Advice surgery all morning – but the backdrop of the day is the bomb in Haymarket. Predictable really I guess – if you think about the timing. Fantastic that it was spotted before it went off. But it is a horrid sense that our well-being can be instantly threatened and our lives put on guard again – just like that.
Lesser matters – but a while back, I had a letter from Haringey Council asking if I would present an award for the Better Haringey Awards tonight which I said I would be happy to do. Because it clashed with my daughters ‘A’ level art show – I asked my office to telephone before the event to ask if I could present an award in the second half of the award ceremony – giving me an hour at her show and an hour at the awards. On telephoning, my Head of Office was told that this wasn’t an event for MPs. It was a Council event and MPs weren’t wanted. Nice! Labour Haringey clearly hasn’t caught up with the new Prime Minister’s desire to work with all the talents!
Evening – get a call from Ming about my future – but can’t tell yet!
Story of Ming and Gordon’s siren voice rumble on. I am called by Sky, BBC and Daily Politics to see if I will just have a chat – off the record if I like. Hmmmmmmm – never be fooled by journalists saying they want a chat off the record! And there’s nothing more to say – Gordon wants us. We don’t want him!
PS If you want to know what I think Gordon will be like as Prime Minister – read this.
On the way up to the weekly Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party meeting – I found myself being propositioned in the lift by a Tory – politically propositioned of course. (And no – I am not going to name him). Very sweetly done, I thought and humourous and obviously off of the back of the Guardian’s story about Brown’s overtures to Ming. Personally, I expect a lot more shmoozing from both sides trying to woo us Lib Dems. Labour and Tory are after our voters and after us. And whilst I may enjoy the odd bit of flirting – I remain independent. My mum always said play hard to get!
Seriously, though, I don’t know how many times we Lib Dems have to repeat the mantra – a plague on both their houses and we’re going out there for maximum Lib Dem votes, maximum Lib Dem MPs and maximum Lib Dem policies! Labour are clearly terrified of what’s coming down the track. The Tories are desperate. And we’re concentrating on our work!
PMQs today! Tony is obviously demob happy and enjoying life. He was very sparky today. Cameron had another bad hair day. I don’t know who is advising him – but his choice of attack is failing. Lot’s of stuff about asking what the ‘new’ Prime Minister will or won’t do. Firstly – he is no match for Tony. Secondly – the problem he has whenever he goes for health or education or useless ministers is that he always finds himself on the back foot because however different Dave wishes to present himself as – Tony reminds him of what the Tory party thinks and says – and usually quotes some killer Tory hostage to fortune to nail his coffin. It will be soooooooo interesting to see how it goes when Gordon is crowned. And Ming did well – but it wasn’t hard given the open goal the Government’s White Paper on Energy is in terms of its nuclear strategy.
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.
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.
Ming’s first anniversary! So how’s my leader doing? I was talking to a broadcaster earlier this week who asked me the same question. Ming has made us all feel immeasurably better about ourselves inside the party and we are much higher in our poll ratings than we were one year in to the reign of previous leaders.
I know there is more that always needs to be done – but it is quite something to be led by someone who you know is fundamentally decent and does not change his principles according to who he thinks the next vote will come from. Contrasted with Cameron and Blair – Ming wins hands down.
Back from the Westminster Hour! Tonight was – is Ming too old (Lord Owen’s comments in the week)? No – say I – just a grumpy old man (Lord Owen not Ming).
Then it was on to Ming and his profile on Facebook – which already has over 200 friends. I’ve just got one too – follow my leader! – but with only 23 friends (so far!).
Then David Cameron – does he have a right to a private life? Yes!
Then – should the Government take note of the online petition on the Number 10 website signed by around one million people about road charging? Yes – of course. Clearly folk are not happy and whilst the overall intention of the policy might be right – there ought to be a lot of work going on to find out how to mitigate the problems people see with the proposal. Also – it cannot be about revenue raising, only about sorting out our traffic and transport.
And then it was on to the Tories approaching our Lib Dem David Laws to change sides. Go away – he said. But I am not surprised that the Tories are trying to seduce our brightest and our best! They need a bit of talent on their benches – but b****r off – you can’t have ours!
On arriving home find a listener who has taken pity on me having heard my friend count and become my friend. Thank you Anna!
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:
Today Ming asked me to attend his meeting with Save the Children. Jasmine Whitbread laid out her stall very clearly and is, I thought, a very able advocate for the work they do. All the organisations are keen to influence me at this early stage of my thinking – and that is their job and their advocacy. I am looking and learning at the moment. Absorbing it all and asking many questions. In a field like this I am keen to add value and champion what not only needs championing but the things that strike a chord with me, with Liberal Democracy and with need – and where I think I and we as a party can add value.
Prime Minister Questions were not very inspiring today – tired old Prime Minister. Where’s his sparkle gone? Mind you Cameron lost the plot. He went on the mess in the Home Office – but failed to hit home trying too hard to turn it around to the Conservative policy (one of the rarest commodities in politics) which is to have a Minster of Homeland Security. So he tried to turn a complete balls up by John Reid and the Home Office into a reason for a terrorism minister. Didn’t fly at all.
Ming went on Iraq and pushed Blair to see whether – given that Bush is going to announce 22,000 more troops tonight – Blair is going to send any more British troops. He didn’t answer as usual. So good question – but no answer!