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.