Liberal Democrat Jane Ann Liston talks about extending railway to St Andrews

Jane Ann Liston on rail campaignThis weekend, the Borders railway gets back underway again. This is a real achievement of the Scottish Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland. The Bill was passed way back in 2006.

We’ll be writing about this more as the first journeys take place on Sunday, but BBC Scotland has done a feature about how the success of the Borders project has inspired other railways campaigners. They interviewed Jane Ann Liston, a regular commenter on this site. She plays a significant role in the StARlink campaign which wants to see the five miles of track from Leuchars to St Andrews reinstated. See what she had to say here

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Christine Jardine quizzes Salmond on his “curious” view that he prefers people “of faith”

It was never likely that I’d make it on to Alex Salmond’s Christmas card list. After all, he thinks that people who don’t support independence are making the case “against Scotland.” Now, it appears, there’s another reason for him to disapprove of me; I don’t have a religious faith.

Pink News has a video clip of him saying:

I  am biased of course because I am a Church of Scotland adherent and I prefer people of faith to people of no faith or people who have lost their faith.

Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Aberdeenshire East seat next May has written to him to question this rather odd opinion:

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In full: Willie Rennie’s piece for the National on refugees: “We cannot stand by and leave this to others”

Willie Rennie has been writing for The National, Scotland’s daily independence supporting newspaper, about what he thinks should be our response to the refugee crisis. Nicola Sturgeon and Labour’s new leader Kezia Dugdale also wrote articles. Below is Willie’s piece in full. The parts in italics are those which ended up on the National’s cutting room floor.

As a country we have a proud tradition of offering sanctuary to those facing persecution.

As far back as 1572, we provided safe haven to French Huguenots forced from their homes. During the Second World War, Nicholas Winton exemplified this spirit when he rescued 669 children from Nazi death camps.

The picture of a young child, drowned as he made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean with his familu, shames those who would say that we have no responsibility to help those fleeing conflict and war.

The situation facing refugees from Syria and elsewhere is desperate. They know the risks they face in making the journey to Europe. Thousands have died in the process. But still they come.

Last month, the new leader of the UK Liberal Democrats Tim Farron and I met with Amnesty International and the Scottish Refugee Council to discuss the crisis. They set out the scale of the challenge that we are facing clearly.

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How to show that refugees are welcome in your home area

38 degrees does have its uses. Their “Refugees Welcome” campaign allows you to go their website, enter your postcode and see if their is a current “Refugees welcome in -name of town or city-” petition for your locality. If there is, you can sign it if you want to. If there isn’t one for your area, you can just hit the red button to “start a campaign” and you can set up a petition for your home town, village or city, and then publicise it via Twitter, Facebook, email etc.

The Guardian has a list of ways you can help refugees. – As does The Independent.

My eye has been caught by these two refugee-related good causes:

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Liberal Britain?

We’re told that Britain is a liberal country, that Liberalism is mainstream. After all, every party supported same-sex marriage, the gender gap is narrowing, and even the class system is slowly, slowly, so painfully slowly on the wane.

The state’s attempts to impinge on privacy are rebutted time and time again – or have been up until now – we keep spending on international development even when we’re hurting at home, and each Parliament is more diverse than the last.

We have much to be proud of, and rightly so.

But in a truly liberal Britain, there would be as many women sitting round the directors’ table as men. The best students from our state schools and from our private schools would have the same chances on results day. Our police would look just like the people they work so hard to serve – as would our soldiers, as would our politicians.  

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Vince Cable and Chuka Umunna criticise Government’s industrial strategy in Independent article

Vince Cable has teamed up with Chuka Umunna in an Independent article that warns of the likely consequences if Vince’s former department of Business, Innovation and Skills suffers the massive cuts predicted. It’s not a protected department, so its budget could be cut by up to 40%. That would make it difficult to continue Vince’s successful industrial strategy:

One of the positive legacies of the Coalition government was the establishment of an ‘industrial strategy’ with the same objectives. It was successful in attracting a lot of support from business in general and in key sectors like automotive, aerospace, bio-tech, creative industries, energy and railway supply chains and construction. In vehicles and aerospace, especially, a large amount of private sector and government money was committed to R&D. The approach was flexible, accommodating and welcoming of disruptive technologies and the emergence of new industries. Before the election, the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems (and the SNP) subscribed to the industrial strategy.

There has been a deafening silence since. We are now past the first 100 days: the government’s honeymoon. There is no excuse for lack of clarity over a key area of government policy. There may be an innocent explanation: a wish by the Conservative government to rebrand the industrial strategy as part of its ‘Long Term Economic Plan’, while work quietly proceeds in the background. A more worrying possibility is that the ideologues in government have got their teeth into it believing, against all previous experience, that market failures will correct themselves and that the UK economy will achieve balanced, sustained, recovery thanks to resurgent banking and app start-ups in Shoreditch.

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A warning from the Labour party: The difference between leadership and management

Politicians think government is 90% policy and 10% management, in reality it’s the other way round.’ Civil service aphorism

As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens  another.’ Proverbs 27:17

A lot is being written about the Labour leadership election and rightly so. That a candidate unable to get the support of more than 20 MPs from the fringe left may be about to become leader of the opposition is astounding. Good reasons have been given for this state of affairs but I fear one more than any other has been glossed over.

Jeremy Corbyn is a far better candidate than Yvette, Andy and Liz.

Objectively he makes the best speeches, is the best communicator, has the clearest message and has the most coherent and (at least within the party) popular ideas for changing the labour party. Now whether the rest of the country will warm to him is another thing but one question that has to be asked is how a parliamentary party with 231 MPs to choose from has picked such mediocre mainstream candidates? Compare it with the recent Liberal Democrat leadership election and Norman Lamb and Tim Farron’s impressive campaigns.

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Farron backs right to term-time holidays

I would normally apologise for linking to the Daily Mail, but on this occasion, as the piece in question has a video showing some of Tim Farron’s first speech as leader, I’m not going to.

The paper quotes Tim Farron expressing support for a motion that’s coming to Conference later this month which would give parents the right to take their children out of school for ten school days for holidays.

He told them:

Many employees have no choice when to take their holidays.

‘People in areas, such as my Westmorland constituency, have to work all through the summer at the height of the tourism season.

So, it’s vitally important to offer more flexibility to schools and headteachers to help families who need to take a break together.

Thornbury and Yate member Karen Wilkinson has written several times for this site about the law change, describing it as “illiberal.” writing in 2013:

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Not in my name: British diplomats who joked about refugee quotas disgrace this country

There have been many reasons over the Summer to be thoroughly ashamed of our Government’s response to the growing humanitarian crisis on our doorsteps.

We’ve all seen the news reports. We all know that people just like us are enduring incredible suffering. The difference between them and us is that we live in a part of the world that has seen relative stability and security these last 70 years since the EU came into being. For all it’s many faults. at least none of us has been put in the position of having to flee our homes because it is simply not safe to be there, because our government was gassing us with chemical weapons, because a brutally murderous death cult was trying to wrest power from a brutally murderous government. Imagine the fear and desperation these people are going through as they leave their home nation for a very uncertain future.

When even a UKIP supporting family friend says we should be helping these people, it is very clear that David Cameron, with his “n’owt to do with us” approach, is very much out of step with the feeling in this country. Hell, even Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson gets it:

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Christians continue to suffer on the West Bank

There are constant reminders of the sheer awfulness of the illegal occupation of the West Bank by Israel.  The video which went viral last week showing an Israeli soldier assaulting a 12 year old boy, with his already broken arm in a plaster cast, is a case in point.  He was rescued by his mother and other women from the village, who are now depicted in much of the Israeli press as the attackers and the soldier as the victim! Minister of Culture Miri Regev said the troops should have used their guns!

The British media often presents the conflict as one between mainly Muslim Arabs and Jews, forgetting that there is a significant Christian Arab population, albeit one that continues to decline as more and more leave the country.  I am grateful to the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Foundation for sharing this information.

Christian communities suffer just as much as Muslim communities in the West Bank. In July, the Israeli High Court reversed a previous decision to halt work on the wall which will separate the mostly Christian-populated Beit Jala and the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, and the Cremisan monastery from its sister convent and school. The new High Court ruling has been challenged. Israeli forces however hastily uprooted dozens of olive trees of Palestinians and leveled land belonging to a number of families as part of its plans to resume the construction of the wall, which is also close to the illegal Israeli Har Gilo settlement.

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Andrew Wiseman writes…Introducing the Policy Pitch

We are trying a new session at this year’s conference. The idea behind the session is to encourage policy discussion in a different way to a formal motion or FPC policy paper.

Members will put forward ideas in the form of a ‘policy pitch’. These ideas should not be current party policy, they should be new ideas or ideas that develop existing party policy in an innovative way. Rather than having to set out a more formal motion where there is a debate and a yes/no vote the member will submit their idea in a less formal pitch of up to 400 words. Those chosen by FCC will be given a two minute ‘pitch’ to conference where they will get the chance to present their idea to a panel. The panel will discuss the idea with the proposer before giving their views.

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Conference Countdown 2015: …And breathe – advice for first time conference goers

When you first go to conference there is a risk of overloading with “stuff”.

Bear in mind that conference is a very unusual situation for a human being.

You are there being pumped full of the highest octane level of high octane political content for up to 18 hours a day. I once counted up over 50 subjects on which I had listened to speeches or explanations during a conference week.

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We should weep at what is happening to Labour

Whoever wins the Labour leadership battle, it’s going to be a torrid time for Labour. There are already accusations and counter-accusations, threats of a legal challenge, and that’s before we know the result.Perhaps, this will help with the #LibDemFightback. It may well lead to a faster recovery in the polls, another surge of new members, and more by-election victories. But there is a terrible downside.

I remember the last time Labour self-destructed. When that happened, I was horrified. We had a Labour party that was unfit to be the Official Opposition, and a Conservative government that ruled in triumphalism for 18 years. Not everything the Tories did was bad, but some of it was appalling. The Poll Tax was only the most prominent of many policies which harmed the weakest in society, and sometimes the worst policies were small measures that the newspapers never noticed.

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Farron: Enough is enough. It’s time to help refugees in need in response to Independent’s heartbreaking photo of a little dead Syrian boy

As David Cameron goes on the news and tells us all that we can’t take any refugees, but we are doing all we can to make life ok in the countries they come from, Tim Farron has been telling the Independent that we need to take in more refugees.

Cameron knows perfectly well that Syria is far from ok. How can it be when you have a brutally murderous dictator fighting a brutally murderous death cult for control?

Had we still been in Government, Cameron’s comments would have chilled me to the bone. The truth is we haven’t done enough to offer sanctuary to people in need throughout the whole crisis, not just this Summer. Nick Clegg certainly managed to ensure that we did take some people from Syria who needed specialised support but nowhere near enough.

The Independent has published a heartbreaking photograph of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach. They know it’s going to upset people. This is their explanation for so doing:

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LibLink: Shirley Williams: American democracy is up for sale and it’s a warning to us all

Shirley Williams has been writing for the Independent about the pernicious influence of big money in politics in the US. She writes about the huge amounts of money being poured into Republican campaigns, how this clearly gives them advantages in access to the voters through the media. More worryingly, she outlines what appears to be a strategic approach of using the courts to abolish funding limits and of gerrymandering congressional districts to again give themselves an advantage at the expense of others.

She gives a very stark warning about why this is a bad thing. We need to think that we have a realistic chance of getting rid of our government if we don’t like them. A politics where you have to have the backing of the stinking rich to succeed is not exactly likely to benefit all and will lead to disillusionment:

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Jim Hume MSP: SNP risks making GPs an exclusive service that many can’t access

I was interested to see this report in today’s Scotsman which featured Labour and the SNP slugging it out over cuts to GP training posts. People are finding it more and more difficult to get an early appointment with their GPs. You would think that the service that is the most common way for us to access the NHS would be better funded, but primary care now accounts for just 7.8% of healthcare funding, down from 9.8% in 2011.

It is causing a fairly massive amount of concern. You’d think that they’d want to discuss it in Parliament.

Oh wait – they did, but the Scotsman didn’t feel the need to talk about the debate initiated by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume just yesterday afternoon.

Jim warned that the failure to recruit and train sufficient GPs risked the service becoming inaccessible to many people. He cited a survey carried out by the Scottish Liberal Democrats which showed that 4 in 10 respondents found their workload unmanageable and a third would choose a different career path.  An SNP MSP typically intervened to blame Westminster for increasing contributions to public sector pensions. In fact, it was day to day work concerns that upset GPs most:

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How can we support candidates who can’t afford to stand for office?

With the #LibDemFightback still continuing after the announcement of our new Leader and by-elections happening almost every week across the country and the party making net gains, campaigners are now planning for next year’s local elections up and down the country. We may be under 5 years away from 2020, with a new vision and a path for the party to be decided, but what about candidates who want to stand for election but can’t  because they can’t afford to?

I write in response to last week’s article by Mark Argent regarding the financial exclusion of candidates. I thought about standing in the last election, but I didn’t feel it was the right time and I thought I didn’t have the finances I would need. There may be many prospective candidates wishing to stand for parliamentary seats, but feel they could not because they couldn’t afford to run a campaign for several months.

We as a party do need to look at the wider members within the party, especially the 17,000+ new members who could potentially be the next parliamentary candidate for their constituency. But what if they couldn’t financially contribute to the campaign? How should the party help them?

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Dreaming of Lords reform

Surely there is nothing better for a lifelong liberal to do in an idle moment than to fantasise about some form of constitutional reform?  Well maybe that’s just me….but please indulge me for a moment.

In the last couple of weeks we have seen Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie explore the issue of all women short lists and the dissolution honours has prompted unease at the membership and structure of the House of Lords.  Could we solve both these issues in one move?

How about we elect (gasp!) the House of Lords but do so differently from the Commons?

Currently, the UK sends 73 MEPs to Europe from 12 constituencies.  My plan would be to use these same constituencies for the Upper House except with double the number of seats – half for women and half for men – 146 members in total – a reasonable amount for a focused chamber and more than the US Senate.  

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Roger Roberts calls for Parliamentary debate on refugee crisis

So, the Westminster Parliament resumes on Monday after its Summer recess. The Commons debates the EU Referendum Bill, the Lords the Energy Bill. With a growing humanitarian crisis on our doorstep, though, can it really be business as usual?

Liberal Democrat peer and passionate advocate for the fair treatment of those who seek sanctuary Roger Roberts thinks not. He wants the current agenda to be postponed in favour of debates in both Houses on the crisis. He said on Facebook:

Next Monday Parliament reconvenes. I plan to have discussions today to treat Monday as if it was for the recall of Parliament to have an emergency debate on the Refugee crisis. With many thousands of people involved in what appears to be one of the major humanitarian crises of our time.I would welcome as much support (facebook – messages to M.P.s and Peers etc) as possible.

I think it would be good to have Parliaments in Scotland and Wales debate the issue too, especially if they are able to say that they are happy to take refugees in their areas.

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Now, about those 100,000 members…

Those of us who have been around for a while will remember  Simon Hughes’ pitch during his presidential campaign, that under his leadership the party membership would double. It didn’t

It wasn’t his fault. The party had to put the work in. There was nothing wrong with the ambition, but plucking a number out of the air will not in itself get you there.

Now I am happy to support Tim Farron as leader, but during the campaign I have to admit I thought that his target of 100,000 members by 2020 was similarly pretty meaningless. But now we have it, lets stick to it.

This is not an article about how to recruit more members. There are training sessions for that. I recommend that you contact your local regional party to organise a recruitment training session in your area.

What does a national figure of 100,000 mean for your local party? Currently we have roughly 60,000 members, so an increase of 40,000 is needed, which is 67% and so the membership for your local party membership should increase by at least 67% for the party to be on target.

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The European Referendum and the Greek Tragedy – or Brexit, Grexit and Sexit

Once a magnet for states seeking peace, prosperity and security, the European Union faces a series of challenges associated with the Eurozone crisis, which has ebbed and flowed since 2010, and migration which is a source of concern to those of left (raising humanitarian issues) and right (raising opposition to influxes of migrants), polarising politics across Europe. Such problems have raised the spectre of Greek exit from the EU (Grexit) and form the background to the UK’s forthcoming referendum on remaining in the EU, potentially leading to Brexit.

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Liberal Youth Elections 2015 are go! #lyelects

It’s that time of year again – Federal Liberal Youth and the Welsh organisation IR Cymru are electing the teams which will lead them through the next year. The new executives will take office on 1st November.

I am Returning Officer for the third year. Any member of the party who is under 26 or is in full-time education is eligible to vote. Everyone the party thinks fits those categories should have had an email on Sunday evening. If you haven’t, please check your Spam folder. If it’s not there, get in touch with membership department here and ask them to mark you as a Youth member.

Details of all the positions and how to apply can be found here. If you want to apply, you should provide me with the required information and an A5 sized manifesto in PDF or Word format by 8pm on Sunday 6th September. One of the first things I changed about these elections was to ensure that nominations closed at a sociable hour. The first year, they closed at midnight on a Friday night, and, given the number of places available, there were a fair few last minute nominations and queries that I had to deal with.  I am pretty pathetic at the staying up late thing, so I decided on the earlier time for future elections. 

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Is George Orwell’s view of England still true?

George-orwell-BBCOver on the (unaffiliated) Journeyman blog there is a review of George Orwell’s collection of essays called Why I write, which was originally published in 1946.

The review quotes a couple of passages where Orwell makes observations about England. (I apologise that these opinions are very specifically given about England only, rather than the country as a whole).

The first passage is about the artistic and intellectual characteristics of the English:

Here are a couple of generalizations about England that would be accepted by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted artistically…the English are not intellectual… another English characteristic which is so much a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the privateness of English life… The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker.
(The Lion & The Unicorn pp14-16)

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Europe or the world? It’s a false choice.

“Do you agree that the UK should leave the EU and trade with the world?” That’s the question on the front page of the UKIP website, and presumably how they want to start framing the referendum debate once they launch their own No campaign later this week. “Out, and into the world,” as it was put in the 1970s.

But that’s a false choice. We don’t have to choose between Europe and the world. We can have both.

Let’s start by emphasising just how important the European marketplace is to British business. Last year, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s exports to the rest of the EU were worth £226bn – 12 times the value of the stuff we sold to China and 33 times what we sold to India. Between 2000 and 2014 the value of our exports to the rest of the EU rose by £80bn; the value of our exports to China rose by £16bn, and to India by just £4bn. China and India are important, growing markets with lots of potential, but let’s not forget just how important Europe is and will remain.

photo by: rockcohen
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Tim Farron is right: Osama Bin Laden’s death was not a tragedy

Tim Farron was widely quoted on Monday, for perhaps the first time since his election as leader. The good news is that he was correct in his point. He was responding to a resurfaced quote from Labour leadership favourite, Jeremy Corbyn, who has said to Iranian TV that Bin Laden’s death was “a tragedy”, as it was unlawful and he should have been put on trial instead.

That the killing of Bin Laden was illegal has been a favourite proposition of the Galloway-ite hard left, so it isn’t a surprise to see them jump up and defend Corbyn. But I was surprised to see a few serious liberals, including Paddy Ashdown in the past, also voice this and criticise Tim for his intervention.

Their premise is that Bin Laden was a common criminal, and thus “due process” should have been followed, with him legally arrested and brought to trial. But this view is based on a foundation that is both legally dubious, and naive in practicability.

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#Brexit referendum question to change after advice from Electoral Commission

referendum2From the BBC

The elections watchdog has recommended a change to the question to be put to voters in a future EU referendum.

The Electoral Commission said the wording proposed by ministers – “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” – could be perceived as biased to the status quo.

It has proposed adding the words “or leave the European Union?”

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Lord William Wallace writes…Shrinking the State?

Liberal Democrats need to clarify where we stand on how large a public sector we support, the balance of public spending and administration between state, national/regional and local levels, and the appropriate division between private and public provision in our economy and society.  We are now faced with a Labour Party which is likely, under its new leader, to reassert large-scale state-level spending, and a Conservative Party that wants to shrink and weaken both the central state and local government.

The Conservative Government contains a number of convinced libertarians, with an almost anarchist streak in their antagonism to state action, civil servants and public services (I know – I worked with some of them until last May!).  The current rule on regulatory policy, for instance, is that ministers can only introduce one new regulation if they can find three comparable regulations to abolish: a deregulatory bias that will run into problems when the next food or health safety scandal hits.  OECD projections for government spending indicate that the UK currently intends to reduce public spending from 42% of GDP in 2014 to 36% in 2020 – taking Britain from European to North American levels of public provision.  Whitehall Departments are preparing for cuts of between 25 and 40% in ‘unprotected’ public spending.  On some calculations local authorities will have barely half the financial resources in real terms in 2020 that they had in 2010.

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Conference Countdown 2015: Cutting VAT for tourism would be a costly mistake

In the run-up to Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, we’ll be looking ahead to examine the highlights in the debating hall, the fringe and training rooms. You can find the papers here. You can find all the posts in the series here.

One of the motions at conference is for reducing VAT on tourism as far as possible. Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

The idea is to reduce VAT on hotels and selected attractions from the standard rate of 20% to 5% – the minimum allowed by the EU. This is something the British Hospitality Association has been lobbying the Treasury on for years. The motion refers to the importance of tourism more generally, with figures that include all restaurants, pubs and outbound flights, amongst other things, but I assume its VAT proposal is (mercifully) more limited.

The government’s response to this lobbying (under both Labour and the Coalition of which we were a part) has been to point to the substantial price tag. The cost of cutting VAT for accommodation alone would be £2 billion a year, with amusement parks and similar adding another £200 million. This is serious money. A comparable total would be the cost of the Pupil Premium that Lib Dems fought so hard to introduce.

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Walter James: Last surviving 1950 General Election candidate

I don’t recall ever meeting Walter James, the last surviving candidate of any party who fought the 1950 General Election who has died aged 103, but I did hear my father Stanley Wood speak of him and I may have well have attended Liberal Party meetings at which James spoke.

James, who gained 1st class honours in modern history at Keble College, Oxford, wrote for the Manchester Guardian, had a distinguished career and later became a member of the BBC Advisory Council. In 1945 James was Liberal candidate for the Bury division in Lancashire, narrowly won from Labour by Tory Walter Fletcher. James was readopted, but boundary changes created the new seat of Bury & Radcliffe and he stood down as PPC in 1947 about the time my Dad Stan became Liberal Party agent.

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Some newspapers’ attitude to refugees is downright disgraceful and un-British

Friday 28th August. News came through of an horrific discovery in Austria. 71 refugees, including three children and one baby, were found dead in a lorry there. Adding to a very grim day, reports emerged that a boat packed with refugees had sunk off the coast of Libya, with 200 people feared dead.

One would have thought that such a double humanitarian disaster would have softened the heart of the most hardened Fleet Street editor.

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    Phyllis However, this motion being debated at Conference is to CHANGE the current obligation on parents not to take their child out of school. Conference...
  • User AvatarBim 5th Sep - 1:54am
    Just because something has always been done one way does not mean it is the BEST way Not necessarily, but it means you had better...
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 5th Sep - 1:48am
    tonyhill Are there no anarchists left in the ranks of the Liberal Democrats? The comments above suggest that the party consists almost entirely of people...
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    David Mathew Huntbach: so what happened when a student was too sick to attend a critical lab? Did they fail their degree too? Yes. Why...
  • User AvatarPaul Walter 5th Sep - 12:22am
    Phyllis "It’s a very clear, demonstrable and unashamed bias on the part of the editorial team." If you want us to criticise the Tories more...
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    Phyllis, island in the Phillipines or Indonesia, it says. Long way from the USA.