Category Archives: Op-eds

Lib Dems take part in Kill the Bill protests around country

Lib Dems across the country joined protests across the country against the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Protests too place in London, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Plymouth, as well as a lot of smaller towns. The protests come ahead of a critical vote tomorrow in the House of Lords on amendments introduced in the Lords in November which greatly increase the authority of police to control protests including an increase in stop and search powers.

On Friday, Labour Lords belatedly said they will oppose the protest clauses. With the Lib Dems, Greens and independents opposing the restriction of the rights to protest, the amendments are likely to fall. As they were introduced in the Lords, they cannot be sent on to the Commons if peers vote against them.

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Tom Arms’ World Review: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Justice at home and abroad, Sri Lanka

Ukraine

After a week of Ukrainian talks the question is whether Vladimir Putin is using negotiations to avoid war or create a pretext to start one. The communiques emerging from Geneva, Brussels and Vienna shed little light on the subject. They are peppered with insubstantial diplomatese phrases such as “frank,” “friendly” and “constructive.” Off the record, journalists are being told that chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman is offering to widen the talks with suggested discussions on missile deployments and other issues. The US is clearly trying to drag out talks in the hopes that protracted jaw, jaw will lead to reduced tensions. But on one issue the Americans and their NATO allies appear to be standing firm: They will not agree to a legally binding commitment to block Ukraine (and Georgia) from NATO membership. Putin has made it clear that Ukrainian enrolment in NATO is unacceptable. In fact, Putin has compared it to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The Russian leader has also denounced America’s strategic arms policies, blaming them from withdrawing from the ABM Treaty (true), INF (not true) and the Open Skies Agreement (not true). However, Putin is also adamant that he will not be bogged down in the “swamp” of protracted negotiations. His concern over lengthy talks is at least partly related to the fact that if he doesn’t move soon Russian tanks will become mired in the mud of a Ukrainian spring. If Putin does invade, Biden has threatened sanctions “like none he has ever seen.” These are likely to include locking Russia out of the international banking system and blocking the Nordstream2 gas pipeline.

Kazakhstan

It now appears that the uprising in Kazakhstan was more of an internal power struggle than a popular uprising. In the wake of the violence the head of, Kazakhstan’s security services, Karim Masimov, has been sacked and charged with treason. In addition, 81-year-old former president Nursultan Nazarbayev has been removed from the chairmanship of the nation’s powerful Security Council and his family has dropped from public view. Nazabaryev, who was an autocratic president for 25 years, hand-picked Kassim-Zhomart Tokayev as his successor. It had been assumed that the ex-president was still pulling the puppet strings and grooming his daughter for the presidency. Now it seems that the puppet has cut the strings and turned on his master. He also appears to have the blessing of Russia’s Vladimir Putin who still holds considerable sway in the former Soviet republic. Twenty-five percent of Kazakhstan’s 18 million citizens are ethnic Russian. Its gas pipelines all run to Russia, and 2,000 Russian troops were called in by Tokayev to protect Russian assets when the revolt started. After killing 164 protesters, arresting 10,000 and possibly neutering the Nazarbayev family and their supporters, Tokayev appears to be firmly back in control and the Russian troops are back in their barracks.

War criminals face justice

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Beatrice Wishart: We need to do better at tackling Endometriosis

This week, the Scottish Parliament debated the horrible, painful, debilitating condition Endometriosis.

Shetland’s Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart highlighted the distress this condition can cause and the impact it can have on women’s whole lives – and says that we must do better than the misogynistic dismissal of this condition that we so often see. Here is her speech in full:

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing this important debate. So much has already been said about the impact that endometriosis has across all aspects of life, but I make no apology for repeating some of what has already been highlighted today.

I want to start by outlining exactly what is at the heart of this discussion: the lives of women and girls. Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to that in the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as ovaries and the fallopian tubes. Symptoms include, among others, painful or heavy periods, painful bowel movements and pelvic pain. An estimated 1.5 million women in the United Kingdom are affected, which is similar to the number of women who have diabetes.

However, as we have heard, it takes an average of eight and a half years to receive a diagnosis, which means eight and a half years of pain, of missing out, of uncertainty and of explaining. How tiring must all of that be? Relationships break down because the pain and struggle are too hard to comprehend. There is the misogynistic dismissal of so-called women’s issues and people saying that it is just painful periods or, even worse, that it is perfectly normal for women to experience pain.

There are long waiting lists and a postcode lottery for treatment. There is a serious problem with delays in getting an initial appointment with a consultant, and Covid has only made the long waits even longer. Non-urgent appointments have been delayed because of Covid, but, for patients, endometriosis is not non-urgent.

One person told me that, although their GP has been good, before being referred to a consultant, their daughter had to go through various other options to rule out cysts, irritable bowel syndrome and food intolerances. More than a year after their GP’s referral, they are still to receive an appointment.

I have also been told by women that endometriosis has made them infertile, and how the inability to have children has affected their marriages. As many as 30 to 50 per cent of women who are affected by infertility have endometriosis.

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Observations of an ex pat: Migration time bomb

The world is sitting on a migration and demographic time bomb. A perfect storm of environmental, economic, and demographic factors are combing with increased international instability to drive millions of people from the developing to the developed world.

An internationally coordinated response is required to deal with the problem that will not go away. It will just become worse. Instead growing xenophobia is constructing physical and bureaucratic dams that must eventually burst.

Ironically, the two sides of the cultural and geographic fence have complementary problems. There is a shortage of workers in the xenophobic developed world and a surplus in the developing world. Birth rates in Europe, the US and Japan are either failing to replace those who die or—at best—leading to a no population growth scenario.

Low population is accompanied by an ageing citizenry. The median age in most of the world’s rich countries is between 40 and 50. This puts increased pressure on health and social care services, pensions and young workers who have to support their elders.

The developed world is also bordering on, or actually suffering, labour shortages. If their countries’ fail to grow by increased birth rates than they must recruit immigrants in order to maintain productivity levels that can support ageing populations.

In contrast, improved healthcare has dramatically cut the infant mortality rates in the developing world. This means that the median age in most of Latin America is 27. In Africa it is 18. In the case of Niger the median age is 14.8 years. The underdeveloped economies of these countries are incapable of supporting their rapidly growing populations. Their young people are heading north to survive.

To complicate matters further climate change and war is increasing the number of displaced persons in the world. In 2016 there were 10.6 million DPs. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees the figure grew to 84 million in 2021, and that was before the Afghan crisis added several million more to the depressing and worrying total.

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Changes to comments and posting policies on Lib Dem Voice

We are from today making changes to the comments policy on Lib Dem Voice. We also will more proactively encourage female voices on LDV, both in making comments and in authoring posts.

This change comes after a meeting of editors (online as we are scattered around the country) to discuss where we are on LDV and where we want to go.

We are concerned that LDV posts and comments are dominated by men. In recent weeks, three quarters of posts have been authored by men and nine in ten comments were by men.

We intend to change that gender balance and make LDV more representative of the Lib Dems and liberal values.

We will be proactively managing the comments debate to prevent it being dominated by a small number of individuals. They are nearly always men and seem to want to slug it out to the end between themselves – to win a debate that LDV readers have long lost interest in. Too often that debate is tangential to the subject of the article. Too often it is a debate that should take place elsewhere.

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Who will deliver on Levelling Up?

Apart from the rumbling crisis developing around No.10 and the Prime Minister’s behaviour, the launch of the Levelling Up White Paper will be one of the defining moments between now and the next election.  Already delayed by disagreements within government, it’s now promised by the end of January.   If it’s a damp squib, deflating the hopes of voters in ‘red wall’ seats that Boris and Brexit would transform the poorer towns and cities of England, many of those seats will be lost again next time.

Many Conservatives cling to what cynics call ‘hanging basket’ levelling up: offering money in small packets to tidy up town centres, to bring back local pride and confidence.  Over 100 packages of funding are now on offer, through competitive bids biased in favour of Conservative-held and target seats.  Local authorities are spending money they can ill-afford writing bids for sums as little as £250,000 a time.  The maldistribution of levelling-up funds is a scandal in the making. 5 of the 10 most deprived LAs – Blackpool, Knowsley, Sandwell, Hackney and Barking – have reportedly received none; most other LAs have received far less than they have lost in core funding since 2016-17.

Gove would like to be more financially expansive – but the Treasury and Tory right-wingers are resisting. In his model central government will remain firmly in control.  This government distrusts local democracy.  Gove has talked of power for directly-elected mayors for cities, and ‘governors’ for counties, under central government direction, with a sharp reduction in numbers of councillors and local scrutiny.

The Liberal Democrat response needs to be robust.  The scale of the challenge of reducing regional and individual inequalities in the UK is such that it needs a long-term commitment to investment in a linked group of policies: education, from pre-school to FE, infrastructure and transport, local innovation and regeneration, and the revival of local public services.   The budgetary cost will require higher taxes, fairly distributed and carefully justified.  The need for consistency over 10-20 years means that an effort must be made to build some cross-party consensus, so that it will continue through changes of government.  And it MUST be led by local government, locally accountable – not dribbled down in penny packages by ministers and officials in London.

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Campaigning on Europe – members’ views

Please note that the title of this piece has been amended to reflect the content of the article.

You may remember, last November, taking part in a survey on members’ views on Brexit and the party’s campaigning on the future of UK–EU relations. Thanks to everyone who participated – 6,500 members, more than any previous survey of this type – and thanks to Greg Foster and Dan Schmeising at party HQ who organised it on behalf of the Federal Policy Committee. This article gives you the results.

The first question asked how you voted in the 2016 referendum. Completely unsurprisingly, over 91 per cent voted to Remain. Most of the rest couldn’t vote (for example because they were too young); just 2.5 per cent voted to Leave. No less than 95 per cent would describe themselves now as Remainers (more than four-fifths of whom chose the option ‘Yes, I am a Remainer and I am proud of it’) and just 1.3 per cent described themselves as Leavers (a third of whom – 25 people – were proud of it).

In response to the question, ‘Do you think people in your life who aren’t Liberal Democrats associate the current problems the country is experiencing – shortages of truck drivers, farmworkers, care workers and goods in shops – with Brexit?’, on a 0–6 scale, the average answer was 3.7: in other words, they do, but not all that strongly. Of course, the pandemic and the government’s feeble response have complicated the picture substantially, but this will change over time, as the impacts of Brexit become ever clearer. Indeed, if we’d asked the question now rather than two months ago, I suspect the response would have been stronger.

We next asked which EU-related policy areas the party ought to treat as a priority, given that the impact of Brexit is being felt across so many; people could choose three out of a list of fourteen. Trade came top, listed by more than half of respondents. The others, in order, were: climate change and energy; freedom of movement and immigration; rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU; standards for environment and labour issues; scientific collaboration; cultural, artistic and educational links; environment and biodiversity; defence and security; health policy; justice and police cooperation; foreign policy (countries outside the EU); international development; and crime.

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The damage caused by this Government now includes psychological harm – we need them gone

This morning I was looking on Twitter at the heartbreaking messages from people who had not been able to see their loved ones before they died in May 2020 due to the Covid rules in force at the time, or to attend family funerals or visit relatives in care homes. These are deeply hurtful and scarring experiences.

I also thought to myself, how do most people feel about being told in the Spring of 2020 that they could, legally, only meet up with one person outdoors, now they know that there were parties with 30 or more people held in Downing Street at the very same time? Or about members of the public being fined by the police for breaking the same rules the Prime Minister introduced – yet broke – himself whilst, of course, concealing the truth from everyone?

I turned to thinking about Brexit and the damage and uncertainty caused to multiple interests, especially famers and fishing communities, but also to students and people who used to move regularly between the UK and the EU. This article is not about comparing the tragedies of Covid and Brexit, as Covid is infinitely worse due to the enormity of the loss of life and the associated heartache, but it is about the same way the Conservative Government has handled these two major catastrophes and continues to do so – and the kind of damage their duplicity has surely done to many people’s mental health.

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Let’s focus on taking on the Tories in Sutton & Cheam

Last week, I had the honour of being selected by party members to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton and Cheam at the next general election, following a closely fought selection campaign.

Having previously worked as a BBC journalist for 30 years, I have now left this role to focus all my efforts on regaining this seat – which was stalwartly held for us by Paul Burstow until 2015. A win here would be a huge blow for the Conservatives and unseat Paul Scully, a senior Conservative minister who is part of this uncaring government that is taking local people for granted.

Since my selection was announced there has been some scrutiny about myself and my past. This is something I expected and indeed welcomed during the selection process, as it allowed me to explain my views and where I stand. However, more recently there have also been some unfounded claims about me by our political opponents on social media. I want to use this piece to reassure anyone who is worried and remind party members that I am always available to meet them to address any concerns.

Perhaps one issue is that having been a BBC journalist for the past thirty years, I have not been allowed to express political views in public, or on social media. So l’d like to set the record straight and address some of the issues raised. First, let me start with my history with the Liberal Democrats.

I started canvassing for the party as a student in 1982 and was first elected as an SDP-Liberal councillor in 1986 at the age of 22, winning my seat from the Tories with the biggest electoral swing that night anywhere in the country. I worked for the party in Parliament – helping Paddy Ashdown among others – and I am now the Vice Chair of Kingston Borough Liberal Democrats. I was the party’s candidate in Spelthorne in the 2019 general election and was shortlisted for several other target seats.

I have always worked for an inclusive society, supporting people regardless of sex, race, or sexual orientation. As NUJ chair at the BBC I led over a 1,000 journalists in our fight to improve racial diversity as well as equal pay for women. Here I worked closely with the first women news presenters to be successful in their fight against discrimination. And I went on to win more such claims.

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Mark Pack’s January report – the plan to build on our success in 2022

In 2021 we achieved something we’ve not achieved since 1993: winning two Parliamentary by-elections in the same year off the Conservatives. We start this new year with a larger Parliamentary Party than any of us would have dared dream of a year ago. (A winning run that has continued with the first council by-election of this year too – congratulations to now councillor Andrew Dunkin who won a seat from Labour from third place.)

The question now is how do we build on that success in 2022, and how do we make the most of our limited resources? Here’s the plan.

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Liberal Democrats must speak out for jury trials

When anyone attacks the jury system, Liberal Democrats should be vocal and prominent in defending it.

Just a few days into 2022 we saw, after the acquittal of the Colston 4, a sustained attack from Conservative voices. Their target was not just the verdict but on the jury system generally.
Juries are a precious safeguard of freedom. Our party has said so many times in our policy papers. The fight to establish juries as the fundamental deciders of whether a defendant is guilty or not was hard won. It was a struggle over centuries. It is a story entwined with the anti-establishment roots of the Liberal Democrats.

Last week’s mudslinging at the “the lamp by which liberty shines” (as Lord Bridge once called juries) is not the first bout of Tory anti-juryism. But it is particularly disquieting, albeit foreseeable, to hear it from buddies of the present government. The words of Conservative journalists and backbenchers are often used to scout positions and for ministers to stoop down to later.

Tory ministers have a record of trying to upend constitutional safeguards for partisan interest. Attempting to prorogue parliament to prevent votes on Brexit in Autumn 2019 was perhaps the worst example. The astonishing, repeated coincidences of donations with honours or policy outcomes is another. It is easy to imagine that this dangerous government might seek to interfere with the jury system.

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Tom Arms’ World Review: Capitol anniversary, Kazakhstan, Turkey, EU/China

Capital Hill one year on

In his inaugural address President Joe Biden said he wanted to be a unifying figure. For the past year he has sought to do that by largely refraining from attacking Donald Trump and his “election lie” and by staying aloof from the congressional inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots. This week he climbed off the fence and took off the gloves with this speech in the Rotunda at Capitol Hill. He accused his predecessor of “spreading a web of lies” that led to the 6 January assault. He lamented that the “threats to the constitution have not abated” since he took office and attacked Trump for caring more about his “bruised ego than the democracy or our constitution.” If Biden’s intention is to unite, his speech may have been a mistake. Staunch Republicans have denounced it and even the centre-right Wall Street Journal labelled it divisive.” Biden’s address coincides with the launch of a book entitled “How Civil Wars Start.” The author, American academic Barbara Walter, has spent years, studying civil wars around the world and has sadly concluded that America may be going down the same path as Egypt, Syria and the former Yugoslavia. Ms Walter says one of the main causes of civil war is politicians exploiting ethnic divisions for political gain. She points out that Republicans are appealing to Whites and Democrats to a coalition of ethnic minorities and the country could—based on the experience of other countries—she says that the US may be heading inexorably towards violent conflict. Can it be averted? Biden’s speech may have been divisive but could he afford to continue to ignore Trump’s outrageous claims on the anniversary of the Capitol Hill riots?  The situation has certainly not been helped by Trump’s rambling over the top response to the Biden speech.  Americans should dispense with the phrase “it can’t happen here” and start seriously thinking about how to stop a civil war happening.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is currently discovering the cost of keeping the lid on dissent. Since independence from Moscow in December 1991 the government has blocked access to the internet, kept a tight rein on the traditional media, controlled the courts and organised elections which resulted with the government regularly winning 100 percent of the vote. After 25 years in office Nursultan Nazarbayev handpicked his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019 but retained power behind the scenes as chairman of the country’s Security Council. Since independence the country has enjoyed major economic growth as it exploited its vast oil, gas, goal and mineral resources. But the cash has not filtered down to the country’s 18 million people who inhabit a country the size of all pof Western Europe. Their average income is only $3,000 a year. The man and woman in the street, however, did enjoy a few perks such as a cap on the price of liquefied petroleum which is used to run most of the country’s vehicles. It was the lifting of that cap which provided the spark that blew the lid off the Kazakhstan pressure cooker this week. So far it has been reported that 26 protesters (President Tokayev labelled them “terrorists” and “bandits”) have been killed. More than a thousand have been injured and 400 hospitalised. Tokayev has ordered troops to shoot to kill future protesters. He has also called on his friend Vladimir Putin for 2,000 “peacekeeping” troops under their collective security treaty. Russia has a major stake in Kazakhstan. There is a large Russian-speaking minority; Russian military bases; major gas pipelines and the world’s largest—Russian-owned– satellite launching facility. The Russians are keen to see stability return to an important ally and were probably behind the decision to re-impose the price cap on LPG fuel for the next six months.

Turkey

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Lloyd George didn’t know my father – the 1921 Census

What it is to be all-knowing. For someone my age the release of the 1921 census means the possibility of nosing through the lives of people you actually knew and creepily of course, you know what happened next and they did not.

Here is my Dad aged 9 months. He is briefly in rural Sussex while his First World War veteran father finds (another) temporary job at a gas works.

Here is my maternal Grandma aged 5. Her Dad is a wallpaper hanger. All eight of them crammed into a little terraced house in Kent. But the story is not sad; this bunch are survivors. They all go back to their native East End and every single one of them will get through the Second World War alive.

Not so lucky – here is my maternal Grandpa, aged 2 in rural Hampshire. The family farm is about to go bust. In a few short years the family will be either scattered or dead (one by his own hand).

The census has a few family surprises. What on earth, for instance, is my staid Great Great Grandma doing living at the Three Tuns, a pub on Jewry Street, Aldgate? Perhaps best not to ask!

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Observations of an ex pat – Ukraine Week

We are entering Ukraine Week. A series of meetings across Europe and at the highest level will probably determine whether 100,000 Russian troops will cross the border into Eastern Ukraine and ignite Europe’s greatest crisis since the end of the Cold War.

It started Friday with a Zoom meeting of NATO foreign ministers. On Monday Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin go head to head in Geneva. Next Wednesday NATO heads of government hold a summit in Brussels, and the following day, in Vienna, the 57 members of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meet in Vienna. The last event includes Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky who will discover just how far other countries will go to defend his nation’s sovereignty.

Conspicuous by its absence from these talks is the EU. The reason is that the issues are primarily security and military and the EU has no defence forces. It will, however, be heavily affected by any Putin-Biden pact and its diplomats will be flapping around the edges of Ukraine Week trying to make its collective voice heard.

So far Putin has done all the running. He annexed Crimea in 2014 and moved his “Green Men” into Eastern Ukraine. He has disrupted shipping in the Sea of Azov and Black Sea; threatened gas supplies to Western Europe and now has 100,000 troops camped out on the Ukrainian-Russian border.

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Showing understanding, welcome and humanity – The Windermere Children

I was moved to tears watching “The Windermere Children” on TV this week.

It told the story of how, in 1945, our government took in 700 traumatised children from the camps in Germany and Poland. They had witnessed scenes more harrowing than we can imagine, almost certainly lost all of their family, killed by the Nazis.

300 of them were taken to a place near to Lake Windermere, and I saw how gradually they began to understand that they were free, were not going to be taken away, that they were loved, welcomed and treated with respect.

All the way through they were treated with dignity. Trauma was understood and taken account of. Time was given for them to express what had happened in their own way. Any wrong doing was not punished in way usual for those times, but with understanding and in a way that they understood what was wrong. The love and welcome were consistent.

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Being a REAL “Community Champion” and the Order of the British Empire

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  • To award or not to award?
  • Is the Queen’s New Year’s honours list “fit for purpose”?
  • Is it too archaic?
  • Does it reflect well on the real achievements of our “Community Champions”?

I must admit that I don’t usually pay too much attention to the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. This year was a bit different mainly because a former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was chosen by the Queen for the knighthood. Not surprisingly, in a couple of days, more than 500,000 people have signed the petition to revoke his knighthood. Some of these calls were driven by families, whose members lost their loved ones during the war in Iraq.

In political terms, Mr Blair has been a very successful politician. He was a Prime Minister, undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs in the land, for 10 years (1997-2007). In a way, I should be grateful to Tony Blair as it was he who allowed Poles and other Eastern European nationals to come to Britain since the largest enlargement of the EU in 2004.

However, in my view he lost political integrity and credibility when he decided to support the invasion of Iraq. Since leaving the office, he has travelled globally to give talks on a wide range of issues. I found it staggering that he was supposed to be giving a speech on how to feed the poor in Sweden in 2015. This was dropped for a simple reason; Mr Blair’s fees were too high (£330,000!).

In my opinion, I am not sure whether people who are paid to do a particular job, even if they do it very well, should be receiving a knighthood. For me an example of someone who deserves recognition is Marcus Rashford, who didn’t get an MBE for his fantastic football skills but for  additional (and exceptional!) work that he has been doing to support vulnerable children.

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Sally Hamwee writes…Lib Dem Lords will do our best to fight Nationality and Borders Bill

Ministers quite often urge “professional curiosity”,  a probing, analytical approach, not a careless, unthoughtful, knee-jerk response.  They haven’t applied it to the Nationality and Borders Bill – that’s the Bill that creates deserving and undeserving asylum-seekers, allows the Home Secretary to make people stateless, and provides for pushing back small boats at sea. And more.

Professional (political) curiosity should also prompt questions from us all about how a Bill (whose 100 plus pages I would like to throw out almost wholesale) can have any appeal.  Have people had bad encounters with individual refugees? Unlikely. Is it fear of the “other”? We are a mongrel nation; I tick the “White Briton” box, but I often think about what recent immigrants my family were.  Is it insecurity about housing, jobs, the economy? Quite possibly – and that’s where government effort should go, along with taking a lead on integration and valuing refugees.  This Bill extends the hostile environment to one of aggressive hostility.

Nor is it trauma-informed, and won’t become so by asserting that this is what guides the Home Office.  That’s the very clear view of the many organisations who know that assessing an asylum seeker’s age is not a straightforward matter of science, but should be about safeguarding (there’s a lot in the Bill that’s very damaging to children).  And that someone who has been subject to appalling experiences at home and undertaken an almost unimaginable journey to the UK is not going to be able instantly to relate their story fully and cogently, or probably for a considerable time (if ever).

We are told the Bill is to break the business model of smugglers.  I thought that politicians who admire successful business people should understand that they find ways round obstacles. The Bill will strengthen their hold over asylum seekers; it plays into their business model.

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Lib Dems overtake Conservatives in Powys as Tories descend into chaos

Powys Liberal Democrats have accused the Powys Conservative council group of descending into chaos over its school closure programme. The accusation comes after the Conservative group lost both cabinet member and councillor Iain McIntosh; and Cllr (also MS) James Evans in shock resignations over the Administration’s rural school closures. The events have left the Conservative group on 13 councillors, meaning the Welsh Liberal Democrats are now the largest political party in the council with 14 councillors.

The Powys Conservative Group has now lost four members in the last year, with Cllr Gwilym Williams and Cllr Les Skilton defecting over the council tax rise supported by the party earlier this year. The group also lost Cllr Claire Mills in May 2020 when she defected to the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party and lost a by-election in Llandrindod North to the Liberal Democrats in 2019.

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A proposal for Single Member Proportional Representation

The history of reform is replete with proposals for change, so it is with some trepidation that I propose yet another system: single-member proportional representation (SMPR).

All electoral systems have merits, and I did not set out to make (nor could I!) the academically ‘best’ system. Instead, I used only one criterion: maximum feasibility. I sought to design a system that would have a fighting chance of gaining a majority both in Parliament and with the people in a referendum, while also delivering true PR. The well-studied failure of the AV referendum (and general apathy to reform in general) indicated that complicated systems will suffer at the polls; AV, after all, is the first and easy step on the road to STV. SMPR is intended for: delivering truly proportional representation and being palatable.

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A memorial to a lie

Happy New Year. I come on to a topic I’ve meant to blog about for ages.

In June 2020 Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol was pulled down, rolled down the street and dumped in the River Avon to huge controversy. Why was the statue there in the first place, though?

The statue was erected in 1895 to falsify history. A plaque on the plinth described him as “one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city”. But he wasn’t. Bristol had been a major slave trading port, and Edward Colston had been at the heart of it.

I attempt to imagine that my skin pigmentation is black. The history I was taught at school was the history of the white-skinned people, omitting the history of the ancestors from whose DNA the hypothetical me’s skin pigmentation comes. Those ancestors, or kin of theirs, were kidnapped, enslaved, sold, classed as subhuman and as property, whipped, raped, exploited, even killed, with impunity under laws created by white-skinned people for profit.

Even Queen Elizabeth the First profited from slavery. How many people know that? I can’t recall a history lesson or popular depiction of Good Queen Bess mentioning that fact.

As this hypothetical me, I go to Bristol and I read that plaque. How can I not be indignant?

Other features of the hypothetical me are probably that:

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A food policy motion for Spring Conference

The deadline is approaching for submitting motions to Spring Conference, which should be a great chance to pin down our policies and demonstrate our values. For me, those values include deep concern about both climate change and animal welfare. If you share those concerns, please sign a motion that’s being submitted – available at this link.

On climate change, we should further strengthen our party’s green credentials by grappling with the environmental impacts of food production. The Climate Change Committee’s pathway to net zero includes reducing meat consumption by at least 35% by 2050. Importantly, this is based on the representative citizens’ Climate Assembly, which was comfortable with reducing meat and dairy consumption by 20-40%. The reason why these reductions are required is both because of the emissions that livestock directly produce and because growing crops to feed livestock is an inefficient use of land that needs to be freed up for carbon capture and nature.

The ‘National Food Strategy’ that reported in July (and that our party called for in our last three manifestos) similarly calls for a 30 per cent reduction in meat consumption within a decade, as part of a plan to create the best balance of healthy food production and nature. But the current government seems unlikely to accept that recommendation: its climate strategy has “nothing to say on diet changes” and the government even deleted a report on the topic. As the motion sets out, the Lib Dems can do better (and do so without resorting to higher taxes on meat, for example).

On animal welfare too, it is time for Lib Dems to lead the debate. Although the current government is making some progress, and British farming has much to be proud of, in some areas the UK is falling behind and there is a lot more to be done. If we were still in the EU, we would now be committed to ‘ending the cage age’ by 2027 – ending the use of pig farrowing crates, caged hens and more – but the UK government has not yet agreed to match this. As another example, the UK kills tens of millions of male chicks each year (as males of egg-laying breeds are no longer considered efficient sources of meat), but thanks to new technologies Germany, France have banned this mass culling from 1 January 2022 (with Italy and probably the EU as a whole set to follow). The UK should be following suit.

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Millions face food or fuel choice as energy bills set to soar

There is nothing new about the fuel poverty issue. But this year, with retail prices and energy prices surging, and pop up energy suppliers failing, keeping people warm should be soaring up in the political agenda. But fuel poverty remains in the margins of Westminster thinking. Perhaps that will change today with a report from the Resolution Foundation warning that “2022 is set to be the ‘year of the squeeze'”.

The failure of the UK’s privatised and badly regulated energy market to anticipate and react to supply shocks including the surge in wholesale gas prices is shocking. The problem has been made worse by our country’s abysmal failure to reduce energy use by insulating homes. Vulnerable people shiver under blankets while the precious and expensive energy they pay for heating seeps out through the walls, doors and windows and vents through the roof.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for the Warm Homes Discount to be doubled and expanded to support vulnerable households with their energy bills throughout the winter months. Ed Davey said:

“The Conservatives have totally failed to tackle the problem. They’ve scrapped insulation programmes that would have reduced people’s bills, cut support for the most vulnerable whilst increasing the UK’s dependence on imported gas, making our country more vulnerable too.”

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Ed Davey’s Christmas message

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Painting yourself into a yellow corner? The future Liberal response to Covid

The Lib Dems have a knack of swinging wildly on the side of public opinion (e.g., Iraq War) and back to the fringes (e.g., Revoke Policy). The latter is often buoyed by coming off the back successful elections, giving the party a false sense of confidence that such policies are far more popular than they are and indeed we can be the party of governance. Though such fringe policies have a lasting and damaging impact. Easy to make accusations that the party is neither “Liberal” or “Democratic” is easy to make when such positions are taken and particularly when the public doesn’t see it as justified.

And so, we come off the back of an incredible victory, in a by-Election, over the floundering Tories, in a pandemic. Emboldened by this and the quiet, lack lustre opposition; the Lib Dems are vibrant in their opposition to this government. They see the current state and utter incompetence of the Tories and they see an open goal.

Where the Tories have been cautious about further restrictions, the Dems feel this is dilly-dallying. Restrictions are needed and the country needs strong leadership (which they offer) to put these in place.

This puts the Dems in a precarious position. By being on the side of illiberal restrictions (protections also, but still illiberal), they expose themselves to those allegations. However there has always been a liberal justification for such restrictions. Even the most libertarian of libertarians, Ayn Rand would have seen the justification for lockdowns; in light of no vaccine. And the Lib Dem position has been in line with the public mood, for most of the pandemic.

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A Christmas Cracker of Covid Cheer? Perchance it is a dream…

Covid cases have been soaring across the UK and England just a few days ago been plummeting towards another lockdown or circuit breaker. We seemed destined to have a cracking Christmas followed by a New Year’s Eve singing Auld Lang Syne at a social distanced.

Yesterday, though, there was better news. Separate analyses published by Imperial College and Edinburgh University concurred with research funded by the South African Medical Research Council and a modelling exercise by a Danish institute. All four studies suggest Omicron will lead to less severe illness than Delta and less hospitalisation.

The results, which are provisional, look like a bonus for the NHS which is usually rammed to the rafters in winter and this year faces bigger than usual staff shortages due to self-isolation.

The studies are a huge boost for Boris Johnson, who’s premiership has been on the line over Covid restrictions (along with the loss of the North Shropshire by-election). He must make a decision in the next few days whether to follow Scotland and Wales in increasing restrictions, including cancelling New Year. His instinct will be to impose minimalist intervention rather than face letters of no confidence from his backbenchers.

But unless we “Jab the World” we are at risk of more waves of infection.

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The lasting legacy of a Liberal lion

Amongst the worries about the pandemic, despite the concerns of the present, beyond the developments in our politics, there is the personal. Whether an individual can make a difference, and that he or she ought to and should, there is the essence of a Liberalism we can favour.

This year has been the centenary of the birth of Sir Peter Ustinov. This is a man who made a difference. As a performer versatile enough to be an actor and an entertainer, he delighted in numerous productions on stage and screen. As a creator, he was a writer and director, who was often a force behind those numerous productions. And then there was Peter Ustinov the inspirer, an ambassador and campaigner.

As a man of social conscience and charitable disposition, he was a natural and lifelong Liberal. He voted for the Liberal party and then the Liberal Democrats, throughout his life. His autobiographical and other biographical appraisals record his liberalism from his precocious school years, in debates and activities. Throughout his travels, he extolled the virtues and values of Liberalism. Even in the US during the height of the McCarthy witch  hunt,  he noted:

… the different meaning for that noble word “liberal,” which in America has become dissociated from its essential humanism and sense of equity, and now apparently means a kind of embryonic commie, a nuisance who asks embarrassing and subversive questions.

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Grasping the opportunity from North Shropshire

The remarkable by-election victory provides an immediate opportunity to grasp the chance to revive the party’s derelict associations.

As readers of Liberal Democrat Voice are aware from my previous postings, I am very dubious that the party has the resources or the motivation to tackle the huge task of reviving activity in the majority of constituencies that simply do not have the individuals or knowledge of how to start from scratch. This is now the moment to grab those who are attracted to the party by the the North Shropshire – and Chesham and Amersham – results.

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Trade deal with Australia will hit our farmers

Tim Farron has warned that farmers are being “sold down the river” by the Conservatives, after it emerged the government’s own impact assessment found the Australia deal will cause a £94m hit to the farming, forestry and fishing industries. There is also an expected £225 million hit to the semi-processed food sector, such as tinned foods.

The Liberal Democrats are demanding that MPs are given a vote on the Australia deal so they can stand up for the interests of British farmers. It comes following the party’s by-election win in North Shropshire during which concerns over the impacts of government’s trade deals on local farmers were a significant issue. The deal is likely to hit small farmers, especially hill farmers hardest.

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The Christmas vaccine dilemma – what would you do?

Last night’s  Radio 4 PM had a discussion with a mother and son who were dealing with an issue that many families will be trying to resolve this Christmas. This particular family had members who are particularly vulnerable to Covid and the son had chosen not to get vaccinated.

The compromise they reached was that the son would have a PCR test before mixing with the rest of the family.

It made me think about what I would do in these circumstances. I am about as Covid cautious as they come and my household is being very careful about who we mix with. We are following the Scottish Government’s advice and doing a lateral flow test before seeing other family members and they are doing the same. I’m lucky that we don’t have the vaccine issue as we’ve all been vaccinated and boostered to the max. In fact, the last member of our household got his booster on Monday, rather than the previously earliest appointment he could get which was 17th January thanks in part to Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP. The vaccination centre at Ingliston had been going to be dismantled to make way for a rave the weekend before last. Alex raised the problem with Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and the rave was cancelled and the vaccine centre reinstated.

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What a mess! The Brexit fiasco

Brexit has not been done. There never was an oven-ready deal. Whatever Johnson thought was ready for the oven is now burnt to a cinder.

It’s time to use ridicule to explain how this UKIP-Tory government has made such a mess of Brexit. Five and a half years since the Brexit referendum, and Liz Truss has just become the sixth minister in charge of getting Brexit done. The public are beginning to understand that Johnson did not have a clue what sort of Brexit he wanted when he was campaigning to leave and is now struggling to come to terms with the failure to deliver.

A succession of incompetent ministers have attempted to reconcile the Leave campaign’s contradictory objectives. We started with David Davis – who went to meetings with Michel Barnier without any briefing papers. He lasted nearly two years as Brexit secretary. Olly Robbins did most of the work, reporting to Theresa May, against a backdrop of hostile briefings from Tory MPs. Dominic Raab picked up the poisoned chalice when Davis and Johnson resigned over May’s Chequers package. He lasted four months, a period distinguished only by his admission that he had not understood how important the port of Dover was.

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