Author Archives: Mary Reid

Coins of the realm

Some people have been asking whether coins and banknotes with the image of Queen Elizabeth will continue to be legal tender. The answer, of course, is yes.

When I was growing up I used to look out for coins from as many different reigns as possible and I kept them safe, so I have just spent a nostalgic hour looking through them again. At the time of the Coronation coins were still in circulation from many years before, and even Victorian pennies would turn up in change from time to time. We looked out for the very rare Edward VIII coins, which I never found.

Not surprisingly I still have plenty of George VI coins, plus ones from the time of George V and Edward VII, and I’m pleased to say, Victoria. They all turned up in my change in the 1950s and 1960s. The oldest one has a portrait of the young Victoria, dated 1891 – you can see it on the right of my photo of pennies and halfpennies.

It seems some Victorian coins are still legal tender, though they are not ones you are likely to have in your purse – gold sovereigns and half sovereigns and silver crowns, originally worth £1, 50p and 25p in today’s money.

Coins are very robust and can survive for 50 years or more. Although new Elizabethan coins, with the pretty portrait of the young Queen, entered circulation they only slowly displaced the ones from earlier reigns. But that was given a jolt with decimalisation in 1971, when coins were minted with the new values of 10p, 5p, 2p, 1p and 1/2p, eventually joined by 50p and £1. Coins with the same values as previous ones (5p = 1 shilling, 10p = 2 shillings) hung around for a while, but the old threepennies, pennies, halfpennies soon disappeared. The pretty little farthing (1/4p) coin, with a picture a wren, the UK’s smallest bird, on the obverse had been withdrawn earlier.

One thing we do know about the new coins which will be minted for Charles III is that he will be facing to the left. Monarchs face alternatively left and right as you can see in the photo, with a gap where Edward VIII should be.

We will be using a mixture of coins from two reigns for many years to come, or at least for as long as coins are in circulation. Most of us are now quite used to presenting credit and debit cards for quite small payments, so there is a question mark about how long we will be seeing them. You might be wise to hang on to a mint collection of Charles III coins when they do appear as they could be quite valuable to collectors in the future.

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The transfer of power

I am not a historian nor a constitutional expert but I was always a bit smug about the way the transfer of power happens in the UK. The evidence from the USA demonstrates that even in long established democracies the handover period can be fraught with danger. In comparison the changes from one Prime Minister to another, and from one Monarch to another, seem pretty seamless here.

The events of the last week have shown me that the processes are not as seamless as I had imagined. On Tuesday, for a short period between the visits of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, full constitutional power lay in the hands of the Queen. We were dependent on her acting in the interests of democracy and the country, which of course she did. Two days later we realised just how risky that short period had been. Although unlikely, malign interventions, or indeed death, could have thrown the process into unplanned chaos.

And then we lost her. Charles was immediately hailed as King and we all assumed that the powers that come with monarchy had transitioned smoothly at that point. But in fact there was an awkward wait until the Accession Council on Saturday, which showed that was not the case.  In Part 1 of the meeting the Council proclaimed Charles as King, without him present – this was the acceptance of him as King by the people. In Part 2, the King held his first Council during which he had to assent to a long list of Orders of Council put to him by the Lord President of the Privy Council, and then take an oath to formally recognise the status of the Church of Scotland.

Is there anyone still alive today who attended the last Accession Council in 1952, or even remembers what it was about? It was held in private and probably did not register in the minds of most citizens at the time. For some historians it has always been a matter of deep interest, but I imagine most of us were simply unaware of its complexities and risks.

Maybe you all knew that already and I am just showing my ignorance. But I think not, as judged by the many comments on social media deploring the ban on political activity until after the Queen’s funeral. At first I too thought it was excessively restrictive, and I fussed about the piles of undelivered Focusses sitting in my home and the dilemmas for people fighting by-elections this week, not to mention the cancellation of Conference. I too thought it was all about showing respect for Queen Elizabeth during a period of mourning, and I sympathised with the view that she would have wanted democratic practices to continue. But the events on Saturday were a revelation and changed my mind.

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Our memories of the Queen

I cried on the day the King died. And I surprised myself when I cried again yesterday when his daughter died.

I’m not an ardent monarchist but Queen Elizabeth has been a constant presence in my life, her picture all around, and her celebrations writ large across the nation. As my colleague wrote yesterday “It is difficult to think of a public figure who has been so well thought of for so long.”

This feels like a seminal moment and a date in history that we won’t forget.

Back in February 1952 the teachers at my school were huddled around a radio one lunchtime, looking very serious. Then we were told the news and sent home. I remember telling my mother that the King was dead but she already knew and was in tears. The words “God save the Queen” sounded very odd to us then, just as it did yesterday when the Prime Minister said “God save the King”.

I don’t remember anything about George VI’s funeral, but we didn’t have a television so it wouldn’t have had much impact on me. But I know that, to the adults around me, it seemed to bring closure to the long dark years of the war and the post-war challenges, as food rationing finally came to an end.

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Helen Morgan poses question at PMQs

Helen Morgan asked a question of Liz Truss at her first Prime Minister’s Questions.

Helen referred to the waiting times for ambulances and said:

Will the Prime Minister get a grip on this grave situation and commission the CQC to investigate the causes of and the solutions to the ambulance service’s delays?

In response the PM agreed that people should not have to wait as long as they are for ambulances, and stated that it was one of the priorities laid out by the new Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey. I suppose that was the least she could have said, but there was no commitment to taking an obvious route and getting the Care Quality Commission to carry out an investigation.

Yesterday Liz Truss outlined her own three main priorities – sorting out the economy, dealing with the energy crisis and making sure everyone can get an appointment with a GP and get the services they need. Given the many problems in the NHS at the moment that third commitment seemed curiously lacking in ambition. Whilst she elaborated on the other two priorities, on the NHS all she said was “We will put our health service on a firm footing.”

No mention of the dangerous delays for ambulances to arrive followed by long, long waits outside hospitals or inside in A&E. No mention of the critical shortage of medical staff. No mention of the backlog in discharges from hospitals because of lack of capacity in care homes. No mention of the huge waiting lists for surgery and other treatments.

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Ed Davey: £10bn energy bailout needed to save the high street

Earlier today we highlighted the impact of high energy costs on schools. And now Ed Davey has turned his attention to the commercial sector – retail and hospitality in particular.

He is calling on the new Prime Minister to set up an emergency support scheme for 1.4 million small businesses akin to those that appeared during lockdown. As we mentioned before, the energy price cap only applies to domestic households, so businesses could find their costs rising by 400%.

His proposal would offer grants of up to £50k to shops, pubs, restaurants and all small businesses to help them cope with huge energy bills. The grants would cover 80% of the increase in energy bills for one year, up to the maximum of £50k.

The cost of the scheme is estimated to be around £10 billion, and this could be covered by reversing the planned tax cuts for big banks. In detail, we are told that would include cancelling the Government’s cut to the Bank Surcharge that is due to take effect in April 2023 and restoring the Bank Levy to 2015 levels, raising £10.6 billion over the next four years.

Ed said:

Our treasured high streets risk being turned into ghost towns and small businesses across the country risk being devastated by sky-rocketing energy bills, but Conservative ministers don’t seem to get it or care.

Local shops, pubs and restaurants could all close their doors for the last time over the coming months unless the government steps up urgently.

We need an energy bailout now to save the high street, rescue small businesses and keep prices down for families. This could be funded by reversing the Conservatives’ tax cuts for the big banks, and focusing on saving our struggling small businesses instead.

There is no time to waste. The new Conservative Prime Minister must bring in legislation to protect families and businesses from soaring energy bills as soon as Parliament returns on Monday.

Makes sense. But will the new Prime Minister have the courage to do it?

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Schools struggle to meet energy bills

The crisis in energy bills is not just a impending disaster for households, but it will also affect all kinds of public and private organisations. Local councils, retailers and leisure centres all face huge rises in their energy costs and are not going to be “protected” by the cap in prices.

There has been a lot of talk about warm hubs (like these in Wales)- public places like libraries, museums and churches which could provide a warm, safe place for cold people.  But how will they afford to heat their own premises?

Schools too are affected.  The BBC reports on one academy trust that runs 11 schools. One of their schools has been quoted a staggering 414% price rise. If that was replicated across all their schools then the total energy bill would rise from just under £1 million to £4.6 million next year. This is on top of the 5% pay rise for staff.  Although the Government is increasing funding to schools it is clearly not going to be enough to meet these unprecedented financial challenges.

The CEO of the academy trust that is featured in the BBC article said:

Schools need to be places that are going to be warm and safe, especially as there are families whose homes won’t be warm.

The problem was echoed in a report in the Guardian. Sean Maher, the Head of one of the secondary schools near me, is quoted thus:

I’m really terrified about what’s going to happen to some of our parents. I’ve been a headteacher for nine years. I’ve dedicated my whole professional life to trying to give young people the very best opportunity to shine and grow and develop. I feel like I’m fighting against the government who are actively undermining what we are trying to do for young people.

How can it come to that in this country? Where we would be asking children to wear coats and gloves in the classroom because we can’t afford the heating? But it will happen. In schools up and down the country teachers will turn round and say: ‘Keep your coat on – we won’t put on the heating until the end of November’.

Now it was Labour who decided to take failing schools out of local authority control and hand them to the charitable sector as academies – and I have some sympathy where the local authorities were not doing a good job. But it was the Conservatives who had a vision for all schools, irrespective of the quality of the support they received, to become independent of local Councils, and to be taken out of democratic control and accountability. Initially academies were standalone institutions, but they quickly learned that they worked best when under an umbrella organisation – hence academy trusts, which are effectively privatised education authorities.

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Energy price rises – are they really here?

So at last we have the announcement that the cap on energy prices will rise on 1st October from £1971 to an unprecedented £3539 pa. That is a massive rise of £130 a month. Or put another way, during the last quarter of this year the cost of electricity will nearly double (from 28p per kWh to 52p) and gas will more than double in price (from 7p to 15p per kWh).

This is completely unsustainable for people on low incomes and comes on top of the huge rise in other costs. For example, food costs for an average family have risen by £454 per year (£38 per month). The impact will not be spread evenly across society – people on lower incomes spend a much higher proportion on necessities, such as food and energy, than those on higher incomes.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation 22% of the UK population are in poverty – that’s 14.5 million. Of course, the actual number depends on which poverty index is used, in this case they use relative poverty, where households have less that 60% of the current median income after housing costs.

The costs of living crisis has been a hot topic over the summer recess, and we should not underestimate the stress it will have caused to so many people. The planned cashback will help but will not meet all the expected rises. So we will be hearing many more stories of people asking food banks for foodstuffs that do not need heating. The Trussell Trust has launched an emergency fund to help people with both food and fuel costs.

So far there is no response from the Government although the Prime Minister will be speaking later today.

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Half of all new primary teachers in Scotland are without a job

Newly qualified primary teachers in Scotland have been the victim of mismanaged recruitment planning.

According to the TES this year only 50% of those who have completed their training and probationary year have found a job in the profession. This has dropped from 77% last year (which was still a rather worrying figure).

And we are not just talking about full-time permanent contracts – the fact is that only half of the cohort will get any teaching job at all, whether full or part-time, permanent or temporary. Many will be forced to take up irregular supply teaching, or to abandon the profession before they have even started.

Within the overall figures, the numbers obtaining permanent posts is falling quite rapidly. Back in 2017, 58% of all newly qualified teachers were given permanent contracts, whereas in 2021 only 32% had found permanent jobs. However, by 2021 there was a marked difference between primary and secondary teachers – 45% of secondary teachers got permanent jobs but only 23% of primary teachers.

All this, of course, makes life very difficult for teachers who were hoping for some stability in their careers, especially those lured into teaching as mature entrants.

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STEM subjects lead the way

The number of entries for different A Level subjects in England makes for interesting reading. The top subject is Mathematics which is way ahead with 90k entries, followed by Psychology (76k), Biology (66k) and Chemistry (55k). In fact those four subjects have been the most popular from 2018 onwards.

STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) have dominated A level teaching for many years. In fact, of the ten most popular subjects, seven (Mathematics, Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Sociology, Physics and Economics)  are STEM subjects.

This is generally to be welcomed, but with a couple of caveats.

First, exam entries do vary by gender across subjects.  I can’t find the gender data for this year, but from Summer 2021 we can see that more girls took the following subject than boys:

  • Psychology: 75% of entries were by females
  • Biology: 63%
  • Chemistry: 55%
  • Sociology: 75%

But more boys took three of the top ten STEM subjects :

  • Mathematics: 39% female
  • Physics: 24%
  • Economics: 31%

The figure for Mathematics is particularly worrying because Mathematics is a basic requirement for so many STEM degrees. The gender imbalance in those degrees is still quite marked. Physics is also avoided by girls – again this is a significant requirement for further study in most Engineering subjects.

And if we look further down the popularity table at Computing, only 16% of entries are by girls. I find this puzzling, having run A Level and BTEC courses in Computing over many years in the 80s and 90s. I can certainly remember a much higher proportion of girls taking the subject each year, and indeed progressing to further studies or employment in the field.

The fact is that girls consistently outperform boys on most A Level subjects (in terms of A/A* grades) including Mathematics, Physics, Economics and Computing. So why are so many girls still reluctant to take those subjects at A Level?

Second, with a preponderance of STEM subjects in the top ten, Humanities and Arts subjects are being squeezed out. This year English Literature has dropped to 12th position. We are all aware that Music and Drama are in serious decline in schools.

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Disabled living in Canada

I have just returned from a very happy two week visit to Ontario with my husband Ian, staying with my brother and attending our niece’s wedding. I have loved Canada ever since my first visit nearly 50 years ago, and have been back many times. Indeed, it is the one country outside the UK where I would be happy to live. The Americans joke about the Canadians – always calm, punctual and highly efficient (and with strong gun laws) – not realising that it is indeed good to live in a liberal democracy ruled by common sense. The country is also stunningly beautiful and we have explored it from Newfoundland to Vancouver, and from Niagara to Hudson Bay.

Canada has a proud record of providing a safe haven for those who have been forced from their homes, from the former slaves who took the Underground Railroad to freedom, to the current policy of welcoming refugees, most recently from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

But Canada has its dark side, highlighted by the recent visit by the Pope. And we also discovered that disabled people have limited rights in law, and their needs are often overlooked institutionally.

This was the first time we had flown anywhere since the pandemic. Ian has a complex neurological condition and we have been using Special Assistance in airports for some years. He has some, but limited, mobility and since our last flight he has started using a mobility scooter and a folding wheelchair which we take with us when we go out together, so we took it with us to Canada this time.

The first thing we noticed in Canada is that there is no requirement for buildings that are open to the public to be accessible. When we ate out in a restaurant we had to phone in advance to check whether we could actually get in with the wheelchair. Once in, few had disabled loos.

But the real struggle emerged when we got to Montreal Airport for our flight home. We had booked Special Assistance through the airline (Air Transat) but we discovered on the airport’s website that they also offered a service from the drop-off point to check-in. To add to the complications my mobility is also limited, but not to the same extent as Ian’s, and I find it impossible to push a wheelchair and all our luggage at the same time. So we filled in the online form to request this support and received a confirmation telling us to report to Door 4 of the terminal at 7pm.

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Trolling the weather

The BBC tells us that their weather forecasters have been trolled about their heatwave reports.

Tweets aimed at BBC Weather and its presenters featured personal insults and messages such as “it’s just summer” – many described advice on how to stay cool as pandering to the “woke-brigade” or for “snowflakes”.

Other tweets accused the Met Office and the BBC of spreading “alarmism” and “hysteria”, telling both to “stop scaremongering”.

Hundreds of people have also shared their experiences of the 1976 heatwave on social media, with many making the false suggestion that this month’s heatwave was “no different”.

BBC meteorologist Tomasz Schafernaker said: “What frustrates me most is when I’m accused of twisting the truth. As meteorologists, we report facts. There is no conspiracy.”

I have huge sympathy for the forecasters who are doing their job with great professionalism. Rather than scaremongering, if anything, they are very restrained in their comments, and rarely explain to viewers directly about the reasons for extreme weather.

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Sunak and Truss on Grammar Schools

Yesterday Rishi Sunak agreed that he wanted to bring back grammar schools. Earlier Liz Truss had said that she wanted to end the ban on new grammar schools.

I find this profoundly depressing.

No-one should talk about grammar schools in isolation from the rest of the education system. They are one aspect of a selective system which sees all children placed in either a selective grammar school or a non-selective school. Each new grammar school generates, by default, at least two other schools designed for those who don’t attend grammar schools.

Such a system is based on three questionable assumptions.

  1. Bright children are not served well by comprehensive schools. (Odd then that Liz Truss got into Oxford from a comprehensive, even though she now chooses to denigrate her old school.)
  2. A child’s educational potential is fixed and can be identified at the age of 11. (This has been thoroughly debunked.)
  3. Selective systems benefit all children and society at large. (Ah, where do we start?)

I was a product of the selective system – as indeed were many people who are still in positions of influence and power, who believe that Grammar Schools gave them a good start in life. At the time it didn’t feel right to me. I went to a Grammar School where I was expected to take O levels and A levels while some of my friends were channelled into Secondary Modern Schools where they were forced to leave at 15 without any qualifications. I knew that they were being educationally disadvantaged and that it would have an impact across the whole of their lives.

In 1965 just 20% of pupils gained 5 or more O Level passes in England and Wales – and they would have all been studying at Grammar Schools. By 1975 the majority of local authorities had moved to a comprehensive system, and improvements in attainments started appearing in the 1980s. Over the years the percentage of pupils gaining what is now known as a Level 2 qualification (5 or more GCSEs with A* to C grades, or equivalent) has risen steadily.  By 1988 it stood at 30%, but by 2015 it was 86% (although it has dropped back a few points since then).  So no-one can argue that outcomes were better under a selective system – it was comprehensive schools that overwhelmingly delivered these results.

And of course there is plenty of research which shows that selection favoured the middle classes. Indeed my feelings of unease solidified when I spent some months in my gap year working for a renowned team who were researching just that.

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2 million unsolved crimes

When the Met Police introduced its Safer Neighbourhood policing strategy in 2004 I was one of many local councillors who warmly welcomed the initiative. And over the years I could witness its effectiveness in driving down crime. It was replicated by Police forces across the country.

The problem was that Neighbourhood Policing was too successful, so inevitably over time resources were reduced because of low crime rates. Whereas before the teams worked solely on ward issues, today they can be pulled away at any time to deal with issues in the town centre. And guess what happened? – crime levels rose again. You can investigate crime rates in London over time here. (I am focussing on London because it’s what I know, but I am sure similar stories can be told across the UK)

So how did it work? In London each council ward was allocated one police sergeant, supported by two or three other police officers and a couple of PCSOs. Their task was to get to know their patches really well and prevent crime. In particular they focussed on low level crime and anti-social behaviour with the aim of leading perpetrators away from criminal activities.

One example comes to mind. There is a small pocket park in the ward which is completely surrounded by homes, and young people liked to gather there. Trouble began when some of them started throwing stones into back gardens causing some damage. Some of the residents contacted me and asked for a meeting with the police as they felt nothing was being done about it.

So one evening about 30 people crammed into someone’s living room and the police sergeant listened patiently for about an hour while they vented their anger and concerns. The residents were convinced that the problem was caused by a gang from outside the area and that punitive measures were needed.

Once they had all said their piece jaws dropped when the sergeant produced a list of the names and addresses of about 20 young people who had been involved. The police knew exactly who was causing the trouble and they had been quietly dealing with it in a way that would not push the young people further into criminality.

He explained that they all lived in the houses around the park and all had been spoken to.  The older ringleaders had been cautioned. Letters had been sent to the parents of the remaining culprits stating that the police were worried that their children were at risk of getting involved with anti-social groups and asking for their support to divert them.

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More historic footage of Liz Truss

Well, the BBC is really helping us to build up our profile of the young Liz Truss. (See Andy Boddington’s post yesterday and mine on Wednesday, with all your comments.)

And guess who she is leafleting with in this video….

Who else can you spot? It even includes a brief glimpse of Glee Club.

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Your memories of a former Liberal Democrat

You will all have learnt by now that Liz Truss was a member of the Lib Dems when she was a student. So we would like to invite our readers to share their memories of her time as a party member.

To kick us off, here is a piece from Liberator Magazine 411 – February 2022 (download it here):


Could the new darling of the Tory right Liz Truss be the first former Liberal Democrat into 10 Downing Street?

Truss understandably draws little attention to her Lib Dem past and several readers who still come across her noted a marked disinclination on her part to reminisce about old times.

A photograph exists of Truss with other members of what was then called Liberal Democrat Youth & Students on a protest against the M3 extension in1994 – one of presumably few occasions on which the foreign secretary and ‘Swampy’ have been on the same side.

LDYS was also opposing then Conservative home secretary Michael Howard’s Criminal Justice Bill which sought to curb protests, though which looks positively moderate compared to the Policing Bill that the Government of which Truss is part is seeking to push through Parliament.

She spoke against the monarchy in the Lib Dem conference debate in 1994, which called for a referendum on its abolition after the Queen’s
death. Truss has since dismissed this as a youthful indiscretion but it might leave Her Majesty unamused were she ever invited to kiss hands. Truss is thought to have joined the Tories in 1996.

One LDYS veteran recalls: “She was always older than her age even at 17 when we first met. Always very ambitious and confident and displays the same mannerisms as she did all those years ago. I don’t think her characteristics are dissimilar to Boris (or are they just typical Tories?”

Another thinks Truss’s politics never changed much being liberal (at least then) on social issues and an economic liberal who was always an admirer of Margaret Thatcher. “I think she has always liked being controversial and is intelligent but says daft things either from lack of thought or to get attention,” he recalls.

And would you like to see that photo? Well, of course you would. Caron Lindsay published it in this post in 2016: Liz Truss as you have never seen her before.

Update: The BBC has found this for us.

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And then there were two …

So the contest will be between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.

The votes for Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt were very close, with only 8 between them.

And now we know that the next Prime Minister is going to be chosen by 160,000+ people who worship the memory of Margaret Thatcher.

Ed Davey used his slot at Prime Minister’s Questions to demand a general election once the leadership election is over.

While Tim Farron commented on Johnson’s final remarks.

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Removing the ban on haggis

Did you know that haggis is banned in the USA? I certainly didn’t. How on earth do American Scots celebrate Burns Night without haggis?

Haggis was banned in the United States in 1971, apparently because it is made from sheeps’ lungs, apart from other unmentionable bits.

I have to admit I don’t particularly like haggis – I usually opt for the veggie version – but am fully aware of its cultural significance.

Jeremy Purvis, aka Lord Purvis of Tweed, is a Lib Dem peer, and he has been suggesting ways to mark the 250th anniversary next year of the ending of the American War of Independence. Yesterday he spoke in the magnificently titled debate on “American War of Independence: Semiquincentennial Commemorations”.

It kicked off with this contribution by the Labour peer, Richard Faulkner, who said:

My Lords, in 1976 there was a state visit by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. During this, they presented a bicentennial bell cast in the same Whitechapel foundry as the Liberty Bell of 1751. They also loaned to the people of the US an original copy of the Magna Carta. Would the Minister like to put on his thinking cap and come up with some equally imaginative suggestions for 2026, which might include, for example, a project run in collaboration with the American Battlefield Trust, to identify and rededicate the graves of British soldiers who rest on revolutionary war battlefields and elsewhere in the United States?

Jeremy Purvis asked:

My Lords, the magisterial biography of the Border reivers by George MacDonald Fraser starts with the inauguration of President Nixon taking over from President Johnson, with Billy Graham giving the eulogy. The Minister references the Pilgrim Society. There was an outward emigration group of Border reiver families after the pilgrims, of less strong character perhaps, from whom so many in America are descended. The story of the Borders, and the story of Scotland, and America is so linked, including Trump’s mother being Scottish – which we overlook.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, the Minister could perhaps think about an aged bottle of whisky, which I know the Minister and I both enjoy, but it is also an opportunity for America to withdraw its ban on haggis. The story of Scotland and America is very strong, so can the Minister make sure it is linked to any of the preparations?

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Forced adoption: mothers demand Government apology

A report published today from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights highlights the cruelty of forced adoptions in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Many women who were went through this, both as mothers or as the adopted children, are now calling for an apology from the Government.

You can download the latest report here: The Violation of Family Life: Adoption of Children of Unmarried Women 1949–1976

As Lib Dem Voice’s resident oldie, I can remember those days. I find it difficult to explain in these more liberal times that negative attitudes towards unmarried mothers ran right across society back then. As it happens, the Chair of the Committee is Harriet Harman, who was a near contemporary of mine at University, so she will also have recollections of life at the time.

The post-war years up until the mid 60s was a period of austerity, as the country recovered both economically and emotionally. Dramas set in that time often project today’s liberal values onto the period setting, assuming that people really were as sexually liberated as they are today but just hid it. I can assure you that was not the case. Not only was there a huge fear of getting pregnant without reliable contraception, but the opportunities for sex were limited for many young people, many of whom lived at home until they married. Couples simply didn’t live together, and girls were expected to be virgins at their weddings. There was huge shame associated with a pregnancy outside marriage.

If a young woman became pregnant she had three options – an illegal abortion, a so-called “shotgun” marriage or birth followed by adoption. Keeping the baby simply was not an option. I knew several girls who chose to have an abortion, got married straight away or whose babies were adopted, but I cannot remember anyone who kept their baby. It would have been impossible to live independently with a baby or young child as there were no benefits available, no jobs and no childcare.

As the report says

The experiences of the mothers and their children are at the centre of this inquiry. They did not, as is often said, give their children away. Unmarried women who found themselves pregnant during this period faced secrecy and shame from the earliest stages. Those who would have seized the chance to keep their sons and daughters with them and brought them up themselves did not have the opportunity to do so. Societal and familial pressures, and the absence of support contributed to thousands of children being taken from loving mothers and placed for adoption.

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Tory Leadership ballot – battles recommence

So we are down to six:

  • Kemi Badenoch
  • Suella Braverman
  • Penny Mordaunt
  • Rishi Sunak
  • Liz Truss
  • Tom Tugendhat

Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi did not make the cut.

What does this mean for Liberal Democrats? We are conflicted here – which contender would be best for the country and which would be better for our party’s electoral prospects?  Boris Johnson was a disaster for the country but a huge asset to us in recent by-elections, but that is, of course, is no reason to want him to stay in post.  I would certainly put integrity and decency in a Prime Minister at the top of my requirements, even though it would probably produce an upswing in Tory support.

Sadly, those on the more centrist or liberal wings of the Conservatives, that is, those we have most in common with, simply won’t find enough support these days in either the Parliamentary or wider party membership. Tom Tugendhat, a liberal Conservative, is likely to reach peak support in the next day or two.

Instead cultural warriors like Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman and Liz Truss represent the beating heart of the Conservative party – who will the MPs coalesce behind?

But what of Penny Mordaunt? – described as the dark horse of this contest. She is seen by some as a social liberal, but economic conservative, who seems to stand outside the normal rhetoric.

And then there’s Rishi Sunak, in a class of his own. Too many right wing connections, too much reckless spending during the pandemic (though matched by beneficial furlough schemes and, close to my heart, the Cultural Recovery Fund), too little understanding of the impact of his actions on the poorest members of our society, and too much money of his own – no wonder he appeals to the Tory faithful.

What’s your take on the race?

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Those Votes of No Confidence – latest

Earlier today we reported that the Government had refused to allow time for Labour’s Vote of No Confidence motion.

There has been a surprising development in the last hour, according to the BBC.  The PM has allowed a different motion of confidence specifically in the Government, not in him personally, which will be debated next week.

Lib Dems have been quick off the mark and announced that they will table an amendment to the motion, to allow MPs to vote on whether they have confidence in Boris Johnson staying on as Prime Minister.

Our Chief Whip, Wendy Chamberlain, said:

These are desperate tactics from the Conservatives who are looking to duck scrutiny for propping up Boris Johnson.

Conservative MPs risk a major public backlash if they refuse to listen to their constituents who want Johnson gone now. Voters across the Blue Wall will not forgive Conservative MPs who continue to stand by Boris Johnson after all the damage he’s done to our country.

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PM blocks Vote of No Confidence

Politics Home is one of the many media platforms covering Boris Johnson’s reaction to the Vote of No Confidence motion proposed by Labour, and supported by the Lib Dems.

It quotes Erskine May:

By established convention, the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of a motion tabled by the official Opposition which, in the Government’s view, would have the effect of testing the confidence of the House.

Instead, the Prime Minister has refused to allow the debate.

Although it was unlikely that the motion would have been passed, it was seen as a marker of the concern felt by many over Boris Johnson’s continued presence in No 10 over the summer.

It seems the refusal to allow the motion is based on a rather legalistic interpretation of the rules. The actual wording of the motion is this:

That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government while the Rt Hon Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip remains Prime Minister.

A Government spokesperson claims that it isn’t valid “because the Prime Minister has already resigned”. Well, we all know that, but clearly the motion is referring to the interim arrangements – the two whole months between his resignation and the installation of a new Prime Minister. This transition period can work smoothly in the hands of a person of integrity, and I include many former Prime Ministers in that, but is a dangerous period for democracy in the hands of someone shown to lack any moral compass. No wonder he has been compared with Trump – which is exactly what Ed Davey said in response:

This sounds more like Donald Trump than a serious British Government.

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Support grows for a no confidence vote in Parliament

Last month, around the time of the Tories’ own internal no confidence vote, Ed Davey called tabled a no confidence motion in Parliament. At that stage it had no hope of succeeding, but was clearly stating the Lib Dem position on Boris Johnson as PM.

Today Angela Rayner is publicly voicing support for the idea.  She says Labour will call for a no confidence vote if Boris Johnson is still in post on Monday. Ed Davey has said he will back it.

Of course, the motion will only succeed if it some disgruntled Tories vote for it – but there are quite a few of them at present.

All this is designed to put pressure on the Tories to do the decent thing and make sure Johnson exits No 10 at the earliest opportunity. Here is Ed speaking this morning on Sky News.

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Boris Johnson to resign – reactions

Unbridled joy? Schadenfreude? Anger?

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More resignations

Since our last post on the subject three junior ministers have resigned –  John Glen (Treasury Minister), Robin Walker (Minister for school standards) and Will Quince (Minister for children and families). Joining them are one more Tory aide and one more Trade envoy.

So that makes five Tory aides, four junior ministers, two senior cabinet ministers, two trade envoys and the vice-chair of the Conservatives. (Just need another cabinet minister to make it singable)

On top of that several more backbench MPs have sent letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee.

PMQs should be interesting.


One more junior minister joins the exodus – Health Minister Jo Churchill.

Further update

Two more junior ministers go – Victoria Atkins (Justice Minister) and Stuart Andrew (Housing Minister). Plus one more PPS.

Seven junior ministers, six Tory aides, two senior cabinet ministers, two trade envoys and the vice-chair of the Conservatives.

And another update

Six more junior ministers have gone – Julia Lopez (Culture Minister), Lee Rowley (Business Minister), Alex Burghart (Education minister), Neil O’Brien (Levelling up minister), Kemi Badenoch (Local Government minister), Mims Davies (Employment minister). Plus three more PPSs.

Thirteen junior ministers, nine Tory aides, two senior cabinet ministers, two trade envoys and the vice-chair of the Conservatives. (Sorry, that exceeded my musical expectations)

And more

Two more junior ministers have exited – Rachel Maclean (Home Office minister), Mike Freer (Equalities minister).  Plus 3 PPSs.

And the BBC is reporting that a posse of Cabinet ministers is arriving at No 10 to tell the PM to resign.

What next?

The showdown is going on in No 10 as we write.

In the meantime, the lastest stats are:

Fifteen junior ministers, fifteen Tory aides, two senior cabinet ministers, two trade envoys and the vice-chair of the Conservatives. Can someone write a tune please?

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The Greased Piglet

Thought you might enjoy these whilst we wait for further developments.

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And a partridge in a pear tree…

Another junior minister has resigned. That makes a total of nine resignations this evening – four Tory aides, two senior cabinet ministers, one junior minister, the trade envoy to Kenya and the vice-chair of the Conservatives. (That almost works to the tune of “The twelve days of Christmas”)

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Two million extra people in higher tax bracket

Since the General Election in 2019 two million extra people will have found themselves paying tax in the higher income tax band.

Now my first reaction to that news was to think that, when there are serious levels of poverty, then taxing the wealthy is the way to go. But a comment in the Mirror by former Lib Dem MP (and Pensions Minister) Steve Webb made me think again:

Paying higher rate tax used to be reserved for the very wealthiest, but this has changed very dramatically in recent years.

The starting point for higher rate tax has not kept pace with rising incomes, and the current five-year freeze on thresholds has turbo-charged this trend.

People who would not think of themselves as being particularly rich can now easily face an income tax rate of 40% and around one in five of all taxpayers will soon be in the higher rate bracket.

So although it is not the most pressing issue while dealing with the cost of living crisis, it certainly deserves some attention. And it rather undermines the Conservative vision of a low-tax society.

Christine Jardine has issued a statement:

It is time Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson stopped taking the British public for fools. You can’t call yourself a low-tax Government then hike them to record levels.

Britain’s squeezed-middle is being crushed by a barrage of tax hikes.  Britain needs an emergency tax cut before its too late for millions of families and pensioners on the brink.

This Government has proven itself to be completely out of touch with the cost of living crisis and people will never forgive them for these tax hikes.

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Populations up and down – bad news for some local authorities

The census data on population in England and Wales makes for interesting reading. The media have homed in on the changes in age profiles and the impact these will have on various public services, especially the NHS and adult social care.

But my attention was caught by the changes in population at local authority level, because government grants to local authorities are based on population. The specific timing of the census during the pandemic means that the population figures may not accurately represent the situation once it is over.

You can read the ONS report here. It usefully includes this interactive map which shows the changes in each local authority.


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Victory Rally in Tiverton

You can watch this live (or on catchup) from 11am today on BBC News or Sky News.

“It’s time to show Boris the door”


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While you are waiting …

While you are waiting for news from Tiverton & Honiton we can also offer you some encouragement from two other elections, on top of the excellent result in Highley in Shropshire.

First, from the London borough of Kingston upon Thames. Last month Lib Dems had a resounding victory by winning 41 of the 45 council seats. But the contest in one ward, New Malden Village, was deferred after the death of an independent candidate just a few days before polling day, leaving the three seats still vacant.

This created a rather odd campaigning environment – our squeeze message evaporated as there was no danger of another party taking control. Predictably, opposition literature emphasised the fact that people could now abandon tactical voting and vote with their hearts. The other parties also homed in on the very small opposition on the Council, which needed to be strengthened – a fact which had also worried the Lib Dems, as we have always seen Scrutiny as a function of the opposition.

This is traditionally a Conservative facing area, the small Labour representation having been wiped out completely in 2010.

So we are delighted to report that not only did we win all three seats convincingly, but the Conservatives were knocked into third and fourth places by a coalition of Greens and Independents.

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