Monday, 29 November 2010

Jeffrey Archer is right

"Jeffrey Archer is right" - not words that are likely to endear me to many Liberal Democrats. He spoke on today's Daily Politics about the petition presented by 100 failed Lib Dem candidates about tuition fees. I am one of around 600 failed Lib Dem candidates from the General Election, around 100 of whom (or a mere one in six) have signed this petition, and I most certainly did not sign. What Lord Archer says, among other things, is that the Liberal Democrats have got a leader who is trying his best to make the coalition work and these candidates should be supporting that leader instead of "making a lot of noise" - hear, hear! He also says that the important words are "failed to get elected" and he's right - these candidates, and I, could, instead of petitioning each other, get together and write a book called How to Lose Elections for all we know about how to succeed in politics. The Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, who was our Higher Education Spokesperson before the General Election, was really interesting on this on The World At One today (about seventeen minutes, forty seconds in). Of course, I received an email asking me to sign this petition; here, from 4 November, is my reply:
Thanks. I fully appreciate the strong feelings that colleagues have on this. I am very angry about Labour’s having introduced tuition fees and I fully supported our manifesto commitment to abolish fees over time; I did sign the pledge to vote against a rise in fees if elected (I obviously wasn’t elected!). However, I will not be signing this peition, as I am a loyal supporter of our party’s elected leadership and of the Coalition; implicit in the Coalition is the need for both parties to compromise on things that they would dearly like to do, including tuition fees. As a party, the process by which we entered into the coalition was a democratic one, with overwhelming votes in favour of going in. The Coalition Agreement guarantees that our MPs do not have to vote in favour of a rise in tuition fees, but are instead allowed to abstain – sounds reasonable to me. This situation is politically difficult for our party. I ask: does this petition make it easier, or harder, for our party to manage that difficult situation? If the latter, then why would any Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate wish to get involved? We have ample ways of discussing these matters internally, without publicly petitioning our MPs, etc. If everyone objects publicly every time the Coalition does something that we do not like, then how will the Coalition be sustained? And we need the Coalition for the good of the country, at a time of economic crisis. They used to say that loyalty was the Tories’ secret weapon – perhaps we Lib Dems should borrow that weapon from them? If I thought that this petition, or any other public campaigning, was actually likely to lead to a change in Government policy on tuition fees, I might support it, but since it definitely won’t achieve such a change, I believe that it will do nothing other than generate damaging headlines for our party.

I would add that the rise to tuition fees is only one part of a package of Coalition measures being proposed in response to the Browne Report. The Report is being published today and I have not read it yet. Has anybody? Surely a rise in fees, however regrettable, is only one element. What if the salary threshold at which loans become re-payable rises from £15,000 to £21,000? What if the pool of people who qualify not to pay fees in the first place is expanded, so that more people are again eligible for free tuition? What if more is done, as part of this package, to encourage universities to take more students from poorer households? Would such measures as those not mean that, overall, the situation for students has improved under the Coalition compared to the situation under Labour, despite a rise in tuition fees? And to the argument that we have betrayed our voters – well, a lot of voters in my constituency were motivated by a desire for a change of government from Labour (they’ve got that), a proper effort to cut government debt so that we can have a lasting economic recovery (they’ve certainly got that) and a Government that finally included Lib Dem Ministers, influencing what the Government does (and they’ve certainly got that). So I am proud that our party is in government, delivering on so many of its pledges (even if tuition fees have to rise). I keep meeting members of the general public who are so impressed by what we are doing in government – their impression of our party has become more favourable, not less, as a result of the Coalition. Perhaps things are different in student circles, but in the wider community, our party’s stock has arguably risen, not fallen – because, after so many decades in the wilderness, we are now finally participating in government again, and a lot of people like what they see of Vince Cable, Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and our other highly impressive ministers. That is certainly the case in my part of London, which is as much “the real world” as anywhere else in Britain.

Letter in The Independent about kosher/halal slaughter

I've just discovered that I had a letter in last Tuesday's Independent about kosher/halal meat production, responding to this absurd exercise in sixth-form debating by Johann Hari. My letter as published reads:
I support the right of Jews and Muslims to practise kosher and halal slaughter. I also oppose the "frightening rise in real bigotry against Muslims and Jews". According to Johann Hari, I am being inconsistent, as "the only consistent position is to oppose viciousness against these minorities, and to oppose viciousness by these minorities".
Mr Hari is thus equating kosher- and halal-meat production with the actions of a thug who beats up Jews or burns down mosques. So law-abiding communities of British people, slaughtering animals under the supervision of the same welfare authorities that supervise secular meat production, are to be considered on a par with violent extremists who hate Jews and Muslims? This is as grotesque as to equate someone who eats a factory-farmed Christmas turkey with someone who mugs old ladies. 

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Michael Moore's speech to Board of Deputies

The Board of Deputies of British Jews is celebrating its 250th anniversary as the representative body of the Anglo-Jewish community. Amongst the celebrations was a special meeting on Sunday 21 November, with a speaker from each of the three main parties. The Liberal Democrats were represented by one of our Cabinet Ministers, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, who gave the following well-received speech:

Friday, 19 November 2010

A new voice for Barnet in Parliament

I always knew, when canvassing for Monroe Palmer as the Liberal candidate for Hendon South in 1987, that it would eventually, as our stickers said, be "Palmer for Parliament", and I was right - as Monroe is on the list of new life peers announced today. I congratulate Monroe, his wife Suzette and the whole family, as I could not be more pleased that Monroe is now going to the Lib Dem benches in the House of Lords. He will make an excellent Parliamentarian, as will the other Liberal Democrats named as peers today. Monroe is a seasoned Barnet councillor, so he will be a strong voice for our borough in Parliament.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Simon Jenkins on political reality

I commend this excellent piece by Simon Jenkins in today's Guardian. I don't agree with what he says about the Liberal Democrats' prospects at the next General Election, but I strongly agree with the advice that he offers to the vocal minority of Lib Dem activists who are critical of the Coalition. His points are bluntly put and none the worse for that! Definitely worth reading.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Video: Nick Clegg's speech to Friends of Israel lunch

Here is a video of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's excellent speech to a lunch organised by Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel on Wednesday. For more on this speech, here is the Jewish Chronicle's report on it.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Student fees - seven key facts

Under the Coalition Government's proposals:

1. All students will repay less per month under this Government’s policy than they currently pay.

2. The lowest-earning 25% of graduates will repay less under this Government’s policy than they do now.

3. The top-earning 30% of graduates will pay back more than they borrow and are likely to pay more than double the bottom 20% of earners.

4. Over half a million students will be eligible for more non-repayable grants for living costs than they get now.

5. Almost one million students will be eligible for more overall maintenance support than they get now.

6. Part-time students will no longer have to pay up-front fees, benefiting up to 200,000 per year.

7. There will be an extra £150m for a new National Scholarship Programme for students from poorer backgrounds and we will introduce tough new sanctions for universities who fail to improve their access to students from such backgrounds.