Lib Dems must lead the fight against the calamity of Brexit

Whatever motion we debate at Conference next month, we already know that the majority of us oppose Brexit. We all need to persuade the people around us of what a developing calamity it is. We also need to take the lead nationally. No new party is required to campaign on this: the Brexit Exiters are us.

But we need to shout about it, not leave it to retired government ministers and would-be leaders from other parties to grab the limelight.

For the country is in dire need of Brexit being called off.

Poverty worsens. Austerity bites harder as living standards sink. Health services decline with too few doctors and nurses. Councils struggle to keep meeting local needs, Young people lack decent rental accommodation at an affordable price. Working people with zero-hours contracts or temporary jobs can’t pay all the bills, fall into debt and resort to food banks.

Yet we have a disunited government which, so far from tackling these ills, is almost entirely occupied with the enormous, wasteful task of trying to accomplish a Brexit which will make conditions worse. Negotiations with the EU on all fronts are stalled – rights of citizens living abroad, the Irish border, the size of the bill to be paid, and future trade relations.

As for the Labour opposition, with a better will to tackle the ills but no power to do so, it is no less divided on the terms of Brexit yet firmly keeps step with the government on the necessity of it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 53 Comments
Advert

Notes from a new Councillor: My maiden speech

Both nervous and determined, I stood to make my first speech at the full Oxfordshire County Council meeting on July 11th. In fact, I spoke twice.

First, I supported the motion for the County Council to move to a committee system of governance rather than the existing cabinet system. I spoke about working together, across party lines, for the common good. And how this could be best achieved through a committee system, encouraging round-table decision making, than the cabinet model of top-down governance. The motion, with amendment to investigate the options available and to change the structure as soon as practicable, was carried.

I also spoke in favour of a motion to invite all Oxfordshire MPs to come to a meeting of County Council to discuss how we can work together to better serve our local residents. When this happens, I plan on asking questions about school funding, local bus services and protecting the Green Belt, amongst other issues. All elected representatives have a duty to their electors. Integrating our local and national efforts to achieve the best outcomes for Oxfordshire residents makes sense.

My appetite is now whetted, and I have mental drafts of three motions I wish to put to full council in September. Of course, our Lib Dem Group will work through all of our ideas and choose the best ones to present to council. It is great to be part of a team of 13 Lib Dem County Councillors. I’m learning a huge amount from my colleagues who have served for many years, and also enjoying the company of fellow newbies like the wonderful Liz Leffman, who brings a wealth of experience into the role.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 6 Comments

Beyond Brexit – Some policy ideas for the Radical Centre

The economic and political disconnect between the people and the powerful can be addressed in a Liberal and Democratic fashion. There is no monopoly of wisdom or one size fits all solution for the range of issues our country faces and we should acknowledge this.

We should aim to make our people ready to embrace and thrive in the next stage of globalisation. Our institutions will need to be more agile and responsive to the needs of the populus. As a party this means embracing some radical solutions and communicating an optimistic message.

What if power to the people meant just that, effective democratic control of the Nations and English Regions over domestic policy leaving a smaller Westminster to handle national taxation, foreign affairs,and defence.Bringing democracy to the House of Lords could finally be achieved by allowing the UK’s historic counties to select two representatives to a new upper house.

A more responsive government is the first element in a radical Liberal future. Embracing the changes technology will throw up will require a sustained, consistent investment in infrastructure, housing, education and skills and a reform of our outdated tax system.

Rather than Corbynite fairy tales about raising revenue, this future could begin with leasing our motorway network with an estimated value of £300bn. Allowing UK pension funds to takeover the network and realise their investment via tolls or smart-charging would release vital capital.

Posted in Op-eds | 46 Comments

The combination of food and politics can bring seismic change

What do the the French Revolution, the Irish famines of the 19th century, the Boston Tea Party and Gulliver’s Travels all have in common? I suspect you have grasped my point already. They all have food at the centre of their stories. The ancient Lilliputian dispute between big-enders and little-enders (over which end to open a boiled egg), led to, “six rebellions…wherein one Emperor lost his life and another his crown.”
 
Swift was parodying and satirising the British state of George l. Marie Antoinette told her people that if they had no bread they should eat cake. Down came a tumbling the ancien regime. In Ireland, the enormity of the deaths from hunger and the mass emigration in the wake of the famines fueled the resentment that saw Ireland eventually rise up against Britain and create the sovereign Irish state we know today.  In 1773 in Boston harbour the idea of a tax on tea being levied without the consent of those paying the tax sparked the American revolution.  
 
Food matters. It matters for reasons so fundamental that I won’t patronise readers by articulating them. Jonathan Swift knew his history and his politics. He knew that food shortages and the cultural importance societies attach to given foods can have profound political consequences.
 

Rebellion in Russia and India

 
Food riots helped propagate the Russian revolution. In British India, locally engaged Hindu and Muslim soldiers serving the Crown rebelled in 1857 when they heard that the cartridges for the new Enfield rifle were coated with cow and pig fat, thus offending both religions. Things might not have got out of hand were it not necessary for soldiers to tear open the cartridges with their teeth (hence “bite the bullet”), thus forcing Hindus to eat the fat of cows, which they hold sacred and never to be eaten. Muslims were being asked to put pig fat in their mouths. It is a central canon of Muslim faith that pigs are unclean and unfit for human consumption. Many thousands died before the British restored order, though the event surely marked the beginning of the long, slow, disengagement of Britain from India. As has been so often the case with political turmoil, the matter of food unlocked seething anger at some of the many insensitive behaviours of the colonial power.
 
And now we have Brexit. Now we have Dr Liam Fox leaping and scurrying about in bovine bowing and scrapping at the feet of Donald Trump. A free trade deal with the USA makes Brexit Tories salivate at its very prospect. It’s more than trade and jobs and Britain’s place in the world for them. For them it represents a fixed link – a permanent bridge – between the very rich and very powerful economic and social conservatives of the American Right and creating a British world of red in tooth and claw capitalism, mindless xenophobia and the rolling back of employment rights and the great triumphs won to build a socially liberal Britain. A free trade deal with the USA is for the hard Right Tories the economic equivalent of the foreign policy and defence super glue of Trident.  
 

Pandora’s Box

Posted in News | 18 Comments

Federal Conference to debate revocation of Article 50

Like many others, I was horrified to see that our Federal Conference in Bournemouth was only going to have a consultation session on Brexit and our relationship with the European Union.

That, I felt, was an opportunity missed to make very clear and unambiguous policy. We were a bit too equivocal during the election. Had Tim Farron said on the day the election was announced that if he walked into Downing Street as Prime Minister, the first thing he would do would be to revoke Article 50 because the political earthquake that would had happened would justify it, people would have understood and been convinced that we are an anti-Brexit party. Our referendum on the deal is a good mechanism to stop Brexit but it’s not a good message.

Since the agenda was published, there have been a great number of behind the scenes representations to the party leadership and Federal Conference Committee saying that a consultation simply isn’t good enough.

The good news is that there has been a rethink and Conference will now be given the opportunity if it wishes to have a debate rather than a consultation session. A motion will be published today on the party website. This motion will be amendable.

Because we are a democratic party, we don’t just allow the agenda to be altered by anyone, so Conference has to give its consent. A vote will take place to enable the motion to be discussed in the very first session, at 9:05 am on Saturday 16th September, so those with sore heads from Lib Dem Pint will have to power on through and get in to the hall.  If Conference allows the change, then the motion will be debated on Sunday 17th September between 10:45 and 12:30. If Conference votes against the change, the consultation session will take place as planned at the same time.

The motion itself will probably need amending. It calls for:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 46 Comments

LibLink: Vince Cable: It’s time to tackle the UK’s dangerous addiction to debt

One of Vince Cable’s claim to fame is that he accurately predicted the 2007 financial crash. Ten years on, he recently wrote an article for City AM in which he said that our economy was again at risk because of high debt levels.

Debt, in itself, isn’t bad. He talks about his own experience:

Indeed, my own youthful borrowing included buying my late wife a grand piano on an overdraft, a decision that underpinned 33 years of happy marriage. (And I paid off the debt after a struggle.)

The issue with debt is one of limits and sustainability, for both the individual and the wider financial system. The same, clearly, applies to government debt and corporate and financial sector leverage.

What the 2008 financial crisis and its aftershocks have taught us is that those limits may be closer than we think – and, once crossed, can lead to rapid and painful corrections.

He looks at the current situation in which we are seeing high levels of personal debt again:

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 53 Comments

David Miliband backs referendum on the deal and argues for social and political benefits of EU – how we can build on the growing anti Brexit consensus

It’s one of the great what -ifs of our time. Would we still be in the same mess if David Miliband had won the Labour leadership in 2010? We’ll never know and there are arguments on both sides. His Blairist approach might have propelled a bigger drift of Labour supporters to populist UKIP but he might also have had a big enough impact on the arguments to shift us away from Brexit or even having a referendum on the EU in the first place. Of course, his leadership might well have stopped Cameron from getting a majority at all in 2015 and we would certainly not have been in this mess.

Today, Miliband makes a new intervention in the Brexit debate with an article in the Observer in which he becomes the latest big name to back calls for a referendum on the deal.

The case against the EU depends on avoiding a discussion of the alternative. It is the equivalent of voting to repeal Obamacare without knowing the replacement. It is a stitch-up. That is one reason it is essential that parliament or the public are given the chance to have a straight vote between EU membership and the negotiated alternative. That is a democratic demand, not just a prudent one.

People say we must respect the referendum. We should. But democracy did not end on 23 June 2016. The referendum will be no excuse if the country is driven off a cliff. MPs are there to exercise judgment. Delegating to Theresa May and David Davis, never mind Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, the settlement of a workable alternative to EU membership is a delusion, not just an abdication.

Brexit is an unparalleled act of economic self-harm. But it was a big mistake to reduce the referendum to this question. The EU represents a vision of society and politics, not just economics. We need to fight on this ground too.

The Europe of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel stands for pluralism, minority rights, the rule of law, international co-operation – and not just a single market. In fact, the real truth about the single market has been lost in translation.

He goes on to make the very valid point that the EU’s institutions protect our rights as individuals and as workers against exploitation from large commercial organisations and governments. As he puts it, the EU has actually done more to shield us from the effects of globalisation than to harm us:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 9 Comments
Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarKirsten Johnson 17th Aug - 2:32pm
    Hi all, thank you for engaging and reading. Simon, I have just posted info on the committee structure question on the previous blog. I am...
  • User AvatarKirsten Johnson 17th Aug - 2:27pm
    Thank you all for reading. Simon, sorry for the delay in replying but I have been travelling and just picked this up. Here is the...
  • User AvatarMichael 17th Aug - 1:50pm
    The referendum came at a time when many British people had been buffeted by a harsh rainstorm of economic recession, lower wages and a seeming...
  • User AvatarPalehorse 17th Aug - 1:20pm
    "what is the common ground between ignorance and knowledge?" I think these are the words prove that our nation is split irrevocably and the wound...
  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 17th Aug - 1:16pm
    I do not like the denigration of the Democrats word, here above , in comments. Great and very needed parties we would be in throughout...
  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 17th Aug - 1:06pm
    A needed level of both enthusiasm and common sense from Catherine and Katharine, if the referendum on any deal is abandoned this party has lost...