Category Archives: Op-eds

The Independent View: Groundhog Day in the Lords?

Paul Tyler’s recent letter to the Guardian about reforming the House of Lords raises at least two meta questions about British politics.

He suggests Keir Starmer revives the 2012 Lib Dem legislation but before we do that should ask why did that initiative fail and why should things be different in 2024.

The truth is it, it failed for the same reasons that every previous attempt failed, starting in 1911 but most conspicuously in 1999 when a cohort of counts and their ilk managed to stay on in the second chamber.

Britain is very good at self-sabotage, at not learning from its previous mistakes. This is because its guiding constitutional principle is tradition, which is both infallible and a way of predicting the future.

There are 18 reasons/obstacles (maybe more) why reform failed in the past. If Starmer’s team is serious, it will have to dismantle these obstacles first.

There is not space to explain all the hobbles on Lords reform but I will give you three of them.

As soon as anyone progressive announces that they really are going to finish off the Lords, no ifs and buts, a stock objection will be made: there are more urgent priorities to deal with. The economy, stupid. The next government will inherit a crises in living standards; the NHS and the environment. These will take up all its time and money.

Related to this is a second objection: it is never a good time for constitutional reform which is widely seen as both unnecessary – if it ain’t broke you can’t fix it: unbelievably the Lords in its present form has its apologists – or risky. Throw out umpteen centuries of trial and error and there is a good chance that you’ll make things even worse.

Thirdly, the interests of a party in Opposition are very different to the those of a party in government. Win an election and you go from outsider to insider. The system is yours for a while; you can do what you want.  You lose interest in changing even the tiniest aspect of the system that has put you where you are. Why would you want to share or devolve power that you have just won unfairly and unsquarely?

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Antidisestablishmentarianism

Yesterday’s report from the ONS showed that less than 50% of the population of England and Wales identified as Christian in the 2021 Census. This had led to calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. It also gives me the opportunity to use the longest word in the English language. The fact that the word dates back to the 19th century shows that there is a long history to the call to reduce the formal role of the Church of England in public life – and opposition to it.

Note that disestablishment only relates to the Church of England. It does not refer to the worldwide Anglican communion, which includes the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Ireland. To confuse things further, we all noticed that at his Accession King Charles sign a declaration of protection of the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian and not Anglican.

A personal disclosure – I am an active member of the Church of England. However, as you will see, that does not mean I support its current political role.

I imagine we all know the 500 year history of the origins of the Church of England. Henry VIII enacted the Brexit of his day, and separated the English branch of the church from its Roman “masters”. Of course, the English Church had existed for over a thousand years before that, in its former Catholic form, and had had a huge impact on the culture, from its amazing buildings, its ancient learnings, its art and music, to its moral direction. However, Henry politicised the church in a way that hadn’t happened before.

Whilst the history is fascinating it has led us to a situation which in some ways is not in tune with today’s values.  The established church in England is central to many aspects of our cultural life including major public ceremonies from Remembrance Sunday to Coronations, and there is a question mark over all of these. In August the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper on The relationship between church and state in the United Kingdom. It covers all the attempts at reform over the past century.

However the current arguments for disestablishment tend to focus on two areas – membership of the House of Lords and compulsory worship in schools.

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Brexit non-opportunities

Peers are asked to give speeches at all sorts of occasions.  It’s particularly important for LibDem peers to accept invitations to a range of events while we have so few MPs, to maintain our visibility as a serious political party. So last Friday I spoke at the ‘Christmas Gala’ dinner of a UK bilateral Chamber of Commerce for one of the member states of the EU.

An official responsible for trade policy gave an upbeat presentation of the prospects for UK trade with EU countries.  I followed with a mildly critical interpretation of the situation, mentioning that I was a Liberal Democrat and had been sceptical of the promise of ‘Brexit Opportunities’ from the start, and a promise that the Lords would do everything it could to prevent the forthcoming Retained EU Law Bill from diverging too far from common regulations with the EU Single Market.

I was struck by the response from British business people there.  One rushed up to me after I had sat down to urge me and my colleagues to do everything we could to stop the government from deliberately diverging from EU regulations, as Jacob Rees Mogg and right-wing MPs are pressing it to do.  (I have passed his name on to our fund-raising team.)  Two others told me that their companies had now transferred staff and functions to Amsterdam, in order to operate within the EU Single Market; one added that his company is now paying more tax within the EU than in the UK as a result.  The sense of impatience with the bone-headedness of the Conservatives came across strongly.  Business people, it appears, are beginning to abandon the Conservative Party.

The message for Liberal Democrat activists is clear.  You should be visiting local employers to ask them how their business has been affected by Brexit, and how it would be affected by further barriers to trade with our neighbours created by deliberately incompatible standards and regulations being introduced.  And you should tell them that Liberal Democrats in both Houses will fight hard to limit the damage and bring the UK back to a closer relationship with the EU.  And you should tell the local voters how much the whole fiasco of pursuing the hardest possible Brexit, against the illusory promises made before the Referendum, is now costing local businesses and the national economy.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton presses Sturgeon for action on violence against women

On Sunday 20th November, Scottish newspaper the Sunday Post outlined the most horrific failures of several public services towards Adrienne McCartney, a victim of domestic abuse who died by suicide earlier this year.

The paper reports how the Police dismissed her calls for help and then arrested her, holding her in dreadful conditions, over a social media post.  Then prosecutors  did a deal with her husband to drop the most serious charges before failing to ask for a non harassment order. And then when she tried to get help for her deteriorating mental health,  the NHS could not provide it.

Adrienne’s lawyer told the paper:

“In all my years working in the field of domestic abuse, this case is the worst. Adrienne was let down by every agency she turned to. It is unforgivable.

“She should be here today and the fact that she is not is an indictment of the system and how it addresses domestic abuse. What happened to Adrienne keeps me awake at night but tragically she is not the first and, unless there is dramatic change, she will not be the last.”

He also described his frustration on the night Adrienne was arrested:

“She eventually ­managed to get a phone call to me. When I told officers that I would happily bring Adrienne to the police station myself to answer any questions they had, I was told to ‘f*** off’. That is also currently the subject of an official complaint.

“So a young mother is taken from her home late at night, in front of her children, handcuffed, only to be released after several hours without any charge and this, it has to be stressed, is a ­documented victim of domestic abuse.”

This week’s Sunday Post had details of a letter Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton wrote to the First Minister after reading Adrienne’s story, alongside calls for action from MSPs from all parties. Alex repeated our call for a Commission to look at ways of ending men’s violence against women in all its forms:

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Does your hospital have dedicated baby loss facilities?

Imagine you have just heard the news that every parent to be dreads – that you are losing your much wanted baby.

Then, you have to give birth, or support your partner giving birth on the labour ward in your hospital. You can hear the sounds of newborn babies crying and the associated sounds of joy, intensifying the agony you are going through.

When that happened to Louise Caldwell from Lanarkshire, she determined to change things. Her campaign for dedicated baby loss facilities has already been successful in her local hospital and the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Shetland where she also experienced the loss of a baby.  The Scottish Government has said that all hospitals will have these facilities within two years.

Next week she’ll be in Westminster talking to MPs about her experience and her campaign in the hope that such facilities will be introduced across the UK?

From the Daily Record:

Louise, from East Kilbride, told Lanarkshire Live : “I never imagined when I started the campaign that I, a mum from East Kilbride, would be speaking to MPs at Westminster.

“To achieve the new unit at Wishaw – which will hopefully open in the coming months – is a fantastic achievement but there is still so much to do – and I can’t do it on my own.

“I want to see the promise by the Scottish Government to have these facilities in hospitals elsewhere fulfilled and I want to see them replicated across the UK.

Shetland’s Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart was the first to raise this issue in the Scottish Parliament and she recently talked about it during Baby Loss Awareness Week.

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It’s probably not the budgie

Katie (not her real name) put out a desperate plea on her community Facebook page, the battle cry of a mother at the end of her tether. A tenant of one of the region’s largest housing associations, she was living on the ground floor of a newly built block of flats in the ward I had represented for just a few weeks.

It was 2017 and Katie had lived for 3 years in the two-bedroom ground floor flat with her partner and their two tiny children, one 3 years old and the other a fragile 3 month old newborn who’d been born prematurely. The baby had had multiple trips to hospital with bronchitis in his very short life, and multiple courses of antibiotics.

Katie was convinced that the source of her baby’s health issues was the mould and damp in their flat. Shoes and toys left overnight on the floor went mouldy. The soft furnishings had had to be replaced twice in three years because they were rotting into the damp carpet. Katie spent every day cleaning, bleaching, and washing, and overnight the mould would return to anything left on the ground. Walking across the carpet in socks led to wet socks.

Katie’s mental health was suffering badly. She was cleaning all day, wiping down surfaces obsessively, but still failing to keep her children safe and healthy. She could get nobody who ought to have cared to take any interest. She felt judged at every turn. She feared being kicked out by the housing association for complaining too much. She felt as though she had no rights.

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The Party in England Responds to the Change in the Party’s Definition of Transphobia

No regular visitor to LDV can have missed the growing debate over trans gender issues. Here we publish the response from the English Party to recent events in full. Given the sensitivity of the subject we will be pre-moderating all comments in line with our editorial policies.

The English Council Executive, meeting last weekend, have agreed two motions in support of trans rights and in response to the Federal Board changing the Party’s definition of transphobia.

  1. A motion of censure for the appalling communications calling for an apology and a plan to make sure nothing like this happens again.
  2. A motion calling on the Board to seek further advice, in consultation with LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, and suspend changing the definition until that advice is received and/or Federal Conference can vote.

The motions were passed with strong support from everyone who spoke, and no one spoke or voted against. This represents a wide consensus from regional chairs and members across the country.

Just under two weeks ago, the Federal Board met for the last time and, with Federal elections still under way, chose to amend the Party’s definition of Transphobia.

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How we should have responded to the 2022 Autumn Statement

Assuming that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stabilised the money market last month, his main task was to try to ensure we are in recession for the shortest period possible by reducing inflation while not deflating the economy. Therefore his biggest concern should have been the energy price increases forecast for next year. He failed to deal with this issue adequately. He has said that ending the price cap freeze would increase inflation by 5%.

He has increased the energy price cap from next April by £500 to £3000 and this means that every household has to find this £500. This will also allow inflation to increase by 1% – see page 15 of the OBR report (PDF). He has failed to provide enough support for households for next year. He has scrapped the £400 for every household and the £150 for those in Council Tax band A to D properties. List of the help available next year and current support (PDF).

These means that a pensioner if they have the average household energy bill will have to find a further £1050 to pay for their energy. However the new state pension is only increasing by £972.40 for the year. Where are they supposed to find the extra money to pay the £1,050 extra energy bill and the increased prices of everything else?

A couple on Universal Credit will have to find a further £800 to pay for their energy but the 10.1% increase in Universal Credit is only £637 for the year. Where are they supposed to find the extra money to pay the £800 extra energy bill and the increased prices of everything else?

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We have positive answers on asylum issues – let us shout them out

There is no need to go into the detail of the current crisis in the asylum system. Everyone is talking about it but are the Lib Dems pushing and promoting our well thought out policies, agreed by the party, that have positive solutions?

After two policy papers that an enormous of work had gone into, we can talk honestly and with passion on the issues, but do we? Parliamentarians, policy units and members put in a lot of work, but was it worth bothering?

I alternated between shouting at the radio and despair on hearing Yvette Cooper on the Today programme yesterday morning. I have a lot of respect for her usually but she was refusing to commit to the right to work for asylum seekers, had little to say about safe routes for refugees, had no mention of humanitarian visas, and only vague swipes at the decision making process.

But where are our voices on these issues?

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The Supreme Court decision on a Scottish Referendum

The Supreme Court has delivered the judgement everyone expected from it – the obvious statement that, under the law as it stands, the Scottish Parliament does not have powers to call a referendum on Scottish Independence without the consent of the UK parliament. This judgement presents one opportunity and one threat to Liberal Democrats.

The opportunity is the chance to cut through the squabbles between Conservatives and the SNP by pushing our own policy – that of a truly federal UK. A Federal UK has been Liberal policy for over a century and to my mind we do not emphasise it sufficiently often or strongly. Voices in other parties (including respected former ministers such as Malcolm Rifkind and Gordon Brown) have from time to time hinted at support for a watered-down version of federalism, but we are the only party which can authentically present the idea as fully worked out and our own.

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A socio-economic impert’s thoughts on the OBR’s report and the Autumn Statement

An impert is interested in a subject and tries to find out more about it. The writer aims to become a socio-economic impert because the writer considers it impossible, in reality, to separate “economics” from its inevitable social consequences.

The foundational OBR’s report is in error because it omits sectoral balances. Whenever a government has a debt, the non-government sectors of the domestic, the business and the foreign, must have a surplus. The valid question is the size of the difference between governmental expenditure and its tax gathering. Too much is harmful as is too little. Without this surplus of money, homes and businesses do not have enough money with which to function. As currently presented, “Balanced Books” are a disaster for regular people.

By extension, sectoral balances tell you where money has come from and where it goes, but not necessarily in that order!

Another hidden truth is that inflation is a year on year calculation. This year, pre-conflict inflation is used as the basis for this year’s conflict affected calculation and so is high. Next years will be based on conflict affected inflation figures and so is incredibly unlikely to be other than less.

The Autumn Statement does not differentiate between the causes of inflation. There are various internal and external causes. The current inflation has significant external causes, such as the Ukraine conflict and the opportunistic raising of prices by power companies. The latter are invalid profits because they are out of proportion to actual research and development, production and distribution costs. Again using the sectoral balance model, we  can see that these extractive “profits”  come not from worth or need, but from the exploitation of fellow human beings.

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So what is your political word of the year?

The OUP publishers normally select the Oxford word of the year, and last year they chose vax.  However this year they are asking the public to vote. Mind you, rather like the Tory leadership election, they are only offering a very short shortlist to choose from.

This year the words on the ballot are metaverse, #IStandWith and goblin mode. I must confess that I have never used the last phrase, but it usefully fills a gap in my vocabulary.

Collins also produce their word of the year. Last year it was NFT and in 2020, predictably, it was lockdown.

I have been watching The Crown, and eventually we reached the episode in which Charles and Camilla have that cringemaking conversation about Tampax. But I was surprised that the dialogue actually started by him asking her for feedback on a speech he was planning on the threats to the English language, in which he bemoaned the degradation of our beautiful language.  Note, this may or may not have been said in the actual conversation – I have done my research and can’t find it in any transcripts – but we know that it accords with his views. I think we can safely assume that Charles would not be happy with the shortlisted words of the year, or indeed of any year.

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The right to protest peacefully – we must cherish it, even if we disagree with the protesters

Embed from Getty Images

The other day, I overheard someone describing how they would like the “Stop Oil” protesters to be dealt with. It was not pleasant and I am not going to repeat their words here for fear of inciting hatred.

Protests can be very tiresome and disturb our normal routine.

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Economic growth in 2022 – root of all evil or economic nirvana?

Since the summer of 2016 the concept of economic growth has been less prominent in UK political discourse, until now. The objectives of the constitutional changes in 2016, involved a greater emphasis on nationalism, judicial independence, EU-independent trade policy and reductions in immigration – all at the expense of economic growth as a core aim. The Home Office became ‘top dog’ in the UK administrative system, displacing the Treasury. Although not expressly stated, ‘managed decline’ became an implicit civil service aim, not seen since the 1970s.

Perversely, it was anti-EU factions in the Conservative Party that brought economic growth onto …

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“Democracy in action” in Welwyn Garden City

Frustrated. Bored. Tired. Disengaged. I wondered quite a bit whether being involved in the Parliament Week, for the 9th year running, made any sense. As a Cllr, I’ve had countless conversations with residents about the UK Parliament and it is and was clear that many people still feel disillusioned and angry with the way our democratic institution works, but more importantly with the conduct and behaviour of some of our MP’s and “Parliamentarian chaos” of the last 2-3 years.

However, after a bit of “intellectual effort”, I managed to convince myself that every step and every simple initiative can help to restore our faith in democracy. Every moment or conversation, even in passing, can bring back at least some political hope for us and people in our communities up and down the country.

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Lib Dems mark Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today we join organisations around the world in honouring those trans and gender diverse people who have lost their lives in the past year as a result of violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance.

327 trans people murdered. Most of them from marginalised groups. You can read their names and some details about their lives and what happened to them here. Half came from just three countries, Mexico, the US and Brazil. Read each one of their names and think of that life needlessly lost and then go and do your bit to create a world where this doesn’t happen, where trans people can live without fear.

Each one of these names was a human being with hopes, interests, emotions, ambitions. All they wanted to do was get on with their lives in peace.

There are very few names from Europe on this list and none from the UK. However, this does not mean that we are off the hook. Figures released last month showed that hate crimes against transgender people recorded by Police in England and Wales had soared by 56% in the past year.  It’s hardly surprising in a toxic atmosphere where here are daily anti trans stories in the media.  Then we had the revolting spectacle this Summer of Conservative leadership candidates falling over themselves to be the loudest anti trans voice.

Here’s how some Liberal Democrats have marked the day, starting with our official group for LGBT+ people:

(Photo of lit candles with liberal democrat bird in trans colours with text:
Today marks Trans Day of Remembrance, a deeply poignant observance for the LGBTQ+ community as we recognise, reflect and honour the lives of our trans siblings who were sadly taken from us too soon, particularly the 390 recorded lives lost since last year.

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It’s Equal Pay Day – the financial double whammy facing women

Today is the year when, because of the gender pay gap, women are effectively working for free for the rest of the year. Data from the Fawcett Society shows that the gender pay gap this year is 11.3%, slightly down on last year.

This arises for several reasons. Despite legislation outlawing this being passed more than half a century ago. women are often paid less than men for work of equal value.

Women also suffer from unfair barriers to career advancement because they are more likely to have caring responsibilities. This could be addressed by requiring employers to allow more flexible ways of working.

The Fawcett Society has produced a briefing which outlines the extent of the gender pay gap and makes recommendations to reduce it. They call for:

Improve pay gap reporting by:
Introducing mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting for employers
Requiring employers to publish action plans to tackle their pay gaps, so that
real action is taken toreduce pay inequality with accountability and
transparency built in

Lowering the threshold for pay gap reporting to 100 employees, bringing the UK closer to the standards set by other countries

Require employers to offer flexible work arrangements as default and advertise jobs with flexibility built-in

Reform the childcare system to increase affordability whilst ensuring our children get the best start in life

Ban questions about salary history during recruitment and require salary bands to be displayed on job advertisements

Introduce a free standing and legally enforceable ‘Right to Know’ what a male colleague is paid for equal work

Not only are women at the sharp end of the Gender Pay Gap, but they are also being disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis. Scottish feminist organisation Engender has produced a report on this, calling for targeted support for women on low incomes, particularly those with caring responsibilities who are likely to have higher energy needs. They explain why this contributes to greater inequality between men and women:

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Loss and damage deal agreed at COP27 in glass half empty conclusion

It was always expected that a deal on tackling climate change and compensating for its consequences would go to the wire. And indeed, beyond the wire with the Conference of the Parties overrunning from Friday until an agreement early this morning.

There is still unpacking to do on what was achieved. But the glass is perhaps half full as the developed world has agreed to the principle of reparation for loss and damage for extreme climate events, such as the extraordinary flooding we have seen in Pakistan recently and the extreme drought in Africa and elsewhere. But the glass is at least half empty because there is no money on offer. That will have to decided at a future COP or decided on an ad hoc basis (which is what is done with overseas and emergency aid anyway).

The glass is very much half empty because there seems to have been no commitment to an ending of fossil fuel use, even among rich nations such as ours and the USA. The agreement today is for phasing down fossil fuel use, not phasing out. It is not clear that limiting global warming to 1.5° is now achievable. That of course will lead to more reparation payments, providing those countries responsible for most historical emissions pay up.

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Qatar world cup: a dilemma that ought to be easy to resolve

A lot has been talked about the football world cup that starts today in Qatar. Questions like ‘Should it have been awarded to Qatar?’, ‘How many construction workers have really been killed and injured?’ and ‘Where does having a global sporting event in a state where same-sex relationships are illegal leave the fight for sexual equality?’ are all reasonable, but they don’t address the fundamental question of what sports fans should do over the next month: to watch, or not to watch?

I was in Qatar in December 2006 for the Asian Games, a continent-wide mini-Olympics with a range of sports open to Asian athletes only. I covered the tennis, and it was a fascinating experience in which Asian tennis players were allowed to shine the way they normally don’t on the global men’s and women’s tours. But it was also a troubling one.

Near our hotel was a building site, where Tamil construction workers from Sri Lanka were ferried in every day in a decrepit yellow American school bus. Because I much prefer walking when working at events where I’m sedentary for much of the day, I shunned the official transport and walked to the Games’ hub from where I entered the credential zone and made my way to the tennis.

On that daily walk I saw a number of things that make it very easy to believe that the number of construction workers killed in building the eight stadiums that make up the 2022 world cup venues is way above the already horrendous estimates of 6000-7000 that international human rights groups are giving. These are migrant workers, brought in reportedly for very low wages, who never make it home. Others do make it home, but with injuries sustained in building ‘accidents’ that they may never recover from, and with little or no financial support in many eastern Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Last week, German television broadcast a documentary in which the former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger went to Nepal to speak with families who have lost relatives on the Qatari building sites, or are now looking after family members with horrific injuries. One of his motives in making the documentary was to drum up some money to pay for the support such people need to live out the rest of their days (in many cases another five decades) in some comfort and dignity.

Hitzlsperger is one of the few top-level footballers to come out as gay, and the only former Premier League footballer to have done so to date. That adds piquancy to the documentary, and emphasises that the common thread running through the various criticisms of the Qatar world cup (abuse of migrant workers, LGBT+, questionable aspects of the bidding process, and more) are all to do with human dignity, or the lack of it.

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Tom Arms’ World Review: COP 27, Poland, China, Trump, Population, UK Budget

The message from COP 27

I am writing this on Friday afternoon, a few hours before the COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh is due to produce its final communique. The outlook is bad.

Yesterday the EU Climate Policy Chief, Frans Timmerman, said the first draft “left a lot to be desired.” The same day a joint delegation from Canada, the EU and UK went to see COP president Sameh Shankry to tell him to “fill the gaps.”

The two main sticking points are a renewed commitment to the 1.5 degree rise in global temperature which was agreed at Glasgow, and the establishment of a “Loss and Damage Fund”.

The former looks achievable but without any serious teeth. The latter is more problematic.

The fund would be financed by the wealthy countries to compensate developing countries for climate change damage caused by historic emissions and to help pay for a switch to renewable sources. The US, in particular is concerned that the current proposed structure would expose America to limitless liability. One bit of good news is that the world’s top two polluters—China and America—are talking to each other again. US climate tsar John Kerry met with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zenhua, and at the G20 summit in Bali Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreed to liase more on the issue of global warming.

Accidental war is a real danger

A missile killed two people this week in the Polish village of Przewdow and the world held its breath. Had a NATO country been attacked by Russia? Was this the start of World War Three?

The Polish military was put on high alert. President Biden was roused from his bed in Bali and a hurried meeting was held of first NATO heads of government at the G20 and then the G20 leaders themselves (minus Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov).

Then everyone exhaled.

The missile was “most likely” a Ukrainian S-300 surface-to-air missile that had gone astray. The Ukrainians denied responsibility (they, of course, have a vested interest in blaming Russia). The Russian Ministry of Defence said that none of its missiles had gone further than 20 miles from the Polish-Ukrainian border. Whomever was responsible, it was clear that the attack was unintentional. But accidents have caused wars in the past. In 1925 Greece and Bulgaria went to war after a Greek soldier inadvertently chased a runaway dog across the border into Bulgaria. Accidental war is a real danger.

Who holds the power in China?

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Gavin Esler and Dominic Grieve at Unlock Democracy AGM

Unlock Democracy is an organisation which has many of the same aims on reforming our political system as we do. In fact there are some familiar faces in high positions in the organisation. Tom Brake, former Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, is their Chief Executive and our former Director of Campaigns Shaun Roberts, is their Head of Campaigns and Digital.

Today they held their AGM which was opened with a session on the dire state of our democracy and the future of Britain with former Conservative MP Dominic Grieve and former BBC journalist Gavin Esler. IF you take nothing else away from this article, remember this from Dominic Grieve:

Lib Dems were an important moderating factor during the coalition. Civil servants were saying that this was the first time in years there had been evidence based decision making.

In his opening remarks, Dominic Grieve concentrated on how we had got to the mess we are in, saying that the fundamental irrationality of current state of politics is depressing.

In his day, he said, the Conservatives used to anchor on principles of rationality but have abandoned that over the past 6 years, leading to Liz Truss fantasy economics.

He looked back over the past three decades and argued that when things have gone wrong it’s when politicians have done things which in hindsight look irrational

Thatcher started to undermine our role in EU and opened door to brexiteers to persuade us to vote to leave – a massively irrational decision.

He said that the SNP’s commitment to independence is similarly irrational and will not deliver what they aim for.

Politicians, society, media engage in displacement activity rather than tackle the real issues. Neither Government nor opposition can properly articulate the underlying problems that need to be fixed, crucially around the mess of Brexit.

He now favours PR, but says that electoral reform needs a culture change. People accept that politics is about compromise and adjustment rather than delivering set out programmes

He concluded that the current situation is making us poorer, threatening our future and our ability to influence the world in a positive way

Gavin Esler broadly agreed with this analysis. He compared UK failure to face up to Brexit by using distraction to Trumpism.

He looked at how clearly incapable people thrived in our system How do you get to be Gavin Williamson, forced to resign by 3 Prime ministers in 4 years.

He quoted our Layla Moran, saying that Williamson was the 80th minister to resign or be sacked in 2022 and if this was a school it would be in special measures.

He argued for systemic change to stop the situation where in his home county of Kent it takes 33,000 votes to get a Conservative MP, and 250,000 to get a Labour one.

They were asked how to bring about change.

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Has Elon Musk broken Twitter?

When I want to know what politicians are saying, including Lib Dem MPs and peers, I turn to Twitter. When I want to get a message out to a broader community than my town (for which I use Facebook), I use Twitter.

But Twitter is in trouble. Serious trouble. That trouble goes by the name of Elon Musk.

True, Twitter was languishing. Failing to effectively monetise its product. Too many staff. Not enough innovation.

But Elon Musk’s shock and awe approach to managing a company he wasn’t that interested in running is weakening the Twitter brand and weakening its credibility. Mass sackings. Mass resignations. Mass closure of accounts. Defections to Mastodon. Record Twitter use but much of that criticising Musk and bemoaning what Twitter is becoming.

Will I join the mass movement and leave Twitter? Not yet. But I don’t rule it out.

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Observations of an ex pat: Putin has rewritten the nuclear playbook

Putin has rewritten the nuclear playbook and the world is a more dangerous place for it.

The reason? Because if one nuclear power changes their rules then the others have to reconsider theirs, and Putin has changed the rule book to make the use of nukes more likely.

Nuclear weapons in the past have been classified as a defensive weapon. Their purpose was to deter an enemy attack rather than to launch one.

Some countries—mainly China and India—have adopted a “No First Use” policy which means they will only use their nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack from another power. Beijing has a proposed a No First Use agreement with the US and been rejected.

The US, UK and France (the three nuclear NATO countries) have gone for the “Flexible Response” doctrine which means they will fire their missiles if faced with losing in the face of an overwhelming conventional weapons attack. This is more or less the policy of Pakistan, Israel (which refuses to admit to ownership of a nuclear arsenal) and even North Korea.

Barack Obama considered switching to a No First Use policy but was talked out of it by European allies who feared that it left them vulnerable to a conventional weapons attack from the large Russian army.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1982 pledged No First Use. The sincerity of the promise was questioned at the time and it was dropped in 1993 by the Russian successor state. Boris Yeltsin felt at the time that the deterioration of conventional weapons dictated greater reliance on the nuclear arsenal.

Then in 2020 came the Russian Presidential Executive Order on Nuclear Deterrence which made it clear that Russia reserved the right to use nuclear weapons to protect what it decided was its territory. This obviously includes the bits of Ukraine which it has annexed since 2014.

Putin has turned his nuclear arsenal from a purely defensive weapon into an offensive weapon by threatening to use them as part of a conventional weapons war for territorial gain.

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The Lib Dems’ Role in the repeal of Section 28 – 19 years on

This week marks 19 years since the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act in England and Wales, a landmark date for LGBTQ+ equality ensured by the Liberal Democrats.

Introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1988, Section 28 (or Clause 2a in Scotland) was a controversial and dangerous legislative amendment to the Local Government Act, which sought to ‘prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.’

The introduction of Section 28 was of little surprise to many campaigners following Thatcher’s address at the 1987 Conservative party Conference where she stated:

Too often, our children don’t get the education they need—the education they deserve. Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. And children who need encouragement—and children do so much need encouragement—so many children—they are being taught that our society offers them no future. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life—yes cheated.

Once enacted, Section 28 prevented any form of positive depiction of LGBTQ+ life in schools. Teachers were banned from teaching or discussing LGBTQ+-related items, LGBTQ+ literature, or books containing a depiction of positive LGBTQ+ relationships, and additional resources were removed by schools. This was in addition to the disbandment of LGBTQ+ groups and clubs both within schools and those facilitated by local authority services in the community.

Upon its introduction, the Liberal Democrats were the first party to openly oppose the legislation. As a party, we were clear that teachers must be allowed to support pupils who come out to them, and schools must be allowed to provide information that presents LGBTQ+ attraction and relationships as valid and normal.

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Our editorial policy

Every so often, the LDV team looks at how we do things. We think about how we want to run the site in a way that we can all be comfortable with.

We’ve had a look at our editorial policy and we have agreed to make some changes which reflect our current practice.

We have never aligned ourselves with any supposed wing or faction of the party, which is a good thing as they change all the time. We’ve published a wide range of articles and viewpoints, many of which we personally disagree with, because we want to facilitate debate within the party and with others outside it. That will continue to be the case..

Much is said about free speech. It’s something that we very much value. It also includes our freedom as editors to run the site in a way that fits with our ethos.

Nobody has the right to have anything they want published on LDV or anywhere else. We will judge articles on their merit and decide whether they will be a good fit for us.

There are some issues, though, which go way beyond the normal rough and tumble of political debate.

We’ve always felt a sense of responsibility that our site should stand up for vulnerable people.  We don’t want to contribute to the often toxic atmosphere that is present in much of the media where groups of people, whether they be, for example, social security claimants, immigrants, disabled people, LGBT people, or followers of one religion or another are demonised.

The way those marginalised groups are treated is not consequence free. Whipping up a storm against vulnerable people on the basis of who they are makes it more difficult for them to live their lives freely without fear and damages their life chances. We want no part in that.

So that means that sometimes we either have to pick a side or be part of the problem.  We will do so when we think it necessary to make our site a kinder, progressive place.

Our revised policy reads (with changes in bold):

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The Autumn Statement big lie – no more taxes

Well, who would have expected it? Hunt blamed the country’s current financial problems on Putin. Nothing to do with more than a decade of Tory mismanagement of the economy. Nothing to do with the disastrous Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss budget which he has now all but reversed. Our low growth rate and our troubles are caused by anything other than the Tories. Of course, we have are weathering bitter storms but the Tories left us unprepared for those storms. Now we must all pay the price.

The big lie of this budget is that there have been no tax rises. Tax rates haven’t gone up but people will pay more tax.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast makes grim reading. The UK’s inflation rate to be 9.1% this year and 7.4% next year, contributing to the squeeze on living standards. The UK is in recession and growth will slow.

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An “existential crisis” for English Councils

It has been many years since Councils have felt they had enough funding to provide the services that their residents need. For most of this century they have been cutting many non-essential and non-statutory services, such as youth clubs, and they have been outsourcing some essential services to cheaper and, in some cases, inexperienced and inadequate providers. And the cuts have happened year on year, so what seems unthinkable one year becomes a reality the next.

The core Council services are around housing and social care, for adults and children, plus a number of environmental services such as recycling and waste collection. Social care supports the most vulnerable, from essential care for the elderly and those with disabilities, to support for families in crisis and providing for looked after children. Most Councils also support an active volunteer sector with its increasing provision of food banks, as sure indicator that all is not well with society.

Throughout all this the Westminster government has been adding extra responsibilities to local government, but not the funding needed to meet them, all the while passing the blame onto Councils.

Councils get the bulk of their income from Council tax, business rates and central Government grants. The latter consists of the main revenue support grant, plus ring-fenced grants which simply pass through the Councils accounts and directly out to recipients, such as housing benefits and school funding. The formula for allocating the revenue support grant is shrouded in mystery, but seems to be based on historical assessments of need rather than current need.  It has also reduced on average by 50% in recent years, and some Councils get precisely zero in revenue support.

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A new way: USA, UK and Italy

I’m afraid bipolarism is currently emphasizing the extremes in politics. A healthy bipolar system should instead make coalitions compete to conquer the “centre”, thus pushing the political forces towards more moderate and reformist positions. But something is changing.

The “third pole” (Azione/ItaliaViva in Italy and the Liberal Democrats in UK) should be the reformist alternative to a right which, at present, is still stuck in ancient positions, especially in terms of human rights and concessions to people who don’t believe in science and in the Covid vaccination.

Fortunately in Italy the move of Moratti’s candidacy (at the Regional election in Lombardia, Italy) goes in the correct direction, splitting the right and exposing the contradictions. In the meantime, it is building a new political project that should also serve to speed up the evolution of the historical left wing Italian party PD (Partito Democratico).

The US Midterm elections showed that Trumpian extremism does not pay. But it also scares the Republicans. Some people really think the USA needs a new party! In the UK  the Tories are in crisis like the old Labour. There are excellent scenarios for Lib Dems who have always been anti-Brexit … we will watch the developments.

In the meantime, it is necessary, in Italy, to stop this attack on science by the new Minister of Health and his Undersecretary, Marcello Gemmato, who says he does not believe in vaccination and would like to stop the Covid vaccination campaign.

The way in which Covid is dealt with is the litmus test of a government’s concern about the most fragile members of society. To protect the most vulnerable, we need to protect everyone and everyone needs to continue to behave responsibly.

In the UK people suffer and the Tories are making such a mess. In Italy the extreme right wing populist parties in the government should think about that. In the UK, Italy and EU we all need a strong Liberal Democrat party!

In Italy and EU there is the #RenewEurope project. The Azione/Italia Viva  parties are moving as a single group in Parliament. The Radicali and +Europa parties are in the Renew Europe Group too … so, here, liberal groups are moving together.

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Should we take a risk and be honest about taxation?

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Liberal Democrats, we have a problem. As Max Wilkinson has commented in a recent posting, soft Conservatives are turning to us partly because the government has broken its promises not to raise taxes. But we are committed to decent public services, staffed by people who are decently paid; and after 20 years of cuts in services and real reductions in public service pay, quality can only be regained by substantial and sustained increases in spending. Furthermore, public service workers – people who believe that life is not only about money but also about what you put back into society and community – are among our natural supporters.

So what, under the current fiscal and economic crisis, do we say to potential LibDem voters about tax?

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Wera Hobhouse MP writes: The Conservatives are taking a major risk with people’s lives

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The UK’s presidency of COP26 should have been a turning point for Government action. Instead there are targets, with no sufficient plans in place to actually meet them. Therese Coffey noted that “the big COPs tend to be every five years,” which aligns well with her colleague Sunak’s lacklustre attitude toward this year’s conference.

The day after leaving COP27, where he said we need to ‘move further and faster’ toward Net Zero, the Prime Minister is set to announce that he has secured a major deal with the US to import 10 billion cubic metres of fracked shale gas.

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