Author Archives: Tony Greaves

Lord Tony Greaves writes…Where now for the Liberal Democrats? Part 2: What we do about it

Yesterday, I laid out the issues facing the party. Here is my analysis of what we should do about them.

I suggest there are four or five things that should now be priorities for the party as an organisation and a movement. They may look rather different from each other but I suggest that they gel together more than may be immediately obvious. This is not an order of importance – I think they are all equally important.

First, in view of the election result we need to insure against the threat of another General Election in the next 12 months or two years. The very survival of the party requires a presence in the House of Commons. That means making sure that the 12 seats we held will be held again – no more carelessness or complacency. It means a similar level of intensive continuous work and campaigning in the 25 or so seats that are realistic targets for gains in an early poll. And those seats need to build up their local organisation to a level where they do not depend on support from lots of people in the surrounding areas and beyond when the election comes.

Second, from a longer term perspective, we need to rebuild and recreate the party as a campaigning organisation and movement. Campaigning in recent years has been diminished to mean just election campaigning, and a lot of that is now done in an arid “painting by numbers” fashion. The campaigning that gives political activity its interest, its excitement, its achievements, and its fun (and who is going to do it for year after year if it’s not fun?) is campaigning on issues, on projects, on protests, on getting things done. Community politics. It’s something the party almost abandoned during the Coalition. And campaigning of this kind is not just about elections – they are part of it but only a part. It’s much, much more, and genuinely all the year round stuff.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes… Where now for the Liberal Democrats? Part 1: Where we are

The morning after another disastrous General Election for the Liberal Democrats, the party’s press office issued a statement which started with the breath-taking words: “It has been a good night for the Liberal Democrats.”

It went on to say: “We hoped to hold our ground but instead we have increased our number of MPs by 50%. We welcome back big hitters to our ranks in Jo Swinson, Vince Cable and Ed Davey, who all regained their seats with emphatic majorities. We have won stunning victories in Eastbourne, Bath, Edinburgh West, Caithness and Oxford West & Abingdon.”

Well yes, and I cheered every one of them. But we lost five of the nine seats we were defending including four which had been held at the calamitous election in 2015. Many more seats that we recently held or which were strong targets fell back badly so that the number of possible winnable seats has shrunk to levels not seen for decades. We lost 375 deposits and it was clear that the basic Liberal Democrat vote in large parts of the country was still close to zero and that the much-vaunted fight-back in many areas had simply not happened at the Westminster level.

So let’s start again. It was a disastrous night for the Liberal Democrats. The best that can be said is that in an election when the very presence of the party in the House of Commons was in danger, we survived. The increase from eight seats in 2015 to 12 this time is welcome but only gets us back to the position in 1966. The truth is that over much of the country hardly anyone voted for us. The countrywide core vote we had been building up in the first decade of the 2000s has gone and shows no signs of coming back.

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Obituary: John David – an immense presence in the Pendle community

john-davidLifelong Liberal stalwart John David died early on Monday morning. John David was an immense presence in the Pendle community who served as a Liberal and Liberal Democrat member of Pendle Borough Council for 28 years. He was elected in May 1986 for the Fence area until retiring in May 2014 due to ill health. He was Leader of the Council from 2008 to 2010 and Deputy Leader from 2012 to 2014, and served as a highly distinguished Mayor of Pendle in 1992/1993.

A proud Welshman (not least when Wales were on the rugby field) John was a lifelong Liberal. He stood for the Liberals in Bosworth in the 1964 General Election, polling 10652 votes, almost a fifth of the total, in a seat the party had not previously contested. By the 1980s he was living in Pendle in Lancashire, running a business in Burnley, and in the 1986 Council elections Gordon Lishman (then the Pendle PPC) sat in his kitchen until, in Gordon’s words, “John signed the nomination form to get rid of me on the promise that he had no chance of election”. He won and held the seat for 28 years.

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Tony Greaves writes…Challenging the Tories, Liberal Democrat lords are in the vanguard

We have just seen another week in which the Liberal Democrats in the Lords led the way in challenging the Conservative Government. The high profile issue was votes for 16 and 17 year olds in the European Referendum when no fewer than 91 of our members voted for the amendment, out of a total of 107 – five are still waiting to come in – with none against, an astonishing record turnout of 87%. Labour managed 74% and the Tories 71. (And it didn’t even include me, I was stuck at home in Lancashire feeling poorly and miserable).

And then Sue Miller (my good friend Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer) moved an amendment to give the vote to all UK citizens living in the EU – and why not, it’s their future as much as or even more than ours? But Labour more or less abstained (four in favour, 37 against – these no doubt being mainly the anti-EU little Englanders in their ranks) and the amendment went down by 214 to 116. There were 84 LD votes in favour and again none against. Yet another principled Liberal charge while Labour sat on the sidelines!

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Obituary: Dennis Wrigley

Dennis Wrigley, who died earlier this week, was an inspirational pioneer in the rejuvenation of the Young Liberals and the Liberal Party in the Manchester region and the North West during the 1950s and 1960s.

Dennis came to national prominence in the High Peak by-election in 1961, in the year before Orpington. A combination of the rising national Liberal vote, a lot of outside help including Manchester students and YLs, and Dennis’s personal charisma and campaigning energy produced a Liberal vote of 30.5%, narrowly third but up by more than 10% from the General election in 1959. He contested the seat at the following three General Elections, polling well but never as well as at the by-election.

In 1964 the Labour candidate was the subsequent Liberal Democrat peer and Lords Chief Whip John Roper. The story that both of them told is (from Dennis) “Of course I was able to preach in every chapel in the constituency” with the riposte from John “Yes but I drank in every pub!” Unfortunately neither won that year.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Raising awareness of Lyme Disease. Do you know how to deal with tick bites?

Ticks courtesy of Lyme Disease Action 1Lyme disease is something rather nasty that you can get from being bittenby a tick. Both Lyme and ticks have had quite a good press of late (or perhaps a bad one) due to a number of “celebrities” getting infected –people such as John Caudwell (founder of Phones 4U) and Bella Hadid, daughter of Yolanda Foster – with long articles in the Mail, Evening Standard and on the BBC website.

Not so well promoted, but I hope important, was a short debate I secured and led on Lyme Disease and other tick-related infections in the House ofLords last week. This was, it seems, the first ever debate in Parliament onthis matter. This is perhaps not surprising since Lyme Disease was onlynamed in 1975 (after a small town in Connecticut where it was first studied). So what is this all about and should we all worry about it?

Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease transmitted tohumans and other animals by bites from ticks, which are small arthropodsrelated to spiders, and I can tell you from a close encounter with quite a big one last June that they are pretty nasty things. Infected ticks transmit the Borreliosis bacterium when they suck your blood, and they are found throughout the UK. They live on vegetation, particularly damp areas of vegetation such as bracken and in woodland. They are found throughout the countryside but they also appear more and more in towns – in parks and in suburban gardens for instance – and they are increasing in number.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Crisis on the streets of Lancashire

When the new lot all arrive we’ll have 112 Liberal Democrat peers and we need to use them. For some of us that means local as well as national stuff since some of us are still actively campaigning in our local areas! So when changes to the police funding formula were announced that mean one of the best forces in the country risks being “annihilated”, in the word of the commissioner, it was time to put down a topical question in the Lords.

The Lancashire police force is “outstanding”. That’s the conclusion of the review of police force efficiency by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It’s one of the most cost effective police forces in the country at only 49p per head, it’s made savings of £74m since 2010, yet it will be hammered by further cuts up to £161m. Police officers will drop from 3,611 in 2010 to 1,699 in 2020 and the PCSOs (community support officers) will disappear. Chief Constable Steve Finnigan says these cuts would severely limit the capabilities of Lancashire Constabulary which by 2020 will only be able to provide an emergency- service, responding to 999 calls and a few priorities.

The potential impacts include closing all enquiry desks and the loss of specialist support units, mounted officers, dog units and road policing units, and dramatic cuts to departments that deal with serious and complex crime. In addition the county-wide network of neighbourhood policing teams – community beat officers and community support officers – will be swept away.

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Lord Tony Greaves writes…Why a new coalition would be a bad idea

In my first piece about what happens after May 7th I worked on the basis that the result would be around Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all the Northern Irish 17 (of which the present numbers are DUP 8, SF 5, SDLP 3, All 1). Since then the numbers predicted by the polls have wobbled a bit around these numbers but the only consistent change has been to push up the SNP to perhaps 50 seats. And given the lack of a “late swing” of any size the LD number may be a bit high.

Given the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act it all still adds up to the likelihood – or the opportunity? – of a minority government (or democratic parliament?) that lasts several years, perhaps for the full five. Yet our official line is still that we want to join another Coalition. Officially we will negotiate with Tories or Labour, starting with the party with most seats (though in practice we will be talking to both simultaneously if that is what the numbers decree). Unofficially our leadership are reported to prefer another coalition with the Tories.

It’s no secret that this idea causes a severe onset of jitters in many parts of the party. With a week to go, the Times’ lead story reports “Lib Dems to revolt over fresh pact with Tories” (£). The story is pretty anecdotal, full of unattributed comments by “senior figures in the party” and the like (only Andrew George breaking cover), in general a typically flimsy piece of tabloid style journalism of the kind we see nowadays in the Times.

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Tony Greaves writes … Haggling over more than the haggis?

 

Let’s assume, as I did in previous pieces here and here, that no party will win a majority on May 7th, and that all the post-election pressure will be for a minority government with an arrangement with one or more other parties that falls short of coalition. On current polls the Liberal Democrats will not get enough seats for it to be practicable for us to enter coalition, and the third largest party will be the SNP who have made it clear they will not enter any coalition but will seek a looser agreement with Labour.

None of this may happen but the probability seems high enough to discuss how it might work. I am also assuming that, for reasons I’ve also set out previously here, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act will make it very difficult for anyone to force an early second election. In spite of this (or perhaps with some level of ignorance) both Labour and Conservative MPs seem to favour minority government. All this could mean that a minority government may not only be the short term outcome, but could last for some time – perhaps a full five years.

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Tony Greaves writes…Can’t poll, won’t poll?

I wrote about prospects for a minority government if no party gets an overall majority at the General Election, and some of the things that might need to change at Westminster if it’s to work. Moves away from its majoritarian and adversarial culture to one based much more on negotiation and mediation, compromises and trade-offs, and an acceptance of a more dominant role for Parliament as against the government. But will it last?

Traditionally the Prime Minister asked the Sovereign for a dissolution. In the modern era such requests were always granted. Sometimes the government had lost the confidence of the Commons (1924 and 1979), run out of steam (1951), or politics had been turned upside down and the new arrangements needed popular endorsement (1931).

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Tony Greaves writes: What happens if …?

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/There’s growing talk in Conservative and Labour circles about a minority government. Let’s make an assumption about numbers – not a prediction, just approximate numbers based on current polls: Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all the Northern Irish 17 (of which the present numbers are DUP 8, SF 5, SDLP 3, All 1).

Take out the Speaker and assume that Sinn Fein get five again, and the target for an overall majority is 323. On these numbers a majority Coalition looks hard to achieve – though don’t underestimate the ability of politicians to moderate or even overturn pre-election statements when it comes to getting into government. But add the heightened level of distaste in both Conservatives and Labour for both the concept of coalition and recent practice (at least in Westminster) and the idea of a minority government is not a fantasy.

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Lord Greaves writes… We must make the Lobbying Bill work

Big Ben Orange Blue 200It is rightly said that this Bill has had a disgraceful lack of scrutiny, and I agree with that. But we are where we are. The Government are not going to withdraw it, and it is not going to stop. If we can work together as a House and the Government can work with us, we can make a much better fist of this Bill than we have at the moment.

Tony Greaves writes on the Transparency of Lobbying, Third Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, commonly known as the Lobbying Bill, drawing on his statements during the Second Reading on Tuesday. The committee stage begins on Tuesday 5th November, at which amendments will be tabled.

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged and | 13 Comments

Lord Greaves writes…We must do more for wage-earners below income tax threshold

I have tabled an oral question in the Lords to ask the government what measures they will take to ensure that wage-earners who are below the income tax threshold will benefit from any future increases in the personal allowance.

In a little-noticed debate last September the Liberal Democrat conference debated social and economic inequality. Inequality, the conference decided in the obscure language motion-writers use, “is an obstacle to individuals determining their own destinies and reduces aspirations”.

The resolution also, equally clumsily, said that inequality “prevents talent from fulfilling its potential to the detriment of the economy and society”. And, more accessibly, that …

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Tony Greaves writes… The health and social care bill. The party has spoken. What happens now?

The next big event comes very soon and is nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats or the coalition per se – it’s the BMA’s Special Representative Meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) which they say “will form a key part of our activities to step up member engagement and lobbying”. I suspect it will also get a lot more publicity than the Liberal Democrat conference did.

There are some outrider motions of no confidence in Andrew Lansley and calls for “industrial action” which will result in a lot of press noise and no action, but there seems little doubt that the meeting …

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Tony Greaves writes: seeing the wood for the trees

Why did the Government drop its proposals for the Forestry Commission (FC) and the forests and woodlands it manages? I thought it would happen but I was astonished by the speed of it. It comes down to three things. An ill-considered and foolish policy. Incompetent presentation. And a stupendously successful and largely under the radar campaign which burst through with stunning effect.

The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) included a target of £100million from selling around 15% of the national forestry estate in England. This is the most that can be sold under existing legislation. But over the summer DEFRA Ministers …

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Tony Greaves writes: Coalition, Government and the Lords

We are in a new situation which started with the coalition being negotiated. Nobody in the political parties had thought it through. It had to be made up as they went along and it is still being made up, week by week, month by month. It has had a major effect on the resulting policies. It has also had an effect on the ongoing processes of government.

The coalition was put together in five days. An important lesson must be that future coalition-building in this country after an election really ought to take place at a slightly more measured pace, and …

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

Opinion: Post-election blues

This is the worst possible election result for Liberal Democrats but we have to make the best of it.

A majority for one party would have left us in our usual comfort zone of simple opposition.

The expected gain of 40 seats or more would have left us with real momentum and a genuine balance of power in the Commons – the chance to turn the screw in negotiations with the other two parties and act as the catalyst for substantial political reform including STV.

Even a Lib-Lab majority in the Commons, with no Lib-Con majority, would have provided the chance (and the …

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Tony Greaves writes… Abolish postal voting on demand

I want to abolish postal voting on demand, which was introduced in 2000 with the best of intentions. It has proved to be wide open to electoral fraud, corruption and fiddling, and is a thoroughly bad thing.

Ministers have talked about the “convenience” of voting. This is the word the Government used in the Electoral Administration Bill in 2006, when I was ploughing the same furrow. They talked about convenience and increasing turnout. Unfortunately there are unintended consequences, many of which are unavoidable.

The Electoral Commission report in August 2004, following the last European election – Delivering Democracy? The Future of

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 25 Comments
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