The Tories throw the unfunded kitchen sink at the election

Desperate. The only word I can think of to describe this faltering, backfiring, sinking ship of a government. Oh wait, no, I accidently came up with four others. Not hard, I guess.

The Tories have, in the days since the announcement of the election, made some characteristically random and seemingly unfunded commitments for the sole objective of scraping up whatever support they have left. First, the announcement of national service, mandatory for all 18 year olds if they win. Thankfully, the government will give these young adults a choice: one year of military service or 25 days of community volunteering. Or they don’t do it at all because the government says they won’t arrest anyone who refuses. So it’s not mandatory. Now, at the time of writing this, they also announce a ‘triple lock plus’ or ‘quadruple lock’ meaning that pensioners will not pay income tax on their state pension. Punishing the younger generation as, to pay for this, everyone else will have to pick up the slack.

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28 May 2024 – the overnight press releases

  • Sunak’s Triple Lock Plus would be wiped out by £1,000 stealth tax on pensioners
  • Briefing: Five ways the Conservative Party has betrayed pensioners

Sunak’s Triple Lock Plus would be wiped out by £1,000 stealth tax on pensioners

Responding to the Conservative Party’s announcement on a “Triple Lock Plus” for pensioners, Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

Rishi Sunak’s stealth tax hikes will blow a £1,000 hole in pensioners’ pockets by 2027, over four times more than what he is giving back with this meagre announcement.

The Conservative Party has hammered pensioners with years of unfair tax hikes and broken their word on the

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27 May 2024 – today’s press releases

  • 92% of burglary cases go unsolved in some areas as Lib Dems call for police response guarantee
  • Fining parents will lead to “national service tax”

92% of burglary cases go unsolved in some areas as Lib Dems call for police response guarantee

  • Ed Davey warns “too many families now feel unsafe in their own homes” as new figures show some areas see over nine in ten burglary cases go unsolved
  • Liberal Democrats will call for Burglary Response Guarantee in manifesto to ensure all domestic burglaries are attended by a police officer
  • At least 85% of burglary cases went unsolved in Michael Gove’s local area of Surrey Heath and Jeremy Hunt’s in Waverley

The Liberal Democrats will tomorrow announce their plans for a Burglary Response Guarantee, as new data uncovered by the party reveals the shocking scale of unsolved burglaries in local areas across England and Wales.

The figures were compiled from a series of Freedom of Information requests by the party, which for the first time have broken down unsolved burglaries data by local area. 33 of 43 police forces across England and Wales provided full responses with data provided for 329 local areas.

Official government figures show that nearly 76% of burglaries went unsolved in 2023. However, the new Liberal Democrat figures expose a disturbing postcode lottery, with some local areas seeing even worse outcomes than the national average. Elmbridge – home to Dominic Raab’s constituency of Esher and Walton – had the worst record in the country, with a staggering 92% of burglaries going unsolved in 2023. 91% of burglaries went unsolved in South Cambridgeshire, while 90% of cases went unsolved in Runnymede in Surrey.

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14 billion litres of sewage pumped into the River Thames last year

  • Liberal Democrats uncover “disgusting revelation” from Information Request to Thames Water
  • South West London site suffers from over 500 million litres of sewage in just one day
  • Liberal Democrats call for Thames Water to be “ripped up”

The River Thames has suffered from at least 14.2 billion litres of sewage in 2023, the Liberal Democrats have discovered.

Environment Information Requests by the party has revealed that since 2020, at least 85.9 billion litres of sewage has been pumped into the capital’s river.

Water firms have no legal obligation to report the volume of sewage discharged, only the duration of the discharge.

However, the Liberal Democrats have now found that Thames Water do operate some sewage monitors which measure volume due to an agreement with the Environment Agency.

The capital’s water firm used volume sewage monitors whilst constructing the Thames Tideway project. These are the only known sewage monitors of their kind fitted in the country, and do not cover the entire network. The total volume of sewage discharged into the Thames is therefore likely to be significantly higher than these figures.

It was noted Thames Water also failed to provide data for the month of February.

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Ed Davey and Alex Cole-Hamilton officially launch Scottish Liberal Democrats’ election campaign with calls to save NHS dentistry

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton today officially launched the Scottish party’s campaign for the General Election.

The pair held a rally with candidates and activists in North Queensferry, beneath the iconic Forth Bridge, to set out how the party is targeting the “acid yellow wall of the SNP” to win the change Scotland desperately needs.

They also highlighted how NHS dentistry has been left to rot all across the UK, leaving millions without the care they need.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said:

Just like the Conservatives, the SNP have got to go. They have failed Scotland for far too long. They’ve shown people that they can’t be trusted with the economy, our NHS, the environment or our place in the world.

It’s clear that in many parts of Scotland it is the Scottish Liberal Democrats who can get the SNP out. This election is our chance to deliver the change Scotland desperately needs.

Our strong local champions will stand up for their communities and fight for a fair deal.

Take dentistry, where people the length and breadth of the UK are finding they can’t see an NHS dentist. It’s a national scandal that children’s teeth are left to rot and people are forced to carry out their own dental work. It’s time to end dental deserts and bring back local NHS dentists right across the UK.

Getting you fast access to an NHS dentist is at the heart of our offer to voters at this election. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to save NHS dentistry.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton told the crowd:

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It’s official – Autumn Conference has been reinstated*

At a meeting of the Federal Board last night, it was decided to reinstate September’s Autumn Conference to its normal length.

As Party President, Mark Pack, stated this morning on Facebook:

The Federal Board met last night and agreed to rescind the cancellation of Autumn Conference in the light of the General Election.

This means we return to the original dates and venue for the event.

As both the key staff and key volunteers who prepare a conference will be working flat out on the campaign, the Board also ask Federal Conference Committee (FCC) to consider using its powers to set later deadlines for

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Fresh thinking required

As global climate concerns underscore capitalism’s flaws, who will lead the transformation of economics?

“A toxic combination of 15 years of low economic growth, and four decades of expanding inequalities, leaves the UK poorer and falling behind its peers” – not my analysis but that of the highly respected Resolution Foundation. And they go further, ‘Productivity growth is weak. Public investment is low. Wages today are no higher than they were before the financial crisis.’.

The view from the doorstep concurs, “We now pay far more for much less to enable wealth to be extracted by the few.”. That general despondency contributed massively to the anti-Tory sentiment that yielded so many LibDem Council seats earlier this merry month of May. But few local campaigners could confidently answer the question that will be asked time and again before the General Election. What do your lot think they can do about it?

Our parochial economic despair is symptomatic of a far larger malaise – an existential climate crisis. Mass migration is inevitable as large parts of our world are laid to waste, as nature is depleted, as societies collapse, wars rage, and coastal habitats shrink.

On top of a self-inflicted Poverty Pandemic and global unrest, we seem stuck – fresh out of imagination. We need to tackle the climate crisis and reverse societal decline. Fortunately, there is no shortage of guidance, but there is a political vacuum where none of the main Parties dare tread – rethinking our economic foundations. There is near zero confidence that anything can be done.

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Campaigning success and out matching the Prime Minister in Wimbledon

The General Election campaign in Wimbledon (the closest LD/Con seat in the country) got off to a cracking start at the weekend.

On Friday we heard that one of our longest running campaigns – for step free access at Raynes Park station (used by 4.3 million people a year) has succeeded in getting funding from the ‘Access for All’ fund for feasibility works on making it step-free. Key to this was our Raynes Park Councillors meeting with the rail companies and co-ordinating letters of support from the public.

We knew that it …

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The National Service proposal is an authoritarian disgrace: liberals should call it out as typical coercive Tory populism

Perhaps it was all a grand bluff. It is just possible that when the various panicked policies currently coming out of CCHQ were conceived, Rishi Sunak’s true intention was to hit enough trigger points for enough people that they rouse themselves in fury, join other parties and reinvigorate popularly engaged democracy on a mass scale. Maybe that is the true Sunak legacy, revealed like the final move in an elegant game of chess. I doubt it though.

The Conservative Party believe in a mythical creature – ‘ordinary people’ – and thinks it understands what they want. It has an instinctual, hazy vision of who that is. The ordinary person is probably employed, probably not in the public sector unless they are in the better paid white-collar end of it, probably has or wants children, has or wants to own a home and run a car, probably aspires to the suburbs – homo economicus, with a quietly patriotic sheen. MacMillan had a version of this concept, so did Thatcher, Major and Cameron. Johnson refocused it to make it altogether more brexity, and temporarily changed the Tory coalition to his short-term benefit and long-term cost (wide, shallow lakes cover more space but evaporate more easily).

The key thing to understand about this mindset is the way it informs policy announcements, especially in the build up to or during elections. When DWP ministers talk about punitive and vilifying reform of welfare services, they’re not talking to people who use them, they’re talking to the ‘ordinary people’. When education ministers pronounce upon the apparent dangers of ‘contested ideology’, all while insisting schools make explicit statements on British values (a contested concept if ever there was one) they aren’t addressing the parents of children who are questioning their gender and need empowering support – they are addressing their mythical ordinary people. So today, when Sunak announces that 18-year-olds will be conscripted into either military service or community ‘volunteering’, he is not talking to the young people he is planning to force into work; he’s offering bromides and comfort to his unicorn of ordinariness in the hope that it will vote for him. Never let it be said that the right don’t virtue signal.

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Election Media Watch: The Lib Dem Strategy for the General Election

I don’t think it will come as any surprise at all to any of us that our key plan in this election is to gain seats in the “Blue Wall” where we have come second to the Tories. Not all of those seats are in the South East of England. Harrogate, Cheadle, Hazel Grove, are all up north. And then there are all the seats in the south west which came into play when we won Somerton and Frome.

Of course, as Alex Cole-Hamilton will tell you, we “have our grappling hooks” into the acid yellow wall of the SNP. We are hoping to retain our current 4 seats north of the Border and gain Susan Murray in East Dunbartonshire and Angus MacDonald in the new version of Charles Kennedy’s old seat.  If you think the latter is unlikely, you are likely not aware of the power of work that Angus has been doing. I was very pleasantly surprised last Summer to see enormous billboards with his name on them entering Inverness on the A9 from the South and on the A82 from the West.

And in Wales, it would be fantastic to regain the new Brecon, Radnor and Cym Tawe seat being fought for us by David Chadwick.

And if you are in any of those seats, you will be in no doubt that we are the challengers to the incumbent Conservatives or Nationalists. You will have been able to wallpaper your house 3 times over with the literature we have delivered over the past 4 years.

Anyway, it’s good to see some positive coverage of this in the newspapers this weekend.

The Guardian has highlighted the 2 million leaflets dropping through Blue Wall letterboxes this weekend. (Spoiler: I know how many more are coming soon and this is only the start).

Lib Dem strategists said the party had to deploy a leafleting and digital advertising blitz early on to convince voters, especially those intending to vote Labour in these seats, that Lib Dems were better placed to remove the Tory incumbent.

While they believe tactical voting has the potential to work, they want to reach voters while they are focused on the announcement of the election.

The Lib Dems are now seeking to begin a “Labour squeeze” in a collection of target seats in Tory southern heartlands, where they have been building momentum. It means the swift return of Lib Dem bar charts claiming they are the only party with a realistic chance of removing the incumbent Tory MP.

Activists have already been warned they have a “critical” job to reach voters in the opening weeks of the campaign. A series of 200 digital ads across dozens of seats where the Lib Dems are the main threat to the Tories are being sent to Labour voters.

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Ed Davey launches the campaign battlebus in South Cambridgeshire

Greetings from Whittlesford in South Cambridgeshire, where Ed Davey launched the battlebus in front of an enthusiastic crowd…

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What should we make of the increasing rate of government scandals ?

Scandals. Lots of them.

The sub-postmaster scandal. The contaminated blood scandal. The DWP carer scandal. The continuing Windrush scandal, The Grenfell prosecutions scandal. The HS2 costs debacle.

There are others not so much in the headlines.

The scandal of unused border facilities post-Brexit. The long list of NHS IT scandals. The TFL and rail contract scandals. Regulation of Thames Water. The Crown Court backlog scandal. The GP appointments and finances scandal. There are dozens more; most the public doesn’t get to hear about..

But the general public is the victim, and the general public knows it.

There is also an extensive list of decades-long astonishing military procurement scandals, that have weakened our defences; Scout/Ajax, al-Yamamah, Warrior CSP, £8bn aircraft carrier problems, and the £100bn+ Dreadnought submarines. Billions and billions wasted. When money is short.

Any scan through the NAO and Public Accounts Committee archives show not only an accelerated rate of major government scandals, but that the public harm from them is increasing.

Are all the problems scandal-specific or is there something wider underlying the problems ?

Here’s an analogy. Your football team goes a whole season without a win. The supposed causes are all match-specific; that missed penalty, your player wrongly sent off, the substitution mistake, the goalkeeper injured… Wouldn’t you find it odd if deeper, season-wide issues are never raised ? Well, that’s where we are in the UK with government scandals.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is gambling on British xenophobia to return him to Downing Street. Or at the very least limit the damage to his troubled and divided ruling Conservative Party.

Of course, there are other factors he is throwing into the electoral mix. The lowering of inflation, the threat of China and the Ukraine War being a few of the political ingredients he is hoping will counter 14 years of Conservative austerity, corruption and misrule.

But playing on the average British voter’s deep-seated fear and mistrust of foreigners is one of the few issues the prime minister can control. And at the same time claim that the opposition Labour Party will not or cannot control.

Immigration played a major role in the Brexit vote. It should not have. But it did and being tough on it proved to be a vote winner. The average Briton dislikes foreigners, especially when they speak differently, pray differently, dress differently and eat different foods. They are perceived as a threat to British culture.

The “small boats people” – as they are known – are in their own xenophobic category. Not because there are a lot of them (29,347 in 2023), but because they are visible. They are shown on the nightly news and British Coast Guard vessels are sent to rescue them and long-faced quayside crowds watch them land.

Rishi Sunak’s policy of shipping them off to Rwanda as soon as their feet touched British soil has been one of his government’s top priorities. It was blocked by the UK Supreme Court because under British law people cannot be deported to unsafe countries. So the Sunak government passed a law which said parliament had the right to declare a country safe and to overrule the courts if they ruled otherwise.

With the legislation in place, Sunak pledged that the first refugees would be Rwandan-bound “within weeks.” That was another untruth. More legal challenges – and possibly industrial action by civil servants – are planned and would have delayed the Rwandan flights for several more months.

Calling the election for the 4th of July has turned the Rwanda Policy into an election issue. Vote for me, says Sunak, and  we will air freight the refugees to Rwanda. Vote for Labour and the Rwanda policy is lost.

Iran

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi provides Iran’s political elite with a massive opportunity. They won’t take it.

Elections to replace President Raisi have to be held within 50 days of his death. The candidates for the job are chosen by religious leaders on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. They could dramatically change their country by opening up the nomination list to reformers.

This would mean that 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini would be willing to risk the country taking a different course from the hardline anti-Western, anti-Israeli, heavily Islamic direction that he has pursued. This would be a major break with all past and present policies.

Ebrahim Raisi was more or less hand-picked for the presidential job by Khameini because of his impeccable hardline Islamic revolutionary credentials. His nickname was “Butcher of Tehran” and it was well-deserved. According to Human Rights Watch, during five months in 1988, Raisi ordered the execution of between 2,800 and 5,000 political prisoners.

Raisi was the favourite to succeed the ageing and ailing Ayatollah Khameini. So his death creates a dual problem for the regime – finding a replacement for the presidency and the supreme leadership.

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The problem the Tory “National Service” idea is trying to solve

Most people who read this site are well used to being sickened to their stomachs by not just Conservative policy ideas but what they have done in practice.  In the past few months alone, we’ve seen them pick on disabled people, sick people, vulnerable people seeking safety in this country, people coming to this country to share their skills in the workplace and pay taxes,  trans people and anyone over 50 who isn’t working full time.

Today their big idea insults a generation of young people who have been failed by the Conservatives in spectacular style. A generation who, for the first time in a long time, is less well off than their parents.  According to the Conservatives, the way to fix this generation is national service, forcing them into either a year of military service, or 12 weekends of volunteering.  At a cost of £2.5 billion.

It doesn’t take long to think of better uses for that sum. Perhaps more housing so that young people don’t have to live with their parents into their 30s, perhaps by removing the discrimination in the minimum wage, perhaps by increasing social security to help the 1 in 4 children growing up in poverty, perhaps by making sure young people in distress can access mental health treatment quickly, perhaps by rebuilding youth services so young people can get the support they need in their communities. Perhaps by doing more to save the planet for future generations.

And then you come to the practicalities of all of this. Many young people are stuck in low quality, minimum wage jobs where they are treated badly – and which require them to work at weekends. And will they get expenses for travel to and from their volunteer placement? What if they are carers, or parents, or disabled?

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Observations of an Expat: Love, Hate and the International Criminal Court

America has a love-hate relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the moment it is a virulent hate.

Ironically, Washington also claims to be the chief supporter of International law. “The United States does believe that international law matters,” said John Bellinger, the State Department’s chief Legal Adviser. “We help develop it, rely on it, abide by it.”

The problem is that you cannot cherry pick the law. To do so is to choose the road called hypocrisy which leads – eventually – to chaos.

It is the charge of hypocrisy that America risks in its relations with the ICC. It applauded seeing the world’s top criminal court send brutal African dictators to prison. It has celebrated the court’s warrants for the arrest of Vladimir Putin. But it has condemned as “outrageous” the decision of ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan to request warrants for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Gaza War.

There are several reasons for American duplicity. Washington fears that the arrest warrants will only make the Israelis more intransigent. It also believes that it is important to be seen to be supporting an ally; and, finally there is the sovereignty issue. As a super power, Washington has difficulty with any international law or organisation which appears to supersede American law.  The US, for instance, has failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and will almost certainly pull out of the climate change convention – again – if Donald Trump is elected.

Washington has had doubts about the ICC since before its founding by the Rome Statute in 1998. It refused to sign the treaty documents, although 123 other countries (including Britain) have. If a country is a signatory to the Rome Statute then they are obligated to detain and extradite anyone for whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant. Being a non-signatory, does not protect a country’s citizens from investigation.

The problem for America was the activities of its soldiers and the CIA around the world. In August 2002 President George W. Bush signed the American Service Members Protection Act, aka “The Hague Invasion Act”. This gave the president the power to “use all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any US or Allied personnel being detained, or imprisoned, on behalf of, or at the request of, the International Criminal Court.” Effectively this meant that any country that carried out an ICC arrest warrant against an American citizen risked the wrath of Washington.

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In this General Election, we must offer Britain hope for a real progressive future!

If on Monday you had told most people, MPs and political pundits that a general election would be called before the end of the week, very few would have believed you. Yet here we are. At long last, tens of millions of voters across the country have the opportunity to throw our disgraceful Conservative government out of office. Expect the next six weeks to be dominated by a bitterly fought campaign by all the major parties.

But as we go to the country, what should the Liberal Democrats offer to an electorate that is still struggling with the NHS crisis, the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis (to name just three)? In a word, hope! Real hope! Not half-hearted soundbites, but true meaningful hope. Hope that is accompanied by real policy substance and political commitments. Hope that there is an end in sight to the many crises that bedevil modern Britain. Hope that a real progressive future is possible.

One of the biggest crises we face is the diabolical state that our National Health Service finds itself in. The NHS is dangerously underfunded and understaffed. Swathes of the country have become dental deserts as patients struggle to find NHS dentists. Most parties still struggle to grasp the nettle of guaranteeing decent social care for the elderly.

We have a very ambitious and progressive platform on health and social care. Our current health policies include: a GP Guarantee; a dental action plan to solve the dental crisis; a two-month cancer treatment guarantee; giving mental health support parity with physical health support; and introducing free personal care for the elderly. Added to this, we have just announced plans to recruit an extra 8,000 GPs. We have the bold policies needed to save the NHS. I strongly believe that the Liberal Democrats ought to proudly become the Party of the NHS.

Another major crisis is the continuing cost of living crisis, as millions languish in poverty. Both food poverty and child poverty are increasing. The Trussell Trust charity that runs many food banks has reported that it handed out a record 3.1 million emergency food parcels in the year up to March 2024. While a third of the food parcels went to children. To put it bluntly, it is a moral stain on the conscience of our nation that food poverty and child poverty still exist in one of the richest countries on Earth.

However, we Liberal Democrats have the radical policies needed to address entrenched poverty. We are committed to transforming Universal Credit into a Guaranteed Basic Income, so that we can lift up the poorest people in our country and abolish deep poverty within a decade. Added to this, we are committed to scrapping the two-child benefit cap and to introducing free school meals for all of the poorest children. These policies will drastically combat poverty across our country. We as a party have long been committed to building a progressive liberal society whereby “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty”.

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Will a General Election make any real difference?

The heavens passed their verdict on this sorry government yesterday, as a waterlogged PM announced a July General Election. Many were surprised that he jumped before he was pushed. Cynics might say that, clutching at straws, he was perhaps hoping for a good run for the England team in next month’s Euros to brighten the gloom and to improve his chances. However he should remember what happened to a previous much fancied England team, whose exit from the World Cup contributed, some argued, to the Labour government’s surprise defeat back in 1970.

To be honest, after 14 years of basically Tory rule, according to the opinion polls this latest iteration has run its course and needs to go. The result on 4 July could however be closer than many pundits think. Ironically, First Past The Post could throw up some surprises, particularly for the Lib Dems, despite national polling figures of around 12%, who will be furiously targeting mainly Tory held seats. Don’t rule out a surprise or two from the Green Party either. If the Reform Party does field candidates everywhere and take votes off the Tories the SNP vote collapses in Scotland in favour of Labour, we could see a result similar to 1997.

I get the feeling that apathy might win and that the turnout generally might be low. People are generally fed up; but many still are not convinced that the Labour Party has all the answers, hence Sir Keir Starmer and Co’s cautious ‘torylite’ approach.

We could end up with a situation similar to 2010, with Labour the largest party this time and the Lib Dems in the rôle of king makers. If so, the most Ed Davey should offer if he gets that phone call from Sir Keir Starmer, is ‘confidence and supply’. Coalition governments are something that many our electorate still find hard to handle. Clearly mistakes were made, although, in fairness, if I had to live through any period of the previous decade again, I know which half I would choose.

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LibLink: Are we delivering too many leaflets?

Party President Mark Pack gives the answer – NO!

He writes:

Q. Do leaflets work?

A. Yes.

Q. Really?

A. Yup. There’s plenty of evidence, both internal party evidence (e.g. tracking changes in canvass data in the aftermath of leaflets) and also from academic research. Examples of the latter are here and here, and there’s also polling evidence of voters remembering getting leaflets and being influenced by them. Plus there’s the evidence of what other parties have done when they’ve walloped us in elections.

Q. OK, one leaflet I understand. But why so many?

A. The typical leaflet gets only a few seconds consideration from a member of the public – so you need to do a lot of leaflets to get anything more than the merest sliver of information over.

He then quotes research from the Electoral Commission after the 2019 General Election which includes this:

Over half the people who took part in our survey after the election said they saw campaign materials from parties and candidates, around a third said they got information from the televised leader debates or online sources.

  • 55% of people who took part in our research after the election said that they got information from leaflets/flyers
  • 32% from a party leader debate on television
  • 29% from newspapers or news websites
  • 24% from social media posts and adverts by campaigners
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“We have a message of hope” – Ed Davey

Ed Davey speaks after the announcement of a General Election.

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LibLink: Claire Tyler The time for radical reinvention is now

Our Claire Tyler has written an essay for a Make Every Adult Matter publication on the next steps for policies to tackle multiple disadvantage. These issues are important to think about as we head into the General Election on 4th July.

Claire wrote about the need for local, joined up services alongside a much stronger safety net.She set out the problem:

The accepted post-war norm has been for successive generations to experience better lives than their parents. That is not true anymore for the younger generation, as they are experiencing worse outcomes in terms of pay, security and housing. And the two-child limit for benefits continues to hold many families in poverty. The Marmot Review: 10 Years On highlighted that in the past decade, people can now expect to spend more of their lives in poor health. This is a crisis that will grow rather than fade without radical intervention.

What would the Liberal Democrats do about this?

Liberal Democrats would finally put mental health on the same footing as physical health, and invest in public health and prevention so that fewer people get ill and need treatment. We would break the cycle of reoffending by improving rehabilitation in prisons and on release. We would commit to building 150,000 social homes a year by the end of the next parliament. And we would set a target of ending deep poverty within a decade with a major anti-poverty strategy. Crucially, Liberal Democrats also understand that radical reform will take more than just good policies in each government department. We also need to reform our public services, taking a coherent, joined-up approach so that they work for those who are most in need. In tackling multiple disadvantage, this means committing to action in three key areas: leadership from the heart of government, local autonomy and co-production, and shared outcomes that endure for the long term.

And decisions being made locally is really important:

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And we’re off: Lib Dems welcome the 4th July General Election!

Who would have known when I booked my dentist appointment for 5:30 tonight that the Prime Minister would choose 5pm on a wet Wednesday in May to make the most farcical General Election launch announcement I have ever known.

It could have come straight from The Thick of It. The Prime Minister standing in the pouring rain, his suit getting shinier by the second, his words drowned out by anti Brexit campaigner Steve Bray blasting “Things can only get better” by D:Ream, Labour’s campaign anthem from 1997.

Our Press Office tweeted: “Things can only get wetter.”

Ed Davey welcomed the General Election as a chance to kick out the Tories and deliver the change the country needs. He said:

This General Election is a chance to kick Rishi Sunak’s appalling Conservative government out of office and deliver the change the public is crying out for.

For years the Conservative Party has taken voters for granted and lurched from crisis to crisis while the problems facing the country are getting so much worse.

The NHS has been brought to its knees, people’s mortgages and rents have soared by hundreds of pounds a month, and water companies have got away with pumping filthy sewage into our rivers and beaches. All because this Conservative Government is more interested in fighting between themselves than standing up for the needs of the country.

Every vote for the Liberal Democrats at this election is a vote for a strong local champion who will stand up for your community and health services. It’s clear that in many seats across the country, the best way to beat the Conservatives is to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton highlighted his ambition to see liberals replace nationalists as the third party in the House of Commons.

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The Election rumour mill is buzzing….

Speculation is growing that the Prime Minister is about to call an election on the back of the inflation figures this morning. Jeremy Hunt certainly seemed very smug as he did the media round.

This is either everyone getting over excited on the basis of a bit of chatter, or something more substantial.  The Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman had this to say on Twitter:

Once again there are snap election rumours. I have been a sceptic every time so far. More importantly, people I trust who are in the loop have told me it’s nonsense. This time, those people are silent

If he asked the King to  dissolve Parliament today, the election would be on 27th June, next week, 4th July. Scottish schools break up in the last week of June and no doubt those children whose schools are polling stations would be delighted with an extra day off. An election in the first week of July would see many Scots away on holiday, though. But he did say at PMQs that the election would be in the second half of the year, so 4th July meets that criteria.

I suspect most of us would be relieved to have the election out of the way so we can enjoy the Summer. Certainly, every held and target seat has been ready for any eventuality for a while. On the other hand, some people will already have booked holidays on the basis that he wasn’t going to call an election till after the Summer recess.

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WATCH: Alex Cole-Hamilton’s speech to Scottish Conference

Susan Murray will, we all hope, be the MP for Mid Dunbartonshire in a few months’ time. So she was the right person to introduce Alex Cole-Hamilton ahead of his leader’s speech to Scottish Conference on Sunday.

Alex talked about our future relationship with the SNP Government – working with them in a grown up fashion where we could make a difference for our constituents, but looking forward to being able to get rid of them in an election.

He looked forward to replacing them as the third party in the House of Commons too and set out our plans to improve mental health, give people access to GP appointments and deal with sewage. He also spoke about his support for Liam McArthur’s bill which would allow assisted dying in limited circumstances. The next great social reform, he called it, while also acknowledging that not everyone in the party felt like that and that no Lib Dem would be compelled to vote for it.

Watch the speech in full here.

The text is below:

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Autumn Conference: What did Federal Board decide?

We have known for some months that the Federal Board was going to decide at its May meeting what to do with Federal Conference in Brighton this Autumn. Last night they discussed the matter looking at feedback from party committees and staff as well as a consultation exercise carried out in March.

They had a lot to consider. What if Rishi Sunak called the General Election and we ended up having our Conference in the short campaign? What opportunities were there from having Conference just before the General Election if he didn’t? And what damage could it inflict on our campaign if we did not take the opportunity to set out our stall when the other parties would at their own events? What impact would two major events in quick succession, a conference and a General Election, have on staff?

So what did they decide?  Well, Conference is going to happen – sort of. It’s going to be shorter. It will now only run from Saturday 14 to Monday 16th September and technically will be a special Conference.

Party President Mark Pack explained on the party website:

After extensive feedback from members, the Federal Board has agreed a plan for our Autumn Federal Conference.

We agreed that it would be in the best interests of the party to hold such an event if possible, and that due to the unusually close proximity between the event and the next Westminster general election, the maximum benefit would come from amending our normal conference plans so that it can be tailored to the requirements, opportunities and risks of an event so close to a general election.

These include making it a 2.5 day event (14-16 September 2024 in Brighton), providing the best trade-off between a shorter conference lowering costs and staff time while also preserving enough time to maximise the benefits of conference, including commercial income. The Tuesday rather than the Saturday would be dropped in order to maximise the chances for members to participate.

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Elwyn Watkins RIP

Elwyn Watkins

It is with profound sadness that I have to tell you that my good friend, Elwyn Watkins, passed away this weekend.

I first met Elwyn at the London School of Economics & Political Science, where he took a BSc. (Econ) in Government. He preceded me as President of Carr-Saunders Hall, going on to become General Secretary of the LSE Student Union and we were flatmates for several of our formative years. Later, he attained a double-distinction MBA at Bradford University – an achievement about which he was, rightly, proud.

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Coalition with Starmer’s Labour?

In principle, it should not take the Conservatives’ disastrous record in government for the past fourteen years for Labour under Keir Starmer, which does not seem to stand for anything other than vaguely promising change, to win by a landslide. Labour’s double-digit lead unfortunately begs to differ.

However, after the recent local elections in England, as well as the Blackpool South by-election, Starmer did not rule out entering coalition with our party if Labour failed to win an outright parliamentary majority at the next general election. In contrast, he categorically ruled out doing so with the Scottish Nationalist Party owing to a ‘fundamental disagreement’ on Scottish independence.

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WATCH: Ed Davey’s speech to Scottish Conference – Bring on the General Election

The text is below,

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All the fun of Scottish Conference!

Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference in Hamilton was upbeat this weekend.  The party sees progress in its sights at the next Westminster, Holyrood and local authority elections.

From the moment the event was opened by West Lothian’s Cllr Sally Pattle, there were serious debates,  keynote speeches, anniversaries celebrated and a lot of fun and laughter.

The most emotional moments of Conference came during the debate on Christine Jardine MP’s motion on supporting bereaved children and young people. The motion called on the Scottish Government to create a protocol for the “collation and dissemination of information to bereaved children about relevant support services” alongside a new duty to inform which would apply to people like health professionals and teachers. Mandatory training would also be given to all those who would have a duty to inform. Contributors shared sometimes shocking but always incredibly sad experiences of loss.

Amanda Clark, our PPC for Perth and Kinross, rightly won the award for the best speech of Conference for her summation, which was heartfelt, inclusive and showed everyone who spoke that they had been heard.

Conference also voted for a national strategy to improve literacy, to bin the National Care Service that the SNP Government is blowing a billion on and which has little  prospect of actually improving care for vulnerable people, to increase access to sport, for a housing strategy that secures affordable housing for key workers and on support for Scotland’s flood-hit communities.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Russia and China

It took Vladimir Putin just nine days for Putin to go from his inauguration in the Kremlin to Zhongnanhai – the seat of China’s political power and the home of President Xi Jinping.

At the end of the two-day visit the “partnership without limits” had been elevated to one in which there are now “no forbidden areas of cooperation.”

The two countries – and the two leaders – are united in their common goal of dismantling the liberal Western political order that has dominated the world since 1945. Democracy, they are convinced, has had its day. It is time now for Sino-Russian orchestrated autocracy.

The current pivot of the Beijing-Moscow axis is the Ukraine War. This war presents both problems and opportunities for China. On the one hand, Russian failure would be regarded as a disaster. On the other, Xi Jinping is conscious of the need to prevent Sino-American relations from deteriorating too quickly. China is not ready to step into American shoes.

So, Xi Jinping exploits Russia to poke, needle and goad Washington. He talks of “no forbidden areas of cooperation” but then urges Putin to row back on the nuclear rhetoric. China has yet to recognise the Russian annexation of Luhansk and Donetsk and – so far—has refused to supply Russia with obvious weaponry. It buys more oil from Russia but is playing hardball on the Russian request for a gas pipeline that would replace revenues that Gazprom has lost in Europe.

China, has however, ignored Western sanctions against Russia. In 2022 Russian imports of Chinese machine tools grew by 120 percent and in 2023 they rose another 170 percent.

Machine tools are just one industrial category which Secretary of State Antony Blinken has complained loudly about as helping the Russian war effort. This equipment either has a hidden defense element or it is categorised as dual-use, which means it can be used for civilian or military purposes.

Other similar categories of Chinese exports have grown exponentially since Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border. Semi-conductor exports rose from $230 million in 2021 to £407 million in 2023. The machinery for making computer chips grew from $3.5 million to $180 million over the same period. Computer chips are essential for the conduct of high-tech 21st century warfare.

Russian oil

Russian oil and gas are financing Putin’s Ukraine War. So, this week, the Russian president had good news and bad news about his war coffers.

Oil revenues are up. Gas revenues are down.

Gazprom – the state gas monopoly – lost $6.9 billion in 2023. Its first annual loss since the bad old days of Russian financial chaos 20 years ago. The reason for the drop is Western sanctions and the closure of the gas pipelines Nordstream 1 and 2. Russian gas sales to Europe were down 55.6 percent. They will be even lower next year.

The picture provided by Rosneft – the Russian oil equivalent – is much rosier. Its profits were up a record 13 percent to $14.07 billion. The reason for its financial success were India, Putin’s friends in OPEC and the end of the pandemic.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has completely ignored Western sanctions and exploited Putin’s difficulties by buying huge quantities of oil at discounted prices, India then reaps a nice profit by selling the processed oil to third countries via the world market.

The OPEC countries meanwhile, have obliged President Putin by keeping oil production down and prices up. At the same time demand for energy has grown as the world economy recovers from the Covid pandemic.

But what about the coming year. Gazprom’s revenues are unlikely to rise. It takes time to build alternative destination pipelines and storage facilities. As for oil prices, demand is starting to fall. India has reached the limits of how much oil it can process and world economic growth is expected to drop to 2.7 percent in 2024 compared to 5.5 percent in 2022.

So, what Putin needs is a first class money manager to ensure that the maximum efficiency is squeezed out of every rouble. That is why he has appointed economist Andre Belousov as his new Minister for Defense.

Putin is his own commander-in-chief. He already has a Chief of Staff in the form of General Valery Gerasimov. What he needs is someone who can organise a defense budget that is now 6.7 percent of the country’s GDP before oil prices start to go the way of gas prices.

United States

In 1923, the US Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, was hauled before the courts for accepting a $350,000 bribe that allowed an oil company to drill in protected reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming.

This is the crux of the Teapot Dome Scandal which was recognised as America’s biggest political scandal until Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon.

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Observations of an Expat: Robert Fico – from sinner to saint to martyr

The man who shot Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico has inflicted major damage on the cause of liberalism.

Fico is a far-right populist who started his political life as a far-left populist. He supports Putin and opposes Zelensky. He is anti-immigrant, anti-vaxer, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim and hates journalists. While Fico is fighting for his life in a Bratislavan intensive care unit, far-right politicians in Slovakia and beyond are using his fate as a rallying cry.

In short, Robert Fico is a sinner who has been turned into a saint by an attempted assassination and may yet become a martyr.

When the Soviet Empire collapsed, Robert Fico was a staunch member of the Communist Party and when the first post-Soviet Czechoslovak parliament was elected he successfully ran as a candidate of the communist successor party.

But as the communists fell from favour, Fico jumped ship and in 1999 formed his own political vehicle – Direction Social Democracy (SMER-SD). Seven years later, his party won the most seats in Slovak Parliamentary elections and Fico became prime minister for the first time. He served again 2006 to 2010, 2012 to 2016, 2016 to 2018 and finally from 2023.

In 2018, Robert Fico resigned the premiership after mass demonstrations in protest against the murder of young investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée. A short spell in the political wilderness followed, but Fico’s career was saved by the Covid pandemic. He took an increasingly anti-lockdown, anti-vax position in direct opposition to the government’s policy. At one point his support for during an anti-lockdown demonstration resulted in his arrest.

In 2023 Fico was back in the prime minister’s chair at the head of a coalition which included the far-right Slovak National Party and the far-left Voice-Social Democracy (HLAS) Party. On the face of it, his political partners were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but in reality they shared an ultra-nationalist populist agenda with Fico’s SMER-SD.

Fico’s own views became increasingly far-right and ultra-nationalist. Same-sex marriages and adoptions by same-sex couple are “a perversion.” His views on immigration also follow the same line as other European nationalists:  We will not, said the prime minister “accept a single Muslim immigrant.”

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