Tribute to Jeremy Thorpe

NPG x167152; Jeremy Thorpe by Walter Bird, Copyright National POrtrait Gallery, London some rights reservedJeremy Thorpe’s funeral was held yesterday at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster. It was attended by around 400 people including all five leaders of the Liberal party and the Liberal Democrats who succeeded Jeremy Thorpe: David Steel, Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell and Nick Clegg. There was a gathering afterwards at the National Liberal Club. The following tribute was delivered at the funeral by Nick Harvey MP, and is reproduced here at his suggestion.

It is a great honour to be asked to say a few words today about the political life and times of Jeremy Thorpe, though I do so with considerable humility as many present here witnessed and lived the Thorpe era first hand, whereas I was still at school at the time.

To describe Jeremy’s footsteps as giant ones in which to follow in North Devon would be a huge understatement.

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LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 16

Congratulations to George Murray’s ‘Marauding Fullbacks’, who, with an impressive 928 points, continue to lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 16. It’s tight, though: just 12 points separate the top 3.

We’re entering the festive period, a time when you’ve probably got lots of other things to do. But, beware: there’s lots of football action, so, if you take your eye off the ball, you could find yourselves plummeting.

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Paul Tyler writes… In defence of piecemeal

For years Liberal Democrats have made the case for comprehensive reform of our constitution. We seek a fully federal settlement for the United Kingdom; constitutionally guaranteed decentralisation; fair votes; a democratic second chamber; prerogative power curbed other than as expressly given by Parliament; inalienable human rights.

Across the parties, many of us signed up 26 years ago to Charter 88 to realise a full package of these aims. The Charter itself lamented that existing British “constitution…encourages a piecemeal approach to politics”. It called for a comprehensive new settlement.

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By-election update: Gains on the year

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Just two principal council by-elections were contested yesterday. The Conservatives held their seat in St James ward in Kingston upon Thames LB, winning 42.9% of the vote. Liberal Democrat candidate Annette Wookey polled 33% to increase the party’s vote share by 11% from the ward’s last election this May.

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Cochrane review: Vaping can help you quit smoking

A review published by the Cochrane Collaboration – which serves to compile and make accessible evidence from clinical trials – has found that electronic cigarettes do help smokers reduce smoking or quit altogether.

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Opinion: Universal Basic Income is the way forward for the Liberal Democrats

Following a post by Nick Barlow a couple of weeks ago, a number of Liberal Democrat members have got together in support of the Universal Basic Income. In this post I wanted to outline some of the reasons UBI can and should become the cornerstone of our party’s welfare policy.

Universal Basic Income is a regular unconditional tax-free payment made to every citizen regardless of their situation. Most models have it varying only with age- the under 21s get less, the over 65s get more- and naturally it replaces the large majority of existing benefits including pensions and unemployment benefit.

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A farewell from Tim Farron as party president

So, it’s a matter of days now before I hang up my boots and pass on the baton to our new president (its important to mix your metaphors at a time like this!). I want to congratulate my friend and colleague Sal Brinton as she takes on the Party Presidency on 1 January and to wish her every success in the role. Sal will be an outstanding President, over the last four years she has been a regular source of wisdom and support to me – and I hope I can return the favour when she takes over.

I also want to pay tribute to both Liz Lynne and Daisy Cooper. They have both ran exciting campaigns which helped to energise the party and raise important challenges.

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Morrissey Progress Report – first thoughts

Morrissey Progress ReportAs promised earlier, here are my first thoughts on Helena Morrissey’s progress report which she published earlier today. There is so much in the report that I could go in to but these are the main points I’ve noticed.

The party needed to come out of this well, and show good progress in 18 months. To a certain extent it does, and the people who needed to come out of it most well were the leader, chief executive and president, the holders of most power in the party and who are perceived by the public as its face. They were praised for their commitment and for what has been achieved. It was the lack of progress at regional and local level that concerned Morrissey and she wants to see that changed. In many respects I agree with her. However, those of us who value the say that grassroots members have in this party should make sure that there is no “mission creep”. It may be a temptation to take more power than is strictly necessary to the centre and we need to be vigilant on this point.

Morrissey outlines the solid progress that has been made so far on each of her recommendations but is clear that there is still more to do. She suggests further action on two broad themes – structural reform and specific action to make sure that people are aware of the standards of behaviour expected of them.

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Helena Morrissey evaluates party’s progress on her recommendations

Last year, Helena Morrissey published her Report into the Processes and Culture of the Liberal Democrats and made 9 recommendations for change. Here are Stephen Tall’s and Caron Lindsay’s thoughts on it from then.

It was always intended that Helena would come back and evaluate the party’s progress on implementing her recommendations. Her progress report is published today and can be seen here.

This is what she has written in the foreword:

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Lord William Wallace writes…Evidence shows EU serves Britain well

European FlagIf you’re interested in the evidence about UK interests at stake in EU membership, it’s now available: over 2000 submissions, to 32 government reports.  And the overwhelming evidence, from small business and large, from legal bodies and service providers, is that the EU serves British interests well, above all in the regulations that underpin the Single Market, but also in fighting cross-border crime and providing a multilateral framework for UK foreign policy.

Eurosceptic Conservatives hoped that this exercise would demonstrate how Brussels regulations cramped British enterprise and undermined English common law.  Four rounds of consultation over two years, on topics as diverse as fisheries policy and police and criminal justice, have concluded that the current balance fits British companies and public services well.

photo by: rockcohen
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Lib Dem MPs were right not to play Labour’s silly games over the Bedroom Tax

Twitter has been full of Labour types slating Liberal Democrat MPs for voting against Labour’s parliamentary motion on the Bedroom Tax. When longstanding critics of the measure like Tim Farron and Julian Huppert vote with the Government, then there has to be a good reason. In fact, there are three.

1. This was just a Labour stunt

It was a parliamentary game to go along with a data gathering exercise Labour have been doing over the past few days. Social media has lit up with a link to a site in Liberal Democrat colours asking people to sign up to stand against the Bedroom Tax. All they wanted was the excuse to put on a leaflet that the Liberal Democrats had voted to keep the Bedroom Tax. Of course, it won’t mention that they voted in favour of Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill which made proper, actual sensible changes.

This is not a new tactic. I dare say we’ve used it ourselves plenty times in the past when in opposition. The SNP used to do it all the time when Labour and the Liberal Democrats were in power in Scotland. This may be a good moment to remind people that they (that’s most SNP MPs) never turned up to support Andrew George’s Bill. That’s an aside, though. What happens is that the opposition puts up a motion that even opponents of the measure in the Government couldn’t possibly vote for so that they can make political hay.

2. Labour’s motion did nothing for private sector tenants affected by similar measure introduced by…Labour

Yesterday’s motion was not about actually making anyone’s life better. It had no chance of helping those who are struggling with the Bedroom Tax. Nor did it to anything for those who are stuck in overcrowded accommodation. Even if their motion had passed, it would not have been binding on the Government, nor would it have tackled the hardship faced by people renting in the private sector. We forget that Labour brought something very similar to the Bedroom Tax in for private sector tenants in 2008. Yes, it’s slightly different in that it didn’t apply to existing tenancies, but there is much greater turnover in private sector tenancies, so it’s been causing real difficulties too. We shouldn’t ignore that. Funnily enough, Labour’s motion did ignore the problems they had caused.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…Localism and liberalism, urban and rural

You have to admire the energy and determination of Lucy Hurds and the Lib Dem team in Hereford and South Herefordshire. When I went to Hereford the other day, I found I was the most recent of a gaggle of peers and MPs (is that the right collective noun for Parliamentarians?) whom Lucy had persuaded to trek westwards.

Going to rural seats always reminds me how different it is campaigning in the countryside. In my neck of the woods, the challenges are from entry phones and gated developments (how does anyone ever get in, or – as happened to one colleague who did achieve that, get out?) In other parts of the city it’s tall and too often liftless blocks. Lucy whispered to me that two members to whom she introduced me delivered a village every week.

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Fifa World Cup row: Lib Dem members say no to Qatar but split on 2022 boycott

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what our sample of Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 747 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Yesterday, Fifa’s independent ethics investigator Michael Garcia quit in protest over the handling of his report into bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Here’s what Lib Dem members had to say about Fifa in our latest survey…

Do you think the 2022 football FIFA World Cup should go ahead in Qatar, or should it be hosted elsewhere?

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Vince’s Royal Mail privatisation: independent report concludes “the right decisions were made”

An independent report by Lord Myners published today has concluded Vince Cable and the Government made “the right decisions” during the process of selling off Royal Mail.

royal mail sell off

The BBC explains the background:

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LibLink: Tim Farron – CIA report shows we should fight even harder for liberal Britain

Writing in New Statesman, Tim Farron argues that liberalism is not a given, is under threat and we should fight for it:

We cannot continue to take liberalism for granted. We need to articulate our liberal values loudly and clearly to stop a creep into authoritarianism built on a currency of fear.

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Opinion: The power of the media for good or ill

The existence of a free press is one of the hard-won aspects of our society, that makes it what it is. Added to this is the existence of a free broadcasting system and the internet, some of which features other countries are lucky enough to share.

Of course, there are problems associated with a free media, including the issue that it is largely profit-driven and can therefore occasionally overstep the mark of what many ‘ordinary’ people consider to be acceptable behaviour. Delving too deeply into the private lives of those who are not in a position to defend themselves is one example of what can go wrong. On the other hand, revealing the depths of corruption in various public bodies is something for which we should thank them.

It is therefore with a degree of diffidence that I wonder whether some of the 24 hour a day coverage we see is actually a bad thing. Take for example, recent events in Sydney, Australia.

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Fixed-term parliaments: 56% of voters support them, finds YouGov

I’ve written before about the fact I like fixed-term parliaments: In praise of 5-year fixed-term parliaments. You may remember that a few years ago, former Cambridge MP David Howarth tried to introduce them. Then in the Coalition Agreement, they became reality.

YouGov has asked the public what they think about them, and you can see the result below courtesy the New Statesman’s May2015 polling website:

yougov fixed term parliaments - 1

photo by: garryknight
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Civil partnerships can now be converted into marriage

As of last week, couples in England and Wales have the choice to convert their civil partnership into marriage, concluding a historic process of changing the law to give same sex couples the right to get married.

The Liberal Democrats were the first party to support same sex marriage and have delivered our promise to couples to allow conversions into marriage to take place. There is now no reason in the law why two people of the same sex cannot be married.

Liberal Democrat Minister for Equalities Jo Swinson said:

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Opinion: Torture – taking back control of the debate

Following the publication of the Senate report into the CIA’s treatment of detainees during the ‘war on terror’, David Cameron said ‘Let us be clear. Torture is wrong, torture is always wrong’. This is undoubtedly a powerfully attractive view for anyone of a humanist disposition, concerned to condemn all violations of basic human rights.

But there is a nagging problem – the British public seem not to be so sure. A survey by Amnesty International in May this year showed that 30% of Britons believe that torture can sometimes be justified, and that 44% believe we should not rule out its use altogether – more than in Russia and China, countries where torture is endemic.

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Opinion: London’s house clearing and what the Focus E15 campaign tells us

The introduction of the Benefit Cap and Housing Benefit changes is adding fuel to the gentrification of our urban centers, throwing out many small businesses that can just afford the London Living Wage, and pushing micro urban economies into a transition that will inevitably see the marginalized and low income workers evicted from London’s salubrious centre zones.

Local Authorities (LAs) are already reconfiguring their homeless departments which, if pursued to their natural conclusion, will see changes in their service delivery because officers will have to eventually move out with their service users – starting the same homeless process all over again in the outer areas.

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Devolution must go beyond Westminster

Yesterday in parliament, William Hague announced four options to address the “English votes for English laws” issue. They are:

  1. Barring Scottish and Northern Irish MPs from any role in English and Welsh bills and limiting England-only bills to English MPs
  2. Allowing only English MPs, or English and Welsh MPs, to consider relevant bills during their committee and report stages, where amendments are tabled and agreed, before allowing all MPs to vote on the final bill
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Equal Marriage now a reality in Scotland

Same sex couples in Scotland are now free to arrange their weddings to take place from 31st December. Some people are sure to have a very happy Hogmanay. Some had a very happy 16th December as they converted their civil partnerships into marriages.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that organisations like the Equality Network and LGBT Plus Lib Dems (thanks, Dave Page) were listened to and we don’t have the cruel spousal veto up here.

Also, the Guardian published a poll today that shows that equal marriage has never had such high support, with 68% of people backing it:

According to ScotCen Social Research, 68% of people in Scotland now agree that gay or lesbian couples should have the right to marry if they want to, compared to 61% in 2010 and 41% in 2002.

There has also been an increase in the strength of this support, with those saying they agree ‘strongly’ that gay couples should be allowed to marry increasing by 14% over the past four years, while only 7% ‘strongly disagree’ in 2014.

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“The best opinion poll I’ve seen in a long time” says Nick Clegg

Nick’s Bite the Ballot Leaders Live Q & A this evening went pretty well. Those watching were asked to tweet #yesNick or #noNick to indicate what they thought on four different subjects, jobs, education, health and immigration.

All I can say is that I hope all these young people have votes. Here are the scores on the doors:

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Nick Clegg live Q & A at 7pm tonight

Nick Clegg answers live questions on the interweb thingy tonight at 7pm. That’s in just 45 minutes’ time. A group of young people will be asking him about the issues that they care about.

Watch here:

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Our worst nightmare? Peter Kellner’s scenario 3: “Lib Dems choose who’s the PM”

cameron clegg miliband 2Just over a year ago I wrote a piece titled Nightmare scenarios: what are the 2015 election results the Lib Dems, Tories and Labour most dread?

In it, I argued that the trickiest prospect for the Lib Dems would be an evenly poised general election outcome in which the Lib Dems held the balance of power:

In the nightmare scenario would have a genuine choice open to us: a second coalition with the Tories or a Lib-Lab pact.

Do a deal with the Tories – if that’s even

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Two Liberal Democrats win European awards

Its awards season at the moment and last week the focus shifted to Europe where the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe held its annual LeaDeR (Liberal Democrat Regional and Local Politicians) Awards. Two British Liberal Democrats were successful.

David TuttThe first was Cllr David Tutt, Lib Dem group leader of East Sussex County Council and leader of Eastbourne Borough Council who had been nominated for the Achievements in Government prize by MEP Catherine Bearder. He won for:

…his visible leadership in having put core liberal values of innovation, forward-thinking and opportunity into action in transforming what was officially the worst Council in the south-east of England into one widely recognised as among the very best in the country.

Catherine explained why she nominated David:

David has worked tirelessly in Eastbourne to ensure the town continues to go from strength to strength and when I heard about the awards I was delighted to put David’s name forward as I know the huge impact his work is having on the Eastbourne community.

 David is now a winner, just as he’s made Eastbourne a winner.

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Opinion: Shhh! Keep this secret

Everyone knows that the Federal Party committees do important business and that this business has to be kept absolutely secret. So I can’t really say anything about Monday’s Federal Executive meeting.

But if we are to move to OMOV (one member one vote – essentially the abolition of conference representatives) there need to be reports capable of being seen in the public domain and hopefully – unlike some reports I have seen within the Party about Federal Committees – uncoloured by the standpoint of the observer.

So let’s have a go.

We talked about OMOV itself. There is now a working party including both enthusiasts and sceptics and this has gone through the necessary amendments again and is hoping that this time it’s watertight. There are some very important loose ends, like how to ensure that people can afford to attend conference, and how the members of committees are to be held properly to account. There will be some consultation work on these at the spring conference.

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Judicial Review: Parliamentary Ping Pong delayed until New Year

It had been originally thought that the House of Commons would debate the Lords amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill yesterday.

This has now been delayed, probably until the New Year, indicating that there may be some chance of a Government compromise on the points of dispute.

The Lords have now voted twice to give judges some discretion about letting cases proceed even if they fail the “highly likely” test. The Government hasn’t yet given way on this one but you would hope that they would accept Lord Pannick’s amendment passed last week which would allow cases to proceed if it was in the public interest for them to do so.

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LibLink: Norman Lamb: Decades of not understanding Mental Health has left too many Unhelped – but we are getting there

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat Health Minister, has written for the Huffington Post about the changes he’s been trying to implement in mental health care and treatment.

First he talked about services for young people:

Recent provisional data shows that hospital admissions for self-harm for young people aged 11-19 are at their highest for five years. Maybe it is better reporting, maybe it is a result of the added stresses young people face. But these figures represent real young people and their families and the serious emotional distress they face.

Some find it difficult to talk about their mental health, which is why it is so important for those who can to be open about the problems they have faced. Don’t underestimate how important it is to encourage others to feel they can talk about it. In a way, it’s the most important thing.

I want young people to get good and compassionate personalised care. I want them to be given both physical and mental health care which helps them in their time of need but also gives them techniques and support to help prevent or manage further problems.

That’s why, earlier this year, I convened a Taskforce to advise us on improvements to mental health services for children and young people. This is the first time a group of experts from across, health, education and social care have come together to focus on making sure every young person gets the care they need. Crucially, we are also involving young people in this work so they can give their views on what they want from services. And it’s my aim that services don’t just stop at the youngsters themselves – services need to support entire families to deal with the challenges of living with mental illness.

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LibLink: Tim Farron – Pandering to Ukip risks handing over British-grown ideas to overseas competitors

Tim Farron launches the Lib Dem YES! campaignLib Dem party president Tim Farron argues that “a simplistic debate over immigration will force potential wealth creators overseas” over at the Huffington Post website today. Here’s an excerpt:

Pollsters will say that migration is one of the main concerns of this election. An ill-fated and simplistic response by politicians to this issue will not address their concerns. A cap will do nothing to address the problems that Britain faces. Low pay will not be solved by a migrant cap. The housing crisis will not

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    SIMON BANKS 19th Dec '14 - 4:03pm Simon, thank you for this excellent comment. You have expressed what I was thinking far better than I...
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    I do support Paul's basic argument that reform is likely to come in steps. The significant opportunity in 2015 is the possibility of PR for...
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    "Without our former Scotland Secretary, Michael Moore, having been willing to contemplate an extension just for the Scottish referendum, this progress would not have been...
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    Tsar Nicolas 20th Dec '14 - 8:36am "....Is this view common in the British forces deployed to theatres of war? " No it is not...
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    @ Simon, Might I suggest that you're being unnecessarily harsh on James. He has his perspective, you have yours - and both are valid. Having...
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