Category Archives: Op-eds

Extinction Rebellion isn’t funny or clever

Well, I suppose they might have been that day when they made their protest in the Commons chamber. It was a visible reminder that we are preoccupying ourselves with Brexit when the entire future of our planet is in doubt. And it was quite funny watching MPs trying to maintain their composure and keep their faces straight.

But the recent spate of protests by the climate change campaigners are doing their cause more harm than good. Ok, so they get attention, but what on earth is the point of gluing themselves to trains, for goodness sake?

I thought public transport was a good thing. Obstructing it, potentially making low paid people with not much power in their workplaces late, is neither big nor clever.

And holding up the traffic might grab headlines but it doesn’t do much for air quality in the vicinity.

The powerful message of children walking out of school to tell us to secure their future is so much more persuasive.

And I think Extinction Rebellion went a bit foo far yesterday by attaching themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s house. 

People’s homes are off limits for this kind of stuff, whether there are politicians or heads of companies. If you want to protest go to their public offices. Nobody’s family should have to feel like they are under siege.

Back in 2012, UK Uncut organised this mass protest of 400 people outside Nick Clegg’s house, a move I criticised at the time.  

The Clegg family was not home – but what if they had been? What about their neighbours? Whatever you might think about Government decisions, politicians’ partners and children should not have had their lives disrupted.

Imagine if they had been home when these 400 people descended? The children are 10, 8 and 3. To a 3 year old, people outside having a go at your daddy, however nice they think they’re being, could be really scary, the stuff of weeks of nightmares.

Now, note that I am not saying that such protests should be illegal, but with rights come responsibilities. UK Uncut have done their cause no good whatsoever this weekend – and that’s a shame because when it comes to some of the welfare reform cuts, as you know, I agree with them.

UK Uncut will have had to have distributed Nick Clegg’s private address to a fairly large number of people, for a start, the 400 there and anyone they tell. How can they guarantee the conduct of every single person who would turn up. It was ok this time, but at some point, if this continues, someone will turn up with malevolent intent.

And that was before an MP was murdered. In the current, febrile climate, when you have emboldened fascists taking to the streets, going to politicians’ homes is not a good look.

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Young Liberals need your help!

Young people are such an important part of our party. Not only do we offer an army of eager campaigners and young candidates, we also help speak up for youth issues and ensure the party has this voice on things it may otherwise overlook.

The Young Liberals are committed to ensuring that the voices of all young people are heard and represented, and this is why we need your help.

At our Spring Conference in Glasgow, we passed a motion to explore increasing the age range of our membership.

The way it works at the moment is that you are automatically a member of the Young Liberals if you are under 26. This is significantly lower than our European counterparts, who’s youth wings tend to encompass everyone under 35.

We feel this limits our ability to represent the issues facing young professionals and those who don’t attend University. This is due to those people who leave University taking a step back from the Young Liberals, failing to see how we are relevant to them given they’ll age out soon anyhow.

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On Mr. Assange and Truth and Security?

“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards”, and “Ha, ha, I hit them”, said the crew of a US helicopter as they machine-gunned Iraqi civilians, including a child, in Baghdad. (12/07/07)

That is part of what Chelsea Manning exposed and Julian Assange published, for which they are prosecuted and punished, apparently unlike that crew.

There appear to be two types of charge against Mr Assange. One relates to rape and one to accessing information about particular behaviours of a nation’s rulers. They are both to do with security – individual, group national and international.

Security matters to all of us and our descendants, for always.

Can citizens be secure when governments connive at atrocities such as that above, work to hide them, and prosecute the truth tellers?

Security needs equitable law, proportionate and accountable force, a well-educated and informed citizenry and a courageous independent main stream media.

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What should we be campaigning for in the European elections?

So we are almost definitely going to fight the European elections – independently, or in some form of coordination with other Remain-committed parties. But what – beyond ‘Remain’ – should we put forward in our campaign?

First and foremost, we have to make the case for continuing British participation in managing relations among European governments, warts and all. We should not risk getting bogged down in discussions about how to ‘reform’ and improve Europe’s current institutions. They don’t work very well – but neither do our national political institutions, and they work much better than any other international institutions (think WTO, UN) so far created.

Our neighbours across the Channel are our closest partners in almost every way: they are our most important trading partners, they share our democratic values (with some backsliding, but then there’s some of that within the UK as well), they are vital to Britain’s safety and security. Liam Fox may argue that Australia and New Zealand are emotionally much close to Britain than the Netherlands and France – but they are much further away, and much smaller, and we can maintain close relations with them as well as our European neighbours.

Brexiters like Mark Francois wallow in the myths of Britain standing alone in World War Two while those on the other side of the Channel collapsed ‘and we saved them’. We need to go for that myth wherever we hear it. The largest contingent of foreign pilots in the Battle of Britain was from Poland; there were also many Belgian pilots, then and throughout the war. The idea that we can pull Britain away from countries which have been entangled in British history since Roman times, and follow the Trump Administration in the USA and maybe also the Russian government, is absurd.

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When it comes to mental health, all’s fair in love and leafleting

We all feel it. Brexit is a battleground. It’s muddy trenches that stink to high heaven whichever side of it you’re on, and like sticky quicksand it’s near impossible to escape.

What’s more, the confrontational atmosphere is contributing to a mental health crisis in our political system, one that needs addressing fast.

For someone used to running fast-paced action days and writing punchy election literature, sometimes it can be hard not to view politics like a war. Elections become a battle of attrition. Your opponent is your enemy. Your leaflets are your ammunition. Your voters are a vital resource you must …

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Lib Dem MPs join calls for Assange to face Swedish justice

The four Lib Dem women MPs this weekend signed a letter to the Home Secretary asking him to co-operate with the Swedish authorities should they seek to extradite Julian Assange to face extradition requests.

This is particularly important given that there is a statute of limitations on these allegations which expires next year.

From the BBC

In their letter to Sajid Javid, 70 parliamentarians – chiefly Labour MPs and peers – urged him to “stand with the victims of sexual violence” and ensure the rape claim against the Wikileaks founder could be “properly investigated”.

“We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the complainant should see justice be done,” the letter said.

I have very little sympathy for Assange generally. Using transparency as an excuse to put people in harm’s way, when a much more responsible approach could have highlighted the problem is just not acceptable as far as I am concerned.

I don’t agree with those, mainly on the left, who treat him as some sort of hero.

I think Dani Garavelli, as she often does, summed it up perfectly in today’s Scotland on Sunday.

Indeed, in the last few days, Assange has served as a useful barometer for a certain kind of misogyny. If your immediate response to his capture was to refer to him as “a political refugee protected by international law” – à la John Pilger – or to quote Orwell as saying: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act,” then you are most likely a brocialist happy to throw women under a bus in pursuit of your own agenda.

It was this issue, and Corbyn’s poor response to it, that finally led my friend Cat Headley to leave the Labour Party on Friday.

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Just when you thought the Home Office couldn’t get any worse..

…a story in the Sunday Times (£) today tells how details from a suicidal young girl’s medical notes were used to deny her family asylum. And what’s worse, an immigration judge found in favour of the Home Office and the family faces deportation.

The girl, who lives in the northeast and cannot be named, had been given a “sugar-coated” version of why her family had to flee Albania for a new life in Britain. Her father did not tell the child about an alleged assassination attempt on his life by the local mafia.

At an interview with a psychiatric nurse, 48 hours after the girl overdosed in 2016, the child said her family came to Britain to “have access to better healthcare for dad”.

The Home Office was assessing the family’s asylum application at the time and learnt that the girl was “experiencing medical issues”. It requested access to her records for “safeguarding” purposes. But officials found the nurse’s psychiatric assessment and, in an unprecedented step, used it to argue that her father was lying about his reasons for coming to the UK.

If you are in a vulnerable situation, you need to know that you can talk openly to those giving you care in confidence. Of course parents aren’t going to burden their children with dangerous realities if they can avoid it, particularly if they have reason to be worried about a child’s mental state.

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You have to understand intersectionality to break the vicious circle of disadvantage

This is the first in a series of articles commissioned by the Diversity Sub Committee of the FPDC (Federal People Development Committee) and a group of Party campaigns and SAOs on intersectionality – examining how different layers of diversity, discrimination or disadvantage combine. Ray Lewis is our first contributor. He joined the Party earlier this year and runs the Eastside Academy in London.

Disadvantage ruins lives. I live and work in East London, running a Leadership academy for young people from local disadvantaged communities. I have seen for myself the difference that can be made when we can break the vicious circle that condemns so many of our young people.

But there are differences in the disadvantage that people face. When I first set up the Eastside Academy, the primary concern among politicians and educators was for young black boys from poor areas. There was a feeling that they were being left behind and being born into a future of exclusion. 

Then society’s focus shifted onto the wider BAME agenda, which included an acknowledgement of the hardships that so many young girls are faced with. From specific issues like FGM and breast ironing through to the daily challenges of just being female – lower wages, lower prospects and harassment.

Now society is recognising the many layers of intersectionality. In particular we are starting to have the challenging conversations around the meeting point of religious belief and the importance of acceptance of people who identify as LGBT+. Some BAME communities struggle to reconcile their devout faith with acceptance of their LGBT+ friends and relatives. These individuals have the struggles that all BAME people face, of racism and discrimination. And then they also have the struggle for acceptance of their sexuality or gender identity. This is intersectionality.

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European Elections aren’t about the Lib Dems, they are about Remain

Tim Farron rightly gets lots of criticism for his lack of clarity on one issue. Unfortunately, this tends to obscure the huge credit that he should receive for his boldness – back on 24th June 2016 – in being the first to argue that there would need to be a final vote for the British people on whatever deal was eventually strike. I’m biased, but that looks visionary: not only was he clearly right but it gave the Lib Dems a raison d’etre, at a time when they might otherwise have seemed wholly irrelevant.

The Lib Dems now find themselves, increasingly, on what appears to be right side of history. Whether or not a people’s vote is achieved and ultimately Britain votes to remain, the party holds a position that will be a key determinate of how people will vote for decades to come.

And yet, the Lib Dems have frequently been right in the past without reaping political rewards. Even at this moment of greatest opportunity, going into EU elections, the party runs the risk of annihilation.

Yesterday’s Today programme carried two set-piece interviews about the forthcoming EU elections: the first with Nigel Farage about the launch of his Brexit party and the second with Anna Soubry MP about Change UK’s campaign. News is called that for a reason: what is new always trumps what is old.  And the Lib Dems are old.

The emerging media narrative for the EU election campaign is a fight between, on the one hand, the two new parties as the champions respectively of leave and remain, on the other, more broadly between the old parties and the new. Despite three long years of championing the remain cause the Lib Dems simply have no place in this narrative – they are irrelevant.

And yet despite what must now be viewed as an existential threat going into these elections, it feels uncomfortably like ‘business as usual’ for the party: 

There is some griping about the unwillingness of TIG to form a pro-EU alliance, but why would they? They see our brand as fatally tarnished. Whether they are right or wrong, they aren’t ready to do deals.

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Liberalism in the deep south

If Berkshire where I spent most of my life is in the South then West Sussex where I now find myself could reasonably be called the Deep South. Here on the Downs we are only ten miles from the coast the closest I have ever been to the sea, something that I am very happy about. I have now settled into my new surroundings and completed my research on the political landscape already knowing that I found myself in a Tory heartland. We have Conservative MPs with big majorities and local authorities dominated by Tories. My own MP Nick Herbert happens to be one of the founders of the Countryside Alliance and currently sitting on a majority of nearly 24,000. So in this sea of blue it has been a relief to find that the flame of Liberalism is still burning.

In the Arundel and Horsham constituencies we have prospective parliamentary candidates in place Alison Bennett and Louise Potter. Both are young women with real energy and commitment to the cause, while also being firmly rooted in their communities. When the General Election comes the blue team better watch out because they are going to get a run for their money. First though we have all out Local Elections this year and the Lib Dem campaign in Horsham District got off to a great start with a hustings in the market town at the beginning of this month. Our council group leader David Skipp was pitted against spokespeople for the Conservative and Labour parties (the Greens were invited but failed to appear) in a well attended meeting.

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Observations of an ex pat: Netanyahu – opportunity or setback?

Netanyahu has won a fifth term as prime minister of Israel.  On the face of it this is terrible news. Benjamin Netanyahu (“King Bibi” to his supporters) is a right-wing, ultra-nationalist, militarist populist who is the biggest single obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Or is he? And if he is, is that good or bad?

Modern history has shown that the most obstinate political leaders are sometimes the best ones to achieve the required breakthrough compromise.  Richard Nixon’s history as a hardline anti-communist meant that he was the only one who could open the door to Mao’s China. A similar move by a Democrat liberal would have been attacked as a “sell-out”

 It required compromise by hardliners Anwar Sadat and Menahem Begin to end decades of war between Egypt and Israel.  In Northern Ireland tough men Ian Paisley and IRA leader Martin McGuinness were the only two who could have struck a workable compromise.

While Netanyahu has been beavering away at the hustings, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his former lawyer Jason Greenblatt have spent two years hammering out a Middle East peace proposal. The plan is wrapped in the tightest of secrecy cloaks. The only ones who know the details are Kushner, Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israeli David Friedman and Kushner and Grenblatt’s aide Avi Berkowitz.  President Trump is regularly briefed on the broad brush, but his twittering fingers are kept away from the details.

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Help ALDC win more council seats

With everything that’s happening nationally, one thing remains certain – it’s vital that our party achieves a good set of results on Thursday 2 May.

Word on the street is that support for the big two parties is soft and where local Liberal Democrat teams are working hard, we are in a strong position to make gains.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to donate to ALDC’s Local Election Appeal, time is running out to make a difference – in many councils, postal votes will start landing on doormats next week.

100 Lib Dem candidates in target wards from Kent to Cumbria have already received letters to 25,000 crucial postal voters, paid for by generous donations. We now want to do even more to make sure these wards are Lib Dem gains on the night.

We can only help our candidates get across the line in these target wards if we raise another £5,000 for the Local Election Appeal by the end of next week. 

Can you donate today to help Liberal Democrat candidates get across the line in 100 wards?

If you would like to send a cheque (made payable to ALDC), our address is: ALDC, 2.07 Boat Shed, 16 Exchange Quay, Salford M5 3EQ.

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From All Fools’ Day to All Ghouls’ Day – what next to stop Brexit?

The commentary on last night’s EU summit was presented as Theresa May going to beg for favours from foreigners. I saw it a bit differently. You see, I see the EU 27 as my leaders. I’m a European. I’m a citizen of the European Union. These people, down a long and convoluted democratic chain certainly, are accountable to me. They are my leaders in the same way as the UK Government  – although the latter infuriates me a lot more and pleases me a lot less – and the Scottish Government  and my Council are. And, frankly, out of that lot, the EU 27 are the pick of the bunch.

In the context of Brexit, the EU have, to be honest, been fair, firm, adult and where they have leaked stuff to the press, have been more authentic and less inflammatory than the Members of Parliament in her own party. I can’t believe that I actually live in a universe where Mark Francois isn’t a Harry Enfield character but actually has a vote in the mother of Parliaments. Perfidious Albion on speed? Really? He actually wants our international reputation to be mud?

I have a lot more confidence in the EU27 to acquit themselves with honour than the UK Government. And they were nothing but reasonable in their deliberations. They want a sensible solution to all of this. What they are getting in return is incoherence and the strategic ability of a two year old who wants that sweetie at the checkout and thinks that throwing a tantrum is going to get it for them.

You have to credit them with some sense of humour. The first Brexit cliff edge was chosen by us – near April Fool’s Day. This one has been chosen by the EU – Hallowe’en. The jokes will be writing themselves for the next six months.

It would be wrong to think that we have six months, though. May will have a go at persuading her recalcitrants to pass her terrible deal in the next few weeks and she might succeed. It might pass by a vote or two. And we’d be headed into a poorer, more isolated future on the basis of a handful of ERG types and Brexiteer Labour MPs. That is so not how it should be, but the danger has not passed.

The last thing the Tories want to do is fight the European elections. What on earth would be the point in voting for them? How do they write a manifesto that the Dominic Grieve and Mark Francois wings of the party can support? They will try not to have to and we have to make sure that they don’t succeed in their aim.

The Euros, if they happen, offer a huge opportunity for Liberal Democrats, especially as EU citizens have the chance to vote for the Party that’s been doggedly trying to stop Brexit from the start. We stand to gain several seats. Sure, Farage’s mob will win some, too, but the opportunities for the highly motivated Remain campaign to gather behind Remain candidates will make us win too. In Scotland not far off half a million people signed the Revoke petition. In 2009, 174000 people elected George Lyon as MEP. This is doable, people.

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Why we should be proud of what Lib Dems did in Government

When I was elected a Lib Dem Councillor  in Oxford last year a regular feature of Council meetings (where there have not been any Conservatives for 20 years) was the Labour diatribe against the Coalition Government. Even the most talentless Labour hack knew that a safe answer to any Lib Dem criticism of the Labour Council was to attack the Coalition and the Lib Dems’ part in it.

As this got increasingly annoying, I decided it was time to do some detailed research on the subject. I found  that we have a great deal to be proud of in our record in government, and I am now sure that  we should be publicizing this good record as much as possible. I have already made a start in Oxford and have noticed the anti-Coalition rants from Labour diminishing.

Our biggest achievement was raising the minimum income tax threshold from £8000 first to £9000 and then to £10,000. It is not uncommon these days to hear Conservatives claiming the credit for this very progressive reform which took millions of poorer workers out of paying tax, disproportionately women and part time workers.  In fact, as described in David Laws’s fascinating book “Coalition “, it only happened  because of continuous Lib Dem pressure inside the Cabinet, spearheaded by Nick Clegg, and bitterly opposed by George Osborne.

Second biggest was the pupil premium, which reduced poverty and improved educational opportunity by providing massive extra funds to the schools with most pupils in receipt of free school meals.

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Our fellow citizens can help us out with their vote

The argument for a referendum is well rehearsed. A narrow majority secured by deceit and illegality for a range of proposals is no mandate for any one specific proposal. With a million marching, over six million signing a petition to call for revocation of notice given under Article 50, and polls consistently showing a majority who wish to remain in the European Union; any mandate, even for a vague set of proposals, is doubtful.

Without a referendum on future arrangements the people of the UK will be in the position where their government, elected by an archaic and dysfunctional electoral system, …

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Would a second referendum be undemocratic?

A common jibe of leavers used to be “So Remainers just want to re-run the referendum until they get the result that suits them? How many referendums do you want? The best of 3, the best of 5?”

Now they have gone a bit quiet on that one, since Theresa May has used exactly that tactic in a vain attempt to force Parliament to swallow her deal. Bringing it back again and again until, in a vivid metaphor from The Independent, “it began to resemble the indestructible cyborg from the …

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Dutch opinion poll: Dutch Government coalition supports Second Referendum

For the past few decades, pollster Maurice de Hond (our Professor Curtice) has published his political opinion polls every Sunday. Now that the possibility of a No Deal Brexit looms as of next Friday, it is interesting to see what Dutch political parties think of the present Brexit situation and what should be done.

First of all, there is a broad Dutch consensus, the parliamentary and procedural shenanigans in the Commons since December having convinced many Dutchmen that the structures and culture of British politics are totally wrong for solving existential questions like Brexit-or-Remain. The winner-takes-all mentality instilled by the …

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WATCH: President Obama’s town hall to young European leaders

I have rarely been more jealous of Jo Swinson than I was when she tweeted this on Friday:

It is worth taking a couple of hours out of your life to watch Obama talk about investing in the next generation of leaders to work on securing action to combat gender inequality and climate change.

“Change happens because citizens are mobilised and force change” he said – an inspiration to those of us who are fighting the right and trying to create that “greater sense of hope.”

The first question was about consensus and compromise. He talked about being a community organiser and going to politicians and asking for stuff and they would say well, we can only do so much and how angry that made him. Then he talked about being President and having angry community organisers come to him and demand stuff that he couldn’t give. He understood stuff form both sides.

He knew when he signed off the Paris Climate accord that it wasn’t enough – he felt that it was worth doing it because if you could get every country signed up to doing something, then that becomes the “architecture” in place. We can then build on that.

He also says it’s important not to compromise on everything – you have to be clear what your principles are and where you are not prepared to compromise. This should inform our decision making at all levels – and I’m thinking about the fotthcoming Brexit votes. If it isn’t going to get us a People’s Vote or a revocation of Article 50, don’t vote for it. It’s that simple.

He talks about helping people to find their better selves – a great phrase.

Enjoy.

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Lib Dem Lords vs Brexit: Sarah Ludford outlines consequences of no deal

Eventually, after nearly eight hours of procedural wrangling by Tory peers, the Lords got down to the debate on the general principles of the Cooper Letwin Bill to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.

The only Lib Dem peer to speak in the debate was Sarah Ludford who outlined the economic and health consequences of no deal and saw off some arguments from Tory Brexiteers.

My Lords, I support the Bill and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for taking up the mantle of introducing it in this House. I ​also thank Members of the other place, the right honourable Yvette Cooper and the right honourable Sir Oliver Letwin. I was distressed to hear the attacks being made by Members on the Benches opposite on Sir Oliver Letwin because, as far as I am concerned, these colleagues of ours in the other place are doing a great public service.

We need this Bill as an insurance policy against a no-deal Brexit. Even though the Prime Minister has said that she intends to seek a longer extension, it is essential to give the House of Commons a role in that process; namely, mandating the Government and ensuring the accountability of the Government to the House of Commons so that it can take proper control of the process, which is what has been wanted by all sides over the past three years. We should not be in a situation where this country slips off the cliff edge of no deal either through intent or by accident. I am afraid that the Prime Minister has blown hot and cold on no deal, so there is an issue as regards the confidence and indeed the trust that we can have that the policy will not flip-flop. We also need to ensure that the Prime Minister goes on pursuing a straight course.

The impact of no deal would be very severe. We have heard that from the CBI, the TUC and from the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill. We have heard about a 10% increase in food prices, a possible recession, customs delays and bankruptcies among businesses.

Lord Robathan (Con)

My Lords, are these not the same people who warned us, when we voted three years ago, that pandemonium would break out? Further, are not some of them, like the CBI, the same people who said that we must join the euro—and continue to say that as well?

Baroness Ludford

I think that the noble Lord is somewhat out of date. There has been a serious impact on the economy. As a result of the Brexit vote, we have lost around 2.5% of GDP, even though we are still in the EU. We are down by around £600 million a week.

As I was saying, there are already shortages of medicines, and that will get worse. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, who is not with us now, suggested in a debate we had a couple of weeks ago that I was wrong to draw attention to the problem of people not getting essential medicines. These stories continue to appear, and they are very real. The NHS has not stockpiled everything because some medicines such as short-life isotopes cannot be stockpiled. It is therefore irresponsible to contemplate no deal. There would also be effects on our security and on Northern Ireland—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has talked about the issues as regards the Northern Ireland border and possible direct rule.

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Ed Davey’s speech in the Loan Charge debate: We will not stop until this is put right

Before the roof of the Commons chamber started leaking this week (something you couldn’t make up), Ed Davey managed to make his speech in the backbench business debate calling on the Government to stop pursuing people for the Loan Charge, a retrospective income tax enforcement of a  scheme that was legal at the time.

Here’s his speech in full including interventions.

I apologise to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for being the chair of an all-party group that has produced such a reasonable report. We did it because we wanted to be constructive and to bring this House together. I want to draw attention to two points: first, the fact that this issue has brought the House together, and I will talk a little bit about that because it is in the power of this House to stop the Executive on this matter; and secondly, the nature of the retrospection, which is the issue that has caused me, as well as my constituents with such cases, to be so passionate about this issue.

First, on cross-party unity, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson), a vice-chair, who opened the debate, and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and all the other members of the all-party group, which represents six parties in this House. I thank all Members who spoke on Report of the Finance (No. 3) Bill, when we passed the amendment—quite unusually—because we had cross-party support from every side and political persuasion both between and within parties.

There is a reason why we got that support. It is because our constituents have come to us and we have seen the damage this is doing to their lives—real lives—but also because key principles of democracy are at stake: parliamentary sovereignty, if we can forget the Brexit debate for a minute, with respect to holding the Executive properly to account for the way they tax our constituents, and the rule of law. Those issues have brought this House together, and today we need to continue with that message and make it clear to the Minister and the Government that we are not going away until this is put right.

Stephen Lloyd

When my right hon. Friend opened, he spoke about cross-party support. As he knows, since I started early-day motion 1239, whenever it was—nine or 10 months ago—the cross-party support has been astonishing: 148 MPs from all parties, including many Conservative Members, have now supported it because they really do have concerns about the retrospectiveness and the fairness. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Parliament is really coming together and saying, “There is a real problem and a real challenge here. Treasury, please look at it”?

Ed Davey

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him for the work he did in leading that EDM. The cross-party nature and depth of support should make the Minister think today. People have been looking at the way this House operates more closely than they usually do. They need to know that when this House comes together, the Government listen. It is our constitutional job to make the Government listen. When there is that level of support and they do not listen, that is an outrage to this House.

Jim Cunningham

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: it is about time that the Government listened. Regardless of the issue, retrospective legislation can be a dangerous thing. In some instances it might be justifiable, but by and large and in principle, it is a very dangerous thing. The other point that has emerged from this debate is that those who encouraged people in their employment to get involved in such schemes should be the ones to pay up, not the victim. Does he not agree?

Ed Davey

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Let me take his point on retrospection into the substance of my speech.

Everybody has paid tribute to the Minister and I join in that, but I urge him to look at the retrospection issue. The all-party group has spoken to tax professionals and has read a lot of material. There is a debate about whether aspects of this are retrospective or not, and about where the retrospection lies. One group has been hit by the loan charge where the retrospective nature has been proven beyond doubt: taxpayers who have had their tax returned to the Treasury with DOTAS added—sometimes even without DOTAS added—and who have come clean on everything they have been doing. HMRC has accepted that and has not opened an inquiry. Their cases have been closed and time has passed. Under section 9 of the Taxes Management Act 1970, we have been giving taxpayers in that situation total protection from HMRC coming back to them. That has been true for decades. Indeed, we have signed international conventions to say that that is the way individuals should be treated. Yet here we are, going back on that. To be clear to the Minister, all the tax professionals we talked to believe that for closed cases, that was a transgression. Indeed, I asked them if they could find any example on the statute book ever of a Government passing a law to override taxpayer protections and they could not.

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How is Alistair Carmichael switching off from Brexit?

The Times Red Box asked MPs from all parties how they are going to try to switch off from Brexit.

As if they actually could.

I mean, that cliff edge is a week and four hours away at the time of writing.

The article has a serious point though. There is so much strain on MPs at the moment. If four in ten of the general population, according to the Mental Health Foundation, are suffering from some sort of Brexit-related anxiety, how much worse is it going to be for MPs in such a febrile environment.

It is not a good atmosphere to be making decisions which will affect this country for generations. I think that they should grab as long as extension as the EU will grant and go back to first principles. Or just decide to revoke Article 50. That would free them up to talk about something else – like making sure everyone has a house that they can afford and the means to feed themselves and their families.

Anyway, two Liberal Democrats took part in Red Box’s survey.

Alistair Carmichael’s answer was predictable:

I don’t think I will get my mind off Brexit but I have a bottle of Highland Park that should help to numb the pain. Obviously other single malts are available (which is just as well as I fear that one bottle may not be enough).

Tim Farron’s was entirely unsurprising too:

I will go for a run with my famous spaniel… and fret about Blackburn Rovers’ terrible form… and watch Shetland with the kids… and go to church (praying seems especially worthwhile right now…) and knock on tonnes of doors of course!

Joking apart, I have been feeling increasingly anxious for months. I’m sure each knife edge vote in the Commons takes about a week off my life. I’m not dealing with it terribly well – more chips and wine than quinoa salad, put it this way.  There is so much at stake.

Politics has been anxiety inducing for the best part of a decade now. The coalition years were difficult, but it was the Scottish referendum, another existential threat to our peaceful way of life, that first made me feel absolutely ill. Part of that was simply because people were horrible to each other. Some families are still not speaking to each other over stances that they took at that time.

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Lib Dem Lords vs Brexit Dick Newby calls for unprecedented measures to deal with unprecedented collapse of Government

Yesterday’s farce in the House of Lords reminded me of the sorts of shenanigans that used to go on in student politics. Basically, Tory Brexiteer peers spent 8 hours arguing about the timetable motion to consider the Cooper Letwin Bill compelling the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50 in the event of a looming no deal deadline. Given that the cliff edge comes next Friday night, the need for speed is pretty darned clear.

For 8 hours, the Tories filibustered. There were around 11 votes in all and on every occasion the Brexiteers lost by a large margin. A massive well done to our peers who faced them down with patience and reason.

Former Tory education secretary Kenneth Baker even had the cheek to lecture the Lib Dems on Mill. Baker said:

I remind them what JS Mill wrote in On Liberty. He warned democracy about the tyranny of the majority. He thought that that was the greatest threat to democracy. There is a clear majority on the Benches opposite that this Bill should pass. There is a minority on this side of the House. To silence the minority is very much against the principles of JS Mill, the founder of the Liberal Party. He would not have approved at all.

Dick Newby responded in style as he set out the Lib Dem position. Remember this is still just on the procedure for debating the Bill, not the Bill itself.

My Lords, I shall begin by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who very helpfully quoted Mill at me. I absolutely agree that democracy requires the exercise of free speech. It also requires the following of rules and the exercise of its powers with responsibility. We have just heard a 30-minute speech. It may have been an excellent speech, and I am sure that if I now speak for 30 minutes it will be an excellent speech as well, but if I speak for 30 minutes, and all my colleagues speak for 30 minutes, we will never get to the substance of today’s debate. Therefore, your Lordships will be pleased to know that I do not intend to speak for 30 minutes—25 should be enough.​

The burden of all these amendments is that the House is being expected to follow unprecedented procedures. Is this surprising? We are in extraordinary, unprecedented times. We are in a national crisis the like of which has not occurred in my lifetime. It is a national crisis which consists in no small part of the fact that there has been a collapse of government. The Prime Minister, after seven hours in Cabinet, addressed the nation to say that she would like the leader of the Opposition to tell her what to do and that, if she did not like that, she would go to the House of Commons and ask it to tell her what to do within hours of having to put something to the European Council next week in order to prevent no-deal Brexit. This collapse of government is unprecedented, and it would be slightly surprising if Parliament did not respond to it by taking unprecedented measures to fill the vacuum where normally one finds government. The third unprecedented point, which is unprecedented in human history, is that unless we prevent a no-deal Brexit at the end of next week, this country will be the first democracy ever to have agreed to make itself poorer, less secure and less influential. Therefore, it is unprecedented and needs dealing with in unprecedented ways.

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Jo Swinson MP writes….The next steps for shared parental leave

Today marks the 4th anniversary of shared parental leave – one of my proudest achievements as Employment Relations Minister. Shared Parental Leave is good for children, good for families and good for equality in the workplace.

I was so happy that last year when Gabriel was born, Duncan and I were able to share our parental leave and take it in turns to get to know our newest family member. I got to help Gabriel figure out how to roll over and sit up, and by the time Duncan took over he was busy weaning Gabriel onto solid food. It also meant I could come back to work for six weeks last summer to do my summer tour in East Dunbartonshire and to go to Lib Dem Conference in Brighton.

And I couldn’t think of a better way to mark the anniversary than to spend it with some wonderful dads!

We had eight fathers – and two little ones — join us yesterday morning to talk about shared parental leave and their experience of fatherhood. It was so great to hear about the joys and challenges they have faced.

One of the dads who had only gone back to work this week after six months of taking care of his little boy described it as the ‘best six months of his life’. He and his wife had four months off work together and that really helped them learn together about parenting and reduced the time where one parent is left home, trying to figure it all out and sort through the endless advice and information online.

Others agreed how important it was for them to experience bringing up a baby on their own, getting to know the various tricks to keep baby happy, understanding the mundanity of play, eat, sleep and repeat and just how little time that leaves you for yourself.

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Jo celebrates anniversary of shared parental leave with dads and babies

It’s 4 years today since one of the best achievements of the Lib Dems in Government started – the right of parents to decide between themselves who takes leave when they have a baby.

Jo Swinson was the minister who made it happen and in a cracking thread on Twitter with some fantastic GIFs, she celebrates the anniversary.

She recorded this video:

Yesterday, Jo was on Victoria Derbyshire.

Vanessa Pine was Jo’s special adviser at the time. She helped put the system together. She’s written about how important it is to change the culture to make sure that more dads can take up shared parental leave.

She introduced the concept of “mumsplaining” as an example of what needs to change:

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Observations of an ex pat: Three cheers for Slovakia

Three cheers for the voters of Slovakia. And a 21-gun salute for Zuzana Caputova, the new Slovak president and heroine of Western liberalism (or is it hero in this new gender-free pc world).

Liberals—and everyone else—should cheer because Caputova—in stark contrast to just about every political campaign fought by anyone anywhere in the world—completely eschewed the populist rhetoric, character assassinations, name-calling, intimidatory chants, lies, xenophobia, racism, intolerance  and personal attacks that are debasing democratic political systems everywhere.  Instead of appealing to phobias and exclusivity, Caputova ran a campaign urging tolerance and inclusiveness.

Slovakia has been good example of the depths to which democracy is capable of sinking.  The ruling Smer Party has strong links to the country’s wartime fascist past. Co-founder Jan Slota has stated that the country’s minority Roma problem could be solved with a “long whip in a short room.”

Robert Fico former Prime Minister— and still the power behind the throne— has said: “Slovakia will not accept one single Muslim”. Fico was forced to resign a year ago after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak who was on the verge of publishing a story about  links between Fico’s staff and the mafia.  Fico’s one redeeming quality is his dislike of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban whom he has branded as a dangerous ultra-nationalist; although this attack should be seen in the context of a general Slovakian prejudice against Hungarians.

45-year-old Caputova emerged from this political morass in 2013 when she led a campaign against a toxic landfill outside her hometown. In 2017 and 2018 she helped to organise anti-government protests following the murder of Kuciak.  Despite her activities, Caputova was a surprise entry in the presidential race and started the campaign at the bottom of the opinion polls.

Her election slogan was “stand up to evil” and her quiet, carefully reasoned arguments that stuck to the facts and avoided personalities, struck a chord with the Slovak electorate. It was also a welcome and refreshing change from the typical populist rhetoric of her Smer opponent Maros Sefcovic.

In her acceptance speech, Caputova said that her victory showed the” importance of humanism, solidarity and truth”. She added : “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly because I have proven that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.”

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“I’ve never marched before”

Like a million others I marched for a People’s Vote on 23 March. It was the second time in six months I’d taken to the streets of London and once again it was an uplifting moment I won’t forget. My Queen-themed placard (“Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?”) raised a few laughs and provided good photo fodder.

But I’m a politician so I guess people expect me to be marching, campaigning and putting myself out there.

At October’s march I was joined by a friend from university days (a Labour supporter actually but disillusioned with Corbyn – aren’t we all?) and lots of fellow Lib Dems. This time I reached out to another friend from uni days – Tim. “Will you come along the march?’ I asked. Now Tim is a lovely guy, a Dad and husband, but not particularly political. I didn’t think he’d come to London but I asked him anyway. To my surprise he said yes. ‘This Brexit mess has got me angry” he wrote in a short email. And with that we were set to meet up.

The sun was glimpsing through the clouds around Park Lane on that Saturday and there were thousands and thousands of people milling around. To get to Tim we had to walk the wrong way through throngs of people. Politely saying ‘Excuse me’ we battled through the masses – my Bohemian Rhapsody themed placard drawing smiles and requests for pics. Well I had to oblige didn’t I?

We found Tim. He was surrounded by flag waving and poster holding hordes – and off we went to join the march.

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Judith Jolly writes: Lib Dem Brexit health win in the Lords

In the midst of all the Brexit chaos, I want to take a moment to reflect on a significant and unreported win for the Liberal Democrats against the Conservative Government. 

A few months ago, a Bill was introduced into Parliament which seemed fairly uncontroversial – it’s aim was to replicate our reciprocal healthcare arrangements with other countries in the event of Brexit (either in a deal or no deal scenario). However, the Conservative Bill went much further than replicating healthcare with EU countries and was is in fact much more threatening. It opened up health deals with the whole world, one of our fears being that that in Liam Fox’s frantic attempts to sign a trade deal, the Tories were planning to put the NHS on the table as well.  As a result, Sal Brinton, Jonathan Marks and I – along with members of the Labour Party and the crossbenches spent weeks challenging the Government to limit the application of the Bill – with great success! 

One of the privileges of being members of the European Union, is that no matter where we are in the EU, our health needs are safeguarded when we need medical attention. Under EU agreements, the UK has participated in a variety of reciprocal healthcare arrangements with other countries, with the result being that all citizens and visitors are protected. 

The Liberal Democrats with cross-party support worked to amend the Bill significantly. We were clear that this Bill must only allow ministers to replace the health deals we already have with the EU, the EEA and Switzerland. 

The Bill’s scope was extraordinarily wide, and the powers included were unjustifiable. In November, the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee described its scope as “breath-taking”. 

The Bill had a worldwide scope, it did not just apply to EEA countries and Switzerland – countries we will need to establish healthcare arrangements with in the event of Brexit. We made sure to limit this. 

Not only did Liberal Democrats feel that worldwide powers were being snuck through in the guise of Brexit legislation and were unnecessary, but there was a genuine fear that this was an attempt to allow the NHS to be used as part of trade arrangements when creating new trade deals with countries such as the USA or China. We were witnessing the Conservative Government attempting to steal powers for ministers in Whitehall which could see them selling our NHS down the river. 

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Liberal Democrat MEP candidates must be clear: Now is Europe’s moment

From Whitehall to Warsaw we see populists on the march – they decry the European idea which so many have fought for over the past century. The dilemma? They’re right to.

Tim Martin, the pro-Brexit Wetherspoons boss, told crowds in London that the European Union was undemocratic. The reality is (and bear with me) that he’s not far wrong – the EU has long faced the idea of a democratic deficit. Our MEPs in the European Parliament deserve more power as the voice of 500 million people. We deserve the right to choose the President of the European Commission, an effective figurehead for Europeans who’s directly accountable. We can explore similar ideas for the President of the Council, such as their election depending on a weighted vote of national parliaments. The answer to the democratic deficit? It’s not to leave the union, it’s more union. We must stop tip-toeing around the idea of Europe and unapologetically bring it closer to the people it serves.

Trying to defend the European Union in its current form won’t work, because even we know it’s broken. What can work is calling for reform, and evoking our friends and allies across the continent who know the same. Europe’s broken, but it can be fixed – it must be fixed.

The UK is slipping down the international rankings of global economies, but the European Union? It still remains $2 trillion larger than the USA and the largest free trade area in human history. In the near future the centre of gravity for global economic and political power will continue to shift, but without more cooperation, it will shift further away from Europe. Successive US Presidents have had their eye move from Europe, Trump’s no coincidence and he won’t be the last POTUS to look elsewhere. Our strategic problem isn’t going away. The answer again is reform.

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Jo condemns barbaric and inhumane anti LGBT laws in Brunei

I suspect most readers of this site will have been absolutely horrified by the introduction of brutal new laws today  in the tiny nation of Brunei which make gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death and theft punishable by amputation.

Situated on the island of Borneo, Brunei is a former British protectorate, and became a member of the Commonwealth in 1984 when it gained independence. Last year there was a UK ministerial visit to Brunei in August and a trade envoy visited in November.

Today in the Commons, Jo Swinson asked the Foreign Office Minister to intervene to stop this:

Afterwards she said:

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Hungry children are suffering, here in the UK

I’ve been doing a bit of work in my constituency about the effects of Universal Credit on local people, the rising use of Food Banks, and the inadequate funding given to rural schools in North Devon.

With that perspective, I was dismayed but not surprised to read a recent article highlighting the social exclusion experienced by children living in poverty.

This is personal for me – I grew up in a military household, having enough to live on but not a lot, and when my father left the forces, we were poor for a couple of years until he retrained and got another job. For those years, I felt excluded. I wore hand-me-downs and home-made clothes. I didn’t fit in as we had moved into a rural community from outside the country. My accent was funny, my safety net of having friends from military families on base was gone, and I was bullied. Things settled down, but I will never forget that first year of leaving the ‘family’ of military life and entering civilian life as an 11-year-old child. But I was never hungry.

The new study by University College London, Living Hand to Mouth, published yesterday, looks at the impact hunger has on children’s lives. As readers will know, free school meals have been cut back by the Conservative Government. It is Lib Dem policy, however, to reinstate free school meals for all those on Universal Credit and, further, that all primary school children regardless of their income level should have a free school meal. Nutrition is ever so important for learning. A healthy child is one who can flourish and absorb knowledge. A hungry one can not.

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