Friday, 24 December 2010


I don't have a problem with the indiscrete things that Liberal Democrat ministers have said about their Conservative opposite numbers within the Coalition. I expect most Liberal Democrat party members will be reassured to learn that their ministers have not been subsumed into Conservative culture, and despite an amicable working relationship the two parties within the government remain very definitely distinct.

In fact the indiscrete comments will help us in all sorts of situations: "You think we LIKE having to work with the Conservatives? Well now you know, we don't, but it's the price that has to be paid for having Liberal Democrat influence within the government of Britain."

I DO have a problem with Vince Cable losing himself influence over the decision as to whether Murdoch and News International should gain control of BSkyB. Not because I disagree with Vince's views one iota, but because the consequence of their expression is that the Murdoch bid has been given a massive step up. That can only be bad. If I had my way Americans/Australians would not be allowed any control whatsoever over the British media.

I am very familiar after 11 years in the European Parliament with working across parties to try and build consensus for particular changes. It doesn't mean I have suddenly embraced another party's philosophy that I am able to do a deal with opponents as individuals with a different approach to my own; I think it's an honest and healthy demonstration of democracy in a open society. Coalition governments are the same, only with knobs on.

But I DO have a problem with our insular and immature media that presents all this as somehow revelational, when it is in fact just 'normal'. I don't expect a majority of the public to understand this; too many people appear to think that the artificial public expression of unity is 'good' and honestly expressed differences ultimately resolved through negotiation are somehow 'bad'.

And I have a really BIG problem with what people too often appear to think of as 'proper' government, viz. the elected dictatorship of one party that has formed a government despite having secured a minority of votes - in the case of Tony Blair just 35% of the total cast.

Britain has been ruled by governments that have not commanded a majority of votes for decade after decade, Tory after Labour after Tory. An electoral system that would be worthy only of a Banana Republic may have given them a huge majority in the House of Commons, but in truth they have never represented the country.

The Coalition Government is formed of parties that secured 60% of the votes last May. It is the first true majority government that Britain has had since 1945 (ok - Labour then only won 49.7% of votes, but it was near enough).

It has the potential still to be one of the great reforming governments of all time, and I believe that Liberal Democrat influence will ensure that those reforms steer us towards a society that is more fair, more free, more democratic and more green.

It continues to have my strong support.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


I contested and won the Littleborough & Saddleworth by-election in July 1995. The weather during the weeks of campaigning was glorious. The summer sun beat down, cracking the pavements.

What a contrast with the record low temperatures being experienced by campaign workers helping now in the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election. If the pavements are cracking it can only be because the ice is breaking them up. Not that we would know as the pavements are covered in snow, although for the moment it is at least nice and crisp.

On the basis of my experience I can offer the Liberal Democrat candidate, Elwyn Watkins, one useful piece of advice.

I spent the last two days of my election campaign touring the constituency in shirt sleeves, waving cheerily at potential voters from the front of an open top double decker bus.

Elwyn, when our campaign organisers suggest that you spend two days waving from an open top double decker bus, just say "thanks, but no thanks"!

Sunday, 19 December 2010


After returning with frozen fingers from a twilight run on snow covered moorland I turned on the computer. Jim Hansen at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies provides data each month on global temperatures. These are his latest conclusions:

"This has been the the warmest January-November in the GISS analysis, which covers 131 years. However, it is only a few hundredths of a degree warmer than 2005, so it is possible that the final GISS results for the full year will find 2010 and 2005 to have the same temperature within the margin of error.

"The cold anomaly in Northern Europe in November has continued and strengthened in the first half of December. Combined with the unusual cold winter of 2009-2010 in Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, this regional cold spell has caused widespread commentary that global warming has ended. That is hardly the case. On the contrary, globally November 2010 is the warmest November in the GISS record."

Saturday, 18 December 2010


There is a certain familiarity to the words used by Bob Ainsworth, the former Labour Home Office and latterly Defence Minister, who has announced his conversion to the belief that possession of all drugs should be decriminalised.

“Prohibition has failed to protect us,” he said. Billions of pounds are being spent on enforcement policies “without preventing the wide availability of drugs.”

“Leaving the drugs market in the hands of criminals causes huge and unnecessary harm to individuals, communities and entire countries.

“We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.

“It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation to make the world a safer, healthier place.”

The words sound familiar to me because, in speeches and in articles over the past decade and more, I have used them all myself.

It’s a pity that they are expressed now only by a FORMER Home Office minister. The emperor is not wearing any clothes, but his serving ministers never dare say it.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


My namesake, Christopher Davies, was killed in Afghanistan last month, The 22 year old from St Helens served in the 1st Battalion Irish Guards; he was hit by small arms fire while taking part in a security patrol in Helmand province. By all accounts, and there are many of them, he was a model professional soldier and a very popular man with all who knew him.

The European Parliament has just expressed its views on the need for a new strategy in Afghanistan. It says nothing that can't be found from other sources but is still worth citing.

It says that a revised strategy should face up to the deterioration both in security and in socio-economic indicators in Afghanistan despite almost a decade of international involvement.

The insurgency is financed largely by the money extracted by war lords and local mafia bosses to protect the US military supply chain. We are paying for the weapons used against us.

The number of people living below the poverty threshold has more than doubled since we commenced military operations.

Up to 80% of international aid has never reached the people of Afghanistan. Most US aid never leaves the USA.

Scant regard has been paid by the international community to the involvement of Afghan people.

Afghanistan is today the source of 90% of the world’s illicit opium yet when coalition forces entered Kabul in 2001 no opium poppies were being grown in the country. The opium trade now accounts for 26% of Afghan GDP, with most of the money going to government officials and regional brokers (only 4% to the Taliban).

Of 94,000 men in the Afghan National Police 90% are illiterate and 30% go missing within a year of joining.

Parliament recognised that negotiations with the Taliban are essential for a political solution.

If we had really tried very hard indeed, would it have been possible for us to have made an even worse mess of things than this?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


When David Cameron announced that he had agreed with other leaders an EU budget increase of 2.9% , and that was that, I accused him of not having read the Lisbon Treaty. “Was he not aware that the European Parliament had equal powers in the making of the budget?” I asked.

Whether or not he has read the Treaty the Prime Minister got the politics right and I got them wrong. In the face of the European Council’s refusal to change its position, the European Parliament simply backed down.

So much for my assertion last month that the Parliament was “united and determined” in demanding future negotiating concessions.

A majority of MEPs supported a 6% budget increase by way of an opening gambit, but negotiators abandoned this almost immediately. The real battle was to try and secure arrangements for involvement of the Parliament in preparing long term budget plans, and for discussing transfer of funds between different budget lines. These ended up being shunted off into the long grass for debate at another time.

Why did the Parliament give in so easily and so meekly? Our negotiators argue that they secured an increased level of future expenditure commitments, but I'm not convinced that this is worth a great deal. In my view, faced with the option of no increase in the budget at all, no new External Action Service, and payments to farmers and for regional development being curtailed, a majority of MEPs simply backed down.

A 2.9% increase and nothing definite on negotiating rights suddenly seemed attractive when compared to hearing David Cameron utter the words: “No budget increase at all? Make my day!”

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


I thought the opening of my climate change speech was rather good. "I have no interest in football," I said, "but I have seen pictures of the manager of a team playing its last game of the season, 2-1 down, and facing relegation, and in considering the outcome of the Cancun conference I thought of our Climate Action Commissioner.

The manager is saved by the scoring of a goal. The result is a draw. A vital point is secured and relegation avoided.

"It's not a triumph. But it's not a defeat. The manager lives to fight another day."

Guaranteed to maintain attention I thought.

Commissioner Connie Hedegaard responded: "Let me first respond to Mr Davies. I'm very sorry but I follow football even less than he does, and I did not quite understand the analogy."

Oh well. Back to the writing desk.

Monday, 13 December 2010


One of my Italian colleagues, Niccolo Rinaldi, has just returned from Gaza. He reports that Israel's partial lifting of the blockade has ensured that there are plenty of goods in the shops, although with 70% of the population receiving UN food aid there aren't many being bought. Worryingly, he also reports that there are very few women now to be seen on the streets of this teeming conurbation - in stark contrast to the situation in the more secular West Bank townships. His comment reminded me of a conversation I had in Gaza nearly 5 years ago with the wives of two Palestinan businessmen. It was soon after the elections that had brought Hamas to power, and they were both in tracksuits having just returned from the gym: "They'll have us all in burkas," they predicted.

Niccolo told me that, at their peak, there were 1,400 smuggling tunnels in operation between Gaza and Egypt, the entrances on both sides plainly visible and swarming with people and goods. Since the partial lifting of the blockade these had been reduced to 400, with some of them big enough to drive a car through. "And at the entrance to each there is a Hamas man, collecting "tax" on the goods in transit. Israel's blockade presented Hamas with its major source of income."

"It is, without doubt," he said, "the most stupid policy I have come across in all the years that I have followed foreign affairs."

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Even if every country does what it says it will do, world temperatures will rise by 4 degrees centigrade over the next century. That’s the best-guess scientific prediction.

A temperature rise of this magnitude would force hundreds of millions of people to move or risk death, so it’s extreme in itself. (Where do these people move to without giving rise to enormous political unrest?). But it also gives rise to the prospect of run-away climate change, leading, for example, to the release of methane from frozen tundra that will accelerate the process of global warming.

All this sounds fanciful when it’s cold outside. It’s hard to appreciate that across the world 2010 will go down as one of the warmest years on record, and that average global temperatures just keep going up and up. The climate change sceptics have an easy time arguing their case to a shivering public.

So one of the most important things to have come out of the UN’s climate change conference at Cancun is a reminder that every government in the world is expressing concern about climate change and saying that we must take action to curb it. Only Bolivia registered its reluctance to support the final document – because it didn’t go far enough.

The European Union had a minimum objective for these talks, it was to keep the ball rolling. The result has exceeded its expectations by quite a margin. UK environment secretary Chris Huhne can take a share of the credit for this by hammering out an agreement on the future of the Kyoto Protocol (which places obligations on only a limited number of countries) that kept everyone on board. I didn’t have the impression that my former MEP colleague took much interest in the global warming debate when he was in the European Parliament, but he’s proved himself a quick learner and an effective practitioner.

It’s been a miserable year for all those involved in trying to persuade governments across the world to recognise the need for action. The failure at Copenhagen sucked momentum from a negotiating process that requires the consent of every nation on the planet. It strengthened the resistance of those who would argue, not unreasonably, that the EU cannot take measures of its own in isolation without the risk of losing more jobs.

But now the process has new life. The USA is still failing to provide leadership but it has joined with other developed countries in agreeing to start helping poorer countries meet the costs of climate change, and to curb the destruction of forests. Both India and China have shown a willingness to take the agenda forward, and they have agreed to international monitoring of emissions; this represents a major retreat for the notion of national sovereignty and acceptance that we are all in this together and must be able to trust one another. Who knows, maybe my meeting in China with key environmental legislators a month ago contributed a little bit to the change in mood.

The agreed target is to stop temperatures rising above 2 degrees centigrade. It’s a target that is probably already too late to achieve, and the measures announced so far are nothing like sufficient, but the agreement means that we can return to this year after year with new proposals for taking the agenda forward. We can ratchet up the requirements and obligations.

Next step for European politicians will be to consider raising our CO2 emissions reduction target for 2020 from 20% to 30%, setting an example and helping to promote low carbon investments. A month ago I would have said that prospects for securing agreement for this from EU governments were minimal. Now they are better – I go no further than that.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


The Liberal Democrats have been damaged by our divisions over tuition fees. The strongly held views of different MPs couldn’t be reconciled, and our role in government meant that we couldn’t share with Labour the luxury of being able to criticise without explaining how we would fund higher education.

Nick Clegg’s authority has taken a blow, but it is one from which he can recover. He will appreciate as never before that the inescapable rule for all political parties is that whether they do things well, or do things badly, they must do them together. Our influence over government policy depends upon us being reliable partners and our leader being able to deliver the votes.

Within the party Nick is unchallenged, but a lot of our MPs will be saying: “please don’t put us through that again.”

Morale has been shaken, and Nick needs now to rally the troops.

He should start with some mea culpa. It’s clear that the situation has not been handled well even if it’s unclear how it could have been handled better. Nick will need to provide reassurance that similar situations will be avoided in future, that elephant traps will be identified before we fall into them, and that MPs will have a greater chance to influence decisions before they are announced.

He can remind the parliamentary party that this is our first opportunity in generations to shape government policy. Liberal Democrats can be proud of measures that take the lowest paid out of tax, of commitments to democratic reform, and of helping some Conservatives (think Ken Clarke) release their ‘inner Liberal’. We can be pleased to have forged a pragmatic policy on Europe, halted the renewal of Trident, and stopped the Tories widening the income gap between generations by raising the inheritance tax threshold.

Nick can admit that there is bound to be more pain to come, but this is the price to be paid for being in government at a time of financial crisis. He can urge them to take no sanctimonious nonsense from a Labour Party that destroyed the country’s finances in the first place.

And, of course, he can lift the spirits of our MPs by being positive about the future. The hard bits have to be done now so that the good bits can follow.

A week is a long time in politics and there are 4 years to go before the general election. Liberal Democrats will be judged by our record over the lifetime of the Government, not by a single decision.

Nothing that has occurred in the debate over tuition fees will prevent Nick from being able to claim with good reason that that the record will prove to be a proud one.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Splits weaken parties, and sometimes destroy them. The reputation of the Liberal Democrat brand is being undermined with each passing hour as the impression grows stronger that on the issue of tuition fees we are not only divided but clueless.

The case for supporting the recommendations of the Browne inquiry is strong, and if I were in the Commons I would be voting with Nick. The real damage to the party comes not from our adjusting course to take account of changed conditions, nor from rebellion by backbenchers on grounds of individual conscience, but from the impression we are now giving of being all over the place.

Some Liberal Democrats will vote for the recommendations, some against. Some want to defer the vote, others want to abstain. In short, we are creating the impression not just of being weak, but of being a joke.

I would rather us have a reputation for being tough (but fair) bastards than for being indecisive.

Liberal Democrat MPs must now decide how to vote. If they want to limit the damage there should be only two options for them to consider . Either they vote for the recommendations, recognising that they provide funding for higher education in a progressive manner that protects those on lowest incomes, or they vote against on grounds of individual conscience.

There are times when an abstention is an honourable third option. This is not one of them.


Within days of each other Argentina and Brazil have each recognized Palestine as a free and independent state within the borders defined in 1967.

Good for them. Israel is said to have reacted with "sadness and disappointment" to the declaration. I bet it has.

Will the Europeans follow the South American's example in due course? Many of them have suggested that they will, but when push comes to shove they won't rock the US-Israel consensus.

The US will block any attempt to secure UN ratification. From Britain, from our/my Coalition Government, and from the rest of the EU, there will be nothing more than weasel words.

Friday, 3 December 2010


He’s hurt, of course. He’s lost his career, his income and his reputation. His name will be known for years to come as the MP who was disbarred for having “knowingly” lied about his opponent. It’s hardly surprising that Phil Woolas wants to claim that it’s all unfair.

But his interpretation of events just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

He implies, just as he did in the hearings before judges, that what he did what just part of the run-of-the-mill of political knockabout, and that others have dealt with him in the same way over the years. “It is now unclear what is political and what is personal,” he says.

No, it is NOT unclear, and his opponents have not treated him in the same way as he treated them.

In the past his actions, the reason for them and the likely effects of them, have been subjectively interpreted– this happens to everyone in politics, it’s the difference between the Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph view of events - but no-one invented those actions or put words into his mouth.

Phil Woolas says that the voters should be given the right to judge him. But those same voters have been deceived by him in the past. He told them lies, and he knew he was doing it. The judges who condemned him were able to hear what he hoped the voters last May would not - both sides of the case.

He was desperate last May. He faced election defeat and was ready to do anything to avoid it. So he listened to the words of his election agent, Joe Fitzpatrick, who thought that Woolas’s best hope was “to make the white folk angry.” Together, they bet everything on influencing opinion and swinging the votes with just a couple of leaflets. They were humdingers, quite vile.

The Immigration Minister of the United Kingdom didn’t just tell lies to try and secure his re-election, he told racist lies, intended to pander to the fears of white residents. That’s why what he did was so utterly beyond the pale.

I don’t feel personal animosity towards Phil Woolas. I hope he will pick up the pieces and get an alternative career; I am sure there are plenty of people in the Labour Party who will give him a helping hand.

But what he did was despicable, and democracy in Britain is the better for his defeat.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


The man who leads the Hamas-controlled Palestinian administration in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, has given a press conference. The words he used are worth repeating.

He told journalists: “We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees.

Haniyeh said that a priority of his government was to avoid a military escalation with Israel by persuading other militant factions to preserve a de facto ceasefire.”

Now here is an opportunity, is it not? You can’t make peace without talking to your enemies, and here is one of Israel’s enemies talking in terms that should delight European governments. Anyone seriously interested in securing a just settlement in the Middle East would surely be beating a path to Haniyeh’s door, but it won’t happen. Hamas will stay on the list of terrorist organisations because Israel (and therefore the USA) would be upset if we tried to remove it.

I met with Haniyeh in Gaza in 2007, when he was Prime Minister of the short-lived Unity Government. He spoke then words not of terrorism but of diplomacy, but when the message was communicated no-one in London or Brussels took any notice.


Israel’s absorption (or dismemberment) of the West Bank continues apace, and the European Union does nothing to give practical form to its criticisms of a country with which it has a very close relationship.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, says that Palestine (or the West Bank at least) will be “ready for statehood” no later than August next year. Presumably he will then call upon the UN to recognise a Palestinian ‘state’.

It’s a great idea but I can’t see it getting very far. The USA is alleged already to have told Netanyahu that they will use their veto. European Union foreign ministers have indicated their support in the past, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes for them to wriggle out of any such commitment.

Past evidence suggests that Hell will freeze over before Britain and the rest of the EU dissents with the USA on matters to do with Israel.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Maybe my green credentials have been blown to pieces.

I have just voted in the European Parliament’s environment committee against calls to take action to combat ‘speculation’ that may lead to extreme price volatility in food prices, against the insistence that environmentally-friendly farming practices will increase the income of the agricultural sector and improve food security, and against demands that EU agricultural policy should focus on providing support for small-scale and organic farming systems.

On the agenda was a non-legislative report about food security. Italian and French colleagues within my group had sided with Green, GUE (far left) and some Socialist members to table a series of amendments that prompted a lively debate when we met before the meeting to discuss the Liberal Democrat (ALDE) voting intentions.

Emotionally I am opposed to the idea of ‘speculation’ in food, and I don’t have much time for commodity brokers (I always recall the film ‘Trading Places’ whenever they are mentioned), but I couldn’t agree with my French colleague who said that food could not be considered as just another product. What’s the alternative – some kind of state intervention, market control or limit on food prices? Speculation by traders may be nasty but the alternative is usually worse.

I support the idea that payments from the Common Agricultural Policy need to be linked to environmentally-friendly farming practices, but that’s a different matter from accepting that this will certainly increase the income of farmers or guarantee food security; I don’t think these claims can be accepted as a matter of faith.

Maintaining small scale farms is a nice idea but primarily is surely a matter of social policy. I don’t see that small scale farming contributes any more to guaranteeing food security than large scale farming. The same applies to organic production, which I welcome for a variety of reasons but food security is not one of them.

The sentiments behind the amendments were warm (and fluffy!), but I didn’t believe they stood up to scrutiny. We need to ensure that our agricultural policies are sustainable, but we also need to ensure that our cities are fed.

By a small majority, and with the ALDE Group split 4-2 my way, the committee rejected the amendments.

Monday, 29 November 2010


I have no doubt that a couple of weeks ago, in the weakened state in which he was left after putting off death for a while, 18-year old Paddy cat had gone blind. The evidence was convincing - he kept bumping into things, and he had difficulty finding his food dish. The vet couldn't make up his mind: "it's hard with cats."

A steroid injection, a daily kidney pill, and some (apparently very tasty) paste in his food and he is now much restored and enjoying a healthy appetite.

And he can see again. His sight is back - or at least some of it. He can follow my movements. He looks out of the window. He avoids obstacles and can find his food. What more does an elderly cat need?

Friday, 26 November 2010


Oldham East has had no MP since Phil Woolas was disbarred and the result of last May's election was declared null and void, but we still don't have a date for the by-election. A writ could be moved at any time in the House of Commons but no-one plans to do so until High Court judges have given their ruling on whether the decision of the Election Court is open to judicial review.

The Oldham Evening Chronicle reports that this is expected within the next few days, which probably means at the beginning of the week commencing 29 November. The legal opinions being heard by Liberal Democrats suggest that the way will then be clear to move the writ later in the week, but that now means a by-election early in January.

Oh good! Just what we need to work off Christmas excesses.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are working well and there is a very cheerful atmosphere in the HQ set up in Tanner's Mill, Greenfield, just a field or two away from my home in Saddleworth. We want volunteers through the door NOW. As the campaign will be a little longer than expected the work underway is quite measured, and while leaflets are being delivered the concentration is on canvassing - which also keeps down the costs.

A lot is getting done, and we've had a good sprinkling of MPs through the HQ doors. My colleague from the European Parliament, Baroness Sarah Ludford, came up from London last week. She told me that she went canvassing with a little trepidation, wondering what the reaction would be to the Coalition Government. "It was fine, no problem at all except from people who were hard Labour and who always had been hard Labour" she reported. "I enjoyed it."

Thursday, 25 November 2010


It’s cold this week, but at the beginning of the year it was even colder. Snow lay on the ground, temperatures chilled the bone but warmed the hearts of climate change sceptics. They were derisive about global warming.

So maybe it will come as a surprise to learn that global temperatures during the first 6 months of 2010 were the warmest on record. There are a few weeks to go before we learn the results for the entire year, and as it’s a time of low solar irradiance maybe the record for the year will not be broken, but NASA reports that there has been no reduction in the global warming trend that began in the late 1970s.

'Weather', after all, is not the same as 'climate'.

Incidentally, has anyone noticed the uncanny connection between frothing-at-the-mouth europhobes and climate change deniers? In the European Parliament the overlap is obvious; it's the same UKIP, BNP, and Conservative right wing nutters, plus the Polish nationalists who sit with little flags on their desks in front of them, who denounce everything about the European Union who also dismiss with much aggression the very idea that global warming is taking place.

Apparently it's all a plot to put up taxes on 'ordinary' people and establish world governance. But then, everything is a plot to these people.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


UKIP's Godfrey Bloom may indeed be a national embarrassment, as the Liberal Democrat leader in the European Parliament described him today, but he must also be a huge embarrassment to UKIP. Still, he's here to stay.

Bloom's heckling of Martin Schulz, the German leader of the Socialists & Democrats Group - "EIN REICH, EIN VOLK, EIN FUHRER!" was out of order by the standards of any Parliament, but what gets me is the way in which he pretends that the European Parliament practices different standards to that of other democratic assemblies.

I have little doubt that his words would have got him ejected from the House of Commons, especially if he had been heckling an MP with a Germanic-sounding name, and once ejected he would have been out for at least a day. Bloom was complaining again later in the day when ushers wouldn't let him return to participate in another debate. As he likes to wrap himself in the Union Flag he should learn how the UK Parliament works.

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader who tries to present his party as a respectable alternative, should get rid of Bloom, but that would be difficult. The UKIP delegation arrived in the European Parliament last year with 13 members. Defections have already reduced their numbers to 11. Farage can't afford to let anyone else depart.


EU directives and binding regulations do not get a good press, but at best they can drive forward innovation, reduce costs, and benefit the environment.

For years the car manufacturers maintained a voluntary agreement with the European Commission that aimed to reduce average CO2 emissions from new cars to 120g by 2012. Nothing much happened; the car makers instead made big profits by building 4WD ‘Chelsea tractors’ and the like.

Eventually, at the beginning of 2008, and with MEPs like myself shouting at them, the Commission lost patience and proposed binding legislation. The car makers lobbied intensively to weaken the proposals; “we shall all be ruined,” they claimed, ignoring the reality that the EU single market provides a degree of protection from competition as every car made here or imported here has to meet the same standards. The law that emerged at the end of the year set the target at 130g by 2015.

Guess what? Once the law was in place the manufacturers finally got around to doing what the engineers always said in private that they could do, designing cars that are more fuel efficient so cheaper to drive, and that emit less CO2. Toyota has already met the 2015 target, Fiat and Peugeot Citroen are close. The German manufacturers of big cars are a way off yet but emission levels of their new cars are falling fast each year.

I haven’t forgotten being lambasted in a radio interview by the boss of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders when I claimed that the industry could meet tougher standards. Now the Society has admitted that its members “had overestimated the difficulty of cutting emissions.” Too right!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


“Every little bit helps,” was the message from Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Secretary, when he gave his support to Saddleworth residents who want financial backing for a mini-hydro scheme they hope to see built at Dovestones reservoir in the Peak District. Using overflow water it could put enough electricity into the national grid to supply the needs of 100 homes, (assuming that they are very well insulated homes that is). It’s a good scheme, not least because it will promote the technology for mini-renewable projects and raise levels of public awareness. But with the planet’s population growing by 200,000 every single day I reckon that if it is completed it will meet the increasing world demand for electricity by only one minute.

I reflected on this when I spoke at a carbon capture and storage (CCS) conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels. As a means of preventing the emission into the atmosphere of CO2 from fossil fuel power stations and major industrial installations, CCS is the only game in town. The cause for celebration is that the Commission has, at long last, published the call for tender for developers seeking financial support to build a number of CCS demonstration projects across Europe. The financial mechanism to be used is the one I was the first to propose and makes use of ‘surplus’ carbon allowances from the EU emissions trading scheme. Alas, with today’s low carbon price it will not provide nearly as much money as was once hoped.

CCS is essential if we are to reduce the level of CO2 emissions by the 80-95% regarded as necessary, but progress is painfully slow. The call to tender was much delayed, and it is now suggested that most projects won’t be in operation until past the 2015 deadline (“No, no, no,” I said). Across Europe very few governments are on track to transpose the EU directive for the storage of CO2 into national law on time, and very few have made any independent financial provision to support CCS development. The UK is one of the few honourable exceptions on all counts.

We have two front running projects. Scottish Power looks set to win the ‘UK competition’ and will separate a small portion of the CO2 that would otherwise be discharged up the chimneys of the coal power station at Longannet, transporting it by pipeline for injection into former fossil fuel bearing rock beneath the North Sea. Then there is Powerfuel Power’s project at Hatfield, near Doncaster, where construction of a 900MW integrated gas combined cycle power station is proposed, with the CO2 separated pre-combustion and transported to the North Sea by a pipeline that could also serve many other power stations and industrial plants.

The new factor on the UK scene is the possibility that the CO2 might not only be stored but also used for enhanced oil recovery. The pressurised gas would push more oil out of depleted North Sea reserves, making better use of these resources, pleasing HM Treasury, and creating a much stronger financial incentive for CCS development. Equipping a conventional power station with CCS could effectively double the cost of the electricity it generates, making it about as expensive as heavily subsidised offshore wind generation. Coupling it with enhanced oil recovery would bring down the extra cost to only as much as the subsidy paid for onshore wind power, making CCS much more attractive, especially if the price of carbon rises from its present €15/tonne. If enhanced oil recovery developments take place as I have privately heard they might, listen out for a very big announcement in months to come.

Do we really need CCS, with all its related costs? Britain gets 35% of its electricity from coal and even more from gas, Germany gets more than 50% from coal alone, Poland nearly 90%. China, India, Russia, the USA, South Africa and Australia have all got huge coal reserves and intend to generate the majority of their electricity from this carbon-intensive fuel for many decades to come. If we don’t develop CCS, there is no chance at all of the world achieving a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, the minimum amount needed to prevent average global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees centigrade.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


David Cameron claimed it as "a great victory" and a done deal when the
European Council (the prime ministers of Europe) agreed an
inflation-only increase of 2.9% in the size of the 2011 EU Budget. But
he ignored the fact that the Lisbon Treaty gives equal budget-making
powers to the European Parliament.

Negotiations opened, and MEPs quickly dropped their call for the 5.9%
increase needed to meet all commitments. An increase of 2.9% could be
supported they said, but only in return for concessions.

The Lisbon Treaty doesn't spell out how the Parliament will be involved
in future budget making, so this round of negotiations will create a
precedent for decades to come. MEPs want a formal procedure for
dialogue to be established that will embrace annual budgets and the
making of long term financial plans, including the way EU expenditure is
financed. When the Council flatly refused to discuss this, negotiations
between the two bodies broke down.

Now a procedure called "minimum 12" has been adopted. It means that the
EU in 2011 will be run, month by month, on the basis of a zero increase
on the 2010 budget. This will mean indefinite delays in new initiatives
such as the creation of the EU's diplomatic service, but it also means
that the bills can't be paid.

Some 80% of EU money is spent by national governments. Even by the end of February the Commission will be unable to pay all agricultural subsidies; support for other projects will be
curtailed a little later. Some governments, including those in
financial difficulties, may then have to meet the obligations by
borrowing money on the open market at high rates of interest.

The Council is not united; Britain and the Netherlands are the two
countries refusing to concede anything to meet Parliament's demands. By
contrast, Parliament appears at present to be united and determined.
One of my MEP colleagues, who happens to be the former prime minister of
Lithuania, told my Liberal Democrat colleagues that if the Parliament
doesn't now establish a procedure for the making of future budgets we
might as well give up and go home.

David Cameron may be resolute now. Wait and see what happens when his
phone is hot with other prime ministers whose bills are not getting


It is disturbing to read that Walid Hussein, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Qalqilya, risks being jailed for life for “insulting the divine essence.”

The so-called 'atheist blogger' has no doubt been intemperate in his words, but freedom of belief is a principle that must apply to those who do not believe in a God just as much as to those who hold the superstitious notion that there exists a divine entity of some kind.

Of course, the arrest of Walid Hussein is a boon to every Israeli who professes to liberal values and who claims moral superiority over Palestinians. I concede the point. As someone who speaks out against the injustice experienced by Palestinians, but who cherishes liberal values, I personally feel let down.

I've just tabled a parliamentary question to the European Commission which challenges the payment of EU money to a body - the Palestinian Authority - that in this instance appears not to respect freedom of beliefs.

But just a thought, given the laws against blasphemy that exist in some EU countries, I wonder if we could pass the test ourselves?

Sunday, 14 November 2010


I spoke to a Conservative MEP yesterday. He tells me that he has already had two letters or e-mails from Tory activists urging him to go and help their party's campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

But how, I wonder, will they fight the Liberal Democrats when we are in coalition together in government and in coalition together on Oldham Council?

For the Liberal Democrats, the arguments in this election are straightforward; we need not oppose a single Tory policy. To our thinking the Tories in OE&S are simply irrelevant - they have not one single borough councillor in the constituency and came third at the last general election, albeit with a vote that appears better than would have been the case had Labour not devoted so much effort to smearing the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Phil Woolas was elected by 103 votes. If 104 Tories had supported the Liberal Democrats we would have won. The tactical argument is very clear.

But how, I wonder, will the Liberal Democrats fight when a by-election is called in a Tory-held seat, as it surely must over the next 4 years? How will we attack the policies of the Coalition Government, or criticise the views of individual Tories in ways that will not create unnecessary tensions between all the MPs who sit on the government benches in the House of Commons?

One thing is surely certain; we will be much more polite towards each other!


I have formally opened the Liberal Democrat campaign HQ for the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election, but my principal offer of assistance has been spurned.

The first-ever task I was given when I joined the Liberal Party at the beginning of the October 1974 election campaign was to clean out the toilets in the disused shop that had been leased for the duration.

Some 21 years later, when I had the glory spot as the candidate in the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election, with the support of hundreds of helpers who flooded in from across the country, I made it my task each Sunday morning to appear early, armed with mop, bucket and bleach, to clean the HQ toilets. A nice demonstration that combined humility with team building I thought - anyway, somebody had to do it. I was very proud of my efforts. The quality of MY toilet cleaning was unrivalled.

So I thought, as the HQ is within the constituency I represented as an MP, I shall offer the same weekly service. But I've been told that, under the terms of the lease, cleaning the toilets is the landlord's responsibility.

I checked them out. They're ok, but not up to my standards.


I have received complaints from readers of this blog. "China is all very well," they say, "but what's happened to the cat?"

We took Paddy to the vet yesterday; compared to a fortnight ago he is much recovered. But there is no denying that he is an old cat, well into his 80s in human terms.

He is eating well, but remains a thin shadow of his middle-aged self. He is also almost blind and almost deaf. The hair has come off his front paws (the vet gave him a steroid shot for that, but maybe it's stress at being almost blind). And every now and again he misses a step, slipping sideways as though practicing a Norman Wisdom routine.

Anyway, Paddy is quite comfortable; sleeps lying on the stairs a good deal (not a good place!); purrs gently when stroked. All in all, a cat in genteel and gentle decline.

But I'm glad still to have him around.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


What does an election agent get for his pains? The joke (well, election candidates regard it as a joke) is that he goes to jail if the election rules get broken.

This is the usual practice anyway. In the case of most election offences it is the agent who is liable for failure to observe the law. But not, it seems, in the case of Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. By declaring that the result of the May 2010 election in Oldham East and Saddleworth was null and void it seems to be only the candidate who loses out.

The agent for Phil Woolas was Joe Fitzpatrick. I thought him one of the most arrogant councillors I had ever come across when I first met him 20 years ago. My views were confirmed when he, then as Oldham Council's housing committee chairman, seemed almost to take pleasure in admitting "I LIED!" in response to questions from the Oldham Evening Chronicle about why he had changed his vote just days after telling constituents in Holts Village - a council estate in the Lees ward he represented - about his intentions.

I took some pleasure in running the campaign which saw him knocked off the council a couple of years later. He has never been re-elected, although he holds various public positions at the behest of the Labour Party. In my opinion he is a man with a tribal hatred of politicians who are not of his party. He embraces negative campaigning of a kind that - as has now been demonstrated - knows no limits.

Phil Woolas has been found guilty of lying about his opponent in order to win the election, but I believe that Fitzpatrick played the key role in leading him astray. A good agent would have made sure that their candidate did not behave in this way.

Fitzpatrick's lack of judgement, and his willingness to play the race card, dug Phil Woolas's grave. The MP may have jumped into it of his own volition, but when Fitzpatrick told the Court that the racially inflamatory leaflets at the centre of the case had only been delivered to "the white areas", he threw the earth that buried him.

Fitzpatrick has since declared himself to be "unrepentent."

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


So was it worth spending 23 hours in planes, and 6 hours in cars, for two days of discussion? Well yes, I think it was.

China clearly hasn’t enjoyed being held up as the stage villain for gutting last year’s Copenhagen climate change talks of any substance. The regime doesn’t want to do anything that will curb the country’s economic growth, but at the same time it recognises better than many governments that global warming is a genuine threat that will cause the country harm. There were no expressions of climate change denial at our meeting.

A mixed bag of parliamentarians from a dozen countries around the world had a genuine exchange of views with a similar number of members of the National Peoples’ Congress environment committee.

It wasn’t great, the interpretation being sometimes hard to follow, but it wasn’t bad. We spelt out the problems arising from the lack of an international agreement but we didn’t condemn China. We accepted that, with its low per capita emissions, it has the moral right to continue to grow. But I pointed out that this wouldn’t count for very much if it simply frustrated getting action taken.

The Chinese response became ever more friendly. They talked about all the things they were doing to try and curb the rate at which their emissions are growing, and they used the occasion to announce publicly that they are to introduce a Climate Change Act that will require their industry to meet some specific requirements. So even if they are not sticking to the UN rulebook they are getting on with the game in their own way.

We had some sympathy for one Chinese congressman who commented, wistfully: “The actions of legislators are not always appreciated by the people.”

Positive words from EU Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, didn’t get a hearing. The video presentation she transmitted from Brussels got blocked by the Great China Firewall!

Maybe, just maybe, our contribution will have helped China be a little more positive in its attitude towards securing an international agreement on climate change. Anyway, it gave them a nudge in that direction.

We concluded by agreeing a joint declaration that paid homage to the usual mantra by making reference to the need to avoid global temperatures rising by as much as 2 degrees Celsius.

Trouble is, as you look at the rate of growth in China’s emissions, let alone that of other developing nations where even less is being done to try and stem the pace, it is not an objective that seems remotely credible.


Our first day was full of too polite exchanges (“After you, Claude. No, after YOU, Cecil,” or whatever might be the Chinese equivalent). There was some substance, and enough of it to make the exchanges of value, but some things of significance were undoubtedly lost through the inadequacies of interpretation.

I was nervous about my ‘keynote’ speech, not being entirely clear what might work and what might not. I had two objectives: first, to tell the Chinese that the consequences of their government’s refusal at Copenhagen to accept any reference to mandatory CO2 reductions even for developed countries had sapped the political will in Europe to take the actions necessary; second, to tell them that with the Americans off the stage it was time for them to start providing some leadership.” The speech seemed to go down well enough. I made a few other contributions during subsequent discussions.

A Conservative MP later said to me: “You have a flaw with your speaking style. I rather admire it. You don’t seem able to speak without saying something.”
Must be one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. If only it were true of all situations.


Outside the doors of the enormous, 56-day old, conference hotel in Tianjin all I saw of this ‘small’ city (10 million people) that is 100km from Bejing was from the window of cars taking me from and to the airport: vast numbers of huge new buildings appearing through the yellow pollution haze of a still day; forests of tall cranes building new tower blocks; and too many cars.

One of my colleagues told me that when he visited the city 30 years ago there wasn’t a car to be seen. In terms of sheer numbers the bicycles are still in the majority, but it is the cars that dominate and clog the streets. The accident rate must be enormous, especially as neither cyclists nor motorists seem to have any sense of lane discipline.

Sitting in a traffic jam, with only the cyclists moving, it does seem that urban planners in China have missed a trick.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


I don't like long flights (can't sleep, keep wriggling), and the thought of flying to China for a 2-day conference held no attractions, but I was talked into it by Lord Deben (who I know as John Gummer, the former Conservative Environment Secretary) who is now President of Globe International. Actually, I spoke to him on my mobile phone while I was walking in horizontal rain on a Scottish island. The phone died before the end of the conversation and hasn't worked since.

"It's really important. You CAN make a difference. We CAN help shape China's agenda on climate change before it finalises its next 5-year plan and sends delegates to the climate change conference at Cancun." That was the gist of it, I think.

I had booked an economy ticket for the flight to Bejing for the Joint Legislators' Forum to be held in Tianjin before the agenda arrived:


1. Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the National Peoples' Congress (said to be the second most powerful man in China).

2. President of Mexico, host to the next UN climate change conference.

3. Prime Minister David Cameron (by video!)

4. Chris Davies MEP

Now I just have to think of something worthwhile to say.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Political campaigning in Britain is about to get a lot cleaner - or a lot more nasty.

We will learn on Friday whether Phil Woolas, the shadow immigration minister and Oldham East & Saddleworth MP, is to be debarred from office for making false statements in this year's election campaign about the Liberal Democrat candidate's personal conduct.

Two High Court judges will deliver their interpretation of the 1895 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act from the Civic Hall in Uppermill, Saddleworth. If their thumbs go down I am told it will be the first time in 99 years that such a verdict has been cast.

Whatever the judgement Woolas's leaflets were vile. I don't object to robust political campaigning but as an example of smearing your opponent these went beyond the pale. The words of the Labour agent, Joe Fitzpatrick, who told the Election Court that one leaflet was only delivered in "the white areas", speak for themselves about the intention.

Woolas's election campaigns have often pushed the borders to the limit. Maybe he has never acquired a proper sense of what is acceptable and what is not.

He and I contested the by-election in the former Littleborough and Saddleworth seat in 1995. Peter Mandelson embraced the challenge of being Labour's campaign manager, determined to demonstrate that nothing could stop the onward march of New Labour.

I was described by Woolas as the Liberal Democrat candidate who was "soft on drugs" for supporting my party's call for a Royal Commission to consider the possibility of decriminalising cannabis possession, and who was "high on taxes" for supporting my party in calling for a 1p income tax increase to provide additional funds for schools.

The Guardian commented: “So lurid is Labour’s portrayal that one expects hypodermic needles to spill out of Mr Davies’s pockets.”

This Labour leaflet (below) caused particular controversy. The story actually related to a candidate selection far away in Winchester!

In his recently published autobiography, Lord Mandelson admitted that Labour had gone “on the attack".

He wrote: “After the campaign was over, not only our opponents but some in Labour would denounce our ‘negative’ tactics in highlighting Lib Dem front-runner Chris Davies’ support for higher taxes and a Royal Commission to liberalise drugs laws. For tactical reasons, I felt we had had little choice.”

“Labour was starting from third place, and especially in a by-election, the bulk of Tory tactical voting was always going to flow to the Lib Dems. If we were to win, we would have to make that option as distasteful as possible.”

BBC Newsnight's present political editor, Michael Crick, has described the Littleborough and Saddleworth contest as "one of the nastiest campaigns of modern times." And Paddy Ashdown records in his diaries that he said to Tony Blair: "You didn't discuss your policies. You simply spent four weeks character-assassinating Chris Davies. He is one of my Party's favourite sons (nice!) and to be dealt with by Labour like this is not the way that we build respect between our parties."

But I won the contest, and no sooner had the result been declared than I had a hundred things to do. I dealt with the present, and looked to the future; I didn't bother complaining about the tactics of my defeated opponent. Maybe I should have done. If Woolas has never understood the difference between right and wrong in political campaigning, maybe it is because I didn't do enough to make sure that he got the message.

If the judges debar Woolas they will send a shockwave throughout the political system. Candidates and agents will have to be very much more careful in what they say about their opponents. Surely that can only be a good thing.

But if the petition by Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins is dismissed, and Woolas keeps his position, the judges will give a green light to negative, personalised campaigning with no holds barred. Politics in Britain will get more ugly, and a lot more dirty.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Nick Clegg faces a tough challenge in getting control orders abolished. I know that much of his influence has to be used behind-the-scenes and in private, but this is one battle that he has to be seen to fight, and he has to win.

If he does not, many Liberal Democrats will question the value of being in this party.

Introduced by Labour in 2005, control orders represent a fundamental attack on the principle of liberty. By allowing restrictions to be placed on an individual's freedom solely at the whim of the Home Secretary they undermine the presumption of innocence.

A control order can be imposed without the individual concerned being arrested, charged, tried, or convicted. No evidence has to be presented. This is simply wrong.

The latest terrorist incidents play into the hands of those who believe that any liberty can be sacrificed in order to provide security. Liberal Democrats need to remind these people that control orders do not exist in the USA; in this respect the Americans are better at protecting individual freedom than we Brits appear to be.

We are also calling for the lifting of the ban on the use in courts of intercept evidence obtained from bugged telephone calls and the like. Evidence is evidence, and we can leave it to juries to decide whether it has been obtained properly or not. Better that than allowing one politician to combine the roles of prosecutor, jury and judge.

Terrorists want to undermine our principles of freedom and liberty. If we sacrifice them ourselves, the terrorists win.

Saturday, 30 October 2010


So David Cameron believes that in Brussels he has secured a deal to limit the increase in the EU budget to 2.9%

Has he never read the Lisbon Treaty? He spent enough time denouncing it last year, but it seems that he never did get around to reading it, and nor did most of the British journalists commenting on this week's European Council meeting.

The European Parliament has budgetary powers that match those of the Council. Governments can't do a deal without the consent of the Parliament, and the Parliament negotiating position is to call for a 5.9% increase.

Personally I agree with Cameron; no way should the EU budget next year increase by more than the rate of inflation. That's how I voted, as did the British Liberal Democrat delegation of MEPs. But we were on the losing side.

Real negotiations between Council and Parliament have yet to begin. The MEPs will not get their 5.9% increase. But I bet that the governments aren't able to limit the increase to 2.9%.


A neighbour phones: "Paddy has been found in a field nearby. I'm looking after him."

Later we take him to the vet. He is a bedraggled thing, just fur, skin and bones, hardly able to walk. The vet makes no charge but suggests we bring him back if he is suffering.

Back home he won't eat, but laps the water we drip over the tiny portions of food with which we try to tempt him.

He purrs, and sleeps.

Friday, 29 October 2010


I returned home from Brussels to find that Paddy has gone and is presumed dead. In his prime he was a chocolate box cat (so handsome he could have been pictured on a chocolate box), but as he turned 17 the weight fell off him and his bones protruded. He was last seen 2 days ago, very unwell.

Named after a Liberal Democrat leader, he came - like his predecessor and uncle, Gladstone - from the farm in North Norfolk where I worked as a student. He was a much beloved companion.

I had asked him to stay alive long enough for my daughter to complete her A-levels and depart for university. He duly complied.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Like an anchovy on your pizza? Enjoy them today because if some people have their way they will be gone forever tomorrow.

I cannot understand why some supporters of fishermen think their best interests will be served by wiping out the fish stocks upon which the fishing industry depends, but I suppose it takes all sorts. Still, this is for once a good news story, so read on.

The Bay of Biscay anchovy fishery has been reopened after a 5-year closure imposed because stocks were dangerously low. Now the European Commission wants to put in place a long term management plan and prevent any repeat of the annual political haggling that has caused so much harm in the past. Based on scientific assessments, it has proposed that no more than 30% of total stocks should be caught in any one year. Seems a lot to me but the Commission claims the level will help keep stocks high.

"Not enough," say some MEPs, unfortunately led on the Fisheries Committee by one of my own ALDE Group colleagues, a lady from Spain's Basque country: "We want to catch 40% of total stocks each year, and if scientists warn of dangers we want to have to reduce the catch by only 10%, and not by the 25% proposed," they argue. It will hardly come as a surprise that the Commission warns that such measures would significantly increase the risk to the survival of fish stocks.

The Fisheries Committee voted this week, and the alternative proposals were defeated 12-10. The ALDE Group has 3 members on the committee; my other two colleagues tilted the balance by voting in favour of the Commission's plans and against the attempt to establish an unsustainable policy.

But just what were the other 10 MEPs doing when they voted for ruinous measures? Why don't they get it?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


There's a war going on in Brussels. Governments are under attack from the European Commission and allies in the European Parliament. The aggressors want to force the governments to be more open and transparent, and to stop them hiding the details of how the EU laws to which they have agreed get turned into national laws. They are demanding that governments publish 'correlation tables' that will demonstrate, clause by clause, how this will be done.

The various requirements of a single EU law may end up as different parts of several national laws. It's hard to keep a check on whether they are being applied faithfully in all 27 Member States. Bland assurances from governments that all is well buy them time to stave off the slow and cumbersome enforcement procedures intended to ensure that the laws get put into practice. The failure to show how the clauses of national laws correlate with the requirements of the relevant EU legislation makes cheating a great deal more simple.

The war is being conducted through a series of skirmishes. The Commission keeps including a 'correlation table' requirement in draft new laws. The Council of Ministers keeps rejecting them. Sometimes the MEPs dealing with the legislation leap to the defence of the 'correlation table' requirement and win a battle; we did that recently with the Financial Supervision Directive. More often, alas, it either doesn't register with the ones who happen to be involved that it is an important issue or they bow to pressure from the Council in order to reach an early deal.

The two sides are limbering up for next skirmish. MEPs and the Council are close to completing negotiations on the final shape of the new Restriction of Hazardous Substances (in electronic equipment) Regulation. The 'correlation table' issue could prove the final sticking point. I'm saying as the Liberal Democrat negotiator that I won't sign up to a First Reading deal unless we get our way. If we are successful it will insert another wedge in the door that could make inclusion of the tables standard practice.

Our lead negotiator (rapporteur) is Plaid Cymru's Jill Evans. The Council is threatening not to do a deal if 'correlation tables' are included. I don't believe it, and I'm looking to her to call their bluff.


But it pours and pours. Well it did for one day while I was taking an extended weekend break walking along the coast of Argyll, leaving me completely soaked and my mobile phone and its internet connection very, very poorly.

On the other hand it was a small price to pay for the 3 great days of hill and beach walking in fantastic autumn weather that followed.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


"Euro MPs back 20-week maternity leave on full pay," read the headlines, accurately reflecting the result of a first reading vote in the European Parliament.

Well this Euro-MP didn't back it, and nor did my British Liberal Democrat colleagues.

But the heated debates we have had about the issue in our European Lib Dem Group (ALDE) reflect different national perceptions and a different view of what the EU should be doing.

Some of my colleagues believe strongly that Europe should be laying down minimum social standards. They question how there can be a proper sense of European citizenship, and fair competition between Member States, if the rules are different?

But although the treaties extend EU competence into this area, I want the European requirements to be minimal. The customs and economies of each country are different. Statutory maternity leave and pay are matters that should be determined by national parliaments, taking into account what can be afforded. When it comes to social policy, my vote is for subsidiarity.

Incidentally, a side debate pitted those who believe that "we need more babies in Europe" against myself; "world population has trebled in my lifetime, so no we don't!"

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


While George Osborne proposed his cuts package to the House of Commons, Euro-MPs were voting on the first round of the annual EU budget debate. The European Parliament called for a 5.9% increase.

Are these MEPs living in the real world? They claim that the money is needed to meet extra tasks the EU is expected to undertake, and anyway “it’s just a negotiating position.” I think it is madness, absolutely barmy, and makes us look out of touch with reality.

The majority approach is to contest virtually all cuts proposed by the European Council (the governments), even when money is going unspent, on the grounds that the cash could be put to use somehow. But there are some cuts I would be happy to support; for example, the Council is proposing to cut Common Fisheries Policy support by €140 million. Cutting a budget used to support unsustainable fishing practices sounds good to me.

And the budget of the European Parliament could be trimmed very significantly without any diminution in its functions. Our MPs and councillors are having to take action to “live within their means.” The difference is that MEPs are not responsible for raising the money they want to spend.

The Liberal Democrat European Group (ALDE) voted for the budget increase (comments from continental colleagues at our pre-meeting about not everyone in Europe having to be judged by the state of Britain’s finances). The British Lib Dems indicated our dissent, and voted accordingly. To do otherwise didn’t seem politically credible.


The Health Commissioner, John Dalli, came hotfoot yesterday evening from a meeting of the College of Commissioners to tell us (the political team leaders on the Public Health Committee) that a 5-year moratorium will be introduced on the sale of meat from cloned animals.

No evidence of any food safety problems have been identified, he said, and there appears to be no difference between the meat of cloned animals and of others. However, there are some animal welfare concerns: cloned animals have higher mortality rates than others, and surrogate animals can experience problems giving birth to cloned offspring.

Cloning will be permitted for the purposes of research, for production of pharmaceutical products, and to help maintain the survival of endangered species. He said that the science was developing and the issue would have to be considered again in 5 years’ time. In the meantime new requirements would be introduced to enable the source of meat from possible cloned sources to be traced.

So the ball has been kicked into the wings, which is the best place for it. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle, and meat derived from cloned animals is likely to become commonplace on world markets, but while the science develops we can buy a little time so controls should be put in place for the long term.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Every December, EU Fisheries Ministers gather around the table to set quotas for the catch that each country's vessels can take from Europe's waters. They are presented with the latest scientific evidence about stocks, often accompanied by warnings that current levels of fishing are not sustainable. They disregard this advice, and dig in for a 24-hour who-gets-what session of bargaining. The result is that the majority of Europe's fisheries are in a very fragile position indeed, well below their potential and often at risk of complete collapse.

Plans to reform the Common Fisheries Policy have been promised by Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki and will be published in May or June next year. By that time we will know whether she has both the ambition and strength to secure radical changes.

She has told MEPs that she will stick to the scientific advice in setting the TACs (total allowable catches) for next year. In a challenge to the ministers she has declared: "There will be no more bargaining."

This will be a battle to watch.

Her most pressing task is to stick up for fish and fishermen in the North East Atlantic by being tough on Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Without reference to the regulatory body, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, both have started to catch quantities of mackerel that are clearly unsustainable, with Iceland alone upping its quota from 15,000 to 130,000 tonnes.

A negotiated solution with the Faroe Islands may be possible, but Damanaki appears to have made no progress in resolving the conflict with Iceland. Within the next week or two she is expected to announce a range of sanctions that the EU will apply in response.

Iceland has commenced negotiations to join the EU, but at the same time has decided to pick a fight with the EU. In past battles with Britain it has done them no harm to get tough. I'm not sure if this conflict will give them such a happy outcome. Iceland's reputation for fishing in a sustainable manner is just the first casualty.

Sunday, 17 October 2010


It is acutely embarrassing to hear Liberal Democrat ministers giving their support to the introduction of tuition fees. That does not make it wrong.

We fought the election on a pledge to phase out tuition fees over the lifetime of two parliaments. Those of us who emerged from university without debts, and having been able to afford books, beer and the purchase of a new bike from our student grants, don‘t like the idea that our successors should have to pay.

But times have changed and student numbers have grown.

I have long supported the introduction of a graduate tax to provide the means of funding. But Lord Browne’s proposals offer a better solution. The cost of the measures will fall on the same people, but payments will be finite not forever. They are progressive: the Institute of Fiscal Studies says they will leave the 30% of graduates on lowest incomes better off than at present.

Liberal Democrats in the Coalition are blaming the size of the deficit for the need to change policy. I’m not sure this is wholly true.

Our opposition to tuition fees was born of principle and sustained by electoral popularity. It was an indulgence. The truth is surely that it survived as party policy because in our heart of hearts we didn’t think we would be in a position to put it into practice.

Friday, 15 October 2010


British and European policy on the greatest issue facing the Middle East is not bad. We seek a 2-state solution for the future of Israel and Palestine, taking the 1967 demarcation line as the starting point for negotiations. We call upon Israel to cease building settlements on Palestinian land, end its illegal occupation, curb the repressive measures that accompany it, and lift its economic blockade of Gaza.

In response, Israel does none of these things.

Israel is an ally and preferred trading partner of the European Union. Our military and security forces share (some) information and make reciprocal training arrangements. Money from European taxpayers is even used to subsidise various Israeli economic activities.

Israel ignores every request we make. Its attitude towards us is not simply rude, it is contemptuous.

The reason is simple. Israeli politicians have no fear that the European Union will ever back up its strong words with any deeds. They regard us weak and toothless. They are confident that Europe only has to be reminded of the sins of the Second World War to be cowed by guilt and shame.

But public sentiment has shifted over the years. The plucky little Israel of 1967 has become the aggressive bully of today, known for killing 100 Palestinians in Gaza for every Israeli death, for stealing Palestinian land even when insisting that it wants a negotiated peace, and for acts of piracy and murder upon the high seas. If our governments were to say ‘enough is enough’ they would have much public support.

So why do the Foreign Ministers of the European Union not act? Why, for example, do not they not tell Israel: “if you do not cease building settlements, the EU-Israel Association Agreement will be suspended with effect from 1 January 2011.

I’ve just been to the Foreign Office to meet with Alistair Burt, the minister with responsibility for the Middle East, to put this question to him. In a room fit for the British Empire, Alistair munched his way through a plastic triangle of sandwiches and a packet of crisps while I voiced my frustration and bemusement at our failure.

I like Alistair a lot, and shall keep the details of our conversation confidential. He was well informed and appreciated the position fully. We both agreed (he as a former chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel) that it was in Israel’s long term interest to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians, but in response to the key question his answer was the same as I have heard many times from ministers and European Commissioners. In summary it was this:

“Yes Israel’s approach is wrong, and it very unfortunate that it does not do as we request, but the situation is very delicate at the moment. We believe that the two sides genuinely would like the negotiations now taking place to make progress, and we do not want to do anything that might detract from that. But Israel must understand that we could get tough in future.”

So that’s that. More gentle words for now, the suggestion of something stronger in future.

But how often have we heard that before?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


The Foreign Ministers of France and Spain, Kouchner and Moratinos, were told to take a running jump by their Israeli opposite number Avigdor Lieberman when he met them last Sunday. They put the case for a two-state solution, arguing that the failure to establish a Palestinian state would undermine Israel’s security. The response they got was total dismissal. “Israel will not be the Czechoslovakia of 2010,” said Lieberman, making clear that he regards all Palestinian land as belonging to Israel. He then ignored all diplomatic niceties by leaking details of the exchange to the media.

The Europeans should have stopped kidding themselves long ago and accepted that the Israeli government hasn’t the slightest intention of agreeing to a two-state solution. Now it is preparing the ground to defend a system of apartheid between Jews and non-Jews for years to come. Netanyahu told the Knesset on 10 October: “If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognises Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and ask for another suspension of construction (of settlements on Palestinian land) for a fixed period. Because the Palestinians expect us to recognise the Palestinian state as their nation-state, we can expect them to recognise the Jewish state as our nation-state.”

If Palestinians were to accept Netanyahu’s latest ruse they would condemn their people forever to live in a land where Jews would have rights as citizens and non-Jews would be condemned forever to be serfs, lucky if they had even some limited and uncertain privileges. The principle would apply just as much to the Greater Israel now being created as to the one confined by 1967 borders.

The thief has his hands in the open desk and is stealing the contents. It is plain for all to see, but the EU stands to one side, wagging its finger and saying “you really shouldn’t do that.” It is pathetic.

Europe’s governments should slam down the desk lid and crush the thief’s fingers.

The EU should back up its fine words with some firm deeds, suspending the Association Agreement that provides for preferential dealings with Israel until the illegal building of settlements on occupied territory is stopped. Only then will Israel pay attention. As Lieberman told the press after his meeting: “In the reality of the Middle East, only the strong survive.”

Will the EU act? Not a chance. The guilt of history stays us from curbing Israeli injustice today. We are weak, weak, weak.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


We have been promised that the Coalition will be the greenest government ever.

Well, maybe. The jury has yet to start considering the evidence.

One of the first instances to be cited will be the government’s approach to the draft EU Regulation on Light Commercial Vehicles. Its object is to reduce CO2 emissions from white vans and their like. The European Commission has called for average emissions from new vehicles to be reduced by 2020 to 135g/km from about 200g/km today (which is also where they were a decade ago).

This should be a win-win proposal for business and the environment. Reducing CO2 emissions means raising fuel efficiency standards, making the vehicles cheaper to use. An impact assessment prepared for the Commission says that any increase in the costs of new vans will be offset by net savings in running costs of €2163 during their lifetimes. A study by the UK’s Department for Transport says the payback period will be less than 4 years. Both these reports are based on very conservative assumptions about oil prices and exaggerated assumptions about the likely increase in the price of new vehicles, but they have been sufficient to persuade the Federation of Small Businesses - not commonly known for its support for EU legislation - to come out in favour of the proposal.

By contrast the vehicle manufacturers are strongly opposed. They say (ludicrously!) that they cannot do better than 160g/km by 2020. But then the vehicle manufacturers have a long history of opposing legislation of this kind, only to embrace it with surprising ease once the political fight is over (think catalytic converts, lead free petrol, or even the very similar EU legislation that now sets CO2 reduction targets for passenger cars).

The rapporteur (lead negotiator) for the legislation in the European Parliament is Tory MEP Martin Callanan. Before the formation of the Coalition Government he proposed amending the target to 150g/km. He has since raised his ambitions ( a small success for Lib Dem-Con partnership at Westminster). Last month he secured the support of the Environment Committee for a target of 140g/km. I will back this if it proves to be the compromise necessary to gain strong cross-party support, although my aim in committee was to endorse the original Commission plan to try and secure a good position for the eventual negotiations to reconcile the differences.

Back in the UK there are three different government departments and three different ministers involved in determining the official position: Norman Baker at DfT, Chris Huhne at DECC, and Vince Cable at BIS. They are all Liberal Democrats. Just to complicate matters it is DfT that leads on the issue in Britain but it is DECC that has to take charge of negotiations in the EU Council of Ministers.

The UK has now announced that its official position is to support a target of 135g/km - but by 2022. This is the equivalent of a 2020 target of 147-148g/km, less ambitious than the European Parliament looks set to support and a very significant weakening of the Commission’s position.

Now if this were the government’s fallback position it might just be understandable, but it is the UK’s opening gambit. I wonder if the new ministers appreciate the bargaining that goes into making EU laws and achieving a common position - if you give an inch at this stage those with a different view will take a mile (the metric equivalent of this wording doesn’t sound so good).

My worry is that someone understands the bargaining position all too well, and that Chris Huhne is going to have to carry the can. Somehow he will have to explain why a government that wants the EU to cut CO2 emissions by 30% instead of 20% by 2020 also wants to weaken the the means by which the Commission hopes to achieve that goal.

Monday, 11 October 2010


Two High Court judges will announce on November 5 whether to debar Labour MP Phil Woolas and force a by-election in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency.

A specially convened election court – the first of its kind to be held in nearly 100 years –heard four days of evidence last month.

Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins challenged the result of last May’s election on the grounds that Woolas has secured his majority of just 103 votes by making false statements about his opponent.

Most commentators who followed the hearing say that the case was proven to be strong and the odds are in favour of a judgement against Woolas.

The case centres around a Labour election leaflet, headed ‘The Examiner’, that was designed to appear like a tabloid newspaper.

Elwyn’s barrister described it as part of a campaign intended to galvanise the white Sun-reading vote against him by suggesting that he was conniving with “Mad Muslims” and extremists to defeat Woolas.

I have lived in Saddleworth for 25 years, and I remember when the leaflet came through our own door that my wife, Carol, described it as “appalling.” That was saying something, given that she and I thought that my own 1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election fight against Woolas had inured us to his nasty style of campaigning and the gross distortions of his opponents’ views he practices.

Whatever their verdict the judges’ ruling will shape the nature of election campaigning for years to come. If Elwyn’s petition fails, and the judges allow Woolas to keep his seat, then the message they will send is that there are no limits to the way in which truth can be twisted in the name of politics.

Saturday, 9 October 2010


On a beautiful day I have just run the Langdale Fell Race in the Lake District – 14 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing. My 66th position was disappointing, although being the 3rd finisher aged over 50 provides some compensation.

I spent far too much time on steep descents communing with hard and slippery Lake District rock. My body bears the marks to prove it.


I’m pleased that Chris Huhne has voiced caveats about the future of Government economic policy. His views are shared by many Liberal Democrat parliamentarians, myself included.

We all accept the need to reduce the deficit but it is common sense to point out that the approach may have to be adjusted if the economy experiences a severe downturn.

So long as the private sector creates plenty of new jobs we can afford to cut public expenditure. But if unemployment soars, tax revenues fall and the welfare bill grows, making it harder to reduce the deficit.

Of course our approach would have to be adjusted in such circumstances. To do otherwise would be akin to the captain of a ship ordering ‘full steam ahead’ after being told that water is pouring in through a hole at the bows.


I’ve just met with a company that wants to use carbon dioxide to enhance oil recovery (EOR) beneath the North Sea. Although I have become the European Parliament’s in-house expert on carbon capture and storage issues (CCS) this was the first time I can recall people talking to me seriously about developing EOR in Europe.

The principle is simple. By pumping CO2 into the rock that bears oil you flush out more of it than will come to the surface naturally. Most of the CO2 stays underground, but what comes back up to the surface with the oil gets captured and pumped back down again for permanent storage.

Enhanced oil recovery has been carried out in the USA for decades, but for the most part the carbon dioxide has come not from power plants where it is a by product of fuel burning but has been extracted from dormant volcanoes and piped for hundreds of miles specifically for the purpose.

Applied in Britain it could allow us to gain value from the North Sea oilfields for decades longer than will otherwise be the case, while reducing our CO2 emissions into the atmosphere at the same time.

One of the most interesting meetings I have had in a long time.

Friday, 8 October 2010


EU laws have to be turned into national laws before they can be applied. How this is done is up to each government and parliament. In one country, for example, it could be that the requirements of a single EU law might be broken into parts with different bits then included in modifications to a range of existing laws. Sometimes bits go “missing” or get “overlooked.”

The easy way to make sure that this doesn’t happen is for every government to publish a correlation table that shows how the different clauses of an EU law have been transposed into national laws. The European Commission wants this to be done in every instance, the European Parliament agrees, but the Council of Ministers has fought off attempts to get the principle established as standard practice.

So a series of individual battles are taking place. Sometimes the MEPs negotiating the final shape of legislation manage to get inserted a clause that insists that Member States shall publish a correlation table that will show where every article of an EU law can be found in national legislation, and sometimes they don’t. It depends on how keen each side is to get the law made quickly, and how much the individuals concerned care about the issue.

I’m involved in one such skirmish at present, being part of the negotiating team working on legislation that restricts the use of hazardous substances in electronic equipment.

The Belgian Presidency is keen to get a feather in its cap by getting this sorted during its term of office. Parliament’s rapporteur (team leader), Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans, is holding firm on a few key issues but has compromised or backed down on many others. A deal between the Parliament and the Council must be close.

I’m holding out for the correlation table. Using my notes, Jill insisted that this was a matter of “good governance” at our most recent meeting with the Belgian deputy ambassador (who negotiates on behalf of the Council). The European Commission representative supported her. The Council’s argument was so weak (“it’s not a requirement of the inter-institutional agreement between Parliament and Council”) that one of their officials later came over to apologise to me for it.

We have one more meeting scheduled. If agreement is reached on all other matters will the Council really refuse to support an agreement because MEPs want people to be able to find out how each country is putting the law into practice?

Who will blink first?

Thursday, 7 October 2010


The cuts have started. They have begun amongst the Prime Minister’s speech writing team.

Content counts, but style matters - especially to the audience. Cameron’s conference speech in Birmingham was rhetoric light, sleep-inducing heavy.

Could this climax have got the Conservative party faithful to their feet if they hadn’t been expected to perform for the TV cameras: "Let’s come together. Let’s work together. In the national interest.”


There are times when it matters what you say. And there are times when what matters is how you say it.

Here’s a freebie for Cameron. Next time, try it this way:

“So Conference, in the national interest......let’s come together, let’s work together, let’s succeed – TOGETHER!”

Prime Minister, for a consideration, I might be free to help out from summer 2014.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I like the new Fisheries Commissioner, and after her presentation to the European Parliament’s Environment Committee a week ago (28 September) I guess I am not alone.

Maria Damanaki is Greek, has been a socialist Member of Parliament in her country for many years, and arrived in Brussels knowing next to nothing about fisheries policy. But she is no fool. Nor is she without courage; as a student she was a radio voice of liberation who was tortured for her views by the dictatorship of the time.

I had asked that she speak to the committee about her plans for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. I hoped that its ‘greenish’ tinge would strengthen her convictions, counter balancing the less ambitious views of the Fisheries Committee with whom she normally works.

She did not disappoint.

“The proposals I make next year will be ambitious. If we lose this opportunity there will be no future for fishing," she said.

"We cannot ignore the scientific advice any more. 80% of EU fish stocks are not healthy. We need root and branch reform.

“We cannot continue to give money to fishermen to throw fish back in the sea, dead. (Discards) are unacceptable. Money should be used instead to provide help with storage and market intelligence.

“Small scale fisheries are the most sustainable and provide economic opportunities for coastal areas. We want to support them while controlling industrial fishing. The owners of the big boats take most of the fish and have the loudest voices, but they employ few people.

“I do not have many allies among the EU’s governments. Fisheries ministers are not generally supportive of radical change. There will be a hostile reaction to change. The Commission has tried to achieve radical reform in the past and twice has failed. I need help.”

My number one political objective is to make sure that she gets it.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


For 5 years Nick Clegg and Roger Helmer represented the East Midlands region as Euro-MPs. On the one hand was Clegg, an utterly pro-European Liberal Democrat who despite his years as a Commission insider is a pragmatist who condemns the absurdities of some EU practices. On the other hand was Helmer, a frothing-at-the-mouth Conservative Europhobe who wants Britain out of the EU immediately if not sooner. Their different views were reflected in the debates they had in the letters' columns of local newspapers.

Helmer has had his triumphs. He has seen his party grown to be dominated by people of like instinct. He has seen the Tory Group pull out of the European Peoples' Party and form an alliance with a handful of fellow sceptics. And in the May general election he saw his party become the largest in the House of Commons.

But from that moment it has all gone downhill.

New Europe Minister David Liddington is proving another pragmatic soul who gets on with the work in hand. His statement on the Coalition Government's European Policy is one I can endorse. Essentially it says that the UK government will not agree to any further transfer of powers from member states to the EU without there first being a referendum, but that there will not be a referendum in the next 5 years. (I don't approve of referendums so I am glad that there will be none). Changes in EU rules that do not involve a transfer of power - such as the accession of Norway or Croatia - will be put to a vote in the House of Commons.

The statement did not make reference to the big change it represents in the Tory position: there will be no attempt to repatriate powers from the EU.

I think I heard Nick Clegg sum up the compromise agreed as "we lower our ambitions, they drop their nonsense." It means that the government will just get on with the business of Britain in Europe, dealing with the issues as they arise.

But for Roger Helmer this is terrible stuff. "I start to despair for my party and my country," he told a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference yesterday.

Eat your heart out Roger. On Europe, Clegg has won.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Europe’s climate action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, has been dealt a poor hand.

She has the thankless task of leading the EU’s efforts to secure an international agreement on measures to fight global warming, and to encourage our own Member States to sign up to initiatives that will demonstrate Europe’s continuing leadership on the issue while meeting other goals, such as strengthening energy sufficiency and reducing our use of scarce resources.

But despite the scientific evidence of climate change having been wholly vindicated, continuing scepticism about the need for action prevails and saps political will, both here and elsewhere. The world needs the USA – the largest per capita emitter of CO2 – to sign up to far-reaching reforms, but there is not the slightest indication that they are likely to do so in the near future.

If the largest emitters of global warming gases will not make a commitment to reduce them it is hard for Europe’s politicians to argue that the EU, releasing just 13% of the total, must incur the costs of action alone.

COP16, the next conference of the parties (governments) who have signed the UN’s framework convention on climate change, meets in a few weeks’ time in Cancun, Mexico. After the disappointment of Copenhagen the expectations are low. Hedegaard set out to the European Parliament’s environment committee on Monday (4 October) a very limited set of criteria by which to measure its ‘success’.

“Cancun MUST keep the momentum,” she told MEPs. “If Cancun does not deliver substantial progress it is difficult to see where such progress will be made.”

Gamblers may recognise the need to play even a bad hand with confidence.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Nick, go Dutch!

I like the Dutch. I like the liberal nature of their politics that I am sure will prevail despite the 15% of votes recently won by the anti-Islam ‘Freedom’ Party. I like the impression the Dutch create of having fewer hang-ups than the British. Maybe it’s a consequence of our sanctimonious tabloid press, or an unwillingness here to confront the disproportionate influence of religious extremists, but when it comes to dealing with controversial issues like drugs, prostitution, and medically assisted dying the Dutch are simply more grown up.

Dutch law provides for people suffering unendurably with no hope of recovery to seek medical help to die. Safeguards ensure that all such decisions reflect patients’ free will. Investigations have been made into a few ‘grey area’ cases but no doctor has ever been prosecuted. By contrast, British citizens experiencing great suffering who make the decision to bring forward their time of dying have to travel to Switzerland to seek medical assistance through the Dignitas organisation.

The war on illegal drugs is lost. It has been an expensive failure, and the worldwide cost paid in lives destroyed and honest society undermined has been vastly more damaging than the health effects of the drugs themselves. Debate about replacing prohibition with a regime of licensing and regulation is now firmly on the agenda in the Americas. Dutch policy of permitting the sale of cannabis from authorised outlets has driven a wedge between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs. Consumption of all types in the Netherlands is very much less than in the UK.

The ‘oldest profession’ is not going to go away. Prostitution is legal in Britain but if two or more people work together for their mutual protection they face prosecution. Licensing rules might prove problematic for local councillors but brothels should be made legal, as they are in the Netherlands.

Liberal Democrats have progressive policies on these issues and we should use our role in government to place them on the agenda. Nick Clegg is the first Dutch-speaking leader of our party; I look to him to bring some of the no-nonsense pragmatism of his mother’s country to debate here.