'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Friday 26 April 2013

MP and Former Labour Home Sec Alan Johnson still supporting the Snoopers Charter

Alan Johnson was on BBC This Week last night and apparently, he still want the Snoopers Charter brought in.

The key passage can be seen here (the first 60 secs or so is the key bit) but as it won't be up for too long, I've also transcribed the key passage below. Thanks to @Glynley for finding the right clip.

Alan Johnson

"The government are, we hear today, dropping the Communications Date bill...this is not the time to be complacent".

When then challenged by Andrew Neil if he thought the government should have continued bringing in a Snoopers Charter, Johnson goes on...

"I think they should. Look, it was...I saw it, and so does the Intelligence and Security Committee, as a major major problem...we always had the ability with telephone calls and letters - because the state owned it - now with the explosion in new methods of communication, they don't know, to the extent they should, who is communicating with who".

It's now very clear, with the Tories having brought this forward this time, and Labour trying to do the same in the last government , that it is only the Lib Dems in Westminster who are stopping this legislation being brought forward and defending civil liberties in this area

We're Lib Dems. And we're very much in favour of this sort of thing....

While the uncharitable among you often suggest I don’t know my arse from my elbow, my recent musings could now be interpreted as a carefully constructed scheme to further the cause of civil liberties. On the other hand, it may be wild coincidence. I’ll let you make your own mind up.
A couple of weeks ago I suggested in these august pages that commentators were more effective at getting stuff done than our elected representatives. And I cited the hero of the Lib Dem grassroots and MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert, as a typical example of a politician who kept voting the right way, doing the right thing – and losing.
I clearly riled him.
Stage two of my sophisticated attack strategy was to suggest that the Lib Dems' reputation as defenders of civil liberties would be seriously damaged if the Defamation Bill didn’t get sorted smartish, and if there was any suggestion of support for any bill that could be called a snoopers' charter.
This has clearly given Nick Clegg some sleepless nights. And as I sit here this morning, stroking my white cat and pondering world domination, we see the pieces of the civil liberties jigsaw fall neatly into place.
Earlier in the week, the Defamation Bill passed into law, with an appropriate amendment introduced to prevent corporations bullying individuals using the threat of libel, as promised and expertly chaperoned through Westminster by Julian Huppert, my words no doubt ringing in his ears.
And now, terrified at the prospect of what the Guardian has started to refer to as "influential activists" doing their nut, Nick’s confirmed that a blanket record of digital activity is "not going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government". So it seems the snoopers' charter is dead and buried too (Incidentally, I bet they use another term to describe "influential activists" inside Lib Dem HQ. But I digress).
Of course, I think we all knew Julian was always going to sort out the Defamation Bill without my, um,  'help and assistance'; and that Nick would have seen the proposed Communications Data Bill as the pernicious and (not especially) thin edge of the wedge towards state invasion of our internet privacy. After all, one or two other people have made similar points.
The point is, we’re a more free society today than it looked like we would be a week ago. And we’re not going to allow a snoopers' charter onto the statute books. Civil liberties are safe in our hands. Because we’re Lib Dems – and we’re very much in favour of that sort of thing.

Thursday 25 April 2013

I think this lady has the best claim to say "I killed the snoopers charter'

There are a number of people who could justifiably argue that they killed the Snoopers Charter

Nick was of course the person who ultimately said no. So he has a claim. Plus it was Nick who originally insisted the bill was a draft only.

Julian Huppert and Paul Strasburger did excellent work both in committee and behind the scenes pointing out what a disaster the bill would be for civil liberties.

The grassroots as a whole did a first class job pointing out why it was just plain wrong - unfair to pick anyone out I think.

And then there's great work by folk like Liberty, Big Brother Watch and all. Plus the odd Tory MP who made all the right noises.

But actually, let's not  forget, when this bill was first introduced, it seemed destined to go through on the nod. It was just 'a simple update' of current legislation we were told, to accomodate changes and developments in technology.

It was only when the message was relayed to Great George Street in well informed and very angry detail just what was going on ,that any seed of doubt was sown. And the forum for that message was a conference call between various special advisors to the leadership and the Lib Dem blogging community.

And that call only took place because of one person, who took it upon herelf to sort it and make it happen.

Hats off La Duffett. If anyone can say 'I killed the Snoopers Charter' -  it's you.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Communications data Bill: an open letter to Nick Clegg

Dear Nick

I fear I may have been a pain the backside in recent days, so apologies for that - but as you can probably tell, I feel passionately that we should veto any moves towards reintroducing the Communications Data Bill, unless and until it starts to roll back some of the State's powers in this area, rather than extending it.

You'll be well versed in the detailed arguments by now so I won't rehearse them all again now; but the basic principle is important to restate. Any Bill that increases the State's ability to track, record and read a citizen's thoughts and words is a retrograde step for civil liberties. While the system may never be abused here - which regretfully I suspect would not be the case - it opens the door to every government in the world for whom civil liberties is a force to be reduced and extinguished, the excuse to go down that road, citing us as the exampole they are following.

We simply cannot allow this to happen.

in the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"

​Please veto this Bill

With best wishes

Richard Morris

Monday 22 April 2013

Lib Dem activists are prepared for war over the snoopers' charter

So, with the Queens Speech looming over the horizon, and an ominous silence hanging in the air over the Communications Data Bill, I thought I'd get my retaliation in early in case anyone in Great George Street was pondering letting any new proposals slip through on the nod. So I wrote this for the New Statesman.

It seems others thought the same - The Telegraph ran a piece on the dangers of the bill on Friday, Nick de Bois had this in The Spectator on the same day, and today's Times (paywall so I wont link) is fairly clear on where the expert's view lies...

Anyway - here are my thoughts....

Like some political version of Schrödinger's cat, Lib Dem MPs appear to be trapped in a Westminster box, while activists stand outside, wondering if the fight for civil liberties is alive or dead within. We don’t know – but worryingly, there’s currently a hell of a stench of dead something or other coming from that direction.
Civil liberties are a touchstone issue for party members, lying at the core of why most joined the Lib Dems. And we’ve taken a hell of a battering. For example, this week our MPs voted against a set of proposed amendments in the Defamation Bill which would have made it harder for corporations to silence critics using the threat of libel. This despite the fact that it’s party policy and was proposed in the 2010 manifesto. Apparently, we’re on a promise that it can all get changed back again now it’s returned to the Lords. Although the initial reaction from the party doesn’t exactly fill, you with confidence.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said the party would be instructing their MPs to vote with the Government. 'Unfortunately we are in a Coalition and this was one of those areas where we could not get our Conservative colleagues to agree with us,' he said
Nor does this excellent analysis of the situation from David Allen Green. And don’t forget all this is on the back of the Justice and Security Bill (secret courts, to you and me) debacle. Seven Lib Dem MPs rebelled over that Bill, fewer than the number who managed to show a bit of backbone during the rebellion over planning regulations this week. 
But what’s really keeping activists awake at night, the radioactive isotope that might release the Tory poison and kill the cat, is the new version of the Communications Data bill. You will recall, perhaps, that we were told last year, by a Lib Dem minister, no less - that :
The proposals being considered would simply update the current rules – which allow the police in criminal investigations to find out who was contacted and when – to cover new forms of technology that didn’t even exist when the original laws were made, like Skype
…and it was only when the party went stark raving bonkers that anyone in Westminster woke up and smelled the coffee.
By December, we had moved on considerably, with Nick saying, "we cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawng board", which is about as clear as you can get and in marked contrast to his original comments.
But the grass roots party is angry, it’s worried and it’s very distrustful. You didn’t have to go through the last bill with a fine toothcomb to drive a coach and horses through its assault on civil liberties. This time , presumably, rather more care has been taken  - so activists are primed and ready to take whatever is proposed in the next Queen’s Speech apart word by word, line by line.
If the Westminster party thought the grass roots gave them a hard time on civil liberties before, just try and propose some legislation that does anything but roll back the state’s powers in this area. You haven’t seen anything yet


This piece by Mark Pack is also WELL worth a read

Sunday 21 April 2013

Well done everyone. It seems we won the twentieth century

I attended the New Statesman Centenary debate on Thursday, where the motion was “This House believes the left won the 20th Century”

It was a stellar list of speakers. Mehdi Hasan, Simon Heffer and Helen Lewis spoke for the motion, Tim Montgomerie, Owen Jones and Ruth Porter were against. And the speeches were great – perhaps the only bum note being when North Korea was named as a fairly typical example of a left wing state. But anyway, I digress.

Two things struck me. The first was that the three speakers in favour of the motion studiously avoided the use of one particular word – Socialism. Which is odd when it was the dominant left wing political philosophy of the century, in this country at least.

Which brings me on to the second; if they didn’t talk about socialism, what did they talk about?

Well they all cited Asquith, David Lloyd George and the introduction of the Welfare State, Beveridge, Keynes, Grimond got a mention.; Heffer even made the case that Margaret Thatcher wasn’t a Conservative, she was a nineteenth century economic liberal in the tradition of Gladstone. 

And this theme of citing liberalism over and over again wasn't just limited to one side of the debate. Interestingly so did the other side, naming economic, social and egalitarian liberalism as the dominant forces of the century.

I was going to make the point – but then someone else in the audience made it for me – that an outsider might presume it wasn’t the left (or right) that won the 20th century – but liberalism. And indeed, Tim Montgomerie then made a very erudite speech, applauded by all members of the panel, where he argued that the century may have seen the decline of the large ‘L’ Liberal party, but that liberalism – in the form of classical liberalism for the right and modern (social) liberalism for the left – was indeed the dominant political force of the century.

No one in the audience demurred either.

I have often thought this but never heard a panel like this make the case quite so eloquently.

And of course, this fits with the current ‘positioning ‘ being adopted by the party perfectly (you can’t trust Labour on the economy, the Tories on fairness).

But given there seemed general agreement on this politically broad panel that liberalism had indeed won the century – you do wonder where it all went wrong for the the large L version...

Friday 19 April 2013

It seems I am exempt from Leveson; unlike a lot of other small media operations...

The government has published proposals which will exempt small blogs from the effects and dangers of exemplary damages if we don't join the new watchdog. Full details can be found here but in a nutshell..

The amendments clarify the government’s position on small blogs by further defining the exemption for blogs that are classed as ‘micro-businesses’ - business with fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover below £2 million. This is the definition used by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Despite not falling under the definition of relevant publisher, any publication that is exempt as a micro-business as a result of these amendments could still choose to join a regulator and receive the legal benefits otherwise only available to relevant publishers in the regulator. That means protection from exemplary damages. It also means that use of the arbitral arm in the regulator will be taken into account by the court when awarding costs.

This seems a good thing I think; but it doesn't seem an equitable thing - as it applies to blogs but not other small forms of media. As Big Brother Watch has been pointing out...

The amendment makes clear if you’re a multi-author blog with a turnover below £2m, you won’t be considered a ‘relevant publisher’ for the purposes of exemplary damages and cost protections. This is an important clarification.
However, the drafting only protects either ‘incidental’ publishers of news-related material, or multi-author blogs. So someone who is not a blog, who publishes news-related material on a regular basis, remains in scope even if their turnover is £10,000.
In other words, if you’re a small, local newspaper with 3 staff and a turnover of £100,000 then you’re still a relevant publisher, but if you are a £1.5m turnover blog with 8 full time staff you’re not.

I’m sure this isn’t what the drafters meant to do; but it’s where they ended up. So more more to do.

Legislate in haste; repent at leisure….

Wednesday 17 April 2013

The first ever televised PMQs

Noisier than today.

Many of the same faces

Maggie didn't wear blue.

Friday 12 April 2013

Dear the BBC; please don't make me buy that song.

I suspect there are two sorts of people buying Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

The first are folk with a genuine, passionate grudge about Mrs Thatcher, who honestly are delighted she has died, and want the whole world to know. I think the whole thing's a bit distasteful, perhaps a tad puerile, but if that's what they think then fine, and of course they have a perfect right to both think that, and buy a record that expresses how they feel, and tells the world that a number of people feel the same.

The second are folk who don't have that visceral dislike of Thatcher, but are not great fans, find the whole thing quite funny, and are joining in , in the way folk hiss the villain at pantomimes (or indeed boo the Chancellor at the Paralympics). Again, nothing especially wrong with that.

But if the BBC ban playing the song on the basis of 'taste', then there will be a third group of people buying the song; advocates of free speech, who don't think what can be done and can't be done should be decided by what one group in society think over the views of another. People like Fleet Street Fox. Or me.

I don't want to spend the money. Or indeed be associated with that party going haters.

So, if the song makes the top 5 come Sunday, please play the song BBC.


Seeing tweets like these, which i suspect are accurate...

Strikes me as the worst of every world; still offends those who are offended, pisses off anyone who believes in free speech. A ludicrous BBC decision, if true

Wednesday 10 April 2013

I could argue the case that this is Transport in London politics related...

..but really I've just put this up because it's beautiful. A video map of London showing Oyster card touches in and out over the city during a single day. Quite something.

H/T Oliver O'Brien

How the pundits are becoming more influential than the politicians

This was my piece in the New Statesman yesterday. It appears to have turned into an Owen Jones love fest which wasn't really my intention, but hey, it's nice people are reading it and commenting. It's also currently the second most read thing on The Staggers. so much for the Mrs T media frenzy...

"I think Owen Jones has more influence on politics nowadays than any other Labour frontbencher. He’s everywhere".
So tweeted Iain Dale the other day in a conspicuously non-partisan piece of commentary. Now, Iain was referring to the ubiquity of Owen and his ability to pop up anywhere, anytime. But I was reminded of this tweet when I was reading Bagehot in the Economist this week, who opines on the inability of a typical backbench MP (let alone frontbench spokesperson) to have any affect on policy, or indeed on government. Bagehot cited the Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston as a fairly typical example of the issue.
"In an effort to mollify Dr Wollaston, party bosses offered her a junior, unpaid job in the government, which she huffily rebuffed. In an institution that prizes loyalty above usefulness, this was a serious blot. When she then criticized the government’s complicated NHS reforms and rebelled in a vote on Europe, the stain became ineradicable. Three years into her political career, she finds herself more or less written off by her bosses. She will never be allowed anywhere near health policy. 'Maybe I was naïve', she laments. 'But I thought the whole point of being an MP was to scrutinise legislation and improve it'.”
And so it seems to have come to pass that if you really want to be out there, agenda setting and driving policy, you’d be better off campaigning on issues and popping up in the media at every conceivable opportunity, rather than being an elected representative of the people. In the Lib Dems, for example, Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge) has been consistently fighting for and voting for Lib Dem policy  on justice and security (on which he is an acknowledged expert), tuition fees and NHS reform. Yet Julian has been on the losing side on every one of those issues. Contrast that with another unelected Lib Dem who finds himself at the heart of policy making, not just in our own party or even in the coalition government, but even plonked in the leader of the opposition's office dictating legislation. Step forward Hacked Off’s Evan Harris.
Of course there are exceptions to the influence wielded by backbenchers – witness the much tweeted- piece on welfare reform by Labour MP Simon Danczuk, or the select committee work of Andrew Tyrie or Margaret Hodge. But the former seems very much the exception – and the latter about marking others homework more than anything else.
Now, I don’t decry Owen Jones and Evan Harris for furthering their beliefs from outside parliament – far from it, I take my hat off to them as they force parties to adapt to their tune, rather than vice versa.
But when elected politicians are seen as having little or no influence on policy – and you can make more headway pushing your agenda from the TV studios in Millbank than the green benches over the road – it’s little wonder that folk outside the bubble may still be interested in politics, but have little time for Westminster.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

The lady's not for jumping...

At the risk of over Thatcherising the posts on here - here's one last Thatcher mention. A video from a foreign TV Station where they interview world politicians - and ask them to do one particular thing. Apparently everyone acquiesced - until they asked the British PM...

Quite an insight into Mrs Thatcher

h't to @kunaldutta

All the front pages of the papers in one image

h/t @nicksutton . Click to enlarge

Monday 8 April 2013

4 Prime Ministers; 1 US president ; 5 Statements on the Death of Lady Thatcher.

We have four living PMs/Ex PMs; here is what each has said today on the death of Lady Thatcher. Plus I now have added Obama's statement as well; Click each to enlarge.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Dennis Stevenson; what he said before it all went pear-shaped

In 2000,  the company I worked for published a book called ‘ Creativity Works’ and I helped organise the launch (which included a reception at No.11 – oh la la). The book covered interviews with a series of business leaders on why they thought creativity mattered in business, and how it could make a difference. With a foreword by Gordon Brown, interviewees included Martha Lane Fox, Terry Leahy, Charles Dunstone…and Lord (Dennis) Stevenson.

Not surprisingly, the Dennis Stevenson interview included reference to the Halifax (well before the merger with BOS) and his appointment of Andy Hornby. With the benefit of hindsight and in the light of the report from the Banking Standards Commission, it makes fascinating reading, especially his views on mergers. Here’s an extract....

“ Let’s switch to the Halifax, which is a mature business in a mature industry, but which I would say I believe is also behaving in a brave and creative way. Our strategy is to treat consolidation – mergers and acquisitions – as guilty until proved innocent. We think it has destroyed value on both sides of the Atlantic and the opportunity cost is huge at a time when we ought to be changing our business strategy. This is so obvious it hardly bears saying. Yet because pressures towards aggregation are so strong, it is the only real game most other banks are playing. So we are definitely swimming against the conventional tide.

Secondly we are saying that this is an industry which has been badly, or at best averagely, managed all over the world. So another part of our strategy is to transform the quality of the management in this business and thereby transform the performance. The first sight of that was to hire Andy Hornby, at the tender age of 33, to run all of what most people know as the Halifax. Was that creative? It was certainly brave because putting someone in charge of 20000 people whose average age is several years older than he is, is not the most obvious thing to do.

And the third part of our strategy is to become a venture capitalist in our own industry, which means seeing the new technology as an opportunity, not a threat. It is about being brave enough to take advantage of the opportunity that has been given to us to put our money and our expertise into a new area, and so to increase our market share. So we have invested £2billion, not in new divisions but in totally new ventures.

The Halifax strategy is radical, it’s bold, and it breaks the mould, and if creativity means doing something differently, I suppose it is creative. Creativity is also partly about having the courage to do what other people might not see as obvious.”