Category Archives: Op-eds

Opinion: The other side of the immigration debate coin

There are some things in life that go hand in hand

In the UK it is a General Election and talk of Immigration Controls

In every general election since Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech Labour and the Conservatives have sought to out-do each other on the toughness of their respective policies on immigration Usually the war of words starts at about the same time as the political parties start their election campaign. This time round the battle has already started even though the General Election is some six months away And the reason? The Tories are running scared of UKIP as Nigel Farage sets himself up as the only  gatekeeper who can be trusted to keep immigrants at bay and land election defeat on Conservatives the back of it.

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Martin Horwood MP writes…Reducing the negative impact of violence on international development

Every five minutes a child dies from violence.

This appalling statistic, released in a new report from Unicef UK today, shows that violence is not confined to an unlucky few or even to war zones. Across the world, millions of children bear the brunt of an epidemic of violence that is often hidden or ignored and that threatens their rights to a healthy, safe and fulfilling life.

Violence manifests itself in many forms. Unicef UK’s research reveals that more than 125 million women, most in early childhood or adolescence, have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). In some regions, the child murder rate is shockingly high, especially for teenagers.  For example, an adolescent boy in Latin America is 70 times more likely to be murdered than in the UK.

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Opinion: Should all-member ballots replace conference on policy votes?

Laptop and mobileThe Liberal Democrat conference’s decision to support the use of One Member, One Vote (OMOV) in federal conference decisions is to be welcomed. It means any member who attends conference can vote on conference decisions, not just leading figures and those elected by their local parties to be conference representatives. While this is all very good news, we can go a lot further.

Instead of conference making policy decisions, it is a logical next step to give all members the power to make policy regardless of whether they attend conference. We can do this by conducting all-member online ballots.

The most obvious benefit of this is it would enormously increase participation in decision-making in what is already, by miles, the most democratic of the four biggest UK parties. It seems fairly obvious ordinary members should have a say on the policies their party proposes, without having to fork out hundreds of pounds to attend conference. Older and wealthier members are more likely to attend conference because they have more time and money, meaning policy-making is less representative. Letting all members have their say would eliminate these problems.

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Opinion: Tackling tax avoidance should be a top manifesto issue 

pre manifesto documentIn the flurry of press coverage over recent UKIP success, the steady rise of the Greens is usually ignored (including by the broadcast media who are excluding them from the pre-election debates).

The Greens have taken the left-wing protest vote which of course we used to get.  On the doorsteps in Hornsey and Wood Green, disillusionment with politics is clear to see – not because of immigration or Europe, but because the burdens of austerity are not seen to be shared equally.  One of the main sources of outrage is tax avoidance.  Major corporations are still paying minimal amounts of tax, and this means that the Exchequer is getting many billions less than it should be.  Local government spending continues to be cut, public sector pay continues to be almost flat, and the pressure on benefits for those of working age remains.

The Conservatives have made considerable noise on the subject of tax avoidance.  But as of 2013, the UK’s top 100 companies still had over 8000 subsidiaries in onshore or offshore tax havens, and the ‘tax efficiency’ industry continues to flourish.  The lobbying by large corporate donors to the Conservative party means that although some of the more outrageous tax avoidance schemes have been shut down there remains a huge discrepancy between the profits made and the tax paid by many companies. There is some good news on a proposed ‘Google tax’ which aims to clamp down on companies shifting profits between different countries; however the danger is that it will be significantly watered down after the big corporates have had their say, in the way that the new General Anti Abuse Rule (GAAR) has been.

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Opinion: And you thought EVEL was difficult…

Manchester Town Hall ClockOur party has saddled itself with a totally unworkable policy on devolution, but the formulators and protagonists of devolution on demand simply don’t understand why it’s a passport to total confusion.

Let’s consider a future House of Commons where legislation is being considered for schools. A vote is needed. Ah, but not everyone can vote because there’s been some devolution.  Let’s see now. This legislation won’t cover Scotland and Wales or Northern Ireland, but neither will it cover Yorkshire (except for Selby which opted out), Cornwall, the city regions of Manchester and Birmingham (minus Solihull which didn’t join) and of course education is now the responsibility of the Mayor in London and a quango in the North East. So who exactly will be able to vote? And if an English Committee for English laws is OK in the Commons what will happen in the still unreformed House of Lords?  Will it be necessary to stop peers who come from the devolved regions from voting?

photo by:
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Opinion: Confused Britain

Map of the European UnionEU citizens should have the right to live and work in the UK:
36% Yes, 46% No.

British citizens should have the right to live and work in the EU:
52% Yes, 26% No.

These results from ComRes were presented by the Guardian Data Editor Alberto Nardelli, alongside the title “Confused Britain“. However, in many ways it summarises an increasingly predominate view on the European Union. It seems vast swathes of the public are happy to have their cake and eat it when it comes to the EU.

It is a choice that has been presented to people by many Eurosceptics. Conservatives are increasingly discussing the notion of quota systems on EU migration, even though Angela Merkel has stated that such an impingement on free movement would be non-negotiable. Ukip have often stated that trade between the UK and the EU would be made easier, not harder, through removal from the free market area. Presented with such options, it has become popular thinking to believe that the UK can have a pick ‘n’ mix agreement with the European Union.

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Caron’s Sunday Selection: Must-read articles from the Sunday papers

sundaypapsHere’s my selection of articles to inform, infuriate and inspire from this week’s Sunday papers.

First up this week is a piece from the Observer by Barbara Ellen. Its headline “Like all rapists, Ched Evans will never be really free” got my hackles up, but the article itself is a bit more balanced than its headline suggests. It’s worth remembering, though, that most rapists go unpunished because the conviction rate is scarily low. Ellen says that Evans will never be able to leave this crime behind him, much more so than if he’d been convicted of a different sort of offence. Well, given that the man has shown not one tiny bit of remorse for what he did, or accepted that his victim, being as drunk as she was, was incapable of consenting to what he put her through, or apologised to her, I’m not sure that we can say with any confidence that he has been rehabilitated.  The speed with which he has been given a new high profile football job concerns me as does the way that the media often tries to make excuses for men who are violent to women. It’s not just Evans. Oscar Pistorius comes in for way more sympathy than he actually deserves. In September, a Texas man murdered his 3 young children and his wife before turning the gun on himself. Much of the media coverage around this mentioned the strain he must have been under, rather than the horros he put his family through. This article sums up why that approach is just wrong. 

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10 Years on from The Orange Book: What should authentic liberalism look like?

Orange_Book“10 Years on from The Orange Book: what should authentic liberalism look like?” That was the title of a Lib Dem conference fringe meeting in Glasgow, organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), at which I was speaking alongside MPs Tim Farron and Jeremy Browne, Orange Book co-editor Paul Marshall, the IEA’s Ryan Bourne and ComRes pollster Tom Mludzinski. Here’s what I said…

I often describe myself as an Orange Booker. Like most labels it’s a short-hand. To me it simply means I’m a Lib Dem at ease with the role of a competitive market and who believes also in social justice. To many others in our party, though, Orange Booker is a term of abuse – Orange Bookers are thrusting, smart-suited, neoliberal Thatcherities, never happier than when mixing with red-blooded free-marketeers like the IEA.

What I want to do briefly is make a pitch for something that’s become quite unpopular among the party ranks: I’m going to make a pitch that the Lib Dems should be a party that’s unabashedly of the liberal centre.

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Opinion: Jeremy Browne deserves our thanks

Jeremy BrowneSo my good friend Jeremy Browne has announced he is standing down as the Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane. This announcement by him has achieved a lot of opprobrium and gnashing of teeth: ‘too late’, ‘too soon’ – what has been little reflected upon is the burden we place on our candidates and MP’s.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Jeremy since 1990, when we met at the University of Nottingham: the long haired, railway-signalman’s cap-wearing, President of the Les Dawson Appreciation Society was a larger than life …

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How should we share the gain and the pain in the next Parliament?

resolutionfoundationThat was the question the Resolution Foundation posed at a Lib Dem conference fringe meeting in Glasgow last week. Some of what follows was inspired by (ie, copied from) IFS Director Paul Johnson’s excellent LibDemVoice article, Balancing the books: some unpalatable choices, published last week. Some of it I’ve previously rehearsed in my ConservativeHome column, Make no mistake, these are deep and meaningful cuts – and there’s more to come. Anyway, here’s what I said…

“The gain and the pain.” I want to congratulate the Resolution Foundation on taking a glass half-full approach to the next five years. But I also want to challenge the premise of the question. Because – and I don’t want to be too depressing in what follows – I can see quite a lot of pain and I’m at a bit of a loss to see where the gain is likely to come from. Here’s why.

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Lord Roger Roberts writes: Join #TheAmendment campaign to make Welsh voter registration accessible & engaging

bite the ballotMuch of the current spotlight on Parliament is focussed on the Scottish devolution proposals, which were debated fiercely in the Commons yesterday. This has spearheaded a much needed public discussion about devolution and I welcome these new opportunities. However, as well as being an important issue for Scotland, these debates are equally vital for Wales.

Today’s second Committee Stage debate of the Wales Bill signifies an important step towards easier, engaging and more accessible voter registration in Wales. Today, the Lords will be debate amendments 19 and 20 that have the potential to spark youth engagement with politics in never seen before in Wales. Lord (Paul) Tyler will be I will speaking to these amendments, and Baroness (Jenny) Randerson will reply on behalf of HM Government.

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The Independent View: The Liberal Democrats and civil society

It’s been a tricky 18 months for Lib Dems and charities. Of course the party has traditionally been close to the voluntary sector. Many current parliamentarians previously worked in it. But the Lobbying Act opened up a serious rift. Charities are now suffering the consequences of this illiberal and undemocratic limit on their free speech. With an election fast approaching, how has the party tried to heal the wounds?
This year at ACEVO – the social leaders’ network – we decided to do go beyond the usual third sector manifesto-writing and ask a range of Lib Dems to set out in detail their vision for civil society and politics. The result was The Yellow Book of the Voluntary Sector, a book of essays we published at conference in Glasgow. Its contributors show promise in their view of the voluntary sector, but there’s still some way to go.
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Tim Farron MP writes…We must continue to fight hard for fairer housing

In case you weren’t able to make it to Glasgow, here’s some good news from Conference. The hard work that many people in the party have done on housing is being recognised. Jules Birch, housing blogger, sums up our party’s policies on housing: ‘As so often before the Lib Dems look like going into the next election with the best housing policies.’

This is not an easy feat. Housing is a complex issue which spreads its effects throughout society. It runs all the way from the individual tragedies of homelessness, to structure of our economy and the psychology of homeownership. To sort out housing you need action on at least four fronts: land, finance, the home building industry and political leadership. So bringing in my own motion on housing, it was a real privilege to build on the work that the party has already done to address the whole spectrum of issues affected by poor housing policy. I want to thank everybody who contributed to our policy development, spoke in the debate and voted for it.

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Opinion: Four-step guide to how not to be the nasty party (Labour edition)

Labour has put out a video in which it gives the Conservatives some handy tips as to how to not be the ‘nasty party’. The tongue-in-cheek clip doesn’t completely fail to amuse and is pretty accurate in what it says. Few here would doubt the Tories are still the nasty party. The Liberal Democrat leadership  is quite right when it says ‘compassionate Conservatism’ has been  exposed for the fraud it is. However, there is something unsettling when Labour is the one using the ‘nasty party’ stick to beat their Tory opponents with when Labour itself has clearly shown itself to have a propensity towards nastiness. To illustrate the very brazen hypocrisy, I’ve prepared a handy four-step guide that Labour may want to take heed off.

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Opinion: Debates, PEBs and Judical Review: A graveyard of lost causes

This week’s announcement of broadcasters’ provisional plans for the 2015 General Election Debates predictably drew complaints and threats of legal action.

The plan is undoubtedly odd in some respects.  Glen Oglaza, who has been a senior political broadcast journalist for as long as I can remember, tweeted that the idea of excluding a party in government (the Liberal Democrats) from one debate was “bizarre.”

Broadcasters will have to review their plans nearer to the election period, taking into account what the polling situation may be at that time, the number of candidates each party is set to field and other election results between now and then.

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Lord Eric Avebury writes…Polio and Terrorism

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO),has reduced the number paralysed by polio from 350,000 in 1988 to 405 in 2013, and the number of countries where the disease is endemic has been cut from 125 to just 3 –Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. But progress has come to a grinding halt, with Pakistan reporting 174 new cases so far this year out of 193 worldwide.

The WHO says there is a high risk that this highly infectious disease will spread to other parts of the world, paralysing many of its victims.

Three quarters of all cases are reported from two lawless areas of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) and the misleadingly named Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In these provinces terrorists call the shots, intimidating and murdering those who don’t agree with their fundamentalist brand of Islam.

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Opinion: A radical, Liberal and localist alternative to NHS commissioning

nhs sign lrgLast week at Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow the party amicably and democratically settled one of its longest-running disagreements, about the way in which NHS services should be commissioned.

This is a subject Liberal Democrats need no introduction to. It has been a thorn in our side ever since Andrew Lansley first published his White Paper, “Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS” (2010), and culminated in Conference’s refusal to endorse the policy in Gateshead in 2012, instead neutering the so-called “Shirley Williams amendment”.

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Opinion: Generation Y – Why don’t they vote Lib Dem?

Last year the Economist ran a fascinating article on  “The strange rebirth of Liberal England” on how young people have attitudes in many areas which are very liberal, though as we know this does not necessarily  equate  with voting for the Lib Dems. Liberal Reform explored this further at a fringe meeting in Glasgow which included some polling on Generation Y. Our three panellists, Kavya Kaushik, Jeremy Browne and Paul Marshall, with Chair Miranda Green talked about the polling and what Lib Dems could do to attract Generation Y to vote for us.

The polling is very clear on personal liberalism:  for example the percentage saying homosexuality is wrong, that people who want children should get married, and that a husbands job is to earn money the wife’s to look after the home and family are all lower for Generation Y. They also have markedly more Liberal views on immigration, being the only age group to see it as a net positive.

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Opinion: It’s time to embrace write-in candidates for internal party elections

libdemwriteinAre our internal party elections really democratic enough?  We should ask this question because we want our party to maximise the talents of the wider membership and broaden the pool of candidates standing for party bodies.

We clearly value democracy and democratic process on all internal party matters.  But when we look at our internal party elections, can we truly say that we are offering the maximum possible choice to our members?  And, indeed, are members encouraged to stand, or even provided with enough information as to how to do so?

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Brian Paddick writes… Are We Confusing Anti-politics with Anti-Westminster?

I have just been watching Marr on BBC1 and there appears to me to be a theme developing.

In the paper review, Trevor Phillips said the rise of UKIP was really about voters´ perception that “Westminster politicians” were not listening to their constituents. He also suggested immigration is not the real issue for many British people but fear of change. He claims that rapid change is unsettling for people and a party that represents the past like UKIP is understandably popular. I guess a progressive, forward thinking and radical party like ours might be unpopular for the same reason.

Next up is Douglas Carswell, former Tory, now a UKIP, MP. He talks like a Lib Dem. He is clearly a dedicated constituency MP, just like a Lib Dem, who does not take his constituents for granted, just like a Lib Dem, and he sees representing his constituency as far more important than what happens at Westminster. He appeared to me to be so unlike a Tory MP or a Labour MP in a safe seat and so like a Lib Dem.

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Gordon Birtwistle MP writes… A revived nuclear industry could unlock the UK’s engineering potential for generations to come

In March 2013, the Government published its Nuclear Industrial Strategy with the ambition to make the UK once again world leading in nuclear new build and decommissioning expertise. It is forecast that globally £930 billion is set to be invested in new reactors and a further £250 billion to pay for decommissioning.

But to take advantage of these growing opportunities, the UK needs to recruit and train far more people into engineering than currently. Figures from EngineeringUK show that the sector needs to recruit 2.2 million candidates over the next five to ten years in the UK. Despite the many opportunities in an engineering career, only half of 11-to-14-year olds say they would consider it a viable option. This figure dropped to barely a third among girls and, unfortunately, less than a quarter of parents said they thought engineering was a suitable profession for their daughters.

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Opinion: We will not stand aside while persecution takes place

Whilst party activists gathered in Glasgow and quite literally were debating policy F33 Age Ready Britain there was another gathering taking place of a quieter, but perhaps more significant nature.

In the Admiral Rodney Pub, in Southwell, Nottinghamshire a small group of LGBT activists and supporters prepared to demonstrate for equality. Archbishop John Sentamu was in Southwell for the opening of the refurbished Bishop’s Palace and he was accompanied by acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, Richard Inwood.

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Opinion: Don’t tax aspiration, let’s recruit entrepreneurs to our cause

If you asked a Lib Dem about why they joined our party, I think many of the following reasons for joining, would be on their list:

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Opinion: Underpinning local enterprise through the banking system

Despite a last minute attempt to scrap criticisms of the big banks, the Lib Dems are now committed to a powerful programme to create a diverse local lending infrastructure in the UK.

And most important of all, thanks to the Rebanking the UK debate yesterday, the Lib Dems are now clear about how this great diversification is going to be achieved.

The big banks are going to pay for and mentor a new infrastructure of local banks, which will be geared up – and with the expertise they need – to lend money to a new UK mittelstand, the UK small and …

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Opinion: An embarrassing lack of diversity

The lack of Black and Asian members at federal conference was depressing and embarrassing.

Glasgow was the most racially undiverse Lib Dem conference since I joined in 2006. Every TV scan of the audience showed a sea of white faces, even for equality debates. The day I went was no different.

The message it sent Britain was that we are not a party that reflects modern multicultural society, and therefore probably don’t care much for it.

To add insult, the Federal Executive (FE) proposed committee quotas for women while ignoring BAME and other under-represented groups.

Under this system the three BAME men would all have lost their places to, in all probability, white women. The only ethnic minority left would be Pauline Pearce on Federal Conference Committee (FCC).

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Norman Lamb MP writes… Thank you, Nick, for your commitment to mental health

No major British political party has ever had a leader more committed to the cause of tackling mental health discrimination than Nick Clegg.

Nick’s first ever question in Prime Minister’s Questions as party leader was about mental health services. And throughout my time as heath minister, I have always been able to rely on Nick’s unwavering support for my work: on promoting parity of esteem for mental health; on tackling unacceptable standards of crisis care and support for children and young people; and in general raising the profile of an area of health that for far too long has been …

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrat vote on flooding shows politics of climate change is shifting

Liberal Democrats have this morning voted to protect hundreds of thousands of households from flooding and climate change.

The welcome move is thanks to the passage of a policy motion, tabled by Lib Dem activists Duncan Brack and Neil Stockley, that calls on the Government to “Ensure flood defence spending is kept in line with that needed to protect against climate change impacts”.

Current flood defence investment is far below what’s needed to keep pace with our changing climate. As heavy rainfall increases and sea levels rise, numerous experts have urged that Government investment in flood protection should rise correspondingly. The Environment Agency made such recommendations in 2009, but these were ignored by Chancellor George Osborne, who cut the flood defence budget by £100million. The Committee on Climate Change calculates that a huge shortfall of £500million has now emerged between what’s being spent and what’s needed.

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Opinion: Party conferences don’t matter to voters

Glasgow conference 2014I’m lucky enough to live near Eastleigh in Hampshire, and I often need to go into Southampton for work. If I get a chance at lunchtime I go for a stroll on Southampton Common, a large open space close to the city centre. One of my favourite parts of the Common is Southampton Old Cemetery, an area of overgrown graves and tombstones that has largely been given over to wildlife, but where you can still wander around and read the inscriptions, still see the little details of other people’s lives and deaths.

Among the overgrown memorials that I wandered past last week was one to a former mayor of Southampton, who, his headstone recorded, “died early on Sunday morning”. Why was this important, so important that it was carved in stone along with his name and dates and political achievements? Because for most people, it’s the little things that really matter, not the big ideas. Yes, people care about the environment, but generally they’re more interested in the smell from their drains than in the melting polar ice cap. People care about the deficit, but they want to know if bread is cheaper in the local Co-op or the out of town Morrisons. People, by and large, have an opinion on immigration, but unless their opinions have crossed the border of bigotry, they’re more interested in whether Vaclav next door plays music at 3am than in whether he should be in the country at all.

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Opinion: Conference season so far – and what’s with the Tories and Human Rights anyhow?

Normally, as you all know, Lib Dem conference comes before Labour and Tory conferences. But this year, due to the timing of the Scottish independence referendum, Lib Dem conference is the last one up.

This means that for those of us who luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view) form part of the travelling circus that does all three conferences each year, instead of turning up bright eyed and bushytailed at our conference we’ve already done Tory conference, usually a killer health wise. I myself already have a mild case of conference flu that I’ve taken to Glasgow with me.

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Opinion: Confronting gender inequalities in the workplace

Handshake man - womenI am proud to belong to a party that strives to represent the unrepresented, defend the rights of minorities and works hard to achieve equality for all. Our work in government to tackle inequality has improved the lives of many and made society as a whole fairer. But, whilst we have made real progress in improving the deal for women in the workplace, it remains unacceptable that in the 21st century women remain underrepresented at the top and suffer significant pay disadvantages throughout many organisations.

At conference in Glasgow, the Federal Policy Committee will present its policy paper Expanding Opportunity, Unlocking Potential. A paper that addresses, amongst many other vital issues, the lack of women on boards and ongoing gender pay disparities. I wanted to take the opportunity in this blog to outline the difficulties women in the workplace still face and set out what measures we propose in the paper to address them.

photo by: flazingo_photos
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    @eddie Sammon "We should elect our leaders and our candidates " I thought you had left the party ? So I assume you mean ""You...
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    @FrankBooth A very good and rational description of the concerns. @George Potter Those were not immigrants, and they actually wanted out, not in.
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    @stuart Isn't that rather a biased, closed-eye interpretation? 36% yes ... means "perfectly happy" 46% no ..... means "only a minority" Difficult to see how...
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