Get your nominations in for the Party Awards

Every year at  Conference we acknowledge those people who have made an outstanding contribution to the Liberal Democrats whether they have achieved elected office or not.

Nominations are open for this Autumn’s awards and close on 16th August.

So what are the awards and who is eligible?

The President’s Award

Eligibility: open to any Party Member elected to public office and who has demonstrated excellence and commitment.

Criteria: the winner will be recognised for outstanding commitment and service to the Party. Local, regional and state parties should be seeking to nominate people who deserve recognition for their hard work, long service, and demonstrable dedication to the party, at whatever level. It is expected to be special awards to be awarded from the Party for whom public recognition is overdue.

The Harriet Smith Liberal Democrat Distinguished Service Award

Background: this award is named for Harriet Smith, who campaigned and worked tireless for the Party, notably alongside Paddy Ashdown, with the Federal Conference Committee, and in the Bath party. A beloved figure, she is also missed from the Conference revue and by the team at the Liberator Magazine.
Eligibility: open to any Party Member never elected to public office.

Criteria: the Harriet Smith Award shares its conditions with the President’s award.

The Belinda Eyre-Brook Award

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Layla slams Government for “opening floodgates to new variants” and failing to protect troops

Good work from Layla Moran in today’s press.

First, the Guardian reports the Commons Library research commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, which Layla chairs, which shows that the number of positive cases tested for variants has fallen dramatically.

The results suggest that in the three weeks to 17 March, there were an estimated 1,769 to 1,827 positive tests from people entering the UK from red list countries, of which somewhere between 63% and 68% were sequenced to determine the variant involved.

By contrast in the three weeks to 30 June, there were an estimated 445 to 507 positive tests from people entering the UK from red list countries, with estimates of the proportion sequenced ranging from 12% to 33%.

Layla highlighted the dangers of this:

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By-election report from ADLC: 22nd July 2021

A very mixed picture this week in the world of local council by-elections. From the highs of the phenomenal hold in Camden, to the lows of not even standing in a Liberal Democrat held seat. Of the eight principal authority contests across England and Wales this week, we only stood in four. It’s essential that we, as a political party that takes local government and community seriously, give voters a Liberal Democrat to vote for at every available opportunity. Nevertheless, we also saw some good performances in some town and parish councils this week, managing to gain two seats, and seeing a narrow miss in another.

The headline story is of course winning the Fortune Green by-election in Camden.

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Observations of an Expat: The Filipino Monster and Justice

Rodrigo Duterte steps down as President of the Philippines in June 2022. He will be 77 and is planning for a quiet, non-eventful retirement—unlikely.

Nipping at his heels are the prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They want Duterte to stand trial for the thousands of extra-judicial killings that took place first in the city of Davao while he was Mayor, and then across the Philippines during his presidential tenure. However, the ICC faces formidable hurdles in placing Duterte in the dock. But first why do they want him there?

Apart from being a foul-mouthed, rude, socially unacceptable, misogynistic, populist politician, Rodrigo Duterte is the man behind thousands of extra-judicial murders. First during his 22 years as Mayor of Davao and then as President. He does not deny the accusation. He revels in it.

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Voter ID “straight out of the Trump playbook” – Broxtowe Lib Dems win vote

Where America leads, the UK follows is an old and sometime true adage. Suppression of voter rights in the United States is becoming rampant as the Republicans push to introduce legislation that would isolate the most disadvantaged from voting. Joe Biden has said: “Never before has there been an attempt by state legislatures to take over the ability to determine who won. Not count the votes, determine who won.”

Here, the government is determined to introduce voter ID despite no evidence of widespread fraud. Broxtowe was a pilot area for voter ID and the Lib Dems have taken a stand.

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Real recovery starts with local government

I’m sure that some of you may see my name and the title of this article and think: “There he is, banging on about local government yet again”. Guilty as charged, Your Honour. The reason for my ‘banging on’ again has been prompted by an article in today’s Guardian by one of its leader writers, entitled ‘Local Politics is cutting a path for Labour’. Being the Guardian, the answer would of course be Labour. Wouldn’t it? However, the writer’s sudden discovery that there IS political life outside the Westminster bubble is welcome. However, some of us have been well ahead of him down the road to Damascus and, having served as councillors for many years – in my case thirty – we know most of the pitfalls.

What I have discovered is that you can succeed in local government by dint of your personality rather than the colour of the rosette you wear. If Labour is waking up to the potential of local government, why isn’t the party that turned community politics into an art form?

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On Hina and ice-cream

Last Thursday, LibDem London Assembly member Hina Bokhari invited me to spend the day with her. My goals were to get to know Hina better, learn what the London Assembly does, and create a video for my YouTube channel we could share with the world.

At one point Hina says “there’s nothing particularly remarkable about me.” I think this video shows pretty clearly that this isn’t true – she is actually an extremely remarkable person. As LibDems, we should all be very proud she represents our party in the London Assembly.

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Wera Hobhouse on 100 days to COP26

Yesterday, MPs debated COP26 Conference Priorities in a Westminster Hall debate. The debate was co-sponsored by Wera Hobhouse. Lib Dem MP for Bath. She said this is the biggest opportunity for real climate action since the 2015 Paris agreement, after which we have had a “string of incredibly disappointing COPs”. Wera called for the government to get its own house in order instead of paying to lip service to climate change. The Government has failed to set any direction on how to heat homes in the future, how to expand the electricity grid for increased electricity need, let alone on tackling emissions from heavy industry, shipping or aviation.

COP26 must be a COP of global solidarity. It is time for the Government to put their money where their mouth is. The world is watching to see whether the UK will step up to the plate.

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That 3% rise for NHS staff in England

Lib Dems have been quick to respond to pay rise of 3% to NHS staff in England. Munira Wilson is our Health & Social Care Spokesperson and here she is challenging the Government in the Commons BEFORE the pay rise was announced:

Only a hour later she was tweeting:

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Human rights campaigning wins in Ireland in the end

At the All Party Parliamentary Group for refugees Nick Henderson from the Irish Refugee Council told us about the “Direct Provision” Accommodation Centres in the Irish Republic.

Asylum Seekers live in these privately run Accommodation Centres whilst their case is being assessed.  They were originally meant for short stays when started in 2001, but are now used for much longer one’s and the median stay is 27 months.  Around 7,000 people are currently housed like this.

Those housed there have little privacy, no cooking facilities, and they are excluded from any community life.  Nearly 2,000 are sharing bedrooms with people they are not related to.  Guardians who manage it appear to have oversight of children from families in there, which causes a lot of problems for the future as well as present.

The Centres are very expensive to run and there has been a lot of opposition to them from Human Rights groups since they were started in 2001.  The system could not be amended to be done better, but needed to be replaced.  One woman said that dignity, independence and freedom had been taken from her and her children had lost their self-confidence.

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LibLink: Christine Jardine: Football racism shows why those who oppose taking the knee are wrong

In her column for the Scotsman this week, Christine Jardine tackled the racism we saw against the three England footballers after the Euro 2020 final.

A young colleague told me that some black friends had abuse shouted at them while making their way home from the England-Italy game. “It’s always your kind that lets us down.” We all knew it was there, simmering amongst those who booed any team taking the knee this summer.

But watching it boil over against fans, footballers and someone who has made a real and determined difference to the well-being of vulnerable children should be a wake-up call for all of us.

She expressed her admiration for Marcus Rashford and the other players:

A young man, hugely successful, who doesn’t just remember where he came from but carries it with pride and channels his success into making a difference.

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Welcoming Hong Kong residents

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This week, the US State Department issued an advisory note to US companies operating in Hong Kong highlighting risks that emerge from the implementation of the Chinese government’s National Security Law. US Secretary of State, Anthony J Blinken, has highlighted the “…persistent and politically motivated campaign against the free press, imprisoned Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, and forced the closure of that publication – a bastion of independent reporting. Beijing has chipped away at Hong Kong’s reputation of accountable, transparent governance and respect for individual freedoms, and has broken its promise to leave Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy unchanged for 50 years.”

Many Hong Kongers will feel that they are pawns in a looming showdown between China and the United States. Many are deciding that now is the time to emigrate including to the United Kingdom. Conscious that many former citizens of Hong Kong are settling in our community, I tabled a motion at last week’s meeting of Richmond Council welcoming Hong Kong citizens to our area. I was gratified the motion was passed unanimously.

I would encourage councillors (Liberal Democrat or otherwise) to look at the numbers of Hong Kongers arriving in their areas and consider bringing similar motions to their local authorities. Here is an edited version of what I had to say:

I would argue that, just as murder on the streets of Minneapolis impacts on us, so does the imposition of Chinese state authoritarianism in Hong Kong. Many residents will have close ties to Hong Kong through family, business interests or pre-1997 postings in the territory. The last governor of Hong Kong is, of course, resident in Barnes. We have unique, historical, and moral duties to the people of Hong Kong.

My wife is British Born Chinese, but her family are originally from Yuen Long, a town in the New Territories. It is a fairly workaday place close to the Chinese border. It is a place I have visited frequently with my family. The metro station is normally a peaceful but bustling place.

In June 2019 that changed. Dozens of men in white shirts carrying sticks, faces obscured by balaclavas, beat groups of commuters taking part in a peaceful protest.

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Tackling our dangerous train stations

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At around 19:05 hrs on Wednesday 26 February 2020, a passenger train struck and fatally injured a person who had just fallen from platform 1 of Eden Park station.

The person, who had impaired vision, moved near to, and fell from, the platform edge probably because his visual impairment meant he was unaware that he was close to this edge. The platform edge was not fitted with markings intended to assist visually impaired people.

The above words are not my own, or some emotive media report of a horrific fatality, but the words from the investigation report carried out by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

The death of Cleveland Gervais would almost certainly have been avoided, if the platform at this train station in south London had (at this time) the basic safety measure of tactile paving.

Since February of last year I have been investigating the wider issue of rail safety throughout the whole rail network.   A Freedom of Information request that was made to Network Rail revealed that across the whole railway network more than a third (35%) of train platforms by length did not have tactile paving in 2020. A further concern was that at some stations there is tactile paving at some platforms, but not all of them, creating a totally confusing situation for people who rely on tactile paving.

Working with RNIB and Guide Dogs I have also discovered that for too long tactile paving was considered by the railway industry to be an “access” measure, which was considered only necessary to install when a station was facing wider upgrades, and not a vital safety measure of its own, which must be urgently provided at every train platform.

That attitude has, thank goodness, been finally dropped, but even now the current Network Rail plan for ensuring that tactile paving is installed on 100% of platforms has a deadline of 2029. Yes that is correct – at present blind and visually impaired people are being told they will have to wait eight years before every train station is safe and independent travel is far less frightening.

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Forty words

Earlier this year the Social Liberal Forum Council discussed what should be its priorities. Along with the nature of work, welfare and how citizens participate in their communities there was a hunger for a vision, an underlying narrative, something that goes beyond individual, evidence-based policies about specific issues, something you might call liberal ideology. It is pretty clear that many people in the country don’t know what Liberal Democrats stand for. We hear on the doorsteps, “We like you but we’re not sure what you’re about”.

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Visiting your local mosque

Eid Mubarak everyone. Muslims will be celebrating another Eid with certain restrictions still continuing in places of worship. But it’s wonderful to see that many worshippers are returning to pray at their local mosques. This is why I invited Ed Davey to witness the hundreds praying outside in the court yard of Regents Park Mosque on the last Jumma (Arabic for Friday prayer) before Eid Al Adha. It was a touching moment for me as I have many beautiful memories of coming to the mosque, praying in the gardens at night during Ramadan and playing with friends in between Arabic lessons. My father was influential in supporting an Islamic studies school that still runs to this day every weekend for children. My father also held our regular Muslim Teachers’ Association meetings at the mosque and we attended every Eid here as a family, meeting many relatives and friends. So when I asked Ed Davey to visit the mosque, this wasn’t just a historical moment, it was personal. This mosque means a lot to me and thousands of Muslim families in London.

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Another “Alston Report” – why some of you may not be using buses any more…

It is just over two years ago that a Liberal Democrat Peer, made the following intervention;

My Lords, the reality on the ground is that rural bus services have been in decline for some years now, to the extent that there are many quite large villages which no longer have any kind of bus service at all. Have the Government made any assessment of the impact this is having on residents’ ability to access essential public services such as health and education?

As it turned out, the Government rather hadn’t. But now, Philip Alston, along with colleagues Rebecca Riddell and Bassam Khawaja, has published “Public Transport, Private Profit – the Human Cost of Privatizing Buses in the United Kingdom”. And, as someone who lives in a village which lost its last scheduled bus service a decade or so ago, you might not be surprised that I took rather more interest than might otherwise be the case.

But, of course, it’s not just small, rural villages that are now cut off from the bus network. As the authors note, some 3.34 million people could not reach any food stores within fifteen minutes by public transport. That adds costs for the rural poor, adds traffic to the roads and leads to those who can’t drive for whatever reason to be forced towards larger communities in order to function more easily.

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Pandemic restrictions are over… sort of… Where do we go from here?

You might find yourself wondering why, when the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Health are all self-isolating, and new cases have reached the peak levels seen last over the New Year, today is a good day to declare as “Freedom Day”. And yet, for all of the bombast that the Prime Minister offered in the days leading up to today, even he is now quoted as saying;

So please, please, please be cautious. Go forward tomorrow into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people and the risks that the disease continues to present.

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Welcome to my day – 19 July: Freedom (to ignore the consequences) Day?

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the new “new normal”, when we’re all encouraged to throw off the shackles of Covid restrictions and return to our old lives. That is, unless you’re immuno-compromised, or minded to take into consideration that those around you might be cautious, or unvaccinated, or… well, you know the rest…

So, what have we got today?

Katie Hopkins (you remember her, yes?) is awaiting her deportation flight from Australia, having been flown in by a local television station to take part in their version of Celebrity Big Brother (and yes, the definition of “celebrity” is clearly being stretched gossamer thin here). Flouting Australia’s incredibly tight quarantine rules was one thing – telling the world via Instagram that you were doing it and deliberately so quite another. What is it about faux-libertarians and consequences?

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Suzanne Fletcher on her lifelong mission to speak up for the most vulnerable people

Suzanne Fletcher is one of the hardest working, humanitarian, compassionate people I have ever known. She has devoted her life improve living conditions for the poorest people with the least power.

Her local paper, the Darlington and Stockton Times, has done a wonderful profile of her as part of their series of features inspired by Middlesborugh Soroptimists’ list of outstanding local women.

Suzanne talked of her own experience of poor housing when she was small:

“We lived in an awful place, near the slag heaps,” says Suzanne. “It was difficult and dangerous as there was so much pollution in the air. Coal gas came up through the cellar, our plants died, as did my pet mouse, and the curtains rotted. My mother and father were both hardworking and did their best to keep everything clean, but when we complained the authorities didn’t listen. They considered our living conditions to be fine.

“The noise and swearing from the police cells at night kept us awake. My mother would prepare meals for the prisoners. They were sometimes sent back uneaten, but she was determined they would be treated with dignity.”

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Willie Rennie: “A cheerful voice for a more decent politics”

Willie Rennie has done two major interviews this weekend talking about his decision to stand aside as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and his hopes for the future.

The Times (£) leader had praise for him yesterday, too:

It is to be hoped that Mr Rennie remains active in public life. He has been a cheerful voice for a more decent politics and his brand of low-key, relaxed liberalism is more necessary than ever. After a summer running in the hills he should return to the fray, ready to play his part in building a bigger and better centre.

Willie spoke to Magnus Linklater for the paper (£) and talked about his hope that Labour and the Lib Dems would work more closely together to present a progressive, pro-UK alternative to the nationalism and populism of the SNP and Conservatives:

“I think working together with Labour on issues of common interest would be a good thing,” he said in an interview with The Times. “I wouldn’t run before we can walk. But build confidence between the parties and also amongst the electorate to show we’re getting our act together.”

This is about trying to show that for middle Scotland there is something better and stronger than the Conservatives or the SNP, that it’s got energy, it’s got momentum, it’s got ideas, and that’s the most important thing, so people know that if they vote for it, it will be worth it,” he added. “The actual mechanism is less important — it’s the energy behind it that matters.”

He talked about how much Scotland had changed in the past decade or so – and not for the better:

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Sunak and Johnson in “Barnard Castle on steroids” escape from self-isolation

You couldn’t make it up. It’s like reading the cover of Private Eye. Health secretary Sajid Javid gets a positive Covid-19 result. If the Prime Minister and Chancellor, who met with him on Friday,  were ordinary mortals, they would have been banished into the self-isolation wilderness for 10 days.

But those at the heart of government live more privileged lives. Driving to Barnard’s Castle to test eyesight. Sneaking a clinch with a mistress, though forgetting to smile for the CCTV. And now Johnson and Sunak, who must not to be confused with the comedy act Laurel and Hardy no matter how tempting that is, are on a trial. They are piloting a stop at work with Covid scheme and testing daily.

 

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ALDC Conference – a must for anyone who wants to be a Lib Dem Councillor

If you are hoping to be a Lib Dem Councillor next May, you really need to be a member of ALDC, the Association of Lib Dem Councillors and Campaigners. They have all the tools you need to win and you will be able to access all of them and attend their brilliant online training if you join.

They are having an online conference for members which includes their AGM on Saturday 4th September. There are sessions on things like how to win, how to make a difference in your community and local government in Europe.

ALDC Chief Executive Tim Pickstone said in an email to members:

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World Review: Cuba, climate change, the Taliban and foreign aid

Cuba may be reaching the end of its search for Utopian Socialism – shop shelves are empty and people are hungry. Ten years from now 2021 will be known as the year that the world was dragged kicking and screaming to the reality of climate change. The Taliban continues its march to victory with the capture of a key border crossing in the southeast corner on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Boris Johnson’s win on foreign aid this week was the world’s loss.

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Ed Davey: “The Blue Wall is game on”

In an interview with the I, Ed Davey has announced that the Lib Dems are picking candidates in “blue wall” seats like Chesham and Amersham with the aim of taking seats off the Tories at the next General Election.

Speaking in Guildford, a former Lib Dem seat held by the Tories since 2005, Sir Ed said: “We’re selecting our candidate, do it early and get them on the doorstep.”

He added: “If we get through these selections, which are now going well apace, we’ll have campaigns, we’ll have people who are going out there and knocking on doors, week in week out, listening to people, and the Tory MPs are going to find them getting worried. They’ll start feeling that at the local level but it will feed through to the national level.”

He talked about his experience of knocking on doors in Chesham and Amersham:

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By-election report from ALDC: 15th July….and 13th?

When we were looking at this week of by-elections coming up, we thought it’d be a bit of a lull. In fact, it’s been one of the most exciting by-election weeks we’ve had in a while! A Tuesday by-election, flying the flag for the first time in 15 years in Sandwell, and an outstanding Parish Council win by just one vote. It’s been a great week for us by-election nerds!

We had quite the pleasant surprise here at ALDC towers when someone reported a by-election happening on Tuesday night, even more so when it ended up being another Lib Dem win. Whilst there’s long standing statutory requirements for local elections to be held on the first Thursday of May, and the same for general elections since the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act, no such regulations exist for by-elections, and is merely convention. Why this one bucked convention no one quite knows…

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Observations of an Expat: America’s Original Sin

America has developed its own version of Original Sin. It is called the Critical Race Theory and is proving to be yet another toxic debate topic dividing Black and White and the growing chasm separating America’s right and left.

Original Sin was propagated by St Augustine in the 4th century. It maintained that every human was born sinful and spent a lifetime fighting against it. The Augustinian philosophy was a major tenet of the medieval church and proved especially with the breakaway Protestant sects. Gradually, however, first the Catholics, and then most of the Protestants revised their thinking. Sin was washed away with sacrament of baptism and replaced with personal responsibility.

Critical Race Theory maintains that all Americans—or at least all White Americans—are born racist.

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Lib Dems win Telford & Wrekin Lawley by-election by one vote

The Liberal Democrats are celebrating a close win in the Lawley and Overdale Parish Council by-election.

Lib Dem Catherine Salter took 140 votes, to the Conservative’s 139, with Labour trailing a distant third on 69 votes. The independent candidate came fourth with 38 votes.

The focus of Cllr Salter’s campaign was engaging with and listening to local residents’ concerns about speeding, lack of public transport and poor finishing of new estates by developers.

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Ending profit making from the care of vulnerable children in Wales

Before my election to the Senedd I was a child protection social worker. I worked with some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society and those staff dedicated to giving them every chance to thrive.

That is why I jumped at the chance to table a debate on legislative proposal in the Senedd on Wednesday, just weeks into the first term. I used the opportunity to shine a light on the work that we must do here in Wales to create a genuine care system based on the needs, hopes, and aspirations of children and young people.

I used my voice in our national parliament, to speak up for the children, young people, and staff who are waiting for the Welsh Labour Government to act.

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Wera Hobhouse calls for Olympian steps to halt Xinjiang atrocities

In a Commons debate on Thursday, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse warned it would be unacceptable for the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, senior diplomats and officials to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. To do so would give credibility to a regime that is accused of genocide in Xinjiang. Western countries had to take a stance against China’s human rights abuses.

Hobhouse told MPs is totally unacceptable that peaceful demonstrations during protests on the field of play or in medal ceremonies are barred by the IOC under the threat of sanctions. Given the ongoing human rights abuses, is it at all justifiable for the games to go ahead?

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Levelling Up – Revolution not Evolution

The Prime Minister gave his big speech on “Levelling Up” and as we discovered it is still a slogan in search of policies. The only positive was a half-formed idea around further devolution. If the pandemic has taught us anything from the separate policies of devolved First Ministers, Track and Trace to the spotlight on Metro Mayors, it is that effective policy can only be delivered at a local level.

Our current constitutional settlement is obviously lopsided between Nations and the English Regions. What’s worse, government fiat often dictates spending. It is time to recast our country and develop a model that works for the whole country. Every company knows that the closer a service is to the people it serves the more responsive it is. And yet the dominance of the Treasury and Whitehall means the government pays lip service to this idea. Local government is given responsibility but starved of funding. There is another way.

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