Category Archives: Op-eds

US District of Columbia – taxation without representation


I’m just back from a nerd’s tour of Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland. I was fortunate to fit in about 20 visits to notable locations, mainly political. The highlight was numerous visits to the US Capitol, so much so that the police started saying “Welcome back” to me at the security check-in! In particular, I witnessed a vote in the House of Representatives, complete with a sighting of Nancy Pelosi. By the way, there is something quite spooky, but also quite thrilling, about being the only member of the public left in the huge, cavernous, marble-clad US Capitol late at night.

During my visit, one thing which became strikingly apparent to me is the outrageous democratic deficit of the people of the District of Columbia (DC).

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So, you want to be Party President?

It is easy to forget that, for many of our Party members, Sal Brinton is the only Party President they have ever known. In that sense, they’ve been pretty fortunate, because (at least in my view) she’s been a good one. But all good things come to an end eventually, and Sal is now in her last year before term limits kick in.

Now I’ve heard rumours of possible candidates for the succession, and whilst I wouldn’t want to name names just yet, perhaps it is time to start thinking about what members …

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“To govern is to choose”

One of the first aphorisms I learned when studying history and politics was: ‘To govern is to choose’. It was Pierre Mendes-France’s maxim when Premier of France in 1954-5, cutting through the morass of postponed decisions left by weak coalition governments and negotiating the withdrawal of French troops form Indo-China. Good government means taking decisions, even when they are hard decisions.

Which underlines how appallingly incompetent Britain’s current government is. It has raised the art of postponing decisions to an art form. If it could postpone presenting Parliament with a clear choice on Brexit until the afternoon of March 29th, it …

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An Open Letter to Luciana Berger

Dear Luciana,

As someone who spent many years as an activist in the Labour and trade union movement I follow developments in your current party closely. From what I can see you are being constantly hounded by people who currently have control of the Labour machine.

You are being attacked both for your policy positions and your Jewish heritage. The recent attempt to put a motion of no confidence in you is as I am sure you realise is a vehicle to ensure that you cannot stand as the partys’ candidate at the next General Election.

I am afraid to say this kind

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A liberal approach to corporation tax reform

As the values of liberalism direct us towards what David Laws highlighted as the four pillars of liberalism – social, political, economic and individual, we must identify a fine balance between all four. The application of tax reform, of all kinds, must be utilised as a means to desirable ends. Here, we must also look to the reasoning of taxation, of which there are two prominent reasons; to collect money to fund social programmes and to discourage certain behaviours. The discouragement of actions by taxes is, of course, an uncomfortable idea, for why is the government so moral as to …

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My contribution to the EU Budget – the best tenner I ever spent

My annual tax report for the year 2017-18 arrived the other day.

It outlined to me what I get for the relatively low tax I pay every month.

The last item on the breakdown broke my heart.

“Contribution to the EU Budget – £10”

That’s all it costs.

For that I get:

Freedom to work and travel and live in 28 countries

The prosperity that being in the customs union and single market brings, with the added advantage that showing up with 27 of your mates when you are trying to do business with the likes of Donald Trump and the Chinese Government brings.

This country’s universities getting access to research funding to carry out investigations which will help us to learn more about how the world works and develop ways to fix its problems.

My son having the chance to study anywhere across the EU via the Erasmus programme

Joint arrangements on radioactive isotopes and the like through Euratom

Co-operation on security across the 28 member states

Protection of my employment rights, keeping me safe from the right wing small state instincts of most of the politicians who campaigned for Brexit. 

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Claire Tyler writes: Children need better access to mental health care

Mental health care in this country needs radical transformation.  Both adult and children’s mental health services continue to be plagued by long waiting times, lack of access to treatment and chronic staff shortages. For children, the average wait between their first symptoms developing and being able to access treatment is estimated to be a horrifying 10 years. Once a referral has been made, The Children’s Society estimate that young people wait an average of 58 days until they are assessed and then a further 41 days until they begin treatment. 

In a recent survey, a thousand GPs across the country expressed their concerns about access to Children’s Mental Health Services. It found that 78% of GPs are worried that too few of their young patients can get treatment for mental ill-health and a staggering 99% of them feared that under 18 years old will come to harm as a direct result of these delays in care. 

For many of these children, the only way to access the care they need is for their mental health to deteriorate to crisis point or to turn to private care. In fact, almost two-fifths of GPs surveyed said they would recommend patients whose families can afford it to go private. It is completely unacceptable that we have such a growing divide between those who can pay for treatment and others who are left waiting.  Seventy years after the creation of the NHS, families should not be forced to pay for the mental healthcare their children so desperately need.  

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Dutch health & pharmacy sector scrambles:  delivery of 50 vitally crucial medicines and appliances threatened by a No Deal Brexit

People who know about the world market for medical supplies and medicines, basic human necessities in any civilized society, can only agree with Donald Tusk  that many bullhorning Brexiteers never did have a clue how to safely execute Brexit in all its aspects and consequences. 

In her article of 31st January, Caron Lindsay pointed to the growing insecurity around the delivery to British patients and the NHS generally of medicines etcetera imported from the continental EU. But it also disrupts patient security on the continent, and in the Netherlands in a life-threatening way.

On Wednesday 6th February, the Dutch parliament received the second alarming letter in a month from the relevant health minister, Bruno Bruins  about the supply of medicines and appliances like pacemakers certified (for EU use) in the UK. I’m using news items from NOS, our BBC, because it is the headline in all public radio and tv news bulletins today.

A month ago Mr Bruins wrote to parliament, saying that the Netherlands imports around a third (value: 2 billion euros/year from a total of 6,6 billion/year) of all its medicines and appliances from or via the UK; part of those imports are re-exported onwards. NOS quotes him writing that British medical imports are 2700 products (UK being a very big international player) and that Dutch doctors and hospitals use intermediaries and not always are sure where those products come from. He’s asked everybody in the Dutch health system to check where every product comes from and where it was certified for the EU market. If possible, UK producers or providers should be asked to transfer CE certification to the continent, Mr. Bruins wrote to buyers in the Dutch medical sector.

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The ignored nuclear aspects of Brexit

Apart from the power plants, everybody ignored the (trucks with) medical isotopes.

This another two-piece article.

In the first article I talk about the Euratom aspect of the EU, totally ignored in 99% of Brexit campaigns and in present Brexit debates. The aspect of transporting nuclear material for medicinal purposes brings these atomic aspects of the EU very close to everybody’s private lives: the survival of cancer patients

In the second article, I follow on by pointing out that the UK turns out to be the international transport and EU certification hub in the international trade of medicines, medical supplies and appliances. That has a massive impact on the Dutch (and possibly French and German) health system as a whole when a No Deal Brexit occurs.

 As we all know by now, Brexit means a total resetting, readjusting, if not disruption of European-UK ties and supply chains build up in centuries, but especially since Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher (but NOT duplicitous Wilson and NOT Corbyn) led the way in making Britain a member of the EEC and Euratom. 

For example: I give a bottle of champagne to anybody who can point to a substantial (part of a) Brexiteers speech about maintaining (and paying only from the British budget) a safe and secure, that is: Euratom-like safety regime around the British civilian nuclear infrastructure (both the existing power plants and reactors, and those presently being build and/or abandoned by their foreign sponsors). 

But another ignored aspect deals with  the just-in-time transport of nuclear items for medicinal purposes. 

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Observations of an ex pat: Afghanistan on the brink?

Afghanistan is in serious danger of a major outbreak of peace. Or is it?

Certainly the signs are that the US is about to announce an historic deal with their foes the Taliban. The basic bones are that the US and NATO-led forces will withdraw. In return the Taliban will promise to never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist base.

Withdrawal from the 17-year-long  $1 trillion Afghan war has been one of the key goals of President Trump. It was also a political target of President Obama. The problem is how to exit without leaving behind a vacuum of the kind that led to the rise in the 1990s of the Taliban and their Al Qaeeda guests.

The question has been exercising the minds of a succession of American diplomats since on-off negotiations started with the Taliban in 2011. During the Obama Administration these contacts controversially resulted in the release of five Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sergeant Robert Bergdahl.

The talks were held in the Qatari capital Doha where the Taliban set up a semi-official embassy paid for by the Qatari government. After the prisoner exchange the talks slipped into limbo with only the occasional diplomatic chat as the Taliban refused to deal with the Afghan government whom they called “American puppets. ” Neither would they talk seriously with the US without a date for the withdrawal of troops.

Then in November it was announced that American and Taliban negotiators were once again having serious discussions in Doha. The man heading up the American team appears tailor-made for the job. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad was born and raised in Afghanistan and educated in America. His posts have included ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Vince reshuffles Lib Dem spokespeople

Vince  has announced several changes to his top team of spokespeople.

Tim Farron will be taking over the Communities and Local Government  brief, which really suits him with his longstanding interest in housing. Wera Hobhouse moves from there to cover Energy and Climate Change.

Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine will now cover issues relating to Work and Pensions, taking on the portfolio vacated by Stephen Lloyd when he resigned the Whip in December.  Jamie Stone becomes Scottish spokesperson. Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael will speak on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Vince said of his new team:

I am pleased to announce today our new spokespeople who will speak out on the most important issues we face in Britain today.

While Parliament is consumed by Brexit, we need to remember that people are also affected by a whole host of other challenges.

We will continue to speak up for them as we continue our fight for the public to have a say on the Brexit deal with a People’s Vote.

It’s disconcerting that Lynne Featherstone no longer seems to have a spokesperson role given that she is one of the party’s best performers. She used to do energy and climate change in the Lords but that role has now gone to Chris Fox.

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Using colourful Pom-poms to remember Holly #TimetoTalk

Having five brothers and one sister means that I am lucky to have lots of glorious nieces and nephews, and, nowadays, great nieces and great nephews. I am a bit like “Great Uncle Bulgaria” in the Wombles.

But last July, we lost one of my nieces, Holly (pictured, right). Never mind me being her uncle, Holly’s passing has, of course, devastated her close family.

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Being a PPC: building your team

Following last week’s blog on managing my work/life balance as a PPC, I’m writing this week on building a team in a constituency.

I have some expertise in working with volunteers – in the past, I chaired the Parent Teacher Association at my child’s secondary school. Leading a group of volunteers, who each had different amounts of time to give and various reasons for giving that time, was a challenge. Nothing like playground politics among parents!

A team in a local party can be similar – everyone is a volunteer, some with masses of time to give, others with very little time. All are motivated, but have a range of issues behind that motivation. Inspiring your volunteers is a balance between accepting what time they can offer and not asking too much, and learning more about them and why they would like to be involved.

In many constituencies, we run skills audits, finding out what talents people have to offer to pair with what jobs need to be done. I think it is really important to ask what people want to do. It could be they are highly skilled in one area, but that is their day job, and what they really want to do as a volunteer is something different. Having those discussions is important. Allowing people to give time on their terms and in the way they wish is key.

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Opinion: Truth Hurts

So, the EU couldn’t hold it in any longer after bearing Farage’s taunts, and the mess with the negotiations by the prime minister the EU eventually lost their cool and the European Council President Donald Tusk wondered if there was a “special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely”. Not sure whether to be shocked that he is offending the UK or say Bravo … I think Bravo, wish he would have said this a bit earlier.

The usual dross of right-wingers has come out with predictable counter comments: “arrogance of the EU…”; “this is what you would expect from unelected bureaucrats…”, “17 million people voted to leave…”, “The man has no manners,” said Leadsom, and it goes on.

I personally liked Guy Verhofstadt (EUs chief Brexit negotiator) who tweeted “Well, I doubt Lucifer would welcome them, as after what they did to Britain, they would even manage to divide hell.”

Amusing as this is, it’s just a storm in a teacup alongside the disastrous negotiation stance that the prime minister is taking. After losing the vote in parliament (one of the worst, if not the worst defeat for a government in history), she has not in any way changed her red lines. The prime minister’s plan B was to try to persuade everyone else that her Plan A was right. The government’s approach hinges on one thing, and that is some sort of a deal on the backstop which will appease the DUP. If this is achieved the European Research Group (wonder if they will change their name if we leave the EU) will vote grudging with the government; the alternative being an early general election that Labour has a chance of winning. The prime minister knows this, and therefore all she is focused on is trying to get a backstop acceptable to the DUP.

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In Praise of the Backstop

As Theresa May goes to and for from Brussels once again the forlorn hope of getting reassurances on the Irish backstop, the Brexit process is stagnating, and the clock keeps on ticking towards March 29th. The hard truth for Theresa May, as revealed by the ERG, is that the hardline Brexiteers in her party will never accept any deal that comes back from Brussels. They saw any cooperation with the EU as suspect, and any hopes of securing their backing at the eleventh hour our woefully misguided, despite desperate hopes for a last-minute solution.

The backstop has, of course, been …

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A Liberal Democrat perspective on Trump’s State of the Union

Last night, Mr Trump presented his State of the Union to the American People and the watching world. I stayed up late and caught a live stream of it, as well as the Democratic Party response delivered by Stacey Abrams.

It was an uninspiring jumble of falsehoods, empty promises, and rhetoric. The highlight of the evening was Congress singing “Happy Birthday” to Holocaust and Pittsburgh shooting survivor Judah Samet, who turned 81.  

The evening began with Presidential hypocrisy as Trump praised three “incredible heroes” who participated in D-Day, yet in November he cancelled his Armistice Day visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial simply because it was raining.

Like Nixon before him, Trump tried to use his State of the Union Address to oppose the ongoing investigation in him and his team, referring to investigations as “partisan” and “ridiculous”. Trump then moved on to praise his “success” with Tax reform – that didn’t pay for itself; he criticised antisemitism – despite his rhetoric directly contributing to a rise in the abuse of Jewish people and communities. He continued his tirade against a woman’s right to have control of her body, he rallied against legal asylum and pushed again for his racist southern border wall.

In one of the stranger twists, Donald Trump told us that he is meeting Kim Jong-Un later this months and that the US has held “constructive” negotiations with the Taliban, and then in the next breath went on to criticise Iran calling them “Bad bad people”. He praised the US Armed Forces; “Our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is winning each and every day,” ignoring the fact his recent discriminatory trans ban, will weaken the US Military.

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The Government’s Probate Stealth Tax is Unconstitutional and Must be Stopped

On Thursday 7 February the House of Commons Delegated Legislation Committee will consider the Government’s plans to hike the fees people have to pay to access a deceased relative’s estate.

Don’t let the title of the ‘Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order’ fool you – this proposal is anything but non-contentious. Introduced by statutory instrument, the order would see the fees charged for a grant of probate soar from the current flat figure of £215 to as much as £6,000, depending on the value of the estate.

Not only is this an unfair way to squeeze money out of grieving and vulnerable families, but these fees are also not fees at all – they are a stealth tax. The Government has already admitted that the increased charges will be used to subsidise the other parts of the court’s service they have cut funding for, rather than merely for covering the cost of providing the probate service.

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Dutch ambassador flabbergasted by antique ICT used by HM Customs during Brexit

A recent interview with the Dutch ambassador in London shows precisely why the Dutch, usually a sober, very anglophile people, watch the London political scene(s) with horror, astonishment, and deep pity for the ordinary people who end up holding the bag of Brexit. Rich public schoolboys like Rees-Mogg and Boris won’t suffer from their overseas investments (NOT in Britain!), but neither do they seem to really care about the millions of people in rust belt and abandoned regions of the UK who voted for Brexit as a desperate cry for help, more than out of national pride, or Johnsons ideological hatred of Brussels. The action group “Led by donkeys” (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/16/billboard-campaign-reminds-voters-of-mps-brexit-promises ) with its Twitter-poster campaign confirms the worst fears of Dutch Brexit watchers of who is leading the Brexit charge of the light brigade, with scant facts supporting their empty, false promises up to this day.

In an  interview in the national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algemeen_Dagblad ), of Monday 4th of February,  the Dutch ambassador in London, Mr Simon Smits, told about the voyage aboard a Dutch freight truck from Schiphol (Amsterdam) airport to Heathrow, and a working visit to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), he’d recently made to see for himself how prepared Dutch and British truckers, their customs, authorities and others involved in keeping transport rolling are in these Brexit times (see: https://www.ad.nl/politiek/onze-enige-zekerheid-is-onzekerheid~affc3a40/ ). Today, with Britain in the EU, the trip went as smoothly as could be expected, but ambassador Smits was flabbergasted that HMRC still runs the MS-DOS software in its computers. The only advantage ambassador Smits could see was that present-day hackers would be flummoxed by this antediluvian software from the 1980s/’90s, but this badly needs an update before Brexit is upon us. As I remember it, you need to insert first a start-up floppy disc, then a “system” floppy, and finally the “text” floppy in a computer to work that system; very time consuming with thousands of trucks, containers or passengers awaiting handling. Moreover, if it breaks down the recovery takes more time too. It reminded me of the outcry when the newest British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elisabeth was shown to run the somewhat more recent Windows XP software (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/27/hms-queen-elizabeth-running-outdated-windows-xp-software-raising/ ). A centuries-old trading nation running this outdated, vulnerable software in a strategic border (and state income) service in the 21st century… unbelievable.

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If Labour splits what do the Liberal Democrats do?

So, some Labour MPs are rumoured to be preparing to leave their Party post Brexit debate. There are talks of six heavily involved and perhaps twenty in total. From my own observations I think that is highly credible but not necessarily guaranteed. There can be no doubt that nationally there are huge fissures in the Labour Party. What precisely those splits are is difficult to discern.

That is replicated in Liverpool. Its only partly a joke when I say that if my seven colleagues and I were in the Labour Party here I would probably be the leader of the largest …

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What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?

The Houses of Parliament currently function as the location in which Parliament expresses and exercises its sovereignty. It seems obvious that they no longer fit that function well: archaic logistics, terrible accessibility, lack of office and meeting space, and chambers designed perfectly for the cheap game show otherwise known as PMQs, but not for deliberation or wise governance.

Soon the buildings are to have a very expensive makeover during which time MPs and Lords will have to decamp. Perhaps we should make the decampment permanent. Build a site suitable to house the legislative body of a modern democracy.

Some argue that such …

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At what point do we call for Article 50 to be revoked?

At what point short of the cliff edge do Liberal Democrats say “Enough!” When in this utterly bonkers trashing of our economy do we call for the immediate revocation of Article 50?

We know that the UK can do that without requiring the consent of the other 27 EU member states.

We also have it as  part of our policy to call on the Government to suspend Article 50 to legislate for a People’s Vote or to avoid no deal and, if that suspension isn’t agreed, to call for the revocation of Article 50.  Here’s the motion we passed at Conference last year.

Conference reaffirms the Liberal Democrat commitment to:

Fight for an “exit from Brexit” referendum to be held once the outcome of the UK-EU negotiations is known, for the public to choose between “the deal” or Britain remaining a full member of the EU.

Campaign for Britain to remain a full and active member of the EU.

Enable all UK citizens living abroad to vote for MPs in separate overseas constituencies, and to participate in UK referendums.

Introduce votes at 16 for all elections and referendums across the UK.

Conference calls for:

The Government to release full impact assessments of all options, prior to any meaningful parliamentary vote, thereby demonstrating that there is no Brexit deal on offer that will deliver the promises of the Leave campaign.

The Government to seek to extend Article 50 if required to legislate for a referendum on the deal, or to provide enough negotiating time to avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario, and if such extension is not agreed to withdraw the Article 50 notification.

The right to full participation in civic life, including the ability to stand for office or vote in UKreferendums and General Elections, to be extended to all EU citizens not already entitled tovote as Irish or Commonwealth citizens, who have lived in the UK for five years or longer.

The UK Government to guarantee unilaterally in law, including in a no-deal scenario, the rights of all EU citizens living in the UK, ringfencing the Withdrawal Agreements’ Chapter on citizens’ rights.

The bit about the revocation was put in as an amendment, but was not opposed by the leadership. It’s not as if Conference forced them into something that they didn’t want to do like we did over the immigration motion.

So the motion commits us to fighting for a People’s Vote and to campaign for Remain in that referendum. We are obliged to do that, therefore, until that becomes impossible.  I agree with Vince that there is a route to getting it, but the deal will have to be rejected by the Commons again first.

At that point, if the Government refuses to ask for the suspension of Article 50, or if that suspension was refused. then we should without doubt call for it to be revoked. 

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Philip Hammond talks about second referendum while Corbyn approves “unholy alliance” to deliver Brexit

There’s some interesting nuggets in the Sunday Times reports on the Brexit chaos and ongoing shenanigans. It’s not the headlines, which are about the Royal Family being moved out of London if there are no deal riots, or the supposed new party to be formed on Valentine’s Day as Labour MPs resign the whip. It’s what else is in the article.

Earlier this week, Christine Jardine talked about the Labour Party became the “handmaids of Brexit” after their votes blocked Yvette Cooper’s amendment and helped pass Graham Brady’s time-wasting one calling for unicorns on the Irish border. Well maybe unicorns weren’t explicitly mentioned, but it all amounts to the same thing.

Labour’s role in facilitating Brexit was highlighted in an article in the Sunday Times today. Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler wrote(£) about how

An “unholy alliance” has formed to force through a deal consisting of May’s allies, a member of the shadow cabinet, the trade unions and Labour MPs, with Jeremy Corbyn’s tacit approval.

A recent poll suggested that Liberal Democrat support would go way up, even overtaking Labour, if Corbyn’s party helped deliver Brexit.

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£8 billion funding black hole by 2025 will swallow up popular council services

Communities may suffer the loss of leisure and cultural facilities, fewer bus services, unkempt parks and green spaces and see fly-tippers go unpunished without government investment in under-pressure council services.

On Friday the cross-party Local Government Association launched its campaign to influence the forthcoming government Spending Review by warning about the growing risk to vital local services if the Government does not take action to secure the financial sustainability of councils.

However, the LGA said that, with the right funding and powers, councils can continue to lead their local areas, improve residents’ lives, reduce demand for public services and save money for the taxpayer.

Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. 

Some councils are being pushed to the brink by this unprecedented loss of funding and an ongoing surge in demand for children’s services, adult social care services and homelessness support. This is on top of having to absorb other cost pressures, such as higher national insurance contributions, the apprenticeship levy and the National Living Wage.

More and more councils are struggling to balance their books, facing overspends and having to make in-year budget cuts.

Councils provide more than 800 services to residents in their local area – some of these are legal duties they have to provide whilst others are optional powers they can use depending on local priorities.

Money is increasingly having to be diverted from these optional services, which help build communities people want to live in, to plug growing funding gaps, while some councils have already been forced to cut their services back to the legal minimum “core offer”. 

With councils in England facing an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025, local government leaders fear many more will have to take similar action.

That could mean many cherished local – but discretionary – services such as the maintenance of parks, improving food hygiene and safety, certain bus services, cultural activities and council tax support for those in financial difficulty – face being drastically cut back by councils across the country.

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Lynne Featherstone: Lib Dems must fight oppression so no LGBT person has to live in fear

It’s LGBT History Month and to mark its start, Lynne Featherstone, who as Equalities Minister, kicked off the process that led to same sex marriage in England and Wales, wrote a blog on the party website:

We must fight oppression in every form so that no LGBT+ person has to live in fear.

Our members make our policies, and incredible LGBT activists and allies have written comprehensive policies that will make our society a kinder and more equal place than it is today.

Our MPs, Peers and members are fighting for these rights every day:

  • Trans people being able to change their legal gender and streamlining the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier.
  • Businesses with more than 250+ employees to monitor and publish data on BAME and LGBT employees, not just gender.
  • A standard curriculum addition for Sex and Relationship Education (SRE), which will include in SRE teaching about sexual consent, LGBT+ relationships, and issues surrounding explicit images and content.
  • Gender neutral bathrooms, gender-neutral school uniforms, and ‘X’ option on passports, official documents and forms for those who do not wish to identify as male or female.

Let us celebrate our identities and our freedom of expression. Let us embrace people from all communities and be proud of who we are.

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Parking the bus or total football?

For those football fanatics among us tactics are something we study closely in our desire to enhance our enjoyment of the beautiful game.

Some of us marvel at a defensive approach where a team plays an unadventurous formation designed to avoid conceding goals and then nicking one at some point in the game to come away with a 1-0 victory. This is often called parking the bus and despite his protestations to the contrary it is the favoured approach of the self styled Special One Mr Jose Mourinho.

Others prefer a purist method, the most advanced version being the one used by the Dutch national team in the past and christened total football by admiring commentators. A number of teams have deployed a variation of this philosophy but few have gained the plaudits earned by Rinus Michels the coach of the legendary Netherlands 1974 World Cup team playing in those fabulous bright orange shirts.

So what does this have to do with politics I hear you ask?

Well as in football, politics is about tactics and for our party the Liberal Democrats the way we deploy our key players will be crucial to our fortunes at the next General Election.

Do we take a cautious approach and look to retain the seats in the House of Commons that we currently hold, extend ourselves a bit by trying to win a handful of target seats or be really adventurous by running campaigns wherever we are able.

There are of course many factors to consider in making a final decision, not least the strength of the opposition and the willingness of members of our team to be deployed ‘out of position’. We also have to bear in mind the fact that politics has become much more unpredictable post Brexit.

Success may well come in some unusual places.

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Observations of an ex pat: The Elite

In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church called them heretics. They were excommunicated or burned at the stake.

Hitler branded them Jews or Jew lovers and sent them to labour camps or to the gas chambers. During the Cold War era they were derided  as the intelligentsia. In the Soviet Union they were pulled out of their positions as teachers, journalists  and scientists and despatched to Siberian Gulags. In China they were given a little Red Book and sent to “re-education camps”. In Cambodia they were murdered.

Why? Because these people sought answers by asking questions.  They challenged the accepted wisdom peddled by ideologues and entrenched interests.  They fought against false facts and simplistic prejudice-based solutions which used the time-honoured scapegoat method as a solution to social problems.

Nowadays such people are dismissed as “the elite”. They tend to live in cities because urban areas are the perfect incubators for the exchange of ideas and information. So, they are called the “urban elite” or “metropolitan elite”. Their opinions are dismissed even though they have devoted years of their life to study and travel and learned the value of working with different nations, races and cultures. They base their decisions on facts backed up by science, logic and mathematical proofs.

The problem is that this intellectual –“elitist”—approach to life’s problems is increasingly banging up against the brick wall of the “gut instinct” coupled with a deep-seated faith, strong prejudice and a growing fear of identity loss.  The result is a tendency of a growing number of people to dismiss the opinions of the expert elite because they clash with their “feelings”. As leading Brexiteer and Britain’s current Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said during the Brexit campaign: “Experts? The public are sick of experts.”

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Could Labour back May’s deal?

Jeremy Corbyn is about to run out of road. He has to pick a side now. Does he go with the majority of his party and back a People’s Vote or does he enable a Tory Prime Minister to inflict a hard Brexit on the country by backing her deal.

Theresa May’s tweet about her meeting with Corbyn yesterday was interesting:

The 29th March date now looks to be a bit fluid as senior Conservatives seem to be coalescing around a delay of a couple of weeks. But if May doesn’t deliver Brexit in short order, she’s toast. And Corbyn wants it over as quickly as possible so his party stops banging on about a People’s Vote.

And when May met Lib Dems, it was Vince, Tom Brake and Alistair Carmichael who were in those meetings. Because it makes sense to have your Brexit spokesperson involved.

But Corbyn didn’t take Kier Starmer for his meeting with the PM. He took two members of his inner circle. HIs direction of travel is clear – out of the EU. And his mindset in not punishing those who voted with the Government when pro single market shadow ministers had to resign in earlier votes shows where his heart lies.

Robert Peston seems to think Corbyn could whip Labour MPs into backing a Brexit deal:

For what it’s worth, my understanding is that Corbyn sees the failure to secure a majority yesterday of the Cooper and Grieve motions – and Labour’s own one, which explicitly mentions the possibility of a referendum – as proof that MPs really don’t want a People’s Vote.

Even more striking is that those close to Labour’s leader tell me they can indeed envisage a moment in the coming weeks when it will be official Labour policy to vote for a Brexit plan.

Those at the top of Labour, and in the grassroots, who want a referendum should fear they are being properly outmanoeuvred.

If Theresa May can’t get the ERG onside, she will need more than the 14 Labour MPs who voted with her on Tuesday night. The hard core of Corbyn loyalists might just pull her through, even if the moderate Labour MPs defied the whip.

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WATCH: Willie Rennie questions Nicola Sturgeon about restraint of vulnerable and disabled children

In December, Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner published a shocking report which stated that local authorities risked breaking the law and breaching vulnerable and disabled children’s human rights with the way they used restraint and seclusion.

Out of the 18 local authorities which record such incidents, almost 400 children were subjected to these procedures a total of 2764 times. And 14 local authorities gave no information at all so the overall figure may be higher.

The report made 22 recommendations to which the Scottish Government was to respond to by the end of January.

There was one particularly disturbing account of the seclusion of a child with the mental age of 3:

One time I was called and he was being kept in the cloakroom with the door shut on his own incredibly distressed and not allowed out until I arrived. He was 5 years old with the mental age of a three year old… X very traumatised re the holds and not sleeping well and screaming in his sleep, very reluctant to go into school…

The staff had even put him in a room on his own in a totally unregulated state and held the door handle from the other side and wouldn’t let him out. X. was Distraught.

Willie Rennie asked Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions what the Government was going to say.

Watch the exchange here. The text is below:

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Today is Young Carers Awareness Day

How many of you know a young carer?

Today we are celebrating the contributions many of our young people make as carers. It is Young Carers Awareness Day.

Caring can take many forms – a sibling caring for another sibling with a learning disability, a child looking after a parent, a young person helping aid a grandparent.

The world of care is diverse and often misunderstood, and many of our young carers are overlooked. They are balancing their care responsibilities with school work and sometimes have little time left over.

One issue I wanted to explore here is the symbiotic value of care. Yes, young carers are taking time to look after their relative, but what do they get in return? Not pay, in most cases. But they do get relationship.

Spending time together, in a care situation, creates an intimacy not found elsewhere. The relationship that develops can be deeper than it would have been without the aspect of care. The dimensions giving and receiving care adds to a relationship are profound.

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Being a PPC: The Work/Life Balance

Following last week’s blog on why I’m a PPC, I’m reflecting this week on the conundrum facing every PPC: how to manage a healthy work/life balance.

I’m starting from the premise that I am a much better PPC when I’m living in a balanced way, finding time for family, walks, reading books and (in my case) going to church. If all I did was politics, 24/7,  I don’t think I’d have perspective.

For many PPCs, it is a real struggle to balance work, downtime and the demands of being a PPC. I can relate. I’m self-employed, so in some respects it’s easier for me as I set my own schedule, and in other ways it’s more difficult in that I keep sacrificing work time for the never-ending asks coming my way.

I’ve managed to record two discs of music since being selected as a PPC in June. It has not been easy. But I am happier because of it. Until I am gainfully employed as a Member of Parliament, I need to keep up my day job – not only as a job, but also because it is who I am at the moment.

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