I was in Canary Wharf today for a conference. I really like Canary Wharf. I love the steel and glass, the open space, the water. But as I went for a wander during the lunch break today it got me thinking that, as impressive as the architecture is, this most modern of areas of this most wonderful of cities does not have the public buildings where future history will be created.
Like other structures going up across London, such as The Shard and The Gherkin, its buildings are offices and retail developments, the wider public’s interaction with them limited to viewing platforms from which to see existing historic buildings and the urban sprawl below. It’s a struggle to see what historic events will happen at these spaces which will mean future generations will see them as central to the city’s folklore alongside places such as the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral or the Tower of London. They may be architectural marvels but they are functional, not foundation stones of our future history.
Where are the landmarks of the future?
So I wasn’t going to write about this, but in light of some of the things which have been said today around politics and the invasion into the privacy of politicians’ families, I thought I would bring it up and highlight that it permeates all levels of politics, right to the grass roots.
A few weeks ago, I got my first piece of hate mail, which I can only assume was as a cause of me being publicly very supportive of equal marriage. It was anonymous (typed on a typewriter – how archaic!) and put through my mother’s door addressed directly to her accusing me of being in a relationship with a well known local gay politician. It read:
“Congratulations to Glyn and [politician] on their ‘relationship’.”
So, firstly, to correct a couple of fun inaccuracies…
1) Er, I’m not gay
I can only assume the letter is worded as it is because the author thinks I must be gay if I support equal marriage. Er, no. I don’t support equal marriage out of self interest, I support it because it’s right. Although actually there is some self interest here, because marriage as it currently stands is devalued for me as my gay friends are prohibited from entering into an institution to which I am able. I do not wish to join a group to which my friends, peers and betters do not have the same access.
(Incidentally, I’m single because of sheer incompetence (lack of confidence?) with women. If I were gay, I’d be equally incompetent with men)
2) The insinuation that I might be gay doesn’t offend me
Because, seriously, what’s there to be offended about?
OK, onto the serious part, which is that the letter was placed through my mother’s door and addressed directly to her. OK, it was soft, but my mum did not appreciate getting it, and nor should she have to. My mum has nothing to do with my politics or my choosing to do this as a career. I am not an elected politician or to date have even stood for elected office. What is disgusting is that the letter was purposely aimed at a member of family, rather than being addressed to me directly. That is sad, and pathetic. I have no objection with directly debating why I support equal marriage with anyone.
So, if you do oppose my views, I don’t mind. But please do tell me directly to my face, or online at least. I’m easily contactable.
But, of course, be prepared to lose the argument.
Yesterday Richard Morris pointed out on Twitter that only two Conservative MPs have a Premier League football team in their constituency. I had a few minutes spare so I thought I’d check out Rugby Union’s Aviva Premiership. Not quite the same result there:
Total scores are (out of 12 clubs): Conservatives 8, Lib Dems 2, Labour 2.
Here’s the detailed list below:
Bath: Lib Dem (Bath – Don Foster)
Exeter Chiefs: Conservative (East Devon – Hugo Swire)
Gloucester: Conservative (Gloucester – Richard Graham)
Harlequins: Lib Dem (Twickenham – Vince Cable)
Leicester Tigers: Labour (Leicester South – Jon Ashworth)
London irish: Conservative (Reading West – Alok Sharma)
London Wasps: Conservative (Wycombe – Steven Baker)
London Welsh: Conservative: (Richmond Park – Zac Goldsmith)
Northampton Saints: Conservative: (Northampton South – Brian Binley)
Sale Sharks: Labour (Wythenshawe and Sale East – Paul Goggins)
Saracens: Conservative (Watford – Richard Harrington)
Worcester Warriors: Conservative (Worcester – Robin Walker)
It should be noted that this is the location of their ground, and may not represent their fanbase. For instance, Exeter Chiefs’ ground is just in the Tory East Devon constituency, but its fanbase would be Exeter, which would be Labour.
So, the final day of Autumn Conference this year. The final day is largely taken up by the party awards and the leader’s speech. In a funny twist I found myself sitting in the front row on the stage behind Nick Clegg for his speech (I’m writing this on the train home, so have yet to find myself on the TV)!
I thought Nick did well. It was clearly a speech aimed at the viewing public rather than those sitting in the auditorium, but then Conference speeches always are. Really, it’s the classic case of “it’s the economy, stupid!”. It will of course be the key issue of the next General Election. But it was of good to see him point to green policies as an essential part of Lib Dem involvement in Government, and key to creating growth .
You do get a very different perspective of the speech from being behind and very close. When Clegg finished and went for the usual handshake with key Ministers, the mass of photographers was incredible, both in numbers and sheer aggression; almost trampling each other to get in the right place for the shot.
Earlier in the day, the Lib Dems passed three motions. The first, ‘Addressing Underprovision in Mental Health’, built on excellent work by now former Care Services Minister Paul Burstow, and was passed unanimously by the hall.
The second, an emergency motion (where members get to choose two from a list of four topical motions to be debated), saw members overwhelmingly vote in favour of calling on the Government to scrap Conservative plans to unnecessarily loosen planning laws.
This motion was brought by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) and is a good example of how members or groups within the party can bring their own motions to challenge a leadership decision (or in this case Coalition partner’s) if they feel it incorrect. This also happened on Tuesday with the Secret Courts motion.
Thirdly, the members approved a new housing policy, drawn up by the policy working group over the last year, which called for, amongst other things, a house building programme to build 300,000 houses a year, give local authorities more powers to target rogue landlords, and promote longer tenancies to give renters more security.
Three very worthwhile motions, and three areas where Liberal ideals on localism and equality of opportunity can take a lead, although it was rightly pointed out that good work on mental health provision started under the last Government.
Back to work
So back to office work now, helping local constituents with personal problems. It’s satisfying and worthwhile work, but also good to approach it with the renewed wave of optimism and motivation which Conference always brings.
Day 4 was possibly the most interesting day yet.
I’m sure, if you’re reading this, that you’ll have also read that the Lib Dem members battled the leadership by supporting a motion calling for proposals for secret courts in the Justice & Security Bill to be dropped. I fully agreed with this motion and voted with it on the hall, and against the amendment put by Parliamentarians.
But the portrayal of the debate as members versus MPs is not wholly accurate. In fact, supporting the motion were Lord Paul Strasburger, who voted against the Bill in the House of Lords, and Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, both spoke in favour of the motion, reaffirming the liberal value of fair justice and wider civil liberties which for many is a key reason for their membership of the party. Sarah Ludford, in particular, called this an issue we should die in the ditch for.
Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, who have been spearheading the campaign against secret courts, had apparently asked the Conference organisers if she could address the Conference before the vote, which was refused. This has been reported as ‘Lib Dems block Chakrabarti’, in a way which suggests leadership suppressing opposition. This isn’t the case.
I am a proud member of Liberty and a big fan of Chakrabarti, as are many people within the party. But she is not a Liberal Democrat party member, and our policy is created, debated and voted on by members of the party. She had not been denied a right to address members at all – I had seen her four hours before in a well-attended fringe event, her second of the Conference. All members have had a chance to listen to her. Liberty were also handing out leaflets throughout the Conference highlighting their viewpoint and advising delegates how to vote in the debate.
Shami was absolutely within her right to ask, but I think it was correct that she was able to speak in the motion.
I will write another time about civil liberties issues and their effect on future coalitions. Right now, I am about to go into a motion and vote on a new Liberal Democrat housing policy (PDF). The motion itself is on page 55 of the Agenda, with an amendment in the daily update here.
Excellent day 3 at Lib Dem Conference. The day started with the Lib Dems adopting a policy pushing for greater funding into scientific research, unanimously backed by the entire conference (actually, in fairness, I think one person voted against). After that, another policy motion passed promoting mutuals and employee ownership . A very liberal sart to the morning – reaffirming our beliefs in evidence-based policy and greater employee participation in the running, and success of, their companies.
Fringe-wise, I went to two interesting fringes. The first was with Paddy Ashdown, discussing the relationship between the party and the voters, digging a bit deeper into opinion polls and people’s attitudes. The second, on a similar theme, focused on the US elections, led by Robert Worcester, the founder of MORI. The insight he provided into American polling data and the differences of depth between people’s opinions, attitudes and values as fascinating.
Afterwards, South West region drinks, getting to listen to some of our local Ministers – Pensions Minister Steve Webb and David Heath, our first Agriculture Minister since 1915, as well as Party President and former leader PAddy Ashdown.
Then an hour and a half long conversation with a stranger on regional action days which I won’t go into here.
Today (Tuesday) kicking off for me with a policy motion on the rehabilitation revolution, looking at restorative justice, and some other things I haven’t quite timetabled in yet.
I went to a fascinating fringe event yesterday on restorative justice, and ensuring victims are put at the centre of justice. It was sponsored by the Prison Reform Trust and the Victim Support Trust. There were some statistics about offenders that are terrifying, and highlight some real areas where the justice system, and our health system fail not only victims but also future offenders before they commit a crime.
Javed Khan from the Victim Support Trust said that 67% of offenders arriving at Feltham Young Offenders Institute have an undiagnosed mental health issue. This is a devastating figure and clearly shows that earlier intervention by the state into supporting young people and diagnosing those who have a medical condition could reduce offending and stop young people getting into an early onset spiral of decline.
We also heard from Cllr Margarey Hoxley, from Pendle, about her experience of taking part in restorative justice by meeting her burglar, after the tragic death of her daughter in a car accident. A burglary laptop theft may have seemed minor, but with the laptop went precious photos and memories of her daughter. The process and experience seemed extremely helpful both to her, in understanding the motives and mindset of the burglar – ultimately drug addiction played a crucial part – and in helping the offender to realise the side effects of his crime. He has now not reoffended in the 14 months since leaving prison.
An awful lot needs to be done in this area. Support for this kind of process is patchy at best in the UK, although it receives overwhelming public support – 88% of people agree with restorative justice, says a Prison Reform Trust poll.
The Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) being elected on November 15th can play a crucial role in ensuring sufficient resources are put into this area, which has real benefits both for victims in dealing with their crime and offenders in preventing them from reoffending. Let’s make sure we get Liberal Democrat PCCs in November, to push forward what is essentially a Liberal idea.
Please have a look at their work: