England come from 1-0 down to win 2-1 and stay in the World Cup

What a game… New Zealand got the first goal in, and for a nail-biting 40 minutes it looked like England were on their way home. But at 63 minutes Scott equalised, and 20 minutes later Clarke put us ahead and in the end sent New Zealand home instead. I had to dig out my Lightning Seeds CD to put on Three Lions after the match.

Of course, this isn’t the men’s world cup – it’s the women’s.

But the quality of football is still superb. In Germany it’s big news; the tournament is being held here, and Germany are the world champions.

Unfortunately all the England matches are too far away but we went to the Australia-Brazil match on Wednesday – see picture. It was a great game too and the 1-0 score could easily have been 3-2. We were cheering for Australia but unfortunately Brazil managed to edge ahead.

Good luck to England next week. They’ll need it against Japan, who have played well and won both their games convincingly. A draw would guarantee us a place in the quarter finals against France or Germany. Now that could be quite a game.

Thursday was bad, but could have been worse

Like my Yes to AV balloon, the Lib Dems are in a sorry state. Thursday’s results were extremely poor for the party across the UK, but they could have been worse.

For a start, Dave Hodgson won his re-election as mayor of Bedford for the Lib Dems, and our vote in the Leicester South by-election held up reasonably well.

Nationally, although our 15% vote share was a disappointment, our opinion poll ratings have been a fair bit lower in the last six months.

Locally, although we lost Luddendenfoot ward to the Tories and Calder ward to Labour, we have the same number of Town Councillors as were elected four years ago (8 out of 18).

As various Lib Dems, notably Simon Hughes, have popped up in the media over the last couple of days bemoaning the lack of recognition for our policy successes within the coalition, I am reminded of a speech that Tavish Scott gave to conference a couple of years ago. He thoroughly berated the SNP for being a triumph of spin over substance – I can’t help thinking that our party’s communication skills have been so poor recently that some decent PR people wouldn’t go amiss. After all, look where the SNP have got.

The elections are coming – and here we have 5 votes

A busy day campaigning today, after two days away camping with the Scouts. We have 5 votes here on 5 May (5/5!) – one for Calderdale MBC, three for Hebden Royd TC, and of course the AV referendum.

I was out at 8am delivering the main election address for my local colleague Hywel Morgan, standing for the first time (I think) as a serious candidate after many years experience as a campaigner, most recently in Oldham and Burnley. He also writes regularly for Lib Dem Voice. I was delivering mostly Labour-leaning areas so had a few negative reactions but plenty of people happy to take the leaflets. One chap told me he would never vote for a pro-European party which was a bit of a blast from the past – most people have other reasons for not supporting us these days.

This afternoon I was helping James Baker and Rory Laing run a Yes to AV stall in the centre of Hebden Bridge. Town was full for the duck race so we fielded plenty of queries about the system, and heard from a few people who had already (postally) voted yes. But the novel idea that James had was to get people to have a go by voting for their favourite food using AV. We collected the votes in a mock ballot box and counted them afterwards in the pub. The results were quite interesting – head over to his blog for the breakdown. Political geeks that we are, I think we enjoyed doing the count almost as much as drinking the beer. Oh, and we completely debunked yet another of the No campaign’s myths – that AV is complicated. Several children took part very enthusiastically, and none of them had any difficulties at all in numbering their foods in order of preference.

Late afternoon I did a bit more leafleting in the area which I currently represent on Hebden Royd Town Council. I am stepping down at the election for various reasons (more in a future blog post when I am no longer a councillor) but want to get some colleagues elected to continue the good work that we’ve done in control of the council for the last few years.

Walking home afterwards I was cheered up by some handwritten stickers that someone had stuck on every parking machine that I could see, pointing out that you don’t have to pay on bank holidays, which I thought was rather sweet.

Northern Rail Recycling Revisited

I travelled on Northern Rail trains on several occasions this week, and spotted their latest recycling poster about newspapers, with the quote: “It’s rubbish when you leave it” – meaning you should take your newspaper home and recycle it, rather than leaving it on the train for someone else to read.

This reminded me about my previous post about their last poster on this theme, which I disagree with. They claim that leaving newspapers on trains is littering, while I claim that it saves paper because people pick up newspapers on the train to read rather than picking up another copy of the Metro from the pile at the station. If there were no newspapers on the train because everyone had taken them home (as Northern Rail want) then Metro would have to print a load more copies. That’s hardly very green.

When I contacted Northern Rail about this previously they defended the policy saying they wanted the trains kept clean, however they did let me know that they prefer to collect rubbish from trains and stations and segregate it “off site”, ie. separate it out afterwards. That sounds like a pretty messy job, but I’m glad they’re doing it. Apparently the 2009 figures reveal that 354 tonnes of general waste was removed from trains at the West Yorkshire depot of which 265 tonnes was recycled.

But what about stations? Last year they had one paper recycling point on the whole network, pictured. It’s at Manchester Victoria station which I visit regularly – but it’s on a platform inaccessible to the general public as it’s behind a ticket check point. My trains usually arrive at a different platform so I can’t use it.

So the verdict. On train recycling – good but invisible. Station recycling – could do better.

Alan Bennett was right on tuition fees

This week I received a letter telling me that “The Student Loans Company can advise you that the outstanding balance on your Income Contingent Loan(s) should now be repaid in full.”

Recently I have been paying over £100 a month back towards my student loan, and it’s great to have it finally paid off, but it’s taken me until the age of 30 to do so. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I earn above the national average salary, don’t have any dependents and, crucially, my loan was for living expenses only (1999-2002), not tuition fees.

So, my loan was approximately £10k.

Current students will have to pay back approximately £20k (£10k tuition fees plus £10k living expenses).

Under the system proposed by the coalition, graduates may have to pay back around £45k (£35k tuition fees plus £10k living expenses).

How long is this likely to take them? Well it all depends how much you earn and what happens to interest rates. But if it took me that long, it’s going to take the majority of graduates thirty plus years. This is at a time when many of them will be raising families, buying houses, etc.

I’m afraid I simply don’t accept that it’s fair to ask new graduates to pay back this huge amount of money while the rest of us, who were lucky enough to graduate under previous systems, get off scot free.

I appreciate that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have been trying to make the Browne Report proposals fairer than the Tories would have done. However, they have done a huge disservice to the Liberal Democrats by giving the impression that they support the raise in tuition fees, despite having the abstention opt-out secured in the coalition agreement. This has dealt a massive blow to our credibility. Our policy remains that decided many years ago at conference, and confirmed repeatedly, most recently in the 2010 manifesto. We are against tuition fees as a way of funding higher education and want to phase them out.

Alan Bennett’s comment, made after the Labour Government introduced higher tuition fees in 2003, was right then and remains so now.

“A proper education should be free at the point of entry and the point of exit.”
(Preface to The History Boys, 2004)

Tuition fees – I must be missing something

We are being told that we must increase tuition fees because otherwise there won’t be enough money for higher education.

But even if the increased fees are introduced next year, students starting then won’t graduate for three years. So the income from the increased tuition fees won’t start to appear until September 2014 – and that will only be a trickle. The real money will only start rolling in once those graduates have progressed to big-money jobs, probably well into the 2020s.

So how on earth are we going to be funding higher education for the next decade?

The manifesto should have had a disclaimer

With attacks in the media about Lib Dem U-turns and “going back on our promises”, it seems obvious that we should have had some kind of disclaimer in the manifesto, such as the following.

This manifesto contains policies that will be implemented if a majority Liberal Democrat government is elected following the 2010 general election. In the event of a coalition government in which the Liberal Democrats form a part, then compromises with the other coalition party(ies) will have to be reached, and it will not be possible to deliver every policy exactly as outlined in this document.

People just don’t seem to understand that a coalition government is all about compromise and that if the Tories and Lib Dems promised different things in the respective manifestos, then clearly one or both parties will have to go against what they promised prior to the election.

Autumn conference: Equality and diversity

This post is rather belated due to work, holidays, Lib Dem meetings, council meetings and my new toy – but I’ve finally found time to sit down and write about Autumn conference in Liverpool, and type up my brief intervention (1 minute speech).

It was great to be back in the city where I lived for four years, although a lot had changed. I got lost in the big new shopping centre in the city centre, and generally things are looking smarter, but I went for a drink in the Lisbon with a few friends and it was good to see that some places are still the same.

Anyway, back to conference. Apart from the airport-style security and presence of lots of big name journalists – I spotted Huw Edwards being photographed with a couple of kids – the conference was much the same as in the past. Liverpool was my fourth autumn conference, and the atmosphere was just the same as it had been in Brighton and Bournemouth. Stalls from all the Lib Dem groups, fringe meetings with big queues for the sandwiches (no one does queuing quite like Liberal Democrats), speeches and debates.

So, the debates. For those who aren’t aware, Lib Dem policy is made at conference. Not decided by the leadership, but democratically debated and voted on. That means that real members get to debate with the MPs, Lords and anyone who wants to have their say generally gets their chance.

This seemed to take the media slightly by surprise. “Splits” they cried, “Activists arguing amongst themselves”. Yes – that’s what we always do. It’s all about having an open discussion, and in the end taking a vote on it. Relatively few policies go through unamended, and sometimes they are thrown out altogether.

I attended three major debates this year. The education debate, held bizarrely when all the teachers were back at school, was a shot across the bows about academies. I voted for the compromise amendment, but the original motion was passed in the end, with an amendment about faith schools proposed by my local colleague Nader Fekri.

The other two debates were related: Equality (Equal Marriage in the United Kingdom) and diversity. The equality motion, which was passed overwhelmingly, calls for the extension of Civil Partnerships to straight couples and Marriage to gay couples – we thus become the first UK political party to call for full gay equality, which is great news.

The diversity motion was more complicated. It aimed to increase the proportion of black and minority ethnic Lib Dem parliamentarians and councillors, which is an important issue. However, it didn’t consider other minorities. An amendment from Jo Swinson et al added in women, but it still didn’t seem complete to me. My intervention (one minute speech) was as follows.

Conference, let’s not forget that black and minority ethnic is not the only under-represented group in the various parliaments.

I welcome amendment one which will help address the lamentably small number of women Lib Dem MPs, but what about LGBT candidates, disabled candidates and other groups.

I would suggest that if we’re going to have reserved places, they should not be for a specific minority, but could be for any under-represented group. Anyone could apply for one of these places, but they would have to be from a minority group, which I think would be fairer and avoid excluding potentially excellent candidates from the “wrong” minority.

Getting this right is so important, so let’s make sure we have a really diverse set of candidates, particularly for the Lords elections when (not if) the coalition government introduces an elected House of Lords under a proportional system.

It clocked in at 55 seconds so I didn’t have the embarrassment of having the mike turned off! The speech says it all really – I agreed with the sentiments of the motion, but it seemed poorly drafted and rather one sided. In the end, a complicated series of votes saw the compromise amendment going through which watered down the original motion. However, everyone is now aware that the issue needs urgently addressing, and I was pleased to read Tim Farron including it as one of his six commitments if he wins the party presidency. I suspect he will win, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with.

How many grapes in a bottle of drink?

This amused me this evening. I stopped at Donington Park services on the M1 on my way back to Yorkshire, and picked up a red grape and raspberry juice in M&S.

It was reasonably priced and 100% fruit. On the way out of the shop I spotted, amongst the usual blurb, the following which made me chuckle:

We have pressed 248 grapes and 6 raspberries per bottle.

That’s surprisingly accurate. Do they count them all individually? I doubt it – probably that’s an approximation, but it’s nice to be able to visualise exactly what went in. It tasted strongly of raspberry, despite there only being six in it.

I was also impressed that the bottle was 30% recycled plastic. Oh, and it tasted nice too. Recommended.

Desmond buys Channel Five – time to expand Tabloid Watch?

With the news this weekend that Richard Desmond has bought Channel Five, perhaps the time has come to expand Tabloid Watch to include TV as well as some of the iffier stories in UK newspapers.

For those who haven’t already discovered it, Tabloid Watch is a fantastic blog exposing stories in “tabloid” newspapers which are inaccurate or just plain made up. I put tabloid in quotes as many of the entries are about the Daily Mail or (Desmond’s) Daily Express, and even the Daily Telegraph, as well as more traditional red tops.

Recent stories exposed as incorrect include reports that the Red Arrows have been banned over health and safety fears (they haven’t), that the EU will ban selling eggs by the dozen (they won’t) and endless stories about Muslims and immigrants.

It’s also worth pointing out, as Private Eye does regularly, that despite the high and mighty opinions taken by the Daily Express, Richard Desmond owns a string of pornographic television stations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it might be seen as rather hypocritical.

And finally, on the subject of tabloids, if you haven’t already seen The Daily Mail Song by Dan and Dan, go and have a watch. It’s one of the best comedy songs I’ve heard in ages, and I’ve even taken the time to transcribe the lyrics, a copy of which now lives in my guitar case. “It’s absolutely true because I read it in the Daily Mail…”