Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

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Blimey!

Game on – blimey! Came in from election at around 11pm to find news of James Purnell’s resignation. As the night wore on – it seemed the senior cabinet members were rallying around – but they would, wouldn’t they?

Of course – given the nature of Brown – he won’t cave in or go quietly – and the ultimate threat he holds in his big clunking fist is to go to the Palace and call for a general election. I reckon he would do that in preference to an ignominious exit. That is his trump card – his only card right now.

As the reshuffle takes shape – we will see whether there is one last play of the dice – or not.

Watching the tumultuous nature of history in the making is something quite extraordinary to experience first(ish) hand. But in the four years I have been in Parliament – it seems it is always thus – a brutal rough trade indeed. I looked at Gordon during PMQs on Wednesday – where given the pressure he didn’t do too badly. I wonder how anyone is tough enough (or egotistical enough) to bear these moments. Backed into a corner and fighting for his political life – but still fighting.

As today moves on – we will see the full effect of the election results and the scale of the meltdown in Labour. In eight hours of telephone canvassing for the Euros yesterday – I found very, very few Labour voters. But who knows – the dire straights that Labour are now in may make those who bleed Labour if you cut them cleave to their tribal past – whether from pity or loyalty – who knows. Today and then on Sunday (with the European election results) we’ll see.

As for Purnell – I wonder – did he think this was his moment? If fortune favours the brave and who dares wins – did he think that this was his moment for a footnote in history, his chance to make his mark and be a serious player in future years? This game of chess is not quite at checkmate, however, and depending what happens next – we will see if he was brave – or foolish?

Fri 5 June 2009 Comments on this post (1)
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Going, going, … gone?

Listening to the news. Jacqui Smith gone. Hazel Blears gone. To live through and witness the end of the old order is a sombre experience – a necessary experience – but a sombre and sobering one.

As the government of this country goes into free fall – the shameful secrets of the establishment unmasked – the flawed character of a Prime Minister who doesn’t understand leadership in a modern age – the calculated death by a thousand knives as they plunge into Gordon Brown today – each one landing another death blow – as cabinet ministers murder the man who put them where they are. Et tu brute?

So – just coming up to PMQs. Cannot imagine at a human level how you get up and go out there to fight your corner when the pressure is so immense it must be hard even to breathe. Quite how Gordon Brown will be able to form a new administration as all these blows rain in, I don’t know. He should accept the inevitable and resign. Given his character he may not. But if he cannot form an administration – it might not be out of character for him to go to the Palace next week and let loose the dogs of war.

I never knew it would be like this.

Wed 3 June 2009 Comments on this post (2)
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Who should be Labour's Chancellor?

How on earth can Gordon Brown think that Ed Balls is the answer? Do not Ed and Yvette have equally damaging question marks over their housing arrangements? And does he really think that re-ordering the deckchairs on the Titanic would have helped?

I suppose reading The Observer’s praise for the Liberal Democrats as “consistent and principled” and it being time to give us our due together with Polly Toynbee’s suggestion that people should vote Lib Dem in the Euro elections on Thursday may feed his mania. The pressure to come up with an answer is unbearable – but there are no answers from Labour that can appease the unhappiness and disgust stalking our land.

And I notice the sudden desire of Labour apparatchiks to make friends of the Liberal Democrats and try desperately to breathe life into the dead dodo of some sort of arrangement has been peppering the pages of the papers. They wished! The Tories too flirt with and praise us. A plague on both their houses is my own sentiment!

Tue 2 June 2009 Comments on this post (0)
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Where is Gordon Brown?

They seek him here. They seek him there. If ever there was an example of failure to lead from Gordon (bunker mentality) Brown – his deafening silence at this time of crisis is it.

I find it unimaginable that the Prime Minister of this country has no seeming instinct for what is needed; no sense of purpose in leadership and no ideas for resolution. But that is what we see unfolding before our very eyes.

The old ways are dead Gordon. You should have seen what would happen. You should not have dithered and dallied. You should be out there leading the way.

Thu 28 May 2009 Comments on this post (2)
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Political reform: what to make of Cameron?

Having just read David Cameron’s recipe to restore public faith in politicians I note his glaring omissions. He omits what I regard as a fundamental gravy train that MPs have supped from for far too long. When I got to Parliament in 2005 I was outraged to find that MPs could use public money from the taxpayer for their mortgage and – given the booming house market until recent times – could then sell their property for huge profits and pocket them. That has been a scandal. I have bleated on about this ever since. Nick Clegg has taken up this issue too. The argument is very simple – that no one should be able to make a profit out of public money. Of course – David Cameron himself is profiting from this nice little earner. So – that’s the first black mark.

He also says nothing of the House of Lords – the bastion of privilege and non-accountability or democratic mandate. Failing to even wish to tackle this antiquated anomaly shows again that DC is a conservative who has been forced to flagg up ‘reform’ – but without the heart and commitment of a genuine reformer.

I was pleased to read the small paragraph on bringing the advantages of internet to Parliament. I have banged on about this for some time – and again I don’t think Cameron gets to the heart of what really matters. For example (not in Cameron’s recipe) from the first publication of a Bill – the changes and amendments all come on separate bits of papers.

I remember after leading on my first Bill in Parliament for the Liberal Democrats I went to the Labour Whips office to persuade them to use tracking changes so that we could see the Bill and its alterations all in the same place. You know track changes – the sort of thing the rest of the world has been using for years and years and years. But not Parliament. Instead – something changes, and you get given a block of replacement text without changes marked up. They seem incapable of breaking out of their straight jacket of history and moving to modern online information.

This just demonstrates the inability to move on the tiniest of changes that might help produce better legislation – and also open it up to public comment, scrutiny and feedback without having to be a lawyer to understand the bloody stuff. Make it easy for everyone to see what’s being changed – and I’ve no doubt people will start using that data, lobbying MPs more effectively and even spot things MPs have missed. After all – it’s not exactly news to say that some legislation gets through Parliament with mistakes in the wording. But open up the data – and then there’s the chance for other people to spot the mistakes, highlight them before they become law – and we all benefit.

There is stuff that Cameron’s said which I agree with – as you would expect given that many of the ‘ideas’ he puts forward in today’s Guardian are long-standing Liberal Democrat policies! Fixed-term parliaments, reducing of the power of the executive, cutting the number of MPs, devolving power to councils and empowering individuals. Transparency and accountability – definitely. Shame Cameron has had to be dragged kicking and screaming on these. But – to be fair – at least he is going out there.

DC, however, does not want to change the electoral system – a system that conserves the old ways at its very heart. No surprise there. We need an electoral system that gives real power to the voter to choose – and strips away the comfort of being in a safe seat that leads so many MPs astray, forgetting what they are really there for. (See this excellent analysis of the pattern between how safe an MP’s seat is and whether or not they’ve abused the expense rules.)

At present we have a government that does not represent the people – elected to total power by something like 36% only of voters – and garnered by electoral and financial effort being funneled into swing seats in marginals, largely ignoring voters elsewhere.

If we want politicians and politics to truly change – it isn’t enough to simply change a few rules in the heat of the media spotlight, but we need to change the rules by which MPs get into power – and can get kicked out again.

But at least, this catastrophic and seismic explosion into the body politic – has made even the Conservative leader – and even if for the wrong reasons – say some of the right things. Some – but not enough.

Gordon Brown, mind you, is woefully absent from this debate altogether, off the pace and not addressing the issues that need addressing. Totally explains why Blair managed to out dance him on the leadership in the first place.

What is clear is that this is a moment in time when the political establishment is in crisis. And that establishment has kept at bay the real changes that our needed in our country to make our democracy decent, effective, transparent and accountable. Power to the people is what is needed. Clearly power that rests in politicians hands will not deliver the new politics that we so desperately need.

Tue 26 May 2009 Comments on this post (3)
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Will Pike

Will Pike is a young man in his late twenties. He is in a wheelchair and will be for the rest of his life. He was injured in the Mumbai terrorist attacks – and his story is in the Observer today because Will is campaigning for British victims of terrorism abroad to be given the same support and compensation as they would get if they had been injured here.

Will isn’t just doing this for himself. He is the worst injured of those hurt in Mumbai – but there are many others.

I have written to Gordon Brown to point out that we have a moral obligation to our citizens – wherever in the world they come under attack. I have asked for a meeting for Nigel (Will’s father), Will himself and me.

Let’s hope he doesn’t fail to respond! Perhaps he will have learned his lesson the hard way from not responding to Joanna Lumley – warrior head-mistress!

Sun 10 May 2009 Comments on this post (0)
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Simon Mayo

Hazel Blears must have known what she was writing in that article. ‘Lamentable’ and ‘You Tube if you want to’ are hardly accidental insults.

At PMQs, David Cameron went for Gordon – sensing a weakened and beleaguered Prime Minister – somehow he managed to mess it up and come over like a bully-boy – unpleasant and over-political. Every one of his six supplementries was attacking Brown. So whilst Brown was wooden and unable to make quips – he didn’t suffer the way he ought to have given his fragile state and the week from hell just passed. He was desperately trying to be a serious man for serious times – coming back at Cameron for not asking a single question on policy or the economy. Underwhelming on both sides I thought.

Actually – the duel was deeply depressing. Red / blue, blue / red – same old same old. About time we had a different way of doing politics! Yes – us.

The only really decent questions (apart from Nick Clegg – obviously) was about the Gurkhas and the complete failure of Brown to understand the mood of the nation and somehow believe that rattling immigration bars (no doubt guided by focus group) would somehow trump the hearts and minds of British people. our souls are built on fair play! But Gordon doesn’t get it.

So – we ranged over this in Simon Mayo – and ID cards (waste of money and won’t work), swine flu (briefly thank goodness) and the Gurkhas again – and the demise of Gordon. Doom and Dust!

It’s a great program – and I note that Simon ‘I’m being made to tweet’ Mayo (last time I was on re twittering) now finds it irresistible!

Wed 6 May 2009 Comments on this post (2)
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Doom and dust

Well – with the measures Alistair announced in the Budget – it is the country’s doom and Gordon will be dust! OK – so I’m never going to get employment as a sun headline writer – never mind.

This was an opportunity for the Government to have rebalanced the tax system – not by the 50p rate of tax (which is not going to bring in enough income) but by raising the threshold and taking £700 of the vast majority of people’s tax bills. And this would be paid for by really closing the tax loopholes and clamping down on exemptions that benefit the very rich and leave that majority of low or middle income earners paying proportionally more tax than the the top earners. That would help people who are struggling.

In the future, as we climb out of this mess, we will need a national debate about what the state can or cannot afford in the future. That way we will all have a stake in the pain that is to come and we can choose where that pain is best born to make the burden lighter.

I was, however, very interested in the Chancellor’s promise that every young person between 18 and 24 would be offered a job, training or education if out of work for 12 months. I want to know what jobs, what training etc and in Tuesday’s budget debate hope to catch Mr Speaker’s eye and get called. As youth spokesperson, I am very worried about the lost generation who will emerge from tertiary education in particular to nothing. The loss of confidence and the loss of talent from that cohort must be avoided. But there was no flesh on the bones of the announcement – so my mission is to find out exactly what the Chancellor means.

Thu 23 April 2009 Comments on this post (2)
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Making the case for fair funding for Haringey's schools

I’ve been wondering at what point the unfair funding our Haringey children get compared to neighbouring boroughs (i.e. £1000+ per head less!) would force our schools into impossible positions. It’s happening now.

I visited St Michael’s in Highgate because – despite the miracles they have worked with their meagre budget – the coming year is posing a real problem. If the shortfall from unfair funding was made up – they would be able to deliver the schools service that parents expect and children deserve. I don’t know how they have manged up to now. Seems to me, in Haringey, you find that the LEA puts its discretionary funding to those schools who run out of money, so schools who do perform don’t get their fair share.

Anyway – I am going to arrange a meeting with Haringey – for myself, the Head and the Chair of Governors – to plead the case.

I will also write back to the Minister for Schools, Jim Knight, who has just responded to my request that we have a representative on the Review Board looking at school funding to start in 2011. That is where what Gordon Brown called an ‘anomaly’ when I questioned him at PMQs is meant to be ironed out.

But they can’t guarantee that it will be equalised (i.e. that Haringey will get the same as neighbours). And now they won’t allow a rep from Haringey to make sure our voice is heard. Jim assures me that they are well aware of Haringey’s plight. They bloody well should be – as I have screamed it at them on every occasion. Even Haringey Council have lumberingly and lately joined in my call for fair funding.

But awareness that we are being ripped off of £1,000 per pupil is not the same as giving us the money. And give it us before 2011. We need it now!

Wed 8 April 2009 Comments on this post (0)
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Who gets to be our monarch?

So – Gordon Brown is finally ‘having discussions’ about the antiquated customs that surround accession to the throne – the monarch not being able to marry a Catholic (Jews, Muslims and atheists are OK) and women get shunted out of line to the throne by the boys. So – hurrah! Except he is only doing it because my Lib Dem colleague Evan Harris, in his Private Members’ Bill today on this subject, is forcing the issue.

As indeed, I have forced it myself before. That time the Government conceded the issue – but said the Commonwealth was the sticking point. Labour has already says it would bring this in in a fourth term. Yes – stop laughing. Sometime never! The Bill is unlikely to get through today for Parliamentary reasons too tedious to go into, like Labour talking out the Bill or 100 MPs not being there for the Bill to pass etc. – Fridays are constituency days so most MPs go back to their area on a Thursday night, and unless the Government is going to let the Bill pass or – as with the recent Autism Bill – everyone agrees to turn up, nothing comes to pass.

There is a long line of MPs who have tried to get these most symbolic of inequalities ended including Jeffrey Archer, myself, Jo Swinson, Evan Harris and many others – but hopefully days are now numbered. I post the exchange in Parliament during questions last year on both Catholics and women:

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Here is a representation for the Minister. Next weekend, Peter Phillips is due to marry Autumn Kelly; she has had to convert to the Church of England to preserve his place in succession to the throne. I am sure that the whole House will want to wish the happy couple well on their big day, but would it not be better to send them a wedding present by using the equality Bill to abolish that institutional discrimination against Catholics?

Barbara Follett: I think that I will confine myself to congratulating the happy couple, and wishing them well in their marriage, which, as hon. Members know, requires a lot of adjustments on both sides at the beginning, middle and end.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): The Minister may be aware that I referred the case of Lady Louise being bumped out of line to the throne to the European Court of Human Rights, and it has responded positively, supporting the principle of getting rid of male primogeniture. The Solicitor-General made positive comments about that change being in the Act, and I congratulate the Government on that and welcome it. Does the Minister agree that it is very disappointing when those on the Tory Benches slide backwards and say that because it is difficult in the Commonwealth— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not for the Minister to concern herself with Conservative party policy. The hon. Lady has been called because she is a Liberal spokesman, so she should put her question to the Minister.

Lynne Featherstone: You are right, Mr. Speaker, as always. Will the Minister assure me that the difficulties of working this through the Commonwealth should not stand in the way of its being done? It is right that it should be done, and we have heard from all parties that it should be done, so will the Minister confirm that view?

Barbara Follett: This kind of change in our country, which has a long tradition, is always difficult. Before any change is brought in, we will try to build a cross-party consensus, and a cross-Commonwealth consensus. Primogeniture is a problem, and it is offensive, but we have to approach the matter cautiously.

Fri 27 March 2009 Comments on this post (2)
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