Tom Arms’ World Review

Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Vladimir Putin has reversed himself and reluctantly said that membership of the Alliance by the two Nordic countries posed “no threat”.  A seamless Swedish-Finnish application seemed certain.

Wait, the diplomats forgot about the perennial thorn in NATO’s Southern flank- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An application to join NATO requires the approval of all 30 members and President Erdogan has threatened a Turkish block. His reason? He is angry because Sweden and Norway give asylum to members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which he is trying to wipe out. Sweden and Finland also imposed sanctions against Turkey when Erdogan ordered his troops into Northern Syria in 2016 (they are still there).

At the top of the list of criteria for NATO membership, is, according to the US State Department, a commitment “to uphold democracy, including tolerance for diversity.” On that basis, Erdogan’s Turkey would fail membership requirements. Since the attempted 2016 coup, Erdogan has jailed nearly 80,000 judges, military officers, civil servants, police, teachers and journalists. 130 media organisations have been closed. Homosexuality is banned and Erdogan has announced plans to reinstate the death penalty. There is, of course, no question of booting Turkey out of the Alliance. It is the strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and at the moment prevents Russian ships from sailing through the Dardanelles to join the war in Ukraine. Realpolitik trumps human rights.

But should Erdogan be allowed to prevent solidly democratic countries from joining NATO? The British government have indicated a possible workaround if Erdogan refuses to change his mind. It has signed a separate “mutual assistance” treaty with Norway and Sweden. If other NATO countries followed suit then the Turkish veto would be irrelevant.

The shooting in a Buffalo supermarket which left ten African-Americans dead is not an isolated incident. According to a report by the respected Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 67 percent of the domestic terror incidents recorded in 2020 were organised by far-right and white supremacist groups. Many of those who stormed Capitol Hill were White supremacists. FBI Director Christopher Wray described White Supremacy as a “significant and pervasive threat” to the US. President Biden called it a “poison running through the body politic.”

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WATCH: Lib Dem campaign launch in Tiverton and Honiton

Yesterday, Ed Davey went to Honiton to eat ice cream, wield some oranges and launch Richard Foord’s campaign to win the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. There were lots of activists there to help.

Local Devon Live reporter Lewis Clarke posted a long video including chats with Ed, Richard and Lib Dem activists on the doorsteps. It’s a lovely watch. And there is a cute dog. What more encouragement could you want to help Richard?

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Tory source: Tiverton “likely to fall to the Liberal Democrats”

The announcement of Richard Foord as our candidate for the Tiverton and Honiton by-election was a very clever piece of work by the press team at  LDHQ.

An article in the Telegraph not only had many of our key messages about the by-election, but quoted a Conservative source as saying that the seat was likely to fall to us:

The Liberal Democrat campaign in the constituency is expected to focus on policy areas on which the Conservatives are weak in southern seats, including tax increases and protections for “the rural way of life”.

A Conservative Party source told The Telegraph the seat is likely to fall to the Liberal Democrats, piling pressure on Boris Johnson to shore up support in “blue wall” areas rather than focussing solely on red wall” seats in the north of England.

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Review of “Control – The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics”

When Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859; while the finches of the Galapagos Islands formed an example of natural selection, he also referenced selective breeding in animal husbandry as an example of how desired characteristics in breeds could come about. It did not take a genius to realise that selective breeding could also be applied to humans, although it was one, Francis Galton (Darwin’s half-cousin) the Victorian polymath, who did so and founded eugenics. At a distance of over a century it is difficult to see why they found eugenics so attractive as opposed to other interventions, but late Victorian Britain was a country in the grip of an early version of the Great Replacement theory, in this case the replacement of the educated middle and upper classes with the, then uneducated, working classes simply because the latter were having many more children. Galton’s “Hereditary Genius” set out the case for eugenics: that the ‘better’ classes should be encouraged to breed more and the ‘worse’ classes less.  This idea was attractive to many: Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour, William Beveridge, George Bernard Shaw, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, Marie Stopes, and D H Lawrence amongst others. It even gained the support of the Manchester Guardian. In 1913 the Liberal Government, including Churchill, passed the Mental Deficiency Act (only 3 MPs voting against) which locked up those of low intelligence in institutions, effectively preventing them from breeding, although it did not require sterilisation. That Act was not repealed until 1959.

By 1913, Galton’s ideas had spread far beyond the UK with the United States, in particular, taking them up vigorously; the Eugenics Records Office at Cold Springs Harbour on Long Island being funded mainly by the Carnegie Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, and the philanthropist Mary Harriman. This should be a warning about letting those with money fund research; their interests may not accord with those of society as a whole. Unlike the British, the Americans had no qualms about sterilising those whom they thought should not be allowed to breed, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes writing in a 1927 judgement “Three generations of imbeciles is enough”.

Not surprisingly, these American ideas soon crossed back across the Atlantic, this time to Germany, where Alfred Ploetz built on them and the earlier scientific racism of Ernst Haeckel, who had brought Darwin’s ideas to Germany. In time this led to the Holocaust as we all know, but it is important to appreciate that the first victims were those they considered inadequate, either physically or mentally. That experience inoculated most of the world for a couple of generations, but with the success of the Human Genome project and the development of CRISPR gene editing it became possible not only to repair faulty body cells (somatic cells) to cure some rare diseases, but also change the germ cells that create the sperm and ova and so eliminate the disease in future generations. Eugenics was back!

The second part of the book brings the story up to the present and covers what gene editing can, and more importantly, cannot do. It is an important corrective to the idea that genetics at its root is simple: we all learned at school about the heritability of eye colour, controlled by the OCA2 gene. Yet only 62% of those with two copies of the blue-eyed version of the gene have blue eyes; while 7.5% of those with two copies of the brown-eyed version of the gene have blue eyes as well (p. 217). Genetics is nowhere near as simple as people think, and Rutherford offers several other examples.

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Observations of an expat: Xi in Trouble

“We do things better than the West,” is the oft-chanted mantra of the Chinese leadership.

And since Covid emerged from Wuhan the authorities have proudly pointed to their handling of the pandemic as proof of the superiority of the Chinese system as infections and deaths soared in Europe and America while China’s Zero Covid Policy seemed to be keeping a lid on the virus.

That is changing, and the change is threatening President Xi Jinping’s hold on power.

Xi’s problem is that his Zero Covid Policy is making Chinese people think that his cure is worse than the disease.

The policy involves complete lockdown to prevent the spread of infection. In Shanghai recently that meant that China’s commercial hub and the world’s busiest port was shut down.  All 27 million residents were barred from leaving their homes except for medical emergencies.

Babies were separated from their parents. People could not go to the shops to buy food and officials locked people inside their homes. Food and medical supplies were rationed. They were meant to be delivered but too often never appeared.

Shanghai is China’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city. Its citizens are used to the trappings of Chinese economic success and enjoy a relatively free lifestyle. They objected to the lockdown and the policy behind it.

The Communist Party censored the objections but tech-savvy residents managed to circumvent the Great Firewall of China to post videos on Western social media of people banging pots and pans in protest and displaying banners which read: “I want my freedom back.”

Shanghai is beginning to return to normal, but Beijing and its 22 million inhabitants is heading for the zero policy lockdown. So far this year 373 million Chinese have suffered severe lockdown measures.

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Lies, condescension, repeat – the new mantra of the Conservative Party

In 2016, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove claimed that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills.

On Wednesday 18th May, the Tories voted against the Liberal Democrat motion to cut VAT on energy bills, highlighting yet again, the lies that Brexit was built upon. The claim by Johnson and Gove that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills implies that being an EU member didn’t allow us to do so previously; despite Belgium cutting VAT on electricity bills while being a member of the EU. Another Brexit lie propagated at the time of the referendum was the “removal of red tape”, later proven to be false by the rising administration costs facing British businesses.

This has highlighted how out of touch the Tories are with the British people.

Despite pensioners feeling abandoned by the government, Sir Ed Davey making clear that tax hikes are the last thing Londoners need and Sir Keir Starmer stating that Johnson is “choosing to let people struggle”, the advice from Home Office minister Rachel Maclean for citizens dealing with the cost of living crisis is… get a better job.

Oh…

When turning the attention to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, her advice is… to get a “high-paid job”.

Oh…

With so many having to choose between heating and eating, having to skip meals and some even having to leave their heating off entirely, the advice from the government is simply to “get a better job”. This echoes the now infamous, heartless speech from former Conservative Employment Minister Norman Tebbit, who told the Conservative Party 1981 Conference that when his father was faced with unemployment in the 30s, “he got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it”.

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Richard Foord selected as candidate in Tiverton and Honiton by-election

Congratulations to Richard Foord who has been selected as our candidate in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election on 23rd June!

Richard lives in the constituency and is a former Army Major who served as a UN peacekeeper in Kosovo. He currently works for a University and volunteers for the Scout movement. He has also run the London marathon for the Royal British Legion.

You can read more about him on his personal website here and on the Liberal Democrat website here.

Ed Davey said:

Richard is an incredible candidate, whose dedication to others has shone not only through his career, but also in his voluntary roles in the community.

This by-election will be a two-horse race between Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and hard-working Liberal Democrat local champion, Richard Foord. This Conservative government has taken Devon for granted with local health services being neglected and botched and with trade deals undercutting farmers at every turn.

The Liberal Democrats are the clear challengers to the Conservatives in Tiverton & Honiton. On 23rd June, you can elect a strong local champion who will stand up for our communities and help kick Boris Johnson out of Number 10.

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The NHS is dying … it’s about the  workforce

While everyone is focused on the very real and acute cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine the NHS is quietly imploding, more staff leaving than joining and therefore services collapsing.

It’s not simply a matter of throwing more money at it, we are way past that stage, and as we learned from the Nightingale hospital fiasco, you can build all the hospitals you like but if there is no workforce to staff them, they are just so many white elephants.

The workforce is on its knees and many who stayed on or returned during the Covid crisis are now leaving or returning to retirement, others simply leaving because they are exhausted, increasing the strain on those left behind. The crisis is particularly acute in psychiatry and general practice, where services are collapsing just when they are needed most to deal with the fallout of Covid.

So the fact that there are 10 new medical schools should be good news, except that they will only add about another 1,000 doctors to the workforce annually and only in 5 years’ time, against a calculated shortfall of 15,000 annually. So you may be as surprised as I was to learn that 3 of those new schools; Chester, Brunel and Three Counties, will only be accepting private students from overseas this coming October, and why is that? – simply that the Treasury has not made funds  available to support home grown medical students, £35,000 each annually for the 3 clinical years of undergraduate training; yes, medical training is expensive. The government’s solution being to let these new medical schools admit overseas students instead, who bring with them £40,000 each a year in overseas fees.

Whilst that may be an attractive business model for the medical schools concerned it does nothing to address our own needs and exacerbates the workforce crisis into the future. Meanwhile applications from home-grown candidates have soared and many are being turned down, even though they have top grades and should have been able to expect medical school places.

I think you can agree with me that students coming from countries such as Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and India with that kind of money at their disposal, are most likely to be from wealthy, well-connected families, and are unlikely to be planning to make a long-term contribution to the NHS workforce or make the UK their permanent home. They may stay long enough to complete their postgraduate training but my guess is that they will be returning to privileged positions back home just as soon as they can.

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Single progressive challenger to Tories wins seats

This is an independent view from Compass which is a centre-left pressure group, aligned with the Labour Party.

At the local elections, the Lib Dem vote rose by 14.1% in England where the party was the only progressive challenger to the Tories.

Neal Lawson, Director of Compass said:

“When progressives cooperate they win, when they compete they lose. Despite the party machines insisting on unilaterally standing candidates that can only benefit the right, progressives locally are cooperating to win under the radar. Progressives should only stand where they can win.”

An unprecedented number of contests saw only one progressive candidate standing. By accident and by local design, progressive parties not competing had a stunning impact on the Lib Dem vote, and those of Labour and Greens:

  • The Lib Dem vote rose by 14.1% where it was the only progressive challenger to the Tories.
  • The Labour vote rose by 6.1% where it was the only progressive challenger to the Tories.
  • The Greens vote rose by 20.2% where it was the only progressive challenger to the Tories. The Green figures are less robust because of the sample size but the impact of non-competition for the Green Party is very large.
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Partygate: Is that all there is?

After 11 months of investigation involving 12 full time dedicated police officers, with other support and oversight as required, Operation Hillman has concluded at a cost of £460,000. During the inquiry 126 referrals for fixed penalty notices were made. Boris Johnson and his wife will not receive any further fines.

The Met said today:

“A team of twelve detectives worked through 345 documents, including emails, door logs, diary entries and witness statements, 510 photographs and CCTV images and 204 questionnaires as part of a careful and thorough enquiry.”

We now wait for the Sue Gray report.

 

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Southwark Elects LGBTQ+ Campaigner as Leader of the Opposition

The Southwark Liberal Democrats elected LGBTQ+ campaigner Councillor Victor Chamberlain as their new group leader on Monday night.

Councillor Chamberlain is now Southwark Council’s leader of the opposition after his predecessor Councillor Hamish McCallum stood down from the position.

Southwark’s new group leader is an active LGBTQ+ campaigner. He fought to save famous gay bar XXL and helped secure a new LGTBQ+ community centre in in its place at Bankside Yards.

Councillor Chamberlain also campaigned to award British diver Tom Daley the Freedom of the Borough for Southwark.

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Finding lost cats – all part of a councillor’s role

The local paper in Banbury, in Oxfordshire, sings the praises of a newly elected Lib Dem councillor, David Hingley. When a note was posted through his door in Bodicote alerting him to a missing cat he set off for a walk round the village. And he found it a few streets away, safe and well, but lost.

The cat’s owner was delighted. David said “I was very pleased to be able to help reunite Poppy with her owner. It’s one of my first acts as a new councillor for the ward. It’s nice to already be giving back to the community after having only been elected two weeks ago.”

Of course, that’s what Lib Dem councillors do. They are embedded in their communities and are well placed to respond to any cry for help. In this case, the cry arrived in the form of a printed note, but it could just as well have been in the village Facebook group. Nothing political, just a simple act of neighbourliness.

I must say that is what I enjoyed most about being a councillor – dealing with very localised and individual problems.

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Eastbourne declares cost of living emergency

The Independent reports that, at a Council meeting today, Lib Dem run Eastbourne Council will be the first to declare a cost of living emergency.

You may well know Eastbourne as a prosperous south coast town, but much of the local economy derives from tourism, so it has been particularly badly hit by the pandemic.

According to the article:

Eastbourne Foodbank has been the busiest in the UK over the past year – distributing more parcels per head than any other food bank, according to the Trussell Trust network.

Councillor Josh Babarinde said the emergency declaration would help Eastbourne Borough Council work more effectively with charities, as well as offering a “wake-up call” to Boris Johnson’s government.

“We need immediate action from the government – they have to realise that this cost of crisis has become an emergency because of their inaction,” said the Lib Dem councillor.

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Roger Roberts on the Queen’s Speech

Yesterday Roger Roberts, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, spoke in the Lords debate on the Queen’s Speech. It’s not often that Glee Club gets a mention in Westminster, if indirectly.

He said:

My Lords, if we are not able to rely on Ministers and other parliamentarians to tell the truth, then reliable and acceptable government is impossible. The recent police notices to those who had previously denied breaking the pandemic control laws lead millions of people to question the truth on matters of greater importance like, perhaps, the crises in Ukraine or Afghanistan – those that are matters of life and death.

We all know of broken promises. Putin was adamant: “We are not going to invade Ukraine” – we remember that – in spite of a procession of tanks stretching 40 miles, the distance from Chester to Colwyn Bay. Ukraine is in the midst of being invaded in spite of Putin’s denial, creating a hell for millions of children, men, and women. Putin’s assurances are as meaningless as denying being at gatherings that broke Covid laws. Government and the safeguarding of democracy cannot continue if those who lead cannot be trusted or believed. Mr Rees-Mogg tweeted over the Easter weekend, “Christ is risen, Alleluia”, a greeting of hope, while at the same time supporting deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda – a destruction of hope.

The consequences of these lies are the distancing of millions of ordinary people from government. If you cannot believe a word they say, there is no use voting for any of them. Turnout at general elections has fallen from 83% in the 1950s to less than 67% in 2019. We have grown increasingly apathetic about the democratic process, and nature abhors a vacuum.

The Government must change in order to show the British people that the Government can be believed and are engaged in the democratic process. Failing to do so will only increase apathy and sow distrust—something which, because of the unbelievability of the present time, continues to do immense harm. The United Kingdom can serve as an example to others, but not by refusing parliamentary scrutiny—for example, of the deal with Rwanda regarding asylum seekers or the continued lying about parties in gardens during the pandemic. We undermine democracy itself.

At the Liberal Party conference I used to sing the “Land Song”, which goes: “Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?” and “God gave the land to the people!”

Now we have to restore this trust. We must restore the value of ordinary people and their worth and influence in what is a democratic society.

Finally, Paddy Ashdown said:

“The one thing that unfailingly gives me satisfaction in politics is to watch those who have been taught they are the subject of others’ power, rise to meet the challenge of power in their own hands—and then be unbelieving at what they are able to do. To believe in this and make it happen is, for me, the great passion of politics.”

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17 May 2022- today’s press releases

  • The Liberal Democrats are the main challengers to the Conservatives in Tiverton and Honiton
  • NI Protocol Changes: Risks starting a trade war with our largest trading partner
  • Welsh Liberal Democrats call for 24/7 mental health service

The Liberal Democrats are the main challengers to the Conservatives in Tiverton and Honiton

Responding to the announcement that the Tiverton & Honiton by-election will take place on Thursday 23rd June, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey MP said:

People in rural communities like Devon have had enough of being neglected by this Conservative government.

The Conservatives’ failure to tackle the cost of living crisis has left millions struggling to pay their bills, while people wait hours for an ambulance and weeks for a GP or dentist appointment.

The Liberal Democrats are the main challengers to the Conservatives in Tiverton and Honiton. On the 23rd June voters can send Boris Johnson’s government a message they cannot ignore – and elect a strong local champion who will stand up for them.

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Tiverton and Honiton by-election to take place on 23rd June

The Writ has been moved for the Tiverton and Honiton by-election to take place on 23rd June.

The by-election was caused by the resignation of Neil Parish after he was discovered watching pornographic videos during  parliamentary meetings on two occasions.

Ed Davey said that the by-election gave voters the chance to send Boris Johnson’s Government a message they cannot ignore and elect a local Lib Dem champion to fight for them:

People in rural communities like Devon have had enough of being neglected by this Conservative government.

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Farron: Planning changes needed for second homes

Second homes are a growing issue in many rural areas of the country. Although visitors with second homes bring economic benefits, they also reduce local housing stock and drive up house prices by making offers that most locals can’t match. The squeeze on housing availability drives up rents as well as prices.

Yet when second home owners arrive for the weekend, for the week or for a holiday, they rely on local people for their services in shops, pubs and bars. But many people can’t afford to live in a settlement where second homes are popular.

In 2018/19, an estimated 772,000 households reported having second homes.

Speaking during questions on Levelling Up in the Commons yesterday, Tim Farron said:

It is… vital that houses that are given planning permission are then used for the purposes agreed on when the permission was granted. I am talking about second home ownership. Homes that are built for local families become second homes, and that leads to communities being hollowed out. Will the Minister look again at bringing in new change of use rules through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, so that second homes and holiday lets fall under a separate category of planning use, and homes in Cumbria can remain for local families, and do not become part of ghost towns?

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LibLink: Christine Jardine: Boris is putting peace process in peril

As Liz Truss prepares to tell Parliament how exactly the British Government intends to ride a coach and horses through the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by itself, Christine Jardine writes in the Scotsman about the dangers this poses to the Peace Process.

She starts by writing about how she felt when the IRA first announced its ceasefire back in 1994.

But in that moment it seemed, for the first time, that there might be a bright, positive peaceful future for the people of Northern Ireland. For everyone touched by the euphemistically named ‘Troubles’.

Thirty years later, they have reached a point where they have, to a previously unimaginable extent, put the bitterness and pain of those years behind them.

So to be faced with the realisation that it might all be undermined by an unnecessary dispute born of the Brexit debacle and government intransigence is astonishing.

She condemns the Government for the threat it is posing to the Union.

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that a government, under fire, struggling to get on top of a cost-of-living crisis, is using the most socially and politically fragile area of the UK as a football.

More than that, it often feels as if the Conservatives are playing unacceptable games, not just with the people of Northern Ireland but with the Union.

She outlines the potential consequences of the Government’s actions:

If the Conservatives persist with their ideological approach, it could result in a trade war with our closest allies in the EU.

In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, and when we need to work together to support Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression in Europe, it is hard to imagine a more self-damaging approach.

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Challenging cultural and ethnic stereotypes

A week or so ago, I was asked to give a talk about how faith relates to politics and vice versa. I remember when I first came to the UK, I was told to avoid talking about both subjects and therefore I knew that running a workshop in relation to both topics might be a bit tricky!

For some, both faith and politics go hand in hand. Our political choices are guided by our religion or faith affiliation. Our beliefs often become our moral compass, which “dictates” in many cases the way we vote, or decide who to support at the polling station.

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Welcome to my day: 16 May 2022 – the cat is, so to speak, out of the bag…

I spent part of my weekend in strangely familiar territory, with leaflets in hand. Honiton feels a bit like Stowmarket, my neighbouring town here in mid-Suffolk. For, whilst the surrounding countryside is agricultural, the town itself is not obviously prosperous – we’re not talking “touristy” here. Indeed, a bit like mid-Suffolk, any tourists are likely to heading onwards.

And, whilst the Guardian has discovered that a campaign has already broken out – really, guys, was that a surprise? – Liberal Democrat social media is abuzz with people either in Tiverton and Honiton or working out how to get there and when.

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Sarah Dyke Selected as Lib Dem Candidate for Somerset and Frome

The Liberal Democrats have selected Cllr Sarah Dyke as their candidate for the Somerton and Frome constituency.

Sarah lives in the constituency and is from a Somerset farming family which can be traced back over 250 years to the local area. Sarah worked in the agricultural industry and is Portfolio Holder for the Environment on South Somerset District Council where she is spearheading rewilding programmes, investment in electric vehicle charging points and the council’s zero-carbon targets.

Last week Sarah was elected to Somerset County Council to represent Blackmoor Vale, beating the head of the Conservatives’ dedicated anti-Lib Dem unit.

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See an Award Winning Movie and Help Ukraine

The Lloyd George Society and Rights-Liberties-Justice are sponsoring a showing of the film Mr Jones at the National Liberal Club on 20 June. The movie tells the story of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist and former employee of Lloyd George, who travelled secretly to the USSR to uncover the truth about the Holodomor, the great famine of 1933 under Stalin’s regime in the Ukraine. Jones witnesses appalling conditions, including starving people whose grain has been forcibly taken away for consumption elsewhere, villages whose entire populations have died or just vanished and ‘horrifically, he stumbles across examples of cannibalism. Yet despite his evidence, Jones finds it hard to get the matter taken seriously once back in Britain.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The Irish question has bedevilled British, European and American politics since… well, forever. It played a role in the Council of Whitby in 664. In 1169 England’s Norman rulers invaded and started centuries of direct conflict.

All this was supposed to end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Well two events this week have brought it back from a shallow grave: The emergence of Sinn Fein as the largest party on both sides of the border and British refusal to accept the Northern Ireland protocol. The two political incidents have also brought the possibility of a united Ireland a giant step closer. Sinn Fein is totally committed to a referendum in the north on a united Ireland. The long-term stranglehold of the Protestants on the politics of the six northern counties has been a major stumbling block. That has ended.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is also pushing the two halves together. It has tied Northern Ireland economically to the EU and the southern part of the island and weakened trading ties with Britain. The Protestants are, of course, opposed to the protocol. The conservative Boris Johnson government is trying to reverse it because of their traditional links to Protestant parties and commitment to a divided island.  But the Protestant establishment – in the form of the Democratic Unionist Party – is no longer in the majority. And the majority of Northern Irish voters see their future in Europe and that means linked with the Republic of Ireland. But they still have to contend with die-hard Protestants, who, if they cannot win at the ballot box, could easily turn to the terrorist tactics of their IRA counterparts.

Britain was the driving force behind the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. It pushed for the alliance to quickly admit former Warsaw Pact members in the 1990s and has taken the lead in arming Ukraine. This week British PM Boris Johnson was in Sweden and Finland to sign “mutual assistance” treaties with Sweden and Finland. The three countries are now pledged to come to each other’s aid in the event of a crisis. The treaties are a symbolic first step towards full-fledged Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO which is expected to be finalised at next month’s heads of government summit.

Vladimir Putin is furious and has promised retaliation. NATO expansion, Putin has repeatedly asserted, is one of the main reasons for his invasion of Ukraine.  But for Sweden and Finland, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is THE reason for their decision to end 200 years of neutrality for the Swedes and 67 years for the Finns.

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Ukraine won Eurovision. Now we have to win a war.

Eurovision is an acquired taste. Many people regard it as a pleasure. War is an enforced taste. Very few people regard it as a pleasure.

The win last night at the world’s most popular, and often cheesiest, song contest is a mood boost for Ukraine. The jury had put the UK entry, Space Man by Sam Ryder at the head of the pack. In an ordinary year, Sam Ryder would have given the UK the winner that has eluded it since Katrina and the Waves.

This is not an ordinary year. Last night’s event opened with a Rockin’ 1000 rendition of the anthem “Give Peace a Chance”.

The public vote, especially in Europe and Australia, was in favour of Stefania, performed by Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra. Without the war, this performance might have won in its own right. However, this was a night where politics blended with music. As the crowd roared its approval, Oleh Psiuk pleaded: “Please help Ukraine, help Mariupol, help Azovstal right now.” Ukraine duly won Eurovision for a second time.

President Zelensky said on hearing the result: “Our courage impresses the world. Our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision!”

That’s ambitious but the world needs to do everything it can to ensure that ambition is fulfilled. That means winning a war first.

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Chamberlain and D’Souza launch food bank inquiry

There are more than 2,000 food banks in the UK and the number of food parcels they give out has risen enormously. The Trussell Trust, which represents 1,300 food banks, issued 2.1 million food parcels in 2021/22, a staggering increase on the 40,000 it issued in 2010.

Not everyone believes these statistics. Tory MP Lee Anderson for one. After a row brewed up over his Queen’s Speech remark that there was not a “massive” need for food banks in the UK, he told Times Radio: “The actual foodbank usage is exaggerated.” He is undoubtedly right that some people do not know how to cook but he is wrong that his local food bank insists on people having to sign up for a cooking course. And he is talking nonsense when he says that food bank use is exaggerated. As for his remark, “we can make a meal for about 30 pence a day, and this is cooking from scratch”, that is very hard to achieve in a home where cooking in bulk is not possible.

With such ignorance in parliament, it is timely that members hold an inquiry into the issue. On Wednesday, Wendy Chamberlain and Baroness D’Souza announced an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending the Need for Food Banks.

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Observations of an expat: Australia’s King Coal  

Australians are one of the worst-hit victims of climate change, and their government’s policies are having a detrimental impact on them and rest of the world.

Federal elections scheduled for next weekend will do little to save the situation.  The two major parties appear united in putting financial gain before survival.

Climatologists predict that temperatures Down Under are set to rise by nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century. The bushfire season is already nine months long and the flames have so far destroyed 14.6 million acres – territory roughly equal to twice the size of Pennsylvania.

One in six of the country’s wildlife face extinction in the next few years, according to the WWF and the vital coral banks of the Great Barrier Reef are being bleached white by rising sea temperatures.

But despite these apocalyptic facts and figures both the Australian Labour Party and the ruling coalition of the Liberal and National Party remain committed to protecting the dirtiest, most polluting, fossil fuel of them all – coal.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal – 427 million tons. The fossil fuel is also Australia’s biggest export and 50,000 jobs rely on it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Mark Pack reports: A brilliant set of election results

We’re winning

What an amazing outcome from this May’s local elections:

  • Three more Liberal Democrat majority councils, taking us back to where we were before going into Coalition in 2010;
  • net gain of 224 councillors, making this the fourth set of net gains in a row, something we’ve not achieved since the Iraq war;
  • 19% vote share (the national equivalent vote share, i.e. what it would have been if there were elections everywhere); and
  • The lovely bonus of seeing our sister party in Northern Ireland, Alliance, gaining seats and votes to move up to such an impressive third place.

Our successes weren’t just handed to us. They happened because of a huge amount of hard work, smart campaigning and dedication over a long period of time. Thank you to everyone who made that happen – and to their families and friends for supporting them through it.

Before going into the details, thanks and sympathies for those who weren’t successful this time. Missing out on winning never feels great, but it can be even tougher when others around you are celebrating. So thank you to everyone who tried and didn’t make it this time. I hope that our successes elsewhere help give you confidence that we can bounce back in your patch too.

Breadth and depth

A particularly promising part of our successes was the breadth of them. We made gains in Scotland, in Wales and in England. We also made gains in areas where last time we elected no councillors, including from Labour. In London, for example, we won council seats on four councils where we’d won none last time around – including one of the very last councils to declare on Sunday (!), Croydon. Many of our smaller small council groups grew too.

But alongside that, in our stronger areas – and especially those where we can hope now to win at the next Westminster Parliamentary election – we also progressed. For every MP we currently have, there was more than one other constituency where we topped the poll last week.

We’ve still got a long way to go to build up our local government base to where we want it to be. But we took a big step forward last week, again, and have now made a cumulative gain of 1,207 council seats in the May elections since 2015 (compared with 628 loses for Labour and 1,095 for the Conservatives).

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 3 Comments

LibLink: Wera Hobhouse on green mortgages

Wera Hobhouse has been writing for The House Magazine under the headline “A green mortgage drive could upgrade our leaky homes and slash household bills“.

She writes:

With household bills soaring, those hit the hardest are families living in the leakiest homes. Green mortgages could combat the UK’s leaky homes and bring down household bills in the long-run.

Research shows that households living in homes with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or worse will be paying an average of £470 per year more than homes rated EPC C or better. That’s more than the average annual UK water bill.

It seems many banks now offer various incentives, including lower mortgage rates, to homeowners who either buy energy efficient homes or who borrow to fund upgrades. However they are still only a small proportion of mortgages.

Wera says:

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Can the UK recession be avoided?

Just before polling day the Bank of England published the May Monetary Policy Report as well as increasing the Bank Rate to 1%. They expect the Bank Rate to continue to increase and peak at 2.5% by “mid-2023”. They state, “That predominantly reflects the significant adverse impact of the sharp rises in global energy and tradable goods prices on most UK households’ real incomes and many UK companies’ profit margins.” They expect unemployment “to rise to 5½% in three years’ time”.

They state, “CPI inflation is expected to peak at slightly over 10% in 2022 Q4, which would be the highest rate since 1982”.

“Total real household disposable income is projected to fall in 2022 by the second largest amount since records began in 1964 before picking up thereafter” they forecast. Total demand in the economy will fall below total supply by the fourth quarter of this year. They quote an ONS survey of March where 42.5% of people, “said they had cut spending on non-essentials” due to lower real incomes.

This means that people will be able to buy fewer things. Demand for items will decrease. This leads to businesses producing less and unemployment increasing.

The Monetary Policy Committee produce different projections based on different assumptions. Their main projections are based on the assumption that the Bank Rate “rises to around 2½% by mid-2023, before falling to 2% at the end of the forecast period”. However, they also state that, “In projections conditioned on the alternative assumption of constant interest rates at 1%, activity is projected to be materially stronger than in the MPC’s forecasts conditioned on market rates. As a result, unemployment remains close to its current rate over the forecast period, instead of rising by around 1½ percentage points. CPI inflation is forecast to be significantly higher, with inflation projected to be 2.9% and 2.2% in two years’ and three years’ time respectively.” Also economic growth in the second quarter is higher – in 2023, 0.3% compared to 0%; in 2024, 0.6% compared to 0.2%; and in 2025, 0.9% compared to 0.7%. With their main projections they forecast negative growth of 0.2% in the first quarter of 2023 and 0.8% in the third quarter. Also with this forecast it is likely that economic growth in 2023 will be either zero or close to zero.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 23 Comments

Tiverton and Honiton: Pundits and voters favour Lib Dems

It is early days yet but the Lib Dems are firm favourites to win the forthcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election. A hattrick of Lib Dem wins could be in the offing.

One betting odds checker puts our probability of winning at more than 70 per cent. The probability of Boris Johnson’s demoralised Tory party winning is given as 25 per cent. Mike Smithson of Political Betting said: “The pace and the betting has been quite extraordinary given that at GE2019 the LDs came in third 46% behind the Tories.”

A focus group for Times Radio earlier this week, reported in the Times this morning, found that voters in the Devon constituency who supported the Tories in 2019 are swinging towards the Lib Dems. The focus group had harsh words for Boris Johnson, referring to him as a lying buffoon, an idiot, liar, self-promoting arsehole and a selfish, greedy man. He continues to be the gift that keeps on giving to the Lib Dems.

 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 7 Comments
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