Category Archives: Op-eds

100 days

There is a lot to celebrate this weekend. I hope that most of us will have an opportunity to rest and relax a bit!

However, it is incredibly sad that today marks 100 days since Russia started its invasion on Ukraine.

  • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 4,169 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as of June 1, 2022. Of them, 268 were children. Furthermore, 4,982 people were reported to have been injured. However, the real numbers could be higher.
  • There were approximately 13,000 non-fatal injuries.
  • At least 15 million people were displaced (more than the total population of Los Angeles).
  • There are 2,300 destroyed buildings.

So many Ukrainians were forced to flee. So many had to leave behind members of their families, husbands, fathers or livelihoods.

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Crown Imperial Madness

Yesterday was a day of pageantry, cheering crowds and an unforced display of respect for the monarch from many in our nation. Boris Johnson’s government has now crowned that achievement with proposals that will make the UK a laughing stock worldwide. Proposals to bring back imperial measurements fly in the face of modernity and the needs of enterprise. But they suit the needs of this out of touch government, which seems to believe that if we bring back crowns on beer glasses and allow grocers to sell only in imperial measures it will lift the popular mood.

Although this scheme is the brainchild of Jacob Rees Mogg, who seems to be living in the century before last, business minister Paul Scully is the fall guy who today is presenting the daftest idea to come out of any government’s stable in decades. Not so much Build Back Better as Build Back Backwards.

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Call for help this weekend in Tiverton and Honiton

Ed Davey, Sarah Olney and the by-election campaign team are calling for help in Tiverton and Honiton this weekend to ensure that Richard Foord is elected three weeks today. Postal votes land on doormats in just a few days. There are volunteer activities in the constituency and regular Maraphone sessions.

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The Journal of Liberal History: A special edition on Liberals and the American Civil War

The Spring 2022 issue of the Journal of Liberal History has just been published. One of our themed special issues, this edition covers the important topic of Liberal attitudes and responses to the American Civil War. The war was a pivotal event in American history but one which also sent shockwaves around the world, provoking argument and debate on questions of Republicanism, democracy, nation-building and, of course, slavery.

The entire period of the Civil War (1861–65) took place during the Liberal administration of Lord Palmerston, and the contents of the special issue look at some of the significant Liberal and Radical reactions to the turbulent events of the times. The articles include:

Introduction: Co-editor of the special issue, Eugenio Biagini (Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Cambridge University), contextualises the contributions.

The Palmerston Ministry and the American Civil War. Duncan Andrew Campbell examines the tensions and disagreements in Anglo-American relations leading up to the war and follows the efforts of the Palmerston administration to remain neutral during the conflict, which angered both North and South in the process. The article also considers the impact of the war on British political thought, with some surprising conclusions.

The ‘voice of reason’: John Bright and his relationship with the Union. Radical MP John Bright was one of the most outspoken proponents of the North throughout the Civil War. Along with Richard Cobden he was even nicknamed ‘the Member for the Union’. In this article Shannon Westwood uses Bright’s speeches and letters to trace his influence on Liberal and wider British attitudes to the war.

John Stuart Mill, moral outrage and the American War. According to one recent biographer of Mill, the Civil War galvanised and politicised him in the same way as the French Revolution had. In this article, Timothy Larsen focuses on Mill’s contribution to developing Liberal support for the North, particularly when some senior Liberal voices seemed to be moving towards acquiescing in the secession of the Southern states.

‘An undoubted error, the most singular and palpable’. One of the voices which would have worried J S Mill was that of William Gladstone. Despite Gladstone’s expressed detestation of the institution of slavery, events in 1861–62 gave Gladstone pause for thought about the ability of the Union to reunite the country. In a speech at Newcastle in October 1862, Gladstone declared that the leaders of the South ‘had made a nation’. In this article, Tony Little examines Gladstone’s views on the speech which he later came to consider one of the worst mistakes of his political life.

Commerce, conscience and constitutions. By no means all Liberals and Radicals automatically sided with the North. In this article Graham Lippiatt unpicks the motivations of two contrasting Liberal MPs who chose to support the Confederacy: William Schaw Lindsay, a man of business and a strong free trader, who saw the economic damage the Civil War was doing and understood Southern resentment at US government policy on tariffs; and Lord Acton, the great historical thinker on rights and liberties whose legacy includes the famous aphorism that ‘power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

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William Wallace writes: Higher Public Spending: the big political taboo

A recent Financial Times op-ed  argued that the UK should now recognise that the Ukraine conflict has imposed aspects of a war economy on the UK – shortages, rising prices, disruptions in supply – which require serious changes in economic policy.  The business pages of the serious press urge higher public investment, spending on education and apprenticeships to raise our woefully-low labour productivity, and government intervention to promote innovation, resilience against supply-chain shocks and sustainability.

Defenders of the NHS point to its much lower spending and staffing per head than comparable European countries half that of Germany and the Netherlands, far fewer doctors and nurses per head and less than half the number of hospital beds – which as the Financial Times says ‘reflect political choices, not what is affordable.’  State schools have been similarly underfunded for many years.  Teachers’ salaries, like nurses’, have been held down to a point where recruitment and retention is difficult.   Conservative MPs and others call for higher defence spending in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Anyone serious about the ‘levelling-up’ agenda knows that it cannot succeed without a very substantial and long-term financial commitment: an additional 1-2% of GDP over a decade or more.

Yet Conservative MPs, backed by almost all political commentators outside the Guardian, still call repeatedly for cuts in taxation.  Their reactions to Rishi Sunak’s latest emergency package have expressed dismay at the rise in taxes it involves.  Sunak is still promising them that he will find a way to cut taxes before the next election, although neither he nor anyone else says anything about what cuts in spending that would imply.  And the Labour Party is silent on the subject, fearing that the Mail and the rest of the Tory press would love to label them again as ‘the high tax party’.  I saw a Labour leaflet in Wandsworth in the local election campaign that promised that if Labour won control of the Council it would keep Council tax at the same low level – a similar promise to what Tony Blair pledged for national taxation in 1996-7.

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Faith, spirituality and the role of a Councillor

Only a week or so ago, I sat down at our Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council Annual Meeting. I sat thinking whether I did the right thing. I sat wondering whether, after a 6 year gap, it was the right decision to stand again. One of the Labour Councillors, a really decent guy, said to me: “Michal, you’ve done it before. You really wanted to do it again? You are crazy”. There were a few moments before the meeting, when I was reflecting on sacrifices that many of the Cllrs have to make. Most of us have to work, full or part-time. There are plenty of evening meetings and our presence at home, or lack of it, will be felt. In my case, with 3 school-aged daughters, my conscience was searching for an answer for this question. The beginning of the meeting was really powerful. The Full Council meeting is the only meeting of the Annual Calendar which begins with the prayer. A short prayer, read out at the beginning of the meeting, had such a huge impact on me. I felt once again a “calling” to public life and that I am not alone in fulfilling my duties as a Councillor. Moreover, our prayer reminded me about my most important part of my role as a Councillor; being at the service of others.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29th May 2022

The 27 EU heads of government are meeting in Brussels next week to supposedly confirm plans to stop imports of Russian oil and gas. It may not happen. Decisions have to be unanimous. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has signalled that he will block the move.

Hungary is dependent on Russian fossil fuels for 100 percent of its energy needs. These can only be delivered by pipelines because Hungary is landlocked. All the pipelines run from Russia. The other EU countries have offered to give Hungary a two-year grace period to find alternative sources. But Orban maintains that he has no alternatives and that stopping imports of Russian gas would destroy the Hungarian economy.

At the same time, the newly re-elected Hungarian leader has used the war in Ukraine to declare a state of emergency which allows him to effectively rule by decree.  Orban claims that the Ukraine war “represents a constant threat to Hungary.” He has already used his new powers to impose fresh taxes to finance an increase in defence spending. Many fear that Orban will abuse the state of emergency to bypass parliament and suppress critics. He is already under attack from Brussels for damaging Hungary’s democratic institutions and the EU is threatening to withhold development funds because of that and allegations of corruption. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “Hungary was already no longer free, now it is no longer a democracy”.

With all this talk about Taiwan and ambiguous or clear US policies on the issue of whether or not to defend the island, one thing has been slightly overlooked – chips. To be precise advanced semi-conductor computer chips. Taiwan produces 92 percent of the world’s advanced semi-conductor computer chips. The remaining eight percent come from South Korea. These tiny electrical conductors are to technology what oil and gas are to industry and transport. Without them our computer-dependent world would come to a sudden halt.

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Ben Bradshaw: Good prospects of Lib Dem Tiverton and Honiton victory

Former Labour culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has called for Labour voters to vote Lib Dem in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election on 23 June. Well, he almost did. In a carefully worded message on Westminster Hour and reported in the Independent, Bradshaw says:

“I think there are very good prospects of a Lib Dem victory.”

He says the only way to give the government “a kicking” is to vote Lib Dem:

“What some Labour members and activists don’t always appreciate is that a lot of Conservative voters, if they want to give the government a kicking will vote Liberal Democrat but they wouldn’t vote Labour.

“So if we have a joint purpose of wanting to send the prime minister a message and ultimately defeat this government in a general election then I think there are very good prospects of a Lib Dem victory there.”

I wonder how Liz Pole, chair of the local Labour Party and the Labour candidate for the seat feels about that.

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Long-serving Lib Dem Robert Aldridge becomes Edinburgh’s new Lord Provost

Popular Lib Dem Councillor Robert Aldridge became Edinburgh’s Lord Provost on Thursday. He was the only nomination and was proposed by the leader of the SNP Group Adam McVey and seconded by his ward colleague, new Lib Dem Councillor Ed Thornley. Watch here:

Dobbie, as he is known to his friends, was first elected to the Council in 1984. I first got to know him when we first moved back to Scotland in 2000 when he was Marilyne Maclaren’s agent in Edinburgh South for two general elections. He spent most of his career working for an organisation supporting people through homelessness. He is a wonderful, compassionate Liberal Democrat. He made a superb, generous and inclusive speech on taking office which you can listen to here. It certainly had me in bits.

He will need every ounce of his patience and ability to make people work well together over the next five years.

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Wendy Chamberlain slams PM’s “appalling attempt to rig the rules”

You would think, wouldn’t you, that when the culture of your Government has been slammed in a report which outlined disgraceful behaviour, you would be absolutely mortified and would make sure that your actions showed that you were truly sorry. Especially when you had been saying so at length and you knew that nobody believed a word of your apology.

Well, you could think that of virtually any other PM than Boris Johnson. But the current incumbent’s capacity for brazen disregard for rules or accountability is second to none. We saw this when he tried to change the rules to save his mate Owen Paterson last Autumn.

Yesterday, Boris Johnson watered down both the Ministerial Code and the role of the so-called “Independent Adviser.” The Guardian reports:

The prime minister faced a barrage of criticism after he amended the rules on Friday to make clear that ministers will not always be expected to resign for breaching the code of conduct. Under new sanctions, they could apologise or temporarily lose their pay instead.

Johnson also blocked his independent ethics chief, Christopher Geidt, from gaining the power to launch his own investigations, and rewrote the foreword to the ministerial code, removing all references to honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability.

Our Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain is reported as saying that this was an:

appalling attempt by Boris Johnson to rig the rules to get himself off the hook.

It seems the Conservatives have learned nothing from the Owen Paterson scandal.

It has been clear for some time that the Government doesn’t care that accountability and justice are seen to be done where its own behaviour is concerned. With these moves they are effectively giving themselves the right to mark their own homework. The legitimacy of any Government depends on having some sort of check on its power.

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Lib Dems head to Tiverton and Honiton

With just 26 days to go before polling day, Lib Dems are heading to Devon this weekend to support Richard Foord’s campaign to overturn a 24,000 Conservative majority. Activists have come from as far away as Fife, 600 miles away, to help.

The Young Liberals are turning up in force to help, just as they did in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire. They also produced an excellent guide to campaigning in by-elections which you can find here in the Members’ area of the ALDC website.

It’s looking busy and positive on the campaign trail and voters are well aware that we are the challengers to the Tories:

 

While Richard Foord has been impressing in the media, the Independent reports that the Conservatives are keeping their candidate well out of sight of journalists so she doesn’t have to face questions about Partygate:

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Observations of an expat: gun control v. tyranny

Chiselled on the wall of the entrance lobby of the National Rifle Association are the words: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

This, claims the gun lobby is the Second Amendment of the US constitution. It is not. The oft-quoted right to bear arms clause is preceded by the words “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right….”

Should the amendment be read in its entirety with the second half contingent on the first? Or has the need for a citizens’ militia become redundant in the modern age and therefore only the second half remains relevant?

The NRA is in no doubt. It only every quotes the second half. All references to militias are conspicuous by their absence.

But why do Americans need guns? Conservatives say it is to protect themselves and their families from bad people with guns. Liberals reply: then take the guns away from the baddies as well as the goodies so no one can shoot. It is a policy that has worked in Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other developed countries.

American conservatives retort with what may be the real reason for hanging onto their firearms: Individual gun ownership is the ultimate defence against tyranny – the tyranny of anarchy and the tyranny of overbearing government.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz – one of the most prominent supporters of the NRA and a major beneficiary of the gun lobby’s largesse – was crystal clear on the tyranny issue when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He wrote in his campaign literature:

“The Second Amendment isn’t just for protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It’s a constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny – for the protection of liberty.”

But from whence does this need for weapons as protection against tyranny come? The answer is Britain.

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Russia’s Ukrainian war must lead to Putin’s downfall

In my Lib Dem Voice article of 4th March 2022, I argued that Putin should be stopped in Ukraine for good.

Now that Putin has narrowed his war aims to take over the rest of Donbas, Luhansk, including the industrial and food producing heartland of Ukraine, having had created a land corridor to Crimea and brought Ukraine’s economy to its knees, he may well accede to calls for a ceasefire to consolidate his gains, erect strong defences in his recently-captured territories and rebuild his army into a new more effective force to recommence war whenever it suits him.

A ceasefire would be the easy way out for the West. Some western countries have already suggested it. However, we must resist this happening if the Ukrainian Government is against it.

After tens of thousands of Ukrainian deaths, disappearances of whole Ukrainian populations deported from captured war zones into Russia, the wholesale demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns (all at a cost of 25,000 dead Russian soldiers so far and many more wounded), the chaos that Putin has caused cannot be allowed to be paused to be continued later, whether against Ukraine or other neighbouring countries.

We have two and a half years before the possible return of Trump or another far-right Republican to the White House. Given Trump’s previous disparaging remarks about NATO, we cannot exclude the possibility that the US would pull out or render US membership of NATO ineffective. Coupled with Trump’s own admiration for Putin, the very survival of liberal democracy is at stake in such circumstances if Putin continues to remain in power with, of course, China taking advantage of the situation to further its own aims against the West.

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Quotas, targets and strategies – how to get more female councillors

I have been asked how we consistently manage to elect a diverse group of Lib Dem councillors in Kingston, reflecting the local community in terms of gender and ethnicity.

I want to focus specifically on gender in this post, and that got me thinking about quotas and targets.

Quotas

Amongst the many strategies to get a better gender balance in education, employment and political representation, quotas have had their day. There is one simple problem with quotas – they are perceived as unfair all round.

Quotas in general carry the implication that those in the under-represented group are not able to achieve parity on their own worth; access can only be addressed by imposing restraints on selection. Quotas also create resentment amongst well-qualified people who do not fit the quota but who feel they have been overlooked in favour of someone who may be less qualified.

I do understand that quotas can be seen as a rebalancing exercise, but they are not sustainable unless they address the underlying causes of the imbalance. For that reason I was never a fan of all-women shortlists. They were seen as a quick fix to a specific problem in Westminster, although in the end the voters fixed it for us in a much more brutal way.

Targets

Targets can be helpful as a way of focussing attention on something that needs to improve. But they can also have unintended consequences, especially if resources are limited. For example, setting a target for treatment waiting times by the NHS for certain illnesses may result in resources being diverted from treatment for other illnesses.

When thinking about setting targets for recruiting Council candidates we must ask three questions:

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Moray Deserves Better – Douglas Ross Should Resign

The people of Moray deserve better from our elected Member of Parliament. Douglas Ross should resign now as an MP. Let someone do the job who actually wants to make a positive difference in the lives of those who live and work in Moray.

Our MP has not only backed down on calling for a Prime Minister that has committed a criminal offence to resign, but he has also got a track record for missing key votes that would benefit his Moray constituents due to his commitments as MSP and as a Scottish party leader.

Only last week, our MP was absent for a vote for an emergency VAT tax cut from 20% to 17.5% that would have saved Moray residents an average of £600 per household. This at a time where there is a cost-of-living crisis in our country.

The Scottish Conservatives have already proven to be led by someone with the backbone of a jellyfish. Our former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called Douglas Ross out for his lack of backbone after he withdrew his letter of no confidence in the party-animal Prime Minister.

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17 August 2022: Ambulance Domesday in West Midlands

If you live in the West Midlands and are going to fall ill, you better get on with it. Certainly, don’t leave it until 17 August because if you want an ambulance, you may not get one. That’s the apocalyptic prediction from a director of the West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS).

Ambulance provision in the West Midlands, as in many other areas of the country, has been struggling for a couple of years. There are endless stories of delays in ambulances reaching patients. Handover delays from ambulance paramedics at the county’s two hospitals, both maintained by the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust (SaTH), are among the longest in England. There are far too many reports of patients dying during these delays when they might have survived. Too many patients with worse health outcomes because they could not get to specialist treatment quickly enough.

Mark Docherty, Executive Director of Nursing and Clinical Commissioning at WMAS, this week told the media and the board members of the ambulance service that the whole West Midlands ambulance service could fail by mid-August.

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It’s my party and I’ll lie if I want to – Gray report

The evidence was overwhelming before today that Johnson had been to parties when they were barred by his own government’s rules. That’s bad.

With Sue Gray’s report now before parliament and the public, it is clear if it wasn’t before, that Johnson has repeatedly lied about parties and whether he attended any. That’s seriously bad.

Gray’s report has now been published. Thirty-seven pages. Nine photos. Vomiting, red wine on the walls, fighting, sitting on laps, karaoke, pizzas, prosecco, birthday drinks, sleeping in the office, overflowing bins, leaving drunk by the back door to avoid the press pack outside the front door, along with poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. Classic signs of parties but we have been repeatedly told that there were no parties, just meetings, and Johnson did not attend any parties.

Johnson is likely to survive this because Conservatives haven’t got the guts to remove him. Although perhaps the truth is that they have no one to replace him.

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Robb Elementary School shooting – will America ever get a grip on guns?

We woke to the grim news this morning of another mass shooting in a school in the USA. Nineteen young children and two adults died in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in south Texas. The gunman, eighteen years old, had purchased two assault rifles and used them for a mass slaughter before being shot dead by police.

President Joe Biden just back from Asia made an emotion speech.

“As a nation we have to ask when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby. I am sick and tired of it – we have to act.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, reported to be close to tears, said:

“Every time a tragedy like this happens, our hearts break. And our broken hearts are nothing compared to the broken hearts of those families – and yet it keeps happening. So, I think we all know and have said many times with each other: Enough is enough. Enough is enough.”

 

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We must protect Britain’s liberal democracy from the Conservatives

The Conservative Government is on an illiberal rampage, bringing in multiple laws which threaten our civil liberties

From suppressing voter turnout by requiring voters to show ID at polling stations, to criminalising the right to protest peacefully, to bringing the once independent electoral commission under government control, the UK – to borrow a phrase from SNP MP Mhairi Black – is “sleepwalking into fascism”.

The measures to tackle “serious disruption” in the Public Order Bill provide a blatant example. Not satisfied with tearing apart our democratic right to protest, the Home Secretary wants to impose banning orders on protesters, including electronic monitoring tags, travel restrictions, restricted internet access and curfews.

So this all begs the question; what can we do? What can we do to tackle these measures, and protect our basic democratic rights?

Luckily, we still have time before the Public Order Bill is set to become law, so the opportunity to protest peacefully is available to us. For those unable to attend physical protests, a plethora of options is available – contacting MPs, writing articles, getting involved with political parties and groups that fight to protect our rights.

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Caroline Pidgeon writes…Elizabeth Line: Much to celebrate, but much to learn as well

Today’s opening of the central section of Crossrail is something to celebrate.

The benefits from Crossrail (or the Elizabeth Line as it has become) will be immense.

It will transform travel across London, but also large parts of the South East.  Indeed, it is myth that it is solely a London project. It will cut journey times, provide much needed additional train capacity and encourage people to switch away from making many journeys by car, including in time many people who travel around London by the M25.

Most importantly it will lead to a transformation in genuinely accessible travel.  Passengers will be amazed by the long platforms and trains of 200 metres in length; taking rail and tube travel to a new level.   All 41 Elizabeth line stations will be step-free to platform level, staffed from first to the last train, with a ‘turn-up and go’ service offered to anyone needing assistance. 

 However, whilst celebrating its opening, there is no excuse for forgetting that, as a project, it has fundamentally failed the basic test of being delivered on time and on budget.     

 The central section of Crossrail is opening three and half years late and even then one key station, Bond Street, will not be ready.   Crossrail’s total construction bill is already £4 billion over budget and its delayed opening has drained TfL of much needed fares revenue over the last few years.  The project will have cost around £20 billion on completion, though a good chunk of this has been paid for by London businesses.

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UBI can be Achievable and Affordable

I was ecstatic when our Conference voted to back a Universal Basic Income at Autumn Conference 2020 thanks to the brilliant work of many, including our brilliant Welsh Leader Jane Dodds, James Baillie and Dr. Adam Bernard among others. Since then, party processes have been busy whirring away to figure out the details. We first had a specific UBI working group but this was then rolled into the broader Fairer Society working group last autumn. I’m sure we’ll soon see what the outcome of that process is and I hope it follows the mandate laid down by our Conference in 2020. 

In the meantime, to ensure a healthy debate and help frame our thinking about the issues, we as members should be considering what sensible, funded UBI proposals can look like. To that end, I have worked with others in the Radical Association, the radical liberal pressure group that I chair, to suggest a starting point for our UBI ambitions that is politically feasible going into the next election.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Vladimir Putin has reversed himself and reluctantly said that membership of the Alliance by the two Nordic countries posed “no threat”.  A seamless Swedish-Finnish application seemed certain.

Wait, the diplomats forgot about the perennial thorn in NATO’s Southern flank- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An application to join NATO requires the approval of all 30 members and President Erdogan has threatened a Turkish block. His reason? He is angry because Sweden and Norway give asylum to members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which he is trying to wipe out. Sweden and Finland also imposed sanctions against Turkey when Erdogan ordered his troops into Northern Syria in 2016 (they are still there).

At the top of the list of criteria for NATO membership, is, according to the US State Department, a commitment “to uphold democracy, including tolerance for diversity.” On that basis, Erdogan’s Turkey would fail membership requirements. Since the attempted 2016 coup, Erdogan has jailed nearly 80,000 judges, military officers, civil servants, police, teachers and journalists. 130 media organisations have been closed. Homosexuality is banned and Erdogan has announced plans to reinstate the death penalty. There is, of course, no question of booting Turkey out of the Alliance. It is the strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and at the moment prevents Russian ships from sailing through the Dardanelles to join the war in Ukraine. Realpolitik trumps human rights.

But should Erdogan be allowed to prevent solidly democratic countries from joining NATO? The British government have indicated a possible workaround if Erdogan refuses to change his mind. It has signed a separate “mutual assistance” treaty with Norway and Sweden. If other NATO countries followed suit then the Turkish veto would be irrelevant.

The shooting in a Buffalo supermarket which left ten African-Americans dead is not an isolated incident. According to a report by the respected Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 67 percent of the domestic terror incidents recorded in 2020 were organised by far-right and white supremacist groups. Many of those who stormed Capitol Hill were White supremacists. FBI Director Christopher Wray described White Supremacy as a “significant and pervasive threat” to the US. President Biden called it a “poison running through the body politic.”

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Tory source: Tiverton “likely to fall to the Liberal Democrats”

The announcement of Richard Foord as our candidate for the Tiverton and Honiton by-election was a very clever piece of work by the press team at  LDHQ.

An article in the Telegraph not only had many of our key messages about the by-election, but quoted a Conservative source as saying that the seat was likely to fall to us:

The Liberal Democrat campaign in the constituency is expected to focus on policy areas on which the Conservatives are weak in southern seats, including tax increases and protections for “the rural way of life”.

A Conservative Party source told The Telegraph the seat is likely to fall to the Liberal Democrats, piling pressure on Boris Johnson to shore up support in “blue wall” areas rather than focussing solely on red wall” seats in the north of England.

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Review of “Control – The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics”

When Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859; while the finches of the Galapagos Islands formed an example of natural selection, he also referenced selective breeding in animal husbandry as an example of how desired characteristics in breeds could come about. It did not take a genius to realise that selective breeding could also be applied to humans, although it was one, Francis Galton (Darwin’s half-cousin) the Victorian polymath, who did so and founded eugenics. At a distance of over a century it is difficult to see why they found eugenics so attractive as opposed to other interventions, but late Victorian Britain was a country in the grip of an early version of the Great Replacement theory, in this case the replacement of the educated middle and upper classes with the, then uneducated, working classes simply because the latter were having many more children. Galton’s “Hereditary Genius” set out the case for eugenics: that the ‘better’ classes should be encouraged to breed more and the ‘worse’ classes less.  This idea was attractive to many: Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour, William Beveridge, George Bernard Shaw, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, Marie Stopes, and D H Lawrence amongst others. It even gained the support of the Manchester Guardian. In 1913 the Liberal Government, including Churchill, passed the Mental Deficiency Act (only 3 MPs voting against) which locked up those of low intelligence in institutions, effectively preventing them from breeding, although it did not require sterilisation. That Act was not repealed until 1959.

By 1913, Galton’s ideas had spread far beyond the UK with the United States, in particular, taking them up vigorously; the Eugenics Records Office at Cold Springs Harbour on Long Island being funded mainly by the Carnegie Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, and the philanthropist Mary Harriman. This should be a warning about letting those with money fund research; their interests may not accord with those of society as a whole. Unlike the British, the Americans had no qualms about sterilising those whom they thought should not be allowed to breed, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes writing in a 1927 judgement “Three generations of imbeciles is enough”.

Not surprisingly, these American ideas soon crossed back across the Atlantic, this time to Germany, where Alfred Ploetz built on them and the earlier scientific racism of Ernst Haeckel, who had brought Darwin’s ideas to Germany. In time this led to the Holocaust as we all know, but it is important to appreciate that the first victims were those they considered inadequate, either physically or mentally. That experience inoculated most of the world for a couple of generations, but with the success of the Human Genome project and the development of CRISPR gene editing it became possible not only to repair faulty body cells (somatic cells) to cure some rare diseases, but also change the germ cells that create the sperm and ova and so eliminate the disease in future generations. Eugenics was back!

The second part of the book brings the story up to the present and covers what gene editing can, and more importantly, cannot do. It is an important corrective to the idea that genetics at its root is simple: we all learned at school about the heritability of eye colour, controlled by the OCA2 gene. Yet only 62% of those with two copies of the blue-eyed version of the gene have blue eyes; while 7.5% of those with two copies of the brown-eyed version of the gene have blue eyes as well (p. 217). Genetics is nowhere near as simple as people think, and Rutherford offers several other examples.

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Observations of an expat: Xi in Trouble

“We do things better than the West,” is the oft-chanted mantra of the Chinese leadership.

And since Covid emerged from Wuhan the authorities have proudly pointed to their handling of the pandemic as proof of the superiority of the Chinese system as infections and deaths soared in Europe and America while China’s Zero Covid Policy seemed to be keeping a lid on the virus.

That is changing, and the change is threatening President Xi Jinping’s hold on power.

Xi’s problem is that his Zero Covid Policy is making Chinese people think that his cure is worse than the disease.

The policy involves complete lockdown to prevent the spread of infection. In Shanghai recently that meant that China’s commercial hub and the world’s busiest port was shut down.  All 27 million residents were barred from leaving their homes except for medical emergencies.

Babies were separated from their parents. People could not go to the shops to buy food and officials locked people inside their homes. Food and medical supplies were rationed. They were meant to be delivered but too often never appeared.

Shanghai is China’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city. Its citizens are used to the trappings of Chinese economic success and enjoy a relatively free lifestyle. They objected to the lockdown and the policy behind it.

The Communist Party censored the objections but tech-savvy residents managed to circumvent the Great Firewall of China to post videos on Western social media of people banging pots and pans in protest and displaying banners which read: “I want my freedom back.”

Shanghai is beginning to return to normal, but Beijing and its 22 million inhabitants is heading for the zero policy lockdown. So far this year 373 million Chinese have suffered severe lockdown measures.

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Lies, condescension, repeat – the new mantra of the Conservative Party

In 2016, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove claimed that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills.

On Wednesday 18th May, the Tories voted against the Liberal Democrat motion to cut VAT on energy bills, highlighting yet again, the lies that Brexit was built upon. The claim by Johnson and Gove that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills implies that being an EU member didn’t allow us to do so previously; despite Belgium cutting VAT on electricity bills while being a member of the EU. Another Brexit lie propagated at the time of the referendum was the “removal of red tape”, later proven to be false by the rising administration costs facing British businesses.

This has highlighted how out of touch the Tories are with the British people.

Despite pensioners feeling abandoned by the government, Sir Ed Davey making clear that tax hikes are the last thing Londoners need and Sir Keir Starmer stating that Johnson is “choosing to let people struggle”, the advice from Home Office minister Rachel Maclean for citizens dealing with the cost of living crisis is… get a better job.

Oh…

When turning the attention to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, her advice is… to get a “high-paid job”.

Oh…

With so many having to choose between heating and eating, having to skip meals and some even having to leave their heating off entirely, the advice from the government is simply to “get a better job”. This echoes the now infamous, heartless speech from former Conservative Employment Minister Norman Tebbit, who told the Conservative Party 1981 Conference that when his father was faced with unemployment in the 30s, “he got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it”.

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The NHS is dying … it’s about the  workforce

While everyone is focused on the very real and acute cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine the NHS is quietly imploding, more staff leaving than joining and therefore services collapsing.

It’s not simply a matter of throwing more money at it, we are way past that stage, and as we learned from the Nightingale hospital fiasco, you can build all the hospitals you like but if there is no workforce to staff them, they are just so many white elephants.

The workforce is on its knees and many who stayed on or returned during the Covid crisis are now leaving or returning to retirement, others simply leaving because they are exhausted, increasing the strain on those left behind. The crisis is particularly acute in psychiatry and general practice, where services are collapsing just when they are needed most to deal with the fallout of Covid.

So the fact that there are 10 new medical schools should be good news, except that they will only add about another 1,000 doctors to the workforce annually and only in 5 years’ time, against a calculated shortfall of 15,000 annually. So you may be as surprised as I was to learn that 3 of those new schools; Chester, Brunel and Three Counties, will only be accepting private students from overseas this coming October, and why is that? – simply that the Treasury has not made funds  available to support home grown medical students, £35,000 each annually for the 3 clinical years of undergraduate training; yes, medical training is expensive. The government’s solution being to let these new medical schools admit overseas students instead, who bring with them £40,000 each a year in overseas fees.

Whilst that may be an attractive business model for the medical schools concerned it does nothing to address our own needs and exacerbates the workforce crisis into the future. Meanwhile applications from home-grown candidates have soared and many are being turned down, even though they have top grades and should have been able to expect medical school places.

I think you can agree with me that students coming from countries such as Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and India with that kind of money at their disposal, are most likely to be from wealthy, well-connected families, and are unlikely to be planning to make a long-term contribution to the NHS workforce or make the UK their permanent home. They may stay long enough to complete their postgraduate training but my guess is that they will be returning to privileged positions back home just as soon as they can.

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Finding lost cats – all part of a councillor’s role

The local paper in Banbury, in Oxfordshire, sings the praises of a newly elected Lib Dem councillor, David Hingley. When a note was posted through his door in Bodicote alerting him to a missing cat he set off for a walk round the village. And he found it a few streets away, safe and well, but lost.

The cat’s owner was delighted. David said “I was very pleased to be able to help reunite Poppy with her owner. It’s one of my first acts as a new councillor for the ward. It’s nice to already be giving back to the community after having only been elected two weeks ago.”

Of course, that’s what Lib Dem councillors do. They are embedded in their communities and are well placed to respond to any cry for help. In this case, the cry arrived in the form of a printed note, but it could just as well have been in the village Facebook group. Nothing political, just a simple act of neighbourliness.

I must say that is what I enjoyed most about being a councillor – dealing with very localised and individual problems.

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Challenging cultural and ethnic stereotypes

A week or so ago, I was asked to give a talk about how faith relates to politics and vice versa. I remember when I first came to the UK, I was told to avoid talking about both subjects and therefore I knew that running a workshop in relation to both topics might be a bit tricky!

For some, both faith and politics go hand in hand. Our political choices are guided by our religion or faith affiliation. Our beliefs often become our moral compass, which “dictates” in many cases the way we vote, or decide who to support at the polling station.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The Irish question has bedevilled British, European and American politics since… well, forever. It played a role in the Council of Whitby in 664. In 1169 England’s Norman rulers invaded and started centuries of direct conflict.

All this was supposed to end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Well two events this week have brought it back from a shallow grave: The emergence of Sinn Fein as the largest party on both sides of the border and British refusal to accept the Northern Ireland protocol. The two political incidents have also brought the possibility of a united Ireland a giant step closer. Sinn Fein is totally committed to a referendum in the north on a united Ireland. The long-term stranglehold of the Protestants on the politics of the six northern counties has been a major stumbling block. That has ended.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is also pushing the two halves together. It has tied Northern Ireland economically to the EU and the southern part of the island and weakened trading ties with Britain. The Protestants are, of course, opposed to the protocol. The conservative Boris Johnson government is trying to reverse it because of their traditional links to Protestant parties and commitment to a divided island.  But the Protestant establishment – in the form of the Democratic Unionist Party – is no longer in the majority. And the majority of Northern Irish voters see their future in Europe and that means linked with the Republic of Ireland. But they still have to contend with die-hard Protestants, who, if they cannot win at the ballot box, could easily turn to the terrorist tactics of their IRA counterparts.

Britain was the driving force behind the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. It pushed for the alliance to quickly admit former Warsaw Pact members in the 1990s and has taken the lead in arming Ukraine. This week British PM Boris Johnson was in Sweden and Finland to sign “mutual assistance” treaties with Sweden and Finland. The three countries are now pledged to come to each other’s aid in the event of a crisis. The treaties are a symbolic first step towards full-fledged Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO which is expected to be finalised at next month’s heads of government summit.

Vladimir Putin is furious and has promised retaliation. NATO expansion, Putin has repeatedly asserted, is one of the main reasons for his invasion of Ukraine.  But for Sweden and Finland, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is THE reason for their decision to end 200 years of neutrality for the Swedes and 67 years for the Finns.

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