Author Archives: Nick Thornsby

The case for Syrian air-strikes: not overwhelming, but strong enough

In the early hours of 21 August 2013, rockets began to land in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The civilian population of Syria had now become used to this, since Bashar al-Assad had decided over 2 years earlier that in response to a peaceful uprising against his totalitarian rule he would prosecute the most brutal military campaign by a ruler against his people that this century has seen. But this attack was different: the rockets were filled with sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.

When the images of the hundreds of people killed and thousands injured began to circulate, there was international outrage of a level not so far seen in the Syrian Civil War. Momentum gathered for a military response. Obama’s red line had been crossed. Enough was enough.

Only it wasn’t. Obama dithered. Miliband played politics. Assad survived to kill another day.

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LibLink: Norman Lamb MP – My son’s struggle with OCD showed me the unfairness people with mental illness face

Norman Lamb has been much in the news this week, having launched a cross-party campaign for mental health to be treated equally with physical health across the health service. Norman has written a piece for the Guardian drawing on themes that will be familiar to party members from his excellent conference speech earlier this year.

Here’s an excerpt:

When our oldest son, Archie, was 16, he was clearly very unhappy. He eventually told us just how distressed and troubled he had become. We got a referral to our local children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder followed.

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The Lib Dem legacy: right to 30-day refund becomes law

The BBC reports:

New consumer protection measures – including longer refund rights – have come into force under the Consumer Rights Act.

For the first time anyone who buys faulty goods will be entitled to a full refund for up to 30 days after the purchase.

Previously consumers were only entitled to refunds for a “reasonable time”.

There will also be new protection for people who buy digital content, such as ebooks or online films and music.

They will be entitled to a full refund, or a replacement, if the goods are faulty.

The Act also covers second-hand goods, when bought through a retailer.

People buying services – like a garage repair or a haircut – will also have stronger rights.

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TTIP update: A Liberal in charge, and a new investor dispute proposal

Container Ship tradeYou can catch up with my previous pieces on TTIP here:

A new face at the negotiating table

It’s a few months since I last wrote here about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed trade and investment agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and United States. It is Liberal Democrat party policy to support TTIP, so it is worth keeping up with developments in the negotiations.

Since my first post in July 2014, one of the most significant changes has been the replacement in November 2014 of Karel De Gucht as European Commissioner for Trade by Cecilia Malmström.

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Leadership election results out today – what you need to know

tim farron norman lamb squarish by paul walter2 months of campaigning, 25 hustings, 20,000 miles covered by the candidates to attend 100 events (according to the Guardian, anyway) — the leadership election comes to an end today, as the ballots are counted and the result is declared.

The count itself will take place at the offices of Electoral Reform Services in London, attended by a select group. The result will then be posted first on the Lib Dem Twitter feed and Facebook page, hopefully sometime between 4 and 5pm.

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Surprises are not the same as radicalism – or where George Osborne went wrong

Yesterday’s budget certainly had plenty of surprises. But it says something about the state of our politics that not allowing sensitive information leak ahead of the budget speech counts as a political success. Because surprises — rabbits out of hats — are not the same as radicalism, whatever much of the media, or Osborne himself, would have us believe this morning. The budget, when looked at more closely, was notable for its timidity, not its profundity.

In identifying the nonsense of those on low wages paying relatively large amounts of tax, only to receive it back with interest in tax credits, the chancellor identified a genuinely ridiculous (and illiberal) legacy of Gordon Brown’s time at the Treasury.

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Russia, ISIS, globalisation and the EU – Norman and Tim answer foreign affairs questions

LDV recently put some questions on foreign affairs to the two leadership contenders. Here are their responses.

1. Can you summarise in around 100 words what a liberal foreign policy looks like in your view?

Tim Farron:

Liberals are proud and passionate internationalists because we believe in the rights of all people – no matter what they look like, what they believe or where they are – to live in peace, free from poverty, ignorance and conformity. We understand that only by working with other countries through strong international institutions can we make that a reality and build a fairer, greener, freer world.

It is in neither Britain’s interests nor the world’s to close ourselves off, but also that intervention abroad must be rooted in international law, decided through international institutions and clearly justified on humanitarian grounds.

Norman Lamb:

Our Party is proudly internationalist. Our leaders have often been lone voices, Paddy demanding rights for British citizens from Hong Kong, Charles opposing the Iraq War, Nick in taking on Nigel Farage‎

I share these courageous liberal values‎. Liberal values are universal – they do not respect borders.

For me Britain should play a global role and prompt Europe to do more for peace, in tackling poverty and climate change, and in standing up to oppression.

We must also be able to defend those who need our protection, our allies, and ourselves. Enduring adequate funding for our armed forces means debating Trident’s future when our world is far more threatened by terrorists and cyber attacks than by nuclear war, and pursuing reform to make sure our forces are effective and efficient.

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LDVideo: Commons tributes to Charles Kennedy from Cameron, Clegg, Farron, Lamb and others

It is usual, after the conclusion of Prime Minister’s Questions, for the chamber of the House of Commons to quickly, and noisily, empty. Yesterday, however, the House remained full, in sombre, reflective quiet to hear tributes from members to Charles Kennedy. The Speaker, John Bercow, shared his reflections first, followed by David Cameron, Harriet Harman and Nick Clegg.

You can see the full one hour and thirteen minutes in the video below, or via this link, and below the video are the times at which you will find various speeches from a selection of MPs.

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Party membership passes 50,000, with over 5,000 new members since Thursday

Lib Dem membership 50,000About 80 people an hour have been joining the party since the polls closed on Thursday, taking membership levels back up to those last seen in about 2011. Even the 2010 surge following the leaders debate only took membership up to just over 60,000, so if these extraordinary increases continue we may find ourselves completely reversing all the decline that occurred in the first couple of years of the coalition.

Party chief executive Tim Gordon has just emailed members with the timetable for the leadership election that will now take place (see below) and all those who join the party before 3 June will be able to vote.

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Lib Dem/Tory waverers wanted continuity, but they voted Conservative to achieve it

It was always going to be true that the 30 or so seats where the fight was between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives would end up delivering one of the most important stories of election night 2015. Liberal Democrats hoped, of course, that this would be for the reason that they were the hallmark of the party’s resilience. But they were newsworthy in the end because they were symbols of the Lib Dem defeat, and the vehicles of delivery of a Conservative victory.

That the tens of thousands of voters in those seats who wavered between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were the most important of this campaign had been known to both governing parties, of course, for months if not years. They were ruthlessly targeted from every angle: leaflets, phone-calls and visit after visit by senior politicians.

And in the end they made their decision, and they made it in David Cameron’s favour. The prime minister’s message, that only a Conservative vote could guarantee continuity and avoid the risk of a Miliband-Sturgeon government, ultimately prevailed.

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Majority happy to see Lib Dems play a role in government

If the key Lib Dem aims of the last five years were first to prove that coalition government can work in our majoritarian, outdated democratic system and secondly that Liberal Democrats can be trusted to govern in the national interest and deliver liberal achievements, the election campaign has brought positive news on both fronts.

It is easy to forget how coalition was talked of before the 2010 election. It was the common view of most of the media and political establishment that coalition government, if even possible, would be weak and unambitious at best.

It is therefore a remarkable turnaround for it to be considered quite widely that a coalition this time round (and particularly one involving the Liberal Democrats) would provide the most stable, moderate government.

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A foreign-policy-free election?

RAF lightning II aircraft photo by defence imagesFor all its crudeness, the barrel bomb has to be one of the most brutally effective weapons around. An old oil drum, filled with that now all too familiar combination of explosives and steel detritus, dropped onto its fuse-laden nose from a helicopter, it seems, kills and maims in just the right proportions to terrorise those left behind.

It is little wonder, then, that the barrel bomb is Bashar al-Assad’s weapon of choice in his effort to wear down those parts of Syria with the impudence to have thought they could do better. It tells you all you need to know about the man that, having discovered that the wretched things seem to be particularly effective when aimed at young children, the regime, like so many despots before, has found schools to be an especially desirable target.

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Stephen Williams takes on 38 Degrees over “highly misleading campaign”

Just hearing the name 38 Degrees will, undoubtedly, make at least the candidates among LDV’s readership shudder. For the luckily unfamiliar, 38 Degrees is a campaigning group which mobilises individuals, primarily in an effort to bombard MPs and candidates with, often, hundreds of identical emails. Those of us involved in politics will have long heard the frustration of those on receiving end, who rightly complain that the campaigns are often only loosely based on facts, and selective ones at that, and often fit with Labour’s similar shaky narratives. The campaign against TTIP is probably the prime example.

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Anti-TTIP protestors reach #ldconf. A reminder of why they are wrong

At a previous party conference back in the autumn of 2013, Lib Dem party members voted overwhelmingly for a motion committing the party to wholeheartedly supporting the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

As we all (particularly parliamentary candidates, thanks to 38 Degrees) know, a massive campaign has appeared since then opposing the agreement, ostensibly over concerns that the NHS will somehow be threatened. Protestors were out in force outside the conference centre here in Liverpool, and given the number of members I saw signing the petition they were handing around, I thought it might be useful to set out again why those protestors are so wrong, not just in their opinion but on the facts.

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Protecting open and accessible justice: your help needed

The principles of open and accessible justice are key for all liberals, but they are principles that have been challenged in government by the woeful condition of the public finances and the Conservative appointments to the office of justice secretary. The Justice and Security Act and legal aid cuts have been bitter pills indeed for Liberal Democrats to swallow.

Today, another concerning reform takes effect, namely a significant increase in the fees for bringing what are known as “money claims” in the civil courts. They cover everything from serious injury claims to small businesses seeking to recover unpaid invoices.

For a long …

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Davey: Stop short-termist meddling in the energy markets

The FT reports comments by Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey aimed in part at George Osborne over recent interventions by the chancellor into the energy market:

George Osborne has been accused by a cabinet colleague of damaging the energy sector after the chancellor threatened “action” against companies which failed to pass on falling oil prices to consumers.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem energy secretary, said he did not know exactly what Mr Osborne was proposing and that such criticism of energy companies by politicians would “damage markets, investment and our economy”.

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TTIP and the NHS: Separating fact from fiction

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and United States. If agreed it will make it easier for companies and individuals across all EU member states and America to trade with one another, as well as encouraging greater bilateral investment.

I wrote generally about TTIP on LDV back in July, given that it is party policy to support the agreement. However, even at that point a concerted campaign had begun linking TTIP to the supposed privatisation of the National Health Service, with union leaders, campaigning websites and politicians calling either for TTIP to be abandoned or for special safeguards to be included.

This piece, therefore, addresses that issue in some detail.

Investor State Dispute Settlement

The “investment” part of TTIP seeks to increase the amount of foreign direct investment that flows between EU member states and the US. In other words, the amount of money that is spent establishing or expanding businesses or on other projects on which a monetary return is expected.

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How to further improve our comments threads: your suggestions please

Fingers on keyboardHere at LDV Towers we try hard to ensure that the comments threads on the site do not descend into the angry, abusive examples that are all-too prevalent around the web. As such, we have a clearly stated policy and the LDV team takes a fairly active approach to the moderation of comments. This takes up a sizeable amount of the team’s time (not least because those who post comments that breach our policy are inevitably more likely to transfer their rants to emails to us!).

Speaking albeit not entirely objectively, I think we do a decent job of keeping the worst of comments off the site, so (we hope) people can come here without fear of being personally abused.

However, speaking personally I think there is more we can do, in one area in particular.

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The Guardian’s “10 things we’ve learned from the Lib Dem conference”

The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow has once again collected together his thoughts on the ten main things we have learned from the last few days in Glasgow.

Here are the first three:

1 – The Lib Dems have no desire to give up power. Given that the experience of being in coalition has been so electorally catastrophic, you might expect the party to have some regrets. But they don’t, and there’s no appetite for a spell in opposition. As well as a desire for another try at government, the Lib Dems are also assuming there’s a good chance it will happen. If it doesn’t, the party is in for a psychological shock.

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Tim Farron’s “active and ambitious government” – some thoughts and questions

Tim Farron speaking - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsI am a fan of Tim Farron. His decency, thoughtfulness and authenticity add a great deal to our party and to our politics. He is also one of the party’s best speakers.

But I don’t always agree with him.

His speech to conference on Tuesday was very well-delivered. It also contained some interesting themes and observations.

I was very pleased to hear Tim defend globalisation, though it is a shame he chose to do so so briefly:

Don’t get me wrong: the rewards of globalisation are real.

The free movement of people, of capital, of ideas, have all made our society better.

And Liberals should always defend that freedom.

As I have written before on LDV, the successes of globalisation are immense, particularly in the reduction and, in places, near-elimination of destitution.

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Jeremy Browne’s ‘Why Vote Liberal Democrat 2015’ published

Jeremy Browne bookBiteback, the political publishing company, has just published a series of short books by figures from each of the four main parties making their case for voting for their party in next year’s general election. Dan Jarvis has written the Labour edition, Nick Herbert the Tory edition and Suzanne Evans the Ukip one (a new edition since 2010!).

The Lib Dem version is written by Jeremy Browne, MP for Taunton Deane, former home and foreign office minister and, of course, earlier this year the author of Race Plan.

Jeremy has split the book into the following chapters:

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Why talking about global poverty reduction without talking about economic growth is a mistake

chinese by Kenno McDonnellBetween 1990 and 2010, the proportion of those living in extreme poverty around the world halved (from 43% to 21%), despite significant increases in the global population. Approaching one billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty now than two decades ago. One of the key United Nations Millennium Development Goals was met 5 years early.

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Conference agenda published; deadline for amendments and emergency motions extended

Party members should last night have received an email from David Laws with an update on next month’s conference. The majority of the agenda and the directory have now been made available on the party website (some items will be published following the rescheduled launch of the pre-manifesto next Monday).

To reflect the delayed publication the deadline for the submission of amendments and emergency motions has also been extended to Wednesday 24 September.

Here’s David’s email in full:

Important documents for the Glasgow Conference, including the Agenda and Directory, have just been made available on the party website – please click to see them.

The Pre-Manifesto, which I have been leading on as chair of the Manifesto Group, will now be published next Monday along with the policy papers on Public Services and an Ageing Society (which also include some of the same new policy proposals)

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Rennie on the SNP’s “dishonest, desperate and disgraceful” NHS scaremongering

nhs sign lrgScottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie delivered a passionate speech yesterday setting out his positive arguments for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom.

A link to the whole speech is below, but he spent a bit of time rebutting some recent scaremongering by the SNP on the issue of the NHS:

And across the UK, few things unite people like our belief in the NHS.

Founded on the principles that it should meet the needs of everyone, that it should be free at the point of delivery, and that it should be based on clinical need not the ability to pay, it remains a source of pride in which each and every one of us has a stake.

These principles are unique and they are enduring.

For the Nationalists to claim that they are under threat is dishonest, desperate and disgraceful.

It is also factually wrong.

Despite the financial pressure of the global financial crisis, the NHS budget has been protected and NHS funding in England is now £12.7 billion higher than it was in 2010.

Private sector involvement in England’s NHS is paid for with public money, meaning that the cash equivalent is protected for Scotland – and the Scottish Government can spend it however they see fit.

The publicly-funded NHS was this year ranked best healthcare system across the 11 richest countries in the world – and we are determined to keep it that way.

But five weeks out from the independence referendum, and the SNP has suddenly started to pretend that funding is in doubt.

Standing on street corners, dripping poison about the NHS into the ears of passers bye is a sign of just how desperate they are becoming.

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LibLink: Tim Farron – Where have all the political giants gone?

CO 1069-1-3. Harold Macmillan. Photo by National ArchIves UKOver on, party president Tim Farron has been expanding on some of the themes of his weekend lecture. He begins with some interesting history:

When you ask me who my political heroes are, I will reel off a list of people like Beveridge, Penhaligon, Harry Willcock (the man who brought down the ID cards scheme in the 1950s) and Paddy Ashdown.  But in the last 12 months I have become attached to Harold MacMillan, when he was housing minister between 1951-1954. This admission usually raises an eyebrow or two.

Now, MacMillan is a much maligned political figure, I think that has much more to do with his association with David Cameron than to do with him. But as housing minister he was someone who, working under the post-war consensus, delivered one the best social policy achievements of the 20th century – he delivered 300,000 homes a year.

In 1951, he was appointed by Churchill to be housing minister – his task, to build 300,000 per year. It was a bold policy in the Conservative party manifesto and one many considered totally undeliverable. Famously, when tasked by Churchill, he was told: “It is a gamble. It will make or mar your political career. But every humble home will bless your name if you succeed.”

photo by:
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TTIP — the US-EU trade deal. What is it, and where is it up to?

Container Ship tradeAt last year’s autumn conference, the Lib Dems pledged to support a new trade agreement between the European Union and the United States — known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The motion, ‘Strengthening the UK Economy’ (pdf), called on the coalition to:

Increase trading opportunities by working in the EU to ensure that the success of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, doing everything possible to revive the World Trade Organisation led Doha Development Round and further integrating the EU services market.

Since then there has been significant …

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Lib Dems need to take every opportunity to get our message out there

Megaphone, some rights reserved by garrykinghtI’ve made no secret of my view that a change in leadership is likely to do little to revive Liberal Democrat fortunes at the polls given the rather more structural reasons for the decline in support for the party.

But I also recognise that to continue doing and saying the same things over and over again and expecting a different result is not only the definition of insanity but is unlikely to lead to an electoral revival:

We should not simply keep calm and carry on, but nor should we lose our heads either. The long-term success of the party is best served by

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Before learning lessons from Ukip’s success, we first have to put that success in perspective

UKIP logoMy LDV colleague Joe Otten yesterday kicked off what we hope will be a little mini series reflecting on the success of Ukip (and other extreme right parties across Europe) in last week’s European elections.

I agree with Joe that is something we should discuss with some seriousness – and I look forward to reading your contributions in the comments and in posts on the site.

But I think before we start to “learn lessons” we have to put the vote in some context.

It is difficult to think of conditions that could …

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Now is not the time for a bitter and bloody leadership battle

Nick Clegg addresses Birmingham Liberal Democrats conference. Photo courtesy of the Liberal DemocratsOne of the most interesting (and logistically challenging – though that’s another story) conference fringe events I have had a hand in organising through my involvement with Liberal Reform was a panel of fellow liberals from across Europe talking about their experiences of being members of a coalition.

I wanted to hold such an event to counter the all too prevalent assumption that the problems facing the Liberal Democrats are somehow unique to us. Because they are most certainly not.

Where parties enter …

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LibLink: Lord Wallace – EU membership is essential for Britain’s national security

European FlagWriting on the European Movement UK blog, Lord (William) Wallace has some interesting thoughts on the importance of European cooperation to Britain’s strategic and security interests.

Here’s a snippet:

The 2010 National Security Strategy stood out from its predecessors by its inclusion of a number of non-military threats among the most serious it sees as facing Britain: global epidemics, organised crime and cross-border terrorism , the impact of climate change, and cyber-attack.

photo by: rockcohen
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 1st Dec - 10:55am
    Merlene Emerson | Tue 1st December 2015 - 8:51 am Dual nationality is also an issue. The UK allows it. Therefore those taking up UK...
  • User AvatarDavid Pollard 1st Dec - 10:54am
    to Dave Orbison I would say read the Independent, Robert Fisk, James Cockburn, Jasmine Alibhi-Brown and Mark Steel.
  • User AvatarDavid Pollard 1st Dec - 10:51am
    Arguing about whether THREE British war planes should bomb Syria is Stupid. Listen to Corbyn. On this one he is right. Ask the questions:- Who...
  • User AvatarAndrew Hickey 1st Dec - 10:44am
    Joe, I think there's a simple consequentialist argument for inaction. As you say yourself, it is not definitely possible to say what the long-term consequences...
  • User AvatarThomas Shakespeare 1st Dec - 10:31am
    Hi David (again!) I would also add that members voted for coalition so if you think it was such a disaster (I don't) then surely...
  • User AvatarAndrew Hickey 1st Dec - 10:25am
    "Europeans and Commonwealth citizens being treated differently is of course historic" And then there are non-EU, non-Commonwealth immigrants, who don't get to vote at all....