The most important thing Jo Swinson did this week

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

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

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

And that’s important.

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

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

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

She talked about doing whatever it took to stop Brexit.

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

Here’s what they have to say on medicines:

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

And on food:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Corbyn’s offer: divisive by design?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paul Tyler writes….Clearing out constitutional confusions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Remembering Peterloo and the struggle for liberal democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Lib Dem surge continues in Shropshire

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

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In Full: Jo Swinson’s letter to Jeremy Corbyn

Jo seems to have offended the Corbynista who are doing their thing and attacking her on all forms of social media.

But look at the letter she wrote to Jeremy Corbyn tonightL

Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for your letter of 14th August 2019 in relation to stopping a damaging “No Deal” Brexit.

We are determined to do whatever it takes not only to stop “No Deal” but also to stop Brexit.

Since becoming Leader of the Liberal Democrats, I have travelled across the United Kingdom speaking to people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to discuss their concerns and worries. It is clear that a “No Deal” Brexit is a bad for our environment, bad for our NHS, bad for rural Britain, and bad for our family of nations.

So, in this moment of national emergency, I stand ready to work with anyone to stop Boris Johnson and his hard-line Brexit government in pursuing “No Deal”. My party has already been working with the Labour Party and other opposition parties to do this for many months now. That will continue under my leadership.

As I said before the start of the summer Recess, the Liberal Democrats will support a motion of no confidence in the government if it is brought before the House of Commons. If the motion is successful and a new Prime Minister is sought, our constitution operates on the principle that that person must command majority support of the House of Commons.

Based on on-the-record statements that have already been made, at least seven MPs on the opposition benches have indicated they would not give you confidence in these circumstances.  Regardless of how my party were to vote in those circumstances, in order for you to command the confidence of the House, at least eight Conservative MPs would need to support you in taking office. For this and other reasons, I do not believe your plan is viable. I would be interested to know whether eight or more Conservative MPs have indicated to you that they will support you in these circumstances.

However, there are clearly other senior members of the House who could potentially command a majority in the House. Today I suggested that Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman, the Father and Mother of the House, could lead an emergency government.

They are the most experienced Members of the House, widely respected on both sides, and neither are seeking to lead a government in the long-term. I would be interested to hear your suggestions. I can understand that you would have a preference for a Labour alternative. Indeed, if she can command the support of the House of Commons Harriet Harman would be Labour’s first female Prime Minister.

Obviously, we hope legislative measures in the House of Commons will be successful in securing an extension to Article 50 to ensure that the UK does not fall out of the European Union with No Deal and no long-term security or stability.

Finally, a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal is vital. I hope that you can reassure me, and everyone campaigning for a People’s Vote to give the British people the final say on Brexit, that you are doing all you can to can to persuade the 25 or more Labour MPs who have previously voted against it to now back it in a Commons vote. I hope that we can now count on the full support of all Labour Members of Parliament.

I am ambitious for the Liberal Democrats, as you are for the Labour Party, but we are facing a national crisis and we may need an emergency government to resolve it. This isn’t the time for personal agendas and political games. We cannot allow party politics to stand in the way of Members from all sides of the House of Commons working together in the national interest. What matters right now is a plan that works and will stop a “No Deal” Brexit.

With this in mind, I would be happy and keen to meet in the coming days to discuss how our parties can work together to stop “No Deal” and who else might be able to lead an emergency government.

I look forward to hearing from you.

My door remains, as ever, open.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Swinson MP

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Siobhan Benita says she can be London Mayor

Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita has been talking up her chances of winning the capital’s mayoralty in an interview with City AM.

She takes the fight to Sadiq Khan, criticising Labour’s equivocal position on Brexit:

Benita says the Lib Dems are now perfectly positioned to capitalise on votes that would have otherwise gone to Labour. “The fact that Sadiq has stayed in the Labour party that is facilitating Brexit is a huge thing against him,” she says.

“For Sadiq, it’s going to be about how is he going to continue to justify being in a party that is keeping us in this mess?” It is not enough that Khan has spoken out against anti-semitism, another issue that is hurting Labour, or has campaigned for a second referendum, she says.

She was less hopeful of a Remain Alliance with the Greens:

Benita said she was “very open with working with the Greens but they have made it clear they are not”.

“I’m really disappointed in Sian,” Benita says. “She has really attacked the Lib Dems and has been fighting old battles about the coalition. She sees us as a real threat in London and is still blaming us for austerity. But Brexit is a much bigger and more immediate risk.”

And she had some interesting ideas about freedom of movement post Brexit:

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A no deal Brexit is irreversible, a Jeremy Corbyn government is not

As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in Latin America, I am extremely worried about the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn lead Labour government in the long term. From the corruption, poverty and rising crime, in Argentina under the previous hard left government, to the decay in Venezuela where people are having to buy rotten meet in the markets to survive and where medicines have run out in many hospitals, it is clear that what damage a hard left government can do.

I am also angry about what has become of our country in the five years since I came back to the UK. I have suffered myself from the consequences of austerity when I had to pay £4,000 for mental health treatment in 2014. Millions of others would not have been able to dig into savings to do this.

Like many parents I now have to pay money to my children’s school to keep it afloat financially. My local Council, Richmond, has seen its central government grant slashed and is desperately under-funded when it comes to special needs education. Children’s services are at crisis point and adult social care still has a gaping black hole in its finances. On a personal level, I have seen the damage that Brexit is doing to people’s lives. Friends have had to relocate abroad because of Brexit. Someone I know was beaten up by yobs in 2016 and told to “eff off” back to France – he could not work for two weeks. With Boris Johnson once again using war like language about pro-Remain MPs yesterday, I am truly ashamed of the image our country has when I travel around the world on business.

There is so much to do to make life better for millions of people. However as of today, the most important priority for our country has to be stopping a no-deal Brexit. Like it or not, the only person with the democratic mandate to take over a caretaker government is Jeremy Corbyn.

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WATCH: Jo Swinson’s keynote speech on how MPs can stop Boris

Stopping Boris Johnson inflicting a disastrous no deal Brexit on the country was the focus of Jo Swinson’s first big keynote speech since becoming Lib Dem leader.

She talked about two possible things that MPs could do to prevent us falling over the abyss.

Her preferred option would be for them to pass legislation requesting an extension to Article 50 and going for a People’s Vote.

Alternatively, Lib Dems would support a vote of no confidence called by Labour, and would look to support an emergency government which would stop no deal. She said that there is no way that the Commons would back Jeremy Corbyn to be PM and said that an emergency government should be led by someone who commanded the respect of both sides of the House – someone like Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman. She called on MPs to stand up and be counted and do everything possible to stop no deal.

She made clear that the Lib Dems wanted to stop Brexit completely – the best deal for peace, prosperity and security was what we already have in the EU.

It was a confident speech for Jo. She is such a contrast to the arrogant bluster of the Prime Minister and the tired, unconvincing interventions of Jeremy Corbyn. She comes across as grown-up, engaging, collaborative and wise. And she takes her #joinJo slogan from her leadership  campaign and turns it into a national call to get behind her.

Watch Jo’s whole speech here:

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Don’t Despair!

To begin with a conclusion:

There is a final thought for collective reflection, reiterating a point made earlier. Conservative governments, and some previous Labour governments, have used the power of the state to control people’s lives – treating lower-income individuals and families as supplicants to be reformed or ‘sanctioned’. A progressive government should use the power of the state to empower people, to have agency and greater security and control over their own lives and an ability to forge communities of their own volition. A basic income would help in doing just that.

That is the conclusion to a very recent report by Professor Guy Standing, of the Progressive  Economic Forum, a foremost exponent and proponent of the idea of Universal Basic Income. And surely it exactly expresses what Lib Dems would wish to achieve somehow? THIS is how. And we should do it – and get on with it before we are left behind.

The Report (for Labour’s Shadow Chancellor) is very readable, and not at all clogged with percentages. It would be “transformative” – and that transformation would be more Liberal than socialist, I consider. I believe it could be implemented progressively in five years.

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++ Breaking news: Sarah Wollaston joins the Lib Dems

Jo Swinson has just announced that Sarah Wollaston MP has joined the Liberal Democrats. In an email to members Jo says:

I am thrilled that Sarah has chosen to join the Liberal Democrats.

Sarah is a fierce campaigner who I have enjoyed working with in the campaign to stop Brexit and as one of the most respected Members of Parliament and brings real expertise to our team.

She is one of more than 30,000 members who have joined us since May, along with 10,000 new registered supporters in rejecting the politics of nationalism and populism, showing it is the Liberal Democrats who can deliver an alternative vision for our country.

Dr Sarah Wollaston is the MP for Totnes in Devon. She came to people’s attention as the winner of the first open primary for a Conservative PPC in 2009. Sarah worked as a GP until she was elected in 2010, and she retained her seat in 2015 and 2017.

In February she resigned from the Conservatives and joined The Independent Group/Change UK, but in June she left them to sit as an independent. However she continues to chair the Liaison Committee and the Health Select Committee.

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Johnson or Corbyn, who is the biggest danger?

The General Election we will be facing in the Autumn will be vital for the future of the UK.

I know, this is said every time we elect a Westminster Parliament but this time, it really is true.

Stopping a majority right wing Tory party under Boris Johnson (and his extremist backers) is paramount  to prevent the UK being dragged out of the EU with no deal and then left to the tender mercy of the vulture capitalists already circling to feast on its carcass, is a priority above all  other considerations.  Not only is this a threat to our economy but to every part of the way we live in the UK.

The Tories will continue to play down the very real dangers of Brexit and play up the potential threat of a Labour government, hoping to frighten people with the idea of a Venezuela or Cuban type “socialist” regime under Corbyn.

Whilst I disagree with much of what Corbyn (and the narrow clique running the Labour Party) stand for, there is little chance of a majority Labour Government at this election.  In addition, many Labour MPs, even after the cull Momentum are trying to impose on those MPs who are not “true believers”, also do not support Corbyn so would block his more extreme ideas.

So, what options are we left with to block Johnson?  Our best hope is that the Liberal Democrats & Greens, working together alongside others in a Unite To Remain Alliance can win enough seats to hold the balance of power, possible even be in power with the moderate parts of both the Labour & Tory parties, in the Commons to block Brexit and hold a People’s Vote on Remain / Leave as we now know the facts of what leaving the EU means.

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On that power pose

Josh Bararinde has reminded us of the Tory power pose.

As it happens I took my two grandsons to Hampton Court Palace on Monday. As we explored Henry VIII’s apartments we came across the man himself, holding court to a delighted audience of children and their adults.

One of my grandsons had noted that the King had to wipe away sweat from his brow and asked if he was hot. That gave the actor an opportunity to talk about the clothes he was wearing and to introduce a new word to the boys’ vocabulary: codpiece.

He told us that the familiar Holbein portrait (which his costume was based upon), a copy of which hung in the corridor outside, was the first full-length portrait of a monarch standing. It was designed to emphasise Henry’s power, and most importantly his masculinity, hence the stance with legs apart and exaggerated shoulders.

And, at the very centre of the painting, acting as its main focus, is the famous codpiece, which lies at eye height.

Nuff said.

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Exit costs and wobbly dikes: Brexit could result in deluges in Britain

As you can imagine, I have been, as Dutchman, watching the developments this summer first in Lincolnshire and recently in Derbyshire around dikes and dams that turned out to be outdated, and uncertain to withstand rivers or lakes filled with excessive amounts of rainwater.

Even in low-lying, water conscious Netherlands we sometimes get caught out by a dike or dam breaking; but Rijkswaterstaat (RWS, founded in the Napoleonic era), our Public Works & Water-Management government agency, is ever alert. And RWS knows from experience that when a certain type of dike or dam is wobbly in one place, it is important to inspect all dikes and dams of the same type and building era, to prevent surprises when one or more similar dikes crumble. That message is always part of RWS press briefings around incidents: local government and irrigation specialists must go out and inspect dams in their area.

In January 1995, a part of the Netherlands where our great rivers (Rhine, Meuse, and tributaries) flow through in the province Gelderland were evacuated because heavy rains, upstream in the Belgian Ardennes and Alsace, meant excessive amounts of water were coming our way, and it wasn’t certain that the existing irrigation infrastructure could cope. In total 250.000 people had to evacuate, for periods from 5 to 15 days.

Up to then, the main attention concerning massive floodings had been concentrated on our North Sea coast, with the memory of the 1953 North Sea flood which was a massive disaster in both the Netherlands and the UK (Lincolnshire flooded up to 3 kilometres inland). But from 1995, RWS and the Benelux and German authorities started a masssive updating, straightening out and adaption program for rivers and internal dikes.

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Standing against Boris Johnson

Elizabeth Evenden-Kenyon is the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Here she is talking in the about the experience of standing against Boris Johnson, and the potential of a Remain Alliance.

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Terrorising the traumatised: the Tories have a weak and wicked approach to crime

Twice in as many weeks, this government has committed to making would-be offenders “literally feel terror” in an effort to look tough on violent crime. The country eagerly awaits the Home Secretary’s Tory power pose to accompany this policy.

The truth is, the Tories have gone soft on crime. A tough policy is one that works – but their approach of inciting fear among those at-risk of offending simply isn’t an effective means of reducing crime. Reams of academic evidence and my work as a frontline practitioner make that very clear.

Project Terror starts with turbocharging police stop and search powers to scare people at risk of violent offending out of carrying weapons. Aside from being unfair and unjust, this is an ineffective policy. Priti Patel’s own Home Office team “found no statistically significant crime-reduction effect… from the increase in weapons searches.”

Next on the list is building 10,000 new prison cells to banish criminals to. Again, the government’s own figures tell us that more of the same will not work: nearly two in three ex-offenders re-offend within one year of release from our prisons.

Project Terror is doomed because it’s based on the flawed assumption that the ‘choice’ to offend is always as shallow as Boris’s choice between foie gras and a pig’s head on the Bullingdon Club menu.

Too many young ex-offenders we work with at Cracked It had perceived no choice but to offend before they started working with us. Faced with an education system that fails to equip them with the skills they need to access employment, and a benefits system that locks their families in poverty, they felt backed into crime’s corner to generate an income. Young ex-offenders tell us about how they would deal drugs, sleeping with a knife for safety, to make money that they’d secretly slip into mum’s handbag to help pay the bills.

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Stopping a crash out Brexit

It should be obvious now that the current government, effectively headed jointly by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, is prepared to break almost any constitutional convention to ensure that Brexit occurs by 31 October 2019.   This is even though such a Brexit will almost inevitably be a crash out Brexit without a deal with the EU, an outcome which Michael Gove dismissed during the Leave campaign, saying that it was as likely as Jean-Claude Juncker joining UKIP.

This is a sea-change from the May government which, for all its faults, never tried to defy the will of parliament or take us out of the EU by stealth.  As a result, the Cooper-Letwin Bill requiring the government to seek an extension from the EU was implemented without question and without trying to exploit the loopholes which it contained.  This will not be the case this time around and, as a result, there is a strong likelihood that the government would find ways to defy the will of Parliament expressed in similar legislation.

Furthermore, a simple Vote of No Confidence won’t work because it is likely that the government would postpone the General Election until after 31 October 2019 and ride roughshod over the convention that a government which has been no confidenced should do nothing controversial.  Nonetheless, Parliament does have the ability to stop them by a passing a Vote of No Confidence plus installing a caretaker government to request an extension from the EU.

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Now comes the hard part

We Lib Dems have had a great three months. The local elections were good, the European elections outstanding, we got a high-profile defection from the crumbling Tiggers, and we’ve just won a by-election in a Leave area. We’ve even had our new leader going down very well among voters we need to attract.

But now comes the hard part. As the celebrations from Brecon & Radnorshire die down, we need to recognise that we only won there because the Greens and Plaid Cymru stood aside. It was the smart decision, but they will want something in return, indeed the Lib Dem brand is still mud in Green circles for our perceived lack of generosity in responding to the Greens’ offer to stand aside in 12 of our target seats in the 2017 general election.

We must therefore get our head around what we can usefully give in return, and anyone who remembers the difficulties of deciding who should stand in which seat when the Liberal and Social Democrat parties merged in the late 1980s will know it won’t be easy. It is not my job to carve up seats – wiser counsels are working on that – but there are a few things we Liberal Democrats would do well to get our heads around.

The main one is that we will have to give something up, and it will be painful. If we are to be politically mature and rise to the challenge of the Johnson/Farage regressive alliance, we will have to stand aside (or at least do no work) in seats where there will be dedicated Lib Dems who have worked their patch for years, and who will probably feel after the recent results that they’re finally on the verge of a breakthrough. Whether they really are or not is irrelevant – they will have worked for the Lib Dem cause yet it will feel as if they’re being asked to put the last five years’ work on the bonfire.

Having said that, in strategic terms, what we can usefully offer the Greens and Plaid may not cost us that much.

At the 2017 general election, there were 14 seats in which the Greens were ahead of the Lib Dems, and in 2015 the Greens came second to either Labour to the Tories in four. The chances of us winning these seats are negligible, and the likelihood of us winning other seats if we can ‘trade’ some of these 14 for the Greens assisting us in some of our targets is immense. Not every Lib Dem voter will vote Green (that’s something the Greens will have to suck up, just as not every Green voter will vote for us if there’s no Green candidate), but if the Greens stand aside in seats we can win to avoid splitting the Remain vote, in return for us doing the same in some of their targets, it could be a major gain at very little cost.

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Caroline Lucas’s all female Cabinet is not the right approach to stop Brexit

I have a lot of respect for Caroline Lucas – I think she has generally been brilliant and a voice of reason on Brexit. Her willingness, like Jo Swinson, to work proactively and co-operatively across party lines on the crisis facing our nation is very welcome and laudable.

However, I was dismayed to hear Lucas proposing an all-female emergency cabinet to stop Brexit. At a time when families, communities and the nation are so bitterly divided over the most important and pressing issue of the day, do we really want to manufacture yet more division along gender lines? I’m going to be charitable and put it down to a PR stunt – if that is the case, then let’s face it, she has succeeded.

There is a lot of evidence that diverse leadership teams and a diverse workforce lead to better decision making and more successful organisations – that’s why we see so many companies focusing and investing heavily in actually walkingthe walk on diversity and inclusion, not just talking the talk. Diversity means just that – a team that includes BOTHgenders and people from a variety of different backgrounds with a range of experience. I would be just as concerned by an all-female (and all white to boot) cabinet as I would an all-male cabinet.

How could an emergency national unity cabinet to tackle Brexit seriously omit the likes of Hilary Benn, Dominic Grieve, Vince Cable, Keir Starmer or Ken Clarke?  What about Rory Stewart? All men who command great respect across the political spectrum whose contribution to such a team would be immense (granted, they don’t help address the lack of BAME individuals).

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LibLink: Chuka Umunna: Don’t let these reckless Brexit gamblers claim they speak for the British people

Chuka Umunna writes in the Independent about how the Brexiteers are trying to manipulate us:

Ministers know that a no-deal Brexit will involve an immediate shock to the economy which is one reason why they will seek to hold an election almost immediately after exit day – if it hasn’t happened beforehand – so it takes place before the pain is really felt.

Michael Gove even floated the idea of announcing a bank holiday on 1 November in an attempt to delay the inevitable chaos until after people have been to the ballot box. There is a description for this type of behaviour – vote rigging.

He argues that the Government doesn’t have a mandate for no deal

Parties representing a majority of electors in 2017 had set their faces against a no-deal Brexit. So any mandate claimed for a hard Brexit died at this point – something the Vote Leave cabal in government have never accepted.

They try to deny the parliamentary arithmetic but the fact they could not get their extreme form of Brexit through the House of Commons this year has provided something of a wake-up call. Now they are seeking to force their no-deal Brexit through even if Johnson’s administration – to all intents and purposes, a Vote Leave government – has lost the confidence of the House of Commons before 31 October.

This is definitely unconstitutional and, quite possibly, unlawful. It is certainly hypocritical given they argued for Brexit, in part, on the basis that it represented a reassertion of parliamentary sovereignty.

Let’s put aside the issue of leaving without a deal for one moment, and turn to the core question of whether we leave the EU at all. You see, if the Remain/Leave question were put to the public again in a referendum, the opinion polls have pretty consistently had Remain in the lead since 2017. Today it would be 52.2 per cent Remain to 47.8 per cent Leave.

He offers an insight into Labour thinking on a no deal Brexit.Is this why they are not embracing initiatives to stop it?

All Tory rebel MPs and, indeed, a substantial minority of Labour MPs would not give the Labour leader that confidence but would be open to other suggestions. The bottom line, though, is that for it to work Labour would have to support it and Labour has ruled out an emergency government. Shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, was the latest to reject it last night.

Posted in News | 39 Comments

Jo Swinson visits Irish Border

Back in 2017, LDV held a fringe meeting at the Bournemouth Conference where we talked about the areas that could be most harmed by Brexit – the Irish Border and Gibraltar. We heard that the manufacturing process for some products could involve crossing that border five times. You can just imagine the chaos Brexit brings to that process.

Today, Jo Swinson, who has barely had a break since being elected leader 3 weeks ago, headed to the Irish Border to hear from the people who would be amongst the worst affected by any Brexit.

She went one better than Boris Johnson who has never bothered himself to actually go and find out what havoc he is so cavalier about wreaking. Here is the interview she gave to BBC News.

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Jo Swinson’s message for Eid-al-Adha

As Muslims celebrate Eid, Jo Swinson says that as Leader she will continue to make sure our party defends Britain’s Liberal values against Islamophobia and discrimination in all its forms. On the party’s website, she wrote:

For those who have taken part in Hajj, this is a season of new beginnings and Muslims across the globe will be taking time out to reflect on the significance of their faith in their own individual lives.

Sadly, we are witnessing a horrifying rise in Islamophobia which is often accompanied by exclusionary, right-wing nationalism. Islamophobic tropes are becoming commonplace and attacks on Muslims have been espoused by the man who has just become our Prime Minister. This is unacceptable. We must confront this poisonous rhetoric which, if left unchecked, will permeate our communities in the most extreme and hateful ways.

As Leader of the Liberal Democrats, I will continue to defend our country’s liberal values and will redouble our Party’s efforts to defeat discrimination in all its forms.

As we celebrate Eid, let us let us recognise the enduring and valuable contributions of Muslim communities across the country and let us refuse all attempts to divide our nation.

My warmest wishes to all those celebrating. Eid Mubarak!

In London, Cllr Hina Bokhari, Mayoral Candidate Siobhan Benita and Cllr Sam Foulder-Hughes went to a celebration in Kingston and recorded this video:

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A Remain Alliance and opportunities for the Lib Dems…..detail may not be quite there but Lib Dems are poised for massive breakthrough

On Friday night the Spectator’s Coffee House blog carried a piece by Nick Cohen about a Remain Alliance. It had details of all sorts of seats being divved up between us, Plaid and the Greens.

My first thoughts on reading that was that it was at best speculation. I mean, why on earth would anyone leak plans for a Remain Alliance to the heart of the Brexit-supporting media, I can’t imagine. Anyone can sit down with a bit of paper and the 2017 election results and work out where it might make sense to stand one Remain candidate. It’s not rocket science.

The official party response says:

These reports cited by Nick Cohen are inaccurate in many ways. As the strongest remain party we are committed to stopping Brexit and are actively talking to those in other parties, and none, to achieve this.

I mean, Unite to Remain is pretty open about what it is trying to do and I would be very surprised if there wasn’t some sort of arrangement in some seats. But that has to get buy-in from all sorts of people, not least the local parties involved. Just by way of interest, if you delve a bit deeper into that organisation, you will see that its director is one Peter Gerard Dunphy who, until last year, was the chair of our Federal Finance and Resources Committee. He left us to join the Change UK project earlier this year but is still on friendly terms. His motivation is more to bring about the massive change in politics than any falling out with the Lib Dems.

Today’s Observer carries a story saying that we are changing our strategy for a general election in the wake of new research which shows we could be in play in a couple of hundred seats. It mentions specific seats that we could be targeting, including Dominic Raab’s heavily Remain seat

The article basically says that we are changing our election strategy and trying to raise money. Now, if we weren’t doing these things, there would be something far wrong given that we could be facing an election within weeks. The election of a brilliant, engaging and dynamic leader with a strong message, and our victory in Brecon, should make those jobs a lot easier.

The article carries quotes from three senior Conservatives who suggests that the Tories could lose seats to us as voters are horrified at the hard right direction of the current Cabinet. This from a former Cabinet Minister:

The route the PM and Dominic Cummings have taken is really blind to the fact that you’ve opened up this yawning chasm in the centre of politics,” said one. “The Lib Dems have always been at their best in a crisis.”

And more:

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It’s worse than you think

The other main British parties don’t care enough. Do we?

About the plight of ordinary working families with insufficient income to keep bread on the table. The distress of troubled teenagers unable to find a quick response to mental health problems. The struggle to make ends meet for single mothers with more than two children. The worry of people with disabilities facing proving again their need for Personal Independence Payments. The hopelessness of people losing their homes because of delays in Universal Credit payments. The alienation of young people who can’t see a future beyond gang culture and drugs. And the despair of people in dead-end ill-paid jobs or ill and alone at home who can’t see any prospect of their life ever getting better.

There are all these people struggling in Britain today, yet we have a Conservative government indifferent to them. Indifferent to what people have gone through with the austerity of the last few years, to the rising poverty levels, and to the expectation that the standard of living for ordinary people will worsen if Brexit happens, with or without a deal.

Professor Alston, the UN Rapporteur of extreme poverty, put his finger on it in his Statement, after his 11-day fact-finding tour of Britain last November.

In the Introduction, after describing in devastating detail the situation he had found here, he wrote, “It is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems. The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded focus on getting people into employment at all costs. Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach.”

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What do do on the Friday night before Conference

Are you going to Lib Dem conference? Officially conference starts on Saturday 14th September, but if you look at the conference program you will also notice it starts at 9am on that day. For most people who want to be there at the start this means it makes sense to arrive on the Friday before.

If that is your plan and you are wondering what to do for Friday evening, then you may recall that last year there were 2 “unofficial” Friday evening events; Lib Dem Pint and the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) pre-Conference dinner.

If Lib Dem Pint is happening this year then I would happily promote it in this article, but my internet searches have not shown that it is. It was a very popular event last year and I would suggest keep a look out for it next year. UPDATE: There is a Lib Dem Pint and you can find out more here.

But there is an alternative…

the Social Liberal Forum Pre-Conference Dinner

The SLF ARE organising their pre-Conference dinner and our guest speaker will be Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem candidate for the Mayor of London next year. It is worth bearing in mind that in the recent EU elections the Lib Dems “won” London with more votes than anyone else, so Siobhan stands a good chance of becoming the Lib Dem mayor of London next year.

If this is your first Lib Dem conference, then the SLF dinner is a great opportunity to get to meet other Liberal Democrats informally before conference has even started.

Last year the event was a complete sell out and people were allowed to turn up on the evening without pre-booking.

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Public mind manipulation

There’s a report out today  calling for the regulation of targeted political advertising.  I heard this  in a BBC review of the papers, but it isn’t mentioned in theGuardian and  can’t find it on the Internet, so I don’t have the details.

However, this is a serious matter and regulation is urgently needed.  Sadly, it is probably too late to bring in relevant new laws before a snap general election or even another referendum, so it is vitally important for the public to be fully aware of what is going on.

A recent article by Peter Pomerantsev  in the Guardian tells of a world of “dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, deep fakes, fake news . . . trolls.”  I don’t pretend to understand what most of these are but they are sent digitally not to the population as a whole, but to carefully targeted audiences.  The target does not necessarily know from whom the message comes, nor who else is receiving it, or an entirely different message.

The result is that the recipients are deceived into believing that there is a consensus of opinion where none actually exists.  Maybe this helps explain the narrow lead for Leave in the 2016 Referendum

Apparently, the person in charge of targeted digital messaging for the Vote Leave campaign i was a Thomas Borwick. According to Pomerantsev:

 the most successful message in getting people out to vote had been about animal rights.  Vote leave argued that the EU was cruel to animals because, for example, it supported farmers in Spain who raise bulls for bullfighting.  And within the “animal rights” segment Borwick could focus (sic) even tighter, sending graphic ads featuring mutilated animals to one type of  voter and more gentle ads with pictures of cuddly sheep, to others.

It’s  a world away from “Question Time” the “Today Programme,” “Newsnight,” election addresses and, indeed,  Focus.  the Tories are said to have earmarked several millions to digital advertising since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister.

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Brexit is unpatriotic and shameful

The other day I got talking to two Leavers on the train. They were a married couple well past retirement age. They told me that they belonged to a small group that celebrated St George’s Day and Trafalgar Day, and said that they would be doing this “as long as we are allowed to”. What I took away from that slightly paranoid remark was that they felt their identity was under threat from unpatriotic liberals. They were lovely people who had worked hard all their lives, and whom I instinctively respected.  As we parted, I told them my father fought against Hitler and the experience made him a lifelong pro-European.  I hope this gave them food for thought.

After thinking about this encounter, I decided to beat the patriotic drum on LDV.  And yes – why don’t we have a Lib Dem fundraising event on Trafalgar Day (21 October),  or Waterloo Day (18 June)?

For hundreds of years, Britain has taken the lead in standing up to tyrants in pursuit of world domination. Trafalgar may have been a specifically British victory, but Waterloo and Blenheim were not. At Blenheim, Marlborough commanded Austrians and Dutch as well as British, while Wellington’s army included Dutch, Belgians and Germans. But for the arrival at Waterloo of another German army under Bluecher, Napoleon would probably have carried the day. Moreover, even if Trafalgar was a battle we won by ourselves, it was part of a lengthy conflict we could not have won alone.

We could never have been victorious in World War One against the domineering Kaiser without our French allies, who suffered far more than we did. Even when we stood alone in World War Two, many Europeans from the continent fought beside us. Think of the heroic Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain and the ferocious resistance of the Free French at Bir Hakim – but for which Rommel might have ended up reaching Cairo while Germany simultaneously took Malta. And those are just two examples.

So yes, we should be proud of our heritage but acknowledge that Britain can never win alone – and never has done. Where does that leave us today? By turning our backs on our European partners and kicking them in the teeth we are behaving in a very un-British and unpatriotic  way. We are kow-towing to Trump and haven’t even left the EU! It is in continuing the legacy of Marlborough and Wellington that this country’s future should lie. We are more effective standing up to Putin, Iranian mullahs, Bashar al-Assad in Syria and other tyrannical forces all over the world if we can do it jointly with our European partners (Think of the Iran nuclear deal that Trump has sabotaged). 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 34 Comments

Boris Johnson is the most vulnerable Prime Minister to enter No 10

Boris Johnson reminds me of an old school bully of mine. Behind the confidence and malcontent facade of someone who knows he can exploit those less fashionable (my politics never helped) lies the hidden fragility. The pursuit of popularity and the insatiable desire to be liked create a deep personal weakness, the lack of authenticity or character, masked by the charade of charm and affability. Eventually the act wares off, and he is left as a lamentable figure, destined for either a melancholy reprisal of his previous life or a painful self-evaluation. You nearly end up feeling sorry for him. Nearly.

Boris Johnson shares many of the same traits. His lifelong desire to become Prime Minister has meant that his principles can be shifted to suit the beliefs of whatever crowd he wants to please. His Euroscepticism can be traced back to his early years as the Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph, where he found that plainly ludicrous stories could get him a loyal and supportive following. Later, as London mayor, he promoted an image of himself as a liberal, pro-European leader, who was in favour of the single market. Sir Nicholas Soames begged him to pledge his support for Remain, even offering to run any future leadership campaign. Later Soames would say that he knew that Johnson never backed Leave in his heart, and was trying to appeal to the Tory grassroots to win them over for the leadership. Johnson has always moulded his political stances to please a certain crowd, and his desire to be popular could well be his downfall.

With no mandate for the job from the British public, Johnson’s assuredness about getting another deal from Brussels is severely displaced. Any hope avoiding the backstop will not pass the approval of the twenty-seven member states and will also fall in Parliament. Theresa May’s deal with a smiling face may well be the only way forwards, but it would be soon discovered by Johnson’s hardline comrades to be a betrayal of their interests. Then the government as a whole could be brought down. 

Any plans for an early election may also prove fatal. The Brexit Party still has a large support base, and a split between them and the Tories could easily let the Lib Dems through in many marginal constituencies as the unequivocal vote of Remain. This could also lead to the dangerous situation of Johnson being able to defeat Labour and command a majority through the Lib Dem surge. Whatever the scenario, no Tory leader can expect to win a large majority, with a threatening Brexit Party and the resurgent Lib Dems. It gives Jo Swinson a huge chance to capture a mood that can transform the party’s fortunes. The first past the post system has always dogged their chances, but a strong Remain Alliance could have important consequences for the future of the country, as the Brecon by-election showed. 

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