Ten most popular blog postings (4th quarter, 2007)

Well – happy new year everyone, and without further ado – here’s what keeping you reading on this blog over the last three months.

10. Low Copy Number DNA – a recap of my concerns about Labour’s plans for our DNA records, back in the news after this controversial new technique was criticised by the judge in the Omagh bomb case. I suspect I got a lot of traffic to this post as lots of people went searching for information on the topic after the news of the judge’s comments broke.

9. Crimestoppers caught advertising on illegal radio station – still going strong much to my surprise as the story is quite old now (see also the update if you’re new to the story).

8. Ian Blair should go – London’s top cop keeps making mistakes, and the time’s come for him to take direct personal responsibility for this record. As it turned out, only one Blair went in ’07.

7. Shadow Cabinet reshuffle – not really a blog posting because – as the news came out on my birthday – I just bunged up the news release – but nice to know so many people wanted to know quickly what post I’d got!

4. Wikipedia and its limitations – a slightly different posting from me this time; lesson noted that you dear reader like this sort of stuff!

3. Britain turns its back on more than half our Iraqi interpreters – the ongoing scandal of Labour’s refusal to protect those who worked for our armed forces in Iraq.

And of course the Lib Dem leadership contest featured – coming in at six, five, two and first in the list – no surprises there!

(Click to see the previous top tens).

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 returning.officer@libdems.org.uk ASAP.

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:

A FIGHTER WHO KNOWS HOW TO CAUSE TROUBLE
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.

The level of inequality in this country is a scandal

I’ve commented before on how I suspect that issues around equality (is promoting equality of opportunity enough? or do we need more emphasis on delivering greater equality of outcome?) is one of the key philosophical differences between Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg.

Don’t get me wrong – I think both their beliefs sit more happily in the same party than plenty of pairs of Labour or Conservative MPs and their beliefs that I can think of! But I think there are some real differences here.

All of which is a long introduction to saying – Chris has a piece today over on Comment is Free:

The level of inequality in this country is a scandal. In Britain today, the strongest indicator of life expectancy is social class. The strongest indicator of children’s chances at school is their parents’ income: as early as age three, children from disadvantaged families lag a full year behind their middle class contemporaries. The chance of someone born into a low income group of moving into a higher group as an adult is lower now that it was 50 years ago.

Liberal Democrats don’t tend to talk about equality as much as we champion liberty. But in reality we can’t separate the two. The extent of inequality is now so large that it is a serious restriction on freedom – and for all of us, not only those at the bottom of the income and wealth ladder.

Not surprisingly – I agree! Because as I said on an earlier occasion:

Your educational chances are strongly correlated to your social class – setting the prospects for children even before they reach school. In health too, inequalities are still increasing. Ever since the publication of the Black Report twenty-five years ago, it’s been well known that inequalities in people’s health are directly related to inequalities in income and wealth. That’s why Greece, with half the average wealth per person of the US, actually has a longer average life expectancy. And in Iraq – after ten years of sanctions, with war ravaged infrastructure and continuing violence – has an average male life expectancy that is 8 years higher than that of the Calton area of Glasgow. The explanation? Inequalities in wealth again.

In fact, a whole host of studies across different countries have consistently shown that not just in terms of education and health, but also in terms of crime, social respect, trust and participation – the outcomes are linked to the degrees of inequality in wealth and income.

Does the right to protest matter?

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.

That’s something that won’t be the case in Beijing and it might not be the case here judging from the Labour Government’s desire to stop all forms of freedom of expression and protest – even when it is just reading out the names of the war dead!

Still – now Chris has thrown down the gauntlet on it – will Nick follow suit? There was a pattern last time round of Chris leading the way on issues – troops out of Iraq, the environment, etc – where he proposed a radical policy, others weren’t so keen – but in the end, it was Chris’s radical position that won the day.

That’s why I like about leadership contests – they push each candidate on and as a party we end up with a better set of policies as a result. Hurrah!

This time round hopefully the issue of the right to protest will become a key point for our party. And then we can also shame the Government into doing the right thing.