Category Archives: Op-eds

Let’s get our messaging right on Revoke…

Sadly work commitments meant that I could only spend the weekend in Bournemouth this year, but it was well worth the travel (even the post-Disco train journey home). I was impressed by our new MPs and struck by the time they were spending with members as they build connections within their new political home.

I did manage to stay for the Europe debate and although I am happy with the final result, I did think that the opponents to ‘Revoke’ did win the debate in the hall, if not the vote. Niall Hodson (rising star) and Simon Hughes (established hero) were especially memorable and raised clear and credible concerns regarding this sudden shift in policy position. Sadly I do not think their comments were properly addressed during the debate and this left real concerns with some groups within our party; especially I suspect those from the social democrat legacy who rightly raise concerns over how such a divisive position may damage to our communities. It also does not help equip our activists with the messages needed to combat the inevitable attacks we now face from Labour and the Tories.

At the same time, I have been canvassing over the past two weeks, including tonight, and I am personally very comfortable in being able to defend this General Election position with voters on the doorstep. My own conversations currently focus on the two main lines of attack we currently face.

From Labour, we are now seeing accusations that we are overruling the will of the people as unthinking extremists no more tolerant than Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. Notably they are going to some lengths to misrepresent our position missing out some rather key information. It is therefore very important that we note:

  • As a party we are still prioritising delivering a People’s Vote ahead of a General Election.
  • However, due to Labour’s failure to support a People’s Vote over the past three years, it does now look most likely that we will have a General Election.
  • Therefore, in that scenario we are going put Remain on the ballot paper by recognising a MAJORITY Lib Dem government as a mandate for revoking Article 50 (and stopping this unbearable madness as quickly as possible).
  • Labour MPs in remain areas (including my own) are talking about revoking Article 50 but only to select groups in the now standard approach from their party in which they will say whatever they think the people you want to hear (our MP has also argued for a Norway model and supported Labour’s Brexit plan in the indicative votes earlier this year).
  • We are therefore being honest and clear; setting ourselves up in a strong position to support Remain in a referendum whilst giving the electorate a choice and a chance to Stop Brexit now.

From the Anarchist Party (formerly known as the Conservatives), there are similar attacks on “defying the will of the people”, but with more focus on this being somehow undemocratic. My response in these conversations are:

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The Ronseal of British politics – A storming speech from Jo

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I was “up in the gods” for Jo’s speech this afternoon in Bournemouth.

The first thing to say is that the speech seemed to me to be visually very powerful. Jo is a commanding, strong presence on stage. She stands centre stage, with no lectern or notes, barely glancing visibly at the distant autocues. Her posture and gestures are bold and decisive.

And her speech was bold and decisive.

In the round, I thought her speech was a barnstormer.

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Musings on the Cinderella part of “tax and spend”

Unlike a lot of you, I was in the conference hall on Saturday morning for the debate on business tax. It was nice to see this issue being debated, but it is a reflection of political debate in general that the Hall was pretty quiet and that speakers cards were few in number. It seems that, for Liberal Democrats, as for politicians of other stripes, spending money is much more politically sexy than raising it.

The motion itself was relatively anodyne. Could anybody seriously contest the proposal that corporate taxation would benefit from simplification? Of course not. Would greater transparency of …

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Prue Bray writes: Why I am running for President

In all my 25 years in the Liberal Democrats I  never imagined that we would reach a point in 2019 where not just our membership of the EU but parliamentary democracy itself would be under threat, with us as the only UK party offering any sane solutions.  People are flocking to us, as our fantastic local and European election results show.  They are looking to us to provide hope and to stop the mad descent into the nightmare that British politics is rapidly becoming.

It is absolutely crucial that we continue to rise to the challenge.

We have had a huge influx of members.  We welcome them to our army of activists, and now need to harness their skills and enthusiasm alongside the knowledge and experience of our existing members.  If we can succeed, and can equip everyone with the tools they need in the 21stcentury, we will have built an unstoppable fighting force of activists.

To weld the party together, from Penzance to Lerwick, from Cardiff to Margate and everywhere in between, is not an easy task.  We need more multi-way communication, we need to use information better,  we need to spread knowledge and best practice, raise money, and support each other’s campaigning across England, Scotland and Wales.  We need to attract even more members and voters by looking more like the country we wish to represent, and we need as a party to show that we embody our values of fairness, openness and respect for others in our own behaviour and practice.

A president cannot do all that by themselves.  But they can lead the way.  I want to be a president who enables others, who encourages, facilitates, and builds teams.  A president who empathises and listens to individuals but holds the line on rules and procedure, needed to protect us all.   A president who wants decisions at all levels to be based on evidence, sound financial practice, expert knowledge and risk assessments.  A president who ensures that all voices are heard and all views considered.

I have already led a major committee in the party, as well as having had a wide range of roles from Local Party Chair, to Council Group Leader and parliamentary candidate. You can judge my ability to deliver on these aspirations on my record and my past actions and behaviour.

The Preamble to the Federal Constitution says that as a party “we champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.“

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Could we at least be told which particular disused Cornish tin mine our donations to the party are being thrown down, please?

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My wife and I once gave a small donation to a Nuns’ mission in Kenya that helps the desperately poor. A week or so later we received a hand drawn card which had been signed by all the nuns in that mission, thanking us most effusively for our donation. It was the nicest thank you we have ever received and we treasured that card for months.

Recently I made a donation to a re-wilding project in Scotland. I received not one, but two personally signed thank you letters, one from the treasurer and one from the chair of the project. They were both long letters, explaining how my money would be spent. One of them said: “Your donation arrived at a crucial time for us, so was particularly welcome.”

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Reforming Private Renting – Making it fairer for all is within our grasp 

For those of you who follow my occasional posts this probably won’t be news, but for everyone else, yea, I’ve made a motion.

On Tuesday, at 11:10 I will be in the auditorium, moving a motion with a simple call, for our party to back the removal of Section 21 of the Housing Act (1988). For a small piece of legislation S21 (as we like to call it…) has a big impact. It’s the cause of many evictions, including so called ‘revenge eviction’, where landlords quite legally turf out tenants that they no-longer want with only two months’ notice… and often because those tenants have complained about something, such as faulty electrics or leaking walls or rooves.

S21 makes many private renters second class citizens, forced to endure circumstances that compromise their health or risk their safety, because they are poor or low waged or can’t get a foot on the ‘property ladder’. It threatens young and old, single folks and families, and as the size of the private renting population grows, it’s reaching into more of our communities. 

Even Theresa May recognised its invidiousness and promised to scrap it. But in typical Tory style, her passion for improving our lot only ran as far a running a consultation on the matter (I urge you to respond to it –  which our new overlord is less than likely to honour. And certainly not unless progressive parties, of which we are the epitome, hold his feet to the fire. Tim Farron has written to the new Housing Secretary to do just that. 

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The opportunity for electoral reform

In the present political turmoil, there is increasing recognition that our present electoral system should carry much of the blame, Amber Rudd being the latest convert to this point of view.  If the opportunity to replace it suddenly opens up, we need to be ready to seize it.

Fortunately, the kind of proportional system for Parliamentary elections that the Liberal Democrats have long believed in has the added advantage that it could be implemented quickly. Constituencies for elections using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) can be based on local authority areas, mostly electing 3 to 6 MPs, as the attached map illustrates.

Aligning constituencies with community boundaries in this way helps maintain a strong local connection: it is good for both voters and representatives, avoiding division of responsibility and duplication over local issues.  And while some will regret the loss of having a single local MP, there will be many others who rejoice in at last having at least one MP they actually voted for, and a choice of whom to approach over any specific issue.

Another advantage is that boundaries would need to be changed only very rarely; changes in the number of voters can instead be accommodated by changing the number of MPs for the constituency.  And the scheme is very easy to keep up-to-date, using the current year’s electoral register.

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Take 2: Mark Pack writes…Why I want to be Party President

Apologies to Mark – we accidentally crashed his time at the top of the page with an ad for our fringe (do join us at 1pm in the Dorchester North at the Marriott asking what sacrifices we are prepared to make for the planet.). So it returns to the top of the page for an hour or so. 

Although Liberal Democrat conference has only just started, I already feel a bit like a child who has wandered into a chocolate shop, bubbling with excitement at what they can see all around. Here in Bournemouth, that excitement comes from bumping into so many brilliant – and wonderfully diverse – prospective candidates, so many of whom many even be MPs by Christmas. What a Christmas present that would be for them, their communities, the party and the nation: a massively expanded voice for liberalism at the heart of Parliament.

Many are people I’ve campaigned with for years. Such old friends will, I hope, forgive me for being just as excited about how many are new to the party, bringing in a new generation of talent in the last few years. Melding together the old and the new – in members, in campaign tactics and in the ways we organise ourselves – is crucial for our long-term success. 

That’s why, at this pivotal moment in the party’s development, with a new leader, so many new members and such a huge increase in our political potential, I believe there’s a vital role for our next Party President in making this happen.

It’s very natural for the Leader and Chief Executive to get drawn into focusing so strongly on the next Westminster general election. It is crucial. But it’s not the whole story. We need to remember the other types of elections out there. And that there will be a general election after the next one too. 

We need to think broader and longer-term to bring the sort of sustained long-term success that will deliver a liberal society, a safeguarded environment and high-quality, responsive public services.

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We must create a non Brexit dividend

The Liberal Democrats have been the proud standard-bearers of the rearguard action from the 2016 EU referendum. That Britain is still in the EU, and we as a party are enjoying a revival from the drubbing of 2015, are direct results of our commitment to what looked at the time like a lost cause.

But if, as seems likely, we go into the next general election with a policy of revoking Article 50 without another referendum, it will become absolutely vital for us to present to the electorate a ‘non-Brexit dividend’ – otherwise we will fail the very society we have claimed to bat for over several decades.

Last year I wrote in LDV that our party’s approach to the most pressing issue of our time should be summed up by paraphrasing Tony Blair’s dictum from his time as shadow Home Office Secretary – we should be ‘tough on Brexit, and tough on the causes of Brexit’. We have been brilliant at the first but not so good at the second. That must now change.

There are no policy disagreements here. Whatever the question was, Brexit isn’t the answer. The EU is far from perfect, but the idea that we’re better off outside than inside is preposterous. But precisely because Brexit makes no sense, we have to look at why so many people voted for it. And to dismiss it as just years of anti-EU hectoring by the press won’t bring people round to understanding our view.

Our line to date has been that we want a people’s vote. In other words, there is so much doubt about what the 2016 Leave vote meant, and how legitimate the mandate is, that we have to put it back to the people. But if we’re not now putting it back to the people, we have to show that we’re as tough on the causes of Brexit as on Brexit itself, or we really will leave ourselves open to accusations that we are illiberal and undemocratic.

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Richard Kemp writes: Why I’m standing to be Party President

I was amazed to be told that the Federal Board has decided to run the internal elections for the Presidency and Party committees this Autumn. Yes, I know that they are due BUT I also know that they will be taking place when there are far more important things to do. There may just be some issues like stopping Brexit; welcoming new MPs to our Party and fighting a General Election that should take precedence. 

Had it been left to me I would have taken the opportunity to tell the Conference in Bournemouth that the Party would be postponing the elections until January and, I would expect, getting a rousing standing ovation from our front-line troops for doing so.

But perhaps it is because decisions like this keep getting taken that I want to stand to become the Party President in the first place. I first became interested in standing when our LGA Lib Dem Executive was told in March last year that the Party was proposing to send out three emails to the membership before the May elections all about Brexit campaigning and not one about local elections. Don’t get me wrong I believe that Brexit is important. As far back as 1975 I chaired the Liverpool ‘yes’ team in the EEC referendum of that year. Elections are even more important. Unless we get elected to councils and parliaments, we are a talking shop, a debating society.

The elections last year began the very public process of raising in people’s minds the full potential of the Lib Dems. The 175 gains and subsequent headlines led to repeated successes in council by-elections. That lead to this year’s huge gains in this year’s round, the election of Jane Dodds and the defection to us of 5 MPs including our own Luciana Berger MP in Liverpool Wavertree.

That’s the way I think that we can grow. We built our Party in the past street by street, community by community, ward by ward and then to parliamentary success. That’s the Lib Dem way and it’s the right way. Parliamentary successes caused by defections or Brexit will be short-term unless underpinned by a phalanx of Councillors and strong community action.

For 52 years I have been a front-line worker for the Party. For 37 of those years I have been a Liverpool Councillor. At times I have represented some of the most deprived communities in the UK. Now I represent a wealthier ward which includes the most famous Lane in the World! I lead the Lib Dem opposition on the council where we are clawing our way back to power against an increasing cult-like extremist Labour Party.

That has not stopped me doing things globally or nationally. For 10 years I was the UK representative on the World body for local government UCLG. For 8 years I was the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government at the LGA. I now lead on health & social care at the LGA and regularly attend sessions of all sorts in both Houses of Parliament.

I believe that we need to change the way we do things nationally:

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Conference Countdown: What local government needs from the Queen’s Speech

In last week’s spending review, we saw yet more smoke and mirrors.  Just half of the promised £3.7bn is new cash and £1.85bn will be coming from pockets of hard-pressed council tax and business rate taxpayers who are at breaking point. 

The money announced will help meet rising cost and demand pressures in 2020/21.  But not much more.

As I have said time and time again additional freedoms and flexibilities are all very well, but its new hard cash that local government needs.  This must be backed up a commitment that is not just for 12 months, but a sustainable three year plus funding settlement.  

You cannot keep kicking the “social care can” down the road, politicians have promised for more than 20 years and have still not delivered a way forward.

Equally so the crisis in children’s services keep being papered over and deferred to another day.  Local government needs the security and reassurance of a long-term settlement. 

There was some cash for homelessness – again, welcome – but no mention of investment to tackle its underlying causes.

Nothing for social housing, nor an end to the benefit freeze that is creating widespread housing insecurity.  With the loss of yet another DWP minister who knows what is going to happen.

Councils across the country are reporting to us an increase in people accessing their homeless services and are spending £1bn a year putting families in temporary accommodation enough is enough.

We heard about a youth investment fund to build and repair youth clubs, but no details.  I will put money on it that it will probably amount to a mere sticking plaster on the wounds inflicted by austerity on local youth services.

And as we all have an eye on a General Election; which just like Winter in Game of Thrones most certainly is coming; our own party’s manifesto needs to rise to these challenges as well!

Next year’s Spending Review must provide the long-term, sustainable settlement councils need in order to protect services into the next decade and beyond.  But it isn’t all about money.

As part of the Local Government Associations ongoing #CouncilsCan campaign, the LGA is also calling for the next Queen’s Speech to deliver a new localism settlement for England.  This settlement will need to reignite devolution, empowering councils to transform local areas.

With new powers, funding and long-term certainty, councils will continue to lead their local areas and improve the lives of their residents.  Giving councils the freedom and funding to make local decisions improves national outcomes. 

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Back to Conference

Tomorrow, Liberal Democrats will be gathering at Bournemouth for the Autumn Conference. This is the main conference, traditionally held during the parliamentary recess, as opposed to the shorter Spring Conference and the two conferences held per year in each Region/Nation.

If you watch the conference on BBC Parliament you will see the proceedings in the main hall – the debates, the set piece speeches and perhaps the procedural bits.  Sometimes news or politics programmes will carry excerpts from the rally or fringe meetings.

But this doesn’t give the members’ full experience of conference, which also includes the exhibition, training sessions (held during the main conference hours), fringe meetings (held outside main conference hours), lots of other meetings formal and informal and chance encounters. These meetings and encounters can happen just because so many Liberal Democrats are together in one place. 

Some of this requires further explanation. The stands in the exhibition may be from national party bodies, AOs and SAOs, outside organisations who see themselves as being likely to share interests with Liberal Democrat members, suppliers, the town hosting the next conference and sometimes organisations who (ahem) feel that their image needs improving within the Liberal Democratss. (AOs and SAOs are official Liberal Democrat bodies who cater for particular cohorts of members, including those from professions, and those who wish to emphasise some aspect of policy.)  People who have stands in the exhibition are also those who are likely to hold fringe meetings, or even sponsor them. Fringe meetings are at breakfast time, lunch time and until quite late into the evening (in 3 slots).

All this results in Choice: what am I interested in? What would my local party want me to go to? What debates are so vital that I should attend and vote? What speeches (including the Rally) would inspire me? What about the exhibition? I need to go around it and help on a stand. And more practical issues: how and when will I eat? Which fringe meetings that I would love to go to will be so oversubscribed that I would have to stand, or not get in at all? Perhaps I would enjoy the Quiz or the Glee Club, but would they make me too tired in the morning?

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A Canterbury Tale

Jonathan Calder reports that the local Lib Dems have been told to halt the selection of their Parliamentary Candidate amid speculation that Central Command may be holding back certain selections awaiting high profile arrivals into the Party.

But he ends his piece, “You have to be an optimist to see Canterbury as a Lib Dem candidate target. But politics is in such  flux at the moment, who knows?”

I am an optimist in these matters and took up the challenge to make a case for our team in Canterbury.

It is inconceivable that Lib Dems can be strong contenders in such unlikely seats if we look at them through the lens of the 2017 results .  

But there are certain criteria that need to be appreciated.  These dark horses will have a strong LD vote in 2010 – the last time the Party fought elections at a similar rating in national opinion polls.

They will have evidence of a latent significant UKIP and Brexit Party (BP) level of support and a chunky Labour vote with plenty of remainers in it.

The voting across the constituency in the 2019 Euros will show strong support for the Party and for the BP.

And there will be a couple of knowledgeable campaigners steeped in community campaigning with a handful or more of councillors or former councillors.

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To revoke, or not to revoke? That is the question

I was a little shocked on Tuesday morning to find that one of the biggest policy shifts in Lib Dem history seems likely to be pushed through Conference with less than 6 days’ notice. The problem I have with the new policy of “Revoke if we win a majority”, is that it puts at risk some core beliefs of our Party and validates the accusations of being the “Lib Undems” which we have been successfully resisting for the last three years. I see the strong attraction of Revoke; no messy referendum, no arguing over the question on the ballot paper, no further delay to resolving Brexit which everyone is heartily sick of. And also of course clarity. Here I want to propose a solution which keeps the essence of the policy, preserves our core beliefs, and provides real opportunities to take the political high ground at the same time.

I have spent the last three years arguing with Leavers and soft Remainers that our People’s Vote policy is perfectly democratic. As Tim Farron said, how can voting be undemocratic? I don’t argue that the 2016 referendum was invalid. I argue that it is out of date, new people are on the register and others have changed their minds, and therefore we need to check if “The People” still think the same once the destination is clear. More important, I have spent the last 40 years arguing with people about our clearly undemocratic First Past the Post voting system. Thatcher did NOT have a mandate to enact manifesto policy in 1979, nor did Blair in 1997, and nor did Cameron in 2015 (although actually the policy to hold an EU referendum is the one thing where I do accept a mandate since Tory plus UKIP votes exceeded 50%). We live in an elective dictatorship. Changing that is surely Liberal Democrat core belief.

The Revoke policy states: “Conference calls for Liberal Democrats to campaign to Stop Brexit in a General Election, with the election of a Liberal Democrat majority government to be recognised as an unequivocal mandate to revoke Article 50 and for the UK to stay in the EU”. We could easily get a majority government with 37% of the vote as Cameron did in 2015. So we are saying that regardless of our beliefs, we will take our own chance to use elective dictatorship to push through a policy that may well be opposed by the majority of voters.

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Patrolling the new frontier: Regulating online extremism

A month after the horrific attack in Christchurch, which was live-streamed on Facebook, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern said: “It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Neo-Nazi and other far-right material, alongside Islamist and far-left content, spread swiftly on Facebook, with a potential to reach thousands in a matter of hours. Facebook is not alone; Social media platforms have been used by extremists to radicalise and inspire acts of terrorism across the world. Exposure to online extremism is not the sole cause of radicalisation, but in combination with other risk factors, it can weaponise a latent disposition towards terrorist violence.

Preventing online extremism has become a priority for policy-makers in Europe. In the U.K., the Home Office and DCMS have proposed to regulate internet platforms in the Online Harms White Paper, which considers a wide range of harms, including extremism and terrorism.

We offer several recommendations. First, a clear definition of extremist content can prevent uncertainty and over-blocking, and help ensure content is judged consistently by human moderators. Once human moderators have determined something is extremist content, platforms should use hashing technology to screen out known extremist content at the point of upload. One example of such technology is the Counter Extremism Project’s eGlyph – a tool developed by Hany Farid, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley and member of the Counter Extremism Project’s advisory board.

eGlyph is based on ‘robust hashing’ technology, capable of swiftly comparing uploaded content to a database of known extremist images, videos, and audio files, thereby disrupting the spread of such content. We have made this ground-breaking technology available at no cost to organisations wishing to combat online violent extremism.

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Brexit Impact for UK Citizens living in the EU outside the UK

“This is the fourth of a five-part series of pieces highlighting the issues of concern to Liberal Democrat members beyond our shores. For the first in the series, click here…”

The 2016 Referendum result has plunged the lives of the 1.2 million British citizens resident outside the UK in the EU into a maelstrom of loss and uncertainty. It is important to remember that about 600 000 of them are disenfranchised by the 15-year rule for overseas voting and thus many of the individuals most heavily and directly impacted by Brexit are those with no democratic voice in the process of the removal of their EU Citizen’s Rights.

As Prime Minister Johnson continues to wield the threat of a No-Deal Brexit to extract concessions from the EU and plays fast and loose with the rights of our EU citizen friends and relatives resident in the UK, he is entirely dependent on the goodwill of the other 27 EU Member States towards our Citizens, resident within their borders. For while it is in this British Government’s power to grant rights to EU citizens resident in the UK, British citizens must rely on the generosity of the EU Member States to maintain at least some of the rights that they depend on to conduct their lives.

There are a myriad of reasons why British citizens took the opportunities afforded to them by their EU Citizens rights and moved to live in other EU countries and the scenarios in which they now find themselves are no less diverse. There are those who depend on their Freedom of Movement in order to work across multiple countries, particularly those who are involved in the service sector, who will find themselves heavily impacted by the increased barriers to trade after Brexit.  Then, there are retirees, with pensions that have already seen their value fall by about 25% due to the Pound’s downward course since 2016 and now face the loss of their S1 reciprocal healthcare provision and the removal of pension uprating in 3 years time. So, while the British Embassy Outreach events seek to assure us that nothing much will change in our daily lives, it is actually hard to gloss over the fundamental erosion of rights and opportunities that is occurring.

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Revoking Article 50 is a highly risky strategy

Death is in charge of the clattering train!

(Edwin James Milliken)

The now seemingly inevitable general election that we are doomed to endure will without a doubt be one of the most divisive and decisive in British political history. Boris Johnson’s strategy is to divide the Remain vote and set himself as the people’s champion – no matter how irrational that theory is. Labour, who plan to try a rerun of their 2017 campaign and put Jeremy Corbyn forwards as a radical, reforming leader, and polling miserably for an opposition to a disastrous government. Dominic Cummings is intent on capturing northern working-class seats who want a no-deal Brexit, as he successfully did for the Leave campaign in 2016.

Both main parties will have to offer manifestos that capture the public imagination and offer clear paths forward. They will have unfunded spending sprees, promises of immigration caps, and patriotic tirades. No change there, then. The sceptre of Brexit does, however, add an extra dimension – the polarisation that has divided the country will shape any public vote.

For the Lib Dems to succeed, they need to offer a new message disenfranchised voters, beyond the boundaries of the Remain-Leave divide.

Jo Swinson’s announcement that the party will be arguing in their manifesto for an unequivocal reversal of the referendum result must be treated with caution therefore. Many voters on both sides of a traditional Liberal base – Tory voters despairing at the economic crisis of a no-deal and Labour voters outraged at Corbyn – are not natural Leave voters. Neither are they going to be brought over, I suspect, by the option of revoking Brexit without a public vote. Voters who want to revoke Article 50 would pick the Lib Dems as the main pro-European voice in Parliament as it is. This latest move brings little support and many even detract from it.

Brexit has divided many, but beyond the date Britain leaves the argument for revoking will become less. The argument for another referendum will become more credible, as the consequences of the exit become clearer, and the powerful Remain voice is no longer the establishment.

The recent surge in Lib Dem support and new recruits in parliament show that a new, radical liberal movement has palpable support nationally. This requires new policies that can bring swing voters over and ensure that the party does not continue to fall foul of the first-part-the-post method that shows no sign of being reformed.

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So what happens after the next general election?

Even now with just weeks before the next general election it is impossible to know where we will be with Brexit. For the sake of simplicity, I would like to put Brexit to one side for now. The Tories might find a way to implement hard Brexit by the 31st October and before the next General Election, we shall see. Discuss it elsewhere. There are plenty of other considerations we need to think about.

I can see 3 plausible scenarios for the next general election;

  1. The Tories squeeze the Brexit Party vote and get an overall majority, or;
  2. We have a hang Parliament

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Championing freedom and liberty for all shouldn’t be comfortable

I can’t count the number of people I’ve spoken to who are just as committed to equality as the next person, but maintain that pushing for further normalisation, rights, and freedoms for marginalised groups would be “rocking the boat”. That, essentially, we should be content with our lot.

This fatalism, that we should accept any level of discrimination or othering as inevitable, is fatal to any effort to extend further rights and freedoms to all marginalised groups and to defend the rights we have already won.

As liberals we champion freedom, equality and liberty of every individual, whoever they are. We reject …

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New issue of Liberator out

New Issue of Liberator Out

Issue 397 of Liberator will soon be on its way to subscribers and the free sample articles for this issue are former Tory MP – now a Lib Dem – Harold Elletson on why Boris Johnson has no ‘bottom’, and Roger Hayes on how the Lib Dems can start to rebuild a broken Britain.

See: www.liberatormagazine.org.uk 

Liberator will be on sale at our stall in Bournemouth along with the new songbook – come and see us.

Also in this issue:

ANOTHER ALLIANCE? – Should there be a Remain Alliance involving Liberal Democrats at any imminent general election? Liberator canvassed some views, this is what we got

IS IT OUR FAULT? – Pro-European politicians have been too scared to make a robust case for the EU, and that includes the Liberal Democrats says David Grace

THE LEADER OF THE PACK – Jonathan Calder looks at the Social Liberal Forum’s new book on liberal ideas Wolves in the Forest

JUST THIS ONCE – The enormity of Brexit demands that Remain parties stand aside for each other, says Naomi Smith

THOUGHT SLAVERY WAS ABOLISHED? – Modern slavery is rife despite legislation, with UK nationals often the victims, says Isabelle Parasram

BRAZIL: BACK TO DARKNESS – A supported of torture, military dictatorship and white supremacy rules a potential economic giant and makes Donald Trump look like a liberal. Jonathan Fryer reports

THIS MAY NOT LAST LONG – Liberal Democrat MEPs have no idea how long they will serve in Brussels, but are making the most of their opportunities, says Jane Brophy

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Closing the Citizenship gaps

Britons everywhere should share the same rights.

The government treats British citizens differently depending on where they live. It does so for convenience and cost management and that isn’t fair.

For example, most of our working lives we contribute to the state pension via National Insurance. If you live in the UK when you retire or one of the 48 countries that currently have an agreement in place you’ll receive your state pension in full along with an annual uplift to help it keep pace with inflation. If you live in one of the other countries during retirement – including Australia, New …

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Why Luciana Berger joining the Liberal Democrats is important

As someone who has been both involved in campaigns against the growing, vile, antisemitism, and for the engaging with the Independent Group members of parliament, the decision of Luciana Berger, to become a Liberal Democrat gives real delight and is a pivotal defection, and, indeed,  a poignant one. This warm, eloquent, dynamic woman, is a courageous and feisty opponent of the prejudice and abuse she and others experience, and in support of a better more caring society and politics. She is a voice for mental health and a dedicated mp. She has been the target of far left Labour baiting.

For researching articles I have written for the Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum,  at which I am a member and writer, I have been made aware of the extent of frequent taunting, inappropriate insinuation, direct insults, ongoing trolling, many who are Jewish, experience. This particularly complex and insidious prejudiced attitude, is a racism that has developed more, not less, in our country, in Europe, and even in the US. In the UK, it is statistically, thankfully, less. We are a more liberal and tolerant country, but victims of racism do not want to be tolerated.

The extent of her opposition to Brexit, as with Liberal Democrats , is obviously based in part, on her, and our belief, that only by greater unity, more harmony, real involvement, in each other’s societies, do we, as Europeans, counter the emerging narratives of populism and nationalism, that we witness, but must not  and, as Liberals, do not ignore. Racism is a consequence of extremism, ever since modern societies emerged, and at periods in history before such things were fully realised, these two have been bed fellows.

The resilience, determination, creativity, humour, of Jewish communities, and individuals from within them, over hundreds of years, has been and is, inspiring and inspired. These fellow citizens of this and any country, are amongst the most longstanding, to have emerged from immigration. It is no coincidence that Emma Lazarus, the remarkable young woman, lost to this world so young, was Jewish. She  was the writer of the great poem, that is on the plinth of the Statue of Liberty. ” Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This is a rallying cry for liberals, progressives, humanitarians worldwide. It is now denigrated from the right. Even in the US.

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“God I felt in the right place” LDV talks to Dr Phillip Lee MP about his dramatic entrance to the Lib Dems.

It was a moment of high drama. As Boris Johnson started his statement on the European Council on Tuesday afternoon, Phillip Lee walked into the Commons Chamber. Rather than turn left to the Government benches as he had every time since his election in 2010, he turned right and took a seat next to Jo Swinson.

This afternoon I spoke to him, just after he had been talking to the Washington Post and he relived that moment.

It wasn’t easy on a personal level. You can imagine, I was a member of a political party for 27 years, I’ve got relationships that are well established and some of them are going to be strained by all of this.

After he’d sat down, his watch started buzzing to tell him that his heart rate had been over 120 beats per minute for over four minutes. He had to do some deep breathing to coax it back to normal.

Today was his first day back in his constituency since crossing the floor. A walk around a new shopping centre in Bracknell had laid bare the polarisation our country faces today:

It was love and hate. It was really quite remarkable.

He’d been thinking about joining us for a few months, talking to friends and family and reading the Preamble to our Constitution and said that he felt that our ideas of equality, justice and community were where he was. You don’t, he said, just have a hissy fit and change political parties, but the final event that propelled him our way was Jacob Rees-Mogg’s LBC interview on Monday in which he disparaged Dr David Nicholls, who had contributed to the Yellowhammer Report on no deal preparations. Mogg made “dreadful statements, comparing him to someone who had been struck off.”

It made me feel as a practising medical doctor that I’d made the right decision.

That feeling intensified the next day at Prime Minister’s Questions, which he described as the worst display he’d seen by both Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

His friend, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the Labour MP for Slough, asked Boris Johnson to apologise for the derogatory and racist remarks he’d made on many occasions in the past and which had led to a rise in hate crime. The PM’s dismissive answer fired up Jo Swinson so much that she handed Johnson his backside on a plate. shortly afterwards.

Phillip knows Slough well. He has worked there as a GP for over a decade and knows its diverse communities, where 60 languages are spoken, backwards.

God I felt in the right place.

All of that appalling language in that article, it matters in communities like that because language matters and for the PM to be so dismissive confirmed in my heart that I was in the right party.

As a doctor, he said that he had problems with the Health and Social Care Bill during the coalition years. He raised his issues privately with then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and regrets that he toed the line and voted in favour of it – a view no doubt shared by many Liberal Democrats.

His move to our party has not been without controversy. There has been considerable anxiety, which has led to the resignations of Federal Conference Committee and LGBT+ office bearers Sarah Brown and Jennie Rigg. Both of them are close friends of mine and I’ve felt intensely sad this week. The party is already missing the massive amount of work that they do and I hope that we will be able to welcome them back one day.

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News from the Membership Department – 60k people joined us this year – and how to get a replacement membership card

There are now (as of the time I’m typing) 120,995 members and 17,083 registered supporter of the Liberal Democrats.

That’s a record high – and means that just shy of 60,000 people have joined the Liberal Democrats as either a member or supporter this year. Most of them have joined, since fantastic local elections in May.

This latest membership surge comes after six months of extensive work to try and make membership better for everyone.

This all started with the implementation of the Supporter’s Scheme – which enabled us to do some really extensive work on the party’s membership database and fix a lot of long standing issues with how memberships were managed.

There’s still a lot more work to do (more on that further down) but we have made huge improvements to how the system works and it’s far more reliable and accurate than ever before.

Of course, the supporter scheme itself has proved both successful and popular – even without some of the more generous rights originally proposed.

The team have pulled together a report on the first three months of the scheme, which you can read here: www.libdems.org.uk/registered-supporter-report 

One of the big things those database changes enabled was to allow us to introduce a lot more automation.

Some of you will have already had it – the vast majority of our renewal communications happen automatically and members new get a confirmation when they’ve renewed their membership.

We’ve got big plans for where we want to take this next year – especially when it comes to supporting Local Party Officers and making sure they get support and advice on their new roles.

The next set of improvements will be a bit more visible than everything that’s been done so far.

We’re planning to replace the existing Salesforce interface local parties use with a user-friendly web interface we’re developing in conjunction with Prater Raines.

Prater Raines (as many of you know) are long-time suppliers to the party and almost all of their staff have been local party officers – so they’re the ideal people to help us build this.

The new interface won’t replace Salesforce – that will still be there in the background and be used by HQ, but local parties will enjoy a tailor made way to handle their donation reporting, manage memberships and their local parties.

We’ll also be able to implement a number of long asked for improvements which have not been possible in the current system – like knowing who your moved out members area.

The development timetable is tight but is intended to deliver access to the new portal from the start of January 2020. 

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Liverpool Lib Dems welcome Luciana Berger

On behalf of Liverpool Liberal Democrats, I have  welcomed the news that Luciana Berger has joined the Liberal Democrats. I do so not only as the Leader of the Lib Dems in Liverpool but also as the now ousted Lib Dem PPC for Liverpool Wavertree!

Yesterday was an exciting day which started at 9.15 with a call from Jo Swinson giving me the news. I was able to tell her that I was certain that Liverpool Lib Dems would be supportive of this. We had already agreed as a Party to not fight against as a Change UK candidate. We were unsure what to do if she tried to stand as an Independent but I suspect that we would have come to the same decision.

Basically, we were able to move to this position with little debate because we have always respected her as an individual and have tried to work with her both locally and nationally. Last night, we held an emergency Executive Committee in accordance with the Party’s protocols and after hearing from James Gurling, the chair of the Party’s Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee,  endorsed her membership of the Party and then she became  officially the Lib Dem MP for Liverpool Wavertree!

Luciana arrived in Liverpool at the 2010 General Election where was a tense campaign in which we were quite aggressive (more than I would have liked) about the fact that she was arriving fresh from London and had no Liverpool roots at all. That, of course, is not our tradition. We are used to helping work up our local patch and riding a tide of support that we helped to create.

Since then she made her home in this City, got to know her patch well and has given birth to proud young Scousers who we hope will “lern to tork proper!”

We have always respected Luciana even when she was a Labour MP and have come to know her better in the last few months. She has endured an appalling hate attack in the Labour Party since the rise to power within the Party of Corbyn and his cult.  She was female, Jewish and bright. Unforgiveable sins in the eyes of many Labour members. She was subject to vicious abuse both inside her Party and externally. Even as a Labour MP we extended a hand of friendship to her to try and help her.

Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party is not a good organisation to be part of. Of the four Labour councillors elected this May one has resigned first as Lord Mayor and then as a Council for distributing racist video. Another one has been suspended for sexism including calling local Labour MEP a f*****g b***h on a video filmed is a pub!

Locally, she has worked hard and has not always been on the same side as the Lib Dem team on local issues. However, as many Lib Dems will tell you MPs and councillors in the same Party often have to disagree because they have different jobs and see things with a different perspective.

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The Lib Dems must draw up a road map to take us out of the abyss

As opportunity unfolds with the current political crisis, the Liberal Democrats could appoint a unit to examine three issues on which the Party can lead. Coupled with its grass roots organization, these initiatives, messaged skillfully, could help propel the Party into government. Their aim would be to ensure that:-

The United Kingdom’s political system never again produces the geographical and economic divide that has led to a critical mass of citizens feeling ignored and left-behind.

Europe’s modern institutional structures create both regional cohesion and sovereign flexibility so that the type of divisiveness experienced in Britain is addressed long before it risks tearing the European Project apart.

The Liberal Democrats take a global lead in drafting new mechanisms for the international rules-based order and its institutions.

Once formulated, each could be presented for discussion so that minds can begin to reach beyond the acrimonious technicalities of Brexit towards a wider and more positive future.

We do not know how many of the tens of thousands new members are using the Party as a temporary ideological life-raft and how many are here for the long term to forge through to government and restore British values to the United Kingdom.

But we do know of the crying need to address issues that have led to today’s restlessness both here and around the world. On this, the Liberal Democrats, and the counter-part networks within Liberal International, are ideally placed to take the lead.

It is tempting in the middle of this crisis to focus on each twist and turn. But this is exactly the moment to task a team to take eyes off every-day events and map out a bigger picture.

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Observations of an ex pat: Bunkum history

History does NOT repeat itself. But that does not mean that there are no parallels between the past, the present and future or that we cannot learn from the lessons of the past.

At the moment Remain pundits are busy drawing comparisons between the dark days of 1930s with the current state of British and world politics. The populists and Brexiteers dismiss such suggestions as fear mongering and claim that the dark clouds on the horizon are actually the sunny uplands.

History is not an exact science. Political axioms cannot be tested in a sterile laboratory environment that allows historians to confidently pronounce that if “x” occurs “y” will result. There is a mathematical element to the study of the past, but it is based more on probabilities than scientific certainties. For instance, if you punch your neighbour in the nose, it is probable—but not certain—that they will punch you back.

The study of history – and its application to current events– involves an understanding not only of past events but a comprehensive knowledge of human nature and how it is likely to respond to similar events in the future.

In the 1930s there was no internet or social media. Air travel was still in its infancy. Oceans were crossed by ship .Television was in the prototype stage. Space was a totally unknown frontier and although the weapons of war were frightening, they were slings and arrows compared to today’s nuclear arsenals.

But there are still parallels likely to result in similar—but not exact—results.

The 1930s was the tail end of a long period of European imperial history and a strong belief in the nation state. It came just 20 years after a disastrous Great War involving 40 million casualties.  The peace that followed was judged by the loser as manifestly unjust. The world’s great economic power decided to withdraw from the world stage and crawl back into its outdated and traditional isolationism. At the same time its irresponsible economic policies created a Great Depression that spread across the globe.

Life became very complicated. Political and economic problems multiplied and had an impact on the daily lives of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.  Faced with a confusingly complex world, populations turned towards populist leaders. Solutions are simple they were told. Kill the Jews. Hang the capitalists.  Then they tied their solutions to nationalism. Other groups should be killed, invaded and/or subjugated because the Aryans were a superior nation race.

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“Sit down, love” – a father’s dilemma

I am still not sure how I feel about my introducing politics to my twelve-year-old daughter. I don’t like the idea of indoctrination, and despite being open about my views, I try to balance them with what the opposing ideas are, so she doesn’t just take what I say as gospel.

It’s tricky. If I think “I’m right”, shouldn’t I teach her what “is right”? Yet, my father did not. A Labour man his whole life, and I barely knew it till he died. They did not shelter us from it. My parents allowed us to know the ideas and make our own choices. I want to try to do that for my daughter.

One thing I will not offer an “alternative view” for is the need for civilised discourse, the need to agree to disagree and make friendships across party-lines. She came home from school a little envious of her environmentally woke friends, who had chosen the subject for their end of primary school talks. We talked a while about the issues she thought important. Gender was chief amongst them. 

I made the mistake of only really knowing about strong legal women, and it ended up tilting to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (we’d seen On the Basis of Sex – a Hollywood biopic about the second Supreme Court Justice –  a month prior) and – to include the crossing-divides theme – Sandra Day O’Connor, of whom we knew nothing.

In the end it was a little convoluted and rushed – how to explain Constitutional Law and the Separation of Powers, gender equality and civilised debate in modern politics in 5-7 minutes was perhaps an editorial screw up on my part. But she understood it. Better, she came up with most of it herself. Did her own research and typed her own speech. It was very important to include SDC’s love of beef jerky because it showed she grew up on a ranch and was strong. Also RBG’s love of opera. Obviously. 

Like any parent, I got a sting of disappointment for her when it didn’t get selected for their assembly; but I thought she’d gained a lot from it and was proud of herself. And more sure of herself, as a young woman.

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Two times Jo Swinson was awesome today

Today saw Jo Swinson’s first PMQs as leader against our incompetent and awful Prime Minister. She had intended to ask about a constituent’s mother who was having a hell of a time getting settled status despite living in this country for almost half a century.

Just before the end of PMQs,  Slough MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi tackled the Prime Minister about his awful column in which he said horrific things about Muslim women. It’s worth remembering that these comments are not consequence free. Every woman of colour I know, whether she wears a hijab or not, noticed an increase in the racist, islamophobic crap they have to put up with every single day after he wrote that.

Typically, Johnson was incredibly dismissive of the challenge. Then it was Jo’s turn and she absolutely laid into him. 

Unfortunately the embedding feature on Parliament TV isn’t working right now. Here’s a small clip:

Here’s the text.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD)

The Prime Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) was appalling. An apology was required, rather than some kind of justification that there is ever any acceptable context for remarks such as the Prime Minister made in that column. He is the Prime Minister of our country. His words carry weight and he has to be more careful with what he says. My constituent Kristin is afraid because her mum, a European citizen, has been struggling to get settled status after 45 years in this country. Our friends, colleagues and neighbours deserve better than his failures and carelessness with language.

The Prime Minister

In the case of his constituent Kristin—

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
His?

The Prime Minister

Her constituent Kristin—if she has indeed been here for 45 years, and I am sure she has—should be automatically eligible for settled status. Clearly, it is a difficult case, but the answer is for the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) to bring it to the Home Secretary, and I am sure we can sort it out.

The text alone doesn’t capture how utterly floored Johnson was by Jo’s question. It’s like a surprise to him that he isn’t universally loved.

Later on, during the debate on the Government motion for an election, Jo took apart Johnson’s arguments for an election. A general election, she said, should be held in a responsible manner, after an extension to article 50 had been assured.

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William Wallace writes: As seen from Westminster

Parliament is back – and humming with rumours of plots about hijacking the order paper, conversations with disillusioned Conservatives, and speculation about when the election will get under way.

Outside (on Tuesday afternoon, and into the evening) there are hundreds of demonstrators, the overwhelming majority of them opposed to Brexit.  The arrival of the Yorkshire for Europe group, marching behind a tuba down the middle of the road, was a highlight for me; but when I went out to greet them I found Devon for Europe flags, a piper playing the Ode to joy on his bagpipes, and sustained chanting of ‘Stop the Coup’ all round the media on Abingdon Green.

The Remainers are a happier crowd than the minority of Brexiters, which makes a definite impression on those who come in and out of Westminster: threats, shouted claims of conspiracy, placards reading ‘Traitors in Parliament’ don’t win wavering hearts and minds.

Inside it’s impossible to say what will happen from one hour to the next.  We have welcomed Philip Lee crossing the floor to become the sixteenth Liberal Democrat MP in this Parliament – and wonder if there may yet be one or two more to follow in the days that remain before prorogation.  The Prime Minister looked rattled at times in answering questions on the G7 Statement on Tuesday afternoon: more like the stand-up comic that he should have been than the statesman that he aspires to become. I’ve talked in the corridors with MPs and peers of both the ‘old’ parties, who are as consumed by the situation as everyone else.  I found one Conservative I knew and liked struggling between his conscience and his loyalty to his party.  I was happily surprised to find a Labour MP already thinking about some form of informal arrangements at local or regjonal level if it comes to an early election.

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