Banning the burqa is not the answer

Angela Merkel has this week called for a ban of the full-face veil (burqa) “wherever legally possible”. While many of us in the UK may be uncomfortable with the cultural assumptions behind the wearing of the burqa, it’s important for us to remember that, as liberals, we should enshrine wherever possible the right to decide how you live your life and practice your faith, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. A ban of the burqa is an illiberal assault on religious and cultural freedoms.

Unfortunately, there is another side to this issue – there is great concern, both from moderate muslims in the UK, and from wider observers, that some number of women are forced to wear the burqa or otherwise endure cultural or religious burdens that they do not want. Stripping away the rights of another, and forcing them to act as you will with threats of violence, exclusion, monetary penalties and more is abuse, and we need to tackle that with all seriousness.

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Why we need to help in Sleaford and North Hykeham

Sleaford campaigning Okay,  it’s true I enjoy elections! I get a buzz, enjoy the friendships made and love the campaign. Every election has a different vibe, atmosphere – much set by the tone and timing of the campaign and much set by the candidate & campaign manager. I started with Brent East and have a string of by-elections under my activist belt – Leicester South, Bromley and Chislehurst, Ealing Southall, Henley, Norwich North, Oldham East and Saddleworth, Croydon North, Eastleigh, Rochester and Strood, Witney, Richmond Park and now I will be helping Sleaford and North Hykeham.

I don’t pick and choose my elections – in many respects none of us do. They occur and time and travel permitting we go. But there is a small outstanding issue it seems to me. People make a judgement based on their perceptions. They sit and home and become a specialist results predictor – who will win and who will lose.

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Parliament needs to stand up to the Government on Article 50

Are there any Parliamentarians left in Parliament?  That was the question that kept occurring to me as I watched the submissions to the Supreme Court in the Article 50 case this week.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy an interesting court case as much as the next person. The Supreme Court will do an excellent job determining the law, and it has every right to do so. The problem is that it should not have been necessary for the court to consider the matter in the first place.

Parliament alone has the right to determine what the division of power between itself and the executive should be. As it has not acted to overrule the government’s claim that triggering Article 50 is an executive power, Parliament has implicitly accepted that the power is a prerogative. 

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Lib Dems to vote against Article 50 “stitch up”

Unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats have confirmed that the party’s MPs will vote against any motion which backs the unconditional invocation of Article 50. Tonight’s vote will be a test for the SNP, too. Will they back the Liberal Democrat amendment calling for:

 the Prime Minister commit to a referendum on the final deal following the negotiations and prior to the UK departing the EU.

Tim Farron said:

We cannot support a parliamentary stitch up that would deny the people a vote on the final deal.

An amended motion would fail to include any meaningful commitment from the Conservative Brexit government to produce the equivalent of a White or Green Paper setting out its position on such fundamental questions as to whether it wants Britain to remain in the Single Market.

I call on the Labour Party to remember it calls itself the Official Opposition. It should not cave in to Conservative attempts to deny the public a final say on the most important question facing the country in a generation. It is appalling that a so-called opposition could allow itself to be muzzled by the Government on an issue that will face this country for years to come.

It is now clear that the Liberal Democrats are the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government, striving to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

At the moment, the SNP seems to be revelling in the constitutional mayhem. Willie Rennie called on them to back a referendum on the deal:

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ALDE Congress in Warsaw: A Europe for everyone

Hotfoot from the Richmond Park by-election, I arrived at ALDE Congress in Warsaw on Friday. This was my second trip to this annual event, which sees the Alliance of Liberal and Democratic parties across Europe get together to discuss the hot topics of the day. I was part of a 40-strong Lib Dem UK delegation. I wondered how welcome the UK delegation would be in light of Brexit – but I was pleased to find a buzz around our recent by-election win.

The annual meeting showed the obvious benefits in the current climate of sharing campaign ideas and tactics on countering the rise of far right parties – a prevalent theme across Europe. Some good practice and tips included the need to have a positive vision (the Remain campaign struggled with this), to communicate in primary colours, and tap into feelings and identities which matter to the electorate.

A reoccurring topic for debate was the rise of technology and the associated rise in unemployment, an issue that Trump took advantage of, without putting forward any obvious solutions. Technology does not have a neutral impact, so how do we encourage politicians to debate and influence so that there are more winners than losers in the future? The same applies to distributing the benefits of free movement and markets more fairly. The response is in part a continual skills revolution, ensuring that young people are skilled as they move from education into employment, and that experienced workers have access to lifelong learning.

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There are issues more important than Europe

David Cameron famously told his party to ‘stop banging on about Europe’, are we in the Liberal Democrats in danger of doing the same? I fear we are.

With our seemingly exclusive focus on Europe we are missing a more fundamental concern for British voters, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign message ‘it’s the economy stupid!’

An Ashcroft poll conducted in September this year showed that although most voters agreed that negotiating the best Brexit deal possible was the top priority for the country as a whole when it came to issues facing themselves and their families it came fourth behind tackling the cost of living, improving the NHS and getting the economy moving. This doesn’t surprise me.

Like many I was dumbfounded by the result in June. For the first time I felt there were huge sections of our society that I neither knew nor understood. It would be easy to write off the 17,410,742 who voted to leave as xenophobic, racist, ignorant or just conned by an anti EU media establishment. That would be a mistake.

I have spent the last few months thinking about why, when to me the arguments for remain were clear, we as a nation voted to leave.  My belief is that confused by a torrent of dubious facts from both sides a significant proportion of the electorate assessed the ‘state of nation’ and concluded that it simply wasn’t good enough. With nothing to lose they voted accordingly.

Should we really be so surprised by this? Faced with falling real wages, declining social mobility, greater financial insecurity and government policy that rescued the banks but let the steel industry wither it really isn’t that shocking that so many voted as they did.

As Liberal Democrats we are certainly doing a great job articulating the publics concerns about Brexit. Since June we have become the rallying point for those deeply worried about the implications of a hard Brexit and a recent YouGov poll  showed that we could gain significant electoral advantage in the event of a snap general election. 

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Emotion, mischief, hard work and an absent friend: inside the Sleaford & North Hykeham campaign

Yesterday, sitting at my desk here in Sleaford and North Hykeham two of the best activists I have had the pleasure of working with over my 28 years in the party, were somewhat surprised to see me holding my head in my hands and crying.

The morning had been busy, too busy, the press have just noticed that this by-election is happening, and I have lots to do. Too much to do. In fact we are doing massive amounts and it’s going well. But I had a wobble and so went out delivering a round of leaflets or two. It’s cold here in Lincolnshire on these December mornings and it’s clears your head a little. But nonetheless I was thinking too much and making little progress. As I got back in the car and went to come back to the HQ we put the radio on and out came Snow Patrol’s Run.

Let me explain – my best mate Cllr Neil Trafford was killed in a car crash 8 years ago and at his memorial service – 8 years ago on 6 December 2008 (!) we played a recording of his sister Hannah singing Run.

Now this by-election in deepest Lincolnshire is going on and Neil is one of the people I would have turned to for help, advice and assistance. He would have loved it and been here and amusing us all, and he would have been causing mischief. As it is, I am causing enough mischief.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarHuw Dawson 9th Dec - 11:18am
    TL;DR, we don't have much of a chance in Walton unless Labour actually does collapse. But if they do, we're definitely posed to take advantage!...
  • User AvatarHuw Dawson 9th Dec - 11:14am
    @expats Yup, the vote in Walton was very low at the GE. The Liverpool Lib Dems concentrated on holding Richard Kemps's council seat in Church....
  • User AvatarCassieB 9th Dec - 11:00am
    expats: it's all about perception. As is much of life. Had our vote fallen, it would have been used as ammunition against us. It's also...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 9th Dec - 10:57am
    I'm sure this article is well intentioned, but I'm afraid the author is correct in implying it's a vote loser. The public and employers are...
  • User AvatarCassieB 9th Dec - 10:47am
    Peter>Lib Dems seem surprisingly happy to use an unrepresentative House of Commons and an unelected House of Lords What exactly do you suggest we use...
  • User Avatarexpats 9th Dec - 10:34am
    CassieB 9th Dec '16 - 10:10am...expats..However, given we were the only party to gain votes compared to last year, against a huge drop in turnout,...