Author Archives: Hywel Morgan

Opinion: How a stranger carrying a rucksack came within 10 feet of Nick Clegg

It was November 5th 2011, the date for that hotbed of radical fervour that is Yorkshire and Humber regional conference.

Those who know me will not be surprised that I was running late so things were already underway when I arrive. Those people will be further un-surprised that I hadn’t registered in advance either, confident that people would be willing to take my money on the day!

The session was already underway so I quietly slipped in through the door and sat at the back.

That’s right – at an openly advertised meeting, where Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 21 Comments

Opinion: time to end the special treatment for sitting MPs

Like many other Lib Dem local parties my own is currently working its way through selecting candidates for next May’s local elections.

In at least one ward a sitting councillor will be facing a challenge and a contested (re)selection meeting. I think that few people would argue that that was a bad idea, that the person who had been the representative should have to show that they still have the confidence of their local membership.

On a wider scale we are seeing selections for the list members for the Greater London Authority. Two sitting members are standing down but the one person restanding is having to put herself in front of the membership and seek their continued support.

A similar process applies for the re-selection of MSPs on both the lists and for the constituencies.

At some point in the next 18 months or so our MEPs will, if they want to restand, have to do the same. Just as they did before the 2004 and 2009 elections.

When our elected Mayors come up for re-election they also will have to go before their membership to show they still have their support.

Of course in many of these cases, particularly at a more local level, such re-selections are done unopposed. However the principle, that re-selections are open contests still remains.

However there is one group of Liberal Democrat elected representatives who don’t have to face an open reselection contest: Westminster MPs.

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | 10 Comments

Opinion: a broken pledge, but we knew how bad it was back in March

Sorry Nick. Sorry Vince, I can’t find the figures that back you up

Both Nick and Vince have claimed that there was no option but to reverse their pledges on tuition fees. The public sector finances were in a far worse state than they expected and they had no option.

That would be a justification that would be just about sellable to people. A promise made in good faith which became unsustainable due to information not known about at the time could be legitimately broken.

The problem is, I can’t really find much that backs that claim up.

My starting point …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , and | 54 Comments

Opinion: How much do MPs actually eat?

Let us contrast two reported sets of figures for food costs claimed by Lib Dem MPs…

Norman Baker

July-Sept 2004: £287
July-Sept 2005: £307
Aug-Sept 2006: £178
Aug-Sept 2007: £157

Ming Campbell
Sept-Oct 2004: £800
Aug-Nov 2005: £1000
July, Aug, Sept 2006: £1000
July-Aug 2007: £650

We-the-taxpayer already pay our MPs a salary of at least £60,000 a year, and provide them with an allowance for a second home to cook and eat in.

I don’t think, therefore, there is any justification for a separate allowance for food costs. But if there is, one can anyone explain why one MP can feed themselves on around £100 per month …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 11 Comments

The curious comparison of the seven North London MPs

In exposing the actions Tony McNulty the Mail on Sunday produced an interesting table of the claims of Additional Cost Allowances made by MPs in outer London and the South East.

It makes interesting comparision when you compare the claims of MPs in neighbouring seats. The following MPs all represent seats that are a broadly comparable distance from Westminster. Yet the amounts they claim are vastly different.

MP Constituency ACA claim in the last 5  years+ Claims London Supplement?
Sarah Teather* (LD) Brent East £0 Yes
Dawn Butler** (LAB) Brent South £37,245
Rudi Vis (LAB) Finchley and Golders Green £32,211

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged , , , , , , and | 2 Comments

Dept of Transport admits: Hoon withholding information about Heathrow from MPs

I recently sent Geoff Hoon an email concerning his statement to the House of Commons on the third Heathrow runway. Whilst I was asking him a rather obscure and pedantic point relating to the language he used, the reply I got is rather revealing.

To that end , the Secretary of State reached his decision on the basis of a transparent and objective analysis of the evidence available as a result of the consultation that has taken place. He alone had the necessary knowledge of all the facts and issues that required consideration.

It would not have been

Posted in News | Tagged and | 3 Comments

BNP illustrate “Battle for Britain” using migrant workers

File under “you couldn’t make it up”. The BNP’s 09 election campaign, which they presumably regard as the first step to the road to their promised land of racial purity, is clearly setting out to target migrant workers.Never ones to worry about a hackneyed image they use that iconic image of a Spitfire to illustrate “the Battle for Britain”.

Just one slight problem. The Spitfire they used is one from 303 squadron. Which was made up of Polish airmen who escaped from Nazi occupied France.

John Hemming MP pointed out the lunacy of the BNPs position:

They have a policy

Posted in News | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Opinion: Is the Fuhrerprinzip* the new basis for governing Britain?

The latest round in the Sir Fred Goodwin saga contains possibly the most astonishing statement yet to emerge from a senior Government Minister:

The prime minister has said that it is not acceptable and therefore it will not be accepted,”
Harriet Harman

This is part of the Government now talking about retrospectively changing the law to deprive Sir Fred Goodwin of his pension. The law, and acts legal at the time, will be subject to revision subject to the Prime Minister’s definition of acceptability.

Retrospective legislation is always dubious. Better historians than me may be able to correct me, but …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

The Liberal 1st XI

Lord Bonkers’ attempts (published courtesy of Jonathan Calder’s Liberal England blog) at listing his favourite XI cricketers inspired me to have a slightly more serious crack at coming up with a XI who represent the finest liberal traditions in the finest sport:

Mike Brearley (Captain)

Maybe not the first person from within the game to back the campaign against the 1970 South African tour but certainly the first to do so prominently at a time when it could have had a detrimental effect on his career in the game. In 1968 he proposed a motion to the MCC calling for future tours to be suspended until cricket became multi-racial.

CB Fry
A point of agreement with his Lordship: 94 first class hundreds and polled 20,000 votes as a Liberal candidate in Brighton.

Barry Richards

White South African who played for the apartheid era test team might seem an unlikely liberal figure but makes the team after he (and other South African players) staged a walk-off during a provincial match in protest at government policies.

Andy Flower (WK) & Henry Olonga
It solves my wicket keeper problem but that pales into insignificance alongside the bravery of Flower and Olonga who wore black arm bands and issued a statement in protest at the Muagabe regimes human rights abuses. Both had to leave Zimbabwe and Olonga faces arrest for treason , an offence carrying the death penalty.

Basil D’Olivera
Brought an end to the idea that selecting a team based on colour was an acceptable idea in global sport. The idea that someone who could never have played for his country of birth because of his skin colour could get into a test team was one the South African authorities could never accept.

John Cleese
Though not his best known achievement, Cleese wasn’t a bad cricketer in his youth at one point having trials for Gloucestershire. As well as his SDP/Liberal Alliance and Liberal Democrat PPBs – available here and here – he also produced a rather too closely obseved take off of the TMS commentary team for which he later apologised to Brian Johnston.

Andrew Flintoff

Posted in Humour | Tagged and | 10 Comments

Why are we still waiting for details on how MPs spent their Communications Allowance?

The Communications Allowance is a fund for each MP of £10,000 a year of taxpayers money to spend on ensuring their re-election communicating with their constituents. That is a pretty massive sum. At current prices as a sitting MP I could have a full colour A3 delivered to every house in a constituency four times a year. By anyone’s standards its a massive boost to local campaigning

So I’m awaiting details as to how MPs have spent this windfall with interest. And it will be declared by the Parliamentary authorities.

Eventually at least.

According to www.parliament.uk, “Costs will …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 5 Comments

David Miliband – two questions no-one asked him

So, David Miliband’s statement about the Binyam Mohamed case today wasn’t as exciting as I thought. But he has still left too much detail still to be clarified.

Listening to his statement you’d think the information he was so keen to keep secret was a bulging file, stamped “Top Secret, for your eyes only” and containing lots of reports from undercover 007 types operating deep undercover.

At least I can’t put any other interpretation on his frequent use of “intelligence documents” in his statement, which included phrases such as:

Yesterday’s judgment whether an English court should, in the interests of

Posted in News | Leave a comment

What to make of Labour’s attack on the Social Fund?

Do James Purnell and Kitty Ussher read consultation documents before they get sent out? I ask because of Labour’s proposals to start charging interest rates of up to 27% on loans from the Social Fund, which currently makes interest-free loans to individuals on benefits who urgently need money to buy large items such as cookers and beds. …

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 7 Comments

Labour legalises saltires on number plates. Again.

The good news for patriotic motorists is that under a Goverment plan they will soon be able to purchase number plates with national flags on. Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy, said the move was “great news for Scottish motorists”.

It is welcome news – a brief drive shows that a lot of people seem to have ignored this ban.

It was equally welcome news the last time Labour legalised these number plates in 2001, when Transport Minister John Spellar said, “It is what the people of England, Scotland and Wales have asked for and strengthens their feeling of …

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Does turnout in reality TV shows exceed that in elections?

After Mark debunked the American election turnout myth, Hywel points out some harsh realities about voter turnout in reality shows.

An often cited reason for gimmicks like online, text and phone voting in public elections is that more people vote when voting is easier. Any security concerns are often waved away with claims that “more people vote in Big Brother etc” than in public elections, particularly local elections.

If such claims are to be used as the basis for significant changes to elections then their basis needs examining closely

Take Saturday’s X Factor semi-final. If you regard the electorate as …

Posted in News | Tagged | 6 Comments

Opinion: Because BNP members have rights too

So the latest data leak has nothing to do with the Government’s lamentably lax data management polices. It has however generated some responses which should, but worryingly don’t always appear to, concern liberals.

It’s now relatively easy for anyone to find out if their neighbour is a BNP member. It took me about 10 minutes to find a credible link to the list last night and if it has made its way onto the peer-to-peer networks then the cat cannot now be put back into the bag.

The leaked list seems reasonably accurate. The most the BNP are …

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 43 Comments

Opinion: Why the party shouldn’t be auto-phoning people

The plan for the Lib Dems to phone 250,000 people on Wednesday evening, after the conclusion of the party conference, has attracted some criticism both inside and outside the party.

If this is the big idea to come back from sending people to the US Democrats’ Convention then I’m not sure the flights were worth it. Automated phone messages were used in the 2000 Presidential election and possibly before in America. I may not have been the first in the UK to use them, but I did use them at the 2001 General Election. The results then were not particularly significant, other than sending a few Tory activists apoplectic with fury (maybe justification for using them on its own!).

However there would seem to be two strong reasons (and one less strong one) why this scheme isn’t a good idea.

Firstly it is, at best, legally ambiguous. The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) clearly requires the prior consent of anyone to receive communications “comprising recorded matter for direct marketing purposes”.

The SNP were recently on the wrong end of an adjudication regarding these regulations, where it was confirmed by the Information Tribunal that they do apply to political parties. It should be noted, though, that their activities were slightly different from what is reported to be happening here.

The question therefore is whether these calls are for direct marketing purposes. Generally it is regarded that “genuine market research” isn’t a direct marketing purpose.

This doesn’t seem to be a technique used by market research companies to conduct political polls. Certainly it’s hard to see how the questions necessary to establish whether your sample is accurate can be put. It’s also questionable as to how much a genuine poll will be affected by having an introductory message from the party leader as is the case here – or indeed what would be the point of a message which didn’t carry any element of promoting the party.

Another key point about genuine market research is the use to which the data is put. The Information Commissioner’s guidance is that:

We are aware that political parties do not just communicate with individuals for promotional purposes.

A political party can conduct genuine research just as professional market research companies do. Parties should, however, be careful to ensure that such communications are not in reality soliciting support under the guise of research. For example, a telephone call which starts by seeking opinion and then urges support or invites contact with a candidate would be considered as a marketing call and must therefore be conducted in accordance with the PECR.

Where a political party makes a market research call with the intention of capturing certain details in order to identify those judged likely to support that party for the purpose of targeting them with marketing follow ups by mail, telephone or visit, then we consider that the original profiling call will have been made for direct marketing purposes. Again it will be caught by the PECR.

So if this exercise is to be legal, it is clear that the information obtained can’t be used for any campaigning purpose. It therefore seems a good question to ask why the party would spend the money and effort phoning 250,000 people two years before an election, when it can’t record and use the responses for any further campaigning, recruitment or fundraising purpose.

Posted in Op-eds | 37 Comments

I’m writing to the taxman

Letter sent to Liverpool tax office today:

4th July 2008
Dear Sir/Madam

I wish to bring your attention to an individual who is claiming to be self-employed who I believe may not be registered as such.

Yesterday Mr Peter Kilfoyle MP stated that “I’m technically self-employed” .

My understanding, having previously been self-employed myself, is that a person who is self-employed is required to register as such with 3 months and is liable for class 2 and class 4 NI contributions.

I would be grateful if this matter could be investigated.

Yours faithfully

Hywel Morgan
CC Mr Peter Kilfoyle MP

Posted in Parliament | 6 Comments

Opinion: So just how strongly did the Lib Dems oppose the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill?

“This is unacceptable” said Ming Campbell in an email to party members and supporters on the eve of this bill being given its third reading in the Commons.

But having watched this bill progress through the Commons I’ve not been hugely impressed by the Lib Dem commitment to oppose it.

To take it in stages.  This bill received an unopposed second reading.  I’m not an expert on the minutiae of Parliamentary procedure but according to the committee stages of this bill, it could have been blocked if it had it received an objection from a single member.

The bill then passed to the committee stage.  You would expect that a bill which the party considered to be unacceptable would be strongly opposed at committee stage.

Yet not a single amendment was put.  Not a single vote was called for.

Indeed to read Nick Harvey’s comments there wasn’t even a Lib Dem MP on the committee.

“I agreed to serve on the Committee to provide some of the insight that I have gained through my work on the House of Commons Commission and the Members Estimate Committee. I am not here as a party spokesman; I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a House matter on which Members must make their own judgments. I would not expect party Whips to seek to get involved in it.”

(Nick Harvey – Committee stage – 7th February 2007)

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 20 Comments

Opinion: Do we need Special Prosecutors in the UK?

The fuss that has been generated following the arrest and questioning of Ruth Turner does pose some questions about how there can be investigations into political figures.

There may well be legitimate questions about why it was necessary to mount a dawn raid. A Prime Ministerial aide is hardly likely to be a serious flight risk, but to see Ministers questioning police operational decisions regarding investigations into their own government creates conflicts of interest left, right and centre.

The “cash for honours” inquiry is of course the most prominent police inquiry into the activity of politicians but it isn’t the only one. There have of course been a number of investigations into ballot fraud involving elected councillors. Sometimes those can be people with direct involvement in the democratic accountability of the Police, for example Colin Inglis was the Chair of the Humberside Police Authority when investigated (and subsequently acquitted) of child abuse charges.

Posted in Op-eds | 4 Comments
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