Author Archives: Joe Taylor

Opinion: The PCC are to blame for the Ryan Giggs fiasco

At Conference last September, I proposed a motion that called for new rules to beef up the PCC, making it more independent of newspaper editors and giving it real powers to regulate the wilder elements of the press. The motion called on Lib Dem ministers to act now in the face of a growing number of legal injunctions that were being fuelled by lack of confidence in the regulator. In the long run lack of action would stand to restrict press freedom, I argued, because it would give weight to calls for an illiberal privacy law whereby politicians could …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 25 Comments

Opinion: Labour are to blame for the “lost generation”

Here’s a question for you. How have Labour got away with pretending that the crisis of a “lost generation” of young people has nothing to do with them? Listening to Ed Miliband pontificate about the plight of the young in Britain, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Government in which he served had nothing to do with the current crisis of devalued qualifications, lack of jobs, high house prices, crippling debts and a rising cost of living. Those young people who are thinking of joining Labour because they’re angry at the current situation should consider a few facts.

A …

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

Opinon: when will the Press Complaints Commission wake up?

On Friday, the Daily Mail splashed with a story headined “England Star’s Gagging Order”. The story concerned an unnamed member of the England football team who had used the courts to stop a story about him from being published.

It was the second such injunction granted in a week, the Mail reported. The injunctions were granted by a High Court judge on the grounds that the stories would breach the players’ right to a private life.

For Liberal Democrats, such injunctions will be seen as a worrying development.

Our party’s constitution emphasises that we must “defend the right to speak, …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Opinion: Some notes from the doorstep in a weird election campaign

“This has been the strangest election I’ve ever fought,” one veteran Lib Dem councillor – first elected in 1974 – told me last week.

She was worried about the result of the local elections – not for her own sake (she’s almost certain to win), but for the political health of our county as a whole. The prospect of a lot of independent councillors running the local authority is a worrying one for all of us. And people are clearly in the mood to give mainstream politics a kicking.

Let me give you a couple of real examples from local doorsteps, where …

Posted in Op-eds | 9 Comments

Opinion: Have the Tories gone mad, or am I missing something?

Just when an election campaign is all getting on top of you, the Tories come along to cheer everyone up. This advert for Conservative candidate Linda Vijeh was being circulated, amid much hilarity, around the Lib Dem organisers this week. Apparently it featured on page 3 of a local newspaper in Dorset. Had the Tories finally gone mad, we speculated? Just what were they thinking in allowing one of their candidates to publish something like this?

Linda Vijeh

So this begs the question again: what are the Tories …

Posted in Op-eds | 14 Comments

Opinion: In praise of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor

To my deep amazement, it was standing room only at 9.30 am Mass at St Piran’s Catholic Church in Truro, Cornwall, on Easter Sunday. I arrived shortly before the service started but could only get a space on the floor at the back. Every bench and chair was occupied. It was easily the best church attendance I have seen for over a decade.

And for a practising Catholic like me, it was an inspiring – not to say, astonishing – sight, given the accepted wisdom that God is irrelevant, churchgoing is in terminal decline, and the only people who …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 40 Comments

Opinion: The row over MPs’ expenses disguises the real problem

Call me paranoid, but I can’t help thinking that there is a right-wing conspiracy to drag our system of government back to the Middle Ages. I refer to the long-running campaign in the Tory press calling for cuts to pay and expenses for MPs.

The argument, often aired by columnists like Simon Heffer in the Telegraph, is that MPs should all be very rich, successful people who represent their constituents as a kind of pastime. Their pay should only be necessary for the occasional lunch at Smiths of Smithfield, or a bit of light opera.

Dishearteningly, I have heard this argument parroted by people on Radio Five Live phone-ins, who seem to think that democracy should be cost-free. This is a worrying – not to say dangerous – trend. It is becoming popular to believe that only the rich should be allowed to hold political power.

Clearly this view has gathered momentum thanks to 12 years of a Labour Government which has specialised in graft, corruption and nepotism on a grand scale, while presiding over an emergency stop in social mobility. The stories about Tony McNulty’s expenses last week were merely the icing on the giant Labour cake of greed and self-interest.

But in spite of all that – and here I have to declare an interest, as I am part-paid by an MP – I don’t believe that pay or expenses are the root cause of public resentment. In my view, the real problem is that too many MPs have second jobs and directorships.

Let’s start with their pay. An MP is paid £65,000 a year, roughly the same as a middle-ranking civil servant or a head teacher. They also get about the same again in office and staffing allowances and their controversial a second home allowance – a total of around £130,000 a year. This is still considerably less than the chief executives of most local authorities.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 14 Comments

Opinion: Lib Dem councils should scrap their free newspapers

What is the point of free newspapers produced by local councils? These days, almost every council has one – but no one seems to know what they are for .

The argument you hear most frequently in favour of free newspapers is that they save councils money: without them, they would have to spend the money on advertising in local newspapers, and this works out more expensive than sending a out a free sheet via Royal Mail.

Another argument you hear is that sending free newspapers to every resident is the only way to deliver statutory notices to everyone. Leave it to the newspapers, the argument goes, and some people who don’t buy the paper might miss important news – such as (an example from my council newspaper I have in front of me) that the post of Independent Chair of the council’s Interim Standards Committee is up for grabs.

But let’s be honest – the real reason councils produce these newspapers is that they hate having an independent media that might, from time to time, draw the public’s attention to their shortcomings. What they really hate is having to spend (other people’s) money on newspaper advertising, only to then get criticised by those newspapers.

But as a strong advocate of a free press, allow me to make the argument against council newspapers in three succinct points.

1. They’re crap. No one wants to read 24 pages of council press releases, which is what all of them consist of. The photos are always dull: men in suits / council buildings / close-ups of staff on the phone. Any right thinking person who receives this through the letterbox will immediately shove it straight in the recycling, probably without even opening it. So this defeats the argument that councils are getting their messages out to “every resident”.

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments

Opinion: The only way to solve the credit crisis is to fully nationalise Lloyds, HBOS and RBS

Everyone is blaming greedy bankers for the credit crunch – unless they’re Tories, in which case they’re pinning all the blame on the Government. But who is really to blame? And more important, what can be done about it?

I decided to do some research on this and I have come to the conclusion that investment bankers, although greedy and irresponsible, are not at the root of the crisis. That particular honour in fact goes to one man who has barely got a mention in the debate so far: Bill Clinton. Allow me to explain.

In 1933, the US Government, …

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Opinion: We must fight the Tories’ plans to privatise the education system

I couldn’t help but to raise an eyebrow at the Telegraph’s recent front page splash, in which David Cameron unveiled his education plan for the future: “a new generation of comprehensive schools.”

Say what? Has he at last morphed into Tony Blair, grin and all? Well, no. The truth behind the headline (as usual with the Tories) is more sinister – and a glimpse of this truth could be found in the Telegraph’s leader on the story. It says:

Charities, private companies and parents’ groups will also be allowed to set up schools – competing with existing primaries

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Helpful advice from the Tories about how to beat them at the next election

I was browsing the other day (as one does), and came across an interesting piece from one of its two editors, Jonathan Isaby. He was warning Tory activists not to sound triumphalist about the prospect of winning a 100-seat majority at the next election, in case it turned off electors – particularly in Lib Dem-held target seats.

Mr Isaby states that, if they are to win a majority, the Tories must

try and win back most of the thirty-odd seats which the party has lost to the Liberal Democrats over the last decade or so.”

Warming to this …

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