Author Archives: Rob Parsons

The paradoxes of public health

The promotion of public health is a liberal policy. It is an effective tool in the development of fairness and equality, it contributes notably to health and happiness (thereby reducing the need for, and the expense of, medical care; and reducing the cost to businesses of time off work), it enables people to have much more effective control over their own lives, and many of the activities associated with it resist financialisation, which is one reason why it is so unpopular in right wing circles.

It is also a wide ranging field. Healthy populations need good quality, warm, dry housing; good education; good food; good opportunities for both rest and exercise. On the other hand, reduction of social housing, the obsession with reducing education to league tables, corporate control over food prices and ingredients, the selling off of parks and playing fields, all contribute to reductions in public health.

Fundamentally, good public health reduces the impact of poverty, ignorance and conformity in people’s lives.

Public health requires a community based rather than an individualistic response. This again is a liberal value. While we champion the freedom of individuals, we also champion the notion that we live together in communities, and that we affect, and must support, each other. It is an effective sphere for government to do what we cannot do so well ourselves. It utilises “the power of government to change conditions that are constraining people’s freedom”.

As a country we allow the debate to be dominated by advocacy of a freedom that takes no responsibility, by far too much misinformation, and far too little information. (A very clear example at the moment is when both government and media notice that the number of people off sick has notably increased recently, and wonder why. Without ever mentioning Covid, which we know has severe long term consequences for many who have had it.) As a party we allow ourselves too often to be trapped within those terms rather than campaigning to change them.

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The shadow of Covid

Today is Long Covid Awareness day. It is strange that such a day should be necessary, given how many people’s lives Covid and Long Covid have touched in this country and around the world. Yet it is very necessary as the prevailing public discourse is that Covid is over, and it was never much of a problem to start with. Yet it still kills every week throughout the year, and an estimated 2 million people have Long Covid, affecting their health, and the country’s economy.

The ongoing Covid pandemic is a catastrophic example of the failures of the UK’s public health system. (I refer here primarily to English experience. The devolved administrations have done better than England, but are still affected to a large and tragic extent by the factors discussed below.) Covid requires both treatment and prevention, both medical and public health intervention, and both short and long term strategies with public, professional and political support.

The NHS did immensely well and the government moderately well in the initial phases; the public in general also did well in dealing with the restrictions and exigencies of lockdown. But there were clearly right from the beginning several negatives, which broadly compromised the capacity of public health approaches to be as effective as they could, and have badly compromised government action and professional and public response in the years since the emergency phase:

a) the instinctive reaction of our right wing governments that private provision must be better than public, so wasting billions of taxpayers’ pounds employing immensely expensive private firms to set up a ramshackle test and trace system rather than using existing public health capacity.

b) corruption in government, making sure for instance that funds for the provision of PPE went to their friends rather than to companies with proven track records in such provision.

c) vociferous anti-science and anti-clear thinking conspiracists given far too much air time on both social and traditional media.

d) a kind of neoliberal reductionism in which marginal increases in economic activity like enabling people to go to pubs again are valued far more than keeping people healthy; and school attendance is valued far more highly than reducing transmission – which has resulted in current high rates of absence of both children and teachers through sickness.

e) a refusal from government to take simple steps that might reduce transmission, such as ensuring air filtration in all classrooms and other public spaces which could easily and relatively cheaply have been done in the last four years.

f) short term and blinkered thinking in government and in public debate, in which the most important, and sometimes, the only important metric is death rates, leading us to ignore the creeping epidemic of long term illness and other forms of severe damage which Covid is wreaking on millions of people. We seem to be terrible at assessing long term risk: the fact that we got over a bout of Covid means we ignore the mountain of evidence that it will have done damage to one or more of our organs, which we will regret in ten or fifteen years time.

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New Year, New Message?

So often the principles of liberalism are – rightly and reasonably – tempered in Liberal Democrat campaigns by the need to couch our message in forms appealing to voters. I believe that the next election is one of those rare moments of confluence where the core messages of liberalism are exactly what voters want and need to hear. The unapologetic promotion of liberal principles will give the country the hope, the promise and the solace which the large majority of voters and citizens now seek.

Whatever the complexion of the new government, it will inherit a wrecked economy and a shattered society. This reality should not deter us from offering a sweeping and hopeful vision of what Britain can be like if the right steps are taken now. The right steps are completely in tune with the vision of liberalism for empowered citizens living in equitable and vibrant communities within a competent state.

The preamble to our constitution reads “no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”. Our leaders are plagued by poverty of vision, by ignorance of the array of solutions available and by conformity to desiccated doctrines like the necessity to “honour” Brexit.

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Covid is not over

The UK’s response to Covid has been, and still is, characterised by delay and indifference. This is largely but not wholly because Boris Johnson was Prime Minister when it struck. Johnson made being irresponsible fun, and we all paid the price for it, as the Covid inquiry is now slowly and painstakingly beginning to make clear. The British electorate was shallow enough to fall for it, and resistant enough to taking responsibility seriously to make it very risky for a political party to advocate it. But sometimes it is right for political parties to say unpopular things.

A liberal response to Covid would start from the basic principle: we should be free to do everything we want, provided we do not infringe other people’s freedom. Conrad Russell noted that that proviso is far more of a limitation than most people realise.

During the crisis we did all the things we were asked to do (unlike Johnson et al). Once it was over, most of us embraced our “freedom”, and stopped counting the cost to other people. More than a million clinically extremely vulnerable people remain effectively trapped in their own homes because they cannot count on the rest of us to keep them safe. The population at large (including, unfortunately, a lot of medical practitioners) embraces the fictions that it’s over (while the aptly named FU.1 variant is spreading globally 50% faster than previous variants) and that it’s just like flu. But currently 200+ people die every week with Covid on the death certificate (this is known to be significant underreporting). Flu doesn’t kill people in the summer. Flu doesn’t cause the long term sequelae that Covid does. People don’t get Long Flu, whereas currently in the UK alone two million are suffering from Long Covid (ONS figures).

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Embrace the Elephant

The elephant is of course that big, and growing, elephant in the corner of the sitting room: Brexit. Now that Project Fear has become Project Here, it is time for us in the Lib Dems to be much more open about our belief that Britain’s place lies back at the heart of Europe.

Ever since the Brexit vote I’ve been reasonably sure this time would come. Voting to leave was a mistake, and its costs would sooner or later become apparent. The ideological nature of the vote was such that many people would cling stubbornly to their belief that it was right – for some years, I thought. But once it began to crumble, it would crumble quickly. I was right about the trajectory, wrong about the timing. I thought it would be at least another couple of years. (I didn’t allow for the damage to be so deep, or the government to be so negligent.)

As long as the bulk of Brexit voters held to their beliefs, and, equally, as long as the bulk of the British population continued to be hoodwinked by the idea that to campaign for our beliefs was somehow undemocratic, we were probably right to soft pedal on it. I have thought for a long time that the backlash would outweigh the potential gains; but I believed we only needed to be patient.

Our policy has become clear with  “Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe”, though the mainstream media have been, as usual, exceedingly quiet about it. Our leadership on the whole has remained reticent, but now the time for reticence has passed. There was some indication of this at the spring conference – the European passages of Ed’s speech were highly optimistic and were loudly and enthusiastically applauded. (Not reported in the mainstream press of course – maybe Ed was counting on that.)

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I have about twenty years left

I have about twenty years or so left on this planet. I very much hope that before I shuffle off, the UK will have rejoined the EU. I think it will be touch and go whether we manage it. Apologies to our more enthusiastic Europhiles if that disappoints you, but I think it is realistic.

The EU needs to see a steady majority in favour of joining over a period of time. We don’t have that stable majority yet, though I expect we will. It will then need to remain stable for a number of years (particularly important for us, given Britain’s current and immediate past tendencies towards exceptionalism and fascism). Then the process of accession will take several years even if, in the meantime, we have laid the groundwork by joining the EEA, rejoining the single market, rejoining Horizon, or whatever we choose to do.

It will take a lot of work, and although we are enthusiastic about this ourselves, it is very difficult to persuade other people of an objective that may be fifteen or twenty years off. So it is not necessarily helpful to make a greater noise about wanting to rejoin, as some would have us do. It may make more sense for us to stand for an intermediate objective, one which is necessary for this country, as well as necessary if we are to have any realistic prospect of rejoining.

If we are to hope to rejoin, we need to make this country different to what it is now. We actually need to do that anyway. Regardless of our chances of joining the EU, I do not want to live in a country where millions rely on foodbanks to fend off starvation while the Prime Minister changes the grid to have electricity delivered to his swimming pool; a country where a previous Prime Minister seeks to ennoble his wife-beating father; a country where the Home Secretary uses language about asylum seekers reminiscent of 1930s Germany (yes, I will say that, because it is true); a country where the heroism of NHS staff is rewarded with applause but not with a pay rise.

So I propose a slogan: “Let’s fix this country”. Let’s fix things so that they actually work for the people and not just the elite.

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Let’s fix this country first

I have thought for a while that Brexit is not just about Brexit. Leaving the EU is only a step on the way for fundamental Brexiters to get what they want, which is to turn Britain into a neoliberal paradise – Singapore on Thames is exactly what they want. That being the case, populism is not going to disappear, because it is still the primary tool for securing that end. Farage has already switched from Brexit to covid: he is adept at latching on to anything that stokes resentment, and we will continue to see the politics of resentment at high intensity for years to come.

For that reason, I think Nick Tolhurst here:

is right about future prospects but wrong about strategy. I’m coming to think more and more that figuring out how to rejoin the EU is the wrong focus, for two reasons. The first is that the populists will use it against us very successfully: it will actually do us more harm than good. The second is that if we are to be acceptable as renewed members of the EU we have to fix this country first. We have massive problems – the voting system which denies power to people, the Parliamentary system which denies power to MPs, the media system which allows newspapers to tell lies without consequence, the tax system which allows rich people to find all sorts of ways to protect “their” money, the economic system which promotes inequality (and inequality kills, as we are seeing ever more with Covid), etc, etc, etc.

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Forty years in the making

Liberal democracy is in crisis, particularly in the UK and the USA. In the UK we are perhaps bemused at how we could have come to elect such a corrupt, cronyistic and incompetent government, and in the USA there is much debate over how the Trump lump has not gone away despite four years of Trump’s Twitter tantrums.

There is a tendency to view this as a short term phenomenon – what went wrong four years ago, six years ago, even ten years ago. In my view this has been coming for forty years. It has not been inevitable but, during the neoliberal period (roughly from the 80s till today), social forces and personal decision making have moved us steadily towards the situation we now find ourselves in.

In a nutshell, the elevation to power of Thatcher and Reagan marked the start of what was seen to be a move towards freedom, opening up societies all over the world to the liberating forces of the market. This had two sides, globalisation, an ineluctable social force beyond the power of individuals to affect, and the strategy of global elites both old and new, to use globalisation to create new wealth and power for themselves. They have been very successful. So it turned out to be a move towards freedom for some, but by no means all. The elites used liberalism as their watchword, while ignoring the principle of liberalism that their freedom is only valid in so far as it does not compromise other people’s freedom.

At the same time there has been a steady corrosion of community and democratic values, partly because the new markets require it (they don’t work without precarious labour) and partly because of media elites who found that telling lies worked, and political elites who did not care to confront them. People sold on consumer capitalism found easy answers to all the ills in their lives in the lies told them by the media. Rupert Murdoch and Hugh Dacre, among others, spent decades preparing the British public for the Brexit lie. They have succeeded in making many people’s lives precarious and hoodwinking them into blaming others for that.

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What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?

The Houses of Parliament currently function as the location in which Parliament expresses and exercises its sovereignty. It seems obvious that they no longer fit that function well: archaic logistics, terrible accessibility, lack of office and meeting space, and chambers designed perfectly for the cheap game show otherwise known as PMQs, but not for deliberation or wise governance.

Soon the buildings are to have a very expensive makeover during which time MPs and Lords will have to decamp. Perhaps we should make the decampment permanent. Build a site suitable to house the legislative body of a modern democracy.

Some argue that such …

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Christmas Competition: How can we reduce inequality?

I want somebody to take away from me what I have and give it to other people.

I’m a pensioner in a comfortable place in the most comfortable part of the UK, the south-east. Our incomes are high relative to every other region of the UK; more of us own our own houses than any other region. Government policy persistently works to protect us and boost us more than any other region. One of the most important considerations for Liberal Democrat policy on inequality must be to reduce the very substantial difference in income, wealth and comfort between the south-east and everywhere else in the UK.

I do not ignore the substantial inequalities within this region as well as between it and others. The village I live in is very comfortable indeed. But it has its own food bank. The nearest town to me, Lewes, is decidedly affluent. However, it has three food banks. Nevertheless, the more pressing need, I believe, is to fix the massive inequalities between regions. There will be no substantial growth in the near future to enable a pretence that everybody can win. So that means that, if others are to do better, I, and people like me, will do worse. That is as it should be.

There will be many ways to do this. I focus here on two: infrastructure and general spending. In each case, I focus on one aspect out of several possibilities.

For infrastructure, there should be a primary criterion in the consideration stage of projects: how does this spending benefit the regions or the nations? This should apply, even if the project is in London or the south-east. The presumption should be that whatever money is available for infrastructure projects should go to the regions first. Some might object that London and the south-east still need money spent on infrastructure projects. Yes, they do, but for too long they have taken precedence over spending in the regions. That priority should be reversed. If that means I have to wait longer for an upgrade to my railway line, so be it.

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Let’s not be the radical party

I find the word “radical” increasingly difficult nowadays. It has become a shibboleth. Whatever is being pitched has to be framed as radical. And everybody knows exactly what it means and says so with great authority. The trouble is that the next person will, with equally great authority, give it a different meaning.

And also, it doesn’t tell us anything about the liberalness of the policies being proposed. I think most people will agree that Iain Duncan Smith’s approach to welfare benefits was radical. But I don’t think any liberal wants a policy that vindictive. (Or that incompetent.)

When you look at the things we are in favour of, many of them are not radical at all.

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Equal Power, and how you can make it happen

I think Equal Power is the first book I have ever pre-ordered. I started reading it the day it came out. When I tweeted about that, Jo Swinson replied, and I promised her I would review it as soon as I finished reading it.

Several months later…..

My post hoc justification for my tardiness is that, to coin a phrase, a review is something best tasted cold. And I find that my opinions about the book have not changed since I first read it.

I found “Equal Power, and how you can make it happen” very powerful indeed. Not because the material was new to me – most of it was not – but because of the way Swinson treats it. She combines statistics and research evidence, other people’s stories and her own experience in a compelling way. The trick with such material is always in the way the combination is made. Statistics are devoid of life and stories lack width in applicability. Swinson combines the two admirably well in a very readable style. She then delivers much of the punch in the book through recounting her own personal experience. And, very importantly, every chapter ends with a summary of actions that everyone can take to improve gender equality.

She gives herself the space to lay out more than simple arguments. She discusses some of the underlying ideas and languages behind many of our attitudes. She notes in particular (around p31) the use of the word “illiberal”, something I have experienced myself, particularly in discussions about gender issues, being used with the evident purpose of closing an argument. “I’m against all women shortlists because they are illiberal.” Of course they are, but you cannot end it there. You have to show why they are more illiberal than the current system which routinely and significantly discriminates in favour of people like me.*  (Jo does not favour all-women shortlists, but for better reasons.)

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The final deal: what would we say?

If there is a referendum on the final deal about leaving the European Union, what would we say? Here is my starter:

Background

We recognise that the vote to leave the EU was fuelled (in part) by dissatisfaction with growing levels of inequality, and felt pressure on cultural values and identity. So we need to address a) the reasons why staying in the EU is better than leaving, as well as b) how we are going to address inequality in the UK and the identity issues tied up with some of our suspicion of foreigners. I think it is also important to make the point that staying in the EU is not the goal. It is a step towards our goal of ensuring that this country works for everyone, and not just the élite.


This is not just about the EU, it is about how we run this country, and about the fact that we can run this country better for the benefit of everybody in the EU rather than out of the EU.

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Theresa May

I have been struggling for a while to work out Theresa May’s mentality. I have read, as we all have, something of her origins – the vicar’s daughter who ran through a field of wheat. I am aware of her time at the Home Office where she adopted regressive policies in a pusillanimously oppressive way. I am aware of her stance on the referendum – I find it interesting now that people describe her as a remainer, when it seems to me that the most important thing about her stance at the time was its invisibility.

Then a single word popped into my head which seemed to have a great deal of traction, the word “provincial”. It comes straight from the pages of Trollope, and describes the mindset, which he sometimes satirised to great effect, of the solidly conservative yeoman class which ran the shires of England in the mid nineteenth century. There is much in common between then and now, times of turbulence when the world is changing, power can move with quicksilver speed, the very ground under our feet seems to be shifting, and those determined to hold what they have must work very hard to ensure that things stay the same. There is a concern about standards, loyalty, patriotism (though never stridently stated). There is a feeling that everything will be better if people know their place and stick to it. And there is a feeling that one must never question too closely or demand an account of the people who claim to rule on our behalf. The refusal to publish the Brexit impact papers comes to mind.

Above all these, the key component is a lack of imagination. Or, rather, more than that, there is a refusal to have an imagination. If you have an imagination, then you can imagine things being different, and then you can imagine the status quo being different, and, in the mind of the provincial, who knows what might happen then?

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Can an English identity be a liberal one?

I was intrigued by Chris Bowers’ recent post A slogan you might not expect from the Lib Dems and by the comments on it. It revolves around the question of whether a national identity is or can be compatible with liberalism. Some clearly think not, but the comments thread reveals some blockages in debate that we need to clear up before an answer to the question can properly be made.

The first is that in many instances of the debate people speak past one another instead of to one another. What some people see as a statement of legitimacy, others see as a pitch for superiority. If I wave my St George’s flag, I will inevitably be seen by many as being chauvinistic. “Inevitably” means that that is what the current climate presupposes. It is not inherently so, as many liberals show when they say they want their flag back.

The second is that a claim to patriotism is in common discourse confused with nationalism – a belief in the superiority, the exceptionalism of the native race. This is mixed with the discourse of pride. One of the commentators wrote “I am not proud to be English – I am just English”. And another observed that being properly patriotic includes an ability to acknowledge one’s country’s flaws. Space for that acknowledgement seems to be remarkably small in the current climate. But again, that is the current climate. It is possible to argue that the British Empire was “A Bad Thing” and be patriotic.

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This is how to respect the referendum result

I am frequently told that, as a “Remoaner” I must “respect” the result of the referendum. It seems to me that I am not being asked to respect it so much as to fetishise it.

Actually, I do respect it. I respect it for what it was – an advisory vote won by a wafer thin majority based on a mountain of lies.

Then, because I say that, I am criticised (virulently quite often) for being undemocratic and for not respecting the will of the people. And many people who did not vote Leave, and do not want to leave, seem to have accepted the line that the vote has happened and they must “respect” it.

But democracy is so much more than a single vote.

Generally speaking electoral votes stand, even if the majority is unsatisfactory. But that is premised on two conditions.  The first is that the voters get a chance regularly to change their minds. The second is that the voters were – at least relatively – well informed about the subject of their vote. All sides make their offers clear, and the media do a proper job of examining their claims.

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“What I really wanted to hear from Remain”

I don’t know who Little Jackie Paper is but I am grateful to her / him for the following comment on  Katharine Pindar’s recent article o EU reform: “What I really wanted to hear from REMAIN in the referendum was, ‘if we remain in the EU the things that we would do differently in future are…..’”.

I think we all accept how ineffective the Remain campaign was overall. It is still quite painful to revisit it. I can still feel the daily gut wrenching at seeing opportunity slip by as the Leave campaign outthought and outfought us. We had so little to offer that was positive, and Little Jackie Paper’s comment sums that up. It focussed my mind, so here is my answer:

End within two years the silliness of the EU working in two places. It is a waste of money and time and it symbolises everything that is wrong about the EU. Find something to placate French feeling about the loss of prestige involved.

Invite every single EU country leader here on a rolling programme over the next two and a half years to explore concerns and mutual interests.

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I want to stay in the EU

 

There has been a bit of a sea change in British politics in the last couple of weeks.

Since June 23rd Remainers have had to put up with their lot, accept the referendum result as if it were a binding expression of democratic will and start preparing for a post Brexit world, or face howls of outrage. I guess that is still the likely outcome, despite today’s court ruling.

But it has become more possible than it has at any time since the referendum to say publicly that I want to stay in the EU, and I hope very much that we find a way to get out of the fix that the vote for Brexit has put us in. Partly it is a matter of courage. Any expression of dismay with the result has been met with a explosive mixture of nastiness, aggression, scorn and abuse ever since. The level has not abated but I have begun to summon up the courage to take it on. Partly that comes from having worked out more firmly the reasons why I stand where I stand:

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We need to focus on things which tangibly improve lives

Terraced housingAre we barking up the wrong tree?

I have wondered for a while if we are focussing on the wrong things, particularly where the EU is concerned. For the record, I want to remain in the EU. I see it as a flawed institution, run by the same cadre of neoliberal capitalists as those who run this country and most of the other countries in Europe. It has, however, two things going for it. The first is the possibility of deeper co-operation across national boundaries. The second is that it has woven into it a thick texture of human rights which the neoliberals, despite their best efforts, have been unable to unwind – it was after all woven in before they came along.

But when I look at this country’s biggest problems, the EU is neither the problem nor the solution. The media cacophony remains completely confusing as to why people voted to leave. The people who voted leave are equally confusing, and there are massive attempts to shut down debate by taking offence if suggestions are made that, for instance, cutting immigration will not solve any problems other than the fragility of some people’s sense of national identity. Taking back control does not take back control, but meely hands it to different members of the neoliberal elite. We still need to identify and solve the problems which have caused such disaffection with the political process.

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The Establishment

In a couple of previous posts I have looked at the effects of Brexit and possibilities for LibDem positioning and policy that may emerge. In many ways the EU is a distraction from the key political battles we face. The most pressing problem we have is inequality in its many manifestations and an economic and social system that works very hard to maintain and increase inequality while we try to redress the balance. That is the case whether we are in the EU or out of it. This is an opportunity to consider some key parameters of our policies without having to look at everything through the prism of the EU debate.

One constant in the debate is the thing called the establishment, a word as much misused as used. I cannot think of anyone more “establishment” than Nigel Farage, who has managed to make a career out of selling the lie that he is anti-establishment. Like many insurgent politicians he has no intention of changing the way the system works. He just wants to change the personnel at the top.

The nature and function of the establishment remains the same though its form has changed in recent decades. Whatever it is, it needs to be a focus of LibDem policy making so we need to consider clearly what it is, what it does and how to deal with it.

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Lib Dem policy now

 

In a way the recent focus on the EU has been a distraction from the things we ought to be talking about and campaigning on. There are many good reasons to want to be inside rather than outside, but there are also many good things to work for whether in or out.

Our political and economic elites are almost entirely neoliberal in heart and doctrine, determined to reduce the power of the state and increase that of corporations, despite the world, with the end of the Soviet empire a generation ago, having moved beyond the phase that made that an attractive proposition for stability. Thus we find ourselves with a choice between being beholden to a neoliberal elite on a European scale, or a neoliberal elite on a countrywide scale (the size of the country yet to be determined). Put in these terms, the choice is unappealing, but, all other things aside, given the option, I would still plump for being in the EU, as human rights were woven into its institutions and practices before the neoliberals came along, and woven in so firmly that they have been unable to do winkle them out.

But, in or out, we find ourselves in a fundamentally divided world, in which inequality grows by the minute. Not just inequality in income but in security, worth, identity and a whole host of other fundamental criteria.

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The referendum: What were people voting about?

Two articles give much food for thought about the referendum. The Independent’s “Austerity and class divide likely factors behind Brexit vote” finds that 60% of the country self identfy as working class and have strong views on immigration, benefits and the unemployed. The report also mentions anti-establishment feelings towards bureacracy and government. The social mobility of the second half of the twentieth century, which saw many working class people move into middle class jobs has all but ended so the possibility of social mobility as a route to security is no longer available. The article also notes short terms changes in that in the years immediately following the 2008 crash there was high approval for austerity, but that has now lessened, with views on related issues, such as the proper rate for benefits, being confused. There is also a mixed pattern with regard to stress and freedom at work and also towards the ideas of coalition and voting reform.

The Guardian’s “Meet 10 Britons who voted to leave the EU” outlines a series of views from leave voters about what they were voting for and against.

The views expressed resonate with the idea that people were voting against the EU as representing the interests of the elite and not the interests of ordinary people. This quote sums up that view:

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Agenda 2020 Essay #3 What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Editor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is 2nd November. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected]

I am a Liberal Democrat because I have a sense of justice. Justice means everybody getting a fair chance without the playing field being tilted against them throughout their lives. Justice does not mean everyone being treated the same all the time. Equality before the law is a sine qua non, but equality …

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Opinion: Time to consider all-women shortlists?

I find myself changing my mind on the subject of all-women shortlists. I’ve always been somewhere between agnostic and sceptical on the basis that it’s fairer to have open candidacies in which the best person gets chosen. If the playing ground needs to be levelled, it is best to do it in training and support rather than fixing the rules for appointments. I based this partly on my now shaken belief that, whatever happens in the other parties, the Lib Dems are nice, our hearts are in the right place, so self evidently good choices will be made.

But three things have shaken that belief. Firstly the Rennard affair, and not just the issue itself but the number of people vigorously defending the status quo; secondly, the endemic sexism still visible in society at large, catalogued in visceral detail at Everyday Sexism; and thirdly, the two separate reports published recently on the shape of the elite in our society – still overwhelmingly male. Patriarchy remains alive and in rude good health, in the party as well as in society at large. The playing field remains permanently tilted against women (as well as against BAME people), and the only way in which we can be fair about that situation is to tilt it back. And niceness won’t cut it. All women shortlisting seems a crude tool but I know of no better one at the moment.

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Opinion: TTIP: What could possibly go wrong?

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA to allow for freer trade between the two. We received an upbeat assessment of its progress and potential from Nick Thornsby a couple of weeks ago. It is currently Liberal Democrat policy to support it, but I have serious reservations about whether we are doing either liberalism or democracy any favours in this instance.

A trade agreement that reduced barriers and increased access to markets, thus lowering prices for customers, and increasing quality would be a great thing. However, this is not …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 33 Comments

Opinion: The male voice on Female Genital Mutilation

Please note that the second paragraph of this article contains some graphic details of the procedure of FGM which some people might find distressing.

I’m very glad to see Liberal Democrats at the forefront of the drive to rid this country and the world of female genital mutilation (FGM), one of the most horrible expressions of male power over the female. The debate about it, around the world, as well as in this country, is often blurred by comparisons with male circumcision, which many people also campaign against actively (and in my view rightly). When the topic of FGM comes …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 79 Comments

Opinion: Managing the NHS

nhs sign lrgI agree with Norman Tebbit. There, I’ve said it. The antique rottweiler was writing in the Telegraph in response to a number of intemperate comments made on another column about the service received from staff at the NHS. He said, among other things, “when things go wrong, as they have often done in the NHS, I believe it is right to blame the officers, especially the more senior ones, rather than the troops”. I agree with him whole heartedly on that point, though not on …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 7 Comments

Opinion: 2013’s banana skin?

Banana skin - Some rights reserved by purplemattfishThe LibDem Voice end of year survey gives us, as usual, much food for thought.

Net approval of the coalition’s record is down to 14% from 41% a year before. “Three big hits seem to have been responsible: first, the row over the NHS Bill; secondly, the omnishambolic March budget; and thirdly, the collapse of Lords reform”.

What issues might derail us this year? One is slowly poisoning our society, and with it the claims of the Liberal Democrats to be a party of fairness.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 37 Comments
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    Fantastic piece. Thank you....
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