Author Archives: Sara Bedford

Sara joined the LibDems as a student in the 1980s, becoming National Chair of YLD (the predecessor to LDYS and Liberal Youth) between 1990-92. After serving as a member of the Federal Executive and Federal Conference Committee between 1991-95, in 1996 Sara settled down to motherhood and serving as a councillor for Abbots Langley on Three Rivers District Council, which has been majority Lib Dem controlled since 1999. She is also an active member of the core campaigns team for the target seat of Watford. Sara is a well-known councillor and campaigner, not only in Hertfordshire, but also across the country, due to her involvement with by-election campaigns and many party groups. She is a member of the Hearts and Minds group of the party’s Technology Board and continues to blog at Always win when you're singing.

The English Baccalaureate is a Mickey Mouse qualification

Almost two years ago, a fortnight after my daughter confirmed her GCSE choices; Michael Gove announced his latest bright idea for the nation’s schoolchildren. The English Baccalaureate was originally intended to ‘be the equivalent of the old School Leaving Certificate’, but the EBacc, as it became known, has turned into just another of Gove’s personal follys, greeted with less than lukewarm enthusiasm by pupils, teachers, parents and employers.

I’m all for pupils studying a good range of subjects, at a level that reflects their abilities and supports their future studies and career paths. But the EBacc does nothing for pupils or schools, except provide another stick to beat them with, as Gove always intended. The cat has been let permanently out of the DfE bag with the ‘clarification’ that the EBacc is intended as ‘a performance measure’ and ‘not a qualification in its own right’.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 24 Comments

Lib Link: How does David Cameron charm the Liberal Democrats?

Over at his day job at MHP Communications, Mark Pack turns his thoughts to how David Cameron should react to , stating that the Prime Minister has ‘two tricky problems to mull over’.

The first, and most talked about, is how to get his party to back some measure of Lords reform else risk seeing Liberal Democrats outside ministerial ranks (and even some inside) see it as open season on future legislation as it goes through Parliament. The sort of effective and tight whipping operations that saw Liberal Democrats in both Houses votes for a range of measures they did

Posted in LibLink and News | Tagged , , , , and | 2 Comments

Double wins for Lib Dems in Chelmsford

Chelmsford Liberal Democrats are celebrating two big by-election wins this morning, after double vacancies caused by the death of Tom Smith-Hughes.

Paul Bentham became the new councillor for the Patching Hall ward of Chelmsford City Council, whilst Stephen Robinson was elected in the Chelmsford North division of Essex County Council.

The results were as follows:

PATCHING HALL
Lib Dem 842 (42%)
Con 488 (25%)
Lab 309 (16%)
UKIP 263 (13%)
Green 84 (4%)

CHELMSFORD NORTH
Lib Dem 1614 (42%)
Con 941 (25%)
Lab 711 (19%)
UKIP 435 (11%)
Green 128 (3%)

Posted in Council by-elections and News | Tagged and | 7 Comments

RIP Nikki Thomson

I first met Nikki Thomson at the inaugural party conference of the Social and Liberal Democrats, back in September 1988. You couldn’t miss Nikki: she exuded energy and determination.

A liberal to the core, she had had her misgivings about the merger of the two Alliance parties, but once she had decided to join, she threw herself into the new party with the vigour and passion that was her trademark.

Posted in News and Obituaries | Tagged , and | 14 Comments

Does mislaying your child really make you a bad parent?

As soon as Eric Pickles announced his ‘Back to Basics’ crackdown on ‘troubled’ families, it was odds on that a Conservative minister would oblige by executing his own family faux pas. How many would have placed their bets in the culprit being the Prime Minister himself, who with model mum Samantha appears to have chillaxed a little too much after Sunday lunch at the pub, leaving their daughter Nancy in the Ladies.

The uncomfortable end to Nancy’s comfort break apparently happened ‘a couple of months ago’, according to a Downing Street spokesman, but conveniently surfaced in the press as soon as …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 26 Comments

Labour’s hypocrisy on the ‘Granny Tax’

The response from Labour and the tabloids to yesterday’s Budget have majored on the patronisingly termed ‘Granny Tax’.

However Ed Balls and colleagues must be delighted that so far everyone seems to have missed that the last Government froze the Age Allowance between 2009-11 – or as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves would term it Labour imposed ‘an enormous stealth tax for older people’.

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 31 Comments

Senior Labour councillor moves to the Liberal Democrats

Long-time Labour member and councillor Ron Spellen, currently Chairman of Three Rivers District Council, has left the Labour Party and joined the Liberal Democrats. Ron will defend his seat at May’s local elections as a Liberal Democrat.

The former Labour group leader and representative for Northwick ward, South Oxhey for many years, said “Today’s Labour Party is not the party I joined fifty years ago. It is now the Liberal Democrats who represent what I came into local politics to achieve – a determined effort to protect local people, promote their interests and consult with them about local issues. Three Rivers Liberal Democrats have always put the needs and wishes of residents priority over party politics.

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Lib Dem council leaders attack Pickles over speed and scale of cuts

Over ninety senior Liberal Democrat councillors have written to The Times (£) today, attacking the front-loading of local government cuts imposed by central government. The letter is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. Despite the spin placed on the letter by the BBC this morning, the letter does not deny either the need for cuts, nor the deficit which has required them. Rather the letter argues that the cuts are too big and proceeding too quickly, and that councils could protect more frontline services and save more money in the long term if spending reductions were carried out in a more controlled manner. The senior councillors are stating publicly what many Lib Dems in local government  have been muttering for a while: that councils recognise that they must play their part in reducing the national deficit and controlling spending, the speed and depth of the cuts to government grants have left local authorities with little room to manoeuvre.

The attacks have centred on the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, EricPickles, who despite his local government background is widely seen as not having put up a fight for his own departmental spending and having been too keen to offer cuts. The letter is scathing about  the seeming inability of Pickles to work with local councils to promote efficiencies and minimise the impact of the cuts on vulnerable people. The Secretary of State has kept a public silence over the letter, leaving Lib Dem Communities Minister Andrew Stunell to call on the party not to fall out over “pointless debate”.  Stunell said, “Whilst I fully understand the real challenges councils face I think it will be much better to direct all our energy to solving these problems rather than falling out between ourselves”. The full text of the letter is reproduced below.

Posted in Local government and News | Tagged and | 43 Comments

A personal view: ending the stigma and waste of mental illness

Less than two months after he was elected as leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg made a widely-reported speech at the Guardian Public Services Summit in St. Albans, on the subject of mental health. Nick pointed out that “One in four Britons suffers from a mental illness at some point in their lives. One in six is suffering at any given time. Mental health issues directly affect most of Britain’s families today.”

It was laudable and maybe surprising for Nick to use a keynote speech so early in his leadership to highlight such an unfashionable subject. For there is no doubt that mental health issues are seen by some as not really an illness, but some spiritual or character weakness on behalf of the sufferer. And yet most of us have either suffered with mental illness, or have a close family member who has done so.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Labour bullies journalists to follow party spin

Last month, Ed Miliband banned his MPs from using the word “coalition” to describe the government, hoping that the phrase “Conservative-led government” would diminish the role of the Liberal Democrats within the coalition and help to tease away Lib Dem voters.

Now it seems Labour would like to see journalists whipped into line. According to Joe Murphy at the Evening Standard, Miliband’s newly-appointed Director of Strategy and Communications Tom Baldwin instructed the BBC, ITV and Sky that they should stop using the word “coalition” and use the phrase “Tory-led government” instead.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 46 Comments

Former MP jailed for expenses fraud

Disgraced former MP David Chaytor was today jailed for 18 months, after admitting to three charges of false accounting on his expenses, totalling over £20,000. He had faced a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment, but his guilty plea was taken into account.

The former Labour MP for Bury North had made claims for renting two properties which were owned by him and his mother, and for IT consultancy for which he was never charged. According to the Daily Telegraph, Chaytor had spread more than £91,100 of expenses claims across five different properties in five years, ‘flipping’ the designation of his second home six times.

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Rachel Smith RIP

Rachel Smith first came into my life last year,  through the medium of Twitter, where she tweeted as @rachelolgeirsso. Witty and intelligent, Rachel readily engaged others in conversations about politics, life and popular culture. Although we were both active Lib Dems, we’d be as likely to exchange comments about The Apprentice or Strictly Come Dancing as about the coalition or political policies.

Rachel had been an active tweeter through the general election and the formation of the coalition, strong about the Lib Dems place in government and scathing as to what she saw as Labour’s opportunism and hypocrisy, especially where it related to her own constituency of Sheffield Hallam and her MP, the Deputy Prime Minister. So it was no surprise when in July she started blogging. The reason for this soon became clear: Rachel was looking for a distraction whilst she was in hospital, undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia.

Posted in News and Obituaries | Tagged | 10 Comments

The Liberal Democrats must not become the battered wives of British politics

So the leaks from the Browne Report were right. The cap on university tuition fees will be removed. A real rate of interest will be applied. The cost of studying for a degree will reach the level of a small mortgage. Many young people will have a lifetime of debt hanging over them as they study, continuing through the years when they would hope to be setting up home and starting families of their own.

What will the Liberal Democrat MPs do now? Before the general election, Vince, Nick and the rest of the Lib Dem MPs committed to abolishing tuition fees and voting against any increase proposed. Now we will see just how strong their mettle is. I have been willing to back the coalition in all the difficult dealings that they have had. I do so as an elected councillor in a local authority with a Lib Dem majority administration, knowing that the actions of the government may not make things easy for us locally. I am not 100% happy about the coalition, but I truly believed and still do that there was no sensible alternative that would have been better for the country or indeed my party in the medium term.

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Oakeshott: New tax only way to end bank bonus culture

A Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman has called for a new tax on bonuses  to be placed on banks. Lord Oakeshott’s call came after the Royal Bank of Scotland’s chairman claimed that regulation was the only way to restrain the annual bonus bonanza in the financial services industry.  Sir Philip Hampton admitted that the bank was “paying a lot of people who aren’t worth it” and concluded that, whilst RBS  had made changes to the structure of bonus deals to avoid rewards for failure, “My own view is it can probably only be decisively solved through regulation”.

Posted in News | Tagged | 10 Comments

The Ryder Cup – celebrating a Liberal invention

Whilst the nation celebrated Europe’s triumph and the champagne flowed at Celtic Manor, few people will have realised that the Ryder Cup was introduced by a Liberal politician.

Sam Ryder was an entrepreneur and golfing enthusiast, who built his fortune by selling garden seeds in small ‘penny packets’ to ordinary households. A keen amateur golfer, with a single figure handicap, Ryder proposed a tournament between British and American golfers, with a trophy manufactured by the jewellers Mappin and Webb at a cost of 250 guineas. The first official match for …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Lib Dem wins council seat whilst on his honeymoon!

An interesting mix of results in this week’s by-elections. In the first result of the evening, the Liberal Democrats comfortably held North ward of Seaford  Town Council, which is in Lewes constituency.

LD Nick Norman: 407
Con: 319
Lab: 137
Ind: 74
BNP: 20
The turnout was 23.7%.

The new councillor is currently away on his honeymoon, with new wife Naomi.

Posted in Council by-elections | Tagged , , and | 2 Comments

Smaller Commons ‘would hit Lib Dems’

The Lib Dems would have been proportionally the biggest losers if proposed changes to equalise constituency size had been implemented at the last election, according to research carried out by independent organisation Democratic Audit for BBC Newsnight.

The report estimates that the party would have lost 12% of its seats – or 7 out of 57. Labour would have lost 25 of 258 (10%), and the Conservatives just 13 of 307 (4%). The research did not make any assessment of the effect of a change in the voting system to AV, but instead assumed the use of FPTP.

Posted in News | Tagged | 33 Comments

Cable: It’s more fun being in opposition

The Business Secretary Vince Cable is the subject of a profile in today’s Guardian. In a somewhat affectionate piece, Decca Aitkenhead reports:

There has been much speculation that frugality is the only feature of this government Cable will find to his taste. Perceived as the Lib Dem furthest to the left – a former Labour party councillor and parliamentary candidate, the man Gordon Brown phoned in the frantic post-election days – Cable is widely tipped as the minister most likely to resign from the coalition. He made no secret of his preference for forming a government with Labour – but was forced by the arithmetic of the election result to abandon that dream, “and follow my head, not my heart”.

Posted in News | Tagged | 13 Comments

No official Hague invite to Lib Dem conference

According to today’s Daily Mail, the Foreign Secretary William Hague is being lined up to speak at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference in Liverpool next month. The paper describes Hague’s participation as ‘a move designed to cement relations between the coalition partners’.

The Foreign Secretary, widely seen as one of the best orators in the Commons, is expected to lead a Conservative charm offensive at the gathering in Liverpool in the hope of winning over disaffected LibDem activists. Tory sources suggest Mr Hague will give a ‘witty’ address, rather than focusing heavily on policy.

Posted in Conference and News | Tagged | 21 Comments

Should prayers be a part of council meetings?

 The issue of prayers being said before council meetings appears to be moving towards the courts, after Bideford Town Council sought legal advice.

Earlier this year, the National Secular Society (NSS) applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the council’s decision to continue holding prayers as the first item of every council meeting. The NSS believes that religion should be separates from government sated that holding prayers before council meetings was an ‘archaic practice’ which was ‘not appropriate in modern-day Britain’. It claims prayers breach Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 24 Comments

Parliament to scrutinise government’s planning reforms

The Commons Communities and Local Government Committee has announced that it will be holding  two separate inquiries into aspects of the government’s local planning regime. One inquiry will examine the decision to abolish regional spatial strategies (RSS) and the other will review the coalition’s localism agenda. The abolition of the regional spatial strategies was one of the main measures featured in the coalition government’s Localism Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The inquiry into the abolition of regional spatial strategies will focus primarily on the implications for house building, in particular the implications of the abolition of regional house building …

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Social housing: a home for life?

None of us, especially those who are councillors, can fail to understand the huge crisis of social housing waiting lists. It’s not simply the homeless or those in desperate need of a decent home. Many families will never be able to afford to buy their own home, yet face many years in unsuitable and overcrowded accommodation because of a shortage of affordable homes to rent.  Currently social housing tenants are granted secure tenancies, not only for their lives, but often to pass onto their children. This continues regardless of the needs of future tenants. So would fixed-term tenancies be a fairer way to allocate the limited supply of cheap housing?

Certainly David Cameron seems to think so. Speaking in Birmingham yesterday, the Prime Minister said it makes sense for tenants to be given fixed-term deals in future – so they can be moved on if their circumstances change and those in most need can be housed.  After hearing from a mother living in overcrowded accommodation, he said:

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Beith and Bruce confirmed as Select Committee chairs

Liberal Democrat MPs Malcolm Bruce and Sir Alan Beith have been elected unopposed as Chairs of the International Development and Justice Select Committees respectively.  The positions were confirmed after nominations closed earlier tonight for all posts.

For the first time ever, Select Committees Chairs are being elected by a secret ballot of all MPs, after each Chairship was allocated to a political party in proportion to the number of MPs for each party. The committees allocated to each party were agreed by the House shortly before the Whitsun recess.

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Trevor Phillips describes Phil Woolas leaflets as ‘not helpful’

Last week, Lib Dem Voice commented on Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins’ election petition against Oldham East and Saddleworth’s Labour MP, Phil Woolas. Watkins, who lost to Woolas by just 103 votes, believes that false claims were made in the leaflets, including allegations that he was trying to woo Muslim extremists, and claims about the financing of his campaign by a wealthy Saudi businessman.

Now the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has entered the row about the literature published on behalf of Woolas during the general election campaign. Former Labour politician Trevor Phillips described some of the language used in the party’s leaflets here as ‘not helpful’.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , and | 3 Comments

Daily View 2×2: 8 June 2010

Good morning and welcome to World Oceans Day. Apologies for having missed last Tuesday’s Daily View – I was over-excited as it was my birthday – and half term!

On this day in 1999, disgraced ex-cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken was given an 18 month jail sentence, after he admitted lying during a failed libel action.  The former Conservative MP admitted both charges earlier in the year, following the collapse of his libel case against The Guardian newspaper and Granada TV.  Passing sentence at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Scott Baker told Aitken he had woven a web of deceit and committed an inexcusable breach of trust.

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Labour struggle to understand election results

The Watford Labour Party has published a members’ newsletter and placed a copy online. In the report of May’s local elections it reads:

In the Mayoral election, Nigel Bell came a close second.
Which is strange. Because in the vote for Watford’s elected mayor, won for the third time by Lib Dem Dorothy Thornhill, Labour’s candidate Nigel Bell didn’t come second, close or otherwise. He came third.

In the first ballot of the AV election, the votes were:

  • Nigel Bell (Labour) 10,029
  • Steve Johnson (Conservative) 10,403
  • Alex Macgregor Mason (Green) 2,173
  • Dorothy Thornhill (LibDem) 19,153

After the votes in this AV election were transferred, …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

Daily View 2×2: 25 May 2010

Don’t panic! Today is Towel Day.

Seventy years ago today, the Battle of Dunkirk began. On this day in 1967, Celtic FC became the first British team to win the European Cup, beating Inter Milan 2–1 in Lisbon.

Perfect Housewife Anthea Turner is 50 today, joining birthday boys Julian Clary (51) and Paul Weller (52) in a sixth decade.

2 big news stories

Poll shows broad support for coalition
The Guardian reports its ICM poll,  which shows broad support for the coalition government.

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Daily View 2×2: 18 May 2010

Good morning and welcome to today’s Daily View on International Museum Day.

On this day in 1991, Britain’s first astronaut, 27-year-old Helen Sharman,  blasted into orbit on the Soviet Soyuz TM-12 space capsule. I wonder if I should mention that Ms Sharman is from Sheffield?

Sixty years ago, twelve nations agreed the aims and objectives for the permanent organisation of NATO. The founder members at the launch at Lancaster House in London were: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Britain, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States.  Later that year, Dwight D Eisenhower was appointed Nato’s first supreme commander.

 

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So almost no-one agreed with Nick – and he doesn’t understand why?

It has certainly been a bad week for Nick Griffin. The party polled badly in the General Election, with Griffin’s much-hyped bid to win Barking constituency ending in a poor third place. The BNP’s already tiny local council base took a pounding, with total wipe-out in Barking & Dagenham, a council they hoped to control. Most damning for the future of the party itself, there has been huge damage from defections and scandal, resulting in the BNP main web site being taken down just a week before the election.

Nick Griffin has sent an email out to party members, attempting to justify the truly terrible results of last week’s elections to BNP members.

So the election dust has now settled, and from our point of view there are four key outcomes: First, the resulting hung Parliament and political instability will rapidly add to Gordon Brown’s economic disaster. The Bank of England prediction that whoever won this election will end up being “out of power for a generation” is now going to apply to two of the three old parties. That’s bad news for Britain, but good news for us.

So the British National Party doesn’t really care about Britain – just itself?

Posted in News | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Daily View 4×4: 11 May 2010

Good morning and welcome to the most environmentally friendly 4×4 you will ever meet. It looks like 11th May 2010 could itself go down in history, but until then, here are a few fascinating facts from previous years.

  • 198 years ago today, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons.
  • One this day in 1985, 56 people were killed following a fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground. This had particular meaning to me, as I had been at the ground for the previous home game.
  • Today in 2001, author Douglas Adams died suddenly at the age of just 50.

4 must-read newspaper commentaries

But hold on tight to your blood pressure!

Posted in Daily View | 16 Comments
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    ‘European Reform Group’ seems like a strange name for a bunch of devious EU-phobes.
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    Sorry, David. It has to be Jo Grimond. Sadly whilst one can feel affection, one also has to lament a very sad waste of talent....
  • User AvatarMichael 1 16th Nov - 2:13pm
    Thanks for posting this, Caron. Charles Kennedy's speech during the party conference debate in 2013 on Europe is on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4poB2T-ohVw It is sad...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 16th Nov - 12:41pm
    Simply the best leader we ever had.
  • User AvatarWilliam Fowler 16th Nov - 12:21pm
    The deal is about what you would expect from the EU given the Irish border issues, if it fails in parliament then hopefully the next...
  • User AvatarChristopher Haigh 16th Nov - 11:54am
    There is a sinister organisation within the Tory party called the European Reform Group which is presumably coordinating a hatchet job on Mrs May. As...