Author Archives: Caron Lindsay

Put your questions to the Federal Board – next Monday evening

Next Monday evening, from 6-7 pm, the Federal Board are having an online q and a session for all party members.

Party President Mark Pack will be taking questions and I’ll be there alongside former Welsh President and AM Bill Powell.

I’d really like to see loads of you there, not least because doing this was my idea and I’ll look like an idiot if nobody turns up. We had some really useful discussions in the Federal Board booth at Federal Conference. In fact, believe it or not, I was even able to give some information about the English Party constitution.

Also, much as I love Mark, I don’t want to spend an hour arguing with him about which is the best type of chocolate.

And finally, my dogs can usually be relied upon to turn up to meetings, so if you have heard about Hazel and Bernie on Twitter, now is your chance to meet them.

Seriously, though, our party democracy is really important to us. We are a member led organisation and all the power structures should be accountable and this, for me, is part of that. It’s also important that our decisions are informed by what members are thinking and we will be having a Board meeting the very next night so what you tell us will be fresh in our minds.

Details of how to register are here:

Mark said:

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Ed Fordham: Why I can’t attend a civic event in a venue that rejects me, my marriage and my community

LDV contributor and Chesterfield Councillor Ed Fordham has written to the Mayor of Chesterfield, her predecessors and the Council Chief Executive to be open about the reasons he can’t attend the annual Mayor-making procession and service – because it is held in a Church of England church, an organisation which doesn’t support same sex marriage equality.

I am really impressed that Ed has spoken out about this. He has made the case very eloquently and he has given permission for us to reproduce it here.

Our civic events have to be inclusive and I hope that those who are responsible for organising them at any level think about this.

Here is Ed’s letter:

As you know I sent my apologies to the formal mayor making, procession and service at St Mary and All Saints Church. As you know I stand in the open market on a Thursday and a Saturday and this usually conflicts with the procession and service. Accordingly it has been easy for me to send my apologies and absent myself as a councillor.

However, as a friend and out of a desire to be honest I feel I should write explaining my true reason.

In 2013 the law of the land was finally changed to enable two people of the same sex who love each other to marry each other (this took effect on March 2014).. My life partner and I took advantage of that and duly married that year – indeed we had a religious wedding in a Unitarian Chapel.

I was closely involved in the passage of the bill and am more than a little aware of the resistance of the Church of England to the bill and indeed to the debate. This was not universal to the Church and there are many good friends of mine who fight for acceptance and reform of the Church of England from within. However, the position of the Church and indeed the Bishops remains that it is opposed to LGBT+ marriage equality. Indeed, several gay friends who are clergy within the Church who have married their same sex partner have had their license to lead worship withdrawn. This has only been enabled because the Church of England is, astonishingly, exempt from aspects of the nation’s employment law as it affects equality.

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New Fawcett Society report on tackling sexual harassment in the workplace

The Fawcett Society in collaboration with Chwarae Teg, Women’s Resource & Development Agency and Close the Gap has produced a very comprehensive report aimed at giving employers advice about how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. They will be producing a toolkit for employers in the Spring.

The 113 page report covers how to change the culture of an organisation to show that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, set up reporting mechanisms, how to treat those making reports and how to respond to reports.

Key findings of the report include:

  • At least 40% of women have experienced workplace harassment, and women who are marginalised for other reasons, such as race or disability, face an increased risk and different forms of sexual harassment
  • 45% of women in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment online through sexual messages, cyber harassment and sexual calls
  • Almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment had increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while they were working from home
  • Almost seven in ten (68%) disabled women reported being sexually harassed at work, compared to 52% of women in general
  • Ethnic minority workers (women and men) reported higher rates (32%) of sexual harassment than white workers (28%) over the last 12 months
  • A poll of LGBT workers found that 68% had experienced some form of harassment in the workplace

These figures are truly disturbing and show the extent of the problem.

One bisexual woman describes her experience:

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Lib Dems mark World Mental Health Day

10th October every year is World Mental Health Day.

This is a cause that is very close to Lib Dem hearts. We were talking about it long before it became mainstream. We understand the impact of poor mental health and when Norman Lamb was health minister in England during the coalition years, he did so much to improve access to mental health care, particularly for young people.

In Scotland we have never been lucky enough to have a Health Minister who actually gets it. And things are getting worse.

A GP gave evidence to a Holyrood Committee this week saying that referrals to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service were being rejected.

The feedback is actually very very consistent, that there is a big yawning gap. Obviously GPs offer universal services and holistic care and I think one of the advantages that we have is that we work very closely with our health visitors and our family and it’s often the whole family that are involved when a child or adolescent has a mental health problem.

But the feeling is still that the bar for referrals is very very high. GPs and I include myself in this, say that they will “think three or four times”, and I’m quoting there, before even considering a referral, and we have high levels of referral rejections.

And I think the other thing about referrals is that we know how damaging it can sometimes be to the person referred and their family if they get a rejection because they’ve often tried lots of other things before they get to us.

In a panel on mental health at the joint Scottish and Welsh Conference yesterday, GP and 2022 Council Candidate Drummond Begg talked about the need to prioritise mental health because the brain was the most important organ in the body.

Alex Cole-Hamilton highlighted that over 40,000 calls to a mental health helpline in Scotland were abandoned.

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Scottish Lib Dems call for better Police vetting and Commission to prevent violence against women and girls

This weekend, Scottish Conference passed a motion calling for serious action to prevent violence against women and girls:

In the wake of the shocking revelations of the details of the murder of Sarah Everard, Scottish Lib Dem Women submitted an emergency motion calling for, amongst other things:

  • An NHS-style public awareness campaign to build public understanding of the drivers behind violence against women;
  • An extended Independent Review of Equality Matters in policing as recommended by Dame Elish Angiolini, to include a review of police vetting processes and consideration of misogynistic behaviour;
  • New training for those working in education and frontline in public authorities;
  • Recognition of misogyny as a hate crime.

The party also reaffirmed its call for a new Commission to look at ways of preventing men’s violence against women and girls in all its forms, to report within one year in order to ensure a co-ordinated approach across all levels of government.

Wendy Chamberlain MP summated the motion, saying:

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Scottish Lib Dems call for measures to end the drug deaths emergency

In an emotional debate this afternoon, the Scottish Liberal Democrats passed a motion on ending Scotland’s drugs deaths emergency:

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to see the people not the numbers.

New leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, whose professional life before politics was helping disadvantaged young people, showed how important this issue was to him by proposing the motion. His speech was so effective, compassionate and caring.

Culture spokesperson Joe McCauley talked about the deaths of two of his family members.

It was a such a powerful and emotional speech.

I spoke about my friend Tracy, and her son, Nathan, who died in March at the age of 20 from an overdose of street valium.

It is so important that we reaffirm our commitment to treat drug use as a public health issue, and ensure that people caught in possession of drugs are referred for treatment and help, not put through a justice system that isn’t working.

If the justice system worked to deal with these issues, Nathan would have emerged from court and prison in better shape than he went in.

Just two days before he died, he was arrested. The day before he died, he appeared in court. He wasn’t offered any help with his issues.

Tracy told the Daily Record last month:

I begged police to make interventions with him when he was a teenager, to get him out of the way of drug dealers.
“But the bottom line with them was always the same.
“They never discussed diverting him to treatment or doing anything other than arrest people.”

“I just feel that if we had arrived at where we are today and there were proper professionals who understand trauma able to speak to him, he could have had a fighting chance.”

She feels that if the changes that Dorothy Bain announced last month had been in place a year ago, Nathan would be alive today.

After the motion passed, Alex said:

Scotland has the worst drug mortality in Europe. Nearly four times the rate of our neighbours in England and Wales. We cannot continue to witness this epidemic destroying lives.

“Despite the focus of an entire ministerial portfolio, additional investment and interventions like the rollout of naloxone, people are still dying at the same terrifying rate. That is the legacy of years of prior government inaction.

“Government must be open to learning from international best practice. It is why I have written to the Director General of the WHO to ask for a specialised taskforce, made up of leading experts in drug mortality, to analyse and mobilise against this particularly Scottish epidemic.”

And our spokesperson for the drugs death emergency Ben Lawrie said:

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Ed Davey: Boris speech was most out of touch display by a PM in decades

For me the week of the Conservative Party Conference is usually a week of low level nausea. Seeing Conservatives in their comfort zone is never going to be pleasant for any liberal. This week was particularly bad.  The bottom of the barrel was seeing Peter Bottomley whinging that 81 grand wasn’t enough for him to live on and using words such as “grim” and “desperate” to describe MPs’ financial circumstances.

I suspect the millions of people who are facing a £20 week cut in Universal Credit just at the same time as food and energy prices are going through the roof will be full of sympathy for him.

And then there was Boris Johnson’s bizarre stand-up routine in place of a speech. Unfortunately he and his team have learned over time that if you repeat an untruth often enough and loud enough, you win big.  It’s clear that the Conservatives want everyone to be talking about culture wars – if they can set us up to be kicking lumps out of each other, maybe we won’t notice the empty shelves in the supermarkets and the rising prices, all of which signify that his flagship Brexit project was the ultimate pig in a poke.<

His words might have been red meat to the Tory faithful in the hall today. We’ll have to see what the country feels like after a Winter that is not going to be funny.

Ed Davey was pretty scathing about Johnson’s speech:

Boris Johnson’s speech was the most out of touch display by a Prime Minister in decades, he has created a cost of living crisis which he refuses to fix.

The Conservative Party conference may as well be happening in a parallel universe. Johnson pretends that somehow long queues at the petrol station and empty shelves in the supermarket are all part of his cunning plan and blames anyone he can for the wreckage he is causing: UK businesses, journalists and the British public.

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Sexism in the Police force goes way beyond the Met

The failings of the Metropolitan Police with regard to the murder of Sarah Everard have been well documented over the past few days. Our Wendy Chamberlain, the only woman in the Commons to have been a serving Police officer, has been absolutely brilliant in highlighting the need for change in the force.

But the institutional sexism goes way beyond the Police. Former Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Sue Fish described yesterday how she didn’t dare report sexual assault by a colleague for fear of the consequences for them and, even more disturbingly she recounted:

that she had a senior colleague that was arrested and jailed for having sex with a “vulnerable” woman during his shift.

She said she would be left, as a young probationary officer, driving a marked car around in circles while her older colleague – nicknamed ‘Pervert’ – would visit the house of a woman he met on the job.

And an employment tribunal has found “horrific” examples of a sexist culture in a Police Scotland armed policing unit. The BBC reports some of the indignities that women officers in that unit had to put up with.

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How to help others with heating costs this Winter

So my dogs got me out of bed at 7:34 this morning. By 7:46, I had joined all the people on social media who have been announcing that they had put their heating on. As an added bonus, the timer now shows the correct time and day for the first time in years after I finally figured out how to change the day.

This simple act is one which so many will have to put off for as long as possible because they simply can’t afford to.

People on the lowest incomes are facing a nightmare Winter of rising energy costs and the ending of the Universal Credit uplift. The end of the furlough scheme puts 110,000 jobs at risk, as Christine Jardine pointed out the other day in a last ditch attempt to get Rishi Sunak to see sense.

The rise in the energy price cap has a hidden extra for the poorest. Those on prepayment meters, usually the poorest in the least well insulated rented properties, pay even more. The BBC reports:

  • Those on standard tariffs, with typical household levels of energy use, will see an increase of £139 – from £1,138 to £1,277 a year – to their bill

  • People with prepayment meters, with average energy use, will see an annual increase of £153 – from £1,156 to £1,309

Local councillors, campaigners and MPs will likely be contacted by constituents who are really struggling, so I thought it might be useful to set out some of the sources of help and advice for them.

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Dismissing Dysmenorrhea

So, if you have never had bad period pain, how can I convince you that it really is horrible?

You know what bad toothache can be like?

That sort of immersive pain experience that completely consumes you.

There is very little you can do to get relief.  Painkillers barely take the edge off.

Concentrating on anything is virtually impossible.

Thankfully, bad toothache doesn’t come along too often.

But period pain, which is kind of like toothache in the abdomen comes along roughly once a month. I know people who are in absolute agony for a couple of days.

On the Hysteria podcast last week, former White House aide Alyssa Mastramonaco described her lifelong search for the optimum combination of methods of relief for her horrible monthly pain.

When I was a teenager, I used to get such bad pain that I would be sick and sometimes I was at the point of passing out.

This is seriously nasty. And research into alleviating Dysmenorrhea, to give it its medical name, has been relatively sparse and not very well funded.

I was once sent home from school because it was so bad, but I never did that again after getting warned within an inch of my life by my mother.

I was lucky that it got a bit better when I got into my twenties, but some people suffer all the way through their menstruating years.

If you are one of the unlucky ones, you can have 40 years of monthly hell. You have to go through that pain almost 500 times.

It is definitely frowned upon to take time off work for it, although 73% of people surveyed by Bloody Good Period, reported in Glamour Magazine said they had struggled at work because of their periods.

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Getting a story out – the Liberal Democrat press team in action over furlough extension

The Press Team at Lib Dem HQ don’t just write press releases and send them out, hoping that journalists will publish them. They actively go out and try and get them published. A great success story is a push on the end of furlough, highlighting a letter written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak by Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Christine Jardine asking him to extend furlough for six months to those sectors which are still struggling such as tourism, travel and the creative arts.

Christine says this is important to avoid a “tidal wave” of job losses as the scheme comes to an end.

Christine points out that the cost of six months’ vital support would cost less than last year’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Christine urged the Chancellor to “consider the impact on the lives of those that could find themselves out of a job at the end of the week.” She added it would be “devastating for countless families already facing a winter of spiralling bills and cuts to working benefits.”

Christine said:

The withdrawal of furlough risks having a devastating impact on countless families already facing a winter of soaring energy bills.The government needs to rethink its approach or the country could face a Coronavirus Black Thursday.

The Liberal Democrats are demanding that furlough is extended for the industries that are being hardest hit by the pandemic, to prevent a tidal wave of job losses in the coming weeks.This would support the most vulnerable workers through winter and cost less than what ministers spent on last year’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Thousands of people relying on furlough are worrying about their livelihoods at a time when the impact of the pandemic is far from over. Supporting them and their families is both the right and responsible thing to do.

So where was this covered?

Basically everywhere:

The Independent 

The Standard

Wales online

ITV

The Graun

Sky News

Trade Travel Gazette – article by Christine

Trade Travel Gazette – report

City AM 

The Metro 

The Scotsman 

The Mirror 

The Express and Star

The Torygraph

Planet Radio

Even the Fail

Well done to the press team.

And if you want to see Christine’s letter to the Chancellor, it’s here.

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How on earth were the red flags around Sarah Everard’s murderer missed?

When I first read the horrific account of Sarah Everard’s murder as it was revealed in court this morning, I felt sick, and, several hours later, that queasiness remains.

My heart breaks for her family who have to live with that awful reality every single day. I have nothing but admiration for them that they were able to put together such articulate, raw victim impact statements which show the strength of their love for Sarah and the daily hell they endure at the thought of the torture she went through as her life was taken from her.

It takes incredible self control to be able to stand in a court room, facing your daughter’s or sister’s murderer and not fall to bits.

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Lib Dems react to “empty” announcement on drugs policy change

This week, a landmark announcement from the Lord Advocate means that people caught in possession of a Class A drug could be given a warning rather than prosecuted and instead referred to support services.

From The Guardian:

Individuals caught in possession of class A drugs in Scotland could be issued with a police warning rather than facing prosecution, in a significant policy shift announced by the country’s new lord advocate as a direct response to the ongoing drug death crisis.

Dorothy Bain, who was appointed to the role in June, said the decision to give police discretion over class A drug offences did not amount to decriminalisation but told MSPs there was “no one size fits all response” to dealing with drug addiction.

She added that the policy did not extend to drug supply offences and that neither offering a recorded police warning nor reporting a case to the procurator fiscal prevents an officer referring a vulnerable person to support services.

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton says that this is not enough to address the crisis:

Scottish Liberal Democrat requested this statement back in June, and I was grateful to see her here today, despite the empty answer.

The government has insisted for years that diversion has been an important response, but we’ve just discovered today that it only happened 57 times in 2017/18.

The number of people imprisoned for possession only is the same now as the number we saw decade ago. The SNP are failing to turn policies into practice once again.

Thousands of children are affected by parental imprisonment and drug misuse. It is time the SNP starts acting and effectively supporting these families.

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Lib Dems mark Sabina Nessa vigil

Last night a vigil was held in Lewisham for Sabina Nessa, the young teacher murdered as she took a short walk at around 8:30 on Friday 17th September to meet a friend.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Rabina Khan was there and posted the heartbreaking speech from Sabina’s sister, who showed incredible courage in speaking.

Former leader Jo Swinson, who lives in that part of London, said:

Women and Equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse:

Earlier in the day, Rabina had been on the Today programme, talking to Nick Robinson about the fact that when women of colour go missing or worse, their stories attract much less attention than when white, middle class women go missing.

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Happy Bisexual Visibility Day!

Today is Bisexual Visibility Day, a day to celebrate bisexual people and raise awareness of the particular problems that they face.

In an article on Pink News today, Lois Shearing highlights the effects of the discrimination that bi people face – and this can come from within the LGBT+ community:

Despite the prevalence of biphobia, it’s common to read or hear comments about bisexual people having privilege or not facing any real oppression. But this is provably false: it is well documented that bi people face higher rates of mental illness, due in part to biphobia and double discrimination. Bi+ men are less likely to get tested for HIV due to social stigma and biphobia within healthcare settings. Bi+ people are also more likely to suffer from addiction or abuse drugs and alcohol. Yet bi people are still seen as deserving targets of cruel jokes or comments.

Labour MP Rosie Duffield, added biphobia to her transphobia on national radio earlier this week, when she accused bisexual men who are married to women of “appropriating gay culture.”

There’s a real culture change from government, too. Silence from Liz Truss, the Women and Equalities Minister, in contrast to a previous holder of that office:

Jo said then:

I welcome Bi Visibility Day which helps to raise awareness of the issues that bisexual people can face and provides an opportunity to celebrate diversity and focus on the B in LGB&T.

The Party marked the day with a tweet:

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Liam McArthur launches consultation on Assisted Dying Bill

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has today launched a consultation on his proposal for a Members’ Bill which would enable assisted dying for terminally ill people in Scotland.

His Bill would have safeguards, including:

  • Two doctors independently confirm the person is terminally ill, establish that the person has the mental capacity to request assisted dying,  assess that the person is making an informed decision without pressure or coercion
  • Two doctors ensure the person has been fully informed of palliative, hospice, and other care options.
  • The person signs a written declaration of their request, this is followed by a period of reflection
  • The person must administer the life-ending medication themselves; It would continue to be a criminal offence to end someone’s life directly
  • Every assisted death would be recorded and reported for safety, monitoring, and research purposes.

Liam said:

“In my time as an MSP I have heard from many dying people and grieving families who have been failed by the current blanket ban on assisted dying. I have watched other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand put new laws in place to ensure their citizens can have a peaceful and dignified death and I believe that the time is right for Scotland to look again at providing our dying people with more choice at the end of life. The consultation sets out a blueprint for how we can do this safely and compassionately.”

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Conference best bits: Fraser Graham on our party’s values

Edinburgh South Chair Fraser Graham delivered this cracker of a speech in the debate on What Liberal Democrats believe on Sunday morning. Where are the limits of free speech and how should our party deal with the boundaries?

Conference, I joined this party in 2016 because of one issue – Brexit. The reason I am still here is because of the values and principles our party upholds.

This speech is somewhat of a paradox. It should be completely unnecessary, because I’d take it entirely for granted that any true liberal would have no objection to the values put before you, either in the paper, the motion or the amendment.

But in this current climate, where members of the LGBT+ community, MY community, are facing almost constant daily attack through the media, on twitter and even here, at conference, we NEED to be bold, and firmly plant our flag as a party that is standing up for the rights of those we need to support and protect.

On Liberty, the paper states “We embrace freedom of thought and speech, and argue for stronger protection against those who abuse free speech, use it to promote division and hatred, or spread falsehoods and ‘fake news’.”

This is crucial. Free speech is not freedom to discriminate without consequence. It’s not freedom to be given a platform to espouse views which are actively harmful, or freedom to hound people on social media to the point of taking their own life. We need to be clear on this and push back against those who demand to be able to say whatever racist, transphobic, homophobic or ableist claptrap they desire without fear of consequence.

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The Lib Dem Conference Roll of Honour

I was at a loss to understand why I was so absolutely knackered at the end of Conference last night. It’s not as if I had had to drag my sorry, Glee-Club hungover backside the length of the country as I would have been if I’d been at an in-person conference. It’s not as if I had had about 15 hours’ sleep over the past 5 nights of “networking.”

Certainly, sitting in front of a screen for 12 hours a day is pretty exhausting. So, I guess, is the emotional energy used up wishing I was actually with my friends in the Goat and Tricycle in Bournemouth or Smokeys in Brighton.

But that was pretty much all I was doing. For those organising Conference, it was much harder. Spinning the plates over the four days of the virtual Conference is pretty intense for Federal Conference Committee. They have to deal with all the speakers’ cards, manage the debates, deal with unexpected tech problems, make decisions about what separate vote requests, requests for references back etc to take.

So, Federal Conference Committee, take a bow. You did a superb job. Those based in the Docklands HQ  that I remember seeing over the weekend included Jennie Rigg, Jon Ball, Bex Scott, Chris Adams, Cara Jenkinson, Chris Maines and Joe Otten. This does not mean I agreed with every single one of their decisions, because that would be weird, but I do want to pay tribute to their hard work.

One person I want to single out was also there. It was new Committee Chair Nick Da Costa’s first Conference in charge and by all accounts he did a great job. My spies tell me that he was the most supportive and appreciative manager and he was also quick to respond to queries from Conference attendees on social media.

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Christine Jardine on trans rights: It’s all about people

Christine Jardine went on Woman’s Hour yesterday to talk about transgender rights in the wake of Ed’s Marr interview on Sunday where that topic was the only one Andrew Marr seemed interested in talking about.

Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett threw absolutely everything at Christine, who patiently and calmly answered questions for over 20 minutes. It’s worth a listen here.

Barnett repeated the question Marr had put to Ed yesterday – what was wrong with a t-shirt with the slogan woman: adult human female. Ed stood up for our policy that trans rights are human rights and we support the right of trans people to self-identify very well. The one tweak I would have made was the point that Christine made. That phrase is used as a dog-whistle by anti-trans activists to justify their misinformation about and attacks on trans people.

On that question, I liked the way that my friend Duncan put it on Twitter

No matter what the subject, one of the things that Christine always does is bring it back to people. She doesn’t do abstract. It’s all about the human impact. She talked about one friend with a transgender son, another who had transitioned and stayed married and how, if she had one child who was trans and one who wasn’t, how she’d want them both to have the same life chances.

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Justin Trudeau gets away with his gamble

After a $600 million election that Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t need to call, voters have delivered virtually the same result as in 2019. Trudeau failed to re-gain the majority he won in 2015. In fact, his Liberal Party is likely to lose a seat and the Conservatives will gain a seat.

I had been hoping that the New Democrats would have won more seats to anchor the Liberals to a more progressive path, but they are projected to only gain 3 seats.

The Greens will stay on two but not the same two as last time as their vote share fell. They held their former leader’s seat in Vancouver and gained one in Ontario where the Liberal candidate was not supported by the party after a scandal but there was no time to replace him on the ballot. Internal divisions led to them losing their original two and having a pretty miserable election. Their leader will not be in Parliament as she went from 2nd (in a by-election) to 4th in her seat.  Thanks to Em Dean for providing me with more detailed information.

The odious UKIP style People’s Party have more than doubled their vote.

From CBC in Canada:

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has won enough seats in this 44th general election to form another minority government — with voters signalling Monday they trust the incumbent to lead Canada through the next phase of the pandemic fight by handing him a third mandate with a strong plurality.

After a 36-day campaign and a $600-million election, the final seat tally doesn’t look very different from the composition of the House of Commons when it was dissolved in early August — prompting even more questions about why a vote was called during a fourth wave of the pandemic in the first place.

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Party strategy motion passes – with amendment securing local members rights on standing candidates

This morning Conference passed the party strategy motion. One of the Federal Board’s key tasks is to bring a motion on party strategy to Conference for approval.

This one had lots of good stuff in it on developing a strong narrative, improving diversity and menber experience, developing our campaigning capacity and having a “one party” approach where we co-ordinate our effort.

There were four amendments, all of which passed and, I think, substantially improved it. Lib Dems for Racial Equality called for this party to finally pull its finger out and implement the Thornhill and Alderdice reviews and get out and engage with ethnic minority communities. The Parliamentary Candidates Association called for greater support for candidates and 10 members called for our progress towards net zero as a party to be expedited.

These three passed with little opposition. The drama was all around an amendment proposed by Federal Board member Simon McGrath. It called for us to stand a candidate in every seat at the next General Election unless local members agreed not to. Anyone who bears the scars of the Unite to Remain effort in 2019 will probably have some sympathy with this. However, others, including me, felt that it would bind any attempts to stand down in some places where it would be sensible to do so. I generally think we should stand everywhere, and I think that voices calling on us to stand down are generally from parties who wouldn’t do the same in return, but I felt we should give ourselves the flexibility.

ALDC Chair Prue Bray made such a good speech in support that I asked her if we could publish it. It’s just rammed with good sense about how we should work together and I love it.

I want to get rid of this government. Not because it’s Conservative but because it’s dreadful. It’s dreadful because it isn’t liberal, in its policies, values or behaviour. I want a liberal government, or at least one that we can exert the maximum liberal influence on. And the only way to get that is to get more Lib Dems elected. Labour aren’t liberal, nor are the Greens, the SNP or Plaid.

It’s us or nothing.

We won’t get more Lib Dems elected if we don’t stand, however tempting a pre-election pact might look. Unite to Remain looked tempting. It didn’t deliver anything.

When the battle is over, when the votes are counted, that’s the time to make pacts to further the progressive cause. And that’s why I strongly support amendment 3.

There are people who don’t agree. That’s fine, I don’t mind challenge. What I mind is people who tell me I am wrong without producing any supporting facts, and then go off and do whatever they want even if it’s completely against the interests of the party.

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Conference votes for improvements to disciplinary process and votes down Steering Group

The Federal Board report usually goes through fairly uncontroversially. However, there has been a bit of drama at the past two conferences. In Spring important board business relating to the disciplinary process was withdrawn at the last minute after a serious error was discovered.

This delayed desperately needed improvements to the disciplinary process until now. You can find out more about the detail here in the Board report.

Thankfully, those changes, which make the process quicker, less stressful on those using it and on those administering it and clearer, passed easily this afternoon.

Last Summer, the Federal Board started operating in a different way. One of the Thornhill Review’s 78 recommendations was to improve the governance of the party and make the Federal Board smaller. The Board decided to delegate most of its powers to a small, mostly not directly elected people. As a directly elected Federal Board member, I opposed it from the outset. If such a centralising power grab was being done in a council, we would be up in arms about it. I always think it is very important to live our values and I don’t feel that the Steering Group project does that. We are a member led organisation but we concentrated power into too few hands.

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The speeches that got away – Suzanne Fletcher on accessible housing and freeing Brownfield sites

Unfortunately I missed the housing debate last night as for once I put party over Party. My sister insisted on having two of her children during Federal Conference and I can almost never celebrate with them because I am at Conference. So I took advantage of the chance to do so.

By all accounts the debate was excellent, thoughtful and passionately argued. The issue was whether we should have a national target for house building, which the motion proposed, but ALDC’s amendment did away with. Conference voted to keep it so we are committed to building at 150,000 homes suitable for social rent out of a total of 380,000 per year. I am so pleased that got through. Too many young people find it impossible to find somewhere decent to live that they can afford and we have to be ambitious about resolving that.

But there are two points that weren’t really part of the debate. Stockton’s Suzanne Fletcher wanted to raise the need for accessible housing and freeing up brownfield sites. This is what she would have said if she had been called:

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40 years on from Steel’s “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government” speech

1981 was the year when, at the age of 14, I went full throttle into supporting the SDP/Liberal Alliance. Shirley Williams was my absolute hero and will always stay that way. But I will never forget the sense of hope instilled by David Steel in his leader’s speech, especially that optimistic crescendo at the end when he instructed the assembled activists: Go back to your constituencies and prepare for Government.

We had to wait a long time for national government. It was nearly 18 years before Jim Wallace took the Scottish Liberal Democrats into a successfully transformative coalition at Holyrood which introduced, over 8 years, free personal care, free eye and dental checks, much needed land reform and STV for local government among other things.

It was 29 years before the coalition with the Conservatives at Westminster provided some stability for the country at a time of crisis but sent our electoral fortunes plummetting.

However, we did start making big gains in local elections and winning councils a lot quicker, so in a way he was right that we were ready for power. And we should never dismiss the difference that councillors, in charge of schools, housing, roads and bins, can make to people’s daily lives.

Steel’s speech from 40 years ago is online on the British Political Speeches website.

Here are some highlights:

On the newly formed Alliance – and some advice to the SDP – don’t just let anyone in:

It was inevitable that this 1981 Liberal Assembly should be dominated both by public debate and private discussion of our Alliance. This town used to be part of Lloyd George’s constituency. Two years before the great Liberal landslide of 1906, the years which introduced the People’s Budget, the old age pension, unemployment benefit, and the curbing of the powers of the hereditary Lords over the elected Commons, he gave advice which seems just as appropriate today two years or so before the next election.

We have arrived at one of the most important stages in the history of the Liberal Party. I believe the future of this country largely depends upon the foresight, conviction, courage and devotion to principle of the Liberal Party during the coming years.

Our debates have carried conviction, courage, principle and foresight in full measure in these last few days. The task of putting together our Alliance on the ground throughout the country is not going to be an easy one. We must secure a reasonable balance in our deployment of forces in every area. It will be immensely complicated. It will call for a high degree of vision, of trust and of forbearance both by our party and by the SDP.

It will require trust between our two parties. The members of the SDP who have been here this week have been greatly impressed in their first close contact with the Liberal Party. They have also enjoyed the warmth of their welcome, and we were right to treat them kindly since they’ve come from a broken home – the Labour Party. I hope they won’t mind if I give them one piece of advice: as the ship of the Labour Party sinks, be careful and be discriminating about who you let clamber on board ours. Ours is a ship on a voyage of adventure. Don’t let it become a lifeboat for those whose only real interest is saving their parliamentary or council skins.

It will also require trust within our party. I want to thank you for the very considerable trust you have shown me in what I realise must at times have been a tortuous and anxious period. Now it is my turn to trust you as you proceed to give effect to our Alliance throughout the country. And I do trust you to make a success of it.

What we would do in Government? Some themes there which are similar to what we are saying today about supporting small businesses, not wasting our natural resources and investment in infrastructure:

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Conference Day 1: Tears before bedtime

Conference was barely four hours old and I had already been in tears four times.

The debate on ending conversion therapy had some brilliant speeches where people shared their accounts of the damage that this appalling practice can do to LGBT people. I am hoping to have some of those speeches to publish on here.

I also cried at a wonderful fringe event where former leader Jo Swinson talked to Lib Dem Councillor Rabina Khan about her excellent book My Hair is Pink under this Veil It is such a good book that had me raging and crying as she described the disgusting racism she and, particularly her mother, experienced when they came to this country. One of these days I will write a proper review of it. We all should read more about the lived experience of the crap that every single person of colour has to put up with. Jo and Rabina spoke about her childhood, about motherhood and the discrimination that Muslim women have to deal with in maternity services, about how Islamophobia has got much worse since 9/11 and about feminism and about how all women need to stick together to fight for equality. Also, the Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality is offering a free copy of Rabina’s book for the first 25 people who join them during Conference.

Elsewhere, Conference passed a motion asking for more support for business to cope with the effects of the pandemic and save jobs, including keeping VAT at 5% for hospitality and tourism and extending furlough to the end of this year. We also called for a Global Corporation Tax so that large companies pay their dues. I have put the video of Alistair Carmichael’s excellent speech on our post as it showed some breathtakingly gorgeous Orkney scenery. And it was a bloody good speech.

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Did Boris Johnson just suggest that our Jamie Stone should be fired into space?

Maturity has never really been Boris Johnson’s strong point.

And so it was today when Jamie Stone used a question to the Prime Minister to highlight the positive development  this week which brings space port in North West Scotland a step closer:

As the BBC reports, a major obstacle was cleared:

A Scottish Land Court judge has approved a change of use of an area of croft land near Tongue in Sutherland for the building of the facility.

The land around the rockets hangar and launch pad must remain available to crofters for agricultural use.

The ruling means the first rockets carrying small satellites could launch from Space Hub Sutherland from next year.

So Jamie was joyful about this when he asked the PM if he’d come to the first launch. Boris then replied that Jamie would make a suitable payload :

But did he really mean Jamie?

Hansard, which is usually pretty accurate, says at the time of writing that Boris Johnson replied to Jamie thus:

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind invitation. I look forward to taking it up. What we need is a suitable payload to send into space, and I think the hon. Gentleman would do very well.

But if you watch the video, what he actually said was “the Gentleman Opposite” which could refer to Keir Starmer.

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Therese Coffey should listen to those who really do understand how Universal Credit works

It is pretty staggering when a Government Minister goes on national television and exposes their own ignorance of something they are in charge of. But when that ignorance leads to them doing things that make it more difficult for the poorest people in our country to put food on the table and heat their homes, it is particularly reprehensible.

MPs’ inboxes are full of really heartbreaking stories from people who are already struggling to survive on Universal Credit and are dreading the £20 cut which comes in at the end of this month.

And then you have Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, blithely say that all people will have to do is work an extra couple of hours. Well, er, no. It’s more like nine hours. She firstly assumes that people are getting £10 per hour when the minimum wage is £8.91. Then she forgets that for every £1 people earn over £293 per week, they lose 63p of their Universal Credit. The Lib Dems could have embraced the power of and in this tweet:

Therese Coffey fails to understand that it’s low paid working people with children who are struggling the most. Work really doesn’t always pay. And that is if you can get it. We haven’t started to really feel the long term economic impact of both Brexit and the pandemic yet. And with furlough ending at the end of this month, we may well see significant job losses.

Back in July, the Child Poverty Action Group set out why those families need the £20 uplift to stay:

Seventy-five per cent of children growing up in poverty in the UK live in households where at least one adult works. Low-income working families are struggling to pay for essentials like utility bills, new school uniforms and the food shop. In a couple household, having both members of a couple in work is increasingly important in preventing child poverty but in reality, universal credit does little to support parents trying to increase their income through work.

Firstly, as soon as a family with children earns more than £293 a month (their ‘work allowance’), for every pound they earn through work their universal credit is reduced by 63p. The very limited single work allowance, combined with the high reduction rate, makes it very difficult for families to increase their income through work.

And that is before you get to the practicalities of paying for childcare:

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ICYMI: Sarah Green’s maiden speech

Here, in case you missed it, is our newest MP, Sarah Green’s maiden speech from Tuesday of this week.

A wonderful sight for those of us who helped get Sarah Green elected as MP for Chesham and Amersham. A short while ago, she made her maiden speech. It was warm, generous, gracious and funny. She paid a lovely tribute to her predecessor Dame Cheryl Gillan, talked about her beautiful constituency with huge affection and got in a criticism of HS2, a description of the roads as an assault course for drivers and a takedown of the Government for its absurd plans for voter ID.

And here it is in full, thanks to the magic of me asking her office for a copy:

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Alex Cole-Hamilton presses Scottish Government on measures to tackle violence against women and girls

After Sarah Everard’s murder in March, women across the country were in shock and expressed their anger. So many took to social media to talk about how they had felt frightened when they were out and about.

I recorded a video at the time recounting my experience of being threatened by a man, which is pretty minor in the scheme of things, but it’s typical of the sort of thing women have to put up with:

We had a discussion amongst Scottish Lib Dem Women about what we could do to turn our anger into positive change that would make women safer outside, at home, at school and work. Because this is so wide-ranging, we came up with the idea of a Commission to look at ways of preventing violence against women and girls in all its forms which would report in the first year of the new Scottish Parliament.

These issues cut across the whole of Government, from education (over 90% of girls experience sexism and being sent unwanted explicit images), to housing (helping those in the sector identify and support victims of domestic abuse and help them stay in their own homes if it is safe for them to do so, from justice given the pitiful number of successful rape prosecutions to social security to tackle poverty (they could start by retaining the extra £20 per week for Universal Credit and getting rid of the wicked two child limit and rape clause) and employment to tackle sexual harassment at work. And you can add in planning to think about how you create safer communities. You need joined up thinking to bring all those strands together into a proper strategy.

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Dates for your diary: The rise of China and 40 years on from the Limehouse declaration

I thought it might be worth sharing a couple of things I’ve registered for this morning.

On Thursday 30th September at 11 am,  the Paddy Ashdown Forum will be hosting a debate on China. The motion is “This House believes that China is interested in coexistence rather than domination.”

This will be a hybrid event, both in person at the National Liberal Club and online. It’s the sort of thing you can listen in to if you are still working from home.

You can get more details and register here. 

The second is a virtual  event being hosted by Queen Mary University and the Mile End Institute on 22nd September at 6:30 pm on the Limehouse Declaration 40 years on. Can the SDP teach us anything today? A panel including Vince Cable, Lib Dem peer Julie Smith, Polly Toynbee who was one of the founder members of the SDP and senior lecturer Peter Sloman. You can register for that one here.

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