Category Archives: Op-eds

Time to lambast the economic stupidity of Tory posturing on immigration

 

The main headline in today’s Sunday Times (£) is something of a milestone. (Helpfully, the Murdoch empire make most of the story available on Sky News without a paywall).

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Paul Tyler writes… In defence of piecemeal

For years Liberal Democrats have made the case for comprehensive reform of our constitution. We seek a fully federal settlement for the United Kingdom; constitutionally guaranteed decentralisation; fair votes; a democratic second chamber; prerogative power curbed other than as expressly given by Parliament; inalienable human rights.

Across the parties, many of us signed up 26 years ago to Charter 88 to realise a full package of these aims. The Charter itself lamented that existing British “constitution…encourages a piecemeal approach to politics”. It called for a comprehensive new settlement.

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Cochrane review: Vaping can help you quit smoking

A review published by the Cochrane Collaboration – which serves to compile and make accessible evidence from clinical trials – has found that electronic cigarettes do help smokers reduce smoking or quit altogether.

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Opinion: Universal Basic Income is the way forward for the Liberal Democrats

Following a post by Nick Barlow a couple of weeks ago, a number of Liberal Democrat members have got together in support of the Universal Basic Income. In this post I wanted to outline some of the reasons UBI can and should become the cornerstone of our party’s welfare policy.

Universal Basic Income is a regular unconditional tax-free payment made to every citizen regardless of their situation. Most models have it varying only with age- the under 21s get less, the over 65s get more- and naturally it replaces the large majority of existing benefits including pensions and unemployment benefit.

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Morrissey Progress Report – first thoughts

Morrissey Progress ReportAs promised earlier, here are my first thoughts on Helena Morrissey’s progress report which she published earlier today. There is so much in the report that I could go in to but these are the main points I’ve noticed.

The party needed to come out of this well, and show good progress in 18 months. To a certain extent it does, and the people who needed to come out of it most well were the leader, chief executive and president, the holders of most power in the party and who are perceived by the public as its face. They were praised for their commitment and for what has been achieved. It was the lack of progress at regional and local level that concerned Morrissey and she wants to see that changed. In many respects I agree with her. However, those of us who value the say that grassroots members have in this party should make sure that there is no “mission creep”. It may be a temptation to take more power than is strictly necessary to the centre and we need to be vigilant on this point.

Morrissey outlines the solid progress that has been made so far on each of her recommendations but is clear that there is still more to do. She suggests further action on two broad themes – structural reform and specific action to make sure that people are aware of the standards of behaviour expected of them.

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Lib Dem MPs were right not to play Labour’s silly games over the Bedroom Tax

Twitter has been full of Labour types slating Liberal Democrat MPs for voting against Labour’s parliamentary motion on the Bedroom Tax. When longstanding critics of the measure like Tim Farron and Julian Huppert vote with the Government, then there has to be a good reason. In fact, there are three.

1. This was just a Labour stunt

It was a parliamentary game to go along with a data gathering exercise Labour have been doing over the past few days. Social media has lit up with a link to a site in Liberal Democrat colours asking people to sign up to stand against the Bedroom Tax. All they wanted was the excuse to put on a leaflet that the Liberal Democrats had voted to keep the Bedroom Tax. Of course, it won’t mention that they voted in favour of Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill which made proper, actual sensible changes.

This is not a new tactic. I dare say we’ve used it ourselves plenty times in the past when in opposition. The SNP used to do it all the time when Labour and the Liberal Democrats were in power in Scotland. This may be a good moment to remind people that they (that’s most SNP MPs) never turned up to support Andrew George’s Bill. That’s an aside, though. What happens is that the opposition puts up a motion that even opponents of the measure in the Government couldn’t possibly vote for so that they can make political hay.

2. Labour’s motion did nothing for private sector tenants affected by similar measure introduced by…Labour

Yesterday’s motion was not about actually making anyone’s life better. It had no chance of helping those who are struggling with the Bedroom Tax. Nor did it to anything for those who are stuck in overcrowded accommodation. Even if their motion had passed, it would not have been binding on the Government, nor would it have tackled the hardship faced by people renting in the private sector. We forget that Labour brought something very similar to the Bedroom Tax in for private sector tenants in 2008. Yes, it’s slightly different in that it didn’t apply to existing tenancies, but there is much greater turnover in private sector tenancies, so it’s been causing real difficulties too. We shouldn’t ignore that. Funnily enough, Labour’s motion did ignore the problems they had caused.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…Localism and liberalism, urban and rural

You have to admire the energy and determination of Lucy Hurds and the Lib Dem team in Hereford and South Herefordshire. When I went to Hereford the other day, I found I was the most recent of a gaggle of peers and MPs (is that the right collective noun for Parliamentarians?) whom Lucy had persuaded to trek westwards.

Going to rural seats always reminds me how different it is campaigning in the countryside. In my neck of the woods, the challenges are from entry phones and gated developments (how does anyone ever get in, or – as happened to one colleague who did achieve that, get out?) In other parts of the city it’s tall and too often liftless blocks. Lucy whispered to me that two members to whom she introduced me delivered a village every week.

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Opinion: The power of the media for good or ill

The existence of a free press is one of the hard-won aspects of our society, that makes it what it is. Added to this is the existence of a free broadcasting system and the internet, some of which features other countries are lucky enough to share.

Of course, there are problems associated with a free media, including the issue that it is largely profit-driven and can therefore occasionally overstep the mark of what many ‘ordinary’ people consider to be acceptable behaviour. Delving too deeply into the private lives of those who are not in a position to defend themselves is one example of what can go wrong. On the other hand, revealing the depths of corruption in various public bodies is something for which we should thank them.

It is therefore with a degree of diffidence that I wonder whether some of the 24 hour a day coverage we see is actually a bad thing. Take for example, recent events in Sydney, Australia.

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Opinion: Torture – taking back control of the debate

Following the publication of the Senate report into the CIA’s treatment of detainees during the ‘war on terror’, David Cameron said ‘Let us be clear. Torture is wrong, torture is always wrong’. This is undoubtedly a powerfully attractive view for anyone of a humanist disposition, concerned to condemn all violations of basic human rights.

But there is a nagging problem – the British public seem not to be so sure. A survey by Amnesty International in May this year showed that 30% of Britons believe that torture can sometimes be justified, and that 44% believe we should not rule out its use altogether – more than in Russia and China, countries where torture is endemic.

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Opinion: London’s house clearing and what the Focus E15 campaign tells us

The introduction of the Benefit Cap and Housing Benefit changes is adding fuel to the gentrification of our urban centers, throwing out many small businesses that can just afford the London Living Wage, and pushing micro urban economies into a transition that will inevitably see the marginalized and low income workers evicted from London’s salubrious centre zones.

Local Authorities (LAs) are already reconfiguring their homeless departments which, if pursued to their natural conclusion, will see changes in their service delivery because officers will have to eventually move out with their service users – starting the same homeless process all over again in the outer areas.

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Opinion: Shhh! Keep this secret

Everyone knows that the Federal Party committees do important business and that this business has to be kept absolutely secret. So I can’t really say anything about Monday’s Federal Executive meeting.

But if we are to move to OMOV (one member one vote – essentially the abolition of conference representatives) there need to be reports capable of being seen in the public domain and hopefully – unlike some reports I have seen within the Party about Federal Committees – uncoloured by the standpoint of the observer.

So let’s have a go.

We talked about OMOV itself. There is now a working party including both enthusiasts and sceptics and this has gone through the necessary amendments again and is hoping that this time it’s watertight. There are some very important loose ends, like how to ensure that people can afford to attend conference, and how the members of committees are to be held properly to account. There will be some consultation work on these at the spring conference.

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Lib Dem Lawyers on Judicial Review

House of Commons at NightThe Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is returning to the Commons today after being ‘batted’ back in ping-pong proceedings between Lords and Commons.

Lib Dem peers working with the crossbenchers are refusing to approve two measures:

1) The Government’s Secure College plans for under 15s.
The Lib Dem Lawyers Association are not the experts in this field, but are concerned that MPs should consider all the risks and issues raised by leading experts. The Lords amendment would exclude under 15s from the Secure College until such time as Parliament agrees that it is safe to send them there.

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Opinion: All for one and one for all

flag-russiaRussia has been busy in the Baltic recently – they have been harassing their neighbours and it seems to me they are acting as if the Baltic is their ‘mare nostrum’ as it were. The Polish Defence minister noted that Sweden seems to be the main object of Russian attention.

How do we help Sweden, and Finland for that matter? Finland and Sweden are in a slightly odd position – they are members of the EU but not members of NATO. In the Cold War they were ‘neutral’ but whatever that meant then it means even less now. What does Britain and other EU/NATO countries do if Finland and Sweden are threatened or even attacked by Russia? Finland and Sweden not being in NATO, Britain is not bound by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty (an attack on one is an attack on all) but it seems inconceivable that we would stand idly by if these two countries were in danger.

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Opinion: Is this the end of conviction politics?

Are we witnessing the end of ‘conviction politics’ in the UK: that is the willingness of politicians to lead, rather than follow, public opinion, taking it in a direction that they believe to be right, rather than one that will get them re-elected. Of course, politicians want to be returned to power; even the very best can only achieve anything good in society provided they are in a position to influence events.

The danger is, however, that in the rush to get elected politicians sometimes allow the media to set the agenda, and then pander to the ‘lowest common denominator’ of public opinion.

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Dear Liberal Democrat MPs: Judicial Review restrictions are a messy compromise too far.

Dear Liberal Democrat MPs,

Tomorrow you will be asked for the second time amendments which the House of Lords has made to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. The Government wants you to severely restrict the right of citizens and organisations to use Judicial Review to examine its decisions and those of local authorities. This interferes with a key check on government power.

I don’t think any of you would have come up with this idea on your own. The Liberal Democrats are there to challenge entrenched power and vested interests, after all. This measure is one of those “messy compromises” of coalition.

Anyone who has ever been in any sort of relationship, business or personal, will know you don’t get things your own way the whole time. You have to do things you would rather not do. However, there have been a number of times when we have accepted Conservative measures and had to revise our support for them after they became law because the evidence showed that they were the wrong thing to do.

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A bit of advice to the English Liberal Democrats – sort your gender balance out and soon

I realise I could get myself into trouble here, as a Scot, offering advice to a fellow State party, but please be assured  that it is meant in a sisterly way. You  may think of it as annoying-little-sisterly but I have an annoying little sister I adore and couldn’t be without.

Anyway, tomorrow the English Council Executive has its first meeting the English Party elections. At this meeting its office bearers and committee representatives for 2015 will be chosen. For more details of what is on the agenda, Anders Hanson, outgoing Regional Chair of Yorkshire and the Humber and a directly elected member for 2015 has provided a very good summary here.

The big problem with ECE is with gender balance. Next year’s 23-3 male/female split is, believe it or not an improvement on this year’s. Anders has this analysis of the situation:

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Opinion: The two party system is dead

And then there were lots

The two party system is dead. I’ll come back to that.

I am currently off work following an operation and, with time on my hands and limited physical options, I have been passing the time analysing Ladbroke’s constituency odds for the general election to work out the national picture from the ground up. Clearly this isn’t what the odds are designed for, and they reflect the betting market as well as the bookies predictions, but they are a much better reflection of reality on the ground than say the old BBC swingometer based on the convenient fiction of a uniform swing between two parties. Moreover, even if the concept of spending hours analysing bookies odds on constituency results appals you, the results are fascinating.

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Ed Miliband has his economic deficiencies but is the Liberal Democrat response adequate?

I’m getting as fed up with arguments about the economy as I was about the quality of the debate in the independence referendum. We seem to be stuck in a yah-boo soundbite fest that is deeply uninspiring.

Ed Miliband’s latest contribution on the deficit was pretty risible if you looked at it in terms of facts. He’s opposed practically every single cut the Coalition has made over the last four years but presumably his “sensible cuts” won’t actually affect anyone. Of course he’s not actually told us what they are, so we can’t really judge. Our problem is that with the way our newspapers and broadcasters work, neither Labour nor the Tories have to be that good to get their message across. Already we seem to be being demoted to an afterthought in most news reports. We have to work ten times as hard as everyone else to grab even a tiny bit of attention.

The nagging worry I have about Labour appropriating policies like our Mansion Tax is that they can then position themselves to say “vote for us, we come without their baggage”. This, I grant you, is pretty much the same as “vote for us cos we’re fairer than them and more economically responsible than them” which seems to be our pitch.

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Stephen Lloyd MP writes… A better future for our coastal communities and inshore waters

imageFor the past few years in my role as MP for Eastbourne, I have been working with residents and councillors from across the political spectrum on an outstanding, £80million redevelopment plan for Eastbourne’s harbour. Together we have drawn up plans which aim to bring 1,500 jobs, new and affordable housing, as well as leisure activities to the community.

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Opinion: Why the Liberal Democrats must put reform first

It was rather warm for February 17th. I was lost looking around the many exits of St James’ Park tube station. I was after Dr. Ken Ritchie, the former CEO of the Electoral Reform Society. Graham Smith, the CEO of Republic had given him my details originally to help The Reform Foundation (which he chairs) get a website. This escalated quickly when a few weeks later I found myself voted in as a trustee during a meeting of the other trustees.

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Who needs human rights?

Last week, in the run-up to Human Rights Day tomorrow,  the Scottish Parliament debated the Scottish National Action Plan on human rights. This aims to ensure that every citizen can realise these internationally recognised rights.

Alison McInnes led for the Liberal Democrats and she went through the SNP Government like a dose of salts for its dreadful stance on stop and search. She highlighted how any one of us might need these rights to protect us one day should we find ourselves sick or vulnerable. If you read the Daily Mail, it’ll tell you that human rights are nasty things that let terrorists off the hook. Well, actually, they  protect all of us from abuse by the state in all sorts of ways.

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A day for Liberal Democrats to speak out for Justice?

It’s not a comfortable day to be a Liberal Democrat today.

The House of Lords is debating the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Will it overturn the Commons’ rejection of its amendment protecting the right to Judicial Review? Jonathan Marks wrote of his concerns about this provision earlier this year. When it was last discussed, 17 Liberal Democrats supported the rebel amendment and 43 supported the Government position. You have to ask serious questions when even Lord Carlile thinks the Government is going too far.

It was a Judicial Review that ruled the appalling Prisoner Book ban unlawful last week. The state has more than enough power and screws things up, or at the very least pushes the boundaries all the time. It is vital that citizens have the chance to challenge government decisions in the courts. It’s a vital check on power that should not be being mucked around with.

How can citizens take the government on if the government throws all the tools at their disposal in the bin?

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Paul Burstow MP writes…We need urgent action on home care

Care in the home Some rights reserved by British Red CrossThe extra £2 billion for health care services announced in the Autumn Statement last week is fantastic news. It is testament to Norman Lamb’s effective and high profile campaigning for urgent funding for the NHS, as well as the hard work behind the scenes by many colleagues making the case.

But in reality these additional funds will not be enough to put the NHS on a sustainable footing. As many of us know only too well, social care is in crisis, and with an ageing population, the existing strain can only become greater. If we don’t address this issue urgently, we risk creating a wholly avoidable additional burden on the NHS which would put its stability entirely out of reach.

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Vince Cable marks 2 million apprenticeships in 4 years – how that story could be told a bit better

Over at the party website, there’s a piece today marking the fact that the coalition government or, let’s not kid ourselves, Vince Cable, has created 2 million apprenticeships.

To mark the occasion, Vince met the two millionth apprentice, Paige McConville in Oxford. Paige, aged 16, started her Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering Manufacture with high-tech engineering firm FMB Oxford in August.

Paige took Vince on a tour around FMB Oxford, explaining how her apprenticeship with the firm is giving her the skills she needs to begin her career as an engineer.

All young people should have the opportunity to get on in life, and apprenticeships are a great way to achieve that. That’s why the Liberal Democrats have prioritised creating jobs and apprenticeships in this Government.

Commenting on the good news, Vince Cable said:

“Reaching the 2 millionth apprenticeship is testament to this Government’s commitment to apprenticeships. Paige and her employer are a shining example of how apprenticeships give young people the chance to start a career and give businesses the talent to grow.

“This isn’t just about numbers. From space engineering, to TV production, to legal services, apprenticeships are the ticket to a great job and a route employers trust to access the skills they need.

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Opinion: Could PEVEL help to secure the triumph of good over EVEL?

england-flagEvery time a Tory mentions English Votes for English Laws they have a certain daemonic glint in their eyes. The power junkies think they are about to get the keys to the pharmacy. They say nature abhors a vacuum, but the Tories can hardly conceal their delight at the vacuum created by the meteoric rise up the political agenda of the West Lothian Question (which they and their friends in the media have helped to propagate). In 2010 they gained 56% of English MPs with 40% of the English vote. Implementing overdue boundary revisions and reducing MP numbers would tilt the balance further in their favour. Requiring a good deal less than 40%, they could gain a majority of English MPs for the foreseeable future if historic voting patterns persist.

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Opinion: Is the centre ground disappearing from British politics?

Ballot boxIs it just me, or has something recently changed in British politics? In fact, this apparent move towards what some might see as extremism may also be a characteristic of the political scene in Europe and further afield, too. It is almost akin to the frenzy that seems to hit societies at the end of each century, but manifesting itself a decade and a half late.

What the opinion polls appear to show is that the centre ground, represented primarily by the Liberal Democrats, has lost ground in favour of a …

photo by: FutUndBeidl
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Opinion: A step forward in reforming the UN

United Nations complexWe Liberal Democrats do like a challenge. From taking on Labour/Conservatives in entrenched local authorities to being the smaller party in an austerity coalition, we’ve fought the good fight for liberal values and policies.

Whatever the difficulties in national and local politics, international issues are often more intractable. Conflicts and disputes, whether frozen, like Northern Cyprus, or persistently violent, like Israel/Palestine, linger on for decades. These different problems require different solutions, but I do think that better global governance would help things along.

The UN security council is still dominated by …

photo by:
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Opinion: Localism is dead – what hope for Local Government ?

Sheffield Town HallThe Localism Act was introduced in November 2011 on a promise of new freedoms and flexibilities for local government, new rights and powers for communities and individuals, and a guarantee to make the planning system more democratic so as to ensure decisions about housing reflect local community wishes. Even the most ardent supporters of this coalition government will be hard pushed to provide evidence that localism has done anything of the sort.

Instead, what we have witnessed in the past four years is a constant reduction of local government budgets …

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Scottish Liberal Democrats announce their list selections – and for the second time in a row manage to put one of their best MSPs in a more challenging position

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have been holding their regional list selections for 2016 Scottish Parliament elections and yesterday announced the top 3 in each region* .

Willie Rennie said on the team announced:

We are first off the mark with our candidate selection and this is a clear statement of intent. We have a team of passionate, dedicated campaigners who are up for the fight and will be working hard for their regions every day between now and the next Holyrood elections.

Our list candidates offer a mix of youth and experience that gives people right across Scotland the opportunity to elect a strong liberal voice to represent them at Holyrood. The new Home Rule powers Liberal Democrats are helping deliver for the Scottish Parliament mean it is more important than ever that we have a team of MSPs who will always stand up for their local area.

With the SNP taking their eye off the ball with the referendum it was Liberal Democrats challenging Scottish Government ministers over the pressure facing our NHS. We led opposition to damaging college cuts and helped families by expanding free childcare.

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Michael Moore 1 Tory Game Players 0 – International Aid bill clears the Commons despite Tory shenanigans

It all got a bit nail-biting yesterday. The House of Commons was going to shut at 2:30 no matter what and a few determined Tories were planning on making sure that Michael Moore’s Bill to shrine the 0.7% of GDP international aid target into law died a death just like Sarah Teather’s on revenge evictions did last week.

In the end, a couple of enterprising Tories tried to talk it out but there were more than enough MPs who supported the Bill to put an end to their parliamentary games and the Bill passed the last of its Commons stages. It now goes to the Lords where our Liberal Democrat Minister Lindsay Northover will be one of those piloting it through. 

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