Author Archives: Mary Reid

Up and down

At Lib Dem Voice we don’t usually cover the results of political polls, because they do fluctuate. Also, paying too much attention to poll results can have unintended consequences for our party’s campaigning. Liberal Democrats were riding high in the polls during the last elections to the European Parliament in 2019, and some people imagined that we could win a swathe of seats in the General Election later that year simply based on the polling data. Seasoned campaigners, however, know that we only win seats if we do a lot of work on the ground – the support shown in polls is never enough.

But we have to admit that it is exciting when our poll position makes a substantial leap from 6% to 13%. The Evening Standard  reports an Ipsos-Mori poll which shows that support for both Labour and the Conservatives has fallen by 4 points since their last poll. The Conservatives are still 9 points ahead, but net satisfaction of Boris Johnson and the Government have fallen to and -16 and -20 respectively. But the Liberal Democrats have jumped to 13%, and this is the first time we have been at that level since the 2019 General Election.

So what do we make of it? Undoubtedly our win in Chesham and Amersham produced this bounce. The party cleverly exploited the publicity immediately afterwards. The image of Ed Davey knocking down the blue wall with a small yellow mallet visually encapsulated our key message to the whole country very neatly – those who criticised it as a stunt clearly don’t understand how the media works.

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Kirsty Williams talks about why she left front line politics

In an interview with ITV News Kirsty Williams, Lib Dem Senedd Member since 1999 and former Welsh Education Minister, reveals the reasons why she stood down this May.

We can’t embed the clip but you can view it here. She says:

I think for me it became increasingly more and more difficult to protect my family, not from the threats of violence that we’re talking about but the general level of abuse.

When my children were small they weren’t on social media, they didn’t have access to those things, but now it’s pretty difficult to keep them away from that. So trying to protect my family – or failing to succeed in protecting my family from some of the fallout from having a mother in political life was definitely a factor in me standing down.

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It’s a long game, revisited

Disappointment, even despair, was the general reaction by Lib Dems to the 2019 General Election results. But some of us saw a different picture. A week or so after that election I wrote a post for Lib Dem Voice under the headline “It’s a long game” in which I said:

I’m absolutely delighted to see the progress made in so many seats, and it fills me with such hope for the future. Do not give up. What you have done is to lay the foundations for future successes. Keep building your teams and keep targeting Council wards. Get all the advice you can on how to do that. Hold long term ambitions, and do not become dependent on external help.

Since Thursday the media have been speculating on which other blue wall constituencies are now fair game for the Lib Dems – exactly the ones I was addressing in that extract. It’s worth looking at the map in this article in The Guardian, which shows those seats in the southern half of the UK that could be vulnerable to the small but powerful orange mallet.

Too often we imagine that we win in general elections through smart national campaigning in the last few weeks, and that all seats will reflect the mood of the day. That is simply not true. Seats are won on the back of long campaigning, which itself is dependent on building the capacity of the local party. Given Thursday’s result we can safely assume that Boris Johnson will not be calling for a general election soon, even if the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act is rescinded, so we have the luxury of three years to build on the energy generated by Chesham and Amersham.

Speaking of which, back in 2019 I also wrote:

There is a good reason why by-election gains are often lost at the next general election. Hundreds of people piling into to help in a by-election can produce exhilarating results, but unless the infrastructure of the local party is seriously strengthened it will be struggling when it is left to its own resources.

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Tories worried about Chesham and Amersham

With so many Lib Dems heading over to Chesham and Amersham to support Sarah Green, it was interesting to read a letter published today in The Guardian. Dr Peter Dawson, a voter in the constituency, writes:

This has long been an ultra-safe Conservative seat, but there appears to be some anxiety among Tories, locally and nationally, about a possible Liberal Democrat win. Boris Johnson has made an appearance here and canvassers have been drafted in from London.

Apparently Rishi Sunak has written to all voters encouraging them to vote for a candidate “who can work with me”. As Dr Dawson says:

Now, I am not a Lib Dem supporter, but I recognise that the Lib Dem candidate is not some beyond-the-pale extremist, so I see no reason why Sarah Green and Sunak could not work together. But perhaps Sunak is not that kind of politician, and perhaps this is not that kind of government.

Most party members will by now have received emails (possibly more than one!) explaining how to get involved.

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Lord Nigel Jones asks question about Eurovision

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We don’t often cover our country’s performance at the Eurovision Song Contest here on LDV, but Nigel Jones (the other one) used it as an opportunity to ask a serious question in the Lords. He asked Brexit minister Lord David Frost:

Is the minister making any progress on negotiating a new deal for the creative sector touring Europe?

While he’s thinking of a plausible answer to that, when he decided in the negotiations to reject the EU’s generous offer and threw touring musicians under a bus, did he anticipate, is he surprised by or does he accept any responsibility at all for the humiliation of our country scoring zero – nul points – in the Eurovision song contest?

David Frost replied:

I am happy to accept responsibility for many things but I don’t think I can reasonably have accepted the effect of the result on Saturday night.

Of course we work to support all our creative industries in the situation that now prevails.

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Geoff Payne to stand down as Federal Conference Committee chair

Geoff PayneEarlier today Geoff Payne announced that he is standing down as Chair of the Federal Conference Committee – the party body, elected by members, which organises our Spring and Autumn Conferences.

He writes on Facebook:

Some personal news: I have decided to stand down as Chair of Federal Conference Committee. I have thought about this for a while and now seems the right time to do so because we have reached a natural pause between conferences. The reason is nothing to do with the party or the committee, or conference. It is simply that I am finding it increasingly difficult to square conference with my professional life and soon I think it will not be possible at all.

I have been Chair of FCC for three years now. Before that, I served as a Vice-Chair for nine years, and as a member for six years before that. That is probably enough for anyone – some would say too much! But those years have been a privilege for me personally.

Conference continues to represent the very best of the democratic traditions of the party. I am proud of what FCC and the Conference Team has achieved, particularly in pulling together the online conference but also in the many in-person conferences that were run before that. There is immense talent on the committee as well as staffing support of the highest standard from the Conference Office, Policy Unit and party at large. I am very grateful for that, and I wish my successor, whoever that may be, the very best of luck.

A number of members have thanked him:

Jon Ball:

Thank you for everything you have done – especially the Herculean task of making the first virtual conference happen. I’m aware of what an enormous amount of your work that involved and of the consummate skill you applied.

Jennie Rigg:

Geoff has been an excellent, calm and capable chair. He was a worthy successor to Andrew, gracefully steering FCC through numerous crises (including one caused by me). He will be very much missed.

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Local lockdowns by stealth?

The Government has been having to deal rapidly with the cock-up over the restrictions in areas where the Indian variant is spreading.

Munira Wilson was in the Guardian today, after confusion reigned in Westminster:

An appearance in the House of Commons on Tuesday by the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, failed to clarify the matter.

“What we’re asking people in those affected areas is to be cautious, is to be careful – so on visiting family, meet outdoors rather than inside where possible. Meet 2 metres apart from people you don’t live with, unless you have formed a support bubble,” said Zahawi. “Yes, people can visit family in half-term, if they follow social distancing guidelines.”

But then he added: “Avoid travelling in and out of the affected areas, as the prime minister said on the 14th, unless it is essential, for example for work purposes.”

In the House of Commons, the Twickenham MP, Munira Wilson, challenged Zahawi about whether her constituents should be avoiding travelling across the borough boundary into neighbouring Hounslow to shop or go to school.

The minister replied: “People need to exercise that caution, that common sense.”

It’s a pity that the Government didn’t follow it’s own advice and act with common sense in the first place.

Layla Moran, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, joined in on the BBC News:

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Why have choirs been silenced this week?


This evening I will be attending a rehearsal with the other members of my large amateur choir (in concert a couple of years ago in the photo). We were looking forward to meeting again in person today – 30 members were going to be able to attend at the school hall which is our usual rehearsal venue, with the rest of us watching on YouTube and singing along. Next week a different group of 30 were planning to go along to the school.

Then on Tuesday we learnt that the guidance from DCMS had changed (see Section 2.4) and that the rule of 6 now applies to in-person rehearsals. Choirs around the country were both shocked, disappointed and bemused at this unexpected change and have had to make rapid re-arrangements, which, apart from anything else, will have financial implications both for their Musical Directors and for their rehearsal venues.

So this evening we will all be meeting yet again on Zoom, just as we have been doing for the last year. As anyone who has tried singing on Zoom will know, the time delays make it completely impossible for everyone to sing at the same time, so we all mute ourselves and sing along to a backing track without hearing anyone else. It’s a poor substitute for singing together, but we have been putting up with it when there was no alternative.

You may think this is a niche concern, but over 2 million people sing with an amateur choir in the UK, more than play amateur football. It brings immeasurable benefits, both physically and in terms of mental health. When I was going through ultra-busy and quite stressful times in my political life the one thing that I continued to do was to attend choir because, as I used to say, “it keeps me sane”.

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Great British Railways?

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Late last night the news broke about the wide-reaching Government reform of the railways. In a couple of years time we will see the establishment of Great British Railways – which sounds more like a reality show, or a travelogue that features Michael Portillo’s yellow trousers.

According to the BBC, Great British Railways “will set timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure”, that is, have control over both the physical network as well as the train operators.

I think we can all agree that the privatisation of the railways has not been a success. Quality has been inconsistent across the franchised rail networks, the fare structure has been a mystery to most travellers and there seems to be little central accountability for failures.

Are we really to believe that a right-leaning Conservative Government is planning to re-nationalise the railways? Undoubtedly the devil will be in the detail, so if you have had a chance to dissect the White Paper, known as by the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, do please offer your comments or write us a post.

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Will the PM eat his ID card?

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In today’s Guardian Marina Hyde has unearthed this quote from Boris Johnson in 2004:

If I am ever asked on the streets of London, or in any other venue, public or private, to produce my ID card as evidence that I am who I say I am, when I have done nothing wrong and am simply ambling along and breathing God’s fresh air like any other freeborn Englishman, then I will take that card out of my wallet and physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded I produce it.

I am reminded of Paddy Ashdown promising to eat his hat in 2015 when the polls were predicting large Lib Dem losses. And of Lib Dem Voice’s former editor, Stephen Tall, who pledged to run down Whitehall naked if we halved our number of MPs in the same election. Stephen, bless him, honoured his commitment, and did the run in full view of TV cameras on a cold Autumn day, although he was permitted a thong. Even Paddy submitted to good humoured humiliation when he ate a chocolate version of his hat on Question Time.

I somehow doubt that the Prime Minister will honour his pledge. But then the requirement for voters to present photo ID in order to be able to vote in a polling station, as announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday, has already met with a great deal of public opposition, so its chances of reaching the statute books are, in my view, quite slim. However, we must not make any assumptions about how it will play out, and we must ensure that everything possible is done to prevent it becoming a reality.

The reasons for opposing voter ID have been covered extensively, but it is worth reminding people that it was blatantly used in some US states by Republicans to suppress Democratic votes.

Any extra complexity added to voting processes anywhere in the world potentially discourages some voters from exercising their democratic rights, and may even disenfranchise them.

In simple terms, voter impersonation (“personation” as it is correctly called) is a vanishingly small offence in the UK, as indeed it is in the US.  The Electoral Commission has published reports which show that 1 person was convicted of personation in 2017, none in 2018, 1 in 2019, and none in 2020 (although very few elections took place last year). This is not a problem seeking a solution.

On the other hand, it is a solution creating a problem.

In a research briefing from the House of Commons Library, we learn that the Electoral Commission had found that around 25% of voters do not have either a passport or driving licence – the most popular forms of photo ID used in this country. By extending that to include other forms of ID, such as bus passes, some 92.5% would be covered. But that still leaves 3.5 million voters without any permissible form of ID.

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Sarah Green selected for Chesham & Amersham

The Chesham & Amersham by-election, following the death of Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan last month, will be held over the summer, although no date has been announced yet. In the General Election we came a solid second, so we will be fighting this with all the energy we can.

Congratulations to Sarah Green who has been selected as our candidate. Sarah is a training and communications professional, and many of you will have come across her at party training sessions.

Here’s how you can help.

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We don’t say “Thank You” enough

We don’t say “Thank You” enough to our Lib Dem councillors, all 2600 of them. We don’t show our appreciation properly in normal times, but especially over the last 12 months, when they have been dealing with unprecedented levels of disruption and stress. A particular shout-out to those councillors who were planning to stand down in 2020 but have been forced to serve an extra year – enjoy your retirement.

We don’t say “Thank You” enough to our 50 Elected Mayors, Council Leaders and Deputy Leaders who have had to take on huge responsibilities for the wellbeing of their residents during the pandemic.

We don’t say “Thank You” enough to our members on the Senedd, Scottish Parliament and London Assembly – only 7 of them in the last session, but all punching well above their weight.

We don’t say “Thank You” enough to the thousands of candidates who are campaigning for election tomorrow. We are really grateful to all of you, including those who are making sure that Liberal Democrat is an option on the ballot paper in areas where we don’t have much hope of winning a seat.

We don’t say “Thank You” enough to all our activists – those who are not enjoying the thrill of standing, but who still offer to knock on doors, print, bundle, deliver, tell, enter data, address envelopes, run websites, train and lead campaigning.

We don’t say “Thank You” enough to all our staffers – campaign managers and organisers. True they are “only” doing their job, but they all do far more than is strictly required and work punishing hours during election campaigns.

So how can we thank them? By getting out there today and tomorrow, and bringing in the vote.

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Liz Barker named in Pink News list

We are in the middle of Lesbian Visibility Week, and to celebrate it Pink News has produced a list of “19 incredible lesbians who’re loud, proud and making the world a better place“.

And alongside the likes of Billie-Jean King, Mhairi Black, and Mary Trump we can find our own Lib Dem peer Liz Barker. The citation is:

Baroness Elizabeth Barker. Lesbian peer and Albert Kennedy Trust ambassador who recently spoke out in the UK’s House of Lords in defence of an inclusive maternity bill.

Liz is our LGBT spokesperosn in the Lords and Spokesperson for the Voluntary Sector. According to the Lib Dem website:

Liz runs a small consultancy which provides strategic business development support to charities, social enterprises and statutory authorities. Liz has particular interest in developing best practice in governance and relationships between third sector organisations and businesses.

Congratulations to Liz and to all lesbian Lib Dems who are out and proud.

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London Mayor candidates in TV debate

The candidates for London Mayor, including Lib Dem Luisa Porritt, will be debating live on ITV this evening.  They can be viewed on the ITV London News slot at 6pm.

#itvdebate

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Reactions to the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer

Liberal Democrats have been commenting on the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer.

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New play celebrates Floella Benjamin’s childhood

Lib Dem peer Floella Benjamin’s book about her life as a child is to be turned into a stage play. In her children’s book Coming to England she wrote about her journey from Trinidad to the UK at the age of ten, and about the racism her family experienced. But, as anyone who has met her or heard her speak will expect, the tale is essentially optimistic and encouraging, providing inspiration to children to overcome their own difficulties.

Floella has written some 20 books and pursued a career as an actor and singer, but is best known as the charismatic presenter of Play School in the 1970s and 1980s. She has used that fame to campaign on children’s issues and has been honoured with a place in the House of Lords as well as being made a Dame.

The Birmingham Rep has announced that it will present the premiere of a stage adaptation of her memoir during its forthcoming season.

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Local elections broadcast


Enjoy!

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Government’s LGBT panel disbanded

Last month three members resigned from the Government’s advisory panel on LGBT issues, which had been set up by Theresa May.

Jayne Ozanne was the first to go. It is worth watching the news clip, in which she reveals that she has also resigned from the Conservative party over this issue.

The main concern of those who resigned was that the Government was not acting as promised on gay conversion “therapy”.

And now Liz Truss has disbanded the rest of the panel, to disbelief and anger from campaigners across the political spectrum.

Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem Equalities spokesperson, said:

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Breaking news: Shirley Williams

We have just learnt the very sad news that Shirley Williams has died, at the age of 90.

Ed Davey said:

This is heartbreaking for me and for our whole Liberal Democrat family.

Shirley has been an inspiration to millions, a Liberal lion and a true trailblazer. I feel privileged to have known her, listened to her and worked with her. Like so many others, I will miss her terribly.

Political life will be poorer without her intellect, her wisdom and her generosity.  Shirley had a limitless empathy only too rare in politics today; she connected with people, cared about their lives and saw politics as a crucial tool to change lives for the better.

As a young Liberal, Shirley Williams had a profound impact on me, as she did on countless others across the political spectrum. Her vision and bravery, not least in founding the SDP, continues to inspire Liberal Democrats today.

Rest in peace, Shirley. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and your friends.

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Lib Dem Council leaders slam decision to end remote meetings

During the pandemic local Councils have been permitted to hold formal meetings online, and this has enabled them to carry on Council business through lockdowns and other restrictions. The Government has now announced that this ruling will be withdrawn after 7th May and Councils will have to meet in person after that date.

This is quite bizarre in the short term because meetings are not permitted under current Covid rules. According to the roadmap, from 17th May groups of 30 will be allowed to meet outdoors, but only 6 indoors.  The earliest date at which meetings could be held indoors would be 21st June. In stark contrast, Parliament will continue to allow remote attendance until 21st June.

But it is also worrying in the long term, since the current practice has made it possible for councillors and members of the public to attend meetings even when they could not physically attend easily for reasons of health or disability.

Some 90 Lib Dem Council Leaders and Opposition Leaders have signed an open letter to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and to Luke Hall MP,  Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government. Here is the text of their letter:

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Ed Davey: We will not support the extension of the Coronavirus Act

Yesterday Ed Davey attracted quite a lot of media coverage when he asked this question during Prime Minister’s Questions:

He explained his reasoning in more detail in an article in The Independent titled Why the Liberal Democrats won’t vote to renew the Coronavirus Act.

He writes:

When Boris Johnson asks MPs to renew the Coronavirus Act on Thursday, he is asking us to give his government a blank cheque to reduce everyone’s rights and freedoms for another six months. No MP should vote for that.

It’s important to remember what this vote is not about. It’s not about lockdown, or quarantine, or the requirement to wear face-coverings – all of which the Liberal Democrats have consistently supported as necessary to contain the spread of the virus and keep people safe.

Despite its name, the Coronavirus Act doesn’t actually include the most important Covid laws. Even though the Act originally passed through the House of Commons on the same day the prime minister announced the first national lockdown – a year ago yesterday – the lockdown itself was implemented through completely separate legislation, under the 1984 Public Health Act.

So what does the Act cover?

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Kirsty Williams’ farewell speech in Senedd

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The Lib Dem Education Minister for Wales, Kirsty Williams, is stepping down from the Senedd in May. She has just given her valedictory speech to the chamber, and here it is:

Llywydd,

It has become a little too fashionable to decry politics, to do down democracy, to undermine our own parliament and government.

Well, I agree it might not be perfect. And I don’t think we’d want a perfect system, empty of the debate and discussion which

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How Lib Dem Councils respond to emergencies

For many years I have groused that Conference makes celebrities of our MPs but ignores our Council Leaders, many of whom exercise far more power than their Westminster colleagues.

Ed Davey gets that, not least because some of us in Kingston have been bending his ear for years. He notably asked Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council (which Lib Dems have held for 35 years or so), to summate on the Carers motion, which was so close to his heart. And he frequently references his wife, Emily, who is the portfolio holder for Housing on Kingston Council.

I am unashamedly reporting on a fringe that not only focussed on local government but also drew on experiences in my own patch. The meeting, held yesterday evening, was run by the Lib Dem group on the Local Government Association, under the title 2020: Managing a crisis and major incidents, from Covid to flooding.

Cllr Ruth Dombey popped up again, ably chairing the session. The panel consisted of the Leaders of York City Council (Keith Aspden) and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Council (Caroline Kerr), with portfolio holder colleagues (Darryl Smalley from York and Tim Cobbett from Kingston). They all emphasised that the strong community involvement and partnership working that characterises Lib Dem run Councils put them in a very good position to respond to the Covid crisis.

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Midge Ure talks about the impact of Brexit on British creative industries

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We were promised a real treat yesterday evening.

Those of us who remember the 80s will know that Midge Ure was the lead singer of Ultravox. Significantly he was also one of the organisers of Band Aid and Live Aid, as well as co-writer of Do they know it’s Christmas. And here he was ‘in conversation’ with the BBC’s Gavin Esler and Lib Dem peer Paul Strasburger at our own Conference.

Of course, he had an axe to grind. If you think Covid-19 has damaged the music industry – and that is certainly true –  it is also reeling from the impact of Brexit. Back in January LDV highlighted the Lib Dem campaign about the huge bureaucracy that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for British musicians to tour and perform across Europe.

Gavin Esler began by stating that the creative industries in the UK are admired across the world – “they are the UK’s soft power”.

All three speakers were keen to explain that the post-Brexit issues not only affect music, across all genres, but also theatre, dance and even trade shows. Touring is the lifeblood of many of the performing arts; and for musicians it is often the best or only way to generate an income, now that streaming has substantially reduced income from recordings. And it doesn’t just impact on the performers but also on the livelihoods of all the support staff.

The difficulties seem to coalesce around two main problems. The first is trucking. Performances given in Europe by orchestras or well-established theatre companies, or by bands playing to large venues, need to move their equipment, instruments, sets, lighting and sound systems in trucks. Under the Brexit deal the trucks are only allowed to do two drops before returning to the UK.  Of course, very many tours will go to more than two venues – indeed they need to do so to be profitable. On top of that a huge amount of documentation is required, listing every item carried by the trucks.

A couple of years ago I was chatting with the Transport Manager for one of the major orchestras in the UK, and was astonished (though I shouldn’t have been) at the complexity of organising a tour across several countries with 50+ musicians plus other staff. One of his aims was to reduce the stress on the artists, so they could perform well. The logistics were challenging then – now they would be almost impossible.

The second problem is obtaining the temporary work visas required by at least 10 European countries for everyone in the entourage – performers, sound engineers, roadies etc. This is a bureaucratic nightmare.

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Updated Agenda and Directory for Conference

You can now read online or download an updated version of the Conference Agenda.

For the first time this includes all the amendments to motions, and they have been inserted after each relevant motion. The original page numbering of the motions has been cleverly maintained by giving the inserted pages numbers like 16B. That means we can all refer to the motions without confusion, no matter which version we have to hand. The updated version of the Agenda is only available online and not in print.

You can also read or download the latest version of the Conference Directory, which includes a number of additions and corrections to the original version.

The two updated documents replace Conference Extra, which in past years covered amendments to motions plus any changes to the fringes, training and the exhibition.

Other papers are available to download:

Consultation Paper 144: A Federal England
Policy Paper 140: Giving Consumers a Fair Deal
Reports to Spring Conference
 

 

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Wendy Chamberlain speaks in the International Women’s Day debate

Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem MP for North East Fife, spoke today in Parliament’s International Women’s Day debate.  She called for action to address domestic abuse and misogyny and reflected on her own experiences as a police officer dealing with sexual offences. Here is an extract:

Here is her speech in full:

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Jane Dodds selected as candidate for Senedd

Jane Dodds, the Leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, has been selected as the top name on the Mid and West Wales list for the Welsh Parliament. At the last Senedd election in 2016 we came very close to winning a seat in this region.

Jane was briefly MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, winning a by-election in 2019, but sadly lost the seat in the bloodbath that was the General Election later that year.

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Assessing GCSEs and A Levels

So, clarity at last about the assessment of GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications in England this summer.

You would have thought that, after the algorithm chaos last summer, consultations about 2021 grading would have begun as soon as we went into the second lockdown at the end of October. By that point it would have been clear that students working towards GCSEs and A Levels in 2021 were going to be seriously affected by the disruptions spread over two school years.

In fact, that is exactly what did happen in Wales, where Lib Dem Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, announced in November that external terminal exams would not be held for the current cohort. Instead teacher assessments would be used, although these could include some assessments which would be externally set and marked. Scotland and Northern Ireland also announced their plans some weeks ago.

Back in England the consultation did not begin until this year, and it is only today that decisions have been unveiled. In the Commons today Gavin Williamson announced that grades will be allocated according to teacher assessments. The assessments will be based on what students have been taught, not by what they missed, and will take a variety of formats.

I welcome this outcome – I have been saying for a long time that the learning of the current students in Years 11 and 13 will be much more severely compromised than those in the year ahead of them, bad as that was. But I do not welcome the timing – the Government has piled further stress on students by leaving this announcement so late. And the stress affects teachers as well; they have been having to revise programmes of learning on the hoof. They now have to rapidly develop assessment procedures at the time when they are fully stretched in preparing for the return of all pupils on 8th March.

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Layla Moran calls for compensation for key workers who have long Covid

Layla Moran has been talking to the media today about long Covid. She makes the case that it should be recognised as an occupational disease, and that compensation should be given to key workers who suffer from it.

She is appearing on Question Time this evening, so she may well take the opportunity to press her argument.

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Local elections to go ahead in May in England

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The Government has confirmed today that local Council and PCC elections will go ahead as planned on 6th May in England, in spite of some lobbying to postpone them.

The option of an all-postal ballot has been ruled out, and Councils are being given an extra £31million to install plastic screens and hand sanitiser. Voters will have to bring their own pens and wear masks.

People who are shielding will be encouraged to vote by post. We have already learnt that the rules on proxy voting will be relaxed allowing anyone who has to self-isolate the opportunity to ask for a proxy vote right up until 5pm on polling day.

Schools will not be used as polling stations this time.

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