Category Archives: Op-eds

Munira Wilson challenges Government on free school meals

It was Nick Clegg who introduced free school meals for all 5 to 7 year olds, while the Conservative partners in the coalition, notably George Osborne, resisted the proposal.

You might be surprised to learn that school meals date back over a century, although access and the quality of provision was variable until the 1944 Education Act. That required all Local Education Authorities to provide school meals for all, free to those who met certain poverty criteria, plus free school milk for all. It also laid down nutritional requirements for the meals.

Since then the requirements have been gradually eroded, in spite of numerous research findings which show the health and economic benefits, as well as educational ones, of providing universal access to nutritious meals to all children.

Maggie Thatcher was famously tagged “Milk snatcher” when, as Education Secretary, she removed free school milk in 1971. Then the Education Act 1980 removed the requirement to provide meals to all children unless they qualified for free meals. School canteens were given over to private contractors or simply turned into teaching spaces, packed lunches became the norm and nutritional guidelines withered.

It took a celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, to lead the campaign for good food in schools and for a while things started to look better for the health of the nation’s children. But by 2019 60% of schools were still not meeting food standards.

And it took a celebrity footballer, Marcus Rashford, to shame the Government into extending free school meals into the holiday periods during Covid.

But it is a constant struggle between those who care about the impact of poverty on education versus those who worry about the “nanny state”.

Munira Wilson, our Education spokesperson, has consistently challenged the Government on its current provision of free school meals, achieving front page coverage.  Her latest campaign is seemingly quite a modest one – to ensure that all children who are eligible for free school meals under the current rules actually get them. It seems, astonishingly, that nearly a quarter of a million children go without because they haven’t been registered. She claims this should be an automatic process rather than one relying on opt-ins.

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My New Year Resolution: Let’s give London its Liberal voice

London has always felt like a Liberal city. We are welcoming, diverse, creative and tolerant. We are an internationalist world-class city open for learning and innovative business in or out of the EU. Recent research by the political scientist, Sir John Curtice*, concluded “London looks very different from the rest of the country”. A third of Londoners (34%) are socially liberal, compared with just 19% of those in urban areas outside the capital.

So now is the time for a Liberal surge in the city. We had one after the referendum when London voted 59.9% to remain and the LibDems topped the tables in the next European elections. We can do it again.

And now with London’s Business and Economic leaders openly highlighting the problems with Brexit it only seems right that London is ready for a stronger, Liberal voice who will fight for better relations with Europe.

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Introducing “Letter from Brussels”

Letter from Brussels is a 15-minute podcast that will help Lib Dem local councillors, activists, and supporters stay in touch with what is happening in the European Union from the perspective of local authorities. It is produced by the liberal “Renew Europe Group” in the European Committee of the Regions, the EU’s assembly of municipalities and regions, and is written and narrated by Sean O’Curneen, Secretary General of the Group, and a former BBC journalist.

Every episode starts with a fascinating story about the city of Brussels, the capital of the Union, and is followed by the latest news, opinions, and proposals, by leaders who are making the Union a reality on the ground, in their local communities, be it in decarbonising the economy, or integrating migrants and refugees, developing rural communities, or creating new opportunities for young people.

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A nonpartisan campaign to seek apology for the forced repatriation of Chinese Sailors after Second World War

Many thousand Chinese men served in the Chinese Labour Corps in France during the First World War and on the British Merchant ships that supplied Britain in both World Wars. They were renowned to be knowledgeable in their duties, hardworking but were paid less than their British counterparts. Many of them died alongside their British colleagues on land and at sea. At the end of the Second World War over 2000 Chinese seamen who had helped in the war effort lived in Merseyside.

The then Labour Government were concerned that they would stay permanently, also the Seamen’s Union were worried that they would undercut their wages and take their jobs. In 1946 the Liverpool Constabulary carried out the orders from the British Government to deport Chinese sailors in Merseyside. They rounded up the Chinese seamen from lodging houses and from the streets under false pretences and forcibly deported them illegally to China. The men were told that they would not be able to return to the UK.

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Divided and confused Tories need a rest and we need a rest from them

If I was the editor of Conservative Home, I would be embarrassed to publish its annual poll of the most popular Tory MP. Lee Anderson, the MP for Ashfield won.

If you are struggling to remember who Anderson is, think of cooking 30p meals, a challenge a reporter from the Nottingham Post found impossible. Anderson is the former Labour councillor turned Tory MP who said people going to food banks can’t cook or budget. I wonder what he had for Christmas dinner. Maybe an out of date wet lettuce reduced at the supermarket checkout. He is a fully paid up member of the nasty party and infamously can’t cope with hecklers, telling one: “If you smartened yourself up, you’d make a good tramp.” And he faked a doorstep interview but didn’t have the sense to turn off a microphone while arranging the stunt.

Perhaps it was this this nastiness and lack of integrity that led to him being voted Backbencher of the Year by Conservative Home’s panel of readers. How representative those readers are of Conservatives at large is unknown. Anderson gained a mere 54 of 553 total votes. You don’t have to have a degree in statistics to recognise that is less than 10% of votes. What a dismal showing. Although Conservative Home voters could select their own candidates, it is clear there nowhere near a consensus among dedicated Tories.

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Christmas HOPE 2022

There is only one word that springs to my mind this Christmas; it is HOPE.

The last 12 months have been so difficult for us individually, collectively and for the whole global family. The end of the pandemic, re-adjustment to life after Covid, invasion of Ukraine, problems “at home”; endless political saga, high inflation and a huge cost of living crisis. The list of real issues and reasons to lose HOPE is endless.

Christmas is usually a good opportunity to stop, rest and recharge our batteries. Religious or not, we all look forward to Christmas to reconnect with our friends, relatives and family members. These social moments of interaction are so important for our wellbeing and sense of belonging to our community, society or respective traditions.

I personally HOPE that this Christmas, we will all try to remain faithful in the goodness of humanity. I HOPE that we will be able to be grateful for who we are, recognise that we are all unique and that we are a GIFT for one another.

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Ed Davey’s Christmas message for 2022

Merry Christmas! I love this time of year. The cards, the carols, the chocolate, but most of all the chance to spend time together as a family – to celebrate together, to have fun together, give thanks to one another and to give thanks to God.

For me, the message of Christmas is for us to treat others – as we would wish to be treated and the symbol of Christmas is light – the light of hope, in the darkest week of the year. Hope that we all desperately need for these most challenging of times.

So from my family to yours: We wish you a Christmas full of love, joy and peace. And hope for a better future.

And we keep in our hearts those who are less fortunate – who will spend this Christmas without the comfort of family. Whether they have lost loved ones or been separated from them by war and destruction. Let’s give them the gift of hope this Christmas too.

Happy Christmas.

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ALDC by-election report: 22nd December

Your 2022 by-elections in review! Many congratulations to Lib Dems across the country year this, as we won  51 council by-elections this year, including 30 gains from other parties (Conservative, Labour, Green Party and independents). This is a net gain of 25 seats – significantly more than other parties!

Voters went to the ballot box in only one place this week, as the one and only by-election rounds off 2022 for Christmas. In Normanby ward in Redcar and Cleveland, we thank Tracy Jacobs for standing for the Lib Dems! A narrow Conservative gain from Labour, with multiple independents taking chunks of the vote – full results below:

Normanby, Redcar & Cleveland UA

Conservative: 389
Labour: 357
Independent: 143
Independent: 109
Liberal Democrat (Tracy Jacobs): 38

Conservative GAIN from Labour

 

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Alex Cole-Hamilton’s Christmas Message

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has released his Christmas message:

Christmas is a time for reflection, and I think it’s important to take stock of the challenges we’ve faced over the last year.

In February we saw the return of war to Europe for the first time in decades. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has rewritten international relationships and prompted an astonishing wave of generosity from Scots opening their homes to take in those fleeing Putin’s war.

The soaring cost of energy bills and inflation has bitten into household finances, and our health service has faced unprecedented challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and more than a decade of SNP mismanagement.

On each of these issues Scottish Liberal Democrats have sought to offer considered and constructive solutions, from pressing the government to support refugees, to an emergency national insultation programme and new support for mental health.

Despite these challenges, I remain optimistic about the future of our country. The spirit of Christmas reminds us that no matter how difficult things may seem, we can always find hope in the love and support of our friends, family, and community.

It would be strange to end any reflection on the year gone by without mentioning the death of Queen Elizabeth II. For many she has been a symbol of constancy in our lives and it will be strange for a Christmas to pass without her address to the nation.

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Behind you! Jamie Stone on being a pantomime dame

In the Independent a couple of weeks ago, Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, regaled us with a tale of being a pantomime dame in the Scottish Highlands town of Tain. This appears to be something on a habit. He played Dame Tilly Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk just before an election in 2017. He was elected regardless, despite the wardrobe difficulties: “I had to haul myself into a massive bra and fake boobs, the wig, the tights, the boots.”

He suffered the age-old struggle to learn lines:

“But you speak every week in the House of Commons!” said my better half, as we stumbled through rehearsals in the kitchen. I got there in the end. I didn’t fluff my lines, I didn’t fall off the stage, and I was allowed to take a bow at the end!

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My hero of the year – Volodymyr Zelenskyy

For many Ukrainians, this year’s Christmas will be held by candlelight Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Congress yesterday. In what may have been his first outing outside Ukraine since the war started 300 days before, Zelenskyy didn’t don a suit for the occasion. Ever the role player, he turned up on Capitol Hill wearing his signature khaki fatigues.

I watched President Zelenskyy’s speech to Congress in the early hours (UK time). I couldn’t help welling up at times. Here was a man once dismissed as a comedian that once pretended to be a president and incredulously became the real thing. Now he is standing on the world stage. Leading the fight for peace against Putin and Russia’s generals.

The war in Ukraine is not just about Putin’s manic ambition for recreating the USSR with all its threats to the rest of the world and its suppression of internal dissent. It is not just about a bitter, bloody and deathly conflict. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed. One in four of Ukraine’s population has been displaced. Several towns, cities, and villages have been destroyed. Maybe 70,000 or more Russian soldiers have died.

It is a fight for freedom. Zelenskyy’s nation is fighting a proxy war against a dictator on behalf of the rest of the free world.

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Why highlighting FIFA’s awful actions was so important in fulfilling the continuing work of promoting Liberal Democrat values and principles

I was very pleased and proud that our motion regarding FIFA received overwhelming support at ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) Council in Bratislava earlier this month.

As the author of this motion, I wasn’t absolutely sure how much this issue would resonate amongst our sister parties, for  as a very passionate LGBTQI+ football  fan, I had felt  extremely let down by the staging of this World Cup,  in all  aspects of human rights, and to the  extent, that the LGBTQ+ issue was  the major factor.

However  the treatment of migrants workers and women only added to the  need for FIFA  to review its World Cup bidding processes,  to align with Global Human rights. I along with many other members of the LGBTQI+ community  boycotted the event, which meant I watched the least amount of games since the my first  World Cup in 1986,  at  age of seven. That’s how strongly I and many others  felt that this was not the right place to hold a FIFA World Cup and I stand by that position.

However, I was  more than delighted that ALDE party  chose to lead with this motion as one of their communication emails to all ALDE party members –  only further highlighting the work Liberal Democrats are doing to raise issues – specifically LGBTQ+ related issues –  on the international stage.  It was  especially poignant in Bratislava,  that following the murder of two young members of the Local LGBTQI+ community outside a gay bar in the city centre in October, we collaborated on a further  motion, which was unanimously endorsed by all our sister parties,  recognising and calling on them to  enact legislation combatting  LGBTQI+ hate crimes.

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What are the two most important actions to address global warming that the party should be campaigning on in the next election?

We have a good climate change policy and we presented a more substantial, better thought-through programme on climate change than any of the other parties at the last election.  Little of this received any prominence during the 2019 campaign, partly because we had limited scope to shape a debate which was focussed elsewhere, and partly due to tactical decisions we ourselves made.

But while we definitely don’t need to start from scratch on climate change, there is nonetheless work to do well in advance of setting out the party’s manifesto for the next general election.

First, our policy was written in 2019 and predates Covid, COP26 and the energy crisis.  Inevitably it requires updating.

Second it is important that we continue to innovate from a policy perspective.  In general it is helpful that 80% of our policy stays the same, so the public gets used to it, so we build an identity that people understand,  and so on the doorsteps we know how to communicate it.  But for our message to be fresh and inspiring, 20% of it needs to be new.

Third,  we should be thinking now which parts of a very comprehensive climate change policy we will be wanting to spotlight in the manifesto.

The Green Liberal Democrats are undertaking a project to update, innovate, spotlight the party’s climate change policy, with some ideas to be presented at the party’s spring conference.  Output from this will then feed into the broader process for developing the election manifesto.

As part of the project we are running a simple typeform survey.

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Elon Musk gets voted out of hot seat at Twitter, why does he remind me of Liz Truss?

Elon Musk is a victim of his own misfortune. Having made mistake, after mistake at Twitter, he asked users whether he should continue as chief executive. The verdict was unequivocal.

Advertisers had fled with Musk’s unwinding of Twitter. His championing of almost anything that goes led to people with liberal values leaving in disgust. The extreme right, the racists and misogynists have rubbed their hands will glee.

Twitter, never profitable, has been looking into the abyss since Musk took it over. There is now hope that Twitter will survive and thrive.

Aside for its social uses, Twitter is essential for journalists and politicians. Probably every MP has a twitter account and our Lib Dem MPs use it as a way of getting out information on their opinions and what they have been doing. Journalists use to it gather news and promote articles they have written.

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The question Laura Kuenssberg should have asked the editor of the Sun

Late on Friday night, the Sun published a column by Jeremy Clarkson.

You wouldn’t expect him to say anything nice about Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, to be honest.

Most of the article was merely his opinion on Harry and Meghan’s Netflix documentary. I think he’s wrong, but, again, no surprise there. He’s allowed to be.

But there was one part of that article which didn’t merely stray over the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, it stuck two fingers at them from outer space.

He described his hatred of Meghan as being deeper than his hatred of two other women, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and serial killer Rose West. These are not two women you would normally compare. Then he said that he dreams of the day when Meghan is paraded naked through the streets of every town in Britain while people chanted “Shame”at her and chucked crap at her.

Words matter and too often in the right wing press, they fuel a toxic culture which makes life less safe for every marginalised group in this country, from disabled people, to immigrants to women to trans people. This vivid description of humiliating violence to a woman, presented as an aspiration, has no place on the pages of a newspaper in a civilised society.

Most reasonable people will think that Clarkson is just being a twit again, but it will intensify the hatred of a few. We just have to hope that nobody takes his words too literally.

Jeremy Clarkson has always been obnoxious. It is what he does. The first time I wrote to him was in response to an article he wrote on women drivers a quarter of a century ago. I actually got a quite funny and self-deprecating reply from him. But that was a world away from what he wrote about Meghan.

Harry comes in for criticism too, deliberately misnamed for comic effect and portrayed as Meghan’s puppet. It’s a typical misogynist trope to assume that any woman you don’t like is somehow controlling those around her, usually with some sort of sexual temptation. And in this case there is no somehow about it. Clarkson says that explicitly.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Qatar

As the World Cup draws to a close, host nation Qatar is being implicated in yet another scandal. This one involves allegedly bribing key figures in the European Parliament.

It is widely accepted that super-rich Qatar secured the World Cup with cash payments to FIFA board members. Now it is alleged that they tried to obtain preferential visa treatment for their citizens with a few selected bribes. The main target of the Qataris is alleged to be European Parliament Vice President Eva Kalli. She has been arrested on charges of money laundering, corruption and belonging to a criminal organisation. The Greek MEP has denied all charges but has been stripped of her vice-presidency and her assets have been frozen. She remains, however, an MEP.

Qatar’s representation to the EU issued a statement “categorically” rejecting “any attempts to associate the State of Qatar” with the scandal. The European Parliament thinks otherwise and has postponed indefinitely the vote that would have allowed Qatari citizens to be issued with automatic three-month visas on arrival at EU airports. The problem with the Qataris is that they have form and money to splash out. Their and oil gas-fed Sovereign Wealth Fund guarantees a per capita income of $61,276.

Russia

One of the main aims of Western sanctions against Russia is to deprive Moscow of technology needed for Putin’s military machine. This is especially the case with advanced semi-conductors, aka computer chips.

According to the US Department of Commerce, the sanctions have resulted in a 70 percent reduction in Russian imports of this vital technology. Not so says Reuters News Agency and the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). If anything, they claim, Russia is receiving more computer chips and other advanced technology than ever before. In April, according to Reuters and RUSI, Russia recorded received $34 million in advanced technology from Western companies. In October 2022 the figure rose to $87.96 million.

Overall, at least $2.6 billion in advanced technology from US and European companies has ended up in Russia since the start of the Ukraine War. They include equipment from Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices and Texas Instruments. There is no question of these companies selling their goods directly to Russia. The equipment is being bought by middlemen based mainly in Turkey and Hong Kong who are then marking up the price and selling the technology to Russia. One company, Azu Industries, which has offices in Germany and Turkey, is alleged to have profited to the tune of $26 million since the start of the war.

India and China

Back in colonial times -July 1914 to be precise – British diplomats sat down with Tibetan diplomats to negotiate the border between India and Tibet (also known as the Line of Actual Control or LAC). Also present was a Chinese diplomat who stormed out of the meeting after protesting that Tibet had no right to negotiate any treaties because it was part of China.

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Observations of an expat: Elected Autocrats

There is a new descriptive term that is entering the political lexicon – Elected Autocrats.

The European Parliament recently used the term to describe Hungary’s Viktor Orban when it suspended EU payments to the country.

It can also be applied to Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There are a few Asian and African leaders that also come under this heading and there are signs that it is creeping into Western democracies.

An Elected Autocrat is an elected political leader who was most likely voted into office in free elections, and then used their power to consolidate their position and build a political structure that insures they are re-elected in subsequent ballots.

The goal of an Elected Autocrat has nothing to do with preserving the rule of law. It bears no resemblance to the protection of individual rights or the state’s constitution. Their aim is simply reconfiguring political structures so that they gain a monopoly of power.

Putin was first elected President in 2000. At the time there was a free press and a relatively speaking active opposition. The independence of the Russian judiciary has always been questionable.

The judiciary is now firmly under Putin’s control. Opposition media outlets have either been closed down or are controlled by the state or Putin’s oligarchical cronies. Opposition leaders have been murdered or imprisoned. Alexei Navalny is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence. Another opposition figure Ilya Yashin was this week imprisoned for two and a half years for daring to tell the truth about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey is a NATO member and nominally democratic country. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved from mayor of Istanbul to Prime Minister to President. Along the way he rewrote the constitution to consolidate power in presidential hands.

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Italy: works starts on the Costituente Liberale

The Italian political situation is very specific. Now is the time to bring together all the political forces that do not feel represented by the extreme right or even the extreme left – a nationalist right and a left that has lost its reformist connotations.

Political forces such as Italia Viva and Azione are moving to build a larger political party that occupies the centre of Parliament. Another political entity is also moving in this context which intends to bring together all the liberals in a large umbrella organisation that includes the federation promoted by Azione and Italia Viva and which sees its political horizon in Renew Europe (formerly ALDE).

The construction of this new political entity has started. There is also a date set in red: January 14, 2023. That day the founding assembly of the Costituente Liberale (Liberal Constituent Assembly) will be held in Milan. The initiative is ambitious. Among those present will be Sandro Gozi (the MEP and leader of the PDE) , Giuseppe Benedetto (the President of the Einaudi Foundation) , Oscar Giannino (a member of the Adam Smith Institute) and Alessandro De Nicola (Senior Partner of the Italian branches of the Orrick Law Firm).

Alessandro De Nicola underlines the importance of the meeting as a founding moment of a federation of various liberals who live in the Italian context, a federation that includes the founding parties Azione and Italia Viva and also +Europe.  Above all it highlights what has already been done by bringing together Altenativa Liberale, Alleanza Liberale for Italy, Liberal Forum and other groups who are today finally united in a single project that supports and strengthens the liberal area of ​​the federation launched by Carlo Calenda and Matteo Renzi.

The Liberal Constituent Assembly is strong in the south thanks to Stefano Maria Cuomo’s movement “Liberali Moderati for Italy”, a movement that is among the first founding members of the project.

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In praise of precision in UK public policy

The United Kingdom faces a series of interwoven crises simultaneously; double-digit inflation, among the highest domestic energy prices in the world, rising tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade with its major trading partner, an ineffective over-centralised bureaucracy, obsessed with contracting everything out, (which makes problem-solving and public investment very difficult to implement), and low skill levels and investment in R&D.

The result is deep-rooted, seemingly inexorable, decline. The aggregated remedies of the last two decades seem to have run out of road; QE, low interest rates, and debt-funded economic stimulae. Quality of life is noticeably on the slide. The latest country to surpass the UK in a wide range of social and economic measures, is Slovenia.

It may be that the UK political-administrative system is not capable of addressing the underlying problems. The main political parties appear to have degenerated into competition over short term populism and media manipulation, unable to overcome the layers of bureaucratic complexity and competing interests.

The country would beat a path to the door of any political movement that has a sincere and credible definition of problems, obstacles and causes, and how to overcome them.

One of the many reasons why political movements in the UK don’t get off the starting blocks here, is because their pursuit of public policy is littered with imprecise concepts. Shorthand terms for complex ideas are necessary in common parlance, but fatal for public policy. They can end up with policymakers trying to solve the wrong problem entirely.

Such terms include austerity, privatisation, sovereignty, over/under regulation, sustainability, debt, investment, infrastructure,

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Humanitarian visas would end tragedies in the Channel

We are all shocked and saddened by yet another tragedy in the Channel, as those looking for sanctuary with us are drowned or had a terrifying experience not knowing if they will be rescued from an icy sea.

But as well as being upset by the tragedy, I am, yet again, angry with our Government’s response.  They sound sorry about it, but do not begin to understand the situation, think getting tough on traffickers will solve everything, along with putting those that do get here on a plane to Rwanda.  Their ideas are not only impractical but half baked and just a series of statements for the media.

Of course, we need to very quickly set up mechanisms for safe routes, although the UNHCR will be ready and waiting to implement.  But the reality is that very many of those in the camps on the north coast of Europe have spent months and years travelling across Europe through hazardous and dangerous conditions.  They aren’t going to suddenly return to their homeland because there is nobody to give them the only chance they have of reaching the UK where, for instance, they usually have relatives or friends, and they can speak the language.

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I asked the chat bot about UK politics and which side to butter my toast

Chat GPT is becoming a favourite internet game. It has serious possibilities for learning, writing, and cheating.

The AI writer generates errors, mostly because time for the current version stopped in 2021. For example, it thinks that Boris Johnson is still prime minister – or has it been hacked by the BJ camp?

Development of artificial intelligence has been underway for decades. From primitive beginnings, it has been growing in power and in “humanness”. Contact your bank or your council and in many cases, you’ll be talking to AI by voice or online. But no one thinks these have intelligence. Mutter something unexpected to your bank’s bot like “which side should I butter my toast” and you can cut through to a real human operator. At least I think it is a real human operator.

Chat GPT, released to the public a few weeks ago, is remarkable and some commentators think it fulfils the Turing Test, which is passed when a computer’s responses cannot be distinguished from those that would have been made by a human. However, Chat GPT itself is dismissive of the idea:

“It is difficult to say whether Chat GPT, or any other language model, would pass the Turing Test.”

AI is potentially a powerful tool for politics. Could we replace phone banking with AI bots calling? Could we get AI to write campaign literature?

I asked Chat GPT: “Tell me about party politics in the UK in 750 words”. The results are impressive. It would pass as a student essay despite a couple of errors. I also asked the bot to write a poem about the Liberal Democrats. It is remarkably good if close to doggerel.

By the way, Chat GPT tells me which side you butter your toast is a matter of personal preference, including whether you butter it both sides. Does anyone do that?

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Seeking indicators of totalitarianism and democracy?

In comment to his recent important article The army should not be called as strike breakers, Mr Boddington asserts that “We are not a totalitarian state but the direction of travel is to restrict freedoms”. If so, this is serious and demands that we seek indicators/bench marks of totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism concentrates power, wealth, status and so on and so does Fascism. Like all forms of totalitarianism, fascism contrasts with and opposes democracy. Consequently, the more Fascism flourishes and grows, so Democracy diminishes and becomes more vulnerable. What makes democracy yet more vulnerable are generally accepted attitudes to the effect that, “We are a democracy, so it can’t possibly happen here!”, “We defeated Fascism in World War II.”, “It’s only a temporary thing!”

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington lists 12 Early Warning Signs of Fascism:

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. Disdain for human rights
  3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
  4. Rampant sexism
  5. Controlled mass media
  6. Obsession with national security
  7. Religion and government intertwined
  8. Corporate power protected
  9. Labor power suppressed
  10. Disdain for intellectual and the arts
  11. Obsession with crime and punishment
  12. Rampant cronyism

Using  the classic “Happy Form” rating system whereby a nothing rating gets a 0 and a severe rating gets a 10, as the writer did,  you get an informative reasonably accurate, if personal, calibration of where we, the citizens, and various ingredients of our society and its governance are in relationship to Democracy and Fascism. You also have a tolerably legitimate indication of where we and the organisations which represent and protect us, are on a spectrum or continuum between the contrasting poles of Democracy and Fascism.

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Lib Dems need to do something about jury duty

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The importance to our judicial system of having a jury of ‘ordinary’ people who are the sole judge of guilt in a case is a thing of which we should be immensely proud but, having done my jury duty I feel it is in need of huge reform.

In October a dreaded letter arrived out of the blue. Some malevolent machine had drawn my name out of the unlucky lottery, and I was summoned to appear for Jury Duty.
It is quite an inverse lottery. According to the letter about 200,000 are chosen at random every year from the electoral register for two weeks jury duty.

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The army should not be called in as strike breakers

The government is mobilising the army to deal with civil problems. It is not the first time. Think back to the London Olympics. And the army’s Green Goddesses that were used in the fire strikes of 1977 and 2002.

Armed forces were also used during the epidemic, but that was a national emergency and all hands were needed. But we are not now facing a national emergency. We are facing strike action because the Conservatives have been in power too long. They have lost what little understanding they had with the gritty realities of life for many people. They have lost any sympathy for health workers who have to use a food bank or are stressed out about paying the rent or the mortgage. They have lost have empathy with paramedics whose working conditions have become intolerable.

Cobra meets this afternoon to discuss the wave of forthcoming strikes. The meeting of the government’s emergency committee is to be chaired by Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, not the prime minister. There are echoes of Boris Johnson here, who failed to attend five Cobra meetings at the start of the pandemic.

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Making a difference for LGBTI+ communities across Europe

On 12 October two young members of the LGBTI+ community, university student and bartender Matus Horvath and visual merchandiser Juras Vankulic – were shot dead outside ‘Teplaren’, one of Bratislava’s two LGBTI+ bars. The killer, the son of a local far-right politician, who later shot himself, had before the shootings published online a white suprematist manifesto, expressing his wish to carry out further attacks on different groups.

The killings took place in Slovakia, a country which for months had witnessed increasing lies and insults from Slovakian politicians and the Catholic Church aimed at the LGBTI+ community, whipping up the atmosphere of hatred against them – an atmosphere that had been nurtured for years by politicians in power and in Parliament. Slovakia is one of the few countries in the Europe that still does not give any legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

Last Friday evening, during the ALDE Council meeting in Bratislava, delegates from liberal and democrat parties from across Europe gathered outside Teplaren bar to remember the terrible events of that night – we laid white roses, lit candles and filed past in silence – this was not the time for big speeches, rather quiet reflection. The photos of the two young victims stared out from the darkened windows of the bar, which to them like many other young people had come to be seen as a refuge – a home and a haven – in a country which systematically rages against them.

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Is it time to come out in favour of rejoining the EU?

Recently we’ve seen a Yougov poll putting support for Brexit at new lows, with just 32% of the British public overall and 70% of those who voted Leave thinking it was the right decision. We’ve seen stories of both the Tories and Labour denying that they have plans to rejoin the Single Market and/or Customs Union — with the implication that there is something to deny.

For a while I’ve thought the opposite on the grounds that people who voted Leave might find it easier to change their minds if we’re not telling them they were wrong. But, if 30% have already done that, things are different.

With neither Labour nor the Tories speaking up for the majority who now think Brexit was a mistake, is it time for Liberal Democrats to say what others are whispering: we need to rejoin? That’s about speaking up for the EU vision of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Europe with deep respect for democratic values as well undoing the economic harm done by leaving.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Drones are playing an increasingly important role in the Ukraine War, especially on the Ukrainian side. Russia may have more ships, men, missiles and tanks. But the Ukrainians are proving masters at producing drones to counter them.

At sea they have pioneered the development and use of naval drones which have successfully attacked Russian ships and shore side storage depots at the Russian naval base of Sevastopol. The drones are equipped with a souped-up jet ski engine; a camera in the bow and one amidships, a satellite dish and 200 kg of high explosives. They are operated by a “captain” sitting hundreds of miles in a bunker with a joystick not dissimilar to the one he used aged 10 in the local video arcade.

Each naval drone costs about $250,000 and the Ukrainians plan to have another 100 produced early in 2023. In the air, the Ukrainians have remodelled Tupolev TU-141 reconnaissance drones left over from the Soviet era. They have simply fitted the Russian-made drone with high explosives. The aerial drones were used this week to target Russian airfields from which the Russians were launching crippling attacks on Ukraine’s power grid.

But there is a political problem with the Ukrainian air drone counter attacks. The airbases are inside Russia and NATO is keen to geographically contain conflict to Ukrainian soil so that it does not escalate into a World War Three. It has therefore limited the range of the weapons it has supplied to Ukraine. But the aerial drones used this week were from Ukraine – not NATO. So, it could be argued that Kyiv is sticking to the approved script. But to be on the diplomatic safe side, the Ukrainians are refusing to confirm or deny responsibility for the attacks. No one, however, thinks it could be anyone else.

Germany

Several disturbing – and so far not fully discussed – revelations have emerged from this week’s crushing of an alleged German coup plot. Briefly, leaders of far-right terrorist group known as the Reich Citizens Movement were arrested for plotting to storm the Reichstag (German parliament), overthrow the government, return Germany to is pre-World War I Imperial government, and install a German aristocrat businessman as Kaiser Heinrich XIII.

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The Lib Dem connection to the Harry and Meghan Documentary

I was more surprised than I should have been when I watched the first episode of Harry and Meghan’s eponymous Netflix documentary. I jumped (and cheered a bit, not going to lie) when I saw someone I know being interviewed.

James Holt is now the Executive Director of Harry and Meghan’s Archewell Foundation, which aims to “unleash the power of compassion to drive systemic cultural change.”

Liberal Democrats may remember him as the party’s former Head of Media and as a special adviser during the coalition years. He was always one of the most positive and hilarious people to work with. I knew he’d gone off to work in the office of Princes William and Harry but had missed that he had continued his work with Harry and Meghan when they moved abroad.

His old local paper, for which he once worked, the Shropshire Star, reported that he was “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s new right hand man” last year:

He previously served as the couple’s UK spokesman, and has also worked with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

He also worked as head of communications for Sir Nick Clegg during his term as deputy prime minister.

The 38-year-old, who grew up in Shrewsbury, joined as a trainee reporter with the Shropshire Star in 2004, having graduated with a BA in Journalism at Lincoln University. He went on to write for the Star’s sister title, the Shrewsbury Chronicle, and during that time he spent six days embedded with the British Army in Basra.

Writing for both the Star and the Chronicle, he described coming under fire 10 times during his short stay, and learning about the deaths of two soldiers from Shropshire.

I wonder if James is the reason behind Meghan’s endorsement of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez’s brilliant charity Inspiring Girls on her Spotify podcast. . Back in August, Miriam expressed her gratitude to Meghan for doing so. Writing on Instagram, she talked about how difficult it could be to get much needed celebrity endorsements for the charity:

…publicity for the charity is enormously important for us to get as many (and especially as many diverse) role models as possible – and endorsements from famous women bring publicity that translates into many more role models for the girls. But I despair that if I ask a busy nurse or teacher for their support, they normally do it there and then, even though they have little time and resources – and yet if I ask a famous woman with huge teams and endless resources, I often need to beg them for it!

It is super-unusual in the world of social causes to find somebody with international projection who, as Meghan Markle did this week in her podcast website, will showcase a charity like Inspiring Girls without having even been asked for it. British newspapers have criticised her podcast as per usual. But I take my hat off to her for her generosity – if only other women at her level would act more like her on this!

I am sure it will surprise none of you that I have a lot of time for Meghan and Harry. What is not to love about a fellow liberal minded feminist? I think the way that Meghan in particular is being demonised in the press is disgraceful and rooted in misogyny and racism. Honestly, if you think that Meghan is our biggest problem at the moment and not the divisive, demonising, witch-hunting political culture stoked by the worst government we have had in our lifetimes then I seriously question your values and priorities.

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Observations of an Expat: Multi-dimensional Nuclear Chess

Nuclear arms negotiators talk wistfully about the happy bilateral nuclear arms talks of the Cold War era. They were a dream compared to the multilateral nightmare that confronts today’s diplomats.

Putin is moving the nuclear goalposts with his threats of tactical nukes. The Ukraine War threatens to escalate. The ABM and INF Treaties are no more. Renewed START talks have failed to start. Rogue North Korea has joined the nuclear club. Iran is on the cusp of following suit. And finally, China is threatening to become a strategic nuclear power to rival Russia and the US.

The Chinese dimension of this multi-dimensional chess game is the most worrying. The Chinese have maintained a minimal nuclear arsenal since their first test explosion in 1964. Their policy has been to have just enough nuclear weapons to deter an attack. At the last count that was about 340. This would give China a slight numerical edge on Britain and France but way behind giants Russia and America.

But that is changing under Xi Jinping. His goal is nuclear parity with Russia and the US. Nuclear equivalence, he argues, is a 21st century prerequisite for respect which is an essential currency for international trade and political negotiations. It is believed that he wants 1,500 deployed Chinese nuclear weapons which would put Beijing on a par with America’s 1,644  deployments and Russia’s 1,588.

But Xi’s race to the top nuclear table is in danger of sparking off a nuclear arms race which would be far more dangerous and complex than that of the Cold War years.

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A plan for electing members to a second Chamber (Senate)

Given that Labour is proposing to replace the House of Lords with an elected 2nd Chamber but, as yet, have no plan at to what form that 2nd Chamber will take.  Here is my plan.

1. The election of Senators will be by the Nations and Regions of the UK as used for European Elections.

2. Each Nation or Region will initially elect three times their MEPs in 2019 to the Senate. That is:

  • East Midlands 15
  • East of England 21
  • London 24
  • NE England 9
  • NW England 24
  • SE England 30
  • SW England 18
  • West Midlands 21
  • Scotland 18
  • Wales 12
  • Northern Ireland 9

Total    219

These numbers will be reviewed every 10 years by the Boundary Commission and adjusted as needed to match population changes.

3. Members will be elected in thirds except in the initial election with elections every two years. No other election may take place in the same day.

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