Author Archives: The Voice

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Menzies Campbell: Deal does not deliver promised utopia

Ming Campbell’s take on the Brexit deal was that it didn’t deliver what was promised and put the UK in a much more precarious international position.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, not least because he drew attention to the absence to any reference either to Wales or Scotland in the documents with which we are concerned.

I have wondered to what purpose I would be here, and I suspect my purpose now is served by the opportunity to support the amendment put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Nothing of substance has changed since the earlier debate. Although I have had the opportunity to look very quickly at the document produced in relation to Northern Ireland just before this debate began, I can see why the Government perhaps chose not to put it out before, because it really does not bear any serious interpretation, not least of course because the matter of the protocol is still covered by the advice issued by the Attorney-General on 13 November last year. Paragraph 16 states that—I am reading short—

“in international law, the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place, in whole or in part”.

That remains the legal position. The document of today can have no effect of any kind on that.

As we consider these matters, the authority of the Prime Minister diminishes almost before our eyes. There was a government defeat last night and another one this afternoon. One thing which has certainly changed as a result of Brexit—and I hope your Lordships do not find the advice too alarming—is that you can throw away your copy of Dicey and, if you are lucky enough to have a copy of John Mackintosh’s seminal work, The British Cabinet, you need not have much regard to that, because the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility has now been abolished by this Cabinet. It reminds me of the old Latin tag, “Quot homines, tot sententiae”—although, in these more enlightened days, one should perhaps say, “Quot personae, tot sententiae”. The Cabinet is now apparently at liberty to contradict the Prime Minister and to take issue with Cabinet colleagues, and for all that to be played out in public. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister’s capacity for negotiation has been adversely affected. If she loses next week’s vote on the document with which we are concerned, it may not be a constitutional crisis, but it will most certainly be constitutional chaos.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: David Steel on “the complicated lunacy of Brexit”

David Steel did not mince his words in his contribution to the Brexit deal debate in the Lords. He talked about the need for Government to do something to help those who were struggling.

My Lords, exactly three weeks ago today as I was leaving the House to go home for the Christmas Recess I passed three people sleeping in our entrance to the Underground station. It was reported next day that one of these had died in the night—on our own doorstep! That typified for me the paralysis of the Government over these last two years, as they have had to concentrate on dealing with the complicated lunacy of Brexit. Homelessness, the delays in the NHS, the chaos on our railways, the shortage of teachers in our schools, even the lack of legislation to deal with drones, and so many other issues, have had to be neglected while every department of government struggles with the consequences and divisions of Brexit.​

In one of our debates at the end of last year, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, told us that it was for Parliament to assert itself and get things sorted out. It could, for example, revoke Article 50. He is of course correct, but that is one option over which the Commons should hesitate, because it would mean Parliament contradicting the referendum result. That is why, although like the late Paddy Ashdown I was initially doubtful, I have come around to the view that a people’s vote is necessary to take that decision. I do not for one moment believe the scaremongers about civil unrest, provided that we hand it back to the people to decide whether, in the light of all the realities, they really wish to leave the European Union.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Christine Jardine We all deserve better than this deal

It was almost midnight when Christine Jardine finally got to her feet to make her speech. She talked about how her constituents are even firmer in their view that we should remain in the EU and, crucially, she highlighted how the deal fails Leave as well as Remain voters. She called on MPs to rise to the enormity of the occasion and do what’s best for the country.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami). I rise to oppose the Government’s motion and to give largely the speech that I was due to make a month ago, when the vote was pulled. My stance has developed over the past two and a half years, during which my party has campaigned consistently in Parliament and in communities across the country for the people, not the politicians, to have the final say.

As we approach the denouement of this Brexit drama—or perhaps it is a tragedy—my thoughts drift back to 24 June 2016. What prompted the country to vote for Brexit? I agree with the hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns). An entire generation faced the prospect that their children and grandchildren would not be as well off as they were, having been left behind and failed by globalisation. More than two years ​later, I do not believe that this Government have provided either any solutions to those issues or a coherent way ahead.

We have heard a lot this evening, mostly from Conservative Members, about delivering on Brexit. May I plead with them that actually we have something more important in this House to deliver, and that is the wellbeing of the country? When the electors go to the ballot box and send us here, it is not simply to follow an instruction; it is to have the courage to do what we believe is right for us, for them and for the entire country. That is where we are just now.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Roger Roberts says young people must have a say

Last year, Roger was on the front page of the Daily Mail for upsetting the Brexiteers.

Now, the octogenarian Liberal Democrat had two of the most prominent Tory Brexiteers in the Lords intervene on him in his speech.

My Lords, those who argue for this deal say that the people have voted and that we must honour that. The people voted two and a half years ago, when they were a different constituency. Many of them have now departed and millions more are now eligible to vote. Therefore, we are disregarding the views and the future of many of these young people. Not only that but we are withdrawing from the European Union, which means that we are withdrawing their European citizenship. These young people were born into European citizenship.

Lord Lilley (Con)

Does the noble Lord intend to have a referendum every two and a half years?

Lord Roberts of Llandudno

That is not my intention, of course, but I shall mention something in a moment that might go in that direction. As I said, we are denying young people their voice in this issue. People change their minds. Even Prime Ministers can change their minds. The Commons were to have a vote in December; now they will have a vote in January. If the people are not allowed to change their minds but the Prime Minister and parliamentarians are, we are denying a democratic right to the people.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Chris Fox The vulnerable and less well off are most at risk from Brexit

We continue our look at how Lib Dem parliamentarians are arguing against the Brexit deal and for a People’s Vote.

In this instalment, Chris Fox debunks Tory clams that a no-deal Brexit wouldn’t cost jobs and highlights that the poorest will suffer most.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and I look forward to working with him when we move into Committee on the Trade Bill.

When the Minister was looking in our direction, he spoke about the need for clarity. I understand that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defra is organising a new unit in his department with the express remit of “seeing through the fog” of Brexit. I also understand that the department is finding difficulty in recruiting people to take on this task. Meanwhile, the Government are stress-testing their own ability to create fog. We have already heard the lighter side of Project Grayling today but actually it is not funny; it is quite sad and rather pathetic that a government department led by a Minister is going out and trying to prove how serious the Government are about a no-deal exit, and doing it completely incompetently. I do not know who does due diligence in the Department for Transport but the big question is: who did due diligence on Chris Grayling?

Elsewhere, Iain Duncan Smith has been vocal about the benefits of a no-deal exit. He does not,

“believe that a single job will be lost”,

in a hard Brexit. It is not for me to challenge his belief system—I will leave that to the Lords spiritual—but I am able to refute what is clearly a false claim. Take, for example, a small engineering firm on an industrial estate just outside Hereford employing 30 people. It is very successful. Unlike some firms, the owner has looked long and hard at his situation and has talked in detail with his largely continental European customer base. He has prepared for no deal and the imposition of borders, tariffs and non-tariff barriers. In that situation, his plan is clear: he will make 10 of his staff redundant.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Dick Newby The World is looking at us with pity and amazement

The Lords have also been debating the Brexit Deal and, as in the Commons, Lib Dems have been arguing for a People’s Vote. This is Dick Newby’s contribution:

My Lords, it is somewhat odd to be debating an identical government Motion with a month’s gap, during which time, in the Brexit negotiations themselves and despite the announcements the Government have made today, there have been no significant developments whatsoever—a reality reflected in the Commons simply continuing its adjourned debate on the topic rather than having a new Motion or amendments.

There was therefore a temptation to simply repeat the speech I made on 5 December. I was attracted to this option by the true example of a vicar friend of my wife’s who, having preached a sermon on a Sunday morning, found that his colleague who was due to ​preach at evensong was taken ill during the day. Stepping into the breach and having no time to prepare a second sermon, he simply repeated the one he had given in the morning. He was therefore rather disturbed to see in the congregation one of the churchwardens, who normally only attended in the morning but who had had visitors for lunch who wanted to see the church. At the end of the service, the vicar greeted the churchwarden with some trepidation. The churchwarden approached the vicar beaming. “Another corker, vicar”, he said. It was clear that he had not listened to at least one, and possibly both, of the sermons. But I suspect that your Lordships’ House is somewhat more attentive than the average churchwarden, so I shall repeat neither the speech nor the exact arguments I made a month ago.

The challenge in fashioning another speech, however, is that, as far as the withdrawal agreement and political declaration are concerned, nothing of substance has changed. I am unaware of a single MP who threatened to rebel last time but has pledged to support the Government this time around.

Although nothing has changed in the agreement itself or the views of MPs, this does not mean that nothing has changed beyond Parliament. The first thing that has changed is that the Government have stepped up spending for a no-deal Brexit. Given that the Commons will never vote for a no-deal outcome, as evidenced by yesterday’s vote, the spending of billions of pounds against an outcome that is simply not going to happen was always going to be a colossal waste of public money. But the way in which the Government have chosen to do this has turned mere profligacy into farce.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit – Ed Davey on what Paddy would have thought

Sir Ed Davey, in his speech against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, looked at it through Paddy’s eyes.

He also spoke about his experience of European co-operation when he was Climate Change Secretary when Putin was overstepping the mark in the Ukraine.

My friend, Lord Ashdown—Paddy—is being buried today in Somerset, so I hope that the House will allow me to speak about this deal as I think Paddy would have done. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) might not have known about the burial service, but my friend Paddy would have been able to apply his critical faculties to the deal and judge it on the basis of what was good for this country. That is what he would have done. I worked for him for nearly 30 years, beginning as his economics adviser, and when he talked about Europe, he talked about the way in which countries needed to co-operate and work together. Internationalism was in his liberalism. He talked about how, working with other countries, this country could regain sovereignty and regain control over global capitalism, and the multinationals that sought to undermine the interests of individual countries, people and corporations. His view was that we were stronger and had more control. That was his approach to the European Union.

However, things went much deeper than that. Paddy was a soldier and a diplomat, and he brought that experience and those beliefs to the European question. It was his commitment to peace and to patriotism—he loved his country—that made him such a strong pro-European. We see that in his books and his speeches when he talks about the dangers of rising nationalism and protectionism around the world. He worried about Trump, Bolsonaro and Brexit, and he thought that Britain being in the EU was one of the best ways of combatting those rises in nationalism and protectionism. In his work in Bosnia, he talked about how the EU’s institutions were bringing peace not just within that country, but within the Balkans. Indeed, if we look at what is happening, the EU is one of the magnets that is ending the hostility between those countries, and it can play a key role. It is an engine for peace, as it has been across Europe.

Of course, as man who was born in Northern Ireland, Paddy would look at the threat to the Good Friday agreement with serious concern. Nearly 3,600 of our countrymen and women died in the troubles, but few have died since the Good Friday peace agreement. People inside and outside this House should think carefully about anything that puts that at risk. Paddy certainly did, believing that the EU was a way of gluing people together and moving away from past hostilities.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Vince Cable takes on the WTO Rules argument

We always like to record Lib Dem contributions to significant parliamentary debates when we can. There is no more significant debate than that going on over the future course of Brexit – or otherwise.

Vince spoke on the first day of the debate and he tackled the Brexiteers’ assertions that the WTO Rules are just fine if we have a no deal Brexit.And he should know, because he’s actually done trade negotiations. He totally demolishes the idea that WTO Rules a) mean much b) can be enforced and c) allow smaller countries to trade freely without being bullied by more powerful ones:

One problem of having extended debate and resumption of debate is that we are getting a lot of repetition and recycling of arguments that we have heard many times before. For that reason, I want to focus on one specific issue, which is the idea of World Trade Organisation rules and exactly what they mean. The term “WTO rules” is used casually in every pub, and in every radio interview I encounter, but I suspect that many of the people who use it are not at all clear what it means.

Before getting into the detail of that, I will make one general point about no deal, which was brought out rather brilliantly by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who got to the heart of this very well. He exposed the fact that no deal is actually a choice. It is not just something that happens; it is the conscious choice of a Government who could choose to revoke article 50, as the Father of the House keeps reminding us. That may be a difficult ​decision and a very unpopular one, but article 50 could be revoked, and by choosing not to revoke it, the Government will be choosing to have no deal, with all its catastrophic—or so they tell us—consequences.

Let me narrow down to the specific issue of what the WTO rules would be if we found ourselves in a no-deal world. The basis on which I speak is that many years ago, long before I came into the House, I was part of a small community of international trade specialists and got involved in negotiating the so-called Uruguay round and then the Doha round as part of the World Trade Organisation—or, as it was then called, the general agreement on tariffs and trade. I saw at first hand the way in which the WTO system operates. I realise that there is no longer just a small community of anoraks, which is what we were. A large number of people now consider themselves experts on trade policy, but the glibness with which the term “WTO rules” is applied leads me to believe that there are probably not too many anoraks, because there are some very real difficulties in applying WTO rules.

The World Trade Organisation is to trade what the United Nations is to peace. It has some admirable principles, but I think most Members, and certainly those on the Government Benches, would consider it seriously negligent of us to make our national defence dependent solely on the rules of the United Nations. Rules have to be enforced, and they have to be effective.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Layla Moran: I want an open Britain, not one that closes itself off

In full, below, Layla Moran’s speech against Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

It will come as no surprise to anyone, I am sure, to hear that I will not support the deal. I am determined to do everything I can to secure a people’s vote, with the option to stay in the EU and exit from Brexit. After all, that is what I was elected to do when I overturned a Tory majority of nearly 10,000 with the help of a progressive alliance of voters from across the entire political spectrum. I am still regularly stopped in the streets by constituents who just want an end to this mess. One lady said to me the other day, “I didn’t vote for this Brexit. Please make it stop!” Is not that the refrain we are hearing from everyone—“Make it stop”?

That is my issue with the deal. The Prime Minister’s deal has only 26 pages about what comes next. It will take years to get that right. Meanwhile, the fact that the air has been sucked out of this Government and the economy will continue to suffocate society. The very causes of Brexit—inequality, injustice, the incomprehension of parents that their children’s future will not be as bright as theirs—will continue to be ignored until this is over. We have to be honest with people: Brexit will not solve any of those issues.

There is only one way to make this stop, and that is a democratic exit from Brexit. Support for that, as much as many in this House are trying to ignore it, is growing. Poll after poll shows that the will of the people has changed since 2016. Add to that Russian interference, Cambridge Analytica, the leave campaign being fined for breaking electoral law and dodgy DUP donations, and is it any wonder that people are dismayed? Does that surprise us at all? In a democracy, as has been said, people should be able to change their mind. If they want to vote for this deal, let them, but if they want an exit from it and to keep the deal we already have, let them have that.

One group that Brexit affects more than anyone else is EU citizens in the UK. These people are our friends. They have built relationships and careers in this country. They deserve so much better than this shambles. Is it not shameful that they are being asked to pay £65 to continue to live in their own homes and stay in their jobs? Although I welcome the announcements of Oxford University and my local NHS trusts that they will pay the fee for their staff, it beggars belief that they even have to offer. How much public taxpayer money has been offered to overcome the charge? That suggests to me that the Government should scrap it now.

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Lib Dems vs Brexit: Jo Swinson “Even my five year old knows that unicorns aren’t real”

This week the House of Commons has been debating Theresa May’s deal. Liberal Democrats have been explaining why Brexit is a bad thing and why we need a People’s Vote.

Here’s Jo Swinson making one of her five contributions in the Chamber on her first week back from parental leave.

Two and a half years ago the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to tackle society’s burning injustices. I for one was glad to hear that speech, and I hoped that it would mark a real change in direction from this Government.

We could debate endlessly the reasons why people voted to leave the European Union, and of course they were varied. For many, however, there was a feeling that the system is broken, that working hard is no guarantee of getting on, and a fear that their children will end up worse off than they are, earning less, finding it harder to secure a decent home. People, rightly and understandably, feel angry about that. However, instead of the radical changes needed to our economy and society, the energy and attention of our Government have been sucked into the black hole of Brexit. Nothing has changed for those the Prime Minister vowed to help. Those injustices still fuel discontent. We have an underfunded universal credit system bringing misery to thousands. We are in the midst of a housing crisis in which many children are living in heartbreaking conditions and vulnerable people are sleeping on our streets—and dying on them, too. None of that will be resolved by leaving the EU. None of that will be resolved by the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

The leave campaign said we would take back control, but to many of my constituents—to the mother of two who contacted me because she was worried about her family’s security after the Prime Minister called her husband a “queue jumper”; to the scientist concerned about jobs in Glasgow once the life sciences industry loses vital European funding; and to the businesses that do not even know on what terms they will be able to sell to our biggest trading partner in three months’ time—it feels like we are doing the very opposite.

Five years ago, I fought passionately to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. Together, we are stronger. Our economy is more successful and our influence is greater. We can pool risks. Our businesses benefit from selling to a larger market, without barriers. We share values. We share our history. We share a desire for our loved ones in different parts of the country to be able to live, work and travel where they want with ease. I am certain that Scotland’s best future is in the United Kingdom, and for the same reasons I believe the United Kingdom’s interests are best served within the European Union.

In 2017, the people of East Dunbartonshire elected me to fight for Scotland’s position in the UK and for the United Kingdom’s position in the EU. That is the manifesto I stood on. The Liberal Democrats have led the fight for a people’s vote so we keep the benefits of our EU membership and remain a leading and influential member of the world’s most successful economic and political bloc. I am delighted that so many MPs from all parties are coming together and working beyond party lines for the public to have the final say on a deal, with the option of keeping our EU membership.

She was challenged by an SNP MP about independence at this point and continued

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Could you be the Lib Dems’ Vice President BAME?

As part of the implementation of the Alderdice Report which aims to remove the barriers to participation in the party by members of BAME communities, the Party is looking to appoint a Vice President BAME.

They’ve advertised the role and the details of what it entails and how to apply are below:

The Vice President BaME will be a party ambassador and senior Board officer. They will work with various Federal and State bodies responsible for delivering diverse representation both internally and externally. These include Candidates Committees, the Candidates & Diversity Office and the Diversity Committee of the Federal People Development Committee.

The VP-BaME would also support the Racial Diversity Campaign (RDC) and Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality (LDCRE) in their work to promote more BaME representation both in internal party structures and externally in local, regional and parliamentary elections.

The VP-BaME will work closely with the Party’s Equalities Spokesperson to ensure that different BaME communities’ interests are represented, to highlight issues, engage ethnic minority voters and campaign for a better deal for them.

They will work with LDCRE to reach out to BaME communities, to enthuse them about the Lib Dems and attract them to become members and activists.  They will champion inclusion, and work with these recruits to help them empower each other and gain the knowledge and skills they need to be meaningfully involved.

The VP-BaME will listen to BaME communities’ views and work to ensure that they are reflected in Liberal Democrat policy making.

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Liz Barker’s tribute to Paddy Ashdown

In a House of Lords debate on the Western Balkans this week, Baroness Liz Barker paid tribute to Paddy Ashdown:

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for this debate, which, sadly, is timely and appropriate. I thank her for giving me the opportunity to tell your Lordships’ House about an event that took place in Sarajevo on 27 December. Joseph Ingram wrote a report of it and he said this. Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina held a spontaneous commemorative service in the “iconic, reconstructed city hall”. The hall was,

“filled to capacity, and despite being nationally televised, had people lined up outside trying to be part of it. The ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, a group that represents survivors of the most horrific massacre of innocent civilians on European soil since World War Two, had announced that they too intend to honour the work of this extraordinary human being”.

The event was dedicated to one man. He was born in India. He grew up as a lad in Northern Ireland. He left school, joined the marines and became a captain, a diplomat and spy. Then he gave up everything and, after a period on the dole, went on to become a youth worker and eventually the gallant MP for Yeovil. In this House, we knew him as Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, but he was always Paddy.

He had a wide range of interests. He had forgotten more languages than most of us have ever learned. He could quote the poetry of John Donne at will. He was an informed and passionate supporter of activists for democracy in Hong Kong, when nobody else took any notice, and he packed more achievements into a lifetime than most of us could imagine, but he was always first to admit that the source of his great strength was Jane. In public she was a quiet figure, but to those of us who know her she is a charming, funny and formidable woman.

I will give you one vignette which sums up both of them. Like all good leaders, Paddy used to invite people in to advise him, talk to him and argue with him. In 1992 I was one of the small group. Early one morning, he posed us the question: should I go to Bosnia? We went round the room and we all said no. We gave him all sorts of reasons why it was a really bad idea, and I left the meeting certain of only one thing. He was going to go. We all saw the TV pictures recently, but what we did not know until we read his autobiography was that he had come under fire, as the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, told us. But he went because he saw a group of people being treated unjustly, and he thought that he could and should do something.

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Christopher Beazley, former Conservative MEP for two decades, defects to Liberal Democrats and calls for a People’s Vote on Brexit

Christopher Beazley is welcomed into the party by Jonathan Brown

Christopher Beazley, Chichester/West Sussex resident and former Member of the European Parliament for the East of England 1999-2009 and for Cornwall and Plymouth 1984-1994, is resigning from the Conservative Party to join the Liberal Democrats.

Christopher says:

As a lifelong, traditional, one-nation, pro-European Conservative I can no longer sit idly by while my former party plunges the country into disaster.

Successive Tory Party leaders have failed to confront the nationalist, lunatic right-wing fringe. As my daughter put it: “David Cameron gambled with our future and lost!”

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Hospital where May launched NHS plan built with EU funding

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“A more inclusive party which empowers the voice of people who are both BAME and LGBT”

Today’s video from the Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality shows secretary Nadiya Phoenix talk about the need for the party to look at the needs of people who are both LGBT and BAME.

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WATCH: Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality Chair Roderick Lynch review 2018 and set out plans for next year

The new Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality has hit the ground running these past few months.

In this video, their chair, Roderick Lynch, outlines all they have achieved from Conference motions to Black History Month and looks forward to the issues they will be campaigning on in 2019.

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New Edition of Ad Lib out

The party has revamped its online magazine Ad Lib and you can read the new version, hot off the digital press, here.

It’s jam packed full of stuff – a profile of our candidate in the most marginal seat in the country. Wendy Chamberlain is working to take the seat where sitting SNP MP Stephen Gethins and his wife make up his majority.

There’s an interview with Lucy Salek, our brilliant candidate in the Lewisham by-election and articles from Vince on housing and Tom Brake on Brexit.

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WATCH: Vince’s Christmas message; Empty chairs at the Christmas Table

Vince Cable, has used his Christmas message to focus on the issue of knife crime. He has worked with the St Giles Trust to learn more about the gang culture which is fuelling knife crime and tragically costing young people their lives. St Giles works directly with those affected, providing education, mentoring and support to fill the void into which gangs otherwise slip.

In the film, Vince Cable discusses the causes of knife crime with Liam, a St Giles Project Co-ordinator. And we hear the incredibly brave voice of Sophie Kafeero whose own son, Derick, was killed last year.

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Reprise: Paddy’s four dangerous ideas

On the eve of the 2017 party conference, Paddy wrote two articles for us about where the party should go from here. Part 1 is here.. In Part 2, he outlines four “dangerous ideas” we should explore. 

So, here, as promised are four dangerous ideas for the future. Please be clear. I am not necessarily proposing these. Just asking why we are not even discussing them?

Dangerous idea 1

We are guiltily obsessed with student fees. The fact that we don’t need to be, because the principle is right, does not make life easier (how I wish we had called them a Graduate tax!). But now with the student loan debt rising, do we not also have to consider how we get better value for what students pay? If we have a tertiary education system which cannot be paid for without loading more and more debt on our young, should we not be looking at the system, not just at how they pay? We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box. Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time. Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking.

Dangerous idea 2

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us, gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it.I am talking of course, about our personal data. Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market pace? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

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Caroline Pidgeon calls for Blue Plaque recognition for 100 women

You know these blue plaques you find on houses recognising former inhabitants of historical significance?

It will probably not surprise you to realise that only 14% of them in the country’s capital city remember women.

Lib Dem London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has long campaigned to change that. She’s welcomed London Assembly members’ support and  call for people to nominate 100 women to be commemorated in this way.

As part of this centenary year, the London Assembly is seeking to submit 100 nominations of women worthy of a Blue Plaque.

Caroline Pidgeon has long supported ensuring more women are recognised for their record, and three years ago highlighted that incredibly the suffragette Emily Davison was not even recognised by a Blue Plaque.

It is great news that her fellow London Assembly Members are now backing an issue Caroline has long championed.

Caroline and the London Assembly thinks that the criteria being used by English Heritage when considering submission are totally unfit for a modern London.

English Heritage incredibly refuse to consider a Blue Plaque if the original house no longer exists.   Yet Emily Davison’s home no longer exist due to a V2 rocket demolishing the property she lived in. Many other properties across London were also destroyed during the Second World War.

English Heritage seem to think that remembering properties is far more important than people.

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Reprise: Paddy’s essay to the party on the eve of Conference

On the eve of the 2017 party conference, Paddy wrote two articles for us about where the party should go from here. Part 2 is here.. In Part 1 he challenges us to get thinking and bring forward new ideas.

I am getting old. Like most old men I have a tendency to be grumpy and claim that things aren’t as good as they were in the old days. Please bear this in mind when you read this.

I was trained as a Commando officer so I don’t know any other means of tackling a challenge than fix bayonets and charge. I don’t really do subtlety. Please remember that, too when you read on.

I am an enthusiast, and have a tendency to paint in large shapes and bright colours. What follows is Gaugin, not Canaletto. Please make allowance.

When you read this please finally note that I have been a committed and passionate Liberal since a canvasser knocked on my door forty-five year ago and explained what we stood for. That day, I put on Liberalism like an old coat waiting for me in the cupboard and I have worn it ever since with pride – come what may.

In all those long years I have never glanced to right, left or centre for a better political home for my beliefs than our Party – and that remains the case still. So please understand, if the words which follow offend, they are written with love.

So, now you have been warned, here goes.

There are good things – really good things – to celebrate as we gear up for Bournemouth. We have a multi talented Leader who deserves our whole-hearted support. We have 12 MPs in place of 9 before the last election. We still retain thousands of new members and we are winning local Council by-elections at a good rate.

But – didn’t you just know a ‘but’ was coming? – nevertheless, the biggest danger for our Party at the seaside next week lies in glossing over the existential challenges which now face us. Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and re-kindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

Consider this. We are the Party who, more than any other, represents the progressive centre in our country (I prefer centre left, but I am not in the business of dividing here). That space has never been more empty, voiceless, vacant and uncontested than it was in the last election. And yet far from filling that gap and mobilising those in it, our vote went down to an even lower base. Not in my life time have their been conditions more favourable for a Lib Dem advance in a General Election. But we went backwards.

Now, with Labour and the Tories spinning way to the extremes, Britain is polarised as never before and the vast sea of people who share our beliefs, find themselves voiceless and silent.

Not all of them, sadly, are Liberal Democrats or want to be. Many belong to other Parties and many, many more do not belong to any party – or wish to, with party politics as they are.

Politics in Britain is unsustainable in its present state. The moderate, majority voice of our country, which usually determines elections, cannot be left so unrepresented. If we cannot, or will not be the gathering point for these, the new left out millions, then who will and what are we for?

Twice before in our recent history, others have moved onto our ground– once with the SDP and once in the early days of New Labour. Both times we reached out to these new forces and prospered as result. These days we look hostile to this possibility. We will be at very grave danger indeed if this should happen again in the near future and we stand aloof.

Our reluctance on this front does not just threaten our future. It also contributes to the disfigurement of our national politics. If we are to fulfil our historic role at a moment when liberalism is more at threat than ever in my life, then we have to be less tribal, more inclusive and more willing to engage others than we have sometimes seemed in recent years.

What does this mean?

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Paddy’s warning on the threats to democracy and peace

In his last speech to the House of Lords in January this year, Paddy had some strong words for both Donald Trump and the Brexiteers and some useful reflections on where the world should go from here.

Here is the speech in full:

My Lords, I will wait for noble Lords to perform the usual exodus. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem has just said, “What we want is genesis, not exodus”—which may well be correct.

I am privileged to lead this debate. For reasons that I will not bother the House with, I have been spending a lot of time recently doing some research into the 1930s. I am struck—actually, horrified—by the similarities between our suddenly turbulent and unpredictable age and those years. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise; democracy seemed to have failed; people hungered for the government of great men; and those who suffered most from economic pain felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices. Public institutions, conventional politics and the old establishments were everywhere mistrusted and disbelieved. Compromise was out of fashion; the centre collapsed in favour of extremes; the normal order of things did not function; change and even revolution was more appealing than the status quo; and fake news—built around the effective lie—carried more weight in public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts. Painting a lie on the side of a bus and driving it around the country would have seemed very normal in those days, too.

Perhaps the last time that we stood as close to large-scale conflict as we stand now in the world was at the height of the Cold War—but then we had a comfort which I fear we do not enjoy today. Then, the western liberal democracies stood together in defence of our interests and our shared values. Now it pains me to say that, under President Trump, the most powerful of our number thinks that standing together is less important than going it alone, that the abdication of leadership and responsibility is preferable to engaging in the international space and that collective action takes second place to “America First”.

Throughout the long years of the American century we have taken great comfort in the fact that our alliance with the United States and its Presidents has ​been built not just on shared interests but on shared values. Today we have to face the wrenching reality that this US President seems not to share our values; his recent racist comments have shockingly illuminated that fact. The liberal principles that have underpinned every civilised age, every peaceful period and every prosperous society are now under attack as never before, but President Trump appears more aligned with those forces ranged against liberal values than with those seeking to defend them. Throughout the American century we have taken comfort in the fact that the leader of the western world, although flawed like the rest of us, was well informed, judicious and cautious about going to war. Now I fear that we have an American President who seems all too frequently ignorant of the facts, unpredictable, foolhardy and reckless. Bang goes my invitation to the state dinner.

This is frightening stuff for those who, like me, place their faith in the Atlantic alliance. So what do we do about it? For the moment I fear that the answer is to grin and bear it in the hope that the US will find its way back to sanity. After all, we in Britain are not entirely free of this kind of lurch into stupidity ourselves. When the battle between the America that we know and love and Donald Trump ends, I think only one side will remain standing: either Donald Trump will destroy American democracy as we know it or American democracy will destroy Donald Trump. Personally, my money remains on the strength of that old and deep democracy.

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Paddy “was the most heartfelt person I have known” – Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg has paid tribute to “his” leader, the man who brought him into the party and then supported him throughout his career and throughout the darkest days of the coalition:

My heart goes out to Jane and Paddy’s whole family.

Paddy was the reason I entered politics. He was the reason I became a liberal. And he became a lifelong mentor, friend and guide. Much will, rightly, be said about him in the days ahead. He was a soldier, a diplomat, a writer, a leader, a campaigner, a servant of his constituents, and an international statesman.

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Paddy – a few words on behalf of the Editorial Team

The news of Paddy Ashdown’s death tonight will have doubtless come as a shock to our readers, and to the wider Liberal Democrat family.

Members of the Liberal Democrat Voice Team, like so many Liberal Democrat activists and campaigners over the years, have our own Paddy stories, of kindnesses and of events. Paddy was seldom dull, even if you disagreed with him at any one time.

But, as the news of the death of a man many of us thought of as almost indestructible sinks in, we would like to offer our condolences to Jane, to the Ashdown family and friends. Our …

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Paddy Ashdown has passed away

Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, passed away earlier this evening following a short illness.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:

It is with great sadness that we announce that Paddy Ashdown passed away earlier this evening following a short illness. He will be desperately missed by everyone at the Liberal Democrats as a dear friend and colleague, and remembered as someone who made an immeasurable contribution to furthering the cause of liberalism.

Our thoughts are with his family and all of his friends at this difficult time, and we ask that their privacy is respected.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable said:

Our thoughts are with Jane and Paddy’s family this evening.

This is a hugely sad day for the Liberal Democrats and for the very many people across political and public life who had immense affection and respect for Paddy.

He was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena. He was an accomplished author, and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons.

Few people know how hard he fought to get into politics following his service in the marines and diplomatic service. He exercised every ounce of his considerable personal stamina to win the Yeovil seat. He was a personal example to me and to many other candidates.

Once in Parliament, he made a real mark. He was always listened to, in particular, on international issues and defence. He took up unpopular causes where he was respected for his convictions. He inspired the Liberal Democrats from a polling position he famously described as ‘represented by an asterisk’, to become a formidable campaigning force laying the ground for the strength which later took the party into government.

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Corbyn: Labour would deliver Brexit

Anyone still clinging on to the hope that the Labour Party would somehow get us out of this Brexit mess will be sorely disappointed by an interview with Jeremy Corbyn in today’s Guardian.

But asked if he could imagine a referendum emerging as a solution if it becomes clear that parliament is deadlocked – as the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, mooted this week – he said: “I think we should vote down this deal; we should then go back to the EU with a discussion about a customs union.”

As to what stance Labour would take if a referendum were held, Corbyn said, “it would be a matter for the party to decide what the policy would be; but my proposal at this moment is that we go forward, trying to get a customs union with the EU, in which we would be able to be proper trading partners.”

And he struck a distinctly Eurosceptic note by again highlighting Labour’s concerns about the state aid rules that form part of the architecture of the single market.

“I think the state aid rules do need to be looked at again, because quite clearly, if you want to regenerate an economy, as we would want to do in government, then I don’t want to be told by somebody else that we can’t use state aid in order to be able to develop industry in this country,” he said.

Neither is he willing to countenance the idea that Labour should support May’s deal, to avoid Britain crashing out with no deal in place at all – a move the prime minister has repeatedly said is in the “national interest”.

He’s clearly not looking at the clear trend now emerging that the people are unimpressed with the reality of Brexit and want to change their mind.

So if Corbyn wins an election, all he’ll do is go unicorn hunting in Brussels. He won’t stop Brexit.

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John Appleby to fight North of Tyne Mayor contest for the Lib Dems

Dr John Appleby has been selected as the prospective candidate for the election of a Mayor of the new North of Tyne Combined Authority in May.

He has lived in the North-East for over thirty years, and now lives in Whitley Bay, where he enjoys walking on the ever-changing beach with his wife, Janet. 

He was formerly Head of Mechanical Engineering at Newcastle University, responsible for over 1000 staff and students, a budget of £14 million, strategy and safety. He continues to be a popular teacher of maths for engineering students.

John served as a Lib Dem councillor in Newcastle from 2004 until 2007, representing Woolsington ward and taking an interest in transport, education, scrutiny and audit.  He has subsequently stood for Parliament, in local elections, and as mayoral candidate in North Tyneside.

He also has experience as a trustee of several local charities and as a school governor, and has been a union branch president, also serving on local and national church committees.

He said:

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Lib Dem policy is to withdraw Article 50 if we can’t get an extension for referendum or extra negotiations

This seems to be a good moment to remind you all of the motion passed at Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton. Essentially, if we can’t get an extension for a People’s Vote, or for extra negotiating time to avoid a no deal, we think that Article 50 should be withdrawn. And the ruling from the European Court of Justice yesterday proves that it can be done.

Read, learn and inwardly digest this paragraph:

(Conference calls for)The Government to seek to extend Article 50 if required to legislate for a referendum on the deal, or to provide enough negotiating time to avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario, and if such extension is not agreed to withdraw the Article 50 notification.

Here’s the motion in full:

Conference notes that:

A.The Conservative Government are making a mess of Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party are helping them to deliver this destructive Brexit.

B.Liberal Democrats campaigned to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum and have since campaigned for the people to have the final say on the Brexit deal, including the option to remain in the EU.

C.The Treasury have stated that a no-deal Brexit could require the UK to borrow œ80 billion more by 2033, the Conservative Government have begun releasing the 84 no-deal technical notes, and the UK health sector are stockpiling medicines in case of a no-deal.

D.The Chequers plan is unworkable, rejected by both the EU and Conservative European Research Group MPs.

E.A conclusive agreement has not yet been reached on many of the issues arising from the Brexit referendum, including Government red lines, and both sides have stated that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

F.Whilst the principle of a Northern Ireland backstop has been agreed, the UK’s plan to temporarily avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland has not been agreed and there is still no agreement on a long-term solution.

G.During the transition period, which is due to end in 2020, the UK will remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.

H.The draft Withdrawal Agreement stipulated that EU citizens will have to apply for pre-settled or settled status and if they fail to do so will be at risk of deportation; Irish citizens do not have to apply but can if they choose to.

I.EU citizens, who are not Irish or Commonwealth citizens, living in the UK are excluded from voting in UK General Elections or referendums and voting rights have been left outside the scope of Brexit negotiations by the EU Commission.

J.The 2016 EU referendum gave no clear destination for Brexit, as the terms of the deal were not yet known.

Conference believes that:

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Don’t forget: Early bird rates for Spring Conference end one week from today

The York Conference will be one of the most historic in our 30 year history, taking place just 2 weeks before we are scheduled to leave the EU.

A lot could happen between now and then, up to and including a General Election or a People’s Vote on the deal.

Whatever happens it is an important opportunity for us to get together and work out what our next steps are.

It is also where the leader’s plans to extend the franchise for leadership elections to a new supporter class will be debated. There are many strong views on both sides of this but one thing that unites us is surely the desire to debate them as cheaply as possible.

So make sure you register by next Friday.

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Roger Roberts: Are we to be known as the Canutes of History?

Here is Roger Roberts’ speech to the House of Lords on the Brexit deal. His theme was what sort of life are we setting up for future generations?

Leave and Brexit are about   my seven grandchildren, all your Lordships’ grandchildren and all the children in our country. Will it be better for them to have fewer benefits than we have had, or should we think first of them when we vote on this deal?

Just after the Second World War, the community of Llangollen in north Wales established the international musical festival, which has brought people from many countries together. It still goes on; I spoke only this morning to its press office. This past year it brought applications from 3,919 competitors from 64 locations; it brought together people who had been at enmity ​with one another. As people who have been fighting each other, we suddenly find ourselves in a situation where we either stretch out to one another in friendship or say we want to carry on building a wall.

When the first eisteddfod was held, one choir hitchhiked from Hungary to reach Llangollen—I find it difficult to think of a choir hitchhiking. The following time, a German choir from Lübeck came over to Llangollen. Members of the choir were not sure what sort of reception they would get because we had been at war. They were going to sing to those who had been their enemies and they were very uncertain. But the compère at the eisteddfod on that day was Hywel Roberts, who greeted them by saying, “We are now going to hear from our German friends”. It has taken a long time to build this: to build relationships and get over the enmity of the past. But it has been done, in many different ways. Will we continue with these feelings of friendship? Will we continue building bridges and not walls?

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Recent Comments

  • User Avatarfrankie 19th Mar - 1:02am
    Matt, You are quoting the remain sides views, the leave side said we wouldn't be leaving the single market, that's the side you voted for....
  • User AvatarDavid-1 18th Mar - 11:44pm
    Will someone kindly tell me why I should not believe that any extension, of any length, would not be frittered away exactly as the past...
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 18th Mar - 11:36pm
    Tory and SNP on Newsnight, Labour declining to attend. Why no Lib Dem? This is not about a rule in standing orders, this is Erskine...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 18th Mar - 11:36pm
    A new referendum would be, in some hypothetical Utopia, the ideal mode of dispensing with the old, flawed referendum. But we are not in Utopia....
  • User AvatarRoland 18th Mar - 11:21pm
    @Matt "We were told by some..." More fool you for believing their words at face value... As has been repeatedly pointed out the referendum was...
  • User AvatarMalcolm Todd 18th Mar - 11:13pm
    Just revoke. This comedy has gone on quite long enough.