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Lord Rennard: Good news, but MORE questions

By Angela Harbutt
February 24th, 2013 at 9:27 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Good news from the Party today that the investigation will NOW be “independently chaired”. Why such an obvious decision was not easily made at the outset is concerning. From what I can gather, they seem to have taken this decision without any conversation with the women concerned [but will happily be stand corrected]. But it is good to hear that our concerns (and others) were listened to. Special mention here goes to Stephen Tall , who piled in behind us on Friday. No news yet on who the “independent Chair” is to be or how they will be appointed.

Questions: Following suggestions that the person at the end of the “whistle-blower” hotline appears to be too intimately connected to the party, on too many levels. I assume that the hotline will now likewise be put in the hands of someone out side of the party. And quickly.

This isn’t to suggest any aspersions about the fair-mindedness of either Tim Farron (who was originally slated to head up the inquiry) or Kate Parminter (who manages the rather under-advertised hotline), but surely these things properly need to be placed under the command of those who don’t have a long history at the senior levels of the party?

Finally, it has to be asked, for the umpteenth time, who exactly is managing the party PR machine? Had the party line on Friday not been so hapless, some of the weekend’s newspaper speculation, and embarrassing statements from Cable and Browne could probably have been avoided.

Added to that, the statement made by Nick Clegg this evening, and the press office follow up,  seem to leave more questions than answers. Nick’s tone of indignation was utterly inappropriate. And he is already having to issue clarifications about the difference between his knowledge and his office’s. This is exactly the sort of running commentary that he said, rather optimistically, he wished to avoid. He is unlikely to be able to do so over the coming days.

Update: We are delighted that the party has announced that a new independent whistleblower group will deal with complaints: Telephone number 020 7404 6609

It has also announced that it has appointed Alistair Webster QC to lead the formal internal investigation under the Party’s disciplinary rules into the specific allegations made about the conduct of Lord Rennard.

Finally the party has said that it will also be announcing an independent Chair for the investigation into party procedures and to thoroughly examine how allegations made in the past have been handled.

 

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Plain packaging – a dirty war alright!

By Angela Harbutt
March 13th, 2012 at 2:49 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Some of you might have read the Independent article today “The PM, his pro-smoking aide, and a dirty war over cigarette packaging“. In the article it says (amongst other things…)

“…The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has asked Vince Cable, the Trade and Industry Minister, for reassurances that Mr Littlewood will not be advising on tobacco-related matters because of his “clear conflict of interest”.

“….Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking organisation ASH, said: “Mark Littlewood is not independent, he has nailed his colours to the mast by supporting the tobacco industry-funded campaign against plain packs, just as he did its campaign to bring smoking back to our pubs.”

Nailed his colours to the mast ? Too right he has – and years ago. Mark Littlewood (founder of, and former blogger here at LV) has been a passionate smoker, and blogger on the issue for years – and not just on tobacco. He has stood up to governments on tobacco and alcohol and drugs and gambling and a number of other lifestyle issues time and again here on this very blog, on the media. You name it Littlewood has been there.

…And long before he started this blog, when he was the spin doctor for the Lib Dems  he was positively evangelical about people’s freedoms, civil (co-founder of no2id) and  personal.

And who did he report to when working at the Lib Dems ? A certain Lord Rennard. The same Lord Rennard who just happens to be the vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health – (which is also chaired by Stephen Williams MP – also a Lib Dem) – the group that happened to make the complaint about Mark Littlewood to erm… fellow Lib Dem Vince Cable. Priceless! What is that about? Memory loss?

There can be nobody on the APPG – not Lord Rennard the vice chair or Stephen Williams the chair, nor anyone at ASH or indeed Vince Cable that doesn’t know Mark’s stance on tobacco – nor that he has held this stance for decades.

Surprised the Independent didn’t seem to know any of that  – or perhaps just chose not to mention any of that in their article. No – Their stance is to allude to what monies Mark Littlewood’s current organisation might receive from tobacco. As if this would make any difference to Mark Littlewood. It would be laughable were it not all so darned serious.

Personally I find it utterly hypocritical that the entire anti-tobacco health industry feels free to spout their “personal heart-felt beliefs” on smoking to Andrew Lansley and the Department of Health without any qualms. Indeed self-confessed tobacco-haters are commissioned and paid for by the Department of Health  to produce “independent” government policy papers on smoking. Yet these people – or their mouthpieces – go charging off to the Trade and Industry Minister as soon as someone, whose personal beliefs are at odds with theirs, gets anywhere so much as a foot into the doors of power. And who was it I wonder that gave this story to the Independent?

What ever the “Independent” might imply or the APPG disingenuously assert, this attack has nothing to do with tobacco funding any organisation.  It is indeed, as the “Independent” headline says, a dirty war. Because this is an attempt to use the power and privilege of parliamentary position to blacken a man’s name; to cow Mark Littlewood personally into shutting up, or attempt to force his employers into gagging him. I sincerely hope that neither will occur.

As for the APPG on Smoking and Health – a group that receives funding, “admin support” and “briefing papers” from the anti-smoking campaign group ASH – well it is about time this parliamentary loophole to power and influence was plugged once and for all.

Angela Harbutt is a proud campaigner for the Forest run campaign Hands Off Our Packs , opposing the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco.

Update : read also related pieces here – Velvet Gove Iron Fist , Alex Massie at the Spectator and Simon Clark-Taking Liberties

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Lib Dem members back post-2015 cuts to eliminate deficit

By Angela Harbutt
December 19th, 2011 at 8:03 pm | No Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

I have been away for a few days – but catching up with some reading this afternoon I came across the Lib Dem Voice poll of members. posted last week.

LDV asked: As a result of reduced growth forecasts, it now seems unlikely the Coalition Government will achieve its aim of eliminating the deficit over the lifetime of this parliament. Danny Alexander has indicated that the Liberal Democrats will probably need to go into the next election in 2015 promising nearly £30bn more austerity for a future government to balance the books. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Eliminating the deficit must remain a top priority, even if that means the Liberal Democrats have to commit to post-2015 cuts at the next general election.”

  • 60% – I agree
  • 32% – I disagree
  • 8% – Don’t know / No opinion

By a 2:1 margin, then, Lib Dem members believe it is important that the party holds steadfast to the Coalition’s stated priority for the next government to balance the books.

Other survey results show that a similar level (62%) of Lib Dem members back the coalition’s deficit policy.

That should bring some Christmas cheer to the leadership!

For further analysis visit the LDV website.

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Europe: Clegg got it right..and then completely wrong…

By Angela Harbutt
December 12th, 2011 at 3:55 pm | 9 Comments | Posted in EU Politics, Europe, Liberal Democrats

Stephen Tall has a really good article over on LDV today on the subject of Europe and Cameron’s decision to reject the proposed ‘Merkozy’ EU treaty. In summary his view is that whilst he is not  going to shed any tears that the UK refused to sign-up to the deal, he says “it’s a crying shame that the UK isn’t trying to lead from within”.

Like Stephen, I consider myself an internationalist first and foremost and whilst I broadly support of the concept of the EU -  but I am not so blind that I can’t see just how fat, corrupt, protectionist and, frankly, undemocratic the EU has become.   Within that, the Euro-zone has become something of a joke – singularly inept at solving problems of its own making – flailing around coming up with one bad idea after another. The latest, (frankly laughable) idea was to introduce a Tobin tax (a tax on financial transactions) . This sought to raise many billions of euros, of which well over half would come from the Britain. Given how important the financial sector is to this country – and the likely outcome of any such move – it  was never going to be acceptable.

So we have to consider whether any other outcome was ever really likely? The truth of the matter (and there is so much that we don’t know about what actually happened during the discussions) is that David Cameron was out-manoeuvred by the French (mainly) and the Germans. The French wanted a policy that would treat the symptoms (debt) not the cause (overspending) and wanted Britain to pay for it. If they couldn’t get that then isolating Britain was the next best option. That’s bad news for the UK – but I suspect even worse news for Europe. And whilst the British Euro-sceptics may be crowing and the French and Germans basking in self-righteous glory – the truth is it’s  a crying shame for everyone.

So what of the Lib Dem’s role in all of this? It seems clear that in the run up to the discussions, Nick did all he could to help facilitate the best possible deal for the UK. Good . That’s what you want the deputy PM to be doing putting the country’s interest first (as he did when he led the party into coalition).

Nick has also shown himself to be “in tune” with the Lib Dem membership. Nick is a Euro-realist. Likewise the Lib Dem members. In a recent poll of members, 51% rejected a move towards an even closer union with Europe.  Yes, we like the concept . No we don’t like what it has become. Here are some of the quotes from that survey….

“refuse closer union UNTIL such time as the EU has been restructured into a less bureaucratic and more Liberal form”

“The right to decide what sovereignty is pooled remains an important one and should sometimes be reversed. We do not for example still need a coal and steel community or agricultural policy”

“Closer union must come with increased accountability and reform”

“We should work towards reform of CAP. We should push for more democracy in EU decision making. We should make every effort to avoid too much legislation coming from Brussels”

“It seems that the UK is not really playing a proper role therefore we should step back and re-negotiate the pressing points, like money, Common Agricultural Policy”

So the idea that we are a party blindly committed to Europe no matter how illiberal, protectionist, bureaucratic and corrupt it becomes is just plain nonsense. Nick and the majority of the party would rather be in Europe than out of it- but recognise that Europe desperately needs reform. We recognise that it isn’t Europe “at all costs”.

Where Nick has made an error – and here I will bang on again about his PR and the party’s PR – is how he has managed the post-veto situation. On Friday Nick is seemingly behind Cameron’s dramatic veto (saying that Cameron’s demands had been ‘modest and reasonable’), and a dreaded “spokesman” confirming that Nick was ‘fully signed-up’ to the veto). Given that William Hague has also stated on the record that “The negotiating position that David Cameron took on Thursday night and Friday morning was agreed in advance with the Lib Dems in the coalition” – it seems reasonable to believe that it is true.

24 hours later Nick is “ bitterly disappointed” with the outcome in Brussels, that the outcome is “bad for Britainand could leave itisolated and marginalised.

Of course the two positions are not mutually exclusive.

UK’s demands probably were “reasonable” and Nick almost certainly would have agreed that Cameron should/could use the veto if all else failed (I can’t imagine that it would have been very plausible to ask David Cameron to “pop out of the room” every five minutes during the negotiations to check if his actions were OK with Nick). It is also true that the outcome was pretty miserable for everyone. What is frustrating it that Nick couldn’t have said all that on Friday in one (somewhat long) breath rather than starting out sounding supportive and getting increasingly angst-ridden about the outcome. This speaks yet again of Nick needing much better media advice that he himself trusts. This did not require a PR guru to get this right. It just required a bit of forward planning and a half decent PR brain. Neither are really much in evidence on this one.

Of course Nick has not been helped by the party grandees – and may indeed explain his faltering media stance… Talk of Vince resigning, coalition splits, even questions regarding Nick’s future as leader are unhelpful and show that we still have an awful long way to go if we want to convince the electorate that we are “fit to govern”. We have enough on our plate with the hysterical right wing press having a pop at Nick without our own doing the same. It’s odd that some Lib Dems complain at the Tories being only “half-in” Europe when some of them are only “half-in” the Lib Dems.

UPDATE:  Nick’s absence from parliament this afternoon has created a furore across the media. He says its because he did not want to be a distraction.  But in actual fact his absence seems to have created a much larger distraction. Further evidence that he needs better media advice?

FURTHER UPDATE: Watch BBC News at Ten and tell me that Nick staying away was a “good idea”

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+++Stop Press+++ Lib Dem 2015 manifesto to cut spending by an additional £30bn

By Angela Harbutt
November 29th, 2011 at 11:23 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

A remarkably brave and honest performance by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander on Newsnight, mere moments ago.

Given the disappointing deficit reduction figures to date, the next government will have to make additional savings of around £30bn to get the public finances back into balance.

Danny made it unambiguously clear that a commitment to find these savings will be in the next manifesto.

Even Paxo was surprised about his frankness and unambiguous clarity.

A top performance.

And at least we also know the task for LibDem conference for the next couple of years. And at least it’s a clear challenge, which should help us avoid any danger of descending into an irresponsible “whinge fest”.

So, where would we start in finding those additional savings?

*UPDATE* – You can view the interview here.

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