Author Archives: Joe Otten

I demand better than this: Themes for the next manifesto

Part of the process by which the party’s Federal Policy Committee seeks approval for its General Election manifestos includes a series of papers to the Federal Conference which show the thinking in progress. This conference the paper is titled “Demand Better…” (available here), and I must say I demand a lot better than this.

As is the way, a motion to conference (F35) summarises the paper. It starts innocuously enough with some challenges the country faces:

Posted in Op-eds | 186 Comments

Labour in turmoil over the definition of anti-semitism

Yesterday the Parliamentary Labour Party voted to adopt the IHRA definiton of anti-semitism, in defiance of Labour’s NEC, which recently produced its own definition:

While Labour’s internal machinations are in a sense none of our business, I do think there are lessons to learn for all of us here. Anti-semitism is by no means confined to the Labour Party, and where we wish to criticise Israel, let us not undermine the moral force of our arguments by carelessly straying into anti-semitic territory.

Posted in Op-eds | 14 Comments

IFS announces: peak pensioner and falling inequality

An article by Paul Johnson at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and also published in the Times, begins

It can take a while before policy responds to new realities, in part because it can take time before those new realities are recognised. Policy has nothing like adapted to the collapse in home ownership among the young. We continue to treat pensioners as though they need free travel, winter fuel allowances and the like, despite the fact they are on average now the best-off demographic group in the country. The squeeze on middle earners that started in the early 2000s was barely noticed at the time.

This is so obviously and painfully true to any Liberal Democrat who may have dared to point out that income inequality fell during the coalition and is now (as Johnson points out) no higher than it was 30 years ago. The left wing grievance industry decided in 2010 that inequality was going to rise and has stuck to that line ever since, indifferent to the truth.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 39 Comments

Freedom of movement and liberal overreach

Not every nuanced political point is a dog whistle for it’s crude cousin, and case in point is Nick Clegg’s recent column in the FT, arguing that the EU needs to consider wider caveats to the principle of freedom of movement that already exist, for its own sake and not just to improve the prospects of rapprochement with the UK.

Posted in Op-eds | 105 Comments

Justice minister Phillip Lee resigns over government handling of Brexit

Justice Minister, Dr Phillip Lee resigned this morning over the manner in which the government is pursuing Brexit.

In a statement on his website he says

The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today.

Posted in News | 18 Comments

Do you want chips on your shoulder with that g…?

So I learned a new word yesterday, which may or may not be a racial slur against angry white men of a certain age who voted for Brexit.

Being a white man myself, approaching a certain age, occasionally angry about bad grammar, Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, Putin, the senseless loss of life in the middle east… – I felt I ought to know whether it is a racial slur or not. It doesn’t matter if I’m angry about different things – I needed to know whether to be offended. So I asked the source of my discovery: Twitter.

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

On the effects of social media on young people

Moral hazard or moral panic? Is social media warping the fragile minds of our children or is it the end of the atomised individual and the rediscovery of community? Is it a bit of both, and what might be done to improve the mix?

Baroness Floella Benjamin writes of her work on these questions through the APPG on a fit and health childhood, and Norman Lamb MP explains how the Science and Technology select committee is also looking at this.

This interest is perhaps to be feared and welcomed in equal measure. Feared, because the knee jerk response to moral …

Posted in LibLink | Tagged | 9 Comments

A massive shoutout for Thursday’s winners N-Z

Part 1 here. The dust has settled from last Thursday, and Liberal Democrats have posted 75 net gains on the day. But a mere number hardly does justice to all the teams behind each result. So here are some shoutouts. In alphabetical order. Well done everyone, brilliant work.

Apologies for any errors – this is coming from local council websites, some of which are easier to use than others. If it isn’t clear which seats are gains are I’ve just given a total, but please shoutout in the comments if you know.

North Hertfordshire +3

6 wins with 3 net gains.

Oxford +1

5 wins with 1 net gain.

Posted in News | 8 Comments

A massive shoutout for Thursday’s winners A-M

The dust has settled from last Thursday, and Liberal Democrats have posted 75 net gains on the day. But a mere number hardly does justice to all the teams behind each result. So here are some shoutouts. In alphabetical order. Well done everyone, brilliant work.

Apologies for any errors – this is coming from local council websites, some of which are easier to use than others. If it isn’t clear which seats are gains are I’ve just given a total, but please shoutout in the comments if you know.

Barnsley +1

The marvellous Hannah Kitching becomes the first Liberal Democrat on Barnsley council for a decade. To win from a standing start to win with a majority of 778 is remarkable. I confess to helping. Hannah also polled a creditable 10.6% in the south yorkshire mayoral election on the same day, beating my 10.05% in the Police Commissioner election of 2016.

Posted in News | 4 Comments

Corbyn faces demonstration against anti-semitism

It is extraordinary to see a leader of a political party suffer a demonstration that includes many of his own MPs.

This follows a letter (here, with Corbyn’s reply) from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which says

There is literally not a single day in which Labour Party spaces, either online or in meetings, do not repeat the same fundamental anti-Semitic slanders against Jews. We are told that our concerns are faked, and done at the command of Israel and/or Zionism (whatever that means); that anti-Semitism is merely “criticism of Israel”; that we call any and all criticism of Israel “anti-Semitic”; that the Rothschilds run the world; that Isis terrorism is a fake front for Israel; that Zionists are the new Nazis; and that Zionists collaborate with Nazis.

Rightly or wrongly, Jeremy Corbyn is now the figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture, based on obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news that is doing dreadful harm to British Jews and to the British Labour Party.

Posted in Op-eds | 64 Comments

Corbyn slapped down over point-scoring reaction to Salisbury

A nerve agent – like Polonium in the Litvinenko case – is the sort of murder weapon used to send a signal. It is the sort of murder you want people to know you are guilty of because it burnishes your “strongman” image. And there are elections due. They will be rigged of course, not because they have to be for Putin to win, but because neglecting to rig the elections would show weakness.

So the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday struck the right tone.

This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals, but an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.

Posted in Op-eds | 26 Comments

Theatre plug: Tea and Tentacles at Zeta Reticuli

This April, not to miss, is the world premiere of my play Tea and Tentacles at Zeta Reticuli, an original sexy science fiction comedy thriller. Because, if we’re honest, there is not nearly enough of that sort of thing on the stage.

Set on a starship, 40 light years from earth, a human crew of 6, along with the humanoid avatar of the ship’s mind, and an unduly annoying “morale-boosting” android, are on a mission to establish diplomatic relations with the ungendered swamp-dwelling tentacle aliens of Zeta Reticuli 3. How far are they willing to go to adapt to the aliens’ unusual practises? How will they cope when pushed to the limit by events, romantic rivalry and conflicting agendas? Will there be enough tea and cake to see them through?

Posted in Events and The Arts | Leave a comment

What does the/a customs union/arrangement mean for Northern Ireland?

It takes some resolve to keep track of the Brexit debate these days. Both government and Labour policies hinge on such nuance that creative ambiguity remains perhaps a better term than policy.

As a party, we have been clear that Labour’s recent movement on the/a customs union has been slight

and a customs union only gets you some of the way to the open border that the UK is committed to in the Good Friday Agreement

Posted in Op-eds | 76 Comments

Liblink: Shas Sheehan on Oxfam

Baroness Sheehan, Liberal Democrat international development spokesperson, writes for Politics Home that the UK must lead the fight against institutionalised abuse wherever we find it.

The revelations emerging about the behaviour of some staff in Oxfam, and other aid organisations, are shocking. People who were sent to rebuild communities and get people back on their feet in the wake of a major natural disaster have betrayed those very people they were sent to help.

Those senior staff in Haiti who abused young women whilst they should have been helping to rebuild shattered lives after the 2010 earthquake, have rightfully shaken the public’s trust in respected household names and high street brands such as Oxfam and Save the Children.

And it appears that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Posted in LibLink | 19 Comments

Boris Johnson on manoeuvres

I was woken this morning to the somewhat odd news that the Foreign Secretary was going to press for more cash for the NHS at Cabinet. It was not known whether the health secretary was on board with this. Perhaps Jeremy Hunt wants to give priority to the hiring of more diplomats and trade negotiators. After all, war is bad for your health, and the NHS relies on a strong economy.

Laura Kuenssberg offers an explanation for this, fine as far as it goes, along the lines of Brexiteers wanting to be seen to deliver on their promise on …

Posted in Op-eds | 47 Comments

Stephen Kinnock and Nick Clegg debate Brexit strategy

Stephen Kinnock writes in Politics Home of his amicable clash over Brexit strategy with Nick Clegg.

Clegg is arguing for a change of course before 29 March 2019.

Look, it’s David Davis who famously said that ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind, then it ceases to be a democracy’. And the fact of the matter is that on an almost daily basis all those lies that were told by the likes of Boris Johnson during the campaign are being exposed, and the reality of what Brexit will do to our country is emerging,” he says.

Surely, as it becomes clear that things are not going to turn out as we were told, then we should be given the opportunity to re-consider, and to change course?

Posted in News | 17 Comments

Cable calls on chancellor to write to BoE governor

With inflation now standing at a 6 year high of 3.1%, Vince Cable has called on the chancellor to write to the governor of the Bank of England with an explanation.

This would be a reversal of the usual mechanism where the Bank of England has a duty to explain to the government why its Monetary Policy Committee has not prevented high inflation with appropriate movement of the base rate.

Posted in News | 41 Comments

A disgrace to Parliament, an embarrassment to Sheffield

It is difficult to understand how somebody who expresses such hatred and contempt for his fellow human beings as we have seen from Jared O’Mara, could wish to undertake or be a suitable choice for the noble calling of public service in politics.

I do accept that is possible for an angry young man to reform over the years and become an upstanding public figure. The problem is that there is no sign that this has happened.

O’Mara first sought election – to the city council – in 2004, the same year he was writing the hate speech against women, fat people …

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Leave HQ editor welcomes the sweet release of a dismal fate

Blogging is so naughties isn’t it? Has anything happened on a blog since 2010? Well maybe.

Leave HQ Editor Peter North has produced quite the most extraordinary piece of blogging I have seen for some time.

Wow. I want to quote the “wow” bits, but I risk quoting it all.

In the first year or so we are going to lose a lot of manufacturing. Virtually all JIT export manufacturing will fold inside a year. Initially we will see food prices plummet but this won’t last. Domestic agriculture won’t be able to compete and we’ll see a gradual decline of UK production.

Posted in Op-eds | 37 Comments

Labour closes ranks around the South Yorkshire Police Commissioner

Earlier this year, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings off Thought for the Day, lost a legal action in the high court over his decision to dismiss Chief Constable David Crompton following a press release in which Billings alleged that Crompton sought to defend the actions of police counsel at the Hillsborough Inquest.

The high court described Billings decision as “irrational, perverse, unreasonable, misconceived and wholly disproportionate”. The case in my view hinged on whether the conduct of police counsel at the inquest was defensible or not. If it was indefensible – as the Hillsborough families claim …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 7 Comments

Cable on Brexit Bill

Vince Cable was on Radio 4 this morning – jump to 2 hours 48 minutes – on the subject of the bill to incorporate EU law into domestic law.

Posted in News | 16 Comments

Breaking out of the bubble?

With the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference approaching (16-19 September), and less than a week away from the deadline for amendments (4 September), this is my highly partisan tirade on the agenda, here to provoke you into sending your views, either to us at Liberal Democrat Voice or to the good people at the Federal Conference Committee.

The first party conference after a General Election is an opportunity for the party to reflect on the results, good and bad. While it is good to move forward, many of us expected more progress in the face of such a gulf in the centre. It is as if Corbyn and May fed off each other’s weakness, and we did not have the strength to stand out as an alternative.

Our conference, as usual, will make policy to demonstrate our values and soft virtues, to the neglect of other qualities: the toughness required to govern in coalition while under siege from all sides, and the fierce dedication to our communities that we show in local government.

Posted in Op-eds | 69 Comments

Was Champion right to “resign” from front bench over Sun article?

Trigger warning for child abuse.

There are kind of rules – good rules that are there for good reasons – governing how we talk about racial issues, when we must. Properly contextualise. Look for similarities rather than differences. Don’t make or appear to make generalisations about groups of people.

When I was at school we had leaflets thrown over the school fence with the faces of white people who had been killed by black people. The object of the leaflet was to encourage racially motivated violence to “even up the score” using crimes that, if they happened at all, probably weren’t racially …

Posted in Op-eds | 32 Comments

The other new party of the moderate liberal centre

Hardly a day goes by on my social media feeds without some form of the following conversation:

Commentator/political has been: What we really need is a new moderate centre party in the UK, standing up for all the internationalist, tolerant liberal values that Corbyn and May have abandoned.

Liberal Democrats: Helloooooo!!!!!

Every time somebody calls for a new centre party, a puppy dies, goes the tweet.

It is always more an observation than a plan. Starting from 0% and 0 MPs and councillors is always going to be harder than starting where we are. But I don’t think the commentators and has beens are being obtuse. There are reasons they are not all saying we should join the Liberal Democrats, and I’d like to reflect on those reasons and what we can do about them. Do please all submit further articles expanding this theme.

Posted in Op-eds | 161 Comments

Liblink: David Laws – the ‘poor’ quality of education policy

In the Guardian today, Peter Wilby speaks to ex Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws about his life and careers so far and his work at the new Education Policy Institute.

Like the IFS, Laws’s institute will, he tells me, be “data-driven, influencing debate by the quality of its analysis and its quantitative skills”. The quality of education policymaking is poor, Laws argues, and the institute wants to make it better.

Was policymaking poor when he was schools minister? “Yes. A lot of decision-making is not based on evidence but on hunch. I had little coming to me from civil

Posted in LibLink | 45 Comments

Rumours of talks with the Conservatives put to bed

The Times is reporting discussions between Conservative and Liberal Democrat chiefs of staff.

Before we get all breathless about ‘deals’ being struck it is worth noting that Times is no suggesting that so much as

The Conservatives confirmed that they had spoken about working together on areas on which they agree. The two parties have a number of shared priorities, such as mental health …

And the Press …

Posted in News | 25 Comments

LibLink: Nick Clegg – a deal can be done on freedom of movement

Writing in the Financial Times, Nick Clegg shows how, as on many other issues, British politicians are wrongly blaming the EU for the consequences of decisions taken in Britain affecting immigration from EU member states.

Crucially, there is far more latitude for member states to apply restrictions to freedom of movement than is commonly appreciated. The Belgian authorities aggressively deport EU citizens who do not work and cannot support themselves. Under EU law, the UK authorities could do the same for EU citizens who have failed to find work after six months. Access to Spanish healthcare requires registering with

Posted in LibLink | Tagged | 29 Comments

It could have been the economy, stupid

One of the strangest things about this last election was how little the economy featured. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, was unseen. The Conservatives didn’t bother to cost their manifesto. Nobody wanted to talk about the Brexit black hole – not even the Liberal Democrats much, I mean couldn’t we have promised to fund £60bn of spending by not leaving the EU? It would have made the point.

Why? Theresa May and her advisers never really understood the economy, only that it was something that the Conservatives generally get the credit for being sounder on with the larger part of the electorate, and that if you say nothing, you have more freedom of action after you have won your big majority.

Posted in Op-eds | 11 Comments

On deals and no deals

Tim Farron was challenged this morning on the radio whether the decision by the local party to stand down in Brighton Pavilion respresented some sort of deal. It isn’t, and nor should it be.

For all my long standing political differences with the Greens, I, like Tim, am relaxed about this decision. We weren’t going to win in Brighton Pavilion, and it is only fair that the Greens have a voice in parliament. Their politics are really quite bad in some ways but it is better they have a voice than are silenced. And tactically, I’d rather see a remainer …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments

Taking on the Conservative message on ‘strength’

There’s an insightful piece by Tony Blair in the Guardian yesterday on how Theresa May has framed this election in terms of the Brexit negotiations. While aimed at Labour readers, we have the same need understand what it is we are facing.

Blair observes that

Essentially, the Tories … have hit on a way of getting votes by presenting the election as about “strengthening the prime minister’s hand in the Brexit negotiation”, ie, they have turned a partisan Tory vote into an act of national interest.

Of course, all parties run for election on the basis that a government formed by them is in the national interest. But in this Brexit context, the Tories have hit on what seems a plausible objective claim that they actually need a big majority to represent the country adequately in what is without question a really tough negotiation.

This argument has real cut-through. This is why ignoring the Brexit issue or trying to play it down as one issue out of many just won’t work.

Posted in Op-eds | 43 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Evans 16th Nov - 12:41pm
    Simply the best leader we ever had.
  • User AvatarChristopher Haigh 16th Nov - 11:54am
    There is a sinister organisation within the Tory party called the European Reform Group which is presumably coordinating a hatchet job on Mrs May. As...
  • User Avatarnigel hunter 16th Nov - 11:28am
    First thought .David Beckets comments should be put on all our focus leaflets!! (If that is ok)
  • User AvatarDon Manley 16th Nov - 11:24am
    It is very uncharitable to portray our PM as a common enemy, and I speak as a Remainer LibDem member. She has, at great cost...
  • User AvatarMick Taylor 16th Nov - 10:33am
    Three brief points. 1. Gove is just poseur. If he is going to resign, he juts get on with it. 2. Whilst there may not...
  • User AvatarDavid Becket 16th Nov - 10:01am
    On summing up the failures of the Tory and Labour parties today the "I" concludes "A curse on your houses. This country and its people...