Category Archives: Op-eds

Exams are getting easier?

The end of August has rolled around and shortly, as every year since I can remember, the usual suspects will likely be complaining that exams have gotten easier because young people all over the country have done what they are supposed to do and passed them.

This is all part of the usual having a go at the ‘youth of today’ that these people always engage in. Whether it’s ‘nobody wants to work’ or ‘takeaway coffee is why you can’t afford a house’ or ‘exams are getting easier’. It’s all part of the same attitude that seeks to either blame young people for not being able to overcome systemic problems in society or trivialise and denigrate the things we succeed at. Everything bad is our fault, everything good was handed to us.

The hate and dismissal hurled at children and teenagers every year over exams results is particularly vile though. Simply because we sent these children to school at 4 or 5, spent years attempting to give them all the information and skills they needed to pass their exams. Then they are attacked for succeeding in the very thing we’ve spent years telling them is the whole point of why we sent them to school in the first place. To get qualifications so they can have the best chance of leading happy successful lives.

If 100% of our Olympians came back with gold medals, would we insist the Olympics had gotten easier?

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The politics of cats

Cats have become political. No wannabe prime minister who would dare suggest they did not like cats, though Rishi Sunak has yet to declare. Budding politicians no longer kiss babies but they do stroke cats. Even Sir Ed Davey kneels subserviently in the presence of cats.

There are people who believe that cats should be locked up to preserve wildlife. Indeed, the majority of American cats are not allowed outdoors, a move encouraged by the American Bird Conservatory and others. The EU has dismissed restrictions on the right of felines to roam, though one German town has implemented a summer ban.

Wildlife is under pressure. Although the RSPB says there is no scientific evidence that cats are responsible for the decline bird populations in the UK, it is perhaps only a matter of time before politicians are lobbied to keep all cats indoors.

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Climate change – how bad can it get?

“A bullet fired through the head can have an adverse effect on brain function”. This is the sort of language in which the risks from climate change are sometimes discussed.  In other circles the language of catastrophe is preferred, with the possibility of human extinction sometimes thrown in.

Those of us who are concerned about global warming and other environmental threats have various motivations. For some, the injustice of what rich-world carbon emissions have inflicted on other countries is paramount. For some, a deep love of the natural world and a perception of environmental vandalism comes top. I feel both those things strongly but, most of all, I feel that human civilisation at its best is glorious and remarkable but fragile. We seem in danger of throwing it away by our lack of concern for the biosphere that supports it. I fear a possible future in which much of the world is rendered uninhabitable, civilisation has broken down and most of human life is nasty, brutish and short. That’s what I call catastrophe.

The received wisdom, at least until recently, seems to have been that it’s counter-productive to talk about global warming in apocalyptic terms. That may be right but it risks our under-estimating the damage that climate change could cause. From the evidence I have encountered, I simply can’t rule out the possibility of a global catastrophe resulting from climate change.  That possibility is amplified by the fragility of some of our political systems and hence of our civilisation.

Looking at regimes governing some of the most populous countries in the world, not to mention politics in the USA and the UK, I can’t feel confident that catastrophe will be avoided.

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Disabled living in Canada

I have just returned from a very happy two week visit to Ontario with my husband Ian, staying with my brother and attending our niece’s wedding. I have loved Canada ever since my first visit nearly 50 years ago, and have been back many times. Indeed, it is the one country outside the UK where I would be happy to live. The Americans joke about the Canadians – always calm, punctual and highly efficient (and with strong gun laws) – not realising that it is indeed good to live in a liberal democracy ruled by common sense. The country is also stunningly beautiful and we have explored it from Newfoundland to Vancouver, and from Niagara to Hudson Bay.

Canada has a proud record of providing a safe haven for those who have been forced from their homes, from the former slaves who took the Underground Railroad to freedom, to the current policy of welcoming refugees, most recently from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

But Canada has its dark side, highlighted by the recent visit by the Pope. And we also discovered that disabled people have limited rights in law, and their needs are often overlooked institutionally.

This was the first time we had flown anywhere since the pandemic. Ian has a complex neurological condition and we have been using Special Assistance in airports for some years. He has some, but limited, mobility and since our last flight he has started using a mobility scooter and a folding wheelchair which we take with us when we go out together, so we took it with us to Canada this time.

The first thing we noticed in Canada is that there is no requirement for buildings that are open to the public to be accessible. When we ate out in a restaurant we had to phone in advance to check whether we could actually get in with the wheelchair. Once in, few had disabled loos.

But the real struggle emerged when we got to Montreal Airport for our flight home. We had booked Special Assistance through the airline (Air Transat) but we discovered on the airport’s website that they also offered a service from the drop-off point to check-in. To add to the complications my mobility is also limited, but not to the same extent as Ian’s, and I find it impossible to push a wheelchair and all our luggage at the same time. So we filled in the online form to request this support and received a confirmation telling us to report to Door 4 of the terminal at 7pm.

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President’s Report August 2022

The next general election

With a new Conservative Party leader nearly upon us, the range of plausible dates for the general election is wide open. As it now may well be much sooner than seemed likely at the time of our last conference, the Federal Board has been reviewing our general election plans.

Preparations are being stepped up across the party. The pre-manifesto document being debated at conference is an important part of that as is Ed Davey’s announcement of a major new package to help people with their fuel bills this winter – axing the planned increase in the fuel bill cap and providing extra help to those most in need.

This all makes now an even more important time for us all to be out on the doorsteps, recruiting new members and campaign helpers. There’s been a clear pattern in our recent electoral successes at all levels that building up campaign organisations well in advance of the formal election campaign is a central element to success.

A Membership Incentive Scheme is in place, with generous additional payments to local parties who recruit or renew party members locally, especially if it is done on direct debit.

Thanks in particular to our wonderful three Parliamentary by-election wins in the last year, when that general election comes, we’ll be a key part of the route to removing the Conservatives from government in Westminster.

That makes the Parliamentary seats in the (variously and flexibility defined) Blue Wall an increasingly important focus for us as the next general election polling day nears. But the majority of our councillors, our members and our voters are outside the Blue Wall.

So it’s not only the target seats for the next Westminster election we need to prosper at. We also need to be winning at other levels of election more broadly. We need to continue the sort of breadth in our recovery we saw in May’s local elections – amazing progress against the Conservatives in the Blue Wall and continuing recovery elsewhere, including up against Labour and the nationalists. Both of these tracks need to be successful for us to be a growing, national party.

That’s why the Board has continued to prioritise investment in the breadth of our campaigns officers network, supporting not only Parliamentary target seats but also progress in other areas too. Thank you to all the other parts of the party who have cooperated on this, giving us a much larger network of staff supporting grassroots campaigning than we had before.

Could you be a Returning Officer?

With Parliamentary selections picking up across the country, there has never been a better time to volunteer to be a Liberal Democrat Returning Officer.

Every Parliamentary selection is run by a trained Returning Officer – and although it is not a task for everyone, it’s a really valuable role that we need more volunteers for. Returning Officers need to be organised and methodical, to understand and interpret the rules, solve problems and work constructively with people whose perspectives on a situation may differ.

Does this sound like you or someone you know? If so, please contact / ask them to contact your Regional Candidates Chair in England or state Candidates Chair in Scotland and Wales to discuss the role and the availability of training. If you need putting in touch with the relevant person, just drop me a line.

There’s a training session being run on the Sunday morning at Conference, so now is a great time to get people thinking about this role.

Note that a Returning Officer cannot run selections for the local party of which they are a member, but they can help others so that others can help you.

Treating our staff well

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Bulls, ostriches and national housing targets

Would-be Prime Minister Liz Truss agrees with the Homes & Planning Working Group (HPWG) about scrapping the top-down national housing target! “Cakeism”? Could a Sunak Government spend more while cutting taxes?

It depends what taxes are cut – and how. Perhaps there is a way, which today’s politicians and their advisors have ignored. From John McDonald to Milton Friedman (with David Ricardo, Adam Smith and Vince Cable as classical Liberals) some have supported: the “Tax Shifting” way.

Our traditional taxes are almost all “welfare negative”: causing a huge “deadweight loss” of real growth. Taxes on earnings, dividends, profits and most transactions such as house sales (“Stamp Duty Land Tax”), fall on those parts of the economy that create wealth and prosperity.

However, it is those who simply hold title to the passive element in human activity – what economists used to call “Land”, i.e. everything not made – who are the main beneficiaries. Land exists in finite quantity and without it Labour and Capital cannot operate. The growth in national wealth since the 2008 financial crash has, according to ONS figures, gone almost entirely into inflating land values.

It is this deadweight loss that keeps the poor in poverty and causes inequality to grow unless governments act: corrective action including ‘progressive’ taxation which is unproductive. This is unintelligent and wholly unfair.

We Lib Dems have traditionally understood this. Hence our policy of Land Value Taxation (LVT).

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Water shortages are not just the fault of the weather or climate

Areas of southern England and parts of continental Europe are now in officially in drought. Taps ran dry in Northend in Oxfordshire. The source of the mighty River Thames shrank back to more than five miles from its source near for the first time in memory. Hosepipe bans are in force and people are advised to reduce water use.

Although there is now some rain in some areas, the water deficit in the soil is now so great a couple of days rain will do little more than revive those flagging garden plants and maybe perk up the lawns we seem to love so much.

This is not 1976 and we are unlikely to see standpipes in the streets at any point. But the current shortages do show how our water system is being pushed to the limits.

This article asks the question, why is England and its water companies so unprepared?

Climate change has made drought more likely but it is not the only factor behind the water shortages. A lot of the issues lie with the effectiveness of the water regulator Ofwat, the lack of a clear government strategy for new water resources and the lack of investment by water companies.

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Liberal Democrats should support trade unions and strike action

I was delighted that a policy motion written by myself, and the Young Liberals Social Mobility representative, Emily Baker, passed with an overwhelming majority at Young Liberals Summer Conference in Birmingham.

At our winter conference in Edinburgh in February, we passed a motion showing  solidarity with the University & Colleges Union.  Emily and I thought that in light of the Federal Party’s response to the RMT strikes, a similar motion ought to be brought to our Summer Conference in an expression of our support for the union.

To be completely candid, the Lib Dem response to these strikes made me hugely sceptical about my place in the Party. The protection of Trade Union and employment rights, including the right to strike, are absolute fundamental liberal values that I’m completely unwilling to compromise. I thought better of quitting. Instead, bringing this motion to our conference alongside Emily, was our way to ‘sticking it to the establishment’ in fairly characteristic YL style. We are both thrilled about the support of YL members in both their speeches and in the vote.

The motion calls for our express support for the industrial action taking by the RMT; our support for industrial action across other sectors where businesses fail to negotiate, and members are balloted in support of industrial action; and to reaffirm our support for the Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists.

 It’s become clearer that industrial action across sectors is increasingly likely: Royal Mail staff are heading for the picket, teachers are balloting for industrial action, Arriva bus drivers in the North West have been out on the picket line for 25 continuous days at the time of writing. Amendments to this motion submitted by James Green and Joe Norris, as well as English Young Liberals Chair, Oliver Jones-Lyons, have helpfully fleshed the motion out to include affirming our support for a variety of different Trade Unions and moved that Liberal Democrats should not oppose a General Strike if there are further restrictions on the right to strike.

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Liberal Democracy must become the engine room of progressive ideas

With Boris Johnson finally ejected from office, the next task is to rid Britain of this appalling government altogether. First, it seems, we must endure two years of a Liz Truss administration: unthinking, uncaring, populist, and damaging. But then, there is a real opportunity for renewal, for rebuilding, for a progressive, liberal, decade.

We must not blow this opportunity.

Electoral success will only come through cooperation among progressive parties and that means facilitating a Kier Starmer led government. To win, Labour needs Liberal Democrat success but recent events suggest a much bigger mission. Starmer is a ‘safety first’ candidate who will offer voters stability and security. His leadership promises executive competence and integrity but his party lacks imagination and innovation. He has failed to articulate any meaningful vision or offered any real insight into the condition of our country or how to repair the damage of the past seven years.

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Public Spaces Protection Orders are out of control

On Monday 15th August, a new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) will come into force in Birmingham, banning all busking from two of the most profitable locations in the city. There are a number of councils around the country who have introduced restrictions on busking using PSPOs, but Birmingham City Council’s decision to introduce a blanket ban on busking in these areas, whether or not they are acting reasonably and considerately, is unusual.

Despite assurances from Shirley Williams during the introduction of the PSPO as a tool to clamp down on anti-social behaviour that “they (PSPOs) should not use the new powers to stop reasonable activities such as busking or other forms of street entertainment that are not causing anti-social behaviour”, these rules are being flouted up and down the country. Why? Because there are no mechanisms in place to stop them.

The case of the Birmingham Busking Ban is particularly egregious. A Freedom of Information Request released during the consultation period showed that, of the 81 complaints received by the council about busking in the two areas specified, 77 were from the same individual. He is well known in the area as someone who has a track record of verbal aggression towards the city’s street entertainers, particularly the young female ones.

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Welcome to my day: 15 August 2022 – in Tufton Street we Trus(s)t?

The contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party and, thus, Prime Minister, took more turns for the worse this week. Whilst Rishi Sunak desperately tries to convince ageing members of his party that he can be as reactionary as the next (wo)man, Liz Truss is demonstrating that, at heart, she has the instincts of a robotic magpie programmed by the denizens of Tufton Street.

Having suggested last week that most of the Civil Service should be sacked and the rest moved out of London, whilst the rest of the public sector should expect pay cuts, it didn’t get any better this week. First, she suggested that support payments to help those facing fuel poverty were a low priority compared to tax cuts. It seemed that she had been misrepresented (again). And then, the Civil Service was described as “woke verging on anti-Semitic” – she really doesn’t like them, does she?

I look forward to her relationship with the Civil Service going forward…

Mind you, given that there’s very little evidence that we have a functioning government anyway, the idea that whichever one of them wins might do something (anything) might be progress of a sort. Of course, their first task will be to appoint a new Cabinet and ministers, which won’t be easy. And time is relentlessly pushing on, with the energy cap increase to be announced in just eleven days and due to come into effect on 1 October.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

A boost for the Ukrainians – and a problem

The successful missile attack on the Russian arms depot on the Crimean Peninsula was a major boost for the Ukrainians. It may also have created a major problem.

So far the Ukrainians have refrained from attacking Russian territory. This is a bit like fighting with one hand tied behind the back, but they have been told by their NATO quartermasters to restrain themselves due to a fear of provoking an escalation that would result in NATO and Russian troops facing each other in a possible World War Three scenario.

Donetsk and Luhansk are not Russian territory. They are—according to the Russians—independent sovereign republics which have seceded from Ukraine with Russian help. Crimea, however, is a different kettle of fish. The Russians annexed it in 2014. It matters not that only 14 countries have recognised the annexation. Russia regards Crimea as Russian and therefore the attack was on Russian territory.

Interestingly enough, the Ukrainian government is refusing to take credit for the attack. It is not denying responsibility either.

Meanwhile concern is growing for the safety of the Zapororizhzia nuclear power plant. The Russians continue to use the plant as a base from which to launch artillery and missile barrages and there are reports that technicians at the plant are being forced to work at gunpoint. The International Atomic Energy Agency is still trying—unsuccessfully–to gain access to conduct safety inspections and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for a demilitarised zone around the plant.

How are sanctions affecting Russia?

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Observations of an ex-pat – Law vs Politics

The United States is facing a major question: Does political support trump the rule of law?

There is no doubt that Donald Trump has political support from a large proportion of the American population. He is virtually a shoe-in for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Whether or not he is guilty of one of any number of crimes is immaterial to his base of supporters. Trump represents small government libertarian-minded conservative America. The values that he has come to embody are seen as more important than any number of words in any number of law books.

He has the support “of his people” and that lifts Trump to the far edge of the reach of the long arm of the law. Any attempt to argue otherwise, or to enforce the law, is jackboot Nazism and an establishment conspiracy to thwart the will of the people.

Given that many of Trump’s people are gun-toting Second Amendmenters, using the law against the former president risks the serious danger of violence.

Attorney General Merrick Garland is all too aware of the need to balance political reality with the rule of law. Donald Trump is a special case. No person is above the law, but realpolitik means that some people are on its edges. If the Department of Justice—or anyone else—is going to take any kind of legal action against the former president then it must be totally convinced of his guilt well beyond a reasonable doubt– and then some.

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North Shropshire Lib Dem election HQ saved from flames

Phew! What a scorcher! That’s a phrase we have rarely heard in the UK since 1976. Here in Shropshire, the Shropshire Star reported yesterday seven combine harvester fires over the last week. There have been a at least a couple of more fires since, including at Soulton Hall.

Soulton Hall has a particular place in the history of the Lib Dems and our current fightback against the Tories. After the enforced resignation of Owen Paterson amid a typical Tory scandal, Soulton Hall became the base for Helen Morgan’s successful campaign to replace him.

Two days ago, farmer and Lib Dem supporter Tim Ashton was combining a wheat field. The combine harvester developed problems. Tim quickly realised that quenching the subsequent fire was “like using a thimble to bale an ocean”. The fire was at risk of spreading to the nearby historic Soulton Hall. Working with a neighbouring farmer, a firebreak was created and Shropshire Fire & Rescue arrived to dowse down the wreckage. A small area of crop was lost along with the combine but Soulton Hall and part of Lib Dem history was saved.

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Truss looks to be the winning loser in Cheltenham races

Max Wilkinson, who wrote earlier today on LDV about the Cheltenham navel gazing, features in today’s Guardian. Political correspondent Peter Walker wrote:

“Sitting in a town centre pub converted from an imposing former courthouse, Max Wilkinson, a local Liberal Democrat councillor who competed against Chalk in 2019 and will also fight the next election, says the imminent change of leader has not overly changed voter sentiment…

In 2019, the incumbent Tory MP, the former solicitor general Alex Chalk, held off the Liberal Democrats by just 981 votes, and one local Conservative conceded they expect to lose the seat by 5,000-plus votes next time.”

That’s positive news but the tortuous leadership election must end first. (Please let it end soon!)

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Navel-gazing Tories arrive in Cheltenham (or was it Derbyshire?)

It was a night that confirmed what many people already thought.  For those of us on the outside, it’s now clear that the Conservative party leadership is out of ideas.  In fact, the boldest thinking we heard during the debate at Cheltenham Racecourse last night (Thurs) was when Liz Truss suggested Cheltenham was in Derbyshire.

You’d think that in this moment of national crisis, the two candidates would have something new to say.  Alas, there was very little to help those worried about the cost of living during the debate.  If only they had the foresight to pursue bold policy ideas to solve the looming energy bills crisis, like Ed Davey’s call for the October energy price rise to be cancelled earlier this week.  As for the NHS: Sunak wants to charge people for missing appointments. Truss wants to ‘get a grip’ of waiting times.  That won’t bring much comfort to people here, who report long ambulance waiting times and being sent to Malvern for NHS dentistry.

In Cheltenham, local Lib Dems are making a difference.  After our cost-of-living emergency declaration, we’ve put £60,000 aside to support food banks for the next few months.  We’re also investing £180 million in affordable homes and our first carbon neutral development is on the way – helping to drastically lower energy bills for residents.  Our Golden Valley project will help build on the success of our blossoming cyber security industry.  If only that sort of vision was matched in the Conservative Party’s thinking on the NHS and cost of living.

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The right-wing myth of Britain’s ‘liberal elite’

Warming up the audience at the Darlington hustings for the Conservative leadership on August 9th, Tom Newton Dunn as compere asked if Boris Johnson had been responsible for his own misfortune. Cries of ‘the media’ came back; and Liz Truss commented ‘Who am I to disagree with this excellent audience?’

Conservative activists thus showed their acceptance of the conspiratorial myth that enables Liz Truss to present herself as an insurgent against a dominant establishment. The idea of a dominant liberal elite, entrenched in the BBC, the civil service, universities and state schools, extending into the ‘lefty lawyers’ in the courts and the gatekeepers of cultural institutions and prizes, pops up regularly in Conservative speeches, Telegraph Op-Eds, and justifications for political reforms by Cabinet ministers. David Frost, now accepted by many on the hard right as an intellectual authority, has just published a paper for Policy Exchange (which describes itself as ‘Britain’s leading think tank) on ‘sustaining the Brexit Revolt’ which attributes the failure to make greater progress in breaking with collectivism and Europe since 2017 to the resistance of this entrenched elite – rather than the divisions within his adopted Conservative Party, or hard evidence of the irrationality of what they aimed to achieve.

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Davey: Conservative candidates in parallel universe on cost of living crisis

Writing in the Express today, Ed Davey called for parliament to be recalled to pass legislation to halt the increase in energy prices that are driving much of the cost of living crisis. With food prices rising and set to rise further, the Lib Dems are calling for a broader package. Davey said we should double the Warm Homes Discount and extend it to more people. Double the Winter Fuel Allowance to give 11 million pensioners up to £600 off their bills. Raise Universal Credit by £20 a week. And thinking longer term, he says the government should begin an emergency home insulation programme, starting with homes in or at risk of fuel poverty.

Energy bills soaring, inflation soaring, interest rates soaring, and as the cost-of-living crisis turns into a cost-of-living catastrophe our government is that of a zombie, limping on – helping no one.

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Forget cutting VAT: social tariffs would help tackle the cost-of-living crisis

The cost-of-living crisis should be the number one priority for all political parties this summer. With the energy price cap due to rise by an eye watering 70%, on top of the 54% rise earlier this year, a cruel winter beckons, one that for some, make no mistake, will be fatal.

Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, has spent the summer pleading fruitlessly for solutions from government. Meanwhile, Labour has chosen to squander their time arguing about whether the Shadow Cabinet should join the picket lines of those on strike.

There is a huge space for the Liberal Democrats to propose powerful, radical policy that will make a real difference to those that need it most.

A temporary cut in VAT, to be debated at Autumn Conference as our headline solution, is not that policy.

I’m no great fan of VAT, but timing is everything and the timing of this cut is wrong. On straightforward grounds of fairness, to give away the most to those who already have the most – as cutting a tax on spending would boil down to – is simply perverse right now. Moreover, both the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Institute for Government warn strongly against the policy, citing the prolonged inflation and interest rate rises that will likely result as serious long-term risks for the economy and households.

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Choosing Johnson’s successor: a Tory attack on our democracy?

The problem with the present Tory leadership contest is that it looks worryingly like a presidential campaign. We’ve seen televised debates among the contenders, news of them, their campaigns, promises and policies. It sounds as if the winner will have a mandate to take the country in a new direction, though the voters are just the 0.3% of the population who happen to be members of the Conservative Party. Where is the public outcry?

This is part of a general trend to move power from Parliament to No.10 which has accelerated since the referendum. It includes the illegal prorogation of parliament in 2019, the use of “Henry VIII” powers to sideline parliament in the massive task of replacing EU-derived legislation and Johnson’s repeated bendings of the ministerial code.

These things have consequences:

  • It risks increasing alienation from politics. “First past the post” means there are many parts of the country where people feel their vote doesn’t matter. The Tories have found a way to make this much worse. Brexit might already be a consequence of this because of the people who voted Leave out of frustration at being ignored.
  • It pushes things to the extremes. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss need to appeal only to their own party rather than connecting with the rest of the country. That’s particularly serious as there’s now more support for Brexit in the Conservative party than there in the country. EU-bashing and Brexit might help one of them get elected, but they are not in the national interest.
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Tom Arms’ World Review

The nuclear reactor we should be worried about

Forget about Chernobyl. That was small fry worry. Focus instead on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Zaporizhzhia  supplies half of Ukraine’s nuclear-generated electricity; is next door to the city of Enerhodar (pre-war population of 53,000) and sits alongside the Dnieper River which supplies the drinking water for millions in southeastern Ukraine and Crimea.

The nuclear facility was captured by Russia on 4 March during the Battle of Enerhodar. The power plant is being kept in operation with Ukrainian workers retained by the occupying Russians. But Putin’s forces have—according to US and Ukrainian sources—started using plant precincts as a base for artillery barrages.

The Ukrainians are firing back. On top of that, no one from the UN oversight organisation the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is making the regular visits that insure that all safety measures and checks are being followed. IAEA director Rafael Grossi this week told Associated Press “You have a catalogue of things happening that should never happen in a nuclear power plant.” Mr. Grossi is trying to negotiate access to Zaporizhzhia but to do that will require his inspectors passing through both Ukrainian and Russian lines. This is extremely dangerous for the inspectors and inordinately difficult to arrange.

 The fight to be UK Prime Minister

The British election campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the Premiership of the country this week slipped into high farce and sailed into choppy constitutional waters. Starting with the farce, favourite Liz Truss announced that she would cut public sector pay by about $10 billion by reducing the wages of out of London public sector workers.

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Lib Dems highlight Home Office incompetence which leads to £70 million compensation payments

Good work by Alistair Carmichael and the Lib Dem researchers and press team in working out and highlighting that the Home Office paid out £70 million in compensation to people it has wronged in the past year. They have calculated that this would amount to an extra 1700 Police officers who could have been employed.

That’s a big number but behind it are people whose lives were ruined, damaged, who were put through absolute hell by Home Office injustice and incompetence. That is unforgivable.

From the Guardian:

The payouts, highlighted by the Liberal Democrats, are believed to be the highest amount for

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Lib Dems comment on dire economic news – but we need to say more

This week has had more than its fair share of dire economic news. The prospect of a deep, prolonged recession at a time of soaring prices means that people on the lowest incomes are really going to suffer. Let’s think about what that looks like. It means that people on the lowest incomes will simply not be able to afford the basics that they need to survive. If they don’t face the prospect of losing their home, heating it to an adequate level will be a challenge.  Putting food on the table will be tough.  Even if they just manage to get by, an unexpected car repair bill, or a washing machine breakdown, could be problems that they can’t cope with. It is quite likely that we will see levels of poverty and suffering that we thought were gone for good.

It’s the most terrifying economic landscape since 2008. And with recession comes the prospect of people losing their jobs. We didn’t have energy and living costs on a steep upward curve then.

I remember only too well the recession of the 1980s. That ITN Jobs round up every Friday showing so many jobs being lost every week. Soaring unemployment as, one by one, our key manufacturing industries crumbled.  Remember UB40’s One in Ten?

At that point though the welfare state met more of your living costs if you lost your job. You at least had some chance of getting by. And students could get help with Housing Benefit and could sign on during the long Summer holiday if they couldn’t get a job. Now, benefits are less generous, and woe betide you if you dared have more than two children since 2017 because you won’t be able to claim any Universal Credit for them.

During the 90s recession, I worked in the civil courts in England and it was heartbreaking to see the huge rise in both mortgage and rent possession cases. Each one of those meant that someone was in danger of losing their homes, and many did.

As interest rates rise, so do mortgages. Already high private sector rents are likely to increase as landlords pay more on their buy to let mortgages.

It all seemed terrible back then, but now the prospects and the pressures on incomes are even worse.

Inflation on its own is bad enough but then you have a nearly £1300 rise in energy costs from their already high level from October with the prospect of further rises every three months. If you are on a low income you are more likely to be on a prepayment meter and will find it more difficult to access help while you pay proportionately higher prices.

And all the time prices continue to rise with the Bank of England warning that inflation could hit 13%.

There is not much in the way of respite coming your way. The extra money already announced isn’t going to go very far if you are low paid.

All of this comes at a time when the Conservative Government have been cutting public services for too long. So where councils might have been able to provide much needed help in the past, they are not able to do so now. Advice agencies also need investment so that they can help people find their way through and advocate on their behalf.

Senior Liberal Democrats have been talking about the crisis. Here’s Ed Davey on the news of the energy price cap rise:

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Conference: Morgan calls on Lib Dems to stand up for rural communities

One of the Lib Dems’ newest MPs, Helen Morgan has put forward a motion on supporting rural communities to Conference in September. The wide ranging motion, which will be summated by Richard Foord, calls on delegates to agree that rural areas should no longer be taken for granted and that the Liberal Democrats are best placed to help them. It says the government should introduce a price cap on heating oil and other off-grid fuels and expand the rural fuel duty relief scheme to be doubled and to cover more areas. It also calls for ministers to protect rural childcare providers with a package of support and provide emergency funding available to ambulance trusts to reverse or cancel closures of community ambulance stations.

Speaking exclusively to Lib Dem Voice, Helen Morgan said:

Those of us who live in rural areas like Shropshire are all well aware of the poor state of our services – from health to transport to broadband and policing.

The Conservatives have taken us for granted for far too long. My election was proof that people have had enough and want to be represented by a party with their interests at heart.

The UK cannot properly be levelled up without its rural areas being included.

The full motion is below.

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Women’s Aid highlights impact of cost of living crisis on women experiencing domestic abuse

Steep rises in the cost of food and energy are hard enough to deal with if you are on a low income. If you are in a situation where you are not safe at home, the impact is so much worse.

Women’s Aid have published the results of a survey of women who have experienced domestic abuse and the results make terrifying reading.

They found that:

Almost all survivors (96%) responding had seen a negative impact on the amount of money available to them as a result of cost of living increases. 

Two thirds (66%) of survivors told us that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control, including to justify further restricting their access to money. 

Almost three quarters (73%) of women living with and having financial links with the abuser said that the cost of living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave. 

It is hard enough to leave an abusive partner and it is awful to think that there are even more barriers to women reaching safety because of the current economic situation.

Women’s Aid call for the following:

An Emergency Domestic Abuse Fund to support  survivors of domestic abuse through this crisis period, to pay for essential items and energy bills. 

Reduced energy costs for all refuges during the cost of living crisis, for example by extending the remit of Warm Home Discount Scheme to include refuges;

Better provision of legal services for survivors; reduce the impact of legal aid costs for survivors; fairer access to legal aid and other advocacy services and interest-free loans for legal support where necessary.

Their Chief Executive, Farah Nazeer, said:

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Myanmar Executions, what now? 

After the initial burst of news, there have been few updates in the UK press on the situation in Myanmar following the military coup in February 2021.  This was till recently on 25th July 2022, when the military rulers announced that 4 democracy activists were executed.  According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), these 4 executions “were the first carried out among some 117 death sentences handed down by military-run courts since the coup”.

Chinese Libdems posted two articles on Myanmar previously Standing with Myanmar – Military rule and the struggle for democracy in Myanmar (March 2021) and Myanmar’s Simmering War and UK’s moral duty (June 2021).  Given recent developments, it is perhaps timely to give an update on the situation.  

Based on our research, we have gleaned the following:
– Myanmar is in early stages of civil war.  The pro-democracy groups have set up a National Unity Government (NUG) and has established a People’s Defence Force (PDF).  Other armed groups are the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAO) and the Sit-Tat (Myanmar Armed Forces belonging to the Junta).

– Myanmar is fragmented along conflict lines.  Some areas are under NUG control, and others by the various EAOs and the SIT-Tat.  Some areas would be in conflict as between government and rebel groups.  There is also a breakdown of national institutions (i.e., the military government) with some villages establishing their own administrative bodies.

In July 2022, China’s foreign minister during his first visit since the coup, “called for Myanmar’s junta to hold talks with its opponents.  The Junta would of course want to retain power as far as possible and is currently set on destroying the NUG despite calling themselves a transition government.  The NUG on the other hand is far from united with some seeking the replacement of the 2008 Constitution without any power sharing arrangements.  The execution of the 4 political activists can only stiffen the resolve of the NUG to defeat the Junta.

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Five Policies for a Manifesto: In Case of Snap Election, break glass

There’s been a lot of speculation, before and following the fall of Boris Johnson, that there could be a snap General Election this year – initially that Johnson himself might call one as a final desperate throw of the dice; later that whoever is new Tory leader would see the economic prospects as increasingly dire and go for a personal mandate to give themselves five years to try to ride out the coming Winter of Discontent. 

Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have now ruled out an early election. But they’ve promised a lot of other things they cannot deliver too.

So it would be wise to be thinking about what we want to see in a Liberal Democrat manifesto.

A snap election would be dominated by the cost of living crisis, so I’ve given some thought to how we might address some of the “freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity” with particular emphasis on the “freedom from poverty”, and looked a little to Maslow’s famous pyramid of needs.

Everyone will come up with their own answers. These are the answers that I thought of. 

1st Food and Water: 

No one should starve in this country. 

We will introduce a national basic income so everyone will have some means to feed themselves. We will include extra allowances based on need for medical equipment. 

We will protect and value our farming and fishing industries, and rebuild our relationship with the EU, our closest and largest market for buying and selling food, to lower barriers and bring down food prices.

We will invest in development of new vertical farming and hydroponics, for a food production and security and to reduce the pressure on intensive farming methods.

Britain is a famously rainy island but embarrassingly short of water.

We will address water-resilience through addressing the issue of losses through leakage, new reserve reservoirs, and de-salination plants. 

We will end the discharge of sewage into our rivers and beaches.

2nd Warmth and Light: 

We will build onshore and offshore wind turbines and tidal lagoons to provide sustainable low-cost electricity for all. We will make energy the new UK cash crop. 

With our mix of wind and tide power, Britain should have more than enough renewable energy supply to provide for the needs of the UK and more.

We will invest in and build new forms of power storage, including pumped water (like Dinorwic) compressed-air under-sea storage, molten salt/sand technologies, and battery storage to create a new National Grid for the 21st century, so that British companies can become the dominant players in what is obviously going to be one of the biggest markets in the world.

3rd Shelter: 

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The stark reality of ending freedom of movement

The summer holidays are always a time of intensive traveling for me and my family. It is usually a logistical challenge to try and visit both families in Poland and Croatia. For most of us, the “pandemic years” meant moving around was even more challenging. However due to a different set of unforeseen circumstances, we might have forgotten that visiting a family in Europe could easily become a real nightmare.

I landed in Warsaw on Friday, 29th July. As expected, there were long queues at the airport. A lot of people travel to Poland to either visit their family or spend some time exploring the spectacular nature, national parks and tasting delicious cuisine that Poland has to offer.

While waiting for my passport to be checked, I noticed a small group of people, British passport holders, with an elderly gentleman, who were told: “You are in the wrong queue”. This, as well as the recent debacle at the ferry crossing in Dover, clearly demonstrates what ending the freedom of movement looks like in practice. What a stark reality of what Brexit does to people. I must admit that I was quite surprised. 

Later on, after “digesting” the whole situation, I remembered a “historic speech” made by Priti Patel, who said: “After many years of campaigning, I am delighted that the Immigration Bill, which will end free movement on 31st December, has today passed through Parliament. We are delivering on the will of the British people”. In my view, Ms Patel forgot to add that this policy will work both ways.

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Liz Truss is still a Republican

Liz Truss was a British Republican when an undergraduate.  Now she’s much more an American Republican than a British Conservative.  Her rhetoric about tax cuts, paying for themselves through increasing economic growth, is straight out of the Reaganite textbook; which is hardly surprising, since she is on record as having asked right-wing think tanks in Washington while visiting what lessons she could learn from Reaganomics and their attacks on regulation and red tape.

It is surprising that commentators in Britain have not paid more attention to the long-term colonization of the Conservative Party by the American right.  I first caught a glimpse of the process when catching a plane to Washington for a transatlantic conference during a short parliamentary recess, some twenty years ago, and found myself accompanied by over a dozen Conservative MPs – none of them specialists in US-European relations – invited to meetings with Washington think tanks.  The stalwarts of the European Research Group look across the Atlantic for intellectual leadership, and often travel across; though they rarely interact with Conservative politicians on the European continent, except with Fidesz in Hungary and other authoritarian populists.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The sanctions gamble

Ukraine and Russia are engaged in a weapons war. The West in Russia are engaged in an economic war of attrition. The West’s main weapon is sanctions. Putin’s main weapons are European dependence on Russian oil and gas, food supplies to millions and the perceived decadence of Western populations. Europe had hoped to build up a reserve of stored gas supplies for the winter by importing as much Russian gas as possible until December. But Putin this week scuppered that plan by cutting piped exports by 80 percent. Germany has stopped lighting public buildings at night and has turned off the hot water in public sports centres. The price of energy is rocketing around the world, fuelling inflation and costing jobs.  There is a real prospect of energy rationing in Europe and possibly further afield. But what about Russia? Putin has admitted that Western sanctions are “a huge challenge.” The Mayor of Moscow has said the city has lost 200,000 jobs. Businesses have been forced to close and inflation in Russia is 16 percent. Analysts at Yale University this week reported that “imports have collapsed” and domestic production has come to a “complete standstill.” But here is the rub, Putin believes that Russians are tougher than their European and American counterparts. Western support for sanctions will collapse, Putin believes, when European and American consumers can no longer afford their long car journeys, overheated homes, exotic foods and multiple holidays. It’s a gamble. For both sides.

Pelosi visit threatens Xi’s position

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had a two-hour face to face in cyberspace this week. They discussed Ukraine, climate change and lifting some of the Trump era tariffs. But top of the list was Taiwan and the proposed trip to the disputed island by Speaker of the House of Representatives, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese have vowed “resolute and forceful measures” if the visit goes ahead. The Ministry of Defense has threatened that the “Chinese military will never sit idly by.” In Taiwan, the authorities have been conducting air raid drills. At the heart of the problem is China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan and its stated willingness to use force to impose it. To date, however, Beijing’s emphasis has been on diplomatic pressure. It has successfully isolated the Taipei government by hounding other nations to break off relations and blocking Taiwan’s membership of international bodies. Anything that smacks of international recognition of Taiwan is strongly opposed by Beijing, and a visit by a high-profile American politician who is third in line to the presidency is extremely high profile—especially given Ms Pelosi’s strong anti-Beijing position. She has repeatedly attacked the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record, entertained the Dalai Lama, unfurled a pro-democracy banner in Tiananmen Square and supported Hong Kong demonstrators. In short, she is not well-liked in Beijing.  But there are other problems related to President Xi’s position within the Chinese Communist Party. It is not strong at the moment. He is viewed by many as having badly managed the covid pandemic and China’s response to the war in Ukraine. In October the Party will hold its national congress at which Xi is expected to be voted a third term. It is important that the vote is a general acclamation rather than a mere majority vote. Failure to stand firm on Taiwan—added to covid and Ukraine—could undermine that.

The Brexit Conundrum

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