Author Archives: Simon McGrath

Simon McGrath is a directly elected member of the Federal Board

We must stand a candidate in every constituency at the next General Election

Our Party has something to offer everyone in England Scotland and Wales and therefore it makes sense that we should stand a candidate in every seat (our friends in the Alliance Party do a great job in Northern Ireland).

That might seem like common sense – but at the last election we participated in the Unite to Remain Agreement by which we, the Greens and Plaid Cymru (Labour refused to participate) agreed to stand down in some constituencies – and it was a disaster. Not only did it make no difference to the results, but the way in which our local parties and PPCs were told they were standing down with no input from them caused huge problems.

If you agree we should stand a candidate everywhere, please support Amendment 3 to motion F23: Party Strategy, 10.55 on Sunday morning.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 19 Comments

Shaffaq Mohammed’s splendid defence of freedom

Shaffaq Mohammed, the Lib Dem leader of our group on Sheffield Council has criticised the a ban on the comedian Ray “Chubby Brown” performing at Sheffield City Hall.

Shaffaq says:

We live in a liberal society and people have individual freedom to choose to live the life they want and as part of that, they can choose to go watch a comedy show behind closed doors where no children are allowed.

He added:

It’s the start of a very slippery slope. Which comedian will be deemed not to be appropriate to come to Sheffield?

Would they move on to banning books and DVD’s in libraries next? Would people be banned from watching Roy Chubby Brown on Youtube next? Would they stop people from listening to rap music because clearly some of the lyrics can and are offensive?

In an interview on GB News Shaffaq says: “as a Liberal I defend people’s individual rights and individual freedom “

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 17 Comments

New Leader at the Local Government Association Lib Dem Group

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the elections in the Local Government Association and the results have now been declared. The biggest change is that Joe Harris , Leader of Cotswolds District Council has been elected Leader of the Lib Dem Group. It was a fascinating election, Howard Sykes the defeated incumbent standing on his record and a barrage of endorsements and Joe standing for change. The final emails from both candidates rather sum up the differences – for Howard it was from Heather Kidd asking for support for him and Bridget Smith for Deputy as “They have proved, time and time again, that they have the skills needed for the job”. In Joe’s email he set out three  priorities (turbocharging communications, listening and championing under represented groups) and promised fresh leadership and new energy.

The LGA Conference is online this year on 6-8 July and is free.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | Leave a comment

Why you should help our campaign in Batley and Spen

Now that Chesham and Amersham is triumphantly over, attention will turn to the by-election in Batley and Spen on July 1st. There has been plenty of discussion about the Tory vs Labour battle but not much about the excellent candidate standing for the Lib Dems, Tom Gordon.

Tom is a local man, born and raised in West Yorkshire, who is a Councillor in the neighbouring Borough of Wakefield – the first Lib Dem councillor there in a decade. With a background in biochemistry and public health, and a stint working as a health economics research assistant, he is well placed to understand why local residents are so fed up with a Labour Council that doesn’t care and a Tory Government who see Northern Labour voters as people they can bamboozle with empty promises.

Tom spent a considerable amount of time in Chesham and Amersham and, as he says:

I had life long Labour voters in Chesham and Amersham who were voting for us because Sarah and the campaign had a strong message and they knew what we stood for, whereas in Batley and Spen they say they don’t know what Labour locally, or Keir Starmer nationally, stand for.

Posted in Op-eds and Parliamentary by-elections | Tagged | 77 Comments

The most important elections you have never heard of

Today, Liberal Democrat Councillors in England and Wales will be getting an e-mail to vote in the elections for a number of positions on the Liberal Democrat Group on the Local Government Association (LGA). These include the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group (also a Vice Chair of the LGA), Deputy Leader and a number of members of LGA Boards. A full list can be found here.

All of the positions receive an allowance, ranging from £36,769 for Group Leader to £2,919 for Board members.

The most interesting and important contests to my mind are those for Group Leader and Deputy Leader.

Posted in Local government and News | Tagged | 4 Comments

Could you be the PPC to win England’s Number 1 target seat?

Wimbledon is the Party’s closest target seat in England , with a Tory majority of just 628 and the Merton Party are now looking for a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate to win it at the next General Election. It needs a swing of just 0.6% to turn Wimbledon orange.

Could you be the candidate that turns another London constituency orange?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments

Finally, success helping low paid people working for Merton Council

For the last 9 years Merton Lib Dems have been campaigning to help some of the poorest paid and hardest working people in our community – those who  look after people who need care.

We started 9 years ago with a question from a member of the public – me – at a Council meeting about the Council paying its staff the London Living Wage (LLW).   The answer was that it would cost £275k and would cause all sorts of difficulties.

A few months later  the Council announced that it had decided to pay all staff at least the LLW: the many difficulties to doing this had disappeared and the cost reduced to £47k.

That didn’t cover those working for Merton’s contractors though and in particular those working in social care. Mary-Jane Jeanes – then the sole Liberal Democrat councillor – proposed a motion that asked for Merton to commit to paying the staff of contractors the LLW and to commit to become a Living Wage Employer.

It was voted down by the Labour Group.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 3 Comments

No, teachers should not be prioritised for Covid 19 vaccinations 

I was surprised yesterday to see a tweet from Layla Moran saying that after talking to local head teachers she thinks teachers should be in the first wave of the vaccine.  Later on I saw that there is a campaign by the NEU
for this and I was surprised when I said on twitter that I disagreed with her, how strong the reaction was.

There are three reasons why I think this is not a good idea.

The first and most important is that I do not believe that the  such a sensitive question as who gets priority for vaccines should be decided by politicians or pressure groups.  The current schedule is the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)an independent group of scientists. We would rightly be outraged if the Government started interfering with their recommendations and this is an area politicians should not get involved with.

The second reason is that logically if you wish to add half a million teachers to the first wave, you are going to have to not give it to some of those who would otherwise get it (given that supplies are currently limited). Those people are there though because either they are in NHS and care jobs who need to keep the NHS running or because they are at high risk. There is a very clear link between age and  mortality which is why as well of course as vulnerable people, the current recommendations are based on age.  The JCVI state that “taken together, these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19”.   99% is a  very high % so why would we want to vaccinate as a priority teachers who would cause that percentage to fall?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 69 Comments

Time to reform the English Party

At the English Council tomorrow (Saturday 5th Dec) Callum Robertson (incoming joint Chair of the Young Liberals ) and I will be proposing a motion which seeks some substantial changes in the way the English Party is run.

That sentence probably prompts questions among LDV readers: what is the English Council and how does it relate to the rest of the Party?

In most of the Party – local associations, regional parties and the Scots and Welsh State parties and the Federal Party the governance structure is based on One Member One Vote, but the English Party has a system of indirect elections. The way it works is that at the same time as regional elections people elect members from that region of the English Council – a group of 150 people (which also include reps of the Young Liberals) which meets twice a year.

The functions of the English Council are set out in the Constitution (Section 5 and 6) but it is the sovereign body of the Party in England (though it has agreed that policy is dealt with by the Federal Conference).

So how well does this work? The vast majority of party members in England seem unaware of this structure. In many cases there is no contest for members of the English Council and some regions have not appointed their full quota of members.

The time has come for change. I realised when trying to explain the structure of the English Party to a newish member who asked how people are elected that I simply could not justify the way we currently work. The  motion has two parts:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 31 Comments

Why you should think of trying to become a Liberal Democrat Councillor

London Region have recently been running a series of Zoom calls for people who are thinking of running for their Council in the 2022 elections. I have taken part in a couple of these and it has made me think about what I enjoy being a Councillor and why I would recommend others think about doing so.

I have been a Councillor for the Dundonald Ward in Merton since May 2018 – the ward runs from Wimbledon to Raynes Park along the railway line and it is characterised by terraced houses occupied by middle class professional families many of whom are from the EU. It won’t be a surprise that it voted strongly for Remain.

It’s a great place to knock on doors and talk to people – particularly in the daytime (I am retired) when a surprising number of people even before the lockdown work from home and often have more time to chat. I have had fascinating conversations about PG Wodehouse, the merits of working for different French banks and the details of train operations on the District Line. People occasionally even want to talk about politics!

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

The only way is Hybrid!

A few years ago I stood (unsuccessfully!) for election to the FCC on the basis that we needed to look at allowing people to take part in Conference remotely. I was given all sorts of reasons why it would not work – but it only took a few minutes on Friday afternoon to be abundantly clear that this was very much an idea whose time had come.

As the Conference went on that feeling only strengthened -fantastic speeches from first time speakers (my impression was more than usual), a vibrant chat box, far more people watching the debate and voting …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 23 Comments

Book review – “Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism” by Dinyar Patel

This is a new biography of Dadabhai Naoroji by Dinyar Patel, who is a Professor at the University of South Carolina.

Before reading this, I knew little about Naoroji apart from him being the first Indian MP in the UK Parliament, but this biography enlightened me about his extraordinary life.

Born to a poor Parsi family, he became one of the early Indian nationalists – described by Gandhi as the ‘ father of the nation’, he was an pioneer of education for girls, a brilliant propagandist , Prime Minster of a princely state, Westminster MP, developed the ‘drain theory’ of how the British were impoverishing India – and on top of all of that a keen Freemason.

He was sent by his mother (his father died when he was four) to the English school of the ‘Bombay Native Education Society’, followed by Elphinstone College – the first institute for Higher Education in India . He became Professor of Maths there at the age of 27 and at 30 left India for London to establish the first Indian commercial firm in London. He then became Professor of Gujarati at University College and the leading Indian figure in the UK, lecturing and working to bring the attention of influential people to the poverty in India (India was seen in the UK as a rich country). One way he did this – much to the discomfort of India Office officials – was to use their own statistics (often showing they were demonstrably incorrect) and make speeches against them. He also developed the first calculation of Indian GDP per head.

Posted in Books | Tagged | 9 Comments

Britain is getting more socially liberal

There is, goodness knows enough bad news at the moment so a study by Kings College London and IPSOS which shows Britain is becoming socially more liberal is very welcome. 

The study looks at the same questions asked in 1989 and 2019 which makes it much easier to track the differences – and what differences they are!

In 1989 40% of British adults thought that homosexuality was morally wrong – in 2019 that was down to 13% while  people thinking that homosexuals should be treated ‘just like other people’ has increased from 23% to 64% 

On drug use the % thinking soft drugs such as cannabis are morally wrong has gone from 60% to 29% – there has also been a drop in people thinking the same of hard drugs such as heroin – but  at 67% ( down from 89%) it is still high 

On abortion the % thinking it is immoral has halved from 35% to 18% – and interestingly there is little difference  in the views of men and women (nor was there is 1989) 

Some areas haven’t changed much – the % thinking that having a sexual relationship with someone who is married to someone else is morally wrong has actually increased from 55% to 62% – because  men are now more likely to think this is wrong – and are  now aligned with the views of women. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments

Members must decide!

Election pacts and participation in an Emergency Government need to be agreed by members.  

As a No Deal Brexit and a possible General Election get nearer there has been much talk of how we Remainers can stop it. The focus at the moment is on legislation to stop it but there are two other areas said to be under discussion: 

  • An emergency government to hold a referendum followed by a General Election 
  • A ‘Remain alliance‘ so that in key seats Remain parties don’t stand against each other (though  Alastair Carmichael has been reported as saying we would not stand down for the SNP).  

I believe that it is really important that we don’t abandon one of the fundamental principles of our Party – the primacy of members in taking key decisions  

If we participate in an emergency  Government then our Constitution is very clear about what needs to happen. Section 23 says that support for a government which contains other political parties applies

where the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons (‘the Commons Party’) enters into negotiations with one or more other political parties with a view to the formation of a government supported by the party and such party or parties; 

There are various provisions about consultations  etc but the key point is that  any agreement would have to be approved by  a 2/3rd vote at either a regular or special Conference.  

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 11 Comments

Time to ditch the People’s Vote organisation – but not a People’s Vote

Many Liberal Democrat candidates at the next election are going to be surprised  to  find that the People’s Vote campaign will be recommending voting for their Labour opponents – and sending activists to back  that on the ground. 

Liberal Democrats have generally been very supportive of the campaign  which is supporting  our core policy on Brexit and have been happy to promulgate its messages , help at its events and donate money to it. All of that has helped give it credibility – but that credibility may now be used against us. 

According to leaked documents in the Guardian and  the Sunday Times (£) the People’s Vote Campaign are going to be recommending that Lib Dem and Green voters in some constituencies  vote Labour. According to the  leaked document, James McGrory, Director of the People’s Vote organisation says (my emboldening):

In some cases we will be asking Labour supporters to vote for other parties such as the Liberal Democrats. In many others we will be asking supporters of the Liberal Democrats, the Greens or others to vote Labour.

We can expect Labour candidates who are endorsed by the People’s Vote campaign to be using this endorsement to squeeze our vote. 

This is madness – Labour is a pro Brexit party and Corbyn has made  it clear time and again that  what he wants is a Labour Brexit

Anyone elected as a Labour MP will be voting to put life long Brexit supporter Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the negotiations. 

The People’s Vote campaign have a track record on this – they pressured Femi Oluwole to drop out of the Peterborough by election for fear it would  harm the Labour vote.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 50 Comments

Helping parents with the cost of school uniforms is a great campaign

For an example of the real difference Liberal Democrats in government can make to peoples lives, look no further than the announcement by Kirsty Williams of new guidance on school uniforms in Wales.

There’s no doubt that the cost of school uniforms can be a real issue for poor families and the tendency of some schools to make arbitrary decisions which put up the cost are an example of how arbitrary decisions by the state can adversely affect people lives.

The Children’s Society have issued several reports on this, highlighting the high costs caused by schools which have over complicated uniforms …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 46 Comments

We need a new type of hustings for the Leadership Election

In the last leadership election I went to several of the hustings. They were interesting enough events but didn’t really probe much into the candidates.   The format was usually a speech by the candidates followed by questions and then a final summation. The candidates trotted out the same stories and jokes and answered the same questions they had been asked before.

What was missing was any sense of the sort of testing questions which someone would get when they were Party Leader and in particularly the follow up questions. Both Tim and Norman were well prepared for the questions they were likely to be asked – but without further questioning we couldn’t really  probe.

I would suggest that this time at least some of the hustings should feature, as well as a speech from each candidate, an interview by an experienced journalist, who will press them on their areas of weakness.  Why did Vince triple tuition fees?  If Ed and Norman run, how does Ed justify Hinckley Point?   How does Norman think we should proceed on Brexit in light of his abstention on Article 50? 

Posted in News | Tagged and | 20 Comments

Lib Dems table Bill to give Europeans the right to stay in the UK

Tom Brake has tabled a Bill to be debated next Tuesday which would give Europeans living here the right to stay in the EU.

This follows on from both the Government and Theresa May refusing to give assurances to people who are living here that they will have an unconditional right to carry on doing so. Theresa May seems determined to use them as a bargaining chip.

Posted in Campaign Corner | 20 Comments

We must speak for our EU Citizens in the UK

eupetitionCanvassing during the referendum in the London borough of Merton one point came up on a surprising number of households – what was going to happen to people from the EU living here if we voted to Leave. We were only canvassing people entitled to voted in the referendum but in many cases the person who opened the door was from the EU and their partner was British. It was often said slightly jokingly with people saying they could tell us how their British partner would be voting ‘or else’ but with an undertone of concern. As the polls got worse the concerns got greater and at out street stall in Morden the Saturday before the vote several people spoke of real concern – as one women put it to me ‘my son loves his school, my husband has a good job and we have a nice flat. I don’t want to leave and go back to Italy – this is now our home’.

With the result – and what seem to be increasing attacks on immigrants those concerns have only got worse Last Saturday we held a street stall in Wimbledon asking people to sign our petition that people from the EU who are here should be able to carry on living and working here without any concern about any worries – and that the same thing should apply to British citizens in the rest of the EU. We had a quite extraordinary response – I have never seen anything like it. People were queuing up to sign , shaking our hands and thanking us for taking up the issue. There is a real concerns about the uncertainty which makes it impossible for people to plan for the future.

Posted in Op-eds | 30 Comments

It’s time to move party HQ out of London

One of the adverse effects of the awful General Election result has been a significant drop in Party income, as we are now of much less interest to potential donors and people who wish to exhibit and hold fringe meetings at Conference. That means that we have to look at radical measures to cut costs so that we can deliver the maximum political effect on our reduced income. One area we should look at very closely is the location of Party HQ and whether we need have staff in an expensive central London location. The easy answer would be to move to another, cheaper London base, but that in my view would be a mistake – we should be asking if most of our staff need to be in London at all or whether they could be based somewhere else, where rents and salaries are lower.

Without a detailed knowledge of who does what at HQ it is difficult to know how many people we would need to keep in London – the press team of course and anyone who needs daily personal contact with Tim and the MPs. But looking at the latest organisation chart it is difficult to see why the people who work on IT and digital, compliance, conference, Membership and Finance need to be in London.

Posted in News | Tagged | 37 Comments

Petition asking Labour to oppose benefit cuts sweeps the internet

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 08.23.03Lib Dems will be familiar with the many petitions launched by 38 degrees attacking us during the Coalition years in which the iniquities of the changes to benefits was a constant theme. Given that 38 degrees have frequently said that they do not support the Labour Party, it might have been expected that they would have something to say about Labour’s extraordinary decision to abstain in the vote on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on Monday evening- but they have been silent. The nice balance – 184 Labour MPs abstaining with a Govt majority of the same number is just the sort of thing that might have been expected to get their attention!

They can’t be ignoring it can’t be because there is any doubt about the effects of the cuts, independent organisations like the Child Poverty Action Group and the Institute for Fiscal Studies have made clear the damage that will be done to the poorest families, particularly by the £6 bn cuts in tax credits.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 13 Comments

Opinion: Generation Y – Why don’t they vote Lib Dem?

Last year the Economist ran a fascinating article on  “The strange rebirth of Liberal England” on how young people have attitudes in many areas which are very liberal, though as we know this does not necessarily  equate  with voting for the Lib Dems. Liberal Reform explored this further at a fringe meeting in Glasgow which included some polling on Generation Y. Our three panellists, Kavya Kaushik, Jeremy Browne and Paul Marshall, with Chair Miranda Green talked about the polling and what Lib Dems could do to attract Generation Y to vote for us.

The polling is very clear on personal liberalism:  for example the percentage saying homosexuality is wrong, that people who want children should get married, and that a husbands job is to earn money the wife’s to look after the home and family are all lower for Generation Y. They also have markedly more Liberal views on immigration, being the only age group to see it as a net positive.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 114 Comments

Opinion: Vince is wrong about London

One of the oddest statements made by a Lib Dem in 2013 was surely Vince Cable saying that London was “draining the life out of the rest of the country”’.

Odd not just because Vince is MP for a London constituency but because he was so clearly wrong – far from draining the life out of the rest of the UK, London is a huge contributor. The most obvious way is financially: London subsidises other parts of the UK which would have higher taxes or less public spending without the benefits of the London

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 47 Comments

Opinion: Let’s have some facts on the ‘bedroom tax’

One of the ‘facts’ about the ‘bedroom tax’ which is becoming increasing accepted is that 9 out of 10 disabled people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ and refused a discretionary payment are going without food.

There is a rather good graphic, much shared, on Facebook illustrating this and it has been added to the Labour rhetoric of the all round wickedness of the Coalition.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 47 Comments

Special Lib Dem Conference announced

An unprecedented alliance of groups within the Liberal Democrats have announced an agreement to turn the Spring 2016 gathering into a special Conference. Liberal Vision, the Social Liberal Forum, Liberal Left and Liberal Reform have agreed with the Federal Conference Committee that normal arrangements will be suspended in favour of a special ‘we’re sorry’ day.

A spokesman for the four groups said:

Rather than spending each Conference for years to come rejecting various policy items which the Party supported while in Coalition it seemed much easier to do it all at once .

The format has been agreed as a series …

Posted in News | 24 Comments

Opinion: People don’t care who provides their healthcare

nhs sign lrgThe publication of a new poll by ICM for Civitas on the NHS should give encouragement to those in the Lib Dems who believe that we should not be bound by a single provider approach to the NHS.  The poll shows that people are proud of the NHS but not concerned by who provides their healthcare.

The key question is:

“It shouldn’t matter whether hospitals or surgeries are run by the government, not-for-profit organisations or the private sector, provided that everyone including the least well-off has access to care”.

83% o agreed with …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 30 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Reform urge MEPs to oppose a secret vote on the EU Budget

European Parliament chamber, StrasbourgIt probably came as a  surprise to most Lib Dems to hear  that it is possible to have a secret vote in the European Parliament at all, let alone when as few as 20% of MEPs call for one. Press reports that some members want a secret vote so they can safely vote against the EU Budget are shocking, because knowing how elected representatives vote is surely the most basic piece of information required to hold them accountable.

If the EU Budget is rejected, after a secret vote, there is not the slightest doubt that it will be seized upon by those in the UK who want us to leave to leave the EU.  Not only should our own MEPs, but also ALDE as a whole, should be opposed to a secret vote in this case, and they should act to change the Parliament’s rules to make secret votes impossible.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Reform response to ‘Shares for Rights’

Liberal Reform has responded to the BIS Consultation on ‘Employee owner’ status. Like most Lib Dems we do not see that there is any need for this and it is noticeable that no evidence has been presented that this reduction in employee rights would make any difference to growth. We are also concerned that an association in people’s mind between owning shares and losing rights will put people off owning shares in their employers, through well established plans like Save As You Earn .

We believe that there are two additional questions which need to be asked:

  • How will the legislation

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Opinion: Abu Hamza isn’t Gary McKinnon but we should still be concerned about his extradition

The extradition of Abu Hamza and 4 other men to the US seems to have given almost universal pleasure and there is no doubt that he seems an extraordinarily unpleasant man, with a long criminal record and deeply repellent views.

But it is in just these sorts of cases that a Liberal needs to be careful and not just go with popular opinion. When you look at what crimes he and the other men involved are accused of it is impossible not to be concerned. It is, interestingly enough, quite difficult to find exactly what they are accused of; the best summary I have found is here.

Posted in Europe / International, News and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Opinion: Making our party more democratic and participative

We Liberal Democrats pride ourselves on being the most democratic Party in the UK. We were the first (and so far the only) major party to have members electing the leaders in a one member, one vote, election.  Our Conference is not just a rally; it actually makes Party policy and key committees are elected by members, not appointed by the Leader.

But we are failing to make use of technology to deepen our members’ participation in the Party.

Firstly our main conference is still dependent on people travelling from around the country to stay for 5 days debating policy, but this disenfranchises many …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 28 Comments
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