This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Mayor of San Diego reverses his position on gay marriage

I have just stumbled across this fantastic clip from 2007 of Jerry Sanders, Mayor of San Diego, who changed his mind on gay marriage. Up until then he had been a dyed in the wool opponent, but for reasons personal to him, he reversed his position and made this dramatic speech to the waiting media.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this or where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, I think there is something very courageous about a politician who can admit their mistakes so publicly. This happened a few years ago now and even in that short space of time things have changed in the United States but as this clip shows politics can be a raw, emotional, personal business. This isn't always such a bad thing.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Whose ever heard of the Belgian and the Baroness?

I think it is disastrous for Europe that we have ended up with two lightweights in the top positions of EU President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

I am sure both Herman Van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton have admirable qualities, but they are not the best people for the job.

In particular, Van Rompuy has consistently oppposed Turkish membership of the EU which I think he is wrong about.

The decision to choose two unknowns also shows Europe is not serious about leading or projecting its power onto a global stage. There is no powerful, self-assertive voice to represent us here. Europe's status is diminished once again.

Tony Blair won't lose any sleep over this. But we should worry that Europe has chosen to bury its head in the sand again. This was an opportunity to be radical and show leadership. Instead we end up with the worst of all worlds.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Brown must reverse his decision on childcare vouchers

If weekend press reports are to be believed, I am delighted that Gordon Brown appears to have changed his mind on plans to remove tax relief on Employer Supported Childcare Vouchers.

Brown originally told delegates to the Labour Party Conference that he was removing the tax relief to pay for ten hours of free childcare for 250,000 two-year olds by 2015.

But while extending childcare support for parents should be applauded, it should not come at the expense of other parents who are struggling to balance their careers with family life.

Childcare vouchers currently support over 340,000 parents and help more than 30,000 employers help their employees get back to work.

But many of the mums and dads who use childcare vouchers are middle income earners, often working in the public sector, who rely on the voucher system to support their childcare costs.

70% of parents who use them are basic tax rate payers.

They are popular with employees and employers because of their flexibility and ease of use. They allow parents to get back to work (hasn’t this always been a Labour goal?) and they offer real choice and flexibility when it comes to childcare options.

So it seemed madness to me at the time that Brown was prepared to scrap them.

Since Brown made the announcement, there has been a huge campaign to get him to reverse his decision. A petition on Downing Street opposing the decision to scrap vouchers has so far received over 80,000 signatures. Progress sent a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to change his mind. It was signed by Patricia Hewitt MP, Hilary Armstrong MP, Beverley Hughes MP, Caroline Flint MP, David Cairns MP, Denis MacShane MP and Estelle Morris to name but a few. And there has been widespread media coverage, particularly in The Sun and Mail, which has kept the issue alive.

It is also bad politics. It doesn’t make sense to penalize working parents in Middle England ie marginal constituencies, whose support Labour will need if it is to win the next election.

It is wrong for the Government to force us to choose between tax relief on the one hand and extending childcare to two-year olds on the other hand. I hope Brown will recognize this in the forthcoming Pre Budget Report and reverse his decision for good.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Can Labour capitalise on Tory EU division?

The return of 'Europe' as a problem for the Conservative Party should provide Labour with a few good opportunities to score some political goals.

Tory policy on the issue is a complete mess. First, they want to have a referendum and now they don't. Instead they want to repatriate certain powers from Europe which have already been given away. The idea that the rest of Europe will let them is fanciful.

The Europe 'issue' has dogged every Tory leader for the last thirty years, but with Cameron doing so well in the polls and a General Election just around the corner I doubt there will be any Conservative Eurosceptic willing to put their neck above the parapet and criticise their leadership's policy.

It's up to Labour then to really tug at those divisions. We need to stress the positive benefits of EU membership on issues like climate change, highlight the Tory cracks and warn people which EU powers the Tories would like to repatriate, most of which concern the European Social Chapter and a whole raft of social measures and workers' rights like paternity leave. I don't think it would go down well with the electorate if they knew that Mr Cameron was, in effect, saying he wanted to get rid of these.

We should also remember that UKIP won't give up on its bonkers crusade to get us out of Europe. In a few Tory marginals it is likely to put real pressure on Tory candidates. If we can find ways of driving a bigger wedge between the Tories and UKIP, we might just force Cameron to adopt an even more irrational policy on Europe.

Finally, we should continue to push for a strong EU Presidency (preferably with Tony Blair in the role) that can act as a counterweight to a future Conservative Government's Euroscepticism and make life difficult for David Cameron.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Alan Johnson was right to sack his drugs adviser

I think Alan Johnson was well within his rights to sack Professor David Nutt as the Government’s Chief Drug Adviser.

It is perfectly possible, in fact desirable, for advisers to government to voice independent views but it is not okay to publicly repudiate government policy. David Nutt seemed to think it was alright to be the government’s drug adviser and at the same time rubbish the government’s drug policy.

It is his job to advise, it is Alan Johnson’s job to decide. This is what the Home Secretary is paid to do and ultimately he is the one who has to answer to the public for it.

When it comes to drugs policy, the government needs to send out very clear messages and Professor Nutt’s comments only added to the confusion.

I believe it was wrong to downgrade cannabis (as does the World Health Organisation) and I believe it would be wrong to go down a similar route with ecstasy. Soft drugs often lead to hard drugs. They are responsible for significant amounts of crime and they do kill people.

Everyone is entitled to their own views, but you cannot reasonably be expected to serve a government which you are hell bent on criticizing.

Alan Johnson’s decision to get rid of him was the right one.