Author Archives: David Warren

Dave Warren has over thirty years experience in the UK postal industry both as a front line worker and senior trade union representative. He also has experience of being a full-time carer.

Authoritarianism with a capital A

Albania is a small European country tucked away in the Balkans but for forty odd years from the end of the Second World War its people suffered under one of the most brutal regimes in modern history.

Liberals cherish freedom and liberty, if you want to look for an example of the opposite authoritarianism with a capital A it could be found in Enver Hoxha’s Albania.

In his excellent book Blendi Fevziu paints a graphic picture of a nation in the grip of fear.

Hoxha’s rise to power was in many way accidental, he was handpicked to lead by a representative of the Yugoslav Communists sent to assist the Albanian partisans in the fight against the Axis powers.

Once secure Hoxha stayed at the top by using terror in all its forms.

Torture, execution and murder were used against anyone seen to be an ‘enemy of the people.’

Internal exile was another favoured method of persecution.

Periodic purges of the ruling Communist party were also carried out, so even those who thought they were on the inside were not safe.

Their families were also targetted for persecution.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments

Remembering the SDP

SDP logoThe events that led to the formation of the SDP were also formative years for me as a very young man becoming fascinated with politics.

I can recall Roy Jenkins giving the Dimbleby Lecture and the Labour party conference of 1980 when the left won every vote on key issues such as Europe and Defence.

Then the elevation of Michael Foot to the post of leader an election in which many had thought the moderate candidate Denis Healey would triumph.

James Callaghan had timed his resignation so that MPs would elect his successor before  a conference arranged to discuss changing the method of election was held at Wembley.

Callaghan knew that the conference would adopt an electoral college system widening the franchise to include trade unions and constituency parties.

This change would give a left wing standard bearer a much better chance of winning.

Healey bungled his chances by alienating key moderates and the dye was cast. It wasn’t long before he would face a strong challenge for the deputy leadership from Tony Benn.

By then Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers had walked out of the party taking a substantial number of MPs with them.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 32 Comments

The ongoing fight for social justice

My interest in political history sometimes finds me searching the used sections of the Amazon website for cheap second hand books.

A recent discovery was a fascinating autobiography of Victor Grayson by Reg Groves.

Grayson a working class lad from Lancashire was elected as an MP in the 1907 Colne Valley byelection at the tender age of 25.

He was by all accounts a brilliant orator and passionate about socialism.

This was before the Russian revolution when socialist ideas were rapidly gaining popularity amongst the working classes seeking a fairer system than the one they were living under.

Grayson is particularly interesting because he fought for a seat in parliament independent of  senior Labour figures suspicious and fearful of him.

He was successful but found his time in the House of Commons frustrating, as a lone voice he was isolated and became increaingly aware of the Labour leaderships desire to destroy him.

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

The better angels of our nature

The US state of Alabama went to the polls this week in an election that can hardly have been more polarised.

In what is normally rock solid Republican territory, the GOP candidate Roy Moore faced Democrat Doug Jones. Mr Moore, a right winger opposes abortion in all circumstances, thinks homosexuality is a sin and believes Muslims should not be allowed to hold government jobs.

However Moore’s political views were not what made this race competitive.

The surfacing of allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour was the issue that dogged him during the campaign. It made his principle opponent a contender in a state that the Democrats hadn’t won for decades.

Jones, who has never held office, but is well known in the state for his involvement in a high profile prosecution of Klansmen, was sneeringly described by President Trump as a liberal Democrat in a statement endorsing Moore.

This from a man who with every passing day reminds the Stephen King fans amongst us of the megalomaniac politician, Greg Stillson, from the Dead Zone.

That said these days most Republicans are pretty scary.

You have to go back a long way to find a GOP liberal of the Rockerfeller variety.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 7 Comments

Caring, Bereavement and the Liberal Family

I recently suffered a major bereavement, an event that triggered a decline in my health.

Ten years as a carer has taught me that there isn’t much help out there. That still appears to be the case as I try to cope in a very difficult situation.

Bereavement counselling is only available from charities and there is a three-month-long waiting list.

The alternative is the NHS run Talking Therapies which takes you through several hoops before you can even get to speak to a professional counsellor!

All this whilst dealing with the arrangements for the person who has passed away, which there is no …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

No country for old men?

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the trend was for younger political leaders.

We had Blair, then Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

Our American cousins elected the youthful Barack Obama as their President.

Ming Campbell one of the Lib Dem leaders in this period was thought too old by some and his age was clearly a major factor in his stepping down.

He was 66 at the time.

Oh how things have changed.

Labour’s Corbyn is in his late sixties, in the US the President is 71 and arguably his main opponent the excellent Bernie Sanders is 75!

As Britain’s Liberal party undertakes a leadership election it looks like the septuagenarian Vince Cable may be the only runner.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 30 Comments

A personal reflection on the General Election, its aftermath and liberalism

I allowed my membership of the Liberal Democrats to lapse a while back but I took that decision without rancour.

My involvement had not been passive I stood for local council and campaigned vigorously in other elections.

I liked the party, still do but I just couldn’t live with the position it had taken on Brexit.

Another principled stand by yours truly, one of many over the years.

So as the General Election came upon us my personal focus was on the need to stop the Conservatives winning.

At the start of the campaign their arrogance and swagger was worse than ever and they are pretty bad at the best of times.

My election activity largely focused around the need to get a hung parliament which would then hopefully lead to some form of PR for future elections.

Like many other carers campaigners I wanted to see the future of adult social care high on the agenda, of course Theresa May did that for us with her dementia tax proposal.

A crucial moment in the campaign which I believe contributed in no small way to her losing her parliamentary majority.
On election night itself I stayed up hoping for Tory losses.

The social media campaign to get young voters registered, Corbyn mania and what I felt was a strong campaign by Tim Farron gave me hope.

Posted in Op-eds | 12 Comments

To leave or not to leave – that is the question

 

The EU is in the news and is likely to stay there for many months to come.

My relationship with Europe as a political issue started way back when I was 11 years old. It was 1975 and my school organised a debate on the referendum to decide the future of Britain’s membership of what was then called the Common Market. I spoke for the NO campaign.

After reading my carefully prepared speech, my Father said he would turn me into a politician. I supposed he succeeded.

More than 40 years later we approach another referendum and I have to say I am undecided. It’s been a bit of a journey though!

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

Blue Collar Liberals update

In October 2015 I wrote an article for Lib Dem Voice entitled ‘We Need More Blue Collar Liberals’. Since then I have been attempting to keep the issues raised by the article ‘live’, turning statements by leading figures in our party regarding encouraging people from lower socio economic groups to become more involved in the Liberal Democrats into concrete actions.

These efforts haven’t met with any success so far.

With the notable exception of EMLD, the dialogue has not resulted in anything concrete and a cynic might say that the party hierachy appears more than happy with the comfort zone of the status quo.

This has led me to consider launching a group probably called  ‘Blue Collar Liberals’, (although I am open to alternative suggestions), with the following founding statement:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 30 Comments

What hope for liberalism in the US presidential election?

American history and politics are a passion of mine, so I always look forward to their primary season.

A year when the incumbent President is not seeking reelection is always especially interesting because it means both big parties engage fully in the lengthy process of selecting a candidate. 2016 is such a year.

American politics is unique and finding a viable candidate from what we would call the centre left is difficult. The Republicans have been an almost exclusively right wing conservative party for decades. Even those in the establishment who have resisted the insurgency of the so called tea party can be pretty scary.

Democrats too have shifted rightwards. Bill Clinton founded the ‘New Democrats’ before Blair’s New Labour and, inspite of all the talk of change, the Obama Presidency has turned out to be pretty much business as usual in most areas.On human rights and civil liberties in particular the administration varies little from its predecessors. The prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open and the draconian Patriot Act firmly in place.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Blair’s other legacy

It is inevitable given that it became the issue that defined his premiership – the failed invasion of Iraq will be seen as Blair’s great legacy.

He got plenty of other things wrong too, but for all his words about a progressive majority, his inaction on electoral reform paved the way for majority right wing government.

Had he been brave enough to face down the conservative forces in his own party we could have seen the 1999 Jenkins commission proposals implemented.

He wasn’t.

In his excellent autobiography, Ming Campbell recalls his wife Elspeth whispering to Blair at John Smith’s funeral, ‘Don’t Forget The Liberals’. ‘I won’t’ was the response.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Let’s get some national campaigns going on issues the voters care about

Our Party is all about campaigning. It is what saved the old Liberal Party from extinction and what sustains us in difficult times. I know local parties up and down the country are running campaigns on many different issues, but we lack some important national ones.
What about Europe I hear you say, or the Human Rights Act?

Well, yes, the EU and human rights are important issues and we do have to campaign for them, but they are not high on people’s list of concerns.

Apart from Europe, we have individual initiatives launched by the leader or an MP, which is great. I am thinking in particular of Tim Farron’s prioritising of housing, and Norman Lamb on social care. However we need that little bit extra, something that really captures attention. What I am thinking of are issues where we can get out amongst the voters with a petition and potentially get lots of signature on equally important areas of policy that emphasise our social liberalism.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 18 Comments

We need more blue collar Liberals

There is plenty of debate across the political spectrum about how unrepresentative of the overall population our elected politicians are.

Much of this discussion focuses on the lack of women and BAME people in the corridors of power.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 43 Comments

Time to evaluate the privatisation of Royal Mail

The privatisation of Royal Mail was mooted by all the main political parties and finally happened under the last government.

Like a lot of the public sector, our postal service suffered from years of underinvestment and a failure to modernise.

The political consensus in the Thatcher years, and beyond, became public equals bad, private equals good.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 18 Comments

What a mess – the Labour leadership election

A lot of fellow Liberals, and indeed those from right across the political spectrum, will share my view that the current Labour Party leadership election has descended into farce.

The question is how and why did they come up with such a basket case of an electoral system.

Why not use a simple one member one vote system?

For the answer you have to go back more than thirty years to 1980 when the Labour leader was elected by the parliamentary party alone.

Following the disastrous Callaghan administration, the big unions wanted their say in choosing the Labour leader. At a conference in which they had 90% of the votes, they made sure they got it.

An electoral college was introduced with 40% of the vote reserved for unions which could be cast as block votes for their preferred candidate.

Over time this method came under pressure from both a hostile media and a New Labour leadership, determined to reduce union influence, but still get their much needed cash.

Posted in News | 45 Comments

A liberal century

In many ways the 20th century could be described as a socialist one.

Internationally parties using that label emerged gaining electoral strength, or in some cases,notably Russia, lead successful revolutions.

In Britain, Labour overtook a Liberal Party wracked by division and by 1945 they appeared totally dominant.But as the century ended the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe left socialism of the authoritarian variety totally discredited and the democratic socialist parties in the West struggling to define themselves.

Here Blair created New Labour, dropped Clause 4 and built a new philosophy that turned out to be ideologically hollow. A temporary rise in their electoral fortunes has now given way to what looks like another long period of opposition and the inevitable soul searching that goes with it. Their current current leadership election could even bring about a split.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 50 Comments

Opinion: The future of pensioner benefits

Our pensioners quite rightly enjoy a number of benefits and it was of course a Liberal government that introduced the old age pension over a century ago.

As part of the coalition it was a Lib Dem minister, Steve Webb, who steered through the legislation ensuring the triple lock and the introduction of auto enrolment for those workers without an occupational pension.

Great reforms, but with an ageing population there has been an increased focus on whether we can justify or indeed afford the universal payment of benefits such as Winter Fuel Allowance and free tv licences.

There is also need to focus on the issue of free transport concessions.

In my view, the starting point should be that as liberals we are committed to making sure retired people have a good level of support, but we are not about paying money to those who simply don’t need it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 32 Comments

Opinion: What if ?

In February 1974 Edward Heath called  a snap General Election in response to a second miners’ strike in three years. Heath famously posed the election as a decision on ‘Who Runs Britain’.

Despite opinion polls suggesting he would be returned to office and polling the highest number of votes, the vagaries of our electoral system meant Heath’s Tories not only failed to win a majority of seats, but actually got less than Labour. Historians suggest that the miners’ peaceful pursuit of their pay claim and an independent inquiry finding that there was justification for their dispute, dealt Heath a devastating blow.

The other big story of the election was the surge in the Liberal vote. From just over 11% in 1970, the party increased its share to nearly 20%, but again because of FPTP they only won a few more seats.

We all know what followed.

A weak attempt by Heath to remain in office, followed by a minority Labour government, and then another election which returned Wilson a small majority, the Winter of Discontent, Thatcherism, and all that followed.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

Opinion: The Betting Industry and Animal Welfare

The proliferation of betting shops in our high streets and the associated issue of the amounts gambled on high stakes gaming machines have been the subject of intense political debate recently.

The welfare of animals in the betting industry, I am thinking in particular of racehorses, receives a lot less interest.

I have always been a very strong supporter of the rights of animals, but having developed a keen interest in horseracing a few years ago, I started to examine much more closely the treatment of the non-human participants in what is a multi-billion pound industry.

Horseracing is an international sport, with the top competitors going long distances to chase big prizes.

Two of the big welfare issues are the use of the whip and races that involve jumping over obstacles.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 10 Comments

Opinion: A golden handshake

Jonny Smith, the principal character in Stephen King’s ‘The Dead Zone’, awakes from a coma with the power to see into a person’s future by touching them.

It starts in hospital where he forsees a nurse’s house is on fire with her child in it.

His premonition is correct and the child is saved.

He becomes a national celebrity and is able to help the police solve a serious crime in a rural backwater.

However when he turns his attention to politicians, the fun really starts.

The novel was written in the 1970’s, the era of Nixon, Ford and Carter.

Smith encounters candidate Carter on the campaign trail, shakes his hand and sees that the peanut farmer will become President but encounters no feelings of malevolence.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Opinion: The Liberal Democrats are setting the agenda on health and social care

As the General Election campaign gathers pace all parties are focusing on the future of our NHS and social care, but it is the Liberal Democrats who are setting the agenda.

The announcement of £8 billion of extra funding and thus the challenge to the two big parties to match it, has been met with stunned silence. Combine this with the proposal for a ‘Care Closer to Home Fund’ and you have a party leadership that is getting to grips with what needs to done in this important policy area.

Contrast this with Ed Miliband’s staggering ignorance evidenced by his promise to fund 5,000 extra care workers for the NHS.

Miliband clearly doesn’t realise that care workers are almost exclusively employed by private companies!

Posted in News | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Opinion: What’s in a name ?

 

Having recently finished reading a biography of Charles Kennedy, which covered the merger of the Liberal Party and SDP in detail, I pondered for some time on the controversy surrounding the names and philosophy of political parties.

In the late 1980s the Social and Liberal Democrats or SLD were lampooned as the Salads, the use of the shorter Democrats was unpopular because it omitted the word liberal, so we ended up with the Liberal Democrats – a title that is now long established.

If you look beyond the UK though, the confusion really begins.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 66 Comments

Opinion: Thoughts on some Liberal candidates past and present

The first General Election I can remember was in 1979, when as a fifteen year old I was starting to really get interested in politics.

In my village and constituency (Henley) the Tories were well entrenched, but the Liberals had a level of support too.

The Liberal candidate was a chap called Steven Atack and I still remember seeing a poster advertising him as a speaker at a public meeting in the village hall.

I thought they had spelt his name wrong!

My parents who were Liberal voters didn’t go to the meeting, which I suspect was poorly attended and the Tories swept in.

Wind …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 2 Comments

Opinion: The Trade Union and Workplace Reforms Debate

The issue of the unions and strikes is back in the political arena.

I have lost count of the number of times in recent years that the Tories have called for participation thresholds in industrial action ballots before they can be considered legal. Indeed I commented on similar Tory proposals for Lib Dem Voice back in 2011. This time the figure they are proposing is 40%.

Once again they are focusing on the public sector; this is clearly an attempt to throw some red meat to their supporters.

It is too early to say if this going to be a big issue in the coming General Election. The winter of discontent is a distant memory, and union membership has fallen dramatically since its height in the late 1970s. However all democrats should be opposed to measures that restrict the rights of working people to withdraw their labour.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 40 Comments

Opinion: A life after caring

There are an estimated six million carers in the UK and the system is struggling to provide them with the support they need.

I have written previously about my experience, in which I abruptly had to give up a full time job to become a carer.

The Liberal Democrats have included policies in their pre manifesto that will help, but it isn’t just about carers while they are actually caring.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Independent View: Where Next for Royal Mail?

Royal Mail delivery trolleyWith privatisation done and dusted it was inevitable that the debate about Britain’s postal service would move beyond the public vs private argument.

Royal Mail is now a private company and is likely to remain so. It, of course, faced many challenges regardless of ownership which were certain to surface once it moved into the private sector. One of these is now coming across loud and clear. Namely the requirement of Royal Mail to deliver a universal delivery service to every UK address six days a week.

In response to falling profits, management and union within the company  launched a call to the regulator to require the competition to be bound by the same Universal Service Obligation as Royal Mail. This call has fallen on deaf ears.

Posted in The Independent View | Tagged | 14 Comments

Opinion: Crisis in our social care system, a personal memoir

There is a crisis in our social care system and it needs addressing as a matter of urgency.

I made a public call for cross party talks on social care following an interview on BBC Radio Berkshire last Autumn.

The interview came about because I started a campaign, ‘Crusading for Carers’, aimed at highlighting the plight of carers.

During that interview I was asked what I’d like politicians to do about the growing crisis in our social care system. I was aware of the Dilnot Report and of the cross party talks that took place prior to the General Election so I called for them to …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 5 Comments

Opinion: Trade unions, pensions and Labour

I have been following very closely the pensions dispute as it unfolds and one of my concerns is public sector workers could lose a lot of pay through strike action in what I am starting to believe is a political strike which they cannot possibly win.

I am also a little surprised at the way the government have handled things so far and, as a former national union representative, I have been amazed at times by their ineptitude.

Further confirmation I am afraid that the Tories and sadly many in our party don’t understand the real world of industrial relations.

So why do …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 56 Comments

Opinion: further curbs on unions are wrong and counterproductive

As someone who has been a trade union member since the age of 16 and a representative for almost as long I follow with interest any new developments in industrial relations in our country.

Employment law has been transformed over the past 25 years to the extent that is now very difficult for unions to organise lawful industrial action.

I believe Britain now has the most restrictive labour laws in Western Europe.

Not content with the status quo the Tory right are now agitating for even more restrictions, the principle one being that any ballot for action has to have at least a …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 30 Comments

Opinion: The tyranny of the state and my conversion to social liberalism

I came into politics thirty years ago believing that the abolition of nuclear weapons, private education, health care and a massive expansion of the public sector represented a socialist programme that if implemented would make Britain a fairer country.

All these were Labour party policy and as a socialist I was an active member of the party that was happy to use the ‘s’ word. In fact it looked for a while as though the socialist left were going to take total control of the party driving out the remaining social democrats.

What actually happened was the party moved in the other …

Posted in Op-eds | 60 Comments
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