Author Archives: Adrian Sanders

Keeping hope alive

I was reading criticism of the dear leader the other day and thought without leaders to be critical about we really wouldn’t be a Liberal Party.  It’s understandable when we are down in the opinion polls oscillating between 5 and 7 per cent, but I wonder if we aren’t beating ourselves up over something we still haven’t fully come to terms with in order for us to put it right.

Firstly, how we went into and performed in Coalition has done far more damage to our brand than even the most pessimistic Clegg critics predicted. Unless, in the unlikely event, there’s a change in the electoral system, it may have put us back two, three or more decades.

Secondly, as a direct consequence, losing third party status in the Commons has made it near impossible to get back to the levels of broadcast and newspaper coverage we enjoyed before the Coalition. Making our own noise is all we have and internal criticism of whom a majority of members elected as leader doesn’t help when it isn’t justified.

Thirdly, no leader, whether currently among our MPs or from outside, can turn this round without grassroots campaigning on issues that unite rather than divide the electorate. For example, almost everyone loves our NHS, but few hold the same affection for the EU. Why hasn’t the NHS we helped create been first and foremost in our campaigning?

Fourthly, since the Coalition we have allowed ourselves to be framed by Brexit and minority interests and not by what the preamble to our constitution says we stand for. There are very few constituencies where this current perception can deliver seats, and bums on seats is what counts if you want political power in order to redistribute it.

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Ed’s experience can help him rebuild the Liberal Democrats

In his acceptance speech Ed Davey claimed to have been a member of our Party for 30 years. This surprised me as I worked in the same Liberal Democrat Whips’ office as Ed in 1989/90 and had assumed he was already a member.  I can’t claim to have influenced him in joining, but I can imagine some of the other great people who were in that team might have done.

My surprise was down to Ed’s keenness at the time to ensure we had a credible economic message and his enthusiasm for campaigning at the grass roots to get that message across, combined with his natural Liberal responses to the issues of the day we discussed each morning as we put the press cuttings together for our MPs. 

It was a small and effective team that saw our opinion poll rise from an asterix to near double figures thanks in part to the campaign materials we produced in association with ALDC. Known as the People First campaign it was promoted through ALDC and the tiny but talented campaigns team in Cowley Street. It was a first and much missed example of integrated campaigning the new leader might wish to remind himself of.

I also recall that it was Ed who came up with our distinct economic policy to give the Bank of England independence. This policy helped broaden the Party’s appeal beyond the inspiring leadership of Paddy Ashdown and our community campaigning. It was a policy that became one of the first things the new Labour Government did despite it not featuring in their General Election campaign.

In the run up to the 1997 election there seemed to be a wide understanding, probably learnt through the extensive local government experience within the Party, that you can have radical views and policies, but you can’t vote for them if you don’t get Liberal Democrats elected. This is where the targeting of messages and resources was developed that proved so important in helping to win seats like Twickenham and Oxford West & Abingdon for the first time since universal suffrage. 

Sadly, after the 2010 election we ignored the lessons and moved away from the tactics that had secured our bridgehead which has left Tim, Jo and now Ed with an enormous challenge to overcome. 

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Get Liberalism done

It’s over, finished, done, our membership of the EU has ceased to be. This is very sad for our wonderful team of MEPs and their staff, it’s heart-breaking for those who support the idea of ever closer union, and very worrying for anyone concerned that the uncertainties of the future are going to harm our country, economy and standing in the world.

Dwelling on what might have been has become something of a preoccupation for many Liberal Democrats, myself included. I won’t forget where I believe responsibility lies for our and the nation’s current predicament. Sir Nick Clegg and his advisors were directly answerable for losing so many seats in 2015 that handed Cameron a majority that enabled him to hold the EU referendum.

Brexit gives many of us a chance to close one very disappointing and depressing chapter and to open a new, positive one. It is a golden opportunity for all of us to realign both our purpose and our image. If anyone is in any doubt as to why this is necessary just look at where we were before the 2010 General Election and compare to today.

Alongside the loss of thousands of Councillors and political control over billions of pounds of national, regional and local government spending, losing our place as the third party in the Commons cannot be understated. We have not overcome the loss of House privileges, media coverage and money that came with it, and our ability to do so has been hindered by competition from other parties such as the Greens, Ukip/Brexit, and Independents as well as the Nationalists who became the third party in 2015 and have held on to it.

We have been defined by the coalition years and our opposition to Brexit to the exclusion of all else for far too long. The time has come, to coin a previous slogan – to get Liberalism done.

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Time for Smart Tactical Voting

Tactical voting was essential in helping me to win four Parliamentary elections in a row, and its absence led to the defeat of so many of my colleagues along with myself in 2015.

The danger in this election is that a simple ‘let’s unite to kick out the Tories’ could well end up with a hung Parliament that has more Leavers than Remainers in it.

Those who advocate such a simple solution to change the Government need to examine precisely whom it is they are helping to elect.

My first preference is for a Liberal Democrat majority Government. If I can’t have that, …

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Mods and Libs – who are we?

Some enterprising organisation at our conference, my money is on Liberator, will be selling ‘I’m a Liberal not a Mod’ badges, although I’d be careful not to wear one outside the Brighton Centre for fear of upsetting the Scooter fanatics.

That old rocker Vince Cable has certainly captured the attention of the Party with his March of the Moderates vision, but before it is dismissed out of hand by those who see dangers from opening up decision making powers to non-members, it’s worth looking at how some of this vision is already working in practice, and why fears that Lembit Opik …

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Adrian Sanders writes… the South West is missing a voice

Where is the South West’s voice at Westminster? In fact, where is there any opposition voice speaking up for the region, scrutinising and where necessary opposing policies not in our best interests.

In the South West region at the last election the Conservatives gained every seat held by the Liberal Democrats. Fourteen gains that gifted the Conservative Party its overall majority of twelve in the House of Commons.

There was no great swing to the Conservatives in May to give them this position of absolute power. Instead, a number of people who had previously voted Liberal Democrat to prevent a majority Tory Government cast their votes for the Greens, Labour and Ukip, or not at all.

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Adrian Sanders writes… Cameron’s cunning

John Stuart Mill is often quoted as describing the Tories as the stupidest party. The modern Conservative Party is many things, but at the top where they consider parliamentary and electoral strategy they are anything but stupid.

Those who think the withdrawing of the Statutory Instrument to amend the Hunting with Hounds Act is a victory for those opposed to any watering down of animal welfare legislation are cruelly mistaken.

Posted in Op-eds | 39 Comments

Adrian Sanders MP writes…New global parliamentary Diabetes network will ensure vital action is taken across the world

World Diabetes DayOn 2nd December 2013 at the first Parliamentary Diabetes Global Network (PDGN) meeting in Melbourne, Australia, attended by invited parliamentarians representing 50 countries, a declaration on Diabetes was agreed and signed.

Meeting in the Victoria State Parliament building MPs from across the globe reported on the state of Diabetes care in their countries, discussed how to raise the profile of the condition and agreed a declaration calling for urgent action to address the diabetes pandemic, committing the signatories to work across parliaments to help prevent the incidence of diabetes, ensure …

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Adrian Sanders MP writes…Let’s have a respectful debate about how we persuade voters to support us again

Autumn 2012 conference - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsHow we engage with a sceptical electorate before they cast their votes in the General Election next year is the critical question facing the Liberal Democrats.

I’m no expert in psephology but even I can tell we are heading for a worse General Election result in 2015 than in 2010 when we often forget we actually lost seats.  In fact we have been losing elected representatives 6 years in a row, a trend that started before we entered Government.  Thankfully Party leaders are …

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Adrian Sanders writes from the cut-off far South West

Three big issues face the South West and the future of its rail links to the rest of the country.

The first big issue is resilience east of Exeter. What we do west of the city is irrelevant if we cannot get beyond Taunton in the north and Crewkerne in the east.

Being cut off at Exeter for the second year running presents an opportunity to focus on what is in all our best interests and that means reliable, faster and greater capacity services to and from the West Country.

The Government has already given the go-ahead for the …

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Adrian Sanders MP writes…The Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare should be taken up on an international level

Benjamin BunnyLast May the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) was granted General Consultative status at the United Nations. This is the only international animal welfare organisation with such status, and the decision represented a positive development for animal welfare on the global agenda.

However, more needs to be done. By encouraging the support of international organisations, we can ensure that effective animal welfare strategies are not just kept to the west and within the European Union. Instead, bodies like the United Nations can help support animal welfare improvements in …

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Adrian Sanders MP writes…The Government must learn where it went wrong over Syria

The Government’s handling of the Syria crisis continues to raise more questions than it answered.  I’m not sure if this is a response to the media coverage of the issue or a general surprise that the process of sanctioning military action would necessarily have to differ from that used ten years ago when invading Iraq.

Focussing on the domestic political situation, it is clear that MPs in general supported a robust response to the use of chemical weapons despite the understandable concerns of the public.  The motions failed solely due to Ed Miliband’s rather devious pragmatism; something one doesn’t expect in …

Posted in Europe / International, Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged , and | 76 Comments

Adrian Sanders writes: Behind Blue Eyes

UKIP logoBoth UKIP and the Conservative Party fear the exposure of the truth of what lies behind the image UKIP have so successfully deployed.

It is a truth that on the one hand explains why UKIP would be opposed to what they perceive as big government – the European Union – but it also exposes the designs its ideological founders have for the UK economy and our welfare state, and that is where their problem lies.

It is a truth both parties would prefer hidden as it could encourage even more Conservative

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Why is the UK government encouraging companies to use tax havens?

Plans by the government to change Controlled Foreign Companies (CFC) rules are threatening to deny the developing world billions of pounds in tax revenues. The current CFC rules discourage UK companies from using tax havens, by requiring them to pay UK levels of corporation tax whether they are based in the UK or abroad. This system discourages the practice of profit shifting and protects the tax incomes of both the UK and developing countries.

The changes were proposed in the Budget earlier this …

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Adrian Sanders writes… What progress has been made towards achieving full primary education for all children?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were created by the world’s richest nations and institutions to tackle the major problems facing the developing world. The second goal states that by 2015 all children should be able to complete primary school. This was an ambitious goal as primary enrolment rates in 1999 were under 60% in some countries.

Current primary school enrolment stands at 90%, however progress varies over the developing world. The enrolment rates of wealthier regions like Latin America have remained roughly the same over the last decade staying around 95%, but poorer regions have seen much larger improvement since the …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 11 Comments

Adrian Sanders MP writes: Hunt vote – we need to save our energy for the battles that really matter

The vote in the Commons today is the latest highlight of the long running Phone hacking-BSkyB-Leveson saga.  It has been billed as an explosive vote that will tear the coalition asunder.  The Parliamentary party has unanimously decided to abstain, a position I strongly support for very good reasons.  We may well see traditional anti-Lib Dem rent-a-quotes like Peter Bone slamming us for betrayal but this is almost certainly a sign that we are doing the right thing.  Indeed, given our rather shaky performance in how we conduct Government to date, this is a refreshing sign that we might be back …

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Adrian Sanders writes: Social Animals and Elephants in the Room

Just about everyone in the Westminster Village will shortly be talking about the latest book that tries to explain why people vote the way they do.

Book Cover for The Social AnimalThe Social Animal, by US journalist David Brooks, has just been released in the UK and it suggests that people are driven more by gut instincts than rational thought when it comes to voting choices.

That rather obvious point has been haunting the Liberal Democrats from the moment they produced a joint programme for Government with the Conservatives on the weekend after the last General Election.

On the rational side of the challenge facing my colleagues and I a year ago were the electoral maths, the opposition from Labour politicians to contemplate compromise, the absolute imperative to produce a plan to reduce the deficit, and the need to act quickly to calm the markets.

My irrational instinct was that such a coalition arrangement was nothing short of a pact with the devil and it will end in tears, while my democratic rational side went along with a majority of the Parliamentary Party, the Federal Executive and Special Conference vote.

Posted in Books and Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

Adrian Sanders MP writes: a targeted reduction in animal experiments

The numbers of animals used in experiments has been rising steadily over the past few years; up to 3.6 million in 2009 (whilst the number of individual procedures is far higher). It represents the presence of a vast amount of suffering.  In its Programme for Government the Coalition promised to ‘work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research’. Our work has been supported by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) who warmly welcome our pledge, which is undoubtedly overdue.

But how does the Coalition intend to turn aspiration …

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Adrian Sanders writes… The cap that doesn’t fit

People outside of London who cannot afford to buy a home or meet their rent without help from the benefit system are missing out in the current debate on the capping of Housing Benefit.

The housing benefit bill doubled under Labour but it wasn’t because of an increase in claimants, it was because Labour failed to ensure enough regulated rent social housing was built for the increasing numbers of people who could not and cannot afford to buy.

The problem didn’t start under Labour; it began in the early 80’s. The ratio between wages and house prices rose at the same …

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Adrian Sanders MP calls for new focus on Community Politics

Adrian SandersIf 2006 was the year of the renaissance of 007, 2007 could be the renaissance of the Lib Dems.

Despite taking a seat from Labour in a great Parliamentary by-election victory, launching the most radical green tax switch policy to reward work and punish pollution, and remaining the only force in Parliament around which opponents of the war in Iraq could unite, it was something of an Annus Horribilis.

The New Year offers us new opportunities to carve out distinctive positions on foreign affairs, domestic reform and where we stand in relation to the Government and Conservative opposition.

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