Author Archives: Mary Reid

Mental health support for children neglected by Government

Some years ago Norman Lamb effectively led the Lib Dem campaign to give mental health equal parity with physical health in the NHS. This did lead to some welcome changes in both attitude and provision, including the creation of new Mental Health Support Teams in schools and colleges in England, which were set up in 2018.  Each MHST would cover some 8000 pupils, and the plan envisioned 500 teams in place by the end of 2024, to cover about half of all pupils.

The MHSTs were a welcome addition to the existing acute Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, offering early support and, hopefully, preventing the escalation of problems to the point where a referral to CAMHs would be necessary.

Then Covid struck, and lockdown is known to have had a marked effect on the nation’s mental health, particularly in children, whose normal processes of growing up were substantially interrupted. Sadly, it also slowed down the rollout of the MHSTs.

Munira Wilson, our health spokesperson, has carried on the campaign for children’s mental health provision and has been gaining some traction. In today’s Guardian she reports on research by the Liberal Democrats that reveals the inadequate state of mental health support in schools.

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LGA Lib Dem elections

The Local Government Association is the national body that represents local authorities in England, and in Wales through the Welsh Local Government Association. Councillors are well aware of its work, though other party members probably less so.  There are four party groups within the LGA – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent.

The Lib Dem Group is currently going through its biannual election process, with places open to councillors in England. The Group has just announced that the Group Leader Joe Harris and the Deputy Group Leader Bridget Smith (pictured) were both elected unopposed.

All the other positions are being contested. These include the Group Chair and Group Whip, plus members of various Boards within the LGA, such as the Children & Young People Board, the Community & Wellbeing Board and the Fire Services Management Committee. Ballots open tomorrow and close on 20th June, with the results being announced on 23rd June.

If you are wondering whether you can vote – the electorate in this case consists of nearly 2800 English Lib Dem councillors in district, county, metropolitan and unitary authorities, plus London boroughs.

Congratulations to Joe and Bridget, and good luck to the other candidates.

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Woking: Lib Dems landed with massive Tory debt

Liberal Democrats have inherited a huge headache from the Conservatives in Woking. The Borough is quite small, with a population of around 100,000, and is located in archetypal Blue Wall Surrey, centred around the busy town of the same name. But as we all know there is now a very large patch of orange stretching across the county, and Woking Lib Dems led the way, taking control in 2022. Since the local elections earlier this month we now hold 20 of the 30 council seats, and our Leader is Councillor Ann-Marie Barker.

It’s important to note that the Conservatives were in control from 2011 to 2019, followed by two years of No Overall Control with a minority Conservative administration.

Now it’s common for an incoming administration to blame the previous one for the problems it faces. But this problem is in a league of its own because, as has now been revealed, the Conservatives racked up a debt of around £2 billion – yes, you read that correctly! That makes Woking the most indebted council in the UK, relative to its size, and Government commissioners have now been sent in.

So how on earth does a small Council, in an admittedly affluent area, get into so much trouble? Yesterday the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published a damning report into the whole sorry affair. It seems that the Council borrowed huge sums to regenerate the town centre.

As a result of past investment decisions, the council has failed its best value duty leaving an unprecedented legacy for the current leadership team, which they have not been able to address.

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Great results for Alliance in Northern Ireland local elections

As we mentioned on Friday, the local elections in Northern Ireland took place two weeks later than the ones in England, so we have been able to focus this week on the progress of our sister party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

These are four year all-in, all-out elections using STV. Wards are grouped into District Electoral Areas which elect five, six or seven councillors, depending on size, so understandably, the count has been quite lengthy in some areas. In total 462 seats have been contested across 11 local councils, and the count was only completed at around midnight last night. I now understand why they moved the elections from the Thursday before the Coronation.

The headline news is that Sinn Féin has surged into a clear lead, with the Alliance also increasing its vote share substantially. The final status of the parties is:

  • Sinn Féin: 144 (up 38)
  • DUP: 122 (no change)
  • Alliance: 67 (up 14)
  • UUP: 54 (down 21)
  • SDLP: 39 (down 20)
  • Others: 36 (down 12)

This pattern is also reflected in the first preference vote share, where the Alliance lies in 3rd place behind Sinn Féin and the DUP, having leapfrogged the UUP and SDLP from fifth position in 2019.

The Alliance’s best result was in Lisburn and Castlereagh, just to the south of Belfast, where they have 13 seats, just one behind the DUP’s 14.

Congratulations on a great showing all round!



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Northern Ireland local elections

When the date of the Coronation was announced some of us were concerned about the impact it might have on the local elections in England – in terms of campaigning and turnout. In the event it didn’t seem to have much effect, but they took the concern seriously in Northern Ireland which is why their local council elections took place yesterday.

There was no overnight counting and results are beginning to trickle in. Of course, the political landscape is rather different in Northern Ireland from England, but as Lib Dems we are watching the performance of our sister party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

All seats are up for grabs – 462 in total across 11 councils. Last time round, in 2019, Alliance lay in fifth position overall with 53 seats, 21 up on the previous election, so they entered this one with some optimism. Voting is by Single Transferable Vote, which, of course, enables smaller parties to make an impact proportionate to their level of support.

As we write Sinn Féin has 31 councillors, DUP has 19,  Alliance has 8, UUP has 4, SDLP has 2 and Independent has 1. No seats have changed hands yet.  When we look at vote share, the Alliance party is lying third with a slight swing towards them in terms of vote. But the main news is that Sinn Féin is surging ahead on vote share with 33% of the votes, even though that hasn’t yet been reflected in an increase in council seats.  However, it seems we will have to wait until tomorrow for the full results.

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Is sewage the new potholes? Ed Davey on the BBC Newscast

Following an excellent interview in the Guardian on Tuesday, Ed Davey has now made an impressive appearance on the BBC Newscast. It starts about 5minutes 30 seconds in.

He talks about the G7 summit and the local elections, but the main topic of discussion is sewage. He says that bill-payers should not be paying for the errors of the water companies, and that some of the practices were illegal anyway and they have not been meeting their legal obligations.

Ed is asked how the Lib Dems can turn the local election surge into success at the next General Election. He thought we might have gained 150 Council seats, but in the event we took over 400.  He is asked the inevitable question about a possible coalition with Labour, and he confirms that there will no deal ahead of the election. Instead Liberal Democrats will be concentrating on winning more seats.

They also chat about the stunts – knocking down the blue wall and the big blue clock. He claimed credit for inventing the Blue Wall concept and his brilliant team for turning it into memorable visual images.

Finally, obliquely referring to the Guardian interview, Ed is asked how he has coped now and in the past with family trauma and his caring responsibilities.  In reply he talks a bit about Emily and John, and about the need for mental health support for carers and for bereaved children.

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Sally Hamwee: “I feel contaminated by the Bill”

Many of us are watching the progress of the appalling Illegal Immigration Bill as it makes its way through the Houses. On Wednesday it reached the Lords for a second reading, and there were some barnstorming speeches from Lib Dem peers. Here are some extracts.

Brian Paddick moved an amendment that would have effectively killed the Bill immediately.

My Lords, Trevor Phillips recently wrote in the Times that, in 2000, 175 million people lived outside the country of their birth and that, by 2020, it was 280 million. He likened the Prime Minister’s pledge to “stop the boats” to King Canute ordering back the incoming tide. He argued that we need to bring order to the flow, rather than focusing on the impossible task of locking the doors to keep asylum seekers out. We agree.

We have yawning gaps in our labour markets that refugees could fill. We believe that we should adopt the approach many other countries are adopting, that responsibility should be taken away from the Home Office and given to the Foreign Office or the Department for Business and Trade and that “Migration is no job for a home secretary”. Phillips agrees. We should be harnessing the power of the incoming tide, not refusing to accept that it cannot be stopped.

The Government talk about “pull factors”. We talk about “push” factors: the intolerable conditions in their home countries that compel asylum seekers to find sanctuary elsewhere in the world. Even in detention in the UK, you do not have to worry about where you are going to live, how you are going to survive without adequate food or water, or whether you are going to be killed or persecuted, or otherwise have your life endangered. Can the Minister say what evidence the Government have that the measures in the Bill will deter small boat crossings?

The Bill seeks systematically to deny human rights to a group of people desperately seeking sanctuary. It would breach our international obligations under the UN conventions on refugees, on the rights of the child and on the reduction of statelessness, and the European convention against trafficking. This is the first, but not the only, Bill that explicitly states that it does not have to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Human Rights Act is being revoked, one law at a time. The Bill would undermine the rule of law, with Ministers able to ignore the rulings of judges. At the same time, we are asking Russia and China to abide by the international rule of law.

I have one final thought. I studied moral philosophy at university. One of the acid tests of whether something was morally right was the question: “What would happen if everyone did the same thing?” Can the Minister say what would happen if every country adopted the approach outlined in the Bill?

This Bill is a low point in the history of this Government and we should not allow it to proceed any further. I beg to move.

Paul Scriven followed Alf Dubs, who was himself a child refugee, saved from the Nazis on the Kindertransport:

My Lords, what an absolute pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is a living example of what happens when a country opens its hearts to refugees and how those people can then settle here and contribute to the future prosperity of the nation that they make their home.

As well as impractical and inhumane, the Bill is ineffective. It is built on the ridiculous premise that the only way to stop the traffickers profiteering is to criminalise their vulnerable victims and treat them in a subhuman way. The Bill undermines our commitment to international law and our obligations under the UN conventions on refugees and the child, and it degrades what it means to be British. It trashes our proud and long-held values and our record, dating back to 1951, on how we deal with those seeking asylum. It undermines our country’s international standing for upholding and abiding by international law.

Susan Kramer, the daughter of a refugee, was particularly scathing about the language used around this subject:

My Lords, I decided to speak today after reading the words of the Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, speaking for the Government to Policy Exchange, demonising migrants and failing to recognise our responsibilities to refugees seeking asylum. He said that “excessive, uncontrolled migration threatens to cannibalise the compassion of the British public”.

“Cannibalise”—what a deliberate and demonising choice of word. He went on: “And those crossing tend to have completely different lifestyles … to those in the UK … undermining the cultural cohesiveness”.

It was deliberately divisive language and certainly not borne out by the UK experience.

I want the Minister today to show me the body of evidence and research that shows how British compassion has been “cannibalised” by asylum seekers and by people like my mother and me. I want to see his evidence of damage to cohesion that genuine asylum seekers, never mind migrants, have inflicted on the UK. I suspect that we will find it has no substance. He needs to show why diversity is a weakness not a strength. Ironically, if the Government continue to argue that migration creates such problems, it should never by its own logic return a single refugee to any country that already has a significant migrant population—and that eliminates most of Europe and indeed Africa, including Rwanda.

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London Lib Dems prepare for the London elections next year

Every four years Londoners elect the Greater London Authority in the form of the Mayor of London and the 25 members of the London Assembly. As it happens the elections due in 2020 were postponed a year, so when the elections take place in May 2024 the current incumbents will have been in place for just three years.

The main focus is on the election of the Mayor of London, which for the first time will be chosen using First Past the Post. In the past there has been a supplementary vote, so voters could express a second preference. That changed with the Elections Act 2022, most remembered for the introduction of voter ID. But there were some other nuggets buried in the Act, including this regressive move away from the supplementary vote for elections for Mayors and Police Commissioners – itself a rudimentary type of PR – to First Past the Post.

The London Assembly holds the Mayor to account, and its 25 members are selected using the Additional Member system.  London is divided into 14 largish constituencies, each of which elects one member to the London Assembly, using First Past the Post.

The 14 constituency members are then topped up with 11 members from the party lists. Voters select one party list – they have no choice about the candidates on each list or the order in which they appear, which will have been determined by the parties themselves using their own internal selection methods.

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The smiles get even bigger

We are now on a net increase of 409 councillors, and the Conservatives have topped their worst case scenario of 1000 losses.

In Surrey Heath – an archetypal Blue Wall area straddling the Thames – we have taken control with 14 new seats coming to us, giving us 21 out of 35. That will give Michael Gove a huge headache tonight as it pretty much covers his constituency of the same name.

Wedged between Lib Dem Mole Valley and Chichester lies Horsham, newly turned bright gold with an increase of 15 councillors.

And we have taken control in Guildford, although some results are still pending.

Home Counties West Berkshire has also fallen into our laps with another superb net gain of 13 councillors. Us 29, them 14 is the score. Next door is South Oxfordshire which has also come to us – we can be sure of that even though there are still 6 seats to declare.

We are also now the largest party in nearby Wokingham, but not quite enough to take control directly.

We have now gained 12 Councils, and held many more. So far we have not lost any.

We are still awaiting the result of the Mayoral election in Bedford, which Dave Hodgson is defending.

And quick look at the BBC’s electoral map reveals that almost the entire bottom right hand corner of England is now under No Overall Control. Many of those Councils were previously held by Conservatives.

The Blue Wall is beginning to look like a Yellow Wall.

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Update on local election results – and I’m smiling, a lot

As I write 179 Councils have declared out of 230, and the news is good! We have increased the number of councillors by 255 and the Conservatives have lost 741 to a mixture of Labour, Lib Dems and Greens. We have gained control of seven councils – Stratford on Avon, Chichester, Windsor & Maidenhead, Dacoram, Mid Devon, Teignbridge and South Hams, and increased our councillors in many others.

A lovely orange banana is appearing down in Devon. At the top geographically is North Devon, where just one gain pushed us to over 50% of the seats. Next is Mid Devon, where we gained an astonishing 21 more councillors, giving us 33 out of 42. Below them lies Teignbridge where we now hold 26 out of 47 seats. And finally we meet the sea again in South Hams where we gained a stonking 9 councillors from the Tories, taking us into control with a clear majority.

Further north in Tewkesbury the Conservatives have lost control and we are now the largest party on the Council – negotiations will follow.

It’s a similar picture in Elmbridge where we are now the largest party, although in this case the Conservatives still lie in third place behind the Residents Associations.

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Voter ID – did it prevent electoral fraud or did it interfere with voters’ rights?

Various reports have been coming in about the impact of Voter ID on the polls.

The first thing to say is that almost all voters got the message and turned up with correct ID. But some didn’t, and that is worrying. Worse still we don’t actually know how many people were turned away in some council areas.

I was telling yesterday in Elmbridge and the council had employed one extra polling clerk at each polling station this time. Their job was to greet voters outside as they arrived, check they had suitable ID and then point them in the right direction. That may sound a sensible idea until you realise one thing. If a voter went inside the polling station without ID then this was recorded by the polling staff; if they then returned with the correct ID and voted then that was, of course, recorded too. So it should be possible to find out how many people were turned away for lack of ID and how many of those returned later to vote.  But where a greeter was employed there was no record of how many were turned away since they didn’t actually enter the polling station.

So I am bound to ask, why did the Council employ this tactic and who paid for the extra staff ? Were they just being kind hearted, unaware of the way it would supress data on those who were turned away? Or were Heads of Democratic Services advised to do this by a higher power?

The BBC has this: Voters express anger at ID rule changes. It includes a case where an immuno-supressed woman was unable to vote because she was not prepared to remove her mask for identification purposes.

Tom Brake, the former Lib Dem MP, is now the director of the Unlock Democracy, which has been campaigning against Voter ID. He is referred to in the BBC post:

(Tom Brake) said his organisation had been tracking social media throughout the day, and that it was clear that a “significant number of people didn’t know about the need for voter ID”.

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Ed has a big blue countdown clock

Victory gathering this morning in Windsor.

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This is a groundbreaking night for the Liberal Democrats. We are exceeding all expectations. We have delivered a hammer blow to the Conservative Party in the Blue Wall ahead of next year’s general election.

That was Ed Davey early this morning BEFORE we heard the result from Windsor and Maidenhead.

Yesterday’s elections were built on the excellent results for the Lib Dems in 2019, so we were being somewhat cautious about our capacity to increase our wins this time. On the other hand the Conservatives had been managing expectations by making out that fewer than 1000 losses on the night would be a victory of sorts. In the event, the night ended with the Tories already down by 228 councillors, with some of the most vulnerable blue wall areas yet to be counted. Lib Dems are already up by 61, and three quarters of all councils are yet to declare.

So what happened in Windsor and Maidenhead? This is what happened:

LDEM: 61.0% (+37.5)
CON: 24.2% (-14.3)
LAB: 14.8% (+2.6)

Just savour that for a minute. We gained 13 seats to take control for the first time, and …

Now I wonder if anyone tried to canvass the King?

So what else has been going on since our last post?

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Hopes for the local elections today in South East England

There are local elections today in districts and unitaries across England, though not everywhere. Areas which have four year all-in all-out elections are not going to the polls, such as London, together with some that have a slightly different election cycle.

These elections are important for us because they are a real test of Ed Davey’s blue-wall strategy, targeting areas where we have come second to the Tories in Westminster. Places to watch out for in the South East are the neighbouring districts of Elmbridge,  Guildford and Mole Valley, all of which lie within Surrey County.

In Elmbridge we are in control alongside some Independent Residents. The district includes whole of Domini Raab’s constituency of Esher and Walton, where we are less than 300 votes behind.

In Guildford we are the largest party and in coalition with a Residents Group. A large chunk of the district lies within the Guildford constituency where the Conservatives have a majority of less than 4,000.

We are also in control in Mole Valley District. The Westminster constituency includes the whole of the District plus some parts of Guildford District, but has remained loyal to the long-serving Conservative Paul Beresford.

Woking District lies adjacent to Elmbridge and Guildford and Lib Dems are in control. And next to that is Surrey Heath, the home of Michael Gove’s constituency and a District Council, where we would love to  increase our numbers.

Further south, we should also be watching Winchester, Eastbourne and Lewes.

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Floella Benjamin will take part in Coronation

Although I haven’t checked the footage I’m pretty sure that there weren’t many black faces around Elizabeth II at her Coronation. It is therefore very fitting that the people we will actually see on the screen during Charles III’s Coronation will be representative of our ethnic makeup as a nation.

Amongst those who will be taking on a role on the day is our own Floella Benjamin, who will be carrying the King’s sceptre with dove, one of the priceless crown jewels used in the ceremony.

Floella is quoted as saying:

To be selected to carry the sovereign’s sceptre with dove, which represents spirituality, equity and mercy, is for me very symbolic as it’s everything I stand for and sends out a clear message that diversity and inclusion is being embraced.

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14,000 hours of sewage dumped last year in chalk streams

I have an interest in chalk streams, or one in particular, the Hogsmill, which lies less than a mile from my home; its tributary, the Bonesgate, runs through my ward.

The Hogsmill rises in Ewell and flows for 6 miles to the Thames at Kingston, having passed by the Coronation Stone where seven Saxon kings were crowned and gone under the 12th century Clattern Bridge. Its name derives from the water mills that lay along its length, and specifically one belonging to someone called Hogg. The mills were used for several purposes, from grinding flour to providing gunpowder for the American Civil War.

Millais worked on his famous painting of Ophelia along one pretty stretch of the river (see photo). He did not ask his model to actually float in the river, but painted the lush background there and more prosaically got her to pose in a bath in his studio.

Another pre-Raphaelite, Holman Hunt, knew the area well. In The Light of the World, which hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral, he depicts Jesus carrying a lamp in a dark wood and knocking on a door that is overgrown with creepers. That door was based on one of the disused mills that he found along the Hogsmill.

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Lisa Smart steps in

Lisa Smart has made The Guardian in a story about an issue we all love to hate – sewage: Sewage-soaked field stops creation of new woodland in Greater Manchester where you can view of photo of Lisa gamely inspecting the mess.

Lisa is a councillor on Stockport Council and our PPC for Hazel Grove. The article tells us:

Plans to plant a new woodland have been cancelled after local councillors discovered a field was so saturated with sewage the soil could be too toxic for the trees.

The woodland was to have been planted in a council-owned field located by Otterspool Road in Romiley, Greater Manchester. Officials hoped the woodland would improve the environment, provide green space and encourage wildlife habitats.

However, Stockport councillors have learned the land is unsuitable for tree planting because of sewage discharges leaching into the ground. They were told the resulting soil contamination would make it hard to plant the trees, so they had decided to cancel the woodland.

And the blame for this stink?

According to Environment Agency data, United Utilities discharged sewage at Otterspool Road 135 times last year, which amounted to 40 days of sewage flowing.

The water company was found to be the most polluting in the country last year. One of United Utilities’ pipes spilled sewage into the River Ellen, near the Lake District, for nearly 7,000 hours in 2022. Environment Agency data also showed that 10 of the country’s 20 pipes that spilled the most sewage in 2022 were owned by United Utilities, which provides water to the north-west and the Lake District.

This isn’t the first time Lisa has looked into sewage. She has been running a campaign on river pollution for some time, and tells us that “Lib Dem run Stockport Council has become the first council in the country to launch an official Sewage Inquiry”, which she is chairing.

The Manchester Evening News covered the campaign with this headline: “Toilet paper hanging from trees…and the smell”: Sewage inquiry launched after water firm pumped filth into river nearly 1,000 times last year.

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Judgement day for Dominic Raab

The Deputy Prime Minister’s problems could come to head later today – or maybe not. The report into the allegations that he bullied civil servants is due to be handed to the Prime Minister this morning. Sunak will then decide on his response which will be published at the same time as the report itself. That could happen later today, or it could be delayed a few days. I don’t think it can be kicked into the long grass.

According to The Guardian “Senior MoJ officials ‘could quit if Dominic Raab cleared of bullying’” – or, no doubt, if there is an attempted cover-up.

Of course, Dominic Raab’s position is of serious political significance, and not just in the Cabinet. His seat in Esher & Walton, which is next door to Ed Davey’s in Kingston & Surbiton, is a marginal Blue Wall seat. In 2019 he took 49% of the vote, with Lib Dem Monica Harding on 45% (with a 27% swing to us).

The constituency lies within Elmbridge District Council, which is currently controlled by a coalition of Lib Dems and local residents associations. When we look at the Council wards within Esher & Walton, only 11 seats out of 39 are currently held by Conservatives, with 10 held by Lib Dems and the remaining 20 by various residents groupings. Next month sees a third of those seats up for election and Lib Dems are campaigning hard to increase their representation.

Esher & Walton has several neighbouring Lib Dem areas – it is bounded by the parliamentary constituencies of Twickenham as well as Kingston & Surbiton, and Richmond Park is close by. Those three constituencies are spread across Richmond and Kingston Boroughs, and the two Councils between them have the largest majority of Lib Dem councillors in the country. Two other neighbouring Boroughs (Mole Valley and Woking) are Lib Dem controlled and to the south lies Guildford Borough, where again we share power with various residents groups.

So Esher & Walton is a perfect Blue Wall challenge for the Lib Dems. We will be watching the results on 4th May with great interest, whatever the outcome of today’s report.

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There is a solution to fly-tipping

Tim Farron has been speaking out about fly-tipping; specifically the fact that only 1 in 500 incidents last year led to prosecution. He claims that it has been “effectively legalised”.

He says:

The fact that fly-tipping is going unpunished is simply appalling. If people aren’t being fined, it’s no wonder that they think they can dump their rubbish on the streets without consequence.

Brits do the right thing with their waste, but a badly behaved minority is spoiling our environment.

The lack of action on this issue from the Government sends out the message that they do not take it seriously enough. They have effectively legalised littering through their inaction.

The Lib Dems take more action against fly-tippers by increasing the cost of the fine and using the profits to crackdown on fly-tippers.

With local elections around the corner, communities must vote to clean up the mess that the current government has created.

Fly-tipping is a good issue for campaigners in the current local elections, because it is visible and no one (apart from the culprits) likes it.

I’m sorry, though, that he didn’t mention some of the innovative solutions that are being used where Lib Dems are in control. It’s not simply a matter of increasing fines – it has to be about identifying and chasing the perpetrators. We learnt about one approach in a recent post from Cllr John Sweeney in Kingston upon Thames, who has a portfolio that includes waste and recycling. “Beyond potholes … addressing fly-tipping is an issue LibDems can campaign on in cities everywhere“.

John explains here:

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Our latest Party Political Broadcast

In case you missed it yesterday, here is our latest PPB, supporting the local election campaign:

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Where are the women?

Earlier this week the Fawcett Society published a report on the gender balance on Councils across the UK. The headline story is that only 36% of elected councillors are women. In only 5% of Councils were at least half of the councillors female.

It gets worse. You might imagine that Lib Dems would be ahead of the other parties on this, but tucked away in the report is the embarrassing fact that only 35% of our councillors are women – a figure below that achieved by five other parties and only higher than the Conservatives and some Northern Ireland parties.

This is a subject dear to my heart, and I have provided training and mentoring across the party on candidate diversity with a particular interest in encouraging more women to stand. In my own local party I have co-ordinated the recruitment, approval and selection of Council candidates for over 10 years, only recently handing on to two other members. Kingston upon Thames is a London Borough so we have all-out elections every 4 years, and this is what we achieved on my watch:

  • In 2014, we lost control to the Conservatives and took 18 seats out of 48, of which 10 (55%) were held by women.
  • In 2018, we regained control with 39 seats, and 22 (56%) were held by women.
  • In 2022, we increased our majority by winning 44 seats, including 20 (45%) women.

Not surprisingly, I was called to account by our local party Executive for the drop in female representation last year. I explained that finding 48 electable candidates during a pandemic was challenging; in fact, the outcome demonstrated the effectiveness of the strategies that we had used in previous cycles but were unable to use during Covid lockdowns and restrictions.

So what needs to be done?

There are four stages in the election of a councillor – recruitment, approval, selection, election. It is easy to assume that discrimination must be at play at each of those stages; but whilst it is important to examine both conscious and unconscious biases we must be careful to avoid pointing the finger at the electorate or our members and instead should examine our own practices.

In fact, using the language of blame, discrimination and victimisation is not helpful. Rather we should be asking what we need to do to encourage women to participate. And we should be concentrating on our target seats, where the real battles lie.

So let’s see what we can learn about each stage, taking them in reverse order.

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Helen Morgan in good form on Question Time

Helen Morgan appeared on Question Time last night – and she was in battling form.

She addressed the first question, on proposals to house migrants in ex-military accommodation and on ships, and said that the way we treat migrants at the moment is  inhumane and shameful.

The next question was on climate change and net zero targets. She pointed out that we did make progress when we had  a Lib Dem Energy Secretary, and we quadrupled the energy output from renewables, but that things had gone downhill since then.

Here she is on the housing shortage …

And here on anti-social behaviour:

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Christmas Tree Bills – and the backlog in the Lords

The concept of a Christmas Tree Bill was new to me. Don Foster has been talking to PoliticsHome about them.

There are very many bills like Christmas Tree Bills, where it’s perfectly possible to move amendments that dangle further baubles on to the Christmas tree.

A very good example of that is the Levelling Up Bill, which really opens up the possibilities for almost anything to be moved as an amendment.

He has been commenting on the backlog in the House of Lords caused by hugely complex legislation making its way through the system.  In particular the Levelling Up And Regeneration Bill has attracted over 500 amendments, earning it this description as a Christmas Tree Bill. The Report stage is now not expected until the summer.

Don said it can be …

…extraordinarily difficult for a government and for the business managers of that government to timetable everything so it works.

You have one further complication which is ‘events dear boy, events’ where things emerge – for example we’ve had the issue around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Having carefully planned well in advance what might be a timetable that works, events come along and things get totally screwed up.

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Why health is the theme for the Lib Dem local election launch

The Liberal Democrats have been analysing the latest data from the NHS. It shows that there are 547 fewer GP practices in England compared with 2019 – during a period when patient numbers have been rising. Now some of those could be due to mergers of practices, but not all, because we also know that GP numbers have fallen as well.

In fact, there are now 850 fewer NHS GPs than four years ago. Remember that in the last election (in 2019) the Tories promised to recruit 6000 more GPs.

Rural communities suffer most from losing their medical centres. There are 206 villages where patients have a journey of more than 5 miles to see a doctor – this figures is up on previous years as well.

We all know that the NHS is in crisis – appalling ambulance waiting times, long waits for transfer from A&E to hospital beds, unnecessary waits for discharge, unprecedented waiting lists for hospital appointments and for surgery.  On top of that there are huge pressures on GP practices, who are the first point of contact for anyone with a medical worry. It seems that over the last year 29% of UK adults have tried and failed to get a GP appointment.

There is clearly widespread anger and anxiety, although most people realise that none of this is the fault of the medical professionals.

Our simple policies of recruiting 8000 more GPs, and giving patients a legal right to see a GP within seven days, will go some way towards addressing the problems.

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Ed Davey: Lib Dems to target Labour voters in ‘blue wall’ swing seats

Ed Davey has been talking with the Guardian ahead of our Spring Conference. He outlines more about the Blue Wall strategy that the party has adopted – targeting parliamentary seats that are currently held by the Conservatives but where we were in second place.

The planned campaign of letters in Conservative-held commuter belt constituencies where the Lib Dems are the main challengers will be intended to persuade Labour supporters to lend their vote – not just as a means to change the government but because “they feel an affinity with us”, Davey said.

The letters, from Davey himself, will set out the Lib Dems’ promise to immediately restore overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, saying it was vital the UK properly supported people in places such as Syria and Afghanistan.

For experienced campaigners there is nothing really new about this, although in the past the party has not always revealed its hand so clearly.

Ed said:

We want to make sure that in seats like these, people who would otherwise vote Labour aren’t voting for us just because we’re the only ones who can beat the Conservatives.

I’d like them to do it because they actually quite like us, and they feel an affinity with us. And I think they should with some of the positions we’ve been taking.

This isn’t being competitive against Labour in these seats, and I’m not trying to say you’re wrong to be Labour inclined. My push is to say: look at the Liberal Democrats. We share a lot in common.

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I can’t remember an actual case of nepotism – strictly offering a leg-up to one’s nephew – but the spirit of nepotism lives on. The word was coined to refer to the practice of mediaeval popes when they appointed family members, usually nephews, as cardinals.  It is used more broadly today to include family members and friends, although cronyism is a variant that specifically refers to friends and associates.

Donald Trump famously practiced the art and gave White House and advisory posts to members of his own wider family (although he actually denied his nephew essential medical care).

Is there a word for favouring one’s father? Not paternalism, which refers to a benign form of dictatorship. Can we invent one, as it seems to be a thing? Maybe paterism?

Anyone in public office who offers jobs or awards to people close to them can expect to be ridiculed and criticised. This is true even where the recipient genuinely deserves the honour – those decisions should be left to others.

As a councillor I was well versed in the need to declare an interest when a proposal was being discussed.  That would certainly have included instances when members of my family or close friends would have been affected, for better or worse, by the outcome. If in doubt we were encouraged to take advice, if necessary from the Council’s Monitoring Officer (usually the Head of Legal Services). If the interest was substantial or pecuniary then I would remove myself from the debate and not vote. This is standard practice in local government.

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Marriage age raised to 18

I must admit that I hadn’t been following the process of raising the age of marriage or civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales, so it rather took me by surprise when it was announced that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 was being implemented on 27th February.  It was introduced as a Private Members Bill by a Conservative MP, supported by the Girls Not Brides Coalition, but quickly gained cross-party support.

We may wonder why such an Act was necessary. After all very few people marry these days in their teens, let alone at 16 or 17.

When I was a teenager I attended a friend’s wedding, when she was just 16. She wasn’t pregnant or forced into the marriage. She later moved away and I lost touch so I have no idea whether the marriage survived. The social and moral context was very different back then – unmarried couples simply did not live together, effective contraception and legal abortion were not available, single pregnant girls were expected to marry or give up their babies for adoption, and sex before marriage, let alone outside it, was socially frowned upon.  In fact, marriage was for many the only way they could enjoy a sex life. It seems like another world!

At that time, the age of majority was 21, so anyone marrying below that age in England or Wales had to have permission from their parents. The rules were different in Scotland so young couples would elope to Gretna Green, just over the border, to get married.

The main intention of the Act is to protect young people from being forced into marriage. There is a wide spectrum of cultural practice, across the world and reflected in the UK, ranging from arranged marriage to forced marriage, sometimes at a very young age.  I can understand why parents might explore their networks, and maybe using a matchmaker, to find a suitable partner for their son or daughter. This may be seen as sensible in a culture where young people have limited opportunities to meet socially, and indeed is not so very different from using a dating app. But most of us would want that to be the potential starting point for a relationship, which either partner could drop out of at any time.

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Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

Happy St David’s Day!

When I was in school in Cardiff we used to hold an eisteddfod on the morning of March 1st (if it fell during the week) which would involve a lot of singing. Then the Governors would graciously grant us an afternoon off.

St David was born and spent his whole life in Wales, unlike the non-native saints of England and Scotland. There is plenty of historical evidence for his existence and his service as archbishop in the sixth century. He appears to have been a modest man living an ascetic life, but a charismatic speaker. His symbol is a white dove and he is known for the advice “Do ye the little things in life”, a good motto for community politics.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for St David’s Day to be a public holiday in Wales. They have tabled a Bill to Parliament which would give the Senedd powers to designate a day as such. St Andrew’s Day and St Patrick’s Day are already public holidays in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Welsh Labour, the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru all support St David’s Day becoming a public holiday, but it has been continuously blocked by the Westminster Conservative Government.

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One year ago today …

Embed from Getty Images

Liberal Democrats have been commenting on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ed Davey said:

Today all of us will be thinking of the Ukrainian families split up by Putin’s invasion. We will be thinking of those who have lost a loved one and those who fight for Ukraine’s freedom.

Over the past year we have seen amazing acts of heroism in Ukraine as well as unflinching unity across Europe and our politics in the UK.

We will never forget the suffering of the Ukrainian people at the hands of Putin’s barbaric regime and we will stand in solidarity with Ukraine until they achieve victory.

Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

Almost one year ago today, our world shifted on its axis as Russian soldiers, tanks and instruments of war crossed the border and rolled into the sovereign territory of Ukraine. It spelled what so many of us had hoped we would never see again- war in Europe.

Putin’s invasion is an assault on diplomacy and democracy, on peace and freedom. In places like Bucha and Irpin, he has sanctioned unimaginable atrocities. He does not belong in the Kremlin; he belongs in the Hague.

As I reflect on the suffering that the Ukrainian people have endured, it has become terrifyingly clear that the liberal and democratic structures we take so much for granted can be so easily taken from us.

That is why we must defend the values that unite us and support our Ukrainian friends as they rebuild their lives so far away from home.

In Scotland, people have shown an overwhelming amount of collective generosity as they open up their homes to refugees fleeing the conflict. I am immeasurably proud of work taking place in my own constituency of Edinburgh Western, where Volunteer Edinburgh have done an incredible job at greeting displaced Ukrainians and coordinating donations, learning centres and other opportunities across the city.

Today, the world remembers everything that has been lost. But we also hope that one day soon, Ukraine will once again enjoy its blue skies of freedom.

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Floella Benjamin highlights dangers to British children’s TV programming

“Legendary” Lib Dem peer Floella Benjamin has always championed children’s issues and this one is dear to her heart. People still ask her what is through the round window (sorry – I know that reference will go over the head of millennials, but it brings back very happy memories for many people older than that).

She is worried that children’s programmes could disappear entirely. The Evening Standard quotes her:

Since the early closure of the Young Audience Content Fund, which offered up to 50% of programme budgets, the amount of newly-made UK commercial children’s content continues to decrease.

The children’s television production sector faces market failure and a huge challenge.

And without funding, television programmes which reflect British children’s lives could disappear from the nation’s screens, this would be a tragedy.

A proposal by the Producers’ Alliance for Television and Cinema (Pact) would help the sector with 40% tax relief. In the Lords she asked:

So how is the Government living up to its responsibility to ensure that the nation’s children are accessing high quality British children’s programming, and will the tax break proposed by Pact be supported to ensure we have more UK commercial public service broadcasting children’s content?

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