Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Naomi Smith selected for Cities of London and Westminster

Local Lib Dems have selected Naomi Smith as their next Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in the seat of Cities of London and Westminster. Naomi is already well known among young Lib Dems, as she is President of Liberal Youth as well as a party trainer. Possibly less well known is that Naomi shares at least one unusual skill with Paddy Ashdown - they can both speak Mandarin Chinese. In this most multicultural of constituencies that could come in handy. Congratulations, Naomi.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

On being led by donkeys

It would be nice to have confidence in the people in charge, but the Brown/Darling pledge to mortgage my future to the hilt to combat the present banking crisis, makes that impossible. Instead, it turns out that the people in charge are a load of blooming amateurs! Not one of them saw this coming. But Vince Cable did. And now they don't know what will happen next, and they don't know what to do. As for the official opposition, they seem no fitter to govern. Inherited wealth proves nothing. George Osborne as Chancellor? Don't make me laugh. At least, it would be funny if it weren't so frightening. Anyway, what can the party of the capitalists possibly have to contribute? It was unregulated capitalism that brought this mess about.

It's remarkable, really, that the government and official opposition get paid loads of salary and expenses for being so useless.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Now I can love America again

President-elect Obama’s story could only have happened in America. Today every person on the planet who believes in democracy can walk taller. The power of democracy to effect peaceful change has just been demonstrated. Obama won by awakening a determination in millions who had not voted before, not even in the high water mark election of 2004, to willingly register to vote and then to use their votes, and to do that he had to get them on his side, to include them and to inspire hope. There is a lesson for us about leadership here. And there is more hope in the air than for years.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A sombre analysis of Russia from its former PM

In a sombre address to the ELDR Congress on 31 October, Mikhail Kasyanov (former Prime Minister of the Russian Federation) characterised his country as a place where the democratic institutions had been replaced by imitations.
Mr Kasyanov was at the ELDR Congress as leader of the People’s Democratic Union and had earlier presented his party’s case to the ELDR Council for joining the ELDR as a full member. Mr Kasyanov impressed the Council with a trenchant analysis of the current political direction of Russia. He was extremely critical of the elections whereby former President Putin and his associates tightened their held on power earlier this year.
The Russian authorities refuse to accord legal status to the PDU and in January of this year they refused to register Mr Kasyanov as a candidate in the presidential elections. The reasons for these refusals seem flimsy in the extreme. Needless to say these refusals did not prevent the ELDR Council from considering the application for membership on its merits - there are plenty of experienced delegates from Eastern Europe who still remember that kind of authoritarian dirty tricks in their countries’ former governance.
The Council voted to admit both PDU and the longer-established liberal party Yabloko (which already had ELDR observer status) to full membership. Mr Kasyanov thanked the Council on behalf of the 56,000 members of his organisation.
In my opinion, the inclusion of the two Russian parties into the ELDR Party will undoubtedly add to the quality of debate on EU-Russian relations and the vexed question of a common EU security and defence policy.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Lembit or Ros?

The winter before last I attended a Colchester Lib Dems' annual dinner at which Lembit was the guest speaker. His energy and infectious enthusiasm were obvious but what impressed me most was the speed and accuracy with which he astutely sized up the political situation locally. Last winter Ros was the guest speaker at the same event and she came across in a quieter way but with similar warmth and ability to communicate. Both have that vital quality, a good sense of humour. In their different ways they each have a very serious claim to be elected as President of the UK Liberal Democrats. In my view, anyone who does not see this - such as, for instance, the person who has been commenting anonymously in an unpleasant way against Lembit on my friend Linda Jack's blog - is either incapable of objectivity or a bit of an idiot. Possibly both.

I haven't a clue who is ahead in the election but I feel confident that whether the winner is Ros or Lembit, we in the UK Lib Dems will have a capable, likeable and dedicated new President.

Friday, 31 October 2008

ELDR adopts electricity supergrid policy

This evening I feel satisfaction to have succeeded in getting the Congress of ELDR (short for European Liberal Democratic and Reform Party) to adopt an energy policy proposal that is hugely important. This is the creating of a new European electricity supergrid, transmitting electricity along high voltage direct current (HVDC) cables. Energy losses on DC lines are far lower than on the traditional AC ones, so the new supergrid will make it economic to transmit electricity over long distances. It is feasible and economic to transmit electricity for 3000 km or more using HVDC transmission lines. This will mean that the benefits of renewable energy can be shared throughout Europe. It could be, for example, geothermal energy from Iceland, tidal energy from coastal regions or wind energy from exposed regions. Energy could even be imported from hot desert regions, such as North Africa, by means of "concentrating solar power" (CSP) technology - a huge and inexhaustible source of energy. It is proven technology and economically feasible, too. Well done, ELDR Congress.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Westminster City Council's little mistake (worth £17m)

Westminster City Council has, or had, £17m in Icelandic banks: £7m in Landsbanki and £10m in its UK subsidiary, Heritable. Nearly £10m of these deposits were placed in August. According to Councillor Colin Barrow CBE, Leader of the ruling Tory group on the Council, in August "both banks had excellent credit ratings of the highest standard". But on 30th January 2008 David Ibison, writing in the Financial Times about Landsbanki and two other major Icelandic banks, stated there was "increased uncertainty over the banks arising from their perceived reliance on wholesale funding, cross-ownership issues, an alleged lack of transparency, and macro-economic imbalances." How come this increased uncertainty had not come to the attention of Cllr Barrow? I am surprised, especially as according to his biography on the Westminster Conservatives' website (not yet updated to reflect his promotion to Leader), he "handles the Council's finances, as Deputy Leader of the Council. He has his own investment management business in Westminster".

Friday, 10 October 2008

Wrecking nature costs megabucks - official

An EU report prepared by a Deutsche Bank economist studies the economic effects of not halting the loss of ecosystems and species and states that the financial cost of such loss dwarfs financial market losses. (But it isn't grabbing headlines because it isn't sudden but continues year after year.) The argument is that as forests decline, nature stops providing resources and services that it used to provide for nothing - you know, little things like food, water, getting rid of excess CO2, stuff like that - and there is a financial cost to either having to do without, or provide them by human efforts instead. The report, like the Stern Review, brings economics to bear on the biodiversity loss issue and maybe will help politicians to bring it into their policy deliberations. Plenty of them have been deaf to ethical arguments about the value of the natural world, but they are more likely to hear economic ones. Aren't they? The study (commissioned by the European Commission) is ongoing.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Forget the banks - extinction is for ever

Although a member of a Least Concern Species (widespread and abundant), I am plunged in gloom by the news that the latest Red List of Threatened Species (published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) says at least 25% of the world's mammal species are at risk of extinction. Which is for ever. It is due to loss of habitat, including deforestation, which is the result of our own species' actions. The current financial crisis is as nothing compared with the biodiversity crisis. It is really, really urgent. Time for us to stop breeding like rabbits and give the natural world room again.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Government duplicity on green targets

So Whitehall is quietly trying to undermine EU green targets by opposing the inclusion of aviation? Spread the word. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7636780.stm

Conference, climate change and priorities

I duly addressed conference on melting polar ice caps and considering that it was the graveyard slot of 0915 on Sunday morning the turnout in the hall was admirable. I was one of those who put in a card in the debate on the Make it Happen document. I am one of the 16 reps who had proposed the amendment. I was not called = no surprise or complaint about that, but what I would have said, if called, was that the amendment should be passed because of the bit that most speakers ignored, except for Richard Grayson, mover of the amendment, and Duncan Brack. That was the bit that said that investment to combat climate change should have higher priority for the Lib Dems than tax cuts. As the party has spent the last few years insisting that a green thread ran through all our policies I am a bit puzzled that none of the Parliamentary big guns whom the leadership had lined up to zap the amendment mentioned the climate change bit, still less why they believed it was necessary to leave the leadership's hands untied with regard to the order of priorities on that. As for the chairing of the debate, I question whether the chair needed to weakly oblige the leadership by orchestrating a crescendo of the big guns as the debate approached the vote. (Incidentally, the gender imbalance was overwhelmingly towards male speakers because that imbalance is present in the Parliamentary party from which the big guns came. So no surprise there.) All in all, I conclude that the leadership won the vote but not the argument. As I write this, national treasure David Attenborough is talking on Radio 4's Today programme about a lecture he will give later today about the imperative of looking after the natural world and how the notion that homo sapiens can look after itself and let the rest of nature die out is really, really not on. Combating climate change is a lower priority than tax cuts? Come on, leadership, for goodness' sake get real.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Polar Ice is on the agenda on Sunday morning

I am told the Urgent Issue I proposed has been selected for debate at the Lib Dem Conference. The title is 'Polar Ice Caps: Accelerating Climate Change'. The day is this Sunday and the time is 0915. I hope many conference-goers will set their alarm clocks and come to the debate.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Urgent Issue - unexpectedly rapid melting of polar ice caps

I hope by this posting to encourage interest in a subject I believe to be of enormous importance, which I have today proposed for selection as an Urgent Issue for debate at the Lib Dems' Federal Conference in Bournemouth. Satellite images taken in the last couple of weeks show that melting Arctic ice has opened the North-west and North-east passages, evidencing that polar ice may have entered what one eminent environmental scientist has called a “death spiral”. Furthermore, a few weeks ago, the University of Alberta reported that not only had the ice shrunk in area but also its thickness had dropped by half in six years. This process feeds on itself: as ice is replaced by sea, the dark surface absorbs more heat, warming the ocean and melting more ice. The tipping point, when warming becomes irreversible and catastrophic, could be much sooner than expected. The conventional wisdom used to be that climate change would only happen gradually, giving life on this planet time to adapt, so there was little cause for immediate concern. I suggest that is no longer a credible view. Major policy responses are needed now.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Balkan spite and malevolence - in Watford?

For a long time I had been aware that Federal Policy Committee colleague Sal Brinton had been the personal target of a harassment campaign in Watford, where she is Lib Dem PPC. It must have been a horrible experience and she has my heartfelt sympathy. Ian Oakley, the Tory PPC – as he was until unmasked by undeniable evidence – has now pleaded guilty to multiple offences, and they are repulsive. There is an almost Balkan intensity to the spite and malevolence that must have dominated his mind. I want to understand the motives that drove him to such extremes in our relatively kindly land. Looking at the bigger picture though, as a political footsoldier I feel deeply troubled. What other apparently respectable suits and ties conceal volcanoes of molten loathing for their fellow citizens? Every political party relies on volunteers and some of them are colourful, even oddball characters, but one expects there to be procedures for dealing with members who risk bringing the party into disrepute. In this case, the Conservative Party’s procedures and judgment are exposed as nothing less than disastrous failures – not only was Oakley not identified as a problem but he was actually selected as a campaign manager, a councillor and a parliamentary candidate. Did the party activists who worked with him all this time suspect nothing? Are they that lacking in perception? I find that hard to believe. Or was there a procedural failure so that warning bells were not heard? Either alternative is equally unpalatable. And if the Tories can’t run their own affairs, how can they be trusted to run the country? I have never heard of anything like this in the Lib Dems, but all the same the implications for me personally are quite profound. I have been involved in politics because I wanted to make things better. If I drop out, will people like Oakley and his friends (he still has some, amazingly, it seems) take over the field? Not acceptable. On the other hand, do I really want to stay involved in the only game for grown-ups if this is how some people play it? No, I don’t. It is not cricket. Not at all.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Liberal International - impressions from the 55th Congress

My chief impression of Liberal International as I came away from its 55th Congress is of health and growth. The delegates comprised not only LI stalwarts from Europe and Canada, but also newer participants from Asia, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Egypt and the Middle East, including Israel - over 50 countries were represented, and they included French-speaking nations as well as British. We heard a speech in French from a liberal President of an African country: Senegal. We heard a speech in Chinese from a liberal President of Taiwan. There were thoughtful workshops on issues going beyond the core LI subject matter of civil liberties and market liberalisation, which indicates that liberal parties worldwide are widening the scope of their interests. The contribution of the UK delegation and European parties, particularly on policy, drafting and procedural matters, continues to be important but it was clear that parties from the developing world are participating actively by submitting resolutions, organising workshops and valuably networking with one another.

Those who had been involved in the organisation’s beginnings commented that its recent growth and spread were extremely encouraging and the result of tireless work by, in particular, the current President, Lord Alderdice. He passionately believes in the possibility of a better world through rejecting violence and instead respecting and finding common ground to work with those with whom one disagrees, and he has proved it can work. He has been re-elected to a well-deserved further presidential term.

The Congress's theme was "Our Shared Future". LI members can be confident that their own shared future will be of growth and success.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Tsvangarai and environmentalists address LI Congress

I am attending the Liberal International Congress in Belfast. This morning Morgan Tsvangarai, courageous leader of the Zimbabwean MDC and Presidential challenger to the disastrous rule of Robert Mugabe, was enthusiastically welcomed when he spoke at the opening session of the Congress. We were told that Mr Tsvangarai was persuaded to attend by President Aboulaye Wade of Senegal: this clear public support from a leader of another African state is perhaps an early sign that African nations are getting over the paralysis that has affected them for so long over Mugabe and the Zimbabwean crisis.
After the opening session I attended a workshop session with an African Environment Panel, of whom I was particularly impressed by Mr Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the Seychelles National Party. He spoke of the terrible implications of global warming for his country, consisting as it does of low-lying islands that are directly threatened by rising sea levels. He also spoke of the de-oxygenating effect of ocean warming, which is posing a massive threat to marine ecology including fish stocks and coral reefs. It was clear from what he said (in response to a comment from my UK Lib Dem colleague Chris le Breton) that increasingly, he and others in Africa are coming to the view that aspiration to planet-wrecking Western-style lifestyles is simply not a feasible option: instead, our species has to act as the guardians of the well-being of nature itself, if we wish to have a future. But effective governance is necessary first, and in addition, the scale of the rethink that is now required of policymakers is breathtaking.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Mayor of London result

Well, the people of London felt - rightly, in my opinion - that Ken and his cronies had to go. I am disappointed but not surprised that Boris was the winner. Fingers crossed that he does a decent job (and doesn't keep cluttering up Trafalgar Square with bread-and-circuses events at vast expense). The man can't be all bad: at least he rides a bicycle without a chauffeur-driven limo following...

Friday, 2 May 2008

Colchester council election upset

Lib Dems last night gained from the Tories four of the 20 council seats being contested in Colchester, ending Tory control. In Shrub End, Nigel Offen snatched victory by just 11 votes after two nail-biting recounts. In Mile End ward no recount was necessary - Martin Goss's margin of victory was astounding, as he received 1500 votes, nearly twice as many as the Tory, from which we can deduce they didn't like his performance as regeneration supremo. The Tory planning portfolio holder was defeated in Stanway ward. The fourth gain was Wivenhoe Cross. In Berechurch only 53 votes separated Lib Dem John Stevens from the Labour winner, while the Tory was well beaten into third place. In Highwoods the BNP candidate was trounced into a poor fourth place behind the Independent, Tory and Lib Dem; Labour was fifth. In Castle, Lib Dem Henry Spyvee easily saw off the renewed challenge from the Greens and is now on course to be Mayor soon. What fantastic teamwork! I am delighted for my colleagues and good friends here.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Leafletting at bluebell time

The last few days I have been in a flurry of leafletting - for Brian Paddick in Westminster and for local council candidates in Colchester. The Greens are intervening erratically in both places. In London they are encouraging supporters to vote Labour in the mayoral contest, which is odd given Labour's dismal environmental record, while in Colchester they have adopted a strategy that seems brilliantly designed to defeat their own objectives by leaving the Tories in control.
I was leafletting in north Colchester's Highwoods ward, currently represented by Independents. The area was once a royal hunting forest, of which the town managed to preserve over 300 acres from property developers, with the result that ranch-style executive homes exist next to ancient woodland and open space now designated a country park. To the east of all that there is the inevitable Tesco, and beyond that the ward shades into mixed private and social housing with some spectacularly ugly and smelly grot spots which no doubt will give the winning candidate something useful to do. It is the only ward in the borough where a BNP candidate is standing though I have had no explanation how the BNP agenda is even relevant to, let alone a solution for, problems there.
On Saturday I whizzed to and from the ward by bus, but as the buses are infrequent on a Sunday I walked from the town centre to the ward across the country park, which the dog enjoyed. After walking for some time along a grassy ride between woods, I took a side path which promised to be a more direct route, though involving some ducking under branches, but after a few minutes the path became indistinct. I could see houses above and not far away, so I carried on, assuming I must be near an exit, but that way was fenced off, so I followed the track round to the left, towards increasingly tangled undergrowth. Suddenly a fox sprang out from some low bushes a few feet ahead and away at an easy canter. I descended a slope to a little stream where I paused to decide where best to cross. Thus it was that in this unlikeliest of places I found myself surrounded by the glory of an English bluebell wood in April. It was quiet except for bird song, and some idea of the hazy blueness can be got perhaps from pictures, but no words or picture can possibly convey the delicious fragrance.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Hang in there, Hilary Clinton

I welcome Hilary Clinton's decisive win in Pennsylvania because I think the world has suffered enough from a Republican-run White House, and I think Clinton can beat the Republican, but I don't think Obama can. Obama has the funding advantage and the backing of Democrat establishment big names, but for several reasons I don't believe enough Americans will vote for Obama when it comes to the crunch. This is supported by the fact that in the decisive big states Clinton has beaten Obama as traditional Democrat voters have turned out in her support. They know that if they elect Mrs Clinton it's the nearest they can get to having Bill back in the White House, whose astonishing approval ratings when President testify of his political genius. So I hope Hilary Clinton will hang in there and ignore those who tell her to quit the race.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

I go to Estonia, and return

As a directly elected member of the UK Lib Dems’ ELDR (European Liberal Democratic and Reform Party) Council delegation, I went to their meeting in Estonia, on the far side of the EU and on the edge of Russia, the weekend before last. The meeting got some good preparatory work done, we made some good contacts and our Estonian hosts were most hospitable.
What a remarkable city Tallinn is. In a long visit to the Occupation Museum there I learned something of the terrible ordeal the Estonians endured following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, whereby Hitler and Stalin agreed that Russia could have the previously independent Baltic States – a deal between treacherous crooks that soon fell apart. As a result the Estonians were occupied three times - first by the Russians, then by the Nazis, then by the Russians again, this time until 1991. Despite terrible oppression they retained their spirit and in 1991 got their independence back. What a wonderful people.
I returned to England the eco-friendly way by ferries and trains via the Baltic and Scandinavia. This trip has vividly demonstrated to me the vast geographical size of the EU and the scale of its achievement in uniting so enormous an area by voluntary and peaceful means.
The ferry from Tallinn to Stockholm was a glittering, extremely comfortable palace, the weather was calm and as the sun set over the silvery Baltic Sea the scene looked idyllic. The following morning, in pale sunshine, the ferry glided quietly between the islands of the eastern Swedish archipelago. It was an entrancing voyage. This made it all the more shocking to learn that the Baltic is now an endangered sea, where swimming in summer is dangerous due to poisonous algae blooms. No matter how far I travel, I find it impossible to escape the signs of our planet’s sickness.
In Stockholm I boarded a fast inter-city train that travelled south-west across Sweden, then changed to a local train that crossed a causeway over the sea between Sweden and Denmark - a remarkable engineering feat - to Copenhagen. I had a few hours to look round there, then took another inter-city train travelling west, crossing Denmark from island to island via tunnels and bridges. In Zealand I changed trains for Esbjerg where I boarded MS Dana Sirena for Harwich. This ship, too, was extremely comfortable. In addition to passengers the ship carried a cargo of sea containers, the kind that hurtle through Colchester station on freight trains and make you feel like a midget. I counted 29.
The micro-economics of all this were crazy as returning by cheap flight would have been many times cheaper, but I would have missed out on so much that I have seen and learned.
Back to leafletting for the local elections…

Saturday, 5 April 2008

In praise of Evan Harris MP and evidence-based policy

I have just had the pleasure of hearing Evan Harris, Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, acquit himself superbly on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions. It was good to hear the case for evidence-based policy-making, with which I enthusiastically agree, put so well, and wittily, too. What a star!

Friday, 4 April 2008

I am nominated

I am standing for election to my local borough council. So many leafletting opportunities, so little time...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Forgotten Chernobyl? I haven't

It is as if the entire Government has forgotten the Chernobyl disaster - because it is too inconvenient to tell the public to contemplate a reduction in "living standards". Well, here is a reminder.

From The Guardian:

"When a routine test went catastrophically wrong, a chain reaction went out of control in No 4 reactor of Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine, creating a fireball that blew off the reactor's 1,000-tonne steel-and-concrete lid. Burning graphite and hot reactor-core material ejected by the explosions started numerous other fires, including some on the combustible tar roof of the adjacent reactor unit. There were 31 fatalities as an immediate result of the explosion and acute radiation exposure in fighting the fires, and more than 200 cases of severe radiation sickness in the days that followed.
Evacuation of residents under the plume was delayed by the Soviet authorities' unwillingness to admit the gravity of the incident. Eventually, more than 100,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding area in Ukraine and Belarus.

"In the week after the accident the Soviets poured thousands of untrained, inadequately protected men into the breach. Bags of sand were dropped on to the reactor fire from the open doors of helicopters (analysts now think this did more harm than good). When the fire finally stopped, men climbed on to the roof to clear the radioactive debris. The machines brought in broke down because of the radiation. The men barely lasted more than a few weeks, suffering lingering, painful deaths.

"But had this effort not been made, the disaster might have been much worse. The sarcophagus, designed by engineers from Leningrad, was manufactured in absentia - the plates assembled with the aid of robots and helicopters - and as a result there are fissures. Now known as the Cover, reactor No 4 still holds approximately 20 tonnes of nuclear fuel in its lead-and-metal core. No one knows what is happening with it.

"For neighbouring Belarus, with a population of just 10 million, the nuclear explosion was a national disaster: 70% of the radionucleides released in the accident fell on Belarus. During the second world war, the Nazis destroyed 619 Belarussian villages, along with their inhabitants. As a result of fallout from Chernobyl, the country lost 485 villages and settlements. Of these, 70 have been buried underground by clean-up teams known as "liquidators".

"Today, one out of every five Belarussians lives on contaminated land. That is 2.1 million people, of whom 700,000 are children. Because of the virtually permanent presence of small doses of radiation around the "Zone", the number of people with cancer, neurological disorders and genetic mutations increases with each year."

Harrowing eyewitness accounts are collected in Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich, published by Dalkey Archive Press at £13.99
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2005/apr/25/energy.ukraine

Thursday, 27 March 2008

I am worried

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I am worried sick about Labour Industry Minister John Hutton's plans to build a vast number of nuclear power stations thus diverting resources from renewables; about collective and individual political failure to do anything about the destruction of natural habitats and wildlife both here and everywhere on our planet; and about the fact that the world population has more than quadrupled since 1900, more than doubled since 1960 and is increasing at a rate of 80 million a year. This cannot go on - that is what the scientists warn, but the political class of all nations has its head in the sand.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Tibetans have a just claim to self-determination

The Chinese premier's talk is of smashing and crushing the Tibetan rebels. It is as if the UN's principle of self-determination of peoples had never been heard of. The Chinese regime is doubly illegitimate - without any democratic legitimacy in its own country, and an invader in Tibet. Why are Western leaders and diplomats so keen to humour the Chinese leadership's obsession with saving face? To call a spade a spade, it seems to me the Chinese Government's stupid and oppressive policies are entirely to blame for the current crisis in Tibet. The Tibetans are desperate and their demands for self-determination are just. If you jam a lid on a boiling kettle, you will get an explosion. I have no ill will against the Chinese people but in order to make my protest against their Government I am going to avoid buying goods from China until there are free and fair elections in both Tibet and China. I think I will write to the major UK retailers to inform them of my decision.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

My new pets (the sequel)

The wormery is a success: teabags, vegetable peelings, bits of newspaper etc have been converted into dark, crumbly compost that will be great for my plants, and it's free. The worms are plump and thriving. They don't like onion, though.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Zhang Qingli's pitiable ignorance: Vaclav Havel's wisdom

A Western tourist in Lhasa, Tibet, has told the BBC: “The violence may have begun on Friday at 2pm but it felt like it had been brewing for 50 years. It was frustration that had spilled over. People had taken too much. That was the impression we got.“
Meanwhile Tibet's Communist party chief, Zhang Qingli, has reportedly told officials: "The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast." Such ignorance is pitiable. Anyone who has read any of the Dalai Lama's publications knows that he advocates non-violence and compassion towards all sentient beings - even those who are trapped in a mentality of aggressive militarism and materialism.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel writes: “Even as we write, it is clear that China's rulers are trying to reassure the world that peace, quiet, and "harmony" have again prevailed in Tibet. We all know this kind of peace from what has happened in the past in Burma, Cuba, Belarus and a few other countries - it is called the peace of the graveyard.
"Merely urging the Chinese government to exercise the "utmost restraint" in dealing with the Tibetan people, as governments around the world are doing, is far too weak a response. The international community, beginning with the United Nations and followed by the European Union, Asean, and other international organisations, as well as individual countries, should use every means possible to step up pressure on the Chinese government to allow foreign media, as well as international fact-finding missions, into Tibet and adjoining provinces in order to enable objective investigations of what has been happening; release all those who only peacefully exercised their internationally guaranteed human rights, and guarantee that no one is subjected to torture and unfair trials; enter into a meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Tibetan people.
"Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the International Olympic Committee should seriously reconsider whether holding this summer's Olympic games in a country that includes a peaceful graveyard remains a good idea.”

I agree.
See http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/vclav_havel/2008/03/tibets_peace_of_the_grave.html

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Chinese Government's disinformation fails to deceive

So the Premier of China is still trying to blame the Dalai Lama for the Tibetan people protesting against Mao Tse Tung's "liberation" of Tibet in 1950 and China's continuing repression of Tibetans? Come off it, we are not deceived. This is the era of the Internet. We share information! Dear reader, do tell your friends to log on to the BBC and "listen again" to first hand evidence about torture and murder of Tibetan women in prison, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/
And do read the Chang/Halliday biography of Mao, which will give you a shrewd idea what Mao meant by "liberation". It is high time the Chinese Government admitted that Mao was a remorseless tyrant, not a hero.
I believe Tibetan people are entitled to real freedom - to speak their opinions, live in their villages and practise their peaceful way of life. Instead they are forcibly moved into horrible Communist-style housing, arrested for speaking their minds, given enormous prison sentences just for peaceably demonstrating and tortured or even murdered while in prison. This is imperialism not liberation.

Monday, 17 March 2008

China cracks down on Tibet news coverage

The Chinese authorities' deadline has passed for Tibetan protesters to give themselves up. Instead of asking why the protests are happening and questioning whether just maybe their policies need to change, the authorities are blocking websites that report what is going on. To help spread the word, tell your friends to visit http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/video/2008/mar/17/china.media

Glacier melt rate has more than doubled

I read on the Beeb that data from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows glaciers are melting more than twice as fast as they were between 1980 and 1999. This is a key climate change indicator. Average glacial shrinkage has risen from 30 centimetres per year between 1980 and 1999, to 1.5 metres in 2006 with some of the biggest losses in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Experts have called for "immediate action" to reverse the trend, the Executive Director of UNEP saying that the glaciers are the canaries that are making the most noise in the climate change coal mine "and it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice... The litmus test will come in late 2009 at the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen.

"Here governments must agree on a decisive new emissions reduction and adaptation-focused regime. Otherwise, and like the glaciers, our room for manoeuvre and the opportunity to act may simply melt away."

It is scarcely reassuring then to be told that the vast majority of voters still don't put a high priority on this.

Where is Tibet's second spiritual leader?

Some years ago Tibet's second most important spiritual leader, the Panchen Lama, was chosen by the traditional Tibetan process, supervised by the Dalai Lama, The chosen boy, whose name was Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has not been seen since his detention by the Chinese authorities in 1995. He must now be over 18. Where is he? Can the BBC talk to him? If not, why not?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Colchester is spared another nightclub - phew

Today I was delivering Bob Russell MP's Annual Report in Colchester's historic Dutch Quarter, on the northern side of the hill where the town centre is. The Dutch Quarter is laid out as I guess towns used to be before they invented Urban Sprawl. It has narrow streets and alleys and everything you need within walking distance. When most of us can't afford to run a car any more we will appreciate places like this properly. Colchester is Bob's home town, and mine too. I learn good news - an appeal against refusal of planning permission for another town centre nightclub has been dismissed by the Inspector. Congratulations to our local Lib Dem councillors for their successful campaign on that one. Maybe residents are starting to get their town back.

Listen to the Dalai Lama - a great man

The Dalai Lama is the wisest, most admirable human being I know of: truly a great man. I have read several of his works for lay readers. He teaches of the futility of greed and aggression, and of how to attain happiness through kindness and compassion for all sentient creatures. In one book he remembers the Tibet of his youth, its forested mountains inhabited by almost tame creatures, because they were not hunted. Then the Chinese invaded, bringing with them their creed of Communist materialism - as if mastery of the whole of mainland China were not enough. In 1959 a brutal Chinese repression of the Tibetan people forced the Dalai Lama to flee his homeland. He has watched from exile his people's gentle culture being stamped upon, the forests destroyed and the wildlife killed. How ironic to hear a witness tell the BBC's The World This Weekend how the present leader of China, formerly governor of Chinese-occupied Tibet, admitted to feeling dislike of Tibet and contempt for Tibetan people. If that is so, why not just withdraw from Tibet and let the Tibetan people get on with their lives? The Chinese people have a great and ancient culture but the Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung who caused suffering and death to untold millions was a monster, and the current Chinese Government has no democratic, or any other, legitimacy in Tibet nor, for that matter, in mainland China. What right has the Chinese Government to profess superiority, to claim legitimacy, to kill over 80 Tibetan protesters? None. Its current actions are contemptible. It should withdraw its troops, call elections and let peaceful transition take place to democratic government.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Liverpool gets to me

Liverpool is a building site, much of the building being at sea level. Pity it will be submerged in 50 years, at the rate we are going in melting the polar ice with our not-so-clever, climate-wrecking inventions. The city is also the home of the International Slavery Museum which I visited last Sunday. I particularly remember an engraving of a scene in which a man is branding a woman captive with a hot iron. She twists to look up at him in terror and bewilderment, as animals also do, when people are cruel to them. There was also movie footage of a man being hanged by a lynch mob in the American South in order to maintain a reign of terror. I learned, too, that in at least one State of the American South a law was passed making it a crime to teach any negro to read and write. Later the US Supreme Court ruled that black people could not be citizens of the United States.
In retrospect all this solemn jurisprudence looks barmy. I muse upon the shamefulness of the legal system. How did the common law ever entertain the notion that a human being could be property that could be bought and sold? All too easily. All you need is a system of rules in which someone stretches the concept of a "chattel" a little. From that flows the idea that one man can have the right to buy, sell, punish or destroy another. Slavery itself had been around since ancient times, well entrenched in other cultures (Roman and Islamic for instance) but not in the common law. In the common law it started with indentured labour, where individuals would buy their passage to the New World by promising to work for a specified number of years when they got there. But it could not have developed into the elaborate system of rules that sustained the trade in human captives without the fiction of racial superiority. That, the fiction went, made it okay for people to brand, torture and kill people. Laws arrived by rigorous reasoning at outrageous conclusions because they were based on assumptions that no decent society should ever have entertained.
No amount of elegant reasoning will stop some ideas from being an abomination. We pass laws banning the causing of unnecessary suffering, but I think in time future generations will look in amazement at the disgusting intensive farming methods that inflict misery on our sentient fellow creatures, which we can see are a moral outrage if we exercise our critical faculties for five seconds, and wonder how this could ever have been condoned.

Monday, 10 March 2008

I make a little progress

I am back from the Lib Dem Conference in Liverpool, pleased that on Friday the Federal Policy Committee approved my draft resolution on the global population crisis for submission by the UK Liberal Democrats to the Liberal International Congress in May. Lindsay Northover, who speaks on international development in the Lords, has been an enormous help in drafting it. Did you know the world's human population has more than doubled since 1960 and is increasing at a rate of 1.5 million per week? More on the resolution anon.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Memoirs of a busy February

I've been a bit quiet recently, and when wondering why this was, drift into musing over how busy February was, quite apart from the day job. Another opportunity missed to get my allotment into shape before the spring, though I have planted a quince tree, some blackcurrant bushes, a few broad beans and mangetout peas (in makeshift cold-frames, though they are okay in cool temperatures). It's the dratted leafletting that gobbles up time - Sunday 3 Feb (and much time beforehand): spent much time dashing about preparing newspaper deliveries in my patch for Brian Paddick. My day was ruined by pickpockets who nicked my purse in Starbucks. Don't anyone tell me crime is not a problem...
Cannot remember weekend of 9-10 Feb specifically, but suspect it was spent on domestic projects. Weekend of 16-17 Feb: very frosty; on 16th I tended my allotment wearing 2 fleeces and an overcoat and was only just warm enough, then as fog descended I went home for tea, then out again to Colchester Lib Dems' annual dinner with my good friends Liz and Chris Hall, fellow blogger Nick Barlow and many other local friends and colleagues. Baroness Ros Scott gave a speech that included a most entertaining account of how she came to be a working peer. It cost quite a lot (joke). No, seriously, she won it in a raffle (joke). More seriously, apparently Charles Kennedy phoned her one Sunday morning when she was cooking lunch for her mother. As she had to keep the contents of the conversation confidential, on putting the phone down she gasped, "I think I'll have a sherry!" Always a good move at such moments. A sombre note, though, when Bob Russell MP reminded the gathering of the thousands of lads from the Colchester area who were going out to serve in the grim conflict in Afghanistan, not all of whom would return.
The following morning, 17th Feb: I took an early train to join the ongoing deliveries for Brian Paddick in south Westminster. Sunny, excellent leafletting weather. 21st Feb: I announced to a startled International Relations Committee my proposal for a policy resolution on the global population crisis - a subject I have been brooding over for many years, and the situation's getting worse. Did you, dear reader, know that the planet's human population has more than doubled since 1960, when (at 3 bn) it was, according to some respected scientific opinion, at a feasible level for sustainability? Cause for deep pessimism. I try to keep my carbon footprint down, but with a net population increase of 1.5 million people per week, obviously there is a serious question what is the point, what difference can we make, unless the absolute number of humans using resources is reduced to a manageable level.
Rest of February blurs together rather, but the 25th stands out - the evening of the Chinese Lib Dems' New Year feast, near Russell Square. The feast was excellent, and many political friends were there in what is undeniably an upbeat mood among activists.
Oh yes, and I spent most of the last Saturday of February travelling to and from, and delivering leaflets in, Highgate where our by-election candidate is, I learn, a fellow-allotmenter. A good sign, I feel.
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Friday, 18 January 2008

Planes over London - not a good idea

The near-disastrous crash landing of the Boeing 777 just short of the runway at Heathrow yesterday highlights the danger to the city below that is posed by flights to and from this exceptionally busy airport. What if a plane did crash on London? A terrible disaster, especially if it were densely-populated central London. This is not a far fetched possibility: if I remember rightly, not many years ago a cargo flight from Schiphol airport crashed on to a suburb of Amsterdam. That the victims were mostly impoverished immigrants whose loved ones were not best placed to make a fuss may be why we did not hear a great deal about it afterwards.
We hear plenty from the well-funded PR people in favour of airport expansion, mostly talking about employment and economic benefits, but far less about the arguments against. Such disasters do happen. How do you weigh employment and economic benefits against such a risk - to say nothing of the accumulating weight of the environmental case against air travel?
For my part, my opposition to expansion of capacity at Heathrow has just hardened.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Russian "guaranteed" rights are trampled

The regime in the Kremlin is out to annoy the UK as much as possible, but the actual losers are Russian citizens. Article 44 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation provides:
"(1) Everyone is guaranteed freedom of literary, artistic, scientific, intellectual and other types of creative activity and tuition. Intellectual property is protected by the law.
(2) Everyone has the right to participation in cultural life, to the use of institutions of culture, and access to cultural values."
This provision is in practice waste paper as individuals lose the opportunity to use British Council services. And the British Council's local employees particularly suffer as they lose their livelihoods for no reason - security men visit them late at night and make it clear on flimsy pretexts that they had better not turn up for work any more.
Will any Russian citizens take steps to get redress against this affront to their rights? Will any of them win, or even bring, a court case over the loss of their rights or their jobs? I'm not holding my breath.
In the case of State of Mauritius v Khoyratty (2006) the Privy Council said: “The idea of a democracy involves a number of different concepts. The first is that the people must decide who should govern them. Secondly, there is the principle that fundamental rights should be protected by an impartial and independent judiciary. Thirdly, in order to achieve a reconciliation between the inevitable tensions between these ideas, a separation of powers between the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary is necessary."
I do not believe any of these concepts applies in the Russian Federation today. Whatever kind of state it is, it is not a democracy.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The pupil premium? We've had the debate

Being a veteran of the Federal Policy Committee ("FPC") and party conferences, and having read the party's constitution - yes, really! it's dull, but not that dull - which is downloadable from the party website, I'd like to put Nick Clegg's speech on public services last Saturday into context. First, the pupil premium, which I warmly supported at FPC, is Lib Dem policy already - it was adopted by the Federal Conference in September 2007 as part of a package on redressing poverty and inequality, backed by a paper which explains the concept at some length. Second, the party is distinctively democratic in its policymaking: policy, under the guidance and supervision of the FPC, is debated and adopted or rejected, and to a large extent proposed, by Voting Representatives at the party's conferences. Third, the Federal Policy Committee resolved some months ago to set up a policy working group on schools. The working group is being assembled now and will be working on its proposals over the coming months.
Therefore, it is premature to spend hours over-analysing Nick's speech. Members who have ideas to contribute on schools are welcome to get involved in the policy process. We believe in democracy in this party.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Keep going, British Council

In my experience, generally in litigation when your side is being reasonable and the other unreasonable, the wise strategy is just to go on being reasonable. After all, sooner or later each side's behaviour will be considered by a judge who is professionally reasonable and fair, and will take a dim view of the unreasonable side. So it was good to hear about our ambassador in Moscow's polite but firm stance yesterday when the Kremlin gave him a reprimand for the fact that the British Council offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg (somewhere in the Urals, I gather) have reopened, despite an order from the Russian Government to close them. Russian officials have described the action against the British Council as a retaliatory measure. If the British Council is really doing something wrong then the Russian Government should deal with the problem by fair and proper procedures. And if, as seems on the cards, in due course this comes before the International Court of Justice, the judges are unlikely to be impressed by bullying tactics.
In English law, unless I am mistaken, government by edict was proclaimed illegal during the reign of Charles I (by Sir Edward Coke, CJ, who told him he only had such powers as the law of the land allowed: see The Case of Proclamations, 1611). If the Russian legal system cannot enforce such a principle, it is scarcely functioning as such.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Our tainted coasts

This year has not started very well for me: my reaction to the Government’s announcement of the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations is a feeling of dread. I was brought up near the north Essex coast, and in my teenage years the view from my home across the estuary encompassed Bradwell power station. Though not particularly significant visually, it was in fact a Magnox type nuclear reactor which had been a source of plutonium for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. And, as we locals knew, it had a crack in it, so it had been shut down.
I often wonder whether my late father’s cruel and unexpected death from leukaemia was connected with the fact that he used to go sailing in the waters off Bradwell. Because I have learned that it discharged radioactive water used for cooling into the estuary. Radiation causes mutations and mutations cause cancer, geddit?
Now the Government wants to build a new reactor there - in fact lots of them, in lots of places. Our beautiful coasts will be tainted for (in practical terms) ever.
I hope you guys who would rather cause that contamination than confront the nation with its own energy wastefulness, will have a really bad day, in fact lots of bad days, unless and until you change your minds. Have you ever seen someone dying of leukaemia? Try it. Or rather, I hope you won't have to.

Racing post

In horse racing terms the favourite got off to a good start with the advantage of a lighter handicap (from MPs and journalistic pals, you understand) but soon began to flag badly, and it was just as well for him that the race was a sprint and not a steeplechase because the challenger was gaining on him fast by the home straight. I never believed the hype about a 60:40 lead. If the course had been a week longer, I believe the favourite would have lost.
But the ballots have been counted, and under the rules of the course the favourite won by a short nose.
Congratulations Nick, say I. The members have made their choice: you are the leader now. I’m following! This is the start of the real race.