Author Archives: Mary Reid

Layla Moran reports that her family is safely out of Gaza

Some good news from Layla Moran:

She adds:

Thank you to all who have followed their story. But while theirs ends with reunification, having lost one along the way, this atrocious war rages on. I won’t stop working until we achieve not just an end to violence, but peace once and for all.

As a Palestinian, Layla has been a powerful voice on the war in Gaza, especially as she is our Foreign Affairs spokesperson. Back in December she talked to Channel 4 news about her extended family who were holed up in the church in Gaza.

For now we are just grateful that Layla’s family are safe.

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Rob Blackie on the impact of crime on Black Londoners

Ademola Adeyeba, Rob Blackie & Chris French

Rob Blackie, our candidate for London Mayor, has highlighted an aspect of policing and the Black community that is sometimes forgotten.  For far too long the right wing media have drawn attention to Black criminals but ignored Black victims of crime.

Rob cites the statistics that show that Black people are six times more likely to be murdered in London, twice as likely to be raped, 66% more likely to suffer domestic abuse, and over 2.5 times more likely to be a victim of a hate crime. That disparity is really shocking. He says:

This is completely unacceptable, and the current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has not made any significant progress. Since he has been in charge of the Met the proportion of Black police officers has only increased from 3% in 2016 to 3.6% in 2023. At this rate it will take 40 years to have a police service that reflects the makeup of London.

Rob met with Ademola Adeyeba, founder of the mentoring organisation 1000 Black Boys, and Chris French, Lib Dem Greater London Assembly candidate for Lambeth and Southwark and a former special constable, to talk through his proposals for a Race Equality Plan for Policing:

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The regulation of the funeral industry

Normally that headline would have produced a big yawn and a switch to another post.  But, after the heart-breaking stories emerging from the criminal investigation in Hull, we hope to hold your attention for a little longer.

The very first speech I gave at Conference, back in 1998, was on precisely that subject.

Incidentally I always advise people to plan their first speech at Conference on a niche topic. Some debates scheduled in the “graveyard slot” attract few speakers so the chances of being called are very high. It can be really dispiriting to sit through a long debate on a hot subject waiting to be called – and the call never comes.

As it happens I did know a little bit about the industry, because members of my family have conducted many funeral services between them.

At the time of my speech the concern was that large American companies were buying up small family run funeral businesses, and injecting a stronger profit-making ethos. I had heard of bereaved people, at a highly vulnerable time in their lives, being harassed to buy more expensive coffins and memorial plaques. In contrast, a community based funeral director would know many of the families and provide appropriate and valuable support – indeed their reputation depended on it.

The industry is still not regulated by Government, and, shockingly, that means that anyone can set up themselves up as a funeral director. However, there are two trade bodies:  the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), and they do provide a level of protection for the public.  Each has a code of practice. The NAFD Funeral Director Code is a comprehensive, professional code of practice, including a disciplinary procedure, but they recognise that it has no statutory status. SAIF has a similar Code of Practice for members.

You can check out whether a funeral director is a member of either body – here for NAFD and here for SAIF.

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Remembering Eleanor Stanier

The Guardian published a tribute to Eleanor Stanier last month but it has only just appeared in the print edition where someone spotted it for us. It seems an obituary had previously appeared in The Telegraph, but I imagine fewer Lib Dems read that.

Eleanor was a longstanding member of Richmond and Twickenham Liberal Democrats. She represented Mortlake ward from 1997 and served as Mayor of Richmond upon Thames from 2001-2002. Eleanor expressed her commitment to community by serving on a variety of local bodies such as Richmond Housing Partnership,  the East Sheen Society, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond Museum, Barnes and Mortlake History Society, as well as on the governing body of two schools. She ran a number of successful local campaigns including getting a new post office in East Sheen after one closed and opening an old air raid shelter.

To describe her, people have use terms like “hardworking”, “effective”, “indefatigable”, “formidable”, “warm”, “lively”, “energetic”, “idealistic” – she sounds like great company and I wish I had known her.

Our sympathy goes to Eleanor’s family and friends, along with apologies for not writing about her before.

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PPC withdraws because of abuse

Chris Nelson was first selected as our PPC for Kettering for the 2010 General Election. He was selected again for the forthcoming election. Sadly he has had to stand down because of the abuse he has received as a stammerer.

He spoke to STAMMA – a charity that supports people with a stammer. Chris says he is used to a certain level of abuse but was shocked at how personal and unpleasant it became once he stepped into public life. Clips of him stammering were circulated by political opponents , and some imitated him “as a joke”. He felt supported by his Lib Dem colleagues, but they probably weren’t aware of the accumulated effect over time of many minor comments made to and about him.

This is pretty shocking. Stammering is a disability and it is astonishing that people seem to be able to get away with bullying. Chris points out that you don’t see stammerers on television, while other forms of disability are being increasingly represented in the media.

President Joe Biden has a stammer and has been the butt of mocking comments himself, from Donald Trump (surprise) among others.

My heart goes out to Chris, and I hope he finds other ways of using his undoubted skills in the community. But we really do need people like him in our party and in Parliament.

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Caroline Pidgeon steps down


Liberal Democrats Party Autumn Conference at Bournemouth International Centre – Caroline Pidgeon

Caroline Pidgeon has led the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly for 14 years, and has been a member for 16. Today was her last day in the chamber, because the London elections kick into action next week and she is not standing again.

Caroline has been Co-Chair of the Transport Committee for 16 years, and has asked an amazing 8,235 Mayoral Questions (the most of any Assembly Member ever since its establishment in 2000).

This morning Sadiq Khan paid a …

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The Government’s new definition of extremism raises many concerns

On the day after the Rochdale by-election Rishi Sunak stood outside No 10 and gave a speech about countering extremism. It was one of those speeches that it was difficult to disagree with, but it was designed as a softener to today’s announcement about the Government’s new definition of extremism.  The definition is not only controversial in its own right, but is also accompanied by instructions to civil servants which are open to a range of interpretations.

According to the new definition, extremism is

the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:

  1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or
  2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or
  3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).

Compare that with the old definition which states that extremism is

vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and belief.

The difference, of course, is that the new definition focuses on ideology instead of action, and that is notoriously difficult to establish.  Of particular concern is the phrase “undermine … the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy”, which could be invoked to castigate organisations that are “intolerant” of a proposed Government Bill and seek to undermine its passage through Parliament, even if they only protest peacefully.

In a further move government departments are told that they should not co-operate with organisations that fall under the new definition. But the key question here is who will make that decision?

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Liberal Democrats celebrate International Women’s Day

Last week there was a debate in the House of Commons on the subject: International Women’s Day: Language in Politics. The actual text of the motion was:

That this House has considered the use of language in politics in light of International Women’s Day; agrees that the respectful use of language is an important feature of a strong and inclusive democracy; and calls on all parliamentary candidates to pledge that respectful language will be used at all times in the upcoming General Election campaigning period.

Following the opening speech by Dame Maria Miller, Wera Hobhouse asked this question:

The right hon. Lady has mentioned online platforms and a form of responsibility, but does she believe that Parliament itself should take more responsibility for the barriers that women are facing, or citing as their reasons for not entering Parliament, and for the language that we use here? What might that responsibility look like?

She later said:

We are hearing terrible things in this discussion about banter. People say things are just banter, but banter can be very offensive. We should not be intimidated by people who say that we cannot take banter. It is important that people realise that some banter is offensive.

Christine Jardine made these points:

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A strategy for winning more seats in Westminster

Lib Dem members have received an email from Mike Dixon , the party’s CEO. It is one of his long explainer emails and it is full of useful information  – and bar charts! I would strongly advise members to read it in full before commenting below.

In the email Mike discusses our strategy going into a General Election. He asks:

How do we get the balance right between winning in target Westminster seats and making progress right across the country?

What message cuts through to voters right now? What’s the right balance between attacking the Government and setting out a positive vision?

What is the likely outcome at the next election? And what does that mean for our strategy?

I’m not going to spill all the beans here, but there are a couple of points that I want to reflect on.

The first is how to address the challenges of winning more seats under First Past The Post. Mike points out that in 2019 our strategy was to increase our vote share nationally, by focussing on our anti-Brexit stance. It worked. We drew in 1.3 million more votes than in 2017. Under PR that would have given us 80 seats in Parliament, but because we do not yet live under that system we only won 11.

From my perspective we should not see that totally as a failed strategy. What it did do was boost our chances in local elections where elections are more granular. In 2021 we gained control of one more council; in 2022 we added 3 more councils; in 2023 we added a further 12.  Over that period we took 639 MORE council seats.  And we all know that, as a general rule, we don’t win Westminster seats in a General Election unless we have already gained control of the relevant Council seats.

As Mike explains, after 2019 our strategy changed. The new aim was to win as many Westminster seats as possible in 2024, alongside boosting local and regional successes.  We have learnt to our cost the downside of winning fewer seats – as the fourth party in Westminster we have not only lost our privileges in the House, but we also find it much more difficult to attract coverage in the media.

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On a Virtual Ward

Last week my husband, Ian, was bluelighted into Kingston Hospital. He was very unwell, and eventually – not immediately – they diagnosed Covid. He is clinically vulnerable because of a number of medical conditions, and we shielded carefully through full and partial lockdowns. Neither of us has had Covid up until now. Given the way it attacked him this time we could see why shielding had been essential for him before vaccines became available.

The A&E staff at the hospital were brilliant and he was kept for 48 hours in the Resus unit, but what I want to tell you about is what happened next. Ian was sent home on Saturday, with an oxygen supply and lots of pills, to a Virtual Ward. He was given a kit consisting of an internet Home Hub, a tablet, a wearable monitoring device that sits on his arm, a blood pressure device (to be used 4 times a day), a bespoke charger and an oximeter.

We were left on our own to set it up – even though I am tech savvy I did find that a bit daunting at the end of a tiring and stressful day. However the instructions were crystal clear and it all worked perfectly. His kit was made by Current Health but there are other brands in use.

Ian’s health data is being followed for 24 hours a day at the Monitoring Hub, which covers several hospitals. We have a phone number that we can call at any time for advice or help. They also call us when, for example, his monitoring device fell off and they weren’t getting readings. They asked me to have my mobile by the bed so they can wake me if any readings are a cause for concern during the night.

The Virtual Ward team at Kingston Hospital is on duty between 8am and 6pm each day. Every day they have a case conference on each of the patients in the Virtual Ward. Someone from the team – usually a nurse, but sometimes a doctor – phones each day to discuss Ian’s progress. Usually we switch to a video call on the tablet for that.

The pharmacist phoned one day to explain a change in medication, and the new prescription was delivered to the door by the team physiotherapist. She is the only medical practitioner we have met in person throughout the whole process and she seemed pleased to meet one of her patients face-to-face.

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Who was King Athelstan? And why does Ed Davey admire him?

Have you even heard of him?

Ask any child in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (there is a clue in the name) and they will tell you that he was the first of the seven Saxon kings who were crowned in Kingston. In fact, one of the primary schools is named after him.

We even have a Coronation stone where he is thought to have been ceremonially placed, although it has now been moved to a spot outside the Guildhall.

In a recent edition of the BBC History Magazine Ed Davey picked King Athelstan as his historical hero. Unfortunately the article is behind a paywall, but you can read the first half here. So why did he choose him?

Athelstan’s coronation took place in 925 and was highly significant because for the first time he united the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. He was the first to be known as the King of the English. He later added northern Britain to his kingdom.

Kingston upon Thames was already a significant market town. It stood at the boundary of the two kingdoms with a very important river bridge between them – the first bridge upstream from London Bridge.

The Coronation is thought to have taken place in a church which was later replaced by the large Norman church of All Saints. Athelstan could be said to have invented the Coronation ceremony itself, using a ceremonial crown for the first time, a sarsen stone as his throne, and including text that still forms the basis of modern Coronation services.

All Saints Kingston has its own fascinating history, but it proudly proclaims itself as “Where England Began“.

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Paul Kohler and restorative justice

I switched on my car radio earlier this week and was surprised to hear a familiar voice.  It was Paul Kohler, the Lib Dem PPC in our top target constituency of Wimbledon. In fact I had been in a meeting with him the evening before when he was talking about his campaigning strategies.

But Paul was not engaging in a political debate on this occasion. Instead he was discussing a horrific incident that had involved him and his family some years ago. The series title is “Forgiveness: Stories from the Front Line” and each programme features someone who has had to, as the programme notes state, “struggle with forgiveness in order to be free”.

One day Paul answered his front door and was pushed over by four masked men asking him where the money was. Apparently they had gone to the wrong house, but they attacked and beat him badly, and also threatened his wife. Unknown to them Paul’s daughter and her boyfriend were in the house and they managed to call the police, who came quite promptly and probably saved Paul’s life. Two of the intruders were arrested immediately and the others were tracked down later. All four were given prison sentences.

The crux of the story was not this awful experience but what followed. The family were invited to take part in a restorative justice meeting with one of the assailants. It is this encounter that Paul describes in a way that I found powerful and moving. You really do need to listen to it to understand why. The meeting ended with the two men shaking hands, and Paul realising that he could forgive him.

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Caroline Pidgeon challenges Transport for London over illegal ULEZ fines

London Assembly member, Caroline Pidgeon, has been publicising stories emerging from drivers from outside the UK who have been handed large fines which appear to be both unwarranted and illegal. The Guardian has picked up her concerns and its investigations (“Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens ‘wrongly fined for driving in London Ulez’“) have revealed that the practice is widespread.

She discovered that thousands of drivers have been fined large sums under Transport for London’s ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) regulations for not paying the £12.50 charge when driving in London. It seems that their personal data was acquired by dodgy illegal means. In fact this is “possibly one of the largest data breaches in EU history”. As the Guardian says:

Since Brexit, the UK has been banned from automatic access to personal details of EU residents. Transport authorities in Belgium, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have confirmed to the Guardian that driver data cannot be shared with the UK for enforcement of London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez), and claim registered keeper details were obtained illegally by agents acting for TfL’s contractor Euro Parking Collection.

Now this is not a case of guilty people getting away with it because of data protection laws. In many cases the drivers were in ULEZ compliant cars and should not have been subject to the ULEZ fee anyway! In other cases the drivers had paid the charge.

The problem is that EU drivers of ULEZ compliant vehicles coming into London are required to register with Euro Parking at least 10 days in advance. But this requirement is simply not publicised. So drivers who should not have to pay the charge are instead penalised.

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Wood burning fireplaces – a hot campaign issue

An unusual campaign is emerging in London over adverts for wood burning stoves. The context is the Mayor of London’s drive against air pollution, with the extension of the ULEZ across the whole of Greater London.

ULEZ = Ultra-Low Emission Zone. The driver of any vehicle which does not meet the ultra-low emission standards has to pay £12.50 per day to drive through the zone. Nationwide about 10% of all vehicles do not meet the standard. In principle, Lib Dems in London support the measures to reduce air pollution although we have many concerns about the implementation – inadequate scrappage schemes and some rather odd boundaries around the edges.

Apparently the use of wood burning fireplaces has increased by 124% between 2011 and 2021 – they are pretty fashionable, after all. I imagine many people who installed such fireplaces were under the misapprehension that they were a green alternative to gas or electricity. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It seems that the main source of PM2.5 (which is recognised as the most harmful of all air pollutants) is domestic wood burning fireplaces.

Hina Bokhari, Member of the London Assembly, has been working on this issue alongside the campaign group Mums for Lungs. She is calling for a public awareness campaign on the dangers of wood burning, and a ban on adverts on the Tube network, like the one in the photo.

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Listen to Wendy Chamberlain on being Chief Whip, and less exciting topics

Our Chief Whip, Wendy Chamberlain, has been talking with Iain Dale.

Wendy talks about her role as Chief Whip and how she tried to keep the Parliamentary team in line, especially during Covid. Iain Dale also asked her about her childhood in Greenock and her career in the police – and her love of shinty.

She then discusses her entry into politics, with the added complication that her husband is a member of the SNP. Fortunately, their differences on Scottish Independence don’t seem to have undermined their marriage.

Wendy became an MP within four years of joining the Liberal Democrats. They chat about her predecessor in North East Fife, Stephen Gethins, for whom both have a lot of respect.

I do genuinely believe that it is an enormous privilege to be elected as an MP to represent somewhere. The day you forget that is the day you potentially start to lose your reason for being there.

Iain Dale asked her about the challenges of “juggling so many balls” – the constituency, the Commons and specific party roles. She said:

There’s no doubt that being the Whip means that I am predominantly in Westminster from Monday to Thursday as well as being a Scottish MP –  which means that once I’m here I’m here so it’s not like you can just pop up the road. So, yes, it does potentially limit your time and I try to keep Sunday as a family day, but the reality is that media requests, looking at what we are doing the next day and all those kind of things …

Worth a listen.

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Watch Ian Hislop on the Post Office scandal

Private Eye and Computer Weekly were doggedly exposing the Post Office scandal for many years. They reported the scale of the problem with Horizon at a time when individual postmasters were still being lied to and told that they were the only person with the problem.

On Peston last night Ian Hislop clashed with Jake Berry MP over the Government’s inertia in dealing with it.

Earlier in the programme he had expressed his profound anger at the long history of the scandal.

Watch this from about 43 minutes in. (Sorry, ITVX won’t allow me to embed this)

Note that Ed Davey is name-checked in the intro, but with the comment that he was just one of 17 PO ministers over the period. Ian Hislop also rubbishes the way in which Ed has been singled out, and proceeds to hit at the real culprits.

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Evan Harris on Piers Morgan and the High Court judgement in favour of Prince Harry

Former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris has been commenting on the BBC on the news from the High Court about the damages awarded to Prince Harry for phone hacking by the Mirror Group. Evan Harris was speaking for the Hacked Off campaign, which he founded in 2011 with, among others, Hugh Grant.

Piers Morgan has stated again today that he knew nothing about phone hacking when he was editor of the Daily Mirror and that he is a victim of “old foes with an axe to grind”. Morgan then attacked Prince Harry in the robust fashion that we have come to expect from him.

As Evan said:

Either Piers Morgan knew nothing about the way that all his scoops were obtained, which makes him the worst editor ever to have stalked the streets of Fleet Street, or, as the judge found today, he did know, he was involved in criminality and he has been lying about it ever since.

I will bring you a clip as soon as it become available, but you can watch him on BBC News on iPlayer at around 3:17pm today.

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An early election?

The latest evidence of dissension within the Parliamentary Tories has led to widespread speculation that there will be an early election. Some are even suggesting it will take place in March or April next year.

Here is Ed Davey calling for an election on BBC Breakfast today:

Now, like all activists, Ed will hate a winter election when door-stepping becomes a cold and dispiriting task, made worse by the reluctance of residents to answer their doors after dark. But it does make us wonder whether the Conservatives might capitulate and go for a really early election as a deliberate tactic. After all they know they are going to lose, so maybe they would want to make the campaign as difficult as possible for their opponents.

I suggest you dig out your warmest gloves …

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The shoplifting epidemic

I live in one of those quieter outer London suburbs, but over the last few months I have noticed that larger shops have introduced higher levels of security. Some supermarkets now have a member of staff apparently on greeting duty, and others have fitted extra barriers and even gates.

A large M&S Food store near me now has gates into and out of the drinks section – I once got stuck in there when the exit gate refused to open and I couldn’t go back out through the entry gate until someone else approached it and triggered the latch. Yes, I know …..

It seems shoplifting has increased dramatically. And part of the reason is because the response rate from the police is so low, and shoplifters know they can get away with it.

Back in September an article in the Guardian carried the troubling headline: ‘It’s organised looting’: UK in grip of a shoplifting epidemic, say store owners.  It claimed that shoplifting had doubled in the last three years.

(The Co-op) claimed that police failed to respond to 71% of serious retail crimes, and that bosses were considering whether it was safe and commercially viable to keep some branches open.

Paul Gerrard, the chain’s director of public affairs and a former customs officer, described some of the shoplifting as “organised looting”, saying gangs would climb over kiosks and brazenly empty shelves into rucksacks, construction bags and even wheelie bins.

The company said it had been forced to spend more than £200m to counter criminal behaviour, with measures such as body-worn cameras and headsets for staff and “dummy” packaging for items such as £6 boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and £6 jars of Kenco coffee to deter thieves from looting or “bulk-shoplifting”.

It has also hired undercover guards, often former police officers, who can detain shoplifters until police arrive. But Gerrard often feels their efforts are in vain because officers don’t always attend.

“We then have to let the shoplifters go, which actually is worse than intervening in the first place because that means they know, and they’ll tell all their mates, that even if they catch you the police don’t turn out. The point here is that the risk for an offender is minimal,” he said.

Rob Blackie, the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor, has been looking into this problem across London. He has discovered that there have been 23,881 calls for shoplifting to the police on 999 since the beginning of the year. That is a massive increase of 49% on the comparable period last year.

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Suella Braverman must go

My first reaction – several years ago – to one of Suella Braverman’s pronouncements was one of exasperation and incredulity. But it was accompanied by a conviction that not even right wing Tories were going to support her extreme views. I was, of course, wrong.

She not only proposes cruel treatment for vulnerable, underprivileged and desperate people who are either citizens or who want to be one, but she is now doing so from one of the most powerful positions in Government. She wants rough sleepers to die in the cold (it is apparently a lifestyle choice), she wants to imprison people escaping war in unsafe conditions, or alternatively to deport them to a country where they have absolutely no connections, she wants to prevent legal forms of protest that we so value in a democracy, she wants us all to lose the protection of the European Court of Rights, and so it goes on and on …

And now some think she is deliberately courting trouble by posting a highly controversial article in the Times, attacking the Met Police, without getting it signed-off by No. 10. Whatever her motivation, her Cabinet position is now at risk, but that could leave her free to challenge the leadership.

Ed Davey has come out with some very strong words about her:

Suella Braverman is not fit to hold the office of Home Secretary. She divides communities with reckless abandon, playing a personal political game with no care for the consequences suffered by the people she is supposed to protect.

She is the most dangerous and divisive Home Secretary of modern times. This country will be safer without her in post.

This is a situation of the Prime Minister’s own making. He appointed her knowing she had previously broken the Ministerial Code yet he was too scared to stand up to her.

What more will it take for the Prime Minister to do the right thing? It is time for us to move past her pathetic failings and for her to go. Rishi Sunak needs to find his backbone and sack her.

Other Lib Dems have added their thoughts.

Here is Alistair Carmichael in the Commons.

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It’s a three horse race!

Unfortunately we don’t have a graphic for that!

The contest in Mid Bedfordshire today is, unusually, a fight between three parties – Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems. The other by-election today in Tamworth is a much more straightforward affair, between the Tories and Labour.

Traditionally on polling day we don’t speculate on outcomes (often because we are much too busy!), but in the early hours of tomorrow morning Lib Dem eyes will be turned towards Mid Beds.

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Michael Steed obituary in The Guardian

Last month Michael Meadowcroft wrote an obituary for Michael Steed in The Guardian, but it has only just appeared in the print edition where it occupies a whole page.

It focusses on his pioneering work as a psephologist, working with David Butler and John Curtice on, amongst other things, some new approaches to measuring election swings, and as a Lecturer in Government at Manchester University.

Amazingly he had been a member of the Liberals, followed by the Liberal Democrats, for 65 years. He was at various times a Parliamentary, European and Council candidate. I only got to know him a few years ago through the Social Liberal Forum, where his deep knowledge of liberalism and the Liberal Democrats influenced our thinking.

A prominent Liberal party activist, he was the vice-chair of the National League of Young Liberals during its radical phase in the 1960s, frequently at odds with the party leader at the time, Jeremy Thorpe. He consistently championed gay rights, called for a federal Europe and proposed constitutional reform, including regional government. Steed did not just snipe from the wings but took on key roles in the party, becoming a member of the party executive and serving as its president (1978-79) under an election system he had devised and which the party backed.

William Wallace wrote a beautiful tribute to him on Lib Dem Voice last month, and Michael Meadowcroft’s contribution stands alongside that.

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New qualification to replace A levels and T levels?

So Rishi Sunak wants to replace A and T levels with a new qualification at 18. My first reaction was one of cautious approval – I have long argued that the post 16 curriculum needs to be broadened for all students. I also welcome any move to integrate so-called “academic” and “vocational” studies. Having taught, and written text books for, a subject that crosses those boundaries (Computing) I know how artificial that binary approach is.

There has been some opposition – allegedly – to broader studies from the Universities, who, it is claimed, expect students to have already reached a certain level of proficiency in their chosen subject before starting on a degree course. They claim that they can offer shorter degrees than in other countries because schools will have already provided foundation degree teaching.

That argument rather falls down in many subjects when looked at in detail. For example, a student starting on a history degree will not be expected to have studied every period of British and world history at A level – they will have studied specific periods and themes in detail. Instead they should arrive with an understanding of historical research and perspectives.

Even in my own subject, Computing, there were quite wide variations between the syllabuses of the A Level Exam Boards, and in any case, students are not required to have studied it before embarking on a degree. In fact, many degrees have no specific requirements but are looking for generic competences such as problem solving, research skills and creativity, which are exactly what a broader curriculum should equip them with.

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Kira Rudik wows Conference with a powerful and personal speech

 

Kira Rudik is the leader of Holos, the first Liberal Party to be elected to the Ukrainian Parliament. She is also Vice President of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – the political grouping that brings together like-minded political parties within Europe. She is a proud European and has campaigned for many years for Ukraine to join the EU.

She was welcomed on to the stage by Layla Moran, who was dressed in the blue and yellow of Ukraine. Kira started with some thank yous – and it was clear she knew a number of our senior members well.

She then told us about the day the invasion happened, starting at 5am. Kira and nearly two thirds of the MPs made their way to the Parliament Building – a highly dangerous act as the building was an obvious target. They were allowed 10 minutes together in the chamber during which time they hit buttons furiously so they could pass all the necessary legislation. All the political parties vowed to work together until the war was over – a pledge that has been challenging but still holds.

You can watch her speech here:

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2 million patients at risk from crumbling concrete

Our Parliamentary team have been doing some research into the prevalence of RAAC concrete in hospitals. It seems seven hospitals have been named as having the material in their construction, and nearly two million people live within their catchment areas, so could be potentially affected. The hospitals between them employ 43,000 staff who are therefore also at risk. Four of those seven hospitals are classed as ‘mostly composed of RAAC beams’.

However this is by no means the true extent of the problem, as, in total, 23 NHS trusts are affected by RAAC. Data from the  House of Commons Library does not give the names of 11 of those trusts which have more than one hospital, where not all of the hospitals will have a RAAC problem. Nor does it name a further five trusts which are affected.

This is not all new information. Back in March Lib Dems demanded emergency funding to fix hospital roofs in the Budget. They are now calling for an urgent boost to the funding to make hospitals safe and usable.

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**Breaking news** And still they come

Another Conservative MP has resigned this morning.  Chris Pincher, MP for Tamworth, was suspended some time ago for groping two men, and he has just lost his appeal against suspension. He had previously said that he would step down at the next General Election but he now says he is resigning immediately.

Assuming he is not doing a Dorries, we could be looking at a double by-election on 19th October, which has now, at last, been set as the date for the Mid Bedfordshire contest.

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Schools crisis – sheer incompetence

The timing could not have been worse. This is the most stressful part of the school year for teachers and Heads, getting the buildings ready for the new intake, checking all the tech, induction for new staff and planning a term’s worth of lessons. For pupils there is some anticipation and excitement, tinged perhaps with a bit of anxiety, as they prepare to move into a into a new school or a new class next week.

So it beggars belief that the Government should announce this week that a large number of schools in England have defective buildings which must not be used. Oh, and there is no funding to cover the hire and construction of temporary classrooms.

Of course, it would be understandable if this problem had only just come to light, but the Department for Education has known about the potentially defective concrete (RAAC) since 1994, and they knew that the concrete used only has a lifespan of 30 years. It’s a type of lightweight aerated concrete that was presumably cheap to use at the time. In 2018 they sent some vaguely worded warnings to schools but did not provide any advice or means to rectify the fault. So it is not new information that has emerged this week.

And yet some 100 schools were only told yesterday that they have to take immediate mitigating action because of the RAAC in their buildings. In some cases ceilings can be propped up as a temporary measure – although getting that done will be disruptive and will take some time – but others will have to close and replace whole rooms immediately.

Even worse, the list of schools affected will not be published, so parents have to wait to hear from their children’s schools directly about the impact, if any. Dealing with upset and angry parents just gives Heads a further headache. Some children will actually have to decamp to neighbouring schools, which will only add to the disruption.

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Update on Nadine Dorries

Yesterday I reported comments made by Daisy Cooper and Ed Davey about Nadine Dorries’ reluctance to carry out her promise to stand down from Parliament “with immediate effect” (Nadine Dorries should do something).

It seems that our MPs are now planning to table a Bill as soon as Parliament returns on 4th September to suspend Nadine Dorries for 10 days if she doesn’t appear in Parliament by 14th September.

If the motion is passed, and a suspension results, then this would trigger a recall petition in the Constituency and allow her constituents to force a by-election.

Daisy Copper tells us:

For months Nadine Dorries has treated the people of Mid Bedfordshire with contempt and taken them for granted.

As thousands of people struggle to get a GP appointment and face steep hikes to their mortgages, Nadine Dorries continues to be missing in action. What’s worse is that the Conservatives just don’t seem to care that they’re letting people down.

We need an end to this sorry saga, once and for all. Nadine Dorries must resign, if not then this Government must do the right thing and force her to. Every day that Rishi Sunak sits on his hands the people across Mid Bedfordshire are being failed.

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Nadine Dorries should do something

Our party’s calls for Nadine Dorries to do something – anything – have been getting more strident.

To recap, on Friday 9th June she said she was resigning from Parliament, with immediate effect, mainly in a huff because her promised peerage in Johnson’s Resignation Honours had been blocked. But then she didn’t – resign, that is. Instead she said that she was waiting for an explanation of why her appointment was blocked.

In the meantime there are claims that she has been absent both from the House and from her constituency of Mid Bedfordshire. Dorries herself claimed yesterday that she is ‘working daily’, but the use of quote marks in the media suggest otherwise.

On Monday Daisy Cooper said:

Nadine Dorries’s actions are a gross insult to the people of Mid-Bedfordshire. Why on earth should their taxpayers’ money fund an MP who hasn’t worked in months? If Nadine Dorries had a shred of integrity left, she would stand down now and give local people a chance to elect a new MP who will actually do the job.

It is disgraceful that she continues to have the Conservative Party whip. Clearly Rishi Sunak thinks Nadine Dorries’s actions are still worthy of being a Conservative MP.

Local people are fed up with being taken for granted by this out of touch Conservative party.

The rhetoric was ramped up yesterday, when Ed Davey visited Flitwick, in the constituency and he referred to her as a “dosser”.

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Let’s celebrate the Lionesses!

I’m not a football fan, but even I watched the Lionesses win their semi-final on Wednesday morning. And I will be glued to the television on Sunday from 11am. What a treat for England, and indeed for the whole country!

Of course, many people love watching big matches in the friendly atmosphere of their local, and that also helps the local economy. Unfortunately, the timing on Sunday is awkward to say the least, because most pubs won’t be able to sell alcohol until 11am at the earliest, or even 12pm, according to their current licence. Which is why the Lib Dems have made a bold move and called for a recall of Parliament today to introduce emergency legislation to allow pubs to open in time for the match.

Daisy Cooper said:

This is an open goal for the government. The Lionesses have made history by reaching the final, it’s only right that people across the country can come together and show their full support on Sunday.

MPs should get down to Westminster tomorrow and score a last minute winner for our pubs and the Lionesses.

Now it MAY be a coincidence – but Michael Gove has sent a letter to Council leaders encouraging them to open pubs early this Sunday. But there is a catch: Pubs have to apply in advance for a temporary extension to their licences and the deadline for applications for this weekend was 11th August. Gove is simply asking Councils to expedite any existing applications, not to allow last minute ones.

Wherever you watch it – enjoy the match! And good luck to the Lionesses.

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