Poll shows Lib Dem support for local MP in government role

Liberal Democrat party members have given a ringing endorsement to the job Lynne Featherstone is doing as a government minister. A poll carried out by the website ‘Lib Dem Voice’ found that only Vince Cable is more popular among Liberal Democrat ministers.

Lynne Featherstone, Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green, is a minister in the Home Office as part of the Coalition Government. She has played a leading role in several high profile Coalition Government initiatives including plans for Equal Civil Marriage and a new law to ban cowboy wheel clampers. It has also been announced recently that the Home Office will take forward measures to make stalking a criminal offence and to outlaw forced marriage.

The poll of Liberal Democrat members found that 65% were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with Lynne Featherstone as a government minister with just one in ten dissatisfied. That gave her an overall positive rating of +55%. Of Liberal Democrat ministers, only the Business Secretary Vince Cable was given a higher overall rating (+80%) by members of the Liberal Democrats.

MP meets local apprentice as Haringey sees record number of young people join apprenticeships

Gene Spencer-Salmon is one of a record number of young people who are pursuing apprenticeships in Haringey this year. Lynne Featherstone MP met with the Haringey Adult Learning Services apprentice on Friday to hear about his experiences and to highlight the rise in the number of apprenticeships.

Gene, who lives in Hornsey, won a place on a scheme working with Haringey Adult Learning Service. The 18 year old apprentice had been looking for work but had not been able to find a job because of his lack of work experience. His place on the nine-month long scheme will give him experience of a wide range of tasks at the service which is based at Wood Green Library.

New figures reveal that record numbers of young people are benefitting from apprenticeships. More than 1,200 people started apprenticeships across Haringey in the year 2010/11.

The Government is providing extra help to enable small employers to hire their first apprentices. It will also continue to develop new advanced and higher-level apprenticeships to deliver the world-class skills that people need to get ahead.

Lynne Featherstone MP commented:

“Gene’s experience shows how investment in apprenticeships can provide great opportunities for young people who are looking for work. Apprenticeships equip young people with the skills needed to get jobs and build prosperous careers.

“470 apprenticeships started up in Hornsey and Wood Green alone in the Government’s first year in office. That’s compared to 160 in the year before. Early figures for the current year indicate that the numbers are continuing to grow.

“Liberal Democrats have long been fighting for more investment in apprenticeships, in opposition and in Government, and I am delighted that Business Secretary Vince Cable has been able to deliver such a big increase in schemes that will make a huge difference to young people’s lives.”

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 http://bit.ly/bq8EXa

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)

General election nearly here – at last!

Vince Cable speaking in ParliamentHere’s my latest column for the Ham & High:

The betting is that Gordon Brown will go to the Palace shortly and call the general election – finally! – for May 6.

This election will be different for me in two ways – the first time I’ll be fighting it as an MP seeking re-election and the first time my party will be fighting it with such a high profile and popular Shadow Chancellor as Vince Cable. The national polls repeatedly say that he’s the most popular choice for Chancellor – and that’s what I hear on the doorsteps in Haringey too.

Door knocking never fails to be interesting – because people are infinitely interesting. You couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing this job if you don’t think that. And all politics is local in reality – even when we speak in strange tongues at the Mother of all Parliaments, it’s still about how we are affected in our own lives at home or at work.

Take the woman who told me that she never voted because she didn’t need anything from the state. Her children went to private school; she had a private GP and so on. I had a go. What did she think would happen if she had an emergency accident or illness – or if one of her children needed urgent medical attention? So – having got her attention – I told her about the Labour Government’s health plans with the threatened closure of the Whittington A&E and of our massive fight to stop the closure. When you or your children need emergency medical help – not much use saying that you go privately – you need an ambulance and an A&E that is on your doorstep. You can’t live as if you are in a protected bubble. Yes – money can buy many things, but a society where the super-rich isolate themselves is not only wrong – it creates a divide in society that damages everyone, on both sides of that divide.

We know from detailed research that the most economically successful countries and those with the happiest people are those where the gap between rich and poor is the narrowest.

Yes of course small class sizes in private schools are a fantastic privilege – and the reason that children do well in the private sector – regardless of their innate ability. That’s why the Liberal Democrat ‘pupil premium’ would put £2.5 billion extra into schools, including those in Haringey – letting heads and governors decide how best to spend it to close that advantage the private sector has.

I don’t think this woman will change her children’s schooling even if the state classes were smaller and that is her right – but for parents who could never afford to send their children privately this will make a huge difference. And here in Haringey – it will end Labour’s unfair funding in our schools as our children get £1,300 per head less than pupils in Camden, Islington and Hackney – grossly unfair and equivalent to 1,000 + extra teachers.

And then – I knocked on the door of a woman who told me that she was thinking of giving up working because it wasn’t worth it. She was very poorly paid, could barely make ends meet – and actually thought she would be better off on benefits. So I talked to her about the LibDem manifesto pledge on fair taxes – that no-one would pay any tax on their first £10,000 of earnings (which not only takes the very low paid out of tax but puts £700 back in the average earner’s pocket). Helping people sustain themselves – helps all of us – and putting money back in people’s pockets means they can start spending again – which will help our struggling local high streets.

She said her children were nearing the end of their school and college days – but that there was no work around and she was worried about them having no future. I shared her concerns about young people becoming a lost generation – and the dreadful loss of self worth that comes with believing you have no future.

I explained that we are promising that no young person would stay on JobSeeker’s allowance for more than 90 days. Every young person would then be able to get work experience, training or education education. It is so difficult to get a job without experience – but how can you get experience when no one will give you a job? We will actually pay a ‘training allowance’ so that young people can afford to do internships in their chosen field.

I could go on endlessly – every door has its own story to tell. But time and again, even if at the start of the story it’s nothing about politics, somewhere along the line the decisions we make in Parliament – the laws we pass, the budgets we set – have an impact on the story. That’s why the choice of who represents us is so important.

Bankers – with a W

The pre-budget report from the Chancellor seemed reasonable – that is – until Vince tore it apart. Let’s just just take the bankers (no – you take them)  and their bonuses.

As far as I understood it – Darling was proposing that if the bankers used their profits to increase their capital reserve – they would be left in peace. If, however, they chose to use their profits to pay bonuses – then there would be a 50% levy on any bonus over £25,000. They would use anti-avoidance measures so the banks couldn’t dodge this.

That all seemed fine until Vince got going.  And he had lots to go on as the entire pre-budget report was left untouched by George Osborne’s really pathetic response. It was so astoundingly bad, embodying only political rhetoric but not a single word really about what the Tories would do, that I can’t imagine that won’t be the gist of the media coverage.

But I digress. Vince posed simple questions really: what anti-avoidance measures? No answer – just a repetition of ‘anti-avoidance measures’. What would stop bankers converting proposed bonuses to salary and thus avoiding the levy? No answer.

This is just a tiny part of Vince’s demolition job – but just those two simple questions blew gigantic holes in the idea that the bankers are going to feel any wind blowing on them from Darling’s proposals. 

However, it’s not just about what can stop the bankers’ bonuses. I’ve been pondering on what sort of person must there be sitting on the Board of RBS ? To threaten to resign on mass if bonuses are not paid – is  stupid, arrogant and a shocking indictment of the nature of man – well man on bank board.

I would say let the bastards go. But the real question that keeps running through my brain is what sort of human being, what individual, thinks in this time of great hardship for the country and for those hit by the recession – that it is OK to be paid a bonus? Let alone a bonus that is more than most peoples’ annual salary?

These must be pretty dismal human beings, to whom the god of money (above and beyond what they are paid for being on the Board) has made them no longer understand nor care about others’ well-being. Whether or not the Government succeeds in curbing their bonuses (and Vince’s response rather led me to believe that this was an unlikely outcome) surely this is a time when these men of good fortune should be showing leadership and saying that they would not dream of taking a bonus when others less fortunate than themselves are losing their jobs and their homes? You would think……………..

Perhaps this is clear evidence that bankers should be spelt with a w.

What to make of the hundreds of billions of debt?

Two thoughts strike me as the budget news continues to sink in. First, most of what passes for debate over tax and spending policies between Labour and the Conservatives has been a matter of a few billion here or there. Compared with the hundreds of billions of debt, this really does seem to me a matter of Titanic and deckchairs.

It also says something about how unhealthy the state of our politics is with so much heat and focus having gone into sums that are dwarfed by the scale of the problem. At least Nick Clegg, Vince Cable et al have been talking about plans with sums running into many tens of billions in total in terms of changed spending priorities, fairer tax system etc. That’s the scale of policies we need.

Second, hundreds of billions of debt looming over the economy and public life for years to come – that’s the sort of thing which can wreck a political party’s fortunes for a generation. This is Winter of Discontent / forced exit from the ERM territory – providing both the symbolic and actual damage to a party that sees a generation of its rising stars have their political careers wiped out.

I wonder if that might just be enough to push them over the edge and – if Labour gets
hammered in June – make them dump Brown? The political gossip season of the summer and conference season is set to be very interesting!

The banking system: lessons from my childhood

One of the questions on Politics Home this morning (I am a panel member of this daily tracker of opinions political) was do I think the banks should go back to a separation between our old safe, solid high street retail bank – and the speculative, take risks, make loads of dosh type investment banks?

Yes I do! I can remember being absolutely irate when our reliable, responsible banks were freed of such regulation and zoomed off to the realm of the speculative. I was upset because I liked slow and steady.

Perhaps this was because of a salutary experience I had about risk and loss. I had a very early example in my life of the dangers of the offers of a higher return on savings than the norm. In the flats where I grew up was a young financial buccaneer. He had his own merchant bank at the age of about 23 and all the families who lived in the block thought he was just the bees knees. All our families had seen this man grow since he was a little boy – and so when he had his bank all set up – he went and sought investment from lots of people who lived there – friends and neighbours. Many of these ‘investors’ were coming to the end of their working lives and I guess the offer was too good. I don’t know too much about the rates etc as I was a teenager at the time and not much interested in boring things like investment.

Anyway – however ridiculously high the promised return was – I expect a mixture of hope and trust and familiarity persuaded quite a few of the residents to place their life savings with this young man.

Of course, like all morality tales, this ended badly for these trusting folk – and all their money was lost. And the moral of the story was if it looks too good to be true etc.

The young man went to prison for about six years I think – so justice was done – but quite a few properly lived lives were ruined. These were not rich people – just people who had worked all their lives and put away their savings. They may have made a mistake in putting too much money with one person – but it was a harsh, harsh penalty for that.

Anyway – that was a merchant bank and therefore it was ‘buyer beware’. But when our safe, high street banks, changed into risk-takers – I guess many people didn’t really understand that they could play fast and loose with our money the same way investment banks could and did.

For those of us who had to literally beg for our first mortgages – when it was a case of being judged suitable to receive a loan on the basis that you would be capable of paying it back – the idea of a 100% or 125% mortgage is inconceivable as a model.

Were we, the population, collectively guilty of partying thinking we wouldn’t get a hangover? Maybe a bit – but if we thought the party would never end – it’s because the banks and the Government led us to believe that was the case. We couldn’t imagine that banks would be allowed to behave that way – let alone with the tacit encouragement of the Chancellor latterly Prime Minister.

But I think we relied on the banks to know what they were doing in the way they used to. If they said we could borrow like there was no tomorrow – live now and pay later – then there couldn’t be a problem with it. The banks led us up the garden path (albeit we were happily led) and now we find they were full of avarice and greed.

So when Gordon yesterday talked about a return to the separation of banks back to the old style high street banks – he is right but how dare he not accept or understand that it was under him that this dangerous financial model was given license and bred the monsters who have led to such a downfall. And yes – Gordon – it may be a global financial downturn – but the seriousness of our situation is laid at your door. No one else’s.

I can’t help feeling sorry for the prudent in all of this. Yes – of course those who suffer direct hits on job and home are first in line for help. But what about all those older people who supplement their meagre pension by the interest paid on a lifetimes work savings? As Vince Cable (Lib Dem Shadow Chancellor) says – time for thrift and sensible behaviour. But we need some assurance that thrift and sensible behaviour will be rewarded – not punished – as is currently the case. Now – there’s a novel idea!

Voting done, voting still open

A big thank you to Iain Dale’s readers for his 2008 political poll where, whilst I trail Vince Cable miserably (and rightly), I am a) in the frame and b) second! as Lib Dem MP of the Year! Thus I continue my saga of always the bridesmaid but never the bride! I also notice that his magazine Total Politics has me as one to watch – and that’s what my teachers used to say – ‘ better keep a close eye on her’ – although I think their meaning may have been different…

On my own side – I likewise see (thanks to those who have brought it to my notice) that in the Liberal Democrat Voice poll I again am trailing Vince! Well – the man is a star and being even near licking distance of boots is honour enough! But there is still time for you to vote…

Vince Cable is coming to town

And a special treat for Haringey Liberal Democrats – but not exclusive as we are happy to share our very own superstar soothsayer – Vince Cable – with anyone interested in coming – and stomping up the price of a ticket:

Haringey Liberal Democrats present ‘An Evening with Vince Cable’
Date: 26th November
Time: 8pm – 10pm
Venue: Christ Church C of E Church Hall, Waldeck Road, N15 3EP
Cost: £10 members / £20 non-members

Numbers are limited so will need to purchase a ticket. These can be obtained from Monica Whyte: 233b Alexandra Park Road, N22 7BJ, 07976 665 110.