Author Archives: Lord William Wallace

William Wallace writes….What’s Brexit really all about?

At the consultation meeting the Lords Party held at our Bournemouth conference, the strongest plea that came from round the table discussing Brexit was for more information on what is happening.  We will take that back to the wider parliamentary party and our small and overworked group of researchers, and see what more we can do.  There are some really good papers from Nick Clegg’s advisory group on the party’s web site, which explore the underlying issues; but the politics of the negotiations are moving and changing almost every week, and I guess that campaigners want usable material to respond to that.  So meanwhile, here are some initial suggestions on how best to play the issues in different places.

The most important shift in the Brexit debate over the summer has been from general principle to detail, as negotiations get under way, and as the deadline of March 2019 begins to loom.  Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article was a denial of where we are – sweeping aside the difficult questions about HOW we manage a mutually-advantageous relationship with the EU after we leave, to argue that those who say Britain will suffer if we don’t get an agreement are talking the country down, and that a close external association with the EU will make the UK ‘a vassal state’, in ‘a national humiliation.’  This, we must all repeat vigorously, is Brexit denial, like climate change denial: refusing to admit the detailed evidence that there are problems to resolve.  The detail matters, we must insist against the ideological sceptics: crashing out without a deal will cause chaos in the UK economy, cost jobs, and endanger standards.

Let’s take the issue of border controls. 2.6 million trucks pass through Dover every year, five times as many as when the Single Market started in 1992.  They spend an average of 2 minutes each passing the border.  If this extended to 20 minutes each (the fastest one estimate suggests they could be cleared outside the customs union), the queues would soon stretch along the M20, supermarket shelves would empty (1/3 of our food is imported from the EU) and assembly lines would grind to a halt (Honda’s Swindon plant alone depends on 350 truck-loads of components a day coming through Dover). Revenue and Customs are trying to introduce a new computer system, but that may not have the capacity to cope with the number of transactions required outside the customs union, and in any case may well not be ready by March 2019.  Estimates of additional customs staff needed by then are in the thousands; but recruitment has not yet begun.  And Boris doesn’t think we need a transition arrangement after that date?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

A pointer towards the future of British Conservatism?

In the middle of an election campaign, Liberal Democrats don’t have time to read books. But keep an eye out for reviews, and extracts, of The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, by Douglas Murray, which was published on May 4th by Bloomsbury. The Sunday Times gave us a full-page extract last weekend, indicating the Murdoch press’s approval of its author and his arguments. His opening sentence states that ‘Europe is committing suicide’: from loss of will, decline of Christian values (he calls it ‘existential civilizational tiredness’), lost commitment to reproduce enough children, and above all …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 23 Comments

Lord (William) Wallace writes…Defining the issues in this election campaign

One lesson of the Richmond Park by-election that we should all take account of in the coming general election is that those who call an election may lose control of the campaign. Zac Goldsmith chose to fight a by-election on the expansion of Heathrow airport. But he lost the election because voters found other issues – above all, Europe – mattered as much to them.

Posted in Op-eds | 12 Comments

Reaching out to the ‘Left Behind’: what policies should we put first?

The pitch which the Leave campaign successfully made to the poorest 10% of UK citizens in last June’s EU Referendum was that their problems of low pay, insecure jobs and waiting lists for affordable housing were all due to competition from immigrants, and would be eased by leaving the EU. The budget, with little on social housing and less on funds for schools or other public services in deprived areas, has made their situation worse, rather than better. Labour has been hesitating about how far to buy into their grievances about immigrants. How should Liberal Democrats respond …

Posted in Conference | 35 Comments

William Wallace writes a letter to a new member….

 

Dear New Member,

It’s been exhilarating to meet you and so many of your friends and fellows at meetings over the past few months.

After years of talking to small numbers of Liberal Democrat members in the corners of pubs or the living rooms of houses, packed meetings of interested and well-informed people warm the soul.  Some of the questions thrown at me display levels of expertise on specific policies well above what I’ve acquired; the only answer I could offer to the new member who asked what I thought we could learn from the Finnish school system was, “You tell me”.   I was invited to a meeting for new members in Yorkshire, some months ago, to talk about our party’s approach to foreign policy, to discover from the first three people I met that each of them had years of experience of working in countries that I had never visited.

The party organization is struggling with its limited resources to make good use of the expertise which many new recruits have brought us.  Some are already serving on policy working groups, some helpfully advising different parliamentary spokesmen, others are feeding in to shaping policies at regional level.  I look forward to meeting more new members at the Spring conference in York, including in the consultation sessions on Friday which provide the easiest opportunities for members to feed in ideas.

Many of your friends and fellow enthusiasts have piled in to Witney and Richmond, and some also to Sleaford, Copeland and Stoke – and found election campaigning a wonderful collective activity.  But can I say to you what I’ve said to the several university professors who have come to talk to me about helping the party they have just joined?  “Get out there and walk the streets, outside active election campaigns.  Deliver leaflets, and knock on doors.  You will learn a huge amount about the state of British politics and society; and it starts to make a difference to people who feel cut off from politics and political elites and will respond to activists who take an interest in their own concerns.”

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 5 Comments

William Wallace writes…Populism in the media

Active Liberal Democrats should read the Daily Mail.  You need to know where issues that dominate the news have come from. Even more under this Conservative government than under Tony Blair, the Mail sets much of our political tone and agenda; it’s the newspaper from which Conservative constituency executives take their opinions, feeding back to MPs, ministers and No.10.

The BBC’s recent revelation that David Cameron tried to persuade Lord Rothermere that it was time for Paul Dacre to retire, after 25 years as editor, before the EU Referendum, illustrates how successive Prime Ministers attempt to cultivate the Mail while at the same time fearing it.  Its populist narrative is skilfully presented.  The vicious way in which it attacks those who challenge that narrative persuades its readers that they are on the right side, and that others are responsible for whatever goes wrong.

The Daily Mail narrative on the NHS has fed directly through to government policy.  Its campaign against ‘health tourism’, in which the picture of a Nigerian woman who had quadruplets while visiting Britain has appeared multiple times over the past year, has pushed the government into action; there is, after all, a real problem, though the Mail has exaggerated its extent and overall cost.  In parallel it has run a campaign against ‘lazy’ GPs who close their surgeries for half a day a week – also leading ministers to respond.  The deliberate implication of both of these has been that the NHS’s problems are caused by foreigners and lazy staff, not by lack of resources.  Indeed, one of the longest-running campaigns in the Mail has been about the ‘wicked’ denial of new cancer drugs by NICE, ln grounds of cost (David Cameron responded by setting up a special fund to underwrite a limited supply). Tthe Mail thinks more should be spent on these, without explaining to its readers where the extra money might come from.

Posted in News | 70 Comments

William Wallace writes…What should the Liberal Democrats be saying to the “left behind?”

What should the Liberal Democrats be saying to the ‘Left Behind’?  We’ve claimed a strong position as the voice of the 48%; but there are many among the 52% who are not illiberal at heart, and others who voted ‘Sod off!’ in the Referendum to London as much as to Brussels in their disillusion with politics and the distant elite.  People who live on partly-sold off Council estates, or in places built to house workers in factories that closed 30 to 40 years ago, where local services have been steadily cut back and jobs are hard to get to, low paid and insecure, have some justifiable reasons to feel resentful .

Theresa May has spoken about the ‘left behind’ at the Davos World Economic Forum, but said little about what an’ active state’ (yes, she has used that term) should do to help them. Donald Trump in his inauguration speech promised ‘the forgotten people’ from globalisation that they will now be remembered, but didn’t say what he would do to help them beyond putting up barriers to imports.  The right-wing media in Britain have portrayed their problems as mostly down to fecklessness and immigrants – taking their jobs and the social housing they want to claim, weighing down the NHS.  Labour is wavering over whether to give in to that narrative, or address more underlying problems.

But what do we want to say, consistent with our values, and without pandering to the ‘blame the East Europeans’ narrative?  Liberal Democrat peers have set up a working group to address this, to feed into party campaigning in ‘left behind’ areas.  The London-based media portrays the political choices for such voters as between Labour and UKIP (having forgotten the Lib Dem record in cities like Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull and elsewhere).  We know that Labour has already lost their trust, and that local campaigning has created new pockets of Liberal Democrat support, with encouraging local by-election results in recent months. Our group includes peers with local government experience in northern cities and neglected rural areas; and we are drawing on a number of reports on the social and economic conditions of England’s pockets of depression and deprivation.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 43 Comments
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  • User AvatarDavid Raw 22nd Nov - 4:11pm
    Not even a mouse of a budget - It's a dead mouse of a budget.
  • User Avatarpaul barker 22nd Nov - 4:03pm
    Do you have an opinion on the behaviour of The FDP ?
  • User AvatarRed Liberal 22nd Nov - 3:42pm
    Stop Brexit. That's the only fiscal policy that makes unquestionable sense at the moment.
  • User AvatarGlenn Andrews 22nd Nov - 3:24pm
    Replace the million council houses lost....... with council houses.
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    What's the argument for corporation tax? Surely if you want to tax those at the top then do more with a dividend tax? Don't see...
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    Michael BG: I am not qualified to talk about mental problems but help is given to those who are unable to work due to ill...