Jane Dodds selected as candidate for Senedd

Jane Dodds, the Leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, has been selected as the top name on the Mid and West Wales list for the Welsh Parliament. At the last Senedd election in 2016 we came very close to winning a seat in this region.

Jane was briefly MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, winning a by-election in 2019, but sadly lost the seat in the bloodbath that was the General Election later that year.

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Vision 2021 – a radical manifesto for a changing world

As you grow older you see things differently. Way back in 2003 as the new Chair of Tim Farron’s Campaign Committee I thought that, before we started campaigning, we should set out a few areas like education, health and housing where we needed some clear thinking. Though Tim was reluctant, we pulled together a few sensible people and we talked the issues through.

It is probably a good time for some more clear thinking now.

Where to begin? Well let us start with the most pressing problem facing mankind – that of global warming. Last year I thought the problem was insoluble but now I believe it can and will be solved though there will be more casualties and unnecessary costs if we do not get on with it.

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Finally, success helping low paid people working for Merton Council

For the last 9 years Merton Lib Dems have been campaigning to help some of the poorest paid and hardest working people in our community – those who  look after people who need care.

We started 9 years ago with a question from a member of the public – me – at a Council meeting about the Council paying its staff the London Living Wage (LLW).   The answer was that it would cost £275k and would cause all sorts of difficulties.

A few months later  the Council announced that it had decided to pay all staff at least the LLW: the many difficulties to doing this had disappeared and the cost reduced to £47k.

That didn’t cover those working for Merton’s contractors though and in particular those working in social care. Mary-Jane Jeanes – then the sole Liberal Democrat councillor – proposed a motion that asked for Merton to commit to paying the staff of contractors the LLW and to commit to become a Living Wage Employer.

It was voted down by the Labour Group.

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Vaccine passports – good, bad or indifferent?

I was challenged by one of our readers, having opined on the Shamima Begum situation, to apply a similar logic to the question of vaccine passports and whether or not they should be mandatory. And I suppose that my answer is a fairly straightforward one – that they shouldn’t be made mandatory.

That’s the simple answer. A more complete answer is rather longer.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been a sense that politicians, and the Government in particular, are following public opinion rather than taking a lead. And I suspect that, with regard to a vaccine passport, public opinion is going to determine how much they impinge on day to day life.

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Todays Announcement: 3 March 2021

Budget betrays children, parents and teachers

Daisy Cooper MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education, reacted to the Budget:

“It’s simply astonishing that the Budget has nothing to tackle child poverty, nothing for children or young people or their early years education or schools.

“Tens of thousands of childcare providers are at risk of closure, whilst school finances are at breaking point.

“The Chancellor’s Statement needed to give children and young people the opportunities to regain the learning time they have lost over the last year.

“He has failed to extend free school meals permanently to ensure no child living in poverty goes hungry, he’s failed to give nurseries and early years providers any certainty and he’s failed to deliver much-needed extra funding for schools to help meet the additional costs of being open safely during the pandemic.

“This is a huge betrayal of pupils, parents and teachers by a government whose handling of the pandemic has wreaked havoc on their lives for a year and is now failing to invest in their future.”

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Defending Liberalism from the culture warriors

‘Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it. Strengthen it. Renew it.’ President Biden said that in his virtual address to the Munich Security Conference last week. He was talking explicitly about threats to Democracy across the world, but implicitly also about the threats within the United States. We should worry that liberal Democracy, open society and constitutional government are not to be taken for granted in Britain, either.

None of us should under-estimate the extent to which the US Republican Right has effectively colonised the Conservative Party. Our right-wing media takes its cue from American campaigns – on culture, free markets, ‘family values’, suspicion of government as such. Tory MPs interact with US politicians and think-tankers far more than with conservatives across the Channel. Funds flow into the UK from right-wing US foundations, companies and lobbies, supporting similar groups and promoting like-minded causes over here. The denigration of liberalism that grips the American right is echoed in London seminars on ‘post liberalism and endless attacks on Britain’s allegedly ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ – by well-connected and well-paid Conservative intellectuals who live in London themselves.

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Undercover policing – the status quo is a danger to political rights

The Liberal Democrats should be commended for their principled opposition to The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (criminal conduct) Bill, which is better known as the “spycops” bill. Yet, they have much work to do in securing the civil liberties of their fellow citizens. What has gone on with undercover policing for decades is a threat to hard won political liberty and social progress. Liberals have to learn lessons of undercover policing gone wrong from the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

With all due respect to Baron Paddick, who wrote the article The ‘spy powers’ bill is a step too far, he needs to realize the status quo of undercover operations is toxic, as far as the police go. He wrote:

if all this legislation did was to provide legal authority for the police and security services to authorize informants, when necessary to commit crime, it would maintain the status quo and the Liberal Democrats would have no argument for it.

Liberals need to consider how zealous efforts by undercover police officers could cause people to act criminally, in cases they ordinarily would not have. Considering the case of animal rights activist Geoff Sheppard, he claims then-undercover Metropolitan Police Officer, Matt Rayner (not his real name) asked him to show him how to make an incendiary device. Sheppard received a four year sentence for possession of a shotgun, ammunition, and material to make an incendiary device.

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Standing with Myanmar – Military rule and the struggle for democracy in Myanmar

History appears to be repeating itself in Myanmar with the military unwilling to relinquish control. Will thousands be killed again, as massive numbers of people nationwide protest in the streets and are engaged in civil disobedience?

Following independence from British colonial rule in 1948, disagreements amongst political elites, the civil wars with ethnic-based groups and anxieties over communist influence led to General Ne Win forming a caretaker government in 1958. An election was held in 1960, but when minority groups pushed for a loose federal structure, which were seen by the military as separatist movements, General Ne Win took over in a coup d’état.

Since then, for the next 30 years, Myanmar was ruled by the military. In 1974, a new Constitution was established and a one-party system was adopted, whereby military officers resigned and governed through the Burma Socialist Programme Party. Protests were held against military rule throughout the 1960s and 1970s, which were crushed, culminating in a major unrest and widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988. Thousands were killed. Martial law was declared in 1989 and Burma was renamed Myanmar.

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Event: Liam MacArthur MSP to take part in Question Time on tackling global poverty and climate justice

Voters in Scotland are being given the chance to quiz politicians – including Scottish LibDem MSP Liam McArthur – and make their voices heard on Scotland’s role in building a greener, fairer world.

Scotland’s International Development Alliance (The Alliance), which represents over 200 diverse organisations operating in over 100 countries, is hosting an online Question Time event to encourage Scottish political parties to include commitments to global sustainable development in their manifestos ahead of the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections in May.

Scotland for a Fairer World: Question Time will be held on Thursday 11 March from 6.30 to 8pm, chaired by campaigner and writer Talat Yaqoob. The politicians taking part are the SNP’s Jenny Gilruth MSP, Minister for Europe and International Development, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, the Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson Liam McArthur, Scottish Conservative Shadow Economy Secretary Maurice Golden, along with a representative from Scottish Labour.

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The Shamima Begum case – why liberals should be defending her rights, if not her freedom

I ought to start by expressing the view that, regardless of what Shamima Begum has, or has not, done, I have little sympathy for her. And, for all the suggestions that she was groomed, or that she was too young to understand what she was doing, Liberal Democrat policy is to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to fourteen from its current level of ten years of age. If she has committed an offence punishable under law, then she should be tried and, if found guilty, sentenced appropriately.

But the Government are arguing something rather different. They suggest that her citizenship can be taken away from her because she is “a bad person” and a threat to national security. That may be true, but the United Kingdom is also a signatory to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Article 8 of the 1961 Convention outlines how and when a State may withdraw nationality, opening with the sentence;

A Contracting State shall not deprive a person of its nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless.

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Book Review: “Why the Germans Do it Better, Notes from a Grown-Up Country”

As Liberal Democrats know only all too well, democracy comes in many versions as does totalitarianism. One of the paradoxes of history is the way in which a country which caused so much harm in its first fifty-five years grew up into what John Kampfner describes as “a bulwark for decency, competence and stability.” For two decades after 1945 West Germany struggled to come to terms with what happened in the Nazi period. Then over the next half century Germans engaged in a process of atonement which has affected every aspect of the nation’s life. Kampfner sees overcoming the threat to democracy presented by the spirit of 1968 being perverted by terrorism and the Baader-Meinhof Group as a key staging post.

However the strength of contemporary German democracy has its roots in the constitutional settlement forged in 1949, which Britain helped to create. The “Basic Law” (Grundgesetz) has been amended dozens of times (by two-thirds majorities in Parliament) but its fundamental strength is unquestionably robust. A commitment to a democracy which is almost existential is the backdrop to Kampfer’s “notes” on foreign policy, immigration, the economy, housing, social cohesion and environmentalism. Inevitably Angela Merkel is a recurring presence, unheard of as the Berlin Wall came down but a huge figure in ensuring the steady embedding of unification.

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Jackie Charlton selected as Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate for Rhondda

Rhondda Liberal Democrats have selected Jackie Charlton as their candidate to contest the Rhondda seat at this year’s Senedd Election.

Jackie Charlton is a county councillor and community activist who has campaigned on disability rights, health and social care and on preventing a climate emergency.

Jackie is registered deaf and easily recognised by Lucie, her Hearing Dog.

Commenting on her selection, Jackie Charlton said:

It is a real pleasure to have been selected to contest Rhondda on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. On so many issues Rhondda has been overlooked and this has never been

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Lib Dems Overseas takes action to end seventy years of injustice for 500,000 pensioners

Imagine you took out a retirement plan in your twenties with a private insurance company in order to qualify for an inflation-protected pension. You then discover in horror on retirement, after paying your contributions in full, that if you have moved overseas the pension provider refuses to uprate your pension each year unless you have moved to a ‘qualifying’ country.
Could that really happen?

Very unlikely in the private sector, but this is the reality for over half a million UK state pensioners, including some 100,000 war veterans. A recent survey showed that 50% of ‘frozen’ pensioners are receiving £65 a week or less, compared to the current basic pension of £134.25 a week.

What determines whether your pension will be uprated or not? It comes down to whether the country concerned has a ‘reciprocal agreement’ with the UK, an excuse which is illogical and unfair.
Qualifying countries include the USA, Europe (at the moment) and most British Overseas Territories. ‘Frozen’ countries include Australia, Canada, South Africa and most of Asia. To illustrate the absurdity of the policy, pensioners in the US Virgin Islands are uprated annually whilst those in the British Virgin Islands are ‘frozen’.

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Welcome to my day – 1 March 2021

Welcome to Suffolk’s Gipping Valley, where another week starts. You may wonder about the picture, which comes courtesy of the Gateway 14 Residents Campaign Group. I’ve been spending the last week or so drafting my Parish Council’s seven page response to a planning application which is exercising local residents, which might reassure John Marriott that, despite my occasionally whimsical view of the world of parish councils, I take my responsibilities as Chair of my Parish Council very seriously.

We’ve got a busy day ahead of us, with articles on British pensioners overseas, …

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Book review: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

“So, who am I to lecture anyone on the environment?” asks a man that flies in private planes and owns big homes. Okay. He is trying to mitigate his impacts through sustainable fuel and carbon offsets. But is Bill Gates the man to tell us how to fix climate change?

Bill Gates’ philosophy is one of improving life chances and lifestyles while cutting carbon emissions. It is an unashamedly market-led approach, creating incentives through carbon pricing and reducing the cost of greening energy. His approach is to roll out new technologies for energy and food production, not to change the fundamental ways that society works.

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Sal Brinton: Make sure Ministerial maternity leave bill includes everyone

Earlier this week, we reported on Liz Barker’s speech on the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill, in which she compared the demonisation of transgender people today to the discrimination she and others faced during the 80s.

The Bill was a simple one – designed to give ministers leave when they have a baby, something that our Jo Swinson and Jenny Willott did not benefit from when they had their babies. There was a concerted effort by socially conservative peers to change the Bill’s gender neutral language. In the first of two speeches, Sal explained why it was important to be as inclusive as possible. It is good to see our peers arguing that extending rights to trans and non binary people does not diminish women’s rights.

My Lords, I too support this Bill, even though it does not go far enough in giving Ministers who are parents the same rights that other workers have now come to expect. As others have already said, these include adoption leave, sick leave and shared parental leave. The last is particularly important and affects any Minister who becomes a parent and who is still missing out on the rights to share in the care of their new baby with their partner. I hope the Minister will remedy this urgently.

There is one other parental benefit that has not yet been mentioned—statutory parental bereavement pay and leave. I worked with the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for a number of years to win this right for parents, but it is omitted from this legislation for Ministers. I urge the Minister to ensure that it is added to the other forms of parental allowance and leave for future discussion. One hopes that it is never needed but it is vital to have it in place to cover such awful circumstances.

My former colleagues, Jo Swinson and Jenny Willott, both had their first babies while they were Ministers. No arrangements were made for them. They had to cover for each other without maternity pay at exactly the time when they were working in government for better rights for women and parents in the workplace.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece about the lack of equality impact assessments. We need to remedy this and to reflect on why, as a society, we have moved over the years to gender-neutral language. The gender-neutral language in this Bill is inclusive. Changing it, as many speakers have asked, would make it exclusive—perhaps not to many, but to some people for whom it matters a great deal. No one is trying to erase women but rather to accept that, over recent years, there have been advances in medicine. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for referring to trans men in Brighton. We also have to remember that non-binary and intersex people who were born women would be excluded. Both equality law and clinical care have kept pace with them and their circumstances. Medical care, in particular, has adapted in order to provide the best possible care for them in rare and difficult circumstances. That is why I would gently correct the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in her reporting of the Brighton hospital trust introducing “chestfeeding” and “pregnant people” and removing “breastfeeding” and “women” from its documentation. It is not. Snopes, that excellent debunker of myths, explains this carefully:

“A maternity department at a U.K. hospital announced in February 2021 that it was expanding terms it used in maternity care to include, for example, ‘chestfeeding’ and ‘pregnant people’, in order to be more inclusive of trans and nonbinary patients … To be clear, the NHS said that such language—like referencing ‘pregnant women’ and ‘breastfeed’—will not change for those who identify as such … Adding terms like ‘chestfeeding’ and ‘birthing parent’ was not intended to take away from women-oriented language already in use. Rather, the move was meant to be additional support that offers more inclusion for trans and nonbinary individuals.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 28 February

President Joe Biden must have mixed feelings about the public’s continued fascination with the Donald Trump story. On the one hand it is a distraction from his own agenda. And on the other, it allows him to move forward quickly and efficiently while attention is largely engaged elsewhere. He is doing the latter. This weekend Biden will celebrate 50 million covid-19 vaccinations, putting his administration well ahead of the target 100 million jabs in 100 days. He is also expected to shortly push through Congress a third major pandemic spending package. This one is worth $1.9 trillion and will focus on the poor minorities and women. The only part of the deal which has won Republican approval is $110 billion for business support. Meanwhile, Trump’s problems continue to make headlines. The biggest is that the US Supreme Court has refused the ex-president’s appeal to block a subpoena to obtain Trump’s tax records for the past ten years. Cyrus Vance Jr., the South Manhattan District Attorney leading the charge, believes that the records will reveal massive fraud involving taxes, bank dealings and insurance. Trump has denounced the investigation as part of the continuing “deep state” “witch hunt” and is keeping the Republican spotlight shining on him with a keynote speech this Sunday at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) In Orlando, Florida. His strongest Senate supporter, Lindsey Graham, said Trump “is going to dominate the Republican Party for years to come.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson must have mixed feelings about the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100,000 deaths, a locked-down economy and a crippling debt is bad news. But at least it is deflecting public attention away from his disastrous Brexit deal. The biggest problems this week have been predicted and predictable—fishing and Northern Ireland. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy which made British waters part of a larger European lake open to all EU fishermen was one of the main reasons for Brexit. The problem is that the deal Boris Johnson has struck with Brussels has possibly worsened the plight of the British fishermen. At the root of the issue is the fact that the fish that are caught in British waters appeal to European palates and those netted in European seas appeal to hungry Brits. And because of various quota and hygiene regulations now in place it is becoming difficult to impossible to land fish in each other’s ports. Then there is Northern Ireland with the new trading border in the Irish Sea. This is to keep open the border between the northern and southern halves of the island of Ireland and, hopefully, avoid a return to “The Troubles” of the last quarter of the 20th century. But this means import and export controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. The British government has responded by proposing that the uncontrolled period of trade between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain be extended to 2023. That is unacceptable to Dublin and Brussels. Any restrictions in trade links between Northern Ireland and the British mainland are unacceptable to the protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who want the current Northern Ireland Protocol jettisoned and a hard border drawn between Eire and Northern Ireland. This, of course, would torpedo the Good Friday Agreement and re-open the prospect of a return to intercommunal fighting.

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Government permits delivery and canvassing in England from 8th March

Mike Tuffrey campaigning in PutneyWith the biggest set of local and national elections across the UK coming up on 6th May, the UK Government has finally issued guidance which will enable activists in England to deliver leaflets and canvass, subject to some restrictions, from a week on Monday, 8th March.

From 8 March, therefore, people who are campaigning in support of the electoral success (or against the electoral success) of candidates or political parties, or relating to a referendum outcome, will be allowed to deliver leaflets and canvass electors in relation to the elections and local referendums taking place on 6 May and for any further by-elections and local referendums being held for as long as COVID-19 related restrictions remain in place. The number of campaigners operating together should be kept to an absolute minimum and a minimum 2 metres distance should be maintained between them at all times.

Campaigners should not enter a private home. Campaigners may speak to electors on their doorsteps, maintaining at least 2 metres distance at all times.

Campaigners should only enter premises, such as a shared hallway in a block of flats, where absolutely necessary to reach individual homes served by communal areas. Unless it is unsafe to do so, canvassing from within shared internal areas should be carried out by a single campaigner.

At all times, campaigners should ensure that all necessary mitigations are applied including the wearing of face coverings, keeping socially distanced at 2 metres, and sanitising hands between visiting different households. All campaigners should follow the guidance on how to stop the spread of coronavirus at all times.

You should not meet with other campaigners indoors. It is safer to meet outdoors, where the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 is much lower, but 2 metre social distancing should still be maintained. Operational collection and delivery of campaign literature should be handled on a click and drop or doorstep drop procedure as for other goods deliveries during the pandemic. Only rarely will two people be required indoors at the same location to manage bulk delivery handling. You should keep these interactions to a minimum to reduce contact and follow the guidance on how to stop the spread of coronavirus at all times.

All hustings, and campaign planning meetings must take place remotely.

As Lib Dem campaigners, we are bound by the party’s guidance. We would be very surprised if it was not updated accordingly within the next few days.

There are more changes from 29th March:

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Observations of an Ex Pat: Biden and the Middle East

Big changes coming up in America’s Middle East policy and they won’t all be universally applauded. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Israel are already feeling the difference.

This week’s American attack on Syrian-based and Iranian-backed militias may on the surface seem like a continuation of the Trump Era’s unilateralist shoot-from-the-hip America first and only policy. But an examination of the press statement that followed the retaliatory action indicates otherwise.

The Pentagon went out of its way to thank the Iraqi government for its intelligence input and stressed the strike was only conducted after “full consultations” with its “partners and allies.”

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Newshound: Lib Dem peer Baroness Barker challenges the Lords on transgender issues

Yesterday afternoon, Baroness Barker spoke on the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill.

It was a short and powerful statement on how minority groups have been discriminated against, ignored and marginalised in past decades. That was “what happened to migrant communities in the UK in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, it was lesbians and gay men.” Today, she said, it is the turn of trans people.

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Malcolm Bruce writes…Whither Scottish Nationalism

The tectonic plates of Scottish politics are on the move again.

When Labour dominated politics in Scotland they were often lazy, arrogant, bullying and complacent and looked after their own. Sufficiently like the mafia to be caricatured as COSLA NOSTRA.

Labour lost its way and initially Liberal Democrats picked up ground. However, free of any obvious ideological positioning the SNP were able to move into Labour territory.

Now less than a generation later, the SNP have become the Scottish establishment and acquired an even more venal, more incompetent yet downright arrogant, complacent and nasty braggadocio.

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Ed Davey calls for Team GB to boycott the Chinese Winter Olympics over the genocide of the Uighurs

Ed Davey asked the Prime Minister this question yesterday.

Boris Johnson said he was appalled by the abuse of the Uighurs, but was not in favour of sporting boycotts.

What do our readers think?

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Derek Barrie dies at 77

The Lib Dems lost a much loved friend, mentor, agent and campaigner yesterday.  Derek Barrie gave six decades of service to this party and the Liberals before it. What he didn’t know about campaigning simply wasn’t worth knowing. As recently as the 2019 election, the advice that he gave was a valuable part of Wendy Chamberlain’s election as MP for North East Fife.

He had become increasingly frail in recent years, but he died quite suddenly having been admitted to hospital last weekend.

He was a brilliant friend to me and we worked so well together back in the early 2000s when I was Scottish Campaigns and Candidates Convener and he was the Party’s Chief of Staff. Together with then MSP Iain Smith, we ran the ground campaign in the 2005 election and jokingly took all the credit for our party’s best General Election performance which saw us gain Danny Alexander and Jo Swinson as MPs.

Later that year, he and I ran the Livingston by-election campaign after Robin Cook died, maintaining our vote with candidate Charles Dundas and stopping the SNP from gaining the sort of momentum that might have given them the Dunfermline by-election.

For years our Campaigns and Candidates meetings would start in the Haymarket Bar across the road from Scottish Lib Dem HQ with dinner and usually some wine before we went back across the road to do the business.

There are not very many people I would let introduce me as the Wicked Witch of West Lothian, though I replied that he should never forget that I could turn him into a toad at any moment. To me, he was Grumps.  When we adapted the English candidate approval system for Scotland in 2002, we had to get a lot of people approved very quickly. This we did over many weekends with a wonderful team of assessors and facilitators. Obviously it was all very professional, but we had a huge amount of fun with the role playing exercises. Derek, John Lawrie and George Grubb often had Rae Grant and I in tears of laughter. There was one notorious time when Rae was laughing so much she had to leave the room.

But all this was pretty late in Derek’s career. He started out as the candidate for East Fife in the 1966 General Election. I think this was the one where he didn’t have a phone in his house and would call his agent from a phone box at pre-arranged times. He came fourth  back then, but in the 70s, a determined group of campaigners, led by Derek, decided they were going to win the seat. It took more than a decade of slog, but they did it when Menzies Campbell was elected at the third attempt, having gained 10% in 1979 and 14% in 1983. They turned the local party into a formidable campaigning machine and it has gone from strength to strength.

Derek was the first Liberal Councillor elected in North East Fife in 1977 and went on to lead the Council.

After he retired from paid party work in 2009 we used to meet up at Conferences and for long lunches where we would reminisce and put the world to rights.

He remained an active part of North East Fife’s campaigning machine, though, and served for several years as clerk to the Scottish Executive where he continued to be a fount of wisdom. He was secretary of ASLDC until a couple of years ago and had become the organisation’s Honorary President.

Derek had been married to Lesley for more than 50 years. They were such a team and he so appreciated her sacrifices for the Lib Dem cause. My husband said this morning that Derek never forgot the campaign widows and widowers who held the fort while their other halves were out working for the party from dawn till well after dusk. Our love and thoughts are with Lesley now.

These are just a few random thoughts and memories from over 20 years of working with Derek. I’m sure many of you will have your own, so please add them in the comments.

On Facebook, people have been paying tribute and their words are repeated here with their permission.

Sheila Ritchie, Scottish Party Convener

Derek has been friend, mentor, campaigner, rock. It was typical of him that, on hearing I was to be Convenor, he summoned me- there is no other way of expressing it- and gave me my orders.

I cannot tell you how much I will miss his wisdom and counsel, but much more, his fellowship and humour.

North East Fife 2019 campaign manager Kevin Lang

Very sad. I learned so much from this man when it comes to campaigning (don’t forget, it’s all about PIG)
I ran a committee room from his house in North East Fife at the 2019 General Election. Even then, and looking frail, he was so engaged and excited about the election and the prospect of winning the seat back.

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Assessing GCSEs and A Levels

So, clarity at last about the assessment of GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications in England this summer.

You would have thought that, after the algorithm chaos last summer, consultations about 2021 grading would have begun as soon as we went into the second lockdown at the end of October. By that point it would have been clear that students working towards GCSEs and A Levels in 2021 were going to be seriously affected by the disruptions spread over two school years.

In fact, that is exactly what did happen in Wales, where Lib Dem Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, announced in November that external terminal exams would not be held for the current cohort. Instead teacher assessments would be used, although these could include some assessments which would be externally set and marked. Scotland and Northern Ireland also announced their plans some weeks ago.

Back in England the consultation did not begin until this year, and it is only today that decisions have been unveiled. In the Commons today Gavin Williamson announced that grades will be allocated according to teacher assessments. The assessments will be based on what students have been taught, not by what they missed, and will take a variety of formats.

I welcome this outcome – I have been saying for a long time that the learning of the current students in Years 11 and 13 will be much more severely compromised than those in the year ahead of them, bad as that was. But I do not welcome the timing – the Government has piled further stress on students by leaving this announcement so late. And the stress affects teachers as well; they have been having to revise programmes of learning on the hoof. They now have to rapidly develop assessment procedures at the time when they are fully stretched in preparing for the return of all pupils on 8th March.

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New Event: How to win with Basic Income

At last year’s Autumn Conference, Liberal Democrat members voted overwhelmingly to adopt Universal Basic Income (UBI) as party policy.
Now, we have our first opportunity to make this vital policy part of our campaigning platform for the bumper set of elections coming up on 6th May.
Not only are there council seats and mayoral positions up for grabs all over the country, but there are also the elections for Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd.
So now it’s time for the really big questions:
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A universal bank account

Not everyone can open a bank account. A bank will only offer you an account if they think they will make money out of it, and they do that when you have an overdraft on which they can charge interest or a substantial balance which they can lend on. Poor people with poor credit histories aren’t allowed overdrafts and don’t have large balances.

Not having a bank account is one of many ways that being poor can cost you money. It also costs everyone who does business with you money, and that includes the government.

Almost everyone, however, does have at least one account with the government. It’s not a bank account, but it could be.

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Global Vaccine Equity

Vaccines Without Borders
Vaccines are the most effective way out of the pandemic. However, there won’t be enough supply to vaccinate the world’s population until 2023 or 2024. That’s why I joined NOW! (@NOW4humanity) to pressure vaccine manufacturers such as Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer to allow other companies to develop its COVID-19 vaccine and have #VaccinesWithoutBorders.

But this is not enough. All companies must follow suit.

Oxford, Valneva, Novavax and CureVac, are now working with the Government to produce the vaccines in the UK. Johnson & Johnson have applied to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for emergency use listing to deliver doses to poor and middle-income countries. A Sussex-based company has begun developing a coronavirus vaccine in pill form, and trials have already started.

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Review: Charles Kennedy: A good man speaking

As Paul highlighted earlier, a major new documentary on the life and career of Charles Kennedy will be broadcast tonight on BBC Alba.

There is much to love in this programme. I have to say it brought a fair few of my emotions out to play – from the joy of hearing about his tactics at psyching out the opposition in school debating competitions and the fun of his election campaigns, to the anger at his treatment in his later years and the sadness of losing him way too soon.

Friends from school, university, family and politics recall the events that shaped him and the reasoning behind his key decisions. Among the interviewees are his brother-in-law and  friend James Gurling, Catherine MacLeod, a colleague at BBC Highland who was later Alastair Darling’s Special Adviser when he was Chancellor, Jim Wallace and Celia Munro, one of the stalwarts of the Liberal Democrats in Ross-shire and wife of Charles’ mentor John Farquhar Munro. Enjoy this trailer.

The programme has some rarely seen gems, like a clip of him broadcasting during his short BBC Radio Highland internship in the early 80s.

Charles always thought of himself as a Highlander first. The programme shows the influence of the Highlands on his actions and thinking throughout his life, including  opposing the war in Iraq, on which he was ultimately proven right.

But just 8 months after an election in which we won our highest ever number of MPs, Charles was ousted as leader. It was not an edifying moment in our history and I am sure that many of us have wondered what might have been if another way through the challenges of that time could have been found.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 19 Comments

Despite Covid, the Guardian predicts “no escape” from the Lib Dem disco

The Guardian sketch writer, John Crace, gives a witty mention to our beloved disco in his parliamentary sketch this morning:

A return to normal: 21 June. There would be no escape for those hoping to avoid the disco night at the Lib Dem party conference.

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 6 Comments
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