Lib Dem Autumn Conference, Day 4 – secret courts and civil liberties

Day 4 was possibly the most interesting day yet.

Secret Courts
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
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.

Lib Dem Autumn Conference, Day 3

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.

Back later!

Fascinating fringe on restorative justice

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:

Lib Dem Conference: Day 1

A good start to Conference, after finally getting through the traffic from the South West. Some early controversy in the policy motion on Early Years, as an attempt was made to block the motion and send it back for review, due to being deemed muddled and inaccurate. The attempt failed quite heavily, and the motion passed.

The next motion on getting the best out of our schools also had a minor controversy when an attempt to remove a line mentioning the EBacc was also refused. The proposer argued that the Lib Dems as a party have never agreed on an EBacc, or to replace CGSEs. He said that he tried to submit a formal amendment but was refused. The motion passed overwhelmingly in the end.

The Conference Rally was a good success. The theme this year was Jobs, Education, Environment, Tax – and pointed out Lib Dem policies working to improve these areas in Government. Jo Swinson shone in particular, giving a powerful speech on campaigning and getting our message out. And Nick Clegg handled the fun around his apology video with proficient self-deprecation.

No fringe events for me last night as it was dinner with my previous party, Thornbury & Yate, and their excellent Pensions Minister Steve Webb.

This morning a motion has overwhelmingly passed reasserting our opposition as a party to a third runway at Heathrow. Norman Baker, our Transport Minister, rounded on David Cameron for moving on Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers, both 3rd runway opponents, from the Department for Transport.

Am now off to listen to ourParty President, Tim Farron MP, give his speech to the hall.

More later.

UK Tennis success does not stop with Andy Murray

So, Andy Murray finally wins a Tennis Major, a wonderful achievement. After years of British struggle, however, it is far from our only recent success. The last two years have seen:

Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Winner (Jonathan Marray)
Wimbledon Boys’ Singles Runner-up (Liam Broady)
Wimbledon Boys’ Doubles Winner (George Morgan)
Wimbledon Boys’ Doubles Runner-up (Oliver Golding)
US Open Boys’ Singles winner (Oliver Golding)

Wimbledon Men’s Singles Runner-up (Andy Murray)
Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Winner (Jonathan Marray)
US Open Men’s Singles Winner (Andy Murray)
US Open Boys’ Doubles winner (Kyle Edmund)
US Open Boys’ Singles Runner-up (Liam Broady)
Australian Open Boys’ Doubles Winners (Liam Broady & Joshua Ward-Hibbert)
Olympic Games Men’s Singles Gold Medalist (Andy Murray)
Olympics Games Mixed Doubles Silver Medalists (Andy Murray & Laura Robson)

Plus 2008 Wimbledon Girls’ Singles winner Laura Robson and 2009 US Open Girls’ Singles Winner Heather Watson are now firmly placed in the Women’s Tour.

Things ain’t looking too bad…

Torquay United 0-0 Plymouth Argyle

A  short report today, not too much to write! It was a Devon derby which Torquay will feel they should have won. Overall they controlled the match, although Michael Poke was forced into a few decent saves from long range shots, but nothing challenging for a keeper of his quality. A few little points…

Nathan Craig
Craig played very well today. His passing is excellent, and he shielded the defence well in Damon Lathrope’s absence. It’s great to se him coming through and becoming a real first team choice this season.

Danny Stevens and tactics
Danny Stevens was back today after injury. I thought he played well, but his return does highlight a problem Torquay had last season when Stevens was in the team. Stevens, who’s tight footed, prefers to play on the left and come in onto his right foot. However this means that the opposite winger has to do the same. Last season, this was often Ian Morris, and I feel it was detrimental to his game. It also means that crosses do nto come into the box as quickly, which is not the most effective way to use Rene Howe.

In the last few games, with Thompson on the right and Bodin left, you could see the difference in the fluidity of attacks. I don’t think it’s Stevens’ fault, but it does affect the overall balance of the team. Actually in the long run, I still think his best position is in behind Howe as the top of the three midfielders, where O’Kane largely played last year.

Still, overall a good performance, and still unbeaten in the league.


Arts vs Sport – the conflict of worth

Watching the Olympics over the past two weeks has reminded me of an argument I had a few years ago at university, whilst I was studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Management.

The argument (it was me versus everyone else, including the tutor) was about the value of the arts and sport in detailing the human condition, and its worth to society overall. The general feeling in the room was that sport could never give you an understanding of humanity and the inner workings of the mind in the same as a stage production could. Therefore sport was inferior and ultimately a less satisfying intellectual experience. I was aghast.

As someone who has been obsessed with sport my whole life, but who has also spent a large portion of my career in the arts (indeed, Mr Cameron, in Indian dance), I stood up firmly against this. I think the joy, pain, obsession, camaraderie, tears, despair, support, cheating and sportsmanship displayed at London 2012 has given me as much of an understanding of human behaviour and capacity as the arts ever can. But not any more.

It has always been baffling, as a fan of both the arts and sport, as to why many seem to see the two as incompatible. The disciplines and level of commitment required by both, especially the physical demands in areas such as dance, are incredibly similar. The fruits of taking part in both can be life changing. Both deserve as much credit and respect as the other.