Category Archives: Op-eds

Workhouse to Westminster

The chances are that you haven’t heard of Trevor Smith, or to be more precise, Professor Lord Smith of Clifton.  He was the prime financial and intellectual force behind the surge for democracy in the 1990s when Charter 88 was rampant under Anthony Barnett, and the Blair governments were legislating for a spate of constitutional reforms.

Smith is a man of singular entrepreneurial vision and remarkable political energy who most unusually followed through his many ideas in action.  He was a political scientist of distinction when he took on the chair of the Joseph Rowntree Social Services Trust in 1987 and transformed it into the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust with a strong democratic direction.  You should know that he became a close friend and colleague of mine.

His autobiography, Workhouse to Westminster, is published this month and gives a nice rollicking account of his family background – his father spent time as a boy with his family in a workhouse, polishing the stone floor – as well as his proactive chairing of the Trust for 12 years, his ‘Lucky Jim” years as an academic, his time as a reforming Vice Chancellor of Ulster University and as a Lib Dem activist and Lib Dem peer in the House of Lords (where he campaigned vigorously for its abolition and his place in it).

Also posted in Books | 3 Comments

William Wallace writes…We need to challenge Conservatives on Tax cuts

Right-wing Conservatives like Boris Johnson and Priti Patel are calling again for tax cuts to ‘free’ the economy.  It’s always popular to call for tax cuts, so long as you don’t link them to spending cuts; so it’s a priority for Liberal Democrats to link the two, and point out that the Brexiteers’ agenda is also one that shrinks the state further, and enforces continuing cuts in the NHS, social care, children’s services – the entire welfare state – education, bus services, even police and prisons.

And the Brexiteers have a problem.  They promised, of course, that they could spend £350m a week more on the NHS – a promise given by a campaign master-minded by Matthew Elliott, founder and first director of the Taxpayers Alliance, a lobby/think-tank dedicated to cutting state tax and spending.  He had used the same cynical ploy in leading the campaign against the Alternative Vote, arguing that the cost of the referendum and the new system could better have been spent on the NHS: knowing that this would appeal to hesitant voters, but not intending that any more money should be spent.  

Their problem is that the narrow majority that voted for Brexit were, and remain, deeply divided on public spending.  One of Lord Ashcroft’s latest polls, intended to inform the Conservative Party conference, warns that roughly half of those who still support Brexit support further cuts in spending and tax, while half – the less well-off, the ‘left behind’ and the ‘just about managing’ – want an end to austerity.  Pushing through Brexit, with a resulting fall in tax revenue on top of the corporate tax reductions right-wing think tanks are calling for, would force yet another squeeze on public services of all types – and would lose the Conservatives the working class support they think they have won.

Boris Johnson’s Conservative conference speech relied on the ‘Laffer Curve’ to square the circle: the assertion that cutting corporate taxes will increase revenue, as companies and their owners are freed to increase investment, create more jobs, and spur faster economic growth.  The record of successive Republican Administrations in the USA has shown that this does not work.  The second Bush Administration cut taxes without managing parallel cuts in spending, leaving the Clinton Administration to struggle with the accumulated deficit it inherited.

Behind this commitment to continuing cuts lies a deep antagonism to the public sector and to those who work in it, and an insistence that private provision always works better than public.  Teachers, they argue, are overpaid and underworked, civil self-interested and intrinsically inefficient bureaucrats.  But never a word from the libertarian lobby about rent-seeking executives in the private sector, or examples of corporate failure or corruption in the provision of services.  And it’s corporate taxes they want to cut deeply, more than personal taxation.

Tagged , , and | 25 Comments

Why a liberal response to taking back control matters

When Vote Leave chose their slogan they broke the mould of British politics. It stood in stark contrast to the established formula of successful general election narratives. New. Better. Ambition. Difference. Forward. Fairness. Future.

Vote Leave initially intended to go down the same route. Vote Leave, Get Change. But a last minute change from campaign director Dominic Cummings left the campaign as Vote Leave, Take Back Control. Cummings, fascinated by psychometric voter profiles, intended the slogan to act as a direct channel to voters with authoritarian tendencies. It worked. Campaigners hammered in the message at every opportunity and Leave won …

Tagged and | 12 Comments

Lib Dems mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month

It’s just a few short month since Jo Swinson lost her dad, Peter, to Blood Cancer. I met Peter many times while helping out with Jo’s campaigns over the years. He was such a lovely, kind man who was clearly so proud of her. Both he and her Mum Annette put so much effort into supporting Jo and having their home taken over by all sorts of random Lib Dems over the years. They were always so friendly and welcoming to us.

Jo ran the London Marathon and raised thousands of pounds for Bloodwise back in 2011. This just shows Jo’s indefatigability. Looking back on it, I’ve just realised that this was a few a few weeks before the 2011 Holyrood election and a few more weeks before her wedding.

What she chose not to share publicly at that point is that Peter had been diagnosed with Blood Cancer in 2008. He kept in reasonably good health until 2015 but then had to undergo several gruelling rounds of treatment.

Yesterday, Jo took over the Bloodwise Twitter account to tell her family’s story.

She talked about the impact of the initial diagnosis:

More spells of chemo and new diagnoses followed, but he saw a happy occasion earlier this year:

Tagged , , and | 1 Comment

Universal Inheritance: A Big Radical Liberal Idea

Now more than ever the Liberal Democrats need new imaginative radical policies. Big idea politics is back with a vengeance as both Labour and the Conservatives indulge in increasingly extreme visions for the country.

If we as a party are to successfully challenge both Labour’s socialism and Tory Brexit nationalism, then we need to engage in the ‘battle of ideas’ and develop our own clear alternative. Liberalism has a long radical heritage stretching back more than three centuries. Throughout the history of liberal political thought, liberals have consistently championed ways of spreading power, wealth, opportunity and ownership to individuals.

In the 20th century, Liberals campaigned under the slogan of ‘Ownership for All’. This was a radical social liberal vision of a more egalitarian capitalist society; where citizens would have the right to own capital and have democracy in their workplaces. This led to the Liberal Party supporting worker cooperatives, profit-sharing and corporate power-sharing models between bosses and workers. The Oxford University academic, Stuart White, refers to this tradition as alternative liberalism.

One central aspect of the radical liberal ownership agenda is the establishment of a citizens’ wealth fund (also called a sovereign wealth fund). This is a publicly-owned fund made up of national wealth, taxed wealth and national investments in shares, land and natural assets. Such funds work successfully from Norway to Alaska. Vince Cable and Liberal Democrat party members gave their overwhelming backing to a citizens’ wealth fund at this year’s party conference in Brighton. 

But how should the wealth amassed in a citizens’ wealth fund best be used? One answer is to deliver a universal inheritance as outlined in a recent report for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Universal inheritance is the idea of having a one-off universal capital grant paid to citizens when they turn 25 years of age. The IPPR envisions that a citizens’ wealth fund could eventually pay out a universal inheritance of £10,000 to every 25-year-old. The basic rationale for the policy is that asset-poor young people should share in the nation’s wealth at the start of their adult lives, when many are starting their careers.

Tagged and | 24 Comments

Working together – What I learned at the LYMEC’s Young Leaders Summit

Three weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Young Leaders’ Meeting in Budapest hosted by European Liberal Youth (LYMEC). The aim of the weekend was to work on LYMEC’s manifesto for the upcoming European elections, as well as to make contacts and receive valuable training on campaigning and leadership.

Our first evening was comprised mostly of introductions, both to each other and to each other’s national political situations. The president of youth wing of the Hungarian liberal movement Momentum welcomed us, highlighting how hard it was to be liberal openly in the current situation in Hungary, with a far right prime-minister and government. He also spoke about the sacrifices he had to give personally in order to promote liberal and Eurocentric politics in Hungary. Throughout the weekend, we heard emotional and inspiring stories from various national leaders and members of the bureau; for example, LYMEC’s policy officer, Antoaneta Asenova, spoke about the countdown to Bulgaria joining the EU and how the national bank displayed a countdown timer, emphasising the support for a European and outward-looking country. It seemed a harsh contrast to many of the Brexit countdown timers we have at the moment in the UK, and it reinforced that now, more than ever, we need to work with our European allies in order to continue to promote internationalism in the UK and  also how fundamental Europe is to our vision as liberals.

Tagged , , and | Leave a comment

Tim Farron writes…Theresa, put your country first

The largely confected outrage at the EU rejecting the Chequers deal has made me reconsider my view of Theresa May. It seems she is more canny than I had thought, and not in a good way.

I often stick up for the PM, at least on a personal level. I go back a long way with her. In the 1992 general election, we toured the working men’s clubs of North West Durham together as we each cruised to a heavy defeat at the hands of Labour’s Hilary Armstrong. Theresa and I didn’t become best mates or anything but I learnt to admire her for her determination and unfussy straightforward approach. She was a Conservative, but she seemed to put duty before party politics.

Chequers has made me question my opinion of the PM’s approach and here is why:

The EU very clearly stated two years ago, and consistently restated, that they would not accept a proposal of the Chequers sort, so who seriously thought that the EU was ever going to accept Chequers? Was the PM hopelessly deluded? I don’t think so.

Chequers would have only given us a single-market type deal for goods, not services. Services make up 80% of our economy, so Chequers would only have been marginally better than no deal.

Nevertheless the proposal was presented as a kind of ‘soft Brexit’ and dressed up to be a reasonable compromise.

Isn’t it obvious now that the Prime Minister drew up Chequers fully expecting it to be rejected by the EU? In fact, they were more than just expecting to be rebuffed, Theresa May and her advisors were clearly banking on it. It was all part of the plan. Not part of the plan to secure any kind of deal with the EU you understand, but the plan to shift the blame and have a shallow political win.

Canny and disgraceful.

Chequers was a deliberately crafted Aunt Sally ready to be knocked down in order to give the Government the opportunity to make a disastrous no deal Brexit someone else’s fault. And the best kind of someone else: the nasty foreigners!

Which begs the question: Surely Boris Johnson, David Davis et al knew that Chequers was never actually going to happen? Surely they knew that it was only a ruse to make the UK government look reasonable and the EU look nasty? I assume that the thinking behind this strategy was discussed at Chequers? Isn’t that why Boris Johnson toasted the PM after the deal was agreed by ministers? So, why did they break ranks – why on earth did we get the flurry of resignations starting with David Davis and culminating in some little-known PPSs?

I can only assume that David Davis had an attack of vanity, and spied an opportunity for some welcome publicity. What fun to have the chance to be vaunted by the right wing press as some kind of Tory Robin Cook!

Tagged , and | 22 Comments

Make money for your local party/SAO with the new online Christmas Draw

Since 1995, the Liberal Democrat Christmas Draw has been an annual fundraiser for hundreds of Lib Dem local parties, SAOs and other groups.

The Lib Dem Christmas Draw has been run by a team of volunteers since 1995 and in that time, we have raised well over half a million pounds for local parties and central Lib Dem funds. Along the way over 800 fantastic prizes have been won by our members and supporters, their families and friends.

The tradition of picking up books of tickets at conference and then sending and selling them to members and supporters across the area, receiving back the ticket stubs and sending them off to the draw organisers has become almost as much part of the festive season for some (cough) as the moment of happiness in January when a cheque arrived for your commission on the sale of the tickets.

But time moves on, and the magic of Christmas was fading. Fewer and fewer books were being sold, and less local parties taking part as the, and this is a technical term, “faff” of getting, posting out and handling tickets seemed to increasingly outweigh the potential returns.

Also, some of the key organisers – all volunteers – were set on stepping away. It’s fair to say the Draw would have folded many years ago without the efforts of people like Gwen Backhurst and Jonathan Gainey-Brown. By 2017 it became clear that this was to be their last year managing the Draw, and with no-one else prepared to take on the work they had put in, it looked set to be its last year.

Tagged and | 4 Comments

Jo Cox Square Opening in Brussels

September 27th 2018, the sun is out and it’s warm once again after days of cold and rain in central Brussels. Rainbows splatter walls, murals, and road crossings along Ancienne Belgique, the large Concert hall that sits upon Brussell’s LGBTQ District. A large crowd gathered to remember and praise Jo Cox on this vibrant Belgian square which the City of Brussels is naming after the late British MP for Batley on Spen.

Jo Cox lived and breathed the streets of Brussels for six years, first as political assistant to Glenys Kinnock MEP and later as a lobbyist for Oxfam. Cox later went on to defend the European Project during the long political battle that was the 2016 EU Referendum. Two years ago, Cox sailed along the Thames with her family proudly flying an “IN” flag up against the pro-Brexit Flotilla. This was one of the more jovial and surreal moments of the referendum campaign. The next day Jo was assassinated by a Neo-Nazi terrorist, set on sowing hate.

Do you remember where you were when you found out Jo Cox had been murdered? I was at the University of York, where I was due to be in the audience on BBC Question Time. “The show is cancelled I’m afraid,” said the producer, “An MP has been shot”.

The political toxicity that led to Jo Cox’s assassination had not been seen in the United Kingdom since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. ‘A lot of people hoped that the violent assassination… on the streets where she grew up would have a profound impact on the political discourse. however two years on I’m sadly not at all sure this is the case’ said Kim Leadbeater, sister of Jo Cox in front of the large crowd. The vindicated far-right have been emboldened by the Conservatives and Labour’s growing acceptance of their worldview. Jo Cox, conversely, ensured the political establishment called out extremist violence during her time as MP.

Tagged , and | 3 Comments

Metaphors Matter

It’s true, metaphors matter, and far more than you might expect.

As Lib Dems we need to realise something. We don’t think the way we should think, so we don’t win where we should win.

People think mostly using the subconscious. This is the automatic bit of our brain. Want to test it… what’s 3+5 = ? The answer comes quick to you. It’s automatic. Because you have existing structures in your subconscious to answer questions. You’ve answered that a lot in the past so you’ve connected the question and answer.

When you were young you might of used your fingers, or counted objects. …

Tagged and | 7 Comments

Being LGBT+ and BAME: my story

The short article I had planned to write after attending Stonewall’s Diaspora Showcase on Thursday 6 September was going to focus on the issues affecting black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT+ people and what the Liberal Democrats, specifically the Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality (LDCRE), can do to address those issues.

I was going to go through the findings outlined in Stonewall’s Home in the Community report, and talk about the discrimination BAME LGBT+ people have encountered within their own communities, and double discrimination in the workplace. However, my intended focus is not the right starting point.

The Diaspora Showcase was not about the bad associated with being BAME LGBT+, it was about all the good. As Stonewall advertised, it was a celebration of the beautiful diverse BAME and LGBT+ community. It was quite poignant that this celebration took place on the same day that the gay sex ban in India was struck down. This was of course referenced and applauded on several occasions during the showcase.

I cried when a series of short documentaries were shown, in particular the moment that an African man of religion stated that gay means “God Adores You”. I cried when Khakan Qureshi, the founder of Birmingham South Asians LGBT, told his story about coming up and out. I cried because this event has been a long time in the making. It is 2018 after all.

I have wasted a lot of my time regretting how I’ve not lived an authentic life. I often find myself wishing for a do-over. I wish I could go back in time and tell 15-year-old me to stop trying to convince herself that her infatuation with a high school friend was just jealousy. I wish I could tell 18-year-old me that my sexual attraction to a Muslim sister I used to attend mosque with did not make me a wrong’un. I wish I could celebrate with 21-year-old me about being with a woman for the first time, instead of leaving her alone and stewing in displaced guilt and shame. I wish the me of three months ago, RSVP’d to Ramadan celebrations, wouldn’t have been so tied up in worry about her response if asked: “Do you have a husband or boyfriend?”. Science has not yet produced time travel technology so I can’t do any of that.

Tagged , , , and | Leave a comment

Plastic Pollution

Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson Tim Farron said about the “latte levy”:

“We’ve been calling for this for years and the Conservatives have continued to do nothing – each year over 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away and I now hope a small levy will finally be introduced to slash this waste.”

There is public support for using tax to reduce waste for single-use plastics. Firms that use unrecyclable plastic should be taxed to drive them to use other forms of packaging. This is part of the government target to abolish all plastic waste by 2042. The proposal is to use the funds raised to research into new recyclable/degradable plastics.

As Tim suggested, we need a tax on coffee cups that are very difficult to recycle. This is to deter the massive waste of plastic use that is having such a detrimental effect on our environment. This call follows the successful introduction of the 5 pence tax on plastic bags, by the Lib Dem, that has dramatically reduced their use.

From 2005 firms have had to buy a packaging recovery note (PRN), those firms who manufacture packing waste, to help offset the cost of dealing with the packaging. The PRN was to drive firms to more greener packaging. We, as a party, should push the government to increase the PRN to drive manufacturers to develop and use recyclable plastics.

Also posted in News | Tagged | 5 Comments

It’s April 2019, we’re out of the EU with no deal. What do Lib Dems do now?

The party has, rightly, focused on campaigning for an Exit from Brexit, but it appears to have done absolutely no thinking about how to campaign if we fail.

The press and internet are awash with Brexit doomsday scenarios: planes grounded; food shortages; lack of medicines; travel restrictions: a plummeting pound; riots; even a coup. However, Project Fear is no guide to campaigning in unknown territory.

How would we campaign in the new reality, if there is no People’s Vote or the vote is lost? There will be 9000+ council seats to fight on 2 May 2019, and we want to do well in those elections. If Britain does not Exit from Brexit, it will surely not be possible to fight those seats and ignore the UK’s changed circumstances?  Can we afford to wait until Spring Conference, or later, before we consider the consequences of this outcome?

Having supported the European project since its early beginnings, we are surely not going to abandon it now? It won’t be easy to persuade people to support re-joining the EU without the opt-outs and special deals we currently enjoy when so many of them want to leave even when we have all these benefits. It could be a long haul. In the immediate future, as a matter of survival, our country will have to try  – rapidly – to create a raft of new international agreements on trade; sourcing our food and medicines; creating new supply lines for manufacturers and suppliers; the new practicalities of travel. The UK currently has almost no people trained in the necessary skills to negotiate these agreements.

Also posted in News | Tagged | 44 Comments

Robert Adamson – A Remembrance

The Liberal Democrats can hold their head high on the progress we have made to support women in the party and LGBTQ; I am now getting more positive with the party’s commitment to supporting ethnic minorities. However, the poor relation in all this is the support for disabled members. I don’t believe that there is the focus on disability issues as there is for other groups. Few in the party made it their mission to raise the issues that disabled people face, more than Robert Adamson.

A small tribute to Robert by Gemma Roulston the current Chair of Lib Dem Disability Association (LDDA):

Robert Moray Adamson was a carer who himself was diagnosed with MS. Robert never let the disease stop him taking a very active role in the party not only as Joint Chair of LDDA but with other party bodies like the English Party. Robert worked arduously to help and improve the lives of anyone with or without disabilities.

Robert and I worked well over these last two years together on LDDA business. When Robert was approached by Your Liberal Britain, about how to make their sessions at conference accessible, Roberts comments were taken up not only by them but by FCC too. With all the issues that Robert was going through he didn’t, however, agree with the right to die.

Robert has been Chair, Secretary, as well as newsletter editor of LDDA. He was always there for anyone with a kind word, good advice and was supportive. This year the Autumn conference in Brighton didn’t feel the same without him. Robert made a difference to people.

I recall that Robert wrote an article on being a candidate at Darlington entitled “The sitting candidate”, Robert was a kind, thoughtful and a humorous man. Robert’s one wish for LDDA was for it to be a SAO.

God bless Robert, rest up and enjoy not having to deliver leaflets, or have to herd cats.

Also posted in News | Tagged | 2 Comments

Labour, Tory Leadership Vacuum

Thresa May is leading a divided party not wishing to be led and is heading in the opposite direction to anywhere she wants to go. Jeremy Corbyn is trying not to lead his party on Europe when his party is calling out for leadership. Vince is trying to get the party ready to take opportunities from a perceived moderate move from voters who are fed up by the dogmatic and squabbling Tories and leaderless Labour. Voters are moving away from the Tories because they have no agreed Brexit strategy, the can’t go to Labour as their 1970’s socialist tentacles have reappeared, and they won’t come to the Lib Dems as they perceive, wrongly, we are too small to make a difference. What a horrid dilemma. The country is being led by a Tory piped piper who is perilously taking us closer to the cliff edge.

YouGov polled in July asked voters what their top three priorities for the EU negotiators were:

  • Allow British companies to trade with EU without tariffs/restrictions – 42%
  • Allow the UK to make its own deals with other countries outside the EU                   – 40%
  • Maintaining co-operation with EU on anti-terrorism / security                                     – 38%

(Immigration came in fourth with 29%).

For Brits abroad, 31% of Remain voters thought it was an essential requirement to agree a solution for them for those who voted for Brexit it was 8%. Labour supporters (28%) were more concerned about this than Lib Dem (25%).

Also posted in News | Tagged | 34 Comments

The ‘Stay In Offer’: the big Liberal Democrat Brexit initiative

As the doomed ‘Chequers’ fantasy proposal bites the dust and the Labour Party moves towards a ‘vote on the deal’, mainstream public opinion is moving away from a hard Brexit and very slowly away from Brexit itself.

But there is something missing. A gap. A chasm. A canyon.

The rabid Brexiters have already started their defence against anyone suggesting Brexit might cancelled, as if we have already left and as if reversing the Article 50 process or nixing the ‘transition’ period would already be both cumbersome and painful. Their new Mendacity Mark 2 vehicle has its engine running even now.

Tagged | 15 Comments

Desperate times call for despairing PR measures

As the UK stares down the barrel of Brexit, and after a Liberal Democrat conference which didn’t inspire any anticipation of an impending poll surge, the Liberal Democrats need to present a truly radical offering.

The state of UK politics is desperate. The Conservatives are incompetently led, and with eccentric right-wingers lying in wait to add their own special layers of incompetence when May eventually falls.

The Labour party are likewise incompetently led, with no immediate prospect of that situation being resolved either.

What should fill us all with foreboding is that these parties’ internal democracies have evolved to a point where they …

Tagged and | 130 Comments

Whither or wither moderation after Party Conference

I’ve been a bit busy since I left Brighton. Two health conferences; a meeting with a Minister; full Council and picketing the Labour Conference have kept me fairly occupied!

But the inevitable train journeys and waiting times have given me the time to reflect on what I saw and heard in Brighton.

Firstly, I heard no-one who described themselves as a moderate. Good, because neither am I! The fact that we are neither loony left or loony right does not make us moderates. We are a Party with fundamental principles that would cause a much greater upheaval in our society and in …

Tagged and | 12 Comments

Three ways Brexit is hitting London

At May’s council elections in Sutton, I was proud to defeat the Tories’ deputy leader, not least because he proudly backs Brexit. I’m a born-Londoner who’s lived in four different boroughs, and I’m not sure how you can claim to have London’s best interests at heart when you back a major event that will hit our city.

Here’s how Brexit is already hitting London. You may find these useful talking points when you’re on the doorstep making the case for a People’s Vote:

1. Risking our NHS: London is twice as reliant as the rest of the country on EU nationals …

Tagged and | 4 Comments

Checking my underwear

Dateline: Brighton, September 2018

Wandering into Conference a leaflet is thrust into my hands. It touches on current Government consultation on the Gender Recognition Act.

One paragraph of the leaflet sets the tone “sex self-ID that would allow any man to get his birth certificate reissues in the opposite sex. Just like that. On demand. With no change to his body and no medical supervision.”

The rest of the leaflet is a list of scenarios each more prurient than the last. None of these scenarios are evidenced as ever having happened, no evidence that a trans woman has ever abused the trust of other women in these sensationalist and inflammatory ways. Just a list of “what if”.

Leaving aside the paucity of the author’s hypothesis there is another consideration, if not sex self-ID then what?

The author suggests “changes to his body” and “medical supervision”.

While this article is not a treatise on the NHS most people recognise that for anything beyond measles that means triage, waiting times, a postcode lottery, financial limits and gatekeepers.

In the context of the current gender recognition process (leading to a Gender Recognition Certificate and a new Birth Certificate) that means two medical practitioners from suitable disciplines with experience in treating gender dysphoria.

Let me tell you about my gatekeepers.

My third psychiatrist was a sincere doctor from Iran. They cared about their patients, understood the genuine and immediate health care implications of gender dysphoria – depression, stress, frustration, anger, self-harm, self-loathing and suicide. They wanted to help not just by treating the symptoms, but the root cause as well. Everything a good doctor should be.

Tagged , , and | 5 Comments

Why a “Movement for Moderates” needs radical Lib Dems at its heart

Moderation is in crisis in Britain. Extremists have taken over our politics, while those who aim to speak up for the moderate majority find themselves with little influence over the levers of power. 

The problem for moderates today is that there can be no return to the old post-war consensus, built on the notion that ever-increasing prosperity would gradually trickle down to everyone. That theory died in the financial crisis 10 years ago. No one today can drum up any enthusiasm for ‘third way’ centrism, even when tempered with a solemn promise that it’ll be kinder and more sensible than the alternatives. 

Today, Britain can only be healed by a new social contract, one that leaves no one behind and gives hope to every individual and community. This requires a huge shake-up in how we organise the affairs of our country, but the only plans on offer so far are founded on extremist dogma. Those of us who want moderation to thrive again must put forward our own compelling vision for change. That’s what Lib Dems can offer — a radical, progressive plan to reshape Britain. 

So don’t be misled about the nature of this Movement for Moderates. Lib Dems propose real change, inspired by our almost maniacal devotion to the dispersal of power and privilege, in both the private and public sectors. Our programme sets out to disempower the autocrats and extremists — and to unleash the forces of moderation — by giving communities and citizens the means to control their own destiny. 

Tagged and | 7 Comments

Could we be facing a November General Election?

The Sunday Times today has a report that Tory strategists are starting to think about a General Election in November. I would be very surprised if they were only just starting to think about it now.

The chances were always that there would have to be some recourse to the country if Theresa May couldn’t get whatever deal she managed to get through Parliament.

How on earth, though, could Anna Soubry and Jacob Rees-Mogg fight an election on the same manifesto? If, as is being suggested, the Tory manifesto goes for a hard Brexit basic Canada style trade deal, how could the likes of Sarah Wollaston, Nicky Morgan and Justine Greening back that? I mean the Chequers (Dis)agreement sells our predominantly service based economy down the river and the Canada deal is worse than that. We also have to remember that Canada is already part of a major free trade alliance in America. The EU deal provides them with new opportunities but they don’t need it to survive. In contrast, we would be isolated, forced to accept terms that would be injurious to us from the likes of Donald Trump and trading on a much worse basis with our closest neighbours than we are at the moment. There is no upside to this at all.

How on earth could David Lammy, Stella Creasy, Hilary Benn and the bulk of the Labour Parliamentary Party fight an election on a manifesto written by Corbyn’s team. We know he is a Brexiteer. We know that he put absolutely no effort into the Remain campaign during the referendum. There is no way he would run on a stop Brexit platform. We need the Labour leadership to go out there and win the arguments among its voters and, just like in the referendum, they won’t. And we know that in any snap election, the Tories will, to distract from their own divisions, go after Corbyn’s character and record  in a way they didn’t manage in 2017.

So we could be the only party across the UK going into this with a clear and coherent policy – Stop Brexit Chaos with the Lib Dems. And we would really have to articulate that message with clarity and purpose.

In Scotland, we would be the only party going into this with the eminently consistent position of supporting remaining in both the EU and the UK. That puts us on the side of most people in the country.

We have to recognise, though, that we would be fighting in a First Past the Post system. Conversations would, I think, have to be had with people of a similar mindset to us. There is no point in splitting the vote. We have to stand pretty much everywhere because that is critical for Short funding, but all of us of who want to stop Brexit across all parties would have to make some pragmatic decisions on an informal basis about how we campaign in individual seats.

Tagged and | 22 Comments

Winning in London in 2020

It’s little over 18 months before the Greater London Authority and London mayoral elections. Doesn’t time fly? This time they are more important than ever. Not only are these critical elections for London, they also garner national media attention, so a good showing will help deliver a stronger national performance for the Liberal Democrats at the next general election.

That means now is the time to do some serious research so we can devise our strategy on how we can win in London in 2020.

This is why I have helped commission and fund a full professional, programme of polling. I brought in Populus to undertake both qualitative and quantitative research in London to identify potential switchers, who they are, where they are coming from, where they live, and what issues are important to them.

Without giving away too many secrets the research confirms the recent surge in Liberal Democrat support, and demonstrates that pushing the Tories into third place in the capital is an achievable if challenging goal.

The Tories in London will undoubtedly have a pro-Brexit candidate. As they retreat having a relevant offer for the majority of the cosmopolitan, culturally diverse and tolerant voters of London – who voted heavily to Remain – it seems likely that the Conservative candidate’s votes will be restricted to the party’s core of right-wing supporters.

In line with other recent research the polling also revealed a large group of unaligned voters, with high intention to vote and open to considering the Liberal Democrats.

All of this indicates that a strong strategy focussed on the switchers, their concerns and priorities will gain a strong positive response. The challenge as always will be to demonstrate our values through relevant and distinctive policies (not the other way around) on crime, housing and the environment.

Tagged | 5 Comments

How Israel frustrates Palestine’s education

In the current issue of Times Higher Education (13 September), you’ll find a piece by Palestine’s Raja Shehadeh, about the way Israel discourages foreign faculty from teaching in Palestine.  Precisely half of the 64 foreign academics working in Palestine, have been adversely affected by denial or restriction in their permission to work, over the past two academic years. 

Once a university has invited a foreign academic to join its faculty, Israel uses an opaque two-tier system of control, through the Civil Administration in the occupied territory and, if an application clears that hurdle, the power of veto by Israel’s Interior Ministry.  The process is uncertain, Kafkaesque and has every appearance of being discriminatory, to impair the fundamental purpose of education, the dissemination of knowledge and the deepening of understanding. Unable to plan their future, such applicants give up, seeking employment elsewhere. Some Palestinian-born faculty educated in the US or Europe have also been denied residency. 

Israel’s handling of these applications seems tainted with illegality. In his ground-breaking book, Occupier’s Law, published in 1985, Shehadeh showed how the Civil Administration in the West Bank, which issues (or withholds) work permits, was created as part and parcel of ‘solutions for the legal problems encountered in achieving the goal of annexing the West Bank without its inhabitants,’ itself a profoundly illegal process. 

The second tier of Israeli control, however, lies within Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, which issues (or withholds) entry visas for residence in the Occupied Territory. Even where visas are issued, visa extensions may be denied on the grounds that foreigners may not reside in Israel for more than five years. But they are, of course, residing in the Palestinian territory, not in Israel. Under the Laws of Occupation, it may be debatable whether this illegally transfers powers that should remain within occupied territory. Yet it clearly transgresses operative clause 5 of the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (December 2016), which requires all Member States, and that of course includes Israel itself, ‘to distinguish in all their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.’  

Tagged , and | 2 Comments

Tim Farron writes: Corbyn is handing the incompetent Tories the next election

The guilty pleasure of my political life is the years I spent involved in student politics. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I attended no fewer than 10 conferences of the National Union of Students – as a result I accidentally became a connoisseur of the various factions of theLabour party. Even as a Liberal, if one spends much time in student politics you are bound to make friends with folks in Labour. To me, Labour is like a fascinating enemy country. We are at conflict with them, but I am somehow fond of their natives and traditions.

Those who today are running Her Majesty’s Opposition, were – back then- selling newspapers outside the Student Union building. Who’d have thought it?

I don’t know Jeremy Corbyn very well but quite like him on a personal level having had the occasional chat over the years. WhenLabour were in power, he was always in the Lib Dem lobby…

Jeremy and his former newspaper selling mates have a problem. They don’t know how to talk to people who aren’t already converted. Jeremy Corbyn has a 40 year history of talking only to friendly audiences on left-leaning causes. He speaks in favour of Palestine to pro-Palestine meetings, speaking up for Irish Republicanism to pro-Republican audiences, promotes unilateral nuclear disarmament to crowds who already agree with him.

The Labour leader is a master of preaching to the converted. I’m not sure how principled this is, but it is neither brave nor wise. If all you do is to go with the grain of the earnest and like-minded people around you, you will ruffle no feathers, win no converts and never get to test the effectiveness of your arguments.

Tagged , and | 26 Comments

Reflections on Brighton

After a short period at the Lib Dem conference I am still in Brighton for a couple of days. Brighton is quite a good place to reflect on the state of the UK.

Thinking back, Brighton used to be in much better nick than it is now. Many pavements are cracked and broken, many of the houses and hotels look run down and in need of repair and renovation. The seafront is not particularly special and the West Pier is still a burned out shell. Here, in one of the UKs premier resorts, there are many homeless people on the streets and many beggars as well. Hardly the sort of Britain that we Liberal Democrats want to see!

Recycing largely takes place by means of unsightly bins strewn around the streets and the former green-run council’s recycling policies made a mockery of recycling anyway.

I suspect that much of this is the result of austerity, especially the massive cuts to the finances of the local council that no longer enable it to respond to the needs of the Brighton and Hove Community.

Brexit will hardly improve matters, because hotels and restaurants here rely heavily on European workers and they may not be available after March 2019.

Although I have no direct information, I suspect that housing is expensive and that many people, especially the young, have no hope of getting on the housing ladder and live in the private rented sector with its high prices and insecurity of tenure.

Tagged | 12 Comments

Conference Success for Radical Association

Members of the Radical Association Executive have had a significant impact at this year’s Autumn Conference. I’m extremely pleased with the work that the Executive and our supporters have put into this Conference and thankful for all the time that you have given. Thanks to those efforts we managed to pass a significant policy amendment on each day of the Conference.

Our Director, April Preston, managed to significantly strengthen the party’s new disciplinary processes, with the addition of a proposed AIR (Anonymised Incident Reporting) system. This will allow encrypted initial reports to be made in which both the complainant and accused would be anonymous. The party can then inform the anonymous complainant what actions would be needed and who would need to be de-anonymised in order to turn the report into a formal complaint, and what support might be available to the complainant.

Similar systems in the US have greatly increased reporting rates and we’re proud to say that this will make the Liberal Democrats a forward-looking beacon of best practice when it comes to building a welcoming movement that can take effective action against those who drag our movement down. We are extremely grateful to Becca Plenderleith, Chair of Scottish Young Liberals, for bravely sharing her own experience of being let down by the current system and making a strong case for AIR.

Tagged and | 1 Comment

Some Brexiteers do not play the democratic game

Democracy, in a civilised society, has its rules. One of them is, if not the respect, at least the polite tolerance of others. Humility and caution are two additional requisites, I would suggest, for whoever wishes to express political opinions.

A number of Brexiters, learning of a growing desire among many to see another people’s vote take place are, like bad sports players, now sliding into disrespectful and even injurious behaviours. The Spectator for example, published a few days ago an article entitled ‘The People vs Brexit‘. Its author, Mr Rod Liddle, writing:

The People’s Vote monkeys now buttress their demands for

Tagged and | 32 Comments

Observations of an ex pat: development bonds

Every now and then you have to blow your own horn. This is one of those occasions when I am going to do just that.

Last week I won a commendation from the award committee of Britain’s Ashdown Prize for Radical Thought. It would have been nice to win first prize and the cash that went with it, but the commendation provides me with a modicum of credibility and the hook to promote it.

The commendation was for my proposal for “Development Bonds.”  What, you may ask are Development Bonds? Well, I think they are a multi-level win/win solution for a transfer of capital from the developed to the developing world.

It works like this: Developing World governments  propose projects for consideration. Developed World governments approve or disapprove the projects using an agreed criteria. Financial institutions raise the capital through bond issues. Developed countries encourage investment in the bonds  by offering taxpayers relief on the repayments.

The template for the development bonds are America’s municipal bonds.  Contrary, to public opinion, municipal bonds did not originate in the US. They were common during the Renaissance when the Italian city states regularly used them to raise money for public building projects. But they came of age in the US in 1812 with a New York City bond issue to build the 327-mile Erie Canal which linked the nascent potential of the American West to the port of New York and through it the markets of the world.

Thousands of cities and local authorities around the globe raise money through bond issues. But America’s municipal bonds stand out by offering income tax relief on the repayments. This means that they attract not only institutional investors but also high-wealth private individuals. American municipal bonds are one of the chief financial instruments that have transformed the United States from a resource-rich, backward, often corrupt, virgin territory—not unlike Sub-Saharan Africa today—into the world’s only super power.

Development Bonds would achieve the following:

Tagged | 2 Comments

Some thoughts on Vince’s party reforms

I have kept reasonably quiet about Vince’s reforms since his announcement on 7th September because I wanted to let others have their say.

My sense at Conference is that people were interested in what he had to say. Everyone had things they liked and things they didn’t. They were all going to respond to the consultation with varying degrees of pleasure and pain. This is how it is supposed to be.

I do want to slightly disagree with my fellow Federal Board members who have been talking to Politics Home about the process, though. They complained about being “bounced.”

Now, I don’t think that’s fair. Certainly, back in June, there was an attempt to slip in something about a Supporters’ Scheme into the motion of the Federal Levy and Subscriptions to be discussed at Conference. The Federal Board then said “Hang on a wee minute, here.” The Federal People Development Committee was given the job of looking at this in more detail. The Committee’s amazing chair, Miranda Roberts, one of the most competent and patient people I know, has written about that process here and here. The process of holding the leadership back had thus worked.

In between times, after articles had started to appear in the press over the Summer, Vince spoke to a special meeting of the Federal Board in July about what he was thinking about. At the end of August, Federal Board members were asked to contribute their views about his ideas. He hadn’t told us fully what they were, but given that his 7th September speech reflected most of the press coverage, well, you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist.

So, on the last day of my holiday, I had to drag myself out of bed at the crack of bloody dawn to write down my views for Vince. I actually forgive him, because I was able to take this amazingly atmospheric photo of the bay outside the holiday cottage as the sun rose.

By this point the only bit he hadn’t told us was what he was going to say about the future of his leadership. But then that didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out either.

I wrote him an essay of epic proportions which I might actually post on here one day.

Tagged and | 22 Comments
Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPeter Martin 17th Oct - 6:02pm
    What has happened was entirely predictable. I don't hold any brief for TM but the current situation would have been just the same whoever was...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 17th Oct - 5:28pm
    James Pugh: "I've... been a private tutor..." That's just it. A private tutor. You are not operating a business open to the public. You are...
  • User AvatarIan Smith 17th Oct - 5:13pm
    Is Mr. Clegg proposing we remain in the EU come what may or only so long as we are happy with arrangements? Given the latter,...
  • User AvatarPeter Kemp 17th Oct - 5:04pm
    Stand as a Liberal Democrat :)
  • User AvatarBernard Aris 17th Oct - 3:24pm
    Jettens pro-Remain intervention in the Commons followed other D66 Brexit initiatives. At our Autumn Conference we adopted a motion, striving to enable second generation Dutch...
  • User AvatarDavid Franks 17th Oct - 2:47pm
    thank you, we have been asking for party press releases for ages. please do keep them coming. we can dump the ones we do not...