Author Archives: Gareth Epps

As well as being co-Chair of SLF and a member of various Liberal Democrat Committees, Gareth Epps is a member of the Fair Deal for your Local campaign coalition committee and is an active member of Britain’s largest consumer campaign, CAMRA. He claims to be marginally better at Aunt Sally than David Cameron, whom he stood against in Witney in 2001.

After the diversity debate: the hard part

Note: you can view the debate here, about 44 minutes in. The agenda for the conference is here and the Conference Dailies which include the amendments for Sunday are here.

On an issue where it is entirely possible to be on either side of the argument holding a position that is Liberal, it is time for all concerned to be respectful of that fact and to acknowledge that the real hard work on diversity is yet to be done.

Like a number of other people, I found myself supporting the Conference motion that included all-women shortlists despite my not supporting all-women shortlists .  I had drafted Amendment 2 to refocus the debate on the entirety of the party’s colossal diversity problem and ensure it wasn’t portrayed solely as a gender problem.

Amendment 2 commits the party to set out to local parties how to use the Equality Act.  It enables winnable seats to choose between candidates of equal merit in favour of those from an under-represented group.  It also commits the party to present the bizarre effect of the Act in not allowing ‘diversity shortlists’ – a concept many liberals would support.

So what next?  Two points have been made by people who opposed AWS that should be acknowledged and acted on, just as the points made forcefully in the debate by speakers from Liberal Youth about wider culture change in the party.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

Conference Countdown 2015: Reforming the way we make policy

Ever wanted to get more involved in how we make policy? Frustrated by the process? Well, now is the time for you to have your say.

On Saturday morning (10am in the Dorchester Suite of the Highcliff Hotel) the party discusses possible changes to the ways we make policy. A consultation paper has been published here ca because one obvious analysis of the way we currently make policy is that it optimises opportunity for those who attend Federal Conference, but could be better at involving those who do not.

I would particularly encourage those not at Conference to read the paper and respond.

Posted in Conference | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Introducing…The Glee Club

Glee Club 2014The hundreds of new members making their way to Bournemouth might be forgiven for wondering about some of the exciting new events in store.

One of those is a Conference tradition that definitely isn’t unsung: the Glee Club. It predates the popular TV show by decades, having been founded when Liberals gathered informally in the hotel hosting the Liberal Assembly. In 1965, Michael Steed and Mary Green, both Young Liberals,produced the first Liberal Songsheet – a long-lost song from that document has been added to almost 100 other songs in the Liberator Songbook, the repository of song now in its 26th edition.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Conference Countdown 2015: How to learn lessons and not blow the EU referendum

In the run-up to Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, we’ll be looking ahead to examine the highlights in the debating hall, the fringe and training rooms. You can find the papers here. You can find all the posts in the series here.

Willie Rennie has finally written a frank and fascinating assessment of the flaws in the Better Together campaign. He draws a number of important conclusions which need to be learned if the EU referendum is not going to fall foul of the pitfalls that beset not only Better Together but in starker and disastrous form the incompetent Yes To AV campaign in 2011. All the articles are well worth a read.

Posted in Conference, Events and Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 23 Comments

Opinion: The Clegg Catastrophe: What the Guardian didn’t mention

The esteemed political journalists Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt of the Guardian have made an interesting, if long contribution to the debate about how the Liberal Democrats ended up in their current predicament.

Interestingly, it says very little about the 2010-12 era when Tim Farron and Norman Lamb chaired the party’s two main committees, the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee respectively.  However, it does shed some interesting light on the internal debate on the central issue that caused the electoral catastrophe: tuition fees.  The tales of what might have happened had David Laws not resigned, and why fees was not debated at our Special Conference, remain to be told.

Perhaps its biggest flaw is the typically lazy conflation of the debate around the party’s as being between “Liberals” and “Social Democrats”: an analogy that should have been buried quarter of a century ago.  As a social liberal and indeed Co-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum from 2012-14 I can testify that plenty of social democrats were on both sides of the debate.

There are at least three areas where the piece is weakly researched or just plain misleading.  All are the result of relying on a relatively narrow number of interviewees.  The full account offers lessons for the new leader as to how to avoid future pitfalls.

Posted in Op-eds | 53 Comments

Opinion: 10,000 reasons to be cheerful

Different people adjust to adversity in different ways.  Some were unwittingly preparing for 8 May for months.  Some didn’t see it coming.  Others may only be starting to sense it now.

All three groups were represented at the informal catch-up I had in Yorkshire last Friday, and all were present at Liberator magazine’s post-election drink last night.  The welcome set of thank-you receptions and new members’ parties will provide the opportunity for catharsis and preparing this fightback.

And it really is a positive thing.  For whatever reason, we have an unprecedented and totally welcome surge in membership.  Some relishing a new future; some doing what I did in 1992 and joining this great party so a shock general election result like that doesn’t happen again.  And many of the rest of us who have had our grumpy moments in recent years are feeling curiously optimistic too.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments

Opinion: Pubs matter so why not protect them in planning law?

Today has seen the third House of Commons debate on pubs in less than three months: rather like the proverbial London Bus. But with the rate of pub closures in the UK still running at 29 a week, a marginal decline from 31 a year ago, communities’ cries for help have been coming along rather faster.  There is a growing issue with pubs being converted to supermarkets in particular.  With long-awaited reform of the industry grinding its way through the House of Lords (where the resistance of Tory peer and former pubco director Lord Hodgson, sometimes rather distasteful, is thankfully proving futile), the focus is now on planning.

The Coalition has for the first time recognised pubs as community assets in national planning law, albeit weakly, and has introduced the Assets of Community Value process which is starting to let a few communities buy their pubs.  A fortnight ago, Lib Dem Minister Stephen Williams announced some additional protection for communities who get pubs listed as an ACV by removing permitted development rights.  But an amendment by Conservative Charlotte Leslie MP, backed by Lib Dem Pub Champion Greg Mulholland, narrowly failed to remove the much-exploited loophole that allows pubcos to sell or lease pubs to Tesco (formerly) and the Co-Op (principally at present) for supermarket conversion that sees often successful pubs close forever.  That amendment reflected Lib Dem policy.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 28 Comments

Opinion: OMOV – think twice

The debate around the Liberal Democrats’ OMOV proposals have somewhat run aground. While its prime advocates have continued to advocate that OMOV is the panacea that cures all the Liberal Democrats’ ills, others point out the significant number of errors and omissions in the plans. Debate on social media generates more heat than light, and in this particular instance far too much name-calling.

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments

Opinion: Why it is wrong to enshrine the “triple lock” in law

pensionsOne of the now regular flow of “policy announcements” from the leadership calls for the 2010 ‘triple lock’ to be enshrined in law.  Passing for a moment over the fact that these “announcements” are of course nothing of the sort and discourteous to Conference which passes policy, (though, to be fair, as Mark Pack and others have pointed out, Steve Webb has been careful to avoid language some others have used that suggests these policies have been agreed without the party having a say), I think it’s the wrong idea.

Why? …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 32 Comments

Opinion: Did SLF call for leadership ballots in The Times? Er, no.

Social Liberal ForumI do not buy any of Rupert Murdoch’s products as a general rule, and this decision seems to have been vindicated by their printing a fictionalised account of a letter printed in today’s edition, actually the Social Liberal Forum’s first statement on the events of recent days.

Our statement  calls for a serious re-examination of party strategy which many of us feel is the key factor behind last week’s appalling election results. It was agreed by the SLF Council who have a range of views about the LibDems4Change petition. For the record, …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 46 Comments

Opinion: Pubs v Pubcos, which side are you on, Mr Cameron?

Dear Dave,

The last time we spoke was in the Tite Inn at Chadlington, a great village pub with a landlord who I and others helped get rate relief for to keep the last pub in the village going.  We know you appreciate pubs – when the phone-hacking scandal was rife, you bolted to Charlbury Beer Festival, though you needed practice at Aunt Sally.  Maybe you’ll have more time to do that soon.

Fast forward a decade or so and you have a big decision in front of you.  With over 100 pubs a month closing due largely to the overpricing …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 19 Comments

Opinion: Do I want a £100 tax cut? Not now, Nick

This morning Nick Clegg has embarked on a major new campaign to press the Coalition Government to increase the income tax threshold by a further £500, taking the first £10,500 of income out of tax. With half an eye to next month’s Autumn Statement, he wants to go beyond the Coalition Agreement.

However, there are problems with this.

The first is the obvious one: it has to be paid for. How will that happen?  Well, with the Conservatives having rejected any further tax on the wealthy and other changes to taxation, it would have to come from additional spending cuts. It is …

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 96 Comments

Orpington Liberals Win London Club Of The Year

Orpington Liberal ClubIt is tempting to headline this as the top Social Liberal Forum! But Orpington Liberal Club, under the stewardship of well-known long-time Liberal Democrat activists Duncan Borrowman and Grace Goodlad has done far more in winning the accolade of CAMRA’s London Club of the Year 2013. Wearing my dual hat, I’m not aware of any Liberal Club that has won such an award, ever. (Please feel free to challenge that in the comments)

Two years ago, Orpington’s Liberal Democrats were struggling to make the club a success and wondering if …

Posted in News | Tagged | 9 Comments

Opinion: Nicht Schadenfreude, sondern Selbstverteidigung*

germany-flagThe exit of the Free Democrats from the German Parliament for the first time since World War II is not just an unforeseen consequence of the spectacular success of Angela Merkel.  It is a significant setback for European Liberalism, even if our German counterparts have for a generation been outriders on the right of the Liberal spectrum.

Some detailed polling shows the significant movement of votes from the FDP to the Christian Democrats .  One significant difference to note here is that the UK Conservatives are notably more right-wing on the economy and environment than their German counterparts in particular, but broadly more liberal on social issues; this has arguably helped shunt the FDP into a cul-de-sac where they are seen as uncomfortably close to some business interests.  The trouble for them, though, is threefold: they:

Posted in News | Tagged and | 11 Comments

Conference: Do the Liberal Democrats want more homes and more jobs?

Do the Liberal Democrats want more homes and more jobs? That and other questions that will get an answer, one way or another, when our Conference debates the economy today (Monday). One of the two amendments tabled by the Social Liberal Forum with support from 100 Conference representatives calls for the Coalition to commence the dramatic increase in housebuilding that the Party endorsed last year.

The barriers to this at present are, as ever, in the housebuilding industry and the Treasury.

The former has by most estimates some 400,000 planning consents at its disposal, assisted by policies that effectively waived the lapsing …

Posted in Conference | Tagged , and | 13 Comments

Conference: Social Liberal Forum at Glasgow

Social Liberal ForumThere is some welcome cause for cautious optimism among Social Liberals on the beautiful train journey to Glasgow (and, indeed, for those observing from the side-lines). A series of pieces, for example in the New Statesman and on Politics Home, by prominent figures reasserting the traditions of Beveridge, Hobhouse and Keynes have helped allay fears about the direction of the party and reminded the wider world we are still here.

The Social Liberal Forum has been busy, too. Yet again a large number of agenda items have had significant SLF input, resulting in a healthy balance to an equally healthily packed Conference agenda.  Here are a few highlights of the agenda and fringe for social Liberals:

Posted in Conference | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Opinion: Getting the facts right on the Living Wage

One of the key battlegrounds on which the 2015 General Election will be fought is living costs, especially for those on low and low-to-middle incomes.  With times tough and the cost of many basic items essential for living having outpaced wage inflation for a decade (according to the most comprehensive study of the subject, led by the Resolution Foundation but with considerable input from business and other organisations) – and with no money left in the public purse – answers are not easy.

The Liberal Democrats have, rightly, chosen to address this by a range of measures, and the key …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 28 Comments

Opinion: Reflections on the Social Liberal Forum conference

slflogoSo what did we learn this weekend?

In several ways, the Social Liberal Forum conference in Manchester has been about celebration. Not only was the weather as glorious as it was when I left that great city as a student; but the work of the SLF in ensuring the delivery of social Liberal policies in Government has been worthwhile, should not be ignored and merits recognition for those who have played a part in it.

We were also – rightly – challenged by Norman Lamb when thinking about public services, …

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

Opinion: A letter to Nick Clegg on the General Equality Duty


Dear Nick,

I am writing on behalf of the Social Liberal Forum to urge that Lib Dem MPs vote tomorrow to uphold the decision of the Upper House to support the retention of Section 3 of the 2006 Equality Act.  Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission itself issued a statement supporting its retention. In making this request we are adding our voices to those of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the Lib Dem Disability Association, and several Lib Dem peers.

On 4th March several Lib Dem peers joined colleagues across the …

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

Opinion: The real split in today’s Liberal Democrats – and how to fix it

As this weekend’s events have proved, the real and fundamental split in the Liberal Democrats of 2013 is not between Liberals and Social Democrats, economic liberalism or social liberalism, centrists and radicals.  It is a real and growing divide between the Party’s leadership and its activists; and that has been thrown into sharp relief by both the result of the Eastleigh by-election and events at Conference.  As Dan Falchikov, with whom I’m in frequent agreement on strategic if not economic issues, highlights, it is an issue that could be very serious if unaddressed.

The reasons for this are broadly twofold.

The …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 42 Comments

Opinion: We need to tackle ‘crony capitalism’ on our watch

The Liberal Democrats’ vision of a John Lewis economy, and an end to ‘crony capitalism’, articulated by Nick Clegg, is welcome. So how does Government need to change?

The answer, it seems, lies in the habitual practices of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and its notorious revolving door to pet trade interest groups. So when the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), the in-house lobbyists of the pubcos that have closed countless community pubs, come calling, the condemnation of the outside world seems not to matter.

BIS ducked the solution supported by the cross-party BIS …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 5 Comments

Opinion: Saving the Pub – an opportunity for Liberal Democrats in Government

In September, the BIS Select Committee unanimously delivered a devastating verdict on the pubcos for the third time running and lambasted them for repeatedly breaking promises to change their business practices. They also found unambiguously that ‘the tie’, as operated by them, is unfair to licensees, many of whom can’t earn minimum wage despite healthy turnover figures; is bad for pub customers who are overcharged for a pint, due to the hugely inflated prices the licensee has to pay for beer; and it is closing pubs that need not and should not close.

The Committee found that, even after four …

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Gareth Epps writes: Don’t fix the conference accreditation process – break it!

I am writing this from the position of having – after two false starts – finally been ‘processed’
or ‘accredited’ by the police in order to exercise my right as a member of this proud and democratic party. This has come after delay, rejection of my form, and increasingly agitated discussion with various people wasting vast amounts of time. Suffice to say that in my 11 years on Conference Committee, I would never have accepted the imposition of such a system. I am possibly luckier, too, than some Conference-goers in knowing how Conference is organised, and who has the ultimate responsibility …

Posted in Conference | Tagged , and | 25 Comments

Opinion: A Bigger Society in Reading

The Big Society is, at best, an abstract concept. Nonetheless, it poses interesting and different questions for Liberal Democrats involved in local government and the voluntary sector.

In Reading, we have taken a principled decision to maintain overall levels of funding to the voluntary sector as part of our Conservative-Liberal Democrat joint administration. In fact, there is a small increase, alongside benefits in kind in the form of low-cost accommodation to the voluntary sector. This is set against a small decrease in the final year of a Labour administration whose warm words about the voluntary sector were not matched with genuine partnership.

The Reading approach, too, is one that is all too rare in other local authorities. In many parts of the UK, such as nearby Wokingham, the voluntary sector has been the subject of some of the sharpest cuts at all, seen as a soft target for cuts. For many voluntary organisations, this year has been the most traumatic for the sector for many years. With so much radical change in the air, community leaders as well as local government have needed to provide leadership that balances an understanding of communities with an understanding of the sector’s needs. Unfortunately some senior national figures with links to the Labour Party, such as ACEVO’s recently-knighted former Lambeth councillor Stephen Bubb, have taken to politically-motivated doom-mongering which is not going to help anyone.

Posted in Op-eds | 19 Comments

A Glee-ful invitation to Labour

In just five days the Liberal Democrat Conference will be gearing up to what for some is the highlight of their week. The tradition will again be honoured of singing songs from the history of Liberalism as well as more recent topical and light-hearted offerings. There will be a brand new edition of the Liberator Songbook with new songs, and I’m sure some offerings to mark the return of Liberals to Government.

A further tradition of the Glee Club is that new MPs ‘do a turn’; we know some of them are regular members of the Glee Club, …

Posted in Conference and Humour | Tagged , , and | 14 Comments

Gareth Epps reviews manifesto conference

Some 500 Liberal Democrats descended on London on Saturday to help set the agenda for the next General Election manifesto. This was a members’ event, so we won’t give away all the secrets here. The day was varied and well thought through.

Others have covered Nick’s speech, which can be read in full on the party’s website; while it contained little that could be described as genuinely controversial, it did beg a question of how the ‘big idea’ – of the decentralisation of public services – will work in practice. Not surprisingly, this theme was picked up in many of the sessions through the day.

Posted in Op-eds | 16 Comments

Opinion: Let’s Get Honest With Ourselves

The departure of Ming Campbell gives a tremendous opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to be honest with themselves: an opportunity that only arises rarely in the middle of a Parliament.

The media will ignore it, but the leadership contest can and must be used by those who have been spelling out the obvious, critical issues of central organisation which are fundamental to the success of the Party, to do so quickly and publicly, before bandwagons get started for any candidate (and I haven’t been contacted by one and will want to see their answers first).

The point needs to be made that even Ming’s strongest critic would not pretend that the issue lay entirely with one personality. There are a number of questions that needs an answer by any candidate worth her or his salt, if we are truly serious about building on the platform of 2005 and going on the offensive from then on.

Questions such as:

Posted in Leadership Election and Op-eds | Tagged | 76 Comments

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