Author Archives: Tobie Abel

No deal, no way

There isn’t going to be a free trade deal before we leave the EU.  Theresa May was advised as much by the civil service back in November when it became clear that there is no-where near enough time to negotiate a deal.  In any case it is not in the EU’s political interests to come to an agreement until after we’ve actually left the club so as not to encourage further euro-scepticism on the continent.

Ending free movement will not reduce migration to the tens of thousands.  The government will still have no control of the number of people leaving the country, nor the skills and experience they take with them.  In any case migration in the UK is driven by economics and the government will be in no position to risk a labour shortage and consequent rise in wages and fall in tax receipts.  Economics will take priority above migration, as it has done for each of the last seven years.

Britain is not going to become a low tax, low regulation global trading hub outside the EU.  Any such moves would be classed as fiscal and regulatory ‘dumping’ and would lead to retaliatory measures not just from the EU but the US as well.  That would cripple the global supply chain that underpins our most successful industries.   In any case the government is already spending £50 billion more than its earning, even after 7 years of austerity, and with billions more needed for education, the NHS and infrastructure investment slashing taxes is the last thing on the agenda.

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Don’t give the Tories a blank cheque

The Tories demand the British people vote them a blank cheque at this election. They’re not telling you anything about their plans for Brexit negotiations, much less the compromises that will have to be made if any sort of deal is to be reached. And if you’re one of the millions who never voted for any sort of Brexit, hard or otherwise, the timing of this election guarantees your voice will be safely ignored.

The Tories know there is no chance of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, so they’re having an election now before they have to work out even the most basic details of what the Brexit deal will be. The UK negotiators have hard decisions to make around how much to compromise on movement of people in order to maintain some movement of goods and capital. How much to contribute to EU budgets in order to maintain access to EU research and security programmes. What EU laws to keep in order to trade with EU economies.

However, once they win this election they will be able to sign off on any agreement they want, or worse still walk away without any sort of deal, and there is nothing the British people will be able to do.

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Are we really heading for driverless cars?

The Queen’s speech last week contained some cracking headlines about spaceports, drones and driverless cars as part of the ‘Modern Transport Bill’. In terms of the cars, I believe the legislation is really just about providing clear regulation frameworks and insurance liability rather than any serious public investment. However no sooner was the speech completed when various ‘experts’ were being interviewed on TV accusing the government of wasting time on pie in the sky projects rather than focusing on the real transport issues.  One such expert on Channel 5 news that evening even said that driverless car technology was ‘decades away’ and that at the moment the cars couldn’t even do basic things like drive in the rain!

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Problems identified with enforcing prohibition of legal highs

There was an excellent article on Victoria Derbyshire show yesterday about the dramas the legal highs legislation is going through now the Police are having to consider its enforcement.  The problems centre on the practical difficulties for police of proving that a substance is ‘psychoactive’, that is, that it actually gives people a high.  Whilst this might lead to a surreal career opportunity for someone, the very process of defining what a legal high is shines a wonderful light on the futility of prohibition, with legal experts straining to find a form of words which makes mind altering substances illegal whilst still allowing for the use of substances as diverse as Super Tennants and Incense used by the Church of England!

The obvious answer is of course to end prohibition, gradually, and start proper regulation and control.  Cannabis is an excellent first step, and it would be wise to make a success of that before moving on to other drugs, but the legal highs legislation is a wonderful opportunity to make the wider point whilst the country is listening.  The government aim is to avoid the risks to users health and well being from dangerous legal highs, which is a noble aim.  The entire thrust of the legislation however is now concentrated on giving police the powers to define legal highs in order to the shut down the shops selling them.  This only makes sense in a very narrow ‘technical’ manner.  If successful, the shops might be closed down, or maybe the sellers will either tweak their products to side-step the definition or simply move into the darker parts of the internet, which will only increase the risks to the end users. In the meantime the police have wasted money and man-power, the exchequer has raised not a single penny in taxation, and if anyone still believes that prohibition will stop the end users demand for these legal highs then they’re probably indulging in some mind altering substances of their own.  

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My personal reflections on York

York banner

Spring conference ended on a beautiful afternoon here in York, and whilst colleagues were journeying back to their own constituencies, as a local resident of the city I thought I’d spend the time saved in the commute to jot down some personal highlights.

The rally on Friday served up some great speeches from new Lib Dem members, notably from broadcaster/ army officer/ junior doctor Saleyha Ahsan who spoke passionately in defence of her profession (the medical one) but conflated the junior doctors pay strike and privatisation of the NHS.

Saturday was mostly fringe for me, and I attended the Private Renters event hosted by ‘Generation Rent’ intending to vent my spleen about the older generation treating property as a pension investment.  Lots of other attendees were landlords keen to point out the impracticalities of rent controls or the unfair nature of existing regulations.  Bah, try raising a family in a flat with one month tenancy notice mate!  This issue is clearly going to be back at conference soon.

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Agenda 2020 Essay #13: What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Editor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is TODAY. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected].

To be a Liberal Democrat today is to feel a little lonely!

But whilst the British people may have temporarily forgotten it, our values are still the basis of the British way of life.  Tolerance, meaning live and let live, because without tolerance I am not free to live how I want to live.  Liberty, meaning personal freedom, because being free to strive for a better life is the best guarantee of progress.  Democracy, because it remains the best guarantee of liberty.

Add to this the lessons of Liberal Democracy as lived in Britain since the end of empire.  Live within your means, as anything else destroys your future.   Place pragmatism before ideology, because the British are a wonderfully pragmatic people who care not about left or right, only about the most successful way of getting things done.  Equality before the law is your birth right, but never try to engineer equality in society,  you’ll fail because people are infinitely more complex than the lives you see them live.  Instead devolve power and decisions as low as you can afford, tempered only by the security and liberty of your neighbours.

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An optimist’s view of globalisation


After 25 years of globalisation it should be self-evident to all that rapid technical advances and global competition creates winners and losers in society. I’m very proud to belong to a party committed to speaking up for those who are not benefiting from this brave new world, but even more exciting is the chance we have to be the party which best articulates how Britain can compete and win.

There have been some excellent posts on Lib Dem Voice recently about how the Liberal values of an open multi-cultural society, devolution of power and being pro small enterprise are exactly those that help give the UK a competitive advantage.  I would like to hear even more however about the practical things the country is already doing brilliantly in the fields of science, engineering and research & development and how our policies would help press down on the accelerator even faster.

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Opinion: Generational strife – where’s the fairness?

The budget does make clear where society’s priorities lay. Cuts to incomes and services of the youngest and poorest, yet tax breaks and protected services for many of the oldest and wealthiest. Tax credits, housing benefit, student grants all sacrificed to reduce the deficit, yet inheritance tax, fuel allowances and state pensions are deemed too important to feel the knife. Why?

The answer of course, is that old people vote in record numbers. None of us who spend time trying to win elections doubt the wisdom of bending to the grey vote, but it is hard to defend. Today’s retirees worked through years of rapid wage and house price inflation, benefited from unsustainably generous final salary pension schemes, and enjoyed the full flowering of the welfare state. In contrast today’s graduates face years of paying off student debts before even dreaming of owning a home, will have to work longer for lower pensions, and are in competition with often better educated people from the four corners of the globe. And to top it all the older generation has bequeathed a national debt that now tops £1.5 trillion, on which the younger generation must pay interest for the next 40 years.

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Recent Comments

  • Martin
    In my experience of paying any local government tax – I’ve never seen it reduced ….& no doubt this pen pushers 4 day week won’t make one iota of...
  • Martin Gray
    @Martin...."So we await the results of the experiment, and hopefully the reduction in council tax that will follow its successful completion, with great interes...
  • Martin
    So why have local government at all? So that those who are responsible for spending local taxpayers’ money on local services are democratically acc...
  • Peter Watson
    @Martin Gray "Would this be available to all at the council – the refuse operators , gardeners , labourers , porters , care home workers etc …Or is it anoth...
  • Mark ValladaresMark Valladares
    @ Martin, So, you're happy to see all discretionary spending go, in other words, you want your local council to do only that which central government mandate...