Author Archives: Jamie Dalzell

Let’s get our messaging right on Revoke…

Sadly work commitments meant that I could only spend the weekend in Bournemouth this year, but it was well worth the travel (even the post-Disco train journey home). I was impressed by our new MPs and struck by the time they were spending with members as they build connections within their new political home.

I did manage to stay for the Europe debate and although I am happy with the final result, I did think that the opponents to ‘Revoke’ did win the debate in the hall, if not the vote. Niall Hodson (rising star) and Simon Hughes (established hero) were especially memorable and raised clear and credible concerns regarding this sudden shift in policy position. Sadly I do not think their comments were properly addressed during the debate and this left real concerns with some groups within our party; especially I suspect those from the social democrat legacy who rightly raise concerns over how such a divisive position may damage to our communities. It also does not help equip our activists with the messages needed to combat the inevitable attacks we now face from Labour and the Tories.

At the same time, I have been canvassing over the past two weeks, including tonight, and I am personally very comfortable in being able to defend this General Election position with voters on the doorstep. My own conversations currently focus on the two main lines of attack we currently face.

From Labour, we are now seeing accusations that we are overruling the will of the people as unthinking extremists no more tolerant than Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. Notably they are going to some lengths to misrepresent our position missing out some rather key information. It is therefore very important that we note:

  • As a party we are still prioritising delivering a People’s Vote ahead of a General Election.
  • However, due to Labour’s failure to support a People’s Vote over the past three years, it does now look most likely that we will have a General Election.
  • Therefore, in that scenario we are going put Remain on the ballot paper by recognising a MAJORITY Lib Dem government as a mandate for revoking Article 50 (and stopping this unbearable madness as quickly as possible).
  • Labour MPs in remain areas (including my own) are talking about revoking Article 50 but only to select groups in the now standard approach from their party in which they will say whatever they think the people you want to hear (our MP has also argued for a Norway model and supported Labour’s Brexit plan in the indicative votes earlier this year).
  • We are therefore being honest and clear; setting ourselves up in a strong position to support Remain in a referendum whilst giving the electorate a choice and a chance to Stop Brexit now.

From the Anarchist Party (formerly known as the Conservatives), there are similar attacks on “defying the will of the people”, but with more focus on this being somehow undemocratic. My response in these conversations are:

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Rory Stewart: you were honest with the Tory Party about Brexit, now it’s time you were honest with yourself

Dear Rory, 

As the only person standing for the leadership of the Tory Party (“Conservative” must now surely be considered an oxymoron) who recognises how much damage Brexit will cause our country, I was saddened to see you knocked out of the contest yesterday. 

I will not go as far as saying I would vote for you; fundamentally I only vote for people who will stop Brexit and address the real problems in this country through root and branch reform of our own broken political system. However, I did very much respect your open and honest approach with Brexit supporters and the clear way in which you explained the fundamental problems that are yet to be addressed by this failing government.

Sadly your Party appears to have chosen to “believe in the bin” and are duly committing themselves to the trashcan of history. 

However, although I admire the honesty of your campaign, I also think you have been naïve. Although, you have recognised and communicated the problems of ‘no deal’ Brexit, the only solution you were able to offer was to ratify May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Like many others, I don’t see the DUP, Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Lib Dems, Greens or ERG suddenly shifting position because of a People’s Assembly. However, even if you managed to get the deal through Parliament and avert ‘no deal’ in October, I believe this would only be a very short-lived stay of execution. Any such agreement would become the new rallying point of the Faragists and we would just face another battle to try to save a weaker agreement in which we are already relegated to being a rule-taker.

Fundamentally, I believe this is an attempt to appease the unappeasable. Such efforts actually only serve to undermine our work to crystallise support for a People’s Vote and rally opposition against the media-dominant isolationist agenda. 

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A fairer formula for schools: it’s not just about funding

In the face of Brexit and a Trump Presidency, our communities face a period of crisis and uncertainty. We therefore must continue to focus attention on supporting and improving school’s here in the UK so that our young people are as well-equipped as possible to adapt to this rapidly changing world.

Aside from the distracting nonsense of Grammar Schools, the Government is pursuing ambitious reforms to the national schools’ funding formula. The second stage of their consultation was published on 14th December and, having campaigned for such reforms for several years, there are many aspects that I welcome. However there are also concerns surrounding the potential 8% real-term cuts that are being imposed nationally by 2019-20.

With all this in mind, school funding is likely to become the focus of debate in education, but, I believe, that we may end up further overlooking a far more important issue that is currently driving our education system into crisis: the understaffing of UK schools.

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The Ebola crisis – we need to hear about the heroes

Two years ago, I was quarantined. Following a trip to Nigeria (and the privilege of working with the DFID funded ESSPIN programme), I returned feeling a little unwell and, before I knew it, people in biohazard suits were bundling me into an ambulance. Fortunately it was not Ebola and, in fact, just a slightly embarrassing case of man-flu. However, I was still extremely grateful for a responsive NHS keeping me safe.

At the time, the Ebola epidemic was a terrifying prospect with a wide range of possible outcomes. One of the worst scenarios I heard was that the largest annual gathering of people in the world, two million Muslims (including many from West Africa) attending the Hajj, could have become a focal point for a sudden and rapid spread of this deadly disease.

Fortunately, this did not happen and we have been blessed to see the Ebola epidemic contained, controlled and eradicated, with the MSF closing their final projects (supporting survivors) earlier this month. We were lucky, but it was not by chance that a pandemic was prevented; it was due to the bravery, commitment and skill of the medics and military who risked their own lives to prevent a disaster. 

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Was Michael Gove right?

On 3rd June 2016, Michael Gove drew ridicule when he stated “People in this country have had enough of experts”. However, Theresa May’s announcement that her government are now seeking to actively support1 the reintroduction of selective schools goes against all evidence-based expert opinion.

We mocked Mr Gove but the reintroduction of selective schools may well prove he was right. There appears to widespread support across the right-wing press and the Telegraph website is currently indicating 77% of their readership support the policy.

To make such an argument, I accept that I do need to present credible evidence undermining the case for selective schools. As noted by Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC Education Editor:

Many thought the debate about grammars had become almost irrelevant.

and it is therefore not surprising that recent academic research regarding the impact of selective school’s has been limited. Ironically, I suspect that this may have allowed such an antiquated policy to get its foot in the door.

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Why Liberal Democrats oppose the Cameron government’s education reforms

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society. For our party, a strong education system, freely available to all, is the key to building the society we strive towards.

This year, David Cameron’s government has announced an extensive programme of reform to the British school system, including the much publicised forced conversion of all schools to academy status, the resulting abolition of the Local Education Authorities, the removal of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), the end of parent governors and the extension of the school day.

Currently any opposition to the education reforms are being attacked by Nicky Morgan’s Department for Education as “playing politics with our children’s future”. This comes despite these sweeping reforms having been brought forward with almost no consultation with teachers or with parents. The scale of these reforms were not included within the 2015 Conservative General Election manifesto and therefore there is no clear mandate.

Liberal Democrats are committed to strengthening the democratic process and ensuring that there is a just and representative system of government. The Cameron government appears to be showing a total disregard for our democratic processes. This alone gives our liberal party ample reason to oppose these reforms until they have been subject to proper consultation and discussion.
However, reviewing the basis and impact of the proposals raises further significant concerns.

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Avoiding the Tory disaster in Education

 

Last week, as a governor, I spent my morning at my local primary school completing an annual return and reviewing our budget for the next financial year (as an accountant, I get all the fun jobs). The atmosphere was a strange one. As a school that has successfully fought off an attempt at academy conversion, the staff were deeply upset about the grand announcement from George Osborne, that all schools will become academies by 2020. Meanwhile, our excellent Local Education Authority advisor was clearly and understandably out of sorts having just been made effectively redundant.

The policy being pushed forward by the government is going to be a disaster for primary schools, and everyone working in the sector knows this. Quite simply, the size of primary schools prevents them from having the necessary infrastructure to make an academy structure feasible. The destruction of the Local Education Authority support network will do irreparable damage to our capacity to support primary leaders in their incredibly varied roles.

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I hope I am wrong

 

I certainly know that there are many people in this world who know a lot more than I do about the Middle East, about military strategies, about international politics and about the human tragedy that arises through conflict. However, based on what I have I have seen over the last two decades, I do not believe that the UK government has presented an adequate strategy for destroying Daesh.

I believe that the current bombing campaign in Syria will fail to achieve its stated objectives. Throughout my lifetime, I have watched the modern ‘gun boat’ diplomacy fail time and time again in the Middle East and watched with frustration as the region has slipped into deeper turmoil. We now aim to correct the mistakes of yesterday using all of the same strategies that led us to the modern horrors of both a terrorist threat and a refugee crisis in Europe.

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