Category Archives: Op-eds

Former LGBT+ chair Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett becomes Britain’s first openly HIV positive candidate

Adrian Hyyrylainen-TrettI am feeling incredibly emotional this evening. What I’m feeling ranges from intense pride in a friend whose courage in telling his story will help others, to equally intense, ice-cold rage at what he has had to endure over the years. Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Vauxhall. He is a former chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems. Tonight, he has spoken to Buzzfeed about the bullying he suffered at school, how this led him to contemplate suicide at the age of just 14 and how his mental health deteriorated during his early adult life. He tells how he contracted HIV 11 years ago.

The fact that Adrian’s health has improved, he has found happiness in his personal life and professional success will be an inspiration to other young people who are suffering in the same way. I understand a little bit of what it’s like to be that teenager everyone hates who thinks the world would be so much better without her. Except when I was a teenager, nobody talked about this kind of stuff and I thought I was alone and the feelings I had were because I was a bad person.

You need to read the whole interview. It’s powerful, eloquent and very, very frank.

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Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems can be very proud of themselves

In the photo above, Nick Clegg leaves Number Ten Downing Street this morning for an audience with the Queen upon the dissolution of Parliament.

We’ve had many debates on this website about the record of the Lib Dems in government. Nick Clegg has received shedloads of stinging criticism.

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Opinion: It’s not just Britain and France

 

At Conference Nick Clegg mentioned that the only European powers with any worthwhile military capability are Britain and France. Apart from the fact that we are just one more round of defence cuts away from that not being true in Britain’s case, it is also a very WESTERN European world-view. It is true that so far as expeditionary warfare is concerned, only Britain and France have any great capability to send troops to the far corners of the globe, but it is not just expeditionary warfare that matters in this world.

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Opinion: Liberal Internationalism

During Nick Clegg’s Q&A session at the Spring Conference in Liverpool there were three questions that in their different ways touched on Liberalism in the international environment. Ones on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), NATO spending and Hong Kong. Nick’s replies were I reminder of why Liberalism is best placed to shape the 21st Century.

With much of the Middle East in turmoil and Russia busy advancing into Ukraine, it is perhaps superfluous to point out that Liberalism is not yet a universal creed – and there is also China. Home to a millennia old Legalist tradition, which practiced totalitarianism …

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Tony Greaves writes … Haggling over more than the haggis?

 

Let’s assume, as I did in previous pieces here and here, that no party will win a majority on May 7th, and that all the post-election pressure will be for a minority government with an arrangement with one or more other parties that falls short of coalition. On current polls the Liberal Democrats will not get enough seats for it to be practicable for us to enter coalition, and the third largest party will be the SNP who have made it clear they will not enter any coalition but will seek a looser agreement with Labour.

None of this may happen but the probability seems high enough to discuss how it might work. I am also assuming that, for reasons I’ve also set out previously here, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act will make it very difficult for anyone to force an early second election. In spite of this (or perhaps with some level of ignorance) both Labour and Conservative MPs seem to favour minority government. All this could mean that a minority government may not only be the short term outcome, but could last for some time – perhaps a full five years.

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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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We’re heading for a minority Labour government backed by the SNP

whitehall
The Guardian have a very useful web page called Election 2015: The Guardian poll projection. On it, each day, they update their state-of-the-parties graph with the latest polling data, which then flows into an infographic showing the parliamentary arithmetic and possible government options after May 7th.

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Opinion: Thoughts on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol (TTIP)

While negotiations are continuing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol (TTIP) it is hard to know whether the outcome will be good or bad. As far as I can see, there are arguments for and against it, so I am feeling the need to keep an open mind.

The arguments in favour boil down to increased trade and economic stability. This is important because the growth of China, India and Brazil will put pressure on Europe and America: at 1.37Bn people, China has an appreciably larger population than the EU (500 million) and USA (320 million) together. The collapse of the Doha trade talks also increase the risk of tarifs and trade barriers between the EU and USA. The hope is that, at the very least, TTIP will counteract this, and at best, it will enhance our economic stability and competitiveness by improving ties between the EU and USA. There are predictions that this will boost the British economy by between four and ten billion pounds annually.

The European commission has been suggesting that many of the stories circulating about TTIP are exaggerated or wrong and is keen to reassure people that European concerns around health. Safety, rights at work, privacy, financial security and environment will be protected. Their information on this starts here.

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Why have Liberal Democrats indulged the Tories’ Bercow bashing?

By any standards, the last minute motion to change the rules on Speaker election is pure bad manners. Filed with less than a day’s notice when many MPs will already have left Westminster, it asks MPs to approve a secret ballot on the re-election of the Speaker. Up until now, MPs have voted in the traditional manner. The election of a Speaker when there is a vacancy is already conducted by secret ballot.

The actual proposal itself is not unreasonable, for consistency’s sake and was recommended by the Commons Procedure Committee as the Guardian article linked to above says:

Tory and Lib Dem sources rejected Labour claims they had acted in an underhand way. They said they were following the convention of allowing MPs to vote on the recommendations of the procedure committee. But Nick Clegg, who is spending the day in his Sheffield Hallam constituency after his weekly LBC phone-in, will not be present for the vote.

So when did the Procedure Committee make that recommendation? I looked through their recent report which suggested revisions to Commons standing orders and it wasn’t in there. There was stuff about elections and by-elections for Deputy Speakers and even a change in lunch breaks on Thursdays in public bill committees (up till now the poor little loves might go hungry – how cruel), but nothing about Speaker elections or re-elections. You have to go back almost five years, to 2010, to find that recommendation. There has been more than enough time to have that vote, so why leave it till the last possible moment?

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Opinion: Plain Packaging: Will Tobacco Be the End or Just the Beginning?

While I think I was pleased to see the vote by MPs earlier this month, introducing plain packaging for tobacco products, it did also set off faint alarm bells – with me at least. There is something rather drastic about passing a law that requires legally produced and distributed goods to be wrapped in plain card or paper – even if the move was approved by Parliament based on medical evidence. I almost feel it would have been better to actually ban tobacco products altogether.

To be honest, obesity is not that far behind smoking as a leading cause of early death. We know that obesity is partly fuelled by attractively-packaged foods, high in sugar and fat, freely available on every supermarket shelf in the UK. High-street fast food chains – whose rise has been, seemingly, unstoppable – are another contributor to the problem. Britain now spends over £45 billion each year dealing with the health and social care costs associated with an increasingly overweight population.  

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Opinion: Liberals must stand up to Russia over Ukraine

The weekend after the party gathered in Liverpool, Liberal Youth gathered in Leeds for our spring conference. There was plenty of campaigning, socialising and of course stimulating debates on policy. Stuart Wheatcroft has already written an excellent summary of the motion we debated and voted for on Ambitious Liberalism; for my part, I submitted a motion on Russia’s actions against Ukraine.

In writing this motion, I aimed to cover the two principal reasons I believe any self-respecting Liberal must stand against what Russia is doing in the region. Firstly, they are attempting to forcibly thwart the will of the Ukrainian people. When the Ukrainian people expressed a desire to look to the EU, they did not at the same time express a desire to go to war with Russia. They are seeking a better life; one bounded by democratic accountable institutions – the same promise extended by the EU to the former Warsaw Pact countries. In attempting to smear the Kiev government as a group of “fascists” as well as sending troops to occupy portions of Ukraine, Russia has attempted to corral the Ukrainian people into giving up these hopes for a brighter future.

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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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A few quick thoughts on last night’s Dispatches

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme last night featured the attempts of one business man to give lots of money to Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The programme has already led to Liberal Democrat peer Paul Strasburger temporarily resigning from the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords pending an investigation from the Electoral Commission. Here are my thoughts on the programme:

Lib Dems should not keep this money – and we aren’t

My instincts on seeing the programme was that the donation that he has procured should be returned because the programme made clear that it didn’t come from the person whose name was on the cheque. That’s not to say that I think there was conclusive evidence of wrong-doing. The Electoral Commission will rule on that and we should let them do their job. What is clear is that the Federal Party had no way of knowing that the donation had come from anyone other than the name on the cheque. I was glad to see Olly Grender confirm on Twitter that we are not keeping the money. It will either go back to the donor or to the Electoral Commission. Guidance is awaited on that point.

Cash for access?

The programme certainly gave an insight into the world of political fund-raising with the businessman concerned Paul Wilmott being invited to events with senior figures from the three parties in fairly short order. This I think is a much bigger deal in the Labour and Conservative parties than it is in the Liberal Democrats. Let’s face it, I’ve had longer conversations with Vince Cable than Paul Wilmott did and I don’t have loads of money. Senior Liberal Democrats are much more accessible than the likes of Cameron and Miliband. Let’s face it, I saw a new member at her first conference in Liverpool last week meet Nick Clegg and chat to him 3 times in the first evening. Our senior figures also spend massive amounts of time supporting local party dinners and campaigning. If you turn up to go canvassing in a key seat, there’s every chance you might be out with one of our senior MPs or Lords. It’s not like the Tories where your position in the room at a dinner depends on how much you have paid for your ticket.

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Martin Horwood MP writes…A Lib Dem vision for fighting infectious diseases

The world is an ever-smaller place.  Advances in transport and telecommunications have bridged enormous geographic divides.  With a click on my phone I can Skype a friend on the other side of the world, or step outside my office and find produce from around the globe for sale in the local supermarket.

Yet, for all the many advantages of globalisation for trade and tourism, there is another side of the coin.  It is not only holidaymakers that travel by air.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.  Last year, it killed an estimated 1.5 million people.  In 1993 the World Health Organisation declared TB a ‘global health emergency’ since then over 40 million people have died from the disease.  It is airborne, infectious, and found in every country in the world.

In the UK, and indeed in much of the developed world, most people think that TB is no longer a threat.  Indeed, rates have fallen dramatically over the last century, and the disease has fallen off the radar.  Yet, any public health professional will tell you that TB is still a problem in many parts of the UK.  London is known as the TB capital of Western Europe.  Birmingham has even higher rates of the disease.  To complete the picture, the BCG, the TB vaccine that many of us received as children, offers negligible protection past the age of 15.

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The attacks on Tim Farron need to stop – Vince Cable should know better

Tim Farron Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterNot even a charming account of his Friday dance class as reported by Buzzfeed’s Emily Ashton can assuage my annoyance with Vince Cable this morning. I have to say that he is an unusual candidate for my ire. His work rate of good, decent, liberal stuff in this parliament from stopping the Tories allowing employers to hire and fire people at will to strengthening consumer rights, tackling payday lenders and bringing in shared parental leave has been excellent. His economic wisdom and willingness to call out the Tories on their silly immigration targets has been much appreciated, as has his honesty about the realities of being in coalition with the Tories.

But he’s been the target of enough critical press briefings over the past five years to be aware of how destructive they can be. The fact that he’s prepared to put his name to trashing Tim Farron’s reputation and prospects doesn’t make it that much better. Speaking about the interview in which Farron was reported as saying that he’d give 2/10 for our handling of some aspects of the coalition (which is so totally out of character for Tim that I doubt its accuracy), Vince said:

“It wasn’t at all helpful,” Cable says bluntly. “I mean, he’s a very good campaigning MP, but he’s never been in government and has never had to make difficult decisions and I think his credibility isn’t great. You know, he’s an entertaining speaker and has a bit of a fan club. But I suspect he would not be seen as a very credible leader, at least now. Maybe in five, 10 years’ time, things are different.”

Credible politicians must be more consensual than extreme if they want to get things done, Cable suggests. He says pointedly: “The closer we get to an election and the more uncertain it seems, the more people will want people who are seen to be competent and reliable.”

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The Telegraph puts its own predictable spin on Liberal Democrat election strategy

It always amuses me how the newspapers report  what is going on inside the Liberal Democrat campaign machine. I would strongly recommend that you read anything published on the pages of newspapers who hate us with a very large pinch of salt.

A few weeks ago the Mirror painted this picture of “MPs being forced to undergo dragon’s den style grillings” to secure campaign resources. This is kind of right, except it’s a process which has been going on for most of this Parliament and in fact any seat was welcome to apply to be part of the strategic seats programme. I was part of the Dragon’s Den panel in Scotland and I was really heartened to see how the process worked and how campaigning activity in all our seats improved as a result.

Now the Telegraph, which hates us as much as the Mirror if not more, screams “Lib Dems throw weak MPs to the wolves”. There are undoubtedly some people who would far rather be thrown to an actual pack of wolves than face Paddy in full Father Jack mode but the sense I get is that seats which a year ago were thought to be lost are actually being seen as seriously in play. This is down to the massive effort that has been put in on the ground by our highly motivated campaign teams. The party has always targeted its relatively scant resources carefully to put most effort in where the evidence tells us we can win. The only difference between this campaign and previous is that there are fewer seats we are seriously targeting to gain. Oxford West and Abingdon and Watford, where Layla Moran and Dorothy Thornhill respectively are standing, are two prominent examples of that sort of seat.

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Opinion: Liberal Youth’s ambitious liberalism

Last weekend I attended Liberal Youth’s excellent Conference in Leeds. This is a regular event that allows members to meet, debate and – this time especially – campaign.

The final item on the agenda was a debate on “Ambitious Liberalism: a Radical, Liberal Voice for the Future”, which I proposed.

Although there are plenty of policy items in the motion, this was not primarily a motion about policy. Most of the individual items were already Liberal Youth policy. As we head into the final weeks of the General Election campaign, it is worth taking a few moment to reflect on what unites us as a party, and that is what this motion set out to do.

In putting together this motion, I took inspiration from the excellent mission statement published by Liberal Reform. In particular, Liberal Reform identifies four key strands of liberal thought, which form the basis of the text Liberal Youth adopted this weekend.

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Opinion: Will mental health be a vote-winner?

Mark Argent 1

I was surprised when I saw the promotion of mental health emerging Liberal Democrat policy. Its effects are far more widespread than people like to admit, but mental health is so stigmatised that it seems a long way from being a vote-winner. Like entering the coalition, championing it seems like something important, but where we might have to pay a price in terms of popularity.

It is a difficult area to write about. Among my own circle of friends there are a number of people whose lives are badly affected by mental health issues. The area is so stigmatised that I feel I can’t tell stories in writing, but the stories I can’t write down would include some real achievements, of people coping with really difficult situations.

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Opinion: ‘Cultural appropriation’ – a horrible concept from progressives

 

A phrase progressives increasingly use in debate about language, behaviour, traditions, is ‘cultural appropriation’. The form is typically: “they shouldn’t do that, it’s cultural appropriation.” The basis is that a culture, race, or nation, can ‘own’ an idea, style, word, or language – and that others shouldn’t ‘appropriate’ it. The implication is that cultural appropriation is bad, and that if something involves cultural appropriation then it, too, is bad.

Let’s start at the beginning: without cultural appropriation most of us would still be living naked in caves. Rewind history and consider how detrimental to humanity it would be without cultural appropriation.

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Opinion: Liberal Democrat alternative budget is no answer to Osborne’s opaque way with the numbers 

 

Several years ago there emerged into public discourse one of those phrases that becomes ubiquitous solely on the basis of its banality – ‘joined up thinking’  – and which could be deployed to allow people with more of an agenda than a plan to escape the scrutiny of the serious observer.

This article’s purpose is not to explore the decision making process behind the alternative budget presentation, except to ponder that those Lib Dems who wanted the coalition to have the impact of us being taken seriously as a potential party of government can hardly be satisfied at how we have been ridiculed in the wake of that particular initiative.

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Is David Steel right about the Liberal Democrat attitude to a future coalition?

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Miriam Gonzalez Durantez meets Miranda Sawyer

There’s an interesting interview between Miranda Sawyer and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez in the Guardian this weekend.

They meet at an Inspiring Women event on sport at the aquatics centre where the Olympics took place and, separately, in Miriam’s office.

Miriam talks about the attitudes in the Spanish village where she was brought up, where people pitied her working mother.

Her mother was the object of some local sympathy. “People felt sorry for her because she had to work,” González Durántez says, “but she wanted to. My mother has taught three generations in the village. I am never going to make so much of a difference.”

Actually, many of the women González Durántez knew had jobs – they just weren’t paid. Both her grandmothers came from rural communities where women laboured in the fields. Her maternal grandmother brought up eight boys (one died) during the Spanish civil war. “She was a tiny, dynamite woman,” González Durántez says. “Always vivacious and positive, a lesson in life.”

Though democracy came to Spain after Franco died in 1975, old-fashioned attitudes took a while to wither. At her school, “when boys did sport, girls did knitting. And boys, when they behaved badly, were sent with the girls.” González Durántez enjoyed reading and music – she played an hour of piano every day (“I say this to my children, who do half an hour a week!”). As the eldest child of the mayor, she was very much part of village life: “I organised things for the little kids, I helped my father in politics, I tried it all. A race or something, there I was. I wasn’t very good at running, but I tried it all.”

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Opinion: Netanyahu’s rejection of peace must mean British recognition of Palestine

On ‘Call Clegg’ this week Nick robustly declared that “if Benjamin Netanyahu now unilaterally has decided to rule out the prospect of a Palestinian state then I think it is inevitable that British parliament, as it voted a few months ago, should rule a Palestinian state in.” The contrast with Cameron’s (is it unthinking or calculated?) support for Netanyahu’s hope-destroying election victory is both massive, and very welcome. It is great to see the Liberal Democrats standing up for the peace process rather than for an obstructionist right-wing government.

It has become a cliché to say that ‘paradoxically Netanyahu’s election victory is a good thing’: that with the emperor’s new clothes exposed for what they are, there can be no more pretending that there is an Israeli partner for peace.

I’m not so sure. There is no evidence that a prime minister who openly exploits prejudice against Israel’s Arab citizens will suddenly show any serious commitment to a negotiated solution to the conflict. And just as those of us who support an end to the illegal and divisive policies of the occupation want a just peace for the Palestinians, we also recognise that such an outcome will be to Israel’s benefit too. We want a safe, decent and prosperous Israel as a genuine partner for Palestine: an Israel which is becoming ever more unequal, racist, militarised and beholden to its extremists cannot be a partner for peace, let alone a decent place for Israelis to live. This election result is a tragedy for both sides.

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Opinion: Cyril Smith – Liberal Democrats should allow scrutiny of all party archives

As late as last year there were people defending Cyril Smith’s reputation on Liberal Democrat Voice.  Well now we know beyond all reasonable doubt that the old Liberal Party had its own Savilesque character – it is just that none of us knew, in fact none of us even had an inkling. None of us could possibly have known and none of us could possibly have had an inkling. Could we?

I joined the party in 1985 when I was eighteen. Of course three decades on I do not remember every earnest conversation amongst my fellow Liberal students. What I do remember though is that in the entirely peripheral and uninfluential party circles in which I moved, “Hanger Smith” was viewed with contempt and wariness for supporting capital punishment and rejecting a woman’s right to choose. I never heard any rumours about him and sexual abuse, but there was a sense that he was an old local government bruiser who was somehow untouchable despite being totally out of sync with the mainstream of the party. 

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Tim Farron MP writes…The British people deserve more than Cameron’s weak leadership on EU

European FlagThis week marks David Cameron’s last European Council as Prime Minister before the General Election and let’s hope he avoids one last blunder. It is easy to forget, given the endless Tory arguments on Europe over the past five years, that in opposition David Cameron’s ambition was for the Conservative Party to “stop banging on about Europe”. This summarises Cameron’s position well – he is simply not interested and sees the EU purely as a party management issue. If the issue of Europe is quiet then it’s a good bet that Tory backbenchers will be too.

But this abdication of leadership has caused repeated humiliations for the Prime Minister and allowed the ranks of Tory backbenchers to drive the agenda, leaving their leader looking weak, lacking in ideas and clueless.

Constantly bullied from the back benches, Cameron has time and again stirred from his self-imposed slumber, woken up too late and then mistakenly “taken a stand” before being humiliated. Famously he “vetoed” a new EU treaty in December 2011 but the result was not the triumph he portrayed – the rest of the EU went ahead anyway and concluded the treaty without the UK, leaving a legacy of bitterness in its wake and representing a low point in British diplomacy.

photos by: rockcohen & rockcohen
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Opinion: Freedom of speech?

Southampton University is under attack: it is planning a conference on ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’  in April.  Paris University has been forced to cancel a conference entitled: ‘Israel Apartheid is real’.

I have recently attended two conferences on Islam, one of which also came under threat.

So when is free speech permissible and when not?

At my local university I have been shocked at the racist and Islamophobic comments made in talks and seminars by those who support Israel unreservedly.  Had I made similar comments about Jews and Judaism, I would have been thrown out.  Islam is no more homogenous than Judaism or Christianity  and the way it is practised is as much cultural, political and historical as any other. When I condemn Saudi Arabia or ISIS I am not condemning Islam as a whole, nor do I delegitimize Saudi as a State. On the contrary I am often defending Islam. When I criticise Israel, as a Jew myself, I am not attacking Judaism, I am criticising a regime that gives Judaism a bad name and when I criticise the USA, I am often criticising those who give Christianity a bad name.

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The Liberal Democrats could well be on course to improve our vote share to seats “bangs for the buck”

In the 2010 election, the Liberal Democrats were 14%, or a seventh, less effective at harnessing our vote share to win seats than we were in 2001. If you look at my table below you’ll see that, since 1983, 2001 was our best year for converting vote share into seats.

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Opinion: Could you save a life?

As a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate I have received emails from St John Ambulance and from the British Red Cross, both wishing to promote First Aid. But what about mental health first aid? With equal parity now being given to mental and physical health, shouldn’t First Aid include Mental Health First Aid?

I think so. And I am pleased that Lib Dems at conference thought so too, for we approved new mental health policy which included a clause I submitted with the support of Oxford East:

To consult with external bodies on the content of, and how best to include training in, Mental Health First Aid, with a view to incorporating elements of Mental Health First Aid into existing First Aid at Work courses.

Imagine the world before First Aid classes, before people were taught the recovery position and CPR. Before such training, if someone was ill people would flap and call for help. They would not get involved.

The same thing happens when people are in mental health crisis. People feel inadequate, have no idea how to help, and do not get involved.

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