Dutch Liberal Leader tells Britain: We want you back for good

The new leader of the Dutch social liberal party D66 channelled Take That in a speech in Westminster about Brexit this week. Rob Jetten, who at 31 is the second youngest political leader in Dutch history, met MPs and peers – and impressed them too.

The speech is worth reading in full because this guy not only has some good political instincts, but he’s really funny and knows how to use sarcasm. He jokes about Theresa May’s dance moves, his habit of repeating things in speeches, his and Vince’s relative age and all sorts. But his summing up of the “epic tragedy” of Brexit is incredibly well observed communicated.

The word Brexit evokes an image of a Britain that has to endure confinement in some kind of enclosure. An enclosure from which it can escape by simply moving through an opening marked ‘exit’. It can get up and go. A simple, single act of will. You just have to say yes or no. Piece of cake. In or out. All you have to do is tick the box.

The attraction of the image the word Brexit evokes is obvious. Standing up and going for the “exit” has the flavour of decisiveness, independence, change and action. Much more attractive than being passive. Sitting on your hands. Keeping things as they are, afraid of what is outside the door. And then, of course, there is the unfortunate rubbery capacity of the word for it to be shaped into all kinds of attractive sounding derivations. Such as “brexiteer”.

Who would want to be something as stuffy and boring sounding as a “remainer” when you can be something as new-fangled and exciting as a “brexiteer”, dashing fearlessly through the exit to the great outdoors.

He explains why the process of Brexit is so bloody difficult:

There is no simple “exit” that can be taken. There is no simple separation. There is only tearing. Cutting. Destruction. Every single element, every tiny strand is connected. The mightiest riddles, such as the customs union and the Irish border, dominate the political conversation. But the truth is that it’s nitty-gritty tiny strands of fabric all the way down.

During its 45 years in the EU, Britain has imported many tens of thousands of European laws and regulations. Many thousands more have direct effect. EU law has had absolute supremacy over British law ever since British accession. A little understood legal reality. The fabric of Europe’s legal framework is the fabric of the UK’s political life.

And he reckons we can get out of this mess:

My visit here today, I’m ready to admit, is fuelled by what some might characterize as blind optimism. A blind optimism that says Britain can still escape this mess. Naturally I have no real hope of making a dent in the national discussion today. But I believe Barack Obama—one famous foreigner who unsuccessfully intervened in the Brexit debate—when he says that optimism is never blind if it is rooted in tradition.

And you do know a thing or two about tradition. You do have a tradition of escaping at the last minute. It is no coincidence Harry Houdini spent his best years in Britain. It is equally less surprising that the great escape artist Sherlock Holmes is a British literary figure.

Nor is it at all strange that the most memorable of JK Rowling’s writing involves Harry Potter escaping disaster. What is necessary for this great country to make its greatest escape? I’m no expert, which is good, because I’ve heard you’ve had quite enough of them. But I would hazard to guess that it would take a last minute miracle. And I’m here to say that we will welcome miracles as befits miracles: with biblical comprehension.

The full text of his speech is below:

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Encourage Christine and Layla to stay on track with Go Sober effort

Lib Dem MPs Christine Jardine and Layla Moran are facing their third weekend without any booze. They are doing Go Sober for October to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

So far, they have raised nearly £650 between them.

It’s not always been easy. Last week, poor Christine had to serve whisky to guests at Edinburgh West’s whisky tasting. Her face says it all.

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Observations of an ex pat: Saudi quicksand

The extremely likely interrogation, torture and murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi  inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is set to have far-reaching consequences.

The position of Iran, the civil war in Yemen, the Arab-Israeli conflict, reform in Saudi Arabia, the tenure of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the economic development of Saudi Arabia, US foreign policy and the credibility of President Trump will all be affected.

I should add the caveat that as of this broadcast/writing there is no body and the Saudis continue to deny, deny, deny. But so far they have failed to explain why Mr Khashoggi went into the consulate to keep a 1.15pm appointment on 2nd October and has never been seen since. Neither have they offered an explanation as to why he was preceded and followed by Saudi agents, some of whom carried what are believed to be bone cutting tools. Finally, the Saudi officials have failed to explain an audio recording which strongly indicates the interrogation and torture of Mr Khashoggi.

The onus is on the autocratic ruler of Saudi Arabia— Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) to either produce a live Jamal Khashoggi or a credible explanation for his disappearance. So far he has only shrugged his shoulders, arched his eyebrows and replied: “I dunno.  Nothing to do with me.”

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18 October 2018 – today’s press releases

Extending transition period another embarrassing climbdown

Responding to the news that Theresa May is open to extending the transition period, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

Theresa May once argued that we didn’t need a transition period at all. Admitting that an extension is on the table, and the billions it would cost, is yet another in a long list of embarrassing climbdowns for this Tory Government.

The blame for this mess falls squarely at the Prime Minister’s feet. Over the last two years, her Government has failed to find solutions to

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How to join the Lib Dems at the People’s Vote march on Saturday

I will be up long before the crack of bloody dawn on Saturday to begin the long journey to London to take part in the People’s Vote march. Although make no mistake, our intention is not just to secure a vote but to stop this Brexit nonsense.

Lib Dems will be meeting at the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park at 12 noon.

This country’s membership of the European Union has brought this country so much social and economic benefit. Our sex discrimination laws, maternity leave, workers’ rights, environmental and health and safety protections started there. And we didn’t have them imposed on us – we were one of the most important voices at the table shaping them.

Being part of something larger than ourselves, something that has kept the peace on this continent for almost three quarters of a century, which has championed human rights and democracy, is such a good and healthy thing.

I don’t generally feel comfortable around national flags. I’d never wave a saltire or union jack. They symbolise selfishness and insularity and isolation to me. However, I feel completely comfortable wrapping myself from head to foot in the European Union flag because it is a symbol of togetherness and common purpose and co-operation. 

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Peterloo: The Manchester Massacre

On 2nd November Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo” goes on general release following its premiere today in Manchester – a first outside London. Maxine Peake, a Corbyn fan, describes it as an ensemble piece. There are no leads amongst more than 100 actors.

Liberals, especially those in the north familiar with Labour’s authoritarian underbelly, should claim the Manchester Massacre of 1819 as part of our heritage, part of the slow march to universal suffrage. I spoke about it as I wound up a Lib Dem debate on Yorkshire Devolution in Bradford Council Chamber this week I said:

This year 2018 we have marked the centenary of votes for women.

Events from 200 and 100 years ago remind us that the extension of democracy , was achieved through persistent campaigning and a long, long struggle. It did not come through spontaneous generosity on the part of governments. People demanded it and kept on demanding, and some even died for the cause.

On the Lib Dem benches we do not see devolution as simply about moving money around, whether it be through combined authority, city region or, God help us, an elected regional mayor. Power to the people, power to Yorkshire, is about the extension and enhancement of our democracy. We should demand it, we should campaign for it and we see little virtue in a celebrity based substitute for the full monty of regional devolution.

On 16th August 1819 people converged on Manchester’s St Peter’s Field from various parts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The military commander for “the Northern District,” who should have been in charge of crowd control, decided that he had a pressing engagement at York Races.

People practised marching in step as a way of maintaining discipline but this was reported by Government spies to the Home Secretary as a threat to public order. On the road to Manchester many Methodist favourite hymns were sung as well as campaign songs set to hymn tunes. Many were unfamiliar with public demonstrations and as ever the avoidance of violence was crucial to getting the message across.

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Senior Lib Dems call on media to apologise to transgender people over hostile coverage

Senior Liberal Democrats are among the signatories to an open letter in support of transgender people and transgender rights. “Free speech does not give free reign to cause people harm,” the letter says, highlighting that the onslaught faced by trans people is not consequence free.

The letter was organised by Chippenham Lib Dem candidate Helen Belcher and the Lib Dems who have signed include Deputy Leader Jo Swinson, President Sal Brinton, Layla Moran, Lorely Burt, Brian Paddick, Liz Barker and Alex Carlile. I may have had my differences with Lord Carlile over the years, but we should remember that he …

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Not thin enough for treatment – Wera Hobhouse highlights stigma around eating disorders

In a parliamentary debate on Tuesday, Wera Hobhouse outlined how sufferers of eating disorders are being failed by health and support services. Lack of training can mean that doctors make things worse. She told the story of a young woman in her constituency who suffered for three years and never received the help that she needed.

Her aim was to look at the stigma around eating disorders and suggest solutions – one of which was the Lib Dem policy of giving young people access to child and adolescent mental health services until the age of 25. Here’s her speech in full:

We probably all know at least one sufferer or ex-sufferer of an eating disorder. As one put it to me, eating disorders are the easiest thing to get into and the hardest to get out of. We have come a long way in recent years, but we are nowhere near to providing lasting, successful treatments for hundreds of thousands of people. Many people are suffering alone and in silence, without a support network. We are failing as a society to support people in their deeply personal battles.

This debate is about stigma. There are two stigmas around eating disorders—that from outside and that which sufferers feel themselves. The result is that people often wait a long time before asking for help.

It takes an average of 58 weeks from someone realising that they have a problem to them seeking help from a GP. That is more than a year of self-doubt, self-loathing and self-harm. On average, it is a further 27 weeks until the start of treatment. Add to that the time that the person has suffered with a disorder before admitting that there is a problem and we start to see the real picture.

Anybody who has had a close family member in such a situation will understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but families are often pretty helpless too, if they do not really understand what can be done and how they can help their family member to get out of the problem. It is a form of addiction, and like with any other addiction, family members are co-sufferers. They want to help but do not really understand the deep-seated problems. Family members are important, but we need the professionals and their understanding to help families get through together. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that families are incredibly important.

Eating disorders define large periods of people’s lives. How can we shorten that time? We need people to be okay with saying, “I’m not okay.” We need to tackle the stigma around eating disorders, and the message needs to get through to a lot of people. More than 1 million people in the UK have an eating disorder; three quarters are women and one quarter are men. That is a very large number, plus there are the friends and family who suffer with them. So many people with conditions such as anorexia and bulimia blame themselves. It is not their fault and we need to make sure that they know that.

When I announced on Twitter that I was holding this debate, I received a wave of emotional responses and personal stories. Yesterday, a local doctor dropped into my office a book that she had written, which described her fight with eating disorders since the age of 13. That shows how early it can start.​

I also got an email from a young woman called Lorna, who experienced serious anorexia while studying in my constituency in Bath. This is what she told me:

“I ended up with an initial diagnosis of anxiety and depression, and was started on antidepressants. I suspended my studies and worked as a carer in my local village, living at home with my mum and brother. People I’d known all my life began commenting on the weight I’d lost, and telling me how good I looked. This is when my anorexia began to take full hold.

I stopped eating completely, lying to my mum and saying I’d eaten at work, began over-exercising compulsively, and remember pacing the corridors at work to burn extra calories. I became obsessed. I weighed myself up to 12 times a day.

My mum was terrified, and didn’t know what to do. Eventually she came with me to my GP and I told him everything. I told him I was petrified of putting on weight, exercising excessively and skipping nearly every meal. His response was ‘Oh, that’ll be your antidepressants.’ He took me off a high dose, there and then. Cold turkey.

Each time…I told him how out of control I felt with my eating. He’d force me onto the scales, shaking and crying, and then tell me my BMI was ‘healthy’ and I didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria. I was devastated. I had opened up and was denied help. I never got diagnosed with anorexia, despite going from a size 16 to a size 8 in less than a year.

I went through the monthly humiliation of being dragged onto scales and told I wasn’t thin enough to be helped yet. And not having that formal diagnosis is hard. When I tell people I was anorexic, they never quite believe me, as even doctors didn’t. I think they always assume I was being dramatic, or ‘it wasn’t that bad then’. Today, I am weight-restored, although struggle with now being overweight.

It took me 3 years to recover. 3 years of misery and obsession. I was dangerously unwell, but not sick enough to get an ounce of support.”

When I read that story, I am amazed by how brave Lorna is. She was brave to ask for treatment and even braver to put her trust into the medical system a second time, even after she did not receive the treatment that she really needed. She was very brave to tell her story. Lorna has gone on to campaign for proper treatment for eating disorders. She is here in the Chamber, and I want to thank her personally for letting me share her story—Lorna, thank you. I am so sorry that you had to go through such an awful experience. I know your words will help others, and I desperately hope that together we can improve the treatment and care of those with eating disorders and end the stigma for good.

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17 October 2018 – today’s press releases

Moran to move amendment to deliver votes at 16

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Layla Moran will today move an amendment to the Overseas Electors Bill to lower the voting age to 16 for UK citizens living abroad.

The Overseas Electors Bill, which proposes extending the right of UK citizens living abroad to vote in UK elections, will be debated at the Public Bill Committee today .

Ms Moran is moving her amendment in the wake of the Welsh Assembly supporting plans last week to introduce votes at 16.

Ms Moran said:

If we are

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Backstop to the Backstop

Monday afternoon Theresa May in parliament looked like a rabbit caught in headlights because it became clear she had no answers. There was plenty of blusters, but it was also clear that she was very unsure of herself. Taking stock on some of the comments made reveals the misdirection by Tory politicians. Do you remember Liam Fox claiming that a free trade deal with the EU would be “the easiest in human history?” Alternatively, David Davis who envisaged that we would by now have signed dozens of free trade deals with many countries, in fact, they were queuing up to sign trade deals with us. The Tories have employed the tactics of smoke and mirrors while concealing how hapless they have been.

I remember May’s speech outside No. 10 after she lost the last election, I thought the tone of her speech rather than being conciliatory was aggressive and quite inappropriate for someone who had just lost the general election. I went back to look at it again, and I note this extract:

“If we don’t get the negotiation right, your economic security and prosperity will be put at risk, and the opportunities you seek for your families will simply not happen. If we do not stand up and get this negotiation right we risk the secure and well-paid jobs we want for our children and our children’s children too.”

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Party Leadership change at D66: Veteran Pechtold hands over to young talent Jetten

The coalition government has always been difficult for Dutch social liberals; but that never discouraged us from taking responsibility in the national interest. Both the VDB of the years 1901-1946 and my party D66 (founded 1966) have suffered electoral losses because they participated in coalition governments (and Dutch politics always have those), limiting their ability to build profiles on all possible subjects.

Another similarity is that the VDB was the first in the 1930’s to attack principle the pro-Nazi party NSB, and under the party leadership of Alexander Pechtold (2006-2018; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pechtold ) we were and are the first, and the most insistent and principal attacker of both islamophobe Geert Wilders and Jared Taylor-racism adept Thierry Baudet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thierry_Baudet ).

In 2003-’06 we suffered in a coalition with VVD and CDA (they used opposition Populist MP’s to press rightist measures) resulting in significant losses (locally and nationally) in 2006. Former cabinet minister Pechtold became party leader and re-energised and professionalised our party organisation. He attacked Wilders and tried to get necessary but unpopular measures (raising the state pension age; environmentalism; Europeanism) through parliament. These activities resulted in a spectacular resurrection of D66 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrats_66 ) from then on.

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Always Speak up to be Selected

On 15th October, Sheffield South East selected me as their parliamentary candidate. The city has six constituencies. Sheffield Hallam members selected Laura Gordon to replace Nick Clegg last year, leaving five Sheffield constituencies needing candidates selected that evening. Though Sheffield Central was contested (congratulations to Shaffaq Mohammed), the remaining four were not.

Sheffield South East is not a target seat. Although 40 members were present, only two were eligible to vote in my selection. Had I not attended, I may still have won.

In uncontested selections at both council and parliamentary level, candidates understandably do limited preparation for their speeches at hustings. Why bother when you know you’ll probably win anyway and you’re essentially doing the party a favour? Well, I chose to do things a little differently, and I think you should too.

Firstly, the standard of public speaking (even amongst some of our MPs, somewhat shockingly) is often poor. This is a chance for you to practise. Set-piece political speeches are not the same as delivering a work presentation or running a seminar – they are all about persuasion. It’s a different art and one that takes practice.

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16 October 2018 – today’s press releases…

Welcome to the second day of our week of publishing the Party’s press releases as we receive them. Do let us know in the comments if you find this valuable…

Government must improve care for those with eating disorders

Today Wera Hobhouse will lead a Westminster Hall debate on the role stigma plays in preventing people with eating disorders from accessing early treatment.

Eating disorders affect 1.25 million people in the UK and despite evidence showing early intervention is critical to a recovery, people wait three-and-a-half years, on average, between the onset of symptoms and starting treatment.

Liberal Democrat MP for Bath Wera …

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A new side to North East Fife’s Lib Dem candidate

If you were at the Conference rally in Brighton, you’ll have seen the fantastic speech given by our amazing candidate for North East Fife, Wendy Chamberlain. She hopes to take the seat, currently held by the SNP’s Stephen Gethins. He and his wife account for his entire majority.

Wendy has many talents and was featured in this week’s Scotland on Sunday for her work on Scotland’s governing body for the sport of Shinty. It’s a world which has, until fairly recently, excluded women from its management.

When Wendy Chamberlain became the first woman to join the board of the Camanachd Association

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0-67% in Watton. Can we do it elsewhere?

The by-election in Watton-at-Stone in August saw Liberal Democrats take 67% of the vote in a ward we’d not contested in three decades. This is in East Herts District, where we lost our last councillors in 2015 and all the sitting councillors were elected as Tories. Can we do this elsewhere?

The local party benefited considerably from the help and expertise of Paul Zukowskij from HC3, and through him from other people in Hertfordshire, and also from Cambridgeshire (particularly from Mary Regnier Wilson who ran the committee room on polling day).

The stark contrast in my mind is with another recent by-election, in Petersfield ward in Cambridge, where what felt like an army of campaigners worked our socks off, but didn’t win. Significantly more effort went into Petersfield than Watton, but…

In the back of my mind is the memory of door-knocking in South Cambridgeshire in the 2017 County campaign and having people say “I would vote Liberal Democrat, but there’s no point around here because the Tories always win”. That’s the South Cambridgeshire where we took control of the District Council in May this year…

Also in the back of my mind is the memory of the 2017 General Election and knocking on doors in elsewhere in East Herts where people were glad to see a canvasser: comments included “the political parties don’t care about us” and “I’ve lived in this house for 20 years and you’re the first canvasser to knock on my door”. The only Tory leaflet I saw in that campaign in Hertford and Stortford constituency was their freepost.

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My battle with a Gender Recognition Panel

The decision to transition had taken me several years. Early life was just about trying to understand why I was different, later life worrying about how I could make such a change in my life.

Eleven years ago I decided the time had come to deal with these feelings and that resulted in a lot of research, and a lot of soul searching.

I saw two different medical professionals, both of whom confirmed with weeks their diagnosis. They even supported me early on to undergo medical intervention.

Work stood in the way of transitioning as they had made me reapply for my own job. That prevented me transitioning at the start of my medical consultations and I relayed this to the people helping me. That was the November and the following March I fully transitioned. Work were, by this time, very supportive and even gave me additional time off to support that transition.

In the first week I had obtained a new passport (as we were going abroad) and applied for a new driving licence. I was treated extremely well at the passport office as I had to make it an urgent application. They even used the opportunity to train a member of staff in how to handle such changes.

A change of name Deed Poll (witnessed by a friend) and a letter from my doctor stating that I was intending to live in my new gender for the rest of my life was all that it took for both the passport and driving licence to be changed. I travelled, just days later, around the Mediterranean using my passport to prove my identity.

Two year later, I applied for an interim gender recognition certificate (as I was married to my second wife and would have to annul the marriage to get a full GRC).

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The City and me

Last week (9 October) I stood for the first time in the City of London elections in Castle Baynard ward that stretches from Fleet Street to Blackfriars, taking in St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was a 3-week whirlwind of a campaign. The by-election was called as one of the Common Councilmen in the ward was elected as an Alderman elsewhere and created a vacancy.  There were 8 of us contesting one place.  

My fascination with the City started way back when I landed my first real job as an articled clerk in the City firm of Norton Rose and then working as a solicitor involved in securitisation and cross border finance.  My renewed interest in the City came about when I tried to get on the board of governors of my sons’ independent school.  No parent governors there.   It was all in the hands of the Worshipful Company of the Mercers.  This then led me to investigate the intriguing world of Livery Companies, only to discover that membership of the Mercers was closed (at least to me). 

I persisted in my enquiry and 6 years ago joined a newer and more welcoming livery company, that of the World Traders in the year that Mei Sim Lai OBE DL became Master, the first Master of Chinese heritage in the City’s 800 history!  Yes that would be the livery company for me.

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15 October 2018 – today’s press releases…

It’s been suggested quite often in these pages that the media coverage we get as a Party isn’t that great. And, often, it is suggested that we need to crank up our media operation. So, for one week, I’ll be publishing all of the press releases that Liberal Democrat Voice receives from HQ, honouring the embargos as they are advised.

Today’s press releases are;

Welsh Lib Dems Urge Health Boards to Monitor Loneliness

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have urged health boards across Wales to monitor the scale of loneliness in their areas and treat loneliness and isolation as a health issue following an …

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What do Liberal Democrat members think? Don’t miss your chance to make your views heard!

We used to poll our readers quite a lot, and very interesting the results were too. Not always entirely reflective of the wider Party membership, but often the only meaningful attempt to assess the direction of travel on a range of subjects.

Well, we’re keen to resume our polling, but before we do, we’d like to invite those of you who are members to register for the forum linked to the site (assuming that you haven’t already done so) so that we can send you an e-mail inviting you to take part when the time comes.

And whilst we’re talking about polling, …

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The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill reaches the Lords…

Parliament returned to Westminster on Tuesday after the conference recess, and the Lords was immediately presented with one of those challenges it so often rises to, another anti-terrorism Bill, the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which received its Second Reading.

From the Liberal Democrat benches, Jonathan Marks outlined the four key tests against which the proposals would be judged;

First, what is the purpose of the measure and what is the mischief it seeks to address? Secondly, is the measure necessary to achieve that purpose? Thirdly, is the measure a proportionate response to the mischief, having regard to the restrictions on liberty

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Can we afford NOT to have a shorter working week?

One of the policies that got the most attention during the Labour conference was the idea of a 4 day working week. Of course, this set off the barrage of accusations of fantasy politics, but what is now seen as a bit of a mad idea was once a mainstream view of the inevitable.

After the Industrial Revolution, workers found themselves working seven days a week and leisure time was seen as a virtue of the rich not to be wasted on the immoral poor. But, as technology and political will evolved, the working week shortened. Great industrialists like Henry Ford, …

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From our Lords Correspondent: 9-11 October – as the summer draws to a close, a young Peer’s thoughts turn to Brexit…

Yes, it’s back, as the end of the Peer show returns to a Parliamentary chamber near you. And this time, I’m going to try to produce a column every week…

The ninety-eight strong Liberal Democrat group returned to battle this week, having shrunk by one more just before the Summer Recess. Ronnie Fearn, after two terms as the MP for Southport, and seventeen years in the Lords, retired under the terms of the 2014 House of Lords Reform Act on 11 July at the age of eighty-seven. No doubt the wear and tear …

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Defiant in the face of the storm, Welsh Liberal Democrats meet in Aberystwyth

When  some of Aberystwyth beach is on the road outside the venue of the Welsh Party conference, you know things are not quite right. The rain and wind in Wales this weekend has been dire, with roads closed, train lines down and houses flooded. At least two of our party members experienced flooding of their houses, and those of us who travelled to and from the conference experienced delays, and many did not even get to us.

But, along with the exceptional weather, we had an exceptional Autumn conference. Vince Cable and Sal Brinton battled to get to us and we are so grateful. Two campaign Federal Party staff also endured bus replacement services to be with us to support us. Your Liberal Britain ran two workshops. Welsh superstars (the Williams’ trio) – Kirsty Williams, Roger Williams and Mark Williams were in attendance.

We had debates on protecting rural Wales, a more equal Wales, dumping of nuclear waste, prostate cancer. We had a Q and A with the only Liberal Democrat in the country changing lives of people from government, in Kirsty Williams, our Education Cabinet Secretary; she told us of the newly launched  rural school scheme called ‘e-sgol’ (Welsh word for school is ysgol, which means ladder) – using IT to connect children in rural areas to teachers in specialist subjects.

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Welcome to my day: 15 October 2018 – returning to, or from, the country…

I’ve spent a rather relaxing weekend in Hampshire and Dorset, but it’s time to return to reality, or at least mid-Suffolk and a new week.

Will the week ahead see a rash of Cabinet resignations, as Brexiteers realise that the next set of Government compromises in search of a deal will take them ever further from whatever Brexit they individually want or understand? Is Theresa May really a sleeper agent for an Exit from Brexit, or just being tossed from crisis to crisis?

The suggestion that talks between Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier broke down without agreement last night do not augur …

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Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #532

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 532nd weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the five most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (7-13 October, 2018), together with a hand-picked seven you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

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Five days left to support trans and non binary people in England and Wales

One of my personal highlights of Lib Dem Conference in Brighton was the LDV fringe meeting on introducing some light and kindness into the currently toxic media atmosphere surrounding transgender and non binary people.

In Scotland the atmosphere is much more inclusive. Scotland’s feminist organisations are open to self identified women who are feminists. There has been an enduring, healthy and respectful dialogue between all equality organisations. That’s why I invited Emma Ritch, the Director of Engender  along with James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance to tell us more. Sarah Brown from LGBT+ Lib Dems was there to outline the current battleground – the ill-informed, scapegoating, fear-mongering in the media and Sal Brinton emphasised the party’s commitment to transgender rights. Sal talked about meeting a young actor who was trans early in her career and being horrified by the discrimination they faced.

Emma spoke about how a comparatively well-funded voluntary sector and a Government determined to make sure services were trans-inclusive helped. She said that there had been some difficult conversations and questions, but that what she called the “institutional kindness” of the Scottish Transgender Alliance had done so much to foster knowledge and understanding. She said that “radical kindness” was a key element in bringing people together.

James talked about the proposed reforms to the GRA and how they would make the process much easier for transgender people to amend their birth certificates. He pointed out that a statutory declaration was a very serious legal document and the penalty for making a false one is two years in prison.

It was a well attended meeting with some excellent canapés (I will dream about the mini Tiramisu things for a long time) and some warm and thoughtful discussion. Paul Walter wrote his account of it here.

One person who was there emailed me with some reflections:

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Your last chance to have your say on Vince’s party reforms…for now, at least

The consultation on Vince’s party reforms ends today.

If you haven’t already responded, you can do so here.

It’s really important that as many party members as possible make their views known.

If you are not sure about the issues, we’ve published lots of articles with varying viewpoints about this over the past few weeks and months. There’s a list of them here.

Here are some highlights?

Vince himself wrote for us to say why he thinks we need to change:

The Liberal Democrats have a long and proud history of approaching these transformational moments head on — by localising power, fostering diversity and nurturing creativity. We fight for our fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. In short, we live by the very principles that successful movements are built upon.

Earlier this year, we set a new direction for our party, by passing a motion at conference to “Create a political and social movement which encourages people to take and use power in their own lives and communities at every level of society.”

It is time to make good on this directive — to transform our party into a wider liberal movement that will bring positive change to Britain.

But James Baillie had concerns about party democracy:

Meaningful democracy requires a level playing field and a fair debate – party associated organisations and member groups are vital to policy formation at conference, for example. So how are the leadership going to ensure that their proposed wider movement provides an intellectual space for liberal ideas rather than just an echo chamber for the leadership of the day? Will member organisations get access and the ability to regularly communicate with Lib Dem supporters, so that we actually get? Will member campaigns be able to present an opposition case to any member ballots, on an equal footing to the proposition?

I have more questions on this topic than space in an article to write them down, and it’s not simply a case of the devil being in the detail – the issues posed above are absolutely questions of vision, of whether we want an informed, participatory future for our movement or a cut-down, centralised shell that can bypass members and use supporter ballots as a legitimising prop.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 5 Comments

Jane Dodds: Liberals fight for the forgotten and the vulnerable

A visit to a Cardiff food bank laid very heavily on Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds’ mind as she delivered her speech to Welsh Lib Dem Conference. Citing examples of someone sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions for not going to an interview on the day their father died, she called for an end to the rollout of Universal Credit.

Her speech in full follows:

On October 13th, 2008, exactly 10 years ago we saw the beginning of major distrust in mainstream politics. The Treasury spent £37 billion in bailing out the banks, to stop the economy collapsing. This Financial crisis exposed fault lines in society that were ignored or unnoticed when times were good. This lead many thousands of people in communities across Wales feeling that they had no place at the table and no hope or aspiration.

All it took was greed from bankers, arrogance from policymakers and complacency from regulators to set in motion a chain of events that would damage countless lives and change the world order.

The past ten years have seen insecure work and underemployment rise.

We have seen workers’ pay reduce in real terms and zero hours contracts become norm.

We have seen stagnant wages, and the UK is on track for the biggest squeeze on wages since the end of the Napoleonic wars.
Austerity and increasing poverty are simply being accepted as being inevitable.

Is it any wonder so many people have become angry at this injustice and feel the system doesn’t work for them?

I want to talk with you about just one of these issues… Poverty. I saw for myself last Friday, what the effect poverty really has when I visited the Cardiff Foodbank.

I saw how a heartless, cruel and bureaucratic welfare system has left far too many people reliant on of food banks and the generosity of their communities just to get by.

Why do we have a system which treats people which such suspicion, since when did mistrust of those in need of help most become acceptable.

And we must not tolerate this.

The figures on those using foodbanks are truly shocking. Last year almost 100,000 food parcels were distributed to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Wales. Yet it is the human stories that affect you the most deeply.

The personal stories I heard about the people using foodbanks moved me. I heard of one man who was not able to attend an appointment with the DWP as his father died on that day. Despite explaining this to the officers, he was sanctioned, and appeared for the first time in his life at a foodbank.

I heard of a single parent who had sold all of her furniture apart from the beds for her and her children to get by, and now was coming to a foodbank. I listened to volunteers talk about how sad and humbled they felt when people left a foodbank who were always grateful for their limited support, and wanting to do so much more to help people in their desperate circumstances.

I cannot believe that I am hearing these stories in 2018.

The most common reason for people coming to foodbanks in Wales is because there is a gap in their welfare payments. These gaps are often due to arbitrary sanctions, and when Universal Credit is rolled out in Wales there will be a 5 week gap between application and payment. This will leave thousands more people will be forced to rely on food banks.

It is because of these stories that I am today calling for the Welsh Government to launch a Cross-party Commission on food poverty and demanding a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit in Wales.

We want to rebuild and repair our safety net so it becomes fit for the future. We must recreate a welfare state that guarantees everyone a guaranteed standard of living and provides a helping hand for all those who need it. That is at the heart of a Liberal welfare state. A social welfare system that is there to support people when they need it most.

And conference, you know I would like this to go further.

I want us to really consider Universal Basic Income. An effective model could all but eradicate absolute poverty, ensuring that everyone receives the money they need to sustain a guaranteed standard of living.

I know there are concerns about UBI so that’s why I want us to push for a pilot to be in Wales to look at how it affects those in both rural and urban areas as well as identifying it’s weaknesses. This can be the future and we could fund it through new innovative taxes, like a tax on carbon usage.

And conference, in a week when we have heard from the United Nations that global warming is as big a threat as ever why are we not looking at radical solutions like this.

In Wales we continue to shout out “what about the Swansea Tidal Lagoon”? I will make no apologies for continuing to talk about the Lagoon and the transformational they can bring across Wales, and the UK. They will benefit our tourism industry, create more jobs and more importantly help protect our environment.

Listen, in Wales, we can lead the way in tackling climate change whilst creating high-skilled jobs and driving our economy forward. Our vision for a Welsh green economy extends beyond tidal energy. It includes solar power, wind power, Community Energy Projects and electric vehicles. Just look at the work of River Simple in Llandrindod Wells – aiming to eliminate the environmental impact of personal transport through the production of the “Rasa” car, which runs on hydrogen. I met the designer, Hugo Spowers, some years back and we need to ensure we are promoting and financially supporting this industry in Wales.

Innovative solutions are not just limited to the economy though. We are also overhauling the education system here in Wales, to make sure it’s fit for the future. We introduced the Welsh Pupil Premium, because our commitment to education is something which runs to the core of our Liberal values.

Kirsty Williams has constantly increased and expanded the funding, giving schools the resources to reduce the attainment gap and give pupils the support they need to achieve their full potential.

And just yesterday Kirsty launched a new innovative programme of “E-sgol”s, which will utilise technology to revolutionise rural education. Diolch Kirsty!

Just earlier this month we helped Cymorth Cymru in their campaign to protect the Supporting People Fund… and we won.

Our victory was the result of effective collaboration with the housing sector and is a testament to the importance of having Kirsty round the Welsh Government Cabinet table influencing decisions and standing up for our causes.

Conference we believe in equality and tackling injustice, not expanding it. In 2018 we cannot allow families to be punished simply for not having inherited wealth, or an opportunity to advance themselves in life.

We cannot be timid, we cannot be middle of the road, we shouldn’t keep trying to play it safe and just wait for change. We must be bold.
I know the word “Moderate” has been portrayed quite negatively lately, but it is not a bad thing. To be moderate is to challenge indifference, pursue the path which isn’t always glorious, but is the right thing to do.

Our offer to Wales cannot be a halfway house. We need far more than half measures to tackle the crises of poverty, isolation, climate change and declining public services.

As Aneurin Bevan said said
“People who stand in the middle of the road get run over .”

Liberals have always gone against the grain, always fought for the forgotten and the vulnerable and always stood up for causes no-one else will.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 13 Comments

Lord William Wallace writes…Heading towards a real crisis?

When I first read a commentator in a serious newspaper saying, in the early summer, that the UK was heading towards a potential political and constitutional crisis, of the sort that we have not faced for a century, I thought that was an exaggeration.  Now I’m not so sure.  In the course of the next few weeks, if the Prime Minister’s attempts to achieve a deal to leave the EU which will at once satisfy enough members of her party, appeal to a number of Labour MPs as well, keep the DUP on board, and not provoke a run on the pound and a slump in business confidence, collapse, with less than six months to go before the UK is due to leave, British politics – and the British economy – will be in unknown territory.

The atmosphere in Westminster is surreal.  I ran into two senior Conservatives with whom I have worked this week, both of whom remarked bitterly to me about the behaviour of colleagues within their own party.  Confusion, bitter rivalries, and for some despair, grip many MPs within the Labour Party as well.  Neither House is busy; legislation is thin, while we all wait for the government to send us the weight of bills and statutory instruments needed to arrive at an orderly transition at the end of March.  It’s now almost too late to manage that without emergency sessions and extended sittings.  Even the  trade bill, which has been through the Commons and had its second reading in the Lords, is now stalled until some clarity emerges on what sort of future relationship it needs to cover.  And behind that stretches a succession of bills and statutory instruments, promised for last Spring and postponed by the government’s own failure to agree.

The government statement on Tuesday, as Parliament returned, talked of a possible ‘delay between the end of the implementation period and the entry into force of the treaty on our future relationship.’  That suggests that the current uncertainty, which is leading banks and companies to start moving investment and staff out of Britain, could lead after the 21-month transition period, to a void without an agreed framework. Most trade experts say that it will take 3-5 years to negotiate a treaty which will then require ratification by 27 EU states as well as the UK.  The battle within the Conservatives about whether any ‘temporary’ arrangements should be strictly time-limited is about what happens in 2021, with the ideologues determined that we drop out of current arrangements then, and the pragmatists within the government (yes, there are still a few) recognising that our economy – and our security and foreign policy – need certainty about some continuing framework.

Meanwhile, panic preparations are underway to prepare for a ‘No Deal’ outcome, which begins to look quite possible.  You will have heard of the start of work on lorry parks stretching back for Dover – for up to 10,000 lorries, potentially tying up a significant part of the freight transport fleet.  Stories from Whitehall say that officials are being pulled out of their regular duties into emergency teams to prepare for a No Deal scenario.  Across the water, the DUP is threatening to bring down the government, while the SNP is preparing to campaign for a second independence referendum if the UK crashes out of the EU – which they would probably win. The possibility that the UK might break up, with Northern Ireland opinion moving towards favouring unification with Dublin and Scotland going it alone, looks real.

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 43 Comments

Do we need a Special Conference to debate Vince’s reforms?

Party President Sal Brinton has told members at the North West Regional Conference this morning that the Federal Board will discuss whether there should be a special Conference to decide on Vince Cable’s proposals for Party Reform. There are two that require a change in the Federal Constitution. The first is the idea that any registered supporters would get a vote for party leader and the other is that the leadership would be open to someone who isn’t a member of the Westminster Parliament.

The supporters’ scheme itself doesn’t need the authority of Conference to set it up – that could happen straight away.

Doing away with the time that you have to be a member before you can be a candidate for the party is something that is decided by the state parties individually.

I wrote in August about what was needed to put the changes into action.

So, to change any of these things, the constitution would have to change. Here, article 2.10 is your friend.

  • 2.10  This Constitution may only be altered:

    1. (a)  by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting at the FederalConference;

    2. (b)  where any such alteration has been submitted in accordance with theStanding Orders of that Conference by the Federal Board or any other persons or bodies entitled to submit motions or amendments under Article 8.6 and notified to Local Parties at least six weeks in advance; and

    3. (c)  in the case of any alteration to the relative powers and functions of the Federal Party and the State Parties or to this paragraph (c), it is passed by the internal procedures of each State Party.

So we know we’d have to go to Federal Conference. But when?

We can’t change the constitution in Brighton because we would have had to have been notified of a constitutional amendment by now. Are we seriously going to do it in Spring or at any time between Autumn and Spring as the Brexit stuff reaches its climax? You’d have trouble setting a date that wasn’t likely to be consumed by a referendum or an election.

And are we really going to spend our Spring Conference, two weeks before we leave the EU, on internal constitutional matters? I would question the wisdom of that one because it really  would not look good. For me the sensible time to do all this would be September 2019.

So what does the Constitution say about how we hold a Special Conference?

Here we have Article 8.12 to help us out

The Conference shall normally meet twice a year, for a week in the early autumn and a weekend in the early spring; additional meetings may be summoned upon the requisition of the Federal Board or the Federal Policy Committee or the Conference itself or 200 members, in not fewer than 20 local parties. A meeting may be cancelled by the Federal Board in exceptional circumstances.

The cost of a Special Conference is measured in tens of thousands of pounds. Even if that is covered by a donation (and if it is, I think we ought to know who is paying and think about what agenda they might have), we have to look at the opportunity cost. The political situation is so fragile at the moment that there could be a referendum or a general election at any point in the next few months.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 66 Comments
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