Category Archives: Op-eds

Opinion: Liberal Democrat Fairtrade Future welcomes hospital food announcement

Fairtrdae photo by nagillum

One of the things that makes me proud to be a Liberal Democrat is our belief in fairness.
The very first line in the preamble to our Party’s Constitution states ‘The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a free, fair and open society…’
I also love that we are an internationalist party.
Indeed the preamble goes on to state, ‘We look forward to a World in which all people share the same basic rights…’
For me these two elements of our founding principles come together the Fairtrade movement which I’ve long since championed.
Tagged and | 1 Comment

Reflections on Rotherham (4): Lessons were not learnt before. They cannot be ignored again.

The report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham issued this week makes tragic reading. It highlights the collective failure of the authorities to take robust action over a number of years. It is a matter of astonishment that the findings of no less than three reports were either dismissed or treated as exaggerating the situation. How many fewer victims would there have been if a more aggressive approach had been taken at an earlier stage?

Let us not forget that the real villains in this are the perpetrators of these crimes, who have committed unspeakable acts of violence and abuse on …

Tagged | 8 Comments

Opinion: Time for change. Time for a Liberal Revival: my manifesto for Party President

I joined this party because I believe in the power of every individual to take power and use it – use it to shape their own lives and communities and to help change the world.

I joined this party because I’ve seen brave people face down threats from large powerful corporations, from their own governments, and from conformity – everything for which we stand.

And I joined this party because ours is the only political philosophy that believes in trusting, enabling and freeing people. We want to lift people out of poverty and ignorance. We want them to have a safety net so they have the confidence to take risks, to innovate and make bold decisions. And we want to create a system of governance that serves people and communities, from the grass-roots up.

We were right to adopt community politics as an ideology of social transformation in the 1970s, and we were right to re-state our commitment to it in 2011. But as I said then – to the nodding heads of Paddy Ashdown and Tim Farron – it must once again become the foundation of our identify and our approach. In 2011, Conference agreed “A renewed strategic emphasis on ‘community politics’: our role as political activists is to help organise people in communities to take and use power, to use our political skills to redress grievances, and to represent people at all levels of the political structure.”

Tagged , and | 10 Comments

And the winner of the referendum debate was…….Charles Kennedy

Charles indyrefI’m sure we all remember THAT debate on Monday night between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond. It was what we call in Scotland a right  rammy. Two men standing up on stage shouting at each other has typified the independence debate has generally been going on up here. It’s not edifying. I took part in STV’s live blog of the event and you can see my take on it here.

Although Salmond is widely judged to have won the debate, the pivotal moment came when he laughed at me. Well, not actually at me, but at anyone who wants reassurance that we’re not risking higher interest rates or economic instability over the fundamental issue of the currency. When Alistair Darling, on behalf of people with those concerns, continued to question he First Minister on the risks that sterlingisation would put us under, and to challenge the wisdom of not taking a share of the UK’s debt, Salmond laughed. In a very sneery way. And then he called Darling a One Trick Pony. You know, when you’re trying to persuade people to trust you and make the massive change you want, you need to show you understand their concerns and address them, not treat them with contempt. It’s no wonder that the main theme in my Facebook was that people were fed up and were switching off.

Tagged , and | 4 Comments

Reflections on Rotherham (3): Believing and taking responsibility

It was difficult to read the Alexis Jay report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham. 1400 girls and 200 boys brutally abused and exploited.

And then we have the response from the council and the police. Denial. Victim blaming. Placing children into care homes where they were more at risk than they were in the family home. Sending looked-after children to school by taxis implicated in grooming and abuse. Regarding abused children as consenting participants. Treating an abused child as a criminal. Failure to investigate crimes. Vilification of those trying to raise awareness.

Tagged and | 3 Comments

Opinion: If Putin wishes for another cold war…

Putin photo by World Economic ForumOne of the legacies of more than 10 years of conflict, including an illegal war in Iraq, is a war weariness. Weariness on a matter so crucial as war is a healthy thing. If our government had been more weary then the unfortunate consequences we see to this day may have been avoided. But we must not let weariness become blindness. NATO has confirmed that Russia has invaded Ukraine. The most recent in a long list of endeavours from Moldova to Georgia designed to expand the territory and influence of Russia; to realise Putin’s imperial project. He’s demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice money, Russia’s relationship with the West, and thousands of civilians. We need a change of policy.

Also posted in News | 54 Comments

Reflections on Rotherham (2): Scapegoating one person misses the larger point

The first thing to say is that the report into child exploitation and the failures of the local authority in Rotherham are tragic and a huge stain on not just Rotherham Council but local authorities generally.

Some will argue that it is completely inappropriate to make political hay with such a story and I am inclined to agree with them. When last year some Labour politicians, including Ed Miliband, used a tragic suicide to score points over the ‘bedroom tax’ I thought it was disgusting. So it’s important to see my comments below in that context: I do not intend them as political point-scoring.

I have concerns about the scapegoating of the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, Shaun Wright. The logic of the argument is sound. He was the chief decision-maker for Rotherham Children’s Services for a five-year period during this scandal.

However, there are two difficulties with this.

20 Comments

Reflections on Rotherham (1): How one community in Rochdale took control to protect its children and young people

Initially the report on Rotherham came as a shock to me – 1400 children raped and abused in one town. Then I read the report and the figures on an annual basis are very similar to those in my home town of Rochdale. But do I believe that things are any different in Oldham, Bolton or Sheffield? These are all similar towns with similar issues. I am clear that just because a town has not identified a problem does not mean that it does not exist.

Moreover, the one lesson that many council chief executives and leaders will have learnt from Rotherham is not to commission an independent report. The second QC’s independent report into child abuse in Rochdale has already been put on hold. For the local police, social services and councillors there is a real incentive to brush things under the carpet. This alone is sufficient to justify national government intervention and leadership. Separate but related to the child abuse situation is the record number of children being taken into care. Rochdale alone has 450 now in care.

3 Comments

Opinion: 19th September – now what?

imageLooking ahead: It’s 19th September, and Scotland has voted “No” to independence. Thank goodness for that! The uncertainty is over. The people of Scotland will continue to have their say in how the whole of Britain is run; will still use the pound (and still have their say in how it is managed); will, without the need for difficult negotiations, still be part of the EU and still have the whole of NATO ready to protect it; will still be both British and Scottish, without having to choose one or other; will still have representation on the UN security council. And the Union will not have to endure the pain of partition – which a century of evidence from countries like Yugoslavia, Sudan, India and even Ireland tells us can be very great indeed.

The Union has survived, but it was close, and there’s still a problem. Nearly half of Scotland’s population is so unhappy with the way that it is governed that it was willing to turn its back on the benefits of being part of a long-lasting and successful union. Clearly something needs to change, if this widespread discontent is to be contained.

Tagged and | 12 Comments

Better Together can always make a better ad. Alex Salmond can not give us a better currency option than we have being part of the UK

20 pound note. Photo courtesy of steved_np3 on Sxx.huWhat’s the last thing you would want to happen on postal voters’ polling day? How about your own side putting out a broadcast that is beyond terrible? Better Together’s latest effort, showing a woman’s two minute clumsy, contrived monologue as she makes up her mind to vote No. It was Rosie Barnes and her rabbit without the political intelligence.

I’m willing to accept that I may not be its target audience. After all, I am a thoroughly committed No voter and this will have been aimed at undecided women in the largely Labour voting central belt of Scotland. I’m not sure I’m meant to absolutely hate it as much as I do, though. There are ways of appealing to a segment of the population without really annoying a similar group of people.

Calling a broadcast “The woman who made her mind up” as if this was some flight of fancy is the first major error and it doesn’t get much better.  That it was shared more on social media by Yes campaigners than pro UK supporters tells its own story. They have made hay, contributing to a #patronisingbtlady thread on Twitter which, to be honest is just as patronising and sexist as the original broadcast.

Tagged , and | 41 Comments

Opinion: Crown Prosecution Service is wrong not to prosecute undercover police officers

It is now widely-known that the Metropolitan Police Force has engaged numerous undercover police officers in covertly infiltrating various organisations which ‘might be’ dangerously subversive over many years. Several such officers have’deepened’ their cover by forming sexual and emotional relationships with memebers of the organisations concerned and have even brought up young children in these circumstances: two such officers have now been named in court proceedings and the existence of almost a dozen others has been acknowledged.
Although private civil prosecutions are proceeding against both individuals and the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service has recently published statement that there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a reasonable chance of a successful prosecution in a prosecution for ‘misconduct in public office’ and a number of other potential offences.
Much of the evidence of the women concerned is already in the public domain and it is totally clear (and not contested) that there was no possibility whatsoever that they would ever have commenced any sexual ‘relationship’ (sic) with any person who revealed to them that they were a member of a clandestine police surveillance unit. It is also clear that there was no reason whatsoever why the police officers involved ‘needed to’ form such ‘relationships’ in order to continue to perform their covert work. The formation of such ‘relationships’ although they may well have deepened the ‘cover’ and ‘trust’ in which the officers were held, was created by the police officers concerned for their own comfort, convenience and sexual gratification after manifesting to the women concerned, over a prolonged period and in a sustained way, the premise that they had a genuine wish to create a genuine relationship with them. This latter premise is demonstrably-false:the entire persona presented to the women by each of the officers concerned was a deliberate deception. They knew that no such relationship could be sustained once the truth emerged.
Tagged , , and | 6 Comments

Opinion: A ringfence is not enough for the science budget

The party has recently been trailing hints of the content and priorities of the new manifesto. One released last week was an announcement touting a ringfence of the science budget. They write:

The manifesto plans include ringfencing the science research budget and introducing a green innovation arm to the British Business Bank.

It’s great that the manifesto team have chosen to flag investment in science and innovation as a reason to vote Liberal Democrat in the 2015 general election, but what a meagre and unambitious announcement this was. One worrying sign is the wording mentioning only the ‘research budget’, which raises the concern that this ringfence might be a fig leaf hiding underspending in capital investment for science, as we saw in the early years of the current coalition government – though the 2014 budget went some way towards plugging the gap in capital spending in the sector.

Tagged , and | 10 Comments

The Gender Agenda #4: The Liberal Democrats are a feminist party

Feminist fist by Eva the WeaverThe Liberal Democrats are a feminist party. When I first wrote that down I knew it would be a controversial statement among a minority, but right now I think it’s going to cause a wider stir.

It shouldn’t. When I first read the Lib Dem constitution, it seemed obvious that liberalism as it is expressed there, is feminist.

Feminism as I understand it describes a movement that aims to achieve true equality of opportunity, as reflected in more equal outcomes between genders. My support for that movement is why I joined a party that rejects ‘all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.’ (Ok, so I’d prefer if that said ‘gender’ not ‘sex’, but it’s a much bolder statement than the other parties are making).

Tagged | 29 Comments

Opinion: The argument for devolution

Yorkshire DalesThe British economy and hence the politics of Britain are London-centric. Of this there is no doubt.  Gross Value Added figures, which show the value of goods and services produced by the different regions of the UK highlight this perfectly. The Gross Value Added figure for London is in excess of £37,000 per head of the population. The only other region which gets above £20,000 is the South East.

The gap between London, the South East and the other regions of the UK in terms of economic power and hence influence, is widening by the day. Government after government have used the trickle-down economic argument for saying a strong London means a strong UK. Time after time, this argument fails.  A radical change is needed if this process is to be arrested – or even slowed. The UK needs ALL its regions to be buoyant, efficient and net contributors to its economy.

photo by: tejvanphotos
Tagged | 29 Comments

Opinion: A hundred years ago…

Rt. Hon. H.H. Asquith  (LOC)1910 was a momentous year for Liberals in UK government, with a long-desired end to bitter struggles with the Conservatives over House of Lords reform arriving at a  triumphant conclusion. Now a House of Lords of whatever persuasion would no longer be able to resist indefinitely progress for the vast majority of democratically drawn-up Parliamentary bills, and Asquith, Lloyd George & co could take much credit for this. Only four years later, however, the country slipped into a war, the wastage of human life caused by which remains unrivalled in the history of western and of European civilisation. What could have gone wrong?

1910 also marked the beginning of  – and 1914 the near-culmination of – a slide in Liberal fortunes which within a decade of the second date would see a national institution reduced to a crowd of irrelevant backbenchers. Asquith was still leader; did he any longer have any party to follow him?

photo by:
Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: Why I’m supporting all women shortlists

three_women_standing_togetherAs the dust begins to settle from the Rennard affair we must now reflect on how our party can stand up to liberal values when it comes to gender equality. It is welcome that, following a review of the procedures of the case, the party now no longer needs a criminal burden of proof in internal disputes of this kind. We can, and should, be proud of the fact that we have changed protocol in light of the failures that have occurred; not every party is so open and willing to change when things go wrong. However more still needs to be done on the wider issue of how we improve the engagement of women in the party.

Tagged | 34 Comments

Opinion: Compulsory political education?

Ballot boxAs a 17 year old Lib Dem, who has campaigned with two local parties and experienced my first election campaign last May, lowering the voting age is obviously of real importance to me. The party’s long term support of this policy (as well as its unique opportunities for young people) were key factors in my choosing to join the party, aged just 16, last year.

The issue is about to see a bump in publicity via the Scottish Referendum next month, and with the general election approaching there’s the real potential that any government involving Labour or the Lib Dems (or both) will legislate for the change post-May. Labour have recently adopted the policy, and supporters of the campaign “Votes at 16″ include Liberty, The Co-Op, Barnardo’s and the Electoral Reform Society.

photo by: FutUndBeidl
Tagged , and | 26 Comments

Opinion: Put revenge pornographers on the Sex Offenders Register

Smartphone bar.Facebook has just been served with its first revenge porn lawsuit. I can’t comment on the particulars of the case in question but it does appear that revenge porn is an issue the law has yet to catch up with. In my opinion, the law should be changed to allow those convicted of distributing revenge porn to be put on the Sex Offenders Register. This requires further clarification of the distinction between legal and illegal pornography.

Once explicit material is published it becomes pornography. If the individuals in the films or photographs do not consent to having the material published, even if he or she consented for the material to be made for another purpose, then it should be classified as illegal pornography. Illegal pornography should also include incidents where material has been accessed through devices without the explicit consent of the individual who owns the device and the participants in the explicit material.

Tagged and | 16 Comments

Opinion: The UK’s takeover laws and short-termism

London Stock Exchange photo by Jam_90s

In the rest of the world hostile takeovers are uncommon or even unknown. Britain is alone in its belief in the benefit of hostile takeovers, a belief which is not supported by the evidence of its large current account and fiscal deficits.

Vince Cable on 13th July wrote on this website that changes are needed to Britain’s takeover laws.  However, the problem is that Britain, unlike for instance Germany and the USA, doesn’t really have any takeover laws.

photo by:
Tagged | 16 Comments

Opinion: Restructuring is important but the General Election is the priority

Liberal Democrat Conference 2011There has been a lot of talk recently about the way the Party nationally is not accountable to the members enough and also that there should be early warning systems in place to pick up on anything that could be going wrong .The Federal Executive whose members are directly elected by the Conference representatives every two years is the body that is in effect responsible for the internal administration of the Party and is chaired by the President.

As one of the candidates for the post of President I thought I would set out some initial thoughts. I believe the Federal Executive should be restructured to make it more accountable. The fifteen elected members should be given specific portfolios which cover the HQ directorates. In this way there would be a great deal more liaison between the elected executive and the Party staff. The Federal Executive member would be responsible for reporting back to the Federal Executive on key areas of concern that they have. It would be a way of not only alerting the Party quickly if there seems to be a problem but would also give support to the staff themselves.

photo by: NCVO
Tagged and | 36 Comments

Opinion: an open letter to Tim Farron – “And who made you King, anyway?”

imageIn his recent article in Liberal Democrat Voice, the Liberal Democrat Party President, Tim Farron, refers to a review of the Party’s disciplinary procedures, carried out by a senior barrister, Diya Sen Gupta, and goes on to say;

She has now made recommendations to us and I am determined that we will implement these as quickly as possible.

Now call me a stickler for process if you will, but where does Tim get off making such a statement?

Tagged , , and | 33 Comments

Opinion: Scotland’s Future – a view from the Gallery

I’ve recently had the chance to work in the Scottish Parliament during August, and it’s been a really great experience. On Thursday, I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the final debate before recess, courtesy of Liam McArthur MSP. By the wonders of technology, you can watch it too.

It was an interesting experience. Alex Salmond took the opportunity to note all the good things the Scottish parliament had done, and attempt to be fair to other parties. He did actually manage this; however, his argument that the parliament has done some great things and made some mistakes could apply to every parliament across the world, including Westminster.

Tagged and | 2 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel’s “Required reading” leaves a lot to be desired

Gaza Burns - photo by Al Jazeera EnglishReaders may recall that in May, the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP) aroused controversy by posting a link to an alleged anti-Semitic article about Ed Miliband on its Facebook page. LDFP was roundly condemned for posting this link which was quickly removed. An apology from LDFP followed soon after. It is with this case in mind that I am surprised at the lack of response to what the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) is promoting on its website.

Since 27th June, the LDFI site has featured a number of frankly outrageous articles. Contained within these articles are: baseless accusations of anti-Semitism; opinion pieces stating that protesters in London welcomed 9/11; interview write-ups condemning calls upon Israel to reduce civilian casualties; accusations that western journalists are feigning concern for the deaths of Palestinian children etc. At the time of writing, these articles still feature on the LDFI website. They are described collectively as ‘Required reading on the current situation in Israel and Gaza’.

photo by:
Tagged , , , , and | 22 Comments

Former Liberal Democrat MP John Barrett says he’s voting Yes in the Independence Referendum

imageWay back in January, former Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP John Barrett made a very intelligent contribution to the debate on independence in an article for the Scotsman. He said his vote was still up for grabs. He was fed up with the banality of the official campaigns and highly critical of the Liberal Democrats for participating in Better Together.

Well, his vote isn’t up for grabs any more as he’s decided that he’s voting yes on 18th September and explains why in today’s Edinburgh Evening News.  Even though I reach a different conclusion on the question of independence, I can’t find much to disagree with in what he has to say about the quality of the two official campaigns:

I believe neither side is telling the whole truth and that the facts about the future of an independent Scotland, or one remaining in the UK, are not as clear as either side likes to make out. There are risks with either option and if either, or at least one side, would admit to this, they would gain more credibility in the public’s eyes.

Alex Salmond claiming he will get everything he wants in every single set of complex negotiations after a Yes vote is something I am sure that even he does not believe.

On the other side, the No campaign claiming that Scotland’s future use of the pound or membership of the EU will be something they will not support is equally hard to believe.

Also posted in News | Tagged and | 34 Comments

Opinion: Post Rennard: living up to our liberal values 

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKThe Rennard affair has been a very difficult and protracted period for all those involved, but also for the party. It has exposed the party’s over-complex structures and processes, which have spectacularly failed with this difficult case. But we delude ourselves if we think that this is only about the Rennard case – this is about living up to our liberal values.

As a party, we rightly condemn those in the public sector who do not look after those who are more vulnerable than ourselves. We expect managers to have the interests of those in their care, including staff and volunteers, uppermost. We express disgust when bullying and harassment are not challenged from the start. It is very difficult to have to look at our own party in that way too.

The Morrisey Report rightly identified some of the long standing problems within the party, many of which come back to fundamental principles of equity and fairness which we believe are at the heart of what we stand for.

Women and Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities are poorly represented in the more senior roles in the party. This is appalling. We seem to believe as liberals that pure talent will out but then repeatedly select white men. I spoke to a colleague from our Dutch sister party D66 this week who said that they always have equal selection of female and male candidates, because it is part of their culture.

20 Comments

Opinion: Post Rennard, what should the party do?

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKThe news that Lord Rennard has been welcomed back into the fold has engendered both despair and joy across the party. Those who ‘never understood what the fuss was all about’, those who are no longer sure they want to be part of a party that doesn’t appear to live its values.  Lester Holloway, among others, offers an excellent analysis of the wider implications.

I have made no secret of my disappointment about the way this case has …

Also posted in News | Tagged , and | 43 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrats for independence

Scotland pipers bandHow has our party got swept up into the negativity of Better Together, and how does one reconcile that negativity with the commitment of the Edinburgh agreement to negotiate in a cooperative way?

The problem lies in a probably well-founded belief that discussing possible negotiations cooperatively in advance would lead to a realisation that they’re perfectly practicable, that Scotland could achieve political independence while maintaining close social and other ties to rUK. Hence the refusal to pre-negotiate, the refusal to investigate options – for example, to ask for an official EU position on continued membership for all present EU citizens – in favour of a simple scare story: if you vote Yes you will fall over a cliff.

In contrast, much of the Yes campaign is genuinely grass-roots, and conducted imaginatively, intelligently and with a sense of humour.

It is about self-determination, not nationalism. Indeed it is England that is becoming ever more narrowly nationalistic, as epitomised in the ludicrous promotion of `British values’: apart from being delusional, this concept has no traction in the wider world. We should condemn Islamic State for its gross violations of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; if we condemn it for its violations of British values we will rightly be laughed at.

photo by: deejayqueue
Tagged and | 50 Comments

Tim Farron: I want the Liberal Democrats to become the “gold standard” for the way voluntary organisations treat volunteers and staff

Since the allegations against Lord Rennard were first aired on Channel Four News, I’ve worked hard with members, activists, HQ staff and our parliamentary parties to fundamentally change the way our party treats these matters.

We asked Helena Morrissey to look at our party’s culture and practices and her report helped us to recognise our failings and set about correcting them.

We have changed our rules and codes of conduct at every level, from grassroots members to parliamentarians so that everyone involved in the party is aware of their rights and responsibilities. We have changed how complaints are reported and addressed, and …

Tagged , , and | 29 Comments

Opinion: Kippers’ squeals show we are a more liberal country

UKIP logoPoor judgment: that’s the reason UKIP MEP Janice Atkinson has given for referring to a Thai-born supporter as “ting tong from somewhere”. I was “completely tired out”: that’s how Farage explained his statement during the European election campaign that he’d be concerned if Romanians moved in next door. Excuses, excuses.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever consider whether or not to use a racial epithet. I don’t think to myself, on balance I judge it right to refer to that person as …

Tagged , , , , and | 31 Comments

Danny Alexander: “We would all be diminished by Scottish independence”

imageWith just a month to go before the referendum on Scottish independence, Danny Alexander gave an interview to yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph emphasising that a vote for independence would be forever and that he would be “desperately sad” to see the UK, with its strong social and economic ties, break up.

He suggested that people from other parts of the UK could urge their family and friends in Scotland to vote No on September 18th.

Tagged , and | 16 Comments



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarStephen Donnelly 30th Aug - 9:17pm
    There is nothing in here that I disagree with, but it is all pretty meaningless. I don' t you have said anything that most people...
  • User AvatarGeoffrey Payne 30th Aug - 9:04pm
    I am undecided how to vote, but I must say I love the ambitious positive tone of this article. Of course the questions have only...
  • User AvatarGeoffrey Payne 30th Aug - 8:58pm
    Lets hope if there is a Lib Dem leadership election in 2015 that the Picketty book will be influential amongst the candidates.
  • User AvatarT-J 30th Aug - 8:56pm
    Martin is right about what would be best. Sadly, he's also right about the chances of that actually happening. With the greatest of respect to...
  • User AvatarT-J 30th Aug - 8:44pm
    GF. the US hasn't annexed any territory since... what, the purchase of the Danish West Indies in the early part of the last century? Something...
  • User AvatarbrianD 30th Aug - 8:10pm
    I am tempted to ask "who is Tamora?" I am sure she is one impressive woman but what has she actually achieved? Gerald's record is...