Author Archives: Ruth Bright

Boris on Care: wrong words, right target

The corporate voice of the care sector is up in arms about the PM’s comments on care. Of course, his remarks about care homes, not following procedures were sly and clumsy, but he is right that the care sector should shoulder some of the blame for the virtual decimation of their aged residents.

Clap for carers was a touching display of community empathy for people in the front line but neither this outpouring nor the tragic deaths of care home staff should make the care sector itself exempt from criticism in the forthcoming debate on social care reform.

Just before this crisis …

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Statues that work

No-one could call Eastleigh Town Centre a pretty place.

But something that Eastleigh gets exactly right is its statues. There is the generic son of industrial toil: the Railwayman, tribute to the town’s railway heritage. Then there is Charlotte Yonge, a Victorian novelist who named the town. Charlotte is very unusual in England – a female statue who isn’t Queen Victoria, a minor nineteenth century royal or a mythical angel type figure on a war memorial (though Eastleigh has one of those too).

Here they both are (above), Charlotte and the Railwayman, …

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The toast test

Care should be about dignity. Simples. I call it the toast test.

A nursing home in the Home Counties. A confused resident wakes late – nearly time for lunch. He requests toast. The care staff (Polish, Filipino, Indian, one Brit) are “toileting” everyone before their meal.

As activity coordinator I am on my break but fetch a piece of toast for him. It isn’t my job but it makes the resident happy. He is in control of very little but he has exercised a choice. I then get a mild telling off for spoiling his lunch. It is sometimes the resident’s  job to fit into the (admittedly benign) routine rather than for him to do what he likes in his own home.

Another resident “plays up” during the forthcoming lunch and the struggling staff wheel her back to the lounge and briefly leave her crying in front of the compulsory kilometre wide telly.

Another resident is in the last few days of his life. He doesn’t like the food (which to be fair is normally pretty good). He has a fancy for fruit cake. I sign myself out of the Fort Knox style world, keypad security on each floor, fingerprint recognition to get in and out of the building and traipse down the drive to purchase a fruit cake from a nearby shop and smuggle it back in.

The resident and I enjoy our subversive fruit cake together.

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Gendered lockdown?

Anyone who has been at home all day with a toddler and a pre-schooler knows how tough that can be. Some days are good – you enchant the little so-and-sos with colouring and sing-songs. Other days feel like Guantanamo with nappies. I remember once as a stay-at-home Mum realising the only adult company I had “seen” all day was Jeremy Paxman when I switched on Newsnight at 10.30pm. That’s bad!

It is a million times tougher now – no playgrounds and no chance to let little ones play outside for long. The young children have almost completely disappeared from the small estate where I live and I have the distinct impression that young mums are doing most of the work and they are doing an amazing job. I am lucky to be shut up with two teenagers where the only worry is the Netflix subscription and will it work on two devices at once.

I go for a walk to the park and the Co-op about every three days at about quarter to seven. I went down the whole length of Derby Road, a major road in Eastleigh, and saw no-one. Then a young man cut across me smoking. Social distance? Nah! The other day a youngish guy at the end of an aisle in the Co-op was cheerfully sniffing “at” me 50cm away.  A week ago, shopping at Sainsbury’s, a guy beckoned to me to use the automatic till he was just vacating. Not an inviting prospect as he had been coughing over it without putting his hand up!

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Good Goodbyes

Queen Victoria and her nine children. Princess Alice is on the left

In 1878 Queen Victoria’s daughter Alice was 35. In the lead up to Christmas most of her family in Darmstadt, Germany became ill as the brutal disease diphtheria raged through them. Alice was scrupulous about infection control. She was a nursing pioneer and Liberal thinker. Way ahead of her time. But she buckled when telling her little son Ernest that his young sister Marie had died and, against all of the rules, she held him close. Inevitably she succumbed to the disease and died a few days later.

Every Victorian would have known this sad tale and identified with it. But just a short month ago it would have sounded a bit mawkish and medieval to 21st century Western ears.

Unbelievably this story is now topical with the (rare) but tragic death of a young teenager at Kings’ College. His family, through no fault of their own, unable to be with him because of the infection risk to them and to others.

A Welsh GP’s surgery has been pilloried for asking people about end of life choices. This is wrong. Ventilation, intubation, resuscitation and even “simple” catheterisation are all invasive and potentially traumatic. Any or all of them are well worth the candle in many circumstances for many people. But not in all circumstances for all people. Most of us would want the medical “kitchen sink” thrown at the young but we have to face up now to difficult conversations about where dignity trumps longevity and whether death at home with loved ones might be better than death in a field hospital surrounded by busy strangers in spacesuits.

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“Thank you!” – an open letter to Jo

Dear Jo,

As many others have pointed out in the last few days a bit of masochism never comes amiss if one is a Liberal Democrat. Pain and sorrow come with the territory.

When my 70-year old Mum cruelly lost her hard-worked council seat in 2014, courtesy of the Coalition, we got separated slightly from our colleagues after the count. We are not prone to emotion but, two dumpy ladies of 5ft nothing, we clung together as her result was announced and Labour activists surrounded us and screamed their glee. One of them trod on me in the hubbub.

Later, back home, as …

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Ruth Davidson and the Dinosaurs

Whereas the thought of being on the road fighting two elections in twenty months would once have fired me up; the threat of spending hundreds of hours away from my home and family now fills me with dread.

So said former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson in her resignation letter last week.

Most campaigners, candidates or MPs will know exactly what she meant when she said those words. Politics can be fun, addictive and all-consuming (especially in these extraordinary times) but we nearly all reach a point when home and hearth tug in a way that canvassing a whole street in the rain certainly does not!

Even 14 years later I am haunted by the words of my toddler daughter when I was a busy parliamentary candidate. Playing with her plastic animals she told her babysitter: “This is Baby dinosaur. This is Daddy dinosaur. But Mummy dinosaur is at a meeting”.

Jo Swinson and Ruth Davidson have been inspiring role models for working mothers. They have both been honest that it isn’t easy. Obviously the pressure on them as party leaders is vastly greater than on us bog standard PPCs. But Davidson and Swinson did at least have two things that pregnant parliamentary candidates do not: 

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Leadership and the C-word

Venn diagram of Lib Dem/Tory influence on Coalition policies“Two non-entities” – the curt analysis of historian David Starkey on the Lib Dem leadership race seems unduly harsh. But as a semidetached

Lib Dem looking for an excuse to reattach I have at the very least been struck by just how similar the two Lib Dem leadership candidates are.

The Lib Dems are now a very new and fresh party in the sense that most members have joined in very recent years or even months. For those of us with decades of libdemmery under our belts, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson almost feel like extended family. They are resilient folk who have been around for ages. Both of them are very much to be admired for withstanding the humiliation of losing their seats and then clawing those seats back.

White, middle-class, Oxbridge/Russell group, neither at first sight really exude life’s hard knocks. In fact, both have put forward moving accounts of just how searing real life can be. Jo Swinson’s speech in Parliament on combining politics and early motherhood was an astonishingly frank tour de force. Ed Davey’s poignant radio interview on his experience of early bereavement was truly memorable.

But, and it’s a very big but, how do we process their work in coalition? There is a poverty of debate in the party about the Coalition and about… err… poverty. The Lib Dems dropped austerity unceremoniously in 2015 (almost as suddenly as it was adopted back in 2010) and by 2017 it was almost as if the Coalition had never happened.

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D-Day from Great Grandma’s perspective

“Churchill?” “Nothing but an old war monger!” Thus spake Lil my great-grandma. Lil was the sort of woman who doesn’t get into history books but the words “doughty” and “feisty” were fashioned just for her.

Even as a six-year old I remember her tutting through all the sentimentality of her 90th birthday and making it perfectly clear that she wasn’t going to bother getting to 91 (she didn’t). When her day came the grim reaper must have been vastly more daunted to meet her than she was to meet him.

Amid all the militarism of the D-Day commemorations it would also be good to remember the wartime mums. Because some of Lil’s bluster and displays of character were surely a result of the awful blow she endured in 1943 when her adored elder son was killed in the war. He was 33.

There were so many like Lil. Jessie Bowles for instance. I live in what was once Jessie’s house. Her son Bert was in the RAF during the war and was killed over Berlin in January 1944. He was 21.

And Mrs Mackenzie, Barbara Mackenzie was my Dad’s landlady when he was stationed in the Highlands during the war. She treated him like a son. Her own son Archie was killed in the aftermath of the Normandy landings. It will be 75 years on June 28th. Archie was just 20.

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Corbyn and Hobson’s Choice

Read the book – it’s Hobson’s choice.

Has the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition actually read J A Hobson’s “Imperialism”? That is the question posed by today’s Times.

J A Hobson (not to be confused with J R Hartley) “Imperialism: A Study” 1902. As I remember it was a green book with a black spine or was it a black book with a green spine? I think our copy went in the book cull of 2017 when we moved house. It probably went to Oxfam – going the same way as “Green Eggs and Ham” and the “Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Books from a different era outgrown by our family.

To be fair, I read a lot of Lenin as a student as my course on Russian History required. But pre cursors to Lenin, like Hobson, that was going a bit too far so poor old Hobson, was, I’m sorry to say, earnestly bought but never read.

Also when I was a student there was a seemingly very sincere post grad who went around giving his socialist pamphlets to all those who would stop and listen for a few moments. Having given up and taken one it was only sometime later that I noticed that after a few pages of hackneyed guff about the “commanding heights” of the economy the pamphlet blamed all the world’s ills on China and the “yellow peril”.

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Group B Strep – screening babies saves lives

Imagine you are a carrier of something that could be deadly. As a carrier you could passively, inadvertently, through absolutely no fault of your own bring about harm, even mortal harm, to your newborn child? What if the NHS, though it had the opportunity to find out, did not trouble to screen you for this thing you carry and therefore offer you the anti-biotics in childbirth which would keep your baby safe?

Sounds awful doesn’t it? But the NHS fails to screen pregnant women and provide them with the information that they might carry Group B Streptococcus. As a result women pass on that infection to 700 babies a year who become very dangerously ill with Group B Strep related meningitis and or sepsis or pneumonia.

Incidence is on the up, with on average a baby dying of Group B Strep infection every week. Studies show that very close to half of children who survive are left with some kind of educational impairment.

As a campaigner I feel a tremendous sense of ground hog day style failure about Group B Strep. Fourteen years ago I went to a meeting chaired by David Cameron with other parents who had had GBS babies. I was one of the lucky ones as my baby survived her infection. The Labour junior minister who addressed us was unbelievably callous telling the bereaved parents they were too close to the issue to weigh up the pros and cons of screening for GBS. More recently bereaved parents also got short shrift for their petition on screening from a junior Tory minister who did not even express condolences.

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So farewell then Sunday Politics…

Way back in the early eighties there was a sitcom called “Butterflies” where the mum was lampooned for her terrible cooking and all round failure as a homemaker. I pride myself in being the 21st century version of that mum. I drown noodles, explode baked beans in the microwave, incinerate duck and pancakes (even though Mr Marks and Mr Spencer provide simple instructions) and the hoover gathers more dust than it picks up.

And yet, despite it all I know I am a reasonably ok parent because I have at least managed to impart to my children an interest in politics.

Most …

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RAF 100

Think about it. Have you ever seen graphic footage of the Blitz? Not cheery chaps sifting through some light rubble with the WVS serving tea nearby. No, nothing like that. But bodies and horror.

The footage exists. A little was shown in the 1970s in the series “The World at War” but generally we are much more familiar with appalling images of the Holocaust than we are with the facts of area bombing either in Germany or Britain. The scale is hard to grasp now. Over 600 dead and nearly 900 injured in two nights of bombing in Southampton alone.

A few weeks ago Royal Mail issued a series of stamps to mark the RAF’s centenary. Inevitably they show chocolate box images of bright blue skies, fighter planes and Red Arrows without a wartime heavy bomber in sight. Perhaps the Royal Mail felt that images of the Lancaster had been “done to death” already. Done to death indeed.

People like my late Dad, AC2 W H Clark, an RAF wireless operator during WW2, knew exactly what area bombing meant. What is rarely realised today is that there was a massive backlash about the carnage at the time. In the current sentimental climate it is hard to believe but both during and after the war in many quarters Bomber Command was an embarrassment and so were its veterans. Like many of his generation Dad felt that stigma. He did not collect his service medals. Also, like many of his generation, he frequently messed up his life in an era when there was little sympathy for “combat stress” and little compassion about the lost opportunities of survivors who had given up precious years of youth to war service.

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Cyril Smith: “Scurrilous hearsay?”

11 minutes and 19 seconds into Sunday’s final episode of “A Very English Scandal” Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe spoke the immortal lines: “All that new blood coming through – Clement Freud, Cyril Smith. Exciting Times”.  Of course the lines are fictional but the point is well made. We now know a very great deal about those “exciting times” and how abusers hid in plain sight behind a 70’s larger than life, English eccentric, man of the people image.

All the more astonishing then that Lord Steel said on Monday’s Newsnight that the allegations against Smith were “so far scurrilous hear-say”. 

This when the CPS has already admitted that Smith should have been prosecuted in 1970 or again in 1998 and 1999. On September 16 2017 the Chief Executive of Rochdale Borough Council gave an apology to the victims. The late, great Liz MacKean’ s  extraordinarily moving Dispatches documentary from September 2013 is still available. MacKean hears from those who say they were abused by Smith. I defy anyone not to at least give those witnesses a hearing.

The Independent Inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) issued its interim report about Rochdale on April 25. In no way shape or form does the interim report implicate any Liberal or Liberal Democrat figures in abuse conducted by Cyril Smith. But, terrifyingly, it makes it clear that it is very likely that Smith abused over many decades. It hears from those who say they were abused by Smith in the 90s at Knowl View School and is astonished by the decision to make him Chair of Governors in 1994. Smith’s abuse does not just relate to allegations in the 60s when he was a member of the Labour Party.

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Time to stop wringing our hands on gender balance

Mark Pack has run another interesting analysis on the way we have stalled in recruiting women into local government.

When I was elected to Southwark council in 1994 our large Lib Dem group had already achieved gender balance. When I was selected as PPC in East Hants in 2002 our ruling Town Council group had also achieved gender balance. It is therefore very sad all these years later to see how things are stalling or going backwards.

I totted up the following figures on the counties some months ago. I put the figures together in a hurry, have not allowed for recent by-elections and I might have made the odd wrong assumption that a name is male or female. Please accept my apologies for any mistakes but even with those many health warnings I was shocked by the following balance of male and female Lib Dem councillors on the counties:

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Book Review: Equal Power and how you can make it happen

On hearing of the arrival of a new volume of “how to” popular feminism one might be tempted to channel Brenda of Bristol on hearing about the election: “ANOTHER one!!”

Jo Swinson enters a very crowded market with her new book. Can she really have anything to add?

To be fair she doesn’t just write about this stuff; she really means it. Largely ignoring the six week old baby strapped to my (very sore) front she once nagged, cajoled, charmed and begged me to stand in a forthcoming by-election. She has probably directly encouraged hundreds of women and girls to get involved or go further in politics.

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#timetotalk – My story

It can safely be said that there are not too many articles on Lib Dem Voice inspired by Adele! But with LDV’s record of taboo-breaking posts on mental health she is a fitting heroine for her refreshing honesty about post-natal depression. She said in an interview a few months ago that it affected her so seriously that she hesitated about having more children. It is something many of us can identify with but few admit.

For me, it was very tied up with having a sick baby and the pressures of being …

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Congratulations, Jacinda

It was lovely to hear that the Prime Minister of New Zealand is pregnant. What more extraordinary proof that women can have it all.

Even for political minnows though going back after six weeks as she plans is a tall order.

Hopefully her eminence means that she will have a fantastic support system in place. For those of us small fry activists who have to write our own leaflets, print them, pay for them and deliver them delivering a baby at the same time and fending off the hostility for having “deserted” our post is pretty tough going.

It is amazing how having a baby exerts such strong feelings in others. Lovely ones like protectiveness, joy and empathy but also hideous ones like jealousy, misogyny and even revulsion. It is salutary to note that pregnancy is a time when women are most in danger from domestic violence. When I was a pregnant parliamentary candidate I could scarcely believe how downright rude people could be: “a walking caesarean”, “oh not another one”, “have you got another one in there?” (and that was just the Lib Dems!) This was a decade ago and I really hoped that the climate had changed so it was depressing to see that very recently the Labour MP Luciana Berger was greeted with derision for supposed absences when she was breastfeeding.

Perhaps a good way forward is to have proper protocols for maternity leave for politicians at all levels. According to a recent report a mind blowing 97% of councils have no formal procedures to allow councillors to take maternity leave.

I drafted the following for our own party and would welcome your thoughts.

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Snowflakes and Safe spaces

What sensitive flowers they are! You cannot move these days for some commentator dismissing students (especially women and LGBT students) as lacking resilience and unable to cope with criticism, contrary views or even a bit of banter.

But would we really want to go back to the university culture of thirty or forty years ago – particularly for women? The revelation in Harriet Harman’ s biography “A Woman’s Work” that her tutor threatened to downgrade her degree if she did not sleep with him does not come as a big surprise to those of us who went to university a few decades ago.

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Just a joke, love

Embed from Getty Images

I blame Strictly Come Dancing. Autumn last year my son and I are settling down to watch our regular two hour marathon of sequins and emotion when he pipes up that he fancies a Chinese takeaway. Doting Mum, off I trot down the high street to fulfill my youngest’s whim. It is not even 7pm in a sleepy market town and stepping out into the evening holds no fears. But as I pass the Crown Hotel and then the Baker’s Arms my path is blocked by two young men. The shorter one is almost face to face with me and as I side step him he side steps too, blocks my path again and blows smoke in my face. Having enjoyed my discomfort for a few seconds off they go giggling into the evening.

The cemetery down the road a few weeks ago. Broad daylight. I am at one end of the cemetery -three teenagers at the other. I have caught their attention and they clearly have not yet clocked that I am old enough to be their mum (ye Gods, their grandma even). As they come towards me one of them starts: “Are you going to say hello to us? Are you going to say hello to us? Are you going to..” He becomes more sheepish when he gets closer and realises my seniority but he does not want to back down in front of his mates and keeps on at me, tailing off as his mates snigger and I swerve onto another path. I am all too conscious that that path leads me deeper into the churchyard with no means of escape if things escalate. They wonder off, doubtless to continue studying for their A’Levels at the sixth form college down the road and then home to Mum.

A month ago. A new low. This time I am accompanied. A late evening walk with my son and husband. We are just going past my son’s old school.  My son is on his bike and freewheels on ahead followed closely by my husband. I fall back a few metres and have noticed a couple of lads hanging around. I turn round to look as they don’t seem altogether benign. I am greeted with: “You’ve got a big butt.” (technically not inaccurate but a somewhat unnecessary observation to a complete stranger).”I said you’ve got a big butt.” I offer them a cheery expletive (feeling safe to risk antagonising them because my husband is not that far away) and receive a rapid stream of f-words. 

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Cyril Smith – an apology is the very least we owe the victims

The Chief Executive of Rochdale Council has apologised for letting down the victims of Cyril Smith. It is time that the Liberal Democrats, as successor party to the Liberal Party made an apology to the victims too – not for any direct responsibility but the fact that he was able to use our party as a front for the “big Cyril”, “national treasure” image which helped him cover up earlier crimes. Cyril Smith is not a figure from ancient Liberal Party history. He was a Liberal Democrat MP for his last three years in parliament, he died in 2010 and his accusers were being criticised on this site as late as 2015.

Victims deserve the following actions from the party:

  1. An apology from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats that the party was unknowingly used as a front for Smith’s respectability.
  2. An inquiry into any remaining evidence about him within the party.
  3. A direction to the pastoral care officer to support any party activists who wish to talk about their own experiences with Smith.
  4. A direction that all references to Smith be removed from the Rochdale Lib Dems website (which has an extraordinary archive with cheery references to his 80th birthday and other events).

Editor’s Note:

The party’s position on this was made clear in a statement issued some time ago. 

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Dementia Tax – Project Fear

Dementia has been a big part of my life. Over the years I have worked with people with dementia in some of our most deprived communities in south London – Brixton, Elephant and Castle, Peckham, Old Kent Road and the surrounding (often high-rise) estates.

I have therefore felt very torn by the party’s recent headlong charge for the populist line on the “dementia tax”. As a (naturally pretty tribal) Lib Dem of three decades standing I recognised a fantastic campaigning issue that might help claw back a few coastal “retirement” seats. However, I also knew that the inaccurate use of the term dementia tax (it is neither a tax nor is it about dementia) causes pain to many for whom this is not just a line in a press release but something real and near at hand.  People with dementia have a cognitive impairment but they are not stupid; they can and do take in political messages. Politicians need to think of the deep distress their negative campaigning can cause to many of our 850,000 fellow citizens who are living with this disease.

During the election the party launched a “Theresa May Estate Agent” website that quoted the  example of a “lady from Runcorn” who at the first symptoms of dementia had her home whipped away by the government. This achieves the triple whammy of being misleading about dementia, misleading about the current system and misleading about the (then) prospective system. If only we had moderated our language on this. For a start the dichotomy between “free” coronary care and “paid for” dementia care is false. Thanks to the voluntary sector (usually funded by health services or councils) many people with dementia get significant help and advice for free. If you are diagnosed with dementia early the stereotype of a tragic husk of a dementia victim slumped in a chair is completely untrue. There is no cure for or reversal of dementia but the NHS funds drugs which can have a plateauing effect on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s for many years. Lots of dementia care from MRI scans to memory clinics is completely free of charge.

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Keep on keeping on

The talk of the Blitz spirit in London can become a bit mawkish at a time like this. A family member of mine went through the real Blitz in 1940 and 1941 and she told me that all was far from the myth. Class still pervaded all – for example, many looked down on those without a shelter who hid from bombs in the tube. Not everyone sang “Roll out the barrel”; not everyone cooed with gratitude as Queen Elizabeth wafted by in chiffon. Looting was a common occurrence. Horrible things were covered up by the authorities.

And yet it was also a time of extraordinary solidarity. The resilience of the East Londoner was not made up. Grandma talked matter-of-factly about being bombed out, of losing home and possessions – not once but twice, as if it were a minor inconvenience.

When I was a child in the seventies I was taken to see the Christmas windows at Selfridges. Not far from where my Grandma worked throughout the Blitz. Selfridges was bombed later that day (the IRA gave a warning and there was enormous damage but no loss of life). Twenty five years later the office where I worked received damage when a nail bomb was left in Brixton market. My colleagues and I were lucky. It was a weekend and none of us were in the building but many Saturday shoppers suffered horrible injuries.

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International Women’s Day: Could there ever be a Lib Dem Jess Phillips?

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Future women, real lives

The Women Candidates’ weekend is about to take place and (apart from the odd party pooper) most reasonable folk can see that an event that boosts confidence and offers a quick burst of training is of value. But what about candidate support and candidate retention when the big weekend is over?

In a small party with a reliance on the selfless hard work of a thin layer of ridiculously dedicated volunteers it is not surprising that the pastoral care of candidates has not been a big priority over the years. It was a luxury we could not afford. But that has …

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Believe?

Children’s ward, 1974.

A nurse has told us what to do. Important. Nurses are grown-ups and important. They have a uniform. You do what they say. All of us, boys and girls, all ages, we have to do what they say. I am 7 and here to have my tonsils out. This hospital is special. It was where I was born. I have never been away from my parents or my grandparents or my cat. On the bedside table is a Blue Peter Annual and a Lucie Attwell prayer book, it has pop-up pictures. The books remind me of home. I don’t much like the older boys. They like to watch Planet of the Apes on the telly at the end of the ward. That’s scary we don’t watch that at home. I asked for the Wombles on the Hospital Radio. They haven’t played it yet.

The nurse says that we all need to go to the toilet in potties by the side of the bed. All of us are doing it. At the same time. Horrible, I am 7. Babies use potties. I don’t want the older boys to see me. I Shuffle close to the bed so no-one will see me do it. But the other end of the ward can see me do it. They can see under the bed. You have to do it because it is the hospital. But no-one at school makes you go to the toilet in front of other people. Everything’s different in hospital.

As you can probably tell my first spell in hospital is almost as vivid to me today as it was 43 years ago. A minor incident? Inadvertently or intentionally abusive? Obviously it would be unacceptable now. What possible excuse can there have been for a urine sample to have been required from us all at the same time in view of each other and staff?

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A Christmas Gift Guide

You know how it is. What with by-elections and all you simply haven’t had time to sort out your Christmas gifts. Before panic sets in relax, don’t worry, sit back and enjoy the LDV last minute gift guide. All the political pressies you could possibly want – and plenty you didn’t!

For children

It simply has to be the “Tiger Tim” cuddly toy. Like our leader, his qualities and all round niceness speak for themselves and he even has a miniature bird of liberty T-Shirt. Yours for £9.50 from the wonderful Lib Dem Image. The Parliament Shop has also has a lovely wooden toy – “House of Commons in a box” but a bit pricier at £19.99.

For the ageing activist

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A time to speak out?

It was in fact the mid-seventies but looking back it seems more like Victorian times. Rows and rows of little kids in red and grey uniform and we chirruped in unison from a hymn we were far too little to understand about how to “master self and temper, how to make our conduct fair, when to speak and when be silent, when to do and when forbear”.

When as Liberals should we be silent and when should we speak out?

Three examples for your consideration:

On the school run I walk alongside a mum, like me, whose family go back many, many years in this town. She has assumed we are on the same wavelength. We make small talk about how the town has grown and changed. Out she comes with: “There weren’t any black people here when we were young were there Ruth?” I hesitated, I admit I hesitated, the school run is not a political occasion but her tone and inference were clear and I replied as gently as I could by asking her if she had a problem with that (ie that the town was now multi-racial). She scuttled back into her shell and waffled about how “it” just showed how the town has changed. She has hardly spoken to me since.

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Time for some Liberal Herstory

British Liberal LeadersTraditional Mothers’ Day treats do not really appeal to me. My gift on Sunday was the new(ish) book British Liberal Leaders (Brack, Ingham, Little et al) and the free time to finish reading it. I love tales of Lloyd George’s derring-do and of Steel’s “going back to your constituencies” as much as the next Liberal. All human life is there in the chapters on each party leader: Asquith’s failings, Ashdown’s verve, Clegg’s self-pity.

Well I say all human life is there but is it? In many ways it is an admirable book, John Campbell’s chapter on Roy Jenkins is a particular treat. There is a catch though. Where on earth are the women?

There are 24 chapters on each of the 24 Liberal, SDP or Lib Dem leaders. All the leaders analysed are men of course. Fair enough. We cannot go back in time and insert Nancy Seear or Shirley Williams as party leaders in a retrospective All Women Shortlist!

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Save Lloyd George!

Some important centenaries are marked in 2016 but for Liberals perhaps the most intriguing centenary of all is the one that marks the start of Lloyd George’s term as Prime Minister.

But Lloyd George’s legacy is in danger because the Welsh museum dedicated to him might soon have to close.

Gwynedd Lib Dem Cllr Steve Churchman and his colleagues have been valiantly fighting the closure due to a loss of grant of a mere £27,000. They point out what would be an incalculable loss to their community. We should surely all support their bid to save a precious slice of Liberal history.

As Cllr Churchman explains:

The museum comprises the dedicated museum building, Lloyd George’s uncles workshop, his childhood house and garden, the museum garden and car park and the riverside grave and memorial. It physically cannot be relocated. Many of the treasures are on long-term loan from family members. If the museum is closed then these artefacts will be splashed to the four winds and lost from public sight forever. We also lose an educational facility used by many of the county’s schools.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 22 Comments
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