Category Archives: Op-eds

Tom Arms’ World Review

Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Vladimir Putin has reversed himself and reluctantly said that membership of the Alliance by the two Nordic countries posed “no threat”.  A seamless Swedish-Finnish application seemed certain.

Wait, the diplomats forgot about the perennial thorn in NATO’s Southern flank- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An application to join NATO requires the approval of all 30 members and President Erdogan has threatened a Turkish block. His reason? He is angry because Sweden and Norway give asylum to members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which he is trying to wipe out. Sweden and Finland also imposed sanctions against Turkey when Erdogan ordered his troops into Northern Syria in 2016 (they are still there).

At the top of the list of criteria for NATO membership, is, according to the US State Department, a commitment “to uphold democracy, including tolerance for diversity.” On that basis, Erdogan’s Turkey would fail membership requirements. Since the attempted 2016 coup, Erdogan has jailed nearly 80,000 judges, military officers, civil servants, police, teachers and journalists. 130 media organisations have been closed. Homosexuality is banned and Erdogan has announced plans to reinstate the death penalty. There is, of course, no question of booting Turkey out of the Alliance. It is the strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and at the moment prevents Russian ships from sailing through the Dardanelles to join the war in Ukraine. Realpolitik trumps human rights.

But should Erdogan be allowed to prevent solidly democratic countries from joining NATO? The British government have indicated a possible workaround if Erdogan refuses to change his mind. It has signed a separate “mutual assistance” treaty with Norway and Sweden. If other NATO countries followed suit then the Turkish veto would be irrelevant.

The shooting in a Buffalo supermarket which left ten African-Americans dead is not an isolated incident. According to a report by the respected Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 67 percent of the domestic terror incidents recorded in 2020 were organised by far-right and white supremacist groups. Many of those who stormed Capitol Hill were White supremacists. FBI Director Christopher Wray described White Supremacy as a “significant and pervasive threat” to the US. President Biden called it a “poison running through the body politic.”

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Tory source: Tiverton “likely to fall to the Liberal Democrats”

The announcement of Richard Foord as our candidate for the Tiverton and Honiton by-election was a very clever piece of work by the press team at  LDHQ.

An article in the Telegraph not only had many of our key messages about the by-election, but quoted a Conservative source as saying that the seat was likely to fall to us:

The Liberal Democrat campaign in the constituency is expected to focus on policy areas on which the Conservatives are weak in southern seats, including tax increases and protections for “the rural way of life”.

A Conservative Party source told The Telegraph the seat is likely to fall to the Liberal Democrats, piling pressure on Boris Johnson to shore up support in “blue wall” areas rather than focussing solely on red wall” seats in the north of England.

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Review of “Control – The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics”

When Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859; while the finches of the Galapagos Islands formed an example of natural selection, he also referenced selective breeding in animal husbandry as an example of how desired characteristics in breeds could come about. It did not take a genius to realise that selective breeding could also be applied to humans, although it was one, Francis Galton (Darwin’s half-cousin) the Victorian polymath, who did so and founded eugenics. At a distance of over a century it is difficult to see why they found eugenics so attractive as opposed to other interventions, but late Victorian Britain was a country in the grip of an early version of the Great Replacement theory, in this case the replacement of the educated middle and upper classes with the, then uneducated, working classes simply because the latter were having many more children. Galton’s “Hereditary Genius” set out the case for eugenics: that the ‘better’ classes should be encouraged to breed more and the ‘worse’ classes less.  This idea was attractive to many: Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour, William Beveridge, George Bernard Shaw, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, Marie Stopes, and D H Lawrence amongst others. It even gained the support of the Manchester Guardian. In 1913 the Liberal Government, including Churchill, passed the Mental Deficiency Act (only 3 MPs voting against) which locked up those of low intelligence in institutions, effectively preventing them from breeding, although it did not require sterilisation. That Act was not repealed until 1959.

By 1913, Galton’s ideas had spread far beyond the UK with the United States, in particular, taking them up vigorously; the Eugenics Records Office at Cold Springs Harbour on Long Island being funded mainly by the Carnegie Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, and the philanthropist Mary Harriman. This should be a warning about letting those with money fund research; their interests may not accord with those of society as a whole. Unlike the British, the Americans had no qualms about sterilising those whom they thought should not be allowed to breed, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes writing in a 1927 judgement “Three generations of imbeciles is enough”.

Not surprisingly, these American ideas soon crossed back across the Atlantic, this time to Germany, where Alfred Ploetz built on them and the earlier scientific racism of Ernst Haeckel, who had brought Darwin’s ideas to Germany. In time this led to the Holocaust as we all know, but it is important to appreciate that the first victims were those they considered inadequate, either physically or mentally. That experience inoculated most of the world for a couple of generations, but with the success of the Human Genome project and the development of CRISPR gene editing it became possible not only to repair faulty body cells (somatic cells) to cure some rare diseases, but also change the germ cells that create the sperm and ova and so eliminate the disease in future generations. Eugenics was back!

The second part of the book brings the story up to the present and covers what gene editing can, and more importantly, cannot do. It is an important corrective to the idea that genetics at its root is simple: we all learned at school about the heritability of eye colour, controlled by the OCA2 gene. Yet only 62% of those with two copies of the blue-eyed version of the gene have blue eyes; while 7.5% of those with two copies of the brown-eyed version of the gene have blue eyes as well (p. 217). Genetics is nowhere near as simple as people think, and Rutherford offers several other examples.

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Observations of an expat: Xi in Trouble

“We do things better than the West,” is the oft-chanted mantra of the Chinese leadership.

And since Covid emerged from Wuhan the authorities have proudly pointed to their handling of the pandemic as proof of the superiority of the Chinese system as infections and deaths soared in Europe and America while China’s Zero Covid Policy seemed to be keeping a lid on the virus.

That is changing, and the change is threatening President Xi Jinping’s hold on power.

Xi’s problem is that his Zero Covid Policy is making Chinese people think that his cure is worse than the disease.

The policy involves complete lockdown to prevent the spread of infection. In Shanghai recently that meant that China’s commercial hub and the world’s busiest port was shut down.  All 27 million residents were barred from leaving their homes except for medical emergencies.

Babies were separated from their parents. People could not go to the shops to buy food and officials locked people inside their homes. Food and medical supplies were rationed. They were meant to be delivered but too often never appeared.

Shanghai is China’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city. Its citizens are used to the trappings of Chinese economic success and enjoy a relatively free lifestyle. They objected to the lockdown and the policy behind it.

The Communist Party censored the objections but tech-savvy residents managed to circumvent the Great Firewall of China to post videos on Western social media of people banging pots and pans in protest and displaying banners which read: “I want my freedom back.”

Shanghai is beginning to return to normal, but Beijing and its 22 million inhabitants is heading for the zero policy lockdown. So far this year 373 million Chinese have suffered severe lockdown measures.

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Lies, condescension, repeat – the new mantra of the Conservative Party

In 2016, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove claimed that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills.

On Wednesday 18th May, the Tories voted against the Liberal Democrat motion to cut VAT on energy bills, highlighting yet again, the lies that Brexit was built upon. The claim by Johnson and Gove that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills implies that being an EU member didn’t allow us to do so previously; despite Belgium cutting VAT on electricity bills while being a member of the EU. Another Brexit lie propagated at the time of the referendum was the “removal of red tape”, later proven to be false by the rising administration costs facing British businesses.

This has highlighted how out of touch the Tories are with the British people.

Despite pensioners feeling abandoned by the government, Sir Ed Davey making clear that tax hikes are the last thing Londoners need and Sir Keir Starmer stating that Johnson is “choosing to let people struggle”, the advice from Home Office minister Rachel Maclean for citizens dealing with the cost of living crisis is… get a better job.

Oh…

When turning the attention to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, her advice is… to get a “high-paid job”.

Oh…

With so many having to choose between heating and eating, having to skip meals and some even having to leave their heating off entirely, the advice from the government is simply to “get a better job”. This echoes the now infamous, heartless speech from former Conservative Employment Minister Norman Tebbit, who told the Conservative Party 1981 Conference that when his father was faced with unemployment in the 30s, “he got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it”.

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The NHS is dying … it’s about the  workforce

While everyone is focused on the very real and acute cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine the NHS is quietly imploding, more staff leaving than joining and therefore services collapsing.

It’s not simply a matter of throwing more money at it, we are way past that stage, and as we learned from the Nightingale hospital fiasco, you can build all the hospitals you like but if there is no workforce to staff them, they are just so many white elephants.

The workforce is on its knees and many who stayed on or returned during the Covid crisis are now leaving or returning to retirement, others simply leaving because they are exhausted, increasing the strain on those left behind. The crisis is particularly acute in psychiatry and general practice, where services are collapsing just when they are needed most to deal with the fallout of Covid.

So the fact that there are 10 new medical schools should be good news, except that they will only add about another 1,000 doctors to the workforce annually and only in 5 years’ time, against a calculated shortfall of 15,000 annually. So you may be as surprised as I was to learn that 3 of those new schools; Chester, Brunel and Three Counties, will only be accepting private students from overseas this coming October, and why is that? – simply that the Treasury has not made funds  available to support home grown medical students, £35,000 each annually for the 3 clinical years of undergraduate training; yes, medical training is expensive. The government’s solution being to let these new medical schools admit overseas students instead, who bring with them £40,000 each a year in overseas fees.

Whilst that may be an attractive business model for the medical schools concerned it does nothing to address our own needs and exacerbates the workforce crisis into the future. Meanwhile applications from home-grown candidates have soared and many are being turned down, even though they have top grades and should have been able to expect medical school places.

I think you can agree with me that students coming from countries such as Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and India with that kind of money at their disposal, are most likely to be from wealthy, well-connected families, and are unlikely to be planning to make a long-term contribution to the NHS workforce or make the UK their permanent home. They may stay long enough to complete their postgraduate training but my guess is that they will be returning to privileged positions back home just as soon as they can.

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Finding lost cats – all part of a councillor’s role

The local paper in Banbury, in Oxfordshire, sings the praises of a newly elected Lib Dem councillor, David Hingley. When a note was posted through his door in Bodicote alerting him to a missing cat he set off for a walk round the village. And he found it a few streets away, safe and well, but lost.

The cat’s owner was delighted. David said “I was very pleased to be able to help reunite Poppy with her owner. It’s one of my first acts as a new councillor for the ward. It’s nice to already be giving back to the community after having only been elected two weeks ago.”

Of course, that’s what Lib Dem councillors do. They are embedded in their communities and are well placed to respond to any cry for help. In this case, the cry arrived in the form of a printed note, but it could just as well have been in the village Facebook group. Nothing political, just a simple act of neighbourliness.

I must say that is what I enjoyed most about being a councillor – dealing with very localised and individual problems.

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Challenging cultural and ethnic stereotypes

A week or so ago, I was asked to give a talk about how faith relates to politics and vice versa. I remember when I first came to the UK, I was told to avoid talking about both subjects and therefore I knew that running a workshop in relation to both topics might be a bit tricky!

For some, both faith and politics go hand in hand. Our political choices are guided by our religion or faith affiliation. Our beliefs often become our moral compass, which “dictates” in many cases the way we vote, or decide who to support at the polling station.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The Irish question has bedevilled British, European and American politics since… well, forever. It played a role in the Council of Whitby in 664. In 1169 England’s Norman rulers invaded and started centuries of direct conflict.

All this was supposed to end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Well two events this week have brought it back from a shallow grave: The emergence of Sinn Fein as the largest party on both sides of the border and British refusal to accept the Northern Ireland protocol. The two political incidents have also brought the possibility of a united Ireland a giant step closer. Sinn Fein is totally committed to a referendum in the north on a united Ireland. The long-term stranglehold of the Protestants on the politics of the six northern counties has been a major stumbling block. That has ended.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is also pushing the two halves together. It has tied Northern Ireland economically to the EU and the southern part of the island and weakened trading ties with Britain. The Protestants are, of course, opposed to the protocol. The conservative Boris Johnson government is trying to reverse it because of their traditional links to Protestant parties and commitment to a divided island.  But the Protestant establishment – in the form of the Democratic Unionist Party – is no longer in the majority. And the majority of Northern Irish voters see their future in Europe and that means linked with the Republic of Ireland. But they still have to contend with die-hard Protestants, who, if they cannot win at the ballot box, could easily turn to the terrorist tactics of their IRA counterparts.

Britain was the driving force behind the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. It pushed for the alliance to quickly admit former Warsaw Pact members in the 1990s and has taken the lead in arming Ukraine. This week British PM Boris Johnson was in Sweden and Finland to sign “mutual assistance” treaties with Sweden and Finland. The three countries are now pledged to come to each other’s aid in the event of a crisis. The treaties are a symbolic first step towards full-fledged Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO which is expected to be finalised at next month’s heads of government summit.

Vladimir Putin is furious and has promised retaliation. NATO expansion, Putin has repeatedly asserted, is one of the main reasons for his invasion of Ukraine.  But for Sweden and Finland, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is THE reason for their decision to end 200 years of neutrality for the Swedes and 67 years for the Finns.

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Ukraine won Eurovision. Now we have to win a war.

Eurovision is an acquired taste. Many people regard it as a pleasure. War is an enforced taste. Very few people regard it as a pleasure.

The win last night at the world’s most popular, and often cheesiest, song contest is a mood boost for Ukraine. The jury had put the UK entry, Space Man by Sam Ryder at the head of the pack. In an ordinary year, Sam Ryder would have given the UK the winner that has eluded it since Katrina and the Waves.

This is not an ordinary year. Last night’s event opened with a Rockin’ 1000 rendition of the anthem “Give Peace a Chance”.

The public vote, especially in Europe and Australia, was in favour of Stefania, performed by Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra. Without the war, this performance might have won in its own right. However, this was a night where politics blended with music. As the crowd roared its approval, Oleh Psiuk pleaded: “Please help Ukraine, help Mariupol, help Azovstal right now.” Ukraine duly won Eurovision for a second time.

President Zelensky said on hearing the result: “Our courage impresses the world. Our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision!”

That’s ambitious but the world needs to do everything it can to ensure that ambition is fulfilled. That means winning a war first.

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Chamberlain and D’Souza launch food bank inquiry

There are more than 2,000 food banks in the UK and the number of food parcels they give out has risen enormously. The Trussell Trust, which represents 1,300 food banks, issued 2.1 million food parcels in 2021/22, a staggering increase on the 40,000 it issued in 2010.

Not everyone believes these statistics. Tory MP Lee Anderson for one. After a row brewed up over his Queen’s Speech remark that there was not a “massive” need for food banks in the UK, he told Times Radio: “The actual foodbank usage is exaggerated.” He is undoubtedly right that some people do not know how to cook but he is wrong that his local food bank insists on people having to sign up for a cooking course. And he is talking nonsense when he says that food bank use is exaggerated. As for his remark, “we can make a meal for about 30 pence a day, and this is cooking from scratch”, that is very hard to achieve in a home where cooking in bulk is not possible.

With such ignorance in parliament, it is timely that members hold an inquiry into the issue. On Wednesday, Wendy Chamberlain and Baroness D’Souza announced an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending the Need for Food Banks.

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Observations of an expat: Australia’s King Coal  

Australians are one of the worst-hit victims of climate change, and their government’s policies are having a detrimental impact on them and rest of the world.

Federal elections scheduled for next weekend will do little to save the situation.  The two major parties appear united in putting financial gain before survival.

Climatologists predict that temperatures Down Under are set to rise by nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century. The bushfire season is already nine months long and the flames have so far destroyed 14.6 million acres – territory roughly equal to twice the size of Pennsylvania.

One in six of the country’s wildlife face extinction in the next few years, according to the WWF and the vital coral banks of the Great Barrier Reef are being bleached white by rising sea temperatures.

But despite these apocalyptic facts and figures both the Australian Labour Party and the ruling coalition of the Liberal and National Party remain committed to protecting the dirtiest, most polluting, fossil fuel of them all – coal.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal – 427 million tons. The fossil fuel is also Australia’s biggest export and 50,000 jobs rely on it.

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Mark Pack reports: A brilliant set of election results

We’re winning

What an amazing outcome from this May’s local elections:

  • Three more Liberal Democrat majority councils, taking us back to where we were before going into Coalition in 2010;
  • net gain of 224 councillors, making this the fourth set of net gains in a row, something we’ve not achieved since the Iraq war;
  • 19% vote share (the national equivalent vote share, i.e. what it would have been if there were elections everywhere); and
  • The lovely bonus of seeing our sister party in Northern Ireland, Alliance, gaining seats and votes to move up to such an impressive third place.

Our successes weren’t just handed to us. They happened because of a huge amount of hard work, smart campaigning and dedication over a long period of time. Thank you to everyone who made that happen – and to their families and friends for supporting them through it.

Before going into the details, thanks and sympathies for those who weren’t successful this time. Missing out on winning never feels great, but it can be even tougher when others around you are celebrating. So thank you to everyone who tried and didn’t make it this time. I hope that our successes elsewhere help give you confidence that we can bounce back in your patch too.

Breadth and depth

A particularly promising part of our successes was the breadth of them. We made gains in Scotland, in Wales and in England. We also made gains in areas where last time we elected no councillors, including from Labour. In London, for example, we won council seats on four councils where we’d won none last time around – including one of the very last councils to declare on Sunday (!), Croydon. Many of our smaller small council groups grew too.

But alongside that, in our stronger areas – and especially those where we can hope now to win at the next Westminster Parliamentary election – we also progressed. For every MP we currently have, there was more than one other constituency where we topped the poll last week.

We’ve still got a long way to go to build up our local government base to where we want it to be. But we took a big step forward last week, again, and have now made a cumulative gain of 1,207 council seats in the May elections since 2015 (compared with 628 loses for Labour and 1,095 for the Conservatives).

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Can the UK recession be avoided?

Just before polling day the Bank of England published the May Monetary Policy Report as well as increasing the Bank Rate to 1%. They expect the Bank Rate to continue to increase and peak at 2.5% by “mid-2023”. They state, “That predominantly reflects the significant adverse impact of the sharp rises in global energy and tradable goods prices on most UK households’ real incomes and many UK companies’ profit margins.” They expect unemployment “to rise to 5½% in three years’ time”.

They state, “CPI inflation is expected to peak at slightly over 10% in 2022 Q4, which would be the highest rate since 1982”.

“Total real household disposable income is projected to fall in 2022 by the second largest amount since records began in 1964 before picking up thereafter” they forecast. Total demand in the economy will fall below total supply by the fourth quarter of this year. They quote an ONS survey of March where 42.5% of people, “said they had cut spending on non-essentials” due to lower real incomes.

This means that people will be able to buy fewer things. Demand for items will decrease. This leads to businesses producing less and unemployment increasing.

The Monetary Policy Committee produce different projections based on different assumptions. Their main projections are based on the assumption that the Bank Rate “rises to around 2½% by mid-2023, before falling to 2% at the end of the forecast period”. However, they also state that, “In projections conditioned on the alternative assumption of constant interest rates at 1%, activity is projected to be materially stronger than in the MPC’s forecasts conditioned on market rates. As a result, unemployment remains close to its current rate over the forecast period, instead of rising by around 1½ percentage points. CPI inflation is forecast to be significantly higher, with inflation projected to be 2.9% and 2.2% in two years’ and three years’ time respectively.” Also economic growth in the second quarter is higher – in 2023, 0.3% compared to 0%; in 2024, 0.6% compared to 0.2%; and in 2025, 0.9% compared to 0.7%. With their main projections they forecast negative growth of 0.2% in the first quarter of 2023 and 0.8% in the third quarter. Also with this forecast it is likely that economic growth in 2023 will be either zero or close to zero.

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Tiverton and Honiton: Pundits and voters favour Lib Dems

It is early days yet but the Lib Dems are firm favourites to win the forthcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election. A hattrick of Lib Dem wins could be in the offing.

One betting odds checker puts our probability of winning at more than 70 per cent. The probability of Boris Johnson’s demoralised Tory party winning is given as 25 per cent. Mike Smithson of Political Betting said: “The pace and the betting has been quite extraordinary given that at GE2019 the LDs came in third 46% behind the Tories.”

A focus group for Times Radio earlier this week, reported in the Times this morning, found that voters in the Devon constituency who supported the Tories in 2019 are swinging towards the Lib Dems. The focus group had harsh words for Boris Johnson, referring to him as a lying buffoon, an idiot, liar, self-promoting arsehole and a selfish, greedy man. He continues to be the gift that keeps on giving to the Lib Dems.

 

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Do the Liberal Democrats have a captivating Big Idea?

At the weekend Daisy Cooper was interviewed by Matt Frei on LBC about the local election results. Daisy was fluent and informative until Matt asked her to spell out the Liberal Democrats’ big idea.  Matt did not accept Daisy’s answer about dealing with the cost-of-living crisis. He rightly pointed out that the electorate were looking for more than another politician’s solution to another problem. They want to feel a vision, something that defines the Party and sets it apart from the two tired, rival beasts in the room.  Daisy had no answer, except to say that any big idea would be in the manifesto.

While congratulations are well-deserved, the results are unlikely to translate into general election success without a vision that captures the public imagination and can be shared in a few words.

Over the past decade, charismatic and strong person campaigning, often wrapped around a false narrative, has delivered populist election victories. Boris Johnson achieved this with ‘Take Back Control’.  Bongbong Marcos, son of the corrupt and repressive dictator, this week won a landslide in the Philippines with the slogan ‘Together, we shall rise again.’  Donald Trump remains hugely popular with his concept to ‘Make America Great’ again, and so on.

There is nothing shameful or cheap about a big idea. Indeed, this was the basis on which the United Nations, the European Union and NATO were founded.  The thought behind this particular one was that we must never go to war again. (Note how the populist ideas pay tribute to a mythical past, whereas the founding of the U.N. was to avoid a real and catastrophic past.)

With Ukraine, we are now in a parallel situation in which voters crave to see a way through to a new and different future.  The Conservatives and Labour, buffeted by infighting and extremism, are living on discredited ideas of nationalism and socialism in atmospheres riddled with corruption and racism.

The Liberal Democrats, therefore, have a unique opportunity.  Let us define our big idea and begin arguing its case now so that by the time the next general election is announced it will be embedded in the national conversation.

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And so we remembered Shirley Williams

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Memorial Service for Shirley Williams in Westminster Cathedral yesterday.

I should point that I really did mean Westminster Cathedral, not Westminster Abbey. The Cathedral is the mother church of Roman Catholics in England and Wales and is located near to Victoria Station.

I arrived early, and as I hadn’t visited it before took the opportunity to look around. It is a large, handsome building with extensive use of decorative brickwork, typical of the late Victorian period when it was designed. The inside is lined with a series of chapels dedicated to various saints, and the ceilings of almost all of them incorporated stunning gold mosaics. The ceiling in the chapel dedicated to the fisherman, St Andrew, shimmered with fish scales.

The seats started to fill up with the great and the good of the party and beyond –  mainly peers, because the MPs were still debating the Queen’s Speech – plus a smattering of other Lib Dem campaigners from across the country.

It was good to see the two remaining members of the Gang of Four – Bill Rodgers and David Owen – as well as David Steel who brokered the Alliance between the SDP and the Liberals.

I also spotted John Bercow, and, rather surprisingly, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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Queen’s Speech: Conversion therapy “ban” does not go far enough

This Morning, Charles, Prince of Wales delivered the Queen’s Speech.

Among the many measures to be introduced by the Conservative government is a bill  to ban conversion therapy, referring to the immoral pseudoscientific practice of trying to change a person’s sexuality from homosexuality or bisexuality to heterosexuality, or trying to change a person’s gender identity from transgender or non-binary to cisgender.

There is one main issue with this pledge, however; the government has already failed to ban gender conversion therapy, and fully ban gay and bisexual conversion therapy.

The Conservatives have faced controversy on this issue previously, reneging on their promise to ban LGBT+ conversion therapy. Resulting in pushback across the political spectrum, including members of their party, the government u-turned and promised to ban gay conversion therapy – making a point of NOT banning gender conversion therapy.

Despite further backlash to include trans and non-binary people within their legislated ban, once again from members of their party – including their LGBT+ and One Nation Conservative wings – this government has decided to continue their attack upon the trans and non-binary communities by refusing to do so, with Justice Secretary Dominic Raab defending the decision: “we should be able to discuss these sensitive issues with mutual tolerance”.

The issue with Raab’s statement is that “mutual tolerance” is missing from the government’s legislation. There is nothing mutual or tolerant about conversion therapy. It is the outright denial of identity as if a trans person or non-binary person is confused and must be forcibly changed to conform with society, rather than allowing them to live their lives as individuals.

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What Bill would you like to see in the Queen’s Speech?

It’s going to be a very strange Queen’s Speech today, delivered by Prince Charles. The Queen was well over everyone else’s retirement age quarter of a century ago and it has been amazing that she was able to continue with this ceremony until last year.

There is no doubt that the words Prince Charles will deliver, written for him by the most illiberal Government of the Queen’s reign, will be utterly vomit inducing for most people reading this site. Protest rights and human rights under threat, absolutely nothing to address rising poverty and hunger in this country.

Alistair Carmichael had this to say on measures to limit the right to protest:

These dangerous and draconian plans aren’t about stopping guerilla protestors – the police already have the powers to stop them. Instead, this is yet another desperate attempt to distract from a failing Government that is running out of steam.

Last week, millions of people across the country sent a signal to the Conservatives that they were fed up with being taken for granted. Yet now we see they have nothing new to offer.

So rather than wasting time recycling discredited plans, which have already been rejected by Parliament, Ministers should be taking real action to tackle the cost of living crisis which is hurting families across the country.

So we thought it might be an idea to ask you what you would like to see? What one piece of legislation would you introduce to make life better for people and why?

It might be a complete overhaul of our immigration system to ensure that people are treated with dignity and compassion with a presumption that people who love each other should be able to live together, it could be securing the electoral reform that protects against a Government having disproportionate power without legitimacy, it could be measures to tackle violence against women and girls, it could be ensuring that everyone has the basics they need to thrive, not just survive. And then of course there is the not inconsequential matter of saving the planet.

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A story of a Polish migrant winning an election – how did it happen?

It really has been a long campaign! It has been a well-planned and executed campaign. It has been a campaign during which I met hundreds, if not thousands of residents. It has been a campaign, which started in October 2021. The outcome? A commanding victory for a number of candidates in Welwyn Hatfield, including Handside ward in Welwyn Garden City!

Although I’ve already once had an opportunity to be as a Cllr, I feel a lot better prepared this time to serve my constituents. I still feel a bit tired, however overall I am happy and I feel privileged and proud that as a Polish migrant, local residents voted for me as their newly elected Cllr.

What was the success of our campaign? It would be a surprise if I say that starting canvassing early was very important. Just before the polling day, I counted and since October 2021, I’ve personally completed 59 door-knocking sessions. Quite a few of my friends, work colleagues think that I am probably insane, however as someone who simply enjoys social interaction, I must admit that each conversation, each opportunity to introduce myself, talk to residents about local issues (and often national and international), helped to recharge my batteries and gave me a huge amount of joy.

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Alliance success: shooting for the stars

Shoot for stars, for if you fail you will land in the clouds, we are told. Well over the last 2 days of watching the count in Northern Ireland I’m not quite sure whether it is Cloud 9 or some new star that the Alliance Party has found themselves on.

Going into this election, our Northern Irish sister party, the Alliance Party were in a familiar position for them the 5th largest party in the Assembly,  although only just behind the Ulster Unionists and SDLP. However, there was ambition, there was vision and there was determination to do better.

Each of the 18 seats in Northern Ireland selects 5 MLAs by STV. In the past Alliance has entered two candidates in each of their target seats as much as a means of vote management rather than, with the exception of East Belfast and the hope in North Down, to return 2 MLAs. As the first preference votes started to come in Friday afternoon, those of us making our own spreadsheets starting to see something, and we kept checking and double checking as the counts progressed that we weren’t just wearing rose tinted glasses.

You see Alliance were running 24 candidates, meaning they were running two candidates in only 6 seats. East Belfast, South Belfast, North Down, Lagan Valley, East Antrim and Strangford. All of these are in the Belfast commuter belt and have returned Alliance MLAs on a consistent basis. However, this time things were looking different and good. In the first three their two candidates combined for the most first preference votes of any party, they were second in Lagan Valley and East Antrim and even Strangford a close third with 23.1%.

In all six as well the vote management, who to vote 1 in which ward, had both candidates placed well to survive long into the transfer process. Indeed, the first declaration of all was in Strangford where Kelly Armstrong was returned on First Preferences and gave Alliance an early lead on the seat counter at the bottom of the screen.

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Wallace: Undermining the roots of our democracy

If you’ve read Sally Hamwee’s account last week of the way that the government pushed the Nationality and Borders Bill through both Houses of Parliament, and of the failure of the Labour Party in the Lords to stand up against some of its most illiberal elements, you won’t be surprised to hear that the same happened at the end of the parliamentary session to the Elections Bill – rightly condemned by Alastair Carmichael in an article for the Times as ‘undermining the roots of our democracy.’

The Bill arrived in the Lords with a report from the Commons Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, drafted after it had been through the Commons, which declared the Bill ‘unfit for purpose’. Ministers simply ignored the committee’s criticisms. They similarly ignored the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life on Political Finance, published last summer, and the earlier warnings of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia Report that the Electoral Commission needed stronger powers to prevent foreign funding and influence corrupting UK campaigns.

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World Review: Strange bedfellows in France, Ukraine, Roe v. Wade and Belarus

French politics have been thrown into confusion with an unprecedented “Stop Macron” alliance of the left for next month’s parliamentary elections. The  concordat has been forged by France’s elder statesman of the Left, Jean-luc Melenchon who just missed being included in last month’s presidential run-offs. He has persuaded the Communists, Greens and Socialists to join his France Insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed), to stop Macron’s pro-business, pro-EU legislative agenda. But Melenchon’s pre-election coalition does not spell a foregone victorious conclusion for the French Left. The latest opinion polls show a three-way split between the left-wing alliance, Macron’s La Republique en Marche and the right of centre conservatives and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.

The Socialists and Melenchon make strange bedfellows with opposing views on the EU and NATO membership. They do, however, agree on the bread and butter issues of lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum age and capping prices on essential products. On the other end of the political spectrum, it is uncertain whether the Republicans will support Macron or Le Pen in the new National Assembly. The political map is further complicated by France’s two-round electoral assembly which appears to give Macron’s party a slight advantage in the run-off vote on 19 June. The only thing that is clear at the moment is that the National Assembly elections are making life complicated for the newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron and the results may make his second term very difficult.

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Observations of an Expat: Biden Pivots Back

President Joe Biden is attempting a pivot back to Asia. After months of being forced by Ukraine to re-focus on Europe, the American president is organising an Asian month and his first presidential trip to the region.

It starts next week with a US-hosted summit of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) leaders on 12-13 May and ends with visits to South Korea and Japan on 20-24 May and finally, a “Quad” summit in Tokyo on 24 May.

The trips to Seoul and Tokyo are an opportunity for President Biden to hold his first face-to-face meetings with Asia’s new diplomatic kids on the block—South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio.

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Lib Dems power ahead in Powys but not yet in control

In 2017, the voters in Powys elected 30 independent councillors, though that was down on previous elections. The Conservatives had 19 seats and the Liberal Democrats 13.

Today us Lib Dems have 24 seats, not enough to control the council but negotiations on how the council will be run are getting underway.

This is a major advance for the Lib Dems in the Welsh Marches. We have 14 councillors elected as Lib Dems in Shropshire, including seven in the south west, which is next door to Powys.

 

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Wow what a night! (7.30am)

If you are just waking up, the news is the Conservatives are suffering losses, though they are not so far as great as some predicted. Labour is doing well in London having taken the former Tory strongholds of Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet but not as well elsewhere.

The Lib Dems and Greens made gains at the expense of the bigger parties. And the Lib Dems have regained control of Hull! All the results so far are for councils in England. Scotland and Wales will begin counting shortly.

The leader of Hull’s Liberal Democrats Mike Ross told Radio 4 in the early hours: “It’s been a great night for the City of Hull.” It has been a great night for the Lib Dems too.

Just before 7.30am this morning, we had 257 seats, a gain of 57. In the New Statesman earlier in the week, Ben Walker predicted that Lib Dems would gain 41 seats in England at the best. We passed that benchmark before 5:00am.

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We’re off. It’s election day. Good luck!

The polling stations are open. The kettle is on in committee rooms. Good Morning and GoTVs are being delivered. The tellers are wrapped up well, collecting data on who’s voting, even how they are voting. Data officers are heads down. The Shuttleworths are being warmed up. The knocker uppers are getting ready to get the straggling voters out.

Votes will take place in all 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 councils in Wales. Elections are being held in 146 English councils, including all 32 boroughs in London. In Northern Ireland, voters will select 90 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont.

Across all four nations, 21,352 candidates are standing, including 3,664 Lib Dems.

Counting begins in some English councils soon after the polls close at 10pm tonight and elsewhere tomorrow. Some counting may go into Saturday.

The team here at LDV will be juggling election duties with reporting the results. We wish all those standing and campaigning the best of luck.

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“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation” — But how much? And where is it?

When the Chancellor raises National Insurance, are the effects the same everywhere? We don’t know.  But we ought to — regional inequality in the UK is so stark that comparisons to reunified Germany bear out. If fiscal policy plays a role in this, we need to know ‘how much’ and ‘where’.

There’s very good reason to ask for answers: long-established economic theory holds that governments will create poverty through taxation on economic activity:

All economic principles must be tried and proved at the margin. On marginal land there is no surplus above non-land costs, hence there is no taxable

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Eve of Poll

My colleague Mark Valladares regularly entertains us with his “Welcome to my day” posts. So today I want to share with you my Eve of Poll day.

I have been campaigning for the Lib Dems (and Liberals and SDP before that) since the mid 1970s. I was asked to stand as a paper candidate in 1978 in the ward where I lived. I declined but I doubt whether I would have made much difference to the 6% vote.  Only 8 years later we won the ward with 58% and after a further 8 years we reached an astonishing 76%. (I can claim no credit for that as I was then employed by the local authority and not able to stand.)

I like to tell that story because it says two things. First, politics is a long game, and in normal times we should aim for incremental gains rather than massive turnarounds. Second, the old strategy of “pick a ward and win it” does work – not always, but it’s worth a shot.

As a party we are brilliant at by-elections, both Parliamentary and local. So many of our members love joining in a campaign, and we make it fun. But by-elections can give a distorted impression of how we win seats in regular Council and Assembly elections. For the most part success follows years of campaigning – “Working for you all the year round, not just at election time”. True, we can sometimes benefit from the mood of the country, but we should always view that as a bonus.

So tomorrow I will be excited to see long-term efforts paying off across the country.  Good luck to all candidates and campaigners!

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Ed Davey calls for Windfall Tax on energy companies to help people cope with rising prices

Ed Davey went on BBC Breakfast this morning to call for a windfall tax on energy companies as BP announced soaring profits for the first three months on this year. Funds raised would be used to give people who are struggling with high bills “a really big tax cut.” Ed said that the Conservatives were totally out of touch with what was going on in the country.

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