Elwyn Watkins RIP

Elwyn Watkins

It is with profound sadness that I have to tell you that my good friend, Elwyn Watkins, passed away this weekend.

I first met Elwyn at the London School of Economics & Political Science, where he took a BSc. (Econ) in Government. He preceded me as President of Carr-Saunders Hall, going on to become General Secretary of the LSE Student Union and we were flatmates for several of our formative years. Later, he attained a double-distinction MBA at Bradford University – an achievement about which he was, rightly, proud.

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Coalition with Starmer’s Labour?

In principle, it should not take the Conservatives’ disastrous record in government for the past fourteen years for Labour under Keir Starmer, which does not seem to stand for anything other than vaguely promising change, to win by a landslide. Labour’s double-digit lead unfortunately begs to differ.

However, after the recent local elections in England, as well as the Blackpool South by-election, Starmer did not rule out entering coalition with our party if Labour failed to win an outright parliamentary majority at the next general election. In contrast, he categorically ruled out doing so with the Scottish Nationalist Party owing to a ‘fundamental disagreement’ on Scottish independence.

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WATCH: Ed Davey’s speech to Scottish Conference – Bring on the General Election

The text is below,

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All the fun of Scottish Conference!

Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference in Hamilton was upbeat this weekend.  The party sees progress in its sights at the next Westminster, Holyrood and local authority elections.

From the moment the event was opened by West Lothian’s Cllr Sally Pattle, there were serious debates,  keynote speeches, anniversaries celebrated and a lot of fun and laughter.

The most emotional moments of Conference came during the debate on Christine Jardine MP’s motion on supporting bereaved children and young people. The motion called on the Scottish Government to create a protocol for the “collation and dissemination of information to bereaved children about relevant support services” alongside a new duty to inform which would apply to people like health professionals and teachers. Mandatory training would also be given to all those who would have a duty to inform. Contributors shared sometimes shocking but always incredibly sad experiences of loss.

Amanda Clark, our PPC for Perth and Kinross, rightly won the award for the best speech of Conference for her summation, which was heartfelt, inclusive and showed everyone who spoke that they had been heard.

Conference also voted for a national strategy to improve literacy, to bin the National Care Service that the SNP Government is blowing a billion on and which has little  prospect of actually improving care for vulnerable people, to increase access to sport, for a housing strategy that secures affordable housing for key workers and on support for Scotland’s flood-hit communities.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Russia and China

It took Vladimir Putin just nine days for Putin to go from his inauguration in the Kremlin to Zhongnanhai – the seat of China’s political power and the home of President Xi Jinping.

At the end of the two-day visit the “partnership without limits” had been elevated to one in which there are now “no forbidden areas of cooperation.”

The two countries – and the two leaders – are united in their common goal of dismantling the liberal Western political order that has dominated the world since 1945. Democracy, they are convinced, has had its day. It is time now for Sino-Russian orchestrated autocracy.

The current pivot of the Beijing-Moscow axis is the Ukraine War. This war presents both problems and opportunities for China. On the one hand, Russian failure would be regarded as a disaster. On the other, Xi Jinping is conscious of the need to prevent Sino-American relations from deteriorating too quickly. China is not ready to step into American shoes.

So, Xi Jinping exploits Russia to poke, needle and goad Washington. He talks of “no forbidden areas of cooperation” but then urges Putin to row back on the nuclear rhetoric. China has yet to recognise the Russian annexation of Luhansk and Donetsk and – so far—has refused to supply Russia with obvious weaponry. It buys more oil from Russia but is playing hardball on the Russian request for a gas pipeline that would replace revenues that Gazprom has lost in Europe.

China, has however, ignored Western sanctions against Russia. In 2022 Russian imports of Chinese machine tools grew by 120 percent and in 2023 they rose another 170 percent.

Machine tools are just one industrial category which Secretary of State Antony Blinken has complained loudly about as helping the Russian war effort. This equipment either has a hidden defense element or it is categorised as dual-use, which means it can be used for civilian or military purposes.

Other similar categories of Chinese exports have grown exponentially since Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border. Semi-conductor exports rose from $230 million in 2021 to £407 million in 2023. The machinery for making computer chips grew from $3.5 million to $180 million over the same period. Computer chips are essential for the conduct of high-tech 21st century warfare.

Russian oil

Russian oil and gas are financing Putin’s Ukraine War. So, this week, the Russian president had good news and bad news about his war coffers.

Oil revenues are up. Gas revenues are down.

Gazprom – the state gas monopoly – lost $6.9 billion in 2023. Its first annual loss since the bad old days of Russian financial chaos 20 years ago. The reason for the drop is Western sanctions and the closure of the gas pipelines Nordstream 1 and 2. Russian gas sales to Europe were down 55.6 percent. They will be even lower next year.

The picture provided by Rosneft – the Russian oil equivalent – is much rosier. Its profits were up a record 13 percent to $14.07 billion. The reason for its financial success were India, Putin’s friends in OPEC and the end of the pandemic.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has completely ignored Western sanctions and exploited Putin’s difficulties by buying huge quantities of oil at discounted prices, India then reaps a nice profit by selling the processed oil to third countries via the world market.

The OPEC countries meanwhile, have obliged President Putin by keeping oil production down and prices up. At the same time demand for energy has grown as the world economy recovers from the Covid pandemic.

But what about the coming year. Gazprom’s revenues are unlikely to rise. It takes time to build alternative destination pipelines and storage facilities. As for oil prices, demand is starting to fall. India has reached the limits of how much oil it can process and world economic growth is expected to drop to 2.7 percent in 2024 compared to 5.5 percent in 2022.

So, what Putin needs is a first class money manager to ensure that the maximum efficiency is squeezed out of every rouble. That is why he has appointed economist Andre Belousov as his new Minister for Defense.

Putin is his own commander-in-chief. He already has a Chief of Staff in the form of General Valery Gerasimov. What he needs is someone who can organise a defense budget that is now 6.7 percent of the country’s GDP before oil prices start to go the way of gas prices.

United States

In 1923, the US Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, was hauled before the courts for accepting a $350,000 bribe that allowed an oil company to drill in protected reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming.

This is the crux of the Teapot Dome Scandal which was recognised as America’s biggest political scandal until Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon.

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Observations of an Expat: Robert Fico – from sinner to saint to martyr

The man who shot Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico has inflicted major damage on the cause of liberalism.

Fico is a far-right populist who started his political life as a far-left populist. He supports Putin and opposes Zelensky. He is anti-immigrant, anti-vaxer, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim and hates journalists. While Fico is fighting for his life in a Bratislavan intensive care unit, far-right politicians in Slovakia and beyond are using his fate as a rallying cry.

In short, Robert Fico is a sinner who has been turned into a saint by an attempted assassination and may yet become a martyr.

When the Soviet Empire collapsed, Robert Fico was a staunch member of the Communist Party and when the first post-Soviet Czechoslovak parliament was elected he successfully ran as a candidate of the communist successor party.

But as the communists fell from favour, Fico jumped ship and in 1999 formed his own political vehicle – Direction Social Democracy (SMER-SD). Seven years later, his party won the most seats in Slovak Parliamentary elections and Fico became prime minister for the first time. He served again 2006 to 2010, 2012 to 2016, 2016 to 2018 and finally from 2023.

In 2018, Robert Fico resigned the premiership after mass demonstrations in protest against the murder of young investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée. A short spell in the political wilderness followed, but Fico’s career was saved by the Covid pandemic. He took an increasingly anti-lockdown, anti-vax position in direct opposition to the government’s policy. At one point his support for during an anti-lockdown demonstration resulted in his arrest.

In 2023 Fico was back in the prime minister’s chair at the head of a coalition which included the far-right Slovak National Party and the far-left Voice-Social Democracy (HLAS) Party. On the face of it, his political partners were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but in reality they shared an ultra-nationalist populist agenda with Fico’s SMER-SD.

Fico’s own views became increasingly far-right and ultra-nationalist. Same-sex marriages and adoptions by same-sex couple are “a perversion.” His views on immigration also follow the same line as other European nationalists:  We will not, said the prime minister “accept a single Muslim immigrant.”

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17 May 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Davey calls for big mental health investment on visit to Mid Dunbartonshire
  • Hunt owes an apology to millions of hardworking Brits after tax hikes
  • McArthur to host assisted dying Q&A at Scottish Liberal Democrat conference
  • Welsh Lib Dems blast Welsh Gov for failing women suffering from cancer
  • “It’s time to back our GP’s”- Mid and West Wales MS Jane Dodds

Davey calls for big mental health investment on visit to Mid Dunbartonshire

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey has called for more support for people suffering from mental ill-health on a visit to the Milngavie and Bearsden Men’s Shed.

Ed, who is visiting Scotland for the Liberal Democrats’ Conference, will be joined by Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton and Mid Dunbartonshire candidate Susan Murray.

Ed is calling for a trebling of the tax on social media giants to raise an extra £770 million for Scotland over the next five years, to fund dedicated mental health professionals in schools and GP surgeries and cut waiting times for patients.

Trebling the Digital Services Tax would raise an extra £9.5 billion for the UK over the next five years, of which £770 million would be allocated to Scotland.

Later in the day, Ed will deliver a keynote speech at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference in Hamilton.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey MP said:

The SNP have been too caught up in their carousel of chaos to deal with the real and serious issues people are facing like the mental health crisis.

Right across Scotland people deserve to be supported by their local health services, for too long we have seen mental health, in particular, be neglected.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are calling for a big expansion of mental health services across Scotland, funded by the social media giants who are such a big part of the problem.

Above all, we need the ongoing melodrama from the Scottish nationalists to end so the Government can focus their time on delivering for the people of Scotland, not saving their sinking ship.

Hunt owes an apology to millions of hardworking Brits after tax hikes

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats has found 6.5 million people are being dragged into a higher tax band as a result of Conservative party budgets, including 15,000 in Jeremy Hunt’s own constituency.

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A case for radical pragmatic ideas

During my book-hunting escapades, I stumbled upon Harold MacMillan’s “The Middle Way.” Its weathered cover, nestled among forgotten tomes, bore striking images: Mussolini’s Fascist emblem and the Soviet hammer with sickle; symbols of Europe’s political divide in 1938. Between them, the book’s title, “Middle Way,” almost asking politely: “Do things have to be this way?” The lack of evocative symbol of its own hints at thoughtful ideas contained within its pages. Intrigued, I purchased it, eager to explore its ideas before the rain set in.

If some of your readers are familiar with my previous (and first) blog entry, where I discussed Harold Wilson and his purported working-class persona, you might remember I discussed the stark contrast between his political imagination and his lifestyle reality. Just as Wilson’s persona was far removed from true working-class experiences that that of Del Boy, Harold MacMillan’s aristocratic lifestyle would fit more kindly in Hyacinth Bucket’s aspirations.

Yet, it was the devil in the detail from his book that surprised me: how strikingly compassionate and concerned about the lack of social coalescence.

His book doesn’t present itself as a warning about how too much government would lead to the formation of regimes and their state apparatus. Instead, if anything, he argues how too little government creates conditions that help extremists prey onto an unsuspecting public. In his book he calls it a study rather than a philosophy, “The Middle Way: A Study of The Problems of Economic and Social Progress in a Free and Democratic World”. The word study is rather methodical but doesn’t go too far for being called abstract.

MacMillan’s assertion of the need for a more interventionist government role is equally crucial in a free society. He advocated for pragmatic, evidence-based approaches, clear-sighted good sense; even going so far as to call for nationalization where market failures we’re evident or private interest was incompatible to public interest.

I noticed quickly upon joining as a new member that we LibDems come in all political colours. While critics may argue that this diversity muddies the Party’s image, painting it as too broad a church, wishy-washy, colourless, and just a bit ‘meh’; we centre our values on personal freedom and liberty. I always found the words “freedom” and “liberty” can be misleading sometimes. I often found its use, by extension, as the establishment’s way to excuse our collective responsibility. The freedom of choice is only as convenient if people have the economic resources needed to fully participate. The freedom from: social injustice, poverty, inequality etc. The “freedom to” is needed for a just society, but in cohabitation with the “freedom from” narrative.

So how could we envision this? Here is a list of a few ideas and thought experiments that I had in mind to share in this discussion.

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Cllr Richard Kemp is Lord Mayor of Liverpool

Congratulations to longstanding campaigner Richard Kemp who has been sworn in as Lord Mayor of Liverpool, having served a year as Deputy Lord Mayor. This year his wife, Erica, will support him as Lady Mayoress – she was Lord Mayor herself 10 years ago.

Richard was first elected to Liverpool City Council, in 1975. Since then he has been a councillor for 47 years, and was Leader of the Lib Dem group until last year.

Many of us in local government have had much to thank Richard for in a wider context. He was Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Local Government and Vice Chair of the Local Government Association. He now acts as an adviser to local Councils on behalf of the LGA.

He was awarded CBE in 2011. Erica also has a CBE, and they are the only married couple to both have that honour – so this is a true power couple.

Richard is frequently seen at party conference, injecting his practical good sense into debates and fringe meetings. His extensive knowledge of local government makes him the go-to person whenever issues for local Councils is being discussed.

He has blogged about his mayoral appointment “Will you help me to be a good Lord Mayor!?, and writes:

I am absolutely thrilled at this honour. To be the leading citizen of a City which I love is an honour beyond anything else. I came to Liverpool 49 years ago in May 1974 to work for David (now Lord Alton) and became a councillor in May 1975 for what was then the St Michaels Ward. I have since then represented Dingle, Picton and Church Wards under a range of reorganisations. I am now the sole councillor for the fabulous and internationally known Penny Lane Ward.

My aim for the year is to spend as little time as possible as Lord Mayor in the Town Hall and as much time as possible in the community meeting people doing all the good things that they do to make our city strong, resilient and the best city in the world.

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16 May 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Mortgage repossession claims reach five-year high as families risk losing their homes to Conservative chaos
  • Carer’s Allowance report: Government cannot bury its head in the sand
  • Scottish Liberal Democrat conference to call on Swinney to ditch SNP’s takeover of social care
  • Welsh Lib Dems call for foster carer salary
  • Cole-Hamilton urges First Minister to tackle rural healthcare crisis

Mortgage repossession claims reach five-year high as families risk losing their homes to Conservative chaos

Mortgage possession claims have reached their highest level since 2019 as soaring mortgage rates since the mini budget hit homeowners, figures published by the Ministry of Justice today have revealed.

Mortgage possession claims occur when banks or lenders take homeowners to court before repossessing their home. The latest figures show there were 5,182 mortgage repossession claims in the first quarter of 2024, the highest number since 2019.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

These deeply worrying figures show a steep rise in families at risk of losing their homes due to soaring mortgage rates.

This Conservative government crashed the economy with their disastrous mini budget and sent mortgage rates spiralling. But now Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt have failed to lift a finger to help those impacted by this Conservative chaos.

It is unforgivable and shows just how out of touch the Conservative Party is with people struggling to get by.

Carer’s Allowance report: Government cannot bury its head in the sand

Responding to a Government report on the experiences of those claiming and receiving Carer’s Allowance which said that there was ‘room for improvement’ in preventing overpayments, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

Thousands of carers are caught up in the overpayment scandal, and we’ve heard many heart-breaking stories about the fear and distress it is causing.

The Government cannot bury its head in the sand and pretend this is a minor issue. It is an outrageous national scandal and Ministers must act now: writing off old overpayments and reforming their flawed and failing system.

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The failure to defeat Hamas

As was confidently predicted by military experts in the days following October 7, Israel has not destroyed Hamas by invading Gaza, and it’s clearly not going to.  Despite having to re-engage with Hamas in the previously “cleared” northern Gaza, it has started to inflict further suffering on the one and a half million people seeking refuge in Rafah, in what Netanyahu says is the final stage of clearing Gaza of Hamas fighters.  He knows most of the people are civilians, and that many are women or children, but he has no other plan, and would probably have seen the collapse of the fragile coalition he leads if he hadn’t pressed ahead.  He may be hoping that if “finishing the job” won’t entirely get rid of Hamas, it may end up inflicting sufficient revenge on the people of Gaza for him to remain in office.

International condemnation of the proposed attack on Rafah was led by US President Joe Biden, and initially echoed by the British government, but although Biden has now sent a message to Netanyahu by halting the supply of bombs which are too big to be used in urban warfare, when the Rafah phase began, British government spokesmen became suddenly silent.  As with Biden after his conversion to limited respect for international law, our government is driven by domestic politics, and Sunak may prefer to avoid the inevitable humiliation of being rebuffed by Netanyahu by keeping quiet about the invasion of Rafah.  Others might say he has been influenced by lobbying groups which support Netanyahu’s Israel unconditionally.

In November last year, the inept James Cleverly was replaced as Foreign Secretary by David Cameron, and we saw a welcome shift in the government’s position on Gaza.  Lord Cameron had one last chance to salvage his reputation before he disappeared from the political arena, and he quickly made the bold announcement that when the fighting ends, the ‘two-state solution’ will have to be a given, and on the table before peace talks begin, not as the prize for Palestinians at the end of the process, if they behaved themselves.  Unusually, the British seemed to have made a foreign policy decision which diverged from the US position, although cynics would say Cameron probably had behind the scenes permission from the Americans to do so.  However, when Israel crossed what had been a “red line” by attacking Rafah, the line was suddenly no longer red, and Cameron was no longer laying down the law to Netanyahu, his brief day in the sun having come to an abrupt end.

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Lib Dems named in environmental Power List

The ENDS Report is a UK online magazine that provides, in its own words, “intelligence for environmental professionals, delivering news, analysis and reference across the carbon, environmental and sustainability agenda.” Every year it publishes the Power List of 100 environmentalists who have made the greatest impact.

It normally excludes politicians from the Power List, but with an imminent General Election it has published a separate list of 50 politicians who have been notable changemakers, rebels and local environmental leaders. It includes a number of Lib Dems.

Bobby Dean   Bobby is a councillor in Sutton and our PPC for Carshalton & Wallington. He founded Speak Change, a communications consultancy helping charities campaign on global poverty, health and education.

Pippa Heylings  Pippa is PPC for South Cambridgeshire, and a councillor in South Cambridgeshire District Council, where she chairs the Climate Change and Environment Advisory Committee. She has represented local government at the UN climate talks.

Wera Hobhouse  Wera is the MP for Bath. She is our spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change and Transport in the Commons.

Kate Parminter   Kate is a member of the House of Lords, known as Baroness Parminter. Until recently she chaired the Lords Select Committee on Environment and Climate Change.

Beatrice Wishart   Beatrice is MSP for the Shetland Isles. She is Party Spokesperson on Rural Affairs in the Scottish Parliament.

Note that some of these links are behind a substantial paywall.

Congratulations to all of them!

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15 May 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Windermere illegal sewage dumps: A complete scandal that can’t go on
  • PMQs: Armed forces homes only to be repaired in emergencies as PM refuses to stump up extra cash
  • Sewage vote: Conservative MPs vote against law that would have sent water companies to court
  • 80,000 Scottish households face mortgage rate hike by November
  • Accounts Commission report shows councils have faced a scythe to their funds
  • “Deliver a payment scheme that farmers can have faith in” – Welsh Lib Dems call for Welsh Gov to listen to farmers over SFS reforms

Windermere illegal sewage dumps: A complete scandal that can’t go on

Responding to the news that untreated sewage was illegally pumped into Lake Windermere, Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson Tim Farron MP said:

This is a scandal. We can’t let them get away with this any longer.

The public are rightly furious that their favourite local rivers and lakes are being spoiled while water company bosses accept huge bonuses.

I hope Parliament accept my amendment today which could see water company bosses prosecuted for sewage pollution.

Rishi Sunak and his government must finally take tough action to tackle sewage dumping now instead of cosying up with the big water company bosses.

PMQs: Armed forces homes only to be repaired in emergencies as PM refuses to stump up extra cash

The Prime Minister today refused to commit extra cash for repairs for armed forces families homes despite the Head of Accommodation for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation revealing that military families could only expect repairs to their home in emergencies.

The lack of money for repairs was revealed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s new Head of Accommodation in her first update to military families this month.

Air Commodore Leah Griffin assured families that she was working to challenge the budget settlement but said non-urgent repairs and home improvements were “not currently affordable”.

Air Commodore Griffin also said that she was having to “make the case for investing in Service family housing” due to finances in the DIO that are “more challenging than ever”.

It comes as serving personnel and their families are having important requests for home repairs and upgrades denied as a lack of funding means only emergency work is being approved.

This is despite long-running problems that have seen many families forced to live in damp, cold and mouldy accommodation and troops put up in shipping style containers at Tern Hill Barracks.

Lib Dem MP Helen Morgan challenged Rishi Sunak over his commitment to the armed forces today at PMQs after this shocking admission. In response, the Prime Minister refused to commit to any additional funding to address this situation.

The North Shropshire MP has had constituents report to her that their military housing has experienced horror stories ranging from exploding boilers to collapsing roofs. In one case, a constituent recently required alterations to their shower to access it after major surgery but was told this was not possible due to the lack of budget for housing repairs. The problem was only fixed when Helen became involved.

The news undermines the Prime Minister’s claims to be prioritising defence and the Government’s recent commitment to bringing all military accommodation up to the Decent Homes Standard – a pledge that came in response to a proposed law change from Helen Morgan who has been a long-time campaigner on this issue.

In response to the Prime Minister’s answer, Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire Helen Morgan MP said:

Rishi Sunak talks a big game about defence but he isn’t even prepared to guarantee service families decent quality homes to live in.

Military morale is lower than ever because those who serve our country have been subject to years of neglect by this Conservative government.

Service people put their lives on the line to keep us and our allies safe. The least they should get in return is a clean, warm and safe home.

Our armed forces deserve a Government that takes their needs seriously and backs up its words with real actions.

That means upgrading military housing and removing repair contracts from companies that don’t do their job.

We used to talk about building homes fit for heroes – and that’s the very least we can deliver.

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LibLink Jo Swinson: New thinking about economics for a world in polycrisis

Economic optimism is not in plentiful supply at the moment. Former Leader, Jo Swinson, now Director for Partners for a New Economy, has managed to find some, though, in a recent blog post on WINGS, which

is a community of thought leaders and changemakers who are committed to ensuring philanthropy reaches its fullest potential as a catalyst for social progress. We are committed to end inertia, break down silos, challenge conventional wisdom and create an enabling environment for philanthropy to flourish. Our goal is to encourage collaboration and ignite potential — to rally philanthropic actors everywhere to build a more just, equitable and healthy world.

Jo wrote about the transformative impact targeted philanthropy can have in a world in a state of polycrisis:

A world in crisis is the new normal, so it’s no wonder that many people are experiencing burnout from pandemic fallout, geopolitical instability and the soaring cost of living of recent years.

No matter what your funding strategy or thematic focus is, your partners and the work you fund are certainly impacted by the ‘polycrisis’. Scanning the horizon for future trends, a return to how things were seems very unlikely. Just as many funders mobilised and adapted strategies to respond to Covid-19, or found ways to provide uplifts to grantees facing massive inflation, so philanthropy has to look ahead and prepare for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. WINGS rightly explores this in its current four-part seminar series ‘Embracing the Unpredictable: How is Philanthropy Navigating Complex Interconnected Crises?’ as part of the Philanthropy Transformation Initiative.

Many foundations are choosing to work differently in the face of polycrisis, including:

Replacing siloed thinking with a systemic view, narrow funding streams with cross-cutting programmes and ‘multisolving’ for several problems at once
Collaborating with other donors to pool funds and learn together, instead of a ‘go it alone’ mentality

Identifying and funding action to tackle the root causes of problems, not just symptoms

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Former Lib Dem MP Colin Breed has died

Colin Breed, who was the Liberal Democrat MP for South East Cornwall between 1997 and 2010 has died.

From Cornwall Live:

On the retirement of the sitting Conservative MP Sir Robert Hicks, Mr Breed was selected to fight the seat at the 1997 general election and won, with a majority of 6,480, three days before his 50th birthday. His first parliamentary job was as the party’s spokesman on competition and consumer affairs, and his report Checking Out the Supermarkets sparked the Competition Commission’s investigation into supermarket profitability.

In October 1999 leader Charles Kennedy appointed him to the Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister; in September 2000 he published Roots To Recovery, a paper on the future of rural Britain. In 2002 he became the junior spokesperson on defence.

Colim Martin, the Leader of the Lib Dems on Cornwall Council, paid tribute to Colin:

Colin gave me my first job in politics, when I came to work for him in Liskeard in 2005, and it soon became clear to me that he embodied so many of the qualities a good MP should have.

He was kind and friendly to everyone. He never took himself too seriously, but he knew he had a serious job to do. He was observant, curious and thoughtful, so he had developed a detailed understanding of the factors influencing everything from the price of a pint of milk to building a bypass, and as well as looking after South East Cornwall he tried to foster a more peaceful world, voting against the war in Iraq and making many visits to the Middle East to promote greater understanding between people of different religions.

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J K Galbraith and the Liberal Society

A friend who hoards his newspapers for years has just passed on to me an interview by Roy Hattersley with JK Galbraith in the latter’s 90th  year (1998)

The article is headlined “Sage of the Century”* and there is no doubt that, after Keynes’s  death, Galbraith  was the pre-eminent economist of the second half twentieth century.  He got most things right (including opposition to the Vietnam War) and many of the issues raised in the interview are as relevant today as they were  a quarter of a century ago. Indeed, having ignored his views provides a good explanation as to why we are now in our present  dire predicament.

The following quotes (in italics) are from the article;

To The Affluent Society we owe the prediction of “private affluence and public squalor.” Which we can see all around us, in spades after the Margaret Thatcher inspired dominance of the inadequately regulated market since 1979.

Galbraith’s first success was his analysis of “The Great Crash” of 1929.  In 1998 he predicted: “A sump will surely happen again, sooner or later. . .they are a normal feature of the market.”  

Well, it did happen again, in 2008 and we are still paying for the consequences.  Keynes was in favour of “animal spirits,”  but I think he had in mind investors in the “real economy” rather than manipulators of the financial markets, allowed to over-reach themselves by Mrs Thatcher’s Big Bang.

“The poor are politically emasculated.  They don’t vote so they don’t have a strong expression in Congress or the White House.”  

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14 May 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Unemployment rising: Govt is playing economic whack-a-mole
  • Lib Dems report Sunak to the Ethics Adviser over improper use of government resources at speech
  • Rees-Mogg Farage comments: Sunak must suspend the whip
  • Cole-Hamilton: A&E must not keep being ignored
  • Cole-Hamilton responds to breast cancer screening inequalities
  • “Lack of leadership”- Welsh Lib Dems call for new minister needed to eradicate child poverty

Unemployment rising: Govt is playing economic whack-a-mole

Responding to the latest labour market figures showing a rise in unemployment, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

After years of economic chaos, these are concerning figures.

The Conservative government has played economic whack-a-mole for too long, unable to grow the economy, and now too many face the prospect of losing their job.

The public has lost all faith in the Conservative party to manage the British economy. Our economy desperately needs a General Election.

Lib Dems report Sunak to the Ethics Adviser over improper use of government resources at speech

The Liberal Democrats have reported the Prime Minister to the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests for using the government crest at his party political speech yesterday.

In his speech at Policy Exchange, the Prime Minister gave an overtly party political speech in which he framed from the start as being about the choice voters will face come the next General Election. The speech was deemed so party political that on the government’s own website much of the speech was redacted.

Despite this, the Prime Minister spoke from a lectern bearing the Royal Coat of Arms which the Liberal Democrats have said is a clear breach of the Ministerial Code as it states that: “Ministers must not use government resources for party political purposes”.

The Liberal Democrats have asked the Ethics Adviser to investigate this apparent breach of the Code, saying that “Rishi Sunak must be taking the public for fools if he thinks that the speech he gave was anything other than a politically charged rant.”

Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesperson, Christine Jardine MP said:

The Prime Minister’s party political speech earlier today appears to be a clear breach of the Ministerial code. Taxpayers should not have to fund the lectern he gives this from.

Rishi Sunak must be taking the public for fools if he thinks that the speech he gave was anything other than a politically charged rant. The pathetic excuses he made for his own party’s failures will fall on deaf ears.

The country has stopped listening to the Prime Minister and the Conservative party. They want a General Election and to finally see the back of this awful government that has trashed our NHS, let water companies off the hook, and has forced far too many to choose between heating and eating.

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Mark Pack’s May report – success – all across the country

Sustained, long-term growth

Last time I possessed the question, “what does a successful general election look like?”. Since then we have certainly seen what a successful set of local elections looks like, including the fun of defeating Michael Gove’s election agent and getting David Cameron a Liberal Democrat councillor.

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Labour’s turmoil presents the LibDems as the home for those with centre-left progressive values

Embed from Getty Images

Quoting Labour’s Harold Wilson might stir some feathers to our LibDem audience, but amidst the political whirlwind, it’s fitting to recall our famous working man’s pipe-smoking ex-Prime Minister who seemed to be born into a trench-coat, rather than a birthday suit. His famous quip was “a week is a long time in politics.” And my goodness, what a week it has been.

We witnessed Natalie Elphicke, one of three former Conservatives who have recently joined Labour. Whilst the previous two defections might have surprised some and been welcomed by all within Labour, Elphicke’s departure was one that surprised everyone and was not welcomed by some from within Labour. Honestly, if you had asked me personally, I would have put better bets on her throwing herself into the coast in her constituency in Dover, to help toe a boat of Refugees onto British shores, than this. We are still yet to see the full political fallout of this choice accepted by Labour, given her right-wing views on immigration, culture wars, and, not too long ago, unflattering remarks she made about the Labour leadership. And this is only scratching the surface, given the comments she made about her husband’s victims that got caught up in his sexual misconduct trial and her attempts to influence it.

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14 May 2024 – the overnight press releases

  • IFS: Conservative party broken promises and neglect of NHS “unforgivable”
  • Parliament backs Lib Dem amendment to exclude MPs arrested for serious offences
  • Scot Lib Dems call for parliament to scrutinise government handling of baby deaths

IFS: Conservative party broken promises and neglect of NHS “unforgivable”

Responding to the IFS report showing that NHS spending will rise less quickly than the Conservative party planned in their 2019 General Election manifesto, Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said:

The Conservative party has left patients and staff to bear the brunt of rising demand, endless waiting lists, and deadly A&E delays.

Their neglect of

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13 May 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Bathing water: Govt needs to go further and stop sewage being pumped into bathing water sites
  • Maternity Care: Time Govt end postcode lottery
  • PM speech: Sunak should listen to the public and call a General Election
  • McArthur comments as legal action launched over deposit return scheme losses

Bathing water: Govt needs to go further and stop sewage being pumped into bathing water sites

Responding to the government announcing new designated bathing water sites, Liberal Democrat Environment spokesperson Tim Farron MP said:

The government needs to go much further and stop sewage being pumped into bathing water sites. Conservative Ministers allowed disgraced water firms to spill sewage into these sites over 30,000 times last year. No swimmer should have to fear raw sewage making them sick.

Today the Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment to make water companies criminally liable for their sewage pollution. I am urging MPs from all parties to back this and finally get tough on these firms.

Maternity Care: Time Govt end postcode lottery

Commenting on the the Birth Trauma Inquiry, Liberal Democrat MP and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss, Helen Morgan MP said:

This inquiry has exposed what many of us have long feared about the state of the country’s maternity services.

For so many women to have such traumatic experiences of birth is nothing short of a national tragedy. Too many are being failed in pregnancy, birth and aftercare as this report shows.

It’s time the Government took action to end the postcode lottery in maternity services. I urge them to accept the report in full.

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What Should Peace Look Like?

I was sitting outside a polling station on telling duty during the Bristol 2024 local elections when a concerned lady approached me who wore a badge with a Palestinian flag on it. She earnestly asked me what the Liberal Democrats’ position on Palestine was. Since I was the candidate for the concerned ward, I thought about cheekily informing her that if elected, my remit would not extend beyond South Bristol, never mind the lands of the former Mandate of Palestine. Instead, I carefully explained to her how I legally could not influence her vote this close to a polling station, but if she met me further down the road then maybe we could speak more freely.

I felt a bit like that young woman two years ago when I met my fellow friends and colleagues who would form the Executive of Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East (LDFPME). I was still contemplating my long-term future in the group when our Chair Leon Duveen said something that gave me pause for thought. After discussing his previous life as a young Israeli conscript Leon said that he wanted to do what he could for peace “so no more scared teenagers with a weapon in their hand, will be put in the position where they may make a terrible mistake”. He clearly stated his belief that Israel maintaining the Occupied Territories and expanding settlements in the West Bank, in addition to be a crime against Palestinians is corrosive to Israeli Democracy. After hearing this I knew I was in the right place.

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Welcome to my day: 13 May 2024 – and then there were two…

Natalie Elphicke? Really?

Well, you have to admire whoever it is in Labour who is handling Tory defectors – they’ve managed to smuggle out one of the more unlikely “converts” to their cause. And, if you really wanted to engender a sense of paranoia amongst the Conservative leadership, what better than to recruit someone like Natalie? Is anyone with a blue rosette above suspicion now?

But, beyond the Westminster bubble, how does this look? What message does it send in terms of principles? How big does a “big tent” get to be and still retain any sense of exclusivity?

Now, I do get it. We’ve welcomed a few controversial recruits over the years – I won’t name names and you’ll all have your own ideas – but in most cases, there was a big political principle at stake. And whilst, as I’ve noted in the past, expecting any new recruit to sign up to every dot and comma of our policies is naive at best, it should be reasonable to expect a significant philosophical overlap.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Russia

It was a week of military parades, trumpets, nuclear sabre-rattling and an inauguration in Russia this week.

It started with another threat from President Vladimir Putin when he announced on Monday the start of military exercises involving non-strategic nuclear weapons. This was in response to America releasing its $61 billion aid package to Ukraine, and the repetition of French President Emmanuel Macron’s threat to consider sending French troops to Ukraine.

Then there was Putin’s inauguration as he started his fifth term in office with a long walk past applauding crowds lining the red-carpeted corridors of the Kremlin. Putin’s first inauguration in 2000 was hailed as Russia’s transition to democracy. This one followed an election in which he “won” 87.5 percent of the vote while all his political opponents were either dead, in exile or in prison.

On Thursday it was the Victory Day Parade to mark the end of what the Russians call “The Great Patriotic War.” May Day was the big parade in Soviet days. May 9, was important, but it was not even a public holiday until 1965. Putin, has revived the celebration and elevated it to a collective remembrance resembling a religion.

One of the highlights of the parade is the march of the “Immortal Regiment” in which relatives troop past the reviewing stand holding aloft pictures of family members who died in the war. The scene is reminiscent of icons being carried in Russian Orthodox Church services. The 60th and 70th anniversaries of the war’s end (in 2005 and 2015) were the biggest public holidays in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the inauguration and Victory Day were marked by increased Russian bombardments and missile attacks as Russian troops tried to gain the military upper hand before the latest batch of Western military aid arrived.

Palestine

The two main Palestinian factions – Hamas and Fatah – hate each other almost as much as they do the Netanyahu government.

They have barely spoken since 2007 when Hamas won elections in Gaza and booted Fatah and the Palestinian Authority out of the seaside strip.

That is why it is significant that representatives from the two factions met recently in Moscow and Beijing. The Chinese meeting was especially interesting because Beijing is keen to project itself as Middle East peace broker as opposed to its characterization of the US as Middle East war monger.

The Chinese have already successfully brokered the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between regional rivalries Iran and Saudi Arabia. Shortly after that success, foreign minister Wang Yi wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offering to mediate in the decades-old Arab-Israel conflict. Netanyahu politely refused.

Brokering a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas could be a diplomatic back door for Beijing to constructively inject itself into the Middle East conflict. It is generally agreed that the two-state solution is the logical solution to the conflict.

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Why Eurovision gives me hope

 Happy Eurovision!

Today is the highest and holiest days of the camp calendar – the grand final of the 68th Eurovision Song Contest from Malmo, Sweden.

Growing up in Thatcher’s dismal 1980s in West Lothian (immediately to the west of Edinburgh but with none of the cosmopolitan colour of Scotland’s capital and getting all of the bust and none of the boom of those Tory years), I never travelled abroad until I left school. Eurovision was a glimpse into another exotic world. Eurovision wasn’t cool in the 1980s (and ABBA were yet to be reborn in Gold) and I often thought I was the only person I knew who was drawn into the spectacle. It never occurred to me that I was one of many queer people for whom Eurovision gave life.

Camp theory teaches that we can often find the most profound truth in the silly and irreverent. Eurovision has been that to my liberal, European heart. Our shared European home has been a place of war and division – and remains so today, with war in Gaza and Ukraine and the spectre of the far right stalking virtually every country (not least this ugly Tory Brexiteer government in the UK). The fact that something as camp and outrageous as my beloved Eurovision Song Contest unites us speaks to me and gives me hope in the way that a speech from Macron never could.

For example, in the 1993 contest in Millstreet in rural Ireland, at the height of the Bosnian war, the Bosnian act had to be flown out, under fire, in a UN helicopter. We had a jury in Sarajevo under siege calmly give their votes over a crackly UN line. The Irish compère thanked Sarajevo and simply told them to take care. Not a dry eye in the house!

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Observations of an expat: The hip thigh bone theory of the world

It is time for a review of the hip thigh bone theory of the world. The theory is based on the 1920s African-American spiritual “Dem bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones.”

The ditty in turn was based on a Biblical passage in which a collection of dry bones reassemble themselves before the astonished eyes of the prophet Ezekiel.

The foot-tapping, hand-clapping tune is a roof raiser in evangelical churches around the world. It is also a popular song in young children’s anatomy classes.

For the purposes of this article, however, it is a perfect metaphor of how the rapidly shrinking and interconnected world has become increasingly dependent on its constituent parts (or bones) working together. Recognition of this interconnectability is becoming increasingly important as the world’s political leaders appear to be intent on disassembling the skeletons and protecting their constituent parts behind fast growing economic, political and – sometimes – physical walls.

Globalisation has become a dirty word. Forget the fact that it lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in the 1990s and early part of the 21st century. And that it ushered in decades of growth and low inflation. Substituted in its place is the mantra of “economic security” and “national interests.”

Also forget the fact that the new buzzwords totally ignore reality. Like it or not – that the world body politic has become totally interconnected. In fact, the bones that comprise the skeleton of our globe are not so much connected as fused  and then overlaid with a complex web of nerves, muscles, sinews, international political and trade organs, ligaments and a protective skin of military alliances. In fact, it seems, that the only thing missing from this political metaphor is a functioning brain.

The advantages of free trade are not new. They have been propounded for centuries. They are at the very core of the capitalist’s Bible, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and were later developed by David Ricardo who urged countries to exploit their “comparative advantage” through free trade.

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ALDC by-election report, 9th May

The first by-election of 2024/25 electoral cycle took place this week in North Ayrshire.

It follows a brilliant set of local election results for our party as we won 522 seats (with a net gain of 104) and pushed the Conservatives into third place in the overall result.

We also gained 3 seats in local council by-elections held on 2 May which took our total net gains in the 2023/24 by-election cycle to 28. By far and away the best performance of any party with the Green Party in a distant second place with 8. Both the Conservatives and Labour have gone backwards in by-elections over the past year.

Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone who has stood or campaigned in a by-election this year to contribute to our excellent results.

In the North Ayrshire by-election this week we contested Kilwinning ward. Thank you to Ruby Kirkwood for flying the flag for the Lib Dems here and achieving an increase in our vote share. Labour gained the ward from the Conservatives in the final result.

North Ayrshire Council, Kilwinning
Labour: 2171 (54.3%, +8.3%)
SNP: 916 (22.9%, -12%)
Conservative: 619 (15.5%, -0.1%)
Liberal Democrats (Ruby Kirkwood): 154 (3.9%, 0.5%)
Scottish Family Party: 136 (3.4%, new)

A full summary of all results can be found on the ALDC by-elections page here.

Included on this page are the by-elections we won on 2 May (full results from the rest of the 71 by-elections on 2 May will follow soon). There were some great results here including a gain from the Green Party on Torridge DC and gains from the Conservatives in Leicestershire CC and Huntingdonshire DC.

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Is pornography really free speech?

Pornography is notoriously difficult to define, but it is estimated that it accounts for 12% of websites and 30% of all web traffic. And while broadcast media is subject to ever more content warnings, or outright censorship, on racial or cultural grounds, explicit sexual content has become ever more acceptable on our screens.

Now, porn isn’t my thing. Watching porn as a blind person is akin to standing outside McDonalds, engulfed in the delicious aroma of Big Mac and fries, while not being able to find the door. Despite that, being a staunch believer in free speech, I’ve always supported the right of its makers and consumers to get on and enjoy themselves, provided they are not harming others in the process.

I suspect this is a common view, but an episode of The philosopher’s Zone podcast I recently heard has left me wondering. The Philosopher’s Zone, published by ABC, examines a different philosophical topic every week with the help of experts. You can listen to the relevant episode here in which Caroline West, a philosopher from the University of Sydney and author of the chapter on pornography in the Oxford Handbook of Freedom of Speech, considers whether pornography should be classified as free speech, or even as speech at all.

It isn’t written speech, at least not at the point of consumption. And it would be hard to argue that what passes for a pornography movie script can stand in as a representation for the final product. It is also not, for the most part, spoken speech either. I don’t suppose many folks consume pornography for the witty repartee.

But even if we assume that pornography does count as speech, it still may not fall under the protective umbrella of free speech. Legal scholars and philosophers have argued that there are plenty of things we would count as speech in the normal sense that no one would argue should be protected. Examples include criminal solicitation, defamation, perjury, and whites only signs. In a similar vein, there are plenty of things that would be counted as free speech that are not normal speech. These include flag burning, silent vigils, and sit-ins.

The conclusion, as far as I understood it, was that when we define free speech, what really matters is the underlying justification for why that speech should be free. John Stuart Mill’s argument that rational debate and the free flow of ideas is more likely to lead to true and justified beliefs feels relevant when discussing the activities of Extinction Rebellion, but less so when considering the latest R-rated movie. The same goes for the vital role free speech plays in a well-functioning democracy.

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Hina Bokhari is the new Lib Dem Leader on the London Assembly

Our team has announced that Hina Bokhari AM is the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the London Assembly. She takes over from Caroline Pidgeon who was Leader for the previous 14 years.

Hina is the first ethnic minority woman to lead any group on the Assembly. She was first elected to the Assembly in the last round of London elections in 2021 (postponed from 2020). She has been a councillor on Merton Council since 2018. Hina taught for 20 years and founded a couple of charities to support underprivileged young people.

We have a quote from her:

It is a privilege to lead the Liberal Democrat Group on the London Assembly and to be the first ethnic minority woman to lead a group on the Assembly.

I want to pay tribute to my predecessor Caroline Pidgeon who led the Lib Dem Group tirelessly for the last 14 years and who was widely regarded as one of, if not the best scrutineers the Assembly has seen since its establishment.

I passionately believe that at its heart, London is a liberal city with liberal values and one that thrives on its great diversity.

It is with these values I intend to hold the Mayor of London to account on the promises he made during the election to ensure that London continues to thrive as a welcoming global city that is safe and accessible and that the challenges currently facing many Londoners are addressed.

To all the women of all backgrounds across London, I hope I can offer some hope that barriers are being broken and politics is becoming more representative of the society we live in.

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13 Tory MPs are standing down in Blue Wall seats

Lib Dem HQ have told us that 13 Conservative MPs are standing down in Blue Wall seats where we are the main challengers. Many of them lie within Council areas where Lib Dems have done well in local elections in the last two years.

Here is the full list (with my comments):

  • Nadhim Zahawi – Stratford-on-Avon. Lib Dems won control of Stratford-upon-Avon Council last year.
  • Steve Brine – Winchester. Lib Dems have controlled Winchester Council for some time.
  • Stephen Hammond – Wimbledon. Wimbledon is our top target seat and with the new boundaries now includes parts of Lib Dem controlled Kingston upon Thames.
  • Dominic Raab – Esher and Walton. Lies within Elmbridge Council where Lib Dems are the largest party.
  • Chris Grayling – Epsom and Ewell. A bit of an outlier as Epsom and Ewell District Council has been controlled by Residents’ Associations for many years, so it is difficult to gauge the current support for mainstream parties.
  • Adam Afriyie – Windsor. Lies within Windsor & Maidenhead Council where we took control last year.
  • Paul Beresford – Mole Valley. Lib Dems have controlled Mole Valley Council for some time.
  • John Howell – Henley. Lies within Lib Dem controlled South Oxfordshire District Council.
  • Philip Dunne – Ludlow/South Shropshire. Seat previously held by Lib Dem Matthew Green.
  • Paul Scully – Sutton and Cheam. Sutton has been a Lib Dem controlled Council for many, many years.
  • Theresa May – Maidenhead. Lies within Windsor & Maidenhead Council where we took control last year.
  • James Heappey – Wells. Lies within Somerset County Council, controlled by Lib Dems.
  • Nickie Aiken – Cities of London and Westminster. The unusual structure of the City of London makes this difficult to call, but Chuka Umunna put up a strong showing in 2019.
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