Cross-party smackdown for Home Secretary

A tweet crosses my desk from Cllr Kemp, itself a retweet from LGCPlus journalist Ruth Keeling. It contains a link to the Association of Police Authorities – not a body I am overly familiar with, but it has a fairly self-explanatory title.

The link is directly to a fairly draw-dropping cross-party letter from chairs of Police Authorities around the country who have a fairly serious beef with the Home Secretary’s accuracy in a recent speech.

Theresa May appears to have tried to shore up support for the Conservative policy of elected police commissioners by insinuating that in London, taxpayers got a better service from the elected police chief (and Mayor) Boris Johnson, than in other parts of the country where there are indirectly elected Chairs of Police Authorities instead.

A large number of Chairs of Police Authorities are not happy at the suggestion:

This un-evidenced, London-centric assertion was either regretfully ill-informed or wilfully inaccurate. In either case we believe it to be unbecoming of a Secretary of State. It has caused not only bemusement but anger amongst police authorities and our partners across the country.

Quite simply, your allegations are completely untrue and a cursory conversation with the relevant Chief Constables, Council Leaders or representatives of local media could have confounded it.

The facts are that not only Chairs, but the full range of diverse police authority members were out listening to communities and reflecting their concerns to the police at the highest levels in GOLD meetings across the country. Authorities provided both support and appropriate challenge to forces. We worked closely with Chief Constables to ensure that they had all that they needed to police confidently, with full operational independence in defence of the public. Both in public and in private, we simply got on with the job. Police Authority Chairs were out on the front foot; convening meetings with the leaders of other emergency services, local councils, local media and community leaders, as well as visiting affected areas.

It is a matter of record that a number of Police Authority Chairs actually cancelled their leave to ensure that the police could respond to public concerns. Before any politicians could tour the streets of London with TV cameras in tow, Police Authority Chairs from across the country had agreed the mutual aid which played an indispensable role in restoring order to London and ensuring that those streets were again safe to stroll. This was done without fanfare, but quietly, in the national interest.

Read the rest of the strongly-worded letter here.

Whilst you’re on the site, you might be interested, as I was to see their map of police authorities, the e-factsheet “What is a Police Authority?” and learn that there are also two non-geographical police authorities too. There’s something I didn’t know: there’s a British Transport Police Authority and a Civil Nuclear Police Authority.

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Opinion: Gay blood donation ban to be lifted – well, barely

The news broke over the weekend that an announcement is imminent on the policy surrounding the lifetime ban on donating blood for any man who has ever had sex with another man.

The writing on the wall appears to be that gay men who have not had sex for a decade might in future be allowed to give blood.

This decision was the likely outcome of the scientific review into blood donation, when I researched the issue for an op-ed slot on Pod Delusion live. It was one of the things I mocked in front of a live pub audience.

The Advisory Committee for the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs (SaBTO) have been looking at the issue for over two years. If you check their website on the NHS pages you can read the minutes of the committee and a number of academic papers they are considering as part of making up their minds.

One of the “compromises” they appear to be coming to is suggesting that gay men who haven’t had gay sex for five years become eligible to donate blood.

This would have the bizarre outcome of putting the NHS in the same situation as the Anglican Church. “We’re absolutely fine with teh gays – just so long as we can be sure that you’re not actually f***ing.”

Will Howells joked at the time that it meant you could redefine “a dry spell” as “taking one for the team” – which made me chuckle then.

But joking aside, this is a disappointing decision.

Whilst it is welcome that a very small number of people might now be able to donate blood who previously were not able, I think this falls short of the sort of action we have seen in other countries, and is a disappointing outcome.

It still means that the vast majority of gay men, the vast majority of whom do not have HIV, will still be unable to donate blood. 19/20 gay men polled would be happy to do so if they were able, and would be happy to contribute to the Blood Service’s perpetual problem of finding enough eligible donors to keep the nation’s crash victims, surgery candidates and post-partum mothers alive.

Telegraph turns on NUS over fees

Today’s Telegraph reports that the NUS would prefer to remove almost all of the hardship grants than charge higher fees.

The Daily Telegraph has seen emails from Mr Porter and his team in which the NUS leadership urged ministers to cut grants and loans as an alternative to raising tuition fees.

In private talks in October, the NUS tried to persuade ministers at the Department for Business to enact their planned 15 per cent cut in higher education funding without lifting the cap on fees.

I’m not sure this is anything other than an exercise in the dark arts on the day of the tuition fees votes – reading the article, it appears that the NUS responded to a query along the lines of the “here are our unmovable parameters – what would you do?” and given the rock of a rise in a fees and the hard place of removing grants, chose the latter.

But as a number of Lib Dem bloggers have noted, the NUS is more than a little confused on their policy. Millennium Elephant compared the two schemes as follows:

The Coalition proposes that new graduates pay an amount every month proportional to their ability to pay, with additional help for the lowest earners, repayments to be capped at either thirty years or a maximum total payment (“paying off the loan”).

The NUS proposes that graduates pay an amount every month proportional to their ability to pay, with additional help for the lowest earners, repayments to be capped at either twenty-five years or a maximum total payment (“for fairness”).

The five year difference in repayments is because the NUS scheme also means going back to everyone in the UK who has already graduated, regardless of the finance scheme in place at the time, and asking them to pay a graduate contribution also. Is there a register of people with degrees? If not, I’m sure the nation’s graduates are sufficiently masochistic that, on receipt of a letter asking if they had graduated, they’d all reply “Yes! Harder! Tax me harder!”

Caron Lindsay, writing in direct response to today’s Telegraph, points out an additional irony

Look at it this way. We’re being held to account for an NUS pledge which the NUS themselves no longer support. Their scheme, not a million miles from that proposed by the Coalition, was, I’m sure, not drawn up of the back of an envelope overnight. You can tell the close relationship between Labour and the NUS by the sheer number of key NUS figures who’ve made it into Government – like Phil Woolas and Jack Straw. This pledge was never meant to deliver the abolition of fees, it was meant to trap the Liberal Democrats. You can bet your life that if we’d ended up in coalition with Labour, we’d be voting on the NUS scheme tomorrow night. We should never have signed it.

I’m still not sure how those who say we shouldn’t have signed any pledges at the time are quite working their way through the mire. How were our candidates supposed to respond to students? “Yes, our policy is 100% in line with your pledge but GET THAT PEN AWAY FROM ME I’M NOT SIGNING ANYTHING!!” What, really, will our candidates do with pledges next time round?

What frustrates me personally most of all in all the mess surrounding this issue is the sort of internal, party democracy issue that won’t wash with the protesting hordes because it takes more than a minute to explain. But our party policy, voted on at conference by party members still stands. Over several years, many attempts from leaders within the Lib Dems to remove our policy of free tertiary education were defeated by our grass roots. The left within the party, fearing that it would not make it to our most recent manifesto organised themselves to ensure the party committees charged with writing the policy contained enough people of the right left views to maintain our policy into the 2010 manifesto. And yet this organisation within the party was not enough to see our strongly held views implemented by the party in government. And still the grassroots party has options. We could bankrupt our own party by demanding a special conference. I don’t dare think how much blood there will be on the carpet at our next scheduled conference in Nick Clegg’s backyard. And there is still the nuclear option of 75 quorate local parties demanding a new leadership battle.

As I write, John Leech MP has just concluded his intervention in the debate by telling the House of Commons he has no doubts that had the Labour party still been in government, they would have implemented the Browne Review themselves. I share his cynicism. The Labour party care nothing for students beyond embarrassing the government. When I cast my eyes over the short list of Labour candidates who signed the NUS pledge [XLS file], there seems to be a fairly strong correlation between those who signed it and and those who were fighting off a credible challenge from the Liberal Democrats. The Labour party don’t care about student finance, as their history in government shows quite clearly, they are merely able to use it opportunistically to humiliate the Lib Dems. The Conservatives needed their arms twisting to amend the Browne review into something even the IFS can call progressive. Ultimately, William Cullerne Brown has it right:

For students, there is a counter-intuitive conclusion. If you lean to the progressive side (as presumably most of the protesters do) and want to make a difference, which party should you join? Join Labour and you know you will be turning yourself into cannon fodder. Join the Lib Dems and it is now clear that you really can make a difference. Hang the effigies by all means. But Clegg’s despair is in fact a great reason to get one of those yellow membership cards.

In his article on these pages on Sunday, David Allen suggested the tuition fee vote might be sufficient to bring down the government. From May to December, we have had the imponderable question about what difference the Lib Dems are making. Are the concessions we have drawn from the Coalition worth the price we are paying, in our own eyes and in the eyes of the voting public? At least if the government falls, and the Liberal Democrats are annihilated at a subsequent general election, we would find out the answer. The Labour party would have to put away the onions that give them their crocodile tears, write on their blank sheet of paper, and finally get the balls to decide which of their unaffordable schemes they would actually save. Or we would see what untempered Conservatism looks like. Is the pyrrhic victory worth it?

* Alex Foster is a contributing editor at Lib Dem Voice, and received a grant for the first of his degrees. His second degree was a part time MA and as such he financed up front fees from part time work. You can decide for yourself if Film Studies MA was worth the money by reading his academic writing.

Liberal Democrats support equal marriage for LGBT community

This morning the Lib Dems voted to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples and open the institution of marriage to gay couples.

Conference was addressed by a broad spectrum of those directly affected by the issue and many supporters from the sideline.

Amongst the speakers was former mayoral candidate Brian Paddick who spoke of his own experience of marriage. He was married in the UK to a woman in the early 1980s before his growing realisation of his own sexuality. Since falling in love with a Norwegian man in the 2000s he took advantage of the change of law in Norway in January 2009, and married in front of a Norwegian judge in a courthouse in Oslo.

For several speakers the issue of recognition between nations was an important dimension to the debate. As the world increasingly accepts lasting partnerships between gay men and lesbians, the legal contracts between different countries have got more complicated. A gay American couple I know, one of whom got a job in Scotland, were initially unable to get a spousal visa in the UK because they had chosen to have their union recognised in a state that was not, at the time, included in the UK Civil Partnership Act.

One surprising feature of the debate in the hall was the revelation made by Stonewall at DELGA’s fringe last night. For some months, gay media outlet Pink News has tried to get them to speak on the issue of equal marriage. Stonewall finally nailed their colours to the mast saying that gay marriage was not something they could campaign for, on the grounds that it was too expensive, distracted from campaigns against anti-gay violence around the world and that civil partnerships offered enough parity with heterosexual marriage for us to be getting one with.

A fuller account of last night’s meeting is available on Zoe O’Connell’s blog.

Their world view was strongly rebutted by Stephen Gilbert MP as he summated at the end of the debate:

“This policy underlines, once again, that equality is in the DNA of our party. Today, Liberal Democrat members showed that the Party remains in the vanguard of the progressive movement and won’t settle until everyone enjoys equal status.

“Current legislation degrades same-sex couples to a second-tier partnership and leads to unnecessary pain and trouble for anyone wishing to change their legally recognised gender, forcing them to divorce or dissolve their civil partnership and enter into a different commitment.

“It is time that Britain ends the current unfair legal situation and regains its position as a country leading the fight for full LGBT equality.”

A full recording of the debate will be available on the Voice shortly.

What does 300 mean to you?

Is it the epic historical film from last year?

Do you see a triangular number and a pair of twin primes (149 and 151)?

Or do you recall how Jo Shaw, the Lib Dem PPC for Holburn and St Pancras revealed in the Telegraph last week that that’s how many children are added to the UK’s DNA database each and every day.

Almost 1.1 million youngsters aged between ten and 17 have had their profiles recorded by the police since 2000, with a large proportion aged under 15, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
And around one in six are likely to have never been convicted of any crime.

Ministers are currently reviewing the database but proposals would still see the profiles of innocent people kept for up to 12 years.

Youngsters who commit one minor crime will be kept on until they reach 18 while those guilty of sex or violent crimes will be kept indefinitely.

Jo Shaw, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary campaigner for Holborn & St Pancras who obtained the figures, said: “Labour’s approach to tackling crime is unfair, heavy-handed and ineffective.

“Storing the DNA of thousands of innocent young people as young as ten is unlikely to solve our crime problems, but is a costly way of stigmatising young people. If you’re innocent, you shouldn’t have your data on who you are kept for years.”

Clegg impresses MoneySavingExpert.com

MoneySavingExpert is reporting that Nick Clegg answered an open letter to David Cameron before the Tories managed to get their boots on:

It came about in an unusual way. Clegg (pictured, right) is one of the 3.5 million recipients of the MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) weekly money tips email. In it, three weeks ago, he spotted an open letter to David Cameron where MSE asked the Tory leader to back the campaign for automatic refunds.

While Cameron has not replied, Clegg, and his Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable, in a letter to MSE this week (see full text below), have promised to table a Parliamentary motion after the summer recess.

Nick also uses his letter to the financial expert blogger to plug the forthcoming consumer protection policy paper at Bournemouth conference next month.

(With thanks to MSE subscriber Hywel Morgan for the link)

Revamp for Prater Raines sites

An email arrives from web guru and Lib Dem county councillor Tim Prater, who is the public-facing half of Prater Raines, the hugely successful company that now supply local websites to a large proportion of the nation’s Liberal Democrat local parties, council groups and MPs. (The full, awesome list, from Aberconwy to Yorkshire and the Humber is here). It’s no small boast that they probably run more political websites than anyone else in the country.

They have a good track record of innovating and keeping content going online. But things have changed in the seven years since they first started to provide their content management system to the party, and they are now proposing a major upgrade to the service they offer.

On the cards is new, better control over layout and appearance, a greater ability to change the front page, and more contemporary “reveal” and top-down menus. Web 2.0 aspects and integration with a vast array of social networks will work better; on the management side, the user interface will also improve so that managing these websites gets better, easier and faster.

Crucially, they’ve promised to make sure that any changes they make don’t clash with the general election, as and when it comes. The initial plan is to launch “Foci2″ around Christmas.

But before they do that, in true Liberal Democrat style, they are launching a consultation to ask users what it is they would want from a new, improved system:

We want your ideas. What would you do to improve your site? And would you be prepared to do some “beta testing” of the new site as we develop it before release so that you can tell us what you like, and what needs improving?

To send us your views and ideas, please email us at <!–
sto_dom='praterraines.co.uk'
sto_user='foci2'
document.write('‘ + sto_user + ‘@’ +sto_dom + ‘‘)
//–>foci2 – foci2.hat.praterraines.co.uk.spam.com (this is spam bot hidden email address, replace .hat. with @ and remove .spam.com for the real one) – we’ll take them all on board, but will prioritise. Some will be ideas to include for a site relaunch, some to be added later, and some we may want to talk about – and we’ll do so. If you have views on what currently works well for you, what doesn’t, and what you wish it could do, please tell us!

And if you could help with user testing – either from home or by meeting us in person and working through the beta site – then we’d also like to hear from you. We’ll be at Federal Conference and hope to see you then, but will also set up meetings across the country in the next few months to fully test the new site with real people before we go live.

Do remember some of the problems with some Prater Raines sites are “horse-to-water” problems. One of the key strengths – and weaknesses – of the system they sell is that beyond providing a platform, it’s up to the client local party what they put on their website. So if your criticisms relate to updating, or to content, of a specific site, then those things are probably not something that Prater Raines can help with.