Author Archives: David Warren

David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

New Europeans

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So we are talking about the European Union again.

Some might say we never stopped but the decision we make on this issue at this weekend’s Federal Conference is one of the most important the party has made in many years. In doing so I hope those present bear in my mind that, although the overwhelming majority of Lib Dem activists and members are pro EU, that is not the case amongst the electorate at large.

Conference fever, something I am all too familiar with, resulted in the adoption of the Revoke policy last year; a decision that no one at the top of the party seemed to be in favour of after a disastrous General Election defeat.

What needs to be understood is there is a strand of euroscepticism in Britain that stretches back decades, which is why we didn’t join the Common Market when it was formed and also why Harold Wilson held a referendum in 1975. At that point it was probably fair to say that there was majority support for economic links with our European neighbours; I would argue that it is quite likely that there still is. The transformation of the market into a political union was never put to the people and after Maastricht in 1992 British euroscepticism took on a new lease of life which culminated in the 2016 decision in favour of Brexit.

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Green Growth

Given our current low poll rating, a number of fellow Liberals have expressed concern that we might soon be overtaken in popularity by the Green Party, some have even taken an interest in joining them. We certainly face competition from the Greens for the votes of those looking for an alternative to the old Conservative/Labour duopoly so they cannot be ignored but how much of a threat are they really? Well, internationally Greens have been making progress in a number of countries in the wake of the accelerating climate crisis, in places like Germany, Australia and New Zealand they are the third party in parliament, helped of course by the fairer voting systems that are used there. So what is the position here in the UK and should we be worried? On the face of it, we are well ahead with 11 MPs to the Greens 1 and our local government numbers at 2,500 dwarfs theirs which stands at less than 500. The only place where they have built a significant base in Brighton where they have their single MP and a sizable council group which has included a spell running the authority. A period that was not without controversy, including as it did a confrontation with its workforce and a failed attempt to fight government funding cuts.

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The road map to 2024

We are all heartily fed up with this government but unfortunately we are likely to have to put up with them for some while yet. When we do get the chance to kick them out which will probably be sometime in 2024 and we need to be in the best possible shape to do so.

Right at the top of the list has to be some level of cooperation with the Labour Party. Having spoken to hundreds of members during the recent leadership election I can testify that there is overwhelming support for this regardless of which candidate was being supported. Both Ed and Layla set out a similar vision as to how this could work and that needs to be put into action ASAP. It doesn’t mean the withdrawal of candidates anywhere – that would be counterproductive – but it does mean trying to re-employ the approach so successfully deployed by Paddy Ashdown in the run up to the 1997 General Election. Of course the price for us must be a firm commitment to electoral reform.

The other lesson we must learn is that building any relationship will take time, so we need to unite behind our new leader and give him time. I appreciate that many fellow Liberals found the result personally devastating. As an enthusiastic supporter of Layla I was disappointed but I am determined to put it behind for the greater good; millions of our fellow citizens are suffering under this cruel government and we need to get them out.

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Smells like team spirit

Now it’s all over I can write about it and what a few weeks it was. Signing up with team Layla was one of the best things I have done in a long time.

Having met Ms Moran back in 2017 at a local party AGM I had pledged to support her in the event that she decided to run for the party leadership so impressed was I by this charismatic young Liberal Democrat MP. I should say I am not easily impressed, starting out in politics aged 16 has led to a certain level of cynicism in this 50 something guy. So I signed up and over the course of the contest made my contribution which mainly consisted of watching the hustings and phoning members. The latter gave me a fascinating insight into our party in various parts of the UK. Hundreds of calls to Scotland failed to uncover another Warren. I know they are there just maybe not in the Liberal Democrats.

The campaign was good for me because after years as a family carer it gave me a purpose. Everyday I was able to make my contribution and the only thing that got put on hold was the gardening. Most evenings we had a zoom event get together organised by the excellent Jason Johnson which really helped build team spirit. We got to know each other and bonded in a way that helped us strive to achieve more in the days ahead. Relationships were built which I hope will endure and our skills were utilised in a way that led on to discussions about how a lot of us felt underused by the party. I very much hope that will change in the future.

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A love that dare not speak its name

On a quiet evening recently I watched the 2015 film “Carol” which is set in the 1950s and based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith.

The “Carol” of the title is a wealthy middle aged woman in a marriage that is breaking up, who has a four year-old daughter she adores. On a pre-Christmas shopping trip she meets a young shop assistant, Therese, and they have a connection. Carol’s husband, who she is divorcing, knows that she has had same sex relationships in the past and uses this as part of a custody battle – citing her ‘immoral behaviour’ to secure sole custody of their daughter.

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Winning the working class

Back in 2015, I wrote an article entitled ‘We Need More Blue Collar Liberals’ which generated a decent amount of comments and responses from some of the MPs I contacted notably Alistair Carmichael. However, nearly five years on my one-person campaign has seen no real progress. The party nationally appears to have stopped talking about people from lower socio-economic backgrounds when it talks about diversity. There is quite rightly plenty of talk about inclusion particularly in relation to the BAME community, the recent Thornhill report makes much of this but in an election review where Labour’s famed Red Wall collapsed not to us but the Tories the working class don’t get a mention. In many ways, mistakes that were made 100 years ago are being repeated as Liberals appear to fail to understand that success in progressive politics means reaching out to the majority of voters who academics classify these days in letters and numbers.

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Liberalism in lockdown

I confess that when lockdown began I was like many feeling pretty low. I had been planning to get more involved in political activities as the year progressed and that looked like it was going to have to be put on hold for some weeks. My favourite sports were cancelled and the library was closed! So I watched the news, went for my daily walk and hunted for home food delivery slots on supermarket websites. My village set up a helpline for vulnerable people which I volunteered to help with and that has been a very rewarding experience.

Then I discovered the joys of online meetings and in the past few weeks I have taken part in so many I have simply lost count. I have heard all three candidates for party leadership and a variety of other inspirational speakers. ALDC has organised webinars which I have found really informative given my plan to be a local election candidate in the future, and I haven’t just restricted myself to Liberal themed events. The Young Greens had a number of interesting talks open to non party members and I have joined others from across the political spectrum. As a result I have attended more political meetings in this period than I have in 40 years of activism.

As lockdown eases and we edge slowly towards something close to normality I really hope the option of online meetings is continued because they are so accessible. I particularly welcome the proposal to have an online Federal Conference this Autumn which will open up the event to more members than ever before. I hope the party will also look at using Zoom for policy groups and other meetings that are usually London based. The possibilities are endless.

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Going back to Grimond

The party’s General Election Review has certainly generated plenty of debate and goes on to make a number of useful recommendations which I hope will be followed. However for me a key issue is that we are coming out of a long period where we abandoned our radicalism and we need to rediscover it. At the 2010 General Election we fought on a manifesto that could attract a wide range of voters either disillusioned with New Labour or sceptical of David Cameron’s Conservatives. This was a continuation of the strategy adopted by Paddy Ashdown and it resulted in a 23 …

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The Swinging Sixties

My mother tells me that I watched England’s victory in 1966 but given that I was only two years old I don’t remember doing so. Ten years later the BBC screened a replay which I watched with my late father and enjoyed greatly. Over the weekend the same broadcaster revived its recording of the General Election night in 1964 and I was able to feed one of my other passions politics. The broadcast followed a similar one last week from 1959 and for amateur historians like me they are fascinating.

A lot changed in that five year period, MacMillan the victor …

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Ten years of living with the Black Dog

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My first encounter with what I call the black dog was in the early months of 2010, not long after I went off work the previous autumn. I initially rebuffed my GP’s offer of antidepressants. That was partly because of a misplaced idea that it would be an admission of weakness to start taking drugs and a concern that being on them might adversely affect my ability to care for Daphne, who was seriously ill.

Eventually the pressures of caring and the feeling of isolation resulting from having had no contact from work colleagues led me to a point where I felt I needed medication. The first course of tablets the Doctor prescribed made me feel really ill (I can’t remember their name) so she switched me onto a different one. After a few weeks they started to help me cope better and in December of that year when my personal work situation was more or less resolved I felt well enough to stop taking them. Unfortunately I wasn’t told to taper the withdrawal, and going cold turkey was tough. That said, I managed fairly well eventually.

My next encounter with the medication came in January 2015. By then Daphne was in residential care, her condition deteriorating and my attempts to obtain some sort of part time role at my old work were going nowhere. Those were the triggers, this time it took longer for me to feel any real impact. In fact, I would say it was between 12 and 18 months. In addition on this occasion my sleep was badly disturbed and I was also given tablets to help with that. By the summer of 2017 I felt OK and again began the process of coming off the tablets this time in stages. Then my Daphne died which was hard and I started going through a bereavement process. I continued with the withdrawal.

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Things we hold dear

Like many the lockdown left me searching for things to do in this unique situation.

A search on the Film 4 website took me to the complete series of the hit US comedy Seinfeld so I decided to work my way through it knowing that it would make me laugh as it did 25 years ago. Throughout the series there are passing references to sport and politics which got me thinking about both in a somewhat unusual way.

Seinfeld is set in New York, a city that lost its iconic baseball team the Brooklyn Dodgers back in the late 1950s when the owner moved them to Los Angeles. Thousands had packed into the Dodgers stadium for decades but that didn’t save it from the wrecking ball.

Here in the UK too stadiums and teams have also been consigned to history. In my home town of Reading the football team I have supported since childhood moved grounds in 1998 and, although it was within the same borough, I always missed the old place where I stood on the terraces engrossed in the action. Worse still, the town’s speedway club Reading Racers, twice British champions, saw their stadium close in 2008 with promises from the local council to find a new one coming to nothing. Racers fans are still waiting. Now the economic crisis brought about by Coronavirus threatens the existence of many more sports clubs.

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Clap For Carers Must Be Followed Up With Action

We have all witnessed or better still participated in the clap for carers initiative which has grown out of the current crisis. I am sure that the carers themselves are lifted by our support. However what they really need is practical help, something that the government has been slow in coming up with. 

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A question for the new Labour leader

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Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer has gained a lot of publicity recently for stating that he will tackle Anti Semitism in his party but he has been silent so far on the existence of organised Trotskyist groups within the ranks of the party he now leads.

Trotskyist entryism dates back to the 1930s when Leon Trotsky advised his supporters in France to join the Socialist Party with the aim of winning new adherents. Ever since then democratic socialist parties have been targets for entryism.

In the 1950s British Trotskyists split over whether to infiltrate Labour, with Gerry Healy’s faction going in initially as a secretive group known simply as ‘The Club’ then more openly as the Socialist Labour League. It eventually won control of Labour’s youth section before the party’s National Executive Committee took action.

The forerunner of today’s Socialist Workers Party followed Healy’s supporters into Labour as the International Socialist but didn’t stick around long.

Then came Militant, the most successful so far, who by the 1970s had, like the Socialist Labour League before them, won control of the youth section. It went on to have thousands of ‘supporters’, three of whom were eventually elected as Labour MPs. Militant flourished because the left in the party was strong particularly on its National Executive, where people like Tony Benn resisted any attempts to take action against them. Eventually Labour acted but it was only after years of Militant operating openly and growing.

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Memoirs of a moderate man

Those of us of a certain age may have some recollection of John Grant as a Labour MP who defected to the SDP but he was much more than that.

In his book Blood Brothers: Division and Decline of Britain’s Trade Unions he paints a vivid picture of a life in the Labour movement, part history, part autobiography. Born in 1932 in Finsbury Park Grant became a journalist eventually working for the Daily Express as its Chief Industrial Correspondent. In that role he covered a number of high profile strikes, the political climate in which they occurred and rubbed shoulders with a host of prominent union leaders.

Moving on to be a Labour MP his media skills were utilised both by Harold Wilson and  his successor James Callaghan. In the 1974-79 Labour government ministerial office came his way as a Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of Employment. In that job he played a part in piloting the 1976 Race Relations Act through parliament, increased wages council enforcement  and introduced measures to help more disabled people into work. He was also the minister who authorised work permits for Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa when they signed for Tottenham Hotspur.

His personal relationships with union general secretaries were often utilised to good effect. On one occasion he was asked by Wilson to make an urgent phone call to Ray Buckton leader of the train drivers union ASLEF urging the postponement of a rail strike in the middle of a General Election campaign.

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The making of a Liberal

A recent conversation amongst colleagues from the Social Liberal Reform regarding the need to reaffirm the history of Liberalism and what we are all about got me thinking about my journey. It is undoubtedly an interesting one! Growing up in a family that voted for the old Liberal Party I took a different route as a young man, first becoming mainstream Labour than a supporter of its left-wing and simultaneously a committed trade union activist. When I lived in Newbury in the early 1980s, the Liberals were viewed by us socialists as people who had usurped the Labour vote which prior to 1974 had been high enough to be the primary challenger to the Tories. In 1987 when I ran as a council candidate, I was pleased to be facing just a Conservative, no Alliance competitor to muddy the waters I thought. When the merger occurred, I was surprised at how what I then viewed as a collection of the middle of the road moderates could fall out so badly. Then came Blair and New Labour. Prior to 2005, I met the two Lib Dem candidates for the Reading seats Denise Ganes and John Howson; their pitch was more radical than that of the party I still belonged to.

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Classic Winners

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It was nearly twenty years ago that a very special lady got me interested in the sport of kings by asking me to place a bet on a horse called Legal Right tipped by the Guardian columnist Marcel Berlins. It was a success and from then on I was hooked.

In the years that have followed I have improved my knowledge of the game immensely and It is around this time of year that my excitement really builds in anticipation of the start of a new flat season. The first of the four classics are run in early May and we see how the previous autumn’s two year old stars have trained on. This time around the ‘Boys in blue’ at Godolphin have a really smart prospect called Pinatubo who I am sure they are anxious to unleash. Their rivals across the sea in Ireland at Ballydoyle will have their own plans to add to their impressive haul of winners.

All that said, as with almost everything else my thoughts often turn to the politics of racing. I am afraid to say we are unlikely to find many high profile Liberals amongst the stars of the sport. Having read interviews with Frankie Dettori I can confirm that he is most definitely a Tory. Rachel Hood wife of his current employer champion trainer John Gosden applied to be Conservative candidate for West Suffolk (the Constituency that includes Newmarket) awhile back and I know from my time as a resident of Newbury that the other big racing centre Lambourn is also a true blue stronghold.

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After Orpington

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In 1962 the best days of the Liberal Party must have seemed like a long way behind them. Decline had been the order of the day for decades, byelections were not scenes of success, a lone win in 1958 at Torrington being their first gain since 1929! The National Liberals who had split way remained a separate force propped up by the Tories and despite a new leader breathing some life into the party the national share of the vote at the previous General Election had been less than six per cent with only six MPs returned.

Then came Orpington, a suburban constituency whose Conservative incumbent had been appointed to a judgeship causing a byelection. The Liberal candidate was the young Eric Lubbock who had been elected as a local Councillor a couple of years previously. The Tory government was going through a period of mid term unpopularity not a surprise given they had been in office for some time. However nobody expected them to lose but they did lose in a spectacular fashion. A swing of over 20% saw Lubbock turn a Conservative majority of over 14,000 into a Liberal one of more than 7,000.

After the result there was much talk of it being an indication of the changes that were place in British society and the existence of a new type of voter Orpington man who shunned the class based politics of the two major parties. The expected Liberal revival didn’t quite materialise but the 1964 General Election an election which Labour won with a wafer thin majority did see an increase in both the share of the vote and the number of MPs.

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Death In The Afternoon

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Just before I was born my parents made the decision to move from their home town of Reading to an isolated South Oxfordshire village which is where I grew up.

My widowed grandmother also joined us which was great as I was very fond of her. I attended the local primary school which on the whole I enjoyed, reading was a passion.

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An Arsenal Of Democracy

In 1940 US President Franklin D Roosevelt coined the phrase ‘An Arsenal Of Democracy’ as a reaction to the twin threats of Fascism and Communism in a time when large parts of the globe were living under brutal dictatorships. That century had seen the Bolsheviks triumph in Russia, the Nazis in Germany and the Francoists in Spain. Portugal was under authoritarian rule, and France invaded by the Germans lived under the yoke of Hitler’s appalling regime. In Europe, Britain stood alone in what were the darkest days of WW2. It wasn’t until America entered the war that the tide started to turn and with the war eventually won democracy was restored to many of the places that had lived under authoritarian rule. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc, 45 years later, brought freedom to even more countries and some celebrated ‘the end of history’, but they were wrong. In many ways, 1990 could be viewed as a high point.

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Crosland The Social Democrat

I first became aware of Tony Crosland in 1980 when I watched a TV documentary covering that year’s election for the Labour Party leadership in which Michael Foot narrowly defeated Denis Healey. The programme profiled a Labour MP whom it said had voted for Crosland in the previous contest four years earlier. I later discovered that he came last in that poll garnering only seventeen votes from his fellow parliamentarians, I wrongly concluded from that mere statistic that Mr Crosland wasn’t much of a figure in the Labour Party. How wrong I was.

In fact, from his entry into politics as a young man in the 1940s to his untimely death in 1977 Crosland was a key figure on the progressive centre-left. First becoming an MP in 1950, he went to serve as a minister under both Wilson and Callaghan in a variety of departments ending as Foreign Secretary. His passing resulted in the fast track promotion of one David Owen to that role which some might argue made Owen such a key player subsequently.

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Conference!

Over a period of more than 30 years I have attended a lot of conferences including those of the Anti Apartheid Movement, Communication Workers Union, Trade Union Congress, Labour Party and most recently the Liberal Democrats. In my time as a CWU activist I sat for a term on its conference arrangements committee. My first Lib Dem conference was in 2012 and I really enjoyed the experience. I was particularly struck by the democratic nature of it. One delegate, one vote, no executive trying to sway us and no top table packed with party big wigs.

However, as we approach another …

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If Winter comes

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When Shelley wrote ‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ in his celebrated poem ‘Ode To The West Wind’ there are some who speculate that he wasn’t just talking about the seasons. The late Paul Foot attempted to claim Shelley for the left in one of his many books and there is little doubt the poet was a radical voice of his time.

So taking that theme to a political interpretation, it could be argued that those of us who stand opposed to the reactionary forces of Conservatism have been through some pretty heavy weather recently.

The important question now is what does Spring look like for us?

Well, as a liberal party we have been written off many times over the years but we have survived despite the prophets of doom and I would argue that we are in a pretty good shape right now in a time when we are needed more than ever. The recent General Election, although disappointing, did see our national vote go up and with it our number of potential target seats next time. I am positive about the local elections due in May this year and am confident our Lib Dem candidates will do well.

Looking forward we have to present to the wider electorate a policy programme and image that makes us relevant to their concerns.

Posted in Op-eds | 16 Comments

Labour, Starmer and Stalinism

The Labour Party leadership election is underway, with Keir Starmer the current front runner. This particular election is the first where candidates require not just nominations from their fellow MPs but also constituency parties, trade union and other affiliated bodies. The nomination process has already demonstrated that Stalinist political practice is alive and well in the ‘people’s party’ with the UK’s largest union, Unison, backing Starmer without any consultation with its membership. Transport union TSSA have proudly announced that they will give their members a say but only offer a choice between two candidates, Sir Keir and Rebecca Long Bailey. …

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We need to seriously address the issues of work

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Back in 1980 I entered the world of full-time employment as a sixteen year-old school leaver. Relatively secure jobs, with pensions and other benefits (in my case luncheon vouchers), were the norm. Thirteen million people were in trade unions.

But the Thatcher revolution was just beginning. It involved targeting those unions which the self-styled Iron Lady said had become too powerful. As a clerical assistant in the Civil Service, I ended up being involved in one of the initial battles when the government refused to implement the recommendations of an independent pay review body. We went on strike and lost. Others followed, notably the printers and miners, who also lost.

The industrial landscape was being redrawn and times they were changing. After my stint in the Civil Service, I spent 25 years in Royal Mail, where I lived through a heavily unionised workforce grudgingly accepting erosion of pay and hard-won working conditions. For those in non-union workplaces it was usually worse, particularly where jobs were privatised.

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Is it time for co-leaders?

We are all reeling from what was a very disappointing set of General Election results.

Personally I was hoping for at least 15 per cent of the national vote share and a substantial increase in the number of MPs, but it wasn’t to be. On a night of losses I was particularly sad to see Tom Brake defeated. I had the pleasure of meeting Tom back in 2016 and I know he was an excellent constituency MP.

Of course, the headline loss was our new leader Jo Swinson in Dunbartonshire. I can’t help thinking that the pressures of having to head up a national campaign was a factor in her defeat. Clearly she wasn’t able to spend as much time in her constituency given the need to travel the length and breadth of the country spreading the party’s message. That was something she did with distinction. I was particularly impressed by her performance in the Andrew Neil interview, where she matched him very well.

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Time for an electoral pact with Labour

So the Tories have won again, no surprise there then, they usually do under our grossly unfair electoral system. The question is what do we do about it if we don’t want to see the Conservatives win power more often than not in the future.

Having a split opposition composed of centre left parties standing in every constituency against a right wing one is a recipe for further disasters. If we look at history we will see that on the majority of occasions when the Tories have been kept out of power have either been when there has been one dominant centre left party or when there has been some kind of electoral arrangement.

It was the Liberal Party back in the early part of the last century that recognised that the emerging Labour Party was going to damage its electoral prospects if something wasn’t done. What followed was a deal where in certain constituencies there was only a Labour or Liberal candidate facing the Tory not both.

Of course over time Labour supplanted us as the main opposition and the first Labour government only happened due to Liberal support in the commons. During that brief administration serious discussions were held regarding a change to a proportional voting system for Westminster elections. It is a tragedy that they failed.

It is no coincidence that the period of Labour’s high tide also coincided with the nadir of British Liberalism. Since 1974 Liberals have once again been a significant force in our nations politics and the Tories have benefited.

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Back to the future

I have spent a fair bit of time in recent years studying the history of the Liberal Party.

One period that particularly interests me is the years following the end of World War One when Labour replaced the Liberals as the principal opposition to the Conservatives in this country.

There were a number of factors that contributed to this, not least the very damaging split in the Liberal ranks between Asquith and Lloyd George factions.

The widening of the franchise and a growing working class also worked in Labour’s favour. Once it had been relegated to third place there was no way back for the Liberals and in the 1950s the party nearly disappeared altogether.

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I now know I have PTSD and it is Liberating

I am not quite sure when I first encountered the ‘Black Dog’ but he has pretty much been on the premises for the last ten years. The crash as I like to call it came on 9th October 2009 when the pressures of a full-time job and caring finally took their toll. I remember waking at 3 am, not normal for the heavy sleeper that I always was back then. A trip to the GP surgery, anti-depressants and eventually counselling followed. On Christmas Eve 2010 my employment situation was finally resolved with a redundancy package and with the caring position fairly stable I began the process of coming off the tablets.

In the next five years my sister died aged forty, Daphne’s health worsened resulting in a move to full-time residential care and the senior officer at my old job gave me the run around after I suggested a return in a part-time role. Pretty hard to take from an organisation I gave my life to for more than twenty years. 2015 brought a return to the medication and when Daphne died in 2017 eventually some more counselling. With everything that had happened to me, the professionals had difficulty in identifying my condition so in the circumstances the focus became my recent bereavement.

It was only in the winter of 2018 when I accessed the Time To Talk service again that PTSD was mentioned and everything fell into place. The trauma caused by my work situation was still haunting me particularly through nightmares, whilst the pain of bereavement was easing. Bingo, this new diagnosis was uniquely liberating. On the downside, I waited months for the specialist counselling. The fact that someone has put the finger on what was causing my illness was strangely uplifting.

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Liberalism Down Under

Australians recently went to the polls and elected a Liberal government. Unfortunately, Down Under the Liberal Party is a conservative body firmly fixed on the centre right of Aussie politics who with their allies the Nationals (previously known as the Country Party) have been in power for the majority of the country’s history. If it isn’t them in office, it’s Labor.

So what is the current state of our particular brand of liberalism in this part of the Commonwealth? Australia uses AV for the lower houses of its Federal and State parliaments while Upper Houses or Senates use STV, and the …

Posted in Europe / International | Tagged and | 10 Comments

Men of honour

There comes a time when even the best of us decide in is time to exit stage left. We saw that this week with both Norman Lamb and Vince Cable announcing that they will be standing down from parliament at the next General Election. I am sure many will agree with me when I say they will be sorely missed.

It was my pleasure to meet Norman at a Lib Dem conference during his time as a Health Minister. In fact he might have thought I was stalking him given the fact that I attended and spoke at  four fringe meetings dealing with the issue of social care! He has been a consistent voice for reform of that system at the same campaigning on issues including mental health and drugs reform. He is clearly hugely popular in North Norfolk evidenced by his surviving the electoral wipeout in 2015.

Vince is also saying goodbye to parliament and although I have never met him in person I feel I know him from reading his excellent autobiography Free Radical. Like me he came to this party from Labour and what an impact he has made. Everyone remembers his brilliant from ‘Stalin to Mr Bean’ remark in the commons during the Brown premiership but there is also his prediction of the financial crash, a successful period as Business Secretary and most recently taking on the leadership at a very tough time for us. He is departing on a high following excellent electoral successes. He even found time to champion the need for reform of the law on assisted dying.

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