Author Archives: Katharine Pindar

Which kind of equality do the Lib Dems value most?

Considering here just everyone living in Britain, all of whom Liberal Democrats value, what kind of equality should we seek for them? And what matters most for public policy?

Equality of treatment in health and social care, I suppose we expect and the nation demands, not just our party. So far there is no disagreement. But equality of educational opportunity for all children and young people? We haven’t got that in our country, far from it. For Liberal Democrats to campaign for it when we aren’t prepared to reduce the privileges of the private schools perhaps limits our efforts, but we will surely try to help.

Do we seek equality of income for all? Hardly. Or of wealth ownership? Scarcely. But we do want nobody to live in poverty. 

Then, how about equal freedom for everyone to have satisfying lives? Yes, certainly. Equal freedom to ensure our children have good lives? Yes, surely. However, both those last two aspects of equality depend on freedom, which to me is the greatest good.

Well, equality is a Liberal Democrat value as well as freedom. We as a party wanted everyone to have the equal provision of a basic citizens’ income when we passed the UBI motion at the last Conference. However, is it not possible, if that is the only income-related equality we seek, that the nation might in achieving it become more unequal? Because there could be large swathes of the working-age population in future subsisting on the basic income, whether out of necessity or to relish the freedom it represents. Perhaps we will stop trying to help everyone who wants a job to find one. Perhaps we will stop bothering about them not having a home of their own, rented or privately owned? Well, no, you will say, of course we want everyone to have a secure and affordable home – equality in that. So housing benefit must continue.

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United we stand. How Lib Dems can help keep us all united.

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To claim that ‘we’ are united when a majority of Scots are now apparently favouring independence seems controversial. But 85% of the UK population is English, and even the minority populations do seem to share a certain unity.

Compare our national spirit with that of Americans today. The new US President has to restore unity in a country where 74 million people voted for his populist predecessor who was prepared to tear up democracy there. Also compare it with the bitter divisions we remember too well in our own country in 2019 – families and friends divided, parties split, Brexiteers forcing through the increasingly doubtful will of the people who wanted to leave, and Remainers failing to find a consensus to fight Brexit.

Instead, in the past eleven months we have been united, forced together by pretty universal anxiety. Everyone has had a single united first aim, to save our hospitals and defeat Covid 19. Political dissent has been minor, opposition parties only criticising the late and contradictory responses of the government, plus the failures of the test-and-trace rollout and the confused messaging over school-teaching and exams. There has certainly been some harsh criticism, and a demand for enquiry by our own Leader, but there is a joint will in the country to defeat this plague and resume as normal a life as possible as soon as we can.

What is this normal life we want? No strong movement has emerged to urge change from what we accept as normal life. Change has been gradual. Much on-line shopping and working from home are likely to continue, with consequent modifications to home and work communities. As a national community we have stayed together, most people keeping the rules as they keep changing, with only minor questioning of the restriction of civil liberties and how far Parliament is endorsing the rules, while government ministers claim always to follow the science and trot out the scientists to prove it. There seems to be a national consensus at least that the hospitals must be protected and that the schools must be open as much as possible.

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The time is now for planning Beveridge-2

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Post-Covid and after the delivery of Brexit, our country needs radical reforms of the kind Sir William Beveridge proposed for the end of the Second World War. He wanted a comprehensive programme of reforms, to cover the social injustice and unfairness he saw around him. The reforms should result in alleviating poverty, limiting disease, stopping homelessness, improving education and providing jobs for everyone who needed them.

These are the areas in which radical reform is needed again today. The social contract that existed between government and people in the post-war world has broken down and requires renewing. The Liberal Democrats as the heirs of the Liberal Beveridge are uniquely well placed to demand a new Beveridge-type reform plan.

A business motion has now been sent to the Conference Committee for possible debate at our March Conference. Entitled Beveridge-2 Plan within a Social Contract, it calls for the party to pursue a campaign for a Beveridge-type Plan of radical reforms. The Plan should seek solutions for all the social ills which afflict our country and which have worsened so much recently. It must focus on relieving the growing poverty and restoring full employment, on providing integrated and sufficient health and social care, on ensuring that there are enough homes including social housing available at affordable cost, and on remedying the growing deficiencies of education for all children.

The motion proposes a radical way forward to create the Plan. It requires the party to immediately establish a Commission, to consider urgently how our policies may be grouped and developed to constitute the new Plan, asking progressive politicians and academics to contribute to it. The Commission would then report to Conference next autumn on how the work is developing, with a recommendation that the Policy Committee develop a Consultation paper on the Plan for the Spring Conference next year.

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Build Back Fairer: the new mantra for now

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This title is about health equity issues, however, not building better houses. Professor Sir Michael Marmot, author of the Marmot Review – Health Equity in England Ten Years On which was published in February this year, has led a follow-up study called Build Back Fairer: The Covid-19 Marmot Review.

The new report highlights how inequalities in social-economic conditions before the pandemic contributed to the high and unequal death toll from Covid-19.

The enduring social and economic inequalities in society mean that the health of the public was threatened before and during the pandemic and will be after. Just as we needed better management of the nation’s health during the pandemic, so we need national attention to the causes of health inequalities.

Professor Marmot is as unflattering here about the present state of affairs as he was in his ten-year report. He writes, “Poor management of the pandemic was of a piece with England’s health improvement falling behind that with other rich countries in the decade since 2010”. That, he recalled, was for several reasons including that “the quality of governance and political culture did not give priority to the conditions for good health”, that there was increasing inequality in economic and social conditions, a rise in poverty among families with children, plus a policy of austerity and consequent cuts to funding of public services.

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Our party can seize on the spirit of the times

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Liberalism’s answer to populism, I believe, is to give people what they really want, not what the forked tongues of populism tell them they want. Hopefully in the USA a majority has now chosen a President to give them what they really want.

But here in Britain we still have a populist Prime Minister with his inadequate government. There is still Lockdown, winter weather and seasonal colds and ‘flu yet to come – and the looming problems of Brexit, with or without a last-minute trade deal, before most of us can expect to share in a new vaccine.

There is some comfort in the government’s U-turn on providing vouchers for free school meals in each holiday, and in the continuation of the furlough scheme till March. We have been surprised at seeing a Tory government abandon their previous obsession with running down the Deficit, instead increasing it vastly, to save jobs and livelihoods and retain some spending power in the economy.

Yet this coming winter is likely to be a hard one, with many working-age people poorer if they have been on furlough, and especially if they have been made unemployed and are struggling to find a new job or restart their self-employment business. What will the government do then?

We know the Tory instinct will be to put up taxes – not to affect the wealthiest much, naturally, but to ask most people to contribute more. And among them, the millions of people now on welfare benefits will be expected to tighten their belts and ask no more than they can get now, inadequate as that is to prevent people falling into poverty.

However, the tide is turning. The British Social Attitudes Survey new annual report shows that the hardening of views on social security of the last few years has started to go into reverse. Their survey reveals attitudes have changed and this year more members of the public agree with the statement, ‘benefits are too low and cause hardship’ than last year. And fewer believe that ‘benefits are too high and discourage work’. This survey was conducted between July and October last year, so its findings are likely to be even more affirmed this year, when since March the number of people receiving Universal Credit has doubled to six million.

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Education prospects worsen for UK children in poverty

As most children go back to school this week, fears that disadvantaged children will have fallen behind in their schoolwork in the months of COVID lockdown seem confirmed by interviews conducted with more than 3000 teachers and heads at about 2000 schools in England and Wales by the National Foundation for Educational Research. Their study, reported yesterday, found that, while the average learning lost was reckoned to be about three months for all pupils, teachers expect that more than half of pupils in schools in the most deprived areas have lost four months or more.

But the educational outlook was sadly worsening anyway for around four million children who now, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are living in poverty in the UK (jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2019-20). A new report has found worsening educational inequality already, stating that “there is disturbing new evidence that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has stopped closing for the first time in five years.” This report, from the Education Policy Institute (epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/education-in-england-annual-report-2020), finds that disadvantaged pupils in England are 18.1 months of learning in English and Maths behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. This is the same gap as five years ago, and the gap at primary school increased for the first time since 2007.

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How the Social Contract idea can serve both our party and the country

It is easy to be high-minded about the Social Contract idea, which may be why it is not yet universally known or accepted. Yes, it is a vision of addressing the main social ills of this country, campaigning to have them put right. And yes, it gains legitimacy by assuming the mantle of William Beveridge, the Liberal who produced a great Reform plan during the Second World War, including a demand that ‘five giant evils’ of the time should be destroyed by following his plans.

What could be more appropriate for the Liberal Democrats to campaign on, than a plan developed during the current world crisis, to tackle the huge social ills which are modern equivalents of those which Beveridge saw? It can also meet the present mood in the country for major beneficial change, which is comparable to that felt by the British people suffering in that devastating War

To demand a new post-COVID Social Contract, the equivalent of the post-War Social Contract is not just poetic; it is practical and far-reaching. Just as in Beveridge’s time, the social ills here today existed before the present crisis, and are likely to worsen as the immediate remedial measures come to an end.

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Liberal Democrats can lead the way in planning for the future

On a lunchtime edition for Radio 4 Professor Peter Hennessy, the well-known historian of contemporary British history, recommended taking up the ideas of the Liberal Sir William Beveridge. In 1942 Beveridge wrote of ‘five giant evils’ that must be combatted through the reforms he sought which resulted after the Second World War in the Modern Welfare State and the National Health Service.

There are five evils in our society today that need fighting, said Professor Hennessy, listing what he believes they are, to make the changes necessary after the current health crisis. His ideas were then discussed in the programme, the World at One, by Kenneth Clarke and Alastair Darling. The two well-known retired politicians, from the Conservative and Labour parties respectively, agreed on the principle and several of the five suggested ills, adding modifications of their own.

Perhaps Peter Hennessy had been reading Liberal Democrat Voice. Five great ills of today, matching the Beveridge evils, have been extensively discussed in articles this year. They have placed them in the context of the need for a new Social Contract since the Beveridge-inspired reforms after the Second World War were seen as a social contract between government and people.

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Our society has failed to protect the poorest and most disadvantaged of our citizens. This has to be stopped now.

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In the most expensive care homes, recent TV footage showed, both staff and residents have been protected from the virus, and nobody died. But in the run-of-the-mill homes shown, as our party leaders have been protesting, staff have not had the personal protective equipment they needed. With old people returning from hospital to their care homes, and care workers coming in and out without adequate PPE, what chance was there of the weakest being saved? We all know now the awful figures of mortality from the care homes.

Meantime the Office for National Statistics has shown that deaths from the virus are highest in the poorest areas of the country – where life expectancy had stalled anyway, as the recent Marmot Review recorded. (See my article here)

In crowded houses and flats, cooped up together with no gardens, housebound for weeks except for essential shopping, what chance have poor families had for healthy exercise and keeping separate from their neighbours? If they escape the virus – and the least healthy among them will be fortunate to do so – their children are falling behind with little chance for school work in the crowded family space, and mental ill-health is growing with the strain.

Now that people are urged to go back to work, it is the poorest and ethnic-minority people who are crowding on to the buses, trams and trains. The cleaners and handyworkers will be going back to the rich houses, while anyone on zero-hours contracts will struggle on as they have been doing, so that quiet deaths continue among maintenance workers and security guards.

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Philip Alston and Transformational Change

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Eighteen months ago Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Britain for a fortnight, and travelled round all four countries to meet officials and ordinary people and community organisations. After also studying all the documents that had been published on the state of poverty here, he issued a Statement. This document still makes very sad reading. It shows up serious societal problems which the political absorption on Brexit last year and on the health crisis this year have distracted from, and which a progressive party such as ours must surely address.

He wrote in his Introduction:

It seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks… the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth in homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth an unheard of level of loneliness and isolation. And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.

Describing people he had talked to dependent on foodbanks and charities, some homeless and sleeping on friends’ couches, young people who feel gangs are their only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities told to go back to work against their doctors’ orders, he also remarks on “tremendous resilience, strength and generosity” shown by neighbours, councils and charities in support.

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Advancing society’s wellbeing after the health crisis

What kind of transformational changes can we propose to deal with our society’s ills, after the health crisis?

First of all, a change of attitude is needed. We should demand that our government accept that its duty and purpose is to serve our whole national community and restore its total wellbeing. There should be no more specially privileged groups, whether hedge-fund or Union party donors and no more disadvantaged groups mainly told to fend for themselves. In the post-Brexit Britain of national sovereignty, the government must remember that everyone has a right to share this sovereignty and so all are equally entitled to have a chance of a good life. There should be a new understood Social Contract between government and people: that each government expecting and getting the co-operation of citizens in times of national crisis should commit to serve and care for them perpetually – in sickness and in health.

Among the foremost of the great ills of our society is the poverty of 14 million people, including many children. Liberals believe that to live in poverty is to live without freedom, and poverty may now hang over many more, with the loss of jobs and businesses during the health crisis. The Tory government’s mantra that people must work to get out of poverty rings even more hollowly now.

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How the health crisis could help advance our society’s wellbeing

Everyone can recall the bitter divisions in our society last year. Families were split about Brexit; friends chose which friends to talk to, there was rage and blame ringing across the airwaves and on social media, while In the House of Commons, the MPs tried and tried again without success to reach agreement on whether, when or how to leave the EU.

But this spring the bitterness is gone. That isn’t because of general weary resignation that Brexit is settled. It’s because in facing the pandemic disease to which we are all susceptible millions of us are pulling together in facing up to it. We have surrendered civil liberties, altered our lifestyles, closed businesses, foregone sociable pleasures and knuckled down to hard work or to the new challenge of staying mostly at home. Nobody is pleased about it, but we are generally united in our feelings about its inevitability. Where will this newfound unity, which is so reminiscent of what we understand happened in the two World Wars, take us next?

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Should Left-leaning Liberal Democrats back the policies of Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

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In January Sir Keir Starmer, then a candidate for Labour’s leadership, wrote an article in the Guardian about his motivations and values. There was much in what he revealed there likely to appeal to Liberal Democrats of a centre-left persuasion.

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“Society has stopped improving”

That is the bleak message of Professor Sir Michael Marmot in his major new report on health inequality. Entitled ‘Health Equity in England: the Marmot Review 10 Years On’, it assesses lack of progress in the last decade, since his review in 2010 entitled ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’.

He writes:

Since 2010 life expectancy has stalled: this has not happened since at least 1900. If health has stopped improving it is a sign that society has stopped improving.

This damage to health has been largely unnecessary.

Health is closely linked to the conditions in which people are born, live, work and age, and inequities in power, money and resources.

He repeats the well-understood expectation that, “The more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy”, but finds that inequalities in life expectancy have increased. “Among women in the most deprived areas, life expectancy fell between 2010/12 and 2016-18.” For both men and women, he continues, the largest decreases in life expectancy were seen in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in the North-East, and the largest increases in the least deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in London.

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A vision for us based on fairness: towards a new Social Contract

Liberal Democrats stand for fairness. “We exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society”, as the Preamble to our Constitution begins, and fairness is our continuing thought.

For there is little fairness apparent in our unequal society, with 14 million people in poverty, including close to 40% of our children predicted to be living in poverty by next year, as reported by UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston last May. Where are these people? They are in every nation and region, in cities, towns and rural areas, wherever there are food banks, wherever there are people with …

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Here is what counts – our country needs the Liberal Democrats

Change will come and change will go, but the Liberal Democrats just keep going. Hopefully, usually forward!

We have been successful enough this year to attract both alarm and attempted derision from our rivals. Now we are being blamed for the defeat of the anti-Johnson alliance of smaller parties. Yet our leader did make us a force to be reckoned with in the Election by leading the anti-Brexit drive with the strong unique policy of possible Revoke.

However, in the over-confidence Jo showed in suggesting she could be prime minister she fired a rocket which, like the November 5 ones, shot up with a thousand stars – and then was extinguished. She lit the touch-paper herself and suffered the burn from it. But thousands of her colleagues in our party are still standing, and a few made it to the House of Commons.

So what? – disillusioned voters may say to us. You are irrelevant again – and more distrusted because it seemed by adopting the Revoke policy you threw away your one concession to Leave voters, that you would give them a chance for reconsideration in another referendum. You can apparently be as tricky as the biggest parties, voters may say, especially when the voting record of your departing leader in the Coalition is considered.

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The Lib Dems’ two aims in this election

Liberal Democrats should have two main aims in this Election. The first should be to convince a majority of the electorate that to remain in the EU is right for our country, and that no form of Brexit is acceptable. The second must be to point out why this diseased Tory government needs to go, to be replaced with a government where Jo Swinson and our party have major influence which can address the causes of the Brexit vote.

Focusing on the European Union, we need to make the point much neglected in recent debates: the absolute value the EU gives our country, in the past, now, and, if we succeed, in the future.

This is the greatest alliance of peace-loving nations that the world has seen. It has kept the peace in Europe and promoted its prosperity since its foundation. It has protected the freedom and rights of its citizens, promoted good employment and environmental standards, fostered the economic growth of member states, furthered international co-operation for refugees and migrants, developed scientific advances, and shown how democracy and freedom can co-exist with order and security, through shared institutions and respected legal systems.

Britain led by Brexiteers has been prepared to disregard all this, including the benefits of the single market which makes the EU our largest economic partner. Currently we are valued by countries such as Japan as a means of access to the whole EU.  Once we are no longer in the single market the benefit for international companies of moving production to the UK will be lost. The Brexiteers claim that FTAs with individual countries will generate the same amount of trade and UK production as will be lost by leaving, yet the EU has already made 67 free trade agreements which we share.

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Are the Tories still born to rule?

It would seem so at the moment. We are in an unprecedented, astonishing political crisis, where an alliance of Opposition politicians is trying to stop our Prime Minister from ruining the country by permitting a No Deal Brexit, if no deal can be reached with the EU by October 19.

How can this be? How is it that a man who has already committed an illegal act involving the Queen without accepting that he was wrong, who is universally known for unscrupulous behaviour in pursuit of personal ambition, is permitted to continue in the highest position in the land? His word is so distrusted that Opposition politicians are obliged to try to find additional safeguards to ensure that he keeps to the law. Truth is a stranger to Boris Johnson, yet his Cabinet obeys the directions of himself and his disreputable chief adviser, and his party conference feted him as expected. Unelected by any democratic means, without a majority, having cast out a score of more moderate Tory MPs, he still looks forward to winning a General Election in the near future, since his party is well ahead of Labour in the polls, How can this be?

It has surely more to do than the apparent fact that the country wants Brexit settled now. The Labour Party also wants it settled, and also supports Brexit, albeit after a revised deal is reached. Why does the country, Brexit-riven, not put Labour first now? 

So the question arises: maybe there is still deference in England towards people who appear to assume a right to rule? 

Long after the end of our Empire, perhaps there is still a grudging acceptance that men educated at Eton and Oxbridge, who have old-boy networks linking them to top people in the legal profession, to directors of top companies, financiers and media moguls, who mix easily with successful entertainers and sportsmen and other influential public figures – that maybe they do genuinely have the right to run the country.  Top Tories are a privileged elite, but with their self-confidence and their connections, their directorships and financial heft, who can deny their assumed right to hold power?

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It’s worse than you think

The other main British parties don’t care enough. Do we?

About the plight of ordinary working families with insufficient income to keep bread on the table. The distress of troubled teenagers unable to find a quick response to mental health problems. The struggle to make ends meet for single mothers with more than two children. The worry of people with disabilities facing proving again their need for Personal Independence Payments. The hopelessness of people losing their homes because of delays in Universal Credit payments. The alienation of young people who can’t see a future beyond gang culture and drugs. And the despair of people in dead-end ill-paid jobs or ill and alone at home who can’t see any prospect of their life ever getting better.

There are all these people struggling in Britain today, yet we have a Conservative government indifferent to them. Indifferent to what people have gone through with the austerity of the last few years, to the rising poverty levels, and to the expectation that the standard of living for ordinary people will worsen if Brexit happens, with or without a deal.

Professor Alston, the UN Rapporteur of extreme poverty, put his finger on it in his Statement, after his 11-day fact-finding tour of Britain last November.

In the Introduction, after describing in devastating detail the situation he had found here, he wrote, “It is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems. The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded focus on getting people into employment at all costs. Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach.”

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The problem of sustaining Liberalism in Britain today

The joke of Conservatism in Britain today being defined by Boris Johnson is not much funnier than the joke of Socialism being represented by Jeremy Corbyn. Hence the fractures in both main parties, and the gap left for Liberalism in the shape of the Liberal Democrats. Yet when the constitutional crisis is resolved, whether in the way we want or otherwise, can the Liberalism we represent flourish and our party continue to grow? For we will then be up against parties, even if diminished, representing the  great traditions of Socialism and Conservativism, which will most probably be led by men and women of more centrist, moderate views – and this may well happen within a very few months.

Liberalism worldwide is threatened by populism, and it may appear to be the case here also, with the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, surely a classic case of popular sentiment being roused and directed by one strong and charismatic leader. However, there is no such thing as Brexitism. The Conservatives in choosing their own charismatic (if scarcely strong) leader hope to root out the alien growth, and if they succeed in achieving Brexit may do so. Or else, if we succeed in stopping Brexit through a renewed democratic popular vote, again it should wither. The British people are not attuned to populism, and if the proximate cause of this cancer is removed, they surely will mostly be relieved to have an amicable working relationship restored with our useful European neighbours.

Even so,  Liberalism in Britain and the continued growth of our party could still be threatened. That is partly because elements in British society have developed during this prolonged crisis a readiness to confront and go rapidly to extremes, even to violence, and there is greater public tolerance of these effects, for instance abuse of minorities, than there used to be. In the heightened atmosphere, Liberalism may perhaps not seem to convey a strong enough identity, to offer people security and some comfort and hope in their private lives.

For however much the main parties may fracture now, the ideas of Conservatism and Socialism retain their appeal to large sections of British society. And a Conservative party led by a more moderate figure than Johnson, once Brexit is resolved, will claim Liberalism, especially economic liberalism and freedom, as part of its DNA. Similarly the Labour Party, once Corbyn is replaced, through renewing the commitment to social democracy rather than Socialism will try to lure leftward-leaning social liberals away from our party and into theirs.

It won’t in those circumstances be much use to produce our traditional claim of strongly centralised top-down parties being different from ours and undesirable, because people have got used to the idea of strong central leadership being needed in these days of seemingly unending crisis. Yet there is still a way to show and continue the appeal of  Liberalism as exemplified by Liberal Democrats.

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It’s time for us to prove our progressive credentials

We want to hang on to the Remain voters who flocked to us in the Euro elections. We believe that our party could radically change our conflicted country for the better, while we see that the two main parties at present are, in the expressive vernacular, of as much use as a fart in a bottle.

This husk of a government continues to do harm. As if it were not enough that Chancellor Philip Hammond ignored the poorest in his March Spring Statement despite bumper tax receipts, the continuing impact of the roll-out of Universal Credit, the two-child limit on some welfare payments and the continuing benefits freeze will, according to research by experts, cause a big increase in families unable to make ends meet this year. Cover-up attempts by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to alleviate the effects have done little. For example, repaying the advance payments for UC will plunge one in ten low-pay households into deficit. Although UC has made 56% of households better-off by £172 a month, 40% are worse off and will lose an average of £181.

Amber Rudd’s latest wheeze to stem the flow of criticism is denial. She is to complain to the UN about the final UK report of its Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, which was published last month, apparently on the grounds that his personal fact-finding tour was only eleven days long and his conclusions on the Government’s approach to tackling poverty are ‘completely inaccurate’. The 20-page report, which upholds the statement made in November discussed here in LDV is in fact extensively referenced by many authoritative public bodies. 

The report’s summary points out that one-fifth of Britain’s population, 14m.people, live in poverty, and that the policies of austerity introduced since 2010 continue largely unabated. Its final conclusion is that Brexit presents an opportunity to reimagine what the UK stands for, and that recognition of social rights and social inclusion rather than marginalization of the working poor and the unemployed should be the guiding principle of social policy. The report combines recommendations of practical steps to tackle poverty with humane proposals for restoring our social contract.

So, its fourth recommendation demands reversal of the “regressive measures” pointed out by experts and ignored by the Government  (see above) –  continuation of the benefits freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of housing benefit including for under-occupied rental housing. This is already Liberal Democrat policy, and we would also support the recommendation to eliminate the five-week delay in receiving UC benefits.

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Reject! Reject! Reject! We Demand Better

There is a lot of anger about in British politics today. But I believe we Liberal Democrats are not angry enough.

We write a whole pamphlet on Demanding Better, and pass an entire motion on what we want to Demand Better.

But we don’t condemn. We don’t say what we believe is rotten in the practice of government in Britain and the way it has allowed the decline in the state of our nation.

We won’t convince people about what we want until we say what we reject.

So what do we fiercely reject? These are what rouses most anger in me.

  1. The leaders of both main parties allowing the threat of leaving the EU to go on for nearly three years, and still choosing to risk a no-deal Brexit rather than unambiguously giving the people the final say in a People’s Vote.
  2. That so many top elected politicians appear to scheme for their own and their kind’s advancement instead of putting the needs of the country first.
  3. That the Government squanders the country’s resources on preparing for Brexit while ignoring the wish of ordinary people for secure lives without fear for the future, as well as the despair of industrialists facing continued uncertainty.
  4. The attitude of the Conservative Government in letting the weakest in society go to the wall. So ordering everybody regardless of circumstances to take any job they can find and look after themselves, and refusing adequate welfare benefits to those who struggle.
  5. The lack of response by this Government to the evidence of there being four million children now living in poverty here, and of the increasing necessity for poor families to use food banks, a disgrace in this rich country.
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Time to celebrate success – but what next beyond stopping Brexit?

It was a weekend for rejoicing, for most of us. Even if on Friday you were in a nerve-jangling contest which eventually you, unlike luckier colleagues, just missed out on (as happened by just one vote to an unfortunate North Devonian), or even if you were stuck for seven hours as we were in West Cumbria waiting for the single result we had interest in (eventually wearily won) – even so, every hour that passed we all had the glad spectacle on our smart phones of that orange bar rising on the BBC News round-up, and that blue bar sinking in defeat.

There was delight as the numbers of successful Liberal Democrats rose steadily and new councils fell to us. There was wonder at outstanding triumphs – how did they do THAT in Chelmsford or Cotswold? And there was also for me admiration at seeing in the detailed lists how often just one, or at most two, Liberal Democrats had succeeded. We know how many hours of patient hard work those new councillors had to put in to achieve those small, significant glories.

And the work goes on. Our new councillors have so much to do just shoring up the threatened local services, fighting vested interests, standing up for local communities, always seeking to Demand Better for the ordinary people we serve.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 239 Comments

Change for change’s sake wouldn’t be worthwhile

Change UK reports that among 3,700 applicants to be their candidates in the Euro elections are 105 former Lib Dems, along with 895 former Labour activists and dozens of former Tories.

Why would former Lib Dems join Change? Did they leave our party in the rout of the Coalition and haven’t been won back since? Do they think they have a better chance of getting elected now with Change? Or do they simply feel that in the current British political crisis some real change is essential to unstick it?

The trouble with the last argument is that it isn’t the Lib Dems …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 94 Comments

Our party’s not for merging

It has been possible to welcome The Independent Group’s eruption onto the British political stage without thinking of throwing in the towel and leaving the ring to them.

They seem to have helped stir up both the Government and the Shadow ministers to move   from the entrenched positions which had been vainly criticised by so many.  If so they have done some service to the country, even though their voting power in the Commons is as limited as is our own party’s.

Nonetheless, seeing the immediate popularity of this novel group while our own national poll ratings fell below 10% was hard to take. Even though the new group is tiny and not yet a party, some Liberal Democrats then decided that this is not like the other mini centrist parties we have seen briefly rise and as quickly disappear, but a genuine rival to us. The game is up at last, some seem to have sadly concluded, perhaps worn down by the continuing failure of the voters to appreciate us.

 Many other Liberal Democrats look with astonishment at that idea. We are a party of substance, with history and credibility, with 100,000 or so members and maybe 2000 councillors, a party with a credo and policies to match our beliefs, with structures and a programme of well-attended open meetings. What is The Independent Group compared with all that? What could it offer even if it becomes a proper party? Can the founder members even agree on a programme?

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What policy platform can we share with The Independent Group?

The first area of campaigning on a common platform other than fighting Brexit might conceivably be a drive to alleviate child poverty in Britain once and for all.

Our party committed ourselves to that principle in the comprehensive motion Mending the Safety Net, passed at the Brighton Conference of 2016, which prioritised reducing child poverty.

Now Heidi Allen MP, one of the three ex-Tory Independents, who reportedly attacked George Osborne in her Maiden speech in 2015 over his tax cuts to welfare benefits, has lately undertaken an anti-poverty tour of the country with Frank Field MP.

A new urgency is required to tackle child poverty following a report last Wednesday, February 20, from the think-tank the Resolution Foundation, which states that child poverty is projected to rise by a further six percentage points by 2023-24 to a record high. It explains, ‘In our projection, the majority of children who either have a single parent, are in larger families, are in a household where no-one is in work, or live in private or social rented housing  will be in poverty by 2023-24.’ The report’s author, Adam Corlett, demands that the Government reassess the continuation of working-age benefit cuts which contribute to this dire projection, which comes despite the slightly more favourable present economic circumstances of household income.

We may therefore hope that our own Welfare Spokesperson Christine Jardine MP may eagerly pursue along with Heidi Allen an end to the benefit cuts, which are currently expected to last another year from April. However, the priorities of the current twelve Independents beyond stopping Brexit are less clear-cut, so far as they are yet known.

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Alleviating poverty in our country. How should Liberal Democrats aim to help?

Should Universal Credit simply be abolished? That’s not our policy. .Perhaps we should replace it with a new benefit, National Credit, as suggested here recently by Michael BG. But how about abolishing the Department for Work and Pensions?

That is the radical idea just advanced by a man who worked in national mental health policy for more than ten years, and who latterly was seconded to the DWP for 18 months to advise on mental health across a range of policy issues. 

Tom Pollard of the think-tank Demos has written a short paper, Pathways from Poverty: A case for institutional reform, published by Demos this month. He writes that the Government should consider abolishing the department after its failure to help ill and disabled people out of poverty. He maintains that the DWP is “institutionally and culturally incapable of making the reforms needed to deliver better outcomes for society’s most vulnerable.” 

Referencing the post-war Beveridge social contract, he declares that modern governments have failed to deliver a parallel radical agenda. Specifically, he complains that the DWP has a ‘benefit lens’ where case-handlers perceive employment as a condition for receiving benefits, rather than as a means for enabling claimants to pursue fulfilling work. Speaking at a recent Demos discussion with industry experts and senior parliamentarians, he maintained that for many claimants the problems were not a question of their motivation, but of their disability or illness that impeded their securing work.

His conclusions recall points made by the UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, whose hard-hitting report  was discussed in LDV articles on November19 and 28 and December 2. 

Philip Alston observed a ‘command and control’ approach to Universal Credit which imposed harsh sanctions which the evidence tended to show were counter-productive. He too referred to elements of the Beveridge contract having been overturned, inflicting misery on the poor and the disabled. While discussing practical needs such as the restoration of local authority services, with the viewpoint of a compassionate outsider he also deplored what he saw as a decline in British traditional values of compassion and concern for everyone.

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Competition: Who we Liberal Democrats are, and what we have to offer

Who we Liberal Democrats are, and what we have to offer

The finding of a You Gov survey of 5000 people, reported in the Sunday Times and then here by Caron, that in the event of Jeremy Corbyn’s Official Opposition supporting Mrs May’s proposed deal with the EU there could be a massive switch of support among the voters from Labour to our party, raises the question of our identity, perceived and genuine.

The voters who told You Gov that they would switch to us knew our commitment to staying in the EU and demanding another referendum to try to secure this result. The issue of Brexit has become an overriding concern to British voters, and would-be Remainers who put their faith in Labour at the General Election last June may well be doubting them now.

However, do they see the Liberal Democrats as a single-issue party, only perhaps of short-term value till some way forward is found in this huge national crisis?

As to that, this is not a crisis which can be resolved in the short term. Moreover, while the two major parties openly display unprecedented levels of internal division and consequent inaction, the Liberal Democrats stand out as being the only major British party where the elected representatives and the majority of party members agree in their aims. Ours is a party which has shown consistency and stability of purpose throughout, qualities which appear somewhat rare and surely of continuing value in the current maelstrom of British politics.

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

Liberal Democrats should promote a better Advent

Has Britain ever had an Advent with less expectation of a happy arrival?

On December 11, general expectation is that Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill will be defeated. Nobody can tell what will happen next. All that seems certain is that no political grouping will be completely satisfied. There can be no fulfilment of much-touted aims, only grudging compromise.

Besides, for Christians, the joy this year surely should be qualified. To be shopping extravagantly now and feasting lavishly then, for those who can afford it, doesn’t feel right when there are 420 Trussell Trust food banks supplying more than a million people each year, and food parcels will shortly be packed for the children of the poorest families.

It doesn’t feel right to rejoice, when the recent report of the UN rapporteur Phliip Alston has shown the extent of suffering among the 14 million British people living in poverty, with so much of the decline in their fortunes set in train by our Government.

Liberal Democrats have to promote the vital measures we have agreed and put forward to tackle these towering problems, much discussed in recent articles on this site. But what our country is also surely waiting for is the restoration, the second coming, of its rightful values.

Values which have been ignored by the Government, says Philip Alston, in considering the likely impact of Brexit on people in poverty as ‘an afterthought’; and in meantime overturning ‘key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract’ by inflicting misery on the working poor, on single mothers, on people with disabilities, and on ‘millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.’

Posted in Op-eds | 28 Comments

“Not even a tin of baked beans!” A visitor shows the need for radical reforms.

Ten per cent – TEN PER CENT – of the population of Cumbria are using food banks!

said a fellow church-goer to me in horror, after a Sunday service in a West Cumbrian village church. We were discussing the local bearing of the damning findings by the UN rapporteur Philip Alston, reporting on the effects of austerity policies on Britain today.

After a twelve-day tour of Britain’s towns and cities, Mr Alston, UN expert on extreme poverty and human rights, spoke in stark term about his findings, in London on Friday.

Clearly shocked by what he had found, according to the Independent’s report …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 57 Comments
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