Category Archives: Op-eds

Farron and Hobhouse condemn planning bill as Tories fail to vote

The Tories aren’t revolting, at least over planning. Yesterday evening, they were told not to vote in the opposition debate over the planning bill. Yet it was clear from the debate that many remained unhappy with the proposals which contributed to the historic defeat in Chesham and Amersham.

The debate lasted for just over three hours and 17 members did not get the chance to speak. All twelve Lib Dems voted for the opposition motion. There were no votes against as the Tories went into hiding at the end of the debate. Many of them might not like the planning reforms but they are certainly not going to be brave enough to defy a whip and vote against them.

Wera Hobhouse and Tim Farron spoke for the Lib Dems.

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Why you should help our campaign in Batley and Spen

Now that Chesham and Amersham is triumphantly over, attention will turn to the by-election in Batley and Spen on July 1st. There has been plenty of discussion about the Tory vs Labour battle but not much about the excellent candidate standing for the Lib Dems, Tom Gordon.

Tom is a local man, born and raised in West Yorkshire, who is a Councillor in the neighbouring Borough of Wakefield – the first Lib Dem councillor there in a decade. With a background in biochemistry and public health, and a stint working as a health economics research assistant, he is well placed to understand why local residents are so fed up with a Labour Council that doesn’t care and a Tory Government who see Northern Labour voters as people they can bamboozle with empty promises.

Tom spent a considerable amount of time in Chesham and Amersham and, as he says:

I had life long Labour voters in Chesham and Amersham who were voting for us because Sarah and the campaign had a strong message and they knew what we stood for, whereas in Batley and Spen they say they don’t know what Labour locally, or Keir Starmer nationally, stand for.

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The Progressive Alliance – A Fool’s Errand

In the few days since our remarkable victory in Chesham and Amersham, some are suggesting we shouldn’t campaign, or even stand, in Batley and Spen.

On the face of it, it makes sense. The Lib Dems are closer to Labour on most policies than we are to the Tories, so we could be taking votes from Labour and gift the seat to the blues.

However, that view relies on one massive assumption. One we consistently make internally, even though the evidence of our eyes and ears disproves it. We assume that with no Lib Dem, our voters are more likely to go Labour than Tory. This is categorically untrue. Our data shows us that our voters split almost perfectly in half when no Lib Dem candidate is available.

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It’s a long game, revisited

Disappointment, even despair, was the general reaction by Lib Dems to the 2019 General Election results. But some of us saw a different picture. A week or so after that election I wrote a post for Lib Dem Voice under the headline “It’s a long game” in which I said:

I’m absolutely delighted to see the progress made in so many seats, and it fills me with such hope for the future. Do not give up. What you have done is to lay the foundations for future successes. Keep building your teams and keep targeting Council wards. Get all the advice you can on how to do that. Hold long term ambitions, and do not become dependent on external help.

Since Thursday the media have been speculating on which other blue wall constituencies are now fair game for the Lib Dems – exactly the ones I was addressing in that extract. It’s worth looking at the map in this article in The Guardian, which shows those seats in the southern half of the UK that could be vulnerable to the small but powerful orange mallet.

Too often we imagine that we win in general elections through smart national campaigning in the last few weeks, and that all seats will reflect the mood of the day. That is simply not true. Seats are won on the back of long campaigning, which itself is dependent on building the capacity of the local party. Given Thursday’s result we can safely assume that Boris Johnson will not be calling for a general election soon, even if the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act is rescinded, so we have the luxury of three years to build on the energy generated by Chesham and Amersham.

Speaking of which, back in 2019 I also wrote:

There is a good reason why by-election gains are often lost at the next general election. Hundreds of people piling into to help in a by-election can produce exhilarating results, but unless the infrastructure of the local party is seriously strengthened it will be struggling when it is left to its own resources.

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Federal Policy Committee: Regional powers, Universal Basic Income, natural environment and voters

We held the second in our current programme of meetings focussed on finishing off policy papers for autumn conference, on 9 June 2021. We discussed the future of power structures at regional level within England, Universal Basic Income, the natural environment and how to influence voters. Work continues to finalise motions for the autumn conference.

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World Review: Israel, cyber-attacks, Ethiopian elections and Trump trumping his book

In today’s briefing from our foreign affairs correspondent, Tom Arms look at congestion, vaccination and schooling in Israel. The NATO summit allowed Joe Biden to stress that the Trump Era was over and “America is back”. And Biden is prepared to retaliate for any cyber attacks from Russia. Elections are due in Ethiopia on Monday – they are “worthless”. Finally, Tom talks of Donald Trump’s new book. Move over the Bible and the Koran, this will be “the greatest book ever.” Should this “great” book be called “Trump Through the Looking Glass”? Suggestions on a title are welcome.

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Careful With That Progressive Alliance

It has concerned me for some time that as Liberal Democrats we spend an inordinate amount of time discussing pacts and electoral arrangements, and then complain the media is rarely interested in what we stand for, only in whom we will work with in the event of a hung Parliament.

The fantastic Chesham and Amersham by-election result will probably fuel this debate further.

Before discussing arrangements over who should stand down where, should we not consider what is likely to happen politically were such an endeavour to be successfully undertaken? I have a major concern about the Party going down the pacts route.

It is not our ability to give ground and surrender future opportunity that worries me most, we’ve been there before with the Liberal/SDP Alliance, and in more recent times single seat arrangements with the Greens, although they were hardly convincing examples of pacts delivering the expected success. The problem will be the Labour Party.

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Chesham and Amersham defeat leads to unplanned Tory revolt on planning “reforms”

The Tories are revolting. After Thursday’s dramatic loss to the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham, MPs are warning Boris Johnson that the proposed planning reforms will lose them seats. Many Conservatives didn’t like the proposals before Thursday but I suspect many MPs hadn’t paid attention amid the challenges of the pandemic and other excuses. Some in the South East had given voice to their concerns but there has been no open rebellion until now. And now that is mostly on WhatsApp according to the Times.

HS2 certainly came home to roost on Thursday. Protected areas in the Chilterns, north Bucks and Warwickshire lose out badly from this line that brings those areas no benefits. There is still time to cancel this madness and restore the landscape. But I don’t think it will happen.

The HS2 row has spilled over to into planning. The government’s proposed planning reforms strip powers from local councils. It is a Lego approach to planning. Standard blocks. No local sensitivity.

The Tories lost in Chesham and Amersham because they thought they would win against a great candidate and a great campaign. But planning is now the Tories Achille’s Heel. In many areas, it could help us win more seats.

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Should Liberals still believe in ‘free trade’?

Commitment to free trade has been one of the core elements of British liberalism for nearly 200 years.  It went along with peace through open borders and shared prosperity, with opposition to aristocratic landowners and cheap food for the working man.  There’s a picture of John Bright (joint founder with Richard Cobden of the Anti-Corn Law League) in my living room, inherited from my wife’s Liberal forebears.

The economic liberals who left the Liberal Party in the late 1950s to set up the Institute of Economic Affairs still do believe.  For them it’s an article of faith as much as their commitment to a smaller state and a deregulated economy.  Liz Truss, a student liberal transformed into an ideological free marketeer, is celebrating the conclusion of the UK-Australia Trade Agreement and promising more deals to reduce tariffs and lower regulatory barriers. Our party press office has criticised her for neglecting the interests of British farmers – not something that Bright or Cobden would ever have said.

But trade isn’t as simple as it was.

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Observations of an Expat: Feed me, says Kim

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un doesn’t often admit problems. How could the hermit kingdom/nuclear-armed rogue state admit failures or even difficulties? Such a thing is an oxymoron as North Koreans, by definition, live in a socialist paradise.

So, when the Great Leader goes before the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, swallows his pride, puts his reputation on the line and basically says “the food situation is tense,” it is a political earthquake in North Korea. It also means that North Korea is in a famine situation or, at the very least, heading rapidly in that direction.

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Chesham & Amersham: Davey – it’s not a flash in the plan, we are demolishing the Blue Wall

Everyone is tired. Everyone is ebullient. Except the Tories of course. Or Labour for that matter who came fourth in yesterday’s by-election in Chesham and Amersham.

Ed Davey has been doing the rounds of media today. He said he hadn’t expected such a huge swing. The Tory obsession with the Red Wall has meant they had ignored their own Blue Wall. “Last night we punched a hole in it.”

He talked of Chesham and Amersham voters being taken for granted by the Tories. Boris Johnson is not the decent Conservative they used to vote for. The Lib Dems are making progress in the south. Conservative MPs there should be worried.

This is not a flash in the plan by-election result. It is a trend that is demolishing the Blue Wall. Conservatives in the south should be worried.

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Chesham & Amersham: Tories blame loss on a kitchen sink, a dog and a cat

The result was in just before 2am this morning. What a result.

Readers should beware that this post includes allegations of a kitchen sink drama and cruelty to animals. Allegations from the Tories of course.

When you read Peter Fleet’s comments – he was the low profile Conservative candidate by the way – you can understand why he didn’t win. He blamed the result on the Lib Dems working hard. Yes. That’s what we do. He hadn’t expected the result. How broken is the Tory machine that it can’t read the writing on the wall? The posters in the windows. The talk on the doorsteps. The changing demographics in a constituency.

Very broken it seems and nothing to do with kitchen sinks.

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Chesham & Amersham: a campaign we’ll be talking about for years

Every so often a by-election campaign comes along that will be remembered for generations. Orpington in the 60s, Edge Hill in the 70s, Hillhead in the 80s, Littleborough and Saddleworth in the 90s, Dunfermline in the 2000s, Eastleigh in the 2010s. Many of them came at critical moments for the party, maybe at times when we were a bit down in the dumps. And at those times the party comes together and runs a spirited and joyful campaign that everyone talks about for years afterwards.

Chesham and Amersham comes on top of, to be honest, unspectacular elections in Scotland, Wales and English Councils in May.  It would be a massive ask to win it. This is true blue territory, after all. A year and a half ago, we got less than half the Tory vote, finishing in second place. In 2017, just 4 years ago, we got 13%. We need the sorts of swings we were getting in the 90s to win.

But we’ve given it our best efforts. We’ve run a good old fashioned Liberal Democrat by-election campaign at full pelt in the middle of a pandemic. I’ve seen so many comments about how the warmth of the welcome was matched by the efficiency of despatch with leaflets or canvassing pack.

From as far apart as Edinburgh and Cornwall, activists flocked in their thousands to help Sarah Green’s campaign. It was clear that this was a campaign everybody wanted to be a part of. My tiny contribution was to help host the nightly maraphones, where people from Orkney to Cornwall made thousands of calls.

 

I was very touched that Simon Foster from Southampton dedicated 50% of his sterling contribution putting up stakeboards to me as I couldn’t get there. But the loveliest gesture was friends of Erlend Watson, our campaigning legend who has been a key and beloved presence at so many by-elections, taking his place in this campaign. Natasha Chapman and Olly Craven from Lincoln were Team Erlend. Erlend himself is recovering well from major surgery and we hope to see him back at a by-election or Conference before too long.

The positive feedback from voters was incredible. Phoning voters and asking them to put up stakeboards is far from my favourite sort of campaigning activity, yet I couldn’t believe how easy a sell it was.

The Tories have been doing all sorts of expectation management.

Sometimes you can do every single thing right in a campaign and not get the result you deserve. Sarah Green and her campaign team richly deserve a victory. Let’s hope that they get it. She’s been a fantastic candidate – impressing voters on the doorsteps and motivating her army of helpers. One activist, bitten by a dog the other day, was very surprised that she took time out of her day to phone them and make sure they were ok.

In an email to members tonight, Ed Davey expressed his pride in the campaign we ran:

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Lord Rogers Roberts: The Napier Barracks scandal

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A couple of weeks ago, the BBC reported that the High Court had ruled that the Home Office’s decision to house cross-channel migrants in a “squalid” barracks in Folkestone was unlawful.

Six asylum seekers brought the case, claiming Napier Barracks was “unsafe” and dormitory use caused a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year.

The ruling could see a damages claim against Home Secretary Priti Patel.

The Home Office said use of the barracks would continue, and it was considering its “next steps”.

This report is so different from the assurances  by the government.

In answer to a question that I asked on January 29 Baroness Williams, home office minister in the Lords, justified the use of Napier Barracks – built 1794 – for Asylum Seekers. She wrote:

Following a review of available government property, the Ministry of Defence agreed to temporarily hand over two of their sites: the Penally Training Camp in Pembrokeshire and the Napier Barracks in Kent.

These sites were both suitable and immediately available to be used to house asylum seekers.

The accommodation, which until recently was used by the MOD is safe, habitable, fit for purpose and correctly equipped in line with existing asylum accommodation standards contractual requirements.

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Myanmar’s simmering civil war – and the UK’s moral duty

Following the coup d’etat in Myanmar on Feb 1st this year, the ‘Tatmadaw’ military have killed more than 860 civilians and imprisoned more than 6000 people. Random bombings of civilians, burning villages and killing protestors, have made a full scale civil war likely. The de facto leader of Myanmar is now the brutal General Min Aung Hlaing, the Chairman of the State Administration Council.

The coup ended 5 years of ‘democratic’ governance. This period followed 53 years of military rule, which began in coup in 1962. Myanmar (Burma) was part of British India before 1948.

The colonial past is one reason why the UK has a duty to help.  More specifically, the flawed legacy of the British contributed to 7 decades of conflict.  After the 1962 coup, the oil and gas sector was nationalised, and oil & gas majors such as Anglo-Dutch Shell and British Gas, with the support of the British Government,  have been intimately involved.

The UK can thus have major positive role to play.

Reducing violence, and preparing for the consequences from full civil war, necessitate understanding, however.

Two thirds of the population in Myanmar are Burmese (Bamah). From independence, and as part of the British legacy,  the government has had a system of ethnic control centred on the peripheral provinces. This led to armed resistance, ‘justifying’ military rule. There have been nine major conflicts; four still persist  – involving Rakhine/Rohingya, Shan, Kachin, Kayin, and Mon. Citizens have an ethnic designation written on their ID cards. The exception is the mainly Muslim Rohingya, who do not receive ID cards, on the grounds they are ‘foreigners’.

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Times: Lib Dems hopeful of by-election upset in Chesham & Amersham

The Times today has the headline we need ahead of Thursday’s by-election. The newspaper reports that Sarah Green, the Lib Dem candidate has 41 per cent of the vote and the Conservative candidate, Peter Fleet, 45 per cent. That is close and this long held Tory stronghold could fall to the Lib Dems. Key issues according to the Times are HS2 which is railroading through the constituency and the government’s plan to bulldoze green fields with its planning reform act.

We are almost there. A win in Chesham & Amersham would not only upset the Tory applecart. It will give our party a boost. A clear sense of winning. Delivering seats at national and local level from the growing Lib Dem surge.

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Blood donation gets more equal and inclusive

I was smiling a lot on Monday. On World Blood Donation Day, in the middle of Pride Month, the blood donation rules changed so that they were the same whatever your sexuality.

A decade ago, men who had ever had sex with men were completely banned from giving blood. The rules have been gradually relaxed since then but we now have a more equal system based on a level playing field.

This means that many gay and bisexual men can now give blood, whereas before we lost out on their donations.

This applies over England, Scotland and Wales.

My friend Euan was one of them.

Euan was involved with the then Liberal Youth Scotland’s Freshers campaign to end the blood ban in 2010. The year before, LYS had brought a motion to Scottish Conference calling for an evidence based, scientific approach to this issue.

They kept pushing on this. Euan and his co-President Hannah Bettsworth led a campaign on the issue when they were co-Presidents of LYS a few years later.

It made me really happy that their campaigning over years worked. These things are now decided on the basis of scientific evidence because people campaigned and took up the issue.

The Liberal Democrats have been working to bring this about for 15 years.

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Working together to end homelessness and rough sleeping in York

Earlier in April I was pleased to join the national Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping alongside representatives from local government, housing, health and homelessness bodies, to examine and learn the lessons from the emergency response which supported people sleeping rough during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the start of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Government launched the Everyone In initiative, which sought to ensure that anyone who was sleeping on the streets was immediately provided with safe and secure accommodation.

This involved unprecedented collaboration between government at central, regional and local levels, alongside work between health and local authority housing colleagues to identify health and housing options for clients in real time. This resulted in immediate assessment of their health needs and positive moves for many clients. In many areas this work has continued with a coordinated approach to vaccinations and GP registrations.

Councils across the country are determined to build on the success of the Everyone In initiative, which has demonstrated what can be achieved when all parts of the public and voluntary sector work together to get people sleeping rough off the streets and into safe accommodation.

In joining the commission I will work to share learning from local government, from Liberal Democrat led councils and on York’s approach to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. In York, intensive and personalised work by City of York Council and partners continues to offer support to rough sleepers and homeless families. The work is underpinned by the Council’s Homelessness Strategy, focusing on prevention, early intervention and local integrated services that step in when things go wrong. Beds are being offered in a wider variety of accommodation, supporting people to stay in their accommodation and to manage often complex needs that contribute to rough sleeping. This has been supported by over £433k funding secured from the Rough Sleeping Initiative as well as the extra capacity offered by James House, York’s newest purpose-built temporary accommodation, which opened last summer.

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How much do we still want a rules-based international order?

At the end of the recent G7 meeting, participants declared their commitment to ‘democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’. How many had fingers crossed behind their backs? Boris Johnson for one, but probably others, spared their own blushes by the blatant fraudulence of their host regarding Northern Ireland.

But it is not just Northern Ireland. Last week his government declined its obligations under Common Article 1 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, ‘to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances’. After Israel’s recent punitive and extensive destruction of life and property in the Gaza Strip, the UK rightly rebuked Hamas for its undoubted war crimes but declined to rebuke Israel, essentially because it is ‘an important strategic partner for the UK’. To our shame, we pick and choose. Currently, the UK defies the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea regarding the Chagos Islands, which in January ruled that the UK has no sovereignty, confirming the same conclusion by the International Court of Justice in February 2019. Of course, the UK should have recognised the human rights of the Chagossians at the outset in 1965, or when challenged in the ensuing decades. Persistent failure to do so constitutes a crime against humanity. I feel sullied and I expect you do too.

Also posted in Europe / International | Tagged | 6 Comments

Change of Guard in Tel Aviv – what hopes for peace?

It’s a momentous day because Netanyahu has been voted out of office and like his predecessor Ehud Olmert now faces the prospect of jail and so will hopefully disappear. He leaves power as Prime Ministers often do because he lost. But as Anshel Pfeffer in today’s edition of Ha’aretz points out, he is overall a winner.

The man who was written off so many times as a passing and inconsequential politician, even after his first term as prime minister in the 1990s, became Israel’s longest-serving leader – even longer than the founder, David Ben-Gurion. Someone who managed to hold onto power for 15 years didn’t lose, even if he was forced out at the end.

According to Pfeffer all previous Israeli Prime Ministers thought that the problems between Israel and Palestine had to somehow be solved, otherwise the rest of the world wouldn’t leave them alone.

(Netanyahu) ..was the first to recognize the fatigue of world leaders, as well as that of Arab dictators, over the Palestinian issue. As a ruthless pragmatist, he correctly assessed that as time passed, his fellow statesmen would prefer economic and security ties with Israel, and that the Palestinians had nothing to offer.

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Observations of an ex pat: The Biden/Putin Circus

G7 in Cornwall, NATO heads of government in Brussels and finally a Putin-Biden face-to-face on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It is President Joe Biden’s first foreign trip and designed to show, in his words, that “America is back.”

Not with the unilateralist, like it or lump it foreign policy of the Trump years, but with a return to across the board multilateralist-driven leadership. One of the keys to this new policy will be US-Russian relations. And a big part of the meetings in Cornwall and Brussels is finalising tactics for the summit in Geneva.

The US president has a long list of grievances to present to Vladimir Putin: Belarus, Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, election meddling, cyber-attacks, intermediate nuclear weapons, human rights, corruption, sanctuary for ransomware criminals….

He will deliver the list and then move on. Biden did not ask for the summit to list grievances. He asked for it to forge a new and more pragmatic relationship with Moscow as a counter to the real threat—China. During the Cold War years, the US successfully played Beijing off against the Russians. Now it is time to play the reverse side of the diplomatic coin: Russia against China.

But to judge the success of such a strategy you have to first understand the Russian leader’s position. And to do that you have to start from the premise that Russia is a failing state. However, it is also an ambitious failing state with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal—6,257 warheads. Putin inherited an economy that was tanking. He stopped the precipitous decline by selling out to oligarchs and has ended up a prisoner of the corrupt system he created.

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End of 15-year rule – a big opportunity for all Lib Dems

In the fine print of the recent budget was an announcement that UK citizens living abroad for more than 15 years were to get the right once again to vote in general elections. Eligible voters would register at the location where they lived prior to moving abroad (although we would like to see the establishment of overseas constituencies).

Legislation should be laid before Parliament later this year to bring about the reform.

It is estimated 5 million British citizens live overseas, and that 3 million have lived overseas for over 15 years.

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Chesham and Amersham is THE place for Lib Dems to be this weekend

There is nowhere I would rather be at the moment than Chesham and Amersham. Well, maybe not doing what is becoming known as the “Mark Pack” delivery run which is apparently vertiginous, taking in both sides of a valley. Our party president tackled it the other day and other alumni include Kevin Lang, who was Wendy Chamberlain’s campaign manager.

A Lib Dem by-election campaign at full pelt with the prospect of a win is a thing of joy and you really, really want to be part of it.

One  previous by-election victor is there:

 

People are heading there from all sorts of places. I know three people who are there from Edinburgh this weekend, on top of another three who have already visited.

Sadly, I can’t leave home at the moment, but I am spending time making calls and hosting some of the daily Maraphones. Last night, I was phoning people who had already been there, thanking them and asking them to go again. That was not the most difficult sell in the world and it was great to see people changing their plans and saying they’d jump on a train or a tube to go and help get Sarah Green elected.

It was particularly lovely that so many of them volunteered how impressed they had been with the campaign team. They loved the efficiency of the operation and the warmth of the welcome. It’s also clear that Sarah Green is an exceptional candidate. People who had been canvassing with her said how brilliant she was on the doorsteps.

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The Economist talks up Lib Dem revival in Chesham and Amersham

There is a buzz of excitement down in South Bucks. The Lib Dems are fighting hard in in the Chesham and Amersham by-election. Sarah Green, our Liberal Democrat candidate, is gaining ground. While not going as far as suggesting she will win, this weekend’s Economist makes much of the leafy commuter belt in South Bucks becoming more socially liberal as younger people move out of the capital.

We could win this by-election. Ways everyone can help are detailed below.

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Isabelle Parasram: Time… well spent

Liberal Democrat Vice President Isabelle Parasram announces her move to Social Value UK.

Almost everyone I know has experienced a defining moment during lockdown.

We now recognise the value of so much we’ve taken for granted – green spaces, our freedoms, key workers, our loved ones… even the air that we breathe.

I’ve always dreamed of being at the helm of an organisation that creates grassroots change. I’d put that dream on hold for years, believing what I’d been told – that it would take years of applications and competition would be too fierce. I was also content to postpone my dream, because my roles within law, education and politics were extremely fulfilling. I felt I was already making a difference where it mattered.

However, during this pandemic period, I lost a member of my household. This was not due to COVID, but to a tragic set of circumstances. Something shifted. This was a defining moment. I rediscovered the value of my time that I can’t get it back or create more of it.

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End of an era as Matthew Clark leaves Holyrood

When I first arrived back in Scotland in 2000, Matthew Clark worked in the Lib Dem staff pool in the Scottish Parliament, then deputy to a certain Willie Rennie. He went on to serve as a senior special adviser in those happy days of the Lib Dem/Labour coalition. Out of Government, he became Chief of Staff to the Lib Dem Group, a role he’s held since 2007.

He actually started out as a very young councillor in Southampton and he and Willie first met at the Christchurch by-election where Willie was the campaign manager and Matthew had the job of developing the railway survey. In 1993 he became, at he age of just 25, chair of the Hampshire Police Authority.

I can’t quite believe that I’m about to go to his leaving do. He’s decided that he’s going to retire – and, after 6 Scottish Parliament elections, 2 referendums, and 6 General elections, all of which he’s had a major role in producing our manifestos and messages for, he certainly deserves a break.

I’m struggling to imagine how the party will cope without him. They say nobody’s indispensable, but he might well be the exception that proves the rule.  He knows pretty much everything there is to know about Scottish politics.

I just marvel at the way he brings so many disparate sources of information together and makes coherent messages out of them. He’s been a total powerhouse of policy, assisting on every major policy initiative and pulling together things like Menzies Campbell’s commission on Federalism, and its predecessor the Steel Commission back in the day.

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Why levelling up is not just a challenge for the Conservatives

The pledge to ‘level up’ the left behind parts of England is key to what happens in English politics over the next 3-5 years and beyond (I say ‘English’ politics because the dominant political issues in the four nations of the UK seem to be diverging). Boris Johnson’s promises to revive the towns and industrial communities of northern and coastal England have raised expectations, and won votes and seats. But even if he calls an election early in 2023 he will need to have demonstrated that commitment in increased expenditure to retain many of the votes won over in 2019.

The difficulty of reconciling this promise with the Conservative ideology of low taxes and a constant squeeze on public expenditure has just been demonstrated by the refusal to accept Sir Kevan Collins’s estimate of the scale of investment need in schools to catch up with years of neglect capped by 18 months of pandemic. £50 per pupil, offset by a reduction in the pupil premium, presents ‘an undervaluation of the importance of education’, Collins declared as he resigned.

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United with Belarus

I come originally from the South-East part of Poland. I was 10 when the Berlin Wall collapsed and I must admit that I didn’t grasp the importance of these historical events, for my native country as well as the whole of Europe. I discovered its significance later on.

In the last couple of weeks, I was reflecting on the journey of each one of the countries behind the “Iron Curtain”. Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic – they all did well and it is clear that a massive democratic transformation served them and their residents well.

However, there is one country, also a former Soviet Union republic, which has been struggling since 1990’s and which brought international attention for all the wrong reasons. Plane hijacked, which simply equals an act of terrorism, imprisonment of opposition leaders or ordinary members of the public, often as young as 14-15 year olds, lack of free speech, economical progress and recovery or inability to peaceful demonstrations; the list goes on. While completing my Master’s Degree in History, I had an opportunity to meet many people from Belarus, who were studying in my home town, Lublin. I often wonder in these situations whether there is anything I should be doing to help. But what, and more importantly how could I do that?

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Observations of an Expat: The Real Iranian Elections

Forget about the Iranian presidential elections on 18 June. Actually don’t completely dismiss them. They do have some importance. The key one being how many actually turn out to vote. If the figure is low—as expected—then the regime knows that it is in trouble.

Voters who believe voting is a pointless exercise are more likely to take to the streets. And it really is pointless. To be a candidate in the Iranian presidential elections you have to be vetted and approved by the Assembly of Experts and Guardian Council who are dominated by conservative religious figures.

Out of the estimated 30 “moderates” who put their name forward, only two have been approved, and they are so lacklustre that they are unlikely to be much more than also-rans.

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World Review: Netanyahu, G7, corporation tax and going green

In this week’s look at world news, LDV’s foreign affairs editor Tom Arms reviews the situation in Israel where Netanyahu looks set to be ousted by a coalition held together, for now at least, by their opposition to the country’s leader of 12 years.

Cornwall will host the G7 summit later this week. Boris Johnson could join his peers having been defeated in the Commons over cuts to overseas aid. Coronavirus, climate change and promotion of green industries are on the agenda.

Finance ministers are expected to agree a base rate for corporation tax today but it is not necessarily a done deal. The proposal must be approved at the G20 summit meeting in Venice in July and countries that benefit from a low corporation tax regime, such as Ireland, are bound to challenge the proposal.

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    In response to someone here (can't find now, sorry) asking how do we know our vote leans Tory in B&S? We know it in the wards where we have Cllrs (Cleckheat...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Joe, "the BofE does not normally lend to the government. It lends to commercial banks." Nonsense. The BoE holds some £850 billion of Governm...
  • Paul Holmes
    @Russell Simpson. Strange that the electorate who 'rather liked the Coalition' in fact reduced us from to 57 to 8 MP's in 2015. Then, with the added magic ingre...
  • jason pierce
    The Party should be pro a mixed economy not unfettered unregulated free markets and that was at one time in the manifesto and should always be in there....