Nick Clegg wins last night's Leader Debate

We know we are different. We know that just changing from Labour to Conservative and back again won’t really change anything. We know that the two old parties cannot get themselves out of the political game they have played so long that even they have no real enthusiasm any more. We know that it doesn’t have to be like this. It can be different.

Getting that message out there – and letting people see and believe that is the case has been our challenge and was Nick Clegg’s greatest challenge last night. And he delivered and then some!

Last night – we showed that in real terms. Nick Clegg – stood there – and demonstrated the difference. That difference runs all the way through – be that policy, manner, belief, optimism – all of it.

Watching the after coverage and analysis – it is quite clear the game has changed – and about time too!

Liberal Democrats launch manifesto – four times as fair!

Today Nick Clegg and Vince Cable launched the Liberal Democrat manifesto – setting out four clear priorities of fair taxes, a fair chance for every child, a fair economy, and a fair deal by cleaning up politics.

Nick Clegg said:

“Every manifesto needs to have an idea at its heart. The basic idea that animates this manifesto is something I have always believed. I believe every single person is extraordinary.

“The tragedy is that we have a society where too many people never get to fulfil that extraordinary potential.

“My view – the liberal view – is that government’s job is to help them to do it. Not to tell people how to live their lives. But to make their choices possible, to release their potential, no matter who they are.

“The way to do that is to take power away from those who hoard it. To challenge vested interests. To break down privilege. To clear out the bottlenecks in our society that block opportunity and block progress. And so give everyone a chance to live the life they want.

“There’s a simple word for those ideas, and it’s a word this manifesto is built on: fairness.”

To see more

The banks and bankers are still making people rightly angry. As Vince Cable says – we have to break up the banks. Let the ‘casino’ banks that want to take risks be completely separate from safe and reliable high street banks, building societies and mutuals – that will support local people and local businesses. As well as the 10% levy on bank profits, we have announced a five point plan to tackle those obscene bankers’ bonuses. Never again should bonuses motivate bankers to behave in the way that led to the banking crisis.

(Also on YouTube here)

Paxman scares Brown and Cameron – but not our Nick Clegg!

Just read the Guardian piece on how both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have failed to respond to a Newsnight invitation to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. The deadline was today apparently.

Nick Clegg accepted straight off!

So – two of the three men who would be Prime Minister are obviously cowardy cowardy custards! Guess that leaves only one option then!

Nick Clegg adds his voice to Whittington campaign as MP presents residents’ stories to health minister

Lynne Featherstone presenting personal stories about the Whittington HospitalLiberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg, has backed the campaign to stop closure of the Whittington A&E. The pledge of support comes in the same week as Lynne Featherstone presents local peoples’ personal stories to the Health Minister about their experiences of the Whittington A&E to demonstrate just why local residents need the Whittington A&E to stay open, and to demand that the Government halts the threat.

The Liberal Democrat MP presented Mike O’Brien, Minster for Health, with a collection of over 200 personal stories, written by local residents, who are horrified by the threat to the Archway hospital.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to stopping this process dead in its tracks. They will replace health quangos with directly elected health boards, accountable to local residents for the decisions they make.

Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat Leader, says:

“I support the campaign to save Whittington A&E. Decisions about local services should be taken by locally accountable bodies. I would not let North London Central NHS close this A&E. I oppose all proposals made by unaccountable bureaucrats which threaten local services.”

Lynne Featherstone MP comments:

“I welcome Nick’s unequivocal support of this campaign. But thanks also to the many personal and moving stories sent to me by local
residents, I feel we’ve made a powerful case for why the Whittington needs to stay open.

“This is about real people’s lives not paper solutions.

“The many intimate and touching stories really help show why having a hospital close-by is so vital. Many residents praise the hard working staff at the Whittington, who have helped them deal with really difficult and life-altering situations.

“I hope this will help tip the balance, and send a strong message to the Government from the people of Hornsey and Wood Green – hands off our A&E!”

Free to be Young

At the Liberal Democrat conference last weekend, I moved the motion on our new youth policy paper, Free to be Young. Here’s my speech:

When Nick Clegg gave me the Youth portfolio – we agreed that Liberal Democrats would be relentlessly pro-youth – not anti-youth!

Young people often get a raw deal. When they work hard and pass their exams – all they hear is that they only did well because tests are getting easier these days.

And although young people are more likely to be a victim of crime than any other group in society – politicians – Labour and Tory obviously – and the media often treat them as though they are all criminals.

And when there is nothing to do after school, because youth services have been decimated over the last two decades – then they are blamed for hanging around the streets.

The pressure comes at young people from so many angles:

  • from the medial who are happy to report on the kids who do cause trouble but never seem to give those same column inches to all the volunteering and good things that young people do; and
  • from the fashion, beauty and diet industry – who bombard young people with fake images and we know that  issues of low self esteem, anxiety and eating disorders are on the rise – directly correlated to this unremitting diet of over-perfected stereo types.

There are huge challenges ahead, particularly as we climb out of a recession that threatens young hopes and aspirations. If we don’t want a lost generation – then we have to make sure that we deliver a worthwhile future for our young people.

We Liberal Democrats are committed to creating a country where our young people can be free to be themselves, enabling them to be the very best they can be – and enjoy equal life chances with everyone else.

We want our policies to be effective – not vindictive.

That is why our youth policy paper, Free to be Young,  sets out what Liberal Democrats would do differently to provide a fresh start for young people in the UK today.

Families and relationships are so important – but we know that sometimes things don’t work out – and children see little of their fathers.

It’s not a tax break for married couples that are needed – it is about engaging both parents with their children regardless of who the child lives with.

We propose a program called Dads and Doughnuts.

And if both parents are not involved – we have to make an effort to facitlitate that involvement. We know that if fathers read with their sons at an early age – that child does much better. Dads and Doughnuts is about encouraging schools to involve both parents in their children’s lives – separately if necessary.

In employment – what message does it send to young people when they do the same job, the same hours – but receive a lower minimum wage?

That isn’t about fairness – that’s about doing it on the cheap.

And young people can get married and have children at sixteen, serve in the armed forces – pay tax. What was that about no taxation without representation? So we believe that young people should be able to vote at 16.

And as I said – the recession focuses our proposals on ensuring that we don’t have a lost generation.

We need to ensure that every young person has a pathway – whether that is work experience, training or education.

We will fund 15,000 more college based foundation degree places in the first year.

Introducing a new ‘paid internship scheme for the first year after the election paying a training allowance of £55 (£5 more than jobseekers) per week.

Because how do you persuade an employer that you can do the job if you have no work experience in that field – and how do you get that experience if you cannot get a job.

And freedom – what freedom is there on being on the DNA database when you are innocent?

I remember a young black mother coming to my surgery almost hysterical with worry because her young son, 11, had been playing hide and seek in the grounds of a local hospital.

A policeman stopped him and asked what he was doing (his mates ran off) and from that his DNA was taken and despite the fact he did nothing really wrong – he was just playing – that DNA record was held.

His mother was hysterical because she knows that one day an employer may ask if he is on the DNA database – and that record albeit for nothing – may add to the already difficult challenge in getting a job. Moreover – it is just wrong to hold records on innocent children.

We would remove them from the DNA database unless there is a conviction for violent or sexual offence.

Homophobic bullying is rife in our schools – we know that 6 out of 10 children are homophobically bullied.

Nick Clegg has spoken out about the need for teachers to talk about being gay – so that young people understand that it is just another way of being – another normal way of being. We will ensure better training and guidance for teachers and youth workers.

Lastly – because I believe there may be a call for a separate vote on the statutory duty – I urge you to support the motion as is. Liberal Democrats are not natural allies of statutory duties –– so whilst we might very well want to remove a whole raft of statutory duties if we could – but we are where we are – and because youth services in many authorities have been decimated over the last two decades we will make Youth Services a statutory responsibility.

We desperately need an army of youth workers with the commitment, energy and experience to work with our young people – and when the media charge young people with hanging around with nothing to do – much of that is to do with their budgets being raided by a cash-strapped authority.

We have to throw a protective ring around them if we are serious about investing in young people.

So – there isn’t time to cover all that is in the motion – let alone the policy paper.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the young people who took part in the consultation stages of this paper – bright, caring, and passionate and involved – nothing like the picture the media paints.

I would also like to thank Laura Willoughby who chaired the initial stages, and the members of the policy working group who were enthusiastic and determined that this would be a paper that enabled young people to breathe again.

And lastly Linda Jack – who chaired the Policy Working Group with experience, energy and commitment and a resolute determination that this paper should be positive and encouraging – and the title ‘Free to be Young’ is a reflection of the Liberal Democrat belief that every young person should feel that there is a decent, happy and fulfilling life ahead of them.

Thank you.

John Kampfner explains why he is supporting the Liberal Democrats

This is what John Campfner says of his reasons for supporting the Liberal Democrats.

Today I launched my pamphlet, Lost labours, with Nick Clegg.

As somebody who has a long involvement with the Labour party, including editing the New Statesman magazine, I have been able to give a frank and honest appraisal of a decade and a half of New Labour. And in it I explain why I can no longer support them, and am instead turning to the Liberal Democrats. You can read a more condensed version in an article I wrote for the Guardian here.

Alongside one million other voters, I deserted Labour in 2005 in protest at Iraq in favour of the Liberal Democrats, the only party to oppose the war. My decision to back the Lib Dems in 2010 is based in a more fundamental appraisal of Labour’s record together with a positive assessment of the Liberal Democrats’ platform.

New Labour in office has had one all-consuming purpose: re-election. Since 1997, their every working day was based around the task of prolonging their term of office. It filled in the ideological hollow and justified ever-encroaching authoritarianism and a pandering to the right on criminal justice and other areas of social policy. In contrast, the Liberal Democrat analysis of the failures of the deregulated market has been consistently, and painfully, accurate. Nick Clegg’s tax reform plans, taking four million low paid workers out of tax altogether, are the most redistributive of any party. And the Liberal Democrat approach to criminal justice, human rights, foreign and social policy is close to mine.

People can only for so long be exhorted to hold their nose, to vote for a party they feel has let them down, simply because the alternative is worse. It is deeply damaging to politics to resort perpetually to the double negative. The Liberal Democrats offer a positive, radical and different vision. That is why they have my support.

Best wishes,

John Kampfner

Nick Clegg online Public Meeting: Issues facing young people

We (me as Youth Spokesperson and the youth policy working group) suggested to Nick Clegg that he should meet and answer questions on issues facing young people. The result is that on 20 January from 4.30pm Nick will take any question on any issue from a young person, but the focus is on what young people care about.

The event is jointly hosted with UK Youth Parliament and questions can be submitted via Twitter, or via UKYP’s online forum. UKYP is an organisation focused on encouraging young people aged 11-18 to bring about positive social change. It is made up of 600 elected MYPs who challenge issues affecting young people in the UK.

This Online Public Meeting is open to everyone, but only questions on issues pertaining to young people will be answered.

Ask your question @Nick_Clegg using the hashtag #asknickclegg

My letter from Sir Thomas Legg

Well – I got my ‘letter’ from Sir Thomas Legg on Monday (I did tweet) with reference to whether MPs would have to pay back money etc. All clear!

‘In your case, having examined the records in the light of my interpretation of the rules and standards in force at the time, I have not identified any payments made to you under the ACA during the review period which I consider call for any repayment or further supporting evidence to be provided by you. Accordingly, my conclusion is that no action is required from you in this matter.”

NB The Review period was from 2004-5 to 2008-09

So now I’ve been ‘sainted’ by the Telegraph, pronounced ‘squeaky’ clean by my local press and got my ‘all clear’ from Sir Thomas. But it still feels dreadful in Parliament – the atmosphere is depressed and subdued and the body politic is merely limping along.

And there seems to be no end to the problems of the expenses scandal – from the rumblings amongst some MPs about the changing of rules retrospectively like on cleaning and gardening (albeit that many MPs complaining about retrospective rules have voted for retrospective legislation for others), but also about what Sir Thomas has actually been focusing on within his remit of examining how the ACA (additional cost allowance – which is for second homes etc) was used.

I watched my own Leader, Nick Clegg, on GMTV this morning being very fierce about Sir Thomas looking at the very wrong but relatively small offences – but completely ignoring the big issues around avoiding Capital Gains Tax, flipping and so on which may have netted small fortunes. Those remain untouched. Nick has a good point – and it’s one of the real issues around all of this endless quagmire we are swimming around in – nothing is final, cleansing or absolute – so it can never end.

Until we go to the polls – this will run and run – so the sooner the better!

Nick Clegg came to dinner

You lot certainly have a good sense of humour. Yesterday morning I ‘tweeted’ that I was frantically tidying up the house ‘because Nick Clegg was coming in the evening to be my Guest of Honour at my annual Backers’ Dinner. What to do with the dog……?’

And your suggestions were:

– slow-roast it
– don’t have a dog’s dinner
– sit him next to Nick of course!
– Speak to him nicely. The dog of course…..
– Dog-sitting available
– 1 1/2 hours gas mark 5, pop a few onions and potatoes around and serve with gravy

Thanks for that. The dog tasted great!

It was, if I say so myself, one of the best Backers’ Dinners ever. Nick was on top form and extremely feisty –which is just as well as my ‘backers’ are an argumentative lot and not ones to hold back.

Needless to say, have since spent today frantically tidying up and cleaning again! Obviously I would have taken the dog for a walk but…………..

Afghanistan – end game?

Here’s my latest column from the Ham & High, which appeared earlier this month:

I remember when we first went into Afghanistan. There were dire warnings that no invading force ever succeeded – beaten back by landscape, tribal warriors, drug barons or harsh, unbearable winters. But of course we had to go there – there to the heart of the world’s crucible of evil where Osama Bin Laden was meant to be hiding.

The West was angry and hurt, scarred by 9/11 and its author cloaked in mystery – a millionaire, billionaire who forswore all worldly goods and who seemed in control of a network of devotees ready to die at his command. Terrorist Al-Qaeda members all over the world seemed able to activate anywhere, anytime – a mixture of amateur and superb sophistry and deadly as hell. So – we had to go and fight to rid ourselves of the scourge of terror.

But, did we learn the lessons of history? Did we heed the awful stories of death and loss from previous sorties into this harsh, unforgiving terrain? Of course not.

And now we have been there for seven years and have lost 187 soldiers. They stare at us from the front of our newspapers. Every Prime Minister’s Questions the three leaders give condolences for someone else’s brother, son or father. We pay genuine tribute to the bravery of our fallen soldiers – week after week. And as we stare at the unbelievably young faces, boys of 18, who die for Queen and country, only now there is the widespread asking of why and where and how.

It is as if the country has suddenly woken up from a reverie as, instead of one or two deaths per week, the dying now coming in threes and fours and fives and sixes. And, now we all know a lot more about this mysterious country where the men appear to have the wisdom of centuries in the wrinkled faces with eyes that stare out knowing how it works – whilst we Brits try and win their trust.

We are winning we are told. There is Operation Panther’s Claw – but I feel absurd using the language of games and comics to describe this latest push to rid the Helmund province of Taliban prior to the presidential elections.

So up spoke Nick Clegg and put a great big fat question mark over what we are doing there. Not that we shouldn’t be there. But we should be clear about why, what we can achieve and how we exit. And whilst we are there we cannot expose our young men to death because we don’t give them proper transport in helicopters.

We felt proud of ourselves – that we went boldly bringing freedom from the evil of the Taliban – especially for women from their feudal, misogynist rule. But, as with Iraq, the Government’s stated purpose in Afghanistan has been a moveable feast – from searching for Osama, to ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban, to curbing the poppy industry and drug trade, to bringing democracy and to freeing women from their hideous destiny with no education and no rights. The reasons keep moving, weaving and wafting – indefinable.

Nick Clegg opened the floodgates as he broke the cosy consensus around our sortie in Afghanistan. David Cameron suddenly piped up as did many other groups as we railed against the deaths of those young men staring out of our newspapers.
In the end the solution will lie not with making war, but with making peace – with restoring enough of a stable government across enough of the country that the future fate of Afghanistan can rest in the hands of those Afghanis who do not see the future as one of perpetual war with their neighbours.