Friday, 30 November 2012

Freedoms compromised? Leveson report

Disagreement between Nick and Dave
It could be argued that we've reached one of those great turning points in British political history, one that will be debated by politicos and Historians for decades. We had one a few years ago when the virtually unknown Nick Clegg implored the Labour Government to suspend the Summer recess so that a full investigation into the expenses scandal could be carried out. Real change and legislation could have been brought in.

But it wasn't.

As Nick Clegg said in his statement yesterday, there is a balance between the freedom of speech and of an independent press and that of the individual. It cannot be argued with that the Press have behaved atrociously including hacking voice mails, bribing Police officers, rummaging through celebrity's bins and behaviour comparable to stalking. This has to stop.

I (predictably) agree with Nick that we need to side with the victims on this and need to act.

Parliament failed to do this with expenses, they cannot fail to act again.

I'm not talking about a hasty knee jerk action that would see state control of the media on the Cuban or Stalinist model, rather along the lines that Lord Leveson has suggested. I understand concerns of an attack on the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press but self regulation has not worked and the press complaints committee has no teeth.

Under Leveson's suggestions there would need to be legislation to create the independent body and to maintain it's independence. Hardly state control.

There will also be a able to breach the code IF they can prove it is in the Public interest i.e. the Telegraph rumbling the Expenses fraud in Parliament.

We mustn't now prevaricate. I, like many people, am impatient for reform. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing says Nick

No more last chance saloons says Ed Miliband.

The Prime minister needs to get a grip and realise what is going on and listen to what the people want. Change is needed and careful steps that follow the Leveson blue print would really make a difference. I don't understand his prevarication on this subject - the course is clear. Yes to freedom of the press and speech but yes, always yes to the freedom of the individual and these suggestions are the best way to reach the happy medium and it is up to parliamentary debate to make sure that any legislation is well thought out and reaches this medium for the real term benefit of us all.

To not act, as Parliament did when the nation was rocked by expenses, is to fail, to break the promises that were repeatedly made at the dispatch box and to perpetuate this broken system. People are losing faith in our Politics and Governing systems, this Coalition was meant to restore faith and only the Libdems appear to be listening to the people - time for the Conservatives to wake up and smell the coffee on this too.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Three charges against Helen Grant MP

A week after the charges levelled at Helen Grant over her expenses the dust has settled and the minister is still in post.

The big question is should she?

After all on top of the expenses there is a charge of ignoring constituents and their complaints and also fiddling an employees contract AFTER he signed it which I thought was highly illegal in employment law.

First, looking at her expenses it should be stated that what she is doing doesn't break the rules. However it is bad form.

Call me old fashioned but an elected representative should be elected from among the people to represent the people. There are of course grey areas like a candidate living in Rochester and standing for Chatham - the two areas are so close and if the individual has interests in the constituency then that is alright. However living in Reigate, which isn't even in the same county, is pretty far removed, especially when claiming a second flat in Vauxhall.

I had the distinct privilege to grow up just off the Weald, attend a school in Maidstone and to list the Weald as one of my favourite places in the World. If you don't want to live there you need to ask yourself if you're representing the right constituency. There are conflicting reports that say her mother lives in Sutton Valance and that Helen maintains a residence in Marden but no one has seen her in my home village and believe me - it's not that big!

It is one thing to turn up for events and surgeries but only ever weekend there and another to live and have serious ties there. In fact the MPs current operations have left constituents fear full that when her constituency office in Maidstone is sold off they will have to commute to London to see her. This has been denied according to the Cranbrook press but watch this space. Should this happen it would be a ridiculous state of affairs.

Say what you like about Anne Widdecombe but she always had the interests of Maidstone at her heart, maintained a residence and was a common sight around the countryside.

The next charge is failing to listen to her constituents. About three months ago I was talking to a couple of campaigners who are trying to stop rail fare rises but their MP - Helen Grant - had cut off all correspondences with them. Her political aide had this to say in an email response:

  It is clear from the Twitter networking site that your unwarranted and unpleasant activities have been ongoing since that email was sent.  We attach a sample for your ease of reference.  Mrs Grant, like any other individual, is under no obligation to engage with rude and abusive people whether it be in the course of her work or in her private life.

We would now ask that you desist from sending any further emails or other forms of communication to Mrs Grant or to her staff.  We consider your persistent unpleasant email approaches and twitter posts are a form of harassment and we reserve our right to take legal action to prevent ongoing activities if you do not cease.  We hope this will not be necessary.

I unfortunately do not have a copy of the emails sent to Mrs Grant but I do have a copy of the offencive tweets which had been sent in this email to the two campaigners. The tweets were not offencive in any shape way or form. They questioned her competence as an MP and indeed demonstrate the same level of frustration that we commuters feel about the system but none of them were abusive.

A while ago I wrote about the symptomatic social change of customer relations with staff etc. Unfortunately Mrs Grant has to come to terms with the fact that this is no longer the 1930's and that people can be demanding and a little bit rude some times especially when they are frustrated by the system that continues to milk them dry of their hard earned money and the MP elected to represent them seems to be a.) not doing anything to sort the problem and b.) claiming rail expenses so they don't have to pay for their transportation.

This of course does not stack well when other local MPs are not claiming expenses in this manner and are also regularly updating their twitter feeds, websites and press releases to show what they are doing to sort out the issue whether successful or not.

Also, like it or not, Twitter is a forum for freedom of speech and the statement of opinions that were made by the two activists were in fact that. Whether you like someone's opinion of you or not it is irrelevant to the over all situation. They are your constituents and come wind or shine you should be representing them. In responses you can stay aloof and rise above it.

I know as a solicitor and lawyer she will be accustomed to dealing with people who have more respect for her position but as an MP you need to earn that respect in today's political climate and frankly I think her publicised actions and expenses have not aided that. 

Finally, the accusation that the MP changed her political assistant's contract after it was signed. It was amended so that the usual 6 months paid sick leave was reduced to two weeks to -Save the taxpayer money. A somewhat hilarious notion considering the expenses claims...

As far as I'm aware, and my employment law is somewhat fuzzy since I left the PCS a couple of years ago, but your Terms and Conditions (of which Sick pay is a definite T&C) cannot be altered without negotiation with the contract holder. So what the heck happened?

There are some serious problems in the house of Grant that need addressing either by herself or by David Cameron as her party leader. This 2010 watershed was meant to bring us MPs who were different, who wanted change and to make the system better - not continue in the same vein.

Although Maidstone and Weald is a somewhat safe seat I really do hope that if this sort of disregard for her constituents continues, in 2015 there is a swing away to another candidate whether another Conservative or another party.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Should MPs from Kent claim a second home allowance?

Whilst reading about the latest expenses scandal to rock Parliament - especially the Helen Grant story, something that I am going to write about later on today as it will require proper referencing etc as to why she has indeed failed her constituents even by "Playing by the rules" - I came across an interesting brief debate on Twitter about the necessity of a second home allowance for Kentish MPs.

At first I agreed that such a measure should not be necessary. After all they live within spitting distance of London but after the brief knee jerk reaction I opened my mind and thought about it... (something I hope you guys will do too) and actually I have some good reasons why they should have a second home allowance for a flat in London.

Firstly - The Commute. On paper it is nothing that vast numbers of people don't already do. I include myself in that, I travel five, sometimes six, days a week up to Waterloo at varying times of the day and back to Gillingham. It is perfectly reasonable to expect MPs to do the same...


Some sittings of the house go on as late as 11pm. Taking it takes 30 minutes to get from Westminster to Victoria or Waterloo and entering in target destinations these are the times three local MPs would get to their respective stations.

Mark Reckless MP 23.42 from Waterloo East --> Arrives Rochester at 0.51

Tracey Crouch MP 23:42 from Waterloo East --> Arrives at Strood at 0.51 then she would have to wait until 04.55 train to Aylesford arriving there just before 6 am the next day.

Obviously for Tracey, the train journey would not be viable.

Helen Grant MP 0.07 from Victoria arrives at 1.11 at Maidstone East
                          23:42 from Waterloo East arriving at Strood at 0.51 where she would join Tracey in the long wait/walk home.

If however, she lived in Marden, where her Wikipedia Biog suggests, the 23:43 from Waterloo gets in at 0.33

Of course for Helen living in Reigate some 19 miles from Westminster the above journey is of course irrelevant.

So this is all well and good but then factor in the need to be back in the office for 9am... Well the return legs are as follows: (worked out as from home to London stations)

Mark Reckless would need to catch the 7.15 to Victoria arriving at 8.17
Tracey Crouch would need to catch the 7.12 to St Pancras and tube it to Westminster
Helen Grant on the 7.09 Maidstone East to Victoria arriving at 8.23

So put yourself in their shoes. You've been at work until late, you get off the train at 1am and then some six hours later you have to get a train back to work.

I've done similar. On a late shift I finish at 6pm and get home to Gillingham and to my front door at 8pm, I then need to start at 4am to do an early shift (I'm doing that today!!!) so I am back for 6.30 am and I can tell you - It is indeed Bloody tiring, throws life into chaos and is bad for your health. I find myself often run down and kipping on trains which has the amusing side effect of being robbed on one occasion whilst I dozed.

I miss my little girl Sophie
Secondly with the Commute is the lack of time with family etc. There is the fashionable "Work life balance" term that gets thrown around and it wasn't until I commuted did I really see what it meant. When commuting these sort of distances and at times implied, albeit not every day, your work life balance would be horrifically tilted towards work and that is no way to exist. We're all human and not robots (although I have my doubts about some) and part of being human is social contact especially with our loved ones and friends, even your children. I tire of not seeing mine because they're in bed when I get home or when I leave for work - it explains the big hugs I get from Sophie when I get home.

Let us be honest, I know - rare in the life of many politicos - wouldn't you rather spend more time with your families and doing what you want to do rather than at work or on the train?

So lets take a deep, collective breath and think about this... is it really such a gain for them or such a burden ( £20k a year) for the tax payers. I'd argue that an MP who is able to function properly in the House, without a lack of sleep, commute weary and able to sit until 11pm and back for 9 is worth the expense.


As so often I have charged in a direction that is slightly erroneous and in the light of Tristan's comment I am more than happy to amend my original statement - I appear to have used the wrong timetable!

In light of the *cough* correct information, although, taking a rough two hours a journey (which is my Lambeth to Gillingham trip) an MP who sat until 7pm would get home around 9pm. This is a bit more of a reasonable time.

Yes they may still have 9am starts for office work etc but the balance is fairly similar to what the majority of us put up with.

The rules on housing may be a hangover from an older period before faster modes of transport.

Maybe this situation does need looking at.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Medway Libdems and the PCC

Ok, I know that this is rather a moot point at the moment as I meant to write this last week before being laid out by man flu.

On Friday 9th November - Yes I know, again, sorry - a letter from the Medway Liberal Democrat's chair, Tony Jeacock was published in the Medway Messenger.

Danger of politicising the Police policy in county.

Cllr Mackinlay states if elected as Police commissioner, he'll take all the salary as he considers it a 24/7 job.

Surely this would mean a by-election in River ward in which he holds a council seat. All six PCC candidates proclaim their independence from party political influence.

Cllr Mackinlay, formerly UKIP, now Conservative, Piers Wauchope formerly Conservative and now UKIP, Steve Uncles an English democrat and Harriet Yeo, life long Labour, while "Independent", Dai Liyanage, a past Libdem, pronounces he has had no political party affiliations for the past two years.

He fails to mention he jumped the Libdem ship before he was pushed because of disloyalry to the party, or that he tried unsuccessfully to get the Libdems to accept him back into the fold during the last six months.

With European Arrest Warrant being a piece of EU Legislation which assisted in catching and arresting dangerous and violent criminals, like Hussain Osman, one of the London bombers, and considering that both UKIP and many Conservative MPs want to opt out of EU measures, it would be worthwhile knowing the position of each candidate on the EAW and whether they would fight to save it.

Libdems in Kent voted against PCCs, as we are against the potential for the Kent Police force becoming politicised and thus distorting policing policy, especially towards the end of the four year term of office when the PCC will be seeking re-election for a further four years.

There was also Cllr Geoff Juby's column in Party People

Role has the power to corrupt.

Whoever thought up the idea of having just one person in charge of a whole police force must have forgotten their history, and the lessons from the past about how total power can corrupt.

The current system of having a police authority overseeing each force may be a quango, something which I normally oppose, but at least it had some elements of democracy and some safeguards. The Police authority is made up of a mix of elected politicians and people from the community so different people can ask whatever questions they like and also request investigations into complaints against the Police.

One person will be expected to cover the work of thirteen people from diverse origin and opinion. I still don't see how it will work or how accountable the system will be. Each council area will appoint Councillors to a "Scrutiny" panel but my experience of scrutiny so far is it has no powers and even fewer teeth!

The Government is pushing the idea of a person independent of political affiliations, a concept which Liberal Democrats locally do agree with and have not fielded a candidate, unlike Conservatives and Labour who have put forward current serving councillors!

What is all important about this new police Commissioner will be his or her integrity. Old fashioned perhaps but in this instance I am hoping that people who go out and vote will put aside political party loyalties, or the natural instinct to vote for a name they recognise, and really research the character and ideas of each candidate before they put a cross on the piece of paper on November 15th

Wise words from both Geoff and Tony on the subject.

As I've said in the past, I like the idealist nature of the Commissioner but in reality I do wonder about the Political nature of the whole thing and whether or not the PCC would listen to party masters on policy and not the people of Kent (All 1.6 million or so).

That's why I voted for Ann Barnes, an Independent.

I personally feel that the campaign was tinged by national politics and a certain amount of scaremongering. 

There was talk on the Twittersphere of voting Labour to stop privatisation of the Police force. If Mackinlay got in surely the Tories would move to privatise certain aspects of the Police force.

I'm not sure that this is possible as surely, Commissioner or no, this sort of decision would have to be taken in Westminster not Maidstone Police HQ. Further to that I haven't seen any evidence to support this theory. That doesn't mean it is not out there, just that I've not found it yet.

It is an easy way to scare people into voting a certain way and is used a lot during National debate and elections. The kind of thing that puts people off politics and may even effect the really low turn out of some 16%!

This is all in the past of course. A PCC has been elected and it is now up to us, and I mean you and I, citizens of Kent, to watch this experiment progress and see what has been put in motion....

Desert Island disks and books

I though for once I'd write a blogpost that has nothing to do with Politics and very little to do with Germany and started to think about what else I spend my time doing.

My family life I want to keep, somewhat selfishly, to myself. It is my little slice of personal bliss and although I let somethings out and some people in I'd rather keep that mine if that is ok.

I spend a lot of time on trains going back and forth to the Olde Bedlam Sanatorium that is my work place which means I spend a lot of time reading and listening to music. I thought I'd share my favourites of both and why they're my favourites.

So, five albums, five books and five tracks;

Version 2.0 by Garbage. An outstanding album, possibly their best, that has the distinction of being one of the few albums I can play all the way through with only one track skipped.
Shirley Manson (pictured) and the boys (Duke, Butch and Steve) provide a fast paced rock soundtrack with songs like Temptation waits and the superlative Push it. However it will be for the slower tracks You look so fine and the Trick is to keep Breathing which stand out for me, eternally linked to my favourite Star Wars character, Admiral Daala. I was reading the book (Planet of Twilight) in which they wrote her out of the narrative back when I was 17ish.
The album is, a masterpiece with fast guitars, synth underlay, catchy rifts and a good dosage of anger fuelled Redheaded female rage which, apparently is my thing.

Which leads me to the first book Star Wars Darksaber (US spelling). Set many years after the battle of Endor and the sequel to Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi academy trilogy and Barbara Hamberly's Children of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker is trying to reawaken the force in his paramore Callista whilst an evil Hutt crime lord has hired Limelisk, the man who headed the Deathstar design projects to build a new superweapon, the Darksaber. Meanwhile Admiral Daala returns to Imperial space and fights to heal the ruptures caused by the Imperial civil war and strike at the heart of the New Republic.

The next album is More than this by Trading yesterday. Although a relatively recent purchase it's become a rapid favourite. It's very easy listening middle of the road American rock. The song Shattered, which I heard on A Game Of Thrones fan video on YouTube is outstanding as it slowly meanders before building to a powerful ending. Like the classic GooGoo dolls album Dizzy up the girl (which is album #3) the album just plays well with tracks like Love song requiem and She is the sunlight acting as landmarks.

As for Dizzy up the Girl... When I was at Uni it was a phenomenon. Megan, a friend of a friend had heard it & brought it with her. Everyone who heard it bought it. I took it home and my sister bought it! The high point is Iris, which featured on the City of Angels soundtrack and has many fond memories. Name and Black balloon similarly great songs and the relaxed Acoustic #3.

The Sorrows of Young Werther written by Von Goethe in the late 18th century is a classic piece of German literature and details the love of Werther for his Lotte and his ultimate rejection, depression, heartbreak, hurt, resolve and death. I read it during a particularly low period of my life and could really identify with the nature of unrequited love and hurt he went through. As the work draws on Goethe's own personal experiences it is written with great feeling and angst.

One Day is similar to an extent as it chronicles the relationship and lives of Emma and Dexter every St. Swithun's day. I really identified with Emma who is an idealist and hoped to get out of Ini and change the world but got stuck in a string of mundane jobs. I really enjoyed watching the characters develop and grow, I found it refreshing to look at character driven rather than a usual group of flat packed characters in an adrenaline fuelled plot.

Petshopboys Behaviour is my number four. Although Very was the first album I ever bought, Actually and Please have a faster pace with great landmark tracks like It's a sin and Opportunities (respectfully) I'm going for the laid back and introspective Behaviour. The first track, Being Boring, sets the pace and tone as soft melodic and relaxing.

Number 5 is difficult with Pulp's His'n'hers or different class, REM's Automatic for the people, Linkin Park Minutes to Midnight, Limp Bizkit Chocolate Starfish and Alanis Morrisette Live & unplugged pushing for a slot. I'm going to have to select my favourite of the moment; Rammstein Reise, Reise. Nothing like angry German rock to motivate me to do stuff but also there are great tunes like Amerika or Moskau, the title track Reise Reise and Amore. Take it down a notch to the near Accoustic Los and the tragic ballad Ohne Dich which fits in to Werther. At the moment I think it is fantastic.

Brothers in arms is an in depth look and comparrison of two squadrons during the Battle of Britain. 609 Squadron and 1. Jagdgeschwader 53 and how the lives and actions of the pilots were exceptionally similiar on both sides of the Channel. It is made up of stories and recollections of the pilots of their wartime, fears and anxieties as well as victories and heroism. For both sides of the air war it is a must read.

Finally on the book front I'd have to go with The little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Not my usual thing but I read a couple of years ago for the work book club and I really enjoyed it. The chilling ghost story in a post war upper class mansion. Something is targetting the Ayres family one by one. It is also an interesting look at postwar class struggle and the changing face of England in those times. Very, very readible - Couldn't put it down.

And finally 5 tracks I couldn't live with out.

Imperial March - The Empire strikes back Soundtrack.

Alanis Morrisette's cover of King of Pain - Live and unplugged

Runaway train - by Soul Asylum

Broken - Seether feat Amy Lee

My Immortal - Evanescence

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Asda Christmas adverts accused of sexism

I managed to catch a bit of the news this morning before heading out the door. On the Sky news they were discussing Christmas adverts and revealed that Asda are being investigated because of complaints of sexism.

For those of you who haven't seen then the advert basically shows the Mum of the house running around doing everything and all the domestic duties.

I can sort of see this point of view in that in these enlightened times either partner can and does pitch in at Christmas. Indeed the battle that is Christmas dinner can be a team effort but...

Of the people I know and experiences growing up had it that way round. My cooking skills are adequate and there are things I do well, like Shepherds' pie, full English breakfast and my onion gravy is superlative. However I spent around a decade within the Scouting movement and acclimatised to exceptionally badly prepared food including soapy Spaghetti (don't ask) and potatoes so raw we ate them like apples. This has bred a kind of "it's hot, it's food" attitude that my long suffering wife is trying to get out of me. Thus, for Christmas dinner I'm banned from the kitchen.

My sister's Christmas dinners are like D-day. Every detail is planned in advance and there is a rigid time system that cannot be messed around with. As Monica Gellar would say;
"you don't know the system."

For the guys I know Christmas is a rare respite day from work and one we want to spend with the family. Though after a few hours of kid's tv and "Daddy, you fix it" or
"Daddy what's that?"
Or whilst making a grab for your newest boy toy/model "daddy my have it?"
You rapidly wish you were in the safety of the kitchen.

There is a reason dad's fall asleep (or pretend to be asleep) in the afternoon!

Maybe that is a generalisation, like the Boots advert that play to the stereotype that men are useless at gifts and are always whinging at a tiny sniffle but a generalisation rather than an obvious sexist statement like "Women can't drive" or "Men are stupid" which are obviously not true.

I sometimes think people these days are to quick to complain over small things and I know this is rich coming from me, a political blogger/star wars nerd, they should get a life.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Harriet Harman and Prejudice

I should point out this is written with a wry smile and tongue in cheek to a degree.

I was thinking about the works of the famous Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung the other day, in particular - Synchronicity and how it effected the character's in Jack Higgin's book The Eagle has landed. Then it occurred to me that I also had an act of Synchronicity as whom should appear on my Television but Harriet Harman, which really filled me with loathing. (so much loathing that I can't even field a picture of her on my blog!!!)

I remembered why I hold particular loathing for Harriet Harman. The Ginger Rodent comment. As a natural Redhead I found her comments against Danny Alexander particularly spiteful, especially when you take into account the years of bullying and name calling I received as a child and even now in adulthood get!  There is even a term; Reddist. You wouldn't expect her to use a term like Black Rat in Westminster? So why Ginger Rodent?

Anyway that is by the by.

I realised a week before I had been talking to my friend and Labour supporter Vicky Prior about Harriet Harman's 30th anniversary in Parliament - which led to a long debate about the Ginger Rodent comment. It was agreed that, even though Vicky feels Rodent is a good description of Danny Alexander and his policies the word Ginger - which implies a personal attack on the way one looks or is - was totally unacceptable and that attacking policy is fine but never the person's appearance, creed, or religion etc.

So that's two counts...

The third happened on Monday when looking at my Uni friend Katie Chapman's Facebook profile. As a fellow redhead she'd had a video of the Comedian Tim Minchin's song Prejudice posted on her wall. Now, I'm a fan of this song - It is exceptionally funny and as I watched it, laughing to myself I though that it was something that Harriet should bear in mind.

Suddenly synchronicity reared it's head and all three pieces seemed to fit into place and I felt it was time to merge them as a blog post as surely - it wanted to be written.

So here -

If anyone could pass this on to her I, and I'm sure the rest of the Redhead community would be obliged.

Only a Ginger can call another Ginger Ginger.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Police Commissioners; Why we're not running, politicisation and Independents.

"No Mr MacKinlay that's the line to Krispy kreme not Batman."

I like the idea of an elected representative as a Police Commissioner. Sometimes it feels that the Police don't always listen to the electorate and some Chief Constables like Sir Iain Blair play politics with National Government. Others have had national statistics forced upon them by Whitehall and get more concerned by that and reaching targets rather than the needs of locals.

Then again there is a concern of over politicising the Police Force, a service that like the NHS, Fire brigade and military should be free from political meddling. The image of a Red Army Commissar leaning over the general's shoulder telling him how to do his job.

There is also the problem that has ruined National politics and that is party political politics. Government no longer seems to be about issues more getting one over the other team, score the points, opportunistic goals. The General Public are fed up with it - they want an elected representative who will listen to votes not just hear they want to hear or what the party line is.

That's why I think political parties should not be involved in this election. This is a view held by the South east region Liberal Democrats which is why we are not fielding a candidate and I'm tempted by voting for an Independent or Kermit the Frog.

The two independents have come under attack for trumpeting their lack of political party by the Party establishment. The finger has been pointed at Dai Liyanage for being a Libdem, rather an ex Libdem and Ann Barnes has a Libdem campaign manager and attracted a lot of Libdem supporters - politics through the back door?


Dai resigned from the party under a dark cloud and has not rejoined and Ann Barnes has attracted Libdem voters as her policies do strike a chord with them, especially in the lack of an alternative. They are still not members of a Party and will be able to make their own choices out of any party structure. They aren't secret Libdem moles.

Whatever your beliefs on the subject the polling is this week - will you be one of the 12% that's predicted to turn out? I can't honestly say I will.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Backgrounds, localness and classism in Medway politics

A local constituency for Local people!
 Last night, whilst browsing the twittersphere contemplating an early night I chanced upon an exchange between activists about candidates backgrounds and where they grew up.

This basically came down to criticising Tristan Osborne for living in a particularly nice area of Rochester, having well off parents, being privately educated but still playing the "my constituents" card and the poor vs. the rich position when discussing Chatham & Aylesford. (I'll come to that in a minute.)

The return fire was basically stating that at least he'd been open about his background than the Conservatives own.

The big thing is... Does it really matter?

Politics is about issues and how they were handled by the elected representative. It should not matter one iota whether Tracey grew up in Ashford, Folkestone, Berlin or the moon. The simple fact is she's lived in Aylesford for quite some time I believe so she's a constituent and just as able to represent the area as much as anyone else.

The same is true for Tristan.

Neither candidate has been "parachuted" in and it does seem like a bit of "I'm more local than you"

I, personally don't think this should have a bearing on politics or a candidate's suitability, providing they haven't been "parachuted" in and have no links or idea about the area they've been elected to though sometimes that pays off to as they're open minded and not mired by years of local politics.

I didn't grow up in Gillingham, I was born here, I have family here and visited very regularly but lived and was educated in Maidstone and Marden. I went to university in Winchester and lived there for 8 years. I've now lived in Gillingham for five years, I was married here, my kids have been born here and Sophie goes to the local nursery. Does the fact that I didn't grow up here mean I couldn't represent Gillingham & Rainham or Gillingham South ward? Does my rural upbringing impair me some how despite my five years of residency?

It should be about issues. Now, should Tristan and Medway Labour back Boris Island (they clearly don't) or Tracey backed a scheme that would see the return of Prison hulks on the Medway marshes ( again, a fictitious example) then there are grounds for attack and let the electorate decide - That's what it should be about.

The same is true of social class.

I personally have no time for champagne socialism. I don't mind people with more money than me identifying and highlighting the problems that average families like mine face. What I dislike, ney detest is someone telling me how hard "we" have it when they have no worries about money at all - can afford posh wine or Starbucks coffee and I can't afford to look at Starbucks.

Classism is definitely a thing and it is something that Labour are beating the Tories with at the moment - though I think that is rich, excuse the pun, coming from the Labour front benches as none of them are exactly scraping the barrel!

It is true that some of the cuts to social funding and projects have, as I've said before, been done by a drunk headsman rather than with the deft hand of a surgeon which is what is needed. It is true that some of that has come with a lack of understanding from what real families face. It is a fair criticism in these cases. I think George Osborne is out of touch and his background has not helped.

However, to use class as a broad brush stroke is ridiculous. Take a look back through the last century and a bit of social reform and who has kicked it along; Rowntree (yep of the chocolate fame), Asquith (Liberal PM who over saw pensions and social reform), Lloyd George (his chancellor), Beverage ( who identified the four evils of society that needed reform that helped birth the welfare state) - all of them came from rich backgrounds. Even Nick Clegg, who comes from a more than comfortable background as well as his own money, has fought to get the poorer in society a fairer deal with money off income tax, free pre-school places, pupil premium and crusading against the glass ceilings that rivet our society.

The difference is, Nick hasn't stood on Gillingham station telling me how "we" can't afford the fares.

Politics is about the issues, the actions and beliefs of the candidate. Where they grew up or were educated has no bearing on their ability to represent or to do the job until proven otherwise - so let us all drop the under the waterline attacks and concentrate on each other's policies and actions.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Remembrance day; The day the war stopped - The Laconia affair

U-156 & U-506 picking up survivors
This remembrance day I'm not going to talk about the horrors of war, life in the trenches or sacrifice that should be remembered.

Instead I'm going to talk about one of those rare moments where the rifles are laid down, human kinship and compassion transcend the state of war.

It happened at Christmas 1914 with a football match, or during the static trench warfare when a Saxon regiment sent warnings in dud shells to their opposing British regiment of impending barrages and to "take cover."

It also happened at sea at 22.00 on the 12th September 1942 when the German U-boat U-156 torpedoed and sank the RMS Laconia off the coast of West Africa. The Laconia had been pressed into war service as a troop ship and carried 463 crew, 286 British Soldiers, 103 Polish soldiers who were guarding a staggering 1793 Italian POWs taken in the war against Rommel and 80 civilian passengers.

Korvetten Kapitän Werner Hartenstein ordered his U-boat to surface to capture any of the ships senior officers and found himself surrounded by some 2000 people in the sea. On hearing Italian voices out in the dark he immediately feared the worst; he'd torpedoed an Italian vessel, it had happened before when a Messerschmitt 110 had shot down an Italian civilian air transport.

He began to pull survivors out of the water to try and ascertain the truth and rapidly discovered what had happened, including myriad reports from the Italians who had escaped.

After the torpedo struck Laconia the Polish guards left the POWs locked in their makeshift cells in the cargo holds. Meanwhile on deck the crew had a major problem as the ship began to list further and further they were only able to use a percentage of their life boats.
The Italian prisoners managed to break out or climb up vents and rushed the decks where they're attempts to rush the boats were met with gunfire and bayonets. Faced with a wall of steal many elected to jump into the sea.

Hartenstein hurriedly sent out a message to U-boat command;

Versenkt von Hartenstein Brite Laconia. Marinequadrat FF 7721 310 Grad. Leider MIT 1500 Italienischen Kriegsgefangenen. Bisher 90 gefischt. 157 CNN. 19 Aale, passat 3, erbitte Befehle.

Sunk by Hartenstein British Laconia. Grid 7721 310 degrees. Unfortunately with 1500 Italian POWs. Till now 90 fished. 157 cubic meters (oil). 19 eels 8 torpedoes, trade wind force 3. request orders.

In the water things were getting desperate. The evacuation was far from perfect and many lifeboats lay empty or half full. As the Italians tried to swim for boats they were shot at by inhabitants fearing their boat would be swamped and sunk. There were even reports of hands being severed by axes. The blood in the water attracted sharks.

"sharks darted amongst us. Grabbing an arm, biting a leg. Other beasts swallowed entire bodies" reported Corporal Monte

Jim McLoughlin was hauled aboard the U-boat and confronted by Hartenstein who demanded to know if they were Royal Navy, the Kapitän angrily said that had he known that she was a transport vessel he would never have fired upon her without warning.

Laconia slipped beneath the waves at 23:23 as U-156 began collecting survivors. Hartenstein ordered his men to bring in life boats that were half filled and fill them up with people fished from the sea.

In France Admiral Dönitz, commander of the U-boatwaffe ordered submarines from the Eisbar flotilla that was making its way to Capetown to disengage and head to Hartenstein. He was quickly over ruled by Hitler who didn't want the Capetown or U-boats jeopardised and Admiral Raeder, the Naval C-in-C ordered the boats and Hartenstein to carry on to their original target. Raeder and Dönitz ordered U-506 under Klt Würdemann, U-507 under Korvettenkapitän Schacht and the Italian submarine Cappellini to rendezvous with Hartenstein, relieve him of his survivors then proceed to the Ivory coast freeing up Hartenstein to go back to his original target. OKM, the Naval high command also contacted Vichy France who promised to send warships to relieve the U-boats.

By the next day U-156 had picked up 393 survivors and redistributed then or had them standing on the deck of the U-boat. U-506 and 507 arrived on the 14th and 15th September and also began work collecting survivors, redistributing and providing medical care. The U-507's log for 17th September states:-

Women and children had spent night aboard me. All survivors given warm meal, drinks, clothing and medical attendance where necessary.

The U-boats began to take the life boats in tow, patrolled the area and await the French vessels supporting the survivors as much as possible with the menagerie space and facilities they had aboard.

Where were the Allies?

Laconia sent a message at 22:22 after the torpedo strike.

SSS SSS 0434 South/ 1125 West Laconia torpedoed.

This was followed up by Hartenstein at 6am on 25 metre and again at 6.20 on the 600 metre international bandwidth:

If any ship will assist the ship wrecked Laconia crew, I will not attack providing I am not attacked by ship or airforces. I picked up 193 men. 4,53 south 11,26 west - German submarine.

British authorities believed it was a trap and that Hartenstein was laying in wait for rescue ships. On 15th a poorly worded message to the American forces stated that the merchant ship Empire haven was on its way to the area but made no mention of the U-boats and what they were doing. In his memoirs Dönitz was certain that one of Hartenstein's messages would have been received by the British.

U-156 as she was at the time of the US attack
At 11.32 on 16th B-24 Liberator flew over the scene and was signalled by Hartenstein and an RAF officer who was aboard saying they were on a peaceful mission. They also had a Red cross flag draped over the conning tower.

RAF officer speaking from German submarine, Laconia survivors on board, soldiers, civilians, women, children.

At the Ascension Island secret airbase Senior duty officer Captain Robert C. Richardson III who feared the Germans would move to attack their base or the Allied craft heading to the area and disbelieved any combat ship would fly the Red cross ordered Lt James Harden to return to the site and sink the sub.

At 12:32 he duly began his attack run. Hartenstein saw what was happening and ordered the lines towing the lifeboats cut and everybody back into the water so that the Submarine could submerge. Following an order that had come from Dönitz that he was to save as many lives as possible without endangering his own vessel or crew, he ordered the dive.

Lt. Harden claimed the Sub was sunk and the crew received medals later for their success.

Hartenstein's vessel survived with minor damage. Unfortunately, as he reported in his log;

While the tow with four lifeboats was being cast off, the aircraft dropped a bomb in the middle of these latter. One boat capsized

Hartenstein ordered the lifeboats to hold position hoping that the other two U-boats would collect them and with his damaged craft withdrew. Indeed a communique from Dönitz reaffirmed the stance that the Kapitän's first duty was to his crew and boat and if it was necessary to preserve them he had to be ruthless and abandon the rescue.

As the U-156 withdrew two life boats decided not to heed the German's instructions and headed for the African coast. The first boat made it to the coast after 27 days with 16 out of an original 68 survivors, the second was picked up by a British trawler some 40 days later with only 4 out of 52 occupants alive.

Dönitz sent fresh orders to the remaining U-boats telling them not to bother with the Red cross flags as he doubted the British would respect them in the light of what had happened to Hartenstein. A few hours later he requested an update.

U-507 held 491 (15 women & 16 children)
U-506 held 151 (9 women and children)
Meanwhile the Cappellini was picking up survivors set adrift by U-156.

Fresh orders were sent through to bring the Italians aboard, put the British and Poles into the boats, mark position and set adrift before heading to the rendezvous to meet the French. Dönitz felt that if they were to risk the lives of his U-boat crews it should be for their allies. Schacht and Wurdemann felt differently and disobeyed the order keeping the boats in tow.

The USAAF hadn't finished with them and five Liberators took to the skies. One spotted a lifeboat adrift and reported it to the Empire haven. Lt. Hardin spotted the U-506 and began an attack run. The U-boat cut its lines and crash dived and thankfully no one was hurt this time.

On 17th September the British signalled Ascension Isles informing them that French vessels were now in the area. Captain Richardson, now fearing invasion recalled his bombers.

The French had indeed arrived and the Gloire picked up 52 survivors some 60 miles away and met the U-boats at 14:00 on 17th and transferred all but two British officers aboard. Gloire proceeded to the rescue area and recovered another 11 lifeboats. After a good sweep of the area and a meeting with another French vessel, the Annamite, a count was made.

373 Italians, 70 Poles, 597 Britons (including 48 women and children) had been saved.

The Cappellini was delayed making the rendezvous as the French vessel Dumont-d' Urville had found survivors of another sunken ship, the Trevilly and had paused to look for more. 6 Italians and two British officers were kept aboard whilst the others were transferred.

RMS Laconia
All in all 1113 of 2732 were saved from the water. Had Hartenstein not acted as he did the death toll would have certainly been much higher. Although those on Laconia found themselves in peril because of the U-165, Kapitän Hartenstein and the others risked the lives of their crews to try and save as many lives as possible. It was the last action of it's kind. Dönitz, fearful of losing men and ships in token gestures like this issued the Laconia order forbidding U-boat crews from aiding those in the water and to think of themselves first.

War is a tragedy and it is unfortunately the innocents who pay with their lives. I leave you with the story of one survivor's story.

One survivor, a missionary nurse called Doris Hawkins was one of the 16 who washed up in Liberia. She had been escorting a 14 month old girl, Sally, who was lost at sea.

"We found ourselves on top of the arms and legs of a panic-stricken mass of humanity. The lifeboat, filled to capacity with men, women and children, was leaking badly and rapidly filling with water; at the same time it was crashing against the ship's side. Just as Sally was passed over to me, the boat filled completely and capsized, flinging us all into the water. I lost her. I did not hear her cry, even then, and I'm sure that God took her immediately to Himself without suffering. I never saw her again."


Wikipedia article "The Laconia incident"

Gudmundur Helgason's article "The Laconia incident" on which also features articles on Hartenstein and the U-boats involved.

Dönitz, K. "Ten years and twenty days" the memoirs of the Admiral.

Mallmann - Showell, J "The U-boat century; German Submarine warfare 1906-2006"

Thursday, 8 November 2012

PCCs for Kent - links to information

If you, like my wife and I, or some of the people I spoke to last week canvassing for the Libdems in Medway have NO idea who is running or what the debates in the Police Commissioner's election (which goes to the polls in less than a week!!!) I thought I'd help people out with a handy guide so here is a collection of links for you.
First up; Craig Mackinlay (con)

Harriet Yeo (Lab)

Ann Barnes (Ind)

Dai Liyanage (Ind)

Steve Uncles (English Democrats)

Piers Wauchope (UKIP)

Hope it helps with the voting process.

Personally I, nor the party are affiliated behind any of the candidates (we're not even putting one out, will explain later) so I had no real idea about anyone other than the first four, had I not been involved in politics or on Twitter I probably would know even less!

It is odd that even though the candidate will be representing the whole of Kent it appears that hardly anyone has any idea about it - no wonder turn out is predicted at something like 14%!

Anything I can do to help combat that with these links....

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Time for an EU referendum

Like the creation of Champagne, Ed Miliband did something wonderful completely by accident last week.

Whilst there was a certain opportunistic edge to Labour's proposition and indeed an opportunity for the Conservative's Achilles heal making its usual appearance there does appear to be an opening to seriously discuss Europe and the possibility of a referendum.

It is a subject that we all avoid talking about, both sides are fairly entrenched and no middle ground is achievable - it is either in or out.

I'm an idealist when it comes to Europe. I see a lot of potential in the EU. Trade, policing, green measures - if we all talk and cooperate we are stronger together than apart. I like to envision a Europe together rather than the fractured self serving states out to get what they can.

Unfortunately the ideas of spheres of influence and countries trying to undermine each other is still virulent now and though my younger self would have loved to see Europe dominated by Germany it could be detrimental for it to carry on this way.

With Parliament rightly voting against the move to agree to the proposed EU budget rise it means we can pull out the referendum Pandora's box, set it on the table and discuss opening it.

Only a year ago I argued that opening it at this current time would be wrong.

Now... Now I think we should seriously talk about it.

Not in the tribal, tub-thumping, point scoring, "He said" "you said" way that Parliament seems to devolve into but a serious, sensible, adult debate.

Lets be honest, the Conservatives are divided over the issue, they always have been and always will be. Let's not be trying to score points or try to rub vinegar in the wound for party political gain. ( I'm talking to you Ed and Harriet.) This is a serious issue, one that could define British economic, domestic and foreign policy for a generation.

This should be an open debate without party lines or whips - just honest open debate.

This extends to local politicians/politicos as well. We should let them debate this one in peace. After all this is a MAJOR concern of many of the electorate and many feel cheated as to the level of involvement the Nation is in compared with what Edward Heath promised and many have never been asked.

The time has come to evaluate and discuss openly and frankly a matter that is a major talking point and concern for many and could have serious repercussions for the nation both good and bad.

Sometimes it is a good idea to evaluate a course of action at such a juncture rather than to continue on blindly regardless to whatever end.

Let's make Mrs Bone happy and carry out our promise on an open, fair referendum sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Dorries suspended

So Nadine Dorries has been suspended from Parliament?

Nothing to do with some of her objectionable views as - well like it or not we're all entitled to our opinions even if we, and modern thinking people disagree.

Nothing to do with her conduct in the house either...

It's for failing to carry out the PRIMARY purpose of a MP - representing their constituents.

By joining I'm a celebrity she is choosing self image over that of the needs of the people she is working for, on top of that she is getting paid from the Public purse!

If she makes it to the final she won't be available until the 6th December which means she'll miss the Autumn statement and debates on Europe which, at this current time, could redefine the UKs relationship with the EU and even more importantly who is representing the people of mid Bedfordshire?

Recently I wrote about how Tracey Crouch was doing a good job representing Chatham & Aylesford constituents and being selflessly devoted which is what MPs are supposed to do. What Ms Dorries is doing completely goes against what I and I'm assuming her constituents think a democratically elected representative should be doing.

Could it be because her constituency may cease to exist in 2015? Well not if Nick stands his ground and the Boundary reform is delayed. Even still, if it is dissolved does that mean you get to behave so badly?

I personally welcome Sir George Young's announcement of her suspension today and not as a Liberal Democrat, but as a believer in parliamentary democracy and representation of constituents.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The continued Page 3 debate

Page 3 defender Peta Todd, Charity worker, former model
I'm probably about to draw a lot of flak from this but....

I agree with Nick on the subject of Page 3 and the sun. Liberals can, and cannot tell newspapers what to print as long as they are not infringing on other people's liberty by phone hacking or over intrusive journalism and unfortunately Page 3 is not one of those things.

I will, however quickly remind you all that I do think that some sort of age limit is needed on topless material as it is in movies. That would be the only way to remove this feature.

Page 3 is one brick in an entire ediface of similiar things.

The blunt fact of the matter is Sex sells. Women in various states of undress can be seen selling all sorts of things from Cars, deoderant, movies, Soap operas and even security hardware and it is that which captures the male mind. Afterall human beings are still just animals with the same base desires and wants and one of those is sex and clever marketing and advertising execs are happy to draw on that when they hit the market.

Do you think that teenage boys would buy lynx deoderant if the adverts were:

Lynx Africa - Smells great and you will too?

No! They see the army of scantily clad women throwing themselves at some average looking guy and their mind links the product to the ability to get women. I can tell you - it doesn't work!

Television programmes also use attractive and or scantily clad women to get people interested. Take Big Brother for example, not only did the casting teams deliberately try to cause conflict by selecting people who would grate on each other but also a bevy of young attractive people as well. There is no way it was a coincidence that Orlaith McAllister a former runner up in Miss Northern Island, Imogen Thomas a former Miss Wales and her runner up Rachel Rice were all selected at random.
Even Hollyoaks was accused of having far too many goodlooking buxom blonde actresses in it to attract some more male viewers - a problem rectified by a plot device using a Serial killer who only attacked attractive blonde girls!

Using women as sex objects in movies has gone on for decades! I hate to admit it but even Star Wars Episode IV Carrie Fisher was told not to wear a bra under her white Senatorial robes so there was more *cough* movement as she ran around. Sharon Stone said she felt pressured to do the revealing chair scene in Basic instinct and Kirsten Dunst once made reference to the famous Spiderman kiss in the rain scene where her shirt went translucent as Something for the geeks. It has taken decades for Bond girls to be more than just eye candy, in fact Golden eye was the first one with a strong female lead (arguably A view to a kill with Grace Jones) and even in some of the follow ups like Tomorrow Never dies Terri Hatcher's character is a throw back to the old days of Oh James!

I'm not saying it is something that we should accept, far from it. In the last century we have come along way in Women's rights and equal treatment, (not far enough) and with portrayals as more than a sex object. To be honest a good proportion of men (well the right kind) already know that about women because we were brought up that way by our parents.

Modern attitudes to Women can only really be changed by education from parents and indeed schools. It is a root problem that is only contributed not perpetuated by Page 3.

As to the argument that "Torso of the week" is just harmless fun - I'm sorry but it is fairly similar (and there are those who'd say the same about Page 3). The current Moonpig advert or the intermations in the Malteser advert - yes, even the classic Diet Coke advert...
I'm not saying it's right it wrong but meet me half way and admit there is a strong similarity and motivation. Why else would there be "Hunky Fireman" calendars next to the Girlie calendars?

At the end of the day the girls are willing to pose topless, they are not forced like a seedy Axis Comfort woman. Those who wish to look at semi-naked women over breakfast are free to do so as are we who don't are free not to read it.

The crux of it for me, as a liberal is the "not causing offence to others" part which obviously means not reading such material in public and exposing minors to sexually explicit images. Many would argue that "Fifty shades" is bad but it is printed text rather than imagery. I, personally think that a similar age rating on magazines should exist in the same way as movies. Who am I to tell someone what they can and cannot read in public?

My final thoughts are that this petition is only targeting the Sun not The Star or Sunday Sport.
Also, most kids have access to the Internet on their mobiles and even with the Vodafone filter you can still summon up pornographic imagery.

It is a minefield topic but I don't see any point in regulating printed material as to what can and can't be printed- tis very Mary Whithouse. The cultural attitude to women will not be changed by the removal of Page 3 and it is down to education.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Nick Clegg's speech on Europe 1-11-12

This autumn, the great debate on Britain's role in Europe has, as ever, generated a lot of heat yet little light.

We want to be in, we want to be out. We want to repatriate powers, use our veto, keep our pint, save our pound, protect our strongest export market.

Be critical of Germany, not end up like Greece, feel proud of our role in creating peace in Europe, yet cynical about an acronym winning the Nobel Prize.

And just last night, in a House of Commons debate on the European Budget, we saw Europe turned into a political football as political opportunists sought to score a political point.

But when it comes down to it, there is a serious debate to be had, and we do have some serious decisions to make.

In Europe today, there are effectively three places you can be. They fit together like rings around a circle.

There’s the core: where the Eurozone countries are now pulling together more closely, integrating further to shore up the single currency.

Then there is the ring around that – the inner circle: the states who aren’t in the euro, but are members of the EU.

And the outer circle: where you find the accession countries, EEA countries, Norway, Switzerland, and so on.

The UK is in the inner circle – but the terrain is shifting. The core is tightening – to what degree we don’t yet know.

Some states on the outside are seeking, over time, to head further in. And, as a different Europe emerges, over the coming years, we have to decide where the UK fits within it. What role will we play in our new neighbourhood?

Very few people are now suggesting we move into the centre. Joining the Euro will not be in our interests anytime soon – certainly not in my political lifetime.

But there are forces who want to pull us towards the edge, towards the outer circle. Reducing the extent to which we cooperate on the continent. Happy for the Channel to widen. Hoping, even, that it becomes a gulf.

Today I want to explain why that is a very dangerous position, leaving the UK isolated and marginalised, and I want to offer a more compelling alternative: a strong UK, influential in Europe and so more influential in the world. Working with our allies on the issues that matter to our prosperity and security. Driven by pragmatism, as opposed to dogma, in these debates. Unambiguously in the inner circle.

That will require an approach that is engaged and balanced, so not accepting every request or regulation sent from Brussels, but equally, cooperating constructively where it is in our national interest to do so.

In our immediate future, that means three things:

One: a tough EU Budget settlement.

Two: defending and deepening the Single Market – and our place in it – for the sake of growth and jobs.

Three: taking the decisions on law and order cooperation that will keep British citizens safe.

The Europe debate will continue to run and run, as the Eurozone integrates further – that is certain. And in the UK we will find ourselves talking about it, thinking about it, arguing about it frequently over the coming years.

But right here, right now the UK’s priorities can be easily summed up: tough on the money, more jobs, more criminals behind bars.

Before I turn to those, I want to focus on the proposal doing the rounds that the best way to improve the UK’s position in Europe is to renegotiate the terms of our relationship with the rest of the EU.  We should opt out of the bad bits, stay opted in to the good bits, and the way to do that is a repatriation of British powers.

That seems very reasonable; in fact, it’s a pretty seductive offer – who would disagree with that?

But, look a little closer, because a grand, unilateral repatriation of powers might sound appealing but in reality, it is a false promise, wrapped in a Union Jack.

Let me explain why.

I am all for reducing frivolous and expensive European rules. At the weekend we heard stories about proposals to regulate the shoes and jewellery British hairdressers wear. That kind of thing is clearly too much. Having worked at the heart of the EU, I can certainly give you some more examples.

And, more profoundly, we need to refocus the EU, so it does more where it adds value, and less where it doesn’t.

I’m very proud of this Government’s track record in working with our European partners to do that, whether that’s reducing EU red tape for small business, or securing agreement on a European Patent after 23 years of negotiation, or getting long overdue agreement to devolve powers over fisheries policies.

But there is a lot more we need to do to get Europe focused on the policies that create economic growth and make it more competitive, and I want the UK leading that.

So I do not think the EU is perfect by any stretch and I’m a big advocate of EU reform. But this idea that we should – or could – extract ourselves from the bulk of EU obligations is nonsensical.

It is wishful thinking to suggest we could effectively give ourselves a free pass to undercut the Single Market, only to then renegotiate our way back in to the laws that suit us. The rest of Europe simply wouldn’t have it.

What kind of club gives you a full pass, with all the perks, but doesn’t expect you to pay the full membership fee or abide by all the rules?

If anyone else tried to do it, if the French tried to duck out of the rules on the environment or consumer protection, if the Germans tried to opt out of their obligations on competition and the single market, we would stop them – and rightly so.

And let’s be honest: many of the people who advocate repatriation are the same people who want us out of Europe – full stop.

For them, no rebalancing of powers will ever be enough, and so there is no hard border between repatriation and exit because, for these people, repatriation is pulling at a thread – and they want to unravel the whole thing.

Just look at the last few weeks. As soon as we start talking about repatriation, we descend into the in-versus-out debate.

And heading to the exit would be the surest way to diminish the UK. Because what then? Become the next Norway or Switzerland?

Advocates of repatriation point to these nations and say they have the best of both worlds: success to Europe’s markets without an assault on their sovereignty.

But these countries sit and wait for bills and directives from Brussels, duly paying their bit, changing their laws, but with absolutely no say over Europe’s rules. No political representation, no national voting rights, no voice at all.

They work by fax democracy: you find your instructions on the machine in the morning, and you follow them. They have no meaningful sovereignty in the EU.

Norway has had to implement three quarters of all EU legislation, including the Working Time Directive.

They pay into the EU Budget: for the specific programmes they participate in and for development grants to new member states.

Switzerland has no guaranteed access to the Single Market, they have to negotiate on a case-by-case basis, and right now they are having to match – even surpass – rigorous EU banking regulations just to protect business between Swiss and European banks.

To go down that route would be a catastrophic loss of sovereignty for this nation. I want better for the UK, and our other allies want better for us too.

It’s long been the case that the UK stands tall in Washington because we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

There is a great deal to our enduring special relationship but, for the Americans, the UK’s leverage on the continent has always been part of our appeal. That will remain the case no matter who’s in the White House after next week.

And while it is, of course, important that we form new alliances in the world -  in Asia, India, Latin America - the idea that we can float off into the mid-Atlantic, bobbing around in a new network of relationships without a strong anchor in Europe while countries around the world, incidentally, are working more and more in regional blocks, is clearly not a sound strategy in a fast-moving, fluid and insecure world.

Those who advocate turning our back on our neighbours seem to think we have a ready-made web of alternative alliances, a set of international agreements with other countries that could readily sustain us. But that isn’t how it works.

The Commission has just confirmed, for example, that if the UK suddenly left the EU, we would instantly lose access to every EU trade agreement with a third party.

Agreements with 46 countries are in place, and agreements with a further 78 are under negotiation. Our membership of the EU gives us access to all of them, and that includes almost every Commonwealth country.

The EU is looking at opening negotiations with nine more countries, two of which, Japan and the USA, would be very significant.

Do we really want to leave the EU, lose these free trade arrangements for UK exporters, which go above and beyond WTO rules, and potentially have to negotiate that all from scratch?

The UK government would spend a decade doing that and nothing else.

And can anyone seriously suggest that Japan, or South Korea, or Brazil would cut us a better deal as an island of 60m people than as a continent of 500 million?

Ironically, the people who do understand this strength-in-numbers argument are the Scottish Nationalists.

They may be trying to pull away from the UK, but they’re going around saying an independent Scotland would have automatic entry into the EU – an assertion that has no basis in fact - precisely because they see how important it is to Scottish prosperity.

And they know a separate Scotland, seeking re-entry into the EU, would lose the extra benefits it gains from being part of a big member state.

They don’t want to face what might happen to Scotland’s influence on fishing quotas, or agricultural policy, or the regulation of the banks.

They don’t want reality to bite. So they’ve gone into denial, preferring political assertion to legal advice. 
The best - and most realistic - choice for the United Kingdom is to stand tall in our European hinterland, for the sake of our security, our prosperity and our place in the world.

Standing tall means asserting ourselves when we need to protect the nation’s interests, but also cooperating with our neighbours when it is for the good of the British people.

In the coming weeks and months, that will mean three things.

First, taking a tough line on the EU Budget ahead of a special European Council meeting at the end of the month.

The Coalition Government’s position remains the same: we will not accept an increase, above inflation, to the EU Budget. That is a real terms freeze. And we will protect the British rebate in full.

That is the toughest position of any European country. At a time of deep fiscal tightening in the UK, with British taxpayers seriously feeling the pinch, we cannot support a real increase in EU spend.

Labour has now taken a different position – as we saw last night – having had a change of heart. Ed Balls knows only too well, from bitter experience, that there is absolutely no prospect of securing a real terms cut to the EU budget. But at the eleventh hour, and having stayed silent on this issue for months, Labour now proclaims that, actually, this is what they’ve wanted all along. And they can wave a magic wand over the Council negotiations and convince 26 other countries to agree.

Yet it was Labour who agreed to the last long-term EU budget settlement, which saw a major jump in EU spending and lost part of the UK’s rebate in exchange for virtually no real EU spending reforms. And British taxpayers have suffered the consequences ever since, with our net contributions going from less than €3bn in 2008 to more than €7bn in 2011.

Who were two of the Labour MPs to vote for it? Ed Balls and Ed Miliband.
Who was the Europe Minister? Douglas Alexander.

Their change of heart is dishonest, it’s hypocritical. And worst of all, Labour’s plan would cost the taxpayer more, not less. Because in pushing a completely unrealistic position on the EU budget - one that is miles away from any other country’s position - Labour would have absolutely no hope of getting a budget deal agreed – driving the annual EU bill up instead, over which we would have no veto power at all.

We’ve been waiting for years for the Labour party to announce how they would cut spending. Now they have finally come out in favour of cuts. But in a way they know is undeliverable; and in a way that would hurt British taxpayers. And it turns out even their cuts cost money. I’ve heard people describe it as clever opposition politics – and I suppose it is. But it’s not the behaviour of a party serious about government.

Yes, the British Government’s position is tough.

Yes, it is going to be difficult to negotiate.
But we are working for a deal because that is the best way to protect British interests.

The Prime Minister and I may have our differences on Europe but, on this, we are absolutely united.

To one side we have opponents of the Government pretending we can give less, on the other side, there are some in Europe demanding we give more.

But it’s our job to make realistic, responsible and hard-headed decisions on behalf of the British people. 

This is a deal that can be done – that’s the message I’m pushing with my European counterparts.

With governments across Europe having to get the most out of every pound, euro or zloty they spend, a real terms freeze is a good offer.

It’s in the EU’s own interests to be seen to be showing real restraint.

Second, we need to be actively protecting and advancing the single market – and our place in it – for the sake of British jobs.

Around one in every ten jobs in Britain relies on British trade within the Single Market. Around half of all our trade goes to other European states – exports from around 100,000 firms. But as Europe evolves, we cannot take the integrity of the Single Market for granted.

That’s already been made clear during negotiations on the new Eurozone banking union, which we’re having to ensure doesn’t undermine the single market in financial services – prejudicing the City.

And we can expect more of this kind of thing, as the Eurozone integrates further.

And not only will we need to defend the Single Market – we also need to deepen it.

Removing trade barriers in services and digital industries would be worth around £3,400 a year to the average household, money we need as we return our economy to health. But it won’t happen without leadership from the UK.

We were among the Single Market’s architects: Lord Cockfield – a British Commissioner – helped design it. Margaret Thatcher played a critical role in pushing it through. And today – as the most open, liberal economy in the EU – we will need to help finish what was started twenty years ago.

And that’s how we send the right signal to foreign investors too.

One of the reasons big multinationals come here is because we offer a launching pad to the world’s largest borderless marketplace.

Think of the big employers who’ve set up operations here: Samsung, Tata, Siemens.

The automotive giants helping drive the renaissance in the UK’s car industry:
Nissan, Honda, BMW, Toyota.

Firms who currently pay no import tariffs on the vehicles they send from here to the continent but who would be faced with levies of up to 22% if the UK suddenly left the EU.

These companies need to be reassured that we will continue to be the best bridgehead into the European market.

We cannot afford to give the impression that we are going to disengage.

We need to stay focused on driving trade between us and our neighbours.

That is the only way to protect British jobs. It’s a position that is pro-business and pro-Britain too.

Third, cooperation on law and order.

Before signing up to the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the previous Government negotiated an opt out on a package of 130 crime and policing measures, which pre-dated the Treaty.

The Coalition now has to decide whether to stay opted in to all of those measures or else pull out of the lot, before seeking to opt back in to individual instruments – depending on negotiations with the Commission and the Council.

A decision needs to be taken by 2014 and we will give Parliament a say.
But, clearly, we need to agree our starting position now, so we’re looking across the 130 measures.

The Government has said our current thinking is to opt out of them en masse, before seeking to rejoin some.

But I want to be absolutely clear: a final decision has not been taken, and I will only agree to doing that if I am 100% satisfied we can opt back in to the measures needed to protect British citizens, and if I am convinced we are not creating waste and duplication, incurring unnecessary costs.

We will be led by the evidence and the experts at all times. What matters is preventing crime and terrorism – this must not turn into an ideological scrap.

We are likely to find that some of the measures are defunct, like old measures to improve data collection in drug trafficking, or things like outdated skills directories for crime fighting professionals – old instruments that have now been superseded.

But there are others which have transformed the way our police operate, delivered justice for victims of crime where once there was none and put thousands of criminals behind bars.

It is my strong personal view that there is a great deal of value in Europol, for example, which pools intelligence to combat serious organized crime. Joint Investigation Teams and Eurojust, which enable cross-border operations like the ongoing investigation into the recent murder of a British family in Annecy in France.

Today, if a rapist, or paedophile or violent offender living in Britain has a foreign criminal record – we can receive it at virtually the click of a button.
When a forged British passport or driving licence turns up in Europe – we can find out about it straight away.

When a fugitive runs from the UK, we can use the European Arrest Warrant to bring them back – as we saw again recently in the case of teacher Jeremy Forrester. Yes, the Arrest Warrant needs reform so that it is used proportionately, but it is an important crime fighting tool. 

We’ve managed to set high standards for combating child pornography across the whole of Europe – something the UK pushed for.

Our police can call on the resources and intelligence of the entire European crime-fighting community to hunt down and arrest murderers and escaped convicts, to stop billions from being laundered out of the UK every year.

In the words of Hugh Orde, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, “In the 21st Century, policing is international.”

And to anyone who says we don’t need these EU measures to fight crime and terrorism effectively, I say prove it.

Prove it to the police, the intelligence agencies, the lawyers, the victims of crime charities.

Prove it to the people who deal day in day out with the worst criminals imaginable.

Because my position is clear: I will not ask them to protect the British people with one hand tied behind their back.

The UK is part of the most advanced system for combating cross-border crime on the planet, and we have been at the forefront of building it.

Over the last fifteen years we’ve led the way on crime and policing cooperation in Europe. The Head of Europol is British. The last head of Eurojust was British. The EU’s police training centre is at Bramshill in Hampshire.

This package of 130 law and order measures has British fingerprints all over it and I want UK citizens continue to benefit – fully – from the system we built.

So, tough on the money, more jobs, more criminals behind bars.

That’s the deal we are going to deliver for the British people.

You cannot do any of those things from the edge.

You cannot deliver for British citizens when you’re halfway out the door.

Europe is changing – yes. But rather than go into retreat, now is the time to confront those changes head on.

We need to make a decision about who we will be in the new Europe, and I say we need to be strong, loud, present.

That’s the strategy that will leave the UK more prosperous, safer, strong.
Standing up for the people of Britain by standing tall in our own backyard.