The last 48 hours: what LDV would have said next (Part I)

by Stephen Tall on March 1, 2009

As LDV’s readers will know, the site took an extended day and a bit’s break on Friday and Saturday while Ryan Cullen was working wonders with our servers to ensure the site doesn’t continue to be suspended the moment we experience a spike in visitor traffic. Here then is our guide to the stories we would have featured if we had been able to:

Liberal Democrats proposed scrapping ministerial veto on FOI

Last week, Justice secretary Jack Straw took the unprecedented decision to over-rule the independent Information Commissioner, and block the publication of the minutes of the cabinet meeting at which it was decided the UK would declare war on Iraq. This was, I believe, a bad decision in principle, but then I believe in transparent, accountable government in which politicians feel able to put forward the same reasoned arguments in public as in private (though Matt Bowles mounts a spirited defence of Mr Straw’s actions over at Liberal Conspiracy here, which is well worth reading). What was undoubtedly a disgrace was that Jack Straw chose to make this decision himself: as Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, he very clearly had a conflict of interest in making the decision. A cabinet minister with an ounce of integrity would have recused themselves from such a decision.

On Friday, the Telegraph noted the Lib Dems’ proposals (part of Chris Huhne’s Freedom Bill) to prevent further abuses of power by egregious politicians like Mr Straw:

Ministers will lose the right to veto embarrassing documents being released through Freedom of Information under proposals from the Liberal Democrats. … The Liberal Democrats said their proposals would “roll back the authoritarian laws passed by both Labour and Conservative governments which have undermined civil liberties”.

MSP defies party on independence vote

John Munro, MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, has gone on the record to back a referendum on Scottish independence, despite the unequivocal rejection of the position by Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott:

I think the sooner it happens, the better, so … we find out whether we are going to go ahead with an independent Scotland.”

Be careful what you Facebook

Two Facebook stories surfaced. The most prominent was the case of Kimberley Swann, 16, who was sacked for posting a status update on the social networking site saying that she was bored in her new job. This was a shameful decision by her (former) firm, Ivell Marketing & Logistics: the comment was posted by Ms Swann in her own time, on her own computer, and did not name the company. The update was apparently drawn to the attention of her employers by some of her new work colleagues, whom she had ‘friended’. Some friends.

And a Lib Dem councillor in Bridgend has also achieved some notoriety, as the BBC reports, after pictures were published showing him dressed as a Nazi for a fancy dress party.

Sean Aspey posed for photos at his 40th birthday party last year themed on the comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo set in Nazi-occupied France and posted them on Facebook. … Local Lib Dem party chiefs suspended him temporarily while an internal inquiry into the affair is carried out.

There appears to have been an absurd over-reaction to this case which, sad to say, qualifies for categorisation under that ultra-cliché ‘PC-gone-mad’. I can certainly see how turning up to a council meeting wearing a Nazi uniform might be a disciplinary matter; I fail to see how wearing a Nazi uniform to a private party two months before you’re even elected a councillor might be.

That said, we reap what you sow: four years ago, Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy was among those who joined the media hunting pack in condemning Prince Harry for a similar ‘offence’ (though I think it’s fair to say that the third-in-line to the throne is in a position of more prominence and sensitivity than a councillors from Bridgend).

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If you have a party themed around ‘Allo Allo’, it would be extremely surprising indeed if noone turned up dressed up as a Nazi. If would be a bit like having a Watership Down themed party without any rabbits.

by Paul Walter on March 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm. Reply #

I think it worth pointing out that Sean Aspey was not dressed as a Nazi, a stormtrooper nor a member of the SS. He was wearing a Wehrmacht uniforn which as far as I am aware is the uniform of a German soldier. We have been at peace with Germany for over 60 years.

by Peter Black on March 1, 2009 at 8:44 pm. Reply #

The St Neots Player’s put on a pantomine every year, to raise money for the (Lib Dem) Mayor’s charities. Last year’s production was ‘Allo Allo’. The Lib Dem Leader of the Town Council played General von Schmelling to the amusement of hundreds of children who also know him as a very rotund Santa! The play was produced by another Lib Dem Councillor.

I’ve a meeting with them next week. Off with their heads?

by Martin Land on March 1, 2009 at 9:20 pm. Reply #

Matt Bowles mounts a spirited defence of Mr Straw’s actions over at Liberal Conspiracy

Who is this Matt person, and why is he getting credit for my writing? 😉

I actually agree with you that we can, and should, move to open and transparent government as much as is possible.

But that’s not the current constitutional position, and I’m not sold that it should become the default constititional position. It’s not, to my knowledge, party policy, we plan a convention but I don’t recall seeing that as a specific.

Meh, rambling, I’ll stop being snarky. I’m not sure how Chris can say that the opt out is an authoritarian law passed by Labour, it was in the initial Act, which we helped write and voted for.

Oh, an ‘Allo Aloo party isn’t the same as a general fancy dress party, and a Wehrmacht uniform isn’t the same as an SS uniform, and I suspect this guy was careful with what he Facebooks, he just wasn’t expecting blithering idiocy on the part of the local press or his fellow group members.

by MatGB on March 2, 2009 at 10:15 am. Reply #

Actually he wasnt that careful what he Facebooked as there were one or two groups that he has now left. The local party and the Welsh Lib Dems have been very supportive of Sean. He was suspended on the ‘advice’ of the Federal Party to allow a full investigation of the claims so as to ensure transparency. It is hoped to conclude that investigation before the next Town Council meeting.

by Peter Black on March 2, 2009 at 10:23 am. Reply #

Which of the provisions in the Freedom Bill are ones which we voted for when the original legislation was debated?

Certain 28 days but I don’t know if there are others.

“Being careful with Facebook” is a bit of a meaningless concept. With social networking sites you can never control what other people do with photos they’ve taken of you (other than I suppose untagging yourself on FB)

by Hywel on March 2, 2009 at 11:28 am. Reply #

Ah, just looked at Chris’ quote above again. It’s two separate clauses. Removing the veto is part of the freedom bill, and rolling back the authority creep is part of the freedom bill, but the veto isn’t part of the authority creep, it just looks that way in the way Stephen’s presented it at initial glance.

by MatGB on March 2, 2009 at 1:07 pm. Reply #

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