Thursday, 6 December 2007

Nick Robinson - Missing the point yet again!

"Cash for what?" says the BBC's Nick Robinson.

It's simple: "cash for status quo Thatcherism", that's what!

How can someone ask that question over a £600k donation? Yes, as one comment points out, it's the "you owe me" for some point in the future, but really it's more about someone maintaining the party spending race that is becoming like the US primaries.

Whatever party large donations are given to, it's:
  • cash for low tax for the wealthy
  • cash for giving the wealthy and large companies more control over planning and economic policy than local people
  • cash for keeping the poor enslaved by the rich
It's no surprise that the Liberal Democrat's are now the most socially progressive party, prepared to reign in the rich.

Why? Not only because the members of the party form the policy instead of some elite cabinet, but also, it has to be said, because they'd lose out far less than Labour and the Tories, who'd lose their huge donations from Lord "how did I get a peerage" Sainsbury and Lord "I'm not a tax exile, really!" Ashcroft.

It's time we ended this farce of a a supposed democracy and took back our control from these wealthy donors!

At the moment, it's only the Liberal Democrats that can be trusted on real reform:
  • reform of party funding to place limits on individual donations
  • reform of our voting system to make sure that every vote counts, not just the swing voters in marginal seats
  • reform of local government, putting funding and control back with the people instead of where it currently is: Whitehall.
  • abolition of the Dti (or whatever Prime Minister Bean renamed it to)

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

BBC comment on policy copying but fail to notice LibDem policies!

Perhaps Liberal Democrats are getting used to the BBC ignoring 23% of those who voted in 2005 and defaulting to two-party coverage in their analysis.

In yet another example, Nick Robinson comments in his piece, Battle of Ideas, how the Chancellor has copied Tory policies, without a mention of the Lib Dems.

How very strange, considering that it was the Lib Dems who, over a year ago, adopted a policy to replace Air Passenger Duty with one based on the aircraft emissions, hence ensuring that empty and low occupancy planes pay for their emissions.

How can someone call them self the Political Editor, when he appears to not know the policies of all three main parties. Perhaps he also failed to notice that the Lib Dems gained more than 16 seats at the last election, having won an equal number of seats for the Tories - taking votes off Labour where the Tories failed to increase their vote.


You seem to have missed a rather notable fact, perhaps in the now common goal of getting stuff out quick rather than getting thorough journalism out.

It is not just the Tories, whose policies have been plagiarised. It has been Liberal Democrat policy for over a year to "tax pollution, not people". Replacing the Air Passenger Duty with a tax on the plane has now been copied, first by the Tories, and now by their successors.

I do find it quite strange that as political editor, you didn't comment on just how "old hat" the APD change is... such that Easyjet have been running adverts calling for the change.

Perhaps you might at some point find time to look at how a policy like this comes to be copied. I'd say that it's because it was from a party that still involves it's grass roots in policy making, and has the sense to debate these things at conference...

Sunday, 5 August 2007

In Search of Freedom

In recent years, the word "freedom" has been used... liberally. We could even say that to talk about freedom or liberty has now become as frequent and meaningless as making passing comments about the weather at a bus stop. In fact, saying as much, would be to unfairly demean those conversations about the weather that have become so much more relevant than we've been used to.

In his speech to congress on 20th Sept 2001, George W Bush used the word freedom in the following phrases: "Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom."; "On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country."; "a world where freedom itself is under attack"; "They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."; "what is at stake is not just America's freedom"; "This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom"; "Freedom and fear are at war"; "The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us."; "I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people."; " Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." (1)

Stop and read those again. Read them aloud. Read them confidently. Take a few breaths between each, and notice what effect saying those aloud has on you. Notice the effect on you to hear those words spoken aloud, and spoken resolutely.

Personally, it sends shivers down my spine!

To complete the picture, here is what Mr Bush has to say about liberty: "As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror. This will be an age of liberty here and across the world.".

Now consider late July 2007. "The Freedom Fighters", of, "The Free World", are entrenched in Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to deliver our cherished freedoms by force, and are fighting against nothing other than a form of home-grown "freedom fighter", who in turn is attempting, in their view, to defend their own way of life.

Furthermore, back here in the
free society of the UK, we have just had an attempt to impose restrictions of movement on 5 million people. In a ridiculous move to circumvent those very freedoms that we claim to have: in Bush's words "our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other", BAA, the owners of most of the UK's airport capacity, were attempting to disrupt the "Camp for Climate Action" sustainability event and protests near Heathrow.

Perhaps though it is understandable that words like freedom, liberty and democracy (that other thing that we're attempting to "give" to the world)
have become tainted, and almost meaningless.

Looking back at the phrases from that speech, which some regard as a 'great' speech of history, I'd suggest that the source of our difficulties with freedom lie in history itself.

In the past, our societies have evolved and expanded with plentiful space and resources. The actions that we have taken, and the resources that we have used, have had no consequence on the lives of others. Those trees felled to build that log cabin; that oil burned to run our cars; and even that pollution that ran off our fields into the river, just didn't seem to matter.

This is what we have become used to, and we called it "freedom". We celebrated it, built monuments to it, and educated our society to aspire to unlimited lives, where whatever we can dream we can have.

Unfortunately, we built freedom on a myth: that our actions are small and inconsequential.

It's not surprising that we did, when we consider the vast expanse of just one continent that became the "new frontier" with the settlement of Jamestown as recently as 1607. Consider that only 200 years ago, the population of that continent had fewer people than live in greater London today, around 7 million. What an amazing adventure that must have been. Back in 1800, the whole world population still numbered under 1 billion. In the next 100 years it grew by 70% to under 1.7 billion, and then in the following 100 years, rocketed to 6 billion, standing a mere 7 years later (as of July 2007) at 6.6 billion.

The people of our vast global population are now falling over each other and fighting over many declining resources that once seemed so huge that we couldn't dent them. Forests, arable land, mineral resources, the fish stocks of the seas: they once seemed so huge.

And, to that list of scarce resources, we can add "freedom". Freedom has also turned out be be limited, and it is now also being fought over. What was once celebrated and theoretically available to all has become something that is declared; owned, defended and attacked.

And.. as with any limited resource, "freedom" now has a price in a global market. Those who can afford it can have it, but those who cannot, they have to fight and to take it by force. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is our ideological battle. It is not the fight of one way of life over another, but instead the fight for the space for both.

In this vein, perhaps the future for freedom, is the same as that of our other scarce resources. We must learn to share it, and to share it equally. Do we want to continue in a world where our supposed democracy is nothing of the sort, but instead something where legal fees and political donations are a greater sway of power than individuals? Do we want to continue to fight for room for unsustainable and unrestrained freedoms that give no consideration to what is left for others? I, for one, do not.

So what of the search for freedom. We found it. It was great, and let's hope that we learned from it. Freedom was that impulsive and individualistic teenager. It's now time for freedom to grow up, to fall in love with responsibility, and form a bond called liberty.

Our search now must be for the balance of freedoms and responsibilities that has us live in harmony with each other, and in harmony with the planet that sustains us. Rest in peace freedom. Hello liberty.

Only when we have mastered liberty, will we once again, like those American pioneers, be able to stand and look out over the world and say "This... this is freedom".

Neale Upstone
5th August, 2007

(1) Source:

Friday, 23 March 2007

Michael O'Leary (Ryanair), EU/US Open Skies, and Climate Change

While it might not be an overstatement to say that Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, is an egotistical sociopath, it does not necessarily mean that we should instantly dismiss his self-centred rantings without first considering whether he may be, if not part human, at least part liberal.

His comments on this evenings "Any questions" on BBC Radio 4, were along the lines of "the open skies agreement and the recent EU commitment to a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 do not conflict with each other because the EU policy is [rant, rant, rant]".

For all we know, he might be in the same camp as Jeremy Clarkson when it comes to climate change: perhaps he is someone who is intelligent enough to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that we should take urgent action, but has unfortunately not moved beyond some moment in his childhood where he discovered that he can be 'popular', or at least 'known', by being controversial. While that voice on his shoulder is saying "Look at how successful you are. You're someone. Don't listen to them", the shame is that, not only has he not matured into a reasoned adult, capable of accomplishing something worthwhile in life, but that he has the exposure and even, charisma, to be influencing millions, and in a potentially fatal direction.

Comparisions to Clarkson aside, let's look a little more at the topic.

O'Leary has, admittedly been a complete idiot, when it comes to climate change denial propaganda, but, he does also run one of the most efficient airlines in the world. While he may have chosen to answer the question in his ususal child-like vein, there is some merit, or at least sense, buried in his argument.

He says that their is no conflict. I think we could agree. The Open Skies agreement has opened the door for efficient operators, such as Ryanair to fly directly from any EU airport to any US airport. O'Leary says that this will reduce costs. That's good news! Any reduced costs will be pretty much entirely due to reduced fuel usage per passenger. If passenger numbers stayed the same, this would result in a drop in emissions from aircraft.

His other argument seems to be that there should be minimal political interference. This, too is possible, and also likely to provide the most efficient solutions.

If the EU has a target of a 20% cut by 2020, and chooses to implement a comprehensive and, most importantly, fair emissions trading scheme to achieve it, then this too will be good for business innovators like O'Leary.

What is unfair is to demonise the airline industry, when their emissions are 2.5% of the total. Why is 2.5% either the right amount, or too much. It isn't. The airline industry should be on a level playing field with surface transport, electricity generation and all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

If we fail to create this level playing field, we fail ourselves. We will have taken away the choice to be able to fly sometimes, by in effect, subsidising other industries and penalising the airlines.

The silly issue at the moment is the opposite. The airlines are actually highly subsidised compared to pretty much all other sources of greenhouse gases. It pays no VAT, nor fuel duty, nor is included in any emissions trading. This does have to change.

Worse still, the only fees levied upon the airlines are distorted and unfair. The Air Passenger Duty, is charged per passenger, irrespective of the number of passengers aboard. It has nothing to do with the emissions.

Michael O'Leary would be the first to welcome a change to a charge based on the emissions for the flight, as it'd give his inefficient competition rather a headache. It was certainly NOT a green tax when Gordon Brown put up the price per passenger. It was just an attack on air travel.

So. Is Michael O'Leary a wise or stupic; a saint or a sinner? Not really, he's a businessman. He just plays by the rules of business, and does it well.

The job for the rest of us is to make sure that those rules don't just work for one individual, or one industry, but, that they work for the world - a world that works for everyone.

In the case of environmental challenges, that means a world where our total greenhouse gas emissions, and our consumption of the planet's natural anti-dote to those gases (mainly trees) are restricted to a level that keeps us, and our beautiful planet safe.

Mr O'Leary may not care about aesthetics and future generations, but in this case, what's good for his business, can be good for what matters.

While he does believe in efficiency and market mechanisms, he seems to have no grasp of the other side of the liberal balance: responsibility.

Perhaps we may be able to say that he is, in part, a liberal. The shame is that I'm less inclined to call him human.

Drugs - Authoritarian rules are past their sell by date, and the British public know it

In the BBC news today is an article saying that "scientists want new drug rankings".

And as with any controversial topic, there is a "Have your say" on the topic.

Looking at people's comments, I'd say it is rather encouraging, as far as the British public recognising the failings of the existing authoritarian approach, and an approach that would be fair.

The most recommended comments can be found here

The top ranked one says:
"The results should be used to warn of dangers rather than to re-jig the criminal classification system.
All drugs should be legalised irrespective of the harm they cause.
I am not my brother's keeper. The only victim of taking drugs is the user. No (third party) victim no crime!
Prohibition fuels criminal gangs, inflates the price of drugs,leads to contamination of the product to increase profit and leads addicts to commit crime to feed the habit.
Am I alone in having this view?
, Cardiff"

and, in fifth place, a modern take on John Stuart Mill:
"Very harmful.
But people are entitled to live their lives they way they want, provided they do not interfere with others.
Neil Small, East Kilbride, United Kingdom"

Whether it's fuel protests, crime or drug abuse... one thing is clear: authoritarian approaches are past their sell by date, and the British public knows it!

Now. That's a liberal approach, and it seems that people want it, but, how can we know.

We can't. At least, we can't yet. We have liberal ideas, but, we also need democracy that works to allow people to explore those ideas.

If only all aspects of this weren't run from Westminster. In a democracy, surely a region of the country should be able to vote to try a different approach. The Liberal Democrats have been able to do this to a limited degree, as demonstrated in our success on cutting crime in places like Newcastle and Liverpool.

This country needs more localised democratic control. Until a region the size of a police force or health authority has the ability to choose policies that affect crime and health, then we cannot call ourselves a democracy.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Another (Red) Brick In The Wall - we need a Yellow Brick Road

I'm sure that most of us in our thirties or beyond will remember Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall". I was listening to it a few moments ago, and remembered the picture of the wall being built from the video.

I believe that the last ten years have been ten years of building that wall - a wall of oppression; a wall that, brick by brick, removes our freedom. The picture I see is the 3000 new criminal offenses that Blair and Brown's presidential-style government have imposed on us, the people. Not only this, but they have even started flouting their own rules - rules about party fund raising, and Mr Brown's magic ratio's for the economy.

Rather than those 3000 or so bricks, we need, not a wall, but a road. Yes.. it's another song. Let's follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Rather than Tony's red bricks forming a wall, we need a path to follow, one that sticks to values that are enduring and enable us to have a world that works, rather than a world that gets worse.

Our Yellow Brick Road is a road that protects freedom; holds people to account for when they infringe of the freedom of others; gives choice and control back to local communities; removes red tape and most importantly, requires accountability and transparency in the people we allow to represent us in our government.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Ok. But we do have rights and freedoms. Isn't that liberty? Isn't that liberal?

Not so fast... I'll come back and write this one... promise!

Liberty and democracy? Don't we already have them?

A mere mortal could be forgiven for thinking that those in the western world generally live in liberal and democratic societies. For those of us in the UK, we elect at least one person every year to our local council. On top of that, we elect our members of the UK parliament typically every 4 or 5 years and members of the European Parliament every 5 years. And if that's not enough, some get a 'democracy bonus' of elections to either the Scottish Parliament, or Welsh Assembly.

With all these elections, you might think that we're swamped in democracy, living content in the knowledge that if we're not happy how our taxes are being spent, we can go and campaign against those responsible, and vote for someone else at the next election.

Sorry. Think again!

For all those opportunities to vote, we're actually a bit stuffed when it comes to democratic accountability in the UK. When we do vote, most of us get ignored. If we didn't vote for the winner, we're ignored. No one gives us the opportunity to say "Hey, if my preferred candidate doesn't get many votes, give my votes to the not so bad one.. not the complete moron".

But... hey. That's alright. At least some people did vote for them, which is rather better than the rest of our system, where the people making the decisions weren't elected at all.

Hail the rise of the QUANGO!