Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Proper job"

As people may know I am hoping to get a "proper job" come June and so today I spent a couple of hours filling in an application form for the post of Administrative Assistant, External Training Services for the Royal National Institute of Blind.

I also saw an advert for the post of Office Services Assistant for English Heritage in the Metro on Monday unfortunately I have not got round to requesting the application pack for that job yet but since closing date is on 8th March I better hurry up.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Votes at 16

I was recently invited to a Secondary School in Wolverhampton to talk to about two hundred fourteen to sixteen year olds about the Votes at 16 campaign.

I have published the text of my speech below. However please remember that I am a supporter of Votes at 16 and that I was asked to prepare a talk which considered both the arguments for and against votes at 16. If someone is looking form an opinion on this issue I would recommend that they look at or read Give Wayne Rooney the vote,, The Real Democratic Deficit and Votes at 16 Issues Briefing.

A number of the arguments that I will make for or against reducing the age at which people can vote were also used in 1971 when the minimum age was reduced from twenty one to eighteen.

At first a number of people of all ages, gender, marital status, communities, political views, race or religion will say that they are not interested in politics or that politics does not affect them. However if we think about the number of people who are concerned about or affected by BBC, Education, Environment, Food, Health, Sport, Transport and so forth we will realise that politics does indeed concern or affect everybody.

People like me who support the idea of reducing the minimum age at which people can vote will argue:

First and foremost there is a basic democratic principle that there should be no taxation without representation. Young workers pay income tax and national insurance, young shoppers pay VAT and the government has no problems collecting the money without reference to date of birth. Not letting sixteen and seventeen year olds express their political views through the ballot box gives the impression to young people and to the rest of society that young people’s views are either not valid, or not as valid as the views of older citizens. This implies that young people are not real citizens.

Second, there is a lack of consistency about the age at which a person gains various civil rights. If people are old enough to marry, die for their country, change their names, and pay prescription charges and full fares on public transport, why should they not be able to vote for the Men and Women who form the laws and regulations which govern these issues. I realise that some of these are actions for which people under eighteen do need parental consent.

Third, Citizenship education is now a compulsory part of the national curriculum in England at key stages three and four and it is an optional part of the curriculum for key stages one and two. So by the time someone is sixteen they could have had eleven years of Citizenship education. Young people reaching the age of sixteen will have a great deal of knowledge of how the British political system works, perhaps a better knowledge and understanding than most people that are older. Yet they are denied the right to use this knowledge and understanding for at least two further years. Lowering the voting age to sixteen would allow a seamless transition from learning about elections, democracy, the importance of voting, the different electoral systems, pressure groups, topical political issues and so forth to putting such knowledge into practice.

If we stick with the status quo some people who may have been enthused or motivated by citizenship classes will, in fact, have to wait much longer than two years for a general election. Someone who turned sixteen in June 2005 will be twenty-one by the time of the next general election.

A poll commissioned from YouGov by the Social Market Foundation in 2002 showed a link between the age at which people first vote in a general election and their inclination to use that vote. People who turn eighteen in the year leading up to an election are significantly more likely to vote than those who turned eighteen in the year after an election and have therefore had to wait up to five years. The Social Market Foundation poll looked at the turnout for young voters of different ages in the 2001 general election. It found a dramatic difference between 27-year-olds and 28-year-olds. Turnout among 27-year-olds was only forty nine per cent; among 28-year-olds, it was sixty five per cent. One explanation is that the first group was under eighteen in the 1992 general election, and therefore had to wait five years to influence the choice of a government. The 28-year-olds, by contrast, had turned eighteen in time for the 1992 election and went to vote with enthusiasm. This enthusiasm carried through to 1997 (when seventy per cent voted compared to sixty four per cent of those who just missed voting in 1992) and had diminished only slightly by the 2001 election. This "birth effect" was also found among those going to vote for the first time in 2001. Among 22-year-olds, who had waited four years to vote, the turnout was fifty four per cent; among 19-year-olds, it was as high as sixty eight per cent (nine per cent above the national average). Lowering the voting age to sixteen cannot erase the “lottery of birthdays”, but it will ensure that everyone can participate in a general election by the time they turn twenty one. If it is true that those who “vote young vote often”, then the argument that lowering the age at which you can vote will decrease turnout is weak, since in the long run it will have opposite effect.

The advent of the internet, together with an expansion of the number of television channels has led to a huge increase in the amount of information available to people of all ages, but to young people in particular as news organisations can now tailor their news to a younger audience. The age at which young people are developing a range of political and issue viewpoints is getting younger and it is right that this should be reflected in the age at which they should become entitled to vote in elections. Some people claim that young people find it difficult to differentiate between fact and opinion and so they could easily be misled by what they hear, read or see in the media or on the internet.

Research shows that younger people are less likely to vote than older people. Research by the Electoral Commission in 2001 found that, whilst overall turnout in the General Election 2001 was 59.4%, turnout among those aged 18-24 it was just 39%. The Commission found that, in common with those aged twenty five and above, many younger voters had little interest in politics, but also found that a significant proportion of younger voters were not registered to vote. It is often argued that by extending the franchise to sixteen and seventeen year olds, turnout is likely to fall further. However I would argue that as the research by the Social Market Foundation showed that we could tackle lower turnout by lowering the voting age and the problem of people not registering to vote is different. You will find that many minority groups such as the young, BME etc are not registered to vote and this should be looked at separate from the debate on lowering the voting age.

Many also argue that older voters know younger people who they do not consider to be sufficiently mature to cast a vote. They ascribe this trait to all those under the age of eighteen. There are also a number of sixteen and seventeen year olds who do not consider themselves mature enough to vote.

Many opponents of lowering the voting age argue that those who are entitled to vote do not do so simply out of their own interests, but also bearing in mind the greater good and the needs of society as a whole. They also argue that many young people are too innocent of the world and that older people know what is best for sixteen and seventeen year olds.

This argument is the same as that which was used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by those opposed to the extension of the franchise to women and members of the working classes.

It is argued that young people themselves show no desire to see a lower voting age and that an extension of the franchise to sixteen and seventeen year olds would be of interest and benefit to just a few, rather than the many.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Liberal Democrats' Better Governance Working Group

I am currently a member of the Liberal Democrats Better Governance Working Group which which was set up by the Liberal Democrats Federal Policy Committee to look at issues such as how we can re-engage citizens with government & politics, how we can ensure effective scrutiny & accountability in our democratic system, how we should respond to issues relating to decentralisation, and in particular the “English Question”, and how boundaries between the state and citizens should be defined.

Under the chairmanship of Lord Paul Tyler the working group has produced How can we improve the way we are governed? a consultative document which will be discussed at the Liberal Democrats in Harrogate conference next week.

However people also have the opportunity to participate in the discussion online at People can post their comments and views at or if they wish they can submit an article or articles which should be sent to

Last night we had another one of our “evidence” sessions which involve someone who has expertise in the area coming into discuss their ideas. I happen to miss the first witness session a couple of weeks ago with Lord Anthony Lester QC however yesterday I was were pleased that Baroness Helena Kennedy QC came along to speak to us. As you may know Helena Kennedy QC chaired the Power Inquiry and is one of the country's leading barristers. She had some interesting comments, ideas and views on issues such as public participations and the constitution yesterday.

I would encourage anyone reading this to take a look at the consultation paper available at and use to let us know what their ideas and views are with regard to accountability & scrutiny, citizen & the state, the constitutional settlement, decentralisation & devolution and re-engaging citizens.

If you will be in Harrogate for the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference there is a consultation session at 3pm on Friday 2nd March in the Holiday Inn (Harewood 1).


Monday, February 19, 2007

Who are the most influential unelected people in the country?

The Guardian is trying to compile a list of the countries most influential unelected people.

Anne Alexander, Camila Batmanghelidjh, Russell Davies, Michael Eboda, Georgina Henry and Isobel Larkin have all nominated 10 people each. You can also email your nominations to just make sure you put 'top 50' in the subject field of your email.

My list of the 10 most influential unelected people in the country is:

1. Jonathan Powell, chief of staff, Downing Street
2. Sir Gus O'Donnell, head of the civil service
3. Lord Falconer, Lord Chancellor
4. Baroness Valerie Amos, leader, House of Lords
5. Ian Blair, commissioner, Met Police
6. Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC
7. Rebekah Wade, editor, the Sun
8. Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England
9. The Queen
10. Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive, Tesco


Monday, February 12, 2007

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2007

The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2007 will be in Harrogate on 2nd - 4th March 2007.

Like last year I will be training at this conference too. The sessions I will be training are listed below. I know that Your local party checklist does not list me as one of the trainers unfortunately Colin Ross will not be able to make that session as he will be occupied else where so Dave Hodgson has asked if I will help out.

The directory and agenda for the conference are now available on the Liberal Democrat Conference Homepage

Saturday 3rd March: 09.15-10.45
Winning the youth & student vote
Simon Drage and Adam Teladia, LDYS.
Queen's Suite 4, HIC

Saturday 3rd March: 11.00-12.30
Your local party checklist
Dave Hodgson and Colin Ross, Membership Department.
Queen's Suite 4, HIC

Saturday 3rd March: 16.00-17.30
The count
Colin Penning and Adam Teladia, Agents Association.
Queen's Suite 9, HIC


Sunday, February 11, 2007

West Midlands Liberal Democrats Moving Forward & Warwick and Leamington Question Time

Yesterday I travelled to Warwick for my first Moving Forward day of 2007. The West Midlands Liberal Democrats Moving Forward programme is for seats which the West Midlands Liberal Democrats hope will do well at the next General Election.

Despite the weather not being the best I was pleased to see that a number of seats sent representatives.

The training covered was on literature, mainly encouraging local parties to try different types of literature, making the most of election week and the postal vote campaign.

During the Lunch break all the seats taking part in the programme have a 1-2-1 to review progress, I sat in on the Birmingham Hall Green progress and was pleased to hear about the progress they are making and their plans for the next few months.

Ed Davey MP who is the Liberal Democrats Campaigns and Communications Committee Chair and Sir Menzies ("Ming") Campbell's Chief of Staff also attended part of the Moving Forward Day and gave us a briefing on the national picture and plans which was interesting.

After the Moving Forward Day Warwick and Leamington Liberal Democrats hosted a Question Time event which included local Parliamentary Candidate Alan Beddow, Phil Bennion, Ed Davey MP, Warwickshire Councillor Nigel Rock and Colin Ross.

I submitted three questions none of which were asked but I was lucky enough to make comments during the discussion on housing and what would happen if there was a hung parliament. Other issues discussed were Climate Change and Trident.

All in all it was a good day for me because I got a chance to chat with a number of the representatives from the Moving Forward seats and had a chance to meet up with some colleagues and friends I had not seen for sometime.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Chocolate Fondue Fountain

I recently reported on this blog that the day of Ashura had just planned and that on this day Muslims should be generous towards their family & dependants and spend more on them then what is normally spent. I usually receive gifts from my parents and brothers & sister in laws on this day.

This year my brother Bashir & his wife Sabiha gave me a gift on the day but my brother Umar & sister in law Zarina said that my gift had been delayed so I would have to wait.

Today my gift finally arrived it is a Chocolate Fondue Fountain. Those who know will know that I like a chocolate from time to time so this will be a gift that I am sure to enjoy.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A new Prime Minister & his/her first 100 days in office

Later this year we should be having a new Prime Minister entering Number 10. progress have set up a page on their website asking people to suggest policies or initiatives they would like to see the new Prime Minister introducing in his/her first 100 days in office. If you wish you comment please visit

Some the ideas that people have suggested which I like are begin the separation of executive and legislative powers, electoral reform, introduce a plastic bag tax, make a commitment to end the genocide in Darfur, make a commitment to move to a democratically elected head of state, reduce the voting age to 16, remove the right of the Prime Minister to exercise the Royal Prerogative on behalf of the Monarch and work to reform International bodies (EU, G8, IMF, UN, World Bank).

I’m not sure a new Prime Minister would be able to achieve a lot on some of these ideas in his or her first hundred days however I do hope that the next Prime Minister whoever it may be does achieve something on the issues mentioned above.

With regard to the separation of executive and legislative powers I hope that the reformed House of Lords is totally independent of the executive and has no Secretaries of State or Ministers.

I hope that the next Prime Minister can at least deliver the referendum on Proportional Representation that we were promised in 1997 Labour Manifesto.

Make a commitment to end the genocide in Darfur is a little vague but I must be honest that I don’t know enough about the situation there but I have to say that it has been going on for far too long and while our attention has been focused on Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq etc hundreds of thousands if not millions of people have been forced out of their homes and this is putting great pressure on the countries neighbouring Sudan.

Make a commitment to move to a democratically elected head of state is something that I would like every government to offer and I really hope that the Liberal Democrats will sooner rather then later adopt this as policy however I don’t think that there are many supporters for this idea at Westminster.

Reduce the voting age to 16 is something that seems to have disappeared from discussions on constitutional reform at the moment but sometime ago the Electoral Commission reported that it was not the right time but I hope that a new Prime Minister will look again at the issue.

Removing the right of the Prime Minister to exercise the Royal Prerogative on behalf of the Monarch is something that I doubt we will see any Prime Minister suggest I think this will happen by Parliament acting to limit the issues on which the Prime Minister exercise the Royal Prerogative on behalf of the Monarch one by one.

Work to reform International bodies (EU, G8, IMF, UN, World Bank) is also something that is important especially if we want to make progress in the twenty-first century however this requires a united effort especially from the leaders of the worlds leading countries such as USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan etc. Some of these have recently elected new leaders of their governments and USA, UK and France will all have new leaders by January 2009 so I hope that either by then or soon after the new leaders have taken office we get some movement of the reform of some if not all of these organizations.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Liberal Democrats launch manifesto consultation

The Liberal Democrats have launched their manifesto consultation today. Every party member can now log on to which will enable them to contribute to the creation of the Liberal Democrats manifesto for the next general election.

Today key party figures, including party leader Menzies Campbell, Chief of Staff, Ed Davey, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws, and Chair of the Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto Team, Steve Webb met to set out the manifesto’s key themes.

For the next election the Liberal Democrats will produce a web-based interactive manifesto, which will use audio-visual communications as its centrepiece rather than the written word.