Sarah's bulletin: 5th April
I was very sad to hear of the death of David Walter at the age of only 64. He was very active within the party, both behind the scenes and on the frontline. His prestigious career in broadcast journalism led to him being appointed Director of Communications for the party. More recently he was chair of Kingston LibDems.
London regional chair (and journalist) Jonathan Fryer wrote an obituary for the Guardian, see here. David will be sorely missed.
Surveillance and open justice
Many Liberal Democrats including me were perturbed to hear of government plans to extend police and security service powers to monitor our emails, internet use and social media communications, see here. Protection of civil liberties is at the heart of Liberal Democrat principles and this was reaffirmed only last month at the Spring party conference by a motion calling on the Government to do more to restore individual freedoms, including in restricting surveillance, see here.
As several Lib Dem MPs pointed out in this letter to the Guardian yesterday, these proposals are too important to be waved through and if they were, would signal a disregard for civil liberties not sufficiently unlike that displayed by the last Labour Government. These new proposals may not amount to Labour's 2009 plan (which never materialised) to keep a central database of phone, text, email and internet use, but they are too close for comfort.
I took part in 2 conference calls on Tuesday evening, one of parliamentarians and the other of Federal Policy committtee members, and I'm delighted that Nick Clegg has now expressed caution about the plans and stressed the need to reassess the whole framework of safeguards. While we accept that there is a need for law enforcement to be able to track serious criminals, the access regime that Labour introduced - the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - is far too lax, notoriously allowing councils to monitor parents suspected of dodging school-catchment rules. Not only civil liberties objections but also practical ones -the costs to companies of storing communications, the technological barriers, and the fact that the bad guys will just retreat behind encryption walls - make tough scrutiny of these plans essential.
It's also good to see that following interventions from Nick there will be changes made to government plans to expand to some civil cases the closed court procedures currently only used in terrorism-related cases. I was quoted in the Daily Mail a month ago opposing this project. Nick is certainly right in his belief that only judges and not ministers should have the power to decide what evidence should be aired in open court and what is too sensitive, and that secrecy must not extend to inquests. The danger in all this is that ministers might just seek to shield themselves from scrutiny and embarassment. I remain personally - like the Westminster Joint Human Rights committee - unconvinced that any change at all is necessary beyond the existing 'Public Interest Immunity' protection for evidence that genuinely needs to stay secret on national security grounds.
There is now only 4 weeks to go until the Assembly and Mayoral elections, and there are also a whole host of council byelections happening!
I've been to Camden this week to lend a hand in the forthcoming Primrose Hill byelection: our byelection candidate Chris Richards is particularly busy given that he is also our GLA candidate for Barnet & Camden!
A byelection has also been called in North Richmond, so I went over there to knock on some doors and spread the message about the great work the LibDems are doing in the area. The Tory councilllor who's resigned to go off to Barbados only beat our candidate Jane Dodds by 19 votes last time, so there's a very good prospect for us here.
I also went down to the London 2012 HQ in the Ministry of Sound to do some phone-canvassing with Sutton MP Paul Burstow, using the party's new database system Connect. It was great to talk to London residents from all across the capital, like some 'virtual' Oyster tour from Lambeth to Richmond, Redbridge and Bromley!
Ken v Boris - same old Punch & Judy
What an unedifying spectacle these 2 old codgers are presenting. The LBC radio Mayoral debate descended once again into Punch & Judy, as can be seen here, as did part of the BBC Newsnight debate. Brian meanwhile shows up what a childish pair they are and comes across as the serious and competent candidate he is, actually concentrating on what the campaign should be about, which is making London safer, greener and more affordable. Brian not only has the policing track record, but he comes without the baggage and scandal that taints both Ken and Boris.
This article by Pauline Pearce, dubbed 'heroine of Hackney' for her courageous actions during the London riots, highlights the reasons why she joined the Liberal Democrats and why she is standing as a council candidate in the Hackney byelection. As she powerfully points out, she turned to our party because she feels it is the only one that genuinely wants to provide better opportunities to those trapped in poverty in London, especially young people, and reach out to ethnic minority groups. I was delighted to see the announcement from Brian today that Lib Dem Councillor and best friend of Stephen Lawrence, Duwayne Brooks, would be appointed his Deputy Mayor for Youth and Communities.
I was invited by the London Liberal Club, a group of expat Romanians who support the Romanian Liberal party, to speak at an event last month to discuss the problems that Romanian nationals face when they come to London to live and work. Members of the group have now come to help Lib Dems in the campaign, and we all pictured here in Barnsbury, Islington along with GLA candidate Bridget Fox and Caroline Pidgeon.
Have an enjoyable bank holiday weekend, a bit warmer I hope than in Richmond today!