Category Archives: Op-eds

Europe or the world? It’s a false choice.

“Do you agree that the UK should leave the EU and trade with the world?” That’s the question on the front page of the UKIP website, and presumably how they want to start framing the referendum debate once they launch their own No campaign later this week. “Out, and into the world,” as it was put in the 1970s.

But that’s a false choice. We don’t have to choose between Europe and the world. We can have both.

Let’s start by emphasising just how important the European marketplace is to British business. Last year, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s exports to the rest of the EU were worth £226bn – 12 times the value of the stuff we sold to China and 33 times what we sold to India. Between 2000 and 2014 the value of our exports to the rest of the EU rose by £80bn; the value of our exports to China rose by £16bn, and to India by just £4bn. China and India are important, growing markets with lots of potential, but let’s not forget just how important Europe is and will remain.

photo by: rockcohen
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Tim Farron is right: Osama Bin Laden’s death was not a tragedy

Tim Farron was widely quoted on Monday, for perhaps the first time since his election as leader. The good news is that he was correct in his point. He was responding to a resurfaced quote from Labour leadership favourite, Jeremy Corbyn, who has said to Iranian TV that Bin Laden’s death was “a tragedy”, as it was unlawful and he should have been put on trial instead.

That the killing of Bin Laden was illegal has been a favourite proposition of the Galloway-ite hard left, so it isn’t a surprise to see them jump up and defend Corbyn. But I was surprised to see a few serious liberals, including Paddy Ashdown in the past, also voice this and criticise Tim for his intervention.

Their premise is that Bin Laden was a common criminal, and thus “due process” should have been followed, with him legally arrested and brought to trial. But this view is based on a foundation that is both legally dubious, and naive in practicability.

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Lord William Wallace writes…Shrinking the State?

Liberal Democrats need to clarify where we stand on how large a public sector we support, the balance of public spending and administration between state, national/regional and local levels, and the appropriate division between private and public provision in our economy and society.  We are now faced with a Labour Party which is likely, under its new leader, to reassert large-scale state-level spending, and a Conservative Party that wants to shrink and weaken both the central state and local government.

The Conservative Government contains a number of convinced libertarians, with an almost anarchist streak in their antagonism to state action, civil servants and public services (I know – I worked with some of them until last May!).  The current rule on regulatory policy, for instance, is that ministers can only introduce one new regulation if they can find three comparable regulations to abolish: a deregulatory bias that will run into problems when the next food or health safety scandal hits.  OECD projections for government spending indicate that the UK currently intends to reduce public spending from 42% of GDP in 2014 to 36% in 2020 – taking Britain from European to North American levels of public provision.  Whitehall Departments are preparing for cuts of between 25 and 40% in ‘unprotected’ public spending.  On some calculations local authorities will have barely half the financial resources in real terms in 2020 that they had in 2010.

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Sexual harassment and assault of women on trains must be taken more seriously

I am rather embarrassed when I see members of my own gender rushing into comments threads about women’s rights/safety with “This is sexist against men”/”What about men/everybody”-type comments.

A) It’s boring. B) It’s embarrassing. Do they not realise how stupid they look?

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Tim Farron MP writes…Liberal Democrats will work with anyone to reform the House of Lords

Yesterday, the news was released about the latest tranche of appointments to the House of Lords.  The Liberal Democrat peers will be, as they always have been, constructive and conscientious. Where we agree with the government we shall support them and where we don’t we shall work to amend and if needs be oppose.But the principle matters, Liberal Democrat peers were appointed on the pledge ‘to abolish themselves’.

The Lords has two functions. To revise and to hold the Executive to account. The first it does quite well, the second it does not at all – how can it when, by definition, it is a creature of the Executive?

The Lords is wholly undemocratic and will never have the legitimacy it needs for a healthy democracy until this is changed.

Every party in their manifestos hints at reform or abolition of the second chamber, but the Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to it. So today we recommit our party – and its new Peers – to working actively for the reform of the House of Lords and ideally its abolition in favour of an elected second chamber. We urge the other parties to join us in this effort.

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Conference Countdown 2015: Human Rights motion – we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water

As many will know, there is an excellent motion on Human Rights to be debated at the Bournemouth conference. I have set out the motion below this post.

I have one query which readers may be to help me with.

It pertains to this section of the motion:

Conference resolves to:
…C. Retain the Human Rights Act unless it is replaced with a Bill of Rights which incorporates and builds on those rights set out in the ECHR and oppose any attempts by Conservatives to introduce a British Bill of Rights which does not achieve this.

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Jo Swinson writes…Dissolution honours make the contribution of women look invisible

Congratulations to all of the new Liberal Democrat Peers announced today.  They will strengthen our existing excellent team in the Lords, fighting for a democratically elected second chamber while in the meantime using their power to provide a check on the government and its worrying assaults on the poor, on our civil liberties, and on the environment.

It’s also good to see recognition for those in our party who have served our communities and our country so well – Sir Vince Cable, Dame Annette Brooke, Ben Williams OBE and others.

What is depressing and wearily familiar, however, is the missing women.

But surely our Lords list is balanced?  5 out of the 11 nominations (45%) for the peerage go to women, which is progress I suppose – of the 40 people nominated to the Lords under Nick Clegg’s leadership, just 17 (43%) were women.

And 45% women wouldn’t be so bad if the existing Lords group was well-balanced, but of our 101 Peers, just 35% are women – so we’re still far from equality.

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Lord Jim Wallace writes: New Lib Dem colleagues will campaign with me to reform House of Lords

It is desperately disappointing that to many people outside Westminster, the impression that they have of the House of Lords is that espoused by the press over the course of this summer following the reported behaviour of Lord Sewel.

In the days and weeks that have followed, we have seen many claims that Peers abuse their privileged position by not pulling their weight and not taking seriously the role that they are supposed to perform by virtue of their membership of the Lords.

This view is compounded by the fact that no member of the House of Lords has been elected by the general public to be in that position. And each and every one is secure in that membership for life. This is fundamentally wrong.

Regrettably, the good work of our Peers has been overshadowed by a few members of the Lords who, over the years, have shown disregard for their status and responsibility as public servants.

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Why I’m not going to castigate Jeremy Corbyn over women only train carriages

Twitter is having one of its more febrile moments over Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for women-only train carriages.

I actually think that there are reasons to praise Corbyn for floating the idea.

First of all, it’s pretty good to see a male politician think that the issue of sexual assault on public transport is an important one that we should do something about. Where were the other politicians, including Liberal Democrats, when the statistics showing showing an increase in reported sexual assaults came out last week?

Secondly, look at what Corbyn actually said:

Some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women only carriages.

My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform, to the bus stop to on the mode of transport itself. However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome – and also if piloting this at times and modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.

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The crowded centre-left

The “crowded centre-left” may seem an odd phrase to use when the Labour Party appears to be about to lurch off to the hard left, but there is some context here for both the self-indulgence of Corbynism, and for some of the decisions we will have to make as a party in the coming months.

Many, notably David Howarth and Mark Pack, have argued, in an otherwise very good paper, that the socially liberal, economic right is a desert, and we must be pitching our tent economically on the centre left.

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How would Jeremy Corbyn actually lead the Labour party?

It was bad enough watching Ed Miliband rather out of his depth as leader of the Labour party. He seemed to sit back in his study quite a lot, talking with his inner circle. He did quite well at PMQs sometimes. But you got the impression that he wasn’t really fully in charge. This was made worse by unfortunate (and somewhat irrelevant) incidents such as the bacon sandwich episode.

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The Glass Ceiling Is Higher, Not Broken

The idea that we need to encourage more women in politics is not an uncommon one and it’s certainly not one I disagree with. As a woman interested in politics myself there are very few women in politics whom I can look up to. This is not because there’s a lack of talented women, it’s that for some reason they’re turned off to the idea. However, all-woman shortlists are – in my opinion – not the way to solve this issue. It’s said that since Labour implemented all-woman shortlists that a female candidate has never won against a male candidate on an open shortlist. If true, that really does not sound like a progressive and liberal way forward for the Liberal Democrats. That’s why it’s concerning to me that Willie Rennie has backed the idea of gender quotas and all-woman shortlists.

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William Wallace writes… The future of the left

We’re entering another phase of the ‘future of the left’ debate, whether or not Jeremy Corbyn emerges as Labour’s next leader. So it’s worth remembering previous cycles of this debate, what they revolved around, and how Liberals and Social Democrats responded to them. There are some lessons to learn, and warnings about what to avoid.

Richard Rose’s book, Must Labour Lose?, after the third consecutive Conservative victory, in 1959, set out the issues that Labour struggled with in the early 1960s: a gradual decline in working-class solidarity, a younger generation with aspirations to join the middle class, trade unions torn between anti-capitalist activists and the natural conservatism of many of their members, and a leadership divided between socialist intellectuals, trade unionists, and Fabian reformers. As a new student in 1959-60 I was amazed by the plots and conspiracies which preoccupied the different factions of the university Labour Club, and found the Liberal Club far more constructive – as did many others. The first Liberal ‘revival’ surged to its peak in 1962-3, with policy proposals bubbling and party membership briefly above 300,000. Labour limped back into power in the 1964 election, more because of the exhaustion of the Conservative government and the scandals that surrounded it than because of any positive appeal. Jo Grimond, who had spoken warmly about ‘the realignment of the left’, made friendly gestures to Harold Wilson about parliamentary support when Labour’s hold on power looked shaky, in early 1965; when Labour’s opinion polls improved that summer, Wilson repudiated any cooperation with the Liberals, and went on to win a decisive majority at a second election in 1966, demonstrating that in the UK’s constitutional system Labour was the only credible alternative government to the Conservatives.

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Disgraceful attitude to mental health disguised by the warm words of Iain Duncan-Smith

Listening to Iain Duncan-Smith can be enough to send anyone to sleep. He drones on and one can be lulled into thinking he is being quite reasonable.

However, behind his warm words, there is a chilling attitude to disabilities and particularly to mental illness.

He seems to be saying: There must be something you can do if you are suffering from depression.

And: If we start cutting your benefits, that’ll act as a little nudge to push you gently into work.

Blimey. What planet does he live on?

Having had a little experience of mental illness and those suffering from such long-term disabilities, I have to say that none of this washes.

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Willie Rennie backs all women shortlists

Willie Rennie has announced that he supports the use of all women shortlists and quotas to improve the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ appalling record on gender balance. He is to lead a group which will draw up specific proposals for the 2019 European, 2020 Westminster and 2021 Holyrood elections.

The Scottish Party looked on in shock when members in the North East did not place highly effective Justice Spokesperson at the top of the list when it was selected at the end of last year. Since then, and particularly following the General Election, there have been strong calls for much stronger action on gender balance. Willie has consulted widely within the party and he announced his plans at the Scottish Party’s and Scottish Liberal Democrat Women’s Everyday Sexism Open Mic event in Edinburgh yesterday.

The Working Group to be led by Willie will consider all options including:

•         All women shortlists

•         Making gender a part of the party’s electoral strategy

•         Quota systems

Willie said:

I have lost patience with the current system and its inability to ensure proper representation of women.  It is now time to take the necessary action to deliver change.

A fresh start for the Liberal Democrats requires us to change.  We need to be more reflective of the people we seek to represent and to perform at our best we need to deploy our best people to make the case for our cause.

Despite an abundance of talented women the party has been unable to put enough in positions to get elected.   It is difficult to make the case for opportunity for everyone when only one of our parliamentarians is a woman.

Twenty years ago my party agreed in the Constitutional Convention to work towards a gender balance in our Scottish Parliamentary representation. Yet since the Scottish Parliament was created we have elected no more than two women at the four elections to Holyrood.   I determined to finally deliver the commitment made to the Constitutional Convention.

Encouragement and organisational support is simply insufficient to overcome the barriers to electing women.

That is why I will lead a working group to finalise proposals to put to the Spring Conference of the Scottish Liberal Democrats that will break down those barriers and increase the representation of women Liberal Democrats in Parliament.

It is my intention that the new arrangements will be in place for the European Election in 2019 and will also apply to the 2020 General Election and 2021 Scottish Parliamentary Election.

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I’m so glad I don’t have a vote for Labour leader

So, I was watching the 10 o’clock News last night and saw our Stephen Tall flaunting his Labour leadership ballot paper.

As he explains, he wasn’t out to do a Toby Young and vote for Jeremy Corbyn:

I was ambivalent whether I would actually exercise my vote, but decided that, if I did, it wouldn’t be to troll Labour by choosing Jeremy Corbyn: I would vote for the candidate the other parties would least like to face.

Assuming, that is, Labour gave me a vote. After all, the party assures us they have “rigorous due diligence” processes in place to weed out infiltrators from other parties. Having stood for election against Labour a few weeks ago, I half-assumed they’d (quite legitimately) disenfranchise me.

But then yesterday morning I received my online ballot paper…

Stephen decided to register as a supporter to see how their leadership process worked as an interested observer. By rights, any decent verification process would have spotted him and got rid of him. Instead, it seems to be getting rid of long term Labour supporters whose social media profiles were a bit too lefty for them. In fact, it plays into the hands of lefty conspiracy theorists that someone who would, if he’d voted at all, have voted for Liz Kendall, received a ballot and they didn’t.

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The EU referendum puts our free movement rights at risk. Everyone affected must have a vote

One of the most positive aspects of the #LibDemFightback since May has been the enthusiasm among our influx of new members to fight for a Yes vote in the forthcoming EU referendum.  A recent survey found this was their number one reason (quoted by 84%) for joining the party. With the government gearing up for a vote as early as June next year, there is no doubt that Liberal Democrats must play a central role, both in the campaign and – crucially – the passage of the Referendum Bill, which defines the question, timetable, and franchise.

Incredibly though, the government looks set on excluding from the referendum the very people whose lives will be most directly affected by the result. Britain is now home to around 2.4 million citizens from other EU countries – who are, incidentally, among those who contribute most to our economy and society. Meanwhile, an estimated 2.2 million British citizens live in other EU countries. Both groups owe their residence to the free movement rights which stem directly from EU citizenship – yet under current plans, neither will have an automatic say in the referendum which will determine where they are allowed to live and work.

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In praise of…New Zealand’s referenda culture

This summer, the global news media was not at all rocked to its foundations by news of New Zealand’s forthcoming referendum on a national flag.  The centre-right National Party led by John Key is in the middle of a (possibly misjudged) bid for centre-ground opinion by pursuing a symbolic rebranding of the nation. In a country with a complex colonial legacy, this is arguably opening a can of worms – but maybe a necessary one.

I’m in no position to assess the relative merits of the many flag proposals, but I am intrigued by the process. A long-list will be …

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Vlogging to victory

It may not have done Labour much good, but Ed Miliband’s biggest achievement of the whole election in my mind came when he managed to secure an endorsement from Russell Brand. Not that I’m saying having Russell Brand back you is that great, but it’s an achievement. Why? Because he is a figure that many young people look up to and pay attention to and – regardless of whether we think that’s a good idea or not – we have to respect that.

The BBC news website reported the other day that vloggers (Video Bloggers) had been given advertising guidelines. This increase is due to the fact that “YouTube celebrities” are now effectively plain old “celebrities”, with figures such as the writer and one half of the vlogging duo “Vlogbrothers” John Green celebrating the release of the film “Paper Towns”, one of his own novels. As the article states “Nearly a quarter of 11 to 19-year-old girls (24%) view well-known fashion and beauty vlogger Zoella as a role model”, hardly a small audience.

This is a realm of influence as yet mostly untapped by the other parties. I remember a few years ago the vlogger/comedian Humza Arshad made a video endorsing Ken Livingston for the Mayoral election, again I hear you say it may not have changed much but the influence is there. Humza now works with police to counter extremism in young people further demonstrating the influence these YouTube have with younger audiences. 

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“No holds barred” discussion on sexism in Lib Dems to take place in Scotland

About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about how the behaviour of some men was driving women out of politics. I said:

I’ve seen good women driven away from active politics out of sheer exasperation at the way powerful men exclude and demean them. Participation in politics should not require putting up with such behaviour and politics itself is better when it more accurately reflects the society we live in.

A start would be for us all to be much more aware of our behaviour and that of others. Men in powerful positions, have a look at your own behaviour. Do you exclude women, do you behave aggressively towards them in a way that you would never do to a man? If so, change your behaviour. Decide that you won’t do that in future. It’s not difficult.

The rest of us need to look out for women who are being treated like this and challenge disrespectful behaviour. Even if we don’t agree with what they say, we should always support their right to be heard and treated with dignity. Let’s tackle our everyday sexism.

The comments thread that followed was dominated by men, some more helpful than others, but, behind the scenes, so many women contacted me privately to share their experiences of sexism not just in our party but in others. I don’t for a minute think that our party is any more sexist than society or other political parties, but that’s not to say that we should just put up with it. This party needs to show that it is a welcoming place for everybody.

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Lunchtime debate – should e-cigs be prescribed by NHS?

On 16th September, it’ll be 17 years since I last had a cigarette. I was one of those smokers who never really wanted to give up, who really enjoyed a cigarette. However, my consumption was a bit worrying – at least a pack of 20 a day.

It was pregnancy which forced my hand. From the moment I saw the positive test, I have not had another cigarette. That doesn’t mean that I never want one. Even after all this time, the smell can (especially after a few wines) set off all the old cravings. Giving up just like that was far from easy and I doubt I would ever have managed it if I hadn’t had that overwhelming incentive to do so. I daren’t have even one or I think that road back to a pack a day would be very short.

I had no choice but to just give up without any help other than the daily “I really want a cigarette, talk to me until the craving goes away” phone calls to various people. They were remarkably effective, by the way. In the same circumstances, that would be the same today. I wouldn’t be able to use e-cigarettes. Evidence suggests, however, that they are 95% less harmful than ordinary cigarettes and can help people give up smoking for good.

photo by: planetc1
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Cameron’s hot air on seagulls

It’s a problem that’s been going on for at least a century. Seagulls, seagulls and more seagulls in towns. In some places, such as St Ives, Cornwall, the local seagulls seem to have evolved to be particularly skilfull at nicking sandwiches out of “emmets'” tourists’ hands just as they leave the baker’s shop. They swoop from, apparently nowhere, and snatch food. Icecreams are a seagull speciality. The gulls know where the icecream shops are, they know which roofs to sit on, poised. They know exactly when to swoop to grab some poor unsuspecting child’s icecream. (And it is quite a frightening experience for the child and its parents).

The problem is that seagulls are a protected species. They tend to be reasonably protected from predators. Many attempts have been made to curb them in towns, but the problem rumbles on, year after year.

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The No campaign’s grim blueprint for a Britain out of Europe

European FlagLeaving the European Union would be a big deal. It would mean slamming on the brakes, crunching the gears and setting out on a new course, and, in the run-up to the EU referendum, the No campaign will argue that we should do just that. They want us to break with the past and follow a new path. So, what would a No victory mean for the future direction of Britain?

photo by: rockcohen
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How to Beat the SNP

 

I don’t know when the SNP will be toppled, but I am confident it will happen eventually. I also seriously doubt people will flock en masse back to Labour, a party that took Scotland for granted for years and, in my opinion, doesn’t deserve the return of unwavering support. There will be a gap that we could perceivably fill, but we have to earn the right of that space, not make Labour’s mistake of taking it as a given.

Here are some things I have been trying to keep in mind over the past few months talking to SNP voters:

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The stars and stripes flying in Havana top a list of significant achievements by Barack Obama

I was toddling around in nappies when the US flag was taken down in Havana in January 1961. The decision to break off diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba was taken a day earlier by President Eisenhower. So started a period of frozen relationships between the two neighbours which included years of trade embargoes.

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Politics and gardening

Garden by Emma Nagle (etcher) Flickr CCLPolitics and gardening don’t mix. You need to pay most attention to flowers and vegetables in March and April, when campaigning for the May elections fills your evenings. In June and July you should be watering your vegetables more evenings than not, instead of going out to parish council meetings or encouraging new members. Only in August, when it’s too late to do much more than harvest what came up nevertheless, can the activist give the garden or allotment the attention it needs.

Also posted in Humour | Tagged | 12 Comments

Liberal Democrats fight for the world’s poorest

Women in the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people, north Darfur, Sudan - Some rights reserved by DFID - UK Department for International DevelopmentFor many Liberal Democrat members the heavy election defeat was disheartening. However, the party can take strength from their contribution to governing the United Kingdom from 2010-2015.

One such example is the achievement made in the area of overseas aid. What were the achievements? When the Liberal Democrats were in government the UK reached the 0.7% figure of all national income, that should go towards foreign aid, for the first time ever; then enshrined the commitment in law.

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The economic case is limited, but liberals should support Sunday trading anyway

 

As the years of my youth sweep by me, increasingly I am drawn towards the comfort blanket of nostalgia, but when it comes to public policy making, such vanities must be cast aside and answers framed by the chill of the contemporary, and the pragmatic must instead rule the roost.

It is this increase reluctance to fight the dying of the light and instead embrace maturity that has caused me to pause, and embrace the idea of Sunday trading.

For personal and professional reasons I tend to view all policy decisions though the prism of their economic efficacy , rather than the madrigal of sentimentality that sometimes frames Liberal Democrat policy making.

But despite there being negligible economic advantage to the UK from a relaxation of the Sunday trading laws, I believe the Liberal approach is to favour a change in the law.

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Liberal heroes in pop culture Part 3: Mary Poppins

This is the third of a series of pieces that we will publish over the summer. Please do nominate further entries in the comments! This one was suggested by Cathy Thompson! See here for a link to Parts 1 and 2.

This latest liberal icon is different in several ways from our prior picks. She isn’t a military captain or commander, but she’s arguably a greater source of authority than that. She’s an educator. And she’s practically perfect, in every way. She is the one and only Mary Poppins.

As portrayed by Julie Andrews in the classic film, Mary Poppins is a shamanistic governess who enters the staid world of 1910 London, and turns it upside down. The political scene of 1910 is worth several articles in itself. For one thing, the plot of Mary Poppins takes place during a Hung Parliament, and just after a legitimate constitutional crisis. Of course, none of this is mentioned. But we do get the Suffragettes. Maybe Disney thought kids weren’t that interested in Herbert Asquith. Shame on them…

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No replacement of Trident

 

Members and supporters of the  Libdems against Trident group have proposed a motion calling for the like-for-like replacement of Trident to be scrapped.  The motion will be debated at Bournemouth in September. I am not able to get to Bournemouth, but the motion has my full support.

This does not mean that I am anti-nuclear; I am not. What I am is anti-waste on a nuclear scale, which is what I believe the replacement of Trident to be. It takes us back to 1930s thinking which saw Britain prepare to fight the previous war, not the next one or the one after that. The days of Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Cold War are behind us thankfully. The Soviet Union has collapsed and whatever its posturing, Russia is a much weaker opponent. China is no threat to the UK and the nuclear powers outside Europe have regional not global ambitions.

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