Category Archives: Op-eds

Ten former MEPs write….Why now is not the right time to campaign to rejoin the EU

This weekend at our party conference we will debate our Europe motion, clarifying the party’s policy on our relations with and towards the EU.

The main focus of debate between members is likely to be around  ‘r’. Not the COVID ‘r’, which we have all become used to, but the Brexit ‘r’ word – rejoin. 

We all remember the joy we felt last May when our representation in Europe went from one solitary MEP, Catherine Bearder, to a surprisingly fulsome group of 16 from right across the country – several of whom had not expected to be elected. 

It was a symbol of how strongly people felt about Brexit, and, thanks to a proportional electoral system, their commitment to EU membership was reflected in our election result. 

I can honestly say no one in the party, or outside it, regrets our departure from Europe more strongly than the 16 of us. 

But the world has changed since 31st January beyond what any of us could have imagined.

Hard though it is to accept, for those of us who fought tooth and nail to stop Brexit, most people’s attention is now far more  are now far more focused distracted by on COVID and the implications it is having for their families and jobs, the economy, education and our health and social care services. 

As a party, it would be wise for us  to focus on the fact that only 2% of UK voters now think Brexit is the most important issue facing us. We are back to the sort of numbers seen before the EU referendum was even a thing. Remember that? When no one ever talked about our relationship with Europe – except the Daily Mail!

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Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country

Today, we have published a new report with the Social Liberal Forum “Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country“. We have done so because we passionately believe the Lib Dems must learn from last year’s catastrophic election defeat, not only for the good of the party and Liberalism, but because if we don’t the Conservative will rule for another decade.

We present evidence of the scale of what went wrong last December and ideas on what needs to change. Some of this is about data collection, analysis and improved message testing. But our report is also about the party’s strategic positioning, relative to the voter groups we need to win over.

The challenge in front of us is to build a coalition that spans voter tribes labelled in the report as the Green Left, Older Establishment Liberals, Progressive Cosmopolitans, Young Insta-Progressives, Centre-Left Pragmatists, Mainstream Tories and into the Younger Disengaged and the Older Disillusioned. In the latter two groups, the majority currently do not vote at all.

Our argument is that this coalition can only be built by a fundamentally progressive and socially liberal turn that consigns Cleggism and “equidistance” to the past. The Lib Dems must fight from the centre left but rather than being a pale imitation of Labour, must offer our own distinct, Liberal alternative to the Conservatives. The research in the report shows that the voter tribes we need to attract will support us on social justice, environmentalism, and internationalism. It shows we will get support if we attack unaccountable and over-concentrated private sector power. It shows that we can tap into new sources of support in disillusioned communities, young and old, if we challenge over-concentrated public power too. It shows we can win if we expand citizen voice and use it to erode the toxic perception that politicians are out of touch, a perception that helps drive support for right wing populists who claim to speak for ‘the people’.

But our report also shows that we should move on to territory that some in our potential voter coalition care about and that we often ignore. Issues like patriotism and social order matter to some voter tribes where we have strong potential to grow our support.

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Pensioners, You never had it so good…

…or so some people in this government want you to think

Everyone needs to ensure they get a good pension at the end of the day. So join Lib Dems Overseas Fringe Event: Frozen Pensions to Lost Pensions at the autumn conference 1pm  on Sunday 27 September to update yourselves on the politics of pensions and campaign to safeguard your future!

For decades the UK state pension lagged seriously behind the growth in average earnings. In 2011 the coalition government introduced a formula to protect pensions against the vagaries of inflation. It introduced a mechanism to guaranteeing that the state pension would rise every year by the highest of the following:

–  The rise in average earnings

–  The rise in the Consumer Price Index

–   Or 2.5%

It was called the Triple Lock and was hailed with great fanfare.

But no-one foresaw the coronavirus and the need to spend billions of pounds to shore up the economy and protect jobs.  Where would money to pay for it come from? One soft target identified is – you guessed it – the Triple Lock. The rationale is that earnings and prices this year could fall, yet pensioners would still get the 2.5%. Then, the following year pensions could surge in line with fast-rising earnings.

But those who think that our pensioners are spoilt are probably unaware of the fact that in 2019 the OECD provided data showing that the UK state pension was the worst in the developed world, paying only 29% of average earnings. By comparison, the Netherlands led the table at 100%. Mexico was closest to the UK at 29.6% while the average across the OECD was 62.9%.

What about occupational pensions?

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Bruno says why he is a Lib Dem

The Lib Dems might have had a bit of a rollercoaster year along with the rest of the world, but we do at least appear to be winning over the support of the young (and we mean young) generation.

Listen to smart, inspirational schoolboy Bruno Tollett, aged 13, explain why he’s a Liberal Democrat and plans to vote Lib Dem when he turns 18 in 2025.

Could we be looking at a Lib Dem star of the future?

 

Lib Dem Voice has obtained parental permission to share this video.

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New Europeans

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So we are talking about the European Union again.

Some might say we never stopped but the decision we make on this issue at this weekend’s Federal Conference is one of the most important the party has made in many years. In doing so I hope those present bear in my mind that, although the overwhelming majority of Lib Dem activists and members are pro EU, that is not the case amongst the electorate at large.

Conference fever, something I am all too familiar with, resulted in the adoption of the Revoke policy last year; a decision that no one at the top of the party seemed to be in favour of after a disastrous General Election defeat.

What needs to be understood is there is a strand of euroscepticism in Britain that stretches back decades, which is why we didn’t join the Common Market when it was formed and also why Harold Wilson held a referendum in 1975. At that point it was probably fair to say that there was majority support for economic links with our European neighbours; I would argue that it is quite likely that there still is. The transformation of the market into a political union was never put to the people and after Maastricht in 1992 British euroscepticism took on a new lease of life which culminated in the 2016 decision in favour of Brexit.

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On blood letting, Covid economics and Goldilocks

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know that just ain’t so.” (Mark Twain)

Blood letting is the withdrawal of blood from a patient to address illness, used for about 2,000 years. It harmed patients! William Harvey disproved its theory in 1628. Practice and professional endorsement continued into the 20th century via expert endorsement, “official” endorsement, public trust, inertia, fashion and lack of analytical thinking.

How powerful expert ignorance, endorsed by the powerful, politically and socially, and accepted by an insufficiently educated and ill-informed public can be! And this includes current economics and its “Deficit Myth”. (See Stephanie Kelton’s book of this title which informs this article.)

Our alleged deficit is a myth. We are a currency issuer, not a currency user. Our government does not function like a household which cannot issue its own currency. It cannot run out of money and is not solely dependent upon taxes and borrowing for its spending. “Book balancing” is a theoretical restraint. Real restraints are inflation, employment levels, natural and social resources and infrastructure efficiencies.

Efficient economy balance matters more than budget balance. Increasing “deficits” will not make future generations poorer nor will reduction increase their wealth. Such will depend upon our management of the actual economy.

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FCC report pre-Conference

On Saturday, 19 September the Federal Conference Committee met to review the amendments, late motions, emergency motions, topical issues, questions to reports and appeals for next weekend’s Autumn Conference.

As you will be aware, this is the first time that are holding our Conference completely online. The Federal Conference Committee would like to thank the Conference and wider HQ team for all of the hard work in bringing our Conference online. Throughout a really difficult period we have all worked together to offer a fully online Conference. You can see the introduction video from Geoff Payne, FCC Chair, and Hannah, from HQ HERE

The video will show you all the features of the online conference, including the auditorium, visiting, fringe sessions, training, the exhibition and the chat functionality.

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New Journal of Liberal History just published – including Jo Swinson’s reflections on her time as leader

The autumn issue of the Journal of Liberal History has just been published in time for conference. Its contents include:

Jo Swinson as leader. Interview with Jo Swinson on her political beliefs, her career as a coalition minister, and her five months as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Read the interview to find out how she thinks the party could have handled the tuition fees issue better, why calling for an early election in 2019 was the right thing to do, why the revoke policy was adopted, and what she thinks is the most important characteristic of a Lib Dem leader (hint: it’s not what any of the other former leaders we’ve interviewed have said).

Liberal Democrat leadership performance. Comparative table covering Ashdown, Kennedy, Campbell, Clegg, Farron, Cable, Swinson and the Davey / Brinton / Pack interim leadership. Data includes the leader’s personal ratings (highest and lowest), the party’s ratings (highest and lowest), best and worst election outcomes, and numbers of MPs, MEPs, councillors and party members at the beginning and the end of their term of office. 

The two Henry Redhead Yorkes, radical to liberal. Liberal Democrats are used to thinking of Dadabhai Naoroji as the first Liberal black or ethnic minority MP (in the 1892–95 parliament), but as Amanda Goodrich demonstrates in her fascinating article, he was not – he was preceded by Henry Galgacus Redhead Yorke, who was Whig / Liberal MP for York from 1841 to 1848. The article focuses on him and his father, Henry Redhead Yorke, who was previously seen as an English revolutionary radical from Derby but was in fact a West Indian creole of African/ British descent whose mother, Sarah Bullock, was a slave from Barbuda. Neither of these men were identified at the time as of BME origin. 

Another Madam Mayor. The career of the second woman ever to be mayor of an industrial town – Meriel Cowell-Stepney, Lady Howard, who served as mayor of Llanelli in 1916. This acts as a supplement to its author Jaime Reynolds’ article in an earlier issue on the first Liberal women mayors; his work in bringing to light this hitherto largely unknown aspect of Liberal history is the kind of topic the Journal of Liberal History was established to encourage. 

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Exam Reform

Please consider voting for our emergency motion: “The exam fiasco of August 2020 makes a case for exam reform”, and let’s begin the debate about putting trust back in our teachers, and avoiding education by an algorithm.

Schools closing to all but the most vulnerable students opened the eyes of many in school communities. Those with children learning at home developed a new appreciation for the patience and resilience of their child’s teachers, as well as their ability to explain a fronted adverb. Students missed the one-on-one support of their teachers and the routine of the school day, and teachers grappled …

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Brexit: Heading for Disaster or Brinkmanship? Part Two

The Irish Border was always going to be the stumbling block to BREXIT. Part of the problem is that the House of Commons is not representative as the 7 Sinn Fein MPs have not taken up their seats as it would mean them taking the oath of allegiance to the Queen. The people of Northern Ireland voted to “remain” whereas the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs favour BREXIT. A border down the Irish Sea would not be acceptable to the DUP any more than a border in Ireland would be acceptable to Sinn Fein.

All parties agree that a “no-deal BREXIT” would be disastrous for the economy in that 44% of our exports go to Europe (with only 18% of Europe’s exports coming to Britain) and a further 20% of Britain’s exports go via trade agreements with Europe. Most of our food comes from Europe, and Spain in particular, and the World Trade Organisation Tariffs could add up to 10% to prices. No amount of trade deals around the world could compensate for the loss of trade with our nearest neighbours. The recent deal with Japan replicates the deal the UK already had with Japan via the EU.

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Brexit: Heading for Disaster or Brinkmanship? Part One

The Coronavirus possibly poses a greater threat to the human-race than did the second world war and the unleashing of nuclear bombs. The UK should have locked down earlier, worn masks earlier, had test and trace earlier, stopped admissions to care homes earlier, admitted people in care homes with symptoms to a hospital where they could have benefitted from oxygen, ventilators and intensive care. However, we are where we are and quite rightly when announcing further measures to combat Coronavirus (on Tuesday 22nd September) the Prime Minister put saving lives first (and I am delighted that people working in restaurants both in the kitchens and serving are to wear masks). Still, he also said he was keen to strike a balance in protecting the economy and jobs. Given that the Coronavirus is likely to trigger a world recession why then is he persevering with the “UK Internal Market Bill” which risks alienating our closest trading partners, undermining trust in the UK worldwide and scoring an own goal by inflicting untold harm on the economy with a potential no-deal BREXIT in January, whilst undermining the peace process in Ireland?

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A post for Bisexual Visibility Day

As I hurtled uncontrollably towards my 30th birthday at the beginning of January and felt as though I was stuck in a rut, I decided that this milestone year would be the year my life would change – and that would start with me finally being open and proud of who I am.

I realised that I was bisexual when I was a teenager, thinking first that I was straight, and then gay, before finally recognising that I did not fit into either monosexual identity. I told some of my friends at the time, while for others it was an “open secret”. For the most part, though, my sexual identity was, at best, something I did not speak about – and, at worst, something I have since actively repressed.

However, on 26 January this year, I finally came out as bi with the help of the above heavily-Photoshopped (or, rather, as a good Lib Dem, heavily-Photoplussed) photo.

Today I am marking my first Bi Visibility Day since coming out in the only way possible – by spending all day at work and the evening in a local party executive meeting.

Bi Visibility Day is not just about the bi community celebrating our identity. It is about raising awareness and challenging bisexual and biromantic erasure.

Sadly, not everyone who identifies as bi is lucky enough to have had a positive experience since coming out – while many do not feel able to come out at all. Indeed, according to Stonewall’s 2018 LGBT in Britain – Health Report, 30 per cent of bi men and eight per cent of bi women said they were unable to be open about their sexual orientation, compared to just two per cent of gay men and one per cent of lesbians.

Similarly, 38 per cent of bi people are not out to any of their work colleagues, compared to seven per cent of gay men and four per cent of lesbians, while in 2016 it was reported that bi men earned 30 per cent less than their gay colleagues. Although published four years ago, this does suggest that bi men are at the rough end of the LGBT+ pay gap which was revealed last year.

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What are the party’s principles and values?

What values make you a Liberal Democrat? What makes you proud to be a Liberal Democrat? What is distinctive about the Liberal Democrat philosophy today?

If you have a view on any or all of those questions, please feel free to participate in the Federal Policy Committee’s consultation session on Liberal Democrat principles and values at autumn conference. It’s taking place in the afternoon fringe session on Saturday, from 1600 to 1650. There are no speakers – it’s an opportunity to hear your answers to any or all of the three questions in the first paragraph.

As background, you might like to look at the short consultation paper available on the party website. To quote the summary, it argues that: 

‘Liberal Democrats stand for liberty, the freedom of every individual to make their own decisions about how best to live their lives. We trust people to pursue their dreams, to make the most of their talents and to live their lives as they wish, free from a controlling, intrusive state and a stifling conformity. A free and open society that glories in diversity is a stronger society.

We stand for equality, for the right of everyone to be treated equally and with equal respect, whatever their personal characteristics; and in the duty of the state to create the conditions in which individuals and their communities can flourish.

We stand for community, for dispersing political and economic power as widely as possible, since government works best when it is closest to its citizens.

Since we believe in the worth of every individual, we are internationalists from principle, seeking cooperation, not confrontation, with Britain’s neighbours.

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I’m not a COVID sceptic, but there must be no more free passes for this incompetent government

I’m not a COVID-sceptic. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I am willing to accept that the government needs powers to fight the virus. But it’s time to face up to the fact that the opposition has given Boris Johnson more than enough room. There should be no more free passes to restrict our day-to-day freedoms while his band of incompetents are in charge. As much as nearly everybody I know accepts collective action and the need to build consensus, we must also strongly oppose more unchecked powers.

The record is pretty clear and it has led to thousands of unnecessary …

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Are you all ready for our first virtual Conference?

I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit sad this weekend.

For the last few days, and for the next few, Facebook will be bombarding me with memories of past years when I’ve headed off to the seaside for a whirlwind of social and political activity. There are pictures of me with my friends in pubs, on beaches and

It’s not just about the debates and the fringe and the late night gossip, it’s about getting to see the Lib Dem “family.” I know that I’ve “seen” more of people on Zoom and the like, but there is nothing like actually being in a room with people.

And it’s now a year since I last caught up with many of my friends and it’s likely to be some time yet before I can see them again. I miss you all.

Having said that, I am excited that our first ever online Conference is taking place next weekend. Getting this up and running in just a few months has been a massive job for staff at LDHQ, Federal Conference Committee and all the various training suppliers. A massive thank you to everyone who has been involved in this. It has taken a huge amount of time and everyone has done a marvellous job.

The party is using the Hopin platform for its events. The Scottish Party tried it out in July. At the time I gave my top tips for making the most of the experience. In summary, they are:

1 Read all the information

In July, the Scottish Lib Dems  had prepared a detailed and very helpful document outlining the process and how the tech worked. This time, there is a lot of information in the agenda and we’ll be emailed further details. Make sure you read it. Even if you are not a first-timer,  you will find this comprehensive guide that the party has produced really useful.

I only discovered that I’d have to download a new browser when I did that. Apparently Hopin and Safari aren’t that in love with each other so they recommend Chrome or Firefox. I hate doing tech stuff like this but it worked quite smoothly – though I had to change my passwords for my email because I couldn’t remember them. So my advice is do that this weekend and get it out of the way.

Take time to play around with the system ahead of time. There’s a demo here. We didn’t have any fringes or an exhibition at Scottish Conference but there is the usual glittering array of fringes and training which you can find out about in the Directory. One thing that hasn’t changed is that there are multiple things I want to go to in each time slot, but the advantage of this all being virtual is that the events will be available in Hopin for a few days afterwards.

2 Familiarise yourself with the process for speaking

You fill in a speakers’ card online. As Duncan Brack points out in the comments, you need to submit it by 4pm the day before the debate you want to speak in:

one thing people need to remember: the deadline for submitting speaker’s cards to speak in a debate is 4.00pm the day before the debate. So for debates taking place on the Friday, that means submitting on Thursday – the day after tomorrow, as I write. This is much earlier than in a normal conference, so don’t get caught out!

You then have to watch your email when the debate starts to see if you get called. There will be a special link in that area which gets you to the backstage area. You can still watch the Conference from there, but you need to close down the tab you are already watching on or you’ll get a dreadful echo as there is a time delay between the two. You will be asked to share your video and audio in the backstage area, which you need to allow it to do. Once you have done that, you still can’t say anything until you are called. When you can see yourself on-sceen with the session chair, you can just launch into your speech.

It is really weird to make a speech from your house. You don’t get the sort of feedback that you would if you were in the hall. You can’t tell if people like your jokes, or whether they are responding well to your arguments and it’s probably not a good idea to look in the chat while you are delivering your speech. However, you will be able to get some idea of the mood of the debate from the chat in the time leading up to your speech.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg – a sad and frightening day

It’s not usually a good idea to check your phone when you wake up at 4:50 am.

When I did early this morning, I saw a stream of notifications screaming variations of “Yikes.”

I can’t remember a death that’s caused as much fear as well as sadness as that of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

At 87, she was still working, pushing herself on as long as she could, knowing that if she weren’t there it gave Donald Trump the ability to replace her with someone who would tip the balance of the Supreme Court and which could lead to a bonfire of the rights one over decades that had until recently considered safe. It can’t be fun to be female or part of a marginalised group in the US now.

I feel scared and I’m not even American.

RBG was a role model for many a young law student and for women across the globe. In her 27 years on the Supreme Court, she broke down barriers for women. Not only that, but she recognised the barriers being put up to prevent minorities voting.

Liberal Democrats have been paying tribute to her on social media:

 

In February 2016, 269 days before the Presidential Election, Justice Antonin Scalia died. Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to take his place, but Senate Republicans refused to vote on his nomination, citing the election as an excuse.

So, of course, they will take the same attitude when a vacancy occurs a mere 46 days before the election? Not a bit of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that they will vote to confirm whoever President Trump nominates. So much for consistency.

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Observations of an expat: Liking people

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People like to do business with people they like. Think about it. How many times have you returned to the same bar, restaurant, shop or café because you like the owner or the convivial waitress. You will even pay over the odds because that big smile and friendly chat with a croissant is worth the extra money. Life is just too short for decisions to be based on the saving of a few pennies.

Another much sought-after characteristic is competence. In fact, charm and competence are generally considered a winning combination. And one without the other is, well, pretty much the exact opposite.

That is why a report published this week by the Pew Research Centre is such bad news for everyone in America. It is also an object lesson for the rest of the world.

The Pew Research Centre is a Washington-based think tank that for the past two decades has conducted annual in-depth international surveys on different countries’ perceptions of the United States. Actually, the Pew people prefer the term “fact tank” which, of course, brings their reports into direct conflict with the Trump Administration who might be best described as an “alternative fact farm.”

Certainly the White House takes little comfort from this week’s Pew survey which reports that perceptions of America and its president plummeted to record lows. The President of the United States is viewed as incompetent and the country as a whole is disliked.

Twenty years ago the British people, for instance, gave the “land of opportunity” an 87 percent approval rating. Germany’s approval levels of America were at 78 percent. France, which has always had a more ambivalent attitude to the US, was a bit lower at 62 percent. At the end  of summer 2020 the approval rating of three of America’s most important allies is roughly half of what it was at the turn of the millennium– 41 percent in UK, 26 percent In Germany and 32 percent in France.

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Hong Kong – a dead end or a fork in the road?

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Chinese Liberal Democrats are pleased that there will be a motion, F31, to be debated at Autumn Conference on “Hong Kong’s Future.”  According to the Conference Agenda, it is scheduled for debate on Monday September 28 but at the unfortunate time of 18.50.  This means that anyone in Hong Kong who would like to participate would have to stay up till 2am, Hong Kong time!

This motion has undergone a number of redrafts, as the situation in Hong Kong is fast changing.  More recent developments such as the postponement of the Legislative Council elections on 8 September for a year till 2021 following the disqualification of 12 pro-democracy candidates from eligibility as candidates were not mentioned in the original motion.  Lib Dems Overseas has therefore proposed an amendment and update which we trust will be accepted for debate by the Federal Conference Committee.

In the meanwhile, I should like to draw everyone’s attention to a survey on Hong Kong which the Chinese Liberal Democrats have prepared to help in our research and policy making.  Do you agree, for example, that the new securities law breaches the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and threatens “one country two systems,” or do you think it was China’s right to introduce this legislation as an annexure to the Basic Law?

And what of the Lib Dem offer to accept all Hong Kong permanent residents to emigrate to the UK, not just those with British Nationals Overseas status?  Is this realistic or practicable from the UK’s point of view, and do the Hong Kong people even want to up-root themselves across continents?

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Isolation diary update: Wondering about what comes next

Don’t kill Granny” – well, thanks, Matt Hancock, I appreciate your concern for me.

When you gave that advice ten days ago, the infection rate stood at around 3000 per day. It is now 4000, and hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19 are beginning to follow, with the usual three week time lag. The last time the UK had that rate of infection was at the beginning of April, well into lockdown. So what is your advice today to the grannies (and grandpas) to avoid being killed? Pardon? I can’t hear you…

We all know that the vast majority of deaths are of people who fall into the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories. The latter group, who were advised to shield through lockdown, have been enjoying six weeks of more relaxed living, but are now justifiably pretty anxious again.

Shielding officially ended at the end of July although we were allowed to go out for exercise during the previous month. But life hasn’t changed very much for me and my husband. We enjoy walks out in the countryside, but avoid the town. We have discovered, not that far from our home, several areas of wood and heath, and, amazingly, three lakes (including the one in the photo) which we didn’t know existed.

One day we booked into a National Trust garden near us and sat outside the cafe for tea and cake, unexpectedly qualifying for Eat Out to Help Out.

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Reflections on the Internal Market Bill and Boris Johnson’s cooking skills

The genesis of the “law breaking” part of the Internal Market Bill can be traced back to Theresa May’s actions as PM. The following words were said to Theresa May at the time by Sir Ivan Rogers, former British Ambassador to the EU. He reported his statement to her to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons:

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

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

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

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We must fight to recapture the political narrative from the real establishment

One of the classic right-wing populist tricks is to convince voters that they are not part of the elite establishment, and that another group is. Conservative MPs, city bankers, editors of right-wing newspapers, offshore billionaires, are not the establishment: it’s ‘the liberal elite’ who are the corrupt and arrogant establishment, against whom Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and their fellows have been defending ‘the people’.

Charles Moore was attacking the establishment in the Spectator the other week. That’s a former editor of the Daily Telegraph (when he was Boris Johnson’s boss), educated at Eton and Cambridge, now appointed to the Lords, but nevertheless claiming to be on the side of ‘the people’ against ‘the elite’. Howard Flight, a director of various city financial companies and a former Conservative MP, launched a bitter attack on the establishment in a speech in the Lords – apparently believing that he is an anti-establishment figure. David Goodhart (son of a wealthy Conservative MP, Etonian) is launching his new book, Head, Hand, Heart: the struggle for dignity and status in the 21st Century at Policy Exchange, the largest and most influential right-wing think tank, generously funded by anonymous British and foreign donors. He argues that the liberal elite’s meritocratic dominance has deprived care workers, bus drivers, factory and supermarket staff of their dignity and status.

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Is there something rotten in the state of candidate approval?

Sadly, the only surprising thing about the revelations about Geeta Sidhu-Robb is that something like this hadn’t happened before.

You see, there’s something rotten with our candidate selection procedures.

In the party at large, there’s a perception that candidates go through a rigorous approvals process. They don’t.

People believe candidates are vetted. They aren’t.

People believe our processes are robust and make sure we get the best candidates. They aren’t.

The simple fact is, all you have to do to become a LibDem candidate is to complete a pretty basic application form, get two other people to say you’re basically fine and then pass a not very rigorous approval day.

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Escaping from the authoritarians

People who have come to this country because they cannot put up with the political trends in their homeland are often worth learning from. I have supporters in my ward from Eastern Europe who came to the UK despairing of the post-communist rise of the authoritarian right in their country of birth. Interestingly they want nothing to do with the Labour Party. It is the socialist element they are wary of. As for the present UK Government, I feel for my friends, whose citizenship ceremony I shared in, but who now say “But this is the sort of unacceptable government …

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Co-operation for a better electoral system- and a better country. Part 2

In Part 1 I noted how the political atmosphere is changing in favour of Proportional Representation (PR) and cross party co-operation – but what about the potential benefits?

The Make Votes Matter website is a great resource, including details of the ways in which PR often leads to a reduction in inequality, better minority representation, greater political engagement and voter turnout and swifter and stronger action against climate change.  In short, -how PR leads to better government.

However, there are some recent and (perhaps) less well known studies which also highlight the value of PR.

In January 2020 the Cambridge University Centre for Future Democracy published its’ ‘Global Satisfaction with Democracy’ Report based on four million respondents from 3,500 country surveys. This covers a period of almost 50 years for Western Europe, and 25 years elsewhere. Whilst dissatisfaction has grown to an all time high globally since the mid 1990’s, the UK and the US (both still use FPTP) have registered extremely dramatic rises. By the end of 2019, dissatisfaction in the UK stood at over 55%, and at 50% in the US. When dissatisfaction is this high, it surely raises concerns that the polarising effects of FPTP make effective government unsustainable – witness armed militias on the streets in US cities.

The authors contrast this situation with another so-called Anglo-Saxon democracy, New Zealand, where dissatisfaction has decreased to just over 25% from an already relatively low level and make the point that this may well be linked to the switch from FPTP to PR in 1993. Other countries (e.g. Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany) using PR have high and increasing levels of contentment with their democracies. The evidence seems to point to a consensual balm that PR imposes on governments to make them more responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens.

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2020 – The year government took planning away from the people 

2020 will be remembered for many things. The pandemic and flooding among them. It will also be remembered as the year they took planning away from the people. 

The government’s proposals in the white paper Planning for the Future and associated documents are bold. They will transfer many local planning powers from councils and communities to Whitehall and the planning inspectorate in Bristol. Ministers want planning by checklist instead of considered, albeit sometimes difficult, planning deliberations that lead to quality developments. 

There are sensible ideas in the government’s proposals but they are countered by its determination to take democracy and localism out of planning. 

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Observations of an expat: Rogue Britain

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Britain is becoming a rogue state. In fact, it may already be one. The Johnson government’s threat to jettison the EU Withdrawal Bill negotiated last year and an alarming philosophy of “creative destruction” threatens to leave the UK dangerously isolated on the world stage.

This is bad for Britain and bad for the world.

The UK is one of the chief pillars of the post-war rule of international law which has underwritten the world’s longest period of relative peace and prosperity. Without these legal structures dictators are emboldened to embark without fear of serious reprisal on genocide, murder of political opponents, theft and even war.

The specific issue at stake is Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill which will be debated in Parliament on Monday.  Under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Bill which Johnson negotiated a year ago, there would be pretty much an open border between Northern Ireland and Eire, with a de facto customs border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The terms were unpopular and a major British concession a year ago. But they were agreed and became a legally-binding building block on which to construct a UK-EU trade deal. Talks for that deal are now deadlocked over fishing rights, legal jurisdiction and competition rules; and Boris fans say that the only way to overcome the impasse is by threatening to break the previous agreement.

The government is fully aware of that such a move is a breach of international law. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted as much. It was confirmed by the protest resignation of Sir Jonathan Jones, the government’s top legal adviser. But they don’t care. Boris Johnson is fixated on British withdrawal from the European Union on his terms. This blinkered policy put him in 10 Downing Street and he is quite happy to sacrifice the rule of law to protect his political legacy and emerging brand of radical conservatism.

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Co-operation for a better electoral system- and a better country. Part 1

Events of the last 12 months (think unlawful prorogation of Parliament, Covid-19 mismanagement, stalled Brexit talks, exams fiasco, threats to abolish the Electoral Commission and breaking International Law) demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that the Johnson-Cummings administration is surely the most inept, incompetent and fundamentally dishonest in living memory. But should we be surprised? I would say no, as this government is only in place as a result of the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system which is itself fundamentally dishonest.

  • How can it be right that one party gains 43.6% of the vote, but wins 56% of the seats in Parliament -and 100% of the power?
  • How can it be right that it takes 830,000 votes to elect just one Green MP? But 1.24 million votes (just 400,000 more than the Greens) give the SNP 48 MPs? Is an SNP vote really worth 32 times a Green vote?
  • How can it be right that just a few thousand votes in a small number of marginal constituencies are often the only ones that really matter?
  • Why have we LibDems only got 11 MPs when we should have 70 in a truly democratic, proportional system?

These democratic discrepancies are completely intolerable. We must act to make this a rallying point around which we work with all other progressive parties. Make Votes Matter is the key grassroots cross-party movement in the effort to get Proportional Representation (PR) for Westminster. They have already drawn together an alliance of organisations, trade unions, individuals, MPs and political parties. Almost all parties that is, except of course the Tories, for whom the system works wonders, and Labour who are a work in progress -see below.

Many commentators have lately been making the point that progressives need to work together on this as well as many other issues. So it has been heartening over the last few weeks to hear both Ed and Layla articulating their wish to work together with Labour for the common good. The key question is of course – ‘Are Labour ready to work with us?’ There are some promising signs.  At the very least, the electoral arithmetic, especially with the rise of the SNP, means that Labour need to think carefully about where their best option lies.

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Is wearing a mask a civil liberties issue?

Some Libertarians in the US and elsewhere certainly seem to think so, and refuse to wear them. But we are not Libertarians, and as Liberals it is easy enough for us to justify asking others to wear masks by drawing on two principles described by John Stuart Mill.

In On Liberty Mill explores his political philosophy and expounds on the Harm Principle:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

In other words, the potential for harm can outweigh the loss of liberty.

In Utilitarianism Mill develops this from an ethical point of view and outlines the Greatest Happiness Principle:

… actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

Whenever we, as a party, debate policy that might impact on our liberties, members tend to use one or other of these principles as justification for their position. For example, discussions some years ago about whether to ban smoking in public inside spaces often invoked the harm principle – smoking can cause physical damage to people nearby who are not smoking, including the people who work there. On the other hand, the powers adopted should be minimal, that is set at the lowest level to be effective, which is why we support outdoor smoker’s areas, where the harm is limited to the smokers themselves.

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Selling UBI: making it a good policy that wins us votes

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This is a follow-on post to the one published yesterday.

The real issue with UBI is not economic; it has been shown to provide no disincentive to work and most people are just paying in cash via taxes and getting that cash straight back. It doesn’t really affect most household finances to any significant degree. Instead the problem with UBI is political. How do we make it popular and keep it simple? That’s what my proposal is about.

The elevator pitch is this: “Voters are clear that they want tax dodgers to pay their fair share. That’s why the Liberal Democrats want to use taxes that are hard for the super rich and corporations to avoid and then, to make absolutely sure everyday voters don’t get taxed unfairly, we’re going to send you each a cheque from the proceeds. Think of it as a VAT rebate.”

Voters really are clear that they want higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations. This reframes the discussion in economically populist terms (something Liberal Democrats tend to hate doing but works) but it doesn’t change the policy at all. It remains good economics and it really does allow us to shift towards using taxes the wealthy and corporations find hard to avoid. The Scandinavian countries, for example, make heavy use of goods and services taxes for this reason.

Now I know Lib Dems are going to want to use Land Value Tax. That’s economically sound obviously, but that’s selling two hard things at once. I’d propose this:

We would give a universal basic income of £40/week to everyone in the first year of the parliament, paid for by raising VAT. That would rise by £40/week each year of the parliament until we hit £200/week in the final year. That’s £10,400 in that final year, presumably 2028 so £10,400 will be worth slightly less than now due to inflation. By the time we get to the final couple of years we can use LVT to get up to the full amount. VAT plus a UBI is progressive and the Scandinavians have shown it doesn’t slow economic growth.

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In the wake of the BLM movement, Police and Crime Commissioners need to be leaders in building the relationship with minority communities

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Here’s how they can do it:

On May 25th, George Floyd was brutally murdered by American Police Officers, sparking protests in the USA that then spread across the world, including to here in the United Kingdom where protesters highlighted racial disparities in stop and search statistics and UK complicity in the slave trade.

In 2012, the first Police and Crime Commissioners were elected across England and Wales with responsibility for producing a crime plan, managing the police budget and most importantly, bringing a directly accountable figurehead to policing here in England and Wales. It is the latter point which makes the 2021 set of Police and Crime Commissioner elections that are being held in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter movement, so important.

When the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK begun, they highlighted above all else, a deep-rooted anger about the very real inequality of treatment that minority communities have faced when it comes to criminal justice issues. It is because of this inequality of treatment, that minority communities rightly need to feel they can trust the police again.

This anger is exacerbated by stop and search statistics that show BAME communities being disproportionately targeted, undermining those communities’ trust in the police. Whilst at the same time, hate crimes are consistently rising. This has created a situation where a mutual trust between the Police and minority communities is vital part of the challenge of tackling the number of hate crimes.

As Police and Crime Commissioner have been since 2012, the publicly accountable faces of policing in England and Wales, the responsibility of building the trust between minority communities and the police falls to them to show leadership on.

As one of the candidates for Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in Essex. I have set out a three-step plan to begin the work of tackling racial injustice in the criminal justice system. These steps are by no means the finished article, but they encompass the crucial first steps of listening, acting on concerns and being proactive on known inequalities.

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