Category Archives: Op-eds

On leaving the “best job in politics”

It is with a heavy heart that after nearly a decade working for the party in one form or another, I am finally moving on. I started as a press officer a few months into Nick Clegg’s leadership and since last summer I have had the privilege of serving as the party’s Director of Communications. In that time I have managed to clock up three General Elections, three referendums, three party leaders, four chief executives, 18 spring and autumn conferences, nine TV debate ‘spin rooms’, two crucial by-election victories, one Glee Club (I walked out and vowed never to return), one Daily Mail hatchet job, and snuck references to Milton Keynes (#cityofdreams) into two party leaders’ conference speeches. I even met my wife Thais at a Lib Dem conference.

The most memorable moment for me came a few minutes after the first ITV Leader’s Debate in April 2010. I was in the spin room at the Manchester Hilton when all the journalists in my eye line started rushing to the back of the room. I turned to see that Peter Mandelson had wafted in, with a swarm of cameras, Dictaphones and shorthand notebooks forming around him within seconds. I edged a little closer, in time to hear the opening words of his no doubt carefully crafted response: “Nick Clegg won”. The full sentence was “Nick Clegg won on style but Gordon Brown won on substance”, but when the Dark Lord of Spin acknowledges in any form at all that your guy won, you know you have stepped through the looking glass.

That night changed the course of our party’s fortunes, but it also changed my life. I had joined the press office of a party that hadn’t been in national government for decades, with no expectation that would be changing any time soon. A few short years later I would be working in 10 Downing Street. And five years on from that fateful night in Manchester, I would be sat at two in the morning in the smoky front room of Nick Clegg’s flat in south west Sheffield, as the scale of our 2015 collapse began to become apparent, helping him to write a resignation speech. 

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Vince: Only Lib Dems offer strategy for growth and prosperity

Earlier, we brought you a flavour of Vince’s big pre-Budget speech.  Here is the speech in full:

As Leader of the Liberal Democrats, it is one of my responsibilities to give a serious Lib Dem analysis of the economics around the Budget, and to present an alternative.

I have recently been returned to Parliament from exile.

One of my regrets, however, is that the previous competition between the parties on economic competence no longer exists.

The likes of Gordon Brown, George Osborne, Ed Balls and Oliver Letwin were all serious players and thinkers even if I often disagreed with them.

Now, the economy – pivotal still to people’s lives – has been relegated to the margins of political debate.

The June election produced minimal discussion of economic policy.

The Conservatives didn’t produce any economic numbers in their manifesto.

Labour did, but as the IFS caustically pointed out at the time, there was a strong element of fantasy.

My Party did much better than our rivals at the hands of the IFS and serious commentators at the FT and The Economist but few noticed. And, now, economic debate is drowned out by the politics of Brexit and an unstable government.

Yet this is an unusually important and difficult budget.

The Chancellor has foresworn the use of a second budget, traditionally used to correct the mistakes in the first.

And the potential for a massive, if unquantifiable, economic shock from an unsatisfactory deal – or, even, ‘no deal’ is palpable.

Brexit hangs over the forecasts.

The environment of radical uncertainty is already spooking business investment and depressing growth, including the growth in government revenue.

I want, then, to set out some analysis of where we are and some ideas for where the Liberal Democrats think Britain could and should go.

Our focus is on freeing up capital spending to build the homes and infrastructure the country needs, on reviving the NHS with a targeted injection of cash, and on giving a leg up to young people with a learning account as they begin their working lives.

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Your data, your choice – the ALDES fringe meeting in Bournemouth

Government, business and our personal lives are increasingly driven by our personal data. Credit card transactions, location data, and health records have the potential to improve products, provide insight for policymaking, and detect security threats. But they also challenge our notions of privacy, intimacy and autonomy. How can results from privacy research be translated into policy?

The session was chaired by Richard Gomer, a researcher in Meaningful Consent. The panellists brought expertise from the areas of publishing, computer science, artificial intelligent and security

  • Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye (Data Scientist and privacy researcher at Imperial College London)
  • Luc Moreau (Professor of Computer Science at King’s College London)
  • Yogesh Patel (Chief Scientist at Callsign)
  • Leonie Mueck (Division Editor at PLOS ONE.)

Questions to the panel

  1. What could mathematics offer to address the issues? The question was taken by Yves who said that in the context of Big Data statistical and analytical techniques are important to model behaviour and understand how sensitive information can be inferred from apparently innocuous data. Luc pointed to algorithmic accountability as a major challenge for data provenance modelling.
  2. How is anonymization done and how could it be undone? Leonie addressed the context of repositories of data under pinning research. Concern is considerable in the health domain but it is also an area where regulation is quite mature. De-identification itself is an obsolete technique and not a useful basis for any privacy policy. The publishing business would welcome formulation of and clarification on the rules and regulations. Yogesh emphasised the maturity of cryptography but recognised its limitations.
  3. What is the role of data governance and its complementarity with techniques such as differential privacy? It can be hard for organisations to know what their own policies should be, though. Techniques for de-anonymisation are still being developed, so a technique applied to data today could be insufficient in the future.
  4. What is the role of accountability and techniques such as Data Provenance tracking in providing greater accountability? The panel considered the role of trust, and the necessity of building services and technology that are trustworthy. Regulation has a role here and understanding exactly what would make an organisation trustworthy could do with some exploration.
  5. What are the challenges in privacy self-management? Regulatory regimes place much of the onus on the individual. The complexity and scale of digital services makes this challenging. There are alternative to explore here are AI decision support and regulatory approaches that recognise collective bargaining from data subjects.

Discussion and recommendations

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Observations of an ex pat: A media world

The world’s media is rapidly changing. And as it changes it plays a sad role in helping to divide society.

The irony is that the press in all its forms has never been freer, more competitive and offered a greater array of opinion and facts.

The number of traditional print platforms has markedly declined, and the ones that remain are only just staying in business with slashed circulation figures.

The print business, however is being rapidly replaced with news websites. As of the start of this year there were an estimated 100 million news websites worldwide. This compares to about 18,000 daily newspapers.

To understand the impact of these figures it is important to realise a basic truism about the vast majority of the media. It exists to make a profit. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule such as state-owned broadcasters or magazines and newspapers published by pressure groups.

The benefit of a profit-oriented media is that profits keep the press free. Without profits journalists quickly became mouthpieces for whomever is stumping up the cash to pay their bills. Alternatively, they become more outrageous in their news coverage in a desperate bid to maintain circulation figures. This is often as true of what is referred to the mainstream media, quality or broadsheet newspapers as it is of the tabloid scandal sheets. Desperate times induce desperate measures.

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Make Britain Great Again! First, though, the sacrifices…

Deep in our human consciousness is a memory handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. It is that to propitiate our gods, whoever they may be, it’s necessary to sacrifice something valuable on their altars. This will persuade the god to look favourably on the giver and be good to him. Gods could shape Fate, so to make a sacrifice, part of an act of worship supervised by priests, was a necessary ritual.

I believe that this folk memory of necessary sacrifice to keep oneself safe has surfaced again in the unconscious of British people today, and affects …

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Integrating Physical and Mental Health

There is a new initiative from the King’s Fund on integrating physical and mental health care. They are setting up an “Integrating Physical and Mental Health Care Learning Network”.

The King’s Fund learning networks provide an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning, challenge and information-sharing. Network members have the opportunity to work through local issues with colleagues facing similar challenges. External speakers will share insights on relevant topics, and the group will also draw on expertise from staff at the Fund, as well as our latest research and publications.

This follows on from their 2016 …

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Notes From A New Councillor: Bus Services Motion Passes!

I wanted to post an update to the blog I wrote in August on the poor bus provision in Oxfordshire due to cuts in bus subsidies.

There are two parts to this story – the motion I moved on Tuesday to Full Council which passed unanimously – hooray! – and how I got the motion to its final form.

We’ll start with the second part, as that was the real journey for me as a new councillor.  I had originally submitted this motion for September full council, but we ran out of time …

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    ............... I would be sat at two in the morning in the smoky front room of Nick Clegg’s flat in south west Sheffield, as the...