Monday, January 29, 2007

Dealing with the BNP

The February 2007 issue of SEARCHLIGHT magazine- the consistently impressive and helpful journal which highlights and campaigns against manifestations of fascism and racism across the world, carries an interesting item in its editorial column.

Headed "a dangerous precedent", it criticises 2 unnamed Liberal Democrat councillors in Burnley for voting for a BNP councillor (Sharon Wilkinson)rather than a Labour councillor to sit on the Padiham Life committee. Apparently they defended their decision by claiming she was a good councillor and the best person for the job. Searchlight rightly see this as a "dangerous and worrying development" and go on to warn (correctly in my view) that "the BNP craves respectability and it has been handed to the fascists on a plate".

I do not know the full details of this case but it does raise a challenging question about how we as Liberal Democrats deal with BNP councillors who may have been democratically elected but hold dangerous views. I would be interested to know what others think about this.

Top Gear insult to Crash Victims

Like many people, including road safety charity Break, I was shocked and appalled by the BBC’s airing of comments made by Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson on last night’s (Sunday) episode of Top Gear. Following the clips of Richard Hammond crashing a vehicle at high speed, Clarkson said, ‘speed kills’ pointing to Hammond (who survived the crash).

Clarkson’s comment was not only highly irresponsible but downright offensive to anyone who has been bereaved or injured at the hands of a speeding driver. Exceeding the speed limit or going too fast for the conditions is a well proven contributory factor in almost a third (29%) of fatal crashes in Great Britain (Road Casualties Great Britain, 2005, Contributory Factors to Road).

Richard Hammond’s crash was carried out under test conditions at an airfield. Richard Hammond was driving a purpose-built off-road vehicle with specially-designed safety features and Richard himself was wearing protective clothing and a crash helmet.He was extremely fortunate to have made a full recovery – many people injured in crashes are not so lucky.

I work with many bereaved or injured in crashes and see a shockingly disproportionate number of young male drivers dying on our roads. It is highly irresponsible for the BBC to allow Top Gear, with its target audience of young males, to openly make light the deadly act of speeding.

Brake will be compiling evidence of irresponsible dialogue and footage from Top Gear to present to the newly-formed BBC Trust which represents the interest of the licence fee-paying public. I fully support them in this.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day-a day to look backwards with regret and forwards with hope. This year's theme is the dignity of difference and how that slogan can become a reality across the world.
I have been proud to have been involved in Holocaust Memorial Day for several years now and tonight am leading an event in Stibbard (6.30pm at the Methodist Church), a small rural community in Norfolk. We have been encouraged by the local interest and hope that community and political leaders will be supportive too.
So why is Holocaust Memorial Day important? What are the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s objectives?
•To commemorate and remember the victims of the Holocaust;
the persecution and mass murder of six million Jews.
• To commemorate and remember the victims of persecution and
murder that resulted from the targeting of other groups of
people by Nazi race policies. These include the Roma and Sinti,
black people, mentally and physically disabled people, lesbian
and gay people and many of the Slavic peoples;
• To promote harmony between communities, including racial and
religious harmony;
• To promote universal human rights;
• To promote equality and diversity and the elimination of
discrimination by raising awareness of the causes and effects of
racism and prejudice in society. This includes awareness of the
impact of the Holocaust and other acts of systematic
discrimination that leads to genocide.
Please support it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New leader for Lib Dem European Parliamentary Party

The British Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have elected East of England MEP Andrew Duff as their new Leader. He takes over from Diana Wallis who has been elected as a Vice-President of the European Parliament.
Speaking after his election, Andrew said: "I am grateful to my Liberal Democrat colleagues for electing me to lead the delegation into the second half of this Parliament. The individual talents of Lib Dem MEPs are well known. They are a fantastic team to work with, and we will continue to achieve much across a wide front within the ALDE Group and the Parliament at large.
"My main goal is to get as many Lib Dem MEPs as possible elected in June 2009. The Liberal Democrats are uniquely well placed to put the European dimension back into British politics. Labour has lost its way on Europe, and the Tories are making an historic mistake by turning their backs on Europe.
"Under Ming Campbell, the Liberal Democrats make the connection between Britain's membership of the EU and its ability to tackle reform at home. Europe provides the context for many of Lib Dem policies such as green taxes, civil liberties, constitutional reform, and new foreign policy orientations."
Andrew Duff has been Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the East of England since 1999. He is the author or editor of many books on European integration, most recently The Struggle for Europe's Constitution, published in 2005. Andrew was a City Councillor in Cambridge from 1982-90.

Together we can cut crime

On the doorsteps, across the breakfast tables and at the local pub crime in general, and antisocial behaviour, in particular remains one of the biggest issues in Britain today.
As a member of the crime policy working group, I know that much thought, consultation and contemplation have gone into this process and the resulting policy paper is soundly liberal and democratic.

We propose real action at a national level and acting to cut crime where we are in power locally.
Violent crime is rising, anti-social behaviour is still a serious problem, and our prisons are overflowing. Labour have talked tough but have failed to deliver despite 10 years in power.
The Tories are in disarray on crime. One day it's hug a hoodie; the next it's slap a hoodie. Who knows what the Tories stand for now? What we do know is that the last Tory government cut police numbers and let violent crime double.

Enough is enough. Tough talk doesn't tackle crime - we've learnt that from the last twenty years of Labour and Conservative failure. This campaign is about taking effective action to make our country safer.

We need more police, freed from the burden of bureaucracy, to take back our town centres, especially after dark. Instead of spending billions of pounds on compulsory ID cards for innocent, law-abiding citizens, that money should be spent on targeting criminals and tackling crime.
We need a prison system that works. Prisoners should work to pay compensation to their victims, and to cut reoffending. A life sentence should mean life.
We are serious about cutting crime. Together we can do it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

After Celebrity Big Brother?

As the dust begins to settle on last week's shameful events in the celebrity big brother house, and Jade begins to pay the price for her appalling bullying and racist treatment of Shilpa, what lessons cane be learnt:
  1. That we are all accountable for our words and actions.
  2. That bigotry is alive and well and needs to be challenged however and wherever it manifests itself whether it be in the spheres of entertainment, politics, sport, religion or family and community relationships. It is something that should be taught about in schools and families.
  3. However false, clumsy or coerced, there was an attempt at reconciliation. Part of the problem is that Jade herself is so ignorant that she did not even realise how racist she was being.
  4. The dignity of Shilpa coping with dreadful treatment in an environment way beyond her comfort zone.
  5. Finally though, what about the other housemates? Why did they not step in and say something? All that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good people to do nothing.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Australian open

Tennis was an early love in my life so, I am counting down the hours to the start of the Australian Open in Melbourne, the first grand slam event of the tennis season.

Can anyone beat Federer?
Will Murray live up to (or outperform) his seeding? How many times will the UK media refer to him "British" when he wins but "Scottish" when he loses? How will his brother Jamie do in the doubles (as UK number 1 player)?
Will Mauresmo defend her title successfully?
Can Clijsters win in her last season?
How many players will withdraw before or retire during matches this year blaming the heat or poor preparation?
Have the Australians found the potential home champion they are desperate for ("c'mon Lleyton!") ?

So many questions....Bring it on!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Norfolk's greatest icon

The EDP is creating a virtual reality museum of Norfolk and, amongst other things, are hunting for the county's greatest icons.

My vote would be Thomas Paine (1737-1809) whose influence on my own political thinking has been profound-his principled internationalism and radical defiance of reactionary institutions coupled with confidence not fear of economic growth; defence of popular rights and democratic responsibility have been influential the world over. "Rights of Man" published in 1791 is still inspirational today.

My second choice would be Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)-the prison reforming quaker who became known as the "Angel of mercy" for her compassion and campaigning.


Who would you choose?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Not in my name

As a Christian serving as an Anglican priest, I find myself ashamed of the actions and rhetoric of many of those protesting against Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) legislation outside parliament tonight (9 January 2007). By misrepresenting what these regulations are actually about and then using them as an excuse for homophobic abuse, these unrepresentative and unaccountable protesters are bringing all people of faith into disrepute. Please let other voices be heard.

Like the Faithworks Movement, a highly regarded mainstream evangelical organisation have issued a statement backing SORs, claiming that they have been widely misrepresented, and emphasising the Christian Gospel as a message of welcome and hope.

Or the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia, which sees that the “panic and anxiety” over equalities legislation, which would prevent gay people facing discrimination in public services and in the provision of goods, including hotel or B&B rooms, as a "symptom of the demise of Christendom – the era in which particular understandings of the Christian message could be sanctioned for the whole of society." The idea that all or even the majority of Christians support the extreme claims and views of many opponents of the fair and reasonable Sexual Orientation Regulations is false”, commented Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow. “It is deeply sad that people backing tonight’s protest seem to be associating the Gospel with fear and prejudice – when those were precisely the things Jesus challenged in his co-religionists.”

Supporters of the regulations rightly point out that, in any case, the requirements are not for endorsement of particular practices, but are intended to ensure equal treatment irrespective of orientation. As, Faithworks leader the Rev Malcolm Duncan said yesterday: “We welcome the SORs as an attempt to ensure that goods and services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways. It is right that any organisation receiving public funding should deliver services to genuine public benefit. The proposed SORs are an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ. However, vociferous opposition, a lack of constructive dialogue, and threats of civil disobedience mean that the Church is in danger of sounding homophobic and is doing little to give itself a credible voice.”

Everyone enjoys the right to protest but not to oppress or abuse and certainly not to do so in the name of others. For me faith is about inclusion, compassion, tolerance and hospitality and standing in solidarity with the oppressed and those others seek to make outcasts.

climate change kills

By midnight last night (jan 8), the average UK citizen will have emitted as much CO2 as the average person in the world's poorest countries will during the whole of 2007 (according to figures released by the World Development Movement).

The excessive carbon emissions of rich countries are driving climate change but it is poor countries will bear the brunt of the impact. Billions of people face drought, floods, starvation and disease.

For example:
One sixth of the world's population rely on water from glaciers that are disappearing.
80,000 people die every year from malnutrition due to climate change. If temperatures rise by 3 degs C, this will increase to between 1 and 3 million people a year.

We need an international strategic partnership approach to the looming environmental crisis including climate change legislation and action on aviation.

It is not rocket science (well it sort of is) but I wouldn't want to upset the Prime Minister's holiday plans!

Monday, January 08, 2007

free publicity for bbc

A contact at the BBC informed me that they could not believe how much free publicity they got in the local and regional press about the BBC3 programme, "Baby Borrowers" which starts tonight becuase of 8 Norfolk MPs complaining about it without having watched it!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Its not just dangerous dogs to be worried about..

Norfolk farm estate worker was taken to hospital earlier today after being attacked by a herd of pigs. The 51-year-old man, who has not been named, fell and was attacked by a sow in a pen.

A Norfolk police spokesman told the EDP that: “It seems that when he fell, he was attacked by one of the sows and then other pigs joined in. As a result he suffered bumps and bruises and a head injury, though it is not now considered to be life threatening. The man was able to crawl out of the pig pen and summon help.”The incident happened on the Heggatt Hall estate at Horstead, where the man worked, at around 11.30am. The air ambulance helicopter was called in but the man was eventually taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital by land ambulance for treatment. A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “The patient was kicked and trampled by pigs. When we got there he was awake and breathing but he did have a laceration to his forehead and a dislocated arm.”

That saved his bacon! (sorry couldn't resist that! sw)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Tory hypocrisy on human trafficking

I was disappointed but not suprised to see that despite Cameron's recent rhetoric, the Tories are not delivering anything constructive in the run-up to Freedom day in March-the bicentary of the abolition of slavery following the campaigning work of William Wilberforce and others (liberals and Liberals and whigs!). This is not just about history though-there are more people in slavery in the world today and trafficking for sex or labour is an increasing (even if often hidden) reality for many in the UK.

Responding to David Davis's support for international human trafficking treaties, Liberal Democrat International Development Spokesperson, Lord (Roger) Roberts said:"I am astonished to see the Conservative party's sudden concern about human trafficking."In two recent House of Lords debates on modern day slavery and asylum and immigration, the Conservative benches were empty apart from one solitary spokesperson."Their total lack of interest in these matters was a cause for comment. One peer stated specifically that he intervened in one of the debates because no other Conservative backbencher was present to say anything."It is blatant hypocrisy for David Davis to use this issue to try to garner support from the many people who have a genuine concern about these matters. Where were they during the Lords debates?"Conservative concern and compassion? It is all sound and fury signifying nothing."

Now why doesn't that suprise me!