Category Archives: Op-eds

Isolation diary: Doing the ironing

A few weeks ago I was standing at the ironing board thinking “Why?”

Yes, why do we iron things? According to this history of ironing, the Chinese were doing it over 2000 years ago, using pans filled with hot water. Proper irons – made of the metal – were first use in the 17th century. The electric iron was invented in the 1880s and the steam iron in the 1920s. According to Wikipedia:

In the case of cotton fibres, which are derivatives of cellulose, the hydroxyl groups that crosslink the cellulose polymer chains are reformed at high temperatures, and become somewhat “locked in place” upon cooling the item.

So that is when and how, but it still doesn’t explain why.

I do remember once calling in on a neighbour and finding her busy ironing underpants and J-cloths. My little quirk is to iron pillowcases. I don’t bother with sheets and duvet covers, but I rather like the sensation of lying down on a newly washed and ironed pillowcase. I also iron some of my smarter tops and trousers. Maybe between us we have found the reasons. Ironing gives a sense of control over a chaotic world, it makes some items feel better against the skin, and it gives the impression that we care about our appearance. And that’s about it.

After that epiphany, I decided that I would do no more ironing while in isolation. Of course, I have been slobbing around for most of the time in casual things, most of which I don’t usually iron anyway.

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Time to debate policy whilst the house burns down? Perhaps we should smash the boards instead

That the decision by the Federal Board to delay the leadership contest to 2021 was controversial amongst members is itself a non-controversial statement. WhatsApp groups and email chains have been filled with sometimes sweary complaints regarding the decision, comments about dissatisfied members at risk of leaving the party, and an overall despair at the lethargic and doubt-ridden approach the party has taken to 2020.

That the report into the 2019 General Election car crash was hard-hitting and well-sourced is also non-controversial. It is a good bit of commentary on the reasoning behind the weakening of the Lib Dems since around the time of Kennedy’s removal as leader. It covers a lot of topics familiar both to those who have observed Lib Dem fortunes academically and have had to deal with those fortunes on the ground.

The consistent underpinning theme of the report is the institutional rot that has occurred in party infrastructure, which has been aided – but critically, not caused by – political decisions by various leadership members during the last fifteen years or so.

This is why the U-turn by the Federal Board this week, to take a panicked approach to the leadership election, replacing a longer-term strategic decision which was well articulated by the Party President and others in several places, is so exceptionally concerning. It illustrates the dysfunction outlined by the report perfectly, and does nothing but, at best, delay real action and debate on the report’s themes until the autumn.

What is clearly needed during this extended stint in the political wilderness is time for the lessons of 2019 to fully sink in, and for an empowered President, new CEO and an acting leader (without the distractions of enacting a mandate) to action the recommendations of the report. It requires a strategic approach, not a tactical one.

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The social justice argument for a Universal Basic Income

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Recently, there has been much discussion regarding the desirability of a Universal Basic Income. Arguments used to justify it range from providing security, to alleviating poverty, to increasing freedom, to nurturing a sense of social cohesion. However, one of the most persuasive arguments is that based on justice: on each getting what is their due.

Historically, liberals have tended to be most familiar with, and sympathetic to, John Locke’s justification of property ownership. For Locke, the world initially belonged to everyone, but by individuals mixing their labour with land they came to own it (the possibility that such individuals should simply lose their labour seems not to have occurred to Locke). As long as those who do not possess land, including their descendants, are better off than they would have otherwise been (those who, for example, own no land and work the land of others have, Lockeans would suggest, avoided the ‘tragedy of the commons’ and are thus better off) then the distribution of property, including to later generations via inheritance or sale, is justified.

However, another liberal tradition, one we might call a ‘left-libertarian’ one, and including Henry George, a proponent of a Land Valuation Tax, takes a different view. The world was, and remains, commonly owned; we are all joint heirs to the world. For the left-libertarian, those who claimed ownership of land deprived the community of its assets and, as a result, those who benefit from land ownership today, whether by inheritance or sale, may be likened to the recipients of stolen goods; the passage of time does not turn a wrong into a right. As the Victorian thinker Herbert Spencer wrote in 1851, “The original deeds were written with the sword, rather than with the pen: not lawyers, but soldiers, were the conveyancers: blows were the current coin given in payment; and for seals, blood was used in preference to wax” (Spencer would later adopt a much more conservative attitude towards land ownership; some time ago I purchased a letter by Spencer in which he made clear his refusal to permit the republication of the above and other similarly offending passages). Essentially, for such left-libertarians, much wealth today rests on illegitimate grounds.

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In debating UBI, we need to be clear what we’re talking about

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In Stephen O’Brien’s recent post on this website entitled “Why we shouldn’t just jump on the UBI bandwagon”, he makes a series of points in opposition to a Universal Basic Income (UBI). The difficulty with his criticisms is that he argues against a version of UBI almost nobody is proposing. If we are to have a constructive discussion about UBI as a party, we need to make sure that both supporters and detractors are talking about the same thing.

First, the £830-a-month proposal Stephen critiques appears to be plucked out of nowhere. There has been no substantive proposal along these lines made. If we were to agree on the principle of UBI, we would of course need to work out precisely how it would work and the exact level it would be set at. In order to be a “basic” income, however, it is likely that it would need to be higher than this, neutralising any objection that Universal Credit currently provides more than UBI would.

Stephen also makes an assumption that UBI would totally replace all existing welfare benefits full stop. So, in the example he sets up to criticise UBI, he implies that it would abolish all disability benefits. This is a proposal I have never heard being made by anyone who supports the policy. Almost all its major supporters agree that there would have to be uplifts for those with disabilities, and in other categories. Nobody would lose out.

In general, it should be noted that the primary point of UBI is to eradicate economic insecurity. A key cause of economic insecurity is the waiting period for welfare payments, inherent in our current system: the Trussell Trust views it as the reason for a significant proportion of food bank usage, for example. This delay is an in-built feature of the current welfare system, and other programmes like a negative income tax (NIT). UBI abolishes it entirely by giving all people unconditional payments. Under it, nobody ever has to wait to be assessed and processed when they suddenly fall on hard times.

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Why the Liberal Democrats must learn from Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage is the embodiment of everything I disagree with in politics. But rather than stopping at the mild nausea he evokes in most of us, we would be more sensible to leave emotions aside and discover why this man has given us such a clobbering in recent years, and what we can learn from it.

And he has given us one hell of a clobbering.

Brexit aside – he is one of the main external factors in why we did so badly in December. Unscientific, but if you take the Brexit party’s result in Brecon, and apply it to every …

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Our Government is a Stage Magician

Onstage, the magician does not perform an act of magic (spoilers I know) but of distractions. Whilst the rabbit is being yanked from a top hat, the spotlight focused firmly upon its fluffy ears, the magician performs his deceit elsewhere. The Johnson administration has been doing this since it first stepped into Number 10, albeit without the rabbit (though I am sure Mr Rees-Mogg can provide a top hat).

The first smokescreens appeared before and during the 2019 General Election campaign. The inflammatory entitlement of bills as ‘surrender acts’ and CCHQ twitter posing as an independent fact checker meant nothing to crucial swing voters, but attracted uproar from political commentators and activists, distracting from meaningful issues. It was at this same time that the Conservative manifesto was published, detailing economic policies unlikely to please northern Labour voters the Conservatives were gunning for. However, the furore surrounding the aforementioned ‘nothing’ issues overshadowed scrutiny of the manifesto. The rabbit reared its head and hooked the audience, the magic worked. Johnson won.

Next, it was time for a reshuffle, and with it another conjuror’s trick. Despite padding-out support within cabinet, he accidentally booted his Chancellor. With David’s departure, audiences of microphones turned to the Prime Minister. The spotlight then fine-tuned its focus on government, when accusations of bullying and unfair dismissal were levelled at the Home Secretary. Yet, when media scrutiny was firmly locked onto the new cabinet, Johnson bamboozled again. Despite having gotten engaged three months previous, Johnson first officially announced his engagement to Carrie Symonds, enveloping the attention himself. On the 1st March, a day after the most senior Home Office civil servant accused Priti Patel of bullying and just a week after the Chancellor’s resignation, the front pages of The Times, Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph were covered in lovers’ portraits of the happy couple. The announcement’s timing drowned mentions of Patel’s behaviour, keeping Johnson buoyant in the polls.

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Levelling up between the generations in the post-pandemic world

There’s been lots of talk of levelling up between regions, but what of levelling up between the generations? After the coronavirus crisis is over, we are likely to see a worsening of the intergenerational inequality our young people already suffer. We must look at putting this right.

We all know that younger millennials and generation Z have on average been dealt a difficult hand in life. Housing costs are eye-watering and home ownership seems a distant prospect for most. Wage growth has been largely stagnant for many years (with a small uptick lately). There’s no prospect of a career …

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Isolation diary: Cutting it short

I was finally brave enough to cut my husband’s hair. My first attempt was not good – clumpy might be a good word for it. So I looked up some how-to videos made by bored (but very helpful) hairdressers during lockdown. I then wielded comb and clippers with some confidence, with the result above. He seems happy with it.

I won’t let anyone have a go at my hair though. My hairdresser is hoping to open again on 4th July, but I don’t imagine that shielding will be over by then, so I won’t be getting an appointment for quite a while.

I last reported on my hair just a month ago, so here is an update, 11 weeks since I last had it cut. As predicted the fringe has now reached my eyes. It will be interesting to see how it falls in future.

What a gorgeous day today! I know I should be turning my attention to the General Election Review, the leadership timetable, and the general despair at the way Johnson and Trump have handled things – but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

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By forcing a narrative, the General Election Review misses an opportunity

I’ve been looking forward to finally having a review of the 2019 General Election to work through. It’s clear that we have many lessons to learn – and that learning must start with a clear and dispassionate statement of the facts, the opinions and the unknowns leading up to our defeat on December 12th.

This review is not that.

The review published yesterday has very little in the way of citations. In multiple places, figures are stated as facts – but we have no way of reviewing those facts. The one place I did find a citation (p43, “The specific research …

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Bradford Liberal Democrats call for detailed plans for schools opening to be scrutinised

The current debate about when and how schools should “re-open” has already developed entrenched positions. It started from a Government-led position of expecting the re-opening of schools for certain groups from June 1st. A growing opposition of “no to that” has developed with Trades Unions and some Local Authorities leading the charge. The two camps are sat facing each other and there seems to be no basis for discussion. A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner suggests that children deserve better.

One thing that seems to be missing from the debate is the obvious point that schools are open and …

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The Election Review: Hardly News!

I welcome the Election Review and most of its analysis and recommendations. That’s not surprising: I decided last year that I could no longer stand the frustration of being involved with the Party’s governance bodies and stood down (after, believe or not, 50 years of pretty constant engagement).

My main concern about the Review is that it sees governance in terms of formal structures. That’s a mistake – most organisations function reasonably with almost any structure as long as they get right the other elements of governance. Just look at the NHS! That’s why, writing …

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The Swinging Sixties

My mother tells me that I watched England’s victory in 1966 but given that I was only two years old I don’t remember doing so. Ten years later the BBC screened a replay which I watched with my late father and enjoyed greatly. Over the weekend the same broadcaster revived its recording of the General Election night in 1964 and I was able to feed one of my other passions politics. The broadcast followed a similar one last week from 1959 and for amateur historians like me they are fascinating.

A lot changed in that five year period, MacMillan the victor …

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What is the English Party?

If you’ve seen the recent Election Review, you’ll have read that the Lib Dems have obscure processes and committees that seem to get in the way of democracy and/or effectiveness. In this, we’re probably not much different to many other parties and groups but if we want liberalism to flourish we should probably aim to liberate our party from such things where possible. As a new member, I thought I’d try to work out the makeup of the party and hit a wall: the English Party. What is it? Who runs it? What do they do?

Google indicates that the …

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The greater forces behind our election defeat

The long awaited General Election review has been published. It talks about many of the points disgruntled Lib Dem activists have been making for the last six months (the revoke policy, the ‘I can be your next PM’ message, the over ambitious targeting) and also looks in much more detail at the structural and staffing problems which were haunting the party.

It’s a good read, which makes many important points. I think activists find it comforting, in a weird way, to look at the short and long-term mistakes we made and think – ‘if only we had done a few …

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Isolation diary: Dancing again

I haven’t attended a ballet class since I was 12 years old – until yesterday, that is.

I have discovered (via another Lib Dem in isolation) that, in normal times, the Royal Academy of Dance runs classes across the country for ‘Silver Swans’, that is, people over the age of 55. They have been posting weekly online Silver Swan ballet lessons during lockdown that are suitable for complete beginners. There are seven sessions available now, so I tried the first one yesterday, and repeated it today, and I am planning to revisit it several times before moving on to the next one.

I have to admit that my legs are aching a bit. They do warn you not to do anything that causes pain, but some muscle ache is almost inevitable as I try movements that I have not practiced for most of my life.

And, it seems, I am in good company, because the Duchess of Cornwall joined the Silver Swans 18 months ago. Here she is discussing how much she values it, especially during lockdown, with Angela Rippon and Darcey Bussell. Put simply, “Dancing makes you happy,” she says.

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Why we shouldn’t just jump on the UBI bandwagon

While debating other liberals about Universal Basic Income (UBI) it occurred to me that UBI isn’t a voter winner, certainly outside of London. Nor is it actually workable.

One policy, suggested on Lib Dem Voice by Darren Martin, was to pay a £830 Univeral Basic Income to each citizen age 15 and over. This would be an increase to average incomes for those aged 15-24, but when you study the policy closer you begin to see huge faults with it.

This policy would actually have a negative impact on those aged 25 and over who claim some support at the …

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Why do we insist on making each other the enemy?

I told myself I was going to avoid joining in the whole narration of the General Election review, but this part really hits home for me.

We are as critical of ourselves as we are of others; many talk of being under ‘friendly fire’ from our own members or colleagues, with mistakes viewed as personal failures.

Members who have previously held office frequently contact staff – at all levels – offering views, advice and criticism. They expect to get heard and are disappointed if they are not. Staff feel that ‘no’ is an answer that cannot be given.

During my 10 years in …

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For Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s remember Mill’s mantra and campaign for better wellbeing measures

We are living in a time that’s taking its toll on different people in different ways. And we have required changes in our approach to contend with this new reality. Now more than ever, I find myself reflecting on JS Mill’s mantra, that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”

My modern interpretation of this philosophy is that we should be considering wellbeing metrics and indicators in all Government decisions and policymaking. And, if a policy would worsen people’s wellbeing, it should be dropped.

It’s …

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Protecting the welfare of families with parents of different nationalities

I’m a British citizen, living in Malaysia and have been married for nearly ten years to a Malaysian citizen. I have a stepson and a daughter both of whom hold Malaysian passports and my daughter is also eligible to have a British passport (however, Malaysia does not recognize dual citizenship so she would eventually have to choose one or the other).

For a long time, my wife and I have mulled over the pros and cons of staying in Malaysia or moving to live in the UK.

There are lots of factors to consider but one of the big ones is …

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2019 Election Review – the Social Democrat Group responds

The Social Democrat Group is a grassroots organisation which seeks to promote the social democratic, as well as the liberal, tradition in the Liberal Democrats. In response to the publication of the party’s 2019 Election Review, the group has issued a statement broadly supporting the report.

In particular, the group welcomes the references in the report to the need for the party to concentrate on the issues that really matter to normal people. We believe that if we are to start winning back people’s trust we need to emphasise the big ticket issues of health, education, transport, housing, the environment, that …

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Isolation diary: Shredding my life

We have been working through boxes and filing cabinets full of old documents – some going back 50 years or more – and shredding them. Do we really need life insurance reminders from 1988, or pay slips from 1971?

Years ago we bought the cheapest shredder we could find, but we spent more time detangling it than actually shredding paper. We replaced it by a larger one, until that caught fire. Finally we purchased our current more robust shredder, which works for about 10 minutes before the red light comes on. During lockdown it has taken up permanent residence in the living room, with a bin bag underneath, and we feed it as often as we remember.

Of course, what I am shredding are memories.

This morning I was feeding in insurance papers that related to when our Cortina was stolen from our front garden in 1993. The car was recovered about a week later near Littlehampton, because – bless it – the engine had seized up and it was stuck on a hard shoulder. Two men were desperately trying to hitch a lift, and pretending the car was nothing to do with them, when the police appeared. The police couldn’t believe their luck because attached to the back of the car was a brand new stolen caravan that they had been looking out for.

The police arrested the men for the theft of the caravan, then noticed one small detail about the car – we had engraved the original registration on the headlight. When the thieves fitted a new number plate they replaced the window glass, which also had the registration engraved on it, but had missed the headlight.

So we got a phone call from Littlehampton Police asking us to retrieve our car. They forgot to tell us that it was undrivable and a write off. It took ages to get it home with the help of the AA and it then stood outside our house, ugly and unloved, for weeks before the insurance company finally decided what to do with it.

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Some Questions for the Federal Party and Leadership

Who are our target voters that will increase our core vote?

What are the challenges they face? What are their hopes and fears? What are the three biggest, most fundamental, most enduring issues they care about enough to vote or change their vote? How do we know we have got beyond face value of what they say to what really influences what they do, in the voting booth?

What is our clear message to them on each issue, based on our values and expressed through our policies? How is that message different to the other parties? Is the message simple enough to …

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“An accident waiting to happen” – comprehensive, astute and blunt panel report on the 2019 elections

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Over the weekend, I have been thoroughly reading, and inwardly digesting, the 61 page panel report on the 2019 elections.

I started making notes of passages which would make good quotes for this article. But my list was soon very long. Pulling out pithy quotes turned out to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

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Liberal Democrats mark IDAHOBIT

Today is the annual International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

During lockdown, many LGBT people will be stuck at home with families that don’t accept who they are.

Imagine what that does to your mental health. If you know a young person in these circumstances, reach out to them today, and every day.

And if you leave home because of it, it can be very difficult to get help. Rejection on this basis is not classed as domestic abuse.

I was moved by these stories on the BBC website. Lucy talks about her family not accepting her transgender identity while Matt was thrown out of home by parents who rejected him for being gay.

Layla Moran talks about this is as Honorary President of LGBT+ Lib Dems:

And interim co-leader Ed Davey looks at how far we have come:

Over on the Lib Dem website, Christine Jardine writes that we need to be aware of these sorts of experiences:

As Liberals we should be aware of the danger of assuming that everybody feels equally respected and protected in the current crisis. These past two months have posed problems for us all that we never thought we would have to face, and demanded strength we did not know that we had.

But we are not there yet.

In striving to reach that moment we would do well to remember the words of US politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.
The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

That is the task we must set ourselves.

Former MEP, now Chair of the Lib Dems Federal People Development Committee tweeted:

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Isolation diary: Making music together

There have been a number of reports of coronavirus spreading rapidly through choirs and other musical groups before lockdown.

On March 10th – during that period when no-one was quite sure how serious the threat was – one choir met for a rehearsal in Washington state. They used hand sanitizer when they arrived and avoided handshakes and hugs. In spite of the precautions 45 of the 60 people who attended developed the virus and two died.

The choir I sing with, Kingston Choral Society, was rehearsing as late as 12th March and, at that time, was still planning to go ahead with a concert on 21st March. I had already dropped out a week or two before, concerned about my vulnerability. By the weekend of 15th March there was enough concern to cancel the final rehearsal and postpone the concert until June. That, of course, was over optimistic and a June concert is not now going to happen. Fortunately my choir does not seem to have been a hotbed of infection.

I had also spotted a curious story on the BBC about two choirs in Yorkshire that, in retrospect, may have suffered from coronavirus back in January, long before the first recorded case in the UK. The two choirs had members in common, and the partner of one member had recently returned from Wuhan, with a hacking cough.

So does that mean that people project droplets more widely when they are singing?

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LDV interviews: Bill Powell on surviving Covid-19, tackling inequality and plans for the future.

It was wonderful to catch up with Bill Powell on Friday. Bill, the former Welsh Assembly member for Mid and West Wales, recently spent 6 weeks in hospital, 3 of them in Intensive Care, after contracting Covid-19.

Our chat was his Zoom debut. Thanks to his friend Ann for making it possible.

Bill  talked about his time in hospital, how he was admitted to ICU within half an hour of arriving and was put in an induced coma. More than two weeks later, he had the disorientating experience of waking up, not knowing what had happened to him. Over the next week in intensive care, he suffered all sorts of dreams and delusions, at one point being convinced that the Queen and Prince Philip had died.

After that, he spent three weeks in rehab regaining his strength before leaving hospital to applause from staff and fellow patients. I had thought that, as everyone on the rehab ward would have had the virus, that they would be able to mix reasonably freely with each other, but Bill explained that it wasn’t like that at all and the people he saw most were the nurses and physiotherapists.

The support of those nurses, physios, occupational therapists and doctors was crucial to getting him well enough to go home. Since returning to his farm in Talgarth, he has given several media interviews expressing his profound gratitude to the teams who saved his life.

It was great to follow his recovery on social media. Once he’d left intensive care, I was first aware of him liking posts and comments on Facebook, and retweeting things. Then he started to comment and, eventually, to post things himself.

He really appreciated the avalanche of messages he received from party members, political opponents and constituents.

However, he is “haunted” by the thousands of people who weren’t as fortunate as he was and  feels an obligation to give something back.

He talked about how the current crisis has exacerbated existing inequalities and how we have to come up with new ways of tackling them.

Welsh Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams came in for particular praise for the calm and competent way she is dealing with the pandemic

There are two ways to catch up on our chat. Paul Walter very kindly uploaded the audio to Soundcloud, and I managed to figure out how to get it from Zoom to YouTube. At the start of the YouTube, it looks like the audio and visual are out of sync but it sorts itself out after a bit.

Below, some photos and news articles chart his path to recovery. 

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Kirsty Williams outshines Williamson with her guidance on Wales school re-opening.

Education spokesperson Layla Moran has often expressed her frustration with the Government for the mess it is making over re-opening schools.

If only there was a sensible Lib Dem Education Secretary.

But wait. There is. In Wales.

Our Kirsty Williams has been giving Gavin Williamson a masterclass in how to set out a comprehensive, detailed plan which keeps people on side and gives them enough time to do what is necessary. It’s the perfect example of competence, clarity and calm.

She said:

As Education Minister, I will make the decisions on how and when more pupils in Wales will return to school. Today I am sharing further information on how those decisions will be reached.

“Nothing would make me happier than seeing our classrooms full again. But I want to be clear that this framework does not – and I will not – set an arbitrary date for when more pupils will return to school. Setting a date before we have more evidence, more confidence and more control over the virus would be the wrong thing to do.

“This will not be one decision but a series of decisions over time increasing, or if need be, decreasing operation. These changes will be complex, with many different considerations. I want the working document to be a stimulus for wider discussion and feedback.

“I am sharing this today to be as transparent as possible. I want everyone to know the extent of the issues related to the next phase.

“When we are ready to move into that next phase, I will ensure that there is enough time for preparation and for staff to carry out any necessary training.”

In drawing up her decision framework, she is consulting with a wide range of stakeholders including unions, teachers and education providers.

Kirsty is being open and transparent about her approach and sets out the basis on which she will make her decisions in the Decision Framework document. 

In its foreword she writes:

This will not be one decision but a series of decisions over time increasing, or if need be, decreasing the operations of schools or other providers.

For example, in allowing time to plan ahead, there are a series of connected decisions. We will work towards the next end-of-cycle review, but I can also guarantee that the ‘next phase’ won’t start midweek; there will be preparation and training time for teachers, and we will work with local authorities to ensure the necessary cleaning and hygiene operations and products are in place.

I can guarantee that an increase in operations will be a phased approach. I do not expect that schools or other education settings across Wales will be open for all learners, from all years, all week, anytime soon.

I am sharing this working document, and framework for decisions, to show the extent of the issues related to the next phase. I want it to be a stimulus for wider discussion and feedback from the education family, including parents and carers, children and young people.

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Isolation diary: Using the box room

My home was built in the 1930s, along with thousands, if not millions, of others. The standard three bed semi has become an icon of suburban life, and can be found outside the town centres of most UK cities.

When new, the homes offered comfortable living within easy reach of countryside and town, and indeed nearly a century later they are still much loved. They were built to high standards and often survived much better than the skimpily built post war housing. Most of them have two double bedrooms and a small room, often referred to as a box room, though commonly used as a single bedroom.

In my case, my house is still just 200 metres inside the Greater London boundary, and beyond that is protected Green Belt, which in my case means farmland, riding stables, travellers sites and a golf course. And yet we can get into London in just 15 minutes from Surbiton Station, which is a couple of miles away.

Did I mention Surbiton? Before we go any further I need to make it clear that although The Good Life was set in Surbiton it wasn’t actually filmed here. But it has cemented the idea that Surbiton – once known as the Queen of the Suburbs – is very upmarket. In fact, Surbiton, and its poorer relation Chessington (where I live), are fairly typical of the outer London commuter belt. These areas are socio-economically and ethnically mixed, with some parts that score quite highly in deprivation indexes.

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Cllr Bridget Smith writes…..Lib Dems are the party of Business

It became apparent some weeks ago that South Cambridgeshire could not rely on the Mayor and the Combined Authority to lead on Business Recovery.  The reason being that South Cambridgeshire is a very rural district albeit wrapping completely around Cambridge City, with an extremely diverse business sector which includes not only the Cambridge Science Park and the world renown Bio Medical campus at Addenbrookes Hospital with the likes of Astra Zeneca but also the Wellcome and Sangar Institutes at Hinxton and the soon to be Huawei headquarters at Sawston. Every bit as important to us is farming, manufacturing, the service industries, tourism and the many thousands of SMEs, sole traders and home workers.  The role of the CA is obviously high level and strategically focused on the whole of the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire area and cannot be refined or nuanced enough to support the village based micro economies which ensures that the 103 villages and 1 new town are truly self-sufficient and sustainable.

When we took control of the council 2 years ago we immediately established Economic Development as one of our top 4 priorities and were in the process of recruiting a Business Support Team when CV struck – which has turned out to be fortuitous. Our original plan was to focus on inward investment, exploiting the potential of our enterprise zones and fulling the SME business support gap left when Business Link ceased to operate. This team will now obviously be focusing on business recovery.

I also recently established the role of Member Champion for Business which Cllr Peter McDonald has excelled at. Peter created a Business Recovery Strategy in the first couple of weeks of the crisis which has been critical for us as the situation has developed.

Economic growth has been more than healthy for the Greater Cambridge area (South Cambs and Cambridge City) and it is currently the government’s focus for their initial investment in the OxCam Arc with the recent announcement of the E-W rail link and the budget plans for 4 new DevCos in and just to the west of the district.

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Working with teachers

Following the COVID-19 crisis, as Liberal Democrats, we have a clear call to action we cannot squander – to ensure that all those that have lost their lives as a result of the pandemic have not done so in vain.  Our action must be to support education, experts and other to express their opinions, to engage in intellectual tussle, and to be trusted to develop systems based on values rather than league tables.

Michael Gove’s Education White Paper in 2010 perhaps sent us a glimmer of a world that was going to go wrong.  Even its title was set to diminish a key component of education.  It was called ‘The Importance of Teaching’.  It was not called ‘The Importance of Teachers’.

Slowly the sector became de-professionalised and inspection regimes became increasingly politicised.  This was all a foreshadow of what was to come across many aspects of government.  Indeed, Richard Horton, the Editor of the Lancet (for 25 years) has been scathing about systematic failures in the government approach to science (at the end of January the Lancet published 5 research papers from the world regarding the potential effects of COVID-19, all of which appear to have been ignored by government).

Yet a future generation of children the world over are inspired by the work they are seeing people do, and their resilience is equally inspiring to all of us currently seeing them cope with being ‘locked down’.  They are being inspired to be experts (doctors, teachers, nurses, those working in logistics and retail).  Inspired to use technology to learn.  Inspired to play.

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