Federal Policy Committee seeks members for a new working group

As part of the next stage of our programme of future policy development, firmly focussed on how we can attract voters to support us, FPC has now approved the creation of a new working group to develop our proposals for creating a much fairer society.

We are therefore now looking for applications from party members to join the group, which you can do here, by the deadline of Wednesday 3 November.

The prime role of the group will be to develop policies which communicate our core values such as fairness, and also liberty, equality and community, in ways which help to get as many Liberal Democrats elected, locally and nationally.

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Dodds slams New Zealand trade deal

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have accused the Conservatives of dealing a hammer blow to Welsh sheep farmers after news broke that the UK and New Zealand have signed a trade deal. They are worried that lower standard and cheap meat from New Zealand could flood the UK markets and leave the British and Welsh farming industry unable to compete.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said:

I am extremely disappointed that the Conservative Government has decided to toss Welsh sheep farmers aside in this manner, completely ignoring their concerns and breaking previous commitments to the farming community made by the Party.

The NFU has also criticised the deal saying it had heard next to nothing from the government on how British agriculture is expected to compete with either Australia or New Zealand which both face less regulation than their British counterparts.

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Democracy – now on the Risk Register

An appreciation of Lord Puttnam’s recent address – The Shirley William’s Memorial Lecture: POWER AND FEAR – THE TWO TYRANNIES.

Was anybody listening?

If so, what did they hear?

If they heard, then what, exactly, did they understand?

Timing is everything.

In the heat of intense political clamour, unleashed as one of their own was murdered, the calm authoritative voice may have been lost in that moment.

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Lib Dems attack ministers on Covid as Ed Davey urges beefed up Plan B

Today’s i newspaper features Sir Ed Davey’s call for the government to bring in a beefed up version of Plan B as a matter of urgency to avoid a winter lockdown. Daisy Cooper also criticises the new Minister for Vaccines and Public Health for keeping a low profile. In the Commons yesterday, Layla Moran challenged the government on whether it is operating a policy of herd immunity.

The Plan B Plus would make face masks mandatory, people would be instructed to work from home and social distancing rules would be reimposed. It would not include Covid passports which the Lib Dems oppose.

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Everybody included – why democracy and diversity are two sides of the same coin

At a recent event hosted by Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, I was asked to speak about two topics that I feel very passionately about: democracy and diversity. In terms of democracy, I have been actively involved with the campaign for Proportional Representation for many years because I believe that our current system of First-Past-The-Post means that all votes are not equal: a vote in a marginal seat has a much bigger impact than a vote in a safe seat. In terms of diversity, I believe that we should welcome people from many different backgrounds to the campaign for PR by making an effort to being inclusive and open.

With this in mind, it was great to have an opportunity to be a panel speaker with someone so experienced as Lord Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform in the House of Lords. Paul has given so much to the campaign for electoral reform, both as an MP and in the House of Lords.

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Munira Wilson calls for emergency SAGE Meeting

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson has demanded that the government hold an emergency SAGE meeting to discuss soaring Covid cases.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has stopped meeting weekly and most recently met on 22 July, 9 September and 14 October.

The call comes as it emerges that government scientists have not met to discuss Covid for weeks and cases are running at nearly 50,000 a day.

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Lib Dems oppose new oil drilling site

Ed Davey is quoted extensively in the Independent on the plans to build a new oil drilling site in Surrey at Horse Hill, which is not far from Gatwick Airport.

Surrey County Council’s decision to permit the development will be reviewed in the Court of Appeal next month after challenges by local residents. The Government is expected to defend the decision – just days before COP26.

Ed has written to Alok Sharma, the climate minister:

This new oil field is the equivalent to ministerial colleagues breaking your cricket bat just as you walk out to the crease at Cop26.

Your job is to hold China to account for their new oil infrastructure – how can you do that when your government is building its own?

As the minister responsible for Cop26, you must put party allegiances aside, and call for the government to oppose this new oil field and immediately call in the planning application.

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The right to online anonymity must be protected

There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the horrific killing of David Amess. People are right to call for a less divisive tone to political debate; Brendan Cox’s article was particularly moving in its calls for more civility and understanding between opposing political sides. Part of this may well be more enforcement against online abuse, and perhaps pressuring social media companies to act faster when it comes to people using those platforms to threaten others. These things will be debated in time and rightly so.

Emotions are running high and there is an understandable desire to create a legislative legacy for Mr Amess. Jo Cox’s death prompted the creation of organisations such as More in Common, which works towards creating more united societies. Close friends of Amess seem keen to stress his focus on ending online abuse, and are rightly raising this as an issue that should be amplified in the light of his death.

But we must tread very carefully in the next few weeks.

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Lib Dems stand up against use of facial recognition tech in school dinner halls

This week the Information Commissioner stepped in after 9 schools in North Ayrshire started using facial recognition technology to speed up the payment queue in the dinner hall.

From The Guardian:

The ICO, an independent body set up to uphold information rights in the UK, said it would be contacting North Ayrshire council about the move and urged a “less intrusive” approach where possible.

An ICO spokesperson said organisations using facial recognition technology must comply with data protection law before, during and after its use, adding: “Data protection law provides additional protections for children, and organisations need to carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of collecting biometric data before they do so.

Scottish Lib Dem schools spokesperson Carole Ford went on GB News to say that this was wrong both in practical and privacy terms. Carole would know. As a former headteacher she knows what the issues are in school dinner halls. This is what she had to say:

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The Elephant in the Room

I was once told I have a memory like an elephant! I didn’t realise what that meant, and the friend who told me explained. She said that elephants have long memories. They remember. It is true. I do.

I remember a time when governments were at least able to behave in a way we could say was responsible, in carrying out their duties, because they knew they were responsible for the delivery of services. Now we have a dereliction of duty. And appallingly stretched public services.

I remember when even this government, late with everything, at least, though late, did something. Now they are doing not much more than nothing.

There is an elephant in the room. It has a long memory. It knows that there was a better way of doing things, through long past and recent history. It understands that it was never acceptable to accept unnecessary deaths. It realises that the preservation of life itself is the greatest instinct of humanity itself. It remembers when, in progressive, tolerant societies, preventable deaths were not tolerated.

A crisis has not been solved. Vaccines have not solved it. They have lessened it. It could have been solved by the vaccines, to a greater extent, if the virus had been dealt with more effectively, and the variants not emerged as a result of ineffective government.

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Munira Wilson: Ministers are burying their heads in the sand over rising Covid cases

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that the Government hold an emergency SAGE meeting to discuss surging Covid cases, and what measures may be needed to curb infections and protect the NHS and schools this winter.

It comes as it emerges that Government scientists have not met to discuss Covid for weeks and cases are running at nearly 50,000 a day.

Health Spokesperson, Munira Wilson MP said:

Covid cases are surging and millions of vulnerable people are yet to receive their booster jabs, yet ministers are burying their heads in the sand.

The Government cannot simply ignore the scientific advice and act as though this pandemic is over.

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LibLink: Christine Jardine on MPs’ safety

In the Scotsman, Christine Jardine MP has written about MPs’ safety in the light of the murder of Sir David Amess:

It is a risk which we must minimise, but continue to take for the sake of our democracy.

(Last Friday) was one of those days that you hope never to see, or that anyone you know will have to endure.

Christine goes on to write:

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Lib Dems call for half term jab blitz due to 8000 classrooms sitting empty

The Liberal Democrats have called for the Government to speed up the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines over half term after new Department for Education figures reveal over 216,000 pupils are absent from school for Covid-related reasons.

The figures, released today (12:00pm), show infection rates in schools are rising at a concerning rate and this is having a huge impact on young people’s education – with 2.6% of pupils absent for covid-related reasons over the last two weeks.

Across the UK schools are grappling with soaring case numbers, which has seen institutions like Eton bring in a wave of new strict …

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WATCH: Sir Ed Davey pays a moving tribute to Sir David Amess

During yesterday’s House of Commons tributes to Sir David Amess, our leader Sir Ed Davey made this moving speech.

To a hushed chamber, Ed showed great sympathy to David Amess’ Concervative colleagues. He quoted from local Lib Dem councillors in Southend constituency. And he recalled the killing of Andrew Pennington and the injuring of Nigel Jones.

It is a very moving, dignified and heartfelt tribute.

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The disconnect that many Lib Dems cannot see – or refuse to see

The word ‘tragedy’ is used in the literary world in a very specific sense: to denote a situation in which people can’t see what’s going on around them and how it’s destined to end in tears. I cannot help feeling we Liberal Democrats are in the middle of a tragedy we need to stop very soon before it’s too late.

Our autumn conference last month had a steady underlying seam of tribalism about it. The most outward sign was the motion to stand a candidate in every seat unless local members agree to stand aside. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about this motion; it’s what it says about the underlying mood that worries me – that we are the Lib Dems and we don’t need to do business with anyone else, thank you.

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Munira Wilson on stabbings

This past week, like so many of you, I have been deeply shocked and saddened by two fatal stabbings.

Last Tuesday, 18 year-old student at Richmond College, Hazrat Wali, was stabbed to death on Craneford Way fields. My heart goes out to his family, friends and the whole college community as they come to terms with this tragic incident. I know many local residents are understandably extremely concerned regarding safety in the area and knife crime. On Wednesday, I arranged a meeting with the police, college leadership and councillors close to the site of the stabbing to understand what immediate actions were being taken and to press for additional patrols and reassurance for residents. Both the police and college security have stepped up their patrols. I and local councillors will continue to engage with them and the local community in the coming weeks and months to ensure residents feel safer.

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Why not ignore the Government’s call to return to the office?

Last week, Government MPs and the forces of darkness Daily Mail were calling on civil servants to stop lazing around at home and get back to work, in part as an example to the private sector, and perhaps as support to their friends in the commercial property sector.

Meanwhile, many sectors are recognising the challenges and opportunities that allowing their staff greater flexibility in terms of where they work bring. I would argue that, ultimately, there are a number of key issues that will determine whether or not our office culture can, will or should adapt.

The end of “command and control”?

Can you trust your staff to perform their duties without being physically overseen? Remote management relies on a more adult relationship between manager and managed, and the use of management data to spot poor performance will become ever more important. That gives organisations, especially Government departments, an incentive to be more selective in their target setting, and focus more on customer outcomes over administrative box-ticking exercises, on quality over quantity. That in turn offers the hope of better, more efficient government.

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Liberalism or Die

The best definition Liberalism I know was spelled out by Timothy Garton Ash in a Guardian article on 29 November 2004.

Liberalism, properly understood (is) a quest for the greatest possible measure of individual freedom compatible with the freedom of others.

That’s all there is to it if we understand “freedom to” (live and eat decently, get educated, achieve our potential, participate in society, debate our differences in a respectful manner) as well as “freedom “from“ (want, fear, coercion, domination, exploitation).

We now know that Fukuyama was wrong to declare the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy in 1989. It is virtually non-existent in China, and on the back foot in India, severely dented by continuing Trumpism in the USA and populist nationalism in parts of Eastern Europe, and our own government is systematically removing its building blocks in the UK.

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Bienvenue dans ma journée: 18 October 2021 – the Cantons de l’Est edition

Good morning, everyone! Liberal Democrat Voice is brought to you today from a less-travelled part of southern Quebec.

Obviously, moderation is going to be a bit erratic, as I’m five hours adrift and trying to combine my day editor responsibilities with a crash course in being an evil step-grandfather, so do bear with me.

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ALDC by-election report: 14 September 2021

After a busy couple of weeks there were fewer by-elections on Thursday night. Polls were held in Surrey Heath, Harrow, Wigan, Billericay and Falkirk.

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Lib Dems and Labour won’t contest Southend West by-election

The Liberal Democrats have stated that, along with Labour, we will not contest the forthcoming Southend West by-election caused by the shocking murder of Sir David Amess MP on Friday.

From the Evening Standard:

PA news agency understands that Labour is set to follow the principle established after Jo Cox’s murder in 2016 when parties which held Commons seats declined to select candidates in the subsequent Batley and Spen by-election, which was won by Tracey Brabin.

As a result of that move five years ago, it is understood Labour will refuse to contest the by-election in which voters will be asked to elect Sir David’s replacement after his tragic death on Friday.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman confirmed to PA that the party will not fight for the seat either when a polling date is set.

This is the second time in five years that the two parties have made this decision after an MP has been killed in violent circumstances.

It’s very different from the 80s and 90s when the parties stood in by-elections following the murders of Sir Anthony Berry and Ian Gow. In the 1979 General Election, held weeks after the assassination of Airey Neave, Labour and Lib Dems contested his Abingdon seat.

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World Review: War in Africa, Northern Ireland, Poland, Lebanon and Russian gas

In this weekend’s World Review, LDV’s foreign affairs correspondent writes on the war in Ethiopia and warns that if the conflict drags on much longer then the almost certain danger is that it will spread throughout Ethiopia and then other countries in the strategic Horn of Africa. Northern Ireland and Poland’s difficulties with the EU have a common stumbling block  – the  European Court of Justice. Have the Russians weaponised exports of natural gas to Europe? And Lebanon took another giant step towards failed state status this week when terrorists killed seven people.

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David Amess: Do we need to cool the temperature of political debate?

The shocking death of Sir David Amess MP has reignited the debate about how best to ensure the safety of elected representatives and others in public office. That phrase, public office, is critically important to those that elect to run for election and then serve as MPs and councillors. But being public can also be dangerous.

The police have declared yesterday’s stabbing a terrorist incident. That does not mean we should ignore the growing abuse and antagonism between the public and politicians at all levels and between politicians in the House of Commons and elsewhere.

PMQs has become ever more gladiatorial, with media pundits declaring winners and losers.

But should political debate be conducted at a feverish temperature, more about point scoring and tribal loyalties than getting the right things done for our country and its citizens.

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Sir David Amess – a tribute

David Amess was a kind, thoughtful and sensitive man. We may have been political opponents but he was a good friend to me and countless others, right across the political divide. He was a thoroughly diligent and distinguished Member of Parliament, who was unstinting in his commitment and service to his Essex constituents.

I first met David in 1989 soon after I was selected by Labour to contest the election in Thurrock, Essex, a marginal Tory-held seat. David was then already Member of Parliament for Basildon, next door to Thurrock. (Later he represented Southend, also in Essex).

We would sometimes meet on the underground whilst travelling to the constituencies. We would engage in banter – laugh and joke – on other occasions we would sometimes be deeply engaged in discussion about the state of British politics. Surprisingly, we often agreed! We both had a passion for Parliament and its history.

After I was elected we also found that we had much in common. We both shared the need to champion the interests of the people of Essex. Neither of us sought Ministerial office; on the contrary, both of us shared the view that being recognised as an independent vocal backbencher was sufficient reward.

We collaborated in championing the interests of the Iranian opposition politicians who faced persecution and exile. This was ongoing business for David. He was passionate about trying to protect and promote the rights of people arguing for democracy in Iran.

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Observations of an Expat: Crunch Time for Justices

The US Supreme Court has started one of its most difficult and important sessions in history. It will deal with two of America’s biggest issues—abortion and gun laws. Their decisions will have repercussions on the future of the court, the American justice system and the nation’s social divisions.

First the cases: Abortion is one of the most divisive—if not the most divisive issue—in modern American history. The anti-abortion lobby has worked tirelessly to overturn Roe v. Wade since the moment it became law in 1973. The pro-life lobby has fought just as hard to retain it. Donald Trump’s appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanagh and Amy Comey Barrett, has given the court a 6-3 conservative bias and the anti-abortion lobby its best chance ever of overturning Roe v. Wade. For the pro-abortion lobby, a decision to uphold Roe v. Wade with the current make-up of the court could, in theory, put the issue to rest for ever.

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Lib Dems react after David Amess MP dies in stabbing (updated)

Sir David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, was stabbed as he met constituents at a regular surgery this lunchtime.  Sir Ed Davey said: “A truly terrible day for British politics but most importantly of all our prayers are with all the people who loved David.”

It is getting ever scarier to be in the public eye. MPs, councillors too, usually have no protection. But it would change the way that elected representatives work if we need to throw a shield around ourselves. However, this event will inevitably lead to a debate on what level of protection our representatives need.

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The Party’s Crisis – a response to comments

The paper on the crisis facing the party, linked to by my LDV article on 30 September, sparked a great many pages of debate, for which I am grateful. However, much of that debate was centred around policies and their varying relevance to the current Liberal Democrat identity and programme. Normally I would have been delighted to have catalysed such a debate but the paper was intended to confront the party, and particularly in this context, LDV readers, with the nature of the acute crisis that challenges the future of the party itself. The argument in the paper is that if there is no viable party to promote them, then all policy ideas are castles in the air – shimmering perhaps, but no less ethereal for that.

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Naomi Long speaks at joint Scottish/Welsh Lib Dems Conference

One of the benefits of online meetings is that you can bring together people who are geographically distant and who otherwise might not meet. So someone in the Scottish and Welsh Lib Dems had the imaginative idea of joining forces for the Saturday of their Conferences last weekend.

To add to the diversity they invited as a guest speaker Naomi Long MLA, Leader of the Alliance Party, which is our sister party in Northern Ireland.

You can watch her terrific speech here.

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Public understanding of science

BBC Radio 4’s Day of the Scientist (12 Oct.) was timely in a world where science is serving us so well. Sir Patrick Vallance called for science to be as highly regarded as economics by politicians. To that I would add the need for interdisciplinarity. Science and society belong together.

Scotland, to its great discredit, was without a Chief Scientific Adviser for a lengthy period around 2016. Cynics might even have suspected the SNP preferred not to have scientific advice.

During 13 years as an Edinburgh city councillor there seemed little understanding of Science among the majority of councillors and council staff. It would have been comforting to read accurate accounts of properties of materials, to challenge the extremes of populism over e.g. genetic modification, to have been sure that sustainability was more than a buzzword. Happily Liberal Democrats had scientist councillors Sue Tritton and Jim Lowrie in our ranks. And the current group has councillor Kevin Lang.

Public understanding of science is vital, and it is encouraging that many excellent communicators have been given air time during the pandemic. Edinburgh has an annual Science Festival, where people can learn in a fun way – from making lie detectors (very useful for a politician’s bag of tricks) to tasting different chocolates – as well as hearing stimulating talks aimed at a general audience. Chaos theory remains one of my favourites; perhaps helpful in assessing the current crop of ruling politicians.

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Mark Pack’s October update

The autumn party conferences traditionally mark the start of the new political season. They are a time to reflect on the past year and set out plans to succeed in the coming year.

Both politics and coronavirus have made it a tough time since the last round of conferences. But we can look forward to this new political season with confidence that if we continue to raise our game, we can prosper. We’ve seen signs of that already, including with Sarah Green’s fantastic win in Chesham and Amersham and also with the latest net favourability leadership polling from Savanta ComRes:

  • Keir Starmer: net -8
  • Boris Johnson: net -7
  • Ed Davey: net +1

To achieve success in the run of elections to come, we will need to think big. We need to convince wavering Tories, Labour and nationalist voters that backing us isn’t solely a protest. It’s also a vote for something positive. The antidote to the strains of the present is a liberal future. So we must paint a picture of the society we want to build, rather than merely the society we want to prevent.

We’ve made a good start on that with the debates, motions and speeches at our autumn Federal Conference. There will be more to come in the next few months too from the federal party, as we develop the emphasis on a fair deal that was at the heart of Ed Davey’s speech. (Plans for next year’s conference have been announced by conference committee chair, Nick Da Costa.)

Congratulations to…

Our conference closed with the party awards. We now run these twice a year in recognition of how important it is for us to thank and be inspired by our colleagues. You can read all about this time’s winners – including a lovely family connection for one award – here.

We’ve also started sending out ‘top canvasser’ pin badges to thank those who contribute, either on the doorsteps or on the phone, to one of the most important election-winning tasks. Each quarter we’re also inviting those who have canvassed the most to a special call with Ed Davey, our Director of Campaigns Dave McCobb and others so that what people are hearing on the ground gets fed directly in. This is to make sure we never repeat the 2019 campaign mistake of people on the ground knowing a message isn’t working, and it taking too long to change it from the centre.

I’m keen that we continue to look for other ways to recognise people who contribute so much to the party. We’ve made changes to the party awards to recognise a wider range of contributions but I’m sure we can do more. Ideas very welcome.

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