Author Archives: Katharine Pindar

Maybe not! We must not let Theresa get away with it.

We have two by-elections to fight within five weeks, so this is urgent.

It was bad enough that Prime Minister May declared on January 17th her intention for Britain to leave the single market and make a definite break with the EU. But it was also made clear subsequently that, when the negotiations on terms of leaving are completed, the options she intends to put to Parliament will be to either accept them, or reject them and leave without a deal.

The option of rejecting the deal, but also deciding to remain in the EU, will not be offered.

Of course, Parliament could refuse to endorse this, probably involving a vote of no confidence and an early General Election, but that looks unlikely. The Liberal Democrats alone demand that the final decision should be between leaving with the negotiated terms or staying in, and that this should be decided by the people in another referendum. We maintain that what voting out in the first plebiscite on June 23 would mean for the country was not fully explained or foreseen, and when the full consequences for Britain’s future out of the EU have become apparent in two years’ time, the people should have the final right to decide.

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How could Liberal Democrats influence EU Reform?

This question has been raised by various contributors here lately, since the Referendum result revealed the depth of anti-EU feeling in the country. Some have wanted changes so radical that, if carried out, the EU would scarcely be recognisable afterwards. However, I realised that even those promoting more modest reforms had very varied ideas, which did not neatly split Leavers and Remainers either. Broadly, opinions seemed divided as to whether competency or constitutional reform was the main issue to be tackled.

Competency arguments have focused on the EU’s painful attempts to deal with the vast influx of migrants and refugees of the last two or three years. As the Dublin Accord was quietly set aside and eastern EU states in the Schengen area set up physical barriers at their borders, it seemed doubtful that the EU’s basic rule of freedom of movement within its borders could be sustained. While states argued about migrant quotas, contributors looked on with scepticism mingled with dismay, What were the rules now, what sort of people could be free to move? Maybe the EU should allow free movement to workers rather than people in general? All this needs rethinking.

Constitutional reform questions have centred rather on the ‘democratic deficit’ of EU government: basically, that legislative powers appear to belong to the Council of Ministers, executive powers to the non-elected Commission, and not much power at all to the Parliament. Moreover, the whole institution and its courts appear remote to ordinary people, and repulsive as a trans-national body with sovereign powers over us.

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Goodwill towards us is growing, and so it should


More than 2000 years ago, so the story goes, angels sang ‘Goodwill towards all mankind.’ It’s a sentiment that Liberal Democrats can generally support. The point I want to suggest, however, is that the British people feel an increasing goodwill towards us, which seems likely to grow and enhance our electoral chances.

The first essential was that we should be seen and heard. Now Sarah Olney’s magnificent victory has given us the media coverage that dispels the 18-month myth of our irrelevance.

The next essential was that the image projected should be an attractive one. For the voters of Richmond Park and Kingston it obviously was, and for us Lib Dems the sight of the beaming faces of victor and Leader together in front of the cameras was a delight.

Image is vital for success in politics, but what did that image amount to for the public? What, for a start, was the new MP saying? “I knew I was a Liberal – I believe in openness, fairness, compassion, working with our neighbours at home and around the world”, Sarah said in her acceptance speech. She spoke of the rise of anger and bitterness in politics, and pledged that “We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain that we believe in.”

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Liberalism is our solid ground, but also our springboard for the future

‘Liberal values are always worth fighting for.’ That statement is self-evident to Liberal Democrats, who believe they know what they mean by the term, and are committed to that fight.

Is it not evident in Tim Farron’s leadership of us towards a Britain ‘open, tolerant and united’? Do we not recognise the liberal values in our Preamble, as it begins, ‘ We seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community …’? Yes, we know what we mean.

But those words, ‘Liberal values are always worth fighting for’, were actually spoken, according to The Times on Monday, by the Tory sage and ex-Cabinet minister, Sir Oliver Letwin. In the report by Rachel Sylvester, under the heading ‘We all made a terrible mistake on immigration’, Sir Oliver is quoted as saying, ‘properly controlled immigration enriches the country in every sense’, and as asking Theresa May to challenge the xenophobic mood.

Good luck there, Sir Oliver. You have a surely impossible struggle to persuade your divided party to unite on that. But, welcome to the Liberal Democrat viewpoint! It is our party which has constantly stressed the values of immigration to Britain.

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Oppose Brexit – it’s bad for the country

Why do we accept that leaving the EU is going to happen, when we believe that doing so is harmful to our country? Why do we pussy-foot about, saying that we want a referendum on the terms of our leaving, when we could say, if the people who want to stay in are perceived to be becoming a majority, then there should be another referendum? And there are plenty of reasons to suggest that sufficient leave voters could change their minds in the next few months.

We know that misleading and untruthful information was knowingly peddled by Leave leaders, such as the claim that much of the money currently paid by Britain to the EU could go to the NHS if we leave. In fact, those funds are being promised widely elsewhere now.

We know that Scotland and Northern Ireland had majorities for Remain, and their leaders along with the Welsh are demanding a say in the terms of leaving. Nicola Sturgeon insists that Scotland must keep access to the EU’s single market.

We know that the country’s economic prosperity is threatened by leaving, that Theresa May herself saw the dangers of doing so and the advantages of staying, and that price rises which will hit the poorest first can be expected soon. Staying in the single market seems vital for our economy.

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Impressions – from a very small cog in the Witney wheel

Purposeful efficiency at the Corn Street headquarters, a fair-sized room full of people moving about. Friendly greeting from the man with the large-shelved bookcase stuffed with leaflets and letters, whisked to the registration desk with people busy at computers behind it, more friendly smiles plus tea and cake.

It was the middle of Tuesday afternoon. And there was the candidate, Liz Leffman, pausing between trips out, pleased to meet another Cumbrian volunteer. I had just missed Tim, apparently, now on his way back to London after his fourth, penultimate, visit. (How had he managed four? I’d heard him address the North-West Lib Dems’ conference in Lancaster the previous Saturday afternoon.)

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Heart of England, reject the Tories now

Perhaps we should have known. The Witney constituency is West Oxfordshire, a quiet, beautiful farming area of fields dotted with golden-stone villages and small towns. It is an area for hunting, real ale and country dancing. Among the little towns is Chipping Norton. And Chipping Norton became identified with a ‘set’, including David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks – and you remember then about the News of the World and the phone-hacking scandal.

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In this age of anxiety, can Liberal Democrats meet the national needs?

People are reaching out. The more politically active join Labour or the Liberal Democrats. Many others worry quietly, and more of them than usual seek out personal counselling. The holidays and the pause in political activity may offer some relief, but the anxieties persist. In fact it’s a worse time than before, because the months of campaigning for the Referendum and the weeks of political upheaval were exciting and arousing. Now is the time of waiting and worrying.

It’s been a year of no genuine government. It climaxed in a campaign which in its incoherence and noisy assertiveness showed up British politicians in a very poor light. The campaign ended in vast uncertainty about what happens next. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the most powerful men in the country, suddenly lost power. The Government regrouped with an assertion of right to rule, but without legitimacy. The main Opposition fell apart and seems fatally split.

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Liberal Democrats must seize the moment

Both the main parties are currently paralysed as political forces by their leadership battles. The Government is leaderless, the country at a standstill politically. This is our moment to assert our right to be heard as former and future political leaders, and force our presence on the airwaves and on social media. Moreover if the right-wing press will not accept our voice, this is surely the moment to invest in national advertising.

The week of the Chilcot report is the time to remind the country that it was the Liberal Democrats who opposed the attack on Iraq, along with a great mass of the public whose voices were also ignored. We should now claim again to represent the majority of the public, not by ignoring the result of the Referendum, but by acknowledging the many doubts that were felt by people voting either way, and pledging to try to meet the needs that were  ignored by their self-obsessed leaders.

While the politicians of the two main parties fight for supremacy, we, the united Liberal Democrats, must fight for the people. With a growing recession, we must fight to protect the poorest, demanding government measures to alleviate probable rising food costs, and extra rises if necessary in the Living Wage. We should demand investment for growth, so that jobs can be created that are not just short-term or on zero-hours contracts, and social security reform to stop penalising those least able to protect themselves. We must insist on more funds for the NHS, more integration of health and social care – and also a welcome and thanks to the immigrant doctors and nurses and care workers. We should demand more social housing and some re-introduction of rent controls. We must develop economic policies which highlight the scandal of excessive pay rises for top executives, challenge the power of sophisticated predators linking hedge funds with top Tories, and promote greater equality through taxation.

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Not waving, nearly drowned dead

So there we are. The deep splits in the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have foreshadowed the division of the British voting public now into two nearly equal halves. There will be plenty of analysis of who the Brexiters are and why they won, but one thing seems clear. The Leave voters rejected the supposed authority figures, the elites of politics and business and finance, all the leaders to whom our forebears looked up. It seemed to be in that respect a genuine revolt of the masses.

An almighty wave, worthy of a Japanese painter, has crashed our own tiny ship on a stony shore, called Britain outside the EU. But mighty galleons have crashed with us, some never to float again. We should have more buoyancy than them, and Tim has certainly showed it since the result.

Still, as we painfully pick our way over the pebbles, we need to think about why there is this apparent rebellion of the masses against the elites. It seems that people felt powerless and wanted a sense of control. One way we could respond to that is by fighting again for proportional representation, which will make all elections in England and Wales meaningful, restoring democracy without having referendums.

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Liberal Democrats need to oppose this government with more passion and rage

Thank heaven we have had no major crises while our Government is weak and split. The lordly predecessors of the present set must have turned in their graves when Cabinet responsibility was temporarily abandoned, in defiance of historic practice. The ghosts should then have howled when leading Tories began to spit insults at each other and denounce the supposed lies of their colleagues.

Yet we are stuck with this Tory Government, in or out of the EU. This collection of sophisticated predators, who systematically promote the interests of their own kind and seek the further enrichment of the moneyed classes despite the deep inequalities in Britain, know how to survive.

Where was Iain Duncan Smith’s consciousness of his Government’s preferring tax cuts for the wealthy when poor and disabled people, hit by his benefit cuts, were struggling to survive? Those were the days when David Cameron’s response to Nick Clegg’s attempts to adjust the balance of taxation in favour of the poor was ‘But our donors wouldn’t like it’, and the reply to requests for more public housing was ‘It would only create more Labour voters’. Yet, only this year did Duncan Smith apparently find his conscience and notice that the parrot-cry of ‘We are all in this together’ was false.

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Let’s express the passionate commitment of our united party

‘Divided parties don’t win elections.’ Those were the words of newly-elected London mayor Sadiq Khan, recorded in Saturday’s Guardian (14.05), asking his Labour Party for unity. Of course, if true the saying should equally apply to today’s Conservative Party, with its bitter infighting even at Cabinet level. Liberal Democrats can offer a saying arguably more telling – ‘A small party can help a divided major party form a governing coalition.’ A year after the Coalition Government ended, the road to 2020 may lie wide open.

We are a small party now, but we are not a minor party. Unlike other small parties we have many hundreds of councillors in England, with 45 more elected this month as our Fightback kicks in, and we have a voice and an impact beyond our eight MPs and our cohorts in the House of Lords. Liberalism has a proud history of almost 170 years of progressive service to the British people, reaching its latest peak with five years of shared power within the Coalition.

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Fear and loathing at the coalface: how to combat it

Taking charge of the Stay in the EU campaign, David Cameron was accused of using the politics of fear: claiming Britain will have greater security staying in, while leaving would expose us to unknown hazards. It’s ironic, though, that his actions caused an astonishing split even in his own Cabinet. Are the British people expected to feel safe and secure while seeing our Government and the ruling Party split from top to bottom? How much effective business can such a Government enact in the next fraught few months?

Meantime our own Party has had its share of turmoil and trauma in the past five years. Internally, the comprehensive 2015 Election Review from the Campaigns and Communications Committee shows that a fatal dislocation arose between our Party in Government and the Party in the country. Externally, strong negative emotions against us were simultaneously roused in the British public. Anger among many that we joined with the Tories in the Coalition at all became disgust and even hatred when our Government Ministers broke the Manifesto pledge on abolishing tuition fees, and went on to back austerity measures to reduce the Deficit. As the Review reminds us, our Poll ratings dropped like a stone, our activists departed and our councillors fell from power. While the Lib Dem Ministers achieved much good and prevented some harm, there was little recognition of this in the country.

During the build-up to the Election, the Review points out the inadequate ‘messaging’ from our Centre: ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’ was a slogan not distinctive for us. Then came ‘Look right, look left, then cross’. This though more specific was surely worse, for it suggested the truth that we were willing to enter another coalition with either Tories or Labour. That could be seen as opportunistic and unprincipled, the Lib Dems out for a bit more power and ministerial salaries. Cue renewed hatred from sections of the public, especially if we looked likely to ‘let in’ a candidate from the Party they most detested.

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It’s our legacy – let’s proclaim it

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We must not let the Tories define our legacy, as they did for Labour when that government fell. We were a force for good in the Coalition government, ensuring fairer and better policies for all. But we are not being given the credit for it by the public. Our standing in the polls is still less than 10%, and in Oldham West we didn’t save our deposit. Despite the valiant efforts of Tim and his team, eight months after the General Election we are not getting heard. Political discussion and comment in the media mostly ignores us. What to do?

Let’s look at how we got to this position. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men…’ and so there is. We swept into Coalition as a tide of discontent, and alarm at the economic situation swept Labour away. Action followed by reaction is the general rule of political history. Last year we were left like so much flotsam and jetsam on the beach.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarStimpson 24th Jan - 1:31pm
    Voters need to be educated that socialism and nationalism are dangerous philosphies which will plunge them into poverty. Just because they may support the monarchy,...
  • User AvatarGlenn 24th Jan - 1:09pm
    As Richard says there is no parliamentary cross party unity, so a national government of unity is not going to happen. The other problem is...
  • User AvatarArnold Kiel 24th Jan - 1:08pm
    On a related note: Tim Farron on PMQ yesterday. Is he still in politics?
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 24th Jan - 1:06pm
    @ Stimpson, I just wondered if you ever get out and about to talk to ordinary people? You may not like what they say but...
  • User AvatarJoseph Bourke 24th Jan - 12:41pm
    David Raw, I was at a reception a few years back (as treasurer of the Irish Liberal Democrats) where the Irish ambassador was speaking about...
  • User AvatarRichard Church 24th Jan - 11:52am
    Since there is no unity to deliver a people's vote, there can be no government of national unity. If we finally get to the point...