Author Archives: Ian Thomas

Embracing New Communities: Championing Community Infrastructure

The pressure for new housing, especially affordable, has highlighted the gap between the party’s national policy of pressing for new homes for new families through the community-focused effort by the local Liberal Democrat parties and the opposition from the communities they try and serve.

Because of this gap, the housing campaign becomes two-dimensional and revolves around arguments on the new development’s location, construction times, transport links, and on-road access. There is an easy (dare I say lazy) tendency to slip into NIMBYism; allowing those who shout the loudest drown out the area’s needs and those who want to call it home. …

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A No Deal Brexit will not just impact finance and manufacturing – it will be a disaster for cereal producers too

With so much emphasis being placed on how a No Deal Brexit will affect banking and car production, little thought has been given to the potentially devastating impact crashing out of the EU would have on Britain’s agricultural sector.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has produced a series of briefings to try and raise awareness amongst MPs in a hope of avoiding disaster – most recently on cereals. The UK produces nearly 25 million tonnes (Mt) of arable crops, collectively worth over £3 Billion at the farm gate – driving significant economic activity in rural economies.

As part of the EU, the UK arable sector has been able to export circa 85% of its grain surplus to other member states and, whilst the UK does export grains to the wider global market, these markets are fiercely price competitive with emerging producers such as Russia able to dominate due to a lower cost base relative to developed economies.

In a No Deal scenario, the UK would have to pay tariffs on grain entering the EU market place, meaning would have to compete with other third countries in hope of securing generic quota which enables access at a tariff level of €12 (c£10) per tonne for wheat and €16 (c£14) per tonne for barley. There is far from any guarantee that the UK would be able to secure quota and without it tariffs would shoot up to €95 and €93 per tonne respectively for wheat and barley. The reality is that trade would not occur at these higher tariff levels, forcing UK grain to compete on the world market in direct competition with low cost, lower regulation producers.

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Let’s Count Them In

Nearly a century ago, Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George called for ‘homes fit for heroes’ for those men returning from the Great War, and it was only three years later that the National Census charted how those returning veterans tried to re-enter civilian life. While the personal data will not be released to the public until 2022, we know it will list farmers and doctors, factory-workers and teachers, dock-hands and postman; but it will not list the physical wounds or the psychological trauma that those veterans faced and dealt with for the rest of their lives.

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History doesn’t always have to be written by the victors

On 5th March 1770 outside the customs house on King’s Street, Boston, Private Hugh White was talking to some off-duty comrades when a passing Bostonian made a crack about the British soldier’s commanding officer – prompting Pvt White to clock the civilian across the side of the head. The off-duty soldiers made themselves scarce, leaving the private to deal with the fast-growing ring of angry Bostonians that soon surrounded him. White backed up against the custom house door – gun raised out of fear of what might happen next. The growing crowd heckled him, daring him to shoot.

Up the street, Captain Preston, commander of the custom house garrison, watched events unfold. The Captain was hoping that the situation would resolve itself naturally but soon the church bells started tolling and more men, many armed with clubs, started showing up and Preston knew it was high-time that he went to get his man. He led a corporal and six privates through the crowd, now numbering 300-400 strong, towards Private White but rather than just pulling the soldier out from the situation he ordered his men to form a semi-circle around him while facing the crowd, guns unfortunately loaded.

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The scariest thing you have never heard of

On 30th December 2016 the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (more commonly known as the Snoopers’ Charter) came into force; suffocating personal privacy and liberty without so much as a whimper from Labour or the SNP.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the government has achieved unprecedented surveillance powers over its own citizens and now has the ability to indiscriminately monitor, record, hack and spy on the communications and internet use of everyone in the country.

With the official opposition in disarray and unable (and even in many cases unwilling) to scrutinise the government’s actions and challenge the narrative that state security automatically overrides and supersedes the protection of civil liberties without a second thought, the result has been the slow but steady growth of the state’s industrial-scale espionage on its own citizens and the erosion of the liberty safe-guards put in place by the Liberal Democrats while in government.

While much ink has been spilt on the consequences of this Act – most notably in the LDV articles written by Elliott Motson, Alistair Carmichael and Tim Farron – many consequences have only been seen in isolation. Ironically, legislation designed for a modern digital age becomes the more dangerous when coupled with one of the earliest – A Bill of Attainder.

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Liberals need to reclaim patriotism

On 4th August 2012 I sat, like so many other millions of Brits, and watched our country’s achieve its best ever athletic session of a summer Olympic Games as Great Britain won three gold medals in the space of an hour to make a total of six gold medals that day, soon dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ by the press.

While the run up to the games was marred by our country’s somewhat infamous national pessimism of such events such doubts were soon cast away in favour of awe at the game’s show-stopping opening ceremony. From Shakespeare to the internet, from rolling …

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A voice for the voiceless

I had written a speech for the European motion at conference, and I wanted to share it with you all:

I was going to tell you about how angry I was.

I was going to talk about how the Leave campaign lied, how they cheated, how they preyed on fear, and how fear won.

I was going to demand we take action.

I was going to implore you to stand fast in your support for internationalism and your support for Britain’s membership of the EU.

But then I remembered that it isn’t just about us, that it isn’t just about the 16 million people who voted for an open and tolerant nation.

It is about our friends and neighbours, the 3 million EU nationals who live and work with us in Britain who never had a voice during the referendum.

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The aging prison population


With so much focus being placed on young offenders and the poverty traps that keep them locked in a cycle of crime, little attention has been given to an ever increasing section of the national prison population. In England and Wales, male offenders aged 50 or above are the fastest growing group in prison, rising by 74% in the past decade to close to 10,000 (that’s 11% of the total prison population), while since 1990 the over-60s population has increasing eight-fold.

A succession of governments, wanting to appear ‘tough on crime’, have led to an increased pressure on the judicial system to hand out an increasing number of longer-term sentences. A rapidly aging long-term prison population now suffers from an accelerated aging process due to a combination of the health risks associated with criminal lifestyles and the psychological strains of prison life, which has led to more and more pressure being placed on correctional services that are now unable to cope with the changing nature of prison care for many inmates.

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We are all leaders

There is a simple yet important question we need to ask ourselves if we are to rebuild our party: Am I a leader?

It is a simple question but one we rarely ask. Leadership has become defined by the extraordinary, by those who are able to do things which many others cannot, but this means that when we do show leadership – even for a short period – we undervalue it or worse, we don’t acknowledge it at all.

During the recent local elections I stood (for the first time) as a paper candidate in my local ward. Despite my small chance of success (earning 5% of the vote would have been seen as a major coup) I decided to press on regardless and printed some leaflets. As the local party hadn’t resources to spare for a FOCUS run I decided to pay for some out of my own pocket and create Street FOCUS, meaning I only had to print 50 or so at a time. The major issue I focussed on in the tight roads of my local area was Residents Parking Permits and whether Blue Badge holders should have priority parking outside of their homes.

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We shouldn’t just be the party of Remain; we should also be the party of Reform


There is a strong chance that the Remain camp will win the EU Referendum. I say that because, through campaigning on the streets for Britain Stronger In Europe in the most Eurosceptic town in the South West, there has definitely been a shift in public attitude from a generally hostile view of the EU to the realisation of the potential damage to the UK a Leave vote would bring.

I am not saying that we are home and dry; a week is a long time in politics and there are several more weeks to go in the run-up to the vote, but this campaign is one Remain could easily lose rather than one the Brexit side could easily win.

With that said, the referendum is only the beginning in a new chapter on the debate over Britain’s relationship with the European Union, and we will make a fatal error in thinking that this vote will finally slay the dragon of anti-EU sentiment. In fact, the closeness of the vote we are more likely about the see the rebirth of a more wide-ranging UKIP party along the lines of the SNP after the Scottish referendum; rebranding itself as a Eurosceptic ‘Libertarian Party’ to draw together those involved in the Vote Leave, Leave.EU and Grassroots Out campaigns.

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Global thinking, Local vision – What the Liberal Democrats can learn from how Coca-Cola operates in Africa

With the exception of Cuba and North Korea Coca-Cola is sold in every country on earth. Altogether, 1.7 billion servings of their products (the group has a portfolio of around 500) are sold every day, and that number is increasing year on year. While Africa produces around 10% of the company’s total revenue and volume the group expects this to double in less than six years, meaning that by 2020 the continent will boast more Coca-Cola consumers than the US and Europe combined.

While the comparison of a political party and the sales strategy of a multi-national corporation on another continent may seem poles apart, Coca-Cola’s success story provides some valuable lessons for an organisation needing to re-launch its brand to overcome a number of barriers to reconnect with a disillusioned electorate. 

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The Greatest Show On Earth


From the great theatrical showman in Las Vegas to the street-hustlers on trestle tables asking tourists to watch the cups; misdirection, the foremost requirement of magic, is a deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.

No matter in what forum they perform, from street magicians to TV illusionists, magicians have the ability to use their skills to create something out of nothing, of reordering the universe to defy the rules of logic before our very eyes – and who knew that the Conservative government was creating the greatest show on earth.

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The liberal case for the need to champion social services

As has become obvious to anyone who has read a newspaper or watched a news channel over the past 5 years, the NHS is straining under the weight of demand. With accident and emergency departments swamped, critical staffing levels and insufficient number of beds the national health provider is struggling to provide the excellent level of care that it is famed for. Alongside this, within the social services sector a perfect storm of an aging population, increased numbers of people living with long-term conditions, squeezed local authority budgets, discrepancies between the fees paid by private clients and local councils, high staff turnover and increased overhead costs has meant that for both systems the current situation is completely unsustainable.

While the government has already committed to increased spending on the NHS by £10bn per year in real terms by 2020/21 social care falls under the budget of local services and so they will continue to wither on the vine. As mentioned in a previous article, ‘Why we should care about Care’ both services work hand-in-hand, and a true integration could see money saved, lives improved and pressure reduced on both the NHS and local councils and their social services. 

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Brave New World – How the Liberal Democrats must use multipotentialism to survive

Political parties and their structures developed from the transformation of society in the nineteenth century, and as such are based along the structured hierarchies of the factory floor. While the factory was perfected to make a product it stripped away identity, with workers being components in the machines they worked. While such certainties have given both Labour and the Conservatives strength by dominating their position within this system, they are also trapped by the very system that gives them that strength. To use another industrial analogy; while their parties are huge and powerful locomotives, they are confined to the tracks they roll upon.

But we no longer live in an industrial age. Instead we grapple with complex, multi-dimensional problems of a post-industrial interconnected world. Hierarchical structures in business and industry have been replaced by networks that constantly evolve and reshape themselves to meet the needs of the world around them. In order to deal with the issues that face us as a nation and as a society we need creative, out-of-the-box thinking – something the Liberal Democrat Party used to be famed for.

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Introducing the Liberal Democrat Federalist Group

Federalism as an aim and a concept has a long history in the Liberal, and now the Liberal Democrat, Party. The benefits and feasibility of federalism have been much debated over the years and what has evolved from those debates not only forms the basis of our own party’s structure and governance but has also become part of our party’s constitution:

We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. We similarly commit ourselves to the promotion of a flourishing system of democratic local government in which decisions are taken and services delivered at the most local level which is viable.

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Representative Delegates? How we should view the role of Liberal Democrat MPs

After furious debate from all parties on both sides of the floor, the House of Commons has voted in favour of Britain expanding its current military operations to cover both Iraq and Syria. To the shock of many within the Liberal Democrat party this week, Tim Farron announced that the parliamentary party will be backing the government’s proposal, stating that:

It is in my judgement that, on balance, the five tests I set out have been met as best they can at this moment, and I will therefore be voting in favour of extending the operations to allow airstrikes on ISIL in Syria.

The implications of this for the party and for the country will be debated over the coming weeks, months, or potentially years, to come. However, this article is not about the legal, moral, political or philosophical reasons to support/condemn this decision. This article is about the nature of the decision itself.

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How the Liberal Democrats can become the official opposition by 2035

The Agenda 2020 essays that I have read through on Lib Dem Voice have really been superb and it’s great to see ideas about our principles and philosophy articulated in such a concise way. If we are going to rebuild our party and move forward to become stronger than we have been in a century then we need to have open, frank, even explosive, debates on what we must do to become one of leading political parties in the country again. Armed with the drive and enthusiasm of old and new members alike we can really do something amazing, hence my bold – but not unrealistic – title, using the goals below.

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The argument isn’t about if we are European; it’s about what it means to be British

European Union flags - Some rights reserved by tristam sparksWithout knowing where the finish line will be, the race to the EU referendum has already begun. Despite the fracturing of the Leave campaign and the lack-lustre beginning from the Stay In groups, the pop-up Facebook pages have begun to appear and Twitter users are attempting to condense a range of complex social, political and economic arguments into 140 character barrages. Along with the social-media frenzy both sides have produced posters to be included as arguments to back their cause and throw scorn on the other, readily prepared for users to post online and help spread the message. Between the lists of economic data, Schengen Agreement maps, pictures of refugee camps and European Union flags (either proudly displayed or on fire) a common theme crops up again and again: Is being European compatible with being British?

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Agenda 2020 Essay #5 What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Libby - Some rghts reserved by David SpenderEditor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is 2nd November. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected].

What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today to me is to promote three basic, yet fundamental, principles to help place in people’s hands the tools they need to make the most of their lives: Freedom, Democracy and Community. I believe that, when achieved, a person can reach their full potential and in turn can help others reach their full potential too.

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Opinion: Why we should care about Care

The declining state of residential and nursing care system in this country is, like so many services, something that has been bundled into the welfare cuts introduced by the Coalition – and now that the Conservatives have a majority it is set to worsen.

While the Tories have promised billions of pounds to the NHS an equally pressing (and in many ways the more important) concern is the lack of social services support on which most preventative and after-care services rely.

In the case of the elderly, if a person living alone has a fall within their own home and are taken to hospital they are not allowed to return until a social worker has done an appraisal to make sure they will be safe living alone. Due to the pressure this puts on already over-stretched local social services not all of these assessments can be undertaken promptly and  leads to elderly patients (who do not have anything physically wrong with them) taking up hospital beds in a number of departments – and more critically in A&E departments.

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Recent Comments

  • Peter Martin
    @ Chris, Adam and David, So can we all agree (except perhaps Alex ) that being in favour of the EU does require uncritical support? This is a big problem...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Adam: I rarely read BtL comments in newspaper articles as they tend not to be representative of public opinion. All I can say is that such opinions as you have...
  • Adam
    "Given the avalanche of unending and captious criticism of the EU from the pro-Brexiteer nationalist establishment prior to Brexit, it’s scarcely surprising t...
  • David Allen
    Peter Martin, "In practice, we seldom, if ever, see any criticism of the EU from its supporters." Yeah, yeah, yeah. When the Tories make a political broa...
  • Chris Moore
    Given the avalanche of unending and captious criticism of the EU from the pro-Brexiteer nationalist establishment prior to Brexit, it's scarcely surprising that...