Category Archives: News

No football last week, so why not pick your Fantasy Politics team instead?

fantasy politicsThis week’s internationals mean no English Premiership action so no further update: positions are as they were at the end of Week 3.

Which gives me the opportunity to preview Demos Fantasy Politics which operates throughout the party conference season. All you have to do is select a dream-team of up to nine MPs, three from each party: you have until the start of Labour’s on 20th September, a week today, to enter your team. I’m part of the judging team for the Lib Dem conference. Further details as below…

As conference season approaches Demos Fantasy Politics is back, letting politicos battle it out to prove their insider know-how and political nous.

Demos Fantasy Politics lets you select a dream-team of up to nine MPs, three from each party, and score points in a series of conference-based categories. Media coverage and social media mentions will be rewarded, while embarrassing gaffes and tiresome clichés will be suitably punished.

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Michael Moore’s International Development Bill passes its first Commons hurdle

michael-moore-mp-secretary-of-state-for-scotlandMichael Moore’s Private Members’ Bill, which enshrines the 0,7% of GDP target for international aid into law, passed its Second Reading in the Commons today by 164 votes in favour to just 6 against. It will now go forward to be studied in more detail by a Committee. In July he wrote for this site about why he’d chosen this issue.

Speaking during the debate, Moore, who was International Development Spokesman for the Party in the run up to the last General Election, said:

Right now we are in the midst of an almighty debate about our future.

Development is a small but important part of the debate in Scotland. Reaching the UN target is an achievement of the UK as a whole, including Scotland.

As part of the UK, Scotland belongs to a family of nations which are the world’s second largest donors of international aid.

And we are not passive in this process either with 40% of the staff at DFID based in Abercrombie House in East Kilbride.

Together, with the rest of the UK, our money goes further and our impact is stronger.

Scots who want their country to be a force for compassion and relief should reflect on what we have achieved today.

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By-election update: All holds

This week saw six council by-elections in Carlisle, Cumbria, two in Newark and Sherwood, Newham and Vale of White Horse. All the incumbent parties held their seats.

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Nick Clegg calls for Police and Crime Commissioners to be scrapped

Speaking on Radio Sheffield this morning (here, from 1h36m) Nick Clegg has said that he always had misgivings about Police and Crime Commissioners, and has said it is “now time to scrap this experiment”.

The Conservatives have to explain “why their promise that PCCs would attract independent members of the public have actually become a way for ex or failed politicians to have another lease of life, which is what we have seen in Shaun Wright and others like him.”

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Well, that rather blows a hole in the Yes campaign’s NHS claims, doesn’t it?

I don’t often use the word “lies” in politics. I save it for the most egregious examples of political dishonesty. One which has made me incredibly angry recently has been the Yes campaign’s utterly dishonest campaign on the NHS. They argued that a Yes vote was the only way to protect the NHS, saying that privatisation in England meant that there would be less in funding through the Barnett Formula. Preying on the fears of some of the most vulnerable people in our society is completely unacceptable.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has just, to put it mildly, proved the Yes campaign wrong. This is what they have to say:

Independence would give the Scottish government more freedom to set spending and tax policies. It would also, in principle, have more freedom to borrow. That freedom would be constrained by the size of the debt it would likely inherit and the willingness of markets to lend. On most plausible scenarios it is hard to see how an independent Scotland could “end austerity” in the short run. In work published this summer we showed how, on the basis of the independent OBR’s oil forecasts, an independent Scotland would likely still have a deficit of 2.9% of GDP (borrowing of about £800 per person in today’s terms) by 2018-19 even if it followed current UK government tax and spending plans – plans that are forecast to lead to the UK as a whole actually having a small budget surplus by the same year. In this case an independent Scotland would need to implement bigger spending cuts (or more tax rises) than the UK as a whole or try to borrow more. This means it would likely be harder rather than easier to protect the NHS.

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Former Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth re-appointed as an Electoral Commissioner

David HowarthFormer Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Spokesperson David Howarth has been re-appointed as an electoral commissioner by the Queen.

From the Cambridge News:

The appointment was announced this morning in the House of Commons before the start of the day’s business, with Mr Howarth joined by Lord Horam.

The chair of the Electoral Commission and other electoral commissioners are appointed by the Queen at the request of parliament and are charged with ensuring fair and proper running of elections.

Liberal Democrat Mr Howarth previously served as a commissioner from October 2010 to September 2013.

 The Electoral Commission website has more on the roles and responsibilities of the Commissioners..
During his last stint as a Commissioner he co-wrote the foreword to a report which started to look at a new structure for electoral law across the UK. The report outlined the 25 pieces of legislation which govern elections and looked at how those could be streamlined.
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Those Scottish independence polls: why the Don’t Knows mean Yes should be concerned

Since the YouGov poll showing a narrow Yes lead was published at the weekend the Westminster Village has flailed into hyper-active over-drive. Even today’s Prime Minister’s Questions was cancelled to allow the three party leaders to descend on Scotland and bolster the flagging No campaign.

Personally I cannot begin to describe the extent of my ambivalence. As a federalist, I’m caught in a pincer of equal distaste for Alex Salmond’s and his cybernats’ nationalist aggression and the shrill Anglo-presumption of unionist politicians and commentators that the Scots need saving from themselves.

The Better Together campaign’s frayed nerves will be partially soothed by the latest poll released tonight purporting to show No leading by 53%-47%. I use the word purporting quite deliberately. Here’s why, courtesy ComRes’s blog:

Ignore the “don’t knows” at your peril

Most of the recent headlines have been generated by reports which have excluded “don’t know” respondents from the calculation. This gives a neat prediction of the final split. But it can be a misrepresentation of the polls.

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Opinion: Blast from the Past: Wisdom from the old Liberal Party

Amidst the party’s recent problems, a lot of people have been talking about the party’s principles, and in particular, the preamble to the constitution.

As a statement of principles, it’s fine – I would imagine that most Liberal Democrats can sit through it, nodding in broad agreement. It speaks to my head – but not my heart.

And we mustn’t imagine that it’s set in stone. I recently dug up this beauty: the Preamble to the Constitution of the old Liberal Party, from 1980. It’s stirring stuff, and is really worth a read.

The original preamble was …

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LDVideo: “Hypocrites, idealists and liars – can politics be sincere?” – watch Shirley Williams debate with George Galloway and Peter Oborne

Recently, Shirley Williams took part in a debate held by the Institute of Arts and Ideas, on the subject of sincerity in politics. Also participating were George Galloway, Peter Oborne and Philip Collins, speechwriter to Tony Blair.

We must confess to not yet having had the time to watch the whole thing but we like what we have seen, like the bit when Shirley Williams takes Galloway to task for misquoting her and he, who had been in a massive rant about how politicians were a bunch of liars, was forced to admit he’d been exaggerating to make his point.

Shirley talks about how the media contribute to false perceptions of politicians, giving an example of how someone said to her that they could never vote for her because she was all for state education yet sent her son to Eton. Shirley doesn’t have a son.

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Paul Tyler writes … English Devolution:  we’re working on it!

england-flag

I’m glad to see Lib Dem bloggers thinking aloud about devolution in England.

In particular, this very concise piece by Nick Barlow on his blog is excellent, though neither it nor Matthew Green’s rather more critical tone, or even Stephen Tall’s, reflect the fact that the Party has already been thinking, developed proposals and had them endorsed by members at conference.  We are ahead of the game and should say so!

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David Laws on Lib Dem plans for the General Election

Yesterday Nick Clegg officially launched our pre-Manifesto, which will be debated at Federal Conference next month. David Laws was asked by the BBC about the costings, and he said:

We will publish the figures before the next election, but what Nick Clegg did say today is that the proposals that are in our pre-manifesto that we published today are considerably less expensive than the manifesto that we stood on in 2010. I personally am confident that if we were a Liberal Democrat government by ourselves, and we didn’t have to negotiate with other parties, then all that we’ve put in our pre-manifesto is actually deliverable.

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Paul Scriven writes … From a council estate to the House of Lords

House of LordsPaul Scriven was made a peer just a month ago, and here he reflects on the path he has taken through life.

As the son of a dustbin man from a council estate in Huddersfield it was never in my wildest imagine that I would ever be in the House of Lords. Now that I have it is with a sense of both pride but just as important with a clear duty not to forget my journey in life and to fight for a more Liberal and fairer UK.

I know very well that the Liberal Democrats core aim to make sure all have opportunity to reach their full potential is a touch stone that makes us different from other parties. I wish to use my new role to fight to open opportunities and make sure that ladders for people to climb to reach their full potential are firmly planted for more people. I will make sure I shout up to ensure this happens. Also to fight with all my northern spirit those who seek to deny opportunities.

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Yes, Scotland should have more independence. Wales too. But don’t forget the English

I’m a federalist which, I guess, places me somewhere between the unionists and the separatists. Which means that, as I ‘fessed up last February, I’m much more ambivalent about the case for Scottish independence than most Lib Dems:

I believe in power being as close to the people as possible. Is ‘devo-max’ or full independence the best way to achieve that? That’s the key question Scots need to be able to answer by September. Ironically, it’s the one not on the ballot paper.

So I’m not as fazed as many down south are by the apparent tightening of the polls suggesting …

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Clegg’s pitch to Scotland to say No to independence: “Change is on its way.”

nick clegg euThe weekend news of the first poll pointing to a possible Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum has dominated the headlines – and it may prompt those parties campaigning for Scotland to remain within the UK to commit irrevocably to further devolved powers to the Scottish Assembly. That was the strong message today from Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, speaking at a press conference this morning:

For the first time in my political lifetime, there is clear, unwavering unity on this question. Finally, everyone who believes in the United Kingdom believes in more power – more control for Scotland, in Scotland.

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Lib Dem pre-manifesto launched: includes policies to reform drugs laws and bus pass discount for under-21s

pre manifesto documentLast week’s pre-manifesto launch by the Lib Dems was postponed owing to the international situation. Thankfully no important news has broken over the past couple of days which might over-shadow today’s launch. Unless, that is, you think the potential break-up of the UK or a new Royal Baby are headline-grabbing events.

You can read the Pre-Manifesto in full below.

The party trailed its publication today with a couple of announcements intended to highlight key policies:

  • ‘Exclusive: Liberal Democrats to announce decriminalisation of all drugs’ headlined Politics.co.uk:
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    Opinion: The power of the state to confiscate your passport and citizenship

    The British Prime Minister has explained that there is a significant risk to our security, due to Muslim residents of the UK travelling to fight with IS/ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and returning radicalised to the UK.

    The remedy, supported by Lib Dem parliamentarians, is for the government to follow the USA and give itself the power to stop people travelling out of the UK, and to generate ‘no fly lists’.  In addition, it has also been explained that the UK government is seeking the power to strip people of their acquired UK citizenship, if you travel to Syria or Iraq with the potential intention to fight.

    The rationale for these sweeping authoritarian powers for the state, seems pretty flaky. Why does it apparently apply to Muslims travelling to Syria and Iraq and not the more numerous other religious zealots travelling to other countries to fight ? How is ‘intention to fight’ defined, even if it can be ? And are we to believe that persons travelling to countries they have no connection with to die for their religion are not already radicalised ?

    The problem we are told is global jihad. But why commit people to legal limbo in countries abroad where they are prey to all sorts of folk ? If we know who they are, isn’t it better to have them identified and under watch in the UK after they return, than getting up to who-knows-what in the Mid East ? If such returnees commit terrorist acts in the UK won’t that be an intel failure ? But if they cannot be identified in the first place then all these new measures are useless anyway.

    As eminent senior counsel at BIICL’s Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law have shown, such powers are routinely used more widely than intended, and in this case it is likely that they will eventually be used against those merely disagreeing with the UK’s foreign policy, rather than militarised religious extremists.

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    How do those of us who want Scotland to stay in the UK turn things around after Yes poll lead?

    The news that the Yes campaign has taken the lead in a You Gov poll just 11 days before the referendum on Scotland’s independence is worrying. Everyone is nervous and jittery. Yes campaigners, daring to hope that they are on the verge of an historic victory will be motivated and scared in equal measures. For those of us who don’t want to see our country split up, it’s, well, squeaky bum time. However there is another poll today which shows No slightly ahead. The news is not all bleak.

    This is far from over, though. The atmosphere is tense and febrile. Yes supporters confidently display their badges and posters but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve spoken to enthusiastic No voters who say they won’t put up a poster because they are worried about it being vandalised. It was noticeable in Edinburgh yesterday that “No thanks” posters were appearing, but on the top floors of tenements, out of stone and egg range. People shouldn’t have to feel like this.

    So how do pro-UK supporters regain the momentum? Only a month ago, after the first debate, we were 22% ahead in the polls. At the moment we are anywhere between 6% ahead and 2% behind.

    I don’t intend to rehearse the many failings of the Better Together campaign. That can, and should, be done at leisure after 18th September. The on-the-ground Better Together campaigners are fantastic but they have been let down by strategic decisions and organisation which combine the worst of Yes to AV with the best of The Thick of It.  They just don’t seem to be on the same wavelength with the Scottish public. How anyone could have thought the recent Party Political Broadcast featuring a woman’s clumsy and contrived monologue was in any way appropriate is beyond me. Robust analysis of the Yes campaign’s proposals was always going to be necessary but every bass needs a melody to make it palatable and that just hasn’t happened.  Given that there is so much to inspire about our shared history, heritage, culture and achievements, that is a tragedy.

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    ‘Yes Scotland’ takes first poll lead of campaign. Peaked too soon or Big Mo timed just right?

    st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TTwo polls in the Scottish independence referendum debate were published last night. The one that’s (understandably) getting all the attention is YouGov’s showing a wafer-thin Yes lead, 51% to 49%. It’s only the second poll to have found a pro-independence majority (the previous one was over a year ago). The other poll, commissioned by the SNP, continues to show No in the lead, 48% to 44%.

    Peter Kellner in the Sunday Times has a good summary of the factors that will likely decide the outcome in the final 10 days’ campaigning:

    Factors that could favour a Yes vote

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    David Rendel selected as Lib Dem PPC for Somerton and Frome

    David Rendel - Some rights reserved by Martin TodCongratulations to former Lib Dem MP for Newbury, David, Rendel, who was last night selected by Lib Dem members in Somerton and Frome as the party’s parliamentary candidate for the May 2015 general election. David will be attempting to retain David Heath’s seat, won in 2010 with a majority of 1,817 over the Tories.

    The party has previously selected a PPC for the seat. Sarah Yong was selected in February this year, but stood down five months later. There had even …

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    Jim Wallace outlines his case for Scotland remaining in the UK

    For 6 years, Jim Wallace was Deputy First Minister in Scotland. On three occasions, he stood in as Acting First Minister. That Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition at Holyrood governed with a can-do attitude at a time of optimism. It delivered some pretty revolutionary things. Free personal care, decent freedom of information, no tuition fees, land reform, getting rid of Section 28 (or Section 2A as it was in Scotland and introducing proportional representation for local government which demolished old Labour fiefdoms. The 8 years of that coalition was focused on what could be done. The 7 since has been focused on what Holyrood can’t do as the SNP claim that they need more powers to deliver the society they want. Their arguments would have a great deal more credibility if they had come close to using the powers that they have. Wallace and his Labour First Ministers almost wrung the neck out of the Scotland Act and if it was found wanting, they found a way to deliver their plans.

    To date, nobody has used the tax varying powers that Holyrood has, though and next year brings a whole swathe of new responsibilities and powers in the largely forgotten Scotland Act. That may all be irrelevant in 10 days’ time if we’re looking at a Yes vote in the referendum. I will write more later about what I think the pro UK side has to do to turn the swing to Yes around, but for the moment, have a look at what Jim Wallace told the Church of Scotland this week. He talks a lot about his own personal faith, which may not be for everybody, but stick with it to the end because there is real vision and passion in there about social justice and about giving power back to communities.

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    Typo of the Week award goes to Mark Pack

    Mark PackMark wrote a piece about a Conservative Councillor being disqualified after conviction on a firearms charge.

    Spot the wonderful typo.

    If he’s corrected it, here’s the screen grab:

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    ‘Bedroom Tax': Lib Dem Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill wins key Commons vote backed by Lib Dem / Labour MPs

    andrew georgeA year ago Lib Dem members voted at the party’s conference for an urgent review of the impact of what’s termed by critics the ‘Bedroom Tax’. Two months ago Danny Alexander announced he’d be recommending a major U-turn on the policy. And this afternoon, as the BBC reports, Lib Dem MPs teamed up with Labour to vote through reforms which mean that tenants who cannot be found a smaller home will be exempt from the cuts, as well as disabled people who need a spare bedroom or who have adapted homes:

    Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs have joined forces to defeat Conservatives in a Commons vote to partly overturn housing benefit changes. MPs backed the Affordable Homes Bill at second reading by 306 votes to 231.

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    By-election update: Labour’s Oxford by-election tactics slammed

    Election count progressingThere were three principal Council by-elections this week in Oxford, Shepway and Surrey Heath.

    In Carfax ward (Oxford City Council) Labour held on with 168 votes (44.2%; +15.6%). Tony Brett, the Liberal Democrat candidate who finished fourth in May’s local election, came a respectable second with 101 votes (26.6%) and increase of 9% since May. The Green Party slipped from first in May to third on Thursday with 16.6% (-14.2%). The Conservatives and UKIP both polled 24 votes (6.3%).

    Turnout in the ward was a record low of just 8.6%. …

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    ++Vince Cable to vote for Bedroom Tax reform

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    Harm reducers hit back against WHO e-cigarette denormalisation

    Various outlets are reporting research by University College London indicating that for every million smokers who switch to electronic cigarette, 6,000 lives per year can be saved. This follows WHO advice that vaping indoors in public places should be banned in order to maintain the culture war against smoking.

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    Cardiff Council under Lib Dems: Clear leadership, effective financial management. Cardiff Council under Labour: Fragmented leadership, weak performance

    One of the most heartbreaking things about the last four years has been seeing really good, outstanding Liberal Democrat Councillors lose their seats and Liberal Democrat councils losing office through no fault of their own.

    This stuff matters because, frankly, if the quality of services a Council provides deteriorates, people suffer.

    Compare and contrast the Wales Audit Office reports of 2011, when the Liberal Democrats were in power, and 2014 when Labour were two years into their term of office.

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    Call Clegg: A well-informed 9 year old, empathy with the Kings and the moral dilemmas of dealing with terrorists

    Nick stopped off at LBC on his way to the NATO summit in Newport. As an aside, my heart has been warmed by the lush and beautiful Welsh countryside, but who have planning permission for that building in the middle of it? Could they not have built something with more of a soul?

    The star of the show was 9 year old Rowan who was incredibly well-iinformed about the school meals policy, telling Nick that his school meals weren’t that healthy and that the evidence of their efficacy in improving learning was a) marginal and b) more relevant at Key Stage 2 than 1. It is worth listening to the whole exchange. Nick said that it’s difficult to target by areas because 4 out of 10 children in poverty don’t qualify for free school meals. He said that the evidence is that if you want all children to do well, having them share a healthy meal together at lunchtime it has a dramatic effect. Sadly, though, it means that Rowan’s sister at his old school is missing out on her gym class because the gym is being used for dinners. It was absolutely brilliant to see a 9 year old completely confidently arguing with the Deputy Prime Minister. We need more of them. Nick referred Rowan to read Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent’s School Food Plan. I have the feeling we haven’t heard the last of that young man.

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    Clacton and the Lib Dems’ post-2015 wastelands problem

    Clacton Pier.The Clacton by-election triggered by Douglas Carswell’s defection from the Tories to Ukip will take place on 9th October – David Cameron’s birthday, but also the day after the Lib Dems’ autumn conference concludes.

    That’s not great news for the Lib Dems on two counts. First, it means the media will likely be obsessing more about Clacton than what’s happening in Glasgow (unless, that is, Yes Scotland has won the referendum).

    And secondly, the party’s not expecting a great result. There have been two constituency polls conducted to date (

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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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    Opinion: A real respect agenda

    As we near 18th September and the Independence referendum vote the language of some commentators and politicians on both sides has become less respectful and in some cases quite febrile.

    Unfortunately that has included our own party where in the last few weeks we have seen speeches reported on Liberal Democrat Voice using the language of:

    Standing on street corners, dripping poison about the NHS into the ears of passers-by

    and

    nationalist thugs

    It’s a language that has been compounded by our agreement to adverts that suggest the only way to demonstrate your love for your children is to vote No.

    The Yes Scotland …

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