Category Archives: Op-eds

Corbyn: a warning from (recent) history

 

Imagine our surprise on Saturday when news of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election of the Labour party came through hot off the wires. As it happened, my partner, who is about as a-political as you can get (and that’s saying something, considering we have been together through multiple elections, not least of all the General Election last year, somewhat inconveniently we were moving flat the day after – a story in itself) had made a special study of this election and mentioned the news.

In this age of anti-politics, the figure Corbyn cuts has great appeal for people like my partner, who are not necessarily overtly political, but are reasonably well-informed with no fixed views or attitude. In a sweeping generalisation, it is much akin to what we see in America right now with Trump, albeit in extremis politically to what the Hon. Member for Islington North has to offer. This is the stark zeitgeist we are operating in.

I was reminded yesterday, thanks to social media, of a status I had written some six years ago to the day, an observation I made about Ed Miliband’s election as Labour Party leader. “We (as Liberal Democrats) have the result we want”, I wrote. How wrong I was. At the time, I felt an inherently weak leader in the mind of the general public would only serve us well. The folly of this idea had its apex in the early hours of May 8th last year, when the very idea of Miliband and Scottish nationalists cobbling together a coalition drove the so-called ‘soft Conservatives’ – crucial to securing victories in all our Tory-facing seats – to the ballot box not caring really how brilliant their Lib Dem incumbent was, because the national situation required they duly vote blue. Which they did. A lot.

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REPRISE For new members: The Lowdown: How the party works and what it has to offer

Welcome to everyone who has joined the Liberal Democrats over the past few days – over 1000 since our Conference finished and hundreds more yesterday in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election. It’s great to have you on board. We have so much to do to stand up to the most appalling Government I have ever known.

This is basically a repeat of a post that I did last year when many joined the party in the wake of the election result in the hope that it might be useful to tell you a little bit about how our party works and give you a bit of an idea of the opportunities open to you. If you are not yet a member, read it and think it sounds appealing, sign up here.

What do we believe?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of organisation, the best statement of who we are and what we’re about can be found in the Preamble to our Constitution which underlines how we believe in freedom, opportunity, diversity,  decentralisation and internationalism. Here’s a snippet:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject allprejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

We have a fierce respect for individuality, with no expectation that fellow Liberal Democrats will agree with us on every issue. We expect our views to be challenged and feel free to challenge others without rancour. We can have a robust debate and head to the pub afterwards, the very best of friends.

Your rights as a member

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Grammar schools are not the answer

The Prime Minister claims that her plans to create more grammar schools will enhance social mobility and will help to bring about a truly meritocratic society. They will, she says, create ‘a country that works for everyone’.

Sure. Because grammar schools proved so good at doing just that the first time around.

What Mrs May’s proposals will do, of course, is appeal hugely to the seething mass of baby-boomer Tory voters who just can’t wait to get us back to the good old days of the 1950s and serve as a temporary distraction from the Government’s shambolic approach to all things Brexit.

We should, I suppose, perhaps be grateful that the Prime Minister is at least talking about introducing selection on the basis of academic ability, rather than the religious faith, parental wealth and ability to move to a more desirable postcode that determine how many schools currently choose their students.

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Brexit: An opportunity to extend freedom of movement

Let’s turn Brexit on its head. Let’s not only lobby to remain members of the European Union’s single market, but have free movement of goods, capital, services and people included in our future free trade agreements with some non-EU countries. After all, as liberals we’re not only Europeans, but internationalists. Let’s turn crisis into opportunity by breaking down borders between this country and others around the world.

Wouldn’t it be great if Britons could live, work, study and start a business in Japan, South Korea or Australia with the same ease as we can in Spain and Germany today? It would strengthen trade and political ties between us and those nations, enrich our cultural experience and ensure Britain is internationalist not isolationist in this brave new Brexit world.

Although many Britons would oppose free movement of people from large countries with low per capita incomes, such as India, or having any kind of free trade deal with autocracies like Saudi Arabia, it would be difficult to argue against these arrangements with small and medium-sized democracies with per capita GDP’s similar to our own: Migration from countries like Taiwan, Norway and Canada is likely to be moderate and  counterbalanced by Britons heading the other way, so wage levels, public finances and housing supply are not likely to be strained.

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Why I am going to Witney and I want you to go too

It’s not just that I am having withdrawal symptoms from a wonderful four days at Conference that makes me want to rush down to Witney to spend time with more Liberal Democrats.

That may be part of it, but why would I want to risk the guilt-inducing wrath of my dog by leaving her again so soon?

On Monday, I’m travelling 350 miles for a whirlwind 24 hours of leaflet delivery or whatever else needs doing  to help the wonderful Liz Leffman’s campaign. I’m doing so for several reasons;

A good result for the Liberal Democrats is important for party and country

A major theme of Conference is that we’re not going to stand by and see our country ruined while there’s something we can do about it. We are going to stand up and make the case for the closest possible relationship with the EU and for our country to be that generous-hearted, internationalist, collaborative force for good in the world.

This by-election is our chance to show that we are making progress as a party, that we can get public opinion on our side.

The party is taking this very seriously. They are even playing the cute dog card very early on. Seriously, a picture of a local activists’ dog was used to lure us there yesterday.

We are going to be fighting a good campaign and the sooner we do stuff the better.

For Liz

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Lord Malcolm Bruce writes… Liberalism revitalised

I want to respond to the challenges issued by Paddy and Vince during our conference.

Paddy said the party was “intellectually dead.” Vince said our position on another referendum was disrespectful to the electorate.

Let me take on Vince first. We and our predecessors supported UK membership of the European Community from its inception. The SDP was created largely because of Labour’s equivocation over British membership. We campaigned unstintingly for Remain and we remain convinced that the UK ‘s interests are best served by being a key member of the European Union.

Yes, by a narrow margin the country voted Leave but we have not changed our view and, given that there is no clear idea of what kind of relationship people want – in or out of the single market – let alone the hundreds of cooperative agreements built up over the last 43 years.

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Grammar schools and Brexit

In England, in the EU Referendum, 53.4% of voters chose Leave. However, in districts with grammar schools, that figure was 56.1%. Imagine, for a moment, that no one at all voted in those areas. It might seem a bit hard on each side to group voters in Kingston and Cheltenham, with some of the highest Remain votes in the country, with those in Lincolnshire and south-east Essex, who recorded the very lowest. Nevertheless, the consequence of their removal would reduce the margin of the Leave victory to just 2%, 51% – 49%.

Obviously, therefore, this is not the full explanation of Brexit, but its implications deserve consideration. The vast majority of voters who had grown up in these districts will not have been to grammar schools. What has been the enduring impact of this division at an early age on their outlooks? Would it be surprising if it made them resentful of the superior life chances that others gained from success in a particular set of tests at the age of 11?

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarAlex Macfie 26th Sep - 9:19am
    Not convinced. The Miliband/SNP scare worked because it looked like Labour had an actual chance of getting into power. (It also succeeded because rather than...
  • User AvatarPeter Watson 26th Sep - 9:14am
    @Barry Snelson "Our offering thus needs to be just as strong, stark and impactful as any from Trump or Corbyn." I genuinely do not know...
  • User AvatarBarry Snelson 26th Sep - 8:51am
    It's nice to read an analysis of the election debacle that doesn't blame it all on the coalition. We can only know how and why...
  • User AvatarJayne Mansfield 26th Sep - 8:24am
    @ Manfarang So you once watched the BBC with some of the Burmese party faithful and found yourself struck by the similarity of mannerisms to...
  • User AvatarBarry Snelson 26th Sep - 8:16am
    Anthony, Thank you for your advice not to be pessimistic, but, to be fair, your op-ed was about the Fall of France an unlikely parallel...
  • User AvatarBrianD 26th Sep - 7:46am
    Thanks Anthony. It rings some bells but probably not for cave dwellers.