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Sarah's bulletin: 3rd February

February 6, 2012 10:02 AM

Dear friends,

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Following Chris Huhne's resignation while he defends himself against criminal charges, I am delighted to be able to congratulate London region MP Ed Davey on being appointed to the cabinet as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I am also pleased that Norman Lamb becomes a minister with Vince Cable in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and that 2 of our excellent women MPs get promotion, Jo Swinson Parliamentary Private Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg and Jenny Willott as an Assistant Government Whip.

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On the subject of excellent LibDem women, warmest congratulations to Rebecca Taylor on being named as successor to Diana Wallis as MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber. I look forward to welcoming a dynamic young woman to our LibDem team in the European Parliament.

Cameron in hotwater with the Eurosceptics

David Cameron has raised the ire of the Eurosceptic wing of his party this week, following a U-turn on his initial attempts to stop Eurozone leaders using EU institutions to enforce the new Eurozone treaty. You can read more here . The prime minister initially said that he would not support use of the EU institutions, the Commission and the European Court of Justice, to enforce the treaty but at the summit in Brussels last week he changed his mind.

Tory MEPs have correctly 'blamed' Nick Clegg for this change of heart which is of course just common sense; it's crazy to take the view that making the fiscal pact stick could somehow be damaging to the UK! Bernard Jenkin's comments perhaps best illustrate the lunacy of these zealots; he was quoted in the Guardian saying: "This nullifies the effect of the UK's veto in December and demonstrates how a subset of EU member states can hijack the EU institutions for their own purposes, bypassing any dissenting state." He fails to comprehend the seriousness of the state of the Eurozone, which requires a new accord to strengthen the way the currency is run. Jenkin et al are the first to shout about 'protecting national interests,' yet do not seem to understand that our national economic interests very much depend on a strong and vibrant Eurozone!

Not a good week for bankers

Stephen Hester not taking his bonus and Fred Goodwin losing his knighthood have highlighted the power of citizen and political pressure. I was pleased that LibDem foreign office minister Jeremy Browne started the ball rolling by saying on last week's Question Time that he thought Hester should turn down his £1 million bonus. RBS is almost fully state-owned and so the argument that salaries and bonuses of those at the top should be comparable with banks in the private sector is an awkward one.

In any case rewards at the top have gone mad. Often the salary is the least of it. His salary is 'only' £1.2 million but since 2008 Stephen Hester has apparently had over £11 million in shares and cash and is set for some £20 million in total a year from now. So foregoing £1million cannot be called a hardship. In any case, it is a mystery how a bonus can have been earned when last year the bank's share price fell by 48%; this article in the Guardian is worth a read. Vince Cable, who was instrumental in putting pressure on Cameron to announce measures to curb exorbitant corporate pay, was the first cabinet minister to urge other bankers to follow Hester's example. And as Lord Matthew Oakeshott said : "I'm all in favour of Mr Hester or anyone else earning plenty of money from RBS - if he runs the bank to do what really matters. And if he won't lend to small business, as he promised, he shouldn't get any bonus."

I would like to see rewards for employed people - not entrepreneurs - not go above £1 million a year including any (genuine and relatively modest) bonuses though as a Liberal I shy away from imposing this through bureaucracy and legislation. That means that public opinion must continue to operate to change the whole culture of top pay. I wrote to the Economist recently after they said the reason for spiralling executive pay is that bosses are picked from a global pool. Apparently this did not mean (as I would expect) that competition lowered pay because the necessary skills to run global companies are relatively scarce! I said that there was not in fact real competition because the global set is a (largely) boys' club which guards its profiles and privileges akin to a medieval guild and makes entry hard for women and minorities. They have sadly not found space to print my letter!

Saving cyclist lives

I am pleased to see The Times campaign on the dangers to cyclists on our city streets, prompted by one of its own news reporters being involved in a very serious accident. Cyclists being seriously injured and killed on London roads is a major issue and last year 16 died, 10 more than 2010.

The Times is calling for several things that the government and local authorities need to do to protect our cyclists. These include identifying and improving the most dangerous junctions and fitting trucks with sensors and extra mirrors to avoid blind spots. This is precisely what LibDems have already been campaigning for. I have been involved with the "See me, Save me" campaign to eliminate lethal lorry blind spots set up by the mother of Eilidh Cairns, who was killed when knocked off her bike by a lorry in London in 2009. Fiona Hall has led on this as the Cairns family are her constituents and her Written Declaration - the equivalent of a Westminster Early Day Motion - calling for the fitting of sensors on lorries received a majority of MEP signatures last March year (see my own press release here) and is now with the Commission to come up with proposals. Then as to road junctions, Caroline Pidgeon, GLA LibDem leader and transport spokeswoman recently succeeded in pushing the Mayor to get TFL to undertake a full review of the most dangerous junctions across the capital. So we really are in the lead as a party in this campaign.

Fairer Fares

As we are on another transport issue, affordable tune and bus fares, with extremely sensible ideas being proposed by Brian and Caroline. Tube and bus costs simply cannot keep spiralling and the 'fairer fares' plan is a fully costed proposal for a one- hour bus ticket, early bird fares and part time travel cards. These innovations would then be funded by targeting waste and fare evasion. You can read Caroline's article on LibDem voice here.

Victory over third runway means new life for medieval barn

I was delighted to read that the Great Barn in Harmondsworth, Middlesex built in 1426, has been bought by English Heritage; you can read more here . The barn fell into disrepair in recent years and this will give it much needed restoration. This would not have occurred if campaigners including me and many other LibDems had not been successful in our protest against a third runway at Heathrow. If the runway had been built the barn would have been knocked down. At the time I explicitly raised the issue of damage to the village.

Assange in the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has this week been hearing the appeal against Julian Assange's extradition to Sweden. Seven judges, instead of the usual five, have been sitting to hear the case because of the public importance of the legal points it raises. The issue being raised by Assange is whether a prosecutor is a 'judicial authority' capable of issuing a European Arrest Warrant (UK courts have previously said yes). The judgement is not due for a few weeks but will be an interesting one for its impact on the EAW system.

Taking action against repressive regimes

MEPs voted this week on a report drafted by LibDem Sir Graham Watson calling for an end to the EU's 'hypocritical stance towards the leaders of authoritarian regimes.' You can see more details here. Graham is quite right that the EU cannot be critical of the human rights records of certain regimes and then allow either leaders or acolytes of these regimes to deposit their personal fortunes, grant them access to property and allow them to do business with companies within EU borders. The report also notes that everything should be done to protect the citizens of states living under repressive regimes. So, for instance, assets of dictators should be confiscated and sent back to the relevant countries to benefit their populations.

Thames supersewer

I attended an event hosted by Thames Tunnel Now, a group of 18 environmental and wildlife charities calling for the fast delivery of the Thames Tunnel. The Victorian sewer system is simply beyond capacity and we need a new large overflow sewer to deal with the 39 million cubic metres of sewage discharged into the Thames in an average year. This is having a detrimental impact on the ecosystem and is killing fish and damaging wildlife. The second stage of the consultation on the tunnel is currently running, and you can take part here. I met Sir Peter Bazalgette (pictured above) who besides being a media success is the great grandson of Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette who designed the original - at the time very advanced - London sewers. He set up a charity and successfully raised £4.5 million to restore the magnificent Crossness pumping station built by his ancestor.

Church revolt over civil partnership ban

I was glad to see that London clergy have signed a letter to the Church of England leadership protesting against their inability to conduct civil partnership ceremonies in church. This ban remains despite the fact that the Government ended the prohibition on holding civil partnerships in religious buildings at the end of last year. I attended the Liberal Democrat LGBT+ winter strategy conference last week to update the group with what is happening at a European level on equality issues. I have also signed the 'Be Bothered' pledge, open to all MEPs to commit their support for equality for all. One of the fundamental principles of the EU is respect for human rights, which includes a duty to fight bigotry and discrimination directed at minority groups.

EU flag reaction highlights right wing lunacy

Parliament this week voted on a report containing suggestions for national sports teams to wear the European flag and for the flag to be flown at major sporting events. The overreaction of UKIP and Tory MEPs to this highlights the obsessive reactions of the right wing. Both UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall and Tory Emma McClarkin called it EU propaganda. The Daily Express naturally screams that the EU has voted to 'slap its flag on Britain's team shirts,' despite the fact that the report on a 'European Dimension in Sport' is not legislation and makes only suggestions for voluntary moves. Another example of an innocuous suggestion being blown out of proportion and a Euro-myth in the making!

Chinese LibDems dinner

I went to a great event last night held by the Chinese Liberal Democrats to celebrate the Year of the Dragon. GLA candidate Merlene Emerson and Joseph Wu of the British Chinese Project - aiming to get more people of Chinese decent involved in politics - were the master of ceremonies and Sir Graham Watson and Lord Tim Clement-Jones the speakers. We were treated to a Lion Dance and a kung fu demonstration as well as a superb dinner. You can us enjoying ourselves in this picture!