Author Archives: Callum Robertson

I’ve been elected to Federal Board – what do you want championed?

In 2022, the Liberal Democrats passed a number of reforms championed by party president, Mark Pack, which included, but were not limited to, the reforming and slimming down of the Liberal Democrat Federal Board (similar to the board of directors for a company).

The reforms, which I supported at the time, have led to genuine change in how we function as a party, and I remain of the view that we made the right decision.

However, the slight pitfall in the reforms from a personal perspective was that in the subsequent board elections, I finished fifth, missing out on a place on the board. Such is life.

I was therefore surprised when David Crowther emailed me to let me know that I had been elected following a vacancy arising on the board.

Of course, I am delighted to have a seat on the Federal Board of the party. It would however, be remiss of me not to note the circumstances that led to the vacancy on the board. A member of the governing body of our party was suspended following grossly offensive posts about Jewish people and Ukrainians.

As a result, it is important that we fight to ensure that our party is a safe environment for Jewish people and anything below that bar is not good enough.

What next?

Leaving aside the fact that the circumstances have arisen. We must look to how we can move forward. To my mind, that involves listening to members.

I am also aware that some members may be interested in what I was originally planning were I to have been successful, this mainly focused around making us government ready.

How can you get in touch?

If you have any questions, please do drop me an email on [email protected], I am keen to hear and represent members.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

Rooted in pragmatism: a Liberal Democrat approach to school accountability

At the 2023 Autumn Liberal Democrat conference, we changed our position on school accountability in England away from the “abolish OFSTED” line, to a more pragmatic viewpoint of reforming our system of school accountability. I have taken the time to set out what reform should actually look like.

2023 was, I think it is fair to say, a fairly tumultuous year for the schools inspectorate, OFSTED. From the tragic death of Ruth Perry to increasing disquiet about the blunt-tool of single gradings.

However, whilst disquiet has been on the rise, 2023 has also seen an increase in high-quality research about what the future of school inspection should look like. From the IPPR’s review led by Loic Menzies, to Sam Freedman and the Institute for Government’s report. Another notable report was that of Public First, the consultancy firm who undertook a highly rigorous consultation on the future of school accountability.

All of these reports chimed into what appears to be a general theme and feeling now, that more of the same is not an option. Nevertheless, where opponents of OFSTED have traditionally been limited in their success is that the phraseology of “abolish” leaves the receiver of the message of the opinion that school accountability and improvement is not a priority.

The same criticism cannot be levelled at the work undertaken by Menzies and Freedman which both provide comprehensive analysis of the problems with school inspection whilst crucially providing recommendations for reforms that are rooted in pragmatism. Whilst the phrasing “reforms rooted in pragmatism” may not set the world alight, they do understand what is, to most people’s minds what is needed.

We should start, by recognising the problems that do exist within the schools inspectorate at the moment. 

These chiefly fall around three categories, workload leading up to inspections, the manner of inspections (inclusive of outcome from) and the subsequent support needed by each school to improve. However, where these issues come together is the overarching question “what is the purpose of school accountability”?

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We are crying out for a fairer Pupil Premium deal

On the Sunday morning of conference, the Liberal Democrats will present our plan for education, ahead of the next General Election, with an exciting array of new announcements, today, I want to focus on the most important one, reducing inequality of outcome in education, a policy problem that has only been exacerbated by covid.

Since the 1800’s, people have been tirelessly campaigning for a fair education settlement, for liberals this comes down to our core principles that no one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

Nothing encapsulates this more than our very real change we achieved in government, the Pupil Premium, a system of targeted funding to disadvantaged pupils.

Alongside the expansion of Free School Meals, the introduction of Pupil Premium worked as an effective incubator for social mobility. When introduced by the Liberal Democrats in the 2010-15 government, figures showed that attainment between advantaged and disadvantaged students narrowed by 4%, with the Sutton Trust calling for Pupil Premium to be the key lever in narrowing the attainment gap.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Do not walk away from accountability, reform OFSTED, do not abolish it.

OFSTED, the schools inspectorate has received flack for its inspection methods in the aftermath of the tragic death of Ruth Perry earlier this year. Following a period of silence, OFSTED Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman appeared on BBC Laura Kuenssberg this morning to face questions over the OFSTED’s approach to inspections.

The Liberal Democrat policy on OFSTED is to abolish it and replace it with a new body for school accountability. This is flawed for a number of reasons, not least because the hiatus period between abolition and refounding could lead to serious failures in uncovering failing establishments, hurting the life chances of the thousands of pupils in the communities that those schools serve. However, reform is a more appropriate method to secure the faith of the profession in their regulator.

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Maths reforms – the argument that the Conservatives (and we) should be making!

£20 Billion per year or 1.3% of our GDP is nothing to be sniffed at. That means, in real terms, more jobs staying in the UK, a more competitive economy and a scenario where we aspire to more from our young people. This is something to be admired.

A two minute conversation with the standard Liberal Democrat campaigner will tell you that we are not exactly fond of the Conservatives, with their politicisation of human rights issues, woeful running of the economy and the lowering of our standards in public life, those are just some of the many reasons why.

However, where we should agree in principle, is with the Maths reforms. Our population is functionally innumerate and, large parts functionally illiterate, for one of the largest economies in the world, that is a damning indictment on the United Kingdom, it is also a legacy of low standards in education that existed under Major.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 17 Comments

Right diagnoses, wrong solution: why we should be a critical friend of maths until 18

On 4th January, Rishi Sunak announced plans to enforce the study of mathematics until students turned 18. This would be a major departure from current education policy of free subject choice for post-16 students in England.

This was immediately met with criticism from a range of groups, from education professionals who argue that the teacher shortage of maths professionals is just too great to cope with the additional demand, to people who had a bad experience in school with maths. The former problem is one I have substantial sympathy for, the latter is not a credible argument.

If we go beyond the headline and the immediate hyperbolic reaction, the proposal makes sense. Numeric illiteracy rates are costing the United Kingdom around £20 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP according to research by the National Audit Office.

The Prime Minister’s proposal is an attempt to address the knowledge gap large parts of our population have. In this sense it is an exceptionally good idea. We must also combat the policy on what it is. Rishi Sunak has not proposed making students take an additional A Level in Mathematics. Nor has he proposed that it takes the same weighting as any other qualification 16-19 year olds are taking.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 24 Comments

Federal Board is the election, forward planning is the watchword

Our party has elections to 67 positions on 6 different committees and two directly elected positions coming up. Conference will be awash with the people vying for our votes. But we can’t lose focus of the need for experience, good governance and forward planning.

The committees up for election are admittedly an odd mix, from the fairly obvious Federal Board (to provide strategic overview to our party), to the opaque Federal International Relations Committee.

However, a running theme throughout these elections must be a steadfast focus on what we want to achieve as a party and how we achieve it.

With that in mind, it is important to note that the opinion polls are increasingly pointing toward a hung parliament with us as potential kingmakers. Don’t just take my word for it, Ian King agreed in his recent Times writeup about our conference.

It goes without saying that this would be a fantastic position to be in. As a party we exist to win elections then use that power to improve people’s lives. Any opportunity we have to do so should be carefully planned for.

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , and | 6 Comments

Four ways you can help us win Tiverton & Honiton

As you might be aware, there is a ridiculously important by-election going on in Tiverton and Honiton, in our former heartlands of the West Country.

More than that, we can win it and deliver the death knells to Boris Johnson’s premiership and get our country back from the quasi-mob outfit currently running the show.

However, to get a decent government of the United Kingdom back that doesn’t deport refugees to Rwanda, we badly need to get down and volunteer in Tiverton and Honiton.

Here are four ways you can help:

  1. Get down yourself, there are members willing to host volunteers, so your cost of

Posted in News and Parliamentary by-elections | Tagged | 15 Comments

Lib Dem governance reforms are vital

As a collective groan not heard since I last set my students an essay rings out, I am afraid the subject of governance reforms, whilst unexciting, is far too important to leave undiscussed.

In Dorothy Thornhill’s recent article, she sets out the importance of having a more agile organisation and ensuring that our party is fit to fight elections.

Much of this work has been ably carried out by HQ under the new CEO, Mike Dixon. The results at the Chesham & Amersham, and North Shropshire by elections pay testament to the strategic sense of shifting resources to the campaigns department.

However, staffing restructures can only take us so far. In order to effectively elect outstanding candidates in our target seats at the next election, we need to ensure that we have the organisational nimbleness to effectively grow our Council and Parliamentary base.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 20 Comments

The Young Liberals needs to change

When deciding to run to be co-Chairs of the Young Liberals, Jack and I recognised that we needed to address what we call the three big challenges facing YL: the need to professionalise our operations, the need to organise ourselves more effectively and the need to inform members about what the executive are doing.

This article focuses on the need to professionalise our operations and more importantly, how we intend to do this.

Firstly, we need to work better with the wider Liberal Democrats; their success is our success and vice versa. There is much to be gained by our organisations working well together. This success means we must interact with the party at all levels.

Both Jack and I have seen the fruits of positive working relationships in our roles as chair of English Young Liberals and East of England Young Liberals, respectively. In his role as chair of EYL, Jack built relationships with the English Liberal Democrats and consequently, he was able to secure extra funding to the tune of £4000 for YL. This money is being used to increase branch developments by; assisting with the production of materials, more money into the branch development fund and increasing support for accredited branches.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

In the wake of the BLM movement, Police and Crime Commissioners need to be leaders in building the relationship with minority communities

Embed from Getty Images

Here’s how they can do it:

On May 25th, George Floyd was brutally murdered by American Police Officers, sparking protests in the USA that then spread across the world, including to here in the United Kingdom where protesters highlighted racial disparities in stop and search statistics and UK complicity in the slave trade.

In 2012, the first Police and Crime Commissioners were elected across England and Wales with responsibility for producing a crime plan, managing the police budget and most importantly, bringing a directly accountable figurehead to policing here in England and Wales. It is the latter point which makes the 2021 set of Police and Crime Commissioner elections that are being held in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter movement, so important.

When the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK begun, they highlighted above all else, a deep-rooted anger about the very real inequality of treatment that minority communities have faced when it comes to criminal justice issues. It is because of this inequality of treatment, that minority communities rightly need to feel they can trust the police again.

This anger is exacerbated by stop and search statistics that show BAME communities being disproportionately targeted, undermining those communities’ trust in the police. Whilst at the same time, hate crimes are consistently rising. This has created a situation where a mutual trust between the Police and minority communities is vital part of the challenge of tackling the number of hate crimes.

As Police and Crime Commissioner have been since 2012, the publicly accountable faces of policing in England and Wales, the responsibility of building the trust between minority communities and the police falls to them to show leadership on.

As one of the candidates for Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in Essex. I have set out a three-step plan to begin the work of tackling racial injustice in the criminal justice system. These steps are by no means the finished article, but they encompass the crucial first steps of listening, acting on concerns and being proactive on known inequalities.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 6 Comments

How liberals should be responding to the Uyghur Muslim genocide

The United Kingdom has, for years, taking a flexible approach to the importance of human rights. On the one hand, the UK has taken an impressive stance on the Magnitsky sanctions against human rights abusers, on the other, we often act far too slowly or not at all when it comes to our allies or powerful countries.

We as a party have always stood tall in our defence of human rights. The treatment of the Uyghur Muslim community has been no exception, and the work of Alistair Carmichael, Maajid Nawaz and the Young Liberals should be applauded.

The work, however, cannot stop with hunger strikes, words and motions at a conference. This is even more pertinent when the Chinese Ambassador has the nerve to go on the Andrew Marr show and lie about the situation in Xinjiang.

This comes to the point of this article, which is about what we as a party can and should be doing about this crisis.

Firstly, we have over 50 councils up and down the UK where the Liberal Democrats are in power or a power-sharing agreement. Our councils should be volunteering to house Uyghur refugees. South Cambridgeshire had a similar programme with Syrian refugees.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

The noble principle of policing by consent

In the UK there exists a principle, harking back to the days of Sir Robert Peel. This long held tradition and principle is called policing by consent. This is essentially the idea that police legitimacy is based on the consent of those it polices. This vital bond, between citizen and state is one that should be held with the upmost regard. When our nation is in crisis, as it arguably is now, the rule of law becomes more, not less, important. This vital principle has almost passed unnoticed in recent weeks as the UK government has brought in strict legislation to help mitigate Covid-19.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

LASPO, the worst piece of legislation you’ve probably never heard of

LASPO, unless you have some sort of involvement with the law, probably comes across as some sort of quango that doesn’t have much meaning. However, it is probably the most crucial piece of justice related legislation since the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (which established the Supreme Court).

The Government’s consultation on the effects of LASPO has just concluded and every organisation who has submitted evidence to the Ministry of Justice consultation has broadly said the same thing. It has not worked.

What the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) did was bring about a wide range of …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

A sector on its knees, but no one seems to notice

As a nation we are famous for a good number of things, fish and chips on a Friday, being a nation of dog lovers and a legal system that is the envy of civilised nations worldwide. So, the question is, when we talk about government cuts hurting poorest, why is justice never mentioned?

In the budget on Monday, there were new “efficiency savings” announced for government departments, including a further 300 million cut to the Ministry of Justice but people don’t seem to care that Conservative maladministration has brought an industry to its knees.

We can all find ourselves at the mercy of the English justice system, whether that be as a victim of a crime or being in rent arrears with your landlord and at risk of being evicted yet there is no help available because legal aid has disappeared.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 13 Comments

The day the arts took a swipe at cuts…

On March 31st my colleague Alex and I went to see the play “The day the arts took a swipe at cuts”.

My friend Alex and I actually went to see the play “Victim” which is currently playing at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington. We did this after being contacted through our roles with Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform and a brilliantly hard-hitting show it was too.

“Victim” is a play that perfectly demonstrates how broken our prison system is. It tells the harrowing tale of the power struggle between the inmate and the guard, and the roles they play in a system that has been brutally hit by harsher-than-necessary cuts. This blog is not so much a review (such a phenomenal performance has no shortage of positive reviews) as it is a cry out for support and an end to cuts in this frankly broken prison system.

The Prison Reform organisation, Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform have, since our launch, been looking for a way to exemplify how much reform is needed to our prison system to make it fit for the 21st century. This play does this in a way no article or speech has managed to do yet. Fydor Dovtoyevsky once said, “the degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” I must say that the fact that this theatre company wrote and performed this moving piece is testament to the scale of the challenge we as a country face.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Introducing Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform

Prisoners get a bad rap. They get pushed around by politicians because it is politically popular to beat them with a rolled-up copy of the daily.

Just because this happens doesn’t mean it is okay. In fact, it is a fundamental abdication of our moral duty not to stand up for the human rights of our fellow human beings.

As such I been conducting some informal polling within the Young Liberals and by a landslide of 92% in favour, 8% opposing, they backed prisoner voting. Further questioning of the group indicated a 96% …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 26 Comments

Speculate to accumulate – why we should support devolution

On the doorstep I have lost count of the number of people I’ve spoken to, from the chap who was voting remain because he preferred “white immigration” to the person who was telling me that he “wanted his country back”. These people all have one thing in common, they feel let down. If they feel their politicians aren’t listening to them and they want change they vote for reactionary parties.

This has been the case as long as representative democracy has been around. Capitalising on people’s fears is how Mussolini got in, the same can be said for the advance of UKIP, the Front National and Trump. Offering change with meaningless sound bites is how reactionaries get in.

We’ve seen the decline of UKIP in the past year, this, in my opinion, can be attributed to three things. Firstly UKIP’s job is done per se, their raison d’être has passed. Secondly the Tories have outplayed them by using the same meaningless sound bites and undermining their support base. Thirdly, this is the important one, if you look at the communities that voted in UKIP representatives, they want to be listened to and they want the country they know back. Most importantly they want their politicians to care.

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

No Progressive Alliance please, we’re Liberals!

Recently there has been much talk of abandoning our principles and going in with the Greens and the Labour Party. Now my stance on this doesn’t come from some sort of archetypal hatred of them. In fact many of my friends belong to the Labour and Green movements. I have fond memories of standing side by side in Peterborough handing out leaflets and speaking to people about why we thought it was best to remain. I still keep cordial relations with the Greens and the Labour moderates. We campaign for Open Britain together and there is a lot to be said for cross party cooperation in this sense. Logic dictates when you believe in a common cause you should work as a team to achieve this.

However, the common cause on Europe is not a plan for government. We radically differ on policy with the Greens with regards to economic policy. With Labour, our Social Democratic wing undoubtedly has significant overlaps with the Labour moderate wing. However for every similarity there is a difference. I cannot honestly stand for election on a manifesto I disagree with, this is what would happen with the so called progressive alliance.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 89 Comments

Lib Dem members must all do their bit in this election

As I write this I am filled with pride as the party of rational thinking, the party of evidence based policy not knee-jerk reactions reaps the rewards of our stance on Brexit. Our membership is soaring, our poll ratings are creeping up and our results in by-elections both council and parliamentary are truly a sight to behold. However just beholding the wonders of our achievements since the General Election in 2015 isn’t enough. We have a General Election on the horizon!

While some may have the “Brenda “reaction of “not another one” we cannot be complacent. We must win as many seats as we can in order to show Mrs May we mean business! This means we have a number of Richmond Park campaigns to run.  We’ve got to win big in South London and return Sir Vince Cable and Sir Ed Davey to parliament. In Cambridge we’ve got to get the phenomenal campaigning machine who is Dr Julian Huppert back. But, we can only achieve this if we pull together and enthuse our newfound membership base.

To paraphrase Nelson, Tim expects every activist to do their duty! I am what we would call a “newbie” to the party. I joined during the local elections last year from Labour.They had a membership surge too  they they  haven’t motivated their new people. They obsess about internal matters and  not about who really matters, the public. We have so far engaged the membership, now we must motivate all of them into action.  Remember every vote counts. What this means is that we have target seats where we really must win. If you’re unsure where your nearest target seat is then bug your local party chair and they’ll let you know. We can only be an opposition truly worthy of the title if we take seats. Votes in all constituencies are needed but we won’t win them all (this time). Therefore targeting is key.

So remember:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 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...