Category Archives: Op-eds

Liz Jarvis on gaining the confidence to stand as a parliamentary candidate

This weekend, a group of Lib Dem women will gather in a hotel in Milton Keynes for a weekend which, for some if not all of them, could be life-changing.

The third Future Women MPs weekend in the last year or so takes place. I remember going on a weekend like that back in the 90s and I made friends for life as well as learned valuable skills.

Caroline Voaden, now an MEP, went on one of these events last year along with a load of young Scottish women.

As this takes place, Liz Jarvis, a London writer who joined us last year after a lifetime of supporting Labour, has written for The Parliament Project about her experience in the party and how a Parliament Project initiative helped her develop the confidence to stand:

Through Lib Dem Women I found a mentor from the party’s Campaign for Gender Balance; she was incredibly encouraging and gave me lots of invaluable support and advice for what I needed to do to achieve my goal of becoming an approved parliamentary candidate. She also helped me see that my imagined barriers to standing – my age, the fact I haven’t been a career politician – could actually be turned into positives. I also discovered the Parliament Project via Twitter, and was thrilled when I was accepted on to the 12 week online Peer Support Circles at the start of January.

The sessions were every fortnight, which was manageable, and I loved ‘meeting’ the other women and sharing our political journeys, as well as the assignments we were given, which were fun and challenging. Each session felt as though we were making progress and exchanging ideas and experiences was incredibly rewarding.

And it’s helped her on her journey in the Lib Dems:

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Von der Leyens promises to address some of the UK’s direst needs: Poverty, Social Security, Clean Air Cities

The speech by German minister Von der Leyen (VDL), the proposed president of the European Commission, appealing to the sceptical centre parties (Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens) in the European Parliament, brought the Brexit Party MEPs to howls of both approval and anguish, according to Dutch media.

When she regretfully accepted that the UK appears on the way out, Farage’s bench applauded wildly. But when she added that she is ready to extend negotiations beyond Halloween, those cheers instantly turned into jeers.

And in his response, Farage again trotted out the “EU = Soviet Eastern Bloc” trope, to which VDL responded “we can probably do without what you have got to say here”. Dutch media quoted VDL responding to Farage’s Orbanite allies:  “I didn’t expect to get your support”.

In her speech, and in the accompanying resignation of controversial EU insider/super-technocrat Martin Selmayr, many saw new points that address failings in the present EU procedures, decision-making and legislation:

  • Giving the European Parliament the right to initiative; possibly heralding a critical review of EU nomination, decision and policy making procedures;
  • Opening up a formal debate about transnational party lists and “Spitzenkandidaten” at the next European elections; and
  • Starting, in this Trumpian era, a debate in the EU Human & Civil Rights agenda about sexual violence and its female (and LGBTQ+) victims.

Which beggars the question: why leave the EU just when it finally addresses shortcomings and failures of its democracy and human rights?

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Radical yet practical ways to improve food production

The RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission has published its final report, setting out radical yet practical ways to improve food production in the face of current challenges. They say

The actions we take in the next ten years, to stop ecosystems collapse, to recover and regenerate nature and to restore people’s health and wellbeing are now critical.

Our Future in the Land makes fifteen recommendations. First, under the headline “Healthy food is every body’s business”, they suggest a greater commitment is needed to growing our own food using sustainable agricultural practices. Increasing UK food production would help reconnect people to nature and boost all of our health and well-being. Further, community food plans should be established, bringing people together to meet their area’s needs.

The second headline, “Farming is a force for change, unleashing a fourth agricultural revolution driven by public values” includes recommendations such as establishing a National Agroecology Development Bank and formulating a ten-year transition plan to fully sustainable farming by 2030. In addition, the report highlights the role of farmers, saying that innovation by farmers should receive more backing and that every farmer should have access to advice through farmer support networks.

The report includes reference to the need to implement the ten elements of Agroecology as set out by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. These were developed by the UN to achieve Zero Hunger and other Sustainable Development Goals. I’m keen on the promoting the Circular and solidarity economy, to

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Ed Davey MP writes….My reflections from the Campaign Trail

This map may resemble the route of one of Ian Botham’s never-ending charity walks or the British leg of the Tour de France where the organiser forgets to place a finishing line. But it’s actually a record of my campaigning odyssey over the past year, through our fantastic local and European elections onto my campaign to become leader of our party.

I’ve loved every minute – from Aberdeen to Penzance. Like my hero Paddy Ashdown and indeed most Liberal Democrats, I’m happiest out of Westminster meeting people – or, when with our brilliant Brecon candidate, Jane Dodds, meeting the odd sheep while clambering barbed wire fences. (Have you been to B&R yet?!)

I’ve been gate-crashed in Nottingham by Steve Bray, the amazing Stop Brexit campaigner – so we performed a great Stop Brexit duet; I’ve climbed a wind turbine in North Cornwall whilst campaigning to decarbonise capitalism; and I’ve endured the vagaries of the rail network – as I’m calling for rail improvements to discourage internal flights, my campaign is flight-free, to the occasional frustration of my diary manager.

On Sunday, after a head-to-head with Andrew Marr, I sacrificed all prospect of watching the Cricket and Wimbledon to go and speak to members in Oxford – and was welcomed by a healthy crowd, despite the competition!

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Helping parents with the cost of school uniforms is a great campaign

For an example of the real difference Liberal Democrats in government can make to peoples lives, look no further than the announcement by Kirsty Williams of new guidance on school uniforms in Wales.

There’s no doubt that the cost of school uniforms can be a real issue for poor families and the tendency of some schools to make arbitrary decisions which put up the cost are an example of how arbitrary decisions by the state can adversely affect people lives.

The Children’s Society have issued several reports on this, highlighting the high costs caused by schools which have over complicated uniforms …

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Draining the British Swamp

It’s not been a good week for British politics has it?! Our Ambassador to the USA was forced to resign because Johnson wouldn’t publicly support him for doing the job we paid him to do. Labour anti-Semitism was exposed in great detail on the Panorama Programme with a response from Labour that attacked the messenger and tried to excuse their behaviour by saying that the Tories are just as bad. The Tory Leadership contenders have been exposed as either liars or fools.

Then there was the Brexit MEP who thought we should do a ‘Belgrano’ and sink foreign shipping craft within …

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Observations of an ex pat: The special relationship

One of my barometers for the health of the Special Relationship is a weekly broadcast I do for American talk stations. The host is Trumptonian Lockwood Phillips who also happens to be an old schoolmate. I am referred to as the Looney London Liberal by the vast majority of my 500,000 listeners who are staunch Trump supporters. They are just the sort of people I want to reach.

The purpose of the hour-long show is to provide a European assessment of American politics and to analyse events in Europe that should be of interest to American audiences. Normally the discussion between Lockwood and myself is reasonably civilised, although it occasionally slips into the gutter. Not so this week. It went straight to the gutter and stayed there. We were both shouting: “you’re wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about”several times, possibly more by me than Lockwood.

The cause of this plunge in civility was Ambassador Kim Darroch’s leaked confidential emails in which he described the Trump Administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional”. Actually the real cause of my anger was President Trump’s reaction in branding Ambassador Darroch as “pompous” and “widely disliked” and said that the White House would refuse to work with him during the six months before the ambassador’s retirement.

I know Kim Darroch. He is not pompous and he is widely liked and respected. So chalk that part of the tweet up as another presidential lie. But more importantly, why can’t the president keep his mouth shut? Why does he feel obligated to respond to every criticism? What drives him to escalate every political conflict into a personal attack?  Why can’t he perform the statesman’s role of taking it on the chin and uttering the words: “No comment?” Or at least avoid personal insults.

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Brecon and Radnorshire – a real test for the Liberal Democrats

I didn’t know when I joined the Liberal Democrats aged 15, that it would change my life dramatically. I’ve lived in Brecon and Radnorshire my whole life, which means I am incredibly lucky to have had at least one Liberal Democrat representative for my life so far. 

However that day in 2015, when we lost Roger Williams as the Member of Parliament was one of the worst days. It was not what he deserved for being a devoted MP for fourteen years. However Liberal-voting to its core, I knew then that Brecon and Radnorshire would be orange once again.

I don’t know about anybody else but, I am certainly so grateful to have been given this opportunity – the opportunity to have another Liberal voice in the House of Commons, fighting to remain in the European Union. This could not have been done without the recall petition and the 10,000+ people in Brecon and Radnorshire that supported it. We’re also very lucky to have a candidate like Jane Dodds, she is unapologetically a Welsh Liberal and will make an excellent MP for the area, something we are desperately in need of.

To top it off, the Liberal Democrats are currently polling at their highest percentage in a long time and the whole country is watching us. The results will be hugely important in showing that the Liberal Democrats are back, a legitimate political force again. A win at this by-election will prove that the fightback is real.

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Reprise: Managing staff – a chance to show liberalism in action

Editor’s Note: Two reports published this week highlight bullying and harassment of staff in both Houses of Parliament. There are some horrific stories. Gemma White QC described the situation in the Commons. Naomi Ellenbogen QC did the same for the Lords. . There are some serious issues with the culture in Parliament.

This seems like a good moment to rerun an article written by Edinburgh Lib Dem member Stephen Harte who makes some suggestions about how we as a party can make sure we live our values in the way that we treat our staff. 

There has been much in the news about MPs and, in Scotland, MSPs behaving inappropriately towards staff – whether this be bullying or inappropriate sexualised behaviour. Many of the current examples relate to other parties but most of us will be aware that we too have had our problems and can be no more complacent than any other party. For example, I can think of one former Parliamentarian (who, to this day, I greatly admire) who, when stressed, could shout at staff in ways that fell far short of good HR practice. There are many other stories within our party of much worse behaviour from other Lib Dems towards staff and volunteers. This is simply not good enough.

This all makes me wonder if every Lib Dem who employs or engages with staff (whether at a party level, directly as their own staff or as staff of the body on which they serve) or manages volunteers should undertake a training course on how to manage staff in accordance with the law, good HR practice and, importantly, our liberal values.

The late, great Maya Angelou told us “When people show you who they are, believe them.” What we do is a showcase for what we believe liberalism looks like in practice. While no one is perfect and we all have times when we fail to live up to our ideals, how we behave shows people what we truly believe.

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The unstoppable Rise and Fall of “Tony” or “Pony” Johnson

Will the Dutch Mark Rutte stay on being the only European Prime Minister who, sitting alongside President Trump during an official White House visit, dared to loudly and unambiguously contradict The Infallible Donald, and on US-EU trade relations no less? The Women’s Football World Championship showed that resisting (longer than others) an American onslaught is a Dutch speciality, but we would like some allies.

The British political reactions to the affair of the ambassadors leaked email comments about the Trump White House showed outsider Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt standing up for the ambassador sending his candid “long telegrams” just as George Kennan did in 1946, while Boris Johnson continued appeasing Trumps tender ego, the ITV debate being the clearest demonstration (see the Guardian and the BBC). Boris even almost-supported Trump disqualifying a British prime minister. Hopefully the discrete Mr. Johnson will do the same when he is PM; Trump spares no ally whatsoever when doing his early morning twitter fusillades.

If that doesn’t remind the British electorate of Tony Blair playing the “Iraq poodle” to president Bush junior (with foreign minister John Bolton pushing the WMD myth), the fact that Boris & Raab like Charles I and Buckingham still see proroguing Parliament as a normal way to push through European policies, should reinforce that analogy. In his Guardian interview about creating an “Boothroyd parallel parliament”, Rory “Realist Tory” Stewart reminds us that when Blair wanted to evade a vote on starting the disastrous Iraq War by prorogation, MP’s threatened to reconvene in Church House to demonstrate their opinion that a “War Powers vote” (my term) was obligatory.

The only difference between the Blair-Bush and Johnson-Trump relationship is that Boris, in his liberal mayorial affectation in 2015/6, was more forceful in disqualifying presidential candidate Trump, than Blair ever was about Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Boris will absolutely hate being identified as a second Blair (wanting to put the UK “at the heart of Europe”, after defending the 1983 eurosceptic Labour platform); all the more reason to start calling him “Tony Johnson”.

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Government under increasing pressure to fund social care

This blog is a week late – but I’ve been busy! I wanted to highlight the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee report published July 4th. This cross-party group of Peers calls for an immediate investment of £8 billion pounds into our care services “to restore social care to acceptable standards”.

North Devon, as many areas of the country, has an ageing population. Many move here to retire, and then as they enter their twilight years increasingly rely on stretched care services. I have been meeting with care providers and care users – there is a lot that needs improving in North Devon and it comes down to funding. £8 billion more for our care services nationally would make a real difference in North Devon.

In England, over a million vulnerable older people do not have proper care support. However, in Scotland, where health and social services are a devolved matter, care is free for the over 65s.

Many family and friends in England have caring responsibilities as their loved one does not meet the criteria for social care. This is wrong. The report highlights that most unpaid carers are women. 63% of women who care are aged between 50-64 and care for at least 50 hours a week. Our society is being propped up by the unpaid work of millions of carers.

I welcome another recommendation of the report, notably that a further £7 billion a year should be spent to extend free personal care to all by 2025. This would include help with cooking, washing and dressing. We need an integrated health and care system, with care paid for out of taxes. Any of us could need care at any time – this should not be a lottery where some get good care and others not.

Key findings are here, and include that the lack of funding means “local authorities are paying care providers a far lower rate for local authority-funded care recipients than self-funded care recipients, and those care providers with a high proportion of local authority-funded care recipients are struggling to survive.” North Devon in a nutshell.

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Making a difference – the first Mental Health First Aid Impact Report

I blogged several years ago about my experience of training as a Mental Health First Aider. Since then, I’ve lobbied and worked to bring equal parity of esteem to mental and physical first aid.

So I was keen to read the first Impact Report from Mental Health First Aid England: does MHFA really work?

The statistics which open the report remain shocking. An average of fifteen people per day took their own life in 2017. The approximate cost per year of mental ill-health in England is £105 billion. And that does not include the personal cost of lives changed and relationships altered forever.

Over 140,000 people were trained in Mental Health First Aid in 2018/19. That is from the beginnings of training 9,000 in 2009. To date, over 400,000 people have had mental health first aid training. This includes the full course as well as the bespoke Armed Forces course; the course for those working in Higher Education; and the course for those working with young people.

Many employers now use Mental Health First Aid in training line-managers and promoting well-being in the workplace. The evidence shows that 72 million working days are lost each year due to mental ill-health. Several testimonials in the Impact Report give strength to the argument that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Alan Millbrow of Three UK says,

Mental Health First Aid is an essential part of our well-being strategy…..It has had an immediate positive impact on our people….We are keen to continue to break down barriers.

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What I’d change about the coalition

Since 2010, I’ve been very loyal to the Liberal Democrats.

There were many things I disliked during the Coalition, but I kept silent for fear of feeding the ridiculous exaggerated attacks on our party. Deficit reduction was hard, but in the lifetime of the Coalition, the amount cut was similar to Labour’s 2010 plans.

After the Coalition, my party was in a dire state, so for the same reason, I kept quiet about my concerns.

Only now the party is surging in the opinion polls do I feel free to say what I wish we’d done in Coalition. This article is to encourage those who are thinking about joining the party but are worried about what happened between 2010 and 2015, that they will have friends in the party. I also want to reassure new members that it’s okay to disagree with party policy, as long as you agree with the broad principles laid out in the preamble of the party’s constitution.

Below are three of my concerns about the Coalition.

(1) The decision to raise the income tax threshold. It was expensive; for the low paid, much of the benefit was clawed back with reduced benefits; and without it, we could have cut a little less severely. The suggestion of the IFS, to increase the amount the low paid could earn without losing their means-tested benefits, would have been far better targeted at helping low-income families.

(2) The bedroom tax. On paper, it sounded sensible. The idea of reallocating large family houses from those who didn’t need them to those who did wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. But local councils weren’t required to provide suitable alternative accommodation. I’m glad that, in 2014, we changed our position.

(3) Local government cuts. These were far too deep. It’s a natural instinct for a central government that wants to cut expenditure to foist a disproportionate burden onto local government. I wish we had vetoed this.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that I have any sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn when he rails against the Coalition. We held the Tories back on some truly savage cuts. Cuts which were quickly introduced when the Tories won a majority in 2015.

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Being “tolerated’ is not enough

So, this past weekend I was reminded that there are still spaces where you’re vulnerable as an LGBT+ person and there are still people who believe that to be a gay man as I am, indeed to be any member of the Queer community, makes you somehow ‘wrong,’ somehow ‘broken,’ somehow not ‘normal.’This past weekend I was on a panel debating people who, because of their interpretation of their religion’s code, cannot ever accept, affirm and celebrate me for who I am and who I love.

I got told that I was to be ‘tolerated.’

I don’t wish to be ‘tolerated.’

‘Tolerated’ means that you’re not accepted or wanted, but people will put up with you if they have to.

I challenged these views robustly. ..and other tropes which I won’t repeat here, because of how offensive they are…but it reminded me that being publicly LGBT+, especially as an activist, can leave you in a very vulnerable position.

Now, other people at the event couldn’t have been more supportive, more gracious, more accepting.

I’m not sorry I took part.

Because if there’s no one there to challenge prejudiced views, how are they ever overcome?

But, I did come home and have a bit of a weep.

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Was the diplomatic leak part of a plot to make Nigel Farage UK ambassador to the US?


Embed from Getty Images
There was a very interesting discussion on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, last night, concerning the leaking of memos from the UK ambassador to the USA, Sir Kim Darroch.

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Lib Dems say Bollocks to Homophobia and Transphobia at London Pride

The first time I came across Pride in London was in 1992 and I was thoroughly captivated by the joyful and bright display.

Yesterday, Liberal Democrats gathered to celebrate the LGBT+ movement 50 years after the Stonewall riot. We were part of a huge and diverse march.

Brian Paddiick won the brilliant t-shirt competition

And new MEP Luisa Porritt had the best hat.

Both leadership candidates were there and very much in the spirit of things:

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Lord William Wallace writes…Fighting for liberal values

Putin has paid us a compliment.  He’s defined politics as a conflict over values, with liberal values as the enemy that authoritarian regimes like his define themselves against.  He’s full-throated in defending autocracy against democracy: government by diktat, authoritarian leader as father figure, leaning on nationalist myths and ‘traditional’ values for legitimacy. A regime underpinned by force, disguising huge gaps between the privileged rich, close to power, and the poor.  Viktor Orban (in Hungary) and other rising authoritarians haven’t yet gone quite so far: he defines his style of government as ‘illiberal democracy’, retaining some of the outer structures of popular participation while bringing media, universities, and much of the economy under state control.

Many 19th century liberals were optimistic about progress and education leading almost inevitably to enlightenment, tolerance of diversity and minorities, the rule of law and an open society.  The 20th century taught liberals that these achievements can never be taken for granted, and have to be promoted and defended by every generation.  And that’s not an easy task: it’s a complicated argument to defend minorities and minority rights, to talk about the importance of law and political processes, when much of the population is more concerned about economic insecurity and more attracted by the easy promises of charismatic populists.

Britain, like many other countries, has made enormous advances in recognising liberal values over the past fifty years – in opportunities and rights for women, in attitudes to ethnic diversity and to sexual and gender diversity.  But the populist appeal to ‘traditional values’ blows a dog whistle against all this.  Populist attacks on ‘elites’, often described as ‘liberal elites’, dismiss reasoned debate in favour of gut feelings.  Michael Gove’s attack on ‘experts’ was an encouragement to the public to follow their guts and stop listening to reason or detailed argument; his efforts to return the teaching of history to ‘the national story’ would have pleased Putin.  Boris Johnson’s campaign is becoming more illiberal by the day. His dismissal of his own party’s reasoned policy on the sugar tax is a classic example of an appeal to prejudice against enlightened self-interest.

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The problem of sustaining Liberalism in Britain today

The joke of Conservatism in Britain today being defined by Boris Johnson is not much funnier than the joke of Socialism being represented by Jeremy Corbyn. Hence the fractures in both main parties, and the gap left for Liberalism in the shape of the Liberal Democrats. Yet when the constitutional crisis is resolved, whether in the way we want or otherwise, can the Liberalism we represent flourish and our party continue to grow? For we will then be up against parties, even if diminished, representing the  great traditions of Socialism and Conservativism, which will most probably be led by men and women of more centrist, moderate views – and this may well happen within a very few months.

Liberalism worldwide is threatened by populism, and it may appear to be the case here also, with the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, surely a classic case of popular sentiment being roused and directed by one strong and charismatic leader. However, there is no such thing as Brexitism. The Conservatives in choosing their own charismatic (if scarcely strong) leader hope to root out the alien growth, and if they succeed in achieving Brexit may do so. Or else, if we succeed in stopping Brexit through a renewed democratic popular vote, again it should wither. The British people are not attuned to populism, and if the proximate cause of this cancer is removed, they surely will mostly be relieved to have an amicable working relationship restored with our useful European neighbours.

Even so,  Liberalism in Britain and the continued growth of our party could still be threatened. That is partly because elements in British society have developed during this prolonged crisis a readiness to confront and go rapidly to extremes, even to violence, and there is greater public tolerance of these effects, for instance abuse of minorities, than there used to be. In the heightened atmosphere, Liberalism may perhaps not seem to convey a strong enough identity, to offer people security and some comfort and hope in their private lives.

For however much the main parties may fracture now, the ideas of Conservatism and Socialism retain their appeal to large sections of British society. And a Conservative party led by a more moderate figure than Johnson, once Brexit is resolved, will claim Liberalism, especially economic liberalism and freedom, as part of its DNA. Similarly the Labour Party, once Corbyn is replaced, through renewing the commitment to social democracy rather than Socialism will try to lure leftward-leaning social liberals away from our party and into theirs.

It won’t in those circumstances be much use to produce our traditional claim of strongly centralised top-down parties being different from ours and undesirable, because people have got used to the idea of strong central leadership being needed in these days of seemingly unending crisis. Yet there is still a way to show and continue the appeal of  Liberalism as exemplified by Liberal Democrats.

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Ending relative poverty in the UK is easy

Recently I have seen a couple of comments on LDV which state that ending relative poverty in the UK would be a difficult and complex thing to achieve. They are mistaken.

The reason someone is living in relative poverty is because they don’t have enough money. The answer, therefore, is to ensure that benefit levels give them enough to pay all of their housing costs and have enough left over to be on the poverty line and not below it. As Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in his report points out “employment alone is insufficient” to lift someone out of poverty.

Already we have a system which reduces benefits by 63p for every pound earned, but 4 million workers live in poverty. This is because the gain from working is not enough to lift the person out of poverty. If they were already out of poverty when living only on benefits then no one working could be living in poverty.

We need to ensure that those living on benefits have enough money to pay all of their housing costs. Scrapping the benefit cap helps, as would increasing Local Housing Allowance in line with local rents (both party policy). However, they don’t go far enough. Local Housing Allowance was introduced by the Labour government in 2008. It sets maximums for housing benefit depending on local rents, and sets out what type of accommodation different types of families can have.

It is not liberal for the state to tell people how many rooms they can have to live in. It is not liberal for the state to force tenants into debt arrears. It is not liberal for the state to force someone to move house when they experience difficult times such as when they become unemployed.

It is liberal for the state to pay 100% of the housing costs of those on benefit. Therefore we should have as our long-term aim scrapping the LHA and in the meantime increase its value above the bottom 30% of local rents. (I expect this is the main reason that 1.9 million pensioners are living in poverty). The least we should do is reduce the single person age down to 25 from 35, so a single person aged between 25 and 34 should no longer be forced to live in shared accommodation.

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How able is “negotiator” Hunt as compared to Johnson?

The Tory leadership campaign of Jeremy Hunt is, according to himself and many supporting MPs in the media, based upon the premise that Hunt will be (far) more trusted and more easily welcomed at EU negotiating tables than Johnson. They say this is the case because the European players (national ministers, EU negotiators like Barnier) have come to know him as sitting Foreign Secretary, and that they would trust him more than Boris (who they also know from his accident-prone Brexit spell at the Foreign Office).

Hunt also insists he has experience as an entrepreneur, including negotiating deals, which Johnson lacks because he was a journalist, not a businessman, between his public school/Oxbridge education and his political career.

But right at the start of his term as Foreign Secretary, Mr Hunt made a massive negotiating gaffe while trying to use his personal background to curry favour with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

At the start of his business career, Hunt had learned Japanese to be able to work as an English language teacher in Japan in the late 1980s; and minister Wang Yi studied Japanese and was a former ambassador in Japan (2004-07). As a minister in Cameron’s shadow cabinet, Hunt in 2008 met and married his Chinese wife, Lucia Guo. As the new Foreign Secretary negotiating in Beijing in July 2018, Hunt and Wang Yi had been speaking in Japanese, when Hunt, switching to English, made his gaffe when he talked about his wife and her parentage. According to the BBC, Hunt said “My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. Sorry, that’s a terrible mistake to make.” The company at the table politely laughed it off, and Hunt went on to say that he and his wife had close ties with his in-laws still living in the Chinese city Xi’an.

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Not turning our back on Europe – why Bollocks to Brexit is the perfect message from Lib Dem MEPs to the rest of the EU

We all believe in the power of words, else this blog post would be entirely pointless. How words are received versus their intent though can be the spark for division and result in endless dissection, rather than focus on the message.

This ended up being part of the discussion for LBC Radio’s James O’Brien phone-in show yesterday morning. James, who is widely known for his views against Brexit, took issue with Lib Dem MEPs wearing Bollocks to Brexit’ T-shirts at the opening session of the European Parliament, stating that they were “inappropriate” and “slogan politics”. He also rightly took issue with Brexit Party MEPs rudely turning their backs during the Strasbourg Philharmonic’s performance of Ode to Joy, adopted by the EU as an anthem.

I disagree with James’s view. Political parties need to smash the mould to get their message across in a world of 280 characters or less. I would much rather that we do ruffle some feathers by being crystal clear than prance around, twisting ourselves in knots about our position like HM Opposition.

‘Bollocks to Brexit’ is the perfect antidote to the Brexit Party’s own message of division. It’s also instantly understandable to anyone seeking to understand the Lib Dems’ position on Brexit and acts as a clarion call for those across the political spectrum to stand alongside us in opposing this national act of self-harm.

Given the Brexit Party, and their ilk, will brazenly ride rough-shod over-polite conventions, have no issue openly saying they will “disrupt” the business of the EU and operate a completely opaque structure when it comes to funding and candidate selection…wearing a T-shirt that highlights there’s an alternative is perhaps the least the Lib Dems can do.

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Time for a Broad AllIance to take power?

“We must be more than a political party or we will cease to be one,” said the great writer G. K. Chesterton, when he was a Liberal. “Time and again historic victory has come to a little party with big ideas: but can anyone conceive anything with a mark of death more on its brow than a little party with little ideas,”

I am writing about the man at the moment and I believe he was right, and especially perhaps in the first of the two sentences.

Nor are we such a little party these days, but the ideas we …

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What happens the day after the next General Election?

In my last article for LDV I spoke about the end of two-Party politics. Since then we have had three more opinion polls with Lib Dems ranging from first with 30% to fourth with 19%. What doesn’t change is the fact that 4 Parties, Lib Dems, Brexit, Tory and Labour are bunched fairly closes around the 20s with the Green Party on 8-10%. I do like the 30% Lib Dem one though. Many people must have gone to bed dreaming of that magic moment of being declared an MP when they saw that.

Although I am not ‘Mystic Dicky’ with a …

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A global advert for the Hong Kong Anti Extradition Bill campaign – implications for the Remain Campaign

An advertisement to support the Hong Kong Anti Extradition Movement appeared in 14 newspapers around the world on 27th June. The press was puzzled by 2 questions: who created the campaign and how did they manage to execute it?

Two million Hong Kong citizens participated in the Hong Kong anti extradition bill protest on 21st June. The protesters made three demands:

  1. the amendment of the bill to be retracted;
  2. the definition of the clashes between police and civilians on 12th June as ‘riot’ to be retracted; and,
  3. an independent commission to be formed in order to investigate the police behaviour on 12th June.

The Hong …

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The people who will make the new party complaints system work

As  Lead Adjudicator for the new party complaints system I am writing to introduce the people who will make it work. 

The great strength of successful political parties lies with their members.  In our party it is the members who campaign, make policy, choose our leaders and, to a great extent, run the party.  We have more than 100,000, but all our members are human beings and subject to human frailties.  As a result, it is a sad reality that members will from time to time do things and be accused of things that bring the party into disrepute.

After years of debate a new system for handling complaints has been created.  You can read about it in Alice Thomas’s excellent post, and I wanted to introduce you to the volunteers who will make the new system work.

The first thing to make clear is that there is no ‘complaints supremo’.  The new system breaks up the tasks involved so that each decision in the process of determining complaints is made by an independent person appointed in a way that ensures that there is no perception that panels are hand-picked or results pre-ordained.

The largest number of volunteers are the Adjudicators.  All are members of the party and they have a wide range of experiences.  At various points in the process of each complaint an Adjudicator will assess the severity of a Complaint and how it is will be handled and in most cases a different three Adjudicators will later sit on a Complaints Panel to decide whether to uphold or dismiss the complaint.  Adjudicators are permitted to stand as candidates for the Party or hold office at a Local Party level, but are barred from holding office elsewhere in the Party.

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The new complaints process goes live on 1st July

It’s a good year to be a Lib Dem: we’ve gained thousands of new members, hundreds of council seats and 15 new MEPs because we are united while the Tories and Labour tear themselves apart from within. No party is immune to mistakes though and that’s why I’m proud to say that – from 1 July* – if a new complaint is made against a Lib Dem member, it will be handled under our new complaints procedure, which is consistent, clear and fit for purpose.

Federal Conference voted for this procedure at Brighton in Autumn 2018 and it has since been accepted by each of the state parties in England, Scotland and Wales. It is now time to implement it.

No complaints procedure can work without people to run it. That is why I am proud to say that more than 400 people responded to call for volunteers and we will be ready to hit the ground running. 

From 1 July 2019, complaints should be reported to the Standards Officer at LDHQ who will record the details in the case management system and send it on to the Senior Adjudication Team or “SAT”. The SAT comprises a Senior Adjudicator from each state party and our brilliant Lead Adjudicator, Fred Mackintosh.  The four members of the SAT have many years’ experience in the party and a background in making decisions and dealing with complex problems.

When a case is first raised Fred will randomly assign it to one of at least forty trained and impartial Adjudicators, who will assign any case which is more than frivolous to one of either the formal or informal routes.  At the same time the SAT will decide whether the member complained about should be suspended from membership whilst the complaint is resolved.

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Stonewall 50 years on

“The first Pride was a riot.”

So said many signs at Pride, Edinburgh last Saturday.

It’s 50 years today that a community, after much discrimination and harassment, finally said it had had enough. Yet another Police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City, pushed its customers over the edge, with trans women of colour leading the fightback.

Pink News has the story of how Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera threw things at the Police, sparking 3 nights of rioting and the birth of a movement that has won rights for the LGBT community. Back then, you could be sacked for being gay, you couldn’t marry and you had no rights if your partner died or took ill. Imagine what it must have been like to have your partner dying in hospital but his or her family won’t let you anywhere near them and you have no power to stop them. That was the reality for far too many people.

If Stonewall happened today, it would be all over Twitter in seconds. There would be rolling news coverage. 28th June 1969 was my husband’s 18th birthday.  I asked him if he was aware of what was happening and he said it was years later, through music, that he first became aware of Stonewall.

The Stonewall riots led to the joyous, colourful Pride celebrations we have today when the LGBT community celebrates and looks to advance its rights. At the moment, it’s trying hard not to see rights rolled back as the toxic atmosphere over Gender Recognition Act reform frightens legislators.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the BBC reported this week about the surge in hate crimes against transgender people. And when I say surge, I’m talking an 81% rise. We can’t stand by and see that happen.

Both our leadership candidates have been very vocal in calling out transphobia and supporting Gender Recognition Act Reform and you get the feeling from both of them that this is important to them.

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An island by-election as Tavish Scott steps down for job at Scottish Rugby

Former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott has announced that he is leaving the Scottish Parliament to take up a job as head of External Affairs with Scottish Rugby.  He’s one of a handful of MSPs remaining who were first elected in 1999. Anyone want to have a go at naming the rest?

Tavish led the Scottish Party from 2008-2011 and had three ministerial posts in the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalitions. In 2001, he resigned as a Minister for Parliament after refusing to support the Executive in a vote on fishing because of the impact on his constituents.

He came back into Government in 2003 and served as Deputy Minister for Finance, entering the Cabinet as Minister for Transport after Jim Wallace’s resignation as Deputy First Minister in 2005.

Tavish said:

Representing the people of Shetland has been my life for 20 years. It has been an enormous privilege and honour to have been Shetland’s MSP since the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999.

I want to thank people the length and breadth of the islands for their support over the years. The bread and butter of representing people is helping solve problems and making their case to government, organisations and businesses. I have always enjoyed the challenge of serving Shetland and it is the part of the job that I will, without doubt, miss the most.

There have been many highlights, wonderful moments and intense political drama that I would not have missed for anything. I leave the Liberal Democrats at an exciting time in the party’s development. There have been excellent recent results in the recent European elections, improved poll ratings and there is genuine optimism about the future for the party.

So on this, the 20th anniversary week of the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, it is the right time for me to change direction.

I am absolutely delighted to be joining Scottish Rugby at this incredibly exciting time for the sport in Scotland and across the world.  To have the opportunity to work for Scottish Rugby is a huge challenge and one that I cannot wait to begin. I will miss the cut and thrust of politics and the people I have met and represented for 20 years, but there can be no better new beginning than working for Scottish Rugby.

Willie Rennie paid tribute to his decades of service:

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Boris thinks Widdecombe and Non-payment will sway EU his way….

In his BBC interview by Laura Kuensberg (interview text here), Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson said he had a far better chance of realising an agreed Brexit than May had, because the political situation both in Britain and on the Continent, in Brussels, has been fundamentally transformed since the March 2019 Brexit Deadline (and the British European elections).

Johnson says that the EU leaders are scared because the newly elected Brexit Party – and Tory MEPs – are a new, powerful Eurosceptic force, putting pressure on the European Commission and Council from within the Euro Parliament (EP). I think Johnson’s argument is that now that Ann Widdecombe sits beside known Euro-haters like Farage and Daniel Hannan, EU leaders have started quaking in their shoes and want to lose (or “liberate”) these MEPs soon by agreeing any October 31 Brexit, with or without a deal.

Johnson forgets Brussels has seen off worse anti-system politician threats, like J.-M. le Pen MEP calling Sobibor’s gas chambers a “detail in history”; and prime ministers like Berlusconi suggesting a German Socialist playing KZ Lager guard; or Orban, expelled from the biggest EP party for infringing basic EU principles. Adding Widdecombe isn’t a threat; the Christian and Social Democrats simply include “Renew Europe” Liberals (with new LibDem MEPs!) and the Greens in EP politics; Orban, Tories and Brexiters (who insist the EU is a Gulag Soviet Union) are kept shouting outside.

Johnson’s second point: he’ll use “creative ambiguity” about paying the £39 billion alimony to pressure the EU into a “May deal without nasty Backstop bits” (my paraphrase of his sketched deal). But what if Brussels uses “creative conditionality” about refurbishing the deal: “if you won’t pay the first instalment on the £39 billion, we keep the Backstop in”. And giving EU citizens (many who couldn’t vote for the EP, the hostile environment persists) legislative security as UK inhabitants was already offered by May, so won’t elicit EU leniency around any Brexit Deal.

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Leadership and the C-word

Venn diagram of Lib Dem/Tory influence on Coalition policies“Two non-entities” – the curt analysis of historian David Starkey on the Lib Dem leadership race seems unduly harsh. But as a semidetached

Lib Dem looking for an excuse to reattach I have at the very least been struck by just how similar the two Lib Dem leadership candidates are.

The Lib Dems are now a very new and fresh party in the sense that most members have joined in very recent years or even months. For those of us with decades of libdemmery under our belts, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson almost feel like extended family. They are resilient folk who have been around for ages. Both of them are very much to be admired for withstanding the humiliation of losing their seats and then clawing those seats back.

White, middle-class, Oxbridge/Russell group, neither at first sight really exude life’s hard knocks. In fact, both have put forward moving accounts of just how searing real life can be. Jo Swinson’s speech in Parliament on combining politics and early motherhood was an astonishingly frank tour de force. Ed Davey’s poignant radio interview on his experience of early bereavement was truly memorable.

But, and it’s a very big but, how do we process their work in coalition? There is a poverty of debate in the party about the Coalition and about… err… poverty. The Lib Dems dropped austerity unceremoniously in 2015 (almost as suddenly as it was adopted back in 2010) and by 2017 it was almost as if the Coalition had never happened.

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