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Lib Dems react to Theresa May’s Florence speech

Vince said that it was no wonder the Brexiteers were terrified of giving the people a say on the deal:

Both the Conservatives and Labour have now essentially converged on the same position, which is to kick the can down the road and simply delay the economic pain caused by an extreme Brexit.

Neither are prepared to fight to keep Britain in the single market and customs union or to offer people a chance to exit from Brexit

Voters were promised £350m a week for the NHS, instead Theresa May is admitting the UK will have to pay a hefty Brexit bill worth billions of pounds.

No wonder the Brexiteers are terrified of giving the British people the final say through a referendum on the facts.

Willie Rennie said the “delinquent’ May was trashing our relationship with Europe.

Theresa May is kicking the can down the road. Sixteen months on from the Brexit referendum this delinquent Prime Minister is trashing our relationship with Europe.

She seems incapable of deciding what kind of relationship she wants with Europe and that prolonged uncertainty is causing economic damage.

We were promised Brexit would be an easy negotiation and that £350 million each week would be invested in the NHS. Neither are true.

This makes the compelling case for a Brexit deal referendum even stronger.

Yesterday, the Lib Dems laid out seven tests for Theresa May’s speech. Tom Brake said that only one of them was even slightly met. 

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Lib Dems GAIN two Council seats from Labour

About 20.5 years ago, I was part of the campaign which beat Labour to win the Holmebrook ward in Chesterfield in a council by-election. A certain Keith Falconer won. Later on, his wife Glenys Falconer also represented the ward. In fact, since I wrote this, I have learned that it is the third time Keith has won this seat in a by-election. The first was in 1986, before my time in the East Midlands. He then represented the ward for 22 of the 25 years until 2011. He fell victim to an utterly unprincipled and nasty Labour campaign in 1995.

Anyway, that campaign was a really good springboard for the General Election. If I remember rightly, there was a newspaper which screamed “Poll sensation for Tony Rogers” on its front page.

20 years on, the Liberal Democrats have taken a fair few knocks in the Derbyshire town. They may be down but they sure as hell aren’t out – and they are still capable of an audacious result.

And the winner? A certain Cllr Keith Falconer.

ALDC celebrate in suitable style.

Now I know my dear friend Paul Holmes will come on here and say “We never talked about any of that Brexit rubbish.” And I might just let him gloat for a bit. But, seriously, I am thrilled to bits for all my old friends in Chesterfield who were part of this. I wonder if they are off drinking in the Tullamore like they used to after a good by-election win.

However, I do think that the Brexit stuff is responsible for Vince’s rather good poll figure. The man’s almost in positive figures, for goodness sake.

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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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Top 50 most influential Lib Dems 2017

Each year I convene three panels to compile lists of the Top 50 Liberal Democrats, the Top 100 People on the Left and the Top 100 People on the Right. Each list is published to coincide with the three party conferences. This is the tenth year I’ve been doing this and despite two referendums and two general elections in the past three years the pace of change is, if anything, increasing – perhaps not surprising, given the stresses of Brexit and a hung parliament.

The Liberal Democrats have demonstrated the frenetic nature of politics today probably more than the two other parties, with no less than a third of the names on the list not featuring on last year’s. Out goes Tim Farron and his team after a deeply disappointing election campaign, fatally undermined by Farron’s failure to deal with the gay sex question, together with Labour’s ability to portray itself as simultaneously pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit. Still, at least the departing leader has an increase in seats, together with a surge in membership to a record level, to his credit.

And Farron remains popular with the grassroots, so he stays (just) in the top ten of our list. But the biggest movements are of course amongst the new leadership team: naturally Vince Cable shoots straight to number 1, closely followed by the party’s first woman Deputy Leader, Jo Swinson, at number 2. Others who were lined up to work on his leadership campaign (had there been an election) have climbed up or appeared for the first time: Tom Brake (now the only Commons survivor of the 1997 intake), Lib Dem peer Dee Doocey, advisers Chris Bones and David Howarth, veteran activists Duncan Brack and Mark Pack. Straight in at number 11 goes by-election victor Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park for only six months, and Cable’s new chief of staff, despite not even being a party member three years ago. Such are the opportunities available in a small party.

The other main group of new entrants, or re-entrants, are of course the party’s new MPs, some returning after their 2015 defeats. Watch out in particular for Layla Moran, new MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, the party’s first-ever female BAME MP and, judging by the number of conference fringe meetings she’s addressing, already a conference darling. The main Liberal Democrat speakers on Europe and Brexit – Tom Brake, Sarah Ludford, Catherine Bearder, and, now out of Parliament, Nick Clegg – also show perform well. And straight in at number 5 – the highest new entrant – is former MP Nick Harvey, now filling the (probably thankless) task of party chief executive.

The Lib Dems still, however, lack stars recognisable in the outside world; most of the names here will be familiar only to party activists. But Cable has had a good start in terms of media appearances (and he’s published a novel), and the return of some coalition ministerial talent should help. If the new leadership is canny enough to navigate the shoals and torrents of Brexit, and exploit the divisions all too evident in Labour and Tory ranks, the party still has a future.

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Vince Cable writes: Why are Brexiteers so scared of the people?

Liberal Democrats are united on Europe. We strongly believe that Britain is better off as a full member of the European Union. I am proud of this stance, and continue to argue for an ‘exit from Brexit’. The European Union has been a project of huge economic and social success, fostering prosperity and maintaining peace on a continent historically ravaged by division and war. I want Britain to remain. The Liberal Democrats are the party of Remain.

Meanwhile, even the spectre of leaving is doing great damage. Parliament has been asked to confer huge new power on Government – far from ‘taking back control’ as the country was promised. Already our economy is being jeopardised by the huge devaluation in the pound, which is pushing up prices and leaving British companies vulnerable to takeovers. An exodus of highly skilled European workers puts public services at risk too.

As a party, we acknowledge the result of the 2016 referendum, which gave the Government a mandate to start negotiations to leave. Yet it becomes clearer by the day that we were absolutely right to argue the negotiations would never deliver the promises of the Leave campaign. When the true scale of that failure is known, the public must get a first referendum on the facts. I believe they will demand it. And there will be no deal on offer which is better than staying in the European Union.

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Julian Huppert writes…Why you need to be in the hall at 9 am tomorrow

here are two really important events happening tomorrow at the Lib Dem Conference. One at the beginning of the day, and one right at the end.

I normally spend the Friday and Saturday of Conference just encouraging people to buy tickets for the wonderful #LibDemDisco. It’s a fantastic event, with wonderful guest DJs, and you really ought to be there on Saturday night. Tickets will be available!

But there’s something else I really need you to do – and the party needs you to do, at about 9.10 in the morning, inside the auditorium.

I will be moving a suspension of standing orders …

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Paddy Ashdown writes…An essay to my party on the eve of Conference: Four dangerous ideas

So, here, as promised are four dangerous ideas for the future. Please be clear. I am not necessarily proposing these. Just asking why we are not even discussing them?

Dangerous idea 1

We are guiltily obsessed with student fees. The fact that we don’t need to be, because the principle is right, does not make life easier (how I wish we had called them a Graduate tax!). But now with the student loan debt rising, do we not also have to consider how we get better value for what students pay? If we have a tertiary education system which cannot be paid for without loading more and more debt on our young, should we not be looking at the system, not just at how they pay? We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box. Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time. Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking.

Dangerous idea 2

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us, gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it.I am talking of course, about our personal data. Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market pace? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

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