19-20 January 2019 – the weekend’s press releases

  • GP postcode lottery shows vital need for a national workforce strategy
  • Lib Dems: Car insurance rise shows cost of Brexit
  • Labour failing their duty as Official Opposition on Brexit
  • Fox’s failure to sign trade deals shows Brexiters’ ‘Global Britain’ does not exist
  • Corbyn isolated as over 100 Labour MPs set to back Lib Dem call for a people’s vote
  • GP postcode lottery shows vital need for a national workforce strategy

    Responding to the analysis done by the BBC which shows the huge variation in the availability of GPs in different parts of England, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Judith Jolly said:

    Getting access to your GP should never

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Lib Dem Immigrants: Lib Dems lead the fight for a more inclusive People’s Vote

“Ministers agree to consider Lib Dem plans for new referendum”  say the headlines.

This is a victory not only for the party and our chances of stopping Brexit, but also for the millions of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens around the world who were excluded from voting in 2016.

At Conference in Brighton in September, Lib Dem members condemned this injustice, and passed policy that EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens abroad must be included in all future referendums.

Lib Dem Immigrants are proud that our party refuses to treat immigrants and emigrants as afterthoughts, and recognizes that wherever a person comes from, they are equally deserving of respect and representation.

We are glad that our MPs are vigorously arguing this case in their discussions with Ministers.

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Be prepared: We could well be heading for a General Election

I am starting to think that the likelihood of a General Election is rising.

Theresa May’s options are limited.

She could probably get a majority of MPs to back a Norway style Brexit if she put some effort into it. She could have done that two years ago. But that would split her party. So she won’t.

She could, as Vince suggested to her, put her own deal to the British people. But every poll that has been done on that possibility suggests that it would lose against a Remain option. However right that would be, it would split her party and leave her with a huge amount of egg on her face.

Or she could go for an election by the same mechanism she used in 2017 – a motion in the House of Commons backed by 2/3. Corbyn could hardly vote against it given that he has been calling for an election for months. We should vote against it, by the way, on the grounds that it won’t solve Brexit and we don’t trust the Government to behave itself with the powers that the EU Withdrawal Act gives it while Parliament is dissolved.

Now, I get that it is unlikely that she could find a manifesto promise on Brexit that her entire party would unite behind. She might consider that it doesn’t matter, though. Because she’ll make the election about going after Corbyn. We saw from Michael Gove’s closing speech in the No Confidence debate the other night a glimmer of what they would unleash in his direction. Every picture of him with dodgy people will be coming to a billboard near you – and he really hasn’t helped himself this week by refusing to talk to May when he’s talked to all sorts of nefarious characters with the stated intention of sorting out the Middle East or Northern Ireland.

I know that May has promised not to lead the Conservatives into another election but her argument would be that Parliament was frustrating the will of the people. This vote, though, would be a chance, however unlikely,  to get her the parliamentary majority which she came within a few thousand votes of getting in 2017. Then she could govern relatively untroubled until 2023. Although she shouldn’t take too much comfort from that prospect given how Major’s last five years as PM went.

And, with Parliament dissolved, heaven knows what the Government would do in terms of illiberal and unscrutinised instrument and order throughout the election campaign. The EU Withdrawal Act does give it a lot of untrammelled power, after all.

An election wouldn’t solve Brexit, of course. She couldn’t get a third of her own MPs to vote for her deal and that is unlikely to change. But that is not what it is about. 

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Tom Brake PM’s deal is a fiction, a chimera, a mirage

Tom Brake’s speech in the Brexit debate was a candid one in which he took responsibility for his part in creating the set of circumstances where so many people voted Leave.

Brexit, and the way it is being handled, is a national embarrassment. Worse than that, it is a damaging international embarrassment. That great tactician, David Cameron, devised what he thought would be a cunning plan to staunch the decades-long Euro bloodletting in his party: a referendum. But the referendum, instead of acting as neat sutures to bind together the ideologically driven Brexiters and their more rational colleagues, has taken a scalpel to the Tory party’s jugular, and—critically, and far more significantly—to that of the country, too. Driving the country to the brink, and in some cases being willing to drive over it, is overwhelmingly the Tories’ responsibility.

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has a cameo in all this, demonstrating the same aptitude for leadership during the Brexit campaign as he has since. However, as a long-standing Member of Parliament, I share some of the blame for not tackling the conditions that led to a majority voting for Brexit. That blame must be shared by successive Governments—not this one, not the one before, not the one before and, indeed, probably not the one before that either. I regret not being active enough in promoting the benefits of being in the EU for students, research, common standards, medicines, and investment in, for example, the hospital where the PM launched the NHS 10-year plan, which received £50 million in EU financing, or the potteries factory where she gave her speech yesterday, which received £400,000.

I was not outspoken enough in rebutting the ludicrous, infantile and mendacious claims that Brussels-based British newspaper correspondents made about the threat to British pink sausages or standardised condom sizes. Most importantly, I regret the failure to tackle deep-seated concerns in some towns and cities over the failure to invest in infrastructure and under- performing schools and to rebuild proud communities devastated by the loss of heavy industry. I regret that devolution was not pushed hard and fast enough and that responsibility, funding and accountability for delivering jobs, skills training, bus and train services was not vested in politicians closer to those reliant on such services. ​Those challenges remain, and we owe it to those who voted for Brexit and, indeed, to those who voted remain to address them.

Does anyone in this Chamber believe that Brexit and the PM’s so-called deal provide solutions? They do not. Nothing that leaves us poorer can. The PM’s deal is nothing of the sort. It is a fiction, a chimera, a mirage. The political declaration comes in at a measly 26 pages. Compare that with 1,598 pages in the Canada-EU trade deal. According to the PM’s statement yesterday, the real deal—our future relationship with the EU—may not be struck until as late as December 2022, and some consider that wildly optimistic. That is one of the reasons why her deal will be defeated today.

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Ten years on, we need to rekindle the hope and optimism of Obama’s inauguration

Ten years ago, I watched, full of hope and optimism, as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th US President.

I didn’t get to concentrate on his speech as our hamster, Powder Puff, became ill and passed away at the critical moment. For that she will never be forgotten.

The speech itself was a turning away from the divisive politics of the Bush years.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

There were two parts that have stayed with me. The first was a very clear message to the world:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

And that restatement of the values that would underpin his presidency:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

I loved the inclusion of curiosity in that list – an open-minded quest to learn more, to explore.

We need to get back to this way of doing things. And we need to learn about how we can do it better.

When you look at the steps forward Obama made on climate change, how he managed to avoid a depression at a time of global financial crisis, how he persevered with health care where others had failed, how he made progress in relation with Iran and Cuba, how he stood up for equal marriage and inclusion, how he struggled for years with a Republican Congress determined to block the progress to which he was committed, he is easily the best President of my lifetime. What he achieved was remarkable by any standards. He was maybe too hesitant in foreign policy at times but understandably so given the failed Bush intervention in Iraq. He maybe wasn’t able to do enough to help those people who had been hit hardest by the financial crash. However, it is worth noting that at the end of his Presidency, 3 million more people voted for the Democrat who tried to succeed him than for his successor.

Looking back, we were incredibly lucky to have him. He governed with calmness, wisdom and principle. How did we go from this to a successor who throws a strop on Twitter every time something happens that he doesn’t like.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Wera Hobhouse Dangers of post Brexit deregulation

It was not until 12:40 am that Wera Hobhouse was called to give her speech in the Commons debate on the Brexit deal. She highlighted the uncertainties in the PM’s blind Brexit and talked about the dangers of a post-Brexit deregulation on the environment and trade.

We have come a long way since June 2016. There is no more hiding from the fact that any Brexit will leave us worse off and that the best that any post-Brexit Government can do is damage limitation. If we go ahead with Brexit, we will have to find new ways of stimulating the economy. No longer bound by EU rules, those who argue for slashing regulations will quickly gain the upper hand. The race to the bottom will soon begin.

Among the first regulations on the bonfire will be those that protect the environment. The European Court of Justice, so hated by Brexit fanatics, has been an outstanding protector of environmental laws and ​regulations. The Government’s recent draft environment Bill does not include a watchdog with anything like the power of the ECJ, and climate action will lose out. There will be an increased incentive to support fossil fuel companies for short-term economic gain. Green energy projects are becoming increasingly affordable and promise long-term economic gain, but they still require up-front investment and will therefore be the first victims. Who would provide such investment in a struggling post-Brexit economy? Once more, climate action will lose out.

A post-Brexit Government will be under huge pressure to sign off new trade deals quickly, which will be a great opportunity for any country to take advantage of our weakened position. A trade deal with America, for example, will most likely involve opening up our economy to fracking companies. Even if we tried to build environmental protections into such deals, the reality is that commercial interests will be dominant. The case of Lone Pine Resources v. the Government of Canada shows what awaits us when we enter into trade deals with more powerful nations. The Government of Quebec put a moratorium on fracking in 2011, but Lone Pine Resources has sued for over $100 million of lost profits under the terms of the North American free trade agreement. Outside the EU, our power to protect ourselves against the interests of large global companies will be much diminished.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Malcolm Bruce – Time to modernise our democracy

My Lords, across the UK, Scotland and London voted most strongly for remain, which is somewhat ironic given the nationalists’ antipathy towards London and London-based government. ​Northern Ireland voted clearly for remain, only to find its hard-line Brexit party tweaking the tail of a Brexit-traumatised Conservative Government. A lot has been said, I think rightly, about Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s cavalier disregard for those who voted remain. “You lost. Get over it”, they say, but they have been unable to come up with anything that can unite a majority. When the DUP is challenged for representing a minority in Northern Ireland, it asserts that remain voters are predominantly nationalists and can therefore apparently be discounted—second-class votes.

Membership of the EU resides with the United Kingdom and it is not possible for parts of the UK to be in and parts to be out. I suggest that raises the question as to whether we should ever have sought a simple binary majority, or one that was qualified by the views of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom as well.

During a recent visit to Derry, I was able to see and hear how differences already affect what is located on which side of the border and how people and services operate. Moderate unionists who voted remain are beginning to consider whether the complexities of Brexit might make the prospect of a united Ireland unexpectedly attractive, especially now they see a much more liberal Republic and a frozen conservative Province in the north. The polarisation of Northern Ireland politics has left the Province without a democratic voice. Disillusioned young people at an integrated school that I visited in Derry told me that they thought that violence would return to the Province. I was quite shocked that they were unanimous in their view.

For a long time—the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, referred to this—many people thought that nationalism could be contained within the European Union or at least under its umbrella. That is kind of logical given that the raison d’être of the European Union was to find mechanisms to avoid conflicts getting out of control and leading to war—which has been one of its great achievements.

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The truth about Layla Moran’s trip to Estonia

I saw on Facebook over the holidays that Layla was off to Estonia and just assumed that she was off on a jolly.

Not so much, as her website reveals.

She was actually in the Baltic state to take part training exercises with British troops.

Layla, a former teacher, was part of a cross-party group of 7 MPs that spent several days with armed forces personnel as they carried out training exercises and duties in Estonia.

More than 800 British personnel are currently stationed in the Baltic state as part of NATO’s ‘enhanced forward presence’ along with Danish, Canadian and Estonian forces. The scheme is designed to deter Russian aggression.

The visit was part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme which sees MPs undergo military training and go on exercises alongside armed forces personnel to help inform better decision-making on defence issues in Parliament.

Layla Moran said:

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Martin Thomas on how Brexit adds to instability

The text is below:

My Lords, in my youth, the union was strong. Not only had the four nations survived two world wars side by side but there was a community of interest that bound people together. ​Coal miners faced the same hazards in pits across Britain. The Gresford hymn is still played and sung annually at the Durham Miners’ Gala to commemorate the 266 miners killed underground at the Gresford pit in 1934. Steelworkers from Merthyr to Shotton, Sheffield and Motherwell had common interests, and workers in the shipyards of Belfast and Glasgow, Liverpool and the Tyne shared common dangers.

However, as those great UK-wide industries declined and departed, the solidarity of the union weakened. Devastated communities were left isolated—high and dry. Then the European project got under way. European development funds underpinned the economies of areas in decline, and nowhere has benefited more than Wales. European structural funds have invested more than £4 billion in supporting many thousands of jobs and creating new enterprises. Europe helped to stabilise the union at a time of profound economic and social change.

Devolution has played an important part in creating stability. In Wales we regard Sir John Redwood not so much as the architect of devolution but as its cause. As Secretary of State between 1993 and 1995, two years before the 1997 referendum, he attacked the non-governmental organisations delivering services in Wales with Thatcherite zeal, halved public funding to the Welsh Development Agency and cut his own Welsh Office staff, outsourcing to the private sector. He banned the use of the Welsh dragon on a leaflet entitled Wales in Europe and refused to second staff to ensure a Welsh presence in Brussels. He boasted that he had returned £100 million of the funding allocated to Wales, unspent, to the Treasury. He travelled home to Wokingham every night to avoid staying in Wales, refused to sign documents in the Welsh language because he did not understand them, and his rendition of the Welsh national anthem remains a YouTube classic that is very dear to our hearts. Therefore, we thank him for ensuring for us the slim majority of 0.3% that brought devolution to Wales two years after his regime, and we wish him a similar outcome for his dreams in the ERG.

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18 January 2019 – today’s press releases

As another week draws to a close, the opportunism of the Conservatives becomes more apparent, using the chaos of Brexit to disguise their true intent. And it isn’t to make life better for ordinary people, or to fulfil the promises of the Leave campaign…

  • Lib Dems: Boris still peddling mistruths on Brexit
  • Lib Dems fight Tory threats to human rights
  • Lib Dems: Final fig leaf of leave campaign falls off with Fox

Lib Dems: Boris still peddling mistruths on Brexit

Responding to the speech Boris Johnson made today, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

No one will take lessons from Boris Johnson on eroding trust

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Layla on Any Questions this evening

Layla Moran joins the Any Questions panel in Huddersfield (or Hoodezfield if you’re American and listening to Jodie Whittaker talk about her home town) at 8pm this evening.

Also on the panel is Richard Burgon, who was so rude to Jo Swinson the other night. Clearly Labour can sense the threat from us because of their failure to back a People’s Vote

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The past can be useful

My wife, Ruth, has had a collection of boxes, originally some 30 strong, in which she stored both personal and political stuff, waiting for the opportune moment to open them and sort out the treasure trove within.

That job is now underway and there are minutes of both NLYL and ULS as well as a huge collection of newsletters produced by all manner of Liberal activists in the late sixties and seventies. Radical Bulletin, Gunfire, New Outlook, Liberator and a whole raft of local stuff from Young Liberal and Liberal Student groups from Scotland to Cornwall. It even included some copies of Clockwork Orange, a Manchester ULS publication that I started in 1971/2 and that was then carried on by Pat Coleman.

Political discourse in the 60s and 70s was carried out by meeting and pamphlet.

Ruth reminded me that Young Liberal branches often met weekly to discuss politics and campaigns, actually campaigned most weekends and met up socially as well.

There were frequent conferences on political issues and both the Young Liberals and the Liberal Party had council meetings on a regular basis (the ‘Council’ was the policymaking body between Conferences), primarily on political issues.

Liberal Party Constituency and branch meetings were at least monthly. In short, our politics centred on meeting together, talking about ideas and putting them down on paper for discussion in order to get out and campaign together.

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LibLink: Alistair Carmichael: A People’s Vote is the only way for our country to move forward

Alistair Carmichael emerges from the shadows of his Chief Whip’s role to make the case for a People’s Vote in the Herald in his own inimitable style. First he sets the scene.

Instead of trotting out platitudes (“Brexit means Brexit” – remember that one?) and promising the undeliverable to the insatiable on her own right wing and the DUP (we shall leave the Customs Union AND have no hard border between the North and the South AND we shall have no border in the Irish Sea) she could have built a consensus in the House of Commons.

There are two obstacles to sorting this out – one is May’s intransigence. The other is Jeremy Corbyn:

Challenged in yesterday’s confidence debate the self-styled Leader of The Opposition was unable to say whether, in the event of winning his general election he would press ahead with Brexit or not. That apparently would be up to his party.

When I asked him then if he would follow the policy endorsed by his party members at their conference in September and back a people’s vote after the confidence motion had failed his answer was also less than unequivocal.

As they might have said aboard the Starship Enterprise, “It’s leadership, Jim, but not as we know it”.

The Lib Dems first came up with the idea of a People’s Vote two years ago and it didn’t exactly catch on:

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Observations of an ex pat: Dead, not buried

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead. It is just not buried.

The Prime Minister hopes to raise it Lazarus-like and present herself as a political Messiah. But her deal has been shot, knifed, strangled, knocked over the head with the candlestick and thrown into a ditch.

To put the chances of a political miracle into perspective, let us look at the next worse defeat in modern British political history.  The current British government lost by 230 votes. The next nearest defeat was in 1924. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government  had dropped a prosecution against John Ross Campbell, editor of the communist newspaper “The Workers’ Weekly” after he published an article calling on the British armed forces to mutiny in support of a socialist revolution. In that case the majority against the government was a mere 160.

Theresa May likes to portray herself as strong and stable leader with a Churchillian touch of the British bulldog.  A better description would be bull headed.

Parliament has given the Prime Minister until Monday to perform her miracle and come up with a Plan B. She has responded by calling a meeting of all party leaders that will dispense with red lines and reach a compromise, breathe new life into the EU Withdrawal Bill and win over 230 dissenting members of parliament.  If this miracle were to happen the result would be a horribly stitched Frankenstein monster .

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17 January 2019 – today’s press releases

  • Davey: UK facing energy crunch
  • Cable: Corbyn determined to play party political games
  • Lib Dems: Outrageous that army reserves are on standby due to Tory Brexit mess
  • Lib Dems: Only way forward is through a People’s Vote
  • Govt back-payment for modern slavery victims is too little too late
  • Cable: Government wrong on People’s Vote timetable

Davey: UK facing energy crunch

Responding to the news that Hitachi have stopped work on the Wylfa plant, former Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy Ed Davey said:

Japanese businesses have warned about Brexit’s economic consequences since the 2016 referendum, so this latest set back to the Conservatives’ energy policy is

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Liberal Anti-Fascism

The death of Pawel Adamowicz marks a turning point.

With the rise of the right there has been a spike in political violence in Europe and in the US. Bombs are being thrown, people threatened, and people killed in the name of so-called “populism”. The moment Adamowicz’s killer linked his actions with allegations levelled at the Civic Platform group of politicians is the moment when it became a political act.

The same goes for the murder of the MP Jo Cox. These are symptoms of the augmentation of what we deem as populism to a far more reactionary line of thinking, which will end, organically, in all out fascism. These exact paths have been trodden before.

What can liberals do about it? Adamowicz’s life was one of political action. As a student he organised protests and strikes across Poland during the time of Soviet occupation. He was a champion of minority rights and those of the LGBT community. He was, for all the things he did and said, a good man. I say that we ought to follow his example.

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The path to victory lies through Brexit Britain. As Remainers, we need to show them we’re on their side

This week in Parliament we might just have scored the first victory in our long march to a People’s Vote. Now, if a referendum is truly close at hand, the hard work must now start: we need to convince Brexit Britain that it ought to change its mind.

Sure, Remain’s supposedly got an eight-point lead in the opinion polls. But that was true in 2016… plus ça change?

To win, we must convince Leave voters in places like the East Midlands town of Wellingborough, where I live and had the pleasure to be Lib Dem candidate at the last General Election. In many ways this ought to be natural Remain territory: it’s a diverse town, with both a mosque and an ornate Hindu temple. Local voters elected New Labour in 1997, electing a MP who called for the legislation of cannabis, and we even host an annual Pride event in a town centre park. Yet we voted Leave by 63% and are represented by arch-Brexiteer and Sven-Goran Eriksson lookalike Peter Bone.

How did this happen? When you speak to ordinary voters, the mystery becomes clear. Yes, it is true that some voters talk of immigration, a lost identity or misplaced notions of ‘lost sovereignty’. For most Brexit voters, however, the root causes of Brexit are emphatically human: they feel let down and left behind by politicians in Westminster and (yes) Brussels, and they feel buffeted from the consequences of a fragile global economy. Above all they feel they’ve lost control.

These are people who see ever more fragile employment, with an explosion in zero-hour contracts and ten years of pay restraint, coupled with impossible house prices. They see an education system failing to deliver practical skills, with FE colleges where funding has been cut to the bone and where those without a degree are ever more marginalised. In town centres they seem the places they are proud of become ever more empty, bereft of the brands with which they are familiar. And, as they struggle to take control over their lives, is it any wonder that the pledges and half-truths of the Leave campaign were so attractive?

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Jamie Stone teases DUP over confidence and supply arrangement

Our Jamie Stone is known for his inimitable comic timing and sense of humour.

Last night he earned himself a telling off from Speaker John Bercow after he waved a credit card at DUP leader Nigel Dodds who was extolling the virtues of the confidence and supply arrangement which saved Theresa May’s Government. The agreement famously bought the party off with an extra billion quid over five years for Northern Ireland.

It seemed that even Dodds was trying hard not to laugh at Jamie’s gesture:

Speaker John Bercow may have been amused too, but he intervened:

Mr Stone, that is very unseemly behaviour. Normally you behave with great dignity in this place; calm yourself, man—get a grip.

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Dutch Parliamentary Brexit-watchers roundly condemn flippancy towards British people

As everybody reading the excellent study of history since Caesar’s times of the North Sea trade by Oxford historian and former BBC journalist Michael Pye, “The Edge of the World: How the North Sea made us what we are” can attest, the trade relations between the British/English and the Dutch (Frisians) Celtic tribes was the beginning of 20 centuries of close economic and ethnic ties. The DNA of inhabitants of areas from Kent to York is indistinguishable from that of people living in Friesland and Holland in the Netherlands; and Frisian is halfway the English and Dutch language. Migration and trade in wool, cloth, grain, herring, etc., been going on, even when Napoleon didn’t want it to (1803-1813); John Locke wrote important (Liberal) books seeking shelter here.

Ever since the 4th Anglo-Dutch war (1780-’84), the Dutch have recognised the British as their senior and vital partner in those economic and cultural relations; and the Dutch pressed general De Gaulle to admit England in the EEC for those same reasons.

But one aspect of how the Dutch see the British people and British politics has been fundamentally changed by the way the UK has been handling the Brexit problem, from the Referendum campaign in spring 2016 to the present day. That can be concluded by what 3 of the 4 official “Brexit Watching delegates” of the Dutch parliament said on Dutch public radio on Wednesday, 14th of January 2019; coincidentally those 3 were from parties of the present Dutch government coalition, so important advisors of both parliament and government.

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Parliament debates Mental Health First Aid

The Backbench debate on incorporating Mental Health First Aid into First Aid At Work legislation is scheduled to take place this morning in Parliament.

The Government statement on this is here, with a debate pack pdf link at the bottom entitled, “Mental health first aid in the workplace”.

One of the reasons I entered politics, as a career musician, was my concern over mental health care and the lack of provision for those experiencing mental ill-health.

In March 2015 I successfully amended Liberal Democrat party policy on Mental Health to include incorporating mental health first aid into physical First Aid at Work courses.

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16 January 2019 – today’s press release

Cable: Either Corbyn backs Brexit or he backs the people

Responding to the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s vote of no confidence in the Conservative Government by 325 votes to 306 votes, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party cannot procrastinate any longer. Either he backs Brexit or he backs the people.

He has a responsibility, to get off the fence and provide some effective opposition.

The only serious option is what the Liberal Democrats have been calling for since the 24th June 2016, a people’s vote with the option to remain in the

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What should Vince say to Theresa?

So Theresa May is going to be meeting with party leaders tonight and over the next few days to find a way forward on Brexit.

Which party leader is best qualified for facing her down on daft ideas? Our Vince sparred a lot with her when they were in Cabinet together. She hated immigration. As business minister, he saw its benefits and fought for student visas. 

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Confidence trick

There were many times during this afternoon’s Vote of No Confidence debate when I wanted to throw something at the television. I didn’t, because the only things close by were expensive and belonged to my employer.

This country is facing the biggest crisis since World War 2 and the Government and Opposition spend the afternoon slinging insults at each other, pantomime style. When we face a no-deal fall off a cliff which will kill people. Fiddling and burning or what?

It was hardly the stuff of Gladstone, of Lloyd George, of Churchill as Jeremy Corbyn finally moved his motion of no confidence. The Government happily gave it five hours of debate. It was only obliged to give an hour and a half, but wasting time is all it’s got at the moment. The Conservative benches also got to be the most united they have been since last July.

I know that Vince signed Corbyn’s motion of no confidence. He kind of had to. I mean, if you’re asked if you have confidence in the government that brought you Windrush, the hostile environment, the rape clause, the benefit freeze, the disastrous implementation of Universal Credit and that’s before you even get to the Brexit clusterbourach, then the only possible answer is “no flipping way.”

However, I’d have amended it to say I have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition either. I can’t actually remember a time when the Government and the Opposition have been so simultaneously useless.

Apparently, Corbyn is going to keep laying down motions of no confidence as a distraction from having to take a position on the People’s Vote and May thinks she can get away with putting tweaked versions of her deal to the Commons. Does anyone get the irony here? They are happy to keep asking the same questions while stubbornly denying the people the chance to mark the Government’s homework.

Alistair Carmichael confronted Corbyn beautifully on the issue during his speech:

What should we do if Corbyn keeps putting down vexatious motions of no confidence? Well, to be honest, we have to vote for them. If we don’t, that’ll be the one time Corbyn will have got the DUP on side. After that disaster in the Summer we simply daren’t give Labour the chance to say that we backed the Tories.

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Theresa May needs an LBJ

After the historically unprecedented defeat of May’s Brexit deal, what comes next?  In her speech to the House of Commons, Theresa May promised not to run the clock down and to reach out to senior parliamentarians to work out what Brexit deal could pass the House of Commons.  Unfortunately, this promising development was immediately undercut by briefing that she wished to maintain her “red lines” which just can’t be done if she wants to get a Brexit deal through Parliament.

It was said of Lyndon B Johnson that nobody knew better how to count votes in a legislature – an essential political skill in the USA where a division between the executive and the legislature is the norm.  Theresa May desperately needs an LBJ to tell her what deal can be passed in Parliament.

However, without claiming I have the skills of an LBJ, the size of the defeat makes it clear that she needs to switch 116 votes without losing any.  This rule out any minor fiddles and means she needs to find a group with that many votes to pass any legislation.  There are lots of smaller groupings with interesting ideas, but they don’t have the votes.

The only possible options with those kinds of votes are as follows:

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments

Paddy And Tony A Cautionary Tale

Paddy Ashdown became the leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1988. He inherited a party which was not in a particularly good place.

The merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP had been difficult, to say the least, poll ratings were low.

Worse still Dr David Owen continued to lead a separate force supported by MPs Rosie Barnes and John Cartwright.

Thatcher appeared to be going on forever, still with a comfortable Commons majority and showing no signs of going anytime soon.

Labour under Neil Kinnock was modernising a party very much on the left.

Dreams of breaking the mould seemed a long way off for the newly formed Lib Dems. However, the space for a radical party of the centre-left still exited if it could be rebuilt.

The Continuing SDP were seen off within a short period following humiliation in a byelection in which they finished behind the Monster Raving Loony party, and despite a surge in the 1989 European elections, the Green challenge came to nothing.

By the 1992 General Election, the good ship of Liberalism had steadied, and the crisis seemed to be a thing of the past.

Then two years later Tony Blair came onto the scene.

Paddy quite rightly viewed Blair’s project of positioning Labour more in the centre as a challenge that couldn’t be ignored, and he sought to build a new relationship based on cooperation.

Posted in News and Op-eds | 28 Comments

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Sarah Ludford Internationalism and social justice is the liberal way

A cracker of a speech from Sarah Ludford looking back at Liberal figures all the way back to the repeal of the Corn Laws:

My Lords, normally I would try to reflect speeches from across the House in my winding-up, but this evening I will concentrate on the Liberal Democrats. This is partly because the loss of our late colleague Lord Ashdown is much on our minds. Obviously the primary grief is felt by Jane and the family, but we too, his political family, are nothing short of devastated. We badly miss his voice. Tweets of Paddy’s from two months ago remain online; I am afraid they are not complimentary about the governing party, saying,

“and so our beloved country is once again held to ransom by squabbles in a Tory Party who give rats in a sack a bad name”,

and,

“the great unravelling begins. If you want a playbook for what next, look to the Tory civil wars of the Com Laws in 1846”.

The fact is that, unlike Liberal Democrats, whose hallmark is openness to the world, Tories have long been split between international and insular tendencies; that continues today. Some talk, admittedly, about “global Britain” but this seems more about resurrecting the Empire—or at least the Anglosphere—than a true spirit of international and multilateral co-operation. Modern Liberal Democrats can still subscribe to the words of the radical Liberal Richard Cobden, who cited among the benefits of repeal of the Corn Laws that,

“it would introduce through mutually advantageous international trade a new era of international fellowship and peace”.

That sentiment endures, both as the rationale for the European project after 1945 and in the DNA of the modern Liberal Democrat party; no wonder the two are so well-aligned. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said last week, a global Britain should be within, not against, a global Europe. Hence one of Paddy’s successors, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, insisted in this debate last Wednesday:

“I am passionate about remaining in the European Union. I venture to observe that I am just as passionate about remaining as those who are passionate about leaving. I respect their passion and, in turn, I expect them to respect mine”.—

Another previous leader, Jo Grimond, in his book The Liberal Future 60 years ago, wrote:

“Liberals dissented from the original decision not to take part in the Iron and Steel Community. A Liberal foreign policy towards Europe would be based on the firm belief that Britain is a part—a leading part—of Europe”.

But it was not just Liberals in our Liberal Democrat heritage who carried the flame for Europe. My noble friends Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Taverne came via the Labour Party and the Social Democrats. They reminded us in this debate how they were part of that brave contingent of 69 MPs who defied the Labour leadership and its three-line whip to vote to join the then European Community in 1971. My noble friends Lord Wrigglesworth and Lord McNally, also once SDP, stressed internationalist principles too. They were led by Roy Jenkins, later our Liberal Democrat Leader here in Lords. In the epilogue to his European Diary as President of the European Commission, Roy recounts the formation of the SDP, noting simply and unremarkably that,

“the SDP and its Alliance partner maintained a wholly committed European position”.

Roy Jenkins also harks back much farther in our political roots when, in his biography of William Gladstone, he quotes from Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign, when he was much concerned about atrocities in the Balkans against Bulgarians and Montenegrins. Gladstone, he records, spoke of a,

“nation called to undertake a great and responsible duty”,

in regard to “the peace of Europe” and the need for,

“right and justice to be done”.

These are uncanny echoes of Paddy Ashdown’s insistence that we had to take an interest in the Balkan wars of the 1990s and take on a responsibility to protect in particular the Kosovars and Bosnians being subjected to ethnic cleansing on our continent.

In her very generous comments about Paddy Ashdown in her debate on the western Balkans last Thursday, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said:

“During the Bosnian War in the 1990s, most politicians, including some from my own party, pontificated from a distance. Lord Ashdown went in and out of Sarajevo during the longest siege in modern history, across a risky mountain route and through a tunnel burrowed into the city”.—

Hence, when my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire wrote a slim Penguin tome for the 1997 election called Why Vote Liberal Democrat?, in words he could repeat today, he wrote:

“Nostalgia for an imperial past, combined with hostility to closer cooperation with Britain’s neighbours, offers no credible way forward … Liberal Democrats are internationalist by instinct and by intellectual conviction … We believe that Britain can achieve more through sharing sovereignty and pooling power than by standing alone … Britain is a European country. Our international interests and responsibilities start with our concern to promote peace, stability and prosperity within Europe, in partnership with our European neighbours”.

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Ruling for the Thanet South case

With all the other political high-jinks in Westminster, the long-awaited judgement in the Thanet 2015 General Election expenses case has probably not caught the attention of those most likely to be affected by it – Candidates and their Agents.

In brief, this outcome challenges some of the most commonly held interpretations of the electoral law. Moreover, it requires urgent parliamentary attention BEFORE any new poll.

Liberal Democrat activists may like to be reminded that even the Conservatives now accept that the current legal position cannot be allowed to continue. In the last few days of the June 2017 General Election (when the extent of charges was still in doubt) the Conservative Party issued the following statement:

“There is broad consensus that election law is fragmented, confused and unclear, with two different sets of legislation and poor guidance from the Electoral Commission. Conservatives are committed to strengthening electoral law.”

Posted in News and Op-eds | 4 Comments

15 January 2019 – today’s press releases

You never quite want to believe the predictions, especially when they are in your favour, but it can’t be argued that tonight wasn’t a massive rejection of the May deal. Here’s what was said in the aftermath…

  • Cable: This is the beginning of the end of Brexit
  • Brexit Must be put Back to the People – Welsh Lib Dems (see here)
  • Cable: After Govt defeat the only way forward is a People’s Vote (see here)

Cable: This is the beginning of the end of Brexit

Responding to the no confidence vote tabled tonight in the House of Commons, Leader of the Liberal Democrats …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 7 Comments

WATCH: Jo Swinson argue with Labour’s Richard Burgon

It’s not the wisest thing in the world to take down someone who agrees with you and is instinctively going to do what you want.

Shadow Labour Justice Spokesperson Richard Burgon was excessively grumpy with Jo Swinson this evening.

Having gone on about how the big enemy was the Conservatives, he chose to then go on the attack about the Coalition. You’d never think that Labour had been propping up the Conservatives and enabling their Brexit shambles. Any half competent main opposition party would have made sure that Theresa May was coming back from Buckingham Palace in a taxi within an hour of tonight’s vote.

Jo handled it really well.

Jon Snow intervened to tell Richard hew as being “awfully beastly.”

Posted in News | Tagged and | 16 Comments

WATCH: Lib Dem MPs talk about today’s vote

Our people have been out and about today, talking about the run-up to the vote and its aftermath.

Layla on the beginning of the end of Brexit

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 3 Comments
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