Author Archives: Catherine Crosland

At what point would you have walked out?

There’s an event known as “Not the leader’s speech”, which seems to have gained semi official status in the party. While the leader gives their speech at the end of conference, a group of members meet up at a nearby pub. They follow the coverage of the speech on social media, and discuss at what point they would have walked out, if they had been there.

I’ve never attended “Not the leader’s speech”, but I do have a good deal of admiration for the irreverent approach of this group of members.

I don’t think I have ever actually “walked out of” a speech, in a Lib Dem context or otherwise. But there have been many occasions when I have sat through a speech, but could identify the moment at which perhaps I *should* have walked out. I did not actually attend Spring Conference this year, either in person or online, but I have watched the video of Ed Davey’s speech, and read through the text, several times. I certainly know the moment at which I would have felt like walking out.

Ed began by speaking very movingly of the suffering of the people of Ukraine, and of their heroism. Naturally, I have no criticism of this part of the speech, even though (and I hesitated about whether to write this), I did find myself thinking that I would have preferred to have heard these words spoken by someone who had not previously said publicly that he would be willing to personally “press the nuclear button”.

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Mandatory staff vaccines – No apology to sacked care home staff…

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Not even an apology! – And I’m not referring to Boris Johnson’s statement on Sue Gray’s Report.

Boris did at least say the word “sorry”, even though it was an inadequate, half hearted “apology”. But Sajid Javid made no apology at all, when he made his statement in parliament announcing that the government was scrapping the policy of mandatory vaccines for NHS staff, and for staff in care homes and other care workers.

Around eighty thousand NHS staff would have been told, on February 3rd, that they would lose their jobs. Not for any wrongdoing or incompetence – many had an exemplary record over many years’ service – but just because they had declined to be vaccinated. Just for exercising their right to bodily autonomy, which had previously been accepted as a basic principle of medical ethics.

Around forty thousand care home staff had already been sacked, in November 2021. Care home managers were forced to sack excellent, much valued staff members, for no other reason than that they had made a decision not to be vaccinated. These care home staff found themselves without any income, just a few weeks before Christmas. Most of these people had been on very low incomes, and were unlikely to have much in the way of savings to fall back on.

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The real reason why Boris Johnson should resign

Ed Davey recently called for Boris Johnson’s resignation, as reported by Lib Dem Voice.

Ed spoke of the terrible suffering that many people were enduring as a result of lockdown rules, while at the same time, staff of 10 Downing Street were holding parties.

Millions obeyed the lockdown rules, often at great personal cost. They missed funerals, cancelled weddings and said goodbye to loved ones on video calls – some on the very day that Number Ten illegally hosted a garden party. Boris Johnson has become a threat to the health of our nation, and for the sake of the country still gripped by this awful pandemic, he must resign

I agree with what Ed said. And yet… there is something about Ed’s statement that I feel illustrates what has been wrong with the Lib Dem response to the pandemic. The statement is correct, and yet the emphasis is wrong.

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The most fundamental of human rights

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I am sure that most of you will have been shocked and distressed by recent reports that, during lockdown, Many care homes were ordered to place “Do not resuscitate” orders on all their residents. In many cases, there was no discussion of this with either the residents themselves or their families. About half of these were care homes for the elderly. The other half were for younger adults with learning difficulties or other disabilities.

It is hard to find words for this violation of the most fundamental of human rights – the right to life. We thought we were going into lockdown to protect the most vulnerable, when in reality, there seems to have been a policy of leaving the most vulnerable to die. It seems to have been decided that the lives of elderly and disabled people somehow mattered less than those of the young, or of people free of disabilities.

Even if it could be argued that very frail elderly people often would not benefit from resuscitation, or from treatments like ventilation, this would not apply to the younger, healthy people, who happened to have a learning difficulty, who were also being condemned to die.

This horrifying situation was not confined to the care home sector. Some GP practices put pressure on elderly people, people with certain health conditions, disabled people, and in some cases autistic people, to sign “Do not resuscitate” forms for themselves, and agree that an ambulance should not be called if they were to become ill with Coronavirus. Imagine the feelings of these people, on being asked to agree that their lives were not worth saving. In many cases these were people living alone, unable to see friends and family due to lockdown, and now finding that the health service was apparently turning its back on them. They must have felt utterly abandoned. Many must have despaired. Meanwhile, their neighbours “clapped the carers” every Thursday.
How dare anyone suggest that the life of an elderly, disabled or autistic person is of less value than that of a young, able bodied, neurotypical person?

I hope every liberal believes that every life is of equal value. We must never forget that the most fundamental of human rights is the right to life itself.

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A powerful drama that must not become reality

 

Many of you will have seem the recent television adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s play, King Charles III.

Beautifully and movingly written, in Shakespearean style blank verse, the play is set in the near future, when “King Charles III” has just inherited the throne.

Charles is asked to sign a piece of legislation that would severely limit the freedom of the press. He refuses to do so. He is portrayed as principled and conflicted. He has no wish to cause a constitutional crisis. His conscience just will not allow him to sign.

When Parliament plan to proceed with the legislation anyway, Charles uses his legal right to dissolve Parliament.

I will not give away any “spoilers” about how this fictional situation is resolved. But the play made me wonder how likely it is that such a situation could occur in real life. The worrying fact is that it is quite possible. I am not suggesting that Prince Charles, when he becomes king, would ever behave like his fictional counterpart in this play. But unless the rules are changed, some future monarch could easily do so.

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Living on borrowed time

Many of you will have read Kate Atkinson’s novel, Life After Life. If you haven’t, I recommend it. On one level, it is a story of alternative realities, but its real theme is war. In chapter after chapter, the central character, Ursula, meets a different untimely end. Each time, this is followed by a chapter in which, in an alternative reality, the tragedy is averted, and Ursula lives longer, on borrowed time. Perhaps we are all Ursula, in one of her more fortunate realities. I’m sure I am.

I was born in the early hours of the 9th September, 1962. I had picked an inauspicious moment. Within a few hours of my arrival at Epsom District Hospital, a consignment of Soviet ballistic missiles had arrived in Cuba. This led, when I was a month old, to a confrontation between the USA and the USSR, which came close to leading to nuclear war.

On this occasion, disaster was averted. But my friends and I grew up with deadly Soviet weapons aimed permanently at us. Meanwhile, our government had equally deadly weapons aimed permanently at Russian children.

On 26th September 1983, a couple of weeks after my twenty-first birthday, the world again came close to nuclear war. This time, by a complete accident. The Soviet satellite early warning system appeared to detect five missiles from the United States heading towards the Soviet Union. The officer in charge at the time, Stanislav Petrov, would have been expected to report this to his superiors. Had he done so, a retaliatory strike might have been ordered, almost certainly leading to full scale nuclear war. But Petrov chose to “wait and see”. And it turned out the system had malfunctioned. Petrov may have saved millions of lives.

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Two nations of animal lovers

 

The ancient Romans would have said that they were a nation of animal lovers. They doted on their household pets. Roman literature contains stories of dogs who were not just watchdogs but also much loved companions, and of pet starlings who were taught to talk by their adoring owners.

But these same devoted pet owners would visit the arena, where they would watch other animals – leopards, giraffes, antelopes, elephants – slaughtered for sport. Religious festivals, such as the mid-winter festival of Saturnalia, also involved the slaughter of animals, as sacrifices to the gods. The Romans seemed to see no connection between these animals, and their cherished pets.

We condemn the Romans as hypocrites, but are we in any position to judge?

The British are a nation of animal lovers. Like the Romans, we adore our household pets. Unlike the Romans, we do not slaughter animals in the arena for entertainment.

But many millions of pheasants are shot for “sport” in Britain each year. Far more than the number of animals killed each year in the arena in ancient Rome. It is true that most British people disapprove of pheasant shooting, and have nothing to do with it. Yet most just try not to think about it, rather than campaigning to try to stop it.

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We must not prove the conspiracy theorists right

While campaigning for Remain outside a local train station, I spoke to a woman who seemed to be a conspiracy theorist. She told me that she expected that the majority of people would vote Leave, but that she was nevertheless convinced that Britain would remain in the EU anyway.

“They’ll fix it somehow.” She said.

I tried to assure her that it was more or less impossible for the count to be rigged (which I assumed to be the sort of scenario she was envisaging).

She was clearly unconvinced, and walked away, with a smile which seemed to say “You’ll see…”

After the result, I thought of this woman, and reflected that at least now she would realise that she had unfairly maligned our democratic processes.

But now, I’m beginning to wonder if she is thinking “I told you so…”

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