Friday, October 30, 2015

A title that includes English Candidates Committee and stupidity - 30 October 2015

A fare structure mystery in Benelux

Why is it that crossing the Belgium-Luxembourg border by train is so expensive? To travel from Gouvy, the last Belgian station on the Liege to Luxembourg route, to Luxembourg City costs €40 first class. Six minutes down the line, at Troisvierges, it's just €4. Go figure...

And, talking of Luxembourg...

It's actually rather lovely here, with the trees turning from green to red and gold. It's also bigger than I remember, as my train from Troisvierges took more than an hour to reach Luxembourg City. And no, the train isn't slow...

On this day in... 2007

There have been more absurd rulings in the history of the Party's candidate selections, but the 2007 ruling that endorsements for a leadership candidate also represented a potential endorsement by the leadership candidate of the person endorsing them was undoubtedly one of the worst. And, as a Returning Officer, I did what any proper liberal would do - I ignored it. And, given the utter mess that the English Party is making of the Police and Crime Commissioner selections at the moment...

Matthew Hancock calls upon the Civil Service to show some empathy. Does he understand the concept of irony?

Matthew Hancock MP
I am not a huge fan of Matthew Hancock, the MP for West Suffolk. He gives every impression of being lucky that George Osborne is his sponsor.

It is probably a sign of his closeness to George that he has become a Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, and it was in that capacity that he gave a speech to the Institute for Government on Monday, as part of a series entitled "Where next for Public Sector Markets?" (one might argue that the first problem is in the title).

In his speech, he set out three principles for harnessing ingenuity - empathy, curiosity and openness. So, let's see...


Civil servants are expected to show empathy with those they serve. Frankly, most of the best public servants I have encountered show empathy in spades, But, when your pay is being cut year on year, your workload is increasingly process-driven and tickbox directed, and your colleagues increasingly noticeable by their absence whilst you chase targets seemingly designed to draw you away from the desired goals in pursuit of things that can be measured rather than outcomes, there is little reward for demonstrating such a personality facet.


I am indeed curious. My job requires me to be extremely curious, in a way that makes my customers somewhat nervous. Most Civil Service managers would probably like to be curious too, but given that they appear to spend most of their time gathering in, and reporting statistics that add little to the sum of human knowledge and distract them from the perhaps more useful task of enabling staff to achieve the desired outcomes, there is little time for that.

And, given that our overlords don't want too many questions to be asked - and I mean Government, not the mandarins - about the workings of government, it does seem that they offer us a contradiction.


I am intrigued that, whilst wanting the Civil Service to operate in an open and transparent manner, moves to limit the right of the public to pry into the workings of government through restrictions on freedom of information are being considered, courtesy of a packed committee tasked with looking into 'reforms'.

In truth, I'm relaxed about openness in government. It is, after all, your government, and if government is being done to you, you should at least understand why I'm doing it, as well as the context within which I am operating. I've always been happy to explain - it makes for a more honest relationship between governing and governed.

So, Matthew Hancock might be advised to go away and read the speech that, I suspect, someone else wrote for him. He might learn something about empathy, curiosity and openness, and how they might be best applied in seeking to reform public services.

I am not holding my breath though...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trying to type the title into a silly box - 29 October 2015

A second class TGV carriage. nice, eh?
A badge of honour. Yes, I've been blocked by @LibDemsforLeave...

No sooner do I question whether trying to persuade non-Lib Dems to follow a pro-Brexit Twitter account to boost its credibility is such a good idea, then I am blocked by it. So, that leaves me with a problem. Do I block it, or allow it to see how I ridicule it? Of course, as they're too scared to publicise their identities, their credibility lies in ruins anyway. Hell, if they're half as stupid as they take us to be, their chances of success are a bit thin...

Paint it grey...

What is it with the people who design the interiors of high-speed trains? I've taken a ride on Eurostar today and, just like Deutsche Bahn's ICE trains, the decor is multiple shades of grey. Could someone take a leaf out of SNCF's colour swatch please?...

On this day in... 2012

I was struggling with comments. I'd set my blog to allow comments without pre-moderation on my part (heaven only knows why) and Blogger uses CAPTCHA. I really don't like CAPTCHA and, as it turns out, I'm not alone...

Señor Valladares, this song is for you...

I have, accidentally, found something that I'm not really supposed to have, i.e. a Latin spirit. Yes, I have a Hispanic surname (another accident of history), but I'm an Indian Catholic, and we have no rhythm (we are musical, but dancing isn't really high on the skill set).

There I was, checking a YouTube video of an early music group that I've become rather find of, when I discover that they made an album of Latin American music. Well, one thing led to another, and there I am, listening to Venezuelan folk songs. And you know something, they're really catchy.

So, I explore a bit more, and I'm taken to a song that celebrates a murdered general in a civil war that nobody remembers, performed by a Chilean band that was effectively exiled by Pinochet, and, all of a sudden, I am in a world where even someone with no rhythm wants some. What is happening and what have you done with the bureaucrat?

The worrying thing is, I've got a trip to slot in, and I was thinking about Moldova. Is a week in Venezuela an insane idea, or should I just go for it?

You have to get up pretty early to answer the mob...

Let's be honest, the thought that someone should fly back from New York, first class no less, to vote in support of slashing tax credits for the poorest working households is pretty reprehensible. And so, unsurprisingly, Andrew Lloyd Webber has taken more than a little flak.

Now, young Sam isn't just any random voice on the internet, he was the Labour candidate for Blackpool North earlier this year. You'd think that he'd be a little more cautious. But no. He posted that at 10.31 p.m. and it appeared in my timeline because a Liberal Democrat PPC retweeted it.

Being a helpful soul, and still being awake, I pointed out that the House of Lords system for claiming travel expenses wouldn't allow Lord Lloyd-Webber to claim for anything more than the cost of travelling from Heathrow to Westminster.

The response was to demand where he pays tax. Being ever patient, I noted that, since the passing of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 provides that members of the House of Commons (MPs) and House of Lords (Peers) are deemed resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled in the UK for the purposes of income tax, inheritance tax and capital gains tax.

This didn't apparently stop those members of the mob watching, which shouldn't come as much as a surprise, I guess. But I did point out to young Sam that demanding a reply in the middle of the night was hardly reasonable. And, to give him credit, he did get it.

So, why was I bothering? Well, one day, Sam might be a member of Parliament himself, and the target of an angry internet mob. And, if that day comes, he might understand why I made the point I did.

You see, taking up your internet flaming torch and pitchfork is dead easy. And sometimes, you prove your stupidity by making some innocent person's life a misery. And, whilst Andrew Lloyd Webber may be callous beyond my understanding, he isn't that stupid...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I've really blown the title this time - 28 October 2015

Is this Government really working on the incompetence bit?

There is a point when you really have to wonder. It's easy to describe Tories as evil. Lazy, perhaps, but easy nonetheless. But, the thing about the bad guys is that they're generally well-organised (evil lairs built into volcanoes don't come easy, you know). And, at the moment, with a European negotiation without much in the way of negotiating points, and welfare reform carried out via the most vulnerable of legislative methods, you begin to fear just how much damage they could do if they knew what they were doing.

In truth, they do know what they're doing. And we're not going to like it...

Not seventy-six trombones, but one will do...

More music from Latin America today and, just to prove that even a trombone can be hip, here's Hector "Parquimetro" Briceño, playing Doña Flor...

On this day in... 2011

I was wildlife spotting in... Creeting St Peter. It is easy to forget just how much wildlife there is, even in the arable landscape that is mid-Suffolk. Indeed, as it turns out, three types of deer can be spotted in the parish. And don't start me on the birds...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No title, but a quick sashay - 27 October 2015... time to dance whilst the Lords burns and, now I come to mention it...

So, Lord Trefgarne, whose side ARE you on?

The Government loses a(nother) vote in the Lords, and all of a sudden, Lords Reform is on the cards. Now, given that they've tried to exclude anything up to two million voters from the electoral register, rigging the constituency boundary review in the process, intend to shut off the Official Opposition's primary source of income, they're hardly holding themselves up as defenders of the democratic process. And now, they've come for the Lords.

Get up and dance, you know that you want to...

It is quite amazing what the internet can expose you to, especially if, like me, you are of an inquisitive nature. So, try this. I defy you not to want to move...

On this day in... 2007

Did I have a small hand in the changing of the guard amongst Central Suffolk Tories? Well, I answered a question that was apparently being asked, and then, all of a sudden, Sir Michael Lord was gone. Sadly, for Tim Passmore, the usual rule whereby the local Tories are considered too useless to fill vacancies created by retirement applied, and that nice Dr Poulter won the selection. No wonder some of the locals don't like him...

200,000 public sector workers to be on the National Living Wage by 2020...

That's the answer given by Lord O'Neill of Gatley in answer to a written question from Ros this afternoon.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of public sector employees currently earning less than the National Living Wage. (HL2582)

Tabled on: 13 October 2015

Lord O'Neill of Gatley:

At Summer Budget 2015, the Chancellor announced a new National Living Wage which is a compulsory increase in pay for all workers over 25. It will come into effect in April 2016 at £7.20, 50p above the current National Minimum Wage. The Government will ask the Low Pay Commission to recommend the level of the National Living Wage in each subsequent year, asking them to increase the NLW to 60% of median earnings by 2020. It is estimated that by 2020 approximately 200,000 public sector workers will benefit directly as a result of the National Living Wage.

But, there is an obvious problem here, i.e. the 1% cap on public sector paybill increases imposed by the Government. If that cap includes provision for giving the lowest paid public sector employees a mandatory pay rise, it might not leave much, if anything, for the rest of the staff.

Has the Government thought about this?


To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they expect the cost of increasing public sector salaries to the level of the National Living Wage to be met from within the overall 1 per cent pay increase for such workers announced in the Budget. (HL2583)

Tabled on: 13 October 2015

Answer:Lord O'Neill of Gatley:

At Summer Budget 2015, it was announced that the Government will fund public sector workforces for an average pay award of 1 per cent for 4 years from 2016-17.

The impact of the new National Living Wage will be considered during the Spending Review as part of an overall assessment of spending pressures across the public sector.

I don't know about you, but that looks very much like a "no" to me...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A weekend in someone else's countryside

I'm on my way back to darkest Suffolk after a weekend away, visiting part of Ros's small, but perfectly formed, family in the New Forest area. And, whilst I am naturally biased in favour of my local scenery, it has to be said that the New Forest has a lot to be said for it.

Yesterday, we took a day trip to Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, using the Wight Link ferry, which was quite nice, even if Yarmouth is surprisingly small (nice castle though). Today, however, we were off to see some naval history.

Buckler's Hard is now a museum, but it was once a thriving little community, building some of the Royal Navy's most famous ships. Indeed, HMS Agamemnon, said to be Admiral Lord Nelson's favourite command, started life there. Now, all that remains is the sleepy main street, which slopes down to the water. Some of the houses are open to the public, but the rest are privately owned. There's also a nice museum, telling the history of the community and of some of the ships built there.

And on a lovely sunny October afternoon, what could be nicer than a walk through the woodland that lies on the west bank of the Beaulieu River? The woods are full of beech trees, turning from green to gold, the walking is easy, and at the end of it, Beaulieu itself is almost chocolate box in its prettiness.

All in all, a nice day out, and I suspect that there's still plenty left to see and do in the area.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Using that season ticket to best effect

Last year, it was announced that the boundary of the area in which an Annual Gold Card Railcard was valid was to be extended into East Anglia as of 2 January this year. Good news, I thought, as someone who'd got some use out of their's in the days when I was still a Londoner.

That was, until I tried to get myself one, seeking to convert my existing season ticket into a Gold Card version. A very polite lady at Stowmarket station explained that I wasn't eligible for reasons that made some sense, even if I didn't like them much. Don't ask me to tell you what they were, but they were evidently credible enough for me not to pursue the matter further.

You can therefore imagine the mixture of pleasure and surprise I experienced when, in May, I renewed my season ticket and was given... an Annual Gold Card Railcard.

They are great, it must be said. Instead of paying £41 for a standard off-peak return to London, I pay £36.25 for the first-class equivalent, a saving of £4.75 on what I was paying, but a saving of £18.65 on the fare I'm now using.

This weekend, I'm on the edge of the New Forest, visiting an outpost of Ros's family and, this afternoon, we went to Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, by train and ferry from Brockenhurst, via Lymington Pier. For three of us, using just my railcard, the fare drops from £18.10 apiece to £11.95. Throw in the saving for my train fare from Waterloo (£51.60 down to £34.05), and I've saved £42.35 for myself, and another £12.30 for my fellow travellers. That equates to more than three weeks of my season ticket, and another week's worth every time that I go to London.

That's got to be good.

Thank you, train operators...

Friday, October 23, 2015

Buddy, can you spare me a title? - 23 October

I hope that the Government are watching the weather...

The sense of horror as Hurricane Patricia bears down on the Pacific coast of Mexico is terrible to behold. A storm which is thought to be the worst ever - and any storm which measures 8.3 on a. 8-point scale must be up there - is going to do some serious damage. Hopefully, DfID are already preparing to send help...

English Candidates Committee isn't really helping, it seems...

As a Returning Officer, you like to have control over those things you can control. However, you can hope that those responsible for the rest are co-operating. So, to find that there is a discussion going on regarding the marking scheme for a test that a candidate sat six days ago is a bit depressing. Ah well, polling day for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections is still more than six months away...

On this day in... 2006

I was wondering what the Democratic Party actually stood for. To be , looking at Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Presidential nomination, it isn't clear to me now what she stands for , rather than against. But in a political system seemingly designed to stop anyone from doing very much, perhaps she represents the obvious result...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

[insert title here] - 22 October

Dear Wokingham, do give this Tory a warm welcome...

I see that the former Campaigns Officer for Suffolk Coastal Conservatives has migrated to Wokingham in search of a challenge, one presumes. I have to admit that swapping one of the most conservative constituencies for another is hardly stretching, but as I have friends in Wokingham (who aren't Tories, I should note), I do feel that I should flag up his arrival, especially as he has already announced that he has a Liberal Democrat councillor 'in his sights'.

I don't know how effective Fraser McFarland is a campaign organiser, but you are warned that his manners are somewhat less than optimal...

Is Tim Farron up for this?

Canadian politicians. Dull, right? Apparently not, now that a man who, according to his Conservative opponents, brought nothing to the contest but nice hair, has become Prime Minister. Justin Trudeau, for it is he, is not your average politician...

And so, with Kav Kaushik particularly in mind, here he is, the guy in white. Check the moves... And yes, nice hair...

On this day... in 2006

I was inspired to cook. I watch relatively little television these days, but I was single then, and keen to do something 'improving'. It has to be said that I still cook meals for myself, especially given that Ros is in London for most weeknights. But I do still enjoy some time in the kitchen, even if it is to cook something basic or, when Ros is cooking, to lend a hand with some of the simpler stuff.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

[insert title here] - 21 October 2015

Conservatives miss the trick

Liberal Democrats announce that they will submit a fatal motion with regards to the Statutory Instrument intended to facilitate dramatic cuts in tax credits for working people. In response, the Conservatives say that the future of the House of Lords is in jeopardy. Many Liberal Democrats respond, "And the problem is?"...

Something to listen to

Never let it be said that we are without culture, here at 'Liberal Bureaucracy. Here's a little something from the works of Stefano Landi...

On this day... in 2011

I was, much to your surprise, no doubt, thinking about a constitution - in this instance, that of my Regional Party. Moving to a two-year cycle for Regional elections meant that the Regional Executive and its sub-committees actually had time to get a grasp of the issues before having to stand for re-election. Never let it be said that a bureaucrat can't be radical...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

[insert title here] - 20 October 2015

Happy anniversary, employer who shall not be named!

Amazing really, it's been twenty-nine years since I walked through the doors at [redacted] to start my first day as a [redacted]. Nowadays, of course, I'm not allowed to tell anyone what I do through the medium of this blog. However, I still enjoy what I do, even if the government would really rather wish I would expire before I can pick up my thoroughly deserved pension...

On this day... in 2010

I was discovering why Parish Councils seemed to be bound to cheques, rather than electronic banking, and actually being vaguely grateful to Grant Shapps. I must have been suffering from sunstroke at the time...

Perhaps it wasn't such a fluke after all...

Remember Ruth Ellen Brosseau? She was the assistant bar manager from Ottawa who managed to win a Quebec riding in the 2011 Canadian federal election for the New Democratic Party despite a) not speaking much French in an area where nearly 80% of the population don't speak English at all, b) not visiting the riding, c) spending nothing on her campaign and d) going on holiday to Las Vegas during the campaign.

Well, she went away, learnt to speak French fluently, and became a pretty good MP. The result, an increase in her vote and easy re-election yesterday, despite her party's decline nationally. Just goes to show, doesn't it?...

Tax credits reform: how badly wrong could this go?

From the moment that the Conservatives announced their plans to reform the tax credits system, there was a sense that they either didn't understand the implications of what they were doing, or simply didn't care, lost in a reverie of ideology. However, as it becomes clearer that this might not be popular, and we are all aware that politicians prefer to be popular rather than unpopular, there have been increasing signs of nervousness among the serried ranks of Conservative MPs.

Compassionate Conservatism surely means that, in the search of the mythical centre ground, they can't be uncaring, can they? So, let's see if we can't dig a little deeper. The Social Security Select Committee in the House of Commons is a good place to start, perhaps. After all, they scrutinise that sort of thing, right?

Paul Gray MP, writing to David Gauke, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, noted;
... we were disappointed that HM Revenue and Customs officials were not in a position to share with us their observations on:
  • the potential impact the introduction of the national living wage might have on the proposals;
  • whether there were likely to be any behavioural impacts brought about by the proposals;
  • the degree to which the proposals are likely to impact upon the successful transition of Tax Credits to Universal Credit;
  • the likely or actual effects of the policy on people of ‘protected characteristics’ and the evidence considered in reaching that view; and
  • the evidence that had resulted in a view that the proposals will have no impact on charities or the voluntary sector
You might, not unreasonably, be hesitant to proceed in the absence of that data. Unless, of course, you assume that tax credit claimants probably don't vote Conservative in any great numbers and that with Labour at war with itself, you could get away with it anyway.

You might also think, if you were George Osborne, that the announcement of a national Living Wage might muddy the waters so much that you could slip this through without much debate. It seems that this hasn't been as effective a strategy, if strategy it is.

Next Tuesday, there is a Motion of Regret on the Order paper of the House of Lords, in the name of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. Archy, for it is the former Liberal and then Liberal Democrat MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, has been a doughty campaigner on social security issues for some years, and I suspect that he will not spare the Government in his remarks.

Will it persuade the Conservatives to give the matter rather more thought. I hope so, but have no great expectations...

Monday, October 19, 2015

[insert title here] - 19 October 2015

Something to look forward to next week in the Lords

The Parliamentary Party in the Lords increases by two next week, as Shas Sheehan is introduced on Monday, and Jonny Oates on Tuesday. I really ought to write about this for Liberal Democrat Voice, oughtn't I?

On this day... in 2007

Is it really eight years since the Clegg versus Huhne leadership contest got underway? It must be, because I was getting ready to chair the first public hustings in Newbury the next day. As usual, I was somewhat undecided. Luckily, I had Ros to keep in on the straight and narrow...

Never let it be said that I don't know how to have a good time...

This evening's task is to draw up a system for selecting our Party's delegations to ALDE's Council and Congress. Gender, ethnicity, nations, all of these have to be carefully counterbalanced and accounted for. I may be gone some time... At least you'll know who's fault it is...

New York, New York...

If someone had told me two months ago that I would have been watching a World Series contender, I would have laughed at you. Yes, the New York Mets, the Cinderella of New York baseball, are two-nil up in the best of seven National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. But, Ros and I can claim that we saw them play if they go all the way. Their likely opponents, the Kansas city Royals, who are two-nil up against the Toronto Blue Jays in the American league equivalent. We saw them play the Boston Red Sox two weeks later...

Nicola and Jeremy are both calling for a kinder, gentler politics. Is anyone listening?

A few weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn called for a kinder, gentler politics, following an outbreak of red on red unpleasantness. Whilst those of us of a Liberal Democrat persuasion have become used to the sometimes inane criticism of a small minority of 'class warriors' amongst Labour ranks, the general tone from the Opposition benches in Parliament, and especially some of their candidates, hardly established a tone conducive to peace, love and understanding. It was instructive to see how some of them felt when the anger was suddenly directed towards them.

Now, as Tim Farron noted in his excellent speech at the East of England Conference on Saturday (and actually, I genuinely enjoyed it), Jeremy Corbyn seems like a thoroughly decent chap. He doesn't seem to abuse his opponents, even as he attacks their policies. Whether or not he can remain as composed given the abuse he is taking from the sometimes rabid media is another question but, so far, so good.

And now, Nicola Sturgeon has seen fit to issue a similar call aimed at some of the more 'enthusiastic' Cybernats, following an outbreak of astonishing unpleasantness following the Scottish rugby team's heartbreaking defeat against Australia. It seemed that, to some of the more extreme Cybernats, you had no right to support Scotland if you didn't support independence, and they were busy abusing any potential victims they could locate. Funny really, as I've always been of the view that sport is a means of bringing nations together...

Now I do understand the passions that nationhood, and the desire to be free, engender. I had a fairly relaxed attitude over the possibility of Scottish independence, given my belief in the self-determination of peoples. However, regardless of the outcome, everybody has to rub along afterwards - a point which seems to be lost on the ultras, whose apparent aim is to drive dissenters out of Scottish politics altogether.

One of the interesting things about Labour and the SNP is their general discipline. Because they are collectivist in a way that liberals and conservatives aren't, they have an ability to stay on message, even if their suspicion of individualism makes their messaging a bit too monotone in nature. It can be impressive to watch, even where you disagree with it, or indeed, are the target. So, one might hope that, if the Leader speaks, the followers may act.

Given the toxicity of modern politics, one can but hope... and remember that none of us should ever lose sight of the fact that our opponents are human too.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

[Insert title here] - 18 October 2015

If only you knew, Will... 

Will Hutton writes in the Guardian about the crisis of morale in the public sector. Amusingly, if you're into black humour, he talks of a ten-year pay freeze in real terms. If only, as I won't have had a pay rise that wasn't a real terms cut unless CPI stays as low as it currently is. It won't though...

Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
It doesn't matter how wide the margin is, as long as there is one...

A win for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy over Tamil Nadu by one wicket, after a late collapse. We are top of the league, yes we are top of the league...

Talking about a liberal migration policy in Hungary...

ALDE has drawn up some proposals for a liberal migration policy for Europe, having held a workshop on the subject a week ago. I've contacted Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, but do you have any ideas? Get in touch, and I'll let you have a copy of the resolution. Deadline for amendments is Friday, so time is short...

Vegetarians, you might want to look away now...

One of the many joys of having Ros around the place more often is that she cooks. Don't get me wrong, I can (and often do) cook. It's just that Ros is better at it, and we have more time (yes, I do help...). Tonight, a rack of lamb has been consumed, courtesy of our local farm butcher. It was delicious...

@ALDEParty Congress - actually, why don't I call upon the knowledge of hundreds?

I am a member of the International Relations Committee of my beloved Party, and represent most of you at ALDE Party Councils and Congresses (the rest of you go yourselves, and I know who you are). However, having been elected by Conference delegates, I do like to get involved in the policy debates where I can. The catch is, you can't. At least, not in the way that I can. However, you know stuff, gentle reader, and almost certainly stuff that I don't know.

And so, it dawns on me, why not tap into your knowledge when considering what we might do with (or to) the various policy resolutions up for discussion?

So, here's a list of topics up for discussion and, if you're interested, leave a comment here and I'll e-mail over the resolution to you;
  1. A coherent and ambitious EU Development policy
  2. Antimicrobial resistance
  3. Creating a competitive EU labour market for the 21st century
  4. Creating a growth-friendly regulatory environment
  5. European Integration of the Western Balkans
  6. For a comprehensive TTIP Agreement
  7. Iraq and Syria
  8. On the Situation in Ukraine
  9. Policies on the development of European bio- and circular economies
  10. Reclaiming Liberalism - Shaping a modern liberal approach to migration (I've already passed this one on to Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary)
  11. Reclaiming Liberalism - Shaping a modern liberal policy for economic justice
  12. Reinforce ETS as the single instrument for CO2 reductions
  13. Removing PKK from EU’s terror list
  14. Responding to the refugee crisis
  15. Strengthening criminal justice and transfer of prisoners within the EU
  16. Sustainable use of maritime resources
  17. The Energy Union should focus on security of supply
  18. Towards a Global Climate Change Treaty and Decarbonisation
  19. Towards a truly global fight against tax havens – proposal for an inclusive UN body to combat global tax evasion
As always, these things are on a tight turnaround, and the deadline for submitting amendments is Friday (October 23rd).

So, we've got this technology, and why not use it?

ALDE - Reclaiming Liberalism: a liberal response to digitalisation

There follows the current draft of a resolution on Europe and the digital society. I'll be honest, I am not an expert in this field, whereas many of you who read this are. Do me a favour, take a look at it and tell me if there is anything outrageous/stupid/missing. The deadline for amendments is Friday, so if you have any ideas, the sooner the better.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party convening in Budapest, Hungary on 19-21 November 2015:

Having regard to:
  • ALDE Party resolution ‘Digital Freedoms’ from 2009 Congress in Barcelona, Spain;
  • ALDE Party resolution ‘Global Digital Freedom’ from 2012 Congress in Dublin, Ireland;
  • ALDE Party resolution ‘Regulation in the Digital Economy – the shared economy’ from 2014 Congress in Lisbon, Portugal;
  • the ALDE Party’s seminar on 5 June 2015 ‘Reclaiming Liberalism: Shaping a modern liberal approach to the digital revolution’;

Maximising the potential of digitalisation

Notes that:
  • the digital economy is one of the most important drivers of innovation, competiveness and growth, and is considered to hold huge potential for European entrepreneurs, SMEs, governments and the well-being of citizens;
  • this potential is underexploited in Europe, with 41% of enterprises being non-digital and only 2% of European enterprises taking full advantage of new digital opportunities as still too many barriers stand in the way of companies and consumers making the transition to digitalisation;
  • as new types of data are generated by digitalisation, big data presents opportunities for data-driven innovation and to transform sectors by making use of information to develop improved products and services ranging from healthcare, transport and energy;
  • health care and social services have been taken to a new quality level through digitalisation. With the help of information and communications technologies (ICT), these services in many European countries are becoming personal and preventive which provides important advantages for patients, healthcare practitioners and the health economy;
Calls on:
  • the EU and governments to foster the digital transformation of European businesses by helping them to take full advantage of new technologies and through the investment in ICT infrastructures and technologies such as mobile communication, cloud computing, big data analytics and the Internet of Things;
  • the EU and governments to ensure that these promising new digital technologies generate growth, create jobs, allow new services to flourish and benefit society by creating the right regulatory conditions, foster research and innovation and at the same time set standards at European level to stimulate cross-border trade;
  • the EU and governments to promote a competitively priced, fast and open internet in order to take full advantage of the potential of ICT, promote innovation and economic productivity;
  • the EU and governments to support digital entrepreneurship and start-ups through such measures as improving access to finance for new digital entrepreneurs and fostering a business environment that favours the emergence of innovative companies.

Digitalisation of the public sector

Notes that:
  • digitising government services and public administration allow governments to become more accessible and accountable, provides more efficiency and savings for citizens, businesses and government, increase transparency and greater participation of citizens in political life;
  • public services in Europe have embraced new technologies to varying degrees but more can be done to modernise public administration, achieve cross-border interoperability and facilitate easy interaction with citizens and businesses;
Calls on: 
  • governments to embrace electronic identification and trust services such as e-signatures, electronic seals, time stamping and website authentication while making sure that the required guarantees are incorporated regarding identity and reliability to ensure that citizens and businesses have complete confidence in e-government services;
  • the Commission to take concrete actions to ensure cross-border digital public services.

Trust and security

Notes that:
  • new technologies bring immense opportunities and potential for the European economy, innovation, growth and jobs but they also raise challenging policy issues for governments regarding security, privacy and trust;
  • only when citizens and businesses have full confidence that their data is safe online can the digital economy achieve its full potential, which means data protection, cybersecurity and security of electronic communications are paramount in this regard;
  • the digital economy must be built on reliable and trustworthy networks and services that safeguard consumers’ fundamental rights to privacy and personal data protection;
  • the use of new ICT in international terrorism and serious and organised crime poses unique security challenges to governments. However, in attempting to combat these activities, intelligence agencies have accessed personal data of users of online services which has severely distorted the trust of citizens in such services, and therefore has had adverse effects on businesses investing in the development of new services using big data and new applications such as the Internet of Things;
Calls on:
  • the Council and the European Parliament to come to a swift agreement on the Data Protection Regulation in order to ensure that the processing of personal data is governed by uniform and up-to-date rules throughout Europe;
  • the Council and the European Parliament to adopt the Network and Information Security Directive with the aim of reaching a satisfactory level of operational cooperation between Member States;
  • the EU and its Member States to include cybersecurity in the EU’s foreign affairs top priorities in order to both defend the EU and prevent future attacks;
  • governments to strengthen their policies in order to combat cybercrime and breaches of privacy and personal data security;
  • ALDE Party member parties to encourage their governments to set proper oversight measures of intelligence services, to evaluate and revise, where necessary, their national legislation and practices governing the activities of intelligence agencies so as to ensure that they are subject to parliamentary and judicial oversight, and that they comply with the rule of law and fundamental rights, in particular as regards to data protection, privacy and the presumption of innocence.


Notes that:
  • copyright underpins creativity and the cultural industry in Europe. The EU strongly relies on creativity to compete globally and is a world leader in certain copyright-intensive sectors;
  • with the digitalisation of copyright works, Europe needs a more harmonised copyright regime which provides incentives to create and invest while allowing transmission and consumption of content across borders building on Europe’s rich cultural diversity;
Calls on:
  • the EU to establish a cross-border harmonised EU system of copyright which balances the inherent value and appreciation of creative and artistic content with consumers rights in the digital age.

Digital literacy, skills and inclusion

Notes that:
  • nearly 20% of Europeans have never used the internet and around 40% do not possess the adequate digital skills to fill vacancies in the digital sector;
  • the demand for digitally skilled employees is growing by around 4% a year; and shortages of ICT professionals in Europe could reach 825,000 unfilled vacancies by 2020 if no decisive action is taken;
Stresses that:
  • education for individuals on how to safely make the best use of the internet as well as development of digital skills is crucial to develop trust to adapt to the digital revolution and to bridge the digital divide brought about by the fast development of new ICT;
Calls on:
  • the EU and governments to take action to increase the digital skills of their citizens in order to fill the many ICT vacancies currently available in Europe, to ensure that all generations will be ready to adapt to labour market changes and reap the benefits of the digital economy;
  • governments to support an inclusive digital economy in which citizens and businesses have the necessary skills and can benefit from e-government services.

Digital Single Market

Notes that:
  • achieving a digital single market will give people and businesses the online freedoms to profit fully from the EU’s internal market, make the EU’s single market fit for the digital age and strengthen the international competiveness of the EU;
Calls on:
  • the EU institutions and EU Member States to continue its efforts in achieving a digital single market.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

[Insert title here]

Glory, glory...

It's been a good(ish) day for the Marketmen, as Needham Market drew 1-1 at home to Hampton and Richmond Borough in the Ryman League's Premier Division.
A home draw, that's not that good, you might think. But they have started the season badly, and are beginning to look a bit more at home - the defence is tightening up, for one thing. Now to start winning a few games...

The extremely unlikely happens every day, apparently...

I rather unwisely put in my nomination paper to be one of my Regional Party's eighteen members of English Council (yes, I know, and despite that, I still applied). And now I find that there is likely to be a contest. In the name of all that is holy, what is this organisation, and what have you done with the Liberal Democrats I knew and loved?

Just another day on the internet...

Let's be honest, you should never assume that because one small element of a larger group goes rogue, the whole organisation is suspect.
However, it does act as a useful reminder to all of us that one should really think before you allow anyone to play with social media on your behalf. One for the Colchester branch of 'Momentum' to consider perhaps, now that they have apologised for publishing it.

Mind you, there's a web design firm in Colchester who might have wondered what was going on...

Numbers, numbers everywhere, but not a drop to drink...

44% of UKIP supporters could envisage a situation where they would support a military coup in this country, according to a recent YouGov poll. I wonder what percentage of them could envisage a situation where they emigrated to another country? And what percentage would see the irony?

And finally...

We've had a new letterbox fitted here in darkest Suffolk. Those of you who appreciate these things will be pleased to hear that it is nice and wide, at a comfortable height and easy to use...

A day out to the East of England Regional Conference...

So, off to Cambridge for Regional Conference, starring a medley of Party Presidents - Ros, Tim Farron and Sal Brinton. And, for a change, I had work to do, as I had been asked to chair a session.

An early start, fortified by bacon, was necessary, and we even made it to Churchill College on time (that would be Ros's doing) for the Chairs and Aides briefing (don't do anything stupid, here's some guidance to read, turn up on time, that sort of thing...).

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceConference was opened by Norman Lamb, who started by overrunning a bit - I suspect that he'd been given some relaxed timings as the next item was likely to be shorter than had been allowed for. And yes, we do debate policy at our Regional Conference, with a motion on DWP statistics on deaths of those who had been assessed as being fit for work. I admit to being less angry than some, as I tend to be cautious about statistics as a justification for outrage, even as I accept the need to look very closely at how claimants are assessed, and the targets (sorry, expectations) given to DWP staff (do not start me on the target culture within the bureaucracy).

Next up were the reports from the Commons and the Lords, followed by a nice young man from the North, who came to inspire us to action. Tim, for it was he, got a standing ovation simply for turning up - we don't tend to get a lot of Party Leaders in these parts - and justified it with a really excellent, impassioned speech, with particular emphasis on housing (with the London fringes and Cambridge in our patch, we see the problems caused to those not already on the housing ladder here).

The speech was punctuated with enthusiastic applause, and gained another standing ovation at its end. Sadly, Tim was off to High Wycombe for the South Central equivalent, a journey which would have been made far easier had the East West line from Oxford to Cambridge been in place...

A very good lunch left me time to head to the hall for my session, a motion on East West rail (see what I did there?) and a business motion on One Member One Vote. The rail debate was straight forward. Unfortunately, the business motion became somewhat messier. Over the lunch interval, it was indicated that one of the Party's Compliance Officers had declared the motion to be unconstitutional. Accordingly, a partial reference back was to be moved. Time to read the standing orders, I thought.

As it turned out, they weren't entirely helpful, so it was time to wing it. I decided that we would have the motion and amendment moved, have the debate, then take the reference back, the amendment and the motion in that order. Fine, except that it was then suggested that the amendment would, if passed, convert the motion into a constitutional amendment, which would require a two-thirds majority to be passed. Oh, and one shouldn't forget, there was an either/or option to be taken.

So, what happened?

Firstly, the amendment, proposing an interim step for 2016 pending the Federal party finally getting all of their ducks in a row (effectively granting every Local Party one voting representative at the Regional Conference for every two members) was lost, albeit not by much. The reference back was lost quite clearly, and Option A, replacing the current electorate with all members of the Region who are paid up twenty-one days before the Regional Conference, was overwhelming preferred to a rather more bureaucratically complex Option B. And then, the motion was overwhelmingly carried.

All that we need now is for the Federal Party to get its act together...

At that point, I fled. I wonder if I'll be invited for another turn next year?...

A decade of blogging - an anchor of constancy in an ever-changing world

courtesy of Cake Central
Amazing when you think of it, that I've managed to keep this blog going for ten years. There aren't many of us in the Liberal Democrat arm of the spiral galaxy that is the blogosphere that have - hats off to Jonathan Calder (4 March 2004) and Stephen Glenn (2 July 2005), both of whom are veterans compared to me (you both look better for it than I do, darlings...) who are, along with Peter Black and Stephen Tall, probably the most prominent (thankfully, Mr Tall isn't always prominent, know what I mean?).

But, here we are, nearly three thousand posts and ten years on and, apart from the blogging and the liberal democracy, virtually everything that I knew then is a distant memory.

Yes, I have done a lot of travelling. And yes, there has been an awful lot of liberal democracy - two Regions, four Local Parties, English Council, English Candidates Committee, ALDE, Liberal International, to name but some.

On the other hand, I started a South Londoner, a city dweller to my fingertips, and now I live in a small village deep in the Suffolk countryside. In 2005, I was technically divorced but not actually free, yet I am now married to the incredible Ros, and have been for more than seven years (it doesn't feel like that, especially given how much we've managed to pack in). I changed job, moved from administration to compliance, got promoted (mostly due to Ros's persistence in persuading me to apply, it must be said).

I've discovered life as a parish councillor, been the Presidential consort, had a box seat at the formation of the Coalition and met an astonishing array of interesting and entertaining people. Admittedly, quite a lot of this I haven't been able to blog about, but that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. I have traveled to every continent, except Antarctica, at least twice (and don't rule out Antarctica - we like penguins).

In short, life has been curiously eventful given that this blog was originally intended as a means to keep my family informed as to what I was doing, and to tell tales of party bureaucracy.

Will things continue to change as such a pace over the next decade? I very much hope not. But things will continue to be eventful, I trust, and, hopefully, you'll be able to come back in another decade and find me still here, still telling tales of travel, village life and the trials and tribulations of a liberal bureaucrat.

Finally, thank you, gentle reader, for the occasional word of encouragement, or comment. It is nice to be told that someone has read the words here, and enjoyed them, or been moved to think. Here at 'Liberal Bureaucracy', we don't tend towards hyperbole, or anger. That doesn't really suit your author anyway, but I am aware that such things 'sell'. I promise not to change much...

Sunday, October 04, 2015

When Edward Davey came to Mid Suffolk

One of the joys about living in deepest rural Suffolk is that we're a bit out of the way. The downside of that is that getting speakers to come to your Annual Dinner is more of a challenge. And so, we were rather pleased when Ros managed to lure a former Cabinet Minister to do the Mid Suffolk Liberal Democrats Annual Dinner this year, in the shape of Ed Davey.

Our Annual Dinners are usually pretty good, especially as our Social Secretary, Sheila Norris, has an incredible ability to find interesting venues with high quality food, and this year was no exception.

And so, Ros and I set off on Friday evening across country to pick up our guest speaker from a mystery location (at least, we know where it is, but we aren't telling), before heading to the Fynn Valley Golf Club, our venue for the revelry to follow. You can tell that Ed has done a lot of these, as he hit the ground running, introducing himself to local members, making small talk and engaging with our newly expanded membership.

The meal itself was spot on, good food, generous portions, before slightly later than originally scheduled, Ros got up to introduce Ed. Luckily, they're old friends, having worked together on similar portfolios - they both shadowed John Prescott when he was the Deputy Prime Minister and had local government under his wing, so there wasn't that slightly awkward 'used Wikipedia to find out more about someone I don't actually know' moment, when the person being introduced is as surprised as anyone else to discover what they've done.

Ed was superb. He gave us a 'tour de horizon' of energy and climate change policy, what had been achieved, what was at risk, reminding us as to why the Coalition, whilst unpalatable, was necessary. Working with Europe, the rise of India, the sheer ideological-driven idiocy of some Conservatives, all described with passion and energy.

It all made giving the vote of thanks rather easy - there was no shortage of material to cover - and it was clear that he had rather impressed his audience (and we aren't easily impressed here in Mid Suffolk) from the warm applause that he received.

All in all, an excellent event, well worth the surprisingly reasonable ticket price. We may have to go some next year to top it, but with Sheila's organisational talent, and some judicious contacts, we'll give it a go. And, if you're a Liberal Democrat within a reasonable drive, you might want to come yourself.