Author Archives: Andy Boddington

Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in rural Shropshire and edits Lib Dem Voice on Fridays

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 19 Comments

Six hours without Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – is social media now vital infrastructure?

Social media is central to our lives. It is arguably essential to our lives. Many of us believe it is helpful to our lives, though some blame it for the evils of the world.

When Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went offline for six hours yesterday, there was immediate outrage about the outage on Twitter but of course the other main social networks had been silenced.

The outage interrupted important council business for me. On the other hand, there were no distractions as I tucked into dinner and prepared for sleep. And I slept well.

Perhaps, we should shut down social media for a whole day a week to give us all a break from the continual stream of contacts. That’s a nice idea. But are we reaching the point that provision of social media has become such a part of our lives that it should be regarded as vital infrastructure? Perhaps it needs a regulator, Offsocial.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

Councillor abuse on social media – what can we do about it?

Social media is the expression of all of us. Collectively and individually. Even if people don’t participate in it, its impacts cannot be ignored.

Social media is all of us on the internet, on phones, laptops, smart speakers and an ever growing number of devices. It is almost as everyday as conversation.

Except social media is not like conversation. Any abuse in conversation is usually sporadic. On social media it can be relentless. This commentary comes from someone who has engaged with online communication since the late 1980s. I get abuse as a councillor but not as much as some others. The deputy leader of my council has just resigned citing online abuse.

The question for all of us in public life is how we cope with the flack and the abuse. And can we limit it?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 11 Comments

By Gove, my LUD is planning to level up!

In last week’s reshuffle, Robert Jenrick was booted out of cabinet and Michael Gove nudged across to take over the housing and planning brief. His duties as secretary of state now also include the struggling levelling up agenda. So the department that was most often called the housing ministry has been renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, DLUHC, perhaps pronounced duller huck. Given the ordering of priorities in the title it seems inevitable that the department will be known as the Levelling Up Department, or LUD, though some may think that acronym LUDicrous. Indeed, it has attracted both criticism and satire.

Gove’s main job is to prevent the Blue Wall collapsing by rolling back Jenrick’s failing planning reforms. He must also secure the Red Wall by making levelling up happen. That’s tough for a man, although born in Aberdeen, who is identified with Blue Wall Tories. And there is already concern that local government will suffer yet again now it has been dropped from the department’s title. Michael Gove may feel he has a collar around his neck, tasked with delivering what his boss Boris Johnson could not.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 4 Comments

World Suicide Prevention Day: A councillor view from the hill farm

It is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Tracey and Richard Huffer farm high on a hill in south west Shropshire. Tracey is also a health professional. Along with myself and four others, we are Lib Dem councillors in a very rural area. Sometimes it feels we can’t sit down for a chat without mentioning the “s” word. Someone else has taken their life. And it is mostly younger people, mostly men. This article reflects how on the growing problem of suicide in rural areas and the struggles councillors have to get help in tackling the problem.

Richard was at the livestock market selling sheep recently.

I was leaning against the railings at the sheep pens. An elderly farmer, a stranger, joined me and started pouring out about his son who had shot himself at the age of 30. I was probably one of the few people he had seen for a while, perhaps the only one for days.

I wish I could say this was a one off. Sadly not.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Lib Dem councillors call for action on Afghan refugee crisis

Shropshire Lib Dems are joining councillors and activists across the country in calling on their councils and MPs for greater and faster action on the Afghan refugee crisis. Many councillors are lobbing their MPs, including Carshalton & Wallington. There is a row going on in Guilford, where the Lib Dems are getting on with the job but the Conservatives are trying to score political points. Elsewhere, there are some difficulties in councils acting refugees because of budget and housing constraints.

I am pleased and proud to live in a county that is welcoming to refugees. It is always a challenge to find housing and ensure the right level of support and independence for refugees. But we know that they settle well and become part of our community. With the experience of the Syrian Resettlement Programme (VPRS), we are ready to take many more but that will depend on a greater ambition and degree of humanity than the government is currently showing.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 2 Comments

“War. What is it good for?” On Kabul and the failure of war

“War, what is it good for?” Edwin Starr and many others sang the anthem of the beginning of the 1970s. It picked up the mood of the moment. I recall as an underage drinker roaring out “Absolutely nothin’!” in response to the question at weekend discos. We were all talking about the war in Vietnam, not then aware of war in Cambodia. But most of what I had learnt about war was from history books and the occasional classroom lecture. It was distant, even anodyne.

This August, we face what is being described “Biden’s Saigon moment”. Kabul could fall with days and one of the mightiest powers in the world, the USA, is beating a hasty retreat from three decades of occupation. Behind the retreating armies, women will lose rights that many have only just begun to exercise. Democracy will be crushed under the wheels of departing miltary trucks.

The loss of reputation of western powers to solve world problems by shooting and bombing will be more than collateral damage from the withdrawal. One of the most significant weapons in the armoury of the USA and Britain, war, will have again been shown to be one of the least effective solutions to world problems.

This question has been in my mind since before sixth form. War? What is it good for?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 12 Comments

Davey tells Johnson to save country and world from climate crisis

As COP26 approaches, Boris Johnson is looking more and more like a rabbit confused by headlights. Flashing into his eyes are the growing number of Conservative MPs who believe that greening the economy fast by driving ahead electric cars, reducing wasteful consumption and cutting our impact on the environment will damage “the economy”.

This is a Tory monopolistic view of the economy. Continue in the old ways that are destroying our planet. That must be good in their view because there is money in shareholder’s pockets.

It is proving hard to convince many national politicians, local councils and punters in the pub that we are in a climate emergency. My own council, Shropshire Council, was trumpeting its climate credentials this morning by promoting an environmentally destructive relief road around Shrewsbury. The details of its environmental improvements are under wraps for now but they seem to involve a tarmac for trees swap. Screw up the environment and plant trees in absolution. I don’t buy environmental confessionals.

But we still need to plant trees. Yesterday, Ed Davey challenged the government on its record of planting trees.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 11 Comments

Science fiction global effort needed for climate or we could face dystopia

The IPCC report is a big report in a big year. COP26 is less than 100 days away. A world still gripped with the pandemic is being urged to get to grip with climate change. Covid-19 has been in our communities. In our bodies. Debilitating and killing in real time. Climate change has been around the corner. Out of sight and too often out of mind.

No longer. Heat bombs, floods, droughts, all predicted consequences of climate change and the strains to which human activities are putting on our planet.

Yet, we still get contradictory messages from politicians.

In the UK, a legacy of fossil fuel addition has led to the approval of new oil and gas exploration and the stuttering progress of greening schemes. Worldwide, there is a growing consensus on the need for action but also an inertia against such action.

The great sci writers, Arthur C. Clarke and many others, envisioned the world acting together against galactic and universal forces at a time of crisis. There is an alternative vision of the future. Dystopia. And that could be our future if COP26 fails.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 40 Comments

Sunak and Johnson in “Barnard Castle on steroids” escape from self-isolation

You couldn’t make it up. It’s like reading the cover of Private Eye. Health secretary Sajid Javid gets a positive Covid-19 result. If the Prime Minister and Chancellor, who met with him on Friday,  were ordinary mortals, they would have been banished into the self-isolation wilderness for 10 days.

But those at the heart of government live more privileged lives. Driving to Barnard’s Castle to test eyesight. Sneaking a clinch with a mistress, though forgetting to smile for the CCTV. And now Johnson and Sunak, who must not to be confused with the comedy act Laurel and Hardy no matter how tempting that is, are on a trial. They are piloting a stop at work with Covid scheme and testing daily.

 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 34 Comments

Is Boris Johnson gambling on tonight’s Euro final to boost herd immunity?

Crowding together. Shouting. Singing. Welcome to the excitement of football. As England and Italy prepare for the Euro final, scientists are concerned that football is helping drive up Covid-19 infection rates by allowing potentially super spreader events such as the finals at Wembley and Wimbledon. It is predicted that seven million pints will be served during the Euro final tonight in pubs across the land. Health secretary Sajid Javid has suggested we might be heading towards 100,000 new cases a day. Did he take sporting events into account?

It’s coming home but could coronavirus also be coming home with the fans? Maybe Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid want that. Could the Euro final be a booster jab that gets us closer to herd immunity.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 9 Comments

Review – Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford Vaccine

Having written 150 blog posts on coronavirus since March 2020, and as a recipient of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, I was eagerly looking forward to the publication of this book. When it dropped into my Audible inbox this morning, I immediately began listening as I ploughed on with my daily business of a councillor while living in self isolation. I was not disappointed.

Sarah Gilbert is Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University. Dr Catherine Green is also at Oxford, where she is an Associate Professor in Chromosome Dynamics at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics. Together they tell the story of how the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was developed in record time amid a pandemic that affected their lives as much as everyone else’s.

Their message is: “We went faster because we had to.” That was despite at times feeling the strain of “an unedified mix of science, politics and emotions.”

Posted in Books and Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Breaking… Labour narrowly hold Batley and Spen

Labour have narrowly retained Batley and Spen after two bundle checks. Keir Starmer has been spared the ignominy of losing a red wall seat at a time when there is talk in his party of a leadership challenge. The majority of 323 defied the doomsayers but a 7.4% reduction in the Labour vote will still lead to continued questioning of his leadership.

The Conservatives did not make ground and lost 1.6% of the vote. George Galloway came third, the Lib Dems fourth.

The turnout was 47.6%.

Posted in News | Tagged | 29 Comments

Hancock out, Javid in

Under relentless pressure after he was pictured in a romantic clinch in breach of coronavirus restrictions, Matt Hancock last night resigned as secretary of state for health. He told Boris Johnson:

The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis… We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance.

He is replaced by former home secretary and chancellor, Sajid Javid.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

Hancock: Emergent class of rulebreakers are undermining government

Will he go or will he stay?

Can Hancock survive a sneaky snog and buttock fondle that took place at a time when he was telling us all to social distance?

Matt Hancock survived Dominic Cumming’s torpedoes and hell has no fury like a political adviser scorned. Hancock has the prime minister’s backing. Well, Johnson has had his own jolly japes.

But the media are howling for Hancock’s resignation. His behaviour and his future is bound to dominate tomorrow’s political circuit. As Ed Davey said yesterday, the real issue is Matt Hancock’s competence in his role as health secretary. Agreed. But there is growing anger among those told to obey pandemic isolation rules while ministers and advisers routinely ignore them.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 6 Comments

Farron and Hobhouse condemn planning bill as Tories fail to vote

The Tories aren’t revolting, at least over planning. Yesterday evening, they were told not to vote in the opposition debate over the planning bill. Yet it was clear from the debate that many remained unhappy with the proposals which contributed to the historic defeat in Chesham and Amersham.

The debate lasted for just over three hours and 17 members did not get the chance to speak. All twelve Lib Dems voted for the opposition motion. There were no votes against as the Tories went into hiding at the end of the debate. Many of them might not like the planning reforms but they are certainly not going to be brave enough to defy a whip and vote against them.

Wera Hobhouse and Tim Farron spoke for the Lib Dems.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 2 Comments

Chesham and Amersham defeat leads to unplanned Tory revolt on planning “reforms”

The Tories are revolting. After Thursday’s dramatic loss to the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham, MPs are warning Boris Johnson that the proposed planning reforms will lose them seats. Many Conservatives didn’t like the proposals before Thursday but I suspect many MPs hadn’t paid attention amid the challenges of the pandemic and other excuses. Some in the South East had given voice to their concerns but there has been no open rebellion until now. And now that is mostly on WhatsApp according to the Times.

HS2 certainly came home to roost on Thursday. Protected areas in the Chilterns, north Bucks and Warwickshire lose out badly from this line that brings those areas no benefits. There is still time to cancel this madness and restore the landscape. But I don’t think it will happen.

The HS2 row has spilled over to into planning. The government’s proposed planning reforms strip powers from local councils. It is a Lego approach to planning. Standard blocks. No local sensitivity.

The Tories lost in Chesham and Amersham because they thought they would win against a great candidate and a great campaign. But planning is now the Tories Achille’s Heel. In many areas, it could help us win more seats.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Chesham & Amersham: Davey – it’s not a flash in the plan, we are demolishing the Blue Wall

Everyone is tired. Everyone is ebullient. Except the Tories of course. Or Labour for that matter who came fourth in yesterday’s by-election in Chesham and Amersham.

Ed Davey has been doing the rounds of media today. He said he hadn’t expected such a huge swing. The Tory obsession with the Red Wall has meant they had ignored their own Blue Wall. “Last night we punched a hole in it.”

He talked of Chesham and Amersham voters being taken for granted by the Tories. Boris Johnson is not the decent Conservative they used to vote for. The Lib Dems are making progress in the south. Conservative MPs there should be worried.

This is not a flash in the plan by-election result. It is a trend that is demolishing the Blue Wall. Conservatives in the south should be worried.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 49 Comments

Chesham & Amersham: Tories blame loss on a kitchen sink, a dog and a cat

The result was in just before 2am this morning. What a result.

Readers should beware that this post includes allegations of a kitchen sink drama and cruelty to animals. Allegations from the Tories of course.

When you read Peter Fleet’s comments – he was the low profile Conservative candidate by the way – you can understand why he didn’t win. He blamed the result on the Lib Dems working hard. Yes. That’s what we do. He hadn’t expected the result. How broken is the Tory machine that it can’t read the writing on the wall? The posters in the windows. The talk on the doorsteps. The changing demographics in a constituency.

Very broken it seems and nothing to do with kitchen sinks.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 31 Comments

Times: Lib Dems hopeful of by-election upset in Chesham & Amersham

The Times today has the headline we need ahead of Thursday’s by-election. The newspaper reports that Sarah Green, the Lib Dem candidate has 41 per cent of the vote and the Conservative candidate, Peter Fleet, 45 per cent. That is close and this long held Tory stronghold could fall to the Lib Dems. Key issues according to the Times are HS2 which is railroading through the constituency and the government’s plan to bulldoze green fields with its planning reform act.

We are almost there. A win in Chesham & Amersham would not only upset the Tory applecart. It will give our party a boost. A clear sense of winning. Delivering seats at national and local level from the growing Lib Dem surge.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 29 Comments

Backbench victory could reverse overseas aid budget cut

Rishi Sunak’s £4 billion cut to the overseas aid budget last November was a populist move, playing to the sections of the media that believe most aid is wasted and we should keep the money for ourselves. But the cut of almost a third from the budget is having an impact on relief and development projects, on education for girls and on the UK’s standing in the developing and developed world.

Backbench MPs are angry. So angry that a Conservative amendment to an unrelated bill of Monday looks like being supported, providing it is selected by the Speaker. This would reinstate our nation’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid.

Boris Johnson will perhaps spend the weekend wondering whether it is worth the damage to his reputation ahead of the G7 summit over what one of his ministers calls a “small” cut in overseas aid.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 32 Comments

Committee capers in London’s City Hall weaken Labour influence

The AGM of the London Assembly took place on Friday. Conservative Andrew Boff was elected as assembly chairman, with fellow Conservative Keith Price as his deputy. Previously, Labour’s Navin Shah and Tory Tony Arbour held the posts.

If Sadiq Khan was not happy about the Tories taking over the assembly leadership, he will surely be even less happy that the Labour group on the assembly no longer chair any of the influential scrutiny committees. Media reports suggest that Labour AMs went into a strop during arguments over chairing the transport committee and walked out.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

It was a bloke’s world in the Super Thursday elections – why do so few women stand for public office?

With thanks to the Fawcett Society and the Democracy Club, we can analyse the gender of the more than 21,000 candidates that stood last Thursday. Just one third were women (33%). Of the major parties, the Greens had the highest proportion of women at 43%, followed by Labour (41%), the Lib Dems (31%) and the Conservatives (27%).

This article sets out the data and asks why relative few women are standing for elections. It does not provide any answers.

My first thought was bias against women in the selection process. That may well exist. But of the 1,285 candidates whose description was “Independent”, and therefore were self-selected, just 24% were women.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 17 Comments

The 2021 elections are over. How was it for you? Open thread for comments

I write this shortly after the polls close. Many of you be hoping for a lie in. Some will be at work. Others will be too stressed to sleep much until the results are in and for many, that will not be until the weekend.

Lib Dems have been battling for seats in the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd. We have high hopes in many local councils. We have candidates in the mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections. You can’t have missed that there has been a by-election in Hartlepool.

Our candidates and supporters have made supreme efforts on Super Thursday.

Lib Dem Voice will of course be publishing comment and analysis as the results come in. In the meanwhile, this blog is a space for you comment and tell anecdotes of the day. No nastiness please. This is a space for reflection not any attacks on campaigning or people. Such comments would not be fair on candidates anxiously awaiting their count. There will be space for analysis when the results are in.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 50 Comments

Yesterday was Earth Day – was it also the day we really began to tackle the climate emergency?

Earth Day is now in its 51st year. If Donald Trump had gained a second term, it would have probably gone unnoticed in the Capitol yesterday. But Joe Biden is now leading America and he used the occasion to host an international summit and announce deep cuts in carbon emissions. Pledges came in from leaders across the world.

Boris Johnson got his pennyworth in earlier announced that he will set in law “world’s most ambitious climate change target”, cutting emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels in pursuit of zero carbon by 2050. Admirable stuff. More important than the headline figure is that the UK’s Carbon Budget will incorporate our share of international aviation and shipping emissions, which each contribute three to four per cent each to global warming.

Are we turning the corner at last in getting the political commitments we need to drive the business and societal changes needed to tackle climate change? Maybe.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 15 Comments

We can’t solve climate change and biodiversity loss without solving planning – a view from the grass roots

I am writing from the heart following a battering few years trying to protect biodiversity landscapes from new developments and to get sustainable transport written into housing and supermarket schemes.

On biodiversity, all we have got from developments in my expanding rural town is tokenism. Replacement trees within manicured landscapes. Not the untidy scrubby bits of landscape that are or will become biodiversity rich.

On sustainable transport, the car remains king. There are no plans for bus routes to serve four major housing developments. The out of town supermarket, with the backing of councillors and planners, doesn’t even have a bus stop.

The planning system is working against our national and international ambitions to enrich biodiversity and tackle the climate emergency.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 10 Comments

Escape to the country ideals don’t give a real view of rural life and don’t help us tackle rural England’s problems

Am I the only one who find programmes like Escape to the Country unsettling? The clue is in the word “escape”. That idea of rural life being idyllic compared to the nightmare of living in cities. Before anyone gets worked up, I don’t think cities are a nightmare. A buzz of life 24 hours seven days a week. Almost everything available whenever you need it. Walkable neighbourhoods.

But cities and large towns are too busy for me. All those people you don’t know rushing past not saying hello. I don’t think rural areas are a nightmare. Far from it. But people seem who escape to the country sometimes have unrealistic expectations of rural life. That could increase pressure on services and we are already seeing in rural counties like mine which has soaring adult social care costs driven by an ageing population. We will not get to grip with the gritty reality of rural life if it is portrayed is an idyll where everyone with a stash of money in the bank should live.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 6 Comments

Government tells councils they must meet in public after May local elections – that is neither practical nor safe

Local councils have been meeting online during the pandemic. After a few teething problems, the practice of meeting online has worked well. But yesterday the government declared councils must meet in public after 7 May. Many councillors think this is too early. A good many councils, including Ludlow Town Council and Shropshire Council, do not have suitable buildings to accommodate all their councillors, let alone members of the public, while social distancing remains in place.

Vaccination is under way but having kept myself safe for a year, I think this is too risky. Up to 74 councillors and at least 25 officers and public attend Shropshire’s unitary council in a chamber set out like a university lecture hall. My local town council meets in a cheek by jowl Guildhall that is socially cramped. The parish council I chair had 30 people at one online meeting recently. There is nowhere in the parish big enough for a meeting that size even in normal times.

This is retrograde move that will reduce the effectiveness of local democracy. Not for once, ministers are out of touch with reality.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

Policing by consent in question after Clapham Common, police report and government bill on crime and justice

The scenes on Clapham Common last night as the police broke up the vigil for Sarah Everard were a disgrace and undermine the fundamental principle of policing by consent. Leading Lib Dems have called on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign. It was not a protest. It was a statement of solidarity with a woman who had been abducted from the streets of London and murdered. It was a declaration that women should be safe on the streets. Lib Dem Voice editor Caron Lindsay told of her personal experiences yesterday.

The UK’s tradition of policing by consent is being replaced by policing by authority. Legislation now in parliament looks set to reinforce authority at the expense of the fundamental right of freedom to protest.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 31 Comments

Book review: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

“So, who am I to lecture anyone on the environment?” asks a man that flies in private planes and owns big homes. Okay. He is trying to mitigate his impacts through sustainable fuel and carbon offsets. But is Bill Gates the man to tell us how to fix climate change?

Bill Gates’ philosophy is one of improving life chances and lifestyles while cutting carbon emissions. It is an unashamedly market-led approach, creating incentives through carbon pricing and reducing the cost of greening energy. His approach is to roll out new technologies for energy and food production, not to change the fundamental ways that society works.

Posted in Books | Tagged and | 8 Comments
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Thu 28th Oct 2021
19:30