Category Archives: Op-eds

What IF… We Leave with no Deal

If the Tories throw caution to the wind and somehow manage to leave the EU because they put dogma above the consequences of leaving with no deal, what will the impact of that be for us?  Below is a small account of the possible results of that action. I put this forward to reinforce why the Lib Dems are against Brexit and now (as another possibility has emerged) an exit without a deal.

Currently, there are no queues of countries enthusiastically waiting to trade with us (as the Leavers said they would be) and even if there where it will take …

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Immigration White Paper

Before a mass of Liberal voices condemns the party’s immigration paper and the related motion for party conference, we need to reflect on two underlying issues: first, that global population growth, combined with weak states and intermittent conflicts across the developing world, and exacerbated by climate change, mean that migration to richer and safer countries is becoming one of the most intractable issues democratic nations will face over the next generation; second, that the white working class in Britain (above all, in England) have real grievances, which we cannot dismiss, and which are partly – though only partly – associated with immigration.

Yes, much of the resentment unskilled people in England feel against incomers is unjustified and misdirected.  That doesn’t mean that we should ignore it: politics, sadly, is as much about emotion as about reasoned argument.   However, we can’t reassure them merely by saying that they are mistaken, or ill-informed.  We have to address those grievances, by campaigning for policies that answer them.

The Leave campaign, aided and abetted by Migration Watch and the right-wing media, managed to present the challenge of immigration as coming from the European continent, triggered by EU free movement rules. In reality, migration from other EU countries has never accounted for the majority of arrivals in the UK in any year, despite the surge after east European nations joined.  The real ‘Project Fear’ in the Referendum campaign was the suggestion that the entire population of Romania and Bulgaria would move to Britain, and that 70 million Turks would follow.  The population of the EU-28, in total, is 500 million.  However, the population of Africa has grown by 500 million over the past 30 years, and current expectations are that it will double again over the next 25-30 years. Across the Middle East and South Asia, birth-rates remain high – closely linked to the subordinate position of women and their limited access to education.

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Greenhouse Effect – Global Carbon Trading

In 2005 the EU established a cap for carbon emissions and trade program. This cap set a limit on the CO2 industry and utilities could emit. The cap is to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. A low cap will cost business, and a high one will have little impact reducing global warming. In 2017 the cap was 1.7 per cent annually that would reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030. In the EU carbon targets affect 11,000 energy and industrial plants.

With the trade program, each company has an emit target and can emit

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Boris’s Burka Bashing – Morally Malevolent

A while back my wife decided that she would start to wear the hijab. She never discussed this with me nor did I have any indication she wanted to wear one. She felt that as part of her spiritual journey that she should wear one. I was a bit surprised, but it was her choice. She wore the hijab for about three years and then decided to stop wearing it. Again, she didn’t discuss it with me and made her own choice (this time I was a bit annoyed – as I feared she might have stopped wearing it because of the response she got from the general public or colleagues at work). However, it was more to do with what she felt about her spiritualism than anything else. There are of course people who do require their partners/daughters to wear the hijab or the burka, but in the majority of the cases, it’s a personal choice for those who choose to wear it.

My culture is British, my social reference points are British, and I think in English, but if Pakistan were playing cricket against England, I would support Pakistan (as an English person who lives in Australia would support the English football team if it played against Australia). We live in a free society where we can express our free will as long as it doesn’t impinge on others. I suppose “impinge on others” is the key phrase here, in such instances, I always apply common sense to check my behaviour when considering others. However, for some, there is a robust instinctive intolerance and bigotry that’s devoid of common sense.

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How you can help Sarah Brown win in Cambridge

A Cambridge Council by-election has made national headlines this week after a Labour Councillor resigned because she didn’t agree with the terms of the Equality Act, which has been in force since 2010.

Our candidate in the by-election is former Councillor for the ward and former Executive Councillor for Community Wellbeing Sarah Brown.

From Pink News:

Ahead of the September 13 by-election, the Liberal Democrats picked respected transgender activist Sarah Brown as the candidate for Sinnott’s vacated Petersfield seat.

Brown, a polyamorous transgender lesbian campaigner, previously held the seat from 2010 until 2014.

The candidate said: “Petersfield is where I live and I aim to champion it as I already know how – and as I did before.”

She added: “I am sad to see the campaign to turn the clock back on the city council’s equalities policy, which I will resist.

“It’s right that the needs and rights of transgender people, along with other groups, are recognised here, as national legislation expects.

“Cambridge has led by example on diversity, tolerance and liberal values, and we must defend that leadership from those who seek to divide us.”

It’s good to see the official Lib Dems Twitter account get behind her:

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Why aren’t we doing much better?

This week’s damning editorial about current Lib Dem performance and prospects in The New Statesman will have struck a chord amongst many Liberal Democrat supporters and activists. I know that the world is unfair, and that we are mass-media-invisible, but nonetheless our lack of progress has to be a real present worry. Mucking up critical votes on what is supposed to be ‘our’ issue above all – opposition to Brexit – only compounds the sense of drift.

I’m glad that Caron Lindsay thought that Sir Vince Cable was ‘sparkling’ on Pienaar’s Politics recently but I fear that such appearances are not …

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An American solution to the second home problem?

Last month, campaigners near where I live won a by-election where the key issue was that of second home owners and their impact on local communities and services.

This weekend, I’m spending a few days in Rhode Island, home of the chicken, and enjoying the tranquility of the shoreline near the Massachusetts border. Whilst doing so, I’ve been discussing some of the issues surrounding how you maintain healthy rural communities, especially in places popular as holiday destinations. As you do, right?

One of the challenges is how you ensure that local workers, whose salaries are often far lower than those seeking to …

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When Laura Bates taught Nick Clegg a few things…

If I had known, 30 years ago, that there would be an annual Book Festival in Edinburgh in the last half of August, I’d have put my wedding back a week or two. My lack of foresight means that I’ll be away on a celebratory holiday when both Jo Swinson and Chelsea Clinton are speaking there. Jo is on 22nd August at 18:45 (buy tickets here) and her book, Equal Power, was on sale in the bookshop yesterday.

The tents in Charlotte Square have been my spiritual home in August for some time so yesterday it was great to be there on the first day, especially as Edinburgh Gin seemed to be taking their responsibilities as sponsors very seriously with several new gin bars around the place. For the record, their seaside gin is ok, but not as good as Isle of Harris, which has definitely cornered the market in things that taste like the sea.

I saw Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, talk about her new book, Misogynation, which aims to join the dots to highlight the systemic nature of sexism throughout our society. She told some shocking stories – highlighting, for example, evidence that there is the equivalent of one rape every day of term in a UK school.

A lot of the conversation centred around harassment of women in school, online and on the street. She talked about innovative ways of dealing with it. One man, for example, who had recently come to realise the effect of persistent street harassment on his female friends who were having to deal with it, couldn’t work out how to intervene when he saw a woman being crudely catcalled by men on a building site. When they called “Get your t**s out, love” he had a brainwave – and lifted up his t-shirt to make the point that they would never say that sort of thing to him so it wasn’t alright to say it to her.

She also told of a visit to a school where the girls got wind of a plot by the boys to be disruptive and generally unpleasant during her talk. So they left class a few minutes’ early and arranged themselves in every second seat in the hall. So every boy was sitting between two girls so it wasn’t so comfortable for them to heckle. In fact, they actually engaged with the talk.

One of the consequences of the Everyday Sexism project and the hundreds of thousands of examples it has collected over the years is that it has helped to shope policy. The examples of sexual harassment in schools has, finally, forced a change to more inclusive sex education in England – although the devils that will inevitably be in the detail of that are not yet apparent.

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Study says that a majority of UK constituencies now back staying in the EU

The Observer today suggests that as many as 112 seats may have changed from Leave to Remain.

In findings that could have a significant impact on the parliamentary battle of Brexit later this year, the study concludes that most seats in Britain now contain a majority of voters who want to stay in the EU.

The analysis, one of the most comprehensive assessments of Brexit sentiment since the referendum, suggests the shift has been driven by doubts among Labour voters who backed Leave.

As a result, the trend is starkest in the north of England and Wales – Labour heartlands in which Brexit sentiment appears to be changing. The development will heap further pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to soften the party’s opposition to reconsidering Britain’s EU departure.

What will Corbyn, a lifelong opponent of the EU, do now? Will he bow to the evidence that Labour voters are flocking to stay in the EU or will he hold firm in his opposition even to the customs union and single market.

And what will those in the Labour Party do if he refuses to budge his position? Especially those in Labour seats who are now backing Remain?

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Defence of Johnson amounts to a charter for the oppression of a vulnerable minority

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In defence of Boris Johnson’s remarks about the wearing of the burqa and the niqab, his supporters have replied: “You need to read the full article to see the context”. I have now read Johnson’s full article. That is ten minutes of my life I won’t get back. It is remarkable that he gets paid a King’s ransom for such tosh. More galling, he has been doing it (certainly up to 26th July, three weeks after he resigned from the government) at our expense from 1 Carlton Gardens.

David Yelland, who was Editor of the Sun from 1998 to 2003, has tweeted:


Shrouded amidst a rather generalised and vaguely creepy paeon of praise to Denmark, cloaked in criticism of their Burqa ban, was some very nasty and unnecessary verbiage. I quote here his whole passage with the particularly egregious words in bold, so that I can’t be accused of quoting Johnson out of context:

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We should demand free speech but use it with kindness

Free speech is important to us as Liberals. So much so we made it a fundamental human right. The freedom to exchange ideas and challenge orthodoxy is what leads to new radical plans to make a better future. Without debate we have dictatorship, literally by dictation. 

And yet, often we choose to limit how freely we use our speech. Classically, this is put as the “Does free speech include demanding the right to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre?” question.

A modern way of putting that, which we seem to be seeing appear quite a lot, looks to be: “Does free speech include demanding the right to compare the government of Israel to the Nazis?”

To which my answer is: “I will not stop you saying that. But you could perhaps choose not to.”

Many members of the Jewish community in the UK are living in a state of increased fear caused in no small part by the actions of a tiny but noisy number of Labour Party members (and former members) and the inactions of the Labour leadership.

I would like to think we can do better than that.

For a lot of Jewish people the idea of “Israel” is so much deeper than merely a specific geographic place – it is an expression of Jewish and religious identity, and goes to the heart of their sense of self and family and community. It is impossible to describe just how hurtful, wounding and cruel it is to link that idea of self to the Nazi Holocaust that was in large part about exterminating that identity. We just should not do it.

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Boris Johnson, bypassing the social taboos

Normally I would say focus on the policy, not the presenter of the policy, but every rule should have its exceptions, and, in this case, Boris Johnson is very much an exception. His carefully constructed persona enables him to bypass the critical faculties and hit the base instincts that society is created to taboo.

When one thinks of Boris Johnson, it is very easy to think of the irreverent comedy of the Pythons, replacing the ministry of funny walks with the ministry for ruffled hair, or imagining Joe Johnson screaming ‘He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.’. The problem is that Boris knows that and he plays to it. His character is equally well crafted as those created by the Pythons, honed over many years and designed to work on many levels.

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The dangers of the ‘people’s vote’

As the Chequers agreement and White Paper evince, the details of the interim package on offer are highly complicated. Submitting the terms and conditions of the Article 50 negotiations to a popular vote would be fraudulent. A referendum would be unlikely to elucidate the pros and cons of the Facilitated Customs Arrangement, the future of the City of London or the Irish backstop protocol. Rather, the hapless voter would face the same dilemma as vacillating parliamentarians – namely, a crude and invidious choice between the government’s Brexit deal and the cliff edge.

Ms. Miller & co make two gigantic misjudgments. The first is that, in the event of a referendum rejecting the Barnier package, the EU would be prepared to open up a new negotiation under Article 50 or to suspend Article 50 until the Brits sort themselves out. Having offered Cameron one new settlement for Britain in 2016 and May another in 2018, toleration of the British will be at an end. There will be no third negotiation. So what would be the referendum question? Moreover, on which side would Lib Dems be campaigning?

The second big mistake is to assume that the Remainers would ‘win’ the second referendum no matter the question. Opinion polls suggest that the outcome would be just as close as the first: certainly the assumption that Remain would win handsomely and settle the business of Britain’s place in Europe is an arrogant one, not supported by the facts.

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Could you be a local party officer?

The whirlwind of politics isn’t going to stop for very long this year, but you might want to take some time over the Summer to think about how you could become more involved in the Liberal Democrats.

One way you could do that is to stand for a role in your local party. This Autumn, every local party will hold its AGM and elect its committee for 2019. Now is the time to think about whether you could take on one of these roles.

You could choose to stand for one of the Officer roles – Chair, Secretary, Membership Secretary, Data Officer, Diversity Officer, Treasurer or take on a role on the Executive. If you are not sure about what these roles involve, why not have a look at the Members’ area of the website? 

They have some very handy guides to each of these roles and more in the Training section.

It would be really helpful if people who have done these roles would like to write about them for LDV, too, to encourage people to take them on.  Some people can be put off by the idea of being Treasurer, for example. I certainly was when I was asked to be Scottish Party Treasurer. I kind of had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing it, but I stuck around for six years and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would – and that was with the challenges of two General Elections, a Holyrood election, two referenda and two Council elections. It wasn’t just about numbers, it’s about leading the discussion on how we use our all too scarce resources and making sure we get some more.

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Devolution to the English Regions is not just a good thing – it’s absolutely essential.

The problems of the UK will never be solved while the whole of the Country is dominated by Westminster and Whitehall. I have believed that for all the 51 years I have been a member of our Party (or its predecessor!) I believe it now and that is why I am more than a little disappointed with the policy paper and motion being sent from the FPC to Party Conference. It just isn’t strong enough, urgent enough or angry enough!

Whilst still a Liberal member I was asked on Radio 4 to respond to the parody often created then of the average Liberal member being a long-haired, real ale drinker in sandals. My parody is somewhat different. I said then and I say now of our Party we protest with a campaign song which goes:

“What do we want?”

“Gradual Change”

“When do we want it?”

“As soon as possible please if that’s all right with you old chap”.

I’m afraid that is just not good enough for me. For almost all political life I have been a campaigner in Liverpool. I have held all sorts of positions when we controlled the Council and for my first 22 years as a Councillor represented some of the poorest communities in the Country. I have always been aware during that time that the needs of the poorest of our communities have been held back by policies devised by nice people, often well meaning, in Whitehall and Westminster but who have absolutely no ideas what it is like to live in a ‘Toxteth’ or a ‘Sparkbrook’.

Policies are created to look at the needs of those who live in the London Evening Standard catchment area – and not even the poorest bits of that.

The centralisation of power in London has dragged many of the brightest, most capable and most articulate away from using their talents in the great Northern Cities and Towns. This has reduced our capacity to create good jobs in good businesses. The creative talents of the North fuel what has been an overheating economy of the South East. This is not good for the South-East. Staggering house prices; long commutes and a poor environment are the price paid for that overheating.

At Conference we will be debating a motion supported by a policy paper that I have had a hand in creating. The motion is looking at the way that the UK is governed with a particular look at the way England is governed. It’s not that there is anything in the paper that I disagree with. It’s just that it’s all a bit anaemic. It’s just not angry enough about the Stalinist control that Westminster and Whitehall have over ‘the provinces’.

Arguably, England is the most centralised state in Western Europe. Bureaucrats in Whitehall and politicians in Westminster micro manage communities throughout the country. They do it by the creation of laws and Statutory Instruments and enforce their rule through a series of inspectorates and regionally based bureaucrats such as Children’s Commissioners.

This is rigorously enforced by the financial controls that Westminster imposes. The theory of localism and do what you think is right is supplanted by ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Liberal Democrats think that this centralisation is wrong. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions over policies and spending should be made at the lowest possible and practical level. These levels will be different for different types of activity. 

A more muscular liberalism would want urgently to break the power of Westminster and Whitehall over issues of a domestic nature which should rightly be decided by those who have a clear understanding of the nature of problems and can devise local solutions.

  • The lowest level would be the neighbourhood perhaps 5,000 people
  • Then the district around 100,000 people
  • Then the Town or City – between 250,000 and 750,000 people
  • Then the County or Conurbation – between 750,000 and 2,500,000 people
  • Then the region which, following the devolved governmental system could be up to 5 million people.

I recognise that this will mean systems that look different in different parts of the Country. This is right. The way you provide services in a heavily rural area should look very different to the way they are provided in a heavily urban area.

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You can tell Boris has been hanging around with Steve Bannon…

So, Boris’s mask slips.

A couple of weeks after it was reported he was hanging around with racist populist Steve Bannon, he comes out with all sorts of racist guff about women wearing burkas and niqabs.

The worst of his comments is this:

If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled – like Jack Straw – to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly.

If an MP can’t talk to a constituent who has come to make representations to them or who has come looking for their help, then, frankly, they should get better social skills.

Bragging about your sense of entitlement is not a good look.

Why is it always women that get this stuff? From “witches” who in the end of the day were just women whose beliefs strayed from the “norm”, to women who wear Islamic dress, we are considered fair game in a way that men aren’t. Why is it ok that Jack Straw and Boris should be able to tell women how to dress? Why can’t they just make up their own minds?

I find it hard to reconcile a world where women who choose to wear a veil are subjugated and women who come under pressure to be thin, cellulite free, perfectly groomed and available for sex at all times aren’t. Just look at any magazine marketed to women and you’ll see what I mean. Yes, progress has been made, but the world, all of it, is still very much run for men by men.

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Social care is in crisis – the Tories must face up to it

In the last six months, more than one hundred home-based and residential care providers have ceased trading, affecting more than 5,300 people, as providers hand back contracts to more than sixty councils, affecting thousands of people. Social care faces a £3.5bn funding gap by 2025. Social care is in crisis and we have a government which is turning a blind eye to it.

Obsessed with Brexit, they have repeatedly ignored the challenge of social care and kicked it into the long grass. A long-delayed green paper on social care that was promised for June has yet again failed to materialise, along …

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Immigration and Asylum: some thoughts from the house bureaucrat…

I note that the latest proposals for debate at Autumn Conference on migration policy have come in for some stick from my editorial colleague. And with good cause, for apologising for what is necessary and appropriate is never a good way to convince people that what you need is, indeed, necessary and appropriate.

But I come bearing something rather more practical, in that I want to talk about what underpins any immigration and asylum policy, regardless of how liberal it is, or otherwise.

For, no matter what your starting point is, you have to administer it properly. So, without actually outlining …

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Review: Cabaret of dangerous ideas – What does sex sell?

There are definite advantages to living near Edinburgh and working in the city, one of them being an overload of culture or what passes for it during August. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is eclectic and bold, pushing just about every type of boundary you can imagine.I haven’t quite got over meeting walking genitalia on George IV Bridge a few years ago.

The Fringe kicked off yesterday and I took in my first show which was part of the annual Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas series. Twice a day until 26th August, academics will present an idea and lead a discussion about it.

Last night’s show was all about advertising and the use of sex to sell products.

Sexy’ themes have been used in advertising for decades, based on the notion that ‘sex sells’. From yoghurt ads to shampoo, from perfume to fast food – these ads are ubiquitous and pasted in mainstream media. Researcher Kat Rezai (Edinburgh Napier University) broadens this debate to ask: what do ‘sexy’ ads really sell? Does it sell that ‘sexy’ product, or does it sell specific behaviours?

Kat Rezai took us through some beautifully improvised re-enactments of famous adverts which are designed to show men in powerful roles and women in passive roles. They ranged from the humorous to the tacky to the downright disturbing, with fashion labels like Dolce and Gabanna’s controversial depictions of violence against women.

It was an enjoyable hour, but, if I’m honest, it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know already, but then I am interested in this stuff. I was hoping it might advance my knowledge a bit more of how this stuff works in the digital age. When I was growing up, there was one telly and you all watched the same adverts at the same time. Not any more. You can have all the members of a household watching completely different tailored ads base on their Google searches.

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What’s on your Summer reading list?

Those lazy days of Summer are upon us. I hope that all of you have the chance to take a break and recharge your batteries before the fight against Brexit enters its most intense phase.

I’m heading away for some highland bliss in the last two weeks of August, so everyone’s on notice not to do anything too exciting during that time.

I get too little time to read books for pure pleasure these days so I am really looking forward to putting my feet up and getting through some of my massive “must read’ pile.

So far this Summer, I’ve read two fantastic memoirs from former Obama staffers. I reviewed Dan Pfeiffer’s Yes we still can: Politics in the age of Obama, Twitter and Trump which has some highly relevant observations for Liberal Democrats.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who thought this was a good idea was as much a self-help inspiromercial as it was insightful account of the Obama White House and beyond. And the bit about how impossible it was to get tampons in the White House shows how it wasn’t used to accommodating the needs of staffers who had periods.

On my list for Summer is yet another Obama staffer’s book. Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Adviser, has written The World as it is. I’m looking forward to his take on global power play and where we go from here.

I am determined to read more by people of colour and The things I would tell you is an anthology of diverse experiences of British Muslim women, whose voices need to be heard and experiences taken seriously. We need to stand with them when they face discrimination and abuse.

I am really looking forward to doing more than scanning through Trans Britain : our journey from the shadows, a history of the fight for transgender rights and the heartbreaking stories which inspired it. I saw editor Christine Burns speak very entertainingly  on this at Trans Pride in Edinburgh in March. The book contains chapters by our own Helen Belcher and Sarah Brown.

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Now this is how to write a motion on immigration issues

From the last paragraph of the Preamble to our Constitution:

Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services. Setting aside national sovereignty when necessary, we will work with other countries towards an equitable and peaceful international order and a durable system of common security.

That’s a brilliant, positive statement of who we are and what we are against. It’s a very clear statement in favour of free movement of people.

Now have a look at the second paragraph of our new policy paper on immigration to be debated in Brighton:

However, migration today is not the peaceful, equitable, ordered guarantor of durable security that our constitution envisages. Fuelled by the failure of governments to spread economic prosperity widely, some people feel that their concerns about employment, housing, and social and welfare resources are somehow linked to immigration. There has been an alarming rise in hostility to all immigrants, including some British people settled here for a generation or more.

Some people also believe that the earth is flat. We don’t supply them with ropes in case they fall off the edge. We prove to them that they are wrong. The way to stop hostility to immigrants is to challenge the poisonous drip-feeding from the right wing tabloid press and right wing politicians, to to pander to it, don’t you think?

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Federal People Development Committee Report – 24 July 2018

It’s a rather odd feeling to be writing up one of these meeting round-ups when the media is reporting (inaccurately) on the things you’ve been discussing! Still, here we are. FPDC met on 24th July and started by getting through the business we had deferred from our last meeting.

We noted some excellent new developments from the Diversity team in HQ with how they’re monitoring statistics and doing more to solicit ideas and feedback. Small changes, but the impact may be huge. We also approved a paper from Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, the Chair of the Diversity Subcommittee, to set some new objectives for his committee. 

We moved on to talk about an impact of GDPR on our membership recruitment procedures. The GDPR and Compliance teams in HQ, together with the Membership team and Pastoral Care Officer drew up a new process that will comply with GDPR. Essentially, it says that those under 18 must supply their date of birth, and those under 13 must provide the consent of a parent or guardian before they can join. This is because GDPR insists that under 13’s cannot give consent (which I find pretty awful, but we still have to comply). We also agreed to try to do more to promote the availability of Young Liberals membership to all those new members who did not say they were under 18 but may still be eligible by being under 26. (If you want to know more about this new joining process, please do ask me in the questions section below.)

We finished this first part of the meeting by noting that the FPDC Boost guide on member engagement had been pulled back from publication due to GDPR guidance changes, and to incorporate the outstanding work of a volunteer who has been looking at membership data management in local parties. The amendments should be completed and the guide finally published later in August.

Then we moved on to the continued discussion on the proposed supporters scheme. We began by honouring the committee’s request to be briefed on the messaging work led by FCEC (the Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee). Shaun Roberts, Director of Campaigns and Elections at HQ gave us a short presentation on the messaging work and took questions. I can’t share the briefing with you of course, as it is confidential, but you will be seeing the outcomes very soon from FCEC and HQ teams.

Content that the new messaging was in place and high-quality, the discussion then progressed onto the details of the supporter scheme proposals.

As with the last meeting, the contentious issues were around whether to charge a fee to register as a supporter and what rights those supporters should then be given.

At the last meeting, we had asked a lot of questions of the HQ staff, looking for data on membership subscriptions, donations etc. Using these, and some confidential research results that we had requested (paid for by a donor), we eventually came to a consensus view.

So, the FPDC recommendation is that the Party should introduce a registered supporter scheme. 

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Two young Dutch politicians: one substantial, alert to the times, the other unadulterated narcissism

Even with Trump handling his twitter account each morning, there isn’t much happening in politics this summer. As usual, that makes appearances and utterances by politicians stand out more; and two of those in the Netherlands symbolize the contrast in western politics nowadays.

 I’m talking about what two blackhaired young Dutch politicians published recently. The flamboyant conservative-populist Thierry Baudet  published a remarkable photo on Instagram; while the Oxford-educated Churchill biographer and convinced European Felix Klos, presently speechwriter for D66 party leader Alexander Pechtold  emphatically launched his candidacy for D66 top candidate for the European Parliament.

 The Dutch public has grown accustomed to the Milo Yiannopoulos-like  stunts and utterances of Baudet, who led his rightwing populist “Forum voor Democracy”  with 2 out of 150 seats into Dutch parliament in 2017, but his summer surprise raised a few eyebrows, even in his rightwing populist clique and claque. From an unknown holiday resort, he put a photo of himself on Instagram  lying down stark naked near some water, one hand covering his private parts, with just the words “release and reload” as subtext. This unleashed a storm of parodies on twitter; someone inserted Baudet as the body (of an executed killer) in the painting “Anatomy lesson of Dr. Tulp” by Rembrandt.  But even the rightwing populist weblog “Dagelijkse Standaard” (dayly standard) commented that they hoped Baudet would stop publishing this sort of thing and return to real politics.

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Observations of an ex pat: To collude or not to collude

Donald Trump and his mouthpiece Rudy Giuliani are right: Collusion is not a crime.

In fact, there is no crime of “collusion” in the US federal code.

There is, however, a law against “conspiracy.”

Conspiracy means that you planned an illegal act with others.  You didn’t have to commit the act. Just planning it is a crime. If the crime was committed and you knew about it then you are an accomplice.

If a person helps to plan the robbery of the Bank of England but is in another country during the actual theft of the gold bullion, they are just as guilty as the hooded gunmen who broke into the vaults.

As well as a law against conspiracy, there is a US law against a federal campaign accepting something of value from a foreign agent.  This can be money or information.

There is also a law against obstruction of justice. That law is breached when a person obstructs , threatens or coerces prosecutors.

And finally, there is the federal election Law which requires candidates for elected federal office to declare all campaign expenditures, including those made to prevent the publication or broadcast of information detrimental to their campaign.

Donald Trump is being investigated for violations of all of the above. And the net is tightening, which could explain why his tweeted protestations of innocence and attacks on chief investigator Robert Mueller are growing increasingly shrill.

This week the public’s mind has been focused on the conspiracy charge because the trial of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort has started in Alexandria, Virginia. Manafort is not on trial for anything involving the Trump campaign. Instead he is charged with a 18 counts related to tax evasion, money laundering and bank fraud. And that is just the current trial. Manafort faces a second trial in September in a Washington DC court at which he is due to be charged with making false claims under the Foreign Agent Registration Act and witness tampering.

Although neither of the above trials directly relates to the Trump campaign,  Manafort is still a central figure in the claims that Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Manafort—and possibly the president himself—conspired with agents of the Russian government to receive information to help Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton.

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Timid, half-hearted and apologetic immigration policy is not the way to tackle prejudice

Remember back in March, I almost spontaneously combusted when I read the consultation paper on immigration. Anything that put the word “robust” before “humane” really didn’t have a place in a liberal party as far as I was concerned.

After I wrote that piece, I became more hopeful at what I thought was a genuine attempt by the working group to engage with members. I know that they received a huge amount of feedback suggesting that they should take a more compassionate and fair approach.

We don’t know what the policy paper says yet as it hasn’t been published but the motion, which appears from page 35 of the Conference agenda actually makes me ashamed.

Let me talk a bit about why it is so important to tackle fear and prejudice. Nigel Farage, the Daily Fail and other elements of the right wing press have spent the last half century dripping poison about immigrants and immigration. They have used immigrants and lately EU citizens as scapegoats, wrongly. The problems we have are as a result of the failure of successive governments to adequately invest in housing and public services. If they had done that, then there would be no need for the right wing to turn groups of vulnerable people on each other.

As we move in to very dangerous times, as Brexit’s economic hit threatens jobs and public investment, when they can’t blame the EU any more, who will the Torykip lot blame next? It sure as hell won’t be them for getting us into this mess. It’ll be disabled people for claiming too many benefits (as if – most can’t get the help they desperately need), workers for demanding such indulgences as a minimum wage, set working hours and maternity leave.

If this immigration paper is an indication of how we as Liberal Democrats are going to stand up for these targeted groups, then we really need to demand better.

The motion is apologetic, timid and half-hearted. Every time it talks about doing something remotely right, it adds in a caveat saying, effectively, “but it’ll save us lots of money.”

It talks about fairness in the title, but there is no underscoring of that in the motion.

It tinkers at the edge of a horrible system that needs to be dismantled and started again from scratch with a new, enabling, compassionate, culture.

I also have a real problem with the paragraph that reads:

Our goal should be a positive, liberal consensus on immigration, partly by rebuilding people’s trust in the system, and that this requires us to listen and engage with those who do link pressures on public services and housing to immigration and to reject the argument that merely labels such people as racist.

That is a worthy goal, but thinking you are going to achieve it with the policies and attitude outlined in the motion is a bit like trying to clean a casserole dish with baked on dirt with a cotton wool ball.

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Changes to Lib Dem leadership rules – what the constitution says…

Can I just make a very polite suggestion to those who are briefing the press about potential changes to the way we elect leaders and who can stand in those elections to make sure that they understand our party’s processes for doing these things?

Because some things that the journalists are writing are just wrong.

Over the last week, we’ve seen a number of stories in the press which seem to be drip-feeding out some sort of process to change the rules for the election of a leader. There’s an article in Buzzfeed today which says that the rules for all this will be changed by a membership vote in November.

Lib Dem members will get the chance to debate a “supporters’ scheme” during a lunchtime session at the party conference in Brighton in September.

The rule change allowing non-MPs to stand as leader, which was first revealed in The Mirror last week, is expected to be formally announced to the press in early September and put to a vote of the membership in November.

This actually conflates two very different ideas.

We already know that Vince is keen to have a registered supporters scheme. There is a debate going on at the moment about what rights those registered supporters would have. Federal People Development Committee Chair Miranda Roberts looked at some of the issues in her latest report. 

Would they, for example, be able to vote in leadership elections? That’s what happened in the Labour party and that didn’t exactly work out well for them.

It would be really ironic if those people displaced by Corbyn’s election by registered supporters’ Momentum takeover of Labour then came to us and used our registered supporters scheme to turn our party into New Labour mark 2. While they are a million times better than the irresponsibly destructive government we have now, they are no respecters of individual and civil liberty. There is a big danger that the Liberal Democrats as we know it would end up as the smile on the face of the tiger of some new flaccid centrist affair which won’t change much and we need to think very carefully before we take such a move. This country is in such a dire state that radical change is vital to heal divisions and make it a kinder and fairer place.

There will be a consultation on all of this at the Brighton conference, with provision for those who can’t go to Conference to take part.

The other piece of the jigsaw is that there may or may not be a plan to allow a non-Parliamentarian to stand for leader. That may or may not have its merits but, as I said the other day, is all this process stuff where we really want to be as we approach the most intense time in the anti-Brexit campaign?

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No, Ian Blackford, you really weren’t the victim: your campaign against Charles Kennedy was a disgrace

Few things have made me quite as angry as SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford’s revisionist interview in The Times (£)last weekend in which he claimed that the SNP’s vicious campaign against Charles Kennedy in 2015 was nothing to do with him and he was in fact the victim.

He said:

I did not enjoy the election campaign in 2015 but that was more to do with the characterisation of me from the Liberals. I’m not in any way blaming Charles, who was the MP. It was the campaign against me. It was pretty nasty.

Blackford objected to the Liberal Democrat literature which referred to him, accurately, as a banker from Edinburgh. While his supporters were going round being pretty blatant about Charles’ health problems and calling him a quisling. At the time former Labour minister Brian Wilson outlined some of the horrendous abuse Charles received on social media from Blackford’s allies:

Mr Smith sent at least 115 offensive tweets to Charles Kennedy between January and May as well as countless Facebook messages. He was not alone. A member of Charles’s constituency staff worked full-time on deleting abuse from his own social media sites. Any attempt to communicate on behalf of his own campaign met with another torrent of well-orchestrated poison.

When Charles asked for supporters to put posters in their windows, one Clare Robertson (if that is indeed his/her name) sneered: “Just put an empty whisky bottle in your window. It’s the same thing.”

The Mr Smith referred to was Blackford’s constituency chair who resigned over his comments on Twitter. 

Blackford also refers to a visit he made to Charles’ campaign office in Fort William:

What about the infamous episode, I ask, when you and some supporters were said to have burst into the Liberal Democrat campaign rooms and had a shouting match?

“That wasn’t the case,” says Mr Blackford. “I’d been in on several occasions. We even took some cake into them when we opened up our offices. I’d actually gone in to him because we’d had a public meeting the night before and I’d gone to see Charles to say, look, could you lay off this personal attack on us.

“With the benefit of hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, perhaps it would have been better not to do that, but that’s what happened and the Liberals have sought to characterise it in another way.”

On the day, in April 2015, we brought you the story of Blackford’s ill-tempered and aggressive visit to the campaign hq where he had a right go at young staff members. 

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Tim Farron reminds us how the Lib Dems have led the fight against Brexit from the start

Yesterday, Tim Farron sent round an email to party members the other night saying this:

Mine was a lonely voice two years ago.

The UK had narrowly voted to leave the EU. The next day, I committed the Liberal Democrats to fight back.

I said the British people must have the final say on any Brexit deal – with the option to Remain in the EU.

Back then, even our friends weren’t with us. Not the remain media or remain MPs from other parties. Not even the big remain organisations.

But together, we’ve changed all that.

Polls this week show a clear majority now back our position.

A national newspaper has backed our call. Many pressure groups are now calling for a vote on the deal.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t in Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s script.

And it hasn’t happened by accident. It’s thanks to you.

Together, over the last two years, we have:

  • Grown our party to nearly 200,000 registered members and supporters – and spoken with over 2.4 million voters in the last 12 months
  • Reached around 24 million voters online each year
  • Achieved our best local election results in 15 years

At last, there’s real hope. We can change this – but timing is crucial. We must step up the pressure for change.

So please – TAKE ACTION today, share our campaign with your friends and family – and help us reach 150,000 supporters:

All of this is absolutely fine, but he didn’t actually call for another referendum immediately. That came later in the Summer and Conference enshrined that position in a motion passed in Brighton in September. 

This is one for the nit pickers among us and for slight amusement rather than criticism. After all, it is absolutely nothing compared to say, forcing the country in a position where we have to stockpile what basic food and medicines we can to mitigate against a disastrous and extreme interpretation of a narrow vote to leave the EU which was driven by a Leave campaign that lied and cheated its way through and therefore can’t be legitimate. 

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Brexit options and the People’s Vote

Justine Greening’s recent call for a multi-option referendum on Brexit brings to the fore the central dishonesty of the Referendum. Brexit cannot just mean Brexit: if it is to happen it will have to be a specific Brexit. And it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no feasible specific Brexit that can command the support of all those who voted for Brexit in general in the referendum.

Following Greening’s call, Yougov carried out an opinion poll asking about preferences between three options, which we can call Remain, Soft and Hard. The Soft option was described as `along the lines that Theresa May has set out’ (i.e. the Chequers proposal), while the Hard option was described as `leave the EU without a deal’.

What was unusual about this poll was that it asked for voters’ second preferences as well as their first. This is essential if we are to understand the real popularity of the options, and what the poll reveals is very interesting.

First preferences show an exact 50-50 balance between Remain and Brexit in this poll. However, when we compare Remain with either specific form of Brexit it has a clear majority: 55-45 against Hard Brexit, 60-40 against Soft. While Soft is narrowly preferred to Hard (53-47), a large proportion of Hard supporters (nearly half of them) would abstain rather than choose between Remain and Soft.

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