On politicians and TV

Dorothy Byrne is Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4. She was invited to give the annual MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Festival, and she grasped the opportunity to say some pretty pertinent things about politicians.

You can read her funny and very pointed speech in full here, but we can give some extracts:

On trust and politicians:

Don’t believe politicians when they say that the public doesn’t trust the so-called mainstream media in the UK. They trust TV. Remember, terrestrial television has huge levels of trust:  71 percent. 

It’s politicians who are not trusted – they have a trust rate of 19 per cent  And news on the internet – the medium  politicians are increasingly using to bypass us – has, according recent Reuters Institute figures,  a trust level of only 22 percent with a mere 10 percent for news on social. 

But in recent years, there has been a dramatic fall in politicians holding themselves up to proper scrutiny on TV and in recent months and even weeks, that decline has, in my view, become critical for our democracy. 

We have a new Prime Minister who hasn’t held one major press conference or given one major television interview since he came to power. 

That cannot be right. And we have a leader of the opposition who similarly fails to give significant interviews on terrestrial TV. We may be heading for an election very soon. 

What are they going to do then? I genuinely fear that in the next election campaign there will be too little proper democratic debate and scrutiny to enable voters to make informed decisions.  

On TV interviews:

During the 1987 election, Thatcher and Kinnock chaired daily press conferences and gave several full-length interviews. Even more recently, Miliband and Cameron also did extensive interviews in election campaigns.

However, Theresa May, when she was leader, and Corbyn, failed to hold themselves to account in the same way. In the 2017 election, May and Corbyn did only one or two events a day. 

Outside of election periods, and setting aside some interviews with Andrew Marr, Theresa May’s PR people generally said she would do interviews of only four minutes, maybe six if you were lucky. 

Throughout her time as PM, May’s longest interview with Channel Four News was seven minutes. How do you delve into the complex problems of our times in a few minutes. Jeremy Corbyn sometimes permits only one question, and then doesn’t answer it!

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Lib Dem hold Rokeby and Overslade ward

Lib Dems in Rugby are celebrating after holding Rokeby and Overslade ward in a by-election yesterday.

The winner, Glenda Allanach, was the first black woman to be elected to Rugby Borough Council in 2000. She returns after a fourteen year break with a 56% share of the vote.

Many congratulations to Glenda and the team.

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It must be Revoke – it’s too late for anything else….

When Jo Swinson meets Jeremy Corbyn next week there is only one message worth delivering: Article 50 must be revoked before the Brexit deadline. The time is long past for parliamentary jiggery-pokery and procedural sleight of hand, whether it be to bring about a further extension, a second referendum, a General Election, or all three. The country now needs a solution which is honourable, and removes the tyranny of an artificial deadline created only by the ineptitude of the May administration.

The overriding justification for revocation is that it is the only course of action which is neutral in its consequences. Legally we can revoke without any change in our relationship with the EU, and legally there is nothing to stop us restarting the Article 50 process in the future.

Its beauty is that it is blissfully simple, it requires no commitment to a leave or remain agenda, and if it is understood to be temporary, no one is bound or compromised. To be fair to the Leave factions, the Labour Party and others, it is likely to require a commitment by Parliament to a further referendum, and maybe also a General Election, but this would be for later, and with time to do it properly.

Of course, there will be the familiar outcry claiming betrayal of democracy, but such claims are tendentious and above all hypocritical. The leavers will have lost nothing, except the chance to squeeze through a flawed and massively unpopular decision by undemocratic means. There can be no honourable objection to restarting the process. Let the Leavers state their case again and demonstrate that they really do represent the will of the people.

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Observations of an Expat – the nuclear train

Remember decoupling? It was a common phrase during the Cold War (or should I say first Cold War?). The railway metaphor was used to describe Soviet efforts to exploit American isolationist tendencies to sever the defensive link between Europe and America, leaving Western Europe exposed to the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

The threat is back. It is back in Europe and has opened a new front in Asia. It is nuclear. It is political. It is economic and the current crop in Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang are  much more adept at the task their predecessors.

The current debate centres on the latest generation of intermediate range (INF) nuclear-tipped missiles in Russia and North Korea. These missiles have a range of anywhere from 500 to 1500 miles which means that they are not a direct threat to the American mainland. They do, however, cast a huge nuclear shadow over America’s allies in Europe and Asia.

Why was the decoupling threat  treated so seriously by both sides of the Atlantic back in the 1970s and 1980s? Because it was believed to be important that if the Soviets attacked Western Europe with nuclear weapons the United States would respond with equivalent  force, and that the threat of such a response would deter the Soviets . But in order to insure an American response,  it needed to accept that its interests were inextricably linked to the defence of Europe. If American isolationists successfully argued that a Soviet attack could be confined to Europe, than might also argue that the US should refrain a strategic counter attack in order to avoid a doomsday scenario on US soil.

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Brexit: Do we follow Jeremy Corbyn or revert to Theresa May’s plan?

With regard to Brexit, two options remain for the Liberal Democrats. They are unpalatable. Our very newfound strength represents unconverted electoral energy. We must not overplay our hand.

There is no legitimate option to Remain without attempting reform. We cannot just hope that the far-right does not swell and that our fulsome democracy is not irreparably damaged and left as an empty shell of majoritarian rule. The likes of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson know how to pipe the tune to destruction.

These are not hollow (Project) fears. We must guard against them as vigilantly as we try to prevent No Deal.

Our options:

Jeremy Corbyn. He offers us a government of national unity to stop No Deal. Then a General Election that we’ve been chomping at the bit to fight. Then – he assumes he’ll win, but we’ll see about that! – a referendum. For this we must accept Jeremy Corbyn as a neutered Prime Minister for a little while. And – I know my fellow Scottish LDs won’t want to hear it – IndyRef2 for the SNP’s support.

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Jo Swinson and the art of disagreeing well

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When I was at London University in the latter 1980’s studying History and Politics, a particular incident made an impact on me and I recall it clearly.

I was in a politics tutorial, one in which the very mild mannered, but enthusiastic, tutor, a delightful German of young middle age, had got the class to be a sort of forum for topical discussion. “What shall we discuss today, then?” He said, one day, as often he did. He was greeted by silence, as often he was!

“Any suggestions?” He said, again trying to enthuse. He was greeted by silence, again nobody very enthused. I was very enthusiastic, but said nothing, because I rarely did say anything, and was very political, elected during those university years as a President of the Student Union, and I did not want to be pushy or too showy.

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LibDem council chief: Government ‘must not crucify Portsmouth’ over Brexit

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The BBC reports:

The leader of Portsmouth City Council says he can not allow government inaction to “crucify Portsmouth” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the authority and Hampshire County Council had already spent £4m on preparations to avoid gridlock near the city’s port.

The government has just announced port towns in England will receive an extra £9m to pay for preparations.

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Irish Travellers deserve our respect – just like any other ethnic group



(Above) #DontTeachHate short video from The Traveller Movement

I was very struck by this quote from Chris Baughurst of the Gypsy,Roma,Traveller Police Association (Thames Valley branch), speaking at the Green party Summer Gathering in Reading last Saturday:

We are the only ethnicity in this country where it is openly acceptable to denigrate us, people to say things, and no one bats an eyelid.

I recently dug through the Twitter archive relating to a recent event (which I will not specify, as it is now sub judice) and found over 100 separate incidents in the last week alone where Twitter users were (in arguable contravention of Twitter’s own rules) “abusive or harmful” in ‘directing hate towards a protected category’, in relation to Irish Travellers (a UK government registered ethnic group).

Most of the relevant tweets used a grossly derogatory word beginning with “p” or an abusive word beginning with “g” and ending in “o”. Some of the worst tweets combined those words with the word “scumbag”, the word “vermin” or a slang word for excrement. All made generalised remarks about the grouping and some expressed the view that drastic action should be taken against that group, in contravention of their basic human rights. (I have reported 90+ incidents to Twitter and I am now having to deal with a blizzard of emails from them asking for further information). The short video above gives even more graphic illustrations of such routine abuse, collated by the Traveller Movement.

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A cautionary tale from Norman Lamb

One day last year Norman Lamb woke up in his London flat with double vision, which did not clear. According to this newspaper story, he called his sister who is a GP, and she advised him to go to A&E immediately.

When he got there he was sent to the eye clinic for eye tests after which the staff told him that there was nothing wrong. But when he rang his sister again she feared a brain tumour. She told him not to leave the hospital but to go along to the neurovascular department. Once there he had an MRI brain scan and was told he’d had a minor ischaemic stroke.

The Stroke Association’s website advises that ‘sudden blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes’ indicates a potential stroke.

‘I’m articulate enough and confident enough to go back and challenge what I’d been told,’ he says.

‘But there are many who wouldn’t have a GP sister to advise them, so there was a lot of luck in my stroke even being diagnosed. That worries me.’

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The Lib Dems have become an establishment party

Liberalism has a rich history of radicalism from the People’s Budget, to Beveridge through to the more recent opposition to the Iraq war. The latter event had the effect of placing the Lib Dems to the left of Labour and resulting in some spectacular electoral successes at the expense of Blair’s discredited administration.

It was this progressive party of Liberals that attracted me in my home town where council seats were being won and where Gareth Epps pushed Labour into third place in the East constituency at the 2010 General Election.

Then came coalition with the old enemy the Conservatives, which looking back was inevitable given the route mapped out by Nick Clegg and his allies at the top of the party. I believe that their aim was a pact with the Tories from the time he assumed the leadership. Coalition damaged the party badly and, yes, there were some gains but overall the balance sheet was a negative one born out by the sight of both candidates in the recent leadership election falling over themselves to admit they got things wrong whilst serving in government.

During those years the party was very much part of the political establishment, and the electorate’s verdict was harsh. It is only with the situation created by the referendum on membership of the European Union that some electoral progress has been forthcoming but my concern about that is that once again the party is lining up with the establishment. In addition it gives the appearance of being a single issue party.

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Young Liberals launch annual freshers campaign

The Young Liberals have launched their annual recruitment campaign which will feature in universities all over the country, leading with a “Stop Brexit” campaign.

The Liberal Democrat youth wing produces materials for students to launch into a year of campaigning on their campus, and to recruit new members at university Freshers Fayres.

This year, the Young Liberals will be campaigning on ‘Stop Brexit’, ‘Demand Action’ , ‘Demand Dignity’ , and ‘Teach Love’ . The youth wing will be running the period poverty campaign on university campuses which do not already provide free menstrual products, and the LGBT inclusive education campaign on campuses which do provide such products.

In addition to these, the state and London bodies of Young Liberals are also running campaigns this year, in Wales on expanding the provision of the Welsh language on campus (‘More Welsh’), in Scotland on the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (‘Trans Rights are Human Rights’), and in London welcoming the Freshers who will be studying in the city at the time of the mayoral election (‘A Mayor for You’).

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++Breaking news: Jo Swinson announces Shadow Cabinet

Jo Swinson has just announced her Shadow Cabinet.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet
Jo Swinson Leader
Ed Davey Chancellor of the Exchequer
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Chuka Umunna Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
International Development
International Trade
Christine Jardine Home Department
Justice
Women and Equalities
Deputy Chief Whip
Tom Brake Exiting the European Union
Duchy of Lancaster
Jamie Stone Defence
Scotland
Vince Cable Health and Social Care
Layla Moran Education
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Wera Hobhouse Climate Change and Environment
Transport
Tim Farron Housing, Communities and Local Government
Work and Pensions
North of England (Northern Powerhouse)
Alistair Carmichael Chief Whip
Northern Ireland
Jane Dodds Wales
Food & Rural Affairs
Catherine Bearder Europe
Siobhan Benita London
Willie Rennie Scotland
Kirsty Williams Wales
Dick Newby Leader of the House of Lords
Sal Brinton President of the Liberal Democrats

*Please note that Norman Lamb and Sarah Wollaston will attend relevant Shadow Cabinet meetings but given their roles as Chairs of respective Select Committees they will not take a formal Shadow Cabinet role.

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A lull in Lithuania

Nothing on the telly for the family in Kaunas,
Lithuania’s Got Talent has finished,
And, A Lyga has yet to begin.
So they dip once more
Into the slowly unfolding soap,
The full series box set, enthralled in us.
To the terracotta streets
Of Vilnius.

Something stimulating in the slow-mo collapse,
Something sagacious in observing such a public fall from grace.
Something sad but satisfying,
When at long, long last they’re on their way up,
And they crane their collectively concerned crowns.
Bite, to steady a trembling lip as they recall darker days.
Hands held in unity, so badly burned,
Like a vigil held to mistakes so painlessly made
From which they are agonizingly learned.
And pity
The embarrassed, befuddled, fools on their way down.

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Lib Dem Brexit campaign chief to be Jo Swinson’s chief of staff

Today has been pretty much perfect.

I am in my favourite place in the world, the weather is glorious, I had almost eight uninterrupted hours of sleep for the first time in a long time and the local shop had in stock Lotus Biscoff biscuits just when I had a craving for them. There is a chicken roasting in the oven and some very nice gin waiting for me when I get back from our evening beach walk.

I thought it couldn’t really get much better and then I heard who Jo Swinson had appointed as her Chief of Staff.

Rhiannon Leaman, as the Liberal Democrats’ Head of National campaigns was responsible for our Stop Brexit campaign. And that’s seen us almost triple our opinion poll ratings in the last few months. She has had various campaigning roles in the party over the last few years and she knows it backwards. She has the keenest of political instincts.  She has a brilliant combination of skills to bring to the role. And I can also imagine that she will be good at  what every good Chief of Staff needs to do – tell the boss “No” from time to time. No matter how good they are, they all need that.

Rhiannon started out in politics working for Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid in the days before we were in government. You could not imagine two more different people to work for than Alan and Jo, I have to say.

As an aside, Alan has had a role in developing some very talented people in the party. Willie Rennie’s political “parents” when he was a student in Paisley were Alan and Cllr Eileen McCartin.  Back in 1989, they fought a brilliant campaign in a Council by-election that gave Labour a fright – they came so close to winning.

Jo has an outstandingly strong team around her. Her Senior Adviser, Sara Mosavi, is promoted to Head of Office. She will lead on things like policy development.

It has already been announced that her press secretary will be Ben Rathe who worked in the party’s media operation during the years we were in government. More recently, he played an absolute blinder for her in the run-up to and during her leadership campaign. 

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We need to talk about Public Space Protection Orders

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Five years ago, a rather dull-sounding law was introduced by Theresa May’s Home Office called the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. It passed relatively easily through parliament and was presented as a more effective way of taking enforcement against anti-social behaviour.

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Investment in transport in northern England is far behind London


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So, what should we make of yesterday’s report from IPPR North about projected spending on transport in the North of England up to 2033?

Lets first look at those figures:

The north of England is set to receive £2,389 less per person than London on transport, according to a new study which has stoked concern that the north is “held back by government underinvestment”.

The study, by IPPR North, analysed the government’s planned infrastructure projects between now and 2033 and found that planned transport spending in the capital was set to be £3,636 per person, compared with £1,247 in the north.

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Vince Cable MP reflects on recent events and some holiday reading


Jane Dodds applauds helpers at Brecon – Photo by Callum Littlemore

I heard the good news about Brecon and Radnorshire having disappeared for some R&R as soon as Parliament closed, and the new Lib Dem leadership was settled. I was delighted with the result not just for Jane Dodds and our campaigners – who fully deserved it – but for an excellent colleague, Roger Williams, who didn’t deserve to lose back in 2015. Our victory is testament also to Kirsty Williams, our AM, who kept the Lib Dem flame, and local party, alive through the years of exile.

I enjoyed my three visits to the constituency as party leader for more than the politics. I had memories of a mis-spent and romantic youth as a mountain guide in the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons; an idyllic second honeymoon in a hotel below Pen-y-Fan; and several literary fests at Hay. Jane helped Rachel and me to locate a stunning B&B in ‘the oldest house in Wales’, a farmhouse and restored annex reached through three farm gates high up a hillside on the banks of the Wye and serving food which would not have been out of place in a top restaurant. A great by-election in more ways than one.

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What the Yellowhammer assessment reveals

The Sunday Times on August 18th led with this “leaked” Cabinet document, purportedly by a former Cabinet official and then downplayed by Mr Gove and others as a “worst case” scenario or a re-hash of “project fear”.

Even if the “revelations” are slightly dated (although it is said to have been an updated version) the base-case cannot have changed materially since March 2019 and if anything could arguably have worsened given the macro-fiscal setting the UK faces.

The National Audit Office produced a dry overview of Operation Yellowhammer in March 2019 which was setup under the aegis of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) at the Cabinet Office. The CCS works alongside the Department of Exiting the EU (DExEU) to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU across 12 areas.

The institutional mapping and framework to prepare for the operation is impressive and speaks volumes for the hard graft undertaken by our Civil Service and which would potentially involve over 30 central government bodies including all government departments or ministries, 42 local forums in England and Wales and equivalent bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as key sectors and industries.

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Martin Horwood MEP writes… Gibraltar, Trump and Iran: the Brexit connection


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Gibraltar has just controversially released the Iranian oil tanker formerly known as the Grace 1 with a new name and a written assurance from Tehran that its shipment won’t be used to break EU sanctions on Syria.

As a member of the European Parliament’s Iran delegation and one of the LibDem MEPs for Gibraltar, as well as the South West of England, I have warmly welcomed this move. And I’m pleased to be in a position to strengthen our co-operation and influence with Europe on this critical issue. Its no exaggeration to say that peace in the Persian Gulf hangs in the balance. While the Conservative government flirts with Donald Trump, we’re working with our European allies to de-escalate crises like this.

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The case for changing our laws on revoking citizenship

UK passportWhen as Home Secretary Sajid Javid attempted to strip British-born Shamima Begum of her citizenship, he highlighted how the Home Office has come to possess powers to revoke citizenship that did not exist a generation earlier. These new powers are nothing short of racist, allowing the Home Secretary to strip Brits of citizenship by dint of their ancestry. According to Javid’s interpretation of the new laws, so long as a person can claim citizenship elsewhere – such as by having foreign ancestry in Shamima Begum’s case, or by virtue of laws such as Israel’s and Ireland’s allowing Jewish and Northern Irish people, respectively, to claim citizenship – the Home Office has the power to take their citizenship. It would not, in Javid’s interpretation, have the ability to take the citizenship of ‘indigenous’ English, Scottish or Welsh people.

The racist implications of Javid’s actions are what prompted a group of diaspora South Asian Lib Dems (most notably Nasser Butt, Marisha Ray, Mohsin Khan, Hussain Khan, Maaria Siddiqi and me) to work in partnership with Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey and adviser Jonathan Jones to come up with Federal Conference Motion F34: Deprivation of Citizenship. At the very least, we aim to completely end the Home Office’s power to revoke the citizenship of anyone born British.

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Andy Kelly writes: Help me spread my message of hope and radicalism to Greater Manchester

I am over the moon to confirm that you the members have selected me to be your candidate for the Greater Manchester Metro Mayor elections in 2020.

As a Liberal Democrat council leader in the region I know what it takes to fight against the odds, but this time I really feel the tide has changed – This is now OUR time.

The Tories are playing parlour games with people’s lives and Labour are betraying those they profess to represent I felt the need to step up to the plate.

Greater Manchester voters deserve better representation, we need someone who is not afraid to be frank about our future. That person is me.

This year the Liberal Democrats made huge gains in the local elections, with 700+ gains nationally – the party’s best local election results. Many of these gains were in the Greater Manchester region. Three weeks later we gained two members of European parliament in the North West as voters turned away from both Labour and the Conservatives. The two parties don’t deserve to represent us, and the current polling and by-elections shows us that voters agree. They are demanding better.

I am keen to take Burnham on his three years of nothing. My pledges are

To stand up for Remainers:

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We need to show that we are not a one-trick Brexit pony

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As a new member (I joined in June) Brexit, or rather stopping Brexit, was one of the reasons I joined. Yet this wasn’t the sole reason. Likewise my new colleagues have no doubt been pushed ‘over the line’ by our strong Anti-Brexit stance.

Yet, what happens post Brexit?

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The thin blue line is too thin and we do not sufficiently punish those who attack the police

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I’m going to sound like a misty-eyed old fossil now, but often I find my base reference point, with respect to the police, was the actor Jack Warner playing “Dixon of Dock Green“.

Yes, I know most people under 60 years old won’t remember him. Yes, I know “Dixon of Dock Green” probably gave an idealised version of law and order even when it was broadcast from 1955 until 1976.

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The most important thing Jo Swinson did this week

When Jo Swinson was asked on the Today programme if she had talked to Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman about the possibility of them leading a Government of National Unity, my first thought was “Do you know nothing about her?”

Jo does her homework. There is no way on earth she would have said that Corbyn didn’t have the support to become temporary PM if she wasn’t sure of the figures. When she said that Corbyn couldn’t command the support of the House of Commons it is because she had had the conversations and worked that out. When she said that people like Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman would be great choices to lead a Government of National Unity as they didn’t have any long term ambitions to do the job, of course she had spoken to them first.

Her constant refrain was about building a plan that worked, a plan that united those opposed to the destructive path our incompetent Prime Minister is trying to take us down.

And that’s important.

For two days, Jo dominated the news headlines. Actually, it was nearer three as the news that Sarah Wollaston had joined us came late on Wednesday.

Dominating the news headlines is news about the formation of a coherent plan to block no deal – and, if Jo has her way, to stop Brexit altogether. She was crystal clear that the aim of the Liberal Democrats is to remain in the EU and we would campaign to do so in any People’s Vote.

She looked an anxious nation in the eye and calmly and confidently told them that she, and others, potentially a majority of MPs, had their backs.

She talked about doing whatever it took to stop Brexit.

This all comes as the Sunday Times publishes details (£) of leaked government documents showing how a no deal Brexit would lead to the return of a hard border in Ireland, food, fuel and medicine shortages and massive queues at ports. It doesn’t need explaining how this will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.

Here’s what they have to say on medicines:

Any disruption that reduces, delays or stops the supply of medicines for UK veterinary use would reduce our ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks, with potential harm to animal health and welfare, the environment and wider food safety and availability, as well as, in the case of zoonotic diseases, posing a risk to human health. Industry stockpiling will not be able to match the 4-12 weeks’ stockpiling that took place in March 2019. Air freight capacity and the special import scheme are not a financially viable way to mitigate risks associated with veterinary medicine availability issues.

And on food:

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…So how would an interim government actually work?

For a start, here is my letter to the Guardian which they did not publish.

It is surely obvious that the best person to head up an interim multi-party government is an interim Prime Minister – a person with no longer term ambitions who is not going to try to use their interim position for their own advancement or that of their party? It should be a person who commands respect around the House of Commons and who is not standing again at the next General Election.

As for Mr Corbyn, can he be trusted on Europe? We all know that he and his closest advisers would like to leave the EU, that he has talked for the past three years about the need to get a “Labour Withdrawal Agreement”, and that he has been dragged kicking and screaming by members of his party to support any new people’s vote. In the highly unlikely event that he could win an overall majority in the General Election that he wants to call before any new referendum, are we confident that he would not abandon any such idea? Jo Swinson is right – he is not the person for the job.

But now we need to take the discussion further. In all the Westminster Bubble blather about who should be the Interim Prime Minister in an Interim Government, no-one seems to be thinking about how it would work. Of course it suits the Bubble to talk about personalities, who is falling out with who within and across the parties. And it means they don’t have to think and expose their ignorance about what the rules say and how the systems actually work.

Jo’s speech and letter were an excellent explanation of where the Remain forces (which at any given moment may or may not include Labour) stand in the short run. Experts in what the Commons might or might not be able to do in their fortnight back in September to stop a hard Brexit on 31st October are working hard on that. There is still over a fortnight before Parliament returns on 3rd September for the politics of it all to evolve, though to read and hear a lot of the current blather you’d think it all had to be done this weekend.

Paul Tyler’s excellent piece here sets out a good explanation of how the present government can be brought down, and what has to happen before a General Election would have to be called. There is still far too much loose talk in the media about the Prime Minister or even Mr Corbyn just “calling a General Election”. But if it does all result in the Queen inviting someone else to try to form an Interim or Caretaker Government, there seems to be no talk at all as yet about what such a Government would look like (other than who might be PM), how it would be constructed, how long it would last and what it would do.

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Corbyn’s offer: divisive by design?

Corbyn’s offer on Wednesday to opposition leaders was a new twist in the tragi-farce of Brexit. In brief, the offer goes as follows:

  1. He will table a vote of no-confidence in the Government.
  2. If that is successful, he would seek the confidence of the house to form a “strictly time-limited temporary Government”.
  3. If that is successful, he would aim to secure an extension to Article 50 to hold a General Election.
  4. He would then bring a vote to hold a General Election.
  5. In that General Election, Labour would commit to holding a public vote on the terms of exit, and it would include an option to Remain.

On social media, Labour supporters claim that if Lib Dems don’t support this it is a betrayal of our desire to stop Brexit (especially no-deal Brexit). To see a similar view in more words, the Guardian is reporting that the Lib Dems are now ‘isolated’ since other opposition leaders (Sturgeon, Lucas, Saville-Roberts) are receptive to the plan, and this is supported by an opinion piece.

Commentary has focused on whether Corbyn can command the confidence of the house. Swinson has challenged Corbyn to list the eight Conservative MPs whose support he can count on to get over the line (I make it nine with twelve independents so please correct me in the comments). Eight Conservatives seems like a stretch – I can’t even find eight current Conservatives who have backed a second referendum, let alone one brought about by Corbyn. Labour supporters think that being the leader of the Opposition gives Corbyn the right to head a unity government, whilst as Lib Dems we probably think that Corbyn and unity are unlikely concepts to find together and someone else would be better placed. 

The plan really falls apart at the General Election stage: I would argue the chances of returning a parliament which supports a people’s vote are very low. This is largely subjective, and therefore divisive: Labour supporters have been told for years that the only thing standing between Jeremy Corbyn and Downing Street is a General Election which they are bound to win (after all, he “won” the 2017 election didn’t he?). My assessment would be: 

  • The non-Conservative parties would be divided against a united Conservative party.
  • The “Leave” message from the conservatives would be much clearer than the “vote for us to have another vote on maybe not leaving or maybe leaving with some deal not sure what though” message from Labour.
  • It plays to Johnson’s strengths as a campaigner and personality
  • Labour would struggle to replicate their 2017 success, which was built on non-Brexit issues, without jeopardising the anti-no-deal-Brexit alliance who don’t agree with Labour on everything else. 

And even if a majority for a people’s vote is elected, it’s not clear if Corbyn wants a shot at renegotiating the withdrawal agreement, how he would campaign in the referendum, and even what would be in it (would it be deal vs remain, or no-deal vs deal vs remain). Then there’s the small matter of winning the referendum! Even just writing it all down is exhausting. Perhaps by this point, the “remain” option in the referendum campaign should be marketed as “make it all stop please”. 

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Paul Tyler writes….Clearing out constitutional confusions?

The current combination of Brexit bluster from No 10 and Corbynista claims seem to have confused even the shrewder media commentators: the rest are swallowing spin from both sides without any attempt at fact checking.

The idea that the Leader of the Official Opposition has a constitutional right to form an alternative government as soon as the current Prime Minister is defeated by a Vote of Confidence is wishful thinking by the Corbyn coterie. Similarly, the notion that Johnson can simply trigger a General Election in such circumstances is against the law.

Let me take you back to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (which I argued for even before the 2010 election resulted in the failure of either of their parties to achieve a Commons majority). There was no logic to the previous convention. Nor could it be claimed to be fair. The captain of one political team could simply blow the final whistle whenever he/she judged that they had the best chance of winning.

In a parliamentary democracy we Liberal Democrats argued – successfully – that was a totally unacceptable anomaly, more suited to an “elective dictatorship”, as described by erstwhile Tory Chancellor Lord Hailsham. Hence the 2011 Act, promoted by the Coalition Government.

Under the Act each Parliament will normally continue for a full five year period. An “Early Parliamentary General Election” can only happen in one of two circumstances. EITHER the Commons votes by a 2/3 majority (including vacant seats) for a specific motion calling for it (as happened in 2017), OR a Motion of No Confidence is passed against the current Government, and – after a 14 day interval – neither it, nor any alternative administration, has secured a Confidence Motion.

During that period the current PM cannot trigger an election: clause 3(2) reads “Parliament cannot otherwise be dissolved”. In that respect at least Dominic Cumming’s threats are absurd

However, as you will readily observe, it is one thing to prevent crash out Brexiteers from cutting MPs out of this particular nefarious sharp practice, but quite another to so manage the process to achieve a more democratic outcome.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 22 Comments

Remembering Peterloo and the struggle for liberal democracy

Liberalism has a long and complex history. Sometimes that history has been bloody. This weekend there is a range of events happening in Manchester to mark the 200 year anniversary of one such episode in liberal history, the Peterloo massacre. This was when a large gathering of tens of thousands of people calling for political reform in St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16th August 1819 was forcibly charged by soldiers on horseback. This resulted in 18 people being killed and hundreds being injured. The name of the massacre aimed to mock the British victory at Waterloo that had happened four years earlier.

Peterloo is an important reminder that we cannot take liberalism and democracy for granted. Our modern political rights and freedoms had to be fought for and even at times face authorities prepared to use lethal force in order to suppress democratic sentiments. 200 years on, liberal democracy is still a luxury that many countries and parts of the world do not have. From China to Syria, from Russia to Zimbabwe and from Saudi Arabia to North Korea, activists the world over are to this day struggling, fighting and even dying for the political rights and freedoms that we have in Britain in 2019.

Peterloo is important for liberals, but it is also important to socialists and progressives of all kinds. We liberals must be unafraid to defend our history. We must not abandon radical moments of British liberal history to socialists and extreme leftists. The political philosophy of the radical liberal thinker, Thomas Paine, helped to inspire the protesters at Peterloo. Peterloo was about liberty, freedom from oppression and people’s political rights. In short, it was about political reform. All of these things form the core tenets of liberalism. 

In 1819, only 2% of the population could vote (mostly the landed gentry) and working people in cities like Manchester lived in industrial levels of poverty and squalor. Both of these issues would be remedied by Liberals over the century that followed. The Great Reform Act of the Whig Prime Minister, Earl Grey in 1832 swept away the Tory rotten boroughs. William Gladstone gave the vote to millions of agricultural workers in 1885 and under the government of David Lloyd George in 1918, universal male suffrage was achieved, as well as the first voting rights for women. In regard to the industrial poverty, Liberals helped to abolish the dreaded protectionist Corn Laws, advanced the rights of workers (including legalising trade unions and legitimising collective bargaining) and created the welfare state.

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Observations of an ex pat: China, Hong Kong and Confucius

We are all the prisoners of history. Our present and much of our future is determined by the sum of our past experiences, both individually and collectively.

Europe, for instance, is now a secular continent. But its laws, politics, philosophies and society have Judaeo-Christian foundations. On the other side of the Eurasian landmass, the structures of Communist China owe more to the 2,500-year-old teachings of Confucius than to Marx and Lenin. And, if you are searching for pointers on Hong Kong it is best to do so within the context of China’s long-standing religion-cum-philosophy.

In fact, Confucianism was China’s official state religion until the monarchy was overthrown in 1911.  It was ditched by Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek as part of a drive to westernisation. Confucianism was deemed to be too old and too Chinese to comply with the demands of modern western-dominated society which the Kuomintang believed China had to become to compete and survive.

Mao Zedong was even more anti-Confucius. Attacks on the old Chinese philosopher were one of the pillars of the Cultural Revolution. Confucianism argues that authority is derived from a powerful imperial individual. This was anathema to Mao who saw his power as coming from the mass of revolutionary Red Guards.

Since the death of Mao, successive Chinese governments have gradually moved towards Confucianism. Xi jinping is probably its strongest proponent in a hundred years. That is not to say he worships Confucius. Xi is a communist and communists are atheists (at least officially).  But he regularly quotes the philosopher, has set up hundreds of overseas centres which teach Confucianism; uses Confucianism as an alternative to Western values  and argues that Chinese history and culture is compatible with his appointment as president for life and  the all-embracing power of the Chinese Communist Party.

Western society is based on the rights of the individual.  Confucius said that Chinese society should be based on the duties of the individual. To protect individual rights, Western societies gradually moved towards systems of representative government. To insure that duties were fulfilled, China has always had a totalitarian system.  The masses, wrote Confucius, lacked the intellect to make decisions for themselves.  Everyone is not created equal and therefore only a few have the right to participate in government.

In pre-1911 China, the followers of Confucius were discouraged from asking questions or expressing opinions and the role of the merit-based civil service appointerde by the imperial court  was emphasised. Under Xi, freedom of speech is denied; opinions are kept to yourself and carefully trained party apparatchiks administer  government at all levels.

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The Lib Dem surge continues in Shropshire

Just one by-election last night, and it provided a very encouraging result for the Liberal Democrats. In Meole in Shropshire, Adam Feifer slashed the Conservative majority and overtook Labour to finish a strong second.

Posted in News | Tagged | 7 Comments
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    Michael BG, there is a good discussion of the issues around affordability and phasing on the Citizens Income trust site https://citizensincome.org/faqs/#Howpay
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    It’s deliberate. These kind of people know that if they expose themselves, the truth will out, so they avoid the risk. Far better to push...
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    @ Geoffrey Dron. No problem, Geoffrey, just keep off the Scottish ginger beer. @ TCO. If you're insinuating what you appear to be insinuating, and...
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    @Richard Kemp -accepted. Now LibDems must press for extended devolution in the N of England https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/uk/we-want-100-per-cent-devolution-across-the-north-business-leaders-urge-boris-johnson-1-9914989
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