Paddy Ashdown writes…An essay to my Party on the eve of Conference

I am getting old. Like most old men I have a tendency to be grumpy and claim that things aren’t as good as they were in the old days. Please bear this in mind when you read this.

I was trained as a Commando officer so I don’t know any other means of tackling a challenge than fix bayonets and charge. I don’t really do subtlety. Please remember that, too when you read on.

I am an enthusiast, and have a tendency to paint in large shapes and bright colours. What follows is Gaugin, not Canaletto. Please make allowance.

When you read this please finally note that I have been a committed and passionate Liberal since a canvasser knocked on my door forty-five year ago and explained what we stood for. That day, I put on Liberalism like an old coat waiting for me in the cupboard and I have worn it ever since with pride – come what may.

In all those long years I have never glanced to right, left or centre for a better political home for my beliefs than our Party – and that remains the case still. So please understand, if the words which follow offend, they are written with love.

So, now you have been warned, here goes.

There are good things – really good things – to celebrate as we gear up for Bournemouth. We have a multi talented Leader who deserves our whole-hearted support. We have 12 MPs in place of 9 before the last election. We still retain thousands of new members and we are winning local Council by-elections at a good rate.

But – didn’t you just know a ‘but’ was coming? – nevertheless, the biggest danger for our Party at the seaside next week lies in glossing over the existential challenges which now face us. Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and re-kindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

Consider this. We are the Party who, more than any other, represents the progressive centre in our country (I prefer centre left, but I am not in the business of dividing here). That space has never been more empty, voiceless, vacant and uncontested than it was in the last election. And yet far from filling that gap and mobilising those in it, our vote went down to an even lower base. Not in my life time have their been conditions more favourable for a Lib Dem advance in a General Election. But we went backwards.

Now, with Labour and the Tories spinning way to the extremes, Britain is polarised as never before and the vast sea of people who share our beliefs, find themselves voiceless and silent.

Not all of them, sadly, are Liberal Democrats or want to be. Many belong to other Parties and many, many more do not belong to any party – or wish to, with party politics as they are.

Politics in Britain is unsustainable in its present state. The moderate, majority voice of our country, which usually determines elections, cannot be left so unrepresented. If we cannot, or will not be the gathering point for these, the new left out millions, then who will and what are we for?

Twice before in our recent history, others have moved onto our ground– once with the SDP and once in the early days of New Labour. Both times we reached out to these new forces and prospered as result. These days we look hostile to this possibility. We will be at very grave danger indeed if this should happen again in the near future and we stand aloof.

Our reluctance on this front does not just threaten our future. It also contributes to the disfigurement of our national politics. If we are to fulfil our historic role at a moment when liberalism is more at threat than ever in my life, then we have to be less tribal, more inclusive and more willing to engage others than we have sometimes seemed in recent years.

What does this mean?

I do not oppose local electoral deals where they make sense. But I do not think they are the answer. These so-called “progressive Alliances” are almost always anti-Tory and always end up denying voter choice. Political partnerships work best when they are for something better, rather than against something worse.

Any attempt to create a new framework for our politics should begin with widening the space in which we can make common cause with people who share our values, rather than harping on about the things that separate us. We should not find it impossible to work with individuals in other parties and none (including, yes even Tories) who share some cardinal principles we jointly believe in – say, creating a green economy, tackling the gap between rich and poor, working to reform our political system, rejecting isolationism and sustaining a market system which serves the individual not the economically powerful.

If this strategy is to work for us, it must be confidently led from the top, not just mildly tolerated at the top.

Here’s a proposition.

Why could Lib Dems not lead in launching a series of studies which brings in those of other Parties and none to make proposals on some of the big issues of our time, as Norman Lamb has done so brilliantly on Health. Issues such as creating a green but successful market based economy; sorting out the fabulous mess of our broken constitution; spreading wealth in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence; adopting a foreign and defence policy more appropriate to our fractured, unravelling world– I am sure you can think of others. This worked well for us in the past; the Cook/Maclennan Commission paved the way to the great surge of devolution of the late 1990s; the Lib Dem sponsored Dahrendorf Commission on Wealth Creation and Social Cohesion in 1995 gave us great credibility and a host of new ideas.

The Chinese philosopher Sun Tze said “Strategy without tactics is the longest way to victory. But tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. Winning by-elections and distributing Focuses are a tactic, not a strategy. Our strategy should be to do whatever we can, whenever we can and wherever we can to work with all those individuals in other parties and none, who share our values and want to join us on the great enterprise of re-shaping and renewing our broken politics.

Consider next, this.

When I joined our Party we had been, for the best part of a hundred years, a radical and insurgent party and remained so right up to the moment when being insurgent became popular – when we became the Government. Now people see us, not as a force for change but as a part of the establishment. Whether we could have been insurgents in Government is a question for history. The question for now is; there is a hunger for change out there, why don’t we any longer look or sound like the people to bring it?

There may be many reasons for that. But the biggest one is that we are doing very little new thinking and producing very few new ideas.

The party I joined all those years ago our Party was a ferment of debate and new thinking – that was one of the reasons, inspired by Jo Grimond, that I joined. Some of our ideas were mad, others were silly and a few were mildly embarrassing. But many, many of the things we pioneered, like green politics (with the Greens), devolution, fair voting, internationalism, gender equality (with Labour), gay rights (without them), sensible drug laws (without me at the time, I am ashamed to say) are now common place and unquestioned in today’s political life. So here is a question. Can you name one big, dangerous idea we Lib Dems have produced since 2015? Vince’s speech of last week began the process of thinking big again. We should pick up his lead and start coming up with our own new, dangerous ideas – and debating them at Conference.

Tomorrow I will suggest four dangerous ideas for starters.

* Paddy Ashdown was the first Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988-1999. He is now a Liberal Democrat of the House of Lords

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102 Comments

  • Well, up to a point Lord Ashdown. Lots of good stuff here, however we read the history of the SDP and Tony Blair years. But … “one big idea” thinking can so easily take us into the subtle dangers of short cuts and cul-de-sacs which obscure the need for sheer graft and deep commitment. I look forward to a stimulating part two!

  • Neville Farmer 11th Sep '17 - 9:34am

    Couldn’t agree more, Paddy. We cannot pussyfoot around being nice to people but saying little. We don’t win votes when we say nice things, so let’s get tough and say what we mean. The housing crisis is THE biggest problem in this country – it knocks on to everything from the benefits bill to food prices, from crime to poverty. It widens the social divide more than anything else. It sucks money out of the economy and damages business prospects. It destroys rural communities and kills culture in the cities.

    If there is any drug war to fight it is our addiction to property values. People have got to stop thinking that they have a right to massive increases in their property values at the expense of millions who cannot get a home.

    Build social housing in huge quantities, punish land-bankers, take property off the economic indicator ratings and let the market fall heavily. Make the lenders take the risk on negative equity, not the borrowers.

    We should be brutal in the way we sell this because every other party is just tinkering with it.

    Then Brexit. Labour dithers, Tories destroy. We should stand tall and say we would reverse it. End of.

    More follows later…

  • Here’s one idea for a start. Take back all state schools back into the governance of local authorities – who are democratically accountable. The Wakefield academy chain has failed and to think that 21 schools can be just abandoned when an Academy chain decides to walk away without local authorities being able to pick up the pieces is shocking. It was a Blair notion backed by the Tories. Our children’s education is far too important to be subject to market economics.

    We should campaign for reinvigorated local authorities and reverse the way they have been starved of resources under Labour – but particularly since 2010 under Coalition and the Tories.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Sep '17 - 9:53am

    Wonderful start for a Monday morning to read Paddy’s call for a renewed ferment of debate and new thinking in our party, for ‘widening the space in which we make common cause with people who share our values’ and starting wide-ranging studies on important topics. I share Paddy’s long history of our Liberalism though with none of his achievements, and this sounds right to me. (A Labour friend of mine was also being fervent with me last night about the need for an end to tribalism – we can find our allies and partners in this.)

    I think we have actually produced one ‘great dangerous idea’ since 2015 – that despite the referendum result we need to stay in the EU and will fight to get the necessary popular assent for it. That needs to be achieved by March 2019.

    But here is my ‘two-pennorth’, to utilise an ancient phrase for a new idea. I believe we as a party need to focus all our policy for this country now on helping the young. I am appalled at the position of young people here and now: their load of debt if they go to uni, their poor prospects of worthwhile and lasting jobs let alone good careers, and their limited chances of getting decent housing. The old must indeed stop shafting the young and give them better chances of enjoying the good life we have been lucky enough to have.

  • Excellent article.

  • Michael Cole 11th Sep '17 - 10:34am

    Fair voting is not “common place and unquestioned in today’s political life” as Paddy suggests. For Westminster and England and Wales local elections we still have an antiquated and corrupt voting system.

    In recent years Liberal Democrat visible campaigning on this issue has been lamentable, almost non-existent. In fact, Labour is more active in this field than us, although the majority of its MPs appear to be against reform.

    The need for proportional representation, perceived by the then Liberal Party, was one of the main reasons why I joined many years ago. It is sad that this issue has long been neglected by us. My recent experience of (Labour organised) street stalls has clearly demonstrated to me that there is a public appetite for electoral reform and fair votes.

  • I love the challenge, Paddy. It is timely and presents both opportunity and threat. Yes, threat. If we do nothing and simply drift along as we are, then from where will the new vision for our party and indeed our country come? We should capture the moment. The opportunity is there and heaven knows there are enough people looking for change and new thinking.

    The caution I would suggest lies in not pitting one group against the other – older people against younger is an example.

    Good life? Interesting. Unemployment, little employment protection, poverty, high tax rates, mortgage rates of up to 15%, poor health care, poor social care…

  • Robert Mason 11th Sep '17 - 11:20am

    This, and a thousand times this.

  • I hope one of those four big ideas is going to be getting electoral reform for Westminster Elections in this parliament.

    First Past the Post only functions in a binary split. It has been able to function all these years because the main split has been between left and right. The liberal internationalist/authoritarian nativist split has now forced itself to the forefront. Liberal internationalists in the Conservative and Labour parties are now trapped in parties controlled by small cabals of authoritarian nativists.

    It cannot be comfortable for them.

    Electoral reform has never before been more deliverable. And never before been more necessary.

  • Reforming the voting system is right and desirable – but it can be seen as self interested special pleading which nobody will go out to vote for on a wet Wednesday night in Huddersfield. We need radical policies on bread and butter issues that affect people’s lives. Time to tackle inequality.

  • Not just electoral reforms Tony Lloyd and all!

    We need a Liberal Democrat vision for a comprehensive new Constitution for the United Kingdom. We need more than just a talking shop – the Constitutional Convention – but an actual proposal to put on the table of such a thing. This is something we have lamentably failed to do,. We have gone down the path of a “myriad of little ideas” with devolution on demand, a plethora of ad hoc chaos that we have tacitly and even positively supported, rather than “one big, dangerous idea” .

  • There is a saying about fine words and parsnips.
    You have set an expectation Paddy. We will see if your dangerous thoughts are momentous or platitudinous. It is time to tell people the things they don’t want to hear not the things they do.

  • David Raw, the argument against the self-interest of electoral reform is outstandingly simple and is one that every Lib Dem should be armed with if they are ever accused of wanting Proportional Representation just so that they can be in “permanent coalition”.

    Firstly, it’s inherently obvious that the political views of Scotland have diverged considerably since those accusations were first made decades ago. Now, we are faced with what is likely to be the permanent presence of at least a couple of dozen SNP MPs in Parliament. The Lib Dems are no longer the only other party with which other larger parties might do a coalition deal with. And here we are in 2017 seeing an informal coalition between the Conservatives and a party in Northern Ireland. Both of these things demolish the self-interest argument.

    Secondly, more importantly, a change to a proportional voting system will in itself change the political landscape of the country. It will allow more people to vote Green without fear of wasting their vote. It would actually provide UKIP with the number of MPs it deserves from its share of the vote (if, indeed, it doesn’t just evaporate in the next year or so).

    Electoral reform will allow disaffected members of the larger political parties to separate and form new parties, and the larger parties chould shift in the make-up and views considerably as a result.

    The point is that it is a totally absurdity to imagine that the electorate would behave in anything like the same way if our voting system were to change. It’s entirely plausible that Labour or the Conservatives or any other party might even cease to exist.

    Critics of PR and the alleged self-interest of the Lib Dems are fixated on a narrow view of today’s electoral landscape that will have very little relevance if there is sbustantial change in the system.

  • Robin Bennett 11th Sep '17 - 12:02pm

    Two ideas for policy, one relatively minor. Firstly, a big boost for decentralisation in all four nations. The metropolitan dominance of the BBC has only been slightly dented by the introduction of a branch office in Salford. Strictly should now come from Manchester, along with the News, or drama commissioning, or both. There will be other government departments and agencies which can be moved out of London. Will this mean losing London area votes? Vince, a London area MP again, did make some noises not so long ago about the need to reduce the dominance of the capital. Sure;y many people there would welcome less congestion. In Scotland, we have just witnessed an unbelievable City Deal pouring Westminster and Holyrood government money into – of all places – the Edinburgh area. This is the last place to need a boost, with a burgeoning population. There are agencies which can be moved out. In every nation, let it never be forgotten that the biggest regional subsidy of all is to be the seat of government and hence power.
    My second idea is simple: finish the metrication process. Principally this means road signage.

  • Paul Pettinger 11th Sep '17 - 12:02pm

    “Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and re-kindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.”

    Yes. You helped get us here. You actively propped up the jobs club that between 2010 and 2015 trashed our core vote and toxified our brand; pursued crazy strategies like taking co-ownership of stagnatory austerity and expecting some political reward; who ultimately put personal interest ahead of long term mission, and steered us towards disaster (when all electoral and polling evidence showed we were set to hit an iceberg). You pro-actively ensured we didn’t deviate from this path. Why should we should listen to you now?

    “Not in my life time have their been conditions more favourable for a Lib Dem advance in a General Election”

    It’s one of the worst times for a Lib Dem revival, with Lab and Con far apart from each other so further polarising political debate (and setting us up to be heavily squeezed), and us having a tarnished reputation (we are seen as opportunistic, untrustworthy and, for many, are not a credible alternative as we are so far behind). We have been set back years, if not decades. There is not a centrist ocean out there for us right now. We are very unlikely to do a Macron – read this recent journal article by Lib Dem Cllr and political scientist, Nick Barlow: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-923X.12401/full

    “I do not oppose local electoral deals where they make sense. But I do not think they are the answer. These so-called “progressive Alliances” are almost always anti-Tory and always end up denying voter choice. Political partnerships work best when they are for something better, rather than against something worse.”

    As a member of 25 years but also a member of the Compass management board (which runs the Progressive Alliance) I can assure you the PA is about making society more sustainable, equal and inclusive society. An important goal is equal votes (PR). The PA is a new creation. Help give it more bones.

  • Paul Pettinger 11th Sep '17 - 12:03pm

    “Why could Lib Dems not lead in launching a series of studies which brings in those of other Parties and none to make proposals on some of the big issues of our time, as Norman Lamb has done so brilliantly on Health.”

    People in other parties aren’t going to support something they perceive as a Lib Dem front. You should come and support groups like Compass, which provides us an opportunity to address our historic error of working with Labour centrists rather than Labour pluralists (along with Progressives in other parties too).

    “Issues such as creating a green but successful market based economy; sorting out the fabulous mess of our broken constitution; spreading wealth in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence; adopting a foreign and defence policy more appropriate to our fractured, unravelling world– I am sure you can think of others. This worked well for us in the past; the Cook/Maclennan Commission paved the way to the great surge of devolution of the late 1990s; the Lib Dem sponsored Dahrendorf Commission on Wealth Creation and Social Cohesion in 1995 gave us great credibility and a host of new ideas.”

    I strongly agree the Party is crying out for more intellectual creativity (like that under Jo Grimmond). To achieve this we need to rid ourselves of the take the politics out of politics centrism of recent years. We need to address problems with our brand (not dissimilar to a corporation trying to deal with a massive public relations disaster). We do need to be more radical – the Greens have already taken some of this ground.

  • Paul Pettinger 11th Sep '17 - 12:03pm

    “Now people see us, not as a force for change but as a part of the establishment. Whether we could have been insurgents in Government is a question for history”

    This isn’t a matter of history. We still suffer massively from the way we let down voters and were seen as selling out.

    “The question for now is; there is a hunger for change out there, why don’t we any longer look or sound like the people to bring it?”

    Perhaps because you threaten to cut the balls of people trying to deliverer this?
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10868032/Nick-Clegg-was-the-victim-of-Shakespearean-plot-of-deep-malice-Lord-Ashdown-says.html

    There is indeed a hunger for change. We all saw Corbyn’s surge, in part driven by generational inequality, economic stagnation and distain at things like the xenophobia of May’s Conservative Party. In 2010 we won the youth vote (we came first). In 2015 we came joint 5th with the SNP. We have let down a generation of young people, by loading them up with lots more private debt (which was the real cause of the crash) and helping create the first lost decade of productivity growth since the 1860s (thanks to austerity). We were becoming the vanguard of this generation. Now many young people ignore anything we say. Help us deal with the past, not gloss over it.

  • Paddy as always is an engaging orator and motivator, and raises points that are vital to our party’s continued existence as a real player in our parliamentary democracy. However, by limiting his thoughts to the post 2015 period (e.g. by his comments ‘Whether we could have been insurgents in Government is a question for history.’ and our ‘12 MPs in place of 9 before the last election.’) he glosses over several fundamental questions that will determine whether we turn the corner or not.

    These questions need to be answered because otherwise we will simply look for the easy solutions which only need us to do what we like doing instead of facing up to the difficult things that mean we have to change ourselves.

    The existential challenges that face us were in fact crystal clear within 6 months of us going into coalition and the electorate threw the evidence in our leaders’ faces every year after that. However, our leadership set its face against any change in strategy and, even when it all collapsed in the 2014 Euro election meltdown, any thought of change was fought tooth and nail. By continuing to ignore that period we simply fail to confront the fundamental problem we face.

    Paddy identifies compelling evidence of the mess our country is in: the void in the progressive centre where we were entrenched until 2010; that Labour and the Conservatives are more extreme now than they have been in decades; to the fact that ‘many do not belong to any party – or wish to’. But sadly he doesn’t ask the question why so many do not support, never mind join us.

    Of course the reason for that is very simple. It’s not that we don’t have radical ideas. We have always had radical ideas. It’s not that people think we are of no consequence, although it is getting much closer to that nightmare once again. It’s that after “An end to broken promises”, and “Don’t let anyone tell it can’t be different,” we spent five years in coalition where we did break promises and behaved like it had to be just the same as always, supporting the government rather than supporting the people.

    We are now in a position where 90% of the population don’t trust the Liberal Democrats with their vote because of what we did in coalition, not because we haven’t done enough new thinking. Until we accept and face up to that, dangerous ideas will be just mere words on paper, with next to no chance of becoming deeds in action.

  • Michael Kilpatrick

    Rebuke noted and accepted!

    A plethora of reforms are needed. But, if Paddy can quote Sun Tze I can quote Lao Zi:

    “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

    Electoral Reform is critical for getting going with the plethora.

  • It’s been a long time since I have been able to say I agree with every word Paddy has said but here I do. Having said that I probably won’t agree with some or all of his 4 ‘dangerous ideas’ when he unveils them tomorrow.

    Paddy is absolutely correct though when he says we have become just another Party of the Establishment in the electorate’s eyes. In part that is the poisonous legacy of our misjudged approach to Coalition 2010-2015. In part though it was creeping in before 2010 as we became more and more obsessed with not upsetting the ‘establishment powers’ such as the City or the Press and with costing every policy to the last penny and so hamstringing policy platforms from the word go.

    I would also argue that (ducks to avoid ‘incoming’), our uncritical support for an unreformed EU damaged us before, during and after the Referendum as we have long been pigeonholed as ‘Establishment’ in that regard. The classic example was Nick Clegg’s answer to Farage when asked (TV debate 2014 Euro elections), how he would see the EU in 10 years time. Answer -‘more or less the same as now.’ I voted ‘Remain’ in 1975 and in 2016 but you would have to be pretty ‘Establishment’ not to see anything significant that needed/needs reform in the EU.

  • Sadie Smith 11th Sep '17 - 1:02pm

    Up to a point.
    I remember the Alliance with little kindness. Penhaligon had it right.
    Certainly most results would have been as good as Liberals. And we don’t mention Greenwich.
    I remember the leadership election. You had presentation but we were not sure about instinctive Liberalism.
    And then a series of unnecessary leadership elections. We got away with it for a while.

    It is ideas that matter. They don’t need to be anything remotely like a usual Government agenda but they do need to challenge the issues of the day, they do need to attract individual people to help us.

    Looking back, Jo and Charles in different ways did this. And that helped local parties to do something similar. Messing with structure is usually a waste of time.

  • These are fine words and most welcome. Certainly seeking to set the agenda is great but we can’t reach out to Tories and Labour as they’re so horribly, thoughtlessly tribal – as Labour’s reaction to the coalition demonstrated.

    Also, devolution has been a disaster, completely unbalancing the union, fomenting stupid nationalism and sowing resentment in England. Can we not try to claim credit for this Labour balls up?

  • In the end, as David Evans says, it comes down to one word, “Trust”. Our party betrayed that trust in the Autumn of 2010 in the most unseeming and stupid way. It will take 3 General Eelection to get back in any realistic shape. Remember how many Parliamentary seats we have held over the past 25 years, what 70 – 80, and how many now. How many lost deposits £180K worth of them. We have blown it big time and until that “Trust” comes back we will, to all intents and purposes, remain in the proverbial whatever we try and say.

  • It is fascinating reading the comments because for the most part, they address matters that the general public care little – if anything – about, save on soundbite terms.

    There is little on offer from any political party. Paddy is right. It is an opportunity, but not to go back, to go forward. The days of Jo Grimmond and Charles Kennedy have long gone. We need a new vision as a party, a new impetus, something that is inclusive, easily understandable and welcoming. Having that neans we can move to the policy making process. Sadie is right. It is ideas that matter; ideas that can capture the imagination of those not remotely involved in politics.

    And for that huge swathe of the population for whom politics does little? We should be reaching out to them in a big, big way.

  • I think Neville Farmer is right here when he comments “The housing crisis is THE biggest problem in this country – it knocks on to everything from the benefits bill to food prices, from crime to poverty. It widens the social divide more than anything else. It sucks money out of the economy and damages business prospects. It destroys rural communities and kills culture in the cities.”

    Inflated housing prices and the associated mortgage debt are largely a Ponzi scheme that only continues working if the next generation is sufficiently better off than the preceding to pay the higher rents and mortgage payments demanded. . The only people who benefit are those with investment property and mortgage lenders who have a much larger debt base on which to generate interest payments. Housing wealth is of little benefit to most owner-occupiers who live in a home. Everyone else pays through the nose for the privilege of having a roof over their heads and the impact falls disproportionally on the younger generation.

  • Jackie Ballard 11th Sep '17 - 3:46pm

    “We have to be less tribal” – how I agree with this comment. I stopped being a member of the party many years ago, but I have never stopped being a Liberal. There are people like me, as Paddy says, in all parties and (like me) in none – but we marched for Europe recently, we weep over Trump’s trashing of all that is decent, we vote unenthusiastically for not Tory parties, we donate to charity, we volunteer in our communities. We long for a political movement we can believe in but we don’t believe that any one party has all the answers or is all bad (with the exception of UKIP and its travellers). Reach out to us, enthuse us, inspire us and we could help to make a positive difference.

  • Laurence Cox 11th Sep '17 - 4:06pm

    I want to see us making the case for higher (and more progressive) taxation on the grounds that we want a fairer society in which the weakest are looked after properly and we cannot do this on the cheap. 1p on income tax for the NHS is a start, but on its own it is only a token. For most of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership the top rate of income tax was 60p and the standard rate 30p, even though the country was receiving a massive income from the windfall of North Sea Oil.

    The refusal of party leaders to countenance increases in headline rates of tax has led to increasing use of stealth taxes, which are generally regressive. We need to be honest with the electorate that they can only get what they pay for and that it is better paid for up front, rather than through stealth taxes.

  • James Moore 11th Sep '17 - 4:28pm

    This is all very well Paddy, but are going to do ‘the joke’ at Glee Club?

  • Tomorrow I will suggest four dangerous ideas for starters….

    Try this….Allow councils to borrow money, ring-fenced, to build many many more council houses and remove the ‘Right to Buy’ for every one!…or is that two?

  • Michael Cole 11th Sep '17 - 4:36pm

    @ David Raw 11th Sep ’17 – 11:44am:

    You are right to point out that electoral reform is not seen as a ‘bread and butter’ issue, but in my opinion it is the sine qua non to real progress on all the other issues.

    The wider importance of ‘fair votes’ (this epithet was first coined, I believe, by Paddy himself) is eloquently explained by other contributors on this thread; and they also demolish the ‘self-interest’ argument.

    Proportional representation will be a more than significant force in putting an end to short-terminism, safe seats, corruption and tribalism. It will perhaps substantially diminish the divisiveness that is so apparent in British politics.

  • Gareth Hartwell 11th Sep '17 - 4:54pm

    We need an international vision for how all liberal democratic societies can ensure that citizens can play a full part in the global, digital economies of the future. Our economy depends on it, it is essential for everybody to feel they have a part in society and it underlies the objectives for education.

    Avoiding Brexit is just the first step (and major distraction) from this, while we must avoid Brexit this is just the first step to the real goal.

    We also can’t achieve it by ourselves (in the UK), so we need to forge international coalitions of liberal democratic parties to work together on establishing this vision.

    And it will mean involving many people from outside the current realms of politics who have a much better understanding of what is really going on and of opportunities for the future.

  • paul barker 11th Sep '17 - 4:55pm

    I wasnt expecting to like Paddys article but I did. Most of the comments are good too, particularly Neville Farmer & David Raw.
    There is a big problem with the whole Progressive Alliance thing, its not enough for us to be open & Non-Tribal, we need some response from Labour & Tory Politicians too. So far all The Centre Party talk is just hot air & not even very hot.
    Right now theres no sign of us advancing in The National Polls but we are advancing in Local Votes, we need to build on that & fight every seat.

  • One big dangerous idea since 2015? Legalisation of cannabis as official party policy. Funnily enough, it was one of the most cut-through policies for us in 2017.

    Four or five more policies like that and we’d have plenty to talk about at election time.

    I do think we need to realise that the coalition is going to take a long while to wash off, and an entire new generation of Lib Dems will need to bed in before the next big spring for the party. Our new MPs and those that hope to follow them are going to be the ones that must take the task of building the next feature release of our Lib Dem software, so to speak.

  • Paul Griffiths 11th Sep '17 - 5:44pm

    Baffled by those saying we went wrong in 2010. Even if I agreed (I don’t) absent a time machine what practical use is that view now?

  • Are these radical ideas, no, but ones worth considering

    1) worldwide wealth tax – as applied in The Netherlands and elsewhere. Simpler and better than a mansion tax and with a far wider net (more tax)
    2) a constructive approach to the rehabilitation of prisoners (again as done in The Netherlands) where prisoners undergoes a programme addressing their crimes – like anger management. Prison populations in NL have dropped dramatically
    3) a “veterans” organization that ex service people belong to (mandatory) that is charged with their care on an ongoing basis. Too many end up with issues which go unaddressed
    4) return to the old system of student grants, where tuition fees are paid by the local authorities and grants are means tested vs parents income. I am sure that this would be as cheap as the currrnt system, and does not burden these young people with debt at the start of their adult lives
    5) put an end to children caring for their parents. It’s a disgrace!
    6) Restart State Registered Nurse training for school leavers, and stop the drive to require all policemen be degree qualified! It is not necessary for young people to go to university to do these jobs. They can learn the skills through a mixture of formal testing and on the job learning, as they did in the past. Doing this would provide opportunity to many who currently feel disenfranchised.

    Let’s make ourselves again the force of the radical and if we do we can attract ‘one nation’ Tories and moderate Labour voters, and make a real positive difference for our country.

  • Peter Watson 11th Sep '17 - 5:55pm

    @Paul Griffiths “Baffled by those saying we went wrong in 2010. Even if I agreed (I don’t) absent a time machine what practical use is that view now?”

    The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist.

    Zig Ziglar
    But I’m sure there are many similar quotes and proverbs.

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Sep '17 - 6:10pm

    @Paul D B
    “4) return to the old system of student grants, where tuition fees are paid by the local authorities and grants are means tested vs parents income. I am sure that this would be as cheap as the currrnt system, and does not burden these young people with debt at the start of their adult lives”

    So I presume you’d favour returning to that old system when far fewer young people had the opportunity to go to university than do so today?

  • David Jordan 11th Sep '17 - 6:11pm

    I spend far too much of my time heartbroken about Brexit. I manage the Erasmus exchange programme for science students at a young university surrounded by poor communities. Giving those young people a chance to gain experience of work abroad is the single most valuable thing I could do to level the playing field for their futures – and Brexit will destroy it all.

    I’m a capitalist. A former business owner and motivated, most of all, by the need for a pragmatic approach to the redistribution of wealth and opportunity. I voted LibDem at the last election only because I just couldn’t face voting for a Labour party which equivocated about Brexit. I remain baffled as to why decent Labour MPs, including my own, continue to support – or fail to oppose – a policy which will harm the most vulnerable in our society. Democracy? My fundament!

    So will I be voting for the LibDems next time? No. Because I fear, even more, the legitimisation of a Conservative party for which I could never vote and which not so long ago, to my utter horror, I found I had helped to empower by voting LibDem. Nothing gave you the right to betray me.

    I thought you were a centrist party, on the side of the little guy, and I described you to my friends as a party of pragmatists. To the left of you, closely overlapping, are most of the Labour party. Way out to the bitter right are the Conservatives. You may not recognise that picture but perhaps you should understand that’s how it seems to many of the rest of us centrists.

    So until you promise never to ally yourselves with the Conservatives again how could I vote for you? I can’t tell you how much I want the strong, centrist voice to ring through. But I simply don’t trust you. I wish I could.

  • paul barker 11th Sep '17 - 6:29pm

    David Jordan raises an interesting point.
    One way to deal with this is to lay down our conditions for joining a Coalition in the (probable) event of another hung Parliament. I would suggest 2 “Red Lines” :
    1. The PM is a Liberal Democrat, not neccasarily The Leader at the time, I would trust any Libdem MP.
    2. The other Partner/s in The Coalition have campaigned for Electoral Reform in the preceding General Election.
    I recognise that both these conditions seem unrealistic Now but the next Election could be 5 Years away & we need to show that we believe in ourselves or no-one else will.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Sep '17 - 6:47pm

    When it comes to “dangerous” (radical) ideas we should promote some of them but not put all of them in the manifesto.

    Some of my big ideas (not all of which I want to see in a manifesto straight away).

    1. Abolish the monarchy and make the House of Lords elected.
    2. Stand up for EU free movement and challenge myths about the Euro, which I have seen Paddy do in the past.
    3. Stand up for business and new technology, but not unthinkingly so.
    4. Support a stronger welfare state and NHS, funded by an increase in taxation and possibly further cuts elsewhere.
    5. Try to create a UN anti-terrorism force, which would respect human rights, rather than The West and Russia competing to be the police officer of the Middle East.
    6. Have a pro democracy foreign policy. Say no to George Osborne’s desired special relationship with China, especially relevant because of Hong Kong.
    7. Give our overseas territories an MP and make them part of the UK proper, like France does with its overseas territories. This would allow us to hold our tax havens to account and ensure they aren’t forgotten about during natural disasters.

  • Roger Billins 11th Sep '17 - 6:54pm

    I agree with Paddy. Here are a few radical ideas
    -reduction of all bands of income tax and replacement by capital and land taxes
    -universal basic income
    -fiscal encouragement for families to look after their elderly relatives at home, including building new homes with elderly friendly downstairs accommodation saving huge sums on social care as a result
    Skype consultations between G.P’s hospital doctors and patients avoiding costly, tim wasting visits to hospitals

    That will do for a start

  • Peter Watson 11th Sep '17 - 7:02pm

    @David Jordan “I manage the Erasmus exchange programme for science students at a young university surrounded by poor communities. Giving those young people a chance to gain experience of work abroad is the single most valuable thing I could do to level the playing field for their futures – and Brexit will destroy it all.”
    What is the socio-economic background of students who take part in the Erasmus exchange program? My impression is that it is not representative of “poor communities”, perhaps a reason why it did not gain much traction in the debate against Brexit where too many of the arguments left the Remain side open to accusations of protecting the benefits accrued by a so-called “liberal elite”.

  • Rent Liberal 11th Sep '17 - 7:16pm

    1.) Sort out the housing market. It’s as broken as the American health ‘system’ is, if not more so.
    2.) Support retaining freedom of movement – it’s a freedom for UK citizens to enrich and enhance our lives too!
    3.) Look at universal basic income as a concept in its various incarnations.
    4.) Move towards a federal United Kingdom with decentralisation comparable with the Federal Republic of Germany.
    5.) Reform the NHS as a universal social insurance system with choice of providers.

  • Lisa J Brett 11th Sep '17 - 7:31pm

    The Lib Dem brand has been seriously damaged, time for a Dr.Who style refresh.

  • David Jordan 11th Sep '17 - 7:41pm

    @Peter Watson. Thank you. Your question is important.

    The background of the Erasmus students I send abroad closely reflects that of the whole student body. It therefore includes about 30% who would have been eligible for free school meals (for example). I would like it to be higher but, since I’ve only been doing the job a couple of years, I’m just getting started.

    I think you’d get a very different answer from a Russel Group university – but Erasmus offers higher grants to students with fewer resources and the EU clearly see it as a means to advance the opportunities of the least well-off and least well-connected.

    I have tried to get our local FE trades colleagues to build Erasmus into their offers to students but they have no tradition of sending trainee plumbers and brickies abroad, even though it pretty normal in other EU countries and it would certainly help us adopt the best building (and other trade) practices as they develop.

    What a strange, self-destructive country we are.

  • Nonconformist Radical,

    You presume wrong. I don’t think that fewer people should have the opportunity to go to university, (assuming the same number of uni places) in fact as the less well off would not have to pay or pay less, there would be proportionately more from this group. The question of how many university places there should be is a completely different question.

  • David Jordan 11th Sep '17 - 8:07pm

    @paul barker. I’m glad you think that my points are interesting but, with respect, I’m not sure what point you think I’ve raised.

    I am ignorant of politics but not of life. I have lived and worked in business, academia and government all over the world (just to be clear that I’m not wholly naive, whatever you may think of the comments which follow).

    I observe a broad Labour party which embraces everything from mixed-economy, pragmatic capitalists like me to unpragmatic, nostalgic Socialists (and a lot else). I observe a broad Conservative party which embraces everything from moderate social and economic conservatives to the rabid right. The key difference between them, for me, is that Labour (however tribal and naive) are committed to Britain and ordinary British people, while the Conservative are committed to themselves and their friends.

    So who (without any real knowledge of the party – just like most voters) do I think the LibDems are? Until 2010 I thought you were pragmatic centrists. Largely indistinguishable from the centre-right of the Labour party, when you dig below the slogans and stated philosophies. I thought that you, too, believed in the betterment of my country and its people – and I shared LibDem disquiet about the naivety, the tribal baggage and the weird old-socialist masculinity of the Labour party which has ham-strung councils all over the country.

    But at least you couldn’t ever endorse the Conservatives who simply represent a different, self-centred worldview from anyone decent.

    And then you did. And suddenly I didn’t know who you were any more.

    So you are welcome to your two red lines but don’t imagine that it will get you much closer to electoral success (though you’ll do better sometime soon because it’s simply impossible for you to do worse).

    The red line you need is entering coalition with the Conservative party because, if you do, you empower people who I – as a decent, pragmatic, centrist capitalist – and very many of the apolitical electorate find abhorrent.

    But perhaps you really aren’t the party I took you for. In which case do please go ahead, join the Conservatives and disappear so a real centrist party can take your place.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Sep '17 - 9:22pm

    David Jordan, doesn’t it seem to you when you read Paddy Ashdown’s article and all the free-thinking liberal-minded comments that immediately followed that the Lib Dem heart must still be in the right place? You can’t have read LDV for any length of time, indeed, without taking in the intelligence and thoughtfulness and commitment to helping create better lives for our people and indeed a better world, which typifies active Liberal Democrats.

    It’s time surely to get over the let-down and pain of the Coalition years, because you really aren’t correct in writing that we ‘endorsed’ the Conservatives. Perish the thought! My view of them is just like yours, but I know we entered the Coalition in the sincere belief that it was necessary at a time of deep financial crisis, preventing chaos and ensuring stability, and that though inexperienced in standing up to those wily operators, our ministers did achieve good things and restrained worse harms.

  • I’m sad to say that so many people are falling into the seductive trap that Paddy’s piece leads us to – let’s spend a lot of time talking about new policies. The most wonderful policies in the world are nothing more than words on paper unless we can get into power to implement them. We can only get into power if people vote for us and people will only vote for us if they trust us. Words on paper will never do that.

    Trust has to be earned and we have to start with winning that back. New, better policies even if endorsed by the noble Lord Ashdown will not do that. They will do nothing but make a few of us feel virtuous about ourselves. We will be back to where the Liberals were in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, where so many were just happy to discuss how bad things were for those poor Jarrow Marchers over afternoon tea and develop a policy or two about it. The party continued its ongoing decline throughout the entire period, but it had some brilliant policies.

    It wasn’t until the 1950s when Jo Grimond revitalised the party and the 1960s when ALDC developed Community politics that we could once again start to win elections and realistically compete for power.

    Several people talk of developing policy as if it will in itself solve our problems and take us to a new rosy future. They are wrong. It will simply make us ever more inward looking and take us back to where we were in the 1930s – going steadily downhill and heading towards oblivion. The only difference will be that in the 1930s we started with 59 MPs and ended in 1940s with 12. This time we are starting with 12.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Sep '17 - 10:30pm

    David Jordan – I’m interested in how you work ERASMUS+.

    ‘The background of the Erasmus students I send abroad closely reflects that of the whole student body. It therefore includes about 30% who would have been eligible for free school meals (for example).’

    That is doing what exactly and where are you sending to? Either way 30% FSM would be well at variance with the studies I’ve seen on socio-economics of participants in ERASMUS+ – http://opus.bath.ac.uk/21174/1/improving_the_participation_in_the_erasmus_programme_updated_with_my_name_in_it.pdf%20p89. That link is maybe a bit out of date, but I’ve not seen anything to suggest progress has been rapid on participation. Also https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200405/ldselect/ldeucom/104/10409.htm

    ‘but Erasmus offers higher grants to students with fewer resources and the EU clearly see it as a means to advance the opportunities of the least well-off and least well-connected.’

    ERASMUS+ does offer a higher sum to ‘disadvantaged’ students. I’m not sure what the threshold is now but it was a very low household income. It doesn’t cover too many I know. But ERASMUS+ (as I understand it) is a CONTRIBUTION to costs, not a full covering of costs. That’s the same for the disadvantaged students too. Are you running this as covering full costs? If so over what period?

    ‘I have tried to get our local FE trades colleagues to build Erasmus into their offers to students but they have no tradition of sending trainee plumbers and brickies abroad, even though it pretty normal in other EU countries.’

    I know that some local ones here were able to send some trainee tradesmen to Spain in the good years, although I don’t know if that was on ERASMUS+, but I know that dried up. Those colleges will still ran into the same problems though that socio-economics do matter. Unless you have found a way to cover full costs? If so I’d be very interested to hear about that? Or is this FEC-covered through your partner rather than ERASMUS+? If so I’d be interested to hear how you got that deal.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Sep '17 - 10:39pm

    ‘Why could Lib Dems not lead in launching a series of studies which brings in those of other Parties and none to make proposals on some of the big issues of our time’

    I like this idea.

    The issues listed following that sentence I quote are good too. But for me there is one glaring omission, which is screaming for this sort of cross-party thinking. Funding social care.

    Theresa May took a big hit on that at the 2017 election when she suggested, essentially, a stronger link between property wealth and contribution to costs. She took a big hit which, to my mind was a shame. Because she was absolutely right.

    There are, indeed, many arguments to be had on social care. But none of them seemed to be made by May’s critics, many of whom skated very close to seeming to think that the state should insure inheritances. Now, of course, May’s proposal is not the only possibility and it may well not be the best.

    But funding elderly care is probably the single biggest issue before this country today and at the very least May tackled it where other leaders (of all parties) have badly ducked the question. This is the issue for the cross-party work.

  • Jay Risbridger 11th Sep '17 - 10:47pm

    Most of the responses to the essay by Paddy have been about tactics and as he pointed out just the noise before defeat. The big ideas of liberal political strategy that may mend the broken politics of the UK are questions like; are traditional notions of political parties relevant to the 21st century, has representative democracy had its day and should Westminster and all the patronage that it represents be abandoned. Maybe it is time for us to adopt ideas of direct democracy, electronic voting and a new parliament, perhaps with a house selected by citizens ballot rather than election? In the UK, as in many other western democracies, people have decided the old political forms do not work for them, if the Lib Dems continue to serve up the same political dish, people will just pass us by, as Paddy rightly says, they did in the General Election this year.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Sep '17 - 10:47pm

    ‘Can you name one big, dangerous idea we Lib Dems have produced since 2015?’

    Problem with this was shown at that 2017 election though. For a long time I was told (and not, I stress just by Liberals) that we needed a big, radical and long-term set of thoughts on social care. That’s what May came up with and the response – The Theresa May Estate Agent stunt. After that why would anyone think big and dangerous on social care ever again?

    I take the point you are making here Paddy, just at the moment this party feels like its only message is, ‘come for the EU and maybe take in a bit of liberalism whilst you are here.’ It’ll probably do OK in a few by-elections, but that’s about all.

  • @ David Jordan I think your comments about how the Lib Dems are perceived are completely fair and accurate. I happen to agree with you.

    The really knotty problem is how the party gets over it – if it ever does. I’m still having difficulty in envisaging how it can……… short of Vince actually saying in his conference speech…. “We got it wrong”.

    I could happily send him a list of such issues – the latest tonight being Hinckley Point versus off shore wind power when Ed Davey was in office and of course Universal Credit for which Steve Webb needs to put his hand up….. the list goes on.

    If the party grandees don’t take your comments to heart then the ultimate dust bin of history looms in what’s left of my lifetime.

  • David Jordan 11th Sep '17 - 10:50pm

    Katharine Pindar.

    How eloquently you describe my dilemma. I have been reading comments on this site. I see a lot I like and recognise as my own.

    But when the coalition government imposed the Bedroom Tax the LibDems didn’t walk away. Do you remember how many of those devastated by its effects were disabled?

    When Grant Shapps enacted policy to further privilege wealthy home-owners by throwing some of the very poorest out of subsidised accommodation the LibDems didn’t walk away. Those are your rough-sleepers in the doorways of Liverpool and Leeds. Your party did this.

    In the aftermath of the election the LibDems could claim the need for stability in the face of crisis – I remember that election well. But when quickly faced with the reality of your Conservative partners you failed to stand up for some of the most vulnerable people in Britain, preferring instead to retaining such power as your partners allowed you, so long as it was exercised to further their vicious agenda.

    You see my problem?

  • @David Evans Neither Paddy’s article nor any of the comments say that developing policy will solve all our problems. But a political party does need to have a strong policy base which reflects its values. There are questions of strategy and structure too, and these are being rebuilt as well. Indeed don’t overlook the fact that much of the last 2 years has been devoted to re-building our membership, strategy and finances. Tim Farron prioritised these, as well as developing campaign tactics in our target seats. ALL of these things matter and must continue to be addressed. Paddy’s point here is that its time to develop a more coherent policy base as well. No harm in that.
    My own priority area for big radical thinking would be housing. Scrap Right to Buy and co-ordinate a massive programme of new social housing, maybe some New Towns. But make them interesting attractive houses that people actually /want/ to live in, not dreary identikit rabbit hutches. Why can’t we inspire a revolution in housing design, involving young architects with bright new ideas of what houses should look and feel like? It can’t be impossible to build homes that are affordable, practical and environmentally-friendly but also interesting and diverse, pleasant places to live. Let’s be bold about a new housing revolution that will transform our country. Let’s remember that we are building HOMES, not ‘units’. Oh, and while we’re at it let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax as well. We really should hang our heads in shame over that one!

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Sep '17 - 10:51pm

    @Paul D B

    “You presume wrong. I don’t think that fewer people should have the opportunity to go to university, (assuming the same number of uni places) in fact as the less well off would not have to pay or pay less, there would be proportionately more from this group. The question of how many university places there should be is a completely different question.”

    Since your original post referred to tuition fees being paid by local authorities – that isn’t money out of thin air. Therefore if you want to return to the old system, how are local authorities to pay these fees – for far more students than at the time that system was in force?

    And when the means-tested grants scheme was in force there were students whose parents did NOT contribute their assessed share.

  • @ Wee Jackie “Can you name one big, dangerous idea we Lib Dems have produced since 2015?’”

    No.

    But I can think of falling for specious austerity/neo-liberalism post 2010 was one.

  • David Jordan 11th Sep '17 - 11:05pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful responses I’ve received to my comments. It’s nearly 11:00 at night and I hope you’ll forgive me if I can’t reply very fully.

    Little Jackie Paper: Thank you for your questions. The answer is yes, we are achieving most of the things you question – covering more of the costs than Erasmus+ alone can. But Erasmus is the foundation and we rely on good partnerships with employers abroad to meet additional needs. I wish we could do more and, in time, I hope we will. I’m off to La Rochelle in the morning to try to set up a new partnership that can survive Brexit and partner local government, pressure-groups, societies, clubs and much more along with the universities and FE colleges. The whole aim will be to ensure that the poorest young people get the funds they need and (often a bigger barrier) have the support required to overcome their fear of living and working abroad and in a foreign language. Wish me luck.

    David Raw: What is stopping “Vince actually saying in his conference speech…. “We got it wrong”.”?

    Good night all.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Sep '17 - 11:34pm

    This is very welcome from Paddy but every response shows that everyone has their own hobby horse or notion as it should be.

    Until we solve the dilemma as to whether we are failures and horrors or saviours and heroes, for the years 2010 to now , or at least in government, we are not likely to go far.

    My view is , like much else, the truth lies in between those two extremes.

    Some think to return to old ideas is radical. Just because they worked once or do sometimes, does not make policies radical now or at all times.

    Back to the future, is a very unlikely road to success and is an old movie but is it a classic ?!

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Sep '17 - 8:13am

    @Arthur Bailey
    “We are Liberal DEMOCRATS, and as such, we must accept the result of any election! We may not agree with it, but we must accept it!!”

    Sorry Arthur – I disagree fundamentally. Democracy is failing when (a) elections/referenda are won through telling voters packs of lies, (b) when those who are convinced a fundamentally wrong decision has been taken stop campaigning against that decision and (c) in particular in this case when we KNOW that had the result been 52/48 the other way Farage and his kind would still be fighting for another referendum.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Sep ’17 – 8:13am…………@Arthur Bailey
    “We are Liberal DEMOCRATS, and as such, we must accept the result of any election! We may not agree with it, but we must accept it!!”………………..Sorry Arthur – I disagree fundamentally. Democracy is failing when (a) elections/referenda are won through telling voters packs of lies….

    Come off it, Nonc….In that case you would have supported a re-run of the 2010 election in all LibDem seats where the elected MP had signed the ‘Tuition Pledge’?…

    Strange how ‘Democracy’ can be so flexible a concept..

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Sep '17 - 9:57am

    Housing – yes, probably this should be one of the areas where we should drive a radical programme, expanding on the Manifesto pledges (section 6.5). Though I fear, Tony H., that we might need to foster quick-build solutions at present rather than developing attractive homes. I’d like to see such a programme developed in the context of a radical drive to help young people in our country today, since it is they who are suffering most from lack of supply, high rental costs and exploitation by some landlords.

    Such a drive to help young people would be I believe consistent with Tim Farron’s aims: he cares deeply about the need for people to have decent homes, and also about the opportunities for young people to move freely in and out of the EU jobs market, which would be limited by Brexit. Next, there is the whole section in the Manifesto entitled ‘Put children first’, and we have begun to redress the balance between older people’s financial privileges – now more open to question than when the ‘triple lock’ was devised – and the needs of children in disadvantaged households through our Welfare policies. Finally, in the serious question of the debt burden being accumulated by students, we ask for the restoration of maintenance grants as a start, but surely need to demand more – this being also a matter of conscience for us – in for instance the lowering of the interest charge for the student loans.

    I am asking, in summary, for us to become known as a party fighting for children and young people’s rights and for the betterment of their lives in our country today.

  • Chris Rennard 12th Sep '17 - 10:25am

    In terms of big ideas, we should make much more of the need to create a sustainable structure for health and social care, and be honest about the costs and how they will be met. It is generally of far greater benefit politically to talk about the benefits that can derive from tax policies, as opposed to just talking about the tax policies. Voting choices are not as simple as shopping lists, but we did best as party when we were seen to have distinctive policies on issues such as health, education and crime based on costed proposals and saying where the money would come from.

    Paddy highlights the principle of working with others. I agree about working with others on issues. I was the Joint Secretary of what he calls the ‘Cook Maclennan Committee’ which prioritised the constitutional reform programmes of Labour and Lib Dems prior to the 97 General Election. This proved to have been very successful for at least two years after that election. But as I always advised Paddy then, the survival of the Lib Dems requires us to be seen to be independent and distinctive from all our main rivals. In late 96, we suffered from being seen as too like ‘New Labour’ and were at 9.5% in the polls. When Labour then said in spring 97 that they would stick to Tory spending plans, we were bold in saying that we would raise and spend more. We polled 17% in May 97 in spite of the surge to Blair. Post 2010, we then suffered from being seen to lack independence from Cameron and the Conservatives.

    Boldness on big issues that matter most to people (and not just ‘process issues about how policies are delivered) are essential to our success in future. We need to focus on policies that are distinctive, principled, popular and newsworthy. Our case for Europe and internationalism, for example, has to be based on the tangible benefits from our approach, and also the dangers facing us from withdrawal.

    In response to comments on Paddy’s essay, I would also say that it is unfair to accuse him of putting his personal ambitions before doing what he though right. He could easily have joined Labour and been in the Cabinet, and Gordon Brown invited him in to it when he became Prime Minister. But Paddy would not just sign up to Labour’s programme. Working together must be about doing so where we agree, whilst always still making clear where we disagree. Otherwise we lose our raison d’etre.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Sep '17 - 10:26am

    @expats

    “Come off it, Nonc….In that case you would have supported a re-run of the 2010 election in all LibDem seats where the elected MP had signed the ‘Tuition Pledge’?…”

    The tuition fee pledge was downright stupid. Never make promises you might have trouble keeping at some future date. A majority Libdem government would have had to implement it – somehow……

    But then – it is really a graduate tax anyway.

  • Nonconformistradical – It’s not a tax, it’s a loan. Students get a statement every year setting out how much they still owe. And sadly we all know who they blame for that.

    I’m sorry, but it is self-comforting pretence like saying it’s a tax, or wishing we had called it a tax (like Paddy) that is preventing us addressing our critical situation.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Sep '17 - 11:06am

    @David Evans

    “Nonconformistradical – It’s not a tax, it’s a loan. Students get a statement every year setting out how much they still owe.”

    Ignoring the tory changes to the maintenance grants – separate issue – a loan to a person is a sum of money for which the person can be pursued forever and a day for repayment (possibly even after they die as a claim for repayment could be made against their estate).

    Since the tuition fee deductions from taxable income stop after a maximum of 30 years, irrespective of the amount taken, and since the amount deducted is related to income – it isn’t a loan – it’s a TAX!!!!!!!!

    But it’s very likely that any annual statements to students (former students) could be better phrased – I can’t see the tories (or labour if they were in power) having any interest in doing that.

  • Since the tuition fee deductions from taxable income stop after a maximum of 30 years, irrespective of the amount taken, and since the amount deducted is related to income – it isn’t a loan – it’s a TAX!!!!!!!!

    A tax is a deduction from your income that you have to pay forever (or as long as your income is over a certain level), regardless of how much you have already paid. you don’t get to stop paying income tax once your lifetime contributions pass a certain amount.

    Since student loan payments stop once you have paid back the full amount, even if you’re still earning over the threshold – it isn’t a tax – it’s a LOAN!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I’m sorry Nonconformistradical, but it precisely this sort of Humpty Dumptyesque “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” that has got us into this mess.

    We can all make a very erudite and logical case why what we say is right, but the problem is that 90% of the population know it is rubbish and have voted accordingly. We can either go on pretending we are right and they are wrong – In which case we will never persuade them to vote for us again, or we can use words as nonpoliticallymotivated people use them in the real world.

    It is a question of who is the master – us or the voters. I think you will find it is the voters.

  • Laurence Cox 12th Sep '17 - 1:07pm

    @nonconformistradical, @David Evans, @Dav

    Arguing over whether tuition fees are a loan or a tax is like arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. Because an estimated 75% of graduates will not pay all of their student loan off, for the 30 years they have to repay their tuition fees their effective marginal tax rate will be:

    41% for income between £21k and £45k (2017-18 rates), made up of 20% income tax, 12% NI and 9% student loan repayment. This is just 1% less than a non-graduate earning between £45k and 100K.

    51% for income between £45k and £100k, made up of 40% income tax, 2% NI and 9% student loan repayment, more than any non-graduate apart from those earning between £100k and £123k where the withrawal of the Personal Allowance increases the marginal rate to 62%.

    We quite rightly complain about the withdrawal of benefits creating high effective marginal rates. Why do we not also complain about this discrimination against graduates. We could pay for the entire cost of tuition fees by increasing the higher and additional rates of income tax by about 5p in the £. High-earning graduates would pay more, but so would high-earning non-graduates, while low-earning graduates would be no worse off than low-earning non-graduates.

  • Nigel Quinton 12th Sep '17 - 1:31pm

    @David Jordan “But when the coalition government imposed the Bedroom Tax the LibDems didn’t walk away. Do you remember how many of those devastated by its effects were disabled? When Grant Shapps enacted policy to further privilege wealthy home-owners by throwing some of the very poorest out of subsidised accommodation the LibDems didn’t walk away. Those are your rough-sleepers in the doorways of Liverpool and Leeds. Your party did this.”

    David yes we did and I often wonder how we get back from that shameful point in our recent history. I personally believe, despite all the good things he did and despite the very good person he is, Nick Clegg, (and Paddy and others in the inner circle) should admit that we did get things horribly wrong in coalition. Chris Rennard states above: “Working together must be about doing so where we agree, whilst always still making clear where we disagree. Otherwise we lose our raison d’etre.” Exactly. and that is where we failed. (We also failed by our Westminster party largely ignoring our local government roots and strength, and that started before 2010)

    But this is a futile line of discussion. I’d sooner be positive and rise to the challenge Paddy has made.

  • Nigel Quinton 12th Sep '17 - 1:32pm

    Of the issues raised above, housing and health/social care are the ones that stand out for me. Norman Lamb has been inspirational in the latter but we need to go further and be seen to be the party that has answers.

    On housing, it is not enough just to call for more “affordable” homes – my MP (the aforementioned Grant Shapps) made that adjective meaningless. We need a root and branch change to the panning system, to reintroduce the old planning tax, to be far more radical in moving development and jobs away from London and the South East. Rising Asian economies think nothing of planning vast new cities – think Sepang, think Shenzhen – let us at least raise our eyes from the Planning Committees and start to think strategically about the infrastructure this country needs before the golden opportunity of low interest rates disappears into the fog of Brexit.

    Schools need to be brought back into Local Government control. Tuition fees should be reduced, if not abolished, with general taxation making up the difference, and Student debt interest should be reduced to LIBOR plus 1%.

    And we need to get back to being a party for the environment. That doesn’t mean populist and emotional cries against fracking or nuclear power, but building on the work that Ed and Chris did at DECC and grasping the future which is clearly renewable, and which offers a positive vision of a cleaner more distributed energy supply, and great opportunities if not to lead the world, at least to be in the vanguard. Our current government threatens to leave us so far behind the rest of the developed (and developing) world.

    Most of the above are pretty much party policy already – we are not short of good policies. We have just lost, it seems to me, the ability to tell people about them. We have become timid. Let’s get our mojo back and make ourselves newsworthy again.

  • Nigel Quinton 12th Sep '17 - 1:32pm

    Lastly on constitutional reform, which we totally failed to deliver in 2010-15. We need to explain why it is important. We need to show voters how their democracy isn’t working now, and what a difference having PR at local level would make – look at Scotland, look almost anywhere. We should not debate systems of voting, but sell the vision of a country where votes are for not against, where councils have enough influence to attract good quality people, to stop p***ing about with ‘whatever locals want’ and totally reform our LG structures along the lines that Nick Harvey and Paul Tyler put forward but which seem to have been largely ignored by the party to date. Get good Local Government and you can have good, locally accountable education, health and social services.

  • Neil Sandison 12th Sep '17 - 1:52pm

    Nigel Quinton puts some interesting arguments forward which may be attractive for generation rent . Is 21k too low an income to start making repayments ? many former students complain to me they find the rate of interest on the loans an impossible hurdle to overcome .We have certainly taken our eye off the ball when it comes to genuinely affordable housing .Osborne loaded the dice too much in favour of the major developers in the hope of a housing boom to act as a stimulus to the economy but they the developers continue to ration housing production to maximise their profit to the detriment of the local community and genuine housing need.

  • We could pay for the entire cost of tuition fees by increasing the higher and additional rates of income tax by about 5p in the £. High-earning graduates would pay more, but so would high-earning non-graduates

    Would that be fair, though? Why should high-earning non-graduates subsidise the university experience of graduates?

  • (For that matter, why should a doctor subsidise the education of a media studies graduate?)

  • David Evans 12th Sep '17 - 2:17pm

    Sorry @Laurence Cox but it is vital. Pretending Student Loans are really a tax simply reinforces in people’s minds that the Lib Dems don’t care. And it is still dragging us down. Do you trust people who say one thing and then tell you that what you understood was incorrect after you have committed yourself? I certainly don’t and nor do most of the electorate.

    In that regard we are as bad as the Brexiteers: £350m for the NHS – we know it’s a lie; Vote against tuition fee rises – Oops no, what we meant was …, because we are nice people and those Brexiteers are not.

    That’s what makes it alright – Not.

  • David Evans 12th Sep '17 - 2:20pm

    Dav – They don’t subsidise others. They pay their fair share based on what their income is. That is what a fair income tax is. If you take your argument to its extreme, Why should a foreign footballer earning £250,000 a week pay for our education system – he never benefited from it at all.

  • Why should a foreign footballer earning £250,000 a week pay for our education system – he never benefited from it at all

    He should pay because an education system is a good that benefits the country. Just like his taxes pay for roads, the military, the public health system, and all the other things that benefit the country at large. It’s easy to see why taxes should pay for school, hospitals, roads, etc. Those things benefit everyone.

    But what possible benefit is there to the country in churning out unemployable media studies graduates? I can see none. So why should taxes pay for them?

  • Laurence Cox 12th Sep '17 - 3:08pm

    @David Evans
    I don’t care whether it is represented as a tax or a loan; the money comes out of your salary before you get it either way. Don’t forget that it was our Party that called it a “time limited graduate tax” e.g. in 2011 Nick Clegg said:

    “We have introduced in effect a time limited graduate tax,”
    https://www.standard.co.uk/news/nick-clegg-attacks-oxford-and-cambridge-over-poorer-student-intake-6565565.html

    and

    “I’m pleased that Vince Cable stopped uncapped fees and reformed the loan repayment system so that it works more like a time limited graduate tax.”
    Simon Wright Lib Dem MP for Norwich South in 2013.
    http://www.concrete-online.co.uk/cable-hepi-fee-rise/

    There are many other examples you can find by googling.

    It is too late to put the genie back in the bottle; if everyone calls it a tax you will not convince them of your truthfullness if you go around insisting that it is not. It was our failure to do in Government what we had promised before the election that damaged the Party so badly – integrity is the gold standard of politics – and whether we called it a tax or a loan made little difference.

  • Peter Watson 12th Sep '17 - 5:38pm

    @Nonconformistradical “But then – it is really a graduate tax anyway.”
    Others have pointed out why it is not.
    To that I would add that those with sufficient wealth and high enough salaries can avoid or minimise the cost of the student loan by paying tuition fees up-front or repaying the loan early, and not having a maintenance loan in the first place.
    And those from poorer families end up with larger loans, regardless of future earnings, because the maintenance loan is based upon household income.
    Besides all this, the Coalition only changed the numbers in the tuition fees system they inherited (increasing the size of the loan, imposing a higher interest rate, increasing the repayment period, raising the salary threshold for repayment) but I don’t recall any Lib Dems pretending that Labour left them with something “like a time limited graduate tax”.

    It has been reported that the Tories are considering addressing the repayment of student loans, perhaps by reducing the interest rates, in order to appeal to younger voters. Lib Dems risk looking like the only party defending a system of which, before 2010, they were the most vocal opponents.

  • David Evans 12th Sep '17 - 6:35pm

    @ Laurence. I think you have missed my point. Possibly I haven’t explained it as clearly as I should, so here is a second go. What you and I know and (I think, but am no longer sure) agree on is immaterial to most voters – It is a loan to them and they have never heard of either of us.

    My point is that Lib Dems (and especially prominent Lib Dems like Paddy) pretending it is a tax or saying we should have called it a tax will just alienate those voters further, because to them it is a loan, whatever Nick might have chosen to pretend it was in 2011. That is important, because calling it a tax will just further undermine our chances of ever recovering.

    I hope you will agree that undermining Lib Dem chances of recovery is something we should all beware of.

    @Dav – If you argue that people should pay extra tax for education they receive here on one hand you have to argue for people who don’t receive an education here not having to pay for it. Unless of course your criteria are totally random.

  • David Evans 12th Sep '17 - 7:22pm

    @Peter Watson – You are absolutely right. The problem we are facing is that too many of our higher ups look like they would rather be the last defenders of the mess that is tuition fees. That would just condemn our party to total electoral oblivion. I hope they will have the courage to admit their mistake.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Sep '17 - 7:39pm

    David Jordan, just a brief word more on our discussion about your disillusionment, for when you return from your Erasmus trip (you will know that the party discussed and agreed their support for Erasmus at a recent Conference, by the way) . Yes, I do understand your viewpoint. I was dismayed myself that there was a rather slow and late response from our Coalition ministers to disavow the bedroom tax which was so wrong, especially to disabled people.

    Thinking about it all again, it seemed to me that it wasn’t perhaps only that our ministers were inexperienced and were tricked by their wily and experienced Tory colleagues, or that they were after all only a small minority in the government. I guess that after working closely with ‘the enemy’ for five years on the nation’s problems, and having little ameliorating contact with the people they were supposed to be serving, their guard may have slipped a bit, they softened to the views of their then comrades, and lost their clear vision of what was right. Psychologically that would make sense, I think. If so the lesson for any future coalition would be, make sure we keep our ministers in close contact with their Lib Dem comrades all the time, and that they continue to meet ordinary people as they had to in the election campaigns.

  • David Evans 12th Sep '17 - 8:20pm

    Katharine, but why do the lessons to be learned always have to be for ‘next time’ (if there ever is one) and never ‘We have to start now’.

    Nick faced members who pointed out the mess he was making and he simply ignored them as did many other senior Lib Dems. Ultimately, too few of us were prepared to go out on a limb and say “This is not good enough – change or go.”

    As I said before, we only have 12 MPs left. Without a change now, what makes you think there will be a next time?

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Sep '17 - 12:07am

    Hi, David, you make your point well as always, and as always I take heart from the good work being done and good policies being further developed. Certainly if we can succeed in leading and succeeding in the fight to stop Brexit, we can have a better future, as will our country which is the first reason why we have to fight for that in the coming 18 months. We do also need PR, as contributors here have insisted, and that means I suppose getting Labour backing for it eventually. Meantime it will be very interesting to hear what three fine leaders have to say about our past and the future at Bournemouth – Nick Clegg (if he comes), Tim Farron and Vince Cable. (I hope you will be coming down too.)

  • This debate has, as usual, descended into “let’s get Britain moving by taxing each other until the last sparks of ambition and enterprise have been extinguished”.

    On the topic of university education, I received a grant (many decades ago) to study engineering which I practised all my working life (and in the UK). The calls for the taxpayer to fund the study of subjects which are never subsequently used at all and are, at best, personal interest and social skill development are likely to irritate aforementioned taxpayer.

  • If you argue that people should pay extra tax for education they receive here on one hand you have to argue for people who don’t receive an education here not having to pay for it

    I am indeed asking why people who don’t go to university here should pay for other people to go to university here.

    Pre-university education is a different matter: that’s a thing which is good for the country, so it makes sense to fund universal pre-university education out of taxes, whether the taxpayer had their pre-university education here or not.

    But funding degrees like media studies out of taxes? You’ll have to justify that.

  • Peter Watson 13th Sep '17 - 10:13am

    @Dav “But funding degrees like media studies out of taxes? You’ll have to justify that.”
    Even as a grumpy old engineer, I often feel that “media studies” has acquired an unfair reputation as the bête noire of academic subjects. Surely now more than ever, the “media” in all of its forms is incredibly important and a significant part of the UK and world economy, so why should studying it be dismissed so readily?
    Why are English Literature (does the world really need more academic research of Shakespeare’s works?) or History of Art never mentioned in the same way?

  • Even as a grumpy old engineer, I often feel that “media studies” has acquired an unfair reputation as the bête noire of academic subjects. Surely now more than ever, the “media” in all of its forms is incredibly important and a significant part of the UK and world economy, so why should studying it be dismissed so readily?

    Mainly, because every year more people graduate with qualifications in ‘media studies’ than there are total jobs in the UK media sector.

    That’s every year there are more graduates coming into the workforce that the total number of jobs.

    Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the subject itself is useful, that’s clearly a mad and unsustainable situation.

  • A Social Liberal 13th Sep '17 - 11:55am

    Dav

    Why pick on Media Studies which at least has several industries it can service. What is the call for Classics graduates? How many Fine Art graduates get to address their education in their every day employment. We could go much much further – there are many more marine biologist grads than there are jobs, English degrees do not directly factor in the jobs offered to most such leavers and I hesitate to guess how many History graduates get to directly employ their education in their jobs.

    Before getting snooty about new degrees you really must justify more traditional courses offered.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Sep '17 - 8:36pm

    We should ‘make much more of the need to create a sustainable structure for health and social care, and be honest about the costs and how they will be met.’
    I voted for Alan Beith. The average Liberal Democrat member was not a former commando, some were pacifists. Paddy set an exhausting pace, doing things such as working down a coal mine for a day, or on a fishing boat. He gets a mention in an obituary in the Daily Telegraph of a former member of the SBS who won a canoe race from Devizes to London, previously won by Paddy Ashdown.
    David Steel was right to say that, as a former leader, he only advised his successor in private.

  • Maureen Winsley 15th Sep '17 - 11:13am

    Unfortunately we are tarred with the brush of duplicity over the University fees debacle, and though I would stress that proportional representation is the only fair democracy, we also have the unfortunate half-referendum of the AV voting system in our recent past.
    As an older person, I do not want to change our country for my personal benefit, nor harbour some delusion over hankering for the past, but for my grandchildrens future. Any policies designed to favour their position (without denigrating anyone else’s), that are actually achievable rather than just a notion, is the better way forward.
    I hope for an aspirational, secure and honest ‘Future Liberal Party’ for our youth

  • Nigel Sarbutts 15th Sep '17 - 6:39pm

    This nails it. We can’t just sit waiting for voters to drift by and maybe stay for a while for no other reason than we aren’t as bad as the others. Some voters look for things that suit their interests, some for things that suit their values. The prize is in a vision that appeals to both. We are great at saying ‘now do you see what we mean’? Bad at saying ‘this is our vision, come with us’.

  • Rob Atkinson 15th Sep '17 - 7:50pm

    The only way the LibDems can restore trust is to totally overhaul the party and embrace modern technology that will appeal to the younger generation.

    NickC did so much damage to the party image that you will never restore the faith. Trust is the issue and you lost that when NC sold out the youth and became the Tories poodle.

    No amount of rhetoric and positioning will ever recover the lost ground.

    You will have to go back to basics and redraw the party and reframe your image.

  • Politics is a pitiless destroyer of personal and party reputation. The vast majority of older politicians are dead men walking – Hague, Duncan Smith, Cameron, Blair, Brown, Clegg, Huhne as examples. Survivors are mainly those who never won elections and hence never faced the nightmare of governing – John Smith, Charles Kennedy, and yes Paddy Ashdown as examples.

    It’s too harsh. It was exemplified by the clarion call that Layla Moran should lead us because she is too young to have had time to make any serious mistakes yet. But it’s the way things are.

    The Lib Dems are top of the pile when it comes to discredited politics. After the humiliations, obfuscations and capitulations of Coalition, nobody wants to hear from us. We are talking sense about Brexit, but we might as well say nothing, it could not be less effective. Tim Farron did his best to distance himself and our party from its Coalition mistakes and to find a way to move on. That failed, and the gay sex issue was not the main reason why it failed. It was simply that the national memory of Coalition was too clear, ingrained and damaging. Vince Cable has many strengths, but he was a Coalition figure, and he won’t quickly succeed where Farron failed, despite all the good efforts he is making to do so.

    Time may heal the wounds, but if we rely on time, we can expect to be in the wilderness for 5-10 more years. Labour have taken 10+ years to put Iraq behind them. Ten years after the crash Labour have yet to recover from being (falsely) blamed for it. We too will take 10+ years to recover from coalition. 2025 is the earliest likely date.

    The alternative is to pack it in and allow a political realignment on the centre-left, bringing in new faces. If we care about the Brexit disaster looming, we should recognise that this may be the only option that can work.

  • David Jordan 16th Sep '17 - 10:16am

    Nigel, although you may be right that this is “a futile line of discussion” it will be difficult to “be positive and rise to the challenge Paddy has made” if the result is continuing oblivion.

    Reading the various threads here I know now even less about what LibDems believe and the principles which will guide your actions should you ever regain power – let alone where your red lines should be. That means that I know less about the relationship between LibDem beliefs and my own.

    Brexit aside, I’m therefore likely to keep voting Labour because I know what they are (broadly) after as an end point, even if they represent a wide range of ways to get there. And, although this doesn’t correspond more than approximately with my own (very clear) views it includes red lines which the LibDems crossed when in coalition and which (from this article and discussion) I have no confidence you wouldn’t cross again out of expediency rather than conviction.

    So, above all, I want to know what your real convictions are. What is the vision for which you will sacrifice everything? What are the red lines which you will never cross? Give me those and the reasons to believe that you won’t compromise them and I will look at the LibDems again.

  • David Jordan 16th Sep '17 - 10:17am

    Katherine, thank you for your further thoughts. Please excuse the following rant – but please take note of its tone.

    The whole problem was the “rather slow and late response from our Coalition ministers to disavow the bedroom tax”. Here you have a simple matter of principle which should have led to an immediate and unequivocal response. It should have been “Abandon this terrible policy which hurts the poor and rewards the wealthy or we bring down the Government”. Why do otherwise? Why Did the LibDems do otherwise? Stockholm syndrome might be an acceptable excuse for an individual but for a party in government? Am I supposed to be reassured? Where was your anger on behalf of the poor? And where was Paddy in all this (serious question)?

    You know what bemuses me most? I am convinced that there is a real appetite for a radical, centrist party willing to really fight on matters of principle. I think that, if such a party showed real courage and learned to agitate effectively, they could change the face of British politics. We really, really need that.

    So – set out those vision and red lines and give us reasons to know you’ll never compromise or cross them. Get your Big Beasts on the streets, your young activists sharing those doorways, your funders and your Lords setting out an uncompromising message of legislative and practical action.

    Your conference is an opportunity to start again with a clear statement of what you believe, a clear unequivocal apology for how you failed and a clear, radical, centrist vision for a Britain for everyone. And anger on behalf of the poor and dispossessed – that’s what will convince me most.

  • Anthony Thacker 16th Sep '17 - 11:46pm

    On electoral recovery, it takes time after electoral disaster (Labour after 1983, Tories after 1997). Tim’s time as leader made a welcome start in improved membership and increased number of MPs.
    On Brexit, the case for a referendum on the outcome of negotiations has the advantage of being distinctive, and can be defended on the line that Farage (and others) would have continued to argue for Brexit and more votes for it has the vote gone the other way. However, currently that referendum seems unlikely to be conceded by the majority of Tory or Labour MPs.
    Paddy encouraged the party to embrace new radical thinking. This needs not only to apply until March 2019. Brexit, probably hard, damaging, uncontrolled Brexit, still seems likely to happen, against our long-standing principles of international partnership. Campaigning for an exit to Brexit is valid for the current period. But we also need to be working out what our stance should be for our international and economic approach after 2019, in the event that Brexit takes place.

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