Category Archives: Op-eds

Opinion: On the campaign trail with Jenny Woods and Meri O’Connell in Reading

Jenny Woods and Meri O'ConnellLast September, the Greater Reading party was gearing up to select its Prospective Parliamentary Candidates for the two seats in our area: Reading East and Reading West.  It was the fevered period just before the Scottish referendum, yet discussion about the looming General Election was increasing, including discussion of the number of women in Parliament and ongoing debate about women in the Liberal Democrats in the light of past events.

I was therefore delighted when Jenny Woods and Meri O’Connell were selected, enthusiastically and overwhelmingly, to stand for Reading East and Reading West.

Jenny is that rare thing in politics (less so in Lib Dem politics, it seems!) – a scientist, specialising in sustainability and policy making.  She joined the party in Reading in 2010 out of sheer frustration with how politics deals with science and funding.  She made her mark on the 2012 Spring Conference by proposing a policy amendment against the incipient Snooper’s Charter.  It was thanks to her that Julian Huppert and the rest of the party were able to take up the fight and kill it in Parliament; it is directly thanks to her efforts that the Snooper’s Charter and its cynical successor are not law.

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New edition of Liberator is out: Peerages, post election scenarios and early intervention

The latest issue of Liberator, the independent radical liberal magazine, is with subscribers.

Live sample contents from Liberator 371 are available online here.

Commentary looks at whether the coalition negotiation team hand-picked by Nick Clegg would have the nous to walk away from a poor deal, or whether its wants a coalition at any price if the numbers are right.

The lead story from Radical Bulletin concerns speculation about other contenders who might challenge Tim Farron’s rather obvious ambition to be the next leader should a vacancy arise.

In the sample feature Road To Recovery, former MP Michael Meadowcroft suggest show the party can recover by developing a ‘politics of values’ and avoiding populism.

Lord Bonkers considers the reburial of Richard III in an extract from his diary.

Other articles not yet online are:

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Sir John Major certainly knows about parliamentary mayhem

If I was doing one of these word association games, the first word that comes into my mind when I think of Sir John Major is “b******ds”. This Guardian report from 1993 reminds us of the frustration he felt as a Prime Minister who was frequently embroiled in parliamentary mayhem, not knowing whether he was going to be able to win crucial Commons votes. Except it wasn’t nationalists, pesky or otherwise, who caused him the problems. It was his own party.

Mr Major: “Just think it through from my perspective. You are the prime minister, with a majority of 18, a party that is still harking back to a golden age that never was, and is now invented (clearly a reference to the time of Mrs Thatcher’s leadership). You have three rightwing members of the Cabinet who actually resign. What happens in the parliamentary party?”

Mr Brunson observes that Tory MPs would create a lot of fuss, but that Mr Major is prime minister. He could easily find three new cabinet members.

Mr Major then bares his soul. “I could bring in other people. But where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble.

“We don’t want another three more of the bastards out there. What’s Lyndon Johnson’s maxim?…”

Major’s words might be aimed at scaring Middle England into voting Tory while annoying Scottish voters into voting SNP to give the Conservatives more chance of winning that increasing elusive parliamentary majority, but what it actually does is remind us how dangerous the right wing of the Conservative Party, especially if combined with UKIP and the likes of the DUP, could be. A tiny Tory majority would give the likes of Nadine Dorries and Peter Bone the run of the place, a point well made by Nick Clegg last week with the launch of the Blukip site. Frankly, the Blu on its own is bad enough. The Kip would only be the sour on top of the bitter.

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Opinion: How power can now shift from Whitehall to Westminster

 

The 2015 Parliament could witness the greatest transfer of power from the Executive (and Whitehall) to the Legislature (and the people’s elected representatives in the House of Commons) in the history of our countries.

Tony Greaves has written here and here seeking to explore how this Parliament might operate.

It takes me back to an afternoon in Winchester in 1986. Hampshire County Council, run by Tories for over 100 years, is about to set its budget. The Tories, until that morning, have the slimmest of majorities, thanks to the Chair’s casting vote, but news swishes through the corridors of County Hall – a Tory has said he will not vote for the Tory Leader of the Council’s budget.

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Opinion: L’Europe : le chien qui n’aboie pas*

 

* Europe: the dog that doesn’t bark

At the East Midlands Liberal Democrat conference in February Sal Brinton’s advice was not to make Europe a campaign issue. Subsequent events have proved her right.  My agent urges caution as UKIP did well in this constituency in the European elections. Ed Milliband ran it up the flagpole at the start of the short campaign by pointing out how destabilising a referendum would be for business, but but no-one saluted. Tony Blair mentioned it and had a similar non-response. On the doorsteps it’s barely figured. A handful of people have voiced strong anxiety over UKIP and been delighted when I say I’m their opposite: as many have said they are voting UKIP and slammed the door.

Even in the torrent of emails from 38degrees (and similar), the only thing even vaguely connecting to the EU has been TTIP,  where the anxieties are far from reality.

Yet  globalisation is moving quickly.  The single market was formed to increase our competitiveness on the world stage (also the primary reason for TTIP), and the associated changes to the institutions of the European Union were to ensure democratic control — directly through the European Parliament, and indirectly though national governments.

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Opinion: Has the polling got out of hand?

May2015In this run up to the election we have been bombarded with opinion polls on who is going to win the election – or not to win it, as it now seems.  Looking at the May2015.com website, which tracks polling results, in the month to 18th April, 53 polls were published, an average of almost two a day. On 9th April for example five separate polls were published. I don’t know if the same people have been asked several times, but the results seem amazingly consistent!

I, like some others, have some concerns about this plethora of polls. Firstly, if two or three polls are published every day, quite frankly, what is the point? They completely lose their impact and are quickly discounted because new opinion polls – and betting odds! – appear the very next day.

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Opinion: Europe is the solution to Britain’s concerns about immigration, not the cause

 

That statement has perhaps never been as boldly underlined as it was this week, with the continent-wide consciousness being collectively appalled at the unfolding horror in the Mediterranean. The horrific events have mobilised a pan-European discourse of outcry in a way that other EU issues often fail to do, primarily because it highlights the need for European collaboration, and the human cost of our failure to do so. It is also perhaps because it underlines to us the extent to which Europe is viewed as a single entity, or collective, by the rest of the world.

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Opinion: Why I believe students should vote for the Liberal Democrats

I have had a hustings with students at Edinburgh University and a meeting with the Edinburgh University Students’ Association. They have produced a manifesto and I will detail my response.

  1. They have asked for a phasing out of tuition fees and better support for the diverse needs of post graduate students. 

Obviously I couldn’t commit to the former,  But I would like to point out that raising tuition fees was a Conservative policy, one that the Lib Dems could not block!

As more coalitions are formed, I’m sure the British Public will recognise the limitations of individual manifestos as well as appreciate the opportunities for wider representation and trimming of the extremes of left and right. As for the latter, I have been personally affected and I did not do a postgraduate degree as I couldn’t afford to. Not just the fees but also the time off work in my 30s.

When we talk about high skilled jobs and a new economy we really need to also discuss how we are going to train our workforce and the skills development by means of post graduate study. We need to commit to investing in what will provide excellent returns, not just financial but also the advantage of having a highly educated population which I’m sure nobody will disagree with!

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On May 8th, could David Cameron just lock the doors of Downing Street and stay put?

24 days ago, I wrote that We’re heading for a Labour minority government backed by the SNP.

Since then, there have been thousands more people polled, millions more pounds spent on campaigning and millions more words written/said about the election. So, I now have a ++BREAKING NEWS++ update!

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That two horse race is on: Scottish Ashcroft polls show it’s Liberal Democrats against the SNP

As Scottish voters start to receive their postal votes in the next few days, they will have much to contemplate. To what extent will those who oppose independence be prepared to vote tactically to keep the SNP from winning Westminster seats.

Their decision may well be informed by yesterday’s Ashcroft polls which show potential SNP gains in all but one of the constituencies in question. Unfortunately, four of them were seats currently held by the Liberal Democrats.

I found the SNP fifteen points ahead in Charles Kennedy’s seat of Ross, Skye & Lochaber, up from five points in February. I also found the SNP leading by eleven points in Jo Swinson’s constituency of East Dunbartonshire, and by thirteen points in North East Fife, where Sir Menzies Campbell is stepping down after 28 years.

The poll found that Mike Moore is in a tough 3 way fight with the Tories in the Borders. He’s on 28%, the SNP on 29% and the Tories on 30%. It could barely be tighter.

All the polls show decisively, though, apart from the Borders, that it’s a clear two horse race between Liberal Democrat MPs and the SNP. The message to Tory and Labour voters is clear. Do they want an SNP MP primarily motivated by independence and forbidden from standing up for their constituents if their party doesn’t allow it, or a Liberal Democrat who will fight tirelessly for their area.

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Opinion: This isn’t just an economic recovery, this is a Liberal Democrat economic recovery

IMF Head Christine Lagarde is the latest outside observer to praise Britain’s economic recovery. Sitting on a panel with George Osborne yesterday she praised the UK Government’s unyielding adherence to unprecedented austerity, the stern fortitude with which the harsh economic medicine had been delivered by an iron Chancellor, ignoring all calls for mercy…

Except no, she didn’t. In fact quite the opposite. Far from crediting unbending austerity for the UK’s exceptional recovery she applauded the UK Government for having shown flexibility and balance. She commended the UK for “adjusting to the economic reality in order to provide the right balance of spending cuts, revenue raising and in the order, in the proportion and in the pace that is appropriate to the economy.”

She’s right. For different reasons it often suits both Conservative and Labour voices to paint a picture in primary colours of undeviating adherence to Plan A. But this caricature is wrong. The reality is more nuanced and rather more Liberal Democrat. The Coalition has shown commendable flexibility, for example in reversing some of the capital spending cuts that were inherited from Labour once it became clear they were holding back the recovery. The Coalition has balanced cuts with carefully targeted stimulus. And above all it has been willing to forego substantial amounts of tax revenue and even slow the pace of austerity in order to help create jobs and encourage people to take them up.

This approach has worked. Liberal Democrat policies and influence have been at the heart of it. Three of the five key politicians deciding economic strategy in this Parliament have been Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrats should be proud of this. It should be front and centre of our election campaign.

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Why Labour and Conservative supporters should vote Liberal Democrat

We are facing four main scenarios for after this election; they are:

  1. A Labour led government with some sort of support from the SNP.
  2. A Labour led government with some sort of support from the Liberal Democrats.
  3. A Conservative led government with some sort of support from the Liberal Democrats.
  4. A Conservative led government with some sort of support from UKIP and the DUP. (Blukip)

It is hard to dispute that a Conservative in a Labour – Liberal Democrat contest should vote Liberal Democrat, and likewise a Labour supporter in a Conservative – Liberal Democrat contest. I will argue that for the first time, the converse is also true. Conservatives and Labour supporters should elect Liberal Democrats competing with their own candidates.

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Opinion: A manifesto for young people

Young people are neglected by politics, and understandably so. With less than half of 18-24 year olds voting at the last election, few campaign strategists would advocate making serious commitments with relatively few votes up for grabs.

There has therefore been a temptation for all parties, the Liberal Democrats included, to save their eye catching commitments for older voters. Pensioners have both a high turnout and are generally more numerous than the young in the first place, are therefore rewarded with expensive policies such as the triple lock on pensions and free bus passes.

Nevertheless, to neglect younger voters would be a mistake, if for no other reason than we won’t be young forever. With the rest of our lives to vote, but also crucially to volunteer as activists, there is a lot at stake. Is it preferable to ignore us and hope to win us over from another party in later years, or to do something to earn our support in the present? And who knows, in presenting compelling, believable offers to young people, which take into account their views, then just maybe more will see the point in voting now.

And you know what? Our Liberal Democrat manifesto does just that.

Over the last couple of years the party has given Liberal Youth the chance to put forward our ideas and views into the manifesto process. The manifesto team and Federal Policy Committee have been genuinely willing to listen and the impact of this on the final document is significant.

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Lord Navnit Dholakia writes..Lib Dem BAME manifesto takes pro-active approach to valuing different cultures, combating racism and reducing inequality

My core belief that we all have a right to be treated fairly without reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnicity is one of the reasons I have remained committed to the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats for over fifty years. The party’s fundamental rejection of prejudice and discrimination is just as important now as it was when I joined the Brighton Young Liberals in the 1950s.

Britain has a proud record in race and community relations, but at a time when we see the rise of the divisive politics of parties like UKIP, it has never been more important for the Liberal Democrats to stand up for equality and diversity.

Today the party has launched its BAME Manifesto. It spells out how we will continue to protect the rights and opportunities of Britain’s ethnic minorities – the right to live in peace, to receive an education, to get a job, to raise a family free from fear, and, above all, the right to be treated fairly without reference to race, colour, national or ethnic origins.

Our culture and economy is stronger as a result of the diverse range of people who have chosen to make Britain their home. In government we’ve made huge progress in securing Britain’s economic recovery and helping businesses to grow. Self-employment and the small business sector is especially important for BAME communities. In the past 12 months alone a third of all the new businesses set up through the Start-Up Loans initiative have been by Black and Minority Ethnic entrepreneurs. But there is still more to be done to help BAME entrepreneurs. So we will build on the Coalition’s BME Access to Finance report to identify ways to encourage more BAME applicants to apply for finance and set up small businesses, and monitor and tackle the BAME pay gap. We will build on what we have already achieved in government by raising the tax free personal allowance to at least £12,500 by the end of the next Parliament, ensuring that many BAME workers who work part time or on low to middle incomes benefit from a further tax cut.

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What people are saying about the Liberal Democrat manifesto

 

Let’s have a brief look around the internet to see what people are saying about the Liberal Democrat manifesto:

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UKIP’s support is based on irrational fear of the unknown, leading to unBritish and unChristian behaviour

Channel 4 News Factcheck is a place I often go to when I need a bit of sanity. On immigration, they have an excellent post.

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Willie Rennie loses patience with the Conservatives, saying they put party before country

Let me take you back to 7 am on 19th September last year. In Scotland, we’re emotionally drained after a brutal 2 year referendum campaign. After some real fears that the result might go the other way, No campaigners were relieved rather than triumphant.

Then David Cameron comes out of Downing Street and starts picking a fight with Labour, trying to paint the opposition as anti-English and talking about English votes for English Laws. That was the moment that you needed a Prime Minister to bring the country together, not exacerbate divisions.

Since then, the Tories and the SNP have been doing this strange harmonious dance. Alex Salmond has been trolling Middle England talking about various demands he’d make in the event of a hung Parliament. The Tories have fed that fear with their posters showing a pathetic looking Ed Miliband in a smug looking Alex Salmond’s pocket. That, of course, suggests to me, as I wrote at the time, that David Cameron thinks he’s been in Nick Clegg’s pocket these past five years. Michael Fallon’s insinuation that Ed Miliband would do a deal with Nicola Sturgeon to get rid of Trident is fanciful in the extreme, but it all seeks to scare swing Tory voters. You just wonder what “secret Ed/Nicola pact” the Tories will come up with next. Compulsory Gaelic lessons? Installing Alex Salmond as News Editor of the BBC?  Making a deal with the Loch Ness Monster to crash the Stock Exchange (as a friend of mine suggested on Facebook)? The list is endless.

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Opinion: Is a Minority government good for a progressive agenda and good for governance?

Most political commentators believe that the chances are that after the next election no party will have a majority. As we approach the election some people are suggesting that perhaps a new coalition government isn’t the best answer to promote progressive policies. The experiences of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, and to a lesser extent the Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition that ran Wales from 2007-2011 have shown that a left leaning party has to make too many compromises when in a coalition.

Some people are actively discussing that perhaps a new coalition government isn’t the best answer to promote progressive policies. The experience of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition has shown that a left leaning party has to make too many compromises when in a coalition with a right of centre party.

This has resulted in an increasing discussion on the left that perhaps a minority government, as in Scotland from 2007-2011, might be a better chance for a progressive agenda. One positive outcome of this approach could be the re-establishment of a positive relationship between the general public and parliament. A minority government could strengthen parliament. Why do we say this? After having had a budget agreed, a minority government would have to create coalitions for every policy issue. This would enable real debate on issues and the possibility of creating a progressive agenda across political boundaries.

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Nick Clegg’s BBC1 interview – Evan Davis disappoints with constant references to Clegg’s multi-national background

I’m normally a big fan of the BBC’s Evan Davis. He knows how to make people squirm and we knew that he would do a thorough job on Nick Clegg tonight. And he did. All the difficult questions were in there, on tuition fees. that broken promises broadcast, was the coalition worth it when we’ve lost so much support. In fact, the tone was set right from the word go with “How does it feel to have gone from hero to zero?” which Nick took with his customary good grace.

No complaints about those tough policy questions. There was something else, though, which disappointed me. Davis showed a clip of Clegg speaking Dutch during the 2012 elections. Then he started to ask a series of questions around his family background,  whether it was the fact that his mother was Dutch and his father from Russian heritage that made him look to other countries for different ways of doing things. He’d found a quote from pre 2010 where Nick had talked about how, as a child in the 70s, he felt that the Netherlands were doing things much better than we were. Surely everybody looks to other countries to see what we could learn from them? Just look at the most popular dishes on every menu in the country for evidence of that. I’ve always admired many Scandinavian ways of managing their public services and the way they’ve enforced the International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes for a start.

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Opinion: So what questions do I want to answer at hustings?

hustings

I’ve now had four hustings and wherever I go, we get the same questions – nitty gritty details about spending and taxes, TTIP, deficit, debt etc. the usual stuff. Now these are the questions that politicians WANT to be asked. Very much up their street! The kind of things they’ve been preparing for.

It is sad that the run up to election is dominated by questions like these. It plays straight into politicians’ hands. The public can do better by asking questions about values which are lesser likely to change as easily as policy. Take politicians out of their comfort zone and ask them questions about things like electoral reform and reform of the systems they work in, the things that affect them and their political jobs. That will tell you more about the candidates than anything else will!

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The Nick Clegg photo opp strategy

 

I listened in to a Lib Dem activists’ campaign update last week.

This was a conference call giving news on what’s going on with our election efforts. Afterwards, I had to breathe into a brown paper bag for several minutes to reduce my respiration rate, such was the excitement generated by the call.

An interesting point was made about photo opportunities. The campaign team are adamant about one thing: Nick Clegg will not be photographed being given royal tours of factories, talking to rather stiff and obsequious employees. David Cameron has been specialising in such photo opps recently (see example below).

Instead, Nick will be photographed in amongst people in the community, talking with real people and rolling his sleeves up. A good example of this genre is above. Nick is amongst a community group with people and babies and casual drinks, and it’s lovely and sunny, people are smiling, the candidate is there (Ed Davey, for it is he and it is Surbiton) and there are some lovely orange diamonds in the background. Perfect.

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Opinion: The regret of voting Yes

I voted Yes in the Scottish Referendum. As a card carrying member of the Liberal Democrats this was not the same choice as most of my peers. It would be easy for me to say that I got caught up in the moment and temporarily lost my mind, but I try to never make excuses for my actions. My five years of studying international relations have taught me that small nations can be successful and happy places, but also that there are alternative modes of governing. Voting yes for me was an opportunity to break down the current government structures and build fresh ones, from the ground up, to make new political structures that are inclusive and do not lock out women and minorities from participating. It was idealistic and hopeful and heavily influenced by my Masters thesis on Women’s Political Participation and a heavy dose of critical international relations theory. It was a glorious time, a time where I could transform my abstract learning into something tangible. I was hopeful. I thought we could have a society where all could participate, where all views could be accepted and valued and where we did not exclude those on the margins.

And then I came to stark realisation that underneath all the hopeful rhetoric was a large dose of Nationalism. (I probably should have realised this earlier, my bad.)  Nationalism is nasty, as I’m sure anyone who has picked up a history book will have come to realise. Nationalism is an ideology that requires the people who live within the country to attach their own identities to that of the nation, to form what could be called a homogenous national identity. For those who happily identify themselves as Scottish, this isn’t really an issue. But nationalism scorns those who do not subscribe with gusto – creating division and closing down spaces for conversation and criticism. 

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Nick Harvey writes…Trident: The real gamble with the nation’s security is making a currently purpose-less weapon a financial priority

TridentFor some, there is no greater symbol of the United Kingdom’s enduring role on the world stage and continued military relevance than the Trident nuclear weapons system. For others, Trident is the last unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking. It is a symbol of a bygone era of fear, instability and sky-high defence spending to hedge against an unpredictable Soviet threat.

Despite the Cold War ending; Russia and the UK de-targeting one another; multiple treaties the UK has signed up to committing to a reduction in nuclear weapon stockpiles; and a £100bn price tag which will in time account for 10% of the MoD’s budget while our Armed Forces are in desperate need of updated kit; the Tories and Labour both refuse even to entertain the notion that the status quo might reasonably be questioned.

As evidenced by yesterday’s news, they instead choose to scaremonger and point-score over what might be traded in a future coalition. Top military chiefs have also expressed their disdain at the recent headlines. The two parties are prioritising the impressive feat of kicking around the country’s most expensive political football, rather than participating in a rational conversation about whether the assumptions upon which like-for-like replacement rests are logical or relevant to the threats Britain faces today.

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Opinion: The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and the need for a no-fly zone

Jonathan BrownOn Tuesday 7th April Planet Syria organised a global day of solidarity with Syrians campaigning against dictatorship and extremism. A coalition of Syrian civil and human rights activists including the famous White Helmets asked for people to remember Syria and send a message showing that they care. Over the last 4 years an amazing country I used to call home has been reduced to rubble and an amazing people ripped apart in one of the worst humanitarian disasters in a generation.

Syrians are calling for 2 steps to reverse the ever-worsening conflict: the implementation of a No Fly Zone followed by support for serious peace talks. The various ways in which such a no fly zone could be implemented are explained in further detail here.

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A foreign-policy-free election?

RAF lightning II aircraft photo by defence imagesFor all its crudeness, the barrel bomb has to be one of the most brutally effective weapons around. An old oil drum, filled with that now all too familiar combination of explosives and steel detritus, dropped onto its fuse-laden nose from a helicopter, it seems, kills and maims in just the right proportions to terrorise those left behind.

It is little wonder, then, that the barrel bomb is Bashar al-Assad’s weapon of choice in his effort to wear down those parts of Syria with the impudence to have thought they could do better. It tells you all you need to know about the man that, having discovered that the wretched things seem to be particularly effective when aimed at young children, the regime, like so many despots before, has found schools to be an especially desirable target.

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Opinion: “Victim-blaming” 101: why sexual assault is different to other crimes

Sussex Police has produced a campaign poster encouraging women to stick together on a night out to reduce their chances of sexual assault. There are so many ways this poster is stupid: it perpetuates the myth of stranger rape as the only “real rape” (an idea which helps acquaintance rapists get away with it over and over again), it ignores male victims of rape, and it suggests women should fear sexual assault more than they value their sexual liberty.

But there’s only one issue I want to address now. On Monday, Caron Lindsay called the poster “victim-blaming”: she was right, and it’s worth explaining why victim-blaming is so much more harmful in cases of sexual assault than other forms of crime.

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The two most talked about things from last night’s Scottish Leaders’ debate and two things the press got wrong about Willie Rennie

At Wimbledon, you generally, if you’re lucky and it hasn’t been raining, get a day between matches. This isn’t the case for Scotland’s political leaders. After a two hour marathon on STV in Edinburgh last night, Nicola Sturgeon, Jim Murphy, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie head to Aberdeen where they will face another hour of debate, joined by the Greens’ Patrick Harvie and UKIP’s David Coburn. The moderator will be BBC Scotland’s James Cook, who took a bit of a pasting from cybernats for daring to suggest that he’s had SNP sources tell him that a Tory Government would be the best option for their independence cause.

Last night’s debate took place in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. The format was a bit weird. There was a 20 minute session at the start where the moderator, Bernard Ponsonby, had a chat with some people in the audience and then put some questions to the leaders. Then they each had a 10 minute session on their own, giving a statement and taking 8 minutes of audience questions. That dragged a bit, to be honest. Then there was a 45 minute Question Time style free for all. It wasn’t as relaxed and well-behaved as the one at Glasgow University last month, but there were a few noteworthy moments. The most talked about on social media was the man in the crowd wearing a false moustache. Who could it be?

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Opinion: We don’t duck things in OxWAb

duckFollowing on from our April Fool’s Day prank a large yellow Duck has appeared in the Abingdon HQ for the Oxford West and Abingdon Liberal Democrat Campaign.  Already he has become a big hit with the activists.

Typically for Lib Dems, a discussion ensued as to what to call the duck.  A quick internet poll was held, and we now have the results:

Duck a L’Orange (write in suggestion from Neil Fawcett): 69%

Shirley Williams: 15%

Paddy Ashdown: 8%

Evan Harris: 8%

Lembit Opik: 0%

Result: Duck a L’Orange gain.  Majority: 54%

On hearing the news, the newly elected Duck said:

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Have SNP abandoned their plans to reverse welfare reforms?

Nicola Sturgeon gave a speech on tackling poverty today. In it, there is much that I think many Liberal Democrats could agree with.

The First Minister announced that SNP MPs will use their influence after May’s election to:

·  Push for child tax credits and child benefit to be uprated instead of frozen as the Conservatives plan.

·  Promote action that supports in-work families by calling for an increase in the minimum wage to £8.70 by the end of the next parliament.

·  Support an increase in the work allowance – helping those in work benefit from their earnings.

·  Deliver an end to austerity and oppose the renewal of nuclear weapons to help fund a further expansion of childcare.

·  The SNP Government has already extended free childcare provision to 600 hours and has pledged that if re-elected at the next Holyrood election, childcare provision will be extended further still to 1,140 hours per year.

We’ll gloss over the fact that the SNP had to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide better childcare for the poorest 2 year olds. In England, Nick Clegg has made sure that 40% of the poorest 2 year olds get nursery education to give them the best chance in life. It took a persistent and tenacious campaign by Willie Rennie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats before the SNP expanded Scottish provision.

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Opinion: Threat to Europe? Countering the TTIP scaremongering

It was with a certain degree of shock that on Thursday 2 April, I read the opinion article “We should be alert to this threat to Europe!“. How was it possible that the concerns expressed in it about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – which echo what many segments of Europe’s radical left have been peddling – could be given credibility from within one of Europe’s most influential liberal parties? After some consideration, I concluded that clearly the anti-TTIP propaganda war is proving to be very successful and that there is still much work to do to counter those arguments.

Here are a number of facts that all Liberal Democrats should be aware of and should readily share whenever the subject arises, regarding in particular transparency, public services, and democratic rights of public authorities:

Transparency

The media and the public rarely show much interest in highly technical trade negotiations. Clearly, however, times have changed. The EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, a Swedish liberal and one of the most respected politicians in Brussels has recognised that there is a public demand for greater openness. Since taking office in November 2014, she has taken steps to address this demand, such that only weeks later, on 29 January 2015, the spokersperson on TTIP for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake, congratulated Commissioner Malmström for “taking the concerns of citizens seriously” after it was announced that transparency rules would apply to the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). Furthermore, only a few days ago, on 23 March 2015 the European Ombudsman commended the European Commission for the progress made.

Public Services

On 20 March 2015, Commissioner Malmström and the US Trade Representative, published a Joint Statement on Public Services. Anyone concerned about the NHS, environmental policies, public procurement, or the democratic freedoms of public authorities in Europe, should read it. Here’s an extract:

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  • User AvatarStephen Hesketh 24th Apr - 11:20pm
    Rabih Makki 24th Apr ’15 – 10:14pm “… Stephen business and politics are very different and when people compare is does make me laugh. One...
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    Rabih Makki 24th Apr '15 - 10:14pm "... Stephen business and politics are very different and when people compare is does make me laugh. One...
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    Just reread my opening sentence and noted that it could easily be misread: I use the phrase " many others who profess significant financial understanding"...
  • User AvatarStephen Hesketh 24th Apr - 10:42pm
    TCO 24th Apr '15 - 9:19pm It may surprise you to know that Nick Clegg's 2010 GE debate performances actually rekindled my active involvement in...
  • User AvatarRoland 24th Apr - 10:38pm
    @Michael BG - I think you, Jackson and many others who profess significant financial understanding, are actually missing the real point and being distracted by...
  • User AvatarStevan Rose 24th Apr - 10:25pm
    Policy should be based on what is good for the UK not what is good for HSBC. Their threats should not be a factor in...
Sat 25th Apr 2015