Category Archives: Op-eds

How to join the Lib Dems at the People’s Vote march on Saturday

I will be up long before the crack of bloody dawn on Saturday to begin the long journey to London to take part in the People’s Vote march. Although make no mistake, our intention is not just to secure a vote but to stop this Brexit nonsense.

Lib Dems will be meeting at the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park at 12 noon.

This country’s membership of the European Union has brought this country so much social and economic benefit. Our sex discrimination laws, maternity leave, workers’ rights, environmental and health and safety protections started there. And we didn’t have them imposed on us – we were one of the most important voices at the table shaping them.

Being part of something larger than ourselves, something that has kept the peace on this continent for almost three quarters of a century, which has championed human rights and democracy, is such a good and healthy thing.

I don’t generally feel comfortable around national flags. I’d never wave a saltire or union jack. They symbolise selfishness and insularity and isolation to me. However, I feel completely comfortable wrapping myself from head to foot in the European Union flag because it is a symbol of togetherness and common purpose and co-operation. 

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Peterloo: The Manchester Massacre

On 2nd November Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo” goes on general release following its premiere today in Manchester – a first outside London. Maxine Peake, a Corbyn fan, describes it as an ensemble piece. There are no leads amongst more than 100 actors.

Liberals, especially those in the north familiar with Labour’s authoritarian underbelly, should claim the Manchester Massacre of 1819 as part of our heritage, part of the slow march to universal suffrage. I spoke about it as I wound up a Lib Dem debate on Yorkshire Devolution in Bradford Council Chamber this week I said:

This year 2018 we have marked the centenary of votes for women.

Events from 200 and 100 years ago remind us that the extension of democracy , was achieved through persistent campaigning and a long, long struggle. It did not come through spontaneous generosity on the part of governments. People demanded it and kept on demanding, and some even died for the cause.

On the Lib Dem benches we do not see devolution as simply about moving money around, whether it be through combined authority, city region or, God help us, an elected regional mayor. Power to the people, power to Yorkshire, is about the extension and enhancement of our democracy. We should demand it, we should campaign for it and we see little virtue in a celebrity based substitute for the full monty of regional devolution.

On 16th August 1819 people converged on Manchester’s St Peter’s Field from various parts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The military commander for “the Northern District,” who should have been in charge of crowd control, decided that he had a pressing engagement at York Races.

People practised marching in step as a way of maintaining discipline but this was reported by Government spies to the Home Secretary as a threat to public order. On the road to Manchester many Methodist favourite hymns were sung as well as campaign songs set to hymn tunes. Many were unfamiliar with public demonstrations and as ever the avoidance of violence was crucial to getting the message across.

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Senior Lib Dems call on media to apologise to transgender people over hostile coverage

Senior Liberal Democrats are among the signatories to an open letter in support of transgender people and transgender rights. “Free speech does not give free reign to cause people harm,” the letter says, highlighting that the onslaught faced by trans people is not consequence free.

The letter was organised by Chippenham Lib Dem candidate Helen Belcher and the Lib Dems who have signed include Deputy Leader Jo Swinson, President Sal Brinton, Layla Moran, Lorely Burt, Brian Paddick, Liz Barker and Alex Carlile. I may have had my differences with Lord Carlile over the years, but we should remember that he …

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Not thin enough for treatment – Wera Hobhouse highlights stigma around eating disorders

In a parliamentary debate on Tuesday, Wera Hobhouse outlined how sufferers of eating disorders are being failed by health and support services. Lack of training can mean that doctors make things worse. She told the story of a young woman in her constituency who suffered for three years and never received the help that she needed.

Her aim was to look at the stigma around eating disorders and suggest solutions – one of which was the Lib Dem policy of giving young people access to child and adolescent mental health services until the age of 25. Here’s her speech in full:

We probably all know at least one sufferer or ex-sufferer of an eating disorder. As one put it to me, eating disorders are the easiest thing to get into and the hardest to get out of. We have come a long way in recent years, but we are nowhere near to providing lasting, successful treatments for hundreds of thousands of people. Many people are suffering alone and in silence, without a support network. We are failing as a society to support people in their deeply personal battles.

This debate is about stigma. There are two stigmas around eating disorders—that from outside and that which sufferers feel themselves. The result is that people often wait a long time before asking for help.

It takes an average of 58 weeks from someone realising that they have a problem to them seeking help from a GP. That is more than a year of self-doubt, self-loathing and self-harm. On average, it is a further 27 weeks until the start of treatment. Add to that the time that the person has suffered with a disorder before admitting that there is a problem and we start to see the real picture.

Anybody who has had a close family member in such a situation will understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but families are often pretty helpless too, if they do not really understand what can be done and how they can help their family member to get out of the problem. It is a form of addiction, and like with any other addiction, family members are co-sufferers. They want to help but do not really understand the deep-seated problems. Family members are important, but we need the professionals and their understanding to help families get through together. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that families are incredibly important.

Eating disorders define large periods of people’s lives. How can we shorten that time? We need people to be okay with saying, “I’m not okay.” We need to tackle the stigma around eating disorders, and the message needs to get through to a lot of people. More than 1 million people in the UK have an eating disorder; three quarters are women and one quarter are men. That is a very large number, plus there are the friends and family who suffer with them. So many people with conditions such as anorexia and bulimia blame themselves. It is not their fault and we need to make sure that they know that.

When I announced on Twitter that I was holding this debate, I received a wave of emotional responses and personal stories. Yesterday, a local doctor dropped into my office a book that she had written, which described her fight with eating disorders since the age of 13. That shows how early it can start.​

I also got an email from a young woman called Lorna, who experienced serious anorexia while studying in my constituency in Bath. This is what she told me:

“I ended up with an initial diagnosis of anxiety and depression, and was started on antidepressants. I suspended my studies and worked as a carer in my local village, living at home with my mum and brother. People I’d known all my life began commenting on the weight I’d lost, and telling me how good I looked. This is when my anorexia began to take full hold.

I stopped eating completely, lying to my mum and saying I’d eaten at work, began over-exercising compulsively, and remember pacing the corridors at work to burn extra calories. I became obsessed. I weighed myself up to 12 times a day.

My mum was terrified, and didn’t know what to do. Eventually she came with me to my GP and I told him everything. I told him I was petrified of putting on weight, exercising excessively and skipping nearly every meal. His response was ‘Oh, that’ll be your antidepressants.’ He took me off a high dose, there and then. Cold turkey.

Each time…I told him how out of control I felt with my eating. He’d force me onto the scales, shaking and crying, and then tell me my BMI was ‘healthy’ and I didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria. I was devastated. I had opened up and was denied help. I never got diagnosed with anorexia, despite going from a size 16 to a size 8 in less than a year.

I went through the monthly humiliation of being dragged onto scales and told I wasn’t thin enough to be helped yet. And not having that formal diagnosis is hard. When I tell people I was anorexic, they never quite believe me, as even doctors didn’t. I think they always assume I was being dramatic, or ‘it wasn’t that bad then’. Today, I am weight-restored, although struggle with now being overweight.

It took me 3 years to recover. 3 years of misery and obsession. I was dangerously unwell, but not sick enough to get an ounce of support.”

When I read that story, I am amazed by how brave Lorna is. She was brave to ask for treatment and even braver to put her trust into the medical system a second time, even after she did not receive the treatment that she really needed. She was very brave to tell her story. Lorna has gone on to campaign for proper treatment for eating disorders. She is here in the Chamber, and I want to thank her personally for letting me share her story—Lorna, thank you. I am so sorry that you had to go through such an awful experience. I know your words will help others, and I desperately hope that together we can improve the treatment and care of those with eating disorders and end the stigma for good.

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Backstop to the Backstop

Monday afternoon Theresa May in parliament looked like a rabbit caught in headlights because it became clear she had no answers. There was plenty of blusters, but it was also clear that she was very unsure of herself. Taking stock on some of the comments made reveals the misdirection by Tory politicians. Do you remember Liam Fox claiming that a free trade deal with the EU would be “the easiest in human history?” Alternatively, David Davis who envisaged that we would by now have signed dozens of free trade deals with many countries, in fact, they were queuing up to sign trade deals with us. The Tories have employed the tactics of smoke and mirrors while concealing how hapless they have been.

I remember May’s speech outside No. 10 after she lost the last election, I thought the tone of her speech rather than being conciliatory was aggressive and quite inappropriate for someone who had just lost the general election. I went back to look at it again, and I note this extract:

“If we don’t get the negotiation right, your economic security and prosperity will be put at risk, and the opportunities you seek for your families will simply not happen. If we do not stand up and get this negotiation right we risk the secure and well-paid jobs we want for our children and our children’s children too.”

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Party Leadership change at D66: Veteran Pechtold hands over to young talent Jetten

The coalition government has always been difficult for Dutch social liberals; but that never discouraged us from taking responsibility in the national interest. Both the VDB of the years 1901-1946 and my party D66 (founded 1966) have suffered electoral losses because they participated in coalition governments (and Dutch politics always have those), limiting their ability to build profiles on all possible subjects.

Another similarity is that the VDB was the first in the 1930’s to attack principle the pro-Nazi party NSB, and under the party leadership of Alexander Pechtold (2006-2018; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pechtold ) we were and are the first, and the most insistent and principal attacker of both islamophobe Geert Wilders and Jared Taylor-racism adept Thierry Baudet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thierry_Baudet ).

In 2003-’06 we suffered in a coalition with VVD and CDA (they used opposition Populist MP’s to press rightist measures) resulting in significant losses (locally and nationally) in 2006. Former cabinet minister Pechtold became party leader and re-energised and professionalised our party organisation. He attacked Wilders and tried to get necessary but unpopular measures (raising the state pension age; environmentalism; Europeanism) through parliament. These activities resulted in a spectacular resurrection of D66 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrats_66 ) from then on.

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Always Speak up to be Selected

On 15th October, Sheffield South East selected me as their parliamentary candidate. The city has six constituencies. Sheffield Hallam members selected Laura Gordon to replace Nick Clegg last year, leaving five Sheffield constituencies needing candidates selected that evening. Though Sheffield Central was contested (congratulations to Shaffaq Mohammed), the remaining four were not.

Sheffield South East is not a target seat. Although 40 members were present, only two were eligible to vote in my selection. Had I not attended, I may still have won.

In uncontested selections at both council and parliamentary level, candidates understandably do limited preparation for their speeches at hustings. Why bother when you know you’ll probably win anyway and you’re essentially doing the party a favour? Well, I chose to do things a little differently, and I think you should too.

Firstly, the standard of public speaking (even amongst some of our MPs, somewhat shockingly) is often poor. This is a chance for you to practise. Set-piece political speeches are not the same as delivering a work presentation or running a seminar – they are all about persuasion. It’s a different art and one that takes practice.

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0-67% in Watton. Can we do it elsewhere?

The by-election in Watton-at-Stone in August saw Liberal Democrats take 67% of the vote in a ward we’d not contested in three decades. This is in East Herts District, where we lost our last councillors in 2015 and all the sitting councillors were elected as Tories. Can we do this elsewhere?

The local party benefited considerably from the help and expertise of Paul Zukowskij from HC3, and through him from other people in Hertfordshire, and also from Cambridgeshire (particularly from Mary Regnier Wilson who ran the committee room on polling day).

The stark contrast in my mind is with another recent by-election, in Petersfield ward in Cambridge, where what felt like an army of campaigners worked our socks off, but didn’t win. Significantly more effort went into Petersfield than Watton, but…

In the back of my mind is the memory of door-knocking in South Cambridgeshire in the 2017 County campaign and having people say “I would vote Liberal Democrat, but there’s no point around here because the Tories always win”. That’s the South Cambridgeshire where we took control of the District Council in May this year…

Also in the back of my mind is the memory of the 2017 General Election and knocking on doors in elsewhere in East Herts where people were glad to see a canvasser: comments included “the political parties don’t care about us” and “I’ve lived in this house for 20 years and you’re the first canvasser to knock on my door”. The only Tory leaflet I saw in that campaign in Hertford and Stortford constituency was their freepost.

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My battle with a Gender Recognition Panel

The decision to transition had taken me several years. Early life was just about trying to understand why I was different, later life worrying about how I could make such a change in my life.

Eleven years ago I decided the time had come to deal with these feelings and that resulted in a lot of research, and a lot of soul searching.

I saw two different medical professionals, both of whom confirmed with weeks their diagnosis. They even supported me early on to undergo medical intervention.

Work stood in the way of transitioning as they had made me reapply for my own job. That prevented me transitioning at the start of my medical consultations and I relayed this to the people helping me. That was the November and the following March I fully transitioned. Work were, by this time, very supportive and even gave me additional time off to support that transition.

In the first week I had obtained a new passport (as we were going abroad) and applied for a new driving licence. I was treated extremely well at the passport office as I had to make it an urgent application. They even used the opportunity to train a member of staff in how to handle such changes.

A change of name Deed Poll (witnessed by a friend) and a letter from my doctor stating that I was intending to live in my new gender for the rest of my life was all that it took for both the passport and driving licence to be changed. I travelled, just days later, around the Mediterranean using my passport to prove my identity.

Two year later, I applied for an interim gender recognition certificate (as I was married to my second wife and would have to annul the marriage to get a full GRC).

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The City and me

Last week (9 October) I stood for the first time in the City of London elections in Castle Baynard ward that stretches from Fleet Street to Blackfriars, taking in St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was a 3-week whirlwind of a campaign. The by-election was called as one of the Common Councilmen in the ward was elected as an Alderman elsewhere and created a vacancy.  There were 8 of us contesting one place.  

My fascination with the City started way back when I landed my first real job as an articled clerk in the City firm of Norton Rose and then working as a solicitor involved in securitisation and cross border finance.  My renewed interest in the City came about when I tried to get on the board of governors of my sons’ independent school.  No parent governors there.   It was all in the hands of the Worshipful Company of the Mercers.  This then led me to investigate the intriguing world of Livery Companies, only to discover that membership of the Mercers was closed (at least to me). 

I persisted in my enquiry and 6 years ago joined a newer and more welcoming livery company, that of the World Traders in the year that Mei Sim Lai OBE DL became Master, the first Master of Chinese heritage in the City’s 800 history!  Yes that would be the livery company for me.

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Can we afford NOT to have a shorter working week?

One of the policies that got the most attention during the Labour conference was the idea of a 4 day working week. Of course, this set off the barrage of accusations of fantasy politics, but what is now seen as a bit of a mad idea was once a mainstream view of the inevitable.

After the Industrial Revolution, workers found themselves working seven days a week and leisure time was seen as a virtue of the rich not to be wasted on the immoral poor. But, as technology and political will evolved, the working week shortened. Great industrialists like Henry Ford, …

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Five days left to support trans and non binary people in England and Wales

One of my personal highlights of Lib Dem Conference in Brighton was the LDV fringe meeting on introducing some light and kindness into the currently toxic media atmosphere surrounding transgender and non binary people.

In Scotland the atmosphere is much more inclusive. Scotland’s feminist organisations are open to self identified women who are feminists. There has been an enduring, healthy and respectful dialogue between all equality organisations. That’s why I invited Emma Ritch, the Director of Engender  along with James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance to tell us more. Sarah Brown from LGBT+ Lib Dems was there to outline the current battleground – the ill-informed, scapegoating, fear-mongering in the media and Sal Brinton emphasised the party’s commitment to transgender rights. Sal talked about meeting a young actor who was trans early in her career and being horrified by the discrimination they faced.

Emma spoke about how a comparatively well-funded voluntary sector and a Government determined to make sure services were trans-inclusive helped. She said that there had been some difficult conversations and questions, but that what she called the “institutional kindness” of the Scottish Transgender Alliance had done so much to foster knowledge and understanding. She said that “radical kindness” was a key element in bringing people together.

James talked about the proposed reforms to the GRA and how they would make the process much easier for transgender people to amend their birth certificates. He pointed out that a statutory declaration was a very serious legal document and the penalty for making a false one is two years in prison.

It was a well attended meeting with some excellent canapés (I will dream about the mini Tiramisu things for a long time) and some warm and thoughtful discussion. Paul Walter wrote his account of it here.

One person who was there emailed me with some reflections:

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Your last chance to have your say on Vince’s party reforms…for now, at least

The consultation on Vince’s party reforms ends today.

If you haven’t already responded, you can do so here.

It’s really important that as many party members as possible make their views known.

If you are not sure about the issues, we’ve published lots of articles with varying viewpoints about this over the past few weeks and months. There’s a list of them here.

Here are some highlights?

Vince himself wrote for us to say why he thinks we need to change:

The Liberal Democrats have a long and proud history of approaching these transformational moments head on — by localising power, fostering diversity and nurturing creativity. We fight for our fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. In short, we live by the very principles that successful movements are built upon.

Earlier this year, we set a new direction for our party, by passing a motion at conference to “Create a political and social movement which encourages people to take and use power in their own lives and communities at every level of society.”

It is time to make good on this directive — to transform our party into a wider liberal movement that will bring positive change to Britain.

But James Baillie had concerns about party democracy:

Meaningful democracy requires a level playing field and a fair debate – party associated organisations and member groups are vital to policy formation at conference, for example. So how are the leadership going to ensure that their proposed wider movement provides an intellectual space for liberal ideas rather than just an echo chamber for the leadership of the day? Will member organisations get access and the ability to regularly communicate with Lib Dem supporters, so that we actually get? Will member campaigns be able to present an opposition case to any member ballots, on an equal footing to the proposition?

I have more questions on this topic than space in an article to write them down, and it’s not simply a case of the devil being in the detail – the issues posed above are absolutely questions of vision, of whether we want an informed, participatory future for our movement or a cut-down, centralised shell that can bypass members and use supporter ballots as a legitimising prop.

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Do we need a Special Conference to debate Vince’s reforms?

Party President Sal Brinton has told members at the North West Regional Conference this morning that the Federal Board will discuss whether there should be a special Conference to decide on Vince Cable’s proposals for Party Reform. There are two that require a change in the Federal Constitution. The first is the idea that any registered supporters would get a vote for party leader and the other is that the leadership would be open to someone who isn’t a member of the Westminster Parliament.

The supporters’ scheme itself doesn’t need the authority of Conference to set it up – that could happen straight away.

Doing away with the time that you have to be a member before you can be a candidate for the party is something that is decided by the state parties individually.

I wrote in August about what was needed to put the changes into action.

So, to change any of these things, the constitution would have to change. Here, article 2.10 is your friend.

  • 2.10  This Constitution may only be altered:

    1. (a)  by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting at the FederalConference;

    2. (b)  where any such alteration has been submitted in accordance with theStanding Orders of that Conference by the Federal Board or any other persons or bodies entitled to submit motions or amendments under Article 8.6 and notified to Local Parties at least six weeks in advance; and

    3. (c)  in the case of any alteration to the relative powers and functions of the Federal Party and the State Parties or to this paragraph (c), it is passed by the internal procedures of each State Party.

So we know we’d have to go to Federal Conference. But when?

We can’t change the constitution in Brighton because we would have had to have been notified of a constitutional amendment by now. Are we seriously going to do it in Spring or at any time between Autumn and Spring as the Brexit stuff reaches its climax? You’d have trouble setting a date that wasn’t likely to be consumed by a referendum or an election.

And are we really going to spend our Spring Conference, two weeks before we leave the EU, on internal constitutional matters? I would question the wisdom of that one because it really  would not look good. For me the sensible time to do all this would be September 2019.

So what does the Constitution say about how we hold a Special Conference?

Here we have Article 8.12 to help us out

The Conference shall normally meet twice a year, for a week in the early autumn and a weekend in the early spring; additional meetings may be summoned upon the requisition of the Federal Board or the Federal Policy Committee or the Conference itself or 200 members, in not fewer than 20 local parties. A meeting may be cancelled by the Federal Board in exceptional circumstances.

The cost of a Special Conference is measured in tens of thousands of pounds. Even if that is covered by a donation (and if it is, I think we ought to know who is paying and think about what agenda they might have), we have to look at the opportunity cost. The political situation is so fragile at the moment that there could be a referendum or a general election at any point in the next few months.

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One-Email-Address-One-Vote: A Foolish Idea

We’ve all been asked to give our thoughts on the Leader’s Proposals. The suggested method is via a form with (in my opinion) hopelessly leading questions. Fortunately there’s also an email address: [email protected] and I’d encourage everyone to use that.

Let’s start with what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that no change is needed, and I’m not saying that every single thing in the proposals is awful. For instance, I think a non-voting supporters scheme would be a reasonable idea, and we need some mechanism for having a leader in the event that none of our MPs are willing …

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Corbyn is right about inequality

Corbyn is clearly right to highlight the ‘grotesque inequality’ in our society. Wage growth has stagnated. Continued cuts are hitting the poorest hardest. And this generation is on set to be the first on living memory to be poorer than their parents.

Even if you try and ignore the unfairness, the evidence shows it harms productivity and creates the sort of ‘asset bubbles’ that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

But I have one question. Where are Labour’s answers?

At first glance the most radical is renationalisation. But this is nothing more than a recycled plan from the 1970s. It just tinkers at the edges of inequality, and carries significant risks for our future economic and energy security.

Next comes Labour’s big ticket spending item. Abolishing tuition fees. Our higher education system is far from perfect, but how many better ways could we spend £7.5 billion a year? What amounts to a tax cut for the middle classes does absolutely nothing to tackle inequality.

Most significantly, we have some Labour economic doublespeak –  ‘borrowing to invest’ in public services. While the NHS, for example, clearly does needs to be better funded, ‘invest’ falsely suggests that we get an economic return on borrowing for public services. That it will all be fine.

And this, maybe even more than Brexit, is the big danger of a Labour government. The government is already, as the Prime Minister admitted last week, spending more on paying interest alone than the entire schools’ budget. Labour’s borrowing plan would mean future generations would have to pay higher taxes and spend even less on public services.

We demand better. The Liberal Democrats have a genuine, radical plan to combat inequality.

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Observations of an ex pat: The Battle for the Pacific

The argy bargy over North Korea is part of a much bigger geopolitical battle.
That is not to say that the denuclearisation of an authoritarian and unstable rogue state such as North Korea is unimportant. It is vitally so.
But the prize at stake is huge– control of the Pacific East Rim. And what a prize it is. Excluding contender China, the combined GDP of the region is $12.9 trillion dollars and growing fast. The size of the market is one billion consumers.

For centuries the Pacific Rim was a Chinese lake and primary source of wealth for the Middle Kingdom. Then at the end of the 15th century , Europe simultaneously discovered America and the sea routes to Asia. The power axis shifted to the other end of the Eurasian land mass.

By the start of the 20th century China had slipped from producing an estimated 30 percent of the world’s wealth to a mere nine percent in 1913. After the World War I an exhausted Europe faltered and a rising Japan and America competed to fill the vacuum. The Second World War and two atomic bombs settled that row.
Since 1945 the US has been the undisputed political, economic and military master of both sides of the Pacific. There was a blip called the Vietnam War, but the United States’ solid links elsewhere in the region remained intact and the US and Vietnam now enjoy good relations. America’s annual trade with the Eastern rim is worth nearly $900 billion a year. America’s next biggest trading partner is the EU at $720 billion a year.

In military terms, America’s position is protected by its Pacific Fleet with 200 ships, 2,000 aircraft and a quarter of a million naval and marine personnel. On the ground it has 39,000 soldiers in Japan and 23,500 in South Korea. Then there is the nuclear umbrella with 1,800 deployed warheads.

The Chinese are catching up fast on all fronts. But just how fast and how and how successful they are depends on their economic success. They need cash to compete, which is why they are starting to worry about Donald Trump’s tariffs and the resultant trade war.

The Trump Administration likes to portray its imposition of tariffs as protecting American industry from unfair Chinese trading practices. The reality is that that a more fundamental geopolitical view of the world lies at the root of the Trump tariffs. It is that the real estate tycoon turned president believes in winner-takes-all zero sum competition rather than win/win cooperation.

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The Agriculture Bill is Not Good Enough

At Autumn Conference I had the opportunity to speak with the National Farmers Union, receiving an in-depth briefing on farming issues in North Devon. I have been keenly following the passage of the Agriculture Bill through Parliament, knowing that this legislation will affect thousands of farmers up and down this country.

The Agriculture Bill seeks to provide for a range of enabling powers to ensure “stability” for farmers as the UK exits from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and compliance with the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture. It also introduces new measures

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Every day should be Mental Health Awareness Day

We all have mental health, as we all have physical health. That is established.

I welcome World Mental Health Awareness Day – it is great that we can celebrate and work together on better mental health for all. However, we need to recognise that fighting for good mental health provision and raising awareness is a 365-day project.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 45. The Government, yesterday, announced a new role, Minister for Suicide Prevention. Suicide is sadly the final stage in what can be a deterioration of mental health. Regular readers will know that I am a Mental Health First Aider, and as such trained to recognise the signs of someone with suicide ideation. It is not an exact science, but at least I know what to watch out for. Picking up warning signs in colleagues, friends, family is key towards helping those who feel life is too bleak to continue.

Mental Health First Aid is being used by more and more workplaces in their health and well-being strategies. Training line-managers and pastoral care officers to recognise the signs of mental ill-health, whether that is stress, anxiety, depression, psychosis or a range of other conditions, is key to early intervention and prevention.

I welcomed Vince Cable’s demand yesterday for transparency over employers’ mental health strategies. He has called upon businesses to publish their mental health strategies, saying that if they don’t do so voluntarily, then the government should legislate to require such disclosure. Vince said:

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Children Self-harming figures are horrifying on eve of World Mental Health Day

What a week to be marking “World Mental Health Day” (Wednesday 10th October) as children’s mental health is yet again in the national headlines and reaffirming the scandal that it has become. It is shocking as we see ambulance call-outs for children suffering from mental health crises rising at a faster rate than for adults.

We see cases of drug overdoses, self-harming and other psychiatric conditions rising by over a third in the past five years. The number of adult cases has increased by 20%

Moreover, this came on the heels of a recent report that showed that more than a fifth of 14-year-old girls in the UK said they had self-harmed, a report released recently suggests.

A survey of 11,000 children found 22% of the girls and 9% of the boys said they had hurt themselves on purpose in the year prior to the questionnaire. As a parent of three children, two of the girls, I find this horrifying.

Ministers need to address the “crisis in children’s mental health” after a Children’s Society report revealed recently that around one in four 14-year-old girls self-harm.

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What about the arguments against a People’s Vote?

An article by Robert Shrimsley in the FT (https://www.ft.com/content/bad4d6e4-cad2-11e8-9fe5-24ad351828ab ) warning of the dangers of a People’s Vote has recently received much positive coverage.  Robert makes the best arguments against a People’s Vote that I have seen (and many others put them to me), so it is worth giving them serious consideration.

For those who can’t see the original article behind the paywall, Robert notes correctly that the People’s Vote campaign has taken off because of the intransigence of the hardliner Leavers who have pushed the country towards a hard Brexit rather than settling for a Norway-style deal.  He then makes four principal arguments:

1.    Although investigative journalism has exposed that Leavers were dishonest and cheated in the campaign, it cannot show that this was decisive;

2.    The “only real justifications for a second vote are a massive shift in public opinion or an unpredictable change in material circumstances”, both of which he says has not occurred;

3.    Remainers might not win a People’s Vote;

4.    However, if Remain does win, dangerous populism will be unleashed, and the country faces turmoil.

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World Mental Health Day

It is World Mental Health Day. It is a time to celebrate how far we have come in the UK when it comes to talking about mental health. It is also the time to recognise the ongoing crisis and redouble our efforts.

We have all seen the headlines – 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental health problem in our lifetime. Our young people are particularly at risk, with half of all mental illness beginning by the age of 14. Children’s mental health services, or ‘CAMHS’, are struggling to cope and the burden on teachers, who deal with the effects on the front line in schools. The rates of antidepressant use in our country are on the rise.

This Government promised £20 billion extra funding for the NHS in June this year. However, we are still waiting for more detail and to understand how this will help those who are suffering. The shadow of Brexit is leading to opportunity cost in this policy area. The lack of initiative means we are losing lives.

This may seem stark, but this is the real cost of inaction in mental health.

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Can Lib Dems meet the Labour challenge?

Editor note – this article has been corrected to reflect our opposition to the proposed cut in corporation tax rates…

“Labour is offering a radical plan to rebuild and transform Britain”, Jeremy Corbyn declared at the recent Labour Conference. He said people knew the old way of running things wasn’t working any more, and boldly claimed that Labour had defined “the new common sense”.

Liberal Democrats had already agreed at our Conference, “The current British economy is simply not working for enough people today.” Passing the motion F27 on Jobs and Business, we had resolved “to work towards creating a new economy that really works for everyone.” This followed the declaration in our 2017 Manifesto that “We need a radical programme of investment to boost growth and develop new infrastructure.”

So how do the two programmes compare? The Labour plan described by McDonnell and Corbyn certainly offers radical transformative measures. They demand nationalisation of water, energy, railways and telecommunications. Companies of more than 250 employees are apparently to be obliged to grant 10% of their shares to their workers, to admit worker representatives on their boards and to allow every employee union rights. These and other overtly Socialist plans predictably have been viewed as a threat to capitalism.

We meantime had resolved, in passing motion F27, “Reforming the labour market to give control and choice back to workers, with additional rights for those in the gig economy, and a powerful new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority to protect those in precarious work.” We want a new Companies Act for the 21st Century to oblige large companies fully to reflect the interests of all stakeholders, serve the common good and be accountable for their actions, and for there to be mandatory reporting of pay ratios with “corrective action plans”. On share ownership, we are to seek a big boost to employee ownership by extending the Liberal Democrat ownership trust scheme. 

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Why it’s important to join the Lib Dems on the People’s Vote march on October 20th

Sometimes it’s hard to keep positive. As the evidence stacks up that Brexit is going to at the very least harm us and at worst mean food and drug shortages and ground flights, the Government continues to reject the democratic option of getting the people to mark its homework.

Accountability is vital in any democracy. This Government should be facing every day with more than a mild degree of trepidation. However, Jeremy Corbyn has not given them much in the way of bother at all.

There is a chance that a parliamentary alliance of moderate Labour and Tory MPs, us, Caroline Lucas and others could force through a People’s Vote. The problem with that theory is that the Tories have historically caved when the chips are down. Labour MPs fearing desolation may not dare defy Corbyn even if their local members want to. The SNP is holding the country to ransom. They will only back a People’s Vote if they get an independence referendum if Brexit wins.

Christine Jardine and Alex Cole-Hamilton took them to task on Twitter:

Willie Rennie pointed out that Sturgeon is going against the wishes of her membership.

A YouGov poll shows that 89% of SNP members support a People’s Vote and 79% think that the SNP should support it in Parliament.

Willie said:

Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers have exhausted their excuse selection. Now that it’s clear the vast majority of SNP members want to have the final say on Brexit they can’t justify sitting on the fence any longer.

Brexit poses a huge threat to people’s livelihoods, security and public services.

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Why the National Autistic Society were right to reverse their decision on award winning charity Mermaids

This week, in a move described as “worrying” by LGBT+ Lib Dems, the National Autistic Society removed all links to the trans youth charity Mermaids from their Gender page. Yesterday they reversed their decision and apologised. As a trans person with autism myself, I know it’s crucial that signposting to proper support is essential.

I was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old. It’s a diagnosis that has been constantly rechecked throughout my life.

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Vulnerable people are being oppressed on our doorstep – by the British and French Governments

I’ve come back from the greatest emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever dealt with.

I spent three weeks in Northern France volunteering with an educational charity working in the refugee camps surrounding the channel ports.

It’s incredibly hard to believe but in Western Europe, merely a stone’s throw from the British coast, thousands of people are barely managing to survive, deprived of their basic rights, harassed by a supposedly progressive government and all for the crime of fleeing the most harrowing situations on the planet and trying to build a better life. And worse of all we’re paying for it.

Yes, really. British taxpayers’ money is being ploughed into the French riot police, the CRS, all in the name of ‘border security. They are using that money to make life a living hell for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Whilst I was in France, volunteers were witnessing so called evictions on a daily basis.

This meant destruction of the little possessions that the refugees posses, rounding families up and abandoning them miles away from settlements in the middle of nowhere and often involved the use of tear gas against defenceless peaceful people.

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Observations of an ex pat: Cold War Memory Lane

Cold War Memory Lane is being resurfaced with a fresh alphabet soup of nuclear weapons, treaty breaches, renewed bellicosity, cyber attacks and even assassination.

Putin’s Russia has been branded a “pariah state” by British defence Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Washington’s Permanent Representative to NATO has threatened to “take out” the latest generation of Russian intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

Of course, we are not back in 1945.Then a prostrate Western Europe was in danger of being overrun by a Soviet war machine whose authoritarian government made no secret of its aim of overthrowing capitalism and the democratic structures that supported it.

The political and economic collapse of the Soviet Union pushed the frontline between the West and Russia right up against the Russian border. Europe is now an economic powerhouse, although it remains a stunted midget in military terms.  It continues to need American protection as much as America needs European markets and political support which is why NATO remains relevant.

The initial American reaction to Soviet aggression in the Cold War was to deploy troops and nuclear capable aircraft in Western Europe as a counter to superior Soviet conventional forces. The message was clear: Attack Western Europe and you will be delayed by conventional forces long enough for atomic bombs to wipe out your cities a la Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then the Soviets developed their own atomic/nuclear weapons and the starting pistol for the arms race was fired. In an atmosphere of mutual paranoia and distrust, both sides developed a frightening array of nuclear weapons that could be delivered by aircraft, fired from ships and submarines or mobile land launchers or fixed missile siloes.  Both sides refused to slow their pace until they came within sight of the finishing line and saw the terrifying prospect of a nuclear wasteland beyond.

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WATCH: “I feel as though the media portrays us like we’re not human beings”

In many newspapers, on many radio and tv programmes at the moment, transgender people are attacked and marginalised. So called “gender critical feminists” take to the biggest media outlets in the land to complain that “debate” is being shut down and their “legitimate concerns” are not being listened to.

The thing is, these actions are not consequence free. A report earlier this year by Stonewall found that 41% of transgender people had experienced a hate crime in the last year. That is not far off being half.

I often hear parents of transgender children say that there are two things that scare them most when their children come out to them. The first is the hate crime figures. The second is the suicide rate. Another Stonewall report found that over a quarter of young trans people have attempted suicide and almost nine out of ten had contemplated it. In a climate where over 4 in 5 young trans people experience verbal assault and 3 in 10 are actually physically assaulted, you might say that this is hardly surprising.

Equally not rocket science is the evidence that where trans people are supprted and called by their chosen name, they do a lot better.

So irresponsible media coverage actively harms trans people by fuelling hostility towards them. Stop Funding Hate, an organisation which aims to encourage suppliers not to advertise in newspapers which exacerbate hatred towards particular groups of people has done something to try to counteract this hostile environment for trans people.

Working with Mermaids, an award winning charity which supports transgender young people and their families, Stop Funding Hate has produced this video which illustrates the harm that media coverage can do.

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A Basis for a National Health and Well-Being Policy?

The Frome Model of Enhanced Care is a GP focussed, community serving and using way of creating, assessing and delivering comprehensive health and well-being skills, services and attitudes, in, with and for a community, at a low to negative net cost. Its administration is remarkably inclusive, heterarchical or flat.

It is so attractive that it merits awareness, analysis, adoption and adaption to spread its remarkable and measured attributes.

It has delivered 5 years of medical care with social cohesion. It saves money and is more enjoyable! Somerset CCG reckons some £2 …

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Mobile phones: do parents need to turn them off as much as their children?

Today whilst sitting in a local café I saw something vaguely disturbing – which I seem to see almost every day now. This may be rather an unusual subject for a blog, but I just had to sit down and write this piece. A parent had obviously just picked up his daughter from school – she was maybe five or six year’s old – and taken her out for a well-meaning treat. But after five minutes or so, I noticed her just staring out of the window. The father was on his mobile phone for almost the entire length of the time that I was there – at least twenty minutes, if not longer.

The child would intermittently try to get her father’s attention, saying look at this or that, but he would glance across at her with a quick smile and then carry on scrolling – and scrolling, not taking any meaningful interest in what she was saying. They were in my line of sight so I could not escape the whole thing. The little girl was trying so hard to engage with her father, but his attention was elsewhere. In the end I think she just gave up. Maybe he had something very important to sort out, it is not for me to judge, but I have seen this pattern of behaviour repeated many times – especially on train journeys. It is strange how we so often criticise children and adolescents for spending too much time on their phones, when their parents can be at least as culpable. Sometimes there are also safety implications; I have seen the parents of small children using their phones whilst crossing the road, with their young charges walking ahead unsupervised.

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