Friday, 25 March 2011

Anything in the Budget to Improve a Child's Lot?

When George Osborne said ‘a society should not just be judged by the strength of its economy', I looked to see whether children had been helped by the budget. Children are often overlooked when it comes to political distribution.

I hope that the lifting of the tax threshold to £8,105 will help those people who have to make difficult financial decisions in their lives such as heating the house or feeding their child. There are families who can't afford a holiday or even a day out and I hope this will make a difference to their lives.

The Junior ISA which is being looked at as a replacement for the Child Trust Fund will be a way for parents to save £1,200 tax free every year till the child turns 18. More excitingly, the Government is working with organisations that work with children to see how this can benefit children who are in care. These are vulnerable children who miss out on the benefits that children from happy homes have and, therefore, deserve more care and attention.

£100 million will be used to promote Science in Britain. This is much needed investment because Britain is behind in new inventions and is having to compete against countries such as India who invest heavily in Science. Government should recognise that the importance of Science needs to be drilled into children's minds at school level.

I think it was a good Budget but to balance the economy we need something like the Big Society to fill in the gaps where money cannot be squeezed into. Then we will have a balanced society.
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Monday, 14 March 2011

Summary of Sheffield Conference

The 'Cleggzilla' posters
I love Conference time. It is better than Christmas for me. The buzz, the sense of community and a shared belief in the party is a positive experience. What I noticed the most was how comfortable the party feels about being in Government. These was an atmosphere of calmness and acceptance, different from the Autumn conference last year. There are my thoughts:

1. The demonstrations weren't as disruptive as the media had predicted. When I went into the City Hall entrance on Saturday morning there were some demonstrators outside who were asking delegates what they were going to vote for in the NHS debate. Delegates replied that it wasn't the business of others to know this. I think delegates should have privacy over their vote because it is a private vote. It's not as if delegates who were being asked were MPs who have to declare the way they vote. Delegates are ordinary people exercising their right to vote in the capacity of being a Lib Dem member.

2. The unions who organised the demonstrations ended up ill-benfitting Sheffield because their demonstrations actually put the normal Saturday shoppers off coming into town. I know this because I spoke to a few taxi drivers who said their business had decreased because of this reason. Money spent on the 'Clegzilla' (very funny though these were) posters could have been put to better use. It's a pity that having 3.000 extra people in Sheffield did not profit the businesses as much as it should have done.

3. I found the NHS debate very confusing. I was all over the place and writing furious notes to my mother, who was sitting beside me, about it. Isn't Liberalism about the Government intervening when an institution of the state isn't working? People always complain about the NHS and, yet, weren't keen to see changes being made. Then there was talk about 'profit' and I took this to mean that the NHS wouldn't be free to use anymore. I was wrong. The debate wasn't about charging patients and this confused me further. See what I mean!

4. The debate on 'Strategy, Positioning and Priorities' was one long needed. Have you looked at the party's website? It needs a different and more up to date format. Look at the Conservative's website. It is NOW, it is attractive and makes me envious. I have blogged before about how the party needs to communicate the Lib Dem messages more widely and more positively. If we don't get this right then we risk losing potential members and our policies will be misunderstood if we don't explain them clearly.

5. The Diversity debate rages on. I know we need more ethnic minorities and more women in the party but instead of talking all the time about increasing diversity why doesn't the party take action instead? As an example, my mother is Indian but has never been approached to find out if she's keen to become a PPC. This isn't a hint, by the way, because my mother doesn't want to be a PPC but I use her here to make a point. Take action please.

6. The exhibition area is always packed with freebies. It is my favourite spot at Conference. I helped out at the LDEG (European Executive) stall. The two men called Rakesh and Jason at the Politico Internet stand were extremely friendly and helpful. After what I have said about the party's website above, do check out their offerings at http://www.politicointernet.co.uk/, especially if you are a councillor or PPC.


7.  The phrase 'Alarm Clock Britain' makes me shudder because I hate getting up early enough at 7.15am so I can't imagine what it must be like for this group of people who struggle to make a living. The people in this group haven't been looked after enough. A lot of political commentators have said that this means the same group of people that Ed Miliband calls "the squeezed middle". I wonder if 'squeezed middle' refers to the middle classes who will lose out on child benefits and other tax advantages? Nick has positioned our party in the 'Centre Ground' of British politics. Now, let's communicate that message to voters.

8. I made a speech at the debate on 'Taking Responsibility' which was the Youth Justice Policy paper. My main points were: (a) we need to realise that children occupy more spaces than just at home and at school. Government policies need to target the behaviour of children in places like holiday clubs, youth clubs etc so there's a joined up approach to prevention: (b) the whole family approach can't always mean blood ties because people move away from their families to find jobs. We need a new way of finding support within the community or society. I mentioned the report published by ResPublica called 'Befriending'; and (c) children  need to be shown the values of hard work and discipline instead of focussing on celebrity culture.

My special moments were when people came up to congratulate me on my speech and gave me lots of encouragement and support. I really appreciated this. I met Alex White from Scotland who was the next youngest speaker at the age of 14 and I look forward to seeing her speak again in the future. John Pienaar interviewed me and there's a photo of this on the right hand side of my blog. Meeting him was a thrill.
I was inspired and motivated by this conference and am proud to be a Liberal Democrat.

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

I met Anne Frank's Last Living Relative

Buddy Elias Frank standing by Anne and Margot Frank's grave.
Sometimes in life you meet somebody who leaves you speechless. I met Buddy Elias Frank, Anne Frank's last living relative, at the Jewish Book Festival on 27 February. It was amazing to even be in the same room as Buddy and his wife, Gerti Elias. I recently blogged about the children of the Holocaust and I believe it is a very important subject. It is because of people like Anne Frank that we can put a face to the human suffering otherwise the Holocaust would only be a historical event in our lives. Anne Frank's father, Otto, and Buddy's mother were siblings and while Buddy and Anne were growing up they were very close. In fact the whole Frank family were very close. Anne used to call Buddy 'Bernd'. His real name is Bernhard.

Here is an extract from a letter that Anne wrote to Buddy before she was taken to the concentration camp:
"Dear Bernd,Many Happy Returns on your birthday (all birthday letters start like that) and many more to come. I hope you're all healthy there like we are here. We had five days off for Pentecost, that was great and I 've been very busy. I don't get home before 10 at night, but usually a boy walks me home.How's it going with the girl you sent us a photo of? Do write to me and tell me, I'm very interested in things like that. This epistle didn't turn out very long but I also don't have anymore time to write, since I am going with Father to a film showing at some friends. Best Wishes to everyone. Write me back. Anne"

Buddy and Gerti were a warm hearted, friendly couple that wanted to share a story of love with the world. You can only appreciate the magnitude of what I experienced by also reading the following extracts from the book called 'The Treasures from the Attic. The Extraordinary Story of Anne Frank's Family'.

This is part of a letter from Otto Frank to his family after his liberation from a concentration camp.
Dear Mom,
Dear everyone,
Tomorrow we will be in Marseille, and then this letter will hopefully be forwarded to you. I assume I will be able to telegraph right away too so that you will know I have returned safe. We sailed from Odessa. Did you get my news from Kattowitz & Czernowitz?! For now we don't yet know if we can go back to Holland or if we will have to go to England for awhile first. For me the main thing is that we get out of Russia, so we can be reunited with our loved ones. You have no idea how much I long to see you again. All my hopes are for the children. I cling to the firm belief that they are still alive and that we will be together again soon. They will hardly expect their Pim to still be alive-they experienced too much, and they must know how everything was in the "Auschwitz extermination camp" where I was..."

Soon afterwards Otto discovered that his children, Anne and Margot, had died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from malnutrition and other illness in late March 1945. The camp was liberated in April 1945 and 60,000 emaciated prisoners were discovered. Anne and Margot had been buried in a mass grave.

The following is the letter that Buddy wrote to Otto after the discovery of the deaths of Anne and her sister Margot.
"Dear Ottel, 
I also want to write how terribly sorry I am about your horrible fate. I think I can say: our fate. I remember so well the lovely days with you and Margot in Adelboden. Edith and Anne are fixed in my memory as well, of course, and will be treasured there for ever. I know that you have a hard battle ahead now, to recover from everything and make a fresh start. We can only give you so little support now, I wish you were here with us already, or we were wtih you. I am positive that better times will come, for you too. You'll do it. Chin up! See you very soon - 
Your Buddy"

Buddy and Gerti live in Switzerland and are actively involved with the Anne Frank Foundation. I recommend this book because it will take you into a journey of the past and go into the detail of the lives of a very lively and heartwarming family who met and overcame many tragedies.
http://www.annefrank.org.uk/
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