Dear Nick,

We love you really. Particularly after “I’m sorry”.

We were good boys and girls and folk of no particular gender and didn’t make noises about unseating you at conference, because we don’t believe that’s a good idea. (Even if the press would love it)

But you really, really need to learn to stop talking sometimes.

At conference during your Question and Answer session, you were asked about the draft Communications Data Bill. As you probably know this does not make headlines in the Guardian every day but is still something that worries many liberals. When Mark Pack asked you a question on it, you initially responded well with some spot on phrases:

It’s a draft bill“.

Unprecedented levels of scrutiny“.

Julian Huppert“. (Julian’s mention being enough for a round of applause)

And finally, you confirmed what’s become known as “the Huppert Veto“. Despite the name, this is not the latest Tom Clancy thriller.

Well done.

But after about three minutes of not particularly intense questioning, it started falling apart. George Potter asked you if you’d taken any advice on the bill, or even read it before initially endorsing it. It’s fine to say the Home Office misled you. Really, we won’t mind. It happens, and we’re there to catch that sort of thing before it makes it into law. That’s the nice thing about the Liberal Democrats: We can do that, when other parties can’t.

Parroting out the lines that the “principles of the bill are extending existing powers” just makes you sound like you’re reading from a Home Office press release. It’s not just about “extending [existing] powers to other forms of communication, particularly Voice, Skype or whatever“. It’s far more than that, and we know it.

At least when the third questioner challenged you, the response was a reference to “Nasty people”. I’m pleased that we’ve dropped the tired old “paedophiles and terrorists” line. But the “Yeah, yeah” as if you understood what a VPN was didn’t make you look clever.

This is really, really technical.

If I was having to defend a highly technical motion related to the safety of nuclear reactors, or use of certain drugs in hospitals, I’d not even try. I’d get people in who understood the stuff, liberals I trusted, and let them get on with it. Please don’t pretend to understand it because we’re completely OK with the idea that it’s really not that easy.

Frankly, you’ve got other things to do. A country to run. We, lead by Julian, can handle this one.

Instead, just remember these simple four words when questioned on the Communications Data Bill:

I agree with Julian“.



Last night, I attended a fringe event on Civil Liberties at the Liberal Democrat Conference. Many topics were covered and as a number of prolific tweeters were present (Myself, Sarah Brown and Caron Lindsay) it had a fair bit of coverage on Twitter.

Many topics were discussed, but one in particular attracted the Twitter attentions of Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South. That was ASBOs, where concern was expressed that they can be used to punish behaviour that would normally not be imprisonable. For example, if you are homeless on the street you can be given an ASBO preventing you from drinking, something that in itself isn’t illegal. Without help, that homeless person is just going to have a drink and this time they’ll go back in front of the Magistrates and get put in jail for 7 days for breach of the ASBO.

The next time, 14 days. Then, 28 days. And so on.

The only people to really benefit from this are private companies running the prisons. There’s certainly little being done in some cases to address the underlying causes.

Enter Tom Harris:

You’d think Tom would have learnt to be careful on twitter, given he’s already lost his post as Labour’s New Media advisor after some ill-advised tweets.

But no, society has no responsiblity to help people according to Tom. Instead it’s all about “Personal Responsibility”. He goes on to recount a story (Which he sounds proud of!) where he made someone homeless because they had a drink problem.

But wait! Surely, being a decent MP, Tom Harris tried to help this person? Perhaps he’s just not mentioned all the hard work he did in that regard. No, not at all. He wanted to evict this person without considering the alternatives…

So next time you pass someone homeless on the street in Glasgow, or some other city with a Labour MP, stop and think: What caused them to end up on the street? Is it because the local MP put them there, knowing homeless people don’t vote?

The whole affair pretty neatly illustrates the difference between many Labour supporters draconian and authoritarian approach to crime and punishment, versus the Liberal Democrat view.

(Tin Tower has also written up this exchange)

Way back in May, four months ago, I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Sussex Police. It is not anything unusual and requests information I have asked other police forces, such as what equalities impact assessments they carried out into party conference accreditation. They duly acknowledged it.

But after 20 working days, no response. This isn’t that unusual in FoI requests, despite 20 working days being the legal limit, so I politely chase them. No response. So I request an internal review. Again, no response. Not even an acknowledgement.

Next, I write to the Information Commissioner. They take their time (about 6 weeks!) but eventually write directly to Sussex Police, telling them they need to reply in 10 working days. Those 10 working days are up and I still haven’t had any response from Sussex Police.

They know they can not ignore a Freedom of Information request forever, which makes me think they are trying to delay publication of something until after conference. What possible correspondence might Sussex Police have that’s so embarrassing they’re willing to ignore the Information Commissioner purely as a delaying tactic?

Last week, in the Home Affairs Select Committee, Dr Julian Huppert quizzed the Metropolitan Police commissioner on what he might spend £1.8bn of cash on. Those familiar with the draft Communications Data Bill will probably recognise that number: It’s the Home Office estimate of the total cost of implementing the Bill.

Q403 Dr Huppert: Commissioner, if for all of policing, including counter-terrorism and all the other things that you do, you found you had an extra £1.8 billion over the next 10 years, what would be your number one priority for how you choose to spend that money?

One would expect Mr Hogan-Howe to be “on message” when it comes to this as he was quite vocal when the draft bill was announced, describing the powers as necessary to wage a draconian-sounding Total War on Crime. This guy is one of the leading voices asking for the bill. Surely he must think it is good value for money?

Surprisingly, Communications Data would not be a priority. He’d rather spend the cash on other things such community policing and general IT.

In fact, Communications Data didn’t even get a mention.

Bernard Hogan-Howe: It is a good question, and I would need a bit of time to think about it, but there are probably two main things. One would be to enhance the neighbourhood and community policing response. I think there is an opportunity there for us to do more. The second thing is I want to invest more in technology, not to replace the people necessarily, but we in the Met spend about £220 million a years on IT. Across the country policing generally spends £1.2 billion on IT. My point would be that it is more green screen than it is iPad, I am afraid, and it does not seem to catch criminals. Lots of lists, but ANPR catches criminals, facial recognition helps, fingerprints, DNA quick turnaround. These are things that I think over time can make a real difference, and of course it links us into the community and the victims in a far better way in which you see business deliver a service. I don’t think we are anywhere near that yet. So that is the two big areas that I would probably invest in. Probably the other one would be training. We have embarked on a quality programme and I think in the past probably the police service has seen training as a cost not an investment. For me it is an investment provided it is done properly and it is invested towards crime-fighting, which I think is vital.

(You can view this exchange on Parliament TV, starting from 11:02:23)

We already know that the proposals are incredibly expensive compared to the existing system and now even the police force primarily responsible for anti-terrorism don’t believe it’s good value for money.

So why are we doing it?

I always try to check and reference primary sources when I blog or tweet, because I like making sure my facts are correct. I have had to bin a blog post more than once when it’s turned out the numbers and figures are not exactly as I thought. WordPress allows me to see who has clicked on links, and although it is depressing to see how few people follow up my sources, I do hope that people would call me out if I cited something wrong.

And a recent example illustrates exactly why I do this, specifically a Twitter image meme about Maria Miller (Now Secretary of State and Minister for, among other things, Equalities) that was doing the rounds a couple of days ago. The content of that image is rebutted pretty well in this blog post, although it confirmed what I already knew from my own research: Whilst neither Miller nor Helen Grant (Who has Lynne Featherstone’s old job as Parliamentary Undersecretary for Equalities) have a positive record on LGBT, they actually have a worryingly blank record rather than a negative one.

I get irritated by such things firstly because that they spread due to the “common sense” view that “All Tories are Evil, so this must be true!” and I don’t believe all Tories are evil. (Misinformed, perhaps…) If you assume, even by implication, that every member of the Conservative Party is evil and anti-equality, people who are on our side will leave in frustration. Eventually, a party that spends a lot of it’s time in government will become even more anti-equality: Not good news for real equality on the ground.

And secondly because “common sense” leads to institutional cases of Trans and other discrimination, especially in large organisations. I’ve recently run across a case where a large public body classes all Trans people as being high risk for mental health and thus need extra evidence to prove sanity, even if there is no other psychiatric history at all. They don’t have any evidence to back this up besides a note in some meeting minutes saying “It’s OK as long as Trans people can prove they’re sane” because doctors all “know” it’s true and don’t bother checking sources. (The British Military did check, and came to the conclusion there is no reason to assume someone with a history of Gender Dysphoria would be high risk, unless there is some other history to indicate otherwise)

P.S. Astute readers will have noticed I even linked to Maria Miller and Helen Grant’s Wikipedia page. Yes, I’m that anal – and in doing so, corrected one of my own errors. I had Maria Miller down as Secretary of State for Equalities, but her official title is Minister for Equalities.