Friday, January 30, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
We support Mr Hain's condemnation of the BNP and trust that the county borough issues its own rebuttal of the party's divisive message. We deprecate the Evening Post's giving the organisation more publicity than it deserves (including a colour photograph which is technically better than those which have illustrated many more deserving news stories) and for not making clear that Brian Mahoney is not a local councillor (nor a member of any principal authority in Wales), but merely the BNP's national organiser.
Readers who are tempted to join BNP are advised to read Searchlight first.
This may have been a valid assumption in the boom years ending with Gordon Brown's chancellorship, but it certainly is not now. Interest rates have plummeted to the extent that a cash ISA with National Savings offers just 2.4%. Stock market returns and those from most other government savings vehicle are even worse. (Current rates of return from NS&I are here.) The government assumed rate has not changed for three years.
Pensioners are particularly badly hit. LibDem shadow Work & Pensions Secretary, Steve Webb MP, said: "Life is hard enough for savers without the government making it more difficult by inventing interest rates that nobody could possibly hope to get. The government should immediately change its rules and bring its assumed interest rates into line with what pensioners can actually hope to receive," he demanded.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are overdue for reform. Only Liberal Democrats are prepared to grasp that nettle, as Nick Clegg has made plain.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Liberal Democrats are ready. The shadow cabinet is in place. Leading members of it are engaging senior civil servants in the private briefings which are held for opposition parties. The manifesto is being drafted.
The sooner Vince Cable gets into number 11 Downing Street to restore confidence in the UK economy, the better. So we say: bring it on!
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Targets were set by the Assembly government in 2002 to get 75% of all NHS estates across Wales up to operationally safe level by 2005 and 90% by 2008. Out of the 14 Health Trusts in Wales, only 3 met the 90% target, 5 met the 75% and 6 failed to meet the 2005 and 2008 targets.
A catalogue of other failures from Trusts not meeting statutory and safety compliances to fire safety regulations reveal the Assembly government has been failing to meet its own targets and legal requirements.
Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has described this as a dire situation for the Welsh NHS. In a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion in the National Assembly today, she urged the Health Minister to bring forward an action plan to bring our hospitals up to a decent standard.
“This is a very dire situation for our National Health Service. These figures and failures really show how Labour has handled our NHS during the last decade of power.
“The Assembly government knew back in 2005 that 11 of the 14 Welsh NHS Trusts had not reached their target of getting 75% of their NHS buildings to operationally safe level and now at the end of the 2008 target period only three Trusts met the 90% target.
“This capital backlog is huge and the year on year massive increases in health funding is now behind us. The Assembly government didn’t manage to clear the backlog during times of plenty and as budgets get tighter and tighter, there is little hope that these backlogs will be cleared.
“The Labour-Plaid government is shirking on its responsibilities to ensure that NHS staff and patients work and get treated in decent and safe hospitals. This Labour-Plaid government is taking our NHS in the wrong direction.
“The Welsh NHS may seem to be the envy of the British Isles given its free prescriptions for millionaires and free parking in hospitals, but when you have nearly half a billion pounds worth of repairs to your hospitals, the real cost of giving out treats becomes obvious.
“The Assembly government’s priority now is to eliminate the most serious risks in NHS buildings to staff and patients. By using money from the Strategic Capital Investment Funds, most of which they are holding in reserves for an election year, and by reversing the decision not to allow private funding in the NHS, this Labour-Plaid government could reduce this massive backlog and improve the standards of hospitals in Wales.
“Only when our hospitals are safe to work in and be treated in can the Labour-Plaid government even consider implementing their vote winning gimmicks.”
Peter Black, Shadow Health Minister, added:
“NHS staff are already working under hard-pressed conditions with bed shortages, long waiting lists, strained maternity services and poor ambulance performance times. The added pressure of working in poorly maintained hospitals and possibly dangerous working conditions is not acceptable.
“I shall be asking the Health Minister for urgent action to ensure that NHS staff across Wales are able to work in a safe environment.”
Physical Condition of Welsh NHS Trusts
- Backlog maintenance costs across Wales are £468.2 million
- Only three Trusts met the 2008 90% target
Statutory and Safety Compliance of Welsh NHS Trusts
- Trusts should have been fully compliant with Disability and Discrimination Act by October 2004. It would cost £20 million to make the NHS in Wales compliant with the Disability and Discrimination Act.
- It would cost £11 million to make the NHS in Wales compliant with Fire code requirements.
- Six Trusts failed to reach the 2008 90% target fire safety compliance.
- North Glamorgan Trust reached only 52% compliance on Fire Safety.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
- The Fuel Poverty Bill will bring in two measures:
- A major energy efficiency programme to bring existing homes up to the current energy efficiency levels enjoyed by modern homes.
- Social tariffs to limit vulnerable households’ exposure to high-energy bills.
- These proposals will be great for the environment whilst also making a real difference to pensioners and others struggling to pay their energy bills. An estimated five million households are faced with the terrible choice between heating and eating this winter.
- These proposals deserve the support of politicians from all parties. We hope that Dr Francis and Mr Hain will give the bill their support when it is debated in the House of Commons.
The measures in the bill have received the backing of many major charities and campaign groups, including Help the Aged, Friends of the Earth, Consumer Focus and the Association for the Conservation of Energy. They were also included in the Liberal Democrats’ Green Road out of Recession package.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The Home Office on Friday said it was working with the European Parliament on plans to extend police powers to conduct remote searches of computers. UK police already have the power to hack into suspect systems without a warrant, due to an amendment to the Computer Misuse Act, which came into force in 1995.
However, security vendors Kaspersky Labs and Sophos told ZDNet UK they would not make any concession in their protective software for the police hack.
Kaspersky Labs said this week it would block all attempts to access its customers' systems, regardless of the agency attempting the entry.
David Em, Kaspersky's UK senior technology consultant, said: "Ultimately, we are politically neutral but we consider it our duty to protect our customers."
Cambridge University security expert Richard Clayton told ZDNet UK on Monday that UK police were most likely to hack into computers by entering a premises and installing a keylogger on the target system. This would be more effective than a drive-by download or sending an email with a malware attachment, as the chances of successful interception of data were higher, said Clayton. As an alternative, police could hack into wi-fi networks to search systems, he said.
Kaspersky's Em said that while police could provide details of the software it used so Kaspersky could avoid blocking it, the police software could also be used by cybercriminals. "While we wouldn't want to scupper police attempts to catch bad guys, police [hacking] software could end up in the wrong hands," Em said. Kaspersky would not put a backdoor in its software to enable the police to bypass its protections, Em added. "If we provided a backdoor, it could be used by malware authors," Em said. "People would be able to drive a coach and horses through our security."
Sophos would also block any attempts to compromise its customers' systems, said Graham Cluley, the security vendor's senior technology consultant.
"We block spyware, regardless of where it comes from," Cluley said. He added that police putting malware on a suspect system could backfire, if the person targeted was a criminal. "Who's to say that criminal wouldn't take that malware and use it against someone else?" he said.
Symantec declined to comment on whether it would block a police hack, saying the matter was "politically sensitive". The security vendor has said in the past that it would not scan for the FBI's Magic Lantern keystroke-logging software.
Monday, January 12, 2009
*GETTING IN TO GAZA*
*Sunday, 11 January 2009*
We travelled up from Cairo through the Sinai in a coach with an Egyptian
police escort. Assembling our team of 8 MEPs took a long time at the
airport, and what with confusion about where to stay we didn´t put our
heads down till past 3am. More confusion in the morning delayed us getting
to the Rafah crossing till just before noon. It didn´t seem to matter;
UNRWA had already called to tell us that the Israeli Defence Ministry was
not prepared to let their vehicles meet us. A series of telephone calls
had produced conflicting stories but the result was the same: ¨No way are
you getting in!¨ This fact-finding trip was going to prove nothing more
than a gesture.
I´ve been to the Rafah crossing before but last time approached it from
within Gaza. It´s a modern border control complex, a smaller version of
the Channel Tunnel vehicle entrance all paid for with EU money. There are
passport control offices, a cafeteria, even a duty free shop – but it´s a
fiction, they are all empty and covered in dust. The Israeli siege of Gaza
has kept the flow of goods and people to Egypt to a minimum.
Escorted by the mayor of the Egyptian town of Rafah we climbed onto a
rooftop platform to look across at Gaza City. All was quiet; ¨bombing is
at night,¨ we were told. Returning to the ground we talked with Egyptian
ambulance drivers, waiting to take the injured coming out of Gaza. They
were all lined up with nothing to do it seemed. We chatted to various
journalists, all of them frustrated at not being able to cross into the
Then a flurry. ¨Get into the minibus, GET IN, GET IN!¨ For unknown reasons
a window of opportunity had opened. It was 2.20pm and the ´ceasefire´
lasted till 4pm. We passed through the gate to be met by UNWRA´s director
of operations John Ging and three bullet proof (really heavy doors) UN
Range Rovers. We transferred and drove into the Palestinian town of Rafah
(yes, there are two Rafahs), passing a few bombed buildings on the way,
probably ones that had cloaked entrance/exit routes to tunnels across the
border. In so doing we may have become the first ´observers´ to cross
since the assault began 16 days ago.
It´s a funny thing about a bombed building but I always find that, even
though they may have been destroyed by a devastating explosion just
yesterday, they look as though the incident took place a year or two ago.
And maybe, their appearance suggests, it wasn´t a bombing at all but a
demolition job by a firm that went into liquidation just after the work
commenced. So long as it is not your own building it somehow diminishes
The journey was short, just a mile or so. There were lots of people on the
streets taking advantage of the ceasefire - ¨The streets are deserted
except during these periods,¨ explained our UN security guide - but very
few vehicles except the occasional cart pulled by a donkey. We turned into
the compound of a UN distribution centre. There was time only to look at
the devastation of a former police station opposite, and exchange a few
words both about the damage to the UN buildings and the distribution
operation with John Ging. I asked him about the Israeli defence for
civilian casualties being that Hamas uses human shields to cover its
operations. His response was dismissive, and when you looked around at the
context of a war in the midst of a living community you could see why.
Suddenly there was a huge bang; the ground shook and so did my stomach. An
Israeli blast during ceasefire. It may have been 6-700 metres away but it
felt bloody close! What must this be like for people who really are close?
Allegedly, we learnt later, it was a response to Hamas rocket attacks.
Back in the vehicles we drive a short distance through back streets to a
primary school being used as a shelter. ¨The UN has 71 ´shelters´ across
Gaza and we have 30,000 people in them whose homes have been bombed or are
at risk,” said John. ¨Some of them, just like this, have been hit
nonetheless as you will know.¨ It seemed to me that most of the residents
were children, and they were hugely enthusiastic to see us. (At least our
presence changed the routine a bit).
Another Israeli blast, and again the ground and my stomach shook. Smoke
arose between buildings a few hundred metres away. The kids weren´t
phased, ¨Too far off¨ I imagine they were thinking.
Pushing through their numbers, shaking lots of hands and smiling hard,
(some of our team shed tears as soon as they had privacy), we met in a
side room to hear about the distribution arrangements (¨We need more than
just food and medicines, it´s all the essentials of family life, like
bedding for displaced families, and nappies¨).
It was 3.15pm. ¨We need you to go NOW,¨ said John Ging. ¨I am so pleased
you have been here to see this for yourselves. Just take back the message
that the people here need protection. The violence has got to stop. The UN
has got to back up its words about a ceasefire with some real action and
We walked out of the building into the throng of excited kids, mostly 7-11
year olds. I was struck by how many made ´V for Victory´ gestures with
their fingers. Do the Israelis really believe that bombing urban
communities and terrorising their populations is going to bring them
security? What about the next generation that even now starts to merge
with the existing one?
The streets were still busy but very few people had anything in their
hands. Not much to buy I suppose.
I asked the UN driver about casualties at the hospitals. ¨We´re
approaching 900 dead and more than 3,000 injured,¨ he said. ¨From what we
hear it is mainly ordinary people. Amongst the numbers there do not seem
to be that many young fit men of fighting age that would fit the
We get back to the crossing and leave the UN vehicles. Back in the Rafah
compound it´s interview time, and we watch also as a succession of Israeli
F16s cross the sky dropping white flares of some kind. Donkeys pulling
carts in the streets and 21st century killing machines in the air.
Then the explosions start. One of them close enough so that journalists
and ourselves start to move quickly away.
Twenty or 30 minutes later the crossing complex starts to get really busy.
Ambulance after ambulance arrives from Gaza, and their occupants are
transferred to Egyptian ambulances.
Our coach sets off in the direction of Cairo just before sunset.
Ambulances race past on the road south.
Chris Davies MEP
11 January 2009
Saturday, January 10, 2009
He said: “I am proud to lead the best front-bench team in British politics, a team which has consistently been ahead of the curve on the big debates that matter to the British people.
“This team leaves the Liberal Democrats well placed to take the fight to both Labour and the Conservatives in the run-up to the General Election and to bring about the change that Britain needs.”
The new roles are:
Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
David Heath Shadow Leader of the House
Jenny Willott Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
David Howarth Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
Susan Kramer has chosen to leave the shadow cabinet to take up a new role leading the party’s campaign against the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
Nick Clegg is also creating an economic recovery group to co-ordinate the party’s ongoing response to the recession.
Nick has asked Lynne Featherstone to oversee the party’s online campaigning as Chair of the New Technology Board.
John Sharkey, the Leader’s adviser on strategic communications, is appointed Deputy Chair of the General Election campaign. He will work closely with Lord Rennard, Chair of the General Election campaign, and Chris Fox, the party’s new Director of Policy and Communications.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness, former Deputy First Minister of Scotland, has been appointed to advise on the party's engagement with senior civil servants.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Nick's blog article went on to say:
Going Down - The Labour Party
We uncovered a simple economic formula sent from Treasury ministers to the MoD. Apparently it never arrived. If inflation is greater than proposed spending increases, your budget will eventually have a deficit.
Not Moving - The Conservatives
On the surface they promise to bring about fundamental change to the MoD if they come to power. This might be so and we would welcome a change of leadership. But no one is committing to actually increasing spending so the current problems will persist for many years to come.
Going Up - The Liberal Democrats
Considering they are Britain’s third party, the Liberal Democrats probably have the best defence policy at the moment. Nick Harvey is one of the most knowledgable MPs on defence subjects outside of government and always has something to say on any given subject. The party is committed to Afghanistan and a new strategic defence review, two major policies that need more attention at the moment. While we may not agree on their Trident position, we want to hear more from this party in 2009 on defence.
Hat Tip to Forces Focus
Green Road out of Recession
· Funding insulation and energy efficiency for a million homes, with a £1,000 subsidy for a million more
· Building 40,000 extra zero-carbon social houses
· Buying 700 new train carriages
· Reopening old railway lines and stations, opening new ones, electrifying the Great Western and Midland mainlines and beginning the Liverpool light rail network
· Installing energy and money saving smart meters in every home within five years
Thursday, January 01, 2009
The Christmas break has been a chance to recover from what have been a whirlwind couple of weeks for me. Since the leadership election, it’s been non-stop. I scarcely had time to draw breath after the election on the Monday, before my first ‘First Minister’s Questions’ time as leader the next day. A key debate on the UK Government’s Legislative Programme followed on the Wednesday, and then the announcement of the new Assembly team on Thursday.
The next week was equally hectic, with a series of visits across Wales. I was very keen during the election to stress that we need to re-connect with people across the country, and I meant it. It was great to meet with party members, and people who aren’t yet members, in Swansea, Colwyn Bay, Wrexham and Chepstow.
I use the phrase “people who aren’t yet members” for a reason. While coverage of the US Presidential elections has quite rightly focused on Barack Obama and his incredible gift for public speaking, there is another aspect to his campaign that really intrigues me. The Obama campaign motivated a whole raft of people to become engaged in politics for the first time. Why can’t we do the same?
This could have some far reaching consequences. In Assembly elections, for example, turnout has usually been below 50%. If we could enthuse a whole section of those people who are currently totally switched off by politics we could really shake up this country.
You see, I believe politics is for everyone. Wherever you live, whatever you do, whoever you are - politics is for you. Not the politics you see on TV of two men in suits criticising and trying to outsmart each other. But the real politics, the politics that matter, where radical ideas have a positive effect on the lives of real people. The politics of change.
I’m not content for us to carry on as the party with the best ideas. It is not enough. We have to make those ideas count. That means we have to grow as a party, both in our outlook and the way we think, but also in actual numbers We have to bring on board all those like-minded people who want to change things for the better.
I know that our Campaigns and Candidates Committee are already on the case - offering incentives to the local party that attracts the greatest growth. During the election campaign I promised to work with local parties to achieve their recruitment targets – and with the help of our chief executive Joanne Foster and her team I will be talking to and meeting as many of you as possible in the New Year to put that plan into action.
But I want to urge you take action on an individual level too. It may be stating the obvious, but if every one of us signed up just one more member, this party would double in size. That’s my challenge to you – to persuade one person you know to join this party.
There must be someone in your street, your family, your local pub, at the school gate, at the gym, wherever, who shares your beliefs, my beliefs, OUR beliefs in a better future for Wales.
Over the last decade we’ve become great at putting leaflets through doors, but we mustn’t forget how important it is to talk to people too. Sharing our vision and ideas is crucial – and the best way to do that is by and sharing the passion and enthusiasm which I know exists within the Party.
Joining the Welsh Liberal Democrats needn’t be expensive, and it can be a lot of fun too. I’ve promised to ‘get out more’, but I hope that all our activists will see the benefit of doing the same. We can’t be shy about what we have to offer in this party. I’m tired of being the party with the best ideas, but insufficient numbers to implement them.
As well as recruiting new members, we must reach out to those people who might be sympathisers and supporters too. I know some local parties have successful coffee mornings, or Pizza and Politics evenings, where people invite friends and neighbours around to talk politics. It’s a fun way to get together with people who share our ambition to change our country but may not have made the leap to realise that we can do more than talk about it if we all pull together.
Let’s get out more, take our message out there, shout it from the rooftops. We need to offer hope in what are pretty hopeless times for many people.
On a UK level, the Liberal Democrats were the only party that warned the downturn was coming. Vince Cable has been setting the pace on the economy – he’s been gliding around like Anton Du Beke, while Darling and Osbourne look more like Ant and Dec.
We were the only party to see it coming, and we are the only party with a credible plan to lift us out of it. Nick Clegg’s proposals offer a double benefit - economic recovery, and strong support for tackling climate change too.
That’s what politics should be about in 2009 - the battle of ideas, not endless muckraking about expenses and obscure constitutional rows. Norma Desmond says in Sunset Boulevard, “I am big. It's the pictures that got small.” Well, in modern Wales, we’ve had the big bang of devolution – it’s just that politics got small. We need to get back to the big ideas; the ideas that can transform the nation. And we need to convince people we can deliver on them. I will do my share, but I need your support and help to move our party on.
I believe those ideas exist in this Party already, they just haven’t been shared widely enough yet. I’m sure many of you already have your own thoughts. Too many people within our communities are not represented in our politics, too many potentially good policies are not discussed. Wales is not doing so well that we can afford to ignore good ideas.
Now, not all of these are going to be practical, and I can’t guarantee that we will be able to use them all. Some may just not be practical in the current economic climate. But I want to hear them anyway, and I guarantee that every one will be given full consideration.
There are two ways in which you can put your views forward.
I’ve set up a new e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Or, if e-mail isn’t your thing, then good old fashioned pen and paper is every bit as valuable - you can write me a ‘proper’ letter and stick it in the post to the address above. .
In 2009 I want to blaze a trail for the Welsh Liberal Democrats across Welsh Politics. You achieved a significant first in 2008 by electing me as the first female party leader - but I want this to be just the first of many barriers that we break through together.
In 2008 I want you to ask what you can do to get the torch of Liberalism burning brighter in your community. I can’t change this country on my own. but together I believe we can.
Blwyddyn Newydd Da/ Happy New Year.