Sky News presents live budget coverage from… Hebden Bridge!

Lib Dem Hilary Myers

Today’s live coverage of the budget on Sky News came from… Hebden Bridge! It was well worth watching, and not just to hear the Labour candidate Steph Booth describe herself as Cherie’s “wicked stepmother”. The coverage centred on the fact that Calder Valley is a swing constituency. The reporter interviewed local business owners, residents, financial experts, and made a lot of poor jokes about the only floating voters around being ducks.

Of course they also interviewed the three main PPCs. Lib Dem Hilary Myers came across very well, pointing out that the budget would do little to help close the gap between rich and poor, which has widened under the Labour government. She was also disappointed that there were no plans to help the environment, such as those proposed by the Lib Dems to promote green jobs.

Steph Booth
Labour's Steph Booth

How about the others? Craig Whittaker rambled on about helping businesses while completely ignoring the general public. Steph Booth was constantly ribbed for being Cherie’s stepmother, at one point joking that she was the “wicked stepmother”. Perhaps she reads Lib Dem John Beacroft-Mitchell’s blog? Another local character putting in an appearance was David Fletcher, owner of Innovation, and the man behind the controversial Garden Street development, which is currently on ice having been refused planning permission. He didn’t seem very impressed either.

In the end, though, I think it was the presenter that missed the point, constantly asking whether the Tories will take this seat off Labour. Well, of course they will. It’s what else happens that will be interesting. From figures available on Wikipedia, the number of votes for both Labour and the Conservatives has steadily decreased since 1997. Labour now have no borough councillors anywhere in the constituency. Is it time for them to drop into third place?

Free to be young – and other great stuff from Spring Conference

I made the trip to Birmingham yesterday, getting up at some ungodly hour, for the Lib Dem Spring Conference. Unfortunately I could only stay for the one day, but what a great day it was.

The highlight of the day was our policy paper on young people, entitled Free to be Young. This policy is overwhelmingly positive, focusing on why we should celebrate our young people, and help them to make a positive contribution to society. I know loads of teenagers who are brilliant role models, and get so frustrated when certain sections of the media portray them as nothing better than ‘hoodies’ hanging round causing trouble. Of course there are a few people of all age groups that cause trouble – but the Labour government spend vast amounts of money locking up young offenders, and hardly anything on schemes to prevent them offending in the first place. Where’s the logic in that?

But what else went on…?

I got to hear the main speech by Vince Cable, which was extraordinarily competent as ever. The prospect of George Osborne being our next chancellor of the exchequer, frankly, fills me with dread.

I also attended the Q&A session with Nick Clegg. Which other party leader is brave enough to offer himself up for open questions from the audience? Nick does this up and down the country, and was grilled just as hard (if not harder) by Liberal Democrats in Birmingham. He answered all questions well and showed just how well he has grown into the role of leader since his election.

At lunchtime, I attended a fringe meeting by ALDES with no particular agenda, but speeches by the great Evan Harris and also Julian Huppert from Cambridge. Two excellent speakers, and real assets to the party. There are not enough scientists in the House of Commons. Hopefully that will change come May!

Unfortunately I missed the debate on Freedom, Creativity and the Internet this morning, being back in Yorkshire, but I needn’t have worried. After a slightly embarrassing episode in the House of Lords a couple of weeks ago, many technologically-minded Lib Dems were up in arms. This motion, passed overwhelmingly, puts us back on the right course to develop some sound policy on IT and the Internet, which is sorely needed.

Conference is a great place to meet people. I bumped into my old friend Jane Brophy, who was preparing a speech against the main environment motion, saying it didn’t go far enough. As a regular dissenter myself (only the Liberal Democrats will let people like us stand on the main stage and speak against party policy) I tried to give a few pointers. In the end, her speech came across very well.

Overall the conference reminded me why I’m a Liberal Democrat. Not only do I agree with the overwhelming majority of our policy, but the very way we make it is completely different from the other parties. I simply can’t imagine having anywhere near as much freedom to discuss, debate and disagree in either Labour or the Conservatives. I’m now looking forward to the main conference in Liverpool in September and, of course, the general and local elections in May (or whenever!).

The only down side to the day was the train journey home. Not only was Birmingham New Street station gruesome as ever, but my train back from Manchester to Hebden was packed to overflowing. We were literally crammed in like sardines. This is partly due to the reduction in trains to Rochdale following the Oldham Loop Line’s conversion to Metrolink – however Northern Rail have shown precious little enthusiasm for actually doing anything about it.

Electronic patient records – are we getting the whole story?

Letter written to the Hebden Bridge times today, following an article they published, which looks like it was heavily based on a government press release.

In response to the article “New records will help patient care” published on 25 February, I am writing to express serious concerns that myself and others have about the new system of storing medical details on a central government computer system.

Currently medical records are stored by each GP practice and can only be accessed by staff belonging to that practice. The new system changes this so that certain information is held on a central system and can be accessed from anywhere. The placing of information onto this new system is being done with “implied consent” which means if people do nothing your information will go on. However, it is possible to opt out.

The system will initially be storing details of allergies and prescriptions. However, in the future other information may be added such as blood test results, or letters from specialists.

A British Medical Association press release dated 1 March 2010, entitled “Patients are not being adequately informed about electronic patient records”, protests that the new system is being rolled out too quickly without sufficient consultation with patients.

The government has an extremely poor record on storing data and has lost discs and memory sticks containing confidential data on a regular basis. Will the system even be secure? The equivalent system in Scotland has already been broken into, and the medical records of Gordon Brown (amongst others) were hacked.

Of course, certain people will want to have their records on the system. For example, anyone with an ongoing medical condition or serious allergies should speak to their GP before considering opting out.

However, if you opt out now, you can opt in again at a later date. It is much harder to get off the computer system once you’re on it.

This new system moves control of my information from medical professionals to the state. It will be open to hundreds of thousands of people, not just doctors. I will be opting out of the system to protect my data, and I would urge people to make sure they have a full picture of what will happen before making their own decision. Opt out forms are available from www.nhscarerecords.nhs.uk.

Save 6 Music – by listening to it

The BBC Trust today admitted that the stories leaked last week – that 6 Music and Asian Network would be recommended for closure – were true.

BBC 6 Music is the only radio station I’ve encountered that is focused solely on good (non-classical) music, with a particular emphasis on up-and-coming singers and groups. The entire station is essentially a continuation of the work done for many years by the late great John Peel.

The DJs are extremely knowledgable about the music played, and regularly have bands into the studio to perform live and talk about the music, continuing a tradition that goes back to the early 60s when the Beatles (amongst others) would come in to perform on the light programme. There is no time for the tedious light-hearted “banter” engaged in by the likes of Jonathan Ross or Terry Wogan on Radio 2.

My favourite show, and the reason I have a DAB aerial stuck to the front of my house, is Marc Riley’s weekday evening show. Not only does he play great music, but he has a fantastically subtle dry sense of humour, not unlike that of Eddie Mair. And he has the best jingles. I also enjoy Lauren Laverne, Craig Charles’ Funk ‘n’ Soul show (yes, that Craig Charles!), and Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour (when it’s on).

A quick look through my iTunes ‘purchased music’ list reveals that I’ve bought music from Voluntary Butler Scheme, King Creosote, The Loves, The Poems, Pete and The Pirates, The Wave Pictures, Half Man Half Biscuit, XX Teens, Vetiver, Wild Billy Childish and Beans on Toast – all as a result of hearing them on 6 Music. I’ve also seen several of these groups live. Most of these are new groups who get vital exposure on 6 Music. Radio 1, Radio 2 and the commercial stations simply won’t take the risk of playing anything other than safe music designed to appeal to a middle-of-the-road audience and advertisers.

Lib Dem spokesperson Don Foster has said that 6 Music and the Asian Network are being used as sacrificial lambs. He’s absolutely right – if cost savings need to be made, there are plenty of other places that they could look. I would suggest that taking a long hard look at TV channels BBC3 and BBC4 would be a good start.

So what can we do to help save 6 Music? Well, of course, comment on the BBC Trust’s consultation. But most of all, listen to the station, and if you like it, tell your friends. It’s been very poorly advertised up till now, and hopefully the listener figures will take a big jump as a result of this week’s publicity. You can listen on Freeview (TV), DAB (radio) or online. Anyone listening live online will be counted by the BBC’s servers, so why not listen while browsing, or check out some old shows on iPlayer.

Hopefully together we can persuade the BBC to reverse this decision.

Edit 3 March 2010: Join the Facebook campaign to save 6 Music. Also don’t forget to complete the BBC Trust’s consultation. Tell them what you think!