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.