Author Archives: Caron Lindsay

Long-serving Lib Dem Robert Aldridge becomes Edinburgh’s new Lord Provost

Popular Lib Dem Councillor Robert Aldridge became Edinburgh’s Lord Provost on Thursday. He was the only nomination and was proposed by the leader of the SNP Group Adam McVey and seconded by his ward colleague, new Lib Dem Councillor Ed Thornley. Watch here:

Dobbie, as he is known to his friends, was first elected to the Council in 1984. I first got to know him when we first moved back to Scotland in 2000 when he was Marilyne Maclaren’s agent in Edinburgh South for two general elections. He spent most of his career working for an organisation supporting people through homelessness. He is a wonderful, compassionate Liberal Democrat. He made a superb, generous and inclusive speech on taking office which you can listen to here. It certainly had me in bits.

He will need every ounce of his patience and ability to make people work well together over the next five years.

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Wendy Chamberlain slams PM’s “appalling attempt to rig the rules”

You would think, wouldn’t you, that when the culture of your Government has been slammed in a report which outlined disgraceful behaviour, you would be absolutely mortified and would make sure that your actions showed that you were truly sorry. Especially when you had been saying so at length and you knew that nobody believed a word of your apology.

Well, you could think that of virtually any other PM than Boris Johnson. But the current incumbent’s capacity for brazen disregard for rules or accountability is second to none. We saw this when he tried to change the rules to save his mate Owen Paterson last Autumn.

Yesterday, Boris Johnson watered down both the Ministerial Code and the role of the so-called “Independent Adviser.” The Guardian reports:

The prime minister faced a barrage of criticism after he amended the rules on Friday to make clear that ministers will not always be expected to resign for breaching the code of conduct. Under new sanctions, they could apologise or temporarily lose their pay instead.

Johnson also blocked his independent ethics chief, Christopher Geidt, from gaining the power to launch his own investigations, and rewrote the foreword to the ministerial code, removing all references to honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability.

Our Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain is reported as saying that this was an:

appalling attempt by Boris Johnson to rig the rules to get himself off the hook.

It seems the Conservatives have learned nothing from the Owen Paterson scandal.

It has been clear for some time that the Government doesn’t care that accountability and justice are seen to be done where its own behaviour is concerned. With these moves they are effectively giving themselves the right to mark their own homework. The legitimacy of any Government depends on having some sort of check on its power.

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The end of Roe vs Wade – why it matters

Overnight, Politico published a draft of a US Supreme court decision which, if confirmed, will end the right of American women and pregnant people to access abortion. This has been an inevitable trajectory since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court in June 2018, giving Donald Trump the chance to ensure a conservative majority.  During his term, Trump appointed three conservative justices, a move destined to roll back not just abortion rights, but potentially the right to same sex marriage as well.

Ending the legal right to seek an abortion is a disaster for women. Before it was enacted, women in many states died when pregnancy threatened their lives because they could not get an abortion. This is a basic civil rights issue for women.

Not only that, but we have to remember that the US is a country without either universal health care or paid maternity leave. Crooked Media’s Hysteria podcast host Erin Ryan gave birth to her daughter Juniper last November and in this post highlights the thousands of dollars she had to pay out just to get through her pregnancy and birth and how she had to ask the specialist administering her epidural if he took her insurance:

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Lib Dems welcome LGBT+ History Month

Happy LGBT+ History Month!

January this year has been horrible in so many ways. It has seemed even longer and more tortuous than usual. But now February is here and there are many things to cheer us – it’s not dark at 5pm, pancake day is not far away and it’s LGBT+ History Month, a chance to learn about those whose stories may have been hidden.

It’s a chance to celebrate the diverse LGBT+ history and honour those who trod a difficult path to make thing easier for generations to come.

I was particularly taken by this series of tweets:

This was only 35 years ago. In this Pink News story, Paul O’Grady recounts the events of that night:

“It was 34 years ago when the cops raided the Vauxhall,” he wrote. “I was doing the late show and within seconds the place was heaving with coppers, all wearing rubber gloves. I remember saying something like, ‘Well well, it looks like we’ve got help with the washing up.’

“They made many arrests but we were a stoic lot and it was business as usual the next night,” he continued.

“I was in quite a few police raids all over the country at the time. I was beginning to think it was me – in fact the South London Press in an extremely homophobic article called Lily ‘a lascivious act’ which I was very proud of.”

It was great to see our Mathew Hulbert’s video as Chair of the National Association of Local Council’s LGBT Network:

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Lib Dem MPs challenge Boris Johnson on Sue Gray report

It’s been quite the afternoon in the Commons.

Boris Johnson faced sustained criticism over the findings of the Sue Gray report. The most effective were the contributions that fought his fire and bluster with ice rather than more fire.

That’s why Theresa May’s takedown of her successor was so effective. I will never forgive her for what she did at the Home Office, nor in her pursuit of a hard Brexit, but her contribution today was brilliant, asking him if he had read the rules, ignored them or didn’t think they applied to him.

Ian Blackford just had to make it all about him, daring the Speaker to throw him out of the Chamber for saying the PM had misled Parliament. The rule may be daft. But it is the rule, and not to observe it when we are talking about rulebreaking seems illogical. There is a debate to be had around whether that rule is fit for purpose when the man at the despatch box has plainly misled Parliament, but it should have been about Boris today, not Blackford. They are both experts at meaningless bluster and not so good at the incisive point.

There were two brilliant contributions from Ed Davey. He really spoke up for all of us who had followed the rules, often in searingly painful, heartbreaking circumstances.

Later he added that the PM’s performance had been “horrific.”

 

Christine Jardine said that people were livid not just at the culture of rule-breaking in No 10, but at the dodging of accountability by the Prime Minister.

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Lessons from 97 Lib Dem/Labour co-operation – Compass/SLF podcast

Lib Dems and Labour swapping lists of target seats, co-operating on policy and not getting in each other’s way helped oust the Tories in 1997. What lessons can we learn from that today?

This week, I went along to the recording of Compass’s “It’s Bloody Complicated” podcast. Our own Duncan Brack, Compass’s Neal Lawson who was one of the fixers of the deals between Blair and Ashdown and YouGov’s Peter Kellner  who looked back to 1997 and the co-operation between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown.  The event was chaired by Compass’s Frances Foley

Duncan explained how, after the disappointment of the 1992 election, there were tentative attempts  to float idea of co-operation between non Conservative parties but Labour under John Smith were not interested.

When Blair became leader, there was significant co-operation including swapping information on target seats. Later on, Neal Lawson told of a meeting in a pub in Victoria where bits of paper were swapped.

A significant part of this was that information was fed  to the Mirror during the campaign. Their subsequent recommendations on tactical voting meant that we won 20 out of our 22 targets.

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Ed Davey: Boris Johnson is concentrating on saving his own skin, not rising living costs

In a strong appearance on The Sunday Morning Show, Ed Davey called on the Government to hold a cost of living summit in No 10, a work event, not a party, if you like.

He called for a windfall tax on energy companies and said that if the Conservatives had stuck with the policies he introduced when he was Energy Secretary, our bills would be £2.5 billion. You can watch the whole thing here:

He was challenged by Sophie Raworth on his tweet:

Ed replied that he had respect for rank and file police officers who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. For them to do their job, the public have to have confidence in them and the way the Met has handled this has undermined that.

He took us through the Met’s actions of the past few weeks, first saying they wouldn’t investigate the Downing Street Parties, then they said they might but wanted to let Sue Gray get on with her report, then they would investigate but Sue Gray’s report could be published in full and then they changed their minds for a fourth time and said that Sue Gray’s report had to wait for their investigation to be completed. “This is chaos, absolute chaos.” It might be cock up, he added, but it could also be something much worse.”

He said that he had called for an investigation by the Metropolitan Police several weeks ago. If they had done that then, they would have completed their  investigation and we wouldn’t have the paralysis in Government that we are seeing now.

He said that nobody wanted the Met to make such a hash of this and had a go at Boris.

“We have a Prime Minister who has broken the rules and lied about it to Parliament. No-one trusts this Prime Minister. It’s why I’ve called very strongly that he should resign.”

 

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Former Lib Dem MP Ronnie Fearn dies at 90

Sad news reached our ears on Monday night, that former Southport Lib Dem MP Ronnie Fearn had died. We wanted to wait for the news to become more public before we shared it though.

From the Liverpool Echo

Tributes have been paid to a former Merseyside MP, described as “Mr Southport”, who has died aged 90.

Ronald Fearn, known as Ronnie, was MP for Southport from 1987 to 1992 and 1997 to 2001, serving first as a member of the Liberal party and later as a Liberal Democrat.

He also served as a councillor for Sefton Council from 1974 to 2016 and previously

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Erlend

You might know sad news is coming, but when it actually arrives, it still smacks you round the chops.

That’s how so many people in the party will feel tonight. Few people were as loved as Erlend Watson.

We knew time was short. His update on Boxing Day was very him.

FAREWELL
I wanted to break it to you all personally.

I am more certainly not going to make it through more than the next few months. Any extra events could shorten that so my best guess is 3 to 6 moths. I will put myself down for a proxy vote for May (not Theresa) in case of any survival. Cynical to the end.

The affection shown on social media since my op was lovely but I have lost a quarter of my weight and I no longer have the physical reserves to do that.

I am currently able to communicate and will do so as long as possible but clearly the timetable is very loose and the end could be sudden.

My final affairs I am leaving to my siblings and my social media executor as Simon Drage as he knows more of you than they do.

In the meantime I will take/return calls as and when I can. Some longer some shorter according to what I can do.

There will be a funeral and I think a memorial service (probably the latter in London during parliamentary session for those who that works for. Elements of English and Norwegian I hope the committal of ashes to be in Orkney next summer about the time of the shows next August subject to to Covid but that is obviously an open story..

In terms of my politics I haven’t a Liberal and a Liberal Democrat since age 10. I see there being anti liberal forces working in the world and that makes me very sad. These must be fought. I am partisan but include on the side of good not just my own leaders but many Labour, Conservative and other politicians and obviously many non Party folk. I am a multiple identity person. In terms of nationality I am an Orcadian who was born in Fife with other IDs through my genome (but that leaves the key flag at the funeral as a St Magnus one rather than a rainbow 🌈 one).

To end with a couple of (mis)quotes.
1)You are not wholly gone from Earth until the last soul you touched comes up to heaven to greet you..

2) Well dear friends, now we have come to the end of our fellowship in Middle Earth. I will not say do not weep for not all tears are an evil. Or in Norwegian, Vel kjære venner nå har vi kommet til enden av vårt felleskap i Midtgård. Jeg vil ikke si gråt ikke, for ikke alle tårer er av det onde.

Number 2 may be familiar to readers of The Lord of the Rings.

Within days, both the Young Liberals and ALDC had honoured him.
And tonight the news came that he had died, very peacefully, and with a friend by his side.

We’d been hoping that he would somehow defy the odds.

Erlend was a familiar sight at by-elections and at the Conference Glee Club. He devoted so much of his life to the party, working to elect parliamentarians and councillors alike.

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Happy Burns Night!

On 25th January 1759, Robert Burns was born. 263 year later, Scotland celebrates its most famous national poet with haggis, neeps, tatties, poetry, song and more than a small amount of decent single malt.

Whoever runs the Scottish Government digital comms for today is probably going to be feeling a bit sheepish tonight:

 

I got to wondering how Burns would deal with social media. Imagine the Twitter pile on the lady with the louse on her bonnet would get if Rabbie had live tweeted from the church service. The wider points Burns was trying to make about social justice and the importance of all life would have been entirely lost.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Burns’ poetry. You might have the vividness of Tam o’Shanter, the tenderness of Ae Fond Kiss and the humour of odes to mice and lice, but there’s the dark side. Telling henpecked husbands to charm their wives with the magic of a switch is never going to spark joy in my feminist heart. And he also advises the guy to kiss her maids and kick the perverse….well, it rhymes with switch.

And in the Rights of Women, he said women should have protection, decorum and admiration. You know, the vote would have been nice. You know, some actual political power. If I was writing this in Burns’ time, the copyright would have belonged to my husband. 

Nevertheless, the Edinburgh South Burns Supper is one of the highlights of my year. On Saturday, I gave the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies in a virtual event. It was bittersweet to be doing it over Zoom.

I had never been to a Burns Supper before about 2012 when I first went to the South one. Since then, I’ve been on the Naughty Table every year.

For those of you who don’t know, a traditional Burns Supper goes something like this:

The Selkirk Grace kicks off the proceedings. It’s simple:

Some hae meat and canna eat,And some wad eat that want it,But we hae meat and we can eat,Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

The Haggis is piped in and someone does a dramatic reading of Burns 1786 Address to a Haggis. On Saturday this was performed by Edinburgh South’s Rebecca Wright with so much spirit and passion. She really needs to think about a career in acting. And I am a bit scared of her, having seen her wield that knife.

Then the Chief Guest of Honour delivers the Immortal Memory, a personal reflection on Burns’ life and relevance to the modern day. On Saturday night that was delivered by Alex Cole-Hamilton and was one of the best that I have heard. He had us all in stitches with his Burns Style account of the Downing Street parties.

Then there’s a Toast to the Lassies. In the not too distant past, Burns Suppers were all male affairs and this element was served with a large amount of cringeworthy sexism. In these more progressive times, Angus Councillor Ben Lawrie, also the Scottish Party’s Spokesperson on the Drugs emergency was absolutely brilliant  He talked abut his love of Tam O’Shanter:

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Helen Morgan to make her maiden speech today

If you get a chance to watch the Commons this afternoon, you’ll see new Lib Dem MP Helen Morgan make her first proper speech. I really don’t like the term maiden speech as it just seems sexist and patronising, an outdated and disrespectful view of young women.

The Scottish Parliament took to calling them debut speeches for a while and I’d like to see a bit more of that.

But back to Helen. Every Lib Dem who helped whether on the phone, in person or by donating, or by enabling someone else to go has a stake in this. It will be a very special moment for our party.

It won’t be the first time Helen has spoken in the Chamber. Within two hours of being sworn in on 5th January, she was challenging the PM to do something about the terrible state of Shropshire’s ambulance service.

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Ed Davey: Boris Johnson must resign over birthday party

Every time we hear of yet another time when Downing Street staff behaved like the rules didn’t apply to them, it just brings back the pain. This isn’t just politics. It’s about reliving the emotions of a really difficult couple of years.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it’s the hugs we didn’t have, the days we didn’t see our loved ones that really hurt.

Most of us bear the scars of this pandemic to a certain extent. If we hadn’t obeyed the rules, the death toll from Covid would have been so much higher. Staying at home for months on end was the only way to protect ourselves and others from a deadly virus.

But that came at a huge cost for many.

I am thinking of someone I love very much who wasn’t able to see their friends for months on end. They became very seriously ill as a result and could have lost their life. I heard yesterday about others who had not been so lucky and whose loved ones had died by suicide.

My son’s 21st fell not long before Boris Johnson’s birthday. He couldn’t see his group of friends.  His treat for the day was a trip to the drive thru McDonalds which had opened a few days previously. To be fair, he did get a nice home-cooked meal, but it’s far from the celebration he wanted.  I didn’t see my parents on their birthdays last year and my niece had to postpone her wedding. We’ve all got similar stories to tell.

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FOUR Lib Dem Council GAINS – What a night!

I’m doing the by-election results for ALDC tonight, with the help of some strong painkillers. I had a bit of a fall yesterday and hurt my hip. Nothing serious, but it is sore.

Tonight’s results got the endorphins flowing though. Not one, not two, not three but FOUR gains.

One gain came in one of the Toriest parts of Oxfordshire, where we haven’t had a councillor for 15 years.

And then came gain number 3:

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Another dramatic Wednesday ahead

It’s going to be an interesting day. Has Boris Johnson finally run out of road?

For the second Wednesday in a row, his future is under intense threat as his own MPs turn on him over the Downing Street parties. A weekend in their constituencies has left many Tories in marginal seats in no doubt about how angry their voters feel about Downing Street’s cavalier attitude to the rules they set for us all to follow.

Twitter is awash with speculation about “pork pie” plots to oust him and Operation Red Meat to save him.

Will he even make it to Prime Minister’s Questions at 12 noon?

If he does, the person who has the first question will have quite an important role in setting the tone for the setting. No doubt Boris will be hoping it’s a devoted backbencher with no self respect who will just read out whatever the whips give him.

Only it’s not. It’s one of ours.

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Wendy Chamberlain slams Government for “callous” benefits decision

The UK Government has confirmed that it is only going to raise benefits by the rate of inflation last September. This is what it normally does. However, it looks like inflation is going to almost double between September and April, when the changes take place.

The Government will be putting an order before Parliament to raise benefits by 3.1% which is not much good when inflation is expected to be 6% by April.

If you think about how energy costs are soaring, this is really going to impact on disabled people. They tend to have higher heating bills to start with, but when you factor in the special equipment, for example scooters, electric wheelchairs or oxygen tanks, which gobble up electricity, this is going to cause huge hardship.

Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem DWP spokesperson has called on the Government to raise benefits by 6% to match the expected rate of inflation in April:

She said:

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What’s going on in our Parliaments this week? 17-21 January 2022

Lib Dem highlights in our legislatures this week include Jamie Stone holding a debate on gas and electricity costs while Lib Dem peers take on some of the Government’s nastier Bills. Watch out for Brian Paddick on the Police Bill and Sal Brinton on the Health and Care Bill.

In Wales, Jane Dodds has a debate on free public transport for young people on Wednesday

So what’s happening?

Westminster

Monday kicks off in the Commons with Priti Patel and the Home Office ministerial team answering questions from MPs.

They then go on to debate the Elections Bill, which would disenfranchise many people from deprived backgrounds, who are less likely to vote Conservative, by requiring voter ID. It’s sickening voter suppression.

The Lords take on the dreadful Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and you can read our take on that here.

On Tuesday, MPs question Sajid Javid and then go on to debate the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill and a money resolution on the Charities Bill.

Jamie Stone has a Westminster Hall debate on the cost of gas and electricity.

Peers have the first of two days this week on the Health and Social Care BIll.

Commons business on Wednesday kicks off with questions to COP 26 President Alok Sharma, then you have to wonder what PMQs will throw up this week. MPs then turn their attention to the Building Safety Bill

The Lords deals with the Northern Ireland Bill and the Subsidy Control Bill. Several Lib Dems, including Malcolm Bruce and Jenny Randerson, are down to speak.

Thursday sees  international trade questions in the Commons followed by two general debates, the first on a motion relating to the Uyghur Tribunals and the second on Lawfare and the UK Court System.

Meanwhile the Lords have another day on the Health and Care Bill.

Holyrood

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Your last chance for the early bird rate for Spring Conference

Spring Conference takes place online between 11 and 13 March. Tomorrow is the last date you can register at the early bird rate of £40. Don’t miss your chance to take part and save yourself some money  – make sure you register here. 

There’s also an in-person companion event f run by ALDC,  which is taking place in York on 12 and 13 March and you can register for that here.

The agenda has not been published yet. Federal Conference Committee met yesterday to choose which motions will be debated and we should have those details within the next few days.

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Cutting sick pay for unvaccinated employees – what do you think?

I’ve been really concerned this week that some major employers are cutting sick pay for unvaccinated employees to the statutory minimum. ITV reports how companies like Next, Morrisons and Ikea are only going to pay employees who have to self-isolate Statutory Sick Pay of only £96.35 per week, whereas those who have been vaccinated will get their usual pay. And the majority of affected employees will be the lowest paid.

In England, if you are a close contact of someone with Covid, you don’t have to self isolate if you are fully vaccinated. You just need to take daily lateral flow tests. However, if you have not been vaccinated and there are no medical reasons why you can’t be, you have to isolate for ten days. If you do not do so, you could be fined £1000. The rules are set out here.

I don’t agree with employers making these sorts of value judgements about an employee’s liability for their own condition. That is a rabbit hole we really do not want to go down because it could end up in some really nasty places. Broken your leg while hillwalking? Imagine your employer telling you you could have avoided that and they are only going to pay you SSP.

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Lib Dems table motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson

Liberal Democrat MPs have tabled a motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson and have written to Jacob Rees-Mogg to ask that it is given parliamentary time.

The motion been so far been signed by 18 MPs from four parties. These include all thirteen Liberal Democrat MPs, two Labour MPs, two from Plaid Cymru and Stephen Parry from the Alliance Party.

The Liberal Democrats have also written to Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, demanding he put the motion to a vote within the next week. Labour Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting says that Labour would back it in a Commons vote.

The question is, would enough Conservatives? And what would the public think if their Conservative MP backed a PM who has had such a chaotic approach to government and treats the laws of the land as an optional extra?

Ed Davey said:

It’s time for Conservative MPs to show where they stand. Are they going to continue to put up with a Prime Minister who lied to Parliament and to the public, who admitted he broke lockdown rules and refuses to hold himself accountable?

By remaining in Number 10 Boris Johnson is a threat to the health of the nation – no one will take anything he says seriously and that is simply unacceptable during a pandemic.

Conservative MPs should not only support our motion of no confidence but they should pressure Jacob Rees Mogg to give the motion time for a vote and soon. The country deserves a chance to move on from this deceitful Prime Minister.

The full text of Wera’s letter is below.

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Why we’re so livid about the Downing Street parties

I’ve not had a huge amount of sleep. I went to bed too late and woke up too early.

Why? I’m livid. And, like many millions of people, emotions that I’ve been struggling with but keeping below the surface, are breaking through.

We’ve been going through hell, and the more we hear about the culture in Government that made them think that it was fine to sit outside in the sunshine and party when millions couldn’t comfort their dying or bereaved relatives, or had to endure intolerable suffering alone, the more we relive our experiences.

If you watched the BBC News last night, you’ll have seen a woman called Lisa recount how she had to watch her brother take his last breath on an iPad at around the same time the May 2020 BYOB party was going on in the Downing Street Garden. She is a friend of mine. So is her sister Jenni, who spoke to the Daily Record:

Jenni said: “They were telling us to stick to the rules but they thought it was OK to have a party.

“We couldn’t comfort one another but they’re having cheese and wine in the garden. They’re laughing at us and think this is OK?”

“We feel traumatised by what has happened, almost like we have PTSD because of our experience and then all these revelations come out that Boris and his staff are telling us to do one thing while they do another.

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What’s on in our Parliaments this week ? 10-14 January 2022

All three Parliaments are now fully back in session this week. Lib Dem highlights include Rupert Redesdale’s Lords debate on farming on Tuesday and it’s a busy week for Wendy Chamberlain who has an adjournment debate on Long Covid on Wednesday, a Westminster Hall debate on global vacccine access on Thursday and a Private Members’ Bill on Friday. Tim Farron also has a debate.

So what’s happening?

Westminster

Monday has Defence questions, the remaining stages of the Nuclear Energy Finance Bill which basically gives the Government the right to finance new nuclear power stations. You can find out more in the Commons Library briefing.

There’s also a couple of nasty finance measures such as the approval of the welfare cap, which is exactly what millions of vulnerable people do not need.

The Lords look at the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

On Tuesday, it’s Business questions and a yet to be defined Opposition Day Debate for MPs

In the Lords, there is an interesting question from the Bishop of Durham on social security support for larger families. A good chance to highlight the appalling two child limit for state benefits.

Then there is a chance for the Lib Dem peers to get stuck in to the Health and Care Bill as it starts its line by line scrutiny before Rupert Redesdala has a debate on the support needed by the  farming industry to combat increased costs and competition.

On Wednesday, the drama of PMQs gives way to a bill which sets out an arbitration process on rent arrears for commercial properties which have accrued during the pandemic. The Commons Library briefing is here.

Then Wendy Chamberlain has an adjournment debate on Long Covid.

The Lords deals with the final stage of the appalling Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill.  You can read Brian Paddick’s unequivocal denunciation of it as the most illiberal and authoritarian Bill he has ever seen here.

There’s more on the National Insurance Contributions Bill later.

Thursday sees Cabinet Office questions in the Commons followed by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s weekly business statement, the Government’s response to the Transport Committee report on smart motorways which says they should be paused for 5 years and backbench business on education catch up and the Online Safety Bill.

In the Lords, Paul Scriven has a question on the impact of people waiting to be seen in ambulance queues, and there’s more Health and Care Bill.

It’s a sitting Friday in the Commons and both Wendy Chamberlain and Tim Farron have Bills, Wendy’s on requiring the Government to ensure public bodies have representatives from devolved nations and Tim’s to ensure proper scrutiny of the welfare and environmental effects of trade deals on farming. Both of these are so far down the list that it is unlikely that they will even be covered and will be deferred to another date.

You can get into the full parliamentary calendar from here.

Holyrood

On Tuesday MSPs will hear Nicola Sturgeon’s latest Covid-19 update before
debating the impact of labour shortages on Scotland’s economy, a legislative consent motion to the recent Westminster Animal Welfare Bill and a private member’s debate on Endemetriosis

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Daisy Cooper: Government must keep free lateral flow tests as long as they ask people to self isolate

They say that you shouldn’t believe anything until it has been officially denied. Education Secretary Nadim Zahawi has been doing the Sunday media telling us all that the Government “absolutely” has no plans to stop sending out free lateral flow tests to people. This is news to our health spokesperson Daisy Cooper who says that Ministers have already said to her that they would.

In Scotland, we are asked to test before we meet anyone, so my family of three is currently going through a box of seven tests every week. Everyone should be testing a couple of times a week as a matter of course.

My Facebook timeline has been full of friends posting pictures of their positive lateral flow tests for weeks and only discovered through testing that they had the virus and needed to stay away from others. If they had not tested, they may have gone home and visited Granny at Christmas time and spread the virus to her and other vulnerable members of their families.

Many others have been feeling pretty awful with what is supposedly a “mild” version of the virus, a reminder of how unpleasant t can be. And while hospitalisations and deaths are not, thankfully, rising in proportion with the huge rise in cases, the longer term damage from things like Long Covid is as yet unknown.

Zahawi’s denial certainly doesn’t convince me. We know already that there are tensions in the Government between those who want us all to get on with it and live with Covid with no government support and intervention and those who want us to get on with it and live with Covid with minimal support and intervention.

On the immediate issue of free lateral flow tests, Daisy said that the Government must not plunge us into a “cost of living with Covid” crisis and that the tests should remain free as long as people were being asked to self isolate:

It seems this Government is happy to hand out billions in crooked Covid contracts to their chums, but intends to scrap free covid tests plunging millions into a cost of living with Covid crisis.

Scrapping free tests when cases are at record levels would be hugely counter-productive and would hit those who can least afford it hardest, at a time when families are already being clobbered by rising taxes and energy bills.

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Ed vs Boris – a load of old Balls

Today has been Helen Morgan’s day. First she was sworn in and then she questioned the Prime Minister about the state of North Shropshire’s ambulance services.

But we could not let this day go by without mentioning Ed’s question to the Prime Minister, which was not without amusing incident.

Poor Ed has been misidentified twice this week. On the New Year’s Day edition of The Weakest LInk (and isn’t Romesh Ranganathan an inspired choice for that?) Jenni Falconer was asked which Ed was the leader of the Liberal Democrats. “Milliband?” she  asked, without much confidence.

Today Speaker Lindsay Hoyle had one of those moments when he introduced Ed at PMQs:

I call Ed Balls—I mean Ed Davey.

Ed replied:

Happy new year, Mr Speaker! I am sure the Prime Minister will want to join me and my Liberal Democrat colleagues in welcoming my hon. Friend the new Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan).

People’s already high heating bills are about to jump by more than 50%, with average energy bills rising by nearly £700 a year. Gas price rises will push millions more families into fuel poverty, when we know many are already afraid even to open their heating bills. Does the Prime Minister accept that he could be doing much more than he is to prevent millions of people from going hungry and cold this year while he remains—for now at least—in the warmth and comfort of No. 10?

Boris Johnson of course took the mention of the word balls and ran with it. Pretty disgraceful when you consider that there are millions of vulnerable people wondering how they are going to heat their homes, disabled people wondering how they are going to pay the extra costs to keep their breathing machines going or charge their stairlifts or scooters, all of which use a whole load of electricity. He just doesn’t care.

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Helen Morgan challenges Prime Minister on Day 1

Within a couple of hours of being sworn in, North Shropshire’s new Lib Dem MP (never going to get tired of writing that) Helen Morgan was challenging the Prime Minister over the state of ambulance services in her constituency.

Helen tried to get Boris Johnson to commit to a “full and proper review of ambulance services by the care quality commission.” The Prime Minister refused, showing pretty callous disregard for the residents who had endured some horrifying waits for ambulances in recent weeks. The closure of four local ambulance stations has only added to current pressures.

The exchange in full went like this:

I welcome the new Member, Helen Morgan.

Helen Morgan
(North Shropshire) (LD)
Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Ambulance services and paramedics are desperately struggling to maintain a safe and timely service across the country. My constituency of North Shropshire is no exception, and inexplicably has seen two of its ambulance stations closed, as well as waiting times sky-rocket. With the crisis in emergency care escalating, will the Prime Minister commit today before this House to supporting my call for a full and proper review of ambulance services by the Care Quality Commission?

The Prime Minister
It is very important that everybody should get the ambulance service that they need. That is why we are investing £55 million more and that is why there are 500 more people on the ambulance staff than there were in 2018.

Afterwards, Helen said:

There is no time to waste in solving the local ambulance crisis which is a life and death situation in Shropshire.

It is essential that the Prime Minister and his Government tackle this crisis. It was disappointing to see him turn down my call for a full and proper review into services.

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What’s on in our Parliaments this week?

This week it is only Westminster that is back in business after the Christmas holidays. Holyrood and the Senedd don’t return till next week.  There will, however, be a brief virtual Covid-19 statement from Nicola Sturgeon this afternoon.

You do have to wonder why they bothered dragging MPs back to London for just two days of business when Covid case levels are so high.

Today

However, the exciting thing for Liberal Democrats is that Helen Morgan, our new MP for North Shropshire, will be taking her seat in the Commons, and that will be a joy to behold. She’ll be sworn in at the start of the day’s business at 2:30 pm. It would normally be 11:30 on a Wednesday, but because it’s the first day back, it’s not till the afternoon.

Boris Johnson then faces his first PMQs of 2022 at 3pm and can expect to be quizzed on the growing crisis in the NHS and in schools. Ed Davey has a question and I wonder what line he will take…

Pensions legislation then takes up the afternoon until an adjournment debate on the award of public contracts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Westminster Hall debates will take place on issues regarding new build homes, historical allegations of sexual abuse and the justice system, deforestation in the Amazon, housing in Sittingbourne and Sheppey and immigration requirements for non UK national members of the armed forces.

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Housing, child poverty, employee privacy, nuclear weapons and energy on agenda for Scottish Spring Conference

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have published the agenda for its hybrid Spring Conference to be held on 11-12 February. If this seems a bit premature for Spring, it’s being deliberately set as far out from the Scottish Council elections as possible. Every council seat in Scotland is up for election in May.

Members will gather in-person in Hamilton and those of us, probably including me, who are too worried about Covid to attend such a big gathering, will be able to join virtually. This will be an important test of how these events can work.  In an email to members, Conference Convener Paul McGarry said that

we are currently monitoring the situation regarding Omicron and the Conference Committee will be meeting in early January to ensure that the Conference is meeting current guidance.

The Hamilton Town House was the scene of a highly successful Conference in 2019 and was the last time we actually gathered in person as the 2019 General Election scuppered our Autumn even that year.

The agenda has much potential for robust debate, including a motion that would see the party take an explicitly anti nuclear weapons stance. And Highland Liberal Democrats call for us to be open to putting nuclear energy back on the menu.

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The Christmas vaccine dilemma – what would you do?

Last night’s  Radio 4 PM had a discussion with a mother and son who were dealing with an issue that many families will be trying to resolve this Christmas. This particular family had members who are particularly vulnerable to Covid and the son had chosen not to get vaccinated.

The compromise they reached was that the son would have a PCR test before mixing with the rest of the family.

It made me think about what I would do in these circumstances. I am about as Covid cautious as they come and my household is being very careful about who we mix with. We are following the Scottish Government’s advice and doing a lateral flow test before seeing other family members and they are doing the same. I’m lucky that we don’t have the vaccine issue as we’ve all been vaccinated and boostered to the max. In fact, the last member of our household got his booster on Monday, rather than the previously earliest appointment he could get which was 17th January thanks in part to Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP. The vaccination centre at Ingliston had been going to be dismantled to make way for a rave the weekend before last. Alex raised the problem with Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and the rave was cancelled and the vaccine centre reinstated.

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Ed Davey: The Conservatives can be beaten anywhere

You have to hand it to Ed Davey. The poor man has had Covid since Monday but he hasn’t let it stop him contributing to and celebrating our historic by-election victory in North Shropshire.

He might have been stuck indoors but he maraphoned like a trooper.

Perhaps the only benefit of his self isolation is that he is unlikely now to get a Council Tax Bill from Shropsire Council given how much time he has spent there in the past month.

Covid is not much fun, even when you are fully vaccinated and boostered as Ed is, but he has stepped up to …

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North Shropshire: It wasn’t too good to be true after all!

A few minutes ago, I had that very satisfying feeling of adding Helen Morgan to my Twitter lists of Lib Dem MPs and Lib Dem Parliamentarians. A wee thing, but an immensely satisfying moment.

I am not at my best at the moment. It turns out that I’m not as good as I used to be at this staying up till 4:40 am then doing a day’s work malarkey. But I can’t stop smiling. This has been a very good day.

And that bursting of the Boris bubble made me smile. I enjoyed it much more than the Blue Wall bashing from June.

Exactly 6 months ago, hundreds of Lib Dems were wandering around Chesham and Amersham on a Summer’s evening trying to turn people out to vote. I was taking part in the phone knock-up. In a few hours’ time, we would welcome Sarah Green as our 12th MP. Even in our moment of glory after that, if you had told us that within 6 months, we’d be welcoming Helen Morgan as our 13th after winning North Shropshire, we’d have laughed.

When Owen Paterson announced his resignation on 4th November, the party had some decisions to take about how to approach this by-election. Within two days, we had leafletted half the constituency with a very clear message setting out that we were the challengers. Establishing yourself in that position is key. We knew that the local party was totally up for a fight and that was a key part of the decision to start looking for kitchen sinks.

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How will you help Helen win North Shropshire tomorrow?

I’ve not long finished hosting the eve of poll Maraphone for Helen Morgan in North Shropshire. It was a busy night – breakout rooms and everything. And it took Eastbourne PPC Josh Babarinde a whole hour to find anyone who would admit to voting Conservative tomorrow.

And what was absolutely amazing was that Ed Davey came along and joined us for a while. The indefatigable campaigner wasn’t going to let a wee tussle with Omicron get him down. He has been to North Shropshire so often they will probably send him a Council Tax bill and he is clearly gutted that he can’t be there tomorrow. But to come and hit the phones despite feeling poorly is above and beyond the call of duty.

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