Category Archives: Op-eds

Norman is right: Common Market 2.0 was the compromise the Lib Dems should have made

I have immense respect for Norman Lamb.

While some of the language he has deployed in the last day and a half has been a little strong for my liking, I sympathise completely with his frustrations.

On Monday night, four Liberal Democrat MPs joined dozens of pro-referendum MPs from other parties in voting down the Brexit option being pushed by Nick Boles, referred to as ‘Common Market 2.0’, or sometimes as ‘Norway plus’. Only two Liberal Democrats – Lamb and former leader Tim Farron – voted in favour of Common Market 2.0.

In so doing, these four Lib Dem MPs spurned the opportunity to win a majority for a Brexit outcome that is 90% of what membership of the EU is.

The Common Market 2.0 plan would maintain Britain’s membership of the single market. It would preserve the four freedoms of that market, including freedom of movement. The plan includes a customs arrangement that would avoid the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland and would allow the UK to continue to benefit from the EU’s trade deals with other countries. The only real drawback to the plan is that it would require the UK to follow single market rules and regulations without having any formal say on how those rules are made.

Common Market 2.0 is inferior to membership of the EU, but not by very much. Moreover, this plan has a chance of bringing our divided nation back together. It gives leave voters what they want, by ensuring the UK leaves the EU, while respecting those of us who voted remain and want to protect our existing rights.

Tagged , , and | 36 Comments

The Battle for Young Britain

The photograph (credit: Leslye Stanbury) made me catch my breath when I saw it on Facebook.

These were obviously young people from Hastings & Rye – where I live; and where I was our parliamentary candidate for the last three General Elections.

It is easy to go along with the narrative in the left-leaning press outlets that I read: that our young people are instinctively progressive – anti-racist, environmentalist, socially liberal. And yet, clearly – as the photo proves – this isn’t so all across the country.

On some level it makes sense that there would be some Hastings young folk at the pro-Brexit demonstration. The constituency voted pretty clearly to Leave (55% to 45%) back in 2016.

And yet I found it genuinely sad and disappointing that we have obviously failed these young people in particular – failed to persuade them that membership of the European Union has serious benefits for them, and for their future.

Tagged , , and | 27 Comments

May says she will work with Labour to find a scapegoat / break deadlock/kick can down the road (pick your own metaphor)

An extraordinary cabinet meeting today. Robert Peston called it possibly the most important cabinet meeting in 50 years. All ministers’ phones were confiscated and ministers were locked in a cupboard “until the PM had decided what they decided”, (using Peston’s words).

The PM says she is taking action to break the log jam by sitting down with Corbyn to agree a plan. …Either to agree an option to put to MPs or, if none can be agreed, agree a series of options to put to MPs, with the winner (which there probably won’t be) being implemented by the government.

Tagged and | 16 Comments

Manchester Lib Dems aren’t mincing their words: “Not putting up with this sh*t any more”

At the moment, just two Liberal Democrat Councillors provide the only opposition to Labour’s 94 in Manchester City Council. Just three years ago, they had no opposition at all.

In that sort of environment you have to be a bit scrappy and hungry to get noticed.

Manchester Lib Dems’ manifesto for the forthcoming local elections is not taking any prisoners.

John Leech, former Lib Dem MP for Withington, who does his best to provide punchy opposition to Labour, had this to say:

I hate to say it, but there will never be a time when there are no problems in Manchester.

But the most important thing is to wake up every morning and decide what you’re going to do about today’s problems. And then tomorrow’s.

I am so sick and tired of working in a town hall that implements the most right-wing agenda in the country, so we’ve laid out exactly the kind of city we will build from Day One; a tolerant, compassionate and transparent city that works for everyone.

It is a vision created by people who woke up one day and thought, ‘You know what? I’m not putting up with this anymore.’

And if you too get to the end of our manifesto – or perhaps earlier – and also think ‘Yep, you know what? I’m not putting up with this anymore either,’ then it’s time to join us and fight for our city.

On the first day of a Lib Dem administration, they would:

4 Comments

Another excellent Lib Dem conference in York

As we move on into April and March 2019 passes, I am grateful to the many Lib Dems from across the country who visited York last month to participate in what was another fantastic Spring Conference in York.

Visit York have estimated that that this year’s Spring Conference has provided a substantial £600,000 boost to the local economy and as the Executive Member at the Council responsible for Economic Development, I would like to say thank you to everyone who ventured beyond the conference centre to enjoy our wonderful city! 

Not only did York experience an economic boost over the weekend, but a number of visits and events took place to promote some of the work Liberal Democrat Councillors are achieving in York.

On the Friday afternoon, I was delighted to show Sir Vince Cable MP York’s new temporary accommodation site for the homeless; James House.  James House has been funded by both the Council and Homes England, with the Council providing over £9 million of funding to deliver new one, two and three bedroom flats, as well as training facilities, to support homeless families.

On the same day, my colleague Cllr Andrew Waller also took Vince on his own bus ride, in order to see the work we are doing at the Council to tackle air pollution and encourage sustainable transport.  The bus was one of York’s most recent electric buses and on their journey; they had the opportunity to see one of York’s newest electric charging hubs at Monks Cross Park & Ride.

Tagged and | Leave a comment

General election suggestion: Spinning the Rubik’s cube again is not going to solve the puzzle

Rubiks cube by keqs

This morning, Theresa May is holding an extended “political cabinet”. That is usually an indicator that the cabinet is considering initiating a general election. The meeting will start with a review of polling. I only hope that May either decides not to hold a GE or that parliament don’t support it. It will solve nothing whatsoever except to give false hope of a solution to the Brexit conundrum. It would be like this: You spend hours trying to solve a Rubik’s cube, then come within a few squares of solving it but, in frustration, you randomly spin the whole Rubik’s cube and set yourself back to the starting position. Nothing is solved.

Tagged and | 11 Comments

A fair deal for our care workers

The nation’s care workers are getting a raw deal and have been for some years now. This has been highlighted by many including our own party’s Health and Social Care Working Group. In ten years overseeing the care of someone in need of help I saw at first hand the reality of life for those at the sharp end. What I witnessed was nothing short of a scandal.

Workers paid just the minimum wage, expected to do extradinarily long shifts which took no account of working time regulations, travel time unpaid, breaks if they actually had them spent doing paperwork and …

Tagged and | 6 Comments

Consensual voting

Please, please, please can the Liberal Democrat MPs encourage the House of Commons to use a consensual voting system for the indicative vote today. The voting last Thursday showed how pointless voting in a competitive way is, when every option could be voted down.

What is needed is, yes, a vote for however many options are required, but also the ability to indicate what everyone’s least bad option is as well. The proposition that wins will then have a combination of positive votes plus additional affirmation from others for whom it is the least bad option. This would then be an …

Tagged and | 23 Comments

Typical short sighted, illiberal rhetoric on knife crime from Tories

When I was growing up people used to refer to a “crime” known as walking down the street in London while being black. People from BAME communities were disproportionately targeted fro stop and search and the like by the Police. Their concerns were not taken seriously.

Twenty years ago the Macpherson Report into the stabbing of Stephen Lawrence found that London’s Metropolitan Police were “institutionally racist.” A BBC report for its 20th anniversary showed that some think that is still the case.

So it’s troubling, if unsurprising, that the Tory Government in power 20 years on thinks that the appropriate response to the terrifying problem of knife crime is to give the Police more stop and search powers. It’s an illiberal response which just won’t work. The evidence from Scotland suggests that treating knife crime as a public health rather than a purely judicial thing is the most effective approach.

Ed Davey said:

Tagged and | 8 Comments

For Transgender Day of Visibility – Scottish Lib Dems stand up for trans people’s rights

Today is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility. It comes at a time when trans people and particularly trans women face daily attacks in the media just for being who they are.

Last month, Scottish Lib Dems passed a motion calling for reform of the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for trans people to get new birth certificates, for all Lib Dem politicians to be robust in their support of trans people and for the media to be more responsible in their reporting. After all, there is a certain irony in the biggest media outlets in the land regularly carrying articles or broadcasts from people complaining that their voices had been silenced and they weren’t allowed to question trans rights.

An amendment repeated many of the false claims in the media that somehow women’s rights were under threat from trans rights.

It was defeated by some margin. I summated that motion. Here is my speech:

As Liberals, we have a duty to stand with any group of people under attack. Trans people in this country are constantly marginalised and are the target of well-funded misinformation. Last Autumn, a transphobic group took out a full page advertisement in a daily newspaper. These groups use the same tactics as the likes of Nigel Farage. He demonised immigrants, they demonise transgender people.  We can’t stand for that.

By passing this motion, unamended, we show that we will not stand for it.

And we should remember that when the claims made about transgender people and the organisations that support them are tested in the light of day, they are found wanting. Anti trans groups were successful in getting a review of a proposed grant to the brilliant charity Mermaids, which supports gender diverse children. This week, that review concluded that Mermaids should get their money. It’s worth mentioning that Mermaids have also benefited from an additional £270,000 from a DonkeyKongathon (I didn’t know what Donkey Kong was either, don’t worry) by a YouTuber who had been incensed by the attacks on the organisation. Celebrities and politicians including Alexandria Ocasio Cortez took part.

My highlight of Federal Conference in Brighton last year was a meeting that Lib Dem Voice hosted with the aim of putting some light and kindness into an atmosphere that had become toxic south of the border. In Scotland, it is much less so. Feminist and LGBT organisations worth together to advance rights for all. They see women’s rights and trans rights as entirely complementary.Neither has anything to fear from the other.

So I invited Emma Ritch, the Director of Engender and James Morton, the Director of the Scottish Transgender Alliance to talk about how their joint work.

Emma spoke about how a comparatively well-funded voluntary sector and a Government determined to make sure services were trans-inclusive helped. She said that there had been some difficult conversations and questions, but that what she called the “institutional kindness” of the Scottish Transgender Alliance had done so much to foster knowledge and understanding. She said that “radical kindness” was a key element in bringing people together.

Conference, there is no kindness in this amendment. Even though the people who submitted it I know to be kind people.

It seeks to solve a problem that does not exist and to pit feminists and lgbt activists against each other.

Women are women. And trying to draw divisions between cis and trans over who gets women’s rights is exactly the divide and conquer tactics used by the people who want to diminish *all* women’s rights.

Who want to diminish all human rights.

Anything that takes rights away from a woman just because she is trans, takes rights away from me and you.

The struggle for equality is one where we should all be fighting shoulder to shoulder.

Tagged and | 1 Comment

Group B Strep – screening babies saves lives

Imagine you are a carrier of something that could be deadly. As a carrier you could passively, inadvertently, through absolutely no fault of your own bring about harm, even mortal harm, to your newborn child? What if the NHS, though it had the opportunity to find out, did not trouble to screen you for this thing you carry and therefore offer you the anti-biotics in childbirth which would keep your baby safe?

Sounds awful doesn’t it? But the NHS fails to screen pregnant women and provide them with the information that they might carry Group B Streptococcus. As a result women pass on that infection to 700 babies a year who become very dangerously ill with Group B Strep related meningitis and or sepsis or pneumonia.

Incidence is on the up, with on average a baby dying of Group B Strep infection every week. Studies show that very close to half of children who survive are left with some kind of educational impairment.

As a campaigner I feel a tremendous sense of ground hog day style failure about Group B Strep. Fourteen years ago I went to a meeting chaired by David Cameron with other parents who had had GBS babies. I was one of the lucky ones as my baby survived her infection. The Labour junior minister who addressed us was unbelievably callous telling the bereaved parents they were too close to the issue to weigh up the pros and cons of screening for GBS. More recently bereaved parents also got short shrift for their petition on screening from a junior Tory minister who did not even express condolences.

Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Whatever happens with Brexit, our MPs and Journalists need to feel safe

Last weekend’s People’s Vote March passed off peacefully. I missed it because it was my daughters birthday but it would have been an amazing family atmosphere.

Yesterday by contrast, saw disgraceful scenes outside Parliament. A Channel 4 film crew was jostled by pro Brexit protestors. One person was arrested for assaulting a police officer  in central London and additional arrests were made.

Frankly we should hardly be surprised.

Perhaps this was a reaction to Nigel Farage’s call for a “revolution” to save British politics in the Daily Telegraph on Brexit day?

In 2017, Farage also told us that he would “pick up a rifle” if Brexit isn’t delivered.

Betrayal is at the core of their message. No matter that the language of war has already seen one MP killed or that others have received death threats to the point that Anna Soubry was told by police not to go home last weekend.

When Soubry was labeled a Nazi by one protestor before Christmas, fellow MP Kate Hoey re-tweeted a piece by spiked which talked about the “confected outrage” over the incident. If a fellow MP won’t stand up for you in the face of such aggression, then something has gone badly wrong in our democracy.

This febrile atmosphere has also been created by the Prime Minister herself with her ill judged attempt to pit MPs against the people last week in a desperate attempt to get her deal through Parliament. Her friends in the media have never taken the time to apologize for penning by lines about judges being “enemies of the people” or rebel Tory MPs being “mutineers and saboteurs”.

Tagged and | 11 Comments

Article 50: Into extra time

I suspect I was far from the only Liberal Democrat who had a stiff drink pre-arranged for 11pm last night , to drown my sorrows if the UK did crash out of the European Union. The notice of a reprieve was quite short, but for Remainers the threat still hangs over us, like the sword of Damocles. As Article 50 moves into extra time, the EU has made clear that it is serious that 12 April is the next deadline, just two weeks away, when a No Deal scenario will snap into effect as the default option unless the British government manages to produce a rabbit out of the hat.

Alas, our zombie Prime Minister, Theresa May, is incapable of such magic. Indeed, she has already paraded her dead parrot of a Withdrawal Agreement three times to no effect, yesterday  afternoon serving it up without the accompanying political declaration. It was still defeated by nearly 60 votes, Nigel Dodds of the DUP declaring that his party would rather stay in the EU than agree to it.

The House of Commons vote was live-streamed to a packed The UK in a Changing Europe conference on “Article50: Two Years On” at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre opposite Parliament, prompting a big cheer from most of those present. But have we in fact now been granted anything more than another fortnight to enjoy the EU sun? Or are we heading for a new referendum at some stage, when, as polling guru Sir John Curtice told the conference, voters have polarised to two extreme alternatives: No Deal or Remain?

Tagged , , , and | 48 Comments

40 years ago today: Liberals win Edge Hill by-election

On 29 March 1979, polls opened in the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election less than 9 hours after the bombshell vote of no-confidence in Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government which I wrote about last night. 

Whoever was elected could potentially not be MP for very long.

It was Liberal David Alton who grabbed the seat from Labour with a massive 30.2% swing.

He took his seat the next week, made his maiden speech 3 hours later and fought the election on 3 May where he consolidated his win, albeit with a reduced majority.

He remained an MP for the next 18 years. In 1983, the seat’s boundaries changed, making it much more marginal. In 1997, the boundaries changed again, making it the safe Labour seat it has been ever since. Alton stood down at that election.

Tagged , and | 5 Comments

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Wera Hobhouse: This must go back to the people

Wera Hobhouse made the case for a People’s Vote in the Commons on Wednesday. You can watch her speech here.  At the time of writing the embedding thing was broken.

The text follows:

In 2016, 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU. Today, after almost three years, we still have at least six different Brexit versions in front of us. None of them was on the ballot paper for the people to vote for in 2016. Each defender of their Brexit option makes some claim that it represents the will of the people. That is why we need to test the will of the people in 2019 and to give them a specific Brexit option versus the option of staying in the EU.

Personally, I am pretty agnostic about what is a better or worse Brexit option. All I want to see as an outcome of today’s exercise is that whatever Brexit option we decide on here is put back to the people. The people might reconfirm that they wish to leave the EU, but in 2019, everybody who wants to leave the EU will know exactly what they are voting for rather than there being a long wish list of hopes, aspirations and undeliverable promises. Yes, referendums are difficult, but they are democratic. We should not be threatened by those who tell us that they will riot in the streets if there is another referendum.

Tagged , and | 25 Comments

On austerity: Some questions and comments

“The person who proves me wrong is my friend”.

Austerity seems to involve a set of theories and practices whereby the financial and economic matters which resulted in the “crisis” of 2008 are addressed. This seems to involve reducing governmental expenditure on infrastructures so that such expenditure matches or approaches the taxation income. Any difference between infrastructure expenditure and tax revenue seems to be met by governmental borrowing. This facet of Economics seems to be based upon the premises and assumptions of current Economics theory and practice.

The precipitating factors in the crisis are to be found in the USA with its housing boom and the growth in Collateralised Debt obligations and Credit Default Swaps . The three biggest rating agencies gave erroneously optimistic assessments and lots of them. Some financial corporations went bankrupt, some were taken over by the government and some were bailed out. The global financial system became paralysed. Layoffs and foreclosures continued with unemployment rising to 10%. During this financial bubble, the financiers frittered money on the high life and when it burst the personal fortunes of the financial bosses remained intact.

We were affected by this because of our close connections with the USA and our similar circumstances of inappropriate financial regulation, banks being excessively concerned with prioritising profit and income above national economic welfare, weak corporate media analysis, and general public ignorance of economics made worse by the “misinformation spread by the economics profession”. We too have had a “leverage bubble that drove asset prices skyward whilst starving British industry of development capital. We do also have an excessive Private Debt to GDP ratio which is a foundation of the crisis – 70% in 1939: c.160%  in 2017. 

 Alas, Austerity has a net negative effect on the economy and underperformed in deficit reduction. In 2010 it was stated that the deficit would be eliminated by 2015. In 2017/18 the deficit was £40.7 billion, wages had the biggest collapse on record and the mega-rich have doubled their wealth. Might this affect the demand for support infrastructures and reduce tax returns?

Tagged , and | 27 Comments

Observations of an ex pat: The Northern Irish Tail Wagging the British Lion

The British government, the Brexit process and parliament are being held to ransom by ten MPs who represent a narrow sectarian community who since the 17th century have used every dirty trick imaginable to cling to their precarious political perch in Northern Ireland.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could care less about the rest of Britain. In fact, they don’t even consider the majority of the Northern Ireland electorate, who voted to remain in the EU.

Every political decision that they make is judged through the prism of the Protestant Ascendancy and political separation from Catholic Southern Ireland.  That is best achieved through the tightest possible links with mainland Britain on the other side of the Irish Sea.  The EU—and specifically Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement—threatens those links.

The tale is an old one. The English have been in and out of Ireland since Norman times, but in the 17th century the battle for dominance in Ireland was injected with an incurable religious virus.  England broke with Rome and Ireland remained steadfastly loyal to the Vatican. Protestant England now had a God-given right to conquer Ireland and the Catholic Irish didn’t help by supporting anyone who opposed the Protestant cause in England and Scotland. After a series of successive military victories, the English concluded that the best way to maintain political power in their troublesome Catholic neighbour was to kick Catholics off their land and give it to Protestant settlers.

Fast forward to the twentieth century. The Catholic Irish have persuaded London to let them break from Great Britain and establish the Irish Free State—except for the Protestant-dominated Ulster Plantation. The Protestant majority in the six counties arm themselves and threaten a civil war if they are broken away from the United Kingdom .  Westminster responds by splitting the country—two thirds becomes the Irish Free State and the northern third remains in the United Kingdom.

11 Comments

Parliamentary psychodrama, knife edge votes, dependent on Northern Irish Unionist votes…

Sound familiar.

I’m not describing the current tense parliamentary situation.

Forty years ago tonight, at 10pm, a vote of no confidence in Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government was called.

It was always going to be a knife edge.

This evening, BBC Parliament broadcast a programme, A Parliamentary Coup, describing the events surrounding that vote, the referendum which led to it (the Scottish devolution referendum) and the very human stories behind it.

One particular story brought to mind the dishonourable breaking of Jo Swinson’s pair by Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis. It was an opportunistic breaking of an agreement.

Compare and contrast with a conversation between the Labour and Conservative whips Walter Harrison and Bernard Wetherill, who would later become Commons Speaker.

They had a gentleman’s agreement that they would always pair sick MPs. On this occasion, Wetherill said that he couldn’t offer a pair for the gravely ill Labour MP Doc Broughton, but to honour the agreement, he wouldn’t vote himself. Harrison wouldn’t let him take that career-ending step.

I hope that the programme will appear on iPlayer soon. 

David Steel was the Liberal Leader at that time. You can read his whole speech in which he explained why he would be voting against the Government here.

In doing so he made the case for fixed term Parliaments, which were, of course, introduced the the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government.

Tagged , , and | 6 Comments

Beyond Brexit – Not Quite

Sir Vince Cable has published a booklet “Beyond Brexit: Liberal Politics for the Age of Identity” How well does it stand up to its billing as a roadmap for the future of liberalism? And does it indeed get us beyond Brexit? Arguably it comes rather late and could have provided a corrective to the obsession that has constrained the party over the past few years.

“Age of Identity” rather strangely labels what is called a new form of political alignment with its extreme illiberal manifestation: exclusive identity based on national, religious, racial or linguistic characteristics, implying these views dominate yet we live in a liberal constitutional order. What is important is the spectrum of opinion that sees openness and freedom at one end and a closed protectionism at the other; getting the party away for the bland centrist label.

On Cable’s own admission the booklet is not comprehensive but deals with issues that draw largely on his experience as Secretary of State and adds thoughts on, among other topics, migration, housing and the green economy. Without providing a chapter by chapter analysis, the briefest of summary is: inoffensive. This article discusses the articulation of the liberal vs. social democrat tension and the roadmap itself.

5 Comments

Indicative votes – where do they leave us?

Embed from Getty Images

The Guardian has a breakdown of the indicative votes last night, and a tool so that you can find out how your MP voted.

First of all, the indicative vote process is very much to be welcomed. It should have happened a lot earlier and been repeated at regular intervals IMHO.

We are seeing a preferential voting system of sorts here – there will hopefully be a further “second round” process next Monday.

Last night’s vote showed the Customs Union and the People’s Vote option emerging as front-runners. I think we can be optimistic that this is the beginning of a positive process.

Yesterday we had Steve Baker, from the Conservative European Reform Group, saying:

I could tear this place down and bulldoze it into the river. These fools and knaves and cowards are voting on things they don’t even understand.

The problem is that he can’t have it both ways. People who want to “take back control” from the EU, need to decide what they want. They either want a Parliamentary Representative Democracy where the people elect representatives who then study the issues and decide upon them. Or they want a Swiss system of frequent, often repetitive plebescites. If Steve Baker wants to bulldoze parliament, what does he want in its place?

Vince Cable has provided a succinct summary of the situation now, describing last night as “A big win”:

Last night, the House of Commons predictably failed to alight on a single way forward on Brexit – but the centre of gravity is a lot clearer than it was.

A record 268 MPs voted with the Liberal Democrats for a people’s vote. This was the most popular vote of the night and got more votes than the Prime Minister’s deal has ever got.

While no proposal commanded a majority, the largest support is for a People’s Vote.

And we discovered yesterday that Theresa May is, at last, accepting the inevitable by preparing to leave office. Her dogged attempts to “deliver Brexit” – with Jeremy Corbyn’s help – have cost her her job.

Yet the Prime Minister nonetheless appears to be planning to make one final attempt at securing her deal tomorrow.

The fact she thinks she could have a chance of winning demonstrates the cynicism of her opponents in the Tory Party. Until very recently they were telling us – as an absolute principle – that they could not support her deal under any circumstances.

They now fear Brexit is at risk.

And they are right.

After three years of campaigning, public opinion has decisively moved in favour of remaining in the EU, with 60% indicating they would support staying in the EU in a new referendum, nearly 6 million demanding revocation of Article 50, and more than a million marching with us last weekend.

It is absolutely crucial that we keep campaigning and keep the pressure up on MPs in other parties to support us.

It is clearer than ever is that however, the Government proceeds the public must have the final say.

Tagged and | 20 Comments

A momentary lapse

Now, I am not the sort of person that hurls toast and marmalade at the radio every time a politician trots onto the Today programme and proceeds to make a claim of dubious validity, however, yesterday morning (Wednesday 27 March), there was a momentary lapse in my usually calm demeanour.

I had just heard Jacob Rees-Mogg say that his signature has been added to the petition to revoke Article 50. How does he know this? Does somebody with access to the data, feed confidential information to members of parliament?

Another way to “know” that somebody had submitted a signature in the name of Jacob Rees-Mogg would be to arrange a false submission to discredit the petition deliberately. Who would do such a thing and who would then tell Jacob Rees-Mogg that it had been done?

Another way to discredit the 6 million signatures would be to say that the signatures have been manipulated by the Russians – again, a claim that I heard on Radio 4. How would a politician know that the Russians are manipulating the signatures on the petition? Where is the evidence? Does the politician have the evidence and, if they do, will they present this to the relevant authorities – or are they unconcerned about Russian intervention in a democratic process?

Tagged , , and | 11 Comments

Cable: Shifting centre of gravity signals People’s Vote is option MPs can’t put down

This evening’s Indicative Votes in the House of Commons have shown that significant support has shifted towards giving the people the final say on Brexit.

The confirmatory referendum received more support than Theresa May’s deal and was the most popular option on the order paper.

Commenting, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said: 

“As anticipated, the Commons has not produced an absolutely clear way forward, but it is clearer where the centre of gravity now is.

“What is essential is that whichever Brexit option the government pursues, it is put to the public in a confirmatory referendum. We have led calls for a People’s Vote for

Also posted in News | 32 Comments

Jo Swinson MP writes: Another week of Brexit chaos, another week of government ignoring the big issues

On Monday morning the ONS revealed that 1.5 million workers in England alone could lose their jobs to automation, with young people, women and the low-skilled most at risk. Just as we start yet another week of absolute chaos in Parliament over Brexit, I am seriously concerned that no one in Government is thinking about how technology will shape our society.

As liberals, we instinctively embrace change, and we want to harness technological progress to solve challenges from disease to climate change. However, we must take steps now to ensure that everyone in society benefits from that progress. This is why we have called on companies with more than 250 employees to develop plans to support staff vulnerable to automation, and for Government to grant every adult £9,000 over their lifetime to fund lifelong learning.

Also on Monday morning, I hosted the second meeting of the Lib Dem Tech Commission together with Professor Sue Black. We started with a discussion about what kind of economy we want to build and broadly agreed that as a country we need to be better at encouraging entrepreneurship and at encouraging individuals to make mistakes and learn from failure.

However, to try something and be comfortable with failing is a luxury that only few can afford at the moment. As a society, we need to offer much stronger safety nets to ensure that many others can transform their ideas into successful businesses.

Also posted in News | Tagged and | 10 Comments

Time to be the Party of Local Government again

It’s local election time – indeed for someone, somewhere each April and May it is always a local election year. Of late, over the recent years you could be forgiven for not noticing – we Liberal Democrats have, somehow and for some reason, ceased to be “The Party of Local Government”.

For the first time in nearly a decade I have thrown myself back into the front line of party politics – so irritated am I by the body politic that I have concluded that locally, on my small patch of British, I might be the answer. So I am nominated to be a Liberal Democrat candidate for the Brockwell Ward of Chesterfield Borough Council. If it all goes wrong and I win (joke!) then I will be one of what we hope will be several gains from Labour in Chesterfield.

I am following a good tradition locally – the Ward has been previously held by Nicky Qazi, Roland Beckingham, Ray Russell and more. All giants of localism and liberal democracy in Chesterfield and indeed Derbyshire. Maureen Davenport is our sole remaining councillor in the three-member Ward and is defending her seat – Focus willing, we will re-elect Maureen and make two gains for the Liberal Democrats in this Ward.

Also posted in News | Tagged | 14 Comments

I’ve reached 1.4 million people in the last month, and I am quite proud of that

A little over three years ago, just as Cameron named the date for the 2016 Europe referendum, I set up a Facebook page as a place to … well, I wasn’t sure, to be honest … however, I knew I wanted to campaign online as well as face-to-face.

I threw myself into that referendum campaign. I did plenty of street campaigning right across the South West, speaking with voters in places like Truro, St Austell, Liskeard and Plymouth as well as Taunton, Stroud, Bristol and Bournemouth.

Also when I wasn’t shuttling between high streets wearing the uniform of the time – an “I’m IN” T-shirt is worn tightly and awkwardly over all one’s other clothes – I was populating that Facebook page with news, links that helped willing volunteers to find local campaign opportunities, and a whole host of other things.

Moreover, that has never stopped. Now, three years later, the Campaign to Remain – keep Britain in Europe Facebook page is a community of over 55,000 people. In the last four weeks alone the page’s posts have reached 1.4 million people and generated 1.3 million engagements – that’s likes, comments, clicks on links, etc. The top post alone has been seen by 135,300 people and generated 49,900 engagements.

Also posted in News | Tagged | 3 Comments

2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 2

Read part 1 here:

As Prime Minister Rutte had announced in his press conference on Saturday, when Parliament reconvened on Tuesday, 24th April, his Chancellor (Finance cabinet minister) Jan Cornelis de Jager started doing the rounds with all opposition parties. He was surprised when, arriving in the meeting room of the D66 parliamentary party, he found the leaders and Treasury spokespeople not only of D66, but also of GroenLinks and ChU sitting there to confer with him on a new Dutch budget package for Brussels.  In telephone (and email) rounds on Sunday, and meetings on Monday, the top people of these three parties had hammered out a common set of adjustment proposals to put to the Rutte government. Mr. De Jager played along finding this convenient, but also conferred with all other opposition parties. Dutch Labour (PvdA), back then still a big party in parliament, refused to join the “Kunduz” trio because they thought Netherlands shouldn’t strictly adhere to the 3% GDP norm (Dutch Neokeynesianism was invented by the PvdA in the late 1940’s).

Within two days of furious negotiating, on Thursday April 26th, the coalition government parties VVD and CDA, and the trio D66, GroenLinks and ChU had hammered out the outlines of an adjusted package. Coincidentally they together represented 77 of the 150 Commons seats; another orthodox protestant party SGP, 3 MP’s) joined it, and the “Kunduz Coaltion” or “Spring Agreement” package was agreed by the Second Chamber that evening. It was sent off to Brussels immediately, only just before the EMU/SGP.

The priorities of the three opposition parties shone through in the adjustments made.

D66 got the raising of the state pension age from 65 to 67 years of age (a point we had been hammering away at in opposition from 2007 onwards) and reinstatement of the low VAT tariff for theatrical performances; ChU got cuts on subsidizing palliative care for the dying removed. Being three decidedly internationalist opposition parties, we also got the 0.7% GDP norm for development aid reinstated; and being three just as decidedly green parties, we got green measures inserted (coal-fired electrical power plants started paying coal tax along with all other enterprises; investing in/subsidizing home isolation and durable ways of building houses and edifices). D66 and GroenLinks even got VVD and CDA to start diminishing Mortgage Interest Tax Relief on private home-owners (a sacred cow until then). We had to swallow some other things of course (raising the upper VAT tariff from 19 to 21%; scrapping tax freedom from employee allowances for home-work travel expenses). But we (D66) were proud as Punch that we helped the Netherlands adhere to EMU norms we entered into under the Maastricht Treaty and EMU agreements. ECSC/EEC/EU founder Netherlands remained a faithful member, losing the PVV obstructionists (who since withered in opposition).

Tagged and | Leave a comment

Indicative Votes – An alternative to the Meaningful Vote, Three

There is an old saying that goes “You couldn’t make it up” the drama of the last few weeks in parliament where Theresa May has been trying to get her deal passed has, in my opinion, been scandalous. May in her first attempt suffered the largest defeat in parliamentary history, followed by a second attempt when she faced the fourth largest defeat in history. Theresa May has not changed any of her red lines and then went on national television to blame MPs (how to win friends and influence people, Theresa May style). The only reason some of the MPs …

Also posted in News | Tagged and | 45 Comments

Revoking Article 50 would not break our democracy

So the Government was defeated twice last night, which paves the way for MPs to set the agenda on Wednesday.

However, it managed to see off a perfectly reasonable amendment from Margaret Beckett which would have made sure that the House would have had control of what would have happened if we got to 7 days from the deadline with no deal in place.

This amendment was defeated by 3 votes. 8 Labour MPs voted with the Government against it.

The fact that so many votes are so finely balanced is really worrying. Theresa May would see getting her Brexit deal through by one vote as a victory. That would mean probably a decade of uncertainty and a whole generation pretty much sold down the river.

If you are making a major life choice, for example getting married or, I guess, the more appropriate analogy is getting divorced, you have to be sure you are doing the right thing.

MPs are obviously conflicted so the obvious answer is to preserve the status quo before any further damage is done. We are at the point where revoking Article 50 is the only option we have.

That would have its problems, for sure. People do have some genuine concerns that such a move would be harmful for democracy.

I hope I can allay some of those fears.

Every credible large sample poll has put Remain in the lead in the last few months. Over 5.5 million people have felt moved to sign a petition which essentially calls for the government to just make Brexit stop. Twice in 5 months the streets of London have been filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Tagged , and | 42 Comments

2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 1

I never in my wildest dreams thought it possible that, after the English Civil War, any English or British parliament would intervene while a government was collapsing (and straining under an EU deadline), grab the reins and impose its preference. But that’s what I’ve just been watching live on the March 25th late BBC News and Newsnight.

It reminded me of the only instance in Dutch politics when, with an EU/EMU deadline looming, the government lost its majority; with the party giving confidence and supply stalking out and staying out, and opposition MP’s saved the day.

In this two-piece article, I’ll explain what happened; I think it goes to show that with responsible opposition parliamentarians involved, parliament taking the initiative from an amputated government can be positive. 

It was 2012, two years into the first (Mark) Rutte government ( with ministers from VVD (car-loving Liberals) and CDA (Christian Democrats), and with Geert Wilders’ PVV giving the support to make up a majority (76 of 150 Commons seats) but without ministers. VVD and CDA had a coalition agreement; PVV supported most of it, but abstained on the foreign bits: (1) Dutch ISAF participation in pacifying Afghanistan (in Kunduz province and (2) European politics: anything remotely related to growing an “ever closer union” as professor Desmond Dinan describes it in his EU history handbooks, starting with EMU. And the PVV got our development aid lowered below the UN norm of 0,7% of GDP.

In 2011, Rutte got the foreign bits of his policy through parliament with the support of D66 (social liberals), GroenLinks (centrist-progressive Greens) and ChU (Orthodox and green protestants); this was afterwards called the (opposition part of the) “Kunduz coalition”.

Being a faithful EMU member in the Greek EMU crisis, and under the EU’s Stability & Growth Pact, the EMU rule book, we had to submit the outlines of our 2013 Dutch budget-package to Brussels and the ECB in Frankfurt by the end of April for clearance: did we adhere to the tough EMU/SGP budgetary norms we were subjecting Greece, Spain and Ireland to?  If we missed the deadline or didn’t adhere to norms, a EMU fine of a billion euros threatened.

Tagged and | 2 Comments

The weekend everything changed…

What a weekend!  It really does feel different now – claims of “the will of the people” have never sounded more hollow, the 2016 referendum result never more stale.  The online petition to Revoke Article 50 has topped 5 million signatures, dwarfing all the pro-Brexit petitions combined by a massive margin.  Over a million travelled from all over the country to march for a People’s Vote while Nigel-No-Mates struggles to muster 50 for his “Brexit Betrayal” march.

And just look who’s marching.  On Saturday there were young people everywhere – twenties, teens and younger.  All demanding a say, all demanding a brighter future.  Now study the photos (if you can bear to) from one of Farage’s sad little gatherings and tell me how many you spot under the age of 40.

A better Prime Minister, one with charisma and genuine leadership qualities, would have built a cross-party consensus for a Norway-style soft Brexit and would be taking us out of the EU with a deal that a majority would accept (if reluctantly).

But that time has passed.  May’s Brexit plans have turned to ashes on a pyre of incompetence, intransigence and infighting.  The people have stared into the abyss of a hard Brexit, and while a few still want to jump, most are stepping back and turning away.

Tagged , and | 18 Comments
Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Evershed 19th Apr - 1:34am
    I agree with Caron. Extinction Rebellion are earning themselves and their cause a reputation for irresponsibility and lack of concern for the public. Getting media...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 19th Apr - 12:54am
    People take to the streets in protest for whatever cause they may have, not because they are thoughtless and undisciplined, or because they just like...
  • User AvatarGlenn 19th Apr - 12:26am
    Roland Remain is a valid form of Leave! Yeah and dogs are a valid form of cats and eating meat is a valid form of...
  • User AvatarTony Greaves 18th Apr - 11:53pm
    For once in a while, I think you are so so wrong, Caron. The word extinction is not an exaggeration. so what are you going...
  • User AvatarTony Greaves 18th Apr - 11:48pm
    Elliott Dodds would approve! (I suppose I would too though it would have saved me a load of grief.)
  • User AvatarMichael Sammon 18th Apr - 11:31pm
    I think this is a good article. I can't get behind Extinction R. The way they are behaving goes against a democratic principle. It just...