The Independent View: We will remember, 23 years since the Srebrenica genocide

2018 marks the 23rd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide- the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War. The atrocity committed in Srebrenica only a generation ago, occurred in a modern and multicultural society, that is similar to our own.

When we look to the increase in reports of hate crime incidents since the EU Referendum and to examples of vile extremism such as the ‘Punish A Muslim Day’ letters, then we must conclude that we cannot afford the luxury of believing that something like the Srebrenica genocide could not here.

This is why we are calling on Liberal Democrats Councillors, members and activists to take action during Srebrenica Memorial Week, which will be held between 8-15th July this year.

The Liberal Democrats have a good track record in championing genocide education and commemoration. Stephen Williams was a minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government when the decision was taken to part-fund Remembering Srebrenica’s education programme. Whilst he was Deputy PM, Nick Clegg hosted genocide survivors at Number Ten.

More recently, Tom Brake MP was the primary sponsor of Early Day Motion 637 which welcomed the guilty verdict against Bosnian-Serb army commander Ratko Mladić for directing the Srebrenica genocide and commended the work of organisations like the Mothers of Srebrenica and Remembering Srebrenica.

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Kate Pickett to speak at SLF Conference

The Social Liberal Forum exists and campaigns to create a society where everyone has access to the wealth, power and opportunity to enable us all to lead full and rewarding lives, unfettered by social hardship.  We speak for and promote a vision for social justice.  So we are thrilled to announce that Kate Pickett, co author of The Spirit Level and the newly published book, The Inner Level, will be speaking at the annual SLF Conference on 28th July this year.

The Spirit Level, published in 2009, was a highly influential book, going on to sell 150,000 copies.  It demonstrated conclusively the pernicious effects of economic inequality. In more unequal countries, outcomes are worse for almost everyone in areas such as public health, education, obesity and social mobility.

In The Inner Level Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson posit that the growing level of anxiety in our society stems in larger part from increasing social pressures brought about by material inequalities—in effect greater status anxiety.  A recent meta-analysis of studies published in the Lancet Psychiatry concluded that rates of metal illness were higher in societies with larger income differences.  The UK and USA are at the top of the graph on both mental illness and income inequality.

We hope that this link between inequality and the growing tide of mental illness will be one of the focuses of Kate’s presentation at our conference.  However, there is much more crossover between the thinking behind Richard and Kate’s most recent book and the guiding philosophy behind the social liberal movement.  The co-operative model for workers, employee representation on company boards, and an education system that is inclusive and where the professionalism of teachers is respected are also discussed in The Inner Level.

We are sure there will be much food for thought and much to debate at this, our eighth annual conference.  

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Observations of an ex pat…Trumps immigration battle plan

Thank you Melania. Thank you Ivanka. Thank you also Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary for Homeland Security. Thank you for engineering a reversal of the inhumane policy that tore 2,842 children away from their immigrant parents.

No thanks for President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly or shadowy prince of darkness Stephen Miller. They were responsible for the heartless decree that turned vulnerable children into pawns in the president’s immigration battle.

The separation decree was in the making for well over a year.  John Kelly first publicly proposed it in May 2017.  Stephen Miller took up the baton with a vengeance. He has taken over from Steve Bannon as the ultra-nationalist, alt-right, anti-immigrant chief White House strategist with the ear of the president.

Miller has been whispering away: Immigration, immigration, immigration. That is the key to victory in the mid-term elections.

For President Trump immigration means Congressional funding for his “big beautiful wall”, laws to allow the speedy deportation of illegal immigrants and sweeping changes to legal immigration.  He is increasingly frustrated that that Congress has refused to cave in to his demands, especially as illegal immigration figures are climbing after a drop in 2017

In May the president launched a vicious and lengthy tirade against Homeland Security Chief Ms Nielsen in front of the entire cabinet. She, he said, was to blame for the rising immigration figures. Ms Nielsen sat there and took it on the chin, but according to sources, was close to quitting on the spot. She is reported to hate her job.

The much-maligned Attorney General Sessions saw an opportunity to weasel his way back into the presidential good books. On May 7th he told wannabe immigrants: “If you cross the border unlawfully then we will prosecute you…. If you are smuggling a child you then that child may be separated from you as required by law.”

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A duo of Lib Dem GAINS and a good hold

There was quite a crop of by-elections last night. Three were of particular interest to the Liberal Democrats.

You thought you’d seen big swings to us before but Abigail Medina produced a stunner in Whittlewood in South Northamptonshire:

My eyes are watering from that one.

Sorry, new Cllr Hawkins, because on any other day, your 39.2% from a standing start gain from UKIP would be at the top of this post:

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Update on ‘upskirting’ Bill

(R-L) Vince supports the “upskirting” bill with campaigner Gina Martin, sponsoring MP Wera Hobhouse and Ms Martin’s solicitor, Ryan Whelan

We reported on Tuesday that the Justice Minister had agreed to take Wera Hobhouse’s Bill through Parliament after it was sabotaged by Christopher Chope.

We now have the details about how it will be progressed.

It seems that the Government is using a rare parliamentary procedure to progress the Voyeurism Offences Bill. It will have its first reading tomorrow and is scheduled for its Second Reading debate in a couple of weeks time.

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Make time for football! The social impact of participating in culture and sport

As a professional musician and the mother of a keen athlete, I was interested to learn that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee are looking into the social impact of participating in culture and sport.

On Tuesday they took evidence from three people: Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England; John Herriman, Chief Executive, Greenhouse Sports; and Deborah Williams, Executive Director, Creative Diversity Network. The questions asked were around the power of culture and sport to address deep-seeded social issues.

Deborah Williams made the point that we need a broader understanding of what culture is, that it is not elitist, but that there are a breadth of cultural opportunities available and space for all to participate. She highlighted the need for education to be for the whole child.

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Lib Dems are very clear about the rights of transgender people

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Once again transgender issues are making media headlines – sadly for all the wrong reasons. Arguments are being made that are based on misunderstanding and fear, rather than facts and tolerance.

As a party the Liberal Democrats are very clear about the rights of transgender people. We had a debate, and passed party policy on this, at conference in September 2015. The motion starts:

“The transgender and intersex communities are too often marginalised, with little or no emphasis on their needs from government or third sector organisations. Transgender and intersex individuals experience similar levels and types of discrimination within society, including but not limited to hate crime, health discrimination, and difficulty obtaining documents in the correct gender.

Legislation concerning the transgender population often does not fully advance – and sometimes actively hinders – transgender equality. Transgender and intersex people are at a higher risk of mental health issues and suicidal ideation than the general population and the rest of the LGBT+ population, especially among BME transgender and intersex people.”

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Gosport findings ‘shocking and devastating’

We have all be shocked by the revelations about the inappropriate treatment of elderly patients at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. Here is Norman Lamb talking about the way the NHS closed ranks when he was Health Minister, and how he called for the enquiry that has just been completed.

We also have some quotes from him:

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‘Not-Spots’: if the networks won’t fill them, should Lib Dems try to force them to?

It’s mid-June and the time for London Technology week, a showcase for technological innovation. 5th generation mobile phones are almost upon us and along with the promise of blazingly fast mobile download speeds comes a renewed call for mobile phone operators to improve the rural coverage of their networks. In a conference sponsored by technology thinktank Cambridge Wireless, industry players gathered to discuss the issue in the high tech ambience of the Digital Catapult on the Euston Road.

Large areas of the UK, especially Scotland, still do not receive good quality mobile coverage. A report published earlier this year by Ofcom, the official body that regulates communication, found that 30% of the UK’s landmass lacks coverage from at least one of the ‘big four’ mobile networks, increasing to 60% in Scotland. Worse, there are many so-called ‘not-spots’ where there is no coverage at all. As one speaker explained to the assembled audience, planning rules don’t help: the UK has one of the most stringent height restrictions in the world for mobile phone masts, greatly limiting the coverage area each mast can provide.

Worried about the continuing ‘digital divide’, Ofcom proposes that new licences to operate networks should come with an obligation to provide 92% coverage of the UK landmass. They claim that this will benefit rural communities that otherwise would miss out if operators determined coverage on purely commercial considerations. This has powerful political support from lobbying groups such as the Countryside Alliance, and the 2017 Liberal Democrat manifesto committed to improving rural mobile coverage. I believe these calls are misguided and will create social injustices while reducing the quality of mobile networks in the UK, thus directly harming our economy.

There is no doubt that improving coverage in a rural area does indeed benefit the local economy since individuals and businesses that rely on good mobile and internet can occupy properties they would not have previously considered. This attracts more affluent persons to low-cost rural areas, providing them with improved lifestyle opportunities, and creating a demand for local services.

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Review: Global Soul – Nick Clegg’s latest podcast with author Elif Shafak

The latest in Nick Clegg’s Anger Management series of podcasts is my favourite in the series so far, by a long way.

He talked to writer, feminist and campaigner Elif Shafak. I was so impressed with her that I immediately went and bought a whole load of her books.

She talked about the importance of appealing to emotions, of the very real threat to democracy posed by populists across the world, of the threat of majoritarianism – where the rights of marginalised groups are ignored.

She talked of the importance of dialogue and not writing off people who have a different view, of …

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Winning back former south-western strongholds: looking beyond Brexit

As a member in the south-west of England I am acutely aware of how we have fallen behind in the rural areas of England where we used to be able to garner a large amount of support. The south-west has a quite rare mixture of very rural communities and a long liberal tradition. In fact, my own constituency of Tiverton and Honiton (now a deep blue Tory area) was once partly represented by Lord Palmerston who was the MP for Tiverton while Prime Minister. Given the past support in the south-west …

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Christine Jardine’s personal story on why we need to legalise cannabis

I was moved to read Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine’s take on the legalisation of cannabis. She has epilepsy and tells her personal story about why she feels legalising medicinal cannabis is necessary.

“The doctors could not then, and cannot even now, offer an explanation as to what caused me to have a major grand mal seizure in my sleep.

For many years, I was afraid to sleep alone if my husband was away in case I had attack and there was nobody there to look after me.”

She also shared the story of a constituent who is desperate for medicinal cannabis for her young son.

Medicinal cannabis has the potential to alleviate the suffering of thousands of children in this country.

Children like my constituent Murray Gray, whose rare myoclonic astatic epilepsy can put him through multiple seizures a day, have their schooling interrupted, their health affected and their families constantly worried for their safety.

Christine’s empathy and angle on this subject is well worth a read. You can find the full article here.

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All the best, Jo…

This afternoon, MPs who really shouldn’t have been in the House of Commons, either through very advanced pregnancy or serious illness, had to go in and vote on that Brexit amendment.

One of them was our Jo Swinson, who is two days past her due date with her second baby. It is entirely unsurprising that she made it in to vote. Anyone who knows how committed and determined she is will know that unless she was in fairly advanced labour, she would made it. She still deserves respect for doing so. Most women have stopped going into the office …

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Theresa May – the Tories’ Harold Wilson?

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Mark Pack recently tweeted:


It is a very interesting parallel.

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Know about crime and policing or how to share benefits of economic growth?

The Federal Policy Committee is looking for volunteers to serve on two working groups which will bring forward new policy on crime and policing and on sharing the benefits of economic growth:

The FPC is looking to appoint members of these groups to develop policy in each of these areas.

Both working groups will take evidence in the second half of 2018, run consultation sessions at Spring Conference 2019 and prepare their final drafts over March-June 2019. These will be presented to FPC for amendments and approval. Subject to this approval, the final papers will be published in July 2019, and debated

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What’s happened to the “Official Opposition”?

We have all got used to the Labour leadership opting out, abstaining, even penalising their MPs who actually vote to oppose the Conservative Government. So I suppose we should not be surprised when they stay mum, sit on their hands and pretend it is not important to investigate whether the Russians interfered with the 2016 EU Referendum.

This was the issue I raised with the Minister in a Topical Question in the Lords on Tuesday. I warned that the “piecemeal approach” currently adopted could prove dangerous; I had in mind the lack of effective protection of our electoral system if …

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | 13 Comments

Compassion and Trust in Politics

What is the matter with Theresa May?  Is she really the untrustworthy and uncompassionate minister she has been portrayed, or does she just surround herself with advisers who are like that?

This morning on the Today programme Dominic Grieve spoke with barely veiled anger at the way he and others were let down by the PM last week over Europe amendments.  Well, that’s politics you may say.  But this interview followed soon after John Humphreys interviewed a mother who had been trying to get special cannabis oil for her epileptic child.  Not the mother who was interviewed by him yesterday who had just got Sajid Javid to relent and let her keep the cannabis oil she had brought back from Canada. Both families had spent tens of thousands of pounds having their children treated abroad and met uncompassionate and callous resistance from ministers and officials – especially in the Home Office.

Coming back to Theresa May – she apparently met the mother interviewed this morning, in March, and promised her that she would sort it so that her child could use the oil.  Her officials have still not approved the special licence and been deeply unhelpful to the mother concerned.  Theresa May’s flash of compassion has not been followed through – again showing she can’t be trusted.

Who presided over the Home Office and is responsible for the Windrush debacle: the families split up, the heartbreak of so many mistreated people?  This was no isolated case as readers of the I newspaper, and the Guardian know from reading week in and week out of bad uncompassionate decisions being made by Home Office ministers and civil servants.  The Law Society recently published a report that didn’t get nearly enough attention, in which it highlighted that the Home Office loses over 50% of immigration appeals.  This is a scandalous waste of public money.  Meanwhile, so many individuals and families are put through while uncompassionate civil servants mount ridiculous challenges to the most deserving asylum seekers for example.  The Law Society suggested that there might be institutional racism at the Home Office. That has been rather obvious to me for a long time.

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Radical Drugs Reform Needed

“The case of Billy Caldwell who needed cannabis oil for his severe epilepsy again highlights legalising cannabis not only for medical but recreational use. Although the Home Secretary (Sajid Javid) made an exception for Billy (by allowing cannabis oil use for 20 days) cannabis is still banned for recreational use. Sajid Javid said this week in the commons the position “We find ourselves in currently is not satisfactory”. Cannabis contains active ingredients called cannabinoids. These are used to relieve the pain of muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis or used to relieve sickness in people having chemotherapy for cancer. Other ingredients from cannabis help children with epilepsy. Cannabis does have medical benefits.

Some countries have regulated legal markets for the non-medical use of cannabis. There are Cannabis Social Club, sometimes called a Teapad, that control the cannabis market as non-profit organisations for the purpose of relaxing or for social communion that are only accessible to members. These can be found in Spain and also in the US. There are also cannabis coffee shops that are operating as coffee shops where cannabis is openly sold. These are usually found in the Netherlands.

Also in the US to regulate cannabis they have cannabis enterprise set up like businesses that are tightly controlled and sell cannabis. Uruguay’s has the government-controlled system for cannabis regulation. These are some examples of models for regulating non-medical cannabis being used around the world.

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Freedom of movement and liberal overreach

Not every nuanced political point is a dog whistle for it’s crude cousin, and case in point is Nick Clegg’s recent column in the FT, arguing that the EU needs to consider wider caveats to the principle of freedom of movement that already exist, for its own sake and not just to improve the prospects of rapprochement with the UK.

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Liblink: Baroness Thomas… ‘do away with hostile atmosphere’

Over at Politics Home, Celia Thomas criticises the assessment process for Personal Independence Payments, highlighting the very large number of decisions that are found wrong on appeal and the ‘hostile atmosphere’ for claimants.

Posted in LibLink | 2 Comments

Tim Farron MP writes: Lib Dems would restore decency and dignity for refugees

The sight of refugees arriving on the Greek coast in 2015 will never leave me. It’s not the sort of thing you forget.

Parents and children were packed onto makeshift boats in search of safety, fleeing Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and other brutal conflicts around the world.

This isn’t a ‘refugee crisis’, even if that is what we have ended up calling it. It is a crisis of violence and persecution, with dictators and murder squads killing and displacing families across the world. Refugees are the human face of what has gone so badly wrong. 

Refugee Week is underway (it is World Refugee Day tomorrow), which is a timely reminder of Britain’s role supporting people who have been forced to flee their homes, both in the work we do in refugee camps around the world and in how we treat asylum seekers who make it to our shores and ask for help.

The current system lacks decency and dignity. The Lib Dems would restore these values.

Firstly, and crucially, the quality of asylum decisions is nothing short of a national scandal. The Home Office wrongly refuses people sanctuary so often that around 40% decisions are overturned on appeal each year. The result is that people who have already endured so much are left scared and uncertain, when they should have been promised safety here much more quickly. 

This can’t be allowed to continue. The whole process needs reform, from top to bottom.

We shouldn’t just focus on decisions, though. Even as the government focuses on improving integration in our country, for example, asylum seekers are barred from working. 

Work helps people integrate, learn English, and contribute to society – all things asylum seekers badly want to do.

So let’s join-up government a bit better and give people the chance to work if their asylum claim is delayed. There is nothing liberal about forcing people who can work to sit around all day doing nothing. 

Plus we should celebrate what we already do well, and plan for how to do more of it.

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Unpicking the great mish-mash of policy wheezes

The trouble with HM Treasury is that it “is simultaneously short-termist, obsessed with controlling spending, but unable or unwilling to do anything to boost growth … fixated on ‘policy wheezes’, short-term fixes and initiatives, and over-centralised”.

And don’t take my word for it. This was the innovation thinktank Nesta’s judgement in 2014, as quoted by Duncan Brack in his essay on Greening Government in the SLF book Four Go in Search of Big Ideas.

I became fascinated by why the government machine creaks so badly, and takes such poor and contradictory decisions, during the coalition years. And particularly during period I was working for the Cabinet Office in the Treasury, on public service choice.

Posted in Op-eds | 2 Comments

Victory declared for ‘upskirting’ Bill

(R-L) Vince supports the “upskirting” bill with campaigner Gina Martin, sponsoring MP Wera Hobhouse and Ms Martin’s solicitor, Ryan Whelan

The Liberal Democrats have declared victory in their bid to make ‘upskirting’ a specific criminal offence.

Following Tory MP Christopher Chope’s shocking move to block Wera Hobhouse’s Bill last week, the Justice Minister met Wera Hobhouse this afternoon and, on behalf of the Government, agreed to take her Bill through Parliament.

Wera said:

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The decline of local journalism may mean more than just a lack of transparency…

Amidst the drama of Brexit, the Guardian covered a report from the US which may well have gone unnoticed by many. “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Local Newspaper Closures on Public Finance.”, published by academics from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago on 8 May, might not, on the face of it, seem of great import, but I would suggest that it gives those of us who care about local government some cause for concern.

The authors summarise their report as follows;

The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated

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A gentle ramble through Mrs May’s arithmetic…

I’m a mathematician by training, and work professionally with numbers. And, because I find testing arithmetic projections entertaining, I thought that I might play with the proposed “£20 billion for the NHS”. See what you think.

Firstly, I should note that that £20 billion isn’t for you, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, although the Barnett Formula might mean that there is more money available for you too.

I’ll assume that the BBC’s figure of £114 billion for NHS England’s budget is accurate, and note that the Office for Budget Responsibility is predicting that inflation will be fairly constant at 2% per annum …

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Welcome to my day: 18 June 2018 – now you see it, now you don’t?

I was told on Saturday that there was going to be an announcement of £20 billion for the NHS, and my first response was incredulity. “Where does that come from?”, was my question.
But sure enough, the announcement has come, and whilst the proposal for finding this sum is, how can I put it, less than entirely concrete still, it has complicated the arithmetic of opposition to Brexit. I’ll take an initial look at the numbers later.

It’s expected that the Lords could be sitting as late as midnight, as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill returns for consideration of Commons amendments. Will …

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Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #520

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 520th weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the five most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (10-16 June, 2018), together with a hand-picked seven you might otherwise have missed.

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

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

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Theresa May shamelessly takes up discredited Leave campaign slogan

Most of my memories of the Leave campaign involve the blatant lies it told. 77 million Turks, we were told, would pretty much be here the day after we voted Remain, according to their literature. And the biggest lie of all was emblazoned on the side of a bus. £350 million a week for the NHS.

It was the thought of more money for our beleaguered NHS that prompted many people to vote Leave, something confirmed by Vote Leave’s director, Dominic Cummings.

Within hours of the referendum result, that pledge was in tatters. Nigel Farage distanced himself from

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Christine Jardine: Why I support equal marriage and transgender rights

Here’s Christine Jardine speaking to Edinburgh’s Pride march yesterday. One of these days, I’ll remember to hold the phone round the other way.

She was speaking at the Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile to a vast, sparkly and bright crowd. As always the atmosphere was incredible.

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The Thorpe Affair – What if?

I am one of those with a fascination for history, who sometimes indulge in the practice of ‘What if?’. Some of you may know what I mean; but, if not, here are a few examples. Let’s start with 1066. What if King Harald had actually defeated Duke William of Normandy at the battle of Hastings? Scroll forward some eight hundred years and ask yourself what if President Abraham Lincoln had not attended Ford’s Theatre on that fateful night in April 1865? What if Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s driver hadn’t taken a detour in Sarajevo in June 1914 or what if Adolf Hitler hadn’t shortened his speech at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich in November 1939 and left early? And finally, more recently and perhaps nearer to home, what if Nick Clegg hadn’t accepted David Cameron’s ‘generous offer’ in May 2010? I’m sure you get the idea.

So, you might say, what has this got to do with Jeremy Thorpe and the Liberal Party? Well, what if, following a massive surge in support (around 20% of the popular vote) which, thanks to FPTP, resulted in only a derisory 14 MPs, he had managed to win over his colleagues and the party grassroots and accept the offer of Ted Heath to join a coalition government following the ‘Who governs Britain’ general election of February 1974?

The ‘baby boomers’ will surely remember the early 1970s, which started out with Heath’s surprise victory in the ‘70 General Election, when his government embarked upon a race for growth with the infamous ‘Barber Boom’, that, despite the inflation it eventually unleashed, especially in the housing market, appeared to many, even up to the summer of 1973, to be bearing fruit in economic terms, despite storm clouds on the horizon.

What really derailed the ‘project’, besides the Heath government’s inability to deal effectively with Trades Union militancy and ineffective management, was the OPEC oil embargo following the Yom Kippur War between the Arab states and Israel in October 1973 which saw oil prices quadruple in a matter of months, thus presenting unions such as the NUM with an open goal. Just to think that, only a few years earlier, the Economic Minister of the booming West German economy, Karl Schiller, had confidently claimed that “the future belongs to oil”.

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