Author Archives: Gareth Epps

As well as being co-Chair of SLF and a member of various Liberal Democrat Committees, Gareth Epps is a member of the Fair Deal for your Local campaign coalition committee and is an active member of Britain’s largest consumer campaign, CAMRA. He claims to be marginally better at Aunt Sally than David Cameron, whom he stood against in Witney in 2001.

After the diversity debate: the hard part

Note: you can view the debate here, about 44 minutes in. The agenda for the conference is here and the Conference Dailies which include the amendments for Sunday are here.

On an issue where it is entirely possible to be on either side of the argument holding a position that is Liberal, it is time for all concerned to be respectful of that fact and to acknowledge that the real hard work on diversity is yet to be done.

Like a number of other people, I found myself supporting the Conference motion that included all-women shortlists despite my not supporting all-women shortlists .  I had drafted Amendment 2 to refocus the debate on the entirety of the party’s colossal diversity problem and ensure it wasn’t portrayed solely as a gender problem.

Amendment 2 commits the party to set out to local parties how to use the Equality Act.  It enables winnable seats to choose between candidates of equal merit in favour of those from an under-represented group.  It also commits the party to present the bizarre effect of the Act in not allowing ‘diversity shortlists’ – a concept many liberals would support.

So what next?  Two points have been made by people who opposed AWS that should be acknowledged and acted on, just as the points made forcefully in the debate by speakers from Liberal Youth about wider culture change in the party.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

Conference Countdown 2015: Reforming the way we make policy

Ever wanted to get more involved in how we make policy? Frustrated by the process? Well, now is the time for you to have your say.

On Saturday morning (10am in the Dorchester Suite of the Highcliff Hotel) the party discusses possible changes to the ways we make policy. A consultation paper has been published here ca because one obvious analysis of the way we currently make policy is that it optimises opportunity for those who attend Federal Conference, but could be better at involving those who do not.

I would particularly encourage those not at Conference to read the paper and respond.

Posted in Conference | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Introducing…The Glee Club

Glee Club 2014The hundreds of new members making their way to Bournemouth might be forgiven for wondering about some of the exciting new events in store.

One of those is a Conference tradition that definitely isn’t unsung: the Glee Club. It predates the popular TV show by decades, having been founded when Liberals gathered informally in the hotel hosting the Liberal Assembly. In 1965, Michael Steed and Mary Green, both Young Liberals,produced the first Liberal Songsheet – a long-lost song from that document has been added to almost 100 other songs in the Liberator Songbook, the repository of song now in its 26th edition.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Conference Countdown 2015: How to learn lessons and not blow the EU referendum

In the run-up to Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, we’ll be looking ahead to examine the highlights in the debating hall, the fringe and training rooms. You can find the papers here. You can find all the posts in the series here.

Willie Rennie has finally written a frank and fascinating assessment of the flaws in the Better Together campaign. He draws a number of important conclusions which need to be learned if the EU referendum is not going to fall foul of the pitfalls that beset not only Better Together but in starker and disastrous form the incompetent Yes To AV campaign in 2011. All the articles are well worth a read.

Posted in Conference, Events and Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 23 Comments

Opinion: The Clegg Catastrophe: What the Guardian didn’t mention

The esteemed political journalists Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt of the Guardian have made an interesting, if long contribution to the debate about how the Liberal Democrats ended up in their current predicament.

Interestingly, it says very little about the 2010-12 era when Tim Farron and Norman Lamb chaired the party’s two main committees, the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee respectively.  However, it does shed some interesting light on the internal debate on the central issue that caused the electoral catastrophe: tuition fees.  The tales of what might have happened had David Laws not resigned, and why fees was not debated at our Special Conference, remain to be told.

Perhaps its biggest flaw is the typically lazy conflation of the debate around the party’s as being between “Liberals” and “Social Democrats”: an analogy that should have been buried quarter of a century ago.  As a social liberal and indeed Co-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum from 2012-14 I can testify that plenty of social democrats were on both sides of the debate.

There are at least three areas where the piece is weakly researched or just plain misleading.  All are the result of relying on a relatively narrow number of interviewees.  The full account offers lessons for the new leader as to how to avoid future pitfalls.

Posted in Op-eds | 53 Comments

Opinion: 10,000 reasons to be cheerful

Different people adjust to adversity in different ways.  Some were unwittingly preparing for 8 May for months.  Some didn’t see it coming.  Others may only be starting to sense it now.

All three groups were represented at the informal catch-up I had in Yorkshire last Friday, and all were present at Liberator magazine’s post-election drink last night.  The welcome set of thank-you receptions and new members’ parties will provide the opportunity for catharsis and preparing this fightback.

And it really is a positive thing.  For whatever reason, we have an unprecedented and totally welcome surge in membership.  Some relishing a new future; some doing what I did in 1992 and joining this great party so a shock general election result like that doesn’t happen again.  And many of the rest of us who have had our grumpy moments in recent years are feeling curiously optimistic too.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments

Opinion: Pubs matter so why not protect them in planning law?

Today has seen the third House of Commons debate on pubs in less than three months: rather like the proverbial London Bus. But with the rate of pub closures in the UK still running at 29 a week, a marginal decline from 31 a year ago, communities’ cries for help have been coming along rather faster.  There is a growing issue with pubs being converted to supermarkets in particular.  With long-awaited reform of the industry grinding its way through the House of Lords (where the resistance of Tory peer and former pubco director Lord Hodgson, sometimes rather distasteful, is thankfully proving futile), the focus is now on planning.

The Coalition has for the first time recognised pubs as community assets in national planning law, albeit weakly, and has introduced the Assets of Community Value process which is starting to let a few communities buy their pubs.  A fortnight ago, Lib Dem Minister Stephen Williams announced some additional protection for communities who get pubs listed as an ACV by removing permitted development rights.  But an amendment by Conservative Charlotte Leslie MP, backed by Lib Dem Pub Champion Greg Mulholland, narrowly failed to remove the much-exploited loophole that allows pubcos to sell or lease pubs to Tesco (formerly) and the Co-Op (principally at present) for supermarket conversion that sees often successful pubs close forever.  That amendment reflected Lib Dem policy.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 28 Comments
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