Thursday, December 24, 2009

Brown should face Iraq inquiry music

Commenting on today’s statement from Sir John Chilcott which reveals that Gordon Brown, David Miliband and Douglas Alexander will not appear before the Iraq inquiry until after the election, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, Edward Davey said: “Giving special treatment to Labour ministers not only undermines the perception of independence of the inquiry but will damage the public’s trust in politics further still.

“This looks like a deal cooked up in Whitehall corridors to save Gordon Brown and his ministers from facing the music.

“Gordon Brown signed the cheques for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day.

“British soldiers will not be impressed by a Prime Minister unwilling to step into the firing line.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lib Dems will fight for fair bank charges in Parliament

Commenting on the OFT’s decision to drop its investigation into the fairness of bank overdraft charges, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said:

“This is extremely disappointing and a blow for millions of bank customers.

“Having come so close to overhauling an unfair system of charging that penalises vulnerable groups of people, I know that the campaign will not just stop.

“The Liberal Democrats will continue the fight for fair bank charges in Parliament and push for a change in the law if necessary so that high street banks cannot keep ripping off their customers.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Significant local by-elections

Frank Little writes:

I was waiting for one of the sites which I regularly visit to comment on these results, but surprisingly none of them picked up on them.

By-Election Results: Thursday 10th December 2009.

Bedford BC, Kingsbrook
LD Andrew Gerard 661 (49.4; +3.1)
Lab 370 (27.6; +3.5)
Con 150 (11.2; -9.2)
Others Ind 85 / Ind 73 (11.8; +11.8)
[Green (0.0; -9.2)]
Majority 291
Turnout 13%
LD hold
Percentage change is since June 2009.

East Dunbartonshire UA, (Ward number 3) Bearsden South
LD Ashay Ghai 1110 (29.4; +3.0)
Con 1261 (33.4; +9.0)
SNP 783 (20.7; +1.6)
Lab 626 (16.6; -2.7)
[Green (0.0; -5.1)]
[Others (0.0; -5.7)]
Turnout not known.
LD gain from Con.
Percentage change is since May 2007.

[STV process details redacted ;-)]

Hastings BC, St Helens
Con 609 (40.7; -17.9)
Lab 550 (36.7; +12.5)
LD John Tunbridge 210 (14.0; -3.2)
BNP 93 (6.2; +6.2)
Others (English Democrats) 36 (2.4; +2.4)
Majority 59
Turnout 37.4%
Con hold
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Nuneaton and Bedworth BC, Camp Hill
Lab 670 (47.1; +17.0)
BNP 478 (33.6; -2.6)
Con 275 (19.3; -9.7)
[Others (0.0; -4.7)]
Majority 192
Turnout 27.6%
Lab gain from BNP
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Peterborough BC, West
Con 1252 (58.4; +4.1)
Lab 341 (15.9; +0.9)
LD Virginia McDermid 224 (10.4; +7.4)
UKIP 177 (8.3; +8.3)
Others (English Democrats) 93 (4.3; -20.1)
Green 58 (2.7; -0.5)
Majority 911
Turnout 34%
Con hold
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Rushmoor BC, Heron Wood
Lab 437 (41.6; +11.6)
LD Philip Thompson 354 (33.7; -8.1)
Con 259 (24.7; -3.5)
Majority 83
Turnout 22%
Lab gain from LD
Percentage change is since May 2008.

West Devon BC, Tavistock South
LD Kirstie Clish-Green 523 (45.8; +33.5)
Con 450 (39.4; +13.6)
Ind 170 (14.9; -47.1)
Majority 73
Turnout not known
LD gain from Con
Percentage change is since May 2007.

Westminster LBC, Queens Park
Lab 814 (62.6; +10.2)
Con 211 (16.2; -13.7)
Green 152 (11.7; +11.7)
LD Mark Blackburn 123 (9.5; -8.1)
Majority 603
Turnout not known
Lab hold
Percentage change is since May 2006.

Weymouth and Portland BC, Wyke Regis
Lab 579 (40.1; +3.9)
Con 486 (33.7; -30.1)
LD Trefor Morgan 268 (18.6; +18.6)
Citizens Party 111 (7.7; +7.7)
Majority 93
Turnout 33.41%
Lab gain from Con
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Wyre Forest DC, Areley Kings
Lab 544 (38.3; +5.5)
Independent Community Health Concern 421 (29.6; -2.4)
Con 394 (27.7; -7.5)
UKIP 63 (4.4; +4.4)
Majority 56
Turnout 30.96%
Lab gain from Con
Percentage change is since May 2008.

Goole TC, North
Lab 358 (42.0)
LD Brian Knight 322 (37.8)
UKIP 172 (20.2)
Majority 36
Turnout 17.7%
Lab hold

Hythe TC, West
Con 556 (54.4)
LD Neil Matthews 466 (45.6)
Majority 90
Turnout 34.6%
Con hold

Ivybridge TC, Ivybridge Woodlands
Ind 226 (55.7)
Ind 180 (44.3)
Majority 46
Turnout 11.87%
Ind hold

Rustington PC, East
LD Jamie Bennett elected unopposed.
LD gain from Con.

Stourpoint TC, Areley Kings West
Independent Community Health Concern 294 (41.9)
Con 238 (33.9)
Lab 136 (19.4)
UKIP 34 (4.8)
Majority 56
Turnout 33.86%
Ind gain from Con

This was the first Thursday for many weeks on which so many by-elections took place. It is therefore possible to get a better picture of what is happening out there than from the usual ones and twos.

The first thing to note is that there is no consistent swing to the Conservatives. Indeed, their vote share went down in twice as many contests as it went up. Secondly, Labour is making gains once again, while we are continuing to hold our own (two gains, one loss, in this batch of results).

These are real polls, not newspaper opinion surveys. The professionals are aware of this, hence the increasing confidence shown by Gordon Brown at PMQs, the exhortation by Eric Pickles to Conservative party workers to redouble their efforts and the attempts by both parties to woo Liberal Democrat voters. This may also be the reason for the speculation about a general election earlier than the generally accepted date of May 6th.

Of course, national media coverage will be more important at the general election. The money flowing to the Conservatives (only a few years after it looked they might have to sue for bankruptcy!) and away from Labour is going to enable them to raise their profile. Even so, it looks increasingly unlikely that Labour's overall majority of 60-odd is going to be reversed by the Conservatives.

But for me the most significant result was the BNP failing to hold Camp Hill in Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough. This did not seem to register with the national press, who delight in talking up the BNP. To be fair, one Sun reader drew attention to the fact that BNP has great difficulty in holding on to council seats.

Monday, December 21, 2009

1,000 children held at detention centres for more than a month

Nearly a thousand children have been held in detention centres for longer than 28 days in the last five and a half years, research by the Liberal Democrats has found.

The information, revealed in a Parliamentary answer, shows:

889 children from 488 families were referred to a Minister for authorisation to be detained beyond 28 days between 2004/05 and 2009/10

A record number - 212 children from 122 families - were detained last year (2008/09)

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne has also written to Alan Johnson to raise the plight of children in detention centres.

Commenting, Chris Huhne said: “These are the most extreme and most worrying cases out of nearly 500 children who appear to be detained at any one time.

“It is a moral stain on this country’s proud reputation in accepting refugees that we are routinely locking up children for months at a time even though they have committed no crime.

We are physically and psychologically harming children completely unnecessarily, as Sweden, Canada and Australia have shown there are a host of alternatives to detention.

“It is astonishing that Ministers can say this only happens in exceptional circumstances when they have personally signed off hundreds of cases.

“It is profoundly un-British to lock up innocent children at any time, but particularly poignant at Christmas.

“The Government must find its long lost moral compass and end the detention of children in immigration centres.”

Update 2009/12/22 The "Free Movement" web-site which comments on asylum and immigration law reports that the United Kingdom Borders Agency is already operating a more draconian procedure which does not officially come into force until 11th January 2010. "The new policy is, of course, couched in the weasely words and siren sounds one comes to expect of UKBA press releases and policy documents. The section that most sticks in the throat (there is competition) is about a so-called ‘best interests’ policy for not giving children any notice of their impending removal. Apparently it is in their best interests only to find out when they rock up at the airport. The modern UKBA tendency to dress up way they want to do as what they should do in the best interests of children is a disgraceful development."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bandying around big numbers no substitute for just climate agreement

Commenting on Hillary Clinton’s announcement that the US might cooperate in a $100bn-a-year climate fund as talks in Copenhagen appeared close to deadlock, Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Simon Hughes said:

“For all the diplomatic brinkmanship, it is alarming that ministers in Copenhagen are increasingly pessimistic about the chances of a comprehensive agreement.

“World leaders should not be tempted to sign a watered-down declaration in order to save face.

“Poor and developing nations have the right to insist on generous and guaranteed adaptation funds to help deal with the harms that they will suffer most from climate change.

“Bandying around fine words and big numbers is no substitute for a just agreement. This must include mechanisms that put the world firmly on course for a low-carbon future."

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats response to boundary change proposals

Speaking in the Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council debate last Wednesday, Cllr Frank Little (Cadoxton), said:

"I apologise on behalf of our group leader, Cllr Keith Davies, who cannot be with us today, but he has left me a bit of a history lesson.

"We must not forget the changes that were made at the 1983 district elections, breaking up large multi-member wards, with the specified aim of an improvement in accountability. This was reinforced when the former West Glamorgan County Council was reorganised for the 1989 election.

"We also draw attention to the letter to the Boundary Commission from the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government. Dr Gibbons stresses 'the need to fix boundaries which are easily identifiable and which recognise local community ties'.

"These local ties have worked well, giving greater accountability and democracy here in the county borough, and the county before it, for twenty years.

"The changes proposed by the Boundary Commission increase the number of multi-member wards for no good reason other than fitting a mathematical formula, which the leader of our group on the Welsh LGA claims they do not understand anyway. Some of the resulting boundaries are ridiculous and result in wards being divided by geography.

"Madam mayor, I accept that change is inevitable in ward boundaries, as some communities grow, and some shrink. I also accept that one or two of the existing wards , where there are none of the special circumstances identified in the council's original response, are probably too small to justify a councillor to themselves.

"However, the Commission's proposals disregard the clearly-expressed opinion of the elected minister and would set back local democracy for a generation. I personally prefer negotiation and compromise to confrontation. If the Boundary Commission's proposals were reasonable, I would suggest responding with reasoned amendments. But they are so unrealistic that I have no hesitation in supporting the Council's proposal to reject them outright, and the terms in which Mr Graham's letter of rejection is couched."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disastrous fire at Afan Lido

The Afan Leisure complex was severely damaged and surrounding homes and facilities disrupted by a fire which started last night. There is more news, with comments, here. We note that the Neath Port Talbot cabinet has given a virtually open-ended commitment to a complete restoration.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who rates the rating agencies?

Chris Huhne asks the question on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Cameron’s tax plan is a sham – Huhne

 Commenting on David Cameron’s plans to bar people who do not pay full UK tax from Parliament and the Government, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said: 

“David Cameron’s plan is a sham. The super rich like Lord Ashcroft, Zac Goldsmith or Labour’s Lord Paul can be fully resident for tax purposes in the UK, but if they are able to opt for non-dom status they will not pay a penny in UK tax on their main fortune outside Britain.

“David Cameron has still failed to answer the key question: is Lord Ashcroft a non-dom, yes or no? If he is a non-dom, Cameron’s tax plan will not catch him.

“The only reason David Cameron is putting forward this plan now is because of the revelation that his high-profile candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has avoided an estimated £5.8 million in British taxes over the last ten years.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the Tories to suggest a new law when they opposed Liberal Democrat Lord Oakeshott’s bill to stop non-doms sitting as peers.

“Someone who wants to pass laws about tax in this country ought to pay this country’s full taxes, and not hide behind the special offshore status of non-doms.

“Zac Goldsmith, even on the most conservative estimates, has avoided vast amounts of British tax by deploying the non-dom tax dodge. If he challenges our estimate of how much tax he has dodged, then I put to him a simple challenge: publish your tax returns for the last ten years, and I will publish mine.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Change of top officers

The Chair of Aberavon & Liberal Democrats for the coming year is Helen Ceri Clarke. Frank Little assumes the Secretaryship. Other posts remain unchanged.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Double-counting even afflicts Labour expenses

A correspondent from a neighbouring constituency has spotted (on this site) that Huw Irranca-Davies, MP for Ogmore and Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a single donation to the Royal British Legion and claimed for it twice on expenses.

Lib Dems push to delete Henry VIII clause in Digital Economy Bill

Liberal Democrat peer, Tim Clement-Jones has tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to delete controversial Clause 17 which would allow the Government to change copyright law in the future without further debate or scrutiny.

Lord Clement-Jones said:

"This clause would give the Government carte-blanche to change all copyright law relating to the internet as and when they please.

“Such powers are unnecessary and over-reaching and we have tabled an amendment to delete Clause 17.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small businesses let down by Government’s cavalier attitude to investment

Commenting on today’s National Audit Office report on the Government’s venture capital support schemes for small businesses, Liberal Democrat Shadow Business Secretary, John Thurso said: 

“The report’s findings make shocking reading.

“The Government has created 28 different funds using taxpayers’ money for nine years without any idea of what it wants to achieve. No private investor would demonstrate such a cavalier attitude to investment.

“Funds created by Government are performing significantly worse than their private sector equivalents. The £74m invested in Regional Venture Capital Funds has lost 92% of its value.

“We need to connect private investors with promising businesses by creating Local Enterprise Funds and Regional Stock Exchanges so that Government facilitates investment rather than squandering it.”

Vince Cable on the PBR

Vince Cable's statement on the Pre-Budget Report is here, and he imitates The Man in Black on video here.

Those parliamentary expenses

The latest report is here.

If you're a student, make sure your vote counts

Matthew Smith has advice at Freedom Central.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Conservatives reduce target seat expectations

Liberal Democrat Voice reports that Cheadle MP Mark Hunter is one of those cheering as the Times asserts that the Conservatives have realised that many of the seats they hoped to win at the 2010 general election are beyond their reach, and have therefore scaled back their campaigns in the less marginal ones.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Government misled us over rendition

Commenting on Reprieve’s claims that the Government misled Parliament over the rendition of two suspects from Iraq to Afghanistan, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, Edward Davey said: 

“The Government appears to have misled Parliament over a number of facts that were central to its attempted defence of the rendition of these prisoners. 

“Parliament was never given enough detail on this incident in the first place. Bob Ainsworth must come to the House of Commons and set the record straight. 

“This is clearly an area that Sir John Chilcot should consider as part of his ongoing inquiry. The public will be very disappointed if he does not tackle the matter of detention and treatment of Iraqi prisoners head on.”

Liberal Democrats on public sector pay

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's pre-budget report by Chancellor Darling, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable announced Liberal Democrat proposals for restraint and fairness in public sector pay. 

The proposals would cap public sector pay rises at £400 per person to limit the growth of the public sector pay bill while ensuring fairness for teachers, nurses, police officers and other public sector workers.

The progressive measure will save taxpayers about £4bn a year while reducing pressure on front line services and protecting jobs.

Commenting Vince Cable said:

“Public sector pay makes up a quarter of all public spending so any serious and credible attempt to limit spending must include proposals on pay rises. 

“Unlike the Tories who would freeze the salaries of millions of teachers, police officers, nurses and firemen while cutting taxes for millionaires, these proposals would ensure pay rises for key frontline services that are fair and economically realistic.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, Jeremy Browne addressed Gordon Brown’s speech on efficiency savings in Government. He said that efficiency savings  were useless without fundamental reform . 

“Gordon Brown has spent over 12 years signing the cheques for an increasingly inefficient and centralised system of Whitehall bureaucracy.

“Greater efficiency is always welcome, but we will not get the improvements we need until there is fundamental reform in Whitehall.

“Central Government is too big, too powerful and too expensive. The Liberal Democrats would scrap entire departments and introduce massive decentralisation, making politics better, cheaper and more accountable.”

Monday, December 07, 2009

Lack of clarity in Labour and Tory approaches to banks – Cable

Commenting on Alistair Darling’s warnings that he will not be ‘held to ransom’ by the banks and George Osborne’s assertion that he wouldn’t rule out a windfall tax on bonuses, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

“There is a complete lack of clarity at the heart of the Labour and Tory approaches to banks.

“The simple and correct approach, since many banks are returning to high levels of profitability, is for banks to pay for the taxpayer guarantee that they currently enjoy.

“A 10% levy on bank profits would raise around £2bn in current conditions and would go to paying down the deficit.

“This is a much more effective solution than a one off levy and recognises the debt that the banks owe to the taxpayer.”

Cameron must stop avoiding the tax dodge question - Huhne

Commenting on David Cameron’s Politics Show interview, in which he tried to distinguish between the Commons and the Lords on whether non-dom tax status is acceptable, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“Cameron’s talking nonsense to say that the Lords has no responsibility for the economy. Many Lords votes really matter for public spending and therefore tax.

“David Cameron must stop dodging the question of whether Lord Ashcroft is a full UK taxpayer.

“If it is wrong for a legislator in the Commons not to pay full UK tax, it is equally wrong for a legislator in the Lords not to pay full UK tax.

“David Cameron must answer the simple question: is Lord Ashcroft a non-dom or not?”

NHS IT programme has been disastrously flawed from the start – Lamb

Commenting on reports that the multi-billion-pound NHS IT programme is to be dramatically scaled back in the Pre-Budget Report, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said:

“This whole programme has been disastrously flawed from the start.

“It has held back the development of IT at a local level, cost billions and is running years behind schedule.

“Labour has been in denial for years and this is a belated and partial recognition of the scale of their failure.

“The truth is that the national programme should be abandoned in its entirety, subject to existing contractual obligations, and instead we should start building from the bottom.”

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Up to 4,800 Aberavon people will benefit from Lib Dem tax plans

The Liberal Democrats have unveiled radical new tax plans to help millions of people across the country.

The party’s new tax plans will see tax cuts for millions of people, paid for by closing tax loopholes, making polluters pay and introducing a ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth over £2million.

Prospective parliamentary candidate for Aberavon, Keith Davies, said: "These are ambitious plans which will mean that up to 4,800 people in Aberavon pay no tax at all.

"In addition to this, a further 18,960 people in Aberavon will save £700 a year - giving them an extra £60 a month in their pay packets. The vast majority of taxpayers in Aberavon will benefit from our fair tax plans.”

Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: “This will help more people who are feeling the pinch at the moment to get by – and boost the economy by making sure ordinary hard-working people are better off.

"It is time for a more fair and simple tax system - and it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are the only party with the plans to do this."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NHS drug shortages: over to you, Carwyn

In one of his last appearances as First Minister in the Welsh Assembly yesterday, Rhodri Morgan did not deny the difficulties the NHS in Wales had in supplying drugs. Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams put it to him at First Minister's Questions that suppliers were diverting even some essential medicines from Wales because they were able to receive better prices elsewhere. Far from disagreeing, Mr Morgan even added the example of New Zealand, another country which had a tough drug pricing regime. He did not propose a way out of the trouble, clearly preferring to leave it to his successor-elect, Carwyn Jones, to find a solution.

Hain solution to Barnett completely ignores the funding problem in Wales

Kirsty Williams dismisses empty promise by the Secretary of State.