Author Archives: Mary Reid

LibLink: Vince Cable asks “What if the vaccine isn’t enough?”

Vince Cable has written in the Independent today asking that rather worrying question.

Most of us, including the government, are assuming that if the mass vaccination goes ahead speedily we shall see relaxation of the Covid restrictions in March and be largely free of them in the summer. The economy will bounce back and we can begin to enjoy the Roaring Twenties with a good holiday in the sun. My own sense of optimism is fuelled by the fact that I am in line to get my first vaccine jab this week and I already feel safer and freer.

But maybe that is wishful thinking? What if the vaccination rollout is slower than we hope (and impeded by idiotic NHS bureaucracy, such as the requirement that volunteers should have a level 2 “safeguarding” qualification in case they encounter children)? What if another variant of the virus arrives that requires new vaccines and repeat vaccination programmes? What if there are sufficient numbers who fail to get vaccinated – because of ignorance, groundless prejudice or fear – as to keep the pandemic alive?

He says that we need to plan for these eventualities to avoid restrictions through 2021 and beyond. Several actions are required.

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New Year Honours?

The New Year Honours list published last night has a strong focus on all those wonderful people who have supported their communities during the pandemic.

Do you know any Lib Dems who have been honoured in this way? If so, we would love to congratulate them. Please let us know in the comments below.


From Chris Rennard:

Congratulations to Nigel Priestley, former candidate for Colne Valley, awarded the MBE for services to children and families.

From Paul:

Congratulations to Helen Williams, wife of Mark Williams former MP for Ceredigion who has been awarded a BEM for services to Vulnerable Young Parents and to the Elderly in Borth during Covid-19.

Helen is the Centre Manager at the Borth Family Centre in Ceredigion.

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How many people will miss the vaccine because they don’t have a GP?

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I am looking forward to having the Covid-19 vaccine. Well, not the actual act of having a jab in my arm (twice), but because it will open up my life. Apart from a short window in the summer, we have not had any social visits in our home since March and we still only leave the house for walks or for medical reasons.

We can both be confident that we will be called in for the vaccine at some point in the New Year. But it appears that an unknown number of eligible people may be missed. Thousands of people in the UK are not registered with a GP. We can only speculate on the reasons why anyone may not be registered – it could be down to something simple like moving house, or it could be something more complex around immigration irregularities, even because someone is the victim of trafficking.

To be effective, as many people as possible should be vaccinated, whatever their immigration status. So surely the NHS needs to know how many people in the country are not registered, so they can be traced and contacted?

Munira Wilson asked Health Minister Jo Churchill how many people are not registered in England, and was told “No such estimate has been made.” In other words, they don’t know.

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Do we need GCSEs?

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While all the attention was on students who were due to take their A Levels or GCSEs last summer, I was more concerned about those who will be taking their GCSEs in 2021. They are younger than A Level students, and most have not yet fully developed the skills of self-directed study, so still need a high level of teacher input and support.

The two years leading up to their exams next year will have been seriously disrupted. In Year 10 they were learning at home from March to July, and we are all aware of the huge disparities that produced, exacerbating existing disadvantages. In their current Year 11 they have just spent a strange term during which many will have had to quarantine at least once.

It seems headteachers have welcomed the arrangements that the Government has just announced for next summer’s GCSE exams. Students who miss their exams because they are self-isolating will be able to take backup exams in July or will be given teacher assessments. Hopefully, with a vaccine imminent, this will only affect a small number.

Of more significance is the news that the grading will be more generous, and that students will get advance knowledge of some of the topics that will be examined. This will help to compensate for the inevitable reduction in coverage of the syllabus by this cohort.

But this does make me wonder, not for the first time, why we have GCSE exams at all. The UK is the only country in Europe that still has formal public exams at 16. Of course, it made sense when the majority of young people left school at 16, as the results helped them find a pathway into work or into the next stage of education. However, today, between the ages of 16 and 18, all young people have to be in education or work-based training.

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Ed Davey and National Carers Rights Day

The pandemic has opened all our eyes to the importance of carers, whether employed in the care sector or unpaid people who care for family members.

Today is National Carers Rights Day, an event co-ordinated by Carers UK. Their research has unearthed the astonishing statistic that unpaid carers in the UK have saved the state £530 million every day of the pandemic – that is a staggering £135 billion so far.

It is essential that carers know their rights – what they are entitled to and sources of help. There are plenty of pointers here.

During the leadership campaign Ed Davey made respect and support for carers a key issue. He has been doing some serious work on the policy area since then, inspired by his own experiences as a carer, first for his mother when a teenager, and more recently for his disabled son.

He has now launched a campaign to raised the Carer’s Allowance by £1000 per year.

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The Activate Fund supports two Lib Dem candidates

The Guardian has covered the launch of the Activate Fund which supports women into politics – and the first two women to feature in the photo accompanying the article are both Lib Dems. So congratulations to April Preston and Nukey Proctor who have been endorsed by the fund, which is run by the Activate Collective.

Activate is funding 11 women running for five different parties in the spring local and mayoral elections across five parts of England – London, the Midlands, North East, North West, and Yorkshire and Humber. The list includes eight women of colour, one disabled woman and one care leaver. Seven of the 11 women are from low-income households or identify as working class.

April Preston is a Liberal Democrat candidate for Withington in next May’s Manchester City Council elections. She says:

I am absolutely delighted to have the backing of Activate Collective, a cross party group with the sole aim of improving political representation, their backing is vital for people like me not just in Manchester but across the country.

I along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues have worked tirelessly to demand better for our area and having their funding and support has given me the boost in motivation I need to make sure other people who are underrepresented get the support they need.

Nukey Proctor, a Liberal Democrat Council Candidate in Sherbourne Ward, Coventry City Council, is also endorsed, and says:

So excited to share that I’ve been been backed by Activate, a new UK fund supporting women from underrepresented groups to run for political office, today announces its first list of candidates.
I am beyond thrilled to be associated with this amazing initiative.

You can read more about both women here.

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Why does it take so long to count votes?

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I’m not an expert on elections in the USA, but am I the only one to be puzzled about the length of time it is taking to count the votes?

I have been seriously drawn into this election, staying up for a silly length of time watching CNN, which does seem to give the clearest coverage. I do appreciate that each state sets up its local voting arrangements, and that this privilege is enshrined in the Constitution. As a result, states vary enormously in how efficient they are at counting ballots.

The rules about mail-in/absentee/postal voting vary, so that in some states (and crucially in most of the swing states) they are only opened after the in-person votes are counted.

In the UK, postal votes are opened and verified in batches as they arrive at the Council, then locked away securely. Verification involves checking that the ballot paper is a genuine one and that the signature matches the one given on the application form. At the count, after the polls close, the ballot papers from the polling stations are verified by being counted and the total checked against the numbers of electors recorded at each polling station. But once the postal and non-postal ballots have been verified they are all mixed together, so that each counting officer is given a random collection of ballot papers to sort into baskets labelled with the candidates’ names. (Apologies to you activists who know all this already…)

Postal ballots must reach the Council before polling day, or can be handed in at a polling station on the day. Unlike the situation in some states in the US, postal votes that arrive late in the UK are not counted.

Having attended many election counts in the UK, some as a candidate, some as a counting agent, I can see how labour intensive the process is. In spite of that, most of our counts finish overnight, only occasionally spilling over into the next day, even though polling goes on until 10pm. So, apart from the necessary delay in dealing with late arriving mail-in votes where they are allowed, why are the American ones taking so long?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 20 Comments

LibLink: William Wallace on the House of Lords

Last week The Yorkshire Post published an article by William Wallace on “House of Lords plays vital role in democracy but needs reform“.  William is our spokesperson for the Cabinet in the House of Lords.

In the article he writes:

The House of Lords is indefensible in its current form.  But it plays a vital role in our executive-dominated democracy.

Formally, the UK has parliamentary sovereignty.  But when one party has a secure parliamentary majority, government proposals usually sail through the Commons without careful examination. A former Conservative Lord Chancellor once described British democracy as ‘elective dictatorship’ – when his own party was in government.  The Lords is the chamber that examines bills and regulations in detail, forces ministers to justify them clause by clause, and quietly wins concessions before they become law.

He lays down this challenge:

Are you a democrat or a supporter of strong government?

If you are a democrat, you have to support reform of the Commons as well as the Lords, and tackle the weakness of local and regional representation as well.  If you believe in strong government, beware that governments without parliamentary challenge become authoritarian and corrupt, and take note that billions of pounds have been handed out to large consultancies and outsourcing companies this year without open contracts, that many of these companies contribute to Conservative funds, and that retiring ministers are offered large sums to advise them.

Posted in LibLink | Tagged | 9 Comments

Isolation diary update: Isolating again

The view across London from Epsom Downs, with quarter of a rainbow

So lockdown comes to England again, but it doesn’t make much of a difference to us.  Ian has received an email from Matt Hancock reminding him that he is “clinically extremely vulnerable” – which is hardly news to him. It advises him to stay at home as much as possible but to go outside for exercise and to attend health appointments.

We have been doing exactly that for the last three weeks, impatient once again with the slow response by the Government to the widespread re-emergence of Covid-19. Back in the summer our local Council and hospital were preparing for a second wave in October, so it was hardly unexpected.

However, there are some crucial differences for us this time. In the first lockdown we literally did not leave our house, apart from a trip to the hospital, from mid-March to the end of June. Looking back that seems an extraordinary thing to have done. Actually, it didn’t feel like a hardship for us at the time – the weather was good and we have a small garden – although I appreciate that it was really tough for many people.

Since then we have been going out for walks almost every day, and, when we were allowed to drive a short distance, we started exploring many places we hadn’t been to before. It has been a revelation – we have found three beautiful lakes, riverside paths, ancient heathland, and many walks through the woods, all within three or four miles of our home.

This time we are being encouraged to go out for exercise, which does make sense as it feels a very safe thing to do. Other walkers are always careful when passing and we never stand within 2 metres of anyone else.

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Mike Dixon on lessons from the US election

Mike Dixon, Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, has written to members, musing on the US elections. It’s worth quoting at length:

I woke up this morning to Trump saying he’d won the election and that no more votes should be counted.

I can’t remember a darker speech by a major world leader in my lifetime.

A lot will be written about this election. But here are two important lessons for us:

  1. Campaigns run into trouble when they pull back on contacting voters.It looks like the Democrats stopping knocking on doors because of coronavirus – with the Republicans continuing – in some key areas has mattered a lot. Over the coming months before the elections in May, we need to keep talking to voters and getting our message across – safely and responsibly.

    There is a lot we can do through lockdown.

    Don’t give up or hunker down.

  2. Many people hoped this result would be a firm rejection of a divisive, fake news approach to campaigning.

    It hasn’t been.

    And that means the tactics Trump has used will be adopted even more aggressively in May and in 2024 by many of our political opponents.

The rollercoaster of emotion we’ve all felt today must be a wake up call. We can’t take anything for granted.

You can take action to stand up for a better, fairer world.

Yours in the fight for a better future,

Mike Dixon
CEO of the Liberal Democrats

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Review: ‘I never promised you a rose garden’ by Jonny Oates

Last week Jonny Oates published his memoir “I never promised you a rose garden” (BiteBack). Jonny is best known to most Lib Dems as Nick Clegg’s Chief of Staff during Coalition, and as our current spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change in the House of Lords.

Many years ago Jonny was the twenty-something political assistant to the Council group in Kingston, and I first met him then, so I skimmed through the book to find the chapter where he talks about people I know. It is, amazingly, halfway through, so there was obviously a lot I didn’t know about him.

I started the book again, and read it properly, and it is certainly worth doing so. By the time you get to the account of Ed Davey’s first, and astonishing, election as MP for Kingston & Surbiton in 1997, you can understand how Jonny, as agent, alongside the legendary Belinda Eyre-Brook, achieved the impossible, in overturning a 15,000 Tory majority.  This is a man of deep integrity who is quietly determined, possessing the qualities of a team leader (but never a bully) and a sharp political mind, honed in the extraordinary politics of post-apartheid South Africa.

But as a teenager he was conflicted. He writes candidly about his own mental health and his struggles to come to terms with who he was, to the extent that he ran away to Ethiopia at the age of 15 and contemplated suicide. He tells us about the good people who came into his life and guided him with compassion, and the recognition that his parents’ love was unconditional after all.

Of course, Lib Dem Voice readers will be particularly interested in what he has to say about his time as Director of General Election Communications for the 2010 Election, and subsequently as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister. Jonny gives us a slightly different, but not contradictory, perspective on the Coalition negotiations from those of David Laws and others.

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Jim Wallace to be Moderator of the Church of Scotland

This week it was announced that Jim Wallace is to be the next Moderator of the Church of Scotland for 2021-2022. Jim is currently a member of the House of Lords, having previously been MP for Orkney and Shetland (from 1983 to 2001). He was our party Leader in Scotland for 13 years.

In 1999 Jim was elected as MSP for Orkney and became Deputy First Minister of Scotland.

The Moderator chairs the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which meets in May, and then acts as an ambassador for the Kirk at civic and public events throughout the year of office.  He or she is a sort of cross between a President and an Archbishop, although the Kirk does not, of course, have Bishops. It is unusual for a layman to be appointed Moderator, but Jim had been an Elder for many years.

The current Moderator was installed in an online ceremony in May this year. Let’s hope that next year’s event will be back to normal.

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No child should go hungry

Last week I reported that Kirsty Williams had committed to extend free school meals through the holidays and right up to next Easter. Of course, that only applies in Wales where she is the Education Minister.

But this week MPs shamefully voted against a similar programme in England, in spite of the widespread support for Marcus Rashford’s campaign.

Lib Dems, headed by Daisy Cooper, have been calling for action:

There is a petition to sign, in which we call for:

  • Free school meals to every pupil whose parents or guardians are in receipt of Universal Credit
  • Food vouchers for every one of those pupils in every school holiday and during any period of lockdown
  • Free school meals to pupils from low-income families whose parents or guardians have no recourse to public funds and destitute asylum seekers

I’ve signed it. Will you?

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Reminder: What does it mean to be black in Britain in 2020?

Our Vice President Isabelle Parasram invites you to join her for a free event “What does it mean to be black in Britain in 2020?” on Thursday 22nd October from 7pm-8.30pm.

Christopher Jackson, Professor of Geology at Imperial College and soon to be the first black scientist to jointly present the 2020 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, will be speaking and answering your questions. He will be joined by Former CEO of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and Co-Founder of The Centre for Inclusive Leadership, Paul Anderson-Walsh, as we ask about their experiences and insights during this Black History Month event.

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Kirsty Williams leads the way

I have been very heartened by the news from Wales, and not just because a bit of my heart always lives there. Unlike her English counterparts Kirsty Williams, the Lib Dem Education Minister for Wales, hasn’t had to be challenged by celebrity footballers to remember those children whose needs are greater than others – she had already worked up schemes to support them.

In the very early days of lockdown, Wales was the first country in the UK to announce that children eligible for free school meals would continue to get them through the Easter and summer school holidays, supported by substantial funding.

Kirsty has now taken a further ambitious step by announcing an £11million fund to provide free school meals during term-time and holidays right up to Easter 2021. Special arrangements are in place for children who are quarantining or shielding at home.

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Black History Month: How Paul Stephenson changed the law

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There was a heartening article in The Guardian yesterday with the headline “Paul Stephenson: the hero who refused to leave a pub – and helped desegregate Britain“.

Paul Stephenson is a black Briton who in 1964 refused to leave a pub in Bristol after he was told by the landlord “We don’t want you black people in here – you are a nuisance.” He was arrested and spent several hours in a police cell. He was cleared and awarded damages in the subsequent court case, which was widely reported in the press.

The repercussions from his act of defiance must have surprised even him, when Harold Wilson sent him a telegram to say that he would change the law. In 1965 the first Race Relations Act, which banned discrimination in public places, was enacted.

Paul Stephenson had previously led a boycott of Bristol buses because they refused to employ black or Asian people. He continued throughout his life to challenge racism in all its forms, working as a community relations officer around the country.

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It’s October and that means it is Black History Month

Lorely Burt kicks off the month for us.

Please let us know in the comments about Lib Dem events in your area.

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It wasn’t really a Virtual Conference

OK, you might think I am being pedantic, but the word ‘virtual’ carries some weight, so bear with me.

The term ‘virtual reality’ emerged from online gaming. Players place themselves in an imaginary universe, and adopt a character or avatar while they are there. In multi-user games they interact with other avatars, without wondering much about the real person behind them. Virtual reality headsets take this one step further by providing a 3D fully immersive experience of the imaginary landscape.

Virtual reality is usually compared with ‘real life’; the first is a creative construct, the second is the world we actually inhabit. In what sense was our conference last weekend virtual?

Before there was widespread access to the Internet we communicated with our family, friends and colleagues in many ways that were not face-to-face. We used a variety of written methods – letters, notes and memos – and we used the phone. I don’t think we ever saw these as virtual conversations; they were real conversations with real people. In the same way, once email became ubiquitous it was seen as an extension of our other modes of communication.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

Conference gets off to a good start

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home

Party President, Mark Pack, opened the Conference this afternoon, paying tribute to members who had lost their lives, or the lives of people dear to them, through the pandemic.

Before that Geoff Payne, the Chair of Federal Conference Committee, introduced us to the studio set at HQ, and I must say that it had all the feel of a real-life Conference, if in miniature, and is far removed from our all-too-familiar Zoom experience. This was followed by a scene setting video showing places all over the UK.

We have our wonderful signers in the corner of the screen – I love watching them. I clearly remember the time, some years ago, when one of them demonstrated the BSL for bullshit, not to mention “I’m not a happy bunny”.

The first business item was to agree the revisions to Standing Orders that were needed in order to carry out the Conference remotely. Voting was really simple – just a click under the Polls tab.

During gaps between items we were shown short videos. I caught one from the Council group at St Albans talking about what they had done for their residents during lockdown.

The chat function is being put to good use – people are diving in to answer questions from first timers , while others are simply meeting and greeting. As far as I can see, chat is specific to where you are, so when you are in the Auditorium you can discuss the motion under debate – something we couldn’t do very easily in real life!

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Logging in to Conference

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home

Well, I’ve done it, and it works!

If you have registered for our very first Virtual Conference then you will have been sent an email with the subject line “Your ticket to Lib Dem Conference”. Click on the link and our Virtual Conference is revealed in all its glory.

It’s very easy to navigate. Over on the right you can edit your profile and upload a photo.

As I write 296 people have logged in already. You can see who is there under People, and if you click on a name you can invite them to a video call.  Alternatively you can just add a general comment under Chat.

The left hand menu takes you to the main elements of the Conference – Auditorium, Fringe and Training, Networking and the Exhibition. And below the main banner on the home pages you will find a “What’s Happening Now” section.

We are advised that the best way to view Conference is by using Chrome on a laptop or tablet. In the comments perhaps you could let us know if you have managed it successfully using any other hardware/software platforms. You can download Chrome here.

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Isolation diary update: Wondering about what comes next

Don’t kill Granny” – well, thanks, Matt Hancock, I appreciate your concern for me.

When you gave that advice ten days ago, the infection rate stood at around 3000 per day. It is now 4000, and hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19 are beginning to follow, with the usual three week time lag. The last time the UK had that rate of infection was at the beginning of April, well into lockdown. So what is your advice today to the grannies (and grandpas) to avoid being killed? Pardon? I can’t hear you…

We all know that the vast majority of deaths are of people who fall into the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories. The latter group, who were advised to shield through lockdown, have been enjoying six weeks of more relaxed living, but are now justifiably pretty anxious again.

Shielding officially ended at the end of July although we were allowed to go out for exercise during the previous month. But life hasn’t changed very much for me and my husband. We enjoy walks out in the countryside, but avoid the town. We have discovered, not that far from our home, several areas of wood and heath, and, amazingly, three lakes (including the one in the photo) which we didn’t know existed.

One day we booked into a National Trust garden near us and sat outside the cafe for tea and cake, unexpectedly qualifying for Eat Out to Help Out.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 36 Comments

Is wearing a mask a civil liberties issue?

Some Libertarians in the US and elsewhere certainly seem to think so, and refuse to wear them. But we are not Libertarians, and as Liberals it is easy enough for us to justify asking others to wear masks by drawing on two principles described by John Stuart Mill.

In On Liberty Mill explores his political philosophy and expounds on the Harm Principle:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

In other words, the potential for harm can outweigh the loss of liberty.

In Utilitarianism Mill develops this from an ethical point of view and outlines the Greatest Happiness Principle:

… actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

Whenever we, as a party, debate policy that might impact on our liberties, members tend to use one or other of these principles as justification for their position. For example, discussions some years ago about whether to ban smoking in public inside spaces often invoked the harm principle – smoking can cause physical damage to people nearby who are not smoking, including the people who work there. On the other hand, the powers adopted should be minimal, that is set at the lowest level to be effective, which is why we support outdoor smoker’s areas, where the harm is limited to the smokers themselves.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 54 Comments

+++Breaking news – the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats is …

Congratulations to Ed Davey who has just been elected by members as Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

If you missed the announcement and speech by the new Leader, then you can catch up here.

Huge thanks must go to both Ed Davey and Layla Moran who fought a clean but impassioned fight, demonstrating what great assets they both are to our party.

Votes cast were:

Ed Davey: 42,756

Layla Moran: 24,564

Turnout: 57.6%


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Leadership announcement tomorrow

The next Leader of the Liberal Democrats will be announced at 11.30am tomorrow, Thursday 27th August.

You can watch the announcement live on YouTube.


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Conference Directory published – fringes, training, exhibition

A couple of weeks ago the Agenda for the online Autumn Conference was issued. That has now been joined by its companion publication, the Directory.

While the Agenda contains the timetable for all the formal sessions in the Main Hall – policy debates, speeches etc – the Directory lists all the other fun things you can do over the Conference weekend. You can read and download the Directory here.

So what is on offer?

Fringe meetings

  • Dozens of meetings organised by Lib Dem and external organisations, most with key speakers.
  • Watch out for the Comedy Night
  • We understand that information about Glee Club will follow.

Training sessions

  • On a wide variety of topics including pastoral care, being an effective agent, councillor or campaigner, using tools such as Lighthouse, Connect and Affinity, and, of course, winning elections.

Campaign surgeries

  • 30 minutes free consultancy on a range of campaigning techniques
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Exam grades and what they should have done

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In this post: Exam Results and Gradings Ianto Stevens explained how and why examiners moderate exam results to try to smooth out inconsistencies from year to year. Some of this was to compensate for variations in the difficulty of exam papers. The overall aim was to give the same balance of grades as in previous years.

For example, suppose on a particular A Level physics paper, students across the country get markedly higher marks than in previous years. Examiners will assume that the students are of much the same ability as previous cohorts and that the variations are due to the questions asked and the marking guidelines. It is almost impossible to write a series of exam papers that produce the same range of results each time.

The problem this year was that this legitimate moderation process was applied not to actual written exam papers but to teacher’s predictions.

I spent many years teaching and organising A level and BTEC courses in a large FE college. Each year the whole of my Easter break was devoted to assessing and ranking coursework projects for some 60 A level Computing students. And, of course, I had to provide predicted grades which I based on their AS levels, mock exams and the state of their coursework at the time when the predictions had to be submitted.

I do understand why there was a reluctance to simply award the students with the grades predicted by their teachers. If that had happened then the overall grades would have been significantly higher than in previous years. The consequence would have been that a higher number of students would have met the conditions set by universities, so there was a danger that courses might have been oversubscribed. Universities always offer more places than they can fill, on the basis that not all will qualify.

So, to avoid a glut of qualified students, the raw predicted grades were treated as though they were actual marks and were moderated to bring them in line with other years. What is more, the moderation was applied at the level of an individual school or college rather than across the whole exam entry cohort – a granular application of a holistic method.

I will argue that it was not necessary to moderate the grades at all, but first let’s take a look at the procedure that was adopted. The actual predicted grades were ignored and the rankings used instead. These were mapped on to the spread of grades achieved in that subject, in that school or college, over several previous years. So if in previous years, on average, 5% had been awarded a U (ie fail), then the bottom 5% in the ranked list this year would be given a U, and so on across all the grades.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 25 Comments

Conference agenda now available

The agenda for the online party Conference in September can be downloaded here. It is at the same time both very familiar and rather different from usual.

All the expected elements are there: policy motions (with amendments), business motions, speeches, Q&A’s, reports, consultative sessions, fringe meetings, training, exhibition stands and helpdesk. There is even a feature that enables you to network with other members at random, just as you might chat with someone while queuing for a coffee. Conference Extra and Conference Daily will be published as usual and the Conference app will be available nearer the time.

The most obvious changes from the norm are with the timing. Auditorium sessions will run between 2.15pm on Friday 25th September and 9pm on Monday 28th September, in shorter bursts than usual – presumably to avoid screen fatigue. This means that many more sessions will be accessible to people in full-time work. The (new) Leader’s speech will be at 2.50pm on the Monday afternoon.

And, of course, it will be much more affordable this time. The only cost will be the registration fee, as travel and accommodation will not be needed!

Posted in News | Tagged | 14 Comments

Isolation diary update: Thinking about the future

I am very pleased that the Government is finally going to enforce the use of masks in shops. Those of us who are shielding will be in lock down until the end of the month, but we will only emerge cautiously after that. Don’t forget that we are at high risk of dying from Covid-19 if we catch it.

People have been telling us that in the town centres social distancing is not being observed, masks are not being worn and many shoppers are flouting the rules about queuing and following routes. Don’t they realise that they are condemning some of us to permanent lock down?

Having got that off my chest I have been thinking about what needs to change from now on.

But first, this is what has changed, hopefully permanently:

  • Neighbourliness – WhatsApp groups for roads have sprung up; neighbours have got to know each other better and have been helping each other out.
  • Black Lives Matter – the timing of this in the middle of a pandemic has focused our attention.  I have heard this said several times: “I am reading to educate myself on the issue”.  There is a widespread new understanding of privilege and unconscious bias, as well as institutional/structural racism. And people who have responded with “All lives matter” have been gently corrected.
  • Online tools –  we now all recognise the usefulness of Zoom and Microsoft teams and will no doubt continue to use them where they bring added value.
  • Value of care workers – we sort-of knew that they were important; now we really know.
  • How we all love the NHS – I found Danny Boyle’s tribute to the NHS at the 2012 Olympics a bit puzzling. I don’t now.
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Isolation diary: Signing off

This is my last regular diary entry, although I may drop in occasional extra posts when things change for us. I have written every single day since 16th March when we went into voluntary self-isolation to protect my husband.  The rest of the country joined us in lockdown a week later.

Shielding will continue until the end of July at least, so my life is still going to be considerably more restricted than most people as lockdown is eased. From next Monday persons who are shielded like my husband no longer have to socially distance themselves from other members of the household who are not shielding. I have chosen to shield up to now, but in theory I could now drop my shielding precautions and join the rest of you in shops, pubs and restaurants, or even on the beach. However that does add an extra layer of risk so I don’t think I’ll do so for the time being.

If you’ve been following my diary you will know that I have been enjoying my time at home. I have had a rich cultural life during lockdown. I have enjoyed recordings of world class live theatre productions – drama, ballet and opera –  via National Theatre at Home and The Royal Opera. Highlights have included One Man, Two Guvnors (NT), The Magic Flute (ROH), La Fille mal Gardee (ROH), A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bridge Theatre (NT), and Frankenstein (NT).

I have watched several box sets, often following recommendations by friends  – Normal People (i-Player), Devs (i-Player), The Kominsky Method (Netflix), Unorthodox (Netflix), The Capture (i-Player).  And I have discovered some lockdown gems  – the W1A Zoom meeting, David Tennant and Michael Sheen in Staged (i-Player), Alan Ayckbourn’s audio play Anno Domino, plus the current series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads (i-Player). My drama group at the Rose Kingston has continued with a weekly online meeting where we have been swapping recommendations and reading scenes.

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Isolation diary: Remembering London 2012 – cycling around

A few seconds after I took this photo of Bradley Wiggins, from a vantage point in the Rose Theatre, a thousand people surged into the building to watch the rest of the race on a giant screen. Huge cheers erupted as Wiggins turned into Kingston’s Ancient Market, crossed the bridge to Hampton Wick and then on to the finish line outside Hampton Court Palace. It won him a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic time trials.

He endeared himself to local residents for ever when he said this about the roaring from the spectators:

But the point where I was most aware of it was coming around the roundabout in Kingston – the noise was incredible.

I’m never, ever going to experience anything like that again in my sporting career. That’s it. That experience topped everything off right there. It was phenomenal.

The Olympic road races had also passed through Kingston a few days before. There was a massive amount of organisation – and disruption – around all the road cycling events. In fact, a year before, there had been a trial event for the road races, which required rolling road closures from central London and out into the Surrey Hills. Box Hill featured prominently and if you have ever driven up the Zig Zag Road you will know how challenging that is for cyclists. Although we don’t live directly on the route, we were quite limited in where we could go throughout the whole day when there was a road race on.

The annual RideLondon festival was born out of those exciting times. Every year in August some 30,000 riders do a 100 mile ride on roughly the same route as the one used in the Olympics. It is the cycling equivalent of the London Marathon, with a mixture of club and fun riders, the latter often collecting sponsorship for a charity. Alongside this there is a longer run for elite riders which usually takes them up and down Box Hill several times.

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