The sudden death of Liberal England

I joined the Liberal Party the day of Margaret Thatcher’s first victory. I will be leaving its successor party the day after I return a spoiled ballot in the election for the next party leader.

As a party we have had our fights, our disagreements, and our debates. We have also proven that the strength of our shared commitments and ideals has been of a power that protects the very essence of what it means to be liberal and democratic.

One of my first committee appointments in the party offered the opportunity to work closely with Richard Wainwright, a devout Quaker. His faith guided him. At times, it made him uncomfortable. But, more often than not, his faith, which so few of us shared, offered him the impetus, the strength and, yes, the courage, to expect more of us than we often thought possible.

I worked in Liverpool on occasion with a Liberal city council that was helping re-shape that city. I was there the day of the Toxteth riots. Very soon thereafter, David Alton, our first MP from that city in so many years, and Eric Heffer, MP, sat down with Michael Heseltine and shape the only action plan I know of that caused Thatcher to have to admit that there was such a thing as society. Two of those men, Heffer and Alton, shared little. But they did share a faith and that faith shaped both of them in years of service that made the lives of so very many people so much better than it would otherwise have been.

Richard Wainwright and David Alton were not alone, but I worked with them well enough, and knew them well enough, to write what I did above with confidence.

And here’s the point: there came a time when David Alton’s faith left him so uncomfortable with LibDem policy that he left us. That was his right. That was at it should be. We debated policies, we talked issues, and the heart of liberalism was strong enough that our identity, our commitments to rights and opportunities grew and never wavered. There was a place for him until he could no longer call himself a liberal democrat.

I voted for Tim Farron for leader.

It was not an easy choice. Not because of his faith, but because Norman Lamb, too, was so terrific an option.

But I never doubted that Tim’s faith–which is not mine–would be a problem. To the contrary, I was sure it would be a strength. As it was. Tim did not back down.

When the smart money was on re-shaping our stance, on trimming and prevaricating, Tim stood up, with us and for us, committing us to being a liberal party: open, tolerant, united.

His words made it clear that was his, and our, commitment.

His actions made that clear.

Reeling from near electoral collapse, Tim made it clear that on our principles we would not bend. He made it clear that all-women lists had his full support. More than that, he expected them.

He made it clear that BME and other minorities must be an integral part of the party, part of the face, part of the heart, and part of the soul of the party.

Tim was clear that health care, education, housing were rights we would seek to secure for all.

Tim was clear that no religious test of any sort must ever determine how and where one lived or worked.

Tim made no concessions to the Mail or the Telegraph, and he challenged us and the country to stand up to hate and violence, to say that refugees must be welcomed here.

Tim spoke up against hate and bigotry whenever he saw it. Often first. Sometimes alone.

Tim opened up opportunities in the party and in the country.

And now some who would appoint themselves guardians of a party with a liberal tradition have determined that he must go.

Not for what he did. His votes were not, perhaps, ’perfect’, but whose are? They were darn near perfect, though.

Not for what he said. He spoke the truth in a pained and deeply humble way when he might have done better to dodge the question and say that faith and politics were not to be confused.

Not for what he did. Not for what he said, but for what others thought he believed.

Never has there been a clearer rejection of the very core principles upon which our party must stand or fall.

Tim stood for an open, tolerant party and country.

Others would have us be a closed, intolerant party.

I am an atheist. I am a liberal. I am a democrat. I will soon no longer be a Liberal Democrat.

* Chris Fauske is a member of the Liberal Democrats

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45 Comments

  • Chris Sargeantson 16th Jun '17 - 11:37am

    Tim had to go because he led our party to losing great MPs and a percentage of vote share, under conditions that were ripe for our success.

    His faith has nothing to do with it and is entirely his own.

  • Denis Mollison 16th Jun '17 - 11:40am

    Well said. And my thanks to Tim for his leadership.

    But I’m not leaving the party yet: I want Tim’s principles, which as you say are so well aligned with our core principles as set out in the “preamble”, to prevail in the party.

  • Denis Mollison 16th Jun '17 - 11:43am

    I’d better clarify that my “well said” referred to Chris Fauske’s article and not the other Chris’s comment.

  • Chris – I am sorry you feel this is a reason to leave the party. Presumably you still support all those liberal values you write about? I thought before the election that Tim might feel the need to go – not because of the religious issues but because he had failed to make a sufficiently warm connection with the population in the way a leader needs to in this media world. I hope you reconsider or rejoin when the fuss dies down. And you plan to vote on the new leader and THEN leave? hmmm

  • Chris, If you believe, in the aftermath of Nick’s near total destruction of the Liberal Democrats as a party people could trust and as parliamentary force to be reckoned with, that a performance where we gained MPs was somehow unsatisfactory, you really need to get real.

    Likewise when you also consider that it was against the backdrop of a snap general election and where many of those who used to vote for us up to 2010 went to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, the result we got was phenomenal.

  • Chris Sargeantson 16th Jun '17 - 11:57am

    If losing vote share and performing mediocre is phenomenal to you, I suggest we have very different measure of electoral success.

    2015 was also a disaster. There is no mutual exclusivity in believing both elections were bad for us, so kindly take your strawman argument elsewhere.

  • Richard Wainwright was not a Quaker, although he was in the Friends Ambulance Unit during the Second World War.

  • Richard was a Methodist lay preacher, and yes, he served in the FAU in Normandy in 1944.

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 12:10pm

    “Tim was clear that no religious test of any sort must ever determine how and where one lived or worked.”

    But a religious test for where one studies does seem to be acceptable, at least according to whoever wrote the 95 page manifesto. Not one word of the faith and education motion passed only a few weeks before at York.

  • Richard Church 16th Jun '17 - 12:15pm

    “And now some who would appoint themselves guardians of a party with a liberal tradition have determined that he must go.”

    The whole article depends on this one presumption, contained in one sentence, with no evidence to support it. What we do have is Tim’s own insistence that he took the decision to go himself and his own admission that he didn’t handle the issue with the media well.

  • Graham Davis 16th Jun '17 - 12:16pm

    “He spoke the truth in a pained and deeply humble way when he might have done better to dodge the question and say that faith and politics were not to be confused.” No, the problem was that he did indeed dodge the question several times before eventually speaking the truth but by that time it was too late. I had begun avoiding his interviews for fear of what he might say, or rather not say, next. Many people had been completely confused as to where he stood, including myself, and it was left to colleagues to defend him and try to put the record straight.

    I am sorry that we are losing Tim as leader but it’s not his religion that has resulted in this resignation but the muddled way in which he dealt with questions regarding the perceived conflict between his religion and certain of the party’s ideals.

    I have been an atheist and a Liberal for over fifty years and I will continue to be a Liberal Democrat. I wish, Chris, that you will reconsider your position with regard to the Liberal Democrat tent. [There was more to that sentence but I self-moderated it so as not to appear too indelicate.]

  • We really has no chance this time. Too soon after the Clegg disasterous coalition and the electoral savaging up to and including 2015, not least because of the Tuition Fees betrayal, the public have long memories. This will continue to haunt us for some time yet.
    I was the party agent here in 2001. I still remember the local Conservative candidate at the count saying to me in apparent amazement, “you even held all your London seats”. That was after a 4 year gap, not 2 years. As I said memories are long.
    Having said that the campaign was virtually non existent, Labour showed us how. There should be resignations and sackings from that team.

  • Why are LDV even publishing this article ? This is a site for Libdems & sympathetic outsiders with some useful to say, this is neither.
    What sort of person announces that they are going to spoil their Ballot in a contest where we dont even know whos standing yet ?
    The headline is silly & purely negative & I am certainly not going to waste my time reading the article.
    If we had an extra MP for every time someone has announced our death we would be The Government.

  • Elaine Woodard 16th Jun '17 - 12:32pm

    Chris, I agree with most of what you say and it is entirely your right to resign but I don’t understand your logic. You say ‘Others would have us be a closed, intolerant party’. That’s perhaps true but even if it is, it’s not the majority so why punish everyone. And surely Tim would not want to see members resigning because of this. It is even more important to stay and fight for those beliefs.

  • Joe Winstanley 16th Jun '17 - 12:36pm

    Other than Brian Paddick, I don’t know who was in the delegation that visited Tim, or what was said to him. If it was put to Tim that he must resign because of a perceived conflict between his faith and his role as party leader then that is utterly wrong. But if that was the case (and I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest it was) then Tim should have sent them packing and firmly stood his ground as the leader of an open and tolerant party should.

    On the other hand, if it was put to Tim that it would be in the best interests of the party if he stepped aside due to the reduced vote share and his lack of popularity with many LD voters and potential LD voters, then that is fair enough.

    Either way, I think the manner and timing of his departure was poorly judged. There really was no need to nuclear on Tuesday with everything else that was going on, and Tim really should have managed that situation much better.

    The notion that Liberal England has suddenly died and that Tim’s departure is somehow a rejection of the party’s core principles and heralds a move towards a ‘closed, intolerant party’ is every bit as melodramatic as Tim’s resignation speech. It is nonsense, it really is.

    Tim is a great Liberal Democrat and was a good party leader, his enthusiasm is infectious, but there are at least three other LD MP’s that would do a better job in taking the party forward.

  • Paul barker – you really should take the time to read the article because it’s absolutely bang on.

    It’s also blatantly clear that who is standing is going to be some combination of swinson, lamb, cable and davey – with only the first two being potentially viable options.

    Chris Sargentson – the result was poor but what were you expecting? An increase in seats really was a good result under the circumstances. A different leader wouldn’t have magically done better.

    Questions needed to be asked about what went wrong and how the party goes forward – and perhaps even with who – but it seems an unelected and at present unknown little cabal instead took it upon themselves to skip that and oust a leader they’ve been desperate to get rid of since the very beginning.

    It seems that some in this party are absolutely determined to take us into complete oblivion.

  • Chris Fauske 16th Jun '17 - 12:59pm

    I appreciate the correction about Richard Wainwright’s faith. That was my mistake. I do still remember how his deep and personal faith encouraged many of us and helped shape our discussions.

    And while I generally avoid commenting on comments, I would like in this case to note that I am not commenting on the success or failure of Tim’s leadership, but had the ‘party’–or Tim–decided he should resign because of the results, that should have been the stated reason.

  • Christopher Haigh 16th Jun '17 - 1:33pm

    The election result was pretty good considering we could have been wiped out completely. Here in west Yorkshire given the tory lead in the opinion polls many had to go with labour to keep the tories out. I don ‘t think our vote share was a true reflection of our overall support in the community. Richard Wainwright was a tremendous constituency MP with great affinity with the Colne valley methodist churches and consequent support of associated cultural activities – choral orchestral and brass band organisations in the valley. Oh that this party could return to the solid liberal foundation of methodism that Richard enveloped.

  • I appreciate Chris Fauske’s article which articulates some of my thoughts. I am very close to resigning, having joined the Liberals in 1974. This makes me feel incredibly sad. I thought that David Laws’ article in the ‘i’ was a disgrace. I am hoping for an account of what happened behind the scenes of Tim’s resignation which re-assures me that we remain a liberal party and have not become a party in which political correctness masquerades as liberalism.

  • Graham Davis 16th Jun '17 - 2:35pm
  • Christopher Haigh
    As I have stated before a return to Methodism could be a welcome step. However a true Liberal Party would believe in the separation of church and state.
    How much God do we do? It seems in Tim’s responses to the questions about his faith he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

  • Andrew McCaig 16th Jun '17 - 3:24pm

    Chris Fauske,
    I think there has been a great deal of speculation about who did what in the run-up to Tim’s resignation. He clearly has opponents in the Party, but it is not clear that he resigned because he was forced out by them.

    In his resignation speech Tim said this:
    “To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

    Personally I take that at face value. I can see how that gives him a problem if the Bible’s teaching conflicts, in his view, with Party policy. Tim was clearly struggling with his own conscience in some of those interviews, and there will have been pressure on him from BOTH sides of this argument, not just from the likes of Brian Paddick. He will I am sure also have looked at his popularity ratings, which should give any Party leader some doubts.. There are many shades of Christianity, and some are more flexible than others. Comparing Tim with other Christians who have had prominent roles in the Party is fair neither to him, nor to them, and we should stop doing it.

    This article lists the many qualities that I respected in Tim – most of all compassion and respect for the disadvantaged without prioritising them into more and less deserving as so many do. I am sure that is at the heart of Tim’s Faith, and it is also at the heart of the humanist principles that I was brought up with. Tim kept the tuition fees pledge and I will always respect him for that. He was not prepared to betray his principles for expediency or short-term political advantage.

    If there was an unedifying witch hunt against Tim, I have found many of the comments in support of him equally unedifying. People should respect the views of those who worry that at some point Tim’s religion may overrule his politics. After all we are the traditional Party of disestablishmentarianism, believing that Church and State should be entirely separate.

    So my appeal is for people to move on here. Tim has resigned and we should thank him for all he has done for us, and allow him to find a role where conflicts between Faith and policy do not matter so much. I do not see any sign that Tim is planning to resign from the party, and neither should others..

  • Andrew
    Well said

  • Chris Sargeantson 16th Jun '17 - 4:28pm

    “but it seems an unelected and at present unknown little cabal instead took it upon themselves to skip that and oust a leader they’ve been desperate to get rid of since the very beginning”

    Oh good, so it’s Corbynesque conspiracy now, is it?

    You’ve no evidence of this whatsoever.

  • Russel McPhate 16th Jun '17 - 4:41pm

    Chris Fauske, I cannot disagree with your sentiments and I am closer to leaving the party than I have ever been since I first joined the Scottish Liberal party in 1984. I probably won’t when it comes down to it because it still best (if it seems to be only just at the moment) vehicle for Liberalism we have and if Tim can remain a member of the party, so can I. i hope you will reconsider too.
    Andrew, I agree with some of what you say, too, but if there was anyone who worried that Tim’s faith might overrule his politics they weren’t paying attention. His record could not be used as evidence to justify that fear.

  • Galen Milne 16th Jun '17 - 8:04pm

    I joined the Liberal Party in 1967. I’ve seen leaders come and go, often at the behest of others, like Charles and Ming, or after they lost elections, like Paddy and Nick, or they were disgraced like Jeremy. I had no problems with Tim but others clearly did. Leadership is a bit of a poisoned chalice and needs a tough character so maybe at this time we need Vince after all to kick some ass and bang some heads together.

  • I have to concur with much of the tone and sentiment – if not all of the substance -of Chris’s O.P.
    Older, long term members seem to forget that Tim presided over a significant increase in party memebership during a period when the party had become somewhat unfashionable, to put it mildly. I myself was a part of that new intake and if the other newbies who came onboard in response to Farron’s promise are feeling anything like me the they will be feeling, at the very least, let down.

    We may be new, we maybe even alittle naive – but the fact remains we rallied to the party when the chips were down. The old hands cannot afford to be so blithely cavalier – for that is the tone I’m getting from many a poster – with our feelings about this.

    The onus is surely on those who criticise Farron’s leadership to let us in on how they would have done things better, who *would* have done it – and exactly *why* it would have had better results. I’m really not hearing much in the way of this.

    The proposed contenders for the new leadership are all a singularly unisnspiring bunch, it seems to me. Most of them are associated with an austerity coalition at a time when large swathes of the elctorate are indicating that this is precisely what they want no more of.

    I am reserving my judgement at the moment, but if it comes out that Farron was pressurised to leave for by those who never liked his centre-left leanings then….well…

  • A Social Liberal 16th Jun '17 - 9:19pm

    Chris Sargeantson

    Let’s put this to bed once and for all. The fall in vote share wasn’t 50%, it wasn’t 20% or 10% – it wasn’t even 1%. The fall was 0.5%, or if you like one half of one percent. Now, place that against increasing our take of MP’s from 2015 by 50% and we start to get perspective. The loss of some of our most experienced MPs was mitigated by the return of others and that should bring the perspective we SHOULD have into proper balance.

    The fact is, we didn’t do well because of our performance in the coalition years, not just the tuition fees fiasco and Cleggs apologising for the wrong thing, but because we U turned on VAT and because – from TPims at the beginning of the coalition to secret courts at the end – we helped pass deeply illiberal bills.

    I have said before and will say it again and again – it will take a generation before we can return to anything like the popularity we had in 2005, perhaps longer if we tolerate our leaders to be hounded out of office by those who aren’t fit to clean their shoes.

  • I am sorry that Tim felt compelled to resign – I fear he has been misinterpreted when he says that he was conflicted.

    My impression is that the problem wasn’t his religious beliefs, it was that “people” expected him not to have any.

    Tim had a problem communicating his stance to the public / they didn’t get it – and that hurt us electorally.

    But – within the party, for every 1 who was uncomfortable with his faith, there are 10 who didn’t give a monkey’s.

    We know that he was & is unwaveringly Liberal.

    There remains an unshakeable liberal core to this party – and that isn’t going away. Hope you – and anyone else hurt by this fallout – will remember that & stay with us.

  • It might also be the fact that he was conflicted about being expected to have monthly meetings with a billionaire arms dealer who donated £ 200,000 to party funds.

    (Calls for criminal inquiry into Lib Dem donor over ‘links to Rolls-Royce scandal’ : The Guardian 17 May, 2017).

  • It is our collective duty to fight to make sure that our Liberal Democratic party fully reflects the principles of inclusive Liberalism that we, in theory, sign up to. At the end of the day, we all have slightly different perspectives on Liberalism, but we have far more in common than what divides us. I want my party to be fully inclusive for people of faith or no faith, who feel they can sign up to our values. There are moral dilemmas that we all grapple with, regardless of our beliefs, and invariably we reach divergent conclusions. Being open and tolerant, is a pre-requisite of being “liberal” and we, as individuals, need to continually check that we are living up to those principles. Debate is fine, as it helps us to sharpen up our ideas, but those we participate in that debate always need to do so with the idea of building a better proposal with colleagues who share a common purpose.

    So, my plea to party members is 1) to stay with the party and make it the “liberal” party we want it to be (the Tories and Labour parties are far more riven with internal, personal conflict than ours is!) 2) respect the diversity of views in our party – and make sure that those who want to stifle diverse views are stopped. 3) fight to increase the influence and positive impact of Liberal Democrats at all levels in our country from District to National government.

  • David Pocock 17th Jun '17 - 12:10am

    I joined the party because after 2015 I felt it needed support. I then ran to London for my first ever demo against the Tory threat to remove our human rights. I some liberals and then shook hands for the first time with an MP, Tim Farron. We later sat in a pub and shared a pint or three.

    Many new guys after me did join for Tim I’m sure. The saddest thing really is the risk the plotters have taken on all our behalfs is we will not be 100k strong by the end of this. And we will soon be back in 2015 again if we elect a coalition “big beast”. And we seem to have only a choice of big beasts before us.

    I pray that if any of our new MPs read this then you stand, you will have my vote.

  • I have been in the Lib Dems and the Liberals before it since 1972 and I won’t be leaving the party. Like so many others I went through the great Liberal revival with six million votes, a telephone box sized parliamentary party, shot dogs, party leader on trial, the rise of community politics, the SDP, the Coalition etc, etc. If nothing else it hasn’t been boring!

    We will always have members who will find a reason to leave and we need to wish them well and let them go. Regardless of his religious faith and many personal qualities Tim Farron turned in a poor result as leader and resigning is the right thing to do. There may only be a short space of time until the next general election and the public mood is changing. We have therefore got an important job to do in getting ourselves organised and we need to crack on.

    In the debate around why Tim resigned can we please refer to ‘religious faith’. As someone who is quite content not having a religious faith I do resent being referred to as someone ‘with no faith’ in a way that can often be felt as derogatory. I may not have a religious faith but I do have faith in my own integrity, my family, my friends and yes the Liberal Democrats.

  • “if there was anyone who worried that Tim’s faith might overrule his politics they weren’t paying attention. His record could not be used as evidence to justify that fear.”

    On Gay rights yes. Supporters of Tim were less keen to use his voting record as evidence on abortion rights. AFAICS he never made a pro-choice vote.

  • David Crichton 17th Jun '17 - 12:05pm

    While I do understand Chris Fauske’s frustration and agree with some of his analysis I do not agree with his conclusion. Like Russle McPhate I joined the Scottish Liberals just before the 1964 General Election so have seen situations much worse than this one, including as a Constituency Chair in 1970 hearing the disastrous result while on holiday! What I do not understand is where Chris now proposes to go. Like, I suspect, all the rest of us ‘oldies’ I have had the occasional crisis of belief bur each time ended up with the TINA conclusion -there IS nowhere else to go. With the Tories about to go into meltdown as the Brexit negotiations come crashing down on them and Labour moves remorsely to the left we have an excellent if difficult opportunity to rebuild and grow. While I was devastated to lose Nick Clegg – who is owed far more than many seem to be prepared to admit – we at least have Jo, Vince and Ed back as well as some really promising newbies. We should be concentrating on the future rather than examining our navels. As we are Liberls, however, do feel free to disagree!

  • Dear Chris
    Please do not resign. I agree with you & am appalled by the illiberal rhetoric & actions of some in our party. However if true liberals like you & me leave we are handing the party over to these intolerant illiberals.
    When people like David Laws & Norman Lamb & Vince Cable & Jo Swinson etc betrayed our party & the electorate over tuition fees I resigned as membership secretary of my local party, but remained a member. We lost 2/3 of our members. Since Tim, who kept his pledge, became leader we have trebled our membership. His opponents portray this as failure.
    They took us from 63 seats to 8 & they call increasing our seats to 12 a failure.
    There is nobody better to lead our party then Tim Farron & we should refuse to accept his resignation.

  • John Littler 18th Jun '17 - 3:19pm

    I respect Tim and his views. He was ambushed by the press and even the Guardian turned on him which did an about face and supported Corbyn, in their most propagandised election ever in modern times. I am ending support of the Graun over it.

    But while I voted for him and Tim worked extremely hard in the election and is a gifted campaigner and debater, as leader he lacked the gravitas expected of a Party leader and he did not have traction with the electorate. The seat wins were due to local and tactical factors, as the national % fell slightly, with the total down almost 200,000.

    I would support the Progressive Alliance idea, but I suspect Labour will now think they might win unaided? So long as the Tories fail to win 45% of the vote, they can be beaten by a single candidate.

  • A Social Liberal ” The fact is, we didn’t do well because of our performance in the coalition years, not just the tuition fees fiasco and Cleggs apologising for the wrong thing, but because we U turned on VAT and because – from TPims at the beginning of the coalition to secret courts at the end – we helped pass deeply illiberal bills.”

    Thank you for stating what many are unwilling to face. To your list I would add “the costly top-down, re-organisation of the NHS”. If anyone who was part of the Coalition government becomes Leader of the Lib Dems, I predict that will finish the party off for good. Voters have long memories and trust, once lost, is very very hard to regain.

  • Stephen Yolland 19th Jun '17 - 11:16am

    Anyone who expected is to do markedly better at the recent election is either utterly naive, deluded or disingenuous.

    Tim Farron did a great job. I agree with every word of this article.

  • Chris Fauske speaks for me. I had voted Lib Dem for many years and was not too bothered about LDs going into coalition with the Tories. I was appalled, however, at some of the Tory policies Lib Dem MPs supported, including tuition fee increases, benefit cuts, and NHS reform. In 2015 I voted Labour for the first time I can remember. Then Tim Farron, who voted against those policies which disadvantaged people, stood for leader. I joined the party and voted for him, and have greatly admired the way he has handled the leadership. It sickens me that his achievements have not been recognised, while he has been blamed for things which were not his fault.

    I regularly follow the Lib Dem Newbie Facebook Group, where there has been a lot of enthusiastic support for Tim. Most of us have joined during his time as leader, and many have been motivated by him and his example of what true liberalism is. There has been a lot of distress that he has stood down, and at the apparent circumstances. The silence from HQ, Sal Brinton and other party leaders, who have not even had the grace to thank Tim for what he has achieved, is deeply disturbing. I emailed HQ asking for them to make some kind of comment, but have had no reply.

    I am frankly heartsick. There is no other MP who I think would make a good leader. I haven’t yet definitely decided to leave, but there is every chance I’ll write Tim Farron’s name onto the ballot paper rather than backing someone else I have no faith in. And I now have no faith in any of the party leaders, nor in the party itself. It’s sad to think that only a fortnight I was full of enthusiasm.

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