Adrian Sanders writes… Cameron’s cunning

John Stuart Mill is often quoted as describing the Tories as the stupidest party. The modern Conservative Party is many things, but at the top where they consider parliamentary and electoral strategy they are anything but stupid.

Those who think the withdrawing of the Statutory Instrument to amend the Hunting with Hounds Act is a victory for those opposed to any watering down of animal welfare legislation are cruelly mistaken.

The move is as cynical as it was to hold such a debate just a week after the most reactionary and regressive Budget in decades.

Events this week have served the purpose the Tories hoped for, and then some. Instead of the political commentary and debate being about the first Tory majority Budget since 1997 and how it impacts negatively on the majority of the electorate, we have had hours of broadcast and pages of newspapers devoted to the issue of hunting.

Hunting is not an unimportant issue and as someone who was proud to have voted for the Act in 2004 and as a Vice President of the League Against Cruel Sports I am delighted that changes are not yet going to be tested in a vote. But tested they will be and without all the MPs elected to the UK Parliament eligible to vote.

The issue around hunting is a simple one. It isn’t banned under the Hunting with Hounds Act 2004. People can still dress-up, ride and follow a scent with a pack of hounds. What they cannot do under the Act is allow their hounds to rip a fox or hare to pieces or chase a Stag to injury and exhaustion.

Those who view this cruelty as sport want to change the law that currently only allows flushing out and stalking with two dogs. The amendment states that it would only be allowed for the purposes of protecting livestock, game birds or wild birds and those hunting will have to provide written evidence within seven days that they have permission to do so on that land if stopped by an officer.

This has not fooled the many animal welfare groups, led by the RSPCA, who feel the existing Act needs strengthening, not weakening, and view this move as a back-door attempt to undermine the existing legislation.

Cameron and his advisers knew that proposing changes to the Act this week would achieve two or three objectives. Firstly, to fulfil a manifesto promise to have a vote on the Hunting Act, secondly to suppress public & media scrutiny of the Budget, and third to flush out the SNP and hopefully expose the hypocrisy of their election promise not to vote on matters pertaining to legislation that doesn’t affect Scotland.

Two of those objectives have been met while the first, the manifesto promise, is still alive and will be returned to when the amendments to Parliamentary procedure have been implemented preventing MPs from areas not covered by proposed or amendments to existing legislation from voting.

Meanwhile the damaging impact of the Budget on employers trading at the margins as so many do outside London and the South East, the effect on earnings of people with children whose tax credits will fall further than the proposed increase in the minimum wage across the UK, and the impact of housing subsidy changes that already condemn thousands in all our communities to insecure, inadequate accommodation at high private sector rents, are not being given the air-time or print coverage they might otherwise have attracted.

This was a clever move by the Tory strategists, coming so soon after their crafty spin and scare-mongering that helped them gain so many Liberal Democrat seats in the General Election. We are going to need a mighty cunning fox of our own to out-smart these Tories next time.

* Adrian Sanders is a Focus deliver in Paignton, Devon, and was the MP for Torbay from 1997 to 2015.

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39 Comments

  • I disagree. This is a weak government, with a very slim majority and simply does not have the votes to push through contentions policies. One again we are being asked to see Cameron as a tactical genius rather than as a weak man, leading a divided party, He ain’t strong or clever enough to engineer this kind of ruse.

  • I am sorry to say that Adrian is spot on. A brilliant piece of political tactics by the Tories, but also deeply scary. There is something profoundly anti-democratic in undermining debate of the budget like this. They have even pulled a fast one on the SNP: if this were *just* about fox hunting they probably shouldn’t vote, but as it seems to be about a lot more besides, then they should — they will come out of it badly whichever way they jump.

    Might our best defence against Tory cunning and duplicity be courage and clarity of vision, so we hold a place that is in stark contrast to their grubby scheming?

  • The majority of people are against the hunting of foxes and are no doubt in this instance grateful to the SNP. It does highlight the slim majority, the Tories act as if they have 120 not 12. It also highlights how they were promoting a very small interest group of their own.

  • Couldn’t disagree more. The budget may not be popular on LDV, but I’ve hardly met anyone who thought it was a bad one. Increases in the minimum wage, 30 hrs childcare, reduction in corporation tax, maintaining defence spending were all very popular and more than compensated for the bad in most peoples eyes. I think Cameron would have been happy for it to be in the headlines for longer. As for the SNP’s decision on Fox Hunting and whether it will affect the way MP’s will vote on EVEL, I don’t think it will. Either way, surely better to postpone the amendment for a couple of years – maybe kill it altogether – than have it introduced now.

  • Agree with Malc, Budget is generally acceptable. We might gain some political ground on the centre left/left if we vote against benefit changes that Labour is accepting!!!

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 14th Jul '15 - 5:56pm

    Adrian is quite right on all this – an excellent piece.

    Malc – I think Adrian’s point is not that the Budget was unpopular (it wasn’t), but that it is fairly unlikely to survive close scrutiny so the Government want to move the agenda on while they’re ahead. For example, the headline increase in the minimum wage merely seeks to get employers to give back some of what tax credit changes have taken away, while the maintenance of defence spending has been achieved in large part by reallocating some responsibilities on security to MOD. Many initially fairly popular budgets unravel if you pick at them (the omnishambles budget initially got a good write up for example).

  • David Faggiani 14th Jul '15 - 6:15pm

    It’s also nixed a chance for Lib Dem MPs to make an effective stand, eh? Although, perhaps better timing for us later, with a decided leader.

  • Poll after poll shows that the hunting ban is popular in England. I would wager SNP MPs mailbags have been hoaching with letters from England pleading with them to vote to keep the ban. This is why the tories have been outmaneuvered yet again by the SNP. If the tories dare link EVEL to fox hunting they link EVEL to something that is deeply unpopular in England – they link it to cruelty to animals. (This notwithstanding the fact that EVEL, as presently formulated, appears not to prevent the SNP voting against the repeal of the ban anyway.)

    Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly said before May’s election that the SNP would be voting on more “English” legislation than before and would be a “progressive ally” to rest of the UK. It is refreshing to see a political party actually doing what it said before the election that it was going to do. There may be a lesson for Lib Dems in there somewhere.

    Westminster tories have used their English MPs to block amendments to the Scotland Bill that are supported by 58 out of 59 Scottish MPs (yes even the 1 Lib Dem). Westminster’s Scottish affairs select committee has a majority of English MPs. EVEL at Westminster will never be legitimate until we get Scottish votes for Scottish laws.

    Cameron’s government is now looking weaker than ever having had to withdraw yet another measure under pressure. In 2010, Liberal Democrats used their 57 MPs to enable a tory government. In 2015 the SNP use their 56 MPs to oppose and frustrate the tory government, forcing it into humiliating retreat. That may provide a clue as to why the SNP win elections in Scotland.

  • Completely agree with the article and Mark. This was clearly intentional to bait the SNP to show England voters why EVEL was needed, and they took the bait. I personally completely agree with the concept of EVEL, I agree with federalism so that England can vote on English matters, but I disagree with the Tories trying to shoehorn it in using standing orders. It needs to go through proper due process.

    I am against Fox Hunting but I would rather lose fairly without the SNP, then win unfairly (because it doesn’t affect their constituents) with the SNP. I believe in democracy.

  • Tsar Nicholas 14th Jul '15 - 8:55pm

    @Brett Jenkins

    In what way is winning with SNP votes unfair? Westminster is still the Union Parliament and if major constitutional change like excluding Scottish MP scan be done by a change in Parliamentary procedure what is stop a Tory majority from excluding Lib Dem and Labour MPs on inconvenient issues?

  • Peter Chegwyn 14th Jul '15 - 9:48pm

    I agree with most of what Adrian says but I do think Cameron mis-judged the situation insofar as he thought he could win a ‘backdoor’ vote to supposedly bring England into line with Scotland, a vote also timed to coincide with the Lib. Dem. Leadership announcement which he probably hoped would reduce the no. of Lib. Dem. MPs voting and also reduce media coverage for our new Leader. He judged it wrong.

    Of course the issue hasn’t gone away, it probably never will, and of course it may well return after some form of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ is cobbled together by the Conservative hierarchy. But what has been interesting this week hasn’t just been the position of the SNP, it’s also been the strength of feeling against any change to the Hunting Act expressed by more Conservative MPs than might have been expected to put their head above the parapet.

    What’s also been interesting has been the effect of social media which allowed vast numbers of ordinary citizens to express their opposition to hunting and mount an effective lobbying campaign within hours. If Cameron thought he’d stopped the animal welfare lobby from having time to mobilise troops, he was wrong (again).

    It’s quite likely that Cameron’s sneaky backdoor attempt to wreck the Hunting Act would have been defeated anyway without the SNP… though the vote would certainly have been very close. The issue will return to Parliament sometime and those of us who care passionately about animal welfare must remain vigilant but I sense the mood has changed, crucially within enough of the Conservative Party, and any future attempt to bring back hunting is less likely to succeed following this week’s events.

    P.S. Good to see the SNP now talking of strengthening measures to prevent hunting with hounds in Scotland. The pro-hunting lobby won’t like that! The Hunting Act in England & Wales is still far from perfect and our long-term aim should be to strengthen anti-hunting laws in England & Wales as well. Liberal Democrats should be at the front of the campaign to protect animals from cruelty.

  • Its a sign of weakness. Cameron is a chancer. EVEL is not properly thought through and the suggestion that foxhunting as an issue justifies creating multiple classes of MPs is completely absurd. There are various icebergs that Cameron must avoid, his usual tactic is to delay, just as he has here, but some earlier postponed issues will soon come to a head, Heathrow and Europe for example. He has strong rivals in his own party who may not wait til the end of the parliament to elbow him out. Even if Cameron can neutralise the SNP, he may not pass this measure, defeat will anger some of his more rabid and vocal supporters and success will alienate some younger Tory supporters who view foxhunting as being as anachronistic as homophobia.

  • Michael Parsons 15th Jul '15 - 1:00am

    Since we hav e this UK and the Scots are well-entitled to intervene to continue the ban on fox-hunting, would it not be rational to extend this to ending the killing of deer for sport? It would be a simple measure to round them up (deer, not Scots) and take the number required for domestic meat consumption, so ending the sporting skills that seem comparable in immorality to those required to pleasurably track down foxes with dogs and on horesback? Or are we just talking about in-group sentiments a nd soliodarity really, in a kind of pseudo-discussion?

  • I disagree with the article; it HAS been a victory for the SNP. Most of those demonstrating against Cameron’s attempt to re-introduce ‘the hunt’ would not have been interested in the SNP; now they are fans….The vast majority of the English who are anti-hunt, who may have viewed the SNP only through the distortions of the Tory election campaign, now view them in a far more sympathetic light…..

    Cameron is guilty of a massive miscalculation in linking EVEL to such an emotive issue as ‘foxhunting’…

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jul '15 - 9:15am

    The issue of hunting is slightly wider than animal cruelty.
    Breathalysing motorists who use public roads is right, but should be extended to horse-riders.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 15th Jul '15 - 9:57am

    Expats – people demonstrating against hunting are a TINY minority of the voting public. They tend to be fairly left wing and unlikely to vote Tory. Many were already in the “if only we could vote SNP in England…” brigade.

    The people you want to think about – and the people who smashed us into the ground in May in SW England and elsewhere – are people for whom hunting isn’t a big issue either way, but who are worried the SNP are fundamentally untrustworthy wreckers determined to make the UK ungovernable. That’s the Tory narrative, and that’s what led many of the people who’d otherwise have lent their support to good Lib Dem MPs to desert us. This absolutely fuels that narrative – people will see the Question Time clip of Sturgeon saying this is a purely England and Wales matter and we wouldn’t dream of voting on it; then see the U-turn; then say “it does seem to be a wrecking strategy”.

    Richard – it is an offence to be drunk in charge of a horse (or bicycle or whatever) and people can be breathalised. But I suspect the number of deaths and serious injuries due to drunken horseriding is somewhat less than that for drunken driving so the Police prioritise accordingly.

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Jul '15 - 10:24am

    @ Sir Norfolk Passmore,
    I agree that the number of people who demonstrate against fox hunting is small, but actually anti -fox hunting sentiment is now mainstream.

    Even the tory minister for sport was intending to oppose the amendment, as were numerous tories.

    I don’t think that most people analyse politics quite to the extent that people on here do. My friends (admittedly a self-selected bunch), just welcome the SNP’s intervention because they did not want a back door re-introduction of hunting with hounds. People who hadn’t given much previous thought to the SNP are now praising them.

  • I wonder how many of those who are against fox-hunting are happy to eat factory-farmed meat?

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th Jul ’15 – 10:24am ………………..I agree with every word…

    Sir Norfolk Passmore 15th Jul ’15 – 9:57am………… The people you want to think about – and the people who smashed us into the ground in May in SW England and elsewhere – are people for whom hunting isn’t a big issue either way, but who are worried the SNP are fundamentally untrustworthy wreckers determined to make the UK ungovernable. That’s the Tory narrative, and that’s what led many of the people who’d otherwise have lent their support to good Lib Dem MPs to desert us…..

    The SNP had absolutely nothing to do with our loss of votes. The polls were telling us our problems for years; the local and MEP election results, again, had nothing to do with the SNP…. The SNP will have gained, not lost, from this……

  • Sir Norfolk said:

    “People will see the Question Time clip of Sturgeon saying this is a purely England and Wales matter and we wouldn’t dream of voting on it; then see the U-turn; then say “it does seem to be a wrecking strategy”.

    Yes, it’s a U-turn, but it is hardly the ruination of the UK for the SNP to get involved in the national hunting debate. Rather the reverse – they are becoming involved in working toward a national consensus, which acts to (marginally) diminish rather than strengthen separatism.

    Unless we are to continue to play along with Tory “Ajockalypse Now” scaremongering, surely we should encourage this kind of approach to national politics by the SNP? “Nationalist” parties around the world often develop into popular region-based parties, parties which gradually learn to quietly abandon out-and-out separatism once they have achieved a devolution of powers, and parties which can be accepted as normal governing coalition partners. We should encourage that form of development, not oppose it.

    If the SNP retain their current popularity, then the Lib Dems and Labour need to find a good way to deal with it. As things stand, the Tories have successfully painted the SNP as a kind of pariah party, almost on the same level as Sinn Fein, who are debarred from any effective alliance with the Tories’ opponents. How convenient for the Tories! If and when that barrier can be surmounted, the Tories will have a paper-thin and vulnerable majority. We should be working toward that.

  • @expats “The SNP had absolutely nothing to do with our loss of votes. The polls were telling us our problems for years; the local and MEP election results, again, had nothing to do with the SNP”

    Whilst its clear we shed a great deal of support immediately on entering coalition and then after the TFD, the fear of a Labour/SNP coalition finished off any chance of us holding onto seats where the Conservatives were the main opposition. So your statement is incorrect.

  • George Carpenter 15th Jul '15 - 1:29pm

    We do NOT need evel. Who cares about flippin foxes, we need to be stopping this ridiculous constitutional change of EVEL.
    In France, a change in the constitution has to be voted on by house of deputies and the senate in a 75% majority, then ratified by the constitutional court. Here, with a majority of 37% the Government can force through a constitutional change will split off one full third of British territory. We need to be campaigning for a federal, democratic Britain, the only way to ensure that regional MPs can vote on English matters and member of the commons only vote on national issues.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 15th Jul '15 - 2:17pm

    “The SNP had absolutely nothing to do with our loss of votes.”

    As someone who knocked on doors in a held seat, and who received the Tory squeeze message, I find that comment absolutely astonishing.

    Of course, I appreciate we were struggling in the polls anyway. If the SNP hadn’t been a factor in the election at all, we still wouldn’t have been celebrating gains in May! But you’re just not living on the same planet if you think fear of SNP influence on a Miliband led Government was not used ruthlessly and extremely effectively against us in English Tory target seats. Lots of people who liked their Lib Dem MP and ideally wanted to stick with him/her bought into this and I’m amazed if you avoided meeting those people on the doorstep.

  • ” I find that comment absolutely astonishing.”

    I find your comments astonishing. There is no reason why anyone would switch from Lib Dem to Tory to prevent an SNP/Labour coalition. The number of Tory seats would be no higher than the number of Tory/Lib Dem seats so it would be completely ineffective, especially given the previous five years of coalition and Clegg’s clear willingness to continue with a similar coalition with the Tories after 2015.

    The Lib Dems were on the same percentage in voting intention polls for over four years prior to the general election – it had nothing whatsoever to do with fear of the SNP. These were the actual reasons:

    1. Fear of another Tory/Lib Dem coalition lost you all but one seat in Scotland to the SNP.
    2. Fear of another Tory/Lib Dem coalition lost core voters to Labour allowing them to take a few seats off you
    3. The most influential factor – tactical voters who voted Lib Dem to keep out a Tory didn’t want to do so any longer as they saw no difference between a Tory government and the coalition -they didn’t want a vote for a Tory/Lib Dem coalition partner on their conscience and just let the Tory win instead

  • @Steve “There is no reason why anyone would switch from Lib Dem to Tory to prevent an SNP/Labour coalition. ”

    There are two responses to this statement which is, quite clearly, erroneous.

    Firstly, our party were equidistant between Labour and Conservative in terms of forming a government, and despite us saying quite clearly we wouldn’t enter a coalition containing the SNP, some voters thought a Labour/Lib Dem coalition may have relied on SNP abstentions or tacit support, or have been formed in any case.

    Secondly, you fail to appreciate the dynamics of Tory/Lib Dem seats. They aren’t won solely by Lab-Lib switchers; once the MP is in place majorities were seen to increase and that can only have been because former Conservative voters voted Lib Dem. In a fear election the “safe” option was to ensure a Conservative majority which meant turning the seat blue.

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th Jul '15 - 3:20pm

    Steve: “There is no reason why anyone would switch from Lib Dem to Tory to prevent an SNP/Labour coalition.”

    Why do you assume reason comes into it?
    You are probably right that the trends that saw us lose seat after seat were set in motion long before the SNP surge became an issue. But I don’t think it can be argued that the Tory late tactical usage of the SNP was irrelevant.
    It was strong message and here in Bristol I am aware of many people known to me who bought it, lock stock and barrel, including the most unlikely people.

    Consider these possibilities:
    – Did it prevent those backing away from Labour as ‘too left’ from moving a vote to us in areas where we had historically been an alternative?
    – Did it prevent people who had switched to UKIP in the Euros from us switching back?
    – Did it prevent us using traditional squeeze tactics on floating voters?
    – Did it create means for people to rationalise and cement the movement away from us as a party that meant we could not pull them back?
    The SNP issue created a clear differentiation for Cameron in England that did not have immediate negative effects (ie it did not highlight other weak and controversial points of his party’s agenda).

    I do not feel we should adopt the Tory language on the SNP, and neither do I think all our woes can be blamed on the SNP and Clegg in particular has in my view exaggerated the issue to hide tactical errors. But to argue fear of the SNP was irrelevant in England is to try to simplify a complex picture to too great an extent.

  • David Allen 15th Jul '15 - 3:28pm

    Steve, “There is no reason why anyone would switch from Lib Dem to Tory to prevent an SNP/Labour coalition.”

    That makes sense, and yet the post above it by Sir Norfolk, which reaches the opposite conclusion, also makes sense.

    The Tories clearly stood as the selfish, cruel, divisive, but supposedly competent option. Many people wanted to vote for selfishness, but then to be able to tell themselves that they had voted for competence and stability.

    Enter the SNP scare. The Tories told voters that anything but a Tory vote might let a Scottish ogre wreak unmentionable damage. The damage was unmentionable, because it wasn’t real. A Labour government backed by the SNP couldn’t have been forced to give Scotland independence, or scrap Trident, or do anything else especially terrible. So why did so many voters believe the Tory scare? Because they wanted to believe it. Because they felt comfortable saying to their consciences “The Tories have delivered an awful warning, and I am sagacious enough to vote wisely in acknowledgement of this real danger. I couldn’t possibly be voting Tory for selfish reasons and gratefully grasping this straw scare story as my excuse for doing so, oh no….”.

    The SNP scare solidified the Tory vote. It helped ensure that as Steve says, the Lib Dem vote stuck at 8%.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jul '15 - 4:13pm

    Dog owners need to clear up their leavings. Should horse-riders do the same?

  • Richard Underhill

    Yes. Because my border collie keeps eating the stuff!

  • Anne Winstanley 15th Jul '15 - 5:02pm

    As a child as soon as there were horse ‘leavings’ in the road, we had to dash out with a shovel to collect and put on the Garden. It was a resource not to be wasted.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Jul '15 - 5:47pm

    True Liberals do not want to see foxes torn apart by dogs. We need Liam there to remind the Tories how awful they really are.

  • paul barker 15th Jul '15 - 8:33pm

    Slightly off topic but I really feel that we need to keep an eye on Labour & the possibility of future defections, we should be prepared to assume, at least in public, that any changes of mind are genuine & heartfelt. We should be ready with drinks & hugs.
    Of course, being Labour, any group of 9 or more MPs will assume that they can take us over but they will learn our ways in time.

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th Jul ’15 – 3:20pm……………. I do not feel we should adopt the Tory language on the SNP, and neither do I think all our woes can be blamed on the SNP and Clegg in particular has in my view exaggerated the issue to hide tactical errors. But to argue fear of the SNP was irrelevant in England is to try to simplify a complex picture to too great an extent…………….

    Sadly, we have already adopted the same language (as threads on here show)….I did not argue that “fear of the SNP was irrelevant in England” just that it was irrelevant to us; it was Labour who suffered from the constant barrage of a “Weak Milliband ruled by Sturgeon”.
    Like Jayne Mansfield, I have heard only applause for the decisive action of the SNP in this matter. To try and link this specific action on fox hunting with blaming the SNP for our ills is a ‘straw man’ of the crudest sort…

  • As I understand the current EVEL proposals English MPs will have a veto over legislation that affects England only. They will not have the power to push legislation through that the majority of parliament doesn’t approve. Therefore Cameron cannot use it to pass anything and as the government controls parliament’s agenda he doesn’t need it to block anything either. This proposal’s only purpose is to derail a future Labour government’s legislative programme that presumably will, once again, depend on Scottish votes.

  • Well! The battle of Otterburn (alias Chevy Chase) in August 1388 was rapidly spun by both sides and is recorded in ballads that insist it was an English or a Scottish victory, and over hunting issues (those are my deer you’ve shot) instead of the English catching up on a massive Scottish raiding party. It was a Scottish victory, by the way, though complicated because the Scottish leader Douglas was killed.

    I’ve just read that the withdrawal of changes to hunting legislation was a Tory victory over the SNP, a Tory victory over everyone else, an SNP victory over the Tories…and Cameron is a tactical genius or about as maladroit as both Douglas and Percy were in 1388.

    I do suspect, though, that most SNP supporters won’t be bothered that their MPs departed from a self-denying ordinance on English laws in order to give the Tories a bloody nose.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jul '15 - 4:56pm

    Cameron’s Cunning should be a permanent thread about a variety of issues, with occasional credits and debits to the First Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    For instance in his speech today about terrorism DC mentioned the IRA and mentioned schools, but he did not mention sectarian schools in Northern Ireland. Independent non-sectarian schools are in demand, partly because they are good schools, partly because they are non-sectarian. Despite devolution Westminster could help with ring-fenced money to expand this sector on a continuing basis.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jul '16 - 12:07pm

    Sport needs definition. Boxing is legalised fighting in which injuring an opponent is an intention and not merely a consequence.
    At the Tokyo Olympics heavyweight Muhammed Ali got a gold medal. (Sorry about the anachronism, he disliked his previous name).
    Judo became an Olympic sport, having been a non-violent self defence skill for Buddhist missionaries.

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