Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Government defeated on Religious Hatred Bill

The BBC reports:

The government has suffered two shock defeats over attempts to overturn Lords changes to the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

In a blow to Tony Blair's authority MPs voted by 288 votes to 278 to back a key Lords amendment to the bill.

Analysis of the division list showed the prime minister voted in the first division but not in the second, which was lost by one vote.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke told MPs that the bill would now become law.

Later. The ePolitix site explains exactly what the votes were about:

MPs had been expected to back the government, having already passed the proposals once.

But in a sign of the government's waning authority, and the controversial nature of the proposals, MPs voted by 288 to 278, a majority of 10, in favour of keeping a Lords amendment to restrict the offence of inciting religious hatred to threatening words and behaviour rather than a wider definition also covering insults and abuse.

In a second division MPs then voted by 283 votes to 282, a majority of one, to ensure that discussion, criticism, insult, abuse and ridicule of religion, belief or religious practice would not be an offence.

Even later. Sandra Gidley tells us whose the one extra vote for the Opposition was in the second division. Respect to Mark Oaten for turning up.

Even later still. According to Nick Robinson on the BBC News, George Galloway turned up too.

And voted with the Government.

Radio Huhne

Chris Huhne's website now features audio recordings of a number of interviews with him. One is by Ollie King from the Guardian and the rest are by Claire Rayner.

I am sure those go nothing like this...

Rayner: Do you touch, lovey. Do you touch? Will you do that for me?

Huhne: Can we talk about my policies on environmental taxation please?

Monday, January 30, 2006

You're gonna find Ming way out in the country

The other day I wrote about Menzies Campbell's lack of enthusiasm for environmental taxation:
Having first sounded warm about it, Ming went on to say that we should be careful because in a rural constituency like his a car was a necessity not a luxury. There is something in that, but all the same my heart sank. It is precisely the argument you used to hear Liberal MPs using 30 years ago when we were a tiny party representing a few Celtic fringe constituencies. Have we really not moved on since then?
Judging by David Walter's Pravda-like account of the South-West hustings on the Campbell people's blog, Ming the Merciless is now making this opposition central to his campaign:

In the question and answer session, Ming had the advantage of being the only leadership candidate with a rural seat. Devon and Cornwall contain some of the most sparsely populated constituencies in the country. The lack of affordable housing for local people is a huge issue. When Ming spoke about house prices in St Andrews in his own constituency driving local people away, he struck a real chord.

Over one of the few issues which divides the leadership candidates, he was also more in tune with local opinion. He pointed out that raising the duty on petrol would be unfair to people in rural areas who have no alternative but to drive cars.

There's nothing wrong with winning rural seats. But can anyone map a successful future for the Liberal Democrats that does not involve our continuing to become more of an urban party?

A skirmish in the War Against Terrorism

From today's Shropshire Star:
Bungling US customs officials were left with the hump after impounding a crate containing an hydraulic lift believing it was a camel.

The 7/7 Challenge

At last. I have been tagged in one of these blogger list things.

The person tagging me was none other than Iain Dale, the owner of Politico's Bookstore. But as his blog is full of scurrilous anti Lib Dem propaganda I certainly shan't be suggesting that you visit it.

Anyway, here goes...

  1. Grow old
  2. Move to Shropshire
  3. Write a novel
  4. Meet the first Lady Bonkers
  5. Understand why people rate Mozart so highly
  6. Read Jane Austen
  7. See a Liberal MP elected for Harborough
  1. Click my fingers
  2. Get a different job
  3. Early mornings
  4. Tolerate Dimblebys
  5. Take life seriously enough
  6. Listen to "Home Truths"
  7. Stand up for falling down

  1. St Pancras Station
  2. National Liberal Club
  3. Commons Press Gallery
  4. Kew Gardens
  5. London Review Bookshop
  6. British Museum
  7. Dickens House Museum


  1. What can I write about this week?
  2. Are the proofs in the post yet?
  3. They're all mad, you know
  4. A return to Shrewsbury, please
  5. Sorry
  6. Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10
  7. Am in Market Harborough, where should I be?


  1. Vanity Fair - William Thackeray
  2. Bevis - Richard Jefferies
  3. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
  4. The Sword in the Stone - T H White
  5. The Towers of Trebizond - Rose Macaulay
  6. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
  7. Seven White Gates - Malcolm Saville


  1. Kind Hearts and Coronets
  2. A Canterbury Tale
  3. Once Upon a Time in the West
  4. Blow-Up
  5. Shane
  6. Our Mother's House
  7. Casablanca


  1. Tim Neale at Tea for Two
  2. Iain Sharpe at Eaten by Missionaries
  3. Duncan Stephen at Doctor Vee
  4. Femme de Resistance and Libertycat at Forceful & Moderate
  5. "Bishop Hill" at Bishop Hill
  6. James Graham at Queaquam Blog!
  7. Stephen Tall at A Liberal Goes a Long Way

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Harold Elletson looks homeward

Harold Elletson, the former Conservative MP who joined the Liberal Democrats in 2002, got some publicity last week by suggesting that some Lib Dem MPs were considering joining the Tories. He also implied that he might rejoin his old party himself.

He was in the papers before Christmas too, accusing some of Charles Kennedy's advisers as suffering from "infantile liberalism".

Elletson is usually described as chair of the Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Forum, a body that has previously escaped the attention of most party members. But a little research shows just what an unexpected recruit to Liberal Democracy he was.

On 22 June 1994, while still the Tory MP for Blackpool North, Elletson moved a private member's bill calling for the introduction of national identity cards. The peroration of his speech ran:

After all, which of us here would be prepared to stand up and say that he would fight for the crimes of the fraudster to go undetected, or allow the terrorist to continue to go about his murderous business hidden behind a cloak of false identity for fear of abusing his civil liberties ? Our concern should be not with the civil liberties of fraudsters and terrorists, but with their victims ; not with the rights of con men and criminals, but with the security of decent, law- abiding people.

We are now faced with the need to tackle crime, fraud and abuse of trust, not because the Government wish to monitor or limit the movement of our citizens but because criminals have impinged on our natural assumption that all our citizens are decent and honest. Unlike the infamous three-card trick, in which the con man always wins, this one card--a national card-- will ensure that the winner is the decent British citizen.

Perhaps we should me more careful about accepting converts from other parties in future? Brian Sedgemore began his political life as a Liberal in the 1960s, but it is hard to see why Elletson was ever thought a good catch.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Antisocial behaviour: The construction of a crime

Stuart Waiton has an essay on the Spiked website: "Antisocial behaviour: The construction of a crime." It is well worth reading:
By defining antisocial behaviour as a major social problem, the political elite has, over the past decade, helped to generate a spiralling preoccupation with the petty behaviour of young people. At no time in history has the issue of crime as a social problem in and of itself been so central to all of the political parties in the UK - and yet, there has been a significant statistical fall in crime itself.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Gentlemen of the Press

In recent days Liberal England has enjoyed a lot of visits from journalists in search of Lib Dem gossip and scandal. Today they included two of those nice people at News International.

One had searched on Google for "huhne & oxford & radical" and arrived at this posting, which does no more than refer you to a photograph everyone has already seen.

The other charmingly searched for "elephant castle toilets simon hughes" and arrived at my archive for December 2005. That was largely because of this sentence:
The hero is a millionaire who exercises one-elephant rule over a gigantic, moated castle called Homeward.
I hope he or she was satisfied.

Later. This weak story was the best the Sun could come up with.

Passing rapidly over Loulou Harcourt

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. It was written before Simon Hughes hit the headlines, so it has turned out to be even more topical than I intended.

This reminds me of a Liberator cover we chose late in August 2001. As Charles Kennedy had been largely invisible since the general election in June, we had a picture of him with a speech bubble saying "Did anything happen while I was away?" While that issue was at the printers 9/11 happened, making it a very satirical cover indeed.

Anyway, here is the column.

And also...
A French visitor asked John Wilkes, the 18th century libertarian and libertine, how far the liberty of the press extends in England. He replied: “That’s what I am trying to find out.” Well, we found out this week.

When things look bad, history can be a great comfort. And Matthew Parris’s Great Parliamentary Scandals proves Liberals have come through darker days than these.

Take Sir Charles Dilke, once the great hope of the Radicals and a possible successor to Gladstone. In 1885 Dilke was cited in a divorce case. He protested his innocence, but when he produced his diary in court it had holes cut in many of the pages. He claimed this was his usual practice after completing an engagement. It did not save his career.

Then there is Horatio Bottomley, financier and publisher – the Edwardian Robert Maxwell. This Liberal MP served five years for his swindles. Found working on mailbags by a visitor, he was asked, “Sewing, Bottomley?” “No, reaping,” he famously replied.

A more exotic figure is Trebitsch Lincoln. Parris sums him up: “Fraudster, spy, Anglican curate, German revolutionary, journalist, secret agent, international outlaw, Chinese cult leader and – in 1910 – Liberal MP for Darlington.”

Passing rapidly over Loulou Harcourt, who had amassed Europe’s largest collection of child pornography by the time of his suicide in 1922, we come to Mr Gladstone himself. Some thought Gladstone’s habit of seeking out prostitutes, praying with them and then whipping himself sinister. They did not include the women themselves, amongst whom he was known as ‘Daddy-do-nothing’.

I have played safe, mentioning long-dead politicians. But a Captain Peter Wright published a book on Gladstone 29 years after his death and still ended up in court.

Wright said Gladstone: “founded the great tradition … in public to speak the language of the highest and strictest principle, and in private to pursue and possess every sort of woman.” One of Gladstone’s sons replied with a vicious attack on Wright, who sued for libel. The case turned on the Grand Old Man’s reputation and Wright lost.

Since I published my account of Paddy Logan’s fight in the Commons here just before Christmas, I have heard from three of his great grandsons and a great great granddaughter. Fortunately, they all rather liked that column.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Any Questions?

Nick Barlow provides a full summary of last night's Radio 4 programme and a link to a recording of the whole thing. His summary is fair:
Campbell started slowly and sounded at a couple of points as though he had some talking points and soundbites memorised and wanted to make sure he mentioned them all, but improved later on, especially when he was accused of being almost a Tory by someone in the audience. In contrast, Hughes started well, but then seemed to lose focus later on and seemed to not be on the surest footing on some of the economics questions, especially skipping a bit round the 50% tax issue which the other two straight-batted to the Tax Commission. Huhne was consistent throughout, and was good at linking ideas together and emphasising his extra-Parliamentary experience. He wasn't hugely inspiring, but then neither were the other two and sounded perfectly comfortable and at home in the debate.
One thing I am sure I heard did not make it into Nick's summary. The three candidates were debating taxation, and in particular Chris Huhne's idea of using environmental taxes to lift the low paid out of income tax altogether.

Having first sounded warm about it, Ming went on to say that we should be careful because in a rural constituency like his a car was a necessity not a luxury. There is something in that, but all the same my heart sank. It is precisely the argument you used to hear Liberal MPs using 30 years ago when we were a tiny party representing a few Celtic fringe constituencies. Have we really not moved on since then?

Much as I respect him, I fear that choosing as leader Menzies Campbell would not represent a step forward. If the MPs were determined to remove Charles Kennedy, they should have united behind a younger candidate, even if he or she would have proved more controversial with the membership.

Fuckin' 'Ell It's Fred Titmus

For those of you who are not familiar with him, here is a biography:
Fred Titmus, one of cricket's great survivors, was a St Pancras-born Cockney who walked like Charlie Chaplin and wisecracked like Groucho Marx. Despite the rivalry of three other top-class offspinners in Ray Illingworth, John Mortimore and David Allen, he won 53 Test caps over 19 years and played county cricket in five decades, between 1949 and 1982. He even came back after a horrific boating accident in the West indies cost him four toes. 
His artistry as a slow and flighty bowler contrasted with a highly developed practical streak that made him a fine judge of a player. "Too intelligent for his ability," was his appraisal of one; of another, a youngster who scored a dashing hundred against Middlesex at Lord's, he commented: "I like to see someone make a bad 'undred before I make my mind up." 
He made three tours of Australia, and justified his selection each time. But his favourite memory of the country, he claimed, was "The sight of a ground emptying an hour before the close of play." 
John Thicknesse

The Man in the White Suit

I always feared that if Simon Hughes became leader we would wake up one day, turn on the Today programme and find that he had committed the party to something crazy. Not out of ideology, but because there is something a little unworldly about him. Think Alec Guinness in The Man in the White Suit.

He was on the radio this morning for a very different reason. It is hard not to have sympathy for Simon. He was elected to Westminster at a time when it was thought impossible for a gay politician to be open about his politics. He is standing for the leadership in an era when it is possible even in the Tory party.

It would have been better if he had told the world somewhere along the line, before the Sun forced him to. But that is easy to say.

Yes, he has lied to the public, but the public may be forgiving. Many will believe that they have no right to know about the politician's sexuality in the first place. He has not been a hypocrite or damaged his own family, which are what led to Mark Oaten's downfall. It is possible, though, that he will find it is more socially acceptable to be gay than to be bisexual.

The other question this affair has reopened is the Bermondsey by-election. Did Hughes really benefit from what we would now call a homophobic campaign?

That election took place just before I moved down to London, so I cannot speak from personal experience. But if this leaflet is the best the critics can do, I do not think he has much of a case to answer. Did Liberal canvassers really wear "I've been kissed by Peter Tatchell badges"?

The nastiness of the Bermondsey campaign has always been blamed by Liberals on John O'Grady, the "Real Bermondsey Labour" candidate endorsed by Bob Mellish. (Mellish was a former Labour chief whip who despaired of the left-wing takeover of the party and resigned to cause Michael Foot as much trouble as possible.) O'Grady was certainly publicly offensive about Tatchell's sexuality.

Yet I recall being told once that O'Grady received considerable help in his campaign from certain Young Liberals. Does anyone know the truth of this?

So Simon will not become Lib Dem leader, but then I don't think he was ever going to win the election. But in the long run I do not believe his career will suffer too much.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Half Man Half Biscuit

My use of a Half Man Half Biscuit song title as a headline the other day smoked out a number of their fans amongst Liberal Democrats - both in the comments and by e-mail.

For all of you, here is a website dedicated to the band.

The Kentish Town Communique

25 years ago today Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and David Owen issued the Limehouse Declaration. This presaged the birth of the Social Democratic Party, which was to merge with the Liberal Party and form the Liberal Democrats.

Julian Glover interviews the three surviving members of the Gang of Four in today's Guardian. He reveals that history might easily have known the declaration by a different name:
A quarter of a century ago, they gathered on a Sunday morning with a draft of a statement but no firm plans. Even the choice of Limehouse was an accident. Rodgers' wife Silvia had refused to let them meet in her house in north London: "Otherwise they might have issued the Kentish Town Communique - which I shall always regret," she says.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Quote of the Day (hem, hem)

Nick Barlow writes:
If Jonathan Calder didn’t exist, we’d probably have to invent him.

Latest odds on Lib Dem leadership

The politicalbetting.com site has a page giving the very latest odds.

At the time of writing Chris Huhne and the Revd Hughes are tied in second place.

Chris Huhne campaign videos

Chris Huhne's website says:

Chris has recorded the following videos to give a better idea, in his own words, of why he is standing as a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

Covering a whole range of topics, from reasons for standing to environmentalism, his wide ranging experience, ability to win and radicalism, the videos give a new insight into Chris as a strong candidate as leader of the Party.

As the most radical candidate in the contest for the leadership of the Lib Dems, Chris and his team like to be to the forefront of new technology too. The following videos have been set up to be accessible for people to view (using Flash technology available in around 98% of modern browsers), and also offer a Blogvidcast option - if you have a blog, you can add the video simply by cutting and pasting the supplied code into the html of your post.

Equally, if you know your technical limitations you can just provide a link to the page on the Huhne site where these videos can be found.

Lembit's grandfather

Poor Lembit Öpik has been having a hard time of it - the last Kennedy loyalist, Mark Oaten's only Commons supporter.

To cheer him up, let's hear it for his grandfather Ernst Öpik, the noted astronomer.

Monday, January 23, 2006

All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit

I was disappointed in yesterday's News of the World. I bought if for the scandal, only to find that it did not give the names of the three Premiership clubs that Sven had accused of corrupt transfer dealings.

There was also something about a chap called Oaten, and a detail of that story caught my eye:
"Before one session he rang several times asking if I'd dress up in a football strip for him. He really seemed to enjoy himself that night."
This seemed strangely familiar. And, of course, it was because a similar detail appeared in the papers when David Mellor's affair with Antonia de Sancha was revealed in 1992. Only that time it was the politician who was wearing the football kit, leading to the widespread joke that Mellor was one of the few people to score in a Chelsea strip that year.

As Max Clifford is believed to be not unconnected with either of these stories, it makes you wonder who it is who is really entranced by the idea of sex in soccer kit.

For all I know this may be a widespread fetish. Maybe there are lots of people who are turned on by wearing, say, the 1994-5 Rotherham United away strip.

Those who are really unlucky are the lovers moved by Manchester United strips. Imagine how much it must cost to own them all.

Chris Huhne now shorter odds than Simon Hughes

Chris Huhne has now moved into second place in the betting on the Liberal Democrat leadership contest, reports Steve Guy.

Steve concludes:
Given that so many members strongly identify themselves as 'Mingers' or 'Hughesies', we can guess that they won't be giving many second preference votes to each other. The way I see it, Chris is likely to make it through the first count, and make the headlines with all of the second preference votes propelling him through the finish line.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Monsters behind the lampposts

Tim Neale has a very good post on Two for Tea.

It begins:

When I was a child of four or five, I woke one evening and screamed the house down. My mum came into my bedroom to see what all the fuss was about. I had had a nightmare and was convinced there were monsters in the street out side my window. My mother opened the curtains and challenged me to show here where the monsters were.

At first I thought they might be hiding behind the lampposts. An idea which my mother found very amusing. Eventually I had to admit that I could not see any. Maybe it was the feeling of safety that having my mother around induced. Or maybe it was the self evident lack of monsters that did it. Either way I soon forgot about the monsters and went back to sleep.

And ends:

I wonder what Blair says to his kids when one of them complains about monsters outside the bedroom window.

Something like "As no one can prove there are no monsters behind the lampposts I will have all them all removed. If anyone complains that we are now living in the dark I will make it very clear your freedom to be safe from fear has to come first."

In between he muses:
Modern western leaders can be split into two broad categories. The ones that use visions and dreams to lead their people away from fear towards justice and liberty, and the ones that empower fear and ignorance to lead their people back into the dark.
His analysis has a lot in common with the argument of Adam Curtis's documentary series The Power of Nightmares, which I have written about several times.

Britblog Roundup 49

Is "roundup" a proper word? I always wonder.

Anyway, Tim Worstall's latest selection of the best in British blogging is in place.

There is a larger than usual Lib Dem representation this week - which may or not be a good thing, given the week we have had.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Oatengate Part 2

The News of the World reports:


Mark Oaten tonight resigned as the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman after he was confronted by the News of the World over an affair with a rent boy.

In a statement the 41-year-old father of two apologised for the “embarrassment” he had caused to his family and party.

News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner said that Mr Oaten’s announcement came after he was confronted with details of the affair with the 23-year-old rent boy by the paper’s reporters.

The two most sensible comments on this that I have read this evening are as follows.

Europhobia writes:

The Liberal Democrats just got a lot more press coverage, but again for all the wrong reasons: BBC - Oaten resigns over rent boy claim.

Yep - that's rent boy. (So much worse than simply "prostitute" don't you think? Got those added layers of objectification and hints of paedophilia - after all, when was the last time you saw a 23-year-old man referred to as a "boy" in any other context?)

And Stephen Tall writes:
I am left scratching my head in utter bewilderment that he could have considered standing for the leadership of the party - to succeed a man who was forced to resign because of personal problems - when this story was lingering in the shadows.

Chris Huhne's campaign website

As you may have noticed, the Huhne campaign website has been down for a couple of days. It turns out that all the party sites hosted by Prater Raines are having this problem.

While it is solved there is a basic temporary site for Chris Huhne.

For more news see the blog written by Huhne supporter Richard Huzzey.

Later. The original site is working again

Friday, January 20, 2006

Why Ming has been less than Merciless

A couple of recent postings provide insight into why the Campbell campaign has so far looked a little uneasy.

Quaequam Blog! diagnoses "a severe case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians" in his team and complains of:
a blatant lack of faith in the very product ... they are trying to sell, with a constant refrain in the campaign being that with Ming you don't just get the man, you get a whole team of young thrusting politicos.
He also writes:
What I want to see from Campbell's campaign is, well, the candidate. He has a truly inspiring life story, an enviable parliamentary record and credibility coming out of his ears. I don't give a fig about anyone else, they come later. It is high time they started believing in their own candidate and treating him with greater respect.

While Iain Sharpe at Eaten by Missionaries fears that:

he has become used to being treated by interviewers and opponents with the deference that is afforded to elder statesmen.

So on message it hurts

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Waste not

I fear for Hazel Blears. The other day she admitted to doubts about the government’s anti-terrorist legislation: “In my deepest, darkest moments I do struggle with some of this.” When one of Stalin’s henchmen caught himself thinking like that, it was not long before he arrived at a Politburo meeting to find there was no chair for him.

It would be sad to see Hazel Blears exiled, if only for her place in cinema history. She can be seen, in kilt skirt and bunches, in the kitchen sink classic A Taste of Honey. Her brother sings “The Big Ship Sails On The Ally Ally O” – as children did in those days.

But if Blears is sent to the New Labour equivalent of Siberia, they will still have Andy Burnham. He is so on message it hurts.

After the government’s Lords defeat on Monday, he claimed it would be “foolish in the extreme” to reveal how much the identity card scheme would cost. There was no need: KPMG had approved it. And besides: “We can’t just put all the figures out in the public domain because that may lead us not to get the best deal for the taxpayer.”

The people’s representative cannot be shown figures the accountants have seen. And the way to ensure efficient government is to hide it from public scrutiny. You can see why Burnham will never be sent to Siberia.

Meanwhile, the public has to make do with rubbish like the Cabinet Office publication Transformational Government Enabled by Technology. The title is bad, but it’s worse if you open it:

“Government will create an holistic approach to identity management, based on a suite of identity management solutions that enable the public and private sectors to manage risk and provide cost-effective services….”

New Labour used to know better. In the Lords on Monday, Andrew Phillips quoted what Tony Blair said in 1995 when Michael Howard tried to introduce a similar scheme:

“Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demands, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities.”

Mr Blair was right in 1995, and he would be even more right today when the waste runs into billions.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

My brother Esau is an hairy man

The Oxford Mail has a photograph of Chris Huhne taking part in a student demonstration in 1973.

And very 1973 he looks too. This was the year when Ming Campbell still held the British 100 metres record and Simon Hughes was presumably following Iron Maiden around the country.

Found via Recess "Cheeky" Monkey and Antonia's blog.

Don't sell the Jag, Ming

When the four leadership candidates appeared on the Sky News debate the other evening. Ming Campbell was ambushed by a question about his Jag.

It happens that it was sent in by Rob Fenwick, a Lib Dem and Simon Hughes supporter.

Rob's own blog gives a transcript of what happened:

SKY: Let's talk about the environment, an important issue that Lib Dems certainly put at the centre of the ground. This question from Rob Fenwick: "Both Ming Campbell and Chris Huhne claim that the environment is of paramount importance. Chris Huhne owns a hybrid electric car, a Toyota Prius. Is it correct that Ming Campbell owns not one but TWO Jaguars? And if so, how does that square with a supposed commitment to the environment?" A gas guzzler, Sir Menzies

CAMPBELL: I have one 20 year old car which has been my pride and joy.

SKY: Not the best for the environment.

CAMPBELL: But we are all going to have to change our habits, including me.

And then later:

SKY: So the jag goes, does it?


The last thing Ming should do if he wins the leadership is sell his Jag.

I see it as central to what could be a very popular image. He would be the new Inspector Morse or the sort of dependable Scottish lawyer who was always played by Iain Cutherbertson.

Don't do it, Sir Menzies.

Mark Oaten withdraws from the contest

I have never bought the idea that Mark Oaten is a dangerous right-winger. The problem with his speech at the Meeting the Challenge hustings last Saturday was that it was almost content free.

A politician who was unusually charismatic could have got away with all that talk of the 21st century. But Oaten never had a chance of embodying the future in the way the young Tony Blair did for the Labour Party.

And James Graham has dealt pretty conclusively with the claims that Oaten is a great civil libertarian or the last Kennedy loyalist.

The events of the past week have confirmed my impression that, in standing for the party leadership, Mark Oaten was fighting at least one division above his natural weight.

So now it is Huhne 1, Campbell 2, Hughes 3.

The disappearance of Mark Oaten from the list gives me the germ of an idea for an Agatha Christie plot: The STV Murders.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Now they are calling it Oatengate

Well, tomorrow's Times is anyway.

The article also has a sympathetic account of Ming Campbell's performance at prime minister's questions.

Oaten calls in the police over leaked e-mails

There is an extraordinary story on the Guardian website tonight:

Mark Oaten's struggling campaign to lead the Liberal Democrats ran into trouble tonight after Charles Kennedy's office accused his team of leaking emails implying the former party leader was backing him.

Mr Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman, denied he or his team had been involved and called in the police and parliamentary authorities to investigate.

But the author of one of the leaked emails, Mr Kennedy's head of office, Anna Werrin, told party chiefs that she believed "some bright spark on Mark's campaign thought it would boost his chances if it looked as though he had Charles's backing".

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Those leadership contest rules

Two things need changing for next time:
  1. MPs should be able to nominate only one candidate. I assume this was the intention of those who wrote the rules, but they have not been interpreted in this way by the returning officer. Even so, one might hope we could depend upon the common sense of our MPs, but apparently this is not the case.
  2. People should not be able to join the party and have a vote in a leadership contest after nominations have opened. Their being able to do so leaves us open to all sorts of undesirable influences, and in the most extreme case would allow an opposing party to choose our leader for us. There are rumours that this loophole has been used to influence the selection in some parliamentary by-elections, but it would be invidious to mention Leicester South in this context.

Harborough leads the way

I was pleased to see the BBC reporting that:

People living in the Leicestershire district of Harborough recycle half of all their waste.

Pleased and a little amused. When I was on Harborough District Council in the 1980s (I was only 14), I campaigned for and got the first bottle bank in Market Harborough. I was told by one officer that I risked bankrupting the council.

Things are still improving in Market Harborough. The latest news is that we are getting a Marks & Spencer food store.

Chris Huhne's supporters

Chris Huhne's people have posted the first list of supporters on his campaign website.

Writing this evening, they claim almost twice as many published supporters as any other candidate.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Huhne 1, Campbell 2, Hughes 3, Oaten 4

That is how I shall be voting unless something unexpected happens during the campaign.

In a stable relationship

The BBC reports:

A student who called a mounted policeman's horse "gay" will not be prosecuted, it has been revealed.

But police have stood by their decision to take Sam Brown to court for making "homophobic comments" despite the Crown Prosecution Service dropping the case.

That Sky News debate in full

I don't have Sky. No doubt I could have improvised something with a wok and a wire coathanger, but instead I prefer to rely on my fellow Lib Dem bloggers.

Stephen Glenn gives a full account of the proceedings and Will Howells scores it as follows:
There was no clear winner in the debate, and subtle policy differences only between the candidates. Campbell held his ground, although dodged a question on private involvement in the NHS. Given that Huhne should, by conventional wisdom, have been miles behind the other three and gave a strong performance, he was the candidate with whom I was most impressed.
Later. Quaequam Blog! has an account too.

Simon Hughes admits disorganisation problem

Simon Hughes made the following statement this evening:

Over the past 18 months I've been coming to terms with and seeking to cope with a disorganisation problem, and I've come to learn through that process that a disorganisation problem is a serious problem indeed.

It's serious for yourself and it's serious for those around you. I've sought professional help and I believe today that this issue is essentially resolved.

People close to me know that this has been a struggle and that for extended periods I have not been disorganised at all.

As a matter of fact I've not been disorganised for the past two months and I don't intend to be in the future.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

It's raining on Ming's coronation

Scotland on Sunday has an article on the tensions within the Menzies Campbell camp:
"He's gone really, really strange in the last 10 days," a long-term associate told Scotland on Sunday. "He used to just be himself and know what to do, now he's surrounded by all these advisers telling him what to say and think." Those advisers take in representatives of the next generation, including Matthew Taylor and David Laws, and even more youthful MPs such as Nick Clegg and Sarah Teather - a coterie who lobbied hard behind the scenes for Kennedy's resignation last week.
It also tells you who suggested he ask that question about schools without heads last Wednesday.

Britblog Roundup 48

Tim Worstall has posted this week's selection of the best in British blogging.

He writes:

You can make your nominations for next week’s simply by sending the URL to britblog AT gmail DOT com. Any subject, any viewpoint and we most especially welcome entries from the areas we normally don’t see. That’s rather the point of this little exercise, getting us right-wing political bloggers that inhabit this space having a look around, seeing all the other delights out there.

So come on you Liberals.

Meeting the Challenge hustings

I was down at the Meeting the Challenge event at the London School of Economics yesterday. I was too busy kipling last night to write about it, but both James at Quequam Blog! and Richard at Militant Moderate judged the hustings much as I did.

They also reflect the broad view amongst the journalists. This was that Simon Hughes had been the best performer, followed by Chris Huhne, Ming Campbell and Mark Oaten in that order.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Top author named after reservoir shock

Talking of Kipling, it is not widely known that the great man was named after Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire.

The "lake" is really an artificial reservoir built in 1797 to supply water to the Caldon Canal.

Rudyard Kipling answers Gordon Brown

Britain should have a day to celebrate its national identity, says Gordon Brown. He has urged Labour supporters to "embrace the Union flag".

The BBC report adds:

"What is our equivalent for a national celebration of who we are and what we stand for?" Mr Brown said.

"And what is our equivalent of the national symbolism of a flag in the United States in every garden?"

Isn't there something very unBritish about these sorts of display? Isn't our reticence, our lack of swagger, one of the most appealing things about us Britons? At the very least, isn't that how we like to think of ourselves?

The whole point of out national myth - the Arthurian legends - is that is something indistinct and only half remembered.

Rudyard Kipling understood this. One of his Stalky & Co school stories deals with the boys' outrage when a visiting speaker browbeats them about mysteries that an upright fellow just does not talk about:

And so he worked towards his peroration - which, by the way, he used later with overwhelming success at a meeting of electors - while they sat, flushed and uneasy, in sour disgust. After many many words, he reached for the cloth-wrapped stick and thrust one hand in his bosom. This - this was the concrete symbol of their land - worthy of all honour and reverence! Let no boy look on this flag who did not purpose to worthily add to its imperishable lustre. He shook it before them - a large calico Union Jack, staring in all three colours, and waited for the thunder of applause that should crown his effort.

They looked in silence. They had certainly seen the thing before - down at the coastguard station, or through a telescope, half-mast high when a brig went ashore on Braunton sands; above the roof of the Golf Club, and in Keyte's window, where a certain kind of striped sweetmeat bore it in paper on each box. But the College never displayed it; it was no part of the scheme of their lives; the Head had never alluded to it; their fathers had not declared it unto them. It was a matter shut up, sacred and apart. What, in the name of everything caddish, was he driving at, who waved that horror before their eyes? Happy thought! Perhaps he was drunk...

They discussed the speech in the dormitories. There was not one dissentient voice. Mr. Raymond Martin, beyond question, was born in a gutter, and bred in a Board-school, where they played marbles. He was further (I give the barest handful from great store) a Flopshus Cad, an Outrageous Stinker, a Jelly-bellied Flag-flapper (this was Stalky's contribution), and several other things which it is not seemly to put down.

The snobbery is hateful, but you can see that Kipling - the poet of Empire would have no sympathy for Gordon Brown's idea. It would make Brown, in Stalky's language, "a Jelly-bellied Flag-flapper".

That idea stems from Brown's love of all things American, from New Labour's anxiety about the multiracial society it professes to celebrate and from their socialist desire to police our emotions.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ming Campbell interviewed

This morning's Guardian has an appealing interview with the Merciless one:

He recalls how he won North East Fife, once the seat of the last Liberal prime minister, Herbert Asquith, in 1987 at the third attempt - his fifth parliamentary campaign - when he was 46.

"It took me 11 years to win my seat, three elections and 50,000 miles of driving. To those who might wonder if I am committed to things I would offer that. I would also say that you do not compete in top-class athletics without a hell of a lot of work, particularly if you had as little natural ability as I had. And the bar, hard work, commitment, perseverance."

Campbell's main message is that, if elected between now and early March, he will not waste time, as his old friend Paddy Ashdown did (with his support) when dealing with Tony Blair before 1997, on talk of hung parliaments ("I don't believe it") or of coalitions with Labour or the Tories. "The only project I would embark upon, were I to become leader, is maximisation of the vote and maximisation of the seats," he stresses. He condemns Tony Blair for moving too far to the right since becoming prime minister and accuses David Cameron of being "no liberal".

Huhne campaign website launched

Chris Huhne now has a campaign website.

His launch statement begins:

After the events of the last few weeks, our party needs a new start. New hope and new horizons.

We have a springboard. The most MPs since 1923. Talent galore on those benches. Four times as many councillors as thirty years ago. Control of great cities like Liverpool and Newcastle.

But we need to be ready for another great stride forward. To put liberalism into power. We are closer to that goal than ever. Our children will never forgive us if we fail our chance.

We need to come together again around our fundamental principles. Freedom. Fairness. And a sustainable future for our children.

Anyone can use warm words. Anyone can pretend to care. But the test is not words but deeds. Where the Tories talk, Liberal Democrats must take tough decisions. We must sharpen our proposals and challenge them to follow. Our programme for domestic reform is crucial.

Sheriff of Vulgaria foiled

Here is an update on the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang story I mentioned recently.

The Sheriff tried to ban Heather Ripley from driving for a year. But such is the magic of the car that he was forced to call her back and admit that he did not have the power to do so. Instead he imposed four penalty points on her licence.

House Points: Kennedy had to go

Here is my House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Too loyal, too long

The Tory press says that we Liberal Democrat members are furious at the way Charles Kennedy was forced to stand down. I am not convinced that we are.

It is becoming clear that Charles was determined to stay as leader when he was no longer able to the job to the maximum of his ability. It is also clear that he rejected every chance to leave with dignity. In those circumstances it is hard to see how things could have ended happily.

Far from being disloyal, I think that when Lib Dem MPs look back on this episode they will feel that the root of the trouble was that they were too loyal for too long.

The Tory papers also say that we are about to tear ourselves apart. We are not. A civilised debate about our strategy, with some of the more impressive people in the party getting plenty of media coverage, is just what we need.

* * * * *

“People mutht be amuthed,” said Mr Sleary the circus proprietor in Hard Times. But circuses are out of fashion and some think the new Animal Welfare Bill will do for them altogether.

You can have them without animals, but then they consist entirely of pretentious theatre students with whiteface make up. And no one wants that.

Westminster has much in common with a circus: the colour, the pageantry, the smells. Maybe it has even replaced it.

Ann Widdecombe spoke about cruelty in circuses during the Second Reading debate. In another era she would have been dragged from village to village in a cage to be exhibited while urchins poked stick through the bars.

But Tuesday also saw another curiosity: Emily Thornberry. In an intervention the member for Islington South and Finsbury expressed the view that “to take away a dog’s tail … is like taking away its smile”.

She then took up her rope and skipped from the chamber, her mop of curls bobbing.. Hardened Labour and Tory members wept and fell into one another’s arms. And the speaker gruffly declared the bill passed to applause from the galleries.

Many believe docking tails is cruel. Others say it is a necessity for some working breeds. Whoever is right, you don’t help the debate by impersonating Shirley Temple.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Chris Huhne could be the best move

I sold my chess books when I hung up my pawns a few years ago. But the news today that Chris Huhne is to stand for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats reminds me of Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster.

In it the Russian chess trainer describes how a lot of players think. It is your turn and you can see two plausible moves. You analyse one for a while, but not everything is clear. You try the other and it also leads to positions you find hard to assess. So you go back to the first move and analyse it all over again hoping you will see something you missed first time.

You go on like this for a while, switching between the two moves, and at the end of it you are not really happy with either. You are also becoming increasingly aware that your time is ticking away.

Suddenly you see a third possibility. It looks attractive. You analyse it quickly and it seems to work. Feeling a lot happier, you play the move... only to realise it is a blunder as soon as your fingers leave the piece.

I have been wondering whether Chris Huhne is the equivalent of such a move. Neither Ming Campbell nor Simon Hughes seems quite what we want, however hard we consider them. Suddenly there is a third possibility - I exclude Mark Oaten for the purpose of this analogy - and it looks attractive. But will Chris Huhne turn out to be a blunder if we choose him?

I do not think he will. He is personable, economically literate, chaired the group which produced the best party policy document for years, wrote an essay in the Orange Book yet has impeccable green credentials. Hell, he even has hair.

The only argument I have seen raised against Chris Huhne is that he has a very small majority and would be tied down in Eastleigh at the next election.

But, as we have learned to our cost, party leaders almost never lose their seats. If the Tories want to throw everything at Huhne there are plenty of vulnerable Lib Dem seats and Lib Dem targets in the South of England that would benefit from a fruitless diversion of Tory resources.

As Nick Clegg seems determined not to stand, Chris Huhne could be our best move in this position.

Another disorganised leader?

This morning Tim Farron, Simon Hughes' campaign manager, told The Times:

“Simon has tremendous appeal. He is a bit like a flair footballer who needs good management.”
It's natural that Tim should want to talk up his own role, but we have just lived through several years with a leader who had to be "managed".

What we want now is one who can lead. We want a Frank Lampard not a Joe Cole.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why Nick Clegg should stand

Mr Cameron's best slogan in the Tory leadership contest was: "Why put off what needs to be done?" Mr Clegg is, by some margin, the Lib Dem who would give the Tories and Labour the most trouble in 2009. He should be his party's next leader. So why put it off?
So writes Matthew d'Ancona in this morning's Daily Telegraph.

I don't see the Liberal Democrats as being in such a deep crisis as he does, and he is kinder than I am about Mark Oaten, but I think he right about Nick Clegg.

The rumour tonight is that Chris Huhne is seeking support to stand. He would make an appealing candidate too.

Ruth Kelly to lose education job

Actually the BBC says:
Ruth Kelly to keep education job
but you know what a headline like that means.

Prime Minister's questions

A difficult day for the Lib Dem benches, as it was always going to be.

Even so, it would not have taken a political genius to grasp that it was not a bright idea to make too much of the number of schools without heads. Taxi for Sir Menzies.

Simon Hughes also ran into trouble, but all credit to both of them for flying the Lib Dem flag.

And Mark Oaten? Nick Robinson's blog on the BBC site kindly gives the answer:
Where oh where, asked Tony Blair at today's Prime Minister's Questions, was the third contender for the Lib Dem leadership, after both Ming Campbell and Simon Hughes had made appearances. The answer was that he - Mark Oaten - was sitting next to me on the set of BBC Two's The Daily Politics, where more voters could see him!
The Captain's compliments to Mr Oaten, and would he kindly come to the bridge at once?

The respect agenda reaches Shropshire

Well, Herefordshire actually.

The Shropshire Star reports:

A 64-year-old great-grandad from Shropshire was ordered to remove his trilby in a local pub after the landlord said he could be mistaken for a “hoodie”.

Colin Osborne, of All Stretton, was drinking in The Monument pub, in Hereford, when he was told that he would not be served unless he removed his trilby.

Mr Osborne, who has worn trilby hats for 20 years, complained but was warned he would not be served unless he removed the trilby, which was hiding his face from CCTV cameras.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A gentle tour of the blogs

Mary Reid remembers Tony Banks and shows that I am not the only Lib Dem blogger who went to York University.

Jane Leaper visits Ludlow and shows that I am not the only Lib Dem blogger with a love of South Shropshire.

And Susanne Lamido proves she is the only Lib Dem blogger with the dash to post this on her own blog.

Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis?

The BBC explains, and adds this rather fine limerick:
A lively young damsel named Menzies
Inquired: "Do you know what this thenzies?"
Her aunt, with a gasp,
Replied: "It's a wasp,
And you're holding the end where the stenzies."

Mark Oaten: An uncertain start

It has never been clear why Mark Oaten thinks he is qualified to lead the party. Certainly he will have to do better than today's launch statement, unless it was meant to be amusing.

Try these extracts for size:

Lembit and my wife Linda were up till 2.30 a.m. deciding ... whether or not I should put my name forward to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Since Charles resigned on Saturday my office has been literally flooded with hundreds and hundreds of e-mails...

You know it is 100 years since the Liberals were last in power. Frankly, that is not good enough.

I believe I am a 21st century Liberal...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Gary Lineker ate my c.v.

Sad news from Market Harborough: Golden Wonder has gone into administration.

The crisp and snack manufacturer has its head office here. Indeed I worked for them in the 1980s. Some market analysts believe the company has never recovered.

At one time Golden Wonder was the best known crisp company in Britain. Traditionally the snacks were sold to drinking men in pubs and clubs, but they pioneered selling to housewives through supermarkets.

When I worked there Golden Wonder was still one of the largest employers in town, but it has been in decline for a long time. One by one the crown jewels were sold off - Pot Noodles went in 1995 and Wotsits went to Walker's in 2002. Indeed it is the inexorable rise of Walker's that has done for them.

You can read about the company's history on its own website, at least for now. If that fails, there is always Wikipedia.

We need a contested leadership election

But not for the reasons that the BBC reports Charles Kennedy as giving:

Charles Kennedy has said he hopes Liberal Democrat members get the chance to choose his successor as leader.

He said a contest was needed so members could have "direct input" after feeling "shut out" of his departure as leader.

My impression is that the members increasingly realise that Charles Kennedy had to go. In particular, Kennedy's belief that he could remain as leader having admitted his health problems and lost the confidence of the parliamentary party was a bizarre misjudgement.

We need a contested leadership election because it represents a unique opportunity for a party which often struggles for media coverage.

Those who want to see Ming Campbell crowned because they fear disunity are far too pessimistic. If having our leading MPs in the media talking about their beliefs and favoured policies is not good for the party, we may as well give up now.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Lynne Featherstone on Kennedy's assassination

Lynne writes candidly about her experience of Charles Kennedy's leadership:
When I arrived in Parliament as a new MP in May I have to say that I was shocked by the scale of the leadership problems. I was aware that Charles was brilliant at times - but then seemed to disappear and not truly have the hunger that is needed to drive a party forward.
Some Lib Dem bloggers have been critical of the parliamentary party's recent actions. Yet, faced with a leader who was not functioning properly but refused to put down a motion of confidence or stand down, what option did they have? Things were bound to end messily.

BritBlog Roundup

Tim Worstall's latest selection has been posted. He writes:
Liberal England ascribes Maggie’s electoral victories to her cancelling o school milk. Thinking abck he might actually be right.
Whatever his keyboard has been drinking, it is not milk.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Liberal Review launched

An e-mail reaches me:
As part of the Liberal Democrats Online "Moving Forward" project, a number of new online projects were set up. One of these was a "blog review site", which is now complete in the form of Liberal Review.
I am sorry it has had such a quiet week for its launch, but no doubt things will pick up.

Richard Jefferies and Coate Water

In this morning's issue of The Times, Simon Barnes writes on the scandalous development proposed at Coate Water just outside Swindon.

It is a scandal, not just because a growing town like Swindon needs all the recreational space and beauty it can get, but because Coate was the childhood home of the great 19th century nature writer Richard Jefferies.

More than that, it was the landscape immortalised in his novel Bevis: The Story of a Boy. This is the book that revolutionised writing about children and gave birth to the whole genre of holiday adventure fiction for children - Arthur Ransome, Malcolm Saville and all the way down to Enid Blyton.

I could go on about this at great length, as I wrote my MA dissertation about Jefferies some 10 years ago. But I sense I have delighted you long enough.

So instead I shall refer you to the Save Coate group.

Potentially libellous comments

In the past couple of days anonymous comments have been left making allegations against named individuals. In one case that individual was acquitted after a trial, and in the other I have no way of knowing if the allegations are true. So, after some reflection, I have deleted both comments.

Liberal England now has far more readers than it did even a few months ago - thanks in part to Charles Kennedy's recent travails. So I now have to start taking the possibility of libel seriously.

If you have some juicy gossip, please e-mail me privately. If you simply post it as a comment I may have to delete it.

This can be a shame. One of the posts I deleted was making a very good point about the way that a party's members are likely to support a leader, even in the most extreme circumstances, while vilifying those who try to force him out.

Thank you to the person who posted a comment reminding me of the issue of libel. I have deleted that too, as it does not make sense without the comment it referred to.

There is a useful article about the web and libel on The Register site.

Charles Kennedy resigns

Charles Kennedy has just resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. His statement was impressively dignified, given the difficult circumstances. I hope he will have a long and fruitful future in politics.

But it would have been better for all concerned if he had made that statement on Thursday evening.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Charles Kennedy must resign

News reports this evening suggest that Charles Kennedy's has now lost the confidence of almost half the parliamentary party. In these circumstances it is obvious that he must resign as Liberal Democrat leader.

His belief that he can stay in office by appealing to the membership over the heads of his colleagues is absurd. Is there no one in his inner circle with the sense or courage to tell him this?

The longer this affair drags on, the more damage will be caused to the party. And the more damage there will be to Charles Kennedy's reputation.

That will be a shame, given the affection in which he currently held by the party's membership and the wider public.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Disgruntled Lib Dem Front Benchers XI

The Times and a bit of informed gossip suggest that the eleven Lib Dems MPs who signed the letter of no confidence in Charles Kennedy were:

Vince Cable (Captain)
Norman Baker
Ed Davey
Andrew George
Sandra Gidley
Chris Huhne
Norman Lamb
David Laws
Michael Moore
Sarah Teather
John Thurso

Lord Bonkers writes: Not a bad side, though the tail looks a little long for comfort and we may regret the absence of a second spinner.

Daisy, Daisy

Iain Dale (proprietor of Politico's and unsuccessful Tory candidate in North Norfolk last time) discusses the role of Charles Kennedy's former press secretary in today's events:

Daisy McAndrew (nee Sampson) joined ITN a few months ago from the BBC, where she had been hosting the Daily Politics Show with Andrew Neil. Before that she spent a couple of years as Charles Kennedy's Press Secretary. Today, Daisy McAndrew wielded the knife. She handed his private office a dossier early this afternoon and within an hour it was announced Kennedy would be making a personal statement.

Later. The Scotsman discusses Daisy McAndrew's role in Kennedy's downfall.

Kennedy: Now we all need a drink

The BBC reports:

Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy has called a leadership contest after admitting he has been battling with a drink problem.

He said he was determined to carry on as leader but wanted to give party members the "final say".

Mr Kennedy - who has previously denied a drink problem - admitted seeking "professional help" to beat the bottle.

This seems to me the worst of all possible developments. As I said in my comments on Susan Kramer's interview yesterday, the danger is that Kennedy will be re-elected by the wider membership yet continue not to be trusted by a large part of the parliamentary party. Such a position will not be sustainable and we shall be in a bigger mess than we are now

What Kennedy should have done was to ask for a vote of confidence from the parliamentary party. Going to the country over the head of his colleagues looks like at attempt to disguise how weak his position with them has become.

Already it sounds as if none of the credible alternative candidates is going to stand. This means that the leadership election will not settle the other long-running problem with Kennedy's leadership: the lack of a clear strategy.

In our therapeutic state Kennedy's admission of his drink problem may even make him more popular with the public. But that will not give the party the sense of direction it currently lacks.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In praise of milk snatching

One of the factors behind Mrs Thatcher's election victory was her act of abolishing free milk in schools.

Some people hated her for it and dubbed her the "milk snatcher". But they didn't have to drink the stuff. The crates were not kept in a refrigerator, so on a hot day it was already halfway to going sour by the time mid-morning break came. The trick then was to avoid drinking the stuff.

Yes, Mrs Thatcher was swept to power by a generation of grateful first-time voters who wanted to thank her for delivering them from the horrors of school milk.

This is why I am far from shocked by today's report which urges the government to consider ending the public subsidy for milk for primary school children.

Other Liberal Democrats certainly are shocked. Our education spokesman, Ed Davey, has issued a press release on the subject:

"A healthy school diet plays a vital role in giving children good habits for life.

"Mrs Thatcher was the last Education Secretary to attack this scheme and it seems Blair and Kelly seem intent on stealing every Conservative policy they can think of.

"We should be encouraging kids to drink milk rather than fizzy drinks."

Peter Black is indignant:
Independent consultants, London Economics, may consider this provision a waste of money but what are the odds that they employ highly-paid executives who can afford to ensure that their children are well-nourished?
And so is Colin Ross in a post entitled "Blair, Blair, the Milk Snatcher".

But hold on. The BBC story on this says:

The London Economics report said a mark of the scheme's "inefficiency" was that the average price schools charged parents for subsidised milk - 11.4p for a third of a pint - exceeded the supermarket price for milk which was not subsidised - 8.4 to 10p.

So it is poor value. And is it good for children's health? The Guardian quotes Mike Rayner from the British Heart Foundation as saying:

"I think the milk subsidy should have been abandoned a long time ago. For some children, lower-fat dairy products provide an important source of calcium, but they are not the only source and it would be better for health to subsidise fruit or even bread."

But surely milk is good for you. We all need calcium.

Again from the Guardian:

The report also argues that the scheme's effect on child health is small. Councils that take up the subsidy are obliged to provide free milk to children whose families are on certain state benefits. Milk's main nutritional benefit is that it provides calcium, but children between four and 10 years are not generally short of this mineral. About three-quarters of British children aged 11-18 are short of calcium, but they are not covered by the scheme. There is little evidence that it encourages children to keep drinking milk into their teens.

Free or subsidised school milk was a solution to the problems of the 1940s. Today, when everyone is worried about obesity in schoolchildren, we face different problems. It is those we should be trying to solve.

And politically we should be attacking Tony Blair for not being Liberal enough, rather than for not being Labour enough.

Susan Kramer should have stayed in bed

I cannot understand what Susan Kramer thinks would be achieved by Charles Kennedy subjecting himself to a new leadership ballot. She called on him to do so on the Today programme this morning.

It is clear that Kennedy has lost the confidence of a significant portion of the parliamentary party, whether because of his failure to give his leadership clear strategic direction or for more personal reasons. It is equally clear that the wider membership still feels happy with him.

Therefore it is entirely possible that Kennedy would win a new leadership election. Why should the parliamentary party feel any different about him if he did? He would return to the office without the underlying problem (whatever it is) having been solved.

So Susan would have been better off having a lie in with Whittington this morning.

The MPs who want to get rid of Kennedy are going to have to say so openly and soon. The longer the current stand off continues, the worse the party appears.

And those with leadership ambitions of their own should reflect that none of them has emerged from the past month with his reputation enhanced.

Is that how the story ends?

The great Mary Poppins vs Chitty Chitty Bang Bang debate continues. Meanwhile, here is an ironic story from the Daily Record:

One of the stars of film classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang appeared in court yesterday after being spotted driving erratically.

Former child star Heather Ripley faces being banned from the road after she was caught behind the wheel while she had no driving licence.

Ripley, 46, admitted driving without a proper licence on December 23, 2004, when she appeared in the dock at Perth Sheriff Court yesterday.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Half-nude, cross-dressed and coke-addled

The Guerilla News Network carries an interview with Benn Ramm. It was conducted by Stephen Marshall, who met him:
at a ‘naughty party’ being held in a stately manor somewhere in the Welsh countryside. Standing among the half-nude, cross-dressed and coke-addled British elite, the 22 year-old Ramm, a recent Cambridge graduate, held forth on politics, the assault on art and Ramm’s steadfast conviction that “liberalism will be the philosophy of the 21st century.”

Rutland's oldest resident dies

The Rutland Times reports the death of Emeritus Professor Harold Lawton at the age of 106. A veteran of the First World War, he was later asked by Cosmo Laing, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to make a transcript of Gladstone's daily journal.

There is more about this remarkable man in his Daily Telegraph obituary. Meanwhile, Lord Bonkers appears to be immortal.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Lib Dems flock to sign petition

A petition has been launched calling upon Ben Ramm to resign as editor of The Liberal. It also urges the magazine "to conduct a wide-ranging, open and rigorous debate about its future".

Thanks to Ian Ridley for the tip.

Hev you gotta loight boy?

Ken at the Militant Moderate is greatly exercised because, according to The Times, child smokers as young as 12 are to be given nicotine patches on the NHS. He is concerned that this is being funded whilst diabetics have are denied the best treatment:
Diabetics don't have a choice as to whether they have their disease or not. It's a genetic condition that afflicts them for the rest of their lives, and gives them pretty serious potential problems. It's just flat-out wrong that those who choose to break the law get funded to treat the problems caused by their conscious choices, whilst those who are ill through no fault of their own have to make do with second-rate care. Flat-out wrong.
Public health measures like helping people to stop smoking have a much greater effect on illness levels than does treating individuals. The greatest health advance in Britain was not the establishment of the NHS or the discovery of antibiotics: it was the provision of clean drinking water. We Liberal Democrats have grasped this in our policy, even if we are not as worried as we should be by the conflicting claims of public health and individual liberty.

I am less worried by the conflict Ken raises: in many ways it is reminiscent of the last days of the Second World War when it was realised that the most efficient way to use the newly discovered drug Penicillin was to treat servicemen suffering from venereal diseases. That way great numbers of men could quickly be sent back to the fighting. This also caused people to ask why we should treat those who behaved immorally when others were suffering through no fault of their own.

What did strike me about The Times report was this paragraph:
Doctors and nurses wishing to prescribe children nicotine therapies do not need to have parental consent if they judge it unnecessary. According to General Medical Council guidance, a GP must assess a child’s capacity to agree or refuse treatment and make a judgment based on each individual case.
No doubt there are cases where it is right not to tell the parents, but these will be few. Yet the guidance given here fits in with the long-term project of the professional left to replace parental authority with the authority of the state, as mediated through the caring professions.

It may sound enlightened to treat juvenile smoking as a medical problem rather than one of discipline. Yet such approaches often rest on shaky theoretical foundations and can turn out not to be in the child's best interests. Think of the way bad or boisterous behaviour is diagnosed as ADHD and treated with Ritalin.

Meanwhile I remain convinced that the thing most likely to stop a 12-year-old from taking up smoking is the thought of what his Mum will say if she finds out.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The great debate

I watched some of Mary Poppins this afternoon - the first time I had seen it since I was so high.

It is not a patch on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Yes, I am determined that Liberal England will be more controversial in 2006.

Samuel Palmer at the British Museum

Over the holiday I went down to London to see the Samuel Palmer exhibition at the British Museum. It runs until 22 January. If you can't make it, try the Tate Collection site for some Palmer pictures.

If you do get to Bloomsbury you can take in the London Review Bookshop too.

Britblog Roundup 46

Tim Worstall has posted his latest selection