Author Archives: Caron Lindsay

Are you all ready for our first virtual Conference?

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit sad this weekend.

For the last few days, and for the next few, Facebook will be bombarding me with memories of past years when I’ve headed off to the seaside for a whirlwind of social and political activity. There are pictures of me with my friends in pubs, on beaches and

It’s not just about the debates and the fringe and the late night gossip, it’s about getting to see the Lib Dem “family.” I know that I’ve “seen” more of people on Zoom and the like, but there is nothing like actually being in a room with people.

And it’s now a year since I last caught up with many of my friends and it’s likely to be some time yet before I can see them again. I miss you all.

Having said that, I am excited that our first ever online Conference is taking place next weekend. Getting this up and running in just a few months has been a massive job for staff at LDHQ, Federal Conference Committee and all the various training suppliers. A massive thank you to everyone who has been involved in this. It has taken a huge amount of time and everyone has done a marvellous job.

The party is using the Hopin platform for its events. The Scottish Party tried it out in July. At the time I gave my top tips for making the most of the experience. In summary, they are:

1 Read all the information

In July, the Scottish Lib Dems  had prepared a detailed and very helpful document outlining the process and how the tech worked. This time, there is a lot of information in the agenda and we’ll be emailed further details. Make sure you read it. Even if you are not a first-timer,  you will find this comprehensive guide that the party has produced really useful.

I only discovered that I’d have to download a new browser when I did that. Apparently Hopin and Safari aren’t that in love with each other so they recommend Chrome or Firefox. I hate doing tech stuff like this but it worked quite smoothly – though I had to change my passwords for my email because I couldn’t remember them. So my advice is do that this weekend and get it out of the way.

Take time to play around with the system ahead of time. There’s a demo here. We didn’t have any fringes or an exhibition at Scottish Conference but there is the usual glittering array of fringes and training which you can find out about in the Directory. One thing that hasn’t changed is that there are multiple things I want to go to in each time slot, but the advantage of this all being virtual is that the events will be available in Hopin for a few days afterwards.

2 Familiarise yourself with the process for speaking

You fill in a speakers’ card online. You then have to watch your email when the debate starts to see if you get called. There will be a special link in that area which gets you to the backstage area. You can still watch the Conference from there, but you need to close down the tab you are already watching on or you’ll get a dreadful echo as there is a time delay between the two. You will be asked to share your video and audio in the backstage area, which you need to allow it to do. Once you have done that, you still can’t say anything until you are called. When you can see yourself on-sceen with the session chair, you can just launch into your speech.

It is really weird to make a speech from your house. You don’t get the sort of feedback that you would if you were in the hall. You can’t tell if people like your jokes, or whether they are responding well to your arguments and it’s probably not a good idea to look in the chat while you are delivering your speech. However, you will be able to get some idea of the mood of the debate from the chat in the time leading up to your speech.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg – a sad and frightening day

It’s not usually a good idea to check your phone when you wake up at 4:50 am.

When I did early this morning, I saw a stream of notifications screaming variations of “Yikes.”

I can’t remember a death that’s caused as much fear as well as sadness as that of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

At 87, she was still working, pushing herself on as long as she could, knowing that if she weren’t there it gave Donald Trump the ability to replace her with someone who would tip the balance of the Supreme Court and which could lead to a bonfire of the rights one over decades that had until recently considered safe. It can’t be fun to be female or part of a marginalised group in the US now.

I feel scared and I’m not even American.

RBG was a role model for many a young law student and for women across the globe. In her 27 years on the Supreme Court, she broke down barriers for women. Not only that, but she recognised the barriers being put up to prevent minorities voting.

Liberal Democrats have been paying tribute to her on social media:

 

In February 2016, 269 days before the Presidential Election, Justice Antonin Scalia died. Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to take his place, but Senate Republicans refused to vote on his nomination, citing the election as an excuse.

So, of course, they will take the same attitude when a vacancy occurs a mere 46 days before the election? Not a bit of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that they will vote to confirm whoever President Trump nominates. So much for consistency.

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Daisy Cooper confirmed as Deputy Leader

In a newly published interview with the Independent, Daisy Cooper reveals that she is the new Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This news is very welcome but it will surprise nobody. She was the very clear frontrunner and was elected with the unanimous backing of her parliamentary colleagues.

Constitutional geeks among you will know that this post is actually the Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons and is chosen by the MPs.

In her interview, Daisy talked about the issues she would be fighting on. The article is headlined that we’re going to be targeting soft Tory voters as if that’s the only thing that we’re going to be doing. If you look at what Daisy says, there’s a lot of progressive stuff on tackling inequality and on civil liberties which will have a much broader appeal.

I think the Tory Party has been moved so far to the right that there are swathes of ‘soft conservatives’ in the country who don’t see the current party under Boris Johnson as representing anything like their views and their values whatsoever,” said Ms Cooper.

“And I don’t think it’s just on rule of law issues. It is this kind of thuggish behaviour around giving contracts to their mates, threatening the independence of the judiciary, the double standards emanating from Dominic Cummings, the mixed messaging, the chaos that we’re getting week in week out, the staggering incompetence.

“I think many people have thought before that the Conservative Party was a party of competence and now it’s anything but.”

She said: “In St Albans we started early and it took us three and half years to win the seat by getting out there and talking about our values, about being an open, internationalist party which believes in environmentalism and civil liberties. We’ve got three and a half years now to the next election, so I think that if we start now, we’ve done a very good chance of winning a good number of seats.”

Talking about her new education portfolio, she was clear about how important it was to tackle child poverty:

“I want to get more a much better spotlight on those children that are largely being ignored and not listened to and really struggling to have a voice.

“And I want to tackle this issue that is now coming to the front of the agenda around child poverty and the provision of free school meals. I think it is shocking that in the 21st century we have children going to school with hungry tummies. It’s just absolutely scandalous and I think we’ve to turn the help which was given because of Covid into change for good.”

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LISTEN: Christine Jardine on Any Questions challenges government on Brexit and Covid

In a week when Boris Johnson’s government has reached “give the toddler a box of matches and a can of petrol” levels of irresponsibility, Christine Jardine challenged Employment Minister Mims Davies on both their inept handling of Covid-19 and their “specific and limited” breach of international law. They were on the BBC’s Any Questions programme last night and you can listen to the whole thing here.

“This is a treaty that your government negotiated and got through Parliament and now you’re reneging on it. How is that responsible?” she asked Ms Davies.

Christine pointed out that the Government is out of control, its moral authority inside and outside the country is plummeting and that Brexit is descending into farce.

She also attached the government for ending the furlough scheme, which has kept so many jobs going, as early as next month, pointing out that other countries are extending them for much longer. She asked the Government to extend it until next June at least.

This week in her first  Commons speech in her new Treasury brief, she highlighted why this was so important:

Earlier, on Talk Radio, Christine asked how on earth we could attack Russia and China for their nonchalant attitude to international law when we were guilty of the same thing.

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Ed Davey’s first big interview – hear what he has to say on Lib Dems’ relevance, Europe and climate protests

Following on from his first big speech, to ALDC Conference, yesterday, Ed Davey gave his first big interview on the Sunday media round, to Sky’s Sophy Ridge.

What, she asked, was the point of the Lib Dems?

We stand for key principles on civil liberties, social justice, the environment.

We are not getting that through to voters

We need to listen and understand why people don’t think that they are on their side.

He talked about how he started his listening exercise by doing a 3 hour lunch shift in a Stockport fish and chip shop. He argued that this listening exercise is the way we can make ourselves relevant to people.

Sophy Ridge asked what was our single radical policy to cut through to people.

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WATCH: Christine Jardine introduce her Bill to give NHS and care staff indefinite leave to remain

This week, Christine Jardine introduced her Bill to give the citizens of other countries who have been on the Covid front line indefinite leave to remain if they want it. I find it appalling that anyone is put through the expensive, stressful hellscape that is the immigration system and most especially those people who have put their own lives at risk to care for those who have been struck down by Covid. Christine’s speech was one of the highlights of my week. Watch it here. The text is below.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to grant indefinite leave to remain to health and social care staff; and for connected purposes.

It is fair to say that I did not appreciate that I would need the national health service and its medical staff to save my life until they did. When my hospital bed was surrounded by doctors and nurses in the middle of the night, talking in terms and about things that I was in too much pain and had too high a fever to understand, I did not stop to think about their visa status—and neither, fortunately, did they.

That was a while ago now, but sadly it is a feeling that has been all too common to too many people in this country—our families, our friends and even the Prime Minister—since covid-19 hit our communities this past spring. What has rightly mattered to all of us and all the staff is that people get the best care possible. I do not think it is stretching the point to say that it has felt at times that this country, like most of the world, has been at war with covid-19. Our hospitals and care homes have felt like this generation’s frontline. Again, we have not stopped to think about anyone’s visa status, and neither have they.

Our media these past few months have not been full of stories of foreign nationals in the NHS refusing to work because it is dangerous and puts their lives at risk. No; quite the opposite. What we have seen is row after row of pictures of NHS workers, many of them foreign nationals, who have lost their lives to this virus. We have seen their names; we have read their stories. The 57-year-old healthcare assistant who died on 14 April, and the 51-year-old dental nurse who trained in the Philippines before coming to Swansea and who died on the same day, were both on visas.

Earlier this summer, through the advocacy organisation EveryDoctor, I met someone who had been working on the frontline of this pandemic. A specialist in emergency medicine, he has lost colleagues and knows the daily strain of fighting to keep alive those people struggling to combat the virus, while never being completely sure whether he has been infected himself. He is a migrant. He has been working on the frontline, paying tax and national insurance to the Exchequer, working for us, contributing, but he will in time have to apply for a fresh visa and pay for it—£700.

One reason I find that difficult to accept is that I have been so immensely proud of the way our communities came out on their doorsteps every Thursday to applaud those working in our health and care sectors. I am sure that most, if not all, of us in this place took part. It was spontaneous, it was heartfelt and it was moving—but was it enough? Will it be enough if we have to suffer this winter when, as is widely predicted, the virus returns? I think we all know that the answer to that question is no, it will not. There has to be more, and that has to be down to us in this place.​

Our Government have not yet done enough, either for those born and brought in this country or for those who have come here to work. For all those working in our NHS for the past year, there must surely be more recognition and thanks for putting themselves in harm’s way. The virus has not discriminated in whom it attacks—we are all vulnerable, our black, Asian and ethnic minorities more than any other community—but what we are doing could be seen as discriminating in how we thank those who defend us. It is time we recognised properly the contributions that have been made.

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Ed Davey uses first speech to highlight Lib Dem successes in local government

I did something today that I don’t think I’ve ever done before in the best part of a quarter of a century of membership – attended an ALDC AGM. The Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners provides the heartbeat to which council candidates and their teams work. If you follow their advice, you are way more likely to win. The ALDC mindset is to be plugged into your local community and working hard for local people all year round.

They usually have their AGM at conference and it almost always clashes with something else I have to do, but I went this morning to see Baroness Ros Scott chairing and a lively discussion about how the Tory plans to rip the heart out of local government are a very bad idea.

The AGM was part of a three hour conference held on Zoom. It was very well attended and had some very fascinating sessions. I went to a panel discussion on the Green Recovery with Friends of the Earth and another about our distinctive voice in next year’s elections. I’ll write them up later.

But, first, this was new leader Ed Davey’s first speech since his election ten days ago. He talked about his visit to a Stockport Fish and Chip shop yesterday and his conversations with the owner and staff there.  The manager of 13 years standing, who had been written off at school, was about to take over the business as the owners were retiring. Another member of staff was a WASPI woman – hit by the injustice of women born in the 1950s having to wait an extra six years for their state pension.

Although he had had some hard words for the party in his acceptance speech about people thinking we weren’t on their side, he emphasised that this was not the case with our local campaigners who make it their mission to listen to what people are feeling.

He praised Lib Dem councils for their action on environmental matters. He mentioned York City Council’s “Don’t be a tosser” anti litter campaign., Chelmsford’s tree planting and Sutton’s low-energy secondary school.

His listening exercise (which is a much better term than the Orwellian sounding National Listening Project) extends to party members too – he said that he wanted feedback on what he was saying and doing and to hear from us about what we wanted the party to be saying. He emphasised how we needed to work as a team and listen to all voices.

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UPDATED: Davey reshuffle part 2 – The full team

Ed Davey’s reshuffle of his top team is being done in parts.

Yesterday, he announced the top three offices of state. Christine Jardine is going to Treasury, Layla Moran to Foreign Affairs and Alistair Carmichael takes on the Home Affairs brief.

Today, we discovered via Twitter that Wendy Chamberlain is taking on the role of Chief Whip alongside the Scotland and Wales and Work and Pensions briefs.

Wendy’s professional experience as a Police Officer and as a manager and trainer makes her an ideal choice for this role. The Chief Whip also has a role in managing the LIb Dem parliamentary staff and she’ll totally excel at that.

Daisy Cooper takes over at Education. She loses her Culture, Media and Sport portfolio to former pantomime dame Jamie Stone and will no doubt take on other responsibilities. There is speculation that she will end up as Deputy Leader, a position that is decided by MPs alone.

Jamie Stone retains his defence portfolio.

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Ed Davey announces key appointments on Twitter

Ed Davey has started to make his announcements of his shadow cabinet on Twitter.

Layla Moran made a huge impression during the leadership campaign and has been rewarded with a promotion to Foreign Affairs Spokesperson. https://twitter.com/LaylaMoran/status/1300410349913608194?s=20

I can see an education dimension to this as well in terms of supporting education, especially for women and girls, around the world.

Christine Jardine takes up her third major office of state in three years. She covered Jo Swinson’s maternity leave at Foreign Affairs in 2018 and has been Home Affairs spokesperson for the last year. She is now the first woman to become Treasury spokesperson. As a former journalist, she will see this role very much in terms of stories and not numbers and will be able to articulate our liberal vision for a society that is fairer and values wellbeing.

And taking on Christine’s old portfolio at Home Affairs, Alistair Carmichael emerges from his Whiply shadows. It’s not clear if he will still be Chief Whip as well. We’ll have to wait and see.

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What’s the point?

In the few days since Ed Davey was announced as our new leader, I’ve been saddened to see more than a few  people, good solid liberals,  thinking about leaving the party. It’s worrying that both young people, and longstanding activists and councillors, are questioning whether the party can recover sufficiently to deliver the liberal country where no-one is enslaved by poverty ignorance and conformity, to quote the preamble to our Constitution, that we all want to see.

I’ve had many such conversations over the last few days. What has been particularly disappointing is the way in which some supporters of Ed have been so aggressive to those expressing their concerns on social media. One senior activist who should know better told another to “jog on” out of the party. The aggressors sounded more like the Brexiteers baiting Remainers in the aftermath of the EU referendum than members of a liberal party and it was really sad to see. Of course people are going to let their emotions show on social media when they’ve lost and the way to deal with it is with grace, sensitivity and kindness, not aggression and cruelty. I am pretty sure that Ed himself would not condone this behaviour and they do him no credit whatsoever.

So why is it that people are questioning their future in the party, particularly those who survived the coalition years?

It’s nothing personal about Ed. It’s more that the party has seemingly chosen a path that will lead to more of what they see as the bland managerial centrism that, let’s face it, has not done us many favours in the past 10 years. They are simply not up for more of the same and don’t believe that the party can recover if it pursues this tactic. “What’s the point?” is something I’ve heard a few times.

I do have some sympathy with that. This party is at its best when it is bold and radical and does the right thing, not necessarily the popular thing. The voters weren’t exactly clamouring for Paddy to stand up for the rights of citizens of Hong Kong, but it was the right thing to do and he enhanced his reputation by making that argument.  We forget how massive a thing it was when Charles Kennedy opposed the Iraq War. It took a huge amount of political courage to take that stance and he took absolute pelters for it at the time, but he was ultimately proved right.

It is the language we use and how it resonates with people that will be crucial in our future success. We have not been very good at articulating what we are for and telling our story. Ed Davey was right to say that we are going to concentrate on listening to voters. That part of his acceptance speech jarred with me a bit because that is our trademark in so many of our local campaigns that we actually give a damn what people think. But then, that is not the perception people have of us nationally and, let’s face it, party members were not the focus of his remarks. However, I did find the phrase “National Listening Project” more Orwellian than empathetic. They might want to fine tune that one.

I do understand why people have been thinking about leaving the party and I really hope that they don’t. Ed has his mandate now and he needs to be given the chance to show that he can deliver on what he said during the campaign. I will be staying because I strongly believe that the immense talent within the parliamentary party, within our council groups up and down the country and amongst our talented staff and volunteers up and down the country can get us back on track if we work together and co-ordinate our efforts. We need to show that we are operating on the same set of values across the whole of the UK.

If I have any anxieties it is on tactics, not values. If I thought that any of our leaders didn’t share the values in our Preamble, I’d have been out the door a long time ago. And you can see how they have been living our principles in what they have been doing in Parliament. Jamie Stone fighting for those who have excluded from government help during the pandemic. Christine Jardine trying to achieve indefinite leave to remain for NHS and care staff who have been on the Covid front line (more on that later this week when she launches her Bill on that subject), Layla leading with her Coronavirus enquiry making sensible recommendations to avoid a second wave of the virus, Munira holding the government to account for its failures on test and trace and in care homes to name many issues, Alistair pushing the government to do more to press China on their horrific treatment of the Uighurs. Daisy fighting for freelancers and for more help for the creative industries.

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All is not well in the SNP

Next year, the Scottish Parliament elections take place. Nicola Sturgeon’s minority SNP Government’s record will be up for the judgement of the electorate.  The SNP has been in power now for 13 years. The children who were done over by the exams fiasco up here have had their entire education with the SNP in charge. And, as 16 year olds have the vote in Scottish Parliament elections, they will have the chance to make their voices known.

Scotland’s public services are failing, local government is being undermined and underfunded and it’s hard to think of anything major that the SNP has done that has been as positively transformative as free personal care, land reform, free eye and dental checks and STV for local government introduced by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition which governed for the first 8 years of devolution. And it’s the Liberal Democrats who were the driving force behind those reforms.

Nicola Sturgeon is getting a lot of credit for the way she has handled the Coronavirus crisis. Certainly her communications have been a lot clearer than the UK Government’s but she has faced the same issues in care homes. Willie Rennie highlighted lack of testing for new care home residents early on and, eventually, she had to change course. We have had a more cautious approach to the easing of lockdown up here, but I get the sense that people don’t really understand what they are and aren’t allowed to do. Conversations with parents of school age children set alarm bells ringing for me. Our schools have been back for two weeks. I’ve heard several accounts of there  being a few kids off with coughs at several schools. Their families didn’t seem to be self-isolating or getting tested, though…. You would think that one would be a no-brainer, but the message that the whole household should self isolate for 14 days unless there is a negative test result does not seem to be getting through.

Aside from the challenges of defending its record and managing the pandemic, the SNP has its own internal problems and divisions. They used to be, at least in public, suspiciously united. Any disagreements were kept private. Now there are fault lines between those who favour a more gradualist approach to independence and those who basically want to do a Catalonia, between those who favour a more progressive and equalities centred agenda and those who think feminism has gone too far and those who think that Alex Salmond’s behaviour towards women has been unacceptable and those who think that he is the innocent victim of a feminist conspiracy theory. The party’s internal civil war on transgender rights is a symptom of a much wider schism.

Two programmes this week are well worth your attention. Kirsty Wark’s BBC documentary on the trial of Alex Salmond is shocking and infuriating. The outcome of the trial did not really get the attention it deserved as it ended on the day that lockdown was announced. While no guilty verdicts were recorded on any of the charges, the evidence highlighted behaviour towards women in a professional environment that was at the very least questionable. On Tuesday journalist Dani Garavelli took a look at the history of the deepening divisions within the SNP in a programme for Radio 4, Scotland’s Uncivil War

Unsurprisingly, both women have been subject to abuse on social media for daring to investigate. And the abuse they have taken is nothing compared to what the women who actually complained about Salmond’s behaviour are getting. Garavelli mentions within her programme how some nationalists called for her to face criminal proceedings. Politicians calling for journalists to be prosecuted is not a good look. On Twitter, a couple of days after her programme was broadcast Garavelli spoke out about some of the criticism she had received:

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Conference early bird discount runs out soon

Don’t miss out on your chance to register for our new shiny virtual conference at the early bird discounted rate of £30. The deadline is this Thursday and after that you will have to pay more.

Federal Conference Committee were given a demo of the finalised version of the software this week and even the most normal cynical were, I understand, impressed.

Scotland held a one day trial of the Hopin platform last month and, despite a few inevitable teething troubles, it worked well.

The best advice I can give you is to make sure that you play around with it …

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Kirsty Williams, the one competent education secretary in the UK

It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks for exam students. Highers and A level results play a huge role in determining the course of your life. If you don’t get the grades you need to fulfil your aspirations, you have to rethink your whole life. And you will carry those grades around for your whole life.

The question of whether we should have a system that puts so much stress on our young people is up for debate, but that’s for another day.

We know, though, that there are clear differences between the nations of the UK. In Scotland and England, the whole thing has been a disaster. However, in Wales, our Kirsty Williams has presided over a system that she argues has credibility because it guarantees that AS level results from last year will be the minimum grade for this year. That is a system that was scrapped by one Michael Gove in England.

Watch her statement about the way the results have been calculated:

Watch this interview she gave ahead of the announcement of the grades:

Listen to Kirsty talk to Andrew Castle on LBC here. 

Because we have maintained a system whereby AS-levels forms a significant proportion of a final A-level grade, we were able to us that in the moderation process and able to put in a safety net for students so they could not drop below their previous AS Level grade.

“The ability to do that has been very helpful, because those were exams which were set, taken in the same conditions and were externally assessed.

“That can give students, universities and employers real confidence in them”.

She also cast doubt on the validity of giving grades based on mock exams,

“Some schools don’t do mock examinations,” Ms Williams explained.

“Some use mock examinations as a way to boost confidence and deliver them in a way that perhaps they are there to encourage people.

“Other schools use them as a tool of encouragement in the other way, they will mark them really hard so that people don’t get complacent.

“Each school has a different approach which we believe is right for them.”

The Welsh Lib Dems had some clear messaging about results:

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Donate your discount – help restaurants and raise money to tackle poverty

As restaurants are now open again, the Government is encouraging people to go to them with its Eat out to Help out scheme. You can get a 50% discount, up to the value of £10 from every participating restaurant.

Social Liberal Forum member Andy Galloway has come up with a brilliant idea which will not only help the restaurant but will also benefit Fareshare, a charity that distributes food to vulnerable people who need it.

The idea is that you donate your discount to the charity and show that you have done so on social media to encourage others to participate. From the Eat out and help out Crowdfunder page:

The ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme is proving popular, but I think we can make it better.

Everyone loves a bargain, but if you don’t want the subsidy, why not #DonateYourDiscount?

Here’s how:

  • Enjoy a meal Mon-Wed and get 50% off at participating restaurants.
  • #DonateYourDiscount (or part of it) to FareShare through this page, or to any other charity of your choice.
  • Share your receipt and donation on Twitter/Instagram using #DonateYourDiscount and encourage others to do the same.
  • If you’re part of a charity, why not set up your own page and spread the movement raising money for your cause?

Why Fare Share?

In the UK, 14 million people are living in poverty – and the numbers are rising. During the last two weeks of March 2020, food bank usage more than doubled compared with the same period the year before and organisations continue to be under immense pressure to feed families across the country.

Fare Share do fantastic work all over the UK to fight hunger and food waste by redistributing food to frontline charities.

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LibLink – Christine Jardine SNP’s policies on education have failed to make the grade

It’s been a hugely stressful week for thousands of Scottish teenagers and their parents.

They did not receive the results they were expecting for their HIgher exams after marks submitted by their teachers were downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. This has disproportionately affected pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Willie Rennie supported pupil protests against the system used by the SQA.

Pupils who have worked hard for months have been marked down because of how previous students performed at their school. This is grossly unfair as it reinforces the inequity that has been growing for years.

The Education Secretary and the SQA were warned for months that their moderation process would damage the prospects of pupils for life. It’s no surprise that so many young people are out protesting. They feel as if their grades and their futures are being robbed by the SNP.

We can only hope that the appeals system is robust enough to deal with the tsunami of appeals heading its away. The funding and the resource for the appeals process must be increased to meet the considerable demand and the Scottish Government must ensure teachers have the time they need to fully support the many appeals that will be required.

Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon apologised and today Education Secretary John Swinney faces a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament.

But the problems in Scottish education go much deeper than this fiasco. Christine Jardine used her weekly Scotsman column to highlight how pupils leaving school this year have had their entire education under SNP Government – and the system is mired with problems with schools, colleges and universities.

International reports show Scottish education plummeting down the league tables which compare our schools with those abroad.

That proud boast that ours was the finest education in the world now seems empty, and out-dated.
Certainly for those at the chalk face it has long ceased to be the case, replaced by the reality that too many of our young people leave school functionally illiterate and the past few years have been to endure rather than enjoy.

Many of those who graduated from our universities this year are the same young people whose school years were disrupted by being the first to sit the new National 5 exams. Their teachers had to deliver a curriculum which was not only untried and untested but, by common consent, largely chaotic and stressful for all.

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UPDATED: Watch Ed and Layla at hustings

This post will be regularly updated with links to recordings of  Ed and Layla at the many hustings events that are taking place.

I’ll update it and re-post it whenever there is something new to add.

First up, the very first formal hustings, with the Social Liberal Forum on Saturday 11th July.

The most recent hustings took place on 1st August – the Norfolk County

Also this week, the Yorkshire and the Humber event

 

And a themed hustings – the Green Agenda, from Wednesday 29th July

The first of the party’s big set piece hustings, on jobs and the economy took place on Wednesday 15th July:

More events under the cut. First South Central from 11 July

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Littleborough and Saddleworth – 25 years on

Shocking as it may seem, this week saw the 25th anniversary of a great 1990s Lib Dem triumph – when we won the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election.

It was the first big by-election I had ever been to and I loved it.

I wrote here about meeting by-election legend Pat Wainwright there.

She greeted us with smiles and very clear instructions about what work we were to do.

She wasn’t afraid to tear a strip of me for doing something wrong either. “You eejit”, she quite justifiably yelled.  She certainly didn’t mince her words but I just did better next time. We had an absolute hoot.

One day she was on the phone giving life advice to someone. Exactly the sort of life advice we all need our friends to give us sometimes, in no uncertain terms.

Bob and I had only popped in for an afternoon to the headquarters in Shaw at the start of a week of travelling around the north west and the Lakes. But we had so much fun we ended up spending our entire holiday there. It was Bob’s first by-election and he got RSI from stuffing envelopes. We had a brilliant time and made several trips back there including for the last few days. I met a few people at that by-election who have become friends for life, too. 

I remember one very enjoyable afternoon skiving in the pub with ALDC’s Pam Tilson, now back in Northern Ireland.
The by-election came about after the death of Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens. In those days, the government did everything it could to avoid moving the writ in case their majority dwindled to nothing. These days they tend to be called very quickly to prevent an insurgent campaign gaining traction. In the run-up to the election, John Major resigned as Tory leader in what was a pretty classy attempt to get rid of his Eurosceptic “bastards.” He easily won the contest against John Redwood but the divisions in his party remained and grew.
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ICYMI: Tomorrow is the last day to nominate for this year’s party awards

July 31st is not just my birthday, it’s the deadline for nominations for the party awards.

This is your chance to nominate a party member who has excelled in their service to the party or local government. The process of nomination is easy – you just fill in an online form.

If you have someone you think deserves to be honoured in this way, imagine the delight on their faces when they receive their award at Conference. It will be a bit different this year, but I do hope that something will be arranged to bring the winners together in person when it is safe to do so.

Here’s our report of the 2013 winners’ ceremony so you can get some idea of the sorts of achievements that we’re looking for.

Here are the details of the various awards 

The President’s Award 

  • is open to any Party Member elected to public office and who has demonstrated excellence and commitment. 

The Harriet Smith Liberal Democrat Distinguished Service Award 

  • is open to any Party Member never elected to public office. 

For both of these awards, the panel will be looking for outstanding commitment and service to the Party. Local, regional and state parties should be seeking to nominate people who deserve recognition for their hard work, long service, and demonstrable dedication to the party, at whatever level. These are expected to be special awards to be awarded from the Party for whom public recognition is overdue. 

The Belinda Eyre-Brook Award 

  • is given to recognise and celebrate the efforts of people working for our elected representatives in their local areas – from local party employees, to political assistants to council groups, to people working in MPs’ constituency offices. 

The winner of this award will care about their local area and be committed to the success of Liberal Democrats within it. Turning local political priorities into electoral success, and priorities for elected officials is a key part of the work of successful local Party figures – as is linking with the national party. 

The Dadabhai Naoroji Award 

  • is presented annually to the local Party that has done most to promote BAME participants to elected office as Councillors, Assembly Members, Members of Parliament or Members of European Parliament. 

This award is designed to encourage local parties to work towards the goal of increasing their ethnic diversity to more accurately reflect the areas they represent, and to recognise those that already make a great effort to involve different communities in their work

The Penhaligon Award 

  • is named for former MP David Penhaligon and is presented to the local party anywhere in the world which demonstrates the most impressive increase in membership and exemplary activities to deliver and involve members and supporters. It recognises the hard work done to build a Party which is attractive and effective at a local level, and that without people on the ground, we would not be able to ‘Stick it on a piece of paper and stuff it through a letterbox’.

The Patsy Calton Award

  • Liberal Democrat Women honour exceptional women through the Patsy Calton Award, that was launched shortly after her sad passing. Awardees may be Liberal Democrat councillors, party members or Parliamentarians, who have achieved more for their constituents, the underprivileged in society, perhaps even taken on government and changed things for the better. More information about the award and Lib Dem Women can be found here.

The Bertha Bowness Fischer Award 

  • seeks to honour a newer (less than two years) member of the Party who has shown outstanding energy and/or ingenuity in supporting  their new-found political home. 

It seeks to welcome those people who may well be the future of the Party, no matter their background. It is named for a trailblazer for women in not just liberal, but all politics, and recognises the contributions of new friends from outside of politics and from other parties alike. 

For this award only members who joined within the last two years (from July 23rd 2020) are eligible. Nominations may be for work done for any part of the Liberal Democrats.

 

How do I nominate someone? 

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Get your nominations for party awards in by July 31st

July 31st is not just my birthday, it’s the deadline for nominations for the party awards.

This is your chance to nominate a party member who has excelled in their service to the party or local government. The process of nomination is easy – you just fill in an online form.

If you have someone you think deserves to be honoured in this way, imagine the delight on their faces when they receive their award at Conference. It will be a bit different this year, but I do hope that something will be arranged to bring the winners together in person when it is safe to do so.

Here’s our report of the 2013 winners’ ceremony so you can get some idea of the sorts of achievements that we’re looking for.

Here are the details of the various awards 

The President’s Award 

  • is open to any Party Member elected to public office and who has demonstrated excellence and commitment. 

The Harriet Smith Liberal Democrat Distinguished Service Award 

  • is open to any Party Member never elected to public office. 

For both of these awards, the panel will be looking for outstanding commitment and service to the Party. Local, regional and state parties should be seeking to nominate people who deserve recognition for their hard work, long service, and demonstrable dedication to the party, at whatever level. These are expected to be special awards to be awarded from the Party for whom public recognition is overdue. 

The Belinda Eyre-Brook Award 

  • is given to recognise and celebrate the efforts of people working for our elected representatives in their local areas – from local party employees, to political assistants to council groups, to people working in MPs’ constituency offices. 

The winner of this award will care about their local area and be committed to the success of Liberal Democrats within it. Turning local political priorities into electoral success, and priorities for elected officials is a key part of the work of successful local Party figures – as is linking with the national party. 

The Dadabhai Naoroji Award 

  • is presented annually to the local Party that has done most to promote BAME participants to elected office as Councillors, Assembly Members, Members of Parliament or Members of European Parliament. 

This award is designed to encourage local parties to work towards the goal of increasing their ethnic diversity to more accurately reflect the areas they represent, and to recognise those that already make a great effort to involve different communities in their work

The Penhaligon Award 

  • is named for former MP David Penhaligon and is presented to the local party anywhere in the world which demonstrates the most impressive increase in membership and exemplary activities to deliver and involve members and supporters. It recognises the hard work done to build a Party which is attractive and effective at a local level, and that without people on the ground, we would not be able to ‘Stick it on a piece of paper and stuff it through a letterbox’.

The Patsy Calton Award

  • Liberal Democrat Women honour exceptional women through the Patsy Calton Award, that was launched shortly after her sad passing. Awardees may be Liberal Democrat councillors, party members or Parliamentarians, who have achieved more for their constituents, the underprivileged in society, perhaps even taken on government and changed things for the better. More information about the award and Lib Dem Women can be found here.

The Bertha Bowness Fischer Award 

  • seeks to honour a newer (less than two years) member of the Party who has shown outstanding energy and/or ingenuity in supporting  their new-found political home. 

It seeks to welcome those people who may well be the future of the Party, no matter their background. It is named for a trailblazer for women in not just liberal, but all politics, and recognises the contributions of new friends from outside of politics and from other parties alike. 

For this award only members who joined within the last two years (from July 23rd 2020) are eligible. Nominations may be for work done for any part of the Liberal Democrats.

How do I nominate someone? 

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WATCH: Liberal Revues of old

One of the highlights of Conference used to be the Liberal Revue, a tour de force of satire. Some of the old ones have made their way on to YouTube and you can see them here.

I can only remember going to one, back in 1992 in Harrogate. And it’s here. I also took part in a mini version at the 1986 Paisley Conference which, thankfully, was never filmed. However, we did get Bob Maclennan to make fun of Charles Kennedy. It was a special moment.

Enjoy.

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Could you be on Federal Appeals Panel?

One of the things Federal Conference needs to do this year is to approve candidates for the Federal Appeals Panel. This is basically the Supreme Court of the Lib Dems, the end point of our internal judicial process.

I don’t remember the recruitment process being quite so open before and it’s great to see it being more widely advertised.

The advert is below and if you feel that this is something you can do, particularly if you are from an under-represented group, please apply:

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Scottish Liberal Democrats trial new virtual conference – 3 top tips from me

I spent most of yesterday glued to various screens. I went to Social Liberal Forum’s leadership hustings in the morning and in the afternoon, we had the Scottish Lib Dems’ virtual special conference. Thanks to Paul McGarry for the screenshots.

Here, Willie Rennie and Alistair Carmichael are interviewed by Environment spokesperson Rebecca Bell, watched by convener Sheila Ritchie:

Chair Jenni Lang watches while LGBT+ Exec member Fraser Graham speaks on the diversity motion:

And here are John Ferry and Katy Gordon putting Layla and Ed through their paces:

We had a couple of items of actual business – a motion on diversity for the elections next year and the report on a reference back from a policy motion, which couldn’t wait any longer. We haven’t had a proper Conference since Spring last year. The election did away with our Autumn Conference last year and the pandemic scuppered Spring Conference in May.

We were the pioneers for the Lib Dems in using the platform Hopin, which the party has acquired for the Federal Conference due to take place from 25-28 September.

Massive thanks are due to Paul McGarry, the Scottish Conference Convener, Megan Wiseman and Paul Moat from Scottish HQ who set everything up. Federal Conference will have people to do that professionally, but they did a great job. Though there were a few testing problems with the tech, they got them sorted and we got all the business done.

The chairs and aides were based in Scottish HQ, all appropriately socially distanced bar the two from the same household.

The agenda provided two debates and two keynote events so there was a good mix. We had one procedural motion, a suspension of standing orders, and an amendment for each motion.

We used a separate voting system called mi-voice, but I think that for Federal Conference we’ll be voting in Hopin. That was a bit glitchy, but we got there.

As we were all attending from our homes, there was bound to be some background noise at some point. Usually it’s my dogs causing various sorts of mayhem, but on this occasion, it was the gorgeous Thor and Bella who did what every self-respecting dog does when a delivery driver turns up at their house.  They didn’t realise that their mum, Cllr Fiona Dryburgh,  was making her debut conference speech.

 

Top Tips

From yesterday’s experience, I’d say that there were three top tips for attendees to the Federal event in the Autumn.

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Where to see the leadership candidates this weekend

With Layla and Ed duly nominated, they now embark on an eye-watering series of hustings events across the country. There are 4 this weekend.

In just under an hour you can see them at the Social Liberal Forum q and a at 11 am.

At 3:25pm, both candidates will be put through a job interview style interview at the Scottish special conference by former candidate Katy Gordon, who’s a senior HR person and John Ferry, a journalist. I wonder if they’ve been modelling their interviewing style on Claude from The Apprentice.

Tonight at 6pm, it is the South Central hustings.

Tomorrow at 6pm, it’s the Yorkshire and the Humber’s turn to question the candidates.

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Four ways Lib Dem MPs stood up for those with no income

MPs’ inboxes at the moment are flooded with the millions of people who are getting no support at all during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Imagine what that must feel like?

It’s people like self-employed hairdressers, physiotherapists, cleaners, decorators, people who own self-catering holiday homes who have been left with nothing.

Often their income from self employment was not that high anyway so they don’t have any sort of cushion.

After almost 4 months of this, many are at breaking point.

Liberal Democrat MPs have consistently called for more help for people who have been affected like this.

Here are four things that they have done this week:

Christine Jardine pressed the Prime Minister to introduce a Universal Basic Income

There are 3 million people in this country who get no support at the moment because they are self-employed or on contract. Our black, Asian and ethnic minority communities have an unemployment rate that is twice the national average and women are disproportionately affected by covid-19. The Prime Minister said a few minutes ago that he stands ready to help. Will he look at a universal basic income so that these people can get the help that they need now?

Typically the PM brushed off her suggestion, showing how little he cares or understands bout the predicament faced by too many.

Ed Davey called on the Government to scrap changes which would disadvantage contractors as reported by City AM:

Self-employed people face an unprecedented threat to their livelihoods due to the pandemic,” he said.

“The Conservative government’s insistence on their IR35 policy risks making the plight of many self-employed people even worse.

“Delaying the change to next April will do next to nothing to reduce the impact of Covid-19 which will be felt for months – if not years – to come. This is not the time to add to the burden of the self-employed.

And Jamie Stone is starting a new All Party Parliamentary Group which meets this coming Tuesday and aims to advocate for those who have been excluded:

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Do you owe the Young Liberals any money?

There was a bit of late night amusement over the weekend as the Young Liberals publicised this page on their website inviting all of us to pay a penance if we had referred to them by their organisation’s previous name:

(Image shows two tweets, one by me, saying “We have all done this at some point so we should all give something. Everyone deserves to be referred to by their name. My problem is that this has now reminded me of its former incarnation which I thought I had expunged from my brain.” Laura Gordon replies saying “Setting up the page like that is basically entrapment, but, you know what, well played, English Young Liberals.”`)

The reason that this became an issue is that some senior figures in the party who should know better submitted a motion to Conference with the former name in it. I suspect that the Federal Conference Committee will kindly resolve this by way of a drafting amendment so nobody will ever know unless they read this article.

I did give them a small donation, and if we all did that, it would make a big difference to their campaigns on housing and mental health. 

This got me thinking about all the previous generations of the organisation. I joined the Young Social Democrats back in 1983. I think I was the most northern member at the time. It was a bit of a novelty for my central belt based colleagues to have someone up in Caithness. That organisation distinguished itself with the slogan “Have you got the guts to vote SDP?” The equivalent organisation in the Liberal Party was the Young Liberals.

I was instinctively a Liberal rather than a Social Democrat. Primarily it was issues around freedom, civil liberties and human rights that motivated me. However, I chose to join the SDP because in Caithness their average age was around 50 while the average age of the Liberals was a lot older than that.

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Diana Maddock, remembered by her first researcher

Of all the heartfelt tributes to Diana Maddock this weekend, one on Facebook by George Crozier, whose first job was as her parliamentary researcher immediately after her spectacular by-election win in 1993.

He has very kindly agreed to let me post it on here so that you can all enjoy it too. I will admit to a few tears when I read it.

He recounts how well they got on and has some details about her parliamentary work (eg against puppy farms) that we might otherwise have missed.

George tells how she was reported in the local press and how she worked so hard as a constituency MP.

Kind and wise are two words we’ve heard a lot describing her over the last few days, and this post sums up why.

Hugely saddened by the news yesterday of the death of my first boss, Diana Maddock. Diana was a lovely person – I can’t recall us ever falling out during the three and a half years I worked for her though there were plenty of stressful moments – speeches finished with minutes to spare among the most common. She was a genuinely caring and thoughtful employer – though what she was thinking when she got me a Mickey Mouse tie for Christmas one year is anyone’s guess!

I first knew Diana in Southampton, where I was a student and she was Lib Dem council group leader and a parliamentary candidate in 1992. My house – or rather Rosemary Hasler’s – was the campaign headquarters that year, such as it was, so I lived for months amid stacks of Maddock Focuses and stakeboards. Then the following year the Christchurch by-election was called just a few weeks after I graduated, Diana was selected to fight it, and I spent so much time there that I ended up as the campaign caseworker for the final week and after she won – biggest ever swing against the Conservatives in a by-election at the time – she took a leap of faith (for which I will be forever grateful) and hired me as her researcher.

I say hired – the timing of her election was such that she couldn’t take her seat until Parliament returned in October so none of us (including Diana I think) were paid for nearly three months. Most of that summer was spent with Diana, Andrew Garratt and others in the Ferndown office sorting through rooms (literally!) full of papers of all kinds from the by-election. The scale of that campaign had to be seen to be believed. There were days when the whole constituency was canvassed and separately delivered. The detritus we had to sort through probably added a percentage point to the district council’s recycling rate!

Diana was a brilliant constituency MP – the absolute model of how to go about building non-political support through visits, regular surgeries, diligent casework, taking up local issues in Parliament and keeping constituents informed through local papers and post, in the days when this kind of thing was a novelty. We once saw an internal Conservative note expressing exasperation that she seemed to be everywhere – why were so many local groups asking to meet her? Why were people asking her to open fetes? Why? (The answer to the latter, it emerged, after she was bounced out of the ceremonial opening of the Verwood Carnival one year, was closely related to the availability or otherwise of local celebrity Buster Merryfield (Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses). But hey, that’s life, and she took this crushing blow in her stride.)

I remember once hearing from the Bournemouth Echo’s Westminster correspondent that he loved the story we were giving him but he couldn’t cover it because he’d already given her twice the coverage that week of the county’s seven Tory MPs put together. On another occasion he confided that a Dorset Tory had complained to him about the amount of coverage he gave to Diana. He had had to find a way to diplomatically explain that he was just reflecting the news generation and activity levels of the local MPs as they appeared to him.

Not all the media was perfect of course. One article about the by-election win referred to the victor, a Mrs Diane Haddock. Another, in The Guardian I think, was more to our taste. Challenging a claim somewhere else that the old folk in the constituency had taken to Diana because they identified with, her it asserted that, to the contrary, nice middle-aged Mrs Maddock brought a touch of glamour to the town – in the ‘zimmerframe world of Christchurch’ (the constituency was, I think, the second oldest in the country) Diana Maddock was, it asserted, a veritable Sharon Stone!

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Willie Rennie pays tribute to Diana Maddock

Many party figures have been paying tribute to Diana Maddock, the much loved Lib Dem Peer who died yesterday.

One of the highlights of her career was winning the Christchurch by-election in 1993, overturning a 23000 Tory majority with a 35% swing.

Her agent in that campaign was a 25 year old Scot by the name of Willie Rennie.

Now leader of the Scottish Party, and a famous by-election winner himself, he wrote a warm tribute to Diana on his Facebook page.

I first met Diana Maddock when I was asked to be the agent for the Christchurch By Election in 1993. It was a solid Conservative seat but in just three months Diana became the Member of Parliament with a swing that rocked the political establishment.

Diana was a gentle, caring and kind woman who was anxious to do well for the thousands of people who travelled hundreds of miles to help her win.

From the old car showroom on Barrack Road, Chris Rennard and I plotted the campaign. It was an amazing effort with public meetings, Lords Teas and canvass and leaflet teams scouring the area like ants.

The issue of the by election was VAT on fuel and came when John Major was having problems with the “bastards” in the cabinet.

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Wendy Chamberlain at Pride: Let’s go high, stand for our values and build bridges.

Mary wrote yesterday about her lifetime as an LGBT ally. 

She mentioned the virtual Prides that were taking place at the moment.

I went to the Scottish Lib Dems virtual Pride event last Sunday, which was run by LGBT+ Lib Dems and Scottish Lib Dem Women. It was a marathon, but well worth every second.

The day started with a rally with speeches by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP and Wendy Chamberlain MP. It ended almost 12 hours later with a Eurovision watch along of the 2014 event, won by Conchita Wurst. I had forgotten so many of the delights of that night. Watch here if you need cheering up. In between there were a couple of panels – on queering our policy and on being a better ally. The penultimate event was a quiz won by Wales’ Callum Littlemore who seems to have a brain full of obscure song lyrics and who got almost full marks in the Gay or Eurovision round.

Alex spoke off the cuff like he always does but was as passionate as you would expect from him about how we as a party should not shy away from speaking up for LGBT people.

Wendy had her remarks written down and I’m delighted that she has shared them with us.

I’m privileged to be asked to address today’s rally
But, as I mentioned in my maiden speech, I may be the first female MP for North East Fife, I’m well aware of my privilege in other areas – my class, my ethnicity, my sexuality, my gender identity.

My life experience to date, also, if we are looking to make generalisations, perhaps, on the surface, doesn’t suggest that I’d be a natural ally. Having been a police officer for 12 years brings its own assumptions I suppose, particularly of late.

But, other than friends at university – no one at school was out – from colleagues in Tesco (Grant and I bonded over Eurovision and mourned Michael Ball’s 2nd place) and friends in the Edinburgh University Footlights (I had a couple of dates with a guy who told me that the last person he had seen was a 36 year old man – I was fine with that, but I did meet his parents a couple of times as his ‘friend’ as he was clearly struggling to be honest with his Dad (I’m pleased to report he’s now happily married to a man and still working in the theatre), the police was the first workplace where I had a number of colleagues who were gay.

The first trans women I knew was through the police – Jan, a traffic warden. She had transitioned later in life, her marriage had broken down and she had been ostricised by her family and children as a result.

I know that Jan experienced direct discrimination from some colleagues at work, but I also saw the service trying its best to support Jan, and provide the facilities that she required.

A friend met her on the bus last year – she still has no contact with her family, and in the main keeps to herself – her bus trip was an exception and not the norm.

Not long after returning to work after maternity leave, I attended 3 days of diversity training, as did all police officers in the UK, as part of the police response to the Lawrence report, where the police’s institutional racism was called out.

I was pleased that the training was not restricted to racism, but covered all of the diversity strands.

I’ll be honest, the last day, was the toughest – the majority audience of white heterosexual men, really struggling with their prejudices in relation to the trans activists delivering that part of the training.

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Diana Maddock has died

Some incredibly sad news has come through this morning. Diana Maddock, winner of the Christchurch by-election in 1993 and a Lib Dem member of the House of Lords, has passed away.

Diana was a lovely woman. She was always willing to help and support others. I will miss her so much.

I first met her at a training session for women in the 1990s. She was kind, supportive and very frank about her own experiences.

Please feel free to share your memories of Diana in the comments.

All of us at LDV send our love to Alan and all her family.

There’s real affection in the tributes from senior party figures:

You can read more about her, and find out about her work as a councillor, MP, Party President and Peer on the party website:

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Get your Conference motions in for 1st July

There’s going to be a massive Conference shaped hole for many of us this September. I love heading to the seaside – Bournemouth being my favourite by far – to catch up with the Lib Dem family. Whether it’s causing trouble for the leadership in the hall or indulging in late night irreverent singalongs, taking part in training, wandering round the exhibition or just catching up for a coffee or a cocktail, those few days are a whirlwind of activity.  I’ve taken to staying an extra night at the end to have a  a quieter meal out with friends and a walk on the beach.

So the cancellation of both Spring and Autumn conferences this year was really disappointing. By the time York was cancelled in Spring, I had already decided not to go because I felt it was too risky. And given that a fair proportion of the friends I would have spent time with all came down with  an illness that had a startling resemblance to Covid-19 very shortly afterwards, that was the right decision for me.

While I will miss going to Brighton in September – and in particular dinner at Smokey’s  with its rather excellent cocktails – I am glad that we will at least have the opportunity to attend an online event from 25-28 September. The Federal Conference Committee has put a huge amount of work into identifying and customising a digital platform. They’ve had so many meetings and have been determined to be as faithful as possible to what we think Conference should be.

I did wonder about how the exhibition would work, but watching this demo from Hopin, the platform we are using, explains it all. You are not going to get all the random bumping into people and the buzz of a physical event, but you will be able to take part in debates, vote on policy motions, attend fringe meetings, go to training and catch up with people in the networking room. I liked the feature in there that it only swapped contact details if both people wanted to.

There will  be BSL interpreters on the main stage as happens at a physical conference.

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