Category Archives: Op-eds

Terrorising the traumatised: the Tories have a weak and wicked approach to crime

Twice in as many weeks, this government has committed to making would-be offenders “literally feel terror” in an effort to look tough on violent crime. The country eagerly awaits the Home Secretary’s Tory power pose to accompany this policy.

The truth is, the Tories have gone soft on crime. A tough policy is one that works – but their approach of inciting fear among those at-risk of offending simply isn’t an effective means of reducing crime. Reams of academic evidence and my work as a frontline practitioner make that very clear.

Project Terror starts with turbocharging police stop and search powers to scare people at risk of violent offending out of carrying weapons. Aside from being unfair and unjust, this is an ineffective policy. Priti Patel’s own Home Office team “found no statistically significant crime-reduction effect… from the increase in weapons searches.”

Next on the list is building 10,000 new prison cells to banish criminals to. Again, the government’s own figures tell us that more of the same will not work: nearly two in three ex-offenders re-offend within one year of release from our prisons.

Project Terror is doomed because it’s based on the flawed assumption that the ‘choice’ to offend is always as shallow as Boris’s choice between foie gras and a pig’s head on the Bullingdon Club menu.

Too many young ex-offenders we work with at Cracked It had perceived no choice but to offend before they started working with us. Faced with an education system that fails to equip them with the skills they need to access employment, and a benefits system that locks their families in poverty, they felt backed into crime’s corner to generate an income. Young ex-offenders tell us about how they would deal drugs, sleeping with a knife for safety, to make money that they’d secretly slip into mum’s handbag to help pay the bills.

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Stopping a crash out Brexit

It should be obvious now that the current government, effectively headed jointly by Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, is prepared to break almost any constitutional convention to ensure that Brexit occurs by 31 October 2019.   This is even though such a Brexit will almost inevitably be a crash out Brexit without a deal with the EU, an outcome which Michael Gove dismissed during the Leave campaign, saying that it was as likely as Jean-Claude Juncker joining UKIP.

This is a sea-change from the May government which, for all its faults, never tried to defy the will of parliament or take us out of the EU by stealth.  As a result, the Cooper-Letwin Bill requiring the government to seek an extension from the EU was implemented without question and without trying to exploit the loopholes which it contained.  This will not be the case this time around and, as a result, there is a strong likelihood that the government would find ways to defy the will of Parliament expressed in similar legislation.

Furthermore, a simple Vote of No Confidence won’t work because it is likely that the government would postpone the General Election until after 31 October 2019 and ride roughshod over the convention that a government which has been no confidenced should do nothing controversial.  Nonetheless, Parliament does have the ability to stop them by a passing a Vote of No Confidence plus installing a caretaker government to request an extension from the EU.

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Now comes the hard part

We Lib Dems have had a great three months. The local elections were good, the European elections outstanding, we got a high-profile defection from the crumbling Tiggers, and we’ve just won a by-election in a Leave area. We’ve even had our new leader going down very well among voters we need to attract.

But now comes the hard part. As the celebrations from Brecon & Radnorshire die down, we need to recognise that we only won there because the Greens and Plaid Cymru stood aside. It was the smart decision, but they will want something in return, indeed the Lib Dem brand is still mud in Green circles for our perceived lack of generosity in responding to the Greens’ offer to stand aside in 12 of our target seats in the 2017 general election.

We must therefore get our head around what we can usefully give in return, and anyone who remembers the difficulties of deciding who should stand in which seat when the Liberal and Social Democrat parties merged in the late 1980s will know it won’t be easy. It is not my job to carve up seats – wiser counsels are working on that – but there are a few things we Liberal Democrats would do well to get our heads around.

The main one is that we will have to give something up, and it will be painful. If we are to be politically mature and rise to the challenge of the Johnson/Farage regressive alliance, we will have to stand aside (or at least do no work) in seats where there will be dedicated Lib Dems who have worked their patch for years, and who will probably feel after the recent results that they’re finally on the verge of a breakthrough. Whether they really are or not is irrelevant – they will have worked for the Lib Dem cause yet it will feel as if they’re being asked to put the last five years’ work on the bonfire.

Having said that, in strategic terms, what we can usefully offer the Greens and Plaid may not cost us that much.

At the 2017 general election, there were 14 seats in which the Greens were ahead of the Lib Dems, and in 2015 the Greens came second to either Labour to the Tories in four. The chances of us winning these seats are negligible, and the likelihood of us winning other seats if we can ‘trade’ some of these 14 for the Greens assisting us in some of our targets is immense. Not every Lib Dem voter will vote Green (that’s something the Greens will have to suck up, just as not every Green voter will vote for us if there’s no Green candidate), but if the Greens stand aside in seats we can win to avoid splitting the Remain vote, in return for us doing the same in some of their targets, it could be a major gain at very little cost.

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Caroline Lucas’s all female Cabinet is not the right approach to stop Brexit

I have a lot of respect for Caroline Lucas – I think she has generally been brilliant and a voice of reason on Brexit. Her willingness, like Jo Swinson, to work proactively and co-operatively across party lines on the crisis facing our nation is very welcome and laudable.

However, I was dismayed to hear Lucas proposing an all-female emergency cabinet to stop Brexit. At a time when families, communities and the nation are so bitterly divided over the most important and pressing issue of the day, do we really want to manufacture yet more division along gender lines? I’m going to be charitable and put it down to a PR stunt – if that is the case, then let’s face it, she has succeeded.

There is a lot of evidence that diverse leadership teams and a diverse workforce lead to better decision making and more successful organisations – that’s why we see so many companies focusing and investing heavily in actually walkingthe walk on diversity and inclusion, not just talking the talk. Diversity means just that – a team that includes BOTHgenders and people from a variety of different backgrounds with a range of experience. I would be just as concerned by an all-female (and all white to boot) cabinet as I would an all-male cabinet.

How could an emergency national unity cabinet to tackle Brexit seriously omit the likes of Hilary Benn, Dominic Grieve, Vince Cable, Keir Starmer or Ken Clarke?  What about Rory Stewart? All men who command great respect across the political spectrum whose contribution to such a team would be immense (granted, they don’t help address the lack of BAME individuals).

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A Remain Alliance and opportunities for the Lib Dems…..detail may not be quite there but Lib Dems are poised for massive breakthrough

On Friday night the Spectator’s Coffee House blog carried a piece by Nick Cohen about a Remain Alliance. It had details of all sorts of seats being divved up between us, Plaid and the Greens.

My first thoughts on reading that was that it was at best speculation. I mean, why on earth would anyone leak plans for a Remain Alliance to the heart of the Brexit-supporting media, I can’t imagine. Anyone can sit down with a bit of paper and the 2017 election results and work out where it might make sense to stand one Remain candidate. It’s not rocket science.

The official party response says:

These reports cited by Nick Cohen are inaccurate in many ways. As the strongest remain party we are committed to stopping Brexit and are actively talking to those in other parties, and none, to achieve this.

I mean, Unite to Remain is pretty open about what it is trying to do and I would be very surprised if there wasn’t some sort of arrangement in some seats. But that has to get buy-in from all sorts of people, not least the local parties involved. Just by way of interest, if you delve a bit deeper into that organisation, you will see that its director is one Peter Gerard Dunphy who, until last year, was the chair of our Federal Finance and Resources Committee. He left us to join the Change UK project earlier this year but is still on friendly terms. His motivation is more to bring about the massive change in politics than any falling out with the Lib Dems.

Today’s Observer carries a story saying that we are changing our strategy for a general election in the wake of new research which shows we could be in play in a couple of hundred seats. It mentions specific seats that we could be targeting, including Dominic Raab’s heavily Remain seat

The article basically says that we are changing our election strategy and trying to raise money. Now, if we weren’t doing these things, there would be something far wrong given that we could be facing an election within weeks. The election of a brilliant, engaging and dynamic leader with a strong message, and our victory in Brecon, should make those jobs a lot easier.

The article carries quotes from three senior Conservatives who suggests that the Tories could lose seats to us as voters are horrified at the hard right direction of the current Cabinet. This from a former Cabinet Minister:

The route the PM and Dominic Cummings have taken is really blind to the fact that you’ve opened up this yawning chasm in the centre of politics,” said one. “The Lib Dems have always been at their best in a crisis.”

And more:

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It’s worse than you think

The other main British parties don’t care enough. Do we?

About the plight of ordinary working families with insufficient income to keep bread on the table. The distress of troubled teenagers unable to find a quick response to mental health problems. The struggle to make ends meet for single mothers with more than two children. The worry of people with disabilities facing proving again their need for Personal Independence Payments. The hopelessness of people losing their homes because of delays in Universal Credit payments. The alienation of young people who can’t see a future beyond gang culture and drugs. And the despair of people in dead-end ill-paid jobs or ill and alone at home who can’t see any prospect of their life ever getting better.

There are all these people struggling in Britain today, yet we have a Conservative government indifferent to them. Indifferent to what people have gone through with the austerity of the last few years, to the rising poverty levels, and to the expectation that the standard of living for ordinary people will worsen if Brexit happens, with or without a deal.

Professor Alston, the UN Rapporteur of extreme poverty, put his finger on it in his Statement, after his 11-day fact-finding tour of Britain last November.

In the Introduction, after describing in devastating detail the situation he had found here, he wrote, “It is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems. The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded focus on getting people into employment at all costs. Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach.”

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What do do on the Friday night before Conference

Are you going to Lib Dem conference? Officially conference starts on Saturday 14th September, but if you look at the conference program you will also notice it starts at 9am on that day. For most people who want to be there at the start this means it makes sense to arrive on the Friday before.

If that is your plan and you are wondering what to do for Friday evening, then you may recall that last year there were 2 “unofficial” Friday evening events; Lib Dem Pint and the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) pre-Conference dinner.

If Lib Dem Pint is happening this year then I would happily promote it in this article, but my internet searches have not shown that it is. It was a very popular event last year and I would suggest keep a look out for it next year. UPDATE: There is a Lib Dem Pint and you can find out more here.

But there is an alternative…

the Social Liberal Forum Pre-Conference Dinner

The SLF ARE organising their pre-Conference dinner and our guest speaker will be Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem candidate for the Mayor of London next year. It is worth bearing in mind that in the recent EU elections the Lib Dems “won” London with more votes than anyone else, so Siobhan stands a good chance of becoming the Lib Dem mayor of London next year.

If this is your first Lib Dem conference, then the SLF dinner is a great opportunity to get to meet other Liberal Democrats informally before conference has even started.

Last year the event was a complete sell out and people were allowed to turn up on the evening without pre-booking.

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Public mind manipulation

There’s a report out today  calling for the regulation of targeted political advertising.  I heard this  in a BBC review of the papers, but it isn’t mentioned in theGuardian and  can’t find it on the Internet, so I don’t have the details.

However, this is a serious matter and regulation is urgently needed.  Sadly, it is probably too late to bring in relevant new laws before a snap general election or even another referendum, so it is vitally important for the public to be fully aware of what is going on.

A recent article by Peter Pomerantsev  in the Guardian tells of a world of “dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, deep fakes, fake news . . . trolls.”  I don’t pretend to understand what most of these are but they are sent digitally not to the population as a whole, but to carefully targeted audiences.  The target does not necessarily know from whom the message comes, nor who else is receiving it, or an entirely different message.

The result is that the recipients are deceived into believing that there is a consensus of opinion where none actually exists.  Maybe this helps explain the narrow lead for Leave in the 2016 Referendum

Apparently, the person in charge of targeted digital messaging for the Vote Leave campaign i was a Thomas Borwick. According to Pomerantsev:

 the most successful message in getting people out to vote had been about animal rights.  Vote leave argued that the EU was cruel to animals because, for example, it supported farmers in Spain who raise bulls for bullfighting.  And within the “animal rights” segment Borwick could focus (sic) even tighter, sending graphic ads featuring mutilated animals to one type of  voter and more gentle ads with pictures of cuddly sheep, to others.

It’s  a world away from “Question Time” the “Today Programme,” “Newsnight,” election addresses and, indeed,  Focus.  the Tories are said to have earmarked several millions to digital advertising since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister.

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Brexit is unpatriotic and shameful

The other day I got talking to two Leavers on the train. They were a married couple well past retirement age. They told me that they belonged to a small group that celebrated St George’s Day and Trafalgar Day, and said that they would be doing this “as long as we are allowed to”. What I took away from that slightly paranoid remark was that they felt their identity was under threat from unpatriotic liberals. They were lovely people who had worked hard all their lives, and whom I instinctively respected.  As we parted, I told them my father fought against Hitler and the experience made him a lifelong pro-European.  I hope this gave them food for thought.

After thinking about this encounter, I decided to beat the patriotic drum on LDV.  And yes – why don’t we have a Lib Dem fundraising event on Trafalgar Day (21 October),  or Waterloo Day (18 June)?

For hundreds of years, Britain has taken the lead in standing up to tyrants in pursuit of world domination. Trafalgar may have been a specifically British victory, but Waterloo and Blenheim were not. At Blenheim, Marlborough commanded Austrians and Dutch as well as British, while Wellington’s army included Dutch, Belgians and Germans. But for the arrival at Waterloo of another German army under Bluecher, Napoleon would probably have carried the day. Moreover, even if Trafalgar was a battle we won by ourselves, it was part of a lengthy conflict we could not have won alone.

We could never have been victorious in World War One against the domineering Kaiser without our French allies, who suffered far more than we did. Even when we stood alone in World War Two, many Europeans from the continent fought beside us. Think of the heroic Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain and the ferocious resistance of the Free French at Bir Hakim – but for which Rommel might have ended up reaching Cairo while Germany simultaneously took Malta. And those are just two examples.

So yes, we should be proud of our heritage but acknowledge that Britain can never win alone – and never has done. Where does that leave us today? By turning our backs on our European partners and kicking them in the teeth we are behaving in a very un-British and unpatriotic  way. We are kow-towing to Trump and haven’t even left the EU! It is in continuing the legacy of Marlborough and Wellington that this country’s future should lie. We are more effective standing up to Putin, Iranian mullahs, Bashar al-Assad in Syria and other tyrannical forces all over the world if we can do it jointly with our European partners (Think of the Iran nuclear deal that Trump has sabotaged). 

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Boris Johnson is the most vulnerable Prime Minister to enter No 10

Boris Johnson reminds me of an old school bully of mine. Behind the confidence and malcontent facade of someone who knows he can exploit those less fashionable (my politics never helped) lies the hidden fragility. The pursuit of popularity and the insatiable desire to be liked create a deep personal weakness, the lack of authenticity or character, masked by the charade of charm and affability. Eventually the act wares off, and he is left as a lamentable figure, destined for either a melancholy reprisal of his previous life or a painful self-evaluation. You nearly end up feeling sorry for him. Nearly.

Boris Johnson shares many of the same traits. His lifelong desire to become Prime Minister has meant that his principles can be shifted to suit the beliefs of whatever crowd he wants to please. His Euroscepticism can be traced back to his early years as the Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph, where he found that plainly ludicrous stories could get him a loyal and supportive following. Later, as London mayor, he promoted an image of himself as a liberal, pro-European leader, who was in favour of the single market. Sir Nicholas Soames begged him to pledge his support for Remain, even offering to run any future leadership campaign. Later Soames would say that he knew that Johnson never backed Leave in his heart, and was trying to appeal to the Tory grassroots to win them over for the leadership. Johnson has always moulded his political stances to please a certain crowd, and his desire to be popular could well be his downfall.

With no mandate for the job from the British public, Johnson’s assuredness about getting another deal from Brussels is severely displaced. Any hope avoiding the backstop will not pass the approval of the twenty-seven member states and will also fall in Parliament. Theresa May’s deal with a smiling face may well be the only way forwards, but it would be soon discovered by Johnson’s hardline comrades to be a betrayal of their interests. Then the government as a whole could be brought down. 

Any plans for an early election may also prove fatal. The Brexit Party still has a large support base, and a split between them and the Tories could easily let the Lib Dems through in many marginal constituencies as the unequivocal vote of Remain. This could also lead to the dangerous situation of Johnson being able to defeat Labour and command a majority through the Lib Dem surge. Whatever the scenario, no Tory leader can expect to win a large majority, with a threatening Brexit Party and the resurgent Lib Dems. It gives Jo Swinson a huge chance to capture a mood that can transform the party’s fortunes. The first past the post system has always dogged their chances, but a strong Remain Alliance could have important consequences for the future of the country, as the Brecon by-election showed. 

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Another good night for the Lib Dems in local elections – a strong hold and a GAIN

The Council by-election results are in and it’s been another very good night for the Liberal Democrats.

In Newnham ward, where MEP Lucy Nesthinga has stood down, Josh Matthews won with a big swing from Labour.

Congratulations to Cllr Josh Matthews and all the Cambridge team.

We had to wait for this one, but we GAINED Claines ward in Worcester to gain our only seat on the Council. Congratulations to Cllr Mel Allcott and team.

The Conservatives held the Irthlingborough Waterloo ward in Northamptonshire. Sadly there was no Lib Dem candidate.

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Lord William Wallace writes….Boris Johnson think rules don’t apply to him

We now face a really nasty government, hell-bent on leaving the EU without a deal.  What Boris Johnson described only weeks ago as ‘a million-to-one chance’ has now become the central planning assumption for No.10.  Johnson’s airy language about a rapid re-negotiation has evaporated; he has refused to visit even Dublin, and has made no effort to talk directly to prime ministers he casually offended when he was foreign secretary. He is focussing instead on blaming the EU for refusing to accept the UK’s demand to drop the ‘Irish backstop’, even though the British government has no alternative workable proposals on how to manage the Irish border after Brexit.  He and his advisers calculate that, in a slickly-presented election campaign, enough British voters might blame foreigners to carry this right-wing version of Conservatism back into office, without looking too closely at its own contradictions.

On top of this, our new government is threatening a constitutional crisis.  Briefings by No.10 staffers remind journalists that the expectation that a Prime Minister will resign in the event of losing a vote of no confidence ‘is only a convention’.  The British constitution is built on conventions, and on the expectation that honourable politicians will observe them. But Boris Johnson is not an honourable politician.  On resigning from Theresa May’s government, he broke several clauses of the ministerial code: the Daily Telegraph announced he would be resuming his handsomely-paid column three days after he resigned, in defiance of the code’s requirements to wait a month before accepting other posts, to consult the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments before doing so, and not to announce the move until the committee had pronounced.  As an Etonian master commented, Boris Johnson does not think that rules need apply to him – even constitutional rules.

This is a Vote Leave government, not a Conservative one.  The appointment of Dominic Cummings as chief of staff, and the recruitment of special advisers from the 2016 campaign team and from the clutch of interconnected right-wing think-tanks grouped around the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs, makes its ideological direction clear.  During the Vote Leave campaign several Conservative MPs tried to remove Cummings and Matthew Elliott (previously the director of the Taxpayers Alliance) as campaign directors: they saw off the plotters successfully.  Cummings despises most politicians – including Ian Duncan Smith, whom he served as director of strategy for 9 months before resigning, labelling the then-Conservative leader ‘incompetent’.  He has referred to the European Research Group of MPs as ‘useful idiots’, and no doubt considers the opportunists in the Cabinet who have hung onto Johnson’s coat-tails – Matthew Hancock, Grant Shapps, Amber Rudd – to be worse than that.

Close ideological and financial links with the libertarian right within the USA are evident.  Liz Truss, the former Young Liberal who has now embraced free market libertarianism, spent part of her ministerial visit to Washington last week with the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, learning about deregulation and tax cutting strategies.  Ministers are flowing to North America, rather than to our European neighbours, for consultations on future relationships.  Matthew Elliott has joined the Treasury as special adviser to Sajid Javid – who once claimed that Ayn Rand, the American philosopher of selfish individualism, was his favourite author.

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You’ll want to get to Sheffield this weekend….

Absolutely nobody would grudge Jane Dodds, our newly elected MP for Brecon and Radnorshire a weekend off.

After all, she has just been through a gruelling by-election campaign.

When I was down there three weeks ago, she had a very strong sense that people were coming to help her and she needed to return that favour.

Nobody expected her to be doing it quite so soon, though.

Since the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam said he was stepping down in September, Laura has been stepping up her campaign activity.

Jane is repaying the huge effort Sheffield put in to her win. Laura went to Brecon several times as did local party chair John Dryden to whom I am eternally grateful for the lift back from the Lib Dem Pint in Brecon. I wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise.

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Remembering a wonderful, zero-hoots giving, wise Liberal

Alex Wilcock has put up a marvellous thread on Twitter tonight marking 106 years since Baroness Nancy Seear’s birth.

I was lucky enough to hear her forthright views in person at a couple of conferences back in the 1990s and I remember how sad I was when she died in the middle of the General Election campaign in 1997. Her lifetime of putting all she had into advancing the liberal cause and she never saw our big breakthrough.

Read the whole thread:

There are some brilliant stories – her take-down of Paddy at a Federal Policy Committee meeting when he was leader – and her vigorous defence of him when he needed it.

i always really admired her. She said what she thought in the most direct way imaginable.

You can see the BBC News report of her death from around 19:15 here.

Her obituary from the Independent by fellow peer Geoff Tordoff is here. 

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Is there a scientific basis for the sugar levy?

Discussion of the sugar levy has focused on effectiveness and moral/political hazards. I want to focus on one problem that makes those redundant: Does it make scientific sense?

Not obviously.

A popular narrative: In the past, we thought obese people were that way because they lacked willpower and ate too much food, particularly fat, which obviously made you “fat” – it’s called fat! Then, scientists who had previously been silenced by the nutrition science establishment (which was in Big Sugar’s pocket) bravely spoke up and educated us on the Science!™, and now we know that it’s sugar, not fat, that makes you obese.

Reality is more complicated.

The supposedly debunked “fat = evil” paradigm was never a scientific consensus, but merely a pop-science one. It was less the work of the nutrition scientists than of sugar companies and the makers of low-fat diet products. The supposedly triumphant “sugar = evil” paradigm also has little support amongst nutrition scientists. At best, they are marginally more concerned with the impact of sugar on health than they were 50 years ago, and marginally less concerned about fat.

It isn’t hard to blow the simplistic anti-sugar position out of the water. This graph does it impressively, and should make everyone update their beliefs significantly away from thinking that sugar is a major cause of obesity, and should absolutely torpedo the simplistic “sugar = evil” position that has taken hold in many parts of the population and, seemingly, in government.

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The best way to answer Coalition guilt-shaming is to challenge austerity and poverty today, head-on

The election of a new Liberal Democrat leader has been followed by a predictable burst of accusations and guilt-shaming – mostly, but not only, from Labour sources – regarding the Lib Dems’ part in the Coalition, cuts and austerity. Responses on Liberal Democrat Voice and in other Lib Dem groups have often followed a familiar pattern too. A fair amount of irritated defensiveness. A lot of detailed discussion of the financial situation in 2010, deficit levels, etc. Sometimes a feel of this being a rather theoretical economic argument a bit far away, only raised to torment us.

I think this is to miss the point. The best way to get over endless guilt-shaming and raking-over of the Coalition is not to get sucked into circular arguments over just what part any Lib Dem minister played in this or that decision in 2014 but to say very clearly we’ve moved on, there are urgent matters to be dealt with, and that today, in the here and now, 2019, the Liberal Democrats see poverty as a real crisis, care about it and are prepared to tackle it.

What doesn’t leap out from current Lib Dem responses is any sense of urgency. An urgent awareness that there is an atrocious crisis of poverty in this country, and it’s getting worse. Galloping homelessness, thousands dependent on food banks, more and more people in work but so poorly paid and so insecure they barely keep going. Public health indicators that had been improving for decades now stalled or going backwards, as the United Nations’ Alston Report on Poverty in the UK highlighted.

And behind this worsening poverty are some very old ideas, like the assumption that anyone in need of support is potentially a ‘scrounger’ culpable for their own poverty who needs to be kept in check through such things as the benefit sanctions regime.

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Tory “Wafflenomics” and the Expected Macroeconomic-fiscal Costs of NO DEAL

In my last piece, I outlined the expected consequences of a depreciating pound and that a looser fiscal response was the only feasible short-term policy response that would be available to deal with the massive macroeconomic shocks that are likely to ensue (an uncoordinated) NO DEAL Brexit.

Three and a half questions follow:

  • What is the Boris math for the litany of fiscal promises issuing since his “inauguration”?
  • Are these spending promises feasible & credible in terms of the macro-fiscal context the UK will face in a NO DEAL scenario?
  • What should our response as LibDems be to unpick if not defenestrate the Tory Wafflenomics in the run-up to October 31st? The half-question I leave for another occasion, what should be our policy response to deal with the after-effects from November 1 should a No Deal actually take place.

Math on Boris’ Fiscal Promises and projected values

(…mind you we’re just a few weeks in..)

  • 20,000 new police officers: £1bn (one-off)
  • Rise in 40% tax threshold from £50k to £80k: £10bn
  • National Insurance contributions at higher trigger: £11bn
  • Schools: reversing cuts in Education envelope: £5bn
  • Health: Unclear but: 20 New hospitals £1.8bn + wooing female voters £2bn + ??promised £350m per week: £3.8bn – £20bn
  • social care: £10bn
  • new railway Manchester – Leeds: £2.1 – £3.6bn depending on sources, assume £3bn
  • Help to farmers: £0.5bn (but is this just for the Welsh lamb?)
  • No-Deal Planning: £2.1bn (let’s assume £100m no-deal advertising part of this budget line)
  • Unbudgeted thus far: other sectors e.g. Fisheries, medicines, food shortages, …you get the picture…cost of increased policing…

Totting these figures gives £42bn excluding the £350m/week which alone would imply a further £18bn…and per year if the red bus promise is to be kept strictly. Large numbers in absolute terms (a billion has nine zeros) but not in relative terms as the UK economy is £2 trn in value (a trillion has 12 zeros), meaning that £42bn equates to around 2% of GDP or 5% of the current budget and therefore chunky but not a huge fiscal expansion…of itself..

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Joyce Arram 1935-2018: Piecing together a Jigsaw of a Life devoted to Liberalism

Many will already have heard of the passing of Joyce Arram on 11 November 2018.

Joyce was the Deputy President of Lib Dem Lawyers. I had known Joyce since my days as the membership secretary of Liberal Lawyers in the early 1980s, when Bernard Budd QC was the Chair and Tim Clement Jones the organising secretary. Joyce subsequently became secretary of the Association for many years and was a lifelong Liberal.

Her devotion to the Liberal Party was shown by the many times she was a local government and parliamentary candidate as well as an attender at every party conference, where she would could invariably be found on the LibDem lawyers stand in the exhibition area.

Joyce is remembered as being part of seven female Liberal Candidates (the others were Christina Baron, Sarah Curtis, Penny Jessel, Margaret Snow, Delia Venables and Nesta Wyn Ellis) who protested in 1976 outside the National Liberal Club about the fact that women were not until then admitted to full membership following the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act.

Her commitment to Liberal Democrat friends of Israel was shown in an obituary prepared by Lord (Monroe) Palmer LibDem.
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At the age of six, Joyce was evacuated to Wales during World War II and was devoted to her cottage in Carmarthenshire. Although from London, Joyce was always very supportive of Welsh culture, giving readings at the National Liberal club St David’s Day dinners. Joyce was a regular attender of the annual Lloyd George Society weekends in Llandrindod Wells. The Lord George society are holding a Joyce Arram Memorial lecture at the National Liberal Club on Monday, 25 November 2019 at 7 PM to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, to consider the role played by David Lloyd George at the Paris Peace Conference and the consequences of the treaties. The speaker will be critical historian Alistair Cooke OBE, (Baron Lexden), and will be chaired by Baroness Sarah Ludford.

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Bar Charts!

I’ve had an idea about bar charts! It’s way outside my area of expertise, but indulge me.

Right, Northern Ireland has a unique set of parties and in Scotland and Wales the national parties have disrupted the ability of the LabCon duopoly to “game” First Past the Post. In England, though, LabCon game First Past the Post for all its worth. They do everything they can to maintain a dichotomy, “them or us”. Then they run a “project fear” on “them”.

Our campaigning tasks are to avoid being “them” and be an independent, viable, option.

I have previously suggested that we can avoid  being “them” by criticising neither duopoly party individually but only the duopoly as an unified entity.

As for establishing ourselves as real contenders, nationally this is going well.

Locally, though, I can see problems with the bar charts we use to make the case that we are a winning bet. Here we too often play exactly that “us and them” dichotomy that hurts us so much nationally. Nationally we need people to abandon voting for the least-worst-possible winner. Locally, though it’s all “only we can…” and “can’t win here”; straight out of the duopoly playbook. And all too often we dishonestly distort data to present the “story” we want to tell.

Now, after the elections for the European Parliament we have no need to distort as there is always some data that, fairly presented, will tell the story that we are in the race. In a constituency where we came second in 2017, that data can be presented. In my constituency, Lewisham and Deptford, we didn’t do so well in 2017 (to say the least). In the EU elections, though, we came first in Lewisham borough! That data can be used. In some areas of London we came third. Coming first in the region as a whole, though, allows that data to be used. What of a constituency where we did badly, in an electoral area where we did badly and a region where we didn’t do so well? The UK wide EU results put us in second place: those results will tell the story.

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Assumptions

I offer York Liberal Democrats, about every two months, 2 hour sessions on Meditating for Social Action. At these sessions, through meditation, silent reflection, group discussion, we explore a particular theme, such as intentions and effective listening, mostly using a reading. Participants have found the sessions really helpful very much enhancing their Lib Dem activity. By taking time to deeply consider such a theme and discussing it in the group, participants’ motivation to add this good practice to their political activity is very positively affected. For example the person organising our Executive Meeting found he was keener and more focused in getting all the preparation done and had a greater sense of purpose. 

Recently we considered Making Assumptions.

Making assumptions especially when we are in a novel situation is natural and can serve safety issues. For example I might be walking home in the dark along a road without many other people about and I find a drunk person is approaching me. I then might just as a precaution casually cross the road.

However assumptions, that the person then believes and takes action on, are often the root of prejudice, stereotyping and exclusion.

To avoid these negative effects when for example we meet a stranger, perhaps a new Libdem member or a constituent when campaigning, we need to be aware of the immediate assumptions that we form, we all do this, but not to form thoughts and believes around them but be prepared to find out more about the person, find out factual information, which you will be able to do if you take a genuine interest in them, even if it is only for a short time. In this way you are genuinely opening to who they actually are. I find having good eye contact greatly helps with this.

Years ago when I was in Leeds I was approached by a man dressed in an extreme punk outfit which initially for me was a bit frightening. However he was only asking the time and I found by giving good eye contact all my reservations went as in doing this I could see that he came across as rather insecure and shy. Most people find it difficult to lie when giving a gaze. I have recently discovered Politicians use eye contact a lot to exchange information presumably for this reason. However some people will probably be able to blank out and not give much information.

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#GirlsSupportingGirls

When I first took charge of Scottish Liberal Democrat Women earlier this year, my mission was simple: I was going to save the women.

In Scotland, we are fortunate to have the brilliant MPs Jo Swinson and Christine Jardine, but the proportion of women elected at all levels simply isn’t good enough. We are running an almighty campaign to get the brilliant Beatrice Wishart in the Scottish Parliamentary by-election in Shetland later this month but even when we get her elected, she will be the only one of 5 Lib Dem MSPs who is a woman. Luckily, our elected men couldn’t be better allies – I have personally witnessed Willie Rennie putting in real effort to push through new rules on all women shortlists, and encouraging many women to consider their futures with the party.

As to how to save the women, this was the subject of many a conversation amongst my network of Lib Dem Ladies, a WhatsApp group which has become somewhat infamous at Scottish conferences full of women who inspire me every day. There are a few more ideas in the pipeline but the one we’ve been working hard on for the last few months is #GirlsSupportingGirls.

We know that there are many, many women in our party who would make brilliant MPs, MSPs and local councillors, and we want to make sure that they achieve their goals. That is why for the last few months, we’ve been gathering SLDW members and sending them to support female candidates of all sorts. We started with the brilliant Jenny Marr, PPC for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, and have been travelling across the UK since, even road tripping to Brecon and Radnorshire to help out our brand new MP Jane Dodds. 

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Time to ditch the People’s Vote organisation – but not a People’s Vote

Many Liberal Democrat candidates at the next election are going to be surprised  to  find that the People’s Vote campaign will be recommending voting for their Labour opponents – and sending activists to back  that on the ground. 

Liberal Democrats have generally been very supportive of the campaign  which is supporting  our core policy on Brexit and have been happy to promulgate its messages , help at its events and donate money to it. All of that has helped give it credibility – but that credibility may now be used against us. 

According to leaked documents in the Guardian and  the Sunday Times (£) the People’s Vote Campaign are going to be recommending that Lib Dem and Green voters in some constituencies  vote Labour. According to the  leaked document, James McGrory, Director of the People’s Vote organisation says (my emboldening):

In some cases we will be asking Labour supporters to vote for other parties such as the Liberal Democrats. In many others we will be asking supporters of the Liberal Democrats, the Greens or others to vote Labour.

We can expect Labour candidates who are endorsed by the People’s Vote campaign to be using this endorsement to squeeze our vote. 

This is madness – Labour is a pro Brexit party and Corbyn has made  it clear time and again that  what he wants is a Labour Brexit

Anyone elected as a Labour MP will be voting to put life long Brexit supporter Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the negotiations. 

The People’s Vote campaign have a track record on this – they pressured Femi Oluwole to drop out of the Peterborough by election for fear it would  harm the Labour vote.

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A trip to Palestine

The racial profiling had gone a bit wrong.  We’d been walking along al Shuhada, a street in Hebron which is strictly off-limits for Palestinians, flanked by some nervous-looking Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers, when one of them demanded to see some ID.  He’d picked one our small group of British Lib Dems who was obviously of Indian origin.  Our Israeli guide, ex-IDF himself, gently reminded the young soldier that as ‘internationals’ we had rights not granted to Palestinians.

Our trip to Palestine earlier this year lasted only six days, but as well as Hebron, we visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, some outlying villages and towns, a Bedouin settlement threatened with demolition (but still there today), and a refugee camp for internally displaced people.  You can’t learn everything about a country in such a short time, but whatever you read or see in the media, there is no substitute for being there and meeting the people.  We were warmly received by the Palestinians we met – unsurprisingly, given that our (Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine) stated aim is to campaign for the rights of Palestinians, although it is maybe just a little surprising when you consider the past role of the British, exemplified by the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and our hasty departure from Palestine in 1948.

The context for our journey was provided on day one, at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  As well as working to improve the lot of the Palestinians, they collect data on casualty numbers on both sides of the ongoing conflict, and they showed us on a series of maps the steady decrease in the land occupied by Palestinians, due to the illegal (under international law) settlements in the ‘Occupied Territories’.  

The West Bank and Gaza were overrun by the IDF in a brief war more than fifty years ago, but are still subject to martial law.  We visited Military Court Watch, which independently monitors court proceedings when the accused are young Palestinians (under 18).  Typically, the charge is throwing stones at settlers, for which the penalty is usually several months in prison.  Around 200 children were in Israeli prisons when we were there; military courts operate differently from civil courts, and although evidence is not always available, the conviction rate is 99%. 

Sometimes our guides were Israeli Jews who were out of step with the current right-wing Israeli government, and they and their Palestinian counterparts impressed us with their calm determination to see their land freed from conflict.  One thing they all stressed was the effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.  The views and support of the outside world really matter.

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Tactical voting and the Brecon by-election

How did we win the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election? To state the obvious, people changed their vote between 2017 and 2019. Contrary to most of the comment in the press from both Tories and Liberal Democrats, the main reason we won was not because of a remain alliance. The numbers are very clear. We gained 14.3% of the vote between 2017 and 2019.

Where did those votes come from? They certainly didn’t come from the Conservatives. The vote for the ‘pro-Brexit’ parties (CON, BREX and UKIP) stayed remarkably stable: they took exactly 50% of the vote in 2017 and 50.3% …

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Ten freeports by Spring; Boris’s post-Brexit economic miracle

What should the Liberal Democrats do about Boris’s freeports idea? It is alleged that 85,000 jobs will be created.

What is a freeport?

It is a simple idea as old as customs duties themselves. Countries designate an area of land accessible in some way from outside their territory, as outwith their national boundaries for the purposes of customs, taxes and regulations. This means the freeport is a quasi-foreign territory free of all taxes and inspections, even though physically it is inside the host country.

The point is that goods or materials can come into the territory without paying any duties …

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Sugar Tax is nothing more than a money spinning effort

I’ve recently lost a substantial amount of weight. That’s not a humblebrag, it’s going to be relevant, I promise. It’s taken the best part of 20 years to find something that works for me, and I’ll come back to that later. How our society discusses diet and weight was mostly to blame for why it’s taken so long. When I was a teenager, I used to voraciously read women’s magazines while keeping out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day on holiday. Oh, the diet articles in some of those. It was awful. Everything was egg whites and Ryvita. Everything.

And then, imagine, you see something like those Cancer Research adverts. You’ve already seen in the media that a bland diet is something to aspire to, a good way to lose weight, and now you’re seeing that if you’re fat you’ll die. Can you blame a teenager for coming to the conclusion that living longer on miserable food isn’t actually that great a deal? Especially when cheese, chocolate, and chips exist. (Not together, although I did go there on a dare once.)

This is where the recent party proposals on food and drink taxation come in. So, imagine you’re a young adult now, and your understanding of diet is (still) that you can have nice food and be fat or have boring food and be thin. Is a tax going to change your mind about that? Or will you just spend more of your student bursary on that chocolate bar? It’s anecdotal, but that’s how people respond to ‘sin taxes’ more generally. Denmark had a fat tax, and gave up on a proposed sugar tax, because people literally preferred to go to shop in Germany than to pay it. Just process that, for a second: people actively chose to go and shop in a different currency to avoid the kind of tax our party is proposing a consultation on.

In reality, changing the way you eat can’t be done in the short term with nudge policies. Back to what worked for me. It was the concept behind the programme ‘Cook Yourself Thin’. You can eat whatever you like. You don’t have to cut out any food groups. You certainly don’t have own a cupboard full of Ryvita and live on steamed vegetables. What you can do is make lower-calorie substitutions for the things you love. The cookbook’s got a chocolate truffle recipe in it. It even recommends swapping a cookie for Jaffa cakes.

You have to do something which is sustainable for you. Otherwise you simply will not be able to keep it off. Most people put the weight they lose back on again. A sugar tax is nothing more than a money-spinning measure: if you have the spare cash, you’ll still buy it. It won’t make you successfully change the way you live. That’s far more personal and complex than most people like to think. 

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Six key areas for a partnership approach to politics

Since I last wrote about a partnership parliament’ we have won the Brecon by-election and a lot of the talk, quite rightly, has been about the ‘Remain Alliance’ which helped to deliver victory to Jane Dodds. What the by-election has absolutely demonstrated is that politics has become so factionalised that there will not be a Parliament in which one Party will have an absolute majority after the next General Election.

If we are to have a ‘Partnership Parliament’ then perhaps, we ought to consider a partnership approach to the elections which will precede it. In many ways the one is clearly the precursor to another. So, I set out what I think are the key themes on which we should negotiate pre and post-election.

Note that I said themes here. People rarely vote for or against specific policies. They vote for or against beliefs and themes which express themselves by way of high-level principles which they can relate. They then conclude on those themes that such a Party or such a person is the one that most resembles ‘my’ beliefs.

There are two items which are redlines which must be a pre-condition of the Lib Dems working with other Parties.

Firstly, we must revoke Article 50. This is a change from my previous position that we must aim for a referendum in which we would put the case for staying in the EU. Things have now gone too far.

Secondly, there must be an absolute commitment to electoral reform. The impasse in Parliament has largely happened because too many MPs are calculating their individual chances of survival in a haphazard ‘First Past the Post’ system which has failed to deliver a strong government. 

Both of these objectives can be delivered quickly in the kind of short-term Parliament which might exist after the next election. Then a General Election could be held in which the elections took place on the new STV system There are four areas where declarations of intent can be made now for wider discussions but where some things can be done very quickly.

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Why do right wing immigration reformists like Liberal Canada’s points system?

oris Johnson may have hoodwinked a number of European liberal activists by promising to instate a points-based, also known as “merit-based”, immigration system, something for which the Liberal Democrats advocated as recently as Brighton Conference last year.

In 2018, proponents of the immigration motion passed by Conference gave weight to their arguments by comparing the policy to Canada’s, a country generally seen as having a generous approach to migrants’ rights. This much is fair. But we should delve a bit deeper into that policy to understand why it’s suddenly popular with the anti-immigrant Conservative government.

Canada’s points system was established in 1967 by the Liberal government of Lester Pearson, an internationalist to his core. Canada’s previous system was based principally on a migrant’s country of origin and ties to Canada and the Commonwealth. At the time, immigration to Canada was 85% European, mostly from the UK and France. Canada was committed to opening its borders and its culture to place itself on the international stage.

But the nature of the Canadian economy restricted Canada’s otherwise bold immigration reform. Canada is, and was, an export economy, with much of the country’s GDP coming from its energy sector, and most of that coming from oil. With the massive consumer economy of the USA on its doorstep, retaining this status was and is crucial. 

So when I hear UK immigration pundits saying “be like Canada”, I often think of some weaselly post-EU theorists saying “be like Norway”. We’re not an export economy, and unless you’re a Brexiteer fantasist, it seems unlikely that we will be. The world doesn’t have an insatiable appetite for marmite, curiously shaped dogs, and novelty cheeses. Like it or not, we need low-skilled immigrants. We need relatively uneducated immigrants. Moreover, Canada did not (and does not) have a substantial demand for temporary workers. Britain, by contrast, needs large numbers of temporary workers to sustain its agricultural and construction sectors, among others.

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Sunny Uplands and Baloney Economics: whence the falling Pound?

The pound has hit a 2-year low and is the worst performing currency this year and there are still strong headwinds ahead for sterling, particularly if a No Deal Brexit ensues.

The circumstances facing the UK economy and the exchange rate remind me more about country risk scenarios that I faced for dodgy Emerging or Transition Economies, not a developed and mature economy such as the UK. 

All bar our more mature colleagues will have no memory of the dark days of the IMF led bailout of the UK in the 1960s. It’s worth therefore sketching out what the economic-cum-financial risks lie ahead if the “Sunny Uplands” scenario of Prime Minister Johnson starts to take shape, based on his statements and promises since his speech at the doors of 10 Downing Street.

The pound’s value in terms of other currencies is based several factors. Right now, the increasing risk of a “no deal” is scaring away demand for sterling and for sterling assets, thus pushing down the price or exchange rate in terms of other currencies – but the markets sense that there’ll still be a resolution or a further extension.

However, in the event of a “no deal” we will face a genuine currency crisis as investors pile out of sterling assets. These events tend to lead to an initial “overshooting” of the depreciation and we could easily see a further drop of 10, 15 or 20% – nobody really knows. With liberalised exchange rates there’s nothing to really hold back the initial loss of the pound’s value.

Ignoring the immediate hit for UK holiday makers facing a steep rise in the cost of holiday spending, what are the likely consequences for a no Deal as far as the pound is concerned?

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Learn to code: the Technological Revolution

Can I shock you? The North doesn’t end at Manchester and Leeds. For all the bluff and bluster of a ‘northern powerhouse’ we heard when the Tories at least pretended to care, the investment mainly fell around those two main cities. It is true, they are seeing growth, prosperity and attracting young professionals and graduates to the city as businesses prosper and companies choose to open up northern hubs. However, the more rural areas in the North West (particularly West Cumbria) and the North East are seeing their regions stagnate and more alarmingly an exodus of young people who see no future in the area.

According to a recent BBC News study it is estimated that the under 30s population of these regions will significantly reduce over the next 20 years. 3 of the top 5 likely to be worst affected are from West Cumbria, with Copeland anticipated to see a 14% reduction in people under the age of 30. The North East doesn’t fair much better with 4 of the top 10 also from that region, the main county of Northumberland is expected to see the biggest drop of 11%. 

When you look at the common factor in all these regions it is no surprise that former industrial heartlands such as Redcar, Hartlepool and Copeland/Allerdale have a higher rate of youth and adult unemployment resulting in many young people to move away for university and never return. What is most concerning about all this is that there is no real long-term strategy in place to tackle the impending youth deficit, at least not from the two main parties. A reduction in people of working age of this size would also have a significant impact on the local economies of these areas a whole.

As always, the Lib Dems do things differently, and do it better. So why stop now? I propose we look to focus on inspiring investment and increased training for the digital economy, not just by public spending investment but encouraging local and national businesses to increase the number of training schemes and digital apprenticeships in rural areas, particularly those with poorer transport links. If we follow the excellent example set by Recode UK, a free coding training scheme in Bolton which is a joint supported venture by the local JCP and Telecom UK. By championing the private and public sector to educate young people in the tools for the future economy in these regions and help increase social mobility the long term impact will see the wider economy and businesses prosper as well.

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