Category Archives: Op-eds

The Elephant in the Room

I was once told I have a memory like an elephant! I didn’t realise what that meant, and the friend who told me explained. She said that elephants have long memories. They remember. It is true. I do.

I remember a time when governments were at least able to behave in a way we could say was responsible, in carrying out their duties, because they knew they were responsible for the delivery of services. Now we have a dereliction of duty. And appallingly stretched public services.

I remember when even this government, late with everything, at least, though late, did something. Now they are doing not much more than nothing.

There is an elephant in the room. It has a long memory. It knows that there was a better way of doing things, through long past and recent history. It understands that it was never acceptable to accept unnecessary deaths. It realises that the preservation of life itself is the greatest instinct of humanity itself. It remembers when, in progressive, tolerant societies, preventable deaths were not tolerated.

A crisis has not been solved. Vaccines have not solved it. They have lessened it. It could have been solved by the vaccines, to a greater extent, if the virus had been dealt with more effectively, and the variants not emerged as a result of ineffective government.

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The disconnect that many Lib Dems cannot see – or refuse to see

The word ‘tragedy’ is used in the literary world in a very specific sense: to denote a situation in which people can’t see what’s going on around them and how it’s destined to end in tears. I cannot help feeling we Liberal Democrats are in the middle of a tragedy we need to stop very soon before it’s too late.

Our autumn conference last month had a steady underlying seam of tribalism about it. The most outward sign was the motion to stand a candidate in every seat unless local members agree to stand aside. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about this motion; it’s what it says about the underlying mood that worries me – that we are the Lib Dems and we don’t need to do business with anyone else, thank you.

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Munira Wilson on stabbings

This past week, like so many of you, I have been deeply shocked and saddened by two fatal stabbings.

Last Tuesday, 18 year-old student at Richmond College, Hazrat Wali, was stabbed to death on Craneford Way fields. My heart goes out to his family, friends and the whole college community as they come to terms with this tragic incident. I know many local residents are understandably extremely concerned regarding safety in the area and knife crime. On Wednesday, I arranged a meeting with the police, college leadership and councillors close to the site of the stabbing to understand what immediate actions were being taken and to press for additional patrols and reassurance for residents. Both the police and college security have stepped up their patrols. I and local councillors will continue to engage with them and the local community in the coming weeks and months to ensure residents feel safer.

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Why not ignore the Government’s call to return to the office?

Last week, Government MPs and the forces of darkness Daily Mail were calling on civil servants to stop lazing around at home and get back to work, in part as an example to the private sector, and perhaps as support to their friends in the commercial property sector.

Meanwhile, many sectors are recognising the challenges and opportunities that allowing their staff greater flexibility in terms of where they work bring. I would argue that, ultimately, there are a number of key issues that will determine whether or not our office culture can, will or should adapt.

The end of “command and control”?

Can you trust your staff to perform their duties without being physically overseen? Remote management relies on a more adult relationship between manager and managed, and the use of management data to spot poor performance will become ever more important. That gives organisations, especially Government departments, an incentive to be more selective in their target setting, and focus more on customer outcomes over administrative box-ticking exercises, on quality over quantity. That in turn offers the hope of better, more efficient government.

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Liberalism or Die

The best definition Liberalism I know was spelled out by Timothy Garton Ash in a Guardian article on 29 November 2004.

Liberalism, properly understood (is) a quest for the greatest possible measure of individual freedom compatible with the freedom of others.

That’s all there is to it if we understand “freedom to” (live and eat decently, get educated, achieve our potential, participate in society, debate our differences in a respectful manner) as well as “freedom “from“ (want, fear, coercion, domination, exploitation).

We now know that Fukuyama was wrong to declare the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy in 1989. It is virtually non-existent in China, and on the back foot in India, severely dented by continuing Trumpism in the USA and populist nationalism in parts of Eastern Europe, and our own government is systematically removing its building blocks in the UK.

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ALDC by-election report: 14 September 2021

After a busy couple of weeks there were fewer by-elections on Thursday night. Polls were held in Surrey Heath, Harrow, Wigan, Billericay and Falkirk.

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Lib Dems and Labour won’t contest Southend West by-election

The Liberal Democrats have stated that, along with Labour, we will not contest the forthcoming Southend West by-election caused by the shocking murder of Sir David Amess MP on Friday.

From the Evening Standard:

PA news agency understands that Labour is set to follow the principle established after Jo Cox’s murder in 2016 when parties which held Commons seats declined to select candidates in the subsequent Batley and Spen by-election, which was won by Tracey Brabin.

As a result of that move five years ago, it is understood Labour will refuse to contest the by-election in which voters will be asked to elect Sir David’s replacement after his tragic death on Friday.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman confirmed to PA that the party will not fight for the seat either when a polling date is set.

This is the second time in five years that the two parties have made this decision after an MP has been killed in violent circumstances.

It’s very different from the 80s and 90s when the parties stood in by-elections following the murders of Sir Anthony Berry and Ian Gow. In the 1979 General Election, held weeks after the assassination of Airey Neave, Labour and Lib Dems contested his Abingdon seat.

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World Review: War in Africa, Northern Ireland, Poland, Lebanon and Russian gas

In this weekend’s World Review, LDV’s foreign affairs correspondent writes on the war in Ethiopia and warns that if the conflict drags on much longer then the almost certain danger is that it will spread throughout Ethiopia and then other countries in the strategic Horn of Africa. Northern Ireland and Poland’s difficulties with the EU have a common stumbling block  – the  European Court of Justice. Have the Russians weaponised exports of natural gas to Europe? And Lebanon took another giant step towards failed state status this week when terrorists killed seven people.

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David Amess: Do we need to cool the temperature of political debate?

The shocking death of Sir David Amess MP has reignited the debate about how best to ensure the safety of elected representatives and others in public office. That phrase, public office, is critically important to those that elect to run for election and then serve as MPs and councillors. But being public can also be dangerous.

The police have declared yesterday’s stabbing a terrorist incident. That does not mean we should ignore the growing abuse and antagonism between the public and politicians at all levels and between politicians in the House of Commons and elsewhere.

PMQs has become ever more gladiatorial, with media pundits declaring winners and losers.

But should political debate be conducted at a feverish temperature, more about point scoring and tribal loyalties than getting the right things done for our country and its citizens.

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Observations of an Expat: Crunch Time for Justices

The US Supreme Court has started one of its most difficult and important sessions in history. It will deal with two of America’s biggest issues—abortion and gun laws. Their decisions will have repercussions on the future of the court, the American justice system and the nation’s social divisions.

First the cases: Abortion is one of the most divisive—if not the most divisive issue—in modern American history. The anti-abortion lobby has worked tirelessly to overturn Roe v. Wade since the moment it became law in 1973. The pro-life lobby has fought just as hard to retain it. Donald Trump’s appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanagh and Amy Comey Barrett, has given the court a 6-3 conservative bias and the anti-abortion lobby its best chance ever of overturning Roe v. Wade. For the pro-abortion lobby, a decision to uphold Roe v. Wade with the current make-up of the court could, in theory, put the issue to rest for ever.

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The Party’s Crisis – a response to comments

The paper on the crisis facing the party, linked to by my LDV article on 30 September, sparked a great many pages of debate, for which I am grateful. However, much of that debate was centred around policies and their varying relevance to the current Liberal Democrat identity and programme. Normally I would have been delighted to have catalysed such a debate but the paper was intended to confront the party, and particularly in this context, LDV readers, with the nature of the acute crisis that challenges the future of the party itself. The argument in the paper is that if there is no viable party to promote them, then all policy ideas are castles in the air – shimmering perhaps, but no less ethereal for that.

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Public understanding of science

BBC Radio 4’s Day of the Scientist (12 Oct.) was timely in a world where science is serving us so well. Sir Patrick Vallance called for science to be as highly regarded as economics by politicians. To that I would add the need for interdisciplinarity. Science and society belong together.

Scotland, to its great discredit, was without a Chief Scientific Adviser for a lengthy period around 2016. Cynics might even have suspected the SNP preferred not to have scientific advice.

During 13 years as an Edinburgh city councillor there seemed little understanding of Science among the majority of councillors and council staff. It would have been comforting to read accurate accounts of properties of materials, to challenge the extremes of populism over e.g. genetic modification, to have been sure that sustainability was more than a buzzword. Happily Liberal Democrats had scientist councillors Sue Tritton and Jim Lowrie in our ranks. And the current group has councillor Kevin Lang.

Public understanding of science is vital, and it is encouraging that many excellent communicators have been given air time during the pandemic. Edinburgh has an annual Science Festival, where people can learn in a fun way – from making lie detectors (very useful for a politician’s bag of tricks) to tasting different chocolates – as well as hearing stimulating talks aimed at a general audience. Chaos theory remains one of my favourites; perhaps helpful in assessing the current crop of ruling politicians.

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Covid and authoritarianism: were we wrong-footed over Covid passports?

I’m hearing genuine concern about the increasing authoritarianism of the Johnson government and more complicated concerns about civil liberties and Covid regulations — particularly around the idea of Covid passports. But these are profoundly different. Joining them together is a bad idea, and plays into the government’s hands.

Creeping authoritarianism

The Tories thought nothing of illegally proroguing parliament. They responded to losing in the Supreme Court with a threat to stop “leftie lawyers” challenging the government. Proposals for compulsory voter identification and redrawing constituency boundaries are likely to help them at the next election, and they are alarmingly-happy to use “Henry VIII powers” to sideline parliament in facing the legislative consequences of Brexit. And it’s probably best not to mention the recent Conservative Party conference.

These are problems, and we should be concerned. But they are not about Covid.

A friend who travels frequently between the UK and Belgium makes a sharp contrast. In Belgium the messaging around Covid has been “this is what the doctors advise…” In the UK it’s been “obey the government and you will be fine” (even when the government ignores the advice of SAGE). Praise of obedience sounds horribly authoritarian.

But obeying the government isn’t about Covid.

People accept authoritarianism if it makes them feel safer. A government that stirs up people’s anxieties, ducks responsibility and presents itself as the answer has a way to hang on to power.

The medical piece

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I’ve had enough of nonference

I was hugely disappointed to see the recent decision to not return to an in-person spring conference in Spring 2022.

York has been proud to be the home of the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in recent years. A return in Spring 2022, after the terrible events of the last 18 months would have been a real boost to party morale. When we attend the 2022 Autumn conference, it will have been over 1,000 days since we last heard a leader’s speech from the hall.

Despite the Lib Dems being in administration in York since 2015, nobody in the party thought it necessary to pick up the phone and speak to us about the 2022 decision in advance of the announcement. As a party that champions local government, we should be putting our values into practice.

As City of York Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Communities, colleagues and I have been working with York Barbican, hoteliers and city partners to support them through the pandemic and help them welcome back visitors to our wonderful city, safely.

I understand the devastating effect that Covid continues to have on society and the need to  continue to take precautions to protect one another. As the son of a clinically vulnerable parent, I am acutely aware of the concerns that many of us have about holding large events at the present time. The poor management of the pandemic by the Government has left many of us understandably fearful that recent improvements can be swiftly undone by the upcoming winter.

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Ed Fordham: Why I can’t attend a civic event in a venue that rejects me, my marriage and my community

LDV contributor and Chesterfield Councillor Ed Fordham has written to the Mayor of Chesterfield, her predecessors and the Council Chief Executive to be open about the reasons he can’t attend the annual Mayor-making procession and service – because it is held in a Church of England church, an organisation which doesn’t support same sex marriage equality.

I am really impressed that Ed has spoken out about this. He has made the case very eloquently and he has given permission for us to reproduce it here.

Our civic events have to be inclusive and I hope that those who are responsible for organising them at any level think about this.

Here is Ed’s letter:

As you know I sent my apologies to the formal mayor making, procession and service at St Mary and All Saints Church. As you know I stand in the open market on a Thursday and a Saturday and this usually conflicts with the procession and service. Accordingly it has been easy for me to send my apologies and absent myself as a councillor.

However, as a friend and out of a desire to be honest I feel I should write explaining my true reason.

In 2013 the law of the land was finally changed to enable two people of the same sex who love each other to marry each other (this took effect on March 2014).. My life partner and I took advantage of that and duly married that year – indeed we had a religious wedding in a Unitarian Chapel.

I was closely involved in the passage of the bill and am more than a little aware of the resistance of the Church of England to the bill and indeed to the debate. This was not universal to the Church and there are many good friends of mine who fight for acceptance and reform of the Church of England from within. However, the position of the Church and indeed the Bishops remains that it is opposed to LGBT+ marriage equality. Indeed, several gay friends who are clergy within the Church who have married their same sex partner have had their license to lead worship withdrawn. This has only been enabled because the Church of England is, astonishingly, exempt from aspects of the nation’s employment law as it affects equality.

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UPDATED: Commons committees’ report says government’s Covid response was “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”

Embed from Getty Images

The “Lessons learnt to date” report has been published by two key House of Commons committees.

It says the government’s early planning was based on a risk assessment that a pandemic would result in 100 deaths and be like flu: “the likelihood of an emerging infectious disease spreading within the UK is assessed to be lower than that of a pandemic flu”.

It lists a catalogue of errors concluding:

…decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice

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How to beat Johnson’s government on economics

Might election campaigns have the foundations of attractive ideas, emotional appeal and a plausible previous record?

This government has/had strong emotional appeal, especially through its leader. Its ideas have the benefit of being based on the currently dominant economic theory of Neo-liberalism. It is supported, directly and indirectly by the mainstream media which, mostly, bolsters the performance of HM Government.

Opposition parties lack the theatrical style of Mr. Johnson. Therefore attack his language techniques. Ratios of jokes to facts? Ditto facts to inaccuracies. Ditto future tenses to past tenses. Which speech has the most metaphors etc.?

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An encounter with a refugee from Afghanistan

The refugee crisis, ways in which people in often desperate need of help, should be supported, still hugely divides politicians, decision makers, families and our communities.

  • “Welcome or not welcome”?
  • If welcome, how many?
  • Support legitimate governments in war torn countries?
  • Send aid? Where to?
  • Support directly organisations such as British Red Cross?

Endless questions…There is not one easy answer. There is not one solution to solve this complex and global issue. People have always migrated. People will continue to “move around” for a wide range of reasons. Some of us have a choice of going back to our native countries, however many individuals have absolutely no choice. That choice was often taken away from them without their will. The decision to flee was “imposed” on them. Many refugees that I met since I arrived in the UK, often, didn’t want to leave their homes.

In the last week or so, I had another opportunity to meet a refugee, this time from Afghanistan. It is one thing to read a story in the paper or watch a bit of “refugee news” on TV; it really is very different when we encounter someone who had to, often overnight, leave absolutely everything.

Imagine this: it is hard, however you have a job, you work and you are able to support your family. Then, due to “external factors”; sudden change of circumstances, in order to remain safe and alive, you have to flee. You are then “parachuted” into another country, UK in this case. You are moved around; from Birmingham, Croydon, to Hertfordshire. You are given very little support. You have to find your way around a very inhumane and complex system. You might be moved again as your accommodation was given to you on a temporary basis. You have nothing; not even a buggy to move your child around while you are trying to find the best way to stay “sane”. You are tired, confused, bewildered. Endless emails, confused messages; an absolute nightmare. But, you still smile…How? I have no idea. A simple, often emotional conversation, with a real person can hugely change our perceptions on how to support refugees.

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New Fawcett Society report on tackling sexual harassment in the workplace

The Fawcett Society in collaboration with Chwarae Teg, Women’s Resource & Development Agency and Close the Gap has produced a very comprehensive report aimed at giving employers advice about how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. They will be producing a toolkit for employers in the Spring.

The 113 page report covers how to change the culture of an organisation to show that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, set up reporting mechanisms, how to treat those making reports and how to respond to reports.

Key findings of the report include:

  • At least 40% of women have experienced workplace harassment, and women who are marginalised for other reasons, such as race or disability, face an increased risk and different forms of sexual harassment
  • 45% of women in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment online through sexual messages, cyber harassment and sexual calls
  • Almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment had increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while they were working from home
  • Almost seven in ten (68%) disabled women reported being sexually harassed at work, compared to 52% of women in general
  • Ethnic minority workers (women and men) reported higher rates (32%) of sexual harassment than white workers (28%) over the last 12 months
  • A poll of LGBT workers found that 68% had experienced some form of harassment in the workplace

These figures are truly disturbing and show the extent of the problem.

One bisexual woman describes her experience:

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Lib Dems mark World Mental Health Day

10th October every year is World Mental Health Day.

This is a cause that is very close to Lib Dem hearts. We were talking about it long before it became mainstream. We understand the impact of poor mental health and when Norman Lamb was health minister in England during the coalition years, he did so much to improve access to mental health care, particularly for young people.

In Scotland we have never been lucky enough to have a Health Minister who actually gets it. And things are getting worse.

A GP gave evidence to a Holyrood Committee this week saying that referrals to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service were being rejected.

The feedback is actually very very consistent, that there is a big yawning gap. Obviously GPs offer universal services and holistic care and I think one of the advantages that we have is that we work very closely with our health visitors and our family and it’s often the whole family that are involved when a child or adolescent has a mental health problem.

But the feeling is still that the bar for referrals is very very high. GPs and I include myself in this, say that they will “think three or four times”, and I’m quoting there, before even considering a referral, and we have high levels of referral rejections.

And I think the other thing about referrals is that we know how damaging it can sometimes be to the person referred and their family if they get a rejection because they’ve often tried lots of other things before they get to us.

In a panel on mental health at the joint Scottish and Welsh Conference yesterday, GP and 2022 Council Candidate Drummond Begg talked about the need to prioritise mental health because the brain was the most important organ in the body.

Alex Cole-Hamilton highlighted that over 40,000 calls to a mental health helpline in Scotland were abandoned.

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World Review: Tensions east, in NATO, in Facebook and in Boris’s Britain

In this weekend’s World Review, Tom Arms comments on the implications of a mutual defence pact between Greece and France for Turkey’s role in NATO. Heading for cooler climes, Covid-19 has reached Antarctica but for those who as destined to suffer or die from malaria in sub-Sharan Africa, a vaccine has been approved for to tackle the disease. Tension are building in the east and Taiwan, China, the US and other countries are in danger of falling into the trap of unintended consequences. Can Facebook be held to account? And how can Boris boast about Britain being one of the world’s wealthiest countries while branding it “broken”?

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ALDC by-election report: 7 September 2021

The Lib Dems had a fantastic night in Thursday’s by-elections – defending four seats and winning all of them!

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Observations of an Expat: Too Big to Fail

The US Treasury is too big to fail. Failure, however, is a real possibility. In fact, Federal Reserve Bank Chairperson Janet Yellen warned earlier this week that the government would be forced to default on its loans on 18 October unless the self-imposed cap of $28 trillion was raised.

Reluctantly, the Senate voted 48-51 to push up the ceiling by $458 million and postponed decision day to 3 December when battle will be recommenced.

There is a string of dire warnings if the cap is not raised by trillions in the run-up to Christmas. Forty percent of financial aid would be affected which would possibly mean no housing benefits, child benefits, social security, Medicare or Medicaid payments. Federal employees pay would be jeopardised. America’s credit rating would be downgraded. Interest rates would rise affecting mortgages, business loans and credit card payments. Inflation would go up with the obvious impact on prices and pensioners on fixed incomes.

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Scottish Lib Dems call for measures to end the drug deaths emergency

In an emotional debate this afternoon, the Scottish Liberal Democrats passed a motion on ending Scotland’s drugs deaths emergency:

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to see the people not the numbers.

New leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, whose professional life before politics was helping disadvantaged young people, showed how important this issue was to him by proposing the motion. His speech was so effective, compassionate and caring.

Culture spokesperson Joe McCauley talked about the deaths of two of his family members.

It was a such a powerful and emotional speech.

I spoke about my friend Tracy, and her son, Nathan, who died in March at the age of 20 from an overdose of street valium.

It is so important that we reaffirm our commitment to treat drug use as a public health issue, and ensure that people caught in possession of drugs are referred for treatment and help, not put through a justice system that isn’t working.

If the justice system worked to deal with these issues, Nathan would have emerged from court and prison in better shape than he went in.

Just two days before he died, he was arrested. The day before he died, he appeared in court. He wasn’t offered any help with his issues.

Tracy told the Daily Record last month:

I begged police to make interventions with him when he was a teenager, to get him out of the way of drug dealers.
“But the bottom line with them was always the same.
“They never discussed diverting him to treatment or doing anything other than arrest people.”

“I just feel that if we had arrived at where we are today and there were proper professionals who understand trauma able to speak to him, he could have had a fighting chance.”

She feels that if the changes that Dorothy Bain announced last month had been in place a year ago, Nathan would be alive today.

After the motion passed, Alex said:

Scotland has the worst drug mortality in Europe. Nearly four times the rate of our neighbours in England and Wales. We cannot continue to witness this epidemic destroying lives.

“Despite the focus of an entire ministerial portfolio, additional investment and interventions like the rollout of naloxone, people are still dying at the same terrifying rate. That is the legacy of years of prior government inaction.

“Government must be open to learning from international best practice. It is why I have written to the Director General of the WHO to ask for a specialised taskforce, made up of leading experts in drug mortality, to analyse and mobilise against this particularly Scottish epidemic.”

And our spokesperson for the drugs death emergency Ben Lawrie said:

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A new narrative for community democracy?

Have you noticed the hierarchical language that is often used by public service providers?

Local authorities, and others, are required to ‘engage’ with residents. ‘Citizen empowerment’ is offered as a gift by government.

Even those of us involved in politics fall into the trap and sometimes talk as though it is government that drives society; we talk as though it is government that is the main source of welfare for citizens; and we talk as though it is government that creates successful communities.

We need to turn this on its head. We need to talk instead of government dependent on, and subservient to, the dynamic communities they represent and serve.

As Liberal Democrats we are proud of our practice of community politics. We now need a new narrative of community democracy.

In our personal lives we all know that the things that have the greatest impact on us happen quite independently of local or national government. What matters to us most are our relationships with others, and our interactions with the localities where we live and work.

We must return to a concept of community that has, at its heart, individuals who are free to make and break relationships with each other, individuals who are free to develop roots, as deep or as shallow as they wish, in their local area, and individuals who are free to form local networks based on common interest and common interests. Community democracy grows organically from the natural relationships and networks that already exist in localities.

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In defence of Liberal principles

At the (virtual) Party Conference at the weekend, a large number of amendments will be proposed to the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Constitution. Many of these are recommended by a Working Group (of which I was a member) appointed by the Executive. Others are proposed by the Executive themselves, mostly intended to improve or clarify the wording, and largely uncontentious. There is one, however, which was not recommended by the Working Group and which I believe should be strongly opposed.

Since the formation of the Party in 1988, the Constitution has set out the grounds on which a Party Member can be expelled from membership and the procedure by which this can be done. Until 2009, there was no provision for suspending a person’s membership while the grounds for expulsion were investigated or considered. A power to suspend was then inserted into the Constitution, largely because there could be occasions when the Party’s reputation might be at risk if it did not seem to be taking action about something unacceptable. The length of time for which a member can be suspended was limited to three months, after which it must lapse. The concept of “innocent until proved guilty” is an important one to anyone of liberal mind. Suspension, even for a short time, does deprive somebody of their rights and needs to be justified.

The Executive is proposing to Conference to increase the length of time for which a Party Member may be suspended to six months. I understand that the reason arises from our adoption of the Federal Party’s disciplinary process a few years ago. This process was a response to concern about the Party’s handling of complaints of inappropriate behaviour by Party Members, and it can be quite protracted, though cases now average about six weeks.

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How do you solve a problem like Dominic Raab?

This morning Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, exposed his own ignorance on live television:

Lib Dem Women and Equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:

“It’s little wonder the Conservatives are failing to tackle misogyny when their Justice Secretary doesn’t even seem to know what it is.”

“These comments are an insult to the millions of women and girls impacted by misogyny and show just how out of touch the Conservatives are on this issue.

“Women and girls deserve better than these callous remarks. The Government must make misogyny a hate crime so that police forces take these crimes more seriously and support women and girls who are being so desperately let down.”

This is, of course, the very same Dominic Raab who, when Brexit Secretary, said the following:

“We are, and I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and if you look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.

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William Wallace writes…Promises of tax cuts deny reality

Rishi Sunak reassured the Conservative Party conference on Monday: ‘Yes, I want tax cuts,’ though not until public finances have been ‘put back on a sustainable footing.’ That’s code for cutting public expenditure and public investment. The substantial proportion of Conservative MPs who believe in a small state repeatedly call for tax cuts without saying where they would cut spending. IN committing to balancing the budget Sunak is committing himself to cutting spending as well – or breaking the manifesto pledge not to raise taxes again. He will be well aware that Republican Administrations in the USA have repeatedly run rising deficits as they cut taxes but failed to cut spending.

Liberal Democrats should resist any temptation to criticise the Conservatives for raising taxes. We should condemn them vigorously for raising taxes unfairly – for hitting lower-paid workers through raising National Insurance while sparing higher earners. Fair taxation has to be progressive taxation, oriented to take more from those who have more. The UK is more sharply unequal in terms of both income and wealth than almost all other developed democracies except the USA. Repeating ‘give us tax cuts and a smaller state’ sweeps aside the social and economic challenges that the UK faces.

Like other developed democracies, we have a rising number of elderly people drawing pensions and using health and other public services. We have cut public spending on education and training well below comparable countries, with results that are apparent in our shortage of skills. We have invested too little in housing and public infrastructure for decades. Transition to a more sustainable economy, including moving toward net zero carbon emissions, will require major public as well as private investment. The UK has also invested much less in scientific research and development than other leading states. Boris Johnson has promised to make us ‘a scientific superpower’, but has not yet explained how that will be funded.

And then there is ‘Levelling Up’, which is becoming the defining measure of Johnsonian government – and the likeliest source of public disillusion at the gap between easy promises and poor delivery. Long-term reduction of regional inequalities cannot be achieved without higher investment in education, local as well as long-distance transport, the revival of local government and public services, housing and local enterprise. That’s a huge agenda, reversing decades of neglect by successive government, and requires a sustained increase in public spending.

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Sexism in the Police force goes way beyond the Met

The failings of the Metropolitan Police with regard to the murder of Sarah Everard have been well documented over the past few days. Our Wendy Chamberlain, the only woman in the Commons to have been a serving Police officer, has been absolutely brilliant in highlighting the need for change in the force.

But the institutional sexism goes way beyond the Police. Former Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Sue Fish described yesterday how she didn’t dare report sexual assault by a colleague for fear of the consequences for them and, even more disturbingly she recounted:

that she had a senior colleague that was arrested and jailed for having sex with a “vulnerable” woman during his shift.

She said she would be left, as a young probationary officer, driving a marked car around in circles while her older colleague – nicknamed ‘Pervert’ – would visit the house of a woman he met on the job.

And an employment tribunal has found “horrific” examples of a sexist culture in a Police Scotland armed policing unit. The BBC reports some of the indignities that women officers in that unit had to put up with.

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Six hours without Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – is social media now vital infrastructure?

Social media is central to our lives. It is arguably essential to our lives. Many of us believe it is helpful to our lives, though some blame it for the evils of the world.

When Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went offline for six hours yesterday, there was immediate outrage about the outage on Twitter but of course the other main social networks had been silenced.

The outage interrupted important council business for me. On the other hand, there were no distractions as I tucked into dinner and prepared for sleep. And I slept well.

Perhaps, we should shut down social media for a whole day a week to give us all a break from the continual stream of contacts. That’s a nice idea. But are we reaching the point that provision of social media has become such a part of our lives that it should be regarded as vital infrastructure? Perhaps it needs a regulator, Offsocial.

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