Category Archives: Op-eds

A quiet word in defence of Alex Carlile

alex carlile2 from bells yard
I fully support the decision of my friend and colleague Caron Lindsay, Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, to initiate a debate on the actions of Lord Carlile in connection with the Counter Terrorism Bill and an amendment (which apparently is still hanging over parliament like the sword of Damocles) which would effectively bring in the Communications Data Bill (or “Snoopers’ Charter”) by a back door/shoe-horn.

I strongly disapprove of those actions, taken by Lord Carlile and a few other peers.

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Catherine Bearder writes… 100 days to stop the Tories or Labour neglecting the environment

The countdown starts today. Just 100 days left to ensure that any future government has a strong Liberal voice in it. That means a strong voice for social justice and economic responsibility, ensuring that we finish the recovery and do so fairly. But it also means a voice that will continue to stand up for a radical approach on issues like drugs policy, indiscriminate snooping and constitutional reform. Crucial issues, but ones that both Conservatives and Labour would happily sweep under the carpet and forget about altogether if they were given the chance.

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Julian Huppert writes… Clamping down on Tax Dodging

Tax dodging is plain wrong. There can be absolutely no justification for the wealthy not paying what they owe.

More than any other party, we know how important it is to have a fair tax system. Before the last elections, we pledged to lift the income tax threshold to £10,000. We have surpassed this by raising it to £10,600, lifting more than 3 million low earners out of paying income tax altogether.

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The left cheers Syriza while Miliband equivocates

The victory in Greece of anti-austerity party Syriza (in coalition with a hard right junior partner) has been warmly welcomed by anti-austerity commentators here.

Perhaps jumping the gun a little regarding the difference between voting to end austerity and actually ending it, Zoe Williams in the Guardian talks of a “a successful, transformative movement”.

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Opinion: Enablement For All

I had the opportunity to tour a small business this week which makes cutting-edge prosthetic devices.  It was fascinating – technology nowadays has moved on so much that electronic sensors in an artificial foot can detect when you stub your toe on a curb and compensate for your loss of balance so that the foot/prosthetic device stays stable and you don’t fall.

We are all familiar with international athletes, ‘bladerunners’, who are able to achieve so much in their sport because of the specialist blade limbs that enable them to compete at the highest level.  What I wasn’t aware of was swimming ‘flipper’ limbs are also available, and a range of other devices.  This company makes all of them, enabling those who have been in road accidents or lost limbs through illness or in war, to live their lives to the full.  I came away in wonder, having seen how the devices are made out of sheets of plastic draped over moulds, simple materials changing peoples’ lives.

Enablement.  It is, in my opinion, what the Liberal Democrats are all about.  We exist to create a “fair, free and open society” and we value “liberty and equality.”  We enable.

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Opinion: The case for a “Great Reform Pact”

The election draws near and the battle lines are being set -but they are being laid down on the principles of old, whilst the country cries out for change.  More than anything, voters yearn for responsive local Government and not authoritarian diktats from afar in London or Brussels. They want their voices heard. The two party system is broken but our democracy remains in the past.

We need leadership and a vision of a modern democracy that will give people a real say and the freedom to act.

Do Clegg and Milliband have the statesmanship to seize a unique opportunity this May? All the leaders know that in all probability they will have to do a deal after the election if they want to be in or share power.  So why not do a deal now, before the election?  If the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrats come together in an electoral pact there is every chance they will win a clear majority of MPs.

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Surely it’s time for the Liberal Democrats to part company with Alex Carlile

alex carlile - house of lords
After much provocation over the years, I have finally reached the end of my patience with Alex Carlile. The sooner he and the Liberal Democrats part company the better.

It was embarrassing enough to watch him give the green light to so many of Labour’s illiberal anti-terror laws, but when he supports something which threatens to scupper a key concession won by the Liberal Democrats, it is time for us to actively campaign for him to go.

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Opinion: A liberal postcard from Athens

Sunday morning in Kifissia, one of the leafy northern suburbs of Athens, and the view from my bedroom balcony is blue sky with dark clouds looming – a fitting scene for this very important Greek Election Day.

A product of the oil industry in Aberdeen, I am one of many Scottish expats supporting the oil and gas industry around the world (and lets not mention oil prices!). I have been working in Greece for a little over a year and after commuting between the Athens of the North and the real Athens for a year, I have been resident (and paying tax!) in Greece since November.

Greece has been going through a tough time in the last five years, unemployment is high and wages are low. Though there are few signs of austerity in the posh northern suburbs, my Greek colleagues (I am a lawyer) have lost faith in their politicians and their economy. Much though they love their country, pessimism is rife.

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Opinion: Let’s look at the harm caused by Page 3

Given that Page 3 wasn’t in The Sun this week, it sure took up a lot of media space, especially among Lib Dems. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that loads of us want to wade into a fight that was framed as free speech and sexual expression vs gender equality and quality news reporting. But that’s not actually what’s going on at all: so here is a rundown of what Page 3 is, and why it’s harmful.

Page 3 is normalising objectification of women. The Sun makes printing nude women for the sole purpose of titillation in a national newspaper, which would otherwise be totally weird, normal. Images of nude women and breasts are perfectly normal and widely available in a sexual context (see, 80% of the internet), but a daily national newspaper is not the place for it, because it’s supposed to be for news. “Women have breasts” is pretty much the oldest story there is. Unless, like my mother, your breasts make it into the paper because they are testing the new mammogram machine at your local hospital they don’t need to be in there. If the Guardian decided to swap Polly Toynbee for a massive naked man next week, I’d find that equally inappropriate, because quality reporting is not about getting your rocks off (unless you have a particular fetish for bad photos of Ed Milliband).

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Flags at half mast – the right way to mark the passing of an illiberal despot?

You can probably guess that my answer to this question is a resounding “No.” When I saw yesterday that Westminster Abbey of all places was flying the flag at half mast to mark the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, I was horrified. The vomit-inducing tone of the tributes portraying him as some sort of reformer added to my irritation. If he was a reformer, Brian from the Magic Roundabout is a world champion sprinter to rival Usain Bolt.

I guess what intensified my overall sense of injustice was the chorus of silence from Liberal Democrats. Surely at least one of our parliamentarians should have openly criticised such a ridiculous decision. The only honourable exceptions I can find are Meral Ece and Mike Thornton, both of whom have been retweeting human rights information about Saudi Arabia and wry observations about the reaction to Abdullah’s death:

Most annoying was that it fell to a TORY to heap the most condemnation on the flags decision:

It’s all so different from 2007 when Vince Cable as acting leader boycotted the State Visit of King Abdullah, saying:

Mr Cable added: “I think it’s quite wrong that as a country we should give the leader of Saudi Arabia this honour.”

He said that although Britain has a “business-like” relationship with the country, Britain would not dream of extending the same invitation to other controversial leaders like Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi..

He said he had also been critical of the Saudi regime’s treatment of Britons.

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Lord Hugh Dykes writes: Chilcot delay is an utter disgrace

We have waited too long for the Chilcot Inquiry. I do not have to tell you this, the Lib Dems were after all the only one of the three major parties (despite the Tories fuss now) to disagree with going to war in Iraq.

I am proud to say that it was the Liberal Democrat party who marched officially as a party to protest against the war. The estimated 1.5 million marchers going along Piccadilly were subsequently all disappointed that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, completely ignored their representations on the biggest march that had taken place in Britain in recent times.

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Opinion: Some thoughts on preventing suicide

Nick Clegg has been quoted this week as calling for the NHS “to commit to a new ambition for zero suicides”. That is an aspiration that nobody could argue with, but it is unrealistic to believe that it can quite be achieved. Throughout human history and in every kind of society people have died by their own hand, and it would be naïve to believe that a government initiative can single-handedly change that. Nevertheless, he is right to identify suicide as a “massive taboo”. He is also right to raise awareness of the risk. He was speaking particularly in relation to mental health, but we should not infer from that that everybody who contemplates suicide is mentally ill, even though many people suffering from mental illness may indeed see suicide as an escape from an unbearable life.

He was also speaking in relation to the NHS’s role. To be fair, doctors and psychiatrists do routinely ask patients who are depressed or otherwise at risk whether they are suicidal, and many involved in the medical profession are trained to recognise indications of suicidal thought. And everybody who arrives in A&E departments after a suicide attempt is supposed to be seen by a psychiatrist before being discharged, but inevitably many people will simply be returning to the situation from which they were trying to get away. We should also recognise that, among all those in the care of a government-funded organisation, the risk of suicide is rather greater among people sentenced to prison or remanded in custody than it is among those cared for by the health services. Sadly, calling for better emotional support of prisoners does not have the same electoral appeal as concern about the NHS.

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Opinion: TTIP: a taxpayer funded safety net for the super-rich

Few things are more complicated and opaque than the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade deal being hammered out between the EU and the USA. It has been criticized by activists and journalists such as George Monbiot, but Vince Cable asserts there is nothing to worry about. Who is right?

When things get complicated, follow the money. Fortunately we now have a money bloodhound. The economist Thomas Piketty has spent a decade or more producing a huge scholarly work which reveals where the money is. His answer is simple: unless active measures are taken an ever larger proportion ends up in the hands of the already very rich. TTIP will make this even worse.

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Alistair Carmichael MP writes…A proud day as we move nearer to Liberal Democrat vision of home rule for Scotland

Saltire - St Andrews Flag - Scotland - Some rights reserved by byronv2One of my first political campaigns was the 1979 referendum on a Scottish Assembly, as it was then styled.

The failure of that campaign was formative in my political thinking.  We all learned the hard way some simple political truths. Constitutional change is only achieved by working with people from other parties and of no party and that our liberal vision of Home Rule for Scotland within a strong federal United Kingdom is more relevant today than it has ever been.

As a teenager growing up in a small tight-knit island community I also quickly realised that local communities were best placed to make the decisions that affect them. We also understood that Government in Edinburgh was just as capable of getting things wrong for us as government in London.

Fast forward thirty five years and it was a proud day for me as Secretary of State for Scotland when we won decisively the vote to keep our 300 year old family of nations together with a promise of extensive new powers for our Scottish Parliament.

We set up the cross-party Smith Commission to bring people together and build consensus on what these new powers should be.

No party got everything they wanted but we owed it to the majority of Scotland who made the democratic decision to reject independence to see through their desire for more powers – a desire shared by our party.

I was pleased the Smith Commission aimed high.

The draft clauses I have published today will mean our Scottish Parliament will raise over half of what it spends. It will create a new Scottish Welfare State System with a starting budget of more than £2.5 billion.

And it will introduce votes for 16 and 17 years olds for Holyrood and local government elections.

Smith also made another important point that has not received the attention that it deserves, namely that the process of devolution should not stop in Edinburgh but should be driven to local communities across Scotland.

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Securing a future for sustained government investment in cycling and walking

Frankly, this is one of the main reasons I went into politics and am now seeking to become an MP. It’s  amendments to legislation such as this that can mark a step change in how we travel around the places we live on a daily basis and the knock-on effects on health, wellbeing, pollution and congestion.

The Infrastructure Bill, which will dictate the future direction and spending commitments for infrastructure once it becomes an Act, is nearing its conclusion. CTC, the national cycling charity, along with a number of leading transport groups, is demanding a change from the old ways of looking at transport infrastructure, as set out in the following statement:

One of the most important bills going through Parliament this year is approaching its conclusion. The Infrastructure Bill proposes a five year Roads Investment Strategy, but currently makes no similar commitment to long-term funding to vitally increase cycling and walking.

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Julian Hupert writes…We need a strategy to promote walking and cycling

We have a huge problem in this country with physical inactivity. Most people do nothing like enough to stay healthy, and as a result problems like obesity and being overweight are very common.

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Julian Huppert MP writes… Carbon and fracking

Climate change is one of the most, if not the most, dangerous threat facing the world today. The evidence could hardly be any clearer – unless we curtail greenhouse gas emissions sharply, the results will be massively detrimental to us all and put the lives of future generations at enormous risk.

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Opinion: Should Britain copy Obama’s capital gains proposals?

President Obama has announced proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy and help those on lower incomes (such as by boosting tax credits). The plans include reforms to capital gains tax (CGT): increasing its rate and ending a loophole. Should we do the same in the UK, and how do the Lib Dems’ proposals compare?

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Opinion: Tuition fees – grasping the nettle

We have not sold Joe Public the idea that ‘equality of opportunity’ is in the soul, in the very DNA of Liberalism, and the Liberal Democrats, and that was why we pledged free higher education.

Ordinary people do not credit us with Scottish zero tuition fees. They do not realise our non-negotiable condition of joining with the Scottish Labour Party was our policy and that it flew in the face of national Labour Party manifesto then, and since.

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Opinion: Deliberately offensive cartoons did not begin in Paris in the last few weeks

george iv a voluptary gillray
James Gillray: “A voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion”, 1792, depicts the Prince of Wales at the time.

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The Green party – should we be panicking?

This post is reserved for new and infrequent commenters. “Infrequent” is defined as having post less than five comments in the last month.

Yesterday, a poll showed the Green party ahead of the Liberal Democrats by two points. Last week, figures showed that the Green party overtook the LibDems (and UKIP) in terms of membership numbers.

Also posted in For new & infrequent commenters and News | Tagged | 30 Comments

Lynne Featherstone: Good riddance to Page 3

There’s some interesting discussion on my social media timeline about  the Sun’s decision to stop printing clothes of topless women on Page 3. On one hand you have the male dominated group of people who think this is a dreadful infringement of liberty enacted by sinister feminists with An Agenda. Just you wait, they’ll be after your porn yet, they warn. They don’t like the fact that the No More Page 3 campaign started by Lucy-Anne Holmes and backed by more than 200,000 people has got what it wanted. It’s illiberal, they scream, for one group of people to interfere with the freedoms of others. That’s interesting. Presumably they would also be in favour of continuing to use the deeply racist language that was deemed acceptable when I was a child. Perhaps they’d oppose interfering in employers’ rights to send children up chimneys.

I just wonder how some of the men complaining about this decision if, every single day, there were pictures of naked men in a newspaper in a society where most of the positions of power were occupied by women who were never depicted in such a way. I don’t think they’d like it very much.

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…Devolution Dialogue on Democracy Day

Today is “Democracy Day”, a project running across BBC TV and Radio.  It’s fitting that in this same week, Nick Harvey and I have published proposals to bring decisions closer to those whom they affect: a prerequisite for real democracy in Britain.

Here on Liberal Democrat Voice, we have already had considerable debate over the merit of “devolution on demand” as compared to a big-bang, devolution-everywhere-now solution.  My views are well rehearsed!

However, the benefit of the CentreForum Devolution Dialogue in which Nick and I set out our alternative positions is that it brought us together in a greater measure of consensus than we …

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Norman Lamb MP writes… We need to talk openly about suicide and work to prevent it

Yesterday was supposedly “blue Monday” – the most depressing day of the year.  The idea was dreamed up in 2005 by a TV marketing campaign to sell holidays and the myth persists.

But yesterday, Nick Clegg and I were talking about something really serious.  Almost 4,700 people took their own lives in 2013 in England alone, and suicide remains one of the biggest killers for men under the age of 50.  We hosted a conference bringing together leading figures in the mental health world to call for an ambition for ‘zero suicides’ across the NHS.

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Opinion: Why I choose to stand in a seat I cannot win, this time

Beckenham_Junction_stn_main_entrance

There are two key reasons I have chosen to stand for a seat in my home constituency of Beckenham.  One reason focuses on achievements of Lib Dems in government and the second focuses on meeting the challenge of extreme voices in UK society today.

As a liberal and democratic thinker I believe that people should always be given a choice. It is ‘choice’ that symbolises freedom, which is at the heart of all free societies and civilizations. During this General Election it is vital for a Lib Dem voice that is unafraid to shout about what we have achieved within the coalition, because there are so many voices raised to suggest that Lib Dems have failed to be effective in government. The Lib Dem policies, listed by Mark Pack in a very clear infographic, would never have seen the light of day in a Tory majority government.

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Opinion: Britain’s Greenest Party, the Green Party and Environmentalism

Green Lib DemsThe Green Party, which I was a member of briefly in the late 80s, has hard left socialist roots and is widely considered both anti-capitalist and paradoxically authoritarian and localist. It has a wide range of policies, all of which take note of environmental concerns (which do not begin and end with climate change, any more than ours do) but only reference those concerns where necessary. Lately it has been adopting a less hard line approach and on many matters, such as human rights, is decidedly liberal.

However in many cases their authoritarian command economy habit overrides any nascent liberal instinct, and their antipathy to technological and/or market solutions means that they throw away over half the toolbox before they even start. Dogma comes before evidence, and articles of faith remain unchallenged and therefore unproven.

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Willie Rennie makes fair student finance a Scottish budget priority

There is no doubt that Willie Rennie is being brave in his choice of priorities for this year’s Scottish budget. In truth, the SNP have an overall majority at Holyrood so they don’t need to give any sort of ground.They have done the last few years, though. Last year, they gave extra money for childcare and free school meals in response to Willie Rennie’s persistent pestering. The year before it was college places.

This year, he’s taking a bigger risk. There’s an issue which in the context of the Holyrood parliament represents one of our finest hours and in the context of Westminster our worst. It’s tuition fees. Way back in 1999, Liberal Democrats fought an election saying tuition fees would be dead if they were in government and they kept that promise. We know what happened in 2010. We shouldn’t have done what we did, but, as I wrote at the time, Vince had actually managed to create a system that was fairer than the one it replaced:

However, if there were a way to get it wrong well, he’s probably done that.

Imagine for a moment if the Tories had been in power alone. I very much doubt that their Business Secretary would have tracked down Lord Browne and bent his ear about the importance of the recommendations being fair and progressive. And they are to a point. To play Devil’s Advocate a bit here, if we can’t have no tuition fees (and I’m not conceding that we can’t), then isn’t this a better option than anything else? Nobody has to pay out anything to actually go to university so access isn’t denied to those from less affluent backgrounds in the way it would be today.

And Labour? Would they, still in Government, be talking about a Graduate Tax? Of course they wouldn’t. They’d bung on the fees – although I’m not so convinced that they would have necessarily covered all the angles.  I mean, it’s coming to something when it takes a Tory to bring up the issue I blogged about earlier about interest accruing if someone takes time out to look after children. He confirmed in the House today that interest would not accrue under these circumstances.

Annoyed though I might be with him, I have to at least give some credit to Vince for taking an hour’s worth of utter tripe from the Labour benches with patience and humour. I’d rate him above just about any Labour minister you might care to mention and definitely any Tory. I loved his line about the road to Westminster having the skid marks of unenacted pledges all over it.

Y

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Opinion: We need to enshrine children’s rights in law

Our pre-manifesto calls for lowering the voting age to 16, increasing provision for children’s mental health, ring-fencing education budgets from pre-school through to college and committing to end child poverty.  What I’d also like to see is a vision to incorporate the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child into U.K. law.

Why?  We need to empower and enable children.  We need to enshrine their rights in our law.   The Human Rights Act does not mention child-specific rights as set out in the UNCRC: the right to education, the right to protection from violence and abuse, the right to play (wouldn’t it be nice if we all had the right to play?).

I remember being a 9-year old, expressing my point of view and not being taken seriously.  I was furious.  I felt I had a better answer than the adult engaging with me, but I was not listened to because I was a child.

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What do you listen to while leafletting?

Today Liberal Democrat campaigners will have been out doing what they do most weeks – getting out and about on the doorsteps or with the leaflets. By now, I expect they’ll be thawing out with a nice cup of tea.

Make sure, by the way, that you send us your pictures from the campaign trail as many of you trudge out in snowy conditions. Tweet them to @libdemvoice or email to [email protected]

Smartphone or iPod and headphones are as common a part of  leafletters’ attire these days as the cloth bag with the bird on it and the spatula to help negotiate stubborn letterboxes with dogs on the other side of them.

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Asylum system continues to fail LGBT people

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    Well done, Tessa - when so many of our so-called environmentalist members buckled to George Osborne's will.
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    @ Mark Littlewood "If Julian Huppert wishes to stop this sort of behaviour, he is going to need a surveillance state far, far beyond the...
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