Author Archives: York Membery

An interview with Vince Cable

Former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has just written a thought-provoking new book about China. So what motivated him to do so, and how does he think the West should respond to the emergence of this Far Eastern superpower? We spoke to him to hear his thoughts…

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Remembering the News Chronicle

Sixty years ago today the great Liberal-supporting newspaper the News Chronicle disappeared despite boasting a circulation of more than a million – considerably more than some of today’s nationals.

On the morning of October 17 1960 – “Black Monday” as it would become known – the News Chron appeared as normal. Staff turning up at the newspaper’s offices in London were sent out on assignment as usual while the newsroom tape machines clattered out the day’s happenings.

But when darkness fell it was announced that the paper had been “merged” with mid-market rival the Daily Mail in a move that sent shock waves through Fleet Street. Work stopped on the paper shortly after 5pm and the editorial staff adjourned to the nearest pub to drown their sorrows.

Laurence Cadbury, proprietor of the News Chronicle expressed “deep regret” at the passing of the paper but said “mounting costs and continued losses” had made it “impossible” for the Chronicle to continue as “a separate entity”.

Just about every national newspaper carried an obituary. The Guardian said: “To write dispassionately about the death of friends is not easy”, while the Daily Herald was also fulsome in its praise, observing: “The News Chronicle was unique. Nothing can replace it.” Even the Conservative- supporting Daily Express was magnanimous, declaring: “Last night a fine newspaper died. Families grew up with the paper: it was their voice. Now that voice is stilled.”

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An interview with Cllr Gareth Roberts

Gareth Roberts, Liberal Democrat Leader of the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames (LBRUT), tells York Membery about the challenges he’s faced in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, the specific Lib Dem approach he’s sought to pursue, and his misgivings about the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic…

How has the LBRUT coped with the fallout from the pandemic?

Reasonably well. Every local authority has been hit in one form or another but in terms of keeping infections down, limiting the number of deaths in the borough, keeping residents and businesses supported and, vitally, keeping residents informed we’ve performed well. And that’s not me being some Town Hall Trump; we conducted a poll of residents recently. 63% of respondents said Richmond was doing a good job in responding to the pandemic, whereas 61% thought the Tories at Westminster was doing poorly.

What are the biggest covid-linked challenges that the council has faced?

School closures was a biggie. I think people have largely forgotten how contentious that was. Some residents thought it was entirely wrong, some wanted us to move far more quickly and there was a real lack of direction from the Tory Government. More recently, the real challenge has been anti-social behaviour – before the pubs reopened people would meet friends in their local parks and green spaces and though most behaved themselves there was a hardcore of people who stayed far too late, were far too rowdy and used the parks (and even neighbouring front gardens) as toilets.

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In conversation with David Laws

The former Liberal Democrat MP and government minister discusses his new book about the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government, says what he would do differently in hindsight, and looks into his crystal ball to see what the future holds for the party…

Your new book about the Coalition has certainly made a few waves following its Sunday newspaper serialisation – the right kind of waves?

I think inevitably there is a temptation in the press to shed light on things which are currently topical, such as Tory divisions on the referendum. But the primary reason I wrote the book was to give an accurate, historic account of the Coalition and a proper explanation of our part in it – and if the serialisation results in more people reading the book, so much the better.

It sounds like you’re, by and large, proud of what the Lib Dems achieved in government?

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Opinion: Going to the polls after a Labour government

What lessons does the past offer for the future?

If there is one thing history teaches us it’s that the Liberals invariably face a challenging time at the polls following a period of Labour government.

Indeed, taken together, the evidence from a string of post-Labour government 20th century elections makes for depressing reading. That said, recent electoral history does offer a glimmer of hope.

This downward trend in Liberal support began with the election of the first – minority – Labour government of 1923, when Ramsay MacDonald became prime minister with Liberal support.

The Liberals came within a whisker of Labour in the popular vote, taking 29.6 per cent to Labour’s 30.5 per cent, but, with 159 seats to Labour’s 191, were obliged to let Labour try to form a government. But less than a year later, when MacDonald’s government collapsed and Britain again went to the polls, the Liberals crashed and burned, so to speak, polling 17.6 per cent of the vote and emerging with just 40 seats.

In 1931, following the election of another minority Labour government two years earlier, in 1929, things were complicated by the emergence of a National Government, which saw the Liberal vote split three ways with disastrous consequences, as well as a collapse in the Labour vote.

But the usual pattern re-emerged in 1951, when the Conservatives took office after the 1945-51 Labour government, and the Liberal vote slumped to a historic low of 2.5 per cent, with just six Liberal MPs surviving.

Following a Liberal revival at the 1964 election, and the election of Harold Wilson’s Labour government (when the party gained 11.2 per cent of the vote), the party again lost ground in the subsequent 1966 (8.5 per cent) and 1970 (7.5 per cent) elections — even if, thanks to the vagaries of the electoral system, it emerged with three more seats (12 in all) in 1966 but just six in 1970.

Fast forward to 1979, and the Liberal Party again saw its vote fall back – to 13.8 per of the vote compared to 18.3 per cent in October 1974 – with a consequent drop in seats. Then leader David Steel is convinced the party’s victory in the Edge Hill by-election just weeks before the 1979 poll gave the party “a valuable eve of election bounce”.

However, the evidence from the last two elections — following the 1997-2001 Labour government — is less clear-cut.

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

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