Category Archives: Op-eds

How do we respond to the economic emergency?

Readers of the Daily Mail are still being told that the UK economy is in good shape, that there is room for tax cuts for the better off, and that the opportunities Brexit offers are beginning to benefit the country. Readers of the Financial Times, and of the business pages of the Times, are now being told a very different story: that we are in an economic emergency, with a collapse in exports to our largest – European – market, a continuing decline in the external value of the pound (which pushes up domestic inflation and makes UK companies cheaper bargains for foreign private equity to snap up), and the slowest rate of growth in the developed world.

Even without the impact of the Ukrainian conflict, our falling currency would be exerting inflationary pressures. Disruption of oil and gas flows, as well as global grain and fertiliser supplies has imposed additional inflationary pressures on everyone in Britain; and the longer the Ukraine-Russia conflict continues, the worse this disruption will get. Growing authoritarianism and antagonism towards ‘the West’ in China is further disrupting the global economy. The prospect is of zero economic growth in the coming year, a widening external trade imbalance, falling private investment and declining living standards. Yet Boris Johnson’s boosterish approach to political campaigning means that the government has downplayed the seriousness of our current situation, even as food banks report record demands for help and unions go on strike for pay increases to cope with rising costs.

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Pride in the Lib Dems

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of London Pride and Liberal Democrats were right there marching with all the pride we could muster -both as Liberal Democrats and throughout the parade Liberal Democrats were marching with other groups and organisations from the Armed forces to NHS trusts to Sports Groups. It was amazing to be part of this piece of history with 1.5 million people involved! Thanks to every Lib Dem who came yesterday, whether you were marching with the group or elsewhere or supporting from the crowd – and many thanks to our fabulous GLA Assembly Members – Caroline, Hina and Luisa for sharing the day with us.


Thanks to Luisa, Caroline, Hina and all the other Lib Dems
who helped give us an amazing presence yesterday.

Pride has always meant a lot to me – it’s the first place I felt I could be unashamed of myself when I was 16 and had just come out as bi. I’ve seen some of the best moments of solidarity there – adults taking it upon themselves to hide hateful banners from teenagers going past, cis people passionately defending trans people, thousands of people screaming support for LGBT+ refugee groups to give a very few examples I’ve seen over the years.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

So we know that abortion is now, or is about to be, illegal in about half of the American states. But what about the rest of the world? And what affect is the Supreme Court decision having elsewhere?

In Brazil at the moment abortions are allowed in cases of rape and incest. Populist right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has used the overturning of Roe v Wade to call for a total ban. At the same time, other countries have condemned the ruling. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a “major step backwards.” Almost simultaneous with the Supreme Court decision, Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law that bans doctors from offering information about abortion procedures. Spain took steps to remove parental consent for 16-17 year olds. French legislators proposed a bill to make abortion a constitutional right and the Dutch voted to abolish a mandatory five-day wait for women seeking an abortion. Within the EU only Malta has a total ban on abortion. Poland is the next strictest country on abortion laws. It allows pregnancy terminations in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is threatened. Generally, abortion has become accepted as a woman’s right in all but 37 out of 195 countries in the world.

The Ukraine War is sucking ammo dumps dry. The Russians are the worst hit. A tough Ukrainian defense has forced them to resort to blanket artillery barrages. They started with high precision missiles and by mid-May had fired off an estimated 2,200 of them. They are not cheap. Each cruise missile costs $1.9 million. They also take time to build and involve semi-conductors and transistors which are unavailable in Russia. Moscow’s now depleted precision munitions means that it is using more low precision artillery shells – about 20,000 a day – which increases the collateral damage. Tanks are another problem. The Ukrainians have been particularly adept at knocking out Russia’s tanks. So far the kill rate has topped a thousand. Each tank costs about $4 million and takes a minimum of three months to build.

But the other side – Ukraine and its Western backers – is also having problems. Kyiv didn’t have much to start with and most of it was out of date Soviet-era Russian-produced weaponry. It now has to rely on NATO defense equipment which they do not know how to use. So they have to be trained which takes time. Britain has taken a key role in training Ukrainian troops. But NATO is also running short of weapons to send Ukraine, especially the Europeans who have been particularly generous. Poland for instance, has given a quarter of its tanks to the Ukrainian army. Britain has donated about a third of its highly-effective Starstreak anti-tank missile systems and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is pleading the special case argument to increase defence spending to 2.5 percent of GDP.

Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have seriously depleted their weapons stocks. One of the reasons that the NATO summit agreed to a near ten-fold increase in troop and weapons levels in the Baltic region is because the defense cupboards in that region are heading towards bare. US ammo dumps are also taking a hit. Ukrainians have made good use of American-made Javelin missiles. Seven thousand of them – roughly a third of the total US stock of Javelins – has been sent to Ukraine. The American armaments industry produces an estimated 1,500 Javelin missiles a year. But the US has other similar systems and the industrial capacity to expand production. In a war of attrition, the West is much better placed then Russia. The next question is: Does it have the political will?

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Observations of an expat: unholy alliance

The unholy alliance of the Christian Right and the Republican Party has conquered its Everest with the end of abortion in most of America.

It still has other political mountains to climb: Same-sex marriage, gay rights, equal rights, Christian nationalism, creationism, contraception, sex education, political correctness, gambling, pornography, Sunday trading…

But Roe v Wade was top target. It was the emotively totemic issue that united hardline conservative Republicans and Evangelicals and differentiated them from the rest of the country.

The alliance, however, may now be facing the downward slope. A poll taken just after the Supreme Court decision showed that 59 percent of Americans support abortion and 58 percent now want a federal law making abortion available nationwide.

The unholy alliance’s victory shows what religious fervour linked with political organisation can achieve. But the majority has learned the hard lesson of complacency associated with defending the status quo. They have been galvanised, are removing the gloves and have electoral numbers on their side.

America has a long history of mixing politics and religion. New England was founded by religious dissidents who sought to breakaway from establishment Church of England and for a long time set up their own theocracy in America. The US constitution was seen as a triumph of rationalism, the summit of the Age of Reason and a victory over the religious superstition of the medieval world.

For about 100 years enlightened reasoning – with exceptions – reigned largely supreme within the American corridors of power. Then along came Darwin and the church split between the fundamentalists who dismissed evolution as heresy and those who reluctantly accepted it as the logical fruit of science.

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Reviewing how we campaign

Liberal Democrat campaigns are well known for their strong community focus, their mountains of leaflets and their incessant door knocking. This strategy has shown some success from Chesham and Amersham to Tiverton and Honiton, to our great local election results.

However, to say that this is the only way to win elections would be short sighted. We’ve seen right wing forces like Trump and the Brexit campaign effectively harness digital technologies and micro targeting to win against the odds. But is this something that we should be doing?

Some academics have looked to answer these questions, showing how digital techniques have grown in importance. However, these studies have often overlooked local elections and their key role in our politics. I want to change this.

I’m studying Public and Political Communications at the University of Sheffield and am researching how Liberal Democrats campaign, and most importantly, what campaigning methods work. This interest has come from several years of working as a Lib Dem local organiser and for ALDC.

This study will look at the 2022 local elections and seek to determine, based on statistical analysis, which campaigning methods contributed most to our impressive victories. Is canvassing more important than direct mail? Is Facebook more important than Instagram?

But, to do this I need your help.

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The fight for Hongkong continues subtly

When Britain prepared to transfer the sovereignty of Hong Kong, London signed the Treaty with Peking to pave the way for a ‘One Country Two Systems’ (1C2S) Chinese rule over Hong Kong. Although the people of Hong Kong were not consulted, the plan seem logical at the time – it solved one of Britain’s moral liability and such power sharing / devolution is actively implemented within Britain and other decolonised territories. The governance model, was of course, not a new political model but a well-oiled framework used frequently by 1982.  When revealed to HongKongers that the question of Hong Kong will be resolved on 1st July 1997 under 1C2S, veteran democracy politician Martin Lee said “This is a moment when all Chinese people should feel proud”. He went on to mention that it could be a progressive way for Mainland China to catch up with the Rule of Law and way of life that Hong Kong had demonstrated for the Chinese people.

Such were the goodwill and courage from HongKongers. There were no plans to scuttle the will from Peking or London; there was no mutiny planned to bring instantaneous seismic changes to how Mainland China should be governed. But certainly HongKongers actively find ingenious ways to be represented even when seldom conferred, in order to treasure their identity. They challenged the crisis where the territory’s dollar crashed, and stabilised by pegging HK Dollars to the US Dollars through reserves achieved from the economic success of HongKongers. Also, the pro-democracy camp devoted time into social welfare, work rights and endeavour as much electoral reforms as possible drawn up since the times of Governor Mark Young. Although diplomats will only voice their concerns of a Chinese controlled 1C2S, HongKongers actively engage to give it the best chance and to make do with a future penned in other cities. The people of Hong Kong may never have had full democracy in their land, but certainly can express themselves in a democratic way.

Therefore, it could never be true that the people of Hong Kong destabilise or bring foul to their hometown. When 2 million clashed with the government on the streets in 2019, it was an act of perseverance of our efforts. There was a moment when there could have been a progressive way forwards, or at the very least, where both parts of China can excel in each of their own ways.

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You Said, What?

A regular complaint about politics is the lack of plain speaking.

Even when truths are unavoidably uncomfortable, a lack of ambiguity (removing any excuse for convenient misunderstanding) will annoy some people. No matter how gently explained, the tone of the varnish can be criticised as, of course, are expletives deployed for emphasis.

Just recently there was much media anguish over whether to describe Russian atrocities in Ukraine as genocide. Now we are all becoming familiar with those invaders being described as terrorists – a term previously reserved for extremists, revolutionaries or liberators depending on your attitude towards incumbent authorities, or their opponents, or any of the ‘others’ imagined for the purpose of blame avoidance.

Only a small linguistic step is needed to reclassify free-market fundamentalists as engaged in global terrorism. But then many would find the invented term ‘toryism’ in that implied context as shockingly offensive – not least because so many of us are complicit in the evolution of unmoderated capitalist systems that are now wrecking our planet. Avoidance of offence is impossible, especially when discussing belief systems like economics.

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Why I will vote No in a referendum

Back in 2013, I wrote an article for the Scotsman newspaper outlining what issues were important to me in deciding what way to vote in the then upcoming Independence referendum.

In the end I decided to vote Yes, as at that time I believed the risks involved were worth taking. Nearly ten years on, the circumstances are now quite different and if, as proposed yesterday by Nicola Sturgeon, there is another referendum next year, I would now vote No.

It is very unlikely that the Supreme Court will confirm legality on the new proposals, as it is clear to even the SNP, that without the consent of Westminster the Scottish Parliament will not be able to hold a lawful referendum and as the SNP have already declared that they will then make the next Westminster election a single issue campaign on independence, there is time to consider what is the best way forward. We have seen before how splitting the vote on any single issue can let a party with a minority of the votes win first past the post elections on that issue.

Firstly, we need to understand why the SNP will never give up on their demands for a referendum on independence. It is similar to Liberals wanting a fair voting system and losing a referendum on it. A fair electoral system is at the heart of our beliefs, and regardless of how little support other parties, or the public give electoral reform, we will never give up our call for a system where those elected fairly represent the way people have voted. The SNP have a similar core belief, but they depend on the lack of a fair electoral system to deliver it for them.

There will also be support from those who oppose independence, for a referendum, as the best way to give the public their say and to deal with the question which has dominated Scottish politics for many years. It is a debate that will not go away by refusing to have it.

Since 2014 much has changed, not least the fact of Brexit.

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Welcome to Obs and Gynae

The camera follows a man on a hospital trolley. He gurns at the audience and is wheeled away with his hand up to some unfortunate woman who is screaming.  “Welcome to the NHS” he opines to the audience. We all laugh. It’s the opening of the series “This is going to hurt”. About an obs and gynae ward. We all laugh. Women. Women down there. Women and their unmentionable bits. All intrinsically funny. Apparently.

Not so funny is that during the pandemic the waiting list for gynaecological procedures grew by 60%. During the pandemic many more women who suffer extreme bleeding during their periods or bleed all the time had to go in for emergency blood transfusions because major surgeries like hysterectomies were suspended.

This is not women waiting for something cosmetic or with a few aches and pains. This is about women who cannot work, cannot care for their children or in some cases for themselves they are in so much pain or bleeding so heavily.

The average diagnosis time in the UK for the excruciating condition of endometriosis is an appalling 8 years.

My local trust, for instance, knocks you off the gynae waiting list and sends you back to your GP after a year even if your symptoms are worsening! You then have to have more unnecessary intimate examinations to prove you should have been on the waiting list in the first place.

Of course there are pressures on every single part of the NHS.  However, a recent report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is adamant that gynae waiting lists are growing faster than other waiting lists and that gynae conditions are often labelled as “benign”. Babies don’t wait to be born so quite obviously the obstetric ward is ever open; gynae is often the first to close its doors when pressures become too much.

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If you want a strong public sector, you’re going to have to compete on pay and conditions eventually…

There is no way in which one can buck the market. – Margaret Thatcher, 10 March 1988

And yet, Governments, especially Conservative ones, keep doing just that when it comes to public sector pay. Even more ironically, there seems to be a belief that, contrary to the notion that there is no such thing as society, people will take an altruistic view when it comes to their own salary prospects in order to work in the public sector.

There may have been a time when the public sector was grossly overpaid in comparison with the private sector. Personally, as a civil servant for well over thirty years, I don’t remember it, but I’m sure that there’s someone out there willing to make the argument.

But, as shortages of nurses, doctors and dentists become ever more noticeable – my own county of Suffolk is increasingly a desert for NHS dentistry, and the issue was a contributory factor in the Tiverton & Honiton by-election – the question of market forces kicks in.

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Welcome to my day: 27 June 2022 – shuffling into the limelight again?

It’s been another good week to be a Liberal Democrat, I’d suggest. An astonishing victory in Tiverton & Honiton, and polling numbers in the low teens indicates that, whilst the Party is not at the levels we saw prior to 2010, we’re certainly relevant again.

It certainly helps that the Conservative government looks to be in an utter shambles, led by a man they don’t really believe in any more, and apparently without any policies designed to address the critical issue of the day – the cost of living crisis. The inability of ministers to take any medium or long term decisions other than to treat minorities and potential enemies as brutally as possible doesn’t much help either.

And there’s little doubt that most of the nation’s problems require some serious long-term thinking – the NHS is not going to be restored overnight, regardless of how much money is thrown at it, nor are public services to be improved without some serious thought as to what is needed and who will supply it.

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Ways To Successful Residents’ Engagement

I remember when I was first elected as a Councillor in 2014, I used to attend our monthly Councillor Surgeries. Although most of the time, they were not well attended, I often found it useful as it gave me an opportunity to talk to my fellow Councillors and discuss many issues, which needed to be addressed.

So much has changed since 2014. It almost feels like we are living in a very different world. We had (and still have!) Brexit, the health pandemic with often no social interaction, and more recently the war in Ukraine. More importantly in this context, the whole digital world has progressed at an incredibly fast pace.

Although many Councillors decided to “ditch” their Surgeries, when I was elected in May 2022, I was really keen to ensure that the dialogue with residents continuously grows. It was clear to me that we can’t only rely on virtual reality. My role as a Councillor, first and foremost, is to be accessible and visible to my community. Equally, I wondered what would be the best and most effective way to ensure effective communication with residents. The “old days” of waiting for people to turn up to a Surgery are long gone. We all have busy lives and therefore elected representatives need to be a lot wiser regarding residents’ engagement. Yes, it is so easy today to pick up a phone, email, or even get in touch via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, however nothing, in my view, will ever replace real human interaction.

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Johnson: Imperious, impervious and delusional

Our prime minister is beleaguered, only he doesn’t know it. He told the press pack in Rwanda that he intended to remain as prime minister until the mid-2030s. With members of his cabinet scheming against him and negative approval ratings in opinion polls, that looks unlikely.

Both Johnson and some Conservative MPs are in denial about the message sent by the government by the public in Thursday’s twin by-election defeats. At least two of Tory MPs have blamed the Tiverton and Honiton defeat on the “girls” (MPs to you and me) that shopped Neil Parish for his tractor porn antics in the chamber. Another said they didn’t see the defeat coming because “people were lying on the doorsteps”. How out of touch can the Tories be?

Other MPs recognised that the bond of trust has been broken between the prime minister, the Conservative party and the voters: “People think he’s a liar and a shady bugger.”

As Richard Foord said on Thursday: “It’s time for Boris Johnson to go. And go now.” The departure of the “shady bugger” is long overdue.

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Is GDP almost everything?

In 1968, Bobby Kennedy made a much-celebrated speech in which he denigrated Gross National Product (GNP, now usually replaced by Gross Domestic Product, GDP) as a measure of America’s well-being. He said:

… counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them … Yet does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials … it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile …

Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh voices his disdain for this view in a recent article:

Yes – GDP is almost everything: The recession should kill off the romantic idea that growth is a mixed blessing.

He says, rightly, that wealthy countries tend to do better on indicators such as homicide rates than poor countries. Yes, poor countries do badly on a range of social indicators. But Kennedy was talking only about America. The richer we are, the less an increase in wealth boosts our well-being.

Ganesh also says:

The looming recession will be painful. But it will also drive a certain kind of post-materialist humbug from polite discourse. Growth will be harder to dismiss as a bean counter’s tawdry obsession when there is so little of the stuff to go round.

Yes, growth will be missed if it’s replaced by recession – growth is good for the feel-good factor and not everyone is post-materialist.

Recession would hit poor people in the rich world hard but we don’t need growth to eliminate most rich-world poverty. We just need to be fairer and more generous to people whose earning power is low.

Ganesh doesn’t mention the costs of growth – such as the demise of the stable physical climate in which our civilisations have evolved. We seem to be getting into a zone where we lose our ability to limit global warming and where our physical environment deteriorates eventually to where the present human population can no longer be supported. The change may be so rapid that, for one or more generations, perhaps in most of the world, human life will be nasty, brutish and short. Whatever the scale of the resulting fall in GDP, the decline in human well-being would be catastrophic.

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Roe vs Wade struck out as illiberal forces gain ground

There was no surprise about yesterday’s decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn the historic Roe vs Wade decision. The ruling, which ended half a century of constitutional protection for abortion, had been leaked the beginning of May. The ruling, from which three Democrat judges dissented, is expected to further divide the nation ahead of November’s midterm elections.

The verdict does not make abortion illegal in the USA but it does allow individual states to pass their own laws restricting abortion to the earliest weeks of pregnancy or situations such as rape.

The ruling is likely to stoke further tensions in a country that is increasingly polarised. It could also presage the overturning of other rights such as same sex marriage and access to contraception.

The Roe vs Wade decision dates to 1973, six years after Liberal MP David Steel introduced the Abortion Act as a private members bill in the House of Commons. Lord Steel has since argued for further liberation of the law. But abortion remains controversial in the UK with regular protests outside abortion clinics.

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Tiverton and Honiton & Wakefield aftershocks: Dowden goes (updated)

There will be news breaking throughout the day as the political establishment cogitates on the results of by-elections and fallout begins.

The first Conservative to fall on his sword is Oliver Dowden, until this morning chairman of the Conservative Party. He told Boris Johnson earlier this morning:

“Yesterday’s parliament by-elections are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party. Our voters are distressed and disappointed by recent events and I share their feelings. 

“We cannot continue with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that in these circumstances it would not be right for me to stay in office.”

Is Dowden a sacrifice to distract attention from the failures of Boris Johnson or are Conservatives finally saying enough is enough and walking away from the chaos at the head of the party and government?

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Tiverton and Honiton: “The Major from Uffculme” wins for the Lib Dems

Congratulations to Richard Foord and the Lib Dem team on a convincing win in mid-Devon. Richard took the Lib Dems from third place to a majority of 6,144 votes. It is a stonking win and with Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire completes a hattrick of by-election victories. Foord comfortably overturned the 24,239 majority won at the December 2019 general election by former Tory MP Neil Parish – who was forced to resign after he was seen viewing pornography in the House of Commons.

One resident is quoted by the Express as calling Richard Foord “the Major from Uffculme, a good local bloke.” That moniker might stick.

Tonight also saw local council gains in Highley, Kingston and Waverley.

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Food banks and posh nosh

On Monday, the Conservatives held their summer party fundraiser. The top lot was dinner with Boris Johnson and his rivals Theresa May and David Cameron. The Dinner of the Century – so-called to avoid inviting Johnson critic John Major – went for £120,000.

This was of course a fundraiser and at such events silly things go for silly prices. But the symbolism cannot be missed. Three prime ministers tucking into posh nosh with someone who has £120,000 in spare change while people are struggling to feed themselves and queuing for the food bank.

News of the Dinner of the Century broke on Wednesday, the day before 36 Shropshire organisations, including councils, food banks and support groups, published an open letter on the cost of living crisis. They are pleading for more help for rural communities, for longer term help and for those in relative comfort to think of ways they can help others.

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Our first year in office

It is now just over a year since I became leader of Oxfordshire County Council following momentous May 2021 election results that changed the political landscape in the county and led to the formation of the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance, led by the Lib Dems in partnership with the Greens and Labour.

The intervening period has proved to be one of real achievement but also huge challenges – indeed the list of national and international developments since spring 2021 alone is quite breath-taking. All of them have had an impact in one way or another on our daily lives and budgets and on the services that we provide locally.

The recent publication of our Annual Performance Report for the 2021/22 council year provides a reason to pause and reflect on what has happened since the Fair Deal Alliance took on the running of Oxfordshire County Council.  We are immensely proud of what we have been able to achieve in such a short time, and the following are just a few examples of our work as Lib Dem led county council.

One of our top priorities on forming our administration was to put action to address climate change right at the very heart of our work. We’ve launched a pilot for Britain’s first zero emission zone in Oxford.  We’ve won a bid for 159 new electric buses which will serve Oxford and its surrounding areas.   We’re delighted that more than 70 villages and some urban areas throughout the county have signed up to request their streets are reduced to 20mph speed limits after an initiative we agreed last Autumn. We have been ranked as a gold tier council in Uswitch’s first annual Green Council Report, which looks at the commitment of local authorities to be more environmentally sustainable

Tackling inequalities in Oxfordshire is another priority that we wanted to focus on immediately. Our award from Stonewall for promoting LGBTIQ+ inclusion in our workplaces and our nomination in the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) awards for the innovative initiatives in our equalities, diversity and inclusion framework show that we are becoming nationally recognised for such work.

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Tiverton and Honiton byelection: rural communities itching for chance to cast protest vote

By Tabitha A. Baker, Bournemouth University

Tiverton and Honiton in Devon has long been a Conservative stronghold. But the Liberal Democrats believe they have a good chance of taking the seat in an impending byelection. The vote follows the resignation of former MP Neil Parish, who admitted to watching porn in the House of Commons chamber.

My research in the south-west of England suggests the party of government has every reason to be worried. The discontent and even resentment towards the political class have been palpable for some time.

Previous analyses of electoral geography identified rural and non-metropolitan areas as having higher levels of support for Brexit and populist parties, citing a backlash against the status quo for these trends. It’s clear from my interviews over the past few years that voters are looking for any opportunity to make their feelings known to the main political parties through protest votes.

The exceptional circumstance of the 2016 EU referendum is a case in point. Rural voters saw a unique opportunity to express their frustrations about years of local decline by voting against the government’s position on Brexit.

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Mark Pack’s monthly report – June 2022

Tiverton and Honiton

We saw last year what a huge boost it gave to the party getting two new excellent MPs elected in Parliamentary by-elections. It’s good for their constituents and also good for the party’s prospects across the whole country.

We’ve also seen this month how Conservative MPs have failed to do what our country needs – to remove Boris Johnson from 10 Downing Street.

Which is why the latest contest in Tiverton and Honiton is so important for us all again. The single most effective thing you can do in the next few weeks to help bring about his demise – and to help the party win in your own patch – is to help Richard Foord get elected on 23 June.

Many of the team have gone straight into this campaign from the May local elections, without the chance to pause for the hoped for break after those. Thank you hugely to everyone who is stretching themselves to give Richard the best of chances of winning.

Thank you too to Jamie Needle and the team in Wakefield, fighting a carefully targeted campaign there which I’m sure will help the continued growth of our council group on Wakefield Council.

Treating our staff well

Some good news to report on party staff: the federal party has been awarded the ‘excellence’ status by the Good Work Standard for how we go beyond legal minimum requirements in looking after staff.
With the amount of change since the 2019 election plus all the strains of lockdowns, it’s been a particularly tough few years for our staff. But standards such as this show how we’re taking seriously making the party a good and happy place to work.

Welcome to Cllr Mike Cox and Chris French

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Tiverton & Honiton: Observer and Davey call for tactical voting

The Observer leader column today calls for voters in Tiverton and Honiton to vote tactically for the Lib Dems and voters to tactically vote for Labour in Wakefield.

In an editorial that does not pull its punches, the Observer describes Conservative MPs who voted to keep Boris Johnson in office as “morally myopic and politically foolish”.

“A double whammy of byelection defeats will frighten Conservative MPs in red wall seats and those traditionally true blue. A scare, the bigger the better, is exactly what the Tories need before this government slithers into even worse degeneracy.”

The newspaper says there is no shame in tactical voting. While “political outcomes are distorted by an antique and unfair first-past-the-post electoral system”, voting tactically is the only way to mobilise “the anti-Tory majority”.

The Tories are running scared and Johnson is running so scared he flew to Ukraine rather than face his own Red Wall MPs on Friday. But nothing is certain until the votes have been counted. It is time for that final push.

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Tom Arms’ World Review 19 June 2022

Cheeseburgers and cars without seatbelts

Big Macs are a thing of the past for Muscovites.  McDonald’s—along with 400 other Western businesses—shut down their Russian operations as part of sanctions against Putin’s War in Ukraine. But the Russians have come with an answer. They have simply taken over the McDonald’s outlets and handed them to oligarch Alexander Gorvov. The golden arches have been pulled down and Coca-Cola and Big Macs are off the menu. But there is some consolation for Russian carnivores– a double cheeseburger is 30 roubles cheaper. However, the rebranding of McDonalds does not mean that sanctions are failing. For example, this week the Russians launched what wags are calling the “anti-sanctions car”. Because of Western sanctions Russian car maker Lada cannot import key components. So the new Lada is without seat belts, air bags, an anti-lock braking system or electronic stability control. It is, however, cheaper. Set against these inconveniences is the fact that Russian oil and gas exports have provided the regime with a $26 billion trade surplus in the first five months of this year. However, at the same time, economists believe that sanctions will start to bite by the end of the year and Russian GDP will have shrunk by ten percent.  If this happens then Muscovites may not be able to afford cheap cheeseburgers or cheap cars

Resistance in Ukraine

Winston Churchill called it the Special Operations Executive and ordered it to “set Nazi-occupied Europe alight.” Eighty years later Volodomyr Zelensky has created the Special Operations Forces (SSO) and ordered it to set Russian occupied Ukraine alight. They are doing just that. They are responsible for dozens of attacks on Russian airbases and have blown up railway tracks, bridges and radar stations. Eight Russian soldiers died from poison pies baked and distributed by a little old lady. She was an SSO operative.  So far, the Ukrainian resistance has claimed the lives of more than 150 Russian soldiers, and as the war in the south and east heats up so does the SSO-organised resistance. They are even reputed to be responsible for mysterious fires at military facilities across the border in Russia.

Rivers are one of the world’s most effective natural barriers, especially in war torn Ukraine. The current 60-mile long frontline is dominated by the Siversky Donets River. The Russians have to cross it to control the Eastern Donbas Region. Ukrainian civilians trapped by Russian artillery have to cross it to reach safety and Ukrainian soldiers have to cross it in the opposite direction to fight the Russians. Key to control of the river is mastery of the city of Sieverodonetsk which is currently the scene of street fighting and heavy Russian bombardment. 500 civilians—including 40 children—are trapped in the city’s Azot Chemical factory. The Stalinist era plant is well stocked with food, medical supplies and a labyrinthine network of tunnels; much the same as the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. The roughly 700 defenders of Mariupol have disappeared into Russia, and a similar fate probably awaits the soldiers and civilians in Sieverodonetsk.  Diplomats, however, are trying to organise their rescue out of the city and across the Siversky Donets River and to Sieverodonetsk’s sister city of Lysychansk. With the river between the city and the Russian forces, Lysychansk will be easier to defend.

Boris Johnson in trouble

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Matthew Parris opines on how Lib Dems can win by wooing Tories

Columnist Matthew Parris has been wandering a bit in recent years, step by step getting further away from the Conservative Party which he once represented as an MP. He was MP for West Derbyshire from 1979 to 1986, leaving politics to pursue a career in journalism. Since then, criticism of the Tories and their pursuit of Brexit have two of the major themes of his columns. Parris left the Tories in 2019, saying he was going to vote Lib Dem.

The week before the North Shropshire by-election, he wrote:

“We’ve got a wrong ’un in Downing Street. Does anyone have the balls to dislodge this impostor, or must cowering Tory outsource their courage to the voters of North Shropshire next week?”

We know what happened in North Shropshire. Today in The Times, Parris turns his attention to the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.

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Observations of an ex pat: I am an immigrant

I am an immigrant. I emigrated from the United States to the United Kingdom on the 12th December 1971.

I had studied for a year in Britain 18 months before and fell in love with the country and one of its citizens and moved back despite the dreary weather and traffic jams.

I did not flee a Middle Eastern, African, Central Asian or East European War. I did not turf up at Heathrow claiming political persecution or risk crossing the English Channel in an inflatable raft. Neither was I escaping a life of poverty in an African mud hut. In fact, if I had stayed in America I would probably be enjoying a comfortable country club existence.

Nevertheless, I feel an affinity with Africans, Asians, Hispanics, or any person from any race or country who left their homeland to seek a new life. It is not easy to leave the safety net of cultural familiarity, family and friends.

If you are born to a country your acceptance is automatic. As an immigrant you have to constantly prove your worth and justify your decision to uproot your entire life and start afresh.

I feel I have succeeded. I started an international news agency which launched the careers of well over a hundred journalists. My children are all a credit to me as are the 200 boys and girls—many of them now young men and women– who have passed through my scout group over the past 20 years.

I am not boasting. In fact, I don’t regard myself as particularly unusual. Immigrants in every country have outstanding records of contributing to their adopted homelands.

Think about it, by their very nature immigrants have proven through their actions that they are risk takers. They are adventurers. They are focused, determined and prepared to work hard to achieve their aims. Such people are assets to any community lucky enough to have them.

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Why does the PM need an Ethics Adviser?

Yes, indeed.

This reminds me of a question posed to my husband when he was Mayor. He was visiting a school and the Mayor’s attendant that day was also a children’s entertainer, and some of the children recognised him. One of them asked “Why does the Mayor need a magician?”.

But back to the Prime Minister. The role of an Ethics Adviser (technically the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests) was established in 2006. The adviser is appointed directly by the Prime Minister.

The Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests is appointed by the Prime Minister to advise him on matters relating to the Ministerial Code. The post holder is independent of government and expected to provide impartial advice to the Prime Minister. (Terms of reference)

The previous Ethics Adviser, Sir Alex Allen, was asked in 2020 to investigate bullying claims against Priti Patel and had found that she had broken the Ministerial Code, which would normally result in resignation . Boris Johnson backed Priti Patel and stated that he had full confidence in her, so Alex Allen resigned.

And now a second Ethics Adviser appointed by Boris Johnson has resigned. Lord Geidt informed the Prime Minister of his decision on Tuesday and last night his resignation letter was published (after some anger at its delay).

The trigger for his resignation was when Boris Johnson asked him to approve a plan to extend tariffs on steel imports, which would have broken World Trade Organization rules.

Here is the key extract from Lord Geidt’s letter:

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One week to go in Tiverton and Honiton!!!

I rarely use exclamation marks when writing, but it is getting exciting! Next Thursday voters in Tiverton and Honiton will be heading to the polls. And the polls say we are only a couple of per cent behind the Tories. Although, the bookies have us as favourites, there is no room for complacency. It is time to get to Tiverton and Honiton if you can.

The HQs will be open from 9am until 8pm:

  • Tiverton at 8-9 Mountbatten Road, Tiverton EX16 6SW
  • Honiton at 118 High St, Honiton, EX14 1JP

If you need or can offer a lift for volunteers on polling week, please complete this form.

Campaigning next week won’t be helped by the national rail strike. Although notionally for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, services are expected to be disrupted for the entire week and overcrowded when they operate. Cue traffic jams at the usual bank holiday pinch spots to am from the south west. However, we Lib Dems are not put off by such matters. We are at the point of winning and we must win. We must pull off the hattrick of three by-election wins in a row.

 

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Paddington Bear for ethics adviser after Geidt goes?

Wendy Chamberlain was being ironic last night when she said the only person who would now take on the job of ethic adviser to Boris Johnson’s government would be Paddington.

Last night, Lord Geidt’s resignation was a bit of a mystery. It was known that he was unhappy in his role because of the antics of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is his boss. Geidt had an uncomfortable session on Tuesday when he told the public administration and constitutional affairs committee it was reasonable to suggest the prime minister may have breached the ministerial code when he was fined during the Partygate scandal.

Today, we have the full correspondence between Lord Geidt and Boris Johnson. In his resignation letter, Geidt said he was being asked to judge on Johnson’s intention to risk a “purposeful and deliberate breach of the ministerial code” and he was not prepared to do that.

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Food strategy for England is a recipe to make you sick

Reading the government’s much vaunted food strategy released on Monday, I was remined of the school dinners of my youth. Bland. At times lumpy. And flavourless and unsatisfying. The only way you could eat the main course was with an unhealthy dose of salt, though the deserts were usually sprinkled with sugar. There are no restrictions on salt or sugar then (late fifties and early sixties) and there are to be none now.

Boris Johnson’s true instincts were made clear 16 years ago when, as shadow education spokesman, he praised parents who defied healthy eating moves: “If I were in charge, I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they liked.” He is now in charge and he has all but dismissed another chef, Henry Dimbleby, whose government commissioned report on a National Food Strategy recommended expanding provision of free school meals, a 30 per cent reduction in the amount of meat we eat and taxes on sugar and salt. But although Johnson seemed to be more interested in obesity after he caught Covid-19, the food strategy published on Monday shows he doesn’t have the stomach for dealing with it.

Faced with criticism at the weekend after the report was leaked last Friday, Boris Johnson said the solution to was not to “start whacking new taxes” but “to eat less”. The era of nudge policies seems long gone.

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What is the future of our Town Centres?

I remember that when I first arrived in Welwyn Garden City, I was truly amazed with its beauty. The Town Centre looked quite special; everything felt right, “organised” and unique. A few years later, I discovered the idea of the Garden City Movement, which for more than 100 years now, formed and shaped the town and its social, economic and architectural development.

First of all, what is the Garden City Movement? The Garden City Movement is a town-planning idea that sought to marry the best of town and country in new urban development. It proved highly influential in suburban design and …

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