Author Archives: Martin Roche

South East Liberal Democrats back dynamic ideas for “People’s Advocate” in planning issues and bigger role for chambers of commerce in local economic development

Liberal Democrats from across the south east of England gathered in Canterbury on 17thNovember for their annual regional conference. Held at the city’s Spires Academy, the conference heard from MPs Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Ed Davey (Kingston) and Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) as well as Baroness Judith Jolly and the Leader of the Opposition on Kent County Council, Cllr Rob Bird. 

Canterbury and Coastal Liberal Democrats proposed two motions. Both were endorsed by the conference by overwhelmingly majorities.  They will now be considered at national level.

The first idea proposed is in response to the widely held feeling in communities across the country that ordinary people don’t get a proper hearing on planning matters. 

In cities, towns and villages across the South East ordinary voters feel the cards are stacked against them. They see developers hiring expensive lawyers, planning consultants and PR firms that dominate the process and shut out objections. 

The Liberal Democrat idea is that communities will be able to able to apply for a match funded grant of up to £5,000 from their local council. With money from their own resources added to the council grant, a community will be able to hire a legal, planning or public relations expert, known as “A People’s Advocate,”  to guide them and help them shape their campaign. 

Posted in News and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , , and | 36 Comments

Liberal Democrats should oppose making over 65s pay NHI contributions

Yesterday’s media was heavy with the recommendations of the Resolution Foundation’s “Intergenerational Commission”. The Commission, which was set up and chaired by former Tory minister, Lord Willetts, is “backed” by the CBI, TUC and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It’s an important contribution to the debate on many big problems our society faces. At first site, much of it seems sensible to and worthy of deeper reading. But there’s one policy I believe Liberal Democrats should oppose.

The Commission proposes that people of pension age who are still working should continue to pay National Insurance contributions. It argues that the measure would raise around £2 billion a year.

My instinct tells me that the majority of those still working full-time beyond retirement age are doing so out of necessity; mainly the poor and the self-employed. They need the money.

The Willetts’ plan will make the self-employed poorer at a time of life when they find it harder and harder to win business, particularly if physical labour is involved. The less money coming into an already financially weak household the more likely mental and physical illness and other social problems.

I oppose the Willetts plan because I think it wrong, unfair and will cause more harm than good. I think too that Liberal Democrats should oppose it because we should be champions of the self-employed.

We believe in the power of enterprise, business and trade to create wealth, foster stability and harness science and technology to build a better world. We believe that individuals should have the freedom to be self-sufficient and run and manage their lives how they wish, free as much as possible from the dead hand of the state. We believe small businesses are fundamental to our national economic success.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 41 Comments

The combination of food and politics can bring seismic change

What do the the French Revolution, the Irish famines of the 19th century, the Boston Tea Party and Gulliver’s Travels all have in common? I suspect you have grasped my point already. They all have food at the centre of their stories. The ancient Lilliputian dispute between big-enders and little-enders (over which end to open a boiled egg), led to, “six rebellions…wherein one Emperor lost his life and another his crown.”
Swift was parodying and satirising the British state of George l. Marie Antoinette told her people that if they had no bread they should eat cake. Down came a tumbling the ancien regime. In Ireland, the enormity of the deaths from hunger and the mass emigration in the wake of the famines fueled the resentment that saw Ireland eventually rise up against Britain and create the sovereign Irish state we know today.  In 1773 in Boston harbour the idea of a tax on tea being levied without the consent of those paying the tax sparked the American revolution.  
Food matters. It matters for reasons so fundamental that I won’t patronise readers by articulating them. Jonathan Swift knew his history and his politics. He knew that food shortages and the cultural importance societies attach to given foods can have profound political consequences.

Rebellion in Russia and India

Food riots helped propagate the Russian revolution. In British India, locally engaged Hindu and Muslim soldiers serving the Crown rebelled in 1857 when they heard that the cartridges for the new Enfield rifle were coated with cow and pig fat, thus offending both religions. Things might not have got out of hand were it not necessary for soldiers to tear open the cartridges with their teeth (hence “bite the bullet”), thus forcing Hindus to eat the fat of cows, which they hold sacred and never to be eaten. Muslims were being asked to put pig fat in their mouths. It is a central canon of Muslim faith that pigs are unclean and unfit for human consumption. Many thousands died before the British restored order, though the event surely marked the beginning of the long, slow, disengagement of Britain from India. As has been so often the case with political turmoil, the matter of food unlocked seething anger at some of the many insensitive behaviours of the colonial power.
And now we have Brexit. Now we have Dr Liam Fox leaping and scurrying about in bovine bowing and scrapping at the feet of Donald Trump. A free trade deal with the USA makes Brexit Tories salivate at its very prospect. It’s more than trade and jobs and Britain’s place in the world for them. For them it represents a fixed link – a permanent bridge – between the very rich and very powerful economic and social conservatives of the American Right and creating a British world of red in tooth and claw capitalism, mindless xenophobia and the rolling back of employment rights and the great triumphs won to build a socially liberal Britain. A free trade deal with the USA is for the hard Right Tories the economic equivalent of the foreign policy and defence super glue of Trident.  

Pandora’s Box

Posted in News | 18 Comments

Let freedom ring

This is the speech I’d like to hear Tim Farron give before the General Election.

I stand with you today to talk about the security of our nation, the protection of our way of life and about combatting the terrorist, the bomber and the gunman.

Our police and security services are working at full capacity. We know that and we thank them for it. The government deserves praise for its reaction to the Manchester outrage.

Many voices – prominent and influential Muslims among them – have joined in condemnation of the terrorist’s actions and in praise for the wonderful response from the emergency services and the people in Manchester, across the UK and worldwide.

We are deploying money, human resources and all the relevant machinery of the state to keep us safe from harm.

But there is one thing we are not doing.

No leading politician of recent times has attempted to replace the poison being fed to the impressionable with a counter case of championing democracy and its values and rights.

There is a vacuum in the battle and it is being filled by the extremists to spread hate, violence, death and destruction.

Democrats have to force out their death cult and replace it with the clean, pure, fresh air of democracy.

Every school, every pulpit, every council chamber should ring every day with democracy. It is freedom.

I call today for the leaders of political life in the U.K to join me in a reaffirmation of the fundamental values, right and benefits of democracy.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 11 Comments

Are all the Brexit Tories rock solid for the “precious union”?

Theresa May was in Wales this week, talking of “our precious union.” I imagine she is genuine in her wish to maintain the United Kingdom, if for no other reason than avoiding her place in history as its last prime minister. Enough of my cynicism. Better we assume history’s verdict is not her prime motivating factor. That it is indeed “our precious union.”

Posted in Op-eds | 2 Comments

Electoral expenses allegations may have deep and game-changing implications


Last week we heard that 12 English police forces have sent papers to the CPS, in response to concerns about electoral expenses matters in up to 20  seats won by the Conservatives at the 2015 General Election. Four other forces, including Kent Police, which is investigating what happened during the election in the Thanet constituency, have yet to say where their investigations have led them.

Thanet was won by the Conservative’s Craig McKinley, much to the disappointment of UKIP’s candidate, Nigel Farage.

So, and allow me to indulge in pure wishful thinking, what would happen if the courts said that some or all of these contests must be re-run? Would that not go straight to the heart of the legitimacy of the Conservative government and any legislation passed since that administration was formed?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 23 Comments

Drive the wedge

The weekend’s media was full of reports of bitter disputes between No 10 Downing Street and The Treasury. Hitherto buried tensions have surfaced publicly, following the Chancellor’s NI debacle. Hard Brexiters, we learn, want to see Hammond off and have him replaced by one of their own. The Tory party is as split on Europe as ever it was. It is up to us to exploit those divisions. It is up to us to remind the public that the ruling party is a split party. Split on EU policy, economic policy, foreign policy and social policy.

In the very near future …

Posted in Op-eds | 8 Comments

Let’s turn the forensic spotlight on Theresa May’s “Britain that works for everyone”

It should have been one of the government’s more difficult weeks.
News emerged that police forces in England are rationing how they respond to calls for help. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says too many crimes are not being properly investigated and fewer prosecutions reaching the courts. That’s the sort of Britain that works for everyone.
Another watchdog, this time the Care Quality Commission, says 80% of hospitals are failing across a range of vital areas. That’s the sort of Britain that works for everyone.
In the House of Lords decency prevailed and the Noble members of that house voted to guarantee the UK residency and other rights of EU nationals. The government’s immediate response was to say it will try and overturn the vote when the Bill comes back to the Commons. That’s the sort of Britain that works for everyone.
What else, oh yes, Shelter says 80% of families in England can’t afford to buy a new home in their locality. A Tory minister gave a grudging apology following an outcry over his dreadful remarks about mentally ill people. In the South East of England commuters continued to suffer strikes and delays as the government plays ideological games over the Southern Rail dispute, which is really of course about the Tories crushing the last ounce of power from the public-sector unions. That’s the sort of Britain that works for everyone.
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 26 Comments

Draconian changes proposed to Official Secrets Act

Out of the blue, on Saturday, we learned that The Law Commission has been at work. It proposes changing the Official Secrets Act to cover matters that are about what the government of the day considers to be matters of national economic interest. Anyone in unauthorised possession of material that might be included in the scope of the Act, or who transmits it or publishes could go to jail for up to ten years. There would be no restriction on who can commit the offence,” including hackers, leakers, elected politicians, journalists, and NGOs.

What this boils down to is the ability of government to shut people up. Imagine this; The Daily Boot is passed a paper that says that, as part of trade deal negotiations, HMG will allow US chicken treated with chlorine to be sold in the UK. If the news becomes public the trade talks might be jeopardised. The Boot’s editor either publishes and risks jail or lets the matter quietly drop. Ah, but that’s not good enough. Even being in possession or having had knowledge of the information could make the editor liable to prosecution. The Damoclesian Sword hangs forever over the editor’s neck.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Old Sallop can’t raise the matter in the Commons, as that would mean the member admitting they know what is in the material, thus rendering themselves liable to prosecution.

The Law Commission has published an enormous consultation document called Protection of Official Data.

I put consultation in italics because the Commission claims it has already consulted widely, though this statement is as thinner than an After Eight mint crushed by ten-ten road roller.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 19 Comments

Winning the self-employed vote

Writing in Tuesday’s Times, Paul Johnson, a director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says some 15% of the UK workforce is now classed as self-employed or as an owner/manager. Among them is me, now in my 17th year of my second period of self-employment. Indeed, I am the fourth generation of small business petit bourgeoisie Roches (so far, no generation has managed to propel us permanently to the haute bourgeoisie).

Many of the new self-employed are part of what is now known as the “gig economy”: living on short term contracts and often experiencing a financial life of feast and famine. Family insecurity and financial instability are frequent visitors, especially in the early years of a business, when getting established can be a real struggle.

Posted in Op-eds | 13 Comments

Time to expose the government’s dire record of incompetence

Today, the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has slated the government’s plans for creating three million apprenticeships on the back of a £2.4 billion tax on business as, “a considerable risk to the efficient use of public money.” The IFS is warning of an expensive blunder in the making. Government does not look like it is listening.

Then we have the Home Affairs Select Committee calling much of the housing provided for refugees, “a disgrace.” Add that piece of inhumane incompetence to the epidemics of violence and suicide in our prisons. Or how about the cries of anguish coming from head teachers faced with slashed budgets imposed by ever-deeper austerity at the same time as rising expectations created by Mrs May’s rhetoric that she’s on the side of the left behind.

Posted in Op-eds | 3 Comments

The Party of Freedom – where now?

Liberal Democrat Voice was kind enough to run my piece on the Liberal Democrats adopting the strategic slogan, The Party of Freedom, as an umbrella proposition for all the party stands for and to give voters an elemental reason to want to vote for us. The article elicited a lively range of opinions. Most, I think, favourable to my thinking.

So, I want to keep the debate alive because I think the idea has real electoral legs.

As a new member of the party I am completely ignorant of its structures and processes. I’m equally ignorant of its internal traditions. So, I think I can use the freshness of my membership to be pretty objective. In this case, ignorance may have some benefits.

By achievement, by attitudes, by policy, by instinct, the Liberal Democrats have always been the party of freedom and the party that gave people an alternative to the excesses of free market economics, spirit crushing Marxism and the xenophobia and insularity of UKIP.

For a time, it looked like the battle of capital versus labour was old hat, but not any more. Corbyn’s hard left Labour is lined up against May’s hard Right Tea Party Tories and her champions of The City and multinational business (how she reconciles this is anyone’s guess). Extremes always threaten freedom. Extremist parties by instinct want to quiet the voices of moderation. Freedom is at risk.

Posted in Op-eds | 84 Comments

It’s time for LibDems to use the most potent word in the political lexicon


I’m a new Liberal Democrat, though I’ve called myself a social democrat for more than forty years now. In my youth I was an activist tribal Tory, but cast them forever from me before I was 25. Since then have been a fellow traveler of the soft Left, but now, as of three weeks ago, I am one of you.

I realised after 23rd June that it was time to properly join in the fightback for the sort of political values I’ve long held and that are at the heart of the LibDems.

Given 5 minutes I could give you an erudite and historically pretty accurate explanation of what the LibDems stand for.  That’s roughly four minutes thirty seconds too long. Like or not, brevity, clarity, simplicity and ruthless consistency are the vital elements of winning in today’s febrile communications world.

I know a bit about the art of communications, having worked in newspapers and spent 35 years in advertising and PR. Indeed, I spent ten of those years with “Mrs Thatcher’s favourite ad man,” Tim Bell. My value was probably that, not only could I make money, but that I saw the world through different eyes from the great majority of my personally delightful but unforgivingly Thatcherite colleagues. I was never, thankfully, invited to be part of anything with a Tory party label on it, but did relish helping the Yes to Europe campaigns in Malta and Sweden win their respective accession referendums.

Posted in Op-eds | 73 Comments

Recent Comments

  • David Allen
    Not all wars are like WW2. Some, like Korea, end in stalemate. Others, like Afghanistan, end very badly. In WW2, the Allies didn't only reject appeasement....
  • Chris Rennard
    It is sometimes claimed that we “underperformed” in 2005 when I was Chief Executive and Charles Kennedy was Leader. But electing 62 MPs, tripling our Westm...
  • David Raw
    Michael Bukola hits the spot. My advice to Sir Edward would be to avoid any interview with Andrew Neil under any and every circumstance....
  • Chris Rennard
    I do not think that those people seeking to see a sharper focus for us on some high profile issues are seeking for us to be a “think tank”. Whilst I would ...
  • David Raw
    @ Paul Fox. Some good and interesting points, Paul, and of course Paddy had charisma, an interesting hinterland, and could make an inspiring speech....