Archive for Liberal Democrats

Manifestos should be published earlier

I’m now living in one of the most remote rural parts of England and in a safe Tory constituency.  As  a result I feel more detached from the General Election campaign than in 2010 when I was resident in Canada.

So, my experience of the election campaign is almost entirely through TV and the internet and I’m already bored and irritated by it.

I’m puzzled that the political parties are keeping with previous practice in holding back their manifestos until within a month of the election date. This is the first long campaign for a fixed date election and surely that means a different approach is needed?

In the last few weeks we have been treated to a campaign of upstaging.  Every day the parties try to grab the headlines promising this or that or the other. In my opinion, it gives the (mostly) wrong impression of policy being made on the hoof and pledges that probably won’t be kept.  In other words it is a style of campaigning, by all the major parties, which plays to reinforce the public’s cynicism about politicians.

Andrew Rawnsley says that: “What the manifestos do not say will often be more instructive than what they do say.” and that: “These manifestos are best regarded as opening positions for post-election bargaining.”

Both statements are true, but I want to see what the silences are, and get an idea of where the lines in the sand will be drawn during post-election negotiations. And so I need to read the manifestos.

I suppose the reason for holding back the manifestos is that publishing early would give more time to the opposition to pull it apart.  But the party that published early would be campaigning from the outset on a clear programme that the public could see had been some years in the making, not a back-of-the-envelope reaction to headlines and opinion polls. In other words — this is what we really want to do, not — this is what we think will play well this week.

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Simon Hughes on care of the elderly

My mum is 88 and she lives on her own in East Sussex.  I’m unhappy about her continuing to live on her own at such an advanced age, so now that I’m about to move to Devon, I’ve suggested that she comes to live near me.  The high property prices in the South East make it impossible for me to live near her.  But mum doesn’t want to move out of the area she has lived in for more than a quarter of a century, or to be so far away from my brother who lives in Kent.  So, she is planning to buy in more care at home as she gets frailer, and if there is no alternative, she will go into a care home near my brother.  This leaves me with the prospect of spending the next few years making very frequent, lengthy and expensive trips from Devon to Sussex or Kent to visit mum and check on her welfare.  Although my mum has a reasonable income, her care costs may eventually have to be paid by the state.

I think my family circumstances are fairly typical, other than that since I took very early retirement, I have more free time than most women.  Over the  eight years I’ve lived in Canada, I’ve visited my mother at least once a year, usually for several weeks and on one occasion when she was ill, for several months.  The cost to me has been considerable, both in terms of time and money, so I don’t need to be lectured about ‘sacrifice’. I did not move to Alberta in my fifties because I thought it would be fun to live somewhere with a worse climate than Moscow, but because the alternative for my husband was unemployment.  I’d love to retire to a large house in Brighton with a granny annexe, so that my mum could live with me and still see my brother,  but to do it I’d need around a quarter of a million pounds more than I have got.

Personally, I don’t see any evidence of a society where people ignore the needs of their elderly relatives, but one where women have to work, where property prices are high, and where someone who wants to stay in employment has to be prepared to move to where the work is.

So stuff your moralizing up your jumper Simon.



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Ten weeks to go

This year was probably my last White Good Friday, and I won’t be sorry if I never experience another White Christmas either.  My heart’s desire is never to see another snowflake for as long as I live.

Swapping continents involves keeping a lot of balls in the air at once, and between now and the end of June I will have constant anxiety about dropping one of them.

Planning our relocation, I’ve found the British Ex-Pat forums invaluable. With the help of the forum I’ve managed to keep the cost to under £10,000, which is remarkable given that we spend nearly £13,000 in ’06, though then we were spending a generous relocation allowance from Ian’s employer.

The biggest expense is for a 20′ container, which will transport our books and household goods. The cost of transporting our two cats is the next most expensive item, more than our own airfares; they travel on the same aircraft as us, but as cargo. The remainder of the expense is made up of car and van hire and a hotel for our last few days in Canada after our house has been emptied.

The whole of my time in Alberta has been overshadowed by the fact that our life here is subsidized by an industry, the tar sands, that I think should be closed down. There isn’t any way the industry can be made sustainable.  Being here has meant living a contradiction and it has made me unhappy.  It was a huge relief to me last year when the sale of our house meant that I no longer had a significant financial investment in the economy. But I’ve also made friends here, and how genuine can my friendship be when I wish their economy, and with it their careers and financial security, to blazes?

I think the outlook for Alberta is grim whatever the future holds. If the world is going to deal with climate change then Alberta is going to become known as the province of stranded assets.  If the world doesn’t deal with climate change then the outlook is grim for all of us including Alberta. While I’ve been here, I’ve been very disappointed by the British government’s backing for Canada on the EU Fuel Quality Directive. A true friend to Canada would not give it a helping hand on the path to perdition.


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Race Plan by Jeremy Browne.

A  brief review.

I was delighted to discover that I could download this book from the day it was published in the UK.  This was quite an achievement for a UK publisher.  Normally I have to wait several months for British books to appear on the Canadian site.

Jeremy Browne has interesting things to say about foreign affairs. The chapter on foreign policy is both informed and trenchant; for example his contention that our diplomacy in Asian countries is often inept. His overall message is that we have a lot of soft power, and we must use it to promote liberal values in China’s century, both for our own good, and for the preservation of those values in a world in which the dominant world power is a dictatorship.

The rest of the book, however, too often reads as a formulaic setting out of problems and solutions by an ideologically inflexible economic liberal.  Sometimes Browne gives the impression that he hasn’t been prepared to think about the issues he is writing about, other than to place them within the parameters of his ideology.  For example, does it really matter that a minimum price on alcohol would interfere with the free market?  Surely the only important criteria is whether or not it would work to reduce alcohol abuse? Blind adherence to any creed kills common sense.

What I found most disappointing was the almost complete absence of any consideration of the environmental implications of policy:

“The comforting truth is that, just because one country gets richer, it does not follow that one country gets poorer.  Global economic growth is not a zero-sum game: we can all get richer” (my emphasis).

True for Adam Smith perhaps, but not in the world of finite resources we live in now. For some resources it is in fact a zero-sum game: there isn’t enough pasture land for us all to eat red meat, and so if China is going to eat more, we may have to eat less, for example.

Browne’s blind spot on the environment is most apparent when he is talking about Britain’s infrastructure needs. He supports a new airport hub for London, new roads, rail and housing on green belt land — and they’d get it all built so much more quickly in China.  But you can’t possibly understand the complex issues of infrastructure on our crowded island unless you also consider greenhouse gas emissions, smog, preservation of landscape and biodiversity.  If, as a nation, we spend time considering the options and sometimes prefer infrastructure solutions which are not optimal for the economy, but less damaging for the environment, surely that is just our nation practising the same liberal values that he thinks are our strength?

I found parts of the book  just plain irritating.  There is  a section where Browne comes over all Niall Ferguson about our past and tries to out-jingo Michael Gove.  If he did some more reading, he would discover that there are other factors to explain the Industrial Revolution, than our intangible ‘national disposition’, and personally I’m not swelling with pride at being part of a nation that built the largest empire ever known.

The reason that supermarkets ran out of products in the nineteen seventies was because high inflation led to hoarding and runs on food. So  if that does not happen now, it is not an example of how commercial institutions improve their performance; though bread, which he mentions specifically, used to be a morning product, having been baked overnight.  But maybe an ambassador’s wife didn’t do her own shopping often enough to know that?  I remember because I was a grown-up in the seventies, not a schoolboy shopping with his mum.

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The pensioner’s top-up

I’m one of the people who could take advantage of the pensioners’ top-up just announced.  It looks very generous, offering an index linked annuity of 5.84%, compared with the 3.5% offered commercially.

But, the question that is puzzling me is this:  Why would I take advantage of this offer, when the government offers a much better deal through pension deferral, since every year of deferral increases my pension by 10.4%?

I reach pension age on 6th March 2015.  I am entitled to the full pension of £110.15 p.w. So, if I put off claiming my state pension for two years, until 6th March 2017, I will have foregone £11,455.60. But, I will have gained a pension increase of 20.8%; that is £22.91 per week.

Alternatively, if I use the pension top-up scheme to gain an additional £23 a week, the premium I’ll have to pay on 6th March 2017 will be £20,470, more than £9,000 extra for the same result.

So why would I do that? Will someone (Mr Webb?) explain?

It occurs to me I should add some links:

Deferring the State Pension

State Pension Top Up Calculator




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Goodbye 2013 Part 1

Edmonton Alberta, 5.30 pm,  -26°C with windchill, snow.

2013 has been a good year for me personally, though it hasn’t felt like that all of the time. The big event was selling our house in Edmo and buying a coastguard’s cottage in Devon.  I thought it was the right time to sell and move our capital back to Blighty, and for once my financial judgement seems to have been correct.  And we have avoided a lot of the stress of repatriation by selling well in advance of our move next June. I’ve also had a couple of articles published this year, and I’ve got a credit in a book; although my real ambition is to finish my novel and get it published, these small achievements boost my confidence.

As far as politics is concerned, I end the year a far less enthusiastic Lib Dem than I was at the beginning.

There were a couple of things this year that really got to me emotionally.  The first was Thatcher’s funeral.  I loathed Thatcher.  So did a half the population during the time she was in power. There was no way she was entitled to a state ‘ceremonial’ funeral.  It was an insult to great leaders like Wellington and Churchill who had state funerals, and it was an insult too, to great Prime Ministers like Attlee or Lloyd George who didn’t. The funeral was divisive, and reflected badly on the politicians of all parties who attended it, showing them up as shallow opportunists.

Shallow opportunism was also in evidence after the death of Mandela.  It was unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the same MPs who’d fallen over backwards to praise the supporter of apartheid, and bosom friend of torturer General Pinochet, were a few months later wanting to remind the world they’d once shaken hands with Mandela, or if not, knew someone who did.  Mandela’s long march to freedom would have been significantly shorter without the Iron Lady.

Overall, the intellectually vapid and histrionic performance by MPs of all parties in 2013 left a bad smell, and will have done nothing to counter the general cynicism with which politicians are viewed nowadays.

Secondly, I still feel upset about the prejudice being whipped up towards the Roma people. I’m not able to view this issue with emotional detachment.  I’m not sure why: I am not Roma, and my connections with the Roma community are historical and tenuous.  But, I find the hatred being expressed to the Roma both appalling and quite frightening. At the very best, it takes our society back to the levels of prejudice shown against the Afro-Caribbean population in the 1960s.  At worst we are part of a European trend that will end in ethnic cleansing, 1930s style.

And that brings me on to the subject of Nick Clegg. I’ve come to the conclusion that Clegg is just not an instinctive liberal.  Time and time again, when he has to think on his feet, his pronouncements are illiberal, and then have to be corrected at a later stage, if at all.  He had been described as a Europhile Tory, and that is probably correct. His comment about the Roma, quoted by Tanya Gold in her excellent Guardian article this week, was the last straw. It is really shameful that the comment of a Liberal leader gets quoted as an example of racism. I don’t like him as leader of the party.  If we are to continue in coalition, then we need a leader who is liberal to the core.  Until he is replaced, I’m going to be picky about what campaign work I involve myself with.

I end the year despondent about environmental issues. When we get to Devon, we will be retrofitting our cottage to reduce our carbon footprint as much as is practicable, or we can afford; but, it seems a futile gesture; no more than a means of reducing our fuel bills and placating our consciences. With no international agreement in sight that will result in significant reductions in emissions, anything we do as individuals, or as a country, is just pissing in the wind.  In that context the coalition’s failure to live up to its green promise seems almost irrelevant.

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Harper addressing Parliament

Can someone explain why Stephen Harper has been invited to address Parliament?  The last time a Canadian prime-minister did this was in 1944.  Canada had, of course, contributed enormously to the Allies’ war effort, keeping Britain supplied with food and materials via the Atlantic convoys (my late father-in-law took part in The Battle of the Atlantic), and supplied a million troops.

A comparison with WW2 is apt, because the struggle to combat climate change is also a fight for survival, and this time Canada is on the wrong side.  Harper has muzzled his own scientists, obstructs international negotiations on emissions reduction and lies, prevaricates and obfuscates in order to protect Canada’s dirty oil industry.

Inviting him to Parliament makes as much sense, in terms of British interests ,and ethically, as inviting Henrik Verwoerd to invite Parliament in 1962.  Except that we didn’t do that, of course.

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