Category Archives: The Independent View

The Independent View: Progressive and pro-European voters must unite against Tory-UKIP chaos

Britain stands on the edge of a cliff with the General Election only 105 days away.  Will we vote Tory or UKIP for Euroreferendum chaos, lasting two years at least and putting thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and our long term peace and security at risk? Or will Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and all progressive voters come together in the marginal seats that matter to elect a Parliament for progress and reform and a Labour-led Government with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister?  He has stood firm against the clamour for a referendum with considerable courage and nous.  Scotland shows how referenda, even with a 55-45 vote, can settle nothing, just open a can of worms.

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The Independent View: The upcoming election in Israel: the dawn of a new progressive era in Israeli politics?

For political progressives, the upcoming Israeli general election on the 17th of March may prove itself to be one of the most decisive in that country’s history, with most polls conducted in recent weeks pointing to a narrow victory for the centre-left alliance between the social-democratic Labor Party and the progressive liberal Hatnuah party. Not only would this mark the first time since 2001 that Labor has led an administration, but it will be one in which both liberals and socialists will be able to influence the drafting and passage of government legislation in the new Knesset, possibly marking the beginning of a new era of social-liberal reform in the State of Israel.

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The Independent View: After Charlie Hebdo, we must not sacrifice democratic ideals in the face of fear

The images of masked men walking around with assault rifles including the brutal execution of a French policeman will fill many of us with terror and fear. The chilling words of Charlie Hebdo writer Laurent Léger on the phone to his friend ‘Call the police. It’s carnage, a bloodbath. Everyone is dead’ are chilling.

It is tempting at a time like this to seek security at all costs and those in power are usually all too willing to oblige. We ask to be kept safe and they are more than happy to play the paternalistic state. They give the caveat that we must give up certain freedoms in order to achieve the safety that we crave both for ourselves and our loved ones.

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The Independent View: STV for local government in 2015!

STVactionThe Liberal Democrats’ mistake in 2010 was not to insist on STV for electing MPs – but merely to accept a referendum on a miserable little compromise – as a condition of entering into a coalition. This is not recriminatory. I appreciate the problems and pressures of negotiating a coalition and that senior Lib Dems wanted to create stability and help repair the damage to the economy.

I say it was a mistake not just with hindsight. I have believed it for about 50 years.

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The Independent View: Where Next for Royal Mail?

Royal Mail delivery trolleyWith privatisation done and dusted it was inevitable that the debate about Britain’s postal service would move beyond the public vs private argument.

Royal Mail is now a private company and is likely to remain so. It, of course, faced many challenges regardless of ownership which were certain to surface once it moved into the private sector. One of these is now coming across loud and clear. Namely the requirement of Royal Mail to deliver a universal delivery service to every UK address six days a week.

In response to falling profits, management and union within the company  launched a call to the regulator to require the competition to be bound by the same Universal Service Obligation as Royal Mail. This call has fallen on deaf ears.

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The Independent View: UK Foreign Policy and Western Sahara

Westernsaharamap2015 will mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco. With the UK’s concern about the rising threat of insecurity from the region, and a renewed focus on British values and human rights promotion within foreign policy, the UK can lead progress towards concluding the Western Sahara issue.

Western Sahara lies on the northwest African coast and is south of Morocco, north and west of Mauritania, and south west of Algeria. It is worth noting that Sahrawi society is one in which men and women play equally important roles. From 1884 to 1974 the territory was a Spanish colony but in line with the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960, the Sahrawi people were to vote on self-determination and independence upon decolonization.

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The Independent View: A reformed Prevent could tackle extremism more effectively

The government’s counter-extremism strategy, Prevent, is often criticised. Some say it acts like a thought-police, criminalises Islam and over-securitises places like schools. Others claim there is not enough buy in from Muslim communities, that it funds non-violent Islamists to tackle jihadists, or that it is not the government’s job to challenge ideology. Neither criticism is absolutely fair, but as criticised as Prevent is, it undoubtedly serves an important function and is here to stay.

While all terrorists are extremists, the vast majority of extremists do not use terrorism as a viable strategy, and a liberal and democratic nation cannot and should not deal with all extremists in the same way as it deals with terrorists. But catching terrorists who “love death as you love life” is a difficult proposition for the police or the security services when they’re keen to go down fighting and cause as much destruction as possible while they do it. Only dealing with extremism once it becomes violent and illegal is a high stakes game where the penalty for losing is the death of large numbers of innocent civilians. Tackling extremism of all kinds before it becomes violent can reduce the civilian casualties, reduce the number of violent extremists that have to be dealt with, and has the secondary benefit of challenging non-violent behaviour that nonetheless has a negative impact on British society.

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The Independent View: Why Liberal Democrat MPs should reject Government’s power-grabbing judicial review proposals

Undemocratic, unnecessary and unfair, over the past eleven months the Government’s crude attempts to curtail judicial review have been the subject of intense parliamentary debate. And yet today, as MPs are once again called to vote on the proposals, the government is attempting to pull off an unusual parliamentary feat: disregarding fierce cross-party criticism to make its proposals worse, rather than better.

Judicial review is the legal mechanism by which individuals and organisations can ask a court to check whether a public authority has acted lawfully. The powers of the court in a judicial review are limited, but in a modern democracy, where great power is concentrated in the hands of the executive, it is one of the great and vital levelers. 

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrat MPs should vote against secure colleges which would put younger children and girls at risk

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails” said Nelson Mandela. Well, what would it reveal about the state of our nation if we were to hold our youngest children and some of the country’s most vulnerable girls in unsafe conditions where they felt fearful, intimidated and isolated?

On Monday, Liberal Democrat MPs will cast the deciding votes on whether this becomes a reality.

The Commons will consider an amendment made by the House of Lords to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill on “secure colleges” – the new form of child custody introduced by the Bill. These will be very large institutions (there’ll be 320 beds in the first one) which Chris Grayling, the Tory Justice Secretary, is adamant must hold girls and boys between 12 and 17 years of age.

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The Independent View: The political culture in Britain seems to have been infected by a form of madness

With each electoral gain made by Ukip, politicians and the media respond with ever more apocalyptic descriptions of the insidious effect of mass immigration on this small overcrowded island.

A vivid picture is painted daily of a nation overrun by swarms of migrants who are taking our jobs, lowering our wages, scrounging our benefits, crowding our schools, clogging up our hospital wards, destroying our culture and boiling our children before eating them for breakfast.

Well, maybe not the last bit, but some of the scaremongering rhetoric comes close to such levels of hysteria. It would be laughably surreal were it not so inflammatory and potentially damaging, particularly when it is stirred up by people in positions of power and influence who really should know better.

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The Independent View: What do the public want on migration?

In what seemed an inevitability, Theresa May admitted the annual net migration cap was “unlikely” to be met. The target of 100,000 a year net migration to the UK has long been posited to be unrealistic, and Cameron’s “no if no buts” pledge to meet it impossible. Yet in spite of this every year the government has pushed every effort to bring down migration levels.

We’ve seen caps on the amount of skilled non-EEA workers, much to businesses’ chagrin. Barriers put in place on UK citizens naturalising partners, heartbreakingly splitting up families. Curbs on international students resulting in the first drop in international student numbers in 30 years. None of these measures have worked to bring down net migration levels, but each have threatened family life, the financial health of our universities and our businesses’ access to the top talent.

Moreover there’s little evidence that the public actually supports these measures.  In public polling the public is unquestionably in favour of international students, with a plurality believing they bring in more than they take. Equally the public is in favour of professionals coming to the UK to work, with a majority seeing such workers as good for Britain. On spouses a solid majority support UK citizens naturalising their immediate family.

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The Independent View: Save our safety net

Four children are left home alone for five days. Social services step in to move the kids out to live with their father. But there’s a problem: the council have found a flat for the newly formed family, but it is unfurnished. The dad lives on a low income and does not have the savings to buy five beds and mattresses, and all the other furniture that is needed. If the property isn’t adequately furnished, the children will have to be taken into care. (See case study here).

Situations like this exist up and down the country. In this case, the family were awarded a loan from the local welfare provision (LWP) scheme run by their local authority which allowed them to start again after this period of massive instability. But if they lived in a different part of the country their local provision might not have been as generous, or the local council simply may not have established a scheme at all. And with central government funding to councils for LWP currently under threat, support of this type is likely to be even more limited in the future.

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The Independent View: Direct democracy in Wales

The idea of recall caught Welsh media attention on Monday, when Kirsty Williams, Welsh Lib Dem leader, made the case for this form of direct democracy to apply to Assembly Members if 20% of local voters signed a petition.

Direct democratic methods such as recall, referendums and petitions are increasingly popular, especially among those who least trust politicians. For many of these citizens, taking control into their own hands is preferable to either creating more politicians (mayors; assemblies) or giving the existing crop more powers. So as Westminster continues to debate a (limited) form of recall, it makes sense for Wales to consider similar measures. After all, Wales suffers a similar disconnect from formal party politics as other parts of UK and actually has the lowest turnout in any devolved elections. Kirsty Williams’ model is an improvement on the current proposal before Westminster, which puts the recall trigger in politicians’ rather than citizens’ hands.

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The Independent View: Will 2015 be the turning point on wage growth?

image001Another Bank of England inflation report, another set of rosy forecasts for earnings next year. Just as 2014 was supposed to be the year of the pay rise, now it seems 2015 will be the year when things turn positive.

And, according to the Bank, wages won’t just creep into positive territory next year, they are going to take something of a jump upwards. In the last quarter of 2015 the Bank expects nominal wage growth of 3.25% at a time of inflation of 1.4% – so a gear shift from the current position of at best flat-lining real pay to healthy growth of roughly 1.8% in a year’s time.

How sceptical should we be?  The Bank’s Chief Economist has been admirably forthright in highlighting his organisation’s own habit of promising sunshine tomorrow, with spring always just around the corner but never coming to pass, as the chart below from his recent speech illustrates. At some point, though, things have to brighten. And every passing month in which unemployment continues its fall and GDP continue to rise makes a degree of optimism about the following year that bit more plausible.

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The Independent View: Time for the Lib Dems to capitalise on their cities’ opportunity

ldv centre for cities fringe - oct 2014There has been a flurry of interest in cities and the economic regeneration of the North from all sides of the political spectrum over the past few months, so it was not surprising to see them feature strongly during party conference season.

Over the three weeks, we created a platform for each of the parties to debate and explore how their parties could turn the rhetoric into reality, and win the hearts and minds of Britain’s cities at the 2015 Election. It was fascinating to see representatives of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems argue that their party alone possessed an unrivalled philosophical affinity with urban voters.

(Pictured is the Centre for Cities fringe meeting, co-hosted with LibDemVoice – “Urban battlegrounds: how can the Liberal Democrats win in cities in 2015?” – with Stephen Williams MP, Cllr Wendy Taylor (Newcastle) and Lord (Ben) Stoneham.)

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The Independent View: Ministry of Justice costs reforms undermine Vince Cable’s aim of tackling rogue directors

Statue of Justice - The Old BaileyA key message the Business Secretary Vince Cable has been keen to stress during his time in government is the need to tackle rogue directors: he’s announced plans to produce “stronger deterrents” and “more robust sanctions” to quash ‘dodgy directors’. Dr Cable’s – and insolvency minister Jo Swinson’s – policies on protecting creditors from rogue directors are certainly worth developing, but they are at risk of being undermined by policies being put forward by the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice has been seeking to tackle the costs of litigation, but its reforms will end up having a big impact on the insolvency profession’s ability to combat rogue directors and will have disastrous and costly consequences for small business creditors and the taxpayer.

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The Independent View: The Liberal Democrats and civil society

It’s been a tricky 18 months for Lib Dems and charities. Of course the party has traditionally been close to the voluntary sector. Many current parliamentarians previously worked in it. But the Lobbying Act opened up a serious rift. Charities are now suffering the consequences of this illiberal and undemocratic limit on their free speech. With an election fast approaching, how has the party tried to heal the wounds?
This year at ACEVO – the social leaders’ network – we decided to do go beyond the usual third sector manifesto-writing and ask a range of Lib Dems to set out in detail their vision for civil society and politics. The result was The Yellow Book of the Voluntary Sector, a book of essays we published at conference in Glasgow. Its contributors show promise in their view of the voluntary sector, but there’s still some way to go.
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The Independent View: Banning wild animals in circuses – a popular law whose time has come

adi-logo_2There was a time when the UK led the world on animal welfare issues. We were one of the first to ban the use of animals in cosmetic product and tobacco tests, and end fur farming. Sadly though, we have lost our global leadership on other animal issues, most spectacularly on animal circuses. A total of 27 countries have now introduced measures prohibiting such acts, leaving the UK lagging way behind.

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The Independent View: Baking the UKIP Cookbook

UKIP-cookbookWe live in baffling times. Who, for example, can explain why Boris Johnson is still a thing? And why has no one told Ed Miliband that continually addressing a large number of strangers in a room as “friends” is just the sort of weirdness that someone whose weirdometer needle is already hovering over the danger zone should really avoid doing.

And then there’s Michael Gove.​ Just baffling.

But nothing is quite as baffling as the appeal of UKIP. That a bunch of fear-peddling, isolationist, blame-everyone merchants seem attractive to a large minority of the British public is not just confusing: it’s embarrassing.

So we’re doing what any sane, politically-aware progressives would do: we’re writing a spoof cookbook about it. Obviously.

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrat vote on flooding shows politics of climate change is shifting

Liberal Democrats have this morning voted to protect hundreds of thousands of households from flooding and climate change.

The welcome move is thanks to the passage of a policy motion, tabled by Lib Dem activists Duncan Brack and Neil Stockley, that calls on the Government to “Ensure flood defence spending is kept in line with that needed to protect against climate change impacts”.

Current flood defence investment is far below what’s needed to keep pace with our changing climate. As heavy rainfall increases and sea levels rise, numerous experts have urged that Government investment in flood protection should rise correspondingly. The Environment Agency made such recommendations in 2009, but these were ignored by Chancellor George Osborne, who cut the flood defence budget by £100million. The Committee on Climate Change calculates that a huge shortfall of £500million has now emerged between what’s being spent and what’s needed.

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The Independent View: Constitutional reform is back in fashion

ERS logoFor so long, those who care passionately about political reform have been told there are more important things to worry about – that tax, welfare and housing will always take precedence over the constitution and questions of process.

The Scottish independence referendum has almost put an end to that kind of talk. As the Liberal Democrats have always known, politics and the constitution fundamentally shape the collective decisions we make, and are therefore of the utmost importance. The referendum also undermined the old put-down that no one cares about constitutional reform. Try telling that to the 97% of Scots who registered to vote, or the 85% who went to the polls. When the stakes are high enough, people will get involved.

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The Independent View: IFS Director Paul Johnson – Balancing the books: some unpalatable choices

Paul Johnson is Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He will be speaking on ‘Balancing the books – tax and spending choices in the next Parliament’ alongside Ian Swales MP and Anne Fairpo of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, with BBC Scotland’s Business and Economy Editor Douglas Fraser in the chair, at 6.15pm on Tuesday at the SECC (Dochart 1). All conference attendees welcome.

We weren’t supposed to be here. When George Osborne delivered the Coalition’s first Budget in June 2010 the plans he set out suggested that the job of rebalancing the nation’s finances would be more or less …

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The Independent View: Bridging the gap between rhetoric and reality before May 2015

A few weeks ago the Liberal Democrats announced the five green laws they would introduce if they remain in Government after May 2015.  The detail from their pre-manifesto will be debated at Conference this week. As a staunch greenie, is it always nice to see a party putting the environment at the centre of their party’s pledges. At the last election, Friends of the Earth praised the Liberal Democrats for having the greenest manifesto of the three main parties (pipped to the top spot by the Greens).

But after nearly one term in office, there is now a big question over the party’s green credibility.  So there are three key questions on their green laws that the Liberal Democrats need to provide the right answers to – pronto.

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrats – Please make compulsory Sex and Relationships Education a red line Issue

Women’s organisations gave a huge welcome to David Laws’ announcement in August that the compulsory teaching of good quality Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) from age seven onwards will be in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. And we hope to hear this policy cheered loudly at Liberal Democrat conference this weekend.

Is it not shocking that in 2014 this subject is not compulsory in schools? All schools are currently statutorily required to do is teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, and schools can choose to insert the teaching into any subject they choose (science, RE, PSHE if it is taught at their school – it’s not compulsory either).

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The Independent View: It’s time to rethink Trident

Last year, Trident was a huge debate at the Lib Dem conference. It was an open, vibrant, genuine debate where differing views were passionately put. This year, Trident is nowhere to be seen in official conference business – even though the parliament elected in just a few months’ time will decide the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons system.

This seems a glaring omission for a party which has such a strong track record of engaging with this most important of Britain’s strategic defence questions. Indeed it is the only major Westminster party that – like the majority of the British population – recognises the importance of changing Britain’s nuclear weapons posture. And it has fought hard to do so. I’m sure no active Lib Dem member needs to be reminded how the party struggled to ensure that questioning the future of Trident was part of the coalition agreement and how Nick Harvey, as Defence Minister, made sure that alternatives to Trident were actually reviewed.

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The Independent View: The need for a new economic alternative

Mountain roadThe social impact of the measures introduced by the Coalition Government, as I highlighted in a previous article, has demonstrated the failure of a strategy based primarily on austerity, and lends credence to calls for an alternative economic strategy close to the heart of the rank and file of the Liberal Democrats, based on encouraging growth through measures such as tax cuts and increases in the minimum wage to stimulate consumer spending, and investment in public works such as roads, hospitals, and schools to create jobs and boost industrial activity.

Criticisms have been levelled against those who call for expansionary, Keynesian-style measures to encourage growth, arguing that the additional output generated would not yield enough tax revenue to finance tax reductions or higher government spending.

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The Independent View: Politicians don’t do enough to find out what we really want

The Scottish referendum was an important debate for the people in Scotland to have as it affected the future of Scotland and the UK as a whole. It got the whole country involved – which isn’t always the case with politics. However I don’t think I was alone in feeling like I had heard enough of the seemingly endless campaigning.

People always talk about what women voters want, and the referendum was no different, but it sometimes seems like while the politicians talk about what we are interested in they haven’t really bothered to ask us.

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The Independent View: Looking at ways to help student entrepreneurs

The slogan ‘Stronger Economy, Fairer Society’ is only as strong as the policies that support it.

We, at the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE), are pleased that the Liberal Democrats, in partnership with the Conservatives, have introduced a series of measures to put meat on the bones of this catchphrase.

Vince Cable’s Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) department has been busy beavering away on initiatives that help small businesses, including young entrepreneur start-ups. Young people like Arnold du Toit, who is worth £8 million in his mid-twenties after inventing a motorised golf trolley, and Jamal Edwards, whose YouTube videos progressed to a TV channel, show the kind of innovation Britain needs more of.

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The Independent View: The Coalition Government’s economic strategy – time for a rethink?

Credit: Freefoto.com

The global financial crisis of 2008 has left Britain facing one of the most difficult periods in its economic history, as characterised by falling real wages and deepening poverty amongst the poorest members of our society. The actions taken by the Coalition Government since taking office in 2010 have arguably done little to tackle the social consequences of the economic downturn and have, in fact, exacerbated these problems, casting doubts on the validity of the government’s economic strategy as a whole.

Business groups have expressed a lack of confidence in the Coalition’s shambolic handling of the economy during much of its time in office. In November 2012, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation awarded the government 5 out of 10 points in its record on creating jobs and opportunities, noting that the government’s decision to cut back on work experience in schools and careers advice could reduce the prospects of young people entering the workforce, while a senior Conservative politician in April 2013 accused George Osborne of caution and timidity by not taking bolder measures in restoring the country’s economic health. The Coalition’s economic strategy also came under fire a year ago from the IMF, which drew attention to the country’s lacklustre economic performance, with output 3% less than it was in 2008.

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The Independent View: Government can ensure that the election debate on welfare and tax reform is informed as well as impassioned

HBAIThe changes to taxes and benefits that came into effect in April 2013 are the Coalition’s most important single package of work and welfare reforms. Some, above all the bedroom tax, have provoked fierce opposition. Others, like the replacement of council tax benefit by council tax support, have impacted millions.

But April 13 was also the moment when the income tax personal allowance went up by the largest amount ever, returning £5 a week to the pocket of anyone earning between about £9,500 and £41,000 a year.

Add in the fact that the knock-on effects of reforms as time passes are not always the same as the immediate ones and it is clear that this package of changes will have had complex and often contradictory effects, especially at a time when the economy itself had once more started to grow again steadily.

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