Category Archives: Op-eds

Christine Jardine: Government should pay for medicinal cannabis prescriptions for children with Epilepsy

Surely any person, when the quality of life for a child is on the line, would quickly come to the conclusion that paying up is the right thing to do?

Ever since she was elected as MP for Edinburgh West, Christine Jardine has been pushing the Government to give access to medicinal cannabis particularly to children who suffer from rare forms of Epilepsy for whom it can make a huge difference.

She has seen at first hand how it can transform the lives of the children who take it. In her Scotsman column this week, she talks about Murray Gray, her young constituent, now thriving and living his best life. But a couple of years ago, the story was very different:

When his mum Karen first came to me, he was a very unwell little boy who was, as I explained, constantly in and out of hospital with dozens of seizures, and his family were worried they could lose him.

Now, since being prescribed cannabis oil, he is seizure free and a happy youngster who plays football with his dad and told me everything I needed to know about dinosaurs when he visited my office. This medication has given him a life he otherwise may not have had.

The problem is that although it is possible for children to be prescribed medicinal cannabis, the NHS is only paying for three of them. This means that parents like Karen Gray are having to pay £1500 per month to ensure that their children can get the medicine that is giving them such a good quality of life.

Late last night, Christine led the first adjournment debate of the new parliamentary term in which she and others pushed minister Jo Churchill to ensure that in the short term, at least, the Government should pay for the children’s prescriptions until more clinicians are wiling to prescribe it. She outlined the problem:

When the then Home Secretary agreed that medicinal cannabis would be legal for use in the United Kingdom, I think we all believed that parents would no longer be forced to watch their children suffer, knowing that a treatment was available. What has happened since is heartbreaking. In the intervening years, they have been forced to source medication themselves, sometimes travel abroad—again at huge cost—to collect it, challenge the medical authorities and face rejection and repeated appeals for NHS prescriptions.

Surely no one in this place wants even to contemplate what it would mean to have a loved one—husband, wife, partner, brother, sister, friend or child—who had to pay for the medication they needed simply to go on with day-to-day life. Think of the diabetic without insulin or the asthmatic without an inhaler; this is no different, but it is new. With so much red tape and inflexible guidelines, too many people face being left alone, helpless and simply unable to afford life-changing treatment. In fact, since November 2018, just three NHS prescriptions have been issued for the type of medicinal cannabis that is life-transforming for these children.

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How does the UK finance ‘Building Back Better’?

If the UK ‘s economy and society are to recover from the shock of the COVID pandemic, the damage inflicted by Brexit and the after-effects of several years of austerity, it needs a long-term increase in public investment. Boris Johnson has promised to ‘level up’ Britain’s poorer cities and towns, to ‘Build Back Better’ after Brexit and COVID, and to tackle the costs of social care. The Brexit campaign promised to spend more on the NHS. British chairmanship of the Climate Conference in November will risk embarrassing failure unless our government commits to an ambitious programme to move towards Net Zero.

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Has Justin Trudeau blown it?

Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might have done well to remember the experience of Theresa May before he called a snap election two years before he needed to.

In 2017, with soaring poll ratings, May decided to go the polls to get a bigger majority to neutralise the more excitable Brexiteer wing of her party. Pride came before a fall as she ended the night on June 8th with no majority at all. The campaign was hers to lose and she did that in style. Her claim to bring strong and stable government was in tatters after a u-turn on social care early in the campaign and things just went from bad to worse after that. The Tories thought they could easily trounce a far left Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn, however, found himself unexpectedly popular with young people.

In Canada, Trudeau seems to be having a similar experience. He started the election 5 points ahead and is now round about 3 points behind. CBC’s poll tracker sets out the grim reality.

This is the second time Trudeau has had a poor campaign, so you think he might have learned from 2019 when he lost his majority and the popular vote after sliding through the campaign, losing 20 seats in the process.

And to make matters worse, one of his MPs has had to stand down after nominations close in Kitchener, Ontario in the face of sexual harassment allegations which he denies. Trudeau stood by him just a few days ago. This was quite clearly going to be an issue during the campaign and has cost the Liberals a seat. It’s at best careless.

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A Welsh voice for Lib Dems: Pob lwc i’r Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

Mary Reid’s article about the Paralympics is a beautifully presented snap shot of where we are as a nation and the trail blazing role this country has played in changing global attitudes to disability.

Changing mainstream culture rarely happens organically or quickly and so often it is seemingly “small” things that get noticed and have the most effect. When compounded, lots of “small” things can become a game changing culture shift. The calling out of casual sexism, casual racism, casual homophobia over the past two decades plus, has led to an awareness of the responsibility we have as individuals to a wider consciousness. It’s worked.

Lib Dems living in Scotland or Wales will be bombarded by independence blurb on a daily basis. In the Boris Johnson era, it is increasingly difficult to defend a union where mutual respect has been eroded at the very top of government. Voices from the north and west of the UK are being ignored in Westminster, often quite rudely. Daily insults are notch up and seized upon by those with a nationalist agenda, and who can blame them?

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Observations of an Expat: Nation Building

To nation build or not to nation build? That is the question vexing Western capitals in the wake of humiliating defeat and failure in Afghanistan.

Is it nobler to continue to attempt to export/impose Western political and cultural values to the rest of the world or does Afghanistan spell the end of a policy which has dominated foreign affairs since the end of World War Two?

When NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 they had clear goal: Remove the ruling Taliban from power so that the country ceased to be a base for international terrorism.

But then the policy changed to nation building for two reasons.

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World Review: Qatar as power broker, EU rapid deployment and abortion in Texas

In one of history’s ultimate ironies, the West may end up working with the political organisation it overthrew and fought for 20 years. The reason? To prevent another more extreme Islamic organisation from using the central Asian country as a base for terrorism. ISIS-K has made it clear that it wants to use terror to undermine the West and export Islamic fundamentalism. It has also said that the Taliban leadership is as much a target for their suicide bombers as Americans.

At a Pentagon press conference this week, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Staff, described the Taliban, as “ruthless” but added that in war “you do what you must.” When asked if the US would cooperate with the Taliban, he said: “that is a possibility.”

Meanwhile British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab flew to Qatar which has been acting as intermediary between the West and the Taliban.

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The Paralympics and attitudes to disability

The Paralympics have been a delight, and we still have another week to enjoy. We have seen athletes carrying out seemingly impossible feats – playing table tennis while holding the bat in the mouth, swimming without arms, cycling with one leg – and we have heard from commentators who share the disabilities of the competitors.

And what about the joys of Wheelchair rugby? Apparently it was called Murder Ball until the sport decided to become legitimate and started applying for grant support. Looking very much like dodgems on speed, it is probably the most physical and chaotic of all Paralympic sports, but it has mixed teams and is terrific fun. I would happily watch it between one Paralympics and the next.

Each day is topped by the silliness of The Last Leg on C4 wrapped around some serious campaigning for people with disabilities. That programme, which started during the 2012 Paralympics, has been a shining light for disability awareness, using humour and compassion to overcome any residual discomfiture. It has also provide a platform for disabled comics, including the fabulous Rosie Jones.

In fact, we can be proud of the fact that the Paralympic movement began in the UK with the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 alongside the London Olympics. So it is fitting that when the Olympics returned here in 2012 it was the first time that the management of the Olympics and Paralympics had been fully integrated, giving them equal esteem and equal publicity. As a result Sarah Storey, Ellie Simmons, David Weir and others became household names, and they were awarded honours on a par with their Olympic colleagues. Since 2012 Paralympians have mainstreamed in many Celebrity shows, from Strictly to Masterchef.

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Is there a role and purpose for coalition governments in the UK?

A very good friend of mine has emailed me recently to say that that he has joined the SNP. He is a supporter of an independent Scotland. He posed a very interesting questions, which I felt, is worth exploring a bit more. The members of the SNP were asked to vote whether to support a collaborative agreement with the Green Party. As we know, the agreement would create an overall majority for independence in the Scottish Parliament, push the climate debate and emphasise the importance of close cooperation with our partners in Europe.

It was really interesting to read that the SNP and the Greens decided to call it a cooperation agreement. In my view, there are very few differences and this was a tactical rather than a political move. We all know that both parties have a lot in common (referendum, green policies, attitude towards immigration), however there are also some differences. In Scotland, this arrangement might secure the second independence referendum, as the opposition will be out numbered. However, some would argue that this is not necessarily the best formula for “political harmony” as the country will be still divided into 2 camps.

As a Polish national, I am used to coalitions. I was growing up in Poland in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and I don’t remember a government formed by one party. This has changed only recently. Personally, I like coalitions. They bring different parties together, different solutions, ideas and policies to address some of the local and national issues. They “force” politicians to listen, compromise and dialogue. Coalitions are often complex political arrangement, which require patience and resilience.

When the Lib Dems formed a coalition with the Conservative Party (which I supported), loads of people were convinced that the government wouldn’t last longer than 18 months. They did last 5, however the Liberal Democrats paid a huge price. With almost 60 MP’s between 2010-2015, the party ended up having less than 10 MP’s after the 2015 elections. So I do understand people who are sceptical about coalitions. I can also see coalitions usually favour bigger parties.

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We need to talk about drug addiction, decriminalisation, legalisation and regulation

It’s time to look again at our policy on drugs,  a topic which we can ‘own,’  which will get us noticed In the media and, which will differentiate us from Labour and Conservatives.

I’m not talking about cannabis, recreational use has become almost mainstream, is  more or less ignored by the police and is certainly far, far less harmful than either tobacco and /or alcohol, -that is established medical fact.

The medicinal uses of cannabis are now being acknowledged and established, even if there is a long way to go on further research and getting the medical supply chain organised.

No, I want us to talk about the hard stuff; class A, like heroin and cocaine. This is the topic where a change in mind-set is needed,  an end to ‘the war on drugs’, and if that can be achieved the medical and societal gains will be huge.

Since the general election in 2019 we Liberal Democrats and to a lesser extent Labour have become more or less invisible; – not surprising in the face of a national and international health emergency of monumental proportions. But, as the total incompetence of the Johnson Tory government on almost every front becomes  more obvious with every  passing month, it’s high time for us to emerge from the shadows and start some proper debate on some fresh topics both in health and beyond, and  which might get us some useful media coverage as a bonus.

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How to get the most out of Conference – key deadline coming up

Every year I swear I’m going to read all the Conference papers in good time, carefully craft speeches before Conference begins and be well prepared. I’d sort my diary well ahead of time so I knew what I’d be doing and when.

Every year the reality is somewhat different. For in-person conferences, I’d be reading the papers and motions and writing speeches on the train on the way down, having panic-thrown every item of clothing I possess into a suitcase to take with me. I suspect that I may be far from unique in this.

This year’s Conference begins in just 17 days’ time. You can find all the papers, including reports from the party’s committees, and policy papers on subjects such as the nature of public debate, federalism, universal basic income, tackling the climate emergency and what Liberal Democrats believe here.

There are several ways you can participate in Conference. The first is to make a speech in any of the debates that you are interested in. If that sounds daunting, just pick a paragraph in any of the motions and try and think of three points to make about it. You don’t have to take up all the time. In fact, the Chair of the debate will probably thank you if you don’t, because they will fit more people in.

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Afghans and their loved ones pay the price of a UK PM who doesn’t care

Jo Swinson was right about many things. Just after she became leader in 2019, she told Iain Dale that the worst thing about Boris Johnson is that he just doesn’t care about anything other than himself.

Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the way he has behaved over the evacuation from Afghanistan.

The way you act when you are in a leadership position is a powerful signal to those below you about how important you think something is. If you are passionate about getting something done, it’s very clear.

There’s a reasonable expectation that, at times of crisis, your leaders are going to look a bit like they are devoting everything to sort things out. You want to see a bit of worry, empathy, stress on their faces. We, instead, have a carefully dishevelled Prime Minister looking like he doesn’t have a care in the world, asking stressed staff at the Foreign Office if they are the ones being inundated by emails. I mean, I am sure that if Armando Iannucci had suggested that scene for The Thick of It, they’d have binned the idea as being too far-fetched. Ed Davey said that the video showed Johnson in his true light:

These flippant remarks show Boris Johnson in his true light, uncaring and unable to master the detail during this awful crisis.

The emails he refers to are from desperate family and friends worried that the Taliban will kill their loved ones.

Perhaps if Boris Johnson had understood and planned for the dangers of the Kabul evacuation, thousands of people would not be at crisis point.

Wendy Chamberlain added on Twitter:

Our MPs have been really good at supporting their staff with the emotional impact of this work with Ed taking time to message his appreciation.  Their caseworkers work alongside MPs supporting worried loved ones and all of them really care about the people they are trying to help.

And then we discover from the Observer today that many of the emails sent to the Government from MPs were not even read.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29 August

Afghanistan

As Kabul descends into chaos it is becoming painfully clear that this is largely due to poor political leadership in the West. America – Trump and Biden – bear the lion’s share of the blame. Trump for laying the groundwork and Biden for failing to jettison Trump’s work and the serious miscalculation that the government of Ashraf Ghani could hold back the Taliban tide.

But the Europeans also have to accept a big share of the blame, especially British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The British were the lead European partner in Afghanistan. They have (or had) the second largest NATO military force and have a historic involvement in the country. President Biden made it clear back in April that he would withdraw US troops by 9/11 at the latest. Boris did nothing. It was not until the Taliban was banging on the gates of Kabul that he started trying to organise European NATO to persuade Biden to remain in Afghanistan or, at the very least, substantially delay US withdrawal. Even then something may have been salvaged if Boris had not been leading the charge. As one former senior diplomat said: “He has virtually zero credibility with the Biden Administration and every EU capital. He is regarded as lazy, untrustworthy and a political lightweight.”

Western diplomats are fleeing Afghanistan in droves. In fact, most of their embassies now stand empty. But that is not the case with the Russians. Their diplomats are operating at full tilt strengthening relations with the Taliban with whom they have been quietly working for several years. Taliban leaders have been in and out of Moscow since for some time, and at one point the Trump Administration was accusing the Russians of supplying the Afghan Islamic rebels with weaponry. The charge was successfully denied. But the change of regime has been warmly and publicly welcomed by the Russians who maintain that the Taliban victory will bring peace and prosperity to the streets of Kabul and hills and valleys of rural Afghanistan.

Part of the reason for the Russian diplomatic offensive in Afghanistan is to fill the political vacuum left by the West and exploit America’s humiliation and discomfort. But there are also practical considerations. Russia retains wide-ranging economic and military interests in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. It is concerned that instability, Jihadism and a rogue Taliban will destabilise the other Asian stans and encourage Chechen rebels. They are also concerned that a failed state in Afghanistan will result in an increase in the drug trade with Russia. Moscow still has painful memories of their nine-year war in Afghanistan, but practical politics have won the day.

The UK

More signs that Brexit is beginning to bite. It has taken longer than expected, but the reality factor is replacing the fear factor. As predicted by Remainers, it is the lack of EU immigrant workers which is causing the current problem, especially in the agricultural and trucking industries. The two sectors rely on what is classified as unskilled labour to harvest the crops and move those products to supermarket shelves while still fresh. Unskilled jobs have been traditionally filled by immigrants, mainly because they are dirty, physically exhausting, and low-paid and involve long hours. British workers don’t want them. The result is that the number of lorry drivers is down by 20 percent and agricultural workers by at least 25 percent. Supermarkets are seriously worried about empty shelves.

The response of British Home Secretary Priti Patel is “pay more money and hire British workers.” There are several problems with this diktat. First of all, there is already a general labour shortage caused partly by Brexit and partly by Covid. Next, although, agricultural work and truck driving are classed as unskilled, that is a labour fallacy. Anyone who has spent a day picking strawberries or trying to drive a heavy goods vehicle will testify to the fact. So recruiting indigenous Brits will involve a training period. Which means a delay. Then there is the impact that such a move will have on inflation. Increasing the salaries of 320,000 lorry drivers and 176,000 agricultural workers will have a significant impact on wage inflation. It will also substantially increase the cost of products across the entire range of commerce as transport costs are added to the retail price. Already supermarket chains are paying drivers bonuses of up to 25 percent to move goods to shelves before they spoil. Unable to compete with the private sector will be the public sector, which means, for instance, that local councils face the prospect of a shortage of drivers of dust carts to collect rubbish.

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Observations of an Expat: Trusting the Taliban

Can we trust the Taliban? President Joe Biden says the US has to work with them. But can we accept their assurances that women will be allowed to be educated and not forced to wear the oppressive burka? That foreign journalists can remain in Afghanistan to monitor their activities?

Do we believe the Taliban leadership when it says it will allow foreign nationals and Afghan citizens who worked with them to leave the country and that American and British troops can protect Kabul Airport until 31 August to ensure their safe departure? And, most importantly, can we trust their pledge to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for international terrorism?

Or are those the right questions? Should we instead ask: Do we trust the Taliban to control a historically uncontrollable Afghanistan? Because if they can’t, any other pledges are worthless.

The Taliban is comprised of individuals in the same way as any other political group anywhere in the world. They are united in their belief that Afghanistan should be governed by Sharia law, but a bewildering variety of conflicting groups disagree about the interpretation of that law and the tactics to be used in achieving that goal.

There are three basic camps within the Taliban. The first is the leadership. Twenty years in the wilderness, prisons and negotiations with America is believed to have invested them with a greater degree of political sophistication and realism than when they were last in power. Then there are the military commanders who have had no involvement in the discussions with American negotiators. Some of them support the leadership. Some of them are working with the third rogue group who are ignoring the leadership, closing down schools, arresting and sometimes killing Afghans who worked with Westerners; forcing women into burkas and imposing the harshest tenets of Sharia law.

But that is only part of the chaos. There are the organisations tangentially linked to factions inside the Taliban but outside the main group.  Specifically there is Al Qaeeda and ISIS-Khoramshar Province (aka ISIS-K). The latter organisation is responsible for the double bombing outside the Kabul Airport Perimeter which has – as of this writing – claimed 90 lives and 150 wounded.

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We need to ensure our ‘Green Spaces’ are protected at all costs

I’ve recently read the agenda items that my local council have put on their website and I’m dismayed that the term ‘Open Spaces’ is being adopted instead of ‘Green Spaces.’

This for me is far more than simple semantics. I don’t doubt that our Borough does indeed have many Open Spaces, but the desire to treat these as synonymous with Green Spaces is an hugely cynical move. This I feel would make it far easier and clearly more palatable for residents when our cynical council sells off our Green Spaces and makes way for the latest housing development. When challenged, selling Open Spaces sounds far less damaging or controversial.

Of course I understand the need to balance the planning and housing needs of my area, but I’m hugely concerned that far too often our planning for houses and developments is pushed through to appease big business and make money, at the expense of the health and well-being of local residents. Opposition to such plans, even when 2,000 residents oppose something, is seemingly paid lip service.

Greater emphasis should be placed on social housing. Is 10% for each new development really sufficient? Why not 50%? If there really is a ‘housing crisis’, is this really going to be solved by making developers and builders richer? Our current model of planning is clearly unsustainable?

As part of our ongoing strategy and policy for building a fairer Britain we need to be much more radical in our approach and stricter on our commitment to plans that we have a negative impact on our long term health and well-being. Should building for sustainable homes therefore always be carbon neutral and therefore enshrined in law? The risk to these Green Spaces and therefore an ongoing legacy for our children/grandchildren is at stake.

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Afghan refugees: a perspective from Herts

My grandparents fled the pogroms in Russia and several members of my family escaped from the Nazis in Germany. A lifetime as an activist in the Liberal Democrats has taught me that immigration is a blessing not a curse and we have always stood up for those fleeing persecution. And as an Asylum Judge, I heard every day harrowing tales of people who have not been welcomed to our country. The first Afghan refugee arrivals came to two hotels bang in the middle of my division in Hertfordshire.

Sunday morning saw a three mile traffic jam outside a car park. People had rushed to local shops to buy items we had requested for our welcome guests.

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An Afghanistan catastrophe Part 2 (of 2)

In Part One, I offered a view of why and when the occupation of Afghanistan failed. In Part Two, I explore the future implications.

The first shorter term problem is the evacuation.

It could be used as pretext to keep a contingent of special forces in the country, and keep the conflict going. Liberal Democrats have emphasised the need for a land corridor from Kabul to Pakistan, but this would require negotiation with the Talebs, as yet absent.

A further dimension to this is the wave of Western media stories about ISIS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, despite scant evidence on the latter, and formal ‘Western’ reports dismissing scare stories on the former.

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How we name our enemy’s ideology really matters

All complex thinking requires language; either words and sentences or symbols and equations. In conflicts we particularly need to think clearly. Our chosen words must pass two critical tests:

A. Have we defined the enemy accurately?
B. Will our words unite “our side” or divide it?

In state warfare, the enemy’s name is normally obvious. On 3 September 1939 Britain’s Prime Minister accurately declared that “this country is at war with Germany.”

We called Germany’s ideology Nazism; Nazi being an abbreviation for National Socialist German Workers Party.

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The Afghanistan Evacuation: Could the ‘Cairo Plan’ of 1946 have offered a solution?

Britain has stood in shock at events in Afghanistan, but how far has our party offered any meaningful solution to the evacuation crisis?

While we can and should blame US foreign policy failings, is there anything our government could and should have done in the last two weeks to relieve the situation?

This is not the first time Britain has faced the need to organise an emergency evacuation of Westerners and their allies from a foreign capital. There are many historical parallels – for example, could the ‘Cairo Plan’ of 1946 have pointed to a way of managing the evacuation much more effectively?

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Affirmed None of the Above Options

The Liberal Democrats and others endorse Proportional Representation as a panacea to the problems inherent with First-Past-The-Post. FPTP is designed to discourage electoral participation, whether due to the spoiler effect of voting for minor parties, the adoption by major parties of fringe policies simply to win votes, smear campaigning supplanting positive campaign promises, or the disconnect between vote and seat shares. Is it any wonder that at the last five general elections, more than thirty per cent of eligible voters abstained from voting, not wanting to make unsavoury compromises or believing that their votes did not matter?

Our current electoral reform platform of adopting PR, and improving ballot access and voter participation, may not go far enough to repair the damage done by FPTP to public trust in politics, already materialising as depressed electoral turnout. The endorsement of any additional precedented reform measures, such as compulsory voting or holding Election Day at the weekend or on a bank holiday, would fail to take this into account.

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An Afghanistan catastrophe, Part 1 (of 2)

It is tempting for UK political figures unfamiliar with the wars in Afghanistan, to view recent events as a ‘surprise loss for the West’ that is ‘all the fault of President Biden’. Neither is true. I will attempt a summary.

The war was ‘lost’ many years ago. Talebs and other insurgents controlled a majority of the country after the first five years. By the end of 2009 ICOS (Western-funded) reported that the Talebs had a controlling presence in 97% of the country, and had de facto control of Districts representing almost two thirds of territory.

Certainly when I first arrived in 2008 the Talebs controlled the road from central Kabul and the Compound to the airport, requiring a dangerous circuitous route. Driving to Jalalabad or Kandahar, there were Taleb road blocks, some taking ‘fees’. The game was already over. Why?

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Youth provision, children and their “freedoms”

The contrast was striking. It was 12:30am in the morning. Croatia is really hot over the summer and therefore a late night walk is usually a relief. It was midnight and the outdoor sport courts were full of children. Kids were playing (with some parental supervision) beach volleyball, football and basketball. Of course, I did join in! Some would say that this leaving children out so late in the night is rather naive. So was it irresponsible parenting? Personally, I don’t think so.

In Britain, I often feel that we lost the ability …

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So, if Afghanistan was a mistake, what should we do next time?

Amidst the shambles that is the Johnson Government’s response to the collapse of the former Afghan government, the focus is – quite rightly – currently on getting as many people out as quickly and efficiently as we can whilst the incoming Taliban administration is willing to allow it. But, having set the wheels in motion, and determined who we want to evacuate and how many we should offer sanctuary to, we need to turn our attention to the question of why we should intervene in the affairs of another sovereign nation and how we can effectively achieve any set of clearly defined goals.

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Has Liberal Democracy failed us?

Listening to a BBC Radio 4 broadcast recently, somebody commented that liberal democracy has failed us. The context wasn’t clear. I thought about it for a while and have decided to put pen to paper.

In the context of Brexit, there could be an argument that liberal democracy has failed us, but I wonder if this idea is purely superficial. We are now experiencing shortages of workers in delivery, waste disposal, health and social care, food picking, etc. I have been personally impacted by the fact that some car parts are hard to come by and have been waiting for my car to be repaired since July 2nd. We knew all this would happen before we voted in 2016. We were told that there would be short-term (up to 10 years) of disruption before all would become well again. But how did we know?

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Observations of an expat: Afghan consequences

The defeat in Afghanistan of the liberal democrat West and the victory of an authoritarian Islamic fundamentalist Taliban has worldwide geopolitical consequences.

It has called into the question America’s commitment to its allies; provided political ammunition to China and Russia; emboldened fundamentalists in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa; increased the threat to Israel; weakened NATO; prompted a re-think in India; and, encouraged many in the Far East.

Governments around the world heaved a collective sigh of relief when Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House. Trump’s “America First” policy tinged with isolationism and a shoot-from-the hip unilateralist foreign policy was a serious concern in capitals across the globe. They welcomed the statement from foreign affairs expert Biden that “America is back.”

But Biden’s refusal to listen to the concerns of NATO allies and order a precipitate withdrawal has led many to think that Trump’s unilateralist America First programme has become bipartisan. European NATO has long accepted US dominance of the alliance as essential to their survival. But it refuses to become an unconsulted-taken-for-granted adjunct of US foreign and defence policy. Especially when that policy runs counter to Europe’s interests.

And the Afghan debacle is just that. If Afghanistan again becomes a base for terrorist organisations then it will be Europe—not America—that will be the primary target. The Taliban has promised it won’t happen. And they need aid and expertise to reconstruct their war-ravaged country. But one of the Taliban’s first acts upon entering Kabul was to release thousands of hardened Jihadists from Pul-e-charkhi Prison. Al Qaeeda is reported to have bases in at least 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and rival ISIS is believed to have up to 10,000 members in the country.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton: Liberals see the best in things. We celebrate diversity and nonconformity and if something isn’t working we try to fix it or we fight for reform.

One sentence to sum up the Liberal Democrats:

Liberals see the best in things. We celebrate diversity and nonconformity and if something isn’t working we try to fix it or we fight for reform.

Here, in full, is Alex Cole-Hamilton’s first speech as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It was a belter that brought a tear to my eye. He started by talking about Maddy Planche, the young activist who introduced him. Another couple of decades and we might well be holding a big rally when she takes over the leadership.

Alex paid tribute to Willie Rennie’s 10 years of service, highlighting his achievements in getting more mental health support, expanding childcare and ensuring that disadvantaged kids get more money in school.

Then he set out the reasons Lib Dems offer new hope to Scotland. In a powerful section he invited people who shared our vision to come to us.

If you want a party that will fight the climate emergency with ferocity but without the baggage of nationalism, come with us.

If you want Scotland to make things again and capture the imagination of the world, through industry and innovation, come with us.

If you want to live in a country which offers the best education in the world, which values its carers and those they care for, then come with us.

If you want a party that stands for human rights at home and abroad. One which fights for the women fleeing Kabul and protects young people from gay conversion therapy, come with us.

If you are affected by the mental health emergency come with us.

If you are worried about state intrusion or big centralising government then come with us.

Come with us and I promise you, that Liberal Democrats in the villages and towns of Scotland will show you the meaning of the word hope once again.

 

Read the whole thing here:

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Afghanistan: Delusion and disgrace

The return of MPs to Westminster this week was a significant moment. Not for the abandoned people of Afghanistan, perhaps, whose immediate concerns probably do not include listening to the Prime Minister’s justifications for being absent from his post as Kabul fell. The needs of the Afghan people are as far removed from the Westminster circus as it is possible to imagine.

For while, for example, there is a real debate on how many asylum seekers this country should take, which will have enormous impact on the lives of those affected, Britain has never looked so peripheral in an issue affecting the transatlantic alliance.

The Prime Minister’s statement on Afghanistan was an exercise in window-dressing and back-covering, an attempt to evade responsibility while attempting to look serious and statesmanlike.

Delusion runs deep in England at present. Too many of us in Britain and America wrongly believe we can be better off by ourselves alone. That myth has been tested to destruction before. Let’s pray that we in this generation are not forced to learn the lesson all over again.

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Lib Dem councillors call for action on Afghan refugee crisis

Shropshire Lib Dems are joining councillors and activists across the country in calling on their councils and MPs for greater and faster action on the Afghan refugee crisis. Many councillors are lobbing their MPs, including Carshalton & Wallington. There is a row going on in Guilford, where the Lib Dems are getting on with the job but the Conservatives are trying to score political points. Elsewhere, there are some difficulties in councils acting refugees because of budget and housing constraints.

I am pleased and proud to live in a county that is welcoming to refugees. It is always a challenge to find housing and ensure the right level of support and independence for refugees. But we know that they settle well and become part of our community. With the experience of the Syrian Resettlement Programme (VPRS), we are ready to take many more but that will depend on a greater ambition and degree of humanity than the government is currently showing.

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Politicians need to do bit more to change the attitude of society towards disability

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Disability is something which is not by choice but by accident or misfortune, as all of us want to be healthy and lead a perfect life. But sometimes we are the victim of time and circumstances, and we must lead the kind of life due to our disability that we never imagined.

We all should be sensitive about this subject and eager to collaborate and do something in this field, as we all experience this issue in our lifetime either ourselves after certain age, or through our loved ones. But unfortunately, when we are young and healthy, we are so engrossed in our day-to-day routine that we hardly pay enough attention about the attitude of society towards disability or the government’s disability inclusion policy, whether effective or not. We only awake when we suffer ourselves, or our loved one in our family gets affected by disability.

There are so many unconscious barriers of our society which deny people with disabilities the opportunities to achieve their dreams – dream to go beneath the ocean, or to fly.  And with our little effort we can help them to achieve those dreams though it might take bit longer, but I am sure it is not something which is impossible. And there are many people in our society who have proved that their disability does not hold them back to achieve their dreams, whether it is to contribute to society or to enrich this planet, or in other ways.

Most of us are aware of the barriers which limit the inclusion of people with disabilities in the mainstream. But somehow we don’t’ pay enough attention to remove or improve them. For example, attitudinal barriers, the society’s attitude towards disabled people, this one is the biggest obstacle to providing equal opportunities to disabled people and to remove this barrier we need to change our outlook as we, and we only, can help to eliminate this barrier. Environmental barriers, such as inaccessible buildings, also restrict people with disabilities to participate in mainstream society. Further, institutional barriers, like many policies, strategies and laws, are also a hindrance for which we all must work together to raise awareness and force the government to do something.

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COVID, holidays and vaccine hesitancy within Eastern European communities

If someone told me a few years ago that any other issue will divide our communities as much as Brexit did after the EU referendum, I would not have believed.

This year, I was lucky enough to travel over the summer holidays. A lot of people like me, who live abroad, are often left with very little choice. COVID restrictions, stress around planning and cost of tests is putting many people off, however there are not many alternatives if we want to see our loved ones.

The health pandemic was a central part of many of my conversations in Poland and Croatia. Although most of my friends had at least one dose of the vaccine, what are the reasons for “vaccine hesitancy” within the Polish and other ethnic minority communities?

The most recent data from the Hertfordshire County Council Public Health team shows that 69% of any other white backgrounds of residents living in the county received at least one dose of the vaccine. This is significantly lower than e.g. white British individuals (around 90%). There is still some work that needs to be done to address the issue of relatively low levels of the vaccine roll-out within minority ethnic groups.

It is also clear that there are many reasons why some people, also from my community, are hesitant towards the vaccination programme. Social media plays a big part in shaping people’s views on whether to have the vaccine or not. Targeted online campaigns, believing only in one source of information, being fed up with listening to “experts” often means that it is not easy to change people’s “fixed mind-sets”. For those living in the UK, occasional language barriers could be some of the motives of vaccine resistance.

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Liverpool loses World Heritage Status accolade

The loss of World Heritage Status for our City, even though it was expected, is a huge blow to our international prestige and will, without a doubt, affect our tourism and inward investment.

When, under Lib Dem control, we received the status in 2004 it helped our work, alongside winning the European Capital of Culture, in changing round the national and global and view of our City. Until these two things happened, we were just Beatles and Football globally and a poor man’s version of Coronation Street within the UK. People shunned our City for visiting, living and investment and the people of Wirral demanded a CH post code and not an L one!

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