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Monday 30th April 2007

10 Years on: Blair/Brown Record is one of war and waste

Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of Labour coming to power so today the Liberal Democrats have released a report assessing the record of the Blair-Brown administration. The paper accuses the government of presiding over rising carbon emissions, soaring NHS debts and an illegal war. Visiting Dunfermline - the next-door constituency to the Chancellor's - on Saturday, Sir Ming Campbell said Gordon Brown's time at the Treasury had seen falling social mobility, rising poverty and increasing inequality. He also said that :-

"The Blair-Brown government has wasted its opportunities. After ten years of Labour, the rates of social mobility have fallen, the number of working people in poverty has risen, and the income gap between rich and poor is wider than at any point under Thatcher. But above all else, the Blair-Brown government will be remembered for its decision to go to war in Iraq. It was an illegal war waged on false claims. We should never forget the political alliance that led Britain into the Iraq war. It was the Prime Minister who took the decision, the Chancellor who signed the cheque, and the Tories that voted it through. That's the record for which the Blair-Brown government will be remembered: war and waste."

The full report is a good analysis of the last 10 years of the Blair/Brown double act leading the country. It has not been all bad independence for the Bank of England; initial plans for an ethical foreign policy; investment in the public services; the start of constitutional change with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London regional authorities plus Lord's reform have all been good. However the lack of policy depth has been exposed as the fine words of the speeches have not been matched by the level of improvements or in some cases by any improvement. This has resulted in number of problems which the government keeps trying to fit with one headline grapping initiative after another, foe example :-

  • Personal debt is up 160% since 1997. British citizens now owe more than £1.3 trillion
  • The income gap between rich and poor is wider in 2007 than it was at any time under Margaret Thatcher
  • UK carbon emissions have risen by 2% since 1997 - Labour will not meet their targets
  • The increase in NHS spending has not been matched by increased performance because of an over centralised system driven by targets and not patient need
  • Crowded classroom with 500,000 thousand children are still in classes of 31 pupils or more despite Labour's 1997 pledge to cut class sizes to 30
  • Ethical foreign policy - ditched in Iraq and buried in the dropping of the BAE investigation
  • After 3,000 new criminal offences in a Home Office blitz of legislation with more than 60 Bills including 6 immigration acts, 8 terrorism acts and 26 criminal justice acts a Home Office that is unfit for purpose.

The full report "The State They've Put Us In" details more issues. The problem on horizon is the Blair/Brown Mark 2 partnership of Cameron/Osborne the difference is that they have even less policy depth than Blair/Brown one and in most areas no policy at all, only warm words and a nice picture from the photo opportunity. Running a country is a serious business and it requires forethought and foresight; overview and detailed plans; only the Liberal Democrats have these with both the quality and quantity of the policy portfolios.

ePolitix report - Lib Dems document Labour's failings

Sir Ming Campbell MP - Blair-Brown score 4 out of 10

Liberal Democrat report - The State They've Put Us In: 10 Years of Blair and Brown

Saturday 28th April 2007

Audit Office calls for simpler Tax System

Yesterday a report from the National Audit Office has called for tax forms to be simpler to complete in order to reduce the number of mistakes made on the forms. The report says the current tax forms are too complicated for the average person and the advice on how to fill them in is inadequate. The National Audit Office estimates that people are losing as much as £300 a year due to mistakes made on tax forms.

The complicated Gordon Brown created Tax and Benefits systems are just another form of stealth taxation, as determined by the National Audit Office the average person is paying about £300 extra to the Chancellor in tax per year through his complex system. The only people that benefit from such a complex taxation system are the Chancellor and those rich enough to afford tax advisers to avoid the taxation. This system like the recent taxation changes are another example of Gordon Brown's reverse Robin Hood taxation policy i.e. tax the poor more so the rich pay less. Needless to say this is completely in contrast to the Liberal Democrats taxation policies which are based on the two principles of fairness and simplicity.

Commenting on the Audit Office report into simplifying tax returns, Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

"This report confirms that Gordon Brown is the mastermind of an overly complex and bureaucratic tax system. The best way to help people complete their tax returns is to simplify the tax system itself."

BBC report - Simpler tax forms 'still needed'

Vince Cable MP - NAO report highlights need for simplified tax system

David Goodall's Views: Taxation

Friday 27th April 2007

Another report shows rise in children's alcohol consumption

After the Liberal Democrat report and a BBC panorama programme highlighted this issue before Christmas today a report by Alcohol Concern showed an increase in the amount of alcohol being consumed by 11-13 year olds. Alcohol Concern as a result has called for parents who give alcohol to children under 15 to be prosecuted.

While there is problem with under age drinking I don't believe that parent prosecutions are the way to tackle it. The measures that are needed should be more practical than legal if this problem is to be correctly tackled, such measures should include :-

  • Greater education on the problem in schools - emphasis should be put on making get drunk as 'un-cool' in the same way that views on smoking have now turned round
  • Increased funding alcohol treatment programmes - as well as teenage drop-in centres where alcohol issues can be tackled outside the formal classroom setting.
  • Ban on discounted drinks in the evening that only serve to increase consumption i.e. 'happy' hours, beer & spirits sold by the jug full instead of individual measures, buy 1 get 1 free approach - selling alcohol cheap and earlier to get people drunk so that they but more later and expensive is not a good idea for society to have.
  • Greater enforcement of existing laws on buying alcohol for or supplying alcohol to under age young people - including the removal or suspension of licenses to sell alcohol for those sell to the under 18's; and community based sentences for those who buy alcohol for under age young people, preferably in a scheme where the offenders have to work with these young people and so see at first hand the problems they are creating.

Commenting on both the Alcohol Concern report and their call for parent prosecutions Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Sandra Gidley said:

"The government is failing our children with its ineffective alcohol reduction strategy. We will be building up huge problems for the future unless we deal with these problems now. However, prosecuting parents will not curb child drinking. Watching adults drink responsibly can actually encourage young people to have a more mature attitude to alcohol. We must move away from the glorification of excessive alcohol consumption and make sure that shops don't sell alcohol to those under age."

BBC reports - Call to stop children's drinking

Sandra Gidley MP - Prosecuting parents will not curb child drinking

Sandra Gidley MP - Government alcohol strategy failing children

David Goodall's Blog - Alcohol problems lead to increased Hospital admissions for Children !!

Thursday 26th April 2007

Ming nails it the Local Elections will be a choice between fashion and principle

Today addressing party workers at the Liberal Democrats' Cowley Street HQ today, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell really hit the nail on the head when he said that May's local elections represent a choice between fashion and principle. Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"Tony Blair pioneered the politics of fashion. But David Cameron has become its most loyal disciple. Well I am not in that game. Fashions come and go, but principles endure. Standing by your principles means speaking up for them when they are not fashionable. It means years of fighting for the environment, for gay rights, and civil liberties - not just when they are popular and the argument is won, but also when they are unpopular and the terrain is hostile. That is what Liberal Democrats stand for."

We are now two years after the last general election the Official Opposition have changed their leader, changed their logo, said all the policies they had at the last election were rubbish and set up policy commissions for every policy area. The only one to report so far was the Tory tax commission it listed 20 odd tax cuts proposals, but no coherent policy, no principle theme and not one solid policy. I would be most surprised if the others when they report are any better. All the Conservatives have at present are a new logo and a leader that makes fine speeches with nothing to back it up.

Over ten years ago the Labour Party started their New Labour project they had a new logo and a new Leader who spoke fine words. Their only guiding principle was to say and do anything that would enable them to get back into power and in this both New Labour and the re-branded Tories are exactly the same. They have both forsaken principled politics for the fashion politics of spin and reaction to tabloid headlines. This is not the way to lead a country to a better, brighter and fairer future where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential in life. To do that that you need a way to see through the muddle of everyday life and in politics that is not possible without principles to guide your policy making.

Sir Ming Campbell MP - Local elections will be a choice between fashion and principle

Who are the Liberal Democrats ?

Wednesday 25th April 2007

Recycled news story - Alternate weekly refuse collection 'boost recycling'

Today a Local Government Association study suggests that councils who have switched from weekly to fortnightly rubbish collections achieve higher recycling rates of 30% average, compared with 23% for those that had not. The fortnightly collections have been criticised though, with complaints about bad smells and vermin, which my experience are complete rubbish. Unwrapped old food left in a bin for a week will smell that is why it should be wrapped correctly before been placed in the bin and then after two weeks there are no problems. And as for vermin that is the biggest joke out, this is unless some areas of the country have rats which can climb wheelie bins, open the lids, get inside and get out again. There are of course some areas don't use wheelie bins well the answer is obvious get wheelie bins! Yes I know there are areas where wheelie bins are not possible to use because of the design of the housing but for these small areas there are always alternatives.

For nearly ten years Liberal Democrat run Eastleigh has with great success had alternate weekly collections and we knew at the start the result would be increased recycling rates because this form of waste collection is very old news in most of Europe. Extensive studies have proven that limiting the non-recyclable bin space makes people think more carefully about which bin they replace the rubbish in.

Alternate weekly collections are the obvious way to go when introducing a two bin system before doorstep recycling collections households had one bin which was emptied once a week, with the introduction of a two bin system the rubbish is split between two bins. Therefore an individual bin take twice as long to fill up, hence collecting non-recyclable rubbish in collected one week and recyclable rubbish the following week. Anything else involves as least three bin collections in a fortnight and increased staff and vehicle costs as a result.

The point many people do not realise is why recycle? Well increased recycling is essential to both:-

  • decrease raw material use and
  • decrease power use, as using recycled material uses less energy than raw material.

So how could government help further? Well the Government needs to :-

  • invest in recycling plant - so all areas of the country can recycle more materials like tetra-paks, all types of plastic, all types and forms of paper etc
  • introduce packaging taxation - to both reduce packaging in the first place as per Ireland's plastic bag tax and make the packaging which is used either recyclable or bio-degradable.

There is a long way to go to reach the recycling levels of our European neighbours but at least the problem is been more widely discussed and at local government level more councils are taking action to increase recycling rates.

LGA report - Recycling rates rocket by 30% when councils switch to alternate weekly collection

BBC report - Refuse changes 'boost recycling'

Eastleigh Borough Council - Domestic Refuse Collection

Eastleigh Borough Council - Assisted Lift Service (Wheeled Bins)

Tuesday 24th April 2007

The Government must publish their secret Post Office 'Hit List'

Today the Liberal Democrats are demanding the government publish their secret 'hit list' of post offices earmarked for closure. The government recently consulted on its plans to close 2,500 post offices but has suspiciously delayed its response to the consultation from March until after the local elections. In the meantime, at the government's behest, Post Office bosses have been drawing up a 'hit list' of post offices earmarked for closure. On a visit to a post office in Buckinghamshire today, Sir Ming Campbell accused the government of attempting to hide the impact of its post office closure programme on local communities ahead of the May elections. He demanded they come clean on their proposals so that the voters can judge them at the ballot box on 3rd May.

The Government will of course look to bury the bad news of Post Office closures in the bad news story for them of local election results and the press frenzy of the Labour leadership vote. This destruction of an important national network of offices has been carried out with brake neck speed and ruthlessness by this Labour Government. Closing 2,500 more will bring the total to about 6,500 since Labour came into office and this is nearly twice the amount the Conservative government achieved in 18 years in office.

The Post Office needs the Liberal Democrat plan to save it from complete destruction. It needs the investment in money and services that the plan would deliver and it needs the backing that ensuring that every natural community had its own Post Office would give.

In demanding this release of Post Office Closure information Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said:-

"Communities up and down the country are deeply worried about losing their local post office and this government is deliberately concealing the details of the post office closures until after the local elections. The government must come clean and produce details of its post office closures immediately."

Save our Post Offices

Sir Ming Campbell MP - Government must come clean on Post Office closures

Monday 23rd April 2007

Government backs Liberal Democrat Peer's Forced Marriages Bill

At long last this Liberal Democrat bill now has the backing of all three main parties. This bill will introduce new measures to protect women from forced marriage and could become law by the end of the year, after the government confirmed it would back the Forced Marriages (Civil Protection) Bill, put forward by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester, which is currently on its passage through the Lords. They had initially opposed Lord Lester's proposals but made a u-turn after consultation. All three main parties now support the bill.

It is all very well the Government talking about producing a more inclusive and open society, but this also has to be backed with practically action. The process of forced marriages is not to be mistaken as the same as arranged marriages. In arranged marriages the parents often make the first move to arrange the first date between couples, but it is the couple who decide whether they wish to marry. This arranged marriage is only a little different from been set up by your mates on a blind date, but in a forced marriage money is often exchanged and young girls are often physically taken aboard to marry someone against their will, where they are treated not much better than domestic slaves. Many young girls in this position see suicide as the only means of escape.

This bill will provide much needed measures to effective tackle this problem and has been drawn up with the help of the ethic minority community. On introducing this important bill Liberal Democrat peer Anthony Lester said :-

"The time is long overdue for effective measures to tackle forced marriage. I have introduced this Bill with the strong support of those at risk of oppression within Asian and other minority communities."

The Guardian - Law to prevent forced marriages moves closer

House of Lords - Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill (Second Reading)

Lord Lester - Action needed to tackle forced marriages

Friday 20th April 2007

Lib Dems block proposal to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information Laws

Liberal Democrat MPs have effectively scuppered a bill which would exempt MPs from Freedom of Information Act inquiries. Norman Baker and Simon Hughes, with a handful of MPs from other parties, managed to talk out the planned bill by making sure the debate continued for five hours in the Commons today. The bill could come back to the Commons next Friday unless its sponsor, Tory MP David Maclean, decides to drop it.

This just shows how lukewarm the Tory party are to liberal ideas. The Freedom of Information Act is an essential tool to enable the people of the country to find out what the Government of the day at all levels and other public bodies are doing in their name, yet here we have an Tory MP trying to undermine the all process by getting one part of the government exempt from the regulations i.e. the MPs themselves. It would not be possible to image a more hypocritical attitude than this 'do as I say and not as I do' approach.

If this exemption were to go through it would only be the start, other groups would come forward and claim too that they are a special case and that we the public should not know what they do on our behalf. Then before you know it the Freedom of Information Act is in ruins because of these special exemptions.

However this attack on the Freedom of Information Act is not limited to the ranks of the Tory MPs, as in a separate move ministers are attempting to limit the amount of resources spent on freedom of information requests to £600 in a stealth attack on the system.

The right for us to know what public bodies do on our behalf is important and should be defended by all in the parliament who themselves democrats. Thank goodness the Liberal Democrats are one such group and that others stood along side Norman Baker and Simon Hughes to block this measure. Let's hope it stays blocked.

BBC report - MPs info exemption plan scuppered

Hansard report - Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill [20 Apr 2007]

Liberal Democrats - Fight to protect FoI will continue

Thursday 19th April 2007

Campbell rejects Conservative approach for joint London Mayor

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ming Campbell yesterday rejected a Conservative approach for the two parties to support Greg Dyke as a joint candidate for the London mayoral elections next year. Mr Dyke also publicly rebuffed Mr Cameron's offer, saying he would only consider standing as an independent.

How could David Cameron think that there could be a joint Liberal Democrat/Tory candidate for London Mayor. The parties not only have different ideas on the bid issues of council tax, crime and environment but also on the smaller ones like how to run local government. In Eastleigh for example as a Liberal Democrat party we have organised the borough into Local Area Committees to give local members a real stake in running their area of the Borough. The local conservative group oppose this way of running things even when they had control of one area despite an overall Liberal Democrat majority on the rest of the council.

Come on David Cameron get in the real world and stop trying to spin your way into any sort of power, at this rate you will make yourself dizzy. The problem for David Cameron is that the real world requires sound policies based on solid principles with a depth of policy detail that the Conservative party have lacked for years.

The only real alternative to the this Labour government are the Liberal Democrats as we do have sound policies based on solid principles with a depth of policy detail that the other two main parties can only dream of.

Speaking after the meeting with David Cameron, Liberal Democrat Chair of Campaigns and Communications, Edward Davey said:

"The people of London should have a full democratic choice on next year's mayoral elections. David Cameron's proposal would have denied that. We are happy to work with other parties on important issues as we did yesterday in Parliament over pensions, but major differences exist between us and the other two parties over big issues such as council tax, crime and the environment."

Guardian report - Dyke rebuffs Tory approach to run for mayor of London

Edward Davey MP - Greg Dyke story: London deserves a liberal choice for mayor

Wednesday 18th April 2007

Government accused of Failing Health Service Workers

Today during Prime Ministers questions, Sir Ming Campbell challenged Tony Blair to explain why nurses in England and Wales are not getting their full pay increase up front (as they are in Scotland). He also lambasted him for failing health care workers in general, including newly qualified nurses who can't get jobs, junior doctors and nursing assistants hit by the budget. The Royal College of Nursing has threatened to ballot its members on industrial action unless ministers reverse their decision to award nurses an "insulting" below-inflation pay deal. Nurses at the annual conference voted 97% in favour of investigating what forms of action could be taken.

The situation in the health service at present is complete madness. For years one of the main problems in the NHS has been capacity, not enough hospital beds, nurses and doctors to treat the patient's needs. This lack of staff resource was due in part to not enough nurses and doctors in training so the Labour government quite rightly increased training places. Now years later they have completed their training but the NHS is not employing them because of short long financial issues, which means that nurses and doctors training on the NHS are either in the unemployment line or leaving the country to work elsewhere. This is a complete waste of a very precious resource and the government should be ashamed of their handling. All staff that pass training should be employed in the health service otherwise their training was a waste of time, money and effort.

The reason for the difference in pay increases between Scotland on one hand and the rest of UK on the other is simple. In Scotland the mainly Labour administration is prevented from following the lead from Whitehall because their coalition partners in Scotland the Liberal Democrats believe the nurses should have the independent pay review panel's decision honoured. This is the same reason why north of the border there are no student tuition fees, free care personal care for the elderly and the PR system of single transferable vote in the local elections in May this year.

In opposition the Liberal Democrats say how it could be done better and in government in Scotland we have shown how it can be done better.

Commenting on the Royal College of Nursing's threat to ballot members on industrial action over the recent pay deal, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb MP said:

"This is more evidence of the extent to which the NHS workforce is disillusioned with this government's yo-yo attitude to workforce planning and pay. It is unacceptable that nurses are paying the price for this government's incompetent handling of the NHS."

And speaking in Prime Ministers question time Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"It's not just pay that's an issue in the NHS. Newly qualified nurses can't get jobs. Nursing Assistants will be hit by the chancellor's abolition of the 10 pence tax rate. And junior doctors are up in arms. Is there any wonder that the Government has lost the confidence of health care workers and their patients?"

The Independent - Nurses threaten action over pay award

Norman Lamb MP - Nurses disillusioned with Government's yo-yo attitude to NHS

David Goodall's views - Health - NHS

David Goodall's Blog Archive