Category Archives: Op-eds

Vow Max? Has the Smith Commission delivered for Scotland? And what next for Yorkshire and the north?

In the febrile pre-referendum atmosphere, the Daily Record put together a “Vow” signed by all 3 UK party leaders to deliver “extensive” powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote. There would always have been further devolution. This “Vow” just put the inevitable on a more detailed timetable.

A Commission under Lord Smith of Kelvin was put together to deliver on that timetable and has done a power of work in just over two months. They have consulted widely, taking submissions from the five main political parties and many civic organisations and individuals. I managed to get my own submission in at 2 minutes to the deadline.

In the august surroundings of the National Museum of Scotland, Smith and the 10 members of the Commission unveiled the consensus they had reached. I have to say that I have been a little sceptical about this process. I knew that in the interests of self preservation it would have to deliver something credible or we’d be back facing another referendum before we could blink.

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Opinion: Media misunderstanding on Lib Dem immigration policy

When will the BBC begin to do its job properly, and understand what it is talking about? I woke up yesterday to a news bulletin telling me that Nick Clegg was considering raising the time limit for someone from an EU country to claim benefits. It was suggested that it would be 6 months. It then ended by saying that the Liberal Democrats were now joining other parties in concern about EU migration.

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Simon Hughes writes… Counter-terrorism bill – the Liberal Democrats are on the right track

The rise of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is one of the most serious and dangerous issues we have had to face since we came into Government. Whatever we call this organisation – IS, ISIL or Da’ish – we can’t ignore their brutal activity. The graphic and disturbing images of violence coming from Syria and Iraq show the barbaric way this extremist group has perverted the Muslim faith.

We also need to face up to the reality that this group has publicly announced its desire to bring its murderous ideology to the streets of Britain. The murder of Drummer Lee Rigby is a stark example of the potential threat from extremist ideologues. It is estimated that around 500 British citizens have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIL and other military groups. Around half have returned and others will continue to do so. This presents a new and unique challenge to the UK security services and police, and earlier this year the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, run by MI5, raised the threat level from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’. This means that an attack in the UK by violent extremists is highly likely.

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Gulags in the UK? – “no” says Simon Hughes

Solzhenitsyn being painted - photo by thlerry ehrmannOn Monday, Theresa May introduced some new counter-terrorism measures to Parliament.

Let’s take two specifics which were mentioned:

Requiring ISPs to retain and disclose user IP address details

May announced:

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Open season on Facebook is unfair

Does Sir Malcolm Rifkind actually understand the internet? As chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee he has pointed the finger at an un-named internet giant, later revealed to be Facebook, for failing to report a threat by Lee Rigby’s killers.

There seems to be an assumption, in the coverage of this, that Facebook actually knew about the threat.

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It’s International Day for the elimination of violence against women. Lynne Featherstone highlights need for men and boys to act. What do Liberal Democrat MPs do?

Today marks the start of 16 days of action, from today’s International Day for the elimination of violence against women to Human Rights Day on 10th December, when events all over the world will raise awareness and take action to stop violence against women.

Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone have been speaking to students  at an NUS event aimed at Kings College London about the importance of changing the culture and the role that men and boys need to play in that.

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Liberal Democrat members and ministers talk mental health for Channel 4’s political slot

Last week, the Liberal Democrats used their Political Slot with Channel 4 to talk about mental health. Norman Lamb said that it was “morally wrong and economically stupid” to deny people with mental ill health speedy treatment and talked about Liberal Democrat plans to introduce waiting time targets over the next five years.

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Opinion: ALDE Party Council: Bouncing Czechs, “which Slovenes are the liberals?”*, and a prospective rise in the price of cod…

Whilst you might not have guessed it from those manifestos you read from candidates for places on the Party’s ALDE Council delegation, the policy debates were still in our future when Council made an early start on Friday morning.Our task was a straightforward one, debate changes to the constitution, including a revision of the membership structure, authorise the creation of a business club, consider six membership applications, receive and approve the 2015 budget and debate the report of the Bureau… in two hours (English Council, please note).

The constitutional changes were adopted, although there were concerns over the apparent absence of a code of conduct for fundraising. Luckily, a helpful British member of the Financial Advisory Committee was on hand to both reassure and clarify the position – there is one, it was available for circulation, and it could be applied to the proposed business club, a means for corporate sponsors to fund events without directly funding a political party’s campaigning activities.

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Julian Huppert MP writes… Recalling MPs – how to let the public recall MPs who have committed misconduct

Today, the Recall of MPs Bill comes back to the House of Commons for further consideration.  During its Committee Stage, David Heath and I proposed improvements, which would ensure that constituents could access the recall process without the involvement of any parliamentary committee (link to previous article).

Greg Clark, the Government Minister responding to our proposals, told MPs that it was an “important suggestion much to commend it” and that he would “reflect carefully on the amendment.”  This is usually parliamentary parlance for “I like this idea and will bring it back in my own name at the next stage”.

However, …

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Tim Farron MP writes…Green Climate Fund shows this government is leading the world

We often forget to say thank you, because we’re straight on to the next thing. But today, I want to say thank you to everyone – from  our members, activists, staff, councillors, MPs and Peers to Ed Davey for the success we’ve seen as a party on the Green Climate Fund. Even if climate change doesn’t get your heart racing, if you want evidence that the Lib Dems in the Coalition are alive and kicking – look no further. Cameron’s “green crap” attitude hasn’t stopped us leading the world on climate change. We’ve got a lot more to do – but this is good news that should give us confidence.

Set up five years ago at the Copenhagen climate conference, the Green Climate Fund is designed – over time – to replace the spaghetti system of existing funds, and become the main channel for finance to help developing countries reduce emissions and protect themselves from dangerous climate change. It was one of the outcomes which saved the Copenhagen climate conference from complete failure.

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Opinion: Sticking up for the entrepreneurs of the future

I spoke at a Global Entrepreneurship Week event at the University of Exeter last night, and I was asked to define the qualities of an entrepreneur.

It was an event for more than a hundred or so eager undergraduates who have already decided that the corporate world is not the life for them, and who were trying to gather as much information as they possibly could, to help them start their own entrepreneurial journeys, post-graduation.

University entrepreneurship isn’t limited to Exeter, universities all over the country have growing entrepreneurship societies and NACUE (National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs) have done fantastic work promoting them.

Whilst entrepreneurship societies thrive on campus, Lib Dem University societies struggle having taking much of the frontline flack for the tuition fee compromise.  In a previous post for LDV, I drew comparisons between the values of an entrepreneur and Lib Dem members. I think we’ve got even more to say to entrepreneurial students who are making their own way in life.

But how do we say it?

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Opinion: TTIP and the inversion of the Free Trade debate

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership provides an interesting case study as to how the very meaning of ‘Free Trade’ is changing. The treaty itself is on the rocks with increasing opposition from France and Germany alongside a powerful combination of unions and anti-globalisation advocacy groups. Nothing about that is particularly unusual but a crucial difference is the arguments these groups are making. For the first time they are talking about consumers.

Traditionally trade deals meant hitting producers to help consumers with the abolition of tariffs, subsidies and protectionist legislation. Although there is an element of this in the TTIP the majority of it is actually about the harmonization of consumer standards and it is this which flips the traditional free trade debate so firmly on its head.

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Baroness Olly Grender writes…Tales from the Rochester campaign trail

image004Sometimes being a Liberal Democrat is like walking into a bitterly cold prevailing wind with soggy leaflets in one hand and a disappearing map in the other. By-elections can be the epitome of that experience. Especially by-elections where our vote is being squeezed ‘til our eyes water. Which makes every person who turns out in those battles a hero in my eyes. Yes yes we can all cheerily dry out our wet socks on the piping hot radiator of victory at an Eastleigh experience, but it is Rochester that’s character forming!

The team in Rochester are out every day building up a campaign for the future. They are in a part of Kent where UKIP are on the rise but every day on the doorstep they are hearing the message “anything but UKIP”; we almost need a new column on the connect data. And let’s face it, our party is the opposite of UKIP in almost everything we stand for. Last weekend YouGov published a poll which showed that people understand with absolute clarity that the Liberal Democrats are a party that is vastly different from UKIP (see chart below).

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Opinion: Is the First World War a reasonable subject for a supermarket advert?

Tyne Cot cemetery Ypres First World War by fdecomiteThis Christmas is the 100th anniversary of the so-called “Christmas truce” in 1914 when some First World War troops gathered in “No man’s land” on the battlefields of the Western Front to greet each other and share gifts. It is therefore, perhaps, understandable that Sainsbury’s have collaborated with the British Legion, historians and a leading film-maker to produce a beautiful 3’41” video featuring the truce, which is being used to present shorter TV adverts.

And yet, it is difficult not to feel somewhat uneasy as this advert is repeated many times on our screens.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes… We must abolish the Azure card now

Azure_card_thumbRefused asylum seekers are being forced to endure destitution and humiliation at the hands of the Azure card. Together with the Red Cross, I am calling for the government to put an end to this cruel and unusual system.

On the 20th of November the House of Lords will debate the Azure card. I ask my colleagues and other noble members not to remain silent on this issue.

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Vince would have put Myleene Klass in her place on the Mansion Tax

It’s not every day that you wake up and find that you’ve been quoted in the Daily Fail. The story starts late last night when Ed Miliband got into an argument with Myleene Klass over the Mansion Tax. You can see here on ITV Player how he got his backside handed to him on a plate as Myleene took him to task over his policy. Well, actually, it’s our policy. He nicked it. Maybe if he’d had his own policies, he might have been better at defending them.

Myleene was absolutely and utterly in the wrong as far as I’m concerned. If people are privileged enough to be able to afford a £2 million property, then they should be able to afford a relatively modest tax on that significant wealth.  Forgive me for not having much in the way of sympathy for those rich folk who complain about having to find an extra couple of grand a year. The poor have already been squeezed more than they should have been, by successive governments, including the one of which Ed was a member. If we’re going to be a fairer society, then the rich have to pay their share. It’s a total no brainer. It should absolutely be a no-brainer for the leader of a party which claims to represent the workers of the country.

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Simon Hughes MP writes… We need to take Bill Gates’ advice on aid and fight against Malaria

Last Monday evening I was privileged to attend a Bill Gates lecture in the House of Lords.

Bill Gates made a compelling case for the use of aid to make a real and tangible difference to the world’s poorest people. Rightly, the UK has a long and proud tradition of doing this, but we can do so much more.

There is no better case study for this than Malaria – one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases and which kills a child every minute of every day. That’s despite the fact that the cause is preventable and costs less than the price of a cup of tea to treat.

My family take a particular interest in this issue after losing our oldest brother Richard to Malaria contracted in Kenya during his honeymoon some years ago.

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Opinion: The UK is not working

WalesFor 45% of Scots and for many in the NW, the SW and in Wales (which I refer to as the devolving regions), the UK doesn’t work, and this should matter to a Unionist Party. As a Welshman who was forced, as were my parents, to spend decades working in England the reasons are only too clear.

In England we are quite often subject to xenophobia. And while our local colleagues go for exotic weekend breaks, we have to struggle back home to tend to ailing relatives via a crazy London-centred transport network that means that the quickest route from Penzance or Aberystwyth to Dover or Great Yarmouth is via the M25 or Paddington. The quickest route from Liverpool to Southampton is via the M25. And to get to Paris on the HS2 the whole country will have to stop off in London.

photo by:
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Opinion: There is a reason banks aren’t lending enough to small businesses – the regulator is to blame

Lloyds Bank, Leighton Buzzard - Some rights reserved by dlanor smadaSince the banks were ‘bailed out’ with taxpayers money, a regular refrain from across the political divide has been that the banks are doing decisive harm to the country by refusing to lend to small businesses.

If this refrain were accurate, banks would be denying capital to the businesses that create the jobs to engender a sustainable recovery, instead choosing to deploy the capital in complicated financial instruments that create little value, or pumping up housing markets, or in paying enormous bonuses to bank employees.

This latter is an argument that Vince Cable in particular was vocal in espousing, and as soon as the real state of the bonus culture, now much more shares based than cash based, becomes apparent, he will doubtless claim the credit for that.

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Opinion: The legalisation of drugs – let’s not take the line of least resistance

drugsIt’s 1977…. a hot summer evening in Chicago (no – this is not the start of a Raymond Chandler novel). I’m getting a lift back from an outer suburb to the city which takes around an hour on the freeway. It’s late. The driver is going illegally fast. He’s desperate to get home he tells me – so he can smoke some dope. I am desperate to get back in one piece.  I suppose the only thing that might have made his driving worse is if he had actually already smoked the stuff. But that’s what addiction does – it makes people a bit desperate. And make no mistake, cannabis can be addictive.

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Opinion: UKIP fails to win in London because it fails to understand its communities

nigel farageIn this week’s New Statesman, when confronted with the fact that most in London do not share his “uneasy” feelings towards immigrants speaking in their mother tongue, Nigel Farage launches another attack on the capital’s so-called “commentariat” who are “caught in the whirlpool of London thinking”. It’s his typical accusatory anti-liberal, anti-elitist, anti-London rhetoric, and so you’d think it would register just as a minor tremor on the UKIP-irritation seismometer. But it wasn’t. This was a good 7, at least, on the personal Richter Scale.

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A couple of thoughts about the proposed counter-terrorism legislation

I’ve got to be honest, I can’t share Malcolm Bruce’s cautious optimism about the Government’s proposed counter-terrorism measures. Denying our own citizens the right to come back to our country without much mention of testing the evidence against them seems pretty drastic to me. When you consider that it’s likely that some of that evidence is likely to be held in secret and therefore not challengeable by the accused person. We could have situations where young muslim men are denied the right to travel or to return to this country unfairly.

Malcolm says that nobody will be made stateless – but what are they supposed to do with themselves for a couple of years. I suspect there may well be young people who go over there and are so sickened by what they see that they have seen that they want to get back to their family. Being with their family may well be the best place for them.

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It’s been a really good week for Kirsty Williams

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams gives her keynote speech to the Welsh Conference today. She’s had a barnstormer of a week.

First of all, on Monday, she gave a speech to the Electoral Reform Society in Wales in which she called for more Assembly Members and for Assembly Members to be subject to recall, resulting in this very on message headline:

More AMs for stronger economy

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Malcolm Bruce MP writes…Dealing with British citizens who fight for Islamic State

According to Benjamin Franklin’s over-used phrase, those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.

However compelling this pithy quote is, it masks the fact that you can increase both liberty and safety at the same time. This isn’t an easy task. I don’t think that anyone doubts the extraordinary pressure that Nick Clegg and other Lib Dems in government have come under when they deal with the Tories. But I certainly think that we have managed to do both.

Thanks to the Lib Dems, this is the first government for generations to increase our civil liberties – introducing a Freedoms Bill, scrapping ID cards, reducing detention without trial, ending fingerprinting in schools and improving oversight of the intelligence agencies.

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Vince Cable writes… Remembering Alan Turing

IMG_0923Today sees the general release of the film The Imitation Game, a dramatic portrayal of the life and work of Alan Turing.

By all accounts the film, with the leading role played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is set to be a great success. Oscars are already being talked about.

But why am I drawing attention to this specific film?

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Paul Tyler writes… Voter engagement and Votes at 16: progress!

Today, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee is doing something I don’t recall any other Committee doing before it. It is publishing a report in draft, and asking for public feedback before making final recommendations.

In announcing this initiative Graham Allen, the Committee’s Chair, writes, “we raise issues around re-building our political parties, their funding, conduct of MPs, how the Media can work to improve public involvement, and how we can restore a sense of excite around our democracy”. These are all clearly crucial issues for Liberal Democrats.

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Opinion: EU court gives lie to Cameron’s free movement scaremongering

It’s probably fair to say that the European Court of Justice is unused to tabloid adulation. But this week’s ruling in Luxembourg on the case of a jobless Romanian woman in Germany led even the arch-anti-EU Daily Express to hail ‘a rare outbreak of common sense’.

The judgement by the EU’s highest court that the right to free movement does not equate to a right to free access to benefits was warmly welcomed all round, including in Germany – which has higher rates of migration than the UK. Even David Cameron called it ‘good news’.

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Opinion: Have we forgotten the basics of community politics?

Do we still do community politics? “Of course we do,” all Lib Dems will say, particularly after press comments on Lorely Burt’s “dog poo” speech at a conference fringe meeting. But I’m not so sure.

A while back when I advised residents to use the local Text the Council number to report flytipping etc, my colleague, a hard working ex-councillor was horrified. ‘Don’t do that,” he told me, “get them to text you so that we get the credit for reporting it.”

And of course we do that all the time and it earns us votes.

But wasn’t part of the point of community politics, as set out in the 1970s by the ALC and the Young Liberals, to create an empowered citizenry, to help residents to take responsibility for their neighbourhoods and hopefully absorb Liberal values in doing so?

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Ed Davey MP writes….The politics of renewables

Yesterday I was in Manchester speaking at the RenewableUK Annual Conference, and then on to see a fascinating energy efficiency project led by students in Parrs Wood School in John Leech’s constituency.

My Manchester speech focused on the politics of renewables – both the good news and the bad.

The good news is that renewables investment is in great shape. Since 2010, an average £7 billion a year has been invested – more than double that under Labour’s last term in office.  We are now seen as No.1 in the world for attracting investment in offshore wind, wave and tidal.

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Norman Lamb writes… NHS needs an extra £1.5 billion

nhs sign lrgFor too long mental health has been seen as a second-class issue in the NHS and I am determined to change that.

Today I’ve called for up to an extra £1.5 billion to be invested in the NHS next April. A significant amount of that money would go towards improving mental health services, especially for children and young people.

At our party conference in Glasgow, Nick Clegg said the Liberal Democrats will spend at least £1bn extra on health and care in each year of the next parliament, including £500m each year for mental health.

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  • User AvatarStephen Hesketh 27th Nov - 8:39pm
    Stephen Donnelly 27th Nov '14 - 8:23pm YES! And is a compelling reason why we should stand united as that region and not allow ourselves...
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    As 260,000 people have arrive (net) into Britain in six months we can assume that about half a million will arrive in a full year....
  • User AvatarDavid-1 27th Nov - 8:34pm
    A) The Scottish MPs don't vote on Scottish rates either. This is a red herring. All MPs have the same rights. Simon is advocating creating...
  • User AvatarStephen Donnelly 27th Nov - 8:23pm
    Caron: Your headline should probably read 'Lancashire and the North'. The North West is Britain's third biggest region behind London and the South East, with...
  • User AvatarAllan 27th Nov - 8:17pm
    Well at least Tez now knows that being polite is not part of LibDem members concern when they disagree with someone. If Tez felt some...
  • User AvatarStuart 27th Nov - 8:16pm
    @Richard Dean "We have actually been sustaining net immigration of around 200,000 persons annually since 1998 or so, so sure, we can sustain the current...