Opinion: Decentralisation to the London Region – the case has yet to be fully made

Before the recent Scottish independence referendum, promises squeezed out of the ‘Westminster establishment’ over more decentralisation of power to Scotland. The independence referendum was a close run thing. Now those in favour of full independence for Scotland are in a majority, and it seems that this will be reflected in the coming UK General Election.

The UK government has also conceded to a small increase in the powers of the Welsh Government.

On independence and devolution, Scotland has form, of course. But there are more modern reasons for the recent rise of pro-independence sentiment.

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Julian Huppert as you have never seen him before

Well, maybe not the real one – but we thought you might like a late night treat.

LGBT+ Chair was inspired by this on Pinterest. Like many Liberal Democrat activists he’s an admirer of Julian Huppert for the way he’s been such a strong supporter of equal rights for all and the way he’s spoken up for transgender people as well as being a strong, credible expert on matters relating to science.

So he decided to adapt the Pinterst picture as a tribute to the Huppertmeister.

Post by Dave Page

We think there should be badges of this at Conference with proceeds going to Julian’s campaign. Can someone please make this happen?

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Davey and Cable defend free speech at universities from Tory attack

Vince Cable Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterWe know that during the passage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, Liberal Democrat peers Sal Brinton and Margaret Sharp tried to amend the bill to strengthen the duty on universities to preserve freedom of speech. Senior Tories couldn’t see why that was so important, sadly.

The Observer reports that Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers, especially Vince Cable, disagree about the planned guidance to be issued to universities about what they can and can’t allow on campus.

In the Sunday

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Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #413

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our413th weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the seven most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (22-28 February 2015), together with a hand-picked quintet, you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

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LDV’s Sunday Best: our 7 most-read articles this week

7 ver 4 fullMany thanks to the  visitors who dropped by Lib Dem Voice this week. Here’s our 7 most-read posts…

Pauline Pearce seeks Liberal Democrat nomination in Hitchin (0 comments) by The Voice

Willie Rennie MSP writes…You wouldn’t put UKIP in charge of the EU, so you wouldn’t put the SNP in charge of the UK (22 comments) by The Voice

Opinion: Liberal Democrats should support abolishing the monarchy and it’s the right time to do so (59 comments) by David Faggiani

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Independent on Sunday praises Nick Clegg and Ed Davey for “keeping the low carbon show on the road”

Davey Windmills - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsAn Independent on Sunday editorial today acknowledges the contribution made by the Liberal Democrats to furthering the green agenda while in government. They give Nick Clegg and Ed Davey the credit for driving it forward in the face of opposition from our coalition partners, who come in for some criticism:

The IoS has been disappointed with the Conservatives’ record on the environment. We were prepared to give David Cameron the benefit of the doubt when he put a windmill on his roof and when he proclaimed his intention that the coalition would be the greenest government ever, but if Mr Davey is now able to make that qualified claim, it is despite Mr Cameron, not because of him.

The turning point was George Osborne’s “slowest ship in the convoy” speech to the Tory party conference in 2011, when he said Britain would go along with EU plans for green energy but would not be a leader.

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Steve Webb on taking a chance to set pensioners free

Steve Webb, pensions minister, is interviewed in the Observer in the run-up to the big pensions change:

Plans to give millions of people powers to get access to their pensions savings from 6 April are a calculated risk, the minister in charge of the biggest pensions shakeup in decades has admitted.

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Tweets and snapshots from the Campaign Trail

Our Liberal Democrat campaigners have been out and about knocking on doors. The selection of tweets that follow represents a tiny snapshot of the work going on across the country. The Liberal Democrats are bright, bold and determined in the run up to May 7th.

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Opinion: Combined authorities and English devolution

The big news on devolution this week has been the twin announcements of more devolved powers for Wales and that Greater Manchester will be devolved control over the £6 billion health budget for the region.

It’s interesting to see what lessons can be taken from this. One is that ‘Devomanc’ really does appear to have substance, despite initial scepticism from various people (myself included) and another is that talk of English Votes on English Laws is even more redundant now that we face the prospect of Mancunian MPs voting on matters affecting the rest of England which don’t affect Greater Manchester.

A further, more worrying lesson, is that devolution is becoming ever more piecemeal with wildly varying levels of devolution both across the UK and across England.

But England the lessons are particularly interesting. Those of us living outside of major city regions like Greater Manchester and Merseyside have been wondering how exactly we can get our share of devolution and it now looks like we have an answer.

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Tim Farron talks coalitions with the New Statesman

The New Statesman has published extracts of an interview with former party president Tim Farron. Their headline suggests favouritism for a coalition with Labour, but that’s not quite what Tim said. He was talking about having to play the hand the electorate dealt us, just like we did five years ago:

Last time round, us plus Labour was 11 short of a majority of one, so a majority where we’d have had to rely on Jeremy Corbyn voting through the Budget, things like that, for instance, so 11 short even of that level of a majority, so it wasn’t an option.

He added: “I think the same thing will be the case this time round, almost certainly. We will not have a choice. We will be presented with an arithmetic by the electorate and all parties must be grown up enough to accept it and not say, ‘well, thank you for your opinions, we didn’t like it, tough’. Whatever the electorate give us through this fruit machine of an electoral system that we have, we have to be big enough, grown-up enough to make sure it works.

“The fundamental promise we must make to the electorate is that we will respect the outcome of the electorate and we will ensure, do everything in our power to ensure, stable government straight after the election, whether we are part of it or not.”

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What does the Twitter “sarcasm detector” tell us?

They Say sarcasm detectorJohn Rentoul told us in yesterday’s Independent that he had found a tool which analysed what was being said about party leaders on Twitter, taking into account whether the comment was sarcastic or not.

I spoke to Karo Moilanen at the company about how “sentiment analysis” works. He told me the algorithm detects positive and negative sentiments associated with the leaders, and can even recognise a double negative as a positive, for example, “kill bacteria”.

What about sarcasm, I asked, thinking about how Twitter works. “We have a rudimentary sarcasm detector,” he said. “There are patterns which tend to correlate with sarcasm.” But how accurate is it? “Sarcasm is hard for people to detect. Human accuracy can be as low as 40 per cent.”

TheySay “trains” its computer programme by feeding it texts that humans have marked as being sarcastic. “Algorithms can hence learn that sarcasm tends to involve cases in which someone likes something negative,” said Moilanen, “or conflicting or abrupt changes of sentiment between strongly positive and negative words and phrases.” He said that computer algorithms can detect sarcasm between 55 and 95 per cent of the time, depending on the study, with an average of 77 per cent.

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Kirsty Williams: Liberal Democrats have been the positive story of this Coalition

rally kirsty williams 1It’s Welsh conference today and Kirsty Williams is giving her keynote leader’s speech. In it she will emphasise what the Liberal Democrats have done within the coalition, saying that we have been the good news story of the last five years. She will say:

We have been the good news story, the positive story, the shining light that has come from this Coalition

It is Liberal Democrat policies that are making the difference.  Whether it is raising the tax threshold, revolutionising the pensions system, or introducing equal marriage, we have

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Vince Cable: Labour’s tuition fees plan is “fraudulent”

On the BBC’s World at One yesterday, Vince Cable was interviewed by Mark Mardell. You can hear the interview by clicking on the box below, and the full transcript follows:

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IFS: Labour fees plan will not make any difference to repayments by the poorer half of graduates

Interviewed by Mark Mardell on the BBC’s World at One yesterday, Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies made these comments about Labour’s tuition fee plans:

photo by: schwglr
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LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 26

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Money saving expert Martin Lewis on Labour’s fees policy: ‘Poorer students will subsidise city investment bankers’

Here’s part of what Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, said on the BBC’s World at One today:

This is the worse type of politics for me. It is the politics that may appeal to people on the surface but it is financially illiterate…If any other party was launching a policy that effectively meant that poorer students would be subsidising city investment banking graduates, which is what this does, there would be protests in the streets and it would be led by the Labour party. I simply don’t understand how they’ve launched this.

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Institute of Fiscal studies: Labour’s tuition fees plan would “benefit higher income graduates”

In a detailed report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, on Labour’s higher education funding plans, the Institute of Fiscal Studies concludes:

The reform to HE funding announced by Labour on 27th February would:

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Vince Cable: Labour’s tuition fee plan is “financially illiterate”

Commenting on today’s announcement from Labour, Vince Cable has said:

Labour’s policy is based on a soundbite, and as a result, is completely financially illiterate. It will do great harm to universities and create a costly black hole in the national budget.

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To hit the LibDems, Labour give £2 billion to graduates earning 32%+ above the average wage

Details of Labour’s tuition fees policy are emerging today. There is a proposed higher maintenance grant and higher interest rates for higher earning graduates. It will remain to be seen how much those two changes alter the regressiveness of the main proposal to reduce the fee cap to £6,000.

That basic policy proposal is to take £2 billion from pension tax breaks and give it to graduates who earn 32% above the national average wage.

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In Full: David Steel’s eulogy for Lord George Mackie

Lord George MackieWe are grateful to David Steel for sending us his eulogy to Lord George Mackie who died at the age of 95 last week. 

One of the noticeable traits of George Mackie was his reluctance to talk about his wartime exploits in Bomber Command.  We of a younger generation wanted to hear more of the events which led to his remarkable survival and the awards of the DSO and DFC, but the tales had to be coaxed out of him. He was never boastful.

It is a huge privilege to be asked to speak here about his role in politics – for me it is a small labour of love, because I owe my entire political career to him.  In 1962 when I had just graduated in law but had no intention of becoming a lawyer he offered me a one year post as assistant secretary of the Scottish Liberal Party at the princely salary of £895.  Because Alec Douglas-Home as new PM delayed the election it turned out to be two years during which I was heavily involved in several by-election campaigns and in fund-raising.

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Three reasons why Talk of the Glens is much better than the Daily Mail

Talk of the GlensThe Daily Mail has been casting a critical eye over a publication being delivered to voters across Danny Alexander’s Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency by Danny’s campaign team.

Needless to say, the magazine, Talk of the Glens, does not meet with the Mail’s approval. “Toe curling” and “garish” they call it.

It is very nice of the Mail, however, to reproduce the magazine almost in its entirety. Their readers, who may have inadvertently recycled it, therefore get a second chance to see it.

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Paul Burstow MP writes… Mental health and employment support must be available to all who need it

For most people, work plays a defining role in their lives. It provides structure, the money to live and enjoy life, and for the lucky ones, it can provide a sense of achievement and purpose. Every one of these elements is a component in supporting good mental health, and helps to explain in part the vicious cycle of mental ill-health and unemployment, as well as the critical role that employment can play in mental health recovery.

But it’s sadly not true to assume that work is always good for you mental health. Surveys have found the mild to moderate mental health problems – including stress, anxiety or depression – are the most common reasons people are signed off work, and mental ill health costs UK employers £26billion every year: £8.5billion in sickness absence, £15.1billion in lost productivity and £2.4billion in staff turnover. That’s an average of more than £1000 for every employee, so it’s in everybody’s interests to make sure that employers do everything they can to improve employees mental health, and to encourage them to seek support and treatment as soon as mental health problems develop. While there are some fantastic employers who ‘get’ mental health and its debilitating impact on their employees as well as their business, a recent survey conducted by CentreForum found that two thirds of people said they had been treated unfairly in keeping a job, and 75% said they had stopped themselves applying for work due to fear of discrimination. This needs to end.

That’s why the Mental Health Commission I chaired made the workplace one of our priorities for action. As we recommended, there should be a concerted effort to make UK businesses and services mental health friendly employers, with all organisations with more than 500 employees signing up to a mental health kitemark and 90% of these organisations on board by 2020. I am proud to be able to say that we established the first government funding for the Time to Change campaign – which works to end mental health discrimination – during my tenure as Minister responsible for mental health. It is fantastic that under Norman Lamb, the government have committed to continue funding this crucial work.  To maximise our impact, we now need to ensure that all public sector bodies have taken up the mantle, and use public sector procurement to filter this commitment throughout the distribution chain. At the same time, Norman Lamb has called on all FTSE 100 companies to sign up to the Time to Change initiative – and this is a call we should all echo.

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Police surround Lib Dem Councillor using sledgehammer

Never let it be said that Liberal Democrat councillors avoid hard work. When a skateboard park in his ward was damaged, Aberystwyth’s Councillor Ceredig Davies (also our group leader on Ceredigion County Council) arranged to get down there and fix it.

Some local people didn’t see it that way. What they saw was a random man taking a sledgehammer to a local facility, as the Cambrian News tells us:

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Lord Tim Clement-Jones writes…A record number of councils are calling for a clampdown on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – the Government must act

I’m now eight weeks into my New Year’s resolution to spend my Fridays campaigning with some of our fantastic target seat candidates across the country. One thing that has struck me on the doorsteps is that it is not the high politics of opinion polls, votes in Parliament and endless speculation on personalities that matter to people. What actually matters is local issues – from their kid’s school to the shops on their local high street.

With that in mind, I recently lead a debate in the Lords on concerns expressed by 93 councils in England and Wales over the growth of high street betting machines. Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) offer high speed, high stakes gambling – with punters able to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds. To offer some comparison, other high street locations have a limit of £2 a stake and even casinos limit machine stakes to £5. Effectively, these machines have turned high street bookmakers into casinos, offering astonishingly hard forms of gambling right on people’s doorsteps.

I am not anti-gambling – but I’m concerned about the spiralling number of these machines for two reasons. Firstly, they are fuelling the proliferation of betting shops in poorer areas. It is now a common sight to see two or three betting shops on one high street. Indeed, on one street in Newham, there is an astonishing 18 betting shops and that equates to 72 FOBT machines. It’s still a tough climate for high streets; but the solution certainly isn’t betting shops sucking money out of local communities and causing huge social problems.

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We need to be careful about the SNP and coalitions

Labour appear to be saying they would entertain the idea of putting the SNP in charge of Britain in a government and that’s in my book just not going to happen. In the same way I’d never put UKIP in charge of Europe, I’d certainly never put the SNP in charge of a country that they would basically want to rip apart.

This is what Nick Clegg said about the SNP in today’s Call Clegg. It builds on an article written by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie on here last week. Willie said:

We’ll always be asked by the media about various scenarios and outcomes. But the reality is that all of us are campaigning hard for  Liberal Democrat votes. We want to win here.

And just as you would not put UKIP in charge of Europe, it’s right that we make clear you would not put the SNP in charge of Britain.

This doesn’t mean we won’t take a reasonable approach to politics as a party. We have formed coalitions with the SNP on councils and, in the Scottish Parliament, we have worked with them on their budget and on a range of other issues. So have other parties.

But just imagine for only one second what would happen if Alex Salmond became Deputy Prime Minister. The minute you turned your back he’d take the screwdriver out and try to break up the UK.

This is in no way comparing the SNP and UKIP as some have suggested on earlier discussions. There is no direct comparison. Aside from the constitutional issues, there are many policy issues on which we could find agreement with the SNP and we could work with them. We could also temper their lack of respect for civil liberties. I can’t think of anyone in UKIP I’d want to even give the time of day to and our policy divergence is huge.  While I totally get the analogy Nick and Willie are making  I would urge caution about explicitly ruling out dealing with the Nationalists. It would be counter-productive to do so.

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Ed Davey MP writes… Green energy auction paves way for 27 new renewables projects and thousands of green jobs across the UK

A few wind turbinesThis morning I announced the results of the first auction for green energy generation. The results are impressive – more clean energy at lower costs.

Thanks to this first renewable electricity competition of its kind, I have offered contracts to 27 renewable energy projects across the UK.  Enough to power 1.4 million homes and save the equivalent carbon emissions of taking 2 million cars off the road.

The projects include offshore wind and onshore wind and solar, and will create thousands of green jobs.

photo by: vaxomatic
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The LDV debate: Should politicians release their tax returns? Part Two

The issue of politicians and their tax returns has been in the media once again recently, sparked in part by increased scrutiny of tax avoidance measures. The prime minister has said (via the chancellor) that there are no plans to publish his returns, while the man who would like to be in his shoes, Boris Johnson, said on a trip to the US last week that other UK politicians should follow his lead (and those of their US counterparts) in publishing their returns.

Here. the Voice’s Nick Thornsby and Paul Walter debate the issue. Please do share your thoughts in the comments below. You can read Part One here.

Nick Thornsby: A number of people in response to our opening gambits went further and suggested that the tax affairs of everyone should be a matter of public record. In some ways I would have less of an issue with this than singling out politicians for special attention (though I am unconvinced by the logic of the argument).

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Final reminder: Secret party elections – deadline tomorrow at noon

There are some more secret elections happening. We feel it’s our duty to disseminate the information as widely as possible.

Here are the details of the positions available and how to get yourself nominated:

All persons elected to these posts will hold office for the calendar years 2015 and 2016.

For the election of:

  • One Vice-Chairs of the IRC
  • Three members of the SAO Review Group
  • Two members of the FE Candidates’ sub-group (meets with JSCC)
  • One representatives on ALDE Congress
  • Two representatives to the LI Congress

The election regulations approved by the Federal Executive in May 2009 are attached for information.

Nominations must be supported by two voting members of the outgoing or incoming Federal Executive, a list of whom is attached, and must be returned, with 75 word statements , no later than 12 noon on 27 February 2015 to David Allworthy, [email protected]Scanned nominations will be accepted.

David Allworthy, Deputy Acting Returning Officer, 20 February 2015

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John Bercow should look to Australia for ideas on how to deal with unruly MPs

John Bercow did try to get an Australian installed as the new Clerk of the Commons in what seemed to me to be quite a sensible move to split the roles of Chief Executive and Procedural expert. He might want to take a leaf out of the book of the Australian Speaker who has developed a habit of ejecting unruly MPs. At one PMQs session at the end of last year, she ejected 18 of them in 73 minutes.

You can watch the video and ensuing drama unfold below.

The reason I say this today is because of the disgraceful tidal wave of heckling which greeted Mike Crockart when he got up at Prime Minister’s Questions. It was so childish and there was simply no reason for it.You can see it from 10 minutes in. It wasn’t particularly unusual behaviour, but it’s high time Bercow moved beyond his sarcastic comments and started chucking people out. It’s the only way they’ll learn. He might want to make sure he throws people out from both sides, because there are plenty who deserve it.

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Tories try to take credit for Lib Dem Steve Webb’s Pensions Triple Lock

As the election campaign hots up, all the parties are emailing those who have signed up to their email lists on all sorts of issues.

In the past few days, we’ve seen one from Harriet Harman admonishing the recipient for not responding to Labour’s opinion survey. It had one question, basically “Are you voting Labour?” There wasn’t even a “maybe” option.

We’ve seen a missive David Cameron (or his digital equivalent) has emailed to his distribution list to take credit for the pensions triple lock. The wording looks like it’s been copied and pasted from a Liberal Democrat equivalent.

Now, everyone knows that that was Liberal Democrat pensions guru Steve Webb’s idea. If you look in the 2010 Tory manifesto, you see a commitment to restoring the link to earnings, but that’s about it.

In contrast, this is what the Lib Dem manifesto had to say:

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarGraham Martin-Royle 2nd Mar - 9:17am
    100% with this. The opposite to hate speech is more speech, not less.
  • User AvatarMichael Parsons 2nd Mar - 8:53am
    Capital flights, dead weight etc? (a) Liberalism should no longer use these Gladstonian economic S/D policies to evade the crying need for an active fiscal...
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 2nd Mar - 8:46am
    Dr Michael Taylor 1st Mar '15 - 6:05pm "....credit when it’s due?" It is not obvious what you think deserves credit? Is it being slightly...
  • User AvatarPhilip Thomas 2nd Mar - 7:59am
    "But we err on the side of caution because we think that protects the British public. The Liberal Democrats have a more liberal view" Tory...
  • User AvatarStephen Hesketh 2nd Mar - 7:37am
    Jack Read 2nd Mar '15 - 6:42am A very pertinent question indeed Jack. My personal view is that because we have in play here an...
  • User AvatarJack Read 2nd Mar - 6:42am
    Why does Wales/Scotland have to have a referendum for more devolution, but not Greater Manchester?