Category Archives: Op-eds

Observations of an Expat: Not So Evergrande

Uncertainty – political and economic – is the buzzword doing the rounds as the world faces the imminent collapse of Chinese property giant Evergrande.

And the market – in fact everyone – hates uncertainty.

No one knows how the secretive Communist Party leader Xi Jinping will react. Will he take the view that Evergrande is too big to fail or too big to save?

What will be the reaction of the millions of Chinese who are set to lose the money they gave to Evergrande and Country Garden (the other Chinese property company on the brink of collapse) for unfinished homes?

Will the problem of Chinese homelessness, high youth unemployment (currently running at 21.3 percent) and slow recovery from Covid create social unrest? And if it does, past performance indicates that Xi would respond with increased repression.

Can the ruling Chinese Communist Party escape the political consequences of its high-growth policies by shifting blame onto the shoulders of the companies’ management?

Evergrande’s debts total $300 billion. Country Garden’s liabilities are estimated at another $100 billion. Between them they directly employ more than 250,000 workers. Indirectly, millions of jobs will be impacted in industries servicing the property market.

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A taxing question

The UK needs to spend a lot of money in order to deal with its collapsing public sector. There are daily reports of crumbling schools, poor transport infrastructure, shortages of staff and beds in the NHS and so on. Any new government is going to face the problem of where the money to restore public services will come from.

The question of how to pay for better public services is a much more acute one today than it was a generation ago when Tony Blair came to power. Partly because of this, the present Labour Party sounds almost fatalistic in its lack of ambition. The Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, talks of funding additional expenditure out of economic growth – but what growth is she talking about? She may well not inherit any growth at all if and when Labour comes to power. So Labour ministers avoid talking about any new spending commitments at all. ‘Wait and see till we’re in government’ tends to be their approach. Is that why we’re meant to vote for them? So we can wait and see what happens if we do?

In fact, it is difficult to see how a future Labour government, whatever the extra money brought in by measures like going for the non-doms, can afford to do very much. It is already giving up ending the two-child benefit cap, watering down its plans for a green revolution and refusing to say that it will spend more on education. But to be fair to Labour, what choice does it have? Isn’t the question of where money for new spending is going come from a real one?

Should the Lib Dems revisit a policy which they were the only party to advocate in 2001 (and which arguably did no harm to their electoral chances at the time), namely a small increase in the basic rate of taxation? As the recent Lib Dem conference recognised, there is a problem here. In 2001, when people were doing relatively well, promising to raise taxes a little was acceptable to a lot of people. In 2023, when there is arguably a more urgent need to spend more and public services are in a state of collapse, it is easy to understand why people might see an extra tax burden as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Haven’t they just had to deal with inflation and rising mortgage rates? Is the government really going to take away even more of their money? It’s when a tax rise is most needed that it’s least acceptable.

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Artificial Intelligence means we need a Universal Basic Income

There continues to be severe pressure on various UK public services, such as health, criminal justice, and social care. Reform of these services is badly needed, to improve outcomes for service users, patients, and victims, as well as providing value to the public purse.

However, the UK’s poor economic outlook makes reform challenging. The UK’s productivity is lower than France and Germany, the number of long-term sick has risen by 500,000 since Covid, and the annual cost of servicing Government debt is £83 billion in interest payments alone.

Artificial Intelligence

Yet there is a potential solution – Artificial Intelligence (AI) – which consultancy PwC says could grow the UK economy by 10% (£232 billion) by 2030. The predicted gains are from boosting innovation and increasing productivity, which can then make public services more effective.

Examples of how AI can reform public services, include: smart transportation, fraud detection, energy management, remote monitoring and more.

For example, AI could be used in healthcare to anticipate when someone may need preventative support, while internet-of-things devices could be used to help support the elderly. Predictive analytics could be used to identify businesses best-placed to receive grants and loans.

The introduction AI is already happening, and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has proposed a range of recommendations to improve the UK’s readiness and abilities in this area.

The potential knock-on effects of AI – such as on the protection of personal data and the jobs market – do need careful oversight and solutions.

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Let’s embrace being the party of the NHS

Following another year’s Federal Autumn Conference, it is important to reflect on the position of the party. This is especially the case given that we may be only 12 months away from a general election campaign. We may finally have an opportunity to help to get rid of this dreadful Conservative government, and in the process, get many new Liberal Democrat MPs elected.

Britain cannot withstand five more years of the Conservatives. Nowhere is this clearer than with our National Health Service. The NHS is in turmoil. Years of Tory mismanagement and underfunding have led to our precious NHS struggling to cope. The morale of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff is at a severe low. While the number of vacancies in the NHS is at a “staggering” high. This is a time when the NHS funding gap continues to be wide and NHS dentistry has become dysfunctional, with people having to pull out their own teeth.

The NHS is of immense importance to us Liberal Democrats, not just because it is a vital public service in helping to advance individual freedom and social justice, but because we had a hand in its creation. The great Liberal social reformer, William Beveridge invented the idea of the NHS in his report into social services in 1942. The Beveridge Report became the blueprint for the post-war welfare state. A blueprint that was largely enacted by the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee. While it was a socialist, Labour’s radical Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan who introduced an established the NHS in 1948, the original idea was that of a Liberal.

The NHS, health and social care have become of central importance for Liberal Democrats once again. It was incredibly moving to listen to Ed Davey, during his leader’s speech on Tuesday, talk about how he had to care for his mother while she was dying of cancer. Health and social care have become a hallmark of Ed Davey’s leadership, inspired by his personal experience of being a carer himself. Earlier in the Conference, our Deputy Leader and Health and Social Care Spokesperson, Daisy Cooper spoke passionately about the need to address the crisis in mental health provision.

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Is Britain being rebranded – is it time for an English Government?

At the time that Boris Johnson was talking up post BREXIT Global Britain and assuring the Democratic Unionist Party that there would be no border in the Irish Sea (despite one being included in his “oven ready agreement” which Teresa May had said no British Prime Minister could sign) the Government was requesting that the stickers on cars travelling abroad be changed from GB to UK.

The move was only revealed by the United Nations which said it had received “a notification stating that the United Kingdom is changing the distinguishing sign that it had previously selected for display in international traffic on vehicles registered in the United Kingdom, from ‘GB’ to ‘UK'”.

The rules changed in September 2021 and yet it has not proved possible to find any reference to a debate in, or approval by, Parliament on such a potentially significant change in identity.

The Department for Transport said that it was part of a wider move across Government. One reason was GB – Great Britain – only formally included England, Wales and Scotland, whereas the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is inclusive of Northern Ireland as well as England, Scotland and Wales, it said.

It is true that Great Britain is the official collective name of England, Scotland and Wales and their associated islands and does not include Northern Ireland.

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We should ban disposable single use vapes

As the LGA Liberal Democrat Group’s spokesperson on health issues, I am very pleased that we may be seeing a successful outcome to the call by LGA and councils to ban disposable single use vapes. The government have just announced that they are looking at bringing in legislation to ban single use vapes.

In consultation with our Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP I have successfully called for the Local Government Association to back a ban, especially given the plethora of alternative vapes available for smokers to use as an aid to quit. Evidence shows that there is an alarming increase in the number of children vaping and of the detrimental impact of disposable vaping products upon the environment.

I am not anti-vaping as I recognise for some it can help people cut down on smoking but single use vapes blight our streets as litter, are a hazard in council’s bin lorries, are expensive and difficult to deal with in our recycling centres in addition to the health hazards. Their colours, flavours and advertising are appealing to children and are a risk to the health of young people.

As Liberals we try to avoid banning things – but in this case it is about preventing harm especially to children. Re-usable vapes will still be available for those wanting to quit smoking.

It is important that a ban is brought in as soon as possible. Disposable vapes are an inherently unsustainable product, meaning an outright ban will prove the most effective solution to this problem.

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Dropping the 1p tax rise has political costs too

It’s easy to forget how little even politically engaged voters see of our conferences. Some family members – middle-class voters in a rural Conservative seat, environmentally inclined and still considering who to vote for next year – saw just one headline from the past, and it was “Lib Dems drop pledge to raise income tax”.

Their verdict? “Disappointing”.

Changes to a major policy are something to be done with caution and care. Any political benefits of a change need to be weighed against the costs. Shifting positions can weaken a party’s brand, making it less clear to voters what we stand for unless we have a powerful narrative to explain why circumstances demand such a change. Shifts also need to be weighed carefully for credibility, especially when it comes to taxation policy, the shoulders on which the costs of building a liberal society need to be carried.

Dropping the 1p income tax increase, frankly, fails such an analysis. The truth is that dropping one of our longest-standing pledges weakens a party brand that, as John Curtice pointed out at conference, is already getting eaten away at by Labour and the Greens as voters don’t know where we stand. It weakens it at both ends too, reducing our ability to show ourselves as a fiscally credible progressive alternative and coming at a real cost to liberal spending priorities. Fixing the NHS, repairing our social safety net – these won’t be cheap, and voters will see past any pretence to the contrary.

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Derailing progress – the pitfalls of nationalist rhetoric for Britain’s railways.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has been campaigning for the renationalisation of Britain’s railways, citing how different services are owned or part-owned by the Dutch, German, Italian and Hong Kong governments and asking why the British government doesn’t own these. It concludes with the TUC calling for the British government to renationalise the railway services.

I take umbrage with the language used by the TUC. Framing this as “foreigners shouldn’t own our stuff” plays into the hands of nationalists, giving power to those who want to cut Britain off from the world and transform us into a regressive hellhole. With historical evidence showing us that fascists are all too happy to court working people and drive a wedge between “us and them”, weaponising these arguments opens for xenophobia and indifference to become more significant than they already are among the trade union movement.

There is no opposition from me to nationalisation, of course, provided the argument for it is sound and no alternatives pose greater returns for the British people. Social democratic scholar and former Labour MP Tony Crosland wrote in his book “The Future Of Socialism” of the left’s deifying of nationalisation. He argued how regulation might be the superior alternative, as the privately-owned organisation always has to work to prove itself to maintain the contract, while the state-owned organisation has more room for becoming apathetic regarding the quality of service as it has no competitors.

However, the organisations running our railways aren’t technically private; they’re state-owned organisations that foreign governments own. But this is the crucial point: they operate in the UK. We can regulate and hold them to a high standard. And if they can’t meet these standards, then we consider nationalisation. The case must be evidence-based and common sense rather than “we don’t want foreigners taking our industries”.

My point is all well and good, but if you have a corrupt government, then it doesn’t matter what the ownership model of the railways is; the service will never be as good as it can be.

But that isn’t the case for Britain, right?

Oh, bugger.


Scrutiny in Federal Council – why we are not there yet

Federal Council is not yet a productive committee. In fact, given I’ve had to skip at least one canvassing session to attend it, I might go as far to say that it’s been a net negative in terms of achieving the party’s goals of getting liberals elected.

It has so much promise. In the handy visual diagram of the party’s committees provided in the conference handbook, it’s shown as equal to Federal Board, so is a committee that if effective yields important power. But so far, we have little to show for our time.

Much has been said about our power to call-in and overturn Board decisions, but for me, the call-in power should only be one of last resort—an Emergency Stop to the workings of the federal party only to be used in extreme circumstances. Our other power, that of asking the Board to respond on any issue, has barely been used. We have had Q&As with the president, but if all Federal Council can aspire to be is another forum for Q&As, indistinguishable from those asked of the Board at Conference, then we are failing in the responsibility to Conference when the Federal Council was created as the compromise for a smaller, more agile Federal Board.

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Given the Chinese spy issues, should I, a Chinese immigrant, pursue a political career in the UK?

After the release of the news last week of Conservative candidates dropped after the MI5 warned they could be Chinese spies, I paused my application to be a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC).

I was shocked and scared. If the political atmosphere is moving to the extreme right wing, I could be a victim for two reasons: my Chinese-immigrant background, and the definition of a spy – the line between influencing British Chinese policy and freedom of speech is getting blurred.

Since I have started to speak the truth about what happened in China from 2022, I have made a really hard decision – not to go back to China to visit my mother, who survived a stroke in 2018, because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is catching foreign spies (which can be defined as “any excuse”). I worried I would disappear in a Chinese airport without any charges, which is normal in China. Now I need to worry if I am safe in the UK. Is the UK still a free land?

Before the Golden Era of UK-SINO relations finished, getting involved in British politics before 2019 was taken as a positive sign for Chinese immigrants who were born and educated in China. Three were encouraged and chosen by the Tory party to stand in the general elections in 2015, 2017 or 2019. Yet now, it’s extremely hard for any Chinese immigrant, not only to become a party member, but also to stand in a local election; furthermore, to be a PPC – a legal position to stand in the general election.

As far as I know, I am the only person from China who is seeking a PPC position. There are three reasons why I am doing this:

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What if the Home Secretary is right?

As someone who was brought up under communism in Poland, I never dreamt that Eastern Europe could change so much in such a relatively short period of time. I never thought that I would be able to travel or work freely in another European state. I never knew what diversity is. I rarely had an opportunity to talk to people from other countries or nationalities. But I remember that I always had a strong desire to meet people of other ethnic or faith origins. I remember that as a teenager back home, I participated in various events which marked the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This was a very special experience which allowed me to learn more about other churches and see that ‘unity in diversity’ is possible. Visiting the Lutheran Church made me realise that despite some dogmatic & theological differences, we all pray to the same God. This, as well as many other experiences has shaped me as a person which I only realised when I moved to Britain.

Living in Croatia for almost 4 years was also an ‘eye-opener’. It was in Croatia where I had a chance to see a mosque. It is Croatia where I had a real opportunity not only to read about individuals from other nationalities but to live side by side with people from other cultures and religions. I really felt so ‘normal’ and beautiful. 

All these experiences prepared me for Britain which in many ways can be called the ‘laboratory of diversity’. My job in the charity sector and my role as a Councillor give me plenty of opportunities to meet many wonderful people and enable me to build bridges rather than walls. It has also helped me to break down various barriers and recognise the importance of diversity. Settling in the UK, trying to be part of the local community, encouraged me to get to know other cultures and people of other faith groups. The whole experience has broadened my horizons and it made me a more tolerant and rounded person.

Why is it so important now? I do think that the polarisation of the political systems, inability to listen or talk to each other, seeing everything in ‘black & white’ colours means that diversity as well as many other things are seen in a deformed way. This means that our communities are divided and our friends and neighbours are often ‘presented’ to us a threat, invaders or burdens. This hurts many and the healing process to rebuild trust between groups and communities may take a long time. I often wonder whether media and access to social media platforms have changed our attitude towards diversity. Do we, too often, put too much emphasis on what divides rather than unites us? 

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The other elephant in the room

We all know that one of the topics the leadership don’t want us to talk about is the EU. But there is another very important matter to voters that we say almost nothing about either, taxation.

There was a time, when I was a young Liberal and just starting out on the employment trail when we proudly supported a progressive income tax system as both fair and certain. When I started work, basic rate was 33% and the top rate was 98%. We told people, quite rightly, that the tax was necessary to pay for public services. Then along came Thatcher and Laffer with his ridiculous curve and suddenly we have joined the ‘tax is bad’ viewpoint and we have become terrified of even suggesting that our policy programmes WILL require tax rises. Sure, we talk about taxes on the banks, or windfall taxes on utilities or taxing fatcats, but we simply don’t engage in the task of reminding people that their taxes are not a dreadful burden, but actually necessary to pay for the services we (and they) want.

It’s almost as if we now share the view of a US citizen interviewed about tax, who said ‘Why should I pay tax, the government should find the money!’

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Moving on after yesterday’s high drama

Lib Dem Conference is at its absolute best when it debates a hotly contested issues.

High quality speeches on both sides of the argument for Conference to decide upon. And if the leadership’s position is looking threatened, they just roll out a big hitter like Tim Farron to deliver a barnstormer and get them out of trouble.

Or, in the case of yesterday’s debate, not.

The issue in question was whether to have a national housing target. This has been debated at two Conferences in the recent past and on both occasions, Conference voted to retain a national annual target, in this case 380,000  homes, with (whatever happened in the debate) 150,000 for social rent. A great policy that many thought would give not just hope but homes to the hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have a secure home that they can afford.

With Conference having made its wishes known, it is odd that the leadership chose to pick this fight in the first place or prosecute it in the way that they did. The Federal Policy Committee was very closely balanced on this issue and, as I understand it, Ed insisted that housing targets were dropped. Inevitably, the Young Liberals put in an amendment to reinstate them.

Policy and research is one of the great strengths of the current crop of young Liberals. Chair Janey Little has already contributed huge knowledge and collaborative working skills on various policy issues, not least on violence against women and girls where she brought all the various stakeholders in and consulted them. She put those skills to good use. On her side of the argument were Council leaders like Stephen Robinson in Chelmsford, Keith House in Eastleigh and former Housing Minister Stephen Williams as well as current London Mayoral candidate Rob Blackie and his predecessor Luisa Porritt.

Unfortunately, the leadership response to this was to produce a series of leaflets rubbishing the Young Liberals’ amendment in a way that was always going to annoy Conference attendees. Certainly,  I had always been likely to support that amendment, but I did so with added passion and fury simply because of the aggression shown by the opposition and the fact that Ed was talking about the issue as though it was a done deal. The manner in which this was done was also a massive hostage to fortune. You know how in the American primaries candidates kick lumps out of each other until one emerges victorious? Well, that process does the opposition research for them. That is a lesson the leadership might like to learn for the future before it puts out simplistic, aggressive literature.

The debate yesterday started well with an inclusive speech from Helen Morgan in which she acknowledged the concerns that the Young Liberals had expressed in their amendment. By the time the argument got to the floor, though, it very much looked like it would go their way. Speeches were around 2:1 in favour of housing targets.

But not to worry, they still had their Trump card, Tim Farron.

Sadly, he took his role too literally and forgot for a moment that he wasn’t Donald Trump. His deeply insulting speech, in which he said that the amendment was the most right wing thing he had seen come to the floor of Conference since we’d sent Liz Truss on her sleeper mission to the Tories drew gasps from the audience. . He accused its proposers of being Thatcherites. This was clearly nonsense, given that the amendment was supported by the Radical Association and many members of the Social Liberal Forum.

It takes a lot to shock a Lib Dem Conference. We’re not a pearl clutching bunch as a rule, but he managed it. But there was no awe to go with it. Rob Blackie stood up and simply said at the beginning of his speech “Tim Farron: That was below you. You are better than that.”

If the amendment had not won before, that speech got it over the line. The vote wasn’t even close in the end.

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It’s time for the Liberal Democrats to reclaim their place as the party of young professionals

In the ever-evolving landscape of British politics, it’s easy to forget that the Liberal Democrats were once hailed as a natural choice for young professionals. With a steadfast commitment to progressive values, environmentalism, internationalism, and leading the way on equality & diversity, the party had successfully captured the aspirations of a generation. 

Many of these commitments remain today – we remain ahead of the conversation on social care and health, we are leading the way on electoral reform, and we have never faltered in our commitment to standing up for diverse communities. We remain a party which believes in opportunity for all, and we have the policies to back that up.

We are the party of business, and of workers. The Liberal Democrats will invest in innovation and embrace the opportunities of modern technology, while making sure that economic growth is human-led and that workers are at the heart of our industrial strategy.

We are the party of internationalism, and we will embrace the academic and scientific benefit that comes with being able to work with and participate in the international community – opening new opportunities for people and society.

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Keep our national housing target, tackle the housing crisis and WIN!

Tackling the housing crisis is one of the most important things Lib Dems can do. As the Leader of Chelmsford City Council I agonise about housing every day. We have over 450 homeless families in my city this week, and no houses to put them in. 

So I welcome the huge number of positive things in the conference housing motion F31 and policy paper that will allow us to do that.

But one of the other really important things I want to do as a Lib Dem council leader is to help get many more Lib Dem MPs elected.  And removing the national housing target (which we voted FOR just two years ago) will make that job harder.

We’ve already seen public criticism for the removal of targets. It doesn’t matter how much the leaders try to explain that “actually, removing the target will mean we are able to build more houses”. We should have learned long ago that when you’re explaining you’re losing.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


Ukraine has approximately 30 days before the autumn/winter rains bring their counter-offensive to a muddy halt.

To date they appear to have broken through the first line of a three-line Russian defense in an area around Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia. There is an outside possibility they can achieve a major breach, but that is highly unlikely.

There is more depressing news for Ukrainian troops. For a start the bromance between Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un will keep the Russian troops supplied with artillery shells to help keep the advancing Ukrainians at bay.

Then there are problems with Poland. Up until this week the Poles have been a driving force behind EU and NATO support for Ukraine. But Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – with one eye on the farming vote and next month’s general election – has stopped military supplies to Ukraine because Ukrainian grain is driving down Polish wheat prices.

Poland has the support of Slovakia and Hungary and wants EU-wide restrictions on the import of Ukrainian grain. The Ukrainians, of course, are exporting their grain to EU countries because the Russian blockade makes it impossible for them to ship it to their usual customers in the Middle East and Africa.

The next problem is signs that US support is waning. This week Volodomyr Zelensky turned up in Washington to assure American lawmakers that Ukraine is slowly but surely winning. President Biden responded with a $325 million military aid package. Zelensky also has the support of the leadership in both the Senate and House of Representatives. But a group of far-right Republican Trump supporters are threatening to block a financial package which includes an extra $24 billion in aid to Ukraine.

And then, finally, there is the fact that Trump has pledged to stop military aid to Ukraine if he is elected in 2024.


It has taken seven years, but it looks as if the investigation of France’s right-wing leader Marine Le Pen may end up in court.

She and 23 members of Her Rassemblement National – including her father Jean-Marine Le Pen – are accused of misuse of EU funds. They allegedly used a total of about $620,000 of money which was meant to be spent on EU administration to fund party activities.

The accusation comes from the Paris Prosecutor’s office and still has to be confirmed by the prosecuting judges. But it seems highly likely that that is a formality.

If she is found guilty, Marine Le Pen faces the possibility of a $1 million fine, 10 years in jail, and a 10-year ban on holding public office. Her conviction would have a major impact on the French and European political landscape.

According to the Paris Prosecutor, Ms Le Pen spent $45,000 of EU funds to pay her personal bodyguard. On another occasion she is alleged to have diverted EU funds to pay for a meeting to discuss party activities and hung an EU flag outside the meeting room. When the meeting started she told party members “take that s**t down.”

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Reflections on the Housing Working Group

We’re in the final hours before conference debates our Housing paper and it’s been good to read the discussion taking place on Lib Dem Voice and elsewhere. I am looking forward to a similar debate in the conference hall on Monday. Liberal Democrat’s really care about housing and we all agree that we need to build more homes, our discussions are about how we best achieve this.

When we started our working group we wanted to achieve two things. To offer a credible housing policy for the Liberal Democrats to show we actually want to build homes, and to help those who don’t have a home to get one and be protected while they’re renting. And I believe we’ve achieved that.

I have led a council that is facing a housing crisis, I’ve seen people trapped in temporary accommodation unable to join the community, I’ve seen people have no choice but to leave their area. People can’t afford to live here in the Lake District and this is hurting our communities and our economy. Too many of the homes that are being built or that come up for sale are being sold into the second homes or holiday lets market and there simply aren’t enough smaller homes for people looking to buy their first home. Without new blood the Lake District will simply become a playground for the super wealthy and its communities and heritage will die.

In South Lakeland, we have built new social housing to help people get on the housing ladder. As leader I introduced a target of 1,000 affordable homes to rent and this has led to more homes being provided.

Across England we build around 8,000 new council homes a year and this number is outstripped by the losses. This is a result of Conservative governments deliberately and cynically seeking to reduce the social housing sector.

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A postcard from Sir Vince in Kyiv

The main evidence of war in Kyiv in the last few days has been a series of loud bangs in the middle of the night – Russian rockets meeting Patriot Missiles apart from the one which got through and hit a power plant.

Otherwise, Kyiv is a normal and beautiful, bustling European city of 3.5 million with busy pavement cafes and restaurants, flourishing shopping centres and street stalls, traffic jams and young people zooming round on e-scooters. After a while you notice the numbers of burly off-duty soldiers in uniform, the exhibitions in civic squares honouring war casualties and the forest of flags to the memory of those who died in Maidan Square in the 2014 Orange revolution. So, not so normal. A war for national survival is taking place, to expel the Russian invaders.

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Observations of an Expat: The Great Indian Escape

India is likely to escape the consequences of allegedly murdering a Sikh Canadian on Canadian soil.

And this in turn will have consequences for democracy and political structures in India, the sub-continent’s relations with the rest of the world, Canadian relations with its allies and the international rule of law.

Let’s start with the fact that the claim that Indian intelligence agents were responsible for the murder of Sikh nationalist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is – so far – an allegation. And that the government of Narendra Modi has dismissed it as “absurd.”

But, at the same time, it is inconceivable that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would have stood on the floor of the Canadian parliament and announced that he had “credible evidence” that India was behind the murder given the dire repercussions of such a claim.

India is fast becoming one of the most important countries in the world. It has overtaken China as the most populous. Its economy is growing at 7.8 percent and is set to overtake Japan as the world’s third largest.

It has become a go-to destination for Western companies seeking to “de-risk” their investments in China. And as a member of the Quad Alliance it is a key counter-balance to Chinese influence in the world.

All this means that the US and its allies – including Canada – have been actively courting the Delhi government of Modi and this courtship has turning a blind – or at least blinkered – eye to its excesses.

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We should be proud of our approach to the EU

For many Liberal Democrats like us, rejoining the European Union is an article of faith and a top political priority.  Helen and her family were advocates of European integration in the 1950s; William joined the Liberal Party when Jo Grimond was arguing for joining the EEC, Harold Macmillan was struggling to persuade his party, and Gaitskell was moving to oppose the idea.

We’re now back at a similar juncture: outside, increasingly aware of the costs of exclusion, this time with Labour edging awkwardly towards a half-commitment to closer relations, the Conservatives divided between realists wanting to re-establish a degree of mutual trust and collaboration and a hysterical anti-European right wing.  We are the only party that has set out a road map for moving back towards the EU, in stages, including rejoining the Single Market, with the intention in time of rejoining the EU.

Many Liberal Democrats are unhappy that we have not come out for a faster path to rejoining than the stage-by-stage road map set out by the working group in last year’s policy paper.  The contrast between that strategic path, from re-establishment of mutual trust to association to eventual membership, and Starmer’s effort ‘to make Brexit work better’ without joining either the customs union or the single market, is clear enough.  But we need to recognise, as we re-assert that we are committed to moving back towards the closest possible relationship with our European neighbours, that the EU is itself changing rapidly, and that the UK cannot fully rejoin until public opinion has accepted the full consequences of doing so.

The Ukraine conflict and the need to respond both to China’s technological and industrial challenge and the USA’s commitment to an industrial strategy have shifted priorities within the EU.  After years of prevarication, further enlargement is now firmly on the agenda: to include Ukraine first and foremost, but also Moldova and the Western Balkan states.  That will necessitate major increases in shared funding, above all to pay for Ukrainian reconstruction.  It will also require painful changes in the way over 30 diverse states agree decisions, in a context in which Hungary and Poland have already shown the difficulties that recalcitrant governments can create for collective policy-making.

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Community involvement in housing is a great future for policy

In the interests of transparency,  I am not impartial (is anybody?). I am a volunteer director of a community land trust (not named as I am writing for the community housing cause in general). Also I am no longer a party member largely down to becoming exasperated with national party housing policies and the focus on being electable locally thus encouraging nimbyism. This policy could go further but is comprehensive and well thought out.

We cannot have arbitrary targets that are nationally set without paying the price. This cost was felt deeply during the COVID-19 pandemic with those in flats with no gardens, overcrowded with children and parents attempting schooling and working in 2/3 rooms. Local to me there was also a suggestion in my local area the unit targets be artificially met by implying micro pads could fill the gap in targets in affordable housing. This was of great concern as micro studios are worse than what many families are forced to endure in emergency accommodation. Most of our housing list is families; we don’t need commuter studios we need family homes.

However, today a leader I believed was part of the problem surprised me.  Ed Davey has suggested exactly what is needed in the heart of many local authorities: A community-led approach to housing. This policy could have gone further and spoken more of the role of community land trusts and the role they could possess e.g. access to Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 Funds. These are usually incorporated local not-for-profits accredited by the FCA, so why not? They also are also by and large are committed to co-designing affordable housing at the most local level.

However, the reaction of many seems to be to ridicule and attempt to call this out for something it really isn’t. The disposal of current targets that count the numbers and bottom line rather than the quality is something to celebrate not scorn. Social housing is sorely needed and the private rental market is broken.

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Dorothy Thornhill writes: A community-led vision to tackle the housing crisis

Housing and planning policy continues to provoke controversy across the country. The UK desperately needs more homes, particularly decent, affordable homes. But instead, too many politicians are only interested in point-scoring, attacking their opponents as either NIMBYs who will block any housebuilding, or in the pocket of developers who want to concrete over the countryside.

For years this Conservative government has paid lip-service to increasing housebuilding, but then repeatedly u-turned under pressure from their backbenchers, who simply don’t want new homes built.

It is in this context that the Liberal Democrats, at conference, will be discussing our new policy paper: Tackling the Housing Crisis. Our attempt to find a positive way forward in the face of a dysfunctional national debate.

The paper is positive about the need for new homes. It makes clear that councils should have  well-evidenced 15-year housing targets – ensuring that there is no backsliding from building homes. Yet it also goes further encouraging the expansion and strengthening of Neighbourhood Plans, including genuine engagement with local communities in finding innovative ways of providing more homes and the sustainable expansion of existing towns.

As the former Mayor of Watford I’m well aware of how urban renewal and bringing back residential communities to town and city centres can be a sustainable housing solution that drives regeneration. But this development can only work if it’s combined with investment in infrastructure too. The government’s controversial new infrastructure levy is said to address this, but it will take a decade to be fully implemented.

We also need to ensure that we deliver homes that people can genuinely afford. Affordability is the major issue that no one is addressing. That’s why our paper is positive about delivering more social housing. It doesn’t shy away from setting a target for these homes, empowering councils with more powers to borrow in order to build. It is scandalous that the delivery of social homes has been given such a low priority.

In England’s beauty spots the issue of second homes and holiday lets is also not helping. This paper tackles that tricky question. People are entitled to buy properties from themselves or as a way of generating an income, but in some areas the market is so seriously skewed it prices out local people. So where councils can demonstrate that these homes are having a negative effect on their communities then they should have powers to address this including new planning classes to limit their numbers if needed.

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The Independent View:  WASPI is relying on the Lib Dems to lead the way for 1950s-born women

It is now eight years since we set up the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI), to represent women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age was increased without proper notice.

As astute Lib Dems will know, the law was changed by John Major’s government in 1995, but neither his nor Tony Blair’s administration saw fit to tell women about these changes.

P60s were duly issued by HMRC each year, without a word about how women’s retirements would be affected.  The DWP website continued to say the state pension age for women was 60 until 2016!

Liberal Democrats have been the leading party on this issue, taking the trouble to understand what our campaign is really about.  Too often, ministers have hidden behind the completely false idea that we are arguing to reverse state pension age equalisation.  Quite obviously, that would be absurd.

Our campaign argues simply that women were – through no fault of their own – heavily disadvantaged by the Department of Work and Pensions’ successive failures over some two decades.  DWP’s own research in 2004 made clear that women simply didn’t know about the impending changes but still the Department did not get on with targeted mailings to those affected.

The impact of this incompetence and neglect is very real.  In a recent survey of 8,000 WASPI women, we found that three in five had already given up work or cut back on their hours by the time they discovered their state pension would not be paid when they’d expected it.

As anyone in our age group knows, getting back into the workplace at that stage in life is often nigh-on impossible, and as such women found themselves falling back on meagre savings to see them through the gap from 60 to 66.  No wonder one in three is now in debt and one in four has struggled to buy food or basic essentials in the last six months.

When we met with Lord (Dick) Newby recently to discuss the Liberal Democrat manifesto, he spoke for so many of us in saying it’s just unbelievable that this mess has yet to be sorted out.  Since 2015, more than 250,000 of the affected women have died awaiting justice.  Another dies every 13 minutes.

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Lib Dems for Ukraine

We have potholes. They have craters. We have a cost of living crisis. They have a cost of dying crisis. We have hospital waiting lists. They have a list of bombed hospitals. As I write this in Kyiv, Vladimir Putin is trying to kill me. Not just me but everyone in the Ukrainian capital.  To be fair, Russia’s hypersonic missiles, sorry, elderly Russian ironmongery, keep getting shot out of the sky. But the war in Ukraine is not over by a long chalk. The charge sheet of Russian barbarism gets grimmer by the day: targeting civilians, torture, execution, rape, castration.

The values of Ukraine are our values: democracy, liberalism, we don’t just respect the other – we fight for them. Together, we must stand against the Fascist International. Our job as Liberal Democrats is to keep up the pressure on the Conservative government and remind the rather too many people in the Labour Party that the word of Vladimir Putin is not reliable, to put it mildly. That’s why we are setting up the Liberal Democrat Friends of Ukraine.

Three policies stand out. We must support Ukraine with the military hardware necessary for the defeat of Russian fascism. We must make Britain as welcoming to Ukrainian refugees as the European Union is: if you have a Ukrainian passport, you can stay and live and work in Britain for three years, just as you can in Germany, Italy, France, across the whole union. We must burn down Londongrad and send Russia’s ill-gotten gold to help rebuild Ukraine.

I am no arsonist. But Londongrad – where Russian oligarchs hide their dirty money – is a danger not just to Ukraine but also to our own democracy. For far too long, the Labour and Conservative parties let Vladimir Putin get away with murdering people in Britain because they liked the sheen of Moscow gold.

Senior figures in Labour and the Tories have been far too close to the Kremlin and its proxies for comfort. Tony Blair made a catastrophic mistake when he identified radical Islam as a greater danger than Russian fascism. To secure cover for the “war on terror” he went out of his way to cosy up to Vladimir Putin.

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The UK needs to be a lot smarter to challenge the rise of authoritarian regimes

Chinese President Xi told President Putin at their summit in Moscow this year: “Right now, there are changes, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together”.

Repressive regimes – such as China’s under the CCP, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others – are linking up. Democracies around the world are being subverted. War is raging in Ukraine. China and Russia are in cahoots together, in particular enlisting many developing countries from the Global South to their cause through their disinformation and misinformation campaigns.

That’s why the FCC has agreed that I propose an amendment to the F23 pre-manifesto motion on behalf of the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) which calls for the UK to have a comprehensive strategy to challenge regimes such as that led by the CCP in China. My article in the latest Liberator gives the full background.

I also support FIRC’s emergency motion on China to be selected at the ballot for debate at autumn conference.  

Back in 2019, the European Commission was already calling China a “systemic rival”. This summer, President Xi’s intentions became even clearer when he boycotted the G20 summit, which unites major developed and developing economies, in favour of posing as the leader of the beginnings of an alternative world economic system at the BRICS summit as well as lobbying the Global South at the G77+China summit of 135 developing countries.

China’s new Global Development, Security and Civilisation Initiatives say that China’s development model shorn of human rights is more suitable for developing countries, that Western military alliances are a threat to world peace and that criticising the CCP is a racist assault on the Chinese people.

As many authoritarian governments grow wealthier, and the West’s clout weakens, an urgent new approach is needed if the post-Western global order for human rights and the rule of law is to remain centre-stage.

What Must We Do?

This party believes that the UK must always stand on the side of democracy, human rights, international law and multilateralism.

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China – national security threat?

I first visited Hong Kong in the summer of 1989, a few weeks after the massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.  At the time the people of Hong Kong feared for their future, whilst the rest of the world considered how to deal with a regime prepared to shoot its own people to remain in power.  Over the next decades I would come to work and live in China, receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2002 for developing the Economist’s business in China.   Whilst recognising that we were dealing with an autocratic state and rightly concerned at its human rights record, we considered that by engaging with China – and in my case helping Chinese businesses align their commercial practices with those of the West – we were helping to create a new partner in the global world order.

However, since Xi Jinping’s ascent to power over a decade ago, things have gone backwards. Instead of a partner China is increasingly setting itself up as an adversary to the West, set on undermining the liberal world order.  Within our own liberal family, some condemn our engagement back then with China – arguing that we should have foreseen what was coming.  On a recent trip to Berlin, I met up with an old friend who at one time ran the business operations of Siemens in China.    I asked him for his thoughts on whether we had got it so wrong back then.    He defended our actions, but with our knowledge now of China’s recent behaviour, we cannot carry on with business as normal.  Germany that has invested 10 times more in China than the UK and therefore has much more to lose, is having to face some tough decisions.

In recent years we have seen the Chinese Communist Party CCP prepared to resort to ever more extreme measures to maintain its grip on power.   In its repressive treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang – classed by many as genocide – to its crushing of Hong Kong’s civil liberties, to the oppression of civil society in mainland China itself – it has become ever more autocratic.  In today’s Hong Kong commemorating the victims of Tiananmen Square in public – a major public event up until only a few years ago – will now land you in jail.  People are afraid to criticise the government even in the privacy of their own homes. The CCP has clamped down on activities within China itself that it feels unable to control.  Shanghai Pride – an amazing weeklong celebration attracting thousands of LGBT people from across China – was closed down last year.  It’s main organiser having to flee the country or face arrest.  A similar fate has brought thousands of Hong Kongers to live in the UK.

And in our battle with Putin’s Russia which is primarily aimed at stopping the spread of liberal democracy, where Ukraine is the front line – China has aligned itself with Russia.  We should be under no illusion that should Russia succeed in its plan, that the invasion of Taiwan will be next on China’s agenda.

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Can Parliament take back control?

In a futile attempt to prevent Boris Johnson’s defenestration last year Jacob Rees Mogg tried to browbeat his ministerial colleagues by demanding that a change of Prime Minister required a General Election.  Johnson himself seemed equally deluded that he had achieved a personal mandate in 2019 to which no successor could lay claim.

Our constitution – at the moment at least – doesn’t work like that.  We don’t elect a President.  We vote for individual MPs who collectively give authority to an executive team, and (in theory) hold them to account.

But is it working like that ?

In recent months a range of commentators from across the political spectrum have identified a series of faults and follies, which call in question our democratic norms.  With some 53 years of parliamentary service between us we attempt a more comprehensive analysis in our book Can Parliament Take Back Control?, published this week.

Amidst all the other challenges which politicians will face after the next election the damaged relationship between Parliament and the executive may seem relatively less urgent.  Yet the insidious shift of power from the former to the latter in recent years may prove to undermine the very foundations of Britain’s democratic constitution.

In so doing, it could make it increasingly difficult to secure public support for practical responses to those other challenges.

This book highlights the various ways in which governments have neutered, side-lined and ignored Parliament to an extent which now demands a deliberate restoration of the balance of power.  We suggest that events since 2015, in particular, have caused slippage towards the “elective dictatorship” about which Lord Hailsham warned in his Dimbleby Lecture in 1976. Hence our subtitle:  “Britain’s Elective Dictatorship in the Johnson Aftermath”.   The text of the Lecture is reprinted as an Annex with the encouragement of the present Lord Hailsham.

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A fair housing target is a fairer democracy

Our Liberal Democrat London Mayor challenger Rob Blackie, wrote a great article on determination to meet housing targets. His first statement “Britain spends more on housing benefits than any other rich country,” hits the mark on the choice we can make: increase home ownership and maintain a fair democracy for Britain.

We can continue spending on housing benefits, but our current model has a few issues. First, our social housing strategy has shifted towards rental accommodation in the private sector. No longer are councils owning sufficient housing to provide affordable rentals. This meant shared ownership and social credits to rent privately were the only solutions. The former further distorts the market as, in essence, gives free public money to expand property developers into bigger landlords. This is the kind of market distortion faced in Berlin where most Berliners used to rent. They are effectively providing quantitative easing to property developers. The latter, private rentals, is funding an unregulated market to exploit the less privileged. Because of the security this had offered to the private lessor, they find it easier to simply offer a shelter without the necessary up-keep while monthly rentals are directly paid into their accounts by the council. It is effectively a secured, fixed-deposit investment for private lessors; so secured they have no incentives to upkeep the property they leased out. This is quite similar to New York City where the rent ceiling exacerbated the issue.

The solution can only be ownership. The responsibility of a citizen can be driven either through harsh and unjust punishment or through providing a sense of belonging. The logic is infallible because of social psychology. The state can employ harsh laws to imprison rule breakers with long incarceration or allow for the creation of individual opportunities where each has a stake in the society they can treasure.

A democracy can be built upon the rule of law. But a liberal democracy must be sustained through private equity.

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What have the Liberals ever done for us?

The Liberal Democrat History Group has just produced a new publication – What Have the Liberals Ever Done for Us?

From the very earliest days in the seventeenth century through to today, the Liberal values of liberty, equality, community, internationalism and environmentalism have underpinned what Liberal governments achieved in power, what Liberal and SDP and Liberal Democrat MPs fought for in opposition, and what Liberal Democrat ministers achieved once more in government.

This booklet is a concise summary of Liberals’ and Liberal Democrats’ greatest achievements over 350 years of Liberal history. Chapters cover human rights, fair votes, government reform, gender equality, international, economy, education, welfare, health and environment, together with a comprehensive timeline. As Ed Davey writes in the preface, ‘When you need to put your feet up after door-knocking, or to energise yourself for the next delivery round, read it to remember what we stand for and what we have done with the votes that people have lent us – and be inspired to campaign for even greater achievements in the future.’

We are launching the booklet at the History Group’s fringe meeting at Bournemouth, where Layla Moran MP, Sarah Olney MP, Wendy Chamberlain MP and Baroness Barker, chaired by Lord William Wallace, will choose their favourite Liberal achievements. The meeting takes place after the rally, at 8.15pm on Saturday in the Meyrick Suite in the Conference Centre. (Register here for Zoom access for those not at conference.) The booklet will be available to purchase at the meeting (at a special price!) and from the History Group stand in the exhibition (and, after conference, via our website).

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Politics should be about the people – it’s crucial we secure democratic reform

While Labour strategists will tell you that nothing can be taken for granted, the bulk of the media and much of the rest of the Westminster bubble has already declared Labour the winner of the next general election.

With still probably one year to go before the voters get a look in, it is striking how much the opposition is able to set the political agenda. Journalists remark on the sense in which the opposition now seems to be making the political weather, as if this happens entirely independently. To paraphrase Boris Johnson, ‘the herd has moved’.

Cheered on by wealthy donors, the two big parties will spend the next year battling it out over a tiny slither of the electorate, quickening the pace of democratic disenchantment. Yet behind closed doors, much of the (so-called mainstream) media herd has already staged its own private coronation of Sir Keir Starmer and is now engaged in jockeying for access to the party they are sure will form the next government.

And, on one level, you might think ‘fair enough’. But obscured by the media’s ‘laser-like focus’ on electoral conjecture are the voters. Politicians work for us, and yet somehow, too often, our interests are mediated through the presumed winners and losers of an imagined election.

The Mid Bedfordshire by-election is the same story in microcosm. All the focus is on the horse race, on which challenger has a better claim to the seat. Sidelined are the feelings of voters about the first genuinely competitive election in their constituency for a generation – one in which all voters can be confident their vote will make a difference to the outcome.

Opinion polling and surveys can help us fill in some of the gaps: we know that people feel as if politicians are all the same, that their vote doesn’t change anything. We know how, when presented with the option of an electoral system in which all votes count, or a House of Lords that is accountable, people are eager for change. And we know how repelled most residents of Mid Beds were by the contempt shown to them by Nadine Dorries. This is replicated across the country.

But if we are serious about doing something to address the sorry state of our democracy, the challenge is clear: how to work together to ensure the voices of the people do not get drowned out between now and the next election.

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