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Monday, 28 February 2011

Signing the Refugee Council's 60th anniversary pledge

My maternal grandparents were German Jewish refugees who came to this country as asylum seekers. To mark the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, the UK's Refugee Council (which is also celebrating its 60th anniversary this year) is seeking 10,000 signatures for its 60th anniversary pledge. I have signed and I hope that many other people will do so. Anyone who disagrees with the pledge should think carefully not only about how their own ancestors came to enter this country, but also about what they would do if they or their children themselves had to flee this country seeking refuge from persecution. You can sign here, and the pledge reads:
Refugees have fled war, torture and persecution. Refugees must always be treated with dignity and respect, and properly supported to rebuild their lives.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, I call on the UK government to ensure that our asylum system is fair, humane and effective, enabling refugees to find a safe haven and a new home here.
I urge the government to show international leadership on refugee issues and to encourage all countries to meet their obligations toward refugees.
I am proud that the UK protects refugees.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Don't let the grit spoil the Oyster

I like the Oyster system in public transport in London. We moan when things like that fail, but Oyster has been a triumphant success. There are inevitable problems, even with the best of systems. So credit must go to my Lib Dem colleague Caroline Pidgeon for looking into what happens when an Oyster user is wrongly charged the maximum fare for a pay-as-you-go journey. Caroline, who leads the London Assembly's Liberal Democrat Group, has raised this issue with London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has provided the following explanation, which usefully explains why this problem sometimes occurs, and what Transport for London (TfL) is doing to prevent it:
Maximum fares are not overcharges. The terms of pay as you go (PAYG) make it quite clear that users must touch in and out to obtain the best fare. Maximum fares are charged to deter fraud and ensure that users validate their cards properly.
In principle, customers who do not touch in at the start of their journey are at risk of a maximum fare because they are travelling without a valid ticket. TfL calculates that between 60 and 80 per cent of the revenue raised through maximum fares would have been spent by customers if their Oyster card were validated correctly.
Approximately £10m of maximum fares are refunded to customers each year representing up to a quarter of all maximum charges.
Some four million Oyster cards are used for PAYG each month and the number of incorrectly validated journeys is falling.
75 per cent of these cards do not incur any maximum fare charges. Of the 20 - 25 per cent of cards incurring maximum fares each month, around 90 per cent incur one charge; with only a minority of users incurring more.
40 per cent of all maximum fares are incurred at National Rail stations. TfL and the Operators are examining ways of reducing this figure though it must be recognised that it is on National Rail that the greatest scope exists for fraud by customers travelling beyond the Oyster boundary.


Thursday, 24 February 2011

A book that changed my life

It is getting on for twenty years since I read Paul Johnson's History of the Modern World from 1917 to the 1990s, a masterpiece of conservative history, which deserves to be read by every liberal, whose prejudices it magnificently challenges - and we all need our prejudices challenged wholesale at least once or twice in a lifetime. It is to that book that I owe the realisation that, in the 1970s and 80s, Colonel Gaddafi tried to subdue "all of Chad by fire and sword, or rather by napalm and helicopter". Apart from Johnson, nobody has ever told me anything about this.

Did anybody care? Was there a campaign for an academic boycott? Did the Chad Solidarity Campaign mass for rallies in Trafalgar Square? Were we told that "the injustices faced by the Chadian people underly much of the anger that fuels global terrorism"? Nope. None of the above. Because almost nobody cared. Actually, having just looked it up, it turns out that I'm wrong. The French cared and so, in their way, did the Americans under Reagan. But nobody really remembers. Most of us who fancy we know a bit about foreign policy, what do we know about Chad? My point being, why are we surprised by what's now happening with Gaddafi, given his track record?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Is no news good news?

Having had a couple of things to attend to today, I haven't seen the News. Or read the News. Or heard it. Not in that formal sense, anyway. A friend texted to tell me that a favourite actor had died, but, that apart, I have no idea what has happened today. Has David Cameron decided that he doesn't like politics and given it all up to become a florist? Has there been a coup in Lichtenstein? Has David Miliband ruled himself out of being a judge on the next series of The X Factor? It's no good asking me.

It's like the old joke about the need not for Freedom of Information, but for Freedom from Information. And it strikes me that the world has today continued to spin on its axis without any input from me. I, a putative homme d'affaires, one who corresponds with important people and occasionally gets to visit impressive places (never mind name-dropping; place-dropping is just as bad - you know Larry Adler wanted to call his memoirs Namedrops Keep Falling On My Head?) - the news agenda carries on quite nicely without me, it seems. When Laurie Taylor was on the much-missed radio programme Stop The Week, he arrived to record it at Broadcasting House and brusquely announced himself to the commissionaire with the words: "Laurie Taylor. Stop the week", to which came the immortal response: "I can't, sir, it's only Wednesday." Was it De Gaulle who said to Churchill: "The graveyards are full of 'indispensible' men"? Simon Gray said that one should read The Death of Ivan Ilyich once a year, and he was right - either that or spend a day without the News.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The liberal agenda at the heart of government

I thoroughly enjoyed Radio 4's Analysis programme about The Orange Book, a 2004 book of essays by some leading Liberal Democrats. The programme contends that the Orange Book's ideas are now at the heart of the Coalition Government's agenda and will define centre-ground politics for many years to come. When did the BBC last have cause to report that any strand of Lib Dem thinking was at the heart of government thinking? Hooray! Had this course of events been revealed to the audience at one of the fringe meetings to launch the Orange Book at the 2004 Liberal Democrat Conference, many of us would have been both pleased and excited - and I say that as someone who was in the audience at one such meeting. The programme also gives a fair crack of the whip to those Liberal Democrats who are less enthusiastic about the Orange Book than others are, and also features some very interesting thoughts from the perhaps unlikely figure of David Davis. This is a timely, penetrating analysis by the ever-thoughtful Edward Stourton.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Events beyond satire in the Middle East

Tom Lehrer famously said that he could no longer be a satirist in a world in which Henry Kissinger could be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; such a world was already too satirical to be further satirised. The same is surely true of a world in which Libya has a Justice Minister in the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, and now he resigns - now, not during the many years of torture and repression that went before, but now, when his boss is reportedly on a plane to join his friend and fellow tyrant Hugo Chavez in Venezeula (and I wonder what Hugo's other best friend, Ken Livingstone, has to say about that?). Libya's UN delegation, meanwhile, has gone on the BBC to proclaim that it does not represent Colonel Gaddafi, but instead represents the Libyan people - like hell it does. Talk about shutting the unstable door after the dictator's bolted. I may be doing them an injustice, of course; after all, Denis Worrall, South Africa's ambassador to the UK in the 1980s, appeared to be an apologist for apartheid until he resigned and stood for South Africa's Parliament as a pro-reform liberal - maybe some Libyan diplomats (and even the Justice Minister) are in a similar position to that of Mr Worrall? Yesterday's Observer had Libya on its front page - I wonder when that paper last led its front page with a story about internal repression in an Arab state? It's probably been decades, given the blind eye that the world has chosen to turn towards the dictatorial regimes that dominate the Middle East.

Why Lord Patten gets my vote again

So Lord Patten appears set fair to be the next Chairman of the BBC Trust. As a supporter of the BBC, I think that this is great news, as he is a strong political animal who understands how things are done in government. My only wish is that we could go back to having the good old-fashioned Board of Governors of the BBC, but this sadly appears to be on nobody's agenda. I voted for Lord Patten to be Chancellor of the University of Oxford, it being a wonderful guilty pleasure to put a cross next to the name of a prominent Conservative. Actually, I didn't put a cross, I put a 1, as the election was being conducted by Alternative Vote. I wonder if David Cameron cast a ballot on that occasion? Talking of which, Andrew Rawnsley in yesterday's Observer was interesting on this - worth a look if you haven't already read it.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Made in Wales - but all about England

There used to be a TV commercial in which a Welsh choir sang about all the things that are "made in Wales", to demonstrate the impressive diversity of the Welsh economy. Not the Nine O'Clock News' memorable spoof was the same song, but about all the things that are "made from whales - all these things are made from whales". The midnight news just informed me of a speech by Ed Miliband that was made in Wales - but was all about England. This Parliament's first Labour Leader was today speaking at Labour's Welsh Spring Conference, a mere two months before voters go to the polls in the Welsh Assembly elections - and he chose to speak about NHS reforms that only apply in England, not in Wales, because he presumably cared more about radio listeners in London than he did about the audience that was in the hall.

Is that really the best that he can do so soon before Labour asks voters to give them control of the Welsh Assembly Government? I await with interest his eventual speech launching Labour's 2012 London mayoral election campaign, which will, by this logic, be all about Norfolk. Oh, and every time Mr Miliband mentions the forests, as he did today, he reminds the public of this government's refreshing tendency to admit when it is wrong and listen to its critics, so I hope he keeps bringing it up. It's like when Labour attacked the Government for changing its mind about cutting funding to a particular charity that provides books to children, as if this change of mind was somehow a bad thing.

Meanwhile, the tragic news from Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East, reminds me of something that President Clinton once said about Vietnam. I paraphrase, but when Mr Clinton went to Vietnam, he said that one reason for his going was that he wanted to remind Americans that "Vietnam" is not a war - it's a country. In the same vein, these latest, awful events will hopefully remind people that "the Middle East" is not a conflict, or a political problem, it's a region, comprising hundreds of millions of people living in many different countries. Israel/Palestine is roughly the size of Wales and is a tiny fraction of the Middle East's landmass; its population is, if memory serves me right, a mere 1.8% of the people who live in the region. Nick Cohen is right to argue that a disproportionate amount of reporting from the Middle East is usually devoted to Israel/Palestine.

I can hardly complain about people banging on about issues relating to Israel, given that I am often one of the bangers-on-in-chief, but there's still something unsettling about the way in which the dictatorial nature of most of the Middle East's regimes has been ignored for so long by so many people who should have known better. And this won't end in the Middle East. When the same democratic revolutions eventually happen in Venezuela and Cuba, the foreign policy media establishment's reaction will be: "Oh, didn't we ever get round to telling you? Yes, those countries are ruled by vicious dictatorships who imprison their opponents," even though this is something that everyone's known for years.

Also on the radio news was a story about Chuku Umunna, who I had thought was among the brightest of the 2010 Labour intake. He has complained that, in the last financial year in which Labour was still in power, Barclays apparently paid "only" £113m in corporation tax. Well, that may be true, and the Chancellor has indeed already said that Mr Umunna's right - the banks were paying too little tax under Labour, hence the tax changes that the Coalition has since introduced. But the main point is that Mr Umunna focuses only on corporation tax and ignores payroll taxes, including the huge sums that Barclays will have paid in employer's National Insurance Contributions, not to mention the Capital Gains Tax that the bank will have paid when it sold certain types of asset. Also, I'm sorry, but if a business is not breaking the law, then who cares how much tax it pays? Labour has made no proposals for taxation reform - so what is Mr Umunna proposing to actually do to bring in more tax from Barclays and the others?

And finally, the News also informed me that The Observer has a story about Baroness (Margaret ) Eaton, Chair of the Local Government Association, having warned that employees wil opt out en masse from the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) if required to make higher pension contributions. My first thought upon hearing that was to say: "Go on then - leave the scheme." And I say that as someone who used to pay into the scheme and will eventually get a tiny pension from it. Perhaps some people could actually do better making the same payments into private sector pension schemes? It's their choice. A glance at the story (which elevates Margaret Eaton to a "top Tory" to make the story sound exciting) shows that the reality is much more complicated than that and I'm sure the Government will negotiate sensibly to ensure an agreed solution for the future of the scheme - and we do need a viable LGPS that is fair (with particular protection for the lowest paid) and lasts for the long term, which, yes, could mean higher contributions from some employees.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Labour and the Lib Dems

This morning's Week in Westminster on BBC Radio 4 included a fascinating discussion about relations between Labour and the Lib Dems. When Labour thought that the Lib Dems were easily wooable, they weren't interested in doing much wooing. But now that Labour realises that Liberal Democrats in government can find other coalition partners, their pursuit of Lib Dems has become both more determined and more desperate. Of course, it's partly about wanting to make Labour appear liberal (some hope), win over Lib Dem voters and attack the Coalition. But it's also about Labour's fear that, having assumed for decades that Liberals would automatically work with them in a hung Parliament, they've been proven wrong. Also interesting in this piece was the suggestion that the 2015 General Election won't be about spending cuts, because the cuts will have been and gone by then and the economy will probably be growing - it will be about tax cuts. This is a timely reminder to all Lib Dems that the next General Election will be fought in a very different context from that of 2010, and is still more than four years away.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Not so special news coverage

Intriguing to hear BBC1's 10 O'Clock News report the good news that MI5 is now better than it used to be at sharing information with Special Branch - Special Branch hasn't existed for years. It merged into Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) a mere five years ago.

David Cameron and the Alternative Truth

As a supporter of the Coalition, I can't help liking David Cameron as Prime Minister, even if I disagree with him completely about the Alternative Vote - I'm campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum. I think he is pretty reasonable as Tories go and I like his style. I like his simply saying "no" when Ed Miliband asked him if he could honestly say that he was happy with his forestry policy. I like the fact that people who disagree with him don't appear to be taken out and shot in the way that they were under New Labour. And I like the fact that there is a genuine debate over the Big Society - exactly the sort of debate, over the underlying philosophy of a Prime Minister, that people have been saying they want. So, good luck to the guy. I still don't vote Conservative, I'm a Liberal Democrat, and I wish that we'd won the election and Nick Clegg was Prime Minister, but, nevertheless, there have certainly been Tories that I like less than I like David Cameron.

That said, there was something I didn't like about his speech opposing the Alternative Vote today. Mr Cameron is a consistent critic of electoral reform and can say what he likes, but he did something today that I don't like in speeches. He did the rhetorical trick of pretending not to understand something when, actually, he understood it full well. I don't like that. It's like when the Labour MP Brian Sedgemore defected to the Liberal Democrats and John Prescott claimed never to have heard of him - that was not true. He was a prominent-enough Labour MP for Mr Prescott definitely to have known him well.

Similarly, during the extended and rather boring death throes of the last government, when some Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) or other had resigned in protest at who-knows-what, and Harriet Harman on Question Time said how much we'd all miss so-and-so's hard work in government, when she knows full well that PPS don't do any hard work in government - they are MPs who (for no extra pay) help ministers keep in touch with backbench opinion. So Ms Harman was saying something that she knew not to be true, to make a rhetorical point for a television audience.

Anyway, in his speech on AV today, the Prime Minister tried to score a comic point about how complicated AV allegedly is, by quoting a complicated-sounding passage from a book about AV. According to the BBC, Mr Cameron said:
Here's a passage from a book detailing how the Alternative Vote system works:         
"As the process continues the preferences allocated to the remaining candidates may not be the second choices of those electors whose first-choice candidates have been eliminated. It may be that after three candidates have been eliminated, say, when a fourth candidate is removed from the contest one of the electors who gave her first preference to him gave her second, third and fourth preferences to the three other candidates who have already been eliminated, so her fifth preference is then allocated to one of the remaining candidates."         
Do you understand that?
I didn't. And I've read it many times.
And I don't think we should replace a system that everyone gets with one that's only understood by a handful of elites.
The passage in question is perfectly comprehensible. It explains that, if there are more than five candidates standing to be your MP, your fifth preference might be end up being counted in one of the later rounds of voting, if the candidates to whom you gave your first, second, third and fourth preferences have already been eliminated by then. Admittedly, it is written in a fairly academic tone, but since Mr Cameron has an Oxford First in PPE, he's fairly academic himself. Were it true (which it isn't) that AV can only be "understood by a handful of elites", then Mr Cameron would himself be among them and it's silly, and less than honest, for anyone to pretend otherwise.

This is a Prime Minister who was taught Politics at Brasenose by one of the world's leading experts on electoral systems, Vernon Bogdanor, and we're asked to believe that Mr Cameron doesn't understand how AV works and can't get to grips with the passage quoted above? Come on. He and his speechwriters can normally do better than this. That's what happens with rhetorical jokes - they are fair enough up to a certain point (even if this one is hardly hilarious), but they take the person making the speech into territory in which what they say is not true.

So, this was a speech in which the Prime Minister claimed not to understand AV. Perhaps tomorrow we'll get the speech in which the Prime Minister uses his deep understanding of AV to present a serious argument against it. That would not only be more honest, it would also be more interesting.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Why does Sudan matter less than Egypt?

200 people killed, and did you hear a single word about it on TV or radio news? Because I didn't. I know that the broadcasters cannot cover everything simultaneously. But why do some conflicts supposedly matter more than than others, when those others are quite often precisely those in which the most people are being killed? What kind of a species are we, that we don't rate conflicts on the basis of how many people are dying, but instead rate conflicts on the basis of our own obscure set of strategic priorities? How many dead Sudanese does it take to make a headline?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Three thoughts that spring to mind

1. At Prime Minister's Questions, I love the way that, whenever a Liberal Democrat MP asks the Prime Minister what might be called a constructively critical question, David Cameron invariably commences his answer: "My Honourable Friend makes a very important point..."

2. Today's World At One on BBC Radio 4 made the startling announcement that Iran is now part of "the Arab world".Who moved it? When will they put it back? This is the most dramatic development of the current crisis and raises all sorts of intriguing possibilities. Perhaps the next series of Spooks will revolve around a secret weapon that moves countries? I'd like England to be moved next to Lipari.

3. Also on The World At One, there was a delicious irony to hearing Tony Hillary Benn chiding Angus Francis Maude about social mobility. Although I do think that Francis Maude is very much A Good Thing.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Will Egypt disappear too? Ten questions that need answering

  1. What is happening in Lebanon? There has been so much focus on Egypt, that nobody has said anything about Lebanon's current crisis since a brief spurt of reportage at the end of January. Has the crisis magically ended of its own accord?
  2. What has happened in Burma since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the recent 'elections' there, and why does this not matter any more?
  3. When did anyone last hear any news from Tibet?
  4. Has the killing stopped in Darfur?
  5. What has happened to international efforts to get the President of Ivory Coast to stand down following that country's recent disuputed elections?
  6. What is happening in Congo and Uganda, where the Lord's Resistance Army has murdered so many thousands of people, with barely a murmur from British public opinion? Although at least the Today Programme is covering that in special reports this week.
  7. Given that so many people were recently murdered in Moscow by a terrorist from Dagestan, when is anyone going to tell us what's happening today in the Northern Caucasus, including in Chechnya?
  8. What is going on in Haiti, especially since the utterly bizarre and unexpected return to that country of Baby Doc Duvalier?
  9. Has Iran's nuclear programme ceased to be? You'd think so, for all the media attention it's currently getting.
  10. While I appreciate that the media cannot report everything at once, could they not get better at reporting stories other than the Crisis of the Week? Six months from now, will the BBC be reporting what's happening in Egypt, or will it too have disappeared from the news agenda? At least the Tunisians and Egyptians had the good sense not to have their revolutions during the World Cup or the Olympics, when nobody would have reported them at all.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Questions of loyalty

Those Lib Dem friends and colleagues (including my ex-boss the Mayor of Watford and Barnet's own Lib Dem Dem Council Group Leader, Jack Cohen), who wrote that open letter to Eric Pickles in The Times - you'll be unsurprised to hear that I really wish they hadn't. You may have read my previous disquisitions on how if loyalty is the Tories' secret weapon, then perhaps we Lib Dems should take it from them and support Nick Clegg and the Coalition through these testing times, rather than creating negative headlines by attacking the Government publicly. I might have written another such disquisition today, were I not in the uncomfortable position of being ever so slightly guilty of the offence of which I sometimes accuse others. There's the Yes to AV Campaign, in the thick of a tough campaign with the full support of the Liberal Democrats, and I go and blog critically about their campaign. So that the No to AV campaign put my blog slap bang on its website. I was within my rights to say what I said, but how would I have felt if a Lib Dem candidate had blogged similarly during the General Election campaign, providing our opponents with ammunition? "Unprintable" is how I would have felt. The Yes campaign is excellent and needs no flies deposited in its ointment from the likes of me. In light of all of this, I've updated that post about the Yes campaign and the BBC, for those of you who might wish to read it. And if any of you are interested, no, I haven't been leant on - nobody's been in touch about what I said. I realised myself that it was less than helpful.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Good news is no news in Israel/Palestine

With events in Egypt hogging the headlines, it is hard for other stories in the Middle East to get much of an airing right now. This is perhaps especially true when the stories concerned can be considered good news and don't involve anybody trying to kill each other today. A friend asked me if I had seen the announcement by Netanyahu and Blair of a package of economic development measures for the Palestinians. I had to confess that I hadn't, which demonstrates what a low media profile this news has had. So I did a Google News search and found that the Jewish Chronicle has covered it in some detail, but then the Jewish Chronicle would - it's a specialist paper for coverage of news from that part of the world. If you want to see how the wider media has covered it, here is The New York Times' story (including, if you scroll down far enough, a fascinating report of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad's take on what's happening in Egypt). Fairness and completeness dictate that I acknowledge that many media outlets are reporting that the Palestinians (or at least some Palestinians) have reacted negatively to the package announced by Netanyahu and Blair. As well as seeking a political settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is urgent to continue to improve the living standards of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza - who can sensibly oppose such an improvement? There is no contradiction between the long-term (hopefully medium-term) peace process on the one hand, and short-term economic development on the other. Israel is right not to wait for peace before encouraging Palestinian economic development.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Please never bully the BBC

It turns out that the No To AV campaign website made a big thing of this post below, linking to it from their site. I stand by my comments below, although the word "bully" was perhaps a little strong. I think that Yes to AV is running an excellent campaign, even if I disagree with them about this storm in a BBC teacup. The Yes Campaign Team can make their own decisions about to run their fine campaign, without the need for noises off from the likes of me. So if anyone is reading this because they've been transferred across from the No website, then I'd urge them against thinking that this is any kind of a big deal. It's nothing more than a process story about the semantics of BBC language. It's got little to do with the debate about the merits of AV, a system that I strongly favour. Here is my original post:

The BBC, while wonderful in many ways, cannot always be perfect. I sometimes ring and leave a complaint if I think that they have got something wrong; if I spot what I consider to be a factual inaccuracy in a BBC News story online, then I fill in the box to report it. I do this as an individual, usually anonymously, as is my right as someone who pays the licence fee. One reason that I bother to make these complaints and comments is that I used to have a job that involved reading Channel 4's Viewer Inquiry Report, so I know that viewers' remarks really are logged and passed on as appropriate. If you've got something to say and you say it constructively and crisply, it really will be read by the relevant person and so it is worth doing. So I do sometimes complain, as an individual, and usually an anonymous individual, to the BBC. However, it is one thing for me to complain as an individual; it is another thing for corporate bodies to run campaigns trying to get the BBC to alter an editorial decision on a news issue. The independence of the BBC is sacrosanct, meaning that it must be allowed to make editiorial decisions without fear or favour. So as a supporter of the campaign for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on AV, I was not pleased to receive the email below from Yes to Fairer Votes. They are complaining about the BBC's apparent decision not to refer to "electoral reform" in news coverage of the referendum campaign. If the BBC has made such a decision, then that is the BBC's decision, and the BBC's decision alone - there is never an excuse for a political group to campaign for the BBC to alter an editorial decision. This petition is not the best way to win support for the Yes campaign; it just sounds like sour grapes about how the BBC has decided to report the news. It is a bit rich that the Yes campaign's email (in which they seek to influence BBC editorial policy) complains that supporters of the No campaign have been seeking to influence BBC editorial policy...Here is the email in question:


If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck - it's a duck.

I can't believe that I actually have to send you this email - but we've been sent an internal document from the BBC's top brass that demands that their staff stop describing "electoral reform" as "electoral reform".

Essentially - they're saying that a duck is a cabbage.

The BBC was bullied into this position by the old guard rallying behind the old politics - a deliberate attempt by a cynical elite to confuse the voters with misleading and inappropriate language.

We've written a letter to the BBC demanding that they reverse this ridiculous decision - and as you are the heart of our campaign, Matthew, I want your name to be one of the first on that letter.

Sign now - and join the campaign for a fair fight on 5 May.
All we're asking for is a fair debate - the status quo vs reform. That doesn't seem like too much to ask does it?

But we're not surprised - this is exactly the sort of thing we expected from the No Campaign. They know they don't have a serious argument for opposing change - so all they're left with is the same old dirty tricks and the Westminster games that got us into this mess.

But right now, we need to make sure that we can have a fair fight. This is a people powered campaign and we need you to come to our aid. Over the next few months, the BBC will have untold influence on the millions of swing voters who will decide if we win or lose. We need to make sure that they hear fair, understandable and appropriate language.

And we need your support to make that happen. Sign our letter and stand up for Yes:

Thank you. I never said that this would be easy, but change never is.

Jonathan Bartley
Yes to Fairer Votes Council

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Labour's latest tactic

Labour's latest tactic is to say that Coalition Ministers' "heart isn't in it" when it comes to whatever the Government is doing. To suggest that the Coalition doesn't really want to be doing what it's doing. Presumably, their focus groups are telling Labour that this line will resonate with voters. Balls said it the other day about the Davos speech of the Governor of the Bank of England. Now Burnham is doing it re:- the forestry thing. It's a moderately clever tactic, but it probably won't work in the long term. Remember when the Chancellor delivered the CSR and Labour said that Tory MPs were waving and cheering each time a cut was announced? That wasn't true either, and you could tell (you could just tell) that Labour had decided to say it before the CSR had even been delivered.

Can't see the wood for the trees

Given that the Government only owns 18% of forests to start with, could somebody please explain to me why there is a campaign to prevent the Government from "selling off the nation's forests"? If they don't even own 82% of the forests, how can they supposedly be planning to sell them? What a nonsensical campaign.