An update on our troll farmer in Aberdeenshire

Day 139 - Worzel Gummage at Birmingham airport - 1982 (14515725233)
Many readers have been intrigued by the post earlier this week with a message to our troll farmer in Aberdeenshire.

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Dr Phillip Lee selected as Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson for Wokingham

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Wokingham Today reports:

DR PHILLIP LEE is to carry on his connections to Wokingham after being appointed by the local Liberal Democrats to be its parliamentary spokesperson for the year ahead.

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Don’t carelessly jettison the European inheritance of the BBC in trying to modernise it (Part 2)

Part 1 can be read here.

The clinching factor for all continental Europeans from 1939 was the role of the BBC World Service during the Second World War; and the fact that the BBC World Service on medium wave could be received on car radios, and on transistors on European beaches and gardens in many of the present EU member states. The stupidest budget cut of the Coalition Government in 2011 was, in my eyes, cutting this medium wave availability, restricting the BBC World Service to local DAB+ stations, and to BBC4 at 4.00 o’clock in the morning.

Don’t underestimate the prestige and love that the impartial, objective reporting of news by the BBC (from disasters like Dunkirk to victories like El Alamein) acquired in occupied Europe, where all peoples suddenly lost freedom of speech and got 1984-like manipulated news. The BBC in 1939-’45 also hosted national exiled broadcasters in their own time slots, like Radio Orange for the Dutch. In so doing the BBC even helped establish an obstreperous French officer (marginalised in his army top brass; a political nobody) with a battlefield commission as a lowest tier general, as a pivotal figure in all French politics from 1944 until his death in 1969. The BBC thus helped form EU postwar history; ITV or Sky can’t possibly claim that.

The BBC programming and drama meantime had a huge influence on the continent; smaller national broadcasters such as those in the Benelux countries readily bought BBC programs and directly rebroadcast them or reworked them. I learned my first English from the BBC “Walter and Conny” language course around 1967. The socialist broadcaster VARA put out the Onedin Line; and the daily NTS/NOS radio and TV news readily quoted and quotes the BBC on British and international events.

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The Lib Dems must abandon their support for HS2 for the sake of our economy and environment

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Today’s report from the National Audit Office contains no surprises. But it is still devastating for High Speed 2. The complexity of the project was underestimated. Costs are ballooning. Value for money is deflating. The political uncertainty surrounding the project, especially the northern sections, will load in more costs. It is “impossible to estimate with certainty” how much HS2 will eventually cost, the auditors conclude. But it will be north of £100bn. That dwarfs into insignificance the cost of a third runway at Heathrow.

The drain on public finances is not the main problem. HS2 is environmentally destructive. Far from being green, it will destroy centuries old biodiverse landscapes. It will take a century for the scheme to pay back the carbon and environmental costs of construction.

HS2 is a London-centric vanity project. The Lib Dem leadership should withdraw support for HS2 and declare it dead in a ditch.

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Full results from last night’s by-elections

There were four seats up for grabs in Brent, two of them in one ward – Barnhill.

Well done to all our candidates, Anton Georgiou, Jyotshna Patel, Michael Brooke and Larry Ngan and their teams who worked so hard in the run-up to yesterday.

Here are the results from the Brent Council website:

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Observations of an ex pat: Who’s on trial?

It is not just Donald John Trump who is on trial in the US Senate. In the dock before the court of world opinion are 100 senators, the American justice system, the rule of law and democratic institutions in the United States and in every other country which follows its lead in promoting liberal democratic ideals.

Like it or not, America has been historically viewed as the world’s leading exponent of the interlocking values of democracy, judicial transparency and the rule of law. It likes to think of itself—as the Puritans and President Ronald Reagan said—as “the shining city upon the hill.” The light has been dimmed by the current administration, but it is still spluttering away. But if the Republican-controlled Senate block the calling of witnesses in the trial of President Trump it will be pouring a bucket of water over that light.

American law is based on English common law. And one of the basic tenets of English common law is that everyone – regardless of their position in society– is entitled to a free and fair trial. The obvious question is: How can you have a fair trial without witnesses? How can you determine a person’s innocence or guilt until all the evidence has been heard and the witnesses have been interrogated and cross-examined?

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+++Anton Georgiou wins big in Brent!


Many congratulations to Anton Georgiou and his team on a stunning by-election win in Alperton ward, Brent!

Anton achieved a stonking 29.5% swing to the Lib Dems, to grab the seat from Labour.

Siobhan Benita, our London Mayoral candidate, campaigned strongly with Anton – this is a great boost for her campaign for London.

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Safe spaces in which to comment

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My fellow editor, Paul Walter, has been doing some extensive work to regulate the trolls who sometimes emerge on Lib Dem Voice.

As he reminded us last week, we ask commenters to stick to just one name. You can use a pseudonym (that’s because some readers are politically restricted) but you should be consistent. We do ask for a valid email address. Recently Paul has identified a couple of individuals who each use multiple names and they have been put on permanent moderation.

We also ask you to avoid personal attacks – by all means disagree with whatever is expressed in a post or comment, but don’t make unpleasant accusations about the person who made them.

If your comment is put into moderation don’t take it personally. It will probably be because you used one of our trigger words, which in some contexts could be offensive. We editors are all volunteers with other commitments beyond Lib Dem Voice, so sometimes it takes a while before one of us is able to check through the comments sitting in the Pending file and release those that are fine.

All this is to ensure that the space below the line is safe for anyone who wishes to comment.

But whilst we have been reasonably successful in keeping the discussions civilized, we are still not attracting enough women to contribute or comment. Yesterday we published five posts – all written by men – which produced 63 comments. Not a single one of those comments was written by a woman.

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If Winter comes

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When Shelley wrote ‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ in his celebrated poem ‘Ode To The West Wind’ there are some who speculate that he wasn’t just talking about the seasons. The late Paul Foot attempted to claim Shelley for the left in one of his many books and there is little doubt the poet was a radical voice of his time.

So taking that theme to a political interpretation, it could be argued that those of us who stand opposed to the reactionary forces of Conservatism have been through some pretty heavy weather recently.

The important question now is what does Spring look like for us?

Well, as a liberal party we have been written off many times over the years but we have survived despite the prophets of doom and I would argue that we are in a pretty good shape right now in a time when we are needed more than ever. The recent General Election, although disappointing, did see our national vote go up and with it our number of potential target seats next time. I am positive about the local elections due in May this year and am confident our Lib Dem candidates will do well.

Looking forward we have to present to the wider electorate a policy programme and image that makes us relevant to their concerns.

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The Infinite Game: Finding a just cause for the Liberal Democrats

Sustained success is attained not through obsessing with winning in the short term, but focusing on a higher purpose. That is the idea put forward by Simon Sinek in his recent book The Infinite Game, which looks at how institutions from tech companies like Apple to the founding of the United States itself were built on a just cause, a future vision for which we are willing to make sacrifices.

This is the critical challenge I believe the Liberal Democrats need to engage with now as we search for our way forward in the new political landscape. It may be useful to understand why we didn’t win another six seats or the impact of certain policy or strategy decisions. We can debate our concerns about a drift right or left, economic competence, the merits of a rejoin versus EFTA campaign, or who the next leader should be. Ultimately, though, this lacks a longer term perspective; we need to play the infinite game.

How do we stay in the game? What is our just cause?

Here are three headline thoughts I would like to put on the table that I believe we need to address.

One. We should start by workshopping out our vision for a fair, free and open society and the values model that will underpin it.

It requires us to go beyond the tactics of winning elections and Brexit to look into our liberal, social democrat and progressive souls to shape what that better country and world looks like, the change we want to see – to define our just cause.

Two. We should now devote as much energy to changing the electoral system as we have to stopping Brexit.

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Don’t carelessly jettison the European inheritance of the BBC in trying to modernise it (Part 1)

I’ve just been watching the BBC Newsnight broadcast of Monday 20 January 2020, which was mainly filled with debate about what the future of the BBC could or should be in this Netflix, social media platform world we live and work in today.

I’m deeply concerned that Britain, while thinking of how to adjust to the 21st century mass- and social media landscape (and post-Brexit geopolitics), risks ignoring the inheritance of prestige, respect and exemplary performance the BBC has grown to acquire with all inhabitants of the EU.

Now that Brexit is upon us, Britain risks losing the mobilising force in the EU of its BBC broadcasts and programmes. This is just at a time that the whole gamut of its institutional ties in the EU framework (with Euratom, Erasmus, Eurojust, EMA, EU Social Fund, etc, plus the Brussels diplomatic channels and Comitology) have been cut in one great, very foolhardy swoop, only partially and years later to be replaced with special bilateral arrangements between EU and UK.

These EU branches never were important issues in the Brexit debate in 2015-’19; the only time Downing Street discussed Euratom was around the moment of triggering Article 50, when they suddenly realised that mechanism would be jettisoned too. Erasmus and EMA are mentioned in passing.  See Tim Shipman, “Fall out: A Year of Political Mayhem”, Harper Collins, London, 2018, p24, 39, 116-7; look for the other terms in the indexes of this book and his “All Out War” on the Referendum: none!

Let me fill in some personal and Dutch facts so you can see where I am coming from in this debate.

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22 January 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Lib Dems launch national lobbying campaign urging Tory MPs to back WAB amendments
  • Govt must strip South Western Railway of their franchise

Lib Dems launch national lobbying campaign urging Tory MPs to back WAB amendments

The Liberal Democrats have launched a national lobbying campaign urging Conservative MP’s to “restore public faith in politics” and back amendments in the House of Commons to protect the rights of EU citizens and child refugees in the UK.

The campaign was launched after Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords handed Boris Johnson his first parliamentary defeat since the election by passing three amendments to the …

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A message to the troll farmer in Aberdeenshire


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Yes, you!

Just stop it, please.

You’re wasting our time and yours.

Our rules are here and we set out two particularly relevant ones here last weekend.

That is all.

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The subjects selected and not selected for debate at the York spring conference

The new Federal Conference Committee met at LibDem HQ this Saturday to set out the agenda for York in March. The new FCC also held a meeting in November where feedback from the Autumn Conference was discussed, and officers were elected. Geoff Payne was re-elected as Chair, myself as Vice-Chair (General Purposes Sub Committee), and Jon Ball and Cara Jenkinson as Co-Vice Chairs (Conference Communications Group).

It is always difficult to sort through the motions that are submitted to the FCC for any conference. This year we did have a lower number of submissions – only 19, but there were some interesting motions that were selected. It seems that the December General Election may have had an impact on the lower submissions, so we are looking forward to more submissions for the Autumn Conference.

Timings are always tight at Spring Conference, and we have tried to maximise debating time. There are inevitably some items that must be held at Conference (leader’s speech, and Committee and Parliamentary reports.) We have also made time for two consultations, one Federal Board General Election review, and one Federal Policy Committee manifesto review. We have also allowed two slots for emergency motions, as various political changes are happening at the moment which may require motions to be submitted.

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Showing her customary resilience, Jo Swinson marks the new decade with a flurry of reflective tweets

Something you may have missed: On 31st December, Jo Swinson reflected on the last decade with a Twitter thread of photos, concluding by looking forward to the new decade with the words:

Whatever the next decade holds, I look forward to meeting it head on.


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It’s time to stop apologising for the Coalition – and use it instead

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We need a leader without the stench of coalition baggage

 
This is a phrase I hear a lot in the party. I see it under every Facebook post about the next leadership election. But by trying to scrub ourselves of the Coalition are we missing a powerful argument, one that rings especially true in those 80 conservative-facing second places?

When we were almost wiped out in 2015, most voters that switched from us to the Tories did so because they liked the coalition years – a period of relative stability following a deep financial crisis – and they credited the Tories with delivering this.

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Greenpeace climate change petition – shouldn’t we be doing this sort of thing rather than still having “STOP BREXIT” on our home page?

The home page of the Liberal Democrat website, 10:55 22nd January 2020

This week, Greenpeace UK have collected almost 600,000 signatures for their petition to the government to act now on Climate Change.

The text of the petition gives a succinct list of initiatives which the government should be embarking on now to minimise the climate emergency:

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Good luck to our candidates and teams in by-elections tomorrow!


There are four seats on Brent Council, London, up for grabs in by-elections tomorrow. These contests have been caused by the resignations of four Labour councillors.

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21 January 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Tories’ new counter-terror plans undermine civil liberties
  • Welsh Lib Dems: Every child has a right to RSE
  • Govt must invest to demonstrate it values teachers
  • Welsh Lib Dems: UK Government must rethink Withdrawal Bill
  • Lib Dem peers win vote to protect child refugees

Tories’ new counter-terror plans undermine civil liberties

Responding to the Government’s announcement of new counter-terror legislation, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

If you could stop terrorism by passing illiberal new laws, the Conservatives would have ended it ages ago.

It’s less than a year since the Conservatives passed their last piece of unnecessary, reactionary legislation in the name of combatting

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20 January 2020 – yesterday’s press releases

Apologies for the delay, press release fans! Unfortunately, the Parish Council I chair ran late, so I wasn’t able to get these up last night…

  • Young people deserve a clear, unambiguous commitment to Erasmus
  • Ministers must explain to Parliament why HS2 costs have soared
  • Lib Dems urge Govt to extend provision of free period products
  • PM must put child refugees above politics
  • Lib Dem peers defeat Govt on vote to protect EU citizens’ rights
  • PM negotiating deadline with EU woefully unrealistic
  • Lib Dems inflict another defeat on Govt’s Brexit Bill

Young people deserve a clear, unambiguous commitment to Erasmus

Responding to reports the Government is extending an exchange scheme …

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Watford Liberal Democrat newsletter celebrates golden jubilee edition

This month sees the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Oxhey Opinion, the regular Liberal Democrat newsletter published in the ward I represent on Watford Borough Council.

In January 1970, Tony Poole the Liberal candidate for Oxhey, wrote the first edition and printed it himself on a Roneo machine, in two colour orange and black. This was an era when Liberals were increasingly developing ‘community politics’ techniques, including what we now call Focus-style newsletters.

Yet Tony’s reasons for launching the newsletter arose from local circumstances. Oxhey has its own distinct identity and he felt that a newsletter that went beyond simply issuing election addresses once a year would go down well in the local community.

The strategy was vindicated when the following year when the Liberals won the ward, in the process gaining their first ever seat on Watford Borough Council. By 1973 the Liberals held all three seats in Oxhey and six out of 36 on Watford Counci. The future looked bright. Unfortunately, the national party’s difficulties in the mid to late 1970s had their effect in Watford and by 1976 there were no more Liberals on the council.

It not until the 1990s that the Liberal Democrats were able to regain all the seats in Oxhey, but in the intervening time Oxhey Opinion continued to be published (sometimes intermittently), meaning that there was a strong legacy to build on when I became the candidate and by extension editor in 1990.

We have now won every local election in the ward since 1991. Both of Watford’s Liberal Democrat elected mayors, Dorothy Thornhill and Peter Taylor were first elected as Oxhey councillors. And although Tony Poole was not among the Liberal councillors in the 1970s, he served as ward councillor for 14 years from 1998 and was an excellent chairman of the council.

Looking back at the very first edition, one realises how many issues are with us always: the featured issues of local development, streetlighting, traffic management and amenities in Oxhey Park are just the sort of thing we have covered in recent editions.

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The next general election will be a Conservative-facing one: some stats

Following the 2019 general election, we are now second in 91 seats, of which 80 are held by the Conservatives and just 9 by Labour (the other 2 are held by the SNP). Of the 10 seats where we are closest (less than 3000 votes behind), 8 are currently held by The Conservatives.

You can model some interesting seat projections based on various swing scenarios. As shown by Electoral Calculus:

In other words, when we take votes off Labour then The Conservatives win, Labour lose and we barely move. When we take votes off The Conservatives then they lose, we win and Labour also win.

From Labour’s point of view, the story is similar:

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An election review from the front line

I downed tools and stopped almost all my usual work as a videographer for five weeks this winter. Here are some of my observations from the frontline…

I’ll say this first so that anyone with a short attention span understands the root cause of all our problems. It really is very simple and everything else I mention after this one cataclysmic issue, is a significant order of magnitude less important.

The reason this country is utterly broken is First Past the Post.

Sadly you can’t change it until you take power and you will only take power if the system works for you, in which case you are unlikely to change it when you get into power!

That’s the ‘exciting’ bit out of the way, the two other bits that I want to focus on here are Messaging and All Women Short Lists.

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Dorothy Thornhill will chair panel to review into both the General election and the European elections

This comes from a post by Party President and Co-leader Mark Pack, on the party’s website, explaining some output from Saturday’s Federal Board meeting:

Election Review

The (Federal) Board has commissioned a review into both the General election and the European elections.

This review will be run independently of those who ran the elections, with a panel of experts who have a broad range of skills from knowing about grassroots election campaigns through to understanding what the very best decision-making processes in organisations look like.

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Did we spend 2019 expecting a 1980s-style realignment of politics?

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At conference you have all sorts of conversation and all sorts of unusual things happen. I could tell a tale or two but I am reserving them for my (never to be written) memoirs.

In September 2018, excitement in the party was high. One almost needed a brown paper bag handy to breathe into, should things get overly hyperventilatory.

The gist of the excitement was:

We have to be more relevant! There are rich people going round with large truck loads of cash, looking for somewhere to dump it.

We’ve got to be in on the conversations to set up a new centre party, otherwise we will be sidelined and irrelevant.

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Lib Dem peers inflict defeats on government’s Brexit bill

House of Lords. Photo: Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of ParliamentThe Guardian reports:

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal has received a setback in the Lords after three amendments to the bill were passed.

In the government’s first parliamentary defeat since the general election, peers voted for EU citizens to have the right to be given official documentation if they lawfully reside in the UK after Brexit.

They backed a cross-party amendment to the withdrawal agreement bill allowing for physical proof of status.

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Could a Tickbox campaign drive Right and Left back together?

What is tickbox? When I published a book with that title it was strange how obscure this was for some people – and how others knew immediately what I was talking about.

Here, for the sake of argument, are some dfefinitions:

tickbox (noun) The phenomenon where organisations are able to dodge the letter of what is demanded from them by a simple tick (as in A tickbox exercise).

To tickbox (verb) Ticking a box rather than taking personal or human responsibility.

Tickbox (noun) A system for taking automated decisions of the kind that used to be taken by bureaucrats, managers, officials or

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Tim Pickstone named Mayor of Bury

Bury Town Hall
Many congratulations to Tim Pickstone on being named as the next Mayor of Bury, in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

Tim leads Bury Council’s four Lib Dem councillors. There are 29 Labour, 16 Conservative and two Independent councillors. So Tim’s election is a sign of the respect in which councillors of other parties hold him.

Bury Times reports:

HOLYROOD ward councillor Tim Pickstone has been named as the next Mayor of Bury.

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Our President and co-leader writes: How you can get involved in helping to run the party

The Liberal Democrats are about to fill nearly 50 important posts, responsible for everything from oversight of our campaigns through to improving our record on diversity and making sure our finances are in good shape.

Please do both think about going for one of these posts yourself, and also who else you might want to encourage to put their name forward.

We need the best team possible – which means people with brilliant skills, time to do the job properly and a much greater diversity than we often manage with such exercises.

If anyone would like to know more about what a particular post involves, I’m very happy for you to put them in touch with me and I can either directly help or put them in touch with someone with experience of the post.

More details of the posts are over on the party website.

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Javid is cutting the UK’s nose off to spite our faces

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Last week, the Chancellor Sajid Javid sat down in the Pickles sandwich bar, Westminster, for an interview with the Financial Times. You can read the interview in full here, but you may have to subscribe or join the FT’s trial membership scheme.

In it, he talked tough about the UK post-Brexit trading scenario. Hopefully, this is pre-negotiation chatter, but what he said was alarming nonetheless:

There will not be alignment, we will not be a ruletaker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union — and we will do this by the end of the year.

He said there would be no Treasury support for the big manufacturing sectors to adjust to the new trade rules. Rather peevishly he added that they had had since 2016 to prepare for the new scenario. Of course, they have not known what the Sam Hill they were needing to prepare for during those three years.

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