Tag Archives: 2017 autumn conference

Lib Dem Conference highlights – the Universal Credit Debate

On of my highlights of Conference was the debate on the emergency motion on delaying the rollout of Universal Credit because it is turning into a disaster for the people who are forced to claim it. People have to wait 6 weeks or longer for money. Imagine what that is like if you have no savings to get you through – a situation many people on low incomes will face.

The idea of Universal Credit is a very good one. It aimed to end the poverty trap which stopped people on benefits from getting work because it cost them to do so.

I made a speech from a Scottish perspective, outlining the principles of accessibility, fairness and confidence that were in our manifesto on social security and observing that Universal Credit meets none of them in its current form.

Other speakers gave some pretty harrowing examples of how people could lose their homes and have to rely on food banks to get by.

I am really hopeful, though, that we really are going to take this stuff to the Tories and try and get things changed.

The reason for my optimism is our new Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd. Remember all that energy he put in to regaining his Eastbourne seat? He seriously never stopped campaigning after 2015. Well, that energy and determination is going in to opposing the Tory Government and building alliances across the Parliament to force the Government to think again. Here, in full, is the speech that he made in the debate:

The Tories’ reputation for competence is an oxymoron of epic proportions. This is a party who have politicised our police force with their ridiculous introduction of police and crime commissioners, prevented councils from building new council homes from the receipts of Margaret Thatcher’s huge council house sell-off programme decades ago, which is a direct cause of today’s appalling housing shortage – and then today the complete shambles of what they’ve done with Universal Credit. Competence is not a word which springs to mind!

The original concept of UC was ‘to make work pay’ and when we supported it in coalition it would have done. Since then though, over £3bn has been taken out of the programme. The work allowance, for instance, an amount people on benefits can earn before those benefits start being reduced, has been slashed to the bone. In some cases – to zero!  And the taper rate, which determines how much people get to keep of their benefits for every extra pound earned, has also been cut to ribbons!!

This has rendered the entire principle behind universal credit – to make work pay, something I and the Liberal Democrats passionately believe in – utterly worthless.

Universal credit is no longer a progressive, reliable policy; it is a complete train wreck. And the Conservatives are responsible!!

It gets worse. Housing payments made directly to the tenants; something I fiercely opposed at the time when I was on the Work and Pensions Select Committee – telling the ministers that it would lead to a shocking rise in rent defaults. And I remember so clearly the then Secretary of State chiding me for ‘not trusting that tenants would pass the money on to their landlords’….

The result?, and this is even before the full national UC rollout-out, have been every bit as bad as I feared; if not worse!

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WATCH: Nick Clegg in conversation at Conference Fringe

Happily, it doesn’t matter that I had to be in 3 other places at the time when Nick Clegg’s only fringe meeting appearance in Bournemouth, because those nice people at Prospect magazine have only gone and put it on You Tube.

Enjoy.

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A response to the Conference debate on the Balfour Declaration

Shalom alechum, alsalam ealaykum, peace be with you.

Peace, Peace in the land between the river & sea is what we should be working for.

And, to put it mildly, the motion we passed at Conference on Sunday does not do that. Indeed, by passing it, it means we probably won’t get another chance to debate the Palestine/Israel conflict again for some time.

I tried to get the motion referred back to the FPC and to ask them to bring back a better, more comprehensive motion next year as the one we passed today is the lowest common denominator that is acceptable (begrudgingly) to two interest groups in the Party, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and Lib Dem Friends of Israel.

It does nothing to say what we, as a small political party far away from the area, can do to advance the cause of peace between Palestine & Israel and, believe me, there is much we can do.

We could be learning more from groups like “Solutions not Sides”, we could be inviting speakers from One Voice, YaLa Young Leaders, Ta’ayush and similar organisations, we could be listening to those who work every day to break down the barriers (both physical & mental) between the two nations.

The motion also contains factual errors, for example, line 35 refers to “pre-1967 borders” but no such borders existed as they were Armistice Lines that marked the end of conflict in 1949, they were never meant to be the final demarcation between Israel & its Arab neighbours.

What is worse, all amendments to correct errors and improve the motion have been rejected by FCC. No reason has been given for this rejection.

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Five quick observations about Vince’s speech

Having covered Not the Leader’s Speech, it is only fair to give you the chance to see the actual Leader’s Speech again. It was very different in style from the bouncy style of Tim Farron, but no less compelling to listen to.

You can watch it in full below and the text follows. There are four quick observations I’d like to make, first, though.

Firstly, note that PR has been displaced as our number 1 ask on political reform by votes at 16. By doing so, Vince emphasises his commitment to ending intergenerational unfairness. He talked about how young people had had no say in their future which had been limited by older people voting for Brexit.
He wants to ensure that they have a say in future decisions.

This all makes perfect sense as it is achievable and something that has been our policy for as long as I can remember anyway.

I might have been inclined to take the joke about us inviting Corbyn to join the Anti-Brexit People’s Liberation Front out. It was a joke aimed at highlighting Corbyn’s lefty student style of politics, but it didn’t work out of context and jarred slightly when I saw it on tweets from the BBC.

Thirdly, he did acknowledge that the issue of student fees was still a problem for us. A review is fraught with problems as it then has to come back to Conference and the whole thing is gone over again and the papers write about it all over again. Of course, he couldn’t do anything else or he’d have been accused of trying to make policy over the heads of Conference but it is to be hoped that this review happens very quickly. If David got his skates on and had something ready for Spring, that would be entirely satisfactory. The whole thing is a risk, but less of a risk than doing nothing. We have to be seen to be taking this one on.

Fourthly, he wants us in Government. On our own. A big ambition, but I’d rather see him say that than say that he wants us to go up a wee bit in the polls. We have to show what a Lib Dem world would look like.

Finally, the best bit of the speech for me was this:

We know, of course, that our call will be resented by the Brexit fundamentalists.

We will be denounced as traitors and saboteurs.

I’m half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC.

But if the definition of sabotage is fighting to protect British jobs, public services, the environment and civil liberties, then I am a proud saboteur.

It’s very bold and I hope we all use that quote as often as possible from now on.

Vince had 3 things to do at this Conference. He had to firmly establish us as the Party of Remain – unequivocally fighting to stay in the EU. Secondly, he had to showcase his credentials as the foremost economically literate grown-up on the political scene in this country. He did that. Thirdly, he had to showcase a wider commitment to sort things out for those people who voted Leave because they are struggling. He has put tackling inequality, most particularly wealth and inter-generational unfairness, front and centre of what he wants to achieve. As Jo Swinson said on Sunday, an exit from Brexit is necessary but not sufficient.

He did all three of these things extremely well.

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When the Leader crashes Not the Leader’s Speech

In a tradition dating from the Coalition years, certain members of the Awkward Squad gather in a local hostelry as the Liberal Democrat Leader gives his keynote speech to Conference, watch the event on Twitter and determine the point at which they would have walked out had they been in the hall.

These days, the potential for walkout has significantly reduced, but no self-respecting Awkward Squad would ever say that it had ebbed away entirely. Leaders must be kept on their toes at all times, after all.

And so, yesterday, they gathered in the best real ale pub in the Bournemouth, the Goat and Tricycle, which had been the venue for my Golden Jubilee drinks on Friday night.

Being liberals, they don’t mind if those of us who love the occasion of The Speech turn up afterwards to discuss it and everything else in the entire universe afterwards.

What they don’t usually get is the leader turning up too. 

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In full: Kirsty Williams’ speech to Conference

The Lib Dems’ only Cabinet Minister, Kirsty William, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Wales, addressed Conference on Sunday. Here is her speech in full.

Introduction

I would like to open this speech with a thank-you to Tim Farron for his leadership over what, unquestionably, has been the toughest period this party has ever faced.

At our lowest point, Tim stepped up to the plate, helping reverse our fortunes.

In an unexpected election, Tim nearly doubled the number of seats we held in Parliament, and took our membership to over 100,000. A record.

As I look across the room and see plenty of new faces, Tim can rightly be proud of the liberal vision that he put forward that attracted so many new people to our party.

I would also like to thank Mark Williams. Wales has lost a tremendous MP, and a strong advocate for radical Welsh Liberalism.

Mark worked tirelessly for the communities of Ceredigion, dealing with thousands of pieces of casework, leading major campaigns such as changing the legal definition of child neglect, and continuously being a strong voice for rural Wales.

Mark, we thank you.

Now, conference, despite our solid performance in the General Election, it is clear that many shifted back to the old way of doing things: red versus blue. Left versus right.

Increasingly, people are feeling powerless, neglected, excluded.

Some look to exploit those fears. Exploit them with easy answers. Tell them it’ll all be ok if we just turn back the clock.

Sometimes back to the 1950s, sometimes 1970s… sometimes the 1670s if you’re Mr Rees-Mogg.

But liberal values haven’t gone away. The populist voices have just got louder. Shouting down all that disagree.

Too often, especially in recent years, the louder voice has won the day.

Well here’s an idea – isn’t it time the liberal voice was heard again?

There are people across Britain looking for reasons to support us.

We must provide the leadership Britain needs, standing up for what is right.

It’s our turn to be loud.

Building a coalition that fights for fairness. Fights for reason. Fights for tolerance.

Conference, we must fight to win today’s arguments – so that we can win for tomorrow.

Education

It’s 75 years since William Beveridge published his ground-breaking report.

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Vince: I’m a proud saboteur

Vince Cable’s debut Conference speech as leader will be very different from Tim Farron’s. We won’t find him bouncing about the stage. His style is quieter but no less compelling and interesting to listen to.

Below we get a flavour of the thing he’ll be saying tomorrow, establishing us firmly as the Party of Remain.

On Brexit

“A disaster looms. Brexit. The product of a fraudulent and frivolous campaign led by two groups of silly public school boys living their dormitory pillow fights.

“And now, thanks to Boris Johnson, they have degenerated into a full-scale school riot with the head teacher hiding, barricaded in her office.

“In the real world, we have yet to experience the full impact of leaving Europe. But we have a taste of what is to come in the fall of the value of the pound.

“Foreign exchange dealers are not point scoring politicians. Their cold, hard, unsentimental judgement has been, quite simply, that Brexit Britain will be poorer and weaker after Brexit than if we had decided to stay in Europe.

“Brexit was described by the Brexit Secretary himself as an operation of such technical complexity that it makes the moon landing look simple.

“It is a pity that the Brexit landing is being managed by people who would struggle to get their heads around a toddlers’ Lego set. They live in a world of infantile fairy tales.

On Labour

“We might have expected better from Labour. Many people got behind them in June, expecting a better politics and a better future from him.  They are already being betrayed.

“Today’s Labour Party isn’t into problem solving; let alone governing. Jeremy Corbyn’s acolytes are focused on how to maximise the contradictions of capitalism.

“You don’t qualify for the Shadow Cabinet these days unless you have studied the Venezuelan guide on how to bankrupt a rich economy.

“No wonder they back Brexit. No wonder they lined up behind Theresa May, maximising the chance of chaos and disruption.

“Then a few weeks ago the moderates briefly penetrated the Corbyn bunker. They persuaded him that collaborating quite so closely with the class enemy didn’t look too good.

“So, they have a new policy: to stay in the Single market and Customs Union, possibly; or to leave, maybe. Or maybe to stay in for a bit, and then leave.

“I am trying to be kind here: I am trying to understand what they are trying to say. I think the current line is, we should transition to the transition gradually while we prepare for a post-transition world.

“This is what they mean by the smack of firm leadership on the biggest issue of the day.

“But if Jeremy Corbyn sits on the fence any longer, he is in danger of being sliced up the middle by the serrated edge.

“He would do better to get off the fence and refurbish his revolutionary credentials.  Jeremy – join us in the Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front!”

Political adults

“What the people want. What the country now desperately needs is some political adults.

“That’s you. That’s us.

“Fortunately, we are not alone. There are sensible grown-ups in the Conservative party and the Labour Party and the Greens. And beyond them are millions of people deeply worried about what is happening.

“We have to put aside tribal differences and work alongside like-minded people to keep the Single Market and Customs Union, essential for trade and jobs;

“Europe’s high environmental and social standards; shared research; help for our poorer regions; cooperation over policing and terrorism.

“Europe, of course, needs reform but you don’t achieve reform by walking away.

“Our position is clear: the Liberal Democrats are the party of Remain.

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