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Thursday, 24 December 2009

Thameslink - news for passengers

The Hendon Times reports the positive outcome of my talks with First Capital Connect about Thameslink. As the paper says, the company informed me of a new plan to compensate passengers on its Thameslink route, which covers Hendon and Mill Hill Broadway stations.


Larry Heyman, a senior manager at First Capital Connect, told me that, in January, the company will inform regular passengers of how to claim a voucher equating to five days' free travel anywhere on First Capital Connect's network. The five-day travel vouchers will be available to holders of season tickets and weekly, monthly and annual travelcards. He also said that a normal service is expected to be resumed on Thameslink on Monday 18 January, assuming that Aslef members vote to accept First Capital Connect's latest offer.

I had arranged to meet Mr Heyman after local people had informed me of appalling problems using Thameslink. Thameslink passengers have suffered an emergency timetable (with only half the usual number of trains) since November, due to a dispute between First Capital Connect and trade union Aslef.

My talks with First Capital Connect were most constructive. This dispute has caused terrible inconvenience to Thameslink’s passengers. I shall continue to work with the company to ensure that it delivers on its promises. Mr Heyman pledged to write to me in detail after Christmas and has suggested meeting to review progress in the New Year. I am most grateful to him for his help with this matter.

Incidentally, passengers can already claim compensation if they are delayed for thirty minutes or more according to Thameslink’s regular timetable.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Mayor questioned on Thameslink

My Lib Dem colleague Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the London Assembly's Transport Committee, has raised Thameslink's recent problems with the London Mayor. Hopefully, Caroline's question will add to the pressure to sort these problems out. I look forward to my meeting on Monday 21 December with a a senior manager at First Capital Connect to discuss these problems and how to solve them. The recent dispute has caused great inconvenience to passengers using Mill Hill Broadway and Hendon stations.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Northern Line split - questions still need answering

In October, I emailed the London Mayor to oppose a permanent split between the Bank and Charing Cross branches of the Northern Line, which had been mooted. I have received an email from the General Manager of the Northern Line in response. I have replied with some further queries, as it still appears that Transport for London could be planning to split the branches at certain non-peak times of the day - a really bad idea.

At the moment, you can get trains in and out of town on the Edgware branch via either Bank or Charing Cross. If the line was split so that all Edgware trains were via Bank at certain times of the day, you'd ALWAYS have to change trains at Camden Town to get a Charing Cross train at those times of the day, which would cause great inconvenience to regular passengers. The same would be true if all Edgware trains were via Charing Cross, which could also happen if the line was permanently split - either way, I think it is a really bad idea.

Signing the Cancer Commitment

I have just signed Cancer Research UK's Cancer Commitment, which was drawn to my attention by a number of people in Hendon. The charity invited me (and all other Parliamentary candidates) to pledge that, if elected, I "will seek to help make the UK’s cancer outcomes among the best in Europe in the next ten years and will support measures to:
  • Detect cancer earlier
  • Provide world-class cancer treatments
  • Prevent more cancers
  • Tackle cancer inequalities
  • Protect the UK’s research base."
Having sadly lost both of my grandmothers to cancer, I strongly support this - why should the UK's cancer outcomes not be the best in Europe, if not the world? If we can run a world-class Olympics in 2012 and if we can provide some of the best brains behind the Large Hadron Collider, then we can be the best at this as well.

First Capital Connect: progress report

I am pleased to report that First Capital Connect have been good enough to reply to my email in a timely fashion, with a relevant manager having kindly agreed to meet. I'll set this up and report back after it has happened. Obviously, the current state of affairs on the former Thameslink route is deeply unsatisfactory for passengers. At the meeting, I shall be seeking the company's assurances that their talks with the unions will soon have reached a positive conclusion - so that passengers stop suffering the awful inconvenience to which they have been subjected on this line. We need to know what action is being taken to end the current problems and prevent a recurrence in the future.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Resolving problems with First Capital Connect

Many residents have been greatly inconvenienced by ongoing problems involving First Capital Connect's service on the former Thameslink route. In light of this, I have approached First Capital Connect and requested a meeting with someone senior to discuss what is being done to improve the service and solve the problems. I am pleased to report that the company has emailed to say that they will arrange for me to meet one of their directors soon. I'll report back on that when there is news. Do please get in touch if you have anything in particular to report about your experiences as a customer on this line.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Wave - Stop Climate Chaos on 5 December

A friend has alerted me to The Wave, a major day of campaigning being undertaken by the non-party group Stop Climate Chaos on 5 December, to coincide with the Copenhagen Summit. It sounds like it will be great fun as well as important, so the more people who want to support it, the better.

Newsnight on Michal Kaminski - deeply troubling

Newsnight tonight had a fascinating, deeply troubling piece about Michal Kaminski, the Conservative Party's Polish ally in the European Parliament. This feature explains what was said on the programme. The Conservative Party should be deeply concerned about this matter - as should anyone who is thinking of voting Conservative. I unreservedly repeat my condemnation of the Conservatives' new alliance with the right-wing fringe of European politics. Churchill and Macmillan must be turning in their graves!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Diabetes research: send the Prime Minister a message

Sarah Ludford, Lib Dem MEP for London, has drawn people's attention to the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation's (JDRF) latest campaign to increase research towards finding the cure for type 1 diabetes. Ahead of World Diabetes Day on 14 November, the JDRF plans to collect at least 10,000 people's messages about this issue, and deliver them to the Prime Minister on 9 November. This is a great idea, so click here to leave your message. Money spent on medical research today can save more money spent on treating people's illnesses tomorrow. Sarah Ludford, by the way, is co-chair of the European Parliament's diabetes working group - a good example of the way in which the Parliament does work of direct relevance to people's ordinary lives, contrary to the impression that the media often gives us.

Friday, 30 October 2009

More news on my TA petition


The Hendon Times has posted this story about my Downing Street petition against TA cuts, now that the Prime Minister has backed down and abandoned the cuts. I am pleased to have been part of the campaign against these cuts and it's great that the Government eventually saw sense. Labour's proposed six-month halt to all TA training was a really bad idea.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Brown backs down on TA training cuts

The Government has finally abandoned its plan for a six-month halt to all TA training. I am really pleased that this has happened, and I hope that my Downing Street petition played some role in pressuring Gordon Brown into this climbdown. It was a completely mistaken cut from start to finish and I don't know what Labour was thinking of.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

TA climbdown alters nothing substantial

The Government has slightly amended its planned six-month halt to all TA training. A £20m spending cut has become a £17.5m spending cut. Spot the difference. They surely might as well not have bothered amending the plans at all, if they were not going to amend them significantly. I again urge you all to join the thousands who have signed my Downing Street petition urging Labour not to halt all TA training for six months. If we keep up the pressure, Gordon Brown might further shift his position.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Shadow Defence Minister Bob Russell signs my TA petition

Thousands of people have signed my petition to the Prime Minister opposing the six-month halt to Territorial Army training. I've had an email to say that Bob Russell MP, Lib Dem Shadow Defence Minister, is among them - for which thanks! Why not add your name? The more people sign the petition, the more likely it is to generate such publicity as to force the Government to think again.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Quiz Supper on Saturday 14 November

If you would like to buy tickets for Barnet Liberal Democrats' Quiz Supper, please click here for info, including contact details. This will be a fun quiz night with no politics, and you're welcome either to come on your own or with a group of people. We are asking people to please book in advance, so that we know how many people to cater for. I hope to see lots of you there.

Colonel Kemp's UN testimony on Gaza

I was fascinated to read Colonel Richard Kemp's testimony to the UN Human Rights Council on the Gaza War. I agree with his expert opinion and would recommend this (short) piece to anyone interested in the politics of the Middle East - this really deserves to be seen.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Northern Line plans clarified - good news

On Tuesday, I asked the London Mayor for clarification of his plans for the Northern Line. In response to this, a local newspaper, the Times, has spoken to Transport for London (TfL). TfL told the paper that they currently have no plans to permanently split the Northern Line and I welcome their commitment to continued improvements to the Line's reliability. I shall continue to monitor the detail of what TfL is proposing and remain utterly opposed to any plans to reduce the number of Bank or Charing Cross trains on the Edgware branch. I raised this with the Mayor after a local resident had drawn it to my attention, so if there are any other issues that you would like me to raise on your behalf, please email me at matthew@barnetlibdems.org.uk and I shall gladly respond.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

My Downing Street Petition: End the six-month halt to TA training

The Government has ordered the Territorial Army to cease all training for six months. I have petitioned the Prime Minister asking him to reconsider - this is not the right way to save money. The TA provides troops who serve in Afghanistan and other places and Labour is totally wrong to impose this halt to training. I urge you to sign the petition and we'll see if we can change Gordon Brown's mind on this.

Don't split the Northern Line - my email to Boris Johnson

Railnews reports that London Mayor Boris Johnson could be considering a permanent split between the Bank and Charing Cross branches of the Northern Line. I have emailed the Mayor to say that this is a really bad idea. It would mean that ALL trains to and from Edgware were via Bank and ALL trains to and from High Barnet/Mill Hill East were via Charing Cross (or vice versa). So, if, for instance, you commute from Hendon Central into Bank or Tottenham Court Road each day, and you now found yourself living on the "wrong" branch of the Northern Line, you would have to change trains at Camden Town twice a day, every day, instead of getting a through train right from the start of each journey. I look forward to getting a reply from Mr Johnson soon.

Letter in The Independent

I have a letter in today's Independent. Here is the background, and the letter itself reads:

'Influential friends' woo the parties

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (12 October) claims that "all three parties were lavishly entertained by the over-influential Friends of Israel" at the recent party conferences.

At the Liberal Democrat Conference, the Friends of Israel's sole gathering was a fringe meeting about President Obama's efforts towards Middle East peace. As at most fringe meetings, drinks and sandwiches were available, but nobody was "lavishly entertained"; had Yasmin attended what was essentially a symposium on the peace process, she might well have enjoyed it.

There are also groupings of Liberal Democrat Friends of India, Palestine and Pakistan – are they also to be described as "overly-influential"? I drank a glass of wine at the Friends of Palestine's meeting before asking some critical questions, but I don't consider myself to have been "lavishly entertained" or "over-influenced". The Friends of India's reception was at what sounds like an excellent Indian restaurant, but I don't hear Yasmin complaining that guests were "lavishly entertained" at this event.

Why can Friends of Israel not make a normal contribution to the foreign policy debate without being labelled "over-influential" by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown?

Monday, 12 October 2009

Ongoing success of Save the Bull

I am delighted to see that Garden Suburb Theatre are putting on a play at the Bull Arts Centre on Barnet High Street later this month. I was a leader of the non-party campaign to save the Bull when it looked as if Barnet Council might sell its building. We campaigned for it to remain a place that could be hired by local arts groups. It is now occupied by Susi Earnshaw Theatre School and can be hired out of hours by groups like Garden Suburb Theatre, including groups from Hendon. This is exactly what we had in mind throughout the campaign and I am really proud that we achieved this.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Two jaw-dropping articles

Two articles that today made me wonder if I should laugh or if I should cry. First, Anne McElvoy on "the women who built Brand Cameron". I'd label this piece "unintentionally hilarious", but I'm not sure about the "unintentionally" - this is a sharply-written article by Ms McElvoy. From the Conservative Party Conference, Ms McElvoy reports that: "'Progressive'" posters modelled on Soviet revolutionary posters hang around the conference hall, slogans altered to reflect Cameronian priorities such as 'social responsibility'." Modelled on Soviet revolutionary posters? Excuse me, but how many millions of people were killed as a result of the Soviet revolution?!

I also loved reports of: "healthy food stands serving freshly made muffins and local specialities, replacing stewed tea and stale buns." "Local specialities"? At a conference in Manchester?! I have myself previously enjoyed a party conference in Manchester, and I yield to noone in my respect for the city's many restaurants, but I don't recall any local culinary specialities in the Conference Centre. And when did muffins become "healthy"? What is this pretentious nonsense? It will be hilarious for people to read this in twenty years' time, when this achingly trendy guff will have dated quite hideously.

The second article is the Daily Mail's report of the latest farcical goings on among some of the Tories at Barnet Council (well, some of the latest farcical goings on - there are too many for the Daily Mail to have included them all in one article).

Democracy Day at Ravenscroft School


I was delighted yesterday to be invited to speak to Year 11 pupils at Ravenscroft School in Barnet. The school was having its "Democracy Day" and pupils were electing representatives to the new School Council. I was asked to speak to pupils about what it is like to be a candidate and how parties fight elections. I was also asked to offer some feedback to some of the pupils seeking election to the School Council. This was enjoyable and interesting and very well-run by the school. All the pupils' speeches were excellent and if Democracy Day gets these pupils interested in voting later in life, then that's terrific - bad people get elected when good people don't vote. Of course, the school had been fair and invited representatives of the other two main parties to participate, not just the Liberal Democrats.

Monday, 5 October 2009

With friends like these...

I am shocked and saddened that Roberts Ziles and Michal Kaminski are honoured guests at the Conservative Party Conference. I am astonished that David Cameron has moved his Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) into a new grouping with such people. By contrast, I am proud that the Lib Dem MEPs sit in the Parliament's liberal group.

Don't clamp down on immigration, warns UN

A report from the UN Development Programme has warned Britain and other countries not to clamp down on immigration during this recession. The report warns that such a clampdown would not produce the economic benefits that many people imagine - quite the contrary. It tells the truth about managed migration and reminds readers of its benefits. The Liberal Democrats' Policy Briefing on immigration sets out what we think about this issue.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

David Cameron shows his true colours

I was stunned by David Cameron's interview on today's Andrew Marr Show. Have a look and draw your own conclusions.

Friday, 2 October 2009

We need a public inquiry on torture


At last week's Liberal Democrat conference, I spoke in a debate on torture. The British Government stands accused of complicity in torture, and while the accusations remain unproven, we must have a proper public inquiry into what is alleged to have happened. Torture is not only morally wrong, but also totally inefficient - all the research shows that people being tortured will say anything to make it stop, rendering the "evidence" thus obtained useless.

Also at Conference, I was among the organisers of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel's (LDFI) fringe meeting, which was an exciting opportunity to hear about the latest American efforts to achieve Middle East peace. Nick Clegg visited LDFI's stall at the conference, and this picture shows (left to right) Nick, Cllr Monroe Palmer (LDFI's Chair), me and our Camden Lib Dem colleague Ed Fordham. We're shown holding LDFI's latest publication, a pamphlet by Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi on the challenges posed by Iran.

Ready to serve in Hendon



I would like to thank all the Hendon Liberal Democrat party members who attended last night's selection meeting, at which I was chosen as the Parliamentary candidate for Hendon. I thoroughly enjoyed answering members' questions after I had spoken, and I am truly honoured to have won the selection ballot. I now look forward to working hard to generate maximum support for the Liberal Democrats over the coming months.

For more on what I hope to achieve as candidate, see the local newspapers' coverage of my selection, in the Times and the Press.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Conference coverage can be crystal balls

Reading the coverage of the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth, it's worth remembering that the media viewed Barack Obama's nominating convention as a failure at the time - and I seem to recall he then did rather well in November. Here is The Times' coverage from back then, about Obama's "message being lost" and how it was all going wrong for the Democrats (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article4614994.ece).

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Three major festivals

One reminder of what the great faiths have in common is that their major festivals often coincide. This sometimes reflects their shared roots, particularly in the case of Judaism and Islam. Today is both Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Hindu festival of Navaratri; on Monday, Muslims celebreate Eid-Ul-Fitr. On behalf of Jewish agnostics everywhere, may I say "Le Shanah Tovah", "Eid Mubarak" and best wishes to the Hindu community for Navaratri. Click here to read Nick Clegg's Rosh Hashanah greetings.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Two-faced Tories show true face

So the Tories have expelled the pro-European MEP Edward McMillan-Scott. They would rather be in the company of fringe parties from the extremes of European politics, than be in the company of a veteran moderate like Mr McMillan-Scott. That tells me all I need to know about the reality behind David Cameron's claim to have led "the nasty party" into the liberal centre. See here for more on this story (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8257926.stm).

Monday, 14 September 2009

Will Hutton in The Observer

I was fascinated to read Will Hutton's column in yesterday's Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/13/budget-national-debt-will-hutton). He is challenging the conventional wisdom. I don't know if he is right, but this is a very interesting debate.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Hamas on the Holocaust: "a lie invented by the Zionists"

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsMaps/idUSTRE57T1JW20090830 Someone please tell me which is worse: Hamas complaining that the UN is teaching kids about the Holocaust, or the UN reassuring Hamas that it isn't teaching kids about the Holocaust after all?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

A sick joke in Cuba

The BBC reports that Cuban President Raul Castro told his "parliament" that: "he had not been elected to return Cuba to capitalism." And I'm inwardly shouting like Toby Ziegler: "Of course he wasn't elected to return Cuba to capitalism! That's because HE WASN'T ELECTED!" What really gets me is that if the Castro brothers were fascist dictators, we'd (rightly) never hear the end of their infamy. But because they're communists, people who would never have gone on holiday to Pinochet's Chile or apartheid-era South Africa think that there's something romantic about a Cuban regime that puts people in labour camps for the crime of saying: "Hmm, I've been thinking, how about maybe someone else should be allowed to stand for President?" Amnesty International tells it well here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/cuba

Friday, 17 July 2009

Obama's Middle East Chess Game

From the FT, an excellent analysis by Philip Stephens. Find the whole article here; this comes highly recommended.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

In the heart of the EU: sickles, hacks and hatred

From Hungary comes news of a local councillor urging council colleagues to take up "sickles and hacks" and "cleanse" the local synagogue. And if I was blogging every time I saw a story like this, we'd all be here all day. The same newspaper that first alerted me to this story carried, on the same page, a story about a Jewish family having to flee Yemen after a grenade was thrown into its home. We live in interesting (if under-reported) times, and I'm not sure if everyone realises just how interesting they unfortunately are.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

BBC DEC row: confusions and contradictions

I am a passionate supporter of the BBC and its editorial independence. I strongly resent any row in which shouty people try to force the BBC to change an editorial decision. The price we pay for the BBC's neutrality is that it sometimes makes decisions with which one disagrees - and nobody should seek to shout those decisions down, however unpalatable they may sometimes be. The BBC's decision not to show the DEC Appeal is the BBC's decision and the BBC's decision alone. It is ironic that the very people (including Government ministers!) who are now insisting that the BBC change its mind are accusing other people of having bullied the BBC! Pot, kettle, etc. I suggest that the DEC could produce a Gaza appeal which is in line with the BBC's editorial policy and rules on impartiality. The Red Cross, a constituent body of the DEC, is raising funds for Palestinian AND Israeli civilians affected by this conflict. For example, at time of writing, if you text LIFE to 81400, it will cost you £1.50, most of which will be split equally between a hospital in Gaza and a hospital in Israel. Israel too has had its wounded, and the emergency medical service Magen David Adom (which gets no govenment funding) has faced greatly increased costs as a result of Hamas' rocket attacks (and Magen David Adom has opened a field hospital for wounded Palestinians in Gaza, with an emergency room and four ambulances to take patients to Israeli hospitals). Surely DEC could produce an appeal, based on the Red Cross's work, that the BBC would consider impartial and so be able to broadcast? Of course, the immense suffering of Palestinian people in this latest Gaza conflict far outweighs that of Israelis (which has still been considerable). It is vital to get aid into Gaza and I applaud British charities' work there. If the BBC does decide to show the DEC Appeal after all, then I will not be opposed to that. What I oppose is bullying of the BBC by politicians and others who insist that the BBC MUST show this appeal - hands off the BBC! Especially you Government Ministers, Messrs Bradshaw and Alexander. A final thought: a recent poll (http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/pollresults.htm if you scroll down to the questions about Gaza) of UK public opinion shows that 24% of people blame Hamas for the Gaza War, 18% blame Israel and 58% blame both sides equally or are not sure who to blame. That 58% do not go on demonstrations or shout angrily at the BBC. But they do pay their licence fee and expect the BBC to be an utterly impartial guide to the deeply complicated politics of Israel, Palestine and the wider Middle East.