Category Archives: Op-eds

Tom Arms’ World Review

UK

The freshly minted British Conservative government of Liz Truss is on the ropes. They have only themselves to blame. The “mini-budget” of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has plunged the economy into a downward spiral. The pound is plummeting. Interest rates are rocketing. People are literally on the cusp of losing their homes, and the problems of the world’s fifth largest economy is having a knock-on effect around the world.

The Opposition Labour Party has soared to a 20-point lead in the opinion polls. The Truss-Kwarteng policy of borrowing billions to cut taxes in the middle of a recession has been totally rejected by the markets. One reason for the traders’ emphatic thumbs down is Kwarteng’s refusal to support his budget with an assessment by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Such support is usually a pre-requisite for any budget announcement. The market has interpreted its absence as a sign that the chancellor knew that the OBR would refuse its seal of approval.

Well, now the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, has demanded that Kwarteng organise a retrospective OBR report by the end of October at the latest – and, if the OBR report is as scathing as the statements emitting from the corridors of the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund – amend the budget accordingly. In the meantime, the Truss-Kwarteng duo are doing what every politician does these days when caught in a mess of their own making – doubling down and blaming someone else. In this case Ms Truss has hummed and hahed through a series dramatically misjudged local radio interviews. Putin, Ukraine, covid and world energy prices – everything except Brexit – were blamed for the reaction to the budget. But the fact is every other developed country has the same problems (except self-inflicted Brexit) and they have succeeded in propping up their troubled economies. The markets, therefore, have decided that Britain’s problems can be ascribed to political competence.

Baltic

Who blew up the Baltic Sea gas pipe lines on Tuesday? And who is the legal victim? It is almost universally agreed that the explosions were sabotage that involved a state military operation. But which state? Officially neither the Russians nor NATO are pointing a finger, but both are implying that the other is responsible. Sweden said it detected Russian submarines and surface vessels in the sabotage area shortly before the explosions. Russia retorted with a claim that there were even more NATO naval forces in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue has been called by Moscow.

The identity of the attacker is important because the attack occurred in Danish territorial waters which means that it can be construed as an attack on a NATO member. On the other hand, it was an attack on Russian property and so Moscow might be able to claim that it was a NATO attack against them. It is quite possible that we will never know who was responsible because revealing the identity would further escalate the Ukraine War.

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Observations of an Expat – Russia: Chinese Vassal

Russia’s dependence on Chinese markets, sanctions busting finance and political support is turning it into a vassal of Beijing.

The bromance between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin was unbalanced to begin with. The Chinese economy and population are ten times that of Russia.

Russia is a primary commodity producing country which makes it more susceptible to the economic winds of change should its raw products – mainly grain, gold, oil and gas – drop. China, on the other hand has emerged as an advanced, complex economy which is far more dependent on good relations with its Western markets than on relations with Russia.

The only arena in which the Russians have been perceived to have the upper-hand in the Sino-Russian relationship is in the defense arena. But now that is on the wane. Putin’s litany of Ukrainian failures has severely damaged Russia’s reputation for military prowess.

Nuclear weaponry is the only arena in which Moscow retains an overwhelming advantage with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. But rest assured that the Chinese are just as worried as everyone else about Putin’s threats to use nukes, and is applying the maximum political pressure to deter him. They will gain nothing and lose everything by allying themselves with a country that uses nuclear weapons to illegally annex another country’s territory.

The one thing holding the Xi and Vladimir together is their mutual suspicion/hatred of the West coupled with a firm belief that the days of Western liberal democracy are numbered and the rise of firm autocratic governments is inevitable. For that reason, China is unlikely to ditch Russia, but it will extract a hefty price for its support.

The question is: What is the price? For a start, Russian oil and gas. Since the 1980s most of Moscow’s energy exports have headed west to Europe. Russia is already redirecting 76 percent of its oil which formerly went to Western Europe. China has upped its annual Russian oil imports by 135,000 barrels daily. But the Chinese – like the Indians – are being offered discount prices to keep them on board. China will demand that they pay even less, and if Russia continues to lock itself out of Western markets than the law of supply and demand will support their case.

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Productivity isn’t everything: understanding the growth debate

Economic growth is at the heart of the current political debate. And yet growth is a complex aggregate statistic, and few people take the trouble to pick apart what is actually happening to it, as opposed to speculating what in theory might be happening. That has created a vacuum into which think tanks, economic commentators and politicians project their own hobbyhorses without fear of serious challenge. So what really is going on?

The main mistake people make is to assume that the main driver of growth is productivity. This is exemplified by the famous quote from American liberal economist Paul Krugman: ”Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.” Cue a furious debate on a “productivity puzzle” or “gap”, especially here in Britain – supported by  unreliable productivity measurements. Productivity is such a heterogeneous and hard-to measure phenomenon that measurements depend heavily on assumptions – and it is hard to understand their significance anyway. Prior to the crash, for example, improvements to Britain’s measured productivity depended almost entirely on two narrow sectors: financial services, whose profits proved largely illusory, and “business services” a shadowy sector the real value of whose output is hard to be sure of.

But help is at hand. American economist Dietrich Vollrath decided to pull apart growth figures to settle the debate on why American growth had slowed so much in the 21st Century compared to second half of the 20th – this debate isn’t just a British thing. As it happened, he had his own hobby horse which he was convinced was behind the issue – the growing market power of large companies. Vollrath found that two thirds of the decline in growth rates (1.25% per annum per capita at the time he was doing the work – a very similar figure to the UK) was down to demographics – the proportion of working people to the population as a whole, which has been declining as the dynamics of the baby boom work themselves out. Nearly half of the rest was down to what economists call the “Baumol effect” – named after an economist who pointed out that increases in productivity lead to a shift to economic sectors with lower productivity. As we get more efficient at making mobile phones, for example, we don’t buy more mobile phones – we spend the surplus on things like healthcare or designer clothes instead. Incidentally, he found little evidence that his own hobby horse, market power, had much effect, and none that tax changes and deregulation did – except changes that restricted worker mobility, and especially restrictions to house building. He called the two principal phenomena the problems of success and published his findings in a book: “Fully grown: Why a Stagnant economy is a Sign of Success.” This was rated as one of The Economist magazine’s books of the year for 2020, though its writers have failed to take its findings to heart.

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Truss car crash interviews on BBC local radio on cost of living and fracking

Having absented herself from the media for days, the prime minister chose to defend her decisions and Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget on BBC local radio. Truss appeared on breakfast shows on BBC Radio Leeds, Norfolk, Kent, Lancashire, Nottingham, Tees, Bristol and Stoke. Her media advisers clearly thought local radio would be a soft touch with presenters more used to talking about a church fete. So very wrong. The interviews were sometimes excruciating. You could hear pauses at times, as she struggled to find her scripted reply and to remember which radio station was interviewing her.

First up for the prime minister was an interview with on BBC Radio Leeds. As the first of the day, it wasn’t so much of a car crash for Truss as the later interviews.

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What does the election in Italy mean for Europe?

Surprised? Predictable? Avoidable win for a right-wing party in the most recent Italian elections to their Parliament? Did we have time to think about the result of the elections? Have you registered the fact that it really is, in many ways, a historical moment for Italy and quite possibly for Europe. However, as there is so much going on at home, on our British soil, I don’t think that we are paying too much attention to a potential “tsunami of political changes and repercussions” across the sea.

I have a lot of sentiment for Italy. I remember that, as a young member of the Focolare Movement, Christian based organisation founded in Italy, I had a number of opportunities to visit Italy and travel in particular to Castel Gandolfo, a small town just outside of Rome. Magnificent buildings, incredible architecture and heritage; it all left a huge impression on me. I think that I appreciated Italy even more when I had an opportunity to live there, in Tuscany, between November 2004 and June 2005. I still travel to Italy quite a bit; I speak the language and I have a lot of Italian friends here in the UK as well as back in Italy.

So, what happened? It is very likely that Italy has just elected their first ever female Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.

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Outraged about failure in the party’s complaints system?  Try this…..

Ed: I am sure you will understand why we are pre-moderating comments on this post. We will not publish comments that name an individual, nor ones that clearly reference specific cases. 

As a party the Liberal Democrats believe firmly in evidence-based policy-making. We put huge amounts of effort into collecting and triangulating views and information, into scrutinising and testing ideas and suggestions, and into ensuring whatever policy proposals we put forward are robust and properly thought through, with all the consequences understood.

Given all that entirely rational, logical behaviour when it comes to policy. what on earth happens to the critical faculties of Lib Dem members when it comes to other issues within the party?  And specifically, just why is it that so many people simply lap up anything they are told if it is critical of the party’s complaints system?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am certainly not arguing that the complaints system is infallible. Nor am I arguing it should not be criticised.  All I want is for the criticism to be well-founded, and – preferably – constructive, rather than confrontational, which will improve nothing and generally just makes matters worse.

I am on record as not being a fan when the complaints system was originally set up in 2019. I thought the principle of having an independent system was right, but that the rules by which it was going to operate were not going to be effective. And even though It has evolved over the past 3 years, there are clearly still issues.

According to the report that was due to go to Federal Conference, the overwhelming majority of complaints are dismissed. This suggests that either people are submitting trivial or spurious complaints, or that they don’t understand how to submit a complaint or what evidence they need to provide. Much more needs to be done to explain the system to would-be complainants.

But also, panels sometimes come to some very odd decisions, not always corrected on appeal. But the fact that panels may sometimes make the wrong judgement doesn’t mean they always make the wrong judgement.

And, more pertinently, the fact that I or you may personally disagree with a decision doesn’t mean the decision must be wrong.  What makes us so sure we know better than the panel? They have seen all the evidence and heard from both sides. We haven’t.

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How to achieve Electoral Reform in the light of Keir Starmer’s obstructionism

On Monday, members at Labour’s Annual Conference voted in favour of a motion to replace First Past the Post with Proportional Representation in general elections. This comes after Unison, Unite, and the GMB, three of Britain’s largest trade unions, came out in support of PR in the months following the 2021 Labour Conference, where the withholding of such resulted in the failure of a similar motion despite nearly eighty per cent of Constituency delegates supporting it.

However, it seems as though Labour’s National Executive Committee will ignore the motion, preventing such a promise from becoming part of their next manifesto. With Keir Starmer saying that ‘it’s not a priority’, he plans to ignore the wishes of the majority of his party’s members, the red wall voters he needs to win back, and indeed the wider British public, and reap the rewards of disproportionate, unstable FPTP and gross Conservative mismanagement to win an unwarranted parliamentary majority.

As the next general election is likely to be upwards of two years away, the Labour leadership could yield to popular demands and adopt PR as official policy if pressure on them is maintained. Nevertheless, moving forward, we Liberal Democrats must consider our strategy for how to abolish FPTP given official opposition to such by one of the major parties against the wishes of its own supporters and its own self-interests.

Whilst FPTP is favoured by the larger parties for supposedly providing strong single party governments, recent history has proven otherwise. Seven out of the ten years of the 2010s saw the election of hung Parliaments, with the Conservatives losing their majority in 2017 despite increasing their vote share to 42.3% up from 36.8% in 2015. It may be possible that FPTP delivers unto Labour a plurality or a razor-thin majority, rather than a working majority. If we manage to poach enough blue wall seats, we would be the most palatable option for Labour as a potential coalition or confidence-and-supply agreement partner.

We should learn from our party’s previous experience with negotiating with a major party in achieving electoral reform. In 2010, we entered into coalition with the Conservatives on condition that a referendum be held over replacing FPTP with Alternative Voting. With still-majoritarian AV being a dissatisfactory substitute to both FPTP and Single Transferable Voting, our party’s preference then and now, the Conservatives and Labour alike depicted it as scary, confusing, and distracting. The defeat of AV wrongly signified for some, most notably David Cameron, the defeat of PR, stymieing momentum for years afterwards.

If we find ourselves in the same position again but with Labour, we must be more determined. If the Conservatives were the only adamantly anti-PR party in Parliament, and all others were broadly in favour of it, we could insist that electoral reform be achieved via a simple Act of Parliament without a referendum. A broadly pro-PR supermajority in Parliament would have sufficient a mandate to do so.

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Sorting out the mess

The country already had big issues to deal with before last Friday: price increases that are severely reducing the standard of living for many, a health service which is struggling to cope, climate change which is becoming more visible, and a  war in the Ukraine.

To this the government has added a completely unnecessary financial crisis. Another major unforced error following on from Brexit.

The best thing we can do to help sort out the mess is to get elected and to contribute in some form or other to a sensible and effective government. In this respect at least, the last week has moved us forward.

First, the Tories are making it easier for us to evict them (if more difficult to deal with the chaos once they have gone). They are backing policies that are both wrong and unpopular. Tax cuts for the rich. Incompetent economic management. Refusing to implement a windfall tax. Fracking. (Winchester, Wells, Lewes, Guildford and Esher are all interesting seats with fracking licences within the constituency or its hinterland)

Second, Labour is adopting reasonable political positions and has not yet messed up.  It would be naïve to assume that the Tories will lose (or that we will make significant progress) in the absence of a decent showing from Labour.  So it is therefore to be welcomed that hey had a largely successful conference this week on an electoral platform with many similarities to ours. There are obviously areas where policy is different, but there is a very large core we agree on. Look at the ‘pre manifesto’ prepared for our conference (Policy paper 149)  and Labour’s conference road map to a ‘Fairer, Greener, Future” and ask how much difference a neutral observer would see.  Conversely consider the clear water between what both parties are now saying compared to the Tories.  We know where we all stand.  (Labour members even voted in favour of PR – though it seems unlikely that this will be adopted by Starmer any time soon.)

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Labour backs PR? Don’t hold your breath

Yesterday, Labour’s conference a motion calling for its next manifesto to include a commitment to introduce Proportional representation for parliamentary elections.

On one hand, it’s good to see the Labour conference finally catch up with us. We have long supported giving voters the Parliament they ask for.

Labour have, of course, introduced proportional voting systems before, in the Welsh and Scottish assemblies. Directly elected mayors are also elected by supplementary voting.  However, they have stuck with first past the post for Westminster because why wouldn’t they when it benefitted them.

Yesterday’s vote is significant in that it shows that the voices calling for change are growing. However, Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership have basically made it clear that it has as much chance of appearing in the manifesto as handing out a free unicorn to every 7 year old.

From The Guardian:

Before the vote, a senior Labour source downplayed the prospect of electoral reform even if Starmer wins the next election. “Anyone who thinks this would be a priority for the first term of a Labour government is kidding themselves,” they said.

However, what happens if, after the next General Election, Labour is short of a majority in the House of Commons. Obviously it depends on the exact numbers, but it is something we and the Greens could demand as the price of our support. From the Times Red Box this morning:

But Lara Spirit hears that those behind yesterday’s vote are jubilant. They don’t care, one admitted to her, about PR being in the manifesto, where its likely omission is currently considered fatal.

They wager that, should Labour win without a majority or with a slim and unstable one, Liberal Democrats and/or Greens will demand support for PR. And Labour will be forced to give it. In the eyes of those she spoke to celebrating yesterday, it’s now official Labour policy. In that scenario, how could they not?

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When it feels like we are all at sea…

I am struggling to contain my feelings about the new government and its first budget. Coming as it does after a mandate so limited in their numbers, from an electorate so isolated in their awareness, it is hard to take. Coming as it does, after the loss of the Queen, a great figure of real stability and decency at home, and amidst more threats from an appalling tyrant of mental instability and indecency abroad, I am personally and politically angry and worried. My natural tendency to see the best in people and situations is being tested. I cannot see two sides to this, and accept them easily as viable and explainable. I am being one sided and openly so. This is, in my opinion the worst government and budget I have ever seen and heard, in forty years of personal interest and or involvement in politics.

The school boy in his early teens joining a political party, who became the politics and history graduate able to understand the issues in depth, all throughout the era of Thatcherism, never felt the personal anger as much mingled with political despair, I feel today.

Now we feel all at sea! Thatcher had a mandate. Where is that for Truss?! I said it before, to those who yearned for the early demise of Boris Johnson, he was and is personally a man unfit to be Prime Minister, but he was and is politically a moderate fitted to politics. He sought a popular mandate and by fair means or foul, got it, and sustained it, because he is a populist who understands people he needs to target. The new government seemingly understands only its own ideology and vested interests. If It is to be described accurately as a result of its first budget, this government are in my view, fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

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Proposals for a Federal Upper House

Our party is committed to numerous constitutional reforms intended to better represent the people in Government and Parliament. A comprehensive and interconnected constitutional reform programme is needed now more than ever, given the damage inflicted by the Conservatives upon our Union and constitutional norms, and the prospect of Labour their own plan this month. Therefore, we should consider developing and reconciling our plans to House of Lords reforms and establishing ‘a strong, federal and united United Kingdom.’

A Senate of Regions would be preferable to the current Lords, over-representative of London, the South-East and the East of England and including members owing their positions to political favouritism or quid pro quos rooted in party donations. However, a fully and directly elected upper house may not be popular. The deliberative role of the current Lords will likely be undermined if all its members were forever bearing in mind re-election prospects. And, with sixty per cent of respondents in one survey believing that the Lords already had too many politicians, support may be found lacking for the establishment of an all-politician chamber incurring the same gridlock that plagues the US Congress. That is why we should consider reforming the Lords into a hybrid chamber, reduced in size to 300 members (for reasons that will become apparent later).

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The Conservatives no longer stand for a stable economy

Friday’s Kwasi-Budget was not officially a budget, despite being on of the most important fiscal statements since the Thatcher era. Because it was not a budget, it was not scrutinised by the Office of Budget Responsibility. That is yet another example of the Conservatives trying to circumvent processes designed to ensure that government’s act rationally.

This was a budget that will make top earners even more wealthy, while leaving the country and the poorest more impoverished. It was a budget based on the discredited myth of trickle-down economics. It was a budget that will allow wealthier people to dine out in style while those on the breadline scramble for crumbs.

This is an idealist budget driven by a leader who is beginning to make Margaret Thatcher look left wing.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mahsa Amin’s death

They are burning their headscarves and police cars in Iran. Persian women are fighting back against the mullahs’ morality police. The catalyst for their anger is the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin. The Iranian authorities claim she died of a pre-existing heart condition. Rubbish, say her family, there was nothing wrong with her heart. She died, they claim, because she was beaten in the police van on the way to the station. Ms Amin was arrested because she was wearing her hijab or head scarf improperly. That is common offence which the morality police monitor along with the wearing of tight trousers and leggings, holding hands or kissing in public.

Iran is not the only Muslim country with morality police. Afghanistan has probably the most severe. Iran probably holds the number two slot. Others include Nigeria, Sudan and Malaysia. Then there is Saudi Arabia where the ruling family’s adoption of Islam’s strict Wahhabi sect led to the establishment of the notorious Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Better known among Saudis as simply “The Committee.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, has been circumscribing the morality police to the point of near extinction. The backlash in Iran may force the Mullahs to follow suit which can only undermine their wider claim to political legitimacy.

Another lurch to the right in Europe

Europe is taking another lurch to the right. This month two national parties with links to a fascist past have either come to power or are poised to do so.

Sweden has been known as Europe’s most tolerant country towards cultural diversity. But this month the rabid anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats emerged as the second largest party and is forming a government with the centre-right Moderates.

In a disturbing echo of Donald Trump, party leader Jimmie Akesson declared it was time to “Make Sweden Great Again.”

Georgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy has an equally upsetting motto which links her party to its fascist past—“God, family and fatherland.” Ms Meloni is expected to emerge as Italy’s prime minister after Sunday’s vote. Her party is Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion and has expressed doubts about NATO membership.

Italy and Sweden join Hungary, Britain, Czech Republic, Slovakia Austria and others who have lurched rightwards. There are differences between them but the one common element is the disturbing trend to portray their country as a victim.

Iceland

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Day 1 as lab rats: some views of the Budget

We knew yesterday’s budget was coming. Most of its measures had been trailed. Gone are the days when MPs find out what the Government is doing actually in the Chamber, even though that is what is supposed to happen.

The reality still came as a shock, though. You would expect me as a good old fashioned tax and spend liberal to be horrified by a reckless spending spree that made the rich richer and some of the poor very much poorer. I lived through the 80s when the last iteration of trickle down economics failed miserably. Mary Reid looked at the theory yesterday and found no evidence that it has ever worked.

This budget is exactly the last thing you want to see when we are on the precipice of recession. I believe in a state that uses its power to ensure that everyone’s basic needs to shelter, food, healthcare at the very least are met. We should not be tolerating hunger and poverty in this day and age and the measures announced yesterday will make life much harder for those on low incomes, particularly if they are working part time and are on Universal Credit.

But don’t just take my word for it. The way the markets tumbled and the pound crashed to its lowest level against the dollar for nearly three decades showed that they had no confidence in this either. The Guardian reports Paul Johnson from the Institute of Fiscal Studies as saying that the Chancellor was betting the house:

Today, the chancellor announced the biggest package of tax cuts in 50 years without even a semblance of an effort to make the public finance numbers add up. Instead, the plan seems to be to borrow large sums at increasingly expensive rates, put government debt on an unsustainable rising path and hope that we get better growth.

Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, who first joined the Treasury in 1979 said the budget was “not ideal.”

And Conservative columnist Tim Montgomerie welcomed us to our new lives as lab rats:

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Observations of an ex pat: Blink

Vladimir Putin is daring the West to blink first.

It is the second time since 1945 that the nuclear super powers have been dragged to the brink of the abyss.

In October 1963 it was the Americans who felt threatened. Soviet missiles were moving into their backyard. This time it is the Russians. No US nuclear weapons are being sent to Ukraine, but Russia claims that Washington is using Ukraine as its proxy to—using Putin’s words—“destroy Russia.” But that is where the reverse parallels end. Ukraine is no Cuba. It is more dangerous.

For a start Putin is not Khrushchev. The Soviet system had many faults. It made no pretence of being democratic and its stated aim was the overthrow of Western capitalism. But one of its strengths was that, in 1963 at least, the Politburo was more of a collective leadership than it is today. There was a party leader, but there were others behind him who held significant influence and could replace him in a peaceful transition. In fact, that is exactly what happened.

Putin is an elected dictator. His stranglehold of the media, the judiciary and the electoral commission casts a huge shadow over the Russian ballot box.

Once elected, Putin’s power is far greater than that of his post-Stalinist Soviet successors. He maintains and dispenses that power with a system that combines old-style feudal fealty with kleptocracy masked by religiously-fuelled populist nationalism. And because Putin is elected he has greater domestic political legitimacy than his Soviet predecessors.

This legitimacy, however, has a price—success. If the Russian President fails to deliver he can be removed more easily than the old communist leaders. And because there is no obvious successor or mechanism for finding one, Putin is more likely to resort to drastic measures to stay in power.

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For Bi Visibility Day

Today is Bi Visibility Day, also known as International Celebrate Bisexuality Day.

The date highlights bisexuality and the challenges posed by biphobia and bisexual erasure – the tendency for bi people to be misread or have their lives retold as if they were straight or gay based on their public relationships.

When it began in 1999, then as International Celebrate Bisexuality Day, there was far less TV and media representation of bi life – and what there was so often depended on negative stereotypes. Media representation still has some way to go but has increased greatly in quantity and quality.In our understanding of real life experience too, biphobia was once dismissed as ‘homophobia lite’. It’s an odd idea – as if an employer that sacked staff for being gay back when that was legal would have just moved a bi worker to part-time hours.

As a party the Lib Dems have a good record: it was a Liberal Democrat equalities minister who sent the first ministerial message of support for Bi Visibility Day, and in councils like Stockport we have seen Liberals bring forward motions recognising this date and the need for year-round action on inclusion to address inequalities facing bi people.After the lull in many things due to the pandemic, this year the Bi Visibility Day website has over 100 events listed once more – from small things like flags being hoisted on universities and town halls to whole Bi Pride marches in France and Germany.

There’s even a film screening in Kyiv, where you might feel people had a good excuse to say they were a little busy and distracted right now.

But Bi Visibility Day is not simply about a bit of flag-waving and a party. The shift to a focus on visibility was not just for its own sake, but for the things that should flow from being visible and recognised.

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Does trickle down economics actually work?

I will start by stating loud and clear that my understanding of economics is at a very basic level. However the concept of trickle down economics is refreshingly simple, so even I get the gist. But does it work?

Ed Davey addressed the question in his interview on Sky News yesterday, where he says that the practice of boosting big business with tax cuts will not help the 4 million SMEs:

And neither will it help those many millions of people who are struggling now, at this very moment, with the cost of living crisis. Even if Truss’s proposals did manage to kickstart the economy again it would take months, if not years, to impact on ordinary citizens/consumers.

However the evidence appears to be that, even in the long term, trickle down (or supply side) economics doesn’t achieve its intentions.

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Davey: We have most right wing government in modern history

In an interview with the Guardian yesterday, Ed Davey discussed Liz Truss’s administration ahead of tomorrow’s budget that is not a budget. He said of Truss:

She is saying some of the most extraordinary ideological things. She has appointed probably the most right wing government in modern history. And it seems completely out of touch.

He said Truss’s decision to style Friday’s announcement as a “fiscal event” rather than a budget seemed to be aimed at preventing the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) scrutinising its impact.

The failure to have an OBR assessment shows the economy is being run by ideology, not a plan. They clearly don’t want the evidence, because that would be unhelpful to their argument. And that should trouble everybody.

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Fracking go ahead is not a coherent energy policy

Jacob Rees Mogg announced to the Commons today: ”I am glad to be able to announce that the moratorium on the extraction of shale gas is being lifted.”

This is a bizarre announcement driven by ideology that has no basis in science or economics.

It has long been apparent that Liz Truss lacks environmental credentials and ambitions. She doesn’t even have Margaret Thatcher’s grasp of global warming (who was the only prime minister in my lifetime to have a science degree). This a government that is not scientifically literate. It is parliament that is not scientifically literate with just 17% of MPs having science, engineering, technology and medicine higher education (STEM) qualifications. That compares to 46% of higher education students qualifying in 2019.

Rees Mogg said today that fracking will help with the energy crisis. He seems to think that getting shale gas is no more difficult that turning on a tap. The blunt reality is there not enough gas to make fracking viable in the UK and what there is, is difficult to extract. And that can’t be done overnight and the founder of Cuadrilla Resources, which had wells halted in Lancashire, says no sensible investors would risk embarking on large fracking projects in the UK.

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The question of monarchy

“Well, I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.”

I don’t think any of us would have invented our current constitutional setup from scratch. It is something that has evolved over hundreds of years, emerging from a bloody history that includes the execution of monarchs and civil war, as well as the Glorious Revolution. And like all evolved creatures it bears redundant remnants of its past.

However there are some very beneficial features of the system that we have inherited:

  • It has given us a stable parliamentary democracy, which is rightly envied, and copied, across the world. The formal power of the aristocracy and the wealthy are severely curtailed.
  • There is clear separation between the Head of State and Government, to the extent that the Head of State is effectively banned from taking part in any political activities. This is coupled with clear separation between Government and Judiciary.
  • The smooth transition of power from one Government to another is pretty much guaranteed.
  • The (normal) longevity of the Head of State gives them a perspective on the nation and the world that few others can emulate, and this can inform Prime Ministers (who are, of course, free to ignore it).
  • The ceremonial and historical aspects of the monarchy are hugely popular and act as a focus for community cohesion.

However there are still some problems.

  • The legacy of Empire is still problematic, marked as it was by slavery, abuse and cultural annihilation, and for many the monarchy represents all that was wrong with imperialism.
  • The House of Lords still exists in a form that has echoes of its feudal past. Its scrutiny role is essential, and the inclusion of cross benchers with real expertise is undoubtedly a good thing. The question is how to create an elected chamber which is not just a pale reflection of the Commons.
  • Members of the Royal Family (as opposed to the office of the Monarch, which is funded by income from the Crown Estates) have accumulated vast personal wealth.
  • The wealthy from all sectors of society can still wield substantial soft power over Government.
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Which public services will the Conservatives shrink further?

Liz Truss has just handed Liberal Democrat campaigners a powerful set of questions to put to Tory MPs. She insists that tax cuts are the answer to Britain’s economic problems – amounting to 1-2% of GDP, perhaps more once the full package of proposed cuts emerges. She’s pledged to raise defence spending by 1% of GDP – for which, sadly, there is a case when Russia intervention in Ukraine threatens European security. She’s promising to provide financial support for household and business energy bills, likely to amount to between 2% and 4% of GDP over the coming year, without offsetting the cost through a windfall tax on energy companies of the sort that most of our continental neighbours are levying. Other government programmes will have to be slashed to prevent public deficits spinning out of control.

So what cuts in other public services will Conservative MPs accept in order to prevent government debt spiralling and the pound sinking further on international markets? A squeeze on schools, or policing, or on the already-overstretched NHS? Holding down public service pay, while letting bankers’ bonuses soar? Slashing public investment in hospitals and transport infrastructure, and reducing local authority budgets further, thus saying goodbye to the promises of ‘Levelling Up’ that helped them to win the last general election? Or holding down benefits, leaving the poorest in our society even poorer? Ask every Conservative MP what further cuts they will support – or whether they will oppose this tax-cutting strategy.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II

One of my other hats is leader of the local cub scout group. As such, an important part of my job is explaining the cub scout promise to incoming cubs. The second line was, until this week, “to uphold scout values and honour the Queen.” Now it will be “honour the King.”

But regardless, of the gender of Britain’s monarch, my explanation of the importance of that line will be the same. It is that the monarch is the physical repository of a thousand years of British history, tradition and laws. Many of these laws and traditions have spread all around the world and, by and large, have influenced it for the better. I tell my cubs that they are not pledging an allegiance to a person so much as to the unwritten constitution which the monarch represents. I believe this to be true. I wouldn’t tell my cubs so if I thought otherwise.

BUT Queen Elizabeth II was different. She did more than act as a constitutional repository. She did so in a way that demonstrated a selflessness and devotion to duty which set an example for every person in the United Kingdom and for hundreds of millions in the Commonwealth and beyond. She was working up until two days before her death. Queen Elizabeth II was loved and respected around the globe because she loved. Her reign was a link between Euro-centric imperial world with only 50 members in the United Nations to one with 193. Her first Prime Minister was a hero of the Boer War. Her last was seven years old when the Falklands Task Force set sail.

Viewed from the rose-tinted perspective of 70 years of hindsight, the world seemed a secure and certain place when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen. But it was only seven years after the end of World War Two. Rationing was still in force. Britain was staggering under the burden of a huge war debt and an empire it could ill afford. Today it is recovering from the cost of a pandemic and facing mounting bills brought on by the withdrawal from the EU and a war in Ukraine. Since the time of Victoria the role of the British monarch has been to stand aloof from politics. To play the role of the rock of constancy in a sea of constantly shifting tides. Queen Elizabeth II played her part magnificently and has the established the template for King Charles III.

Ukraine

Volodomyr Zelensky and his generals have fooled me. More importantly, they have fooled Vladimir Putin and his generals. Everyone knew that the Ukrainians were planning a counter-offensive, if only to prove to their Western backers that they were worth the military aid and economic sacrifices. The riverside city of Kherson in Southeast Ukraine was expected to the main target of the counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces controlled or destroyed the main bridges across the Dnieper River. Putin rushed troops to the city and built up his forces in Crimea to the immediate south. But Zelensky’s men decided instead to focus their counter-offensive in the northeastern sector of Ukraine and the city of Kharkiv. In a single day the Ukrainians managed to break through Russian lines and regain several towns and villages in the Kharkiv region and 400 square kilometres of territory.

The Russians have grudgingly admitted the Ukrainian success.  While the Ukrainians were advancing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Kyiv to announce another $2 billion in US aid. So far Washington has contributed $15.2 billion to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence has reported that 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in Putin’s “special military operation.” That is the same as the official Moscow death toll for the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan (although the recognised unofficial figure is nearer 50,000).

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Mark Pack’s monthly report: September 2022

Paying tribute to the Queen

As Ed Davey said in paying tribute,

For many people, including myself, The Queen was an ever-fixed mark in our lives. As the world changed around us and politicians came and went, The Queen was our nation’s constant. The Queen represented duty and courage, as well as warmth and compassion. She was a living reminder of our collective past, of the greatest generation and their sacrifices for our freedom. My thoughts and prayers today go especially to the Royal Family. And they also go to people in every corner of the world whose lives she touched.

You can watch the tributes from other Liberal Democrats here

Cancellation of party conference

Following the death of the Queen, the Federal Board received a recommendation from the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) to cancel our autumn conference. We agreed to this after a special meeting. There was widespread understanding of the many drawbacks of cancellation, and how disappointed and out of pocket many members (including committee members) would be. But it was the least worst of the options available.

FCC chair Cllr Nick Da Costa explained the reasons for the cancellation, including the range of options considered, in an email to those registered for conference and which is also online here.

(If you were registered for conference and did not receive the email, you can contact [email protected] to check the party has an up-to-date email address for you and that you’re not opted out from such messages. It’s also worth checking to see if the emails are ending up in your spam folder.)

FCC is now looking at ways of putting on extra events to help fill some of the gaps left by cancellation, such as online sessions to hold party committees (and people like me!) to account and extra online training. If you were hoping to ask the Board any questions at conference, either at our helpdesk or in the formal Board report session, you can instead email them to me and I’ll do my best to ensure they all get answered.

The Returning Officer has also decided to adjust the timings for this autumn’s internal elections as they overlapped with The Queen’s funeral. Details are on the party website.

Receiving emails from the party

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Change when we hold Autumn Conference

Like every member of the party, I was sorry that the party Conference had to be cancelled because of the Queen’s sad death.

But it was the right decision. Conference Chair Nick da Costa and the whole team, volunteers and staff, deserve our thanks for taking that decision and dealing with the massive practical consequences.

This has sparked ideas about next year. Should Spring Conference 2023 be earlier? Longer? An extra conference? These questions were discussed in an interesting special Lib Dem Podcast.

But this may be the right time to take a big step back and reconsider when we hold Autumn Conference every year.

The choice of date impacts on the success of the Conference, which is an important tool in achieving the party’s aims. 

Conference helps us elect more Liberal Democrats by networking members, building relationships and team spirit, sharing know-how through training, enriching our policy platform, interaction between Lib Dem parliamentarians and grassroots members, providing a media showcase for our Leader and key spokespeople and the forum for members to exercise democratic control of the party.

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Observations of an ex pat: Diagnose First

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss is doomed to failure because she has failed to correctly diagnose the cause of her country’s problems.

Any doctor will tell you that before you can successfully treat a patient you must first know what you are treating. In fact, the treatment is often the easiest part of the medical business.

The same rule applies to most aspects of life, especially politics. Before you can correct social and economic ills with new policies, laws or decrees you must correctly identify the cause of the problem. If you fail to do so the problem will fester and grow in much the same way as an untreated cancer.

Problems in political diagnosis often arise when the politician insists on examining the patient through a narrow ideological lens. Medieval Europe, for example, was a socially stagnant period because all social issues were addressed through the pages of the Bible. The Soviet Union collapsed because the ruling Politburo decreed that all of society had to be organised through the prism of Marxist-Leninism.

Liz Truss is attempting to solve Britain’s mounting problems through a narrow conservative, anti-European window.

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Snooping on our WhatsApp is a step too far

We rely on private and secure messaging services to keep our personal information and correspondence safe. Privacy is essential in many situations. Whether we’re communicating with a loved one, seeking advice on a sensitive situation, or sharing pictures on the family WhatsApp group. For some people such as journalists, whistle-blowers, or the Ukrainians fighting Russia it can be a matter of life or death. The ability for people to communicate privately is a human right and a long-standing cornerstone at the foundation of Liberal Democracy and Western values.

Government ministers and the security services make no secret that they want to spy on your private messages and WhatsApp groups. Our last Home Secretary vocally opposed Meta’s intention to make Facebook messenger DMs encrypted by default.  Default end-to-end encryption is important as it means people can’t spy on your messages. Sadly this is not a new trend. Brian Paddock previously sounded the alarm when another Conservative Home Secretary Amber Rudd was looking to take the same draconian approach.

Being able to message someone privately and securely keeps us safe, yet it is being put at risk by a bill that incorrectly claims to promote safety. It asks companies that provide services such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, to monitor the content of messages. It also empowers OFCOM to compel providers of user-to-user messaging services to run accredited software to scan, detect and report instances of CSEA or terrorism.

The Online Safety Bill doesn’t explain how this might technically work, most likely it would involve something called ‘client-side scanning’. This is where software is installed on every device and scans your private messages before they are sent. The Open Rights Group has stated this amounts to installing a ‘spy in the pocket’ of every mobile phone user. Any messages the software ‘thinks’ contains prohibited material could be either blocked and/or reported automatically to authorities. This sort of software will certainly lead to false accusations as happened recently when Google reported a man to the Police. 

Recently we saw an example of someone’s private messages being used against them when private messages on Facebook were handed over to the Police to assist in prosecuting a Woman in an abortion case. This highlights the risk women in the US could face if more states move to criminalise abortion. What happens if we see a similar erosion of women’s right to choose here in the UK?

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Life resumes…..

It’s been an intense 11 days  since the Queen died.

For many people, a national bereavement takes a similar pattern to any other. The adrenaline gets you through to the funeral and it’s only afterwards that you have to adjust to the loss and its consequences. However we may feel about Queen Elizabeth’s legacy or, indeed, the institution of monarchy itself, it will take some time to get used to the new normal, not least because we have a brand new monarch and a brand new Government.

Anyone under the age of about 75 will not be able to remember having any other monarch than Queen Elizabeth. It’s  astonishing that we have had two Queens, covering 134 of the last 185 years. Both reigned during periods of intense social and economic change. I was thinking about this yesterday  as I woke up and looked up exactly how long they had been on the throne. Victoria had been on the throne for 63 years, 7 months and 2 days – and Elizabeth for 70 years, 7 months and 2 days. In all the wall to wall coverage I’ve absorbed since 8th September, I hadn’t heard that mentioned. Or maybe I’m the only one that finds it worthy of note.

We haven’t in any sort of memory had a new Head of State and Prime Minister in such quick succession. Elizabeth had wartime giant Winston Churchill as her first PM. When George V died, Stanley Baldwin was on his third prime ministerial stint. The last liberal Prime Minister, Asquith, had a couple of years under his belt before Edward VII died and Viscount Melbourne was extremely experienced when the 19 year old Victoria acceded.

The new King Charles has had decades to learn his trade and he has acknowledged that he can’t be as vocal on issues close to his heart as he was as Prince of Wales. A climate change denying Government is bound to be a test.

The cost of living emergency has not gone away. It is biting the most vulnerable every single day.  Inflation may have dipped a tiny bit down to 9.9% in August but households are still finding that the basics in life are a lot more expensive than they were last year before you even think about heating your house.

The last big political announcement was Liz Truss’s plan to deal with meteoric energy price rises. She intends to limit price rise so that the average household will pay no more than £2500. It’s likely you will pay more if you live in an energy inefficient, damp house. That includes many people on low incomes in private lets and social housing.

Ed Davey called Truss’s plan a “phony freeze” saying:

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Floella Benjamin pays tribute to the late Queen

Baroness Floella Benjamin has paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II in the House of Lords.

Floella  talked about the late Queen as someone constant in the lives of young people :

She gave them that sense of pride which is so important for the human soul and spirit, which young people need.

She also  talked about her own meetings with the Queen – something which as she said is something she could never have dreamed of as a child growing up in Trinidad in the 1950s and singing “God Save the Queen ‘ at school.

I first met her in 1995, when I was president of the Elizabeth R Commonwealth broadcasting fund, which was set up with funds she donated from the royalties of the BBC programme for the 40th anniversary of her reign and which hundreds across the Commonwealth have benefited from.

And she goes on to talk about a visit paid to the University of Exeter when she was Chancellor :

As Chancellor, I had the task of hosting her. It was then that I got a glimpse of the true character of this remarkable woman. It was like having a masterclass in people skills. She loved to indulge in finding out about everything and in a short time I had to judge who she wanted to find out more about and when she wanted to move on

The Queen had a well known admiration for, and friendship with, Nelson Mandela and this came out in her conversation in Exeter:

We chatted and shared stories about everything, including faith and forgiveness, which were qualities she told me she admired in Nelson Mandela

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New issue of Liberator out

Liberator 414 can be downloaded here (click on the 414 icon). This is the free September 2022 online-only edition of Liberator and we hope you enjoy reading it.

You can sign up here to be emailed each time a new bi-monthly Liberator comes out.

What’s inside this issue?

Alongside Radical Bulletin, Commentary and Lord Bonkers’ Diary, Liberator 414 includes:

THE LOUSE AND THE FLEA.

The Tories have made the worst of a bad choice of leader, Nick Winch looks at how to beat them

LOOK AT THE ELEPHANT.

There’s one in the political room, it’s called Brexit. Labour ignores it and the Lib Dems are shy of it. Confront it, says David Grace

FOUR INTO ONE WONT GO

Jonathan Calder concludes from Duncan Brack’s Compass Progressive Alliance publication that this concept cannot work if imposed top down

CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?

To go by at the Liberal Democrat conference agenda, no crises face the UK and a few detailed changes are all that is needed. Get real, says William Tranby

BUILDING A LIBERAL WORLD

Liberal International can seem remote; Robert Woodthorpe Browne explains its work on human rights, climate justice and international trade.

TWO UKRAINIANS, ONE CAT

Rose Stimson’s Ukrainian guests are now safely in the UK, no thanks to the Home Office.

DEDICATED FOLLOWERS OF FASHION

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It has been a week like no other

The queue is more than four miles long with waiting times of nine hours as I write. Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime. Certainly, it has been a week like no other like no other in living memory. Perhaps like no other. The sudden and dramatic death of Princess Diana created an unprecedented outpouring of grief and astonishing scenes in the capital as crowds flocked to be in London. To camp in the parks. To put flowers on the trees. But it does not match what is happening in London today.

The arrangements after the death of Queen Elizabeth II were well rehearsed. Like many deaths it was not unexpected but the timing was unknown. Her last duties as Mary Reid said earlier, were to accept the resignation of the outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson and the incoming prime minister, Liz Truss. Perhaps we will never know Her Majesty’s views on the prime ministers she agreed could the lead country, or those leaders from around the world she must have met with gritted teeth behind the famous smile.

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