Author Archives: Antony Hook

Enjoy Europe Day? Churchill would have done

Last Wednesday, 9 May, was Europe Day.  If celebration of this day here in Britain passed you by then you might enjoy Winston Churchill’s Zurich Speech in 1946, calling for a United States of Europe.

You can read the full text here and can listen to the former Liberal Home Secretary delivering the speech in two parts here and here.

Council of Europe

In this seminal speech, Churchill said,

“If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity …

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Opinion: Police Commissioner elections – the Lib Dem candidate won’t spy on you

As a campaigner with a strong interest in the European Elections, I am really happy to see a number of counties moving towards selection of a Liberal Democrat candidate for the Police Commissioner elections in November.

This is because in the European Elections an important message for Liberal Democrats is that we are effective on crime. Crime crosses state borders within Europe. We need co-operation and integration to ensure that our police’s powers to bring criminals to justice, the rule of law, and important civil liberties cross borders too. The other parties won’t make the commitment that we will to tackle …

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Opinion: Does control of search warrants matter to you? Then become a magistrate

In recent days Liberal Democrats have united against reported Home Office plans for the state to acquire unprecedented power to search private online communications. As Mark Pack noted, resistance to this has even won Nick Clegg rare praise from the Daily Mail.

Many Liberal Democrats have the necessary habit of not just debating how society ought to be, but carrying liberal values into effect in daily life. Many Lib Dems who are passionate about education, including myself, serve as school governors. Likewise, party members volunteer as neighbourhood watch coordinators, Citizens Advice …

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Opinion: The Tory Party has mutated. It is for us to say Europe is our hope for the future

David Cameron’s renunciation of a Treaty not even yet fully negotiated was the culmination of a process that began around 1992.

In 1992 a small group of Tory ultras, “the Maastricht Rebels”, began fighting their party’s traditional pro-Europeanism. It has taken 19 years to make their fringe views a normal Conservative Party and conservative press position. 1992 has led to 2011 like a river flows to the sea.

Anti-Europeanism’s hold on a major political movement has caused a poorly informed anti-Europeanism to take hold among many of our fellow citizens in the UK, as it has among some of …

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Opinion: Court of Appeal upholds importance of social media in riot cases

This week (Tuesday, 18 October 2011) the Court of Appeal constituted by three of is most senior members, the Lord Chief Justice, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Lord Justice Leveson, gave judgment on ten cases arising out of the August riots.

Seven of the ten sentences were upheld including two where the offenders had committed their offences by posting on Facebook.

The LCJ began the judgment with a clear statement:

There can be very few decent members of our community who are unaware of and were not horrified by the rioting which took place all over the country between 6th

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Opinion: A child dies every 20 seconds from lack of clean water

On 19 May, the summit of European-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific parliamentarians (the ACP-EU Assembly) at Budapest called for action to alleviate the global crisis in clean water supply.

One in six people in the world have no access to clean water. 2.5 billion are without clean sanitation and 1.5 million die every year from water contamination.

The report presented to the summit found that there are three main causes of water pollution: industry, agriculture and sewage. In developing countries 70% of industrial waste is dumped untreated into water. The most common source of water pollution, however, is faecal matter.

One of the Millennium Development Goals …

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Opinion: An historical comparison – the Big Society vs the Great Society

In the late 90s, Tony Blair’s New Deal deliberately adopted the name of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1930s programme to increase public spending, create jobs, and escape the Great Depression.

Thirteen years later, one assumes that David Cameron’s Big Society (that Jeremy Browne praised yesterday) at least partially invokes another significant American liberal reform era: the Great Society of President Johnson in the 60s.

I fear that substituting “big” for “great” represents a lesser moral ambition. The Kennedy-Johnson years in America were self consciously “a call to greatness”. Politicians talked of “new frontiers”, putting an end to war, conquering …

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Opinion: dark Tory reasons surround Clegg for Commission idea

The Sunday Times(£) has played echo for anonymous “Downing Street sources” briefing that “if it looks like he will lose his Sheffield Hallam seat, there will be an emergency exit strategy which could see him land one the big jobs in Brussels” namely becoming a Member of the Commission.

The “Downing Street source” behind this must not have Nick Clegg’s or the Liberal Democrats’ interests at heart. It feeds the narrative of “Nick Clegg under siege” of which “Nick Clegg may lose his seat” is the hyperbolic epitome.

Nick Clegg would be extremely well qualified for the Commission, although …

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Opinion: why we need a European Public Prosecutor

There are serious cross-border criminals at large in Europe damaging the lives of innocent people. A certain numbers of them are more likely to be dealt with when a European Public Prosecutor is created. The British Government needs to escape the defensive dug-out epitomised by Blair’s “red lines” and fight for the good that co-operation in Europe can bring for all our people. This is a time for leadership.

A federal public prosecutor is provided for in the Treaty of Lisbon with a distinct emphasis on financial crime. I use the f-word, federal, because while it has …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged | 4 Comments

Opinion: a real chance to stop murder, torture and organised sexual violence in Burma

On 29 November 2003, a woman’s body was discovered near a farm by her husband and other people from her village. She was 20 years of age and her name was Naang Sa. She and her husband Zaai Leng had been approached, three days before, by 40 soldiers from the Burmese Army. Zaai Leng was tied up and Naang Sa was gang raped. The soldiers took her back to their base and her dead body was left at an unknown time during those three days, completely unconcealed, to be found by those who loved her.

Events such …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged | 6 Comments

Opinion: The linked vote shares of UKIP and the BNP

The 2010 General Election was a failure for Britain’s two openly xenophobic parties.

UKIP stood in 556 constituencies and lost their deposit in 459 (83%). Their vote share varied between 0.65 and Nigel Farage’s 17.3 in Buckingham where none of the three main parties contested the Speaker’s seat. No other UKIP candidate hit double digits.

The average vote share per UKIP candidate was 3.54.

The BNP stood in 338 constituencies and lost their deposit in 267 (80%). Their vote share varied between 0.4 and Nick Griffin’s 14.6 in Barking. Only two other BNP candidates hit double digits.

Eight out UKIP’s …

Posted in General Election and Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

Opinion: The frame we need: freedom

Jack Newfield once wrote, “We learned that we shall not overcome. The most compassionate leaders our nation could produce had been assassinated. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were alone.”

Those words of penetrating despair referred to the deaths of two leading American liberals in 1968. In the aftermath Richard Nixon seized the presidency and Democrats fell into a dark period of infighting and indecision that lasted off and on until at least 1992.

No-one in our party, in our country has been killed. Yet there is a sense of loss. MPs we …

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Opinion: Volcano! Will Europe erupt as an election issue?

Part of our shared European heritage is Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, where Hephaestus (called Vulcan in Rome) was the god of fire and controller of volcanoes. He was born after his mother was impregnated by a spark from a fire.

Thousands of years later, in last Thursday’s debate, Nick Clegg provided a spark to our national imagination that was more potent than any of us dared to dream.

Now we read that our opponents will try to make Europe the issue of the general election. The same strategy failed badly …

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Opinion: Debates – the first two questions count most

Amongst the plethora of writing on the 2008 US Election, I came across this observation:

“After every debate the media narrative was determined by the first two questions and answers.”

(J. Heilemann & M. Halperin, “Race of A Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House”, Penguin Viking).

I decided to see if that hypothesis holds true for the recent Chancellors’ Debate as a clue as to whether it will apply to our forthcoming Party Leaders’ Debates.

The first question, asked by a trainee solicitor, in the Chancellors’ Debate was,

“This is a job interview; what personal qualities do you have that make you better

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Antony Hook interviews Nick Clegg about Europe

I recently put questions to Nick Clegg on behalf of the LDEG, the party’s pro-European campaign group. In it, Nick makes clear the importance he attaches to the role of MEPs, responding to a question about whether the party appreciates MEPs:

individual MEPs have far, far more opportunity to actually get laws changed and improved than MPs.”

He very modestly avoided agreeing with me that he had a role in leading Britain’s pro-Europeans, although that is a role he sees for the party as a whole. He described Sharon Bowles MEP’s appointment as Chair of the Parliament’s Economics …

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Fiona Hall says: “Time to get out of the ghetto”

The new leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs, Fiona Hall, has said that its time for MEPs to have an increased profile in the party and for the European angle to have a greater role in Liberal Democrat policy making.

In an interview with me on behalf of the Lib Dem European Group, Fiona said,

“We need to get MEPs out of the ghetto of “Europe”. MEPs do not do “Europe”. MEPs do crime, security, civil liberties, finance, climate change, energy, biodiversity, agriculture, fisheries, international development … with a particular emphasis on the European level of decision making in these areas. At …

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Opinion: Gender is no cure to mistrust

The Press Association reports a claim in the Interim Report of the Speaker’s Conference that more women MPs would “boost trust”.

This is an irrational assertion. For every male mortage-flipper or questionable expense-claimer – like Geoge Osborne, Elliot Morley or David Chaytor – there are plenty of female examples – Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears, or Margaret Moran.

It seems to me that trust depends more on how MPs behave than what gender they happen to be.

Liberals should argue for people to be appraised as individuals not simply reduced to groups in which we happen to …

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Opinion: Ebay – Europe is the Politics that Counts

Internet firm Ebay are sending out an email, which I reproduce below, to its registered users, calling on people to sign a petition to support liberal trade and prevent luxury brand manufacturers restricting free trade in their product.

ebay petition

It is an obvious example of the importance of European Union law. It also reminds us how EU jurisdiction in trade law is logical. It is far better for consumers and companies in the 27 states to know that a common set of (economically liberal) laws apply across Europe than …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 29 Comments

Opinion: We the people, to form a more perfect union…

The creation of the Conservatives’ new right-wing group in the European Parliament is welcome as a source of more media attention to the Parliament. The Group is promoting its “Prague Manifesto” as a statement of its conservative guiding principles.

The European Liberal Democrats – currently numbering, across the 27 EU states, four prime ministers, nine EU commissioners, 64 Ministers in 20 governments, 75 MEPs, and the Sec-Gen of NATO – made our own Stuttgart Declaration in 1976. The full declaration is 850 words. The main headings are:

1. The supreme task of the European Union

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Blogging the revolution: Let a group of ordinary voters fix the expenses mess

Last week, we called for readers to set out the reforms they felt were most desperately needed to our moribund political system – familiar and new ideas alike. Antony Hook responds.

Liberal Democrats have traditionally supported the idea of Citizens’ Juries and reforming MPs’ funding is a perfect case to apply this policy.

A citizens’ jury is empanelled in the same way as the juries who decide thousands of our criminal cases and civil disputes every year: 12 people at random from the electoral register. They can hear evidence and arguments from every interested

Posted in Op-eds | 4 Comments

Opinion: Some legal aspects of the McBride Affair

Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire, is threatening to sue for libel over what was written about her in the McBride-Draper emails. I expect she may struggle because to succeed in court she will have to prove that damage has been actually caused (rather than a mere intent to cause damage) to her reputation. Politically, her threats to sue seem naive. Threatening to sue but then not doing so invites speculation as to why not.

The criminal law is, however, likely to be relevant. There is a statutory offence of defamatory libel …

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Opinion: Hannan Lifts Channel Fog – but there’s much more to be done

Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP in the South-east of England, has done a favour for everyone who cares about British public engagement in European politics.

I do not mean that in a back-handed way, and only a churlish person would deny that his response to Gordon Brown in Strasbourg last week was astoundingly well delivered political oratory. (You can watch it here on YouTube). I hope I have the chance to debate with Daniel Hannan on the hustings in our region.

The benefit of his speech was to draw attention to the European Parliament. The last mainstream news story I recall about the European Parliament was the December vote on the Working Time Directive. Editors concentrated on “rebellion” against Gordon Brown rather than the Directive’s effects, the arguments for and against it, or what prospect it had of coming into force in Britain. I cannot remember the last reported European Parliament news story before that, and I expect most readers will agree that 2-3 times per year is a fair estimate of how often main news outlets report on the Parliament.

Indifference and ignorance of European Parliamentary politics is an absurdity that will bemuse future citizens looking back at our present. You would not think from the paucity of serious news attention that 70% of legislation is decided at a federal European level.

Many party members’ opinions about our MEPs tend to rely on little knowledge, or even curiosity, about legislative records.

I try to my match my predecessor Chris Huhne in helping every local by-election in the South East Euro Region (email [email protected]) but that is not all being an MEP is about. Liberal Democrats should know that, for example, Graham Watson was behind the European Arrest Warrant so criminals cannot avoid justice, that Chris Davies is leading legislation for Carbon Capture technology, and that we have just passed a law to slash mobile phone roaming charges from this summer.

When you next hear about the Duke of Westminster and other agricultural oligarchs receiving £300,000 in CAP subsidies you should know that the Commission proposed a limit in these payments but Labour vetoed it in the Council of Ministers, and that the Conservative record includes opposing protection against homophobia in Europe.

A functioning democracy needs people to know what is being decided in their name. Here are just 5 ways – there are, of course, many more possibilities – we can alleviate this crisis of politics and identity:

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Anonymity and criminal justice

Legal anonymity has been much in the news lately what with the shocking cases of Baby P and the abused Sheffield sisters. Barrister Antony Hook weighs up a few pros and cons.

Openness is a hallmark of justice in a democratic state. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” was how US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it. It is obvious why. The hard experience of history is that public officials, judges included, serve best when people can see what they do, to whom they do it, and on what basis.

The secrecy in Baby P’s case is a striking exception. One killer, Jason Owen, has been named but the other two have not. I do not know why that is but the trial judge must consider that the interests of justice require it. The press can ask the judge to lift reporting restrictions and appeal to a higher court. The judge’s reasons should be reportable, although I have not seen them in print or online.

There are other occasions when dark glasses are put on to Justice Brandeis’ cleansing sunbeams. Anonymity is almost always granted to children in the criminal courts. Most trials of juveniles are closed to the public. This is partly to make the hearing more relaxed so young defendants can give their best account of themselves. It also helps ensure that a youthful misdemeanour does not obstruct maturity into law-abiding adulthood. Rape victims, like the sisters in Sheffield subjected to 25 years’ abuse by their father, have anonymity – before and after a jury consider their allegation – unless they waive their right to it. Anonymity helps victims who would not otherwise come forward.

It is, sadly, also a comfort to makers of false complaints. A few militant anti-rape campaigners regard any mention of false complaints as an attack on all rape victims. But only last week, a 22 year old Gloucester woman pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice by inventing a rape claim. She will serve just a few months in prison. Without diminishing our support for anonymity to help victims come forward, we must accept that it encourages a few false complainants to pursue life destroying lies.

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Recent Comments

  • Roland
    Need to be careful, if the government steps in and effectively caps energy prices, that will also cap VAT receipts. So the extra VAT etc. should be seen more as...
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    The Liberal Democrats are ahead of others here, though slow in my view as too lets say keen on a more economically traditional approach, at least for uk norms. ...
  • Roland
    Whilst I don't fully agree with Michael BG's list of suggested remedies, he has hit the nail on the head, as to the main causes of the current price increases -...
  • Roland
    @Alex Macfie >@Peter Hirst’s idea is probably unworkable, as what’s to stop passengers from travelling on combinations of free short-distance ticket...
  • Nigel Quinton
    A couple of thoughts from the above discussion. 1. Glad to see Duncan Brack encouraging the debate at conference to look at this. 2. Whilst not up to speed ...