. As for the deeply wrong minority who do – well, they are nearly as frequently found amongst non-Muslims as amongst Muslims. In fact, as the non-Muslim population is much larger, the majority of people who think such attacks are right are non-Muslims.

Also, a majority of non-Muslims here think problems with Muslim extremism have got worse in the last year. But amongst Muslims themselves – who are of course much closer to what is actually happening in their own communities – the figures are much lower at just under a quarter. And a fifth of Muslims meanwhile think problems with extremism have actually decreased in the past year.

One final straw in the wind: 9% of Muslims think it would be best if they didn’t integrate with the rest of society, but 16% of non-Muslims think it’s best if Muslims don’t integrate. Food for thought there!

In fact listening to radio phone-ins this week was equally struck by number of non-Muslims phoning in to say they didn’t want more integration and by a very good call from a woman who reminded us that when Brits go and live abroad, they often open an English pub, wear English clothes, speak English and set up a little England enclave!