"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and
open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values
of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall
be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Harlow university figures show need to scrap tuition fees
Only one in six young people from Harlow takes part in higher education, states a report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) published today.
16 per cent of Harlow young people took up a university-level course, compared with 69 per cent from the highest-performing part of the country, Kensington & Chelsea. The figure places Harlow low down in the bottom third of the HEFCE table.
Commenting on the report, Harlow Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman Lorna Spenceley said:
"This report shows that under this Government, far from its stated aim of 50 per cent of young people going to university, access to higher education remains very unequal. Labour's introduction of tuition fees and top-up fees continues to put off many young people from less well-off backgrounds.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Tories can't let go of schools
An Ofsted inspection report on the Essex Local Education Authority has criticised the Authority for its centralised style of corporate leadership. The report found that the LEA does not sufficiently allow headteachers, governors and other partners to contribute to policy and political decision making. Additionally, there should be more scope for these people to be involved in shaping school practices.
Ken Jones, Liberal Democrats group leader said,
"Whilst we endorse the report's findings about the good educational functions of local schools, we are concerned about the manner in which schools in Essex are run. There are far too many decisions being made at County Hall without the benefit of on-the-ground input from key school personnel."ENDS
Lib Dem Political Assistant, Essex CC
Phn 01245 430329
Fax 01245 491042
Saturday, January 01, 2005
This Christmas and New Year period has been dominated by the tsunami, which took so many lives and has wrecked so many more. My thoughts are with all those caught up in the disaster - those who have died and their grieving and worried families and friends.
The scale of the catastrophe is still unfolding, but what is clear is that it already equires a world-wide effort on an unprecedented scale - providing food and shelter for those in immediate need and, longer term, to rebuild and restore the shattered coastal communities.
An immediate start has been made by the government which has committed £50 million pounds to the emergency. But it has been very heartening to learn of the great generosity which is also being show by individuals, touched by the terrible images we have seen.
When these tragedies occur, it can be hard to grasp the huge numbers involved - both of casualties and the financial resources required for rebuilding. But our country has already demonstrated that it can lead the way and when Parliament resumes, the Liberal Democrats will be active in ensuring that there is a continuing determination to assist these communities - some of whom are already among the poorest people in the world - long after the most immediate crisis has disappeared from our television screens and our newspapers.
Here at home, it is likely to be an election year: and whenever it's called the Liberal Democrats will be ready. We are looking forward to this poll. Many people are turning to us.
As the Conservative party fades away as a national political force, we Liberal Democrats will be the challengers to Labour in its heartlands, especially in the northern cities. The Conservatives cannot win the next election and this will be a three party struggle.
A clear division is emerging in British politics: the politics of fear versus the politics of hope. Labour is counting on the politics of fear, ratcheting up talk of threats, crime and insecurity. While the Conservatives are re-working their populist scares about asylum and the European 'menace'.
Look at how Labour, with the support of the Conservatives, has undermined trust in the political process by its spin and its reliance on external threats. Currently Labour is using this climate of fear to try to strip away the civil liberties that generations of Briton have defended and enjoyed.
The politics of fear versus hope can be expressed in another way. It's also the politics of liberalism versus illiberalism. And, as happens increasingly often today, Labour and the Conservatives are on one side and we are on the other.
Of course, extraordinary threats - like those posed by international terrorism - may require us, in times of emergency and for limited periods, to re-examine the balance between our freedom and our security. Everyone has the right to be secure in their homes and in their streets; but they also have the right to be protected against unfair discrimination on whatever ground. But at the same time, an overmighty state is a dangerous one. Modern technology can tempt any government to stray further and more invasively into our private territory under the guise of national security.
As this Labour government is currently demonstrating, we should be wary when security is invoked to justify measures that go far beyond the necessary requirements of safety.
We in Britain pride ourselves on the fairness of our justice system and we rightly have condemned the sort of appalling practices that have taken place at Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Graib prison in Iraq. Yet here at home, this Labour Government, with little comment from the Conservative leadership, has set out to undermine the very principles upon which our justice system is based. It has already instituted dentention without trial at Belmarsh - ignoring the landmark judgement of the Law Lords that this contravenes our most basic human rights. It has tried to bring in trial without jury, and it is planning to lower the burden of proof in some criminal trials. It has curbed our right of civil protests and increased stop and search powers.
Now, Labour and the Conservatives are seeking to impose compulsory ID cards on everyone. Let's just consider this proposal in more detail. It usefully symbolises the argument.
First - it will be hugely expensive. We will each have to stump up at least £85, with the tax-payer presumably picking up the inevitable cost overruns. The cards will require an iris scan, fingerprints and a facial scan. All the information will be stored on a national database and you could be fined for failing to keep it up to date.
The technology is new and untested on such a scale - and this government has a sorry record when it comes to IT. Remember the passports fiasco in 1999, the Child Support Agency and tax credits failures?
Anyway, why do we need ID cards? We can prove who we are now with passports, driving licences, credit cards, birth certificates. But once the cards have been introduced, how can we be sure what future Governments would do with the information? They could eventually be used to track our every move and to deny us access to public services.
Identity Cards didn't prevent terrorism in New York and Madrid. They won't stop benefit fraud - which is largely about false claims concerning circumstances not identity. ID cards won't stop organised crime or anti social behaviour - the problem for police is catching not identifying criminals. They won't stop illegal immigration. France, Spain and Italy all have ID cards and they still have the same problem as Britain with illegal workers. Security at our ports and airports would be much better served by a proper national border force.
In Australia, the public welcomed a proposal for ID cards until the full implications dawned. When the cost and the impact on privacy was added up, public interest melted away. It's likely that will also happen here.
Lasbour and the Conservatives are both supporting the ID proposals. But this unprecedented sympathy between them strays beyond these libertarian issues.
In 2003, standing shoulder to shoulder, they were united in supporting President Bush over the war in Iraq. 2004 has shown us conclusively that the premise was false, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, that there was little planning for the aftermath, and that as a consequence terrorism has flourished. Labour and the Conservatives were wrong about the war in Iraq.
Labour and the Conservatives are also united in their pursuit of false choices in our public services - only the Liberal Democrats believe in quality local public services, free to all at the point of use. They are united in preserving the hated Council Tax - only the Lib Dems would scrap it in favour of a fair local tax based on people's ability to pay. They are united in failing to put the environment at the heart of public policy - where it rightfully should be.
With the politics of fear, Labour and the Conservatives have charted their course. I prefer the language of hope; and I believe that we should see this election as a chance to travel in a new direction and set new challenges. That is why the Liberal Democrats will focus on what we are offering the British people. We will focus on our plans for the improvement of our public services; on how we can tackle crime and terrorism without giving up our traditional freedoms; on how we can rebuild Britain's standing in the international community after Iraq; and on how we can rebuild the bond of trust between Government and the people.
We believe in our local communities and want them to take the decisions that directly affect them. We champion the freedom of the individual to make the best of his or her talents, underpinned by a safety net for the vulnerable. We believe taxation should be fair, and that investment in our public services should be sustained.
Britain has changed significantly in the last 50 years. Look around you. We are no longer a nation with one family structure. We are no longer a nation of one colour and, increasingly, we welcome diversity. We are less deferential; more inclined to think for ourselves; more open about sexuality and equality. Our national institutions are changing too. We are no longer a nation of one church; we are a nation of many faiths. In our attitudes and the way we live our lives, this is in many ways a liberal Britain.
But this new liberal Britain brings with it many new challenges and our political parties must reflect what's happening. Yet for a decade, the Conservative party has been in open warfare as it attempts to come to terms with the new liberalism; while the Labour Party, rooted in the state control of socialism, can't shrug off old habits.
People are turning to the Liberal Democrats for answers because we instinctively understand this new Britain - and because we embrace it.
I am proud of the Liberal Democrat's record in the holding this Government to account in 2004; and I look forward to 2005 and the chance to put our case to the nation.
Happy New Year.
P.S. To find out how you can help the positive Liberal Democrat agenda, just visit: www.libdems.org.uk/supportus