Author Archives: Ruth Bright

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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