Category Archives: The Independent View

The Independent View: rediscovering Grimond’s insights

At this year’s party conference, Tim Farron and Nick Clegg both argued that a huge new swathe of centre ground had opened up in British politics, with Labour shifting to the left and a newly emboldened Conservative government moving to the right. That is a risky assertion. It defines liberalism against its opponents, rather than for itself.

For a party battered, but not dispirited, by recent election results it is important that it defines itself with a positive vision for liberalism in the 21st century, not merely against its opponents’ positions.
If the Corbyn project collapses and Labour elects a more …


The Independent View: Trident: It’s time to make the right decision

At a time when the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons system is under intense scrutiny – not least due to the anti-Trident position of Labour’s new leader – it is good to see Lib Dem Conference once again at the cutting edge of debate on this crucial issue. In government, the Lib Dems did much to challenge the pro-Trident consensus of the main parties. It may not have been the full anti-Trident position that many of us would like, but the ‘no-like-for like’ position certainly helped open up the debate. Now it’s time to move onto the next stage. It’s a crucial time to get this policy right as parliament is expected to vote on Trident replacement in early 2016.

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The Independent View: Liberals need solutions to the migrant crisis – and conflict prevention will be key


So this was the tragedy of a Britain with open hearts and closed borders. The growing humanitarian crisis in Syria coupled with instability in North Africa is creating one greatest migrations waves seen since the end of World War II. Jordan alone has taken over 1.1 million displaced Syrians and is now suffering water shortages that could lead into larger migrations into other Middle Eastern nations.

The reaction to this has been largely isolationist policies, with commentators in the UK describing these migrants anywhere between ‘cockroaches’ and ‘a swarm’; the narrative media focused on dehumanising those fleeing conflict.

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The Independent View: Tim Farron’s election as leader provides hope that the party will embrace and enhance the green roots held dear by members and activists.

Congratulations to Tim Farron, an MP who has long championed environmental causes. His voting record, especially during the coalition years, was consistently green. In 2013 Farron was one of 16 Lib Dems to rebel and back a 2030 decarbonisation target. How different the energy politics landscape would look had more Lib Dem MPs (and later peers) joined him and ensured there was now a decarb target in the statute books to provide long term certainty for investors in the face of growing short term uncertainty.*

But that was then. With Tim Farron at the helm we look forward to the party adopting stronger green positions, such as Farron’s repeated pledge to oppose fracking. Most importantly – and in a move that puts clear water between him and Andy Burnham, the leading candidate for the Labour leadership – Farron’s opposition is on the grounds that burning shale gas is incompatible with tackling climate change:

Shale gas will only have a future in the UK if we abandon, or significantly scale back, our climate targets – and that’s something that I hope every Liberal Democrat would oppose

This is the sort of clear leadership sorely needed in the fight against climate change and the pressing need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Only the Greens and Plaid Cymru have made so clear the climate change rationale for opposing fracking (in addition to the more widely accepted risks to communities’ air, water and peace).

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The Independent View: Benefit the nation and the voters

If the Liberal Democrats get about half UKIP’s votes (8% against 14%) but about 10 times as many MPs 20 – 30 against 2 – 3), will the Liberal Democrats stand by their principals and demand electoral reform?  In particular, will they insist on the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which they have always recognized as the best voting system for voters?

The Liberal Democrats have had five years now to learn the hard way what some of us warned in 2010, based on our observations of continental Europe where coalitions are normal; the senior partner takes the credit for popular decisions and blames the junior partner for unpopular ones.

If the Liberal Democrats had got STV for this election as a condition of entering into coalition in 2010, they could now be looking at winning about 52 seats for about 8% of the vote.  Admittedly, UKIP might be expecting about 91 seats but, if that is what voters want, so be it.

The real point of electoral reform is not to benefit this or that party but to benefit the nation and the voters.

With electoral reform for this election, the SNP could expect about half the Scottish seats (30) for about half the Scottish votes instead of all the seats (59) for half the votes and not be in pole position now to hold the UK to ransom.  Please see David Green’s excellent exposition on for more on this.

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The Independent View: Political inequality threatens constitutional holy cows

ipprIt is time to put some holy constitutional cows out to pasture. The traditional liberal reform agenda remains necessary, but it is no longer enough to reanimate our democracy. Too many of its solutions remain insensitive to how class and demography intimately shape how our political system operates; structural political inequalities in who participates and has voice will not end with a codified constitution and a more proportionate electoral system. Liberals of all party stripes and none need a new political agenda squarely aimed at reversing ingrained political inequality, a phenomenon that threatens the integrity of British democracy.

Last week, President Obama said: “it would be transformative if everybody voted. If everyone voted, that would completely change the political map in this country.” He’s not wrong. “The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups,” he said. “There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.” America is already a divided democracy, and the UK is headed in the same direction.

Political inequality is where despite procedural equality in the democratic process, certain groups, classes or individuals nonetheless have greater influence over and participate more in political decision-making processes, with policy outcomes systematically weighted in their favour. As such, it undermines a central democratic ideal: that all citizens, regardless of status, should be given equal consideration in and opportunity to influence collective political decision-making.

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The Independent View: An apology from 38 Degrees

On 26th March, the staff team at 38 Degrees posted an image to our Facebook page, attempting to simplify the confusing debate on pledges to fund the NHS. Unfortunately, we got the numbers jumbled up and drew criticism from several different political parties – including Lib Dems on this website. This is an apology and an attempt to explain where we went wrong.

Our graph compared NHS funding pledges for 2015-16 from the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour, against the additional £8bn of funding that NHS England says it needs by 2020. We ended up comparing apples and pears. Lib Dems quite reasonably complained that presenting the information in this way obscured their flagship pledge to match that £8bn target by 2020. Both Labour and Conservatives have avoided matching that pledge.

Labour supporters also complained. We showed the Labour figure on the graph as £2.5bn – based on their pledge of £2.5bn in the “time to care” fund. But Labour says this £2.5bn is additional funding – £2.5bn on top of what the government has already said it’ll spend. And it’s due to be realised much sooner than 2020 (though it seems it’s disputed exactly when). So they argued that their bar on the graph should have shown them £2.5bn higher than the Conservatives or Lib Dems. Meanwhile, some Green Party and UKIP supporters complained that we’d failed to feature their positions at all.

It’s extremely hard to compare like-for-like pledges on NHS funding, given the different timescales and assumptions on which each of the parties claims are based. It’s well nigh impossible to compare them through the medium of one, simple bar chart which conveys all the relevant information.

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The Independent View: Countdown to the Election

Lib Dem Voice has received this article from Matrix Chambers, a law firm that specialises in election law. It offers the opportunity to sign up for weekly briefings during the election period.

It’s trite to say, but we are just weeks away from the most important General Election in a generation – especially for those interested in election law. The culture of fighting elections – and the public’s role within that – has changed in recent years owing to new technology. There is now also new (and untested) legislation restricting the actions of professional third party campaigners.

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The Independent View: Incentives matter in our education system

Incentives matter in our education system. The right ones encourage our schools and teachers to deliver the very best education the system has to offer.

Yet in the run up to the general election, politicians would have us think otherwise. Rather than creating the incentives for excellence to spread, they seek to drive performance from the centre. Cross-party support for a new college of teaching illustrates this shift in rhetoric, with politicians trying to magic more high quality teachers without thinking about the underlying incentives. The so-called “Cinderella” teaching profession really has found its fairy godmother.

The academy school programme is all about incentives. By freeing schools from local authority control and management, the aim is to allow innovation to drive better education for pupils.

Yet better incentives are needed if academies are to drive large scale transformation across the country. According to a survey of academy schools Reform published last year, many academies are inhibited from using their freedom to innovate. Two thirds of the 654 academies surveyed had yet to make changes to the curriculum, staff terms and conditions or the school day, despite having the freedom to do so.

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The Independent View: A new report from CentreForum highlights the problems with Labour’s tuition fees policy

A new report entitled “A Labour of Love?”, released today by CentreForum and written by Tom Frostick and Chris Thoung, weighs up the pros and cons of Labour’s recently announced policy on tuition fees, one which revolves mostly around the fees being cut from their current £9k maximum to a £6k ceiling. The report can be read here.

On the plus side, the policy does acknowledge the importance of maintenance grants. It also reopens the discussion that needs to be had regarding the balance between state and individual investment in undergraduate education by lowering the percentage of loans the government estimates will not be repaid. It would also apply to all undergrads, including those currently studying, so would be fair in that regard.

But there is a lot to say about the policy that is negative. If introduced, it would have little to no impact on a staggering lowest 60% of graduate earners and would mostly benefit higher earning graduates only (and even then, up to twenty-eight years after they’ve left university). It is also costed in such a way that could discourage pension saving, and its higher interest rate scheme for wealthier graduates contributes only modestly to the intended progressiveness of the policy. 

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The Independent View: The Liberal case for airport expansion is strong

Centre Forum aviationThe debate over airport expansion, particularly in the South East, has been raging for decades. Later this year, it is due to reach a crucial moment as Howard Davies and the Airports Commission publish their final report. Ahead of this, CentreForum has published a report looking at the liberal case for aviation and explaining how genuine concerns over environmental challenges, noise and regional growth should be addressed.

Though not directly concerned with Liberal Democrat policy, the report does raise questions over the wisdom of the party’s current position.

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The Independent View: Half of the public are likely to change their vote after examining the parties’ policies

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 14.15.40Last night, I found myself in the strange position of introducing a panel of speakers at Birkbeck, including John Curtice and Dr Rosie Campbell, to discuss whether the internet can have an impact on our voting habits. I say strange because just 5 years ago, I had no real interest in politics. I suppose I was like most people, engaged a little around election time but otherwise never really bothered by what went on in Westminster.

But yesterday, the organisation I set up during the 2010 election, Vote for Policies, organised this debate in partnership with The Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, as we released some really interesting data from our users: 50% of people polled on the Vote for Policies website say they are likely to vote for a different party as a result of using the site. A further 63% say they are surprised to discover which party’s policies they support. You can read a full report of the debate here.

Vote for Policies allows users to compare policies on topics like education or the economy, without knowing which party they belong to. 166,000 surveys have been completed since its soft launch on February 19th 2015. 1,111 users completed the poll on which our findings are based.

I set it up because before the last election I came to the frightening realisation that I simply didn’t understand the differences between the parties’ policies, which led me to read all of the manifestos in detail. For the first time, I felt informed and ready to vote – but most people don’t have time to trawl through manifestos, so I wanted to make this process easier for everyone else. You can take the survey here.

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The Independent View: Location, location … taxation? The benefits of a locally-driven mansion tax

A tax on high-value property is a long-standing Liberal Democrat ambition, yet one which remains controversial. If and when it is adopted by government, it must be directed locally if it is to address key concerns.

The chief benefit of a mansion tax is to discourage purely speculative housing purchases. Falling demand for luxury property from prospective owners unwilling to pay tax on homes they are not inhabiting would encourage a greater focus from developers on homes affordable to the majority.

Of particular concern is the 70% of newly built homes in central London bought by non-UK residents in 2013. Existing housing stock in an under-supplied market must be used more efficiently. Combined with other new taxes on such property and a strengthening pound, the effect of a targeted mansion tax could be especially strong on ‘non-dom’ owners.

This complements the inherent advantage of a mansion tax. By taxing value arising from features inherent to the property such as its location or design rather than endogenous decision-making by economic agents, it avoids the negative incentive effects associated with income tax. 

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The Independent View:  How to bring  an end to cold homes

respublica_logo_hi_res1 in 10 households in the England are in fuel poverty. This is national scandal which we need to address.

The coalition has made progress, improving the energy efficiency of over a million homes, but as the proposed ‘Green Homes Bill’ in the Liberal Democrat manifesto recognises, much more can be done to cut energy bills for the fuel poor and help bring an end to our cold homes crisis.

The current energy efficiency scheme aimed at the fuel poor, ECO (the Energy Company Obligation) in its current form is not up to the job of responding to the scale of the challenge which confronts us. We need to go further to ensure the most vulnerable in our society are not faced with the unenviable choice between heating and eating.

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The Independent View: Let’s make 2015 the last ever lottery election

Who could have predicted it? Who would have thought that four years after the Alternative Vote was firmly rejected by voters in a national referendum, we would be approaching the 2015 general election with First Past the Post at Westminster under serious scrutiny? Or that local electoral reform could be a realistic outcome of power-sharing talks between Liberal Democrats and one or other of the major parties (provided Lib Dems make it a ‘red-line’ issue)?

What are the game-changers? Firstly, FPTP’s supposed ability to deliver clear majority government was justification enough for many to put up with the obvious lack of proportionality.  That no longer applies. As The Economist says: “Unaccustomed and ill-adapted to multi-party politics, Britain is more likely to get weak, unstable governments. That will only fuel the dissatisfaction with career politicians in the main parties. And if the parliamentary system comes to be seen as both unfair and ineffectual, then it is in for a crisis of legitimacy.”

With FPTP stripped of its main justification, other arguments are also coming to the fore. In The Lottery Election, published last month by the Electoral Reform Society, Professor John Curtice argues that relatively small shifts in opinion could have massive effects at the Westminster level. Meanwhile, UKIP could come 6th in seats but 3rd in votes, and SNP could come 6th in votes but 3rd in seats. So far, so unfair.

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The Independent View: “How to save public service choice for liberalism?” a CentreForum paper by David Boyle

David BoyleIn a series of essays that CentreForum will be releasing over the next few months in anticipation of the book, The Challenges Facing Contemporary Liberalism: 2015 -2025, the liberal think tank has today released “How to save public service choice for liberalism?” by David Boyle, which can be read here.

It is the fourth in the series; the first, On Blasphemy by Maajid Nawaz, can be read here; the second, an essay by Tim Farron, Neil Stockley and Duncan Brack on green growth and climate change, can be read here; the third, “Bold liberal tax reforms for a stronger economy and fairer society” by Adam Corlett, can be read here.

David begins by stating that never has one word caused as many problems as “choice”. The word has become nebulous, and different political parties use it in very different ways. What the paper focuses on is what the word means for liberals.

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The Independent View: “Bold liberal tax reforms for a stronger economy and fairer society” – a CentreForum essay by Adam Corlett

In a series of essays that CentreForum will be releasing over the next few months in anticipation of the book, The Challenges Facing Contemporary Liberalism: 2015 -2025, published today is the paper “Bold liberal tax reforms for a stronger economy and fairer society” by Adam Corlett, which can be read here. It is the third in the series; the first, On Blasphemy by Maajid Nawaz, can be read here, and the second, an essay by Tim Farron, Neil Stockley and Duncan Brack on green growth and climate change, can be read here.

Adam’s paper examines the tax system and identifies six key challenges facing any incoming government post-May 2015: simplifying income taxes; taxing investment intelligently; fixing corporate tax biases; reforming inheritance tax; taxing real estate; and making consumption taxes fair.

photo by: Alan Cleaver
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The Independent View: Commons must debate key Medical Innovation Bill before election

Maurice Saatchi’s Medical innovation Bill has caused controversy and inspired a passionate debate on how doctors and scientists can and should speed up medical advance for currently incurable diseases.

The Bill is designed to do two things. First, it will offer clarity and confidence to doctors who want to innovate and move away from standard procedures.

When might that be relevant? In most cases standard procedures work and innovation is unnecessary. There is a vast quantity of scientifically validated data which supports standard medical procedures.

But in some cases – specially for rare and incurable diseases –  there is little scientific data and no effective treatments. In such cases, a doctor and the patient may face a choice, between applying the standard treatments, even though they are known not to work and will lead only to death, or to try something new.

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The Independent View: A cheaper but credible alternative to Trident

TridentOne of the strange things about recent elections is the lack of debate about defence and international affairs. So far, the current election campaign is no exception, despite the reality that the choices the next Government makes will limit our strategic options over the next 30 years.

The key decision is whether or not to replace the existing Vanguard­-class Trident submarines at a capital cost of up to £33bn, £3.3bn of which has been spent thus far. A decision to pursue replacement would commit between a quarter and a third of the total Ministry of Defence (MoD) equipment budget to Trident – every year – from 2018 to 2032. It would deny the conventional forces of the investment that they need to remain capable of world-wide operations in support of the UN and regional peacekeeping and, where necessary, intervention and peace-enforcement.


The Independent View: Analysing the common ground between Lib Dem and Labour policy positions

Today sees the release of a combined piece of work between the Fabian Society and CentreForum that details what the policy overlaps between the Lib Dems and the Labour Party are, according to the most up to date data. The report is entitled “Common Ground? An analysis of the Liberal Democrat and Labour programmes”, and can be read here. By extension, the paper sets out what the discussion might look like should the two parties find themselves negotiating a government after the general election in May. The report does not recommend such an arrangement; it only seeks to outline …

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Opinion: Wanting zero suicides and dignity in dying are neither contradictory nor hypocritical

DADiDMany Lib Dems may not have been aware of the fact that amongst disabled activists recently, the Party has been at the centre of a hotly debated issue over suicide prevention and the legalising of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent dying people.

Earlier this month, Leader Nick Clegg hosted a mental health conference with Liberal Democrat Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb. Together, they announced the admirable ambition of the NHS working towards ‘zero suicides’ – a key target for suicide prevention of people with mental health issues.

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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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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJohn Roffey 30th Nov - 6:14am
    Toby Fenwick 30th Nov '15 - 12:45am "I’m completely with you on the COP negotiations. But we can (and should) be capable of doing more...
  • User AvatarBruce Marsland 30th Nov - 2:47am
    The use of military air power is a tactic, not a strategy. Similarly, the destruction of ISIS is an objective, not a strategy. There is...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 30th Nov - 2:38am
    The case is nothing like strong enough. Anyone who thinks Lib Dems should help Cameron have his own military escapade really doesn't want us to...
  • User AvatarGlenn 30th Nov - 1:29am
    Little Jackie Paper. I don't know about Dennis Mollison, but I do sometimes wonder if our meddling in the ME is just the latest manifestation...
  • User AvatarToby Fenwick 30th Nov - 12:48am
    @Jonathan Brown - yes, Johnathan, I almost completely agree. I wouldn't rule out a NATO ground force at some point in the future, however.
  • User AvatarToby Fenwick 30th Nov - 12:45am
    @John Roffey I'm completely with you on the COP negotiations. But we can (and should) be capable of doing more than one thing at once.