Author Archives: Joe Otten

Who gets the vaccine next?

I’m losing track of calls for vaccine priority for one group or another. Teachers, police, this morning port workers – one might logically add the whole food supply chain of 4 or 5 million people. Unpaid carers have been raised (currently in group 6 of phase 1 ahead of 60-64 year olds in group 7).

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Lockdown weak, NHS in danger, where next?

With coronavirus case numbers still growing strongly (though perhaps slowing a little according to symptom tracking) and the NHS struggling to cope with the numbers of people needing hospitalisation already, driven by the much lower case numbers of 2 or 3 weeks ago, this is clearly the most dangerous time of the whole pandemic for any of us to contract the virus; there is every chance, wherever we live, that the NHS may not be able to give us the treatment we might need.

Acceleration of the vaccine programme is of course essential and the delay to second doses to give more people the protection of a first dose is a proportionate response to a crisis of this magnitude. But it will take until mid February to vaccinate (first dose) the most vulnerable 15 million people, accounting for 88% of deaths. So we should expect a big drop in pressure on the NHS by mid March. But that is 7 weeks away. For now, growth in the virus is adding pressure faster than vaccination can relieve it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 29 Comments

Government and Labour reject scientific advice and let virus rip

The SAGE meeting on 21st September warned that covid cases may be doubling every week and that a package of interventions would be needed to bring R below 1. This didn’t happen. Cases continued to rise from 4,368 that day to 13,972 yesterday.

Yesterday the Prime Minster announced his new (urgent, delayed and briefed for a week) three tier system of local measures. This amounts to:
– a Medium tier of no change
– a High tier of no household mixing indoors – largely no change for authorities already under local measures, though a useful simplification, and adding Nottingham, Glossop and South Yorkshire (though they forgot to mention South Yorkshire)
– A Very High tier where non-food pubs are closed in Liverpool City Region.

Posted in Op-eds | 96 Comments

Lib Dem policy on Europe in the balance

The text has been published of the motion to be debated at our virtual conference this week – have you registered yet?

I wrote on the importance of re-establishing popular consent for a stronger relationship with Europe, so I was pleased to see this addressed in the motion, which restates our values, expresses our determination to oppose the damage the government is doing to this country, and goes on to conclude

In the longer term, conference resolves to keep all options open for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including membership at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

Posted in News | 28 Comments

Europe and democratic consent

Although the text is yet to be chosen there will be a policy debate at our virtual conference (have you registered yet) on our Europe policy going forward.

The question is whether to adopt an immediate ‘rejoin’ policy, in the spirit of our ‘revoke’ policy at the last election on the simple grounds that we regret leaving the EU and would like to rejoin it, or whether it is a better idea to seek a closer relationship with the EU as a short term goal and to leave rejoining for a time when the prospects of success are better.

I …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 42 Comments

The conceptual error behind the A level fiasco

On day zero we heard of some horrendous downgrades. Perhaps that was just anecdote. No longer. Clearly now we are in the realm of overwhelming evidence that the awarded grades are not a fair indication. Every single FE college responding to a survey covering half of all colleges report lower grades than in previous years. Large numbers of independent schools are bragging about record high grades. The stolen A*s have been awarded to others and the top university places have therefore largely been taken.

In principle, an algorithm could be fair from one school to the next, giving effectively each school its prior attainment. Clearly the algorithm hasn’t done this and therefore clearly it contains errors.

Even without these errors, the concept that if your centre expects a U to be awarded, then somebody has to be given a U, however well they are actually performing, is grotesque. But this is the concept, and it applies to all the grades below the level you are performing at, not just the Us.

Posted in Op-eds | 25 Comments

The covid tracking app is all wrong; I will use it anyway

Trialled this week on the Isle of Wight, and soon to be rolled out to us all: an app for our smartphones will record who we come into contact with, so that if either we or they are discovered to have covid-19, the other party can be informed and take action.

Embed from Getty Images

Don’t confuse this with the Covid Symptom Tracker app, which you should have already. This allows you to anonymously record your symptoms daily to assist in research on the spread of the disease and on how symptoms begin to manifest.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

Brexit as a failure of process

It bothers me greatly that for months now, Boris Johnson has been attacking Parliament – in terms that question its legitimacy as the sovereign democratic institution of our constitution – for the crime of having a different opinion on something to himself. Normally, in a Parliamentary democracy, if the Prime Minister has a different opinion to the Commons, it is he, not they who is, constitutionally, in the wrong.

Now of course, Johnson is entitle to his view and to express it, as is every other MP, and perhaps the problem is that the “other side” does not seem to have a voice. And the reason for this is that it isn’t clear who the other side is. The official opposition has largely taken a ‘wait and see’ approach to the whole business. There are a number of groups within Parliament, some seeking harder or softer Brexits, or a referendum, or to remain, or to keep quiet while your opponent makes a mistake.

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Jo Swinson: Liberal Democrats close to winning hundreds of seats

Speaking on Radio 4 this morning, Jo Swinson said

Our polling shows that are within a small swing of winning hundreds of seats; because the political landscape is so totally changed by what has happened in our country.

Neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn is fit to be Prime Minister. Our country deserves a better choice and I am standing as a candidate to be Prime Minister and I would just say to you Martha, it is not up to anybody to tell people what they can or can’t choose – what is or isn’t possible – this will be decided by members of the public, people listening to this show, in the streets up and down the country.

The Liberal Democrats have a positive, alternative vision of the future, that is what I am going to be fighting for at this election.

Posted in News | 11 Comments

Time for us to be generous to Change UK

Yes, it is only one opinion poll

putting the Liberal Democrats in first place on 24% and Change UK in nth on 1%. But it is astounding, exciting, and further evidence of a real shift in public opinion. The political tide that swept us away in 2015 has turned again. Partly this is our doing, partly it is the weather.

So what next? I’ve long argued – even when Change UK seemed to be fighting against us more than anyone – that we would inevitably end up working together, and Chuk’s strategy was all about doing that from a position of strength. Well they failed, and we can crow. But perhaps we shouldn’t.

It wasn’t obvious 2 months ago that we would end up being the voice of remain and Chuk would be relegated to 1%, and it might have happened the other way round. What I think really worked for us is that the remain public understood that we were open to working with other remainers, and they saw that Chuk just wanted to fight us.

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+++Theresa May to resign – End of Theresa May open thread

Theresa May has announced that she will resign as Prime Minister on 7 June. (BBC)

The Conservative Party is now expected to choose an even truer Brexit believer as leader and PM, who will move the goalposts even further from the easiest in history cake and eat it deal we were promised before the referendum, and consequently have even less chance of getting an outcome through the House of Commons, never mind past the European Union.

Meanwhile, the UK has an extension on the Article 50 process, which is not to be wasted. Any suggestions what the UK …

Posted in News | 15 Comments

What is your leverage?

Yesterday’s phoney war over the leadership of the Conservative Party has got me thinking. The hardline Brexiters (confusing referred to in the media as just ‘Brexiteers’) sought to remove Theresa May over the desirability of the Brexit deal she has achieved with the European Union. This is not their Brexit; they are betrayed; they must show how angry they are.

But I still wonder if there was any more substance than that. Could a hardline PM have got a better deal? They claim they could, but how? The EU has made little if any concession to the UK, and their position today is much as it was before the vote. The Leavers promised us the EU would fold quickly and they were wrong, and that is their fault, not the EU’s.

Posted in Op-eds | 33 Comments

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?

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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

Recent Comments

  • John Kelly
    Excellent summary Tom and some excellent comments. Meanwhile our government continues to "lay off" Israel and the official opposition lets them get away with i...
  • Peter Martin
    "..the proposed new policy of a 4% tax on the share buy-backs of big corporations listed in the London Stock Market." is a step in the right directio...
  • David Symonds
    It is depressing in my view that this dying Government have decided to declare war on those off work sick and it is a smokescreen to deflect from their own fail...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Katharine, " ...young people should be informed that, with the present Labour leadership, they should not expect too much from a new Labour government...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Well posted Mr. Gray!!! Why is it that an adult being offended in London gets lots of publicity while children in Gaza having limbs amputated without anaesth...