UK Policy

It is Baroness Scotland Who Should be Jailed

Lolohai Tapui has been jailed for four months. If we jailed every illegal immigrant for four months, that would constitute over 300,000 prison man years. The Independent story is entirely condemning of Tapui and exonerating of Scotland.

But who was really exploiting who here? £6 an hour, for God’s sake! In the heart of Central London? Anyone who has had an 0207 phone number knows that anyone over the age of 18 who will work of £6 an hour is an illegal immigrant. I am not nearly as rich as Baroness Scotland, and we pay our student babysitters £8 an hour.

£6 an hour = illegal immigrant. £6 an hour = cruel exploitation. The wrong woman is in prison.

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Academy Schools

I am against Academy Schools, unless the proposed flood of new ones are going materially to be different from the New Labour model.

In practice what happened in Academy Schools was that a business, organisation or individual was able to put in just 5% – yes, 5% of the capital costs, and nil – yes nil – of the running costs. For that, the “sponsor” got to choose the curriculum, while the school received a massively larger share of the available pot of state capital for schools, than would be given to any “normal” LEA school.

The state was still paying the vast bulk of the cost – 98% of capital and running costs in the first ten years. Non-academy schools were being starved of capital. The provider of the 2% got to be the boss and influence our children.

For Tony Blair, being a goggle-eyed God-inspired mass killer himself, it was an advantage that those most interested in this ability to influence our children were various forms of religious nutters, often distinguished by a disbelief in evolution.

So far as I can judge, the main difference between the New Labour model and the Gove model is that the swivel-eyed nutters may now not have to put up any money at all before they take over the school. This needs to be carefully watched.

I warmly welcome the demise of the national curriculum and the end of micro-management of teachers by the state. That is an advance. But that should lead to an empowerment of democratically elected lcoal councils – the local education authorities – not the committal of our children to a variety of unelected and unaccountable bodies, firms and individuals. I am not at all hostile to the idea of educational cooperatives under loose LEA guidance – but there is no sign to date that the new model looks like that.

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Parliament Square

It does not bode well that, while the Queen’s Speech was announcing a rebirth of civil liberty, Brian Haw was being arrested in Parliament Square. This was yet another bad move by the Met. They know Brian very well by now, and are fully aware that he is not a threat to the Queen. It beggars belief that, after they have stared at his every moment for years, they might suddenly think he was storing weapons or using drugs, This was crass and insensitive.

The rest of the Parliament Square “Peace Camp” is quite a different matter. I have not spoken with Brian recently, but I can tell you that it is wrong to presume that he welcomes or trusts all those comparatively fleeting campers who join him in good weather.

My own view is complex. There is, I believe, a genuine difference between the right to protest in Parliament Square – which I strongly support – and the right to live in Parliament Square, which in general I don’t support. Brian’s vigil is different because its maintenance became the only way to maintain the right to protest there under Draconian New Labour legislation. Camps, vigils and occupations have their place in protests. But do I think anybody has the right to pitch tent in Parliament Square and stay for weeks? No, I don’t really.

Public spaces are public, and if you appropriate them to live there, that is a loss to the public.

Actually for me the real scandal of Parliament Square is the sacrifice of this public space to the bloody motor car. It is not a square, it is a horribly busy traffic roundabout. It has been made quite deliberately almost impossible to get past the traffic and on the the green area of the square. None of the many sets of traffic lights has a pedestrian phase allowing you to do that.

Westminster is a disgrace. What should be the great public areas of the country – the Embankments, much of Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, The Mall, Birdcage Walk, Parliament Square – are horrible spaces full of noise, pollution and danger. Cars should be banned from the entire area.

I do hope the mean-minded charges against Brian are thrown out, though I doubt they will be. Another measure announced in the Queen’s Speech was elected police commissioners. Now wouldn’t Brian be a great candidate?

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Fox Hunting et al

I am writing an important letter to William Hague on his proposed inquiry into torture (via my MP to make sure an FCO bureaucrat does not bury it). I am marshalling my evidence but trying to keep it short, plain and unemotional.

So no energy or time for significant blogging today. Some thoughts to keep people going.

I am staunchly against fox-hunting. In my youth I was in the Hunt Saboteurs Association and remember great fun laying aniseed trails to disrupt otter hunts somewhere near Kings Lynn. I would happily do that again. I supported the ban on fox-hunting.

But I have changed my mind. I still strongly oppose fox-hunting, but I no longer think it should be illegal. New Labour changed my mind. They opened my eyes to the dangers of authoritarianism and the criminalisation of numerous activities. The mind that will ban protest outside parliament and make it illegal to photograph a policeman or railway station, is a mind seeking to abuse the power of the state.

New Labour convinced me that excessive state power is a real evil to weigh in the balance when considering how to deal with any issue. I consider fox hunting an ill, but state interference a greater ill. Any liberal should believe that the state should interfere in liberty as a last resort.

Other forms of social sanction can and should be deployed against fox hunters. Social disapprobation, ridicule, protest, peaceful disruption. But is the crushing hand of the state really required? No, I don’t think it is.

The same goes in my view for the smoking ban. I don’t smoke and hate cigarette smoke, But should it be illegal in pubs and restaurants, which are private property? No.

Lights blue touchpaper and goes back to his letter to William Hague…

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Gary McKinnon and Freedom

On 10 May I blogged:

Poor Gary McKinnon provides an important test. The Tories and Lib Dems have said they would halt his extradition under Blair’s vassal state one way extradition treaty with the USA. New Labour apparently remain determined to extradite him – and that means Miliband and Johnson in particular. That should be food for thought for anyone considering New Labour leaders touted as more acceptable to the Lib Dems,

I am delighted today that Teresa May has called in the McKinnon case for consideration – something New Labour refused to do. It does appear that Conservatives and Lib Dems are going to keep their promises and stop the McKinnon extradition.

This is great news. Even better news is that page 14 of the full coalition agreement promises to change Blair’s vassal state extradition treaty in the UK. It is well understood that this was a grossly unbalanced treaty, allowing for extradition of UK citizens to the US, but not of US citizens to the UK. It is less often mentioned that the treaty, enshrined into UK law by Order in Council, debars the UK courts from any consideration of the evidence or merits of the case. The only power the courts have is to check the correct form of the extradition request.

This treaty is the perfect embodiment of Blair’s policy; total subservience to the United States and the abdication of any idea of natural justice. Those commenters on this blog who refuse to accept that this government is an improvement on the hateful New Labour crowd, increasingly sound like nuts.

In presenting the coalition agreement today, Nick Clegg started by talking passionately about freedom in the UK. That is a word New Labour almost never mentioned, except in the context of abroad. And when they spoke of freedom abroad, it was code for we are about to invade you and kill hundreds of thousands of people.

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A Really Good Sign for the Coalition

Yesterday saw a vital indictation of the viability of the coalition – and it was George Osborne who delivered an extremely good result.

Last week I blogged:

Next week, the EU Council of Ministers plans to adopt strict regulations enforcing transparency on hedge funds and private equity firms and limiting their leverage, ie how much they can gamble. NuLabour resisted these very sensible Franco-German proposals, because NuLabour was 100% bought by the City. The Tory right wants to oppose the plans because they are European regulations. Already we are hearing bleats that hedge fund managers will move abroad. Good. The attitude to these proposals will be an imprtant early indication of whether this government is more progressive than NuLabour.

This is from the lead story on the front page of today’s Financial Times:

The approval of the controversial rules by finance ministers follows a similar endorsement by a group of EU lawmakers on Monday and brings regulation of the “alternative investment” industry closer.

Mr Osborne decided not to use up political capital in Brussels fighting to dilute an EU directive that has been ferociously pushed by France and Germany


More to the point, these regulations had been ferociously resisted by New Labour, just as Brown and Mandelson had ferociously resisted Franco-German proposals to limit bank bonuses and apply other brakes on casino banking. New Labour’s total defence of even the most extreme practices of most unacceptable faces of capitalism – hedge funds and private equity funds – was sickening.

It was notable in the election campaign that the Tories stance on banking regulation – in their manifesto, their rhetoric and the leaders’ debates – was much stronger than New Labour’s, and closer to the Liberal Democrats. There was room to doubt if this was just election populism. Osborne’s decision yesterday is a welcome sign that he Tories really are willing to take on City interests to which New Labour were slaves.

But the significance does not stop there. This decision also shows Cameron and Osborne are prepared to take on their own Europhobes. There will be fury from the combined forces of private equity millionaires and anti-Europeans, being poured down the lines into Conservative Central Office today.

Osborne in fact cleverly played the pro-EU card in the ECOFIN meeting and used his agreement to fund regulation to push forward the single market in financial services – something which has been disgracefully obstructed on continental Europe.

A friend of mine in UKREP Brussels tells me this morning that the view there is that it is great to have Ministers who do not confuse the interest of the City and the national interest as automatically the same thing.

And the icing of the cake for the coalition is that these very proposals for transparency and limitation of risk of hedge funds and private equity funds were initiated in the European Parliament by Lib Dem MEPs – led by my old mate Graham Watson.

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First Islamophobic Terror Scare under the Coalition

We have the first fake terror scare since the election – and Theresa May has jumped in on the authoritarian side.

The BBC states that:

The alleged leader of an al-Qaeda plot to bomb targets in north-west England has won his appeal against deportation.

A special immigration court said Abid Naseer was an al-Qaeda operative – but could not be deported because he faced torture or death back home in Pakistan

Note the alleged. The truth is that there is no evidence to convict Abid Nasser of anything. What they have is intelligence reports from Pakistan, certainly obtained under torture, and a communications intercept in which Abid Naseer talked of a wedding. As Sky News has been explaining all evening, the security services believe “wedding” is a code for a bombing.

On May 24, 2007 I blogged this:

Finally, a thought on communications intercepts. The government remain deeply opposed to the use of these in court. I am in favour. If surveillance has been properly and legally carried out, it should be admissible. The truth of the matter is that the Government does not want revealed how weak its so-called intelligence often is.

I can give one example. According to the US intercept agency the NSA, Al-Qaida frequently use the word “Wedding” as code for a suicide bombing. I recall as Ambassador being deluged with intercepts of “suspicious” conversations like “We’re going to a wedding in Bokhara.” Of such flimsy stuff is most of the material. If they keep it from court scrutiny, they can persuade natural authoritarian brown-nosers like Michael White to publish that it is “Solid”.

What is happening now is precisely the same circumstance I blogged about then. An innocent man is branded a terrorist by the security services, with no evidence that can be put before a jury. The media all then repeat it to ramp up the fear factor.

You may recall that in the current case, Gordon Brown had stated this was “a very big terror plot”. But the students arrested had no bombs, no weapons and possessed nothing at all connecting them to terrorism. The police announced they had found “a potential component of a bomb”. It turned out that this was less than a quarter of a kilo of sugar in the kitchen.

What is a disgrace is the “Special Immigration Tribunal” which decided not to deport Abid Nasser, but to brand him a terrorist. These tribunals are an affront to every principle of justice. The security services presented evidence against Abid Nasser in secret. Meither Nasser nor his lawyer was allowed to see the evidence against him. It is on the basis of this secret evidence – to which Nasser had no opportunity to make a reply – that Mr Justice Mitting stated that he was satisfied Nasser was an al-Qaida operative.

Mr Justice Mitting is a complete disgrace to the British judiciary. That he should make such a pronouncement on a man who was not allowed to defend himself shows that he has no place on any bench.

The fact that no criminal prosecution has been brought against Nasser, because of insufficient evidence, underlines the fact that Mitting is a reactionary well suited to his role in a court with as much connection to justice as the Committee of Public Safety.

My good friend and old boss Sir Brian Barder by no means shares my liberal views. He supports, for example, the FCO line that it is right to accept intelligence gained from torture by friendly security services, if it helps combat terrorism. But Brian resigned as a judge from the special immigration tribunal precisely because he believed it was completely unacceptable that they heard evidence which the accused were not allowed to answer. The truth is that only extreme reactionaries like Mr Justice Mitting, people with no concern at all for natural justice, could consent to take part in ths farcical kangaroo court.

Theresa May, our new Home Secretary has been very happy to jump on the Islamophobic bandwagon. Lib Dems should point out that the real lesson of this case is the need to abolish the star chamber secret Special Immigration Appeal Courts, which should have no place in any democracy.

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A Man Who May Not Withdraw His Labour is a Slave

I am extremely worried by the judicial activism involved in a series of decisions to prevent strikes. This year both Unite and RMT have been prevented from holding strikes, amid general undisguised establishment glee that workers have not been allowed to go on strike.

In today’s judgement against Unite (and for British Airways), there was no dispute that union members had genuinely voted to go on strike. But they had been notified of the result of the ballot by posted notices, and the court ruled that this did not meet the requirement that all members must be individually notified of the result.

In this country, posting a notice is sufficient notification to the neighbours if you apply for planning permission to build something next to them, and posting a notice is sufficient notification to the community if you plan to get married. The judicial ruling in no way follows the spirit of the law, which is intended to ensure that union members democratically vote on strikes. They did.

Free marketeers are quite wrong to crow over this blow to Unite. If you believe in the free market, you must believe that a contract is freely negotiated between master and employee. The employee must have the right to withdraw his labour.

An employee forbidden by the state to withdraw his labour is a slave. It really is that simple.

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Thoughts From the Lib Dem Conference

The atmosphere of the conference was fascinating – most definitely not triumphalist, but sober and determined. There was a general view that we are heading for a period of unpopularity, but that we are doing the right thing in constructing a government.

Having paid attention to about 70% of the speeches, I am still of the view there was no earthly reason to have the deliberations in secret.

There was a general air of surprise at just how much the negotiating team had gained in policy commitment from the Tories, but combined with a strong undertow of distrust of many of the Tory figures in the government. Successive Lib Dem ministers promised they would make the Tories stick to their commitments.

I an increasingly of the view that in the negotiations the Lib Dems, being natural policy wonks, were concentrated on getting policies on paper, whereas the Tories were pragmatically unconcerned about what was on paper, but rather determined to get their people with their hands on all the main levers of power. There is a danger that Lib Dem ministers will be disconnected gears.

The conference passed a whole series of amendments reaffirming the Lib Dem commitment to policies including eventual abolition of tuition fees – and no increases – and PR. All the biggest cheers came for attacks on New Labour’s appalling civil liberties record. Simon Hughes made the best speech of the day.

The coaliton agreement was passed overhelmingly – I would estimate by about 1,000 to about 30. I voted for it, and was much comforted in that by the fact that old friends like Tony Greaves, Richard Moore, Alistair Carmichael and David Grace did so too.

Meeting old friends was the best bit of the day. It was great to talk with Richard Moore again – he was a key influence on the teenage Craig Murray, and his passion for human rights and democracy in the developing world has not been dimmed by his 79 years. He made a rousing speech, which included the observation that any “rainbow coalition” would have been in hock to the bigots of the DUP.

I spent a most enjoyable half hour sitting at the back of the hall with Alistair Carmichael, making silly jokes and giggling as though we were students again. It was hard to remember he is now the government deputy chief whip – and I think he relished the chance to forget it for a few minutes.

As always with party conferences, it was what you learnt in the bar that was by far the most interesting.

The negotiations woth the Tories on reform of the House of Lords are worrying. The Tories are insisting on “grandfather rights” – those now in the House of Lords, or a large percentage of them, will remain members until they die. Including those new Lords about to be appointed by the parties. They also propose that elected members of the House of Lords should serve a twelve year term. I’ll say that again, a twelve year term. Worryingly the Lib Dem negotiators seem inclined to go along with that ludicrous proposal.

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That 55% Rule

Last night several senior Lib Dems tried to explain to me this strange proposal about 55% of the Commons being needed to bring down the government. I think the argument went that it only needed 50% plus 1 to bring down the government, but would need 55% to dissolve parliament. Or it may have been the oher way round.

I can see that dissolving parliament and bringing down a government are clean different things. Fixed term parliaments was a chartist demand – indeed they wanted annual ones. But the current abiity of a Prime Minister to call a general election when it best suits them plainly hands an unfair political advantage to the executive. So I have always supported fixed term parliaments of four or five years. But then even 100% of MPs, let alone 55%, should not be able to change the term and call an election when they feel like it. The term should be fixed and the MPs should have to get on with it – as in most democracies.

As for bringing down a government, plainly by definition a government which loses a confidence or supply vote, being opposed by 50% plus one members of the House of Commons, does not enjoy the confidence of the House and should fall. If you have a fixed term parliament you then need a different governrnent drawn from the same House.

Of course, we have a sovereign parliament. If a parliament votes for a 55% threshold, there is no means of enforcement. A future parliamentary vote, even if carried by precisely 50% plus one, to abolish the 55% threshold, would abolish the 55% threshold.

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On My Way to LibDem Conference

at the NEC Birmingham. The NEC is brash and utterly without soul – the architectural equivalent of Tony Blair.

I am happy we are going to get to vote on the coalition, but rather flummoxed that the debate is to be in closed session – I should have thought this historic decision needed a damn good airing. Liberal Democrats having secret policy debates? As I observed a few days ago, somebody needs to explain the meaning of the words in the party title to the party hierarchy.

It’s been a horrible couple of days, making up three years of formal accounts to take to the auditors. Being just me, I never felt the need to have myself audited before. But now family circumstances give me the urge to buy a house, So I have to take out a new mortgage.

I expected no problems – I have a 25% deposit and was looking for a mortgage from my own bank of thirty years, who tell me my credit rating with them is 1, the best category. But they also tell me that new government regulations for mortgages say that self-employed people must have audited accounts.

Why? I keep a record of income and expenditure, and keep receipts, to fill in my tax returns. But that is much less complex than formal accounts. Now every jobbing plumber and window cleaner needs an accountant if he wants a mortgage.

The daft thing is, my bank can see my income going into the account and the expenditure going out. They wish to lend to me. But they are not allowed to. Yet the banking crisis was not caused by self-employed writers, actors or artists. This is all a great boon to accountants. I am going to be paying several thousand quid to ne now.

And perversely it is going to cost the Inland Revenue more than that – the accountant tells me I have been failing to claim all sorts of stuff and paying far too much tax, and I should turn myself into a service company and be VAT registered.

You may recall that Goldman Sachs deliberately lent mortgages to people who couldn’t pay, then massively hedged so they made more money if the mortgages defaulted than if they paid. I recount in the Catholic Orangemen of Togo how Ashanti Gold hedged their production until their gold mines made more money if the price of gold fell than they did if it rose. That is a good symbol for the preference of casino gambling on future prices over concentrating on real world production. That was the actual cause of the banking collapse.

In basic retail banking transactions like mortgages, there is a perfectly good free market governing mechanism. Banks should make good credit risk assessments of individual customers. If they make too many bad judgements, the bank should go bust and the bankers with poor judgement lose their jobs. That will encourage other bankers to have good judgement.

The solution is not to throw taxpayer money at the useless bankers to keep them in their jobs, then centrally impose ridiculous bureaucratic regulation about who they can lend to.

Retail banking is susceptible to free market rigour. It needs to be split from casino banking, and casino banking needs to be controlled.

Next week, the EU Council of Ministers plans to adopt strict regulations enforcing transparency on hedge funds and private equity firms and limiting their leverage, ie how much they can gamble. NuLabour resisted these very sensible Franco-German proposals, because NuLabour was 100% bought by the City. The Tory right wants to oppose the plans because they are European regulations. Already we are hearing bleats that hedge fund managers will move abroad. Good. The attitude to these proposals will be an imprtant early indication of whether this government is more progressive than NuLabour.

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I Will Support This Government

Having now seen the coaliton agreement, I can say that I can broadly support this government and am convinced that it will be an improvement on the bunch of authoritarian war criminals who have been replaced.

Here are the parts of the agreement that to me constitute a radical change for the better in the political possibilities for our country:

Civil Liberties

Scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the ContactPoint Database.

Outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

Extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

Adopt the Scottish approach to stopping retention of innocent people’s DNA on the DNA database.

Defend trial by jury.

Restore rights to non-violent protest.

A review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

Further regulation of CCTV.

Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

End the detention of children for immigration purposes.

Add to that a fully elected House of Lords under PR, and fixed term parliaments, and this does represent real truly important change for the better.

The full coalition agreement is here.

Lifting the basic tax allowance towards £10,000 and restoring the state pension link to earnings are also major changes.

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Lib-Cons Get Off Virtually Scot Free

Amazingly, there seem to be only two Scots in the cabinet – Liam Fox, who is detested in Scotland, and the hapless Danny Alexander in the ghetto of Scottish Secretary – a token position devoid of power. Have I missed anyone? How many times have there been this few Scots in a Cabinet since 1707?

I had already noted that the election result and the Lib-Con coalition will be a great boost to Scottish independence. This puts the seal on it.

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Torture Supporter Peter Ricketts as National Security Adviser

Even worse news. Cameron’s much vaunted National Security Council will be headed by the FCO’s pro-torture Peter Ricketts, who is personally up to his ears in the policy of complicity in torture, and in its continued cover-up – including being personally involved in the censorship of this vital FOI release last week.

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The appointment of Ricketts to what is touted as a key government position is a major blow to those like me who hoped that complicity in torture and attacks on civil rights will be rolled back.

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Very Bad Signs for the LIb Dems – Cameron, Osborne, Hague, Fox and May dominate the great offices of state from the far right

The Great Offices of State are called that for a reason. They dominate any government, and to a large extent other ministers’ room for manouvere is massively constrained by them.

Look at the line-up. Cameron, Osborne, Hague, Fox, May. How on earth did the Lib Dems agree to support such a very right wing line up? Why did they fail to land even one of the great offices of state in the negotiation, when two are occupied by right wing political pygmies like Fox and May? This does not bode well at all for the Lib Dems.

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Who Will Be Home Secretary?

It is now plain that there is deadlock between Cameron and Clegg over who will be Home Secretary. That is hardly surprising. I have argued before that the most important political dividing line in this country is not left and right, but between libertarian and authoritarian.

New Labour was the most authoritarian government this country has seen since the days of Lord Liverpool. Home Secretaries David Buinkett, Charles Clarke, Jack Straw and John Reid led a full-on attack on civil liberties in this country. I have no time whatsoever for those commenters who would have preferred the evil men of New Labour o remain in power.

The Lib Dems are strongly tilted to the libertarian side, though they do have authoritarians, and that wing is close to Clegg.

But the Tories are absolutely split down the middle on libertarian/authoritarian lines. A lot of Tories want to ban immigrants, deport hundreds of thousands and lock up very many more people than our prisons can hold. Cameron would be in huge problems with his right wing if he put a Lib Dem in charge of the Home Office.

But equally the Lib Dems could not accept a Tory right winger. The ludicrous neo-con, second home flipper and cheerleader for uninformed Islamophobia, Michael Gove, will get the job according to Iain Dale. I do not see how the Lib Dems can live with tat, nor with Chris Grayling and his dodgy attitude to gay rights. David Davis’ genuine belief in civil liberties alarms some of his own party. This is an important development to watch.

I have not yet heard any mention of reform of the House of Lords. I would have thought that should have been a fundamental point for the Lib Dems.


Perhaps predictably, Cameron has resolved the situation by appointing a non-entity, Theresa May. She has always struck me as vacuous and unpleasant. But the great offices line up of Cameron, Osborne, Hague, Fox and May looks very right wing indeed. I think there is going to be a great deal of unhappiness in the Lib Dems about this – including me.

May has a mixed record – for example against ID cards and war on terror legislation, but also anti-gay rights, and pro Iraq war.

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The Vicious Cynicism of David Miliband

Diego Garcia remains one of the worst atrocities of all time British foreign policy – and it continues under New Labour. In 1971 Britain commenced the forced removal of the population of the Chagos Archipelago to make way for a huge US airbase. This base has been used for bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a torture centre under extraordinary rendition.

The Chagossians were rounded up by military force, transported over 2000 miles and dumped without support on a variety of faraway islands. Many subsequently died. The term “genocide” has not commonly been applied to Brtain’s treatment of the Chagossians. Genocide is an overused word. But if what Britain did – and is still doing – to the Chagossians is not genocide, then the word has no meaning.

It has taken many years for an effective lobby to grow up for the small, dwindling and shattered group of survivors of this atrocity. But progress has been made, interestingly with a lot of effective support from horrified ex-FCO and Royal Naval personnel. Progress has been made through the UK courts – but has been resisted tooth and nail, on behalf of their US masters, by Jack Straw and David Miliband.

Miliband has now produced what is one of the most cynical acts in the history of British foreign policy. Dressed up as an environmentalist move, and with support from a number of purblind environmentalists, the waters around the Chagos Archipelago have been declared the world’s largest marine reserve – in which all fishing is banned. The islanders, of course, are fishermen.

The sheer cynicism of this effort by Miliband to dress up genocide as environmentalism is simply breathtaking. If we were really cooncerned about the environment of Diego Garcia we would not have built a massive airbase and harbour on a fragile coral atoll and filled it with nuclear weapons.

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The Budget

That was such a damp squib it is hard to find the energy to discuss it. The usual New Labour con, built on wildly optimistic growth forecasts. Their budget growth forecast for 2009 proved in fact an astonishig 1.9% too optimistic.

Yes, we should be tackiling the budget deficit now.

The budget in fact did very little, and was much more notable for what it did not do. Nothing at all to split high street from casino banking, nothing to stop banks paying over 70% of their profits to their fatcats in good years and then expecting the taxpayer to fund them in bad years.

Tax information agreements with tax havens are a good thing, but would not normally merit a mention in the budget statement. The fact that the big government benches cheer came from an irrelevant attack on Lord Ashcroft – in what is meant to be the national budget, for God’s sake – reflected just how tawdry this government is and how cheap our politics have become.

What elese was tawdry? Announcement of £270 million to universities to fund “20,000 more students” when the universities were told a couple of weeks ago their budgets were cut £250 million for “efficiency savings”. Net result – universities are supposed somehow to educate 20,000 more students for nothing.

More tawdry gimmicks – announcement of £60 million to fund loans for renewable energy industry infrastructure development, especially wind turbines, when the government had just let the actual Vestas wind turbine plant go bust for lack of £20 million. Most tawdry of all? The plan to raise money and boost the government’s banker mates by selling the student loan portfolio to the private sector.

I could go on, but I can’t be bothered. Sickening.

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On Being A Liberal Democrat

In my week without blogging, sorting out much personal detritus, I have been taking stock of the past and contemplating the future.

I have decided to rejoin the Liberal Democrats. I know that will disappoint some readers, but as I said after Norwich North, I was forced to conclude that it was impossible to make any worthwhile impact as an independent in British politics. No matter how good a candidate you are, and no matter how hard you and your supporters campaign, the combination of voter party loyalties and media exclusion are killing. Indeed, I find I get much more media exposure when I am not a candidate.

Politics is about the governance of society, and that entails people working together and collaborating their views. It is by definition a social pursuit, so to attempt to pursue it entirely alone to avoid compromising any of your opinions is not politics but futility. Why should I ever expect anybody to agree with me on absolutely every point? Probably nobody genuinely agrees with absolutely every word of the programme of any political party.

I was a member of the National Council of the Liberal Party when I was just sixteen years old. I was in student politics as a Liberal then a Lib Dem, and remained a party member right up until I stood against Jack Straw as an indpendent in Blackburn. I wanted to stand against Straw to highlight hs role in rendition and torture, and would have stood against him as a Lib Dem given the chance.

I am very sad that under Clegg the Lib Dems have not come out more strongly against the Afghan War and against replacing Trident. There is a disconnect here between the party leadership and the members. I spoke to a fringe meeting at the Scottish Lib Dem conference in Dunfermline in November. We took a straw poll after my talk, and out of forty five only two were against immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan – which was less that the number of MPs and MSPs present.

I have never made any bones about my strong support for Scottish independence, and on this issue as well as on Trident and on Afghanistan it is my intention to try to influence Lib Dem policy. I am very attracted by the Lib Dem proposal of a £10,000 tax allowance, to be paid for by a tax on houses worth over £2 million and by raising the rate of Capital Gains Tax to equal the rate of income tax paid by the individual benefiting.

That is a far more radical and egalitarian proposal than anything New Labour have on offer, and would enormously benefit the less well off, make work more attractive against benefits and stimulate the domestic economy through consumer demand.

So I shall not be standing in the general election, but will be actively campaigning for the Lib Dems. That does not indicate any hostility at all towards the Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru or Respect, all of whom I hope do well.

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