Category Archives: Op-eds

Lords defeat a victory for common-sense

The Government have received their eleventh defeat in the House of Lords during the Report stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill. The vote on an amendment to ensure our future interaction with EU law and agencies was passed by a cross-bench majority of 298 to 227

Commenting on the victory, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords, Lord Newby said:
This vote was a victory for common-sense. Of course if the UK wishes to remain in specific agencies, such as Euratom, it should be able to. This allows us to replicate EU law and means that we can continue our role in

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Sad news: Colin Rosenstiel has died

Many of his old friends and colleagues knew this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it actually happens:

I’ve known Colin for almost half my life. He was a stalwart of the original Lib Dem online community, Cix, back in the day – and in fact he was in there as recently as Saturday. I first met him in real life at the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election in 1995 where he delivered millions of leaflets.

He really was a proper, old school awkward liberal and he showed that off particularly well in the immigration consultation session in Southport in March, which was the last time I saw him. He was an incorrigible transport geek, so it was fitting that his last speech from the conference floor was on the emergency debate on trains.

He was a Councillor in Cambridge for 33 years. His wife Joye represented the same ward for 28 years.

He and I profoundly disagreed about a few things, most notably all women shortlists, but that didn’t stop us having our arguments and then going to the pub, virtual or otherwise,  and talking about something else. Over the years, I learned a lot from him about liberalism, about the importance of local government, about the history of the party. I always felt I never really needed to understand the intricacies of the Single Transferable Vote because there was always Colin. Heaven knows how this party would have conducted its elections without him. He was doing the job right from the start in 1988 and has a full record of all of them here.

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Richmond shows progressive alliances do work

Buried amid the dramatic and highly welcome headline of the Liberal Democrat landslide on Richmond-upon-Thames Council was a rather overlooked factor –that, when progressive alliances are done properly and sensitively, they can work and be a great asset to the party.

In 2014 the Conservatives won thirty-nine of Richmond’’s fifty-four councillors. This time we won thirty-nine but, while we picked up the other fifteen councillors four years ago, this time the Tories only got eleven, with the other four going to the Greens. And those four Greens are in part a Liberal Democrat …

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So, where do the Liberal Democrats go from here?

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

These famous words, spoken by former Liberal, Winston Churchill, in 1942 after the second victorious Battle of El Alamein, could very well sum up where the Liberal Democrats find themselves after what many would see as a very satisfactory comeback after a few difficult years. But, as they say, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. There is no guarantee that even moderate success at local elections will translate into success in a General Election. Despite the accusation …

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Post-election reflections on building a Lib Dem core vote

This year I decided to carry out an experiment. I had the feeling that our strategy of Targeting had swung too far one way and was over-allocating resources, adding to the haemorrhaging of our Core Vote and leading our supporters, ex supporters and electorate at large to view the LibDems as increasingly becoming irrelevant.  

So I decided to do some work in the non-Target ward in Ealing that I had been allocated without using any human or material party resources. I also did not work with the other “paper candidates” in the Ward as I did not want to detract from their efforts in helping in the Target wards.

This was the result of my limited effort in my Ward Ealing Broadway:

Ealing Broadway Ward
Vote 2014 Vote 2018 Share 2014 Share 2018 Change Pct Change
Dorothy Brooks/Joyce Onstad 524 789 4.72% 6.24% 265 50.57%
Patrick Salaun 442 627 3.99% 4.96% 185 41.86%
Mark Sanders/Toran Shaw 391 572 3.53% 4.52% 181 46.29%
Total LibDem 1357 1988 12.24% 15.72% 631 46.50%
Total Vote 11090 12644
Electorate 10390 10641
Turnout 38.49% 41.30%

And here is the result in Ealing Common Target Ward where much of the Ealing resources were concentrated:

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Former Lib Dem MEP Bill Newton-Dunn is one of our Richmond councillor gains

Amongst our many gains in Richmond in the early hours of Friday morning was a very familiar face, pointed out by Michael Mullaney on Twitter:

And here’s the proof:

I was delighted when Bill joined the Liberal Democrats – which always seemed a better fit for his boldly pro European ideals …

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Finally, a little bit of sunshine

Before I say anything else, I just want to send a virtual hug to all those valiant Lib Dem campaigners who put their heart and soul into their wards and didn’t win.   Unlike many others in recent years, though, you can see a glimmer of hope for the future. I hope you can see that you’ll get it next  time. There will be many who like Claire who lost by 2 and Elspeth who lost by 90 ish for whom there is a way in.

Even in my wildest moments of optimism, I didn’t envisage us gaining quite as many seats as we have today.  The results prove that people are ready, not just to talk to us again, but to head down the polling station and vote for us again. Everyone’s talking about us doing well. As I pointed out last night, anything over 43 gains would be our second best result in our entire existence as a party for this particular set of elections. We actually got 75. Now that doesn’t rebuild the 440 we’ve lost since 2010, but it gives us a foothold.

Look at what we’ve done. I’d heard good things about South Cambridgeshire and was pleased when they absolutely smashed it. One of my people of the day is Bridget Smith, the new Council Leader, who has exactly the right attitude for that sort of thing:

There were amazing results in Kingston and Richmond and Three Rivers too. We held off the Tories in Sutton – that caused me a few palpitations about 3am, I’ll tell you. John Leech has a partner to back him up in Manchester. Gains in Hull, Oxfordshire, holding on to South Lakeland, getting back Three Rivers, Peter Taylor winning the Watford mayoralty. Holding on to Eastleigh and Cheltenham.

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Observations of an ex pat: Death around the world

What makes us human? When do we cease to become human? Or, to put it another way, when do we die?

The questions are becoming an increasingly important as cases such as Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard grab the headlines and pull at the world’s collective heartstrings.

Fifty years ago a group of scientists gathered at Harvard Medical School to discuss the issue. Up until then it hadn’t been an issue. If your heart stopped beating and your lungs stopped breathing, you were dead. But then along came modern science with its ventilators and heart pumps.

So the Harvard scientists asked the question: What makes humans unique? What organ of the body differentiates us from other forms of life and without it, we would cease to exist. The answer they came up with was the brain.

On the basis of that meeting, the US Congress passed the 1981 Uniform Death Act which said doctors could declare a person dead when the brain was deemed to have suffered irreversible and permanent damage.  The individual states followed suit (with variations on the theme) as did most Western countries.

By 1968 the need for a definition of death had become increasingly necessary. Insurance companies demanded to know how long they would be liable for the medical bills. Doctors wanted to know when they could harvest organs for transplant purposes.  The victims’ families demanded reassurance that their loved ones would not be declared prematurely dead so that their organs could be harvested.  When was a person widowed? When should life insurance be paid?

So brain death became the marker for when doctors  signed the necessary paperwork. But there were exceptions.  Orthodox Jews and Muslims believe that a person does not die until the heart and lungs stop and argue that doctors attempts to declare their loved ones brain dead is a denial of their right of freedom of religion. This is recognised by the state of New Jersey, Israel, and the Islamic world but leads to court cases elsewhere. 

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And Music Services continue to be cut…

Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd is supporting a campaign to save the East Sussex Music Service. He wrote in his newsletter:

Sadly the budget cuts just keep rolling in from East Sussex County Council, and they’re now planning severe reductions to our music services.

The absolutely brilliant East Sussex Music Service (ESMS) are celebrating their 84th year; they deliver music lessons to around 7000 children in schools across the county per annum and 1000 children, aged between 4 and 18, attend area music centres each week. Despite this success, the county council have announced plans are being made to close the music instrumental service by 2019. This will result in the loss of valued music provision for many and destroy a service which has introduced thousands of Eastbourne children to music over the decades.

I believe such proposals are unnecessary, wrong and shortsighted. I’ve also been told that staff believe savings can be made without slashing such a much loved music service. We need County Hall to pause, listen to the people they serve and go back to the music staff to ask them how the funding circle can be squared, rather than just propose a decimation of the entire instrument teaching provision. A decision which if it goes through, will be horrendously difficult to reverse. Please join me in opposing this cut by signing the online petition here.

I remember being amazed when studying the music systems of Albania under Enver Hoxha’s regime, that every child, from nursery onwards, was taught music. By the age of four, those showing talent were given individual lessons. By the age of six, some children were learning two instruments. Music was a celebrated part of culture, not a sideline. I wondered why we didn’t do the same.

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It’s Election Day!

Good luck to all our candidates up and down the country! We wish you and your teams well for what will be a very long and exhausting day. Some tips to survive:

  1. Have fun! There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of getting out the vote on election day and all the excitement of the count. Make sure you enjoy as much of it as you can. It is a wonderful experience which many of our new members are having for the first time.
  2. Hydrate. Drink lots of water, it’s a long day and brains as well as body need to be kept alert and oiled for action.
  3. Listen to your Committee Room manager or Campaign Organiser. They will have an overview of how things are going and will be targeting resources where they matter.
  4. Have some downtime and take short breaks, but don’t distract others who might be beavering away.
  5. Make sure you eat. It’s a bit like the television show 24 where the characters never seemed to stop to eat. An election day can be like that. Eat healthy carbs and avoid too many chocolate bars and cakes. The sweet rush lasts a little while, but sandwiches and bananas give you the endurance to last the day.

Remember to vote – it is easy to become distracted with election day chaos and forget! I remember my first election campaign, getting to the polling station at 9:45pm as I had left voting until the end. Well actually, I forgot. Someone reminded me. So do cast your vote!

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The Independent View: Invitation to Lib Dem Women – Be involved with research on women’s political representation

One hundred years after women gained the right to vote and to be elected to Parliament, women are still fewer than one-third of MPs. The Fawcett Society, with the support of the Government Equalities Office, is undertaking a landmark piece of research into the barriers to women being selected by political parties, and then elected to Parliament.

We are working with all major political parties across the UK, and we need your help. Have you at any time since 2010:

– Been selected as a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate but not subsequently elected
OR
– Considered putting yourself forward for selection but, for any reason, decided against standing

If you fit one of these categories, then we would really appreciate if could attend one of our focus groups and share your experiences in a group of Lib Dem women. Our focus groups will be held weekday evenings in London over the 2-week period 14th – 24th May. We will be holding similar sessions with all the major political parties in cities around the UK.

All the information you share will be anonymised and treated in strictest confidence. Focus groups will be facilitated by a member of the Fawcett Society team. Food and refreshments will be provided.

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What is the Liberal Democrat offer to working class voters?

A line I heard in a public house recently summed up for me the problem with the present incarnation of the Labour Party. A long-standing Labour supporter from Leigh in the north of England said to me “the problem is Labour is now more Hampstead than Hull”.

Data revealed as part of a recent opinion poll conducted for the Evening Standard, bears out my ersthwhile friend’s pithy analysis.

It showed that in London, the party pof Corbyn has more support among the higher earners of the ABC1 demographic than it does among the C2DE group of working class voters.

The …

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Play-by-play account of last week’s defeat on the Withdrawal Bill

Last Wednesday (April 26th) The Government suffered its largest defeat so far on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.  This Cross Party amendment, led by Lord Tyler for the Lib Dems, which is now added to the Bill, raises the legal bar which Ministers must meet in order to exercise “Henry VIII” and other executive powers

The Government’s Bill previously read:

A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent, remedy or mitigate….. any failure or deficiency arising from the withdrawal of the united kingdom from the EU.

The amendment altered this to read:

A Minister

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Are we getting the messaging wrong on Brexit?

Recently, an active and experienced Liberal Democrat campaigner challenged me over the party’s messaging on Brexit. He suggested that this was coming across as confused. My first instinct was to defend what we have been doing, but on reflection, I think he has a point. The aim of this article is to ask the question a little more widely.

From the inside

My impression is that there our parliamentarians and media office have been doing an outstanding job in trying to hold the government to account in the mess over Brexit, and of making people aware of this. I was in …

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Amber Rudd resigns – what does this mean for the Home Office, Brexit…and the PM?

So Amber Rudd resigns tonight.

In some ways it’s remarkable that she didn’t go sooner. I mean, I’ve seen ministers resign because of a snow storm or be sacked for eating a pie. Here was a Minster staying in office when her department had ruined the lives of British citizens.

She couldn’t survive the leak of a letter from her to the Prime Minister outlining an “aim” of increasing the number of enforced removals by 10%. An aim is sufficiently within the ball park of a target to constitute the most serious offence a minister can commit – misleading Parliament so she’s gone before she had to face the opposition tomorrow.

However, unless the immigration system is going to be completely dismantled and rebuilt from scratch to make it treat people with dignity and respect, it doesn’t really matter who the Home Secretary is.

If I were Theresa May, I’d split the Home Office up into one department that deals with nationality, citizenship, asylum and immigration and another that deals with crime and security. The culture of those two parts needs to be very different.

I thought much better of Amber Rudd before she made that awful Conference speech in which she talked about companies having to report how many immigrants they employed. I had hoped that she would quietly roll back some of the hostile environment nonsense that has been so damaging. I’d like to think that she is a better person than her inability to sort out the mess she inherited at the Home Office would suggest.

I am slightly worried about the balance in the Cabinet. Rudd was the strongest pro-Remain voice in the high level Committee that deals with Brexit and would no doubt have been sticking up for staying in the Customs Union. Whether she will take up that cause on the back benches remains to be seen.

I just about choked on my hot chocolate when the BBC’s Clive Myrie referred to her resignation as a “devastating personal tragedy.” I rather think that the lives of the Windrush generation British Citizens and others that have been ruined by the “hostile environment” policy more closely fit that description. That said, this presumably takes Rudd out of the running to replace Theresa May when the time comes.

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History made as the Scottish Parliament passes landmark Social Security Bill, improved by cross-party co-operation

Last Wednesday the Scottish Parliament passed the Social Security Bill which gives power over many disability and carers benefits as well as some aspects of Universal Credit. It was a marathon debate with over 120 amendments. One of the really good things about the Scottish Parliament’s modern systems is that you can have many more votes. Unlike the House of Commons where each vote means 15 minutes of queuing, at Holyrood, it’s a second of button pushing. This has meant a much more wide-ranging debate. To the SNP Government’s credit, Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman engaged with the opposition parties and not only listened to what they had to say but took it on board as well.

One particular issue was the issue of terminal illness. At the moment, to access benefits if you are terminally ill, you have to have six months or less to live. In a move even supported by the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament, there will be no limit.

The Liberal Democrats have no representation on the Social Security Committee, but worked with Green and Labour MSPs to ensure that there will be no unnecessary disability benefit assessments, and for those that have to take place, the person involved will have a say in when and where they should take place.

Unlike south of the border, the Bill provides for the housing element of Universal Credit to be paid directly to the landlord and, as the result of an amendment, to be split between joint claimants in a household. The latter is an important point. If there is domestic abuse in a relationship, there will likely be financial abuse as well, so it is important that everyone has some level of financial independence. That is going to be a difficult one to implement because the DWP will drag its heels. I hope, though, that they will find a way to do this for the whole of the UK.

The DWP also needs to address issues with the direct payment to landlords. At the moment, payments are being delayed. They are aware of the fault but not seeing a sense of urgency about fixing it.

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Vince on Marr – Rudd, race and the need for a People’s vote on Brexit

There must be an election happening or something. We have had Vince on Marr this morning and Jo Swinson is on Peston as I write.

He was quite measured on Amber Rudd. Rather than call outright for her resignation, he said we needed to hear what she had to say to Parliament tomorrow. One of two things is true:

Either she misled Parliament or she was the last person in the Home Office to know about removal targets.

A later comment by Brandon Lewis on the same programme intensifies the case against Amber Rudd.

Lewis bullishly defended the removal targets, saying that we had to get rid of those bad criminals and illegal immigrants, didn’t we? It is very easy to become an illegal immigrant. A tiny error on a complicated Home Office form can mean that you lose your status. You are given no chance to rectify it. Yet the people responsible for an almighty scandal such as Windrush get off with a few critical newspaper headlines.

I actually hope that Amber Rudd didn’t deliberately mislead Parliament because I don’t want her replaced by some extreme Brexiteer like Gove or Grayling. There is nobody in the Conservative Party who is going to give the Home Office and immigration system the treatment it deserves: dismantling completely and being rebuilt in a fair and compassionate manner which inspires the confidence of those who use it and those who advocate on their behalf.

Back to Vince. He said that most people who voted for Brexit did so for legitimate reasons, but that racism was a factor.

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How should Liberals respond to Trump’s visit?

I don’t agree with a lot of what Donald Trump says. That’s shocking, I know. Additionally, I must admit that my gut reaction to the news that good old Donald was coming to visit was a negative one. However, after giving a little more thought and discussing it with people who follow other political ideals, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a little more nuanced.

Trump may be controversial, but he is still the leader of one of the world’s most powerful countries, and one of the UK’s best allies, and in the current international climate, we most definitely need allies, and being allied to the world’s largest military would be useful.

Another argument is that he wouldn’t nearly be the worst world leader to be hosted by the UK government, with the Queen having hosted dubious figures such as Bashar al-Assad and Robert Mugabe in the past. Personally, I don’t give this idea much credence, as using the mistakes of the past to justify what could be a mistake of the future doesn’t make much sense at all. It is accepted that the UK has played host to some controversial figures, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Trump is on the same level as the man who was recently alleged to have used chemical weapons on his own citizens.

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Candidate selections: How are we doing on diversity?

Not that brilliantly, to be honest. Of the fifteen seats we’ve selected so far, just 6 have selected women and 9 have selected men. When you add in the 4 women and 8 men who will be defending their seats, you get 10 women and 17 men. That’s not an impressive record.

More worryingly, there is only one non-white face in there.

Vince talked the other day of the importance of getting more BAME candidates not just selected but elected as MPs. He told The Muslim News:

Sir Vince Cable acknowledged that his party was not “yet fully representative of modern Britain.

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Alfie Evans’ parents deserve our sympathy for an outcome that has always been inevitable

I have nothing but sympathy for Alfie Evans’ parents. For the last 18 months, they have been going through the worst kind of trauma. Before Alfie was born, they would have had ideas of the sorts of things they would have done as a family, none of which have come to pass. None of them ever had any hope of coming to pass.

It’s even more difficult when nobody can actually tell you what is wrong. Whatever happened to Alfie’s brain is unique. It doesn’t have a name. The doctors couldn’t say “He has this disease and in all these other cases of that disease this is how it’s happened.”

Some friends of mine had a baby who would be 9 this year. He had a very rare condition and he died when he was 14 weeks old. His short life had a huge impact on them and his wider family and he is remembered every day. They will never fully recover from the trauma they went through. They dealt with it with more grace and love than I could ever have found in that situation.

It is completely understandable for any parent in that position to fight as hard as they can for their child. They don’t want to look in any mirrors and think “I wish I had done more.”

In these circumstances, where parents can’t accept what the doctors say about future courses of action, it is right that should be a legal process to decide. Having read the court judgment, I am confident the the doctors were right. Their conclusions were independently reviewed and enough people came to the same, sad, conclusion for the outcome to be credible. It’s the last thing anyone wanted. Doctors don’t want to have to deliver this sort of news. They want to save people. There are times when they can’t and this is one of them.

I found this Twitter thread written by a junior doctor useful in explaining the background:

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Observations of an ex pat: Fettered press

It is enshrined in the First Amendment of the US constitution. It has been British Common law since 1688. It is a key element in the 1953 European Convention of Human Rights and the 2009 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It is Article Two of France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Part of the UN Charter.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech is—allegedly—chiselled in stone in almost every constitution in the world with the exceptions of self-recognised authoritarian states such as China, North Korea, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.

But according to the 2018 Press Freedom Index,released this week, this near universal commitment is observed more in the breach than the observance, and the breaches are occurring more often and—increasingly—in countries  regarded as members of the democratic club.

Let’s start with the leader of the“The Free World”—the United States.  America has fallen two places to 45th in the press freedom index. Reporters Without Borders, who produce the index, places the blame firmly at the door of the White House.  What do you expect when the president emulates Stalin by referring to reporters as “enemies of the people?”

The EU—bastion of liberal democracy– is meant to be a democratic club. Support for democracy and a commitment to principles such as a free press are pre-conditions for membership. If a government backslides it faces fines, suspension of voting rights and—in extremis—expulsion from club membership.

But these deterrents have failed to stop  an increasing number of EU governments. In Hungary (down two places to 73), Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused Hungarian-born  billionaire philanthropist George Soros of supporting independent media outlets in order to “discredit” Hungary in the international public’s eyes. Orban has branded him public enemy Number One.

In Austria, the leader of the far-right populist FPO party accused the public radio and TV broadcaster ÖRF of spreading lies. In Spain (down two at 31), the October independence referendum in Catalonia has resulted in government-fuelled harassment of pro-independence journalists.

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Rise of Foodbank Use Linked to Universal Credit

I’ve just spent some time reading Early Warnings, Universal Credit and Foodbanks. In it, the Trussell Trust reveals the rise of foodbanks linked to the roll-out of Universal Credit.

The statistics are sobering. From April 2017 to March 2018, the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network supplied 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies. This was a 13% increase from the year before. Of these, 484,026 supplies went to children.

I will pause and let you process that.

Our families are so hard up, not being given enough money to live on, that almost half a million children have been found in need of emergency food supplies.

The main reasons for being referred to a food bank were:

  1. low income (on benefits, not earning)
  2. benefit delay
  3. benefit change
  4. debt

I have argued before that a universal basic income would remove the first three reasons – if everyone in the country gets enough to live on, you eradicate the lowest level of poverty instantly. UBI does not need to be high – £4500 has been shown to be a workable figure which keeps food on the table for families, removing children from extreme poverty.

The Trussell Trust shows the figures going back to 2012-13, when the number of 3-day emergency supply packs given out was 346,992. Almost four times as many packs are being given out now.

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New report out shows more paediatric consultants needed

As a mother of three, we have been to A & E more times than I would have liked and have had help from paediatricians and other consultants. The NHS is wonderful!

But sorely understaffed.

A report out today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, “Facing the Future Audit 2017”, has recommended drastic increases in staff to meet need. Up to 752 more paediatric consultants are required across the UK: 520-554 in England; 84-110 in Scotland; 84–91 in Wales; and 30-31 in Northern Ireland.

There are clearly not enough paediatric consultants …

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OFSTED should not ostracise children who choose to practise faith

Amanda Spielman the Head of Ofsted is right to promote social cohesion, but wrong to achieve that by ostracizing children who choose to wear a headscarf.  Demonising Islamic teachings about modest dress is not becoming of a regulator whose task is to broaden minds, not close them.

Ofsted is properly troubled that contrary to Islam and the best interests of children, some very young girls could be being forced to wear a hijab or fast during Ramadhan. The right way to deal with that is to challenge false notions about religion. The wrong way is to penalise innocent children’s right to free choice.

Islam does not require very young or primary aged girls to wear headscarves. If women choose Islam as their faith, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad said that such coverings are only required in teenage years when full physical maturity is reached. Head scarves are not unique to Islam either; they are also found among orthodox Christians and Jews.

If a young Muslim girl freely chooses to wear a headscarf because she is inspired by her mother as a positive role model, she should be allowed that choice.  When a Muslim girl speaks with other children about her headscarf and the inspiration she gets from her mother, children develop social skills, empathy, vocabulary, cognitive skills and learn about decision making. These are core to educational development; skills that Ofsted should encourage.

Inappropriate questioning of young children about their religious beliefs by Ofsted Inspectors can be a source of confusion, stress and future mental health issues.  The Mental Health Foundation reports that having a sense of belonging in their family, school and community keeps young people mentally well.  It also reports that experiencing discrimination because of race or religion is a specific mental health risk factor.  Ofsted do engage with children on a one to one basis. When they do, it cannot be right for Ofsted Inspectors to challenge very young girls about why they wear a headscarf.  Questions directed at secondary school girls should be sensitive and should not make them feel isolated or discriminated against. Nothing should serve to make any Muslim child, or a child of any other belief or ethnicity, feel as though there is something wrong with their religion or culture.

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So, what does being an English Liberal mean?

One of the things about being an Englishman by birth, but not by parentage, is that your perspective of what it means to be English can be slightly different from that of those whose English heritage can be traced back through generations.

For me, at least, with an Indian father and a Scots mother, there is a desire to fit in to some extent, and that manifests itself in a generalised belief that people are broadly reasonable, given the opportunity to be so, and that the eccentricities of life here – queuing, cricket, …

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Scottish Liberal Democrats back abortion clinic exclusion zones and decriminalisation

When I first saw that a motion on decriminalising abortion had been put on the agenda for Scottish Conference, I was delighted, but unsure that it would pass. We’ve tended to shy away from what many people feel are issues of conscience, although the Scottish Party has form for leading the way on equal marriage before the 2010 election. The issue of abortion is an emotive one, though and was bound to provoke more controversy.

The motion was written and presented by Jess Insall, the 15 year old activist who persuaded us to adopt policy calling for gender neutral school uniforms 

Jess’s motion called for the Scottish Government to do five things

  • remove all criminal sanctions for receiving an abortion.
  • remove all criminal sanctions for appropriately registered and regulated medical professionals providing a safe abortion.
  • provide funding so that users of reproductive healthcare services are provided with enough specialist advice to make fully informed decisions.
  • enforce safe zones around abortion service providers so that those visiting can travel to them free of any harassment or pressure on their decision, and to make intimidation or harassment of abortion service users outside clinics, or on common transport routes to these services, illegal.
  • provide funding to enable abortion clinics to provide their services free of charge to service users regardless of country of nationality or residency.

It’s worth reading her entire proposing speech which was sensitive, authoritative and persuasive:

Conference, our world is changing. The 21st century has brought great new ideas, innovations, and inspirations. But now, more than ever, we know of the threats that new technology can create. The anonymous trolls of Twitter and Facebook spout misogyny, racism, and transphobia from every orifice. The corrupt practices of Cambridge Analytica are a real threat to our democracy, and the online purchase of illegal abortion pills is on a very worrying rise.

In 2013, just 5 doses of illegal abortifacients were seized being delivered to UK addresses, but this sharply increased to 180 doses in 2014. The rise continued, with 270 doses seized in 2015, and in 2016, the government seized 375 doses of unregulated, unreliable, illegal abortion medication. Despite the fact that self-induced abortion is punishable by life imprisonment, many women are driven to take this dangerous decision because current abortion legislation is outdated and ineffective. These women are not criminals worthy of life sentences, they are vulnerable individuals who have been let down by the system. This is only one of the many reasons we need to make abortion fair, legal, and free from judgement. We need to establish a real freedom of choice.

Leaving abortion in the criminal justice system is not fair. Unnecessary appointments are needed just to jump through legal hoops such as the requirement that two doctors authorise an abortion. These are mere inconveniences for women on higher incomes who have the time, money, and resources to attend them, and for women who have supportive partners or families. But for women on low incomes who can’t afford to miss work, can’t afford care costs for existing children or ill relatives, and can’t afford travel to and from clinics, it can realistically seem easier to seek dangerous illegal alternatives. This is also true for women trying to hide an abortion from unsupportive family, or victims of domestic violence who may well be carrying an unwanted pregnancy as a result of rape.

These vulnerable groups of women are even harder hit by the outrageous postcode lottery that Scottish abortion provision currently is. Although the legal late term limit on abortion is 24 weeks, providers in Scotland will normally only authorise abortion before 18-20 weeks, and some providers won’t authorise abortions as early as 16 weeks. This means approximately 200 Scottish women every single year have to travel to England just to access a legal abortion.

Scotland, that is unacceptable.

Our wonderful NHS is already stretched to breaking point, and the unnecessary criminalisation of abortion is wasting time, money, and resources that could be used to save lives. Doctors are apprehensive to specialise in abortion out of fear of prosecution simply for doing their job. Contrary to some beliefs,decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. Abortions will still be regulated to the exceptionally high standards that other medical procedures are, and we can trust our incredible NHS staff to maintain these standards.

8 Comments

Don’t be fooled by Labour’s posturing on #peoplesvote

In the last few days we’ve had some tantalising hints that Labour may be willing to support a public vote on the Brexit deal. John McDonnell said on Friday that Labour weren’t ruling it out. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said on Marr that if there were sufficient public demand, Labour might think again.

So should we all breathe a sigh of relief and think that this might happen any time soon?

Not a chance.

For a start, Emily Thornberry’s threshold to determine what might be a suitable level of public demand to get them to change their minds was 80-90%. You don’t get 80-90% of people backing anything. Even the Monarchy at the height of the much loved Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations  was only getting 75% support.

So let’s not hold our breath waiting for the Labour leadership to back a vote on the deal. But why are they doing this? It’s all part of their deliberate tactic of making their policy as ambiguous as possible. This is exactly what the Leave campaign did, too. Nobody understood what Brexit would mean because they tried to make sure that the details were as non-existent as possible.

The reason they’re drip-feeding it all now is because there are some important local elections coming up. A lot of them are in Remain voting metropolitan areas in places like London and Manchester. They must be getting some indication that their stance on Brexit is costing them so they are trying to make it sound like they might just go for the vote on the deal.

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My first year as Director for People

It’s been just over one year since the Snap General Election was called on my first day e as Director for People. It was one heck of a start and it’s been a heck of a year. Out of the window immediately went my careful plan for membership development, training for volunteers, online fundraising and candidates. The roadmap to 2020 was suddenly obsolete. It was terrifying, but fast paced and fun.

This job is not dull. Working for the party is challenging and can be frustrating but ultimately rewarding.

One year in and …

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Brexit: No cake, but let’s welcome the prospect of a nice big bit of fudge!

Embed from Getty Images

Along, I’m sure, with many LDV readers, I’ve read hundreds of articles on the subject of Brexit over the last couple of years.

But one piece of writing has finally encapsulated a precise sensible solution to the whole sordid, messy business.

David Shariatmadari is a writer and editor for the Guardian in London. In a post yesterday entitled “On Brexit, the views of the 48% must be respected too. That’s democracy”, he argued that:

Given that the UK is split, it’s only fair if the government delivers ‘Brexit in name only’, as is looking increasingly likely.

After explaining that the Irish impasse will probably lead to the UK “both in a customs union and closely, if not entirely, aligned with the single market”, he concludes:

50 Comments

Let this be the last first past the post election in London Boroughs

On 3rd May all the Borough Council seats in Greater London are up for election, which happens every four years. The Borough I live in is typical and has 18 3-member wards. Each voter votes by putting up to 3 Xs on the ballot paper. In each of these wards the top three candidates in terms of Xs on the ballot win. Hence F3PTP rather than FPTP (First Past The Post).

So what’s wrong with that? Five national parties are contesting the borough election, plus around four parties with Residents’ Association in their name, who are active in their own patches. Usually, a party sees its whole slate of three elected, but sometimes one candidate impacts more on the electorate, positively or negatively, and the result is a ‘split ward’. But I have seen nine candidates from three parties having each around 30% of the vote, but only one party gets the councillor seats. Natural justice suggests that they should have had one councillor each. With three councillors of one party, we KNOW that they were NOT the first choice of 70% of the electorate; at worst, the three victors could be the LEAST favoured candidates of 70% of the voters.

It gets worse. Some parties are so entrenched in certain seats that the others have given up. A friend of mine expressed it as ’If you put up a feather duster for XXXX party in YYYY ward, it would get elected.’ Two national parties contest all 54 seats, but the presence of the parents, spouses and children of local party worthies on the ballot papers gives a strong hint of what they think. The voters in such wards show what they think by not turning up to vote for the council, which, more than any other body, delivers government services to them.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJennie 21st May - 8:05am
    Crikey, that Rob Parsons post is depressing
  • User AvatarRuth Bright 21st May - 8:03am
    Still waiting for action on rights to leave for our own candidates!
  • User Avatargavin grant 20th May - 11:19pm
    I'll be there tomorrow. Back to the place I grew up and joined the Young Liberals 49 years ago!
  • User AvatarGordon Lishman 20th May - 9:09pm
    I thought it interesting that he was apparently recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the role of wedding preacher.
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