Category Archives: Op-eds

“Uncontrolled mass immigration”, Nigel? You must be joking.

I guess I was lucky to survive my breakfast today. First of all, I almost choked on my Corn Flakes reading some of the tales on the “What’s your funniest canvassing experience?” post. Mark Smulian has a lot to answer for. And if your sides aren’t sore enough, Alex Wilcock has done a whole post recounting his tales from the doorstep. I might disagree with him on the worst by-election candidate ever, though.

Things got more serious, though. Hilarity turned to annoyance and shame when I saw Nigel Farage on BBC Breakfast going on about immigration. “Uncontrolled mass immigration” he kept saying. Now there’s a phrase redolent with demonising people, fear and stoking up resentment against people who come to this country to work. You know, those people without whom we wouldn’t have a National Health Service. Those people who make a significant net contribution to the wealth of this nation by paying their taxes. The way UKIP and Farage have both Cameron and Miliband dancing to their fraudulent tune is sickening and is not backed up by evidence. Just the other day, a study reported in the Independent showed that, contrary to the nonsense spread by UKIP, immigrants are not coming over here and taking our jobs.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes…A step towards abolishing the Azure Card

Azure cardLast November I wrote that we must abolish the Azure Card and secured a debate in the House of Lords to that effect.

For those who may be unaware, The Azure Card is a prepayment card provided destitute asylum seekers who require support because they are temporarily unable to leave the United Kingdom. It is a discriminatory and wholly inadequate system of support which the Red Cross – as well as many other refugee organisations have called to be abolished.

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Opinion: Scottish Lib Dems should abandon their suicidal complacency and promise to devolve oil and gas

It seems now clear, after months of polling, that nothing will disengage the Scottish electorate from its preoccupation with its place in the Union.   The latest TNS poll shows the SNP on 46%. Even a fall to below 40% will win the SNP most constituencies under FPTP.

We have heard much about Scottish Labour’s slump in the polls (from 42% in 2010 to 30% now), but the poll shows that their Lib Dem counterparts have collapsed from 19% to an appalling 3%. Lib Dems MPs look like being down from 11 to between 1 and 3.

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Opinion: Parents want a say on school attendance policy

I’ve written previously (here and here)about school attendance policy. Following the hand in of a 127,000 strong petition to the Department for Education (DfE) in October 2013, Craig Langman and I co-founded the independent campaign group “Parents Want A Say” (PWAS). Craig’s petition called for the reversal of the term time absence regulations and has now grown organically to over 220,000. The group is chaired by John Hemming MP, obtained an extremely well attended Westminster Hall debate in February 2014 and is supported by Liberty, such is the extreme nature of some decisions being made by schools under the new rule. We enjoy significant support in the media due to the feedback from audiences.

The DfE continues to misinterpret the statistical evidence base for the policy, as in Nicky Morgan’s misleading statement last weekend. Professor Stephen Gorard of Durham University confirms this. The attendance and attainment debate is far more complex than Nicky Morgan apparently believes and Heads and parents are deeply concerned at this simplistic approach.

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Opinion: Struggling with a personal response to ISIS

Independent thinking comes down to trusting your own capacity for an original, personal opinion. For me, it is worth struggling with ourselves when it comes to important subject matter. This is so that solutions have a chance to springing from a place of authenticity and purpose. For me, this is an essential part of offering a responsible perspective and is quintessential liberal.

This video is of ISIS fighters destroying ancient relics. Artifacts that were housed in Iraq’s Mosul Museum. My initial response would have been similar to most people I’d imagine; shock, abhorrence, alarm and repulsion. There is violence in this reaction. But it was a violence that feels as if deliberately enticed by what I was watching.

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Opinion: Thoughts on some Liberal candidates past and present

The first General Election I can remember was in 1979, when as a fifteen year old I was starting to really get interested in politics.

In my village and constituency (Henley) the Tories were well entrenched, but the Liberals had a level of support too.

The Liberal candidate was a chap called Steven Atack and I still remember seeing a poster advertising him as a speaker at a public meeting in the village hall.

I thought they had spelt his name wrong!

My parents who were Liberal voters didn’t go to the meeting, which I suspect was poorly attended and the Tories swept in.

Wind …

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Opinion: Decentralisation to the London Region – the case has yet to be fully made

Before the recent Scottish independence referendum, promises squeezed out of the ‘Westminster establishment’ over more decentralisation of power to Scotland. The independence referendum was a close run thing. Now those in favour of full independence for Scotland are in a majority, and it seems that this will be reflected in the coming UK General Election.

The UK government has also conceded to a small increase in the powers of the Welsh Government.

On independence and devolution, Scotland has form, of course. But there are more modern reasons for the recent rise of pro-independence sentiment.

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Davey and Cable defend free speech at universities from Tory attack

Vince Cable Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterWe know that during the passage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, Liberal Democrat peers Sal Brinton and Margaret Sharp tried to amend the bill to strengthen the duty on universities to preserve freedom of speech. Senior Tories couldn’t see why that was so important, sadly.

The Observer reports that Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers, especially Vince Cable, disagree about the planned guidance to be issued to universities about what they can and can’t allow on campus.

In the Sunday

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Opinion: Combined authorities and English devolution

The big news on devolution this week has been the twin announcements of more devolved powers for Wales and that Greater Manchester will be devolved control over the £6 billion health budget for the region.

It’s interesting to see what lessons can be taken from this. One is that ‘Devomanc’ really does appear to have substance, despite initial scepticism from various people (myself included) and another is that talk of English Votes on English Laws is even more redundant now that we face the prospect of Mancunian MPs voting on matters affecting the rest of England which don’t affect Greater Manchester.

A further, more worrying lesson, is that devolution is becoming ever more piecemeal with wildly varying levels of devolution both across the UK and across England.

But England the lessons are particularly interesting. Those of us living outside of major city regions like Greater Manchester and Merseyside have been wondering how exactly we can get our share of devolution and it now looks like we have an answer.

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To hit the LibDems, Labour give £2 billion to graduates earning 32%+ above the average wage

Details of Labour’s tuition fees policy are emerging today. There is a proposed higher maintenance grant and higher interest rates for higher earning graduates. It will remain to be seen how much those two changes alter the regressiveness of the main proposal to reduce the fee cap to £6,000.

That basic policy proposal is to take £2 billion from pension tax breaks and give it to graduates who earn 32% above the national average wage.

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Three reasons why Talk of the Glens is much better than the Daily Mail

Talk of the GlensThe Daily Mail has been casting a critical eye over a publication being delivered to voters across Danny Alexander’s Inverness, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency by Danny’s campaign team.

Needless to say, the magazine, Talk of the Glens, does not meet with the Mail’s approval. “Toe curling” and “garish” they call it.

It is very nice of the Mail, however, to reproduce the magazine almost in its entirety. Their readers, who may have inadvertently recycled it, therefore get a second chance to see it.

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Paul Burstow MP writes… Mental health and employment support must be available to all who need it

For most people, work plays a defining role in their lives. It provides structure, the money to live and enjoy life, and for the lucky ones, it can provide a sense of achievement and purpose. Every one of these elements is a component in supporting good mental health, and helps to explain in part the vicious cycle of mental ill-health and unemployment, as well as the critical role that employment can play in mental health recovery.

But it’s sadly not true to assume that work is always good for you mental health. Surveys have found the mild to moderate mental health problems – including stress, anxiety or depression – are the most common reasons people are signed off work, and mental ill health costs UK employers £26billion every year: £8.5billion in sickness absence, £15.1billion in lost productivity and £2.4billion in staff turnover. That’s an average of more than £1000 for every employee, so it’s in everybody’s interests to make sure that employers do everything they can to improve employees mental health, and to encourage them to seek support and treatment as soon as mental health problems develop. While there are some fantastic employers who ‘get’ mental health and its debilitating impact on their employees as well as their business, a recent survey conducted by CentreForum found that two thirds of people said they had been treated unfairly in keeping a job, and 75% said they had stopped themselves applying for work due to fear of discrimination. This needs to end.

That’s why the Mental Health Commission I chaired made the workplace one of our priorities for action. As we recommended, there should be a concerted effort to make UK businesses and services mental health friendly employers, with all organisations with more than 500 employees signing up to a mental health kitemark and 90% of these organisations on board by 2020. I am proud to be able to say that we established the first government funding for the Time to Change campaign – which works to end mental health discrimination – during my tenure as Minister responsible for mental health. It is fantastic that under Norman Lamb, the government have committed to continue funding this crucial work.  To maximise our impact, we now need to ensure that all public sector bodies have taken up the mantle, and use public sector procurement to filter this commitment throughout the distribution chain. At the same time, Norman Lamb has called on all FTSE 100 companies to sign up to the Time to Change initiative – and this is a call we should all echo.

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Lord Tim Clement-Jones writes…A record number of councils are calling for a clampdown on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – the Government must act

I’m now eight weeks into my New Year’s resolution to spend my Fridays campaigning with some of our fantastic target seat candidates across the country. One thing that has struck me on the doorsteps is that it is not the high politics of opinion polls, votes in Parliament and endless speculation on personalities that matter to people. What actually matters is local issues – from their kid’s school to the shops on their local high street.

With that in mind, I recently lead a debate in the Lords on concerns expressed by 93 councils in England and Wales over the growth of high street betting machines. Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) offer high speed, high stakes gambling – with punters able to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds. To offer some comparison, other high street locations have a limit of £2 a stake and even casinos limit machine stakes to £5. Effectively, these machines have turned high street bookmakers into casinos, offering astonishingly hard forms of gambling right on people’s doorsteps.

I am not anti-gambling – but I’m concerned about the spiralling number of these machines for two reasons. Firstly, they are fuelling the proliferation of betting shops in poorer areas. It is now a common sight to see two or three betting shops on one high street. Indeed, on one street in Newham, there is an astonishing 18 betting shops and that equates to 72 FOBT machines. It’s still a tough climate for high streets; but the solution certainly isn’t betting shops sucking money out of local communities and causing huge social problems.

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We need to be careful about the SNP and coalitions

Labour appear to be saying they would entertain the idea of putting the SNP in charge of Britain in a government and that’s in my book just not going to happen. In the same way I’d never put UKIP in charge of Europe, I’d certainly never put the SNP in charge of a country that they would basically want to rip apart.

This is what Nick Clegg said about the SNP in today’s Call Clegg. It builds on an article written by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie on here last week. Willie said:

We’ll always be asked by the media about various scenarios and outcomes. But the reality is that all of us are campaigning hard for  Liberal Democrat votes. We want to win here.

And just as you would not put UKIP in charge of Europe, it’s right that we make clear you would not put the SNP in charge of Britain.

This doesn’t mean we won’t take a reasonable approach to politics as a party. We have formed coalitions with the SNP on councils and, in the Scottish Parliament, we have worked with them on their budget and on a range of other issues. So have other parties.

But just imagine for only one second what would happen if Alex Salmond became Deputy Prime Minister. The minute you turned your back he’d take the screwdriver out and try to break up the UK.

This is in no way comparing the SNP and UKIP as some have suggested on earlier discussions. There is no direct comparison. Aside from the constitutional issues, there are many policy issues on which we could find agreement with the SNP and we could work with them. We could also temper their lack of respect for civil liberties. I can’t think of anyone in UKIP I’d want to even give the time of day to and our policy divergence is huge.  While I totally get the analogy Nick and Willie are making  I would urge caution about explicitly ruling out dealing with the Nationalists. It would be counter-productive to do so.

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Ed Davey MP writes… Green energy auction paves way for 27 new renewables projects and thousands of green jobs across the UK

A few wind turbinesThis morning I announced the results of the first auction for green energy generation. The results are impressive – more clean energy at lower costs.

Thanks to this first renewable electricity competition of its kind, I have offered contracts to 27 renewable energy projects across the UK.  Enough to power 1.4 million homes and save the equivalent carbon emissions of taking 2 million cars off the road.

The projects include offshore wind and onshore wind and solar, and will create thousands of green jobs.

photo by: vaxomatic
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The LDV debate: Should politicians release their tax returns? Part Two

The issue of politicians and their tax returns has been in the media once again recently, sparked in part by increased scrutiny of tax avoidance measures. The prime minister has said (via the chancellor) that there are no plans to publish his returns, while the man who would like to be in his shoes, Boris Johnson, said on a trip to the US last week that other UK politicians should follow his lead (and those of their US counterparts) in publishing their returns.

Here. the Voice’s Nick Thornsby and Paul Walter debate the issue. Please do share your thoughts in the comments below. You can read Part One here.

Nick Thornsby: A number of people in response to our opening gambits went further and suggested that the tax affairs of everyone should be a matter of public record. In some ways I would have less of an issue with this than singling out politicians for special attention (though I am unconvinced by the logic of the argument).

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Baroness Jenny Randerson writes…Optimism and determination of Welsh campaign teams is impressive

When I am travelling around Wales I take every opportunity as to go out campaigning with our Welsh MPs. Last week I was out knocking doors with Mark Williams and his team in Lampeter. I am a seasoned Ceredigion campaigner- I don’t think I have missed an election there in the last 15 years. So I know what to expect, and the atmosphere hasn’t changed. Mark is known by almost everyone and regarded with huge respect for his constant hard work in a constituency where local issues are particularly important.

In Brecon and Radnor the “Williams Team” are equally well known and Roger is particularly well established in the farming community. Campaigning in such a sparsely populated area is never easy and elections in B and R are not for the faint hearted. But once again we have the benefit of a well-liked and respected candidate and a strong local party able to support him.

Cardiff Central is about as big a contrast as you can imagine: it is geographically the smallest Welsh constituency but, as an inner city seat it has a big turnover of population. I live in the area so it is no surprise that I campaign there regularly. As a Labour facing seat it will obviously be very closely fought and Jenny Willott’s Labour opponent is particularly well funded as she is a Trade Union lawyer. Jenny and our team are working as hard as it is possible to do and, once again, her name is well known and her reputation for hard work is frequently mentioned. Labour infighting on the Council and their plans to close libraries and reduce bin collections have persuaded a lot of local people that they cannot be trusted. The core Lib Dem team in Central are experienced, tough campaigners, but there are also a lot of new members, many of them young, for whom this is their first general election as activists.

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Opinion: It’s time to recognise Palestine as a state

Israelis go to the polls on March 17 and no doubt the US and UK governments and most Lib Dems are hoping for a Netanyahu defeat and a more “liberal” government.  Opinion polls however suggest the opposite.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in article on 1 February, suggested that Netanyahu’s re-election would be the better outcome, as then the rest of the world would see the need to keep up the pressure on Israel.  The article suggested that it could be worse if a government of the centre left was elected as this would reassure the rest of the world that peace negotiations would be renewed, while nothing would actually happen. So, whatever the outcome of the election, there is a need for EU countries to keep up the pressure on the Israelis to stop their illegal activities in the Occupied Territories, lift the cruel siege of Gaza, and settle fairly with the Palestinians.

I would suggest that now is the time, well before the general election,  for the Party to commit itself to immediate British recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, as Sweden did last October, and to encourage other members of the EU to do the same. Sweden acted alone, France is getting close to doing so and others would undoubtedly follow the United Kingdom.

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Opinion: We are the world

At my United Reformed Church on Sunday the preacher was a young woman from South Africa. The two readers were from the U.S. and from Scotland. The English woman who led the prayers is married to a man of Pakistani origin. Two Australians served coffee, a German lady sat in front of me and a Swiss man across the aisle.

We are a global society, not just a global economy. We are the world.  Yes, the Lib Dems are pro-Europe and internationalist, and we should fly these colours high as these policies represent how our country actually is.

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Opinion: Liberal Democrats should support abolishing the Monarchy – and it is the right time to do so

I am a keen student of history, and have no shortage of fascination with the British Monarchy, its colourful progress, and its chequered evolution. And I do believe it has evolved, as often with grace as with indignity. In that sense, I have a certain level of ‘respect’ for the Monarchy, and certainly for some of the figures who constitute it at present. Yet, as far back as I can remember, I have though it should be abolished. Why?

Rather than lay out all the old arguments, I will focus solely on one argument for Abolition. I will do this, because it is (I believe) a liberal principle, and because I think it is hugely persuasive, and rarely aired. It is this: for the fair treatment of the Royal Family themselves, current and yet unborn, that we must abolish the Monarchy.

The British Royal Family, whatever it may once have been, is now a captive family. The institution consists at its peak of a household who are held, for our perceived benefit, in the gaze of the public eye and a web of constitutional precedent.  The Windsor family consists of real individuals, and we should never forget that. I know many will sneer at my concern for a very rich household, with all life’s advantages… but is that really their position?

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Opinion: Float like a butterfly, vote like a xxx?

Having spent the last few days canvassing (what else would a Politics teacher do during half-term?) I have been playing the usual ‘what does it all mean?’ game, trying to make sense of the Green-Liberals, red UKIPs, soft Tories and probable Mebyon Kernows. Even making sense of those categories though requires being able to spot them, and there are days when I long for the simplicity of a ‘damned if I know’ option on Connect.

I do understand why there is no ‘don’t know’ ‘undecided’ or ‘genuine floater’ category. Firstly it would be far too tempting for canvassers to label everyone who didn’t immediately disclose their voting intention as a ‘don’t know’. The follow-up probes about who they definitely wouldn’t for, voted for last time, and might their lend vote to would be too likely to be forgotten.

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The Independent View: “Bold liberal tax reforms for a stronger economy and fairer society” – a CentreForum essay by Adam Corlett

In a series of essays that CentreForum will be releasing over the next few months in anticipation of the book, The Challenges Facing Contemporary Liberalism: 2015 -2025, published today is the paper “Bold liberal tax reforms for a stronger economy and fairer society” by Adam Corlett, which can be read here. It is the third in the series; the first, On Blasphemy by Maajid Nawaz, can be read here, and the second, an essay by Tim Farron, Neil Stockley and Duncan Brack on green growth and climate change, can be read here.

Adam’s paper examines the tax system and identifies six key challenges facing any incoming government post-May 2015: simplifying income taxes; taxing investment intelligently; fixing corporate tax biases; reforming inheritance tax; taxing real estate; and making consumption taxes fair.

photo by: Alan Cleaver
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Back to the days of toxic factionalism in the Labour Party – will they ever learn?

I’ve always felt that the Labour Party would be much more effective if they could put their energies into fighting the problems the country faces rather than fighting each other. We all remember the schism between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair from Day 1 of their administration which overshadowed everything they did. Do you remember the time when they decided to show everyone what good friends they were in the run up to, I think, the 2005 election, sitting  together uncomfortably on the GMTV sofa.

Today the Sunday Times (£) shows us that toxic factionalism is still alive and well in the Party. Brown and Blair couldn’t even get on when things were going well for them. The two Eds, Miliband and Balls are apparently at daggers drawn and Balls may face demotion after recent blunders:

A shadow cabinet member said if Miliband becomes prime minister he should move the shadow chancellor and accused Balls of behaving with “contempt” towards colleagues and “undermining the leader’s agenda”.

Frontbenchers attacked Balls last night for committing Labour’s two worst gaffes of the election campaign so far.

They said his reputation as a “safe pair of hands” had been shattered when he failed to name a single Labour business backer and told voters they should get a receipt for work done cash in hand, both of which attracted ridicule.

Senior figures also expressed frustration and incredulity that Balls has dug his heels in over funding a cut in English tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year — three years after Miliband first backed the policy and with the announcement due at the end of this week.

Insiders say a meeting between Miliband and Balls last Wednesday, which many hoped would settle the policy, had “ended badly”.

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Opinion: Don’t sell social housing

A Conservative housing policy is likely to exacerbate London’s housing crisis because it proposes to sell more social housing.

If we can sell homes at a discount of 70 – 80% of the ‘market value’, then what does that say about the market?  Simply put: London’s housing market is over priced – most likely by similar amounts.

At the University College of London’s seminar: “How Should we Respond to Rising Inequality” last month, political economist Will Hutton, David Goodhart and Sir John Gieve discussed reasons behind rising housing costs.

They talked about the impact of unmanaged markets, lack of supply, cartels in house building, land values underpinned by dysfunctional finance markets etc and unmanaged banking and finance systems. This is compounded by a lack of political will and vision.  Essentially, our government lacks the ability to ensure low costs housing remains in an ‘open market economy’. If these opposing forces can come together and agree, it is time housing policies do too.

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Further steady fall in unemployment

Yesterday’s monthly update from the office for national statistics shows unemployment down 97,000 in the last quarter of 2014 and by 486,000 on a year earlier.

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Opinion: Are you a STEM champion?

Do we need more scientists and engineers in government? The question is a tough one. Of course it’s easy to find examples of scientific illiteracy in parliamentary debate, and it can be frustrating for followers of politics to see policies adopted seemingly without any framework to test their efficacy in a structured and unbiased way (though there has been some progress in that area). On the other hand, MPs without science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) backgrounds can be great advocates for science and engineering, and are perfectly capable of debating technical issues with great insight and sensitivity – Conservative MP Jane Ellison, for example, handled the recent debate on mitochondrial donation admirably.

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The Independent View: Commons must debate key Medical Innovation Bill before election

Maurice Saatchi’s Medical innovation Bill has caused controversy and inspired a passionate debate on how doctors and scientists can and should speed up medical advance for currently incurable diseases.

The Bill is designed to do two things. First, it will offer clarity and confidence to doctors who want to innovate and move away from standard procedures.

When might that be relevant? In most cases standard procedures work and innovation is unnecessary. There is a vast quantity of scientifically validated data which supports standard medical procedures.

But in some cases – specially for rare and incurable diseases –  there is little scientific data and no effective treatments. In such cases, a doctor and the patient may face a choice, between applying the standard treatments, even though they are known not to work and will lead only to death, or to try something new.

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Guardian’s coverage of Liberal Democrat General Election campaign accentuates the negative

So what does the Guardian do to cheer itself up when a poll has shown Labour support is falling? Ah yes, they just write about how rubbish life is for the Liberal Democrats. Words like perilous, doom and resigned are peppered through the piece. I’m not suggesting that our prospects are the best they’ve ever been, but so much of what’s written about us is not so much “glass half empty” but “no liquid anywhere near the glass.”

I’d like to think that when Patrick Wintour and Nick Watt were doing their research for this, they were shown the vibrant Team 2015 operation, the busy and spirited things going on across the country in our key seats and that they just chose not to write about it because it doesn’t fit in with the pessimistic narrative. There are many things about the party’s campaigning that it can take a huge amount of pride in. There are bright and talented people in HQ who are doing the best they can with the material available to them. Did Wintour and Watt get to talk to the Austin Rathes and Steve Jollys of this world? I hope so.

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Opinion: Tory plans to curb benefits for obese people and addicts is the opposite of enabling people to get on in life

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through charity work, in two different countries, it’s that imposing your moral code on other people simply does not work. Sometimes, people are going to do things that seem wrong, or misguided, or utterly reckless, to us. When they do, it’s our role not to judge them for it, but to give them the information they need to make their own informed choices.

That’s why I was so annoyed this week just past. In Spain, a colleague of mine told me that the media had whipped up frenzy around our organisation teaching young people to use condoms correctly. Meanwhile, back home in Britain, we have the Conservative party trying to push its own moral code through the benefits system. Both examples neatly explain what the problem is with moralising narratives in society.

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Opinion: High impact campaigning – volunteering with Team 2015

Team 2015 posterI’m looking forward to the election with a fair amount of optimism. My response to disappointing election results in May 2014 was to join Team 2015, which in August had just begun to mobilise Lib Dem volunteers in preparation for the General Election. At this point the Team membership’s infectious enthusiasm far outweighed its numbers. It has since grown to include volunteers from across the country, and this has shaped my belief that we have a chance to do better in the election than critics and pollsters are anticipating.

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