Category Archives: Op-eds

The Lib Dem Conference Roll of Honour

I was at a loss to understand why I was so absolutely knackered at the end of Conference last night. It’s not as if I had had to drag my sorry, Glee-Club hungover backside the length of the country as I would have been if I’d been at an in-person conference. It’s not as if I had had about 15 hours’ sleep over the past 5 nights of “networking.”

Certainly, sitting in front of a screen for 12 hours a day is pretty exhausting. So, I guess, is the emotional energy used up wishing I was actually with my friends in the Goat and Tricycle in Bournemouth or Smokeys in Brighton.

But that was pretty much all I was doing. For those organising Conference, it was much harder. Spinning the plates over the four days of the virtual Conference is pretty intense for Federal Conference Committee. They have to deal with all the speakers’ cards, manage the debates, deal with unexpected tech problems, make decisions about what separate vote requests, requests for references back etc to take.

So, Federal Conference Committee, take a bow. You did a superb job. Those based in the Docklands HQ  that I remember seeing over the weekend included Jennie Rigg, Jon Ball, Bex Scott, Chris Adams, Cara Jenkinson, Chris Maines and Joe Otten. This does not mean I agreed with every single one of their decisions, because that would be weird, but I do want to pay tribute to their hard work.

One person I want to single out was also there. It was new Committee Chair Nick Da Costa’s first Conference in charge and by all accounts he did a great job. My spies tell me that he was the most supportive and appreciative manager and he was also quick to respond to queries from Conference attendees on social media.

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By Gove, my LUD is planning to level up!

In last week’s reshuffle, Robert Jenrick was booted out of cabinet and Michael Gove nudged across to take over the housing and planning brief. His duties as secretary of state now also include the struggling levelling up agenda. So the department that was most often called the housing ministry has been renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, DLUHC, perhaps pronounced duller huck. Given the ordering of priorities in the title it seems inevitable that the department will be known as the Levelling Up Department, or LUD, though some may think that acronym LUDicrous. Indeed, it has attracted both criticism and satire.

Gove’s main job is to prevent the Blue Wall collapsing by rolling back Jenrick’s failing planning reforms. He must also secure the Red Wall by making levelling up happen. That’s tough for a man, although born in Aberdeen, who is identified with Blue Wall Tories. And there is already concern that local government will suffer yet again now it has been dropped from the department’s title. Michael Gove may feel he has a collar around his neck, tasked with delivering what his boss Boris Johnson could not.

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Justin Trudeau gets away with his gamble

After a $600 million election that Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t need to call, voters have delivered virtually the same result as in 2019. Trudeau failed to re-gain the majority he won in 2015. In fact, his Liberal Party is likely to lose a seat and the Conservatives will gain a seat.

I had been hoping that the New Democrats would have won more seats to anchor the Liberals to a more progressive path, but they are projected to only gain 3 seats.

The Greens will stay on two but not the same two as last time as their vote share fell. They held their former leader’s seat in Vancouver and gained one in Ontario where the Liberal candidate was not supported by the party after a scandal but there was no time to replace him on the ballot. Internal divisions led to them losing their original two and having a pretty miserable election. Their leader will not be in Parliament as she went from 2nd (in a by-election) to 4th in her seat.  Thanks to Em Dean for providing me with more detailed information.

The odious UKIP style People’s Party have more than doubled their vote.

From CBC in Canada:

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has won enough seats in this 44th general election to form another minority government — with voters signalling Monday they trust the incumbent to lead Canada through the next phase of the pandemic fight by handing him a third mandate with a strong plurality.

After a 36-day campaign and a $600-million election, the final seat tally doesn’t look very different from the composition of the House of Commons when it was dissolved in early August — prompting even more questions about why a vote was called during a fourth wave of the pandemic in the first place.

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“Poverty of trust”

A very good friend of mine from Croatia (thank you, Hrvoje!) has recently invited me to an international online meeting, attended by 40 + different business leaders from around the world. The main theme for the session was the importance of building and strengthening the trust. The meeting, and in particular some of the expressions used, was quite revealing.

Whilst going through the process of being approved as a candidate in the next local elections, I had an opportunity to spend one Saturday morning with some of my colleagues, who are very experienced campaigners.

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COP26: Likely to save the planet?

Now, I’m not the sort of person that resorts to hyperbole for a dramatic opening sentence but, in case you hadn’t noticed, the future of the planet is hanging in the balance. This is not the statement of a wild-haired fanatic, living with badgers and chanting cross-legged in the woods but a widely acknowledged scientific fact. For the last few years a growing list of eminently respectable people have been warning us that urgent action is required: Sir David Attenborough does it, HRH Prince Charles regularly does it, António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations definitely does it, even peers of the realm do it. Given irrefutable scientific evidence and the reverberating voices of powerful and respected people, then surely, you would think, something is going to change. We know the causes of climate change. We know what action needs to be taken. So, what is stopping us?

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Party strategy motion passes – with amendment securing local members rights on standing candidates

This morning Conference passed the party strategy motion. One of the Federal Board’s key tasks is to bring a motion on party strategy to Conference for approval.

This one had lots of good stuff in it on developing a strong narrative, improving diversity and menber experience, developing our campaigning capacity and having a “one party” approach where we co-ordinate our effort.

There were four amendments, all of which passed and, I think, substantially improved it. Lib Dems for Racial Equality called for this party to finally pull its finger out and implement the Thornhill and Alderdice reviews and get out and engage with ethnic minority communities. The Parliamentary Candidates Association called for greater support for candidates and 10 members called for our progress towards net zero as a party to be expedited.

These three passed with little opposition. The drama was all around an amendment proposed by Federal Board member Simon McGrath. It called for us to stand a candidate in every seat at the next General Election unless local members agreed not to. Anyone who bears the scars of the Unite to Remain effort in 2019 will probably have some sympathy with this. However, others, including me, felt that it would bind any attempts to stand down in some places where it would be sensible to do so. I generally think we should stand everywhere, and I think that voices calling on us to stand down are generally from parties who wouldn’t do the same in return, but I felt we should give ourselves the flexibility.

ALDC Chair Prue Bray made such a good speech in support that I asked her if we could publish it. It’s just rammed with good sense about how we should work together and I love it.

I want to get rid of this government. Not because it’s Conservative but because it’s dreadful. It’s dreadful because it isn’t liberal, in its policies, values or behaviour. I want a liberal government, or at least one that we can exert the maximum liberal influence on. And the only way to get that is to get more Lib Dems elected. Labour aren’t liberal, nor are the Greens, the SNP or Plaid.

It’s us or nothing.

We won’t get more Lib Dems elected if we don’t stand, however tempting a pre-election pact might look. Unite to Remain looked tempting. It didn’t deliver anything.

When the battle is over, when the votes are counted, that’s the time to make pacts to further the progressive cause. And that’s why I strongly support amendment 3.

There are people who don’t agree. That’s fine, I don’t mind challenge. What I mind is people who tell me I am wrong without producing any supporting facts, and then go off and do whatever they want even if it’s completely against the interests of the party.

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Conference votes for improvements to disciplinary process and votes down Steering Group

The Federal Board report usually goes through fairly uncontroversially. However, there has been a bit of drama at the past two conferences. In Spring important board business relating to the disciplinary process was withdrawn at the last minute after a serious error was discovered.

This delayed desperately needed improvements to the disciplinary process until now. You can find out more about the detail here in the Board report.

Thankfully, those changes, which make the process quicker, less stressful on those using it and on those administering it and clearer, passed easily this afternoon.

Last Summer, the Federal Board started operating in a different way. One of the Thornhill Review’s 78 recommendations was to improve the governance of the party and make the Federal Board smaller. The Board decided to delegate most of its powers to a small, mostly not directly elected people. As a directly elected Federal Board member, I opposed it from the outset. If such a centralising power grab was being done in a council, we would be up in arms about it. I always think it is very important to live our values and I don’t feel that the Steering Group project does that. We are a member led organisation but we concentrated power into too few hands.

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WATCH: Ed Davey’s speech in full

WATEd Davey has just spoken to Federal Conference. He had a specially invited live audience of around 100 people at a venue in Canary Wharf.

Here is the text in full:

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The speeches that got away – Suzanne Fletcher on accessible housing and freeing Brownfield sites

Unfortunately I missed the housing debate last night as for once I put party over Party. My sister insisted on having two of her children during Federal Conference and I can almost never celebrate with them because I am at Conference. So I took advantage of the chance to do so.

By all accounts the debate was excellent, thoughtful and passionately argued. The issue was whether we should have a national target for house building, which the motion proposed, but ALDC’s amendment did away with. Conference voted to keep it so we are committed to building at 150,000 homes suitable for social rent out of a total of 380,000 per year. I am so pleased that got through. Too many young people find it impossible to find somewhere decent to live that they can afford and we have to be ambitious about resolving that.

But there are two points that weren’t really part of the debate. Stockton’s Suzanne Fletcher wanted to raise the need for accessible housing and freeing up brownfield sites. This is what she would have said if she had been called:

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World Review: Afghanistan, child labour and vaccine passports in France

In this weekend’s World Review, Tom Arms reports the Taliban is proving to be a loose coalition that is quickly falling apart along centuries-old tribal lines and more contemporary political axes. He turns his attention to the impact that Covid is having on child labour in the developing world. And he reviews how Marcon’s insistence on vaccine passports turned France from an country opposed to vaccination to one where 74% of adults have had at least one dose.

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Tim Farron: Time to end pointless housing targets

Be honest. When did you last collect a campaign leaflet from the doormat, see a six-figure housing target, and scream, “this is the Party for me!”?

Probably never.

Why? First, because everybody knows housing targets are empty slogans. No Government has hit their magic number since 2007, but they’ve never been held accountable for missing it. Second, every Party picks the same number… or tries to out-do the other lot by 50,000.

On Saturday evening, Conference will debate and vote on Policy Motion F20: Building Communities. I’m supporting an Amendment to the Motion which increases local authorities’ compulsory purchase powers, ensures that 40% of new build houses are social homes, and erases the proposed national target of 380,000 new homes per year.

And if anybody suggests the removal of this target is in any way NIMBY, they are… well, let’s put it politely – they’re totally wrong.

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We must stand a candidate in every constituency at the next General Election

Our Party has something to offer everyone in England Scotland and Wales and therefore it makes sense that we should stand a candidate in every seat (our friends in the Alliance Party do a great job in Northern Ireland).

That might seem like common sense – but at the last election we participated in the Unite to Remain Agreement by which we, the Greens and Plaid Cymru (Labour refused to participate) agreed to stand down in some constituencies – and it was a disaster. Not only did it make no difference to the results, but the way in which our local parties and PPCs were told they were standing down with no input from them caused huge problems.

If you agree we should stand a candidate everywhere, please support Amendment 3 to motion F23: Party Strategy, 10.55 on Sunday morning.

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Observations of an Expat: Underwater Problems

The Anglo-American decision to sell nuclear submarines to Australia has launched a new round of geopolitical musical chairs with long-lasting repercussions.

The Americans, Australians and British are very happy with their new seats and the new nuclear sub deal and the creation of a new alliance called AUKUS.

The French are furious with the three allies. They have been left standing on the outside. It completely scuppers their $50 billion deal to sell the Australians electric submarines. It also weakens the Franco-British defence agreement that had become one of the pillars of the Western Alliance. “It is a stab in the back,” exclaimed the furious French foreign minister Jean-Yves le Drian.

The Chinese are, of course, livid.

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The two Davids: Steel versus Owen – Fringe Friday 17:30

The Journal of Liberal History is organising a fringe meeting on Friday at 17:30. Sir Graham Watson (Steel’s former Head of Office) and Roger Carroll (former SDP Communications Director) will discuss what went wrong in the relationship between the Liberal and SDP leaders that led to the failure and break-up of the Alliance. Chair: Christine Jardine MP.

The meeting coincides with the publication of the autumn issue of the Journal of Liberal History.

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Latest issue of Liberator published

The September 2021 issue of Liberator, Alistair Carmichael writes on vaccine ID cards, Norman Baker writes on trains and David Grace suggests we have a strategy without a strategy. Claire Tyler questions whether we are brave enough to pay for social care and Rebecca Tinsley writes on Sudan, Islamists and women. Alan Sherwell champions Universal Basic Income, Robert Brown says federalism could keep the UK together and Geoff Reid introduces us to green carrots.

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Time to stand up for Liberal Democracy: Fringe launch 17:35 Friday

As we Liberal Democrats begin our annual conference, held entirely online for the second year, we must recognise that we do so in the context of existential threat to the political system that gives our party its name.

30 years ago, Francis Fukuyama declared the victory of liberal democracy, and “the end of history”. But now history is very much back, with authoritarianism on the rise in Britain and across the world.

This context, we believe, means that it’s now time for the Liberal Democrats to stand up as the party of liberal democracy – and for leader Ed Davey to set out a meaningful vision for the country, instead of relying solely on local action to make incremental “Blue Wall” gains. As Nelson Mandela famously said:

Vision without action is just a dream; action without vision just passes the time; vision with action can change the world.

A new collection of essays, Citizens Britain: towards the renewal of liberal democracy, will be launched at a conference fringe event today.

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Swedish-style fixed term Parliaments

The 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) established fixed quinquennial parliamentary terms, transforming the means of dissolving Parliament from a prerogative power exercised by the Prime Minister to a parliamentary process requiring two-thirds support in the Commons.

The major criticisms of the FTPA are chiefly about its shortcomings and the politics surrounding the act, namely for supporting the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, propping up the lame duck Second May Ministry, and its argued status as a dead letter due to the 2017 and 2019 elections with the latter being held by circumventing the FTPA via a simple-majority one-line bill. Such criticisms are bad faith arguments against the FTPA, merely stated ulteriorly in favour of the restoration of the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament.

One of the reasons that our party supports proportional representation for Westminster elections is that it would prevent early elections from being called for the governing party to benefit from an incumbency advantage and strong poll numbers as under First-Past-The-Post. However, this does not mean that PR should replace the FTPA entirely, an act that is not flawed in of itself but because its measures do not go far enough. If anything, complimenting PR, additional measures should be taken to strengthen the FTPA.

There may be an approach to fixed terms that has not before been considered for this country. In Sweden, quadrennial fixed term elections using part list proportional are held for the Riksdag. Sweden’s Prime Minister has the power to call an election part-way through a parliamentary term, but it would be an extra election, not an early election. Hypothetically, with the last Riksdag election being held in 2018, if an extra election were to be held now in 2021 due to the collapse of the current government, an election would still have to be held in 2022 instead of the election cycle being reset, the next election due for 2025.

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Rationing carbon

Conference Motion F12, Tackling the Climate Emergency

Our remaining carbon budget will probably be used up in less than 10 years at the current rate of consumption. If that carbon budget is squandered, our children will face a double problem. They will need to fight rising sea levels, desertification, violent storms, and unprecedented heat waves without the use of convenient and powerful fossil fuels.

Yet we continue to squander fossil fuel. The most important decision ever taken by humanity is how to control fossil fuel use.  Our precious carbon budget may need to last for hundreds of years until the CO2 levels in the atmosphere decline again.

Given the gravity of the situation, I can see no alternative now but to ration carbon. Each person’s total carbon emission must be added up using a smartphone app whenever they make a purchase, and further purchases should not be possible if their ration is exceeded.

Rationing is a simple tried and tested way of distributing scarce resources. In World War 2 this country had limited supplies of food, so food was rationed – rich or poor – the ration was the same. The result was that the poor stayed healthy and were motivated to win the war.

Rationing is painful, but this is an emergency, and whatever is needed must be done. The response to Covid was a ‘Stay Home’ order. The pain was incredible, but it was done.

If a few countries could make rationing work, others should follow, because there is concern about climate change in all countries.

The consequences of this approach will be a complete shift in global priorities: Fossil carbon consumption will be seriously considered in every aspect of life.

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What is Kirsty Williams up to these days?

We miss Kirsty Williams and the fantastic contribution she made as Wales’ Education Minister.

So what is she up to these days?

She gave a couple of pointers as to how she is living her best life on Twitter yesterday:

And then, later, she was sitting in front of CNN to find out the outcome of the Republican attempt to get rid of Democrat Governor of California Gavin Newsom on dubious grounds. Thankfully if tailed, by a lot.

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Therese Coffey should listen to those who really do understand how Universal Credit works

It is pretty staggering when a Government Minister goes on national television and exposes their own ignorance of something they are in charge of. But when that ignorance leads to them doing things that make it more difficult for the poorest people in our country to put food on the table and heat their homes, it is particularly reprehensible.

MPs’ inboxes are full of really heartbreaking stories from people who are already struggling to survive on Universal Credit and are dreading the £20 cut which comes in at the end of this month.

And then you have Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, blithely say that all people will have to do is work an extra couple of hours. Well, er, no. It’s more like nine hours. She firstly assumes that people are getting £10 per hour when the minimum wage is £8.91. Then she forgets that for every £1 people earn over £293 per week, they lose 63p of their Universal Credit. The Lib Dems could have embraced the power of and in this tweet:

Therese Coffey fails to understand that it’s low paid working people with children who are struggling the most. Work really doesn’t always pay. And that is if you can get it. We haven’t started to really feel the long term economic impact of both Brexit and the pandemic yet. And with furlough ending at the end of this month, we may well see significant job losses.

Back in July, the Child Poverty Action Group set out why those families need the £20 uplift to stay:

Seventy-five per cent of children growing up in poverty in the UK live in households where at least one adult works. Low-income working families are struggling to pay for essentials like utility bills, new school uniforms and the food shop. In a couple household, having both members of a couple in work is increasingly important in preventing child poverty but in reality, universal credit does little to support parents trying to increase their income through work.

Firstly, as soon as a family with children earns more than £293 a month (their ‘work allowance’), for every pound they earn through work their universal credit is reduced by 63p. The very limited single work allowance, combined with the high reduction rate, makes it very difficult for families to increase their income through work.

And that is before you get to the practicalities of paying for childcare:

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Democracy and Public Debate

Fake news and hate speech online – much of it spread via the giant tech platforms. Government ministers brazenly lying. Threats to the integrity of our elections through the dissemination of misinformation on social media. National newspapers that are increasingly partisan, and a local press too financially enfeebled to hold politicians to account.

In recent years, the quality of public debate in Britain has deteriorated sharply, thanks to all these factors and the increasing rejection of traditionally accepted norms of behaviour. And this threatens the very fabric of our democracy. We have lost a set of shared truths and facts around which we can base political debate. What can be done to reverse the decline?

A policy paper prepared by an FPC working group, to be debated at Autumn Conference, proposes a bold and distinctly liberal set of initiatives that carefully balance our rights and freedoms, especially the right to free speech, with the need to combat online harms and allow misinformation to be challenged.

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Some thoughts on Motion F12: Tackling the Climate Emergency: Proposals for Carbon Pricing

Motion F12 states that Lib Dem carbon pricing policy should be to reform the UK Emissions Trading System (ETS), and seek to return to the EU ETS. Carbon pricing was last debated by the party in 2005 and a simple carbon tax applied upstream to ‘primary fuels’ was supported then. Since then there have been several successful real world applications of the revenue neutral carbon pricing policy known as Carbon Fee and Dividend or Climate Income. In this system a steadily and predictably escalating carbon fee is placed on fossil fuels ‘upstream’, (i.e. at the point of extraction or production rather than consumption). This sends a clear message to producers and consumers, enabling them to plan ahead with the certainty that decarbonisation will be worthwhile.

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Social Care: It’s Not All About the Money

Social care has reared it’s head again on the national stage and some money has been proposed starting in 2023 with the new Health and Care Bill which just had its first reading.

Firstly, what IS social care? Well, it can be anything. Some people call it tasks of daily living and, while somewhat banal, it is also extremely important. Let’s face it, the engineers and retailers have made life easy for us. We now have prepared meals to go into the oven, washing machines, dishwashers, and some of us even have robotic vacuum cleaners.

Who is eligible? Anybody who has a disability which prevents them from getting washed and dressed, shopping, putting a meal in and out of the oven, washing their clothes, linens and towels, managing their money or socializing. This could be a long-term condition, such as MS or dementia, or a short-term condition, such as a broken arm.

The Money Currently, people with savings of under £23,500 are eligible for support from the local authority. They may either take this in the form of a direct payment or the council can organise social care on their behalf.

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ICYMI: Sarah Green’s maiden speech

Here, in case you missed it, is our newest MP, Sarah Green’s maiden speech from Tuesday of this week.

A wonderful sight for those of us who helped get Sarah Green elected as MP for Chesham and Amersham. A short while ago, she made her maiden speech. It was warm, generous, gracious and funny. She paid a lovely tribute to her predecessor Dame Cheryl Gillan, talked about her beautiful constituency with huge affection and got in a criticism of HS2, a description of the roads as an assault course for drivers and a takedown of the Government for its absurd plans for voter ID.

And here it is in full, thanks to the magic of me asking her office for a copy:

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Alex Cole-Hamilton presses Scottish Government on measures to tackle violence against women and girls

After Sarah Everard’s murder in March, women across the country were in shock and expressed their anger. So many took to social media to talk about how they had felt frightened when they were out and about.

I recorded a video at the time recounting my experience of being threatened by a man, which is pretty minor in the scheme of things, but it’s typical of the sort of thing women have to put up with:

We had a discussion amongst Scottish Lib Dem Women about what we could do to turn our anger into positive change that would make women safer outside, at home, at school and work. Because this is so wide-ranging, we came up with the idea of a Commission to look at ways of preventing violence against women and girls in all its forms which would report in the first year of the new Scottish Parliament.

These issues cut across the whole of Government, from education (over 90% of girls experience sexism and being sent unwanted explicit images), to housing (helping those in the sector identify and support victims of domestic abuse and help them stay in their own homes if it is safe for them to do so, from justice given the pitiful number of successful rape prosecutions to social security to tackle poverty (they could start by retaining the extra £20 per week for Universal Credit and getting rid of the wicked two child limit and rape clause) and employment to tackle sexual harassment at work. And you can add in planning to think about how you create safer communities. You need joined up thinking to bring all those strands together into a proper strategy.

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UPDATED: Boris leaves Nicola isolated on vaccine passports

According to the Sunday Times (£), Boris Johnson may be about to ditch his controversial plans for vaccine passports in England to access nightclubs and other large indoor venues.

On Tuesday, the prime minister will announce plans to try to keep Covid under control over the winter. He will say that he has abandoned the proposed compulsory certification scheme, which would have forced venues to check people’s vaccine status.

Johnson tore up the proposals after scientists said vaccinations would be an effective first line of defence against a winter wave of the pandemic. But the move also represents a significant concession to Tory backbench rebels who had complained that enforcing vaccine passports would create a group of second-class citizens.

Liberal Democrats opposed the idea on principle on civil liberties grounds and also on practical grounds. The hospitality industry was raging about having to enforce them, it was going to be nigh on impossible to get one if you had had one vaccination in England and another in Scotland and it wouldn’t have been effective anyway given the spread of the Delta variant amongst double vaccinated people.

Alistair Carmichael described them as a “counterproductive illiberal gimmick” in an article for Politics Home to tie in with his urgent question on the issue:

Would you trust this government – this Prime Minister – with personal data of this sort?

We have never been a “papers please society” and if that is to change then at the very least we must be allowed to debate that change.

Once we cede the principle that it is acceptable for the government to regulate in this way not just where we can go and those with whom we can go then we will be at the top of a steep and slippery slope.

As history repeatedly shows us, when people give more powers to government to regulate their lives, governments are never swift to hand them back.

As an aside, when he asked his Urgent Question in Parliament, he had one of the lines of the year:

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Observations of an Expat: Bataclan

The Bataclan Trial which opened this week in Paris has huge domestic and international significance.

Domestically, it will be an act of national catharsis. 1,500 “civilian plaintiffs”—surviving victims and family members of the dead—are scheduled to give five weeks of testimony about the horror of the attack on Friday the 13th 2015 and its life-changing consequences.

The bulk of the nine-month trial, however, will focus on the details of the attack on the Bataclan Theatre, the Stade de France and the street cafes of the 10th and 11th arondissements, and the origins and planning of the operation. The latter will be closely followed by intelligence agencies around the world for information to help identify and defeat future attacks.

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9/11 remembered

Twenty years ago, about this time, I arrived home. It was a particularly uneventful Tuesday. My then toddler and I had been to parent and toddler group and had walked home and were about to have a wee snuggle on the sofa watching the Tweenies. Later that evening, my friend Anne and I were going to head off for a power walk to kickstart our Autumn fitness project.

And then I turned on the telly. Instead of watching Milo, Fizz, Bella and Jake do their thing, I sat, transfixed, by the events unfolding in front of me. The toddler was more about the snuggles than the actual content on the tv so was soon asleep. I was free to take in the horror of the third plane hitting the Pentagon.

I remember being jolted by the contrast of the horror in New York and President George W Bush reading to a class of 7 year olds.

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World Review: 9/11, Trudeau, Putin and Patel

It is the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Two decades since 2,996 lives were lost in suicide attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In New York the occasion will be marked by families of the dead reading statements about their loved ones. The event will be closed to the public. Elsewhere in the world, the anniversary will be marked with foreboding. The attack was carried out by Al Qaeeda and was planned and coordinated from its base in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Within weeks a US-led NATO force toppled the Taliban government. There has not been a Jihadist attack on US soil since. President Biden has now withdrawn US forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban is back in power.

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World Suicide Prevention Day: A councillor view from the hill farm

It is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Tracey and Richard Huffer farm high on a hill in south west Shropshire. Tracey is also a health professional. Along with myself and four others, we are Lib Dem councillors in a very rural area. Sometimes it feels we can’t sit down for a chat without mentioning the “s” word. Someone else has taken their life. And it is mostly younger people, mostly men. This article reflects how on the growing problem of suicide in rural areas and the struggles councillors have to get help in tackling the problem.

Richard was at the livestock market selling sheep recently.

I was leaning against the railings at the sheep pens. An elderly farmer, a stranger, joined me and started pouring out about his son who had shot himself at the age of 30. I was probably one of the few people he had seen for a while, perhaps the only one for days.

I wish I could say this was a one off. Sadly not.

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