Wednesday, 24 February 2010


The editor of Forum magazine, Sarah Berry, writes to invite me to accept a nomination as Politician of the Year for the 2010 Erotic Awards.

It is tempting. There are free tickets for the Night of the Senses awards ceremony (raising money for disabled people) and the chance to win the 'coveted' Flying Golden Penis Trophy.

A declaration is required that I support their ethos, which I could provide without difficulty, but I decline to proceed.

It's an honour to be considered but it's not justified. I organised a fringe meeting to give sex workers a voice at last year's party conference, and more recently I put out a press release defending sex workers from prohibitionist government policies. But it's not enough.

The Golden Penis award must go to someone more deserving.

Monday, 22 February 2010


If Gordon Brown is to be believed he and I have one thing in common, neither of us has ever hit anyone - although I have many times been sorely tempted. On the other hand I have three times been pushed around (assaulted?) by Labour councillors over the years, twice in Liverpool (by Derek Hatton on one occasion) and once in Oldham.

I have also exploded in rage and resorted to expletives on occasion in moments of stress, although I can't recall a recent occasion.

I was at my worst during the 1978 campaign when I first stood for election to Liverpool city council. My agent bore up well under pressure. Nothing since then seems so bad, although I did jump up and down and destroy a briefcase during the 1992 general election out of sheer frustration with my then agent (Howard Sykes, now leader of Oldham council) who had decided that the candidate was not included on his 'need to know' list.

Anyway, none of my staff have been seized by the lapels, either because I have mellowed with age, or because they are too nice, or too scary.


Council officers earning more than £150,000 are required now to reveal full details of their salary package. There are strong demands for the BBC to make clear how much it pays top personalities. And the salary and expenses paid to politicians is already made known.

So why stop there? If some council officers have to reveal financial details then why not all public sector employees? And why should such a disclosure rule apply only to the public sector? Let's make it universal.

It's not as outrageous an idea as you might think. In Norway the tax returns of every citizen are published on the internet. Sweden and Finland also make much personal tax information available everywhere.

Let it all hang out, treat it as a matter of routine, the result will be a healthier society (and a bit less tax avoidance!). It might even lead to a reduction in the gross income inequalities that exist in Britain.

Some people would be embarrassed to have details published of the payments they receive. But maybe that's because they have good reason to be embarrassed.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


Nick Clegg has proved himself a class political act with his strategy in the event of a hung parliament.

No coalition, but voting support for either larger party in return for commitments to promote the education of those on the lowest rung, reform the tax system to reduce income inequalities, boost the green economy (environmentalism and bash the bankers), and to introduce a fairer voting system.

So Liberal Democrats can now talk about issues they care about rather than answering questions about which other party they might support.

If the finesse works a treat we even get the others talking about OUR agenda and how far they would go to meet it.

Very neat.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Average emissions from new cars on the European market fell to 153gCO2/km for 2008, the steepest drop since records began to be collected a decade ago. It means that cars are becoming more fuel efficient, and shows the value of the EU legislation that has set CO2 reduction targets for manufacturers.

MEPs helped shape the new law so how well are we putting our words into practice?

In 2009 the European Parliament bought 4 cars for the use of its president, secretary general and political group leaders, with emissions ranging from 193 to 224 gCO2/km (mind you, this was quite a reduction on 2008). Two BMW cars (192) and four Mercedes (154) were also bought for the 'pool.'

We are getting better but still not practising what we preach. The powers that be are still wedded to the idea that high status is demonstrated by a high emitting vehicle, and are failing to take proper regard of some of the impressive low emission cars now on the market.

I feel an amendment to the Parliament's budget coming on....

Friday, 12 February 2010


The issue was the so-called SWIFT agreement between the EU governments and the USA. (If this sounds dull stay with me for another paragraph or two).

Initially made on a ‘temporary’ basis, it has given the American authorities access to the confidential bank records of millions of European citizens. Allegedly it helps identify transactions that might suggest terrorist sources of funding. But it’s outrageously one-sided – the Americans have been able to see our details but not the other way around. Critics of the agreement say that it does not provide proper protection for personal privacy, has done nothing in practice to combat terrorism, and that the information can be accessed anyway if selectively requested, just not on a general basis.

The lobbying to persuade MEPs to support it has been intense, with letters from Hilary Clinton and pleas from the Commission and the Council, although not all governments (Sweden for example) agree with it.

The Council, represented by Spain at present, got off to a bad start a month ago when they forgot that the new Lisbon Treaty gives the European Parliament a veto right over international treaties and failed to get the documents prepared in time. They have been struggling to regain authority ever since.

On Thursday, 11 February, the huge semi-circular Parliament chamber in Strasbourg was packed for the lunchtime votes. Fourth on the list was a single recommendation to reject the agreement tabled by my Dutch Liberal (VVD) colleague, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who has been in charge of the brief.

The President (Speaker) invited the leader of the right-of-centre group, Joseph Daul, to move a motion of postponement. Daul stood up and argued that the Council had promised speedy action to address the concerns so we should cooperate by giving them more time. One half of the chamber applauded vigorously while the other half stayed quiet. The sound effect seemed to split the room in two. I noticed a few British Labour MEPs toeing the British government line by making clapping motions amidst their silent colleagues, but not many.

The leader of the British Tories, Timothy Kirkhope, got up to second the postponement, and the House again responded with claps on one side and silence on the other.

Jeanine got to her feet three spaces along the row from me and opposed the motion. Her party is to the right-of-centre but not on this issue. The Council had broken its promises time and again, she said, had shown no good faith, and had done nothing to address concerns about individual privacy. She finished with a killer sentence (I paraphrase): “We all know that if the President of the United States were to submit an agreement of this kind to Congress, one that gave details of American citizens to Europeans but not the other way around, it would be rejected OUT OF HAND.” This time our side of the House erupted with applause, and it was the turn of the right-of-centre to stay silent.

Cecilia Malmstrom rose from the European Commission bench. I have known her since my first day in the Parliament when she was elected as a young Swedish Liberal alongside me in 1999. As an MEP she was a great champion for issues of liberty. When Liberals joined the new right-of-centre government in Sweden three years ago she was appointed European Minister, and a couple of days ago she was confirmed as the new Swedish Commissioner, so she has worn all three EU hats. She informed the House of the official Commission position of support for the postponement.

The leader of the Socialists and Democrats, Martin Schulz, stood up on a point of order. “Is this REALLY a point of order?” queried the President. “I just wanted to ask the Commissioner,” said Martin innocently, “how her personal position had changed since a few weeks ago when she stood here as a Swedish Minister and opposed the agreement?” The House burst into laughter. A huge grin spread over Cecilia’s face. She didn’t get up but just gestured to the President, “how can I answer that?!”

The motion to postpone was put to a vote. The result came up on the giant display screen: lost by 15. The Liberal and Left burst into cheers.

The President took the main vote. With the ‘compromise’ now off the agenda MEPs voted by a big majority, 378 to 196, to reject the agreement.

The European Parliament had stood up for individual rights and for the first time ever had rejected an international treaty. Around me there was great excitement, and half the House rose to applaud Jeanine in a standing ovation.

If you haven’t heard much about what would normally have been expected to be a major news story there is a simple explanation. The Parliament was meeting in Strasbourg, while every journalist covering European affairs was in Brussels to follow the meeting of Prime Ministers as they considered the fate of Greece and the euro.

But behind the scenes, the governments of Europe know now that they can no longer take the European Parliament for granted. Adoption of the Lisbon Treaty has moved the goalposts.