Thursday, 14 March 2013

Is Cameron still kowtowing to the press barons?

Now here's something where I completely support Nick. The power of the press to wreck people's lives and to influence our politics remains a scandal that has to be tackled. This is Nick's email to members today:

As you may have seen this morning the Prime Minister has decided to call off the cross-party talks on implementing the Leveson proposals on press regulation.
Throughout the talks I have sought to defend a free press while making sure ordinary people can be protected from unwarranted harassment and bullying by powerful interests in the press.
I was surprised and disappointed when David Cameron told Ed Miliband and myself that he felt there was no chance of us reaching an agreement. The talks had appeared to be progressing well with a genuine desire to come to a solution that would provide a robust, independent press regulator.
There are some issues - such as allowing the press to veto who sits on the independent regulator and whether the regulator should be able to direct newspaper apologies - where I disagreed with the Prime Minister, but these appeared to be issues that could be worked through.
Lord Justice Leveson went to enormous lengths to deliver a considered verdict on the way independent self-regulation of the press should work in the future and then rightly told politicians that the ball was in our court.
I remain determined to meet his challenge and find a workable solution with like-minded members of all parties.
As I said in my statement to the House when the Leveson Report was published:
"We need to get on with this without delay. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing. Too long for an independent press watchdog in which they can put their trust. I am determined we do not make them wait any more."
That remains my view and it remains what I intend to help deliver.

Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Spring Conference feedback 1 - The Price of Freedom

Terrifically enjoyable, inspiring and useful and only 2 nights’ worth of sleep deprivation but it’s funny: usually at Conference, the media finds a threat to Nick’s leadership whilst members notice nothing serious. This Conference was the reverse.

Whilst there was much optimism and determination, there was a growing unease as well as outright resignations by Sunday. 

There has been much government policy with which it is impossible to agree but it’s usually possible to understand – or at least get a feel for – the intricacies of the issues and negotiating positions for our colleagues in Parliament, in the context of a system and culture which struggles with coalition.  Conference is invaluable in this respect, providing direct & indirect ministerial-to- member communication, formally or informally, of the whys and wherefores of policy positions, a window on to negotiating positions, the hurdles and the unseen wins. 

But with the issue of “secret courts”,   Nick appeared not only to fail to win the argument but to undermine himself by appearing genuinely convinced by his bad case.  

The full arguments are complex, varied and well-rehearsed by a host of lawyers but to pick on a single non-technical issue:  Nick argued in his Q&A session that one reason the government is backing closed material proceedings is to stop the indirect funding of terrorism. To pick at just one thread in the unravelling of that argument, it is an assumption of guilt. On the part of all potential claimants. By the government. In civil cases against the government.  Feeling queasy yet? The protection of civil liberties is such a fundamental value of the LibDems that many regarded this as simply unacceptable from our leader.  

So what is the real back story for this?  When Jo Swinson MP can read out a list of all the things we have stopped, why have we not stopped this? Has there been a strategic decision to cave on this electorally irrelevant issue in exchange for some other policy agreement where there is media and electoral advantage?  What the heck could have been that good?

Or does Nick feel justified by unshareable – and untried - intelligence from the security services regarding previous or probable claimants? As every law student is taught, “hard cases make bad law”.

The issue was also set in the context of the Rennard allegations.  Leaving aside the specifics, my question was whether the perception that one individual had an undemocratic level of power over the careers of fellow party members was correct. People tell me yes but that the situation has changed since the appointment of Tim Gordon as Chief Exec. 

The attitude of the leadership to Conference over secret courts has only added to my growing understanding of the constant vigilance required to build and maintain even an internal party democracy.  

Some further reading on the issues surrounding “secret courts”:

Monday, 4 March 2013

Ringswell Round Up March 4th

Eastleigh – what a result! Steve Webb telling us on Friday about his two days down there campaigning and how he and others of similar ilk got up at 2.55am on Thursday morning to deliver polling day leaflets in 5am dark. He managed to get back to London in time for his first of three pensions events at 10am.

Rennard – more practice on learning how to add my voice to a debate without sounding like I think I know the solution. Hope the systems in place will produce a just result, whatever that happens to be. See a need for a re-think on how to tackle this issue and help both sides understand each other better – will be interesting to see if we manage to make that space, at least within the party.

Education – interesting debate in Bristol on Saturday afternoon. Only signs of political correctness around food in schools, otherwise seemed to be a reasonable range of views and some refreshing thinking from schools and NUT reps. Came away feeling there is hope yet - a very welcome change from the doom and gloom one gets from the media about state education. One chap in audience asked whether we couldn’t assume that qualifications made well-rounded individuals – couldn’t let that one go by, leads me to my rant of the day on measurement below. 

I liked another point made by the NUJ rep: he’d been asked recently what could be done to import the DNA of the private system into the state sector, to which his response was, we don’t need your DNA, just your resources.   

Measuring human beings – the assumption that there’s is a direct correlation between academic achievement and well-rounded individuals feels so wrong it’s danger to my heart rate. It ties in with Rennard and politics generally as well as education:  just because we don’t have a yardstick for measuring human qualities like empathy, insight, humour, courage and common sense doesn’t make the things we can measure, like how many facts you know about history or how good your maths is in exam conditions, more important. I still want to know how good GCSE maths helps people look after babies.

Energy Bill – much discussion in Green LibDems over the weekend on our approach to Tim Yeo’s (Conservative Chair of the Climate Change Committee) amendment to include a decarbonisation target. Interesting to see the different arguments brought to the table.I'm changing my comment of "Not much chance of the amendment succeeding" to apparently every hope of the amendment succeeding - depending on who you read -  but agreed it was important LibDem MPs felt able to support it so Emergency Motion to Conference being proposed.  Tim Farron (party president) also supporting a target. Perhaps another lesson in government about working in coalition. Would LibDem support for the amendment undermine Ed Davey in any future negotiations in government? ie he can’t demonstrate that he can bring the party along with him when making a concession. But then, it’s a cross party amendment, proposed by a Conservative – George Osborne equally unable to bring his party along with him, on a point he had won.