When it comes to Ukraine let’s not forget the geopolitics before we rush in

A while ago I read a book by British journalist, Tim Marshall, entitled ‘Prisoners of Geography’, where he argues that where you live colours to a great extent your perception of the world around you. That Mr Marshall is an believer, if that’s the right word, in ‘geopolitics’ is very clear. He’s now followed this up with ‘The Power of Geography’, which I have yet to read; but I assume this takes the idea further.

Geopolitics states that politics, especially international relations, is influenced by geography. That certainly makes sense to me and I would argue, for example, that, living on an island as they do, it is perhaps not surprising that so many English voters, many with an atavistic fear of ‘Johnny Foreigner’ and being prepared to believe some of the myths pedalled by Messrs Farage and Johnson etc, voted to leave the EU.

Interestingly, in the furthest extremities of our islands, namely Scotland and Northern Ireland, support for continued EU membership was higher. With the luxury of firm frontiers and never having been occupied by a foreign ‘power’ for a millennium it is clearly very hard for many to empathise with many European citizens whose parents and grandparents have witnessed occupation at first hand. Who can blame them if many still see in closer economic and political cooperation with their neighbours a way of avoiding such disruption in the future?

There are many places where geography, or possibly our interpretation of it, have, since WW2 alone, come back to bite us, for example in Korea, the Congo, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Whether it is the arbitrary drawing and redrawing of boundaries, linguistic, cultural or religious boundaries, trying to impose ‘solutions’ based on our own, largely western  perception of what is best is often a recipe for strife and unnecessary bloodshed. I would urge our leaders in the West to be careful not to overreact to what is going on today on the border between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

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Hina Bokhari AM interviewed by The Guardian

Hina Bokhari, Lib Dem London Assembly Member, has been interviewed in The Guardian along with other female Muslim politicians. This is in response to the report that Nusrat Ghani MP was sacked as a minister because of her “Muslimness”.

Hina says:

I had never experienced racism until 9/11: I was walking home when someone shouted: “ go home” not far from my doorstep. After that it got more frequent. During the 2018 World Cup, a drunk man got right in my face saying: “Listen , go the fuck home.” I’ve had problems on the job, too. When I was campaigning I would hear those same phrases about going home. And there would be micro-aggressions such as: “Your name is too difficult” or supposed banter about immigrants taking our jobs. Brexit was a particularly bad time.

Sometimes Islamophobia is a lack of understanding. So, in 2020, I wanted to get people within the Liberal Democrats to experience Ramadan for a day. People – including Layla Moran and Ed Davey – fasted for a day and tweeted throughout. Streams of hatred came back in response. People were asking Ed if he wanted four wives – and saying far worse to Layla. Ed and Layla felt not just the experience of fasting, but the hatred too.

I was shocked that I was the first Muslim woman elected in Merton council – and one of the London assembly’s first Muslim women. Are Muslim women less likely to be elected? Or less likely to put themselves forward? When I talk to Muslim women, there’s a fear of being abused.

People have said in the past I should change my name. But I would never do that. When Michael Fabricant said that Nus Ghani wasn’t obviously Muslim, I tweeted: “Yeah – coz all us Muslims look the same!” I think what he meant was that she was the kind of Muslim that didn’t make him feel uncomfortable.

In the London assembly we’ve got a very good understanding of Islamophobia. It helps having a Muslim mayor. But there is still inconsistency. Whether you are Jewish, Muslim or from any minority group, you should be heard, respected and, if there’s an incident, action must be taken. Our struggle is a shared struggle.

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Ed Davey on Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

And from HQ:

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Support jobseekers, don’t sanction them

Were you as incensed as I was at reading the latest Government move against some of the most vulnerable people in our society?

The scheme is called “Way to Work” and according to this report, jobseekers will have only four weeks (reduced from three months) to find work in their preferred sector. After that period they will be forced to widen their job search to other sectors.  If they turn down employment or don’t make “reasonable efforts” to find work then they will be sanctioned and lose some of their Universal Credit.

I do understand the context. There are 1.22 million job vacancies, many of these in essential services such as care work or delivering, and it is important for all of us to get those filled. But forcing people to take on jobs that they find difficult or unpleasant does not produce a happy and productive work force. And reducing benefits for people who are already on the breadline is dangerous, as it can push people into criminality or homelessness.

Wendy Chamberlain MP is our Work and Pensions Spokesperson, and she said:

Rather than supporting people to find secure long-term employment, the Government is now attempting to force people into accepting any job going.

This callous move could see skilled workers forced to accept insecure short term employment, for fear of having the rug pulled out from under them, and create a cycle of unemployment.

What is worse, these harsh sanctions could be applied within weeks of applying for Universal Credit – before people’s first payment even arrives.

We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, with energy bills soaring and reliance on food banks rising. If the Government can write off billions in Covid fraud, they can afford to genuinely support those looking for work instead of sanctioning them.

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The long road to eliminating FGM… is too long

It’s nineteen years since the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2003 became  law, and seven years since mandatory reporting of cases was introduced in 2015. So how are we doing? – and is FGM still an issue? – short answer, we are making some progress but it is still very much an issue affecting thousands of girls living here in the UK on the same streets as us, and millions of girls globally.

February 6th  will mark the 10th anniversary of  the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with all UN agencies moving towards elimination by 2030 by ‘collective abandonment’ of this ancient but cruel cultural practice which is carried out on 2-3million girls every year, thousands of them  here in the UK.

It is worth reiterating that there is no religious obligation or reason, in any religion for this practice, it is purely cultural.

It is estimated that globally 100-200 million women survivors are living with the consequences of FGM, which has devastating effects on their lives, health and well-being. For comparison, approximately 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.

Last weekend I attended a medico-legal conference on the multidisciplinary approach being taken to Female Genital Mutilation in the UK, and here is what I learned.

There has now been a successful prosecution in England (2019) resulting in a lengthy prison sentence for the perpetrator. A handful of other cases are currently under investigation, but it is increasingly clear that we cannot prosecute our way to elimination, we were told by a police specialist. Successful prosecutions are likely to remain few and far between, although they do send a very strong signal.

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John Pugh writes…Lord Ronnie Fearn 1931-2022

Most people who knew Ronnie have a Ronnie story. If there is a book written about how to become an MP or a Lord, Ronnie never read it.

He was never going to be one to tick all the boxes in a bloodless modern selection process  and yet he was loved by his constituents and possibly the only one who could have in the 1987 General Election delivered the only Liberal gain in England. He won because he was no political careerist using the constituency as a stepping stone,but because his only ambition was to represent the town of his birth and the people in it.

Southport, albeit it has its eccentricities and detractors, has deep Liberal roots and the heart of Southport liberalism is valuing each individual regardless of where they stand in the social hierarchy.

Ronnie practised rather than theorised about Liberalism showing an omnivorous and genuine interest in the daily life of ordinary and not so ordinary folk, patronising ,in the proper sense, all sorts of groups and associations.

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Carmichael: Put Boris on gardening leave during Met investigation into parties

Alistair Carmichael has called for Boris Johnson to be placed on gardening leave and removed from Number 10 while the Metropolitan Police investigate the numerous rule-breaking parties that took place.

In many work settings, people under investigation are placed on leave whilst the proceedings are ongoing. This is to prevent them from attempting to prevent a fair investigation from being carried out by influencing witnesses or destroying evidence.

It’s been reported in recent weeks that Downing Street staff have been advised to delete emails or texts pertaining to parties, ahead of the Sue Gray investigation.

Whilst Boris Johnson is on leave, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab would be expected to take over running the day-to-day affairs of the Government.

Alistair said:

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Former Lib Dem MP Ronnie Fearn dies at 90

Sad news reached our ears on Monday night, that former Southport Lib Dem MP Ronnie Fearn had died. We wanted to wait for the news to become more public before we shared it though.

From the Liverpool Echo

Tributes have been paid to a former Merseyside MP, described as “Mr Southport”, who has died aged 90.

Ronald Fearn, known as Ronnie, was MP for Southport from 1987 to 1992 and 1997 to 2001, serving first as a member of the Liberal party and later as a Liberal Democrat.

He also served as a councillor for Sefton Council from 1974 to 2016 and previously

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Erlend

You might know sad news is coming, but when it actually arrives, it still smacks you round the chops.

That’s how so many people in the party will feel tonight. Few people were as loved as Erlend Watson.

We knew time was short. His update on Boxing Day was very him.

FAREWELL
I wanted to break it to you all personally.

I am more certainly not going to make it through more than the next few months. Any extra events could shorten that so my best guess is 3 to 6 moths. I will put myself down for a proxy vote for May (not Theresa) in case of any survival. Cynical to the end.

The affection shown on social media since my op was lovely but I have lost a quarter of my weight and I no longer have the physical reserves to do that.

I am currently able to communicate and will do so as long as possible but clearly the timetable is very loose and the end could be sudden.

My final affairs I am leaving to my siblings and my social media executor as Simon Drage as he knows more of you than they do.

In the meantime I will take/return calls as and when I can. Some longer some shorter according to what I can do.

There will be a funeral and I think a memorial service (probably the latter in London during parliamentary session for those who that works for. Elements of English and Norwegian I hope the committal of ashes to be in Orkney next summer about the time of the shows next August subject to to Covid but that is obviously an open story..

In terms of my politics I haven’t a Liberal and a Liberal Democrat since age 10. I see there being anti liberal forces working in the world and that makes me very sad. These must be fought. I am partisan but include on the side of good not just my own leaders but many Labour, Conservative and other politicians and obviously many non Party folk. I am a multiple identity person. In terms of nationality I am an Orcadian who was born in Fife with other IDs through my genome (but that leaves the key flag at the funeral as a St Magnus one rather than a rainbow 🌈 one).

To end with a couple of (mis)quotes.
1)You are not wholly gone from Earth until the last soul you touched comes up to heaven to greet you..

2) Well dear friends, now we have come to the end of our fellowship in Middle Earth. I will not say do not weep for not all tears are an evil. Or in Norwegian, Vel kjære venner nå har vi kommet til enden av vårt felleskap i Midtgård. Jeg vil ikke si gråt ikke, for ikke alle tårer er av det onde.

Number 2 may be familiar to readers of The Lord of the Rings.

Within days, both the Young Liberals and ALDC had honoured him.
And tonight the news came that he had died, very peacefully, and with a friend by his side.

We’d been hoping that he would somehow defy the odds.

Erlend was a familiar sight at by-elections and at the Conference Glee Club. He devoted so much of his life to the party, working to elect parliamentarians and councillors alike.

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Happy Burns Night!

On 25th January 1759, Robert Burns was born. 263 year later, Scotland celebrates its most famous national poet with haggis, neeps, tatties, poetry, song and more than a small amount of decent single malt.

Whoever runs the Scottish Government digital comms for today is probably going to be feeling a bit sheepish tonight:

 

I got to wondering how Burns would deal with social media. Imagine the Twitter pile on the lady with the louse on her bonnet would get if Rabbie had live tweeted from the church service. The wider points Burns was trying to make about social justice and the importance of all life would have been entirely lost.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Burns’ poetry. You might have the vividness of Tam o’Shanter, the tenderness of Ae Fond Kiss and the humour of odes to mice and lice, but there’s the dark side. Telling henpecked husbands to charm their wives with the magic of a switch is never going to spark joy in my feminist heart. And he also advises the guy to kiss her maids and kick the perverse….well, it rhymes with switch.

And in the Rights of Women, he said women should have protection, decorum and admiration. You know, the vote would have been nice. You know, some actual political power. If I was writing this in Burns’ time, the copyright would have belonged to my husband. 

Nevertheless, the Edinburgh South Burns Supper is one of the highlights of my year. On Saturday, I gave the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies in a virtual event. It was bittersweet to be doing it over Zoom.

I had never been to a Burns Supper before about 2012 when I first went to the South one. Since then, I’ve been on the Naughty Table every year.

For those of you who don’t know, a traditional Burns Supper goes something like this:

The Selkirk Grace kicks off the proceedings. It’s simple:

Some hae meat and canna eat,And some wad eat that want it,But we hae meat and we can eat,Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

The Haggis is piped in and someone does a dramatic reading of Burns 1786 Address to a Haggis. On Saturday this was performed by Edinburgh South’s Rebecca Wright with so much spirit and passion. She really needs to think about a career in acting. And I am a bit scared of her, having seen her wield that knife.

Then the Chief Guest of Honour delivers the Immortal Memory, a personal reflection on Burns’ life and relevance to the modern day. On Saturday night that was delivered by Alex Cole-Hamilton and was one of the best that I have heard. He had us all in stitches with his Burns Style account of the Downing Street parties.

Then there’s a Toast to the Lassies. In the not too distant past, Burns Suppers were all male affairs and this element was served with a large amount of cringeworthy sexism. In these more progressive times, Angus Councillor Ben Lawrie, also the Scottish Party’s Spokesperson on the Drugs emergency was absolutely brilliant  He talked abut his love of Tam O’Shanter:

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Helen Morgan’s inaugural: In the footsteps of the Women of Wem

In her inaugural speech in the House of Commons today, the country’s newest MP Helen Morgan told MPs:

“I will not give up fighting for the issues that matter most to North Shropshire: better access to health and ambulance services, a fair deal for farming, and proper provision of public services.”

Helen began by setting herself in the context on North Shropshire:

“While I am the first woman to represent North Shropshire in parliament, I am continuing a fine tradition of women in North Shropshire defending our democracy.”

She follows in the footsteps of the Women of Wem and made clear the Lib Dems opposition to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill.

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The pros and cons for Liberal Democrats of Boris Johnson remaining in office

Embed from Getty Images

Why Johnson should stay — Irina von Weise

Just as tactical voting is an unfortunate, but indispensable result of our voting system, trade-offs between the shorter and longer term are often necessary. Here is the choice: putting up with a blustering, lying buffoon as PM for two more years, or the prospect of another seven (or more) years of Conservative governments.

Let’s not forget: Johnson is not the problem, he merely epitomises it. The problem is a Conservative party hardly recognisable to its own traditional voter base, one that ousted its internationalist, rule-based MPs and replaced them with a cohort of spineless, corrupt loyalists.

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Government meltdown because PM cannot tell the truth – Ed Davey


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Helen Morgan to make her maiden speech today

If you get a chance to watch the Commons this afternoon, you’ll see new Lib Dem MP Helen Morgan make her first proper speech. I really don’t like the term maiden speech as it just seems sexist and patronising, an outdated and disrespectful view of young women.

The Scottish Parliament took to calling them debut speeches for a while and I’d like to see a bit more of that.

But back to Helen. Every Lib Dem who helped whether on the phone, in person or by donating, or by enabling someone else to go has a stake in this. It will be a very special moment for our party.

It won’t be the first time Helen has spoken in the Chamber. Within two hours of being sworn in on 5th January, she was challenging the PM to do something about the terrible state of Shropshire’s ambulance service.

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Ed Davey: Boris Johnson must resign over birthday party

Every time we hear of yet another time when Downing Street staff behaved like the rules didn’t apply to them, it just brings back the pain. This isn’t just politics. It’s about reliving the emotions of a really difficult couple of years.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it’s the hugs we didn’t have, the days we didn’t see our loved ones that really hurt.

Most of us bear the scars of this pandemic to a certain extent. If we hadn’t obeyed the rules, the death toll from Covid would have been so much higher. Staying at home for months on end was the only way to protect ourselves and others from a deadly virus.

But that came at a huge cost for many.

I am thinking of someone I love very much who wasn’t able to see their friends for months on end. They became very seriously ill as a result and could have lost their life. I heard yesterday about others who had not been so lucky and whose loved ones had died by suicide.

My son’s 21st fell not long before Boris Johnson’s birthday. He couldn’t see his group of friends.  His treat for the day was a trip to the drive thru McDonalds which had opened a few days previously. To be fair, he did get a nice home-cooked meal, but it’s far from the celebration he wanted.  I didn’t see my parents on their birthdays last year and my niece had to postpone her wedding. We’ve all got similar stories to tell.

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We’re not going bust – but how will we manage our money in future?

In earlier days of Covid, I argued that we should spend whatever was needed to tackle the pandemic and not worry too much about the national debt. It seemed a no-brainer then but, as we move into post-pandemic or endemic times, things don’t look so straightforward. 

To outsiders, including me, money and banking can look horribly arcane and complex. Still, it has a big influence on our lives. Active democrats need at least some understanding of it. I’ve tried to expand my own understanding and here, in summary, is how I see things:

In the UK we are in charge of our own currency, which is not pegged to any other currency or to gold or silver. We can borrow in our own currency. This means that we can’t involuntarily go bankrupt –  we can create money to settle our debts. A sovereign state is not like a household. 

We have to be careful. If we put too much money into circulation, by spending too much more than we raise in taxes, inflation can run wild and it can be difficult and painful to get it back under control. Too little money can mean unemployment, empty buildings and idle machinery. Things are particularly tricky at the moment because we have inflation driven by the world price of energy and by bottlenecks in supply chains from Covid and Brexit.

The size of the national debt doesn’t always matter much – it depends partly on who is financing it and at what rates of interest. At the moment, nearly 40% of the UK national debt is owed to the Bank of England, which the government owns, and there seems scant evidence that the debt is itself a problem. However, the debt is often used by right-wing Tories as an excuse for the austerity they love.

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How do we create a passion for civic activism?

Engaging, informative and instrumental in building “democratic foundation” for future generations. It is wonderful that the “civic tradition” of children from the Polish Saturday School in Welwyn Garden City continues! Always in January, when some might have preferred to stay at home, a group of 12 children and a few members of staff visited the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Children had another opportunity to visit the Council Chamber, meet the Leader, Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. 

 Throughout the meeting, children listened attentively and with a great desire to learn. They had a chance to learn to ask a number of questions, many surprising and thought-provoking. This time some of them included:

  • What is the best part of being a Councillor? 
  • How are our taxes spent?
  • Is the town planning to build additional sports facilities?
  • What specifically is the district doing about climate change?

 The trip also had another important dimension. It gave participants an opportunity to continue building a positive image of the Polish diaspora in the UK, having a real impact on our integration and inspire our students to become actively involved in the life of the local community. 

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The funny thing all those demanding “free speech” have in common

Having been active on Lib Dem social media for about eight years now, and being an admin or moderator of major Lib Dem groups for much of that time, I’ve witnessed many of the party’s internal debates lately.  I’ve noticed, with increasing despair, a trend in certain quarters to bemoan the fact that there are topics which people don’t like being debated within our party.

I would have far more patience with these internal ‘free speech’ arguments if it wasn’t for the fact that there’s only ever one thing that the people advancing them seem to want to talk about at the end of the day – and they’re desperate to talk about it; they’re just bursting to say it – except, there are all these mean people out there wanting them to stop, and hurting their feelings if they say it anyway.

Bluntly, it always seems to come down to how revolting they find LGBT+ people (particularly trans+ people) – how they wish they’d be less disgustingly LGBT+ in public where other people might actually have to do things like look at them and – horror! – share space with them.  And, of course, there are all these mean people wanting them to not say it, or at least to jolly well say it elsewhere, and there are all these intolerant LGBT+ folks and their allies with the temerity to call them things like “illiberal,” and “TERF,” which are terrible things to call them, because only Bad People™ are called those things.

We should not be surprised that people who are the subjects of a debate want to be a part of it.  It’s also not surprising that they won’t want to debate, particularly not endlessly and at length:

1) their worth as human beings,

2) their retaining rights that they currently do, and

3) any reduction of those rights (such as, say, their ability to use toilets, except in private homes)

It would be neither “Liberal” nor moral to insist that anyone sit by smiling sweetly while others debate, in public, whether they should have, or keep having, rights that those actually having the debate already enjoy.  That wouldn’t be “allowing debate” – that would be bullying.  Wanting people to stop doing it isn’t “stifling free speech”, or “stopping people from feeling offended” – it’s protecting an embattled minority from psychological abuse by people who either want to inflict that abuse in the first place, or are too pig-ignorant to see that that’s what they’re doing (and too righteously-offended at the very idea that they’re being insensitive to begin to think that perhaps the people asking them to stop might have a point).

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ALDC by-election report: 20 January 2022

The first intriguing by-election Thursday of 2022 was operating under the backdrop of “Partygate”. Would the shenanigans at Number 10 cut through on the local level? Can the Lib Dems strike while the irons are hot and bring home the bacon, though it’s Veganuary don’t you know? Would this week’s polls throw up any surprises? Here we have it, the round-up of all Thursday night’s by-elections.

Most notably then, Lib Dems and town council by-elections are a better match than one made in heaven. Three town council by-elections in Hatfield, Carterton and Dawlish ushered in gains, gains, gains for the native golds. Elsewhere, Labour held on in East Lothian and Charnwood BC whilst the Conservatives secured victories at Selby DC and East Lindsey DC by-elections.

There is nowhere else to start than all things town councils. A fantastic night for the Liberal Democrats ushered in a trio of successes. Tim Rowse at Hatfield TC, Natalie King at Carterton TC and Rachel Hardy at Dawlish TC all ran phenomenal campaigns and we congratulate you on your successes. What a great night to be a Liberal Democrat!

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Tom Arms’ World Review: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Netanyahu

Will Russia invade Ukraine? Will it achieve its goals with a threatened invasion? What are Putin’s goals? Mixed signals shoot out from every quarter. Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky is urging his country to not panic and at the same time be prepared for the worst and calling on the West for more help. President Biden says a “minor incursion” would mean less sanctions. The White Hoyuse and State Department then said he didn’t mean what he said. Is Secretary of State Antony Blinken trying to persuade his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to accept a deal on nuclear force levels in return for a promise not to invade Ukraine? If so, how would NATO react to that? And what about the Germans and the rest of the EU? Will they support sanctions which could hurt them almost as much as the Russians? Will the Russians cut off Europe’s gas supplies or launch a cyber-attack if Europe joins America in fully-fledged sanctions against Russia? Finally, what is Putin planning? What are his aims? He has publicly stated that he wants to restore the Soviet empire. That he sees Ukraine as an integral part of greater Russia. That he wants legal guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO. Are these negotiating positions, non-negotiable policy objectives or worrying statements to keep the West divided and off-balance? Has Putin now gone so far that he can’t back down? Does the Russian president think that he has a window of opportunity to achieve geopolitical objectives in the wake of the Afghan withdrawal debacle, EU divisions, a weak Biden Administration, an energy crisis, the pandemic, partygate, French elections and Brexit? As tensions continue to rise these are all factors that are being considered by the political cost-benefit analysts in Moscow, Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin….

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Observations of an ex pat – Anglo Saxon Free Speech

The blizzard of alleged lies and tales of blackmail emanating from 10 Downing Street is truly disturbing. But they obscure even more alarming policy shifts which threaten longer-lasting effects than any fall-out from partygate.

Nearly the top of the list of the partially-buried problems are the threats to free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly and the freedom to protest.

Britain and America have led the way in establishing and protecting those rights. They insisted that they were written into the UN Charter and Germany’s post-war Basic Law and their example has inspired others around the world. Now both countries are heading the opposite direction. In the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Britain is ranked 33rd and the US is a dismal 44 out of 170 countries.

The blame for America’s poor ranking is laid almost exclusively at the door of ex-president Donald Trump and the Republican Party he has reshaped in his own image. Trump enabled and emboldened free press opponents by attacking the media as “enemies of the people” and branding criticism of his administration as “fake news.” With the Republicans likely to regain control of Congress in this year’s mid-term November elections, the media is preparing for a fresh onslaught.

In Britain, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have long-regarded the BBC as a hotbed of liberalism. They started their term in office by reducing the number of ministerial interviews on the world’s most respected news outlet. Then this week Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced that she was freezing government funding for the BBC.

On top of that, the beleaguered Johnson government’s proposed Police, Sentencing and Courts Bill will effectively ban traditional rights of free speech, demonstrations and protests by giving police the right to shut down any gathering that causes “serious disruption.” The government decides what is a “serious disruption.”

Politicians around the world and of every political persuasion have a love-hate relationship with the media and protesters. Those in power seek to curb freedom of speech because it exposes nefarious activities undertaken to retain power. Those seeking power recognise it as an essential tool for gaining power, only to jettison their support once it has served its purpose. The result has been a perpetual struggle between media, the government and vested interests.

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Lib Dem governance reforms are vital

As a collective groan not heard since I last set my students an essay rings out, I am afraid the subject of governance reforms, whilst unexciting, is far too important to leave undiscussed.

In Dorothy Thornhill’s recent article, she sets out the importance of having a more agile organisation and ensuring that our party is fit to fight elections.

Much of this work has been ably carried out by HQ under the new CEO, Mike Dixon. The results at the Chesham & Amersham, and North Shropshire by elections pay testament to the strategic sense of shifting resources to the campaigns department.

However, staffing restructures can only take us so far. In order to effectively elect outstanding candidates in our target seats at the next election, we need to ensure that we have the organisational nimbleness to effectively grow our Council and Parliamentary base.

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The Women’s Healthcare Gap

Last Saturday, a group of Lib Dem Women attended a conference in Oxford to discuss the women’s healthcare gap.

Despite working in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector for 20 years, it was not a concept I was very familiar with until recently. During lockdown, I read Caroline Criado-Perez’s ground-breaking book, Invisible Women, which spelled out the issue using examples of how women’s health is put at risk because medical research has been dominated by men and male biology. Since then, I have had personal experience of the issue.

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Et tu Cummins? Et tu Davies? Et tu Wragg?

He has been stabbed in the back. Stabbed in the front. Stabbed in the arras. Yet, like a Shakespearean character stretching out the last scene of a tragedy, Boris Johnson staggers on, keeping the audience enthralled with his gasping phases, bravado and sense of drama. It is a great drama but is it a way to run a country?

There is a fear, and perhaps it is a reality, that many of the government’s announcements are now all about propping up a prime minister in free fall. A clutch of backbench Tory MPs have joined opposition MPs in calling for Boris Johnson to resign. But as always Shakespeare has wisdom, as spoken by Chamberlain in Henry VIII:

“Press not a falling man too far! ’Tis virtue. His faults lie open to the laws; let them, not you, correct him. My heart weeps to see him so little of his great self.”

There will undoubtedly be more twists and turns in this drama in the next few days. But it is clear there is something rotten in the state of the Tory party.

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FOUR Lib Dem Council GAINS – What a night!

I’m doing the by-election results for ALDC tonight, with the help of some strong painkillers. I had a bit of a fall yesterday and hurt my hip. Nothing serious, but it is sore.

Tonight’s results got the endorphins flowing though. Not one, not two, not three but FOUR gains.

One gain came in one of the Toriest parts of Oxfordshire, where we haven’t had a councillor for 15 years.

And then came gain number 3:

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Early Bird registration for Spring Conference extended

If the report earlier today from Nick da Costa, Chair of the Federal Conference Committee, prompted you to book your place, then you are in luck. The Early Bird rate is being extended until Monday 24th January.

You can register here.

Whilst the Early Bird rate is £40, there is a massive bargain for first-timers who only need to pay £5. And under 18s,  students and benefits claimants can register at the special rate of £10. The £10 and £5 rates apply whenever you register, but the main rate will be rising from next Tuesday, so book now.

This will hopefully be the last online Conference. The platform used by the party (Hopin) is very effective but it’s still not the same as wandering around the Conference Centre and nearby hotels and randomly bumping into old friends and making new ones.

As usual Lib Dem Voice will be at Spring Conference reporting back to our readers. See you there?

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FCC Report: Motions for Spring Conference

The Federal Conference Committee (FCC) met on Saturday, 15th January to start its work on the final agenda for Spring 2022 Conference, which will be taking place virtually via the Hopin platform.

If you haven’t yet registered for Conference, I would recommend doing so here.

We’ve had a few departures from the FCC in the last few months and welcomed two new members. Jennie Rigg ceased being the English Party’s Representative to the FCC and Jenni Lang stepped down as the Scottish Party Representative after becoming the Convenor of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. I would like to place on record our thanks for their service to the FCC, they will be missed, and we would like to wish them all the very best for the future. We welcomed Matt McLaren as our new English Party Rep and Paul McGarry as our new Scottish Party Rep to the committee.

The FCC wants to thank the Conference Office for the amazing work that they do. We are always so grateful to them for their hard work.

At our meeting we discussed several papers and issues brought to the FCC. One of which was with regards to this report, and the information we publish relating to the non-selection of motions. Previously, the FCC had not provided the reason for why motions are not selected. We have taken on board lots of feedback and decided that it is only fair that we publish a summary of the feedback provided when this report is published. Whilst we do provide feedback to submitters of motions, it was felt appropriate that we do give the membership more information about why certain motions are not selected. This doesn’t mean that the motions are not necessarily a good topic for debate, but in some cases their focus is either too narrow or the motion would benefit from additional drafting support and guidance, which the FCC offers through the drafting advice service.

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Are we now living in an anocracy?

“Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you?”, the late Tony Hancock famously asked, “Did she die in vain?” It’s a few centuries (over eight to be precise) since King John put his mark on that famous Charter at Runnymede and I’m just wondering whether it was all worth it.

Joking aside, I really am in despair as to the direction of travel that western ‘democracy’ appears to be taking. In particular I refer to our own Anglo Saxon ‘democracy’ on both sides of the Atlantic, although the situation in many parts of western and eastern Europe does not fill me with joy either.

I suppose that a few LDV readers may not be familiar with the word ‘anocracy’. To be honest, neither was I until recently and, every time I type the word into a text, my rather ancient iPad doesn’t recognise it, insisting on underlining it in red. Well, it’s apparently a form of government, which Wikipedia tells me “mixes democratic with autocratic features”. As Teresa May  famously asked; “Sounds familiar?”

In both the USA and the United Kingdom our ‘democratic’ institutions have moved little since the 18th century. In the former, its much vaunted written constitution, designed when the country was still a collection of small colonies clustered on the eastern seaboard of the continent, is now struggling to accommodate the aspirations of the changing population of a superpower. In the latter the parliamentary system, which may have worked on a severely limited franchise, when Britannia ruled the waves, is now failing to cope with the UK’s demise as a world power and its inability to find a modus vivendi with its near neighbours let alone with the rest of the world. The judgement of the late Dean Acheson is as valid today as it was back in the 1960s.

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What’s the point of the English Party?

You could perhaps be forgiven for not knowing that the English Party even exists. Unlike Regional Parties in England, which have a direct relationship with members and are consequently well-understood; the all-England level of the party lies veiled in a murky labyrinth of internal organisation generally understood only by those initiated into the hidden secrets of its bureaucracy. Or at least that’s how it appears to most ordinary members (and even many longstanding activists!)

Nevertheless, the internal party matters reserved for England level (as opposed to being devolved to Regional Parties) are all pretty important. From approval and selection rules for parliamentary candidates, to setting the budget which determines how much Regions and Local Parties get from membership subscriptions and how much is available to be spent centrally to fund field-based Regional Development Officers, to setting the overall standards for operational and governance decisions at lower levels (such as rules applying to local agreements to work with other parties, how to settle membership disputes, and how Council Groups need to operate in order to be officially recognised etc.)

It might all sound a bit dull, but it’s absolutely crucial work that has to be done. Certainly when it comes to the work of the oft-maligned English Council itself (the governing body of the Liberal Democrats in England, made up of the Regional Chairs plus directly elected representatives from each Region), none of this work could easily be performed by Regional Parties acting autonomously. And were it to be, that would undoubtedly create an unmanageable patchwork of different rules and process from region to region which – certainly when it comes to things like PPC selections – would be extremely difficult if not practically impossible for participants to navigate.

The problem with the English Council, if I may say so, is not what it does but rather 𝘩𝘰𝘸 it does it. With what is in theory supposed to be a representative and accountable body in practice being almost entirely self-selecting, shrouded in misunderstanding or complete ignorance as to its role, and totally unaccountable as a result.

I am on a mission to change that – seeking to massively improve channels of communication between those sitting on the Council and ordinary English Party members and between its leadership on the Council’s Executive and the crucial volunteers running Local & Regional Parties. But it’s not easy and I keep encountering serious roadblocks. Since late December I have been trying to find a way to send out a detailed report back on the English Council’s important December 18th meeting to members in my own Region, only to be thwarted at every turn. Perhaps not unreasonably, as existing channels of communication are perhaps better focused on traditional things like campaigns updates etc., but there really should be some mechanism for the Region’s elected representatives to be able to report back to and be held accountably by the members that elect them regarding their work on the Council. Clearly no such mechanism currently exists.

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Wendy Chamberlain smashes it at PMQs with call for PM to resign

Wendy Chamberlain made a brilliant start to PMQs today:

And there has been loads of praise:

https://twitter.com/NairnMcD/status/1483772201866342404?s=20

 

Keir Starmer, buoyed by Tory defector Christian Wakeford sitting behind him, was both serious and funny as he repeatedly blasted the PM’s failures.

But it was David Davis, former Brexit Secretary, who struck what may be a politically fatal blow:

You could hear the gasps of surprise at his savage denouncement. I was reminded of the blow that Geoffrey Howe struck to Margaret Thatcher back in 1990. She didn’t last long after that.

Earlier, Wendy spoke to Nicky Campbell about the PM’s position:

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