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Increase Sumner’s magnificent headstone inscription

ImageI’ve just spent a little bit of time in the United States, including my first visit to the great city of Boston. While looking round the Granary Burying Ground in central Boston (in which a number of famous historical figures are buried) I spotted a great headstone belonging to the grave of Increase Sumner (of whom, I confess, I’d never previously heard). The inscription reads as follows:

Here repose the remains of Increase Sumner.

He was born at Roxbury November 27th 1746 and died at the same place June 7th 1799 in the 53rd year of his age.

He was for some time a practitioner at the Bar;
and for fifteen years an associate judge of the Supreme Judicial Court;
was thrice elected Governor of Massachusetts; in which office he died.

As a lawyer, he was faithful and able;
as a judge, patient, impartial and decisive;
as a chief magistrate, accessible, frank and independent.

In private life, he was affectionate and mild;
in publick life, he was dignified and firm.
Party feuds were allayed by the correctness of his conduct;
calumny was silenced by the weight of his virtues;
and rancour softened by the amenity of his manners.

In the vigour of intellectual attainments and in the midst of usefulness he was called by divine providence to rest with his fathers;
and went down to the chambers of death, in the full belief that the grave is the pathway to future existence.

As in life he secured the suffrages of the free and was blessed with the approbation of the wise.
So in death he was honored by the tears of the patriotick and is held in sweet remembrance by a discerning and affectionate people.

Most of us would be pretty pleased to have just half of those adjectives posthumously applied to us.

The best part of Nick Clegg’s speech: in defence of internationalism and liberal interventionism

I enjoyed Nick Clegg’s speech to conference, which set out a clear path to Liberal Democrats remaining a party of government.

I thought his passionate defence of internationalism and liberal interventionism, drawing on his (Spanish) wife’s family history in pre-democratic Spain, was easily the strongest part. Here’s what he said:

Liberal Democrats, it falls to us to stand up for the national interest: we will be the party of In. I am an internationalist – pure and simple; first by birth, then by marriage, but above all by conviction. We may be an island nation, but there’s no such thing as an economic island in an age of globalisation.

And Britain is always at its strongest and proudest when we are open to the world – generous-spirited and warm-hearted, working with our neighbours and a leader on the world stage. That’s the message I will take to New York next week, when I represent the UK at the United Nations General Assembly.

There are some in the world who seek to present us as pulling up the drawbridge, following Parliament’s decision not to consider a military intervention in Syria – but they will hear from me that they are wrong.

My views on Syria are well known: I believe the use of chemical weapons – a war crime under international, humanitarian law – should be stopped wherever possible.

But I understand why some people are wary of another entanglement in the Middle East – Iraq casts a long shadow – and we now have the opportunity to work with the UN, the Russians, the Americans, the French and others to put these heinous weapons beyond the reach of Assad’s regime.

What matters now is that we are clear that this nation is not heading into retreat. It would be a double tragedy if the legacy of Iraq was a Britain turned away from the world.

Others look to our values and traditions for inspiration. Democracy, peaceful protest, equality before the law. That, in itself, confers a leadership role on us. Not as some military superpower. Not out of some nostalgic impulse after the loss of empire.

But because we believe in the virtues of law, peaceful dissent, political stability and human rights as enduring liberal values.
These are values that my own family – affected by the wars and conflicts of the past like so many other families – never took for granted.

And Miriam and I try to teach our sons that they shouldn’t take these values for granted either. After Spain moved to democracy in the 1970s, Miriam’s father was the first democratically elected Mayor in a small agricultural town in the middle of the countryside.

He single handedly brought better schools, more jobs and better housing to his community. He was hugely proud of being the first Mayor to serve his community through the ballot box. He sadly died some years ago, and there’s a small statue of him today outside the church in Miriam’s village.

Our small boys see that statue every holiday and Miriam tells them of the wonderful things he did. And they always ask about why he was elected and no one before him. We teach them that democracy and freedom are a fragile and recent thing in many parts of the world.

We teach them – just as my parents taught me – that rights and values should never be taken for granted, and if you believe in them, you should stand up for them.

And that is the United Kingdom that I want my children – all children – to grow up in: a United Kingdom that defends and promotes its values – our liberal values – at home and abroad.

Discussing Vince Cable on Radio 4’s Week in Westminster

I was on the Week in Westminster on Radio 4 earlier today, discussing the interesting, enigmatic character that is the business secretary Vince Cable. Steve Richards from the Independent was presenting, and Ben Ramm, former editor of The Liberal, was the other guest. You can listen below:

My interview with Nick Clegg: roundup

My interview with Nick Clegg from the weekend has generated a good few stories in the newspapers, so I thought I’d round them up here.

First off was the Mail on Sunday who featured Clegg’s comments on legal aid. That story was then followed up in some of the specialist legal press like the Law Society Gazette.

Once the interview had been published in full, various papers picked up on a range of points Clegg made.

The Daily Mail probably had the fullest coverage, including one of those special coloured boxes, where they slightly unkindly linked Clegg’s admission that he likes good food with the speculation over his slightly fuller figure.

SunThe Sun focused on Clegg’s love of the King Fu Panda films with the headline “Party Po-litics” (groan), as did ITV News.

Meanwhile the Evening Standard thought he exposed a Cabinet rift on housing policy, and used his answer as the basis for their editorial.

The Telegraph concentrated on Clegg’s statement that further reductions to the welfare budget would probably be necessary.

Possibly the most unexpected coverage, though, came during today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, when Ed Miliband quoted a section of one of Clegg’s answers at the prime minister in an attack over government infrastructure spending (emphasis added):

Every time I come to Prime Minister’s questions, I ask the Prime Minister a question and he does not answer it—he just asks me one. The only fact that this House needs to know about borrowing is that contrary to the promise the Chancellor made in his autumn statement, it went up last year. That is the truth we find. Let me answer the question the Prime Minister did not know the answer to. He promised 100,000 new homes under NewBuy, but there have been just 2,000. At that rate, it will take until 2058 to meet the target he set.

The British Chambers of Commerce says that the Government’s plan for infrastructure is

“hot air, a complete fiction.”

Even the Deputy Prime Minister has woken up to the problem. He said yesterday

“the gap between…announcement and delivery is quite significant.”

No kidding, Mr Speaker. Why should we believe the promises the Chancellor makes on infrastructure today when the Prime Minister’s own deputy says that they are failing to deliver?

I wanted to also mention how interesting an experience it was getting on a train with the deputy prime minister. He travels in standard class (of course) and there are other people in the carriage just as normal (albeit with the addition of a couple of secret service guys). There were more than a couple double takes!

UK tax revenue and public spending 1997-2012

I tried to post the following data into a comment on this Lib Dem Voice piece earlier but it was all but unreadable. It’s quite useful (and interesting) so here it is in a picture format:

UK tax and spending

Six things I liked about Oslo (and one thing I didn’t)

I spent Easter weekend in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Norway is an interesting country – tiny in population terms, but very wealthy due to its oil production. It is also not a member of the European Union, though it is in the European Economic Area, meaning that it has to comply with EU legislation in order to access the single market, but has no input into the formation of that legislation through the parliament or commission.

Oslo is a delightful city, and exactly what one would expect of Scandinavia. Being Easter weekend it was fairly quiet, and also rather cold, particularly in a morning.

Anyway, here are some things I particularly liked:

1) Norwegians – Scandinavians generally are pretty grounded, rational sensible people, and that’s certainly true of Norwegians. Part of that surely has to do with the economic security provided by having the third-highest GDP per capita in the world. But it is also a northern-European trait which I think we share. The standard of English spoken by Norwegians is excellent – indeed on many occasions it I thought I was talking to an American but was actually talking to an Osloite (I would imagine that has something to do with the pervasiveness of US TV shows).

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2) Frogner Park – the park is located in the suburban west of the city, and houses the Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement, a selection of works by Gustav Vigeland. He specialised in nude portraits in some rather interesting positions, and the centrepiece of his work is a tower of intertwined nude statues (see picture) which takes pride of place in the park. The Vigeland Museum, located just outside the park, is well worth a visit.

3) The museums – Oslo has a ton of museums, with everything from Viking ships to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The city provides something called the Oslo Pass, which enables free or reduced-price entry to many of the museums, as well as free use of all the public transport (see below). Well worth it.

4) The public transport – as befits the capital of a wealthy nation, the transport infrastructure is impressive. It is also pretty cheap, which is not something that can be said of everything in Oslo – a 24hr pass for all the forms of transport (bus, tram and underground) costs 80 kroner, about £10.

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5) The coffee and cakes – Norwegians, apparently, drink more coffee per person than any other nation on earth. That is probably true in volume terms (given the tendency of southern Europeans to drink short coffees – espresso, ristretto – and the northern preference towards longer drinks). Norwegians like their coffee hot, black, strong and long. They accompany it with bolle, small sweet bread cakes. My favourite (pictured) was the iced cinnamon version. No visit to Oslo is complete without at least three visits to United Bakeries, a chain found all over the city. There’s a nice one near Frogner Park (see above).

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6) Frognerseteren – anyone who has spent any time in London is used to unusual sites on the tube. But you don’t often see fully clad skiers, carrying their skis, on London’s public transport. You do in Oslo, thanks to the skiing available just 30 minutes or so away in Frognerseteren. Even for non-skiiers like me the journey by T-bane is worth making. There are some stunning views down over the city (see picture) and some restorative apple cake (and more coffee) to enjoy at the Frognerseteren Restaurant. You can jump off and visit the Olympic ski-jump en route.

So, a lot to like about Oslo. When I go back I will definitely do the journey from Oslo to Bergen by train, which is supposed to be spectacular. As it was I couldn’t fit it into my schedule – it takes 7 hours each way.

There was one thing, though, that I particularly did not like about Oslo, and that was the number of people sleeping rough – Norway in winter is not a place one would want to be homeless. But one couldn’t walk down a street in central Oslo without being asked for money, usually several times. For one of the world’s richest countries, and one with a left-leaning population and a social democrat government, I found this surprising and depressing. If Norway doesn’t have the resources to solve this problem, then nowhere does.

Call for 100% tax on lecturing, illiberal doctors

Campaigners have today called for a 100% tax on the nonsense spouted by lecturing doctors calling for illiberal, regressive taxes to tackle just about every problem the country faces.

The call comes after a spate of examples of medics forgetting that their job is to treat patients  rather than produce seemingly identical reports suggesting new taxes to solve the various crises that they believe society faces.

In a statement, the Royal College of Letting People Get on With Their Own Lives said:

The endemic condition of doctors not being able to propose solutions to problems that don’t involve the state dictating how people should live their lives by making food, drink, cigarettes and, well, just about everything more expensive is a serious risk to the public’s mental wellbeing.

We therefore propose that each time a doctor decides it is their role force people to pay more for the products they buy they should pay everything they earn in a special “illiberalism tax”.

It is estimated that the tax could either raise approximately £3000 bn in additional revenues, to be used to reimburse people for the amounts of extra tax they have paid as a result of whinging doctors over many years. Alternatively, the tax may free up so much time amongst doctors that GP appointments may be extended by 10%, to an average of 98 seconds.