Unforgivable choices – Lib Dems respond to the Spending Review

For the second time in three days, Christine Jardine pressed the Government to do more to help those who have thus far been excluded from Government support. Three million self-employed people have had nothing since March and some have had no income at all because they work in areas that aren’t yet open. In March they were stressed. Eight months on, they are desperate.

Rishi Sunak was dismissive, but not as egregious as Boris Johnson had been the other day when Christine questioned him.

“I hope we haven’t excluded anyone” said the PM. If he doesn’t know that there is a massive All-Party Parliamentary Group fighting for these people, if he hasn’t been aware of the many questions that have been asked in Parliament, then that shows unforgivable ignorance. If he did know of the plight of the three million, his remarks show callous disregard.

Later, Christine talked to BBC News arguing against the public sector pay freeze and the abandonment of the 0,7% aid target.

On that international aid issue, Wendy Chamberlain highlighted how the Government had gone back on its word:

Ed Davey said that the Chancellor had made some unforgivable political choices:

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Scotland passes landmark bill aimed at ending period poverty

It is unbelievable that in the third decade of the 21st century, people have to miss out on education because they can’t afford tampons or sanitary towels during their period.

In a 2018 survey, a quarter of respondents said they had struggled to access period products.

Yesterday, Scotland became the first country in the world to pass a law putting an obligation on local authorities to provide period products free of charge to anyone who needs them.

From the BBC:

The scheme will need to be operational

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Todays Press Release – 25th November 2020

PRESS  RELEASE

Aid cut makes a mockery of ‘Global Britain’ promise

Responding to the Chancellor’s announcement that the foreign aid budget will be cut, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Layla Moran said:
“Today the promise of ‘Global Britain’ became hollow. Shirking away from our global responsibilities by cutting development spending during a worldwide pandemic is short-sighted and wrong.
“The Liberal Democrats enshrined the 0.7% in law precisely so it was flexible with the economic reality. By changing the law the Government is breaking its promise to the British people and to the world’s poorest.
“The Liberal Democrats will always stand up for the life-changing power of UK aid, and I will work cross-party to oppose this callous move.”
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Domestic violence in Wales

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Violence in the home has increased during Covid 19; contact during the lockdown period to Wales’ national helpline for women rose by 49% and call time trebled. During the national lockdown period, data from Counting Dead Women – a project that recalls the killing of women by men identified thirty-five murders with another twelve strongly suspected cases between March 23rd and the start of July.

Statistics in 2019 show that one in three women aged 16–59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime and that two women …

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The Late Late Toy Show – an Irish institution

This Friday, Christmas in Ireland will officially begin. The institution that is The Late Late Toy Show will be aired live on RTE One and internationally on the RTE Player.

It is the job of the Irish emigrant to explain to her non-Irish friends exactly what the appeal of The Toy Show is. Why do grown adults drop everything to get the goodies in, get settled in for the evening and pretend that they are children again? Why does Ireland stop for this one night, and in this Covid world we currently live in, why is the Irish Government desperately working to set out the exit plan from lockdown in time for The Toy Show? What is it about this magical Toy Show that brings grown adults to their knees?

The Late Late Toy Show began as a segment on toys on The Late Late Show back in 1976. The legendary broadcaster, Gay Byrne, saw the appeal of this segment and grew it into a fully-fledged dedicated programme once a year. If you’re of a certain age, you will remember the cheesy children from various stage schools singing and dancing, you might remember the precocious children showing off the toys they were to demonstrate or you might remember the delightfully entertaining children who could not but put a smile on your face. The Toy Show is warm television viewing with a heart. The key to its success is its values – an expectation of what childhood should be like putting family at the core of it.

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LibLink: Norman Lamb – Government’s neglect of social care and mental health has been exacerbated by Covid

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“How many children will die?” is the question we should be asking on international aid.

Just half a decade after the Coalition enshrined 0.7% of GDP spending to go to international aid into law, the Conservative government looks set to rip it out this week.

Given Johnson’s penchant for populism and his Chancellor’s desire to get public spending back to pre-Covid levels, it is not surprising to see international aid attacked so passionately and so disproportionately. ‘Foreign aid’ has long been the whipping body of the right-wing press, Nigel Farage, and the Tax-Payers Alliance.

Much like the European Union and freedom of movement, international aid has gone largely undefended. Whilst we see obvious merit in funding …

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Is it safe to come out now?

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With the certification of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes yesterday, Donald Trump finally bowed to the inevitable and signalled his administration to co-operate with the incoming transitional team of Joe Biden.

No concession though, you’ll note.

John T Bennett, Washington Bureau chief of the Independent writes today:

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Now is not the time for a return to austerity

This week it looks likely that the Chancellor will announce a freeze on public sector pay and cuts to the foreign aid budget. There are also murmurings of more harsh spending cuts and tax rises on the way. If Sunak and the Tories are planning on a return to austerity then this would be a huge mistake, and the Liberal Democrats should oppose it.

There is no urgent need to cut spending or raise taxes right now. Borrowing is currently extremely cheap, and bond yields are likely going to remain low for a while. Even in the event that interest rates do start to rise, we can take the opportunity while costs are low now to borrow over a longer period of time, in fact we’re already borrowing over longer terms than any other OECD country so it’ll be a while before we have to start paying most of this debt back.

In these conditions policy makers can afford to be less constrained than they were in the past. There has never been a better time for some new ideas, and to build back better.

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23 November 2020 – a brief reflection at the end of the day…

It’s been a somewhat reassuring day at Liberal Democrat Voice, at least for yours truly. I’ve had some interesting, and positive responses to my opening thoughts, and we’ve published the sort of articles which remind me why I do this. Better still, we have three articles ready for tomorrow which reflect my sense that LDV should inform, entertain and challenge its readers.

And so, in the slot I usually use for Party press releases, and in the absence of any to publish, perhaps readers won’t mind if I offer something slightly wistful, and quintessentially English (even as I acknowledge his Welsh …

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16 days of Activism against Gender-based Violence

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and 10 December is International Human Rights Day. The ALDE Party is marking the two days with a campaign running between them, focusing their efforts on the fight for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. As Jacob Moroza-Rasmussen, the ALDE Party’s Secretary General, puts it;

Combatting violence against women is a priority for Europe’s Liberals (as stated in our 2019 electoral manifesto) and we continue to call for the European Union and all EU Member States to ratify the Istanbul Convention. As Liberals, we are also committed to promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls, and to working for the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making.

The campaign starts with a Liberal Breakfast at 8.30 a.m. GMT which will;

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The new war in Ethiopia. The first step towards peace is understanding the conflict.

For many LDV readers, Ethiopia is associated with arid land, drought and terrible famine; made famous in the 1980s by Bob Geldorf and ‘Live Aid’.

The recent resurgence of civil conflict, mass fatalities and the exodus of 200,000 refugees into Sudan, seems inexplicable for the casual British observer. Is there a well-founded explanation?

Some perceptions have to be undone. More than 90% of the 100m population live in the green, fertile west of the country. Most of Ethiopia’s cities are modern and the capital, Addis, has a hi-tech urban rail system and glitzy shopping centres. Ethiopia has recently experienced high economic growth, and is a favoured investment location for Chinese and Western investors. The new Prime Minister won the Nobel peace prize for his rapprochement with breakaway Eritrea. So what’s the problem ?

Modern Ethiopia was largely created as an ‘empire’ by conquest in the late 19th Century under Emperor Menelik II, from what is now Addis Ababa, up to World War 1, with the support of Italy.

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John Roberts – a tribute

John Roberts with Judith Trefor Thomas had the idea, and with the great support of Emlyn Hooson, founded the Welsh Liberal Summer School meeting first in Llangollen. It developed ultimately into the Lloyd George Society of which he was an executive member for many years. His purpose was to have a meeting place where we could discuss Liberal policies and exchange ideas, with a Welsh flavour.

Having broken away from the central Liberal organisation, the LPO, in 1967, the new Welsh Liberal Party needed its own distinctive policies. John was foremost in engaging academics and journalists who threw us ideas. I remember in particular how we worked on economic policies with the theme that bribing industry with cash subsidies to open branch projects in Wales was ultimately fruitless. What was needed was investment in infrastructure which would make Wales a desirable place for investment – roads, rail electrification, airlinks, trading estates, a new Severn crossing and upgrading the A55. Free Ports in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea was one of the policies we developed, a concept which this Tory government fifty years later seems now to have latched onto.

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Welsh Liberal Democrats come together virtually

Over 120 Welsh Lib Dem members joined our first ever virtual conference this weekend.

We welcomed Ed Davey virtually to Wales for his first Welsh conference where he spoke to us about the challenges facing the party and his burning desire that we as a nation must come out of this pandemic stronger than ever before.

This linked us nicely to our first policy motion: “Wales after COVID” which paid tribute to lives lost and calls for the dial on inequality in Wales to be reset with measures such as social care funding, universal free childcare, debt bonfires, green jobs and investment in housing.

We were then joined by Party President Mark Pack who spoke of how we need to campaign in the years to come, the changes the party is making both federally and in Wales and the exciting future we have in Wales with 16 and 17 year olds now able vote in Senedd elections from 2021 and in local government elections from 2022.

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23 November 2020 – welcome to my day…

Well, I’m back after a week off. The sun is shining, although the valley floor is shrouded in mist after a frosty night, so it’s not a day to linger unless you’re properly wrapped up.

In truth, I’d taken a week off because much of the joy of Liberal Democrat Voice has been rather lost of late. Attempts to disrupt the site by the use of fake e-mail addresses and, if I’m honest, the sheer grinding unpleasantness of some of our readers, made me wonder if the effort that I, and my fellow Editorial Team members, put in is really worthwhile.

I’ve always seen this site as an opportunity for Liberal Democrats, supporters of the Party and those who are “Lib Dem curious” to debate and discuss the issues of the day, propose new policy and campaigning ideas, and generally engage positively with each other in a respectful manner. It seems that there are too many out there who see it as an opportunity to settle old scores, browbeat or misrepresent those they disagree with or simply treat others with disrespect. It is, from an editorial perspective, wearing at best, deeply disheartening at worst. And, for the spirits of a volunteer Editorial Team, that can be a bit corrosive.

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Wendy Chamberlain on winning back N E Fife and her first 10 months as an MP

I had held off publishing Wendy Chamberlain’s speech delivered to Scottish Conference the other weekend because I had heard that it might be put up on You Tube.

However this hasn’t happened yet and I wanted you to have the chance to read it.

Heartfelt and honest, it’s one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen a parliamentarian deliver at Conference. Wendy talks about how she’s trying to help her constituents through some pretty complex problems and it’s clear how driven she is to get results for them and how much she cares about the injustices they face.

Here is her speech in full. Enjoy.

October 31st, 2019. 

The Early Parliamentary General Election Act was given Royal Assent by the Queen. Parliament was to be dissolved, and the campaign began. 

It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago today.  A year ago since we all donned our coats and wellies – and headed out for one of the hardest, and certainly the coldest, campaigns of our lives. 

I cam to this office to start my campaigning. North East Fife was the most marginal of marginal seats – I’m sure I don’t need to remind you: just two votes between us and the SNP. It did mean that we had the best bar chart in Lib Dem history!

But it wasn’t just the bar chart. Because it wasn’t just two votes we had to make up. 

In 2019, the SNP vote went up by 7 percent. The bar was as high as it will ever be. I received as many votes as Ming (who I am privileged to follow on from as a Liberal Democrat MP for the seat) did in 2005. His majority was 33% – mine is 3%. 

So how did we get it over the line? There were three key steps. 

First, I was selected early. We had the infrastructure and people in place – and a fantastic team headed up by Kevin Lang and Celyn Ashworth. Celyn is now running Liz Barrett’s Perth by-election campaign and I urge everyone here to support however you can – it’s absolutely winnable. Without them we wouldn’t have won – and we hit the ground running.

That’s exactly the same situation that all of our fantastic candidates who’ve been selected this weekend are in. Many of them have already been campaigning for months. I know they are going to fight an amazing campaign. 

Secondly, we collected lots of data. 

And then, we used that data to be ruthless. We targeted exactly who we needed to – soft Tory and Labour voters. We saw the largest fall in the Conservative vote anywhere in the UK (other than the Speakers seat – which doesn’t really count) and historically low Labour vote too

And that’s how we took back North East Fife for the Liberal Democrats. 

***

Now when you get elected as an MP, the first thing that happens as you leave the stage is that you get handed an envelope with MP on it. 

Inside, there’s a piece of paper with a phone number on it. 

You ring the number, you’re told how to get down to Westminster and you’re informed that your email account is now open for business! 

Immediately, constituents are getting touch – with queries ranging from supertrawlers to dangerous dogs; from Dominic Cummings to trespassing cats.  

In the last ten months, my team have dealt with over 5,000 pieces of casework, ranging from helping the St Andrews Aquarium access funds, to mobile caterers with no income or events to attend, to visa issues for seasonal workers and families; and constituents stuck abroad during the pandemic’s early stages. You name it. 

It’s one of the most important things about being an MP. Making sure that your constituents are given a voice – because if you’re contacting your MP for help, it’s probably because you’ve exhausted every other option. 

So much of what I and my team do is trying to ‘unblock’ things where people are not getting anywhere with the council, or the Scottish Government, or Westminster. 

And sadly, for a lot of my constituents who get in touch, it’s the welfare system that’s the problem. They’re trying to navigate and they are, through no fault of their own, hopelessly stuck. The welfare system is meant to be a safety net – but it’s leaving too many people tied up in knots. 

These people aren’t just any people – they’re our most vulnerable. Our society has to be judged on how it treats the disadvantaged. And so it is a total failure of our government that a great deal of the people who contact me about the benefit system are people with disabilities, who patently should be receiving disability benefits – PIP or ESA – but the Department for Work and Pensions has cruelly denied them.   

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Forty years in the making

Liberal democracy is in crisis, particularly in the UK and the USA. In the UK we are perhaps bemused at how we could have come to elect such a corrupt, cronyistic and incompetent government, and in the USA there is much debate over how the Trump lump has not gone away despite four years of Trump’s Twitter tantrums.

There is a tendency to view this as a short term phenomenon – what went wrong four years ago, six years ago, even ten years ago. In my view this has been coming for forty years. It has not been inevitable but, during the neoliberal period (roughly from the 80s till today), social forces and personal decision making have moved us steadily towards the situation we now find ourselves in.

In a nutshell, the elevation to power of Thatcher and Reagan marked the start of what was seen to be a move towards freedom, opening up societies all over the world to the liberating forces of the market. This had two sides, globalisation, an ineluctable social force beyond the power of individuals to affect, and the strategy of global elites both old and new, to use globalisation to create new wealth and power for themselves. They have been very successful. So it turned out to be a move towards freedom for some, but by no means all. The elites used liberalism as their watchword, while ignoring the principle of liberalism that their freedom is only valid in so far as it does not compromise other people’s freedom.

At the same time there has been a steady corrosion of community and democratic values, partly because the new markets require it (they don’t work without precarious labour) and partly because of media elites who found that telling lies worked, and political elites who did not care to confront them. People sold on consumer capitalism found easy answers to all the ills in their lives in the lies told them by the media. Rupert Murdoch and Hugh Dacre, among others, spent decades preparing the British public for the Brexit lie. They have succeeded in making many people’s lives precarious and hoodwinking them into blaming others for that.

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Covid-19 is not the only malaise

This week the East Lothian Party held our AGM via Zoom and even before the event we knew we had a problem. The Convenor, me as Vice Convenor, our Treasurer and our Secretary had given notice that we were not prepared to stand again.

The three long time office bearers felt they had done their bit but two of them also shared my disillusionment, as a relatively new member, with the policies, direction and leadership of the Scottish Party.

We were aware that with these resignations the East Lothian Party would fold, so I wrote to our membership of over 100 asking for volunteers who might step in to avoid the crisis. No-one stepped forward. I view that fact as evidence of a wider ennui in the membership, requiring the re-invigoration of fresh policies and passion from the top.
Trying to give a lead in a very small way, the East Lothian Executive suggested moderating the party’s outright opposition to a second Scottish Referendum under any circumstances. The amendment we moved at the autumn conference would have done that without actively promoting a referendum and certainly not backing independence. That nod to democracy, we felt, would set us apart from the Tory and Labour positions.

Perhaps predictably, the leadership succeeded in persuading conference to reject the amendment by, we thought, employing a highly misleading portrayal of its intentions. Nonetheless, approximately 18% of attendees backed the amendment

In addressing conference, I had reminded members of the adage usually attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” That’s what we think the party is doing and if that isn’t bad enough, it’s not even doing it very well.

A few days ago, Boris Johnson was reported as dismissing devolution as a disaster and Tony Blair’s biggest mistake. The story surfaced overnight on Wednesday but the Scotsman, and many other titles had time to report it. Radio 4’s “Today” programme headlined the story and featured several Tories struggling to defend the PM, making up what they thought he meant. One of them, Malcolm Rifkind, let slip that there is now no doubt that the future of the UK must be a Federal one.

What a gift!

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How bullying casts a long shadow…a post updated with reflections on Priti Patel and Dominic Cummings

It is ten years since I first wrote this, and I share it every year during Anti-Bullying Week. I could write something else, but it took some emotional energy to write the first time and I’m not really up for putting myself through that again. 

Let’s not put up with anyone being treated like this, whether at school, in the workplace or within politics. It’s important that anyone in any sort of leadership role in any organisation has the skills to recognise and intervene to stop bullying and support those affected by it. It casts a very long shadow and destroys lives. Its costs are massive in terms of wellbeing. Also, if you are bothered about the money and the economy, happier people are more productive.  It’s entirely preventable and we should do all we can to eradicate it.

It is ironic that I share this during this year’s anti bullying week a day after a Prime Minister defends a Cabinet Minister who has been found to have broken the Ministerial Code in the way that she treated her civil servants:

My advice is that the home secretary has not consistently met the high standards required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.

Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals.

I think the report is quite lenient on her, almost justifying shouting and swearing at officials. There is no circumstance in which that is ever justifiable in a workplace. The idea that she gets off because nobody raised it with her in the Home Office is utterly ridiculous. It takes some courage to raise these issues with the person in charge who shouts and swears at you. 

By all accounts, the way the recently departed Dominic Cummings treated people was even worse than the allegations against Patel. This Government has so far been fuelled by bullying. A toxic culture in which people are working in an atmosphere of fear and loathing is never going to be conducive to getting stuff done well. And this is actually costing lives. You can’t perform well if you are constantly fearful and anxious about the behaviour of an individual. You can’t effectively challenge their thinking and ideas. When you are making decisions that are a matter of life and death for many people, you need to make sure that they are properly thought through. A wise person I know says that the most important person in the room is the person who disagrees with you, because their input helps make your performance better. 

If staff in any workplace wake up with that same nausea that I faced when I was bullied, it saps energy that they could be putting into their work. And that is entirely the fault of the bully. 

We have a Prime Minister who clearly doesn’t get the impact of bullying in the workplace, and who is prepared to overlook the most egregious instances of it. 

Priti Patel should have been sacked. Dominic Cummings’ behaviour as Michael Gove’s Special Adviser at Education should have  meant that he never got over the door of Downing Street. 

It is incredibly worrying that the person in charge is willing to let this sort of unforgivable behaviour pass. The example that sets to other employers is extremely unhelpful, to say the least. 

And now on to that 10 year old piece.

I’ve been procrastinating like anything to avoid writing this post because although I know the events I’m going to describe took place a long time ago, they cast a long shadow. Their stranglehold on my life is long gone, but the memories are not. I might have teased my sister for posting something inane on my Facebook wall a while ago when she has important work she needs to do, but how would I know if I hadn’t similarly been wasting time.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a very long time, but now is probably the right time. When Stephen wrote so movingly about how his experiences of homophobic bullying had almost led him to the brink of suicide, I thought about telling my story too. His account of standing on the breakwater as a 17 year old brought vividly to my mind those dark occasions I’d stood far above the sea and contemplated jumping as a young teenager myself. I wasn’t bullied for homophobic reasons. In fact, it was made very clear to me that no man, woman or even beast would ever find me attractive.

The bullying started in earnest when I went to secondary school. I was in a very dark place as a 12 year old. This isn’t the right place to explain why but when I experienced those feelings again in later life, the doctor called it Depression. To add to that, we’d moved so I was far away from the emotional bedrocks my wonderful grannies provided. I was vulnerable, alone and, let’s be honest, not very likeable. I certainly didn’t like myself much anyway.

During the first three years of high school, I was primarily known by two names, neither of which had been given to me by my parents. In English one day in first year, we were taking it in turns to read out a scene from a play. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was but as fate would have it, the line I had to read was “I want a yak.” Quick as a flash, the boy in front of me yelled out “I always thought you were one……” Cue the entire class, including the teacher, to collapse in laughter. That spread like wildfire, and before long it became my name to the entire pupil body.

If we’d had Google images then, I might have discovered pretty quickly that yaks are really kind of cute, but I never really saw it that way at the time and I really don’t think that the name was an affectionate one.

The other name came from the fact that, yes, I do have weird eyes. For that reason, people would hiss like a cat when they saw me coming, and spit out “Cat’s Eyes” as I passed.

I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much, but when you hear one or other of those things round every corner every day, you do feel less than human.

I became adept at varying my route to and from school to try to avoid the bullies who were there to pull my hair, or steal my stuff or point, or laugh, or kick or trip me up. They liked to mix it up a bit so I never really knew what I was walking into. I know it’s all quite low level, but it wore me down. I lived in perpetual fear and carrying that around everywhere was exhausting.

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No woman is an island

It seems fitting that this year on 21 November we celebrate #AskHerToStand Day at the same time as Kamala Harris makes history as the first female Vice President elect in the USA.

Whilst the world and our lives have changed so dramatically since our own Parliamentary Election 12 months ago, for me the memories are still very fresh (or is it raw?) as I remember my experience as a first-time candidate.

Deciding to stand wasn’t an easy decision – not only was I standing for election for the first time in the middle of a very wet, cold winter, but I was changing jobs and in the early stages of pregnancy with my second child. I had to weigh up the physical and emotional demands that come with growing a human alongside my desire to stand up for the issues I believe in.

In truth, this isn’t something men have to deal with – even when they do have young families, it isn’t quite the same physical impact and Mummy Guilt is pretty powerful at the best of times! Early on, I enlisted the support of my family, who helped in numerous ways – from cooking meals and doing nursery pick-ups to delivering leaflets and being my test audience for hustings. My partner rallied me when I was feeling unsure or overwhelmed and stepped in to take on my share of our domestic life. It left me feeling loved and incredibly lucky.

My experience is neatly captured in this short documentary, following my eager enthusiasm and the ups and downs of a winter election where the national picture is going against you.

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Reflections on the Transgender Day of Remembrance

Cross posted from the Scottish Lib Dems website

A few years ago, I took a trip to London with some young people. 

They had the choice of any West End musical we could get cheap tickets for on the Saturday night. 

They chose instead to go to a vigil remembering victims of hate crimes . 

So, instead of being in a warm theatre, we spent several hours in rain and freezing cold. It was an incredibly moving  event. The most sombre part was when the names of people who had lost their lives was read out. 

Each one of these names was a human being with hopes, interests, emotions, ambitions. All they wanted to do was get on with their lives in peace. Those lives were cut short because of prejudice and hatred.

A year or so after that trip to London, one of those young people came out as transgender. They were only too well aware of the sort of prejudice they faced if they revealed their true self. To do so in those circumstances takes incredible courage. 

Fortunately, they had supportive family and friends and are now doing very well.

November 20th is the Transgender Day of Remembrance when we remember transgender people across the world who have been murdered because of who they are. This year, the number is 350, not far off one person every single day. 

For several years now, trans and non binary people in this country have been constantly marginalised, the target of well-funded misinformation.

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Observations of an expat: Ethiopia

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Ethiopian Nobel peace prize winner Abiy Ahmed is planning—hoping with fingers and toes crossed—for a speedy and decisive end to his dispute with the rebel province of Tigray.

If his hopes are unrealised than it will have severe and widespread repercussions in the second most populous county in Africa, the strategic Horn of Africa and beyond.

Prime Minister Abiy and the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have been at loggerheads since he took over the premiership two years ago.  Up until then the TPLF had held the reins of power in Addis Ababa. Corruption, human rights abuses and a long war with Eritrea pushed them into an unwelcome political wilderness.

The problem is complicated by Ethiopia’s complex ethnic mix of 80 different groups speaking 86 languages. In an attempt to hold these competing factions together the 1995 constitution established a loose federation of nine ethnically-based states; each with the right of self-determination up to the right of secession. The constitution was a TPLF creation.

The TPLF-constructed constitution does not, however, fit in with Abiy’s vision of a unitary modern democratic state. He booted the TPLF out of the ruling coalition and formed a national political party, the People’s Prosperity. Then, to add insult to injury, Abiy used the excuse of the coronavirus pandemic to postpone elections due last August.

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Newest issue of Liberator free online

Liberator’s second online only issue is out and available for free download at: www.liberatormagazine.org.uk

What’s inside?

Alongside Radical Bulletin, Letters, Reviews and Lord Bonkers’ Diary, Liberator 404 includes:

Conflict, uncertainty and being wrong: welcome to ‘the science’

Science isn’t about boffins imparting hard facts – it involves a lot of disagreement and uncertainty. Acknowledging this could improve both how politicians use science and public trust in them, says Christy Lawrance.

Dazed and confused

Constantly chasing regulations, the failure of ‘track and trace’ and local political incompetence have combined to make Covid-19’s second wave worse in northern England, says Jackie Pearcey.

Now go and sell it

The Liberal Democrats have backed the idea of a universal basic income. Now they must promote it as the cornerstone of a new radical politics, says Paul Hindley.

The North moves the political plates

Liberal Democrat conference had to duck the issue of English regions, but anger is rising in the north at the lack of devolution, says Tony Greaves.

Will he go quietly?

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Great idea – but show us how we’ll get there!

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Here we go again! Boris Johnson announces a ‘world-beating’ programme to make Britain the environmental envy of the world. The usual suspects line up to say it’s too little too late, and the whole thing blows over in a couple of days, at least as a news story. But dig a little deeper and it’s not hard to identify what needs to happen to make Boris’s bluster into a plan that can really make a difference.

Let’s focus on the headline announcement: the intention to withdraw all new petrol and diesel cars from sale in the UK from 2030. Yes, numerically that puts us ahead of every country except Norway (which was first out of the blocks on massive investment in electric vehicles) so it sounds good, but on its own it’s meaningless. We’re back into that territory we were in at the election where all parties took part in auctions to see who could say they’d get Britain to net zero carbon emissions earliest – the dates garnered all the media attention, with little heed paid to whether the policies that underpinned them would actually deliver.

So it is with ending new internal combustion engines by 2030. The aspiration is great, though hardly ahead of the game when we consider the urgent need to cut climate emissions. But given that petrols and diesels still make up around 90% of new car sales in the UK, it’s a very tall order to stop all new sales within 10 years, so the key lies in whether there’s a plan – a roadmap if you like – to get us to zero-sales by 2030.

The short answer is that there is, but it’s already hopelessly behind the clock. The EU has a plan to increase e-car sales, and it’s currently being transposed into British law for the post-Brexit era. But the EU’s law is inadequate, and the British transposition is even weaker.

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Federal Policy Committee report November 2020

This week FPC met with an unusually light-looking agenda but we still managed to talk for two and half hours! We received an excellent presentation from Mimi Turner, Director of Strategy, Messaging and Research. Mimi talked us through the scale of the task ahead of us in terms of understanding how the Party fares when voters are asked whether we share their values; whether we’ll do what we say; whether we’re perceived as wanting to help ordinary people get on in life; and whether they see us as competent and capable.

Mimi explained that by segmenting voters and targeting certain groups, we are missing the opportunity to speak to millions of voters. From a policy perspective, our role is to develop distinctive policies on the issues that matter most in terms of improving people’s lives and that resonate in our target seats. Easy, right?! Well I don’t think any of us underestimates the scale of the task head but we’re certainly up for it.

FPC work programme

FPC members found the presentation very useful as we went on to discuss our current and future work programme in the context of Mimi’s analysis and thoughts on future strategy. We have a number of pieces of work underway at the moment – a mixture of pieces looking at the bigger picture, some high profile issues that we’ve been tasked with looking at, and some specifics where we hope to bring forward some appealing policy proposals:

  • Nature of Public Debate – planned for Spring 2021
  • Making Utilities Work Better for the Public – planned for Spring 2021
  • Federal England – aiming for Spring 2021, with the group working fast since autumn conference
  • Natural Resources and the Natural Environment – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Liberal Democrat Principles and Values – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Universal Basic Income – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Carbon Pricing (a sub-group of the former climate change working group) – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Themes Paper (building on the World After Coronavirus consultation) – planned for Autumn 2021
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Optimism, hope and trying not to be Scrooge

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I’m not channelling Ebenezer Scrooge but at one level Christmas is the last thing we should be worrying about at the moment. Yet it drips through media headlines almost on a daily basis. I’m not against bank holidays although many people have had too much in the way of non-working days this year. I suspect I am irritated because Christmas has been put firmly in a political context this year.

Our Prime Minister seems to think he has a supreme obligation to cheer people up while blithely unaware of how much he is capable of depressing us. He does apologise, of course, but he apologises for the wrong things. Managing a country in the midst of a pandemic should not be about saying “I’m sorry but we are all going to have to do the right thing”.

Unsurprisingly I am not against Christian festivals! However for those who see Christmas as a high point for affirming one strand of religious faith there are good models to remember. Easter was for the most part done differently this year. Mosque leaders should be commended for their discipline and messaging during Eid. We should be taking seriously the possibility of the same pattern being required over the Christmas season.

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Can we break open the chumocracy?

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Recent news reports suggesting that the “chumocracy” currently running Britain has enriched its personal contacts during the Covid-pandemic by handing out lucrative procurement contracts worth millions is a tell-tale sign of a self-entitled political elite acting like a law unto itself. This sickening self-aggrandisement is a reflection of a political system that lacks transparency and accountability – issues Liberals have long campaigned on. In the 21st century, why do we still have a political system that permits a small, well-connected elite to act as if the country’s riches are its own? Is it due to our political system or our education system? Are those issues inseparable? Fortunately, our neighbour’s politics show how things can be done differently.

In 2012 I moved to the Netherlands to study. 2012 was a tumultuous year for Dutch politics, the Dutch coalition government had collapsed in April and fresh elections were held just two weeks after I arrived in September. Keen to show a commitment to my new host country, I used to watch the news every night with my Dutch flatmates. I didn’t understand much but learnt enough to match faces with names. This was made easier by the location of my campus, just a stone’s throw away from the Dutch parliament.

It became very clear, very quickly that there was less distance between the Dutch public and their politicians than there is in the U.K. This transparency was characterised by the Binnenhof – a 13th century square that houses the Prime Minister’s office, among other government departments. Like Westminster, the Binnenhof is one of the oldest Parliament buildings still in use. However, unlike Westminster, you can walk right through it. Passers-by, tourists and students would shuttle through, occasionally stopping to gawk at the Ministers arriving in their cars.

It was easy to accidentally bump into Dutch politicians. One lunch break I found myself queuing for a cheese sandwich alongside Diederik Samson, then leader of the Dutch Labour party. The Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, was even easier to track down, he had a favourite café where he could often be found sipping a coffee and reading the newspaper. I think I’m proud of the fact that I was one of the only students on my course not to have asked him for a selfie.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 22 Comments

Scots need hope for a progressive United Kingdom

Boris Johnson has clearly demonstrated this week that he is a severe threat to Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom. Liberal Democrats need to consider any strategy which can give Scots a vision of a progressive United Kingdom freed from Boris Johnson’s “leadership”.

This is a speech I intended to deliver at Scottish conference last month, and I dearly hope this course can be seriously considered and deployed in good time to positively affect our performance in elections next May.

“I am deeply worried about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. I see polls showing support for Independence at 58%. I see within those polls that younger generations support Independence at a rate close to 4 to 1.

Posted in Op-eds and Speeches | Tagged , , , and | 34 Comments

Ed Davey added to range of pictorial membership cards

As of today, you can order an Ed Davey membership card.

The suggested donation for a replacement membership card is £2 but anything else you can donate on top will go towards helping the party fight elections next May.

You can order online here.

Posted in News and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged and | 33 Comments

The future of Social Democracy – a book to mark 40 years since the Limehouse Declaration

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January 25th marks the 40th Anniversary of the Limehouse Declaration, when four former Labour Cabinet Ministers Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams met to issue a statement that would shortly afterwards lead to the formation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The SDP in alliance with the Liberal Party took 26% of the vote in the 1983 election and 23% of the vote in the 1987 election, two of our highest general election vote shares since the 1920s. The bulk of the SDP then merged with the Liberal Party in 1988 to go on to form the Liberal Democrat party we know today.

To mark this occasion the Social Democrat Group have arranged for the publication of a book of essays called The Future of Social Democracy.

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