Monday, 8 August 2011

Why the Army is Wrong for London.

I tweeted the following tonight:

Disappointed by how many of my fellow Liberal Democrats are calling for the Army and water cannon. Property can be replaced: lives cannot.

It got a fair amount of reaction(!). So here are my reasons in a fuller form:

The army is not the police. They are trained to kill and not to use non-fatal force with due restraint.

The vast majority of the rioting is criminal and not political but there are political elements who would delight to see blood flowing in the streets of London due to the over-reaction of the State. They should not be given another Peterloo or Bloody Sunday.

The army on the streets of Northern
Ireland did not deter rioting nor succeed in keeping the peace.

The deployment of the army would increase the the chance of deaths and not decrease it.

Mobilise the police on a national basis to ensure that the Met has the manpower and resources necessary to regain control of the capital.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Straighten Up and Fly Right

That did not go to plan did it. The devastating results of the Scottish elections for we Liberal Democrats were partially expected but perhaps not to that full extent. In Edinburgh Eastern, I polled twelve percent down and a casual cast around showed this to be about average. Even in seats that were strongly contested with everything thrown into the fight, we were lucky to avoid a double-digit drop. What went wrong?

Let’s give due credit. The SNP ran a good campaign. Labour on the other hand ran a shockingly bad one. Liberal Democrats worked hard, as usual, and Tavish Scott actually came across well to the public. I know this because that was the feedback I was getting on the doorstep.

During the general election of 2010, we Liberal Democrats campaigned on the grounds of “we’re different.” Tories and Labour were the “same two old tired parties.” Nick Clegg was simply brilliant in the televised debates. The media was in a frenzy; not just with our performance but with the possibility of a hung parliament. Lo! It duly arrived but not how the public thought it would be. Instead of a Labour / Libdem pact, the current Coalition emerged.

Labour, never shy when it comes to negative campaigning, turned their guns upon us. The press, both left and right-wing followed because hate sells. And their combined campaign has obviously succeeded. We have become hate figures, even among some of our own supporters.

Not only that, we were not shy in self-inflicted injuries. The tuition fees increase is a policy that we introduced, piloted by the trusted Vince Cable and championed by Nick Clegg. The two most high profile people we have therefore led it. As critics at the time pointed out, the headline was a tripling of tuition fees in England. As I pointed out at the time, if we went with this we would lose all credibility: it was a policy that we diametrically opposed during the election. Pretty well all of our Westminster candidates signed the National Union of Students pledge of no increase to student fees. It does not matter one jot that the majority of our backbenchers in the House of Commons voted against it. Nick and Vince backed it therefore we, as a party were seen to back it. In the most public and obvious fashion we Liberal Democrats broke our word.

From Thursday night’s results it is clear that the SNP, although not shy at breaking promises themselves, are the beneficiaries of the combination of the negative campaign against us and our own mistakes in government. Next time somebody says that Westminster politics has no bearing upon the Scottish parliamentary elections, kick them. Then kick them again on my behalf. The SNP succeeded at our expense (and at Labour's) because they are simply not tainted with the “same old politics” of Westminster. That is how we were in April 2010.
Okay, so here we are. Rock bottom. What can we do to turn this around?

We have to look at technical details. Perhaps our excellent campaigning techniques are designed for opposition politics and not for government? Just a thought to throw out there. The main thing we have to do is from now on, match words to deeds.

To this end I have come up with The Liberal Test for any policy. In my view, government is there to serve the people and allow them to make real, effective decisions as close to the issue as possible. In addition, we are here to enable people to better themselves, their families and their own communities.

Therefore there are four questions we have to ask of any policy:

Will it encourage a person to advance in life?

Does it reduce the burden of the state upon that person?

Will more power be devolved from central government?

In bringing forward this policy, are we keeping our word?

Failure of a positive answer for any of these questions does not necessarily mean that the policy falls. But alarm bells should ring if two or more results in negative answers. For instance, the tuition fees increase fails on at least three counts.

Why is this important? There is more at play here than the future of the Liberal Democrat party. In Scotland especially but in the UK in general, liberalism itself is under threat. Both the SNP and Labour are authoritarian in nature and wish to centralise power, whether in Edinburgh or Westminster. The Conservatives, while talking about being liberal, seldom are able to walk-the-walk. Witness David Cameron’s speech on immigration and freedom of association he made in Germany a few months ago. He thinks he is a liberal but he is not. To a Conservative, the only good liberal is a classical liberal economist.

I have mentioned honouring our word several times now. What does that mean for the Coalition? Simple: it means sticking with it. As a party, we backed this in a special conference. We enter it in good faith and we continue to act so because we gave our word and commitment to this. That does not mean however that we are not being able to seen to disagree with our partners. We have to not only to be liberal, we have to be seen to be liberal. And that means public disagreement; not for show but because it is sincerely meant. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in.
I used to joke that we had to hard: “It’s going to be liberal whether they like it or not.” Now I am not joking. Politically we live or die by our beliefs and how our words match our actions. Both voice and deed have to be liberal, democratic and true to our word. Anything else will simply not do.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

And So The Tragedy Continues...

It has been a sad couple of weeks.

The events that unfolded in Japan following their 9.0 earthquake have been truly horrifying. Many terrible images were presented and repeated on global television screens. The death toll, in main due to the tsunami, continues to rise as hope evaporate for finding those missing. I have not yet been to Japan but my father was a frequent visitor who loved the country, so it is with deep emotion I view the horrors that have come to pass. This horror have only been compounded by the effects of the disaster on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. I am not an expert on power stations but have received training on handling radioactive material and the effects of radioactive particles on the human body. Any enhancement above natural levels of radioactivity in foodstuffs in particular is not a joke: people will die through cancer because of it but since the effects will only be evident in statistics, they can usually be ignored by those who continue to support the use of nuclear energy. I always viewed nuclear power as the source of last resort; now I have to come out totally against it’s usage for large-scale energy generation. We will always have nuclear reactors; for instance their products are often have medical applications but we should not design facilities that if they fail, the potential for catastrophe is simply too great.

This morning we awoke to the news of air-strikes against Libya. Yes Gaddafi has proved himself to be a killer and now must fall but I have to be critical of the way that Foreign Secretary William Hague has handled the situation. The purpose of the no-fly zone should have been to allow violence to stop and not to escalate further thus allowing politics to re-establish itself. Since Hague came out for full regime-change this was simply no longer an option. Europe might as well as declared war on Libya from that point onwards.

Let me explain why.

Some of you might recall a blog I wrote in September 2009, Lockerbie: Business as Usual. . That blog put the decision of the then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill into context as I outlined the strategic nature of British and European links with Libya and why the Al Megrahi case wouldn’t, couldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of Europe’s quest for natural gas that does not originate in Russia.. That is still the case so how could Britain maintain relations once regime-change has been called for? It would also explain why France has been so quick of the mark on this occasion. Germany on the other hand has stood back. I wonder if this has anything to do with renewed exploration for small-scale gas-fields in Poland?

Gaddafi has proved himself to be a terrible ruler and in doing so encouraged those who wish to see him overthrown bring full military weight to bear. He had nothing to loose when turning to the Chinese and Russians as potential energy partners, as he did this week. My guess was any such offer would have been also an attempt to gain a veto from either or both in the UN Security Council.

As for the people of Libya, let me quote a friend of mine who was evacuated from there a few weeks back. To put it in context, he was responding to John Kerry’s call for sanctions against the Gaddafi regime.

“I am an American trying to get out of Tripoli. Your suggestion of sanctions against Libya will only create hardship for the good people of Libya. History has already shown sanctions of such only creates hardship for the wrong people. Please refrain from such suggestions until the crisis days are over and the dust settles. Such suggestions at a critical time is blowing smoke in the wrong direction.”

Owing of the trade implications for Europe and investment already made by BP, trade sanctions were never an option. The situation has to end now in the overthrow of Gaddafi.

The smoke is now blowing for real. My guess that the five nations involved in the attacks will be satisfied with an Egyptian-style military take-over. As long as the investments are protected.
I hope that it will be soon over and that the people of Libya will be in control of their own destiny and be free in their own country with minimum of casualties.