Author Archives: Sam Martin

Cummings’ little knowledge is a dangerous thing and must be challenged

The government’s narrow base of evidence for its radical agenda combined with ongoing attacks on humanities and the social sciences is a worrying trend. Liberal Democrats can and should oppose it. Much as I was dismayed by the Conservative election win last year I naively thought that having someone like Cummings, interested in ideas and sceptical of sacred cows, might at least create a space for some creative policy thinking. I was even intrigued by the scattergun ‘weirdos and misfits’ job advert. I was wrong.

Cummings’ relationship to knowledge is far from benign. A Twitter take I saw suggests the …

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The Preston Model – a blueprint for local liberalism?

For a while now there’s been a lot of talk in the party about how we need to adopt more radical policies, although this does often seem to lead back to Universal Basic Income.

Another idea I think we should look more closely at is the ‘Preston Model’. I think that we Lib Dems are, for better or worse, often at our best when pulling apart big ideas so I’m interested to see what others think of this approach. If it’s something we already do at local government level then we should be talking about it much more.

The Preston Model refers to a community wealth building approach taken by Preston Council since the early 2010s that has enabled the town to outperform many other ‘left-behind’ areas in similarly dire post-austerity situations. In 2011, a new shopping centre, the planned hub of local regeneration in Preston, was cancelled. At this point Preston Council realised it could not bet its future on outside investment from big corporations or on central government, so it had to find solutions from within.

The council therefore focussed on promoting a policy of localist procurement to its six core ‘anchor institutions’, including the university, police force and housing association. These rooted organisations are encouraged to source goods and services like repairs and cleaning from local suppliers. In 2013, only 5% of £450m annual anchor institution spending was in Preston. By 2017, this £38m had increased to £111m. This required active leadership from the council, looking at how contracts could be broken up to allow smaller suppliers to bid, and supporting suppliers to bid for such contracts – the confidence and expertise in these areas had to be rebuilt after decades of the city relying on big outsourcing firms.

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Why Bernie Sanders is our best hope

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With Super Tuesday done we’re now in a two-horse race between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination with Joe Biden now the frontrunner. Many Liberal Democrats welcome this shift which I think is short-sighted. We need Donald Trump removed from office and a clear-eyed analysis suggests that Sanders has a better shot at this than Biden.

Many US moderates believe that Sanders, as a self-described socialist in the land of the rugged individual, cannot win. But the data shows that he can. Sanders can take advantage of increasing numbers of younger voters, as well as votes lost in 2016 by Hillary Clinton to Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, in the crucial swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin to flip them back. He’s also got much greater appeal to independents than other Democrats, who will be crucial in November. So the ‘Sanders can’t win’ line is not rooted in actual evidence.

Conversely anyone who see Biden as a safe bet needs to take a much closer look. He is a legacy candidate whose success so far has been through trading on his name recognition and association with Barack Obama. Watching the Biden of just four years ago (here explaining Sanders’ appeal) underlines how much he has declined since then. Only this week he called it ‘Super Thursday’ and confused his wife with his sister at a rally. Perhaps most significantly the corruption allegations against Biden’s son Hunter – still to be fully ramped up by the Republicans- give Trump an easy reprise of the ‘Crooked Hillary’ line and will neutralise any Democrat attacks on this corrupt presidency.

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