Category Archives: Op-eds

Defining and measuring strategic objectives for the party

I wrote a piece here two weeks ago discussing the need for long term strategic objectives that would be consistent for 10-20 years and would, alongside our values, guide our decision making and enable us to develop a more focussed disciplined organisation. Knowing what our objectives were, and sticking to them over time would also enable us to rebuild a clear positive public identity for the party – in itself something key to long term electoral success and survival. And as others have commented, more important in the leadership election than the choice of specific policies.

The response to the piece might be summarised as “Yes this would be fantastic, but no it’s not really achievable”.  In particular there was scepticism about whether it was possible to move from rather general objectives (5 of which I suggested in my piece) to objectives with enough clarity and measurability to deliver the promise of focus, effectiveness and a long term electoral identity for the party.

This is one step towards showing that this challenge may be answerable. I have taken the five general objectives I set out (relating to climate change, fairness, education, the quality of political discourse, and the UK’s relationship to the world), given them a little more definition where necessary, and proposed how we might measure progress against them (say when we are looking back on the previous 15 years in 2035).  

Let’s start with the objective in relation to climate change – because this is the easiest to define (if not to deliver!)

“Promote /stick to the path to net zero for the UK (by 2045) and the world”

This is as clear as one could reasonably expect. It is not perfect (eg there are important debates about what exactly net zero means for the UK) but it is good enough for long term orientation. It is a long term objective which is not going to go away and needs sustained focus. It is not something we expect the current government to deliver without continual challenge and pressure from us and others. It is measurable.

Can we provide a similar level of clarity for my other proposed candidates for strategic objectives?

Consider fairness.

“Make the UK fairer” is a good general objective – in that it conveys crisply an important priority for our party, which many people will buy into. But it needs small print. Of the many things this might mean I suggest that in 2035 we should be asking ourselves as a party what we have done to;

  1. Reduce the number of people in poverty by 25% – this needs an agreed measure of poverty – of which there are many (a further blog by someone with more specialist knowledge!) and;
  2. Increase the number of those born into low income families who, later in life, are in the top half of the income distribution.

My third proposed objective was “to create one of the best and most inclusive education systems in the world”.

How would we know in our hypothetical 2035 review if we had done this or were moving towards it?

  1. Our schools would be performing well in an international context –eg as measured by the OECD;
  2. The proportion of working aged people who have achieved good further education, apprenticeship or university qualifications would have risen;
  3. We would have at least retained our current high proportion of globally top ranked universities.

Fourthly I proposed we should aim “to keep the political debate in the UK open, honest and fact based”.

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Liberal history online

Like many other party organisations, the Liberal Democrat History Group is moving activities online during the lockdown. So this article brings news of two events you may be interested in, and a summary of the latest issue of the Journal of Liberal History.

General Election 2019: Disappointment for the Liberal Democrats

Our next discussion meeting will take place at 6.30pm on Wednesday 8th July. We’ll be taking a look at the Liberal Democrats’ 2019 election campaign and its outcome in historical perspective. 

The party entered the campaign buoyed by its best opinion poll ratings in a decade, a second place showing in the European Parliament elections, impressive local election results in England and high-profile defections from the other parties. The party had a dynamic, young new leader in Jo Swinson and a simple, clear message: stop Brexit. But the Liberal Democrat campaign gained little traction and the results were hugely disappointing.

Lib Dem Voice readers are welcome to discuss the election with one of the country’s leading psephologists, Professor Sir John Curtice (Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde), and James Gurling (former Chair, Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee). It will be chaired by Wendy Chamberlain MP.

The meeting will be hosted online on Zoom and also broadcast to the History Group’s Facebook page. You must register in advance to participate via Zoom (and be able to ask questions); to register, click here.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. Participation via Zoom is limited to the first 100 registering – and as I write, there aren’t that many spaces left!

Old heroes for a new leader

During every Liberal Democrat leadership election since 1999, we’ve asked the candidates to write a short article about their favourite historical figure or figures – those that they felt had influenced their own political beliefs most, and why they had proved important and relevant. We placed no restrictions on their choices: they could choose anyone they wanted, whether a Liberal or not.

We’re doing that again this year, and the articles will be published in the summer issue of the Journal of Liberal History, due out in late July. 

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Coalition

Friends, Lib Dems, countryfolk, lend me your ears. I come to bury the coalition, not to praise it.

But I’m not here to damn it either. I just want to move on.

Same-sex marriage. The Green Investment Bank. The tripling of our renewable energy usage. All Lib Dem policies that we should be fiercely proud of. But, if we’re going to celebrate them, we need to acknowledge that they came at a human cost – and that we voted for that.

As a party, we are too quick to brush off these people who we hurt as collateral. We shrug and say compromises had to be made. But those “compromises” were human beings – some of them within our own party. I have nothing but respect and admiration for their resilience and their faith in our movement. However, their forgiveness does not absolve us.

I don’t think it has to be a mark of shame on us forever. But too many people just don’t trust us to not jump back in bed with the Tories. It’s why our refusal to back Jeremy Corbyn at the General Election, whilst electorally wise and the right thing to do, was met with such anger.

By expending all that energy defending the coalition, voters hear “we think working with the Tories was a good thing”. That puts us a step back when we’re trying to convince people we’re not going to do it again.

Furthermore, we cannot expect the public to move on when we refuse to do so ourselves.

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Why social democrats are more left wing than the hard left

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Tories sneer when they use the term “left wing”. They point to the terrible failures of authoritarian states like North Korea. But if left wing is about poverty reduction, why do we let them call North Korea left wing?

In contrast to its northern neighbour, South Korea has had extraordinary success in reducing poverty, whereas “leftwing” oil-rich Venezuela has been a catastrophe.

If some states that call themselves “leftwing” aren’t, the same is true of political activists.

In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn proposed a radical manifesto. But the IFS and the Resolution Foundation found that Corbyn’s manifesto failed to reverse many cuts to the poorest, in dramatic contrast to the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Poverty reduction is hard. Many well-meaning projects in international development have failed. They needed the warning of dissenting voices. The same is true in the UK, but when anyone pointed out the failings of Corbyn’s manifesto on social media, the red mists of anger descended on the hard left.

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Three things we don’t need in this leadership campaign: a goody, a baddy and more policy

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In politics it’s always tempting to think we can resolve problems by resorting to the same old solutions. That usually involves lionising a goody, demonising a baddy and a rollicking good debate about policy.

In the debate over our leadership, I’m seeing many people seeking to create a goody and a baddy, and loads of people banging on about policy.

But I don’t think we should be focusing on those in this leadership campaign. Here’s why.

Let’s start with the first problem. The traditional good v bad argument. We need to stop this nonsense. The fact that Ed served in the coalition should absolutely not rule him out from being the leader. In fact, we are fortunate to have somebody with his experience in government on the ballot paper. His achievements on the environment are matched by few in modern politics and he has an inspiring, touching personal story to tell too.

Layla is a talented politician, an effective campaigner and an excellent communicator. She may well enable us to access a demographic that has largely ignored us in the past three elections. It’s right that she’s willing to try to talk to people who just want a bit of ‘hopes and dreams’ in their politics and bought into that element of the Labour message. That’s a good thing and we should welcome it rather than deliberately misinterpreting her words.

This isn’t a battle of good v bad, it’s one liberal taking on another. Let’s not engage in the unattractive factionalism that we dislike so much in other parties. That gets us nowhere and gives succour to our opponents.

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The herd and the unheard!

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There is a current running through this government. It is one of confusion. But, despite my best efforts to not impune motives, I am coming to the view that the current running through this government is one of callousness. Not always intentional, but incredible, too.

Sometimes the callousness is because of the confusion.The one caused by the other. So we have loss of life due to Covid-19 in the highest numbers per head of population in the world, caused by lack of testing, tracing, PPE, etc. But that is only a part of it. Confusion here is in the delivery, but what I am more worried about is callousness in the decision making.

It was very welcome to see a centre-right chancellor acting like a centre-left one. It is very surprising to see a centre right PM think he is a New Deal President. But this is only a part of it.

What is the reality now is that we have a government in denial. It cannot see that it is all well and good having support packages, in part through pressure from other parties, but what’s the use, if they are stopped? It is fine to have schemes to rebuild, but what is the point if we tear down the support for people!

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Liberal Democrats in support of black lives and black livelihoods

An open letter to the candidates for Leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

3rd July 2020

Dear Leadership Candidate,

Though the espoused commitment of the Liberal project to achieve racial equality within the UK may indeed be sincere, a lack of diverse representation at all levels of the party betrays the fact that as liberals we have found it inexplicably difficult to practice what we preach.

In a post imperial, post-Brexit Britain, the rightful place for British Liberalism surely, should be at the vanguard of the fight for racial justice and equality. Yet on issues of race, we find ourselves perennially navel-gazing, apparently stuck in a holding pattern of our own making. The pace of change within the party, frustratingly glacial at best.

Martin Luther King taught that though legislation may be effective in restraining the heartless, it has little effect in changing a man’s heart and ridding him of his implicit biases.

If Grenfell, Windrush and Covid-19 have taught us anything post-Macpherson, it is that the cancer of racism is thriving in the UK; albeit, having evolved a degree of invisibility, metastasizing into aversive forms such as silence, stonewalling and political inertia, the manifestations of which continue to be largely ignored.

When Derek Chauvin placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck, hands in pockets, eyes devoid of empathy, emboldened by the wilful and negligent silence of his fellow officers, the cloak of invisibility slipped. The racial animus was evident to all who observed. And on this occasion, could not be hidden, ignored or explained away.

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Progressive politics needs Starmer to ‘definitely’ be a better Labour leader

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Let’s hope that Ed Miliband’s candid admission is right: that Keir Starmer is ‘definitely’ a better Labour leader than he was.  Miliband’s failed strategic approach, after all, helped put the cause of progressive politics back a decade. And as the Liberal Democrats pick a new leader, it’s essential that those lessons are learned – for both parties.

When ‘Red Ed’ snatched the Labour leadership from his heir apparent brother David in 2010, it was in the aftermath of a crushing election defeat: the lowest share of the vote since 1918 and seat numbers back to 1980s levels.  There was resentment, of course, that the Liberal Democrats did not cobble together a coalition to keep Gordon Brown in Number 10 but any rational assessment would conclude this was never going to happen: the numbers simply did not add up and frankly voters had resoundingly rejected Labour after 13 years in office.

There was talk, in those early days of the coalition, with David Cameron’s Conservatives, of ‘New Politics’. That is a new era of cooperation and consensual discourse.  The sort of politics that would come about in a system where all votes count and which represents the views of all voters. This was, after all, the first government since before the Second World War able to claim it represented more than half of all those who voted.  It was an idea promoted by David Miliband who soon left the Westminster stage.  But for Ed Miliband, it was never on the agenda.

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Looking back: How investing in our communities laid the foundations for tackling Covid-19 in York

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Just over a year ago I was appointed to the role of Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Communities in the new Lib Dem/Green partnership running City of York Council following the May elections of 2019.

I’m hugely proud of the way our team in York rose to the challenge presented by Covid-19. Lib Dems in local government (particularly those fortunate to be leading Councils), love nothing more than tweaking policy, putting values into practice, and pouring through budget papers with highlighters. We are no different in York. Little did we know 12 months ago that this effort was to be critical in stopping residents reach poverty and keeping them safe, with food in the cupboards and prescriptions delivered.

Our priorities for my corner of the Council centred on devolving budgets down to neighbourhoods and investing in community support. As we entered the Covid-19 crisis, these priorities came to be the bedrock of our community response.

In 2019, we announced a £4.5 million ward funding programme, to be spent by local councillors in ways that support their respective communities. Getting cash from the decision makers in the Council’s offices, to residents sat around the community centre table, was a point of principle we fought hard on in the local elections. For a community like mine, this meant our local area would benefit from £251k over the life of the administration. That’s already being spent on funding activities for young people, tackling adult isolation and improving infrastructure; new benches, bus shelters and road resurfacing.

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Observations of an expat – Israeli memories revived

The ongoing debate over anti-Semitism within the British Labour Party plus Israel’s planned annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has revived old memories of a visit to Israel.

The year was 1976. I was invited as a guest of the Israeli government.

The reason for my invitation was that I was a young (27) American recently appointed diplomatic correspondent. The Israeli government regarded – with some justification – the bulk of the British foreign affairs writers as a pro-Arab write-off. But an American-born diplomatic correspondent at the heart of the British journalism establishment had the potential to be a real coup.

They were, in theory, right. Americans imbibe pro-Israel sentiments at their mother’s breast. This is probably the result of the Jewish lobby, Holocaust guilt, Biblical teachings, Israel’s democratic government in a sea of absolute monarchies and dictatorships and, finally, Israel’s geostrategic position in the oil-rich Middle East.

When I arrived in London, I, like most of my countrymen, was pro-Israeli. When I stepped off the plane at Tel Aviv I was still pro-Israeli. And for the next few days the Israelis worked hard to confirm my opinion. They set up interviews with Teddy Kollek, the charismatic mayor of Jerusalem, foreign minister Yigal Allon, scandalous Mandy Rice-Davies who had set up a couple of night clubs in Tel Aviv, and even organised a dinner date with the talented, beautiful and young prima ballerina of Israel’s state ballet company.

To make certain that I travelled safely from A to B the Israeli foreign office provided an air-conditioned limousine and a young Israeli diplomat to keep me out of trouble, answer questions and entertain me. He was charming – until about halfway through the trip.

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Let’s embrace our distinctive and radical form of progressive politics

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The Liberal Democrat leadership election is seeing healthy debates between activists and supporters about the future direction of the party. There appears to be an emerging consensus from both Layla Moran and Ed Davey that the party needs to recommit itself to a clear centre-left identity. We Liberal Democrats are the inheritors of two great progressive traditions, liberalism and social democracy.

Our party has one of the oldest political traditions of any party anywhere in the world. It can be traced back to the Parliamentarians and the Whigs of the 17th century. In the 19th century, our radical liberalism ended slavery and advanced primary school education. Whilst our social liberalism in the 20th century led us to lay the foundations of the welfare state and to support the sharing of power and profits between bosses and workers within the workplace.

The origins of social democracy in Britain are to be found with the Fabian writers of the 1880s. In the 20th century, the work of the leading Labour social democrat Anthony Crosland inspired many social democrats in the party from Roy Jenkins to Vince Cable. When the SDP was founded, it liberated social democracy from the divisive class politics of the hard left of the Labour Party.

Progressive politics in our party is a unique radical blend of liberalism and social democracy. Amongst the greatest achievements of our progressive tradition were abolishing slavery, extending the right to vote, establishing workers’ rights, creating the welfare state, legalising abortion and introducing same-sex marriage.

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ACAB? Defund The Police? How should we respond to Black Lives Matter?

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The Black Lives Matter movement has been making headlines since the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Protests started in America but have made there way over here and are happening up and down the UK. But, despite promoting equality, Black Lives Matter hasn’t been universally praised.

Along with a desire to expose injustice and systemic racism, Black Lives Matter organisations have laid out a policy platform aimed at defunding, and potentially abolishing, the police force and dismantling capitalism. These are bold and controversial ideas which have led to some people arguing against the movement as a whole. Should liberally minded people write off the hashtags of #ACAB and #Defund? Or are there policy ideas we can work with to reach the free fair and open society we’re fighting for?

Keir Starmer told BBC Breakfast that the idea of defunding the police is nonsense and he doesn’t support it. This was met with a wave of criticism from Labour supporters and Black Lives Matter protestors. I agree with their criticism of his response and think Starmer, like many others, has misinterpreted the phrase and not looked past the hyperbole. The Lib Dems and others should learn from this when they’re asked about the idea. Abolitionist policies clearly won’t carry much support right now, the police do amazing jobs in many areas, but the concept behind “defund” isn’t discrediting the police and needs a more nuanced look.

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We need to be uncomfortable… let’s talk about how we treat our BAME members

On the third time I went canvassing, at the age of just 13, I was sent to a complex of flats. These flats were mostly owned by people of Indian descent and I, as someone born in the UK but whose family originally came from Bangladesh, was confused as to why I was being sent there. At a meeting later that day, the senior figure who made me canvass that area, proudly declared how we had gone to an ‘Indian’ complex of flats and that I had performed very well in the role of connecting with this particular community. It was very clear from this speech that this was planned to use my race to win votes. I was embarrassed but, more so, confused at why he thought I was meant to be the one to do this, and why everyone else (who was white), including an approved PPC, all smiled and murmured a chorus of approval.

Not too long after the election, we bumped into another senior local party figure in our town centre with his family. As he walked away I heard him explain to his son I was the ‘new Indian boy’. This made me uncomfortable. My parents and I were born in this country. It was, in fact, my grandparents who came from Bangladesh (not even India). I should’ve put my foot down at the way I was made to feel, how I was tokenised and racially (mis)profiled. But I didn’t want to kick up a fuss as an individual.

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Winning the working class

Back in 2015, I wrote an article entitled ‘We Need More Blue Collar Liberals’ which generated a decent amount of comments and responses from some of the MPs I contacted notably Alistair Carmichael. However, nearly five years on my one-person campaign has seen no real progress. The party nationally appears to have stopped talking about people from lower socio-economic backgrounds when it talks about diversity. There is quite rightly plenty of talk about inclusion particularly in relation to the BAME community, the recent Thornhill report makes much of this but in an election review where Labour’s famed Red Wall collapsed not to us but the Tories the working class don’t get a mention. In many ways, mistakes that were made 100 years ago are being repeated as Liberals appear to fail to understand that success in progressive politics means reaching out to the majority of voters who academics classify these days in letters and numbers.

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Ditchley Lecture – Saturday, June 27th

Democracies can die. We’re witnessing authoritarian governments elsewhere in Europe undermining judicial independence, manipulating media, limiting parliamentary scrutiny of government actions and hobbling opposition activities. It couldn’t happen in Britain, could it? Are you sure?

Commitment to open society, toleration of diverse opinions and opposition, and effective checks and balances on government, are core elements in political liberalism. Constitutional and limited government was also a core element in Edmund Burke’s concept of Conservatism. Constitutional Clubs in English towns institutionalised the association between Conservative values and our unwritten conventions. But the government we have now has thrown much of that side of Conservatism away.

Michael Gove’s long and carefully-prepared Ditchley lecture, on Saturday, June 27th, had a populist and authoritarian tone. ‘This government was elected on the basis that it would be different from its predecessors’ – from Theresa May’s government as well as the rest. As David Frost explained in a similar lecture four months ago, the majority that Boris Johnson won last December (of seats, but not of course of votes) has given them the mandate to reject the Brexit package May was negotiating, and insist on a hard defence of the UK’s sovereignty from European influence. Gove sees this government as representing ‘the people’ – explicitly, the ‘forgotten’ people who provided the majority in 2016 – against the metropolitan elite: the ‘somewheres’ against the ‘anywheres’ (he quotes David Goodhart) who ‘tend to have different social and political values from other citizens.’

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Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel Statement on the proposed Israeli annexation of the West Bank

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) would like to express our deep concern about plans by the current Israeli Government to annex large swathes of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley.

We are strong supporters of the State of Israel and a negotiated two-state solution; however, we believe this action by the Government of Israel is neither in the best interests of the State nor the Israeli or Palestinian peoples. Significant parts of the UK’s Jewish diaspora have voiced both concerns about and opposition to these proposals. The proposed annexation, reportedly scheduled for 1st July also has the potential to impact Israel’s political, diplomatic, and economic challenges, including their hard-won peace deals with Egypt and Jordan in addition to their burgeoning relations with the Sunni Arab states.

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Is Civil War Politics in Ireland really dead and buried?

Can you remember the 8th of February? Before COVID? No? Neither can I. There was an election in Ireland that day, but a government was only formed last Saturday. Yes, it took 140 days and on Saturday, Micheál Martin, leader of our ALDE sister-party, Fianna Fáil, took office as An Taoiseach.

Negotiators from Fianna Fáil (FF), Fine Gael (FG) and the Green Party (GP) worked on a Programme for Government (PfG). At the same time, a pandemic sucked the life out of the economy, and public health officials strived to protect people. Each respective government party took the PfG back to their membership for support and won it, allowing for a viable coalition to emerge.

But this isn’t any coalition. It is meant to be the beginning of the end of Civil War politics.

Let’s set the scene.

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Netanyahu’s annexation plans must not go unchallenged

Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn, reacting to the new Israeli government’s intention to annex 30% of the occupied West Bank, put it well. ‘Thou shalt not steal’, he said.

Unfortunately, Binyamin Netanyahu has little time for this type of directive. Encouraged by the so-called US ‘peace plan’ for the middle east, he wants to introduce legislation to the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, to begin the process of annexation. He had originally planned to declare this today, and while there might be a delay to the announcement, by all accounts his intention has not changed.

This must not go unchallenged. International law is clear. …

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The ethos of the service

My late father was at the opposite end of the Civil Service hierarchy to Sir Mark Sedwell. He never rose above the humble rank of Clerical Officer. However, one of his claims to fame was being (as a “Paper Keeper”) one of a small team of a dozen or so in 1940s Newcastle, who in the early stages of the implementation of the Beveridge Report started the Central Office of what became the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance – always known on Tyneside simply as “the Ministry”. This went through various mutations (DHSS, etc.).

A phrase which my father explained to me at a tender age was “the ethos of the service”. It affected the way he did his job in the office including, for example, how you dealt fairly with members of the public however difficult they might be, or how much effort was required to ensure that traveller family got their payments despite unpredictable movements. It also occasionally found its way home. If there were amendments to regulations that needed inserting (a laborious scissors and paste job), or if there was a fraud case (literally tied up with red tape!) that needed to be dealt with very urgently, he was liable to stuff the papers into his saddlebag before cycling home for tea. 

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Righteous Indignation. Let’s stop shouting

Over the past four years, liberals and progressives across the UK and the USA seem to have been trapped in a cycle of perpetual outrage. The attacks on liberties and cherished values, which have been won over lifetimes, are in a seeming state of never-ending assault. Since Trump and Brexit, hardly a day goes by without something so outrageous that we simply cannot let it go unchallenged. There is always something to shout about. So much to be furious about. So little time to defend the onslaught on our core beliefs. It always seems to get worse, not better.

The past four years have been exhausting. There has been no let-up!

For those not providing essential services, the upside to lockdown has been an abundance of enforced quality time; time to stop, reflect and to explore new perspectives. During this quiet time, it’s become apparent just how much time, money and emotional input we’ve invested doing absolutely everything we could do to stop Brexit and the rise of Johnson and the Jingoistic right. I am one of the countless thousands who spent a fortune getting to marches and rallies, who spent weekends at conferences and on street stalls, who bought t-shirts, flags etc. etc. Opposing Brexit was an almost full-time occupation. It has been emotionally and financially draining.

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Isolation diary: Signing off

This is my last regular diary entry, although I may drop in occasional extra posts when things change for us. I have written every single day since 16th March when we went into voluntary self-isolation to protect my husband.  The rest of the country joined us in lockdown a week later.

Shielding will continue until the end of July at least, so my life is still going to be considerably more restricted than most people as lockdown is eased. From next Monday persons who are shielded like my husband no longer have to socially distance themselves from other members of the household who are not shielding. I have chosen to shield up to now, but in theory I could now drop my shielding precautions and join the rest of you in shops, pubs and restaurants, or even on the beach. However that does add an extra layer of risk so I don’t think I’ll do so for the time being.

If you’ve been following my diary you will know that I have been enjoying my time at home. I have had a rich cultural life during lockdown. I have enjoyed recordings of world class live theatre productions – drama, ballet and opera –  via National Theatre at Home and The Royal Opera. Highlights have included One Man, Two Guvnors (NT), The Magic Flute (ROH), La Fille mal Gardee (ROH), A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bridge Theatre (NT), and Frankenstein (NT).

I have watched several box sets, often following recommendations by friends  – Normal People (i-Player), Devs (i-Player), The Kominsky Method (Netflix), Unorthodox (Netflix), The Capture (i-Player).  And I have discovered some lockdown gems  – the W1A Zoom meeting, David Tennant and Michael Sheen in Staged (i-Player), Alan Ayckbourn’s audio play Anno Domino, plus the current series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads (i-Player). My drama group at the Rose Kingston has continued with a weekly online meeting where we have been swapping recommendations and reading scenes.

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Diana Maddock, remembered by her first researcher

Of all the heartfelt tributes to Diana Maddock this weekend, one on Facebook by George Crozier, whose first job was as her parliamentary researcher immediately after her spectacular by-election win in 1993.

He has very kindly agreed to let me post it on here so that you can all enjoy it too. I will admit to a few tears when I read it.

He recounts how well they got on and has some details about her parliamentary work (eg against puppy farms) that we might otherwise have missed.

George tells how she was reported in the local press and how she worked so hard as a constituency MP.

Kind and wise are two words we’ve heard a lot describing her over the last few days, and this post sums up why.

Hugely saddened by the news yesterday of the death of my first boss, Diana Maddock. Diana was a lovely person – I can’t recall us ever falling out during the three and a half years I worked for her though there were plenty of stressful moments – speeches finished with minutes to spare among the most common. She was a genuinely caring and thoughtful employer – though what she was thinking when she got me a Mickey Mouse tie for Christmas one year is anyone’s guess!

I first knew Diana in Southampton, where I was a student and she was Lib Dem council group leader and a parliamentary candidate in 1992. My house – or rather Rosemary Hasler’s – was the campaign headquarters that year, such as it was, so I lived for months amid stacks of Maddock Focuses and stakeboards. Then the following year the Christchurch by-election was called just a few weeks after I graduated, Diana was selected to fight it, and I spent so much time there that I ended up as the campaign caseworker for the final week and after she won – biggest ever swing against the Conservatives in a by-election at the time – she took a leap of faith (for which I will be forever grateful) and hired me as her researcher.

I say hired – the timing of her election was such that she couldn’t take her seat until Parliament returned in October so none of us (including Diana I think) were paid for nearly three months. Most of that summer was spent with Diana, Andrew Garratt and others in the Ferndown office sorting through rooms (literally!) full of papers of all kinds from the by-election. The scale of that campaign had to be seen to be believed. There were days when the whole constituency was canvassed and separately delivered. The detritus we had to sort through probably added a percentage point to the district council’s recycling rate!

Diana was a brilliant constituency MP – the absolute model of how to go about building non-political support through visits, regular surgeries, diligent casework, taking up local issues in Parliament and keeping constituents informed through local papers and post, in the days when this kind of thing was a novelty. We once saw an internal Conservative note expressing exasperation that she seemed to be everywhere – why were so many local groups asking to meet her? Why were people asking her to open fetes? Why? (The answer to the latter, it emerged, after she was bounced out of the ceremonial opening of the Verwood Carnival one year, was closely related to the availability or otherwise of local celebrity Buster Merryfield (Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses). But hey, that’s life, and she took this crushing blow in her stride.)

I remember once hearing from the Bournemouth Echo’s Westminster correspondent that he loved the story we were giving him but he couldn’t cover it because he’d already given her twice the coverage that week of the county’s seven Tory MPs put together. On another occasion he confided that a Dorset Tory had complained to him about the amount of coverage he gave to Diana. He had had to find a way to diplomatically explain that he was just reflecting the news generation and activity levels of the local MPs as they appeared to him.

Not all the media was perfect of course. One article about the by-election win referred to the victor, a Mrs Diane Haddock. Another, in The Guardian I think, was more to our taste. Challenging a claim somewhere else that the old folk in the constituency had taken to Diana because they identified with, her it asserted that, to the contrary, nice middle-aged Mrs Maddock brought a touch of glamour to the town – in the ‘zimmerframe world of Christchurch’ (the constituency was, I think, the second oldest in the country) Diana Maddock was, it asserted, a veritable Sharon Stone!

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Isolation diary: Remembering London 2012 – cycling around

A few seconds after I took this photo of Bradley Wiggins, from a vantage point in the Rose Theatre, a thousand people surged into the building to watch the rest of the race on a giant screen. Huge cheers erupted as Wiggins turned into Kingston’s Ancient Market, crossed the bridge to Hampton Wick and then on to the finish line outside Hampton Court Palace. It won him a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic time trials.

He endeared himself to local residents for ever when he said this about the roaring from the spectators:

But the point where I was most aware of it was coming around the roundabout in Kingston – the noise was incredible.

I’m never, ever going to experience anything like that again in my sporting career. That’s it. That experience topped everything off right there. It was phenomenal.

The Olympic road races had also passed through Kingston a few days before. There was a massive amount of organisation – and disruption – around all the road cycling events. In fact, a year before, there had been a trial event for the road races, which required rolling road closures from central London and out into the Surrey Hills. Box Hill featured prominently and if you have ever driven up the Zig Zag Road you will know how challenging that is for cyclists. Although we don’t live directly on the route, we were quite limited in where we could go throughout the whole day when there was a road race on.

The annual RideLondon festival was born out of those exciting times. Every year in August some 30,000 riders do a 100 mile ride on roughly the same route as the one used in the Olympics. It is the cycling equivalent of the London Marathon, with a mixture of club and fun riders, the latter often collecting sponsorship for a charity. Alongside this there is a longer run for elite riders which usually takes them up and down Box Hill several times.

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The best argument for not having another independence referendum is by having another independence referendum

Doesn’t make sense? Hear me out.

Layla Moran has confirmed she is opposed to a second referendum in The Scotsman last week and Ed Davey (admittedly along with most other members) has a similar view. I feel this is the wrong tack and is sure to seriously hinder the Lib Dem’s prospects in the Scottish election before we even start next May. We will be fighting for scraps amongst the Unionist vote when we don’t have to.

Look across the water to Quebec, where I think we can draw a lot of parallels. The electorate confirming No twice in a space …

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Mike German writes: Democracy, digital technologies and trust

A new report from the House of Lords has shone a searchlight on the effect of online activity on the health of our democracy. Over the past year Paul Scriven and myself have been members of a Select Committee taking evidence, investigating the level of harm, and developing proposals for tackling this critical issue. As Liberals we see technology can be a tool to help spread power, and improve democracy. But that can only happen with the correct framework around it.

Trust in our democracy is being eroded. Our key conclusions are that democracy should be supported rather than undermined by technology platforms, and that misinformation poses a real and present danger to our democratic processes.

There have clear examples of dangerous misinformation online during this Covid-19 pandemic. The online references to the 5G network and its connection with the virus, led some people to damage the telecommunications infrastructure. Other spurious medical advice has abounded. In the last General Election the Tories changed their website for the day. They claimed it to be an authoritative source of independent information in which -guess what – the Tory policy was the only right course!

The net effect of online misinformation is to threaten our collective democratic health. It is damaging trust in our democracy and takes us on a downward path where no-one listens, and no-one believes what they read and see. The government has promised an Online Harms Bill, but progress is moving at a snail’s pace. Ministers have been unable to even say whether we will get the new law before 2024. It is clear to us that the Tories are running scared of tackling the big online platforms. Our report calls for OFCOM to be given the power to hold these platforms legally responsible for content which goes out to their huge audiences in the UK.

Trust in what you find online has declined. People, particularly those coming up to voting age (16 in Scotland and Wales – catch up England!) need the skills and confidence to navigate online and find sources they can rely on. Too much of our education curriculum is about computing skills and not critical digital literacy.

There are lessons for all political parties as well, but the report singles out the Tories and Labour for their inability to see problems within themselves. Political parties must be held accountable for what we say, if we are to gain and expect the trust of the British people.

Electoral law has simply not caught up with the impact of online activity.

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Isolation diary: Remembering London 2012

A huge gap has opened up in the TV schedules for this summer, because of the cancellation of so many major sporting events. And the biggest of them all will be when the Olympics and Paralympics would have taken place.

I hear they are planning to replay much of the action from 2012, and I am looking forward to watching Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir, Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott, Andy Murray, Nicola Adams and many other heroes relive their moments of glory, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Great Britain won 65 medals in the Olympics, and 120 in the Paralympics. It was also the first time that the Olympics and Paralympics were given equal parity and run by the same organisers.

As a Gamesmaker I was invited to attend the dress rehearsal of Danny Boyle’s extraordinary Olympics Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium. We watched in genuine jaw-dropping astonishment as England’s green and pleasant land, complete with cattle and cricket, was transformed into the dark, satanic mills. The section honouring the NHS, with performers dancing around hospital beds, did seem a bit strange at the time, but will be utterly appropriate this year. After that we celebrated British pop culture from the 1960s to the present day, followed by a rare appearance of Tim Berners Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, who tweeted “This is for everyone”.

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Wendy Chamberlain at Pride: Let’s go high, stand for our values and build bridges.

Mary wrote yesterday about her lifetime as an LGBT ally. 

She mentioned the virtual Prides that were taking place at the moment.

I went to the Scottish Lib Dems virtual Pride event last Sunday, which was run by LGBT+ Lib Dems and Scottish Lib Dem Women. It was a marathon, but well worth every second.

The day started with a rally with speeches by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP and Wendy Chamberlain MP. It ended almost 12 hours later with a Eurovision watch along of the 2014 event, won by Conchita Wurst. I had forgotten so many of the delights of that night. Watch here if you need cheering up. In between there were a couple of panels – on queering our policy and on being a better ally. The penultimate event was a quiz won by Wales’ Callum Littlemore who seems to have a brain full of obscure song lyrics and who got almost full marks in the Gay or Eurovision round.

Alex spoke off the cuff like he always does but was as passionate as you would expect from him about how we as a party should not shy away from speaking up for LGBT people.

Wendy had her remarks written down and I’m delighted that she has shared them with us.

I’m privileged to be asked to address today’s rally
But, as I mentioned in my maiden speech, I may be the first female MP for North East Fife, I’m well aware of my privilege in other areas – my class, my ethnicity, my sexuality, my gender identity.

My life experience to date, also, if we are looking to make generalisations, perhaps, on the surface, doesn’t suggest that I’d be a natural ally. Having been a police officer for 12 years brings its own assumptions I suppose, particularly of late.

But, other than friends at university – no one at school was out – from colleagues in Tesco (Grant and I bonded over Eurovision and mourned Michael Ball’s 2nd place) and friends in the Edinburgh University Footlights (I had a couple of dates with a guy who told me that the last person he had seen was a 36 year old man – I was fine with that, but I did meet his parents a couple of times as his ‘friend’ as he was clearly struggling to be honest with his Dad (I’m pleased to report he’s now happily married to a man and still working in the theatre), the police was the first workplace where I had a number of colleagues who were gay.

The first trans women I knew was through the police – Jan, a traffic warden. She had transitioned later in life, her marriage had broken down and she had been ostricised by her family and children as a result.

I know that Jan experienced direct discrimination from some colleagues at work, but I also saw the service trying its best to support Jan, and provide the facilities that she required.

A friend met her on the bus last year – she still has no contact with her family, and in the main keeps to herself – her bus trip was an exception and not the norm.

Not long after returning to work after maternity leave, I attended 3 days of diversity training, as did all police officers in the UK, as part of the police response to the Lawrence report, where the police’s institutional racism was called out.

I was pleased that the training was not restricted to racism, but covered all of the diversity strands.

I’ll be honest, the last day, was the toughest – the majority audience of white heterosexual men, really struggling with their prejudices in relation to the trans activists delivering that part of the training.

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A view on the leadership election from a former Lib Dem member

I joined the party in 2014, and resigned my membership just over a month ago. I didn’t leave because of any ideological difference with the party’s direction per se but because I have lost faith that the party is capable of winning and putting our values in to practice.

In the second half of 2019, I thought our watershed moment had arrived when the party had managed to surge in the EU elections, and attract a raft of exceptionally talented and likeable MPs from the other two parties. Like we had seen in Canada in 2015, and France in 2017, I thought the UK was about to be engulfed by a wave of liberalism in the 2019 election.

I still maintain that this was achievable for the party, but like many have correctly recognised, there were fatally bad strategic decisions made in our national campaign that unthinkably left us with fewer MPs than we had in 2017.
I believe the key questions for the leadership candidates are rather complex and existential. It seems to me that the party has a greatly embedded culture of strategic incompetence that causes us to squander each and every national electoral opportunity we’re presented with.

In my view, the party needs to accept that whilst electoral reform is what we all crave, we have to play the game of politics under its current rules – and not the rules we would like to play under. With that in mind, we need to decide which party we want to replace in this binary political system.

It seems obvious to me that the Lib Dems would ultimately supersede the Labour Party as Britain’s primary progressive force. Yet, our voter demographics do not seem to indicate this as a remote possibility.

My view is that the 2015 collapse that has ultimately led us to this sorry state of affairs is because our party had spent many years building voting blocs via local reputation that had no coherency in a national setting – so when our vote started to crumble, there was no obvious subsection to target and preserve.

Much of this is due to the party’s inability over multiple leaders to carve out a ‘core vote’. It is widely acknowledged that Labour’s power bases are urban centres and the Tories have their base in rural shire counties – but who do the Lib Dems represent?

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A Critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 3

This is the third of a series of three posts. The first part can be read here and the second part can be read here.

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century (continued)

  • Support the Armed Forces Covenant and ongoing work to support veterans’ mental health.

Comment.  The Armed Forces Covenant is advisory only and unenforceable.  We should commit to embedding it in law.

  • Improve the quality of service housing by bringing the MoD into line with other landlords, giving tenants the same legal rights to repair and maintenance as private tenants.

Comment.  Agreed, most important.

This defence policy manifesto extract seems to have been written in a void outside the context of current defence developments by somebody/ies who has/ve no idea of defence and security matters.

The problems with the UK’s armed services are clear to see. A huge hole in defence spending, ageing, obsolescent, and lack of equipment across all three services, a real problem with recruiting and retention (retention particularly) and an unrealistic over commitment of scarce resources. This toxic combination can result in low morale were it not for the high standard of training and leadership that the armed forces continue to enjoy.

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Isolation diary: Being an ally

A year ago Kingston’s Guildhall flew the Pride flag for the first time. This was an initiative of one of our councillors, Sam Foulder-Hughes. We attended a short ceremony to mark the occasion, and I was struck by the way Sam thanked allies like us – straight people who support LGBT+ equality.

I hadn’t heard the term ally used in that context before, but I have also been hearing it recently in relation to Black Lives Matter. Yes, those of us who have no living experience of belonging to a specific identity can still empathise and campaign with those who do.

Today would have seen the Pride in London parade. The flag is flying this week again in Kingston, though sadly I can’t go in to see it, and there are numerous online events, including some Lib Dem ones, to mark the day. Google London Pride and the search engine throws up a rainbow border.

My active support for the LGBT+ community goes back to the 1970s, long before the time when that shorthand was commonly used. It was only a few years earlier that the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 had made homosexual acts between consenting men legal – acts between women had never been illegal.

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