Author Archives: Sarah Olney

Conference: the right decision even if it’s a regrettable one

I very much share everyone’s upset and frustration about the cancellation of our Autumn Conference. I’m set to lose a great deal of money on my non-refundable, fully-paid in advance hotel booking, and I’ve spent many hours and a great deal of angst on a speech that I’m not going to deliver. And, above all, I very much wanted to attend conference in person for the first time since my re-election in 2019 – now nearly three years ago!

But I fully support the decision. The death of her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II last Thursday isn’t just the death of an individual. We haven’t cancelled conference just out of deference to the feelings of her family, or the many other people up and down the country who feel a personal sense of loss. This is the death of a Head of State, which demands a different level of response. It’s right that as a party, we respond at an institutional level, and pay respects to the long years of service Her Majesty gave to this country.

But more importantly than that, this is a period in which the powers of the Head of State transfer from one person another, and it’s a sensitive constitutional moment. Even more so, because it hasn’t happened in this country in most people’s memory. Of the six former prime ministers present at the Accession Council on Saturday, only one of them – John Major – would have had any memory of the previous accession, and even he was only nine years old at the time.

Posted in Conference, Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 8 Comments

Tories’ broken Environment Bill ignores local communities

Protecting our beautiful green spaces should be a priority for any Government. They are hugely important to the environment and help make our local communities so beautiful.

And this year, where many of us have spent less time in the pub and more time outside absorbing nature, was a timely reminder of why our environment should always be at the top of the agenda.

But for this Government, our natural spaces are only an afterthought, a distraction that can be brushed away under the carpet. If there was any doubt of that, look no further than the shoddy Environment Bill that came back to Parliament today.

The Bill does little to address the real concerns people have in protecting their local environments and preserving biodiversity.

We are already living in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, our waterways are in a poor state with just 14% in good condition, and more than 40% of native species are in decline.

This is an embarrassment as the Government claims to be increasing ambition and pushing for nature-based solutions in the run-up to COP26. It’s now or never to get this right and we have to get our own house in order first.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 3 Comments

Liberal Democrats join 100 MPs in backing the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a great revealer. It has exposed the sections of our society that work well – the kindness in our communities, the brave and vital roles of our key workers, and the life-saving potential of scientific technologies – while also revealing the elements that need fixing. As the world begins a process of renewal and reform, climate change and ecological renewal must be at the centre of that positive change.

The climate and nature crisis is the most pressing problem facing the world. The question of how we can continue to sustain life on earth is existential. It would be easy to think that the pandemic has solved this quandary: as normal life ground to a halt, global emissions reduced by almost 8% in the first half of 2020 alone. But as the world begins to reopen, there is still much work to be done. 

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 1 Comment

Climate and Ecology Bill Event

The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill) would “set an emergency path for the UK to follow” and allow it to play a “fair and proper role in limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C and restoring the natural world”. Yesterday, I took part in Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas’s debate on the Climate and Ecological Emergency in the UK, and you can listen to my contribution here and read the Hansard record here.

It was a fantastic opportunity to raise some of the themes that had emerged from a CEE Bill Alliance panel I had participated in previously, where I spoke about why the Liberal Democrats are supporting this vital piece of legislation. Alongside Lord Jonny Oates, our Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change in the Lords, Cllr Jackie Hook, Executive Member for Climate Change on Teignbridge District Council and Sarah Lunnon, CEE Bill Alliance Coordinator, I discussed why the CEE Bill is such a key part of our future.
Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Sarah Olney MP writes: Elected MPs must be given a say on trade deals

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The Trade Bill is ping ponging its way back to the House of Commons today for MPs to consider the latest set of Lords amendments. One of these is Lord Lansley’s new scrutiny amendment that combines many of the elements of Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Purvis’s scrutiny amendment, which was previously voted down in the Commons.

The scrutiny amendment proposes that governments will have to publish their negotiating objectives for future trade treaties in advance and have them voted on in both houses of Parliament. This amendment is crucial because the existing process for parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals is highly inadequate.

The Bill fails to set out proper procedures for Parliamentary consultation, scrutiny, debate, and approval of future international trade agreements. MPs will have no say over any agreement made with other countries, giving the Government free rein on deals. Despite the inherent impact of trade deals upon human rights, public health, food standards and more, MPs will be barred from voicing their concerns and representing their constituents’ views. In comparison to the US, EU and Japan, which all provide guaranteed debates and votes on new trade agreements to their legislative representatives, the UK will seem embarrassingly undemocratic.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 10 Comments

We need to seize our opportunities as they arise

I was taken aback when Ed Davey, a former Cabinet minister no less, suggested I should consider running for Parliament.

It was October 2015 and I had only been a member of the Liberal Democrats for five months. I’d joined after the General Election because I was so dismayed that Cameron’s Conservatives had won a majority. I was keen to do whatever I could to help the Lib Dems locally and cheerfully took on leaflet rounds and canvassed for a local by-election. I had never remotely considered being an MP.

As we got talking further during a curry night in Kingston, I realised that there was, in fact, no better time for someone like me to stand. The party needed to rebuild and present a new face to the country, and as one of the many thousands who joined in the 18 months after the 2015 election, I could be one of those new faces.

I received prospective parliamentary candidate approval the following month. It was unusual at that time for people to be approved after such a short time in the party, but selections were coming up for the GLA elections. In the event, there were only two candidates for the South West London constituency seat – if I hadn’t been approved in November, it would have been an uncontested selection.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 17 Comments

Sarah Olney writes…We should be pleased if the Conservatives can’t form a Government

Of all the things I regret about my time in Parliament being so short, one thing I really don’t mind is that I never got to hear a Queen’s Speech.  Cornerstone of our democracy it may be, but it’s really just a festival of flummery that I can do without. I can’t imagine how it must have been in today’s 34 degree heat, dressed in one’s best, squashed into the Lords to hear Her Majesty read out the Government’s plans for legislation.  Hats off to my former Parliamentary colleagues, and those who have recently joined them, for enduring it.

But at least it was short.  Just nine minutes to sum up not one, but two years-worth of Bills.  And, for Liberal Democrats, there was much to be pleased about.  Not only has Mrs May ditched her plans to scrap the triple-lock on pensions and free school meals, she’s also backtracked on the dementia tax, promising instead to “consult”.

Liberal Democrats will also be pleased that a key provision of our own Renter’s Rights Bill, outlawing letting agents’ fees to renters, will make it into law.

The speech focuses instead on the Government’s plans for Brexit, providing details of the Great Repeal Bill (apparently already being dubbed GeRBil in some quarters, which should please those Liberal Democrats who never miss an opportunity to post a picture of a fluffy animal), and various enabling legislations to set up our own regulations post-Brexit.  The key message here is that hard, soft, clean, red, white, blue, grey, whatever, Brexit will happen and the main Parliamentary activity for the next two years will be getting ready to implement it.

What’s infuriating about this Queen’s Speech are all the issues that it fails to address.  Speaking to residents in Richmond Park over the last six to seven months, I know that their key issues are funding for public services, particularly schools and the NHS, policing and security, immigration and housing.  It may be an untypically wealthy and well-educated area, but I very much doubt that we’re different from the majority of the country in these concerns.  There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech about any of this.  The appalling Grenfell House fire last week has surely concentrated attention like nothing else on the failure of housing policy over the last few decades, and urgent action is required.  Not only has the Government got nothing to say, it tells us that it won’t have anything to say for at least two years.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 33 Comments
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