Category Archives: Op-eds

What policy platform can we share with The Independent Group?

The first area of campaigning on a common platform other than fighting Brexit might conceivably be a drive to alleviate child poverty in Britain once and for all.

Our party committed ourselves to that principle in the comprehensive motion Mending the Safety Net, passed at the Brighton Conference of 2016, which prioritised reducing child poverty.

Now Heidi Allen MP, one of the three ex-Tory Independents, who reportedly attacked George Osborne in her Maiden speech in 2015 over his tax cuts to welfare benefits, has lately undertaken an anti-poverty tour of the country with Frank Field MP.

A new urgency is required to tackle child poverty following a report last Wednesday, February 20, from the think-tank the Resolution Foundation, which states that child poverty is projected to rise by a further six percentage points by 2023-24 to a record high. It explains, ‘In our projection, the majority of children who either have a single parent, are in larger families, are in a household where no-one is in work, or live in private or social rented housing  will be in poverty by 2023-24.’ The report’s author, Adam Corlett, demands that the Government reassess the continuation of working-age benefit cuts which contribute to this dire projection, which comes despite the slightly more favourable present economic circumstances of household income.

We may therefore hope that our own Welfare Spokesperson Christine Jardine MP may eagerly pursue along with Heidi Allen an end to the benefit cuts, which are currently expected to last another year from April. However, the priorities of the current twelve Independents beyond stopping Brexit are less clear-cut, so far as they are yet known.

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What are you doing to celebrate International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day will be on Friday 8th March. Please share your plans to celebrate it in the comments below.

Here in Southwest London the local parties in the boroughs of Kingston, Sutton, Merton and Richmond have developed several projects, both political and non-political.

First, we are jointly running a conference with Liberal Democrat Women titled “WOMEN: Shaping the future, making a difference!“. A number of influential women have been invited to share their stories with us including Floella Benjamin, Sam Smethers (Fawcett Society), Siobhan Benita (candidate for London Mayor) and Lorely Burt.

There will be workshops led by practitioners on Women in Business, Tech, Political Activism, Community Activism, Creative Industries and Public Life. Christine Cheng will reprieve her TEDx talk on strategies for encouraging women to participate, and Sal Brinton will give a summary speech at the end of the day which should send us out energised and enthused.

The conference is open to anyone, of any gender, sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats.

In addition, councillors in the boroughs have worked with their Councils to develop some public events.

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Climate Protests: Show me what democracy looks like

I imagine that you are rarely met with a party atmosphere when stepping out of Westminster tube station on a February afternoon. But on the 15th February 2019 at 1 o’clock, the sun was shining, people were singing and smiling, and that distinctive smell of cannabis smoke was in the air. It felt more like Reading Festival than the epicentre of the British political system.

This being said, most of the 2000 students weren’t there for a party. This wasn’t a day off school or an early half term get-together. The majority of people were there to get their voices heard by politicians — perhaps for the first time in their lives.

As I walked up towards Westminster Bridge, a protestor excitedly filled me in on the day’s events. “And then this guy climbed up a bus,” he told me breathlessly. I couldn’t tell if the act was inspired by genuine frustration or perhaps it was the result of soaking up a bit too much of the protest atmosphere, and maybe a bit too much alcohol as well.

Aside from a small cohort of people who couldn’t get enough of climbing things, most of the protestors had remained very much on the ground level. Two roadblocks had been organised. One over Westminster Bridge and the other on Parliament Street. The students chanted for stuck drivers to turn their engines off.

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The Shamima Begum Case: As with Brexit, the Dutch are better prepared for what is coming anyway

As has become a tradition over the past decades, the LibDems and Dutch sister party D66 sing from exactly the same hymn sheet on the subject of taking back “ISIS jihad brides” and their children from the Syrian-Kurdish YPG/SDF prisoner camps they’re housed in at the moment.

And just as usual, the ALDE right wing (in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD) is fervently opposed to taking back anybody who has moved to the ISIS Caliphate since 2014, thus bending liberal, judicial and humanist principles to populist kneejerk reactions.

In the Netherlands, Rutte and the VVD know they stand alone (among non-populist, centrist, normal thinking parties) in refusing re-entry; and they know they’re ignoring a special article in the Dutch Constitution. The country of Grotius declares in article 90 of our constitution:

The government stimulates the development of the international rule of law and juridical order.

Scrupulous care for human rights, and the welcome (and where necessary judgment) to “lost sons”, are thus part of what Dutch governments and prime ministers must stand for. And D66 has a traditional attitude of caring about such aspects especially.

In a TV election debate in 2015, VVD leader and (then also) Prime Minister Rutte shocked everybody present by agreeing to the statement: “people travelling to the ISIS Caliphate are better off dying there and shouldn’t be allowed to return”.

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Will they all froth off?

The real advantage of having been around a long time (52 years as a member and 36 as a councillor) is that you can usually say, “I’ve seen it all before”. There are two things about the emergence of the “Independent Group” which are different to the huge surge of support for the SDP when it was created. Firstly, there are no big names amongst them. Most people outside their own constituencies probably couldn’t put a name to a face if shown the magnificent 11. Secondly, this time there are splits in both the other Parties not just one.

It’s very tempting for journalists to see things only through the Westminster prism. Numbers matter there in terms of votes and majorities. Big press conferences and breakaways are good news stories but not necessarily real politics. The numbers that really matter are the numbers on the ground and in particular the number of councillors. Political Parties are very like armies. We have Colonels and Generals in Parliament. We have the poor bloody infantry who knock on the doors and stuff the envelopes. The glue that holds them together and makes sure things happen are the NCOs. In our parlance, Councillors.

Surges in membership for political parties are nothing new for a variety of reasons. In addition to the SDP we often get local surges as people support the people locally who they think might win and have influence or who, quite simply, might find them an easy seat. The SDP surge has actually been outperformed by the huge increase in Labour and to a lesser extent in the Lib Dems since 2015. But the real question is, “how many stick to actually make the Party, new or old, work?” Many of the people who will excitedly sign up when the Independent Group becomes a Party will rapidly find that politics is not very exciting at all. Much of it is necessary but boring work interspersed with the stuff they have seen on the telly. They will be like the froth on the top of a cup of coffee that quickly disappears after the fresh bre begins to cool.

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Towards a level playing field between the high street and online

I welcome the report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, High Streets and Town Centres in 2030, which calls on the Government to consider the options of an online sales tax and reforms to business rates.

It states:

We believe that high streets and town centres can survive, and thrive, by 2030 if they adapt. Our vision is for activity-based community gathering places where retail is a smaller part of a wider range of uses and activities and where green space, leisure, arts and culture and health and social care services combine with housing to create a space based on social and community interactions.

I spoke at a local business breakfast in Barnstaple recently. I was asked, “How can we revive the high street with online retailers undercutting our businesses?”  and “How can we make it fairer for high street businesses?” Local business owners wanted to know more about our policy to reform business rates – I told them about our proposal to abolish business rates and replace them with a Commercial Landowner Levy. But that wasn’t enough for them – they wanted to know about online sales tax and how we could level the playing field.

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20th February 2019 – Briefings

Radical changes are afoot in UK politics
– Cable

Responding to news that three Conservative MPs have left the party to sit with the Independent Group, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

“There is clearly some very radical changes now afoot as both the Conservatives and Labour have being taken over by militant groups, driving out more moderate MPs.

“We will hold out the hand of friendship to the independent MPs with whom we already have a good working relationship.

“In the short term we will be concentrating on securing a People’s Vote, with an option to stay in the EU.”

ENDS

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30th March 2019

I was in a meeting the other day, and someone (I forget who it was) asked an interesting question “What is the party’s message on 30th March” – a day after we leave the EU (if it happens). The answer seems to be we don’t have a message.

Potentially, what message can we have? I suppose that will depend on the situation we face on 29th March 2019. Below, I speculate regarding the focus of the message for the different scenarios we may encounter.

Scenario 1 – We call and get an extension before we leave the EU

We get a short extension where we don’t need to elect MEPs, or we get an extension, but we have to elect MEPs. If an election happens then it is likely a Brexit party will win significantly as will a remain party. The Tories may well suffer a significant blow to their MEP base.

What would Lib Dem message be around:

The inability of this government to agree on a deal. Following the result of the European elections will be a good indicator of what the public now think about Brexit. This in effect is an indicator for a people vote. Could the government ignore the results if it faced a crushing defeat? We would have a strong message not to leave.

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Honda Job Losses

It is not easy to contemplate the loss of jobs and hardship to families from that or enormous outflow of capital because of an ideological stance by one party about leaving the EU. I was listening to the radio today and Terry Christian was saying that if bosses have to sack people after Brexit then they should start with Leavers

The manufacturer of Honda cars at Swindon is equivalent to 10% of all cars manufactured/assembled in the UK. In 2018 the UK made 1.5 million cars (down from 2016 when they produced 1.7 million). Similarly, investment in the car industry in …

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A second Remain campaign must learn from its mistakes

If recent news reports are to be believed, a consensus on how best to achieve a second referendum is coming together. Vote through Theresa May’s deal on the proviso that it is put to the people first, with Remain an option on the ballot paper. There are many hurdles to jump over before then, not least convincing a reluctant Labour leadership to whip its MPs into voting for it. In preparation for the possibility, those campaigning on the Remain side should be gearing up for it, and we must learnt the lessons of the 2016 vote.

Firstly, it is vital to accept that a lot of people are going to be very angry about this. That is understandable. Their right to protest peacefully about a second referendum must be respected, upheld and admired.

Secondly, remainers should be careful about the way in which they speak about their opponents, and I refer here to both the politicians and the electorate as a whole. No patronising, no tarring leavers with the same brush as Nigel Farage and no condescension. It doesn’t help; it doesn’t address the valid concerns that people have about the EU; more importantly, it is a guaranteed vote-winner for the leave campaign.

Thirdly, it can’t be a negative campaign based on the horrors of the outcome of a leave vote. Facts and forecasts are important and should play a role, but there is a positive emotional case to be made and it must be heard. I want to hear more from the nurses from other EU countries, without whom the NHS wouldn’t function. I want to see more about UK citizens who have gone to live in other countries and made a success of it. I want to hear about small businesses that have made enduring partnerships with other businesses on the European mainland. I want to hear stories of friendships and relationships that have come about as a result of our ability to travel the EU with no restrictions. Positive stories that extol the virtues of freedom of movement and of free trade with our neighbours are going to have a far wider impact than graphs that predict economic doom if we were to leave. However accurate these may be, they should be used as evidence to back up the emotional arguments, rather than the main thrust of the campaign. If you’ve been trapped in low paid work (or indeed no work at all) for many years and you feel that the economic odds are stacked against you, then being told by someone who is clearly very well-off that you shouldn’t vote to leave the EU because it will damage the economy is not going to ring true. If a healthy economy is seen as only benefitting those at the top, then a campaign based on scare tactics will not work with the vast majority of the electorate.

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Political breakaways are no easy option – a reminder of how the last one played out…

In 1981 and 1982 the Alliance between the two parties, under the leadership of Roy Jenkins and David Steel, was seen to be the perfect answer to Mrs Thatcher’s highly controversial first government, then two years old. Polls suggested that the Alliance could win power ‘if there was an election tomorrow’ as the polls liked to say, but, as many will remember, there wasn’t an election tomorrow. Instead there was the Falklands War, which Mrs Thatcher led us all into and won, thereby turning round many public perceptions of her. The Tories won the 1983 election comfortably, in the …

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Political breakaways are no easy option

Whichever way any sensible person thinks about Brexit, a disaster looms at the end of March. Nearly three years on from the Referendum and the decision to trigger Article 50 Parliament and the country are no clearer as to what they want from leaving Europe, and why they want it, than they were in 2016. Division is everywhere. Unhappiness, uncertainty and disillusionment are as rife today among electors as they are across the political spectrum.

When asked by the pollsters, a significant majority of UK electors now say they favour not leaving at all. That does not necessarily mean they would …

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TIG’s not it

When you are an active member of a political party, the amount of the infrastructure of your life that is embedded in it is colossal. My husband knows that we have a bird of liberty as well as a spaniel determinedly pushing its way between us when we try to grab some time together.

Our lives revolve round election cycles and meetings and protest marches. And this blog.

Most of my best friends are in the Liberal Democrats. To be honest, I think they would still be my best friends wherever our lives took us, but, still, I share stuff with them that if we were in different parties I wouldn’t be able to any more.

Making the decision to leave is difficult and painful and not at all easily taken.

So when I see people leaving the Labour Party when they have finally reached the end of their rope with Jeremy Corbyn, I know how hard it must have been for them. I respect them for having the courage to do so.

I like some of them a lot on a personal level and I have no problem with working with them on the areas where we share common aims.

However, I am underwhelmed by their statement of values on their website. Some of them are fine – just a bit motherhood and apple pie.However, parts of it made me cringe:

…the first duty of government must be to defend its people and do whatever it takes to safeguard Britain’s national security.

It’s a bit hawkish. I get that they are trying to get away from the spectre of Corbyn, but the first thing above all else, when 3 million of our citizens are about to have their rights massively downgraded and people have trouble putting food on the table? Really?

There are also some real deserving/undeserving poor undertones to it – and an echo of that awful phrase “hard working families.”

I think the thing that bothered me most, though, was:

We believe that our parliamentary democracy in which our elected representatives deliberate, decide and provide leadership, held accountable by their whole electorate is the best system of representing the views of the British people.

I get that they are restating the obvious that democracy is a good thing, but you can’t say that politics is broken and then say that our way of doing it is best. How much more powerful would it have been if they had said, as we do, that our political institutions need redesigning and rebuilding so that people get the Parliament that they ask for. If they did, the country would not be in its current disastrous pickle.

I lived through the birth of the SDP 40 years ago and it genuinely felt exciting. They used phrases like “breaking the mould” and talked about pursuing a reforming agenda in every area of life. This doesn’t have that coherent approach. It’s like TIG’s members can agree what they’re against – the various circles of Hell in Corbyn’s Labour – but writing a coherent vision statement has not come easy. In some ways their statement is more cry of pain than beacon lighting our path.

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Is being purist consistent with building majorities for change?

I’ve been vaguely following the debate triggered by today’s launch of The Independent Group, and I have to admit to a tinge of despair. The competing stances of “we look forward to working with them” and “they’re not proper liberals and we shouldn’t touch them with a bargepole” are hardly unexpected, and there are people that I respect on both sides.

But, of course, I’m a bureaucrat, inherently cautious, and I’m older and wiser than I once was. So I find myself wondering, what is it we want, and how can this help us to get it?

Think of it as being …

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Victim or Terrorist? Thoughts on Shamima Begum

The situation with Shamima Begum has been one that I have been ruminating over for the last few days, whether it has been the racist headline of the Metro on Friday (“Jihadi Bride wants baby on NHS”) or the utterly appalling misogyny and unconscious racism displayed on this topic by politicians, friends and others on social media.

For those of you who may not remember, at 15, Shamima Begum left the U.K. with two friends to go to ISIS-controlled territories in the Middle East. There, shortly after arrival, she was married to someone she had been introduced to online who …

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A detour into the history of the Party Presidency

It’s easy to forget how many Party members are of very recent vintage sometimes. Given that our membership at the time of the General Election was in the region of 45,000, and is now more than double that, many of our readers will have no reason to be aware of the history of the post.

So, here are some of the things that might be of interest…

Sal Brinton is the ninth person to hold the position of Party President, and the longest serving of them all – her second term is of three years, the first of such length. No-one may …

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AOC is right, we need unprecedented action to prevent climate catastrophe

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been US Representative for New York’s 14th District for less than two months, but she has already made waves in US politics so large that they have spread across the pond.

Last week, Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC, as she is popularly known) tabled House Resolution 109. The “Green New Deal” it outlines would transition the US to a carbon neutral economy and 100% renewable energy generation within ten years. These changes would be accompanied by massive investment in infrastructure, from improving the energy efficiency of buildings, to developing new …

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Just in case you thought the ERG was acting on principle…

So Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris and the rest of the European Research Group of 100 or so Tory backbenchers have been making an almighty fuss about the backstop. They don’t like the part of the EU Withdrawal Agreement that would keep the UK in a temporary customs union in the (highly likely) event of a full trade deal not being agreed by the end of the transition period in December 2020.

It has alway been clear that the EU will, quite rightly, to be honest, not consider any watering down of that commitment. There is no solution to the Irish border problem that doesn’t involve some sort of customs union. It is obvious.

But an article in today’s Mirror suggests that the ERG might give in and vote for May’s deal just to get us out of the EU – on condition that Theresa May goes after the local elections on May 2nd so they have a chance of getting Boris as PM.

Political editor Nigel Nelson suggests:

As things stand at least 20 hardcore ERG backbenchers will not back Mrs May’s deal – either with or without changes to the backstop.

But if they think they can get Boris for PM, it is expected they will back down.

With the ERG on board, and 20 Labour rebels who Mrs May is trying to bribe with cash for their constituencies, the PM will have enough votes to get across the line.

In essence, this doesn’t really change anything because the idea of the ERG caving to get us out has always been a possibility.

But it does give us the chance to reflect on why the deal passing is far from the end of the issue.

As I said the other week, the Deal itself is bloody awful. It kicks so much down the road that we have no idea what sort of economy we will end up with.

Bad as it is, it is a million times worse with an ERG PM driving the trade negotiations. The chance of us welcoming in 2020 (or even before) by jumping off a no deal cliff is high.

But this lot have another agenda. Theresa May is going on about workers’ rights in a bid to appease Labour MPs. Jo Swinson called bullshit on those claims this week.

But the ERG are a whole world of right wing small-state extremism away from even May’s Conservatives. Jacob Rees-Mogg and co praise Singapore, a place where you get 12 weeks maternity leave rather than the 12 months shared parental leave (thanks, Jo), where you only get 2 weeks paid holiday a year and where redundancy protection is not mandatory.

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Roger Roberts writes…Massive changes needed at the Home Office

I quote from one not of my own party, David Lammy, who, in a speech last week in the House of Commons, stated:

“Your Department’s treatment of the Windrush generation has been nothing less than a national scandal. In November, we learned that at least 164 Windrush citizens were wrongly removed, detained or stopped at the border by our own Government. Eleven of those who were wrongly deported have died. You have announced three more today. Every single one of those cases is a shocking indictment of your Government’s pandering to far right racism, sham immigration targets and the dog whistle of the right-wing press”.—

In addition, I received a letter earlier this week from one who said:

“I am a Portuguese citizen from Lisbon, came here in 1993 on a full scholarship paid for by the Royal Academy of Music to study, when I was just 19 years old. I stayed and have been working as a performer and teacher ever since.

I came here legally, settled with no issues and have had a national insurance number since 1993. I have paid tax since 1997 … When I applied for settled status I wasn’t given a reason for being refused”.

Nor was she asked to provide evidence. She continues:

“It made me both frightened and angry. I’ve been here continuously for nearly 26 years and couldn’t think of any reason why I wouldn’t be immediately put through … I was promised and reassured by this government that the ridiculous process of having to apply for a status I already have (!) was simple, easy and that bar criminal conviction everyone would get through straight away.

I was lied to.

The app doesn’t work for the self-employed.

The app doesn’t come with a helpline number or email to write to, it also doesn’t tell you that if you’re self-employed you’re not likely to get through.

It doesn’t offer help in any way.

What I want to know is why on earth the Home Office cannot just look at my 25 continuous years of NI and understand it is me!

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ICYMI: Jo tears into Theresa May for claiming credit for shared parental leave

Jo Swinson was on stellar form in the Commons this week. In her latest procrastination statement, the Prime Minister tried to claim credit for shared parental leave.

As we know, it was Jo who, as a Business Minister, delivered that against the wailing opposition of the Conservatives. So she naturally took exception to the PM’s claim.

And afterwards, with the help of some excellent gifs, she took to Twitter to rip the Tories to shreds on workers’ rights. She highlighted the times in the coalition when we fought against them. And there was a touch of humility as she said that we might not always have got it right, but we sure as hell battled every day. Here’s are the highlights:

This is my favourite:

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Changes to electoral law passed this week will help disabled candidates

An order passed by the House of Lords this week will mean that expenses reasonably attributable to a candidates’ disability will no longer count towards their election expenses.

The Minister, Lord Young of Cookham, told the Lords:

Examples of such expenses include, but are not limited to, British Sign Language interpretation for hearing-impaired candidates, the transcription of campaign material into braille for visually impaired candidates and specialist equipment. This order will also exclude expenses funded from grants provided through the Government’s interim EnAble Fund for Elected Office from electoral spending limits. This £250,000 interim fund will support disabled candidates and help cover disability-related expenses that people might face when seeking elected office, such as those I have listed

Our John Shipley welcomed the proposal:

I thank the Minister for explaining this order and I want to record that I agree with it. It is entirely appropriate that any disability-related expenses in elections should be exempt from spending limits, on principle. That is because it helps disabled candidates to stand for election on equal terms with others. I noted the Minister’s comments about some objections that may have been raised on some of the details—but none is more important than the overall principle of equality of opportunity.

This order is in force now for the May elections.

But it isn’t any use to disabled candidates unless we actually help them with the costs of getting elected. 

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Tony Greaves writes…”There really is no Planet B” Scenes from the Schools 4 Climate action demo

Fantastic atmosphere in Parliament Square today as some thousands of mainly school students gathered to protest against what is happening to our climate and our planet. This was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations I have witnessed.

There was none of the usual organisation, attempts at order and regimentation, agenda of speeches and actions. No stewards and precious few police, who were clearly taken unawares by the scale of the protest and were standing around looking a rather lost at how to cope with quite a big disruption with no organisers to talk to! People just turned up, often in school groups, and did their own thing as they felt fit.

Some just stood about with their placards. Some sat in a circle, chanted or sang or made impromptu speeches – at first on the grass, later on in the road. Some stood in the streets or marched off down Whitehall or towards Westminster Bridge. Parliament Square was completely blocked, partly by the young demonstrators but also – by a curious bit of serendipity – by the black cabs whose drivers were staging another protest against being kicked out of London bus lanes.

For once, the young people were being allowed to stand on the plinths of statues and hang placards on Mr Churchill and his friends. One glorious incident happened when a big red open-top tourist sightseeing bus, blocked on the corner of Bridge Street and the Square, was commandeered by a group of young people waving their placards and leading the chants. What any tourists thought about it, I know not!

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Shamima Begum: The approval of the right wing press should not be part of what happens next

I read the interview with Shamima Begum in today’s Times (£) with mixed emotions. I have There is no doubt that she has made some utterly horrendous decisions in her young life which will take a lot to unravel. My instinctive reaction, though, is that rehabilitation must be at the heart of what happens next.

She is a British citizen. So is her soon-to-be-born baby. She cannot be denied access to this country. If she does make it back here, there will have to specialist intervention and risk assessment but the overarching aim should be to get her to a place where she can be re-integrated into society. That is not going to be easy for her, but nor should it be excessively punitive either.

She says some things in her interview that are undeniably hard to read. And even worse to listen to. But I guess you have to remember that in the last 3 months, she has lost two young children for want of decent health care. It’s early stages in the grieving process. You can maybe see where the denial and defiance comes from. We can only imagine the pain that lies beneath it.

As I write, her family’s lawyer is making the point on Channel 4 News that she is in a camp with 36000 others, some of whom remain ISIS supporters. If she were to speak out against ISIS to the press, she could find herself in even more danger.

We also have to remember that her own mother died a year before she left this country. How might that loss have rendered her more susceptible to targeted radicalisation? A huge amount of work needs to be done by her and others to combat the effects of that, but we should give her access to the programs can achieve that.

One thing that we shouldn’t do, though, is allow the approval of the right wing press to have any part in this. We should do what is right in terms of the law, human rights and due process. We have to take into account her age and vulnerability and circumstances at the time she made the extremely poor decision to travel to Syria.

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Check out the York Spring Conference agenda – and two important deadlines

My Conference agenda arrived this morning. I know I can see it all online, but I like that I can write all over the paper copy and highlight things. It’s old-fashioned but it’s kind of like sitting down with a cup of tea and the Radio Times at Christmas and ticking off what you want to watch.

The agenda has details of all the debates, speeches and almost all the fringe events and exhibitors so you can at least try and plan out your weekend.

You might also want to know that Alistair Carmichael is having a whisky tasting on the Saturday night from 9:30-11:00 pm which is not advertised in the Directory. These are amazing events. Not only do you get seriously good and tastefully chosen whisky, but you get Alistair’s inimitable and very funny commentary on each whisky’s origins and manufacture. If you fancy it, email me on [email protected] and I’ll tell you how to try to get a place – but you will have to be quick. Tickets are like gold dust.

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Being a PPC – managing demands

One common interview question, which we used when hiring our Organiser and is used in many jobs, is that of prioritisation: you have lots of demands on your time and are faced with a long list of tasks, which do you do first?

Prioritisation seems to be an ever-present task as PPC. There is only one of you but 1001 things that need doing. Help?!

Yesterday I went through three sets of my list – the first version which I had written the night before on how I would get things done the next day as the asks seemed insurmountable; the second version made at coffee time before rushing out the door to a meeting, of the things that still needed doing and ranking which was most important; and then a third version, a yet-again-revised list of things that had to be absolutely done that day, with a new list of what could be left for the next day.

There is never enough time. Prioritisation is key, with an emphasis on delegating what others can do. I am more and more saying to those around me,  “I am going to concentrate on what I am meant to be doing as PPC.” But in the real world, it never works out that way.

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Just About Managing (JAM)

Nick Clegg referred to such a group as “alarm clock Britain – the bleary-eyed grafters struggling to raise families, while getting out to work, with little money left over to pay for luxuries.”

Resolution Foundation thinks tank suggest there are six million working-age households on low to middle incomes spread across the country. Such households will have at least one person in work, but they are not always low-income families. They may, for example, have an annual income of £50,000 but have a large family to support with high housing cost and very little disposable income at the end of the month.

Although most of the income for JAM families comes from work, it is, in many cases, topped up by welfare support. Two-thirds of all families receiving children tax credit are JAM families. Home ownership for people in this group fell from 59 per cent to 26 per cent last year pushing many of them into long term rental tenancy. The reason for this fall was that they were using 25 per cent of their income for housing over a decade where we had little or no income growth. The cap on benefits has also adversely affected housing benefits up to £100 a week. Since 2010 housing benefits have not risen in line with private rents and current benefits will remain frozen at 2016 levels until 2020. On top of all this is the increases in living costs and the very low if any pay rises – to stay as they are JAM families have to find hundreds of pounds extra for rents.

Many families like these fall back on payday loans and credit card and end up trapping themselves in loans they effectively can’t pay off.

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Kirsty Williams – the only Liberal Democrat delivering in government

In Wales we have the only Liberal Democrat Minister in the United Kingdom, delivering Welsh Liberal Democrat policies on education for our children and young people. Kirsty is now in her third year as the Education Minister. Since May 2016, she has forged ahead with innovative programmes to enhance education and learning for children and young people in Wales, embedded in the Liberal value of opportunity for all. As Kirsty says, it is no coincidence that the Welsh word for a ladder is the same as it is for school – “Ysgol”.

  • So a quick gallop of just some of the things the Party has done over the last two and a half years:
    Expanded and enhanced the Welsh Pupil Premium, or Pupil Development Grant. This policy has been supporting pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds for most of this decade and has been taken further in government;
  • Delivered the most progressive student finance policy in the UK, that is unique in Europe. Students are supported with living costs and receive the equivalent of the national living wage. Support for part-time and postgraduate learners has been increased and figures released last month showed these applications have increased;
  • Made progress on reducing infant class sizes through a £36million fund. Schools are benefitting from more classrooms, teachers and teaching assistants. This was a key campaign priority at the last election, and now it is being implemented in government;
  • Published Wales’ first-ever plan to support rural schools. This includes a presumption against the closure of schools, and £2.5million per year grant scheme, and steps to make better use of technology;
  • Announced record investment in Wales’ teaching workforce, and developed financial incentives to attract graduates into teaching;
  • Taken steps to increase the focus on the mental health of children and young people. A pilot project is linking schools with specialist mental health support, and work is ongoing to develop a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health. As Kirsty has said, this is the foundation of successful education experience.
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The clock is ticking down to March 29th and Parliament is far from a resolution

Remain-inclined MPs refuse to contemplate May’s hard Brexit. The hard-line Tory Right are fearful of a backstop, keeping trading links and protecting pesky inconveniences like workers’ rights and basic health and safety standards.

Nobody is willing to compromise. Including us. This is no bad thing. We are passionately and proudly open, internationalist and outward-looking. We cherish long-held cooperation with the rest of the world on trade, innovation, fighting climate change and much more. Many of us celebrate free movement. Above all, we value our place as leaders on the global stage.

We should continue to fight for a People’s Vote on this nebulous and measly-mouthed withdrawal deal.

However, with less than fifty days to go, a referendum on the deal is far from guaranteed. Only a maximum of 150 MPs currently backs a public vote. Moreover, even if the Labour leadership grew a backbone and supported our option, there’s a problem. The notorious lack of party discipline in Labour could still endanger the cause. It will be an uphill struggle.

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For richer, for poorer

For Valentine’s day, Lib Dem Immigrants is showcasing some canine (and feline) couples, with a serious message. Many people who’ve not had cause to find out the hard way don’t realise that mixed-nationality couples can be forbidden from living together in the UK if they don’t earn enough. We want to raise awareness of this, and we’re proud that Lib Dem policy is to oppose it. If you’re married to a British person, you should be allowed to live with them. No means-testing. For richer, for poorer. 🐾

Lina is a Dachshund from Munich, Germany; Jamie is an English Bulldog from Croydon. Jamie worries about whether Brexit will mean Lina can’t come and live with him.

Kuniko is a Shiba Inu from Kyoto, Japan. Gary is a Jack Russell Terrier from Bolton. Gary’s income is just enough for Kuniko to be allowed here — but not enough for their puppies too. They don’t know what they should do.

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One lesson worth learning from the Greens…

Anyone who knows me will know that I am no great fan of the Green Party, indeed, I have written for these pages before about why the Liberal Democrats have been right to continue to reject the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ between the two parties. However, pluralist that I am, I admit that it would be naive to refuse to ever accept lessons from our political rivals. As Spring Conference in York approaches, there is one particular lesson from the Greens that Liberal Democrats should bear in mind.

Buried within the amendment to the party constitution set to …

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