Month: March 2007

Currently reading…

It’s been a while since I updated on this, but I have gone back to reading avidly.

150px-iainbankscomplicity.jpgThe book I am now nearing the end of is Complicity by Iain Banks. The first Iain Banks I read was one of his most recent – Dead Air – a book that I would probably label as one of my favourites. So, hoping that I’d found an author I could without question say is brilliant, I then read The Bridge. Maybe I’m not intellectual enough, but I hated it and found it incredibly confusing. However, hoping that it was just a one off, I then started Complicity. The book so far has been very good. Basically, it is a mystery story, but what I love about this book, as with Dead Air, is the way that Iain Banks describes things from everyday, and not so everyday, life that makes you realise picture exactly what he is referring to.

cara.jpgThe last book I read was another mystery, but along the more conventional lines. That time it was Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. I had wanted to buy this book for some time. I first found Cara Black’s books in Waterstone’s in Southampton and just by reading the back of them I wanted to buy them. So I kept looking out for the first one in the series – Murder in the Marais – from then on. I finally bought it in January this year. Murder in the Marais is about a murder with links to the occupation of Paris during the Second World War. It twists and turns quite a lot and so can sometimes be difficult to follow, but when you get back on track it all fits together nicely. Although I don’t know the Marais at all, it really did conjour up a strong image of it in my mind. A very good book, and I will certainly read more by Cara Black.

AMAZON UK: Complicity by Iain Banks

AMAZON UK: Murder in the Marais by Cara Black

End of an era…LDYS changes its constitution

Yes, possibly the dullest sounding news ever. But after reading on Gareth Aubrey’s blog that the LDYS constitution has been replaced, it seems slightly sad news and brought me a wave of nostalgia.

The reason why? Well I was part of the small group who rewrote the last one. I’m not really a constitutions wonk, but there were certain things I wanted to see change in the way that LDYS operated, and this seemed to be the way to do it. My first thought when I read the news of the latest constitution change was, “not again”. Then I realised that it is at least seven years ago. I’m getting old!

Recently I have also been through another phase of nostalgia in relation to LDYS. Not that long ago I stumbled on some old minutes from the days when I was on the LDYS executive. Jo Swinson was secretary, and I’d forgotten how funny she would make them. Aided by Alex Wilcock‘s legendary love hearts, that were passed round at meetings. It also reminded me though of some big things that have changed:

  • At the time there was still a rift between LDYS and SYLD. LDYS covered England, Wales and everywhere else in the world except for Scotland. SYLD was the Scottish Young Liberal Democrats and completely separate.
  • There was only one vice-chair, and I was one of the last ones. I didn’t do a great job, but I enjoyed doing it and it is partly what has led to me being so active in the party now.
  • The main member of staff in the LDYS office was an elected sabbatical post.
  • The geographical spread of activists has changed over the years. University groups go through ups and downs, and that was reflected in the make-up of the LDYS activists.
  • We were very excited to be invited to Charles Kennedy’s flat when he first became leader to discuss what he could do to help LDYS.
  • LDYS was seen to be a bunch of unreconstructed lefties for much of the time I was involved. Now it seems to be full of fanatical orange-book people. (Maybe an unfair characterisation, but it seems to be my impression).

However, it is also clear how some things about LDYS never change.

GARETH AUBREY: LDYS: Return of the Readership

Falling in love with Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth from Constitution HillWhen I moved to Aberystwyth I was told by Mark Williams, now the Lib Dem MP for Ceredigion, that although I might not realise it yet, I would fall in love with Aberystwyth. He was right, I did.

I only spent nine months living in Aberystwyth, but I loved being there, and despite having lived in other places before and since, I can never quite leave the town alone. An article in The Independent on Sunday yesterday managed to sum up quite a few of the reasons why this is the case.

Aberystwyth is completely unique in the UK. It manages to be both big town Britain and small-time rural Britain all in one place. It has a thriving university, whilst also being the centre for local farmers. It is in a majority Welsh speaking area, whilst also having a large English community. It is miles from the nearest major city, and yet includes some of the most important national institutions both in Wales and the UK. It is both beautiful and ugly. Cosmopolitan and parochial. It is quite simply a huge jumble of different things and that is why I love it.

The article in The Independent picked out some places in the town that I also love. But I would also like to give a bit of a push to some others:

  • Parc Natur Penglais. The most popular place to get a grand view of the town is the top of Constitution Hill. But further along just above where I lived in North Road is a park that stretches up Penglais Hill. It includes winding paths, heathland and woodland. It also includes seats and rocks to sit on and is wonderful on hot days as it faces south across the town.
  • The end of the promenade under the war memorial. This is the point where the prom turns from running roughly southwest to running south, and at it there is what feels like a little promontory of paving that sticks out in to the sea . On a stormy day it is remote, bleak and invigorating. On a calm day it is warm, sunny and relaxing.
  • Tanybwlch. Visitors to Aberystwyth know the main beaches along the promenade. Tanybwlch is the beach to the south of the town on the other side of the harbour. It is reached by following a small residential street off the main road at Trefechan and it comes to an abrupt end by the bridge over the River Ystwyth. This beach is pebbly but great to walk along as it is empty but beautiful.
  • South jetty of the harbour. This is reached from Tanybwlch beach and is used mainly by people fishing. It is a great spot to see the comings and goings of the harbour, with the sea lapping against the jetty.
  • Mecca Coffee Houseon Chalybeate Street. Possibly one of the best coffee shops in the country and a town institution. I loved drinking their mochas.
  • Rummers on Bridge Street. My favourite bar. It is in an old boathouse by the River Rheidol, and has a lovely outdoor terrace. The bar itself is down some steps, with a low ceiling and with sawdust on the floor. Its customers are a complete cross-section of the town – young and old, Welsh and English, locals and students, and many more things too. It often hosts live bands on a Friday night, but beware as it is often packed and on warm days it gets absolutely roasting.
  • Cae Melyn. It seems odd to name a residential street, but I got to know this road by delivering leaflets there during the Welsh Assembly elections. It is a complete mix of houses, but quite a few are unusually designed 60s and 70s modern homes that are in complete contrast to the rest of the town. My mistake was to deliver the road in the dark the first time. It is a switchback road that runs up a steep hill, and the gardens are so long that by the time you get to the letterbox you’ve fallen down a hole that you didn’t see in the dark.
  • The alleyways and yards of old Aberystwyth. Behind the main roads are all sorts of hidden alleyways and streets, where there are houses, businesses or even historic buildings. The best one is the one that goes from the promenade, up some steps and then comes out near the back of the library. Most people don’t know it is there, but on the short walk you end up stumbling on parts of the old town walls.

On another day I will also list the must-see places elsewhere in Ceredigion. But suffice to say, I have fallen in love with Aberystwyth and the surrounding area. Unfortunately I had to move away after only a short period of time for job reasons. But since then I have stayed in touch, and have plenty of friends in the area.

THE INDEPENDENT: Aberystwyth: little city on the coast

Lembit Opik

Last night on Question Time I remembered how good Lembit can be. He was serious, thoughtful, articulate and strong. He could make coherent and intelligent points whilst still being punchy and catchy. Something that plenty of other Liberal Democrats seem incapable of doing.

I suppose I shouldn’t sound so surprised, as I have always known that he has a lot of excellent political skills. I have also said to people before that I like Lembit as a person and if there is one person I would pick to canvassing with at a by-election it is Lembit as he makes it enjoyable and keeps you going when you’d rather give up.

But Lembit is also the one Liberal Democrat that I have been critical of on the internet on several occasions. People who aren’t in politics and those who are but are perhaps more hard-headed than me, find it very easy to criticise politicians.But I don’t find it easy to criticise in public those in my own party, particularly those who know and talk to. So it surprises me when I think about how much I have done it.

I think I have largely been driven too it by his joking around on TV and within the party that has too often been biased towards making people laugh at him rather than with him. But I have also disliked the promotion of his private life which at times has made him seem more like half of a celebrity couple than a serious politician. He also made some horrendously bad judgements at the time of the last leadership election. There is also an element that stems a lot from a number of disagreements that I had with him on aspects of the 2003 Welsh Assembly election campaign when I worked for the Welsh party in a job that covered his constituency.

However last night I am pleased to say that he pulled a blinder and it was one of the best Lib Dem performances on the programme in a long while. It helped that Mike O’Brien was poor and that Priti Patel sounded whiney and annoying. It reminded me though of all the qualities that I like about Lembit. I just hope that we soon forget about his private life and give him the opportunity to really use the skills he is good at. The people skills, the nurturing of new talent and the way he gets people to do things that they wouldn’t have agreed to do otherwise.

A sad day

The end of my Fiat CinquecentoI know it isn’t politically correct or environmentally friendly, but I am sad today as my car has reached the end of its life.

My blue Fiat Cinquecento is the only car I have ever had. I bought it new in 1998 when I started working on board Midland Mainline trains between Sheffield and London. I was working shifts, the earliest of which started at 04:30, which meant that I had to get a car so I could get to work. I didn’t really enjoy driving, but it was a necessity.

Life then changed and I grew to like the freedom of just being able to go off somewhere at the drop of a hat, particularly as I like exploring places off the beaten track.Also, when working in politics a car has become crucial for transporting leaflets, campaign volunteers, stakeboards, various parliamentarians, backdrops and all sorts of other things around the place.

But all of that will now be at an end. My car has had huge problems over the last year and I have spent too much money on trying to repair it. I finally decided this week that it had to go, and so it was sold to a garage in Loxley. For a heap of metal and plastic, it is amazing how sad I feel about it. It might be an inanimate object, but my car is one of the few things that has been constantly a part of my life over the last nine years. It has given me a huge amount of freedom to go off and do things I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

I can’t really believe it myself that I am feeling so sentimental. It hasn’t done that many miles – about 90,000 – with a third of those done in the nine months I lived in Wales. But that is largely because I do walk to places a lot, I tend to use the train for longer distances and in Sheffield I have always used the bus.

With me moving in to a flat in Sheffield city centre next month, it is at least coming at a time that is more convenient for me not to have a car. I can’t afford a new one anyway. The place I will be living in, won’t have any parking and it will be right at the centre of all the city’s bus routes and about five minutes from the railway station. But I will miss it most for days off when I want to get away from things.

Not having a car will change my life. It will be an interesting experiment to see how, after nine years, I get used to not having one again.

Cameron and the Greens converge

Liberal Democrats seem to be struggling on how to deal with the new green Tories under Cameron. Should we dismiss them as not really being serious about the environment and what Cameron is saying is just spin and he will never develop real green policies? Or, should the conversion to environmentalism be welcomed with us arguing though that we got there first? Or the other option of saying that they are being green but it doesn’t go far enough?

It is a difficult one, and certainly Cameron’s recent announcements appear to be very bold and very different. But where I have a problem is that they are completely unrealistic.

Rationing people to one ‘cheap’ flight a year may sound good, but how on earth are you going to police it and what size of bureaucracy do you need to achieve it? Plus, how will he deal with airlines using overseas fuel instead of British fuel to get round the fact that ours will be more heavily taxed.

It was reassuring listening to Chris Huhne on television this lunchtime. Not only was he clear on where the Liberal Democrat view was better than Labour or the Tories, but he reminded people how distinct the Lib Dem view is and why it would work. He didn’t need to say “we are greener than you”, which is becoming an increasingly repetitive argument, but simply stated why the Lib Dem policy would work.

On the environment I am happy to compare the Tories to the Green Party. That may sound like a compliment in terms of their environmental policies, but it isn’t. What I mean is that what they say may sound good, but it will never happen as it just doesn’t take in to account reality. The difference is that the Greens go even further and are even more restrictive.

I was interested in environmental issues long before David Cameron was, and so of course I want to reduce carbon emissions. But just talking about flights is I believe is a red herring. There are many other ways of reducing our carbon footprint. But even when it comes to air travel, the discussion should be much more about cutting internal flights and road use in the UK. These two link together. If we put money in to high capacity, fast rail lines criss-crossing the UK, like the French TGV, we would not only end up putting out of business the vast majority of internal flights, but would also reduce long-distance car use as well. Rail travel in this way is credible and would work, and would be the biggest carrot that anyone could possible want, without the need for a huge stick.

Consultation Labour style – the closure of Wisewood School

A quick link to a posting on the A Liberal View of Sheffield blog. As most of us in politics knows, Labour are not exactly known for their genuine consultations with local residents. But the latest consultation by Sheffield City Council over the closure of Wisewood School, err… sorry I mean the closure of both Wisewood and Myers Grove Schools with the opening of a new school on the Myers Grove site…is one of the most ridiculous I have seen.

The arguments they use and the justification they adopt for completing ignoring the local residents are bizarre. In fact if it wasn’t for it being such a serious issue, you could say it was comical. As a flavour, try this quote:

Most written responses were absolutely categorical about wanting only a Community school whether or not they were opposed to the reorganisation. The debate at the meetings was more sophisticated. People that attended had the opportunity to understand the Trust model in more detail and perhaps gain some reassurance about it (although this was not voiced)….

So if it wasn’t voiced, how do they know? Anyway, have a read yourself:

A LIBERAL VIEW OF SHEFFIELD: Consultation Labour style