I’ve been elected to Federal Board – what do you want championed?

In 2022, the Liberal Democrats passed a number of reforms championed by party president, Mark Pack, which included, but were not limited to, the reforming and slimming down of the Liberal Democrat Federal Board (similar to the board of directors for a company).

The reforms, which I supported at the time, have led to genuine change in how we function as a party, and I remain of the view that we made the right decision.

However, the slight pitfall in the reforms from a personal perspective was that in the subsequent board elections, I finished fifth, missing out on a place on the board. Such is life.

I was therefore surprised when David Crowther emailed me to let me know that I had been elected following a vacancy arising on the board.

Of course, I am delighted to have a seat on the Federal Board of the party. It would however, be remiss of me not to note the circumstances that led to the vacancy on the board. A member of the governing body of our party was suspended following grossly offensive posts about Jewish people and Ukrainians.

As a result, it is important that we fight to ensure that our party is a safe environment for Jewish people and anything below that bar is not good enough.

What next?

Leaving aside the fact that the circumstances have arisen. We must look to how we can move forward. To my mind, that involves listening to members.

I am also aware that some members may be interested in what I was originally planning were I to have been successful, this mainly focused around making us government ready.

How can you get in touch?

If you have any questions, please do drop me an email on [email protected], I am keen to hear and represent members.

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Layla Moran’s speech in tonight’s debate: We need to stop this now

I thought about putting Layla’s speech in the last post, but I didn’t want it getting lost. Her clarity and wisdom and persuasiveness, and her liberal desire to bring people together have been a huge credit to her and to this party in recent months. We can all be incredibly proud of her, especially when this has been so personally painful for her.

She spoke in the debate and her words in full are below:

I am speechless at the way this debate began. As the House knows, there has been scant opportunity for me to tell the story not just of my family or the hundreds in the church where they are in northern Gaza, but of Palestinians on the ground and, indeed, those who lost people in the horrendous attacks on 7 October, whether through murder or abduction. I am grateful that we have this opportunity. In the hours of debate in front of us, my first ask of anyone who speaks after me is, please, to hold all those people in their hearts as they say what they say. I believe sincerely that this House is moving towards a right position, and I will explain what I think that is in a moment. On the suggestion that this House is in some way against a ceasefire—I would hope an immediate one, however the semantics play out in the votes later—can we please try to send a message in particular to the Palestinian people perishing in their tens of thousands on the ground, and to those hostage families that, fundamentally, we need this to stop now? I do not care what we call it.

I should have started by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. I sit as an unpaid adviser on the board of the International Centre for Justice for Palestinians.

Last week I went to Israel and Palestine with Yachad, and I will start with a story. On the first day, we went down to the southern border with Gaza, to a place called Nativ Ha’asara, a place I have visited before. We met an incredible woman called Roni, who had lost family members—16 from that kibbutzim had perished. As I went there, I looked across at northern Gaza. I saw the plumes of smoke. I heard the drones and the “pop pop pop” of the gunfire, and I broke down. As I walked back through the village, Roni, an Israeli peace activist, took me to one side, gave me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry”, which I said back. We both cried and held each other.

It is important to remember that although those voices of peace in Israel have been silent for some time, many of the people killed on that day were allies of the Palestinian people who had been calling for decades against the occupation, calling out Netanyahu’s Government, and condemning Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. It is for that reason that I welcome the sanctions on those extremist settlers, because there is a direct link between the right wing elements of Netanyahu’s Government and those extremist settlers. The amendment that the Lib Dems tabled to the motion stated that we should not finish there. We need to continue those sanctions on those people and their connected entities.

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Ed on tonight’s drama in Parliament: We need an urgent end to the humanitarian catastrophe

So I managed to sleep thoughout tonight’s drama.

Waking up to a phone glowing with WhatsApp messages, I realised there had been a bit of a rammy in the Commons. I checked out the BBC summary and my immediate and instinctive reaction is that the Speaker had been right to allow votes on three distinctive positions on such a huge issue. The SNP’s motion called for an immediate ceasefire, the Government’s called for a humanitarian pause and Labour’s had a bit more meat on its bones about how you actually get to a lasting peace. Normally on an opposition day, you’d get the motion and a Government amendment. It is unusual to have a third option, but in this instance, it made sense to reflect as broad a consensus as possible. He could have done better by including a fourth option, ours.

Ours said:

Expresses its devastation at the mounting humanitarian disaster in Gaza with tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians killed, millions displaced and thousands of homes destroyed; calls on the Prime Minister to oppose publicly and at the UN Security Council the proposed IDF offensive in Rafah; further urges Hamas to unconditionally and immediately release the over 100 hostages taken following the deplorable attacks on 7 October 2023; notes the unprecedented levels of illegal settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories left unchecked by the Israeli Government; welcomes the recent sanctions by the UK Government against four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank; urges the UK Government to sanction all violent settlers and their connected entities; calls on the UK Government to uphold international law and the judgments of international courts under all circumstances; further notes that the only path to regional security is a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with Hamas not in power; condemns Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated assertions that there is no future for a Palestinian state; and further urges the UK Government to call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in Gaza, which will allow an end to the humanitarian devastation, get the hostages out and provide an opportunity for a political process leading to a two-state solution, providing security and dignity for all peoples in Palestine and Israel.”

You would hope that when discussing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters and most dangerous conflicts we have seen in a long time, the Mother of Parliaments would model generous, collaborative behaviour. It was not beyond the wit of the SNP to work with the other opposition parties to bring together something that truly reflected the will of the House.

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Breathtaking – a personal perspective

Yesterday morning, Dr Rachel Clarke and healthcare professionals were disgustingly abused on social media for telling how it was as the Coronavirus Pandemic unfolded. The ITV drama Breathtaking, shown this week,  is an adaptation of Clarke’s novel about the impact of the pandemic on hospital staff. 

Healthcare staff making TikTok videos weren’t sacrificing patient care – it was on breaks and days off. With what we were dealing with, why do many begrudge us trying to raise our own morale then? When nurses couldn’t buy groceries because supermarkets were stripped by the time they got off shift? Hospital staff being assaulted in car parks because they were allegedly a) spreading Covid or b) refusing to permit people to see family members? 

Many insist we have vaccine injuries  – the vaccines that weren’t rolled out until late 2020. That Covid is just a cold and Long Covid don’t exist? 

Science is overwhelming in terms of the latter and a timeline proves the former. YouTube and social media are not peer-reviewed sources of scientific research. 

I see new people coming into Long Covid peer support groups. There is still no healthcare, no move from governments to properly tackle this economy-harming issue, no improvements to ensure our future – the kids now getting repeated infections from a relatively novel virus without any idea of what it might do to them in the long term.

Millions of us are still sick. In the U.K., we don’t have financial support. The data doesn’t exist. The situation is underreported and appalling. Governments refuse to acknowledge any culpability or responsibility for us. They won’t change ventilation or air purification standards and so on. 

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Lib Dems launch rescue plan for farmers

Tim Farron is going to be speaking to the National Farmers’ Union today and he’ll set out a rescue package for Britain’s farmers who have essentially been done over by the Government in so many ways. Whether it’s post-Brexit payments, unworkable rules on workers visas or trade deals that put our own farmers at a disadvantage, the party is announcing its solution, which includes an extra £1 billion for farmers.

Tim said:

British farmers need to be rescued from years of Conservative neglect and failed rural policies, which have left our countryside in dire need of help. For too long Conservative MPs have taken farmers for granted. Conservative Ministers are shamelessly attempting to rewrite history ahead of the General Election.

Farmers are increasingly turning to the Liberal Democrats to send this Conservative government a message.

Farmers do not only put food on our tables, but crucially, act as the custodians of our environment. Yet Ministers have failed spectacularly to roll out new payment programmes, and signed botched overseas trade deals which have undercut environmental standards.

Enough is enough. It is time for change and the British countryside won’t be ignored any longer by this out of touch Conservative government.

Lib Dems would:

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Is self-build an answer to the housing crisis?

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For some time, the government has often fallen short of its target of 300,000 new homes per year and we are now in a housing crisis where there are not enough homes to go around, thus driving prices up. So what can be done differently?

One of the advantages of being a university student is that I get to hear about some of the latest innovations being tossed around in different sectors. One such sector is architecture and some are asking what the future of housing may, or perhaps should, look like. An example of an innovation is the idea of self-building. This is where the person, family or community take control of the design, materials and labour of the houses they want and this can come in a variety of different ways. For instance, someone could order prefabricated panels or even rooms and have them transported to their site whilst someone else could follow the ‘Segal Method’ and build their home using panels of plywood you would buy from B&Q. But how does this different approach help in the current crisis?

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The Miners’ Strike forty years on

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The fortieth anniversary of the start of the Miners’ Strike that began on 5th March 1984 is almost upon us but Channel 4 and BBC2 have already offered their acts of remembrance. I remember the start and had the television permanently on during the Battle of Orgreave, but some of my sharpest personal memories are about the ending and the aftermath.

Throughout the strike I was living and working opposite the Yorkshire National Union of Mineworkers(NUM) Headquarters in Barnsley. Arthur Scargill and his colleagues regularly appeared on the other side of Victoria Road. Our Communist next door neighbour was high up in the Engineering union. Roy Mason, the right wing Labour MP and former member of a Labour cabinet, lived round the corner. I had been the Liberal Alliance candidate for Barnsley Central in the 1983 General Election (where alas my 19.2% still holds the record vote share). So it could be seen as a highly politicised corner of the town centre!

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Christine Jardine introduces Bill to give British citizens right to Consular assistance

Back in November, there was not a dry eye in the house when Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe spoke to Scottish Lib Dem Conference.

From our piece at the time:

One of the most moving sessions was an interview, hosted by Christine Jardine, with Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe. Christine said she still has the blue flower Richard gave her when she went to visit him outside the Iranian Embassy when he was on hunger strike during Nazanin’s six year imprisonment in Iran.

Nazanin and Richard want British citizens to have a right to consular protection after the Foreign Office was so slow to help her. At the moment, the commitment is dependent on ministerial whim, and, if ministers are reshuffled, you have to build the relationship up all over again.

Next week, Parliament will debate a Bill tabled by Lib Dem MP Christine designed to give British citizens abroad a right to consular assistance when their human rights are under threat.

Yesterday’s Sunday Post had a feature on the Bill. Christine told the paper:

We assume that if something happens, someone will speak to the Foreign Office and you’re guaranteed assistance – but you’re not.

I think it’s something most of us would take for granted that we already have.

After Richard and I spoke about it, I thought about the number of cases where people have found themselves in that situation over the years.

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Welcome to my day: 19 February 2024

It’s been a slightly depressing week in some ways, and promising in others.

Two by-elections saw crushing defeats for the Conservatives, which I think would generally be seen as a “good thing”, even if we weren’t the winners. In truth, it was hard to see a scenario where we would be – in both Kingswood and Wellingborough we’ve been a long way adrift even in relatively good years – and 2024 isn’t that good. There’s an increasing clear sense that voters just want to see the Conservatives gone, and will vote for whoever is seen as most likely to achieve that.

And now the Conservatives can give us all a preview of what will happen after a crushing General Election defeat (if that comes to pass), as they fight like rats in a sack for whatever cause floats their boat this week. Should they respond to Reform’s vote by moving even further to the right, or can relatively centre-right MPs move the Party back towards the centre? We kind of know who’ll win that argument, given that supposed One Nation Tories have folded at every key moment, and can only hope that, if they do veer rightwards, their demonstrable incompetence will prevent too much damage to our society.

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A great gain and 2 strong holds in this week’s by-elections

There were a couple of great results in this week’s local government by-elections.

In the Four Marks and Medstead ward of East Hampshire District Council, Roland Richardson held on to the seat with 62.2% of the vote! Thanks to ALDC for compiling the results.

Also in Hertfordshire, Caroline Smith-Wright held the Tring West and Rural ward on Dacorum District Council with an even greater vote share.

DACORUM DC; Tring West & Rural Ward

🔵 Con, , 21.1%, -3.0%
🔴 Lab, , 7.6%, -0.3%
🔶SMITH-WRIGHT, Caroline, LibDem, , 62.7%, +12.8%
🟢 Green, , 8.6%, -9.6%

EAST HAMPSHIRE DC; Four Marks & Medstead

🔶 RICHARDSON, Roland, LibDem, 1212, 62.2%, +11.7%
🔵 Con, 736, 37.8%, -11.7%

Avenue ward in Hull has been the site of many a good scrap between us and Labour over the years. The ward was represented by ALDC’s Abi Bell until she stood down a couple of years ago and in this year’s local elections returned 2 Labour and 1 Lib Dem Councillor.

That changed on Thursday when Rhiannon Beeson took a seat from Labour:

KINGSTON-UPON-HULL UA; Avenue

🔶 BEESON, Rhiannon, LibDem, 45.7%, +4,3%
🔵 Con, 1.7, -1.3%
🟢 Green, 7.6%, +7.6%
🔘 Ind, 5.3%, +5.3%
🔴 Lab, 39.7%,-8.7%

And thanks to Susan Jay for standing for us and making sure people had the chance to vote Lib Dem in the Rhos ward of Neath Port Talbot

Lab, 137, 14.5%, -30.9%
🔶 JAY, Susan Helen, LibDem, 60, +6.3%, +6.3%
🟢 Green, 15, 1.6%, +1.6%
🟩 Plaid, 242, 25.5%, -29.1%
🔘 Ind, 494, 52.1%, +52.1%

Elsewhere, the two parliamentary by-elections have taken up most of the headlines. The Wellingborough and Kingswood seats were not great prospects for us, but we did have excellent candidates in Andrew Brown and Ana Savage Gunn. We lost our deposits, but that happens in seats where we are not in competition. These were not the same kind of places as the four by-election seats we have gained in this Parliament.

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Observations of an Expat: What does America get out of NATO?

Donald Trump is a transactional kinda guy. He is a businessman who measures success and failure in dollars and cents.

He works on the basis of if we do something for you then we expect tangible, easily measurable, rewards in return.

America does a lot for its European NATO allies. It protects it with 100,000-plus troops on 85 European bases. Its 5,000 nuclear warheads are an essential deterrent against the 6,000 Russian nuclear warheads.

In return, successive American administrations – not just Trump – have asked their European allies to spend two percent of their GDP on defence. Only a third do. America spends 3.6 percent of its GDP on its worldwide military establishment.

Trump – and a growing number of Republicans – think that NATO is a rotten deal for America. That the Europeans are financing their social welfare programmes off the back of the American defensive umbrella.

So what does America get out of NATO? Quite a lot actually.

Let’s start by looking at what upsets the MAGA crowd the most – the balance sheet. Roughly half of all Europe’s military equipment is American-made. That is worth $400 billion a year to US weapons manufacturers. Those manufacturers employ an estimated two million people.

The Biden Administration is pushing the Europeans to buy more American military hardware. The Europeans – led by the French – see the need to build up their own defense industries, spurred on by Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric and the Republican congressmen’s blocking of military aid for Ukraine.

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Lib Dems react to Alexei Navalny’s death

Lib Dems have been reacting to the shocking news of Alexei Navalny’s death.

Ed Davey said:

Horrified by reports of the death of Alexei Navalny – at the hands of Putin, no doubt.

Putin’s despicable methods might be to kill his enemies, but he will never kill the light of freedom and democracy which Navalny has stood for so courageously.

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton attended a vigil last night at the Russian Consulate in Edinburgh:

It was a privilege to join Russian citizens outside the Consulate this evening in a vigil for the life of Alexei #Navalny, murdered by the Putin kleptocracy today. Their defiance and their desire to follow Navalny’s dream of a free and democratic Russia was inspiring.

This is nothing short of state sanctioned murder. Putin will never brook any form of opposition and Navalny presented so many young Russians with the hope of a future free from corruption and Tsarist fascism.

Putin is a despot and a war criminal.

Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said:

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Through my lens: navigating Islamophobia

In the aftermath of 9/11, the global surge in Islamophobia has cast a pervasive shadow over my experiences as a Muslim navigating through these mysterious and confusing times.

Growing up during the war on terror years meant that my childhood was far from ordinary. The constant fear, fueled by negative perceptions of my chosen faith, transformed seemingly simple tasks like walking home alone at night into daunting challenges. No child should bear the weight of such fear merely due to their religious beliefs.

Witnessing far-right politicians exploit Islamophobia for their gains adds another layer to this complex journey. A striking example is Marine Le Pen in France, who instrumentalised Muslims as a political punching bag. Comparing those praying in the streets of Paris to Nazis, she employed inflammatory rhetoric that not only deepens societal divides but also fosters an environment where Muslims feel increasingly marginalized and vulnerable to attacks.

In the United Kingdom, the aftermath of the Hamas attack saw a staggering 600% rise in Islamophobic events. The former home secretary’s actions further exacerbated the situation, fanning the flames of hatred towards the Muslim community.

Muslims collectively find themselves caught in the crossfire of divisive political narratives, contributing to an atmosphere of increasing hostility.

The media’s role in shaping public opinion cannot be overlooked in this narrative. A major analysis by the Muslim Council of Britain highlighted a disturbing trend of negative portrayals of Muslims in mainstream British news outlets. The Mail on Sunday, for instance, showcased a disconcerting 78% negative coverage, well above the industry average of 59%. It’s troubling to see how media outlets, consciously or not, perpetuate harmful stereotypes that contribute to the broader issue of Islamophobia.

One striking example is the comment made by Trevor Kavanagh on Rupert Murdoch’s Talk TV, insinuating that Muslims are born to be anti-Jewish. This type of rhetoric perpetuates dangerous stereotypes, contributing to the negative narrative surrounding Muslims. As a Muslim, it’s disheartening to see such comments, especially when they lack any basis in reality. It’s crucial for media figures to be held accountable for their words, as they have a profound impact on public perceptions.

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Council Budgets allow us to put Liberal Values into practice

Lib Dems are addressing the Cost of Living, providing community level services and decision making and Greener boroughs.

Next Wednesday, the Southwark Liberal Democrat group will be presenting our Alternative Budget at full council. Being a Labour-facing Liberal Democrat opposition in Inner London comes with certain challenges, but I’m proud we are demonstrating that it is possible to put forward a credible, Liberal alternative.

After a decade of Tory cuts and underfunding of Local Government, all councils are under immense strain. We’re no different, but Southwark Labour’s proposals make cuts in all the wrong places. They’re cutting social care, library services, and a host of other ill-thought through areas. Southwark’s own independent Equalities Panel has called out the Labour council for the negative impact their budget will have on the most vulnerable.

At the same time Town Hall waste runs rampant. We have sky-high bills on catering and stationary, perks for Labour bosses and bizarre amounts of money earmarked for vanity projects. This is whilst squirrelling away millions in pointless reserves and not leveraging income from Southwark’s world-class status.

Southwark Liberal Democrats are putting money where it matters. We are not just freezing council tax for those most in need, but going further to provide vital financial support for those currently in receipt of council tax reduction. We’re also reversing all of Labour’s callous cuts to social care.

By cutting waste and sweating our assets, we can put money back into people’s pockets and vital services.

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Who was King Athelstan? And why does Ed Davey admire him?

Have you even heard of him?

Ask any child in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (there is a clue in the name) and they will tell you that he was the first of the seven Saxon kings who were crowned in Kingston. In fact, one of the primary schools is named after him.

We even have a Coronation stone where he is thought to have been ceremonially placed, although it has now been moved to a spot outside the Guildhall.

In a recent edition of the BBC History Magazine Ed Davey picked King Athelstan as his historical hero. Unfortunately the article is behind a paywall, but you can read the first half here. So why did he choose him?

Athelstan’s coronation took place in 925 and was highly significant because for the first time he united the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. He was the first to be known as the King of the English. He later added northern Britain to his kingdom.

Kingston upon Thames was already a significant market town. It stood at the boundary of the two kingdoms with a very important river bridge between them – the first bridge upstream from London Bridge.

The Coronation is thought to have taken place in a church which was later replaced by the large Norman church of All Saints. Athelstan could be said to have invented the Coronation ceremony itself, using a ceremonial crown for the first time, a sarsen stone as his throne, and including text that still forms the basis of modern Coronation services.

All Saints Kingston has its own fascinating history, but it proudly proclaims itself as “Where England Began“.

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Rob Blackie: Met Police funding “too little, too late”

Today, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced more funding for the Metropolitan Police.

Sadiq Khan on Wednesday announced almost £50m of additional funding for the Met police as he set out final details of his annual City Hall budget.

The mayor said the financial support given by the Greater London Authority to the Met from April – much of it already announced last month – would be £151m higher than for the current year.

However the amount is not enough to provide all of the £76m sought by Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to fund his “New Met for London” plan to boost community policing and tackle racism and misogyny in light of the damning Baroness Casey report.

Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate Rob Blackie was unimpressed:

This is too little, too late. The Met Police has got into a complete mess under eight years of this Mayor and Londoners won’t be fooled by his latest pre-election giveaway.

The amount the Mayor has pledged still falls short of what’s needed and he should back the Lib Dem plan to divert further headroom in the budget to the Police.

Interviewed on LBC this morning Rob confirmed his top priority as mayor would be to fix the Met Police. He said:

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LIb Dem Lords speak out on conversion therapy

Last week, Lorely Burt’s private members bill aimed at outlawing conversion therapy practices passed its first stage in the House of Lords.

This post highlights the speeches in support of the Bill made by Lib Dem peers, but there were many others made by people like Ruth Hunt, Michael Cashman and Helena Kennedy which are worth reading.

This post is a long one, but it is worth reading to understand why this measure is necessary.

Lorely explained in her opening remarks that conversion therapy s:

any practice with the predetermined purpose of changing or suppressing a person’s expression of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Conversion therapy is barbaric, cruel and harmful.

Listening to the debate, I felt I was back in the 80s and 90s. I remember then being chilled to the bone when I heard prejudice against gay people. That still exists, but the real venom these days is directed at trans people. And it’s quite interesting that some of the opposition now comes from the same people who opposed any liberalisation for gay people then. Our job as liberals is to protect these vulnerable groups from that prejudice, discrimination and from the cruelty of those who try to convince them that it is wrong or them to be who they are.

Here are some of the highlights of Lib Dem members’ contributions. You can read the whole debate here.

“My Bill will not tell people what to think or what to say” – Lorely Burt

There are many people—particularly young people—who may be wondering about themselves. It is not always straightforward to understand your sexuality or gender identity, and grappling with these topics can be confusing and even distressing. What these people need is not a cure, but space—and support—to work things out. This may take the form of speaking with a trusted adult, like a mentor or counsellor, to explore their own feelings in a non-judgmental way.

However, the difference between that and conversion therapy is that the latter has a predetermined goal to change that person. I want to make it clear: my Bill will not criminalise these sorts of open conversations in any way, nor will it tell people what to think or what to say. Freedom of speech and religious freedom are important cornerstones of any liberal society. As a Liberal Democrat, I have always championed these values, and the last thing I would want to do is to unduly curb anybody else’s rights. Noble Lords are free to say what they believe: the rules on free speech are the same here as anywhere else in British law. Noble Lords are entitled to express an opinion, just not to coerce somebody else into agreeing with them and changing their behaviour as a result.

“Hold that child safe until they find their own way forward without bias, prejudice and pre conceived rights and wrongs” – Lynne Featherstone

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Party awards – get your nominations in by 27 February

Every Conference, the Liberal Democrats honour individuals who have served the party well with our party awards.

In York, the following awards will be presented:

The Leader’s Award
Eligibility: Any member of the party.

Criteria: Awarded to someone who has shown exemplary dedication to canvassing voters.

The Bertha Bowness Fischer Award
Background: This award is named for the country’s first woman to become a qualified election agent, a trailblazer who is a testament to our traditions of equality, inclusion and campaigning rigour.

Eligibility: Any local party.

Criteria: Awarded a local party for the excellence of its local delivery network.

The Albert Ingham Award
Background: This award is named for one of the Party’s great Election Agents, Albert Ingham. Albert’s work, much of it in his home county of Yorkshire, was prodigious and his impact on the Party ranged from organising to fundraising to promoting fresh talent.

Eligibility: Any election agent or campaign manager.

Criteria: Awarded for a recent campaign that through its excellence, fastidiousness, tenacity or novelty is a model for others.

The Laura Grimond award

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Spring Conference Agenda and Directory now available – and a date for your diary

It’s less than 5 weeks till Liberal Democrats gather in York for what could, but possibly won’t be, the last Conference before the General Election.

The agenda and directory have now been published and you can read them here.  We have been amusing ourselves seeing how many target seat PPCs we can see proposing or summating motions.  We will see plenty more giving speeches across the weekend, too. It’s a real opportunity to show your potential constituents that you are supporting things that will make their lives better.

In his foreword, Ed Davey is keen to say how well we are …

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Should social media use be curbed for under-16s?

Since the murder of Brianna Ghey last year, her mother has been calling for a ban on social media use by children under the age of 16 and this, reportedly, is being considered by the government. Some have even called for those under 16 to be banned from phones. But are these proposals enforceable? Are they liberal in nature? What can actually be done if not?

Esther Ghey has, understandably, called for under 16’s in this country to be banned from social media platforms such as Instagram, X and TikTok. Any ban, I think, would be intended to protect children …

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Liberator 421 is now out

Liberator 421 is out and you can download it for free here.

You can sign up to be emailed when each new Liberator comes out here.

What’s in this issue?

Find out the news in Radical Bulletin, Lord Bonkers’ thoughts in his Diary, plus Commentary and Letters

PRETTY VACANT

Keir Starmer has a shadow cabinet of nonentities poised to deliver nothing very much in government. It’s a long way from the Blair era, says Jon Egan

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The Party President on our long term plan

Mark Pack’s report for February:

A familiar trio

By now, you’re most likely very familiar with the idea that we are concentrating our campaigning for the next Westminster general election on the NHS, the cost of living and sewage. You may well have heard that on Zoom calls with our Chief Executive, seen it in leaflets you’ve delivered or said it yourself in conversations with voters.

The prime reason for this trio is the humility that’s essential for a political party in an electoral democracy: the humility to listen to voters and to take their concerns as the starting point of our …

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12 February 2024 – the weekend’s press releases

  • Revealed: 1.5 million patients waited 12 hours or more in A&E in past year
  • OfWat fines: A gimmick. Money should go back in people’s pockets

Revealed: 1.5 million patients waited 12 hours or more in A&E in past year

  • One in ten (9.6%) patients waited 12 hours or more in A&E over the past year, five times higher than official target
  • Shocking new figures show average of 4,200 patients a day waited 12 hours or more after arriving in A&E
  • At some NHS trusts over one in four patients faced 12 hour A&E delays as Lib Dems warn long waits “becoming the norm”

A staggering 1.5 …

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12-14 February 2024 – this week in the Lords

Whilst the Commons takes the week off, their senior colleagues down the corridor continue to work their way through the legislative process…

There were no Liberal Democrat Oral Questions last week, so of course Monday sees two. Dominic Addington has a question on Government plans what plans they have to ensure that all schools have the capacity to identify and implement a plan of support for the most commonly occurring special educational needs, a particularly topical question given the impact of such support on local government budgets. Tim Clement-Jones wants to know what …

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Welcome to my day: 12 February 2024

My apologies for today’s late start – a minor technical glitch locked me out of the site this morning but, now that that’s remedied…

A big election, far away…

The world changes, even if nobody seems to want to tell us, as Indonesia goes to the polls this week. Two hundred million eligible voters will determine who will be the President of one of the world’s fastest growing economies and an increasingly influential player in Asia-Pacific politics. And Indonesia isn’t just a country with a large population, it stretches across thousands of miles, the equivalent of from the west of Ireland to Turkmenistan.

I’m increasingly of the view that, as a country with declining influence in the world – Brexit and nine years of increasingly English nationalist government really haven’t helped there – we should be looking to build new relationships in order to establish a new relevance, yet our foreign policy is constructed on the basis that we’re still major players, welcome participants everywhere. That’s hard to reconcile with our diminished military capacity and an attitude towards emerging economies that is unhelpful at best.

Indonesia is a prime example of that, a key producer of important materials, in particular nickel, needed in manufacture in many of the new technologies our economy will rely upon going forward. Trade deals will require a quid pro quo, as the negotiations with India demonstrate, with calls for visa-free access or, at least, easier access to visas. Are we willing to make the case that, as part of building those new trading relationships, we’re going to need to make compromises about who comes here?

Michael Gove claimed that we’d had enough of experts…

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Jim Wallace remembers Donald Dewar

This week, our Jim Wallace delivered the annual Donald Dewar Memorial Lecture in Glasgow. This lecture, held every year in memory of Scotland’s First First Minister, has previously been delivered by senior political figures such as Alistair Darling and Jack McConnell. Donald Dewar died suddenly in October 2000.

Jim served as Deputy First Minister to him and was Acting First Minister when Donald Dewar had heart surgery and in the immediate aftermath of his death while Labour selected a new leader. The Labour/Lib Dem coalition, over 8 years, delivered things like freedom of information legislation, free eye and dental checks, STV for local government, free personal care and land reform.

Jim’s lecture gave insights into the coalition negotiations back in 1999, Dewar’s style of Government and his hopes for the future.

He said:

The most liberating election campaign which I ever fought was the first election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999. To a greater or lesser extent, all the general elections in which I’d been a candidate, had been fought against a backdrop of an ongoing constitutional debate about Scotland’s future. By 1999, we had a Parliament, endorsed overwhelmingly in the 1997 referendum; so now we could debate what the Parliament was going to do.

“With so many challenges today facing our NHS, our education system, our environment, transport links to islands and mainland destinations, in local government and not least in advancing Donald Dewar’s great passion for a more socially just Scotland, wouldn’t it be a refreshing change to think that these would be the issues which should again dominate the Parliament’s agenda.

“In that speech on 1st July, almost a quarter of a century ago, Donald also said,

“We are fallible. We will make mistakes. But we will never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the commonweal.”

“It takes a special politician with great character to admit to fallibility and the possibility of mistakes. But at least they would be our mistakes. I can’t imagine him having the knee-jerk response always to blame Westminster. But compared to many countries with devolved powers, the competences of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Ministers are extensive – more extensive today than they were in 1999. So, wouldn’t a fitting tribute to the legacy of Donald Dewar be for today’s Scottish Parliamentarians to resolve again to focus on using these powers – to better the lot of the people of Scotland, and to contribute to the common weal.

The full text of Jim’s speech is below:

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ALDC By-Election report – 8 February 2024

There were 4 principal by-elections this week on a soggy and snowy Thursday. 

We start with a cracking result on West Northamptonshire Council where Councillor Carl Squires gained East Hunsbury and Shelfleys ward from the Conservatives. Carl overcame a 1000 vote Conservative majority and took the seat from 3rd place in 2021 – increasing the Lib Dem vote share by over 15%! Congratulations to Carl and the West Northamptonshire Lib Dem team. 

West Northamptonshire Council, East Hunsbury and Shelfleys
Liberal Democrats (Carl Squires): 820 (38.8%, +15.8)
Conservative: 746 (35.3%, -16.9)
Labour: 547 (25.9%, +1.1)

Thank you to Lib Dem candidate Andrew Joyce for standing in Criccieth ward on Gwynedd Council and giving voters a Lib Dem option on the ballot paper. Plaid Cymru gained the seat from an Independent councillor. 

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Another fixed election in Pakistan?

As I sit down to pen my thoughts on Pakistan’s 2024 elections, I find myself grappling with a mix of emotions – hope, concern, and an overarching sense of urgency. The events that unfolded on February 8th of that year marked a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s democratic journey, leaving an indelible imprint on the nation’s political landscape.

Picture this: former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a charismatic yet controversial figure, confined behind bars, facing a staggering 150 charges. As the country geared up for the polls, an air of optimism lingered, only to be quashed by the de facto ban imposed on Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI). The loss of their political insignia echoed a silent but powerful blow to the democratic spirit.

Yet, against these odds, the PTI displayed resilience, ingeniously manoeuvering to field independent candidates in both national and provincial elections.

Election season in Pakistan is a vibrant spectacle, a celebration of democracy where citizens adorn their surroundings with banners of political allegiance. However, this festive atmosphere is invariably tainted by the persistent spectres of corruption and electoral rigging, exacerbated by the country’s reliance on a paper-based voting system.

Prime Minister Khan, in an earnest bid to restore faith in the electoral process, championed the introduction of voting machines.

Alas, this progressive move encountered resistance from the Election Commission, casting shadows on the prospects of a transparent election.

The unfolding drama of the 2024 election was nothing short of a political thriller. As results trickled in on that fateful evening, a concoction of distress and surprise gripped the nation. Independent candidates, buoyed by PTI support, emerged victorious, capturing a significant vote share. A staggering 70% voter turnout, coupled with

20 million new voters painted a canvas of democratic enthusiasm, particularly among the youth ardently rallying behind Imran Khan.

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Cllr Alan Gloak MBE- a life well lived

“They don’t make them like that anymore” – and this time, I really believe it to be true.  The certainly would never be two Alan Gloak’s, and given his witness and contribution to the gay rights, the struggle for liberation and equality and inclusion for all LGBT+ communities we really won’t see his like again.  Born in 1942, Alan died on 29th December aged 81, an active party member and former councillor in the Wells Local Party in Somerset.

Alan’s life is a rich tapestry indeed, but his political contribution for the Liberal Democrats was in Somerset, or more specifically Glastonbury.   Alan was elected in 1995 to Glastonbury Town Council and to Mendip District Council.  He lost his seat on Mendip in 1999, but continued as a Town Councillor, but in 2001 he gained the seat of Glastonbury on Somerset County Council, held it in 2005, 2009 standing down in 2017 after 16 years. 2001 was a good year for Somerset Liberal Democrats and we took majority control, defended in 2005 and 2009.

In 2002 he was the portfolio holder for Community Regeneration and Economic Development, but in 2005 he became Chairman of the Council. And it was in this role that Alan was to thrive. As the ceremonial face of the Council Alan was to throw himself into the role with energy, passion and aplomb. As Alan toured round the County at shows, events, breakfasts, seminars and at the many offices where staff were based he listened and learnt.

Empowered with knowledge and insights into the front line of the Council, Alan became a personal champion for looked after children, for the social groups who might get left behind, and for the community aspect of politics.

Posted in Obituaries | 1 Comment

Are tactical voting arrangements the key to Constitutional Reform?

Polls suggest that the coming general election will return a majority Labour government. While support for Constitutional Reform among the party rank-and-file has burgeoned (83% vote in favour at the 2022 Labour conference), and the major trades unions have come on board, the leadership is resolutely non-committal. Tony Blair’s New Labour took heed and included Constitutional Reform in its 1997 manifesto – only to ‘forget’ about it once the election result turned out to be a landslide. Thirty years on, and still the Labour leadership remains silent.

2024 presents arguably the best opportunity to introduce Constitutional Reform in decades. If only there were a way to contrive that the next parliament was hung, then the other progressive parties would have leverage – through Confidence and Supply arrangements – to require the minority administration to agree to introduce Constitutional Reform in the next parliament.

I suggest that a Tactical Voting arrangement could achieve just that result if only activists could swallow their pride and collaborate for the greater good. Many would undoubtedly find it difficult – even painful – to do what is necessary; but with such a prize to be won, would it really be so much of a sacrifice?

My proposal is to first develop a Campaign for Constitutional Reform; focusing on the PR‑Full element of Constitutional Reform (i.e. a fully-proportional representation process). All other issues relating to Constitutional Reform could then be developed in turn, once that electoral stranglehold was broken.

However, neither Conservative nor Labour would be willing to join a Tactical Voting arrangement which they did not dominate, and none of the smaller parties would be willing to join a Tactical Voting arrangement dominated by Conservative or Labour. Thus, in order to force a hung Commons, all parties other than Conservative or Labour must decline to stand in selected seats, and must encourage their voters to vote tactically.

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