LibLink: Chuka Umunna: Dark and dangerous threats against MPs like me are a sign that No 10 and Cummings are getting utterly brazen

The Government is reportedly investigating MPs who have had dialogue with representatives of foreign governments. It also intends to introduce legislation to stop MPs talking to foreign governments. In an article for the Independent, Chuka Umunna said that this had a whiff of the 1930s about it.

However, the right-wing nationalists running the government are now taking things to an altogether different level – this is quite frightening, particularly if they were to get a majority at the general election whenever it comes. They are seeking to persecute and harass MPs by falsely accusing them of colluding with EU governments over Brexit. It is an absurd proposition given that the EU27 and the UK government are all working to ensure the withdrawal agreement Johnson has negotiated with the EU is delivered, and he himself wrote to them over the weekend urging them to ignore parliament’s desire for article 50 to be extended.

This, he said, was a brazen attempt to suppress dissent.

These accusations are made to call into question our loyalty and patriotism. Former Conservative backbenchers and ministers Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve, and Brexit Select Committee chair and former Labour minister Hilary Benn are reportedly under investigation.

This has a strong whiff of the 1930s about it – it is a brazen attempt to suppress dissent and persecute political opponents in parliament by this right wing, nationalist government.

One foreign office official put it well today when they said: “Threatening MPs with investigation is something you would expect the government to be stopping abroad, not encouraging at home.”

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Jo Swinson appoints new MPs to Shadow Cabinet

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson has today announced an expanded Shadow Cabinet.

New MPs Luciana Berger and Phillip Lee will take on Health, Wellbeing and Social Care and Justice respectively. Angela Smith has been appointed Shadow Secretary of State for International Development while Sam Gyimah will shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson said:

As we enter a crucial few days for the future of our country, I am delighted to announce the new Liberal Democrat shadow cabinet.

This team will take the fight to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, and offer a brighter future

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Review: The Wolves in the Forest, tackling inequality in the 21st Century

The relationship between liberty and inequality is one of the central tensions in liberal philosophy – and one of the defining lines between economic and social liberalism.  So it’s highly appropriate that the Social Liberal Forum have published a collection of essays on this theme (edited by Paul Hindley and Gordon Lishman), taking its title from Lloyd George’s promise when presenting his ‘People’s Budget’ that there would be a time when ‘poverty…will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.’

Peter Hain contributes a sharply-worded essay on the Liberal Democrat record in the coalition, accusing us of abandoning the legacies of Keynes and Beveridge, though recognising that the previous Labour government had also failed to challenge the conventional wisdom of ‘mainstream economics’.  Other contributors reclaim Keynes, and Hobhouse, as major Liberal thinkers.  Paul Hindley insists that ‘individual liberty cannot exist without social justice’; and adds that the distinction between social democracy and social liberalism is that the latter are committed to spreading power as well as wealth.  Gordon Lishman reminds us that spreading power and status at work is also a long-held Liberal theme – badly neglected in recent years.  Robert Brown notes that a Liberal citizen community must be politically and economically inclusive: ‘People must feel they have a stake in society.’

Several contributions explore the different dimensions of inequality – from Britain’s sharp differences in regional prosperity to wide gaps in educational provision and social aspiration, to continuing inequalities for women and for ethnic minorities.  James Sandbach traces the differential impact of cuts in legal aid and access to justice on already-disadvantaged citizens; Chris Bowers argues that poorer people suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation.

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Super Lib Dem Lords on Super Saturday: Sarah Ludford – No progressive politician could vote for this deal

Sarah Ludford is very much in our thoughts at the moment. It’s only three weeks since her husband, Steve Hitchins died. On Saturday she was in her place in the House of Lords pulling apart this appalling Brexit deal. She reminded peers that it was being sold to the Tory right wing as a delayed no deal. She talked about how it would mean more bureaucracy for businesses in Northern Ireland and all of us as we lose things like our pet passports and seamless access to healthcare. She warned of the effect on workers’ rights, saying that no progressive politician could vote for the deal.

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Reid; I agreed with every word. I found the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House, somewhat perplexing. She reproached those of us arguing against Brexit for not arguing for a federal Europe. The clue is in the name: “remain”. We just want the status quo, not to expand or change our existing terms of membership.​

I agree with Tony Blair—not something I used to say. He rightly says that the Government are using the,

“sentiment of ‘let’s get it done, let’s get it over with, end the agony’, to sweep away proper scrutiny of what is a profoundly bad deal for our country”.

Tony Blair is right that:

“You don’t take a decision of destiny through a spasm of impatience”.

Boris Johnson had previously damned the division of Northern Ireland and Great Britain through regulatory checks and customs controls down the Irish Sea, declaring that:

“No British Conservative government could or should sign up to any such arrangement”.

Now, he says that this is a fantastic arrangement. It is a looking-glass world. Can the Minister, in winding up, clarify how these arrangements comply with Section 55 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, which makes it unlawful for the Government to enter into arrangements whereby Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory from Great Britain?

It is astonishing that the Chancellor refuses to give us a new economic analysis, but both government and independent figures suggest that every household will be around £2,000 worse off than even under Theresa May’s version—a drop of 6% or 7% in GDP. The weaker Canada -minus trade relationship that this Government envisages, compared with Mrs May’s association agreement, will worsen that prospect. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, told Radio 4 yesterday that access to the customs union and single market would be good for Northern Ireland’s economic stability and security. Excellent. So why is such access being torn away from England, Scotland and Wales? It would be good for us too. Instead, the Government want to cut the rest of the UK adrift from the continental internal market. This does not honour the heritage of Mrs Thatcher.

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Super Lib Dem Lords on Super Saturday: Dick Newby on the economic impact of the Deal

The House of Lords also sat on Saturday. We’ll be publishing or Lib Dem Lords’ s speeches in full. First up is Lib Dem Lords leader Dick Newby who said that the Government was trying to avoid scrutiny of a deal which would have a detrimental effect on our economy and the union.

My Lords, your Lordships’ House is sitting on a Saturday for the first time since 1983 and for only the fourth time in 80 years. These occasions have typically been to debate a serious foreign threat to the vital interests of the United Kingdom: the outbreak of the Second World War, Suez, the Falklands. Today, we sit on a Saturday to try to resolve a serous internal threat to the unity and future of the Conservative Party. There is no reason, other than the Prime Minister’s macho commitment to leave the EU by 31 October, for the Government’s decision to recall Parliament today.

Such a timetable is a complete abuse of the parliamentary process. It does not allow the appropriate impact assessment to be made, for the relevant Select Committees to consider the proposals, or for the Commons and your Lordships’ House to give proper consideration to the withdrawal Bill. It barely gives us time to read and compare the documents. The withdrawal agreement itself—some 535 pages—was available for the first time for noble Lords to pick up from the Printed Paper Office just this morning.

We certainly have not had time to identify and work out what some of the changes mean. For example, the sections in the political declaration on dispute settlement and the forward process have been substantially rewritten. Why? Parliament is being asked to approve these changes with no effective ability to question Ministers on them. It is a disgrace.

It is, of course perfectly understandable for the Government to want such a timetable, because if they were to give Parliament time to look at the deal properly, a number of its highly undesirable consequences would become clearer. There would, for example, be time to have an economic assessment. Latest figures from UK in a Changing Europe suggest that the hit to GDP of this deal would be about 6.4%. This is broadly in line with the Government’s own analysis of last November, which suggested that, with the kind of restrictive immigration system the Government have in mind, such a deal could have an even bigger effect. For the north-east, north-west and the West Midlands, the fall in GDP would be considerably higher again.

There would be greater time to expose the fact that, as a consequence of the new deal, EU components of goods manufactured in the UK will no longer be treated as of domestic origin. Given the low proportion of UK content in cars, for example, this would have the effect of making it impossible to export any car manufactured in the UK to a third country duty free, even under a free trade agreement. This raises the spectre of the end of bulk car manufacturing in the United Kingdom.

More time would enable us to examine the threat to the level playing field on environmental standards and employment rights, which were guaranteed in Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement but are now relegated to the eminently amendable political declaration, with no presumption there that we should follow future improvements in standards under EU rules. More time ​would give us the opportunity to question whether, as the Conservative John Baron has claimed, the Government see this deal as leading to the equivalent of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period next year.

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Repeated delays to Brexit are down to the failure of Conservative leaders to persuade their own, and partner, MPs

We get comments here on Liberal Democrat Voice of this type from Simon today:

If you want to try to frustrate and cancel Brexit that’s up to you, you won’t succeed because eventually the majority will win. In the meantime you are just making people’s lives a misery. All this stuff about workers rights and the environment is nonsense scaremongering, any government that tried to do it would get voted out, that’s why we have votes albeit you don’t respect them.

This line of argument ignores reality.

The people who stopped the May deal being approved three times were Conservative MPs – the ERG – who voted against it each time. Yes, extreme Brexiteers and Euro-Sceptics stopped May’s deals – not the Liberal Democrats. They indicated support for her negotiating strategy in December 2017 but then withdrew it later. On 15th January 2019 May’s deal had no less than 118 Tory MPs voting against it, including the Eurosceptic’s Eurosceptic, Sir Bill Cash, plus Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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How super Lib Dem MPs contributed to Super Saturday

Here are the Lib Dem contributions from our MPs in yesterday’s “Super Saturday” debates.

First up was Jo, basically telling the Prime Minister that he was too feart to put his deal to the people:

The Prime Minister’s deal removes protections on workers’ rights. It puts a border down the Irish sea and, according to the Government’s own analysis, will damage our economy on a scale greater than the financial crash. Today, hundreds of thousands of people will be outside demanding a final say in a people’s vote. Is not it the truth that the reason why the Prime Minister refuses their calls is that he knows that, if given the option, the people will reject his bad deal and choose to remain in the European Union?

Which he didn’t answer, of course.

Then Luciana tackled him on the fact that the Government hadn’t even provided back of a cigarette packet figures for how the deal would impact on the economy:

The Prime Minister’s Brexit Secretary was on television this morning. He confirmed that no economic analysis of the deal has been done. I ask the House to let that sink in: no economic analysis of the deal, on which we are all expected to vote today, has been done. How does the Prime Minister anticipate that Members on all sides the House can, in good faith, be expected to vote on a deal today that will impact on our country for decades to come?

Answer came there none. And the same when Sarah Wollaston had a go later:

Evidence matters, Prime Minister. How can he possibly assure our constituents that this is a good deal if he has not carried out an economic impact assessment of what it will cost them? If he has carried that out, why on earth are we not able to see it as we debate this today?

Tom Brake challenged him to rule out leaving at the end of the transition period without a deal:

Would the Prime Minister agree to pass an Act making it unlawful for us to leave at the end of the transition phase without a deal?

And he refused to do so. Quelle surprise. But look at what he said, while thanking ministers and civil servants for procuring the deal:

I respectfully say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think their position has been made easier by measures passed in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). Not a good idea!

A bit of a contradiction since he’s been hailing this brilliant deal he brought back with the Benn Act in place.

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Labour MPs surely can’t support the bonfire of workers’ rights in Boris Johnson’s deal

One of the many compelling reasons to stay in the EU (alongside peace and prosperity) is the protection that workers get from being in the single market.

To create a level playing field, there are minimum standards on things like maternity leave, TUPE (protection if your job is outsourced), working hours and paid holidays. Certainly our current law goes beyond the minimum protections in many ways. However, if we leave the EU, all bets are off. We simply can’t trust the most right wing government in living memory with workers’ rights.

If our rights were safe, surely they would at least have kept in the pretty weak protections Theresa May put in to try and entice Labour MPs to vote for it.

But, no. The author of Article 50, John Kerr, told the Edinburgh March for Europe in September that UK negotiators had asked for all the labour, social and environmental protections to be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement..

The People’s Vote campaign outlined the other day exactly what the differences were. There’s a lot of shall and should in the previous version. Now it’s more “these are a thing.”

The first quote is from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement

“With the aim of ensuring the proper functioning of the single customs territory, the Union and the United Kingdom shall ensure that the level of protection provided for by law, regulations and practices is not reduced below the level provided by the common standards applicable within the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the area of labour and social protection and as regards fundamental rights at work, occupational health and safety, fair working conditions and employment standards, information and consultation rights at company level, and restructuring.”

What Boris Johnson’s legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement says on workers’ rights:

“AIMING at continuing to promote balanced economic and social development in the area, in particular in terms of labour conditions, and continuing to ensure the highest levels of environmental protection in accordance with Union law”

 TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady condemned the proposals and called for MPs to reject the deal:

I understand this is a difficult time. But defending working people’s rights is at the heart of everything trade unions believe in. For the sake of working families now and in the future, we can’t support a deal that will trash those rights. We ask MPs to vote against it.

And our Chuka Umunna made an apt analogy on Twitter:

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WATCH: Jo at People’s Vote march: We must stop Brexit and build a brighter future

After the Parliamentary shenanigans yesterday, Jo Swinson spoke to the People’s Vote rally in Parliament Square. She told not just the crowd but the country to have hope, that we can stop Brexit and have a brighter future.

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The People’s Vote March in pictures

Yesterday I was one in a million! The People’s Vote campaign estimated that there were one million people on the streets yesterday asking for a final say on the Brexit deal.

I hope that Ed Davey forgives me the internal flight down, but I felt that it was worth it, just this once, to show support for something that is so critical.

I left home, where it was bucketing with rain, at 5am. The taxi driver who actually knocked on my door, even though he was fie minutes early, is not popular as my family had to deal with a barking dog who then thought it was play time.

Unlike last year, when our plane sat on the tarmac for two hours, everything went really well and I was in central London just after 9. I had some fortifying pancakes and then headed to join the LIb Dem contingent.

I was not expecting this as I arrived to pick up my placard at Wellington Arch.  It was quite a strange sight to see an example of British pomp next to Lib Dems in Bollocks to Brexit t-shirts.

Sal Brinton was there to greet the Lib Dems who were turning up to march and Claire Halliwell was handing out a huge supply of placards. I enthusiastically grabbed one of the “No plan, no clue, no Brexit ones” which I thought were stunning.  At the front of the march, Lib Dem MEPs were gathering to lead the Lib Dem contingent while their Westminster colleagues were a wee bit busy.

It was so good to see so many Lib Dems from all over the country. I spent time with people from Sheffield, London, Glasgow, Torbay and Huntingdon. The latter group included  their PPC and regular LDV contributor Mark Argent who told me that he had been on Masterchef back in 1995. So we all want to go round to his house for dinner now.

The march had a huge pall of anxiety about it. Previous occasions had been much more joyful and hopeful, but on this one, we really didn’t know what was going to happen in Parliament.

There was one moment on the march where I almost ended up in tears. Someone sang Ode to Joy from a PA system as we were walking down Pall Mall. The way I felt reminded me of the last days of the Scottish independence referendum when it felt like my country was about to go through a damaging break up.

Siobhan Benita’s face when the Letwin Amendment passed was a joy.

Despite that outcome yesteday,  we are still at a moment of huge danger. The reasons this deal is terrible are getting lost in the “Get Brexit Done” and various toy-throwing episodes from the Prime Minister. Workers’ rights, environmental protections and the basic integrity of the UK are under threat. The idea that this could pass without us getting our say on it is one of the worst democratic outrages I have ever seen.

PPCs Richard Flowers and Lisa Maria Bornemann told me why they were marching:

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Lord Martin Thomas writes: Building a justice system that offers rehabilitation and hope

No one will forget the pictures three weeks ago of the shaven headed prisoners  clad in orange trousers, sardined together in an improvised prison cell in Northern Syria. Nothing to do except exist. They were captured ISIL fighters, at least a third of whom were foreigners, including British citizens, who had flocked to join the caliphate. My sympathy for them is non existent.  Their captors, the Kurdish SDF, regard them as a time bomb and in the events of the last few days, can no  longer guarantee to hold them. But it was their eyes that caught my attention.

I have seen eyes like that before. In the early eighties, I was privileged to tour the Vietnamese Boat People’s heavily guarded camps in Hong Kong where refugee families were warehoused in three storey high, square steel pods, awaiting endlessly to be processed. They had nothing to do. My Report, made for the Leader of the Liberal Party, Lord Steel, and passed to the British government, was according to my UNHCR contacts at the time, influential in opening the gates of the camps to permit the males useful daytime work within the HK community.

Contrast Death Row in a Caribbean country, where 180 men sentenced to death stood around in a compound built for fifty and despaired. The opposition campaigned vigorously for the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council  so that the gallows at the end of the building could do their work. Why bother with rehabilitation?

So it was with some weariness that I heard again the proposal in the Queen’s Speech to waste the limited resources of the Justice Department on lengthening sentences of imprisonment, instead of focusing on running the jails properly, killing off the drug trade, and making a real effort to release into the community people who will not offend again.In 2014, with the active support of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Parliament, permission was granted for the Berwyn training prison to be built on the Industrial Estate of my home town, Wrexham. I was intrigued because in my youth, I had worked on that very site as a member of a railway gang with my pick and shovel. We were replacing wooden war time sleepers with concrete supports. I know the area well. I watched the buildings go up to open at a cost of £250 millions as the largest operational prison in the UK and the second largest in Europe. Here, I thought, was the opportunity with the excellent modern design and facilities, really to do something to tackle attitudes, to change people’s lives, to turn prisoners away from crime.  All “rooms” have integral sanitation, a shower cubicle, a PIN phone, and a UniLink laptop terminal. It opened in February 2017. It is designed to hold up to  2106 prisoners serving 4 years or more.

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Jo Swinson on “What’s next?”

Embed from Getty Images
Use the arrows above to see a slide show of today’s People’s Vote march

After today’s historic session in parliament, which has extended PM Johnson’s unblemished record of defeats, Jo Swinson has written to party members with the following summary:

After today’s votes, the fight to stop Brexit continues.

Hundreds of thousands of people are marching outside Parliament, where I’ve just finished voting, to demand a final say.

After today’s votes, Boris Johnson must obey the law and send a letter asking for Article 50 to be extended.

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Norman Lamb: I can’t vote for this deal

Norman Lamb has been part of the MPs for a deal group in Parliament. He has from the start wanted us to agree the least damaging form of Brexit.

This morning he has tweeted a short video to explain that he will not be supporting this deal.

I think it is important to acknowledge how hard this will have been for him and to reflect on what he has said about the abuse he has received. We are better than this. Watch here.

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What will MPs be voting on today?

As MPs meet to discuss the nation’s course for the next few generations, I thought it might be useful to go through the Order Paper.

First up is a statement from the Prime Minister followed by a vote on the deal itself.

There are a number of amendments to the motion. The SNP’s Angus McNeill has put down a straightforward revoke one. The rest of the SNP has put down an amendment calling for an extension and a General Election. They would prefer to get that over now than have it happen at the same time as Alex Salmond’s trial, currently scheduled for January.

The crunch vote will come on the amendment put together by Oliver Letwin and co-signed by the Rebel Alliance of Lib Dems, Hilary Benn, Dominic Grieve, Stephen Gethins and others. This would basically note the agreement and call for an extension to put it in legislation – so it can be amended by all sorts of things like a People’s Vote at some point in the future.

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The last time the House of Commons sat on a Saturday

I remember the last time the House of Commons sat on a Saturday. It was in the immediate aftermath of Argentina invading the British Falkland Islands. The British Government had pretty much neglected the islands and their inhabitants, who didn’t want to find themselves under Argentinian rule.

I was 14 years old.

I spent the 1982 Easter holidays decorating my bedroom under instruction from my Mum with the new radio station Moray Firth Radio playing in the background. On the hourly news programmes, syndicated from Independent Radio News, Anna Soubry gave us up to the minute accounts of what was happening 8000 …

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The one thing about this Brexit deal that everyone should know

Basically it is being sold to the ERG as staking the ground for no deal in a year’s time.

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Daisy Cooper on why Boris Johnson’s deal is so bad for our country

I first met Daisy Cooper when we both had tea with Tim Farron in Portcullis House as newbie Federal Executive members at the end of 2012.

She is someone who has no problem with speaking truth to power and she quickly became a very trusted colleague.

I hope very much that we’ll have her as the MP for St Albans after the next election. She has put in so much work. She reminds me of Jo Swinson when she was campaigning to win East Dunbartonshire in 2005.

Today, she put a brilliant analysis of why Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is so bad on her Facebook page. With her permission, here it is. Share widely.

The PM’s so-called ‘deal’ is an attempt to pull the wool over peoples eyes and deliver a hard no-deal BREXIT by the back door. Worse still, it deletes the UK’s commitment to workers rights and environmental standards, which Johnson’s Conservative would happily trash. Here are three important facts:

1. Voting for Johnson’s deal is voting for No Deal in a year’s time. With no backstop (which ensured a soft Brexit), if Tories fail to get a hard Brexit Free Trade Agreement, it’s no deal at the end of 2020, as ERG will never vote for the transition to be extended.

2. Johnson’s Deal is bad for workers’ rights and the environment. The commitment to a “level playing field” by adopting these EU standards has BEEN DELETED from the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and now appears only in the aspirational Political Declaration.

3. Otherwise the deal still has all the flaws of Theresa May’s Deal. It introduces red tape bureaucracy as the UK will have to collect tariffs for the EU (derided by Johnson himself a year ago as a “crazy system”). It puts a border down the Irish Sea. It hastens the break-down of the Union and the UK (with Scotland already saying it wants the same advantages as NI, which will be subjected to an emulated customs union & single market arrangement). And it will open the door to smuggling, which will fund criminality and dissident activity. Northern Ireland is so divided it’s assembly isn’t even sitting at the moment – now it will have to uphold an international treaty and, whether it likes it or not, will have to hold “border polls” (referenda) every few years, and/but not until 2025.

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Electoral fraud – the truth about personation

I doubt that one in a hundred readers of LDV have ever heard of a tendered ballot paper, let alone seen one.

Electoral law makes provision at EVERY election for the issue of tendered ballot papers, sometimes known as pink ballot papers.

If you go down to the polling station to vote and the presiding officer says to you, “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you a ballot paper because you’ve already voted”, what do you do? The answer is that you can insist that you haven’t voted, and the presiding officer must then offer you a ‘tendered’ ballot paper. This is the same as the white ballot paper, but for two things.

  1. It is a different colour (usually pink)
  2. It is stored separately from the white ballot papers.

How is it counted? The answer is that it isn’t, unless the election is challenged in an electoral court. In that case, the original ballot paper is found and compared with the tendered ballot paper and the tendered paper is the one that is counted. Now of course you might quite correctly argue that this breaks the secrecy of the election, but it does give an element of protection against personation, that is the attempt to impersonate a voter and vote instead of him/her.

I have been involved in an election where tendered ballot papers were issued. This was in a big city in 2008, in a local election where the Lib Dem candidate lost by less than 120 votes. The election had many strange features, but it became clear that a party had engaged in personation by finding out who wasn’t going to vote and sending someone to vote for them. Following this narrow win, I asked the returning officer if there had been any tendered ballot papers issued and there had. He also told me it happened in many wards in the city.

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Three reasons to back Mark Pack for President

When I first met Mark Pack almost three decades ago he made quite an impression. I was campaigning to become Chair of what was then the Young Liberal Democrats and attempting to secure his support. Unlike most others at the conference, Mark did not seem particularly interested in the hackery of student politics, but wanted to know what I was going to do, rather than simply what I thought, or what faction I was in.

I’ve no idea if Mark voted for me, but I’d like to think he did.  And 28 years later, with the roles reversed, I’m delighted to say I will certainly be backing Mark to be our next President.

There are three main reasons why I believe Mark is the stand-out candidate.

Firstly Mark is a born campaigner and communicator. His record within the party is unrivalled, both as a trainer and advisor and also as a foot soldier. There aren’t many places across the country where Mark hasn’t delivered an expert training session or a bundle of leaflets, or in many cases, both. I’ve attended his sessions and also trained alongside him. He motivates people and knows his stuff.

Our party is at a crossroads, with so many members, both old and new, impatient to grasp the current political opportunities and meet the social, economic and environmental challenges facing us today. With his core vote strategy, Mark has been ahead of the curve in seeking to build our support across the country.

Secondly, Mark knows the party inside out. He understands the different needs of members geographically, demographically and politically. Importantly to me as a councillor for the past 24 years and now a council leader, I know that Mark recognises the huge role of local government. He understands localism and knows that much of the excellent campaigning going on in the Lib Dems is outside any Parliament. 

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Federal Policy Committee report 16th October: Finalising the manifesto

The Federal Policy Committee is now on the final straight in to completing our manifesto for the expected General Election, and we cleared the agenda for our planned meeting on 16 October to focus on some key aspects of the document.

Our close collaboration with the Campaigns and Communications teams continues, and we started with a review of current research information about how messages are going down with voters, which was very helpful for our discussions which followed. Because of the way that we as a party make policy through conference, our policy on almost every area is already very well established.  So the challenge of writing a manifesto is not so much writing the policy as working with others so that we present it in the way which is most useful and appealing, especially to our target voters.

This is particularly visible in the area we discussed next, the few key headline policy commitments which will be most high profile. We want these, as well of course being the right policy, to make specific commitments which help to tell the wider story about areas that Liberal Democrats prioritise and the approach we take to them. Clearly Brexit will be central here, but there is plenty more we have to say about what we will do to help people in their everyday challenges.

One thing we are rightly proud of is that our manifesto is always accompanied by a robust set of costings which set out what our proposals will cost and how we will find the money to pay for these. This is something other parties tend not to do very properly, or not at all. We spent some time with Ed Davey, the shadow chancellor, going through these plans, and are now very well down the track of developing a strong plan for committing resources to our priority areas, funded in ways which make Britain fairer.

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Observations of an ex pat: Syrian hypotheticals

Politicians hate being asked hypothetical questions. Or so they say. Journalists don’t. They love speculating, flying kites and pontificating about the consequences of the actions of their political masters. I am a journalist and Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria offers a near limitless range of hypothetical consequences. So I will indulge myself with a few of them.

American military promises:  Gone, kaput, up in smoke. It is now confirmed that carefully negotiated alliances bound with the blood of allies can be wiped out with a single Trumptonian tweet. Bringing the boys home is more important than world peace. Japan and South Korea should be worried. President Trump has already moaned about the cost of keeping 73,000 troops In those countries and turned a blind eye to North Korea’s development of short range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. As for the security guarantees for Taiwan and the support for Hong Kong Protesters, the Chinese are rubbing their hands with glee—and possibly cleaning their gun barrels.

The European members of NATO have been under attack from Trump since before he entered the White House. He wants them to shoulder more of the worldwide defence burden and he certainly wants to cut back on the 60,000 American troops deployed in Europe (including Turkey). He has repeatedly told advisers that the rich EU should send an army to the Middle East. At the same time he undermines the European Union by supporting Brexit and slapping tariffs on EU products. But most important of all, he fails to recognise that the EU does NOT have an army. You cannot send into battle an army that does not exist.

Syria, is, however, likely to act as a spur to greater European integration, including more European military cooperation. ~This will probably increase the influence of France as the largest military EU power; weaken the influence of the United States; strengthen the position of Russia in Europe; possibly result in more nuclear weapons held by France and Britain and, as Europe is forced to rely more on its own defences, lead to a European foreign polic y more independent of the United States.

ISIS revived: One of the major jobs of the Syrian Kurds was to guard 12,000 imprisoned ISIS fighters and another 70,000 of their dependents. The troops that were on prison duty have now been pulled away to fight the invading Turks. As a result the ISIS prisoners are escaping. They will join the estimated 20,000 ISIS fighters who are at liberty but in hiding. Together they will doubtless exploit the chaos and the vacuum created by Trump’s decision.

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Sign Sheila’s petition on Northern Ireland and Brexit

The UK Government must not risk a return to ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. That’s what’s inspired Sheila Ritchie, our Lib Dem MEP for Scotland to launch a UK Parliamentary petition calling on the Government not to impose any additional border restrictions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Ms Ritchie’s petition comes as the Good Friday Agreement approaches the 20th anniversary of it taking effect and is sponsored by fellow Liberal Democrat MEPs.

Sheila Ritchie said:

For almost 20 years now, the Good Friday Agreement has kept the peace between communities. 

Freedom to move across the Irish border without restrictions has been a key contributor to this peace and should not be up for negotiation simply for Boris Johnson’s political convenience.

The UK Government must not threaten this agreement, or risk a return to ‘the Troubles’, by imposing any additional border restrictions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The petition says:

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17 October 2019 – today’s press releases

  • Welsh Lib Dems: Brexit deal must be put to the people
  • Record high knife crime offences shows Tories failure to act
  • Lib Dems: Brexit deal must be put to the people

Welsh Lib Dems: Brexit deal must be put to the people

Commenting on reports that a deal has been agreed between the EU and the UK Government, the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds, said:

It is remarkably clear that Boris Johnson’s deal would be bad for our economy, bad for our public services, and bad for our environment.

His deal will create a hard border down the Irish Sea, hurting Welsh farmers

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SNP spend more in Shetland by-election than across whole of Scotland for EU referendum

So the election spending returns from the Shetland by-election are out.

We spent £64k and won.

The SNP were right up against the limit, spending £99k.

But they only spent £90k in 2016, across the whole of Scotland on the EU Referendum.

As a Remain campaigner in West Lothian, I found it deeply frustrating that SNP activists kept saying that they were too tired from the Holyrood elections to fight the EU referendum.

If something is important, it doesn’t matter how tired you are. You get to sleep in a few weeks.

I don’t, to be honest, think that David Cameron’s insistence on holding the referendum just weeks after the Holyrood election was fair, but it was where we were.

We got out there and fought. And the SNP were tired. Even though they spent three years in the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014 hanging around on every street corner trying to persuade people to their cause.

Alistair Carmichael, MP for the Shetland Scottish Parliament seat, who welcomed so many Lib Dems up there in August, said:

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WATCH: Second online presidential hustings

Yesterday a second online hustings took place between party Presidential candidates Christine Jardine and Mark Pack.

You can watch the whole thing here.

This weekend, there are in person hustings in Plymouth, London, Lancaster and Bedford. You can find details here.

And if you can’t get to a hustings, you can question both candidates in the official Lib Dem Internal Election Discussion Group on Facebook here.

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Jo: The fight to stop Brexit is far from over

So Boris Johnson has struck an eleventh hour deal which he intends to put to Parliament as hundreds of thousands of marchers take to the street demanding a People’s Vote.  The Lib Dems will be meeting at the Duke of Wellington Arch in Hyde Park at 11 am.

Jo’s reaction was pretty clear. We continue to fight to stop Brexit:

The fight to stop Brexit is far from over.

Boris Johnson’s deal would be bad for our economy, bad for our public services, and bad for our environment.

The next few days will set the direction of our country for generations, and I am more determined than ever to stop Brexit.

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Poll sensation for Luciana Berger

A couple of weeks ago, Luciana Berger announced that she was leaving Liverpool to contest Finchley and Golders Green for the Liberal Democrats.

A Survation poll has put her way ahead of the Conservatives.

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Stop the hate. We’re all human

Hate crime is inexcusable. It attacks an individual’s identity and can have an appalling and devastating impact on victims.

The issue is one that has always been close to my heart. My mother is from Poland and as a result I have in the past experienced racial discrimination due to my family’s overseas heritage.

Though my experiences of hate crime were rare and isolated I know for many other people this can be a very real and immediate concern, especially given the toxic post-Brexit atmosphere we now live in and an increase in Islamophobic incidents following the terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London.

Over the last six years we have witnessed a spike in extremism, including the murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016 and several disturbing incidents during the 2019 local and European election campaigns. 

That’s why Watford Liberal Democrats wanted to pass a new Council motion to mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week (12th – 19th October), demonstrating that people’s fears are taken seriously, and by listening and responding to our constituents concerns we as a council, and as individuals, can make a difference.

People have crossed borders and lived together for thousands of years. We’re all immigrants.

Everyone can integrate into a society if they’re able to respect the rule of law and the fundamental values of their new country.

Newcomers are integral to helping the economy grow and keeping our country moving. Many vital sectors such as the NHS, construction, social care, retail and hospitality would struggle to function without immigration.

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17 October 2019 – the overnight press release

Lib Dems: Brexit will limit the horizons of college students

The Association of Colleges has today published a survey revealing that 94% of colleges would be unable to fund student and staff mobility programmes outside of the EU’s Erasmus+ programme.

Responding to the figures, Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary Layla Moran MP said:

Brexit shuts the door on students and staff studying, training and working across Europe. This survey shows that colleges simply can’t afford their student exchange programmes without the funding that the EU provides through Erasmus+.

Colleges are wary about replacing Erasmus+ with a British-led alternative because they know

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16 October 2019 – today’s press release

MP launches “Save Our Rural Banks” Campaign

Jane Dodds MP has launched a new campaign aimed at protecting existing rural banking services and restoring banking services to communities across Brecon & Radnorshire.

Over the past few years, many communities across Brecon and Radnorshire have seen bank branches in their towns close. Recent announcements by Barclays also reveal plans to reduce banking services available through the Post Office.

At present towns like Knighton, Crickhowell and Hay-on-Wye both do not have any bank branches in the towns, while towns like Ystradgynlais are reliant upon a single branch.

Jane Dodds, Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, …

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