Category Archives: Op-eds

A response to the Conference debate on the Balfour Declaration

Shalom alechum, alsalam ealaykum, peace be with you.

Peace, Peace in the land between the river & sea is what we should be working for.

And, to put it mildly, the motion we passed at Conference on Sunday does not do that. Indeed, by passing it, it means we probably won’t get another chance to debate the Palestine/Israel conflict again for some time.

I tried to get the motion referred back to the FPC and to ask them to bring back a better, more comprehensive motion next year as the one we passed today is the lowest common denominator that is acceptable (begrudgingly) to two interest groups in the Party, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and Lib Dem Friends of Israel.

It does nothing to say what we, as a small political party far away from the area, can do to advance the cause of peace between Palestine & Israel and, believe me, there is much we can do.

We could be learning more from groups like “Solutions not Sides”, we could be inviting speakers from One Voice, YaLa Young Leaders, Ta’ayush and similar organisations, we could be listening to those who work every day to break down the barriers (both physical & mental) between the two nations.

The motion also contains factual errors, for example, line 35 refers to “pre-1967 borders” but no such borders existed as they were Armistice Lines that marked the end of conflict in 1949, they were never meant to be the final demarcation between Israel & its Arab neighbours.

What is worse, all amendments to correct errors and improve the motion have been rejected by FCC. No reason has been given for this rejection.

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First impressions from my first party conference – by a Lib Dem who voted Leave

I joined the Liberal Democrats in April 2017. This was my first party conference. I also voted Leave in the EU the referendum. Should I be in this party? Absolutely.

Europe

I sensed that many members didn’t truly understand Leave voters. Nick Clegg seemed a bit more in tune: “why wouldn’t you vote Leave after all you were promised by the Brexiteers?”. Remain is one thing that undoubtedly keeps the party unified. But Remain in what? Jean-Claude Juncker’s vision of a more federalised EU with power centralised? Seems profoundly un-Lib Dem to me.

Nick Clegg convinced me on Remain when he talked about “concentric circles of membership” with the UK sitting on an outer layer, and that is the rub of it. It is not a credible position to just articulate “Remain.” The Lib Dems have to put forward a simple vision for what type of EU we advocate remaining in and how we will make it happen. Nick’s vision or something else that the UK population will buy into? That is how you can convince Leave voters.

The party of the centre

I understand liberalism – it’s why I joined the party, but I still wasn’t sure by the end of the conference, where the ‘centre’ actually is. One member gave Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb a good ear bashing during a session on how to revitalise the centre ground: “why have we gone through 6 conferences, 2 general elections, 1 referendum, and the party still doesn’t have a clear vision on this?”. To own the centre ground you have to be the party that defines it to the public, otherwise you are just emulating others and playing catch-up; to win the game it helps to set the rules.

We need to articulate what the Lib Dem USP is for the ordinary person, defined in a way that is easily consumable and clearly differentiated. At the moment I’m still not sure, and I can’t explain to my wife the unique difference between us and centrist leaning Conservatives / Labourites. Norman Lamb gave us a great starting point when he talked about the business of government being “how to create prosperity and how to share it”. This is the question to which we need some radical answers that differentiate us.

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Compassion and compromise – to get things done Labour has to work with the Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party are two parties that historically have had many things in common. The birth of the Liberal Democrats stems from a splinter section of the Labour Party joining with the Liberals. Therefore, whilst the two parties are further apart than they ever have been in their histories they both share a common history of social justice and a willingness to oppose the Conservatives.

Given that we are once again in a Hung Parliament it is more important than ever for Labour and the Liberal Democrats to work together to ensure that Britain gets the best possible deal out of Brexit and that positive legislation is passed to ensure that Britain can continue putting forward radical, innovative and game changing legislation despite having a Conservative government. This may certainly be a difficult task – whilst the Conservative’s majority is practically none existent even with the help of the DUP they still have a majority – but it is not an impossible task. If Labour and the Liberal Democrats alongside the SNP can work together Brexit can still be held accountable.

Similarly, though the most extreme elements of the Conservative’s manifesto won’t be implemented it is not impossible that they will not try to pass legislation which is ultimately detrimental to the people of Britain. Attempts at the restriction of privacy or the failure to check where British weapons are being sold are not something that either Labour or the Liberal Democrats wants to see or can allow to happen. Therefore, neither party can stand idly by in the Houses of Parliament and let the Conservatives turn Britain into a free for all, allowing any unscrupulous private investor to buy up companies, property or landmarks of British culture without proper investigation and examination of their motives. It is vital that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats come together and force these issues to the forefront of debate in the House of Commons. 

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Brexit, due process and the role of Parliament

Liberal Democrats should be leading the fight in both Houses of Parliament by demanding that a proper legislative process is followed which assesses the benefits, costs and risks of Brexit but also ensures that Brexit, if there has to be one, can only occur if, concurrently, the pitfalls in the constitutional framework exposed during the last 18 months are satisfactorily addressed.

A specific set of overarching rules would need to be put in place ideally before any Brexit can reasonably be implemented.

We should explain to the general public that Brexit is not only bad for the economy, our jobs and our rights but that it would be inappropriate to impose Brexit unless it is done alongside constitutional reform.

We are confident that voters will understand and support us if we tell them that our mission is to oppose Brexit and to ensure that Brexit, if there has to be one, is dependent upon due process and on a new constitutional framework.

The lesson learnt from Brexit: which constitutional reform

The Brexit process has exposed the pitfalls and deficiencies in the role of Parliament and the current constitutional framework.

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Five quick observations about Vince’s speech

Having covered Not the Leader’s Speech, it is only fair to give you the chance to see the actual Leader’s Speech again. It was very different in style from the bouncy style of Tim Farron, but no less compelling to listen to.

You can watch it in full below and the text follows. There are four quick observations I’d like to make, first, though.

Firstly, note that PR has been displaced as our number 1 ask on political reform by votes at 16. By doing so, Vince emphasises his commitment to ending intergenerational unfairness. He talked about how young people had had no say in their future which had been limited by older people voting for Brexit.
He wants to ensure that they have a say in future decisions.

This all makes perfect sense as it is achievable and something that has been our policy for as long as I can remember anyway.

I might have been inclined to take the joke about us inviting Corbyn to join the Anti-Brexit People’s Liberation Front out. It was a joke aimed at highlighting Corbyn’s lefty student style of politics, but it didn’t work out of context and jarred slightly when I saw it on tweets from the BBC.

Thirdly, he did acknowledge that the issue of student fees was still a problem for us. A review is fraught with problems as it then has to come back to Conference and the whole thing is gone over again and the papers write about it all over again. Of course, he couldn’t do anything else or he’d have been accused of trying to make policy over the heads of Conference but it is to be hoped that this review happens very quickly. If David got his skates on and had something ready for Spring, that would be entirely satisfactory. The whole thing is a risk, but less of a risk than doing nothing. We have to be seen to be taking this one on.

Fourthly, he wants us in Government. On our own. A big ambition, but I’d rather see him say that than say that he wants us to go up a wee bit in the polls. We have to show what a Lib Dem world would look like.

Finally, the best bit of the speech for me was this:

We know, of course, that our call will be resented by the Brexit fundamentalists.

We will be denounced as traitors and saboteurs.

I’m half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC.

But if the definition of sabotage is fighting to protect British jobs, public services, the environment and civil liberties, then I am a proud saboteur.

It’s very bold and I hope we all use that quote as often as possible from now on.

Vince had 3 things to do at this Conference. He had to firmly establish us as the Party of Remain – unequivocally fighting to stay in the EU. Secondly, he had to showcase his credentials as the foremost economically literate grown-up on the political scene in this country. He did that. Thirdly, he had to showcase a wider commitment to sort things out for those people who voted Leave because they are struggling. He has put tackling inequality, most particularly wealth and inter-generational unfairness, front and centre of what he wants to achieve. As Jo Swinson said on Sunday, an exit from Brexit is necessary but not sufficient.

He did all three of these things extremely well.

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In full: Jo Swinson’s speech to Conference

Here is Jo Swinson’s speech to Conference.

Let me take you back to a rainy Saturday morning, 28 years ago. I’m doing what many 9-year-olds do on a Saturday morning, watching TV. It’s a children’s programme called Going Live, presented by Philip Schofield – some of you might even remember it, and depending on your age, nostalically feel it was no match for Swap Shop or Saturday Superstore.

“That particular morning’s show sticks in my mind because in amongst Gordon the Gopher, kids’ cartoons, and celebrities getting gunged, there was an amazing competition. The prize was to win a piece of the Berlin Wall, recently torn down in one of the most pivotal moments of 20th century history.

“It was pretty obviously in an entirely different league to the usual phone-ins to win toys, or CDs, or tickets to concerts. I didn’t win the competition, but later on my dad visited Berlin and brought me back a little piece of that history.

“I think it’s fair to say that as a child, apart from one Christmas watching the animated film “When the Wind Blows”, I hadn’t given much thought to nuclear war. But the cloud had hung threateningly over the world, at times perilously close to disaster on an unimaginable scale.

“Thanks to the diplomacy, courage and political leadership which led to the end of the Cold War, we have enjoyed three decades with much reduced levels of nuclear threat, until now.

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Top 50 most influential Lib Dems 2017

Each year I convene three panels to compile lists of the Top 50 Liberal Democrats, the Top 100 People on the Left and the Top 100 People on the Right. Each list is published to coincide with the three party conferences. This is the tenth year I’ve been doing this and despite two referendums and two general elections in the past three years the pace of change is, if anything, increasing – perhaps not surprising, given the stresses of Brexit and a hung parliament.

The Liberal Democrats have demonstrated the frenetic nature of politics today probably more than the two other parties, with no less than a third of the names on the list not featuring on last year’s. Out goes Tim Farron and his team after a deeply disappointing election campaign, fatally undermined by Farron’s failure to deal with the gay sex question, together with Labour’s ability to portray itself as simultaneously pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit. Still, at least the departing leader has an increase in seats, together with a surge in membership to a record level, to his credit.

And Farron remains popular with the grassroots, so he stays (just) in the top ten of our list. But the biggest movements are of course amongst the new leadership team: naturally Vince Cable shoots straight to number 1, closely followed by the party’s first woman Deputy Leader, Jo Swinson, at number 2. Others who were lined up to work on his leadership campaign (had there been an election) have climbed up or appeared for the first time: Tom Brake (now the only Commons survivor of the 1997 intake), Lib Dem peer Dee Doocey, advisers Chris Bones and David Howarth, veteran activists Duncan Brack and Mark Pack. Straight in at number 11 goes by-election victor Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park for only six months, and Cable’s new chief of staff, despite not even being a party member three years ago. Such are the opportunities available in a small party.

The other main group of new entrants, or re-entrants, are of course the party’s new MPs, some returning after their 2015 defeats. Watch out in particular for Layla Moran, new MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, the party’s first-ever female BAME MP and, judging by the number of conference fringe meetings she’s addressing, already a conference darling. The main Liberal Democrat speakers on Europe and Brexit – Tom Brake, Sarah Ludford, Catherine Bearder, and, now out of Parliament, Nick Clegg – also show perform well. And straight in at number 5 – the highest new entrant – is former MP Nick Harvey, now filling the (probably thankless) task of party chief executive.

The Lib Dems still, however, lack stars recognisable in the outside world; most of the names here will be familiar only to party activists. But Cable has had a good start in terms of media appearances (and he’s published a novel), and the return of some coalition ministerial talent should help. If the new leadership is canny enough to navigate the shoals and torrents of Brexit, and exploit the divisions all too evident in Labour and Tory ranks, the party still has a future.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarLiberal Maverick 21st Sep - 7:07pm
    The best way Labour and the Lib Dems could work together is via an electoral arrangement with the objective of securing a hung parliament followed...
  • User AvatarPeter Scott Brooks 21st Sep - 7:04pm
    Until Labour realise the coalition of chaos they've entered into with the Conservatives over Brexit and decide to save the country instead I'm afraid this...
  • User AvatarKeith Bates 21st Sep - 6:46pm
    Thanks for your comment Peter. I would have agreed with you on the centre a couple of years ago. The Tories (through think tanks and...
  • User AvatarFrances Alexander 21st Sep - 6:43pm
    Centre? No - we're way out in front!
  • User AvatarKeith Bates 21st Sep - 6:40pm
    Thanks for you comments Paul. Consensus is confirmed by a vote which then becomes policy. The Lib Dem policy is to Remain in the EU....
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 21st Sep - 6:30pm
    I always thought I was a centrist because I believed in a mixed economy. Right now, after we've had so much privatisation, that's considered to...