Category Archives: Op-eds

Shas Sheehan: The unimaginable horror of climate change for marginalised communities

Yesterday, the Office of National Statistics held an event to discuss the social impact on climate change. Lib Dem Peer Shas Sheehan spoke at the event, comparing the Extinction Rebellion protesters to the Suffragettes.

She spoke about how the impact of climate change would be felt most acutely by the most marginalised. Here is her speech in full:

In 1989 I cut short my career in advertising to do a masters in Environmental Technology, at Imperial College.

I wanted to get back to my science roots and study for myself the evidence for environmental degradation. Climate change wasn’t a big thing then. What was exercising environmentalists then included depletion of the ozone layer, acid rain, species loss and of course the radioactive cloud that was the legacy of Chernobyl.

Governments took action on the ozone layer and acid rain, because the evidence that both were caused by man was there before our eyes.

We could see the ozone hole from space, we could see the dying forests and the lakes devoid of life.

Visuals that are quantifiable are important when it comes to carrying public opinion.

So, the cover of the Economist a few weeks ago will have a powerful and lasting effect.

It shows a stripey red, white and blue flag, which colour codes the average temperature for each year starting from the mid 1800s to the present day, as measured against the average temperature from 1971 to 2000.  Colours range from darkest blue to deep crimson.

It is, quite frankly, frightening to see the cumulative effect. Since the 2000s we have been in red territory. And two out of the last three years have been deep crimson.

No wonder people have taken to the streets. They, like the suffragettes a century ago, have right on their side.

Back in 1989 Gro Harlem Brundtland’s Report, “Our Common Future” was a sort of bible for everyone who wanted to make the world a better place.

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Why we need #worldmentalhealthday

“I’ve got the headache from hell.”

“I’m full of the cold”

“I feel incredibly anxious today”

“My stomach is killing me.”

One of these is not like the others.

We are generally pretty comfortable about sharing when we’re feeling physically unwell, but not so if we are feeling mentally unwell.

I’m not going to lie, I have found these last few months really difficult. I’ve often felt overwhelmed and anxious. In fact, earlier in the Summer, I thought my mental health was going to collapse completely.

The last thing I was expecting from my campaigning trip to Brecon and Radnorshire was to come back feeling restored, refreshed and energised.

I’m not better, though. More days than not, I feel anxious.

And just like many people with physical ill health, I go to work and edit this site and go about my daily life.

The Winter months are generally more difficult than the Summer ones. A fall on ice quarter of a century ago has cast a very long shadow. Going outside when it’s snowy and icy is so exhausting that I’m often fit for nothing by the time I get where I’m going. I have to get used to operating on empty and living in a near permanent state of high anxiety.

And when people diminish what that is like, and laugh about it, it makes life so much more difficult. When people tell you to pull yourself together, they have absolutely no idea how much you are already doing that.

I also think that it is getting easier to talk about things like Anxiety and Depression. Try and say you are suffering from Psychosis and you will often realise very quickly that stigma is thriving.

So that’s my take on World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is suicide prevention, in particular the acronym WAIT, as Christine Jardine describes:

Alex Cole-Hamilton mentions the importance of listening:

Jo talked of the importance of being able to talk openly:

Jane Dodds has long championed measures to end loneliness and social isolation:

Luisa Porritt and Layla Moran shared their struggles with Anxiety and Depression:

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Are the Tories still born to rule?

It would seem so at the moment. We are in an unprecedented, astonishing political crisis, where an alliance of Opposition politicians is trying to stop our Prime Minister from ruining the country by permitting a No Deal Brexit, if no deal can be reached with the EU by October 19.

How can this be? How is it that a man who has already committed an illegal act involving the Queen without accepting that he was wrong, who is universally known for unscrupulous behaviour in pursuit of personal ambition, is permitted to continue in the highest position in the land? His word is so distrusted that Opposition politicians are obliged to try to find additional safeguards to ensure that he keeps to the law. Truth is a stranger to Boris Johnson, yet his Cabinet obeys the directions of himself and his disreputable chief adviser, and his party conference feted him as expected. Unelected by any democratic means, without a majority, having cast out a score of more moderate Tory MPs, he still looks forward to winning a General Election in the near future, since his party is well ahead of Labour in the polls, How can this be?

It has surely more to do than the apparent fact that the country wants Brexit settled now. The Labour Party also wants it settled, and also supports Brexit, albeit after a revised deal is reached. Why does the country, Brexit-riven, not put Labour first now? 

So the question arises: maybe there is still deference in England towards people who appear to assume a right to rule? 

Long after the end of our Empire, perhaps there is still a grudging acceptance that men educated at Eton and Oxbridge, who have old-boy networks linking them to top people in the legal profession, to directors of top companies, financiers and media moguls, who mix easily with successful entertainers and sportsmen and other influential public figures – that maybe they do genuinely have the right to run the country.  Top Tories are a privileged elite, but with their self-confidence and their connections, their directorships and financial heft, who can deny their assumed right to hold power?

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The EU logic for an extension through to the summer of 2020 and implications for the UK

In a nutshell, the 7-year EU Financial Framework runs 2014-2020. More straightforward for the management of the EU budget for the European Commission and a neat end-point. Or is it?

The noise out of number 10 to be un-cooperative to our continental partners may prove to be temporary bellicose “humbug” to use the PM’s own recent rhetoric – not least if the UK’s common interest in avoiding further regional turbulence in the Levant: military, economic – should US President Trump’s threats to destroy the Turkish economy bear fruit, further potential conflagration into an already fragile middle east that could lead to further issues of migrants that Turkey itself has been in effect paid by the EU to keep in situ through the ‘EU-Turkey refugee agreement’ through a €6bn pledge of which half has already been disbursed.

From the EU’s perspective therefore, there is no other major big EU-wide decisions in the offing for another year that Britain could threaten to either derail or upon which to simply do a spoiler akin to Farage’s MEPs turning their backs in the European Parliament. For EU capitals and the new incoming Commission and European Parliament a year offers enough time for the UK to go through the political catharsis: post October 31st “do or die” deadline gone, an election, perhaps a referendum, who knows maybe yet another election still, a possible Scottish referendum..

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YouGov’s poll of polls shows that the Government has no mandate for any Brexit, let alone catastrophic no deal

You know if you’re about to do make a really major change to your life, like, for example, get married or divorced, or leave your job, or pack up and move to run a bed and breakfast in the northern highlands (I wish), you should have a sense of certainty that it is the right thing to do. You might feel nervous, but you should also feel a bit excited about the opportunities of your choice.

This country is far from excited and optimistic about Brexit. In the face of overwhelming evidence that any form of Brexit is going to damage our economy, and that a no deal Brexit will put lives at risk from food and medicine shortages, polls suggest that the people have thought again.

A YouGov poll of polls conducted over the past two and  lib years provides conclusive evidence that most people want to remain in the EU.

From City AM:

So far this year, only one poll came out in support of Leave, compared to 74 for Remain.

“The polling evidence is concrete,” Anthony Wells, director of political research at Yougov, told the newspaper. “The overwhelming majority of questions asking people if Brexit is right or wrong, or if they would now vote Remain or Leave, show a lead for Remain, and have done for over two years.”

The results appear to fly in the face of the government’s strategy of framing the Brexit question as parliament versus the people.

“The characterisation of the situation as people vs parliament doesn’t really stand up when the public are split over Brexit. It is more a case of half the public vs half of Parliament,” Wells added.

The poll-of-polls showed that Leave began 2017 with a lead of 51 per cent to 49 per cent, a marginally narrower gap than the referendum result.

Britain Elects draws similar conclusions:

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In praise of Marcus Ball – doughty fighter against the £350 million red bus lie


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Marcus Ball has announced that he can no longer move forward with his legal fight to hold Boris Johnson responsible for his “£350 million a week” red bus statement.

High court judges threw the case out in June after Johnson challenged a summons to attend court on three claims of misconduct in public office. However, Marcus Ball had continued fighting in the hope of taking the case to the Supreme Court.

Last weekend, news came from the legal fraternity that this would not be possible.

This young man has put up an extraordinary fight over the last three and a half years, working at below the national minimum wage per hour.

Goodness knows, there are many roads to riches in the legal profession.

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The Lib Dem Lowdown – our guide for new members – the Welcome Heidi edition

Welcome to everyone who has joined the Liberal Democrats in the last few weeks, and a special mention to our newest MP, Heid Allen.

 

We haven’t actually re-done this post since Chuka joined, so we should formally welcome Sarah, Angela, Philip, Sam and Luciana, as well as our by-election winner Jane Dodds.

Every so often I roll out this post, which is basically a rehash of an article that I first wrote in May 2015 when many joined the party in the wake of the General Election result. I thought it might be useful to tell you a little bit about how our party works and give you a bit of an idea of the opportunities open to you. If you are not yet a member, if you like what you read, sign up here.

What do we believe?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of organisation, the best statement of who we are and what we’re about can be found in the Preamble to our Constitution which underlines how we believe in freedom, opportunity, diversity,  decentralisation and internationalism. Here’s a snippet:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely. We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject allprejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

We have a fierce respect for individuality, with no expectation that fellow Liberal Democrats will agree with us on every issue. We expect our views to be challenged and feel free to challenge others without rancour. We can have a robust debate and head to the pub afterwards, the very best of friends.

Obviously, our priority at the moment is to stop Brexit, but there is so much more to us than that. That bit about no-one being enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity shapes everything that we do.

Your rights as a member

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Johnson to implicate the Queen in electoral shenanigans

Admittedly honesty is far from Johnson’s forte. Accordingly, I should not be so surprised that Johnson can simultaneously cry out for an imminent election and prorogue parliament for a Queen’s speech and new legislative session. 

Quite simply, it is not the function of the Queen to present an electioneering address on behalf of the Conservative Party. Having already abused the function of the Queen by illegally advising her on an overlong prorogation, Johnson is merely running true to form in forcing the Head of State to front an election pitch.

We have to make it clear that this is wholly unacceptable and that if he is intent on prorogation, he cannot concurrently expect an election in the near term.  Parliamentary sessions are seldom shorter 150 days, the shortest session in recent times was 65 days.  If the Queen’s speech is not voted down, we must insist there should be a reasonable period, perhaps six months, during which the government should try to work through its programme. We would press for a referendum on whatever it is Johnson has to offer within this period.

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Lord William Wallace writes… Brexit endgame?

This feels like the endgame for Brexit – and quite possibly for Boris Johnson. Briefings in Sunday papers on how the prime minister will refuse to resign when Parliament next votes him down – remember, he hasn’t won a single vote yet – to force the Queen to dissolve Parliament and let him fight an election on the ‘betrayal’ of Brexit suggest that he doesn’t expect the latest negotiations to succeed, and doesn’t know how to evade the terms of the Benn ‘Surrender’ Act.

The tactical judgement of Johnson’s advisers is that they can win an election on these terms, …

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Sal Brinton urges us to THINK about our language

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent days about the language we all use in political discussion and debate.

Today, Sal Brinton has emailed all party members to urge us to play our part in being thoughtful and sensitive in what we say.

Here is her email, reproduced with her permission:

I chair the all party parliamentary group on bullying. We focus on helping young people and we know many schools now use the THINK acronym to teach good communication (Is it True; Is it Helpful; Is it Inspiring; Is it Necessary; Is it Kind?).

As a party, I think we need our own version of THINK:
Is it True
Is it Hurtful
Is it Illegal
Is it Necessary
Is it Kind?

Why am I talking about this now? Over the last few weeks and months, the tone and language of political discourse has become increasingly nasty, hurtful and – for too many politicians – dangerous. We have MPs (of all parties, whether supporting leave or remain) who have been targeted by trolls of the worst kind, who use language to harass and intimidate.

Women, people of colour, LGBT+ people and those with disabilities are particularly targeted and in a clearly hateful way. Diane Abbott is constantly trolled, Caroline Spelman has had to have police support and is standing down, and our own Christine Jardine was unmercifully targeted by SNP trolls.

As Liberal Democrats I hope we all abhor such behaviour. I am sure, like me, you believe that the language we use as Liberal Democrats speaks to our values. But we all need to check our own language because it is far too easy when insults are thrown at us, to respond in kind.

Two years ago, on behalf of the party, I appeared before the Committee for Standards in Public Life as they took evidence about the intimidation and harassment of parliamentary candidates in the 2017 General Election.

I was not there to tell of how many of our candidates had been on the receiving end of such intimidation and harassment – we had witnesses who spoke for themselves with shocking examples.

No, I was there to explain to the Committee what actions our party takes when we discover that a party member has behaved inappropriately, or worse, committed a hate crime. You can see the Committee’s report here. It is depressing reading. But, frankly, things are now much worse.

You will all have seen the debate in parliament last week which has forced us all to think about the language that we use in politics. And earlier this week, Jo Swinson was amongst party leaders who met with the Speaker of the House of Commons, and they agreed this declaration:

“Everyone is entitled to have a view – be they parliamentarian, journalist or a member of the public – and their right to safety cannot in any way be dependent on what that view is or the course of political action they take.”

It is important to remember that as members, under our members’ code of conduct, we have responsibilities as well as rights, and I would ask all of you to think carefully about what you say.

If you are on the receiving end of trolling often the best way to go is to say nothing at all – walking away could help you avoid making a mistake. Never post in anger!

There’s an old football adage “play the ball, not the person”, which is a good starting point, but we also need to think about the boundaries. Have you been upset by language used by an opponent? Is there anything that you have posted that could have been received in a way to upset the recipient, beyond the usual exchange of views? Or make them feel threatened? Or made them feel so worried that they need to go to the police because they fear for their personal safety?

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It looks like we’re standing down in Beaconsfield for Dominic Grieve

The Sunday Times reports (£) that we are standing down in Beaconsfield to support Dominic Grieve’s run as an independent following his unceremonious ejection from the Conservative Party.

Normally you don’t believe these things – I mean, we were supposed to be standing down in favour of Rory Stewart a few weeks ago and that was never going to happen.

But we do have this one from the horse’s mouth – our PPC in Beaconsfield, Rob Castell.

Dominic Grieve has been a consistent supporter of a People’s Vote, so this makes sense.

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Could you be Jo’s party liaison person?

There’s an interesting job advert coming up today if you fancy being the person who is the link between Jo and the party.

You need to get in quick, though – closing date is a week on Tuesday.

I like the emphasis on two way communication in the job description:

To advise the Leader on all issues relating to the internal workings of the Liberal Democrat Party, and work to ensure the Leader has a strong relationship with the wider party.

Regular interaction with state and EU Liberal Democrat parliamentary groups and their staff to ensure a two-way flow information with the Leader. Maintain a close working relationship with members of Party HQ based staff, especially the campaigns, fundraising, communications and membership departments, and the policy team.

Regular interaction with Liberal Democrats in local government – LGA, ALDC, council group leaders – to ensure a two-way flow information with the Leader.

Regularly interact with SAOs, AOs and other relevant party organisations to ensure a two-way flow information with the Leader.

Representing the Leader of the Liberal Democrats at relevant party committees, including the Federal Board.

Have a close working relationship with target seat Parliamentary candidates.

And as you would expect, the person needs to have “fabulous” communication skills and emotional intelligence.

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Christine Jardine writes: A president who listens

Waiting for the outcome of the nomination count for Party President felt a wee bit like that scene from The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon explains about Schrodinger’s Cat.

You know, where as long as the box is closed the cat is both dead and alive.

The relief when they cat was actually alive, and I was nominated, was huge.

Now is when the work really starts, in listening to what you want from your new President, and whether I fit the bill.

I have no illusions about how much work is involved, or what it will take to continue to build the wide movement we all want.

But I also know how important it is that the membership has a strong, clear, effective voice. A president who speaks for the members, but more importantly, one who listens to what they want and communicates that to the leadership.

We have a fantastic team at HQ with so many bright, capable people whether it’s in campaigns, fundraising, policy or the press team.

I see the President’s role there as facilitating what they do.

Not directing the operation, after all they are the ones with the expertise, but supporting and making sure that they have what they need from the party infrastructureMost of all I see the President as the link between the members, the staff, the parliamentarians and the public

Communication is the key, both within the party and to the outside world.

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Cole-Hamilton’s pride as Scotland passes smacking ban

If Alex Cole-Hamilton were to slap me, he would, rightly, face the full force of the law. If he were to slap his 5 year old daughter Darcy (which would never happen), he could do so with the full support of the law, which allows “reasonable chastisement.”

That is an inconsistency that he has been campaigning against for years. Today his work and that of many others was rewarded when the Scottish Parliament voted to give children the same protection from assault in law as adults, becoming the first country in the UK to do so.

I’ve known Alex for almost two decades. In that time I’ve teased him on many occasions, always with justification. But there have been many more times when I have been proud of him and today is one of the biggest. One of the reasons I spent a decade trying to get him elected was that I knew he would be an amazing advocate for Scotland’s children.

He’s been working to change the law on physical punishment of children for a long time. And he had an uphill battle trying to change party policy. In 2013, we lost by just 9 votes. Three years later, the result went the opposite way – and overwhelmingly. The proposer of the amendment in favour of keeping the law as it is changed his mind during the course of the debate, persuaded by the arguments. This move ensured Lib Dem support for the Bill today.

Today’s Bill was originally brought by Green MSP John Finnie but it had cross party support across Holyrood – except from the Conservatives, of course.

Here is Alex’s speech in favour of the Bill.

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Contagion

Canvassing is one of those things that many of us take for granted. It is part of what we do. Occasionally a meeting on a doorstep will echo down the years, coming back into the mind and setting a scene.

Such a meeting happened to me some years ago. It was in a Labour Ward in Liverpool, at the height of the Militant Tendancy regime. I knocked at a door in a Council estate and asked the gentleman who came to the door if he would vote for us. As I anticipated, he said no, he wouldn’t. So I asked who he would be supporting, expecting him to say, ‘Labour’.

But no. He looked at me and said: ‘ I’m voting Conservative.’ I couldn’t resist and asked him why.

‘Well, they’re born to rule, aren’t they’.

It is a picture that has stayed with me ever since. An old man, probably without two pennies to his name, supporting Mrs Thatcher. It has been a puzzle that has come back to me time and time again.

And here we are, in 2019, with the Brexit party soaking up Tory supporters and members, appealing to working class voters and the Tories through Boris Johnson, an old Etonian for Heaven’s sake,  trying to capture Labour seats.

Selling the vision that Britain won the war so can ‘get Brexit done’ is an advertising slogan that has been bought in to. If it was an advertisement, the ASA would soon smack those responsible down! But, in politics, there is no standards authority.

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Are we, at last, witnessing the strange death of Conservative England?

What does the Conservative party stand for in 2019?’ is a question asked in Tuesday’s Guardian’s Journal section by sociologist, William Davies. That got me thinking back to the count in the early hours of Friday morning in the newly formed Sleaford and North Hykeham Parliamentary at the end of the 1997 General Election, my only foray into the maelstrom of national party politics. As the Lib Dem candidate, who finished a respectable third behind a resurgent Labour Party and ahead of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, I watched Douglas Hogg give his customary acceptance speech. I remember vividly the words he used. Casting his eye over a mass of blue rosettes in the audience, he ended by saying; “We Tories always win in the end”.

Living for most of my adult life in Lincolnshire, with the notable exception of the City of Lincoln, I can vouch for that remark. Having read his article, I just wonder whether, at last, Mr Davies might be on to something. I’ve finally began to read ‘The Strange Death of Liberal England’ by the late Anglo-American historian, George Dangerfield. I often ask myself why people vote Conservative, although I do confess having done so once in a General Election myself back in 1970 before four years living and working abroad made me see the error of my ways.

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LIB DEMS: by default, the only party for Business and sound economic management

The “new normal” was coined as a new lexicon by Mohamed El-Erian, the then head of the global financial firm PIMCO to describe the post-script of global finance following the financial crisis of 2007-08. 

With the torrent of news and scandal, it feels as though we are all becoming immune of not sensitised to an almost daily feed of political shocks and ever-more worsening language in the current political maelstrom. The new normal.

One aspect of the current pre-election phase – but also a reflection of a structural shift – is the position on public finances for the two parties. As Lib Dems should be able to capitalise on as the ONLY sensible party for economic stewardshipmost sensible centrists and business will recognise that the Tories have lost this mantle.

I wrote earlier about PM Johnson’s rapidly escalating fiscal promises that are clearly a pre-election gambit – a well-worn political strategy of governing parties over generations. I also highlighted the risks that the fiscal costs of a de facto government “bail out” by the Treasury in the event of a No Deal could easily get into figures and a scale that would test the UK’s reputation for economic management at the least, and the worst, risk a full-blown economic-financial crisis.  

A further extension into 2020 (June most likely) is now the baseline scenario. I’ll outline why separately.

A quick review therefore of the fiscal issues is apt but without going into policies specifically, or even the legality for some of Labour’s positions eg on sequestration of private school assets. 

These are my 3 main conclusions for the current new normal for economic management in the UK:

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Mark Pack writes…Winning at every level: the Lib Dem recipe for success

We should never forget that elections at all levels matter. They directly give us the chance to implement our vision for a liberal democrat society in more communities, and they also are the springboard to future success in elections at other levels. We saw that so clearly this May, where put more Lib Dems into power and set us up win a record number of MEPs, not to mention putting us very much back on the national political map.

But the truth is too much of our organisation, especially at the federal level, often defaults to acting as if only the next Westminster contest really matters.

It’s understandable why over-stretched staff, tight budgets and busy volunteers can fall into this trap. But to build sustained, long-term success across all of England, Scotland and Wales, and to get even more Liberal Democrat policies put into action in even more communities, we need to think broader and longer-term. The next general election is crucial. But so too are the local elections coming next May, the next Scottish Parliament elections and the next Welsh Assembly elections – not to mention the general election after next. 

Seeing all these elections as part of one overall mission for the party is a central part of the core votes strategy which David Howarth and I pioneered after the 2015 debacle and which has underpinned our recovery. Concentrate on those who share our values so that we build a durable, sustainable bedrock of support across all elections – and on which specific campaigns can then add the personal votes of candidates and tactical support. Stick with that task and we’ll be ready to win bigger, year after year.

That political strategy requires an organisation to match. That’s why improving and enlarging our organisation is at the heart of my pitch to be President and the five priorities I’ve set out (read them here)

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Is this why many “leavers” are against a People’s Vote?

The latest polls on a third referendum:

Jacob Rees-Mogg was recently asked by an LBC listener:

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Johnson has deeply split the Tory party – on an historic level

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It is worth standing back and pausing to consider how remarkable the historic split in the Tory party has been under PM Johnson is just a few weeks.

“One Nation” Tories have been the backbone of the Conservative party for a couple of centuries. But now they have been cast out of the party.

This extraordinary split can be seen in the words of two “One Nation” Tories who now sit in Parliament as independents.

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It’s a question of honour

I have been involved in Liberal and Liberal Democrat politics, mostly as an activist, councillor and parliamentary candidate, since 1964. During that time there have been thirteen different Prime Ministers, none of whom I agreed with politically at all. Until the advent of the current PM, all of them behaved in a civilised fashion and played the game according to the rules.

There was a time when if you broke the law, or lied to parliament, you resigned. How honourable John Profumo now seems, when compared to the present incumbent of 10 Downing Street. Profumo, for those of you too young …

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Sam Gyimah MP writes… Distorting reality is no way to run a country


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Steve Jobs, the legendary founder of Apple was often described as using a ‘reality distortion field’ to convince himself and others to believe almost anything. Employing the techniques of bravado, hyperbole and sheer persistence, he could make an impossible task seem possible.

Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s Chief strategist – a known fan of tech titans such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk – seems to want to employ these techniques in pursuit of Brexit at any price and to crush the hopes of Remainers.

The Government’s multi-million pound advertising campaign telling us all to ‘Get Ready For Brexit’ on October the 31st is designed to subliminally suggest to the voters that this is the only option open to us. Everything we know points towards the fact that there is no orderly way to leave the EU by that date. Despite this, the Government’s social media, radio and TV adverts are running every day, as if in total denial of reality.

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Four remarkable years of Lib Dem Newbies

One thing that the last few years in politics have taught me – among others – is that, surprisingly, computers can’t count.  Or at least, Facebook’s computers can’t reliably tell you how many people are in a group, once it gets above a certain size.

On the morning of the 8th  May, 2015, I was absolutely devastated.  Not only had my party been all but wiped out, but Liberalism had been written off and my non-Lib Dem friends, while supportive of me, struggled to hide their belief that the drubbing was deserved.

And then something odd happened: thousands of new members flocked to the party, inspired by our principles and Nick Clegg’s remarkable resignation speech.  As Sal Brinton, our redoubtable (and now outgoing) President wrote, Libby, our popular bird-of-liberty logo, had become a phoenix.

One of those new members, joining a grieving and shell-shocked Lib Dems, started a Facebook group for newcomers to orient themselves, meet other members, and get involved in rebuilding our shattered party.  These ‘Newbies’ were a few-hundred strong, and started attending pints and meetings with Lib Dems who were surprised and delighted to welcome them. The group grew and required moderating, and soon, I and a few others were recruited by other volunteers, to help Admin the group and keep it ticking.

At the time, I think we all expected Lib Dem Newbies to last a couple of years and then peter out – the membership would fall back, our volunteer Admins would move on.  Members now established in the party (or leaving it, having decided it wasn’t for them) would drift away, and the group would slip quietly into obscurity. These things have a shelf life, after all.

…British politics has a funny way of subverting expectations.  Successive surges – particularly after the second shattering defeat of the Referendum – have seen us welcome thousands, and four years on, we are on the cusp of welcoming our eight-thousandth member.  We ask new applicants what inspired them to join, and where they are – and if, as is sadly often the case, they are yet to make contact with their local party, we’re so big now that someone else in the group is usually in their area with the right contact.

Since 2015, we’ve welcomed, linked-up, informed, and encouraged our new and returning members, and longer-serving ones too.  I’ve welcomed at least two “Newbies” who joined under Jo Grimond and felt reinvigorated by our energy, proving that Newbie-ness is about mindset, not joining date.  We’ve also helped Newbies get elected to everything from parish councils, to principal authorities, to Westminster, and now the European Parliament.

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From Hong Kong shanty town to Liberal Democrat PPC

I was pleased to be adopted recently as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Westminster North. My journey to this point has been a long one. Through a career in business, the police, another party and all the way from Hong Kong, I have been emboldened to join the fight to demand better for our communities and country than this Tory-Labour mess.

I was born in a Hong Kong shanty-town pig shed. Aged 5 I worked in a toy factory before coming to the UK at 10, unable to speak English. Living and working …

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We must avoid being the sole obstacle to stopping a No-Deal Brexit

Boris Johnson has boxed himself into a corner – but he may not be the only one.

The prime minister has got himself into a situation where, it appears, he either has to break his promise to take us out of the EU on 31 October or break the law in terms of ignoring – or circumventing – the Benn Act that stops a no-deal Brexit. But circumventing may be an option for him; certainly the political commentators are far from confident that the Benn Act is watertight, and that at least one loophole exists.

Hence all the discussion about a vote of no confidence this week, as this may be the only way to guarantee that we avoid a No-Deal Brexit. But have our MPs perhaps also boxed themselves into a corner with their commitment to doing anything to avoiding a No-Deal Brexit yet at the same time committing not to prop up a Corbyn-led government, even a short-term one?

If the SNP and Labour are willing to support a motion of no confidence this week, it’s pretty certain the Plaid MPs and Caroline Lucas will follow suit. That would just leave the Liberal Democrats plus a handful of Independents – enoughto make the difference between success and failure.

There is a way out of this for Jo Swinson. It is for her to take the following position:

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Catherine Finnecy – why I’m running to be Party President

Whilst the parliamentary party is rightly focuses on finding a way through this crisis there is also serious work to be done internally if we are to capitalise on our growing army of members.

I worry that lean times in recent years have hindered policy development. In some important areas I feel that whilst solid decisions are taken, some of our policies could be much more cutting edge, ambitious and better reflect our collective expertise.

We must find a way for associations to be better consulted and for working groups to be more diverse, inclusive, and meritocratic. Good social policy …

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Avoiding Boris Johnson’s “People v Politicians” trap

News of Dominic Cummings describing the present Brexit chaos as “a walk in the park” nails the idea that what’s been going on recently is an inept Prime Minister making a mess. 

Boris Johnson has been talking of a “People v Politicians” election soon. He could do well, especially if he gets to dictate the timetable.

Horror at his conduct is causing a surge of support for the Liberal Democrats, and there is the temptation to support an election because it will almost certainly produce many more Liberal Democrat MPs, but the real risk is that they will be opposing a deeply dangerous Johnson-majority government.

On the other side, what’s going on now can be spun as pro-Remain MPs and pro-Remain civil servants conspiring with pro-Remain judges to subvert “the will of the people”.

Comments I’ve seen on twitter include: “I am hoping that Boris, Cummings and JRM are just using prorogation as distraction for the main event” and “I agree with everything Boris said” (in his Commons statement] after Parliament resumed sitting). 

The polls show support for Johnson and for the Conservative party at a level that is a million miles from what I’d expect of a Prime Minister who’s just lost a major Supreme Court case — but isn’t crazy in the light of Tory facebook adverts attacking “opposition leaders for wanting ‘to ignore our Brexit vote’”The Sun, The Express and The Daily Mail attacking the Supreme Court judges and the Daily Mail  saying “More than half of British voters want an election NOW as they blast ‘Establishment plot’ to block Brexit”. 

 

As it stands, if Johnson ignores (or finds a way round) the Benn Act to crash us our of the EU on 31 October, the top news stories will be that Brexit has happened, outrage from most MPs, and (doubtless) the start of another court case. Those can all be spun as anger from “the establishment”. That’s an effective way to bury the stories about queues of lorries at Dover and problems on the Irish border.  Those who were alarmed earlier in the year by the stories of the military being ready in case of rioting if Brexit happens will not have been re-assured by Johnson tweeting a photo of himself surrounded by senior military on 19 September.

Expelling 21 respected MPs gave Johnson a way to be seen to make a stand against the “remainer Establishment”. If he ends up in the courts again, he can, again, be painted as making a “heroic stand”. His supporters like this.

The Leave campaign did a brilliant job of preying on people’s fears. They never presented a coherent image of how we would leave the EU. They dangled impossible hopes that are still there because they have not yet collided with reality.

David Cameron wasn’t the only person to assume a Leave victory was unthinkable. An “unthinkable” Johnson victory only needs the pedalling of more impossible hopes — especially if “they” or “the establishment” can be blamed when they are shown to be impossible.

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Christine Jardine: why I’m running to be Party President

Ok. I know I said that I wasn’t going to do it.

And as recently as conference I was adamant that I was not going to change my mind.

But I have.

The first thing of course that I have to say is that I am sorry for the delay and to explain that it was a family thing.

It’s well known that my husband died during the General Election in circumstances which were difficult, particularly for my daughter and the people close to me.

I’m sure you all appreciate that without her support I would have found it impossible to put the time, energy and commitment into this that the members deserve.

And those are three things that this role will need. In spades.

At a time when we have become the rallying point for the vast numbers of people in this country looking for an open, diverse, forward looking party, we need a President who has the status and authority to speak to that image publicly.

Just as importantly they will have to commit the time to listening to what the members have to say, and then ensure it is heard. Personal contact and availability will be key.

But members also need the right support and encouragement. The Alderdice report challenged us to create a culture that is inclusive. That is more important now than ever.

We cannot allow any possibility of retreating to what was comfortable and easy for some members and excluded others.

The President will have to lead, with all the committees and SAOs, on reaching out to those new members and build relationships which will sustain the next generation of activists, councillors and parliamentarians.

As a member of Federal Board, an MP and previously a member of the executive of the Scottish party, I know how hard Sal has worked and exactly what it takes to be a strong president.

I have no illusions about what it entails.

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Out of the haze

You may have seen images in the news of Indonesia with blood red skies and mired in choking smoke, looking more like Mars than on earth.

Runaway forest fires in Indonesia has been a recurring problem, and the cause of the “haze” in Singapore and Malaysia, depending on which way the wind blows. The fires can rage on for days and weeks in the carbon-rich peat forests, and has so far affected an estimated 69 million people in the region. We can’t even begin to count the cost to the wildlife.

Each day in Singapore we look …

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The speeches that got away: Investing in further education and learning throughout life 

The Education motion at conference stated  “The UK faces a serious skills deficit”. 

That is an understatement. Take for example what happens when young people fail GCSE Maths and English and move on to sixth form or college. 

When I taught at a general FE College, I remember a group of 17year old girls, who aspired to be nurses. I had to spend time, for example, teaching them quadratic equations when they really needed much more time improving their understanding and application of decimals, percentages, and ratio relevant to their career. 

Force-feeding young people to resit GCSE Maths and English which they have just failed and hated is bad education. Statistically, results show it does not work. On average 25% pass; in Maths this year only 20% passed and can we claim that even these have sufficiently improved, with a pass mark around 20 out of 100, so was it relevant to their career? 

This approach can even be dangerous; on more than one occasion in my lifetime a baby has died because the decimal point in a drug prescription was in the wrong place. 

Our party motion makes clear that young people need to develop their Maths and English in a free course that is suited to their needs.  Functional skills qualifications have this year been improved, so there is no excuse. Colleges at the moment are constrained by strict funding rules. We will give colleges the freedom and resources to judge the best way to improve basic skills for everyone at age 16+. 

In this country skills and ‘vocational’ learning have  not been given the attention they need for decades. Note these points. 

First, the department for Education Skills Index, shows since 2012 the contribution of skills to the nation’s productivity declined by 27%. Second, we have now the lowest on record of adults pursuing any form of education. Third, the new T-level courses due to start in September 2020 look like being under-resourced.  Fourth, the new apprenticeships while welcome are failing at the lower levels; companies who pay the levy have reduced their other training provision. 

So, with all these recent failures to deal with the skills deficit, what does Boris Johnson do ?  He removes the post of Skills Minister. 

This follows a period when Michael Gove distorted the whole Education curriculum by his obsession with academic learning and theoretical testing. Under the veneer of improved exam results, many feel the harmful consequences of that and those at the lower end are not catching up.

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