23 October 2018 – today’s (absence of) press releases

There’s a turn-up for the book, no press releases at all today, so it seems.

And so, instead of just leaving a space, here’s a musical interlude for you which also acts as a pointer towards a famous Belgian…

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Sal Brinton writes…The next steps on the supporters’ scheme

Following the all member survey and consultation on setting up a registered supporter scheme the Federal Board met on 15 and 22 October. At the first meeting we saw the results of the survey, and at the second the rapporteur notes of the various consultation events around the country. We discussed these results and your comments and queries and considered the next steps.

The Board asked me to thank all those who responded to the online survey, and who came to ask questions and raise comments at the various events, including the two webinars. Many of the issues you have raised are similar to those that have been raised by members of the Board themselves. It’s never possible in the first consultation documents to cover all those issues, but the Board are clear as part of our next steps we will publish a document that responds to them – more details below.

Firstly, the overall headlines of the survey responses. Over 10,000 of you replied: this includes those who answered the Federal People Development Committee (FPDC) survey that went out in mid-August, before Vince Cable’s speech and his subsequent survey. Over 75% of all those who responded said that you supported the creation of a registered supporter group. Within that, more than half said that you supported the proposals that a registered supporter should have a vote in the election of a Leader of the party, and also for the broadening of the pool of those who can stand for Leader beyond the MPs.

There was overwhelming support for registered supporters campaigning and being asked what their priorities are for the party in policy terms, and finally, there was substantial support for the removal of the current rule that you have to be a member for twelve months before you can be selected as a candidate for election to Parliament in Westminster. The concerns were mainly around ensuring that there are clear benefits for members that supporters would not have (ie members being able to nominate candidates for Leader, and voting for policy motions at Conference).

In Vince’s proposals he had urged us to move forward swiftly, now that we had some momentum amongst those who are already supporters or who vote for us, which would include taking the elements of the proposals to a Conference so that members can debate and vote on it. Your Board discussed and decided that we should:-

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LibLink: Sally Hamwee: The UK should never be complicit with the death penalty anywhere in the world

Yesterday Sally Hamwee wrote about why she and Labour were going to have a good go at amending the Government’s Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill to ensure that

In an article for Politics Home, she set the scene:

The UK has long opposed the use of the death penalty in other countries, and we have committed ourselves to the goal of abolishing it everywhere. We can do this by using our diplomatic influence, and also by refusing to help foreign governments with prosecutions that will result in someone being executed.

That has been longstanding government policy: the UK must get assurances that the death penalty will not be used before providing security and justice assistance to countries that still retain it. This clear policy is an important statement of Britain’s values. It is vital not only for preventing the use of the death penalty in the individual cases where we provide assistance, but also for strengthening our efforts to persuade all countries to abolish it.

Yet in July, we discovered that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, had offered to assist the United States government in prosecuting two British citizens accused of carrying out executions for ISIL in Syria and Iraq, without seeking assurances that the death penalty will not be used. Even worse, he made that decision in secret. We only found out because his letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was leaked to the Telegraph.

There is no doubt that terrorists should face justice, but that could be achieved in this case either by prosecuting them here, under British law, or by assisting the US authorities with their prosecutions – if they guarantee that they will not seek the death penalty.

So what can this Bill do about it?

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Three things we can all do to help secure a People’s Vote

We can win this thing one conversation at a time, but that means every one of us has to pull a shift.

I suggest 3 simple things that everyone in here can do right now.

1. Write to your MP and tell them you want a Peoples Vote. It doesn’t matter who they are or what party or what they’ve said on this. Write to them as a voter. A short, polite email is fine.

2. Now go to the People’s Vote website and sign the petition. Also check out the briefings and other material there.

3. Think of 5 people in your …

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95% done is not enough if you’re missing the stuff that keeps you alive

The party has put up this uplifting video of Saturday’s march. For those of us who were there it’s great to remember that time when you were in the same place as 700,000 like-minded people. For those who weren’t, and who either have always felt nervous or are starting to feel nervous about Brexit, it’s encouraging to see so many people out there winning the argument.

Since the march, we’ve seen Dominic Raab go on Marr and effectively say that the extremist wing of his party are more important than peace in Northern Ireland. I mean, how on earth can any minister abdicate his responsibility to the country quite so brazenly?

Then yesterday, Theresa May said we were 95% there as far as a deal was concerned. Well, your brain is only 3% or so of your bodyweight, your heart is less than half a percent and your eyes don’t weigh very much at all – but if you are missing all three, you’re pretty stuffed. What we do know about this deal so far is that it sells out our service based economy, it will kick a lot of stuff into the long grass, so we are effectively flying blind, and there is no agreement on the Northern Irish border which is pretty fundamental to the future of the UK.

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22 October 2018 – today’s press releases

It’s been a busy day in HQ, and there’s news of a victory over the Government in the Lords…

Lib Dems: Research shows hard border for NI puts lives at risk

Research by the Liberal Democrats and PoliticsHome has shown how crucial a soft border is between Ireland and Northern Ireland, specifically in relation to emergency service call-outs.

A series of freedom of information requests has shown that 182 ambulances and 270 fire engines crossed into the Republic during 2016-17 in response to 999 calls, highlighting how a hard border could potentially leave people with far slower emergency responses if the UK …

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The Importance of Liberal Values in Defeating Brexit

On 20th October, there was the “People’s Vote” march in London. Whilst I support the march, it’s important to remember that 700,000 people showing up on Parliament Square and then going back to their keyboards just isn’t going to shift the political landscape or change anyone’s mind. The overwhelming majority of people who took part in the march will have voted or supported Remain in the referendum in 2016, including a huge number of young people and EU citizens who were denied a vote at the time.

Don’t get me wrong – if you went on the march, you have exercised …

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No Vince, I don’t want a “Gina Miller-type figure” parachuted in to be our leader (and it’s not worth a special conference)

Norbreck Castle hotel (northern section), Blackpool - DSC06518
The Norbreck Castle Hotel, Blackpool. It was here in 1988 that a special Liberal party conference was held to decide to merge the party with the SDP*

One of the frustrating things about the debate over Vince’s two constitutional proposals** is that I am yet to hear Vince come out and actually outline why they are needed. This is maddening. It is especially maddening because I greatly respect Vince and normally he is very good at articulating ideas and proposals.

Instead, we have vague “smoke and mirrors” mutterings about somebody out there circling the political scene with a vast shedload of money which they want to chuck at a “centre movement”. We have got to pull up our socks and be part of this “movement”. And we only have two months to do it, because otherwise we’ll miss the boat and the shedload of cash will go to someone else. We’ve got to be like Justin Trudeau and the Canadian Liberals. We need to allow someone like Gina Miller to come in and lead the party so that people see us as a new centrist movement.

Well, this is all vague nonsense. Vince, or someone, should come out and be specific about all this. Who is this person (or people) with the money? What do they want? Name the people who could be our leader outside of the House of Commons – not just now – name anyone in the last fifty years outside the Commons who could have had a shot at being our leader.

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From our Lords Correspondent: 15-18 October – the phoney war continues…

It increasingly appears as though the Government is a rudderles hulk, limping towards a harbour of dubious safety, and business in the Lords is reflecting that, as a series of Bills, related to Brexit, either are delayed in the Commons or await publication.

Monday‘s main business related to the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to “amend the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in relation to procedures in accordance with which a person may be deprived of liberty where the person lacks capacity to consent, and for connected purposes”. In other words, it …

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Welcome to my day: 22 October 2018 – Xavier Bettel is younger than you thought…

Firstly, I really should acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of people, some of our readers included, who gave up their Saturday to march in support of a People’s Vote. And, for the benefit of the BBC, it’s not a “so-called People’s Vote”. One does wonder if those who lead the BBC have given up on the idea of reporting altogether in favour of simply empowering the commentariat, i.e. the sort of people who have never had any problem in having their voices heard anyway.

But I digress. It was reassuring to see a mass demonstration of public support for a position, …

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21 October 2018 – today’s press releases…

It’s a Sunday, and if you think that the Press Team go quiet, you’d be wrong. There’s always someone on duty…

Starmer must make People’s Vote Labour’s Brexit priority – Brake

On his programme this morning, Andrew Marr challenged Keir Starmer over the number of “hurdles” the Shadow Brexit Secretary was putting in the way of Labour fully backing a People’s Vote.

Responding, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

The People’s Vote march was genuinely cross-party and one of the striking features was the number of Labour voters who attended. This backs up authoritative academic research showing that around four

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Watch: Vince’s speech to Lib Dems before yesterday’s People’s Vote march

“We are a national movement and we’re here to stop Brexit.”

It couldn’t be clearer. Vince set out our mission for the next few months yesterday as Liberal Democrats gathered in Hyde Park ahead of the People’s Vote march. I’ve written about the day here.

Watch his full speech below:

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An open letter to the Lib Dem Federal Board ahead of tomorrow night’s meeting

Dear Board Members,

In a very friendly way I am writing to suggest that you should not at this stage agree to have a special Party Conference in early January to discuss amendments to the Party Constitution.

I am saying this not only after many discussions with Lib Dems in the North West and my own City of Liverpool but also in places as far apart as Taunton and Cambridge and with fellow Leaders from Local Government.

I have some key questions for you before you make the decision. I am expecting the answers to these questions to be publicised:

Firstly, do you not think that this will interfere in our work for the biggest round of local elections in England? The idea that early January is handy because it is before we start is risible. We started our campaign for next May, last May. We have been out every weekend and a lot during the week since August. This will take activists out of the front line at just the time we need them to be fighting for us and pushing our way into more power and more influence via more votes.

Secondly, do you not think that it sends all the wrong messages. Some people may think that the UK is going to hell in a hand cart and all we can do is talk about ourselves at this crucial time. That is how it will be portrayed.

Thirdly, do you really think that there is a great thirst in the Party for all the changes? 

I personally believe that there is much support for a Supporters organisation. It builds well on what we do locally. I’d love to involve more people in our policy discussions both locally and nationally; I’d love to have a larger pool of people advocating on our behalf; I think it great to have people giving us information about local and national issues. There are some things that need sorting out but these are details. The Federal Board can make these decisions and we can get on with them. In fact, we already are!

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Compulsory Voter ID – sensible security measure or deliberate disenfranchisement?

Did you know that the Government has a manifesto commitment to bring in compulsory ID for Parliamentary elections?  They plan to require us to show some sort of ID before we are issued with our ballot paper in a polling station. 

The idea was piloted in five Boroughs in the recent council elections, and the Government is now looking for pilot sites for next May’s elections. The Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission have both published evaluations of the pilots. There is also an excellent report from the Electoral Reform Society setting the issue of voter ID in the context of other priorities for electoral reform.

I took part in a project, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, to find out how voters experienced these pilots.  We contacted Lib Dem and Labour campaigners in the five Boroughs and asked them to survey their residents and to give us their own views. We received responses from 21 campaigners and 329 residents from four of the five Boroughs (Woking, Bromley, Watford & Swindon). We also held a fringe meeting at Federal Conference, where Peter Taylor, the Liberal Democrat Mayor of Watford, spoke about the Watford experience.  

The Five Pilots

The five Boroughs piloted different approaches: Woking, Bromley and Gosport tested various forms of photo ID requirement, although in Bromley and Gosport two forms of non-photo ID were also allowed; Swindon and Watford piloted a requirement to bring a poll card which was electronically scanned, with Watford also allowing other ID in the absence of a polling card.

Voters Turned Away

The Electoral Commission evaluation states that, according to the Returning Officers, 1,036 people attempted to vote without the correct ID, and that between 326 and 350 did not return later in the day, an average of 0.23% of all polling station voters.  The “did not return” rate varied between councils, with 57% of those initially turned away not returning in Woking (where the ID requirements were strictest) and about 27% not returning in Bromley and Watford. 

Campaigners in our survey gave some examples: 

“A gentleman  with a Surrey Senior Bus Pass was refused a vote because his Bus Pass had two names and apparently his name on the Electoral Register contained an additional name”. (Campaigner from Woking)

“I heard of …one person turned away despite having a digital copy of a bank statement, he was told to go home and print the statement out.” (Campaigner from Bromley) 

Voters put off due to the need for ID

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20 October 2018 – today’s press releases…

There were two press releases today, one of which has already been covered on these pages. Here’s the other one…

Cable: Arms sales to Saudi Arabia “embarrassingly compromising”

Responding to Saudi Arabia’s claim that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a fight in its consulate in Istanbul, Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable said:

This situation gets murkier and murkier – Saudi Arabia seems to have forgotten about a death in its own consulate.

The UK’s heavy reliance on Saudi Arabia for arms sales is embarrassingly compromising in these circumstances.

The government should have already suspended arms export licences to Saudi Arabia

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What a day! Sun shines on huge People’s Vote March

It’s been a wee while since so many people have taken to the streets of London to protest. The BBC reports estimates of a 700,000 crowd demanding a People’s Vote in unseasonably brilliant sunshine.

I’m not going to lie. Being in a space where I could see nobody but Lib Dems wherever I looked was pretty cool.

My day had started at 4:45 when my alarm went off. I boarded my flight at 6:15. The pilot then announced that due to forecast fog at Gatwick we wouldn’t be taking off for …

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“Brexit is not inevitable. It can be stopped.” – People’s Vote march: ‘700,000’ rally for new Brexit referendum

Here’s a selection of other tweets from today’s march:

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New Labour ‘Brexit Fudge’ unveiled

To mark Jeremy Corbyn’s wishy-washy policy on Brexit, a new Labour ‘Brexit Fudge’ has been launched.

The Labour ‘Brexit Fudge’, which will be handed to activists at the ‘People’s Vote’ march in London today, is expected to be a bittersweet reminder of Jeremy Corbyn’s party fudging their position on giving the people a final say on Brexit.

Labour ‘Brexit Fudge’ has been described as a soft, dense sweet, handmade by the Labour leadership. The product will be on a limited release, exclusively for voters between now and March 29th 2019.

Tom Brake said:

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership have defied us all with their ‘Brexit fudge’. Inspired by Willy Wonka himself, the Labour’s opposition to Brexit is just ‘pure imagination’.

This ‘Brexit fudge’ will stick in the throat of most Labour voters. Given the damage Brexit will cause, Labour’s failure to oppose this Tory mess will be difficult to stomach.

But for Brexiters, Chef Corbyn’s ‘Brexit fudge’ will have them salivating. It will make their Brexit dreams that much sweeter. Indeed, it will go well with a glass of Raab’s confusing concoction and the Eton mess being served up by Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

While we know Corbyn likes a fudge, the number of Labour supporters marching for a People’s Vote should give him something else to chew on.

Liberal Democrats demand better. Only the Liberal Democrats are united in fighting Brexit and giving the people the final say, including the option to remain in the EU.

We’re told that the ingredients for 1kg of ‘Brexit Fudge’ include:

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19 October 2018 – today’s press release…

Only one today, with Parliament not in session, and all eyes turning to tomorrow’s march…

Cable at People’s Vote march: Brexit is dividing generations

Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable will be speaking at the People’s Vote march in London tomorrow afternoon.

Vince is expected to say:

Tragically, Brexit divides one generation from another.

A substantial majority of my generation voted to leave.

A substantial majority of the young voted to remain.

Your generation is being betrayed by mine. By those who look to the past, who see Britain as a museum.

As a bonus today, here’s a link to something which has …

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Nick Clegg to move to 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, California

Embed from Getty Images

The Guardian reports:

Facebook has hired Sir Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, as its head of global policy and communications.

Clegg, 51, will join Facebook as it struggles to cope with mounting political pressure over issues including fake news, data protection and the threat of government regulation.

The former head of the Liberal Democrats will move to Silicon Valley in January.

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ALDC by-election review – 18 October 2018

There were 2 by elections to keep us ticking over this week before the 11 by elections on Super Thursday next week. With candidates standing in 2 Labour safe seats it was a challenging week for the local Lib Dems.

Hackney LB, Victoria – Labour Hold

Lab 1311
LD Pippa Morgan 436
Green 296
Con 148
WEP 84

Our best result of the night came in the safe Labour London Borough of Hackney. Despite Labour holding the seat, Lib Dem candidate Pippa Morgan ran a great campaign resulting in an increase of 10.3% of the vote share. With Labour losing 9.7% …

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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.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 2 Comments

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

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , and | 2 Comments
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