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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Liberal gets tough on pub hours
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News political reporter

Lynne Featherstone
Ms Featherstone calls herself a 'tough liberal'
Lynne Featherstone does not mince words about her role as a Liberal Democrat MP.

"As a middle-aged woman I have a very useful skill for being in parliament: nagging.

"You can call it scrutiny, or whatever, but I am there to remind the government of its proper role."

Since entering the Commons at the last election Ms Featherstone, 54, has had a lot of "nagging" to do.

Appointed a spokeswoman on home affairs, she has been critical of anti-terror legislation.

But her biggest hit so far against the government has been her querying of the impending liberalisation of pub licensing laws in England and Wales.

Hardened opposition

A written question about the number of drink-related deaths resulted in what the tabloid press would call a "bombshell".

They had risen by from 5,525 in 2000 to 6,544 in 2004 - an 18.4% increase.

This information, she says, has hardened her opposition to extended opening hours, due to start in November, until the effects of such a change can be gauged.

Ms Featherstone, a graphic designer by trade and the owner of an electrical retail business, told the BBC News Website: "I live behind the back of a pub myself.

"It's just applied for a licence to open to 2.30am three nights a week, with music. So I'm affected by it. I don't mind it being open until 11pm, but this is too much."

Armed police officer
Ms Featherstone is fearful of a 'police state'

Part of the reasoning behind the legislation is that English drinkers could adopt a more relaxed, "continental-style", approach to alcohol, rather than binging on vast amounts in a rush before closing time.

Ms Featherstone is not convinced.

"The government has not done enough research on the reasons why people do this, so we don't know how this will change things.

"Why are so many young people in a rush to drink themselves to oblivion?

"This scheme should have been piloted at least."

But how does proposing keeping old licensing laws, which many see as outdated and restrictive, square with her "liberal" credentials?

People should, she says, have freedom to do what they like, as long as it does not damage others.

This is part of what she, and many others in her party, call "tough liberalism", a core of beliefs intended to set the party apart from both Labour and the Conservatives.

Ms Featherstone said: "It's not just an empty phrase and it's not us being wishy-washy in any way.

"It is a reasonable way of looking at law and order. We have to look at the reasons behind problems and work out the best, most practical, ways to solve them."

Prison numbers

She adds: "Much of the Labour legislation of recent years has been Draconian, being seen to be tough without having any effect.

"Just look at how prison numbers have grown. There is no point to that unless it improves society, which it often does not.

"We need a proper mixture of rehabilitation and punishment."

I was torn between the Lib Dems and Labour but I chose the former because I believe in the power of the individual
Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat

Ms Featherstone speaks with the zeal of a convert, which she is, only having joined the Liberal Democrats in 1991.

"I had a young child during the Thatcher era and it was all about a 'me, me, me' culture. I felt this wasn't right for quite a long time.

"I worked as a volunteer in a hospital ward for patients with leukaemia and bone cancer patients.

"Two things struck me: the nurses were so busy they didn't have time to talk to the patients and every piece of equipment seemed to have been sponsored or provided by a company. That wasn't right.

"I thought there would only be two ways to change things: run a multi-national company or get involved in politics, which was a bit simpler to do.

"I decided to read the manifestos of all the main parties to decide whose policies I liked best.

"I was torn between the Lib Dems and Labour but I chose the former because I believe in the power of the individual.

"It certainly wasn't with a view to getting quick power, as we only had about 20 seats then."

Influence

Ms Featherstone ran for the Hornsey and Wood Green seat in north London in 1997 and 2001, coming third and second.

This year, she won with a majority of more than 2,000.

Her role in opposition, she says, is to influence those in power as much as possible, with a view to one day being in office herself.

The idea of a "liberal consensus" in British politics is not currently a reality, she argues.

This, she adds, is something that needs fighting for, particularly in light of the recent London bombings.

"If we want laws that mean armed police on every street or to be followed everywhere by CCTV cameras, then we are moving towards a police state.

"At times like these we need a clear head more than ever."




SEE ALSO:
Surge in alcohol-related deaths
15 Aug 05 |  England
Lib Dems 'ready for celebration'
12 Sep 05 |  UK Politics


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