Category Archives: Op-eds

Jo was right about Boris

It is self-evident we have a calamitous Prime Minister; we spelt out the warning ourselves.  Johnson presides over a cabinet of mediocre yes-men not selected for ability, but for their Brexit purity and for their low risk in upstaging Johnson with an unexpected whiff of competency.  The Tory conference is a time to take stock. Even amongst Conservative members there are signs of queasiness: in a recent ConservativeHome sounding of party members, only Gavin Williamson outflanks Johnson for dissatisfaction.

Less than 10 months ago Jo Swinson clearly upbraided Johnson for having ‘dragged the office of Prime Minister through the mud’. Johnson has not only continued to besmirch his office but, by disregarding the rule of law, has shredded the UK’s standing around the world.  The UK can no longer criticise breaches of international law without inviting an inevitable riposte.

‘Johnson is not fit to be Prime Minister’ Jo continued, ‘not just because he doesn’t care, not just because he lies but because also he is complicit in stoking division and fear and in our communities.  Johnson has no shame when it comes to the language he uses about race’.  She was spot on; for manifold reasons Johnson is unfit for his role. Shame seems a sentiment unknown to Johnson, moreover he is indolent, unable to master his brief, expecting the general public to know what is asked of them better than he does himself.

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The case for a partial UBI

My local party proposed an amendment to the Conference UBI motion setting a medium-term aspiration. We proposed that the UBI level together with existing working-age benefits should equal either the Social Metrics Commission or the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculations of what a sufficient income for a person is to meet their basic requirements. It was not selected for debate. The reason given was that the Federal Conference Committee thought that it could restrict the implementation options to be considered by the Federal Policy Committee! This seems to me to be an odd reason. I think Conference should have been given the opportunity to set out what level of UBI they are aiming for even if it is only an aspiration for the medium-term which would have given lots of wriggle room to FPC.

When considering a UBI we need to be aware of the gross costs of any proposal and not be misled by the idea that a scheme is affordable because we can make huge changes to the tax and national insurance system we have today.

The Social Metrics Commission state that a single person needs £157 to meet all of their basic needs excluding housing. The gross cost of setting a UBI at this rate would be just over £353 billion. If instead the working-age benefit level was increased to the poverty line of £157 for single people and £271 for a couple, this would cost in the region of £53 billion. A difference of £300 billion.

Some people suggest that a UBI can be paid for with a Land Value Tax. When we agreed to the replacing of business rates with a Commercial Landowner Levy, our name for this land tax, we set the rates at 59% in England and 67.5% in Wales of the ‘land rental value’. We stated that we would raise £25 billion a year from this tax. The maximum rate we could tax the rental income from land is 100% and this rate would only increase government income by less than £17 billion. A small fraction of the cost of a worthwhile UBI but a useful amount in paying for increasing the working-age benefits only.

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No Rishi! The country does not share your values

In his speech to the Tory Party conference, Rishi Sunak made a bold declaration: “We share the same values. The Conservative Party and the country.” For a start the 57% of voters who didn’t opt for the Conservatives last December will disagree. But his statement also raises a key question: what are the values that today’s Conservative Party stand for? Anyone who takes a moment to look at Johnson’s Conservatives can see that the party of statecraft, the rule of law and fiscal conservatism no longer exists.

The rest of Sunak’s speech was surprisingly brief and light on policy. One thing he did emphasise was his commitment to balancing the books. But that didn’t seem to matter when it came to getting Brexit done or when announcing huge infrastructure spending.

They say they are about law and order, but have just voted to allow themselves to break international law. And Priti Patel’s speech at the weekend advocating an escalation of the hostile environment towards those seeking asylum made clear the Conservatives aren’t a party that looks out for the most vulnerable in society.

Part of the problem for the Conservatives is their own internal ideological divisions. On the one hand they have a raft of MPs in solidly safe seats who keep their heads down in public and quietly do as they are told, willingly voting for the Government every time. Some of these types also come from Lib Dem facing not-so-safe seats where their bacon was saved by Nigel Farage standing down his Brexit Party troops. 

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Lord William Wallace writes…Winning the argument on higher taxes

We need to focus on how we handle issues of taxation.  Opinion polls now show, for the first time in decades, that more voters favour raising taxes than cutting them.  That does not mean, of course, that such a majority is in favour of themselves paying more tax; there’s a natural tendency to support increases that fall on others, above all on the richest.  

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it was evident that the UK’s tax base was too low.  An ageing population, low levels of public and private investment, salaries in the public sector kept lower than in the private, local government, schools, hospitals, prisons and police all strapped for funds, all indicated the need for higher public spending.    The massive public spending which the pandemic is requiring – and will continue to require for months to come – adds to the pressure for an overall increase in taxation.

This is an existential issue for the libertarian right, strongly entrenched in the Conservative Party and its associated think tanks.  The mantra of the Taxpayers Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), and others is that it’s impossible in the UK to raise more than 40% of GDP in tax, at most, and that for the economy to flourish public spending should be reduced to around 35%.   Their aim, of course, is to curb public spending by reducing public revenue.  Rishi Sunak has just promised to bring ‘the overwhelming might of the British state’ to bear on the pandemic and its economic legacy, in his speech to the virtual Conservative conference.  That’s anathema to his party’s right-wing.

The Institute of Economic Affairs has just published a new briefing paper which addresses the COVID-19 debt burden, the UK’s problem of low productivity, and recommends – deregulation and tax cuts, rather than increased investment in education and training for our workforce and in public infrastructure.  I thought the Laffer Curve had been discredited long ago; but the IEA depends on the illusion that cutting taxes increases growth to resolve the contradiction between cutting revenue, promising a balanced budget and raising public spending.

So what should we be saying in this right-wing dominated debate?  Starmer’s Labour is likely to be as cautious about sticking its neck out on this as on Brexit and other issues. Pledging an extra penny on income tax signals our willingness to raise revenue to underwrite higher public spending; behind that our economic team can prepare detailed proposals on other taxes, allowances and charges to support our next manifesto.  Green taxes, capital taxes (including on houses) must also be part of the mix.  If we were still in the EU, we would be coordinating our approach to the high-tech tax-avoiding companies, as well.

The IEA argument that a higher level of tax is unsustainable rests on their claim that tax avoidance blocks further revenue.  So we should go for the City of London’s tax avoidance industry, and call for the government to ‘take back control’ of the offshore network of UK dependencies and territories which facilitates its operation.  Germany and the Netherlands support successful mixed economies with levels of public revenue and expenditure several percentage points higher than the UK; so also does Canada, among English-speaking countries.  Many of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors are non-doms or offshore billionaires: we should highlight the close links between leading Conservatives and these major tax avoiders.

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My experiences of being a woman Councillor of colour

I am very proud to say that I was elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor in 2017 to serve the residents of Cyncoed and Lakeside at Cardiff County Council. Cardiff, capital city of Wales, is very cosmopolitan, a city that celebrates its diversity, but still fails to represent its population in the make-up of the council chamber and the workforce within the council.

I had stood in local elections before in a different area and did notice the ballot papers that came in with crosses next to my ward colleague names and not mine and still this time same occurred on some ballot papers, but luckily I secured just enough votes to become the third and last candidate to be elected. When you see such ballots, many questions and answers come to your mind, why did they not vote me? They don’t know me personally so is it my name, the origin of the name, my faith or the colour of my skin that they considered more than anything I had to offer?

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Firms overlook the importance of nurturing young staff in the office at their peril

It was encouraging to read this report from the Guardian. A survey has shown that COVID-19 has changed attitudes to home working for the long term.

This is very good news. A healthy element of home working is good for the mental health of workers, saves on carbon emissions and reduces transport snafus.

But I am glad that the Guardian report has put the emphasis on a blended approach. That is, a mixture of home and office working.

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Why we need to decriminalise abortion and give women agency to make their own decisions

Abortion has been high on the social agenda in recent months.

The Coronavirus pandemic necessitated a change in practice. So regulation around home abortions were adapted and the pills needed for early medical abortions (before 10 weeks) were allowed to be taken at home.

Unsurprisingly, this thoughtful kindness to allow women to go through this devastating experience privately, at home, sparked a huge debate on both sides.

Advocates of the decision looking to make a permanent change to the draconian 1967 Abortion Act and other, most notably, Christian Concern, claiming the decision goes against the purposes of the Act and beyond its remit.

Fortunately, after taking the case not just to the High Court but also to the Court of Appeal, Christian Concern lost.

Unfortunately, this is isn’t a rare occurrence. It’s happening across the globe.

Six US states- Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas- have already categorised abortions as non-essential medical procedures, effectively using the pandemic to crack down on female reproductive rights.

This temporary change in the UK guidelines marks a significant shift towards the liberalisation of female sexuality.

But as usual there’s a catch- it follows a phone or video consultation and an approval by not one, but two medical professionals.

What is the need for this approval? Isn’t abortion legal in the UK? Can’t a woman make that decision without the approval of two, doctors, most likely men?

Well, actually no she can’t, and I found out the hard way.

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Hobbes and Hattie compete to be Westminster’s top cat

We’ve just got through the leadership election and now two of our other MPs are facing off against each other.

Well, their cats are.

Wendy Chamberlain’s Hobbes and Jamie Stone’s Hattie are taking part in Purr Minister 2020, run by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Lib Dems have been successful before. Annette Brooke’s Billy won in 2015.

Wendy and Jamie have both taken to Twitter to drum up votes for their gorgeous cats.

And Hobbes posed a slight dilemma for Scottish Lib Dem Women

His manifesto is:

I’m named for the cartoon character and not the philosopher, but the social contract is purrly on my

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Willie Rennie calls for recall process to be used for Margaret Ferrier if she doesn’t resign

What on earth was Margaret Ferrier thinking when, having had a test for Covid-19, she left home and got on a train to London, potentially putting at risk everyone on the train, everyone on whatever method of public transport she used to get from Euston to Westminster, everyone she encountered at Westminster, including Commons and parliamentary staff?

And if that wasn’t bad enough, what on earth was she thinking when she left her London base and got on a train home to Glasgow when she knew she had the virus and was actually putting everyone she met at risk from contracting a potentially deadly disease?

I feel furious because it’s despicably reckless behaviour like this that is basically keeping me at home at the moment. Because my husband and I are at high risk from this disease, we are keeping our interactions with other people to a minimum. We know we are going to have to do that many months to come. We might feel better about going out to shops and restaurants if we knew that everyone was taking social distancing and mask-wearing seriously, but we just don’t have the confidence that they are. And when we see things like Margaret Ferrier wandering the length of the country while knowingly infected with Covid, it is a reminder of why we are having to make our world smaller.

I do know that it is easier for us than for many others. All of us can do everything we need to do from home and we do all generally like each other and get on well. I am struggling a bit, though, with not being able to see my friends in person as much as I am used to doing. It’s great to catch up online, but it can never replace actually being with people.

Nicola Sturgeon was understandably livid about Ferrier’s actions and took to Twitter to say that she should resign as an MP. They have thrown her out of the SNP group but they can’t force her to resign as an MP. She certainly will come under pressure to do so from both within  the party and beyond.

However, there is one way she can be forced to resign. The recall process. This was introduced in 2015 by the Liberal Democrats in coalition government. It provides a mechanism for forcing a by-election where an MP has been found guilty of some wrongdoing, either in court or by being found in breach of parliamentary standards. It’s a two stage process which is triggered in these circumstances:

  • If they are convicted in the UK of an offence and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained and all appeals have been exhausted (and the sentence does not lead to automatic disqualification from being an MP);

  • If they are suspended from the House following report and recommended sanction from the Committee on Standards for a specified period (at least 10 sitting days, or at least 14 days if sitting days are not specified).;

  • If they are convicted of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (making false or misleading Parliamentary allowances claims)

A petition can then be activated and operated by the Returning Officer for the seat. If 10% of the electorate sign it, a by-election, in which the MP can stand, is held. You can find out more in this Commons Library briefing.

The process has been used three times, resulting in two by-elections. The most recent, in Brecon and Radnorshire last year, was won by Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds. Unfortunately she lost the seat just over four months later in the General Election.

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Observations of an expat: Geopolitical fault line

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Throughout history the Caucasus region has been one of the world’s key geopolitical fault lines and a potentially explosive ethnic, religious, cultural and political melting pot.

It links Europe and Asia. It connects the Black Sea to the riches of the landlocked Caspian. It straddled the Silk Road which connected the Turkic-speaking tribes which stretched from Anatolia to China’s troubled Xinjiang region. The Caucasus region is at the centre of dividing line between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Islamic world of Central Asia. It has been disputed, fought over and occupied by the Ottomans, Russia, the Mongols and Iran.

At the very heart of this fault line are Islamic Azerbaijan and Orthodox Christian Armenia. Separating these two countries is mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh; internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but with a majority ethnic Armenian population that has set up their own government (The Republic of Artsakh) which nobody – not even Armenia – recognises. However, Azerbaijan has not governed the area since 1988.

During the days of the Soviet Empire the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan was smothered by political control from Moscow. But when the Soviet Union fell apart the two South Caucasus nations fell out over Nagorno-Karabakh. From 1988 to 1994 they fought a war which left 30,000 dead and displaced a million people from their homes. In the end, Moscow managed to broker a ceasefire, but not a peace.

Since 1994 there have been sporadic clashes along a “Line of Control”, but this week the clashes quickly escalated into a proper renewal of hostilities. With the rest of the world distracted by the coronavirus pandemic and the US presidential elections, the conflict has the possibility to drag Russia and NATO Turkey into opposing positions.

Russia is doing its best to assume the honest broker position, but Turkey makes no bones about its diplomatic stance. It fully backs Azerbaijan and demands that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh accept that they are part of that state.

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Basic Income – from party policy to electable manifesto commitment

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Having long campaigned on LDV for Universal Basic Income, it was heartening to see UBI adopted as party policy at Conference. The challenge now is to transform Conference vote into a credible manifesto commitment, and a persuasive electable UBI policy.

Recent LDV articles have advocated UBI on various grounds, including Leyla Moran on precarity, Paul Hindley and Daniel Duggan on social justice, Anton Georgiou on inequality, and Jane Dodds on empowerment. Others including  Malcolm Berwick-Gooding have asked how UBI can be funded. Chris Northwood and George Kendall have proposed income tax, and Darren Martin a transaction micro-tax.

The web site The Case for Basic Income seeks to set out the main arguments for UBI. These are

  • social justice, addressing inequality, including gender inequality
  • welfare system efficiency and effectiveness, avoiding intrusive means-testing
  • economic necessity, acknowledging work reduction through automation, avoiding economic crisis and austerity
  • human flourishing, enabling wider choice of lifestyle
  • environmental responsibility, creating income other than by employment and more output

These are powerful, appealing, and convincing arguments, which we should fully deploy.

We also have to respond to the two main counter-arguments. Many claim that UBI presents a work disincentive. But in fact, it is current welfare benefits which erect a disincentive to work by being withdrawn £ for £ if a recipient finds work, creating an enormous marginal rate of tax, and hence the infamous ‘unemployment trap’. UBI avoids this as it is retained in full if someone starts to work.

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It wasn’t really a Virtual Conference


OK, you might think I am being pedantic, but the word ‘virtual’ carries some weight, so bear with me.

The term ‘virtual reality’ emerged from online gaming. Players place themselves in an imaginary universe, and adopt a character or avatar while they are there. In multi-user games they interact with other avatars, without wondering much about the real person behind them. Virtual reality headsets take this one step further by providing a 3D fully immersive experience of the imaginary landscape.

Virtual reality is usually compared with ‘real life’; the first is a creative construct, the second is the world we actually inhabit. In what sense was our conference last weekend virtual?

Before there was widespread access to the Internet we communicated with our family, friends and colleagues in many ways that were not face-to-face. We used a variety of written methods – letters, notes and memos – and we used the phone. I don’t think we ever saw these as virtual conversations; they were real conversations with real people. In the same way, once email became ubiquitous it was seen as an extension of our other modes of communication.

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The Guardian losing Liberal readers


Many Liberals have abandoned The Guardian in recent years mainly because of its increasing Labour bias. Part of this is the party’s own fault by not being sufficiently intellectually rigorous but that is, of course, self-fulfilling – a lack of media coverage leads to a more enfeebled Liberal politics.

My aim in pressuring the current editor, Katharine Viner, is to make the paper more pluralistic, not least because it would a shame to abandon the only national paper that does not have a proprietor, and one which I have read just about every day since 19 October 1960 – the day after the News Chronicle died.

The paper gives us a weekly dose of socialism from Owen Jones, regular pro-Labour columns from Polly Toynbee and even the saintly and ever recyclable George Monbiot cites his support for Labour. But there are no contributions from recognisable Liberals. In the face of this why should Liberals buy the paper? I certainly do not object to these columns, indeed, I am committed to pluralism, but I want to see a more balanced coverage from a newspaper that boasts about its place on the progressive wing of politics.

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The NHS Track and Trace app is here to stay, what should Liberals say?

The NHS Track and Trace app is here to stay. Even if Covid-19 were to disappear from the planet tomorrow, there is no turning back from this point; track and trace apps will become a permanent fixture of the health service. And now that we know what an app should be able to do, why would we rely on one for Covid-19? If it helps to save lives, then surely an app could help us to guard against annual winter flu pandemics; what about chickenpox and a whole host of other infectious diseases? Thinking ahead, it is not inconceivable to imagine that we will have all be required to have a permanent mobile app, which can be used to track our exposure to deadly diseases, but also hold our personal medical records.

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My son can get a COVID test result in 90 minutes. And that’s a disgrace.

Last week my son, who is two years old, developed a fever. Anyone who has children knows that toddlers are naturally inclined to do this every now and again and, in normal circumstances, it’s not a cause for concern. But it’s 2020. Normal circumstances are a distant memory.

Government guidelines required getting my son tested for coronavirus and isolating the household until the results came back, or alternatively for 14 days. Having to quarantine the whole family for two weeks for a fever likely to be caused by a cold or teething didn’t sound like the most productive solution …

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Party’s new European policy – reaffirming our values

For the past few months via numerous zoom calls and countless redrafts, I have been heavily involved in formulating the Europe motion that was debated at Conference and fully endorsed the party’s new policy which was adopted overwhelmingly and stated our long term commitment to membership of the European Union unequivocally, that we believe Brexit to be wrong and that the EU is the UK’s natural home. I know for some that position probably doesn’t go far or fast enough, but as hard as it is to say – as someone who spent the past five years trying to prevent …

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How we improve Covid-19 care for care home residents

Having just spent several hours wading through the final report of the “COVID-19 Social Care Support Taskforce” one wonders how those working in the service will ever find time to read it – let alone implement all 42 recommendations which are designed to make bad practice safer!

Care homes are not, and were never intended to be, hospitals. The residents are just as entitled to hospital care, if that is what is needed, as are the rest of us. That so many have been left to die in Care Homes, rather than being admitted to hospital, and thereby denied the benefit of oxygen, ventilators and intensive care which might have saved their lives is the real concern. The minute a resident exhibited symptoms they should have been tested and if positive admitted to hospital. The discharge of older people from hospital to care homes, without testing, in order to free up beds for coronavirus patients may also have spread the virus. That not all older people have an “assessment of need” and “verification of wishes” by a social worker prior to admission to a care home whether or not they are self-funders, as envisaged by the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Act, is a real concern. Admissions to care homes should have been stopped from the time relatives were stopped from visiting.

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So how was Virtual Conference for you?

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I am feeling a little delicate this morning. The Conference may have been virtual, but the hangover certainly isn’t. At my age, you would think I would know better than to sit up drinking with my friends in a virtual pub until 4am, but it certainly gave an authentic feel to the last night of our virtual Conference.

A week ago, I felt really gloomy as Facebook reminded me of Conferences past. I was really sad that I wasn’t packing up …

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The only way is Hybrid!

A few years ago I stood (unsuccessfully!) for election to the FCC on the basis that we needed to look at allowing people to take part in Conference remotely. I was given all sorts of reasons why it would not work – but it only took a few minutes on Friday afternoon to be abundantly clear that this was very much an idea whose time had come.

As the Conference went on that feeling only strengthened -fantastic speeches from first time speakers (my impression was more than usual), a vibrant chat box, far more people watching the debate and voting …

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What now is our “Path forward” to rejoin the European Union in the future?

Following today’s debate on our European position and deciding as I had hoped that we would move away from an undemocratic “revoke line” which did us as a party no good, and also stepped away from an immediate “hostage to fortune” rejoin line which would also bury us deep into oblivion, and yet we agreed to the strategic and wise move to hold back, listen to the voters not to our hearts and steadily rebuild our support on the matters of today – Covid being the most important to all our lives with a long term commitment to be a Member of the European Union in the future.

However, as a party we now have to build a message which will in time change hearts and minds on the value of our European membership. That means, emphasising from January onwards when we will have according to the withdrawal treaty properly brexited and on January 1st 2021 when we have to interlink the things we have lost to Brexit and gradually bring those issues to people’s attention.

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Speeches that got away – Supporting the Europe motion

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Written a speech for Conference and not been called? Send it to us at [email protected] and we’ll try and put it up during the debate so that your effort does not go to waste.

Over the years, our party line on the European Union has been consistent and resilient. Indeed, of all of our policies, it’s the one for which we are most known. Our credentials on Europe has led us to becoming the principal pro-EU party of the UK in the eyes of many. Our MEPs proudly wore anti-Brexit messages to the European Parliament. It is codified in our party’s constitution that we affirm the values of federalism and integration within the EU. Our dedication to pro-European values is not under threat.

But what is under threat, conference, is our message. Our presence in the minds of the public, already tenuous, may well be moribund should we neglect to represent those who would be hurt by a no-deal outcome. Conversely, should we abandon our commitment to Europe, I worry that it will be perceived as yet one more breach of trust. It is our steadfast and durable commitment to the anti-Brexit movement which sets us apart. That is why I believe that we should oppose no-deal now, and not rule out rejoining the EU in the future.

This is bigger than us as a party, and it is more than just our place in Europe that is under threat. It is the lives and livelihoods of Europeans in Britain, and Britons in Europe. It is our voice on the world stage. It is our poorest and most left-behind communities. Our values. Our security. It is even our human rights. That European values fall so closely to our own, conference, ought to encourage us to seek as close an alignment as possible with our friends on the Continent. That our future lies with Europe ought not to be under question.

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Fringe reports: Generous Society

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I feel slightly guilty because I haven’t found time yet to write about the beautiful and joyful Generous Society pamphlet that Julian Huppert wrote about recently.

This is a wonderful contrast to our recent habit of being as nuanced as we can to try to avoid upsetting people. It’s an antidote to the paint by numbers, soulless, brand based, dull centrist mush that we have been prone to cling to. Maybe one day we’ll learn that subtlety never won anything and that we need the sort of liberal heart and sprit that The Generous Society contains.

It has some superb illustrations and does not pull its punches:

No economist can calculate the beauty and wonder lost from our world because of the restrictions our society has placed on the freedom to create and contribute. We must reduce the burden on those who want the dignity and peace that comes with a secure, well-paid job – but instead find themselves ripped off, spied on, or otherwise mistreated by their employers. In a liberal society, you will not have to spend excessive physical and mental energy on basic needs.

I also liked the acknowledgement that in a liberal society, we recognise that there will be a small amount of  abuse of social security systems, but that the wider aim of ensuring that people have enough to meet their basic needs is more important.

In a fringe meeting on Friday, Julian Huppert chaired a discussion between Polly Mackenzie of Demos, Ailbhe Rea of the New Statesman and Generous Society author Tom King.

You can watch it here.

Ailbhe Rea said that her experience of her first Lib Dem conference was that we had a whole stack of policy but no underpinning vision.

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Observations of an ex pat: Shifting goalposts

If evidence was required of shifting global goalposts then diplomatic observers didn’t need to look any further than the start of this year’s UN General Assembly.

For a start, the General Assembly Hall was sparsely populated with socially distanced diplomats. Coronavirus has kept away the heads of state, government and foreign ministers who normally gather in the UN building on the west bank of New York’s East River. Instead, the speeches have been pre-recorded and displayed on the giant screen.

No politicos means no chance for the usual annual flurry of bilaterals where the real diplomatic business is done. It also means fewer opportunities for world leaders to make the 214-mile plane journey to Washington for a photo-op and short chat with the US President.

But all of the above are relatively speaking cosmetic changes compared to the rapidly moving substantive global shifts pushing the world down uncertain paths.

This is a big anniversary for the United Nations. It is 75 years since the organisation’s founding in October 1945. Europe had been devastated by World War Two. Politically the world was still Euro-centric with the end of the colonial era yet to be confirmed. Asia was a backwater. China was riven by civil war. The Soviet Union was threatening and the United States had emerged as the number one military, political and economic power.

The formation of the UN formally ended the roughly 150 years of American isolationism and catapulted Washington into the position of world policeman and bastion of democracy, capitalism and free trade.

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Time for acceptance and respect: Trans Rights at Conference

I am trans and about as out as it gets. I’m not ashamed to be trans and I’m not ashamed to be out.

But I am afraid to be out.

Perhaps there are trans or non-binary people in the UK who are not afraid to be out at the moment, but I don’t know any. Being trans or non-binary and out in the UK is a scary thing as attacks on who we are (as well as attacks on us for who we are) have skyrocketed.

Trans and non-binary people in the UK live in a country where the media is, for the greater part, hostile to us—hostile to the very idea that trans and non-binary people should exist without being questioned about our right to simply be ourselves.

The older LGBTQ+ community in the UK have seen this all before, of course. Hit pieces that depicted queer people as being dangerous to “normal” people. For the most part such attack lines in the mainstream press have all but gone.

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Virtual Conference shows how Lib Dem members can change our policy

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Adam Bernard, who was our candidate in Harrow East at the last General Election, and James Baillie, a leading voice in the Radical Association have spent much of the past five years trying to persuade the party of the merits of Universal Basic Income.  They campaigned and networked and worked with others, including the Social Liberal Forum to build the case for UBI. They have put huge amounts of energy into persuading people that this was the way to go.

When Coronavirus exposed the inadequacies of the social security safety net, they tried again to get this issue debated at Conference.

This time, it was not only chosen, but it had the full backing of the Parliamentary Party.

Last night, Adam proposed the motion which called on the party to campaign for a regular payment to all UK residents, funded in a socially just way and to ensure that people who need it still have access to support for housing and disability support.

He had the support of Jane Dodds, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader and long term advocate of UBI and Wendy Chamberlain, our DWP spokesperson. Christine Jardine had been making the case for UBI all over the media. She wrote in the Mirror yesterday that UBI could be our generation’s NHS:

A basic income will be the best, fairest and simplest way to safeguard the most vulnerable in society and care for those who need it.

At the time of the creation of the NHS, doubters opposed the idea at every turn, yet now we treasure it.

Through this crisis, our pride in the institution and in the principles which created it have been palpable.

That post-war generation’s achievement has been the salvation of so many in this one.

Providing a fixed universal income to everyone with no stigma attached has the potential to be our generation’s National Health Service.

We need the states role to be helping people out of poverty and creating the equality of opportunity that leads to a prosperous life.

We must free people from the insecurity and anxiety that this virus has created and will be with us long after we have beaten it, and instead empower them to live their lives with security, dignity and freedom.

There were some fantastic speeches in the debate on both sides. Concerns were raised about affordability and whether the payment would be sufficient to meet people’s needs. Sheffield’s Laura Gordon had technical problems and was cut off mid speech and had to come back in for her 90 seconds but made her concerns about practicality really well.

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Ten former MEPs write….Why now is not the right time to campaign to rejoin the EU

This weekend at our party conference we will debate our Europe motion, clarifying the party’s policy on our relations with and towards the EU.

The main focus of debate between members is likely to be around  ‘r’. Not the COVID ‘r’, which we have all become used to, but the Brexit ‘r’ word – rejoin. 

We all remember the joy we felt last May when our representation in Europe went from one solitary MEP, Catherine Bearder, to a surprisingly fulsome group of 16 from right across the country – several of whom had not expected to be elected. 

It was a symbol of how strongly people felt about Brexit, and, thanks to a proportional electoral system, their commitment to EU membership was reflected in our election result. 

I can honestly say no one in the party, or outside it, regrets our departure from Europe more strongly than the 16 of us. 

But the world has changed since 31st January beyond what any of us could have imagined.

Hard though it is to accept, for those of us who fought tooth and nail to stop Brexit, most people’s attention is now far more  are now far more focused distracted by on COVID and the implications it is having for their families and jobs, the economy, education and our health and social care services. 

As a party, it would be wise for us  to focus on the fact that only 2% of UK voters now think Brexit is the most important issue facing us. We are back to the sort of numbers seen before the EU referendum was even a thing. Remember that? When no one ever talked about our relationship with Europe – except the Daily Mail!

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Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country

Today, we have published a new report with the Social Liberal Forum “Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country“. We have done so because we passionately believe the Lib Dems must learn from last year’s catastrophic election defeat, not only for the good of the party and Liberalism, but because if we don’t the Conservative will rule for another decade.

We present evidence of the scale of what went wrong last December and ideas on what needs to change. Some of this is about data collection, analysis and improved message testing. But our report is also about the party’s strategic positioning, relative to the voter groups we need to win over.

The challenge in front of us is to build a coalition that spans voter tribes labelled in the report as the Green Left, Older Establishment Liberals, Progressive Cosmopolitans, Young Insta-Progressives, Centre-Left Pragmatists, Mainstream Tories and into the Younger Disengaged and the Older Disillusioned. In the latter two groups, the majority currently do not vote at all.

Our argument is that this coalition can only be built by a fundamentally progressive and socially liberal turn that consigns Cleggism and “equidistance” to the past. The Lib Dems must fight from the centre left but rather than being a pale imitation of Labour, must offer our own distinct, Liberal alternative to the Conservatives. The research in the report shows that the voter tribes we need to attract will support us on social justice, environmentalism, and internationalism. It shows we will get support if we attack unaccountable and over-concentrated private sector power. It shows that we can tap into new sources of support in disillusioned communities, young and old, if we challenge over-concentrated public power too. It shows we can win if we expand citizen voice and use it to erode the toxic perception that politicians are out of touch, a perception that helps drive support for right wing populists who claim to speak for ‘the people’.

But our report also shows that we should move on to territory that some in our potential voter coalition care about and that we often ignore. Issues like patriotism and social order matter to some voter tribes where we have strong potential to grow our support.

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Pensioners, You never had it so good…

…or so some people in this government want you to think

Everyone needs to ensure they get a good pension at the end of the day. So join Lib Dems Overseas Fringe Event: Frozen Pensions to Lost Pensions at the autumn conference 1pm  on Sunday 27 September to update yourselves on the politics of pensions and campaign to safeguard your future!

For decades the UK state pension lagged seriously behind the growth in average earnings. In 2011 the coalition government introduced a formula to protect pensions against the vagaries of inflation. It introduced a mechanism to guaranteeing that the state pension would rise every year by the highest of the following:

–  The rise in average earnings

–  The rise in the Consumer Price Index

–   Or 2.5%

It was called the Triple Lock and was hailed with great fanfare.

But no-one foresaw the coronavirus and the need to spend billions of pounds to shore up the economy and protect jobs.  Where would money to pay for it come from? One soft target identified is – you guessed it – the Triple Lock. The rationale is that earnings and prices this year could fall, yet pensioners would still get the 2.5%. Then, the following year pensions could surge in line with fast-rising earnings.

But those who think that our pensioners are spoilt are probably unaware of the fact that in 2019 the OECD provided data showing that the UK state pension was the worst in the developed world, paying only 29% of average earnings. By comparison, the Netherlands led the table at 100%. Mexico was closest to the UK at 29.6% while the average across the OECD was 62.9%.

What about occupational pensions?

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Bruno says why he is a Lib Dem

The Lib Dems might have had a bit of a rollercoaster year along with the rest of the world, but we do at least appear to be winning over the support of the young (and we mean young) generation.

Listen to smart, inspirational schoolboy Bruno Tollett, aged 13, explain why he’s a Liberal Democrat and plans to vote Lib Dem when he turns 18 in 2025.

Could we be looking at a Lib Dem star of the future?

 

Lib Dem Voice has obtained parental permission to share this video.

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New Europeans

Embed from Getty Images

So we are talking about the European Union again.

Some might say we never stopped but the decision we make on this issue at this weekend’s Federal Conference is one of the most important the party has made in many years. In doing so I hope those present bear in my mind that, although the overwhelming majority of Lib Dem activists and members are pro EU, that is not the case amongst the electorate at large.

Conference fever, something I am all too familiar with, resulted in the adoption of the Revoke policy last year; a decision that no one at the top of the party seemed to be in favour of after a disastrous General Election defeat.

What needs to be understood is there is a strand of euroscepticism in Britain that stretches back decades, which is why we didn’t join the Common Market when it was formed and also why Harold Wilson held a referendum in 1975. At that point it was probably fair to say that there was majority support for economic links with our European neighbours; I would argue that it is quite likely that there still is. The transformation of the market into a political union was never put to the people and after Maastricht in 1992 British euroscepticism took on a new lease of life which culminated in the 2016 decision in favour of Brexit.

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