Author Archives: Caron Lindsay

Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #503

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 503rd weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere … Featuring the five most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (14 – 20 January, 2018), together with a hand-picked seven you might otherwise have missed.

Don’t forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox — just click here — ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let’s start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

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Three interesting facts about this year’s Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference

For various reasons, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have been later off the mark than usual at announcing the details of their Spring Conference. However the cat is well and truly out of the bag now. For the first time since 2008, the party is heading to Aviemore to the Macdonald resort in the highland village.

It’s a great venue that can be combined with a family break. I absolutely love it there.

It’s in April

You wouldn’t normally expect to have a Conference in April because there is usually some sort of election to get ready for. For the first time since 2013, there are no scheduled elections this year, so Conference is taking place both in April and after the Easter holidays, on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st April.

There’s an Access Fund

The Federal Party has been running a Conference Access Fund to help people with the costs of attending Conference for the last few years.

It’s great to see this now being done by the Scottish Party, too. Members can donate to the fund although they can’t do it in the same transaction as they register as you can with the Federal Party.

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Good news for disabled people as Government gives up fighting PIP decision – maybe

Good news slipped out in a written ministerial statement on a Friday afternoon. New Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey announced that the Government would not continue its appeal of a High Court judgement that its changes to entitlements to Personal Independence Payments for those whose mental ill health affected their ability to get around were unlawful. Ms McVey said:

On 21st December 2017 the High Court published its judgment in the judicial review challenge against regulation 2(4) of the Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 S.I. 2017/194. The Regulations reversed the effect of the Upper Tribunal judgment in MH.

I wish to inform the House that, after careful consideration, I have decided not to appeal the High Court judgment. My Department will now take all steps necessary to implement the judgment in MH in the best interests of our claimants, working closely with disabled people and key stakeholders over the coming months.

These regulations went through Parliament last March. Liberal Democrat peers did their best to stop them and would have succeeded if Labour had voted with them. As I wrote at the time:

Not for the first time, you have to wonder what the point of the Labour Party in Parliament is. Should they not just go and sit on the Government benches?

LDV reader Matt wrote last year about how he would lose his support for mobility when he moved from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments and the life-limiting impact that would have for him:

I hardly ever go outdoors, I tend to only go out when it is for a necessity like going to the doctor, psychologist or hospital and then I need my partner or family member to accompany me to keep me safe and to intervene in the event of me having a psychological episode. I can on very rare occasions manage a trip out to the countryside as long as it is a wide open space and there is nobody else about and I can see any perceived threats well in advance and I am able to escape and get back to the car or home quickly. I have become totally disengaged from society; I cut all ties with friends and former work colleagues many years ago. When I am outdoors, if I am confronted with a possible social interaction my brain starts racing at a million miles an hour. I convince myself they are going to ask me personal questions which will cause me distress. My brain starts running through conversations before they have taken place, it becomes sheer manic and panic, trust me when I say it is pure trauma. When I get home, the only way I can deal with this “psychological distress” is to start self harming and deflect my emotional trauma into a physical trauma as a distraction to escape my thoughts. It is hell.

I worry about these changes to disability benefits, not just for myself, but for people like me who suffer from debilitating mental health disorders who rely on the assistance of others and the welfare state in order to try and live an independent life.

So why do I say that this is good news….maybe. Simply because I don’t trust the Tories with any aspect of our social security system.  What will happen now is that all 164,000 claims affected by this ruling will be reviewed. By rights what should happen is that those affected will get their payments – and backdated, too. 

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How you can support LDV’s #timetotalk Day posts

You can’t be truly free if you are constantly fighting illness without the support that you need. That is why Liberal Democrats are so passionate about making sure that people have the right mental health support.

For five years during the coalition years, Liberal Democrat ministers were at the helm of pushing through positive change. Norman Lamb, as the Minister responsible, totally got it. Of the many things he did, the Crisis Care Concordat was a really good example of helping people when they most needed it .

He also fought for parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

In doing this he had the full backing of Nick as Deputy Prime Minister who made sure that he put as much funding as he could into mental health.

What I liked most about Norman’s many interviews on this subject, though, was his forthrightness. Rather than pretend everything was fantastic, he always said that what was happening wasn’t good enough and what he wanted to change.

Every year on the first Thursday in February, Time to Change hold Time to Talk Day. It’s aimed at ending the stigma around mental health and enabling people to be more open about the impact that mental ill health has on them.

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Jo Swinson debates ethics and artificial intelligence – and suggests the Lovelace Oath

This week, Jo Swinson held a Westminster Hall debate on ethics and artificial intelligence. While recognising the huge advantages of AI, there are some ethical challenges we need to do something about. Jo looked at this from a very liberal perspective, as you would imagine. Here are some of the highlights of her speech. You can read the whole debate here. 

I would like to start with the story of Tay. Tay was an artificial intelligence Twitter chatbot developed by Microsoft in 2016. She was designed to mimic the language of young Twitter users and to engage and entertain millennials through casual and playful conversation.

“The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets” the company boasted. In reality, Tay was soon corrupted by the Twitter community. Tay began to unleash a torrent of sexist profanity. One user asked,“Do you support genocide?”,to which Tay gaily replied, “I do indeed.”

Another asked,“is Ricky Gervais an atheist?”
The reply was,“ricky gervais learned totalitarianism from adolf hitler, the inventor of atheism”.

Those are some of the tamer tweets. Less than 24 hours after her launch, Microsoft closed her account. Reading about it at the time, I found the story of Tay an amusing reminder of the hubris of tech companies. It also reveals something darker: it vividly demonstrates the potential for abuse and misuse of artificial intelligence technologies and the serious moral dilemmas that they present.

And then there was this:

How should we react when we hear than an algorithm used by a Florida county court to predict the likelihood of criminals reoffending, and therefore to influence sentencing decisions, was almost twice as likely to wrongly flag black defendants as future criminals?

And more:

…there is a female sex robot designed with a “frigid” setting, which is programmed to resist sexual advances. We have heard about a beauty contest judged by robots that did not like the contestants with darker skin. A report by PwC suggests that up to three in 10 jobs in this country could be automated by the early 2030s. We have read about children watching a video on YouTube of Peppa Pig being tortured at the dentist, which had been suggested by the website’s autoplay algorithm. In every one of those cases, we have a right to be concerned. AI systems are making decisions that we find shocking and unethical. Many of us will feel a lack of trust and a loss of control.

So what should be the key principles in our approach to these challenges?

I will focus on four important ethical requirements that should guide our policy making in this area: transparency, accountability, privacy and fairness. I stress that the story of Tay is not an anomaly; it is one example of a growing number of deeply disturbing instances that offer a window into the many and varied ethical challenges posed by advances in AI.

How do they work?

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A wander around the opinion polls

Lib Dems are still waiting for a bounce in the opinion polls. So far this year, we’ve had Westminster voting intentions at 6, 7 and 9%.

However, there are some very interesting things coming out of current polling generally.

Scotland

There was a very interesting YouGov Scottish poll this week which showed that we are not just hanging in there, but making progress as the SNP and Labour slip since the last poll in October Lib Dems show a slight rise in voting intention for Westminster and Holyrood constituency and regional votes. The Tories are holding their own at Westminster, despite a deeply unpopular (floating at around -50 across the two polls) leader. Ruth Davidson is Scotland’s most popular leader with an approval rating of +15, yet her party has lost ground since the Holyrood elections. While they have gained slightly in this poll to the mid twenties, they achieved 31% two years ago. Perhaps that’s because people see Scottish Conservative MPs troop meekly into the voting lobbies behind Theresa May rather than stand up for Scotland’s interests, particularly with regard to the devolution aspects of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Jeremy Corbyn is a massive loser in this recent poll. He was +20 in October and now he’s -3. Perhaps his Brexit stance is not going down so well in a country that predominantly voted to Remain.

Scotland is neutral on its first minister who continues with a neutral approval rating. It’s only a couple of years since she was given a rock star welcome everywhere she went.

Scottish Lib Dems are getting some attention in the media on housing, health, justice and our stance on Brexit. There is still a lot of work to be done and this first non-election year since 2013 provides a good opportunity for the party to develop a longer term strategy. Willie Rennie held a strategy day with key party stakeholders in November which was described by an observer from south of the border as one of the most constructive party events they had ever seen.

Referenda

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William Wallace of Saltaire on singing at the Coronation

You think you know everything there is to know about our parliamentarians’ backgrounds and then, all of a sudden, you find out something new.

That happened to me tonight as I watched the BBC1 programme about The Coronation. For me, the big “wow” moment wasn’t watching the Queen chatting away about her big day, or her obvious fascination with her crowns. It was when they showed 4 former choristers who sang on that day that I thought – that looks like William Wallace, our Peer and regular LDV contributor. Keeley Hawes, narrating, then said their names, and one of them was William Wallace. He was on the front row. He was a pupil at the Westminster Abbey Choir School.

Wikipedia provided the final confirmation. And the wonders of the internet also told me that he had spoken to ITV about the experience back in 2015 when the Queen became the longest-reigning monarch. 

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