Is John Healey as dumb as a bag of spanners?

In the grand scheme of things, not a lot of people know the rules MPs are subject to when it comes to using parliamentary stationery.

If you were an MP with a boatload of postage-paid envelopes, you could probably abuse them with impunity, and send them out unsolicited to 95% of your constituents without getting any redress.

But there is one group of people who are much more likely to know the rules: people who work in politics. A subset of those are councillors. And if you are really keen on getting shopped to the House authorities, who best to try it on with but councillors of an opposing party?

So, in the run up to Lib Dem Spring conference, Labour Shadow Minister John Healey wrote a letter to 295 Lib Dem council group leaders with party political content, and was duly shopped to the authorities. It was the on the issue of the Health bill – and from the same John Healey who went to the conference hoping for a massive dust-up and appeared a little surprised at the mature discussion he witnessed. He has repaid the cost of headed paper and pre-paid envelopes, and when he was slapped on the back a second time, also managed to cough up the cost of lasering the letters.

After a fair bit of ill-tempered arguing, which appears to boil down to Healey saying the rules shouldn’t apply to him because he is a front-bencher, the shadow minister was ultimately ordered to apologise to the House.

And the moral of the story? a) don’t break the rules and b) don’t break them in front of a group of people with a ready made motive to dob you in!

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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.

PODCAST: How do the government’s political reforms measure up to the Great Reform Act?

Soon after becoming Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg promised “the most significant programmes of reform by a British government since the 19th century…. the biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832.” But how do the Coalition government’s constitutional changes actually compare to the changes brought in by the Great Reform Bill of 1832?

That question was addressed by a meeting organised by the Liberal Democrat History Group earlier this year, with speakers our own Dr Mark Pack (who studied nineteenth century elections and electoral reform for his PhD) and the History of Parliament Trust’s Dr Philip Salmon. Here now for those who couldn’t make the meeting is a podcast.

You can also read a review of Philip Salmon’s book Electoral Reform at Work: Local Politics and National Parties 1832-1841 here.

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Roundup – Conference on LibDemVoice

A quick summary post to give you a full list of everything we produced during Spring Conference 2011 in Sheffield.

Posts

Podcasts

PODCAST: Who controls the internet?

Here is a full podcast of our fringe last night, “Who controls the internet?”

Libel law reform campaigner and former MP Evan Harris, website pioneer Mary Reid, James Blessing of the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) and Jim Killock of the digital rights champions Open Rights Group debate recent issues about free speech and the internet with chair Mark Pack.