Category Archives: Op-eds

Israel/Palestine in 2021

As 2021 approaches and as Trump prepares for an undignified exit from the White House, can we hope for some positive moves towards a peaceful settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict?  Joe Biden may in due course try to get the peace process going, but nothing much will happen for a few months until yet another Israeli election has taken place in March.

There are also plans for long overdue elections in Palestine which may lead to a power shift to a younger and more credible generation of political leaders.  Even if Netanyahu loses (and all liberal democrats will surely pray for …

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2020 Vision – Chinese Liberal Democrats’ Year in Review

2020 may have been something of a wipe out for many.  It has certainly not been an easy year for Brits coping with the twin impact of Covid 19 (now with the new more contagious strain) and Brexit.

For Chinese Liberal Democrats, we started out the year quite oblivious to what was to come, ushering in the Year of the Rat at the National Liberal Club with our AGM and Chinese New Year celebrations on 30th January.  Dr Yeow Poon, our Chair, was the key note speaker, expounding the relevance of liberal democracy in the world today.

Yet it was not quite an annus horribilis, as colleagues and friends would testify.  Here were some of the highlights:

Covid 19 led to a rise in racism against the Chinese and East Asians in the UK.  A few members of CLD decided to establish CARG (Covid19 Anti Racism Group) to lobby the media against using images of Chinese people whenever there were reports relating to the pandemic.  We also held our first webinar with the Paddy Ashdown on “Covid 19 and Racism” in May with speakers former LibDem Councillor Linda Chung and Parliamentary Candidate Dr George Lee.

CLDs had also supported the Black Lives Matter movement following the tragic killing of African America, George Floyd.

To quote Vice-Chair Cllr Sarah Cheung Johnson:

Racism isn’t just being called names in the street or being followed around a shop because you’re black. It’s being honest that we do not live in an equal society now, in 2020. That 48% of BAME children live in poverty not because of prejudice but because our society is fundamentally, structurally racist. This is absolutely not the same as saying most British people are racist.

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That was the year that was (with apologies to Ms Millicent Martin) – Part 2, COVID

We have been living with the fallout from the 2016 Referendum for more years than many of us would care to admit to. After the General Election last December, many really did think that, followed by our exit from the EU we really had reached the “end of the beginning”. However, who would have thought this time last year that we would have spent most of 2020 hunkering down and ending with probably our largest ever peace time deficit? And for once we were not alone. How we humans have got to where we are exposes several theories. My personal view is that we humans are paying the price for encroaching ever closer to the animal world. Given nature’s shrinking environment it is not surprising that viruses are continuing to cross the species barrier and pose serious threats to our survival. What we have experienced all over the world for most of this year has been war by any other name. Just as two world wars in the space of thirty years witnessed the evolution of the aeroplane from the wood and canvas biplane of 1914 to the all metal jet plane of 1944, so the combined efforts of teams of scientists around the world have produced vaccines in less than twelve months that before had taken years to perfect, and in the case of a vaccine against HIV/AIDS, not at all.

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Lib Dems to vote against Boris Johnson’s “threadbare” EU trade deal

Ed Davey has announced tonight, in news that will surprise few people, that the Liberal Democrats will be opposing Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal because it fails to deliver on the promises the Brexiteers made to the electorate and it makes the country so much worse off.

It’s not about tariffs. The whole point of being in the single market was not to have to bother with bureaucracy and red tape. Businesses who have been watching these ads saying that things are changing on 1st January (but we have no idea how) are going to find out for the first time in almost 30 years what a pain in the backside it is to have to fill in paperwork to trade with our closest neighbours.

We will no doubt be attacked for our stance as we will be told that the alternative is no deal and we’re against that. However this is going to to through tomorrow whether we like it or not given that most Tories and Labour MPs will vote for it. It is entirely consistent with our approach to Brexit.

There was a coherent case to be made for abstention on the grounds that it was at least better than no deal and it puts distance between us and the ultra nationalists both north and south of the border. Having said that, we’ve spent all my political life fighting off accusations of fence-sitting and being wishy-washy so do we really want to just sit on our hands? I’ve seen other people argue well that we should vote in favour, rather than abstain, for the same reason. However I think it is important that the Brexiteers are made to own this. When it all goes wrong, I don’t want them saying “but you voted for it.” We’ve come too far on our internationalist and open values to suddenly become shields for those who have taken us to this place.

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That was the year that was (with apologies to Ms Millicent Martin) – Part 1, Brexit

In his Christmas radio broadcast in 1939, the Queen’s father quoted the poem by Minnie Louise Haskins; “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year; ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’”. The answer came back; ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God’. Now, I have no problem with people putting their faith in the Almighty. Many of us today probably think that our salvation might rest more in our own hands. In many ways, what we have faced in 2020 and what are likely to face in 2021 in the form of a potentially existential threat, is not dissimilar to what my parents faced back in 1940, as my father was preparing to embark with the BEF for France and Belgium, fortunately to return a few months later via Dunkirk. As I wasn’t born until 1943, I’m pretty glad he did! For me and I suppose for many people, two issues dominated 2020 and, as neither has been resolved completely, are set to play a decisive rôle in 2021 as well. I’m sure that you can guess what these ‘issues’ are.

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An outgoing Regional Party President reflects…

As I come to the end of my six years as President of the Party in South East England I have been reflecting on lessons to be learnt from a time that has been particularly significant both for our Country and our Party. When I began we were in Government and as I leave the final arrangements for departing the EU are being confirmed. We have had four leaders during this period.

It has been a tumultuous time dominated by our relationship with the EU. As a committed European I now realise that people like me have to take a lot of responsibility for how the referendum turned out as I adopted the approach like many others of keeping my head down, not offering the strong reasons for remaining and hoping that the issue would go away. It is though worth noting that as the Supreme Court ruled the referendum result was non-binding and twenty nine million people either voted to remain or did not express an opinion. It would nevertheless, because of the way the referendum was presented, have been very difficult immediately after the vote for parliamentarians to reject the outcome.

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The latest peerage announcements are yet more evidence that the system is broken

Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. And, in the case of this government, that means we need to be much more direct in tackling a problem at the heart of our democracy: corruption.

I write not as a conspiracy theorist wearing a tin foil hat, frantically scrolling through obscure online message boards and Facebook groups. My observations are made as a liberal who is fed up of the broken system that governs our country.

The appointment of sixteen more unelected lawmakers to our bloated parliament might be enough to prompt anger, but there’s more. The Prime Minister has brazenly overruled independent advice and given a life peerage to a Conservative party donor.
He’s not just a donor, he’s a man who has given several million to the party and previously had to quit as its treasurer. Boris Johnson has, of course, rightly pointed out that an internal Conservative party investigation found no wrongdoing…

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No, teachers should not be prioritised for Covid 19 vaccinations 

I was surprised yesterday to see a tweet from Layla Moran saying that after talking to local head teachers she thinks teachers should be in the first wave of the vaccine.  Later on I saw that there is a campaign by the NEU
for this and I was surprised when I said on twitter that I disagreed with her, how strong the reaction was.

There are three reasons why I think this is not a good idea.

The first and most important is that I do not believe that the  such a sensitive question as who gets priority for vaccines should be decided by politicians or pressure groups.  The current schedule is the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)an independent group of scientists. We would rightly be outraged if the Government started interfering with their recommendations and this is an area politicians should not get involved with.

The second reason is that logically if you wish to add half a million teachers to the first wave, you are going to have to not give it to some of those who would otherwise get it (given that supplies are currently limited). Those people are there though because either they are in NHS and care jobs who need to keep the NHS running or because they are at high risk. There is a very clear link between age and  mortality which is why as well of course as vulnerable people, the current recommendations are based on age.  The JCVI state that “taken together, these groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19”.   99% is a  very high % so why would we want to vaccinate as a priority teachers who would cause that percentage to fall?

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Lib Dems react to new Covid restrictions and Christmas misery

For the second time in 6 weeks, the prelude to Strictly involved the Prime Minister announcing tougher restrictions to deal with a new strain of Coronavirus which, although no more lethal, can spread up to 70% faster.

Much of London and the South East have been put on a much stricter Tier 4 from midnight tonight and the 5 day Christmas bubble is now no longer allowed. Outside of Tier 4 areas, bubbles will be able to see each other on Christmas Day only – but the advice is very much “only if you have to.”

The thing that struck me most …

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Observations of an expat: A bad year

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2020 has been a bad year. It is certainly the worst I can remember and I have been around for 71 of them.

The main cause is, of course, coronavirus or covid-19. It started in Wuhan, China almost exactly 12 months ago, and as the year draws to a close about two million people worldwide have lost their lives to this deadly virus.

Coronavirus has destroyed lives and livelihoods and although vaccines are now being distributed, it will be some time before the world returns to normal—if ever.

The Chinese were initially slow to respond to the threat. Whether their tardiness was in response to a lack of medical knowledge or political considerations is unclear. It was most likely a combination of the two.

The Chinese appeared to have relatively quickly stopped the spread of the virus; helped partly by long years of experience of pandemics and epidemics and partly as a result of a tightly-controlled society. As a general rule, Asians have fared better than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Most scientists have ascribed their relative success to experience of dealing with similar viruses such as SARS (an earlier form of coronavirus) and Avian bird flu.

Those that have fared better than most were countries who could quickly and efficiently shut their borders to the rest of the world. Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia are four examples, although almost everyone is suffering as winter and covid-fatigue set in.

The worst hit were the countries of the West – Europe and North and South America. There the combined emphasis on individual liberties, lack of experience and knowledge, political ineptitude and an emphasis on wealth over health led to the greatest number of deaths.

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Working class Liberal Democrat

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Across the political board, parties’ memberships remain hugely unrepresentative. We can and must do more to simply reach out to those who we perhaps forget all too easily.

Political turmoils, such as Brexit and the continuing Scottish Independence debate, have not only exposed deep socioeconomic fractures in our society – it has also created some new ones. Identity politics is unfortunately here to stay and with that then comes the strengthening of class politics. It is important to recognise how many people are now priding themselves once again on being labelled working class, in some way, shape or form.

There is rightly so plenty of talk about inclusion within our own party, particularly during the times of the Black Lives Matter movement and recent reviews, which touch on many of these issues, but it seems all too often working-class people or people generally from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are left behind in these reflections.

For me, as a young boy raised in a concrete tower block in a notoriously rough area of Glasgow, I was proudly raised by my single-parent mother in a low-income household, I decided not to go to university and worked several low paid jobs. My family’s history, my own economic uncertainty and social circumstances certainly earned me the label of working-class. It also meant at that time my inherited political party was likely to be Labour, the party that many seemed to accept around me with no questions asked at that time.

Now, I am a dedicated Liberal Democrat member and have been for some time, and I am now comfortable to say I feel at home. But there are times where I somehow feel quite disconnected and alone due to the class that I am inherently tied too.

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Build Back Fairer: the new mantra for now

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This title is about health equity issues, however, not building better houses. Professor Sir Michael Marmot, author of the Marmot Review – Health Equity in England Ten Years On which was published in February this year, has led a follow-up study called Build Back Fairer: The Covid-19 Marmot Review.

The new report highlights how inequalities in social-economic conditions before the pandemic contributed to the high and unequal death toll from Covid-19.

The enduring social and economic inequalities in society mean that the health of the public was threatened before and during the pandemic and will be after. Just as we needed better management of the nation’s health during the pandemic, so we need national attention to the causes of health inequalities.

Professor Marmot is as unflattering here about the present state of affairs as he was in his ten-year report. He writes, “Poor management of the pandemic was of a piece with England’s health improvement falling behind that with other rich countries in the decade since 2010”. That, he recalled, was for several reasons including that “the quality of governance and political culture did not give priority to the conditions for good health”, that there was increasing inequality in economic and social conditions, a rise in poverty among families with children, plus a policy of austerity and consequent cuts to funding of public services.

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How many people will miss the vaccine because they don’t have a GP?

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I am looking forward to having the Covid-19 vaccine. Well, not the actual act of having a jab in my arm (twice), but because it will open up my life. Apart from a short window in the summer, we have not had any social visits in our home since March and we still only leave the house for walks or for medical reasons.

We can both be confident that we will be called in for the vaccine at some point in the New Year. But it appears that an unknown number of eligible people may be missed. Thousands of people in the UK are not registered with a GP. We can only speculate on the reasons why anyone may not be registered – it could be down to something simple like moving house, or it could be something more complex around immigration irregularities, even because someone is the victim of trafficking.

To be effective, as many people as possible should be vaccinated, whatever their immigration status. So surely the NHS needs to know how many people in the country are not registered, so they can be traced and contacted?

Munira Wilson asked Health Minister Jo Churchill how many people are not registered in England, and was told “No such estimate has been made.” In other words, they don’t know.

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New Year’s Resolution – Support the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons

Liberal Democrats should have the chance, at Spring Conference 2021, to vote to uphold the international rule of law and take a stand with the many countries who have signed and ratified the UN Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. We should adopt a policy of support for the Treaty.

We have a choice to continue to align with the Conservatives and Labour, who will not support the Treaty, or to recognise that 21st century security depends on international cooperation and the rule of international law. We should recognise that resources and political energy should be spent on fighting climate change and inequality – not on modernising weapons of mass destruction. We should spend resources instead on conventional forces that can play an important role in peace keeping.

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Citizens Britain: a radical agenda for the 2020s

On Saturday, the anniversary of last year’s disastrous General Election, we published a new report. Citizens’ Britain is the follow up to our previous collaboration, Winning for Britain, which was the first data-rich review of 2019. That earlier report concluded with the challenge of identifying “a distinct, progressive, liberal alternative”. Citizens’ Britain, a country where every voice is heard, and where we work together to solve the problems we face, is that alternative.

We must be honest with ourselves: liberalism itself is now under threat in this country. A year on from the General Election, the Conservative government’s approach to the pandemic and Brexit is endangering lives and livelihoods. Since his re-election, Boris Johnson and those around him have enabled nationalism and right-wing conservatism while also stifling progressive voices and ripping up the liberal institutions and frameworks that underpin our daily lives.

The mandate that Johnson and his cronies are claiming for this is rooted in a myth. The myth says people are uninterested in politics and just want government to get on with running things while they are left alone to get on with their lives. The Tories, to be clear, believe that Brexit and the hoarding of power in the central executive, at the expense of parliament, the devolved administrations, and local government, is no more than a response to the popular demand for government to ‘just get on with it’. To the extent that their governing philosophy extends beyond that, it is to say only that people should occasionally be called upon to use their consumer power to boost the economy.

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Civilised disagreement – a target for 2021?

Some while ago, I was taken to task on this site for declaring that people had been the victims of conmen before and after the 2016 referendum. Apparently this was highly insulting to leavers although I was trying to emphasise the pain that goes with being lied to deliberately and made to feel stupid. It was a generalised statement and I can’t ever remember saying to an individual “You’ve been taken for a ride.”

In my own council ward two-thirds of the referendum voters opted for Vote Leave. This does not mean we treat them with contempt nor vice versa. The voters at local elections carried on voting for us. Some of them actually said explicitly that they disagreed with us about the EU but they supported us for other reasons.

As we move into the economic pain that is inevitable in 2021, the last thing on our lips should be “We told you so.” There will be those who will continue to see the EU as the source of all their woes but since there are now Conservative MPs who realise that they were sold a dud in the election of a party leader there will be ordinary voters who will sooner or later come to the same conclusion.

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EU Trade Deal: there are no good options left

European and British flags.

I hate 13th December. I really, really do.

On this day in 1984, my Grandma died, way too soon, at the age of 64. I still miss her.

And last year, in the early hours, any hope of avoiding Brexit evaporated as Boris Johnson got a majority that could have enabled him to govern with more wisdom and flexibility from the constraints of the reckless extremes of his party. He chose not to take that chance.

On top of it all, we lost Jo. I’m still not over that. She remains one of the most exceptionally talented people I have ever known. She’s proof that the best people don’t always win in politics.

An election once Jo had had the time to establish herself would, I suspect, have had a very different result.

We are where we are though. And it isn’t fun. 2020 has not excelled itself. A couple of bright spots – the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to be confirmed by the Electoral College tomorrow, the development of effective vaccines against Covid have not lifted the gloom by much.

Now the dreaded 13th December is the day we enter the final stage of the Brexit drama.

Whatever emerges from the EU negotiations over the next hours is going to be far from good. We’re looking at a catastrophic no deal or a damaging fig leaf of a deal that will hurt our businesses and cost people their jobs and homes. Let’s be clear. The Government is choosing this path. It had better options open to it. When we were gripped in the first wave of Covid, they could have done the responsible thing and requested an extension to the transition period. We’d have voted for it, so would the SNP. Labour probably would and the EU would almost certainly have granted it. The more excitable ERG types on the Conservative benches would have made a lot of noise, but we would have bought ourselves some time and stability.

I’ve always thought that the Brexit agenda was mostly about turning our economy into a low regulation, rights-free zone. This is why they are so resistant to any future improvements in things like environmental standards or workers’ rights. They dress it up as sovereignty, but it’s an oligarch’s charter really.

They manipulated people’s feeling of powerlessness with false promises of taking back control. The truth is that those people at the sharp end, the lowest paid and most vulnerable, will have less control than they had before.

There should be no problem with accepting the EU’s reasonable level playing field requirement in the trade deal. I doubt that there will be any major changes within the next few years anyway. These things take time to get through and would take even longer to actually come into force. If there were any changes, we could debate them and decide whether to accept them or take the consequences.

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Munira Wilson leads parliamentary debate on Excluded

It’s a year today since Munira Wilson was elected as MP for Twickenham. Since then, she has held one of the most stressful roles, as Health Spokesperson, holding the Government to account for its often reckless and chaotic handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like all other MPs, though, she will have a lot of casework from people who have had the financial rug pulled from under them – owners of small businesses whose activities have been curtailed or stopped altogether during the pandemic. People who run events companies, creative industry freelancers such as make-up artists are just some examples of those who simply have had no income and no support since March. Then they were struggling. Now they are desperate.

Lib Dems have led the fight for support for this group. Jamie Stone set up an all-Party Parliamentary Group and our MPs have repeatedly pressed the Government  to do more.

This week, Munira led a parliamentary debate to highlight the plight of those 3 million people who have been excluded from the Government’s support schemes:

You can read the whole debate here.

In her opening speech, Munira highlighted the impact the Government’s failure to provide support has had:

There has, at times, been a suggestion that some of the excluded are highly paid and dodging tax in some way, especially those paid via dividends. My constituent, Fraser Wilkin, who runs a travel company in Twickenham, pays himself by dividends because of the huge fluctuation in annual income due to events outside his control, such as the coronavirus. If he had drawn a regular salary through the year, he would have been unable to fulfil his statutory and contractual obligations to his clients, in terms of prompt refunds when their holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Universal credit is cited as the fall-back. A survey of more than 3,000 individuals found that almost three quarters were unable to access universal credit. Let us face it: we all know that universal credit is not meaningful support. Otherwise, the Government would not have felt the need to create the furlough scheme or the self-employed income support scheme.

We know that the mental health impacts on many of those excluded from support have been stark. There have already been eight reported suicides, and one respondent to the House of Commons digital engagement team said that she almost took her life several times, and one week spent every day in contact with the Samaritans.

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Observations of an expat: Looking foolish

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Everyone hates to look foolish. To avoid this hugely embarrassing peril they will often go to great lengths ranging from self-deception to conspiracy theories to lies.

And the greater the personal investment in an untenable position the more difficult it is for the investor to change direction and face the chorus of “I told you so’s.”

Two of the most prominent examples of this foolishness are Brexit and Donald Trump. Millions of intelligent Americans have invested their political heart and soul in the Cult of Trump. They cannot comprehend the possibility of his losing the November presidential election. Therefore, their leader must be the victim of a massive fraud.

The numerous election officials – Republican and Democrat – who consistently maintain that the vote was the fairest in American history are evil participants in a Deep State conspiracy. They are in an unholy league with the courts that have repeatedly dismissed the Trump campaign claims of election chicanery.

The fact-filled brick wall that Trump supporters have bumped up against has led some of them to call for dangerously extreme measures. Pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has, for instance, called on President Trump to suspend the constitution, cancel the election result, declare martial law and then use the military to oversee fresh elections.

Britain’s Brexiteers are faring equally badly, although in a different way.

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Why Holyrood 2021 has me (SN)Paranoid

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It’s approaching that time again, another four years have past and another government will be voted in. Next year Scotland will be holding the Scottish Parliament election in May.

As an activist and a proud political geek, I should be excited and ready to campaign till I’m blue in the face. But unfortunately that isn’t the case. On December 2nd Ipsos Mori published the latest polls, predicting the estimated results of the election. From a first glance, it’s hard to feel worried about the potential landslide form the Scottish National Party. At current the polls show the SNP set to earn 55% (in constituencies) of the vote (-3 when compared to early in October) and a clear majority government. However, you should never trust fully in election polls, they can go from 100% to completely and utterly wrong, and anything in-between.

The SNP first came to power in 2007 and have been in government for 13 years. This hasn’t been the 13 years of a “stronger for Scotland” government they have promised. Just broken promises, public lies and scandals that make you really question if they have the welfare of Scottish people at heart.

Since 2007 the SNP have lead a full frontal siege against our vital services. Scotland’s young people are stuck waiting nearly a year for mental health support, our councils are being cut to the point of near collapse under the strain of keeping things running, our industrial pillars such as the Caley rail yard in Springburn and Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) are being ignored and left to go to ruin, our education system has went from one of the top ranking education systems in the world to average level, they’ve promised full support to fix the climate emergency then do a complete U-turn, and they fully support the oil industries who are scarring our countrysides and seas (fully backed by the Scottish Greens as well) – the list could go on but the article would be an essay if I was to mention every time the SNP have failed the people of Scotland.

Looking at this it all seems doom and gloom, especially when the Scottish Lib Dems are sitting at 6% (+2% since October) in the polls, but we need to  take the positives and learn lessons from the victories we’re achieving and the progress we are making. Our Willie Rennie and the rest of our fantastic MSP team have appeared more and more in the headlines of newspapers, news segments and on the TV, asking all the tough questions. Now Councillor Liz Barrett went from 3rd place to winning the seat of Perth City south, beating the SNP and the Conservatives as well. In last year’s General Election we managed to get now MP Wendy Chamberlain elected in North East Fife, cementing our grip on the area in both Holyrood and Westminster.

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A longer read: Women born between 1954 and 1960 lose up to £40,000 each

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From October 6th anyone born after 5th October 1954 will have a state pension age of 66 – for some women this is six years later than they were originally promised.

The 1995 Pensions Act intended raising the age of eligibility to the State Pension for women to 65 over a ten-year period between 2010 and 2020. The 2011 Pension Act accelerated this and raised the age to 66 for both men (previously 65) and women.

Women born in the 1950s might have spent half their working lives paying National Insurance in the knowledge they would get their State Pension at 60 years of age and may now get up to £40,000 less than they knew to be their entitlement.  There is evidence of women retiring only to discover they will not get their State Pension. Even some people closely involved with older people and pensions were unaware of the precise timetable as so little publicity was given to it.

The “Back to 60” campaign lost its appeal in the High Court, in October, but “Women Against State Pension Inequality” continue their campaign. These women have a very real grievance and yet appear to be being brushed aside. Both LibDems and Labour had it in their manifestos to do something about it. And former Pensions Minister, Baroness Ros Altmann would appear to support some compensation on grounds of maladministration as these women were not written to personally in either 1995 or 2011.

More than 1million female workers have no savings or private pension provision, of which 43% have less than £100 saved. Two million people over 75 live alone, of which 1.5 million are women.

There are 1.9m older people living in poverty in Britain today many of whom were forced into retirement and condemned to spending the rest of their lives in poverty. Britain has one of the lowest State Pensions in the developed world at just 29% of average earnings with the official definition of poverty being anything less than 60% of median household income. Britain’s 29% compares with 100.6% in Holland, 94.9% in Portugal, 93.9% in Italy, 91.8% in Austria, and 81.8% in Spain.

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A Europe policy for the Scottish elections: a humble suggestion

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I must begin with a disclaimer. I am not Scottish, I have no Scottish blood that I know of, and I have never lived in Scotland (the “Mc” in my surname is Irish, courtesy of a great-grandfather who left Galway in the Potato Famine and ended up in the Metropolitan Police). But I love Scotland. As a Lib Dem I campaigned in the 2014 referendum for Scotland to remain in the UK, and today I am as devastated as any Scot that we are leaving the European Union.

That certainly gives me no right to make any suggestion about what the people of Scotland should do at this juncture, so I float the following with due humility. It is an idea; it is not thought-through. If it is worth thinking about, there will be much devil and much detail to be grasped before it can be developed into a policy, but I throw it open for discussion in the party, north and south of the border.  Here goes.

In next year’s Scottish elections, we should campaign for Scotland to have the same status in the UK as Northern Ireland will have from 1 January 2021. It would mean Scotland remaining in the Single Market and having the same customs status as NI.

It would have the following advantages:

  • it would be democratic (giving at least some weight to the Scottish vote in 2016 to remain in the EU);
  • it would also respect the 2014 Scottish referendum decision to remain in the UK;
  • it would end the new invisible border in the Irish Sea between NI and Scotland (although leaving it in place for England and Wales).
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Reform the House of Lords

With Britain battling both a pandemic and an economic crisis, and bracing itself for the chaos of a no or thin deal Brexit, introducing the idea of Lords reform sounds, at best, out of touch, and, at worst, misguided.

Recent events however suggest that we can no longer afford to ignore it.

First was Lord Kilclooney’s offensive tweet referring to Kamala Harris as “the Indian”. It was enough that it was racist and misogynistic. Pretending that he simply could not remember her name when a Google search would have revealed it in less time than it took for him to write the tweet tells us that it was a calculated move. We already know that black and Asian political candidates face the brunt of online abuse. In July this year Dawn Butler MP closed her constituency office in part because of bricks thrown through the windows, and threats against her and her staff. In this context, the impact of the tweet is a chilling effect on democratic engagement: you are not welcome. The Commissioner for Standards has proved incapable of enforcing any behavioural standard, with Lucy Scott-Moncrieff responding to News Letter on 12th November 2020 that “n this instance, Lord Kilclooney’s conduct on Twitter does not fall within the scope of the Code and it is outside my power to investigate”.

Second was the Conservative peer David Freud’s involvement with five Conservative MPs in a letter to senior judges seeking to influence the decision of Mrs Justice Whipple, the judge tasked with ruling on whether the references made in Charlie Elphicke’s criminal trial could be made public. The secretary to the Lord Chief Justice, the head of the judiciary in England and Wales, responded that it was improper to “seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary”. The matter has been referred to the Commissioner for Standards by Helen Hayes MP.

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What can the Lib Dems learn from the Tories digital campaigning?

During last year’s election, I took a brief secondment from my usual role to join the team at the political consultancy Datapraxis – this is where the relationship started that resulted in the Winning For Britain report I co-authored with Ian Kearns earlier this year, and that I know many in the party have found useful.

Another of the organisations I got to know during that time was Valent Projects and in particular its Director, Amil Khan. An investigative journalist and social media strategist, Amil was digging into what the Conservative Party was doing online – and what he was finding was fascinating, in two ways. First, there was some seriously questionable activity going on, which will surprise very few people. More importantly, though, they were using digital in some very different – and very smart – ways.

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Elective dictatorship

You may hope – with Trump on his way out – that his UK protégé may have given up the tricks of the Trump playbook. However, take a look behind the Brexit and Covid headlines this week, and you will get a glimpse of some devious destruction of our constitutional conventions.

In his Dimbleby Lecture of October 1976 former Lord Chancellor Viscount Hailsham – a true Tory if ever there was one – warned against Britain’s slide towards “elective dictatorship”.

With the recent publication of a draft Bill to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, his illustration of the power which then …

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International Human Rights Day

Today is a day for celebration and reflection. As we celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the United Nations proclamation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we can reflect on all that has been achieved and all that remains to be worked on.

When the UN general assembly first voted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UK delegation expressed frustration that the proposal included moral obligations but lacked legal force. It was not until 1976 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights that the majority of the articles in the Declaration gained legal weight.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world, having been translated into 523 different languages. It has been instrumental in influencing International and domestic laws across the globe, including the fourth Geneva convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.

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Racism in football still hasn’t been kicked out

It’s been 27 years since the establishment of Kick It Out, English football’s equality and inclusion organisation, which works with the football, education and community sectors to challenge discrimination and encourage inclusive practices.

Sadly, racism, abuse and discrimination are still rife in society, but the very nature of chanting in football stadiums makes some believe it is a licence to hurl insults at team players.

On Saturday 5 December 2020, at a Millwall home match against Derby County, some of the 2,000 fans booed players who “took the knee” before the start of the game. Although players, officials and staff at Premier League and English Football League games have been taking the knee before games since June, Saturday’s match was the first to host fans since the second lockdown was lifted. Boos were also heard amongst the 1,000 fans in the JobServe Community Stadium, Colchester, prior to the match between Colchester United and Grimsby Town.

Although Millwall’s supporters’ club claimed that the motives behind the booing were not racist, no other explanation was given as to what the motive was. As Kick It Out Chairman, Sanjay Bhandari said, “Racists rarely admit they are racists — they try to hide their backlash under a seemingly respectable cloak.”

On Monday 30 November, BBC One aired the documentary Anton Ferdinand: Football, Racism and Me, in which the now retired Queens Park Rangers’ footballer spoke about the constant racial abuse that he suffered, including an on-pitch incident in 2011 in which Chelsea player, John Terry, used racially abusive language. Terry was eventually found guilty, fined £220,0000 and banned for just four matches by the FA. Ferdinand also received bullets in the post and missiles were thrown at this mothers’ house.

A House of Lords’ Library Briefing earlier this year (Racism in Football: Tackling Abusive Behaviour) showed that there has been an increase in the number of racist incidents reported in professional and grassroots football in recent years.

According to the Public Order Act 1986, a person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

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Why should we have to move?

“Why should we have to move everywhere and everything because of him?”

That question is on the front of Change, Justice, Fairness, a Scottish Women’s Aid community research project into homelessness caused by domestic abuse in Fife.

Too often, the trauma suffered by victims of domestic abuse is exacerbated when they are forced to leave their homes, often with their children. It is not acceptable that they should be forced into this situation.

It is unlikely that the event that led to them seeking help was the first incident. Safe Lives suggest that someone will endure 50 incidents of abuse or violence before getting effective help.

So you have very vulnerable, traumatised individuals, the vast majority of whom are women, having to declare themselves as homeless. That means that they are put in temporary accommodation, perhaps for short periods into bed and breakfast accommodation with no cooking facilities, where they don’t have the comfort of having their own things around them, the children don’t have their toys. They are perhaps in an unfamiliar area away from their support networks. They could get moved at any time to different temporary accommodation. That instability and insecurity piling even more distress on to them.

Those who aren’t married and aren’t named on the tenancy face a lengthy and complicated battle to gain occupancy rights if they wish to stay in their home.

The process of transferring a tenancy can also take time, during which the victim can be homeless. This needs to be sorted with greater speed. The Scottish Government needs to produce guidance that strengthens the rights of the victim to prevent them going down the stressful homeless route.

This is why I persuaded the Scottish Liberal Democrats to pass policy calling for better support for housing for victims of domestic abuse. In a very moving debate, members shared their own experiences.

We call on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that they have the right to stay in their own home if they wish to do so. If they are to be moved, that should be done in a planned way. We recognise that the statutory homeless route is not appropriate for families who are suffering the effects of abuse.

I was surprised to learn that not all social housing providers have stand alone domestic abuse policies so we call on housing associations to do more to support people in this situation

The Women’s Aid research identified serious flaws in the way victims were treated. Women described how they had to talk about what had happened to them in an open plan office.

A third of the staff who dealt with disclosures of abuse said that they had not had any training.

Particularly troubling was the fact that the majority of service providers didn’t have any idea that the moment of leaving an abusive partner was the most dangerous for the victim.

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Thinking about both sides of the letterbox

I was born in the same year as Donald Trump and Dolly Parton. No problems deciding which is one of my favourite Americans! Actually I was born on exactly the same day as the late Freddie Mercury (infinitely more Dolly than Donald). Do the sums and you will realise that I was surprised to find myself an endangered species – sorry, vulnerable category, when the virus came knocking on too many doors.

My colleagues were quite firm as to what I should and should not do. I consider myself pretty fit for my years, which is mainly due to delivering a few thousand Focus leaflets, or some other pieces of paper, every time we go to press. My legs do not take kindly to an absence of walking the streets but by temperament I am not into exercise for its own sake.

So after a few weeks of little more than telephoning constituents to see how they were faring, online casework and zoom meetings, I was very happy to join in our Ward Audit programme. I went out most days, without speaking to a soul, but peering down gullies, taking pictures of fly-tipping and noting faded road markings.

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How should Liberal Democrat MPs vote on any trade deal? Irina von Wiese and Humphrey Hawksley set out the options

We acknowledge the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party is not big enough to impact the vote on any Brexit deal and believe abstention is not an option. It would be seen as weak and give rise to attack from all sides. We do have opposing views on what the Yes or No vote should be, but we do have opposing views on what that vote should be. With whom do you agree?

Irina

Anything but a vote against would be a betrayal of our most loyal base and our core values.

Most vote for us because of our unapologetically pro-EU stance. This is the only thing that still distinguishes us from Labour. Voters remember backbones – Paddy Ashdown and Kosovo, Charles Kennedy and Iraq – and punish cave-ins – Nick Clegg and tuition fees. Only a vote against a Tory Brexit deal will show that we stand by our principles. We cannot endorse any form of Brexit.

A shambolic trade deal is not the ‘will of the people’.

We accept that a majority of people voted to leave the EU, but they never voted to leave the Single Market and Customs Union. Faced with the current situation, only 38% still think Brexit is a good idea. Whatever is agreed now will fall a long way short and cannot deliver what was promised in 2016.

A vote against ‘the deal’ is not a vote for ‘no deal’.

It is difficult to judge whether any deal short of a customs union will prove ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than no deal (WTO terms with the possibility for a trade deal in the future). Economically, a deal may mitigate the worst Brexit fallout but politically, it could be spun by Johnson’s propaganda machine as huge success and help him stay in power. ‘Whatever the verdict, given the Tory majority in the Commons, a LibDem vote against a deal will not bring about a ‘no deal’ result.

This vote is about standing by our principles. NO deal can be as good as the deal we had as full members of the EU. Now is not the time to give up on our principles, and our hopes for an eventual return to full membership.

Humphrey

Just about every British institution — parliament, the courts, the police and two general elections – has tested Brexit and it is happening. The Lib Dems have courageously opposed it and, yes, it is a bad thing. But the democratic process, which this Party signs up to, has delivered it.

A Brexit agreement represents far more than just more Tory lies and stitch up. Far more is at stake than bickering domestic party politics. Its impact is global. An agreement will be intricate and detailed. Twenty-seven other countries, whom we count among our allies, see it as the best way forward. A yes vote will be a vote for them, showing that we support limiting the damage that Brexit will cause to European lives, and that we support ensuring things can continue as well as can be in a bad situation.

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