PM must properly plan ahead to protect jobs and lives, warns Davey

Responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement that England will go into a second national lockdown until 2 December, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

Yet again, Boris Johnson dithered, delayed, and ignored expert advice. He was too slow in March and too slow again now, and his failure to lead has cost lives and jobs.

People across our country have sacrificed so much, waiting for Ministers to act and keep our families safe. Instead, the Government asks even more despite failing to deliver an effective test, trace and isolate system.

The priority must be keeping people safe and ensuring no

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WATCH: Partnership for recovery: Willie Rennie’s speech to Scottish Lib Dem Conference

Willie Rennie’s keynote speech to Scottish Conference today was one of the best I have ever seen him make.

Brimming with ideas – more power and pay to teachers, a career path for carers, ideas for a green recovery, an emphasis on partnership as an antidote to the division we’ve seen in recent years.

He delivered the speech from the Conference hub, at Morningside Parish Church in Edinburgh.

The text is below.

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Lord David Shutt (1942-2020)

It is with much sadness that Liberal Democrat Voice reports the death of David Shutt overnight. David was probably better known for his central role in the early years of the Coalition, as Chief Whip in the Lords, but he was a key figure in Yorkshire and beyond, a stalwart Quaker and a source of wisdom for those who needed it. Our condolences go to his wife, Margaret, and his family and friends.

Rather than running through a somewhat impersonal list of achievements, I thought that it would be more meaningful to publish his last contribution in the Lords, which perhaps is as good a way of marking his commitment to democracy and to liberalism. On 8 October, he moved an amendment to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill, seeking to improve the accuracy and completeness of electoral registers…

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 16 as an important enhancement of the Bill, which would improve the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers for future reviews.

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In full: Ed Davey’s speech to Scottish Conference

Scottish Conference is taking place this weekend in that wonderful resort of Hopin.

Yesterday, Ed Davey gave his keynote speech. He was introduced by Molly Nolan, our fantastic candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. Here’s his speech in full:

Good afternoon Scotland.

And thank you Molly for that kind introduction.

One of the things that gives me great hope for our party is seeing so many brilliant rising stars – and there’s no doubt that Molly Nolan is one of the brightest.

That’s why we must get Molly elected to the Scottish Parliament in May, so she can put her energy and dedication to work for the people of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.

So thanks Molly. We’re all behind you 100 percent.

It’s a huge pleasure to speak to you today – even though we sadly cannot be together in person.

I did get the chance to spend some time in Scotland a few weeks ago, when I visited Fife Zoo as part of the Listening Tour I’ve embarked on since becoming leader.

I met Briony and Michael, who took over the zoo in 2015 and have built it up into a successful small business.

A place where children and adults can meet zebras, lemurs and meerkats – and learn about the importance of biodiversity. A sanctuarfor endangered species.

Lockdown wasn’t easy for this young couple and their young zoo. With no visitors – no income – but all the usual costs of feeding and looking after the animals.

But they kept going, getting the zoo ready to reopen – Covid-safe – at the beginning of July.

But just days after they opened their gates, Briony and Michael were dealt another blow, when the indoor soft play area was destroyed by a fire.

They evacuated the zoo and got all their animals to safety. But they had to watch, powerless, as a crucial part of their business went up in flames.

It would be enough to break anyone’s spirit. But not Briony and Michael’s.

They reopened – again – and have worked incredibly hard to save their zoo in the face of both a devastating fire and a global pandemic.

It’s not over yet, of course.

Listening to them and so many others describe the enormous challenges and uncertainty they are facing, it is clear that the UK and Scottish Governments must work together to give far more support to small businesses – especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

This urgent need for working together, is why Willie Rennie and I, along with Jane Dodds and Stephen Farry, Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party, our sister party in Northern Ireland, wrote this week to the Leaders of the Governments of the 4 nations of the United Kingdom, calling for a 4 nation summit, to deliver a joint approach on the pandemic in the run-up to Christmas.

Coronavirus is causing terrible hardship and anxiety for families and businesses. For everyone we need to rescue a festive period as near normal as possible. And given millions of people usually travel at this time, across our family of nations, a more co-ordinated approach is desperately needed ahead of Christmas.

And I am determined that not only will we get through this, together, but also that the Liberal Democrats will lead the way to a fairer, greener, and more caring society as we do.

A country that offers real hope and opportunity for everyone, wherever they live. With Governments across the UK working together to support businesses and create jobs.

An economy boosted by new green industries, with hundreds of thousands of good green jobs.

And a society that for the first time properly recognises the vital role played by carers.

At our Federal Conference last month, I pledged to be the voice of the 9 million carers in our country.

This is very personal for me. You see, I’ve been a carer for much of my life:

First as a teenager: nursing my mum during her long battle against bone cancer.

Later for my Nanna: organising her care, trying to make her last few years as comfortable as we could.

And now, as a father. As Emily and I care for our disabled son John.

I know just how rewarding and full of love life as a carer can be. But I also know that it is often relentless and exhausting.

So I do understand the challenges that millions of carers face. Challenges that have been made even harder by coronavirus.

And I know that, for far too many politicians and policymakers, carers are all too often an afterthought.

Just look at the abject failure of both the UK and Scottish Governments to protect people in care homes.

The lack of tests and PPE.

The way hospital patients were moved into care homes to free up space, without being tested for coronavirus.

Care homes and carers: too often an afterthought.

But not for us.

I’ve been proud of the leadership Willie Rennie has shown, pressing the First Minister to provide testing and support for care home visitors.

Trying to make it possible for family carers to spend quality time with their loved ones after months of separation.

And Alex Cole-Hamilton’s work championing Scotland’s 800,000 carers – almost nine out of ten of whom say that the pandemic has made their lives harder.

Liberal Democrats standing up and speaking up for carers – in Edinburgh, in London – across our family of nations.

This is a great example of one of the biggest strengths of our party: our federalism.

We are all united as Liberal Democrats through our principles and our values.

Defending individuals. Nurturing community. Protecting civil liberties. Championing the environment.

Staunchly patriotic. Internationalist. And always pro-European.

And we work together – in close partnership.

I benefit hugely from Willie’s wisdom and experience, just as I do from Jane Dodds in Wales and Liberal Democrat leaders in local government across England.

But we also understand that each nation, region and community must often respond to its own challenges in its own way.

Not pulling away from each other or constantly battling, as if for one part to prosper another must fall.

But also not pretending that there is some one-size-fits-all solution to be handed down from Whitehall or Bute House.

Unity does not mean centralisation.

Devolution does not equal division.

And yet, one of the things that has made me angriest in recent weeks is the way our Governments – in Westminster and in Holyrood – have sought not to bring people together to solve this crisis, but instead to use the pandemic to divide our country.

Tory Ministers versus Labour Mayors.

Nicola Sturgeon versus Boris Johnson.

Matt Hancock versus reality.

It’s a truly unedifying spectacle.

I’m sure it serves their egos and their narrow political interests, but it certainly doesn’t serve the families and businesses who are struggling just to make ends meet.

“A kingdom divided in itself cannot stand,” the saying goes.

That’s why – in times of national crisis like this – it’s the job of true leaders to bring people together, not push them further apart.

Since March, we have seen countless examples of the people across the UK pulling together:

neighbours bringing food and medicines to those who are shielding or self-isolating.

The heroism of NHS staff, carers and key workers in the face of extraordinary challenges.

sacrifices we have all made, every single day to keep each other safe.

Just imagine if our Governments had demonstrated that same sense of unity, of common purpose and co-operation. Imagine how much better their responses would have been.

The truth is – this pandemic has exposed that the way the United Kingdom currently runs, is not fit for purpose.

But the answer cannot be to tear it apart.

Friends, I can understand why people would seek any alternative to life under Boris Johnson’s cruel and incompetent Tory Government.

But whether it takes four months or four years, Boris Johnson will be gone. The shared history and values of our family of nations – fashioned over centuries – will endure.

And so it falls to us, as Liberal Democrats, to offer a better way forward.

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Teach Black History every day

When I started teaching, I taught in a vibrant, multi-cultural school with teachers from all ethnic backgrounds. An Irish head, a Pakistani deputy and leading black senior staff, all women. I never thought about it then, but it made a difference on how the curriculum was taught in that school – so much so, that we probably taught “Black History” a lot of the year. I don’t recall it being called “Black History” but we did teach it. This was over 20 years ago. Things have changed since. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have had that start in my career. The curriculum now has become less flexible, the pressure to meet targets has grown and Black History Month became a tick box in many schools. 

However, this year it’s been different. After the tragic death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, there’s been a genuine attempt in the media in particular to highlight British Black historical figures. My daughter has come home talking about Benjamin Zephaniah and reading his poetry. I’ve seen Google animating headings with Dr Harold Moody who established the League of Coloured People in Britain.  It’s been wonderful to see this year, the first Black British female headteacher, Yvonne Connoly being honoured with a CBE. 

In Sutton I have been joining the amazing local group Residents Against Racism. We meet on the streets in a small gathering holding placards but most importantly we talk about what we need to do to bring change. I am proud that the Community Action Sutton Group holds regular Fairness Commission Race Equality meetings who are making real strides in making affective change. Recently the discussion led to a determined goal that we improve the training of staff on Black History. 

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30 October 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Government meetings must produce results for families over the festive season
  • Welsh Liberal Democrats welcome progress on Christmas Travel

Government meetings must produce results for families over the festive season

Responding to reports that the UK Government will hold meetings to try to develop a UK-wide approach to restrictions for the festive period, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

It is welcome that the governments of the four nations are listening to the Liberal Democrats’ calls. With so many families desperate to be back together this festive season, we simply cannot allow political bickering and fractured guidance to confuse and divide people.

These meetings must be more than just a publicity stunt. They must result in comprehensive uniform guidance for family gatherings, as well as a common approach to transport, student return and asymptomatic testing – and it must happen urgently.

Ultimately, if we are to both keep people safe and ensure families have any chance of spending holidays such as Diwali, Hanukkah and Christmas together, then Ministers across these isles must also get a grip on the failing test, trace and isolate trace system.

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Observations of an expat: The end is not in sight

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It would be nice to think that with the US presidential elections only a few days away, and Trump trailing badly in the opinion polls, that the end of nearly four years of right-wing populism a la Donald Trump is in sight.

This is a false hope on so many levels.

For a start, he may still win. And, a massive question mark hangs over the issue of whether or not Donald Trump will accept defeat at the polls. “If I lose, the election is fraudulent,” Trump asserts with unbelievable arrogance and disregard for basic democratic values.

If the president loses and refuses to concede than America runs the risk that Trumptonian arrogance obstinacy combines with divisions in American society to bring gun owners out on the streets. And the longer Trump fights a pro-Biden result the greater danger.

The convention since World War Two has been for ex-American presidents to slip quietly out of the political limelight to expand on their footnote in history by writing their memoirs, building a presidential library, creating a charity or two, joining the lecture circuit and taking on a behind-the-scenes elder statesman role. To do otherwise threatens the establishment of an alternative court which would undermine the sitting president.

Trump is not the type to embrace a quiet retirement. He will attack, lambast, slam and condemn with lies and conspiracy theories any occupant of the Oval Office other than himself because he cannot conceive of any other person being able to fill the position.

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Young people deserve a better future

I joined the Conservative Party in the early 1970s at the time of the first referendum, and from 1999 served for ten years as an MEP. Last year, after increasing unease at the Party’s lurch to the Right, I joined the Liberal Democrats where I instantly felt at home. More Tories will surely follow, especially as so many are not renewing their membership given the clumsiness of the cabal currently at the top.

Conservatives are not the only ones to be unhappy: young people are being disadvantaged and even damaged by the triply toxic cocktail of Covid plus Boris Johnson plus Gavin Williamson.

Young people share the same aspirations my generation had for a decent job, an affordable home, and the chance to broaden their personal horizons – a future they could look forward to with confidence rather than despair.

However, today they are facing a job market which is bleak at best. Help to Buy is of little help to those in the midlands and north where more jobs are being lost, and home ownership may be a millstone to negative equity rather than a ladder to prosperity. The young in particular need help with reasonable rents. Big companies conveniently declare themselves bankrupt to renegotiate their rents downwards, but the young have no such options.

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Attacks in Nice

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As a Liberal Democrat and a Muslim, I condemn the senseless murder of Samuel Paty and the attacks in Nice on 29 October. Such heinous attacks are completely against the teachings of Islam, which prohibits terrorism or extremism under any circumstances. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, the people of France and with everyone affected.

These horrific attacks, perpetrated on the false pretext of defending the honour of Muhammad, The Holy Prophet of Islam (“The Holy Prophet”) have led to outrage and exacerbated tensions between Muslims and French society. They risk damaging relations in Britain too.

Like many Muslims, I consider the derogatory cartoons depicting The Holy Prophet published by Charlie Hebdo and other publications to be offensive, distressful and provocative, but they do not justify violence. The cartoons do not serve the objective of free speech, which is to encourage debate and find truth. Instead, their only purpose is to ridicule and cause offence, knowing it to be hurtful to Muslims.

Regardless of the dishonest attacks on the character of The Holy Prophet, to react violently is totally wrong.  The opponents of The Holy Prophet often abused and mocked him. But he responded peacefully and never permitted any of his companions to react.

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The new BBC guidelines are a threat to a healthy democracy

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The BBC faces criticism from people across the political spectrum for perceived bias. The left accuse it of being full of Conservative Oxbridge graduates; the right accuse it of being stuffed with do-gooding lefties. Remain voters shame it for giving Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson a disproportionate voice; Leave voters are convinced that its coverage verged on making it a campaigning tool for Remain. On the whole, this suggests that the BBC gets it broadly correct. I myself feel it leans too much towards a sort of moderate conservatism, but then as a proud liberal leftie myself, I suppose that’s only natural.

The question of what exactly can be considered political is an interesting one. On the face of it, introducing new rules to ensure political impartiality in an era when it has never been easier to inform the world of your views makes perfect sense. But the reality of this, and the extent of Tim Davies’ new rules, are nothing short of a chilling attempt to placate a government that wants to be set free from the constraints of scrutiny and criticism.

Perhaps most headline-grabbing of these guidelines is the ban on BBC journalists attending LGBTQ+ marches, on the grounds that it is a ‘controversial’ issue. It is shocking that in 2020, supporting equal rights for LGBTQ+ people is considered controversial. That in itself is a political statement, and a phenomenally illiberal one.

Then consider how inappropriate it is that a white, Cambridge-educated male who has previously stood as a Conservative councillor is telling his staff that they can’t attend Black Lives Matter demonstrations or express their support for the movement. That is arguably more of a political statement than allowing staff the freedom to express their opinions in a personal capacity. I’m sure that sixty years ago, expressing support for the civil rights movement in America would have been considered controversial. Two hundred years ago, opposing the slave trade might have been seen as overly woke, hand-wringing liberal nonsense.

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29 October 2020 – today’s press releases

  • PM must implement an immediate national circuit breaker
  • Liberal Democrats: Government must fix failing test and trace system

PM must implement an immediate national circuit breaker

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey has today called for an immediate national circuit breaker to “correct the failing test, trace and isolate system” and keep people safe.

The call follows annoucements in both France and Germany of new nationwide lockdowns. The Liberal Democrats have also called for a united approach to keeping family gatherings safe during the festive season, now backed by Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

The Government has been badly prepared and slow to act at every stage throughout this health and jobs crisis. That can’t happen again, especially in the run up to Christmas.

That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to start an immediate national circuit breaker across the UK. This is the only chance we now have to get the virus under control and save Christmas for millions of families across the UK.

The Government must use this national circuit breaker as a time to correct the failing test, trace and isolate system which is crucial to keeping people safe, minimising hospital admissions and restarting the UK economy.

Liberal Democrats are also calling on all the governments of the four nations to work together to create common guidelines across the UK so families can get as much clarity as possible as we head into the festive period.

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Review: ‘I never promised you a rose garden’ by Jonny Oates

Last week Jonny Oates published his memoir “I never promised you a rose garden” (BiteBack). Jonny is best known to most Lib Dems as Nick Clegg’s Chief of Staff during Coalition, and as our current spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change in the House of Lords.

Many years ago Jonny was the twenty-something political assistant to the Council group in Kingston, and I first met him then, so I skimmed through the book to find the chapter where he talks about people I know. It is, amazingly, halfway through, so there was obviously a lot I didn’t know about him.

I started the book again, and read it properly, and it is certainly worth doing so. By the time you get to the account of Ed Davey’s first, and astonishing, election as MP for Kingston & Surbiton in 1997, you can understand how Jonny, as agent, alongside the legendary Belinda Eyre-Brook, achieved the impossible, in overturning a 15,000 Tory majority.  This is a man of deep integrity who is quietly determined, possessing the qualities of a team leader (but never a bully) and a sharp political mind, honed in the extraordinary politics of post-apartheid South Africa.

But as a teenager he was conflicted. He writes candidly about his own mental health and his struggles to come to terms with who he was, to the extent that he ran away to Ethiopia at the age of 15 and contemplated suicide. He tells us about the good people who came into his life and guided him with compassion, and the recognition that his parents’ love was unconditional after all.

Of course, Lib Dem Voice readers will be particularly interested in what he has to say about his time as Director of General Election Communications for the 2010 Election, and subsequently as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister. Jonny gives us a slightly different, but not contradictory, perspective on the Coalition negotiations from those of David Laws and others.

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Jim Wallace to be Moderator of the Church of Scotland

This week it was announced that Jim Wallace is to be the next Moderator of the Church of Scotland for 2021-2022. Jim is currently a member of the House of Lords, having previously been MP for Orkney and Shetland (from 1983 to 2001). He was our party Leader in Scotland for 13 years.

In 1999 Jim was elected as MSP for Orkney and became Deputy First Minister of Scotland.

The Moderator chairs the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which meets in May, and then acts as an ambassador for the Kirk at civic and public events throughout the year of office.  He or she is a sort of cross between a President and an Archbishop, although the Kirk does not, of course, have Bishops. It is unusual for a layman to be appointed Moderator, but Jim had been an Elder for many years.

The current Moderator was installed in an online ceremony in May this year. Let’s hope that next year’s event will be back to normal.

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Mixed race Irish families in Britain, 1700- 2000

Although the portraits are captioned ‘Brighton’, Jane and Sake Deen Mahomed lived in Cork in the late eighteenth century.

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending the virtual launch of a new exhibition entitled ‘Mixed Race Irish Families in Britain, 1700 – 2000’ by the Mixed Museum and The Association of Mixed Race Irish (AMRI). Researched by my Irish Lib Dem colleague, Conrad Bryan, the exhibition explores the social reactions to mixed-race Irish families in Britain over the course of three centuries.

The Irish Community in Britain has traditionally been looked upon through the prism of negative stereotypes. There is also an assumption that we all are white with freckles and red hair. A truth that even Irish society has struggled to get a grip on is that Irish people come in different skin colours and this exhibition highlights how far back in history mixed race relations in Ireland have existed: It is not something that has just appeared with Phil Lynott or the 1990s Irish soccer team.

At the launch, Conrad explained that the challenge would be finding records and information going back further into the 18th century. The period 1700 to 2000 is a long period, but if we are to fully understand the social history of the mixed race Irish people in Britain, we need to go back to the colonial and slave trade periods to examine the migration of African and Irish and other people into Britain who formed these mixed race relationships.

He also hadn’t expected to discover that mixed race families formed in Ireland, then moved to Britain. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 Africans lived in Ireland in the 18th century. This aspect of Irish history is very under-researched. Were they British soldiers, servants in Anglo-Irish “big houses”, traders who came off the boat in Cork, enslaved Africans who escaped from ships?

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A critique on the events of today

British politics will hit several crunch points in the next two weeks. If Trump loses the US presidential election, the hopes of the hard-line Brexiters of a fast US-UK trade agreement will be shattered. Moreover, we must reach a minimal trade agreement with the EU, which the government will have to defend against hostile attacks from the right, or we will be faced with a No-Deal departure, with the prospect of chaos and confusion at Channel Ports in the New Year.

It’s taken me a long time to appreciate how deeply the hard-line Brexiters believe in the reality of ‘the Anglosphere’. Liberal Democrats don’t read the Telegraph or the Spectator or attend European Research Group (ERG) meetings, where enthusiasts speak and write about the EU as an ‘Empire’ which has reduced Britain to a ‘colony’ from which we are escaping – to the warm embrace of our cousins in the United States. Australia and New Zealand are also seen as key partners for future Global Britain – with Australians already deeply embedded in Whitehall. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were still a leading force in Washington politics 50 years ago, but not now. UK ministers and right-wing MPs cling to the image of America they had gained through meetings with white Republicans, and seem not to have noticed that Joe Biden is an Irish Catholic, with a mixed-race vice-presidential candidate, neither of whom have an emotional attachment to Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.

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We need to campaign against poverty

The preamble to our constitution, to quote Adrian Sanders in Liberator 400 (April 2020), “starts with the eradication of poverty as the first action point”. Though both leadership candidates stated they wanted to achieve this, our party is not campaigning on it.

It’s not just that children from families receiving benefits need free school meals in the holidays. It is that 100,000 more children were living in poverty in this country in 2018-19 than in the previous year (DWP figures) and that an estimated 4.3 million children are living in poverty today (Social Metrics Commission).

Former homelessness adviser to the government, Dame Louise Casey, in a BBC interview (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54545158) warned that the UK faces ‘a period of destitution’ in which families ‘can’t put shoes on’ their children. That’s happening now. A single-parent family living on Universal Credit will find it difficult to find the money to cover the cost of new trainers for two children who have grown out of their old ones, as children do.

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28 October 2020 – the overnight press release

Four nations summit needed to keep families safe at Christmas, liberals warn

Liberal Democrats in Scotland, Wales and England have joined with the Alliance Party in calling for a “four nations summit” to consider a united approach to keeping family gatherings safe during the festive season.

In a joint letter to the four governments of the UK, the Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey, Scottish Leader Willie Rennie, Welsh Leader Jane Dodds and Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MP warned the “interlinked nature of life in the United Kingdom means no one government can devise guidance for the festive season in isolation.”

The letter follows uncertainty about students returning for Christmas and conflicting comments about family gatherings, with Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch branding multi-household gatherings “fiction” while the Prime Minister indicated rules could be relaxed.

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Praise for Kirsty Williams from across the board

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A constellation of non-Lib Dems have praising Kirsty Williams, who today announced her intention to stand down at the next Senedd election. Here’s a selection of their praise, including from non-politicians:

Tina Donnelly CBE, former Director the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Wales and Richard Jones MBE, former Deputy Director RCN Wales:

Kirsty has been a phenomenally committed politician – extremely approachable and a politician who acted on her promises. Kirsty worked tirelessly to progress her private members’ Safe Nurse Staffing Legislation which went on to become the first act of its kind in Europe. During this process, we were always confident that with her passion, style and engagement she would succeed.
“We are both extremely sad that she will not be standing again as a member of the Senedd. We as nurses in Wales have gained so much for the safety of our patients in gaining this Act of Compassion and this was due to Kirsty’s leadership. We will miss her very much as will politics in Wales.

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Full text of Kirsty Williams’ letter announcing her decision to stand down at the next election

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Here is the full text of Kirsty William’s letter to Jackie Chalton, her local party chair, announcing her decision to stand down at the next Senedd election:

Dear Jackie

Next May it will have been 22 years since I was first elected to represent the people of Brecon and Radnorshire.

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Welsh Lib Dem Kirsty Williams to stand down at next year’s Senedd election

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Welsh Liberal Democrat MS Kirsty Williams has announced after careful consideration that she will stand down at next year’s Senedd election.

Kirsty has served as the member for Brecon and Radnorshire since 1999, served as Chair of the Health Committee in the first Assembly from 1999-2003, as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats from 2008 until 2016 and has been the Welsh Government’s Education Minister since her appointment in 2016.

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LibLink – Vince Cable: Is Rishi Sunak about to go from hero to zero?

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Writing in the Independent, Vince Cable says that ‘the chancellor’s rapid transition from spendthrift to Scrooge has not yet been noticed by the admiring public but a change has undoubtedly occurred’:

One of the hot stocks of 2020, British chancellor Rishi Sunak, is starting to look seriously overvalued. His political allies, having talked up Sunak earlier in the year, tipping him for the top job, are now hedging their bets. The hero of the spring offensive may be on the brink of becoming the zero of the autumn retreat.

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26 October 2020 – today’s press release

PM’s claim “does not ring true” given Government stance on free school meals

Responding to the Prime Minister’s claim that the Conservative Government will “do everything in our power to make sure no child goes hungry this winter during the holidays”, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said:

Boris Johnson’s claim does not ring true given his hard-hearted refusal to u-turn on free school meals.

The idea that other measures will make up for the lack of provision just won’t wash – people know the real struggles that families are enduring. That is why so many communities and businesses have

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A federal solution that works for all

The debate on federalism at the LD autumn conference last month was dominated by one question: can a policy that works for the devolved nations work for England? Can this week’s debate at the Scottish party’s conference provide a convincing answer to this question?

The difficulties become clear if we ask what sort of “federalism” would suit the various components of the UK. Law (2013) sets out a clear spectrum of the options for sharing power at two levels:

  • Devolution – where the powers of a state are shared, but at the discretion of the state
  • Federal state – where sovereignty is at state level, but the sharing of powers is entrenched, through a constitution or treaty
  • (Con)federal union of states – where sovereignty resides with the individual states, but the sharing of powers is entrenched, through a constitution or treaty
  • Confederation – ditto, but where the sharing of powers is at the discretion of the individual states

As examples, Law suggests the UK, US, EU and UN respectively. For the present discussion we can amalgamate the last two categories as “confederal”.

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Getting the reshaping of the state centre-stage

John Harris of the Guardian began the week with a piece on the reshaping of the state which is packed with observations that many Liberal Democrats have taken as read for decades. Harris’s view on the set-piece stand-off between Andy Burnham and central Government was of “things that had long been kept on the political margins suddenly bursting into the foreground.” Those of us who have long histories of inhabiting political margins will recognise “things” as constitutional reform and a need for a massive shift of power within a dysfunctional hopelessly over-centralised British state. And power shifting is at the heart of what we are about. As I have said before on this site, Labour tend to prioritise moving money and Liberals tend to give priority to shifting power. Yes, they are related and partially overlapping, but basic instincts are important!

In his plea for alternative ways of running the state Harris notes that the Tories want to shake up the British state “but in a way that will leave its chronic power imbalances unchanged.” In a crucial sentence he also claims “Labour also has longstanding centralising instincts that always make conversation about redistributing power far too difficult, when the outlines of a different system actually seem pretty straightforward.”

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23-25 October 2020 – the long weekend’s press releases

  • Liberal Democrats push for expansion of Hong Kong citizenship offer
  • PM’s failure to listen to scientists has made family Christmas less likely
  • Tories must “wake up to reality” and do the right thing on Free School Meals

Liberal Democrats push for expansion of Hong Kong citizenship offer

A Liberal Democrat Bill to grant all Hong Kong Citizens a pathway to UK citizenship and “strengthen the UK’s historic bond with the people of Hong Kong” is scheduled to have its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons today.

The Bill, tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, Chair of the APPG on Hong Kong and Patron of Hong Kong Watch, would create a route to UK citizenship for all Hong Kongers.

By expanding British National Overseas (BNO) status to all Hong Kongers, the Bill goes well beyond the Conservative Government’s current citizenship commitments, which extend only to specific groups currently eligible to claim BNO status.

The Liberal Democrats have condemned the Home Office’s “deceptive” claim that the cost of a five-year visa for Hong Kongers will be just £250, as the true figure will be well over £3000 once the Immigration Health Surcharge is taken into account.

Posted in News and Press releases | Tagged , , , , and | 1 Comment

Burmese Days

The election is more important than COVID-19.

Not the words of Donald Trump but the words of the State Counsellor of Burma, Aung San Su Kyi. Yes, I know the name of the country was changed by the State Law and Order Restoration Council-SLORC but Burma is still Burma in the eyes of many.

The election will be held on November 8th with various challenges. There are of course security challenges. Conflict zones in the border areas where voting is suspended and COVID-19. This election will have suspensions in Rakhine state with no vote taking place in a number of townships due to the fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military. Of course, very few of the Rohinyas that remain in that area will be eligible to vote as they are without national identity cards. Many of the displaced people in other parts of Burma face a similar problem as they lack documentation.

COVID-19 is another major problem. Burma has seen increasing number of infections and fully implementing prevention measures at the polling stations is going to be difficult. The question of postponing the election was raised but the Union Election Commission (UEC) is proceeding as scheduled, a decision supported by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

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Wera Hobhouse, Wendy Chamberlain and Christine Jardine on Black History Month

This week, Wera Hobhouse, as Lib Dem Equalities spokesperson, too part in the Black History Month debate in the House of Commons. Watch her speech here:

Christine Jardine also made an intervention, talking about the history of the streets in Glasgow.

On that very point, we have talked before about how in so many communities in this country there are statues, streets and so on that are named after slave owners and colonialists. People like me who come from Glasgow are immensely proud that Nelson Mandela Place is named after Nelson Mandela, but we are completely unaware of the history of the names of the other streets around it. That is the sort of thing we need to attack when we look at education and black history.

Wendy Chamberlain also highlighted the unpleasant history of the streets where she grew up.

The full text of Wera’s and Wendy’s speeches is below.

The debate had one particularly remarkable part where Conservative MP Bim Afolami was basically saying that he had not experienced any problems. Labour MP Tulip Siddiq pointed out that he’d gone to Eton, before acknowledging and recognising her own privileged middle class background. She highlighted the importance of taking an intersectional approach.

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Let’s raise a glass this Christmas

It looks like Christmas is not going to be the same at all, and pretty miserable for many who are usually with family and friends but this year cannot be.  There are many in that position that often get invited to someone else’s house for the day, go along to a community meal, as well of course, those that are just on their own.

So I thought of how we could encourage some cheer into an otherwise lonely day.

Why not “raise a glass”, at say midday on Christmas Day.

My ideas is that people go outside, just like they did when it was “clap for the NHS” and raise a glass of whatever to each other.  It can be non-alcoholic, of course, to ensure that all are included, and I am not sure what term to use, but “all who look after us”.  This is more than NHS workers at every level, but carers, emergency services, police, delivery drivers, shop workers, public transport, food bank workers, postal services, etc.

For those who are not able to go outside, even for the minute, maybe the braver souls could walk along and go outside their window and raise a glass to them.  If it was going to be at a fixed time, then the person inside would know to be there ready.

Posted in News | 10 Comments

Tony Greaves writes: A week to remember in the Lords

Oh what a week that was!

Liberal Democrat peers can hold up their heads in some pride after a remarkable week in the Lords in which the Government suffered a massive defeat on the Internal Market Bill, three issues were ping-ponged back to the Commons, and Liberal Democrats fought the battles while the Labour Party disgraced themselves by abstaining on several vital motions.

There’s a pattern. Since the August recess the government have been defeated in the Lords no fewer than 17 times. But they’ve won eleven votes and on all but one of those the Labour Party sat on their hands. Of course they have a right to whip their members as they decide – or as instructed by their party bosses in the House of Commons. But when, as this week, they have already gone through the lobby at an earlier stage of a Bill, questions must asked about their courage and determination to oppose the Government on matters of principle.

In these strange times, we don’t queue through the division lobbies – a foolish practice we leave to the Commons. The Lords is meeting as a Hybrid House, centred on the Chamber where up to 30 peers can sit at any time, suitably distanced from each other. Other members ask questions and speak, visible on the monitors strung around the balconies. But everyone votes via their computers and devices on a natty little app called PeerHub. 

The first vote of the week on Monday was on the Second Reading of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the measure that the Government itself admits could mean breaking international law. The Lords customarily do not vote on the Second Reading of Bills, holding that the government of the day has the right to have its legislation scrutinised by the Upper House. 

But Lord Judge moved an amendment to add at the end of the motion to give the Bill a Second Reading “but that this House regrets that Part 5 of the bill contains provisions which, if enacted, would undermine the rule of law and damage the reputation of the United Kingdom.” Lord Judge is Convenor of the Crossbenches – 181 peers who sit as Independents – and a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. (And yes his family name really is Judge).His amendment was passed by 395 votes to 169, a massive 226 vote majority. As often happens the Liberal Democrat group had the highest percentage turnout (91%). And 39 Conservatives voted against the Government. On its own this vote has no legal effect but it threatens the government with a very difficult time as the Bill starts its detailed scrutiny in the coming week.

On Tuesday we played Ping-Pong with the Agriculture Bill. Ping-Pong is the technical term for the final stages of a Government Bill when it is sent back and forth between the Lords and the Commons until both Houses agree the exact wording. In this case the Lords had passed a series of amendments before sending the Bill back to the Commons, which promptly reversed them.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 15 Comments

Why I didn’t announce that I was pregnant before the end of the regional selection process

In August, my husband James, and I had the wonderful surprise of discovering that we were expecting a baby. We were over the moon as we were waiting for this little bundle of joy for a certain time.

After the emotion and the joy came quickly in my mind the question of “When should I announce it to everybody?” Obviously, the close family will know soon enough but a bigger shadow came to hover over my head.

At that time, I was in the middle of my regional selection process for next year’s Scottish election. It took me a lot of confidence and preparation to get where I was and I was scared that the announcement of my pregnancy would deter some of our own members to vote for me.

Being a “young” woman in politics (I would thank some members of the Scottish Young Liberals to have labelled me as such – they will recognise themselves) is not an easy task and full of hurdles even within your own party. When you get passed the idea of being young equals not having enough experience (which qualifies as “ageism” – yes, it goes two ways). When you overcome stereotypes such as “being a woman doesn’t give you enough gravitas/charisma” (I am not going into what I heard the last couple of leadership elections) or “you are over ambitious” (yes, for real). And let’s not talk of the casual sexism of “you should smile more”, “dress less/more lurid” (do you remember the press scandal over the talk between Theresa May and Nicola Surgeon more about their dress code than the content?) you can hear in the media but even by some members of your own party.

With all those comments, my thoughts were how a certain part of our membership is going to react when I announce that I am pregnant?  How will it influence their votes? Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination is still rooted in our society and in politics. I remember one of our candidates being told by a member of the public in October last year that she was a bad mother to go campaigning with a baby. That remark shocked me and made me wonder how society is still judgemental and discriminatory towards women and mothers. The worst feeling was: it was a woman who made this comment!

One thing is certain in my mind is: YES, I am going to run to be a constituency MSP in Dunfermline and as a regional MSP (if the votes are on my favour) in Mid Scotland and Fife. And, NO, it won’t hinder my passion and my motivation to be the voice for my future constituents and one of the torchbearers of our Liberal Democrat values in the Scottish Parliament.

After all, I have good role models to look to.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 10 Comments
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