Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Moonlight over International Relations Committee - the Chris Black tribute report...

Longer term Liberal Democrat bloggers will remember the evocatively named 'Moonlight over Essex', the blog of Cllr Chris Black, from Rayleigh, a not particularly notable area of Liberal Democrat support. And, having passed through Rayleigh earlier today, I was reminded of his blog (Chris, if you're reading this, hope that all is well with you and your colleagues!). Hence, the title...

This evening's meeting of International Relations Committee was an unusual one, possibly because we spent quite a lot of time on discussions of an organisational and functional nature. As part of the Party's Governance Review, Sal Brinton, in her capacity as Party President, has been meeting with various groups to discuss possible input and likely implications. And tonight, it was our turn.

I have to admit that I hadn't read the current document (habitual Party bureaucrat in 'not paying attention to constitutional stuff' outrage...), but quickly speed read through it to find the key principles. It seems that IRC will become a sub-committee of the proposed new Federal Board (not much different to its current position as a sub-committee of Federal Executive) but there was talk of business plans and more directly elected representation (only five of us are directly elected by Federal Conference delegates at present - myself included). A business plan is certainly a radical concept for IRC, which can be a bit of a talking shop given the lack of connection between it and the relevant backbench committees in Parliament. I personally don't get a sense that we are taken terribly seriously by the foreign affairs enthusiasts in either the Commons or the Lords, and thus don't need to be considered.

But, it was resolved that we would submit some feedback, individual and collective, to the Compliance Review in the next month (note to self, read current document...). I also noted that we need to think much more about our role and purpose, and others raised the issue of what mechanisms might be necessary to improve access and increase diversity.

Discussion then turned to my paper on future ALDE delegation makeup. The general sense seemed to be that the paper wasn't bad, but needed more consideration. In the meantime, my proposals for the 2016 ALDE Council delegation was endorsed by a rare IRC vote, 7-1, after which we were advised as to who the delegates now are. I am not one of them, although I am first reserve and have been led to believe that I might get to be Sal Brinton's understudy in Vilnius in early June. Frankly, I'll be there anyway as consort to the Vice-President, but I enjoy Council (a bureaucrat's natural environment) and like to think that I punch above my weight there.

We then had reports from the International Office on its work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and from the Liberal Democrat 'Remain' team - all very interesting but not really appropriate for publication yet, I'd suggest. Besides, if you want to know what the International Office get up to, I strongly recommend their reports in Liberal Democrat Voice.

Verbal reports from various groups followed before, almost miraculously, we were done just before eight o'clock - IRC Chair, Robert Woodthorpe Browne, runs a tight ship when it comes to getting through the business. That left me with enough time to catch a civilised(ish) train back to mid-Suffolk and write this meeting report. Quick enough for you, Dr Pack?...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Leaving the lizards behind... or coming home to them?

I have been, as those of you who are Facebook friends may be aware, on holiday in Cuba, a trip which has, from a personal perspective, not gone as smoothly as might have been hoped. Personal misadventure leading to a badly gashed elbow and a jarred shoulder, followed by three days interrupted by (presumed) food poisoning, rather cut into the trip. Nonetheless, the weather was good, the wildlife friendly and the resort... well, not as good as perhaps it should have been, would be fair. Ros is at least well-rested for the campaigning ahead, which is probably the most important thing.

Our resort had a fine collection of curly-tailed lizards, who haunted the rocks and crevices of the landscaping in our resort, and were seemingly quite content to be photographed. The pelicans that cruised the shoreline, looking for fish, glided by in a manner that implied that they were doing this for our benefit between essential refuelling, and the other birds were colourful and inquisitive. One species in particular seems to have learned that sugar packets may be valuable, pulling them out of their little holders and scattering them around. Don't ask me whether they know what the contents are - evolution doesn't appear to have progressed quite that far yet.

But now I'm back to a Britain about to determine its future in the world. Naturally, I'll be voting 'remain', and will be campaigning accordingly.

It is noticeable so far that the people who have been telling us for a couple of decades that we would be better off outside the European Union have been so busy moaning that they've never quite got round to working out what the implications of Brexit are. 

Today, for example, Bernard Jenkin claims that the critical Article 50 provisions need not apply. They are, of course, provisions of a treaty that we signed, and are binding unless both sides agree to an amendment. Of course, we need not adhere to them, the sort of negotiating strategy that the diplomatic equivalent of cads and bounders would implement. Naturally, by behaving in an untrustworthy manner at that stage, we could expect such behaviour to be overlooked when it came to negotiating all of the treaties on trade and citizen access that Bernard assumes would follow...

And, of course, Boris. Two weeks ago, he seemed to say that engagement was better than estrangement. Now, he's changed his mind so as to maximise his leadership potential in the event of a 'leave' vote. I have to wonder why I should trust the judgement of someone whose political positioning is, predominantly, populist in nature and who is, generally, as slippery as an eel.

It seems that I didn't leave the lizards behind me...

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

@NeedhamFC versus @GraysAthleticFC - as relegation rears its ugly head, can the Marketmen turn things around?

Welcome to a cold Bloomfields, on a windy evening with a pitch that doesn't look to have improved much since I was here for the VCD Athletic game a few weeks back. Since that rather sorry home defeat, not much has gone right for the Marketmen, although Saturday's nil-nil draw at basement dwellers Lewes at least halted the run of grim outcomes.

At least the visitors, Grays Athletic (unbeaten in 2016, apparently) may have brought along some support - we'll see if the attendance is better than the 135 who turned out to brave the risk of hypothermia for the VCD Athletic game...

A lively start saw both sides test the opposition goalkeeper, but the crosswind was already causing play  to concentrate on the far side of the pitch. The Marketmen seemed to looking to play long balls over the top, whilst Grays were testing the pitch by playing more along the ground. Probably a mistake, given the conditions, but we'll see...

35 minutes - a pretty even contest thus far, with both teams having had their chances. Still nil-nil though...

Half-time - both sides have hit the woodwork, but Grays appear to have a slight edge as we reach the break. Can Needham Market rally in the second half and get something from the game? A win would see them reach the giddy heights of eighteenth...

60 minutes - Needham's best spell of the game led to a shot on goal spilt by the Grays keeper low down and turned in from a tight angle. But whilst the home supporters celebrated, the assistant's flag was flying. Still scoreless, but the hosts were looking the stronger...

Time is running out, and the Marketmen are hanging on... The final whistle blows, and it's another point, and a clean sheet - Needham Market 0, Grays Athletic 0...

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A question to which the answer is forty-two...

Yes, it's been six weeks since I started my (kind of) health regime of ten thousand steps and 1.9 litres of water a day, and I've managed both every day thus far.

It feels, I must say, pretty good.

Today, by way of a change, Ros and I took our morning constitutional on the seafront at Felixstowe, which isn't so far from the Creetings, but is somewhat different, especially on a sunny, but windy day. Put it this way, walking northwards was wind-assisted, and the return journey somewhat tougher.

Felixstowe is, unlike some seaside resorts locally, in relatively good shape, in part due to the presence of one of Europe's biggest container ports on its doorstep. And even now, despite the pressure of local government finances, the gardens and landscaping have been maintained, the promenade is in good condition, and there are places to stop for a cappuccino, should one be so inclined.

There is even sand, which sounds unremarkable until you discover that, until recently, the beach was a pebble one.

After our walk, we made our way into town for a light lunch, and remarked on the fact that the range of shops was pretty broad, with a mixture of chains and more local outlets. The bank that Ros worked in when she left school is still there (and still a bank), and there isn't that sense of decline that towns such as Walton on the Naze have experienced.

All in all, it was nice to get out, and we may well take the opportunity to stroll around other places over the coming weeks. At least, we will when we next have a free weekend at home...

Is using your preferred definition of liberalism a means to suppress reasoned dissent?

It's funny really. Once upon a time, I was a Young Liberal on the minority non-radical wing of the Party. Yes, radicals were all well and good, but somebody had to keep the organisational show on the road. Sensible, less emotional people like myself, for example. And yes, I tended to be sceptical about some of the more 'out there' proposals (a surprising number of which went on to become mainstream truths), but disagreement, or even outright dissent, was seemingly tolerated to a greater extent.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAs I've grown older, I've developed a greater appreciation for honest dissent, courteously and intelligently expressed. The majority, after all, isn't always right, and the status quo is never disturbed unless someone challenges it. I've always seen liberalism as a philosophy which encouraged dissent and challenge of the orthodoxy. Indeed, some of my colleagues that I've most admired are not those who I consistently agree with.

I also have, over the past five or six years, developed an appreciation of the breadth and depth of liberalism through my involvement with ALDE (our European umbrella party). Social liberals, economic liberals, all coming together under one banner, but able to debate courteously and reach an agreed policy stance through compromise.

And so, I am somewhat disheartened to see fellow Liberal Democrats (and no, not ALL Liberal Democrats...) use their definition of liberalism, usually one which reinforces their view of the world, to attempt to shut down debate. Lines like, "policy X, passed by Conference, is illiberal", or, "Thank goodness we have a President of the Party who does write this. It shows that she understands the fundamentals of Liberalism.". By implying that anyone who disagrees with the argument isn't a liberal, you seek to suppress dissent from your preferred stance.

In truth, I've probably played the 'liberalism' card myself in the past. It is terribly easy to use, even more so when you are so certain of the rightness of your position, and yet more so when the person arguing with you is 'annoyingly persistent'.

But, perhaps, we would do better by respecting the right to dissent amongst ourselves, displaying a bit more courtesy towards those we disagree with. We are, I've always thought, a family. A family that squabbles amongst itself, yes, but one that pulls together when threatened.

And so, the establishment bureaucrat has morphed into a respecter of difference. Perhaps I have mellowed over the years, or perhaps Ros has been a positive influence (very likely, I'd guess...), but either way, I've developed a sneaking regard for those who are outside the perceived mainstream. I can only hope that I'm not in a minority on this occasion...

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Ros in the Lords: Food Waste

Regular readers will know that, for some time, Ros has been working to raise awareness of food waste, following the publication of a seminal report by the Select Committee that she chairs.

This week, she returned to the subject by means of a Short Debate, seeking to keep up the pressure on the Government...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD): My Lords, it is almost two years since the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee for energy and the environment, which I chair, published its report into food waste. At the time, it was enormously gratifying for the committee to produce a report that generated so much interest. The press office tells me it had more coverage than any other Lords Select Committee report.

The fact that around one-third of all food produced in the world is wasted is truly shocking. The waste of land, labour, water, carbon and all the other resources is truly staggering. When people around the world are going hungry, when the global population is set to increase and when many thousands of people here in the UK do not have enough to eat, this becomes a moral issue, too. It does not matter what sort of political philosophy you have—there is a case to be made for dealing with this as a matter of urgency.

So two years on seems like a good time to see what has happened since. In this time, food waste has rocketed up the agenda and efforts are being made at all levels. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who are speaking in the debate today and very much look forward to hearing from them.

The United Nations sustainable development goals, which were published in September, contain a commitment to halve food waste at the consumer and retailer level and to reduce food losses along the supply chain. The UN goals make a distinction between the two, as we did in our report, but I would like to give an example of where this is no longer quite so clear-cut. The campaigning organisation Feedback has spent several years looking at the supply chains of our major supermarkets. Focusing on Kenya, Peru and Guatemala, it has uncovered evidence of late cancellation of orders and overzealous size and shape specifications resulting in up to half the crop being wasted and massive hardship for farmers.

These were exactly the sort of practices which in UK agriculture had led to the establishment of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in 2013, and it is increasingly clear that farmers in the developing world need protection, too. Is the Minister aware of this issue and would he agree with me that bad behaviour should be stamped out, regardless of whether the farmer is in Norfolk or Nicaragua.

Our report made recommendations aimed at all levels of government. We asked the European Commission to look at areas where it has responsibility—date labelling, the regulations around the feeding of waste to animals, packaging regulations, fish discards, and the use of CAP funds for food waste reduction projects—and we asked it to spearhead work on common definitions, measurements and benchmarks.

Around the same time as we were producing our report, the EU Select Committee reported on the role of national parliaments in EU decision-making. It concluded that national parliaments should have a power to request action as well as to object. Under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, a so-called “green card” procedure was developed with the support of all EU parliaments. I am really pleased that the first-ever green card to be issued in the EU was based on our work on food waste. It was signed by 18 parliamentary chambers.

In December, the Commission published its Circular Economy Package, which includes a section on food waste. That reflects many of the recommendations that were made in our report and in the green card proposal. Will the Minister say whether the Government are minded to support the proposals on the table?

The thread which ran through our 2014 report was the role of the supply chain in generating food waste, and why it is essential to look not just at each stage but at the links between them. The UK is fortunate to have a highly effective think tank—that is what I will call it—WRAP. It is now a charity independent of government and it provides a unique combination of academically rigorous analysis, supply-chain knowledge and campaigning skills. It really excels at developing partnerships and has been at the forefront of doing so with regard to food waste. Its work with the hospitality and food service sector achieved a 3.6% reduction in food waste by its second year. In a sector where an estimated one meal in six is thrown away, it is really important to address this. The food service giant Sodexo has developed some very good initiatives and what strikes me from what it told me is how important it is to get the staff engaged, because, when they are engaged, things begin to happen and it is more effective than just setting targets.

A couple of weeks ago the Times ran an article outlining how top chefs are now moving away from à la carte menus in favour of more limited menu choices. That is exactly to reduce food waste. One Michelin-starred restaurant said it thought it could halve the amount of food it wastes. So regardless of the size of your business there is a clear economic case for dealing with this. This is an area where a lot more could be done, particularly by the large outfits. Will the Government meet WRAP and perhaps me and other Members to discuss what more could be done about this? Clearly, the public sector is an enormous user of these catering services.

Another good example of this partnership is the Courtauld commitment. The voluntary agreement started in 2005 is in its fourth stage and aims to reduce packaging waste as well as food waste. While recognising the limits of the new charitable status of WRAP, I hope that the Government will commit to continue to support its work. I was certainly very taken by a briefing from the campaign group Stop the Rot which talked about how important this is and I know that it, and I suspect some noble Lords here today, would like to see Courtauld do more and be more ambitious.

Retailers are still very reluctant to publish food waste data, so, in this regard, hats off to Tesco, which has been more open about its levels of waste; others should follow suit. Retailers are crucial in reducing supply-chain waste. They impact not only on the growers, as we have heard, but also on the processors of food, and are key influencers of consumer behaviour. Tesco and Asda have done some very interesting work to assess levels of waste of their most popular products and have looked right through the supply chain to see what can be done. It is not rocket science—for example, using bananas that cannot be sold off the shelf as a base for frozen smoothies or using things for soups and sauces makes absolute sense, as does sending bakery waste to animal feed or converting used vegetable oil to biodiesel. The Food and Drink Federation told me that KP is now using potato starch generated from its processes to make products such as wallpaper paste. This is real value added from waste.

Our report highlighted a food waste hierarchy in which food produced for humans should, wherever possible, be eaten by humans—then turned into animal feed, then used to generate energy, then composted and so on to achieve zero to landfill. I think this is one of the most important aspects of this whole debate. Without getting into discussion about the need for food redistribution, of course it makes sense to use this food wisely. FareShare has reported a 30% increase in the food redistributed in the last two years. Indeed, its partnership with Tesco provides 1,700 community groups with meals. The Co-op increased its depot-level redistribution from 85 tonnes to 300 tonnes in the last year.

Marks & Spencer is using an app called Neighbourly that links stores with local charities and in the pilot a single store in Bristol in just six months redistributed 4 tonnes of perfectly good food that otherwise would have gone to anaerobic digestion. FareShare estimates that around 300,000 tonnes of supply-chain food waste could go to feed people instead of feeding animals or going to digesters or landfill. Will the Minister commit to exploring ways of ensuring that the incentives to behave in this way are lined up? We are still a long way behind the US, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain and they all have some sort of fiscal incentive.

While it is true that much household waste occurs at household level, it is a complex issue to tackle. As we uncovered in our evidence, the causes are often rooted in modern life—irregular eating patterns, the weekly shop, a wider variety of food and so on, and much less basic knowledge about food. WRAP has developed the Love Food Hate Waste label and has even exported it to Canada. The retailers have stepped up to the plate on this, but there is still very much to do to demystify date labelling, despite the Food and Drink Federation’s Fresher for Longer initiative.

We have made a lot of progress in the past two years but we are really still only in the foothills of what we need to do to make permanent inroads into the scandalous waste of food. What gives me cause for optimism is that I think that we have developed a sort of ecology. We have the academic rigour and analysis from WRAP; a huge variety of civil society groups, from the Trussell Trust to Stop the Rot; innovative use of technology; a willingness on the part of industry to really see the business case; and the campaigning zeal of people such as Tristram Stuart from Feedback, and celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, who are so effective at mobilising public action. We have done a lot, but there is much more to do.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Suffolk Liberal Democrats announce their candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner

Helen Korfanty, a local Solicitor, campaigner and advocate, has been selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the post as Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner. The elections take place on 5 May.

Helen has lived in Suffolk for 33 years, was born in Yorkshire and qualified as a solicitor in 1982. She has worked for firms Ipswich, Sudbury, and Stowmarket and currently works for firms in Thetford and Newmarket. Her main areas of specialism are Criminal Law and Family Law and she is a trained Family Law Mediator.

A first tier advocate, she serves as a Duty Solicitor at the Police Investigation Centres and Magistrates’ Courts. She was also among the local solicitors who have acted as agent prosecutors for the CPS.

In the past, Helen has Chaired South Suffolk Victim Support Scheme and volunteered at the Citizens Advice Bureaux both as an adviser and subsequently on the Management Committee for Sudbury CAB. 

Jon James, Chair of Suffolk Lib Dems said;
Helen Korfanty is one of the best qualified individuals to put themselves forward to contest this election. She is a well respected advocate across the criminal justice system in Suffolk and brings with her lots of experience in both criminal law and family law and will bring a whole new approach to managing police resources especially in areas of domestic abuse and mental health where the Lib Dems are leading the way. Helen will provide strong, independent minded leadership and support to the Suffolk Constabulary at a time when government cuts are seeing local neighbourhood policing significantly reduced.

Monday, February 01, 2016

"Building a Better Walrus" - a progress report

So, I've been walking around a bit, and making sure that I'm properly hydrated (who knew that I was supposed to drink nearly two litres of water a day?). A month has gone by, well, a month and four days, to be strictly accurate, but has it made a difference?

The answer is, slightly surprisingly, yes. Including the four days in December, which I tend to see as a warm-up, I've made my ten thousand steps and 1.9 litres of water every day, managing more than three hundred and seventy thousand steps (just over 12,000 a day!) in January alone, and have lost nearly seven pounds (three kilos for those of you operating in metric).

This is rather satisfying, I have to admit. And yes, it probably isn't repeatable - it is likely to get harder as I lose weight to achieve the same results - but it might be sustainable, which is rather more important.

Of course, none of this would be possibly without Ros's support, or the probably unintended inspiration that came from Alistair Carmichael, and I am keen to keep going with this as long as my willpower lasts. But the Fitbit app on my iPhone is acting as a bit of a nag/motivator (delete as appropriate), so we'll see how it goes...