ALDC by-election report: 21 October 2021

It was a quiet week for by-elections – with only three principle authority local by-elections taking place on Thursday. However, it was still a great week for the Lib Dems – holding two principal authority seats in Birmingham and Horsham.

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World Review: Troubles in Poland, Nigeria, Brazil & the US, and Colin Powell

In this weekend’s commentary on world affairs, LDV’s foreign correspondent Tom Arms reviews the conflict between Poland and the Commission over the primacy of EU law. Nigeria is in a bigger mess than usual as corruption is exacerbated by Jihadism, the pandemic, a rapid rise in gang violence and a resurgence of Biafran secessionism. Brazilian senators are investigating Bolsonaro’s responsibility for 600,000 Brazilian covid-19 deaths. In the States, Trump aide Steve Bannon will go to prison for a year for contempt of Congress. Colin Powell who died this week, was universally recognised as a decent and honest man.

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Scottish Lib Dem social justice spokesperson Bruce Wilson highlights childcare problems

Former marine Bruce Wilson is the Scottish Lib Dems spokesperson for veterans and social justice. In this week’s Daily Record he wrote about the need for high quality childcare as a key element of a fairer society.

As the father of three children under 7, he and his wife know only too well the crippling costs of childcare:

While my eldest is in school and goes to after school club, there is no way for me and my wife to afford mortgage payments, bills and childcare for our twins, despite having decent salaries.

Nursery costs to cover full time work come to roughly £2,000 per month for both of them – a sum that is completely unachievable for most parents. Parents are often forced to leave the workforce.

And  it is most often women whose careers are adversely affected:

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Ed Davey takes on “sexist dinosaur” Philip Davies with humour

It’s not often I’ve felt the need to thank Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley for anything. I am kind of glad, though, that he felt the need to write to Ed Davey on House of Commons paper to complain that we didn’t use an all-women shortlist when we selected Bobby Dean as our candidate for Carshalton and Wallington, because Ed’s blistering, beautifully crafted response showed a new side to him.

Davies’ attitude is surprising given that he’s actively campaigned against measures to protect women for some time. Back in 2017, Laura Bates wrote a brilliant article in the Guardian outlining some of the worst. She said:

He has previously described feminists as “zealots”, voted against equalities legislation, argued against equality targets in the workplace and once tabled a private member’s bill that would have repealed the Sex Discrimination Act 2002. Last year, he spoke at a conference organised by the Justice for Men and Boys party, which is known for presenting petty “whining feminist” certificates to women’s rights advocates, and promoting inflammatory, misogynistic articles on its website such as one entitled “13 reasons women lie about being raped”.

Charming.

Now, I have always been in favour of all-women shortlists, but the fact is that they were so successful that we are not allowed to use them any more because our Parliamentary party in Westminster is 2/3 women. I don’t think it is fair, given the huge democratic deficit women face. There are only 222 women out of 650 in Parliament. It just isn’t good enough when your all-time high is 34%.

Ed just let Davies have it in return:

Writing on party paper, way more appropriate for the purpose than Commons stationery, Ed reminded us all of Davies’ prior views and expressed and pleasure that he may have finally seen the light:

I can only imagine that your interest has been triggered by a “Road to Damascus” moment and a realisation that we live in 2021 not 1821. Making a transition from sexist dinosaur to someone who champions the rights of women will not be easy for you. The list of people you need to apologise to is long.

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Observations of an Expat: Saving the world & political incompetence

A perfect storm appears to be gathering over Glasgow to obstruct the COP26 Climate Change Conference which starts on 31 October. Two hundred countries, 100 hundred world leaders and 30,000 participants from politicians to climatologists, to diplomats to businesses and to pressure groups will turn the Scottish city into a logistical nightmare for a fortnight. But that is an insignificant issue and a tiny price to pay if the world’s governments come up with a workable plan to reduce global temperature rises to the target of 1.5 degrees centigrade by 2050 or, hopefully, sooner. Unfortunately, that appears increasingly unlikely for a host of reasons. Top of the list is the world economy. It is in a mess.

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Federal Policy Committee seeks members for a new working group

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

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

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

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Dodds slams New Zealand trade deal

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

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said:

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

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

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Democracy – now on the Risk Register

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

Was anybody listening?

If so, what did they hear?

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

Timing is everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Munira Wilson calls for emergency SAGE Meeting

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

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

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

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Lib Dems oppose new oil drilling site

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

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

Ed has written to Alok Sharma, the climate minister:

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

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

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

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The right to online anonymity must be protected

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

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

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

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

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

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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The Elephant in the Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Spokesperson, Munira Wilson MP said:

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

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

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LibLink: Christine Jardine on MPs’ safety

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

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

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

Christine goes on to write:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a very moving, dignified and heartfelt tribute.

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

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

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

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Munira Wilson on stabbings

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

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

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

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

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

The end of “command and control”?

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

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Liberalism or Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ALDC by-election report: 14 September 2021

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

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

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

From the Evening Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sir David Amess – a tribute

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an Expat: Crunch Time for Justices

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

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

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