I'm in The Times today!


Today The Times has an article which refers to my post about the 'Crime Prevention UK' scam.

Sadly I can't find it on the online version so you will have to go and buy it yourself!

Vince is too polite to say "I told you so" ...

... but he did tell us, of course.

First he was right about the economic dangers, and then he was right about Murdoch. Vince Cable must be quietly celebrating the fact that the 'unfortunate' Jeremy Hunt, who was handed the BSkyB contract decision after the Telegraph's underhand trap, has had to bow to the collective will of MPs.

Cameron and Miliband are busy backtracking after years of toadying up to Rebekah Brooks by their parties. The Liberal Democrats were never considered significant enough to be subjected to her charm offensive. And that may be where News International may have made their biggest mistake, because by ignoring the Lib Dems they have left us in a very strong position on the moral high ground.

Will this lead to a realignment of the press? Will it lead to a more robust and less fearful relationship between politicians and the media? I hope so.

Some simple questions about the phone hacking scandal

Who knew about the contents of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire's notebooks after they were taken by the police in 2005/2006?

After the Goodman/Mulcaire trials in 2007, why did the police a) not inform people who were named in the notebooks and b) not prosecute? Could it by any chance be related to alleged payments made to the police?

When the Guardian broke the story about the hacking of celebrities' phones in 2009 did they also know about the Millie Dowler and July 7th hacking which has just emerged?

What is going to be done about the lies told to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in 2007? And why were they not told then or at later enquiries about the existence of the notebooks? And is Parliament at last going to tackle corruption in the press? Could the reticence of MPs in the past possibly be anything to do with personal fear of the power of the media?

Why did the Press Complaints Commission chicken out after its report in 2009? "The PCC has seen no new evidence to suggest that the practice of phone message tapping was undertaken by others beyond Goodman and Mulcaire, or evidence that News of the World executives knew about Goodman and Mulcaire's activities. It follows that there is nothing to suggest that the PCC was materially misled during its 2007 inquiry."

Why did it take a civil case by Siena Miller to force the Crown Prosecution Service to review the material held by the police?

And - the obvious question - why is this most damning of evidence emerging right now, and who is drip-feeding it to the Guardian and others? It couldn't be related to Murdoch's bid to take control of BSkyB, now could it?

And does anyone, anywhere, believe Rebekah Brooks?

Oh - and if you want to do one small thing about all this, do sign the Hacked Off petition calling for a full public enquiry.

My Wimbledon guilt

In her eighties, my grandmother would announce that she was taking her summer holidays during Wimbledon fortnight. She would cancel any meetings or other activities and sit down in front of the television with multiple cups of tea.

I was hopeless at sports at school, although I usefully learnt the rules of both tennis and cricket, and at home followed Wimbledon and Test matches on the screen.

And yet I never made my way to live matches until recently. Thinking back, I think I was intimidated by all those sporty types amongst my friends and relations, and I felt I had no right to take part, even as a spectator, in a sporting event.

Wimbledon was always a problem for a teacher or lecturer anyway, as I couldn't take time off, and the weekends would be over-subscribed. But I haven't been teaching full-time for 14 years, so that hardly counts as an excuse.

In fact, it took my son to get me to Wimbledon for the first time last year. As a birthday treat Stuart organised a day out for me. We didn't have any tickets so set off very early in the morning for the Park and Ride, then joined The Queue for ground tickets. It was very sunny, we saw several interesting matches (including the Bryan twins who won the Men's Doubles this year), and then sat on the hill to watch Murray in Centre Court. Stuart even packed a day's worth of picnic goodies, although we bought the traditional strawberries and cream when we got there.

That was the point when I wished I had overcome my sensitivities and attended before. The organisation of every aspect of Wimbledon is superb. The grounds are delightful and litter free; the atmosphere is great; Pimms and strawberries are just right for summer days in June. And the tennis is riveting.

This year I applied in November for tickets and was very excited to get two No 1 Court tickets for last Thursday. It was a first outing to Wimbledon for Ian as well, and he enjoyed placing the scene that he had seen so often on the BBC. We had great seats just above the score board and we watched three doubles quarter finals, including the eventual winners of both the Men's and Mixed. We could also hear Sharapova - who couldn't?

At my age I don't need to have any guilt about not playing tennis - or anything else for that matter. I just wished I had realised that earlier.

Save the Surrey Comet

Local newspapers can be the bane of politicians, but they are vitally important in a lively democracy.

I've had my own ups and downs with the Surrey Comet, but I do have to say that they have a strong team of reporters at present. There have been one or two in the past whose grasp of the issues has been lamentable, but people like the current David Lindsell and Martin George research their topics thoroughly and get the facts right.

OK - that does look suspiciously like brown-nosing (a phrase that I hate, but I can't think of a better one). But I'm no longer a councillor and I've stopped getting those weekly phone calls asking for my snap judgement on local events, so you can trust me on this!

The Surrey Comet has been around since 1854, named after Halley's Comet, so it is quite an institution. It appears to be under threat from its owners, Newsquest, who own most of the local papers across South London.

Reporters have been working to rule and have been on strike for a couple of days in the last month about this. Vince Cable has stated his concern in relation to the Richmond and Twickenham Times, which is one of the titles affected by redundancies.

There's a Save the Surrey Comet blog where you can follow developments. And a petition to sign as well.

Bloggers and journos at the Social Liberal Forum Conference

Chris Huhne's speech at the Social Liberal Forum conference on Saturday makes the main headline in the Guardian today. Sadly I missed the actual speech because I was busy on some of the admin of the conference.

I'm slightly irritated by the reference in the article to "a conference of social democrats" - although there is considerable overlap between Liberal Democrats who might describe themselves as either 'social liberals' or 'social democrats', the terms do not mean the same thing. You can read an interesting discussion about the distinctions between the two on the Liberal England blog.

(Incidently, there was a lot of media interest in the conference. I signed in BBC News, ITN, Channel 4 News, Sky News, the Independent on Sunday and The Observer)

One of my jobs at the conference was to set up interviews for bloggers with some of our star speakers - Vince Cable Chris Huhne and Evan Harris. I joined in the latter, and thanked Evan for graciously submitting himself to a uniquely Liberal Democrat form of interrogation.

Evan and I had just come from a conference session entitled "Health Reforms - good for us" which I had chaired and where he had been the main speaker. I started by asking Evan to summarise his reaction to a week that had seen the FutureForum's report on the consultation on NHS reform, and the Government's reaction to it.

He claimed a victory for the amendment that went to Spring Conference, and which was was heavily backed by the Social Liberal Forum.That led to a complete rethink by our Parliamentary party, and eventually to the 'pause' and then the climbdown that we have seen this week.

As demanded by Liberal Democrats, the revised proposals for the NHS have removed competition on price, have increased transparency and local accountability and have watered down the over-controlling brief given to Monitor (the new regulator) to drive competition.

But Evan was concerned that the FutureForum's report was written by Health officials, who appeared to have been instructed to find new ways of driving competition. Liberals Democrats are not against choice and competition, but in times of austerity other principles are far more important - quality of care, cost effectiveness, fairness, access to services, reduction in health inequalities - and yet these seem to have been downgraded in the report.

That was followed by an interesting discussion about the most effective ways for Liberal Democrat members to influence Government. Our party policy is determined by members at Spring and Autumn conferences, and the experience over the Health and Social Care Bill has shown just how powerful this can be. But it is, as someone said, a rather 'clunky' way of doing things and leaves a six month gap between conferences during which much can happen without members' involvement. Evan outlined the roles of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committees, where the Federal Policy Committee has a crucial part to play. Evan has also been involved with the SLF in developing conference motions to strengthen that link. However, this may seem rather arcane to readers who are not interested in internal party politics.

You can read a comprehensive record of the interview with Evan over at Spiderplantland.. Lisa Harding who writes that blog asked Evan a couple of thoughtful questions about the human impact of political upheaval. Evan had unexpectedly lost his seat after a campaign which had become personal and hurtful. He was surprisingly gracious and not at all bitter about the experience. However, he was worried that the success of the attacks on him would have two consequences, namely that it would encourage this unpleasant style of campaigning in the future and that it might put off good candidates from standing.

Would he stand again for Parliament? He would not commit himself on this question - it depended on the outcome of the Boundary Review. But even though his achievements from the outside have been momentous, I can't see him wanting to stand on the sidelines for ever.

From left: Andrew Emmerson, Andy Strange, Evan Harris, David Grace, me, Lisa Harding

Great Ormond Street Hospital: the Baby P scandal is not over

You may have seen Lynne Featherstone (Equalities Minister and Liberal Democrat MP) on the BBC calling for the Chief Executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital to resign over the Baby P scandal.

You can watch the interview and read Lynne's own blog on the subject which gives far more detail than I ever could. Mark Pack gives a useful summary on Lib Dem Voice.

In a nutshell, Lynne claims that senior staff at Great Ormond Street withheld important information from the Serious Case Reviews into Baby P's death. You may remember that while Haringey Social Services were heavily criticised at the time, there was also real concern about the medical incompetence at the hospital where doctors failed to pick up very serious injuries to the child.

Update: 2nd July 2011

Doctors at Great Ormond Street have called for an inquiry into the cover-up.

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