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.

Maternity policy

Rush to Liberal Democrat HQ in Cowley Street for briefing prior to a national press conference for a new policy launch – our ‘Maternity Income Guarantee‘.

I got the call last week to ask if I would present the policy with Charles Kennedy, Phil Willis and Hanna Hedges – the youngest parliamentary candidate next time around.

We are briefed (briefly) and then we march in prescribed order into the conference room at HQ where all our press conferences usually take place. The assembled media has a satisfactory turnout of TV, national and regional journalists – despite Michael Howard co-timing his launch of the new Tory policies on asylum and immigration – of that more later.

Charles introduced the policy. Basically it is targeted on the lowest-paid working women – who are generally on the minimum wage. Maternity pay normally cuts this income down to 90% of normal pay. However, what’s the point of a minimum wage if you are forced below the minimum if you decide to have a child?

Our help is for first babies – as that is when the expense cuts the deepest with all the things you have to get. It is a wonderful thing, a first baby – but when the door shuts, the relatives go and reality hits…

The policy is really targeted on the nearly 200,000 women who would go below the minimum wage during maternity leave. Initially it will run for 6 months – but obviously we want to extend to 9 and 12 months as further funding can be found – and, of course, make it available to either parent in the longer term.

So Charles introduced it – then I said my bit and so on – and then we jump into a cab and off to a school for the photo ops. Nursery schools always look like such fun. The children at this one were playing with coloured cooked spaghetti and seeing the comparison between long, medium and short bits. Oh to be an infant…!

Then off to meet the residents’ association rep from the Campsbourne Estate – a badly treated part of Hornsey ward (Haringey) where it nestles in a seemingly forgotten backwater. As Neil Williams (Lib Dem council group leader) and I walk around, we are shown the pieces of land that residents fear the Labour council will grab for housing rather than providing proper facilities for the local residents.

Residents want allotments and play areas and planting, and they fear Haringey Council wants to cram in housing. Labour in Haringey are finding any ‘spare’ bit of land and cramming in housing – regardless of the damage to our environment and the load on our public services.

There has been a lot of work done to provide a plan for renewal on the estate – and there is Section 106 money (from the Hornsey Waterworks site development) to the tune of £250,000 which they have been told they will get. Their fear is that they won’t.

They hope by bringing the Lib Dems into their campaign that Labour will be forced on to the straight and narrow and won’t be able to snaffle the money away for their own purposes.

That same evening at full council, a local Labour Hornsey ward councillor stands up and gives a speech as to what Labour are doing for the Campsbourne Estate.

My goodness – we’re good – word must have reached them quickly that Lib Dems were out and about walking around the Campsbourne. Still – it looks like the plot is working!

I had arrived late at the council meeting as earlier it was one of my daughter’s reports night. But I did arrive in time for the deputation of relatives of residents of Cooperscroft – the old peoples’ home Labour are closing despite promises that this would not happen.

It is a good speech from the deputation who implores Labour to vote with their hearts on the following motion put by the Lib Dems to save the home.

But their hearts are made of stone and one has to say they are a lily-livered bunch. A woman from the deputation later yells at the Deputy Labour Mayor to accuse him of telling residents and relatives outside the meeting that he is against closure – but he speaks for closure and his hand rises to vote down the motion to save the homes.

Makes me really angry. There is an offer from a charity to take over the home as a going concern – no thanks to Labour Haringey – and I hope for the residents’ sake this is pursued. The Lead Member for Social Services only acknowledges this as true because in my speech in the debate I mention the email I have from the charity to let me know. I doubt whether Labour would have pursued it at all if it hadn’t been made public.

Labour couch their decisions as ‘offering old people choice’ and the benefits of ‘being able to stay in your own home’. We are talking about people over ninety years old who need round-the-clock care. Labour really stink over this one!