Friday, 14 December 2007

Regent's Park saved from rubber crumb menace

Last night at a packed meeting Westminster City Council rejected the controversial planning application by a PLC for permission to cut down a copse of trees and construct five-a-side football pitches with rubber crumb surfacing for private hire in Regent's Park. I blogged about this on 13th July. Apparently only one councillor (Labour, Church Street Ward) voted in favour. A convincing victory for a coalition of local opposition.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Labour spin was unfair to Lord Drayson

Remember Lord (Paul) Drayson, who resigned on 7 November from his post as Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support to spend more time motor racing? How did we ever fall for that improbable story? Drayson is a multi-millionaire businessman. According to Sunday Times correspondent Mick Smith, Drayson resigned after Defence Minister Des Browne refused to back him in rows with Bill Jeffrey, the Ministry of Defence’s top civil servant; the motor racing story was a cover-up put out to save Gordo from embarrassment. Gordo’s addiction to spin seems as bad as Tony Blair’s.

According to Smith, Chief of General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt (among others) was calling for new armoured personnel carriers for the army, but the purchase was repeatedly postponed for lack of funding. Drayson got involved, announced a shortlist of three vehicles – a British, a French and a German-Dutch – and decided to speed things up by selecting the French one. This led to the rows with the top civil servant, who wanted the British one. So the Army has to wait longer for its armoured personnel carriers. The word “Afghanistan” comes to mind.

Thanks to the spin, Lord Drayson came in for quite a bit of press criticism last month for such apparently irresponsible behaviour, that now seems totally unfair. With friends like that....!

Lord Drayson devised the Defence Industrial Strategy published in December 2006 – see
- under which, put shortly, business acumen was used to come up with significant changes in Ministry of Defence equipment purchasing practices to increase the pace of the defence acquisition cycle, which was hailed as important for improving cost effectiveness, to the benefit of the Armed Forces as well as us, the taxpayers. Sounds like a good idea to me. A second document on the Defence Industrial Strategy – DIS 2 – was due to be published on 13 December but there is a funding problem, so, as predicted by industry-watchers, on 21 November Baroness Taylor, Drayson’s successor, announced that DIS 2’s publication was postponed.

All this makes the Government's commitment to pressing ahead with replacement of dangerous, expensive and useless Trident seem even more questionable.

Why so enthusiastic?

If you put a high priority on a certain policy outcome as a matter of ethics, it makes sense to vote for the leadership contender who favours that outcome, and since policy is about actions not thoughts, it does not matter whether his reasons for that policy position are pragmatic or ethical. For this reason, given my friend Linda Jack's principled support for unilateral nuclear disarmament, I am unable to understand her enthusiastic cheerleading for Nick Clegg's leadership campaign that endorses the policy of wait and see on Trident. The Trident issue is extremely important on numerous grounds: it is a symptom of how the United Kingdom sees its place in the world; it has the potential to divide Scotland from the United Kingdom; it could influence whether the future will bring nuclear disarmament or proliferation. It is the issue that started me blogging as a reaction to the Lib Dem parliamentary leadership's methods of influencing the conference's decision on Trident: I felt that the Lib Dems' policymaking process had been subverted and the wrong policy reached. I would not be able to support enthusiastically a candidate who was so uncritical of it.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Grosvenor Square in the rain

I joined the Campaign Against Climate Change march in London today, calling for action now – a far stronger Climate Change Bill, annual carbon emissions to start going down instead of up, annual not five-yearly reports, renewable not nuclear energy and no third runway at Heathrow. And we deplore US President Bush’s failure to attend the Bali talks. We marched past Downing Street to Grosvenor Square, and listened to rousing speeches in the rain. One of the speakers in the rain, getting a big cheer, was leadership contender Chris Huhne. If anyone is still undecided how to cast their vote and wants the Lib Dems to go places, they can rest assured that they won’t go wrong with him. This man’s ability, energy, commitment and radical edge are beyond question.
The rally was peaceful, and the marchers were a nice bunch, even including some people from the Eden Project, as well as some charming children who were very taken with the dog. My umbrella packed up though, in the gusty wind. On the whole too cold and wet to be fun, but who knows, we may have done some good. Fingers crossed.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Vince Cable - an absolute star (Part Two)

Ha! I am proven right again! I blogged in September that Vince Cable was an absolute star. Tonight on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions Vince shone like an absolute star (again). Eat your hearts out, you sad Tory and Labour supporters. And by the way, this proves that people of all ages can emerge as fine leaders.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Blasphemy claim refuted

Lots of cheers for District Judge Caroline Tubbs, the unsung heroine at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court who refused to issue a summons against BBC Director-General Mark Thompson for blasphemy for allowing Jerry Springer- the Opera to be broadcast. Now Lord Justice Hughes and Mr Justice Collins have refused to overturn her decision. Lots of cheers for them, too! And lots of boos for Christian Voice, the pressure group that tried to prosecute. Christian Voice are a joke, but the threat of prosecution is not funny at all. The mock-opera featured Jesus as a guest on Jerry Springer's TV chat show. According to leading counsel for the Christian Voice group, the case was about “protecting the constitution of the nation which is built on the Christian faith." (???) But human rights pressure group Liberty has commented that the decision has "critically weakened outdated blasphemous libel laws". As their legal officer said, this ruling is a blow to bigotry, and the obvious next step is to repeal this outdated offence. Yesss!
The BBC News Front Page has filed this under Entertainment, which is probably what it deserves.

Help pioneering work become mainstream

No other issue weighs on my mind as heavily as the destructive impact our species is having on other life on this beautiful planet. Therefore I welcome the news that my former Federal Policy Committee colleague Adam Carew, Chair of the Green Lib Dems, is supporting Chris Huhne for leader. Adam said: "Chris is special… Chris is our green champion - his record on green issues is unrivalled.” See the full article at

I completely agree with Adam. Chris Huhne's contribution has been terrific during my years on the Federal Policy Committee. But I have learned that it goes back long before then – a fellow-supporter has confirmed that she was reading Huhne’s work on environmental economics eighteen years ago when she was doing her PhD. She writes: “What was pioneering back then is about to become mainstream. Vote Huhne!” Hear, hear.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Homage to Vince Cable

I learned on Sunday morning that Vince Cable thought up the "Stalin to Mr Bean" line himself, in the bath. Vince disclosed this significant snippet during a guest appearance on BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House. What creative genius! The man's awe-inspiring.