Isolation diary: Loving June

June is my favourite month. English asparagus, Jersey Royal potatoes waiting to be scrubbed, local strawberries, roses, Wimbledon and cricket – what not to love? – not to mention my birthday later in the month.

As a child I thought my parents had been very clever in arranging my birthday almost exactly halfway between two Christmasses. It spread the presents out very neatly. My memories are of sunny days, sometimes on the beach if the date fell at a weekend. And icecream.

We lived on the Isle of Wight until I was nine. Again I thought my parents had been brilliant in locating our family in the middle of an island so that, whichever direction we went, we would always end up on a beach. Although we didn’t have a car, steam trains were still running all over the island and there was a small halt just 10 minutes walk away.

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Kirsty Williams on re-opening schools in Wales

It was good to see Welsh Education minister, Kirsty Williams, fronting a press conference yesterday on the re-opening of schools in Wales.

In contrast to Boris Johnson’s plans for England, which have generated widespread concern, Wales is taking a more cautious and devolved approach. All schools there will re-open on 29th June, staggering attendance to ensure that only a third of pupils will be on site at any one time. Schools and councils will decide how that is to be implemented locally, phasing in the scheme to suit local conditions.

Term dates will be adjusted, with a week’s extension to the summer term and a two week half term break in October.

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Dominic Raab – Your proposal is neither practical nor financially feasible

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The Foreign Secretary had just announced a proposal on extending ‘leave to stay’ for British National (Overseas) passport holders from 6 months to 12 months if China forced the Hong Kong authorities to enact the National Security Law. It is still a short-term visa and the Government will need to clarify what “extendable with a pathway to the Citizenship” means. It seems the ‘Leave’ allows work and study during the 12 months stay, which will allow BN(O) status holders to live in the country.

The mechanisms on how the ambiguous proposal will work is all subject to the clarification from the Home Office and Foreign Office. Putting the many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in the statement aside, the Foreign Office clearly may not have thought the proposal thoroughly before announcement. If you went through the details, you will find the proposal is full of flaws. One of the biggest issues will be the financial burden to the BN(O) holders.

With reference to the dominating speculation that the visa can be extended, BN(O) holders will need to pay £1,033 each time he/she applies or extends his/her visa, and an additional £400 for covering the NHS surcharge. From October onwards, it will be increased to £624. Therefore, the cost for extending their visa will be £1,657 each time.

If the BN(O) holders wanted to convert their passports to British Citizenship (known as ‘Registration’), under the current system, they need to first be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), and stayed in UK for another year before they can Register. ILR application fee is £2,389 and £1,206 for Registration.

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Ed Davey launches his leadership campaign

Ed Davey has today launched his bid to be Leader of the Liberal Democrats with this video:

Nominations close on 9th July and voting will take place in August with the result expected on 27th August.

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Daily View 2×2: 4 June 2020

2 big stories

Alok Sharma is awaiting the outcome of his COVID-19 test, having caused the suspension of business in the Commons yesterday after showing signs of ill health whilst at the dispatch box. Perhaps the message will finally get through to Jacob Rees-Mogg that his caricature of parliamentary democracy should come to an end? Or are his intentions sinister rather than ill-advised?

One of the less immediately apparent impacts of the pandemic is a crisis in local government finance, with many councils now dependent to varying degrees on income from commercial property assets and commercial services. The crisis in the …

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3 June 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Welsh Lib Dems welcome plans for phased school re-opening
  • China is being wilfully ignorant with Hong Kong response
  • Govt not clear on legal powers to implement local lockdowns
  • Govt must not risk going backwards on containing COVID-19
  • MPs need to urgently restore the virtual Parliament

Welsh Lib Dems welcome plans for phased school re-opening

Commenting on Kirsty Williams’s announcement of a phased return to school from the end of the month, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said:

Once again Kirsty Williams is setting the bar with regards to how a Government should be communicating at times like this.

She has clearly laid out her plans, and the rationale behind them, in an upfront manner. This will give parents, children and teaching staff the reassurance they need.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to getting our children back in the classroom and learning as soon, but only when it is safe to do so.

I am therefore pleased to see that no child is forced to go back, especially those who are shielding themselves or who have family that are shielding.

China is being wilfully ignorant with Hong Kong response

Responding to reports that China has warned the UK to “step back from the brink” over UK criticism of Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:

China’s Foreign Ministry are being wilfully ignorant. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was not a unilateral announcement but a clear joint legal text, lodged at the UN. The clue is in the name.

Both the UK and China made promises to the people of Hong Kong during the Handover. Under the Joint Declaration, Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ way of life was to be protected and enhanced.

Beijing has shown increasing contempt for the Joint Declaration and it is clear that the government must now ensure all Hong Kongers are given the right to live in the UK. Liberal Democrats will continue to urge the UK Government to expand the BNO offer they have outlined.

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Isolation diary: Avoiding track and trace scammers

I have been writing about scams for many years.

In fact, the blog I used to write was targeted for a massive Denial of Service attack years ago, which managed to bring down the websites of several MPs who were hosted on the same server. I had been exposing an outfit that kept on being shut down by the courts then re-opening under a new name. I was sent threatening letters before my website was attacked. This incident was investigated by the Serious Organised Crime Agency and we tracked the technical source of the attack to Romania.

I have to admit that it did shake me a bit. I was advised to never use public wi-fi, and I am still very cautious about doing that even today. However I still post information about new scams on Facebook, so far with no adverse effects.

Last month I wrote a diary entry “Avoiding scams“, about the genuine texts we had all received from the Government and the fake ones that looked very similar. Ironically some people thought the Government messages were fraudulent, including important texts telling them to shield.

Given the number of dodgy cold calls we all get, even with Telephone Preference Service in place, how are we going to be able to tell whether a test and trace call is genuine?

Yesterday Sarah Olney asked Matt Hancock that question in the House, and actually received a helpful answer.

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What do you want from a new leader?

With the leadership election coming up over the summer, I was glad to open my inbox to see an email from Mike Dixon, CEO, asking the membership what issues the candidates should talk about.

This email has given members a chance to select six key policy areas that they want to be discussed with the leadership candidates. The six most popular issues will be used to frame the hustings.

I would urge everyone to use their votes. I felt that in the last leadership election, the pitches ended up feeling very similar, irrespective of differences. I suspect that will not be the case this time around.

There are three policy areas that I would urge you to vote for. These are (i) Economy and Jobs, (ii) Health and Social Care and (iii) Education and Skills.

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Universal suffrage for British citizens – Fact or Fiction

While many readers of Lib Dem’s voice will believe that the fight for universal suffrage is something from a bygone age, it is very much a topic of concern for many British citizens. Although travel has been heavily curtailed during the current pandemic, it has long been a quintessential part of being British, exploring, assisting the development of new countries and forging an existence in any far-flung part of the world. Brits live on every continent and probably in every country. This has allowed our country to become truly multicultural, as Brits coming home to live or bring a part of where they have been with them. Whether living in a former British territory, a crown colony, or in a country not affiliated with Britain, after 15 years, you lose your right to vote. This is a situation that left an estimated 700,000 Brits unable to vote in Brexit elections.

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Jamie Stone MP: I have become a second-class MP due to the government’s ending of the virtual parliament

– That is a video from Jamie Stone MP which was tweeted last night. In the Guardian, he has spoken to Rajeev Syal about the invidious choice he is facing because of the Government’s move to end the House of Commons hybrid rules, which have allowed for remote voting and virtual debates during the Covid-19 crisis.

Jamie reveals poignant details of his private life which explain why he is faced with an impossible choice. His wife, Flora, is disabled and needs care. Prior, to the Covid-19 crisis, this care could be combined with Jamie’s role at Westminster. However, the pandemic has meant that Jamie has become Flora’s carer. This means that returning to Westminster, as per the Government move, will mean Jamie facing almost impossible choices:

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Daily View 2×2: 3 June 2020

2 big stories

The slide towards banana republic status for the United Kingdom continues. Yesterday, whipped by their leadership, Conservative MPs voted to return to the old ways of operating, causing a queue of MPs to form in order to vote that ran through Westminster Hall, the gardens of the Palace of Westminster and as far as Portcullis House. Frankly, if I were the Opposition, I’d be calling divisions on anything and everything, up to and including what day of the week it is.

Excluding MPs who are pregnant, shielding or in vulnerable groups is an attack on our democracy, and …

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2 June 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Govt must review exports of security equipment to US
  • Lib Dems: PHE report fails to properly address inequalities in our society
  • Govt must extend transition given NI Assembly vote

Govt must review exports of security equipment to US

Responding to news that President Donald Trump has threatened to use military force to quell protests in the United States following the murder of George Floyd, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:

Today the US President threatened to use force against his own citizens. As things stand, our Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister have stood silent. Their silence is shameful.

The Prime Minister must make

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Isolation diary: Calling out racism

After Happy Monday, today is Blackout Tuesday.

I have mentioned before that I have been attending the Great British Home Chorus during lockdown. Every weekday at 5.30pm Gareth Malone leads a 30 minute rehearsal from his garden shed – the broadcasts are usually live, with all the risks that entails.

Yesterday, he didn’t start with a warm-up as expected but spoke from the heart about racism and the fallout from George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. It was a very powerful statement, and you can watch it here:

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Party changes we need now – or it could be “game over”

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Being a Liberal Democrat member since 2014, I have unfortunately seen the complete collapse of the Liberal Democrats in respect of having any real continuous identity.

Our “identity” today is a remembrance of the broken Brexit movement, and, like most voters, it is questionable to say what the Liberal Democrats really stand for apart from bitterness.

Yes, we did do very well in terms of our opposition to Brexit and I, like many others, fought hard for us to Remain. But Brexit itself, as an argument, is finished. And it’s time for the Liberal Democrats to go through a series of real reforms to produce something which our next leader must push.

Our new leader of the party has to be somebody who is strong and who is willing to put through needed, long-lasting reforms. These reforms, whilst many, can be summarised by coming from three different areas – policy, branding and local parties.

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My European swansong – encouraging innovation and technological talent

Hyperloop all cutaway
Concept art of Hyperloop inner workings

Today, my work in Europe is nearly complete. The European Parliament committee gave its final vote in favour of an “opinion” for which I was responsible before the UK’s MEPs’ untimely exit from Brussels. I was working with advisers assessing amendments from all parties until the last hour of my last working day.

In the next month or so, the subject goes to full parliamentary Plenary session as part of the bill entitled “The Strategic Innovation Agenda for the European Innovation and Technology Institute (EIT), to encourage innovation and talent and European innovative capacity” – a sweet mouthful that concerns strategy and funding for an amazing institution for the next 7 years. It also includes, with my strong support, a proposal for a new branch of the EIT to support technical innovation in the cultural and creative sectors.

The EIT is a curious beast. With an explicit focus on innovation and commercial development, its purpose is to promote technical education and academic research and bring these together with business such that scientists and innovators benefit from the experience of entrepreneurs and vice versa.

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Looking over our shoulder?

The statue of Lloyd George in Parliament Square

As a relatively new member I’d like to share an observation. I’ve come to suspect that there’s a propensity for retrospection within our party, a tendency to look back to days gone-by, to times of greater influence and power, to reminisce of beloved leaders of a bygone era.

A sense of shared history can help any group of people to bond, to define the group identity. It can provide a sense of comfort and continuity. It can even provide hope. Yet there’s a subtle difference between that and a common outlook, a shared purpose. One looks back, while the other looks forward.

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What would resistance look like?

Dictatorship, populism, authoritarianism are all slippery terms of political shorthand. But then so is democracy. Even Hitler reckoned he was offering an alternative form of democracy because he, “ein Fuhrer,” was serving “ein Volk.” Authoritarian regimes tend to defend their crimes with reference to “the people.” Following the Second World War the communist bloc spawned a plethora of “People’s Republics” in Eastern Europe.

One year after the tanks rolled into Prague as the vanguard of an invasion to crush the Prague Spring of 1968 by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact forces, I visited Prague, Bratislava and Brno with a small group …

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Has Dominic Cummings pulled a fast one?

I want to describe his trip to Durham during the lockdown as somewhere between “grossly irresponsible” and “utterly foolish”. But it is a little too easy to write him off.

This is the man who took a pile of grievances about things that had little to do with the European Union and coalesced them into a vote for Brexit — even though this will make life worse for most of those who voted for it.

This is the man who (apparently) took last year’s parliamentary stalement and Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and enabled the Tories to win a handsome majority …

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Daily View 2×2: 2 June 2020

2 big stories

The controversy over the death of George Floyd continues and the Chair of the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality, Roderick Lynch, notes;

Just as we have a moral obligation to speak out against the injustice we’re witnessing in the US, we also can’t ignore the failings here in the UK. In the UK 26% of instances of police using firearms are against black people, despite black people making up only 3.3% of the population. 51% of young men in custody in the UK are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, despite these groups making up only

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1 June 2020 – today’s press release

Davey – Govt must stick to science based approach

Responding to the Health Secretary’s press conference in number 10, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

It is concerning that the government has decided not to make the usual test, trace and isolation data available to the public.

The government claims to be ‘led by the science’ but with members of SAGE publicly warning against the government’s policy and little access to data about test, trace isolate, a science led approach is looking like a threadbare claim. The press conference today raised even more concerns about lockdown beginning to be

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Isolation diary: Going out again?

It’s Happy Monday. Lockdown is, apparently, over – at least that seems to be the way many people have interpreted a gentle easing in the restrictions.

There is even some good news for those of us practising shielding. We are now allowed to go outside the home once a day, either with a housemate or for a socially distanced walk with someone else if we live alone. We can’t go to the shops, or go to work or visit others in their homes. I was quite excited when this was first flagged up on Saturday, but am now having second thoughts.

Up until now we have followed the government’s guidelines for self-isolation scrupulously for 11 weeks. We were expecting to stay at home until the end of June, and were not too dismayed at the prospect. As I’ve said before, our house and garden feel very safe, and we are content with that. We have great online conversations with the various members of our family, and although we miss being close to them we can live with that.

But this week trust in the government’s plans has plummeted, post Durham-gate. It’s not just that I don’t trust the advice we are being given, it’s also the fact that many other people are ignoring even the most basic social distancing rules.

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Going back to Grimond

The party’s General Election Review has certainly generated plenty of debate and goes on to make a number of useful recommendations which I hope will be followed. However for me a key issue is that we are coming out of a long period where we abandoned our radicalism and we need to rediscover it. At the 2010 General Election we fought on a manifesto that could attract a wide range of voters either disillusioned with New Labour or sceptical of David Cameron’s Conservatives. This was a continuation of the strategy adopted by Paddy Ashdown and it resulted in a 23 …

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New issue of Liberator free online

Liberator 401 is on its way to subscribers and is available as a free download from our website.

We’d – fortuitously – decided before the pandemic to go free online only from September but because many potential readers are stuck at home we’re putting our last few print issues up online too as they come out.

The website also has a free archive of copies back to 2001.

Liberator 401 includes:

  • The People They Forgot – It was too little, too late when the Government tried to protect care homes from Covid-19, leading to a scandal of needless deaths, say Claire Tyler and

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The Cummings Affair – we’ll know in just over a week whether it mattered

Dominic Cummings famously declared that he didn’t care about appearances — he’d stuck to the letter of the law and that’s all that matters. It sounds like an unsympathetic insurance company wriggling out of a claim but I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt because the real issue, for me, is that appearance do matter. And we’ll be able to tell in about a week’s time whether I’m right.

When “government scientist”, Neil Ferguson, and Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood were exposed for flouting lockdown regulations they immediately understood …

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How to make a just society – Justice Capitalism then UBI

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UBI (Universal or Unconditional Basic Income) is a brilliant idea. A majority of people support it. Let’s implement it worldwide. But to pay for it, we first must enact Justice Capitalism, that is, Capitalism that is fair, equal, and balanced for everyone.

But how will UBI be funded? The Tax system is broken and cannot be fixed to pay for UBI. Governments have been trying to fix the tax code forever, but it just gets more complicated with more and more loopholes. Corporations, criminals, corrupt politicians, and the 1%, hide money in Tax Havens or they game the tax rules to pay little or no taxes. Actions such as tax increases and eliminating tax havens will contribute to funding UBI but this will not be enough for the long term. Printing money, as is happening now, is also not a good solution to fund UBI as it just creates inflation which has too many negative consequences.

The best way to fund UBI is by Justice Capitalism.

The money should not come from taxation, but a dividend, financed from the returns on all our human capital; a “public” percentage of companies’ profits. Also, we will eliminate tax havens and the estimated $32 trillion hidden there. We will institute a tax on extreme wealth, a speculation tax (i.e HFT High-Frequency Trading), and a robot tax on firms that eliminate jobs by AI/automation. With this start to funding UBI, we will implement it.

Watch economist and former Greek Finance Minister @yanisvaroufakis explain it in a 4-minute video: #JusticeCapThenUBI

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Observations of an Expat: Trump vs Twitter

President Trump has a point when he attacks Twitter for flagging his posts. But it reeks of hypocrisy.

The social media platforms have to date enjoyed pretty much a license to print money existence with very little in the way of a corresponding social responsibility.

Under a 1996 American law website operators — unlike traditional publishers — cannot generally be held responsible for content by their users. They are effectively a digital wall upon which the public paste fly posts. The social media sites argue that they have no more control of those posts than does the owner of a brick wall.

Of …

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Daily View 2×2: 1 June 2020

2 big stories

It is an exaggeration to say that America’s cities are in flames, and despite President Trump’s inflammatory comments, in most places, demonstrations remain peaceful, if tense. And protests against the death of George Floyd have spread beyond America too. Unfortunately, there is little doubt that the only difference between policing in the United States and here is that, at least here, the police are unarmed and the courts less perfunctory and politicised, thus deaths are thankfully rarer, but BAME citizens, especially black ones, are more likely to be the subjects of police activity, even if they aren’t actually doing anything that would attract attention if done by a white person.

We can, as of today, partake in a whole slew of activities hitherto restricted, thanks to the Government. But so much for following the science, for the Association of Directors of Public Health has urged them to reverse the decision;

But Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the ADPH, said her colleagues across England were “increasingly concerned that the government is misjudging the balance of risk between more social interaction and the risk of a resurgence of the virus, and is easing too many restrictions too quickly”.

Can it really be that the Government is willing to risk thousands of lives to draw our attention away from Dominic Cummings? Or are they simply incompetent and dishonest? Of course, “both” is an option here…

2 social media posts

There’s a definite sense of romance in the air today. First, Monroe Palmer has posted this on Facebook…

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30-31 May 2020 – the weekend’s press releases

  • Govt must follow the science when it comes to easing lockdown
  • Govt must rethink plans to shut down virtual Parliament
  • Govt must issue “crystal clear” guidance for those returning to sport
  • Ministers must explain evidence behind decision to ease lockdown
  • Foreign Secretary’s silence on Trump tweets is shameful
  • Govt decision to press on with reopening schools “deeply worrying”
  • Govt must urgently scrap Vagrancy Act as part of plan to end rough sleeping

Govt must follow the science when it comes to easing lockdown

Responding to reports that several members of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group have warned of the risk of easing the lockdown in England on Monday 1 June, Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care spokesperson Munira Wilson said:

The decision by key members of SAGE to go public with their concerns shows that Ministers are no longer following the science.

The test, trace, isolate system that we need to keep people safe is not yet fully functional. The NHSX app is delayed for an unknown period. For seven days straight the Government has been unable to provide even basic data about the number of people tested. On top of these failings, public health messaging has been badly undermined as people see it’s one rule for the Tory elite and another for everyone else.

Given this chaos, measures to lift lockdown appear premature. At every stage the Liberal Democrats have been clear that the Government must listen to the experts and follow the science. Protecting public health and tackling the spread of the virus must always be the Government’s number one priority – many are questioning whether this remains the case.

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Isolation diary: Blessing

This is really rather special.

There have been lots of collaborative music projects during lockdown, with varying degrees of success, but the story behind this one is rather different. Churches in many countries around the world have stitched together their version of The Blessing by Elevation Music including The UK Blessing.

In Ireland three weeks ago a group of friends conceived the idea of producing a Blessing with a distinctive Irish flavour. But importantly it was to bring together churches and Christian organisations from right across the island, from across all the Christian traditions and incorporating all styles of music used in worship.

The old Celtic song “Be Thou My Vision” was adopted as The Irish Blessing, the music was arranged, a website was set up and a call went out for musicians to play or sing.  They received 420 responses, representing all 32 counties in Northern Ireland and the Republic. You can see the breadth of the vision in the video – monks, drummers, orchestral players, Irish dancers, singers in every style, even a piper and a church bell, and The Priests put in an appearance too. Contributions came in from churches of all denominations including those serving immigrant communities.

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Wera Hobhouse: A new direction for the Liberal Democrats

Wera Hobhouse has set out her vision for the party on her website.

It’s about making a clean break with the last decade and abandoning one key element of our strategy and reigniting another.

The time for equidistance is over:

The mistake was to see our party in the political centre, standing equally between right and left. In this day and age, the biggest threat to liberalism – not just in Britain – comes from the right.

Our reasons for entering coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 were well intended, but we ended up undermining our values. We ultimately legitimised the Conservatives’ long-term

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