I went to London yesterday for a meeting of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Finance and Administration which, for considerable sins in this or previous lives, I sit on as Scottish Treasurer. Actually, that’s not really fair. It does do important work, most of which for obvious reasons has to remain confidential. That leads to it being viewed with some suspicion, which is probably appropriate if not deserved. Liberal Democrats are naturally suspicious of any source of power, although, to be honest, this committee’s remit is more to do with responsibility and keeping us legal than wielding massive amounts of power.
Anyway, I had a lovely 22 hours away from home. Here are 5 things about my trip that I absolutely loved.
The Lords Live – including the fabulous Roger Roberts
For once I didn’t have a million other things to do, so I had time to do the tourist thing. I decided I’d go and visit Westminster Abbey as I’d ever been over the door. Sadly, though, the last admission was at 3:30, which seemed a bit early. So with not enough time really to go anywhere else, I decided to head into Parliament. Luckily, there were seats available in the Lords Gallery. I’d never been in to see a live debate before. To be honest, you can see more on BBC Parliament, and you can certainly hear more. There is a huge lag between what you hear on the audio system and what you see on the screens, too. My seat was above the Labour benches, so I couldn’t see the Liberal Democrats. On the way out, though, I caught a glimpse of Shirley Williams.
The topic was one which was of great interest to me – immigration. In particular, they were talking about a group of amendments to the provisions of the Bill which could render people stateless. I obviously got in there at the right minute because I hit a purple patch of speeches from some real civil liberties celebrities – Helena Kennedy, David Pannick and our own Roger Roberts and former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken MacDonald. All of these people can be relied upon to stand up for human rights and civil liberties and it was good to see them live. I’ve been a huge admirer of Kennedy’s work ever since her 1992 book Eve was framed. Pannick was one of the main opponents of secret courts last year and put forward many amendments then.
Roger Roberts was excellent as ever, standing up for the rights of children, as you would expect:
The Government have an obligation to take into account the best interests of any child affected by their decisions. I accept that Amendment 77 must be understood in the light of the reply of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, to amendments tabled to Clause 14. He stated:
“We believe that the children’s best interests must be a primary consideration. … However, it is simply not the case that a child’s best interests will outweigh every other possible countervailing factor, including illegal immigration and serious criminality”.—[Official Report, 5/3/14; col. 1384.]
Amendment 77 seeks to put on the face of the Bill that the child’s best interests should be considered, no matter what the crimes of the parents might be. This remains true.
I didn’t need convincing that the provisions to make a person suspected of terrorism stateless were awful and should be taken out, but Ruth Lister put forward some very practical effects of such a move on a person’s life:
As has been said, the UK took the lead in that work but is now siding with oppressive and rogue states that perpetuate the evil of statelessness.
In the words of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which has particular expertise in this area, statelessness is a condition of insecurity and indignity. The UNHCR says:
“To be stateless is to be without nationality or citizenship. There is no legal bond of nationality between the state and the individual. Stateless people face numerous difficulties in their daily lives: they can lack access to health care, education, property rights and the ability to move freely”.
Essentially, in Hannah Arendt’s memorable words, they lack the right to have rights. Liberty describes it as a, “brutal punishment with unique practical and legal consequences”,
and that stripping a person of his or her nationhood and forcing him or her into,
“the obvious cracks in protection created by a state based system of law and international relations is a barbaric and unprincipled response to concerns about our security”.
Yes, these people are unelected and need the legitimacy of facing the public vote. I was, though, impressed by the dignified and thoughtful manner in which they carried out their work. That was only a brief snapshot of a debate on one set of amendments, but I liked what I heard.
My Oyster Card
As I go regularly to London for meetings, I decided it was time I had a shiny new Oyster card. Yesterday was my first chance to use it. I loved it. It was probably a bit childish to be quite so thrilled when the little light turned green on the bus, but I want one up here. They’ve recently introduced a smart card on one railway route, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but I wish it could be extended. Especially as it’s impossible to get advance tickets for my local train line into Edinburgh.
After the meeting, I went to Stratford to meet a friend at the very shiny new Westfield shopping centre. What an amazing place. I hate and loathe shopping with a passion unless it’s for books, but I was like a kid in a sweetie shop. And the food court is tremendous. My friend and I ate at the Thai place. She had Pad Thai chicken which she really enjoyed. I had a Yellow lamb curry which was so delicious – and so plentiful that I couldn’t eat it all. The food was piping hot, too. Best shopping centre food court food ever.
And 20 months on, I went to have a look at the Olympic Park Viewing platform. Obviously it was dark, so I didn’t see much apart from the edge of the Aquatics Centre, but at least I can say I have been there.
My husband will be relieved that I only noticed the Apple Store on the way out when I was rushing (and it was a bit of a rush) to get back to Euston for the sleeper.
Cabaret on the train journey down
The journey to London was made a lot more interesting by a right tammy between the ticket inspector and a passenger who didn’t have a railcard to justify his reduced price ticket. For most of the way between York and London, the passenger refused to give details of his name and address, at one point only giving the name Janet as that, apparently, was who bought the tickets.
The whole thing was a classic example of how two people can help a difficult situation to escalate to the farcical. The inspector could have handled it better. If he had said once more that he had been in the job for 11 years so he knew what he was talking about, I’d probably have screamed.
The passenger was just irritating and silly, but it didn’t need to escalate like it did. At one point the guard actually put out an appeal for any transport police on the train to help him out which was a bit OTT, especially as the man was being a prat, rather than abusive or violent.
A room to myself again
A perfect end to a lovely day when I got a room to myself on the sleeper – and I actually slept, too, so am quite refreshed today.
And, finally, my wilful rebellion. I don’t think there will ever have been a tweet sent from an FFAC meeting before. For heaven’s sake don’t tell Tim Gordon, or I’ll be in trouble. I thought it was worth it, though, to express thanks to the committee’s previous member of staff Rachael who has gone to much more exciting things within LDHQ. She was amazing. I’ll miss her wry humour and nocturnal emails and fantastic efficiency.
This probably the first ever tweet from a Lib Dem FFAC for which I will probably be reprimanded. We’ve recorded thanks to @MrsCarrothead.
— Caron Lindsay (@caronmlindsay) March 17, 2014