Category Archives: Op-eds

Local Government is facing what could be an existential crisis. How can it be saved?

Some of you may think that the title of this piece is another example of hyperbole. You might be right as the local government has faced crises before. However, as someone with 30 years’ continuous service as a local councillor, I do think that what we have come to expect concerning local services could be something we will in future only read about in history books unless something is done to reverse the downward spiral.

Especially since WW2 governments of all political hues have over the years progressively emasculated local councils, not only by taking many of their responsibilities away from …

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Charities – Sexual Abuse

I have deliberately spent most of my career working for charities. I was lucky enough to hold some senior posts and feel satisfied that in my mundane daily work I was able to help charities to deliver much-needed assistance to the public. I believe in charities and have been for a while dissatisfied that governments have not supported charities better. Charities in the main are good value for money, and the service they provide is often essential for local communities, nationally and internationally.

It’s regrettable to read re charities revelations about the sex abuse scandal. It is even more shocking that …

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Reflections of Berlin

I was in Berlin last week, a sweltering week. I was immediately struck with the efficiency of their public services; there was eight of us on a boy’s holiday when we came out of the airport to catch a bus to our hotel; the buses arrived precisely on time and left on time.  We were still dithering when the first bus arrived, and we were told to stand back so the bus could go on time – lesson learnt.

Over the week we went on a number of tours that took us to the Bundestag, different locations to look at the wall, Checkpoint Charlie and Potsdam (where the KGB was and Putin until 1990). The guides were not afraid to make it clear: how Germany was split between the allies and the Russians, how Berlin was divided by the wall, the devastation that was left behind after the war and for years having an overt presence of foreign armies on their soil reminding them that they had lost the war. The interesting thing about this (and the same was noted from brief discussions with locals about the aftermath of the war) was that they didn’t seem to be any bitterness as they had accepted their fate (although one local was very adamant that the Germans had no control over their foreign policy). Obviously, there is animosity, but it was well contained.

I guess there are a number of positives for the Germans in all this. The Russians have now left, and the allies who still have armies stationed there are there as much to serve to defend Germany as anything else; the country has been reunited, and in the intervening years Germany has developed one of the strongest and robust economies in the world – so not so bad after all.

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Miscellaneous Announcements

I wanted to take the opportunity on a Wednesday to make some small and varied points/announcements that I feel will be of interest. My announcement for this week is about the:

Autumn Conference

The Agenda for the autumn conference launched online today. HO staff should be thanked for the hard work they have done to get this ready. The Agenda and the Directory can be found at https://www.libdems.org.uk/autumn_conference_2018

To help promote the autumn conference there is a Local Party Conference Challenge

Challenge Criteria:– Between the dates of 1 August and 31 August FCC would like to challenge all local

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Lib Dem warns democracy is at risk

The digital, culture, media, and sport (DCMS) committee has spent 18 months conducting an investigation from disinformation to the influence of social networks to targeted adverts during the Brexit referendum that played on people fears and prejudices. MPs rightly point out that this abuse is a threat to democracy.

The DCMS committee report is based on 20 oral evidence sessions, during which 3,500 questions were asked of 61 witnesses, and included a trip to Washington DC. The committee received more than 150 written submissions and numerous pieces of background evidence.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine has warned “democracy is at risk” if the report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee into disinformation and fake news is ignored.

Ms Jardine said:

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A people’s vote is the only way out

Parliament is now in recess but our work to fight against Brexit continues. I am speechless at the sheer contempt and arrogance of those who rigged the voting system of the UK during the EU referendum and try to get away with it.

We, as Lib Dems, who uphold the rule of law and believe in fair play did not act illegally as some supporters of Vote Leave or Leave.EU did in the run up to the referendum. People such as Dominic Cummings have used Cambridge Analytica to micro target online users with their untruthful ads without their knowledge or permission. This was facilitated by Facebook who provided the values, demographics, location and even “psychographic” profiles of groups of voters based on their personalities. These techniques originate from military “psy-ops” used to confuse the enemy and to ultimately control or conquer. Regardless of how effective or prevalent these techniques are, they should not be the norm for conducting our elections. The Observer and The Guardian journalists have very astutely uncovered a black hole at the heart of our democracy where transparency is eroded making it easier to mislead the electorate by unfettered and unscrutinised advertising that goes unchallenged. It makes it easier to make misleading or untrue statements. But even more dangerous, it makes it possible for foreign interference in our elections.

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Party reform can re-capture the liberal spirit – and change Britain

Constant dissatisfaction is an essential part of the liberal spirit.

That which, over the decades, has characterized liberalism is the constant search for progress. Progress that seeks to create open societies that welcome diverse views and allow, in Popper’s formulation, constant challenge from below. Progress that breaks down imposed power from the top and liberates the disadvantaged and those that do not have a voice.

The essential flip-side of achieving progress is a constant dissatisfaction with the status quo. The ability and determination to imagine that a better world is possible. As Robert Kennedy’s very liberal statement put it: “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”

In this regard, I was very encouraged by reports that Vince Cable is considering significant reforms to how the party works. A direction intended to make the party more open in different ways.

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35 years on and the fight is more important than ever

Today marks 35 years since I joined the SDP on my 16th birthday. What motivated me then was a desire to turn this world into a kinder, fairer place where all people had power over their lives. My parents thought it was a rebellious phase that wouldn’t last.

Being involved in this party has brought me an extended family, my best friends, some amazing highs – Willie Rennie winning in Dunfermline, Christine Jardine and Alex Cole-Hamilton in Edinburgh for a start. There’s been the sheer joy of working with others on a common cause. You never know how wonderful the highs are if you don’t have lows and there have been many of them – the frustration, the disappointment of defeat and sometimes self-inflicted wounds.

The SDP and the Liberal Democrats have so often been on the right side of the argument, from Iraq, to Vince predicting the economic crash to Hong Kong to the Gurkhas to housing to civil liberties and protecting us from 90 day detention.

In some ways the world back then was very different. We are all so much more inter-connected now. In 1983 there was no internet, no 24 hour news cycle (breakfast tv had started only a few months before), no mobile phones. The other side of the world seemed so inaccessible.

There was injustice across the world with apartheid South Africa being the focus of our fight for human rights. The subsequent release of Nelson Mandela and the leadership he showed in creating an inclusive democracy shows what can be achieved from a seemingly impossible situation.

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The Brexit nightmare is dead

To paraphrase a man whose name I shall never again say or write.

The UK cabinet, with collective responsibility supposedly fully restored, made the following statements within 24 hours on no deal: “make sure that there’s adequate food supplies”, “obviously an attempt to try and ramp up the pressure”, “that kind of selective snippet that makes it into the media, to the extent that the public pay attention to it, I think is unhelpful”, “well, I think that’s a rather irresponsible thing to be coming from the other side. We ought to be trying to reassure citizens on the continent …

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Reform the Reformers – Part 3, The Search for a ‘Big Idea’

Liberal Democrat activists will be familiar with two apparently contradictory refrains.

One is that Liberal Democrats should pursue what is morally right for the country, regardless of public opinion. The other is that ‘no-one ever voted Lib Dem because of our policy on (… insert obscure policy…)’.

The point of the latter refrain is that the public’s problem-solving priorities should dominate policymaking effort.

There is another, potentially reconciling, refrain; that liberal democracy in the UK needs a new popular ‘big idea’. Opposition to the Iraq war is a common reference point, a major contributor to Liberal Democrats having 60+ MPs in the Commons. …

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Why “Built in Britain” is not always Best for Britain

If you’re a remainer, if you’re for an open Britain, if you’re a liberal, there’s little to cheer in Jeremy Corbyn’s latest policy announcement; helping firms make the most of the “opportunities” of Brexit by ending a “reliance on overseas workers” and returning government contracts to the UK from overseas, seemingly without any concern as to the costs.

If there are any opportunities in the UK leaving the European Union, which appears increasingly doubtful, they are certainly not to be found in either the scapegoating of migrants or economic protectionism. The language of Jeremy Corbyn in his speech was …

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Big ideas abound at SLF Conference

Yesterday was a fantastic day out at SLF Conference. This annual get-together is always thought-provoking food for the social liberal soul. At this point I should say a massive thank you to the organisers for a great day – and particularly to our own Mary Reid who does so much to make the event a success every year.

Layla Moran followed in the footsteps of the likes of Nick Clegg, Tim Farron and Vince Cable in delivering the Beveridge Memorial Lecture. She’s been in the papers a lot this week with talk of un-named people supposedly trying to support the idea of her being leader. There is no suggestion that these moves have anything to do with her and it seems very unlikely that a new MP with a majority of 800 would be preoccupied with such things. In the last session of the day, she emphatically and genuinely endorsed Vince, saying he is doing brilliantly and is “the grown-up in the room” of British politics. Actually, I think our Golden Dozen are probably the most united, together group of Lib Dem MPs I have ever known. They are all working really well together.

One of the many reasons it’s great to have her as education spokesperson is that you can tell how driven she is. She knows from practical experience what the problems are and has some great ideas about how to fix them. Her frustration at being told to concentrate on the average children and leave the bright to teach themselves and the ones who needed help most to flounder so that the school could do well in league tables led her to find another job.

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Welsh Liberal Democrats’ success at the Royal Welsh Show

Its a truth universally acknowledged that…….there are no ‘ups’ with out ‘downs’, and we Welsh Lib Dems know more than others what ‘down’ feels like. Its crap, to put it bluntly. ‘Down’ is deep and its hard to dust your self off and start climbing up again.

So, its good to report that many of us Welsh Lib Dems are on cloud nine after an exhilarating 4 days at the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells. If you’ve never visited the Royal Welsh before, it’s the largest agricultural show in Europe, with a foot fall of about a quarter of a million. It is by far the largest event on the Welsh calendar and one which makes us proud. A great day out for the family and a celebration of the diversity and excellence of the agricultural sector in Wales and beyond. Wales at its very best!

The Welsh Lib Dems have had a stand at the show for ages, but last year we missed a beat and lost out. That may well have been a good thing: time to reflect on our losses and time to try a new trajectory. This year we returned with a vengeance! We had a plan, an excellent plot and a refreshing, slightly crazy concept.

I recall Sal Brinton saying at WLD conference last autumn that we need more humour in our campaigning, that we need to make campaigning fun and accessible. I’m happy to say that we’ve risen to that challenge and the results have been remarkable. More on that in a bit.

This year we planned a stall and campaign around our fantastic Cabinet Secretary Kirsty Williams and the education portfolio which she holds in Welsh Government. We were lucky to have the skills of a very talented volunteer who designed everything on the stand from its 14m long backdrop to its banners, flags and super cute EU-flag-Libby-animal stickers. We even ran a kiddies colouring in completion each day on the stand, which was surprisingly popular. It was in more of a hill billy theatre production than a political stand. We had straw bales to sit on and bunting festooned like a barn dance.

The whole show this year was geared towards young children and, surprise surprise, everyone loved it. We created a stand that was fun, inviting and definitely not stuffy and digitally designed corporate. What a pleasure it was to see a sun burned farmer walk off with a cute Libby/pony/EU flag sticker!There was a lot of laugher. Nearly 40 Welsh Lib Dems helped on the stall, ranging from the newest Newbies to former MPs and members of the Lords. Even Jane Dodds our brilliant and dynamic leader had her slot on the roster to zip up the marquee for the night. We were a team again and we worked effortlessly together. It felt very good.

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Apartheid in Israel?

Is the Nation-State Act, approved by the Israeli parliament last week, really as bad as its critics suggest?  Jonathan Freedland, Guardian journalist and occasional writer in the Jewish Chronicle, clearly thinks so.  Neither he nor the Chronicle have been willing to criticise Israel very much in the past, but this has been changing in recent weeks.  His article of 27 July lays it out clearly:

“It… (the Act)…says that the right to self-determination in Israel is a right that applies to Jews only and that Hebrew is the state’s only official language, with Arabic now granted merely a “special status”. The combined effect of those two moves is to tell the one-fifth of the country that is not Jewish and whose mother tongue is Arabic that they are second-class citizens.”

Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which is always very critical of its government’s treatment of Palestinians, had an article the following day with the sub-heading The nation-state law is a sickening rejection of equality for all of Israel’s citizens. 

Many are now saying that Israel itself, and not just the Occupied Territories, now meets the UN Definition of an Apartheid State.  Article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines Apartheid as follows:

“The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts….committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Reaction to the new law has of course been greeted with anger by Arabs, dismay by European governments (whose concerns are as usual ignored by Israel) and, significantly, there has been strong criticism in Israel itself.

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Can we please just concentrate on fighting Brexit, not internal party processes

There are not enough swear words in the world to describe my reaction when I read this Mirror story today about Vince’s alleged plan to open up the party leadership to non MPs.

He wants to scrap or amend an obscure part of the party’s constitution which states only an MP can take the helm.

The move, which is likely to be put to the party after summer recess and could be debated at the annual conference in Brighton in September, would mean a non-politician could become leader, scuppering ambitions of Sir Vince’s rivals on the Commons’ benches.

It may or may …

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Could you be a future leader?

Last year I attended ALDC (the Association of Liberal Democrat Campaigners and Councillors) Kickstart weekend as part of their Future Leaders scheme.

15 or so young people in the party are offered individual mentorship to help them get to where they want to be in the party – whether that is an MP, a Councillor, or something else.

And then they attend their choice of wider training sessions on campaigning alongside the other attendees of Kickstart. There are a huge range of courses – such as on how to find volunteers, how to use data for your campaigning, and social media masterclass. The courses are also divided up into beginners, intermediate and advanced so you can go to the course that’s best pitched to you.

Our Future Leaders cohort was divided up into groups depending on how they wanted to be a future leader. I said I wanted to work for the party.

Having said this, I sat one-to-one with one of the trainers and discussed my current job, my previous experiences working for the Liberal Democrats, the different jobs the party offers, and what else I should be looking at doing to build up my CV.

Over the rest of the weekend – I was introduced to many brilliant people, especially brilliant women, and learned about their party roles.

I sat down with party staff in the bar one evening and talked through where I wanted to be – and got yet more advice.

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Vince Cable and Lib Dems should lead centrist movement

Last weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that 38% of people would vote for a new right wing party that is committed to Brexit, and a quarter would support a party which was explicitly far right, anti-immigration and anti-Islam. This should be a wake up call for progressives.

The electorate is faced with the choice between a deeply divided Conservative Party whose Eurosceptic tail is wagging its political dog or a Labour Party that thinks it knows better than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on how anti-semitism should be defined. The party I belong to, and campaign for is still polling at under 10%, even with all of the chaos which surrounds us.

There are Tory MPs who have received death threats as a consequence of some outrageous headlines in the right wing tabloids and even the broadsheets, describing them as traitors, saboteurs and mutineers. The Prime Minister’s response to this has been dismally weak. She has formed an alliance with far right governments in Hungary to support the UK’s Brexit position. A government which has eroded press freedoms and is clearly homophobic.

On the left, we have seen a Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, told she was being investigated by the Labour Party within hours of a tirade against Jeremy Corbyn, while real anti-semitism cases have taken months to be investigated. We have seen Corbyn refuse to condemn Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, despite the fact that his government last year rounded up political opponents in the middle of the night and arrested them. Looking as an outsider at these two parties is like looking at the scene of a Greek restaurant once the waiters have done their plate smashing routine.

For this reason, I believe it is the duty of the centre to re-align. We can be a spectator as the slow motion car crash which is Brexit plays out or we can do something.

Centrists already work together. Vince Cable has written before with Chuka Umunna in the Evening Standard. The Greens and the Lib Dems worked successfully together to defeat the Conservatives heavily in recent local elections where I live in Richmond. South West London MPs have worked together to campaign vigorously against Heathrow. But why can this not lead to a permanent change in British politics?

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Observations of an ex pat: Life as art

One of the world’s best museums of modern art is the Tate Modern in the monolithic old Bankside power station on the south bank of London’s River Thames.

Personally I prefer hanging my walls with figurative paintings of recognisable  people, places and flowers, but I  enjoy going to the Tate Modern for a fresh perspective, good laugh and the occasional thought-provoking head scratch.

One exhibit that achieved all three of those reactions was “The Oak Tree.” I am afraid I can’t remember the artist’s name but the structure of the exhibit remains crystal clear in my memory.

Halfway up the wall, just out of reach of all but the tallest member of the visiting public, was a half-filled glass of water on a small wooden shelf  bracketed to the wall. Underneath the shelf was a short interview between the artist and, presumably, an arts journalist. It went something like this:

Journalist: “This is a most interesting exhibit. What do you call it.”

Artist: “I call it The Oak Tree.”

Journalist: “But it looks like a half-filled glass of water on a wooden shelf to me.”

Artist: “Well, you are wrong. It is an oak tree.”

Journalist: “But everyone who sees it says it is not an oak tree, but a half-filled glass of water on a wooden shelf.”

Artist: “They are wrong and I am right.”

Journalist: “But what gives you the right to say that they are wrong and you are right when all the senses tell us that what we are looking at is a half-filled glass of water on a wooden shelf.”

Artist: “Because I am the artist.”

The water, the glass, the shelf and the printed interview was a perfect example of static performance art. I laughed out loud and spent the next 20 minutes dragging strangers over to point out the exhibit. “What do you think?” I asked them.

The vast majority of the strait-lacked Englishmen uttered a dismissive snort: “Ridiculous.”

But not everyone. Some laughed along with me. Some described it as  genius. Some said: “He did create it. If he created it he should be able to call if what he wants.”

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No Deal would be horrendous – but let’s not forget that any other type of Brexit is bad news and we must resist it

So, let me get this right. Our own Prime Minister has admitted that we are now stockpiling food and medicines just in case Brexit goes disastrously wrong. Our ability to supply ourselves with the basics of life is now under threat because of her Government’s reckless appeasement of the extreme right of her party. And this really matters. It’s actually about whether people live or die. As my friend Jenny points out:

Tory extreme Brexiteers think that no deal would be just fine, we’d breeze through it. They also said that negotiating Brexit would be simple. No, it’s bloody complicated. And it would be even with a Government that didn’t turn up to the negotiations like a disorganised student turning in a badly crafted essay written in an all night Red Bull fuelled panic in the hours before the deadline. I’m slightly worried by all this ramping up of No Deal, though. I don’t want people to think that when the Brexit outcome is finally unveiled, that anything that doesn’t involve having to survive on barbecued rats, Baldrick’s coffee from Blackadder goes Forth and having our loved ones dying unnecessarily because they can’t get the medicine they need is in any way desirable. Just because we’re not cooking cockroach lasagne with boiled tulip bulbs from Theresa’s Brexit Cookbook and have our holidays cancelled because there are no flights anymore, it’s still a bad option that no responsible government would put before us.

Any sort of Brexit is really bad for this country. Don’t let the Government and the Brexiteers ramp up the possibility of No Deal to make the shambles they come back with look good in comparison. It really won’t be of any benefit at all to this country. How do we know? The Government’s own analysis tells us so. In January a leaked government document told us that we’d be worse off under every Brexit scenario. We can and should insist on a more ambitious approach – and the only thing that works is staying in.

The softest Brexit option of continued single-market access through membership of the European Economic Area would, in the longer term, still lower growth by 2%.

And some more misery:

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18 Bold Ideas from the Ashdown Prize

More than 1,140 people entered the Ashdown Prize, organised earlier this year by Your Liberal Britain. Only ten of these ideas could make it onto the shortlist – but there were so many brilliant entries that we decided we had to celebrate and promote more of them.
 
The following are a list of Commended Entries. They are the personal picks of our shortlisters: ideas that didn’t make it to the final ten, but that are worthy of special praise.
Here they are, arranged alphabetically by author:

·    Mental health assessment before military demobilisation – Adrian Grant

·    National post-secondary learning entitlement – Alastair Thomson

·    Link corporation tax to fair pay – Alex Wasyliw

·    Compensate individuals for use of their data – Bansri Buddhdev

·    Set up an NHS national lottery – Brian Morrison

·    Prisoner voting and prison parish councils – Callum Robertson

·    Establish a UK-wide Care Service – Charlie McCarthy

·    Freedom of Information over public contracts – Dave Page

·    Phase out non-recyclable plastics – Dave Parton-Ginno

·    A new capital city for Britain – Drew Durning

·    £1,000 trust for every child – James Thellusson

·    Low-risk prisoners can keep their jobs – Jonathan Hunt

·    Legal aid for suing the state – Jonathan Wilson

·    Legalise a non-binary third gender – Natalie Bird

·    Universal suffrage for all taxpayers – Richard Gregson

·    Introduce credit cards that fund the NHS – Steve Grosvenor

·    Calculate retirement age by life expectancy – Stuart Thompstone

·    Tax relief on investments in the Developing World – Tom Arms

Congratulations to all!

If you’d like to help take any of these ideas forward, come to our Policy Lab at Autumn Conference. We’ll invite you to help putt ideas such as these (and any ideas you come prepared with) through their paces, so that we can all work together with other Lib Dems to polish radical ideas into practical policies.

 
We’re also going to launch later this year a forum to help Lib Dems develop policies together online. If you’d like to stay posted about that, sign up for our mailing list right here.
 

We’re now re-designing the Ashdown Prize for next year. You can read our review of what worked and what didn’t here, and you can send us your ideas for how to run next year’s competition here.

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Catastrophic supply chain risks of a “no deal” Brexit

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It’s not fashionable but I’m willing to put in a good word for Theresa May. Albeit unnecessarily and misguidedly, she has worked very patiently to stitch together some sort of tenuous British cabinet negotiating position for Brexit. You have to admire her patience. I was also impressed but some of her words when she announced the Chequers deal to parliament on July 9th:

The friction-free movement of goods is the only way to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and it is the only way to protect the uniquely integrated supply chains and just-in-time processes on which millions of jobs and livelihoods depend. So at the heart of our proposal is a UK-EU free trade area that will avoid the need for customs and regulatory checks at the border and protect those supply chains.

Those words suggested to me that Theresa May and her chief negotiator, Olly Robbins, have “got” just-in-time and how vital it is to our modern economy.

For a long time, whenever I tried to explain my career, I could see people’s eyes glazing over. Trying to explain in the pub that I worked in “logistics” was a concept only people who served in the army understood. I used to say I worked “in computers” instead. It was much easier. So, it is quite nice to finally see my career having some relevance to current affairs.

I spent 35 years working in IT supply chains. This involved relying on daily trucks from the Netherlands. Day after day. The crux of the job was to reduce inventory to a bare minimum, to maintain high service levels for the customer and to minimise cost. I spent those 35 years focussing laser-like on that subject – cost, service, inventory.

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Breaking the stranglehold of the monoliths

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One of the most distinctive statements we have made in recent years has been that we are not afraid of coalition government; indeed we entered into one in 2010. Now the media see serious divisions in the two apparent monoliths who swap power between them, and ask whether the time is ripe for a new ‘party of the centre’. Vince speaks often of a realignment of politics and implies that the Party could benefit significantly from such a seismic shift. Which begs the questions, in what way and with what objective?

It has become clear that neither Labour nor the Tories are actually monolithic; each contains factions hardly on speaking terms with each other. Applying a simple left/right measure there seems to be a hope that both moderate Tories and moderate Labour voters can be persuaded to fall in behind a moderate, centrist banner, carry the day and emerge as the new monolith displacing one or both of the two current ones. But why on earth would we want a new monolith?

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Good weather to bury bad news?

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Whilst enjoying listening to the county cricket commentaries I watched the news yesterday with half an eye.

Hello – did they really just do that?….

…I thought.

Yes, the government dumped out a plethora of inconvenient announcements just as MPs packed their sandals and beach balls for the summer recess. (What West Wing viewers will know as “Take out the trash day”)

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What would you change about the Ashdown Prize?

Last year, Paddy Ashdown and Your Liberal Britain decided to set up a policy innovation prize. Paddy and I both knew that there thousands of Lib Dems out there who were bursting with good ideas but didn’t know where to send them or what to do with them. We wanted to see if we could help.

Why? Well, Your Liberal Britain aims to convince the Liberal Democrats to become a powerful and inspirational political movement, above all by empowering its members and supporters. We want the party to say to its members: “you share our passion for building a Liberal Britain: we’re here to help you do it”.

The Party’s definitely moving in the right direction: from the new strategy agreed at Spring Conference, to the extremely impressive people-powered Exit from Brexit campaign, to the many ways in which the Federal Policy Committee (FPC) is working to involve members in policymaking, to the greater use of competitions, interactive content and digital campaigning. 

But there is still much to do, and we want to help the party out where we can. We don’t think it’s all that useful – or particularly fair – for us to just stand on the sidelines and criticise the party. The challenge we’ve laid down is difficult, after all, and no-one has all the answers (including us). So instead, we’ve decided to run some experimental projects aimed at helping the party make the most use of its members, and at helping members get the most out of the party. Many of these projects have worked; some of them haven’t; all of them provide useful lessons.

Policymaking in particular is one area where the gap between members’ desire to do something and the party’s ability to use them is particularly wide, despite the great work going on in the FPC. To help out, Your Liberal Britain runs a number of projects designed to help members get more involved in policymaking. We distribute free motion summaries at Conference, to help cut through the jargon; we run high-energy policy brainstorm events, getting Lib Dems to work together in groups to hash out big ideas; and we have an online forum in the works that will help people polish these ideas into robust policy.

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Reform the Reformers – Part 2, Challenges in Updating Liberal Democracy

There are two types of people in this world. Those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t.

The rise of left and right wing populism points reformers towards updating liberal democracy.

The remedies that left and right populists peddle are remarkably similar; one-party regimes, state control of the economy, dismantling the ‘separation of powers’, nationalism, and a rapid increase in state spending.

Less attention, however, is paid to the parallel rise of liberal, pro-democracy parties in government; Canada, Netherlands, South Korea, Malaysia, Ireland and elsewhere.

There are many lessons to be learned from liberal-democratic parties in these countries, …

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A Fairer Share for All Working Group: The road to a liberal Britain

I joined the Liberal Democrats in November to help to create a more liberal United Kingdom. At a time when protectionism and populism are on the rise, not just in the UK but around the globe, it is crucial that we have liberal answers to the difficult questions.

Despite being 10 years on, we are still hungover from the financial crisis. There has been a major squeeze on incomes, structural changes that have damaged towns and the generational divide has grown.

Because of this, I decided to apply to join the A Fairer Share for All working group. Even though populism is …

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Five bigger problems for young people than tuition fees

I don’t think anyone could deny that young people are getting a raw deal. But every time the conversation turns to young people, the go-to issue is tuition fees.

There are so many issues which have a much greater impact on young people than tuition fees, especially those from low-income backgrounds.

Here are 5 examples:

1. A lower minimum wage

The minimum wage of £7.83 per hour is far too low. But the rate is even lower for Under 25s. For 21-24 year olds it is £7.38, and for 18-20 year olds it is £5.90.

Maybe (at a push) you could justify a lower …

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Should I jump into a debate with transphobic “feminists”? No.

Imagine for a moment that a group started up in your local area wanting to ban you – just you, personally –  from the local post office. You would probably find it odd, a bit unnerving, but you would probably shrug it off. The campaign grows and now they’re banning you from the local supermarket, then the pubs, then the town centre as a whole – except for one hour a week when you’re permitted to enter. You start to get hate mail and threatening messages on your phone from the campaign group. Then your local Lib Dem Executive starts talking to this campaign group, to get to the bottom of the problem. Your local party Chair says that the campaigners seem to be sincerely worried about your presence in town, and the local party are going to debate the issue.

How would this make you feel?

Something similar is happening.

The Government has begun its consultation to amend the Gender Recognition Act. The proposed changes would allow transgender people to amend the details on their birth certificates more easily. This would probably be done by a process involving a statutory declaration like the ones that exist already in countries like Ireland, Norway and Malta. At the moment, if you want to change your gender on your birth certificate you enter a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare where a panel that you don’t even meet decides whether to allow your application, with no right of appeal. 

This consultation has kicked off a wave of controversy that is deeply unpleasant.

Of course there are the normal bigots and hate-filled rants filling the internet. That’s sad, but hardly out of the ordinary. What’s new this time is the much more seductive approach of the “feminists”. (I’m putting that word in quote marks because I do not buy into the idea that these people are feminists at all.)

These faux-feminist campaign groups say they are concerned about the unintended consequences of changing the Act. They are worried that non-transgender men will somehow abuse the new legislation to argue their way into women-only spaces. They say that they are concerned about how the needs of cis women and trans women intersect. (Cis meaning that your gender identity matches the gender you were assigned at birth.) And some of these groups add on other concerns about gender roles and protecting children from misguided gender confusion or hormone therapy.

A fundamental belief of Liberal Democrat philosophy is the right to free speech and the right to question things. But our belief here needs to go hand in hand with some common sense, sensitivity and caution. Because this is one area where engaging with people’s concerns can actually cause harm and hurt.

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On Vince, the Lib Dems and this supposed new party

The Sunday Times reports (£) that the reason missed that vote the other night was because he was at a meeting discussing the formation of a new centre party.

A few brief thoughts from me:

First of all, I think that if it is finally going to get off the ground, @libdems need to know about and work with it where it shares our values. It would be daft to stand against each other in an anti-Brexit election.

It may be that we can only work together on the anti-Brexit stuff because @libdems couldn’t work closely with a party that didn’t have a clear strategy to tackle poverty and inequality, tackle climate change, reform our political system & champion human rights & civil liberties.

So it’s very sensible for Vince to be in the discussions. He may be telling them that the best thing they can do is join the Liberal Democrats because we already have the campaign infrastructure and the Commons presence and experience.

If Vince wants @libdems to co-operate closely with any new party – and we’ve heard about lots of these which have never got off the ground – he will have to persuade our Conference to vote for it and there will be some spirited resistance.

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My passion for bold and radical Liberalism reaffirmed, as my time as SLF Chair comes to its end

Last September, Paddy Ashdown said that since the coalition, the Lib Dems had not managed to have even “one big, dangerous idea”.  He said in a blog for Lib Dem Voice:

Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and rekindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

 It prompted him to launch the Ashdown Prize in March this year, and the winner was announced in June—Dorothy Ford, who proposed an idea on food waste which will be debated at the Autumn Conference.  In a blog on Lib Dem Voice, Caron Lindsay said that though the idea was “worthy”, it was “neither radical or new”.  This dearth of new ideas has been besieging the Lib Dems since 2010, and little seems to be changing.

At the Social Liberal Forum, we have been keeping the flame of new liberal ideas burning since the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories in 2010.  We feel that new ideas and renewal/rethinking of old liberal ideas is vital to being the radical force that Liberalism should currently be and always has been.  

I have been known by my colleagues to have said on various occasions, since I became Chair of the SLF in 2016, that “there has never been a more important time for Liberalism than now”.  I passionately believe this, so as my time as Chair draws to a close, and as nominations to the new SLF council are underway, I am re-affirming the vital importance of new, bold, radical ideas that will keep Liberalism as the relevant and necessary force in British politics that it needs to be.

The book that the SLF published earlier this year, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, was significant for several reasons: it showed that there are many progressive, liberal people out there thinking radically, coherently and sensibly about what we need to do next as a society; that we do not need to be tribal, but can work with others to generate progressive ideas; and that liberal and progressive thinkers are and always have been the people to move politics forward in this country.

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