Author Archives: Mike German

Mike German writes: Democracy, digital technologies and trust

A new report from the House of Lords has shone a searchlight on the effect of online activity on the health of our democracy. Over the past year Paul Scriven and myself have been members of a Select Committee taking evidence, investigating the level of harm, and developing proposals for tackling this critical issue. As Liberals we see technology can be a tool to help spread power, and improve democracy. But that can only happen with the correct framework around it.

Trust in our democracy is being eroded. Our key conclusions are that democracy should be supported rather than undermined by technology platforms, and that misinformation poses a real and present danger to our democratic processes.

There have clear examples of dangerous misinformation online during this Covid-19 pandemic. The online references to the 5G network and its connection with the virus, led some people to damage the telecommunications infrastructure. Other spurious medical advice has abounded. In the last General Election the Tories changed their website for the day. They claimed it to be an authoritative source of independent information in which -guess what – the Tory policy was the only right course!

The net effect of online misinformation is to threaten our collective democratic health. It is damaging trust in our democracy and takes us on a downward path where no-one listens, and no-one believes what they read and see. The government has promised an Online Harms Bill, but progress is moving at a snail’s pace. Ministers have been unable to even say whether we will get the new law before 2024. It is clear to us that the Tories are running scared of tackling the big online platforms. Our report calls for OFCOM to be given the power to hold these platforms legally responsible for content which goes out to their huge audiences in the UK.

Trust in what you find online has declined. People, particularly those coming up to voting age (16 in Scotland and Wales – catch up England!) need the skills and confidence to navigate online and find sources they can rely on. Too much of our education curriculum is about computing skills and not critical digital literacy.

There are lessons for all political parties as well, but the report singles out the Tories and Labour for their inability to see problems within themselves. Political parties must be held accountable for what we say, if we are to gain and expect the trust of the British people.

Electoral law has simply not caught up with the impact of online activity.

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Lord Mike German writes…ATOS contract scrapped, two requests for its replacement

stethoscopeThe previous Labour Government’s 2005 contract awarded to Atos Healthcare has been a long term thorn in the side of the policy of fairly assessing people on Invalidity Benefit for transferring to Employment and Support Allowance. The contract has been dogged by decisions taken which have been overturned on appeal, and longer and longer queues as people wait for their assessments.

At the root of the problem was Labour’s decision to award the contract to a single supplier for the whole of Great Britain. Now, we know Labour loves monopolies and centralising …

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Lord German writes… Monitoring the removal of the spare room subsidy

Like many people reading the front page of the Guardian this morning, I was worried by the headline on the pronouncements by the UN special rapporteur on the removal of the spare room subsidy. But it is important to look behind the headline to see that these comments were based on a very brief visit from this adviser, who did not have the time for a detailed discussion with the Department for Work and Pensions to understand the policy. If she had done she would have been able to understand that this policy brings the rules for the social …

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Lord German writes… Welfare – don’t panic! – it’s Cameron being a Tory!

So David Cameron has made a speech laying out some welfare ideas for his party’s manifesto in 2015. Some parts of the media portray the ideas as government policy – they aren’t! I was very surprised to see Shelter’s press release saying this was Government policy as well. It isn’t!

Party leaders in a coalition will always want to outline their plans for the next general election. It’s part of being an independent and separate party, and as believers in an electoral system which produces coalitions we should not get anxious about it either. I want Nick Clegg to …

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Lord German writes… A benefits system that works: the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords

As Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Party Committee on Work and Pensions the Welfare Reform Bill has absorbed most of the past year. It is now in the final stages of passage through the House of Lords. There has been some negative press surrounding the Bill, which is clouding aspects that have been long term goals of the Liberal Democrats.

A big first step is being taken towards our long term ambition of merging tax and benefits. Our benefit system is the most complex and cumbersome system in the developed world. It requires an annual book to be published which explains …

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Lord Mike German’s maiden speech

In recent weeks, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ first words in the House of Commons, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Alert LDV reader and bureaucratic blogger Mark Valladares, himself a husband to a Lib Dem Peer, our party’s president Ros Scott, has drawn to our attention that we have more new parliamentarians in the Other Place, who are also making maiden speeches. Earlier today we brought you the words of Baroness

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Mike German writes… my time as Welsh leader

Nominations to succeed me as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats close today (Nov 3), and in the morning, the first all-female leadership contest in British political history will start in earnest.

Very few are the leaders who get to leave in a (mostly) dignified way, and I am grateful to my colleagues – both supporters and otherwise – for allowing me this luxury.

Looking back, the highlights of the last decade are obvious. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the highlight of my time as leader has been the time we spent in government. For three years, we were …

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Leader article: 2008 for Liberalism in Wales

2008 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Welsh Liberal Democrats. May’s local government elections will offer a real test of Labour’s unpopularity. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are the main challengers to Labour in all our largest urban areas. While the first-past-the-post system remains in place, we will be pushing to strengthen our position in Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham and Bridgend – where we already lead the councils. Look out for Newport too, where – if as expected Labour lose overall control of the council – then all of Wales’ cities will have rejected their style of we-know-best politics.

It …

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarNonconformistradical 5th Aug - 7:04am
    @David Raw "@ Martin Smith Great post, Martin. Good to hear the voice of sanity." Seconded - from a household which includes 1 who got...
  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 5th Aug - 5:49am
    What a nice idea. The party certainly needs a wise, caring "agony aunt" right now
  • User AvatarPhil Beesley 4th Aug - 11:46pm
    Marco: "I don’t think that’s correct as thanks to a certain progressive political party people don’t pay income tax until they earn at least £12k...
  • User Avatartim rogers 4th Aug - 11:41pm
    Anxious. It is the talk of continuity that has many people alarmed. Do we continue to poll at 6% and accept it? Do we continue...
  • User Avatarbrothertony 4th Aug - 11:08pm
    Hmmm. So many column inches about Party organisation. Constitutional issues r us.
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 4th Aug - 11:00pm
    @ Martin Smith Great post, Martin. Good to hear the voice of sanity.