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?

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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 …

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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.”

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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.

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William Wallace writes…The politics of unreason

As 2017 begins, the politics of unreason seems to be spreading its influence across British politics and media.  Liam Fox inside the government, and John Redwood and Peter Lilley outside, are arguing that we don’t need to negotiate a treaty with the EU as we leave.  They propose that Britain simply reasserts its sovereignty, and to hell with international law, commercial and security interests, and rights of access and residence elsewhere across the EU for the 50 million journeys UK citizens make every year. (Peter Lilley, like Nigel Lawson, lives part of the year in France; you’d have thought he might have taken rights of residence into account.)  Free trade, they assert, is something that we can if necessary adopt unilaterally.  The mercantilist policies of China and India, the threats of protectionist tariffs that the President-elect Trump has been making, do not disturb their tranquillity.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s Times  carried an article in its business section by Mark Littlewood, the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, recommending Las Vegas as the model for post-Brexit Britain’s economy, in particular by spreading casinos through our ‘left behind’ seaside towns.  He’s as serious about this as Tim Congdon (of Economists for Britain) is when he argues that Britain’s economy can manage without an industrial base, and as the Taxpayers’ Alliance is when it recommends further deep cuts in public spending.  That’s the US Republican model they aspire to, even as Donald Trump moves away from it.  It is, of course, the opposite of what most Leave supporters thought they were voting for, and what the Leave campaign appeared to be promising.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 16 Comments

Our not-so-decrepit peers

peersinrichmond

If you read the Evening Standard the day before the Richmond Park by-election, you might have noticed this wonderful comment on the participation of Liberal Democrat peers in the campaign, which I suspect came from someone in Zac Goldsmith’s team who was overwhelmed by how many Liberal Democrat activists were on the streets.

One hundred Lib Dem peers were sent to knock on doors. Only a handful of the ill and very old were spared by-election duties – in echoes of James Graham’s play This House which recounts how MPs close to death were dragged to the Commons for crunch votes in the seventies.

If you’ve seen the play, you will appreciate the picture of the elderly and infirm being wheeled in to do their bit.  Of course it wasn’t at all like that.  I don’t think more than 25 of us were ever there together at one time, though many of us went as often as we could, and canvassed over the phone when we couldn’t:  not as a ‘duty’, but because we enjoy election campaigns, we’ve done a lot of campaigning in our time, and we’re committed to the party.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 17 Comments

Brexit: You broke it, you fix it.

It’s now five months since the EU referendum on June 23rd: plenty of time, you might have thought, for a government which appointed ministers committed to Brexit to key posts to have developed a strategy. Yet confusion reigns in Whitehall and Westminster. The clock is ticking towards Theresa’s pledged date of invoking Article 50 by the end of March. Yet the government seems more focused on fighting a court case to limit the involvement of Parliament than in setting out its preferred future relationship with our neighbours on the European continent.

This is a degree of incompetence about …

Posted in Op-eds | 44 Comments

William Wallace writes…Taking on the anti-tax movement 

If you read any other paper than the Guardian, you will have noted some days ago a generously-covered story about the enormous ‘lifetime tax bill’ faced by British families. The ‘average UK household’ in 2014-15 was estimated to pay £826,000 in direct and indirect taxes over their working life, while the top 20% ‘will pay £1,686,970’ – a curiously exact figure for an estimate, and a claimed rise of 4.3% over the previous year.

Posted in Op-eds | 43 Comments

William Wallace writes: Could Brexit split the Conservative party?

 

How deeply could Brexit divide the Conservative Party, as the contradictory choices involved in negotiating an alternative relationship with the EU become clearer?

Media focus since the Referendum outcome has been on the widening divisions within the Labour Party.  Press comment has praised the self-discipline of the Conservatives, by contrast, in resolving the issue of leadership so quickly – though in reality it was resolved by the implosion of ‘Leave’ candidates, one after the other, leaving Teresa May in command of the field.  But the divide between practical Eurosceptics and ideological Europhobes is wide, and often bitter.

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Lord William Wallace writes… How you can make sure we win this referendum

The betting odds on the outcome of the EU Referendum are comforting. And the polls so far are not too bad. But once you are out of London, and on the doorstep, it doesn’t feel good. The messages that feed back, picked up from social media and the subtle messages that the Leave campaign are putting out, show how many people have picked up their portrayal of the EU as draining both our sovereignty and our budget. Their latest political broadcast played heavily on the idea that the NHS will get worse if we stay in, and will benefit from extra funds and fewer patients if we leave.

Not all Liberal Democrat party members feel passionate about Europe. For many, local issues and local campaigning is more important – and more directly relevant to those whose votes we are seeking. The ALDC has fixed a full-day conference the weekend before the Referendum to discuss local campaigning, which will I imagine include a session on how to combat the appeal of UKIP at the local level. But local and international issues do not exist in separate compartments: concerns about immigration and diversity, competition for housing, schools and jobs (and hospital admissions), bridge the two. UKIP, and some local Tories, play skilfully on fears of change and mistrust of incomers, to our disadvantage.

Posted in News | Tagged | 23 Comments

Could Trumpland reach Britain?

We all hope that Donald Trump will not be the next US President; even if he wins the Republican nomination, it’s unlikely that he will win over a majority of states and voters. But his astonishing success so far, in mobilising the embittered, marginalised and nostalgic, all those who feel they have lost out through rapid economic and social change, has lessons for British politics.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 35 Comments

In the Spring …

 

In the Spring every Liberal Democrat activist goes out delivering and canvassing.  To pass the time, and increase the interest, many of us play mind games about the political tendencies of the streets and houses we are approaching, trying to anticipate what we may expect.  In Bradford we have to anticipate first of all whether the front door and letter box will be at the front or the back – well, we hardly ever open our own front door in Saltaire, though the letter box is there. In generations past, front doors  in West Yorkshire were only used for weddings and funerals; now, you are more likely to encounter thick piles of clothes and shoes which prevent the person you wanted to talk to from getting close enough to open it.

The most successful game I ever played, with others in our group, was in an affluent area of Sheffield Hallam in the 2010 campaign: guessing the sort of reception we would get, and the likely political leanings, from the make of the car in the drive. BMWs indicated solid right-wing views, Mercedes only slightly less so.  Minis denoted concern not to hog the road or to look aggressive, Peugeots had a definite tendency towards Liberalism, and Volvos were a pretty sure bet.  When one of my nephews was lodging with us a few years later, and looking for a car to buy, he explained to me how each make and model of car carries a particular image that the purchaser buys into: male, female, assertive, family-oriented, socially aware.  This reassured me that I had not been idly associating choice of car with political tendency.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 17 Comments

Lord William Wallace writes… Fighting both the local elections and the EU referendum

Whether we like it or not, the European Referendum campaign is already under way, threading in and out of the May elections. UKIP is hoping to make gains in the Welsh Assembly, and will be standing candidates in many local elections across England. Competing Leave campaigns fill the pages of the Mail and the Telegraph every day; leaflets are beginning to drop through letter boxes. LibDem activists who protest at the ‘distraction’ that the referendum campaign presents to local campaigning between now and May forget that voters don’t think about local and national politics in sharply-differentiated compartments. They also ignore the extent to which Conservative and UKIP candidates will be using nationalist and anti-EU themes in their pre-May campaigning.

Immigration is an issue that affects voters’ choices in local as well as national elections. Attitudes to asylum-seekers, and how far they should be welcomed into local communities, shape voting intentions. Internationally-minded people, generously-inclined towards outsiders and non-citizens, are likely to be natural Liberals – and potential members and activists. I recall canvassing on a former Council estate in Hull in 2004, with a Washington journalist who had asked to come with me to pick up attitudes towards the US after the Iraq invasion. The first person who opened his door to us started with complaining about cars parked on the grass verges; but 2 minutes later he had reached Iraq and how strongly opposed he was to British intervention alongside the Americans – without any prompting to move away from local issues.

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William Wallace writes… Sources of UK extremism

Part of our role in both houses of Parliament is to hold the government to the commitments they – often reluctantly – give.  One of the five conditions Lib Dem parliamentarians established in return for supporting the extensions of air operations over Iraq to Syria was that the government should set up an enquiry into sources of funding for extremist versions of Islam within the UK.  Alastair Carmichael in the Commons, and myself in the Lords, are holding the Conservatives to the promise they made to report on this by ‘the Spring of 2016’. Alastair has pressed ministers on the size and quality of the ‘Extremism Analysis Unit’ set up in the Home Office to cover this.  I asked an oral question in the Lords yesterday (February 3rd) on how thoroughly overseas funding will be investigated, from both foreign government and from private sources. In both cases, the answers have been that the government is acting on this commitment, but there are clear reasons why we should continue to put pressure on them to deliver.

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William Wallace writes…Liberalism in an illiberal world

The twenty-five years since the end of the cold war have been a good time for liberals, both at home and abroad. In Britain the moves towards a more open and tolerant society that had begun in the 1960s continued. Legal and social prejudices have been pushed further back; same-sex relationships, equal opportunities for women, ethnic diversity, have all been accepted as basic values, even – reluctantly and partially – by the right-wing press. There have of course been negative developments in parallel – widening economic inequality, the contraction of social services, the marginalization of the long-term unemployed – but the overall picture has nevertheless been one of progress.

Posted in Op-eds | 29 Comments

William Wallace writes…Liberal Democrats will fight for votes at 16 and balanced EU referendum rules

The EU Referendum, Sir William Cash declared during the passage of the Bill providing for it through the Commons, is of fundamental importance to the future of this country over the next generation and more.That is why Liberal Democrats have been arguing, regardless of the broader issue of lowering the voting age, that on this occasion 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote. We agree with Eurosceptics like Bill Cash that this is a vital, long-term decision; so those that have the longest stake in the future of this country should not be denied a say.

The Bill has now passed through the Commons, and has its second reading in the Lords today. Liberal Democrats will be putting down amendments on a number of issues in addition to votes at sixteen. We support extending the franchise for the referendum to UK citizens who have been living and working elsewhere within the EU for more than 15 years, which is the current cut-off for non-resident voters. We will also be putting down an amendment to allow EU citizens who have become long-term residents within the UK to vote in the referendum; they already have the right to vote in local and European elections here, so in many cases are already on the register.

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William Wallace writes: Charities and public trust

 

Charities have been in the news this summer: first the ‘Olive Cook’ affair, raising the question of over-aggressive charitable fund-raising, which led to an active Daily Mail campaign, and then Kid’s Company, a charity which had run repeated deficits, depending on large cheques both from government and from major donors to bail it out, with trustees who seem to have been in awe of a charismatic chief executive.

Liberal Democrats watching the news to catch coverage of Tim Farron’s conference speech will have heard about the publication of a report on abuses of charitable fund-raising, which proposes a tougher regulatory regime.  I was one of the four members of that committee, at some cost to my summer.  Some had dismissed the Daily Mail campaign as another right-wing attack on progressive good causes.  We heard fund-raisers and major charity CEOs admitting that they had failed to monitor how the commercial agencies they employ handled telephone canvassing, that they had ignored the telephone preference scheme, and had overridden data protection in swapping contact details on donors.

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William Wallace writes…The case has not been made for a like-for-like replacement of Trident

110301-N-7237C-009Jeremy Corbyn’s arrival as Labour leader will make it easier for the right-wing, in politics and media, to dismiss all criticism of the decision on replacing Trident that Parliament will make next year as wacky. Yet there are many, within the expert defence community as well as outside, who think that committing a third of the UK’s defence procurement budget, over a decade, to the replacement of a system designed for a contingency that no longer exists, is unjustifiable.

Liberal Democrats in the coalition examined the case for alternatives, against stubborn Conservative opposition. Next week the Liberal Democrat conference will debate what response to give to Conservative determination to press on with a full four-submarine programme, while cutting military spending elsewhere.

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Lord William Wallace writes…Shrinking the State?

Liberal Democrats need to clarify where we stand on how large a public sector we support, the balance of public spending and administration between state, national/regional and local levels, and the appropriate division between private and public provision in our economy and society.  We are now faced with a Labour Party which is likely, under its new leader, to reassert large-scale state-level spending, and a Conservative Party that wants to shrink and weaken both the central state and local government.

The Conservative Government contains a number of convinced libertarians, with an almost anarchist streak in their antagonism to state action, civil servants and public services (I know – I worked with some of them until last May!).  The current rule on regulatory policy, for instance, is that ministers can only introduce one new regulation if they can find three comparable regulations to abolish: a deregulatory bias that will run into problems when the next food or health safety scandal hits.  OECD projections for government spending indicate that the UK currently intends to reduce public spending from 42% of GDP in 2014 to 36% in 2020 – taking Britain from European to North American levels of public provision.  Whitehall Departments are preparing for cuts of between 25 and 40% in ‘unprotected’ public spending.  On some calculations local authorities will have barely half the financial resources in real terms in 2020 that they had in 2010.

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William Wallace writes… The future of the left

We’re entering another phase of the ‘future of the left’ debate, whether or not Jeremy Corbyn emerges as Labour’s next leader. So it’s worth remembering previous cycles of this debate, what they revolved around, and how Liberals and Social Democrats responded to them. There are some lessons to learn, and warnings about what to avoid.

Richard Rose’s book, Must Labour Lose?, after the third consecutive Conservative victory, in 1959, set out the issues that Labour struggled with in the early 1960s: a gradual decline in working-class solidarity, a younger generation with aspirations to join the middle class, trade unions torn between anti-capitalist activists and the natural conservatism of many of their members, and a leadership divided between socialist intellectuals, trade unionists, and Fabian reformers. As a new student in 1959-60 I was amazed by the plots and conspiracies which preoccupied the different factions of the university Labour Club, and found the Liberal Club far more constructive – as did many others. The first Liberal ‘revival’ surged to its peak in 1962-3, with policy proposals bubbling and party membership briefly above 300,000. Labour limped back into power in the 1964 election, more because of the exhaustion of the Conservative government and the scandals that surrounded it than because of any positive appeal. Jo Grimond, who had spoken warmly about ‘the realignment of the left’, made friendly gestures to Harold Wilson about parliamentary support when Labour’s hold on power looked shaky, in early 1965; when Labour’s opinion polls improved that summer, Wilson repudiated any cooperation with the Liberals, and went on to win a decisive majority at a second election in 1966, demonstrating that in the UK’s constitutional system Labour was the only credible alternative government to the Conservatives.

Posted in Op-eds | 70 Comments

Politics and gardening

Garden by Emma Nagle (etcher) Flickr CCLPolitics and gardening don’t mix. You need to pay most attention to flowers and vegetables in March and April, when campaigning for the May elections fills your evenings. In June and July you should be watering your vegetables more evenings than not, instead of going out to parish council meetings or encouraging new members. Only in August, when it’s too late to do much more than harvest what came up nevertheless, can the activist give the garden or allotment the attention it needs.

Posted in Humour and Op-eds | Tagged | 12 Comments

William Wallace writes…Challenging Ukip’s assumptions

With Eurosceptic Tories and Ukip candidates alongside us in this campaign, we need to challenge their assumptions in every all-party panel and debate. Here are a few I’ve found useful so far:

1. To those who say we want a referendum now, or as soon as possible, without waiting for negotiations on EU reform or for the next change in the Treaties: why don’t they say straight out that they want to leave the EU, and not hide behind the call for a referendum?

2. Where do they think Britain will go to when we leave the EU? The Norwegians and the Swiss have warned us about the disadvantages of not having a say in the rules of the Single Market.  Would we find closer friends to work with in Saudi Arabia, or Russia, or China?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

William Wallace writes … Be careful about Canvasser’s Heel

 

I’ve gone down with Canvasser’s Heel.   Well, the doctor called it plantar fasciitis: her first question to me after I had described the symptoms were, ‘Does your job involve a lot of standing and walking?’

The NHS defines it as ‘excessive, constant abnormal pulling and stretching of the fibrous bands that support the arch, causes the heel bone to become inflamed and painful. This constant irritation can sometimes lead to a heel spur (bony growth) forming on the bottom of the heel bone.  The patient usually complains of pain with the first step in the morning, some relief following activity, but the pain returning after extended amounts of time standing or walking.’

I’d thought I’d bruised my heel somehow, and had gone on canvassing (and limping) over several weekends, until it was clearly getting worse rather than better.  The cure starts with icepacks applied, then rest, physiotherapy, walking gently, and wearing well-padded shoes.

Posted in Campaign Corner | Tagged | 8 Comments

Lord Wallace of Saltaire writes….Liberal Democrats’ investment in education has been socially progressive

I took part in a five-party panel at York University the other weekend, organised by the University’s Politics Society, in front of a packed lecture hall with over 200 students.  No other panellist or questioner mentioned the subject of tuition fees, believed by some Liberal Democrat activists (and right-wing journalists) to be an issue that hangs like an albatross round Nick Clegg’s neck. The overwhelming impression I came away with, reinforced by informal conversations with several students after the meeting, was not that we face an outraged student body which can never forgive us for the tuition fees ‘betrayal’, as the NUS would like to portray it; it was of a student body which is switched off from party politics, unsure of whether to vote or not, but with some intelligent questions to ask.  ‘I wasn’t planning to vote until I came to this’, one student told me afterwards, ‘but maybe now I will.’

Since nobody else did, I addressed the tuition fee issue.  I said that we had found it impossible to persuade our Conservative partners in the coalition to pay for this, against the background of a yawning gap between revenue and expenditure in 2010, and had therefore focused on striking a deal that was as progressive in its impact as possible; that the package had ensured that graduates only start to pay back when they are earning good money; that the rise since then in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university has shown that we got that right; and that there was no no way any future government would want to take us back to free fees in the face of other competing demands for government funding.  I went on to say that we had worked in government to put money into ‘the other 50%’ – the young people who never go to university; that doubling the number of apprenticeships, paying a Pupil Premium to encourage schools to put more resources into helping those who most need it, and expanding nursery education to give children a better start in life had proved to be more progressive and cost-effective than free fees for the better-off.

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 155 Comments

Lord William Wallace writes… Make national voter registration day part of your campaign

February 5th will be Bite The Ballot‘s 2nd ‘National voter registration day’. Last year this NGO, with a number of companies and schools in support, succeeded in sharply raising the number of young people registering. This year, in the run-up to the general election, they aim to add more than 250,000 to the register. You will find details of what they plan, and how they plan to manage it, here.

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Lord William Wallace writes…Evidence shows EU serves Britain well

European FlagIf you’re interested in the evidence about UK interests at stake in EU membership, it’s now available: over 2000 submissions, to 32 government reports.  And the overwhelming evidence, from small business and large, from legal bodies and service providers, is that the EU serves British interests well, above all in the regulations that underpin the Single Market, but also in fighting cross-border crime and providing a multilateral framework for UK foreign policy.

Eurosceptic Conservatives hoped that this exercise would demonstrate how Brussels regulations cramped British enterprise and undermined English common law.  Four rounds of consultation over two years, on topics as diverse as fisheries policy and police and criminal justice, have concluded that the current balance fits British companies and public services well.

Posted in News | 19 Comments

Peace, Reform and Liberation: how does the new party history measure up?

Late last year a new history of the Liberal Democrats and its predecessor parties was published. In this post William Wallace reviews it, whilst you can watch Paddy Ashdown, Julian Glover and Shirley Williams talk at the book launch here.

I had not expected to enjoy this book as much as I did, or to learn as much from it. It covers the political history of 332 years in 372 pages, unavoidably gliding past major episodes with passing glances. Eleven chapters by different authors suggested a degree of incoherence. Yet there are some clear underlying themes, and a number of aspects …

Posted in Books | Tagged | 1 Comment
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  • User AvatarIan Shaw 22nd Jan - 10:04pm
    Yes Jo keep going, politics needs you, the Lib Dems need you and people need you. You were a big part of me leaving the...
  • User AvatarJohn Peters 22nd Jan - 9:50pm
    Are policy papers meant to be publicly accessible? If not, why not? I tried following the https://www.libdems.org.uk/policy_papers link but it requires a login to the...
  • User AvatarPeter 22nd Jan - 9:45pm
    Goodbye, everyone.
  • User AvatarRossMcL 22nd Jan - 9:35pm
    John Roffey - you are perfectly entitled to leave the party, as you have done. But you need to accept that being outside the party...
  • User AvatarRossMcL 22nd Jan - 9:22pm
    Well said. Too many trolls around and I for one fully support LDV clamping down on them. PS Am I the only one who saw...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 22nd Jan - 9:09pm
    @ Julian Tisi "But hold to your view that it was all the fault of the coalition if you wish." I don't wish, Julian, I...