Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry write: The Independent Group and the Lib Dems working together is grown up politics

Today one of The Independent Group of MPs (TIG), Anna Soubry, will be speaking at a fringe event organised by IPPR North at the Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference.  Inevitably, the Westminster village will ask why and speculate as to what this means.  But outside of Westminster, the idea that people who share similar values and have common views on things should work together is not news, its common sense.

There is no doubt that our politics is broken and needs fundamental change. We have a Government and an Official Opposition who are deeply divided, have failed to provide coherent leadership and to discharge their duties with the competence the British public are entitled to expect.  All public opinion research shows millions of politically homeless people are crying out for an alternative and something new – we left the main parties to create one.

A key facet of the culture of TIG is that we are non tribal – we share the same progressive values but we hail from different political traditions.  The fact people come from different political backgrounds should not preclude anyone working with others where there is agreement.  It is this belief that paved the way for the formation of our group and it is precisely why we had all worked with Liberal Democrat MPs long before our group formed on a number of issues, especially on Brexit, and will continue to do so. This is made easier by the fact that, unlike the main parties, the Lib Dems have not been taken over by parties within parties promoting the extremes of left or right.

In this sense, it should come as no surprise that at this time – when Brexit is the dominant issue facing our nation – our Brexit spokesperson should be speaking on a platform with Jo Swinson, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats. We were delighted to have the full support of all Lib Dem MPs for Sarah Wollaston’s cross party Peoples Vote amendment which was voted on in the House of Commons last night.

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14 March 2019 – yesterday’s press releases

It’s another trying day, with the ghastly news from New Zealand overnight, and one does despair at the ability of human beings to do inhuman things, but politics rolls inevitably onwards. So, here are yesterday’s releases…

Lib Dems: Short prison sentences for knives don’t work

Responding to the figures showing the number of crimes related to knives and other offensive weapons dealt with by the courts has reached a nine year high, Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse:

Both the Justice Secretary and the Prisons Minister have admitted that short prison sentences don’t work and actually increase the risk of re-offending. So why

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Observations of an ex pat: A sad tale

Once upon a time there was a venerated institution in the not so distant land of Great Britain called parliament. In fact, it was called “The Mother of Parliaments” as countries around the world emulated its structures and system of representative democratic government.

Parliament became the legal and political platform on which the largest empire in the history of the world was built. Its members were respected and their opinions were sought in world councils.

But times change. The empire sank below the waves.  If Britain was going to continue to prosper and retain political power than it needed to increase its voice by joining it with others—the European Union.

This made sense to many Brits, but not all.  Some thought in terms of pragmatic economies of scale. Others felt with hearts which yearned for an imperial past and bridled at the thought of being told the size of their beer mugs by Brussels Eurocrats.

In a 1975 referendum “the metropolitan elite” (as they were later called) won the argument and Britain joined the Common Market.  Thus began one of the most prosperous and stable phases of British history. Then Europe began to change. Other members wanted political as well as economic union and the Common Market morphed into the European Union with the reluctant agreement of successive British governments.

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Why there will be no Kemp4Prez stickers at Conference

A reasonable number of people will know that before Christmas I was asking them about whether or not I should stand for the Party Presidency when it comes up for election later. A smaller number know that as a result of those discussions I have decided after Christmas that I will indeed be a candidate.

However, whilst I am not keeping it a secret, I am not yet starting a proper campaign. I am not acting this way because of indolence. In my 52 years in the Party I have never left an election to chance or thought that I would breeze in. The reason I am not doing anything yet is because I believe that there are three things even more important than filling this important post.

The first and most obvious one is that we either have to resolve not to leave Europe or work out how to deal with the consequences of having left. Of course, this all might have changed in the interval between you reading this and me writing it! Brexit will cast a long shadow over both our Country and politicians because of he way that it has been handled. Well done our First 11 for the splendid way they have thought and acted and our second 100 in the Lords have acted superlatively well but we will all have much to do in the coming few weeks and months whatever happens.

Secondly, we have the English local elections coming up on 2nd May and nothing but nothing should distract us from maximising our vote and maximising our number of councillors. This should be a national election and I would appeal to Scottish, Welsh and London colleagues to support campaigning near to you as you have no elections yourselves. Nothing will put us in a better position in the media than more councillors. Nothing will enhance our position with the “Independent Group” than us having even more bottoms on seats in Council Chambers.

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Lord Steel’s membership suspended over evidence to child abuse inquiry

Late last night, former Liberal leader David Steel’s membership was suspended by the Scottish Liberal Democrats last night pending an investigation into the evidence he gave to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Scottish Party said:

Following the evidence concerning Cyril Smith given by Lord Steel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on 13th March 2019 the office bearers of the Scottish Liberal Democrats have met and agreed that an investigation is needed.

The party membership of Lord Steel has been suspended pending the outcome of that investigation. That work will now commence.

It is important that everyone in the party, and in wider society, understands the importance of vigilance and safeguarding to protect people from abuse, and that everyone has confidence in the seriousness with which we take it.

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Breaking…Vince to step down in May

Sir Vince said he was announcing his departure now to pave the way for a leadership contest so a 12-week leadership contest can begin in May.

‘I wanted to set it out so that there’s an orderly process of succession and the next generation can come through rather than chaotic power struggles you’re seeing inside the Tory party and Labour party so I wanted us to do better than that,’ he said.

His decision to step down will mean he is able to spend more time with his family, he said, adding: ‘My wife Rachel has been very supportive and doesn’t mind me doing it and has come round the country with me, but she would like to spend more time with me. I think she will see it as a bonus that she sees me more.’

He added: ‘I’ll be continuing as an MP. I want to get back to writing books again in my spare time.’

Sir Vince said he was planning a follow-up to his political thriller Open Arms which was published in 2017, and a non-fiction book about politicians who have changed the way we look at economics, from the US founding father Alexander Hamilton to Margaret Thatcher.

 

Party members got an email at the exact same moment the tweet was posted.

This has been a dramatic week in Parliament with Theresa May’s Brexit proposals heavily defeated, and a very clear statement that a ‘no deal’ Brexit must be avoided. It is now clear that Brexit will be postponed, and very possibly stopped.

The future is very uncertain but despite Labour’s continued prevarication, there is still a real chance of securing a People’s Vote and, indeed, of stopping Brexit.

The fact that these possibilities are still alive is a great tribute to our Party. Unlike the Tories and Labour, we never saw it as our duty to ‘deliver Brexit’.

The tribute is primarily to you as members, for marching and campaigning so energetically. Thank you for securing the progress we have made.

I indicated last year that once the Brexit story had moved on, and we had fought this year’s crucial local elections in 9,000 seats across England, it would be time for me to make way for a new generation. I set considerable store by having an orderly, business-like, succession unlike the power struggles in the other parties.

So I wanted you, our members, to know that, assuming Parliament does not collapse into an early General Election, I will ask the party to begin a leadership contest in May.

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Open up the Leadership and relax the rules

The current political climate, with the two main political Parties further apart in their ideologies and policies than they have been for many years, together with the division engendered by Brexit, afford a great opportunity for the party to reinvigorate its place and image with the electorate.

To date, the Party has not persuaded the electorate that its Liberal values and principles make it their natural political home. Supporting Remain has not delivered a magical formula. The spectre of a new independent party should be a wake-up call to all Liberal Democrats.

The Party is too often seen as excluded from the battleground of British politics, not a vibrant and existing choice for disillusioned voters. The Party presents as a monochrome image of middle England. Labour is the party that has captured the passion of the youth vote. Local parties run as retirement pastimes or as an alternative to the allotment, will not make the Liberal Democrats the voice for the centre ground voter.

I agree with the proposals to open up membership and the leadership of the Party. At a recent International Women’s Day event Liberal Democrat peer, Floella Benjamin, made the point that no one group of people have a preserve over politics and that it is for everyone. Opening the pool of persons eligible to stand as Leader gives the Party the best chance of attracting a potentially exceptional leader. We need to focus on persons who can ignite Liberal democracy in the mindset of voters.

Love or loathe his politics, Nigel Farage has managed to secure a prominence and influence on the political landscape which any Lib Dem politician would die for. Vibrant and in-touch leadership is crucial. Gina Miller is an example of the type of leader the Party needs in the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and diverse society that the UK in the 21st century has become. We need to be led by a leader who mirrors our society as it is today and one who can send the message of inclusivity that is at our core; one who can bestride the global stage with true credibility to propel the Party to a position akin to Justin Trudeau of the Canadian Liberal Party.

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Let us Celebrate European Democracy!

The European elections on May 26 are primarily seen as a problem best avoided for Britain on its way out, and an untimely complication for a people’s vote to remain. Even Remainers are surprisingly shy about them. Conventional wisdom says that the UK must first sort its membership question before a possible participation in these elections should be considered. I am arguing for the exact opposite.

A passionately fought election campaign for the UK seats in the European Parliament would be the meaningful People’s Vote. It would force the British public to have an overdue debate at a moment when public knowledge, interest, and passions are at a historic peak. It could divert the hitherto unproductive debate from in/out of the caricature of an organization to the question: in which direction and with which allies do we want our MEPs to push the EU?

For the first time, EU-minded candidates can make their case for remain and reform in a manner that will be noticed; pro-EU voters will, for the first time, see the purpose of the institutions, and the importance of sending constructive contributors as their MEPs. These candidates will surely compete against a full UKIP-field, which will struggle much more than in the past to promote its destructive agenda. Their old claims have been substantially debunked, and their old advantage from asymmetric mobilization should be gone. Besides, with the membership question still open at that point, sending Europhobes to the European Parliament makes little sense: if the UK remains, rebuilding relationships in Brussels and other capitals must be the UK’s top priority; otherwise, British MEPs serve no further purpose.

The Conservatives would be very hard pressed to field candidates and campaign. How shall they position themselves? Fielding UKIP-clones makes little sense and would be unlikely to succeed. But how would they campaign “positively, just in case”?

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1 Supporters’ Scheme 2. ?? 3. Profit!

Conference this weekend is due to vote on Vince Cable’s proposed expansion of both the electorate and potential pool of candidates for Lib Dem leadership contests (in case anyone hadn’t noticed already from the parade of leadership-supportive articles on LDV so far this week). I call it that, rather than a supporter’s scheme, because I think that is the real heart of what is controversial about what is proposed.

Thus far, criticism of Vince’s proposal has centred around entryism, and I have to say I share those concerns, despite the assurances that these concerns have been addressed. We must assume that bad faith actors will target our weakest defences, not our strongest, so for HQ to say that our new electorate for leaders would be screened by bank card checks, and then mutter under its breath “unless they claim not to have a bank card, in which case they just need to prove that they have a postal address” seems naïve to me.

Of course, we are told, if people are found to be acting in bad faith, they can be chucked out. All we need is for our bad faith entryists to a) publicly announce that they are dodgy and b) be noticed by (*checks notes*) our army of HQ staff with free time to comb Twitter for Labour and Tory trolls.

But I’d like to look at this from a different angle. Nakedly self-interested it may be, but my question is: what is the benefit of this supporter’s scheme supposed to be for the party?

Proponents tell us that, even if these supporters aren’t obliged to give the party money to join, we may still benefit from them as new recruits to our army of deliverers, tellers, door-knockers etc. They might even donate to the party in the fullness of time. Sounds great, but any local party worth its salt is already running a mailing list and offering opportunities to get stuck in helping the party. They are, to all intents and purposes, running supporters schemes. Centralising these schemes so that HQ can run them instead achieves what, exactly?

“Ah yes”, proponents say, “but not everyone has a local party worth its salt”. Quite so, but people in black-hole areas who want to deliver or canvass will find themselves distinctly underwhelmed by the incapacity of their local party to take them up on the offer. If they don’t even want to call themselves a party member, the chance that they are going to want to jump straight into a leadership role in campaigning seems, to me, a stretch.

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Opportunities for fundraisers and administrators

News of volunteering opportunities in fundraising, employment, IT and partnership building from our friends at the Federal Finance and Resources Committee

A NEW ROLE FOR SUPER-FUNDRAISERS: THE TREASURER’S AMBASSADOR 

The party must prioritise fundraising to ensure we can make a powerful electoral impact, creating a level playing field with other parties. The Federal Treasurer, Lord (Mike) German, is keen to bring in the professional fundraising expertise which we know some members have and are able to offer on a flexible volunteer basis.

We’re seeking a small number of skilled and practised fundraisers who are confident with major donor relationship-management and raising five-figure sums.  Mike will lead and advise, agreeing discussion with you where and how best you can help, but the thrust of the role will be working across your local area to suggest techniques and tactics, mentor candidates and develop prospects and new donors.  

The role is voluntary and part-time but travel costs can be recovered. Volunteers will benefit greatly from what they learn about fundraising culture and know-how in a role central to helping deliver the party’s strategy – as well as acquiring skills that can help support CVs. Volunteers will also be invited to the Treasurer’s Dinner at Conference and other federal events.

If you are interested in this important role please email [email protected].

VOLUNTEER FOR THE FEDERAL FINANCE AND RESOURCES COMMITTEE (FFRC)

The Federal Finance and Resources Committee (FFRC) is seeking volunteers to help provide specialist expertise as part of working groups looking at the following areas:

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More Brexit Logic?

Following yesterday’s Parliamentary votes, we now face the following

1. We cannot have a no-deal Brexit because Parliament has voted against it

2. We cannot have no-Brexit because the referendum voted for Brexit

3. Therefore, we have to have Brexit with a deal, but

4. We can’t have Theresa May’s deal because Parliament has voted against it twice

5. The groups opposing Theresa May’s deal are:

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The Brexit Delusion

Brexiteers say about the consequences of Brexit, “I don’t care, we voted for out and that’s what should happen”. I detect also that they know it’s the best way to annoy the establishment and all those politicians who have “messed up their lives”.

It started with picking on foreigners for taking our jobs and destroying our culture but morphed into finding a scapegoat for all our troubles. UKIP has piled up all their pet hates onto one handcart and labelled it Europe. The EU is not a perfect soul mate (it has its demons) but in the current world it’s far superior as a partner to all the rest. Our politicians should be telling us so.

Yet somehow, Vote Leave has succeeded in setting our people against each other in an unnecessary civil war. They have pulled off a mischievous stunt that has churned up anger and resentment against the EU. We are all victims now. Only our sense of good play will get us out of it.

The real culprit is a seismic shift in the world manufacturing power and our government’s inadequate solutions and poor decision making for dealing with it. Europe is in the same turmoil as the UK for the same reasons. It would be an intelligent move to work together and not fight each other. After Brexit many firms will shrink their business and return to Europe. Brexiteers will say “Good Riddance”. That is a mark of frustration, not logic. Vote Leave has exploited this frustration and pinned it on Europe.

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Why we need the Supporters’ Scheme

On Saturday I was at a Lib Dem Women event for International Women’s Day, and in a few of the excellent breakout sessions, found myself sitting next to a highly engaged and articulate woman who I presumed was a Councillor or PPC. It transpired that she was not even a member of the Lib Dems, but “still considering” whether to join, due to time constraints and not being sure if she was ready to commit. When I mentioned the prospect of a Supporters’ Scheme her eyes lit up. “That sounds ideal,” she said.

It’s not the first time I’ve met someone who considers themselves to be a Lib Dem supporter but doesn’t feel ready to join the party. Indeed, on the doorstep over the past few months, from Streatham to St Albans, I have spoken to countless people who have told me they will deliver leaflets, perhaps consider coming along for a canvassing session, and certainly vote Lib Dem – but they’re not actually members, and they’re not ready to be. Making that commitment to joining just seems like a step too far for those who consider themselves to be politically aware but are time poor, or maybe just not quite ready to stand up and say they’re a Lib Dem.

There are then numerous reasons to endorse the Supporters’ Scheme. It’s been well documented that I was previously a Labour supporter – I didn’t join the Lib Dems until last August. But in the two years leading up to that decision, even though I was leaning towards the Lib Dems and am very much a Liberal in every sense, shaking off the tribalism that had been part of my life since I was old enough to understand that people had different political views felt like an enormous step.

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The State of Children’s Rights

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England just published their 2018 report into the State of Children’s Rights. Their report outlines “systemic failures to protect children in England”. They write:

National and local government is failing to protect children in England whilst policymakers focus on Brexit, leaving children traumatised, powerless and vulnerable to abuse in many areas of their lives.

CRAE have used new data, gathered through Freedom of Information requests, in writing this report. It has been thirty years since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was adopted by the United Nations, yet the UNCRC has still not been enshrined in British law. I wrote about that four years ago here.

Areas of concern, amongst many, are child homelessness; how children are treated by the police; rising school exclusions; and the increased number of children living in poverty. It is an extensive report, so I can only give a brief overview of each section. Needless to say, I welcome these proposals.

The paper calls for children’s rights impact assessments to be part of any changes to the law in relation to Brexit, including statutory instruments. It also proposes a cabinet minister with responsibility for children’s rights be appointed and that there should be a

statutory obligation on public authorities to conduct child rights impact assessments in all decision-making affecting children, including in budgetary decision-making.

The fullsome section on Poverty and Homelessness has many good suggestions to take children out of poverty, including excluding children’s benefits from the benefit cap and getting rid of the two-child limit on child tax credit and UC. It calls for an abolition of the practice of housing children in B&Bs, hotels or caravan parks.

FOIs carried out by CRAE reveal that 1,173 looked after children were housed in independent accommodation for longer than 6 months.

There were serious issues raised in the Safeguarding section around the rising number of children in care and provision for them; the staggering rise of children suffering abuse and neglect; and the rising number of sexual offences against children. The report calls for children involved in county lines to be treated as victims of trafficking and modern slavery, not criminals.

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Don’t get too excited about tonight’s votes…

So, it was quite surprising that MPs backed the stronger No Deal amendment, especially after one of its Tory proposers bowed to the pressure of the whips and tried to pull it.

But John Bercow, who gives zero hoots when it comes to preserving the rights of the House against the Executive, refused to allow her to withdraw it.

The rebel majority was just 4.

It was certainly a dramatic moment and yet another key defeat for Theresa May.

But I wouldn’t get too excited about it.

In fact, while we may be closer than ever to a People’s Vote, the balance might tip in …

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A fairer share for all – ending poverty in the UK Part Two

In part one I set out some of the things missing from our consultation paper https://www.libdems.org.uk/sconf19-consultation-paper-137. In this part, I will set out what we could do mostly for children and adults to remove them from poverty.

Returning to Local Housing Allowance, when introduced the rate was supposed to be the 30th percentile of the local market rates for private rented accommodation. This means that only the 30% cheapest properties in the area are affordable to those claiming housing benefit. Therefore only increasing LHAs in line with local rents does not restore it to the 30th percentile. Restoring it to the 30th percentile is a start, but I think the rates should be increased to the 50th percentile so all properties below the average would be available for people to live in when they receive housing benefit without forcing them into poverty.

Another problem with LHA is the rule which states that single people under 35 are expected to live in shared accommodation as a first step we should reduce this age down to 25.

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A fairer share for all – Ending Poverty in the UK – Part One

A fairer share for all – ending poverty in the UK Part One

In our consultation paper https://www.libdems.org.uk/sconf19-consultation-paper-137  A Fairer Share for all, we have a section on “reducing poverty and increasing opportunity” which mentions the UN Special Rapporteur “damning statement on the level of poverty in the UK today”.

It doesn’t mention the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest report, “UK Poverty 2018” (https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2018” which states the following as the poverty line for different household types in 2016/17 (amounts per week):

Single person no children £148
A single person with two children £306
Couple with no children £255
Couple with two children £413.

These are from April 2016. The CPI rates which benefits should have been increased by were 1% for April 2017, 3% for April 2018 and 2.4% for April 2019 cumulatively making 6.5% https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8458  House of Commons Briefing Paper CBP.

Therefore the rates after being increased by inflation (CPI) for April 2019 are:

Single person no children £157.62
A single person with two children £325.88
Couple with no children £271.58
Couple with two children £439.84.

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Daily Press Releases – 13th March 2019

Cable: Spring Statement a predictable ‘non-event’

Responding to the Chancellor’s Spring Statement in the House of Commons this afternoon, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said: 

 

“Brexit has crowded the usually significant Spring Statement out on to the margins of relevance, and the Chancellor has managed to make it even more of a non-event.

“Despite continuing austerity for most government departments and a violence epidemic on our streets, the Chancellor announced no meaningful new funding and failed to even confirm a date for the crucial upcoming Spending Review.

“There is little good news in Brexit Britain’s growth record either. While the Coalition Government left the UK one of the best performers among the world’s advanced economies, the OBR’s growth downgrade for this year confirms we are now one of the weakest.

“With interest rates already at rock-bottom, these will not be available to fight any future Brexit recession. The Chancellor is right to warn about the economic damage a no-deal Brexit would cause, but wrong to present his government’s deal as the only alternative.

“In truth the only real “dividend” on offer is that from remaining in the EU, by giving the public a People’s Vote on Brexit.”

ENDS

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We must claim back Europe’s role in the world from populist Eurosceptics

Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Dauntless in the Mediterranean Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Dauntless in the Mediterranean

We must claim back Europe’s role in the world from populist Eurosceptics

Image: Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Dauntless in the Mediterranean (Royal Navy, used under the Open Government License)
When campaigning for Europe, we must be unapologetic, and we must be frank with our stance. Europe as an idea and the EU as an organisation are both under enormous pressure from within and without. To recognise Europe’s value, we must avowedly call for reform, and we must be the dynamism needed for change.

One of those changes must be the capacity to defend itself and its neighbourhood.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed her successor’s plans for Europe, including a seat at the UN’s top table and a European aircraft carrier. The carrier plans are a following from France and Germany’s program to procure a new European fighter jet.

In 2016, Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs that soft power is not enough. He told us all that analysis shows up to €100bn in savings are possible via closer cooperation. Americans operate one variant of Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), we Europeans operate a staggering 19 – the inefficiency is widespread, and it’s understandable for all to see. European defence is too fragmented, and it’s costing us all money and international clout.

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Young Liberals need reform – and we need your help!

Young people play a vital role in the party. Beyond our ability to deliver vast sums of leaflets, or to liven up that local party picture, we shape the Liberal Democrats. We stand for public office; we lobby for youth issues and representation, we ensure that as society changes the party changes with it. However, lately the boundaries of who is young have changed, and the Young Liberals need to change too. That is why we are looking at possible structural reforms, including raising the automatic membership age cut off from 26 to 30.

No longer can even the luckiest of us expect a job straight out of education; more and older graduates have to turn to internships for work. As house prices skyrocket, moving out of the parental home is taking longer. Moreover, with the tendency to remain in education, even the culture and lifestyle associated with youth has come to be applied to a broader age range. With these changes in society, the political landscape has changed too. The needs of those preparing to leave school and the needs of those in their late twenties are more closely aligned than ever before. Ending long-term unpaid work, tackling the housing crisis, improving representation in education, and increasing funding for mental health care are just some examples of policies that would have a disproportionate impact on all of us under 30.

However, the Young Liberals as an organisation has been struggling to represent these needs. It is no secret that we have suffered deepening institutional memory problems as a result of these societal changes. Students now make up such a large part of our constituent members that it’s hard for us to develop a network capable of serving our school leavers and young professions. Our lives have also become more defined by instability – such as moves abroad or in and out of education. These sudden radical changes in circumstances can render members unable to contribute in the way they have done before, and so the consistency in the quality of our work has taken a hit. By virtue of our membership and structure it is getting pretty tough to run ourselves well, and if Young Liberals as an organisation cannot run well then all our members whether in their twenties or still in their teens lose out.

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Tory Confidence or Arrogance

One thing I have always noted is that some of the Tories are arrogant. This is not just their politicians in parliament but at the local level and some of their members. I don’t feel that is the case with members of other parties, but I have often thought that some of the Tories tend towards being guilty of their own inflated self-importance. I came across a small piece that dealt with this issue about the Tories.

For the Tories apparently, it isn’t about going to the right school or even education it’s about confidence. Confidence is perceived to come from a good education and success in a chosen profession. A confident person is what impresses them. A case in point is David Davies who didn’t go to a private school (or rather not a school like Eton) but was picked out for possibly high office, by his colleagues, because he was considered to be so confident. The article goes on to discuss that the one thing boarding schools embed in their pupils (It may not necessarily be good education) but it is confidence, and this is what they admire.

How does this Tory mentality reflect in their approach to negotiations with the EU?

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Brexit vote open thread: Government defeated again 242 – 391

Well, more than by I thought.

That was pretty emphatic.

Theresa May is making a statement and is now making the No Deal vote tomorrow a free vote. That means that Cabinet members will be able to vote against no deal and keep their jobs.

She confirms that the No Deal vote goes ahead tomorrow night and if the House declines to leave with no deal, the extension to Article 50 vote will happen on Thursday.

Surely this just shows the need to put this back to the people.

Vince’s first comment:

The Prime Minister’s authority is in tatters while Brexit as a project is also in tatters.

We now need to move quickly to extend Article 50 and for the Commons to consider legislation for a People’s Vote, just as the Liberal Democrats have argued for over two years.

Public opinion now looks to be firmly behind remaining in the EU rather than accepting this friendless deal.

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Minimum income: From Finnish trial to Lib Dem policy?

The Finnish Basic Income experiment ended at the start of the year, and preliminary results have now been reported publicly. Certain sections of the press blared out that the trial, which paid 2000 unemployed people an unconditional €560/month income for two years, was a “failure” – but was it? It is true that the experiment did not lead to significant increases in the experiment group finding work, but should we be judging the success or failure of a benefits system solely by whether it pushes people into any job that can be found? Our values and policy as Liberal Democrats should lead us toward different analyses.

Looking at the results closely tells a different, important, and encouraging story from a liberal perspective. Despite those opposed to guaranteed incomes claiming that a basic income would lead to nobody wanting to work, the data shows no drop in work-seeking among Finland’s experiment group. The fact that there was no rise either suggests that marginal income effects may be less important in influencing work-seeking than some had imagined; a lack of suitable jobs and retraining opportunities is not something for which any social security system will provide magic bullets. Other potential positive economic effects of a guaranteed income are, however, likely to have been invisible in this sparse study – increasing the spending power of the worst off and building a labour market that can be more flexible in retraining are significant potential positives that would only be effectively visible at scale.

The most important results from Finland’s trial, in any case, are the effects on wellbeing. The experiment group reported lower stress levels and better health outcomes than their counterparts in the control group. This is where we should be getting excited about the possibilities of a minimum income – freeing people from the psychological strain caused by income insecurity, freeing people to make the most of opportunities and build stronger communities, freeing people to live happier lives. Not only that, but consider the strain on other public services, the NHS in particular, caused by health issues that are largely down to poverty. Taking steps towards eradicating those ills is both smart and compassionate politics.

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Trust our voters to choose our leader

I chair the Federal Committee that designed the structures for the Supporter Scheme. My committee members worked incredibly hard on these discussions, reading long reports and complex spreadsheets and interpreting data to come to the best decisions for this new project. On almost everything we reached consensus views. The one area where there was no consensus was the most controversial question – whether these new supporters should be allowed to vote in Party Leadership elections.

I absolutely understand why this is a difficult issue. There are good, sensible reasons to pause and worry. I was very against the idea at first but, after a lot of thought, I changed my mind. I now, personally, think we should feel the fear and do it anyway.

At a General Election, many voters are temporarily hypnotised by the media into thinking they are voting for the next Prime Minister. They forget that they are a voter of Anytown, and are voting for Anytown’s MP. Instead, they get caught up in ‘who do I prefer as Prime Minister’? They vote for the Party they want to see in Government. 

This narrative often causes a big squeeze on our Party’s vote. That’s why we need all our leaflets, to remind people that their vote decides who represents their area in Parliament. But it’s impossible to stop people from looking at Party Leaders as the people they are voting for. 

This is the heart of why I think supporters voting for Leader is sensible. We need a Leader who inspires our members, who understands our Party and has good internal leadership. But we also need our Leader to appeal to our voters. To be someone who they are inspired by and with whom they feel a sense of connection. It’s not enough to be a Lib Dem Leader who inspires internally. They must inspire our voters too.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 14 Comments

WATCH: Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton talk about saving his 4 year old daughter from choking

I was heading to my bed on Saturday night when I saw this tweet from Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton:

Scary, scary stuff. The thought of my child choking was probably one of the things that scared me most. I made sure I knew what do do if that happened, but I’m glad I never had to demonstrate the skill.

Thank heavens little Darcy was fine, due to skills learned by her Dad  a quarter of a century ago.

I had a friend who doesn’t do social media and who’s on holiday in Australia contact me to say they’d seen Alex featured in the press so many people across the world will have seen his new found mission to raise  awareness of what happened to his daughter to make sure that every parent is equipped with first aid skills.

His actions will save more lives than Darcy’s.

The very next  morning a member of my family faced a medical emergency at which first aid was required. 

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Where are the extremists?

Most Liberal Democrats will live their lives in blissful ignorance of a weekly publication called the Methodist Recorder, to which I occasionally contribute book reviews. This week one of its more conservative readers, a retired minister (in Methodist parlance a “supernumerary” like me, which I think means “surplus to requirements”) appeared on the letters page raising some interesting points about extremism. He was concerned about one of the demands at the school pupils’ strike over climate change which he claimed had nothing to do with climate change. This was the demand for the voting age to be lowered to 16. He clearly didn’t see any great value in encouraging an age group, who are going to be at the sharp end of the consequences of  our success or failure at combatting climate change, to put their concern and energies into democratic political processes.

However he then went on to suggest that the Socialist Workers Party banners visible in the demonstration represented political extremists using children for their nefarious purposes. It takes a remarkably eccentric understanding of extremism to persuade me to defend the SWP! Liberal Democrats who have shared in broad-based campaigns with Socialist Worker members on a variety of issues will know that the SWP are very open in saying who they are. They turn up with as many red banners as possible emblazoned with “Socialist Worker” in large letters. In my experience these tend to be occasions for observing that flogging copies of the SWP newspaper appears to be a rather thankless task.

Provoked by my fellow Methodist minister, the serious point I want to make is this. “Extremist” can be as imprecise and slippery as the term “moderate.”  Some people will see the SWP as an extremist socialist party. Some of its members may find their way into other forms of less visible political activity that can give cause for concern. There are other groupings that are far more dangerous than this small political party. The extremists we should worry about are those who conceal their identity and intentions, operating through front organisations, or even infiltrating mainstream political parties. 

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Our future should be in the hands of the people, not right wing Tories and the DUP

Our country’s fate will tonight be decided by the right wing of the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party. That, really, is not a good place for us to be in. And let’s not forget those Labour MPs who will choose to back the deal to get us out of the EU. They are unlikely to face any consequences from their leadership for doing so.

They may take whatever fig leaf Theresa May has begged from EU leaders as the only way to keep Brexit alive. If the deal goes down tonight, the momentum is with those of us calling from a People’s Vote.

Let’s not forget that the deal itself is terrible. So much that has been kicked down the road. We have no idea what our future trading relationship would be like. It’s likely that that will be decided not by Theresa May, but by a future ERG backed Tory leader who wants to turn us into a regulation-light Singapore.

As I wrote in January:

For me, the worst thing is that it kicks so much down the road. We haven’t got a clue about what our future trading relationships with the EU and everyone else would look like.

Failure to reach a trade agreement before the end of the transition period could put us on a dash off the cliff edge at the end of next year. Except at that point we would be out of the EU with nothing we can do about it.

Don’t think the extreme No Dealers in the Conservative Party are going to give up fighting for that calamitous option if May manages to get her deal through. The moment of danger will not pass if we get a deal. That’s one of the many reasons why we need a People’s Vote.

Tom Brake said similar on Twitter

MPs will be expected to vote with just a few hours’ debate on an agreement that was reached late last night. That’s not what you could call acceptable democratic scrutiny. The only fair way is to put it to the people.

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FCC Report: The Amendments selected for Conference

With Spring Conference just days away, Federal Conference Committee met on Saturday for the almost-final selection of amendments and Emergency and Europe motions. You can see the full text of what we selected in Conference Extra.

Unfortunately, time is always the biggest factor when selecting amendments, and we simply can’t select all those that come to us. The list of unsuccessful amendments is below, along with those we will be debating. For those less familiar, there are two things that can happen with a successful amendment: They can be accepted for debate and vote, or if they are uncontroversial they can be drafted in (e.g. to bring a motion up to date based on revent events) and do not require a vote. The summaries are not those of the submittors, so only give a brief taste of the kind of thing the amendment addresses.

Several of the Supporter’s Scheme amendments related to areas that will be voted on separately in blocks. A full explanation of how the vote will be condicted is in Conference Extra as there are a number of alternative outcomes.

Due to the rapidly developing situation over Brexit, we have delayed the amendments deadline for this item to midday on Friday. This does not allow much time for people to draft and submit amendments in response to events on Thursday, so if you suspect you will be submitting we suggest you try to get the necessary ten or more members ready to sign ahead of time.

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Conference Extra published – see all the amendments and awkward questions

The Conference Extra, containing details of all the amendments selected by Federal Conference Committee, the motion on Europe which will no doubt be hopelessly out of date by the time it’s debated on Saturday and all the questions put to Federal Committees, has been published.

The Europe motion is amendable – you need to get your changes in before Friday at 1 pm. Even though the website at the time of writing says Thursday.  I know conference motions are supposed to be a bit circumspect and detached but I am left cold by it. Not that it necessarily says anything wrong, but, really, at this point, I want it to saying that “Conference is bloody livid that the country has been lied to, cheated, sold a pig in a poke and has a Government that has turned can-kicking into its only competence. Conference resolves to put a stop to this farce as soon as possible.”

The process for the votes on the Supporters’ scheme constitutional amendment and business motion reminds me of the song “The Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede” from The Singing Kettle. If you try to consciously re-enact it, you’ll do yourself an injury, but if you do it instinctively and just listen to the session chair, you’ll be fine.

There are some well and truly awkward questions to Federal Committees, too.

So now you have everything you need to plan your speeches.

What are you waiting for? And here’s the thing. You can submit your speaker’s card online. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 4 Comments

Time to drag party policy making into the 21st century?

Before we start, let me make something clear. I’m not a policy wonk. It’s not that I’m disinterested in policy, far from it. It’s just that, as a bureaucracy geek, I’m interested in how things work.

When the recent governance review took place, I found myself wondering if it was going to look at how we could engage more members in what interests many of them – policy. And, in truth, I was disappointed. It was mostly about reordering the committee structures and, whilst I have my views on that, it didn’t really do anything that would engage ordinary members.

Our policy …

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged and | 15 Comments
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