Author Archives: A Liberal in Leeds

The clock is ticking down to March 29th and Parliament is far from a resolution

Remain-inclined MPs refuse to contemplate May’s hard Brexit. The hard-line Tory Right are fearful of a backstop, keeping trading links and protecting pesky inconveniences like workers’ rights and basic health and safety standards.

Nobody is willing to compromise. Including us. This is no bad thing. We are passionately and proudly open, internationalist and outward-looking. We cherish long-held cooperation with the rest of the world on trade, innovation, fighting climate change and much more. Many of us celebrate free movement. Above all, we value our place as leaders on the global stage.

We should continue to fight for a People’s Vote on this nebulous and measly-mouthed withdrawal deal.

However, with less than fifty days to go, a referendum on the deal is far from guaranteed. Only a maximum of 150 MPs currently backs a public vote. Moreover, even if the Labour leadership grew a backbone and supported our option, there’s a problem. The notorious lack of party discipline in Labour could still endanger the cause. It will be an uphill struggle.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 39 Comments

Corbyn is right about inequality

Corbyn is clearly right to highlight the ‘grotesque inequality’ in our society. Wage growth has stagnated. Continued cuts are hitting the poorest hardest. And this generation is on set to be the first on living memory to be poorer than their parents.

Even if you try and ignore the unfairness, the evidence shows it harms productivity and creates the sort of ‘asset bubbles’ that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

But I have one question. Where are Labour’s answers?

At first glance the most radical is renationalisation. But this is nothing more than a recycled plan from the 1970s. It just tinkers at the edges of inequality, and carries significant risks for our future economic and energy security.

Next comes Labour’s big ticket spending item. Abolishing tuition fees. Our higher education system is far from perfect, but how many better ways could we spend £7.5 billion a year? What amounts to a tax cut for the middle classes does absolutely nothing to tackle inequality.

Most significantly, we have some Labour economic doublespeak –  ‘borrowing to invest’ in public services. While the NHS, for example, clearly does needs to be better funded, ‘invest’ falsely suggests that we get an economic return on borrowing for public services. That it will all be fine.

And this, maybe even more than Brexit, is the big danger of a Labour government. The government is already, as the Prime Minister admitted last week, spending more on paying interest alone than the entire schools’ budget. Labour’s borrowing plan would mean future generations would have to pay higher taxes and spend even less on public services.

We demand better. The Liberal Democrats have a genuine, radical plan to combat inequality.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 56 Comments

Brexit: We can’t gamble with our futures

Week by week the countdown to March 2019 looms closer. The chances of stopping a disastrous hard Brexit are slim, but there is a small window of opportunity if we go about it in the right way.

As Vince Cable and Nick Clegg emphasise, it all rests on building a coalition of moderates with the courage to break out of the extreme Brexit groupthink. This means that we need a Brexit position which is decisive, but also respects those who are resigned to the prospect of Brexit – for now – and reaches out. A clear majority of constituencies voted for Brexit, so for Parliament to block it, or at least soften it, we are going to need to bring people together.

That is why I’m very concerned by the motion being proposed for Autumn Conference, in which it is being suggested that we should play an all-or-nothing game of Russian roulette with people’s livelihoods. The motion suggests that we should retreat into stubborn rejection of the referendum, without securing a clear mandate against Brexit. The tide is slowly turning against a hard Brexit, but time is running out to stop it all together. That should still be our main aim, but it would be an act of gross neglect to take a gamble on suddenly halting Brexit in its tracks and lose.

That’s why we must consider very carefully how we would feel waking up in Hard Brexit Britain in 2019. With investment receding and jobs in freefall, our idealism and anti-Brexit fervour would be in vain. I know I would be thinking about what could have been. We could have had a soft Brexit. We could even have stopped it all. This could all have been less painful.

Even if you endorse this anti-Brexit gamble with our economy, you have to ask how best we can realistically build a coalition to stop Brexit. Surely the answer isn’t to retreat into introverted Europhilia, but to reach out to those sceptical about Brexit and make the case? If the tide of public opinion turns, this is how we stop Brexit – by giving the people the final say in a referendum. This is a realistic and democratic position which can appeal to ‘Releavers’ and soft Leavers alike once the dangers of Brexit become clearer.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 46 Comments

What lessons can we learn from the election?

Overall I think Thursday night was very positive for the Liberal Democrats. We made four net gains, taking us up to twelve seats. This was in the face of a race to Number 10 where more than eighty per cent of voters backed the two main parties. We’ve had some excellent ‘big beasts’ like Jo, Vince, Stephen and Ed returned to Parliament, as well as fantastic new faces like Layla Moran and Christine Jardine. This article is going to focus on the lessons to be learnt, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that this was a result which did us credit.

Sadly we lost our only seat in Wales, and Sarah Olney lost out narrowly in Richmond Park. However, from my experience campaigning in Yorkshire I’d like to put forward some ideas about what went wrong in Labour-facing seats.

Posted in Op-eds | 41 Comments

Order out of chaos


Her Majesty’s Opposition is in turmoil. Our country is in crisis. Corbyn won’t budge.

I am saddened by Labour’s demise. For all its flaws, for almost twenty years it has been a strong, progressive force in British politics. Corbyn has been re-elected with a sizeable 62% of the vote. Now Corbyn has a sizeable number of admiring activists – but they are talking to themselves.  The public has already made up its mind about Corbyn – he is seen as incompetent, extreme and unelectable. It is all but impossible for Labour to gain seats in 2020 with him at the helm. The Labour party is already teetering on the edge of electoral oblivion.

And a lot of Lib Dems know what it’s like to lose elections. It hurts. We need to have sympathy with the thousands of Labour activists who want a united, centre-left Labour party. It would be opportunistic and insensitive to react to Labour’s turmoil with barely-disguised glee. How did you feel when parts of the left did just that after the 2015 General Election?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Progress for Lib Dems in local elections


The landscape of British politics has just shifted a small step towards the progressive stance of the Liberal Democrats. The #LibDemFightback is truly underway. This time we gained more seats than any other party in England. This time we gained Edinburgh Western from the SNP in Scotland. And this time we became the only opposition to the Labour party on Manchester council.

Our status as the part of communities has truly been backed by voters, and so thousands of voters now have a Liberal Democrat fighting their corner. Even in the areas where we have not made gains, the campaigns which we are delivering for our local people are truly inspiring.

We have turned the tables on the Tories since the last election. The Tories have lost the most council seats, the Lib Dems have gained the most. None of us knew for sure what the Lib Dems had achieved in coalition, until the Tories spent over fifteen million pounds and a knighthood on going it alone.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 31 Comments

Progressing with evidence-based politics

The Liberal Democrats are the party of evidence-based politics. We form our policies not based on blindly-followed ideology, but by proposing workable solutions to society’s problems. In my view this is what makes our party great. With this in mind, I broadly welcome our approach to the public versus private sector debate, which I’ll address in the latter part of this post.

However, Conference’s vote to approve fracking in Scotland is concerning in comparison to the party’s renewed opposition in England. I welcome this opposition for two pragmatic reasons.  Firstly, there are serious short-terms risks to fracking, such as water pollution. This is a serious risk, because the private companies which frack love to cut corners, as has been seen in the US. Until such time as there is fracking regulation with real teeth, supporting fracking is a massive.  Simon Oliver recently wrote an excellent explanation of findings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh report here on Lib Dem Voice.  Basically, fracking could be done well in the UK, but won’t be due to the weakening of regulations. Selective citation of the report in the Scottish debate seemed to use the evidence to justify a response, not having a response based on the available evidence. That isn’t how our party debates should work.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 22 Comments

Don’t be left voiceless

Last year’s election was brutal. It was a disaster for the country and it made us all realise that politics needs to change.

I’m not talking about the Lib Dems’ electoral defeat. I’m not even talking about the Tory majority. Last year’s election made a mockery of British democracy. 1 in 4 voters voted Lib Dem, Green or UKIP, but have just 10 MPs to represent them. That is appalling.

Why then do the Westminster elite stand up for this broken system? Pure selfishness. I’m afraid that is the only answer I can think of. So many Labour and Tory MPs think they should be elected not because they have the most support, but merely because that is the way it has always been. MPs aren’t elected to protect their positions at all costs. They are elected to represent the people. Without proportional representation (PR) they are failing to do that spectacularly.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 38 Comments

A look back at 2015 and hopes for 2016

Wow! What a year 2015 was! It is staggering to think that just 12 short months ago we were in coalition. Now we have eight MPs. Despite that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour party, leaving us with a centre-left vacuum to move into.

Coalition was by no means perfect. The vast majority of members and voters can agree on that.  I believe tuition fees was a big mistake. It was wrong to go back on a key commitment in the manifesto. We most a lot of trust after that and we paid a heavy price in May. We lost 49 liberal democrat representatives in the Commons.

Another failure of coalition was communication. We were so busy showing that coalition worked we did not announce where we disagreed with the Tories. I think this was a key factor in the public feeling that we were “in bed with the Tories”. Progress was made on this but far too late. For the Chancellor’s final budget ministers produced an alternative Liberal Democrat budget. We should have been doing that for the whole government.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 16 Comments

Privatisation: Keeping the NHS afloat


Privatisation. It’s a word which strikes fear into the hearts of progressives everywhere. Perhaps understandably so; previous governments have made a complete mess of privatising our NHS. From signing contracts for building hospitals without reading the small print to providing poor healthcare, privatisation has often been a failure.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done though and it certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t needed. The uncomfortable truth is that our beloved NHS is unsustainable. Expenditure on healthcare has rocketed from £75 billion in 2000 to almost £130 billion in 2013. As healthcare improves, the number of elderly patients served by the health service increases. It is a vicious cycle.

So what is the liberal solution? Let’s look at the solutions politicians are currently trying. Increasing taxation regularly to fund the NHS is fundamentally illiberal and unsustainable – it puts an unnecessary and unfair burden on workers. The only other option is borrowing the funds. That is clearly also unsustainable as it is merely kicking the problem into the long grass.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 107 Comments

Osborne’s democracy cuts shows true Tory colours


This week the Chancellor unveiled a petty attack on our democracy.

There were just three good parts to the Spending Review.  First, there was the long-overdue boost to mental health funding as championed by Norman Lamb. Then there was the welcome U-turn over tax credits, and finally the absence of significant police cuts.

However, there were swathes of ideological, unnecessary cuts: cuts to the pupil premium in real terms, cuts to green energy which will harm our environment and our economy, cuts to universal credit orders for councils to sell off much-needed property to stay afloat financially and a whole lot more.

Hidden beneath this bad news though was something a lot more sinister. Osborne proposed a seventeen percent cut to opposition party funding because – wait for it – opposition parties have done nothing to cut the deficit so they should take the hit! Has the Chancellor forgotten the last five years? Even if the Chancellor somehow thinks opposition parties routinely voted against every bill proposing spending reductions, we Lib Dems spent five years sacrificing our party for the good of the country.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 21 Comments

Recent Comments

  • David Langshaw
    Just to add to the Singapore imagery, it's worth remembering that the Japanese advanced all the way down the Malayan peninsula on bicycles....
  • Geoff Reid
    In the midst of the alarms and excursions of an election campaign - and the necessary simplifications - it is very refreshing to be reminded of the ground on wh...
  • Bill Le Breton
    Fantastic piece. Thank you....
  • Neil Hickman
    Sadly, Martin, I fear you’re right. Labour apparatchiks would far rather a monopoly Labour government than one dependent on the Lib Dem’s (and kept honest ...
  • Martin Gray
    If Labour - as predicted win by a landslide I can't see a change in the voting system anytime soon. PCC and local elections have a poor turnout - no amount of a...