Saturday, 30 May 2009

It's worse than we though Jim

It may be the time of the new version of Star Trek at cinemas and IMAX theatres near you. But the cry of this Scot is not aimed at James Tiberius Kirk but James Gordon Brown.

Earlier today I was saying that the Prime Minister was attempting a last ditch throw of the dice in bring Lib Dems into a new cabinet. However, the news is getting worse when he looks at the latest ICM poll. Not since 1987 have Labour been in third place in a nation opinion poll. But with the Tories on 40%, the Lib Dems are on 25% and Labour on 22% in respect to how people would vote in the next general election

A lot of this is down to another question asked in the poll on the issue of MP's expenses. Some 54% think that Labour are most damaged, 13% think the Tories (despite having some of the most bourgeois sounding claims) and 2% the Lib Dems. However, worryingly 25% think that all the three main parties are equally as damaged. Which is either an indication of the way the Telegraph have gone about reporting this or my bias in looking at some of the claims. I do think and have been told by others that the former is more likely the case.

It may well be that we are looking at the death knell of new Labour. It may even be that they may be about to head into a wilderness similar to that which the Liberals drifted into in the 20s. Across Edinburgh and I went from the shore to the south today in campaigning the physical evidence of the party in power was very thin (indeed to me invisible) on the ground and this is the weekend before an election.

There are also rumours of all sorts of ructions within the Labour party across Lothian obviously that is all I am personally aware of. Activists are not active (Kezia excepted). Some MPs I've heard are being cold shouldered by their CLP. I have not seen a single Labour poster up anywhere and I have been in 5 Labour held seats today.

Labour could well be in freefall and I don't know what will happen if Gordon pulls the rip chord or even if he will pull it. There may very well not be a soft landing, although at the moment it doesn't not look like it will be as bad at the Canadian Conservatives in 1993 but things continue to get worse and Gordon goes full term without pulling that rip chord who knows what would happen.

Brown's Last Ditch Roll of The Dice

Gordon Brown despite having on paper a Parliamentary majority is considering a deal to bring prominent Liberal Democrats into Cabinet in a 'game-changing move. However, his game must be well a truly up if he is again reconsidering this step.

When he first took over from Tony Blair the Prime Minister approached various senior Lib Dems in the Commons and Lords to take some role in his new administration. He was rebuffed from all sides. Now in his desperation of what he may be facing on Thursday in the European elections he is considering it again.

However, following Nick Clegg's comments from Thursday any such deal at this time will only be temporary. Gordon is trying to strike a deal with the party that is looking for reform of Parliament before going to a General Election because the other party is calling for one now. So Gordon if you want a deal with the Lib Dems it looks like you will setting forth a 100 day legislative timetable along the Clegg lines and facing your parties future in the Autumn at the earliest opportunity thereafter.

Those are the only conditions that the Lib Dems at this stage will possibly agree to work with Labour. Yeah in the meantime we may lend you Vince to help Alistair out over the economy, but most of the time we'll be pushing through the Third Reform Act(s) so that the people have more say, that their Parliament is more transparent and fair, and that they can take action if ever Parliament or Parliamentarians sink so low again.

This time Gordon we are playing hardball, we won't be pussyfooted around like the eventual empty promises of Blair following the Cook-Maclennan talks. We want those changes plus more now. All or nothing and we can't guarantee you survival even if you do.

Friday, 29 May 2009

You Ermine a Laugh

Today it is being reported that 52 Labour MPs are currently seeking to be on a Brown resignation honours list for elevation to the Upper Chamber after the next election. That is one in every 7 MPs that were elected under Blair in 2005. But this number is the backbenchers not even counting the prominent Cabinet Members who would expect ennoblement when they finally leave the commons. Many of the 52 have not yet announced that they will be stepping down but are at this point intending to stand again.

The fact that so many are seeking elevation shows that Labour is merely going through the motions until the election is called, but also that the system is flawed. People who know nothing other than politics in the Labour party are wanting to stay on in the office down the corridor. Admittedly it is a rather splendid office building, and the work is very similar to what they do now. But unlike currently is not up the whim of the 70,000 or so people who give them a review every 4-5 years it is a job for life.

The fact that these people may well be failing to satisfy the electorate yet maintain a seat in 'the other place' shows just how much reform is needing throughout the whole of Parliament. Some of these 52 may well be those who are stepping down or who may be forced out on the back of the expenses scandal. They should not have an automatic or semi-automatic right to be appointed to an allowance system worh £45,ooo per annum on top of their MPs pension and parachute payment.

We need reform in the Lords and the Commons. Nick Clegg is right that much of the stuff that needs to be done has been debated in depth in the past. But the 'honourable members' have done all they can to preserve their own path to easy street. Unless they wake up, smell the sulphur from the torches of the approaching hoard and take action they won't be preserved.

In launching the Take Back Power agenda for change yesterday Nick has shown what is required, achievable and doable. As Millennium said yesterday politics is the 'art of the possible' some of the reforms (such as AV+ instead of STV) do not go as far as Lib Dems want, but they are things on which there has been some level of agreement in the past. That is how the 100 days target can and should be met. We're looking for consensus, a consensus for change and the clock for that 100 days starts ticking on Monday when our MPs return.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

But Tom Harris Where Were You Last Summer?

I cannot believe that Tom Harris has taken the view that the reforms suggested by Nick Clegg are political posturing. For a start isn't he listening to what the people are saying and the Lib Dems have long said that a lot of things he has highlighted need changing for transparency, fairness and for the good of democracy.

But the line he is taking is quite two faced. It's all well and good Tom Harris saying now 'if the existing [interim] system had been put in place years ago, virtually none of the excesses we’ve seen would have taken place.' But where was he last July when the issues he outlined as key were put to the vote. He wasn't in the division lobby that is for sure.

Indeed the fact is most of his own party and the official opposition voted against the changes he is now a year on so supportive of. So the Lib Dems were the ones moving with the agenda back then rather than the Johnny come latelies like Harris and Cameron. The fact is we need to do more than we wanted a year ago, the public demand it and the Lib Dems are still driving the agenda to action rather than platitudes and lip service.

The King's Address to his Fluffy Kingdom

As regular readers and cuddlers will know I generally leave the political stuff to Mister Stephen. However, my good friend and fluffy pachyderm Mister Millennium Dome has spoken I'd like to urge you all to read it.

Hamble, Jemima, Humpty Dumpty, Big and Little Ted. Gordon the Gopher, Ed the Duck. We need your support as establishment characters within the BBC to get the voice and views of Captain Clegg saviour of our democracy unto the airwaves, tellybox, wirelessbox, interwebby.

Over at ITV I evoke Bungle, George and Zippy to do the same.

Garfield, Snoopy, Fred Bassett and the rest should rise off the cartoon pages unless their newspapers cover the story of the latest reformer and what he has to say about he proposes we do.

Captain Clegg has not just spoken like Mr Balloon of the Tory party, he set out the gameplan and is telling MPs to get kitting up and into action. Mr Balloon is merely talking about what he is thinking of doing next season, if we are lucky. But it's just a wee bit of trimming around the edges and no real shake up in team selection, their training or lifestyle. The fans, sorry forgot the voteypeople aren't really fans right now, are looking for a radical overhaul. They don't want their MPs to wallowing at the bottom but they'd like to think they can soar up the league to the very pinnacle. That's not just a few Tell-lie-graph saints but the who lot sitting on the benches.

So may I echo the Trunk call of my friend and encourage all the fluffy kingdom to persuade their adoring owners to take action to encourage their MPs to sort out this mess we find ourselves in. Take Back Power. Let's make the next 100 days count for something great a Third Reform Act(s) even more far reaching and necessary than those of 1832 and 1867.

Quote of the Day: OK Tuesday Yet Again Michael Connarty

Looks like I missed the most dismissive quote ever of Labour, that's right Labour, MP Michael Connarty in defence of his spending £250 on an alarm clock.

He told the Scotsman defending his claim for a £250 alarm clock from John Lewis by saying that he should not be forced to "shop at 99p stores". Now I don't think there is anything wrong with the 99p stores that fill the main streets just down the road from his office but £250 for an alarm clock is just not acceptable to be claimed on expenses and there are other options between the two when you are not spending your own money but the peoples.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

We're Not Going on a Summer Holiday

We need parliamentary reform, we need it now, we shouldn't leave for holidays until it is sorted that is what Nick Clegg is saying in the Guardian. While David Cameron is outlining what he would do if he was elected as Prime Minister and Alan Johnson is saying what he would do possibly to set out his leadership challenge the Lib Dem leader is saying to his fellow MPs we need to get this done before we can move on.

Setting out his vision for a new politics setting out a hundred day plan that will give the people the right to recall a corrupt MP, abolishing the House of Lords, getting corrupt money out of politics and electoral reform that gives everyone a voice. When he broke convention to speak out against the Speaker he was already say that the conservatism and convention of the Houses of Parliament were a hindrance that the people did not understand and that MPs chose to hide behind. Listening to Julie Kirkbride this evening, and reading what my own MP Michael Connarty has had to say it is clear that many have yet to learn. He says:

"People will say it isn't possible – parliament can't act that quickly. I say the innate conservatism that marks out our political establishment is part of the problem. Let's stop all this self-congratulatory hype about the mother of parliaments and get on with improving it.

"Momentum will ebb away unless we act quickly. Delay would be a victory for those who want to confine change to the bare minimum – the two establishment parties who will talk up reform long enough for the storm to pass, then kick it into the long grass for good."

And referring to David Cameron's comments about open-source software, new select committee chairs and legislative text messages says these will not rescue British democracy but merely provide cover to maintain the status quo. That status quo is that the two major parties have hung unto power in their own fiefdoms or shires in safe seats. As Mark pointed out in his excellent post the safer the seat was envisioned to be often the more corrupt the Member.

How can this be done in 100 days?

Well a lot of the issues have been thrashed out party funding reform was outlined by Sir Hayden Phillips only the Tories walked out. Lords reform has been agreed with in principle, and to avoid an increased hegemony can be elected like the Senate in the USA on different boundaries and with different times for electing them than the lower house. While he welcomes Alan Johnson's adoption of the Jenkin's solution of AV plus he acknowledges this is not the best situation where as STV allows the people to vote for the person not just the party and the party approved candidate/list.

Can this be done in 100 days?

During the 2001 election William Hague said there was only so many days to save the pound. But really we do only have so many days to save British democracy. But Nick thinks not only that it can be done but that it needs doing concluding:

"Together, over the next 100 days, we could achieve nothing less than the total reinvention of British politics. These months could become a great moment in British political history, rather than a shabby footnote to a shameful month of scandal. Let us seize, not squander, the opportunity for change."

So the MPs should forget about getting on an all-singing, all-dancing double decker to head off to their first or is that second home, you know the one in their constituency. Or even to some other home where they can take flight.

They're not going on a summer holiday,

Heads down working for a week or

Thrasing out reform in their holiday

Working out how to serve you-ou-ou

As they really ought to.
Read also Paul Walter's take on it including the Cleggmeister's timetable. Darell Goodliffe who's willing to bar the gates for longer as some stuff is missing. Jamie Saddler's love (platonic) for Nick Clegg.
UPDATE: You can find out more on the Campaign Website

Scotsman Backs Down

Earlier today the Scotsman's David Maddox posted on the Steamie the paper's blog an article which included unfounded allegations about Jo Swinson's expenses. Indeed this was the same day that the Grauniad had to apologise for printing those falsehoods.

Caron's article alerted me to the latest bit of sloppy and lazy journalism over this whole affair. After correcting the blog a David, possibly Maddox himself, left an apology on Caron's blog stating he had 'checked with the Telegraph who said they had not retracted anything on the original story'. Herein lies the rub, the Telegraph, as James Graham pointed out, are treading a thin line between fact, innuendo, sexism and fiction.

A superficial reading of the article would lead the casual reader to assume that the record of Jo Swinson MP’s expenses claims demonstrate that she had claimed for makeup and dusters. However, a more careful reading reveals the following information:

1 – that although receipts containing those items had been submitted, there is no actual evidence that these specific items had been claimed for. Indeed, this claim is explicitly denied by Jo Swinson herself and no evidence has been brought forward to give us cause to doubt this whatsoever.

2 – furthermore, that in at least one case the items which had been claimed for were clearly marked by an asterisk. In the case of the eyeliner and dusters this was not the case.

3 – the claim that Jo Swinson is "known in Westminster for the attention she pays to her appearance" is entirely unsubstantiated and innuendo-laden. There is nothing remarkable about a Member of Parliament not wishing to look unkempt; indeed they would be open to criticism if they did so.

4 – the headline epithet "makeover queen" is equally unsubstantiated. No-one appears to have called Jo Swinson this apart from the article’s author, Rosa Prince, herself.

5 – the page design is clearly intended to convey the idea that Jo Swinson has had numerous "makeovers" - yet the photographs provided are merely
pictures of her looking slightly different over a period of eight years.

As I pointed out earlier today just because the Tell-lie-graph has exclusive exposure to these expenses claim the fact that many of their points about MPs are merely leading questions, unsubstantiated, unchecked, unresearched, unjournalised if you will. Far from reporting public opinion they are leading it and don't care what half or even untruths they can spread in the telling.

The Tell-lie-graph should carry a health warning at present.

Somethings you read here should be done so with a pinch of salt. Read every word, our lawyers have carefully inserted some so as to keep us legal but to make you miss the meaning. By the way as salt is the root for the word salary we'll be looking for MPs who have mixed up salt and salary with expenses, we're still looking.

It doesn't which is more the point. Look into the facts yourself. Read carefully and look at the reaction and indeed history of your MP's quotes on expenses, transparency etc.

Even the Telegraph appears to be running out of patience

I note that on day 20 of the Daily Telegraph dissecting the MPs expenses that even they appear to have run out of patience. They near the back of the paper have started with the As of every MP that has not yet featured in their own designated article. They are merely printing the ACA or London Allowance it would seem.

Now all of these figures are publicly available on a number of websites however it is the Telegraph trying to cram everyone in over the next few days that is the issue. Today we only get as far as the Cs, but each MP has a little box in which some spurious note which could easily be interpreted in a number of ways is left. It is in depth journalism is merely a comment into some of the expenses claimed. Some of these would appear acceptable under the normal run of events but after 20 days of the incessant reporting in the Telegraph it is likely that the public will not see it that way.

The Telegraph is clearly now on a warpath to print something about each and every Member of Parliament which while I cry out for the claims to be made public the way they are going about it is not neutral. There should be a full detailed listing of expenses claimed by MP's but this should then be commented on by one source nationally as the Telegraph is doing. To be fair it has attacked Tory MPs as as everyone else but none the less its latest venture leaves questions hanging that it seems that time, space and reportage mean they are not going to delve too deeply. Its like they are hanging a tasty morsel around the neck of each MP before throwing them to the hungry lions.

Of course some of the MPs have been open about their expenses for some time even though this has not been required of them. Others have pre-empted the MPs by making their known over recent weeks. There is a need for reform, there is a need for transparency. Although the Telegraph it may be argued has done a service by acting as the catalyst to get the big two parties to toe along behind the Lib Dems to seek reform the time surely has come for them to hand over the wheel to someone that will take the action needed.

Are Labour Heading for Meltdown in the East of Scotland?

When STV voting was brought in the 2007 Scottish council elections it largely brought about an end of the Labour fiefdoms in the Central Belt at local level. However, the domination of their MPs was only broken from North Berwick to Falkirk by John Barrett for the Lib Dems in Edinburgh West. Is that about to change with almost all of their 11 MPs in the region implicated in some way or other in the expenses scandal?

The former leader of Edinburgh City Council Donald Anderson who stood unsuccessfully for Holyrood in Edinburgh South last time says he is worried. The Labour hierarchy is preparing for the possibility of losing 8 of their 11 seats which in 2005 would largely have been considered safe. The majority would in fact of been expected to survive a 10 percent swing but things are looking so grim that only the Prime Minister may have a safe haven.

The Chancellor Alistair Darling is not immune in his Edinburgh South West seat with his not tax deductible tax advise being tax deducted as well as his flipping. Nigel Griffiths was already precarious in Edinburgh South with his 405 majority from 2005. The West Lothian and Falkirk mob of Connarty, Devine and Joyce are all battling to quell public outcry about the way they have seen to be claiming expenses, in the case of Devine on goods already claimed for when Connarty bought them new.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Michael Connarty Responds

Last week I wrote to Michael Connarty to ask why on 3 July last year he voted to do away with certain reforms in Third Report from the Members Estimate Committee: Review of Members Allowances (House of Commons Paper 578). To see what that entailed see my previous post on that issue. However, I did ask if I could publish his reposonse and as there was no objection here it is in full.

Dear Stephen,

I will be disappointed if this turns out to be a Lib Dem propaganda seeking exercise. I worry that we are involved in a race to the bottom with people being asked to see a cheaper MP as being therefore a better MP. Norman Baker MP who has put himself up as the rent a quote MP on expenses turns out to have charged parliament £7,500 per year to rent a room in his house as his constituency office. I have a large room in my house entirely for my office but I do not charge anything. The Labour colleague who acts in the same holier and thou capacity is rumoured to pay his wife a substantial salary as his secretary. I do not employ family members. Who is to judge what circumstances support which decision?

I voted for the motion proposed as I thought the proposed system was flawed. For example the daily reimbursement for subsistence at £30 per day would mean that an MP could claim £150 per week, when the system in place at the time was limited to £100 per week. I am against clocking in for £30 a time.

I also think it is wrong that MPs would still be able to claim for a second home that was not in London. I have always regarded the allowance as a ‘Living In London Allowance’ and used it always for the home where I London where I do my parliamentary work. My main home has always been in my constituency, which meant moving my family from their previous location when I was first selected to stand in Falkirk East in 1992. The Members estimate Committee showed their own preference for using the allowance as a second homes allowance to be used wherever the MP wanted to designate their second home. It has been shown that they biggest abuses were of the flipping back and forward of the second home designation to London and then back to a home which is really the family home in the constituency in most cases.

I do not think the case was, or is well made against the need of an MP whose main family home is in his or her constituency being refused support to buy furniture for a flat in London. There needs to be strict and publicly available rules and strict limits, but it is not supportive of family life if an MP has to take money away from support for his family at their main home to buy essential household furnishings. It will lead to more of a two tier Parliament, with the danger that MPs will go back to the system where they work in another business or profession during the day and pop in after the office, or court day.

It was not a well thought out package. I would have been attracted to a review such as is being carried out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life being undertaken by Kelly at this moment. I have always thought MPs pay and conditions should be set by an outside body and accepted without power to amend the proposals, I hope that si what will happen when Kelly reports.

Thank you for asking.

Michael Connarty MP

Monday, 25 May 2009

Cross Posting: My Rugby Filled Saturday

This is cross posting to an article I wrote for Slugger O'Toole on Saturday morning.

This Nipple is suffering reverse rugby culture shock

Living as I do only a 30 minute train ride out from Edinburgh my insatiable thirst for Rugby is easily satisfied at Scotland’s national stadium. Though my Scottish friends have threatened to ban me attending 6 Nations games if our lads in green keep winning.

However, this weekend for me, a political activist, is just the two weekends before the voting in the Euro elections so I was heading into town for more campaigning. So I trundled down for the 10:25 from Bathgate, normally a pretty quiet service to see a queue of confused looking people at the ticket machine. < Read More >

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Problem with the SNP's Trump Card

I read this morning that the SNP are to use school closures in Glasgow as their 'trump' card to attempt to win the Glasgow North East seat of the outgoing speaker Michael Martin.

As pointed out by Labour the Lib Dem/SNP coalition councils in Aberdeen and Edinburgh are also being forced to closed schools. Not because they want to but because of the shackles that have been imposed by the concordat laid down from the SNP government. Therefore in bridge playing terms if that is the SNPs trump I think it has just been doubled.

Of course the SNP other Trump card may just be to bring in their good friend Donald in and get him to promise to build new schools. In the run up to the election which will never actually take place but he owes them a favour.

Watch this space.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Scott Rennie Calling Upheld By General Assembly

Today has been an busy and varied day for me starting from a train full of Leinster fans, doing some European election campaigning to turning up to campaign in favour of Scott Rennie outside the general assembly.

I have just returned home to see that the General Assembly have voted 326 votes to 267 to uphold the appointment of Scott Rennie as the new minister of Queen's Cross Congregation Aberdeen. Earlier today there were two protests outside the Assembly building in Edinburgh one which it looks like Westboro Baptist Church didn't appear to turn up at had a max of 20 protesters when Zion Baptist church turned up. (the max when we were there pictured behind the barriers.

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The other organised my Liberal Youth Scotland* (LYS) which other groups joined unto had over 100 people turning up for and more dog collars and possibly more Christians, some of us gay, supporting. This on six days notice was quite an acheivement.

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Scott himself came along to say thank you to those of us supporting him. Ruaraidh Dobson President of LYS did a magnificent job in dealing with the press. Scott called in a statement read out on his behalf by Brian Kerr is the the "Kirk should continue to journey together" following this decision.

Personally this gay, Presbyterian Church of Ireland raised, Christian, son and grandson of a three kirk elders, former missionary, friend of Scott is glad that the vote of the Kirk in Aberdeen, and the ratification of the Presbytery has been upheld. Though I guess this may not despite Scott's pleas be the end of things. But a vote has been made as far as the Church of Scotland is concerned.

*Though there were a number of Liberal Democrats who cannot be called youth, but maybe youthful in the ranks (including myself).

Friday, 22 May 2009

First Minster to Stop Double Jobbing

Sadly not the one in Holyrood but the one in Stormont.

Yes, there has been a valid reason until it was shown the the DUP/Sinn Fein executive could work. As Mick Fealty over on Slugger O'Toole points out the announcement that the MPs will not carry on hold Ministerial or Committee chairs in the Assembly came in my home town of Bangor. It effectively means he is also about to remove his wife from the chair of the Health Committee.

So if the DUP can do away with dual mandates after merely a year after resuming a stable and workable agreement with their tersest rivals for the past number of decades what excuse does the MP for Banff and Buchan and MSP for Gordon have left for holding down two jobs over two years after assuming power and maintaining good ratings in the polls ever since?

It Wasnae Me Guv

According the the Daily Record Linlithgow and Falkirk East MP Michael Connarty is claiming that some of the luxury items that he has claimed for were not for him but for Ian Davidson the Glasgow South West MP with whom he was sharing a flat, which they started sharing in 2006. The articles claims that Michael Connarty was claiming the items the £249.99 'alarm clock' (actually a CD/Radio) and £1099 for a Plasma TV and then gave the cash to Davidson.

Excuse me! Doesn't the rules say the the claims are to be exclusively for personal use? If Michael is making the claims that is for his personal use. To then give the cash in full to another MP who then takes the item when the flat share is over leads to question why didn't Davidson claim that item on his expenses.

He also says he was claiming some furnishings (looks like the ones he sold to Jim Devine) for his personal use to take with when he would eventually leave the shared flat.

Davidson goes on to claim that the flat share with Michael actually saved the Taxpayer considerable amounts of money!! Take a look at Michael's additional cost allowance and rankings over recent years.

In 2006/7 Michael who sold the flat in April, would have spent the whole year in the share with Davidson it would seem. From 2002-2005 you can see his ACA was ranked in the top 3 of MPs for each financial year. The gross saving in 2006/7 was £396 pounds. Is that 'considerably cheaper for the tax payer' In 2007/8 Michael resumed his customary position at the top of the ACA charts.

To be fair lets see if Michael was just claiming everything for the two of them. What was Ian Davidson's savings? Let's look at his expenses.

Looking at that for 2006/7 Ian Davidson made a net saving on ACA of -£495 (minus 495 pound saving) he actually cost more. These two sharing had a 'considerable saving to the taxpayer' of actually £99 more. Wow if that is what happens when you start sharing that you barely notice the savings I may just stay in my flat by myself sorry for anyone who loves me enough to move in.

BTW did you notice that in 2007/8 the two of them claimed equal ACA? Where they still sharing a flat? If so, how come the two of them are the equal top claimants cost more than many MPs who aren't sharing? And just how is this a 'considerable saving to the taxpayer'?

To be honest the defence of Michael over his expenses are getting thinner and thinner. I'm just waiting for the ice to crack.

Update on email watch: I have still to hear anything back from Michael Connarty about the email I sent on 19 May. If any constituents are able to get to his surgeries this weekend listed below and gets an answer regarding his expenses please email me on votestephenglenn hat gmail dot spamblock dot com (replace the hat and dots and remove the spamblock).

Friday 22 May Reddingmuirhead Community Centre 17:00-18:00

Shieldhill Road, Reddingmuirhead, Falkirk, FK2 0DT

Saturday 23 May Grangemouth Constituency Office 10:30-11:30

5 Kerse Road, Grangemouth, FK3 8HQ

If you get an answer to any of the questions raised this week, please let me know. I'll treat the response in confidence.

It's A Hard Knock Life

If any of you were reading my Tweets last night you will know that I encountered the shortest, angriest ever encounter that I've ever had on a doorstep while wearing my yellow rosette.

But it isn't all bad news. On the way back to the cars Fred Macintosh was telling me that the number that were going out unto the doorsteps with him had been increasing as the campaign went on. The other thing was that when a lot of people say I'm not voting for anyone and you ask why, the main answer is that all this expenses debacle should have been dealt with before now. Wearing your yellow rosette you can at least reply back citing dates and times that your party voted for transparency, for the end of claiming on furniture, for full disclosure or expenses, and receipts on all items claimed. In other words for Lib Dems at the moment one of the easiest voters to appeal to is actually the disheartened voters, the non-voters, the antis.

It makes me proud of my party for the stance they have long held that with notable exceptions, and yes I have had to agree about certain names on doorsteps, our party is not milking the gravy train. As a whole they have fought to reform the way Parliament works and that goes far beyond the current expenses issues. We want every vote to count, through fair voting systems. We want more transparency and understanding from the public of how our Parliamentary system works. For example you can climb on top of the Bundestag and look down into the main chamber yet Westminster is trying to prevent MPs using video footage of themselves on their own sites or You Tube channels.

We need a modern, effective Parliament which can be shown to be beyond reproach. That way we can re-establish public confidence. Last night on Radio 4's PM show I heard the analogy that our constitution, like our British nature, is largely jotted down on the back of envelopes as it would do for now. Now certainly is the right time to do something about that. Why are we scared of a written constitution anyway. The American one which is in the National Archive where President Obama was speaking yesterday is a fluid document. It can and has been amended as needs for change arise. But the basis is set and the people know that.

Going Nowhere Fast

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I'm not sure how long they were going for or how long they still had to go but yesterday as I got into Waverley Station wanting to go somewhere, in my case home, I found these two going nowhere fast.

They were doing so to raise money for Children 1st the charity looking to provide a happy, healthy, safe and secure future for every child in Scotland. I hope they raise plenty of money to add to my small donation.

As I said I don't know how long they had left, but at least they were smiling when I asked for a pic.

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

If at First You Don't Succeed Play On

This is a tale that is particularly relevant to Jonathan Calder and chess playing AM Peter Black but the lesson is a pertinent one for us all.

Looking at the 2nd Chess table below it would appear that I came equal second. The winner clearly won all their games and me and the other mid table sitter shared the spoils of our own encounters and beat the player who came last in both games.

However, this was a ranked tournament only for those with a ranking of 1500 or less. With the first round of online play now concluded I got the following email.

Congratulations on winning the 1st round of Intermediate Chess section, 55th GameKnot tournament! The player with the top score in your group has been moved to the next higher section due to their top rating in the past 90 days exceeding the rating limit of the section, so you will be advancing to the next round as the runner-up.

So the lesson is that though at times you may think you are fighting for scraps keep up the effort you may well be rewarded after you yourself had given up hope. Looking at the table above I'd need the victor to make some serious advances over the coming ranks for that feat to be repeated in the 56th Tournament as well.

Livingston No More

Before you ask why I'm invoking the line from the Proclaimers song Letter From America about the town I live in. It is not to do with the football team but the new Boundary Commission for Scotland and how they affect West Lothian.

First off there will as be only two unlike mentioned earlier at the time of the initial review three constituencies representing the council area a reshaped Linlithgow, and Livingston largely reshaped and renamed as Almond Valley. Slightly more confusing is that after 12 years of being totally in the Lothian Region the Linlithgow seat will now be in the newly renamed East Central Scotland Region. This may sort out the anomoly of the Westminster seat Linlithgow and Falkirk East straddling two Holyrood regions but leaves this small corner of the Region in a different health, police and education authority.

This has all short of ramifications. Fiona Hyslop has been the SNP candidate for Linlithgow for the last two elections but sits as a Lothian List MSP. The West Lothian Lib Dems now straddle two regions so there may be some internal realignment to reflect the new regions.

Personally it is highly possible that I could yet end up serving on two regional Lib Dem execs without moving constituency. However, as my international status for playing bowls moves with which country I live in I'm not too put out my that having been eligible for England, Ireland and Scotland thus far.

Is Michael Connarty Worth Every Penny?

I know from personal experience that Michael Connarty does indeed draft every letter that he writes to me as he insists elsewhere in today's Falkirk Herald. But obviously I'm not sure whether being one of his four opponents at the last General Election and one of his most public outspoken critics I come in for any special treatment.

That is why I need you my fellow Linlithgow and Falkirk East consituents to take part in the poll.

The option are:

Yes, Michael is a good constituency MP and worth every penny.

Michael is a good constituency MP but some of his purchases on expenses are not necessary and should be paid back.

Michael's shady dealings in property with Jim Devine should be paid back.

No. Not worth every penny.

No and if not deselected I will be voting to get him out.

I'll be running this for a month to give as many local residents as possible a chance to voice their opinion. Comments can be added below, real name not required but if you are a L&FE constituent please indicate.

Quote of the Day: Michael Connarty Again

"People may not like it but everything was above board."

Well the MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East Michael Connarty has finally spoken and summed up his take on his own expenses claims with the above statement to the Falkirk Herald.

He also had said:

"The thief who stole the documents and the Daily Telegraph, which is clearly guilty of 'resetting' the documents, face prosecution if they breach the Data Protection Act.

"They are criminal and using stolen information for their own financial ends."

Problem is Michael to the people of Linlithgow and Falkirk East you little dealing with Jim Devine, the appearance to claim for the replacement of goods for which the Livingston MP paid you money, the excesses such as a £250 alarm clock (I've sold perfectly adequate ones in my working life which retail for about £10), plus you reluctance to publish you own expenses for public scrutiny, all add up to make it appear that you have used the Parliamentary system for your own financial ends.

Publish and be damned but don't damn the whole electorate with that foolhardy soundbite.

A Rennard Shaped Hole to Fill

No not the title of one of my focus leaflets relation to a pot hole.

I've just opened my email to find the the man widely regarded as the Lib Dem Electionmeister Lord Chris Rennard is to step down from his role as Cheif Executive of the Party after the European Elections are under way. His wife has recently retied from teaching and Chris himself lists the battle to control his diabetes as two of the main contributing factors to him reaching this decision.

When I joined the party plain Chris Rennard as he was then was already spoken of in hushed tones and somewhat in awe by many party members. He really had geed up the parties electioneering machine and made us in serious challengers once again instead of merely a third party that only had the glories of the past to live on. One thing that I have noticed in the intervening years that many more in party can now think instinctively (or has that all be learnt) as far as electioneering goes. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery I watch some of the moves in elections by both Labour and the Conservatives as high praise indeed for Rennardian techniques and methods. Of course down through the years the party machine, often with Chris at the rudder, has looked to stay ahead of the game.

Chris in his email says:

"My major work as Chief Executive in recent years has been to help create new structures for the party organisation and help to recruit an extremely strong professional team to work for it. The role of Chief Executive has therefore changed significantly since I undertook this role six years ago."

This is indeed the case. The skills have been spread around, others have taken up the banner and will no doubt be more than capable of carrying things onward. The world is constantly evolving, as is communication and the electorate will constantly expect us to keep up with them. Rennard's departure while looking initially like a difficult challenge to fill has been made easier by his willingness to share with others.

My main regret is that I may not be able to gain revenge for the last round victory his team sneaked over mine in the last round of the table quiz at the 2005 Scottish candidates and agents Kick Start Training weekend.

For the Sake of Full Disclosure

With the current spate of sleaze being attached to our political classes in the last half hour when this item of news was pointed out to me I feel that in this interconectiveness age I need to make the following statement.

I worked with and indeed sat next the convicted at the time of his separation from his partner and eviction. I was not aware of the full extent of that story as revealed in the press article nor fully of the depths to which he sank. Especially I had no knowledge of what he was planning to do and ended being arrested, charged and imprisioned for.

I have had no direct contact with him for a number of months and apart from Facebook had no direct links.

In the spirit of this age when those of us seeking, or hoping in the future to seek, public office must appear to not only adhere to the law not only in actuality but in full spirit I have removed this contact from my friends in Facebook and feel the need to issue this statement in a public forum as soon as possible. One advantage of being an active blogger is that I can issue that immediately.

Saving Blogger Ryan

Ryan Cullen's appeal last night on behalf of of Lib Dem Blogs has so far been a resounding sucess. He writes this morning:

"In the last 12 hours I have already received 29 donation and three requests for my details to send a cheque (payable to Ryan Cullen, posted to 27 Gibbeson Street, Lincoln, LN5 8JP).I have now received enough money to pay the upfront costs to host LibDemBlogs for a year and am waiting for the new server to be configured.

Once this is done I can start the process of transferring all the files from the old machine to the new one. I hope to get most of this done over the bank holiday weekend.The last step will be waiting for the DNS servers to update across the internet pointing everyone to the new site.

For the time being I will be making manual updates to LibDemBlogs through
out the day.


ps, I still need more donations to continue paying for the rest of the years hosting.

Please note his PS folks if you have only just woken up to the news. Help chip in to the running costs.

Ryan I mean this in all seriousness, my cheque is in the post.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Appeal for the Lib Dem Blogosphere

In a couple of months time this blog will be 4 years old. A few weeks (if indeed it took that long) after I started it it was added the Lib Dem Blogs Aggregator for an infant Lib Dem blogger like myself it was a way to get noticed. And even though I get a far smaller proportion of my hits* direct from there I still get a good flow from there.

Ryan Cullen the brains behind the tool ,which other parties have tried to emulate, has done his best to maintain a service. But in order to provide a good service for such a high traffic site costs money to maintain that level of service.

Sadly this is an appeal for all Lib Dem readers of this blog whether bloggers or merely members who enjoy scouring the Lib Dem Blogosphere but I'll had you over to Ryan.

As you can see he jokingly suggests a 'pay-and-display' service for bloggers. So I've provided by backdated parking charges plus next year in advance. Hop over to LibDemBlogs yourself and help the Lib Dem Blogs that are written and like me 4 years ago those that are yet to start being written. We are all equals there our writings only listed only in the order we have posted, although I am considering a name change by deed poll to get up the alphabetical list (it was fine when there were about 50 of us).

*While the proportion is down the number is up. I just get more hits and from a wider range of sources than in this blog's infancy.

We are the Angry Mob, We Read the Paper Yesterday

I've long been a challenger of Michael Connarty over his lack of movement on opening up key elements of Parliament, such as expenses to public scrutiny. I have yet to hear back* from an email I sent to him 24 hours later, which for me is actually quite a lengthy delay in my communication with him during the working week when Parliament is sitting.

His claims which despite him rating to reveal them are leaking out are creating a stir across the constituency and with many of my fellow passengers this morning. However, it isn't just me or those on the bus that is shocked with the revelations about the Linlithgow and Falkirk East MP. The Times was in Grangemouth getting opinion of a lot of upset fellow constituents. The Scotsman are highlighting some reader's comments.

The Glasgow Evening News gained no comment from the MP.

*UPDATE: I heard on the news that Michael was out of the country on Parliamentary business so I await his response some point from Thursday on as he is back in the UK.

Do I Suddenly Really Need to Have Three Labour Constituency Offices?

I have to admit that at the time in the morning I usually am heading to the bus I'm not that awake. So for weeks now I may well have walked down Hopetoun Street in Bathgate and turned right unto South Street to pick up my paper from the newsagents then had my head in it looking for a headline to blog about as I returned up South Street to catch the bus.

It may well me that the sign for the offices of Mary Mulligan MSP (pictured right) have stared me in the face for all those weeks since I posted this about Mary's name being removed from the offices near my house.

Now I'm not casting aspersions as I'm sure the claim for this new office is all above the board with the people at Holyrood. However, after 10 years of sharing office space, first with Tam Dalyell and then with Michael Connarty, why now does Mary Mulligan feel the need to burden the taxpayer with a second constituency office no more than 300 metres from another for the same party? Sharing offices between MPs and MSPs of the same party is not uncommon practice so why the need for the DMZ between the two now?

Is it because of the current unearthing of MPs expenses that are embroiling her Westminster colleague that she wants to distance herself?

Have they fallen out over irreconcilably? Michael has shown staunch support for Gordon Brown and lately the Speaker in a failing Westminster regime. Is Mary trying to distance herself from that?
I had specualted that maybe Mary was moving to Whitburn in preparation for the contesting the Airdrie, Shotts and Whitburn seat which may be approved by the Electoral Commission for Scotland this week. But as this office is in Bathgate that would not appear to be the case.

However, the fact that now we have two constituency offices in Bathgate (indeed Michael also has one in Grangemouth) so close to each other seems like a cause for explanation to the taxpayers and the electorate who share Mary Mulligan and Michael Connarty. At a time when other people and business in the private sector are tightening budgets and rationalising why have these two expanded in to even more office space?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The West Lothian Swindle

Michael Connarty, MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, may only have been neighbourly when he sold his London flat and some of it's contents to neighbouring MP Livingston's Jim Divine. But he then went on the claim for replacing furniture at tax-payers expense in his new tax payers funded flat.

Surely if the furntiture was in perfectly good nick to be sold on to another along with the property it would have got a reasonable price that should have been offset against it's replacement? Isn't that what ordinary folk do?

Ironically just around the corner from Michael's Bathgate offices in HomeAid West Lothian which takes donations of furniture to help needy families and individuals in his constituency, people he is supposed to represent.

Michael Connarty We Know What You Did Last Summer

Last summer as pointed out by Mark Pack at Lib Dem Voice there actually was a vote to bring reforms to MP's expenses. Many Labour and Conservative members voting for an amendment that rejected the following changes to the system.

Recommendation 1 was for a "robust new system of practice assurance involving regular financial health checks on records kept and processes used in Members' offices with outside professional teams covering about 25% of Members each year". This was substituted by a "rigorous internal system of audit".

Recommendation 2 would have extended "the scope of the audit engagement so that it is the same as for other public bodies."

Recommendation 3 would have reduced the receipt threshold from £25 to zero so that all claims, however small, would have had to be backed by receipts.

Recommendation 4 was for the Green Book (setting out the rules on allowances for Members) to be revised to specify more detailed rules.

Recommendation 6 was for MPs to no longer be able to claim reimbursement for furniture and household goods or for capital improvements.

Recommendation 7 was that MPs representing constituencies in outer London should be eligible to claim half of any overnight expenses allowance.

Recommendation 13 was for the Additional Costs Allowance to comprise of a £19,600 maximum budget for accommodation (excluding furniture, household goods and capital improvements) but operating on the basis of itemised reimbursement and a flat rate of £30 for daily subsistence.

There those voting aye here were actually voting no to all of the above, such is the difficulty in deciphering some Westminster votes to members of the public. Amongst those who voted against all of the above in the 2nd highest claiming MP Michael Connarty. He has a lot to answer to.

Why has he blocked these reforms?

Why are his claims consistently amongst the highest in Parliament (£183,466 last year rank 2nd most expensive MP)? And significantly higher than neighbouring MPs? With the exception of some notable Labour colleagues especially Eric Joyce.

Why has he yet to publish an itemised list of his expenses? Which are being blocked even following Freedom of Information requests.

He has also as has been reported earlier found the 'ridiculous and tiresome' to fill in his claims for FOI purposes. Why? Does he still feel the same today? If so is it time for him to go?

So as in the title of the film we know what you did last summer, but we want to know what you're going to do in the future. Michael has been largely quiet on the whole expenses issue in recent days.

UPDATE: Connarty has told the press that he will not be self publishing his own expenses before they are disclosed through Parliament.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Tick Tock....When Will Speaker be gone?

After this afternoon's statement followed by stumblings over just what sort of motion was being raised against him surely the clock is ticking on Michael Martin speaker of the house of commons. But just when will it stop ticking. I see there being 6 options.

  1. He will go himself before tonight. He'll realise just how much feeling there is against him. Maybe the party leaders will even take up the offer to see him early and they may all already be gathering to advise him to go.

  2. Before the House rises in tomorrow. Having had a night to think about it, he will go before the Motion of Confidence is present on the order paper.

  3. He will be ousted during business tomorrow. If he fails to allow a debate on the motion of no confidence in himself there may well be a sucession of points of order asking him to move to the debate. The order of the House will be lost and the Government will have no option but to move the debate they wanted to avoid will procede and the Speaker will go dishonourably on a vote.

  4. He will go in two days time when he does convene the meetings of the leader. Already the actions of Cameron and Brown are tacit indications that their support has been lifted so as no to hinded others to make their choices. That meeting should be the final nail in the coffin if he survives that long.

  5. He may come to an agreement that he will go at the Summer recess ready for a sucessor to be selected when the House returns.

  6. The final option which seems most unlikely is that he will survive until the General Election is called. However, if he lasts that long the public and many in the House will not be happy.

These are the various choses. I've set up a poll in the side bar take a vote as to how long you think we'll have the current speaker.

Quote of the Day: Michael Connarty

In today's Scotsman Linlithgow and Falkirk East MP says the calls for the Speaker Michael Martin to step down are 'complete and utter rubbish'.

He goes on to accuse Nick Clegg of bullying, but what about the speakers actions in the House last week towards Kate Hoey and Norman Baker.

Michael's words in support of the Speaker over the expenses row would have more impact if in January he hadn't said that supplying receipts to back all his expense claims deems the process to meet it for FOI 'ridiculous and tiresome'.

Michael was out of touch in January and remains out of touch today.

Open Letter to the Speaker From Lib Dem PPCs

It of course is not just sitting MPs that are being effected by the fallout over MPs expenses and the speakers poor handling of the whole scenario it is those that are seeking to stand as an alternative.

Therefore the letter that follows from 56 Lib Dem PPCs in an election year in unprecedented but shows that we need to clear this whole shebang up now or as soon as possible so that those who will be standing in the next General Election (an I hope myself to be included in that number) are not being tarnished by the sins of our forebears.

Dear Mr Speaker,
As Parliament continues to be dragged down by the allowance system, and its rules, the role of those in public service across the country is being undermined.

We are Liberal Democrat candidates seeking to be elected to Parliament and yet we find ourselves disappointed, and frustrated, at the way in which this matter is being handled. Every day our residents are telling us loudly that this must stop and this must stop now.

Three things stand out:

  • The resistance to the releasing of these documents and the attempt to exclude Parliament from the Freedom of Information requirements
  • The way in which Norman Baker and Kate Hoey were treated when they sought to raise legitimate concerns
  • The fact that, through you, Parliament could now release the information into the public domain and cut short this parade of drip-fed news and empower MPs and citizens through a new transparent relationship.

It is vital that Parliament must become transparent and accountable now. We call on you, as Speaker of the House, to do everything within your power to force the full publication of all expenses immediately. We also call on you to accept the independent review of MPs expenses and salaries chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly.

If you are unable to do this we then ask you to consider your position. Time is running out for politicians of all parties to repair the damage to our democracy.
Yours sincerely

56 Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates

Ed Fordham, Hampstead and Kilburn

Sal Brinton, Watford

Andrew Simpson, Northampton North

Bridget Fox, Islington South & Finsbury

Duncan Borrowman, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Steve Goddard, Oxford East

Adrian Collett, Aldershot

Adam Carew, East Hampshire

Gareth Epps, Reading East

Sally Morgan, Central Devon

Sue Doughty, Guildford

Rebecca Hunt. Chatham & Aylesford

Sarah Carr, Hereford and South Herefordshire

Guy Voizey Canterbury and Whitstable

Jo Shaw, Holborn and St Pancras

Liz Leffman, Meon Vallley

Merlene Emerson, Hammersmith

Sandy Walkington, St Albans

Richard Burt, West Worcestershire

Caroline Pigeon, Vauxhall

Kevin Lang, Edinburgh North & Leith

Andrew Dakers, Brentford and Isleworth

Andrew Duffield,Hexham

David Kendall, Brentwood and Ongar

Ann Haigh, Epping Forest

Simon Wright, Norwich South

Liz Simpson, Tonbridge and Malling

Sam Webber, Bromley and Chislehurst

Rabi Martins - Luton North

Greg Stone, Newcastle EastT

heo Butt-Philip, Bridgwater and West Somerset

Dave Radcliffe, Birmingham Selly Oak

Richard Clein, Sefton Central

Mike Cox, Uxbridge and South Ruislip

Andy Stamp, Gillingham & Rainham

Stephen Lloyd, Eastbourne & Willingdon

Mark Blackburn, Westminster North

Denis Healy, Hull North

Robin Lawrence, Wolverhampton South West

Alex Feakes, Lewisham and West Penge

Andrew Falconer, Brighton Pavilion

Dave McBride, Orpington

Nigel Quinton, Hitchin & Harpenden

Alan Beddow, Warwick and Leamington

David Goodall, Southampton Itchen

Ryk Downes, Leeds Central

Chris Took, Ashford

Peter Wilcock, Saffron Walden

Karen Hamilton, Birmingham Perry Barr

Qurban Hussain, Luton South

Keith Angus, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Stephen Robinson, Chelmsford

Mike Bell, Weston-super-Mare

Dave Raval, Hackney South and Shoreditch

Fred Mackintosh, Edinburgh South

Munira Wilson, Feltham and Heston

Paul Zukowskyj, Welwyn Hatfield

Mr Speaker to Speak; But What?

Morten Morland from The Times 18 May 2009 Morten Morland from The Times 18 May 2009
Michael Martin the Speaker of the House of Commons has announced he will address MPs later on today. With growing support across all parties for a vote of no confidence in him how he handles this and what he says will be of absolute importance.

Yesterday Nick Clegg broke with the convention of the Leaders of the main parties not criticising the Speaker when on the Andrew Marr show he called for him to go saying:

"I do not think the Speaker should be made a scapegoat...for the individual failings of many MPs.

Equally I do not think we can afford the luxury of a Speaker, who is supposed to embody Westminster, who has been dragging his feet on transparency and greater accountability in the way MPs receive their expenses."

The reason Clegg gave for breaking this convention is that the system is broken and Parliament needs a clean start. The people are expecting that but Martin has done all he can to avoid transparency even taking legal action to prevent Freedom of Information requests being made public, as well as his recent attack on Kate Hoey in the chamber.

But the expenses issue Nick says is merely the tip of the iceberg that is threatening to sink Parliament. He went further calling for the electorate to have to right to call an election of any member found to have done wrong by the Committee on Standards. Also calling for a cutting in the size and power of Whitehall and giving new freedoms including money raising to local communities. Also the need for a written constitution is required. As Nick said there are all these conventions and unwritten rules that hog tie too often Parliamentary reform the very things that lead to lack of understanding and comprehension from the public.

So Nick is the only party leader who is grasping the depth that this issue is going and prepared to stand up to say and do what needs to be said and done. He is leading from the front with decisiveness, authority and clarity. The others are trying to look like they are aware of the need for change but are trying to appease too much their own MPs through fudging around the issues and ignoring the people who's representatives the Members are.

However, it is how Mr Speaker Martin uses his public utterances later that is crucial. If he comes out fighting aiming to cling on without observing his surroundings he will merely be like Captain Smith firing up the engines to continue to run Parliament head on into the iceberg. What the fall out of him staying on and fighting the groundswell of loss of support may well have equally Titanic repercussions.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Quote of the Day: Mark Lazarowicz

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland this according to ePolix Mark Lazarowicz the MP for Edinburgh North and Leith said:

"Why on earth am I bothering to pay back the money? That's actually the view which has come back from a large number of people I have been in contact with.

"I do wonder to a certain extent whether, in some hysterical atmosphere in Westminster during the week, possibly I over-reacted to the situation.

"Speaking to some of the Lib Dem MPs in particular who have paid some sums of money for relatively small items, I do wonder if some of us have been as it were taken along in a situation where maybe we shouldn't.

"Having said that, I've said I'll pay it back, I will pay it back, because I actually accept at the end of the day the fundamental principle that MPs shouldn't actually benefit from property they have acquired."

Now come on Mark you're meant to have a calm head when dealing with expenses. Both in making claims and in paying overpayment claims back. Flipping on the designation of homes is one thing but flipping on the decision of waht you decided to do and so often in four paragraphs is something else. But at least you argued yourself round in enough circles there to come to the conclusion that not benefiting from property is the thing an MP should do.

Let's Get Out of the Edinburgh Property Game Too

Nick Clegg has already stated that the Lib Dem MPs are not going to make any personal gain from the Westminster second homes allowance and has been widely applauded for doing so.

However, yesterday as he approached the Holyrood hacks all Tavish Scott would have had to say was that neither he not any Lib Dem MSP would benefit from the Holyrood scheme which is being run down anyway and all would have been fine under the bird of Liberty. I feel that Tavish made a error when being asked about MSP's home to answer merely by pointing the situation back at the Westminster mob.

While the Holyrood scheme is more transparent with the receipts for expenses claims being published. Also MSPs cannot claim back Capital Gains Tax or Stamp Duty on their sellings and purchases. Indeed after 2011 and new MSPs will not be allowed to benefit from the scheme at all. The benefit for those incumbents therefore from expenses should merely be to allow MSPs to carry out the essential business of government they should not be allowed to benefit from the housing boom in Morningside, Leith or anywhere else in Scotland's capital personally. This is what the public are now crying out for, quite rightly and it doesn't take a big effort really. All they want is that their elected representatives get what they need to carry out their duties and not luxuriate in things that most of us, even in a business with an expenses culture, would have to pay for out of our own expenses. At the end of their period as an MSP when they have to leave they merely return any net increase to the Parliament and therefore they will not have gained financially.

Come on Tavish just say the words, "No Lib Dem MSP will make personal financial gain from there accommodation allowance." See it doesn't hurt.

Beckford Needs to Retract, Apologise and Resign on Argyll and Bute

I notice this morning after mounting criticism from amateur geographers in Scotland and beyond still list Alan Reid MP for Argyll and Bute on their list of shame with the extract:

Alan Reid claimed more than £1,500 on his parliamentary expenses for staying in
hotels and bed-and-breakfasts near his home.
These were hardly just up the road from Cardross. Nor when taking in the island nature, CalMac timetabling, weather rescheduling at standard of roads in much of the outlying reaches of Argyll and Bute.

There has been growing outrage over MPs making outrageous claims. But not call for Martin Beckford (pictured left) to apologise or dare I say it resign for the inaccuracies and misleadings of his article. I for one think he should and am wondering why none of the letters that I'm sure have been sent along with mine complaining about this have been published in the Telegraph.

Michael Beckford what say you?

Update: A quick bit of research, almost as quick as looking up the Wikipedia constituency map, shows that Martin Beckford is social and religious affairs correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. He's not really a political mover and therefore may have little knowledge of the working of constituency politics.

Therefore I call on Benedict Brogan (right) the Chief Political correspondent on the Telegraph who must have overall editorial control over the revelations over the last week to answer some questions.

  1. Did he have final editorial say in what went into the 6 pages per day coverage in the Telegraph?

  2. Did he look at each of the articles to see if there was justification to call the MP to account?

  3. As he failed to answer last night on BBC's Question Time how exactly did he come to have in his procession what are stolen goods? And has he handed details of his source to the police who are investigating their theft?

  4. Does he have nay idea how beautiful, vast and awkward to get to bits of the Argyll and Bute constituency actually are? Or do any of the 25 members of staff he claims on these stories have such knowledge?

  5. Why wasn't such knowledge either used or checked before publication?

  6. Why is there still no apology, no retraction or no other action over these spurious claims?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Yesterday I noticed that both Iain Dale and Kezia Dugdale were jumping up and down with glee because Norman Baker was reported in the Brighton Argus had been claiming rent on office space in the property he bought as his home. However, it appears he has not done so since 2004 from the article both quoted extensively from.

I embarked on a little research last night to see what the Green Book said and also to look into the background history of this story before making comment. I was still to write my conclusions on this research when I saw this morning I notice that to his credit Iain has published the following full statement from Norman.

1. I have long campaigned for transparency in MPs’ expenses and for the system to be drastically reformed to end unacceptable practices. I intend to continue to do so.

2. I therefore have no objection at all to public examination of my expenses, which for some time have been published on my own website.

3. I have pursued the actions above, not merely because they are right, but because I am confident that my own expenses claims have both met the rules and more importantly are morally justifiable.

4. I would point out that I have, along with only a minority of MPs, never used taxpayers’ money to obtain a mortgage and through that a capital gain, let alone indulged in “house flipping”. I have not used the second home allowance for the acquisition of expensive consumer durables or for property repairs, and maintenance, the costs of which have fallen on my landlord.5

. In respect of today’s article in the Brighton Argus, the facts are as follows:
(a) When I was elected in 1997, I secured a shop for rent in a mixed hereditament in Lewes High Street, with my landlady occupying the rest of the building
(b) When in 2000 she decided to sell the building, I asked the Fees Office for advice on whether or not it was in order to buy the building for our own domestic purposes, and keep the office on site. I did so because
(i) We were in any case very keen to move houses and this house met our
(ii) The nature of the property is such that it would have presented
operational problems had a new landlord or landlady been hostile
(iii) I did not want the upheaval, and indeed cost to the taxpayer, of
moving offices shortly before an expected General Election

(c) I did not commit to purchase until I had received clearance, in writing, from the Fees Office
(d) As part of the proper protection for the taxpayer, the independent and external District Valuer was called in to decide the appropriate rent to be paid. His decision was of course accepted.
(e) The rent he decided was, in fact, marginally less than I had been paying to my landlady, so an immediate saving to the taxpayer was realised (along with the savings made by not moving)
(f) Not so long after I had moved to the house, the Fees Office indicated that they had changed their minds and that they had now decided that rent could not be paid to my wife and me, despite the written assurances in clear terms I had been given.
(g) A period of, from memory, about two years followed where no rent was paid and my wife and I provided an office in our house for Parliamentary use at no charge. Given that at that time it was not difficult to rent out shops in the High Street, my wife and I therefore lost well over ten thousand pounds of income as a consequence, while the taxpayer secured an office free of charge, saving the public purse a similar amount. The taxpayer has therefore lost no money as a result of the arrangements, indeed quite the reverse. I was thousands of pounds worse off, as I could have rented the space out for an income and the public purse would have paid for me to have an office elsewhere.
(h) In March 2006, I moved my constituency office to its present address, recommencing claiming for rent.

6. This whole story was subject to a story in the Sunday Times several years ago, followed by a correction the following week...

7. Having said that, I am totally in favour of full disclosure when it comes to matters involving public money, and am happy to provide the facts.

8. If the allegation is that this is somehow an expenses fiddle it must be the only case where the MP accused is thousands of pounds out of pocket, and the taxpayer is better off, as a consequence .

Now I doubt the Brighton Argus can afford to have 25 staff working on these stories like the Telegraph but they are only working locally. However one thing this latest escalation in press witch hunting would do well to do is learn from the Washingston Post over the Watergate scandal. Yes you may have some apparently juicy peices of information thrust into your hands.


Do background checks.

Do journalism.

Make the shit stick to the fan that deserves to hit it and leave what isn't well alone. Throwing everything at something willy nilly will throw up flaws that will detract for the important message if you look at it hard enough and carefully enough.

David Who for Next PM

All of the talk about David Cameron being the man to lead Britain out of the mess that Brown has left us wallowing in is starting to stagnate. The PoliticsHome leadership tracker shows that the boy wonder Cameron's lead is slipping. While he has stagnated at just over a quarter of the 1,000 respondents questioned fast coming up almost doubling in impact is Nick Clegg who is now just 4% behind the man being talked about in some circles as the next Prime Minister elect.

PoliticsHome say:

"The figures show Clegg has moved from a position sixteen percentage points
behind Cameron to just four points behind in a four week period. The public's
overall rating of Clegg's leadership was eleven percent in mid-April, but the
latest figures show it to be twenty three percent.

"Clegg's handling of the Gurkha settlement issue appears to have been
received well by voters with his approval rating increasing five percent (from
fourteen percent to nineteen percent) the week following the government's defeat
in the House of Commons on the Gurkha bill on April 29. He has continued to do
well throughout the row over MPs' expenses, rising four percentage points since
last week."

As for the Prime Minister. Well he's languishing at negative 44% over the same period. So Clegg is doing fine handling some difficult calls, he is impacting on the public and moving up in their estimation. If this carries on the public may well be wanting a new broom at number 10 and it may not necessarily be the MP for Witney.

Intrernational Outcry Against Aung San Suu Kyi Charges

Aung San Suu Kyi has now been officially charged by authorities in Burma (Myanmar) for breaking terms of her house arrest.

US Citizen John Yettaw who swam across the lake to her compound and then hid out there for two days, despite Suu Kyi asking him to swim back across the lake and not wanting him there, is the reason for these charges. The military junta seem to be ceasing on this outside and unwanted influence to detain the Nobel Peace Laureate for longer than they currently can and past the date of elections scheduled for 2010.

She will face trial having been removed from her compound to Insein jail this morning on Monday and the charges carry a maximum five year jail term.

US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said:

"We have seen this report, which is certainly troubling if true. US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton has seen it as well, and has asked the Department to work
to get more information."

Gordon Brown has added the concerns of the UK saying:

"The Burmese regime is clearly intent on finding any pretext, no matter how
tenuous, to extend her unlawful detention. I am deeply disturbed that Aung San
Suu Kyi may be charged with breaching the terms of her detention.

"The real injustice, the real illegality, is that she is still detained
in the first place. If the 2010 elections are to have any semblance of
credibility, she and all political prisoners must be freed to participate.

"Only then will Burma be set on the road to real democracy, stability
and prosperity."

Elsewhere Norway and Germany are amongst a growing list of nations that condemn the arrest and impending trial of Ms Suu Kyi.

Keep up to date with more and what you can do to help at the Burma Campaign UK site.

Burma Pro-Democracy Leader Faces Trial

Aung San Suu Kyi the leader of Myanmar's (Burma's) National League for Democracy Party has been taken from her house where she has been under house arrest without trial for the last 6 years and for 13 of the last 19 years to Rangoon'n Insein prision to face trail.

Her current term of detention was due to end on 25 May. It appears that the military junta are going to use the incident of the America who swam over to Suu Kyi's comound last week as grounds for the charge. Myanmar law make it mandatory for any citizen to notify local officials about any overnight visitor who is not a family member. Foreigners are not allowed to spend the night at a local's home. That American John Yiddaw has yet to be charged. However, Washington group U.S. Campaign for Burma say that he along with Ms Suu Kyi, her two maids and her personal doctor Tin Myo Win (who was arrested without explanation the day after the incident) will be being tried in the court at Insein jail from 7:30am (local time) 1:ooam (BST) this morning.

Show you support for Aung San Suu Kyia and Democracy for Myanmar/Burma by visiting the Burma Campaign UK website.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A Tour of Argyll and Bute Take Two

I see that Caron has attempted to give you tour of Argyll and Bute, Alan Reid's constituency (pictured left). It's geography can read a bit like a Whisky tour comprising both Islay and Jura the two bigger islands to the South, Mull the biggest island to the north plus the northern isles of Coll and Tiree, Colonsay between Islay and Mull plus little Gigha just off the Mull of Kintye and Bute at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde.

Now some island life facts. You can only get to Jura after first visiting Islay and Tiree after first visiting Coll. There is no direct mainland ferry service to either.

Looking at the Caledonian MacBryne timetable lets try and get Alan Reid from Cardross to Tarbert of Jura and back as quickly as possible. There are two ports on Islay Port Ellen in the south and Port Askaig in the North East from where you catch the ferry to Feolin Ferry.

First the time according to RAC Route Planner from Cardross to Kennacraig by road takes 2hrs 37 minutes.

Monday to Saturday there are three services across that wouldn't necessitate and overnight stay after doing something. The 0700 and 0945 from Kennacraig to Port Ellen and the 1300 from Kennacraig to Port Askaig, these arrive at 0920, 1205 and 1505 respectively. CalMac require a 45 check in for a car before boarding. Therefore Alan would have to leave Cardross at 0338, 0623 0r 0938 to get there.

For the first two you'd have to make the 21 mile traverse of Islay to get to Port Askaig. This road isn't dualled so for safety the 1000 crossing may be out. Therefore Alan should get on the 1030 or 1300 crossing to Jura. It is then 24 miles along a single car width road with passing places from Feolin Ferry to Tarbert. These are not roads to be taken lightly. It would require at least 45 minutes to get along there and that is if the road is clear. So the Earliest we could get Alan to Tarbert would be 1115.

Having got to Jura taking the 1530 Ferry back from Port Askaig would require leaving Tarbert by taking at the latest the 1620 ferry back to Islay, safer making the earlier 1425 to account for weather. Giving him only the option of capturing the 0700 Ferry to make this one back with just about 2 hours in Tarbert.

So instead lets head for the 1800 from Port Ellen instead back to Kennacraig arriving at 2020. But CalMac need you to book in a car 45 minutes before which means having to get the 1645 Ferry from Feolin Ferry (leaving Tarbert no later than 1600) then driving the 21 miles across Islay in the 25 minutes from when the ferry is scheduled to land. Far safer to catch the 1610 to give you an extra 35 minutes to allow for sheep, tractors or distillery lorries. This means the leaving Tarbert at 1525.
Don't forget there is still that 2hrs 37 trip home so for maximum of 4hr 15 minute in Tarbert on Jura Alan Reid would have to leave Cardrossan at 0338 and get back home at 2257. Therefore an 19 hour 19 minute day of which 15 hours and 5 is travelling for just over 4 hours in one of the far flung corners. Michael Beckford you are welcome to try and do just that one trip if you have an issue with Alan Reid claiming an overnight stay in a B&B whilst utilising time and money to do a tour.

Apparently I'm a Nazi

I'm quite used to Neil Craig using that word about me and my Lib Dem colleagues, but apparently from a pulpit at Kirkmuirhill Kirk in Lanark I was branded one on Sunday. Rev Ian Watson used his sermon to combine those who support Scott Rennie with the power behind the Third Reich. He said:

"[Hitler] guessed correctly that the French had no stomach for a fight. If
only they had, then the tragedy of a Second World War might have been

"To claim that the homosexual lifestyle is worthy of a child of God; to
demand that a same-sex partnership be recognised as on a footing with marriage;
to commend such a lifestyle to others is to deny that Jesus Christ is our only
Sovereign and Lord. It is to turn the grace of God into a licence for

"Such people will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor.6:10)*. And
therefore they must be resisted . . . Let me assure you, neither I nor
like-minded minsters enjoy conflict . . . But have we learned nothing from

"Remember Hitler and the retaking of the Rhineland. He got away with
it. No one stopped him. So next it was Austria, then Czechoslovakia, and then
Poland and only then world war."

Now from my 20th Century History it was those that were deemed unworthy of being part of the Aryan race that the Nazis sought to cast out of eye shot, persecute, hide away, ignore and eventually try an extinguish. If Rev Watson is going to cite history let him not forget that the Jews, disabled and homosexuals were three major groups that were deemed unworthy of being children of God, and look were that got the World.

The comparison between the two can therefore hardly have been more poorly drawn.

*Possibly a misprint as verse 10 refers to the thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. Which though equally topical is a whole other debate. Although in verse 9 why Paul did not use the word paiderasste (the popular word in texts at the time to cover homosexual practise) but rather arsenokoitai which is the stem man (arsen) and beds (kotai) is an interesting debate. Coming as it does in a list after male prostitutes may relate to the Temple male prostitutes who lay on beds in Temple precincts in the first century.

Seeking Advise Equates to Sleaze says Telegraph

I'm getting perplexed that on Lib Dem expenses day the Telegraph appear to have dug up not so much sleaze but MPs seeking advise about their expenses. Norman Baker asked before putting in a claim for a bicycle and home computer. Vince Cable also rather than seeking to gain an advantage missed out on the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) he could have claimed for a couple of years he again asked if this could be backdated. In both instances these MPs requests were turned down, but at least they had asked first rather than claim first ask questions later as seems to be the trend of recent revelations.

It is somewhat ironic but also heartening that in order to fill out the space set aside for what would appear through lack of anything more juicy to be the only day of Lib Dem exposés, claims of seeking advise from the Fees Office fill up some of the pages.