Category Archives: Op-eds

Isolation diary: Remembering London 2012 – cycling around

A few seconds after I took this photo of Bradley Wiggins, from a vantage point in the Rose Theatre, a thousand people surged into the building to watch the rest of the race on a giant screen. Huge cheers erupted as Wiggins turned into Kingston’s Ancient Market, crossed the bridge to Hampton Wick and then on to the finish line outside Hampton Court Palace. It won him a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic time trials.

He endeared himself to local residents for ever when he said this about the roaring from the spectators:

But the point where I was most aware of it was coming around the roundabout in Kingston – the noise was incredible.

I’m never, ever going to experience anything like that again in my sporting career. That’s it. That experience topped everything off right there. It was phenomenal.

The Olympic road races had also passed through Kingston a few days before. There was a massive amount of organisation – and disruption – around all the road cycling events. In fact, a year before, there had been a trial event for the road races, which required rolling road closures from central London and out into the Surrey Hills. Box Hill featured prominently and if you have ever driven up the Zig Zag Road you will know how challenging that is for cyclists. Although we don’t live directly on the route, we were quite limited in where we could go throughout the whole day when there was a road race on.

The annual RideLondon festival was born out of those exciting times. Every year in August some 30,000 riders do a 100 mile ride on roughly the same route as the one used in the Olympics. It is the cycling equivalent of the London Marathon, with a mixture of club and fun riders, the latter often collecting sponsorship for a charity. Alongside this there is a longer run for elite riders which usually takes them up and down Box Hill several times.

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The best argument for not having another independence referendum is by having another independence referendum

Doesn’t make sense? Hear me out.

Layla Moran has confirmed she is opposed to a second referendum in The Scotsman last week and Ed Davey (admittedly along with most other members) has a similar view. I feel this is the wrong tack and is sure to seriously hinder the Lib Dem’s prospects in the Scottish election before we even start next May. We will be fighting for scraps amongst the Unionist vote when we don’t have to.

Look across the water to Quebec, where I think we can draw a lot of parallels. The electorate confirming No twice in a space …

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Mike German writes: Democracy, digital technologies and trust

A new report from the House of Lords has shone a searchlight on the effect of online activity on the health of our democracy. Over the past year Paul Scriven and myself have been members of a Select Committee taking evidence, investigating the level of harm, and developing proposals for tackling this critical issue. As Liberals we see technology can be a tool to help spread power, and improve democracy. But that can only happen with the correct framework around it.

Trust in our democracy is being eroded. Our key conclusions are that democracy should be supported rather than undermined by technology platforms, and that misinformation poses a real and present danger to our democratic processes.

There have clear examples of dangerous misinformation online during this Covid-19 pandemic. The online references to the 5G network and its connection with the virus, led some people to damage the telecommunications infrastructure. Other spurious medical advice has abounded. In the last General Election the Tories changed their website for the day. They claimed it to be an authoritative source of independent information in which -guess what – the Tory policy was the only right course!

The net effect of online misinformation is to threaten our collective democratic health. It is damaging trust in our democracy and takes us on a downward path where no-one listens, and no-one believes what they read and see. The government has promised an Online Harms Bill, but progress is moving at a snail’s pace. Ministers have been unable to even say whether we will get the new law before 2024. It is clear to us that the Tories are running scared of tackling the big online platforms. Our report calls for OFCOM to be given the power to hold these platforms legally responsible for content which goes out to their huge audiences in the UK.

Trust in what you find online has declined. People, particularly those coming up to voting age (16 in Scotland and Wales – catch up England!) need the skills and confidence to navigate online and find sources they can rely on. Too much of our education curriculum is about computing skills and not critical digital literacy.

There are lessons for all political parties as well, but the report singles out the Tories and Labour for their inability to see problems within themselves. Political parties must be held accountable for what we say, if we are to gain and expect the trust of the British people.

Electoral law has simply not caught up with the impact of online activity.

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Isolation diary: Remembering London 2012

A huge gap has opened up in the TV schedules for this summer, because of the cancellation of so many major sporting events. And the biggest of them all will be when the Olympics and Paralympics would have taken place.

I hear they are planning to replay much of the action from 2012, and I am looking forward to watching Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir, Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott, Andy Murray, Nicola Adams and many other heroes relive their moments of glory, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Great Britain won 65 medals in the Olympics, and 120 in the Paralympics. It was also the first time that the Olympics and Paralympics were given equal parity and run by the same organisers.

As a Gamesmaker I was invited to attend the dress rehearsal of Danny Boyle’s extraordinary Olympics Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium. We watched in genuine jaw-dropping astonishment as England’s green and pleasant land, complete with cattle and cricket, was transformed into the dark, satanic mills. The section honouring the NHS, with performers dancing around hospital beds, did seem a bit strange at the time, but will be utterly appropriate this year. After that we celebrated British pop culture from the 1960s to the present day, followed by a rare appearance of Tim Berners Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, who tweeted “This is for everyone”.

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Wendy Chamberlain at Pride: Let’s go high, stand for our values and build bridges.

Mary wrote yesterday about her lifetime as an LGBT ally. 

She mentioned the virtual Prides that were taking place at the moment.

I went to the Scottish Lib Dems virtual Pride event last Sunday, which was run by LGBT+ Lib Dems and Scottish Lib Dem Women. It was a marathon, but well worth every second.

The day started with a rally with speeches by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP and Wendy Chamberlain MP. It ended almost 12 hours later with a Eurovision watch along of the 2014 event, won by Conchita Wurst. I had forgotten so many of the delights of that night. Watch here if you need cheering up. In between there were a couple of panels – on queering our policy and on being a better ally. The penultimate event was a quiz won by Wales’ Callum Littlemore who seems to have a brain full of obscure song lyrics and who got almost full marks in the Gay or Eurovision round.

Alex spoke off the cuff like he always does but was as passionate as you would expect from him about how we as a party should not shy away from speaking up for LGBT people.

Wendy had her remarks written down and I’m delighted that she has shared them with us.

I’m privileged to be asked to address today’s rally
But, as I mentioned in my maiden speech, I may be the first female MP for North East Fife, I’m well aware of my privilege in other areas – my class, my ethnicity, my sexuality, my gender identity.

My life experience to date, also, if we are looking to make generalisations, perhaps, on the surface, doesn’t suggest that I’d be a natural ally. Having been a police officer for 12 years brings its own assumptions I suppose, particularly of late.

But, other than friends at university – no one at school was out – from colleagues in Tesco (Grant and I bonded over Eurovision and mourned Michael Ball’s 2nd place) and friends in the Edinburgh University Footlights (I had a couple of dates with a guy who told me that the last person he had seen was a 36 year old man – I was fine with that, but I did meet his parents a couple of times as his ‘friend’ as he was clearly struggling to be honest with his Dad (I’m pleased to report he’s now happily married to a man and still working in the theatre), the police was the first workplace where I had a number of colleagues who were gay.

The first trans women I knew was through the police – Jan, a traffic warden. She had transitioned later in life, her marriage had broken down and she had been ostricised by her family and children as a result.

I know that Jan experienced direct discrimination from some colleagues at work, but I also saw the service trying its best to support Jan, and provide the facilities that she required.

A friend met her on the bus last year – she still has no contact with her family, and in the main keeps to herself – her bus trip was an exception and not the norm.

Not long after returning to work after maternity leave, I attended 3 days of diversity training, as did all police officers in the UK, as part of the police response to the Lawrence report, where the police’s institutional racism was called out.

I was pleased that the training was not restricted to racism, but covered all of the diversity strands.

I’ll be honest, the last day, was the toughest – the majority audience of white heterosexual men, really struggling with their prejudices in relation to the trans activists delivering that part of the training.

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A view on the leadership election from a former Lib Dem member

I joined the party in 2014, and resigned my membership just over a month ago. I didn’t leave because of any ideological difference with the party’s direction per se but because I have lost faith that the party is capable of winning and putting our values in to practice.

In the second half of 2019, I thought our watershed moment had arrived when the party had managed to surge in the EU elections, and attract a raft of exceptionally talented and likeable MPs from the other two parties. Like we had seen in Canada in 2015, and France in 2017, I thought the UK was about to be engulfed by a wave of liberalism in the 2019 election.

I still maintain that this was achievable for the party, but like many have correctly recognised, there were fatally bad strategic decisions made in our national campaign that unthinkably left us with fewer MPs than we had in 2017.
I believe the key questions for the leadership candidates are rather complex and existential. It seems to me that the party has a greatly embedded culture of strategic incompetence that causes us to squander each and every national electoral opportunity we’re presented with.

In my view, the party needs to accept that whilst electoral reform is what we all crave, we have to play the game of politics under its current rules – and not the rules we would like to play under. With that in mind, we need to decide which party we want to replace in this binary political system.

It seems obvious to me that the Lib Dems would ultimately supersede the Labour Party as Britain’s primary progressive force. Yet, our voter demographics do not seem to indicate this as a remote possibility.

My view is that the 2015 collapse that has ultimately led us to this sorry state of affairs is because our party had spent many years building voting blocs via local reputation that had no coherency in a national setting – so when our vote started to crumble, there was no obvious subsection to target and preserve.

Much of this is due to the party’s inability over multiple leaders to carve out a ‘core vote’. It is widely acknowledged that Labour’s power bases are urban centres and the Tories have their base in rural shire counties – but who do the Lib Dems represent?

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A Critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 3

This is the third of a series of three posts. The first part can be read here and the second part can be read here.

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century (continued)

  • Support the Armed Forces Covenant and ongoing work to support veterans’ mental health.

Comment.  The Armed Forces Covenant is advisory only and unenforceable.  We should commit to embedding it in law.

  • Improve the quality of service housing by bringing the MoD into line with other landlords, giving tenants the same legal rights to repair and maintenance as private tenants.

Comment.  Agreed, most important.

This defence policy manifesto extract seems to have been written in a void outside the context of current defence developments by somebody/ies who has/ve no idea of defence and security matters.

The problems with the UK’s armed services are clear to see. A huge hole in defence spending, ageing, obsolescent, and lack of equipment across all three services, a real problem with recruiting and retention (retention particularly) and an unrealistic over commitment of scarce resources. This toxic combination can result in low morale were it not for the high standard of training and leadership that the armed forces continue to enjoy.

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Isolation diary: Being an ally

A year ago Kingston’s Guildhall flew the Pride flag for the first time. This was an initiative of one of our councillors, Sam Foulder-Hughes. We attended a short ceremony to mark the occasion, and I was struck by the way Sam thanked allies like us – straight people who support LGBT+ equality.

I hadn’t heard the term ally used in that context before, but I have also been hearing it recently in relation to Black Lives Matter. Yes, those of us who have no living experience of belonging to a specific identity can still empathise and campaign with those who do.

Today would have seen the Pride in London parade. The flag is flying this week again in Kingston, though sadly I can’t go in to see it, and there are numerous online events, including some Lib Dem ones, to mark the day. Google London Pride and the search engine throws up a rainbow border.

My active support for the LGBT+ community goes back to the 1970s, long before the time when that shorthand was commonly used. It was only a few years earlier that the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 had made homosexual acts between consenting men legal – acts between women had never been illegal.

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The hidden Liberal Democrats

Editor’s Note:

Actually, we owe Geoff Payne, the Chair of Federal Conference Committee, an apology for this one. He is actually one of the most accessible of the party’s officers and spends huge chunks of his life responding to members’ questions on email and social media and we’ve done him a disservice here so it needs to be put right. 

This article contains the assertion that party officers (with the example given of the chair of the Conference Committee) do not have their contact details visible on the party website.  In fact, that is not correct.  The Conference Committee page on the party website contains  contact details for its chair.

 

And you can contact President Mark Pack here. 

It is very odd that a party that preaches transparency and accountability hides the e-mail addresses of its key party officers. Any member who wishes to write to the Chair of, say, the Conference Committee cannot do so direct. I am not suggesting that home addresses or telephone number should be made available, unless the individual concerned is happy to do so, but I cannot see any reason why e-mail addresses should be hidden. As far as I know, the e-mail addresses of all elected Councillors are available on each Council’s website. What is more academics – who are often very secretive – have their e-mail addresses public on their academic institution’s website. If these non-Liberal bodies can practise transparency, it is odd that the party does not practise what it preaches and makes it possible for members to contact elected officers and committee members.

I hope that no-one suggests that it is adequate to insist that members write via party headquarters. It may be that, legitimately, a member wishes to comment on a matter of alleged poor administration in which case it would hardly be appropriate it for the communication to go via the party office.

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A Critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 2

This is the second of a series of three posts. The first part can be read here.

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century (continued)

  • Maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent. We propose continuing with the Dreadnought programme, the submarine-based replacement for Vanguard, but procuring three boats instead of four, and moving to a medium-readiness responsive posture. This would mean replacing continuous at-sea deterrence – instead maintaining the deterrent through measures such as unpredictable and irregular patrolling patterns.

Comment. I suspect this is an attempt at compromise to show that the party is essentially anti nuclear weapons philosophically but also serious about defence. This policy is neither fish nor fowl and needs radical revision.

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Isolation diary: Exploring my family history again

My grandmother was a Hooker. I’m afraid she never really understood why we all fell about laughing when she told us that. As it happens there is a distant family connection with the slang term for a prostitute – but more of that later.

Which reminds me of something one of my sons told me this week. When he was young he learned the words prostitute and protestant at around the same time, and managed to confuse them for a while. It’s a good thing he worked out the difference before he went to live in Northern Ireland.

To return to the Hookers in my family. Last week I wrote about my father’s side of the family and the story of my great great grandmother who, in a remarkable echo of Downton Abbey, was disinherited after running off with the coachman.

This time I am thinking about my mother’s ancestors, and one illustrious one in particular. My grandmother was always proud of the fact that her nine times great uncle was Richard Hooker. She came from Exmouth and would often tell me about the statue that stood in the grounds of Exeter Cathedral. He is recognised by the Church of England as a Teacher of the Faith and remembered on the anniversary of his death, 3rd November 1600.

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A tale of two crises?

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In 2007/8 we suffered the financial crisis with the consequent bail outs for the finance industry and restriction/depression for the majority.

In 2020 we suffer the Covid-19 plague.

The response to the first involved the rescue of the finance industry from public funds and the removal of wealth from much of the rest of society. Those responsible suffered no physical or financial hardship as a consequence.

The response to the second has resulted in the deaths among those who are working to protect, care for and support us in the midst of this plague.

The pay or monetary value of those responsible for the first crisis is still remarkably and inefficiently high.

The pay for nurses, porters etc. and for those who keep our society functioning by driving, delivering and collecting remain remarkably low. (Also here)

The hospital, care and delivery people have had their pay kept low, even to the point of starving nurses needing to use food banks. Their situation results from Neo-Liberal Economics theory being enforced by the government, economic and, possibly social weakness and because they care about their fellow humans. The senior financiers, who were responsible directly and/or indirectly for the first crisis, have their pay kept high because they have power, they are protected by government and so many of us believe in or accept Neo-Liberal Economic theory.

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Observations of an expat: Start talks Start

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US-Russian talks started this week in Vienna between US and Russia to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which expires in February.

Negotiators face massive obstacles – for lots of reasons.

For a start, Presidents Trump and Putin are fond of their nuclear toys. They have both effectively scrapped the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty and announced significant investment in new nuclear weapons.

Both men are keen on the more “bang for the buck” theory of nuclear war.

The other big reason the talks are headed for failure is the Trump Administration’s insistence that China is included in the negotiations. China’s nuclear arsenal is miniscule (300 warheads compared to an estimated 6,185 American and 6,800 Russian). But the Americans view the Chinese as the greater medium to long-term threat to American interests.

The French and British nuclear deterrents have been accounted for in the complex alphabet soup of Soviet-American nuclear weapons accords. But France and Britain are American allies. China and Russia are – at the moment – close – but not allied. The Chinese argue that if they are included then why not also India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly even Iran. This would, of course, turn negotiations into an incomprehensible farce as each country has a different strategic reason for its nuclear deterrent.

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Electric cars are not a silver bullet, but they’re a start

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Electric cars are a phenomenon. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, sales of electric and Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) increased by 131.8% and 13.8% respectively in the year to May 2020. This figure is expected to keep on going as infrastructure improves and battery technology becomes easier to manufacture, more efficient, and, most importantly, cheaper. Layla Moran MP also wrote to Rishi Sunak this week calling for electric vehicles to be exempted from VAT, which would help bring down prices and increase sales even further.

This is surely great news: no or little (in the case of PHEVs) tailpipe emissions means that we can reduce air pollution levels sufficiently and help bring about an end to the climate crisis. Presently, emissions from passenger vehicles make up 21% of all the UK’s CO2 emissions according to the latest figures from 2018 and have increased by 6% on average since 1990. Although road traffic increased by 28%, any increase is a worry and needs to be combated if we are to bring an end to the climate crisis.

Lockdown has also had a profound effect on emissions. In the UK, emissions dropped by 31% by mid-May, better than the global average of 26%.  While this is welcome, and many people will have noticed the fresher air in urban areas, this is only temporary. A report by Rohit Chakraborty of the University of Sheffield found that emissions have risen by double digits in the first fortnight in June – in Bradford as much as 116%.  Therefore, it is clear that lockdown is an outlier and a very brief dip in our ever-increasing carbon emissions.

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A critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 1

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century

The Armed Forces play a vital role in the defence of the nation: government should have a deep sense of duty to properly support service personnel and veterans. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have shown a commitment to this: the Conservative government in particular has spread chronic low morale, misspent money on vanity projects and failed to recruit and retain people with the skills needed for 21st century warfare. Liberal Democrats are the only party who understand the new challenges faced by the Armed Forces and who are committed to properly supporting them.

Comment. This is bland, anodyne and says nothing of any consequence on what the party thinks the armed forces are for and what they ought to do.  It talks vaguely about “new challenges” and the need to support the forces without saying what either of those might be. Do we actually know?

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Isolation diary: Feeling the sun on my skin

On a hot day like today, the one thing you would love to see is a photo of naked cyclists, right?

I had been trying to find this photo amongst the many thousands of pictures on my laptop, but I couldn’t remember when it was taken. Then yesterday it popped up on Facebook under the ‘See your memories’ feature. It was taken nine years ago in Bristol.

We were driving down to visit our son and his family and were stopped at the end of the M32 by around 100 cyclists circling the roundabout. And none of them had any clothes on. It was a joyful sight and made me smile. I managed to get a quick snap through the car window as we waited for them to go past.

Now I’m not a naturist, but, being a good liberal, I have no problem with people who are. In fact, the quantity of clothes that people wear on our favourite beach on Fuerteventura decreases to zero the further you get away from the hotel. Whilst staying there we discovered that the chaplain of the Anglican church in Correlejo was a leading light in the Christian Naturist Fellowship.

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Leadership candidates could and should set out what they mean by UBI

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Universal Basic Income (UBI) has many attractions as a policy. It is radical, an easy concept to explain and – depending how it is implemented – may be progressive.

Both our leadership candidates are backing it. Neither has been as specific as they could and should be about what they are proposing. There is enough economic analysis available for it to be perfectly feasible for them both to be more specific.

The fundamental question is whether we can afford a level of UBI which is worth having and does not create lots of losers, particularly at the bottom end of the income distribution if means tested benefits are withdrawn or modified.

On the economics, our candidates refer mainly to analysis completed by Compass, a think tank promoting UBI.  This is the most detailed recent economic work that is publicly available on a UBI for the UK.  The work has some gaps (which it acknowledges) but it does us a big service by showing the relationships between costs and benefits, and by considering properly how different income groups are affected.

It is not honest to say blandly that the Compass analysis shows that ‘UBI works’.  But it does show what the constraints are, and means our candidates could say more precisely what they are proposing.

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Liberal Democrats can lead the way in planning for the future

On a lunchtime edition for Radio 4 Professor Peter Hennessy, the well-known historian of contemporary British history, recommended taking up the ideas of the Liberal Sir William Beveridge. In 1942 Beveridge wrote of ‘five giant evils’ that must be combatted through the reforms he sought which resulted after the Second World War in the Modern Welfare State and the National Health Service.

There are five evils in our society today that need fighting, said Professor Hennessy, listing what he believes they are, to make the changes necessary after the current health crisis. His ideas were then discussed in the programme, the World at One, by Kenneth Clarke and Alastair Darling. The two well-known retired politicians, from the Conservative and Labour parties respectively, agreed on the principle and several of the five suggested ills, adding modifications of their own.

Perhaps Peter Hennessy had been reading Liberal Democrat Voice. Five great ills of today, matching the Beveridge evils, have been extensively discussed in articles this year. They have placed them in the context of the need for a new Social Contract since the Beveridge-inspired reforms after the Second World War were seen as a social contract between government and people.

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Tory centralisation has failed us on Coronavirus. It’s time to consider the local alternatives.

We have seen how the government has acted too slow to implement a lockdown and not given councils enough resources to be able to help people locally.

Coronavirus has also shown us how the Tory government believes it is best to deal with the Coronavirus centrally rather than making more use of local government. As a Liberal Democrat I believe strongly in localism – one of the party’s founding principles.

In Ealing, despite the Council being run by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats have managed to take a more active role than many opposition parties. Liberal Democrats in Ealing have been able to make decisions locally that affect the people we serve during the Coronavirus period.

To deal with Coronavirus effectively, we need money and support from the national government – not dictates. It is important there is trust in the local government partners. Yet this Tory government has done exactly the opposite of that.

Firstly, on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): if we had waited for the government’s supplies to arrive, our care homes would have run out very quickly. Instead we bought large supplies alongside other West London boroughs so that our care homes had regular supplies.

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Isolation diary: Sharing a birthday with Alan Turing

A photo of this sculpture hangs in my study

Alan Turing was born on 23rd June 1912. I wasn’t aware that I shared a birthday with one of my heroes until the 1990s, long after his untimely death. In fact, the world knew very little about him until government papers were released in the 1970s under the 30 year rule. And yet he is now going to be memorialised on the next £50 note.

Actually I did become aware of some of his work at University, because I read his seminal pre-War paper “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” as part of a Philosophy of Maths module. Neither I, nor my tutor, knew that this was to become the foundation for computer science, via his work on the theoretical constructs he called ‘universal machines’ – now referred to as ‘Turing machines’. His work was influenced by all the key figures in the field, Kurt Gödel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alonzo Church, David Hilbert and John von Neumann – all of whom I had read.

Later, of course, he was able to convert his imaginary machines into physical reality. After the War he built some of the earliest computers, first at the National Physical Laboratory and then at Manchester University.

Alan Turing wasn’t directly involved in building the Colossus – the world’s first electronic programmable computer – at Bletchley Park, although his theoretical ideas underpinned it. In the early days of the War he had developed another machine called the Bombe which was designed specifically to decrypt messages generated by the German Enigma machines.

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Transforming our economy while remedying our environmental crisis – Part 2

In a previous article, I started to highlight policy areas that could advance our fight against the climate emergency and looked at legislation and taxation. This article continues the discussion and looks at additional policy measures to drive change in the way we treat the world we live on.

3. Education – all schools should have climate crises as a part of their social learning – this can be written into the personal, social education time which schools use to address and educate on issues. For adults, continued government promotion on single-use plastics, diets and other life choices is essential, and each individual must take responsibility for their actions. The crisis is unfathomably large but broken down into a single person among 8 billion, and a single footprint to wipe clean, if we all clean up after ourselves, it is possible.

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Transforming our economy while remedying our environmental crisis – Part 1

The fight against climate change is a global one; we understand the issue and science. We also understand the urgency, and in the Paris Agreement, every country committed to reducing emissions to target a significantly lower than a two-degree rise over pre-industrial temperatures. While the complexities are significant, the issue is that globally we continue to put too many greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. The wealthy western countries have been the leaders of this pollution which are making the entire planet suffer, and the poorer countries are suffering more than the wealthiest; we need to lead the recovery.

The good news is that solutions do not have to be complex. For a start, we can put less harmful gases in and take more out. To achieve net-zero means that whatever we put in, we take out, essentially like wiping a footprint in the sand clean, so it looks like you were never there. At net-zero we, as humans, stop making the problem worse. However, we can strive to be better and to take more out than we put in, to allow the planet to get back to its natural cycles of carbon release and absorption.

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Putting the Lib Dems in danger of being more successful

Following the Thornhill Report, I propose that a good way to formulate remedies for the many problems identified is to draw parallels between how we apply our principles to UK reform, and how we apply such principles in running our party.

The party has always supported decentralisation, holding that decisions should be taken at a level as close to those affected as practically feasible (a COVID-19 lesson!).

By contrast, the Report explains that the party had succumbed to the temptations of increasing centralised control; applying top-down decisions hidden behind the bureaucratic fog.

In contrast to principles of openness and transparency, decision-making became opaque and secretive.

By contrast with the party’s ‘strength in diversity’ principle, the Report describes a clique of people at the top who all agreed over a narrow range of tangential issues. Contrary to core liberal principles of openness to new ideas and challenges to the status quo, the party was closed to new thinking, defensive and impenetrable.

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Move Forward Together

In the aftermath of this crisis, our country has an opportunity to change.

Watch video here

And we must change. Going back to normal means continuing to damage our planet. It means entrenching educational inequalities before a child even steps foot in a classroom. Treating people differently because of the colour of their skin, and prioritising GDP over wellbeing.

Change is in the air; no matter where you go, you can feel it. Communities are coming together to help those in need. More and more young people making their voices heard on climate change. And when you turn on the news, you see statues of slave owners and supremacists finally coming down.

This is a once in a generation chance. We must be brave and use this energy to be better; to build the society that we want to see. The Liberal Democrats, and progressive ideas must be at the forefront of this.

At the heart of my leadership campaign is a vision to make this happen.

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A Green Revolution is the recovery plan we need

Too many political leaders would let us sleepwalk into a global catastrophe.

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have never cared about the climate emergency. They will trash world agreements in favour of pursuing their dangerous ideologies and serve only those with vested interests in oil and coal.

But despite this, I’m an optimist. 

I’ve taken on Conservatives in government before – and won for our environment. As Secretary of State for Climate Change I oversaw the near quadrupling of Britain’s renewable energy, I smashed the monopoly of the ‘Big 6’ companies on the energy market, and I saw the creation of 250,000 of new green jobs in all corners of the UK.

As Liberal Democrats, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to fight for our planet. Future generations must inherit a world where everyone can breathe clean air, where making the green choice is a natural choice, and where our reliance on dirty fossil fuels is a distant memory. We need a Green Revolution.

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After the crisis – Developing a clear vision for Liberalism

The salient finding of Dorothy Thornhill’s excellent report on the 2019 election is that Liberal Democrats lacked an overarching vision and purpose.

Her report finds that “Feedback at all levels of the party … described a lack of clarity in what we stood for and what we would do in power, beyond stopping Brexit. There is still a fundamental belief, indeed passion, for the sentiment expressed in the preamble to the constitution, but this has not been turned into a vision and strategy which guides the whole organisation.”
The current emergency opens a chance to develop a vision that can guide the whole party and provide a narrative for voters to follow. Robert Brown and I try to show the way forward in our new essay “After the Crisis”, now available to read on the Social Liberal Forum website.

In the depth of the Second World War, Liberal thinkers such as Beveridge and Keynes were working on designing a better society after the conflict. We argue that a similar approach is needed now and that the LibDem leadership should establish panels of independent but liberal-minded thinkers to address ten broad questions about building a better Britain. This work needs to be done speedily, so as not to waste the opportunity that is now before us.

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Isolation diary: Celebrating 100!

Yes, it is my birthday. No, I am not 100, although three quarters of the way there.

What I am celebrating, to my surprise, is this, my 100th Isolation Diary. Back in March I tentatively approached my colleagues on the editorial team of Lib Dem Voice to see if they thought it would be a good idea to have some daily musings on life in self-isolation. They have encouraged me even though the posts often have little direct political relevance.

So I have now managed to impose some 50,000 words on you, my readers. Most entries are introspective, exploring the inner life of lockdown, the limitations of shielding, and daily practicalities. Some have been commentaries on the wider political scene, such as the Black Lives Matter campaign, and the rewriting of history. Others have allowed me to examine my own values and relate them to my upbringing, to my faith, or even, in one case, my ancestry. I have explored some of my favourite places. There is probably too much about singing and the theatre, and the risks in belonging to a choir, and you have seen too many photos of the results of my cooking experiments.

Yesterday – too late for my diary – the Government announced new guidance for people who are shielding, like us. The scheme as a whole will finish at the end of July, although I’m pleased to hear that we will still be able to get priority slots for online supermarket deliveries.  From July 6th we can meet outside in a group of up to six people. Single shielders can now form a bubble.

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Last year I left the Liberal Democrats. Here’s how a new leader could win me back

It’s never easy leaving home. Prior to last year I had been a Lib Dem my entire adult life, but I made the decision to leave the party following changes I had seen build up over a long time. We used to advocate radical ideas, but we had become too comfortable with campaigning to uphold the status quo.

However, my vote is still winnable for the Lib Dems. And frankly, left-leaning young people like myself are going to need to vote for the party again if it is ever going to build an electorally viable voting base. The experiment over the past decade of trying to attract liberal, ‘small c’ Conservatives has proven to be an unmitigated disaster, as well as having blunted the party’s radical edge.

So, what kind of policies and ideas could a new leader bring in to broaden the party’s appeal? For my money, there are three key targets which need to be hit in order to make the party an electorally desirable entity across the centre-left. I know these may make for uncomfortable reading for some in the party – but when your comfort zone is three disastrous elections back-to-back, a little discomfort can go a long way.

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Donald Trump is the most dangerous threat to western democracy this century…but not for the reasons you may think

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Donald Trump is a dangerous President.

That’s not an especially controversial statement to make outside of his own social media support bubble. In fact, Donald Trump is so obviously ineffective, anti-intellectual and corrupt that the fact he managed to get elected to the highest office in the democratic world is something of an impressive achievement.

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Isolation diary: Looking forward to Autumn Conference

As Caron has explained, Autumn Conference will take place online from 25th to 28th September. I have been watching the developments with a lot of interest, because I was a member of the Federal Conference Committee for five years until I stood down at the end of last year.

I loved being on the committee, but it completely took over my time at Conference. Committee members were on a rota to chair and aide motion debates in the hall, to chair speeches and Q&As from the main stage and spokespersons’ sessions elsewhere, and to attend various events for first time attendees and others. For each debate we would usually need the same amount of time in advance to read through the speakers’ cards and construct a balanced discussion. On top of that there was training to remind us of the niceties of the standing orders, and how to deal with requests for counted votes, referrals back etc, plus a daily briefing meeting. It made life busy, and I found I missed some of the other delights of conference, such as sitting around and chatting with old friends, but I did enjoy doing it.

I was really looking forward to York in March and the opportunity to just wander around Conference with no commitments for the first time in six years. When that was cancelled, Brighton was on my radar for the Autumn. That will now be a rather different experience from what I was expecting.

On the committee we were often asked if members could have remote access to Conference and in particular to remote voting on motions. That would make the conference more accessible to people who couldn’t attend in person for employment or financial reasons.

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