Author Archives: Sal Brinton

Sal Brinton writes: Hungry for Democracy?

Next Tuesday the UK will commemorate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the vote and we will be marking the contribution of the commitment of suffragettes and suffragists over years to achieve it. I am sure, however, that many of them would be very concerned about the fault lines in our democracy one hundred years on.

The democratic deficit in our country is stark. First past the post denies representation to millions: in the 2015 General Election, the Lib Dems, Greens, and UKIP got over 24% of the vote, but won a mere 1.5% of the seats in Parliament. And in 2017 the Conservatives and the DUP received 43% of the votes between them, but hold a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.

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Sal Brinton writes…Transgender rights are core to Lib Dem values

Following some problems in the Labour Party over whether transgender members can be treated as women for the purposes of all women shortlists (AWS), a number of members of the Liberal Democrats have asked me where the Lib Dems stand on transgender rights, including on AWS.

As a party we voted at Federal Conference in March 2016 to use all the powers available to us under the guidance to political parties under the Equality Act 2010. Helpfully, this also links to our clear and long term view about the rights of an individual in our values, best summarised in our Preamble to the Constitution:

‘The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full….

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely.’

Under the Equality Act 2010 we are able to have all women ppc shortlists (AWS) & all disabled shortlists (ADS), as well as to reserve places on a ppc shortlist for LGBT+, BAME, women & disabled approved candidates. Our definition for those who are eligible for AWS is based on the self definition of candidates when they ask to go on to the approved candidates list (which can be updated if their circumstances change by sending a formal request to the candidates office to change their equality and diversity form).  We respect the view of the individual as to their gender – it is core to our values – and we’ll continue to do so. 

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Sal Brinton writes…How the party is addressing members’ concerns over harassment complaints

The Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats has met to discuss the concerns expressed by members of the party over the last few days. We considered what action should be taken to address these concerns, and also to let members know about changes that are in progress already.

I want to start by thanking everybody who has spoken up about harassment and sexual assault over the last few days. I know, from personal experience in the media when I was younger, that it is insidious, pervasive and demeaning and the effects never really leave you. Vince Cable and I remain very clear that there is no place for harassment and sexual assault inside the Liberal Democrats and we must have a zero tolerance approach to it.

That is why the serious allegations made by some members relating to rape and assaults in a case that is currently under investigation are very serious. Because the case is under way at the moment, the party cannot comment. However, we can look at some of the concerns raised by the complainants about where the process may have failed. That is urgent, and the Board recognises this.

Early in 2017 the Federal Board asked Lord Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, to carry out a review of our current disciplinary processes for two reasons. Firstly, following the Morrissey Review the party constantly reviews its processes, but the Board was also  concerned to hear that some cases appeared to take too long, and that some processes were inconsistent. Ken was asked to think radically about a new process that would be seen as independent, fair, faster and accountable. The snap General Election halted the evidence he was taking, but the report is now nearing conclusion and will be presented to the Board in December, published to the party in January and then changes presented formally to Spring Conference.

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Sal Brinton writes…We must have a politics in which everyone feels able to be involved free from abuse or harassment

Over the last ten days the country has been rocked by the revelations of sexual harassment at Westminster.  Let me be clear that the Liberal Democrats believe harassment and abuse of power are unacceptable in any situation, and especially at Westminster.  Whether the allegations are about groping, inappropriate remarks or texts through to possible criminal offences of sexual assault and rape, any complaint needs to be listened to, taken seriously and investigated. Since these incidents are often about abuses of power, it is crucial people have an independent, confidential route to report incidents when they happen.

This week the Chief Whips in the Commons and the Lords have met with staff twice to hear their views and to ensure everyone is aware of how to make a complaint, and assured they will be taken seriously.  We are also reviewing our procedures in Parliament with a view to broadening the involvement in investigations to include some of those most likely to have a lived experience of this type of behaviour. There have also been meetings with both groups of MPs and peers to review their responsibilities to staff and volunteers.

Vince Cable will be meeting with the other party leaders on Monday to discuss how Parliament and the political parties can work better together to rid Parliament of the scourge of harassment.

In doing so, he will draw on the lessons our own party has learned.  In 2013 the Liberal Democrats commissioned Helena Morrissey to conduct a Review which changed fundamentally the party’s process and attitude towards sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power. The Federal Executive (now the Federal Board) accepted all her recommendations, and also asked Helena Morrissey to review progress against her recommendations, which the FE also reviewed at the end of 2014.

We re-wrote our Code of Conduct for members  and made it clear what the rights and responsibilities are of members.  There’s a page that has links to specific responsibilities for people with different roles here. We encourage people to report incidents – without a complaint it is very hard to investigate – and put in place arrangements to ensure that complainants feel supported.  Some people have been expelled from the party since strengthening our rules.

We have a professional Pastoral Care Officer, Jeanne Tarrant, who is not a party member.  She is trained to handle complaints fairly and independently, whether they come from inside or outside the party. Complaints come to her via the website  or by emailing her at [email protected].  She will contact the complainant to get more information if necessary and guide them through the process. Where she believes that a crime has been committed, she will also encourage the complainant to go to the police.

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Sal Brinton’s reminder about Party Awards nominations – deadline Friday 11th August

The deadline for this year’s Party Awards has been extended until Friday – don’t forget to nominate! I know there are people all over the country who deserve to be rewarded for all the hard work they put in during the election period, not to mention the invaluable ongoing work which so many party officers and others have been carrying out.

As a reminder, please see below the various categories, and how to apply.

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Sal Brinton writes…Party Awards 2017 – nominate your hero!

It is Awards season again!

At our Autumn Conference the party presents awards to members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty and have given the party outstanding service and commitment.

We need you to tell us who should be considered for these prestigious awards. Nominations need to be completed by an officer of a local party, or of a regional or state executive.

Nominations must reach my office by 7 August and the judging panels will make their decision in time for Conference. The nomination form and submission details are on the party website.

This year there are four awards.

The President’s Award is open to any party member elected to public office and who has demonstrated excellence and commitment.

The Harriet Smith Liberal Democrat distinguished service Award is open to any member never elected to public office

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Sal Brinton writes… What you need to know about the leadership election

You can tell that we are in the middle of a Leadership Election. All the Lib Dem social media forums are buzzing, rumours abound, and there are plenty of discussions going on about the next Leader of the party.

As President I have to remain completely neutral in any Leadership contest because I represent all 104,000 of you to the Leader. I am very aware that many thousands of you will never have been through a Leadership Election before, so I thought it might be worth an attempt at explaining our processes.

Any candidate has to get at least 10% of our MPs to support them by 5 July, and thereafter get nominated by 200 paid up members from at least 20 local parties or official party bodies (Specified Associated Organisations such as Young Liberals, Lib Dem Women etc ‘SAOs’). These nominations must be submitted by 20 July when nominations close.

At the moment, the nomination forms have only just been circulated to the MPs, so anyone planning on standing is now going to have to come out to the membership to get your nomination.

Any candidates will have teams round the country asking for your support, so don’t be surprised if you get a request. 200 nominations doesn’t sound a great number, but speaking as someone who has had to get those nominations in twice for the Presidential elections, it isn’t as easy as it sounds! Remember, you can only nominate one candidate. 

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Sal Brinton writes…Nominations for Party Awards are open

It’s that time of year again – the Party Awards season, and the nominations pack is now up on the website. The awards recognise the exceptional and dedicated work our members do in our communities and this is your chance to tell us who we should be recognising.
The following awards are open for nomination:

President’s Award – open to any Party Member elected to public office and who has demonstrated excellence and commitment.
Harriet Smith Liberal Democrat Distinguished Service Award – open to any Party Member never elected to public office and who has demonstrated excellence and commitment.

Belinda Eyre-Brook Award – to recognise the efforts of people working for our elected representatives in their local areas – from local party employees, to political assistants to council groups, to people working in MPs’ constituency offices.

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Sal Brinton writes…My speech to the Demo for Democracy

Sal Brinton at Demo for DemocracyToday’s excellent Make Votes Matter demo outside parliament was both well attended and fun. A range of bodies, such as Unlock Democracy and the ERS joined with the Make Votes Matter group to urge us into action to make sure that the politicians don’t forget we still need PR for Westminster as well as for local government in England and Wales. All the major parties were represented – even the Conservatives – but neither the Tories nor Labour have signed up as parties.  We, of course, have, as well as the Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru. Paul Tyler is our representative at the cross party discussions.

Make Votes Matter is led by Owen Winter, an extraordinary young campaigner from Cornwall, who speaks with passion and enthusiasm about electoral reform. The event started with election lottery, where people picked out a card with one party on it, and then had a second, most of which didn’t match.

I was invited to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and I started by reminding people that we as liberals have been pushing for PR for over 150 years. It was John Stuart Mill in 1861 who wrote in his essay Considerations on Representative Government:

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Sexual Harassment Reports from Conference

Firstly I’d like to thank all those people who took part in the diversity debate. There were strong feelings on both sides of the argument, and everyone spoke with incredible passion and courage. I really think that wherever you stand on the issue, we can all be proud of such a spirited discussion that’s so unique to our party. I want to work with those who opposed it, to ensure that all the training, mentoring and support works well.

But I also think I speak for many members when I say that there was a cloud overhanging the debate.

A number of very brave young women stood up and made serious allegations regarding the conduct of certain party members, notably men, at Conference and other Party events.

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Baroness Sal Brinton writes…Electing diverse MPs

One of the most shocking events of the 2015 General Election night was the loss of our top held and target seats with women and BAME candidates, which resulted in an entirely pale and male parliamentary party. Members were rightly upset by this, and there has been much discussion about what steps the party needs to take to ensure that in 2020 and beyond our party looks like the countries and communities we represent. Top seats are already beginning the process of selecting Westminster candidates for 2020. We can’t afford to delay any arrangement, hence the motion coming to York Conference.

Under our current constitution, these arrangements are the responsibility of the three state parties. We hope members will let their state party officers know their views as well as responding to the Federal consultation and debate in York.

In the governance consultation response last autumn the Federal Executive received many comments and proposals saying that ‘something must be done – doing nothing is not an option’. In fact it was one of the top topics members wrote in about. FE and the Joint States Candidates Committee has investigated possible options, and the resulting motion that will be debated at York Spring Conference sets out a wide range of proposals, including limited application of All Women Shortlists (AWS). We know members have divided views on the issue of AWS, but it is important that the debate before and at conference is much broader, because it includes support for other under-represented groups. Indeed, not every member of FE supports all the details in the motion, but there was broad acceptance that it was right for members to debate and vote on this. You can see the full motion here.

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Sal Brinton’s Federal Executive report

Sal Brinton Sal @ Crohns & Colitis Rec _2 CROPPED Nov 13Just before Christmas the Federal Executive (FE) met for an awayday to receive and consider your responses to the governance review consultation.

Two of the concerns that you told us about were the lack of diversity of our MPs, and how you felt that all the party committees and structures were hard to understand, and often out of touch.

We will be bringing back the next stage of the governance consultation to you in February, and will run a consultation session at the York Federal Conference in March, with some draft proposals and seeking your views on some of the key issues. Following your comments over the summer we will develop proposals, a new constitution and structures, which will then come back to the Autumn Conference in Brighton for your debate and voting. This would mean that the next round of Federal Elections (which will take place after Conference, ready to start at the beginning of 2017) would be run under the new arrangements.

In the meantime, FE wants to report back regularly to members: in addition to the report on the members’ part of the party website, we will let you know as soon as we can after a meeting what is discussed at our meetings. We will ensure that there is a report on Lib Dem Voice and in addition we want to encourage the cascading down through representatives on FE of important information. Clearly, some matters are (and must be) confidential, and others are seriously uninteresting, but we will do our best to let you know what is happening.

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Sal Brinton writes: Consultation on party governance

Over the last two years members have made it clear that they feel that the party is out of touch, often unaccountable and our complex structures unintelligible to all but those heavily involved in them. Reform was a key issue raised by members in the Presidential campaign in 2014 and again in the Leadership campaign earlier this year.

In answer to this, I promised during my Presidential campaign that I would be a reforming President, tackling the difficult issue of party governance head on by carrying out a full review of the party’s governance, followed by a root and branch restructuring …

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Sal Brinton writes…Remember to send in your nominations for the Party Awards

The deadline for this year’s Party Awards has been extended to Monday at 9am – don’t forget to nominate! I know there are people all over the country who deserve to be rewarded for all the hard work they put in during the election period, not to mention the invaluable ongoing work which so many party officers and others have been carrying out.

As a reminder, please see below the various categories, and how to apply.

President’s Award – any member elected to public office.

Harriet Smith Award – any member never elected to public office.

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Nominations open for party awards

It’s that time of year again – the Party Awards season, and the nominations pack is now up on the website. The awards recognise the exceptional and dedicated work our members do in our communities and this is your chance to tell us who we should be recognising.

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Sal Brinton writes…The phoenix is rising, and that is down to you

It’s just under one week since the polls closed, and we have now recruited over 11,000 new members and it’s growing all the time.  There is an extraordinary public endorsement of a liberal voice – a Liberal Democrat voice – in the UK today, and this is so exciting.

I want to thank everyone who has contacted me by email, text, Facebook, Twitter and phone. Please forgive me for being slow in replying personally, but I am receiving hundreds every day. I am extremely busy with everything that the President has to do, the Leadership election, and as you can imagine there are other responsibilities emerging and I have very limited resources. The best email to reach me is [email protected].

The Federal Executive (FE) met on Saturday, and I wanted to let you know more detail of what was decided.

Firstly, we agreed that we wanted the Leadership contest to conclude before the summer recess, so that the new Leader would have time to set up his office and be ready for his first conference as Leader. We also agreed to extend the period between nominations opening (which they do today) and close of nominations, to encourage everyone including candidates and their teams to get lapsed members to re-join. The Returning Officer has now agreed this can happen. We also asked the Returning Officer to set out the list of official hustings as soon as possible, so that members would have access to hustings. The agreed list means that virtually all members will have a hustings within 75 miles, or in the very rural areas (e.g. some parts of Scotland and Wales) within 100 miles. There may also be other hustings including online and virtual meetings.

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Baroness Sal Brinton writes…How Gallipoli marked one young life forever

2nd Lt "Mary" Coningham of 32 Squadron, The Somme, 1917Today marks one hundred years since Gallipoli and my brother and I will be at the Cenotaph to mark this special ANZAC day, as my grandfather, Arthur Coningham, a very young New Zealander, was there and survived. We never knew him because he died in an air accident in the Bermuda Triangle in 1948 but we know from family that his experience in the Dardenelles affected him greatly.

Arthur Coningham later went on to join the embryonic Royal Flying Corps (where he was known as Mary, thought to be a distortion of Maori), and became a fighter pilot. However, he nearly didn’t make it because of his early experiences as an ANZAC.

He was born in Australia in 1895, and after his parents’ notorious behaviour in a celebrated court case they moved to New Zealand where he grew up. His parents subsequently divorced, especially outrageous in the early 20th Century, and the whole family really suffered, with all the children being bullied and humiliated. His mother was a hairdresser, doing her best to keep herself and her three children. He went to Wellington College on a Junior Free Place, where he excelled at sports, but wasn’t at all academic. When he left, he went to work on a sheep farm as he had no idea of what he might do.

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Sal Brinton writes… Ukip’s hypocrisy on tackling serious child abuse issue is breath-taking

UKIP logoToday in the House of Lords, Baroness Joan Walmsley and the Lib Dems secured an agreement from the Government on the Serious Crime Bill, for a major consultation on introducing rules on mandatory reporting of child abuse.

At our recent Federal Conference in Glasgow, Liberal Democrats passed new Party policy in support of requiring those who work with children and vulnerable adults to be required by law to report to the authorities if they have any suspicion that abuse is taking place. However, despite debates on this and other amendments concerning child abuse being debates, Ukip members of the House of Lords failed again to participate in this work.

Ukip’s hypocrisy is breath-taking. They issue a photograph of a girl with the headline ‘There are 1400 reasons why you should not trust Labour again’ in Rotherham, but their record on tackling serious child abuse issue is disgraceful.

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Opinion: Post Rennard: living up to our liberal values 

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKThe Rennard affair has been a very difficult and protracted period for all those involved, but also for the party. It has exposed the party’s over-complex structures and processes, which have spectacularly failed with this difficult case. But we delude ourselves if we think that this is only about the Rennard case – this is about living up to our liberal values.

As a party, we rightly condemn those in the public sector who do not look after those who are more vulnerable than ourselves. We expect managers to have the interests of those in their care, including staff and volunteers, uppermost. We express disgust when bullying and harassment are not challenged from the start. It is very difficult to have to look at our own party in that way too.

The Morrisey Report rightly identified some of the long standing problems within the party, many of which come back to fundamental principles of equity and fairness which we believe are at the heart of what we stand for.

Women and Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities are poorly represented in the more senior roles in the party. This is appalling. We seem to believe as liberals that pure talent will out but then repeatedly select white men. I spoke to a colleague from our Dutch sister party D66 this week who said that they always have equal selection of female and male candidates, because it is part of their culture.

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Sal Brinton to stand for party President

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKThe Liberal Democrats have had a really tough four years since the formation of the coalition. Even though we suspected it would be tough, being in Government has taken its toll. Too many councillors who have worked hard, campaigned hard, and faithfully served their communities well, have lost their seats. They embody Liberal Democrat principles in action all over the country, so we must rebuild our local government base as a priority.

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Baroness Sal Brinton writes…Why we should be concerned about the Uber app

Taxis on Oxford StreetThere’s been much in the media today about the Hackney Cab blockade/strike in London this afternoon, protesting to TfL and Boris Johnson about the licence that TfL have given Uber to set up an app for hailing minicabs.

This isn’t a turf war. It’s much more serious than that, and there are some highly political issues here too that affect anyone who uses a taxi.

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Baroness Sal Brinton writes…Disabled rail travel: We’re not just treated like second class citizens, we’re treated like packages

Link is Very Friendly to WheelchairsWhen people in wheelchairs meet one another, disabled travel experiences are a frequent topic of conversation. Rail, buses or taxi we have often encountered brilliant helpful staff, but frankly, sometimes appalling service.

My train commuter run to Parliament from Watford Junction to Euston is usually very smooth, with unfailingly helpful London Midland and National Rail assistance staff, but both stations are staffed for as long as trains are running. Unstaffed stations can be really patchy.

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Baroness Brinton writes… Standing for Federal Conference Committee

I believe that the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Conference Committee performs a unique role amongst the main political parties in the UK. As a Committee elected from amongst its members, it plans and delivers the Liberal Democrat Conference, and selects motions and amendments for debate and decision by members of the party at conference.

It is this dual function (the utterly practical alongside the vital policy debates) that makes our Conference stand out from the other party conferences which are becoming more and more sterile showcases for senior people. There are three main sub-committees: GPSC (covering the practical and financial) CCG (looking …

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Baroness Sal Brinton writes: Stalking law reform is needed now

Last month in the House of Lords I hosted the launch of the People’s Enquiry into Stalking Law Reform. I was also a member of the all-party Independent Parliamentary Inquiry, which took evidence from victims and bereaved parents of murdered victims (including Clare Bernal who was shot dead in Harvey Nichols in 2005 by her stalker, Michael Pech); probation officers; police; magistrates and others in the criminal justice system. I was invited to join the Inquiry because of my own experiences, which I have spoken of in the debate on the need for stalking reform.

What became clear to us during the Inquiry is that the present law is just not working for these victims and their families. The Harassment Act is used equally for neighbourhood hedge disputes as it is for murderous stalkers, and the penalties available to a court are ridiculously inappropriate. Much more importantly, the culture within the criminal justice system needs to change. We’ve seen that start to happen with domestic violence, but not about stalking which is often perceived as a fuss about nothing. Worse, some police have told victims they should be glad of the attention!

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Baroness Brinton writes: Towards a more diverse Parliamentary Party

Last year, Ros Scott, Nick Clegg and the Federal Executive (FE) asked me to conduct a review of issues relating to the role of Parliamentary candidates. Key to this review was how the Party will increase the diversity of its candidates standing in the 2015 General Election, and getting them elected.

The first point to make is that we made some real steps forward in selecting more women and BAME candidates in the last electoral cycle despite the disappointing results – the number of our seats went backwards, so making any progress in terms of representation was very difficult. The intense work by many in the party over the last few years has meant that there was significant progress in the lead up to the 2010 election: 50% of new candidates in held seats were women, and only just slightly lower in priority seats. Some excellent BAME candidates were selected (the highest number over the three main parties), but again, without electoral success. Although the fact that there no ‘safe’ seats in the Liberal Democrats (unlike Labour and the Conservatives) means that we cannot use some of the mechanisms used by the other Parties, we should absolutely not be complacent – we will have to work even harder, and invest more time, energy and resources than we have in recent years to make sure that our parliamentary parties reflect Britain in the future.

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Baroness Sal Brinton’s maiden speech

In recent months, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Today, Baroness Brinton, of Kenardington in the County of Kent, made her maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate to call attention to the global and domestic challenges for women in the centenary year of International Women’s Day. Her words are reproduced below.

My Lords, I rise to speak for the

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Sal Brinton on the sentencing of her former Tory opponent

I’m very relieved that Ian Oakley, the former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Watford, has finally been sentenced for his part in the campaign of criminal damage, harassment and intimidation against the Watford Liberal Democrats. Oakley has made the lives of well over 30 people a misery for the last two and a half years.

I was with Mark Watkin, another of Oakley’s targets, in court yesterday (Monday 13 October), to hear the verdict. It was depressing to hear the detail of the many incidents recounted again by the CPS, but very reassuring when the wheels of justice moved into action, …

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Sal Brinton on events in Watford

Today Ian Oakley, the former Conservative PPC for Watford, (and the former Tory manager for Ali Miraj’s 2005 Watford General Election Campaign) has pleaded guilty to five charges of criminal damage and two of harassment against the Liberal Democrats and their supporters in Watford. He has also asked for a further 68 crime incidents to be taken into consideration. This leaves around 74 incidents unaccounted for, from the 150 plus that have been perpetrated over the last three and half years.

He will be sentenced on Tuesday 16 September. I think I can speak for all of us in Watford …

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Lib Dems surge in Shapps’ constituency

Watford PPC Sal Brinton brings an account of the excellent Lib Dem performance in Welham Green.

The first by-election of 2008, and the first under Nick Clegg’s Leadership has given us a swing to the Liberal Democrats of 22%, and a very strong second place, in Welham Green, part of Welwyn Hatfield District Council (Grant Shapps MP’s local seat).

The full results were —

Conservative: 539 votes; 41% (67% in 2006); -26% change
Labour: 88 votes; 7% (19% in ’06); -12% change
John Elvy (Liberal Democrat): 484 votes; 37% (15% in ’06); +22 % change
BNP: 214 votes; 16% (n/a ’06); +16% change

John was a strong candidate …

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