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It is a rather strange thing that as a result of an MP saving the taxpayer money that he should be suspended from the House for seven days.

Of course the suspension of David Laws is not about the frugalness of his claims, it is because he claimed rent that was paid to his same-sex partner. That was a relationship that David wanted to keep private, but when the rule changesd came in in 2004 he didn’t disclose that relationship. He chose instead to claim on the smaller value property he could have claimed his expenses on.

He issued the following statement following today’s ruling.

“I accept the conclusions of the Inquiry and take full responsibility for the mistakes which I have made. I apologise to my constituents and to Parliament. Each of us should be our own sternest critic, and I recognise that my attempts to keep my personal life private were in conflict with my duty as an MP to ensure that my claims were in every sense above reproach. I should have resolved this dilemma in the public interest and not in the interests of my privacy.

“However, from the moment these matters became public, I have made clear that my motivation was to protect my privacy, rather than to benefit from the system of parliamentary expenses, and I am pleased that the Commissioner has upheld that view.

“I have also, from the very beginning, made clear that I believed that my secrecy about my private life led me to make lower overall claims than would otherwise be the case, and this has been confirmed by the Parliamentary Commissioner and by the Committee. The taxpayer gained, rather than lost out, from my desire for secrecy, though I fully accept that this is not an adequate reason for breaking the rules.

“This last year has been a difficult one, and I am grateful to family, friends, constituents and colleagues for their support and understanding.”

The question remains can LGB politicians be open and honest about their sexuality? It is something that I have been honest about, even mentioning it in hustings meetings. Is there really generational divide between me and David who is only 4 years older than? Two of the MSPs that the Lib Dems lost were openly out and both Margaret Smith and Iain Smith are older than David and never found their sexuality an issue.

It appears that David has come on a long way from the day at the end of May last year when this all came out into the open. Then he didn’t want to disclose his sexuality, now he realises that his “attempts to keep my personal life private were in conflict with [his] duty as an MP to ensure that [his] claims were in every sense above reproach.”

In our society today we’re not past the occasion idiot hurling homophobic abuse at people. We do live in a society that demands that every detail of a public figures live is public, that includes who their partner is. Therefore our public figures whether in the field of politics, sport, entertainment or whatever do feel the extra pressure to conceal that part of them. Often times not so much for themselves but for their partners sake. The issue as David has learned is when with that public face comes public financing.

However, although he has not cost the taxpayer extra somehow he is getting censured with suspension, while others who breached expenses rules and cost the taxpayer more got away with paying back the excess. David paid back all his living expenses claims from June 2006 – July 2009 and is still getting suspended. Weird sense of justice, even when the Parliamentary Commission has upheld the is was privacy not profit that the claims were made.

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Thirteen Lib Dem Lords rebelled yesterday in a vote to overturn the Conservative Party’s plans to bring in elected police and crime commissioners. The election of commissioners would have led to an abolition of the police authorities that cuurently act as oversight on our police.

The Lib Dem manifesto last year had this to say on given the public a say over policing.

  • Give local people a real say over their police force through the direct election of police authorities. Authorities would still be able to co-opt extra members to ensure diversity, experience and expertise.
  •  Give far more power to elected police authorities, including the right to sack and appoint the Chief Constable, set local policing priorities,and agree and determine budgets.

While we wanted elections it was to the police authorities not to one individual commissioner who would have overall say and swat over what the electorate would do. Liberal Democrats do believe in power to the people, while me may have failed in delivering it with electoral reform our peers seem not prepared to standby to see it taken away over policing matter.

Maybe underneath the ermine lined robes our Lordships and Ladyships have been working those Lib Dem muscles.

Although apparently they did so against the instruction of the newly install Lib Dem fitness coach Nick Clegg, who had asked them to support another amendment that would have led to a three year moratorium while pilots were being held.

>The art of leadership is not just knowing that you are right, but also knowing when you are wrong. On Monday the Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliot certainly didn’t realise the second was the case, as I blogged, and tried to maintain strangely that he still was the former. All of this despite the furore over the weekend since he let the word scum slip from his mouth about political opponents.

It has taken him another 2 days and another round of disgust for his to finally say sorry. Although it sorry only to those he offendede not for being ‘provocated’ to say it in the first place. The apology is still somewhat half-hearted and still in my opinion not one you’d expect to find of someone that is leading the first Unionist party to really accept that we need a shared future that acknowledges but does not dwell on our past.

Here’s what he actually told the BBC Northern Ireland Politics Show:

“I will certainly apologise to all those good nationalists, republicans, even Sinn Fein voters who felt offended by it.

“It was certainly not directed at them so if they took offence at it, yes I regret that to them.

“For those people who do not regret the murders that they may have carried out in the past, I have to say that if they come to regret what they have done, then I think we could move forward much quicker.”

Listening to the clip on the link  it seems almost like a forced apology even by Tom Elliot’s standards. While Tom himself is not talking of resigning I still think he days are numbered.

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Marking the first anniversary of the coalition Nick Clegg speaking today says that the Liberal Democrats will be more “muscular” in government and our influence more “visible”.

Speaking this morning at the National Liberal Club he says:

“The coalition has shown itself to be a durable, stable government. But it is clear, not least from what we heard on the doorsteps in recent weeks, that people want the Liberal Democrats to be a louder voice in government.”

Actually Nick it wasn’t just in recent weeks, it is what activists have been telling you since late last year, it is what conference was telling you at Spring conference. Maybe it has been the lose of so many good MSPs, AMs and councillors that has pricked up your ears. We are meant to be the party that works for our local people all year round, not just at election time. That is what I have done for 23 years, that is what many of my fellow activists have been doing. We try and get the message that we are still distinct out there to the electorate yet we hear our most senior voices seemingly singing from not just a different hymn sheet but often in some foreign language.

“In the next phase, both partners will be able to be clearer in their identities but equally clear about the need to support government and government policy. We will stand together but not so closely that we stand in each other’s shadow.

“You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition government. You might even call it more muscular liberalism.”

We will see a strong liberal identity??

I thought we’d already claimed to have 75% of our manifesto  included in Government, opposed to 60% of the Conservatives. Surely that should mean that we are already seeing a strong liberal identity.

I may have been a little quiet on the pushing the liberal agenda in a broad sense in recent months, I was pushing for electoral reform, working with other parties, so keeping my own politics on a lot of issue under the carpet. Doing what was best for the referendum and not trying to do what was best for me or the party working with a broad cross section of parties. But I’ll be shouting things from the rooftops again, I know why I’m a Liberal Democrat, I hate being told by people that I’m just a Tory as I know nothing is further from the truth.

David Cameron is denying claims that Lib Dems have “moderated” the Conservative agenda. So Dave, as the Browne report suggested uncapped tuition fees, would the debacle of yesterday where students paid full fees have become a reality for all without Lib Dem intervention? Would this have been brought in without any requirement on the Universities to help the poorer students into Higher Education? Would the income tax threshold have risen so far ahead of inflation, to ease the burden of your VAT increase on the poorest families? Would you have returned pensions in line with earnings, something your party has said for a long time they were against?

The answer to all these and many more is that without Lib Dems you would have made things tougher on the poorest, you know it and yet you claim that this is what you wanted all along. These are the muscles that we have been flexing over the last year, one muscle we haven’t exercised enough has been the one in our mouths to speak about it.

It happened to us in Scotland were over eight years in coalition all the best policies the ones that resonated with the public were being claimed by labour as being their own. By in large most of these has originated in Liberal Democrat manifestos. If we’re seeing the same in Westminster we shouldn’t let the Tories rain on our parade, steal our limelight and claim that all is sweetness and light.

Last Thursday the public punished the moderating force not the ones wanting to cut more. We need to show them that while Cameron and Osborne claim “We’re all in this together” that it is actually the Liberal Democrats who are on their side, fighting for the NHS, for the students, the pensioners, the poorest, the unemployed.

As my picture for this post implies us Lib Dems are strong to the finish, cos we eat our spinach, that spinach being the content of our policies and our manifestos.

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Earlier today I was heading back to Bangor with my printer from the Yes! to Fairer Votes Northern Ireland office when Twitter came alive with the news that Inverclyde MP David Cairns had died. I quickly scanned the news sites I have on my iPhone and flicked unto the radio stations, but there was nothing official until the last half hour.

However, there were Tweets from fellow MPs of all parties marking their respects for the 44 year old former Catholic Priest and openly gay Labour member of the House of Commons. He had been rushed to hospital in late March with acute pancreatitis. It did sort of ping on my radar but like so many other political activists there was a campaign to fight and votes to be won. What I did recall in March was that David wasn’t that much older than me, a quick search earlier reveals it was a little over 3 years.

He had trained for the Catholic priesthood at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and then the Franciscan International Centre in Canterbury. He served as priest in Scotland and London before politics took over his life in 1994. He became chair of the Christian Socialist Movement, but was debarred from standing for Westminster due to the House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801 and the Catholic Relief Act 1829 which banned Catholic Priests from being elected. Siobhain McDonagh introduced the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Bill in 1999which paved the way for Cairns to take the Greenock and Inverclyde seat in the 2001 elections.

He held Government posts as PPS for the Department of Work and Pensions, Under Secretary of State for Scotland (during which time he was given duties in the Northern Ireland Office). But the tributes coming from across the House show the esteem that he was held in many of his colleagues of all political persuasions in the House.

My thoughts are with his partner Dermot, father John and brother Billy as well as his other family members and friends.

David Cairns MP 1966-2011

>One of mine and politicians of all persuasions over the weekend was the sight of Dawn Purvis being eliminated from the count in East Belfast. Last year after the UVF the paramilitary group associated with the Progressive Unionist Party of which she was leader murdered Billy Moffett, she stepped down as leader and resigned from the party. She was a vibrant and feisty member of the Assembly and did a lot of work in highlighting the double and triple jobbing of some of her colleagues. She will be sorely missed.

However, there are now more women in this Assembly that in the last, which had 15. Twelve actually got re-elected and there are eight new faces to join them. That raises the representation of women to 18.5 percent still a long way to go to gender equality. Northern Ireland may be moving out of a warlike status of politics but the combatants are still largely male.

Margaret Ritchie had a appalling performance in the final leaders debate. She really was the sniping old wife at the garden fence with he snide one liners. It wasn’t becoming and may have affected some of the SDLP’s slide. She is better than that and hopefully some of the new in take will show what women can do. Of the women returning both Anna Lo (Alliance) South Belfast, Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Féin) Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Michelle McIlveen (DUP) Strangford all managed to join Ritchie in topping their polls and getting in on the first count. Sinn Féin’s Jennifer McCann (West Belfast) and Martina Anderson (Foyle) along with the DUP’s Arlene Foster (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) were other women returned by reaching their quota on the first round.

They include Brenda Hale the war widow who is now DUP MLA for Lagan Valley who has already said she will fight for war widows’ rights, the DUP’s Paula Bradley who is just completing her term as Mayor of Newtownabbey but now now MLA for East Antrim, the UUP’s women’s officer Sandra Overend was also elected in Mid Ulster and Judith Cochrane of the Alliance Party continuing the party’s success in East Belfast where she joined Chris Lyttle who had replaced Naomi Long as MLA when she was elected to Westminster.

 The other debutantes in the Assembly are DUP’s Pam Lewis (South Antrim), UUP’s Joanne Dobson (Upper Bann), Sinn Féin’s Michaela Boyle (West Tyrone) and Karen McKevitt for the SDLP in (South Down).

Somebody’s put a little tribute together for Dawn, I like it especially as it has a shot of Dawn out with us for the Yes! campaign last Sunday in it.

>What are Jim Wells MLA and Margaret Ritchie saying below

Picture ©Kelvin Boyes presseye.com

Answers in the comments below, I may have a wee prize for the best one.