Category Archives: Op-eds

Review: Official Secrets – and contemporary parallels

Go to see ‘Official Secrets’.  It will remind you of the hard choices Liberals have to make in swimming against the tide of the received wisdom of the public debate.  And it will remind you that we stuck out our necks, against the received wisdom of almost the entire media, both the main parties, and much expert opinion, in challenging the case for the Iraq war.

The film is about Katharine Gun, a GCHQ employee with doubts about the drift towards the invasion of Iraq, who leaks (to the Observer) a memo from the US National Security Agency requesting material on representatives of states on the UN Security Council that could be covertly used to pressure them into supporting the US motion to authorise the use of force against Saddam Hussein.  It follows the subsequent investigation, her arrest, the involvement of Liberty in her defence, and after a lengthy delay the government abandonment of her prosecution on the first day of the trial.  There is much detail on the pursuit of reliable counter-evidence to contest the government’s case, the interaction between journalists and lawyers in London and Washington, and the uncovering of information on how advice to our government on the legal case for intervention had been altered under pressure from the US Administration and No.10.  

It’s well constructed; it links the personal tensions and agonies with the wider political context.  Several well-known living people are portrayed – some more sympathetically than others.  Good triumphs in the end, after much skulduggery.

It’s easy to forget how risky we felt it to be at that time for us to contest the dominant narrative of weapons of mass destruction and a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qu’aida.  The film shows even the Observer editor and many of its senior staff resisting the plausibility of covert efforts to fix UN authorization and evidence being twisted.  I remember going with Ming Campbell  to a briefing, on ‘Privy Council terms’, from two very senior intelligence officials, and having afterwards to assess how far we had been persuaded by their presentation.  Charles Kennedy had to resist strong pressure from Blair’s government, and weigh up the costs of being attacked by most of the press against the case for refusing to accept the government’s rationale for war.   We stuck our necks out, without complete confidence that we knew what was happening; but our instincts proved right.

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Canadian Liberals win Federal Election, but lose majority

The Liberal Party of Canada have beaten the Conservatives in the Federal Election but have lost their majority in ‘the Hill’.

The Liberals won 157 seats (down 20), with the Conservatives trailing behind on 121. It was a good night for the separatist Bloc Quebecois (BQ), who won 32 seats in the region (up from 10 in 2015), while the NDP were pushed into fourth after losing nearly half of their seats. The Green Party trebled their numbers in the house to three.

The real story is that the Liberals actually lost the popular vote to the Conservatives and shed nearly 1.3 million votes on 2015. By narrowly winning ‘ridings’ in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, the Liberals have just about squeezed their way on top.

It’s been a long 40-day campaign for the Liberals who have endured pressure from the Conservative machine, revelations about Trudeau’s ‘Blackface’ past, and a resurgent separatist movement in their Quebec heartlands.

After winning an outright majority in 2015, Trudeau had an easy ride in passing most of his manifesto (a credible 92% of his manifesto promises kept), but now needs to use all of his political skill to maintain power.

 So, what happens next?

Similar to what Johnson is facing in Westminster, its very difficult to pass any legislation as a minority, and so Trudeau will need to reach out across the House.

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Super Lib Dem Lords on Super Saturday: Jonny Oates

This deal is the beginning of a tortuous process, said Jonny Oates when he spoke in the Lords, and it would be the poorest who would be hit hardest. Here is his speech in full:

My Lords, the Prime Minister, we are told, has succeeded where all said he would fail. He has returned apparently triumphant, with a deal that the nay-sayers said could not be done. Or so his champions claim. Not all the nay-sayers doubted he could do it. I certainly did not, and I suspect that many others who have studied him over the years did not either. Experience suggested that he had just the qualities to succeed. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said, he is the quintessential showman, the man of smoke and mirrors who always prefers style over substance. It is not so hard, after all, to get a deal if you do not care much about what is in it or anything about the people you are prepared to betray to get it.

The Prime Minister is well practised in the art of abandoning people who are no longer of interest to him, as the DUP is now finding out. I cannot pretend to have huge sympathy for the DUP, because if you make government a purely transactional matter to get what suits you, you should not be surprised when the entity you are transacting with repays you in kind.

Nor do I have much sympathy for the DUP’s claims that the deal breaches the consent principle. It did not seem to care much about the consent of the nationalist community, or indeed the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, when it backed the disastrous policy of Brexit. We all failed Northern Ireland ahead of the referendum in not recognising the full extent of the difficulties that would be thrust upon its people, but no party failed it more than the DUP, which has done more to undermine the union than any allegedly unionist party in history. It is living proof of the adage that tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

So much then for how we have got here. What about where we have actually arrived? It is a dismal location. Someone described it to me as lipstick on Theresa May’s deal, but that implies something more attractive, and the changes that the PM has secured make it less attractive, ​if that is possible. It is nothing like the outcome promised in the referendum: it undermines the integrity of our union; it makes one part of our country subject to the courts of the European Union, which the Brexiters told us was unforgivable; it puts a border down the Irish Sea, which the PM told us would be unconscionable; it will make us all substantially poorer—estimates suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, has said, that the deal will leave people around £2,000 worse off on average; far from having millions to spend on the NHS, we will have billions less to spend on everything. So much for the promises of the leave campaign. These are not abstract consequences; they are real-life consequences that will impact people up and down the country.

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Super Lib Dem Lords on Super Saturday: Dick Newby on the economic impact of the Deal

The House of Lords also sat on Saturday. We’ll be publishing or Lib Dem Lords’ s speeches in full. First up is Lib Dem Lords leader Dick Newby who said that the Government was trying to avoid scrutiny of a deal which would have a detrimental effect on our economy and the union.

My Lords, your Lordships’ House is sitting on a Saturday for the first time since 1983 and for only the fourth time in 80 years. These occasions have typically been to debate a serious foreign threat to the vital interests of the United Kingdom: the outbreak of the Second World War, Suez, the Falklands. Today, we sit on a Saturday to try to resolve a serous internal threat to the unity and future of the Conservative Party. There is no reason, other than the Prime Minister’s macho commitment to leave the EU by 31 October, for the Government’s decision to recall Parliament today.

Such a timetable is a complete abuse of the parliamentary process. It does not allow the appropriate impact assessment to be made, for the relevant Select Committees to consider the proposals, or for the Commons and your Lordships’ House to give proper consideration to the withdrawal Bill. It barely gives us time to read and compare the documents. The withdrawal agreement itself—some 535 pages—was available for the first time for noble Lords to pick up from the Printed Paper Office just this morning.

We certainly have not had time to identify and work out what some of the changes mean. For example, the sections in the political declaration on dispute settlement and the forward process have been substantially rewritten. Why? Parliament is being asked to approve these changes with no effective ability to question Ministers on them. It is a disgrace.

It is, of course perfectly understandable for the Government to want such a timetable, because if they were to give Parliament time to look at the deal properly, a number of its highly undesirable consequences would become clearer. There would, for example, be time to have an economic assessment. Latest figures from UK in a Changing Europe suggest that the hit to GDP of this deal would be about 6.4%. This is broadly in line with the Government’s own analysis of last November, which suggested that, with the kind of restrictive immigration system the Government have in mind, such a deal could have an even bigger effect. For the north-east, north-west and the West Midlands, the fall in GDP would be considerably higher again.

There would be greater time to expose the fact that, as a consequence of the new deal, EU components of goods manufactured in the UK will no longer be treated as of domestic origin. Given the low proportion of UK content in cars, for example, this would have the effect of making it impossible to export any car manufactured in the UK to a third country duty free, even under a free trade agreement. This raises the spectre of the end of bulk car manufacturing in the United Kingdom.

More time would enable us to examine the threat to the level playing field on environmental standards and employment rights, which were guaranteed in Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement but are now relegated to the eminently amendable political declaration, with no presumption there that we should follow future improvements in standards under EU rules. More time ​would give us the opportunity to question whether, as the Conservative John Baron has claimed, the Government see this deal as leading to the equivalent of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period next year.

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Repeated delays to Brexit are down to the failure of Conservative leaders to persuade their own, and partner, MPs

We get comments here on Liberal Democrat Voice of this type from Simon today:

If you want to try to frustrate and cancel Brexit that’s up to you, you won’t succeed because eventually the majority will win. In the meantime you are just making people’s lives a misery. All this stuff about workers rights and the environment is nonsense scaremongering, any government that tried to do it would get voted out, that’s why we have votes albeit you don’t respect them.

This line of argument ignores reality.

The people who stopped the May deal being approved three times were Conservative MPs – the ERG – who voted against it each time. Yes, extreme Brexiteers and Euro-Sceptics stopped May’s deals – not the Liberal Democrats. They indicated support for her negotiating strategy in December 2017 but then withdrew it later. On 15th January 2019 May’s deal had no less than 118 Tory MPs voting against it, including the Eurosceptic’s Eurosceptic, Sir Bill Cash, plus Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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Labour MPs surely can’t support the bonfire of workers’ rights in Boris Johnson’s deal

One of the many compelling reasons to stay in the EU (alongside peace and prosperity) is the protection that workers get from being in the single market.

To create a level playing field, there are minimum standards on things like maternity leave, TUPE (protection if your job is outsourced), working hours and paid holidays. Certainly our current law goes beyond the minimum protections in many ways. However, if we leave the EU, all bets are off. We simply can’t trust the most right wing government in living memory with workers’ rights.

If our rights were safe, surely they would at least have kept in the pretty weak protections Theresa May put in to try and entice Labour MPs to vote for it.

But, no. The author of Article 50, John Kerr, told the Edinburgh March for Europe in September that UK negotiators had asked for all the labour, social and environmental protections to be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement..

The People’s Vote campaign outlined the other day exactly what the differences were. There’s a lot of shall and should in the previous version. Now it’s more “these are a thing.”

The first quote is from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement

“With the aim of ensuring the proper functioning of the single customs territory, the Union and the United Kingdom shall ensure that the level of protection provided for by law, regulations and practices is not reduced below the level provided by the common standards applicable within the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the area of labour and social protection and as regards fundamental rights at work, occupational health and safety, fair working conditions and employment standards, information and consultation rights at company level, and restructuring.”

What Boris Johnson’s legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement says on workers’ rights:

“AIMING at continuing to promote balanced economic and social development in the area, in particular in terms of labour conditions, and continuing to ensure the highest levels of environmental protection in accordance with Union law”

 TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady condemned the proposals and called for MPs to reject the deal:

I understand this is a difficult time. But defending working people’s rights is at the heart of everything trade unions believe in. For the sake of working families now and in the future, we can’t support a deal that will trash those rights. We ask MPs to vote against it.

And our Chuka Umunna made an apt analogy on Twitter:

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Lord Martin Thomas writes: Building a justice system that offers rehabilitation and hope

No one will forget the pictures three weeks ago of the shaven headed prisoners  clad in orange trousers, sardined together in an improvised prison cell in Northern Syria. Nothing to do except exist. They were captured ISIL fighters, at least a third of whom were foreigners, including British citizens, who had flocked to join the caliphate. My sympathy for them is non existent.  Their captors, the Kurdish SDF, regard them as a time bomb and in the events of the last few days, can no  longer guarantee to hold them. But it was their eyes that caught my attention.

I have seen eyes like that before. In the early eighties, I was privileged to tour the Vietnamese Boat People’s heavily guarded camps in Hong Kong where refugee families were warehoused in three storey high, square steel pods, awaiting endlessly to be processed. They had nothing to do. My Report, made for the Leader of the Liberal Party, Lord Steel, and passed to the British government, was according to my UNHCR contacts at the time, influential in opening the gates of the camps to permit the males useful daytime work within the HK community.

Contrast Death Row in a Caribbean country, where 180 men sentenced to death stood around in a compound built for fifty and despaired. The opposition campaigned vigorously for the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council  so that the gallows at the end of the building could do their work. Why bother with rehabilitation?

So it was with some weariness that I heard again the proposal in the Queen’s Speech to waste the limited resources of the Justice Department on lengthening sentences of imprisonment, instead of focusing on running the jails properly, killing off the drug trade, and making a real effort to release into the community people who will not offend again.In 2014, with the active support of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Parliament, permission was granted for the Berwyn training prison to be built on the Industrial Estate of my home town, Wrexham. I was intrigued because in my youth, I had worked on that very site as a member of a railway gang with my pick and shovel. We were replacing wooden war time sleepers with concrete supports. I know the area well. I watched the buildings go up to open at a cost of £250 millions as the largest operational prison in the UK and the second largest in Europe. Here, I thought, was the opportunity with the excellent modern design and facilities, really to do something to tackle attitudes, to change people’s lives, to turn prisoners away from crime.  All “rooms” have integral sanitation, a shower cubicle, a PIN phone, and a UniLink laptop terminal. It opened in February 2017. It is designed to hold up to  2106 prisoners serving 4 years or more.

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What will MPs be voting on today?

As MPs meet to discuss the nation’s course for the next few generations, I thought it might be useful to go through the Order Paper.

First up is a statement from the Prime Minister followed by a vote on the deal itself.

There are a number of amendments to the motion. The SNP’s Angus McNeill has put down a straightforward revoke one. The rest of the SNP has put down an amendment calling for an extension and a General Election. They would prefer to get that over now than have it happen at the same time as Alex Salmond’s trial, currently scheduled for January.

The crunch vote will come on the amendment put together by Oliver Letwin and co-signed by the Rebel Alliance of Lib Dems, Hilary Benn, Dominic Grieve, Stephen Gethins and others. This would basically note the agreement and call for an extension to put it in legislation – so it can be amended by all sorts of things like a People’s Vote at some point in the future.

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The last time the House of Commons sat on a Saturday

I remember the last time the House of Commons sat on a Saturday. It was in the immediate aftermath of Argentina invading the British Falkland Islands. The British Government had pretty much neglected the islands and their inhabitants, who didn’t want to find themselves under Argentinian rule.

I was 14 years old.

I spent the 1982 Easter holidays decorating my bedroom under instruction from my Mum with the new radio station Moray Firth Radio playing in the background. On the hourly news programmes, syndicated from Independent Radio News, Anna Soubry gave us up to the minute accounts of what was happening 8000 …

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Daisy Cooper on why Boris Johnson’s deal is so bad for our country

I first met Daisy Cooper when we both had tea with Tim Farron in Portcullis House as newbie Federal Executive members at the end of 2012.

She is someone who has no problem with speaking truth to power and she quickly became a very trusted colleague.

I hope very much that we’ll have her as the MP for St Albans after the next election. She has put in so much work. She reminds me of Jo Swinson when she was campaigning to win East Dunbartonshire in 2005.

Today, she put a brilliant analysis of why Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is so bad on her Facebook page. With her permission, here it is. Share widely.

The PM’s so-called ‘deal’ is an attempt to pull the wool over peoples eyes and deliver a hard no-deal BREXIT by the back door. Worse still, it deletes the UK’s commitment to workers rights and environmental standards, which Johnson’s Conservative would happily trash. Here are three important facts:

1. Voting for Johnson’s deal is voting for No Deal in a year’s time. With no backstop (which ensured a soft Brexit), if Tories fail to get a hard Brexit Free Trade Agreement, it’s no deal at the end of 2020, as ERG will never vote for the transition to be extended.

2. Johnson’s Deal is bad for workers’ rights and the environment. The commitment to a “level playing field” by adopting these EU standards has BEEN DELETED from the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and now appears only in the aspirational Political Declaration.

3. Otherwise the deal still has all the flaws of Theresa May’s Deal. It introduces red tape bureaucracy as the UK will have to collect tariffs for the EU (derided by Johnson himself a year ago as a “crazy system”). It puts a border down the Irish Sea. It hastens the break-down of the Union and the UK (with Scotland already saying it wants the same advantages as NI, which will be subjected to an emulated customs union & single market arrangement). And it will open the door to smuggling, which will fund criminality and dissident activity. Northern Ireland is so divided it’s assembly isn’t even sitting at the moment – now it will have to uphold an international treaty and, whether it likes it or not, will have to hold “border polls” (referenda) every few years, and/but not until 2025.

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Electoral fraud – the truth about personation

I doubt that one in a hundred readers of LDV have ever heard of a tendered ballot paper, let alone seen one.

Electoral law makes provision at EVERY election for the issue of tendered ballot papers, sometimes known as pink ballot papers.

If you go down to the polling station to vote and the presiding officer says to you, “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you a ballot paper because you’ve already voted”, what do you do? The answer is that you can insist that you haven’t voted, and the presiding officer must then offer you a ‘tendered’ ballot paper. This is the same as the white ballot paper, but for two things.

  1. It is a different colour (usually pink)
  2. It is stored separately from the white ballot papers.

How is it counted? The answer is that it isn’t, unless the election is challenged in an electoral court. In that case, the original ballot paper is found and compared with the tendered ballot paper and the tendered paper is the one that is counted. Now of course you might quite correctly argue that this breaks the secrecy of the election, but it does give an element of protection against personation, that is the attempt to impersonate a voter and vote instead of him/her.

I have been involved in an election where tendered ballot papers were issued. This was in a big city in 2008, in a local election where the Lib Dem candidate lost by less than 120 votes. The election had many strange features, but it became clear that a party had engaged in personation by finding out who wasn’t going to vote and sending someone to vote for them. Following this narrow win, I asked the returning officer if there had been any tendered ballot papers issued and there had. He also told me it happened in many wards in the city.

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Three reasons to back Mark Pack for President

When I first met Mark Pack almost three decades ago he made quite an impression. I was campaigning to become Chair of what was then the Young Liberal Democrats and attempting to secure his support. Unlike most others at the conference, Mark did not seem particularly interested in the hackery of student politics, but wanted to know what I was going to do, rather than simply what I thought, or what faction I was in.

I’ve no idea if Mark voted for me, but I’d like to think he did.  And 28 years later, with the roles reversed, I’m delighted to say I will certainly be backing Mark to be our next President.

There are three main reasons why I believe Mark is the stand-out candidate.

Firstly Mark is a born campaigner and communicator. His record within the party is unrivalled, both as a trainer and advisor and also as a foot soldier. There aren’t many places across the country where Mark hasn’t delivered an expert training session or a bundle of leaflets, or in many cases, both. I’ve attended his sessions and also trained alongside him. He motivates people and knows his stuff.

Our party is at a crossroads, with so many members, both old and new, impatient to grasp the current political opportunities and meet the social, economic and environmental challenges facing us today. With his core vote strategy, Mark has been ahead of the curve in seeking to build our support across the country.

Secondly, Mark knows the party inside out. He understands the different needs of members geographically, demographically and politically. Importantly to me as a councillor for the past 24 years and now a council leader, I know that Mark recognises the huge role of local government. He understands localism and knows that much of the excellent campaigning going on in the Lib Dems is outside any Parliament. 

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Federal Policy Committee report 16th October: Finalising the manifesto

The Federal Policy Committee is now on the final straight in to completing our manifesto for the expected General Election, and we cleared the agenda for our planned meeting on 16 October to focus on some key aspects of the document.

Our close collaboration with the Campaigns and Communications teams continues, and we started with a review of current research information about how messages are going down with voters, which was very helpful for our discussions which followed. Because of the way that we as a party make policy through conference, our policy on almost every area is already very well established.  So the challenge of writing a manifesto is not so much writing the policy as working with others so that we present it in the way which is most useful and appealing, especially to our target voters.

This is particularly visible in the area we discussed next, the few key headline policy commitments which will be most high profile. We want these, as well of course being the right policy, to make specific commitments which help to tell the wider story about areas that Liberal Democrats prioritise and the approach we take to them. Clearly Brexit will be central here, but there is plenty more we have to say about what we will do to help people in their everyday challenges.

One thing we are rightly proud of is that our manifesto is always accompanied by a robust set of costings which set out what our proposals will cost and how we will find the money to pay for these. This is something other parties tend not to do very properly, or not at all. We spent some time with Ed Davey, the shadow chancellor, going through these plans, and are now very well down the track of developing a strong plan for committing resources to our priority areas, funded in ways which make Britain fairer.

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Stop the hate. We’re all human

Hate crime is inexcusable. It attacks an individual’s identity and can have an appalling and devastating impact on victims.

The issue is one that has always been close to my heart. My mother is from Poland and as a result I have in the past experienced racial discrimination due to my family’s overseas heritage.

Though my experiences of hate crime were rare and isolated I know for many other people this can be a very real and immediate concern, especially given the toxic post-Brexit atmosphere we now live in and an increase in Islamophobic incidents following the terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London.

Over the last six years we have witnessed a spike in extremism, including the murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016 and several disturbing incidents during the 2019 local and European election campaigns. 

That’s why Watford Liberal Democrats wanted to pass a new Council motion to mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week (12th – 19th October), demonstrating that people’s fears are taken seriously, and by listening and responding to our constituents concerns we as a council, and as individuals, can make a difference.

People have crossed borders and lived together for thousands of years. We’re all immigrants.

Everyone can integrate into a society if they’re able to respect the rule of law and the fundamental values of their new country.

Newcomers are integral to helping the economy grow and keeping our country moving. Many vital sectors such as the NHS, construction, social care, retail and hospitality would struggle to function without immigration.

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The irony of the Tory Voter ID plans

Our democracy in this country is pretty much broken.

On one hand we have a government that constantly bangs on about the will of the people, whilst simultaneously doing its damnedest to undermining it.

The irony of that is not lost on me.

A Government that actually did care about the will of the people would make sure that the people got the parliament they asked for, for a start, by introducing a proportional system of voting. This is not boring constitutional stuff – we should be doing more to frame it as a fundamental issue of trust.

In recent years, the introduction of individual electoral registration has led to a severe democratic deficit. Just last month, Electoral Commission research showed that 17% of voters were not correctly registered.

That’s not far off one in five people, who are more likely to be young or from marginalised groups – and least likely to vote Conservative.

That is, surely, a much bigger problem than some confected spectre of “voter fraud” which is being used as a justification to bring in this measure.

The Electoral Reform Society has this to say on that subject:

Thankfully electoral fraud is very rare in the UK. Where voter fraud has occurred, it has been isolated and therefore is best tackled locally.

Out of 44.6 million votes cast in 2017, there was one conviction resulting from the 28 allegations of in-person voter fraud – that’s 0.000063%. Adding a major barrier to democratic engagement off the back of this would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

And our Tom Brake said that this measure was a blatant attempt at voter suppression and rig future elections:

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Woodford – a lesson in hubris, both for individuals and councils

Embed from Getty Images

The story of the Woodford Equity Income fund should give investors great pause for thought concerning how many eggs to put in one particular basket.

The Guardian reports:

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Is Canada heading for a coalition?

‘Lawn signs’ are being banged into front gardens across Canada with the 2019 Federal Election taking place on Monday (21st). With the polls close between the incumbent Liberals and the opposition Conservatives, and with neither looking likely to pull away, ‘The Hill’ could be a hung parliament. This would be truly historic as Canada has never previously had a formal coalition in Ottawa.

In recent weeks, the Liberals have pulled themselves level with the Conservatives after falling far behind the Tories in February. The polls suggest that the Liberals could win more seats than the Conservatives, but not enough to win an outright majority.

The role of the smaller parties will come to light here. The left-leaning New Democrats (NDP) are very much the third party but are closely followed by the regionalists in Quebec – the Bloc Quebecois. The Greens, who look set to pick up seats in the Liberal heartlands of the East, could also keep Trudeau in power. All of these parties have more in common with the Liberals than the Conservatives. If there is a hung parliament in Canada, it is more likely that Trudeau will remain at Sussex Drive, than Andrew Scheer.

Under Jagmeet Singh, the NDP have struggled to hit the heights of 2011, where under charismatic former leader Jack Layton, they pushed the Liberals into 3rd place. Singh won the Burnaby South by-election in February this year with an increased majority and will look to win similar ridings across British Columbia to advance from their 44 seats at the 2015 Federal Election. There is a lot of common ground between the NDP and the Liberals, and by winning in a similar number of seats (which is possible), they could help the Liberals over the line in October. With the election looking more and more like a two-horse race, it is entirely possible that the NDP will be squeezed even harder than in 2015. The election campaign hasn’t been easy for Singh, as several of his candidates have defected to the Green Party, believing they have a stronger chance of winning under the Green banner. Singh has said publicly that he could work with the Liberals in a coalition post-election.

The Green Party, under highly credible Elizabeth May, look set to gain seats in ‘Atlantic Canada’. They currently only hold 2 seats (out of 338), but in an election that is neck-and-neck, they could be kingmakers in Canada post-October 21st. Since 2015, the Greens have been on the march in regional elections, including in the April 2019 election in the province of Prince Edward Island, where the Greens beat the Liberals into third place. Like the NDP, there is common ground between the Liberals and Greens, and could work together in a coalition. One area of real opposition though, is the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, which the Liberals have ‘green lit’ for a new phase of construction. If scrapped, there are no hard barriers to a Liberal-Green deal.

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Carbon fee and dividend – how it would work

In my first post, I introduced the idea of carbon and fee and dividend. Now I want to look at how it would work in the UK.

Fees steadily rise and are economy-wide, paid by companies that sell fossil fuels in the UK. The tax would steadily rise at a rate set by an independent body such as the Climate Change Committee to give the policy institutional certainty and bankability. This would mean that the price of burning fossil fuels account for their true social and environmental costs.

Fees are structured around border carbon adjustments, to create a level playing field for domestic and international producers so that companies which export carbon intensive products into the UK will be subject to the same level of carbon tax as domestic producers, helping industries like the Welsh steel sector.

Dividends from carbon taxation are returned directly to individual households so they can invest in measures to reduce their own carbon footprint and offset any initial increases in energy prices. People should be able to borrow against their future dividend payments for investments in energy efficiency.

Environmental regulations are rationalised without reducing environmental protection. Eventually at least 10 direct carbon taxes would be rationalised into a single unified price paid for emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the UK. For example, we would no longer need the Climate Change Levy, but we should continue with energy efficiency standards and energy labelling.

What would the impact be?

Estimates suggest that we could prevent 230,000 premature deaths over 20 years from improved air quality alone, on top of climate change reversal and we could also create 2.8 million extra jobs.

The REMI Study in the US examined the effect of a progressive fee and dividend (F&D) carbon tax, starting at $10 per ton of CO2 on the national economy as well as the economies of nine regions of the US. The study then compared these results to the baseline case where there is no price on carbon.

Study Highlights:

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Brexit: the penny drops as Sir Humphrey is wheeled in amidst the “whiff of sexism”

Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, had to have an uncomfortable conversation with the then Prime Minister, Theresa May in 2016. He told her:

…you have made three commitments in good faith to different audiences, but they are not really compatible with each other.

You have said to the Irish, under no circumstances will a hard border be erected across the island of Ireland.

You have said to the Democratic Unionist community under no circumstances will there be divergence from the rest of Great Britain.

And you have said to the right of your own party that you are heading out of the customs union.

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Johnson’s Proposed Brexit Deal: Chances and likely Impact on UK economy and public finances

Whist there is history of EU negotiations going to the wire and wee-hours of coffee-fuelled (now smokeless) last minute give-and-take, these events tend to be about intra EU matters such as the EU budget or the “musical chairs” argy-bargy of who agreeing who and which country gets which plum jobs within the European institutions. 

Can a modified deal therefore be agreed between the Johnson government and the Commission in time to put forward to the European Council on October 17-18? 

On a range of probabilities, yes, but it is a low-probability one. But it would essentially require the PM to essentially converge – if not fully cave in – to the EU demands.  The chances that the required sequence of steps: agreement, Council blessing, agreement by UK parliament (inc DUP and ERG), and before askance from the other EU27 plus the European Parliament can all be addressed remains unlikely. 

The baseline remains that there will be no FULL agreement in place although the PM could then go to the electorate with a partial agreement that allows him to argue that he has “delivered” pre October 31st  even if the Benn Act kicks in for an extension (which as I have argued could go on to June 2020).

Johnson v May Deal Basics

  • The Johnson deal is to effectively agree that Northern Ireland will continue to, in effect, remain in the status quo governed by EU rules for all goods AND with no border checks with the Republic of Ireland
  • The UK will want to exit from compliance with EU rules on labour and environmental standards where previously there was to be no divergence from EU law
  • The J-deal seeks full flexibility for free-trade deals with 3rd countries where previously it was for services only AND
  • A Good-only EU-UK trade deal akin or “Canada minus”

Implications

  1. Not completely addressed so far but Northern Ireland would in effect become something between the Isle of Man and a full Home Nation and may well set in train the move towards full Irish unification. Leaving aside parliamentary arithmetic and the DUP, put to a referendum, voters in Northern Ireland would likely agree to this.
  2. Both the Johnson and May deals represent a worse outcome economically for the UK vis-à-vis the REMAIN position. 
  3. Modelling undertaken by Professors Menon and Portes (and excluding spillover effects such as a more brutal potential Scottish Independence) have shown that living standards – as measured by per capita incomes –  would decline more under the Johnson deal than under May’s…and both are worse than the current status quo of REMAIN.
  4. That there would be an ouflow of EU workers by up to 600,000 over the coming years partly compensated by an inflow of non-EU workers – with the result of labour shortages in key sectors inc NHS, falling productivity 
  5. No fiscal savings from exiting (aka the £350m per week fallacy) because the UK would have to set up its own agencies where currently the work is delegated to EU bodies, raise its own aid financing currently carried out by the EU and lose access to funds returned through Structural funds and grants for R&D and education
  6. And A WORSENING short-term fiscal scenario relative to REMAIN: around 2% of GDP worse off or equivalent to between £40-60bn.
  7. Beyond the macro-fiscal, there should be alarm bells ringing at the implied roll-back of structural reforms (Competition Policy, State Aid, Consumer Rights, Labour rights et al). The current Johnson deal is arguably even worse from a macroeconomic context and potentially imply a roll-back of a basic framework of labour and consumer rights not seen for generations

Summary

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The case for carbon fee and dividend in the UK

If we start from the position that in order to slow and halt the climate breakdown we need a root and branch systems change in the way our economy and society is structured and operates, we need to recognise that responses have the potential to negatively impact the least well off in our society.

We know that environmental harms caused by human activity, like air pollution, and that rising energy costs are issues that disproportionately hit the most vulnerable and those with least financial security. 

Every intervention or systems change aimed at slowing the climate breakdown therefore needs to satisfy these questions;

  1. Does this change recognise the magnitude of and respond sufficiently to the threat of climate breakdown?
  2. Does this change meet our obligations to protecting and safeguarding our planet for future generations?
  3. Does this help our economy move to a low or zero carbon footing?
  4. Does this help households adapt their practices and weather the changes in our economy?

Responding to the climate crisis should, fundamentally, be viewed through an economic and social justice lens.

Creating a low or zero carbon economy

Ending our dependence on fossil fuels is one of the biggest changes we could make to slow the climate breakdown.

  • Burning coal, oil, and natural gas is responsible for two-thirds of humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases, and yet provides more than 20% of GDP in two dozen nation states.
  • Energy accounts for two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of CO2. Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017, reaching a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt), a resumption of growth after three years of global emissions remaining flat.
  • Emissions from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) rose by 0.3% in 2017 – the first rise in 7 years.

Moving from dependence on fossil fuels and meaningfully driving rapid investment in renewable energy does have the potential however to leave many people in the UK behind.

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Kurds, Turks, Syria and hypocrisy

I’ll begin by making two things clear. The first is that Trump’s sudden decision to pull US troops out of eastern Syria is self-evidently irresponsible and very foolish. The other is that Turkey’s invasion will cause yet further civilian suffering and I suspect it will ultimately solve nothing. But now I’ve made these two admissions, I want to share some uncomfortable thoughts about the way this new conflict taking place within the borders of Syria is being perceived.

While Turkey’s invasion has hit the headlines, the regime bombing of Idlib and attacks on the ground receive almost no attention by comparison, …

Also posted in Europe / International | Tagged and | 13 Comments

Welcome to the Lib Dem Health and Care Association!

One of the great things about the Liberal Democrats is that whatever you’re interested in, there’s a group of like-minded people you can join to talk about it and exchange ideas with. Interested in the environment and climate change – join Green Lib Dems. Interested in Europe – join the Lib Dem European Group. Business your area? Join the Lib Dem Business and Entrepreneurs Network. From the Humanist & Secularist Lib Dems and the Lib Dem Christian Forum, all the way to the Lib Dem Friends of Vegans and Vegetarians, and the low-intensity Swiftian …

Also posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 5 Comments

We must put the case for Remain and do it repeatedly in the public domain

I sent our local newspaper a letter giving ten points for Remain; they published it on 1st October with the heading “Ten reasons for us to have a new vote”. That is because I prefaced it by saying “Let me express my joy should there be a public vote to remain.” My reasons were affected by my responding to Brexiteers’ previous letters expressing joy at leaving. I am showing this here because I think we need to be saying much more of this. So many people are unfortunately no longer interested in what goes on in Parliament but their reaction …

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Are you marching with the Lib Dems to stop Brexit next Saturday?

Next Saturday, as Parliament sits for the first time on a Saturday in 37 years to try and sort the Brexit mess, a massive People’s Vote march will be taking place. MPs will be able to hear the end of the rally in Parliament Square.

The Lib Dems will be marching in support of a People’s Vote with the very clear aim to stop Brexit.

We will be meeting at 11 am at the Duke of Wellington Memorial Statue at Hyde Park Corner.

In October last year, I made the 800 miles

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Why I am backing Mark Pack to be President of the Liberal Democrats

Mark has a wisdom, experience and detailed knowledge about the Party. He knows the party at all levels: federal, state, regional and local. He understands the different issues facing Wales, Scotland, England – he gets devolution and is hungry to support local government across the UK. I know Mark will understand the need to listen to members and not assume he knows best.

I’m am invariably involved running campaigns, advising on strategy, mentoring candidates as well as delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. In by-elections over ten, twenty years and in every General Election since 1992 Mark has also been involved offering advice, sharing knowledge, providing training.  His commitment to the success of the Party is total.  And I trust his judgement.

Mark is one of the people I ring for advice. I have been an activist for thirty years and have known Mark since 1992. I know that when I ring him, text him, email him he responds thoughtfully, honestly and helpfully. He teaches and leads – his leadership is faithful, genuine and sincere and I value that.

I have been a parliamentary candidate in a black hole seat, in a target seat, a councillor, a candidate, I have run and led parliamentary by-elections, been an agent – at every step of the way I have learnt from Mark, Sharing knowledge with him brings within it the energy and the spark of a new idea,  When I speak to Mark, work with Mark, ask for advice, I learn something new and explore a new avenue and am more successful and more innovative.

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Encouraging a four day working week

Years ago, I thought the idea of a four-day working week was an unrealistic socialist policy, however over the past 18 months I’ve come around to the idea. After work, most people would like to relax (or canvass for the Liberal Democrats!), but many of us find that there is scarcely the time, especially those who commute and have dependents. After housework and life administration, there is sometimes little time to do anything else besides get ready for bed. 

I still study for professional qualifications and a day off work to study, rather than trying to only squeeze it in on the evenings and weekends, would be useful. I imagine many others who would like to retrain or continue with their studies whilst working feel the same way. 

We shouldn’t force companies to give people an extra day off per week, but we can encourage the option by introducing an Employer National Insurance (NI) tax break for companies offering an extra day off per week. At the moment, the Employer NI rate is 13.8% on the value of salaries and benefits above £166.01 per week. The offer would have to be made to all employees if the individual company wishes to take advantage of the scheme – this would prevent discrimination as there would be no tax break for the company for employees earning below £166.01 per week. Companies would not be forced to offer the extra day off per week, but if they do, it must be offered to all employees. 

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Why revoke!

Revoke and put a stop to itIn an ideal world a referendum result would be annulled by a subsequent referendum, the symmetry is undeniable. This is why it has been and is Liberal Democrat policy to support a referendum in which the electorate can choose between a realistic Brexit agreement and revoking Article 50 to remain in the EU. Unfortunately. there is little chance this can happen for the simple reason that there is no Brexit agreement that Brexiters agree upon, nor anything they are likely to agree upon. Nonetheless if Johnson and his inner circle settle on a particular Brexit, it should be put to the electorate.

Three years on from the referendum Brexiters have manifestly failed to find a plan to implement the result. Instead Brexiters have boxed themselves in.  Mrs May. seemingly ignorant of the difference between the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and with a nasty, obsessive fixation about immigrants, issued senseless red lines and quickly sunk herself into a hole. She vainly endeavoured to pander to the most fanatical Europhobes for whom she, nor anyone else, could ever be anti-EU enough.

This failure was unsurprising, the surprise is that anyone might have thought it possible to find agreement between Brexiters who dreamt of an unregulated global free market and Brexiters who dreamt of closed borders and protectionist policies.

May threw away a Conservative majority and Johnson’s purge of the moderates has rendered his putsch incapable of governing. An election beckons, but that too is in the hands of the opposition. 

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Shas Sheehan: The unimaginable horror of climate change for marginalised communities

Yesterday, the Office of National Statistics held an event to discuss the social impact on climate change. Lib Dem Peer Shas Sheehan spoke at the event, comparing the Extinction Rebellion protesters to the Suffragettes.

She spoke about how the impact of climate change would be felt most acutely by the most marginalised. Here is her speech in full:

In 1989 I cut short my career in advertising to do a masters in Environmental Technology, at Imperial College.

I wanted to get back to my science roots and study for myself the evidence for environmental degradation. Climate change wasn’t a big thing then. What was exercising environmentalists then included depletion of the ozone layer, acid rain, species loss and of course the radioactive cloud that was the legacy of Chernobyl.

Governments took action on the ozone layer and acid rain, because the evidence that both were caused by man was there before our eyes.

We could see the ozone hole from space, we could see the dying forests and the lakes devoid of life.

Visuals that are quantifiable are important when it comes to carrying public opinion.

So, the cover of the Economist a few weeks ago will have a powerful and lasting effect.

It shows a stripey red, white and blue flag, which colour codes the average temperature for each year starting from the mid 1800s to the present day, as measured against the average temperature from 1971 to 2000.  Colours range from darkest blue to deep crimson.

It is, quite frankly, frightening to see the cumulative effect. Since the 2000s we have been in red territory. And two out of the last three years have been deep crimson.

No wonder people have taken to the streets. They, like the suffragettes a century ago, have right on their side.

Back in 1989 Gro Harlem Brundtland’s Report, “Our Common Future” was a sort of bible for everyone who wanted to make the world a better place.

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Why we need #worldmentalhealthday

“I’ve got the headache from hell.”

“I’m full of the cold”

“I feel incredibly anxious today”

“My stomach is killing me.”

One of these is not like the others.

We are generally pretty comfortable about sharing when we’re feeling physically unwell, but not so if we are feeling mentally unwell.

I’m not going to lie, I have found these last few months really difficult. I’ve often felt overwhelmed and anxious. In fact, earlier in the Summer, I thought my mental health was going to collapse completely.

The last thing I was expecting from my campaigning trip to Brecon and Radnorshire was to come back feeling restored, refreshed and energised.

I’m not better, though. More days than not, I feel anxious.

And just like many people with physical ill health, I go to work and edit this site and go about my daily life.

The Winter months are generally more difficult than the Summer ones. A fall on ice quarter of a century ago has cast a very long shadow. Going outside when it’s snowy and icy is so exhausting that I’m often fit for nothing by the time I get where I’m going. I have to get used to operating on empty and living in a near permanent state of high anxiety.

And when people diminish what that is like, and laugh about it, it makes life so much more difficult. When people tell you to pull yourself together, they have absolutely no idea how much you are already doing that.

I also think that it is getting easier to talk about things like Anxiety and Depression. Try and say you are suffering from Psychosis and you will often realise very quickly that stigma is thriving.

So that’s my take on World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is suicide prevention, in particular the acronym WAIT, as Christine Jardine describes:

Alex Cole-Hamilton mentions the importance of listening:

Jo talked of the importance of being able to talk openly:

Jane Dodds has long championed measures to end loneliness and social isolation:

Luisa Porritt and Layla Moran shared their struggles with Anxiety and Depression:

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    Reading that very helpful link you included, George, what Phillip Lee was talking about does not seem like what is normally referred to as “forced...
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    Many thanks George
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